Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Snake Cake

I keep thinking about a quote that includes the phrase "paved with good intentions".  You know the one. 

My intention here was to somehow top last year's cake for Brian. 

That one's pretty good, isn't it?  It was realistic enough to trick the nearly 2yr old.  Brian loves reptiles.  He loved his iguana cake.  Too bad it only lived about 2 hours.  

So this year, Brian turned 8 and got a snake.  Skooch the snake is a western hognose, 12 years old, very docile, and used to belong to my sister-in-law.  He is also likely the only snake in the world that my mother will tolerate.  

I wanted to make Brian a snake cake.  I did a Google search (which is where I found the idea for the iguana, but I think I improved on it).  This is what I found:
Oh, if only!  What an amazing cake!  (Made by a bakery in the UK called North Star)  I knew I needed to settle for something a little less challenging.  I came across an idea of using a bundt cake and cutting it in half to make a snake.  It's not as awesome as North Star's Amelanistic Burmese Python, but it's actually achievable for me.  Well, that's at least what I thought. 

Here's the bundt pan. 
Bundt pan.  Sorry, my camera batteries are dead, so you and I are stuck with pictures ala Blackberry. 

I made two of these.  (It took until 11pm - WAY after my bedtime.)

It was pretty obviously NOT going to fit on my little cookie sheet, so I took a shelf from a broken-down bookshelf and covered it with foil, making a very sturdy, very heavy cake board. 

Voila!  Beautiful! 
Next, I put the cake together.  I cut each circular bundt cake in half and linked the semi circles together in an "S" pattern. 
The real challenge here was getting it from a simple "S" into the shape of an actual snake.  In this case, I decided to use our very own Western Hognose as a model.  I carved a taper into the tail and carved out the head, complete with cute little upturned nose. 
In case you're wondering, the head is on the left, and the tail on the right. 

As you can see above, the shape is cute, but then frosting it was a beast.  The crumby carved areas were SO hard to get covered without them falling apart.  Even just the fluted shape of the bundt cakes was pretty beastly to get around. 
I'd like to say that the snake turned out better than what you see above, but it really didn't improve a whole lot.  I finished frosting it, gave him brown M&M eyes, and drew a little mouth on with what i thought was red writing icing, but which turned out to be red gel coloring.  Oy veh! 
Apparently I didn't take a picture of the "finished product", but here's the idea of what I did. 

A friend of mine suggested tonight (way too late for me, of course) that I should have given him his "scales" in M&Ms and a red licorice tongue.  Yes, that would have been awesome, but I was short both the idea and the candies.  Would have been great. 

Again, it's a far cry from North Star, but it's the best I could come up with. 
Happy Birthday, Brian!

Friday, September 21, 2012

My most brilliant idea today

Every so often I have a spark of brilliance, usually born out of desperation.  Today's was a doozy if I do say so myself. 

Here's my problem:  I make bread a LOT.  I use honey as the sweetener for my bread recipe.  Honey crystallizes.  Crystallized honey is not ideal for my recipe as it is beastly difficult to get out of the bottom of a 1/2 gallon jug. 

Half-gallon jug of nearly-totally crystallized honey.  The other jug in storage was worse.

Possible solution:  Microwave it!
Problem: I don't like the idea of radiation + plastic, AND it re-crystallizes SO fast when I microwave it. 

Possible solution: put the jug in a pan of warm water
Problem: What the heck!  It'll NEVER melt that way!  It looked the same two days later!

Possible solution: turn on the heat under the pan.
Problem:  This.
My awesomely melted jug-bottom.  Luckily it didn't melt THROUGH, so I was able to coax the honey out and into another container without major sticky mess.

Possible solution: Boil the water, then turn it off, place the jug in the hot water and let it melt.
Result: Not too bad.  I have actually done this, but it still take SO long and I have to repeatedly remove the jug, bring the water to boil and do it again. 

Today's brilliant little epiphany:  SPOONS!!!
 I thought about my roasting pans that have those little wire drip things that raise the chicken up above the pan bottom.  Whatever those things are called... I don't have one small enough to fit in the bottom of the pot I soften the honey in.  I thought... maybe if I use spoons to lift it up, yada, yada.  My initial spoon idea didn't work, BUT the spoons fell to the bottom of the pan and voila!  I have a nice little raised surface to set my jug on in the bottom of the actively boiling pan of water! 

Oh, I just love when something works out right.

The results:  I have been boiling this jug of honey for only about 20 minutes and it's almost entirely liquid!  :)  Happy me!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The most spoiled little girl I know

I know a little girl.  She is an only daughter (with 4 brothers).  She has a ludicrous amount of clothes, toys, and hair nonsense.  She can convince her brothers to paint her nails for her and actually enjoy it.  She reads and understands people, and she sees how to best interact with them and often to give them what they want and get what she wants.  Because of this talent is that she is a very agreeable person to be around and take places. 

Well, all of her hard-earned people skills are about to pay off.  That spoiled little girl is going to see the Statue of Liberty and the Great Wall of China within 6 months of each other.

Antigone (of course, who else would it be) came with me in June to my sister's High School graduation in Allentown, PA, followed by a trip to New York City to see the major tourist sites.  Why her?  Because she is the only one of the kids who wanted to make a nearly week-long trip in the car with Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Kiera (the graduate), Uncle Jay (who is a disabled adult) and Mom.  She survived 32-hour drives each way, through the night and all, and was in terrific spirits.  She even developed a few new music favorites from Grandpa's collection (the Beach Boys' "Surfin USA" is at the top of her list, and she doesn't like the BeeGees). 

THEN... Lashi and I decided she is going to come with us in a few weeks when we go to China to pick up her sister.  We will likely be visiting Beijing, Zhengzhou, Nanyang, Guangzhou and Hong Kong and their surrounding areas.  She will get to see things most American kids never get to.  Again, she's the only one who is coming.  Why her?  Because we need to bring someone who will
  1. appreciate the trip - Antigone won't think it's boring like Liam or Brian or certainly Dmitri might.  She will want to know about the places she sees and people she meets.  She will want to learn about the differences and similarities between our cultures.  Erik, on the other hand, doesn't know the difference between the local playground and Siberia.
  2. remember it - Erik and Dmitri are too young to remember much of a trip 6 months after it happens.  Dmitri is likely to remember getting chased by dinosaurs somewhere along the way.  
  3. not have a total meltdown somewhere along the way - Liam with his bipolar, Dmitri with his SPD, Erik with his... toddlerhood, NONE of them can be trusted to go 12 hours without some kind of tantrum.  NO way am I going to deal with that on another continent and while trying to soothe and bond to a traumatized child.  I may be crazy, but even I have my limits.
  4. not try to wander off with some random Chinese family - Brian and Dmitri on the other hand, they probably would.  
  5. be helpful - again, Antigone is a wonderful people-reader.  She is very intuitive.  She can observe a situation and figure out the best thing to do in that situation, then actually act on it!!!  She is very good with babies and small children already.  Poor Liam loved baby Erik, but looked so terrified and awkward trying to hold him.  
 We have been told by other parents of kids adopted from China that the little ones are much more likely to judge an adult "safe" if another child treats them as safe.  Same goes for strange surroundings and behaviors.  Little Fiona will never have seen a western toilet, and we are told that the little ones are often very afraid of the strange, noisy thing for months after they first encounter them.  Not the best thing for a potty-training, nearly-2-year old.  If Antigone uses it, though, then it can't be THAT scary.  If we say "Time to get changed for bed!", Fiona won't know what we're talking about - she doesn't understand English.  Changing her clothes could be frightening for her.  If Antigone is changing into her pajamas, then it might go over better.  Basically, she'll be there to help set an example and reassure Fiona. 

Antigone is thrilled out of her little gourd to have this opportunity.  We're counting the days as best we can since we don't know when we will be traveling.  We only know it is soon, too soon, and not soon enough. 


What do ancient China, space exploration and the Darwin Awards have in common? 
One man, named Wan Hu (or Wan Hoo).  

This is a little-known bit of historical awesomeness that the world just needs to be more aware of. Even after getting my degree in History with an Asian emphasis (ie- studying Chinese history for 2 1/2 years at a university) I had never heard of Wan Hu until coming across a small captioned picture of him in my son's middle school astronomy textbook.  (Prentice Hall Science Explorer, 2005)  I read up on the story in Wikipedia, a 2003 article, and a NASA site with a brief caption under his picture.   Here's what I found out:

According to legend, around 1500AD, during the Ming Dynasty, there lived a local government official named Wan Hu.  Wan was obsessed with the stars and wanted to "boldly go where no man [had] gone before". 

The Chinese had been using gunpowder for over 800 years.  They had already invented hand grenades, flame-throwers, land mines, signal flares, and had recently pioneered multi-stage rockets and rocket-bombs.  Kites had been in use for 2000 years in China already (since 500BC) and the Chinese had even achieved manned flight in these kites 1000 years earlier (although documented flight sans fatality had only been achieved 500 years earlier).  So, the idea of space travel was not such an unreasonable thought for an educated official.  His plan, however... 

Wan Hu decided to harness the great Chinese inventions of kites and rocket power to achieve lift-off and travel to the moon.  He had two kites and 47 of the largest-available rockets secured to his sturdy wicker chair, dressed in his finest official clothing, and prepared to make history as the first astronaut.  Forty-seven of his servants came forward with flaming torches, lit the fuses on the rockets, and took cover. 

Next came the "Big Bang" that ought to earn him the first-ever Darwin Award for a Chinese official. 

When the smoke cleared, there was no trace of Wan Hu or his wicker chair.  

So, my kids and I decided that "Wan-HOOOO" should be our term (or battle-cry) for anything that is really fun but really stupid - such as flying your lawn chair with helium balloons, or attaching a jet-engine to a car to see how fast you can make it go, or hand-feeding a large shark. 


Friday, September 14, 2012

Adoption Update Article 5

Here's one of those odd milestones.  A paper we have never seen and will never see is being taken from one city we've never been to to another city we've never been to.  Yeah, but we're thrilled! 

Our Article 5 was issued by the US Consulate in Guangzhou, China.  If I understand it right, that basically means the USC is telling the Chinese Government that Fiona's immigration paperwork is in order and she (and we) need to meet with the Consulate officials to finalize her immigrant visa.  They are asking the Chinese Gov't (Beijing) to issue us a Travel Approval. 

NOW... it takes a couple days for it to get from Guangzhou to Beijing in the hands of our careful CCAI representatives in China.  Travel Approval then usually takes 2-4 weeks to be issued.  THEN we all dance together (USC, CCAI, and the Dodges) to come up with a good USC appointment date, upon which our entire travel itinerary is based. 

:)  One step cloooooooseeeer... 

In other news: We got our Passports back from the Chinese Consulate in Chicago with our Travel Visas inside!  :)  We are allowed to travel to China for up to 3 months at a time, multiple times over the next 12 months.  Yeah, we're going to use that ONCE to go get Fiona and bring her home within one month.  That's it.  Can't afford more!  (as nice as it would be to tour the whole of China...)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Adoption Process Update

Let's get one thing out of the way first - Yes, I'm a slacker!  I have been so wrapped up in life and paperwork that I have not done the decent courtesy of keeping people posted as to how Fiona's adoption is coming. 

Without further procrastination, here it is!

We are now 4-9 weeks from traveling to China to bring our baby home!  (Still a big range, isn't it?)

Here's what's happened with getting Fiona approved to come here (since that is the harder part - there is actually a separate process getting US approved to go THERE, and I'll talk about that separately): 

On August 4 (as I was standing in the parking lot at the church waiting for the Young Women to get picked up from our week at camp) we got our LOA.  LOA is the "Letter seeking confirmation from adopter".  I know, it doesn't shorten nicely to LOA, but the acronym is based on a nickname for the document, "Letter of Acceptance" - meaning, yes, we accept this child. 
We copied, signed, notarized, and sent the document back immediately. 

After getting our LOA, we were allowed to proceed with the last part of the process - getting Fiona's immigration approval.  First, we filled out and sent in two documents - the I-800 application (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative) which has to go through USCIS, and the DS-230, which is Fiona's immigrant visa application.  That goes to the US Consulate in Guangzhou. 

On August 23 we got our provisional approval for the I-800, which means we were cleared to send off the DS-230.

On August 27, the DS-230 was received by the National Visa Center (NVC), checked over, and sent on to the US Consulate in Guangzhou.  We got our notification on August 29.

So, here we are!  Fiona's immigration file is being reviewed in Guangzhou. 

From here, the process looks like this:
  • In 2-2.5 weeks from the NVC letter - some time between September 12-15 - the USC will issue and Article 5 (don't ask me what that particular step means, but it's another "green light"), which is sent to the Capital in Beijing and the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs).
  • Some time between September 26-October 13 (2-4 weeks from Article 5 issuance) we will get our Travel Approval.  This means, "You're ok to come here, but hurry up about it!"
  • Our actual travel to China will happen between 10-21 days from Travel Approval - Between OCTOBER 5 AND NOVEMBER 3.  :D  So happy!!!  Of course, we have heard of travel happening in as little as 5 days from Travel Approval, which could push it right to the beginning of October, but that is not likely to be the case (and saves me a couple coronaries).  
The travel dates are a coordination dance between the CCAA, the US Consulate appointment for Fiona to get her immigrant visa approved, and the adoption agency (ie- when do they have a travel group going). 

So that's it!  In all likelihood I may have my baby in my arms and safely back in Colorado before my birthday (Oct 22).  If not, I'm still extremely unlikely to be gone for Thanksgiving and Erik's birthday the following day. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Statistics failed me (in a great way)

Best probability exercise EVER!!!

All summer long, our family has been attending the Chick-fil-A Breakfast Rides on Saturday mornings.  We love cycling together.

All summer long, two bikes have been hanging inside the restaurant - one adult size and one child size - donated from local bike shops as drawing prizes for people who attend the rides. 

All summer long, every person who attends the rides and wears a Patriots' Festival/Ride for Heroes t-shirt or jersey (or a firefighter/police/military t-shirt) gets their name entered to win one of those bikes. 

The drawing was today. 

There was literally a 5-gallon bucket of little entry strips for the adults and a big canvas bag for the kid entries.  Out of a typical Saturday ride, I would estimate there were about 60 adults (sometimes more) and about 8-10 kids. 

Lashi and I were 2 of those 60+ adults.

Our children were 5 of those 8-10 kids. 

Statistics would say that we stood approximately a snowball's chance in hell to win the adult bike.

Statistics would say we were a shoo-in for the kid bike. 

Statistics would be wrong.

A sweet young lady whose family we have come to love won the kid's bike (which is very little and very green and very likely that she will be trading it for something more her speed).  Congrats to her!  Nevertheless, we were surprised.  We had well over 50% of the entries in that bag.  Lashi estimates it was more like 80%. 

Then came the bigger surprise.  I won the adult bike!  As shocking as that was, it was a very good thing.  My "old faithful" purple pawn shop bike from 10 years ago has been chugging and coughing this year.  It was particularly obnoxious the last month, even AFTER getting worked on.  Most adults we spoke to at the rides said they would be selling or gifting the bike if they won it - they already have something very nice that they want to use.  For me, it was a huge blessing.  I was worried about next week's 15 miles on my fickle gears. 

So, statistics were wrong, I am happy, and now I'm going to deck out that bike with my patriotic decorations for the Patriots' Festival at Mountain Shadows Park/Chipeta Elementary next week.