An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

Cake Pop Culture February 16, 2014

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 3:20 pm
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E: Eats

Up Close with CakePops

Up Close with CakePops

Cake pops have been on my radar for over a year. They just got some recent hype on February 1st during National Cake Pop Day, which proves they’re part of pop culture and here to stay. So what better sweet treat occasion than Valentine’s Day to test them out? In hindsight, I researched too much, got lost in Pinterest boards and overcomplicated it. The simple cake pop is a beautiful thing.


It’s really the perfect bite – actually three bites in one cake pop to be exact. In my opinion, it’s a better (less caloric) option than a sliver of cake or a cupcake with frosting whipped up into an insane tower that makes a dainty bite messy and nearly impossible. However, the cake pop is three times more labor intensive than your standard box cake mix spread with store-bought frosting.


Is it worth it? When I was up til 1:00a.m. making four dozen cake rounds in my NordicWare Cake Pop Baking Pan, I did not believe so. Each box cake mix for one 9×12 pan makes 48 cake pops. If I cake pop again, I might get another pan so turnover time is quicker. I had to wait 10 minutes in between 20 minute baking cycles to let them cool properly. The pan needed to be cleaned each time too.


Pops with Mustaches

Pops with Mustaches

You can also make the variety that doesn’t require the pan mold. You do this by making a standard 9×12 cake then mixing the finished cake with frosting and forming that into balls, much like a cookie, then dunking in frosting. I did make a yellow cake to test this version out, but the family ate it before I could come back to it two days later.


The cake pops we made were from a strawberry cake mix, for Valentine’s Day of course! Out of the 48 I made, only 25 actually made it to mustached cake pop art (when the yellow cake was gone, they started popping the unfrosted cake rounds). And because I waited four days, I also missed Valentine’s Day treat bags. It’s just how it goes sometimes. No mother guilt here.


I think I was hesitant to tackle the frosting because of burnout due to futzing with cake pop round baking. I also had to make another run to the store because the kids ate the white chocolate melting drops I bought last week (not helpful!!). So with a second round of Guittard Melt’n Mold White Chocolates melting in the pan, I called the kids to the kitchen for detailing duty. My son stuck the cake rounds in the center with the cake pop sticks, I dipped (and double dipped) them in white chocolate, drizzling the top and edges as needed, and my daughter sprinkled (Target brand white, purple pink and red four pack of Valentine’s Day Sugars), mustached (Wilton brand decorations) and resprinkled them.


Cake Pop Stand

Cake Pop Stand

The decorating was quite easy and much more fun than the baking portion. Although some of the cake crumbled off into the frosting by the last five pops, the others looked smoothly frosted. One tip I read somewhere was to make sure frosting covered the base where the stick and round connect – very helpful as it kept them from falling off. By assessing the rounds pre frosting, I thought they’d turn out smaller than your average Starbucks cake pop, however, they were comparable if not a little larger.


For a first attempt, we were satisfied. Note: I am not a baker or decorator (although I did work at a bakery for three summers while in college) so this is meant to be inspiration for the average non-baker to take on the cake pop. In the decor category, we could’ve added some eyes to the cake pop face, I guess. Ava, my 10 year-old, styled the shoot for the final cake pop photography and opted to stick them in an apple so they’d stand up in display mode. And our random pencil jar covered in mustache duct tape came in handy too. Clever!


For future, I’m taking decorating cues from Pinterest boards (see fishbowls, Valentines, rainbows, Frozen) and pinning them to my own Sweet Eats Pinterest Board, my sister-in-law’s cake pop book and a newly discovered cake pop and cupcake artist – Heather of Playful Cupcakeations. Ava and I liked the flavor combo, Calvin, my 8 year-old, commented that it wasn’t his favorite combo. I’m thinking chocolate cake pop with salted caramel frosting next time round.  Other yummy suggestions?


These Girls Will Rock You February 12, 2014

A: Activities

We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You

Sport for the mind. This is exactly what the First Lego League (FLL) delivers on through an international robotics program that includes more than 200,000 kids in 63 countries. In Minnesota, High Tech Kids, a Minnesota organization dedicated to delivering fun, hands-on science, engineering and technology programs and events that inspire kids in their formative years, runs the FLL program locally as MN FLL. During the 2013-14 season 562 teams (comprised of 4-9 graders) competed in MN FLL, culminating on February 8 at Washington Magnet School in St. Paul where 66 of these teams had the opportunity to compete at the state championship in high-pressure, spirited competition.


The lego, math, engineering and science culture is alive and growing. And now girls are participating more in science and math oriented programs too. At two recent MN FLL competitions, it was impressive to see the number of kids involved and the hours of effort into this program by volunteers, coaches, teachers and participants alike. It was not by my doing that my 10 year-old daughter, Ava, became involved in GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science), a free program for students offered at her school. She was the instigator. After coming home totally jazzed about GEMS on day two of fifth grade, we agreed to let that be her new “sport” for the year.


Birdseye View of Board

Birdseye View of Board

I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. She struggled with math in third grade. Then something clicked in fourth grade. I attribute that to the fourth-grade teachers’ response to newfound research citing the importance of word problems in math and proactively implementing new daily word problems into the math curriculum at Hale school. It provided a great foundation for the real-world scenarios and problems they would solve through participation in programs like MN FLL.


The GEMS program at Field Middle School is run by their science teacher, Mary Hill, who has 30 years in the program and received the highest honor from MN FLL – Coach of the Year.  Some schools’ science programs are run by volunteers and the level of involvement varies. Field GEMS meet for two hours every week throughout the course of the school year. Parents from other schools cited a schedule of once or twice a month over a more limited time during the school year.


Ava participated in the Hale Science Fair before (grades 2-4), which was individual and project based for one event. This program differed in its team structure (six girls) and problem to solve (each team solved for the same set of challenges). In GEMS, the teams consist of 5, 6 and 7th grade girls so there’s an element of teaching within the team itself. And because the playing field is level, every team can learn from other teams’ solutions.


High stress 2.5 Minute Challenge

High stress 2.5 Minute Challenge

It took me awhile to fully understand the structure of GEMS and their primary focus — preparing for the annual MN FLL competition. Information was not forthcoming from my daughter. My first immersion was the January 18th MN FLL round one competition. It ran from 7:30a.m. until 6:00p.m. I asked a ton of questions and finally formed an understanding of the program. In a nutshell, there is a robotic portion similar for all teams and an in-depth research project on a natural disaster and solutions that are each team’s own choice.


The challenge is set up so that each team has the same size 93″ x 45″ board with a 3.5″ high border and graphic overlay that represents the year’s theme of choice: Nature’s Fury. (see the full challenge details here). The context of programming the robots made of Legos involves solving real world challenges in a natural disaster, in this year’s case, a tsunami. The board involves simulated runways, roadways, roadblocks, buildings and people and animals. The task at hand is to program your robot, always released from the same corner starting point, to solve a series of challenges. Robotic arms trigger the launch of a cargo plane, a sweeping save of animals in a tree, the lifting of a house from the flood area, and the release of goods into areas where people need immediate aid.



Teams could choose their own natural disaster to investigate, considering the effects of the natural disaster on individuals and property. They were required to focus their research by identifying a challenge caused by the storm and create an innovative solution that could prevent or solve that problem. Ava’s team, We Will Rock You, chose landslides and how in the event of a landslide people could be notified, be prepared with a survival backpack and continually directed to safety via GPS throughout the course of the landslide.


The research component included online research which for Ava’s team meant viewing websites like redcross.com and survivalkitsonline.com for the survival backpack, interviews with local experts working in the field and dealing daily with public safety and survival during natural disasters, and research of GPS technology. The We Will Rock You team selected landslides because even though they’re most common in California and Colorado, they can happen in any state as in the case of last year’s landslide tragedy in Minnesota.


Lego Robotics

Lego Robotics

Seventy three teams competed in the day-long MN FLL regional competition at Anishinabe Academy on January 18 and three finalists advanced to the February 8 state tournament including Ava’s team which also won a design award (see the results here). Several similar competitions took place all around the state from late 2013 through early 2014 to narrow in to the 66 teams that would compete at state.


The day consisted of robotic challenges in 2:30 minute timeframes, eight teams per time. The room filled with nervous energy as two from each team went forward each time to live program and active the sequences of the challenge. The research portions were limited to five minutes where teams presented their projects, answered questions from the judges about the project and CORE values. These values enforce friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals and that helping each other is the foundation of teamwork.


She still seems jazzed about the program. And next year, she’ll have some younger teammates to mentor. I believe this is such an important program that sets girls up for success in science and math related fields. It’s not too young, in fact middle school is a critical time to foster this growth. We can all take cues from young people who serve as great role models — like the 10 year-old eco-blogger Hannah Alper (check out her Dec 5, 2013 TED Talk). I am so excited that Ava discovered this extra-curricular activity and sport for the mind that will fuel her passions about her ideas to change the world for the better. Rock on girls!


Blogging: A Three-Year Disappearing Act February 1, 2014

Filed under: Independence — edamomie @ 9:25 am
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I: Independence

It’s been eons since I’ve posted a blog. Since my initial blog in November 2010, when the kids were five and seven, I went from weekly postings (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011), to bi-weekly postings (Nov 2011- Dec 2012), to monthly (Jan 2013- Oct 2013) to a significant hiatus (Nov 2013 – Jan 2014). Now, three years into edamomie, the kids are eight and ten. I’ve posted 102 blogs and seen almost 20,000 views. So what’s with my three-month leave of absence? I’ve been pondering this for a while and recently, when checking out 200 some food-oriented bloggers for a client, I discovered a pattern. Many blogs run about three years, then disappear.


When these blogger’s posts trailed off, they acknowledged this gap, explained their absence – I moved, new career, no time/something had to give, started a new blog, etc – and either recommitted or as in most cases, disappeared. I’m not sure which category I’m in yet.


What’s behind this common disappearing act?


The Fun-Factor and Freedom of Choice:
Bloggers all start with a passion to share their thoughts and ideas and many of them set a consistent schedule, i.e. committing to one post a week for one year, like I did. No one’s forcing a post. It’s sharing for fun. When the novelty wears off and there’s no one telling you that you have to post something because they desperately miss you (although my family and friends have wondered, What’s up?), you can stop. That’s the beauty of it too — free choice.


Forced Exploration:
For many, adhering to a schedule and generating content forces the exploration and discovery process. When I was blogging weekly, I was engaging the kids in projects, ideas, outings, etc. Some of this happened spontaneously while other times, I deliberately sought out content for my blog. Either way, it caused me to be thoughtful, frequent and proactive in planning in the types of activities we did.


The Purpose:
Bloggers don’t always receive comments and the futility of posting something no one will read weighs on us. For me, I started writing about my experiences with my kids as a form of scrapbooking, which I abandoned shortly after their third birthdays (read: guilt complex). My purpose for blogging was to create more of a picture album and diary of our lives. Of course, my family soaked this stuff up, but beyond that, what did I care who read my blog? It was a positive, creative outlet for me and a glimpse back into the kids’ lives for them at some future date.


Community and Interaction:
There’s also this blogging community where bloggers of like-minded subjects follow and comment on each other’s blogs. Interaction happens and this is rewarding, inspirational and educational at times. In the absence of interaction, we look at our stats and if xx people viewed us yet we have no comments, we tend to be okay with that. However if our goal is to gain likes and comments and there are few, this becomes a reason to jump ship.


Stop the Photo Madness!

Stop the Photo Madness!

Social Networks:
I also considered how the rise of new social networking channels played a role. For me, I became an avid Instagram user in Nov 2012 and essentially started posting my stories previously in blog format, with instant, filtered photos that captured an immediate slice of our lives. Did I really need to blog about the entire experience?  It seemed redundant and less compelling. Or maybe I was just getting lazy.


To top it off, my subjects who started as my five year-old son and seven year-old daughter, grew up. Last year at ages seven and nine, they turned into sometimes non-compliant participants who did not always want to have their picture taken or their lives documented in detail. Often times, I would take photos of their silhouette or obscure them in the background, but when they began expressing their concern with my writing/posting, it became clear I needed to back off.


In summary, the causes cited for a blogger’s exit include lack of interesting content, fading fun-factor, disinterest in the topic(s), shortage of time, decreasing rewards and interaction, new and improved social channels for sharing and other focuses. And in general, it takes about three years of blogging for these causes to equal an exit.


I talked with my kids about my (our) blog. I told Ava, As a parent, I have so many concerns about issues, I could refocus my efforts there. She asked me, what do you want to write about? I listed a few topics like super-short school recess, parental slavery to kids’ athletic and extracurricular pursuits, allergies: food and environmental, online and technology norms and behaviors and how to make dinner when your parents are out. She said, Cool, you should write about that then. She would say that.


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