Saturday, January 29, 2011


Today is my boys' half-birthday. Remember celebrating half-birthdays?  It seems to work only when you're still in the single digits, like my guys.

Eight and a half, today.  How did that happen?  One more birthday on this side of the fence, and then after that they're into the double digits.  Big boys.  Blink, blink. 

They were summer babies, and to think of their birthday is to think of late July's deep heat.

Jacob & Ethan, 1 day old
Not a bad thought today, as the mercury hovers just around the freezing point and we may be expecting a bit more snow later this afternoon.

Our car, street parked in New York City?  Is not currently a vehicle, but rather a vaguely car-shaped snowbank.  Plow-piled snow encases our car up to the windows plus the 19 fresh inches sit atop the roof like so much white fluffy frosting.

Frosting... that gets me to thinking... of cakes in general, and then birthday cakes in particular.  Which draws us right back round again to the matter at hand: boys and half-birthdays, half-birthdays and boys.

So maybe I should take my cue from the above, combat a case of the mid-winter blues, cheer myself up, inspired by all this birthday and cake talk, and herewith take you on a photographic tour down birthday memory lane via my ONE claim to domestic awesomeness: my amazing mommy-made birthday cakes:

In the beginning were cupcakes for birthdays one and two. Easy to make, no big knives need be left laying around curious toddlers with swift, fat, grabby fingers.  And?  They didn't know any better, what was important was the eating of them.

But then they turned three, and had seen birthday cakes in books and on TV.   Beautiful, decorated cakes.  And Ethan pounced, begged, made specific demands requests.

So it all began in 2005, when the boys were Thomas the Tank Engine obsessed 3 year-olds.  Ethan had asked for a James cake, as his then love of the color red extended to all things, including trains.  And I knew that for Jacob, who still yet did not always make his desires known, Thomas, the main character was the right choice.

Since I was making two cakes, and not everyone loves chocolate (although that makes no sense to Ethan who believes non-chocolate deserts have no reason to live), I made one cake, Ethan's, chocolate and the other, Jacob's, vanilla.

I pulled out the boys Thomas placements, and painstakingly copied the illustrations onto the cakes:
2005: My FIRST cake - Thomas for Jacob
As Ethan's chocolate frosting was so dark, problem solving how to write a legible "Happy Birthday" in the requested blue gel inspired the bug puffy steam cloud coming out of the smokestack, possibly my favorite part.
2005: James the red engine for Ethan
I wasn't sure I could pull it off, had never attempted anything quite like this before.  I dove in, in pure experimental mode, and... I succeeded, damn it!  The problem here being: once you do this well, once?  It becomes expected every year.  And I'm supposed to improve, too, to top myself, as it were.

OK, 2006: Once again, one chocolate, one not.  Lemon-vanilla, this time.  Also?  This was the first year Jacob was on his special Gluten Free/Casein Free diet.  So I had to find a really good vanilla GF/CF cake mix and make a practice cake before I inflicted it upon the masses.

I was, once again, taking design requests.  And this year I figured out that printing out simple line-drawing coloring pages found online was the best way to create a "pattern" for my decorating. 

So, four year-old Jacob was in love with Pingu the penguin:
2006: Pingu for Jake
While Ethan at four showed considerable loyalty to his father as his nascent superhero obsession erupted.  He chose Spider-man:
2006: Spidey for Ethan
Spider-main turned out a little lumpier than he was supposed to be, but within tolerable limits, I think.

And in 2007?  Cars, baby!  Jake was in love, I mean IN LOVE with Mac, the big Mac truck who is Lightning's best friend:
2007: Mac for Jake
Ethan wanted 5 cars  on his, which I nixed, but did acquiesce (after much begging) to a 2 car road scene tableau, from above, with a Route 66 logo.  I'm a sucker, what can I say:
2007 for Ethan: Route 66
I can admit, this was not my best effort.  It was late, I was getting tired.  In an ideal world, I would have filled in more green at the side of the road instead of just that lame lone squiggle.  Oh, well, it was devoured and enjoyed, just the same.

In 2008 I discovered the existence of Wilton shaped cake pans.  Who knew?  Learning about these was a revelation.  There was still a fuck-ton of work involved, but at least I didn't have to research the design.  Just E-bay the pans.  (You didn't think my kids wanted any of the current, easy to obtain designs, did you?  My kids?)

Once again the current superhero obsessions ruled: Batman for Jake and Power Ranger for Ethan. Jake's Batman cake was orange vanilla flavored and really delicious, no one would ever guess it was GF/CF unless they knew:
2008: Jake loved Batman
2008: Ethan was all about the Power Rangers
Ethan had directed me in the color choice for the Power Ranger's costume.  I bit my lip and restrained myself from sharing with him that making the Ranger sleeve's trim into a pink and green argyle made me refer to this one as "Buffy the Connecticut Wasp Power Ranger" in my mind. 

In 2009, I had some serious fun.  Ethan had switched allegiances from the Bakugan to the Pokemon Japanimation tribe just before his birthday, and decided to "make it easy for you, Mom" by requesting a simple Pokeball design, as opposed to an elaborate character re-creation.

May I present the Pokeball cake: simple, elegant, nearly modernistic:
2009: Ethan gets a Pokeball
Jake, on the other hand, got his most elaborate cake to date in 2009.   

That summer he was a bit obsessed with the very hungry caterpillar character from the self named Eric Carle storybook.  His class had performed a stirring reading of this story at their graduation & moving up ceremony in June.

One day in June I had ducked into a Williams Sonoma store when a torrential rain suddenly came down upon me while waiting for the crosstown bus.  What was in the sale bin, but a shaped caterpillar cakelet pan, and the inspiration struck:
2009: A Very Hungry Caterpillar for Jacob
2009: Close up of the head cakelet
I had so much fun making this.  My little addition: I doubled the body pieces to make him really long.  Also?  I am very fond of my embellishments: the green colored sugar crusted over green frosting to make the eyes sparkle and then the grape twizzler antennae. (The mold was for a generic caterpillar with a different face. I turned him into Eric Carle's specific caterpillar.)

Which brings us up to the present. This past year, 2010, was the boys' year of Pokemon. A shaped cake pan Pikachu (thank you Wilton) for Jacob, whose favorite color progressed to yellow this summer:
2010: Pikachu for Jake
And for Ethan?  I think I outdid myself this past year.  He initially wanted some particularly complex and difficult to draw Pokemon, but we finally settled on this guy, Lapras, who seemed actually do-able.  I think I did a pretty damn good job re-creating him, using, once again, a computer coloring page pattern:
2010: Lapras for Ethan
OK, here's the Lapras, image I used, you be the judge:

And now, in hindsight (because when have I ever NOT over-thought things), I realize that while I had thought I was doing this particular post to bring a little summer cheer into the winter gray, I also see, as this rolls along, that I had ulterior motives (when do I ever not, isn't there always a secondary agenda floating along under the overt... or is that just me?)*

I think I needed to remind myself, to prove to you all, that there's some things in life at which I do not, actually, completely suck.  Because lately?  I've been feeling pretty sucktastic, especially when it comes to the state of my messy home and all things domestic.  Sigh.

And maybe it's just the inevitable post-operative depression talking (I had been warned it might set in at about 3 weeks when the physical was mostly healed but I was not yet back to 100%).   But anyway, here it is: my house may be an absolute disaster, but there is something domestic at which I am fairly glorious.  So take that!

Also, before you go suggesting I do something like this for a living?  No, no and no.  These take me FOREVER.  I love doing this for my kids, they are a labor of love, and shall remain that way.  Once a year.  My kids only.  Probably my grand-kids (way) down the road.

And now I'm off to make a special half-birthday lunch for my dear boys.  Tomorrow they will be closer to nine, one day closer to being claimed fully by the world.  Today they are still eight and a half, still mine.

*another example of how I have legitimately earned my crown as "Queen of the Run-on Sentence  (with parenthetical clauses).

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