What: a watermelon-flavoured cake with mint leaves and berries, jelly on top, no chocolate, no icing, and no cake. Kid 5 can get a bit specific about their requests some times.
Take one watermelon, cut a cake-sized cylinder from the middle, cut the peel away from the outside. In hindsight, it’d have been easier to eat if we left the peel on.
Make a couple of pizza-trays of strawberry and raspberry jelly, using berry juice instead of hot water. Completely fail to prepare the trays for easy jelly removal, causing the jelly to come out in vague chunks. For bonus points, attempt to warm the tray in the oven while cooking pizza so that the top of the jelly melts and the bottom remains completely stuck.
Tip the jelly onto the cake. Try to land it on the top of the cake rather than half-on and half-off, because it *will* slide under its own mass and watermelon has no grip on the jelly.
Cover the cake with spearmint leaf lollies (still available in dollar and home brands if you look for them) and berry lollies, then put cake in the fridge to ensure the jelly doesn’t melt while decorating.
Come back to the cake the next morning and redo all the lollies seeing as they will have slid off the jelly overnight and soaked in watermelon juice, rendering them surprisingly inedible.
Attempt to stick a candle into the jelly in a way that will let it stay upright, while not causing the jelly to slip off.
Go into the party room and start everyone singing Happy Birthday.
Pay attention when your spouse is calling from the other room “I can’t get it to light!!!”
Get everyone singing again.
Leave spouse attempting to cut pieces of cake and put them on party plates without losing any of the lollies on top or accidentally flicking jelly across the room as he tips the slices.
Go get the tray of plain watermelon slices you prepared earlier from the rest of the watermelon, and put it out for the kids to devour.
Put watermelon cake back in the fridge after the party. Wait until it has been completely forgotten by Birthday Child, and add to compost.
(Honestly, this could have been done really well and been excellent, and in fact many bits of it were excellent. It just didn’t happen that way *this* time.)
What: Squares marked on the floor for the kids to use as a “target” to sweep into.
About: I’ve been trying to get my kids to sweep for years, with low expectations, and my expectations have still been too high. We formalised sweeping as a weekly chore about a year ago, and results were still poor. There was no sense of how it should look when finished, or whether one’s actions were improving or unimproving the situation – after ten minutes of sweeping I’d still have stuff all over the floor. And neither child could implement a broom well enough to try different things and see if they worked. I saw this idea on the Net somewhere, tried it, and so far it seems to be helping. Something to provide focus and structure was what was needed. Now at least most of the dirt and crud ends up in the square rather than just randomly redistributed.
How: I got a few rolls of fancy ribbon from the local two dollar store, cut them into lengths of about the right size, laid them out where I wanted the square to be and taped them in place with clear packing tape. That seems to have worked fine. It wasn’t easy though, ribbon curling and tape sticking all over the place, and in hindsight I should have just tried to find fancy adhesive tape and save myself a step. So far the packing tape is standing up to the random force of brooming, and maybe the nice adhesive tapes wouldn’t, and we all do like the ribbons I got. So, swings and roundabouts there.
Extras: Not sure if this really builds on anything in particular. The aim was to give a target, it’s providing a target. My next steps will be to build on the sense of actually sweeping the whole area methodically, rather than just dragging the broom through once and assuming it has somehow magically swept the whole hallway. But I have no time-specific goal there. I’m more interested in building the sense that this is a trivial job, easy to get done, requiring no drama – and that it’s a job that has to be done regularly by someone.
What: Gateway activity to getting the kids to wash dishes for me and also manual dexterity skills for cooking.
How: I collected lots of drink bottle and milk bottle lids over time, in a range of colours – orange, yellow and red from Gatorade and iced tea, blue from milk, green, black and purple from fruit juice. They were for use in other activities, but needed a good clean. The kids put an apron on each (and Kid 3 even kept it on!), I gave them a wooden spoon and mixing bowl with warm water and a squirt of detergent each. Then I distributed the lids. They had great fun stirring the water up to make bubbles, stirring the colourful lids around, trying not to send absolutely all their water over the edge, and getting the lids “clean”. I had a bottle-brush scrubber too that they took turns using. When they were “done”, they scooped the lids that were clean out and put them on a teatowel that I laid out for the purpose. I checked as we went for any that needed more thorough cleaning.
Extras: This leads on to other variations of washing dishes, and also to forms of cooking that need stirring. Stirring’s a surprisingly difficult skill, especially judging the force needed to move the spoon without flinging the contents on the ceiling. The lids have been in constant use since for maths and reading foundational activities.