Category Archives: Celebrating Holidays

Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake

My kindergartener loves pirates, so we concocted a pirate cake for his birthday party. I love the process of turning a child’s wish into reality. The ship was three-tiered, complete with poop deck, bowsprit, topsails, gun ports and a chocolate … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Cool Cakes and Costumes, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake

  1. deidra says:

    WOW is all I can say!

  2. What a great mom! I would’ve killed for a birthday cake like that when I was 8 yrs old.

    My weakness is hanging on to financial documents way past when I need to. Not sure why, I just do, but am mentally working up to the day I start shredding the oldest of them.

    I have no trouble eating any culinary masterpiece either I’ve created (rare) or have eaten in a finer restaurant (a bit less rare, but we don’t eat out at fancy places very often).


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Isn’t it funny what we hang on to? Good luck when your shedding day comes.

  3. Erika Cedillo says:

    I loved your post!! Thanks for the reminder of focusing on to the process, the memories, the experiences and relationships… and to let go.
    I hang on to every single craft my children do as if I would like to document every stage and how their abilities evolve. What I’ve came up to is to create a digital file so I take a picture of everything and now I have a big digital photo album that only takes virtual space but that I can go back to and see their crafts. Then I just choose the very special ones and I restrict myself to just 3 (well maybe 4-5) for every 6 months or so and then let go the rest because all are in photos.

  4. M Brown says:

    Thank you for this story. It’s a good reminder to me to be present moment-to-moment. Also, you remind me of a Dan Hodgins quote: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then, always be a pirate.”

  5. jannette says:

    where did you get the pattern?

Castle Cake

January is cake time in our family. My youngest has a birthday and we have fun making elaborate cakes. For his 4th birthday he asked for a castle cake with a princess coming out of it. Thought you’d like to … Continue reading

Posted in Cool Cakes and Costumes, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Castle Cake

  1. Holy Toledo – that’s FANTASTIC!

    Ahoy Matey, I’m looking forward to photos of the pirate ship!

    May 2014 be filled with simple, slow moments that nourish your soul.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I’ll let you know what the pirate ship looks like. Maybe we could use tootsie rolls for cannons.

  2. You’re one cool mom, Heather! If my mom had made a cake for me like that when I was four, I might have keeled over from excitement right then and there.

    No tips for a pirate ship other than don’t try to make tall masts or yardarms from cake.(duh) I’d use colored straws or thin wooden dowels.

    Happy New Year.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I was thinking of pretzel rods for the masts and bowsprit and maybe yards as well. Still debating about the sails…

  3. Katie says:

    Funny that I read this post today, because I just got cleaning out some old picture albums and found a picture of a hamburger shaped cake that I made for my brother’s birthday when I was taking a Wilton cake decorating course. I made two 8″ round yellow cakes for the buns, then frosted them. I made a 8″ chocolate for the “burger” and edged the top of that with some red and green for the “lettuce” and “ketchup”. It looked pretty good!

  4. jenifer says:

    Great cake! When my princess-obsessed daughter turns 4 in September, I’ll have to pull it out. Then again, maybe I can wow her with a minimized version when her sister turns 1 in February. 🙂

    Could you use wontons for sails? Maybe brushed with butter and sprinkled with sugar?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Have fun with your birthday castles! Ooh – and thanks for the sail idea. Never would have thought of that.

  5. Angela says:

    Could you please send me the recipe for the cake?
    That would be great!

Who are you?

One of the most bothersome questions I heard when I was young was: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s an age-old question, but not that useful. When you’re 3 or 6 or 10, the vague, … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Cool Cakes and Costumes, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Who are you?

  1. Holly says:

    When I first became a mom, one of the things I looked forward to most was getting to see what costumes my children would choose for themselves. I think it’s fun when parents dress up, too.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Getting my costume ready now…I still gain much from trying on new identities when it’s costume time.

  2. Katie says:

    One of our friends recently commented that her little boy liked wearing tu-tus and the child’s grandfather did not agree with that. So he was removed from the picture email list until he can be more open minded!

    • Holly says:

      He might never be. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings on things, and other generations are sometimes different from our own…just as future generations might be ‘better’ about some things than we are. I would just not share it and not think another thing about it. JMHO of course.

  3. Self expression is vital for human development and costumes are a fantastic way to be who we are AND who we aren’t, both.

    Great post, thank you!

  4. Fleda Brown says:

    Perfect. I loathe that question, what do you want to be when you grow up? As if now is not enough. Good to dream, but better to enjoy.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      “Now” is something we often overlook. Kids are almost always in the now. Well said.

  5. Jan Waters says:

    As you know some of us 70’s year olds still like to dress up even if it isn’e halloween! Jan

  6. Liz P. says:

    Thanks for referencing the relevant chapters in your wonderful book. I love how the individual chapters stand alone.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks, Liz. I worked hard to make the individual chapters stand alone because I know busy parents don’t always have time to read a book straight through. Sometimes dipping in and out is all the time we have!

Community Building

This fall we closed off the streets in our neighborhood and held an old-fashioned block party. The result was fantastic – with cars banished, we united in community. Kids rode bicycles in the open road. Teens created elaborate chalk drawings. … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Community Building

  1. Fleda Brown says:

    This is a wonderful idea. We had one once in our neighborhood, but it was not repeated. It requires someone to take responsibility for it. I’d say the best thing would be to appoint next year’s coordinator at this year’s party.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, very true. We had a sign up board and already four eager people have signed up to coordinate the next block bash!

  2. The best we’ve done is a Night Out sponsored by the local police force. Block parties were organized, officers stopped by to chat and answer questions, and the neighbors got to meet each other at least for a few hours. I thought it was great. Too bad everyone is so “busy” they don’t have time to get to know the people most likely to help them in a neighborhood crisis–their neighbors.

    I’ve never bought the “too busy” argument. Everyone prioritizes their time. They’re never too busy to do what they most want to do. I think most people use busy as an excuse to be by themselves because modern-day life is so damn mentally exhausting that they need time just to decompress.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, your comment about being too busy really struck home. I do think people to seek time “to be by themselves because modern-day life is so damn mentally exhausting that they need time just to decompress.” We need to unwind from that. Thanks for sharing your comments.

Mother’s Day Marvel

All books have an inspiration.  Mine was my mother.  She’s worked 40 years at a remarkable preschool in Columbus, Ohio where they truly believe in free play.  When I say truly, I mean they go so far as to give … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Mother’s Day Marvel

  1. Rachel says:

    Your mother is one of the greats and it has been my pleasure getting to know her through my family’s relationship to SYC. Her OAEYC award was deserved and I’m glad she used her acceptance speech to continue to spread the message that free play is necessary and valuable. Thanks for continuing to shine a light on this important value and your very special mother.

  2. Alyxandria says:

    As a student completing my A.A. in ECED, and going on to get my B.S. in Education and Child Development, I am inspired by your mother’s teaching philosophy and the mission of the program she serves. Play-based and interest-lead curriculum is SO important and yet so difficult to find in programs nationwide, and I’m very happy that your mother is someone who has spent her life practicing and raising awareness of the methods that I’ve come to feel so strongly about. Happy Mother’s Day to you and to your mother!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wonderful – wonderful. I wish more people studying child development fully believed in play-based learning. Best of luck to you and may you become a mentor for many people in your field.

  3. Heather – This is a beautiful tribute to you mother. Even more so, however, is your life. “The proof is in the pudding,” as they say. Your mom not only did a terrific job with you, the ripples of her life have far-reaching, positive waves in the educational arena.

    As an adult, I tracked down my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Kline, and told her what an amazing positive influence she had been on my life.

    Parents and teachers shape the future – our children.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks from the “pudding!” So glad you took the time to find your elementary school teacher and thanked her properly. I’m sure she was overjoyed to hear from you.

  4. Congratulations to your mom, Heather. What a great honor and wonderful validation of the SYC philosophy.

    My mother is the living embodiment of unconditional love. She’s been 100% supportive of whatever we three children have strived for. She may not have known it at the time, but she was a practitioner of the “It’s OK Not to Share” philosophy of child rearing. She only stepped to mediate arguments if someone was hurt or about to be hurt, or property was in danger of being damaged or had been.

    Her standard response to the summertime “I’m bored, Mom,” complaint was “Go outside and play.” 99% of our play was unsupervised by adults and we truly did learn how to cope with differences, negotiate, be patient, deal with problems and conflicts, and just plain “get along with others.”

    She’d step in as the authority only when the situation demanded discipline, but we always knew it was our behavior that was at fault, not ourselves. Hugely important for kids to know that their behavior and their selves are two different entities.

    And she was always there if we needed a bandaid, a comfort food hot lunch of chicken noodle soup and PB&Js, or just a hug at the right time. Thanks, Mom.

    (All my favorite teachers happened to be male, so I don’t have a teacher story appropriate for Mother’s Day.) 🙂

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      A wonderful story for Mother’s Day – thanks, Chris. I love her “Go outside and play” philosophy and you’re right – “Hugely important for kids to know that their behavior and their selves are two different entities.’

Firefighter Cake

Once I learned of the glories of adding dry ice to a birthday cake, I couldn’t resist. My first creation was a volcano cake, complete with red lava frosting and dry ice smoke cascading down.  When my son turned 5 … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Cool Cakes and Costumes, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Firefighter Cake

  1. Oh my gosh, Heather, I love, Love, LOVE it!

    I also resonate with your sentiment: “I’m not big on presents, but I do love experiences.” You gave the best gift of all – phenomenal memories that will be carried and cherished well into adulthood.

    Your experiment turned out exceedingly better than mine:
    And while the story was supposed to be fiction, it was based on actual events

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for sharing – wow in return – I’ve never tried flash fiction. Or should we call it flash nonfiction?

  2. That is just fantastic! Now my mind is really going…, thank you!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Can’t wait to see what you come up with for a fun bday cake! Let me know how it goes!

  3. Deidra Gorgos says:

    all I can say is WOW!

  4. Zane says:

    I just showed this to my girls. They were in awe and had many questions—about the dry ice especially! Thanks for sharing, and Happy Birthday to Luke!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You can get dry ice for ~ $1 at Meijers. We had fun exploding the lid off a tupperware container after the cake fun. The pressure builds up as the CO2 builds up inside the jar — and then BONK! The lid pops off. Extra fun if you put a little toy figure on top of the lid who jumps off spectacularly.

  5. Cute idea for a cake. Very clever.

    My best birthdays were sliding parties (January birthday in MN). A bunch of my friends and I would take our sleds, saucers, and toboggans to the nearby sliding hill and race up and down until we were too cold to stand it any longer, then goback to my house for cake and ice cream.

    I can’t remember a single present I received for all my combined birthdays age 1-18, but I’ll always remember the sliding parties.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Your sliding parties sound wonderful! Yes – very telling. “I can’t remember a single present I received for all my combined birthdays age 1-18, but I’ll always remember the sliding parties.” How true.

  6. Wendy says:

    That is awesome!

  7. Amber Grant says:

    Great cake!! What type of container did you use for the dry ice inside the house?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      We used a small glass candleholder, but I’ve also used a plastic container – most recently the small measuring top to children’s medicine bottle.

  8. Birthday cakes are my hobby for the past 3 years and I just love making them. Thanks for publishing this.

Presence not Presents

“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory preserved from childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about education. But … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Presence not Presents

  1. Memories, without question. We had our traditions at Christmas, too. The best was Mom reading “The Night Before Christmas” next to the tree to us three kids. Then we’d go up to bed with our special candles lit and guiding the way. It was a good way to put Christmas dreams into our heads just before falling to sleep–assuming we could calm our excitement enough to actually fall asleep.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love the image of candles and Christmas Eve poetry, Chris! Fantastic. Your mom knew how to build memories.

  2. “The joy of surprise that a gift brings is something to be treasured, not overdone.”

    As a minimalist, this resonates with my heartstrings – zing!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, I think some people overreact against too many presents by saying no to presents completely. That skips the joy. The element of surprise, care and insight into a gift is such a joy both to give and receive.

  3. Angie Lathrop says:

    Love the Dostoyevsky quote! For me, one of my favorite parts about Christmas is the music and the excuse to walk around humming…
    My sister-in-law started a tradition of making gingerbread houses and having a decorating party every year, usually about two weeks before Christmas, and now it’s unthinkable to not have Gingerbread House Day. She bakes (and puts together) 20-25 houses, makes the frosting, and we all bring candy and spend the day snacking and making our houses. She always takes pictures of each family with their house. Every year she invites the immediate family plus a variety of friends and acquaintances–it’s a slightly different mix every year. It’s super fun, relaxing, and there are no presents to purchase (just a competition to see who can bring the most original candy…)

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh my gosh, LOVE the Gingerbread House Day. Can I come? Sounds like a magical time. And humming is great, too, of course.

  4. Zane says:

    Lovely post, Heather. Singing at Christmas time is one of my favorite parts of the season as well. We’re still working on creating our own traditions as a family, and your caroling party is one of them!

    I grew up with what I would describe as an “overdone” Christmas (as far as presents were concerned), and one of my challenges is continually reminding grandparents to scale back for our children.

    I love the Dostoyevsky quote!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Overdone gift-giving is far too common. For some people presents = Christmas. You also hit the nail on the head about what to do about the issue – sometimes convincing grandparents is even harder than doing stopping ourselves!

Chicken Soup

I’m thankful for our chickens.  We’ve had a small backyard coop for three years now. Fresh eggs with golden yolks for breakfast, the joy of opening up the nesting box and cradling a warm newly laid egg. But after three … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Chicken Soup

  1. Natalie says:

    This could not have come at a better time. We have 5 hens and two roosters. Both of the rooster attacked my 6 yr old yesterday. She was taking eggs out of their coop. She was terrified. When we found out that we had two males, we said if they ever become aggressive Giant or Angel will become dinner. So their nicknames are Dinner.
    Back to my point, my children are so sad. This is our first time raising chickens. We don’t have any experience in killing/butchering them. My partner’s mother will do it for us the day after Thanksgiving. We will learn from her, as she grew up on a farm in Portugal.

    We started with 12 in May and now have 7. They have experienced loosing their chicks, but not killing them. It is important for us as well for them to know where our food comes from. They already said they don’t want to be here when it happens. The one that was attacked does not want Giant killed. I am afraid of how they will feel after. I don’t want to traumatize her. If you have any thoughts to share, I would really appreciate it. Thanks. Natalie

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hello Natalie,
      Glad the post was timely for you. Sorry to hear about the rooster attack, and it’s understandable that your daughter has a mix of feelings about it – terror, but probably also guilt that she’s responsible for the rooster getting killed. Sounds as if you will be in good hands with your family expert from Portugal. If the person in charge is calm and matter-of-fact, that can help kids take it in stride. Be open to all your daughter’s emotions, and be ready for the fact that she may think it’s all her fault. You might try watching some nature videos which depict predator and prey – how it’s not the antelope’s fault or the cheetah’s fault, it’s just the mix of life. Good luck – and let us know how it goes!

  2. “If I couldn’t kill a chicken myself, I figured I shouldn’t go on eating them.”

    Heather, I admire your mindset. Whether a person is a carnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, it’s important to know where meat comes from. Many children understand that meat comes from a package in the grocery store, but they haven’t any experience to connect the dots back to the original source, a living animal.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      It is hard to connect the dots for kids and adults as well. I agree with you that we all need to learn about food’s sources, no matter what our eating habits. I find killing a chicken makes me more grateful for the life energy the bird gives me.