Repeat after me: School projects are fun. School projects are educational. School projects can be great family experiences if your parents are organized, proficient with a sewing machine and technically savvy.
I think you can see where this is going.
The week before winter break is always busy for parents, with holiday preparations, end-of-semester concerts, class parties and school project deadlines.
Actually, we were fairly organized on this front at first. My daughter had a big social studies project due Dec. 18 (the Tuesday before break), and we got off to a good start.
The class was planning a “wax museum” with historical figures from the 1910s and ’20s. Each student was to choose an influential person, write about his or her impact on our lives and prepare a presentation with a speech and appropriate costume.
My drama-loving daughter chose silent film star Mary Pickford, who as it turned out had a major impact on the film industry as a champion for actors’ rights. And Amelia Earhart was already taken.
We looked up information online, checked out a few books from the library and bought a display board. She started writing her report and planned to pull the rest together during that final weekend.
The costume thing always makes me break out in a cold sweat, as until this Christmas I did not own a sewing machine, and my skills as a seamstress are questionable at best. But we found a dress and hat in her closet that worked perfectly, bought a few accessories at the fabric store (no sewing required) and we were all set.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, my son mentioned that, oh, by the way, he needed to make 30 cupcakes for a project by Dec. 19. Baseball cupcakes, each with a major league logo drawn on top.
I decided I would think about that after Mary Pickford was a wrap.
My daughter finished her project Sunday night, so my son and I baked the cupcakes on Monday. That left Tuesday to ice and decorate.
Which should have been fine, except for a few glitches — and another little project I had put off despite my daughter’s gentle-but-constant reminders.
My son wanted the cupcakes to look like baseballs, with white icing and red piping for the stitches. So far, so good.
We had bought eight different colors of decorative icing for the logos, but when he started to draw them we realized it was icing gel, which kept dribbling down the slope of the cupcake tops.
Time for Plan B: He would print out the logos for each team and paste them on top. He found a website with all the logos on one easily printable page. No sweat.
Except when he printed them, the logos came out in shades of black, white and gray. Our printer cartridge was out of color ink (which I had noticed when we were printing out Pickford photos, but after all, most of them were black-and-white, so a person could be forgiven for letting that fact slip her mind, right?) I knew I had a spare somewhere but couldn’t find it.
Plan C: My son and his sister would draw each of the logos by hand and tape them to the sides of the cupcakes. After they had completed 26 of the 30, I shooed them off to bed and finished the last four myself.
Then the tape wouldn’t stick to the ridges of the paper cupcake holders.
Plan D: I would tape each logo to a toothpick and stick it in the cupcakes. It was then I noticed the empty toothpick holder my husband had crafted in shop class.
Clawing through the utensil drawer to find them, I noticed a few toothpicks scattered beneath the spatulas and melon-ballers. I kept digging until I found exactly 31. And the first toothpick broke.
Mission complete, I turned to my daughter’s other project, also due the next day: a commercial for Webkinz that she had taped days earlier right after it was assigned. I had cleverly recorded her on both my smartphone and digital video camera, thinking I would cover all the bases in case of a technical glitch.
We had tried to download the commercial earlier that evening, but after turning the house upside down, I failed to turn up the cord that connects the video camera to the computer.
No worries, I assured her, I’ll just download it from my phone later. (We’ll call this Plan B-2.) Except now my computer wouldn’t recognize the video file.
Plan C-2: Email the file to her teacher. My phone decided the 30-second commercial was too large a file.
I’m sure there’s a setting I could have changed, but at this point, it was 11 p.m., and I was out of brain cells.
I ended up taking the entire video camera to her teacher, who eventually plugged the memory card into her laptop at home to watch. It was not my finest technical hour.
As we start a new semester, my to-do list includes buying a new printer cartridge and solving our phone problems before the next project is due.
I also bought a memory card plug-in for our computer so we can download without a cord — and promptly left it at a relative’s house in St. Louis over Christmas.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column appears in print every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/jawurth.
Mary Pickford portrait, circa 1914, from the Wikipedia website
Our full line-up of finished cupcakes, and a close up (including my personal favorite in the back right corner). Julie Wurth photo