Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tiger Lady

K was born in the Chinese year of the tiger.  And since the Chinese Zodiac uses a 12 year cycle, the year of the tiger came around again just in time for her twelfth birthday.  Semmed fitting, somehow, to have a Chinese New Year celebration for her.

I've been itching to make a chinese dragon cake ever since I saw a photo of one on the cake idea website I like to peruse for inspiration.  I wish I could take credit for the whole thing.  But sadly, I cannot.  The overall cake layout is mine.  I was particularly proud of the rising arch of the dragon's back, even though it took about 4 bamboo skewers to hold it in place.  The frosting colors are mine.  Notice that I could not manage to get a very real red color.  Dark orange wasn't what I was going for, but it was the best I could get.  Someday, I will figure out how they make frosting an actual red color.  Until then, I should probably avoid making cakes that require red frosting.  I think I used up the remains of my entire container of gel color trying to get the frosting to turn red.  To no avail.

So I just gave in and went with the orange, causing more of a carnival look than I had in mind.  Oh, well.  At least it gives it a happier look.

The idea to use rice krispy treats to form the legs and the tail and the head--that was my idea, too.  But I stole it from the Cake Boss.  I love that show.  Even managed to get my kids hooked on it, as well.  Sweet.  That bakery is a non-negotiable stop if we ever find ourselves passing through Hoboken, New Jersey.  Which I realize may never happen.

Also notice that the rear leg is backwards.  Both Shaggy and K pointed that out to me after it was done.  Thanks a lot.  Where were they when I was forming it?  A fat lot of good their intimate knowledge of the chinese dragon anatomy did me AFTER the fact. 

But the head, the glorious, enormous, gigantic head . . . that was all Shaggy.  He's so good with that stuff.  Artsy stuff.  Creative stuff.  What would I ever do without him?

K made rice krispy treats, he took a gob of it and shaped an upper and a lower jaw.  Then he covered them with fondant and painted them with food coloring.  I think he even impressed himself.  Who knew he could sculpt with such edible mediums?

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the help K and S were in making the other fondant details--spikes, claws, teeth, horns . . .  It's the details that make a cake.

Details like the fact that the left side of the dragon's mane kept falling off.  There is a reason I took the photo from this angle.

Real chinese dragons are supposed to have the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the horns of a deer, the belly of a clam, the neck of a snake, the claws of an eagle, the paws of a tiger, and the scales of a carp.

I'm not sure we quite captured it.  But since it's just a cake, after all (GOSH!), we'll count it as good enough.
This was a fabulous theme.  I used to think that when my kids got old (yeah, like 12!), the themes would fade away because they wouldn't be fun anymore.  I was wrong.

Now they're just as fun, maybe more so because we don't have to try to manage a gaggle of little kids and keep them on task. 10 to 12-year-olds can manage that on their own.

Everyone practiced writing their names in Chinese, and using chopsticks.  K happens to LOVE origami, so she taught everyone how to make a crane.
We read a story about the origin of the chinese zodiac.  Then we had all the girls guess K's sign.  After which, we figured out what animal everyone was, and they crowded around to read a book which described the various attributes of the animals and how they interacted with the other animals.  That brought a lot of laughter.  And now we know why K and J don't get along so well.  It's because she's a tiger and he's a monkey, of course.  And all these years, I just thought it was because they were both stubborn and bossy.  And it is a seriously GOOD THING that I, being a tiger, married a dog.  Wonderfully compatible!  I suppose we can stay married for a while.
We played dragon tag, where the dragon's head tries to catch the dragon's tail without breaking the line.  And we swept all the bad luck from the last year out of our house.  On this day, the bad luck took the form of ball pit balls, so they were pretty easy to find and sweep into a box.
The cake was a hit . . . and it even tasted pretty good since it was red velvet with cream cheese frosting.  But once again, K gave me some oh-so-helpful information after the fact.  Apparently, she doesn't really care for cream cheese frosting.  She prefers the butter/crisco variety.  Well, there's always next year.
I love this girl.  And twelve is a pretty big deal.  I'm trying very hard to remember that.  To recognize how grown up she is.  Even though I can still remember her so clearly as a stubborn toddler with wispy blonde hair.  And blue eyes.  But here she is on the cusp of adolescence, transforming into this beautiful, wonderful, capable, witty young woman.  I can't wait to witness the rest of her transformation.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Breaking and Entering

I had to break into my house today . . . with a baby strapped to my chest and a three-year-old accomplice.

But let me back up, and start at the beginning.

I knew today would be a hectic day, but the morning began like many others, trying to coax B into going back to sleep after she woke up at 6 am. Didn’t work. So I turned my attentions to J. We’ve just recently implemented a new morning trick to try and help him be more responsible about getting himself out of bed and dressed. The nagging from us and the screeching from him just needs to end. So, I grab the clothes he’s going to wear for the day and I put them in the dryer to get nice and toasty. Then I tell him it’s time to get up. If he does so with minimal protest and dallying, his clothes will be wonderfully warm when he puts them on. He loves that feeling. If he drags his feet too much, or spends too much time grunting or burrowing under his blanket, his clothes will be left out to get cold. Either way, his choice.

Except today was different. He needed a bath. Really needed a bath. So we kicked into high gear and managed to get him ready for school on time and I sent him out the door with Shaggy and S. First sigh of relief.

Next, I had to turn my focus to R. I had to get her ready so we could be at the school for an awards ceremony. K, S, and J were all getting various academic/citizenship awards today. All at different times. Shaggy was going to cover the first one, which started just after school. Which left me home to get myself, R and baby B ready to go to the next one.

Turned out that R needed a bath, as well. Any day where I have to give two baths before 8 am very rarely makes my ‘really great day’ list.

But whatever. You do what you have to. I managed to throw the sheets in the wash and get us all ready, with some help from K who was still home waiting for her delayed foggy day bus . We’ve had foggy days all week. I could really get used to having her around in the morning. Usually she leaves before the rest of us are awake.

Anyway, I strapped the baby to my chest, made sure we all had jackets, checked that I had my camera and my keys, and we headed out the door to walk over to the school. J was super excited about getting some awards and made me promise to be there in time to see him. We left the house with just enough time to get there. Second sigh of relief.

We were able to see J get his awards. R took on the role of ‘clap cop,’ making sure I clapped each time a kid’s name was announced. She scowled and reprimanded me if she looked over to find me not clapping, and beamed encouragingly at me when I was clapping. What would I do without her?

The baby enjoyed feeling like she was being held constantly, so she refrained from fussing even though she was tired. And I even managed to take some pictures of my proud student. Third sigh of relief.

As we were walking home, I was thinking about how the whole morning went pretty well, despite the two bath thing. And I started to feel good about my ability to manage all the little details of the day, to make sure nothing was forgotten.

That’s when I realized that I didn’t have a key to my front door. Oh, I had my keys in my pocket, all right. They just didn’t have a key to my front door on them.

My pesky little brother, who visited us recently, stole it. Even carried it across multiple state lines. Ok, he didn’t mean to. And I don’t usually consider him all that pesky . . . at least not anymore. But, he couldn’t just be content to hang out with his big sister and her five kids. Nooooo! Instead, he felt the need to go out and paint the town. So I gave him a key so he could get back in when he was done. And how does he repay my kindness and hospitality? He steals my key. Nice.

Here he is the next morning trying to sleep in.  He pretty much succeeded (which is actually quite a feat since there were 6 people tromping through his bedroom) until he heard my camera shutter.  Funny how such a little sound could cause him to wake up so suddenly and so fully.  The opportunity to collect blackmail material is just so rare these days, I couldn't pass up this photo op with the glorious, manly bedding.  And I probably would have happily kept this photo to myself . . . except for the stolen key thing and the events that followed.
When I realized a few weeks back that he had stolen my key and asked him to mail it back, he just laughed and asked me if it wouldn’t just be easier for me to go have a copy made. Ummm, yeah. Easier for who?

Obviously, I didn’t get to the key copy shop quite yet. Which I should have remembered. But I didn’t. So I will continue to blame my pesky little brother for my unfortunate predicament.

But pesky little brothers aside, I still had to figure out how to get into my house. Call my husband to come home and let me in. Obvious solution.

Except I left my cell phone on the kitchen counter. Did I mention how good I was feeling about my ability to remember all the details? Yeah . . . never mind.

I got to my door and hoped against hope that somehow, I had forgotten the little detail of locking it. No such luck.

I went to check the gate which leads to our back yard. Because somewhere hidden back there, was a spare key.

It used to be pretty easy to open the gate. You just had to reach around and slide open the lock. But that was before mischief puppy Penny broke down our fence, forcing us to put up a new one. Because that’s when Shaggy decided to turn our back yard into Fort Knox. He built a new gate, which was really tall and had multiple locks on the inside of it. Making it impossible for someone to open from the outside to break in.

The only problem was, on this day, I really needed to break in. I had no cell phone, no food, a now sleeping baby strapped to me, and a three-year-old who just wanted to go inside for snacks and toys. None of my neighbors seemed to be home. But I did see a group of very well dressed Jehovah Witnesses down at the end of my street. I decided that if I hadn’t managed to break in before they got to my house, I would plead for their mercy and ask to use a phone.

As they continued knocking on doors, I told R that I needed her to climb over the gate and unlock it for me. She tends to go with the flow pretty well, so she said ok.

I picked her up (Did I mention that I have a baby strapped to my chest?) and heaved her high enough to shove her feet over the top of the gate. By this time she has changed her mind and cries to me that she doesn’t want to do it. But I couldn’t get her back over. She was dangling too far down the other side of the gate. I was holding her up by her wrists, trying to explain how she could put her feet on the cross bar and then hop down. She’s too busy crying to really hear me. I’m losing my grip on her wrists, so I swung her out a little and just dropped her. She immediately crumpled to the ground and started crying even harder.

Brilliant. Now she was stuck on that side. I was stuck on this side. She could have had a broken leg or something, but I couldn’t get to her to assess her injuries or even to comfort her. It was one of those moments that make you feel like the worst Mommy ever.

I snuck a peak at the Jehovah Witnesses. They were still far away. Good. Fourth sigh of relief. Wouldn’t want them to witness this.

I turned back to my crying child and sent soothing and comforting words through the gate. After a few minutes, her crying quieted and she was able to actually hear what I was saying. Fifth sigh of relief. No hospital trip.

I explained where she should look to find the other latches and what she should do to open them. She was still whimpering a little and told me no, that she didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t really blame her, considering that the last time she agreed to help me, I dropped her over a fence.

But eventually, she stopped crying, found the latch, and managed to open it after only a few failed fumbles. Sixth sigh of relief. I decided R was a good little accomplice after all, and I gave her a big hug, making sure she knew that I couldn’t have done this without her.

We retrieved the key, which I hid after the last time I was locked out of my house. Totally not my fault. But that’s another story.

This story has a happier ending. No almost broken windows. No locksmith. Just a few scrapes and worst-mother-ever moments. But those are easily lost in bowls of ice cream, with oreos and hot fudge added for good measure.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gone, Baby, Gone

My mother and I are very different people. She cries in sappy movies. She actually LIKES sappy movies. I sometimes WATCH sappy movies, but they rarely bring tears to my eyes. Maybe I'm just cold-hearted. Or maybe it's because I grew up with three brothers. Who knows. Who cares.

My mother is also a baby FANATIC. Seriously. As a kid she was sort of obsessed with baby dolls. As an adult she's always been sort of obsessed with babies. And not just the ones that she's related to. She will usually go out of her way to strike up a conversation with any random person if they happen to be accompanied by a baby. She adores them. Their smiles, their sounds, their sleepiness, everything. She volunteers to change diapers and to put them to sleep. Then she holds them the entire time they STAY asleep, even when she has lost feeling in one or both hands. Like I said, fanatic.

So when she comes to visit me, she loves to get her baby fix. And she likes to tell me that I'll miss it when my babies are gone. Her way of cheering me on, I suppose. Or making me realize that the light I THINK is at the end of the tunnel, isn't really so bright after all.

On occasion, my mother complains that she has nothing to do, that she's lonely, that some days she doesn't have much energy and just feels like napping. She likes to feel needed.

I admit that I am not quite the properly sympathetic daughter. Cold-hearted? Maybe. But it's difficult to be very sympathetic when she has the three things that I crave most desperately. Sleep. Time. Solitude. How can I be properly sympathetic when her complaints sound rather heavenly to me? When the idea that I might not be needed fills me with elation?

Even in the face of her predictions, I will cling to my bright hope that the frustrating and overwhelming nature of caring for little ones will someday come to an end.

When I think about the fact that both Shaggy and I feel that our family is now complete, I feel nothing but relief. I am happy to know that I will never be pregnant again. I am overjoyed that Baby B's newborn days are over. I don't want them back. Ever.

I look forward to the day (195, to be exact) that I can get rid of the back-breaking, shoulder-straining, elbow-hurting car carrier. I will be so excited to leave potty-training behind forever. I can't wait until the day comes when I don't have to tell J to focus on his homework every 17.4 seconds, monday through friday.

I look forward to the end of nursing. And packing a diaper bag. And whole-house shoe hunts. I long for the time when I can sleep through the night. When I can use both hands to wash counters and clear tables and make lunch. When I won't have a baby who wants to be in them all day and night. The arms, that is. Not the lunches.

I love being able to leave the house with just K & S who can get themselves together without me doing anything. I love that they don't need a bedtime routine, that we can read the Hunger Games together, or play a game, or watch a show and then send them off to bed with nothing more than a hug and a few whispered words of love.

I look forward to not having to brush anyone's teeth or wipe anyone's bum or remember to wash anyone's face before leaving home.

Don't get me wrong. I love my life. I love being able to stay home with my kids. Wouldn't trade it for anything. But, let's face it. Taking care of the small kid set is tough. It's full of frustration and repetition . . . and sprinkled with moments of joy. One of life's great ironies is that the endless hours of drudgery are what fades from our memories. While the simple moments of joy continue to shine brightly for us as we progress through life.

My mother has forgotten so much of what it was like to raise kids. I can see that every time she comes to visit us. She spends her first day or two in a complete daze at the noise and frantic pace of our lives. Not frantic because we are rushing to soccer and music and drama and art. We try not to over schedule like that. The frantic pace comes from changing diapers, calming meltdowns, helping with science projects, regulating nintendo time, mediating sibling conflicts, preparing dinner, doing laundry, and putting kids to sleep. The list goes on and on.  It doesn't help that there are 5 little voices all clamoring to be heard at the same time when we congregate in one room.

But to my mother's credit, she always snaps out of her daze and jumps in to help where she can. Yeah, it's nice when she comes to visit. Even when she tries to convince me how much I'll miss it, when my babies are gone.

Except I don't think I'll miss it, really. Remember? Yes, I hope so. It's fine by me if the memories of the frustration and exhaustion fade some. But I hope I will always remember how tough it is, to raise little ones. Because that's the stuff that's molding me into a better person. The sacrifice, the endurance, the patience that family life takes. It's the hard stuff that hones my good qualities.

I know I will cherish the memories of my babies, especially those shining, joyful ones that will outlast all the others. The first laugh, the unsteady steps, the little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. The look of wonder at experiencing something for the first time, the humor, the togetherness.

But those memories won't make me want these days back. I look forward to moving through the different phases of my life. Even if it does mean leaving some beautiful and wonderful things behind me forever.


J said a prayer for the first time at church.  He wanted me right by his side, to whisper the words in his ear.  He didn't want to do it alone.

But he did great!  The most surprising part, though, is that he volunteered to say this prayer.  I actually was in the process of telling his teacher no thanks when she told me he had volunteered.  Of his own free will.  Miraculous.  And I hope it just keeps comin'!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Easy On the Eyes

Some of my relatives tell me that dark backgrounds with light text are NOT easy on the eyes.  And since I have no desire to blind these relatives (or any others, for that matter), I have changed my color scheme.  May your eyes never feel strained again!  At least not by me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I have to say that my camera chose a terrible time to break.  B's first Christmas.  Christmas in general, with all of its traditions and excitement.  And this trip to the coast to see the monarch butterflies.  At least we had a small, alternate camera to use, so all was not lost.

I've been wanting to see these little buggers for a long time now.  We made a trip last year, but they had already left.  Sad day. 

So when we had an unexpected few days of Aunt N because her flight home was cancelled, we checked the butterfly count and headed on over.

All those little dark dots in the sky are butterflies.

And those orange-ish things clustered on the branches?  Yep, those would be butterflies, too.  I think they said there were something like 25,000 in the grove.  Pretty cool.

Of course, I would really rather have seen them in 1990 when there was 230,000.  Can you imagine?  That would be a sight!

Unfortunately, those days may be over unless we somehow manage to counter the effects of urbanization.  Plant some milkweed already!!  Sheesh!

But the monarch butterflies are fairly amazing creatures.  Most of them live little more than a month or two.  Just enough time to eat a little, fly a little, and procreate.

But each year, during late summer or early fall, a special generation is born.  A generation of butterflies that live 6 to 8 months and who know, inexplicably, where exactly to fly to survive the winter.  All the butterflies that are born in the western US fly to the same spots along the west coast.  All the rest go to Mexico.  And since I couldn't be paid enough to travel to Mexico these days, I was happy to stick to the west coast.

Someday, I hope I learn how these butterflies know where to fly.  And how that 5th generation is able to live longer.  And while we're at it, how do they manage to eat toxic milkweed, but just pump the poison into their wings so it makes predators spit them out?  And how do they fly thousands of miles on those delicate wings?

Seriously amazing creatures.  I think I left the grove with many more questions than I had when I got there.  Just what I need, another thing to look up.

True to our recent performances, we forgot something we needed on this trip.  A stroller.  Or a sling.  Or a baby pack of any kind.  So since baby B was entirely too LAZY to walk, she wore our arms out as we carried her.  I hope she returns the favor one day.

None of the kids were very impressed with the butterflies.  Maybe because they were flying and hanging out way up high in the trees.  But they had fun finding trampled flowers and acorn tops that looked like birthday cakes.

And J found a chance to show off his strength by bulldozing his aunt and sister . . . bulldozing them backwards, along the rail.  To each his own.

But N enjoyed the trip, despite the hours of being crammed in a van full of kids.

And I was happy to get the chance to see the butterflies. I just wish that my camera wasn't broken and that I had a good telephoto lens.  Oh well, maybe next time.