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Archive for the ‘Birthday’ Category

It is hard to believe that, four years ago today, I was officially 42 weeks pregnant with Carla… 14 days past my due date… and yet I wouldn’t meet her for another two days.

My Dealing with Birthday Feelings therapy is, apparently, making an elaborate homemade birthday cake for my child. I don’t know how, exactly, panicking over measurements whilst being covered in flour is therapeutic, but it is my thing.

Carla has requested a rainbow cake this year. Which is an improvement over what she asked for previous to settling on rainbow cake, which was a purple cake with black frosting. I am not opposed to that combination, but no way am I cleaning black frosting out of a fancy birthday dress. I doubt there is enough OxiClean in all the lands for that task.

My model rainbow cake looks like this:

I am going to follow The Little Kitchen’s strategic plans to the tee. But I am going to kick the crazy up a notch by not using boxed cake mix and instead making my own cake, using the recipe I used last year: Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Since the cake has many layers (SIX), and since I have proved to be terrible at making straight cuts to the top of a cake, I got myself a little helper. It is a Wilton cake leveler, and I bought it at JoAnn Fabric for $7.99, although NOW I see that I could have bought it (as an add-on item) from Amazon for $4.98. Ooh! I also see it is now on sale at JoAnn Fabric for $5.59. I have not used it, so I have no idea if it will work or if it is destined to become one of those things that languishes at the back of the bottommost cupboard, only to be glared at disdainfully the three times a year you spot it behind the food processor. I will report back.

Speaking of disdainful glares, we have now come to the Bubble Guppies portion of this post.

Listen, I have a lot of problems with the Bubble Guppies as it is. But my current problem is rainbow-related.

Bubble Guppies Venn

I don’t know why this image is so huge, nor why the circles themselves are so THICK, but we do the best we can with the tools available.

My daughter has been singing a little song regularly for the past few months. It’s very catchy, so you can imagine that sometimes I awaken at half past three in the morning with it running in maniacal loops through my brain. It basically goes, “Red orange yellow green purple blue white! Something something something just right!”

That can’t be right, I thought. So I kept correcting her. “It’s not red orange yellow green purple blue white,” I would say, secure in my knowledge that of the few things I can truly accept as fact in the world, Roy G. Biv is one of them. “It’s probably red orange yellow green blue purple white.” Even though I don’t know why they’d tack the white on there, I guess I could ALLOW for it, because of rhythm. And yes, “blue purple” has a different rhythm than “purple blue,” but so what? Children’s songs have made more with less.

But Carla would become quite adamant. She would screw up her face and stomp her foot if she was in foot stomping position, and she would say, “NO Mommy, it IS red orange yellow green purple blue white!”

And I would calmly explain to her about Roy G. Biv and the rainbow and blah blah she’s not yet four so you may already know how well those conversations went.

We did end up seeking out the song on YouTube. And my dear Carla was finally vindicated! The song DOES say “purple blue white” and so now I am furious with the Bubble Guppies for passing on misinformation in such an ear-wormy way. WHY, Bubble Guppies? WHY? (Also, “orange like an orange”? You couldn’t think of ANYTHING ELSE that’s orange? Um, pumpkins? Tangerines? Velveeta?)

I would like to publically acknowledge that the song is not about rainbows per se. But it has insinuated itself into Carla’s brain as Fact. Color Order Fact. So she looked at the picture of the rainbow cake and told me that it was in the wrong order. And that her cake needed to go purple blue, NOT blue purple.

I don’t know if I will be able to misorder the layers of the cake. It will look so horribly WRONG, you know? (Although it will look horribly wrong to Carla if I do it the Roy G. Biv way…) And, more importantly, it will BE wrong. Plus, I don’t want her to go through life thinking that this is the way the rainbow goes! I can envision her failing all sorts of rainbow-related tests in future years, and her teachers shaking their heads and recommending rainbow remediation and our dreams of an Ivy League education disappearing into a bank of cumulous clouds.

We watched a YouTube video of Bill Nye, explaining rainbows. We looked at an actual rainbow. We discussed how mommy is a bit older than Carla and knows a few more things.

Nope. Bubble Guppies are apparently the Final Word on color order.

Basketballs are also orange, BUBBLE GUPPIES.

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It is really too late to fret about this now, because it’s HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, but that means I’m in Prime Fretting Headspace.

We are having Carla’s birthday party this weekend, and TWENTY PEOPLE will be here. Okay, eighteen. But that’s VERY CLOSE TO TWENTY. I have never had so many people at my house before.

Things that I am fretting over:

1. The Food: Because my husband has kindly and gently pointed out that one of the reasons I find entertaining so stressful, we are outsourcing the food. We are getting a big sandwich tray, along with some pasta salad, and some chips. I am TRYING to resist the urge to make homemade guacamole and salsa. We’ll see if I succeed.

I also really REALLY wanted to make macarons, but my husband gently and kindly persuaded me not to. And he’s right: they are time intensive and also finicky and I can imagine the feet not setting correctly and feeling frustrated and panicked. So. No macarons. Instead, we are ordering an ice cream cake.

Will we have enough food? Will people like it?

And what about alcohol? How much beer and wine do you need to buy for twelve adults? We don’t have anything resembling a cooler, so I bought two big plastic tubs from Target for $5.99 apiece that I’m planning to fill with ice and drinks.

Besides beer and wine, what’s appropriate to offer as drinks? I got some bottled water (although Target didn’t have EITHER Dasani or Aquafina – my preferred brands – and I had to buy Ice Mountain instead) and a box of fun-sounding La Croix. We have tons of diet soda already, but we don’t drink non-diet soda. Do we need to buy any?

2. The Décor: This is supposed to be a birthday party, so I want it to be somewhat festive. But I also don’t want to go too overboard. My ORIGINAL idea was to match the decorations to Carla’s dress, which is orange and blue and white.

 

Birthday dress

It’s from Gymboree and it looks like I’m going to have to IRON the hem.

So I got some navy blue plates and cups and napkins and tablecloth and balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner from Target. And some of those little poof things you hang from the ceiling. And a little banner for the cake. Man, Target really knows how to get you to spend a LOT of money on single-use stuff.

Blue party supplies

Image from Target.com

But I cannot find coordinating ORANGE decorations anywhere! Even my local Party Place only had about five orange balloons. I guess that will have to be enough.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did find the following from Amazon. But they are asking $12.95 for eight settings. Target charges $2.00 for 10 9-inch plates, $3.00 for 10 cups, $2.00 for 20 napkins.

Orange plates

Image from Amazon.com

Dammit, now I see that Target has orange party supplies ONLINE, so I could have ordered them! But now I am out of time! ACK.

And I was going to do blue macarons and orange macarons. But THAT’S not happening. So now I’m feeling like the décor will be half-assed.

3. The State of My House, Indoors and Outdoors: My house is my house, right? But whenever actual PEOPLE are going to spend time here, I start worrying about whether it is too shabby or too dirty or too cramped. Do we have enough chairs? No, no we don’t. Is there enough room in the living room? Nope, not at all.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we can divide our time between inside and being in the backyard. I mean, I am REALLY counting on being able to throw all six of the kids into the yard so they can play.

But the deck is… well, if we are being charitable, it is “distressed” at best. And the latticework that ostensibly keeps creatures from setting up apartments under the deck is very beat up. The long side that faces the yard has fallen in completely, and it looks terrible. But THAT’S not going to be different by this weekend.

And I have been spending ALL SUMMER searching for cushions for our rag-tag collection of seating on the deck with NO LUCK. So finally this past weekend, in a panic, I ordered some things that might (fingers crossed) work, and those are going to arrive tomorrow HOPEFULLY.

What if it RAINS? What in heaven’s name will I do with six toddlers? I suppose I could spend a couple of hours making the basement more child-friendly, and just toss them all down there.

4. Entertainment for the Kids: I think here is one area where I am allowing COMPARISONS to freak me out. We recently went to a birthday party where the kids were all playing outside while the adults were eating and drinking. And somehow THAT party has become The Benchmark, and I know – I KNOW – Carla’s party won’t measure up.

It was her best friend’s party. And they have different circumstances than we do. A much larger house and yard, for one thing. And a nanny-share situation that means they have a TON of toys. But the party included: a massive trampoline, a bounce house, a mini-swimming pool, and a sprinkler.

We just don’t have those things, and nor would I want ANY of them, really. But since we DON’T have any of those things, I am fretting about what the kids will DO outside.

My mother-in-law has apparently bought us some sort of sprinkling apparatus. We have a small water table. Carla has a little tiny play structure with a small slide and a little hidey-hole underneath. She has a table with benches and an umbrella. She has a mini-trampoline that one person can use. There are various balls and bats and a little lawnmower. I think the kids will have things to play with. No one is going to be standing in the middle of the yard, staring in boredom at the grass.

I didn’t feel like doing gift bags (is this the wrong way to go?), but I did get every child a bubble wand. So they can play with bubbles.

Is this enough?

I am fighting the urge to hire a magician or that guy who comes equipped with turtles and armadillos and an alligator.

5. The Mix of People: We have invited:

  • Family A: One of our closest friend families. One of our family friend families. A family of close friends.
  • Family B: Another family that we’ve known for years but don’t see as often.
  • Family C: Another family that we’ve known for years, and frankly I would LOVE to get to know them better, but until now we have only seen them when our parents and their parents get together.
  • Family D: My husband’s parents.
  • Family E: The parents of Family C.

So… Family A and Family B have met once or twice. Family C obviously knows Family D and Family E. We know everyone. But will they all find things to talk about? Will Family C feel awkward/left out? Will the Families of Parents feel like they are just there as add-ons? Will all our kids get along?

I am trying very hard to remember that MANY people are not as socially anxious as I am. And that Family A and Family B – at least – are super friendly and outgoing and can talk to anyone. And Family C is super nice and friendly, although I can’t speak to whether they are introverts or not.

The other thing I am trying to remember is that if I were the guest at a similar party, I would soothe my own anxiety by knowing I could just talk to my husband or play with my kid if it felt too awkward with the other adults. People DO this kind of thing all the time. They all said “yes!” when I invited them; they are grown ups; they know what they are getting into; EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Once I have made it through this list, I loop back to whether the house is clean enough. We are having a cleaning person come Friday to clean, and that will take care of surface things like vacuuming and toilets and such. But then I think about things like, Oh no! Our baseboards are still green! And, The grout in our tile is horrendous! And, Why haven’t we hung up those six paintings on the wall yet? But am I going to paint the baseboards or clean the grout or magically hang a gallery wall of paintings in the next two days? No, no I am not.

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Much of this week has involved in medicinal baking. Baking is excellent for occupying one’s mind. And it has the delightful side benefit of producing delicious medicinal treats.

First up was cupcakes for Carla to take to school. I did end up using the Test Kitchen recipe I mentioned here and it seemed fine. Here’s where I have to admit that I’m not a big cake person. I’d rather eat tacos.

To top the cupcakes, I made the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and again: seemed fine. Not as vanilla-y as I was hoping (even though you can see the little black vanilla specks in the frosting), but acceptably sweet and frosting-y. My husband on the other hand – for whom cake tops the list of all foods, well, maybe tied with ice cream for second place with peanut butter coming in first – said that the frosting was the best I’ve ever made.

For the filling, I did make the blueberry filling from Mother Thyme. It was perfect: sweet but not overly so, and the cornstarch made it nice and thick so there was no seepage.

 

Nothing makes cake more palatable (in my opinion) than filling it with something delicious. Which is why I cut a little well in 48 miniature cupcakes, filled each little well with blueberry sauce, and capped each one with its own personal cake hat. Then I topped each cupcake with a daub of frosting and a blueberry.

Third birthday cupcakes 1

The frosting doesn’t quite cover up the filling well in this photo, but whatever. STILL TASTY.

 

I overfilled the first batch of cupcakes, so they became my “test batch” (i.e., the ones that I have been eating for breakfast). But the Test Kitchen recipe made a TON of batter, so I had enough to make two entire trays of mini-cupcakes. The second batch was perfect, so those were the ones I sent with Carla to school.

I think they turned out pretty cute.

Third birthday cupcakes 2

Turns out that I bought way too many blueberries. Way. Too. Many.

The next baking project was, of course, the cake.

The cupcakes were a success; I should have just copied exactly what I’d done, but in cake form. Right? Well, turns out I didn’t have enough baking powder to make a second batch of the Test Kitchen recipe. Baking powder is one of those ingredients I just ASSUME I have enough of, you know? And the Test Kitchen recipe calls for A Lot of baking powder, so it’s really kind of a fluke that I didn’t have enough. All that said, I DIDN’T have enough. And I really didn’t want to go to the grocery store, so I thought, the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction was great, so why not try the accompanying cake recipe?

The first issue I ran into was that Sally’s recipe called for all-purpose flour, and I had spent something like $8 on two boxes of cake flour, so I was damn sure going to use THAT. But it turns out there is a difference between the two (surprise), and in order to use the cake flour, I had to use MATH.

MATH. Whilst baking.

(I do not care for math.)

Cake flour is less dense (or something; I sort of skimmed the science part of it) than all-purpose flour, so you need to use slightly more cake flour if you’re substituting. Two tablespoons extra cake flour per cup of all-purpose flour, to be exact. Of course, the recipe didn’t call for straight cups of flour, so my Cake Math involved fractions.

Once I got the math figured out, I really got going. The batter turned out exactly like Sally promised – nice and thick (and very different from the Test Kitchen batter – I know they are Different Recipies, but they were SO DIFFERENT: melted butter vs. tablespoons of room temperature butter; GREATLY different amounts of baking powder; baking soda vs. none; etc).

But Sally’s recipe was for cupcakes, and – even though she’d provided a helpful note for converting to 9-inch cakes (which I admittedly didn’t read until AFTER the fact) – I was using 6-inch cake pans.

So I turned to the trusty Wilton website, which has all sorts of conversions for different sized pans. For my size pan – 6-inch round, 2-inch deep – it said use two cups of batter. And I got barely two cups into one pan, and then there was… about a cup leftover for the other pan.

SO I HAD TO MAKE A SECOND BATCH OF CAKE BATTER.

Finally I got the cakes in the oven, and they puffed up WAY too high and then the tops cracked. Which according to my panicked googling, was from either 1) too hot an oven 2) opening the oven while it was cooking 3) overfilling the pans or 4) over use of a rising agent. (I am going to go with option 3, which means that I didn’t actually need to make a second batch of batter. SIGH.)

Well, I’m not going to say that WASN’T helpful, but it didn’t do much in the way of preventing the cracking as it was happening.

The cakes were cooking and cooking while still being all gooey in the center. Sally’s recipe specifically said that the cakes should be pure white and NOT turn golden brown, but the outside of my raw cakes was DEFINITELY golden brown. I was in a CAKE PANIC, let me tell you.

As my ruined cakes were cooking, I began on the frosting. And realized that I was out of powdered sugar.

So as soon as the cakes were out of the oven, I ran to the grocery store. While there, per my husband’s wise counsel, I got enough ingredients for the Test Kitchen cake recipe as well, just in case the Sally’s cakes were inedible. The only thing I didn’t get was more vanilla beans. I got my previous beans from Penzey’s, which sells a tube of THREE Madagascar beans for $8.99. The grocery store had two beans for $14.89. No thank you. Penzeys4Lyfe.

I returned, loaded down with powdered sugar. I removed the cracked cakes from their pans, washed the pans, and loaded them up with Much Less of the remaining batter.

After that, things went better. The second cakes were perfect. Normal, flat-topped, pure white. The frosting turned out just fine.

I cut the tops of the cracked cakes and tasted them; to my relief, they tasted perfectly fine. If you’re keeping track, this means I had FOUR cakes.

So I made a game-time decision to use three of them as the layers in my cake, rather than trying to cut any of them in half. It was a good decision.

As Alison suggested, I spread each layer with a thin coating of frosting to make sort of a barrier between the cake and the filling. Then I spread a nice thick layer of the blueberry filling from the previous day’s cupcaking. Per Holland Wax (a REAL cake baker!), I tried to make a little “dam of frosting” to hold the blueberry filling in, but I think my frosting was too loose at that point to dam well. The filling was nice and solid though; by that point, it had been in the fridge overnight and had a nice heavy-jelly consistency, so the dam wasn’t entirely necessary. (The frosting barrier probably wasn’t necessary either, but hey – more frosting!)

Once all three layers were stacked, I went to work frosting the whole cake. It was going well until I got to a part where the filling had oozed out a little, and then I got filling mixed in with the frosting which gave part of the cake a purplish tinge. That’s when I decided to put the whole cake in the fridge – along with the frosting – and take a shower.

When I got back, the cake and the frosting had tightened up a bit, and I was able to finish frosting everything without any more filling incidents. Then I decorated the top and sides and added some blueberries and candles. And some more blueberries. I can’t stress enough how many blueberries I have in my house at this time.

The finished cake wasn’t perfect, but it was cute. Carla exclaimed, “It’s so CUTE!” when she saw it, and the whole family seemed to enjoy eating it. So I will call it a success.

Now I am tired.

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When I look back at photos of Carla at age three months, or six months, or ten months, or twelve months or eighteen or twenty-four or ANY of the months preceding this one, I feel such a painful longing for Carla of the past that it is almost hard to bear.

But the way I feel about RIGHT NOW is so intense that I know Future Me is going to have a very rough time looking back at photos of Today.

It feels like being in love, I think. Like, I can’t stand to not be with her. When she’s asleep, I miss her. (That DOES happen, if infrequently.) When I’m in a room with her, I’m often staring at her with a goopy lovesick expression splashed all over my face; if I were in a cartoon, my eyes would be replaced by big red hearts.

My husband – less demonstrative than I am, much MUCH less verbally effusive – feels similarly. I can see it on his face. We kiss her good night before we adjourn to bed and spend a few minutes just looking at her, tucking a tendril of curl behind her ear, smoothing a finger over the soft cheek.

“I can’t believe we MADE her!” I say to my husband, awash in wonderment, like it just happened yesterday. (I mean EW, but I do say that, and I do feel wonderment and awe.)

Three (or, to be accurate, the tail end of Two) is magical.

Carla says “eventually” and “actually” correctly in a sentence, and the earnestness with which she pops these qualifiers into her speech makes me laugh almost every time.

She loves puzzles, running, singing, making lemon soup and other delicacies in her play kitchen, any and all TV, swinging, dancing, hopping on one foot, sliding, hitting her T-ball in the backyard, reading, jumping on and over and across things, cutting play-doh with (play) scissors, swimming, watching tennis, and pretty much anything active.

More than anything in the world, she loves dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, soft dogs, wiry dogs. Dogs hanging out of car windows, dogs walking down the sidewalk, dogs getting their hair cut at PetSmart, dogs lounging on lawns. All of them.

It was surprising, then, the other morning when – after asking to watch a kitty cat video on my phone – she said with such heartfelt longing if we could “bring a cat into my house so I can hug it and snuggle it.” I’ll tell you what, I almost went right out and got her a cat, despite my severe allergies.

She has strong opinions about everything, from what she likes and doesn’t like to eat to where someone should sit to what she should wear to school. One day, we had a long discussion about whether our friend Jack’s name was really “Jack” (my vote) or “Jax” (her vote, and the ultimate ruling). When I told her that in fact Jack’s name was actually “John” and not “Jack” at all, it really blew her mind.

A current obsession is counting things. Whenever you ask Carla how many of something (strawberries, blocks, crayons, blueberries, cheese crackers, minutes until bedtime) she’d like, she says, without hesitation, “Five.” She counts anything that can be counted, from bites of pancake to windowpanes to the caps in Caps for Sale. With some skipping of or confusion with fifteen and sixteen, she can count all the way to thirty.

Fruit remains a staple in her diet, with blueberries topping the list of favorites. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries follow, but apricots, peaches, oranges, bananas, kiwi, plums, and nectarines are not far behind. She does NOT like melon. (Fine by me. Melon is an abomination.) She loves pancakes and french toast sticks for breakfast. For veggies, she loves pickles and capers, occasional carrots. Green beans and broccoli top her list of dinner-veggies, and she will even eat them raw (frozen). Peas and corn, sometimes. Same with yams. Fish sticks, tacos, pizza, meatballs, and chicken nuggets are usually eaten and enjoyed. PBJ sandwiches are a good anytime food, same with raw ham and cheese crackers (Cheez Its). She still eats yogurt and applesauce daily (although not as much yogurt as I’d like her to).

I think her favorite food of all is chips. Or maybe ice cream. She is confident ordering both: the former in our local Mexican restaurant, only very rarely with guacamole; the latter anywhere ice cream is sold, even at the previously-mentioned Mexican establishment. Her long-time go-to has been vanilla ice cream with sprinkles (jimmies), but lately she has been asking for rainbow ice cream.

She requested very specifically a vanilla cake with blueberries and vanilla frosting for her birthday. But ask her what she wants for her birthday dinner, and she responds, “Dinner? For my birthday?” as though the concept doesn’t compute.

Her favorite conversation topic of late is a thorough recounting of what happened during the day. “Tell me about your day, Daddy,” she will ask at dinner, and then when he pauses in a sentence, she turns to me: “Tell me about your day, Mommy.” She particularly likes us to tell her about special days – like the time we went to the zoo and saw not only a person dressed up like a cookie, but then ran into some family friends and went on to spend a lovely afternoon together.

More often than not, I am “Mom” and her father is “Dad,” which I am trying to resist. I still wish I was “Mama.”

She is at that stage where she expresses her love freely and loudly: “I just love you so much, Daddy!” she’ll crow, throwing her arms around him.

She still has a few baby words left: mixing up “lemon” and “melon” (which results in the delightful “waterlemon”) and saying “am-ih-lo” instead of “animal” (although “squir-lahs” are now clearly “squirrels.”) and calling “yellow” “lellow.” She has recently taken to calling her grandfather’s slippers “bumpers” (because of the anti-skid bumps on the bottom). I often say to her, “I love you more than all the stars in the sky” and her responses crack me up. Once, she said, “I love you more than all the pants on the ground.” “I think you mean plants?” “No, I mean pants.”

The other day, we were playing in the yard. We have an enormous tree back there – so big it would crush our house to smithereens should it decide to tip over – and Carla decided she was going to climb it. She managed to get maybe a foot off the ground and kind of hung there. “I think it’s too tall for me to climb, Mommy,” she called back. Cheerfully resigned, she dropped down and commenced running in circles, laughing with joy.

She has the most magnificent dandelion puff of blonde curls. I think it’s the perfect reflection of her personality. Beautiful, light as air, untamable, gleeful, fun.

I cannot wait to see what she does next.

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My daughter turns THREE tomorrow, and I am having Feelings. Lots of good feelings, about her. But also sad, sentimental feelings about How Quickly Time Flies and How This Might Be the Only Three I Get and how bedtime issues might be preventing me from properly Cherishing. And also also the long tail of Sadness Surrounding Her Birth and the attendant Guilt for Feeling Sad At All Because It All Worked Out Okay.

So! I am distracting myself with cake!

Carla specifically requested a vanilla cake with blueberries and vanilla frosting. And for her school treat, she wants to bring blueberry cupcakes with sprinkles.

I have been spending pleasant hours looking for Just the Right Recipe, which has – as I mentioned, just now – been pleasant. But it’s also been fruitless (ha – blueberry pun) because The Exact Cake is not out there. Or if it is, I haven’t found it.

Don’t get me wrong! I HAVE uncovered many many MANY delicious sounding recipes. But it seems that most bakers pair blueberry with lemon. And why wouldn’t they? It is a DELIGHTFUL combination. I would in fact eschew the blueberry and just go with the lemon. BUT. It is not my birthday, and I aim to please.

One of my Life Goals has been to bake a cake. A from-scratch cake, with from-scratch frosting. The first cake I baked was for Carla’s first birthday, and I baked three: 1. A practice cake, which turned out so well I then immediately went on and made 2. A smash cake for Carla and 3. A real cake for me all the guests at her birthday party.

First birthday 1

I mean, if you think I have Feelings now, just imagine how intense those Feelings were at her FIRST birthday! So lots of cake was in order then as now.

Her first birthday cake was a banana cake with cream cheese buttercream. I do not like bananas, so I had to take my husband’s word for it that the cake was amazing. Carla, for her part, seemed to enjoy it immensely. It was maybe her second encounter with cake and she made short work of the smash cake (to my husband’s chagrin).

The rest of us ate the other cake, which was lemon with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream.  It was DELICIOUS, but that’s my kind of cake, you know?

For her second birthday, I made a chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Let me just clarify right here that in my opinion, cream cheese frosting is The Best, hence its repeated appearance in this post and on the cakes I bake. But if I am making vanilla buttercream for THIS YEAR’S cake, I suppose that means no cream cheese. BUMMER.

Second birthday

Speaking of this year’s cake, after that detour into birthdays past, and also I have a strong an unaccountable craving for cake, don’t you? what I have found is a lot of vanilla cakes, and some lemon cakes with blueberry buttercream, but no vanilla cake with blueberry buttercream.

So I am going to have to put some recipes together, which makes me feels like A Real Baker. Clap clap! Very exciting.

I even looked at Actual Cookbooks for help, Internet, which is unusual for me. But they proved Very Unhelpful in this instance.

Third birthday 1

Right now, I am wavering between this recipe for white cake from Test Kitchen…

Third birthday 2

(although I would also scrape some vanilla bean seeds into it, and instead of using almond extract, I would just double the vanilla extract) and this recipe for Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

And look! That very same recipe just so happens to have a vanilla buttercream to go with it!

And for the blueberry frosting between the layers, I am doing a LOT of waffling.

First waffle: blueberry filling vs. blueberry buttercream. If it were LEMON, I would of course go with lemon curd. It would make a nice little tart opposition to the creaminess of the frosting on the outside of the cake.

But blueberry isn’t really TART. Well, I see that this recipe for blueberry filling from Mother Thyme includes lemon juice, presumably to up the Tart Factor (Hmmm. Sounds kind of racy for a toddler, no?), but it worries me. Even though the recipe says to chill the filling, I’m afraid it won’t gel correctly, and then we’ll have soggy cake. IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE? (Yes: Soggy hamburger buns.)

Here is a potential solution: Bean Town Baker has a recipe for blueberry curd that seems like it would address both the tartness and the sogginess issue. Curd is a weird word. Curd. Curd. My only hesitation is that I am not the best at MAKING a curd. The eggs have, in the past, egged up on me. Which is disgusting. When I’ve used lemon curd in cupcakes and cakes, I tend to by it in a jar because it’s much better and MUCH easier. Also: no egg bits amongst the creamy lemony tarty goodness. What are the odds I can track down some pre-made blueberry curd? A very quick google says “not good.”

Second waffle: If I go with blueberry frosting, I am waffling between this blueberry buttercream from I Heart Kitchen or adapting this raspberry frosting recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. The former gets points for being super simple AND using fresh blueberries. The latter sounds more decadent AND I already have blueberry preserves in my possession.

Now wait a second… Here is a recipe for blueberry CREAM CHEESE frosting from White on Rice Couple! But, while it sounds better to ME, I’m not sure it really adheres to the desires as expressed by my daughter. So maybe next time.

I have been dithering, as well, about throwing a blueberry or two into the actual batter of the cake, to see if that increases the blueberry quotient. But Carla really seemed specific about wanting VANILLA cake. So I will probably just go with adding some fresh blueberries to the top and sides.

OH! Or, for the kids’ cupcakes, I could FILL them, with blueberry filling/curd! And top them with vanilla buttercream! Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Sorry, toddler parents! Get your Shout spray and your Oxi Clean ready!

All right! To the store for Cake Supplies! And birthday hats.

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Thirty

My twenties were something, Internet.

In the past decade, I:

–          Fell in love

–          Graduated from college

–          Lost three grandparents

–          Watched my mother beat cancer

–          Lived in seven states

–          Obtained a graduate degree

–          Bought a LOT of shoes

–          Published a short story

–          Saw my college roommate beat cancer (for the second time)

–          Got a job

–          Stood next to my grad school bestie at her wedding

–          Won three poetry prizes

–          Got engaged

–          Sat next to my lifelong best friend at her mother’s funeral

–          Got married

–          Said goodbye to an aunt

–          Watched my brother marry, go off to war, return, and divorce

–          Started a blog

–          Became a freelancer

–          Traveled to Puerto Rico, Paris (twice), Krakow (twice), Stockholm, Berlin, Copenhagen (twice), Prague, Ljubljana, Bled, Warsaw, and Montreal

–          Changed my name

–          Wrote tens of thousands of words (I’d say a million, but I don’t want to count)

–          Skied – a lot

–          Watched my husband graduate from medical school

 

God willing, the next decade will be just as full of sorrows and joys.

Here’s hoping the joys outweigh the sorrows ten thousand to one.

* * *

Age is opportunity no less,
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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It’s so easy to be kind. To share a warm smile. To send a handwritten note. To give a compliment or a gift or a helping hand.

And oh! what a lasting impression just a small comment or gesture or act of kindness can leave!

* * *

I was in the grocery store a few weeks back, wearing my beloved grey belted wool coat.

I’d just placed a package of bean sprouts in my basket and was looking longingly over the display of artichokes. That’s when I felt a hand on my waist.

“This is such a lovely coat,” came a sandpapery voice from behind me. “But the belt is twisted.”

I looked over my shoulder at an older woman –  late seventies, grandmotherly – as she gently untwisted the belt so it lay flat on my back.

“There,” she said, smiling up at me as she patted me on the arm. Her dark eyes sparkled as she shuffled off among the oranges.

That small gesture made me warm through and through.

I don’t know why it affected me so much. Perhaps it reminded me of being a child and having my mother smooth my hair or straighten my shirt. Perhaps it was just being touched in a small, gentle way. Perhaps it was that she went out of her way to make my life a little less messy – with no hassle and no expectation of remuneration.

* * *

A year or so ago, I read somewhere about people doing random acts of kindness. (I think it was on Jen’s blog? Jen? Am I hallucinating?)

Jen would buy Target gift cards (this sounds like the kind of thing Jen would do, so I’m going to leave it) or the like and leave them on random cars.

I did this exactly once – put $10 on a gift card rather than buying a $10 tube of mascara – and left it on the windshield of a car.

Who knows what the recipient thought? Maybe s/he thought it was stupid. Maybe s/he thought it was a delightful surprise. (My husband thought I was a weirdo.) Maybe s/he didn’t see the envelope under the wiper and it flew off into a ditch somewhere.

But I don’t even care.

It made me feel SO GOOD.

Why oh why don’t I do it more often?

* * *

Compliments are nice, too.

When I last saw my hairdresser – in early December – I asked her a serious question:

“Is my hair too long?”

Yes, I love my hair long. My husband loves it long. But I know that sometimes long hair can look lank and stringy.

She tilted her head and regarded me closely.

“No. I think tall, thin people like you can pull it off,” she said. “And anyway, we’ll give you layers to add movement.”

Me, a tall, thin person?

It made me glow all the way home.

Later, in early January, I was once again at the grocery store.

I was getting fish for dinner. The sweet woman behind the counter said, “Wow, your lashes are so long! Are they real?”

I was surprised and delighted. My lashes are stubby and nearly invisible, so I am a mascara fanatic. It’s the one makeup item I never leave home without.

(“What did you tell her?” my husband asked. “That they’re real!” I said. “Well, did you tell her about all the mascara you’re wearing?” “Mascara doesn’t make my lashes less real!”)

* * *

A few years ago, my husband and I were in my hometown visiting my parents.

It gets bitterly cold there in winter. The day in question, the temperature was hovering around seventeen below zero.

We were stopped at a stoplight when we saw a young man coming down the hill across the street.

He was walking. It was clear from his gait that he was drunk or otherwise impaired. And he wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing above the waist.

The light changed and a pickup a few cars in front of us pulled up next to the young man.

The driver took off his own coat and handed it out the window to the shirtless guy.

* * *

Last year, I was having a tough time.

Who knows why.

But one day, when my husband collected the mail, he tossed an envelope my way. It was from an unfamiliar address.

Inside was a sheet of stickers – glittery cats – and a recipe for gourmet macaroni and cheese.

Turns out it was from Daisy.

She’d gotten the glitter cat stickers as a random act of kindness from her husband’s coworkers. And then she passed them on to me.

I still have them.

I take them out and look at them and they make me smile every time.

And while I haven’t made the mac and cheese yet, I drool over the recipe every so often. (Mac and cheese is fattening. But drooling over mac and cheese burns calories.)

* * *

One of Swistle’s New Year’s resolutions this year was to act more often on generous impulses.

I loved that resolution. All too often, I think, “Oh, so-and-so would like this!” and then, at the last minute, I chicken out and never let that person know I was thinking of him or her.

Now, I know it’s impractical to buy things all the time. That could get just plain expensive. But when I’m ordering a little something on Amazon and I see something that I feel like so-and-so could use, I’m trying to be better about ordering it without a second thought. Without worrying that the recipient won’t like it… Or that s/he will feel obligated to return the favor… Or that it will come across as stupid or weird…

And I’m trying to be better about just being kind in general. Smiling brightly and saying hello to people when I come across them, rather than averting my eyes and scuttling past. Asking people if they need help, when before I would fret over whether I’d be intruding. Giving compliments – even to strangers.

I don’t do it every time. I don’t do it enough. But I do it more, and I think that counts for something.

* * *

The delivery guy gave a sharp rap on the door and then disappeared down the hallway, leaving two packages against the wall.

One, I was eagerly anticipating: a birthday gift from my parents that my mother had said was on the way. (I didn’t know what the gift was, just that it was coming. Turns out it was chocolates from the very chocolate boutique that provided chocolates for my wedding. They are amazingly delicious. You will not be surprised to learn that they have already been thoroughly plundered.)

And the other was a fabulous surprise: a tall box of flowers! Inside was a beautiful bouquet of irises and lilies from a girl who’s gone from blogger-I-admire to real-life friend.

I’m not ashamed to say that I blubbered as I cut the cellophane off of the bouquet and sobbed as I filled the accompanying vase with water and wiped tears off my cheeks as I bit through a dark chocolate shell.

That’s what kindness can do.

Whether it’s from your loving parents… or a brand-new friend… or even a generous stranger…

It can knock you off your feet.

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