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Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

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Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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Join me, won’t you, in aggressively discussing something frivolous and distractible and wholly unrelated to The End of Life As We Know It?

First, thank you for your comments and commiseration and suggestions on my post about What to Do About All the Toys. VERY helpful, and I feel more equipped to face it as a thing to be got through rather than something I can try to control in advance.

Today, we are going Full On Holiday! Carla and I are decorating, and then she and her father and I are all going to a kids’ Christmas concert, and then tomorrow we are going Christmas shopping for our Adopt-a-Family family. Woo!

I bought some peppermint body lotion at Bath & Body Works awhile back, just because I like to smell like vaguely Christmas scented candy during the holidays. A few days ago, I decided I needed a little olfactory boost of holiday spirit and – as is my custom – I slathered my entire self in the lotion. Only to discover that it had some sort of cooling element (the mint, I’m assuming) that made my body feel like it was about to pop ice cubes out through my skin. I’m not recommending it, is what I’m saying. Unless you are uninjured but missing the cold sensation of Icy Hot or perhaps are stranded nude on a ninety-degree island. One with a Bath & Body Works store, or an internet connection.

(Today, if you must know, I went for a years-old bottle of Jingle Bellini which is faintly peachy and not in the least reminiscent of the holidays.)

(We are still talking about lotion.)

My husband and I have idly been discussing the menu for the upcoming holidays, and I am wondering something very important:

What do YOU eat on Christmas Eve? And on Christmas Day – for breakfast and dinner? And on Hanukkah, because that’s relevant too and because it’s the holiday with which I have the least food experience!

My family’s Christmas tradition, as far back as I can remember, has been to eat curried chicken and rice soup on Christmas Eve and then to eat a porterhouse spice roast for Christmas Day. My mom would make the soup, and my father and brother and I would go out delivering our homemade chocolates on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, after the presents were opened, my dad would make pancakes and bacon for brunch. (I have a vague recollection of having had coffee cake some years, but you haven’t yet lived if you haven’t eaten my father’s pancakes.) For dinner, my dad made the spice roast, accompanied by his homemade Caesar salad and lemony steamed broccoli and my mom’s goat cheese and garlic mashed potatoes. YUM. There is nothing that smells like Christmas the way his spice roast does.

My husband’s family tradition was to go to their country club for Christmas Eve dinner, and then, on Christmas Day, his mom would make a beef tenderloin. A couple of times, in the years since my husband and I have been together, his mom tried to change the Christmas Eve tradition to fondue, but I think we all felt so disgusting afterwards it didn’t really take.

But this year will be the first Christmas we’ve hosted that my FATHER isn’t here to make his spice roast. Why yes, I did make my dad cook Christmas dinner the past three years IN MY HOUSE for MY GUESTS why do you ask?

So my husband and I are dithering over what to serve. Join us, won’t you?

Christmas Eve Dinner:

My parents – for whom the Christmas Eve tradition is soup – won’t be here. So… do we go out? We don’t belong to a country club, so that’s not an option. But I don’t know what I’d cook. Roast chicken?

I don’t know that the soup has sufficiently become OUR family Christmas tradition, though maybe my husband feels differently; I should probably ask him rather than rambling on to YOU. But here we are.

Christmas Day Breakfast:

My husband has made a French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast the past few years. That’s probably what we’ll do again. It’s easy to assemble, and you do it the night before and just shove it in the oven when everyone begins to open presents.

(My husband, who loves anything and anything British, tried for a couple of years to make a Christmas bread for Christmas Day… but no one else ate it.) (I tried it; it was so dense and full of things that I just couldn’t enjoy it.)

Christmas Dinner:

Christmas dinner remains a mystery! Do we try a beef tenderloin? It sounds delicious, but I’ve never attempted it. And what if it’s a big failure? (The idea of making a failed version of my mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas meal gives me the shudders.) Same goes for the spice roast; and I am even less inclined to try that, I think, because I associate it so strongly with my dad. (Although I admit to a strong leaning toward nostalgia, and would love to have it become OUR family tradition as well.)

I do not like turkey, and have already made my one turkey for the year, so that’s out. No one in my husband’s family particularly likes ham, so that’s not a good idea. A pork roast seems… less special somehow. So I guess I am leaning toward beef. But… WHAT?

Hanukkah Food:

And do I need to think about something different and special for Hanukkah? Since the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year, I’m guessing I might have to switch up the soup plans for something else. Not that I have any idea WHAT. And I have zero clue how to make latkes. And zero desire for anyone else to make latkes in my kitchen. The last time my mother-in-law made latkes – which were delicious – her house was wrapped in a skein of grease and Fried Smell that was very unappetizing. Can you BAKE latkes?

All this talk about food is now making me think about what else I’m to feed our guests while they’re here. My in laws will be here for eight days. My sister and niece will be here for an unspecified amount of time.

Desserty Things:

I tend to forget about dessert, but I suppose that’s important too. Usually, my father and I make chocolates. But… this year I am not going to do so. I will miss it, but I just can’t handle the stress of hosting all these people and also trying to make artisan chocolates in my kitchen. No thank you.

My husband and I are watching The Great American Baking Competition and one of the challenges was all about cookies and bars. So he has been delightedly scrolling through Christmas bar and cookie recipes.

I think I’d be happy with these faux-Twix bars, which are easy and delicious.  But I’m wondering a) what kind of holiday sweets YOU make and b) what you serve for dessert on Christmas/Hanukkah/etc.

Meals Surrounding Christmas:

Breakfast will be… I don’t know. Yogurt? I guess I’ll get some eggs and bacon and milk just in case… I don’t really do breakfast. My child does, of course, but it’s usually frozen pancakes or waffles or cereal or toast and yogurt. I have lots of THOSE THINGS on hand.

Lunches are not my forte, so I suppose I will do what I always do when we have guests: Get a bunch of cold cuts and fancy cheese and crackers and olives and encourage people to help themselves. There will be bread and PB&J and grilled cheese ingredients. (Side note: I am terrible about estimating what we need, and inevitably wind up with WAY too much food. Bleh. I am not looking forward to that part of things, the part where I throw away a bunch of perfectly good food [and money]. And idea how to get more appropriate amounts – without having to go to the grocery store every day?)

Dinners, I can do. I have already purchased the ingredients for this mushroom and spinach lasagna. I’m making one for a friend, and I thought I might as well make TWO and freeze one to eat while my in laws are here. I’ve made it before and it is, as the website implies, damn delicious. So that’s one night taken care of.

Another night is my father-in-law’s birthday, and we’ll go out. So we’re down to needing meals for six days – two of which I addressed at length above.

I’ll probably do boeuf bourgignon one night – or, maybe, instead, I’ll do a coq au vin (which is really the same thing, but with chicken instead).

And maybe tacos another night, since Carla LOVES tacos. Bonus: they are super easy. Double bonus: They are my favorite.

Aaaannnndddd…. Maybe this pork loin with wine and herb gravy? I’ve done it once before, and it was easy and pretty tasty. Maybe with a salad and some… roasted potatoes?

That leaves one more night. I think we will go out. Two nights out in the course of an eight-day visit doesn’t seem excessive, does it? I hope not, because I may have just blacked out a little thinking about all the dishes I will be doing. Or! I passed a local restaurant the other day that had a sign out front with two irresistible words: ORDER PIZZA. Maybe that’s what we’ll do!

What do YOU like to serve when you have company? Extra points for easy.

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As a form of self-care, I am doing my VERY best to steer clear of news and social media and relatives who like to talk about politics and the state of the world. It may not be SMART to just put my head in the sand, but it is HEALTHIER – for ME – than my previous state of Engaged And Informed But Also On The Edge Of A Panic Attack At Any Given Moment.

So! I am now going to be ostriching myself straight through the holidays! So far, I have managed to not fill my Christmas list up with survivalist gear and have successfully supplanted terrified googling of “what happens if another country bombs us” with endless Buzzfeed lists of What To Get For Some Very Specific Person On Your List.

Anyway!

Snow – actual, heavy snow that is sticking to the ground as I type! – is falling and I’m beginning to feel a tickle of holiday giddiness. But it seems that this year I have some Questions.

We have one set of grandparents whose love language is Financial Planning and another set whose love language is Gifts. I am trying very very hard not to express a preference, because both sets of grandparents are far too generous and kind and thoughtful for me to ever properly express my gratitude. My daughter, my husband, and I are all extraordinarily fortunate to have such loving people in our lives.

But we have TOO MANY TOYS. Too many. I know, I know – when you have kids, there will be toys. Yadda yadda. But it’s beginning to drive me crazy. I feel lucky it’s taken nearly three and half years to reach this point.

What I’m asking here is, have you any advice for… keeping the NEW toys to a minimum?

My husband and I are getting our daughter three gifts. Two are toys, and one is a set of books. That to me feels like PLENTY. Her Financial Planning grandparents have in the past – and we have no expectation of ongoing or future support! I am simply musing on this as a possibility – added some money to Carla’s college fund, and then they may also send A Toy, which I get; they want her to have something to open on Christmas.

And then the Gift Giver Grandparents – The Triple G, if you will – are going to unleash a torrent of toys on my child that I can only envision as a raging river of wooden vegetables and mismatched doll shoes and magna tiles and puzzle pieces and stuffed animals. I’m grateful! Truly! They think of her often and want to delight her and that is WONDERFUL! But. It’s making my chest tight just to think of it.

The other thing is, Carla is three and a half, and she has a limited attention span. She gets bored and, frankly, overwhelmed by the present opening process. I don’t want to be impolite and allow her NOT to open something, when the gift giver is right there, eager to see her little face light up in response to the treasure concealed beneath glittery wrapping paper. But I also don’t want to force her to overload her brain. And it is cranky-making, to be playing happily with one toy, and to have your family prod you into opening something else when you just want to KEEP PLAYING.

Was it last Christmas – no, I think it was two Christmasses ago – when the gift unwrapping took FOREVER. Hours and hours. I thought I might go mad. And poor Carla was SO overwhelmed. (Part of the reason may have been that we had ALL family members here. We have since switched to One Set of Grandparents Per Holiday, which eases the pressure a bit.)

We have asked the Triple G to limit their gifts to THREE, which seems reasonable and will still likely result in my eventual burial beneath a heap of lego blocks and Elsa gloves and doctor tools and My Little Ponies. But – how do I say this kindly, because I KNOW they are simply excited and full of love and generosity and certainly not malice? – they are not hearing us, I don’t think.

What do you DO in that situation?

I recall some other bloggers who did things like… whittle the present pile down to something manageable before Christmas, and then hold out some of the gifts for later in the month/year. I could totally see keeping a few presents in check and then handing them out over the TWO WEEK HOLIDAY BREAK what are we going to DO during all that time OMG.

But… that seems much simpler to accomplish when the gift givers aren’t present. When they are – when they’ve traveled thousands of miles to be with their beloved grandchild on Christmas Day – it seems pretty cold to say, “Nah, we’re going to save your present for next Tuesday.”

(You might say, well, perhaps you could hold back YOUR gifts. To which I say, pfffffffft. No.)

(TANGENT AHOY! I have suddenly thought of a NEW question, which is: who, in your family, is Santa? My in laws have often exchanged gifts with tags from “Rudolph” and “Mrs. Santa” etc. But… I kind of have this selfish feeling that Santa gifts should be from ME AND MY HUSBAND. Is that reasonable? Is that how you do it? Why am I feeling so petulant about Christmas this year?)

(And, if you have children, do you give your child gifts from Santa AND from you? I can’t remember what my parents did! I think mainly it was gifts from Santa.)

One happy option, I suppose, is Hanukkah, which overlaps Christmas this year. Perhaps we could spread out the Christmas gifts over the eight days of Hanukkah? My husband didn’t get a gift every night of Hanukkah when he was growing up, but potentially we could make an exception this year? (Will that set a bad precedent?)

Does that mean I need to get my niece eight Hanukkah gifts, though? That seems excessive. I would certainly not want my sister to feel obligated to get Carla that many presents.

ACK. TOO MANY PRESENTS. Let’s call it all off AND, on top of that, let’s collect all toys we currently own and donate them to charity!

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Well, now that the World Series is over, I can refocus all of my Sports Stress on the election. It’s like a stress sandwich, with nothing delicious in the middle. So yay. Here are some random things, from my tired brain:

  • I went to Target the other day, and the cashier totally Kristen Wiiged me during check-out. “What’s ‘Thai sweet chili sauce’? Is it spicy?” and then, “Well, I KNOW sriracha is spicy!” and, “Looks like someone is going to be a princess for Halloween!” and, “Love that color nail polish!” and, “Oooh, what’s this? A top coat? And you have coupons for both!” I don’t have a problem chit chatting with the cashier, and I am sure it is DELIGHTFUL to see the variety of things that strangers buy each day, but it was mildly uncomfortable to have her COMMENT on it.
screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-8-39-28-am

Screen shot from nbc.com

  • One thing the Target Lady did NOT comment on? My taco shells. I bought two boxes and all but SEVEN SHELLS were broken.
taco-shells

WTF? Did someone at the store shake the box as hard as possible?

Carla actually EATS tacos, so we have them at least once a week. And I have never — NEVER — seen such a thing. I mean, in the one box, not a SINGLE SHELL was whole.

Well, I can bright-side my way to nachos for lunch, at least.

  • Halloween was SO FUN this year. Carla is at the perfect age, I think. She got really excited about dressing up (so much so that the hours between the end of her school day and six o’clock when trick-or-treating began took forever) and she was really pumped up by the idea of candy. She understood the concept of going up to people’s doors and holding out her little pumpkin. She didn’t really succeed in saying “trick or treat,” but she DID say “thank you,” so there’s that.

One thing I loved was that she would rummage around in people’s candy dishes, searching for the Perfect Candy. And some of them would helpfully choose something for her, and she would shake her head and say, “No, I have that already.” It was kind of adorable. Also a little bit embarrassing, but I’m choosing to believe that people felt more charmed than annoyed.

We made it all the way down one side of our block before she decided that she needed candy NOW. Instead of going up to the door, she sat down smack in the middle of one our neighbors’ driveway and started searching through her pumpkin to find something. To prod her along, I pulled out a bag of M&Ms and fed her one at a time after each house, kind of like training a puppy to heel. So she would dutifully march up to the door, collect her candy, and then turn around and open her mouth like a baby bird eager for a worm. We went through a bag of M&Ms and one roll of Smarties.

Our neighbors were so kind and generous. We have a great block, and most of the homes had full-size candies. And one of our neighbors was HIDING the good candy for the kids she recognized from our block, so when Carla finally made it to her house, she invited us in and gave Carla three full-size items. It was just so sweet. It made me feel giddy with the goodness of human kind.

  • The one negative moment this Halloween was a comment that I got about Carla’s costume, from someone who knows us well. Carla was a princess this year; last year she was a superhero. She chose both costumes, without input from me or my husband. Just, last year she was really into the superhero, so she wanted to dress up like that particular superhero, and this year she really wanted to be the princess.

Anyway, when Carla told this person what she was going as for Halloween, the person turned to me and said, “It’s nice that she’s interested in more feminine things.”

I mean.

First of all, gross. Second of all, what? Thirdly, REALLY?! Fourthly, why is anyone evaluating anything about the costume choices of a three-year-old? Fifthly, it makes me mad because – for a minute – it made me want to rip the princess costume off of Carla and dress her up like a lumberjack complete with beard and muscles (ALTHOUGH A LUMBERJACK COULD BE A PERFECLTY FEMININE PERSON TOO OMG) just for spite, and then THAT makes me mad because why? Why shouldn’t I just be delighted by whatever Carla wants to pretend to be, whether it’s a firefighter or a dragonfly or a ballerina or a freaking bowling ball.  Why should some stupid comment make me want her to be or feel or do anything other than what she wants? WAY TO RUIN HALLOWEEN, PERSON.

I don’t even care to unpack all that upsets me about that comment, or why it’s so gross and demeaning, or how it’s a symptom of a larger, more insidious problem in society, or how sad it makes me feel that Carla is going to have to face crap like this her whole life.

So I’m going to write it down here and be done with it and move on.

DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS.

  • My husband carved a cat pumpkin this year. That was fun. When it was dark outside, and the cat silhouette was back lit by the little flameless candles I put inside, it garnered a lot of compliments from trick or treaters. Carla and I did the messy part, taking the top off and scooping out all the guts and seeds. Then I roasted the seeds. Carla did not care for the seeds. My husband was eating some later in the week, and I overheard Carla say, “WHY do you like those Daddy?”

Pumpkin cat.JPG

  • Now that Halloween is over, I suppose I have to put away my Halloween decorations. I am not particularly good at decorating for holidays, but I really come through for Halloween and Christmas. I have some cats on pumpkins that I love, and a cool ghost, and a little ghost family for the bathroom. And this year I also found (at Target) a bunch of inexpensive multi-colored pumpkins with glitter stripes and polka dots. There are other things, too. I don’t really feel ready to put all the stuff away yet. Maybe this weekend.
  • I love how so many people go All Out with their Halloween decorations: zombies and ghosts and witches hanging out in their yards, pumpkin path lights, spiderwebs overtaking their shrubbery, graveyards sprouting from their lawns. I love it. Carla and I went for a walk a couple of weeks back and found a street where nearly every house had Halloween decorations, and it was so fun to point them out and discuss them together. I think it also went a long way toward making the holiday fun for Carla rather than scary. She seemed delighted by one neighbor’s human-size trio of glow-eyed witches and by another’s mechanized skull hanging from a tree. I’m glad it doesn’t freak her out.
  • I suppose now that I have to get rid of Halloween decorations, I can concentrate on Thanksgiving décor… But I don’t really HAVE any Thanksgiving stuff, aside from a fall-themed runner and maybe a non-jack-o-lantern pumpkin that I can keep using. I’m not sure what I WANT, in terms of Thanksgiving décor. But I really WANT it. Do you have any Thanksgiving or fall-type décor that you just love? Why can’t I stop typing décor?
  • And that makes me feel all giddy about Thanksgiving! I love this holiday! I can’t wait to pull out my Detailed Thanksgiving Timeline and start preparing for the meal. My parents are coming out for Thanksgiving this year, which should be super fun. I wonder if Carla will eat ANYTHING?
  • Of course, thinking about Thanksgiving gets me all excited about Christmas and Hanukkah, which I bet are going to be FANTASTIC, Carla-wise, this year. She is really going to “get” the whole idea of Santa Claus and I know she loved lighting the menorah last year, so it will be even more interesting this year. I think she’ll be able to look forward to things in a way she hasn’t before. SO FUN. I have some tentative gifts picked out for a few people, but now I can start gift-hunting in earnest. I also really want to get a tiny tree and some Christmas window clings for Carla’s room – she loved having her own Halloween decorations, so I think she’ll really enjoy Christmas ones, too. I have already put on the calendar our local Christmas tree lighting and food bank donation day, as well as our local menorah lighting. Maybe we will try to do a Santa Claus visit this year, too, if Carla is up for it. So those are fun things to look forward to.
  • Speaking of gifts (which I was, a while ago), my father-in-law AND father both have Major Birthdays this year. My father-in-law is first. And I am wondering, what the hell do you get to commemorate a major birthday for men who have EVERYTHING? Everything I think of seems either lame or completely out of the realm of possibility. Ideas? Anyone?
  • It’s a little hard to imagine Christmas with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having. I mean, we’ve been sleeping with the windows open and it’s NOVEMBER. On the one hand, this is awesome and I don’t want to waste it. On the other hand, I really want to wear the new vest and boots I bought, and I have a bunch of cute sweaters that aren’t being worn. So get with it, Actual Fall. At least the trees are super beautiful.
  • It’s so hard to believe that this nice weather is actually happening that I haven’t really been taking FULL advantage of the warmth. When it’s not raining, that is. I feel like I should be going for long walks outside with Carla. We have gone to the playground, a LOT, so that’s good. And she’s been playing in the back yard a bit, which is great. Okay, I suppose we also decorated pumpkins outside, and we’ve done chalk drawings on the driveway, and we did our Halloween Decoration Tour. So we’re not completely failing. But I kind of feel like I should go full on It’s Still Summertime, and put the patio cushions back out and fire up the grill more often. My parents got me a meat grinder for last Christmas, and so far I’ve only been using it to make ground beef for tacos and chili.

Freshly ground meat is SO GOOD. But the clean up is a little gross.

When really the BEST use would be for hamburgers. I think what’s holding me back is that it’s usually so dark by the time my husband gets home, that grilling isn’t particularly pleasant. We have a light on the grill, but it’s not particularly useful. Hmmm. Perhaps a really powerful, useful grill light would be a good candidate for a Christmas present??

All right, Internet. That’s all I have for today. What’s going on with you?

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Lately, I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls reruns while I exercise (side note: watching Gilmore Girls from the Lorelai perspective rather than the Rory perspective is a WHOLE different experience) and the other day was the episode where Rory goes away to college. Which is how I ended up sobbing on the treadmill.

Because Carla’s impending entrance into pre-school is so similar to GOING AWAY TO COLLEGE.

Yes, my tiny baby begins pre-school later this month. And I am a mess A MESS about it. I know – I know – a big source of my anticipatory dread is that I have a ton of My Baby Is Growing Up FEELINGS. It’s happening so fast, you know? Before I know it, she’s going to be waving at me from her dorm room and then shutting the door.

Okay, I am tearing up again.

So let’s rapidly scoot past those and get to the more practical aspects of my fretting, which can be broken out into three categories:

I Hate Change

We have enrolled Carla in the same private school her father went to for his whole life. This is a good thing. But it means that she will be switching out of the daycare she’s been in since last November. And I am not good with change.

Last fall, when we moved her from the daycare she’d been in since she was three months old to the one she’s in now – and which turned out to be Far Better, So Much So That I Feel Regret About Not Sending Her Here From the Get Go – it was so hard. I think I flubbed it, to be honest. I didn’t really think about what a tremendous change it would be, and so I did a piss poor job of preparing Carla. And so the transition was really rough on her. AS IT WOULD BE.

So this time, my husband and I are trying to find the perfect balance between preparing Carla for this shift and freaking her out about it. But it’s going to be stressful – there’s just no way around it. No matter how old you are, new situations are stressful. Well, at least they are stressful for ME. And Carla is only three and I’m not sure exactly how much she really understands what’s going to happen.

I am having Empathy Fret for Carla about suddenly being wrenched from her teachers… and a familiar routine and surroundings… and her friends.

Plus, I love her daycare. I love her teachers. (Although Carla would, if she stayed at this daycare, switch to new teachers almost immediately, so that aspect of change is inevitable.) I like the staff a lot. I am familiar with MY part of the routine. And she is so confident and happy at this daycare. I hate that we are going to completely eliminate that source of confidence and happiness and comfort from her life.

(Side Note: One of her core teachers left at the end of July, and I almost starting crying saying goodbye to her. And then she left Carla the SWEETEST note about how even if she didn’t see Carla until she – the teacher – is an old woman, she will recognize Carla for her spirit. OMG I was sobbing as I read it.)

This Is Going to Be a Whole New Schedule – for Both of Us

Pre-school goes from 8:30 to 11:30. Then we have the option to add-on lunch and some enrichment time and some aftercare if we need to. I think there’s also a morning-care option too, if necessary. So what we’re doing – now that I am working for myself, from home – is adding lunch and enrichment. On Fridays, Carla will be done at 11:30.

This will be a Big Difference from our current schedule, which is daycare from 9:00 to 5:00.

So I am pre-emptively fretting about that.

Will she get enough stimulation/intellectual challenge/exercise between 8:30 and 2:30?

I’m super excited about having more time, just the two of us. But… what are we going to DO? Will she be tired from school, and need a nap? I don’t think there’s a nap time at school, and she’s used to napping at about 1:30, so I’m anticipating that she’ll be super tired. And if she does nap, now at around 3:00, what will that do to the rest of the day?

What if she finds me super boring? What if we like each other LESS once we spend more time together?

On the other, more selfish, hand, will I be able to get enough work done between 8:30 and 2:30? Will I resent my time with Carla? These are the things I’m most afraid of, I think. That the new schedule will open some sort of rift between us.

I Don’t Know What to Expect

I went to public school all the way until college. In a small town allllll the way across the country from where we live. I don’t know anything about private school in general, or THIS private school, specifically. For instance, I bought a cute shirt on sale at Carter’s for Carla to wear to her new school… and my husband shook his head and said that it wouldn’t meet the school’s dress code. Dress code? Oh right, I remember vaguely that when I met my husband he didn’t own a pair of jeans. Because denim is not on the dress code at his school. (Where I come from, you can wear jeans to CHURCH.)

So, okay, dress code. That’s one thing I’m going to have to figure out. No denim. No logos. No words. My husband insists no pictures, either – like, you can’t have a shirt with a butterfly on it. That’s making it a LITTLE difficult to shop.

And I don’t know about drop-off and pick-up – I’m sure we’ll learn about that, but since I don’t have a clue, I’m anxious about it. Will I have to arrive super early? Will I be spending hours each week in a long car line? Will I just… open the door and let Carla out? She’s my BABY, how can I trust she’ll get where she needs to go without me?

And I don’t know what the teachers are going to want/expect in terms of parental involvement. Like, will they expect me to ask questions and talk to them every day? Which I’m fine with! Or will they expect that I will only talk to them when they have an issue to bring up? Which I am less fine with.

And what about parental involvement beyond my own child? Will they expect me to join the PTA? I have never been part of the PTA! I am open to it. And I do like the idea of a sort of forced-interaction with other parents, which might result in some new friendships. But: ACK NEW EXPERIENCE ACK.

You must know that I WANT to send Carla to this school! I feel GRATEFUL that we are able to send her to this school! It is a FANTASTIC school! When I first visited, I was blown away by the campus and the class options and I listened with dreamy delight as my husband told me about his teachers and the courses he took. And HE went there, and HE turned out great! The school has a values system that they take seriously and it infuses their entire curriculum, and I think my husband embodies those values. He is honest and straightforward and hardworking and believes in being a contributor to his community. I think his school had a lot to do with why he’s such a great guy. And he still, to this day, has friends from school. Friends that have become MY friends, and whose kids have become friends with my kid. And those friends are all pretty great people too. AND! It provides a top-notch academic education! And it has great activities! And it’s just a super all-around school. I am SO GLAD that Carla was accepted (yes, of course there was an intensive application process) and I am DELIGHTED that she will be attending this school.

But everything about it is so foreign. Ev. Ree. Thing.

Those are the main Sources of Anticipatory Dread, but thousands of others keep flitting through my head: What if she’s too rambunctious or enthusiastic? What if the transition is super stressful? What if the school turns out NOT to be a good fit? What if she won’t eat the food there? What if she hates her teachers? What if she doesn’t make friends? What if her teachers don’t like her? What if her teachers don’t like ME?

I know that some of this is just going to take time. And I just have to try to shut off my brain until the school year begins. But I really REALLY wish there was some sort of Handbook for the Over-Anxious Parent that spelled out exactly what Carla and I do and when and how and why.

And of course I wish that she would just SLOW DOWN and stop growing so quickly. Although that would just give me more time to pre-fret, so maybe it’s okay that things are as they are.

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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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