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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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First, Carla has begun referring to limes as “green lemons.”

Second, I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that I don’t adjust to change easily. I mean, not THAT many people are all “Woo hoo, change!! Let’s tilt the world on its axis just for the hell of it!” so I am probably not the anomaly here.

I like to think of myself as a loyal person – once I find something that works, I stick with it. I like to think of myself as adaptable and flexible; I don’t need things to be perfect all the time! I can work with non-perfect! Also, I like knowing what to expect. I like routine. I like to be able to depend on something. My aversion to change is why I stuck with my first job for seven years, even after it became clear that we were no longer as great a fit as I’d hoped. It’s why I’ve kept my same Honda for nearly 15 years, despite the fact that it needs increasingly expensive “fixes” to keep it in running condition. It’s why I have a hard time imagining ever moving out of this house, even though it’s a little small and even though I DESPISE our tile floors and even though I would LOVE to have an actual mud room.

My philosophy – because it’s always been that way – is that if we’ve always done something a certain way, there’s probably a good reason for it and therefore NO REASON TO CHANGE.

All of this to that I have a hard time accepting – despite my advanced age and extensive experience – that sometimes, changing something – ON PURPOSE – can make things BETTER and/or EASIER.

Example 1: When I was… ten, maybe? my mother gave me the occasional responsibility of cooking for the family. She got me a cookbook – Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual – that I loved and remember fondly. For my chosen meal, I always made spaghetti with meat sauce. I always made it the same way: brown a pound of ground beef, add diced onion, minced garlic, and diced carrot, add pasta sauce, add Hunt’s tomato sauce, add dried basil and oregano, add splash of Tabasco, cook until you can wait no longer. THAT was just The Way to Make Meat Sauce. There were no deviations.

Until I met my husband. And the first thing he helped me change was the (store bought, jarred) pasta sauce I used. I’d always used Prego; it was the brand my mother used, I was accustomed to it, it was just how it was done. But it had tomato chunks in it, and so I had to put it through the blender before I added it to the meat and veg. My husband pointed out that Ragu is completely smooth. So – with great trepidation – we made the switch. Instantly better and easier!

And then I admitted to him that I hate the carrots. I dislike cooked carrots as it is. Plus, they are super annoying to dice. And I ended up picking them out of the sauce every time we made the meat sauce. So my husband suggested that I just not add them. What?!?! But… carrots were an INTEGRAL PART of the sauce! What about the flavor profile?! What about tradition?!

I stopped adding the carrots. Instantly better and easier.

Example 2: When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I bought a potato masher.

When the potato masher wasn’t in use (you know, 364 days a year), I would stow it in the Random Utensil Drawer. Do you have one of those? It’s not the silverware drawer, where you keep the forks and spoons and knives. No, it’s the drawer where you stuff all the other random things you use rarely or never: the lemon juicer, the grapefruit knife, the zester, there must be some non-citrus tools as well… oh yes! The whisks, the garlic press, the can opener, the pizza cutters, the offset spatula, the regular spatulas, the miniature spatula, so many spatulas. What the hell else is in there? There are WAY more things cluttering up my RUD. Who knows. Anyway. That’s where I kept the potato masher. It was very cranky and easily offended. I mean, if it got twisted at all, it would prevent the drawer from either opening or closing. Worst was when the drawer wouldn’t open. Then you’d have to stick your hand in as far as you could and try to maneuver things around in the drawer to see if you could get the masher to lie flat. It was very frustrating.

But that’s WHERE THE MASHER LIVED. Its home was in the RUD. That’s just how it was done.

When my mother came to stay with us after Carla was born, she noted that the masher was really irritating, and I agreed but sort of shrugged because what can you do, right? It’s just how it was.

My mother, bless her bravery, MOVED THE MASHER. She put it in the little bucket that holds all the tongs and the ladles and pancake turners etc. that lives on the counter near the stove. And lo, the RUD opened and closed, and lo, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, and life was instantly better and easier.

 

I think about these lessons a lot. A lot a lot. Whenever something annoys me about the layout of my house or about how I’ve set up my cupboards, I think, “It doesn’t HAVE to be that way! I can CHANGE THINGS!” I haven’t actually made any changes, but I know that I CAN, should I choose to.

Like sometimes, I think about how great it would be if we could get rid of 85% of the cups on the top shelf of the cups cabinet. We use about 5% of the cups up there, and then there are 10% that we use on a very occasional basis. But the rest are just… sitting there, taking up space. I could get rid of them! Or move them into a box!

Or! Carla’s crafts (workbooks, sticker books, crayons, drawing paper, paint supplies, play-doh) live in two separate places: an armoire in our dining room and a curio cabinet in our kitchen. The armoire has some other things in it and the curio has a bunch of odds and ends in IT. I don’t know if those are the correct furniture names, but whatever. Sometimes I think about how I could totally consolidate ALL of Carla’s craft supplies into ONE of these furniture items! And either pack away, get rid of, or move the other odds and ends!

Even the prospect of changing things from the way they’ve always been is truly liberating.

Of course, the actual effecting change is not quite as simple. But still. LIBERATING.

 

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.

Unrelated to the title of this post: Carla has recently begun speaking with what I can only describe as a Baltimore accent. We do not live in or near Baltimore.

Now to the topic at hand.

You know how sometimes there are good things going on in your life – good, or at the worst, neutral – and you know you should feel happy and grateful… and you DO, you do feel happy and grateful… but also they are kind of stressing you the cluck out?

Yes. That.

It’s kind of like saying that you have an exotic luxury cruise coming up, and you are so stressed about whether the new bathing suit you ordered is going to give you weird tan lines but you may not have enough time to get the strapless version shipped to you from Milan… and you are having anxiety about making sure that your Ferrari is going to be driven once a week while you’re gone… and you’re hosting a welcome party for Beyonce’s twins but the caterer isn’t very responsive and you’re not sure if she was able to get the live baby lobsters you wanted to give out as party favors.

Why are you complaining about something that is a) voluntary and b) positive? Why are you expending energy on being anxious about THIS when there is so very much going on in the world to which you could direct your worry? CAN YOU NEVER BE HAPPY?!?!?!?!

I mean, I’m not saying I’m going on a fancy vacation or that I even have a Ferrari. (Nope. My turn-of-the-century Honda doesn’t even dress up as a Ferrari for Halloween.) And Beyonce and I are just not that close. But… good things, nonetheless.

[Edited to add: This is nothing crazy out of the ordinary, by the way. It’s more along the lines of — but not quite — buying a new house: great! But accompanied by lots of meetings with the mortgage broker and dealing with home inspections and packing and learning the new neighborhood. Or like — but not quite — getting a promotion, where you may get a raise and a new title but you have added responsibilities and maybe need to take a management class and also now you have to give presentations to the whole company. That sort of Good Thing with Added Stresses.]

So. Good things. And yet… I am stressed out.

There are so many logistics! And planning! And phone calls! And Unknown Things!

My face is breaking out from the overwhelming weight of Copious Junk Food and Excessive Anxious Thoughts (not to mention the heat, that awful old-dish-sponge heat that lies on you in a stinky, sticky, damp layer). I cried on the phone to a stranger this morning. My sentences tend to begin in my head and end in speech, leaving the person I am speaking to feeling confused and a little concerned that I am in need of medical attention. I am forgetting things, and having to re-do things.

Part of this is because I have not had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in a week, instead spending the wee hours of the morning staring at the ceiling fan as all sorts of horrific tragedies play out in my brain in Game of Thrones style gore.  Waking up at every hour like clockwork solely to watch the ticker tape of Things That Have to Be Done scroll across the bottom of my mind screen while a wide-eyed newscaster screeches Breaking! News! of Things That Are Making Me Anxious one right after another. Sitting straight up in bed in a panic about something ridiculous, like the well-being of the (now two) baby deer who live part time in our yard. And when I am sleeping, I am having nightmares of the trying-to-save-my-child-from-a-shooter variety.

On top of everything, Carla is turning FOUR, which means that I am also smack in the middle of my annual Mooning About the Relentless Passage of Time and also Having Strong Feelings About Carla’s Birth because that will apparently never stop being a hot topic for my brain to stew over.

Also, there was a centipede in my kitchen this morning.

[Edited to add: Not five minutes — MINUTES — after I posted this, I went into my bathroom and there was a giant silverfish lounging on the floor, all, come at me, bro.]

To combat the stress, I am: A) Making lists. B) Reminding myself, in a stern but kind way, that the stress is in service of a positive outcome. C) Working out as often as possible (which makes it sound like I am at the gym multiple times a day, when really I am trying to get back up to the baseline of multiple times a week), because there is something weirdly soothing about sweat and working-out-related pain. D) Writing it all down in great melodramatic whiny paragraphs, then deleting it. (This post is, um, the not-deleted part.) E) Telling you, in hopes that you Get It and/or will distract me with something, anything. F) Trying to take some of the creative energy that is currently going toward catastrophizing and redirect it toward my actual writing. G) Keeping caffeine to a minimum. H) Reciting the things I am grateful for in a loop while in the car, in bed, in the shower.

Are any of these things working to keep the anxiety at bay? Not so far, no. But these are early days. And what do I know? Maybe they are keeping the stress at a lower level than it would be otherwise. WHAT A FUN THOUGHT THAT IS.

Carla will be attending a couple of different camps this summer. It’s our first experience with camp, so, if you imagine my mind like a large industrial size gas stove, with pots of worry on each of the burners, the camp pot is currently set at a low simmer. With each passing day, though, it comes closer to a boil.

Part of that, I think, is that there has been little to no communication from the camps. We got emails right away that they processed our payments… and then… nothing. One of the camps required some sort of something that I’ve forgotten, to take place in April, and eventually I just contacted them myself to get it taken care of. (Would the camp administrators have ever reached out to me?) One of the other camps did send out a sort of welcome email, which promised to send more information in the coming weeks (it has not). The welcome email also included three attachments, two of which were forms that didn’t apply to Carla and one of which was a welcome letter (why couldn’t the content of the letter be part of the email?) that mentioned camp t-shirts and where to buy them, and also gave the date of a… something. I don’t really know what to expect, but I guess we get to go see where the camp takes place and… maybe meet some of the camp staff? It’s very unclear, and I have read it several times to make sense of it.

So the lack of communication is concerning. And it feeds into the part of my worry that derives from the fact that this is a Total Unknown. I never really did camp as a kid. We had a nanny when I was growing up, and my brother and I spent our summers at home. I think there were several years of swimming lessons, and maybe a few visits to a local park that offered face painting. But mostly, we played in the vast wilderness surrounding our house and tried not to get bitten by a rattlesnake. (It was a pretty idyllic way to spend a summer, I have to admit. I have fond memories of riding my bike over gravel and over twin ruts in the prairie that counted as a path; of inspecting ant hills with great care and interest; of swinging for hours in the sun; of swiping a handful of oats from the horses and planting them and watching them grow; of writing messages on pieces of birch bark from the wood pile; of playing with kittens in the hayloft; and so many other outdoor pursuits. I feel like I spent all summer long outside, but memory may be playing tricks on me.

The one childhood camp I remember attending was a sleepaway camp, and the first night I was there I developed pneumonia and had to be sent home. In any event, I was much older than Carla is, and plus this was a million years ago, so I have no idea how camps work anymore. The paragraph-long descriptions that persuaded us to enroll Carla are, from an information perspective, very slim. What does it actually mean to be “exploring the natural world through art” or “mastering new sports skills”?  What will the kids be doing all day?

One of the things I am fretting about is Carla’s reaction to camp. I think she will love camp, based on the broad understanding that the kids will be outdoors a lot and that there will be art and sports. But transitions are challenging for Carla, and I am a little concerned that it will take her so long to adjust to camp that she won’t get much out of it. Also, I have this nagging worry that the camp counselors will be… lacksadaisical, and I have scary visions of Carla running off and getting lost in the forest or something.

Okay, breathe, breathe. It’s going to be okay, yes? The camps will eventually send me some real information, right? I will know more than the dates and location of the camp, preferably before the first day of camp, yes?

I keep opening emails to the camp director, wanting to ask in a cheerful and not-overly-eager-or-bothersome manner whether we can anticipate any details in the coming days… or if there is a welcome session to introduce Carla to the camp venue… But then I chide myself about being patient and close the emails. I don’t want to be labeled as That Mom until they get to know me.

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve done a randomosity post. But random topics still burble to the surface, so let’s get them all out in the open.

Fifty-one weeks of the year, I really enjoy living on this particular street, in this particular house. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac that is close but not too close to a main intersection in an urban-leaning suburb of a mid-size city. I feel like we get the neighborhoody aspects of living in the suburbs, but have plenty of businesses and restaurants and ice cream shops nearby. And it’s quiet. I realize I said that one sentence back, but it’s important. There’s not a huge amount of action, beyond the teenagers playing basketball across the street. The traffic is minimal.

But one week of the year, a business that resides (lives? exists?) on an adjoining street holds an event that draws people from near and far. So for the duration of the event – not quite a week, but close enough that I will count it as a full week, for complaining’s sake – our street is busy. Lots of cars driving down it, to check out the event. Or to try to leave the event, without realizing that our street has no outlet. Or to park on the side of the street before hiking back to the event venue. The event lasts late into the evening, so there are cars driving and people talking excitedly and people beeping their horns as they engage their remote locks well past ten. Is event starting to look a little wacko, as words go, or is it just me? By day two, I begin to go crazy. Carla is a fairly deep sleeper, but I get that crazed newborn-parent feel of, SHHHH, you are being TOO LOUD, there is a BABY SLEEPING, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I don’t like it, is what I’m saying. It makes me cranky. It makes me feel wary of talking to anyone while we’re outside, which we are a lot at this time of year. It makes me double and triple check the locks on the doors (because people heading to the event are super likely to be burglars/murderers) (no). It makes me feel like whispering and ducking past windows and uncomfortably aware of the proximity of my bedroom to the street.

I will be glad when this year’s event ends.

 

We have a new addition to our household. A new baby deer. Its mother leaves it in a snug little bundle of white spots between our deck and the azalea bushes.

Fawn 1

Baby deer!

This year, Carla spotted the fawn first. And, being a child who loves animals with a passion that makes her literally vibrate with the desire to pet and hug and adopt, she cannot stop thinking about the fawn. This has made it rather difficult to enjoy our backyard; she is constantly hopping out of her seat at lunch or dinner to go peek at the fawn. Or, instead of playing in the yard, she is peeking at the fawn. Or, instead of doing anything at all other than peeking at the fawn, she is peeking at the fawn.

She wants to show it a pinecone. (It won’t care.) She wants to share her ham with it. (No.) She wants to bring it up on the deck to show it an ant that is crawling as quickly away from Carla as its legs can carry it. (No.)

We have had lots of conversations about deer being wild animals, and being especially careful around baby animals, because their mothers will be protective. And how even though deer are so pretty and docile looking, they can bite and kick.

This has sunk in a bit further in some areas than others; Carla still wants to pet the fawn (no; wild animal). But she refuses to go into the backyard by herself just in case the mommy deer is there and wants to bite her or kick her or lick her (okay, good point; also it probably won’t lick you).

I don’t know why I continue to be disgruntled by the presence of baby deer in our yard. This has happened… every year since we’ve lived here? Our yard is a deer daycare. But each year, I feel annoyed at the mother deer for just abandoning her baby in my yard, where I then feel obligated to care for it. (I mean, insofar as “care for it” means peeking at it occasionally, keeping Carla away from it, and fretting about its safety.)

And I DO fret about it! We were moving some deck furniture around the other day, on the very deck against which the fawn was snuggled, and it was making a tremendous racket, and I commented to my husband that I hoped it wasn’t terrifying the poor creature. When the lawn service people arrived, I ran around in a panic, trying to replace my pajamas with clothes so that I could go out and warn them to stay away from the fawn’s azalea hidey-hole. We are having our deck refinished in a few weeks, and I am really hopeful that the fawn’s mother decides to take her on a field trip somewhere else so that the sanders and scrapers don’t scare the poor thing out of its spots.

Part of me feels so annoyed at the mother deer, for not picking a safer location to stow her offspring. But I suppose it is an urban deer, and this probably feels a whole lot safer than the corner of a busy intersection or the back of a schoolyard playground. And I suppose the fawn could always complain to its mother about the creature with the curly blond fur who keeps poking its face over the side of deck and waving pinecones at it, and suggest that they find a new daycare center.

Fawn 2

“Please stop peeking at me. You are making me very nervous/annoyed/camera shy.” – Fawn

As long as we’re talking about the backyard, we did get a playset. I loved all the comments and ideas, especially the suggestion to turn our weed patch into a beautiful garden (believe me! I would LOVE that!). Of course, being me, I continued to obsessively research and read reviews and bother people with questions. In the end, we concluded that a playset is the right decision for us. Time will tell, I suppose. To tell you the truth, I think the playset is really for ME. It will be so much more convenient to throw Carla in the backyard than to schlep her to a playground when she is overcome by the need to swing. And we can host playdates MUCH more comfortably if there is something for the kids to do outside. So I’M excited about it.

 

I’ve been on the hunt for a few very specific items of clothing lately. One is The Perfect Skirt, for which I continue searching. Let us take a gauzy look through time at one I had in college: white, a lineny blend, cut just above the knee, a-line. THAT is the skirt I am looking for. It was the ideal cut/shape for my shape/cut. It was a nice summery, neutral color. It was a casual material, which I am REALLY interested in; I have plenty of This Would Be Fine at the Office kinds of dresses/skirts; I really want some This Is Cute But Totally Casual Enough for the Playground or Library Story Time options. But I have yet to find it. I bought this skirt from Nordstrom, and despite being adorable in the online pictures, it was NOT The Perfect Skirt and I have since returned it.

Nordstrom skirt

Photo from Nordstrom.com

Another item I am seeking, in bulk, perhaps, is Rear-End-Covering Shirts. I already have a few that are dressier, so right now I am looking for casual options. I have found some good ones, I think: this one from Athleta,

Rear end shirt Athleta

Photo from Athleta.com

…and this one from Loft. (I got the Loft version for, I think, $12. But now they are on sale for two for $18!)

Rear end shirt loft

Photo from Loft.com

But I find myself wanting moremoremore because a) I enjoy wearing leggings and b) my rear end is self-conscious. My trouble though is that shirts that seem to fit the bill either don’t actually cover my rear end (I am more generous in the backyard than 99% of the models modeling the “rear-end-covering” shirts), or they make me feel shlubby. I want casual-but-put-together, not rolled-out-of-bed-and-grabbed-my-husband’s-undergarment-off-the-floor. I guess a more accurate way to describe it is that I like my tops to have some shape to them. Yet, like The Perfect Skirt and The Perfect Jeans, it seems really hard to find something matching my specifications. So I’m snapping them up when I come across them.

 

The room mother for Carla’s preschool class collected money for a year-end gift for her teachers. The gifts were lovely and generous, and I was delighted to not have to come up with ideas for something her teachers would like and not throw away. But when Carla and I were leaving her classroom on the last day, one of the other parents brought in two large bags from a fancy store and handed one to each of Carla’s teachers.

Listen, Carla and I wrote personal messages in cards for each of her teachers. They went above and beyond for us this year, in many ways, and I wanted to express my gratitude in words in addition to submitting some cash to the group gift. So I acknowledge that maybe these other parents felt similarly, and wanted to really show the teachers how grateful they were.

Or, of course, maybe they didn’t participate in the group gift. Or maybe their love language is Gift Giving. Or maybe other justifying thoughts I can’t come up with.

My worry, of course, is that this is What You Do; you give money to the room mother for the group gift, and then you ALSO buy a personal gift for each teacher. Which seems ridiculous, but what do I know? So many tiny, unimportant-in-the-greater-scheme-of-things stresses related to Having a Child in School! I had no idea!

My desktop anthurium – which you may recall was purchased purely because I was looking for a red lamp – for accent moreso than for light – and couldn’t find one – has lost its… well, I suppose they are flowers? The red pretty rooster-face looking portions of the plant. There were two to begin with, and one darkened and crumpled a few months ago, and now the second is going the same way. I don’t know anything about anthuria, outside of the fact that I fed them with ice cubes. Well, I guess I did a rather poor job of even doing that, considering that they have chosen death over waiting to see if I will remember to ice them each week. So I have no idea if they will flower again, in time… or if I need to find another one. One of the things that made it so clear I needed to buy THIS anthurium was that it came in such a lovely bright red vase. I neither want to buy a new red-vased anthurium nor replant an anthurium in this vase. So I suppose I will stare hopefully at my remaining anthurium leaves and try to remember the weekly icing.

1 Anthurium

Photo from gardenknowhow.com

That’s it for now, Internet. What’s up with you?

Yesterday was Carla’s last day of preschool. It was a short day, so I ran to Target after I dropped her off. I had a list of things we needed, and a stack of coupons, and a cartload of Feelings, and where better to go when you have Feelings, I ask you, than to Target, where you can mindlessly wander the aisles and also participate in the soothing act of buying things?

It surprised me – which is surprising, knowing me – how much I was affected by The End of Preschool. I’ve been having terrible dreams for days: the one where I’m trying to save Carla from an active shooter but the only path away is riddled with motorcyclists and highways full of speeding cars; the one where I’m trying to save her from a furious grizzly bear lumbering toward us at the terrifying speed of bears; the one where she’s swimming with her face in the water and I’m terrified she’ll drown (way to be super original in your choice of metaphors, sub-conscious).

It’s pretty clear that this little milestone is presenting as a more significant marker of The Ceaseless Passage of Time than maybe it should be.

 

Right after I yanked my cart from the corral (and wiped down the handle with my own sanitizing wipe; I am nothing if not a germaphobe, and the wipes provided by Target say NOTHING about being sanitizing), I heard the two part harmony of children crying. The volume and intensity ramped up as I rounded the $1 section, and as I trekked down the aisle between the purses/jewelry section and the bank of checkouts, I could make out words. The older child was wailing, “I want the candy!” Her younger sibling was crying, too, but – it seemed to me – in sympathy rather than in any sort of personal outrage. The older child was really getting into it, hysterical sobs punctuated by very loud, very insistent screams of “I want the candy!” Her timbre and noise level read full-on meltdown and I am sure her mother was glad of the early-morning dearth of shoppers.

I felt, as one does, great affection and empathy for the mother, who was calmly unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt as her child railed and flailed.

As I passed, I overheard the person behind the family note, to the mother, “She wants the candy!” in a tone that conveyed bewilderment as to how the mother had missed this crucial point. And the mother responded, with great patience, “I know, but she can’t have the candy because she hit her sister. And I can’t give her candy just because she’s upset.”

Oh, internet! I was already weepy with all the sunrise, sunset feelings that The End of Preschool had brought on. But now, here was a mom who was just doing her best to teach her children, who was being scolded – albeit very gently, it seemed, from my in-motion and distant eavesdropping – for allowing her child to scream rather than just giving her the damn candy, and, in addition, she was calmly and steadfastly defending her actions to said scolder. Like she really needed a THIRD person to instruct when all she wanted was to buy her diapers and her chicken dinosaurs and get the hell out of there. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, internet, and tell her she is doing such a good job. That it will be all right.

But I don’t know that it will be. And especially at that moment, when I had to suppress the urge to shout, “Give her the candy now because she’ll be off to college in an eyeblink and you need to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

 

We’ve been enjoying some really glorious weather the past week or so. Low humidity. Cool breezes. Warm sunshine. Carla and I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible.

One of our favorite activities of late is “bubbles.” I have this enormous bubble wand (from Target, obvs.) that produces excellent bubbles, both in size and quantity. I stand in our front yard and wave the wand, and then Carla chases the bubbles and tries to pop them (often with her face, which I have tried explaining is not the smartest plan).

It’s good from an energy-expenditure standpoint; Carla really throws herself into the chase. She runs hard, she leaps, she twirls, she dives. I contemplate her future as a soccer star. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she’s breathing hard and I know she will sleep well.

But aside from being good exercise (for her; unless you count “mild upper arm tiredness” as exercise on my part), it’s also kind of magical. The bubbles have their own sort of childish beauty, shiny and round, bumbling around the yard on air currents, nudging into one another, popping on the grass. When a breeze picks up, they erupt from the wand all at once: a flock of smooth and iridescent birds, bobbing this way and that in luminous clusters. When the air is still, they form slowly, elongating shimmers that finally coalesce into globes, unsure of their shape as they stretch and wobble through the air.

I love watching them burst against Carla’s hand, her cheek, her blond head. Even more, I love watching the gleaming orbs drift skyward, growing smaller as they rise, pinpricks of light against the clouds.

 

Preschool ending must have really messed me up, because – despite my list – I kept forgetting things. So I’d be in the pretzel aisle and remember that I forgot to pick up vitamins. And then I would schlep all the way back to the vitamin aisle… and realize I forgot all about Carla’s shampoo, on the complete other side of Target. And then I’d get to that side and remember I needed aluminum foil, which was way back in the opposite corner. It was a good thing I had a couple hours to kill, because I traversed that Target many times over.

One of my coupons was for 20% off Cat & Jack toddler clothing (ONE item, which at least they now state on the back of the coupon; harrumph). So I searched for awhile among the toddler clothes. But really, Carla is big enough now to shop in the older children’s section. (Of course, a pair of shorts in size XS or 4 may be identical in price to a pair of 4T shorts in the toddler section, but the coupon is applicable only to the 4T shorts.)

A whole end-cap of socks was on clearance. The display was in disarray, with all the sizes out of order. I dug around until I found the style I liked in size medium — lots of colorful stripes; pom moms on the back of one pair. A pack of Frozen socks caught my eye; Carla has a set that she’s outgrowing, so it would be nice to replace them. But they only had XL and XS – enormous socks for much older children; little teeny socks for tiny baby feet. So I had a little cry right there in the clearance section.

A whole wall of Carlas, at every age. Little wide-eyed infant with the jerky kicks and the balled up fists. Soft blond fuzz and chubby thighs crawling across the carpet. One-year-old Carla shrieking with delight as she clutches a blue carnation in her fist. Eighteen-month-old Carla saying “Hi, hi, hi” into a toy phone or digging into a baby-Carla-size pumpkin with an enormous spoon. Two-year old Carla eating snow by the bowlful, cheeks pink from the cold. Three-year-old Carla jumping gleefully on a trampoline in the backyard, blond curls taking flight around her. Three-year-old Carla in her polka dot dress and backpack posing with her chin up on her first day of school. Three-and-a-half-year-old Carla, fearless on skis, twirling with her father on ice skates, arms wrapped around the neck of a tolerant neighbor dog. Nearly-four-year-old Carla, chasing bubbles in the sunshine. Lifting her feet off the ground and gliding on her balance bike. Bending over a drawing – real! recognizable! – of a person. Skipping down the hall toward her classroom for the last time, “Elsa” braid swinging at her back. Slipping away from me, ever forward, not a glance behind.

Me, running to catch up. Never having mastered now enough to fully enjoy it. Grasping to hold onto each glimmering moment, even as the breeze catches it and pushes it up into the sky.