Pretty Pretty Princess

So it seems like everywhere I look lately I see articles about what not to say to your little girls.  Don’t mention that you have issues with your weight.  Don’t tell them they are pretty.  And for God’s sake, don’t call them Princess.
(Disclaimer:  I am not especially picking on the people who wrote the particular posts above.  Those are the first ones that show up in Google for each topic, that’s all.)
I’m pretty much on board with the first recommendation, if only because anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening, so let’s err on the side of caution.  I try not to talk about weight and diets, but rather about exercising and making healthy food choices.  I don’t limit what my kids eat, for the most part; I talk about listening to your body and not eating if you feel full.  I can report that when Lorelei hops on the scale she boasts about her weight gain and is proud to be heavier than her ten-year-old cousin.  We talk about how wonderful it is that she is so big and healthy and strong.  Does any of this matter?  Let me be honest:  at this point I’m not sure what matters.  When my big kids are about thirty I will ask them and let you know.
But I’m sorry, I’m not going to stop telling Lorelei that she’s pretty.  For one thing, she IS.  For another, soon enough she will lose her current conviction, which she totally believes, that she is the prettiest girl in the world.  There is nothing I can do to prevent her suffering adolescent pangs and a lifetime of worries over her appearance.  I don’t know ANY WOMAN who is free of these things.  So why shouldn’t I contribute to her body positive feelings now while she still believes me?  I remember REALLY BELIEVING that I was going to grow up and win the Miss America pageant.  It’s great to feel that confident, about your appearance or about anything.
Now, about calling little girls princesses . . . y’all, don’t you think we are TOTALLY overthinking this parenting thing?  Isn’t it freaking hard enough already? Maybe it’s because I’m a Southerner, and down here terms of endearment are sprinkled liberally throughout every encounter with friend and stranger alike, but I just cannot bring myself to believe that I am somehow limiting my daughter’s future options or affecting her self-worth if I address her as “my little princess” from time to time.
Here are some things I call Lorelei: pretty girl, precious angel, mommy’s baby, punkin, sweetheart, baby girl, cute girl, darlin’, sweetie pie, sugarplum, dumplin’, honey, and doll baby.  I really don’t think she is going to grow up to be a gourd, or remain a baby forever, and the sweetness (debatable) of her current demeanor is not influenced by these pet names in the least, I can assure you of that.  I remember my daddy referring to me and my sisters as “slick” and “slim.”  I wasn’t either then and I am neither now!
2013-07-10 17.01.00-2
What pet names DO convey is love.  And making kids feel loved will always be the most important role of a parent.


It’ no news to me that my stats for this thing are way, way down.  And it’s no wonder, given the irregularity and infrequency of posts here lately.
Now I knew I wouldn’t be able to post much during the craziness that was most of April and all of May.   But I kind of expected that once summer got here I would settle into a once daily schedule again.  What a wealth of things I would have to tell y’all about!
I got off to a nice start when John and I went to his Reunion, but then we came home.  I started a post to wind up the story and have yet to finish it!
So what’s my problem?  It just came to me.
I’m an introvert, and I am still exhausted from all that socializing.  I want and need to crawl into a hole and be alone for a few weeks.  But I still have six other people living in this house. (Will any of them ever leave?)  It is summer–Lorelei and William are home ALL DAY.  The big kids are in and out.  Day in and day out they want and need things from me, and one of those things that some of them require more than others is emotional energy.  Energy that I can never get enough alone time to fully replenish.
And to complicate matters, I am an introvert married to an extrovert.  An extreme extrovert who wants to be AROUND PEOPLE ALL THE TIME.  When I could just SCREAM AT THE THOUGHT OF HAVING TO TALK TO ONE MORE PERSON.
To John, April and May were heaven on earth.  All the commotion!  All the parties!  All the people! (I am getting tireder just thinking about it.)  Now that it’s all over, he’s depressed. (Guess who supplies the emotional energy to help him recover from depression?  Hello!)
And today I realized that although I am alone (I hope) when I write my blog, it’s still a social activity of sorts.  I have an audience whom I hope to engage with my writing.  So it does require some of the same kind of energy that I use for socializing, the kind of energy that I don’t have nearly enough of. (And if you will recall, I also work at home.  So there’s that.)
And now I am off to finish getting ready for the Father’s Day cookout.  It’s a small affair–only 14 of us.

Strawberry Birthday Cake, and not from a box

Another reason I miss my recipe notebook acutely at this time of year is BIRTHDAYS.  Lots and lots of birthdays.  Jake’s is January 27, John AND Emily’s is February 4, Teddy’s is February 15, and William’s is March 5.  That’s a lot of cake.
We’ve been through one whole set of birthdays since the fire, so I’ve rounded up all the tried and true cake recipes.  Jake had Milky Way Cake this year, and John had Strawberry Cake.
Ah, Strawberry Cake.  Twenty-five years ago was John’s first birthday with us as a couple.  It was a fantastic birthday–my gift to him was his college ring, and my roommate and her boyfriend and I “kidnapped” him and took him to the Kennedy Center to see HMS Pinafore.  And I baked him the first of many birthday cakes.
“What kind of cake do you want?” I asked him.  And he, no doubt envisioning a box of pink nastiness from the grocery store shelf, asked for a strawberry cake.
My mother did not have a recipe for strawberry cake.  The Georgetown University Library is not exactly overflowing with cookbooks.  And there was no Internet to consult.  And I haven’t used a box cake mix since I was maybe 12.  So I set out to invent my own recipe.
I don’t remember what I did, but although I am sure John appreciated my efforts, he probably would have preferred the box.
John bday 22
But I got better, and I’ve had years to work on my recipe.  The one I made this year was the best one ever, and I am pleased to share it with you. 🙂
It starts with a recipe called “Old-Fashioned White Birthday Cake.”  That came out of one of my mother’s cookbooks years ago.  Then I added some things (strawberries!).
One container of strawberries, washed and drained
sugar to taste
1 c. butter, softened (REAL butter, mind you.  Don’t you dare use that nasty margarine.)
2 c. sugar
3.5 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
3.5 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla
8 egg whites
1/8 t. salt
It helps if you are an experienced baker when you make this cake, because I cannot give you exact measurements for the strawberry part of this.  Slice up the strawberries and puree them in your blender with enough sugar so that they are not tart.  If you need to add milk to get them pureed, you can.  Sometimes I’ve needed to; this time I did not.  You want to end up with about 1.5 cups of liquefied strawberry.
Halve the remaining strawberries and reserve.
Cream butter and sugar.  Add salt and baking powder and beat well.  Add vanilla and beat.  Add flour, alternating with liquid strawberries, beginning and ending with flour.  The recipe calls for 1 cup liquid.  If it doesn’t look like cake batter should, you can add more.  This is where experience comes in handy!
Now wash your beaters and beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  (I gave all the yolks to the dog, but you can use the for scrambled eggs or french toast!) Add 1/8 t. salt to the beaten whites.  Fold lightly into cake batter.
Grease two round cake pans and dust with powdered sugar, and pour in your batter.  Bake at 350 until done.  I know that is not very exact, but the recipe really calls for 1 hour in a tube pan.  I started checking at 30 minutes.
When your cake is cool, spread the bottom layer with strawberry preserves.  Actually, I use one of the “all-fruit” strawberry spreads.  Make a basic buttercream frosting, and thin as needed with the rest of your strawberry juice for color and flavor.  Frost cake, and garnish with sliced strawberries.  Everyone will tell you it is the best cake they ever ate.
strawberry cake

Embracing Change

I don’t like change.  I never have liked change, and anyone who knows me well knows this about me.  Now I would assume that it would be hard on ANYONE to lose every single personal possession to fire, to have to move into a new house with all new things in it, but it’s got to be even worse for a person who is resistant to change, right?
For a long time I felt kind of like a stranger in my own home, like I was just staying in a really nice hotel.
But my bedroom was different.  It quickly began to feel like home, safe, a sanctuary.  The furniture we were given for that room is nice furniture–French Provincial in style, like the bedroom set I grew up with (gone in the fire because it had been passed down to Emily), but made, I think, of walnut.  Someone gave me a bedspread that was just like one of Mima’s that I had.  I put out Mima’s afghans that had come back to me.  I filled the room with books.
Most of the furniture we lost in the fire was antique or at least vintage, most of it acquired from my friend Antoinette’s store, Myrtle’s Mess.  It exactly suited our Victorian house, and it suited my taste as well.  We had pieces from many eras, and I grew to love the Art Deco style.  We had a cabinet radio, two bureaus, and a wardrobe for this era.  They were scattered about the house but I cherished a vision of the future when these pieces would be united in one room and maybe I would get more of them.  My Granny had the waterfall style pieces in her bedroom, which may have been one reason I felt drawn to this style.
Now, John’s grandmother had an absolutely gorgeous bedroom set.  Below are pictures I took of it right after her funeral.  You can just ignore that person who appears in the mirror. 😉
I had coveted that furniture for YEARS, and Grandma knew it, too.  She had told me directly that I could have it when she was gone.
And last weekend was the unexpectedly early moving day.
Problem was, when I took the above pictures, I had JUST FOUND OUT (like, less than 24 hours before) that my house had been burned to the ground, that I had nothing and that I was homeless.  Whereas, now, I’ve been living in this house, in my sanctuary bedroom, for over a year.  And whenever I started thinking about the new furniture coming, I started feeling strange, almost panicky, like I even might start to cry.  And yet I knew I loved and had always wanted the furniture, and that moreover ours is the only suitable room for it in the house.
I understand what was going on with me psychologically, that the resident furniture was a comfort to me in a traumatic time and that was why it was so hard to let go of.  But those feelings definitely added to the stress of last weekend, as did memories awakened by the cleaning out of the garage (the subject of my next post, probably).
But I did it.  I embraced change, and in a day or so I will have pictures of my newly-decorated room to share.

The Best Laid Plans . . .

So the past few days have been an exercise in stress (not that I needed any more exercise in that area), endurance, and the necessity of flexibility.  I guess it all started around midnight on Thursday . . .
Many of you will remember that John’s grandmother died last year and that we were at her funeral in Baltimore when our house burned down.  Well, her house sold a few weeks ago and all its contents had to be packed up and sent down here.   I was expecting them to arrive on December 17 (because that’s what the moving people had told John’s mother–they were combining us with another move to save money), not exactly an ideal time of year but at least we had a couple of weekends to prepare.  HOWEVER, at midnight on Thursday, while we were lying in bed, John just CASUALLY MENTIONED (didn’t volunteer it–in response to my question about whether he had talked to his mother lately) that the moving van was coming MONDAY.  I was all like, “What?  When were you planning to tell me?  In the morning when they knocked on our door?”
On Friday I had too much work to do to get started on the cleaning out of the garage (more on that in a minute), but I was happy that at least someone was coming to straighten up the house (a client who works in exchange for representation).  The house was filthy; I didn’t want movers seeing it nor did I want Emily to come home to such a mess.  But our helper called in sick.  At this point, close to a nervous breakdown, I whined to my little sister about my plight.  In short order, she informed me that my mother and my other sister were going to treat me to a paid housecleaning, so that was a spot of good news (the one thing that probably kept me sane).
Did I mention that John was leaving Friday night (taking Willie with him) to go pick up Emily and therefore would not be available to help me with this project?
So all day Saturday was spent in the garage (about which more in another post).  I filled five trash cans to overflowing.  Lorelei helped a little and Jake did too.  Why the garage?  Well, the whole project was like a domino effect.  We were getting new dining room furniture, which meant the current stuff had to move to the garage.  We were also getting a slew of boxes that I had no intention of unpacking immediately.  They, too, were headed there.  We were getting new bedroom furniture.  Thus our furniture was heading for Emily’s room, and hers was heading for the guest room.  (Which Jake had therefore to clean out since it is part of the basement domain that is “lived in” to put it charitably.)
I worked so hard all day.  I was looking forward to a soak in my tub and blogging about some of the emotional impact of cleaning out the garage.  That’s when (around 7:30 p.m.) I got THE CALL.  John, Emily, and William were stranded in Chattanooga, because MY VAN had broken down.  A Good Samaritan who actually owns a car repair shop had towed them to his place (in a somewhat scary part of Chattanooga) and they needed to be picked up.  Now.
Leaving Teddy (none too happy at having his evening disrupted) to stay with Lorelei, Jake and I got in his car (which we had just retrieved from the shop that afternoon, thankfully) and took off for Chattanooga (that’s 90 miles away, folks).  We did not get home until 12:30.
But I still had all day Sunday, right?  I thought I’d get to sleep till ten, go to Mass, be home and cleaning the garage by 1:00 or so.  But Lorelei came into my room at 8:30 a.m. crying with pain from an earache.  By 10:15 we were sitting (and sitting and sitting and sitting) at the Walgreens clinic.  We were there for FOUR HOURS (have you noticed me shouting a lot in this post?).   By the time we got back home and fed all the hungry people waiting on me, it was well past three.  Luckily, now I had Emily to help (she was actually working on some of it while I was out) so she and I finished in there around dinner time.
At 8:30 I left to pick up Jake from his girlfriend’s house (something John usually does but did I mention that he was also sick with that upper respiratory thing that everyone has? William, Lorelei, and Jake have it too, and I’ve just started with it.  And Teddy has a fever–that might be the flu.  But I digress.).  With one thing and another (stopping to buy him food, going to the grocery store and having my card not work until John transferred money from one bank account to another), picking up Jake’s friend) it was 11:30 before I got home.
The only good thing about Monday morning was that John and the little kids stayed home sick so we got to sleep a little longer.  We had to be and at ’em by 8:00 though because that was the earliest the movers could arrive.  Latest was 10:00 but of course it was more like 10:30.  After they looked around the house they told us they needed payment before they brought the stuff in.  The only problem with that was that we were not supposed to be paying them.  This took over an hour to straighten out.  In the meantime the car place called.  We can fix the problem for $1200 or get a whole new engine with a warranty for $1500.  So there’s that.
I don’t even know how long the movers were here.  It was long.  After they left I discovered that a piece of wood that is supposed to go on top of the vanity table is missing.  We called and this still has not been resolved.  Then John noticed that the glass shelves that go in the china cabinet aren’t there.  We still have some hope they are in one of the boxes in the garage.  (They left all the boxes they unpacked and the tape pieces and everything in our driveway in the rain, by the way.  Are they supposed to do that?)
We still have work to do on the transition.  Our old furniture is sitting outside our bedroom door.  Some of the things that came still have stuff in the drawers I haven’t gone through.  John is impatient and wants to open all the boxes RIGHT NOW and I am trying to stop him.  We spent several hours last night going through boxes of books that we removed from the garage and now have many boxes to take to McKay’s (the used book store).
So that’s how I spent the past four days.  Not stressful or anything.  And it’s not like, you know, it’s two weeks until Christmas or anything like that.

 Emily models an umbrella hat
Emily models an umbrella hat

Just a sample of all the fun things we will be unpacking in the coming days!
Just a sample of all the fun things we will be unpacking in the coming days!


Countdown to Christmas

That’s what they call some of the calendars in stores this time of year, and it irritates me.  Of course, Advent doesn’t always correspond exactly to the dates on the calendar, but it’s an Advent Calendar all the same!
I remember the first one I ever had–a Nativity scene with child-like characters.  It was pop-up and had movable parts.  I do have an incredible memory for everything that happened before I had kids but that’s not why I remember it–it’s because we saved it and continued to hang it year after year.

It looked a lot like this.
It looked a lot like this.

My sisters and I were largely responsible for decorating our house at Christmas time, and at some point we decided that our large dining room would look more festive with every single Advent Calendar we’d ever had displayed on one wall.  Although originally we’d get one and take turns opening the doors, eventually we started getting two or even three, so there were a lot of them.
I recall several Tasha Tudor versions (my mother’s favorite), one featuring Benji (remember that movie?), a Muppet one (“Hope Santy-Poo is good to you,” quoth Miss Piggy), the Legend of the Robin, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, the Nutcracker Suite, and many more.  We were so excited about our calendars, which we opened each morning before we left for school.  We looked forward with great anticipation to what the big secret would be under the 24th door.  This sometimes caused a problem when our cousins got the same calendar we had, because they were the kind of kids who peeked (we would NEVER EVER peek) and then they would tell us what was under that last door.
We had this one for sure.
We had this one for sure.

My first year at college, my roommate and I were determined to be festive.  We festooned our rooms with Christmas lights and put up a manger scene that I brought from home at Thanksgiving.  And since exams ran so late that we were at school until Advent was almost over, we wanted an Advent calendar.  Yes, my roommate and her family had this tradition as well, but with a twist–they always had chocolate calendars, which at that point I had never even heard of!  So we went out to Wisconsin Avenue and went shopping, and managed to find one.  I can’t remember now whether we continued that custom for the next three years.
Of course when my kids were old enough I started getting Advent Calendars for them.  There was no question of sharing–everyone had his own.  I haven’t always been successful with this tradition, though.  I never seemed to have it before Advent started, so we’d end up having to open several days at once when I finally got one.  Or there were years I waited so long that there was none to be had–or really hideous ones that I would normally have scorned.  And although I wanted to save them, either they weren’t as sturdy or my kids are rougher because some of them didn’t make it to the following year!
Sadly, at some point I found the old Advent Calendars from my childhood, which no one was displaying anymore, and decided they would make a nice addition to display with ours, which at that time we plastered all over the walls of our den.  So now ALL of them are gone.
I got the jump on this year by buying one on sale AFTER Christmas (because I forgot to get one until too late last year!).  But then Lorelei and William saw chocolate ones at the grocery store and wanted one of those.  So this year we have two, and they can alternate calendars each day.  It warms my heart to see their excitement and enjoyment and takes me back to a simpler time in my own life.

Signs of the Season II

And one last link on the Advent Workshop, this one from the Knoxville News Sentinel.  William was quoted in this story!  Can you tell I really, really liked the Advent Workshop?  So much so that I never missed one, even though one year that meant I showed up with a newborn Lorelei less than two weeks after giving birth.

Lorelei as Mary and William as Start-boy at the Workshop in 2010
Lorelei as Mary and William as Star-boy at the Workshop in 2010

Fire or Ice?

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. 
   –    Robert Frost

I love that poem so much that I feel really guilty for using it as an intro to a post about . . . Wait for it . . . fighting over the thermostat.
Y’all, I know that this is one of those pathetic First World Problems, but do you have this problem too?
Here’s the thing:  for the first time since we’ve moved from apartments to houses, we have a house with a fully functional HVAC system.  It can be WHATEVER TEMPERATURE WE WANT, any time of year!  How novel!
Our first house was warm enough in the winter, I think, unless you got too near a door or a window, through which icy drafts would blow.  And the air worked well enough downstairs.  Our upstairs bedroom would have been stuffy if not for a little extra help in the form of a window unit which was about thirty years old (I swear–I was 27 when we moved in there and that thing was definitely older looking than the ones we had when I was a little girl!) and loud as all get out.  It wasn’t super-cold but it stirred the air around enough to do the trick.
Then we moved to the Victorian house, originally meant to be heated, I suppose, by the five fireplaces which were now blocked up, and cooled by the enormous windows which were mostly painted shut, and once opened had to be propped that way with building blocks because the mechanisms were broken. (We found one of the window weights in the closet.  Have you ever seen one?  They are VERY heavy.  I read a book once in which one was used as a murder weapon–very effective.)  Anyway, I doubt that our modern methods were much of an improvement.  In the winter, the temperature stayed at 64, no matter how high we turned up the heat.  We got used to being cold, but it was hard on any guests we had.  And we paid about $900 a month for the privilege.  What with the high ceilings and the trees, we did better in the summer time, but on the hottest days the AC couldn’t get the temperature below 80.
I’ve written at great length about the intensity of our summertime suffering in our next house.  I suppose it was foreshadowing, although the fire wasn’t caused by spontaneous combustion.  The two upstairs floors were not air conditioned.  AT ALL.  Our landlord provided us with two portable units, but if we tried to use them at the same time, we blew a fuse.  So Emily got a fan, John and I got the AC (which had a drawer that would fill with water that had to be emptied every two hours, all night long), and the other kids got to sleep peacefully in the air-conditioned basement.  In the winter, we had ceiling heat, which I actually loved, except it only worked in some rooms (sorry, Emily.).
And now?  We have two units, one for the upstairs, and one that serves the main level and the basement.  They work like a dream.  And the bills are lower than we’ve ever seen, even though the house is bigger by far.  So what is the problem?  I guess that depends on who you ask but this is my blog so I’m going to say John.
The kids wouldn’t dare mess with the thermostats–in fact I doubt they know how they work!  And John has ignored the downstairs one so far.  But he won’t leave the upstairs one–which is in our bedroom–alone.  It’s not so bad if he goes to bed first because then I can fix it before I get in bed.  But if he goes later I wake up in a pool of sweat, especially if Lorelei has come into bed with us and I have spent the night effectively as a sandwich filling.
See,  John just won’t understand how thermostats work.  If it’s really hot out, he thinks turning the thermostat down will help somehow.  If it’s cold outside, he starts turning it up.  He doesn’t seem to understand that once you decide what temperature you think the house should be, YOU SET THE THERMOSTAT AND NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN.
Another problem is that there only seems to be so much heat that can be shared between the two of us.  If I am hot, John is cold, and vice versa.  Always.
So I have determined that the proper summertime thermostat setting is 76, and the wintertime setting is 66.  That’s because I believe that we SHOULD be warmer in summer and colder in winter, just like I think we should consume strawberries and corn on the cob in the summer and switch to root vegetables and apples in the winter.   And I WILL keep those settings, if I have to explain it to John 100 MORE times and turn it back down 20 times a day.

Too Tired to Even Think of a Good Title

That’s where I am tonight (and I pride myself on thinking up good titles!)   I am ever so grateful to the folks at BlogHer for this NaBloPoMo challenge–it’s gotten me into great posting habits that I hope to be able to continue when November ends.  HOWEVER, when it gets to be close to midnight, and my eyelids are heavy, and I’ve had such a busy day that a  blog post isn’t already mostly written in my head yet (because that’s how I work!), it’s, well, a challenge!
So how about some more adorable pictures of Leo?  That way we all win!

Naughty Leo has come up with a new game–roll the truck down the driveway and watch Mommy chase it before it rolls into the street!

Here goes!!

He’s our sunshine!