April Goes out with a Bang!

Well, this has been another banner week for me, y’all!
Monday was my birthday, and who doesn’t like having a little fuss made over them?  Especially when the fuss includes TWO bouquets and a homemade cake (Emily made it).
cake bouquet 1 bouquet 2
Tuesday I published a post related to the situation in Baltimore, and not long after I cross-posted in to BlogHer I got an email telling me it was being featured there!  This was HUGE for me because I’ve never had anything featured anywhere before.  And it just keeps getting better, with my post being the most popular in News and Politics for two days now and almost 1,200 reads!
BlogHer Screenshot
On Wednesday, Knoxville (that’s my hometown, y’all!) got named to yet another top ten list.  I have a post where I keep an ongoing list of those (BECAUSE THERE ARE JUST THAT MANY!) so I quickly updated it and posted it to my favorite Knoxville Facebook group, almost quadrupling my page views for that day (which still amounts to small potatoes to many but was a lot for my blog).
And then on Thursday my friend JcCee nominated me for the Premio Dardos Award!
darts
Premio Dardos (that’s Spanish, y’all!means “prize darts.”  This award recognizes cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values in the form of creative and original writing.  That sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?
Unlike many blogging awards, this doesn’t come with a list of questions for me to answer.  I don’t know why JcCee chose me specifically for this award (which I am so honored to accept), but it’s prompted me to think about how I share those values on this blog.
As many of you are aware, I started this blog when the column I had been writing on life issues for my diocesan paper for several years was canceled.  This blog gave me the opportunity to broaden my focus (and boy did I broaden it!).  But the truth is that I still consider blogging to be a ministry, at least some of the time.  My ethical values are on display in posts like this one.  Posts like this reflect my cultural values.  My personal values are evident in parenting posts like this one.  As for literary values, I’ll leave that one for y’all to decide. 🙂
And now it’s my turn to nominate some bloggers to receive this award.  Y’all don’t have to do anything special, just acknowledge who honored you (that would be ME) and share the love with some other bloggers.  I choose the following four women to receive this award.
Lizzi of Considerings: Life in Silver Linings
Crystal of So-So Mom
Amy of Planning Playtime
Kelly of The OK Momma
Let’s make it even easier . . . you don’t have to do anything AT ALL if you don’t want. 🙂  Just know that this award means that I admire you and your writing and I am happy to know you.
Ten Things of Thankful

Lent and a Birthday

Birthday parties and Ash Wednesday don’t mix.  That’s why we celebrated William’s 13th birthday last Saturday, with a dinner party at the Lemongrass Restaurant (William loves Asian food of all types).  There were 14 of us in attendance.  We brought the cake (red velvet) and the presents (all super-cool Lord of the Rings action figures this year) with us.  I didn’t have to clean my house before, or clean up a mess afterwards!  Win-win!
william birthday cake
But today is the actual anniversary of what was one of the peak experiences of my life–giving birth to my  13 lb. 5 oz. baby boy, a VBA3C (for the uninitiated, that means Vaginal Birth after Three C-sections).  This morning I told William his birth story as we drove to school.  He especially enjoyed hearing about how he was on television all over the country.  He was born just a bit too early or I’m sure we would have been a front page AOL news story.
newborn william
Aside from being William’s birthday, it’s also the first day of Lent, a time of year of which I am inexplicably fond.  Among other things, I’m giving up Farmville this year, which will free up a LOT of time, so I am once again going to attempt to blog every day, at least briefly, for the next 40 days.
 

Not a Chip off THIS Block!

John and I were both well-behaved children, responsible, excelling in school without parental prompting, never giving our parents worry or trouble.
That’s why I think Karma is bullshit.
No, seriously, my kids aren’t that bad.   But they aren’t carbon copies of me and John either, which I guess is what I was maybe expecting.
I see this all the time in a multitude of ways, and I thought about it again last week at Lorelei’s 9th birthday party.
Lorelei had two parties:  a fashion party (her idea) with her school friends, consisting of manicures and makeovers courtesy of her big sister, and then decapitating and beating a pinata to death with a croquet mallet, followed by a family party in the evening.  I don’t remember my 9th birthday particularly, but I know it would have been a family affair, where we gathered with extended family around the kitchen table to sing and open presents.
Now I can tell you exactly what nine-year-old me would have asked for:  Books, Barbies, and Breyer horses.
Lorelei asked for stuffed animals, stuffed animals, and stuffed animals.  Lorelei has an Amazon Wish List, and roughly 95% of its SEVEN (!!) pages consists of stuffed animals.
Y’all, I had maybe two or three stuffed animals that I cared about even marginally as a child.  We got new bunnies for Easter each year, which I’d carry around for a few days, and then forget about.

Me with the ONE stuffed animal I saved until adulthood.
Me with the ONE stuffed animal I saved until adulthood.

When people started giving our kids stuffed animals pre-birth, I turned up my nose.  They’ll never play with those, I thought.  How boring and unimaginative, I thought.  What a waste of space, I thought.
By the time we had three kids, we had hundreds (I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration) of stuffed animals.  So many that I hung three animal hammocks in the corners of the bedrooms to corral them all.
But those infuriating children kept EMPTYING THE HAMMOCKS.  Yes, that’s right–they WANTED TO PLAY with the animals!
My kids named their stuffed animals, slept with them, carried them around with them everywhere.  Jake and Emily STILL expect the Easter Bunny to bring a stuffed bunny along with their baskets.
And Lorelei and William have taken this to even greater heights.  They don’t have as many animals but those they have are special, not just random gifts but ones they put on wish lists and were delighted to receive.  From “the ostrich from hell whose name is Blood” (I swear William once announced this to a random man in Shoney’s) to a horrifying stuffed possum to an actual stuffed FACEHUGGER, William cherishes his collection and keeps them arranged on his top bunk.
Lorelei carries hers around and talks to them as though they were real.  She dresses them up and gives them personalities for her make-believe games.  And naturally, she sleeps with them.  If I’m counting right, she received eight this year.
Stuffed giraffe she received from Aunt Betsy and Uncle Andy this year
Stuffed giraffe she received from Aunt Betsy and Uncle Andy this year

THANK YOU to the school friends who brought books.  I knew she’d like them even though she wouldn’t think to ask for them!

A Busy Birthday

So my baby girl turned NINE today!  Lorelei wanted to have a party for some of her school friends, and she came up with the theme on her own:  a “fashion” party.  The main event was manicures and makeovers provided by her big sister, followed by a pinata, then gifts and refreshments.
Here are the little girls post-makeovers:
LBday 1Here is the aftermath of a particularly violent encounter between an innocent doggie pinata, some little girls, and a croquet mallet:
LBday 7LBday 8
After the little girls went home, I had to finish making the cake for the family party that was to happen just two hours later.  The cake was a simple variation of buttermilk pound cake with buttercream icing, dyed peacock colors per Lorelei’s request.
LBday 9Lorelei had a pretty good pile of loot!
LBday 10Then it was time to make a wish!
LBday 15And now I am exhausted.  Good night. 🙂

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!).
Ingredients:
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
milk
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

My Big Baby

This will be short and sweet today because we are having a birthday party here tonight which means I have to actually clean the house.  And bake a cake.  In addition to all that other stuff.
It’s a measure of just how crazy things are around here that poor William turned 11 on March 5 and had to wait until tonight to have his party.  And just a family party at that (which translates to probably 16 of us).
So today, in honor of my baby boy, I will post TEN INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT WILLIAM.
1.  William weighed 13 pounds and 5 ounces at birth and was 24 inches long.  He was my first vaginal delivery after three C-sections.  All three local news stations interviewed us, and the story was picked up nationally.  I got emails from all over the country.  Later one of the clips somehow ended up in an episode of Animal Planet entitled “Extreme Births.”
2.  William is an extremely picky eater.  I guarantee you that he is pickier than your picky eater.  His favorite food is “the rolls at the Great American Steak and Buffet.”
3.  William loves animals.  “I love all God’s creatures,” he once opined as a small child.  I think he has become a bot more discriminating since–he hates hippos and pigs, he told me today.  But by far, his favorite animal is the cat.
4.  William is obsessed with Aliens, or as they are apparently correctly called, xenomorphs.  All he wanted for Christmas was Kenner alien toys from the 1990s.
5.  William hates everything to do with school, even homeschooling.
6.  William loves to play on the computer.  He loves Roblox, and he creates awesome stick figure movies.  He also spends a lot of time watching YouTube reviews of toys he hopes to get.
7.  William is VERY stubborn.  If he doesn’t want to do something, he pretty much won’t.
8.  William owns a Roomba.  It is a prized possession that he wanted for years, and inherited from his great-grandmother.
9.  William and Lorelei play very well together.  She is happy to follow his lead about the kind of games they play.
10.  William hates shoes.  We just went shoe shopping to replace the battered Crocs he had been wearing for months, and it was agonizing.

In his Daddy’s heirloom dress for his first trip to Mass–about one week old.

On the beach at Tybee Island this summer