December 30, 2009


Word came today. On Monday, December 28, our final judgment became official - with the right names this time.

Which means that after 469 days ...
67 weeks ...
11,256 hours ...
675,360 minutes ...
40,521,600 seconds ...

I'm not in limbo anymore.

Good news. Good, destressing, forward-moving, happy-making news.

Happy New Year. I think I'll sleep now.

December 27, 2009

Veggie Girl vs. The Fish

I know, I know, I just posted yesterday. But can I just tell you how much my diva rocks?

My beautiful diva has recently decided that there is no food that is not worth trying at least once. She's tried cauliflower, cooked carrots, brussels sprouts. She loved them all. Yes, even the brussels sprouts. That's how awesome she is.

Well, this girl today tried salmon for the first time. Rubbed gently with butter, baked at 450, with a lemon squeezed over the top when it came out of the oven.

She was eager to try it. Seriously. Eager.

Before she took a single bite, though, do you know what she did? She very politely asked to be excused. Then she walked over to the little bulletin board next to the fridge, pulled down my list of ocean-friendly fish, and read, word for complicated word, about the ocean-friendliness of our Alaskan salmon.

"That all means it's good, right, Mom?"

I hugged her on the spot.

Days in limbo: 468. Days of loving my daughter: 2,889. She wins :-)

Smiling Eyes

Today marks 467 days in limbo.

It's also the day after Christmas.

The kids and I, we had an awesome Christmas morning full of magic and hugs and a ginormous holiday breakfast, with pretty much everyone's favorites - pancakes for the diva, fruit smoothies for my redhead, and a truckload of sausage and bacon for my protein-starved Aspie. Then, the three of them went cheerfully off with their dad for dinner. They're staying with him through the weekend, so I am sitting here quietly, appreciating the lights on the tree and the chance to sleep in.

This is my second single-parent Christmas, so I'm a little more used to coping on my own. While we didn't get our tree up until Christmas Eve - I'm blaming the East Coast blizzard for that - I did manage a few other things. We baked cookies, including my favorite eggnog cookies. I ordered holiday cards and got them in the mail before the New Year. (That's a personal best, by the way - I once sent out Christmas cards with hearts and shamrocks on the envelopes.)

And, after a few years off, I made calendars.

These are photo calendars, a kind of year in review that I have made, on occasion, for my family. Most of these folks are pretty far away, so the calendars were a nice way to bring the kids into their day-to-day. I'd take the best pictures of my kids from the past year and put them in, month by month, with each month capturing the kids from exactly a year before.

And so, I built my calendars. January, and my diva's 7th birthday. April, with the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC. Our trip to Seattle last July and August. Snow in December.

And I saw something.

Last January, the kids were pensive, sad, with smiles that didn't quite reach their eyes. February, March, it's more of the same.

By summer, though, you start to see a change. A twinkle, sometimes. A real smile or two. And by fall, it's crystal clear. The kids are not just smiling. They're happy. Really, really happy.

And I'd never have noticed if I hadn't laid all the pictures out like that, chronologically.

This level of change, with the separation, and soon (I hope!) the divorce - it's not easy, even if it's for the best. But I'm so so proud of these little people. They've come through it. They held hands and they hugged each other and they got through it.

And they're happy. Really, really happy.

Know what? I am too.

So here. Have an eggnog cookie on me :-)

Eggnog Cookies*

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (even better if it's freshly grated)
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup eggnog
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 tbs ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well with a wire whisk and set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter with an electric mixer to form a grainy paste. Add eggnog, vanilla and egg yolks and beat at medium speed until smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets (parchment paper helps), 1 inch apart. Sprinkle lightly with nutmeg. Bake for 23-25 minutes or until bottoms turn light brown. Transfer to cool, flat surface immediately with a spatula.

* Thank you, Mrs. Fields!

December 20, 2009

Snowed In

I've got insomnia. Or, as my sister calls it, can'tgotobednia. She's noted - quite accurately - that real insomnia means you lie awake all night. That's not my problem. I'd sleep, if I went to bed. I just don't go to bed.

This weekend, I found a cure.

It was a Not My Weekend (as in, the nearly ex has the kids and I have a bit of me time). And it started poorly, with my redhead screaming in terror about having to go to dad's house. Apparently the zombies who can't drive live at dad's house. So he was dragged out to the car clutching his blankie and screaming blue murder.

Cue big ole stressed out mushy mom tears. And a stressed out mom, for the record, is a mom who can't sleep.

But I had plans to meet an old friend for a festive holiday dinner. So I ignored the stress, put on my new favorite dress (it's amazing what a good dress can do for a girl's mood) and headed out - to a whole other state, in fact - to meet my friend at The Best Restaurant Ever.

We walked in for an amazingly good meal of coq au vin, with cocoa in the vin (which sounds a bit scary but it's really rich and spectacular), polished off with decadent coconut cake.

We walked out into the start of "snopocalypse." The Great Blizzard of 2009. Snow everywhere. Slippy, slidy, really not drivable snow.

My friend graciously offered me a place to stay. I accepted.

And I slept. Soundly. All night long.

Woke up at 9:30. Looked at the 8 inches of snow on the ground. Went back sleep.

Woke up at 1:00. Looked at the 12 inches of snow on the ground. Made pancakes. Sat down to watch the Tar Heels. Fell asleep before they lost.

Woke up for dinner. My friend lives mere blocks from an Irish pub that believes a blizzard is a silly reason to shut its doors. So we braved the elements and about 2 feet of snow for beef stew and Black and Tans, then headed back to watch The Best Star Wars Movie Ever.

I fell asleep right after Yoda lifted Luke's X-wing out of the swamp on Dagobah and woke up just in time for the credits.

My friend asked me if I'd have trouble sleeping that night after sleeping all day.

Nope. Slept like a rock.

I woke up, at last, at 10:30 this morning.

Blizzards are stress. It took us nearly 3 hours of heavy lifting to dig out. On the long drive home, I saw more than 10 cars spun into snow drifts and each other. My own town - boonie burg that it is - hasn't yet been plowed. At all. Schools in our area are closed tomorrow, two full days after the snowfall.

But I'm relaxed. I'm happy. Because I slept. I slept and slept and slept.

Apparently, snow cures can'tgotobednia.

Is it wrong to hope for a blizzard every day?

PS: Today marks day 461 in limbo ... and counting

December 11, 2009

Limbo Rock

I was supposed to be done this week. Out of Limbo. Into the world. Actually and finally divorced. Unmarried. Single. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Not gonna happen.

See, it goes like this. We go see the Examiner. She takes 15 minutes of her incredibly valuable time to ask embarrassing and deeply personal questions. She writes up an opinion. She sends it to my lawyer, who has me review it. Oops! I say. This examiner, she's misspelled the family name. Everywhere. So we tell her. She files the papers. We get the final judgment.

She never fixed the name.

Seriously? How on earth does that happen? Did she not like my check? Can she not read?

Now some other poor couple is walking around divorced. They don't even know it. And I've got to wait another 30 days while the papers are refiled and reofficialized.

30 days.

Cue heartfelt and fairly graphic cussing.

The nearly ex and I separated on September 15, 2008 (and not a moment sooner, despite opinions to the contrary). I've been sitting in limbo, waiting, for 451 days. Yes, I'm sure. I counted.

So, really, what's another 30?

I baked a big ol' pan of brownies. If I have to wait, I'm having chocolate.

December 6, 2009

Don't Let the Zombies Drive the Bus

For more than three weeks now, my redhead has approached bedtime in a blind panic. This was far more than the typical "I'm not going to bed so I'm having a tantrum" willfulness. I've seen enough of that to know the difference. This was fear.

Fear of zombies, specifically.

Turns out, right around Halloween, the nearly ex took the three kids to a comic book convention in Baltimore. There, they saw a couple of zombie-dressed grown-ups. The older two took this in stride. The little guy? He thought the zombies were chasing him.

That's not what did it, though.

A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to entertain the troops through another chicken nugget feast, the nearly ex pulled up YouTube and put on Michael Jackson's "Thriller." With zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

Upshot? Terrified four year old.

And then came the frogs.

Apparently the big brother was watching an episode of the Penguins of Madagascar about poison dart frogs. Green bubbly rashes. Stacks of paralyzed penguins. All that made quite an impression on my little guy, so the poison frogs joined the zombies for our nightly phobia fest. (Because, of course, zombies come out only at night.)

Lots of screaming over toothbrushes and bedtime stories. Lots of refusing to climb into bed. Lots of not falling asleep. And then lots of waking up. And more waking up. And then waking up some more.

We used monster spray. It doesn't work on zombies, or so I was informed. I even got a scented room spray instead of the high-powered, mom-sized, imaginary monster spray we usually use.

Not enough.

I pulled out the redhead's baby blanket and told him it was infused with protective magic. After all, he made it to the ripe old age of four without a single zombie incident. And while it didn't solve the problem, it did help. He takes it to dad's house. He takes it to preschool. He uses it as a superhero cape and pulls it up to his chin at bedtime. He feels safer.

Still, not enough.

Finally, in an effort to get the poison frogs off the list, I pointed out to him that the frogs live very far away. And that they can't fly an airplane. And they can't get on a boat. So they can't come here.

That worked.

But the zombies? Well, they live in Baltimore, or so my little guy tells me. And, truth be told, Baltimore is a heckuva lot closer than South America.

That's when mom had a brainstorm.

"Honey, tell me, can zombies drive?"

"Oh no. They can't drive."

"Well, Baltimore's pretty far away. Didn't you have to take a car to go there?"

"Um ... yeah." Wheels turning. "Hey, they can't come here!"

Problem solved. Zombies can't drive. They are stuck in Baltimore. And I guarantee you, we are not going to Baltimore. Not now. Not ever.

At least, not without that blanket.

November 30, 2009

Alas, Poor Microwave

At 11:13 p.m. last night, my microwave died.

It's been on life support since the day after Thanksgiving. You'd punch in the time, push start and wait. It might turn on. It might not. You couldn't know until you pushed the button and it either worked or it didn't.

Now, you know. No question. It's completely non-responsive. Dead as a doornail.

And I can't replace it.

I can't replace it because my dryer broke. And then my dryer broke again.

I can't replace it because the $500 I'd budgeted for the 60,000 mile service on my crappy minivan became $1200 when they got in there and saw how neglected the poor thing had been.

I can't replace it because the overhead lights in my living room buzz and spark when you turn them on and I am unwilling to set the house on fire so now I sit here in the dark.

The faucet in the kids' shower is stripped and can be turned on only with a screwdriver. And now the darn thing is starting to drip. Hot water, no less. It's dripping hot water.

The fancy pop-up tub stopper broke, and now I can give my little guy a bath only by inverting a cup over the drain.

Two of my toilets need new flaps, I need to replace the door handle on my half bath, and I've shut off the hot water to the sink in there for want of a new washer. It's going to take an exterminator to get rid of the ant colonies in the basement. There's a hole in the roof of my shed, and I'm missing a good chunk of deck railing from where a tree fell three years ago.

My house is falling down around my ears.

So now I have to reheat my leftovers on the stove. Bake potatoes in the oven. Serve chicken nuggets cold.

Um, not sure what to do with the microwave popcorn, though.

But hey, I raked the yard. All by myself. I've got the blisters to prove it.

And the good news? Now the kids get to learn that "it's the thought that counts" applies to Santa, too. And, believe it or not, I think that's a pretty valuable thing to learn.

November 24, 2009

Due North

When I was in college, I took a philosophy course on ethics. Upshot of a semester's worth of learning: There really are no moral absolutes.

I mean, think about it. Even killing - something folks generally agree is bad - is sometimes okay. If you're defending yourself. Or your family. Or your country. But where one draws the line of okayness varies.

That kind of moral ambiguity killed my weekend.

It also probably killed my marriage. Because what I realized this weekend is that the very-very-nearly-ex and I, our moral code is totally, totally different.

Doesn't mean his is bad and mine is good. It just means they're different.

And, of course, I like mine better.

I realized all this while digesting various bits of disturbing information that floated my way last week. And I realized that, because I am who I am, in the end those bits of information didn't matter. I follow my moral compass. I pay attention to what it says and I act accordingly. And I hope, fervently, that this is what everyone does. Because it's this process that puts the demons to rest and lets you sleep at night. (Well, for most people, anyway. I'm still battling insomnia demons that have nothing to do with moral certitude).

Thing is, when you meet a guy, and you think you like him, and you start talking rings and churches and how many kids you want to have, you kind of assume your compasses both point north.

They don't always.

Guess it's another lesson learned. Ask for directions. And make sure everyone's heading north before you get in the car.

Veggie Girl

My diva's always had a very sensitive gag reflex. And trust me, this is not a good thing. Ear infections made her throw up. Coughing, too - and this was a child who one winter suffered through eight rounds of bronchiolitis. The least hint of a tummy bug would send the poor thing to the hospital.

This also applied to any new foods. A couple of Thanksgivings ago my diva tried green beans for the first time. She promptly threw them up. And then demanded dessert.

My kids don't exactly have adventurous palates, mostly because when they were little I had this fabulous but very demanding job. I couldn't get home for dinner. So dad "cooked" - or rather, nuked. And they got used to a pretty standard menu of chicken nuggets, raisin bread, cheese and fruit. In fact, on dad nights that's often still what they get.

So, a couple of years ago, in a desperate bid to wean them off of over-processed, over-salted, pre-packaged ick, I began a campaign to get them eating real food. It started with homemade pizza and braised chicken tenders and moved on from there. I can now make a whole week of meals without one thing coming out of a box. Well, unless you count macaroni and cheese. Which, of course, you should.

I also introduced some very basic vegetables: peas, corn, raw carrots and cucumbers. It took forever. I'd have to put a new thing on their plates at least a dozen times before they'd start eating it. Slow and steady. We've actually managed to get broccoli in the line-up this way. I put it on their plates every time I got the urge to make it, and now, at last, all three of them will eat it.

With my recent Family Dinner initiative, though, I'm cooking more, and I'm cooking for all of us. This means that I'm making food I like, too. And that means more veggies. I do offer at least one or two things I know the kids like, just so they don't go hungry. So far, there's been bread and fruit on the table every night. But I've got this long-time rule that the kids can't be excused until they've had one bite of everything. As a result, they are suddenly trying a whole lot more food,

And I'll be damned if it isn't working!

Last week, I steamed and buttered some brussels sprouts. Every child at the table tried them. My boys, not surprisingly, went "ew" after their required one bite. My diva? "Hey, this is pretty good!" And while she still ate just the one, she ate the whole thing. Next time, she'll eat two. And eventually - just watch - brussels sprouts will be a staple of her diet.

On Sunday it was baked carnival squash, scooped & smashed with a bit of butter and syrup. Again from the diva, "Hey, this is pretty good!"

And then she demanded broccoli for Monday.

My girl loves her veggies. Isn't she awesome?

November 18, 2009

Love the World

I am a geek.

In fact, I'm a geek on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. I've got a fair amount of sci fi geekness, a strong streak of grammar geekness, and a mountain of English lit geekness (actually, make that medieval lit geekness, which is worse because it means that somewhere along the line I actually learned Old English). The list is kinda endless.

I'm also a geography geek. And this week, that's a very cool thing to be. 'Cause it's Geography Awareness Week, and you can get free maps.

I love maps.

I come by this particular geekness quite honestly. For one thing, I grew up following my dad around the world. His work took him to India, Bangladesh, the Philippines. When I was 11, my sister and I flew to Manila all by ourselves. Unaccompanied minors jetting off around the world to visit our dad.

But it's not just about the traveling. My dad and stepmom, they have always loved this world of ours, and they made sure to share that love with us kids. And their house, it was a haven for a map geek. Maps out the wazoo. I still remember, in Bangladesh, there was only one spot in the whole house with the right kind of outlet for my hair dryer. It was right in front of a great big map of the world. No mirror; just a map. I was a teenage girl with - well, with hair - so I spent a lot of time in front of that map, exploring the world and trying to get my hair to feather back just so.

When I was a kid, I decided it would be fun to learn all 50 states in alphabetical order. I'd sit and list them out whenever I was bored. I even memorized the capitals to go along - in the order of their states -and let me tell you, that's a serious accomplishment. Montgomery ... Juneau ... Phoenix ... you can look up the rest.

By the time I got to college I could list 120 countries from memory, continent by continent. I'd keep myself awake in class by writing down every country I could remember. Though I'll admit, the Soviet Union did make that an easier task than it would be today.

The world's pretty darn important. And those maps, they open your eyes in a pretty special way.

My kids get the world, and I love that. In part, that's because we've been using au pairs for childcare since my littlest one was born. Seven au pairs from six different countries. My kids have an extended family that spans the globe. They can say "Sweet dreams" in German and "Stop tickling me!" in Japanese. They've danced around a maypole at midsummer. They eat Nutella and celebrate birthdays with Brazilian brigadeiro. Our lovely new au pair is Belgian, and I can't wait for the kids (and me!) to learn a little Dutch.

Even better? They can pick out every one of those countries - and several more - on a map.

So print out a great big map. Put it up, and teach your kids to love the world.

And, for the record? It's Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin and Wyoming. And no, the District of Columbia is not on the list.

November 16, 2009

Mind Your Manners

My kids and I were lucky enough to be invited out to dinner on Friday. It was a gracious and spur of the moment invitation from a family with as many folks in it as we have - more, actually - who thought nothing of adding places for four more to their table. They are lovely and wonderful and had just had all three of my kids over for a playdate. All three of 'em. Which makes this family not only gracious but brave.

So we joined them for dinner. Turkey, potatoes, corn, a little fruit and bread.

And I learned some things about my kids.

They don't know how to butter their own bread. They can't cut their own food. They can't peel a banana. Seriously. The peel had them totally stumped.

Blushing yet? 'Cause I was.

They did a great job with some things. They tried stuff - seriously, my very picky kids tried most everything, and were also well-mannered enough to say a simple, "No, thank you," if they didn't like something. And my diva was just lovely with the compliments and the please-and-thank-yous.

So I've done a few things well.

Other things? Not so much.

To make my life easy, I've settled into a routine with the kids. I make a few meals - mac & cheese, chicken tenders, quesadillas - on a rotation. We do a family dinner maybe once a week - pretty much always spaghetti. More often than not, though, I'm just feeding them something kid-friendly, and I grab a bite later. I figured the quality talking time, that was happening because I was there. And it was. That's a good thing.

What wasn't happening? My kids weren't learning to do stuff on their own. They weren't learning to use a knife or pour their own drinks. And they were learning only half their manners.

That changed tonight.

Today I bought a great big sole fillet. I breaded it and baked it. I made up a pot of brown jasmine rice (yum!) and mixed half of it with cheese. I steamed some broccoli and washed a few grapes, which I thoughtfully left on the stem. I cut up some Italian bread. And I put it all in serving dishes in the middle of the table. And then we sat down together to eat.

My kids put their napkins in their laps. They asked me to pass the butter. They learned to cut their fish. Even better - they ate their fish. And their rice. And their broccoli. And the temper-infused grouchfest that preceded dinner? It vanished in giggles and table games and gentle reminders to keep elbows off the table and mouths closed while chewing.

My Aspie, who'd heard me say I'd been embarrassed by their manners on Friday, said, "Why don't you give us manners lessons, Mom?"

I just did.

And I bought a whole chicken for roasting, and a large slab of ham, too. My kids and I, we're going to school. I can't wait!

November 13, 2009

Cheesecake and Cosmos

My nearly ex and I, we are officially counting down to the end of life in limbo.

Yesterday, we got all dolled up and went to the office of an Examiner - basically, a lawyer who gets to be queen for the day. A dear friend came, too, to serve as a witness. The Examiner and my own lawyer asked us a series of yes or no questions, some of which were disturbingly intimate because apparently the state we live in feels a need to be absolutely certain that you are not even remotely inclined to reconcile, even by accident.

They don't make divorce easy in this state. Not by a long shot.

But that was it. A quick and generally painless 15 minutes, and then we were done. And a pretty cheery 15 minutes it was, too. The nearly ex and I were in good spirits, I think just out of relief that the long road back to singledom is nearly done. In the next two weeks, the Examiner's report will go in front of an actual judge, who will sign off on things and issue the final decree. And then limbo is over.

Oh, and I get my old name back. This is a good thing. I liked my old name.

All that was cause for celebration. To be clear - you're not celebrating the end of the marriage, when you toast to this stuff. Because that's a sad thing, even if it's a right thing. What you're celebrating is the end of the process. The end of limbo. And the start of something new.

So you need something that does both. You need to comfort the little sad bit and celebrate the happy bit.

While the nearly ex headed off to watch the kids (it being his night and all), my friend and I drove out in the pouring rain and found The Cheesecake Factory, home to the perfect balance of comfort and joy. There was cheesecake - pumpkin cheesecake, and oh that's yummy stuff. And cosmos, you know, for the joy. Well, she had a mojito. But the cosmopolitan, that was mine, and yes, it made me happy.

Interesting day. A little happy. A little sad. More happy than sad.

And now, we wait.

'Cause, you know, we haven't done enough of that.

November 3, 2009

Don't Eat the Pork, Reprise

Three weeks ago tomorrow, my oldest came home with a random fever. Three days and done. My doctor tells me this is what the swine flu looks like in a kid with a kick-ass immune system.

By Monday afternoon, my diva had spiked a raging fever, hovered there for days and days, and finally recovered the following Monday.

On Friday, the little guy got it. But because by then we had confirmation that we were dealing with H1N1, we had Tamiflu at the ready.

My au pair got sick on Saturday. I got sick on Monday.

All swine flu, right?


Turns out, mine was some other virus doing a damn fine impression of the swine flu, most likely because it was the similar but much less scary seasonal flu. How do I know? Because today, after 24 hours in bed shivering, feverish, and too weak to lift my own damn head, I was diagnosed, at last, with the swine flu.

The good news? It's not pneumonia.

I think that's about it.

What sucks about this? Oh, so many things ...
  • I don't qualify for Tamiflu. My kids have all had the damn flu, so I'm no longer considered high risk. I get to suffer through this the hard way.
  • I can't concentrate enough to knit. Or read. Or write (which means this will need a lot of editing). Though I can type lying down, so the computer seems to be my new happy place. Hello, Facebook. ('Cause, you know, I don't spend enough time there as it is.)
  • I'm coughing. A lot. Anyone reading this who has also given birth to three children will know exactly why that's so awful.
  • I'm a single mom. A single mom with a phenomenal au pair and an unusually helpful nearly-ex-husband. But there are many times when it's still only me on call, and you don't get to turn that off just 'cause you're sick.
  • Two weeks battling two different flus mean I'm missing enormous amounts of work. All of which I'll have to make up. Can you say "relapse"? I can.
  • I'm likely going to have to cancel all my weekend plans. Remember that me time I keep talking about? Gone. But hey, at least now I'll have time to disinfect the house. Yay.
And the number one most sucky thing about this nasty flu?

I can't hug my kids.


P.S. If you, too, are caught with your Tamiflu down and want a more natural approach to immunity boosting, try my friend's Stinky Soup (known to Yoga Journal as the Immune Booster Soup, which they published in December 2006).

I'll admit, I do make some changes so that it's not quite so stinky and I'll actually want to eat it.

Immune Booster Soup
4 c. mushroom or chicken broth
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 to 10 cloves garlic (to taste), crushed and chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 to 8 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 to 3 T. grated ginger root (to taste)
3 T. chopped fresh parsley

Bring the broth, onion, garlic, carrot, mushrooms, and ginger root to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low, covered, for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Remove from heat. Add fresh lemon juice, parsley, and any remaining garlic.

Cover and steep for 5 minutes.

My version
Yesterday, I sauteed all the stinky bits in olive oil, thereby destroying most of their immune properties. I used an enormous amount of shiitake mushrooms. I forgot the carrot and had no parsley or fresh lemon, all of which would have been lovely. I added a package of Japanese noodles, a splash of lime juice, a little sesame oil and some soy sauce.

So in other words, I totally cheated.

November 1, 2009

The Great Pumpkin

I love Halloween.

When I was a kid, it was all about homemade costumes, made-from-scratch popcorn balls and hometown Halloween fests where you bobbed for apples and watched your sister win the prize for most creative costume. She was a turtleneck-headed monster with a mask made from styrofoam bits, construction paper and tinfoil, and she was awesome.

I was a princess. I was always a princess. Of course, I was a princess in a dress brought back from India with my face "hennaed" in waterproof eyeliner by my artist mom. But still, a princess.

I'm not so much into the commercial bits of Halloween - the big puffy air-blown pumpkins and cemeteries in the front yard, the giant Halloween stores with countless cheaply-made costumes and scary rubber masks, the oceans and oceans of candy. But I don't mind them. The way we celebrate as a society, it's very American. And it's kinda cool.

For me, though, Halloween is something more than ghosts and chocolate and dry ice. It's also about my Oma, who passed away in 2000 after a long and interesting life. I think of her nearly every day, but more, of course, on her birthday. Yesterday, on Halloween, she would have been 101 years old.

So now, with the kids, Halloween is a chance to share the values I learned from my Oma, passed along through my own parents. We knock out some of the commercialism and take some time together. Each year, my kids & I pick costumes we can create by hand (though sometimes the drive to be a character means we pick up a superhero suit at Target). We bake cookies shaped like little black cats and send them off to school parties. We pick pumpkins from a pumpkin patch, draw faces on them with Sharpies and then carve them out meticulously and light them up.

It's still about the costumes, the candy haul and the sugar high. But it's also about spending time together, creating and planning, doing things for each other. Now granted, it's often me doing most of the work on this stuff - my kids are fabulous and talented, but they're still a bit young to handle a sewing machine. The idea that we're thinking and creating and being together, though - that's still important, and it's what they get out of this. At least, I hope they do.

I do love Halloween.

Oh, and bonus for the food fans: you, too, can make black cat cookies! I got this recipe from Taste of Home's Halloween Party Favorites in 2005 and have made it every year since. The cookies are not terribly sweet - but, the dough is stiff and these shape beautifully.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
24 wooden craft or popsicle sticks (I usually leave these out)
24 red hot candies
48 pieces candy corn (be careful - I'm a candy corn fiend, so if you buy these too early, I might just come to your house and eat all your candy corn before you're ready to bake ... that's what happens at my house, anyway)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls. Place 3 in. apart on lightly greased baking sheets (I just use parchment paper & skip the greasing). Insert a wooden stick into each cookie. Flatten with a glass dipped in sugar. Pinch top of cookie to form ears. For whiskers, press a fork twice into each cookie. Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set. Remove from the oven; immediately press on candy corn for eyes and red-hot candies for noses. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 2 dozen.

October 28, 2009

Don't Eat the Pork

It's flu season.

Scratch that. It's swine flu season. And we got hit.

For those who've been living in a dungeon for the past six or seven months, swine flu is a virulent, highly contagious virus that has laid low entire countries and closed schools across the U.S. Or it did, back in early summer, when people were truly terrified of it. Now, everyone has it, so it's only mildly terrifying and the kids all get to go to school.

It hit my kids last week. Well, my diva and my redhead, anyway. My Aspie apparently has the constitution of a horse and has escaped the scary germs unscathed.

My diva was worst off. She had fevers of 103.5 for three straight days before they dropped. She was sick and out of school for a full week. The little guy got tamiflu from the first sign of fever, barely broke 100, and was better in four days. I love tamiflu.

This is a yucky bug, though. Exhausting. And both formerly sick kids are now totally fried. Crying at the end of the day kind of fried. Crawling into bed with their mom every night kind of fried.

And both little petri dishes decided to pass it along. Or pass something along, anyway. Not sure it's the flu, but both my new au pair and I have been sick, sick, sick. Chills, coughs, the weak and wobblies. Not fun.

What lesson can you take from this?

Don't eat the pork. It's swine flu, right? It must come from pork. Bacon. Sausage. Ham. It's like mad cow disease. Only for pigs.

What's scary is that some people believe that. Not me, though. I've got half a brain and some lovely pork chops in the fridge.

Dinner, anyone?

October 17, 2009

Inner Grossness

Eleven years ago today, I became a mom.

My lovable, sports-obsessed Aspie arrived on Day One of the 1998 World Series, just in time to catch the opening pitch of what would become a Yankees sweep of the San Diego Padres. Smart kid. His dad has him convinced he's a Reds fan, but I know the truth. My boy was born under the pinstripes, and someday he'll remember that.

Being a mom, though, it's not something that happens in an instant. Seems like it should. You push and you push, you bring that little human into the world, and you hold it, warm and squirmy, in your arms. And that's it. Snap. You're a mom.

That is so not how it works.

When my oldest was born, it was this magic thing. He was covered in goop and a little blood, with perfect, slimy little hands and a bright red face with an angry V of blood vessels embossed on his forehead. His wail was tiny and furious and it made me laugh and melt into a puddle all at once. I loved him instantly, goop and all.

And still, I didn't feel like a mom.

I think most women don't get that, actually. You're caught up in the love and the joy and the utter physical exhaustion of childbirth, and you don't realize that there's something missing. But I did. I realized it when, 12 hours after my little fella was born, the doctors figured out that he was sick. They wheeled him off to the NICU in the wee hours of the morning. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to help him. I didn't know how to be his mom.

It's kind of like being a grown-up. That's not something that happens the moment you turn 18. Or 21. Or 30. It happens over time. And then, one day, you wake up and you realize you've done it. You've grown up.

Being a mom is like that.

My mommy epiphany happened when my guy was maybe 18 months old. We'd stopped at McDonald's for dinner and brought home a cheeseburger. Next to spaghetti, McDonald's cheeseburgers were his favorite food. He ate half of his burger and then, oddly, stopped. We kept handing him more. He closed his mouth tight and refused to eat another bite.

And then he started projectile vomiting all over the kitchen.

Poor kid. He was sick, screaming with fear, covered head-to-toe in smelly ick.

And what did I do?

I hugged him. I picked up his stinky, icky little vomiting self and held him close until he stopped throwing up and stopped crying and realized he'd be okay. I had vomit in my hair and all over my clothes. I smelled to high heaven. And I didn't even notice.

I was a mom.

You fight for your kids. And you love them. You love them straight through the bad days and the temper tantrums, the grossness and the ick.

My tiny, angry, beautiful baby is 11 years old today. He asked for a cell phone, a comic book store and "total world domination" for his birthday. (He got a big fat "no" on all three.) And he's embraced his inner grossness as only an 11-year-old boy can. By his request, we celebrated his special day with a radioactive nest of mutant spiders that I carved out of cake, covered in icing and "dirt" made from crushed cookies, then drizzled with pistachio pudding for the nuclear waste and dotted with spiders made from malted milk balls and little chocolate icing legs.

Clearly, I've embraced his grossness too.

But then, I'm his mom. That's what we do.

(Oh crap. I've gone and written another post about vomit. I promise, this is not a theme!)

October 4, 2009

Lots and Lots of Soccer

Today I spent eight and a half hours - yes, you read that right - playing, watching and thinking about soccer.

My little guy kicked us off (ha ha) at 8:30. He's a goofball on the field, but he takes the game very seriously. Which is only just a little odd in a four-year-old.

Then it was my diva's turn. Last year, she was a cheerleader and very, very girly. But in her recent I-want-to-be-a-tomboy phase, it suited her to try soccer instead. She's jumped in with both feet (ha ha ... yes, folks, it's Bad Pun Day here in the Elbow-verse).

We had a short break, some hot dogs for lunch, a quick turn on the Wii, then dashed off to my Aspie's game. He finished at 5:00. Nearly dinner time, and yet not one of my kids was hungry.

This is because, in the New Millennium, soccer is less about the sport than it is about the snacks.

I remember orange slices and big coolers of water when I was a kid. Not that I was an athlete. I figured this out when I'd go to the park looking for a quiet place to read. Instead, I'd find orange rinds in the grass. Not so fun to sit and read in the middle of a pile of orange rinds.

These days, no one is that healthy. Cookies, crackers and "juice drinks" in individually wrapped packages, that's what we give our kids. Lots of sugar and refined starches. Ick. Tasty ick, but ick nevertheless.

My Aspie loves the snacks. He begs the snack mom for handouts at his siblings' games. Bright orange crackers, powdered cheese, juice boxes - well, juice pouches - and all.

Which is how I discovered that he can't open his own juice. He snagged a juice pouch at his brother's game, then brought it to me and said, "Mom, I can't open this. I have a disability."

Um ... what?

I haven't talked to him much about "disabilities" and "special needs." He can see that he's different from other kids, and generally he knows how he's different. But it's the first time he's ever used the word "disability." At all. Ever.

So, with him perched on my lap to watch his sister's game, I started the conversation. Do you know what a disability is? No, but some kid in middle school (oh, yes, we love middle school) told him he had a disability because he has an aide. We talked about how a disability isn't a bad thing, it's just a different thing. I pointed out the ways he needs extra help in school - his medication to help him focus, his new Neo to help him write, his aide to help him calm down and stay organized. And we talked about the things he's great at - that he can spell practically any word he hears and do math in his head and read a 93-page book in about 6 seconds flat. And I told him that everyone has things they need help with and things they don't.

I also finally gave him some names. We talked about ADHD and what it stands for and what it means. I didn't yet give him the Asperger's. That will come, though, now that we've opened the door.

And then I taught him how to open his own damn juice.

Because he's right. His fine motor delays have made it hard for him to learn things like how to tie his shoes or stick a pointy straw into a little plastic pouch full of sugar. But I'll be damned if I let him use it as an excuse.

So, juice. And soccer. Lots and lots of soccer. One gorgeous, sunny day. Three exhausted kids. And thirty minutes of a really wonderful conversation that helped my son learn more about who he is.

Not that his disabilities define him. What I think he's learning is that, in fact, they don't.

P.S. - For those keeping track, the Sleep Plan is so far an utter failure. I'm sleeping less than ever. It has, however, sparked the greatest response in the brief history of my little blog, and soon I'll share the interesting ideas folks have sent me. In the meantime ... well, we're going to try and kick this sleep thing off again on Monday. Wish me luck!

September 29, 2009

Not My Night

Well, so much for the Sleep Plan.

Okay, it's not that bad. But it's not good. Day One's efforts were totally derailed by a break in my own routine. And Day Two is not shaping up to be much better.

Day One was a Monday. Mondays are Not My Night. As in, not my night with the kids. You see, my Aspie, he's very much a creature of routine. He requires it or he becomes a bit of a tantrummy basketcase. So when my not-yet-ex and I separated, we agreed that the kids would sleep at my place during the week in order to preserve the wake-in-the-same-place-before-you-head-to-school sameness that our oldest requires. But we also wanted to make sure the kids got lots of quality time with their dad. Bedtime, with all the reading and cuddling and caretaking - well, that's just quality time waiting for a place to happen. So on Mondays, Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays, the not-yet-ex comes to my house after work, feeds the kids, ferries them to their activities and puts them to bed.

To make this all run smoothly, I generally disappear.

The fact that Monday was Not My Night? That blew up my sleep plan. The timing on all the little bits and pieces of my newly rigid routine went right out the window. I forgot to turn off the computer. I forgot to take the melatonin. I forgot to go to bed. If my redhead hadn't come downstairs begging me to lie down with him, I'd have been up until 2:00 a.m. at least.

The good news? He came down early enough that I wound up with 5 hours or so of sleep. Better than usual. Not quite the goal, though.

I think routines and I don't get along so well.

Tonight, on Day Two of the Sleep Plan, it was in fact my night with the kids. So I followed the routine ... and promptly fell asleep putting my redhead to bed. Now it's nearly 11:00 p.m., and here I sit, remarkably well rested considering the hour. That's 'cause, you know, I just woke up.


Here's hoping things go a bit better tomorrow.

September 22, 2009

The Sleep Plan

Since we're on the topic of lessons learned in limbo, I think it's time for the next one:

Lesson 3: Get some sleep, stupid.

Please note, the word stupid is meant to be self-deprecating. And it is stupid, the fact that I can't sleep. Because it's not like I'm in bed, staring at the ceiling for hours on end. Nope, when I go to bed, I'm out cold about 30 seconds later.

I just don't go to bed.

I know how my insomnia started. It started with the birth of my gorgeous redhead, two straight years of 2:00 a.m. feedings, and constantly waiting for the next kid-inspired wake-up call. It started with my wonderfully flexible, full-time, work-at-home-in-my-luxurious-bedroom-office lifestyle. When you work in your bedroom, believe me, it's pretty much the last place you go to relax.

Oh, and you know, the whole not-yet-divorced thing? That doesn't help.

But now, honestly, I swear the sleep gods are out to get me. Because I do try to go to bed early. Well, sometimes. But on the nights I actually get IN the bed ... well, you know the drill. One kid is up at midnight with a cold. Another gets up at 3:00 a.m. with a nightmare. Then the powers that be send road crews to the neighborhood and tell them to jackhammer the crap out of our local streets. At 1:43 a.m.

New roads. Yay.

And yes, this all really happened. In one night. Last week, as a matter of fact.

I read recently that insomnia is a learned behavior. I believe it. After four years of sleep deprivation, I believe it. And now it's my intention to unlearn that nasty behavior and kick the ass of my insomnia demons once and for all.

And so, with the help of a few very dear friends who made time to do the sleep-related legwork, I have developed The Sleep Plan. It works like this:

For 8 weeks, I will follow a rigid routine. (Yeah, stop laughing. I know a routine when I see one and dammit, I can follow one.)
  • I will work each day from 8:30 to 5:30.
  • I will go make dinner, play with my kids, drive them hither and yon, bathe them, and put them to bed.
  • Then, if I need to, I work again from 8:30 to 10:30. In my office. Where I'm supposed to be. See, I am realizing that my work can't be portable. It's got to have its own place and time so that, at some point, it does stop so that my brain can shut down and learn to relax.
  • At 10:30, even if I'm not finished, I will turn off the computer. Yes, that's right. Turn it off. So I can't work even if I want to. And so the time sink that is Facebook doesn't drag me under.
  • Then I will take a melatonin. The melatonin part is only for the first two weeks, though. The point is, after all, to do this on my own. Dependency is not part of the plan.
  • I will relax and sit on my sofa and drink something warm and decaffeinated and maybe knit or read and watch something fun. Like Glee. (Watch Glee. It rocks.)
  • At 11:30 I will feed the cats. Then I will go to bed. Whether I want to or not.

The Plan starts tomorrow. And for the next 8 weeks, I'm generally going to ignore the whole family through food thing and blog about sleep. Well, I won't ignore the foody, family bits altogether; it's just not in my nature. But this is important. Long-term sleep loss is starting to affect my health. It's affecting my levels of grump. It's affecting my brain. I don't dream anymore. I miss appointments. I can't remember the names of my own kids (though that may be hereditary).

Really, not so good.

I cannot imagine I am the only person in the blogoverse who doesn't sleep at night - I'll bet there are insomniacs even in the limited bit of the blogoverse that visits here. So if you get the urge, join me. Make your own Plan. Follow along.

We'll have a sleepover when we're done.

September 17, 2009

Where's the Food, Reprise

Tonight I talked to my dad. My dad reads my blog. He is a FAN, and I do mean that in all caps. It's a good thing. It's what dads are supposed to be.

He did have one criticism though. "Where's the food?" he asked. "Don't forget you're writing about food."

I reminded him that this is meant to be about family. Food's just a filter. I am not a foodie; I'm a mom. What's more, I'm a nearly single, working mom of three, one of whom has Asperger's Syndrome, and I'm feeling my way through the mandatory period between separation and divorce more commonly known as Limbo. That means stress, joy, lessons learned, lots of time with the kids, time spent without them, finding new friends, finding myself ... and a whole host of other things.

It also means food. For me anyway. Because, well, it's one of the few things you really can't live without. And also because I used to have time to cook.

Yeah, I so don't do that anymore.

Anyway, I checked, and yes, indeed, there is food in each of my last three posts.

My most recent post was about - forgive me - vomit. And it was about toaster waffles, chicken quesadillas and ice cream. It was also about blueberries - at least it was for me. Be grateful I did not share that part.

That was, by the way, my second post about vomit. I hope not to write too many more.

The one before that was about learning to ask for help. This is a valuable life lesson, and one you learn the hard way in Limbo because if you don't ask for help, generally, you don't get any, and trust me there is little to no chance you'll manage Limbo without it. This, too, was about food - namely chicken, potatoes, wheatberries and cabbage. Oh, and brownies. I am all about the chocolate.

And the one before that? It was about my thrilling yogurt-and-Oreos dinner and the Petri dishes school makes out of our kids.

See? Food everywhere.

Tonight, one day after the anniversary of my first (and I hope only) year in Limbo, my not-yet-ex and I signed our separation agreement. Not much food in that. Just a feeling that the tunnel is nearing its light, and that you don't much want to cook. So I warmed up a can of refried beans, doused it in salsa and tomatoes, then melted low-fat cheddar over the top. I ate in front of the TV.

Ah, freedom.

September 8, 2009

The Top Bunk

My beloved Aspie skipped his breakfast this morning. Unusual, because breakfast was toaster waffles, and he loves toaster waffles.

Did alarm bells go off? Nope.

He called from school with a headache. He sometimes does that to get out of a stressful class, and the nurse said he was chipper and chatty. Still, no alarm bells.

He skipped his dinner too. This time it was chicken quesadillas, which have been his favorite food since he was, oh, two. See, they make them at Friendly's, which is also home to ice cream. Quesadillas and ice cream: that's his dream team of dinners. It ranks right up there with hot dogs and mac & cheese.

He was a little green around the gills, too. Alarm bells? Not a one. He'd been playing soccer, and sometimes his meds make him a bit heat strokey. So I gave him a big ol' cup of water and sent him off to read the comics.

Took everyone upstairs for a bath before bed. My Aspie was pale as a ghost. His head hurt. His tummy hurt. Hmmm, I thought. Poor kid is exhausted. So I sent him to bed. In the top bunk.

And that's when he started throwing up. Hey, look, alarm bells! A little late though.

So there I was in the middle of a big huge gross mess made infinitely worse by the fact that it all started on the top bunk. I've got a shaky kid. I've got two freaked out siblings. And then the phone rings. It's my not-yet-ex, calling with some changes to our separation agreement. Not a good time, I say, and hey, betcha wanna come help. Ha ha.

He dropped everything and did just that.

Fifteen minutes later, he was there. He read and sang with our younger two while I mopped vomit off the walls and disinfected the carpet. He tucked them in and saw them off to sleep. He cuddled with our Aspie until he stopped shaking and was ready at last for bed.

And then he went home.

It's easy to complain about the soon-to-be-ex. If you didn't have ammunition - both of you - you wouldn't be headed for divorce, right?

It's the being there that's hard.

And the being there? Well, I think my Aspie put it best. When his dad walked in the door he said, "Mom, this means he likes me!"

Yes, it does.

Lawnmower Men

Yesterday, my friends mowed my lawn.

Now, granted, these are my friends in Limbo, the folks with whom I and my kids now frequently share wine and pie and cupcakes. On Labor Day Sunday, those of us who could came together for a meal and a little beach time on the river. The gathering was at my house, and I'd had grand plans about getting up early (yeah, right) and depooping and mowing the lawn.

Lots of kids in attendance means a need for a clean and navigable yard. Right?

But I woke up late. And I woke up to a disaster. Two of 'em, actually.

My redhead, who has an unquenchable thirst for what he calls "cow milk" (note the cow on the label), had helped himself to a carton from out of the pantry. He left the pantry door open. This is never smart with a Black Lab in the house. This dog, who is now so old she cannot manage stairs unassisted, somehow made her way to the pantry, pulled out six cans of cat food, chewed her way into each and every one of them, and left bits of crushed can and puddles of chicken and liver dinner all over the house.

It took me an hour to clean it all up. Longer for the stench of cat food to dissipate.

Then, my dryer broke. So I spent lots of time carting wet clothes upstairs and laying them all out in the sun in the vain hope that they'd dry before company came.

Upshot? Lots of poop, very long grass, and an explosion of laundry on my deck.

My friends, who get that Limbo is a challenge of time as much as anything else, took one look at my shambles of a backyard and just stepped in. They grabbed plastic bags. They pulled the mower out of the shed. And in no time - well, it would have been no time except that crabgrass is a bitch to cut - they had my yard in playable shape.

And in doing so, they taught me another one of those Lessons Learned in Limbo.

Lesson 2: Ask for help.

Most of us, we just keep on swimming, despite the tsunami doing its best to drown us. But if you ask for help, shockingly, you might just get a life preserver, a helicopter, and someone trained to use both.

Pretty incredible, that.

Of course, asking for help is easiest when you don't actually have to ask. My friends made it very easy.

Once the lawn was mowed, we had a fun dinner - potluck as usual - of faked barbecue chicken, nearly browned potatoes, curried wheatberries and a signature salad of savoy cabbage and home-roasted crunchies. Oh, and brownies so fabulous that the children managed to devour every one of them before the grown-ups even noticed they were gone.

The food vanished. The lesson, though - that will stick.

September 2, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Last night, I had three Oreos and a cup of low-fat blueberry yogurt for dinner.

That's because they found me. The back-to-school germs, that is. They found me, and now I'm sick as a dog.

Two of my three kids started back to school last week. That's the only reason we have Oreos in the house in the first place: for lunchboxes. Usually I buy the icky green mint ones. The kids love 'em, I don't, so they stay safely in the pantry where they belong.

But for the first week of school I wanted special. I wanted the golden double-stuff Oreos.

I like those.

I don't think the Oreos brought the germs, though. I think the kids did that, even though not a single one of them has this bug. Oh, my redhead ran a fever for a whole 36 hours last week. But that was it. And it's not what I've got.

They're carriers, these kids. Human petri dishes. I think it's all part of an insidious conspiracy. The germs attack me, the kids stay healthy, and then when I'm at my weakest the kids strike. Seems a lot of work for a few extra hours in front of the TV, but I suppose to them it's worth it.

So here I am. It's barely the second week of school, and I'm coughing so hard I can't sleep, unable to take a deep breath, and so hoarse no one can hear me.

I'm also too weak to stand up and make myself food. Hence the yogurt and Oreos.

Gotta love it when the kids head back to school ...

August 22, 2009

The Done List: August 22

Another Done List, mostly because I am at this point far too tired to stand up and figured I could just blog instead. I'm hoping a list of accomplishments will go a long way toward improving my irritable disposition.

In the past 24 hours I have:
  • Earned a living
  • Cleaned a lovely pile of grassy dog vomit off the kitchen floor
  • Assisted old, tired, wheezy dog in quest for water, ice, and a lift up the stairs
  • Cleaned out and emptied minivan and assisted younger sister and her boyfriend in their move to DC (yay!)
  • Paid people to clean my house ... dog hair now under control for the next day or two
  • Enjoyed conversations with not one but two genuine girlfriends
  • Washed two slipcovers and super-cleaned sofa peed on by redhead during surprise nap
  • Visited elementary school to drop off vacation postcards and find out where diva and her friends are placed for school starting Monday
  • Organized $167 of school supplies into appropriate piles and placed into backpacks
  • Cleaned up playroom in preparation for double sleepover ... a task slightly more Herculean than usual because the playroom was a storehouse for the stuff owned by said little sister (yay!)
  • Successfully entertained and put to bed two-thirds more children than usual
  • Successfully organized more than 100 11- and 12-year-old boys into (I hope) evenly matched soccer teams and only pissed off two coaches in the process
  • When I figured out I did not actually have enough coaches for all seven soccer teams, I creatively put all four assistant coach volunteers into one team along with two past coaches and told them to work it out amongst themselves ... lets hope that one doesn't blow up in my face
  • Squeezed in two and a half hours of sleep - and did not throttle my lovable Aspie when he woke everyone up at 6:00 a.m. (after 10:00 p.m. bedtime) so that he could take best advantage of his sleepover
  • Seasoned critically injured cast iron pan and then restored it further with the healing properties of bacon - bad for the arteries, great for the pan
  • Made massive breakfast of said bacon, scrambled eggs, raisin toast and bananas that was, quite literally, INHALED by the five children in residence
  • Managed to sneak a piece of toast away from the ravenous hordes so I could have something to eat, too
  • Made and drank life-giving coffee
I'm now going to go dress myself - assuming I can remember how - and take all these lovely children home before hitting the grocery store, making a picnic, taking diva and others to the park for brownies meet and greet and then driving to another state to pick up lovely gift of home furnishings from an old friend. Even better, we get to enjoy some social & cooking time afterward. Yay!

Tonight? Melatonin, baby. I'm gettin' me some sleep.

August 17, 2009

Mom Fears

Do you remember middle school?

I do. It was hell. I got hate mail from girls I thought were my friends. Kids made fun of my name and my complete and utter lack of athletic ability. One day I even got a face full of shaving cream when I got on the bus.

Torture is fun, isn't it?

I don't often talk specifically about my Aspie or the way his different abilities affect him or our family, because really it's all just a part of our life. But less than a week from today, he heads off to middle school. And I'm terrified.

He's going to be dealing with things he can't possibly understand. Kids with hormones and cell phones - he has neither as yet. A massive new school - when lots of people and sound set him on edge, something he doesn't really get about himself. And a schedule that rotates every third day. Every third day. Yeah, 'cause that makes sense in a five-day week.

His ADHD means he still dashes into the street without looking. And now he's expected to walk to school by himself every day.

His Asperger's means he's got limited social skills. And all that non-verbal stuff? Goes right over his head. He doesn't understand when people are sarcastic with him, or mean to him. He thinks bullies are his friends.

There are definitely bullies in middle school.

He's smart, and he knows when he's being left out or ostracized. And it hurts.

He has a very hard time staying organized. And now he's expected to track assignments in six core classes plus extras.

He needs frequent breaks to keep his sanity - and now his school day is longer, with no recess.

He's got a raging high metabolism, thanks to the ritalin and his own biology. He needs protein and carbs constantly. Yet he won't get lunch until 1:30, and snacks aren't allowed.

He's also a sweet kid with a big loving heart. I think it makes him vulnerable. But maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe he's smart enough to figure it all out. Right? And the bigger school may mean he'll find his niche and a few friends, real friends. Maybe even some kids like him.

And he thinks he's ready. He really does.

Maybe he is. Most likely, it's just me who's not.

August 9, 2009

12 Things We Learned on Our Vacation

There is no denying this has been a pretty crap year for my kids. Lots of stress and turmoil mixed in with a few lovely moments that kept us all going. Figured we should make a few more lovely moments, so I took them on vacation.

We'd already planned on coming west to Washington for a family reunion. I turned that weekend into a two-week trip. It's the single longest vacation I've ever had ... and easily worth every moment of leave and every penny of savings I've poured into it.

Here are 12 things we learned on our vacation, in no particular order.
  1. There are at least 10 words for poop: caca, feces, droppings, guano, scat, spoor, manure, dung, ordure, excrement. Granted, I already knew most of those. But my kids were thrilled. A whole new set of potty words to play with. Yay. And many, many thanks to the "Animal Grossology" exhibit at Seattle's Pacific Science Center.
  2. Shouting "Uncle Jon is a poopyface!" to a mountain full of strangers is the surest way to get my kids to smile for a photo.
  3. My diva can sing. She had her little brother laughing hysterically in the voice synthesizer room at the Experience Music Project. But her Oma & I, off headsets, were treated to the real thing - a beautiful rendition of Hoku's Perfect Day. My diva rocks!
  4. My diva talks in her sleep. And her little brother snores.
  5. You can fake an underarm fart. I have not tried this myself, but my kids are available for demonstrations.
  6. If you're standing on the deck of a ferry zipping across Puget Sound, do not blow spit bubbles into the wind. My oldest learned this lesson the hard way.
  7. You can get a non-resident library card in Olympia for $10. Worth the price because it kept my Aspie awash in Hardy Boys books - a new discovery for him this trip. Why that's important: in one 24-hour period, between 6:33 p.m. on Wednesday and 6:33 p.m. on Thursday (yes, he kept track), he read three whole books cover to cover. And he could tell me their plots. He did it again the next day.
  8. My redhead is four. He finally admitted it on Friday, just 6 days after his birthday.
  9. Cupcakes and bookstores are my family's answer to Prozac.
  10. The best vacations let you take a break every few days just to read, watch TV and play Uno.
  11. The subalpine meadows of Paradise at Mount Rainier were designed by Walt Disney. It's true. Just go visit Paradise some random August day and you'll see what I mean. It is, hands down, the prettiest place on earth.
  12. There are at least 35 people in the world who love my kids to pieces just because they were born. They love me, too. I knew that, in my heart of hearts, but it helps to be reminded.
When you get right down to it, of course, a single mom is never really on vacation. In these two weeks, I've barely had time to knit a full row, read a page in my book or even take a shower in peace. But I did get to spend real time with my kids. I read them books and held their hands and tickled them till they couldn't stop laughing. I showed them a bison and an elk, taught them how to find a good skipping stone, and took them to the Pacific Ocean. Well, close to it, anyway. And, in between "Don't hit your brother" and "Keep your spit in your mouth," I got to listen to them. They are great kids.

Turns out, I've missed them.

August 6, 2009

Suzie's Cakes

My kids and I are on vacation this week, exploring all that Washington state has to offer.

Yesterday we went to Aberdeen.

Not a ton of reasons to go there, except on the way to someplace else. We were on our way to Westport, a quiet coastal town with fabulous seafood (get the chowder), decent beer, and ... um ... great big rocks.

Aberdeen has none of these things. It's a logging town, and these days it's mostly gray and sad. Its biggest claims to fame are that it is the birthplace of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and it is the home port for Lady Washington, a tall ship used in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The ship was enough to send us off the highway on a quest to find the harbor. We never made it. First, they hid the harbor. Damn fine job, too - we couldn't find it, and we had a map. Then, someone raised a drawbridge and created a giant trafficky mess.

So instead we got to listen to my kids bickering in the backseat. My grumpy redhead was calling everyone "stupid moron" and "idiot boy" (thank you, Television) and hitting his siblings on the head with his brother's action figures. My little guy is unnaturally strong, so this really hurt. Why his brother was sharing his action figures, no one knows. You'd think one Wolverine to the head would make you realize, "Hey, maybe I should hang onto these."

Then, like a beacon, happiness appeared.

The sign on the window said Suzie's Cakes. The building itself was a cheery one-story with bright pink shutters - color enough to make the place stand out in the midst of a giant sea of gray. There was a little sign out front announcing "Wednesdays are Cupcake Days!" Well, it was Wednesday. That was enough to make us pull over.

Inside, heaven. The cakes were stunning. Even the sample cakes. There were reams of kid-friendly treats and decadent cupcakes. And coffee. Good coffee. Lots of coffee. Oh, and a beautiful, clean bathroom (I do have three kids, after all - we spent a lot of time in there).

The kids all chose brownie popsicles. You jam a brownie onto a stick, dip it in melted chocolate, then in either M&Ms or sprinkles. The kids adored 'em. Even my sweets-avoiding Aspie finished his, right down to the stick.

My au pair and I, we went for the cupcakes. Hers was a raspberry-filled vanilla. And I chose the Cupcake of the Day: a moist, lemony poppyseed cake frosted with a fat dollop of chocolate almond buttercream and sprinkled with almond slivers. Not flavors I'd have put together myself. But ... well, I ate it all up. Every crumb. I did not share.

Westport was fun - corn dogs and the Pacific Ocean. But Suzie's Cakes was the highlight of the day. Cupcake magic and an overdose of chocolate knocked the grumpies right out of my kids. They got along beautifully for the whole rest of the day.

Next time we vacation here? I'm heading to Aberdeen first.

August 3, 2009

The Numbers Game

This weekend was all about the numbers.

4 The new age of my youngest child, who celebrated with Lucky Charms for breakfast, pizza for dinner, and SpongeBob cake for dessert. It was also a rare opportunity for him to be sole proprietor of the Center of Attention. Good day for him.

3 The age my youngest child insists he is. No amount of cajoling or bribery has convinced him otherwise. He's in total denial.

70 My dad's new age, as of February this year. Unlike my little guy, he admits to it.

30 The number of years he and my beloved step-mom have been married.

Together, those two numbers add up to 100, a good, round number and a phenomenal excuse to host a family reunion.

At the reunion this weekend, representing both sides of the family: 14 aunts and uncles (including my folks), 11 first cousins & their spouses, my 3 kids, and 7 significant others and treasured family friends. That's 35 members of our clan gathered in one place, at one time. (And given the high proportion of math geeks in that crew, I'd darn well better have gotten those numbers right.)

3 generations attending. We represent states from Alaska to Massachusetts. We were born all over the world, from Indonesia to Washington, D.C., from Bangkok to Toledo. And we were born in every decade straight through from the 1930s to the 2000s. Except for the 1970s. Slow time for us, I guess.

And the reason why this was such a big, huge deal?

. That, my friends, is the number of years that have passed since my father, his sister, and their three brothers have been in the same room together. 52. Five full decades. And then some.

This reunion, it was a bit of history in the making.

The bonus?

0 The number of times I put my kids in time-out, took away privileges or even got stern with them during two full days of reunion events. Yes, they were that amazingly good.

I'm a very proud mom. Though it's kinda cool to also be a proud daughter, sister, cousin and niece.

My family rocks.

August 1, 2009

Fear of Flying

I love my cast iron. I love it almost as much as I hate to fly. And I really hate to fly.

On Tuesday, these two facts collided.

On Tuesday, I set fire to my favorite cast iron pan. Real fire. Orange flames leaping toward the ceiling. Smoke alarms screaming madly all over the house. In other words, a scary fire. A little one. But scary nevertheless.

The fire started because I'm afraid to fly. In the face of that fear, my everyday insomnia had become a big hairy insomnia monster. Lack of sleep is normal for me. But lack of sleep to that degree? It'd make Einstein stupid.

The fire started because I couldn't find my Xanax. Xanax is the miracle that makes flying possible. Without it, I get panic attacks and can't even set foot on a plane. I was getting on a plane in 12 hours, and I couldn't find my Xanax. My brain had stopped cold.

But mostly, the fire started because I love my pan.

This pan, it's a simple 12-inch skillet. My grandfather made a gift of just such a skillet to my mom when she left home for college in the early 1960s. My mom gave that same skillet to me in 1985, when I moved into my first apartment. And I gave that skillet to my sister when she moved into her first place all by her lonesome.

My sister knew just how much I missed that skillet. So she took the time to find me a new one. She seasoned it lovingly until it attained that black patina good cast iron gets when it's properly cared for. And then she gave it to me. Twin skillets, one for me, one for her.

We don't have twin skillets anymore.

Late Tuesday, on a quest to feed the insomnia monster, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil for noodles. I turned the burner on high and went upstairs to pack. Thing is, I turned on the wrong burner. I turned on the burner under my beautiful - and very empty - cast iron skillet. When I came back to check on my water, the bottom of that beautiful skillet was peeling and gray and ugly.

My first thought? My poor pan! It needs oil!

You can see how sleep deprivation and panic may have played a role here. In my normal, well-rested state, I can tell you, point of fact, that if you pour oil into a superheated skillet, it will light up like a giant fireball.

But that night? That night all I could think about was my beautiful pan. I didn't turn off the stove. I didn't let the pan cool. No, I pulled out my big bottle of Trader Joe's cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and poured a good quarter cup into that hot cast iron frying pan sitting on a glowing red electric burner set to HIGH.

Moments later that pan exploded into flame. Gosh, what a surprise that was, eh?

I'm damn lucky the whole bottle of oil didn't explode in my hand. I'm luckier still that the part of my brain saying "Oh shit, better put that burning skillet of oil into the sink and pour water on it" got stuck on "Oh shit," so I didn't act on the thought. Instead, I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the cabinet next to the stove. I heard some voice in my head - I think it may have been Dick Van Dyke's - telling me to pull the pin and shoot. So I pulled the pin, and I put that damn fire out.

The oil splattered. It burned the crap out of one of my fingers and singed my kitchen floor. My formerly white cabinets are a dingy, smoky gray. My kitchen is covered in extinguisher dust. And my poor, beautiful, well-loved skillet is sitting in the sink, a ruined, greasy, extinguished mess.

That's all waiting for me when I get home.

The good news? I found the Xanax. I got on the plane. I got off the plane. And then I got a great big hug from my dad.

I think that makes it all better.

July 28, 2009

Wine & Pie

The Land of Limbo belongs exclusively to the separated-but-not-quite-divorced. And it is a strange, strange place. One of the strangest things about it is that you firmly believe you're stuck there all by your lonesome. This is ironic, because you know for a fact there's at least one other resident - that being the person to whom you are now not-yet-unmarried. Not that you want to talk with him about it, even under the most amicable of circumstances.

Which is how we come to wine and pie. And yes, there's a recipe in here ... two actually. Keep reading. We'll get to them. ("What?" you gasp. "She's talking about food? I totally forgot she did that.")

I am fortunate enough to have a large number of friends who love me to pieces and have been looking for an excuse to show it. One of these friends, when he saw me heading off into Limbo Land, realized he had two other friends who were living there too. He introduced us to each other. And now the three of us are also friends, tied together by the strangeness of our circumstances and by the fact that we happen to like each other. Our kids like each other, too. Coolness all around.

Last weekend, we got together with two other Limbo Land residents for an evening of wine, pie, and catharsis.

It was not all about the dessert. We kicked off the evening with a MiddleSouthEasternAsian smorgasbord that included homemade tahini hummus, spicy chick pea masala, green salad with feta, and a fragrant cinnamon beef and chicken and rice dish. There was also a big mess of tabouleh made with such dedication and commitment that every single leaf of parsley and mint was chopped by hand. I know this because I did all that chopping myself and my forearms still ache ... yes I own a food processor ... clearly I was not in my right mind. The tabouleh could have used a good bit more lemon. But it wasn't bad, considering I was winging the recipe from memory because the dog ate my recipe cards. That, however, is a story for another day. Tabouleh recipe is below (and if you can figure out what it was missing - I suspect it was more than just the lemon - please share).

All that food? It was just the appetizer. The whole point of the evening was wine and pie. You put those two things together and you have something magical. Hence the catharsis. Give anyone enough sugar and alcohol and they'll have epiphanies they didn't even know they needed.

For me, pie comes once a year at Thanksgiving. I make an apple crunch pie that I found in an issue of Family Circle waaaaay back in the mid-1990s and have made every year since. It's the only pie I make.

In honor of wine and pie night, though, I ventured outside of my apple-y comfort zone and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie. With fresh rhubarb. I've eyed it at the grocery store countless times and never done a damn thing with it. But it's good stuff, that rhubarb. Pretty and pink and tart. Recipe is below.

My pie was served side-by-side with our hostess's Hershey Bar pie, a decadent mash-up of almond Hershey bars, marshmallows (I think?), Cool Whip and two other ingredients that I really wish I could remember right now. Even my kids liked that one. And they think pie is for sissies.

Gotta tell you - it's worth living in Limbo Land just for the food.


The Dog Ate My Tabouleh
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 bunch of scallions, green parts and all, thinly sliced
  • 2 bunches of parsley, chopped fine (take my advice and use the food processor)
  • 2 packs of mint (about 1/2 c when chopped - hey, if you drop it in the food processor with the parsley, you'll really be cooking!)
  • 1 seedless English cucumber, peeled (mostly) and diced
  • 4-6 tomatoes with actual flavor, seeded and diced
  • The juice of 4 lemons. I only had 2. Use 4. Or more. Lemon is good.
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Cook the bulgur according to package directions, drain (I squeezed mine out in a kitchen towel) and cool. Mince the garlic, then plop it in a cup and pour the olive oil over it. Set it aside to give the oil a chance to get all infused and garlicky (I squeezed in a lemon, too, though I'm not sure that added anything). Do allllllll that chopping. Or processing. Your call. Mix the parsley, mint, cucumber and tomatoes in a big bowl. Fluff the bulgur with a fork and drop it in. Squeeze in the lemons, add in the olive oil and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all up, then let sit for an hour or so to let the flavors blend.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (The Cheater's Version)
  • 4 c trimmed rhubarb, sliced about 1/2 inch thick (about 1 1/2 lbs if you're buying it fresh - though frozen will do)
  • 1 lb (16 oz) strawberries, hulled and cut in half (my diva cut the strawberries - girl's got mad skills with a paring knife)
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c cornstarch (though I'm thinking tapioca might work better)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • One refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust (that's the cheating part - if you want to go whole hog, find a good two-crust recipe and make it instead)
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the first eight ingredients (everything through the salt) in a big bowl and mix gently. Place one pie crust in the bottom of your pie pan and spoon the filling into it, spreading it out evenly. Lay out the other pie crust on a floured board and slice it into 1/2 inch strips. Lay the strips across the filling in a lattice pattern. Trim dough ends even with the overhang on the bottom crust, then fold strip ends and overhang under, seal, and crimp. Brush the yolk and water mixture over the crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer pie to baking sheet and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 350 F, cover pie with foil to keep crust from overbrowning, and bake for 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool. Enjoy with Cool Whip, wine and friends.

July 20, 2009

Eating the Toothpaste

I used to eat toothpaste. Crazy, I know.

This goes under the category of "good girl breaks bad." When you are a chronically good girl - the kind who stays out of the R-rated movies, never takes anything stronger than ibuprofen, and always, always keeps those dratted elbows off the table - well, you need to find a way to rebel.

So, I didn't brush my teeth. And I lied about it. Lied like a rug. To the point of wetting my toothbrush, smooshing toothpaste onto the side of the sink, and eating the minty-fresh Crest. All that trouble because I knew my folks would check.

Frankly, it would have been far, far easier just to brush already.

(And before you get too grossed out, I was like 9 at the time.)

So, as a former toothpaste gourmand, I'd really like to know why toothpaste for kids has gotten so darn complicated. Used to be there was just one choice: the aforementioned minty-fresh Crest.

And now?

Kids' paste is no longer pasty. It comes in a rainbow of colored gels, all filled with sparkly silver flecks. Because, of course, children are irresistibly attracted to shiny things.

Kids' paste no longer tastes like mint. It tastes like watermelon and bubblegum and chocolate (yes, chocolate). It never, ever tastes like mint. Ew, mint.

And the packaging? No more plain white tubes for today's kids. Oh, no. Their packaging is covered with every major character ever created, from Dora to Spider-Man to SpongeBob. And it comes in kid-friendly containers that stand up tall and squeeze from the middle and never actually empty. Big huge coup for the toothpaste companies, mind you - Look, it's easy! Look, you'll never get it all out! Here, buy more!

With all this hype, are my kids any more interested in brushing their teeth than I was?

Nope. They eat the toothpaste, too.

July 12, 2009


I have always believed in my heart of hearts that ice cream is God's gift to dessert. It is the perfect treat. Sweet but not too sweet, blessedly compatible with chocolate, and it even has some honest-to-goodness nutritional value mixed in with all the fat and calories.

As of this weekend, I'm in the market for a new dessert.

My wonderful au pair has been running the kids ragged all summer. Long neighborhood walks, trips to the park with a soccer ball, and hours and hours at the pool. All three of them are brown as berries - and yes, that includes my redhead. My water-phobic oldest is learning to swim. And my diva, already a fish, has actually grown gills. The kids are active, active, active.

As a result, come the weekends, they are utterly fried.

This past Saturday, I tried to get them out of the house. I tried to take them to the pool. I tried to take them to the park. Nope. They wanted to sit at home and sleep and snack and watch TV. Can't say as I blame them. But me, I work from my house. I sleep at my house. I am always, always at my house.

I needed to get out of my house.

So I resorted to a bribe. I promised them a trip to Maggie Moo's. Like me, they'll do pretty much anything for ice cream.

Maggie Moo's is cool - one of those cold marble places where they mix up a bunch of stuff and put it into a cup. My little guy went straight-up chocolate with M&Ms. Good choice, though I'm still trying to get the stains out of his white T-shirt. The two oldest, though - they have really odd taste in ice cream, I gotta say. Both of them picked this sickly sweet, bright blue, cotton candy flavor. And then they mixed it with mint. Yes, mint. Oh, and the add-ins. My oldest added Reese's Cups and Heath bars. And my diva, she put in peanut butter and white chocolate chips.


And then they had dinner. Meatballs. Apples. A little pasta.

By the time the three of them headed up to bed, my diva was looking somewhat green around those new gills. Then, as I was turning off the light and saying a hushed good-night, she exploded, sending a sea of bright, neon blue vomit all over her bed. I rushed her into the bathroom, where the explosion just kept coming. The poor thing was sobbing and retching and sobbing, all at once.

This is where the single mom thing gets really tough. I had to leave her sitting there. It's the last thing you want to do when your baby is sick and crying. But they all share a room. My boys were exhausted and needed to sleep, and it smelled awful, and cleaning up was going to take a very, very long time. So, in the space of about 30 seconds, I dashed into the bedroom, stripped the bed, spritzed some air freshener, said good-night and closed the door.

Then I rushed back into the bathroom. By then there was blue everywhere. In her hair, all over her pajamas, on the floor, the tub, the cabinets. The poor girl had nothing left. She was just standing there, miserable and wet and stinky. I put her gently in the shower, and while she washed, I disinfected everything. When the blue was gone at last, my diva crawled onto the futon in our playroom, snuggled up beside me and fell fast asleep.

It was over. No middle of the night wake-up calls. No post-breakfast nausea. Other than having to listen to my boys enumerate in great detail and with great glee all the contents of their sister's blue spew the next morning, it was over.

But, as God is my witness, we are never having ice cream again.

July 9, 2009

Martha's Cupcakes

Next month - in fact, on the very first day of next month - it's my little guy's birthday.

He's very keen on the idea of his birthday. I think mostly that's because he wants presents. And he wants to be the center of the universe, even if it's just for a day. With three kids in the house, trust me, that doesn't happen very often.

So every night he asks me if it's his birthday tomorrow. He knows August is coming, but he doesn't quite get the when.

And this year his birthday is a little more complicated than usual. That's because this year, for some reason, my little guy is refusing to age.

I've tried to explain to him that he will turn four on his birthday. He says no. Vehemently, with full on pouty face. "I'm not gonna be four," he grouches at me. "I'm gonna stay three again!"

It's hard to disagree with him. I'd have been perfectly happy to stick at 32 for a decade or so. Not possible, of course. So I'm trying to convince him that older is okay. And I think I've found the perfect bribe.


I decorate cakes for fun and frolic. My kids' birthdays are a special treat because I get to pull an all-nighter, run a Harry Potter marathon on the portable DVD player, and get crafty with fondant, colored nonpareils and run-in sugar. Few other things make me as happy.

The kids love the cake thing, too. At least once a week, they will pull out all my many cake books and create fantasy celebrations in their heads. It reminds me of the Sears catalog, back in the day. My Oma used to call it the Wish Book (I think everyone else's grandmother did, too), and my sister and I would spend hours building a wished-up life complete with furniture, glamorous outfits, and - um - tools.

My little guy, though, is less about the cakes of late. Nowadays he's all about the cupcakes. He loves Dede Wilson's Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes (oh, and I do, too - her Italian meringue buttercream is lightly sweet, all natural and utterly delicious). He'll sit with that book for an hour at a time, flipping the pages and sighing with cupcakey joy.

But today - oh, today! I have found the Holy Grail of cupcake books. I was at BJ's, doing the warehouse thing. It's tedious and annoying, so I treat myself to book browsing while I'm there. This evening I was rewarding myself with a fruitless hunt for the new Nora Roberts novel when I spotted it ... Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. Oh oh oh oh oh!! Gorgeous. Tasty. Inspired. Now, I can make my own chocolate faux-bois! I can make little fondant monkeys! I can create a tiny cupcake forest of meringue mushrooms! It's a cornucopia of cupcake creativity.

I think it'll be enough to convince the little guy that he does, in fact, want to turn four. Because if he turns four I will make him any cupcake he wants. In fact, I will make him two dozen of them. And I won't make him share.

I'd turn four for Martha's cupcakes. Wouldn't you?

PS: For kicks, check out the Cake Wrecks blog link on the right. Daily posts of absolutely abysmal cakes, with occasional highlights of a few stunning concoctions. If you're serious about your caking, try 52 Cupcakes.