It’s a piece of cake.

birthday cake
This cake was a long story in the making.

My friend, Wendy, was turning 50! I’d made my reservations to visit for the big celebration. And then, she asked if I’d make her a cake when I came out.

Well, yes!

First question I asked was what kind of cake she wanted. The answer? Almond cake with vanilla buttercream icing.

As delicious as it sounds, I had never made that particular kind of cake before. So I started researching recipes. I learned about how to make icing really white. I searched and searched for a fun cake topper idea. And I started baking.

The first couple cakes were not successful. At all. And when I finally found the right recipe, somehow one layer cooked well and the other was grossly undercooked in the middle.

Sigh.

Still, I took the good parts and used them as vessels to test icing recipes.

Fortunately, I had a lot of tasting volunteers. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Did I mention I ordered special vanilla online? And that certain butters are lighter in color than others? Or that if you beat the buttercream faster and longer, it becomes whiter? All true. And the icing was really pretty and white. And we came upon the perfect recipe. Done and done.

And then, the pom pom toppers that I ordered came! I opened the box with glee. But sadly, they were not white. And upon further reading on the Etsy listing, they were ‘soft white’ which is another way to say beige. I was going to return them and order a whiter white set until I realized that the shipping cost to return them was half the price of a new set. So I wrote the seller to find out how to ensure I ordered the whitest white poms and how much this cake mattered. And you know what she did? She sent me a new set for just the cost of shipping. And I kept the beige set. They’ll look pretty on a chocolate cake.

But back to the cake itself. The heart of the cake. I didn’t have it right yet. But that last version? It was really tasty. Could I improve it? And then, I decided to make the layers thinner. It was a eureka moment. So I made the cake again. (Not to try to get your sympathy here, but it’s a lot of steps and a lot of dishes. And a lot of eggs!) So I made the batter and split it between 3 layers.

And you know what? It came out perfectly! So pretty. The layers released from the pan perfectly. They were golden and perfect and even and lovely. That’s when I decided to take this actual cake with me to Omaha. So when they were absolutely cool, I froze the layers.

Now, you might be asking yourself how I planned to get the cake to the midwest in reasonable condition. Great question! It just so happened that the perfect styrofoam cooler and a box it fit into exactly. I’d just take the layers in the cooler with icepacks and check it through as baggage. I’d also pack my special, favorite icing spatula with me and the vanilla – and of course the pom poms. This plan was foolproof! I’d have layers and could make the icing in Omaha and assemble a beautiful cake.

End of story.

Except, as you’ve obviously already figured out, this was not the end of the story. Because…

Southwest lost the box.

It was almost midnight when I stood in the baggage office nearly in tears explaining to the clerk about my concerns that it would defrost and get stale. She gave me a piece of paper and told me that they’d do their best (and by the way, please step away from the computer and get behind the line).

At this point, I decided that the fellow who checked my bags curbside at Dulles took my cake home to his family. Do I know this was irrational? Yes, I do. But the thing is, I was in a terrible rush when my boys dropped me at the airport. I was supposed to fly out of BWI but that plane was delayed and I’d never have made the connection, so they rerouted me. My guys drove me (and unfortunately got stuck in horrendous traffic making them late for their dinner date with their aunt which sucked).

I never do curbside check-in but, as I mentioned, I was late and more than a little stressed. The guy was so sweet and I was relieved to dump my big bag and the box. He asked me what was in the box. I told him it was a cake. And that is why, when it went missing, that I suspected that poor guy. While I was very sad, I did actually invent a story in my head that he needed that cake. Maybe it was his daughter’s birthday and he had to work and didn’t get a chance to buy a cake.

Yeah, I have a great imagination like that.

So, back to my story. There was no cake in Omaha. Once I caught my breath, I saw that my friend had 3 9″ cake pans. Check. She and I went to the store and bought ingredients. And we went to Sur la Table and bought an icing spatula.

I called Southwest again and again. No cake.

And then, at nearly midnight they called. They had the box! Should they refrigerate it? (How nice that they asked, right?) I said no. Wrote it off. It was clearly defrosted and I knew I was starting over. I’d pick up the box the next day because frankly, I love that spatula.

We were headed to the airport at 5pm the next day anyway to pick Molly up. And since the cake was clearly a train-wreck, why rush?

The box. I got the box! And when we got back to Wendy’s house, I opened it and found a Christmas miracle. The ice packs were still frozen. The cake was perfect.

Perfect.

And so, the next day I whipped the heck out of a white, vanilla buttercream and put the cake together. I put the pom poms in and cut a sprig of greens.

That cake? It tasted like love.

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And when the smoke clears, I’m just a mom.

photo credit scx johnnyberg
photo credit scx johnnyberg

The other night, Andrew and I went to see some music with some old friends. (I”m not saying my friends are old, but rather I’ve known her since high school and known her husband for 13+ years.)

So we went to see one of my favorite bands – though they were just the openers – Shovels and Rope. Did I realize we were going to a standing up (rather than seated) venue? Um, no. Shame on me for not realizing.

First we met for dinner. And yum. Great dinner, super happy. Right next door.

Then we got to Rams Head Live. And, since I’m wimpy about standing all night, we got seats at the bar. We were early enough that it was a choice. Yay. But once the music started, I kind of lost myself and there I was walking with my friend into the crowd in front of the stage. I wanted to be in the music. In the beat. And lose myself in it.

[Side note: if you didn’t stop to listen to their music yet – please do. Especially if you like country or if you are open-minded about that sort of thing. Michael Trent & Cary Ann Hearst have this thing -this electricity. Just listen, okay?)

I’m really getting off track here. So (deep breath), I’ll back up. Or jump ahead.

We’re standing there watching the duo and soaking in the music. I felt like I was 20-something. The music was running through me and I’d almost forgotten how much I appreciate that feeling. It was peace. And joy. You know?

And then, an actual 20-something boy pushed himself past me and into the front of the crowd. Okay, this happens. Whatever. I’m chill.

And then, a couple girls push their way to join him. And not subtly.

One of the girls kind of drifted and melted into the crowd. But the other girl. The other girl.

She was beautiful with long, blond hair. Maybe she was 22. Or maybe she had a fake ID.

She was swaying withe music – right in front of me.

Peace. Love. Music.

Right. All that. Except that that girl kept tossing her long, blond hair into me. And I was starting to get aggravated. And then more. And then more.

And then, I made a space around me and guarded it. And then, I was annoyed that I was at this great show and having to worry about guarding space so this girl wouldn’t toss her hair in my face. And then, she left.

If you know me, you know what happened next. ‘

I had to go to the bathroom.

And I walked in, and there she was – looking befuddled.

After I (ahem) did my business, I came out to wash my hands. (Folks, this is good practice. I’m here to tell you it does not happen as often as it should.)

So, I’m washing my hands and here is this blond. She’s even younger than I thought. She’s wearing concealer to cover her blemishes. She’s a little girl. Right, maybe she’s 21. Maybe she’s not.

And I looked her straight in the eyes and asked her, “Are you ok?”

And she quickly said yes and told me she liked my top. But I’m not sure she was really okay. I don’t know what she was on or who broke her heart or whether she’d had one too many but I know.

And more than anything, I know she was somebody’s daughter. And my heart ached for the mom who didn’t know or would’ve been there had she known.

The quiet girl.

curlersShe was a tall, skinny girl. And she was very, very quiet.

For years, she’d been in my class – first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade.

I don’t know if you remember those years for yourself, but I do. The girls paired into inseparable best friends. And the pairs of best friends glommed together into sets. We played in these sets on the playground, with skip-it contests, jump rope, Chinese jump rope games. We chanted, jumped, and giggled.

Lots of giggling.

And one day, the quiet girl wanted to join in.

Now, I’m not saying my friends – my set – weren’t nice girls. They were. But I felt that some of them may not have always been inclusive. These girls did not want the quiet girl to play with us. But Sarah did. And I did.

That was that. She began jumping and singing with us, though she always seemed a little vacant, a bit distant.

Let me back up a little and tell you that we lived a nice middle class life. Our house was warm and happy. I shared a bedroom with my sister and my brother had his own room. And we had 2-1/2 baths. I’m not going to say we didn’t struggle at times. There were years of going to the outlet stores for clothes and years of casseroles that stretched the protein like tuna noodle casserole and an egg and noodle dish. And I still make the spaghetti and meat sauce and the meatballs with the Lipton onion soup mix gravy that I loved as a kid. I say this much to Andrew’s chagrin.

My closest friends had houses similar to mine, though I’ve learned over the years that they weren’t all happy homes. But that’s a story for another time.

My mom always welcomed my friends at the house and was ready with homemade cookies or another treat. I loved having friends over. They’d come after school sometimes and sometimes for a weekend sleepover.

I don’t know what year it started, but it started. The birthday sleepover parties. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the effort it took on my mother’s part, in hindsight. Now that I’m a mother, I can safely say that I didn’t fully appreciate the effort on my parents’ part in so many ways. Oh, I’m not suggesting I was ungrateful. I’m simply saying I didn’t realize and my parents always made it seem like a pleasure. I am sure now that it was not always a pleasure. But I digress.

Every weekend, it seemed, there was a sleepover somewhere. It was an unspoken exclusive club; we’d rotate between houses where we’d giggle and eat and, sometimes, sleep.

And then it was the quiet girl’s birthday.

She brought handwritten invitations to school. Eyes down, she asked tentatively if I’d come.

And I said yes. Not all the other girls said yes, though.

For the days leading up to the party, she’d shyly remind me not to forget to come.

The day came. The day of the party.

We didn’t recognize the street name. Now, mind you, it wasn’t that big of a school. And pretty much everyone lived in walking distance. I don’t remember if I asked for directions or if my dad just figured it out. (He always found his way, long before GPS devices. In fact, it was a huge source of pride. My dad knew his way around in more cities and more detail than anyone. I thought it was remarkable and it became a skill that I’d work diligently on for years. I’m still great with a map but, alas, I admit that I’ve become a little dependent on Waze in recent years.)

The house, as it turned out, was down an unpaved road tucked away and almost impossible to see from the main. We drove up to the house. It was small and in very serious disrepair. I’d never seen a house like this before. Not in real life.

And now I was nervous.

I’d never seen poor.

My mother walked me to the door and the girl’s mother answered. I wouldn’t say she was smiling, but neither was she frowning. She just was. She was wearing a light, cotton housedress like my grandmother did. Her hair was in curlers. Not those plastic curlers but the pink, wiry squishy ones. Lots of them.

The quiet girl was also nervous. I imagined she was worried that we’d have a good time. That we’d want to be her friend. That she could fit in.

There was nothing different about that slumber party than any other. We had the same snacks. The same giggles.

Today, I wonder if it was a hardship for her mother to provide those snacks. If it was difficult to have us over. And now, as a mother all these years later, I wonder how much she worried for her daughter. How much she wanted her to be happy. And, yes, to fit in.

While I know that I was nice to the girl – because I was nice to most everyone – I honestly have no recollection of seeing her socially again.

None.

But I was thinking about her the other day.

PS: When I searched for her name, I find lawyers, real estate agents, volunteers, a deputy, and a criminal. Of course, her name could be different 40 years later. But whatever she’s doing, I hope she’s happy and that she found her voice.

Got Pads?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. Maybe it’s been around forever and I just noticed. This is totally feasible, since I don’t shop much.

A lot of workout tops come with padding. You know what I mean, right? To make your breasts look bigger. That kind of padding. And while most appear to be removable, it begs the question.

Why would I want to look bustier than I am (or am not) when I work out? And why would I want the extra fabric and insulation (read: sweat more!) in my top?

I’m baffled. Truly baffled.

I know there are some folks that use the gym as a social outlet. I get that they want to look good. PS: my gym ain’t about that, by the way.

But does anyone really think that padded tops make you look better or even natural? And once you get to sweating from the extra layers, is that appealing?

Am I missing something here?

A lifetime of friendship

Today, I went to one of my oldest friends’ son’s Bar Mitzvah.

She and I have been friends since 4th grade. She came half way through the year. From Wisconsin, of all places. She even had a Wisconsin license plate on her wall in her bedroom.

Wisconsin is very far away when you are 9 years old.

We became fast friends. We often dressed alike, as little girls do. And, in my mind, we looked exactly the same. Twins. Nevermind that she had long blond hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and long legs.

We looked exactly the same.

Life is funny. People move, change, marry. And move some more. Babies are born. Time goes by. There are tragedies and joys.

And it all comes rushing back as I watch her son become a bar mitzvah. He’s a handsome kid. He looks so confident today. So ready.

I remember when she and I were his age. So curious and ready to grow up. I remember going to Great Falls with her family and taking pix of her little brother acting silly. I remember her long gray wool coat. I loved that coat. I remember a ketchup squeeze container that her family had that looked like a pig. (Why a pig?) I called it Jeff. (Sorry, Jeff.)

In the powder room at her house, all this cool Westinghouse stuff hung on the walls. It fascinated me.

And then there’s the time she spent at my house. Lots of time.

And then we grew up. She moved away. I got married. She came back and bought a condo. I got divorced. She became a nurse. I started my career in advertising. She met a guy and moved away (but not so far) and I met a guy and moved far away.

So of course there are a thousand details in between, but what strikes me is that I can’t imagine not seeing her son become a bar mitzvah, just as she saw my sons reach the milestone.

Old friends. There’s just nothing like ’em.

Regrets? I’ve had a few.

Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/vancity197

I don’t have too many major regrets from pre-adulthood.

I do regret putting that perfumed love letter in the awkward guy’s locker in 8th grade. I still feel awful about that. And I feel terrible about not sticking up for the girl at my art table in 7th grade when Billy and Michael made fun of her. I really don’t know why I didn’t.

I regret not talking to my parents about the 100 page creepy love/stalking letter that I was given in high school. I did, however, talk to the guidance counselor about it. (Sorry, Mom. I’ll tell you now, if you want.)

I regret this one other thing which I won’t be talking about. But I do feel crappy about it.

But in general, I think I made mostly good choices. And I was a pretty good kid and a good friend.

Though I’ve wondered lately. There are some ‘girls’ from my childhood and teen years that I’ve become reacquainted with on Facebook. They are funny and smart, interesting and engaging. So why weren’t we better friends back then? Did our groups of friends not mesh? Was there something else? Did one of us dress “wrong?” Were we too smart? Too not-smart? Too clique-y? Too shy?

And then there’s the bigger question. If we were in the same room, would we have stuff to talk about? Would we feel the love?

I have no idea.

I’m just wondering tonight.

Sign here. Press hard.

Do girls still do the autograph book thing? It seems so…1970’s to me. But I loved this autograph book. And in it are some wonderful things.

Like what my mother wrote in her beautiful handwriting on 5/27/73:

You have to live with yourself, and so,
You want to be fit for yourself to know
You want to be able as the days go by
Always to look yourself straight in the eye.
You don’t want to stand with the setting sun,
And hate yourself for the things you have done.

I memorized it and it still rolls off my tongue. (Though in hindsight, maybe a little serious for a 12 year old’s autograph book. But nice sentiment, Mom.)

And there’s my dad’s page:

I would rather be right than President!
On the other hand, I’d really rather be right and President.

If you know my father, I’m sure that you just laughed.

My brother signed his name and wrote his address. (As if I didn’t know where he lived.)

My sister wrote:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
That is that
But I love you

And you see it here – my first folded page. She was 8 years old.

I sat down the other day and unfolded and read every page of the book. And thought about each friend. Well, there are a couple that I have no clue who they are. But I thought about the rest.

I’m in touch with a lot of them. I know a little about some others.

I ‘talk’ to Risa all the time on Facebook – and see her at the occasional mitzvah.

Risa, do you still think this is funny? If it’s too small to read without reading glasses, it says

when you get older and fall over hedges, remember Risa who wrote on the edges.

And there this gem:

There are ditties from teachers (including the chorus teacher who asked me to please just mouth the songs), the principal, and various and sundry others.

But what motivated me to write this post in the first place is this next one. She was a good friend. Beautiful and kind. And this made my stomach drop.

I don’t know what she’s doing these days. I saw her at a high school reunion years ago. She was just as I remembered.

Happy judgment-free holidays to you.

I came across a post I wrote 6 years ago today. And it still resonates. I mean, really. What the heck is balance anyway? My boys were 7, 8, and 10 at the time. A lot has changed in our world.

But not that much.

Parts of Speech

[originally posted 12/23/05]

Judging others is a dangerous hobby. Without all the facts (and you never have all the facts) it is impossible to understand someone’s decisions, motives, choices on all fronts. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t relate to others’ issues, challenges, etc. Two things I’ve learned over the years come to mind:

1) You don’t know what happens in someone else’s house.
2) Never say “I never would…” in reference to someone else’s choices. You might one day when faced with the same situation.

I’ve been stewing about something that happened the other day. In order to let it go, I’ve decided to write about it. I drove some kids (including some of my own) to an after-school class. One of the kids was unable to carry his stuff in, so I dropped them all off, parked the car, and, sans coat, trekked across the parking lot to bring the kid his stuff. I was cold. I had a sick kid at home I wanted to get back to. My father had a procedure that day and I couldn’t go sit with my mom while she waited because of my kid at home who needed me. My work was behind schedule due to the same sick kid and the construction noise at the house was really getting to me and to that same sick kid, who cried about his head hurting for hours. You get the picture – the day was not a cake walk. (I always wanted to say cake walk – I hope I used it correctly!)

Walking into the school, I ran into a friend. Not a “hang out all the time” friend, but someone I like and socialize with occasionally. After saying hello, she took a hard look at me and said:

Balance is a verb.

It felt like a punch in the stomach. She has balance so never looks harried? I am unbalanced? I am incapable of managing my life? What exactly was this wisdom she was (unsolicited, I might add) presenting to me? She had no idea what I had done for the past month, let alone for the day. I was really irritated. How superior.

After a day I asked a close friend, who I respect tremendously, what she thought. She said:

Bitch is a verb too.

Happy Erev Chanukah. Merry Christmas Eve. I’m planning on a judgment-free holiday.

50 lessons and 50 blessings.

What is it about big milestones that make us want to make lists?

I was planning to write about 50 lessons I’ve learned over the years and tell you about 50 blessings in my life.

I’m sure I’ve learned more than 50 things and I can assure you I have more than 50 wonderful things and people in my life.

Instead, I’m going to go all minimalist here.

I’m grateful for all the people who have taught me anything – good or bad.
I’m grateful for the people who love me. And for the people I love. I think there’s a lot of overlap there.
I’m grateful for knowledge. And for being told I’m wrong so I can try harder.
I’m over the moon grateful for my sons. And my husband.
And for the ones who’ve stuck by me no matter what.

I’m thankful for the 9am phone calls. I’m thankful for the peace in my home.
I’m thankful for my work, which I love. And the clients who trust me.

It never occurred to me that I’d be 50 one day.

Crazy, I know.

But here I am.

And I’m grateful for where I’ve been and I can’t wait to see where I go.