Birthdays (everyone else’s)

Does any parent ever get used to their child growing up? When I think of this sullen little girl who rarely smiled (but also rarely cried) . . .

Ada Crying

 

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. . . it’s hard for me to imagine that that solemn little baby is now a spunky, laughing, opinionated big girl who is turning nine today.

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Adelaide Amelia Clementine is my one child out of six who got her father’s blue eyes. Only now they’ve changed to a greenish grey. Mister doesn’t have very dominant genes. Except where his chin dimple is concerned. All the kids have a cleft chin. Especially Ada.

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She also has a few freckles around her mouth that make it look like she always has crumbs on her face. It took me months to realize that she does not.

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Because I am totally insane I make every single food that the kids want to eat on their birthdays. This morning I was up long before the sun, making Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze (sugar to the max! So, so fantastic but a lot of work. You can get the recipe here.)

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Ada wants Subway for lunch (ew, but whatever. It’s her birthday. At lease I don’t have to make it.) I will dutifully deliver said sandwich to school and make small-talk with her and her silly friends while they eat. Then I will race home to finish the cake pops I started a little while ago (made of orange cake. She wanted them covered in blue but I talked her into white chocolate instead). Unlike most states, Texas lives recklessly so parents are legally allowed to bake treats for their kids. I know, way to live on the edge! I could talk Ada into donuts probably but then I think of all the chemicals in store-bought food and I just can’t bear the thought of it. So cake pops it is. (Although the white chocolate is hardly chemical-free. Just humor me, OK?) Plus she told all the other kids that she’d be bringing cake pops so lucky me. She’s turned into a little baking snob already and won’t eat a bite of store-bought cake.

Fortunately Ada wants Mexican food for dinner so I will get a blessed rest from the kitchen at dinner-time. But then I’ve got to squeeze in making a red velvet birthday cake at some point too. Only it’s got to be purple velvet. Because why would a 9-year-old pick red when she could pick purple instead? Actually, Ada’s favorite color is red so I have no idea what’s going on. But purple velvet has been requested and that is what I shall make.

At some point I need to run to the store to pick up a few more pairs of jeans shorts. (“Mom, all I like to wear are jeans shorts and crappy t-shirts. I can’t help it.”)  At lease she doesn’t want to wear silky basketball shorts. Tender mercies, folks!

So I shall bid you adieu and get my birthday preparations on. Here’s hoping I survive!

 

You guys! Last weekend was one of those times when everything stacks up and crushes me near to death. It’s all I could do to keep breathing til last night.

First of all, it was my anniversary. Nice, pretty mellow. But still it’s a whole evening when I had lots of other things to do. What other things, you might ask? Well, at church the men are given a little gift on father’s day. A lot of times the teenage girls are in charge of it (actually, the leaders are in charge. The girls just hand them out). But this year the women were in charge. I was thinking of something store-bought but I realized how much I hate to receive store-bought stuff so I decided to make some monster cookies. In case you have lived a sheltered, pitiful life and don’t know what they are: kind of a half-peanut butter, half-oatmeal cookie with M&Ms and chocolate chips. Only I don’t have a good recipe. So I had to search the interwebs to find something worthy. Which required me making a whole ton of Monster Cookies to try out. The grand winner was this recipe by Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s a keeper because it’s not too heavy on the oatmeal; too much oatmeal makes a cookie taste blah. So my anniversary cut into my baking time.

On my way home from working out on Friday I stopped to buy all the M&Ms and chocolate chips. Nothing like being absolutely soaked with sweat holding 15 bags of candy. I’m sure people suspected bulimia. And the stores here don’t provide grocery bags (of course I had forgotten mine in the car, as always) so I was dropping bags of M&Ms left and right. Those suckers are slippery! But I made it home with all my chocolate and began to bake.

I spent some of Friday and most of Saturday making 90 giant Monster Cookies. I have a gigantic mixer that does three or four batches at a time, so it really wasn’t as much trouble as it sounds. My counselors did all the wrapping and labelling and i think the cookies were a big hit.

But you know that wasn’t all I had to do, right? Mister dragged me to a movie on Friday night. I can’t remember what it was called but it was Danish and I liked it very much. It put me behind schedule. As did the wedding we had to go to in San Antonio on Saturday morning. Two hours each way for a 40-minute ceremony. Oy. But we discovered a new (and delicious!) BBQ place halfway between San Antonio and Austin and that made everything all better (the brisket melted in my mouth. Divine!)

Also this weekend: Arabella had to give a talk in church. Mormons don’t have a clergyman that speaks in church every week. Instead, members of the congregation are asked to speak about a given topic. Everybody gets a turn, aren’t we so lucky? Once kids turn twelve they’re fair game for speaking, too. This was Arabella’s first talk and it was about fathers so that meant that I had to help her with it instead of pawning it off on Mister. Much encouragement and proofreading ensued.

This wasn’t our only “first” at church either. India got asked to play the prelude music in church for the first time (piano not organ). Meaning I had to nag her to practice several times (“Mom, nobody even listens to the prelude music!”). She did a really good job and I’m guessing she’ll get asked again. Our house was filled with hymns all weekend, which seems nice in theory but really just put me on edge.

Then there were the teenagers nagging me to sign up for summer church camps right this second, requiring me to decide exactly what our itinerary is going to be as camp is four states away and will require travel of 10-12 days total. There is nothing that I despise as much as planning things in advance and I’ve been avoiding the details of our big summer trip. But there I was trying to get the kids all signed up for camps, knowing that there were only four slots left at the session they wanted to go to (“what do you mean you can’t remember your camp password from last year? Well, then they can email it to you. You forgot your email password too???” ) It took over an hour but we finally got it squared away.

There were Father’s Day presents to wrap, cards to nag the kids to make, and the Father’s Day meals to prepare. And a whole bunch of church busywork that takes a million years and is no fun at all but had to be done for Sunday.

It’s really a wonder that I only burned one tray of cookies. As much multi-tasking as I was doing, there should have been a few dozen burned.

And then there was Jasper. Poor, poor Jasper. It was his birthday on Sunday too. But I felt sorry for him having to share his day with Mister, and that it was on a Sunday (no eating out or having much fun being the Sabbath Day and all), so we lied and told him that we hadn’t looked at the calendar properly and that his birthday was actually Monday. Thank goodness he bought it! Having his birthday yesterday instead of Sunday was so much better. We went swimming with friends and he didn’t have to share his special day with his dad. It ended up being a great idea. I’ll have to remember to lie to my kids a lot more often.

OK, this is officially the most boring blog post I’ve ever written. But I just wanted you to know what I’ve been up to. I’ve had good reasons to slack on blogging and I’ve got the dark circles under my eyes to to prove it.

 

Arabella loves to read my cookbooks and pick out things for me to make. My kids are all sugar addicts like their mother so her recipes are usually in the dessert category. A couple of weeks ago she picked out this beauty from my Cooks Country magazine that she wanted me to make as her birthday cake; it’s a S’mores Ice Cream Pie:

I seriously love s’mores.  Not the biggest fan of ice cream, but it was a hot day yesterday, so I was OK with it. Birthdays are always a huge deal around our house and require a massive amount of work: make the requested breakfast, take the child lunch at school, make a birthday cake, make the requested dinner (or hope they want dinner out) and usually buy/wrap a bunch of presents.

I figured an ice cream cake means no baking or icing so it would be a lot less work. Uuuuggggh. This dessert was so much trouble! The graham cracker crust needs to be baked, so the oven does have to be turned on. Then there is a layer where chocolate is melted and combined with heavy cream and corn syrup. But because I was making this when the babies were walking in the door from school I forgot everything but the chocolate which, when frozen, became hard as a sheet of metal. Then a layer of marshamallow fluff was spread over that. Do you know what a pain it is to spread marshamllow fluff? A horrendous pain, not to mention incredible messy and sticky. It tasted super yum, though, so everyone ate their ice cream off the top and then held the crust like a sloppy chcolatey cookie to eat at the end.

Also, when the pie is ready to serve, the ice cream is covered with marshmallows and broiled quickly to brown them. It was a delicious step and one that really made the dessert taste like s’mores. Unfortunately it also made the pie start to melt and by the time the graham crackers were affixed to the outside and candles were lit, the whole thing was melting like crazy. I ended up throwing the dripping pie onto the table and screaming at everyone to hurry up and sing, for Pete’s sake the stupid dessert is getting chocolate everywhere.

So if you have all day with nothing going on and really feel like undertaking an arduous task (and you like s’mores a lot), this might be a good dessert to try. Also, make sure that there are a lot of people who will eat this instantly because an ice cream dessert in a springform pan with the sides removed is probably not the best idea. It was super delicious, though. I mean, it tasted really good and was very smore-y.

Arabella was extremely happy with this, even though I put the leftover pie in the freezer, slammed the door and yelled, “I hate everything!”  (good thing Arabella had scurried off to look at her presents). Not my finest cooking moment but the birthday girl felt loved and that’s the whole point.

 

 

 

 

 

Today child #4 (otherwise known as Arabella Claire) turns twelve. She is such a delight. She, of course, has those lovely teenage years ahead of her but today she is just a pleasure to have around. Well, 98% of the time. The other 2% she is fighting with Ada. So far I am mystified why all these cultures in the world value sons. My girls give me hardly any trouble, they get straight A’s, and they’re way funner to go shopping with. Someone please explain.

Arabella used to like to be called Bella until there were a million Isabellas who decided to use that nickname too. Now she Arabella all the time. She is distinct in the family as having the darkest eyes, the biggest dimple in her chin  (all the kids have them courtesy of Mister), and the longest leg-torso ratio (Despite being 12 and only 5’4 I have to buy her pants with a 32″ inseam). Her Love Language is touch and she is always trying to be as close to me as possible. She would probably climb back into my uterus if I let her. She is quiet, deliberate and gentle. And, lucky for us, it looks like she’ll be a stellar baker one day.

Today we will celebrate Arabella by making copious amounts of goodies. showering her with presents and treating like the princess she is (plus I have to go eat lunch with her at the Middle School, joy of joys). She has been a sweetheart since she was born and we love her for it. Happy birthday to our little Ara-boo-boo.

Adelaide Amelia Clementine turned eight last week.

Turning eight is not just any birthday if you’re Mormon. That’s when we get baptized. Mormons believe that babies and children automatically go to Heaven if they die, so baptism isn’t a requirement until kids are old enough to really understand the difference between right and wrong. Which we have interpreted to be eight years old. So although Ada’s birthday was a big deal, it was the baptism that took center stage. All the grandparents flew into town, which was nice. I don’t think we’ve ever had that happen before here in Texas.

Ada was the only person in the ward turning eight this month so we asked if the baptism could be held when it worked out schedule-wise for all the relatives. Which turned out to be on Ada’s actual birthday. It seemed a charming idea for the baptism to be held on her birthday but let me tell you, NOT the best idea.

Baptism traditions differ from place to place but here we have the baptism which is followed by cookies and punch. Since the baptism isn’t part of church, not as many people come. We had about 60 people which is a pretty good turnout. Being a snobby baker I made all the cookies myself. All 250 of them. Interspersed with cookie making I had to make a birthday cake and a birthday breakfast. Mister made the birthday lunch, so that was one less thing for me to worry about. Then we had to do presents.

Basically by Sunday evening I was bone-tired.

I had been planning all along on making Ada’s baptism dress. After doing hours and hours of research, however, I just couldn’t find a dress/pattern/fabric that I liked better than the dupioni silk dresses I’d made for India and Arabella. While most Mormon girls wear a white dress for their baptisms, that’s nothing more than a tradition. Our family likes to be just a smidge different. Heaven knows it would have been a jillion times easier to find a white dress with Communion season upon us. Pretty white dresses are a dime a dozen. But that’s not how we roll, so I talked Ada into wearing India’s old dress. (It wasn’t hard. I just said, “Doesn’t this blue dress match your eyes perfectly?” And Ada was all over it. She’s very proud of her blue eyes.) The hem had to be let out a bit since India had been so shrimpy, but it worked out perfectly in the end.

Here’s the silly thing about the dress: the girl doesn’t actually get baptized in it. Since we do what Jesus did, that means actual immersion under water. Dresses usually float to the top of the water so years ago the church switched to providing white jumpsuits for the baptizees. The dress (or suit if it’s a boy) is worn to the baptism and changed into immediately after the baptism itself for the rest of the event. It’s not like they’re expected to walk around in some soaking wet thing all day.

The service was just lovely. Mister performed the baptism and the confirmation afterwards where the gift is given of having the Holy Ghost as a constant comapanion. There was an awkward moment during the talk about baptism that my mother was giving where I halfway expected her to start talking about the birds and the bees, but other than that it was perfect. Mister and I tried to get a few pictures with the birthday girl but after only one my iphone decided it had had enough. So here is our one memento that Mister and I were both at our sweet Adelaide’s baptism.

 

 

Is it still called Sweet Sixteen when it’s for a boy? Doubtful. So let’s say that my oldest boy York just had his Super Sixteenth birthday. It ended up being on a Sunday and that is not a fun day for Mormons to have a birthday. We are strict Sabbath observers (meaning we don’t go out to eat or to movies. Even if it’s a special occasion.) So York ended up having an entire birthday weekend. Mister’s parents were in town so it was nice to have them around. My sister-in-law was also visiting (different side of the family but they all live in Portland so how coincidental is that? Especially since my sister-in-law has never even been to Austin before.)

York is my easiest-going child. India was pretty easy and I thought she was a dream until I had York. What a golden baby. He’s been mellow and pleasant since the day he was born. My pediatrician told me not to worry about waking my babies up to feed them, “when they’re hungry, they’ll let you know,” he said. When I took York in for his 3-month check up his weight had gone from the 20th percentile (my babies are always scrawny) to the 3rd. Being an insecure new-ish mother I put my head down on the paper covering on the table and sobbed. “He never cries!” I blubbered, “so I thought he was never hungry.”  The doctor reassured me that I wasn’t a bad mother and to feed him a little more often.

York caught up in weight and has been growing madly ever since. He’s 6′ tall now and looks to keep going.

York has a wacky, extraverted personality. He loves to talk and usually wanders the room as he speaks.  His can-do personality means that will do anything you ask him to without complaining. I know most mothers wish their children to be smart or good-looking, but hard-working and not-complainy is much, much better. He’s had a hilarious sense of humor since he was tiny and I enjoy him to pieces. I don’t know what I did to luck out and get this kid.

PomsCeilingTitle, Tissue Paper Pom Pom Flower Tutorial
Tissue paper poms are my absolute favorite party decoration. They are cheap and big and make a lot of impact. Unlike helium balloons, these can be made weeks ahead of time. I thought everyone knew how to make tissue paper poms but I’ve had person after person ask me how to make them so I figured a tutorial is in order. The poms I’m making are with paper that is 20″ wide. Once the edges have been trimmed and they’re fluffed up, they’re about 16 inches wide. These are frightfully easy. Like, elementary school easy.

The first and most important thing you need is tissue paper. I buy mine in bulk from Nashville Wraps. They have every color imaginable and it’s really fantastic quality at a good price. But most people don’t want to go to that much trouble. You can use any tissue paper you like but keep in mind that most tissue paper is pretty chintzy, flimsy and small. You’ll need more sheets of the cheap stuff to achieve the same look.  Just how much? The tissue from Nashville Wraps is 20×30″. Since those are pretty big, thick sheets you’ll need less. I can get away with 9-10 sheets per pom. The average tissue paper you can buy at the store (say a 99¢ pack of eight sheets from Party City) is smaller (20×24″) and thinner. So you’ll need about 12 sheets to get the same effect.  You don’t have to use that much, but if you don’t your poms will look a little anemic and lackluster. If it’s a party full of screaming 4-year olds then maybe you don’t care so much. But if it’s for a wedding or a party where there will be actual people who will notice, you might want to splurge. It averages out to about 1.5 packs per pom. Honestly it’s not going to break the bank.

You’ll also need floral wire (I use 26 gauge but pretty much any thin wire will do), clear fishing line and clear push pins.

Tissue paper pom materials

 

Your first step will be to lay the tissue paper out with the corners nice and even. You’ll fold your paper up like a fan. (I think I made a fan out of the church program every single week until I was about twelve. So I’m pretty much an expert.) First fold the paper one way, then flip the whole stack over and fold the other way. I’m sure everyone knows how to do this. If you don’t, well, maybe throwing a party is not your biggest concern.  The important thing is to make the folds about 1.5-2 inches wide. Not any wider than this. Trust me, OK?

Tissue Paper pom folding

 

If you get to the end and there’s not quite enough to make another complete fold, just bend it underneath anyway. It will look fine. When you’re done, you’ll have an accordion-ish thing like this.

Tissue Paper accordion

 

Once it’s folded you’ll trim both sides. I prefer cutting mine to a point but you can also cut the edges so that they’re rounded. Rounded edges look a little more flowery and feminine. Points are a bit more dramatic. The tissue will probably be too thick to cut all at once so just cut a few sheets at a time. There is no need to be all perfect and OCD about this. Once the poms are fluffed up and hanging from the ceiling nobody will notice any details.

Tissue Paper pointy

 

Now grab a floral wire. You don’t need the wires to be super long, so I usually cut mine in half so they’re 9-10″. Bend the piece of wire in half.

Tissue pom wire

 

Slide the wire onto your folded tissue paper right in the center.

Tissue Pom folded

 

Now twist the edges of the wire together. You don’t want to make the wire too snug around the paper. It should be a bit loose; the puffball will be easier to fluff that way.

Tissue pom twisted wire

 

Now you’ll bend the wire over to make a loop. Take the loose ends and wrap them around the bottom to secure the loop. You’ll be hanging the pom from this.

Tissue pom loop

 

The easiest time to attach the fishing line for hanging is while the pom is still folded up. So take a piece of fishing line that’s about 10′ long and put it through the wire loop. Unless your ceilings are outrageously high, this will be plenty long. Better to cut the line too long than not long enough.

Tissue fishing line

 

Once the fishing line is through the loop, hold both ends together and tie them in a knot. This will keep the line from squiggling out at some point. Finding the wire loop again is a total pain once your pom is fluffed up, so make sure it’s a nice tight knot.

Tissue Pom knot

 

Now it’s fluffing time! Just a reminder that tissue paper is incredibly easy to rip. No duh, right? But I guarantee that at some point you will tear the paper. Just take it slow and easy. Start by gently lifting the top sheet of paper away from the others.

Tissue pom fluffing

 

The first piece or two should go straight up. The easiest way to do this without ripping the paper is to put your pointy and middle fingers on each side of a fold. Slide them from the outside of the pom towards the middle.

Tissue pom finger slide

 

Do this with about four layers of paper on both sides of the loop.

Fluffing tissue paper pom

 

Then flip the pom over and repeat until the whole thing is a big fluffy ball. Puff it up until it looks full and gorgeous.

Tissue Paper Pom Flower Tutorial

When you’re ready to hang your poms, it’s as simple as dragging a ladder around and sticking pushpins in the ceiling. It’s ever so helpful to have someone on the ground telling you if the poms are hanging at the right height. There actually is no “right height”. If they’re too low, you’re merely inviting all small children to try to jump up and hit them. I think about about 7 feet off the ground is nice so that tall fellows don’t get bopped in the head.

Tie the fishing line from each pom onto the pushpins and you’re all set. I bet you’ll be so thrilled you’ll consider leaving the poms up long after the party has ended.

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May and June will be bringing us our last two birthdays of the Season (“the Season” spans from December-June with a birthday every month).

As bad luck and poor planning will have it, both children are due for a birthday party. Arabella (turning 11) hasn’t had one for three years and Jasper (turning six) has never had one. You will either think me very mean or very smart for that.

I took a couple of party planning classes at the Snap conference. Party planning, laundry and growing plants are really my weakest areas. Actually, I always throw really fun parties; it’s just that I’m a horrendous procrastinator and I end up stressed out and overspent (literally and figuratively).

So this year I’m planning ahead. Well, planning ahead is relative. I planned the themes and got the invitations three weeks in advance. I have also gotten my two children to agree to the same color scheme for both parties (turquoise and lime).  That means I can get all the same party stuff and just change the accents. Good thinking, me!

This year the parties will be at home. I cannot afford all the Chuck E. Cheese/Bouncy House/Bowling Alley nonsense. We are going to leave the decorations up for a whole month to cover both parties. Not even joking. Who hasn’t wanted to leave dozens of tissue paper flowers hanging from their ceiling for weeks at a time? Its fun and festive! And they kind of match my decor.

I got the new Amy Atlas party planning book from Amazon last week (it focuses mainly on the tablescape and food items)

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It is so fantastic. It’s full of pictures, DIY options, recipes and party planning secrets that are brilliant and I’d never heard of before (You can and should buy the book here.) For the book I can thank the Fairy Hobmother. He is a man-fairy from Appliances Online who flits about the blogosphere bestowing Amazon gift cards on lucky readers. He was nice enough to shine his fairy wand on me. And with my gift card I bought my party planning book (and a marvelous set of mixing bowls).  If you leave me a comment, the Fairy Hobmother might visit you too! It’s totally legit. I have the mixing bowls to prove it.

Anyhoo, I’m off to buy tissue paper and color coordinating gum balls.

 

I was compensated for my Amazon gift card and will get oodles of money if you buy the Amy Atlas book through my link.

Over the last week I have had about a quatrillion things going on in my life including volunteering at three schools (which I generally avoid because it pushes me to my limits), all sorts of church meetings, prom dress shopping, drivers license tests requiring two separate trips to the DMV (But I now have a child who is legal to drive! All I have to do is cough up an extra $100 per month for insurance!), book club, track meets, helping Mister make breakfast for the entire ward (homemade waffles with two kinds of homemade syrup), doing all the Easter crap and celebrating Ada’s birthday.

Oh yes, and I spent four hours picking nits out of people’s hair because ALL MY CHILDREN HAVE LICE. (OK, not India. She’s cured).  I also did the treatment where everyone’s hair is doused in olive oil and wrapped in plastic wrap. They must sit like this for three hours. And then everyone has to wash their hair two or three times to get all the oil out. And then nits must be picked. Basically, it was the worst Friday night I’ve ever had in my life. I was done with life by the time I went to bed.

Poor Ada had her birthday the next day. Because I could not get my act together after my long and gruelling week, I did not make a special lunch for her. She picked Chick-Fil-A as her meal of choice (We have started ordering the 64 pack of chicken nuggets for our family. It’s a little surreal).  I also didn’t make a special dinner. Instead I got chips, salsa and creamy jalapeno dip from Chuy’s Tex Mex. Ada doesn’t even like Chuys. But I do.

I did not even make a cake.  I actually took my kids to the cupcake shop and had everyone pick out a cupcake. I can’t get over how loserish I feel about this. Pretty much like the worst/laziest/most selfish mother ever. I simply could not muster up the energy. To my credit, though, I made rainbow cupcakes from scratch for Ada to take to school the day before.

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And then there was Easter.

Something about the Resurrection makes people want to eat pork. Everyone here was so insistent about not wanting ham, though. They’re entirely sick of it, it appears. So I made this instead. Nothing says Easter dinner like bacon.

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I ran another trillion errands today. My kids had a five day weekend and are finally going back to school tomorrow. I love them but they get on my nerves when they’re covered in blood-sucking bugs.  The good news is that the olive oil and high-quality lice comb have worked beautifully so they’re off to school in the morning!

Today is the 7th birthday of my youngest girl, Adelaide Amelia Clementine.  For her birthday she asked for a skateboard, a Texas Longhorns T-shirt, new tennis shoes, and a basketball hoop that is more her size. Can you say tomboy? (Sweet shot, Ada!)

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Finn, on the other hand, did not want to try out the skateboard or even attempt a basket. This is what he did instead.

 

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Not sure what to make of all this. Maybe that my kids do have one thing in common: they’re all strange.