Saturday, June 26, 2010

Family Fun

This has been a month with a lot of family celebrations and get-togethers. Two first birthdays, one Fathers' Day, one not-quite-first birthday (mine), one Kindergarten Advancement, and one visit from beloved uncles and aunts. Some of these moments have been captured on film, some only in our memories.

We especially loved being able to see Uncle Stuart and Aunt Malia, who have lived in Hawaii for their entire marriage (most of my kids' lives) and whom we don't see very often. They came to visit for five days before they move to Fiji for two years for grad school. It was wonderful to get to know them better, strengthen relationships, and create some memories for the nephews and nieces to reference while they are gone.

With family spread so far and wide, I am grateful for modern technology that allows us to connect easily. Blogging, inexpensive phone calls, Facebook, Skype, and Twitter help us keep track of each other across oceans and miles. Virtual reality is not a perfect substitute for face-to-face interactions, but it sure beats the alternative of going two years with only a few letters and photos crossing the ocean.

We will miss you, Stu & Malia, and save away pennies, hoping that the airlines offer some stupendous deals to Fiji next year. Thanks for taking the time to come for a visit. It will not soon be forgotten!

We took an adults-only day trip into San Francisco while Evan and Tamara and Stuart and Malia were in town. So. Much. Fun.

Colin (my nephew) celebrated his first birthday in style with cousins, aunts, uncles, Nana, and outlaw-grandparents.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Last 84 Minutes

You would think that cleaning up vomit would take away my late-night sweet cravings. You'd be wrong.

84 minutes ago, I was driving home from a book discussion group, thinking about the topics discussed of the Founding Fathers and the balance of powers in government, and thinking about how much I wanted to eat something sweet when I arrived home. I knew I shouldn't have anything, particularly since I had a little leftover birthday cake after lunch and I am trying to maintain my weight loss at the moment. Still, I was considering the vanilla ice cream in the freezer or the chocolate in the high cupboard.

When I got home, I found my three younger kids sleeping peacefully. Jared was watching a World Cup game and getting ready to leave for a late night indoor soccer game. The two older boys hadn't arrived home yet from Cub Scout camp. I contemplated that I would pay the bills and fold some laundry and maybe even have time for my fun book before Jared got home from soccer. The evening stretched out deliciously in front of me and I even forgot about the sugar calling me from the kitchen.

Then, within moments, my dream was shattered. From the girls' bedroom we heard screaming. (I am learning recently that girls really like to scream more than boys do.) I rushed in to find both girls hysterical and vomit (Bronwen's) on the floor by the door. I tried to comfort and clean up Bronwen while Jared tried to clean up the floor and comfort the traumatized baby sister while Bronwen wailed on. Just then, the big boys bounded in, anxious to tell us all about their adventures at camp and to eat at this late hour.

It was time for Jared to leave or his team would have to forfeit their game. I held the crying baby, asked the boys to get ready for bed and just skip a shower because Bronwen was in the bathtub, and rifled through the loads of clean clothes on my bed looking for some pajamas for Bronwen to wear. No luck. Where were they? Meanwhile, Bronwen wailed from the bathtub that she's cold and wants to get out. Finally I found something that would work for her and got her out as I discovered another puddle of vomit that Jared had missed. The baby had to go back in the crib to avoid having her play in it, which only made her sob all the more. A few minutes later, Bronwen was dressed for bed and the puke was cleaned up, but Bronwen wanted me to cuddle her. Margaret was still crying, and the boys wanted something to eat.

I told Bronwen that I couldn't cuddle her, I needed to help Meggie calm down and feed her brothers. She says plaintively, "but Mommy, I need your help," and I can't say no. Instead, I tell her I'll be right back. I ran out to the kitchen and helped the boys find some leftovers to warm up. Ian wandered out, groggy-eyed, and announced that he felt like throwing up. Fantastic. Kimball announced that his goldfish is dead. This was not the time to find me full of sympathy or helpfulness when it comes to a goldfish. Luckily, he seemed to need neither.

I got Meggie calmed down as long as I was holding her, sent Ian back to bed with a throw-up bowl, left Kimball and Henry to eat, and went back to Bronwen's room. She was sucking her thumb and trying to sleep, but still wanted me to cuddle her. I tried to sit by her and stroke her back while still holding the baby, but neither girl was interested in sharing me and I finally left the room with the baby, hoping Bronwen would fall asleep quickly.

This all went on for another 20 minutes or so. At 10:00 pm when all but Henry are in bed, I look at the clock and realize that I'll be lucky to load the dishwasher before Jared gets back, let alone pay the bills and fold the laundry or read my book.

Instead, I remember my sugar craving from earlier and find a chunk of milk chocolate in the high cupboard, which I have with a spoonful of this heavenly stuff. As I eat, I wonder how I can do so after so recently cleaning up after Bronwen's sickness. Then I decide to write a blog post instead of doing any of the work I need to do. There goes another 25 minutes!

Gotta go. Ian just threw up. Something tells me it's going to be a long night.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur

Post Edit: I added a couple more pictures of the birthday girls from my mom's camera. 6/27/10

It seemed like a good idea when I started out. I didn't mean for it to get out of hand. It's just that once the ball is rolling and I am pinched for time (which, let's face it, I always am pushing up against a deadline), I ignore that little voice that tells me "this just won't work" and push on. It's not that deep down I really believe it will work, but something inside me hopes that the vision in my head will become reality, even when all signs point to some other outcome.

I've been planning Meg's first birthday cake (and my 37th) for weeks. Chalk it up to the fact that I spent most of April and May on an uber-restrictive diet with carbohydrates and sugars being gradually added in this week. Oh, and consider that I adore birthdays AND birthday cakes. AND parties. How could I not think about this, the light at the end of the tunnel, while I was depriving myself of practically everything that is good? Needless to say, I planned it out several different ways, but a few weeks back I settled on white cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was going to be perfectly Margaret and perfectly me.

Then yesterday, I started thinking about the fact that I was going to make 3 cakes. After all, the birthday baby needed one of her own, the gluten-free folks in my family needed to be included, and then there were the rest of us. "As long as I'm making three cakes anyway," I said to myself, "I might as well make it a tiered cake."

I imagined, of course, something gloriously wedding-cakish, each tier stacked perfectly atop the last, the filling between the layers thick with white whipped cream and sweet, red strawberries. It was perfectly Meg, perfectly me. I made the layers last night in 3 different sizes and then went off to bed, dreaming of cake.This morning it occurrs to me that there are 6 egg yolks in my fridge (since the white cake only called for the whites) and that sounds like a great start to vanilla custard. "Just what my filling needs!" I decide. I will just put the whipped cream on the outside and the custard and strawberries in the middle. I check out for a recipe and find one that looks easy, delicious, and fast enough to be chilled in time for my cake. Perfectly Meg, perfectly me.
When the custard was finished, it sure seems runny, but I had followed all the directions, down to checking the temperature before taking it off the heat, so it had to be right. I am sure it will thicken up as it cools. And it will be perfect.

Only it doesn't thicken much. I pull it out of the fridge at 11:00 when I can't wait any longer to fill the cake. I look at the recipe again, wondering if this happened to anyone else who had made it. NO REVIEWS? How did this happen to me? Whenever I find a recipe on line, I ALWAYS read the reviews of other cooks. I must have been too distracted by all my birthday well wishers on Facebook. I decide to whip up some heavy cream and fold it in. I am pretty sure that I have done so once before with success, although I can't quite recall where or when. But no worries, the cream will make it perfect.Okay, now it's 11:10 and the cream is folded in. Still a little runny, but the completely irrational and unreasonable side of me is sure that it will thicken on the cake somehow. It has to, because my family will all be arriving in less than 2 hours and lunch isn't ready yet, either. I split the first layer and attempt to spread the custard filling, but it's almost a pour. I add strawberries and some more custard, then the next layer. So far it's not leaking out the sides too terribly. I'm sure it will work because I refuse to listen to the voice in my head screaming, "ABORT MISSION! DITCH THE CUSTARD LIKE A REASONABLE PERSON!"

11:25 I put whipped cream between the next two layers and place my gluten-free layer on. A little bit of custard spills out the sides of the lower layer under the pressure. More custard and strawberries, then the top gluten-free layer and more whipped cream. I begin to consider that this cake might not sit perfectly straight and might even slide right off the bottom layer. I find some wooden skewers and cut them down to just the right height.
11:45 The top layer, the one that I'll take off for the birthday girl to let her eat any way she wants? It is next. By the time I place it on the cake, I'm starting to wonder if I'll be able to ice the sides after all. Maybe we'll just go for the torte look. Can this cake pull it off, or will it just look half-dressed? I thought it was going to be perfect, and now I'm facing the fact that it won't look anything like the cake in my head did. At least it will taste good. That's all my guests really care about, isn't it?

12:00 I finish the cake and very, very carefully find a place for it in my fridge. I wonder if we should have cake first and then lunch afterward, because at this point I'm sure that the cake will slide, melt, or both within a couple of hours. I decide to call it "whimsical". That sounds like I made it look like this on purpose, like I was never even going for the "perfect" look anyway.

12:30 My darling father in law, who had come early to help cut watermelon, tomatoes, avocados, and basically save my hide because lunch wasn't ready, tells me not to be such a chicken and shoves my sliding cake layers back to semi-straight. Hmmm. He says we should definitely eat our hamburgers first, that the cake won't perish in the meantime. I know he only has the nerve to man-handle a cake like that because he didn't put all the time, energy, and ingredients into it, but he's right. It looks much straighter now.
1:15 My husband opens the fridge and says, "What happened to the cake?" I hurry over and find that nothing has happened, I just forgot to warn him that it's "whimsical".

We feast on hamburgers, chips, fresh fruit, and carrots. I'm so glad I resisted the urge to do sweet potato fries and onion rings because when would I have found the time? Now it's time for cake. All eyes turn to Miss Margaret. Will she like it?

She does. And she doesn't seem to care that it's whimsical instead of perfect. In fact, I'm pretty sure that she thinks it is perfect.

As for me, I don't care what the cake looks like-- it's my little Meggie who is perfect. I think about that day, one year ago, when I spent my birthday being poked and prodded, injected and sliced, attached to monitors and praying for her precious life to be spared. It was not a fun birthday last year, but I received a wonderful gift then and it makes my birthday even more special now.
Happy birthday, my Margaret. You couldn't be more perfect to me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Insomnia Strikes

Our Kimball has a tendency to stress out about things that are difficult for him. (Anxiety is a real problem for many kids with Asperger's Syndrome.) One of those things is falling back to sleep when he awakens in the night. At one point we gave him permission to turn on the lights and read when he awoke in the night, but that led to him being awake and reading complete novels between 3am and 7am. So we try to discourage that these days.

A couple of nights ago he came into our room in a panic because he said he had been awake for an hour. It's possible that he had really been awake that long and also possible that he had drifted off and awoken again-- either way he was stressed out and afraid that he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep.

After holding him close and breathing together until I could feel his heart rate slowing down to a more sleep-conducive speed, I made a few suggestions. One, my dad's old standby when we couldn't sleep: "Read the Old Testament. I like Leviticus for insomnia.":) I assured him that it would have quite a different effect than Percy Jackson books did in the middle of the night.

My second suggestion was that he try counting sheep. I explained that he should close his eyes and relax and imagine sheep jumping over a fence. He should count each one until he fell asleep.

The next morning, I asked him if he'd been able to fall back to sleep.

"I did," he replied, "but the counting sheep didn't work out so well."

"Why is that?" I queried, figuring that if he'd fallen asleep, it had worked out great.

"I kept having problems with three or four sheep jumping the fence at the same time and it made them hard to count!"

How do you deal with insomnia yourself, or with your kids? Please share!

Cartoon used with permission from this site.