Rally the Troops

Sometimes a seemingly random occurrence is actually preparing us for something further down the road. Maybe much further.

This dawned on  me tonight as a large bat was swooping around my workplace. Said workplace is a house but, still, bats = Not Cool! Not cool at all. But luckily I was prepared because I’ve dealt with bats in the house before (my own house that time and it really was not fun). While my coworker was legitimately freaking out I knew exactly what to do. (Open one door, turn off all the lights except by that door, and try to gently direct the bat out if it isn’t finding the exit on its own. In case you were wondering.) And, although it was a terrifying ten to fifteen minutes, we had the bat out in ten to fifteen minutes. Had I not had previous bat encounters this night could have been a lot worse. I’m not sure I could handle a lot worse right now; just being at work is bad enough.

giant bat

The giant bat: An interaction with him is NOT my ideal night at work.

This week is one of those off the charts crazy weeks. Really it’s been the last two weeks. Last Wednesday, after furiously studying for way less time than I should have, I took the DAT to complete my dental school application. It went decently well and I was extremely relieved to have that out of the way but I had to hit the ground running with graduation open house planning as soon as the test was over.

My oldest son graduated from high school this spring (on my birthday). At the time he was adamant that he did not want an open house. I told him too bad; the open house isn’t for him, it’s for his family and all the people who have supported and encouraged him over the years to celebrate our  his achievements. He reluctantly conceded to a party. I think he realized that I wasn’t backing down on this and he really didn’t have much choice. After being invited to a few of his friends’ & classmates’ open houses he warmed to the idea…especially after he heard how much his one buddy got at his open house. (Apparently he didn’t believe me when I told him people give you money at these things.)

Because of the aforementioned test and my daughter’s horse shows there weren’t any feasible open house dates in June but my son’s 18th birthday fell on a Friday AND it was not one leading up to a work weekend for me. I pitched the idea of a graduation open house/18th birthday celebration to my son and he actually seemed to like it. Well, that weekend is this weekend. The open house is Saturday (technically tomorrow as it’s 3 a.m. right now) and my son’s birthday is…well, now. Unfortunately this not being a work weekend means I’ve worked the seven, maybe eight, days leading up to the weekend (including tonight, obvs). Not short shifts either, ten to twelve hour night shifts. This schedule is really not conducive to preparing for an open house.

Way back at the launch of the open house planning process I emailed my ex husband asking if we could collaborate on this. Not only would that make it more affordable but we could divide and conquer the work. Plus planning an open house together provided an opportunity for a much needed exercise in cooperation for us. Even though we’ve been divorced for three and a half years and separated for over five, there is only bare minimum communication between us and even that is tense and unpleasant. At some point we’ve got to get past that. Our kids can’t have two of everything. I mean, are they going to have two weddings: once for their dad’s family, once for mine??? NO! Sadly though my ex  did not see things the same way and declared that I could do what I wanted and he’d “Celebrate separately”. This, of course, left me running the graduation party show all on my own.

And once again lessons learned in prior life experiences came back around in a real and useful way.

Implementing a graduation party at my house (which is not typically visitor ready) in ten days or less seemed like No Big Deal…until I was staring down the barrel of those ten days. I got a little overwhelmed, paralyzed by how much work there was to get done in a short week that was already full with work. Holy, holy crap!

Just as I was on the brink of sheer panic my instincts kicked in and I did what I do more and more when I need help. I called my mom.

To be fair, a couple people had already asked what I needed help with but I wasn’t even ready to think about that until the DAT was out of the way. But now, roughly a week before Open House day, I needed the help! I’m insanely lucky (blessed?) to have a large, supportive family. Throughout the stressful, somewhat traumatic process of the dissolution of my almost twelve year marriage and the subsequent divorce and custody hearings I learned just how helpful and supportive my family is. We aren’t touchy-feely people, my family; we don’t verbally express our love and appreciation for each other. Not very often and when it does happen it’s a sign of deep concern. But that doesn’t mean those feelings (or whatever you want to call them…talking about feelings so much is starting to make me a little uncomfortable) don’t exist. It’s just that we’re Do-ers, not say-ers. The things we don’t say we show by doing, by being there when needed.

My mom offered to pick up meat and taco seasoning from me and cook all the taco meat (I’m having a taco bar at the party); my youngest sister spent a day and a half cleaning up my house and hacking away at brush in my yard; one of my brothers-in-law is coming over tomorrow to help set up the yard stuff; other people offered to bring something, to contribute. And suddenly I was not alone in this crazy endeavor.

And that is a thing worth remembering. Sometimes all you have to do is reach out and accept the help you need.

graduation selfie

Awkward graduation selfie because, much like the open house, my son was not entirely on board with this.

 

 

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

Annual Christmas Craziness

Like every year (especially since going back to school), the few weeks before Christmas in mid December were Kuh-razy with a capital K. Finals/end of term projects for me and pre-holiday demands and events for the kids have me running around nonstop like the proverbial headless chicken. Because this is an annual thing I’m mostly prepared for it, as much as one can prepare for an already intense life to kick into hyper-speed.

drew-carrey-finals-meme

At one point (Tuesday), less than half an hour before the class period it was due, I was finishing a hefty presentation …from home…forty minutes from campus. All I could think was “How the Eff did this happen?”

elf-finals-meme

At another point, a day or so after the presentation procrastination, I was hustling my cranky kids out of the car to (quickly!) pick out a Christmas tree so we could get to the sledding hill across town where their aunt who was visiting from out of town was waiting for us with some cousins. It was cold, windy and already dark but gosh darn it we were going to get some sledding in. And we did. Just a bit before it was time for me to make dinner for 11 people. Directly following that I squeezed in an hour and half nap and headed to work for the night. Over the next couple of days I got six hours sleep. Total. In a span of 48 hours. I made it to my last test (it could hardly be called a final), attended my little guy’s school holiday concert, got the tree up and decorated before the kids left for the week, finished a paper, and worked another shift before finally crashing for 11 hours straight (and subsequently being an hour late for work Friday night).

But then my semester was officially over and a very strange thing happened…  end-of-finals-week-meme

I had free time. Well, relatively free time.

So I did what any sane person would do and began making some Christmas presents. There was just under a full week and making a list of things I wanted to make was as far as I had gotten.

First there was the Slytherin robe one of my sisters asked if I could make…

I used soap and drew the “pattern” out on the fabric. Other than the sleeves being a bit long (for growing room of course), it turned out perfectly and I expect I’ll see my nephew wearing this for a few years.

my-little-ponies-present

And then there was a random hat made with chunky yarn for my mom, a scarf/cowl thing for my brother’s girlfriend, a “fallen leaves” baggy hat (for the same brother’s girlfriend), and a “Little Sister” hat for my God-daughter. (The other God-daughter got some My Little Ponies but she’s getting an Anna cape for her birthday in January.)

Sadly, I only got pictures of the Little Sister hat. It’s a bit big but should be perfect this spring or fall.

After that it was the holiday.

(Okay, that’s actually the before-Christmas craziness there.)

And that, dear readers, sums up this year’s round of pre-Christmas/finals week craziness.

Yet Another Concert – But I Knew the Band this Time

That’s right I’m a concert going fool lately. I just went to see the Kongos and then another concert opportunity came up. My boyfriend’s friend plays in a band called Stone Clover. They are an Irish Rock Band – check ’em out they even were on the local news.

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/clip/11209614/stone-clover

A party bus was rented and plans were put into place. A friend of mine was invited and ended up getting the stomach flu the day of the concert. Oof. So last minute I was sending out a couple texts so her ticket and seat on the bus didn’t go to waste. My younger cousin, who is also a singer/songwriter, jumped at the chance for last minute fun. He came to meet up with us to head to the bus. Upon entering my car and pushing some CDs out of way he exclaimed “What the hell?! Are you a 13-year-old girl?!”

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I responded the he should shut it and be grateful he was coming with us. He snorted. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be made fun for awhile for Ariana Grande CD – in ways only relatives are capable.

We all had a great night though! Music was awesome, party bus was a blast and the company couldn’t have been better.

Stone Clover playing live

Stone Clover playing live