Mommy’s Little Helper Monday: Back to School Edition

The first day of school at our house this morning.

The first day of school at our house this morning.

It’s Christmas for mommies!!!! Yes! All over the country moms woke up with a little extra pep in their step. I even dare to say that smiles actually crossed thousands of faces BEFORE they had their coffee. Looking at the three stuffed backpacks and lunches hanging on their hooks in my kitchen this morning  was better than stockings stuffed with diamonds and chocolate. If I could sing without making the dog pee herself from fear, I would be belting out a mash-up of “Get the Party Started” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” I mean, what better way to start a celebration than throwing Pink and Prince together?

Yeah, I parent through embarrassment.

Yeah, I parent through embarrassment.

I decided the only way to truly celebrate is with champagne, so…

The LIbation:

Champagne makes everything better. I believe we should all have adorable leather holsters to wear that are designed specifically to carry a split of bubbly. Louis Vuitton could make a killing producing those (hint hint). Until then we’ll just have to hide them in our purses and bras (if you have big, oddly shaped boobs). I love champagne and even had a pink champagne themed birthday this year. There’s no recipe for it to share, so I thought I’d just post some pics.

Just looking at that makes me feel more girly.

Just looking at that makes me feel more girly.

What every woman should have in her home.

What every woman should have in her home.

What should greet us in the kitchen every morning.

What should greet us in the kitchen every morning.

If looking at these lovely photos don’t make you want to sit back with a glass of nose-tickling bubbles, there is something seriously wrong with you. I’m having trouble concentrating on work now that I’m staring at these. If you want to see more pretty photos and find links to their sources, go to my PInterest board Pink Champagne Party. Look around and enjoy all the sparkly, girly goodness.

Now would be the time for me to pass on some type of useful tip, but I’m all out of time and energy. So I’m going to turn to someone famous to pass on some wisdom that sticks with our bubbly theme.

The Duh-I-Already-Knew-That-Helpful-Tip:

champagne quoteAnd one more quote from one of my literary heroes who obviously knows what he’s talking about.

F. Scott Champagne quote

Advertisements

Confessions of a Crazy Cake Mom (and some other news)

One of the many things that makes my “crazy” show is a birthday. I love planning birthday parties and especially cakes. The fact that my two oldest sons are having birthdays within the next two weeks made me decide to write a quick bit about my sickness surrounding birthday cakes.

My birthday cake made by Leslie's Cakes for my...uhh *cough* 29th birthday. Yeah, 29th. That's the ticket.

My birthday cake made by Leslie’s Cakes for my…uhh *cough* 29th birthday. Yeah, 29th. That’s the ticket.

My mom was great about either making me special cakes or ordering exactly what I wanted. I carried that tradition on with my own kids but am far less likely to hire a professional because, well, because I’m crazy. Now I’m not saying I’m über talented and should open my own little cake business (that would be a nightmare waiting to happen). I just like doing it for my kids.  But I thought I would share with you some of my attempts at birthday cakes and cupcakes over the last few years. You can certainly tell which ones I started on the night before the party and which ones I was icing as the party guests were walking through the door and I was still in a bathrobe. (Now, if you want a great looking/tasting cake by a true pro and live in the North Texas area, you should totally check out Leslie’s Cakes. They are amazing!)

Let’s start with some simple cupcakes I made for my two oldest when they decided to have a beach themed waterpark party (one of the few perks of having summer birthdays).

Beachy fun!

Beachy keen!

The decorations were simple: canned icing with blue coloring topped with little fondant shark fins and starfish. The hardest part of these cupcakes are hidden under the icing. They’re rainbow cakes which meant splitting the batter into several containers, dying them different colors, and spooning them into the cups in layers. It was a little time-consuming but had a nice little “wow” factor when the kids bit into them. (Note: we usually try to avoid dyes because of our ADHD/Autism diet but I throw all that out the window for birthdays. You have to just let kids be kids sometimes.)

Simple decorations on a complicated icing recipe (but so worth the effort).

Simple decorations on a complicated icing recipe (but so worth the effort).

Now these are also very simple cupcakes I made for my youngest son’s first birthday. His nursery was an owl theme and of course that was a year before everyone went owl crazy and you could buy it everywhere. I stuck with the theme for his birthday, using the colors in his room and simple fondant owls I cut out with an x-acto (is that right?) knife. The star of this was the icing. It’s a homemade batch of browned butter frosting that’s recipe I got from Martha Stewart. It is freakin’ awesome!! First birthdays are more about the adults anyway so I used this icing recipe knowing it wouldn’t be a favorite with the little one. He did his obligatory duty as a one-year-old and smeared it in his hair and everywhere else before crying over our singing.

Now, here are some cakes I did that are certainly half-ass. I call them “cheat sheets” because I go buy a plain sheet cake from our local Market Street and then decorate them myself. This method insures that I have a nice smooth surface for the base, allows me to spend my time doing the fun part, and keeps me from shanking folks.

Fondant Angry Birds I made myself ont top of a bought sheet cake.

Fondant Angry Birds I made myself ont top of a bought sheet cake.

A last minute monster cake built on top of a bought sheet cake.

A last minute monster cake built on top of a bought sheet cake.

I made smaller cakes at home using what I call a "boob pan" and just iced the crud out of them.

I made smaller cakes at home using what I call a “boob pan” and just iced the crud out of them.

I made candy clay with Candy Melts and corn syrup (so much easier than fondant) for the belt to celebrate my son's first rank up in karate.

I made candy clay with Candy Melts and corn syrup (so much easier than fondant) for the belt to celebrate my son’s first rank up in karate.

And now for my masterpiece. This is hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made and I imagine it has something to do with the fact that I actually made it the night before the party. We hired a local wildlife educator name Critterman to come to our home with lots of creepy crawlies. It was a fantastic party. The kids got to learn about a lot of animals and even touch them. My oldest son LOVED chameleons so I went with it and this is what he got…

Chameleon and spider cake complete with a Zinger branch.

Chameleon and spider cake complete with a Zinger branch.

I’m darn proud of the cake even if it’s technically a “cheat sheet.” I baked a round cake that I cut up to make the body of the chameleon and some more of the “boob” cakes to make the spider and leaves. Zingers made the perfect branch and I had to cheat and use pipe cleaners for the spider legs. Obviously it was mixing all of the different colors and doing thousands of little stars that took up the most time, but it paid off.

Isn't he pretty?!?

Isn’t he pretty?!?

And that was a peek into my craziness when it comes to birthday cakes. I’ve had requests for Minecraft, Legos and Adventure Time for these upcoming parties. I’ll past what I end up doing. Now…ON WITH AN IMPORTANT NEWS BULLETIN!!!!

First, I’ve already bragged and gloated on my primary blog that my parody, Fifty Shades of Puddin’

received an unexpected but amazing review on Villara Noir. It got me pumped, so I posted two excerpts from the prequel The Hunger Camp. Go check them out of you want a laugh. Amazon (Kindle) has decided to mark my book down to a buck for some reason (they reserve the right to change your price at their discretion), so go buy a copy and I’ll take that $0.35 royalty and go on a crazy spending spree!! Anyway, my loss but your gain, right?

Second, I’m taking a break from blogging for about 2 weeks. With two birthdays, travel, the end of school, and looming deadlines on real writing projects, I have to take a step back. I’ll be back the first of June with lots of summer-saving tips drink recipes.

Confessions (of my inner White-trash)

I have enough embarrassing photos of my children to keep my life with boys series going for a decade, but I get bored pretty easily (You did catch that whole ADD thing about me, right?). So I’m going to mix it up and embarrass myself, too. While rummaging around on the internet for healthy recipes to cook for my family (I can hear my husband laughing all the way from his office), I came across this little thing called a Challenge Meme. Essentially it challenges a blogger or anyone with an internet account that gives them the ability to annoy others from great distances (Facebook, Twitter, and the particularly horrifying Twilight fan fiction sites–we must never forgive them for birthing 50 Shades of Grey), a prompt to write about everyday.

There are lots of them out there ranging from the mundane to the insanely specific. We’re talking everything from writing and drawing challenges, to crazy shit like organizing and green smoothie challenges, to the little bit pathetic ones like Justin Bieber and Spongebob. I’m not sure I really want to know what’s involved in a 30 day Justin Bieber challenge and I’m pretty sure that 30 days of green smoothies would also be classified as a 30 days on the toilet challenge. But back to my point, this idea appeals to me. My ADD loves it some lists. It wants to be organized and a list with specific, attainable goals, tickles the shit out of it. It gets all giddy like when it used to take tests in school. There was no way my ADD could make it through hours of mind and butt-numbing homework, but it thrived on tests. They were short and required hyperconcentration. If my ADD hadn’t rocked it out on the ACT I would have never gotten a scholarship, which means I probably would have never gone to college, which means I could have very well ended up a stay-at-home mom with a blog…Uh…hmmm….Just give me a sec to run down to the liquor cabinet and numb that pesky part of my brain that likes to do things like make realizations….

Trailer 3

…Ok, all better. Back to this challenge idea. I’ve decided to do a 30 post challenge about confessions. I’m not sure why that’s what popped up, maybe it’s the new Pope; but I think it could be fun. I can embarrass myself and my family, and you get to laugh and be thankful that I’m not responsible for your care. So let’s get down to business with my first installment.

Confessions of my Inner White-trash

I was born in Tennessee and raised in Arkansas. I’ve never lived in a trailer or a shack. We were poor but we weren’t poor white trash. I had shoes I just chose not to wear them as often as I should have, and we certainly ate beans and cornbread on occasion. People assume that all Arkansans are hillbillies and rednecks, but I’m going to give you a quick lesson on the classification system of Southern crackers (white folks, not saltines).

Country: People known as “country folks” are good people who’ve come from a long line of people who made their living off the land or doing manual labor. They may not be educated but they’re smart, often wise. They love God and their family above all else. They typically aren’t very worldly but they don’t see a need to be. They enjoy simple things but they are not above leaving cars, old washers, or even school buses out on the back of their property to rust away. My extended family would be classified as this (including the school bus).

Rednecks: These are country people who like the finer things in life, which mostly means things with big wheels that you can drive through the mud. They are louder and more brass than country folks. I even dare to say that many lack some of the manners of the country folks. They are more apt to be in your face, sometimes with a gun. What they lack in refinement they make up for with ingenuity.

Trailer Trash (AKA: poor white-trash): These folks are pretty much the dumb cousins that the country folks and rednecks couldn’t stand to be around. They don’t have the wisdom of the country folks or the drive of the rednecks. They don’t need no school or nothin’! They like their life of government cheese, brawls with gas station hookers who stole their money, and visiting the jail more than once a year. Not all people who live in trailers meet the qualifications to be trailer-trash. It takes a special brand of stupid to make this cut. (side note: there are way more trailers in Florida than Arkansas.)

Hillbillies: Take the poor white-trash, move their trailer to a mountain and replace their Pearl beer with some moonshine. Give them a possum coat for good measure.

Now, I don’t think I fit into any of these categories but you can’t grow up in this rainbow of diversity and not have it rub off on you. So, here is the proof that somewhere down deep inside there is a Country-Redneck-White-Trash hybrid that occasionally gets my ADD drunk on some canned Coors and influences its creativity. And here is the proof that will probably provoke my husband to go into hiding:

When your inner white trash gets a hold of your ADD it will tell you that a perfectly good substitution for having to drag your kids, a caravan of shit, and your bloated self down to the pool is to create your own waterpark in the back yard…

Come on down to Wild Bucket Country! Free pork rinds with every admission.

Come on down to Wild Bucket Country! Free pork rinds with every admission.

When you actually get snow in Dallas (which never freakin’ happens), your inner White-trash will help you engineer a snowsuit from hand-me-downs and recycled crap from the garage…

"Mama, I'm goin' back to the igloo-trailer for my possum blanket and a hot beer."

“Mama, I’m goin’ back to the igloo-trailer for my possum blanket and a hot beer.”

(Yes, those are latex gloves from the garage over his mittens secured with masking tape. Target bags over his double-socked feet with more tape. Ain’t no snow gonna keep my boy from havin’ fun with his cousin-brothers.)

When Christmas comes around and you have a toddler who wants to pull the Christmas tree down over and over again, your inner white-trash will help you rig that sucker up to withstand a F1 twister with nothing more than a Lego table, an empty crate, and some twine. Your children will then dress for the theme…

"Mama, can we make more of those fancy ornaments out of fishin' lures and beer cans?"

“Mama, can we make more of those fancy ornaments out of fishin’ lures and beer cans?”

Well, there you go. You can take the girl out of Arkansas but you can’t take Arkansas out of the girl. If you want to witness the depths of my inner white-trash please go buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Puddin’. Who doesn’t want their erotic love stories to take place in a trailer park? (Yes, another shameless plug so I can support myself when my husband divorces me.)

Life With Boys– part deux

Maybe I should title that “Number 2”, as in the secret bathroom code developed by our ancestors before they were even walking without the aid of their knuckles. Yep, nothing that has even the slightest link to poop will escape a boy. Crap and crapping is considered highbrow art in the world of the male child. They set up miniature think-tanks under the monkey bars at school to hold summits about how many ways they can talk about it . If you want to get the attention of a boy under the age of 15 simply work in the word poop, crap, pooh, poo-poo, dookie (how they hell do you even spell that), or whatever else they call it into a conversation.

Let’s say you’re lecturing telling demanding begging them to clean their room. All they hear is blah…blah…BLAH…BLAH…sound of muffled sobs…blah…blah… sound of wine bottle being opened…blah blah. But if you slip “pile of stinky poop” in right before you get to the important stuff, you’ll have their attention.

I’m not sure why I’ve started this off with a discussion on poop. I guarantee that my ADD is involved since it saw “part deux” and chased it down a shiny bunny trail, but it could also have to do with the fact that our house that normally contains 3 functioning bathrooms is currently down to one–mine. There was apparently a leak going on under my boys’ upstairs toilet (a bathroom that’s odor reminds you of a primate house on a scorching summer day) for some time. We didn’t realize it until we found a puddle in the bathroom below it and the paint peeling in there and the living room. Anyway, the floors are torn out and that leaves 4–FOUR people with male genitalia using my bathroom. Insurance doesn’t understand that some people’s safety could greatly depend on how fast they get that check cut.

Just how upset would our HOA be if I built this in the yard?

Just how upset would our HOA be if I built this in the yard?

But enough about poop and bathrooms, let’s get to some more photographic evidence of what living with boys looks like.

When you’re a mom of boys your son will decide…

Who can resist a sparkly wedge that gives your calves some extra lift?

Who can resist a sparkly wedge that gives your calves some extra lift?

…. that your sequined flip-flops are ideal for a leisurely spin on his bike.

When you’re a mom of boys you’ll discover that a little thing like a nosebleed…

"This tastes a little salty."

“This tastes a little salty.”

…will not keep them from enjoying a fine PBJ.

When you’re a mom of boys one of them will eventually beg to make pancakes by himself, and because your drinking (3 boys, remember?), you’ll agree. If it’s your artistic child he’ll make a doughy replica of a minature weenie dog…

IMG_0499…but he’ll also make something else in the “weenie” family…

IMG_0430

He’ll then try to convince you it’s an elephant, but you will not be fooled because you’ve never seen him think an elephant was so freaking funny.

Happy Friday!!

A Tale of Three Amaryllis

During a hurried rush through Lowe’s at the beginning of December, I came across a display of Amaryllis kits. They were cheap, easy, and would satisfy my need to do something interactive with my kids that didn’t involve glue, glitter, or anything else that would send at least one of them into tears and me to the liquor cabinet. I grabbed 3 boxes and headed home for some  seasonal bonding with my boys.

I was pleasantly surprised how excited they actually were about the project. Each picked a box and opened it up to pull out the little gold pot, the disk of dehydrated potting soil (at least I think that’s what it was) and their bulb. They immediately began to compare the bulbs to see who’s was biggest (apparently men start this behavior at even the earliest ages). My oldest son’s bulb was the only one that actually had leaves already sprouting and this pushed him ahead of the other’s in the “King of Amaryllis” competition. I found myself secretly happy about his good fortune. You see, Carson is my autistic son and he always seems to draw the short straw in so many things. He’s even told me himself that he’s just “an unlucky guy.” It breaks my heart on a daily basis so when even the slightest break or advantage comes his way, I find myself thankful.

So the boys get to work on putting their “dirt disk” in the pot and pouring water over it. They use a fork to break it apart and even I am a little amazed at how much soil is produced. We get the bulbs planted and line the three little pots on the window seat for some sun. We go about our business and let nature take over.

The plants start to grow. The one belonging to my oldest son, Carson, grows first because of its headstart, but Max’s and Cole’s are hot on its heels. Within a matter of a couple of weeks, Max’s has shot up past everyone’s and Cole’s is the first to form a bud. Carson’s continues to stay in the same place, not wilting, not growing, not budding. This continues until the week after New Year’s when Max’s (that has grown so tall it requires a stake to stand up) blooms. Cole’s (that has grown a second stalk) also blooms; but Carson’s, the one that started out strong, stays in the exact same state it started in. This bothers me–a lot. I find myself giving his plant special treatment. I check its soil everyday and carry it from window to window for extra sun while I leave the other two on the mantel to fend for themselves. I talk to the plant. I take it outside. I give it extra water. I fret over it. I do all of this until I realize that I’ve come to think of this flower as a symbol of my son, an extension of him. I want the plant to thrive so badly because I want him to thrive so badly. I want him to be the “King of Amaryllis” just once in his life.

This realization makes me step back and look at all three of the plants.  The plant belonging to Max, my middle son, is the one that has shot towards the sky, full of life and drive. The multiple red blooms have exploded on the end of the stem like some sort of botanical firework. This plant has mirrored its owner. It’s showy and beautiful. It fought hard to earn the attention of anyone and everyone that steps in the room. The bright red blooms are loud and bright but they’re also soft and sweet. This showboat of a blossom gives this air of confidence by defying gravity, but it’s weaknesses show too. It’s balanced on such a long, thin stem that it leaves the flower very vulnerable and even requires the support of a stake to keep it standing. This flower is Max. He is the cute kid with the dimples, whose sense of humour keeps everyone laughing. He’s naturally gifted in sports, theatre and art. Everyone is drawn to Max. But he’s also dyslexic, has ADHD, and riddled with self-doubt and anxiety. He is always standing on a tight wire, exposed to the wind that can so easily dislodge him from his perch. It takes constant support to keep him reminded that he is amazing and beautiful, just like his flower.

Cole’s flower has two strong stalks, not nearly as tall as Max’s, but both in bloom. This plant has baffled me the most because of its 3-year-old caretaker’s personal spin on the art of gardening. One morning he decided that if a stalk can come out of a bulb then surely it could go back in. He grabbed hold of it and pushed it down until the stem split in the middle, somehow still leaving the bud intact. I actually got mad at him and put the plant up where he couldn’t reach it, scolding him that now his plant would die. I quickly stopped myself, looking at his sad little face that clearly didn’t understand. I felt horrible and changed my entire tone; telling him we would have to take special care of the flower now to make him better (the entire time thinking the plant was compost). I had to analyze why I’d reacted so harshly and realized that I was already foreseeing the tantrum that would take place along with actual heartache when his flower died and the others bloomed. But the plant didn’t die. In fact, it dug in its stubborn heels and screamed “I’ll show you!” by sprouting a second stem. This is Cole. He is the child that no matter what distraction, reward, or punishment you use, once he has his sights on something, he will stop at nothing to get it. If you close a door, he finds an open window. If it isn’t open, he uses a brick he fashioned out of legos to break the glass. He is wicked smart and stubborn as a mule. We’ve said since his arrival that we prayed he’d use his powers for good, not evil or he’d be cracking safes by the time he was 4 and pinning the crime on his brothers. But where Cole can be a strong force of nature, he can also be the most loving, beautiful boy on earth. He melts my heart everyday when he will out of the blue take my hand, kiss it and say very sincerely, “Mommy, I just love you.”

That leaves Carson’s flower; the one that’s breaking my heart. It looked like it had the most potential in the beginning. Even in the darkness of its box it had managed to sprout and grow despite its lack of water and sun. I’m baffled and unsure of what else I can do to get it past the point it has stayed stagnant at for the past several weeks. The plant is green and looks strong, so I just can’t understand what’s slowing it down. I finally remember that a strong claim was printed on the outside of the box, “Guaranteed to Bloom.” They must be pretty sure of themselves to make that kind of claim. I mean, why is this plant not blooming? Why did we get the “broken” plant?

That’s when everything stops: my thoughts, my frustration, my anger. I realize that as parents we often have this unspoken idea of an imagined stamp across our newborn babies, “Guaranteed to Bloom.” Secretly, down deep, we all think that our children will come out perfect and ready to dazzle the world. I guess I was guilty of this too. It’s not something you want to readily admit, because you love your child so much that you never want to discount that. And it’s that love that propels you forward when you find out that something wasn’t quite right with your child. You tend to them every way you can. Just like giving the flower extra love, sun, and water; you give your child specialists, therapy, diets, prayers, hugs, tears, sleepless nights, and your soul if you could. I know, because I’ve done all of that. And Carson has made tremendous strides. He improves every year, but when compared to the others in his class, he’s stunted. He doesn’t bloom.

So I sit on the floor and cry as I stare at the flower and ponder all of these thoughts. I let myself grieve over my failings, my weaknesses, his struggles. I grieve for the life I’m sure he’ll never have. The “simpler” life  that I’ll never have. That’s when my second wave of realization hits me hard and puts everything in focus. This little green plant is a miracle and so is my son. Just like the plant, he has survived in a dark , scary box; a box called autism. He fought for his life from the beginning and even with ups and downs, he set roots and continued to grow. It was slower than the rest, but it was growth. He stood tall, withstood test after test; some medical and some more personal like the playground. He didn’t buckle, he didn’t wilt–he stood. He continues to stand everyday and continues to grow even though the naked eye of a stranger might not catch it. He is quiet and doesn’t cry over the injustices of his life. Even when looking at the three flowers and realizing he chose the “unlucky” one again, he just turns and goes on his way. Just like his plant, he doesn’t have any showy red blooms to flaunt or bring attention to himself, but maybe that’s what’s most beautiful about him. He’s survived and continues to do it everyday. Others might not see the invisible blossoms he carries: strength, perseverance, kindness, and love, but I do. To me, he’s the Amaryllis King.

And I go on to think about my other two son’s and how amazing they are. I remind myself that they need just as much tending as Carson. Their own qualities mix to make an amazing bouquet and even their “weeds” of flaws make the arrangement more interesting. And my final realization is that for a person that completely lacks a green thumb, I have the most beautiful garden in the world.