Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lightning In A Bottle

Joel often teases me that I grew up in the 1950's when I share stories of my childhood, full of scavenger hunts and "Kick The Can" until sunset.  What it took him some time to understand, however, was that my childhood was a typical Iowa childhood in the '80s, and that nostalgia is what pushes me to let my kids experience so many of the same things.

A few nights ago, as the kids played outside until the sun started to go down and the lightning bugs came out in full force, I remembered how on hot summer nights, I would occasionally catch a firefly and place it in a jar with some leaves and sticks-- a veritable lightning bug habitat, if you will, and cover the top with a screen to light up my bedroom for a night or two.

(This is not my story of environmental conscientiousness, so please save your objections for some other day when I tell the story about trying to save an injured baby bird by feeding it a feast's worth of bird seed.  Bird seed that turned out to be grass seed.  A good three cups of grass seeds.  This story is nothing.)

After Cael was able to overcome his horror at the thought of his skin being in direct contact with the body of an insect that surely would transmit poison and spear him with stingers and barbs, the race to see who could gently capture a bug or two was on.  As the sky got darker, the task got trickier, but eventually we snared three robust lightning bugs.

This was going to be just like my 1950's childhood.

We placed the bugs in a jar with a little dirt, a little leaves, a little water, a little stick, and a little wood mulch, all of the elements of the great outdoors, and covered the top with one layer of my two-ply paper towel (enough to contain the fireflies but thin enough to let air pass), rubber banded the top on, and nestled in to watch the magic.

Unfortunately, the magic wasn't very magical.  The bugs we caught were a little moody and only lit  up a few times before the boys had to head to bed, so we set the jar on the table and resolved to check it in the morning.

As usual, our morning got busy and it was early afternoon before I remembered to check said jar to release the insects before they died of starvation or overwhelming irritation.  But when I got downstairs, instead of finding a firefly habitat I found an empty jar, a pile of dirt on the carpet, some shredded paper towel, and three suspiciously absent bugs.

All of that and one very shady two year-old.

So much for catching lightning in a bottle.  Sorry, bird.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Perfect Game

My family is a baseball family.

Being the only female on the premises, my suggestions for using mani/pedis, blogging, or "meandering aimlessly around Target" as our signature family activity were widely discounted and immediately vetoed.

So, you know, baseball it is.

Sometimes that is tough for a girl like me.  I'm about as un-athletic as it gets, so if I wanted to participate in my family aside from cooking and cleaning and removing doorstops wedged in the floor vents, I was going to have to find my own baseball niche.

Occasionally I will play catch with Cael, but at eight years old he already knows so much more about baseball than I ever will, and he gets quickly frustrated when I ask him for the umpteenth time, "What is an error, again?"

I still don't know.  I think it has something to do with wearing white jerseys after Labor Day, but I could be wrong.

We are lucky enough to have a big backyard with an enormous play-set and a wiffle ball field lovingly carved into the grass, so there is rarely need to go to a park when we have many of the same amenities here at home.  I have to admit, however, that when we are so close to home, it's much easier for me to stay in the house and work on laundry or prep for dinner.  But if I'm always watching my boys play from behind the glass, will they grow up thinking that Mom wasn't interested in one of the most important parts of their lives?

I'm not okay with that.

So a few weeks ago, when my husband decided to take the kids to a real baseball field to practice for summer baseball, I decided that my job wasn't to do the dishes, but to come along and find a way to get involved.  Or maybe to prevent a concussion.  Time would tell.

When we inevitably forgot several items and my husband had to run home to retrieve them, I tried to make up baseball-ish activities for the kids to try.

"Run here!  Run there!  Turn the bat sideways and do that bunt... thing."

But when Adler quickly began to run off, I knew that wasn't my role.  I spent a few minutes ignoring baseball and chatting with the boys about the park around us, about the trees and plants nearby.  Adler tried to eat a pinecone, and I was relieved when Daddy returned.

For the next hour, I took photos.

I chased the toddler.
I tossed back the rare home run that flew over the fence.
I hid the pinecones.

In short, I wore myself out without ever getting to play baseball with my boys.  Later that night, as I was tucking the kids into bed, my six year-old, Graham, surprised me.

"Mom, I had so much fun playing baseball with you tonight!"

"But honey, I wasn't even playing.  Why was that fun?"

"You were there!"

As a mom, I know that I have a tendency to plan too much, to try to create moments of "awesome" every single day.  It made me really happy to see that even as my boys grow older, they still just want me around.  Maybe just being there is a home run itself.

...And all it took was a quick game of baseball.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cake Engineering

I'm going to turn 33 soon, and aside from knees that crack when I stand and that one hair that keeps growing in stark white right in the front of my head, I still feel young.

Or I did, that is, until my oldest nephew Ryan graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago.  I knew it was coming, but while watching him shake the hands of the friends and family, I realized that this baby my sister once had is now a legal adult.  Old enough to vote.  Responsible for himself.  Moving out.

Ryan at about 6 years old.
And I, therefore, feel about one graduation ceremony older than dirt.

I would also like to take this opportunity to issue the following executive order to my other three nephews:  Ethan, Keaton and Jared-- from this point onward I am subtracting five years from your current age and you will not be permitted to age.  I apologize if this causes any inconvenience.

I was asked to make a cake for the festivities, and since Ryan is entering the Engineering program at ISU in the fall, my sister suggested that something with gears would fit the theme.  I considered a number of options.  I could make a few cakes that are all independently gear-shaped, but I knew that covering those uniquely shaped cakes in fondant would surpass my skills.  Once it was determined that I would make one centerpiece cake and supplement with additional cake, I thought about making several sheet cakes to feed additional guests, but I knew that the more cake I had to decorate, the less time I'd be able to devote to making the gear cake really awesome.

After all, we all know that I do my best "caking" after midnight, but I'm only one person.  Trying to feed one hundred.  

With that math in my mind, I decided to order three trays of 24 cupcakes from HyVee that would be frosted but not decorated.  I'd make the gear cake with what I hoped would look like riveted panels, and cover it with candy melts poured into molds shaped like nuts, bolts and gears.  I'd use the same shaped candy to decorate the cupcakes.


As is always the case, I wasn't able to execute my plan to perfection.  Mixing black and white fondant produced more of a brownish-purple shade, and the addition of a few copper gears to the black and white ones made my intention of "engineering" a metallic looking cake fall short.  But what I ended up with was still pretty cool, and all of Ryan's friends seemed to enjoy it, and his Engineering teacher requested some photos to share with the class.

More than anything, I got to make a cake for my nephew that made him smile.  And you know what's even better?  I stayed up until almost 4am and was still able to walk the next day.  Maybe I'm not so old after all...