Friday, June 26, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Five

Decade Five: 2005-2015

We have arrived at the present. It has been an interesting journey to say the least, has it not? A lot changed in the past ten years. My sister discovered her passion for running and found a relationship that fulfills her heart and soul. She sent that adorable little baby from yesterday's post off to college, and he is becoming an incredible young man. I am proud to say that I watched him grow up and introduced him to his first roller coaster. (Technically it was my husband. But I was there!) My family doubled in size, and Chrissy has been there to guide me through the crazy maze that is motherhood.

Now that we are both full fledged adults, we get to have fun together. Family friendly activities like our annual apple picking trip, or not so family friendly activities like wine tours. An awesome trip to Florida where Chrissy and the hubs enjoyed beers of the world at Epcot (photo not included). And Christmas celebrations that inevitably get silly.

I consider myself pretty darn lucky to have spent my (gulp) four decades as Chrissy's baby sister. Cheers to the next decade and to more adventures, laughter and not Chardonnay.


I leave you with this little anthem. It may not be as fabulous as the tape recorded version of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold" (stay tuned for that little gem), but it reminds me of my sister. What a long strange trip it's been.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Four

Decade Four: 1995-2005

Earlier this week I was over at my parents' house sorting through pictures for the blog. It was somewhat challenging because nearly every album was full of pictures of me. Yep, I'm the baby of the family and was pretty darn adorable. My mother laughed as she flipped page after page of my smiling mug and said, "You were the center of attention for a lotta years. Until Mitch came along."

Mitch. He was the first grandchild (and the only one for nearly eight years) and a super cute kid. I honestly didn't mind passing along the attention torch. He transformed my sister's life and it is obvious when you see them together that they have a strong bond. Mitch has a calmness about him, with a quiet, wry sense of humor and a huge heart.

My sister continued to second-mother me, but I certainly still needed it. She took me in when my roommates kicked me out of the house (that is a convoluted story and not blog appropriate; let's just say that sometimes I don't make good choices), and she kept me calm on my wedding day. I tried my best to be there for her when she needed me, even if it just meant making her laugh when life got her down.

Around the middle of this decade, I graduated from college, moved away, and got married. And then I moved again. And again. And again. And... (you get the idea - we were the traveling vans for sure back then!) Chrissy and Mitch came to visit me in Virginia and Washington; both trips served as much needed diversions for the lonely life of a military wife. I loved taking them around to see the sights and remember my sister remarking at how impressed she was at my ability to navigate in a new town year after year. (This is of course because she did not have to witness the previous attempts at navigation which involved much cursing and turning around in parking lots.) It was wonderful to have connections to home when I was far away.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Three

Decade three: 1985-1995

A year after my grandpa died we took a family vacation (minus my brother) out to California so that grandma could see the Queen Mary. The trip was a lot of fun despite the daily sunrise wake ups, the impending doom of dad speeding around the curves of Route 1 at Big Sur, and an animatronic shark attack at Universal Studios. Chrissy was thrilled to pose with her "date" (as it is described on the back of the photo below) and also got the opportunity to wear an astronaut suit and experience zero gravity. 

Soon after, she 
graduated from college and moved away. Permanently. Despite our physical separation, we remained close. My memories from this time period range from the goofy (Chrissy philosophizing about the deep lyrics to "Pump up the Volume" on the way home from religion class) to the educational (everything I ever needed and not so much wanted to know about sex, drugs, and rock and roll), to the profound (she took me to my first and only Grateful Dead concert where I learned many, many, MANY interesting things about human nature). 
We share a common bond of,"What ridiculous behavior can we exhibit that will drive mom crazy?" For example: on one road trip we made up a silly rhyming poem and repeated it over and over until mom begged us to stop. Read it here.  Another time we wrote a parody to Lionel Richie's "Hello" called "Jello" and sang it at the top of our lungs. Success was reached when mom said, "GIRLS. ENOUGH." And I am proud to say we haven't changed much since then. Although, karma caught up to me - my children are happy to provide payback with their endless silliness. I guess what goes around comes around.

Despite being only 15 and legally unable to serve as a witness, my sister chose me to be her maid of honor. I was matched with Larry, the three fingered man (if I recall correctly, he lost two of his digits in a saw accident) who tried to hit on me in the limo. I was thrilled to become an aunt five years later, even if it meant listening to my sister scream through endless hours of labor before my nephew finally made his entrance. But the big arrival was not until Chrissy's fourth decade, so you'll have to check back tomorrow for Mitch.

Enjoy the pics. Appreciate the glorious 80's hair.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Birthday Week: Day Two

Decade two: 1975-1985

My sister and I were close growing up, but more in the second mother sort of way. She took care of me, showed me life’s ropes, and made sure we had a good time on the journey. When Chrissy babysat, it was always an adventure. Instead of simply asking me what I wanted to eat, she would create a menu containing my favorite items and have me check the box next to my choice. We convinced mom to purchase every kind of spaghetti-o on the market and ran a comprehensive taste test, complete with restaurant critique style reviews. And she taught me to appreciate the finer things in life, like butter on saltine crackers.
We loved to watch MTV together, back when it was actually music television, and imagine how cool it would be to be a VJ. Chrissy's walls were covered with posters of Duran Duran and Adam Ant (I can still picture the one featuring an adroggynous Nick Rhodes in the bathtub with his wife). I owe a considerable amount of my music knowledge to my big sister, who would quiz me when songs came on the radio. If you’ve ever wondered why I am so completely obsessed with the 80’s, well there you have it. I recently uncovered this little gem while sorting through my mix tapes. Proof that our competitive nature started early. If you listen closely, you can hear her say, "I can sing louder than you." But she doesn't. And of course I have to be the boss, saying, "That's enough" at the end.

At the tail end of this decade, we lost our paternal grandfather. He and I were very close, and it was an unexpected and devastating blow. My sister was in her second year of college and came in for the funeral. That week a blizzard hit and she was stuck at home for an extra week. Our maternal grandmother was staying with us and Chrissy and I had to share a room. It was during this time (for reasons I honestly can’t remember) that we started calling each other “Doodie”. She filled the emptiness of my grandfather’s passing by making me laugh and showing me how to write messages with footprints in the snow.
That's my favorite thing about my sister: her ability to make me laugh. It is obvious that we share genes - strange, strange genes (thanks, dad!). My children (and many of the kids I babysat over the years) are familiar with the napkin moustache “You must pay the rent” routine, which I learned from Chrissy. Anyone who knows her knows she has a wonderful and slightly twisted sense of humor. When we are together, belly laughs inevitably ensue, and that has always been the case. I can’t imagine my childhood without her.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Birthday Week: Day One

In honor of my big sister’s big birthday this week, the blog will be taking a little trip through history. Each day will highlight a decade of my sister’s life, complete with photos and the occasional sound bite.

Decade one: 1965-1975

My sister Christine (known to the family as Chrissy, to me as Sissy and for a brief period of time Doodie – more on that later) entered the world on June 24, 1965. A first born, she enjoyed two years of only child bliss before my brother came along in 1967. I did not arrive until 1975, marking this period in our family’s history as B.S. or Before Sandi. Therefore I cannot speak with any clarity as to what went on during these ten years of my sister’s life, but I can leave you with these adorable pics.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The power of persuasion... or perhaps magic

After several rounds of, "Are you sure you don't want mommy to make you a special cake? Are you sure you just want a square cake?" my boy offered a suggestion: The Magic Tree House. Duh. Why hadn't I thought of that? He loves the books and wants to read them all so that he can have his name on the school library "tree house". We are on #17 and have a looooong way to go, because many of the books come with a fact tracker that teaches you all about the time period and place that Jack and Annie visit. And my boy loves him some facts.

When he made the suggestion, I went to the wonderful world of Google images to see what other moms had done. I am not on Pinterest (believing it will only make me feel inadequate), and I do not steal ideas from other people, but I do look to the Internet to get my creative juices flowing. And flow they did. There was one cake, clearly made by a professional, that was three dimensional - a tree house supported by a trunk and decorated with cute little books at the base. Amazing. But I had no idea how to support the weight of the cake. Part of my philosophy is that the entire thing must be edible, and it seemed I would need to use cardboard to distribute the weight. Another picture featured a ridiculous amount of fondant (which I never use) and explained that the tree was a vase covered in fondant. Vases are certainly not edible.

Lying in bed one night (Husband: "I do not want to talk about the cake. This is your thing.") I thought, why wouldn't I just lay it flat? Why does it need to be three dimensional? There is no way we'd be able to transport that! Again, duh. So I set off to the drawing board. Translation: wandering the bulk food aisle with rough sketch in hand. The trunk is fashioned out of rice krispie treats, because why not. At the time I was still trying to figure out how to make the tree stand up, and I remembered seeing Cake Boss use that technique. Of course he wrapped the treats around a PVC pipe for stability, but remember - all must be edible! I molded the mixture into a trunk shape, let it cool, and then covered it with melted chocolate, using a knife to make tree-like swirls. The cake itself is a simple chocolate cake cooked in two loaf pans. I thought I would stack them, but when they came out of the oven I realized I should have just used a square pan. Because low and behold, two loaf pans = one square pan. Oops. But it looked better with just one, so I saved the other loaf for "extra". My frosting was a masterpiece with no disasters this year! (Finally, right?) I added cocoa powder to make it brown and swirled in cool whip for ease of spread-ability, thinking to myself that I should totally patent this recipe. The rope ladder is laffy taffy and wafer cookies - I had originally planned to use licorice rope, but when the bulk food lady told me they didn't have it I turned around in a huff and found the laffy taffy. The chocolate wafer cookies had to be cut into smaller pieces to simulate the boards, and I also sliced the gummy leaves in half because their weight caused them to slip off the side of the cake.

All in all, I am pleased with the result. I tried to think of a way to create Jack and Annie but just didn't think I could pull off tiny humans. And there are no cute fondant books, but hopefully the kids will get the idea. I honestly have no idea how we are going to cut into the rice krispie trunk without making a complete mess. Oh, and if some kid doesn't like chocolate, they are out of luck. It will be J's first friend party and we invited his entire Kindergarten class, most of whom RSVP'd yes. Should be interesting.

Anyway, thanks for reading - here's the finished product:

Friday, June 12, 2015

The mix tapes

I have trouble letting go. This is a fact, not a dramatization.

Recently I read a great book about decluttering, called The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. It talks about why it is important to live with less, how it helps not only our personal stress level but also the planet at large. And of course I was gung-ho to revisit my year(s) old goal of getting rid of the crap in our house. You see, we used to move. All the time. Every year or so. And with each move came the question, "Do I really need X? Is it worth lugging across the country and back? Will it even FIT in our next place?" It was a helpful and healthy way to routinely examine what we had and to purge what we no longer needed. There were always exceptions to the rule, like the fact that I moved several boxes of books from place to place, books I had read and never planned to read again, books I got at a used bookstore and thought sounded great but merely sat on the shelf, books I inherited from my grandmother and couldn't bear to give up... you get the idea. Oh, and the boxes and boxes of teaching stuff, which I only recently decided to donate after years of collecting dust in our basement. Nevertheless, it was, for all intents and purposes, a good way to keep our stuff in check. Then we moved here. To this house that is bigger than we truly need, with an amazingly huge basement full of nooks and crannies for storage. Oh, and we had two kids. Who added to our crap exponentially.

Fast forward seven years. I have tried to declutter the house; the last time I was inspired by a magazine article and got nearly through every room. But, as per usual, I gave up before it was finished. As my husband told me once when I was trying to come up with a six word memoir to describe myself: HAS BIG IDEAS, NO FOLLOW THROUGH. Yep, that's me. This time I was inspired by Jay's book and promised I would actually do it. Follow through. Complete the task. I made myself a six week schedule that allowed for missed days and proudly displayed in on the refridgerator. Did great the first week. Carted a bunch of stuff down to our church for their annual rummage sale. Week two? Not so much. Week three? It's Friday and I have very few proud X's on the calendar. It is the week I am due to take all of the stuff out of our den and make room for the boys to have a study/computer space. The plan was to move P into the back bedroom, me into his old room in a space entirely devoted to writing (with a futon for the rare guest) and use the downstairs den for the boys. Not for the upteen piles of papers, books, and general clutter that currently occupies the space.

But I digress (sorry, I do that a lot.) This post was intended to be about mix tapes. Yes, mix tapes. During week one I went through the cupboards in our family room and came across the boxes of tapes that I have henceforth been unable to part with, tapes that hold an unbelievable amount of memories and can still be enjoyed in the tape player of my van. Yes, my van has a tape player - how completely awesome is that? So, I set off to listen to each tape one last time and then toss it in the trash. Don't worry, I still plan to keep the notebook that outlines the songs on each tape (plus the songs from each tape I ever made for anyone else - I was the queen of mixes back in the day).

Listening to the tapes has brought all sorts of emotions to the surface. I remember loving the songs, remember sitting at my boom box and cuing up each one, the whirring sound evident on my earlier tapes (before I figured out how to avoid it). I remember playing each tape for the first time, marveling at my mixing abilities. The transitions, the mood each mix created, the clever covers made from cut up magazines. It is painful to think that these tapes will no longer be part of my life, but it is time to move on. As part of my "big idea" I plan to recreate each mix on my iPod, but I doubt that will ever happen. Currently there are several tapes in my car, some listened to, some in the cue. But so far none have made it into the trash. Despite the fact that the sound quality is terrible and some of the songs are barely audible, they are still such a huge part of my history. Throwing them out feels like tossing out an entire decade. Friendships I had - people I held close and vowed to never let go of, but who have been reduced to the occasional Facebook like. Moments of self-love and self-hate that ricocheted back and forth like a tennis ball. My complete obsession with songs like The The's "Slow Emotion Replay" and Gin Blossom's "Hey Jealousy", with artists like Morrissey, The Judybats, and Nine Inch Nails. The tapes were how I expressed myself.  Sometimes as an adult, I feel listless, without purpose and passion, Each day spent doing the same thing: meals, laundry, homework. I miss the creative requirements of picking just the right song, of blending genres in a way that made you think, of telling a story with music.

One of my Twitter friends turned me on to 8tracks, a website that is like mix tapes for the modern world. But it's not quite the same. The feel of the tape in your hands, pushing play and letting yourself get lost in the ride. The van is stow and go; perhaps I can hide a few tapes in there and bust them out when I'm feeling particularly nostalgic. And who knows, maybe someday I actually will recreate some of the best mixes. People can change, right? Right?

Friday, June 5, 2015

From monster truck to, "Just make me a square"

My youngest knows how to push my buttons. To quote him exactly, "And your zippers too." And he knows how much I get into the annual cake making extravaganza. So this year, when he announced that he just wants me to make him a square cake, I wasn't entirely surprised. But I was a little heart broken. His birthday party is next week. It's his first friend party and I am excited to have the chance to show off my mad cake making skills to a new set of parents. Nope. Just a square. No fancy design, no elaborate concoction made from the various treats in the bulk food aisle, nothing.

I have a week to change his mind.

Last year, he was very much into monster trucks. We read about them, talked about them, played with them. Having some prior vehicle experience from oldest's bulldozer, I knew roughly what needed to be done. The boy loves chocolate, so I made a chocolate cake in two loaf pans and arranged the pieces to resemble a truck.
Then I used the miracle frosting (which no longer exists) to make it blue. The inspiration was Big Foot, and despite using the largest possible chocolate donuts for the wheels, they still were not quite big enough. According to boy expert anyway. I used fudge cookies for windows and the about to be crushed cars, and chocolate graham crackers for the dirt. To make the truck look tough, I raided the leftover Halloween candy and found a bag of skull and bones. (Yes, we still had Halloween candy in June.) Perfect. Some fruit roll ups for stripes, weird little wafer things for headlights, and Twizzlers for tail lights. The truck was epic. EPIC.

Which is why I don't get it. Why would he not want me to make him a specialty cake this year? Should I simply override his wishes and chose a design for him? That seems a bit underhanded, but I just don't think I can arrive at his party with a boring square cake.

What's a mom to do?