Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Check off #12

Tonight I completed my cake decorating class, thus completing #12 on the 40 by 40 list.

More important than the list, however, is that I learned how to make a Wilton rose. That is not to say that I became good at making Wilton roses, but I did at least learn the same basic technique that people who are good at making them use.

I also think I learned that my energy is far better spent making things that taste good, rather than things that look pretty. (Hello, life metaphor.) I've never been good at visual arts in any way and cake decorating was no exception.

Still, it was fun. And I think I'll actually use a few of the techniques on my cupcakes from now on. Hooray for developing skills that you might occasionally use!

That's three list items in under 5 months. Apparently my ambition is closely tied to my ability to check things off of a list - who knew?

Monday, October 26, 2009

New York State of Mind (and Stomach)

Every time I blog about my anxiety, I proceed to feel anxious for at least 24 hours about whether or not I should really provide such peeks into my neuroses...It makes me feel like one of those crazy girls who corners you at a party and misinterprets a friendly gesture as an invitation to explain how her parents' divorce when she was three has caused her to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and she thinks that's why she only dates kleptomaniacs or something. You know, one of those girls.

Anyway, how about some lighter fare this evening?

My husband is in New York City for the week and might actually get a long enough break from his button-pushing to venture out on the town once or twice. As I was thinking of places to suggest that he venture to, I remembered that I put together a list of restaurants in Manhattan where I want to dine. You'll note that a large percentage of this list feeds my desire to integrate reality TV/Food Network/celebrity chefdom into my life. (Perilla was on this list before my last trip.)

I don't know whether I'll ever make it to all of these places, but I figured it would be fun to post the list here so that anyone who has been to any of them could advise for or against. Or that possibly the next time you find yourself in Manhattan, you could refer to this list, go to one of the restaurants and tell me all about it, so that I can live vicariously through you.

Here goes (in no particular order):

  • Babbo
  • Bar Americain
  • Del Posto
  • Esca
  • Lupa
  • Les Halles
  • L’Atelier
  • Per Se
  • Le Bernardin
  • Otto Enoteca and Pizzeria
  • Craft
  • The London
  • WD-50
  • Maze
  • CafĂ© Boulud
  • Bouchon Bakery
  • Mia Dona
  • Centro Vinoteca
  • Kefi
  • Bolo
  • Paladar
  • Morimoto
  • Payard Patisserie & Bistro
  • Anissa
  • Butter
  • Barbuto
  • Spotted Pig
  • Masa
  • Momofuku
  • Mercer Kitchen
  • Nobu
  • Jean Georges
  • Gotham Bar and Grill
  • Pastis
  • Convivio
  • Sarabeth’s
  • Le Cirque
  • Max Brenner
Yep, so only like 30 trips to problem.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

She's Got Issues

My husband has an awesome job, with the one (large) drawback being that he has to travel all the time. In the last couple months it feels like we've reached the tipping point where he is actually out of town more than he is in town. This is a problem.

Truth be told, his job touches on my two biggest "issues" (at least according to my therapist): security and abandonment. Maybe those two often go hand-in-hand, I don't know, I didn't study psychology.

Him having the job gives us security, yet requires him to be gone all the time. The possibility of him getting a different job would allow him to stay in town, but puts the security piece in jeopardy (i.e. Will we have health benefits? Will it pay as well? etc.) And really, with the economy as it is, looking for a new job is equal parts depressing and crazy-making. (Two things which I don't think you need a therapist to tell you are bad.)

But the psychology gets even better. My own work situation (as in, returning to it) makes me feel all the more secure (financially), but then hits my abandonment nerve, only this time as it relates to my kids. I know that rationally, my work schedule in no way has me abandoning my children, but the irrational side of my brain tells me the opposite...that I can never spend enough time with them.

The prospect of my husband's travel schedule driving him to have a nervous breakdown (as really, I think it would for any parent who feels as though their children's lives are speeding on ahead without them - true or not) suggests that I may have to take on more work and resume the role of bread-winner, the role that I played for the first 2.5 years of their lives. The rational side of my brain tells me that this is the right thing to do for my family. The other side, the anxiety, tells me that I will be abandoning my children in some way. That I will be making a bad trade.

That feeling of empowerment that many women get from being able to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan is elusive to me. I guess after years and years of taking care of myself from a young age, there is something incredibly appealing about being taken care of...if even just so that I can, in turn, focus on taking care of these little people who mean more to me than I ever thought possible.

Such a confession makes me feel weak. It betrays my upbringing. It confuses me. But I think it's true. So maybe I can add that to my list of issues...issues that are alternately addressed and aggravated by every choice...issues that I need to just learn to get over.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The fantasy in which I never have to go to another parent-teacher conference

I read this post about homeschooling today and was struck.

Pretty much anyone who has had a discussion with me about Owen and school has heard me proclaim that if I can't make it work within the school system, I'll yank him out and homeschool him. (I have an accompanying fantasy in which we become a traveling family and they learn as we see the world together.)

Although I generally say this half-jokingly, I do actually mean it. It's not that I necessarily think I'd be great at it, it's more that I suspect that in order to work to his potential, Owen (and Aidan, to some extent) will need the kind of attention that can only come from someone who is actually invested in the outcome. There's no doubt that he can learn. I'm just not convinced that he will thrive in a typical classroom with a teacher who is pulled in 20 different directions and rules that place far more emphasis on compliance than comprehension.

Usually when I begin down this path of reasoning with my friends, many of them are quick to point out the commonly held impressions of home-schooled kids. That they are weird and/or maladjusted to society. I might be concerned about that if my kids weren't already little weirdos and if society didn't already seem like our enemy so much of the time.

Still, it's not a decision I would make lightly. In fact, I hope that we can make public school work, not just for my sanity, but because I do think they could both benefit from the socialization aspect.

But homeschool is always there, in my mind, as an option. And it's both comforting and encouraging to hear that it works so well for some.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fined and Fine

Every time I get pulled over, I get a speeding ticket. I can say that because in 16 years of driving, I have been pulled over just twice.

The first time was when I was 17 and was driving at least 10 miles over the speed limit on a two-lane road in the smallish town that my dad lived in. When the sirens went on, I looked down at my Metallica T-shirt and knew I was getting a ticket (not specifically because of the shirt, but more because I knew I looked like a stupid teenager, which I was). The worst part of that ordeal was that I had to tell my parents because they paid my insurance. The whole "I'm so disappointed in you" thing was way worse than paying the ticket.

In retrospect, they really should have celebrated the fact that I'd been driving an entire year without incident, because the very next day I had my first fender bender, but I digresss...

Flash forward to today. I had been waiting for the carpet measuring guy to call so I could go meet him at our old house, where we have to replace the carpet after the former renters' animals ruined it. I'd been given a two-hour window, and when he finally called, he said he'd be there in 10 minutes. I quickly shuffled my kids next door to my mom's house (a huge advantage of living next to grandma) and peeled out of the driveway.

As I drove toward my old house on autopilot, I was pondering how exactly we were going to pay our bills next month if we didn't find new renters very soon (this is a common source of anxiety for me lately). Then I remembered that we still have a hutch/buffet thing that we paid way too much money for when we bought that house, but which is in great shape and sitting in the dining room there, which I'd been meaning to sell and which, if sold, could at least cover the mortgage on that house for a month. I think I was mentally writing the craigslist ad when I saw the squad car perched on the side of the freeway.

Of course, I laid off the accelerator immediately and prayed for the invisibility powers of the minivan to save me. Usually they do. Today, not so much.

We went through the usual "Do you know why I pulled you over today?" charade during which I asked, "Was I speeding?" you know, just in case maybe there was some other reason he pulled me over. I surprised myself by not even wanting to cry, I was so worried that the measuring guy was going to leave and I'd have to wait another week and that I wouldn't make my end-of-the-month deadline for getting the house ready for those elusive renters who I am sure will materialize any minute now.

So I got a ticket, which sucks, but is fair. I figure that one ticket every 15 years for how often I probably speed is really more than fair. I had been polite and didn't argue, so I guess I felt it was unnecessary for the officer to slip in a mini-lecture about the dangers of speeding, referencing my two empty carseats in the back in an effort to strike fear into my heart. Rather than causing me to feel ashamed, this made me a little mad. Let me just get the damn ticket without the lecture, please.

I'm not saying he's wrong - of course, speeding is dangerous and does kill people - I guess I'm just saying that I don't accept guilt trips from strangers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cake is Important

So I had my first cake decorating class last night. I think surprising might be the best word to describe it.

As in, I was surprised to find out that the class is held in the middle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. I guess I had pictured us safely tucked away in some sort of, I don't know, classroom? But no, the class take place in the center of the pattern area, as if we are just another craft display.

I was also surprised to learn that we are expected to bring a frosted cake to every class. A whole cake. A cake that we, in theory, baked and then frosted with the icing that we also made ourselves because we have to bring all of our own frosting and decorating tools to class. I'm pretty sure my friend nearly killed the instructor with the darts that shot from her eyes when this news was revealed.

Don't get me wrong: I love to bake. I am excited to learn to decorate. I just assumed that materials would be provided. I didn't picture myself spending hours every week baking and mixing frosting and then lugging an entire cake and a duffle bag full of supplies to class. It seemed sort of like if my college biology professor had told me I was responsible for bringing my own scalpel and pig's heart to class.

Anyway, I am now filled with questions about what kind of cake I will bake and what colors of icing I will bring. Should I bake a cherry cake shaped like a heart with the standard gleaming white frosting? A chocolate cake with peppermint-flavored buttercream? A pineapple cake that I then decorate in a Hawaiian theme? The possibilities are endless...well, in a finite sort of way.

The techniques I will learn in this class will pretty much prepare me to make really nice grocery store-level cakes. Ace of Cakes, this is not. In fact, these are the kinds of cakes I probably wouldn't even normally buy. But who cares? I'm going to master the Wilton rose!

In fact, I'm thinking about practicing only the rose, making cake after cake covered in roses. Birthday? Baby shower? Christmas? Roses in every color. I'm envisioning my kids growing tired of the roses. Asking me, as their 16th birthday looms, to please, let them have a cake without roses.

Don't worry, I will say, I'll make the roses black and thorny! They'll be serious roses! Roses of angst.

And one day, when they get married, their future brides (or groom, whatever) will be forced to agonize over whether to just let me make the damn rose-covered wedding cake or to break the news that they really want something "more modern." (To which I will cheerily reply, "Roses never go out of style!")

Yes, this class is important. Life-changing, even.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Icing on the Cake

The sun came out today, which is perfect because today begins my fulfillment of item #12 on the 40 by 40 list: Learn to decorate a cake.

Back in the day, the local Target stores had bakeries in them. McGlynn's Bakery. They sold standard bakery fare: donuts, cookies and cakes. At our regular Target, the bakery was located at the end of the checkout lanes, so while my mother paid for our purchases, I would meander over to the plexiglass display window, where a young bakery worker would be decorating a cake.

I would stare with amazement as a block of white crumbs was transformed into somebody's birthday cake. The way the frosting was expertly spread across the cake like a blanket. That combing tool that would make those perfectly even lines around the sides of the cake, as it was spun on its stand. And oh, the roses.

Watching the decorator take a tube of frosting and what resembled a toothpick wearing a hat, and, with the flick of a wrist, produce a delicate rose...well, it was nothing short of magic. Before my very eyes, an entire bouquet of pink roses would materialize, with little green leaves effortlessly piped on as a finishing touch. Magic, I tell you.

Soon I will know the secret of those roses because every Wednesday this month, one of my oldest friends and I will be attending cake decorating class at our local Jo-Ann Fabrics. We'll be learning the Wilton Method, which I understand is cake decorating 101. Old school. All rosettes and basket weaves.

I cannot wait.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Puddles and puddles to wallow in

I've been feeling overwhelmed.

For nearly two months, my husband has been working seven days a week, many of them out of town, meaning he is not just gone all day, but gone for days at a time. I have learned to cope with the travel, but the neverendingness has begun to wear me down.

Our rental house (read: bane of my existence) is going to be empty again at the end of the month and if we don't find new renters, we will have to come up with that mortgage payment. So I've been posting it and reposting it on Craig's list and trying to schedule showings between my job and my kids and my sanity. But it's not just the lack of renters, it's the projects.

There are many projects to be done at the rental house. Repairs that went happily unmentioned in the two years our former renters (who fled to Florida) lived there, but now must be dealt with by the end of the month if I am to entertain this notion of finding new people to live there.

All of this is costing money. (Did I mention that property taxes are due on the 15th too?) Money that I either don't have or don't want to spend, as I try ot reassure myself that I won't remain a cubicle hamster forever...or for much longer...or at least, please, just tell me how much longer.

Oh, and it's been raining. Every day. And I think maybe that was the final straw...the third or fourth consecutive day of rain piled onto the single parenting and the financial stress was just too much. I don't know how people in Seattle do it...maybe the coffee and high quality sushi makes everything more tolerable.

Anyway, I've been overwhelmed. Sinking beneath this anxiety that builds and builds. Waking up at night with my jaw clenched. I hope that I am mentioning this more as an afterthought, that it will soon come to an end...I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As of yesterday, my husband is now back to working mostly five days a week - a large percentage of that is still out of town, but I can safely plan on seeing him for more than one consecutive day at a time, now and then.

I've started hacking away at that house project list and am turning the rest over to my husband because, sexist stereotypes be damned, I f*ing hate house projects.

We have another showing at the house tomorrow...who knows? Maybe this will be the one.

I don't yet have a solution to the work issue, but as I've wrestled with this whole "what am I doing with my life?" question for many years now, I've grown comfortable with this uncertainty. Ok, maybe not comfortable, but I can tolerate it at least.

As for the rain, well, the meteorologists are suggesting it might turn to snow this weekend. Snow. Just the thought makes me appreciate the rain more. Please, oh please, let there be one last sunny day before we are enveloped by the gray shadow of winter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Getting Better...and Girls

We have recovered! Really, Owen has recovered, as he is the only one who ever got sick, despite the warnings that this flu was super contagious.

His fever actually went away on Wednesday and after waiting our mandatory 24 hours, I sent him back to school on Thursday. I guess I mistook "no fever" for "feeling better" because he got sent back home, not for actually being sick so much as acting sick...or, rather not acting like himself.

My usually sweet little boy was apparently very argumentative. He even crumpled his assignment up and threw it in the trash when his teacher specifically told him not to...ok, so I can't help smile a little at that. Defiance is a trait he comes by honestly. I think it will serve him well once he learns when and how to use it.

But really, if he was feeling like crap and didn't want to do his writing assignment, well, I can't blame him for getting a bit surly. So I went and got him and he spent some more time cacooned on the couch. It must have done the trick, because yesterday he had a fabulous day at school, which involved him not only doing all of his work, but even eating his lunch! His teacher even called to let me know how great he did. And so I pronounce him healthy.

The big news for today is that Aidan has a new BFF, who is not only a girl, but is also very into being a spy (she recruited him the first week of school to be a spy with her) and it turns out she lives on our street! So he picked up the phone and invited her over! Now, we've had playdates before, but this is the first one that he actually called and initiated himself.

And now she's here! And the three of them are watching Toy Story 2! And Owen doesn't seem to mind being the third wheel, which I suspect is good, since I'm already envisioning this scenario repeating itself for many years to come...or maybe not. Far be it from me to underestimate the charm of a socially awkward rebel.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't freak out, it's just H1N1

Oh, irony.

Last week, I was up to my eyeballs in corporate communications about H1N1. Really just recycled statements and tips from the WHO and CDC, but intended to provide employees with some sort of comfort that their company has the inside scoop on this pandemic. I learned all about flu shots and preventative measures and, I'll admit, after several days of this, I bought into the hysteria a little bit.

Two days ago, Owen woke up with a 102 degree fever. Since he'd just been in the ER on Sunday, I called his pediatrician's office and they said he should come in. After examining him, his doctor calmly told me that Owen had the flu and that it was most likely H1N1, although they couldn't know for sure because the Health Department is no longer accepting tests unless patients are in the hospital. Turns out that the flu often presents itself as croup in young children, meaning it can come on suddenly with the breathing issues, but then live on as the regular flu for days afterward.

The doctor went on to say that H1N1 is really the only flu around at the moment, as the seasonal strain isn't expected to arrive until December or January (good info for everyone running out to get seasonal flu shots), so if you've got the flu, it's probably H1N1. He also assured me that the media had blown the severity of the virus out of proportion, as all of the cases he had seen had been relatively mild*. Oh, but it is highly contagious, so we should expect to get it, too.

I want to pause for a moment here to add that I asked our pediatrician about the H1N1 vaccine and the hype about thimerosal. He recommends that both of my boys get the vaccine and says that any link to autism is "hooey." True, it's just one opinion, but it's the opinion of a highly-esteemed medical professional to whom I trust my children's health.

After leaving the doctor's office, I had to call my boss and let her know that I would need to reschedule our meeting to discuss updates to the H1N1 intranet site because, um, my son has H1N1. I love it when the universe has a sense of humor.

So for a few days now, I've been in a bit of an H1N1 quarantine. Owen is much better and none of the rest of us have gotten it, but I keep waiting...every cough, every throat tickle makes me think that it's coming...but so far, so good.

Actually, I think I've enjoyed the quarantine a little too much, as it reminds me of getting to stay home every day. No dressing up. No office politics. No commute. I like it so much that I'm renewing my commitment to making better financial decisions, as it has been all too easy to slip back into spending what we have, now that we have two regular paychecks. But that is for another post.

For now, I'm content to take care of my sickie, while hoping that I'm not next.

*Please note: Someone in my office has a personal connection to one of the kids that died of H1N1 in Memphis recently, so I am well aware that it can be serious. The message here is that overwhelmingly it's not.