Monday, August 26, 2013

The 2013 VMA Fashion Blog

I don’t normally watch the Video Music Awards, since I am a) way too old, and b) way too square. But I stumbled across the channel right when Miley Cyrus started getting her crazy on and I couldn’t tear myself away. And I saw enough of the good, the bad, and the ugly, fashion-wise, to justify doing a fashion blog today. So here is my take on some of the best and some of the worst of last night’s red carpet fashions. (In alphabetical order.) (Mostly.)

2Chainz was wearing more than two chains, and yet that wasn’t what made this ensemble so atrocious. It’s the VMAs, so the white T-shirt, the huge collection of chunky gold jewelry, even the gold-on-white patterned jacket were all edgy and appropriate. And the black, gold, and white pants came very close to working. But they weren’t quite tight enough to be skinny jeans and yet were too tight to be regular jeans, which landed them in an awkward, bunchy, ill-fitting no man's land. Add to that the splash of white at the top that looked like he was wearing his boxers on the outside, and 2Chainz landed just on the wrong side of the cutting edge of fashion.

Arianne Grande’s dress is cute – but perhaps a bit too cute. If she were the sweet 14- or 15-year-old I thought she was, this dress would have been perfect: sweet, fun, demure, flattering. But at age 20, she needed something less demure, especially at the VMAs. Adding a keyhole cutout or a plunging back, trading the flared skirt for a form-fitting pencil skirt, ditching the dull white pumps for a pair of studded gladiator sandals or fishnet stockings and booties, or even just slicking her hair up into a giant, eyebrow-stretching, tight bun on top of her head would have given her a more edgy, adult style.

As much as I hate the idea of sneakers and jeans on the red carpet, Austin Mahone proved that it can work. The red piping on his black jacket and the tiny patches of red on his half-untied black tennies, his simple but eye-catching belt buckle, and his crisp dark-wash jeans added just enough interest to push him from “grunge” into “fashion.” And the fact that he had clearly shaved and brushed his hair recently set him above many of his fellow attendees.

There is no lack of skin at the VMAs, and Ciara made quite a contribution to that category. This dress came quite close to being a hit, with its strategically placed beading and just enough feathers on the hem to flare without looking like a bird exploded. I even liked the grace of the beaded pattern reaching down over her hands, which reminded me of Indian henna painting. But that single giant teardrop-shaped cutout right below the crotch ruined the entire effect. With Ciara’s figure, she could have worn pretty much anything and still looked stunning, but this dress managed to force me to stare at her crotch, which (hopefully) was not the intended effect.

The group Danity Kane managed to unify four very different looks by using a few commonalities in very different ways. All four outfits were black and/or white, revealed plenty of leg, had long sleeves, and were vintage-inspired. But each look was so completely different! From left to right, we had a 1940s pinup girl bikini topped with a tailored tux jacket; an all-black ensemble with plenty of cleavage, a wide belt, and a 1940s-style peplum over a short pencil skirt; an 80s-inspired square-shouldered, round-necked jacket with a flared asymmetrical hem, parading as a dress; and a 1960s romper with a skinny gold belt and a shawl-collared tailcoat. Sexy without being too revealing, eye-catching without being weird, allowing for individual style but clearly a unified group. Well done, ladies.

When I first saw Ellie Goulding in this dress, I loved it. I LOVED it. The primness of the mock turtleneck and severely squared-off almost-cap sleeves, the sheer simplicity of the lines, the tasteful slit length, the fact that a leotard-style undergarment was clearly being worn rather than more revealing lingerie. But then I looked closer and realized that what I had thought were metal discs were in fact pointed studs. Covering her entire body. And to be honest, I loved it even more once I knew. But I still can’t figure out how on earth she sat down in it. Maybe the leotard underneath is made of Kevlar? I have no idea, I just know that I love this dress.

Like Ciara, Iggy Azalea wore a sheer gown studded with strategically-placed metallic beading. The golden wings and branches reminded me of an American eagle clutching an olive branch, and yet the effect was still feminine and graceful. The color was a bit too close to her slicked-back hair, but her vivid scarlet lips broke the monochromaticism and even gave a subtle nod to the color of the red carpet itself.

One of many dresses with overly demure cuts but overtly sexy styling, details, and fabrics, Katy Perry’s skin-tight, leopard-print dress showed off her gorgeous figure without showing too much of it. The golden leaves across the bodice and the high neck pulled her nicely out of “You Tarzan, me Jane” territory, and the simple sleek hair and shoes kept the look from being too busy.

 Lady Gaga’s red carpet gown was just bizarre enough to suit her style without being totally off the wall. It was a fascinating mix of sharp geometric angles (like the triangular back cutout and angular neckline) and soft draping (like the droopy bow and the flared train). It also made good use of mixed textures, from the smooth matte leather of the bodice and skirt to the shiny openwork of the train to the almost glittery accents at the waist. Say what you will about Gaga, she’s got style.

All I will say about L’il Kim’s outfit is what I said to my husband when I first saw this get-up during the show: Compared to what she usually wears, it’s downright loose-fitting and covered up.

If you’re 8 feet tall and weigh 97 pounds, you can pretty much wear anything and look spectacular. But if you can look like this in a dress like this, this is what you should wear all the time. Heaven knows I would. (By the way, her name is Melanie Iglesias and I have no idea what she’s famous for. Probably for looking like this.)

I will address Miley Cyrus’ fashion sins of later in the evening later in this post. But I actually liked her red carpet outfit. It was kind of Carmen Miranda meets Gidget meets post-makeover Sandy from Grease. I didn’t love her hairstyle, but the choice of simple shoes and minimal accessories worked, as did the bright red lips, and she’s youthful enough that the skintight pants and midriff-baring top were cute instead of slutty. If only she’d continued that theme throughout the evening.

Rita Ora’s gown had potential, but where half of it succeeded, the other half failed. The bodice was lovely, with just enough sparkle and tasteful d├ęcolletage, but the sash looked like a fanny pack and sat low enough on her hips to make her look very thick-waisted. And the marabou train would have been better-proportioned had it been about 6 feet shorter. She did top off (bottom off?) her look with fantastic shoes, though.

Robin Thicke and wife Paula Patton both hit the right notes on the red carpet. Thicke’s tux was a contemporary slim cut, its formality relieved by an open collar and lack of cummerbund, vest, or tie. Patton’s gown seemed to be made of strips of video film, a charming tribute to the awards themselves.

 Sarah Hyland appeared to be channeling Wonder Woman in this ruched, gold-trimmed gown. The silhouette was unusual and interesting, but the swaths of gold seemed out of place and poorly fitted, as if they had been added as an afterthought. And her black and gold shoes seemed to belong to a different outfit – or, considering how much sole was sticking out past her toes, perhaps a different person.

When I first saw Selena Gomez in this gown, her hair was draped over the front of her right shoulder, obscuring part of her corset. I thought the black scrolled detailing was a symmetrical V-shaped insert at the neckline, and I loved the gown. The studding running along the slit then up the side seam of the dress, the soft yet structured texture of the fabric, the perfectly matching lips and nails were all lovely details. So I was disappointed at first when she flipped her hair back and I realized how much of the corset was revealed. But the more I looked at it and thought about it, it’s really not that revealing, and when I reminded myself that Selena is 21 and trying to break out of her Disney teen image, I realized that she could have done a lot worse than this dress.

Another example of getting an outfit half-right is Shailene Woodley’s skirt and top. The silky ethnic- print handkerchief skirt is lovely and flattering. But the boring, plain black crop top is a bit reminiscent of an oversized sports bra. Perhaps had it been a dressier fabric, or a brighter color, or incorporated some sequins or beading or SOMETHING to bring it some visual interest and tie it to the style of the skirt, it would have worked. But given those impressive abs and stick-thin legs, my guess is she’s just used to spending a lot of time in the gym where a sports bra is the standard uniform.

As some of the most youthful stars in attendance, Willow and Jaden Smith managed to fit in without sticking out. Willow’s androgynous printed tee, baggy overalls, and nearly makeup-free face were feminized (as if her gender could ever be in doubt with that amazingly beautiful and feminine face) with suede wedge boots and a tiny choker. Jaden channeled his father’s brand of ghetto chic in simple layered black tees, jersey pants, and tennies. Apparently “cool” is genetic, and these two got a double dose.

And finally, Taylor Swift topped the charts with this sleek deep blue column with plunging spangled neckline. Her softly waved hair along with her slender, curvy silhouette and classic makeup all channel old Hollywood glamour. Apparently the show’s producers agreed, since Swift was front and center in about three quarters of the crowd shots during the course of the show.

And since it really wouldn’t be right to publish a fashion blog about the 2013 VMAs without showing Miley and Gaga’s performance outfits, let me close with these images and a few very brief comments. 
Lady Gaga is wearing even less fabric than Miley, yet her costume and her dance enhanced her musical performance, rather than distracting from it. Miley somehow managed to look like an untalented tramp even though she is neither untalented nor (to my knowledge) a tramp. This is the difference between using your sexuality to your advantage and just throwing your sexuality around in the hopes that people will notice. They will, but probably not in a good way. 

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Friday, August 23, 2013

It Must Be Jelly ‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That: Part 2

Today my husband took the kids with him all day, so I took advantage of having free reign over my kitchen to finish the jelly-making process without fear of accidentally scalding one of my children. As you may remember from my previous blog entry, I had finished picking, cleaning, and juicing the grapes, so I was beginning with a large bowl of unfiltered grape juice. The next step, of course, was to filter the juice. I’d forgotten to pick up cheesecloth, but fortunately, I had read that a white pillowcase also works well, and since I happened to have recently accidentally torn a hole in an off-white pillowcase, that’s what I used. I dampened it, draped it over a large rubber measuring cup, and began ladling out my precious nectar.

Drip…drip…drip… I had thought that cleaning the grapes was the most tedious part of the process, but apparently I was wrong. Fortunately, I needed to sterilize my canning jars, so I began working on that project while I waited for the juice to strain. 

Once my giant pot of water came to a boil and I carefully lifted the canning jars in with my tongs, I realized I had slightly miscalculated the depth of the water. I topped up the pot a bit and…waited some more. Who knew that canning involved so much waiting for stuff?

Anyway, eventually the jars were sterilized and the juice was filtered, so I was ready to go on to the next step: boiling the juice and adding the pectin and the sugar. I measured out the proper amount of juice and set it on the stove to boil, emptied in my box of pectin, and then measured out the proper amount of sugar. Wow, does Concord grape jelly require a lot of sugar!

I enjoyed the steamy tartness wafting up from the hot juice while I stirred it, and despite my watching it came to a boil fairly quickly. In fact, it boiled up a bit too quickly and I panicked for a moment, then thanked my stars that I’d used my largest pot, otherwise I’d be wiping a sticky foamy mess off my stovetop. I lowered the heat, stirred in that massive bowl of sugar, and then waited again for it to come to a boil. It was fun to see the pale clots of sugar shrinking and finally dissolving to nothing in the hot liquid, watching the color of the juice darken and the cloudiness of the liquid clarify as I stirred and stirred. As soon as it boiled again, I set my timer for the “EXACTLY one minute” that my recipe threatened was of such critical importance. “Sixty-one seconds shalt thou not count, neither count thou to fifty-nine, excepting that thou then proceed to sixty. Sixty-two is right out.” (Proof that Monty Python quotes are appropriate for any occasion, including the making of grape jelly.)

The next instruction in my recipe was to “skim the foam.” That sounds simple enough, but I’m guessing there is a special foam-skimming technique or tool with which I am not familiar. I opted for the advanced technique of scooping it off with a plastic spoon, dumping it into a glass measuring cup, and then wiping the spoon on a paper towel before going back for more foam, but I must admit that when I was “done,” there were still some flecks of foam on my jelly. But considering how much I started with, I’ll give myself credit for a 97+% recovery. 

And now, the best part (well, if you don’t include the “eating” part): ladling the finished product into the jars. Up until this point, all I had was a big pot of pretty-colored, pleasant-smelling goop. But somehow once you put that same goop into a crystal-cut glass canning jar, it magically becomes jelly. Home-grown, home-made, Concord grape jelly, a delicious creation formed out of almost nothing by the power of my own two lily-white hands (well, with a little help from Miracle-Gro, pectin, and a giant bowl of sugar).
 (Insert sound of angels singing here)

And now comes the REALLY best part of the process: that last little half-ladleful at the bottom of the pot that doesn’t quite fit into that last jar and which has finally cooled enough that it won’t scald your tongue from here till next Tuesday. The real moment of truth. I scooped up a spoonful and hesitantly stuck it in my mouth. Would it be tart? Grainy? Bland? No. It was smooth, richly flavorful, sweet at first but with a powerfully tart kick following close behind. It was an adventure for the taste buds. Before I even realized what I was doing, I had spooned spoonful after spoonful into my mouth, savoring that puckery feeling at the back of my tongue each time the tart wave followed the sweet beginning. I came to myself just in time to remember I hadn’t finished the process.

Ah, “process.” Another culinary word in my recipe that I wasn’t entirely sure of. “Process for 5 minutes.” Wait, what does that mean? A frantic flip through the recipe booklet that came inside the pectin box soon set me straight: “process” simply means to boil the sealed jars. OK, I can do that. That kind of kitchen technique is just about my speed. I even had a sudden memory of my mom throwing a dish towel in the bottom of her canning pot when the bottom rack rusted through. So back into the pot of boiling water went a dish towel and the now-full jars.

But I had one more step left to go before I felt I had really and truly joined the ranks of the Canning World. I had to put official labels on my jars. For this momentous occasion, a simple black pen would not do. So I dug through that drawer that everyone has in their kitchen. You know the one. It has a collection of pens and pencils and markers from sources unknown, half of which don’t write and several of which seem to bear printing in another language. And from the depths of that drawer, I came up with a metallic gold Sharpie. Eight jars, eight carefully printed labels: “Concord Grape Jelly 8/2013”.

Three words and a handful of numbers to represent days of work creating the magic substance inside the jars. Admittedly, it wasn’t quite as much work as I was afraid it would be. And I’m kind of excited that there are enough grapes left on the vine to wait a few more weeks or even months (as suggested by a friend who is an experienced Concord grape grower and jelly-maker) to reap another harvest and take another crack at this. But for now, I’m very happy with my results. So happy, in fact that I might just have to go bake some bread to spread my jelly on. Maybe next year I might even try growing my own peanuts and making home-made peanut butter!! Yeah, maybe not.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It Must Be Jelly ‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That: Part 1

Shortly before we were married, my now-husband planted a Concord grapevine in the back yard. It didn’t produce much other than leaves for the first few years, but last year it finally taunted us with a few tiny, stunted, green grapes. This summer, however, the vine came into its own and we discovered a month or so ago that it was covered with bunches and bunches of fat grapes.

Over the past couple of weeks, the grapes have turned a luscious, rich purple and have begun to send a wonderful, sweet, fruity aroma wafting around the garden. So yesterday morning, I grabbed a basket and a pair of scissors and harvested our first official batch of grapes.

I have always heard that Concord grapes are quite tart and full of seeds, so the best way to use them is to make jelly. Although my grandmother had an extensive garden and a larder that was always chock full of fruits and vegetables and jellies and jams and preserves that she’d canned herself, and during my childhood my mother did some canning on occasion as well, canning is a culinary endeavor I’ve never tried myself. So when I decided to try putting some Concord grape jelly up in jars, I did what I always do when I try something new: I asked for advice on Facebook.

My Facebook friends were, as always, more than up to the task. They sent me recipes, advice, and – possibly most helpful of all – links to online videos that walk the viewer through the whole process, step by step. One of the earliest bits of advice I got was not to wait too long between harvesting the grapes and making the jelly, to avoid attracting fruit flies, so without further ado, I printed out one of the simpler (and smaller batch) recipes I had found, glanced at a video or two, and got to work.

The first step seemed pretty easy: strip the stems from 3-1/2 pounds of Concord grapes and wash them. But how does one measure 3-1/2 pounds of grapes? Obviously, with a scale. I don’t have a kitchen scale that goes up to 3-1/2 pounds, so I went with the only other scale I have in the house: my bathroom scale. I carefully lugged it downstairs to the kitchen and placed the basket of grapes on it, figuring I’d weigh the basket afterwards and subtract. However, there wasn’t enough weight to trigger the electronic scale. No problem, the heavy stockpot I planned to boil the grapes in must weigh enough to register, right? Nope. Undaunted by this complication, I took one for the team and stepped on the scale myself. (Believe me, for any woman over forty with two children who’s not an athlete or a supermodel, this is a true sacrifice.) After the initial shock of seeing those numbers, I weighed myself once more holding the stockpot, and a bit of simple math showed that the pot weighed exactly four pounds.

Okay, now I was ready to start picking grapes. So I picked. And I picked. And I picked. And I weighed. One pound. Only ONE pound? I felt like I must have cleaned about eight pounds by that point. So I picked some more. And some more. And I weighed again. And on and on, until it seemed like I’d been picking grapes for the better part of the day (it had actually been about 45 minutes). But I finally got the scale up to 3-1/2 pounds of grapes (which was, quite conveniently, exactly the amount of grapes I had picked), and I was ready to move on to Step 2: Mashing and Boiling.

Little did I know how satisfying it is to mash grapes! With those firm skins, I expected a nice “pop” reminiscent of bubble wrap with each application of my potato masher (real canners probably have a better tool, but for my purposes, the masher worked just fine), but instead I got a loud, juicy, satisfying “SQUELCH!!” And the more I mashed, the squelchier it got. In direct opposition to the picking part of the process, I felt like I’d only been mashing for a few seconds when I glanced at the clock and realized it had been a full 20 minutes. My grapes were now a juicy, pulpy, seedy, green-and-purple sludge, so I stirred in a bit more water and set the pot on the stove to boil. Checking it a few minutes later, the juice was boiling merrily, stirring up a foamy froth and releasing even more of the grapes’ rich, fruity, sweet-tart aroma. After ten minutes, I turned off the heat and got ready for Step 3: Straining.

Carefully balancing the metal strainer over the largest mixing bowl I had, I poured out the steaming sludge. Rivers of a pinkish-purple liquid ran into the bowl, releasing steam as it poured. With the help of a big plastic spoon, I mushed and mashed the sludge against the bottom of the strainer to get out every last drop of juice. Smearing and squishing like I was spreading peanut butter, I finally satisfied myself that I had extracted every bit of juice that I was going to get.

And then came the hardest step of all: Waiting. I had to leave this bowl of gorgeous nectar overnight to cool, so that my jelly, once made, wouldn’t form crystals. And I’m sorry to say, that means that you, my reader, will also have to wait until tomorrow for the next installment of my jelly-making saga…

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Call Me Ishmael

When I was pregnant with each of our children, my husband and I spent countless hours deliberating about what we would name him or her (we opted not to find out their genders before they were born). We read books and articles on names and their meanings. We debated whether we would continue the family tradition of naming the first male child after his father (my husband is the fourth in a line of men named Herbert). We discussed whether to consider family names like John, which is popular on both sides of the family. We considered passing down the names of family members who had recently passed away, like my brother-in-law Glen or my mother Martha. We thought about whether an ethnic name like Siobhan or Padma would work with our last name. We weighed the relative merits of old-fashioned names like Charity and Prudence with contemporary names like Madison and Mackenzie. We considered what nicknames might be used for every name we considered, and debated whether to use a name like “Graham” or “Ethan” that was relatively nickname-proof. We chose my daughter’s name, Kathryn, specifically because there are many different nickname options that she can choose to go by when she gets older – Katie, Kate, Kathy, Kitten, Kat, Kit…the options are endless. Having been one of three girls named “Sandy” in many of my elementary school classes, I was rather adamant that we not choose an overly popular and overused name. (Ha! Both of my kids’ names were in the top 5 for popularity the year they were born.) We chose my son’s name, Ryan, simply because we liked its meaning (“little king”) and its sound.

Much like being at a restaurant with an overly-comprehensive menu, the final decision was probably determined by the exact moment when we had to make it, and it would have been different had the moment of truth come a bit earlier or a bit later. The proof of this is the fact that we didn’t name our daughter the girl names we had picked out for our son had he been a girl (Meredith or Brooke, in case you’re wondering), nor did we name our son the boy name we would have used for our daughter if she’d been a boy (Jack).

In short, we wanted to be absolutely certain that the name we were saddling our child with for life was one that that child – and we – would not regret. A name that gave her an identity. A name he would be proud to bear and to share. A name with meaning. A name that just felt and sounded right.

So a few days ago, I felt a bit of a pang when I called my son by his name and he told me, “Don’t call me Ryan.” But I gamely asked him what I should call him instead, and he replied, “Call me Muttonhead.” Now, I haven’t the faintest idea where he came up with that one. Possibly Oscar the Grouch used the term in passing; possibly an episode of Arthur or Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood was addressing the issue of name-calling. But wherever he heard it, apparently that word tickled his fancy and he decided he liked it better than his given name.

Let’s be honest, there are times when “Muttonhead” would actually be a very appropriate name for this child.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Nearly every child goes through a stage at some point where they want to choose a different name. At various points in my young life, I considered going by my middle name, Joyce, or choosing a different, prettier, more distinctive name like April or Cordelia (why yes, the latter thought did occur to me shortly after reading the Anne of Green Gables books). But as an adult, I finally decided that my name suits me and I don’t want to change it. (I did have one brief moment of considering a name change when I realized I shared a name with both my now-husband’s mother AND his ex-wife, but that’s another blog entry altogether.)

So at the various inevitable times in the future when my children come to me and complain about their names, I’ll try not to take it as a personal offense. And I’ll also remind them that they could have ended up named Norbert and Bertha. (No offense to anyone named Norbert or Bertha who may be reading this.) In fact, I’ll probably ask them if they prefer to be called Muttonhead. Suddenly Mom & Dad’s choice might not sound so bad, after all.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Strange Things in Strange Places

With two small, curious children in the house, I am often finding strange things in strange places. I’m not sure what it is that makes children want to hide objects in odd places –maybe they’re like squirrels, and they’re just stashing them for later. But in the past few weeks, here are some of the items that have appeared in strange places in my house:

  •         A popsicle stick (well, pieces of a popsicle stick) in the garbage disposal
  •         A Barbie doll in the trash can
  •         My camera in the laundry basket
  •         My Kindle Fire under the couch
  •         A sock on the bookshelf
  •         A Barbie shoe under the couch cushions
  •         A half-drunk juice box on the outside edge of the stairs
  •         Several rocks in the toy box
  •         A pair of underpants (not mine, thankfully) wedged behind the bunk bed
  •         An earring in my shoe
  •         Construction paper in the bathtub
  •         A toy truck on my pillow
  •         A single sneaker in the sandbox
  •         A DVD in the sink
  •         Pennies in the car DVD player (ouch)
  •         The TV remote in the…well, I haven’t actually found it yet, but I’m sure it will reappear eventually, possibly on (or in) the refrigerator, behind the easy chair, under the piano, etc.
The upside to this phenomenon is that I have gotten very good and hunting for – and finding – lost objects. I have learned to think creatively and not to make assumptions. Anywhere a child can reach (and often places I’m quite sure they can’t) is fair game as a hiding place. Inside, under, behind, atop…if it’s a preposition, it’s a possibility.

So when I discovered yesterday that my Kindle Fire was nowhere to be found, I took it not as a frustration but as a challenge. It’s not in the most obvious places like on my bedside table or on the bookshelf. It’s not in the more common hiding places like under the couch or in the toy box or under the bed. It’s not in some of the more obscure places like in the office closet or under one of the sinks. I’ve looked in every drawer, under every rug, and behind every movable object I can think of.

 I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. So I’ll just keep looking, high and low. If past history is any indicator, even if I don’t find it, one of these days one of my kids will wander by nonchalantly with it in their hands just as if it had never gone missing. I may never find out where it had been for those few days. Because why would my kids reveal their hiding places? They’re just testing them out for their teenage years. Which means I’ve got another decade to suss them out myself.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Piece of Cake

When I was a little girl, I always looked forward to my birthday. Of course, I loved getting birthday presents, and I loved that it was the one time every year that I got to choose the whole dinner menu (and even omit vegetables without being scolded). But what I loved most of all was the cake. When I was older, the good part about the cake was that I got to choose the flavor, but when I was small, the exciting part of the cake was that my mom would make it in the shape of something. One year it was a choo-choo train with Oreo wheels. One year it was a caterpillar with miniature candy-cane antennae. A bright red ladybug with licorice spots. A teddy bear with a gumdrop nose. Some years it was the shape of the number of my age decorated with my favorite candies.

But it was always something more special than a cake-shaped cake, and it was always something that I loved. And it was usually a surprise.

I promised myself as a child that when I had children, I would do the same for them for as long as they enjoyed it. Little did I know that by the time I had children of my own, extravagant cake decorating would be a huge trend and elaborate fondant-trimmed cakes created by a bakery (or a much more artistic and talented mom than I) would be the norm.

So when I sat down to make my own children’s cakes, I was intimidated for a moment that my creations would not be as spectacular as these. But you know what? I knew that my kids wouldn’t care. Like me, their cakes will be special to them not because they are works of art, but because they will know that their mom spent time choosing, baking, and decorating something special just for them. 


And if I raise my kids so that knowing that someone did something special for them makes them happy, then I’m doing something right with this parenting thing. And that’s so much more important than baking the perfect cake.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Priceless Stuff I Love

I’ve blogged recently about inexpensive things that I love and about expensive things that I love. But today, I want to write about things that I love that you can’t possibly put a price tag on.

Fuzzy Baby Heads
My youngest has finally outgrown that marvelous “fuzzy baby head” stage. But when she and my son were infants, there was nothing in the world I loved better than to rub my face against that amazingly soft, downy, peach fuzz on their heads and inhale that clean, sweet, Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo smell. Nothing in the world can compare to the innocent perfection of fuzzy baby head smell.

Morning Snuggles
I am one of those people who takes quite a bit of time to wake up in the morning. I don’t go from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds; I need a full 30 minutes before I become coherent, never mind fully awake. But during that prolonged half-asleep, half-awake time in the early morning, there is nothing I love better than snuggling with my toasty warm husband. We don’t chat, we don’t communicate, we don’t plan our day, we just snuggle. There’s no better way to wake up.

Ice cold cocktails
I’m not a big drinker, but I do like a good cocktail before dinner now and then. And there’s nothing quite as satisfying (especially on a hot summer evening) as a perfectly chilled drink with condensation running down the side of the glass and a few ice chips floating alongside the garnish. So refreshing!

Finding “your” jeans
Every woman’s body is different, so every woman’s “perfectly fitting jeans” are different. It may take years to find the perfect pair of jeans for your body. I didn’t find mine until I was in my 30s: Gloria Vanderbilts. I can buy them without trying them on and still know they’ll be well-fitting, comfortable, and flattering. I’d willingly pay hundreds of dollars for jeans like that, but since I get them at Costco, they’re a cool $19.99 – in other words, priceless.

A beautiful sunrise 
No camera can truly capture the beauty of a perfect sunrise. So on the rare occasion that I see one, I save it in my memory instead of (or at least as well as) on a memory card. Not being a morning person, my sunrises are pretty rare. So I remember most of the ones I’ve seen – from a porch in Iowa, over a river in Zimbabwe, across the Serengeti Plain in Kenya, off a fire escape in Medford MA, and over the railing of a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean. Each one is a treasured memory.

That Look
You know, the one you get from your spouse or significant other now and then that sends chills up your spine, puts butterflies in your stomach, and just generally makes you feel like a million bucks? Yeah, THAT Look. I love That Look. It’s great when it’s in the middle of a special moment, like a slow dance or a proposal or a wedding, but it’s even better when it’s just caught across the room in the middle of a party or when you walk in the door after a long day of work or when you first wake up in the morning. You can’t put a price tag on That Look.

The Right Sing-Along-in-the-Car Song
You know how every once in a while, you turn on your car radio and the perfect song is playing for the mood you’re in? A song that you just can’t help singing along with no matter whether you’re on your way to the grocery store, to work, or to a funeral. So you just belt it out, adding in air guitar and air drum as required. Maybe it’s Bohemian Rhapsody, maybe it’s La Via Boheme, maybe it’s something from La Boheme, maybe it’s Bohemian Like You (yeah, I found that last one on Google. I was going to listen to it but I read the first sentence describing the video and decided that probably wasn’t the best idea. But based on that alone I think it’s safe to assume that it’s VERY different from the other three songs in this list). But be it pop, Broadway, opera, or alternative rock, everyone has at least one song that speaks to their heart, and that they can’t help singing along with. (For the record, mine include Brick House by the Commodores, Play That Funky Music White Boy by Wild Cherry, Never from “On the Twentieth Century” by Comden and Green, and Voi Che Sapete from Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro.” Oh, and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Duh.).

Walking through falling snow

I love the muffled near-silence of being in a snowstorm. I love the squeak and creak of fresh snow underfoot. I love the cold, prickly feel of snowflakes on my cheeks and nose. I love the way the whiteness of the snow covers all the dirt and imperfections of the world around. I love the startling coldness of inhaling the frigid air and the moist warmth of exhaling into my scarf.

Opening a new box of crayons

This is a love I had forgotten but rediscovered when I had kids. In fact, I probably value it more now that I have kids, because my kids are brutal on crayons. A box as perfect and pristine as the box above has a life expectancy of about half a second in my house. Each crayon perfectly sharpened. All properly dressed in their paper wrappers. All standing in perfect rows like soldiers on parade. None broken, none missing. All eagerly waiting to erupt onto paper in the form of beautiful artwork. Yellow waiting to become the sun, blue the sky, green the grass, red a smiling mouth, brown a barking dog, white a fluffy cloud. So much perfect potential, all wrapped up neatly in a little yellow box.

A kiss

A kiss from someone you care about, and who cares about you, is the best thing in the world. It can be the kiss of a lover, a friend, a child (yours or someone else’s), a parent, even a pet. A kiss reminds you that you are not alone in this world. Now that’s what I call priceless.

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