Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Lightning McQueen Cake

This week Snoodie turned THREE!

And yes the years go by so fast, and how can he be so big already, and all that stuff...but that's not what we are here to talk about. 

We are here to talk about the cake that almost killed me.

People, if there's one thing I've learned about motherhood it's that one has to be INCREDIBLY careful about where one sets the bar in life. Because the simple fact is that once you've set it too high, there's no going back.

Let me give you an example. 

My mother always made homemade Halloween costumes. I'm talking the Statue of Liberty crafted completely from hand-dyed green sheets. I'm talking Circus Clown with hand-stuffed floppy feet and whimsical red mop wig. I'm talking Wonder Woman with each hand-cut star carefully sewn upon blue polyester shorts.

The woman was a major talent.

But the woman also had a problem. Because once she began producing these sensational garments, she was on the hook but good. Year after year, her kids and neighbors would anxiously await the revelation of her annual costumnal creations, and so she had to deliver.

Now, I find myself facing the same problem, as evidenced by the fact that this past Saturday I spent 12 hours crafting a cake for my son's 3rd birthday.

A little history:

For Snood's 1st birthday I kept it simple with this adorable plate of whimsically sprinkled cupcakes.

When birthday Number Two came along, I decided to up my game. Snoodie was in a train phase, and I thought that I could make a totally awesome cake that he would love.

And I so I set about crafting this:

Not bad right? Cars carrying loads of candy and animals into the hungry maws of sugar-crazed two-year-olds! What could be better? 

Well, I'll tell you.

How about a three-year-old birthday cake in the exact shape of Snoodie's all-time favorite race car hero - Lightning McQueen?

I can see now that this cake undertaking was likely overly ambitious from the start.  But without the benefit of this hindsight, I decided to give it the old college try, with a worst case scenario of making a last-minute jaunt to Baskin Robbins for a replacement.

I began by making two 13x9 sheets.  I piled one on top of the other and then, armed with a small replica of Lightning McQueen, I began to carve the cake freehand.

Problems became evident immediately. The cake was SUPER crumbly, which I hadn't really prepared for. This meant that precision sculpting was pretty much impossible. Also, while I had the body shape fairly well established, I was finding the detail work (like the fenders and spoiler) to be pretty much impossible to reproduce.

I desperately attempted to prop up falling pieces of cake using toothpicks, all the while clinging to hope that perhaps the "crumb coat" would prove my salvation. For those of you not familiar, the crumb coat is a thin layer of icing that is placed on top of the cake in order to ensure structural integrity and provide a clean surface in advance of the "real" icing and decoration.

Unfortunately for me, my crumb coat only seemed to exacerbate my cake's structural problems. Rather than fusing the cake into place, the crumb coat in my case was causing increased amounts of damage. By the time the spoiler came off entirely on my icing knife I realized that drastic measures needed to be taken.

It was time to ask myself a question from which there would be no return. And the question was this: 

Was I the kind of woman who was going to make fondant?

Shockingly, the answer to this question was YES.

Hours later (for the record when the fondant instructions say, "knead in the powdered sugar until a dough is formed" they mean do this for approximately FOREVER) I rolled out the final product and was, to say the least, disappointed to realize that I hadn't managed to produce enough to cover even 1/2 the cake.

:( <----- frowny fondant-related face

The above photo, taken roughly 6 hours into the cake-making process, depicts the half-covered cake, the laptop used for fondant recipe consultation, AND the empty wineglass (self-explanatory).

I reluctantly pressed forward with another multi-hour round of fondant creation and eventually managed to produce enough to coat the entire cake. I also, for the record, had a red food dye coated kitchen that looked like an entire bakery and several crime scenes had exploded within it.

But I also had a fully-iced cake complete with sculpted fondant eyes, goofy smile, lightening bolts, headlights and tail number.

Did I say sculpted fondant?  Yes, yes I did.

Did the cake look like Lightning McQueen? Not exactly. Maybe like Lightning McQueen after some low-level radiation exposure, but the point was that it was done.

And more importantly, Snoodie loved it and ran around the house the whole next day screaming joyfully,

"My Right-nin MaKeen cake is da best!!!"

...and the 12 hours didn't seem that long after all.

I guess what I'm saying is - score one for Mommy!

That being said, I'm DEFINITELY buying his Halloween costume this year.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Worst Case Scenario

So there was this article last week in the NY Times:

It's about a woman who accidentally wandered into a McDonalds Playplace in search of a bathroom for her children and was STUNNED to find out that the equipment on offer was not, in fact, all that clean. So then she went and got some swabs and further determined that all that yuck could be quantified with names such as "coliform bacteria" and "staphylococcus." It's all pretty Ewwww.

And, I mean, good for her I guess. 

We live in an age of information, which I'm sure has its positive aspects. That being said, I have to admit that my overall reaction to this tenacious mom warrior is:

"Hey, lady, keep it to yourself, would ya?"

Because on rainy days, I want to take my kids to the fastfood  playground.  I want to do so even though I get on some basic level that this means my toddlers will encounter generalized grossness at said location. But does this mean that I appreciate knowing the exact nature of the pathogens they will face as they play contentedly while I gnaw on some nuggets?

Not so much.

It makes me crazy that parents are constantly presented with information about potential threats to our children that doesn't actually tell us anything concrete about the level of danger these threats contain.  The fast food story, for example, provides no information about kids actually getting sick from encountering playplace germies. Instead, it merely reports on their presence and leaves you to ruminate on your failure as a parent should you opt to take your offspring to such a place and expose them to said filth.

It's kind of like the registries that tell you about the exact location of child molesters in your neighborhood. What value is this information adding to our lives?

Do you know there is a statistic (which I would attempt to actually look up and provide to you if I wasn't busy keeping half an eye on my 16-month-old who is currently attempting to climb into the dishwasher) that says that if you've spent over an hour in the ocean you have been within 15 feet of a shark. 

You can hear that factoid and be somewhat ooged out by it, but if someone were to provide you with a map of where those sharks were in relation to your chosen swimming spot you WOULD NEVER GO IN THE WATER AGAIN. And that would be a ridiculous and sucky way to live.

It seems to me that the sole purpose of all this "what's threatening your child today" information is to provide parents with a permanent sense of dread, because I don't believe almost any of is making our kids safer. And I get that it's complicated. We all want to do everything possible to protect our kids from harm. But when it comes to useless yet terrifying information? I'll take a pass.

So to you, doctor with long lists of potential diagnoses that could possibly affect my unborn child due to my charmingly named "Geriatric Pregnancy"  "NO THANK YOU FOR THAT INFORMATION!" 

And to you, producer of the nightly news segment on "The Secret Danger at the Mall that Could Kill Your Child," I say, "PUT A LID ON IT!"

And finally, to you, relative who emails me urban myth-based factoids on the cancer causing agents that may or may not be present in my children's drinkware, I DELETE YOU WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!

Because, as my Aunt Terry likes to say, "It's hard to worry right. You spend your whole life fretting about a heart attack only to get hit by a bus." This is why I'm trying to worry less and enjoy my children's childhoods more, regardless of how much the information age continues to try to frighten the pants off me.

So, while it will always skeeve me out, I now accept the fact that my kids will put cigarette butts in their mouths at the upscale outdoor playground AND eat discarded fries that may or may not have been stepped on at the fast food joint. I understand that they are going to encounter an amazing number of interesting and well-meaning people and a couple of really scary ones. I realize they're going to face an unimaginable myriad of dangers and I commit, along with my husband, to do all I can to keep them safe.

But to those who would attempt chronicle every single one of these potential dangers in advance and then desire share those discoveries with me, I say in conclusion,


Fair warning.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Control. Freak.

As Ms. Janet Jackson might say, this is a story about control. My control.

I like to be in charge. This stems primarily from the fact that I happen to know the most correct way to do just about everything. Don't ask how I came to be possessor of such gift. It just happened.

As I've matured, I've been shocked to realize that not everyone appreciates my ability to instruct them in the correct ways of being alive. This proves especially true when I try to help my fellow Los Angelinos face their driving errors through a judicious use of obscene gestures directed towards them through the windshield of my car.

And there are other examples. It turns out that my fellow humans also rarely appreciate my helpful suggestions on their work styles, their dishwasher loading methods and/or their thoughts on "what works" in terms of their personal hairstyling choices. Having now accepted this startling reality, I have tried, of late, to loosen my controlling grip on the universe.

And, to be honest, I've had some success.  I've become a more laid-back motorist. I've allowed other people to carve out their own relationships with my children (even though THE BABY REALLY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HELD LIKE THAT!). I've even stopped yelling at the television, "That looks terrible on you!" when overweight ladies choose the see-through wedding gown on "Say Yes to the Dress".

I'm telling you people, I've changed.

But last week, as I faced kind of a major birthday, I had a bit of a backslide.

I had a vision of how I wanted things to go for my fortieth. I longed to plot everything out just so. BUT, my husband assured me that he was in charge of the plan and that he wanted everything to be a surprise.

I was concerned.

Much like when I suspected that David was about to propose, and I began announcing at random intervals things like...

"You know I would never want a jumbotron to be involved in this, RIGHT???? Or any sort of skywriting!"

...I tried to gently but firmly guide his efforts.

"You're not going to make me do anything annoying like get on a boat, are you?"

"I really don't want to do anything that involves moving a lot, you get that about me, right?"

My list of prohibitions went on.
  • Please nothing at our house or I'll have to do a lot of cleaning.
  • If the kids are involved it will be a nightmare for me. No kids.
  • You know that I can't go to a spa, cause I'm pregnant, don't you?
  • If you buy me any sort animal I will kill you and then I will divorce your dead corpse. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
By the time the big day finally arrived the two of us were emotionally exhausted. My brain was stuck in overdrive - trying to imagine potentially disastrous birthday scenarios and stop David from executing them. My husband, meanwhile, had entered a state of near catatonia from fielding constant questions about the plan. 

Together we limped towards the night of the big celebration...

...and I have to say that it...was...PERFECT.

There was dinner with family. There were surprise guests flown in from out of town. There were exquisitely chosen gifts.

Honestly, I could not have imagined a more ideal evening.

And as we drove at the end of the night towards the hotel that my husband had booked for us, I thanked him. And I told him with all sincerity,

"You know, honey, this has helped me realize that when I let go of having to control everything, things can turn out just great. I'm going to take that lesson away from all of this. I promise."

And then I realized that the route we were taking to the hotel was totally crazy and got David to turn at the next light. 

Because I knew a better way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Does It All Mean?

This December, I will have been married for four years.

And like an anthropologist who has been living amongst a rare species for some time, I find myself anxious to share with you news from the field. For my experience has provided some stunning insights into the strange ways of the North American male (subspecies: husbandus californicus).

For example, I have managed to unlock the key to one question about men that plagued me throughout my years of dating.

And that question is: What Did He Mean By That?

Through careful research, I have now arrived at what I believe to be the complete and final answer to this query in regards to all men.

What he meant was...

If there is one revelation I have come to in my time amongst them, it is that the male of the species just does not give very much thought to what comes out of its mouth (nor, perhaps, what goes into it, judging from my husband's dinner choice last evening of a handful of tortilla chips paired with a chocolate chip cookie)

Allow me to give you an example based on my own dating history with the man I eventually married.

When David and I were first seeing each other, we had a standing date every Friday night. That was when we saw each other. 

After about two months of this arrangement, I found myself in his neighborhood on a Saturday night. I decided to call him up and see if he'd like to come out and join me as I sat listening to some music on the pier with a couple of friends.

He responded, AND I QUOTE!:

"I'm not sure I'm up for that much of you in one weekend."


Months later, after we'd gotten engaged and I was pretty sure that he was, in fact, that into me, I asked him about the exchange. While he admitted to saying it, he couldn't really remember why. Looking back, he thought maybe he wasn't into hearing that band. Or that perhaps there'd been a sports game on TV he didn't want to miss. He admitted, under stern questioning, that his actual response was deeply possibly bizarre, but remained steadfast in his assertion that he didn't mean anything by it. 

And the strange thing is, I believe it. I think he just kind of needed a response and that's what happened to come out.

Since then, there have been hosts of odd exchanges.

There was the time I emerged in a brand new short red dress and my husband exclaimed excitedly:

"Aw, you look like a tomato!"

There was the time when I cooked a three course meal and, without ever mentioning the deliciousness of the current offering, my darling remarked mid-way through course number two, apropos of nothing:

"You know what I REALLY like? Steakums."

In days of yore, such comments might have irked and confused me. I would have read much into them. I would have worried that my husband thought I was fat, hated my cooking, etc. 

But all the evidence in our daily lives seems to contradict this. David is wildly loving, he makes a huge effort to let me know that he thinks I'm great-looking, he eats everything I make with gusto. Generally, things seem pretty solid on the home front.

So, my conclusion is this: When it comes to men, watch their behavior carefully and then make a concerted effort to ignore a large percentage of the actual statements they make.

Because, as I was saying to a single friend of mine the other day, who was trying to parse what her suitor might have meant when he replied to her offer of tickets to a performance downtown, 

"Are you sure you want to waste those seats on me?"


ADDENDUM: This thesis should also be liberally applied to the query: WHAT IS HE THINKING? Based on my research, if your guess isn't one of the following:

a.  Sex
b.  Food
c.  Sleep
d.  Sports
e.  Sex, again

You are likely off track.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Home is Where

My husband and I are trying to figure out where to live.

We live somewhere now. A very nice little house in Los Angeles, as a matter of fact. But lately I've found myself developing an urge to roam.

When I graduated from college, I starting looking for somewhere to settle down. A friend and I were putting together a comedy show and decided we needed to find a location where we could work without any distraction, so we pursued what we considered the most reasonable option. We put the names of several small towns in a hat, picked one, and moved to Santee, South Carolina, where we lived for several months in a small cabin in the woods. 

From small town South Carolina, I headed next to New Orleans; then Portland, OR; Chicago; Las Vegas; and Brooklyn. I lived for several months (and sometimes years) in each place, discovering all the unique experiences that these cities had to offer.

In 2001, I got signed by an agent and moved to Los Angeles. I figured I would spend four or five years here, see what the city had to offer, try my hand at a comedy writing career, and then move on again.

But then a few things happened. First, I got some work. So I stayed. Then I met a guy and married him. So we stayed. Then we had some kids, bought a house, and the kids made some friends. So we all stayed.

Then, one night about a year ago, I woke up about four o'clock in the morning to the following terrifying realization: I LIVE HERE. IN LOS ANGELES. THIS IS WHERE I'M FROM.

Wiping cold sweat from my forehead, I was able, at least, to acknowledge that living in Los Angeles was not what one would deem a terrible fate. I mean, it's sunny here 340 days out of the year. We live in a fabulous neighborhood and have easy access to amazing museums, beautiful scenery, and super-fun child-friendly activities. Plus, sometimes I see Punky Brewster at the supermarket. Which is awesome.

But for reasons that would take about six hundred blog posts to explain, I don't really want to be from Los Angeles. We have family in Texas and New York and Chicago, and we want our kids to be closer to them. Also, although I can say with absolute certainty that I do not miss the grey freezingness of February in New York, I do miss the seasons. I have an undeniable calling to have my children know from snow days. Plus, I miss getting to see my team play at Giants stadium.

Are these good enough reasons to uproot our children, sell our home, and move thousands of miles away from our wonderful California-based life? I'm not really sure. 

But I have a strange feeling we might just do it anyway. 

Destination: As yet, UNKNOWN.