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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Team Dave's Road Trip, Day 4 - Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Hammonds Candy, and Denver Mint

This morning, we woke up to a dusting of snow on our van and the ground. We took advantage again of the center's breakfast, then headed north to Denver.

First stop was Hammond's Candies for their factory tour. We got to watch them make butterscotch candy canes from start to batch-rolling. They weren't making chocolate when we were there, but they did have their Easter candy on sale 75% off, so we got a solid chocolate bunny for $2.75. We did get a big old bag of Mitchells Sweets offs for $5. As you can see from that link, 4 of them are $7.50 but we got a bag of like 25 of them for $5. And they're super addictive. We got a couple of free candy canes that were broken, including a cream-filled cinnamon and a regular blueberry one. It's neat; the centers are made up of broken pieces that are melted back into a base and recycled. They also gave us a bubblegum-flavored Valentine's heart lollipop, then I bought two 2-ounce candy canes. One of them is cherry filled with chocolate, and the other is five spice. Looking forward to trying that one. Lastly, we bought a piece of bacon taffy. Yes. That's right. I wish we'd bought more. It's pretty fabulous.

Next, we went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It was huge and, initially, PACKED with kids. School kids, daycare kids, pre-school aged kids... Lots and lots of kids. My introvert husband was a bit overwhelmed. We probably should have called it a day after that, but I'd made reservations for one more thing just afterwards, and since the reservations had been in place for three months, I thought we should go ahead and do that.

Anyway, the museum was too big to take in in one day, much less the brief three hours we had. I learned that my arm-span-to-height ratio is a little low. James and I are the same height, and his total reach is two inches more than mine. I'm going to blame all of my upper-body-lack-of-strength on this from now on.

Unfortunately, I left my phone in one of the 4 or 5 bathrooms I visited while we were there. Fortunately, by the time I called the museum at about 7:30 this evening, someone had turned the phone in. I even got the security guy to turn the phone off for me to save its charge. Of course, I'll have to reactivate the phone service once I have it again, but I didn't want anyone calling my friends.

After the museum, we went to the Denver Mint (no pictures allowed) and watched a million or so pennies be made. It costs over 2 cents to make a penny, over 10 cents to make a nickel, but closer to a nickel to make a dime. Figure out the economics on that one.

We checked into our hotel (thanks, Priceline!), and Daphne wanted to stay in for the evening, so James and I walked next door to Bender's where we started our meal with poutine... it was divine! It was also VERY cold, so when we came back to the hotel, we jogged across the promenade.

We all spent the night recovering a bit from the pretty busy tourist day, and we don't have to make it to a breakfast or anything in the morning, so we're going to take it a lot slower tomorrow.

Pictures from today start here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Team Dave's Road Trip, Day 3 - Adventures in Odyssey and Pike's Peak

This morning, we got up and were able to take advantage of the better-than-continental breakfast that our lodge provides. Full of grits and juice and chocolate soymilk and bacon and other goodies, we drove over to the Focus on the Family Welcome Center.

James was very indulgent to spend two full hours there with Daphne and me, given that he has almost zero context for any of it. He was able to go down the three-story twisty slide, which I could not since I'm pregnant. Daphne went down it twice. We were there when Whit's End opened and they both got a Wodfamchocsod; I opted for a Diet Pepsi as I had not had my caffeine fix yet, and this is an important part of my day.

We all sat in the lobby for a while as Daphne posted several pictures to an Adventures in Odyssey club online, and then we drove to Manitou Springs to the Cog Railway station for a trip up Pike's Peak. Upon our arrival, we learned that due to snow and high winds, the train wasn't cleared to go to the summit, 14,500 feet. Instead, we'd be stopping at 12,500 feet but they were also refunding a portion of our ticket prices.

We went to the store to grab snacks, having packed plenty of water, and had a great couple of hours taking in the sites with neither James nor I having to drive. The conductor offered plenty of information, varying levels of veracity, about Pike's Peak on the way up. On the way down, we chatted and were grateful that every moment brought increasing oxygen. Although we didn't reach the peak, we did get just above the timberline. Pretty impressive, especially considering that 90% of the railway's line is original from the 1890s.

The shortened train ride gave us some time to explore Manitou Springs, which is a charming town at the foot of Pike's Peak. Daphne was pretty tired, so actually asked to sleep in the van while we checked out some stores. Although it was cold, it was sunny, so the interior of the van was warm. She rested and we went to a comic book and gaming store, then went to the Manitou Brewing Company where James tried a very dark stout and I enjoyed my second caffeine fix of the day.

After that, we were able to get into our dinner reservation half an hour early as they weren't busy. We had fondue at Mona Lisa, but having snacked on the train, elected to get only the cheese and chocolate courses. For our first course, we went with a creamy Fontina mixture, and then for dessert, dark chocolate salted caramel.

We got back "home" early enough for Daphne to chat with some friends and draw while James and I played a cutthroat game of hangman, then watched Agents of SHIELD. Once again, he's asleep and it's my turn!

Pictures from today start here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Team Dave's Road Trip, Day 2 - Amarillo to Colorado Springs

This morning, after everyone got up and around, we drove to Love's for gas and then to Cadillac Ranch to do some "damage." It was windy, but we managed to spray paint a few nice touches and the people who got there as we were leaving did not have paint cans, so what we wrote stayed at least for a while.

After that, we headed north through the northeast corner of New Mexico and into Colorado. The scenery was beautiful, it was not as windy as yesterday (though it was extremely windy), and there were no dust storms at all.

We ended up lunching in Walsenburg at the Coyote Cafe. Neat little place, and the food was excellent... it's just that my pizza took so long to cook ("The oven isn't usually this slow!") that James and Daphne had already finished their mushroom Swiss melt and bacon mushroom Swiss burger, respectively, before it was finished. The waitress brought me a free side salad, and when the pizza was ready to go, I had it boxed up and ate some of it on the road.

It was with gratefulness that we pulled into Colorado Springs earlier than anticipated, and the van running like a champ. This trip is putting it through its paces with the wind and elevation changes and dust.

The first thing we did was go to Garden of the Gods. It's indescribably beautiful. You can look at my pictures, but even they don't adequately capture how amazing the place is. We walked on the paved trail for an hour or so, enjoying blue skies and a break from the relentless wind. When we were on our way back to the car to drive to another area of the park, the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped what felt like a good ten degrees. The wind whipped back up, and we rushed to the car, breathing hard from the elevation to which we are not accustomed.

We drove around and looked at more formations, then as we stopped at Pull-Out 8 to see some red rocks plus Pikes Peak, it started to snow!

Fortunately, we are staying less than two miles from Garden of the Gods at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center. Because Daphne is under 16, we couldn't stay in the castle, but we got a room in a small lodge and it's perfect for us.

When we first arrived, there was a conference group checking in at the carriage house, so we walked up to the castle and explored it for a bit before going back down to check in. On the way to the lodge, we happened to catch a huge (I think; it was easily a dozen, maybe more) herd of bighorn sheep grazing in front of the adjacent lodge.

We got settled in, meaning that Daphne got on the internet and I unpacked for our two nights, then James and I set out to find somewhere to go for dinner. He happened across Edelweiss German Restaurant, and, man, was that a winner. Daphne had jagerschnitzel (pork medallions), James had a stuffed pasta, and I had an amazing Waldorf salad. We had so much food that we all brought back left-overs. And we also ordered dessert to go: a slice of Dobosh Torte and a Mocha Mousse Torte. Breakfast, I guess?

Now we're back at Glen Eyrie, and I think it's time for bed! James has already been asleep for an hour. I'm ready to join in.

Road Trip Mini-Update 1.5 - KOA quirks and how I'm kind of Macguyver

Yesterday, except for some probably fake tea (read: reconstituted, not brewed), I had almost no caffeine. Between that and the weird dust storm stuff plus my allergies, I got a couple of visual migraines which, if you have to have a migraine, they're the best ones because you can't feel them at all; they're just freaky. Anyway, here at the KOA, I had bought a 20-ounce Diet Coke in the store, and barely had time to take a swig before we went to dinner - where I didn't buy soda because I knew we had cheaper soda at "home."

However, once we got back, I realized that I probably needed not to drink anything else the rest of the night if I didn't want to have to get up and go to the restroom. It's not too far from our cabin; it's probably 100 yards, maybe a little more. But, as I mentioned, the wind got *worse* once we got back. The porch swing hit the cabin several times. I did *not* want to have to run over there.

Fortunately, my strategery worked and I made it until 5:36 this morning. Since it was practically morning morning, I decided to go ahead and get my shower, then I'd fix my hair while Daphne was over getting cleaned up this morning... later.

If you've ever stayed at a KOA "kamping kabin" (I hope that's not a racist thing), you know that you have to bring your own linens. Except here we had the option to rent them for $20 for the night, and since we already had to bring jackets and coats and shorts and clothing options that ranged from the high-70s to the mid-30s, I didn't want to haul any more than we needed to, especially for just one night.

Consequently, we had bed coverings... just not towels. I didn't think of those. Oh well, we can make do, right?

So this morning, in the cabin in the dark (little man by the window stood-- oh, wait, wrong story), I grabbed my clothes for today (which I'd put on the handy peg last night; three pegs, three people's clothes) as well as the "bathroom bag" I'd packed for D and me to tote over there. I threw my ugly plaid overshirt on over my nightgown, pulled on a pair of leggings, and came outside to find it in the high-40s, yes, but not windy. It was actually not cold at all. It felt lovely, and the air was cleared out of all of the grit we were chewing on yesterday.

First thing about the bathroom is that the lights are on a 30-minute timer. During the day, there is enough ambient light from the windows that you don't really need them. That's one interesting way to keep people from standing in the hot showers all morning. Oh, and, yes, the water (after three minutes of my being concerned) gets wonderfully scalding.

The facilities at every KOA I have visited have been consistently clean and nice. However, in a bathroom for women, I can't believe there is nowhere to prop a foot in case you want to, you know, shave. Well, we made that work.

Drying off sans towel would be no big deal; my plan was to use my yesterday clothes for that. But then it hit me that Saturday afternoon, after I'd showered and towel-dried my hair, when it drip-dried, I ended up with orange spots down the back of a yellow t-shirt. I know, I should rinse my color out better. But that was the THIRD wash since I'd colored, and I can't stay in the shower for two hours!

Anyway, I didn't want to mess up my pretties; I'm kind of in love with my maternity clothes. Then it hit me: Leggings! I turned them inside out, flipped my head over, put the waist part around my hairline, and then pulled each "leg" around my head in an opposite direction so that I ended up with a Jemima-esque bow in the middle of my forehead. Ridiculous? Maybe. But problem solved.

Also, I forgot my shoes, so had to slip sandals back on over my socks. Oh well.

Back at the cabin now, waiting for the others to wake up. We have some more driving to do today, then will arrive at our destination. Grateful for the milder weather so I can sit out here on the porch updating and watching the sun rise without bothering James and Daphne too much. I can sleep, but on vacations, I guess my body doesn't want to miss a minute of anything.

Here are the pictures from yesterday!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Team Dave's Road Trip, Day 1 - Austin to Amarillo

This morning, I woke up and went to Ken's doughnuts to get kolache and pastries to lure James and D out of bed earlier (and happier) than usual for a Sunday. My goal was to head out by 8, and we were in the Astro and on our way by 7:40.

Daphne slept for the first three hours of the trip, while James and I just took in the scenery. It started getting very windy at, well, the wind farms just southeast of Sweetwater. We pulled into town in time to get gas and stretch our legs a bit before Allen's Family Style Meals opened for lunch.

Another family was already seated at "our" table when we were told where to park ourselves, so the fried chicken was already down. There were also bowls of carrots, yams, cold creamed potatoes, hot potato chunks, creamy pea salad, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, a pepper salad, rolls, beef with gravy, green beans, corn, white gravy, squash, and probably a lot of other things I can't remember. Oh, and peach cobbler. My goodness.

When we walked in, we were directed to the table and asked if we wanted iced tea. That's it. Then the food comes on like crazy. For all of that, it was $10 per person.

Well-fed, we were ready to hit the road again. Wind was worse, and we had to blast "Holes" so we could hear it over the ambient noise. There were at least two, and maybe three times when the visibility was less than 50 feet, so I'd slow way down, turn on the lights and the hazards, and proceed with caution.

When we finally reached Palo Duro Canyon, there was a clear demarcation in the sky exactly where the dust storm was and where it wasn't... yet. We were able to see the first set or two of formations, but could not see into the distance. Heck, I couldn't enjoy the scenery without binding my skirt in my fist or else flashing other visitors to this state park.

We stayed for about an hour, taking in the view and then getting to see even more from the shelter of the visitor's center before it closed.

Then we drove the rest of the way into town and checked in at the Amarillo KOA. We have a nice cabin that even has a television, which we unplugged so we could charge all of our devices.

We had planned to have dinner at the Big Texan Steakhouse, but none of us was hungry enough after lunch. We found a place online, Bangkok Restaurant, that was basically billed as good food on the grungy Amarillo Boulevard. Since it seemed like a local must-visit, we went and had dinner there. It was excellent.

Now we're in the cabin listening to the outrageous winds. I'll be glad to leave Texas tomorrow and get away from the crazy storm cell! Daphne is chatting online with friends, James is already asleep, and I'm ready to be asleep. I'm uploading a few pictures, but the wi-fi here is spotty, so will pause it and finish tomorrow.

We make the rest of the road trip tomorrow, then get to hang out for the majority of the week without much Astro booty time. Looking forward to that, too! :)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Gearing up to gear down

The past couple of days have been a (comparative) flurry of activity as we get ready to go on our first family vacation as a family (we did spend a week at the Texas coast back in November 2012, but we were all still new and getting used to each other then).

Yesterday, Daphne and I walked down to The Cutting Room to get her head made over. Here are a few pictures of that.

From April 2014

From April 2014
She has fine hair like I do.

From April 2014
From April 2014
From April 2014

We love it so much! It'll be great for summer and Daphne really liked the hairdresser. Since they're just a block away, we'll be sure to seek her out from now on.

Today has been errands and shopping, getting ready for our morning head-out tomorrow. As soon as I woke up, I rode my bike to the bigger CVS that's further away from our house than our "usual." I got some snacks and a couple of spray/rub-in volumizers for her hair. Then I came home to unload all of that, and then rode down to Austin Urban Vet Center to get cat food. We have plenty, but my mom will be here next week and I didn't want her to have to go, in case the cats decided to go on a snack binge as soon as we left.

Back home, I did our last load of laundry and packed everything that we aren't going to use tonight and in the morning.

James wanted lunch at Cabo Bob's, so all three of us walked up there. I wouldn't have thought of eating there but I'm glad he picked it. I got the salad with crispy fish, and that fish is delicious. Now I kind of want to go back for dinner.

Except that I'm not exercising any more today. When we got home from Cabo Bob's, I rode my bike to our closer CVS because I hadn't realized we were out of trash bags, and also Daphne needed a stabilizer for her thumb. She jammed it when she was a trampoline place for TJ's birthday last week, and I hadn't noticed how swollen it was. Yeesh.

So now, it's nap time then I'll shower and get as ready for tomorrow as possible. I'm going to be up and ready to drive, and I'm probably going to have to wake tired people and make them walk out to the van. I know, it's vacation, but we have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow and since I'm driving, I will be ready to go. They can both sleep as much as they want to!

Where are we going? You'll just have to stay tuned to find out!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

5-month check-up

Today, I had my monthly check-up, which basically consists of taking some numbers, heart rate and blood pressure, and then measuring the baby and getting a heart rate on it. What I love about midwifery is that I was there about half an hour, all of which was office time (except for the bathroom time) and we chatted about a lot of things.

The baby has been pretty consistently active since April 8, and today was no different. Rooby would not be still, so Jayme was only able to get about four heartbeats in a row before she'd have to move the Doppler to try to find the baby again. In the end, she said it was just fine and she was going to go with a heart rate in the 140s. Also, the measurements looked spot on with my being 21 weeks today, which is where I am on paper; so it's nice that the growth appears to be on track.

As for me, I'm exercising as much as or even more than normal. I'm not feeling the net four pounds I've gained - I lost some weight at the beginning, but since I started showing have felt like I really ballooned and was a bit surprised that number was so low. Everything's just moving to my torso and my... um, girls. My hair is silky and growing fast. I LOVE this part of pregnancy. I feel great. After we did the measuring and Doppler, the midwife asked if I needed help getting up. I kind of laughed and declined, stating that I'm pretty ambulatory right now. She said some women, by my stage, are having a hard time.

I actually weigh right now what I weighed right before I got pregnant with Daphne, and I'm definitely in better cardiovascular health than I was when I was 28. This pregnancy has been no more difficult, and, if anything, easier, than my younger one.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My favorite quick bike route in Austin (so far)

Saturday, my sister and I checked out Shoal Creek Trail for the first time, and we LOVED it! I made a MapMyRide route of it and then went back yesterday to do almost the same loop, with some video. The only difference is that instead of turning left onto 12th and then taking Lavaca north to 15th, I actually rode my bike through the Capitol complex, and it "felt" like less of an incline (or maybe I just had more to distract me visually) in addition to being fun.

Saturday, my brilliant diversion was to take us in front of the Governor's Mansion, but the steep climb on 11th unfortunately killed my sister's new-to-her bike chain mid-shift, so we ended up coast/walking the rest of the way home.

I called this route "Very Varied" because you start out at West Campus, which is a student area with housing, fraternities and sororities, and trailer food. Then you hit Shoal Creek Trail, which feels for all of the world like it's in the middle of nowhere, even though it largely parallels Lamar. You get glimpses of the high-rises downtown and can sometimes hear the traffic, but a lot of it is wooded and in the shade, even at 2:00 PM.

Near the south end of Shoal Creek, you have to come off of the trail because of construction as the power plant is renovated for the opening of, among other things, Trader Joe's. At that point, we're back into the city, just for a bit, as we detour down San Antonio to Town Lake Trail. As I noticed the first time I rode the north lake trail, it's not nearly as popular (and therefore populated) as the south trail. This is great for biking! I feel like a jerk, slowly pedaling behind runners, looking for a safe spot to pass where I won't hit oncoming joggers.

You could take the lake trail out further east, but I exit where the construction cuts it off at the actual lake at Waller Creek Boathouse. Then it's just a matter of looping back north through downtown however you choose. If you want more of a work-out, you can take Trinity further north than 2nd and wait to turn west until 8th or so. Those hills are not my favorite, as I try to avoid hills where there is a lot of traffic both for safety and because if the hill kicks my rear, I don't want too many witnesses to my shame of having to push the bike.

So, in this short 7.4 miles, we have urban, wooded park, university, and even some regular business and neighborhoods.

Also, this is the first video I've put together using Adobe's Premiere Pro since we subscribed to Creative Cloud. There is a learning curve, but I'll get there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A month of (Easter) Sundays

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Treasuring things and pondering them in my heart is difficult for me. I'm a sharer. But as I reflected on my personal experiences with Easter yesterday, I realized that there is no way to share fully what I was experiencing without seeming to dishonor some people, or telling portions of other people's stories, which I have no right to do. Thus I will make this as brief and general as possible.

For as long as I can remember, I usually spend part of holidays or special dates looking back to what I was doing at the same time the year before, or the year before that, and sometimes I try to think back as far as I can just to see how my memory holds up.

Yesterday, I went back four years. Four years' of Easter Sundays.

Easter Sunday 2010: I stood onstage after church, watching people chat with friends, hug their family members, and I was intensely sad. Lonely. I knew something had to change. I craved that. That year, I'd written part of the drama that we used in that weekend's services. The first half was pretty much my life, as it was. The second half was my fantasy about how God could turn it around. He'd done it before, and I was confident that He'd do it again... in exactly the same way. And, yes, it'd be work, but eventually it'd be a tidy end to a messy story.

Of course, that's not what happened.

Easter Sunday 2011: I was separated, living in my RV, sitting through a painful church service, looking forward to a gathering at a friend's house, where there would be lots of fun and food and kids and noise, and I wouldn't have to think.

Easter Sunday 2012: I was almost a year out from my divorce. I had my first out-of-home job in a decade. I was a couple of weeks away from deciding to move to Austin. I felt jaded about the way reality plays out. I had pretty much checked out of the things that had brought me any kind of joy before. I was coasting, and that was on a good day.

Easter Sunday 2013: It was the day before my wedding. I was operating on little sleep due to my back, and having been up most of the night freaking out from pain and the mental fatigue that comes with sleep deprivation. James' brother and sister-in-law were here. We played Battlestar Galactica at my small group's Easter gathering. What a difference one little year made.

Easter Sunday 2014: Looked a lot like last year's, but without James' family being here. And zero back pain! What a difference ANOTHER year made.

Yesterday during church, I sat in the back of the auditorium, watching from behind the computer, trying to figure out why ProPresenter 5 hates me. I worshiped the same God and the same risen Jesus I'd worshiped four years earlier, but everything looked different. Different church family. Different friends. Different location. Different marriage. Different kid, even though she's technically the same kid (pre-teen stuff, you know). Completely different identity.

I didn't want a new identity. I wanted the majority of the life I loved, only tweaked. That wasn't what happened, both through the work of God and my own (good and poor) decisions.

Actually, yesterday I thought a lot about David, as in the King of Israel from the Old Testament. We have a lot in common. David was passionate to the point of absurdity. When he was excited, he wasn't just atwitter, he was "take off your clothes and leap and dance in your undies before God" excited. When he was grieved, he wasn't just sad, he was "you're insulting your troops with your selfish mourning; they saved your life, you ingrate" grieved. When he was attracted, he wasn't just passing-glance admiring; he was "send for the woman and have my way with her" attracted. Even though it was wrong. Even though she wasn't his to summon.

And besides the passion, here's where I think we're similar: When he got into trouble, he felt like he could fix it. He could manipulate, he could arrange things, he could act like a crazy person to throw off those whose attention he wanted to divert. Both of us could remember more often that turning things over to The Fixer is the better choice, but when you're in the habit of controlling, it's very difficult.

In the end, his saving grace and mine is believing in and loving a God who knows our hearts. David was what we, in the modern vernacular, would call a "hot mess." But when Jesus' dying moment was upon him, whom did he quote?  His ancestor David.

So, what have I learned over the past four years? God doesn't always show up like you expect him to, but he always shows up. In the meantime, be patient. You might think you have this, but odds are you don't. He is definitely prodigal with the second and third and fourth chances.

Also, I think I belong in the back of the auditorium from here on out. I learned that visible service sometimes leads to a feedback loop that feels a lot like a relationship with God, but is really just good, productive feelings which are enthusiastically encouraged and affirmed by others... also, those people start to feel like they know you, when they don't, and they expect things of you that I, personally, as a broken person, cannot possibly deliver.

And, finally, I find myself in the ridiculous position of being happier and more at peace than ever after a series of missteps and screw-ups and outrageous grace. I thank God that he knows my heart, and he knows my stories, and he loves me with all of it... and that he sent me a family who does the same.

Ultimately, Easter, the resurrection narrative, is all about hope for eternity. But it's also about hope for today. And tomorrow. And two weeks from Friday. The icing on this cake is something I appreciate completely.

Festive Easter Cake

This is really a review of sorts of three different recipes. First, I saw this pinata cake somewhere and thought it was kind of a cool idea. But I didn't like the idea of loose candy spilling out of the cakes when they were cut into. When you watch the guy eat the cake, you can tell it looks pretty challenging. My idea was to create a filled cake and incorporate some Easter eggs into the filling. Fortunately, I have had the Betty Crocker Bake n' Fill set for years. It's really neat, and I love having the opportunity to use it. (I actually like the rounded pan as a solid cake; I used it to make an unfilled Snitch cake once, and the fondant was perfect on top of it!)

So... to start, I knew I needed a heavy cake; a pound cake. I went with Paula Deen's Mama's Pound Cake recipe.

Mixing the butter and shortening.

Added the sugar.

After the milk and flour were incorporated.
I did use plain soy milk for this cake, for no other reason than I had some left over and needed the space in my refrigerator. It worked out beautifully.

Since I was going for festive, I added pastel food coloring to the batter.

I tried to shake the pans to even out the batter, but his stuff is thick! So I got to use my favorite kitchen utensil on earth: the offset spatula.

 Unfortunately, all of that mixing and color lead to this, the first of three sinks full of dishes I sullied making the cake.
*blink* *blink* Dang it; they're still dirty. *blink* Why isn't this working?
In case you haven't seen the Bake n' Fill set, it's just a cake pan with a "lid" you screw on to make sure when the cake rises, it leaves an indention for filling.

See the "fill to" line? It's practically fool-proof!

It worked! I think my oven is crooked, though... but only part of it.
I baked the cakes on the same rack, but only the bigger cake was uneven. Weird. Fortunately, I knew I could fix it with filling!

Originally, I had planned to use a whipped cream filling, but it's gotten warmer in the past week or so, and our refrigerator, you might remember, is full to the point of our having to strategically brace ourselves whenever we open the door. So, after following several internet rabbit holes from "non-refrigerated cake filling," I came across something called "Mousseline buttercream." Oh. My. Goodness.

Egg whites, sugar, and vinegar (because I didn't have cream of tartar; vinegar is an acceptable substitute).

Now for the tricky part: The recipe says to transfer the sugar/water syrup to a glass bowl to stop the cooking, and they aren't kidding. I thought I could just drizzle the syrup quickly from the saucepan because it has a spout, but in the time I put it on the counter and got the mixer ready to go again, the syrup had solidified into a sugar tablet the size of the bottom of the pan, and reheating it did not help.

The second time, I poured it into a jar because I don't have glass bowls. It was MOLTEN. I had to use a silicone glove to hold the syrup whilst pouring it.

It says to avoid the beaters when you're pouring, because if you get the syrup on the mixer, it will crystallize and might make the icing chunky, too. Even doing it "right," I wasn't quite fast enough to get ALL of the sugar mixture before it became hard candy.

It worked, though!
Then, we add the ONE POUND of butter, one tablespoon at a time.

You have to wait until the syrup and egg mixture is completely cool, because if the butter melts, your icing will be a runny, gloppy mess. You can't salvage it. I didn't mind losing 1/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup sugar to my mistake, but 5 egg whites and a pound of butter would have been an expensive do-over.

Just so you know, when you get about halfway done with the third stick of butter, the ratio of butter to other stuff shifts, and the butter might start clumping together. Don't freak out. After you add all of the butter, you can just turn up the mixer and it will smooth it all out.

One of the best things about this "frosting" is that it's not very sweet at all. It's mostly buttery. So I felt like it was fine to add...

I filled the hole in the cake, like spackling a hole in the drywall. It filled it up perfectly, and I'd saved some to put on the rim of the cake to attach it to the solid base. I was able to even out the cake this way, instead of cutting the cake down.

The final, un-iced result:

Finally, I wanted a chocolate icing. Another rabbit trail and I found this recipe for chocolate buttercream that looked perfect. 

I did make a couple of changes: I used half shortening and half butter (again with shelf-stability). I used cinnamon because we didn't have any instant coffee. And I used a minimum of heavy cream. If you use more, you can make the icing glossy, but I wanted a "matte" finish because I didn't want to wake up to the cake having slipped, or the filling spilled out, or the eggs having fallen off of the cake.

Nice hat.

The finished product, or "ugliest cake ever," according to a Facebook friend.
I thought it was pretty! Plus, it was a thick matte frosting out of necessity. I loved it! :) Besides, when it's cut in to:

*angels singing(

The left-overs went into the freezer, because one piece of this every month or so is MORE than enough. My daughter, whose sweet tooth is only slightly less potent than mine (and is in second place behind her meat tooth) couldn't even polish off one tiny piece.

We didn't do an official egg hunt (I think that Daphne wasn't well, plus, you know, she's nearly a teenager), but I did hide eggs... in my cake! I will definitely use the individual components of this cake again individually. Together, it's a LOT going on! Maybe too much, but it made me happy. :) 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The good with the bad

Although there are some negative things that go along with pregnancy (crying at the drop of the hat, the general queasiness and exhaustion of the first trimester, the inability to stay awake later than my preteen child, etc.), I actually really enjoy being pregnant, especially from here on out.

Yesterday, I crossed the half-way mark, so it's gloriously downhill from here. I feel good (still sleepier than usual, but less so); I get to wear loose, comfy clothes; my hair is fabulous; and it's just generally a good time.

My favorite part, though? It's this: You know how sometimes you'll catch a glimpse of yourself in a storefront window or unexpected full-length mirror and even if you try to discipline yourself, you end up critiquing your appearance? I LOVE being able to do that and grin because I look pregnant. Nowhere are there negative thoughts or self-doubts. It's always pleasant. And, because we only have the face-sized mirror in the bathroom, it's also a bit of a surprise. I love it.

I wish I could say I'm beyond caring what the reflection says about my appearance otherwise, but I'm not. Only when I'm expecting do I have the freedom to relish every freakish change my body makes. So I'm enjoying it while it lasts!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Park Focus: Palma Plaza

Today, I thought we'd do something a little bit different. There is a park in our general area, and every time we drive past, I itch to explore it.

This afternoon, I rode my bike over, and first of all, I don't recommend doing that if you live east of the park. We've walked once before and it's not much better. Accessing it on foot from the south, we had to walk up Castle Hill. I didn't want to do that, so I accessed it from the north, which meant riding my bike on 15th, which was only marginally better and nearly killed me.

But it didn't! And so, without further ado, my maybe second video and very first single-focus video I've done on this site. Hope you like it and that it inspires you, too, to explore our magnificent city park system!

He's just not my type

Last weekend, James and I went to Whole Earth Provision Co. to look at hammocks. In trying to decide between a full-out "matrimonial" hammock or two hammock chairs, we decided to measure our back porch to see which would fit better.

When James got the tape measure, he also measured his office, which will eventually be the nursery, so we can plan how to fit the stuff we're going to need.

The resultant measurements throw into stark relief one of the fundamental differences between James and me. If I'd measured the "nursery," my output would have been a Post-It Note that said: 11'2" x 8'5". For the porch, I would have noted that we have about ten feet of usable length (sadly, we have to use some for storage because of the lack of indoor places to stow things).

Not James. James realized in his measuring adventures that his office/the nursery is not square, so the width at the front of the room is different than the width at the back. Here is what he presented to me.

There it is. The measurements we needed, along with other measurements he took because he was there, and that's the kind of thing he does. Also, this is in inches. Which means I have mentally to convert to feet, for some reason, because that's how my frame of reference works.

My point here is that James and I are just plain different. This kind of overwhelms my pea brain. But if I'd done the measuring, it's entirely possible that I would have purchased a chair that would have been too wide to fit through the door opening.

Now I can take this schematic shopping with me (still a couple of months down the road) and know exactly what I'm dealing with.

James and I were discussing earlier this week how our strengths happen to fall in very different places, and how brilliantly this is working out for us. We seem to have all of the important bases covered, and it all falls beautifully into place. <3

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rooby, present and accounted for

This morning at 8, we had our mid-term ultrasound, known as an anatomy scan.

James worked late last night... Well, that's a misnomer. James worked long enough that I texted him that I was going to bed at 10 and woke up and 1:30 with him still not home. His phone had died, but by 2:30 I was able to get him on Google Chat to find out that he was indeed still at work, and then I was able to sleep a little more.

He got home at around 5:00 AM, his very gracious team having let him leave since they knew about our radiology appointment. He got maybe a good hour of sleep before he had to get back up, and we made our way to the medical center.

Just as I was becoming extremely uncomfortable, the tech called us back. She took pictures of everything: 4-chambered heart (160 beats per second), stomach, kidneys, bladder, cord insertion, 3-vessel cord, brain, spine, nose, lips, creepy-ass "orbits" (sorry, kid), and I believe a femur measurement, but it's not labeled. So everything looks good, I suppose, and we don't know the gender. The baby is measuring right on target with my "on paper" dates, which means it's caught up from earlier on, when it was about a week behind.

My friend Lisa had told me to drink some orange juice or something sugary so the Rooby would be up and moving. My mother-in-law suggested drinking ice-cold water while we were there, if the baby was sluggish... but the baby wasn't sluggish. The technician said, "Oh, we're plenty active." We did get to watch it moving around on video, playing with its hands, kicking its legs, and at one point appearing to flash the Longhorns sign.

Today, James and I are both lethargic and groggy, but it was totally worth not making up sleep to see that. Thanks for the prayers and good thoughts!

Wherein I throw in my two cents about "Frozen"

In addition to the ubiquitous saturation of the radio, internet, and our very brains by the soundtrack (particularly one song to which I will not refer, lest I inadvertently hand you an ear worm) of the Disney movie "Frozen," there has been much written on what message the show presents at its core.

"It's about how women don't need men to save them." "It's about how only love can melt a frozen heart." "It suckers you in by thinking it's feminist, but then when Elsa becomes fully 'herself,' she vamps it up with more make-up, a painted on dress, and pole dancing."

As a parent, I probably took away a message that was different than anything my daughter might have noticed.

Basically, what was important to me, was that Elsa's parents learned something about their daughter that they did not understand and feared. In their fear, they took poor advice and told her it was something dangerous and shameful, and that she needed to hide it. And that's what sets the movie's plot into gear.

How many times do we reprimand a child with, "Don't say things like that!" Period. No explanation. We just want to stop an embarrassing behavior, so we put the kibosh on it without teaching to it. Say, you're at someone's house and they serve asparagus for dinner. Your child says, "No, I don't like asparagus." *cringe* "Rude! Don't say that."

What does the child hear? "Don't be honest about my feelings"? "Don't dislike things"? "Hide the truth from my parents because it makes them mad"?

It's a totally different thing to teach to that. "Our friend went to a lot of work to prepare dinner. When you work really hard on something, how would you feel if someone just shrugged and said, 'Eh. Don't like'? It would probably hurt your feelings. Especially if you were proud of yourself, or knew that what you'd done was difficult. If you don't like a food someone serves us, you can say 'No, thank you' or you can take some and try a bite or two. Then we can talk about why you don't like it later, in private. Is it the smell? The taste? The texture? I love to know about your likes and dislikes, but not at a time when it might hurt someone else."

That is a lot of words. It can be exhausting. I get that. But to assume, "That kid's just being a jerk. He knows better" is foolish. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don't have a clue. And I get it that sometimes, no just means no and your kid has to accept that. But those times should be so few and far between.

Same thing if your child appears to be bossy (different from bullying) or outspoken and fearless or just plain weird. Character flaws require training and discipline to remedy. But sometimes, behaviors we find unacceptable might just be indications of a strength or personality bent that God put there, and it's our exhausting responsibility to help our children control and direct that strength somewhere positive.

Stop saying that! Oh, you think you're in love but you're too young to know what love is. You are not leaving the house dressed like that. Don't look at me that way. Stop that sighing. Stop biting your nails! It's disgusting! You just think you have problems; you have no idea. You're not going and that's that; don't talk to me about it any more.

I want to protect my daughter from actual harm. I want for her to make wise choices, and do things that will ultimately benefit her. But she will make mistakes. And she can make mistakes while she's at home with a safety net of love and acceptance and parents who will help her navigate the consequences of those choices, or she can be hemmed in on every side and when she finally leaves, sing: "No right, no wrong, no rules for me! I'M FREE!" and nearly destroy herself and the people she loves.

So, that's what Frozen was "about" to me, as a mom. None of the other stuff would have happened if the parents had made better choices. But then, what would they be playing on the radio?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mirror don't lie

I put on my make-up, and am pleased with the effect. I like ELF products. But the face looking back at me isn't the me of ten years ago. It's not even the me of three years ago. This face looks a little more worn. The wrinkles that started in my neck when I lost a bunch of weight seven years ago would be there now, anyway. There are wrinkles under my eyes. I didn't even realize until recently that I might or might not have jowls. My hair is fabulous, but a lot of that is due to the pregnancy. For more than a year, I have not been able to get it to cooperate. I am past 40 and should be well into peri-menopause.

The girls in the maternity clothes ads are conspicuously not in their fourth decade of life. Friends of mine have been posting status updates about visiting colleges with their kids. Others are breaking into grandparenting. When Daphne was born and I was overwhelmed by the thought of bringing up an entire human being, I used to view her youth in fractions to determine how much longer I had to stick it out. Whereas my sister was 1/9 of the way through hands-on parenting Hannah, I was only 1/36th of the way through. Now, I'm 2/3 of the way there.

And I'm getting ready to start over.

Don't get me wrong: Now that my back's better, I don't *feel* old. Someone mentioned the other day how I must be feeling my pregnancy now more acutely than I did with Daphne. Ehh, not so much. I probably started off in better shape at 41 than I was at 28. And I don't have any concerns about "keeping up," in terms of energy or enthusiasm. But the mirror doesn't lie, and what if I start feeling my age, say, when I receive my AARP card and I have an 8-year-old? Or I'm limping toward 60 and have a kid who's just started driving?

There is a woman in my BSF discussion group who was talking about helping her mother downsize recently. It inspired the woman to do so herself, as a blessing to those who come after her. When she mentioned that she was 56, I realized that I likely will not be around when my unborn child is that woman's age.

I guess the take-away from that is that I don't have time to be too worried about being too old. In this moment, and in every moment to come, there are opportunities. My opportunities are a little bit different than those of most women my age, but I've never been one to waste a challenge or a potential adventure. So I'm going to grab this thing with both hands... until I need to free one up for a cane or a walker or to maneuver my scooter.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

2014 Bloggin' Mama Social

Thanks to Free Fun in Austin, I got connected with LiveMom and Orange Wall Collective, leading to both the See's Candies event I attended Thursday night and the great Bloggin' Mama Social I thoroughly enjoyed tonight.

The event was held pretty much right on the river at Alta's Cafe, so I got to ride my bike! I don't mind telling you that I was a little nervous. I rode over 10 miles in a stretch two weeks ago, but since then, I've grown a lot in the general baby area, and the last couple of rides I've taken have been significantly more challenging. I'm pleased to report that this was no problem, especially getting there, as it's mostly downhill.

Overcast skies, I presume, and a chillier-than-the-past-few-days temperature meant I didn't have to share the trail with much of anyone.

Under the First Street bridge. This is the first time I've seen it from the north side of the river.

Alta's Cafe is located in the Waller Creek Boathouse, and is a lovely place to sit and watch the action on the river. 

If you're on the Ladybird Lake trail, on the north side of the river just east of the Four Seasons Hotel, you'll see trail signs for the Waller Creek Boathouse. You'll know you've made it when you see this thing:

Conversely, if you're downtown, just take Trinity south until it ends. Literally. There is probably some parking around there, but you really should just walk or bike. It's beautiful, even on a cloudy day!

Plus, if you get there at the right time, you can watch the rowers coming in for the evening. They all put their boats up on stretchers, hosed them off, then stacked them for storage for the night. 

As the event started, I met a former homeschool mom who has a cultural event blog. It was fun talking to her before I took my seat at a table and started in on the food.

The cheeses and bread are from Alta's, but the brownie was a gluten-free one from Peoples RX kitchen... and I have to give them props, because most gluten-free stuff eventually breaks down and tastes like moist sawdust to me, but this brownie was delicious.

Meanwhile, sharing my table were three other interesting women. Araya Hildara has a Spanish-language section on pregnancy and childbirth, and she blogs on the site as well. Her friend, Gisele, a midwife, was with her. Gisele is just starting on a blog about raising children naturally. Finally, Cheryl Carey, founder of Taste and See Healthy Baby Food, is working on raising funds to give gift cards on Mother's Day to the moms who are in engaged in the family support services with Any Baby Can of Austin. Any Baby Can is a great program, and our small group adopts a family at Christmas. If you can help contribute, click here and write "Gifts for Moms" in the comment box. Also, I plan to take Cheryl's baby food class some time early next year! She has a couple of group classes a month, so check out her website.

These are the first treats I've had from Baked by Amy's. They were good, but apparently the pecan bars were the awesomest, because when I passed the table later, willing to try one because of the rave reviews (I don't typically like nuts in sweets), they were *gone*! 

Catherine Prystup, hostess, and Michael Swail, co-owner of Alta's Cafe.
Michael explained that they'd just opened this outdoor venue during one of the coldest winters in Austin history. You should totally go check it out, now that it's nice, though. Besides, check out their menu from the link above. Good stuff! I can personally vouch for the cheese part of their charcuterie plate. The meat stuff looked delicious, too, but is off-limits to me in my delicate (giggle) condition. As was the sustainable wine and the local craft beer. But I can't wait to go back and try it all very soon.

Mike McDonell of Kidventures Camps, a sponsor of the evening.

Pro blogging mamas panel.

Hilah Johnson of Hilah Cooking

Shellie Deringer of Saving with Shellie

Wendi Aarons, freelance writer and blogger
They were all insightful and interesting, but I won't go into detail here. Lots of stuff to think about, though. It was very neat that people actually care about local businesses and local bloggers and how we can help each other enough to put on an event like this. I loved meeting moms with totally different perspectives than I have, and seeing what a wide range of interests and passions we have.

About the time I decided it was time to head home before it became completely dark, it started pouring rain! Fortunately, I don't melt, but I did get pretty drenched. After my shower, though, I was rewarded with being able to riffle through the swag bag all attendees received. We have some awesome businesses around here, and I cannot wait to try the Daily Greens juice tomorrow morning!

James and I laughed because of the contents was a Cutie in a clear cellophane gift bag, tagged by McDonald's. They're trying, gosh darn it. But you can be sure that I will use the free small smoothie gift certificates!

There were door prizes given out at the event, too. I might have won a night at the Omni Downtown (where I paid half price to stay once, thanks to, or a $50 gift card to a local fine dinery, or even a gift basket from Terra Toys. Instead I won this. And, yes, I will be reading it tomorrow. I like to start my week off inspirationally.