Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Baking: How Many Desserts Can One Mom Make in a Week?

While I've always been the kind of girl who knows her way around a kitchen and loves to cook for family and friends, I've suddenly found myself in a kind of culinary hyper-drive.

In November, my sisters-in-law and I threw a 60th birthday party for my mother-in-law and sadly, I don't even remember what I made for that. Oh! That's right...I cheated and bought all the wine and beer for the party. That was a first for me.

December began with a potluck dinner with neighbors. We chose an Italian theme and I brought a fried ravioli appetizer that was a huge hit. And the recipe really couldn't be simpler:

  • One package small refrigerator cheese ravioli
  • One egg, beaten
  • One cup bread crumbs seasoned with garlic powder, dried basil, dried thyme, salt, black pepper

Cook the ravioli by the package directions. Beat the egg. Drain the ravioli and dip it into the egg, then the bread crumbs. Then you fry them in olive oil, about 2 min. per side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with marinara sauce.

This week, though, has been the craziest in terms of baking or cooking holiday goodies. I baked six Triple Chocolate Coffee Cakes to give to Brendan's preschool teachers and the school director. This is the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever tasted and I use it as a dessert, not a breakfast item.

  • One package Devil's Food cake mix
  • One 3 oz. package chocolate instant pudding
  • Two cups sour cream
  • One cup butter or margarine, softened
  • Five large eggs
  • Five large eggs
  • One teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Three cups semisweet chocolate morsels, divided
  • One cup white chocolate morsels
  • One cup toasted chopped pecans

BEAT first 6 ingredients at low speed with an electric mixer 30 seconds or just until moistened; beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Stir in 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels; pour batter evenly into 2 greased and floured 9inch square cake pans.

BAKE at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pans on wire racks.

*MICROWAVE white chocolate morsels in a glass bowl at HIGH 30 to 60 seconds or until morsels melt; stirring at 30-second intervals until smooth. Drizzle evenly over cakes; repeat procedure with remaining cup of semisweet morsels. Sprinkle cakes evenly with pecans.

*I never use the microwave, but instead melt my chips on top of the stove, adding a touch of milk to keep them from sticking or scalding. I also sprinkle more chocolate and white chocolate chips on top of the finished cake along with the pecans because I think it looks pretty.

Also, if you use an 8x8 in. pan instead of the 9 inch, you end up with the three cakes instead of two. I use the disposable cake pans with lids to deliver these in, wrapping a pretty Christmas dish towel around the outside and tying it with raffia ribbon for added appeal.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Who's Crying Now: The No-Cry Sleep Solution

Shakespeare called sleep the "Chief nourisher in life's feast." If that's true, and I believe it is, then this is no feast of which I partake. Indeed, I'm about as malnourished as one woman can be.

From around the age of seven months, Brendan has battled sleeping. Initially, he would fall asleep just fine, but would wake up around 1:00 a.m. and want to play. Inexperienced and with no clue what to do, I indulged his whim and would sit on the floor of his room while he played. When he started to get sleepy again, I'd put him back to bed and try to get back to sleep myself. Some nights, he'd be back in his crib in 15 minutes; other nights, he'd play and laugh and have a grand old time until 4:00 in the morning. My mother-in-law assured me that this would pass, pointing out that Brendan's dad was the same way.

By the time he was a year old he was still doing it, though, there would be weeks at a time where he slept like an angel. And of course, he napped like a champ. Twice a day until he was around 18-months old. But, the nighttime was when he came alive.

Now, nearly three, he's still battling sleep. Only it has become far more extreme, especially in the last few days. He doesn't want to go to bed and if he does, he pleads for me to stay with him. His cries of "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," tear at my heartstrings and infuriate me! Doesn't he understand that I need some "Me Time?" That I have a sinkful of dirty dishes that aren't going to wash themselves? That I'd like to have a meaningful conversation with his dad that doesn't involve the phrase, "What do you think we should do?"

Of course, he doesn't. But that doesn't make it any easier for me. I feel like everything in my life is out of control when my son isn't sleeping. I'm exhausted and that shades everything. I can't believe he's going to be three in a month-and-a-half and we're still dealing with this nonsense.

We've tried it all. Crying it out or "Ferberizing;" coddling him with attachment parenting style techniques like inviting him to sleep with us. The only thing he wants is for me to sleep in his bed and I just don't think that's healthy. Not for him. Not for me. And certainly not for my marriage.

I'm at my wit's end after five nights in a row averaging three or four hours of sleep. On Wednesday, I was telling my friend Susan about the situation and she recommended a book called "The No-Cry Sleep Solution." Sadly, I briefly thought the title was alleging to keep tired mommies from bursting into tears. If the book really could do that and help me find a way to get my little one to sleep without compromising my own needs, it might prove to be just what my hungering soul ordered.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Connecting in the Real World: MOMS Club International

Becoming a mother was nothing like I'd imagined. In my vivid pre-natal daydreams, I saw myself pram-pushing through a shady park, stylishly dressed and chatting it up with other young moms like myself. I imagined forging connections that would turn into lifelong friendships like those I'd made in college. Never once did I foresee myself, trapped inside my house surrounded by piles of housework, feeling lonely and isolated, my brain turning to mush for lack of any adult conversation all day long.

By the time Scott returned home at night, I would feel as if I had nothing useful to contribute while at the same time I was desperate for the company of another adult.

How do you meet and connect with others outside the constructs of school or work, the places where people typically connect and bond with each other? I met a couple of other stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood and liked them. Their children were close to Brendan's age and thought we'd be fast friends.

Well, the friendships did not form quickly, but they have formed. They've also led to other friendships.

And in May of this year, I joined the newly formed Tucker chapter of the MOMS Club International. It has proven a wonderful outlet for both me and Brendan. We have both made friends. We get out of the house a lot more than we ever did before. And I am thrilled to have found such a great group of women -- and kids -- to connect with.

I'd recommend the MOMS Club as a resource for any stay-at-home mom who feels disconnected from the real world and who is looking for a source of support and friendship. Each chapter is different, but they generally offer outings several times a week, moms nights out, volunteer opportunities and much more.

Happy Birthday, Freakshow!

Today, my best friend, Courtney Alison, is turning 35! For one month, we get to be the same age. Then, she gets to start lording it over me that she's a whole 11 months younger than me.

Not that she does that. Anymore.

Of course, she owes me a little for the 11 months I was able to legally drink during our junior year of college. While I was publically sipping beer at Agnes Scott band parties, Courtney and many of our cohorts were sneaking back to the dorm for sneaky cocktails. Kind of a pain, I guess. Especially since getting caught would mean a trip before the Honor Court and possibly expulsion.

However, I was thinking the package of Depends she gave me on my twenty-first birthday was payment enough! Maybe not.

Maybe there's no way to ever pay your friends back for all they bring to your life. I know that Courtney has given me so much over the course of the years we've known each other that nothing -- not words, gold, flowers-- nothing -- could ever really capture the depth of feeling and affection I have for my best friend. Nothing other than a continued friendship with her that lasts as long as we live.

I've always had this vision of Courtney and myself as little old ladies dishing on all the things crochety old ladies dish on and cracking ourselves up. That would be the greatest gift either of us could give the other, I think.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Freak O' the Week! I hope your day is fabulous!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A House is Made with Walls and Beams

but a home is made with love and dreams.

I thought of this corny quote today as I drove by the house my husband and I shared before we bought our current house. To my shock, the house had been torn down. Not even rubble remained on the site.

I was shocked to discover I had such sentimental feelings for the place, though I always look at the house when I drive by to see what's going on with it.

It was a rental property, but a really charming little house. Built in 1943, it was stone with a screened porch, original hardwood floors, and it was surrounded by seven acres of woods.

In 1997, my boyfriend and I moved into the house together. We rented it from the son of the original owners. We lived in that house for four years and only today did I realize how many memories -- good and bad -- were formed in that house.

Moving in together was a huge decision for us, but in that house, I really felt like we were forming a partnership. And we were. We had an amazing time living in that house.

My first night there someone tried to break in. Our one-year old German Shepherd puppy barked and scared the would-be burglars away.

We had crazy redneck neighbors who shot arrows into our backyard. The same redneck neighbors, on at least one occasion, set their backyard on fire and it spread into the woods behind our house. We called the fire department, but the neighbors never apologized or even acknowledged there was a fire.

We were adopted by the sweetest orange tabby cat who just showed up one winter night. He's still with us, though I know he misses his old hunting ground.

There were other assorted weird incidents like when we learned the county police department had been set up in the woods a few hundred feet from our bedroom window every night for a month. Apparently, a neighbor's teenage son was the head of a burglary ring and they were hiding in the woods using their night vision gear to conduct surveillance on him.

There was the girl who showed up banging on our front door in the middle of the night saying someone tried to rape her at the bus stop. She wanted me to let her in, but ran away when I told her I would call the police to help her.

Then, of course, there was the time we were burglarized. The creeps stole everything including my husband's month old Mac and all of our CDs. Not such a good memory.

Despite all of that, there were so many wonderful things that happened while we lived there. Our first trip to San Francisco. Getting engaged. Going to Merlefest. Getting married. Our first anniversary. Birthdays. Surprise parties. The host of friends who came through that house.

And those are just our memories. I can't imagine the ghosts that linger there from the original owners and their children and the succession of tenants who must have lived there over the years.

I am a little sad at seeing the vacant lot where such a fine old house once stood. But, I'm actually a little thrilled by the reason it was torn down.

DeKalb County bought the land and some adjacent properties in order to create a wildlife preserve. And for that, I am very thankful. I look forward to traipsing around in those woods again with my son and our dog, revisiting old memories and making new ones.

The Greatest of these is Love: An Adoption Story

After years of trying to conceive on their own, and nearly three years waiting for an adoptive child, my friend Heather and her husband have finally welcomed their new son. N.A..

Naturally, I am overjoyed. And amazed. The faith and patience my friend exhibited while she waited is truly remarkable. Each time she faced a challenge, like meeting another birth mom who then chose someone else to adopt her child or a birthmom who wanted to be more involved with the child after its birth than Heather was comfortable with, she simply turned to her faith and put her trust in God. She never gave up. And while she waited, she focused on becoming the best mother she could be.

And wow! What an amazing mom she is already.

Before her son came, Heather devoted herself to a rigorous, grueling regimen of hormone treatments that would allow her to breastfeed her new son. When I think of all the biological moms who don't make the effort to breastfeed when it comes naturally, I am simply in awe of this amazing woman who would put herself through so much to be able to care for her child in the healthiest way possible!

Little N. was born on December 3 and came home with his parents on December 5. I really feel like I witnessed a miracle of faith and got a peek at God at work in my friend's life. And that simply has made my faith grow in turn.

Thanks, Heather, for sharing this journey with me. I am so proud of you and so blessed to have you as a friend.

Godspeed on this amazing journey!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Adventures in Motherhood: Who I Am and Why You Should Care

Nearly three years ago, I gave birth to my son and began what has been one of the most enriching and enraging journeys of my life. I love being a mother. Of course, I love my son. But what I hate is the sense of isolation I felt as a new mother, and the crippling sense of guilt or doubt that creeps over me with every other choice or decision I make.

With countless theories and approaches to parenting, and an opinion available from every woman who has ever birthed a child and half of those who havent, it's nearly impossible to make major decisions concerning your child's well-being without hearing some prodding little voice in the back of your mind second-guessing every choice.

Add to that the the many critical voices that can be found on the many message boards where women and mothers turn for support and you have a volatile cocktail that can dissolve anyone's belief in her ability to mother in a serene and thoughtful manner.

I'd like to be a voice of support. For myself and for other moms. Becoming a new mother can be as terrifying as it is joyous and though that fear subsides, I wonder if it ever goes away entirely. You come into your own as a mother, but I think you'll always wonder and worry as you love and nurture that little being into an adult. All that said, I'd like to try my hand at offering a little love and nurturing to the other moms out there, who, like myself, might not have the time, energy, or inclination to love and nurture themselves.