Monday, November 30, 2009

Birthday cake tragedy finds happy ending

You should have seen the birthday cake Rick’s friend made our son for his sixth birthday. We held the party at an indoor soccer field and centered the party on a sports theme with game ticket invitations and goodie bags with miniature soccer balls, footballs, baseballs and basketballs. Rick’s friend made a ball-shaped cake decorated with black and white icing to look exactly like a soccer ball. Way cool. My husband brought the cake home Friday and we left it on the kitchen counter, since he said we didn’t need to refrigerate the cake. We should have known the fate of that cool cake was in jeopardy, as we are prone to mini-disasters whenever we entertain – like dumping the entire bowl of the main dish pasta on the floor or covering guests with fresh-made buttermilk dressing. True to form, when we woke up Saturday morning, that cake was completely covered in ants.

I still didn't get a picture of the cake, but I did capture the chaos of present-opening!

I still didn't get a picture of the cake, but I did capture the chaos of present-opening!

My husband is far more of a germ phobe than I, but he desperately tried blowing on the cake to get the ants off. “Can we save it? Oh, please say we can save it,” he said. I just put my hand on his shoulder and shook my head. Even I knew that we could not win back the cake from 12 dozen tiny ants. So we waged our war by shoving that beautiful and aromatic chocolate fudge cake down the garbage disposal as my son wailed in the background, “Is my soccer ball cake OK?”

This is where my husband and I looked at each other and found a freaky calm. Not to sound preachy, but we have so much to be thankful for, like jobs to pay for a replacement cake. And a happy, healthy little soon-to-be-six-year-old. That’s more than I can say for a lot of people we know.

We were not about to call Rick’s friend to remake that cake. It is our plan for him to never find out. (Wise putting it up on this Web site, eh?) Instead I gave in and called a couple bakeries. I say “gave in” because I’ve been boycotting the first bakery, let’s call it “E’s,” because they fired some longtime baker (who I did not know) because customers had found out he was gay. Yeah, the lawsuit’s pending. Since there are three “E” bakeries in town, my call was routed to a central number to place my order. I gave up on the 3D cake, hoping just to get a round cake with a black-and-white soccer ball pattern colored on the top with buttercream frosting. But this was too high a demand for “E’s,” as I would have had to pick it up that afternoon. Besides, the woman said, those little octagon shapes are too difficult to do in icing? Really? I thought bakers could do anything. At least those wedding cake artists you see on TV can! She said I was welcome to walk into any of the “E” locations and they would be happy to write “Happy Birthday Truman” on a cake already decorated with flowers or balloons. Nah.

I called a second bakery. This one, “S’s,” is actually in a more convenient location for us but parking there is a bear and the sales staff act as if you are annoying them whenever you dare speak to them. But the lady on the phone was nice enough and said they would be happy to do the soccer ball cake, no problem. She said, just so I knew, that the soccer ball design was a rounded pop up. A rounded what? What’s a pop top? A pop top is a plastic top that sits on the cake. You remove it before serving. Not that it really mattered at this point, but the thought of some big plastic pop top on my son’s cake didn’t sound too appetizing to me, so I told her I’d get back to her.

And then my husband suggested I call Publix. I’m not a fan of that whipped icing they put on their pre-made cakes, but my friend Rhoda told me just last week that you can request buttercream when you order a cake there. So I called our local Publix bakery and sure enough the woman who took my order said it was perfectly fine for them to make the top of a 10-inch round cake look like a soccer ball with black-and-white buttercream icing. The only thing is that the cake had to be vanilla, which was fine, but they did put a glob of chocolate fudge filling in the middle, which sufficiently sufficed. The best part is that the bakery is open on Sundays so we arranged for the cake to be picked up on Sunday (unlike the two other bakeries I called, who are not open on Sundays) on the way to the soccer field. That way, cake number 2 wouldn’t even see our house before the party and the ants couldn’t exact revenge on us.

When we unveiled the cake at the birthday party, my son glowed with pride. The cake was devoured. The party went off without (another) hitch. All was well. Still, I can’t help but wonder how truly good that 3D soccer ball cake must have been. I hope the ants enjoyed it. It was, after all, their last supper.

Photo, JWJourney,

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best Egg Nog Recipe in the World!

When my mom died and my sister and I divvied up her belongings that my father did not need, I ended up with the coveted “The New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.” It was profoundly sentimental to me because it was the duct-taped book that my parents had used to prepare our world famous Holiday Egg Nog. While the fabulous Walker Family Christmas Eve Party dated back to the early 1970s, the addition of the Holiday Egg Nog did not come to be part of the tradition until I was in high school or college. I’m going to take full credit for adding it to our lineup of Midnight Rum Balls and the Green family’s peanut butter chocolate thingies. I simply said what a great idea it would be to make our own egg nog than buy that nonalcoholic stuff they sell with the milk at the grocery store. And thus the tradition began.

fannie farmerThis old Fannie Farmer cookbook was actually my father’s mother’s book. She died, ironically, on Christmas Day when I was a wee kid, but judging from the photos I’ve seen of her, I’m sure she would have enjoyed having a cup or two of the Walker family nog.

There is a science to this egg nog recipe. For starters, it uses raw eggs. I remember when I was a kid and it was OK to lick the cake batter out of the bowl without someone freaking out about salmonella poisoning. I’m not sure what happened to eggs between now and then. But my father, the immunologist, says that the alcohol in our egg nog is enough to kill just about anything in its path. Honestly, this recipe uses enough booze that even my family would warn guests not to smoke near it.

The other odd thing is that this recipe is to be made a week before it is consumed and “store in cool cellar.” We live in Alabama. Our cellar holds wine and is climate controlled, otherwise it would be about 75 degrees this time of year. But, the refrigerator is a fair substitute. And we make room.

I have had two different excellent chefs taste the Walker Family Egg Nog and they both agreed with anyone else who has ever been brave enough to try it. It is excellent. And for those skittish few out there – not a single person has come down with salmonella or any other illness from consuming the raw eggs in this nog. (Think Rocky Balboa in Rocky, the first one.) As for alcohol poisoning, well, I can’t vouch for that.

I’m going to share this recipe, and you’ll thank me if you try it. (I’m not going to type it in because that’s probably a copyright issue. So I’ll just shoot the page.) But if you really want to thank me, then you can after Dec. 1, because at the end of the month I’ll be moving on from the glorious BlissTree. Bittersweet. Meantime, let’s toast to this, the best egg nog recipe you will ever try.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Can You Influence Your Child's Choice in Teams?

Last weekend we hit another milestone. Truman went to his first Alabama football game. We were offered some posh seats in a skybox with a steady line of tasty snacks and a bottomless cooler of beverages. I suspect our son has been spoiled senseless. Wonder how he’ll react next time when he is forced to sit in the bleachers.

roll tide!Alabama is my husband’s team. He grew up during the glory days of Bear Bryant, and he still remembers seeing the mighty coach standing on the sidelines or watching him eat Golden Flake potato chips on TV. If you think Alabama fans have put the Bear years behind them, you haven’t met my husband.

My son is an LSU fan. We’re not sure how it happened. Truman pledged his allegiance to the purple-and-gold a few weeks before the 2007 football season. That was the year they took home the national championship. This was when my son was his most clairvoyant. He almost always picked the winning baseball team or Nascar driver. When he predicted Obama would be president long before the Democratic primary, well, it was just freaky.

Here’s how much my husband loves our son – he bought Truman an LSU jersey. Truman wears it from time to time, especially when he and Daddy play football in the yard. Rick is willing to be most any team Truman makes him be, except Tennessee and Auburn. Last week Rick was Iowa. (Truman pronounces it eye-OH-uh.)

Sure, we bought Truman Alabama caps and jerseys even before he was born. We assumed we would raise an Alabama fan simply through osmosis. But for some reason, our son preferred choosing his own favorites. As much as it pains Rick, he is willing to let Truman be his own man when it comes to choosing sports teams. Rick is an avid New York Yankees fan; Truman prefers the Red Sox. Rick loves the Lakers; Truman likes the Celtics.

When we told Truman last week that we were going to see Alabama play LSU, Rick told our darling son that he could wear any jersey he wanted, including his LSU jersey. Truman said, “That’s OK, Daddy. I’m going to wear my Alabama jersey just for you.” My husband gushed with pride.

Those words alone from my psychic son led me to believe that Alabama would continue its winning streak. But at times it was hard to keep the faith. Thankfully, Alabama pulled off the win. Roll Tide!

We drove home that evening with our son strapped in the backseat. He was wearing his Alabama jersey and ROLL TIDE eye blacks, holding a crimson-and-white shaker and a paper hounds tooth hat fan, and shouting “Roll Tide” to passing cars. My husband turned to me, a proud papa, and said, “I think we’ve finally made him a Bama fan.”

Truman suddenly paused from his Bama chants. “You know, Daddy,” he chimed in. “I like Alabama, but I still like LSU more.”

Photo, JWJourney

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When to tell Kids about Santa

When I was 7, I learned the truth about Santa. Sort of.

My friend Emily said Santa was not some jolly old elf who appeared in the night and left presents under the tree, but was really my father who would crawl out of bed and pull toys from the closet. I suppose I knew Emily was telling the truth, but inside I wanted to believe Santa was real.

santa2It was back when my family and I used to eat dinner around the dining room table that I made the announcement to my parents. “I know the truth about Santa. It’s you, Dad. You’re Santa.” My father put his fork down, placed his hands on the table and sighed. “You’re right, kiddo. I am Santa. And it is extremely exhausting getting up late at night, calling together the reindeer, and hitting every house in the world before daylight. But know that you know, perhaps you’ll go to bed a little faster on Christmas Eve so I can leave the house on time.”

It was not the answer I was expecting, but it was a welcome one. I wasn’t ready to let the mystery of Santa fade so quickly. And while I knew deep down that my father wasn’t Santa to the entire planet, it was nice to know that the magic wasn’t gone.

At some point, all kids whose families practice Santa Claus will question the tradition. So, when is the best time to let your kids in on the big secret?

“There’s really no one right time to tell kids that there’s no Santa Claus,” says Glen Elliott, Ph.D. Elliott is an associate professor and the director of the department of child and adolescent psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with CNN. “The important thing is to take your cues from the child, and not try to prolong the fantasy for your own enjoyment when they may be ready to give it up.”

Yeah, maybe so. My son will be 6 this Christmas. He hasn’t questioned Santa, but I’m sure that will change now that he is in school. And when he does begin to question the whole idea, I think I’ll go my father’s route and choose the non-denial denial method.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tips on how to de-stress your holidays

I used to roll my eyes at people who would get depressed during holidays. Seriously, what was there to be depressed about? And then my mother died. It’s not her absence that upsets me the most. It’s been 10 years since she died and I have learned to live with that void. It’s how our family tradition and togetherness died with her.


I don’t blame my father for that. He has a new life now with a wonderful, beautiful wife. And she has her family there. I’m a grownup now. I have husband and a child. And if anything, I should be grateful for my in-laws, who have readily filled that emptiness. But still, it depresses me. This is my problem, obviously. Each year I get upset about it and each year I eventually realize that just because my family no longer sees each other on the actual holidays doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. It means I need to focus on what I have here. It just drives me nuts that every holiday season I have to process the same old bullshit again and again.

Well, enough about my rant. I probably should check into therapy, but for now I did find comfort in these tips on How to Handle Holiday Stress, offered by speaker, author and coach Karen Susman. And, now I’ll offer them to you, too:

  1. Lower expectations. Have a realistic view of what is really important. Your kids want your time. They are not going to remember the Martha Stewart decorations – unless you involve them in the making of the decorations.
  2. Don’t over schedule yourself or your family. Pick and choose the holiday functions.
  3. Take care of yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have. So, eat healthfully, avoid the sweets as much as possible. Exercise routines are sacrificed when we’re overwhelmed, but exercise is the best investment of your time.
  4. Get plenty of sleep. Most of us are suffering from sleep deprivation as it is. Nothing is worth your getting sick.
  5. Ask for help. Involve your kids, spouse, family and friends.
  6. Ask yourself, “If I only had half the time, what would I do?” This will help you prioritize.
  7. Pick names for gifts instead of buying a gift for everyone. This will save you money and time.
  8. Shop online or from catalogues.
  9. Buy stamps online. Why stand in line at the post office?
  10. Make gifts with your kids. They’ll love the time spent together and they’ll be proud of their creations.
  11. Read holiday stories to your children. This allows you to sit down, relax and connect. (We had a holiday tradition of everyone climbing on to the big bed and reading together.)
  12. Start new holiday traditions that are less stressful for you but just as meaningful.
  13. Ask yourself why you’re really working this hard on the holidays. Many times our egos get in the way, or we’re in competition with a friend or family member. Martyrdom has lots of payoffs. Give it up!
  14. Take a minute in the tub, or waiting in line to write down all your stressors. Include your everyday stressors as well as holiday stressors. Which ones can you face head on, take care of and get off your list? For instance, if paying bills is hanging over your head, sit down and get that done. Get the snow tires on instead of praying it doesn’t snow. If money’s short, spend less, cut up credit cards or call a financial advisor.
  15. Look at your list of stressors and determine which ones you have no control over. Your parents areaging. The economy is like sludge. If you live in Minnesota, it will snow.
  16. Do a mental makeover. Reframe what the holidays are all about for you. Is this a religious holiday? Then forget the fluff and focus on the real meaning. If your kids are pressuring you to buy, buy, buy, this is a wonderful opportunity to help them learn the value of giving to others. Have them go through their toys and pick some to take to a homeless shelter.
  17. Remember how you felt on December 26 of January 2 last go ’round. What did you say you’d never do again? What did your kids enjoy most? How would you like to feel this year after the holidays? How can you achieve this?
  18. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just because the media, family, friends, etc. say we should be doing something doesn’t mean we have to.
  19. When a “should” runs through your mind, you don’t have to act on it.
  20. Embrace your imperfection. It’s one of the nicest things you can do for your kids and your mate. Being imperfect takes the pressure off of you and off of them.
  21. Limit your TV watching – especially the news.
  22. Don’t do anything in December you’re going to regret in January. Why be stuck with huge bills and 10extra pounds?
  23. One last de-stresser: the holidays will pass and you’ll survive. You always do.

Photo, Flickr, Greg Westfall

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blog books make great scrapbook substitutes

So, you’re best friend is making you feel guilty because you don’t scrap. She’s preserving her family’s memories in pink-and-blue borders with ballooned quotes with catchy subtitles for candid photos taken at every juncture of her children’s lives. Her camera costs more than your car, and her bookcases are filled with scrapbooks categorized by each child’s birth year, vacation destinations, and first-day-of-school photo comparisons.

fountainYou, on the other hand, are lucky to print out the photos you take. You lost that cheap digital camera (though it is probably in one of those heaps in the closet and one day you’ll dig in there to find out but it doesn’t matter anyway because it’s probably outdated by now). Hell, if memory serves, that thing is bigger than your head! Summoning up enough creativity to crop those photos (the ones you didn’t print out) and paste them on a page with colorful captions and fringe is enough to make you wince.

No, your mode of preserving family memories is less showy. You just pull out your iPhone and snap your kid playing in that fountain in the park –the one the security guards say you should stay out of. Then you e-mail it to yourself and, when you get home, post it on your personal blog, the one whose address you share with family who are less apt to visit it than some complete strangers who are nice enough to sympathize and comment.

form_handsAndBookDon’t fret. Those family blogs are just as precious a keepsake as your best friend’s Creative Memories books. And now you can preserve your blog in book form, too! The folks at can pull your blog posts from WordPress, TypePad and a number of other blogging platforms and turn them into a book. Your book can have its own hard cover, dust jacket and even paper choice. And your book can be delivered to your door in just seven to 10 business days for as little as $12.95. You can even place your blog book in Blurb’s bookstore for fans to purchase.

So there, no more feeling less-than-adequate because you don’t scrap. Your blogs can be keepsakes, too.

Photos, (lower right) and JWJourney, (upper left)