birthday

Happy Birthday, Dear Anna…

To read all of Anna’s story, visit her mom’s blog and start from the beginning: Carrying Anna

It is worth your time, but keep tissues nearby.

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March 26, 2012

March 28, 2012

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One year ago today, Jonathan and I were in a car driving furiously from Alaska to Alabama. We had already put in a few very long days, and had several more very long days ahead of us, we knew.

We had been in Alaska for a little less than six months, and the decision to go home had happened very quickly… it was a whirlwind of making the choice to leave, packing, cleaning, saying goodbyes and getting in the car to drive away.

We had a sweet little niece on the way, you see, and she wasn’t expected to live for very long. We were quite determined to at least try to be there for a little bit of her life.

On March 27, we drove through Watson Lake, in Canada. We had stopped in this tiny little town on our way up, and we had stayed in a little motel (called A Nice Motel) that had wi-fi. Jonathan parked right outside the building and used his cell phone to connect to wi-fi and call his brother via Skype.

That’s when we learned that Anna had been born, and was actually a couple of hours old. She was being held and loved on and adored by her entire family… except for us. And we knew then that we weren’t going to make it in time to meet her.

We got home a couple of days after Anna’s funeral. We’ve seen pictures of her, heard stories of Anna’s Day, but we never got to meet her. Everyone says she looked just like her sister, Abby, but we didn’t get to experience that in person. We didn’t get to hold her or feel her warmth or touch her soft hair.

Her big brother’s birthday was this last weekend. We went to his party. He was turning five, and the party was full of loud, hyper, excited children. I sat there and watched them play and couldn’t help but think about if Anna had been there. It would have been approaching her first birthday, and maybe she would have let me hold her while her mom and dad ran around and took care of party business. Or maybe she would have already been walking, and far too interested in all the excitement to sit still and let someone hold her.

I hope this doesn’t make me seem like a bad aunt… but I felt a special affection for Anna, because she was going to be the first niece/nephew born since I married into the family. She was never going to know life without Aunt Lacey in it. The other three probably won’t remember it, but for her it would be a fact. I work near where she is buried, and occasionally I go by there to say hello, or to eat lunch with her when the weather is pretty. Today when I went by, someone else had left her a balloon. =)

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I want to be part of her birthday party, with pink balloons and ice cream and cake and presents wrapped in girly paper with curly ribbons on top. I want to watch her grow up with her sister, play dress up and house with them now, and talk to them about boys and life when they’re older.

We’re going to have one serious birthday party when we’re all together in heaven. And the way this family eats ice cream, it is going to take a LOT to make up for all the time that will have been lost.

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Learning to follow recipes: The cake in a bowl.

It is my mom’s birthday today!

I won’t give away how old young she is… let’s just say she is still young and kickin’!We had a birthday party for her last night… family that live in this area graced us with their presence as we ate Haystacks and marveled over the youngest cousin’s growing vocabulary (he says my name now!).I was in charge of dessert… something I was extremely excited about. I carefully chose two brand new cake recipes to make (birthdays always call for something new and exciting!). I found an incredible looking chocolate caramel cheesecake recipe that caused me to gain 5 pounds just from looking at pictures of it. I decided the second cake needed to be something a little lighter… and maybe fruity. So I chose a yogurt lime cake with strawberry sauce. Yes, sauce. Not frosting. (make a note of this… it’s important later in the story).

I made the cheesecake on Thursday afternoon… my one free afternoon every week. I figured that making it three days ahead would be wise; if it fell to pieces, exploded, or otherwise failed, I would have time to make a backup plan.

Apart from burning my hand on the frying pan while caramelizing sugar and flinging it EVERYWHERE (I have super awesome reflexes), the cheesecake making went without a hitch. It. was. lovely. It didn’t even crack… a fact that caused me to invent a Hooray I Just Baked a Cheesecake And It Is So Beautiful I Could Die Dance right there in the kitchen. (Don’t ask what the dance looked like… I don’t know if I can ever re-enact it unless I make another cheesecake).
Saturday afternoon I tackled the yogurt lime cake. The recipe meant it to be a single layer 9″ round cake… but I wasn’t sure if that would be enough cake. So I made two layers. But, the recipe also called for a sauce to put over each piece just before you serve it… no frosting. And, my friends, two naked cake layers just stacked on top of each other is not very pretty. At all. And this was supposed to be a beautiful birthday cake, so frosting would have to be made.

I, however, had never made a yogurt cake before. I didn’t know what to expect… or what kind of frosting would be good.
I had discovered the recipe on a blog, so I went to the comments and searched for any indication that someone else felt the same way… and what their solution was. One lady did. She incorporated the sauce into cream cheese frosting. BRILLIANT, I thought.

So, I made cream cheese frosting. Then I made the sauce. Then I added the sauce TO the cream cheese frosting… and found what could only be described as a sugary pink liquid in my mixing bowl. It was nothing close to a frosting consistency. Hmm.

I added more powdered sugar. I Googled the problem, and found results saying to add cornstarch. I asked my mom’s opinion on this… she said it was a bad idea. I added more butter. I finished off ALL of the powdered sugar in my house. We now had a thick liquid… not as thin as water, but about as thick as my hair conditioner.

I put it in the fridge and prayed that it would thicken over time.

At 9:30, my husband announced that he was going to bed (we had had a youth group lock-in the night before, and we were both still sleep deprived). I told him I was going to frost my cake and follow him… it wouldn’t be more than 15 minutes, I said.

I put my first cake layer on a plate. I got the frosting out of the fridge, and shook the bowl. Still very runny… but just thick enough that I thought maybe, just maybe, I could drizzle it over the cake and it would just make a pretty runny pattern down the sides of the cake. I put some on the first layer, then added the second cake layer, and immediately knew I had a problem. The top cake was definitely not going to stay put. I quickly put it in the freezer, thinking maybe it would solidify… but since it was already almost 10:00 and I was super super tired, I only left it in there for about 4 minutes. I doubt it will be a big surprise when I tell you that that was not long enough.

I tried to spread pour more frosting over the top of the cake, slowly rotating the cake as I went. But by the time I made a full circle and got back to where I started, all of the frosting I had put on that side had simply fallen off the cake… and was spread out on the counter behind it.

A light bulb went on in my head, and I grabbed a container of Cool Whip and began stirring it into the frosting. In the process, my frosting had to graduate from a small mixing bowl to a very large one; after adding so many random things to it, I believe I about tripled the “recipe” in size.

Unfortunately, my plan was not as brilliant as I thought. It turned my frosting a couple shades lighter, and it was a smidge thicker, but definitely still not thick enough. Still, I tried to spread some of it over the older, very thin layer of frosting already on the cake.

I ended up with a droopy, runny, saggy, swirly pink pile of goop that looked like it could star in Monsters Inc. 2 (with a pair of eyes stuck on top, maybe).

I stood there for several minutes, watching my cake melt. The circle of frosting on the counter around it grew bigger as the layer of frosting on top grew thinner. I really wish I would have taken a picture of it… but I was a little too upset to think about it at the time.

I paced. I walked in circles around it. I prayed. I wailed a little bit. I woke Jonathan up and asked him to come look at it. He growled that he had JUST fallen asleep and that I’d been working on this cake for over an hour already and what had happened to fifteen minutes and that it’s just a cake, just let it go.

I informed him that it was supposed to be a beautiful cake and that the frosting was a disaster and I would never not follow a recipe again (knowing full well that that was completely untrue) and that I could really use some sympathy right now. He went back to bed.

The thought of leaving my cake looking like that upset me. The thought of tossing it and starting over upset me. Just as the top layer started to slide again and came dangerously close to slipping off completely and hitting the counter, it hit me: I needed to put the whole cake down IN something to keep the layers from sliding. I needed a bowl.
The thought of pressing my beautiful cake down into a bowl really, really upset me. But then the top layer slide further, and another glob of cream cheese-Cool Whip-strawberry goop hit the counter, and in a fit of frustration (and some anger), I grabbed a large bowl, crammed the first layer into the bottom, plopped the top layer on top, poured frosting over it and stuck it in the fridge.

Then I went into our bathroom and cried.

Half of me was fully aware at the time that I was overly tired and definitely overly attached to the vision of a beautiful pink birthday cake, and that my tears were completely irrational. But that knowledge did NOT help the other half of me that was completely distraught over my beautiful pink birthday cake that was IN A BOWL.

I crawled into bed.
“What is wrong with you?” mumbled Jonathan from underneath his pillow.
“My cake is in a bowl!” I wailed.
He didn’t say anything.

Five minute later, very unexpectadly, the hilarity of the situation hit.
I woke Jonathan up a third time by very suddenly laughing my head off.
“My cake is in a bowl!” I howled, more tears rolling down my cheeks.
It’s in a bowl!”

The next morning, I double checked.
“My cake is still in a bowl,” I sighed.
“I don’t know what you expected,” Jonathan told me. “It wasn’t going to fix itself overnight.”
I discussed the situation with my mother at church that morning, explaining to her that her would-be beautiful pink birthday cake was, in fact, now in a dark green fruit bowl. I told her that if she wanted me to, I would re-bake it, follow the recipe, and have a beautiful not-pink birthday cake with proper sauce rather than runny pink goop. She laughed at me- hard- and then told me she would be quite happy to eat a cake out of a bowl.
And so that is what we did.
The good news is that yogurt lime cake is delicious. Even out of a bowl. Everyone declared the frosting (I took along the extra frosting, since there was SO MUCH OF IT) good enough to eat plain. The cheesecake was amazing.
And mom had a birthday cake. Well… two, really.
And she got exciting presents. =)

Surprise!

It was a momentous occasion. I had our table pulled away from the kitchen and into the living room so that more than three people could sit at it. I had my beautiful black and white polka dot plates set carefully around it. Strawberry lemonade was made and in the fridge. My handy-dandy stepstool was set up along with our only three chairs (it is my special seat when four or more people grace our table). Hamburgers were on the grill, fries in the oven, and macaroni and cheese on the stove.

Who, you ask, could possible be visiting our humble little abode that would require such special preparation?
Grandma and Grandpa, of course!

Little did they know that we had ulterior motives.
Of course, we wanted them to come over for dinner. I had been meaning to invite them. But the fact that my mom was planning a surprise birthday party for them that evening might have had something to do with the timing.

Grandma and Grandpa’s birthdays are mere days apart. They are three years apart in age. We won’t discuss exactly how young they are, but let’s just say that Grandpa is celebrating a milestone… and it might start with an “8” and end with a “0” (andgrandmaisthreeyearsolderthanhim).

The deal was this: Grandma knew there was a surprise party… but she believed it to be only for Grandpa, when in fact, it was for both of them. We knew there was no way to get the whole thing past her (she knows everything), so we gave her enough information to keep her content. Grandpa knew nothing, except that he was coming to our house for hamburgers.

Jonathan and I had a strategy prepared in case we faced a situation where Grandpa didn’t want to leave our house: we would tell him that my mom had text me and made dessert, and we were all invited. If dessert was involved, we figured he’d go right along with us.

We ate our hamburgers, finished up our fries, and I washed the dishes while Grandpa regaled Jonathan with stories about growing up Amish. I couldn’t take one eye off the clock in the kitchen. Grandma kept glancing at her watch. Jonathan looked at his watch every time Grandma looked at hers. We were all anxiously awaiting 5:55… the time we were supposed to leave for mom and dad’s house.

At 5:53 I reached for my shoes.
“Are you ready to go?” Grandma asked me.
“Yep!” I told her.
“Where are we going?” Grandpa wondered.
“Oh, Mrs. Carol just text Lacey and told her she made dessert for all of us… we’re going to go over there and eat it,” Jonathan told him.
I hoped Grandpa wouldn’t pick up on the fact that I hadn’t looked at my phone all night, or wonder how both Jonathan and Grandma would know about this since we had all been in the same room all night.
He didn’t ask. He just followed us out the door.

“I just had to lie to Grandpa,” Jonathan told me grumpily when we got into our car. “I did not like that.”

The surprise party was a surprise. I was a little afraid Grandpa would fall over again when he saw all the people waiting for him.
Grandma told us that she suspected the party may have been for her, too… of course.

There were a lot of people there to celebrate Grandma and Grandpa living another year.It was a drop-in, so they were able to relax in their seats while people came and went. When you’re the birthday boy and girl, you shouldn’t have to get up and circulate anyway… they should all come to you, right?
Unless, of course, you need to go get ice cream.
There were people of many different ages there to celebrate.
And some of the younger guests painted an art gallery of pictures for Grandma and Grandpa!
They had to spend some time interpreting the contents of the paintings… it was very impressionistic, you know.
It was a good party. Thank you to everyone who came to celebrate with us… they are definitely two people worth celebrating. =)

Grandpa had a bit of an accident last week. The bruises that were on his forehead seem to have sunk, and now they are down around his eyes. I told him he should wear his wounds proudly… they are battle scars. I believe he took my advice.
By the way, the only reason I could get Grandpa to let me post this picture is by telling him he may get a bunch of sympathy cards in the mail from my blog readers. Just saying. If you need an address to send that to, shoot me an email… it might help him heal faster. =)