The Japanese Flag-Part 2

76 years ago today, the country of Japan did a surprise attack on a US Military base in Hawaii.

The event propelled America into the second World War.

And it forced young men, both American and Japanese, into battle against one another.

My grandfather was sent to fight the war against Japan.

He fought in the Philippines.

And was injured during battle.

We aren’t clear where he was when he was injured, but I think he came out of one fight okay at some point.

Because we have this photo…

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He’s seen standing with his war trophy.

A flag that had been in the possession of a Japanese soldier.

And my grandfather wouldn’t have this flag unless the soldier that it had belonged to had died.

We don’t know any of the circumstances of how he obtained the flag…

did he take the flag off of a deceased soldier?

did someone else find the flag and then give it to him?

We do not know.

We just know that he came home with the flag and kept it hidden away in a drawer.

And he never spoke of it.

In a recent blog post that I wrote, I explained that there was an organization in Oregon that returned these Japanese flags to the country from which they originated.

The Obon Society.

Because the flag that my grandfather, and many other American soldiers, brought back as a trophy of his time in battle represented another person.

A person who kept this flag close to his heart during battle.

The flag may have been in a pocket on his uniform or in a satchel or something else on his body.

It was given to him for good luck.

And now he was dead.

That Japanese soldier didn’t get to go home to his family when the fighting was done.

There is a very strong chance that his family never got his body back.

This flag, a prayer flag…a Hinomaru Yosegaki, represents the soldier.

When these hinomaru yosegakis are returned to the family in Japan, it’s as if their loved one has finally returned to them and they can give him a proper burial.

Today is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

And yesterday I received notification that the family of the soldier who had possessed the prayer flag, that has been in my house since 1945, has been found.

The flag is going home.


We Found The Family In Japan!

That the was subject line of the email that I saw yesterday morning.

My kids were on their way to school.

I gave Cornstalk, the stray who stayed, his second breakfast of the morning.

I sat at the dining room table checking my emails and sipping on my morning cup of coffee.

At first glance, I didn’t think much of the subject line that I saw as I scanned my emails.

I didn’t even read it right away.

I mean, it had only been 5 months since I had sent the flag to Oregon.

I went through and deleted stuff that I didn’t need…which is most of my emails.

And finally got back to it.

This is what I read…

We would like to report you that we found the family in Japan that belong to your grandfather’s flag.

Name of the soldier: Mr. Yoshizo Makuta who was killed in action on April 24th, 1945 in Luzon, Philippines
Mr. Yoshizo Makuta was a Army Lance corporal from Fukushima prefecture.

We found his first son, Mr. Katsuo Makuta who lives in Fukushima prefecture.

They identified many signatures written on the flag, when we showed them an image. and they wish to have the flag returned.

We are preparing your grandfather’s flag now to be sent to Japan.

I got goose bumps, goose pimples, goose everything when I read it!

It’s the best possible outcome.

The family is still living in the same area and they are getting their soldier back.

He has children who are still alive.

It confirmed for our family that my grandfather was in fact at the Battle of Luzon, a major conflict in the Philippines in 1945.

Keiko Ziak, the founder of the Obon Society, asked me in the email if I would like to send a letter with the flag.  She would translate it into Japanese and add it to the flag for its return to Japan.

Of course I wrote a letter!

I told the family that we hoped that the return of the flag would bring them peace and closure.

That the flag was being returned with love from my family, my brother’s family, and my parents.

Our hope is that the flag, being sent from one son and given to another, brings them closure.

The Makuta family in Japan will forever be connected to our family.

Even if we never actually meet one another.

To our family, this flag has just been…a flag.

A war souvenir.

A thing hidden away in a drawer not to be discussed.

But to the Makuta family, this flag represents their loved one.

To them, the flag IS Yoshizo Makuta.

Father.

Husband.

Son.

Friend.

And this week, he’s coming home…

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Remembering That Everyday Is A Gift

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday was warm, yet breezy, and today is cold and mucho breezy.

It’s flat-out windy.

And I remember why I so dislike winter.

I mean, give me a crisp winter day where the air is still and there’s a few inches of nice compact snow.

The sun is shining and the snow glitters back at you as you walk on it, hearing the crunch of your boots on its surface.

It’s cold, sure, but not numbingly so.

It makes for a purty picture.

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That’s a winter that I can handle.

But, today.

Nope.

I don’t want to go outside at all.

But, I did.

And the weird thing about it is this…

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There was an egg in the chicken coop.

Nestled in an hen’s box was a gift.

A very surprising gift.

It thought the hens were done laying eggs…forever.

I don’t know who put it there, but I gave a big “Thank You” to the four gals who live in the barn and cluck at us.

It’s the little things that you should get excited about.

Because the little things add up much more quickly than the big things.

Big things happen less often than the little joys that can pop up at any given moment.

Something else happened to me this morning, earlier than the egg moment.

I was reading through my CaringBridge account.

Do you know about CaringBridge?

It’s an online site that allows you to post about a loved one’s health so that others far from you can keep track of their health crisis.  No one uses CaringBridge to just tell people about their blood pressure and diabetes control numbers.  It’s used when someone has cancer or has had a stroke or has been in bad car accident.

You get my drift.

We started a CaringBridge page when Zoe was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

I don’t post on it anymore.

She’s healthy.

She’s been cured of her disease.

My aunt has a page because her husband is in hospice at home.

He’s had cancer and they are trying to keep him comfortable at home during his final days.

There are a few other pages that I follow, but I don’t regularly read the journal updates that they post.

One page that I follow was created by a woman who went to my high school, but who now lives in the Atlanta, GA area.  Her daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and lost part of her leg.  She’s currently about the same age as Zoe, but was diagnosed with her cancer at an older age.  Zoe was five years old when diagnosed with leukemia.

I haven’t kept up to date on her posts as of late.

But, this morning I decided to read a few entries.

I was already on the site reading what my aunt had recently posted about her husband when I noticed Grace’s page.

It had quite a few updates on it.

So, I took a look…

Her cancer, that was in remission, has come back.

It has spread down her spine.

And it will be another long struggle for a girl who is very athletic, very competitive, and very much loved.

A struggle that she may not win.

The girl’s younger sister asked their mother if they needed to start a Bucket List.

A list of things to do before she dies.

And I crumbled inside.

My heart broke a bit more, a heart that has already been broken by knowing too many sick kids.

My eyes filled with tears, as they are doing right now.

Kids shouldn’t have bucket lists because they may die.

And it made me so scared.

Scared for my own daughter.

Who is healthy and free from disease right now.

But, the “what-ifs” never sit too far back in your brain if you’ve had a kid with cancer.

What if it comes back?

What if another cancer is growing in her right now?

They said that that was possible…she could get another cancer because of the treatments she was given to kill off the original cancer.

It’s terrifying.

She’s not even a teenager yet.

She hasn’t been to New York yet.

She hasn’t kissed a boy yet.

She hasn’t lived yet.

I told Man-Farmer about the girl in Atlanta and his face changed instantly.

It was subtle, but I saw the change.

To a sadness that only a parent who has sat with a child in a hospital because her own body was killing her can have.

We can’t control cancer in our child.

It’s not fair and it’s not something that can be understood.

We can control how we react to it all, though.

We can remember how lucky we are that our daughter is alive.

We can hug her with abandon when she walks in the door after school everyday.

I regularly do this and she accepts my embraces.

Every day.

She accepts my arms around her.

In my hugs that take longer to end than most kids like.

She never shrugs me off.

She drinks in my love, I think.

She’s gone through a lot already in her short life.

And I hope she lives another 80 years.

Just like any mother hopes for her child.

Her children.

Life can be unfair.

Things can change in a day.

And we must cherish the gifts we are given daily.

If it’s as simple as an egg from a chicken.

Or a child walking through the front door after a long day at school.

Every day is a gift.

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December Tails

December has come in like a balmy September.

The weather has been comfortable.

Winter coats have not exited the front closet yet.

Our family has gone to a few holiday events already.

Zoe had a holiday dance program at the Masonic Temple in our town.

The Masonic Temple in our small Illinois town is quite beautiful, but quite old.

It is not handicapped accessible.

There are a gazillion steps just to get into the building and there are steps to walk up to get to the best seats for viewing the stage.

My dad has torn the meniscus in his knee and needs surgery, and for now he can’t do a lot of stairs.

We had to sit lower down in the main auditorium area.

All of the steps inside the building are narrow.

Super narrow.

And the leg room once you sit down in the once-was-padded-but-not-any-longer seat is similar to a seat in coach on any commercial airline these days.

My daughter dances at the Masonic Temple every December with her dance company.

And every year my dad says “Wow, those Masons were short weren’t they?”

And every year we laugh.

“Big arms (since they were Masons) and small feet” we reply.

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So, we watched a holiday dance program crammed into the small seats of the Masonic Temple.  The dance company donates the proceeds of the show to the local Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.  It’s a nice cause and it’s a fun way to get the holiday season going for our family.

Gigi sang in an outdoor tree lighting ceremony last night with the children’s choir she’s a member of.

Her choir is associated with the local university that Man-Farmer works at.

Her choir participated and a local middle school/high school choir sang a song as well.

But, the highlight for us was the horse drawn wagon.

It was a bit windy last evening, so the temperature was a bit colder than it had been the last few nights.

But, it got us in the holiday mood.

the chatter of the people…the huge pine tree that had been strung with lights…the hot cocoa being handed out.

And the silver bells that were attached to the horses pulling the wagon.

Isn’t there just something that screams CHRISTMAS when you hear sleigh bells in December?

The line was long to wait for the wagon.

But it was worth it.

Just to see Gigi’s’ beaming face as she climbed into the wagon.

That always makes everything worth it.

When she saw a guy walking around in his Santa suit handing out candy canes she bolted the other way.  She still gets nervous about strangers in costumes. She doesn’t like small talk.  And she’s not 100% sure what she wants to say to him this year.  She hasn’t decided what she really wants for Christmas.

She loves making Santa sweat…


Speaking of horses, I dealt with a runaway pony at the end of last week.

Not my best moment.

And I have the wounds to live with.

Our pony, Buttercup Luck, is on the geriatric meter in terms of pony age.

She’s 17 years old.

She’s an old gal who still likes to see how fast she can run.

And if she sees an open door…

ZOOM!

She’s gone!

I was cleaning out the stall that she shares with the goat sisters.

I was at the back of the stall spreading some pine shavings when I glanced over to the red gate that closes them into the stall.

It was open.

I saw it.

The goats saw it.

The pony saw it.

And she decided that her moment was NOW.

So she went through the opening into the barn, taking a right turn at the duck house and she saw my mistake.

I think I saw it at the same time that she saw it.

I had left the main door to the barn open when I had initially come in to clean everyone’s home.

The chickens are usually walking around inside the barn if they aren’t outside during the day.

Luckily it was a warm day and so the chickens weren’t inside underfoot when the pony started her trot through the wooden structure.

No chickens were harmed on Buttercup’s little adventure.

I, on the other hand, was injured.

Many mistakes were made by me on this day in the barn.

I clean stalls and chicken coops and feed hay and seed to animals daily, so I get complacent.

I do the same things daily and often run on autopilot.

Many days I need to remind myself to keep order.

Working with large animals requires order.

And as my large, 800 pound, pet went trotting through my barn with her eyes firmly locked on an open door, that to her meant adventure, she reminded me that my outing into the barn that afternoon was out of order.

Our pony has escaped a few times in the 6 years we have had her with us.

And she’s never been easy to catch.

She’s huge.

Like I said, she’s 800 pounds (give or take a 100 pounds…our farrier always tells me she’s too fat) and when she’s out of a fenced-in area she runs with abandon.

She bucks.

She does a smashing impression of The Lone Ranger’s horse when she balances herself on her back legs pawing at her freedom.

I have all of these images seared into my brain from past escapes of her confines.

So, I did the worst possible thing that I could have done…

I grabbed her tail.

I grabbed her tail to try to “put the brakes” onto her trot.

To get her to stop.

Why I thought pulling on the tail of my ginormous pet to stop her from leaving the barn was a good idea, I don’t know.

It seemed like a good idea in that millisecond?

Instead of her stopping, it accelerated her.

And I didn’t let go and that made her run even faster.

But I HAD to let go.

The barn wall was heading right for me.

Or vice versa.

She took a sharp right out the door as I slammed into the wall.

My head didn’t hit anything, but my leg did.

And I layed there for a minute because I knew, just knew, she had left the area and was running down our busy street.

I managed to stand back up and I peered around the side of the open door.

She was there.

She had gotten distracted, rather quickly THANK GOD, by some tall grass by the pasture fence.

The fence that she’s normally behind.

And since she’s never passed up a good snack, she stopped running and started eating.

No bucking, no running with wild abandon, no Lone Ranger’s horse.

Just eating.

I quickly went back into the barn that I had just been assaulted in to get her halter and lead rope.

That things that hook over her head to keep her under a bit of control.

I slowly and nonchalantly walked over to her.

The goats had escaped too, but they never run away.

They are very needy and like to stay with the group.

They don’t run with abandon unless you are giving them graham crackers.

Buttercup was chewing on the grass that she had found right at the fence line and I sauntered over asking her how she was liking her snack.

She looked up.

Our eyes met.

And my blood pressure shot up because I knew a fight was about to begin.

Either she was going to win or I was.

The options before the both of us were…bolt or capture.

Our eyes met.

It felt like a hundred years passed.

Instead of 5 seconds.

She was chewing and she seemed content enough with that because I put the purple halter on her.

No struggle, no conflict, no show.

I walked her back into the barnyard by the side gate.

And then had to run around as fast as I could back INTO the barn to close the red gate that was still open.

The gate that was the precursor to the drama that had just unfolded.

Once it was shut and latched I realized that I had the most horrible headache.

My blood pressure went up so high-so quickly, the adrenaline that had coursed through my body when I was trying to stop my horse from bolting, caused me to have an instant headache.

I crawled my way back to the house (not literally) and processed my wounds.

I had scraped my leg on the wooden barn wall when I slammed into it.

Scraped it right where my ankle bends, at the bottom of my leg right above my foot.

My shin area hurt a lot, but there wasn’t much external damage.

Probably just some bruises there, I thought.

But, damn, my scraped area still hurts a lot.

It hurts to bend my ankle.

When I get out of the car.

When I get off of the couch.

It makes me limp for a few steps.

And it’s my reminder to keep order.

When you are dealing with both large animals and small children you need order…

consistency.

rules.

rituals.

And love.

Because even though my pony almost gave me a heart attack because my blood pressure went to 800/225 in a millisecond, I still love her bunches.

I lover her fuzzy chin and her long eyelashes.

It was all my fault.

She just took advantage of my mistake.

And she gave me the opportunity to learn very valuable lessons.

Always close the barn door behind you.

And don’t pull a horse’s tail.

Ice Skating

My youngest has been asking me, since last year, to take her ice skating.

I really like ice skating.

I remember first learning to ice skate in high school.

We had a PE class that allowed us to go off campus to learn how to bowl, how to shoot an arrow from a bow at an archery range, and how to ice skate.

I already knew how to roller skate.

I am a child of the ’70s and ’80s, so roller skating was on my weekly schedule.

I had white roller skates that I fancied up with pale blue poms.

I would tie down the tongue of the skate so that I could just slip my foot in and roll away.

Ice skating came quite naturally.

Gigi is very good at skateboarding and has been on roller skates.

She can certainly handle herself standing on a set of wheels.

So, I hope that she can stay upright on a blade that’s situated under her foot.

When we lived in Chicago, I went ice skating at outdoor rinks.

At Millennium Park.

At Navy Pier.

At the rink at the University of Chicago on the Midway Plaisance.

It’s so invigorating to ice skate outdoors.

The crisp air that keeps the ice cold and your ears tingling.

The trees that you can whiz past if you keep your knees down and your head up.

The sky!

Ice skate outdoors and look up and whoa…your heart will skip a beat.

The traffic sounds, the crowds of people walking by, the snow on the ground butted up against the edge of the rink.

If you have ever been ice skating when it’s snowing…boy oh boy!

That’s something you NEVER forget.

Cheesy as it sounds, it’s indeed magical.

There’s nothing like it.

And there’s no outdoor rink in our town.

Which is why I haven’t had it in me to take her skating yet.

We actually have been to the indoor rink that sits in our downtown civic center.

We have taken Zoe there before and I thought we had taken her little sister, but she says otherwise.

It just doesn’t do a damn thing for me.

Ice skating in a building is as exciting for me as sitting in a chair at the DMV.

There’s no magic involved when you are ice skating in a concrete arena that houses a hockey team on the weekends and flea market during the summer.

The hours are limited, the food sucks, and there is zero need for earmuffs.

I’ll take her, though.

See if she’s got any ability.

I hope she does.

Because I do have a hankering for a road trip.

I want to head north on Interstate 57 to the land of outdoor ice skating rinks.

And if the blonde girl DOES have any ability, I may be stopping off somewhere to buy her some skates with a blade.

Zoe has tried skating on blades, but it wasn’t her thing.

She had a hard time staying up.  Her ankles hurt.  Her butt hurt when she fell.  Her shoulders hurt from being so tense.

She’s older now, though, so maybe she should give it another go.

She often finds that she is actually very good at things that she self-proclaims to be horrible at.

She pretends to suck at sports, but she can certainly hold her own.

Three pairs of ice skates (yes, I know you can rent skates at public rinks but I like having my own stuff, ya know) may turn into three ice skaters who find a new passion.

We may need to build our own rink out back…cough*cough*…Man-Farmer?

Can we, can we, PLEASE?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pies, Aging, And An Empty Sh*tter.

I’m baking pies today.

Thanksgiving is in two days.

I’m going traditional with my baking.

Pumpkin and pecan will do it for us.

My dad is known as “Plain Bob” and he doesn’t like anything too fancy.

He usually finds out that he actually likes fancy when he eats fancy, but he’s happy with only chocolate chips in his cookies, zero toppings on his cheeseburgers, and just cheese in his mac and cheese.

So, plain ol’ pumpkin and pecan tomorrow.

I think the pecan will be too fancy for him come to think of it.

This is going to be my brother’s last holiday in Illinois.

He and his wife are moving to Tennessee on Sunday.

Next to a lake, surrounded by large oak trees, and where the winters are a bit less relenting.

I have no idea if we will see them for holidays anymore.

They will be about an hour and a half from Nashville.

Maybe I can convince Man-Farmer to take a trip to Music City sometime.  We can catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry and grab some BBQ to take to my brother’s new house once they get set up.

Our family is really spread out now.

My nephew and his family are in Houston.

He has a 17 month old son who looks more like a 3 year old.  The kid looks big so you forget his age when he’s biting someone at daycare or throwing himself on the ground at Target on a Thursday afternoon.

My niece lives in southern Illinois where she goes to college.

My cousins are in town, but they all seem to gradually be moving south to the Sunshine state.

The holiday participants are getting smaller in number.

So, my days of making desserts for a big crowd are dwindling as well.


Speaking of baking, my chickens have ceased laying eggs.

Chickens do go through a molt in the fall.

They start losing their feathers to grow in new ones.

They walk around in a perpetual bad-hair phase.

I don’t know why chickens have picked the fall to lose their feathers.

Umm, it can get really cold in the fall and they look cold to me.

They stop laying eggs because they are using all of their energy to grow new feathers and consequently they are trying to stay warm because they, you guessed it, they dropped their feathers.

So strange.

But, I think our eggless hens are having more than a molting issue right now.

They are old.

And just like a human female, chicken females are only born with a certain number of eggs.

Once those eggs are used up, that’s it folks.

No more babies.

No more eggs to pop out of you.

And with the hens, no more eggs to tuck into my fridge.

If I were a real farmer, which I’m not, I would have eaten my chickens by now.

I just pretend to be a farmer.  I’m what is called a Hobby Farmer.

Farming is my hobby.

Animal husbandry is my forte (I wish I was as good at growing food as I am with growing animals) and I just can’t kill my chickens because they are done laying eggs.

They are about 5 years old.  They have names.  They have been with us since they were a few days old.

Now, I must admit to you, we have killed a chicken before here at the farm.

When we got the chicks from the farm store, we got a rooster in the mix of 8 chicks we picked from the big silver tubs.

We didn’t want a rooster, but you can’t tell when they are little fluffy things who is going to grow up into a egg laying hen or a scrappy rooster.

We got one VERY scrappy rooster who was fascinating to watch.

He started learning to crow and he started getting huge tail feathers.

He was a beaut.

But he was an ass.

And he would attack our oldest daughter anytime she went into the barnyard.

Only her.

So, he had to go.

My dad came over his ax and chopped that dude’s head clean off.

And we ate him.

And he tasted horrible.

So, now instead of chopping the heads off of chickens that are purposeless, I make sweaters.

Because they are older and thinner and the barn isn’t heated and they might get cold out there.

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Gigi turned another year older last week.

She is one year away from double digits.

She went rock climbing in a 65 foot converted grain silo with her sister and few friends on Saturday.

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Gigi is my clock.

She’s the last baby that was born in my friend group from college so, once she starts getting old, there’s really no hope for us anymore.

We are all closer to fifty than forty now.

We all have gray hair and I think I’m the only one who has ditched the dye bottles.

Gigi is our walking, sassy-talking proof that we are getting older.

And she is anything but old.

She’s golden-haired and can bend her body in ways I have never been able to.  She’s full of youth and has only one freckle on her sweet, smooth face.  She is still learning what life has to offer her.  She’s not jaded yet.  She’s not been kissed and then ignored by a boy.  She hasn’t applied for her dream job and then sat anxiously waiting for the results of that interview.  She hasn’t seen a real mountain.  She hasn’t been robbed or been in a car accident.  She hasn’t eaten a lobster roll in Maine.  Life is still so new for her. She has everything to experience still.  Everything that is beautiful in life.  And everything that is ugly.

Everything.

I hope she makes the most of it.

Because some days I feel like it’s all slipping by much too quickly and I’m not taking advantage of my days that I have left.

In fact, I KNOW I’m not taking full advantage of my place on the planet.

Shit…now I want some of that pie I just baked.


We live in a town that is rural.

And rural America has septic tanks that collect, quite literally, your shit.

We are too far out in the country to take advantage of the city’s sewer lines.

So, our shit is our problem to contend with.

And when the shitter gets too full, the toilet doesn’t flush as well as it should.

And if you ignore this non-flushing of your toilet for too long, you septic tank that is situated under the ground in your yard, can cause quite a mess if it decides to leak or bust.  I think tree roots growing into your septic tank line can cause it to bust open too.

So, just think about what that means…

Your shit holder busts and where does that crap go?

It creates a stanky, muddy (but that ain’t mud!) mess in your yard.

Our septic tank is in the front of our house.

It was put in eons ago.

We have water wells in the back of the house.

You don’t want to mix your water line with your poop line.

That’s called typhoid.

We get our septic tank pumped out every couple of years.

This last time we lasted a year and a half.

Daughters use more toilet paper than sons, if you get my drift * wink*wink*.

Our toilet was slow to flush and so Man-Farmer called the Septic Specialists and they came right out.

That’s service!

He called at the right moment and they had an opening.

Whew!

I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my crapper needs to be empty.

And I always, ALWAYS laugh when they pull their truck up into our driveway.

Their logo gets me EVERYTIME!

Septic guys have the best senses of humor.

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I Bake Memories Into My Cakes

I have been a stay at home mom since my first baby was born.

We lived in Chicago.

I didn’t have some fancy, high-payin’ job at a hoity-toity downtown firm.

It was cheaper to stay at home and not pay for daycare.

We lived in a rented apartment so we didn’t have a mortgage and property taxes to pay.

That began 12 years ago.

And I’m still here.

New address…same job title.

And because I’m a mom at home, I have always made my kid’s birthday cakes.

Well, almost always.

I did start buying cakes for Gigi for some reason and she got mad at me and said (well it was more like a scream…she always screams…) “why don’t you make my cakes?!  You only make Zoe cakes!  I WANT YOU TO MAKE MY BIRTHDAY CAKE!!!”

I have always enjoyed baking.  And I believe my skills have improved greatly over the years.

I even made naan bread recently on my new butcher block island in my kitchen.

And in the cake making and decorating realm of kid birthday parties, I am SO PROUD of the panda cake I made a few years ago for Gigi.

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Pinterest is my friend.

And it can be your friend too if you are planning parties.

I never go into a party for my kiddos without consulting with Pinterest first.

Now, not every idea I have for dessert for a birthday party has worked out for me.

Ask my kids about the horse cupcake debacle of Zoe’s fourth birthday party and they will tell you about my “nailed it” moment.

Luckily someone who worked for Man-Farmer (he has an actual job at a local university and isn’t really a farmer, he just pretends to be one) was able to whip up a cake at her cake baking company for Zoe at the last-minute and it was really cute.

Zoe has actually said in the last few years that she “doesn’t like cake”.

WHAT?!

Is that even a thing?

Who doesn’t like cake?!

Well, my kid doesn’t so we have had to go a different route for her.

We found that the Mrs. Field’s Cookie Shop at the mall made cookie cakes.

It essentially a huge chocolate chip cookie that is then decorated with icing and it’s become Zoe’s favorite thing to eat for her birthday.

And then the Mrs. Field’s Cookie Shop at the mall closed.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

But, a cookie guardian angel was hovering over Zoe because lo and behold, the gal who owned the now defunct Mrs. Field’s Cookie Shop at the mall got hired at the same local university that Man-Farmer works at and she agreed to make our girl a cookie cake last year out of her own home.

She’s great with the decorating with icing thing (something that is NOT my forte) and that’s what makes her cookie cakes so amazing and I am hoping she will make her another one when Zoe becomes a teenager in February.

cookiecake

We had a birthday party for Gigi yesterday at our house.

My kids usually have a birthday week.

An entire week of celebrating their life and giving them food and gifts and love.

Yesterday was Gigi’s family birthday party.

Tomorrow, the 14th,  is her actual birthday and she will be celebrating her 9th birthday.

To read about Gigi’s confusing entry into this world on my old blog, click here.

I made some treats to take into her classroom tomorrow.

And we will have pizza from a gas station for dinner.

Her choice.

She loves Casey’s pizza and it’s made from scratch at the gas station down the street.

We already went to Red Lobster for lunch (her choice as she’s a crab leg lovin’ girl!) on Saturday to celebrate her upcoming birthday with Grandma and Gpa.

And this coming Saturday we are going to drive her and 4 of her giggly little 3rd grade friends to a rock climbing venue where they can climb up a 65 foot converted grain silo and then eat pizza in the party room.

So yesterday, cousins and Grandma and Gpa come over for cake and ice cream.

We always have a theme party.

This year Gigi chose Dragons.

Huh?

What do I do for that?

Pinterest!  HELP!

I found a few different ideas and finally decided on a Dragon Scales cake.

Some lady, who must make cakes professionally, posted her link to this amazingly decorated cake using buttercream icing.

 

 

I knew my cake wouldn’t look like this (I WISH it would, but I’m 100% realistic in my abilities) so I went in with the attitude of…It won’t look amazing, but it should look ok.

And away I went baking.

I used the fancy cake lady’s recipe for the cake she made on her site.

Gigi wanted a blue cake and so I added blue gel coloring to the batter.

Oops.

I forgot that the egg yolks would play a part in the coloring process.

So, instead of a nice blue color I ended up with a green color.

But a baby-poo green color.

And as I poured the batter into the pans, I knew something was WAAAAAAY off with this batter.

I said to Man-Farmer “this is not going to work out.  this batter is not spreading and is so weird.  i’m going to have to make more cakes later.”

Flat and poo-green and what the hell just happened?

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The fancy decorating cake lady may be able to rock it in the icing department, but her cake batter went south in my kitchen.

So, I went into Round 2 mode and used a never-has-failed-me-before Martha Stewart recipe for a yellow butter cake.

I omitted any coloring in the batter and just kept it yellow.

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Whew!

Much better.

A cake versus a disc of poo.

I made the buttercream icing and dyed them three different colors.

Purple, blue, and green.

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I decided to do the crumb coating of icing and the icing between the layers of the cake in the blue icing.

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And then attempted to ice the rest of the round mass of buttery sugary goodness in purple and green dragon scales.  I was running out of icing, so I just slathered the remaining icing on the top.

gigibirthday

As I’ve gotten older and have created many different cakes in my kitchen, I’ve become more lax in my attitude about each cake’s creation and final outcome.

I try my very best.

And the final product is what it is.

No more stressing.

No more worries.

I gave my all.

Enjoy the cake, people.

The Dragon Scales cake was not perfect.

It tasted amazing.

Homemade butter cake and homemade buttercream frosting…so much butter!

Gigi told me last night that the cake was the MOST AMAZING CAKE SHE HAD EVER HAD EVER!

She’s so sweet.

She knows how to make her mama feel good.

As she’s a true sweets connoisseur she knows that a good homemade cake-full of basic ingredients like butter, sugar, and eggs from the hens in the backyard-just can’t be beat.

But what she doesn’t realize is that I’m baking her more than a sweet dessert.

I’m creating her childhood memories…one cake slice at a time.

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Finding Your Own Joy

November is the Thankful Month.

It’s the month that we pull aside as the time to remember what gives us joy and what gives us reason to get up each morning.

But, why do we stop and think about what we have to be thankful for in November?

This is something that we need to do every day on the calendar.

We often take our daily lives for granted.

The grind…the work…the troubles.

And the people embedded in our tornadoish lives.

Everyone seems to be so darn busy.

And there’s always someone who thinks that they are busier than the rest of us combined.

The moments melt into one another and we forget.

We forget to be thankful for the pocket-sized things.

Because it’s these moments that can mean so much more than the bigger experiences.

If we just stop…do it now.

Stop.

Think about something little that makes you smile.

I’ll wait…

It can be your favorite cup of coffee…or the sensation of sitting with a purring cat…or the way the sky looks when you get up in the morning.

Remember them.

Relish them.

Savor them.

Taste them.

Here are some of the things that remind me to be grateful in this life I have the honor of living…

-fresh baked bread from my own oven

-nuzzles from our pony

-texts from friends who are far away that immediately make me laugh out loud

-crisp, juicy apples

-the extreme joy I see in my friend Jonathan in Los Angeles when I see photos of him online with his newborn son, wife, and two year old son.  He has had a hard struggle and it’s so wonderful to see him so happy.

-my husband’s handsome face

-my daughters’ arms around my neck as they still run to me for daily hugs

-my parents’ health

-wild cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, and juncos at my bird feeder

-the ability to live in a house that has so much family history

-the internet as it keeps me connected to ideas and thoughts I may not have realized I had interest in otherwise

-deer wandering into my yard and the long, thoughtful stares we exchange when they finally notice me

-Roku television

-cuddly, warm cats on my lap (sometimes in my house, that can mean three cats on my lap at one time.  good thing I have a big lap)

-my cookbooks chock full of ideas that I can bring to life

-sunrises and sunsets on clear days that remind me how small I am in this big world

-being a cancer-free home for five years

-pies and my ability to make them from scratch

-my daughters, every single thing about them

-new friends who like to lunch

-old friends who want to keep in touch

I try to be thankful every day and remind myself to do so.

It’s easy to get caught up in negativity and superficialness in today’s world.

It can be much harder to NOT let other people’s ideas of
what YOU should have in your life
what YOU should think about as important
what YOU should feel happy about
that a fog begins to cloud our visions of ourselves.

There can be a deep seated feeling that we need more.

We often feed that need so much that we forget that we probably already have enough.

It’s an individual process.

And we each have our own thanks and joys.

Always, ALWAYS keep them close to you, don’t bury them.

Then spread your heart light out into the world.

We need to see your gratitude.

Because when we see your joy, we find our own.

family2prairie sunset

bread-and-butter

 

 

 

 

 

The Root Of My Back Pain

The cold weather has brought out my crabby side.

And I think a sore back.

Feeling cold and tense every time I have to run to the barn or to the mailbox constricts my muscles as I try to warm up.

It’s like a tight Elizabethan corset is being pulled taut around my upper torso.

I understand why people move south for the winter.

Warm weather is easy on the back.

But what I don’t understand is this…

Middle school.

And it’s making me crabby and in need of Naproxen.

I went to middle school in 1983.

I did my time.

I studied, I participated, I ran out when the gym mats caught on fire.

True story.

A girl who openly disliked her teen years set fire to the gym mats in our middle school gymnasium one afternoon.

I was outside running the dreaded mile with my PE class and as we headed back inside,  finished up from our torturous run, we opened the doors to the gymnasium and were greeted by smoke pouring out of the building.

The first floor was damaged (it was an exquisite older school building with ornate wooden doorways, an auditorium with a spacious balcony, and hidden classrooms under the stairwell…still in use today, but I hear it may be on the chopping block soon to make way for modernity) from the smoke and from the water that the firemen poured in.

But, I did my work in middle school.

I went to every pep rally.  My parents may or may not have been sitting in the parent seats.

I sang in the choir.  My parents sat in the parent seats.

I danced on the pom-pon squad during half-time of sporting events that involved balls.  My parents still sat in the parent seats.

And then I moved onto high school where I did the same things.

I was in even more clubs.  My parents stayed home.

I went to school dances.  My parents dropped me off and went home.

I studied and got good grades.

I did my time.

So, why am I now being asked to do it again?

See what my parents did?

Not much.

But not this generation of moms and dads.

No way Jose.

Every other day, it seems, I get an email or a newsletter from someone at the middle school asking me for my time and/or money.

Give-Give-Give.

I do give.

I give you my kid and my tax money and my registration fees.

I don’t use the free-lunch program.

I send my kid to school every day with food I’ve provided for her.

I have taught her to be respectful of her teachers.

And of her peers.

I have taught her to give 100% of herself in her studies.

I have taught her to help those that look as if they are in need of something.

So, as a result I give you a kid who won’t be a bother.

But, it’s not enough.

I’m asked to give to the drama club, to the incentives program, to the band, to the 8th grade D.C. trip, to the yearbook, to the boosters, to the food pantry.

From moms that have kids in sports, I’ve heard that they are asked to give even more.  In regards to both time and money…it’s totally ridiculous and the ideals presented to these parents make the so-called playing field very limited.  The demands are astronomical.  And it sounds a bit unconscionable.

There’s so much being asked that I feel as if I’m outside in the cold.

I’m tensing up.

My back hurts.

Recently I got an email from the band director asking parents to volunteer at the high school to sells concessions.

The band program will receive a proceeds of the sales.

A program that is not as equally as funded as the sports teams are.

The arts never are.

Man-Farmer hit the nail on the head when I told him about this recent request of parental involvement.

“Why do the parents have to do this?  Why don’t the band students do it with one adult standing by to help if needed?” he asked.

YEAH!

Why not?!

And a light bulb went off…or as Oprah says, “Aha!” and it all made sense to me.

The reason kids and young adults aren’t capable of living in these years as reasonably as we…we that graduated from high school before 1990…was right in front of me now.

They haven’t had to serve popcorn to someone at a basketball game!

Make them serve the people.

Make them be responsible.

I can hear it now…

A- what if they burn their arm on the popcorn machine?

B- What if the boys get too rowdy?

C- What if they give the wrong amount of change?

sigh…

There’s always someone trying to rain on the parade…trying to keep the wee bairns young and to keep the parents working.  Someone always afraid of liabilities instead of being afraid of whiny, unskilled young adults.

a- if they burn their arm on the popcorn machine, they will learn to be more careful getting the popcorn out of the machine.  DUH.

b- make a list of who is working and don’t let the boys work together who are rowdy.  make sure they work with the girls who are more responsible and who will keep them in line.  DUH.

c- make sure an adult is nearby to help with the money transactions.  will it hinder or help teens to learn how to make change and utilize those math skills they have been learning since 2nd grade?  help of course…DUH.

But, it will never happen.

We live in a world now with too many restrictions.

Too many school officials who are afraid of parents who only choose to complain.

Granted these are the same parents who never want to help at any school function.

I have been volunteering with my daughters’ classes since they have been in preschool and it’s always the same parents helping.

Recently Zoe asked her family and her dad’s work employees if they would like to buy some cookies and popcorn as a fundraiser for her school.

Here’s another example of that GIVING.

Did you catch my eye roll there?

She turned in her order form and it was lost by a teacher.

And while I’m always asked to give, give, give to the school, I assumed that the teacher who lost her form would at least give her an apology for losing her order.

I even asked for that.

“Could Zoe’s math teacher or whomever it was that lost her form at least apologize to her about it” was my only request.

It has never been GIVEN to Zoe.

The schools are constantly, and I mean CONSTANTLY, telling us parents to “contact us at any time with questions or concerns about your child.”

But, that’s a lie.

They don’t really want parents to call with concerns.

They want us to give our time and our money and to shut the hell up.

They don’t want us to question the teaching methods of the computer skills teacher and they don’t want us to question the reliability of the math teacher (both issues I have had with my kid and I was meet with anger and silence from school officials over both issues).

Instead it’s…give us your tired, your empty walleted parents, your huddled masses of adults yearning to be free who just want to sit in front of the television to watch Outlander and Vice Principals because I’m tired on a Thursday night and I don’t want to stand around at a basketball game serving 13 year olds Snickers bars and hot dogs because they don’t even say thank you and instead they should be serving me popcorn and a nice pale ale.

Give and we shall take…your parental soul.

And there goes my back again…

fundraiser

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Week, Another Review

Another week (or two) has passed and another week in review is here…

We have had encounters with pumpkins, a theft, illness in the family, a concert, and a holiday.

October has come and gone and today is November.

The month that gives us turkey and the birth of Gigi.

Who was the devil for Halloween.

halloween


Halloween was yesterday.

The day that we dress our children (and sometimes our adult selves) into costumes and we pretend to be someone else and ask strangers for candy.

So many parents these days seem afraid to let their kids go trick or treating.

There are organized events in community centers or church parking lots.

We don’t go that route.

We march around in a neighborhood that we drive our kids to (cause we don’t have neighbors and therefore can’t trick or treat around our own home) and our kids knock on strangers’ doors and get free candy.

The same neighborhood that I begged for candy in.

This is the first year that we (the parents) did not walk around with the kids.

Zoe is waaaaaay to old to have her parents hang out behind her on the sidewalk as she parades around the neighborhood.

We parked at the end of the street to be begged on and sat in the car waiting for the she-devil and Dr. John Watson to return with some loot.

halloween2

Then we drove to the next street.

Sat and waited.

Repeat.


My kids have not had their first rock concert experience.

And it seems, my husband hasn’t either.

He’s lived a deprived life…it’s book worthy.

I have had plenty of concert experiences in my life.

It started when I was very young and my parents took my brother and I to see The Beach Boys.

Every summer.

Every.

Summer.

I cannot listen to The Beach Boys to this day.

Every…Summer.

We also saw Captain and Tennille.

But that was just once.

Most of my early concert experiences occurred at the Illinois State Fair.

Garth Brooks

INXS with Michael Hutchence

The Psychedelic Furs

In college at Illinois State I saw Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Smashing Pumpkins, Lenny Kravitz, and Tom Petty.

When I moved to Chicago concerts continued for me and I saw artists ranging from Fishbone to Lyle Lovett.

Music has always been a very big part of my life.

My dad collects record albums and The Beatles and Bob Dylan have been large influencers in my life.

I regularly have music playing in my house and prefer to have some song playing softly in the background than complete silence.

Man-Farmer was not raised with music.

He often has the house in silence.

The silence freaks me out a bit.

My girls love music as much as I do.

We listen to Adele, Lady Gaga, Queen, and everything in between.

So when I saw that Katy Perry was going to be in concert in the Midwest, I looked to see where she would be touring.

Chicago on a Tuesday and Wednesday.

Darn it.

School nights in a city that is 3 1/2 hours away.

No good.

Wait…St. Louis?!

On a Sunday?!

YES!

And I can get tickets for $27.50?

Are you shitting me?!

4 seats please!

Thank you.

Yes, I realize that our seats are in the third to last row of the arena.

At least my kids will be able to see her (from afar) and hear her (they use big speakers, right?).

I bought the tickets and asked my dad to come down that evening to lock up the chickens and the ducks and feed the horse and goats their dinner.

It was a 7pm show and we would be driving home afterwards.

St Louis is exactly two hours from our house.

That’s doable for me on a school night.

The kids can sleep in the car on the way home as mom and dad keep each other awake by chatting about people we hate.

It’s all good.

So we got dressed up in our finest Katy Perry concert attire.

Headed south and found our seats in the third to last row of the Scottrade Center.

We were right across from the stage.

They were good seats.

The souvenir stand was packed when we got into the building.

So we bought some big stadium pretzels and a bag of cotton candy and chilled out waiting for the first act to start.

Noah Cyrus…Miley Cryus’s little sister…was going to be the opening gig.

After eating the food and before the show had started, I suggested that Man-Farmer and the girls go downstairs to see if the line at the t-shirt stand was any shorter.

They weren’t gone for very long when Chad come running back telling me to come with him.

Plans had changed.

A security guard at the escalator had swapped our four tickets in the third to last row with four tickets on the main floor.

In the 8th row!

AMAZING!

So, the girls (and their dad) got real close to the star for their first concert.

katy perry concert

We danced!

We sang loudly!

We hooted and screamed!

I felt like I was 20 years old again.

Katy Perry put on a great show.

She was very interactive with the audience and I didn’t need to use the zoom on my camera to see her.

Thanks Katy Perry!

katy perry


Our extended family has had some health scares in October.

A cousin had a stroke.

She’s in her early 70s and it came out of the blue (as all strokes do) and while every stroke is bad, her stroke could have been much worse than it turned out to be.

She has the use of her arms and legs.

She can talk.

So lucky.

They think her heart went into A-Fibrillation and that caused the stroke.

Can happen to anyone and it’s hard to detect.

Yikes.

And then my cute little great-nephew in Houston was hospitalized for three days because he got RSV.

A respiratory virus.

He turned a year old during the summer.

He goes to day-care while his parents go off to work…a police officer and a therapist.

I wish he could hang out with me all day long instead of going to day-care.

It’s always scary to watch your child be hospitalized.

He’s doing a lot better now.

On day three he was climbing the walls of his hospital room (as was his dad) because he was feeling better.

I was very proud of my nephew…he stayed at the hospital through it all keeping a close eye on his boy.

Reminded me of our days sleeping in the hospital room when Zoe had cancer.

childhoodcancer

We never left her alone.

One of us was always there and sometimes ALL of us were there.

Gigi was almost two years old at her sister’s diagnosis and spent many days wandering the hospital floors while her sister was hooked up to IVs in a bed.

You’re uncomfortable.  Bored.  Hungry.  Restless.

And you get through it.

And you become stronger.

As a family.

Both of these instances remind me that life can change in an instant.

Our life changed in an instant 7 years ago.

And we overcame.


October around here means pumpkin patches and decorating.

Many years ago I found an idea for a large wooden witch to display outside from the magazine Martha Stewart Living.

If you really know me, you know that Martha has been a big influence in my adult life.

Baking and decorating ideas from her magazine have graced my home for years.

So, when I saw a template for a six foot tall witch I was stoked.

I printed the template.

We bought a piece of plywood.

Traced the witch onto it and my dad used his jig-saw to cut it out.

I painted her green.

We still have this original witch who is about 9 years old.

But she was made with thin plywood so we made another one about 5 years ago with a thicker piece of plywood.

And I painted this one black.

And she has stood proudly in our front  yard next to a black cat and tombstone.

But, now she’s gone.

Stolen.

Last visible sighting was on October 14th.

It was very windy that evening and we thought she had just fallen over into a bush when we didn’t spot her on the 15th.

Usually if it’s really windy, she does fall over and just lays there on her back in the yard.

But, she was gone.

And the green witch (that had been nailed to a tree because she’s so thin and easily topples over in a gust of wind) was literally ripped in half.

Her skirt wasn’t nailed down and we believe that someone had tried to take her but instead ripped her bottom half off in a theft attempt.

Because her counterpart, black witch, was gone.

Stolen.

Her broom was NOT a real witch’s broom so she didn’t fly off on her own.

I posted about it on Facebook and sent a message to our local Sheriff’s Department.

They shared it on their FB page (with the hashtag #stopstealinghalloweendecorations), but we haven’t seen her since.

We will not be defeated.

We will build again.

The witch will be back next Halloween.

I hope the thieves got the curse I attached to the witch if anyone were to ever steal her.

The next curse will be even stronger.

witch


 

I Want To Be A Better Mom…

Being a parent is a very difficult job.

There are so many different variables that need to be met.

Basic needs.

Food…check.

Shelter…check.

Clothing…check.

And those pesky EXTRAS…

Educational opportunities…check.

Music lessons…check.

A few pets at home to provide companionship and to help foster compassion…check.

Hair braiding…FAIL.

I seem to have the basics down okay.

But some of the extras can be the most challenging things in my everyday life.

Hair braiding is hard.

It’s right up there with BIRTHDAY PARTY IDEAS.

As a mom, I am running out of ideas for birthday parties and my hair braiding skills suck.

But, I’m a mom with short hair.

I’ve had short hair since high school and it was mainly because I didn’t know what to do with long hair.

And by looking at my kids, I still don’t know what to do with long hair.

Having daughters is so much fun.

We love to shop for shoes.

We love to dance at home and at Katy Perry concerts.

We love to wear aprons and bake stuff.

I enjoy teaching them my favorite swear words and they are very excited to practice their new vocabulary on one another.

But, braid their hair…sigh…it’s never been my best mom moment.

So, last year I bought a book.

Braids, Buns, and Twists! *authored by Christina Butcher

It’s a step-by-step guide to twisting hair around with your fingers to create fabulously fun hairstyles.

My fingers and my brain are having a hard time with this concept.

I see other girls with elaborate French braids and twists and I cry internally.

I envy their mothers and their mad braiding skills.

Why can’t I do that?

Why do my fingers suddenly turn into my toes?

Because usually when I get done with my creations it appears like I did the braiding with my feet.

And when Gigi runs to the mirror to see what I’ve done she, more than not, ends up screaming from the other room “THIS LOOKS HORRIBLE MOM!!”

Which may be why Zoe got her long hair cut off recently.

She wanted something in the “short hair club” realm.

A club I have been in for such a long time, that when my hair is growing out and starts to touch my neck, I freak out and will hunt down the scissors to cut it myself if I can’t get into a real hairstylist’s chair quickly enough.

I can do the basic braid.

One or two.

Whichever is desired.

I did do a braid crown for Zoe a few times.

I was mighty proud of that one.

Two braids, one of each side of her head, that’s then drawn up to the top of her head and held in place with bobby pins.

zoebraid

Bobby pins…I need to put that on my “to buy” list.

Our supply is running low.

I have had to make buns for dance recitals for my girls.

Buns can require a whole crapload of bobby pins to keep them in place.

And hairspray is your best friend when making a bun.

Along with its handy side-kick, hair gel.

Buns seem to be easier for me than braiding.

I want to do better.

I want to be a better mom.

I want to be a braiding mom.

I want Gigi to be proud of her hairstyles.

I want her golden locks to frame her beautiful face in a fancy fishtail braid.

Side note- Gigi is a true Goldilocks because she’s in everyone’s business, she breaks shit,  and she lives with three bears.

gigigoldenlocks

What’s a fishtail braid, you say?

It’s a complicated twisting braid that I am determined to master.

She will love it.

I think I can…

I think I can…

I think I can…

I think I can do it if my fingers cooperate and don’t turn into my toes…