Sunday, June 30, 2013

Good old days.

I must tell you that I loved high school.  I know, it's not typical that people have that type of reaction to the high school experience.  But for me, it truly was the good old days. 

(Me and my future husband in the good old days)

In my day, there were two high schools in this town; One on the west side, one on the east side.  The rivalry ran deep.  There weren't charter schools around to muddy the water.  There was fierce loyalty to either black and gold or purple and white.  For the record, this is black and gold territory.  If you're from the other side of the river, you're welcome to read on, because I'm a bigger, better adult now.  But I don't want to hear any smack talk because my high school is better than yours. 

As I look back on my high school days I try to decipher what, exactly, made the experience a good one.  When so many kids drop out, hate school, or come out with big emotional scars from the typical teen drama that plays out in the hallways, how did I come out relatively unscathed?  How did my experience build me up and prepare me for the world? Where did I get the confidence I needed to take the next step, leave this two-school town, move to San Francisco and launch my life? 

Clearly there were many variables at play that made my particular experience a positive one.  I had a group of friends that made (mostly) good choices.  We all got (relatively) good grades, we didn't do drugs and (usually) respected our parents.  My parents provided just the right mix of supervision and freedom to allow me to make some mistakes (but not really huge ones), live with the consequences and move on.  And there was music.  A good portion of my high school days (and nights) were spent in the music hall with some pretty fantastic teachers.

(Christmas Concert, 1990.  Big hair was the STYLE, people)
These two teachers retired this year.   After 25 years of small-town high school drama, Mr. Neece and Mrs. Devine are finally graduating to a well-deserved retirement.   I know many feel the same as me.  The music hall WAS our high school experience.  We spent so much time there, it's hard to recall other details of Enterprise High School.  We often ate lunch there.  We rehearsed there.  In the days before cell phones and iPods, we sat in that hallway on the edge of campus and talked, wrote notes and traded gossip.  I met my husband in that hallway. 

Last night was their bon voyage party.  It was a time for alumni, parents and friends to come together and attempt to show adequate appreciation for two very deserving professionals.  It wasn't a fancy affair.  There were no black ties, banquet dinners or lengthy speeches.  We gathered at the park, reminisced, and made music together one last time. 

As I sat on the lawn, scanning the crowd for some alumni from my early 1990's era, I wondered if this was enough. Was this little concert in the park really the appropriate retirement party for these two small town celebrities?  Shouldn't there be more people, elaborate decorations, champagne and valet parking? 

Really, the answer is no.  There shouldn't have been more anything. The party was perfect.

It was perfect because the guests of honor got to enjoy the fruits of their labor without actually laboring through rehearsals with unruly teenagers.  It was perfect because we came together in a space and made it our own.  We supported the (sometimes rusty) performers on stage and marveled at the true talent that shone through.  We had time to socialize, to reminisce, to listen, and appreciate.  Old friends reconnected and strangers found a common bond. 

It was casual, comfortable and come-as-you-are. 

And so it was in the music hall. 

Mr. Neece and Mrs. Devine gave us all many gifts.  They pushed us to excel.  They taught us the power of teamwork.  They cultivated our musical talents and made us believe we could dominate the stage. Any stage.  In any town.  We were the best.  But perhaps most importantly, they gave us a safe space where we were accepted, appreciated and given the freedom to be ourselves.  In the uncertain, uncomfortable world of high school, that was perhaps the greatest gift they could have given.  And I am better for it. 

Thank you. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Good things come to those who wait.

The birth of this blog, and the commitment to focus on the joy in life has brought a heightened sense of awareness to my daily activities.  As I go about my business I think about the small things that make me smile and how I can describe them to you in enough witty detail to also bring a smile to your face.  Life is so interesting and so full that I find myself wondering which angle will be the right one to bring to life on this blog.  Truth is, there are no wrong answers.  Looking for the good in life can never be wrong, can it? 

The high temperature in our neighborhood today was 108.  My two young children both dissolved into inconsolable fits of rage.  Tonight I opened up a bottle of new, local wine that I bought at the farmer's market, and it tastes a little like beer.  And in spite of it all, I have joy to share with you. It's all about focus, perspective and where you want to put your energy.   Let's get to the good stuff, shall we? 

You may remember from an earlier post that my 4-year old daughter is under the impression that the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento is, in fact, Disneyland.  My husband is distraught by the fact that I published this information on the internet, for fear that others will think we locked our daughter in a cage for her first few years of life, released her into the Disney Store and made her believe it was the real deal.  Not so, friends.  Not so. 

At the tender age of FOUR, this child has seen the real Disneyland not once, but twice.  Two times!!  I would tell you how many times I went to Disneyland as a kid, but that fact is currently under debate in my family of origin.  Suffice it to say, when I was four I lived approximately 2,165 miles from Disneyland and was not even aware of its existence. 

It just so happens that we DID go to Disneyland this year...just a few short months ago.  It was March to be exact.  This really doesn't explain why my daughter would mistake the Arden Fair Mall for Disneyland since she just saw Mickey Mouse in the flesh 3 months ago....but who really knows what goes on in the mind of a 4-year old??

I know, it's a little late for me to be blogging about the joys of Disneyland. But it was a fantastic trip.  Our joy was multiplied (x6) by our travel companions, the Hergenraders.  Tina and I met while working at a Lutheran camp in the Santa Cruz mountains during the summer of 1995.  We shared a room, shared a lot of laughs and became fast friends.  Let's be clear about this.  Tina and I shared a room for exactly ten weeks.  Ever since, we have lived approximately 2,000 miles away from each other.  And yet our friendship endures.  She is awesome. You should meet her.  Oh heck, here's the link.  Check her out. 

So, we're at Disneyland in March, with four adults and six kids.  I'm not going to mention how many bottles of wine, because that's not really relevant, is it?  Here's the recap; Five nights together in a shared vacation home, three-day park hopper passes all around, and lots and lots of laughs and fun (with only one trip to the ER).  That's the Readers Digest condensed version.  If you want more detail, you'll have to check out Tina's blog because she's a professional writer and can fill in the blanks better than I ever could.

If you have traveled with a group during this digital age, you realize that it seems a little silly to haul four cameras around Disneyland to capture every moment of the experience.  And when you have six kids in the mix, you quickly decide to lighten the load, take one camera and (through the miracle of the internet) share all the photos.  Grand plan.

It is grand.  Unless you are traveling with the Hergenraders.  Because, God bless them, those Hergenraders are busy. They have four kids and lots going on.  You MIGHT just go to Disneyland with them and have nothing to show for it because they are too darn busy to share any digital photos that they took.

But then, lo and behold.  One day you'll casually mention in a text message to Tina that you haven't seen any photographic proof that your families were actually at Disneyland together.  And she will immediately stop wiping noses, take a break from lifeguarding the backyard pool, pull over the van she is carpooling to swim lessons, and send you 741 photos from your Disney trip. 

Yes folks.  741. 

I would say more but I'm pretty booked for the next three days trying to look at all these photos. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A story about a real Joy.

One of the quirks of living as an adult in the same town where you grew up is getting a dose of nostalgia now and then.  As you drive around town, certain places, certain smells, certain people bring you back to a different time in your life. 

For example, the Sportsmans Warehouse (formerly Gottschalks, and many moons ago an Albertsons grocery store) will forever be Albertsons in my head.  It was the grocery store that was closest to our house growing up....the first place I got to drive to ALONE once I got my license and I was tasked with picking up a gallon of milk at the store. 

Every time I drive by the Burger King on Eureka Way, I remember the time I ate there after a high school football game and my order number was 91.  I was in the class of 1991.  This was a big deal.  Big enough to earn the receipt a permanent spot in my scrap book. 

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?

When I drive by a certain Jr. High (that will remain nameless to protect the probably innocent school) I still get a knot in my stomach as I remember the difficult days when I first moved here in the 8th grade.  Breaking into new social circles and making new friends in 8th grade is no picnic.  Ick. 

And there is a certain stretch of road that runs along the edge of town that always makes me think of Joy. 

This road goes from my parents old house to Shasta College where I took some extra summer classes.  It's narrow, has two lanes, no shoulder and some pretty good curves and hills.  I traveled this road daily during the summer after my freshman year of college.  It was the first and last summer I spent at home after moving away to go to school.  I didn't have a job or any other pressing plans for the summer so I came back to the town I had fled shortly after high school graduation.  I think the lure was free room and board.  Actually, I know that must have been it.  Because Lord knows it was not the triple-digit temperatures or the constant supervision of my parents that I was craving at age 18. 

Joy was a high school friend of mine, also home from college for the summer.  The two of us traveled this road together on our evening commute to English class.  Sometimes I sped around the curves in my mom's sporty 1981 Honda Civic.  Other nights it was Joy at the wheel, driving her mom's Subaru (I think?) something.  I'm fairly certain we always took the curves too fast.  Because we were girls who had tasted the freedom of University living, a good four-hours away from any blood relative. And then we come home for summer. 

We drove that road like Luke Duke trying to outrun Boss Hogg.  That short road trip to English class delivered us from the ever-watchful eyes of our parents back onto a college campus, our newly-adopted home turf.

I don't really know why that road always reminds me of Joy and the summer of 1992.  I can't remember what our teacher's name was, or what books we read for that class, but I remember driving that road.  Maybe it has become more nostalgic now that the road is being torn up to make way for a wider road with new bike lanes (and probably more gentle curves). 

Joy and I lost touch after that summer.  She went back to Humboldt.  I returned to San Francisco State.  In the old days before Facebook, cell phones and Wi-Fi on every street corner, it was easier to lose people.  She became one of those friends that I wondered about from time to time...never knowing where she ended up or what she was doing. 

As fate would have it, Joy turned up on Facebook a few years ago.  We became online friends and eventually reunited in person at our 20-year high school reunion.  Aside from a few extra tattoos, she looked the same as I remember. 

Although we lost touch for such a long time, our friendship is a nostalgic one.  And that is a good thing.  Because no matter how anxious we were to pull up roots and get out of town when we were 18, going home and being back where we started always holds unique Joys. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Disneyland. Almost.

Like most families with young kids, we attend our fair share of birthday parties.  I have a closet stocked with "just in case" last minute presents for kids of all ages so we are always prepared to party.  In our little corner of northern California, the birthday party choices are pretty standard.  We have Chuck-e-Cheese, the gymnastics gyms, city pools and neighborhood parks.  We don't have those "big city" options like Six Flags, ice skating rinks or Build-a-Bear.  Some might argue we aren't missing out on much.  Who wants to schlep your kid and six of their friends around an actual amusement park all day?   Unless those kids are 16, potty trained, and able to navigate the park independently while mommy enjoys a margarita, not me. 

Well, our little friend Willow had different plans.  When she turned four, she told her mom she wanted a Build-a-Bear party.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, Build-a-Bear lets you make your very own, reasonably priced stuffed bear and then completely drains your wallet on every bear dress, shoe, hat and accessory known to man.  It's fairly genius actually.  Parents see the $10 bear hanging right near the entrance.  They innocently assume it's harmless, affordable fun.  And then they get sucked further into the store and start to notice the alarming assortment of accessories that their child will surely be begging for as soon as the Build-a-Bear has been given life. 

Did I say alarming?  Yes. These bears have completely put Barbie to shame.  There are coats, hats, shoes and glasses for every occasion.  There are licensed Princess items, Girl Scout outfits and cheerleading uniforms for various professional sports teams.  Oh, and underwear.  $4 per pair, teddy bear underwear.  Good grief.

Back to the party.  So our little friend Willow wanted a Build-a-Bear party.  The closest store is a good 2.5 hour drive from our neck of the woods.  No problem.  Her mom arranged transportation, issued invitations a good three months in advance and put the wheels in motion to make this Build-a-Bear party happen! 

This Build-a-Bear store (Excuse me.  "Workshop") just happened to be in the BEST mall I have been to in ages.  It was huge and had just about every store you could possibly imagine.  It was like Disneyland for moms.  And here I was, at the most fabulous mall, surrounded by 3-4 year olds on a pilgramage to Build-a-Bear.  This is not the "joy" part for today's post. 

Turns out the mall was like an amusement park for kids too.  The kiddie play area was twice the size of the one at our little mall at home.  There was the food court where we had gigantic pizza slices, followed by a Tinkerbell cake large enough to feed an army.  The birthday girl opened her presents and we were off to take in the sights.  First stop: The Carousel.  Yes, a carousel!!  Our local mall has a photo booth.  This one has a carousel!  Then we hit the Lego store and the Disney store and finally, Build-a-Bear.

I must admit I was a little skeptical about the practicality of throwing a birthday party that required 5- hours of round trip travel. I doubted that a big-city mall could provide much amusement for a group of pre-school aged children.  Honestly, I questioned the sanity of Willow's generous, loving mother to even attempt this monumental feat of a birthday party. 

But here is the final verdict. 

When someone asked my 4-year old where she went for this birthday party, she replied without missing a beat, "Disneyland." 

Oh, and if you need birthday gift ideas for our soon-to-be 5-year old, that poor little bear is going to need some accessories. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Laundry on the line

Years ago, when I lived alone, had one income, a big yard, no children and time on my hands, I decided to try hanging my laundry out to dry during the summer. I don't recall exactly what motivated this earth shattering decision.  I suppose it seemed like a good idea with outside temperatures in the triple digits.  Why run the dryer when there was a clothes oven right outside my door? 
Naturally I had to go through the process of procuring the correct line on which to hang the clothes.  This required internet research, reading of online product reviews and price comparisons.  I finally decided on a retractable line that rolled up neatly into its storage compartment when not in use. 
Once the line was purchased and hung, I began to consider the finer details of hanging my laundry out to dry.  Was it ok to hang my underwear out in plain sight of my neighbors?  (I spent a lot of time on this particular question.  A lot.) Would birds fly over and poop on my clothes?  How many clothespins do I need to hang a load of laundry?  (More than you might think...and multiply x2 when you upgrade to a large-capacity washer.)
It's trickier than it seems....this laundry hanging business. 
Over the years I became a laundry hanging pro.  I patted myself on the back regularly for saving the earth and conserving energy.  I learned how to read the breeze to know exactly what pieces would require a clothespin and which would stay on the line without that extra bit of insurance.  Summer time came to mean crunchy towels and wrinkled clothing because that's just how it works when you hang your clothes outside to dry.
Surprisingly, hanging laundry out to dry is one of the very few things that I still have/make time for now that life is busy and we have three kids.  Each summer I think to myself, "I'm so busy.  I'm so tired.  I just don't have one more spare minute to bother hanging up the laundry this year."  But, for whatever reason, it happens.  The dryer goes into hibernation and I hit the yard with my basket of laundry and trusty clothespins. 
Sometimes the kids help.  Sometimes they hinder.  Once in a while I don't time it right with our automatic sprinklers and the laundry goes through a second rinse cycle on the line.  Every so often there is bird poop.  Occasionally the wind is stronger than my clothespins.  But overall we usually have laundry success. 

The clothes always get dry. 

Maybe that is the draw.  The fact that I can complete a task without plugging anything in is somewhat of a novelty.  In this fast-paced world, there is a certain comfort to slowing down and doing something the old fashioned way, especially when the result is just as good as the modern method.  On the crazy days, it is an excuse to get out of the house and be by myself for a few minutes.  Sometimes it is a good time for the kids to stand on their tip-toes and see how many clothes they can clip on the low-hanging part of the line.  Every summer they reach a little bit higher.  And as we hang the laundry I am reminded to slow down, unplug and take notice. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A penny saved and a cookie earned.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I like a good bargain.  And by like, I mean love, seriously adore and fully appreciate.  I am a chronic bargain shopper.  I dye my own hair.  My poor children are dressed almost entirely in consignment store clothing.  A startling percentage of furniture in our home was procured via Craigslist.  My car is seven years old and I may never get rid of it because it's paid off and WHY have a monthly car payment when you could just keep your silly old car that runs just fine thankyouverymuch.

This addiction to a good bargain occasionally creates friction with hubby and I because he is, well, not a bargain shopper.  The man loves to spend money.  They say opposites attract, and we are a good case study.  I suppose it all goes back to the hunter vs. gatherer discussion of men and women.  Hubby prefers to identify his prey, purchase it, and take it home.  I prefer to look at the options at three different stores.  Then I research pricing on the internet, read online product reviews, talk to at least six friends that own the same product and generally mull over the purchase for anywhere between, week, or up to two years.  It's a blessing and a curse really.  The blessing is I usually pay less than my friends for just about everything.  The curse is that my friends now have an iPhone 5 and I'm still trying to decide if it is cost effective to upgrade from my flip phone.  Kidding.  Kind of. 

Anyway.  Here's my most recent local freebie discovery.  There is a lovely little bakery that just opened up right near my office.  (And by just opened up, I mean it probably opened over a year ago, it took me six months to hear about it and another three months to have an occasion where I felt like splurging on going out to lunch)  J. Nicolay Bakery offers a variety of cookies, pastries, bagels and a small lunch menu.  Well, they also have my number.  Because if you text in your lunch order, they give you a FREE cookie.  Completely free!  Did you catch that?  No cost cookies.  This is no little sample-sized freebie either.  It's the real deal.  Fresh baked, real ingredients and the cookies are approximately as big as my head. 

Doesn't that look scrumptious??  It was scrumptious.  But don't take my word for it.  Text in your lunch order and find out for yourself. 

Or, if you're lucky, maybe you have a co-worker like mine that is "kind of" on a diet, but needs a convenient, quick lunch, and she'll want a sandwich from J Nicolay but a cookie would just be too much, so she will GIVE you her free cookie.  And that, friends, is the joy for today. 

All I had to do was let her borrow my phone to send in her order, because she is also a bargain lover.  And her phone doesn't have a text plan. 

A simple sunny day

Looking Down The First Fairway

Hubby's milestone birthday served as a good excuse to get out of town to do some Mommy/Daddy celebrating this weekend.  We dropped the kids off at Mimi's house and headed to Ashland, OR. 

Ashland is one of our favorite getaway destinations.  There is theater GALORE there.  Shakespeare, musicals, cabaret, drama, comedy....whatever your pleasure you can find it there.  There is also fantastic food to be found in Ashland.  I mean seriously good grub, people.  And so many choices!  Thai, Italian, Vegetarian, French, and on and on and on.  Name a good food, and I'm fairly certain you can find it in Ashland.  This time around we went Italian (Cucina Biazzi) and they did not disappoint.  It was four courses of serious yum. 

 At this time of year, when our beloved hometown hits triple-digit temperatures with alarming regularity, a trip to Ashland also brings welcome relief from the heat.  We're talking 80 degrees in the middle of June.  Eighty degrees is nearly unheard of in our town in the middle of summer. Oh the joy of being able to walk 100 yards from the store to your car without breaking a sweat.  The luxury of opening your windows in the late afternoon to let in fresh air.  At home, we typically forego these simple pleasures for three-four months each year as we plod through the summer season.

An 80 degree day in June is a beautiful thing. 

This wonderful, sunny day was the perfect excuse to get out on the golf course.  So we played 9 holes at this fantastic little course in Medford, OR, Stuart Meadows.   I use the term "played" somewhat loosely because me hitting a golf ball around doesn't necessarily qualify as a true game of golf.   Let's just say I'm now familiar with a few of the sand bunkers at Stuart Meadows.  A few of my balls may have gone for a swim.  And I may or may not have lost track of my score on a few holes because I hit the ball so many times. Hubby is a little more serious about it.  And typically he is very patient as I hack at my ball 2-3 times to catch up to his first drive. God bless him. 

Taking 3-4 hours on a Sunday afternoon to play a round of golf is such a simple luxury for us.  With three kids and a house and jobs and all the other obligations of everyday life, we rarely get out to play.  There is always laundry to do, a pool to clean, yard work, and children that need attention.  Sometimes it takes a milestone birthday for us to make an excuse, get out of the house, ignore the to-do list and just do it. Impressive performance or not, it was a wonderful day on the green. 

 Sunshine.  Lovely groomed course.  Good company.  And 80 degrees. 

 Fore joy. 

Boys will be boys

When I found out I was preggo with our last baby, the big question about gender became rather pressing.  Hubby and I were both in agreement that this would be the last heir produced in our home.  Biggest sister was 13 at the time.  Little sister (soon to be big sister) was 2.  Those that are attentive to detail will notice that we set ourselves up to have a teenager, a terrible two and a newborn in our home all at the same time.  Yeah.  Good planning there. 

Back to the gender issue.  You may also notice that prior to the arrival of #3, our home was a bit heavy on estrogen.  A mom, two girls and one daddy....take a wild guess as to what he was praying for when we got the ultrasound.  Lo and behold, there was a penis.  We found out half way into the pregnancy that we had produced a boy to complete our family and tip the scales a bit in favor of the guys. 

While this news brought a mile-wide grin and chest-puffing pride to my husband, it instilled sheer terror in my heart.  A boy?!  Yes, he had ten fingers, ten toes and all the other essential parts, according to the ultrasound.  But I am a girl.  I know how to be a girl. I get what it's like to grow up as a girl.  I know how to mother girls.  Boys....I was at a loss.  I have friends that are boys.  Heck, I even married one.  I have a brother.  And a dad.  But I still felt completely unprepared to MOTHER a member of the opposite sex. 

I called my friends in a panic, "It's a boy!  I don't know how to be a boy!  How will I successfully mother a boy?!"  My dear, patient friends assured me I would figure it out.  "Boys are different," they told me.  Quickly followed by, "You'll love it." 

Turns out they were right.  He is different.  I do love it.

Our "baby" is now two years old and providing us with all of the fun, laughter, exasperation and exhaustion typical for his age group.  He is all boy.  Sort of. 

He also has two sisters, one of whom is 4 and in the prime of the "Princess Phase".  And since he is two, he naturally wants to do everything big sister does.  Nobody has told him yet that boys can't be Princesses.  He hasn't realized that these photos might really be embarrassing when they show up in his high school yearbook.  All he knows is that Princesses have more fun. 

And let's face it. A mom in the midst of raising a two-year-old boy is sometimes a little tired.  Sometimes she may be a little frustrated or impatient.  But when that two-year old (notorious for ear-splitting screams, throwing food on the freshly mopped floor and occasional hair pulling) dons a princess dress, it's hard to not smile.  And breathe a sigh of relief that maybe this business of raising boys isn't so different after all. 



Service with a smile.

Has anyone else noticed that the art of customer service seems to be dying a slow and painful death?  Gone are the days of full-service gas stations and department store clerks that are attentive enough to actually bring you a different size when you're stuck half-naked in the dressing room.    In fact, great customer service seems to have become a novelty.  A nostalgic memory.  When I do get good service I tend to notice.  And I'm frankly a little surprised.  How sad is that?  Good service is surprising??

Well, it's been a good week at our house for customer service.  Bad week for things falling apart and generally not meeting our expectations for useful life expectancy.  But, enter good customer service.  And here I am writing a joyful blog.  See how that works?  Good service = happy customer in spite of crappy workmanship.  Companies that want my money, take note. 

After living here for over five years, we finally broke down and purchased the accessories for the whole house vacuum system that is conveniently built into our home.  More accurately, our "regular" vacuum broke down.  In a house with a cat, a relatively hairy Italian, and three kids, you don't wait long to secure replacement when your vacuum dies.  We bit the bullet.  Instead of buying the cheap replacement vacuum, we invested in the accessories for this whole house vacuum system.  Thirty feet of hose!  Monster sucking power!  Attachments for every vacuum scenario you could possibly dream up!  Our carpet cleaner guy assured me it would be worth the investment.  My friends with whole house vac systems told me I would love it. 

And we did love it.  For six months.  Until the first part broke.  SIX MONTHS!  For the record, it is my firm belief that anything that costs as much as my first semester of college should last longer than six months.  Just sayin. 

So, I called my small, local sewing/vacuum shop and shared with them my story of woe.  Friends, listen to this.  I had a three minute phone conversation that resulted in a free replacement part delivered to my front door two days later.  I kid you not!  I didn't have to enter my phone number and press pound at any time. I didn't have to speak to someone in another time zone or get transferred to another department or wait on hold for 12 minutes to speak to a manger.  Nobody asked to see a receipt or even questioned if my dog chewed up the part or if it really broke from normal wear and tear.  THAT is good customer service, alive and well, right here in America.

Problem solved.

House clean. 

Joy found. 

Middle age is not so bad. There is cake.

Somebody in our house is turning 40 this week, and it's not me.  My husband is bravely going before me to tackle this middle age business.  (I'll be there myself in less than two months, but that's another post.)  And in our house, birthdays mean cake. 

Birthday cake is a tradition passed on from my mom who insisted that everyone have a cake for their birthday.  There were fancy homemade cakes when we were young.  In the days before fondant and Ace of Cakes, a Styrofoam cup cut in half and covered with frosting made a very fancy train tunnel.  During my teen years, I recall the Fudge Pie Era where I requested fudge pie for each and every birthday.  It felt very non-conformist to request a pie instead of cake, but my mom graciously provided.  Even after my brother and I went away to college and made a life for ourselves, the "Happy birthday" phone calls from mom always got around to the most important question of the day; "Did you have a cake?" 

Now that I'm married and have a family of my own, the birthday cake tradition continues. Everybody gets cake on their birthday.  Sometimes it's store-bought and fancy.  Other times it's a Funfetti cake mix purchased at 7-11 at 9pm the night before someone's (almost forgotten) birthday.  But the tradition continues.  If there is no cake does the birthday really happen? 

A few years ago, I stumbled across a recipe from a cooking gal you might know...Paula Deen.  Oh, Paula.  I lived so many happy, healthy years without even knowing that I was missing butter in my life.  And along comes +Paula Deen .  So I tried this recipe for Ooey Gooey Chocolate Ice Cream Cake. Yes, friends.  The first ingredient is one CUP of butter.  But I'm pretty much convinced that Paula may be a saint and butter may be the holy grail.  Because this cake is good.  So good, so rich, so cold and delicious that everyone was requesting it for their birthday. Year after year after year.  As my husband's birthday aproaches I ask, "What kind of cake do you want?" hoping for something new.  Something less labor intensive.  Something that won't clog my arteries just thinking about it.  But the call of the Ooey Gooey cake is strong.  And my husband remains faithful to his butter queen, Paula Deen. 

But this year, he's turning 40.  And we're breaking the mold. 

I've been researching and Pinning and Googling "Fantastic birthday cakes", "Super delicious cake", "Birthday cake to die for", "Cake to make my family forget they ever heard of Ooey Gooey Chocolate Ice Cream Cake". I plotted and planned how I would wean my husband into new birthday cake territory on this, his big 4-0. 

Enter Oreos. 

I make a grocery list every week. 90% of the time, "someone" adds Oreos to the list.  100% of the time that person is disappointed because I do not, in fact, come home from WinCo with Oreos.  Well, this Oreo lover is going to get a treat this year. Goodbye Paula Deen.  Hello ChocolateCovered Oreo Cookie Cake.  What better way to ring in middle age with a NEW cake!  One made from his very favorite, packaged, chocolate sandwich cookie?!  It's Cake!  It's Oreos!  There is cream cheese filling.  What's not to love?!

Chocolate-Covered OREO Cookie Cake recipe

I know.  It's a little dicey.  Trying out a new cake for this milestone birthday.  He's the birthday boy!  What kind of heartless wife won't make her husband his favorite cake for his 40th birthday??  Yeah, I get it. But it's not as if I've ignored his wishes and desires.  I have proposed this "Paula Replacement Cake" based on my knowledge of his deep love of Oreos!  And also, I have a short attention span.  It physically pains me to do something the same way more than say...three times.  I like new recipes, new things, new adventures.  And I'm about done with the mixing and baking thawing and freezing steps required for Paula's masterpiece.

I also know that my husband tends to be a creature of habit.  And my birthday is coming up soon.  So there's a very good chance that nobody in this house is actually going to miss out on Ooey Gooey Chocolate Ice Cream Cake this year.  JOY.


It has occurred to me that there is a lot of joy in life. As a wife and mother of young children, living in one of the most beautiful corners of the United States, maybe I have more than my fair share of joy.  It has also occurred to me that there is a lot of joy out in the world that goes unnoticed, unrecognized, unacknowledged.  We're busy.  We have bills and not enough money.  We have illness.  We have disappointment.  We are imperfect.  We have excuses and reasons to complain.
But, my friends, we also have joy. 

 And now the blogosphere has a brand-spanking-new blog that is going to highlight the joy.  Come share with me the joy of parenthood.  The joy of cooking.  The joy of the outdoors.  The joy of living in northern California.  The joy of facing your 40th birthday in the face, unafraid!  There's lots going on in the world.  Not all of it is good.  In fact, a lot of it is downright frightening and depressing and horrible.  But you get enough of that bad stuff on the news, or tweeted to your smartphone every day.  Change your focus.  Look for the good.  Find the joy. 

If you're short on joy in your life, share some of mine.  It's hard to resist the joy of a 2-year old boy sporting a tutu. 


I'm not going to try to sell you on the fact that life is all a bowl of cherries.  Because it's not.  I get it.  But if it is true that what we focus on multiplies exponentially, why not take a few moments to recognize the joy?  We have the media or our stack of bills or grumpy friends to remind us of the crap in life.  So take a moment to look for the joy.  Because it's there.  And it's worth noticing.