My daughter and I volunteered at our local animal shelter this morning. She just finished her first week of school, so I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me if we could go volunteer at the shelter on Saturday morning.

When I was a teenager, I jealously guarded my Saturday mornings. The only thing that would reliably get me out of bed during that (personally) sacred time was work with a paycheck attached. I was definitely more selfish than my daughter is.

Back to school is a bittersweet time for me. As a mother, I know that a crucial task is teaching and encouraging independence, but the start of another school year reminds me of how finite anyone’s growing up really is. The best part of this time is noticing that my daughter does not suffer from the same insecurities and massive ego I had when I was her age.

For my daughter, school is more like a job than an epic battle of intelligence and approval that it was for me. I was equally obsessed with my grades and unattainable males. She doesn’t care about her class rank. She just gets her work done and closes the mental door on school until the bus comes to pick her up again. She doesn’t notice a boy unless he talks to her and has no interest in dating at this time. This is the complete opposite of how I was. When I was her age, I wasted a massive amount of energy on boys who had no interest in me.

I am so relieved that my daughter is growing into a young woman who is far more confident and sane than I was.

Throwback Thursday: The Ten Dollar Garden of 2007

Thursday is near its expiration this week, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on the garden I tended ten years ago. At that time, my funds available for gardening were next to nothing, so I bought ten dollars worth of seed at our neighborhood dollar store. My daughter and I just sprinkled and raked all ten packets over a 15′ x 10′ plot in my parents’ back yard. We didn’t do much else in the way of maintenance other than keeping it watered and enjoying its parade of blooms. A couple of the packets were oddball mixes that contained a great variety of flowers, ranging from baby’s breath to black eyed susan.

During that summer, a few neighborhood kittens had regular adventures in this dense garden:


This was the last summer of my daughter’s early childhood. She started Kindergarten that fall, and I went to work full time during that school year. After that summer, our lives changed in ways that we could not have imagined. I met my husband. I found a job where I finally felt at ease at work, a job I still have to this day. We found a place of our own, where we lived for five years next to the little lake full of mallard ducks.

These pictures remind that we once reveled in simple pleasures and that our lives would only be better if we took the time to do so again.


Summer Photo Walk, July 9


There were two photo walks today. The first I squeezed into a family reunion at Lima Lake. This location has resisted all of my attempts over the years to cast it as a photogenic place. This was about as interesting as I could make it:


Almost all of the wildflowers at this lake are the sort that are so plentiful around here that they are cut like weeds: chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, and the like.

What was more interesting was the family reunion itself. I was mistaken for my mother, and I could not convince anyone that I was not her. The older I get, the more I am exhausted by correcting things. Like lots of woman, I was haunted by the notion that I might become my mother someday, but now that it has happened, at least in the minds of some of my distant relations, I am not upset. If I must be someone else for an afternoon, my mother would be a fine person to be:


After the family reunion, I stopped at the Allen County Children’s Garden to see what all was blooming there. This location is a supermodel in comparison to Lima Lake


Buttercream Overload


I devoted this evening to making a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting for our second cake decorating class. I didn’t post an update about the first class because it was one of several interludes in my parenting history I keep in a mental file called Mother of the Year™.

We were missing a couple supplies needed for the first class, which so bogged down the pace of instruction that we finished a half hour late. I also had some spontaneous short fuse moments. I ask for your pardon in advance for the following: some people have resting bitch face, but I also suffer from resting bitch voice when the pace of my day overwhelms me. That day went full bore from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and I feel awful that I failed to suppress that voice for the occasion.

Today I learned that 10 cups of buttercream is the absolute frosting capacity of a six quart mixer. The result was something my mother calls a “full mess.” A mess is “full” when you hope against hope that no one will witness the scene until it’s at least halfway cleaned up.

By the way, our instructor has been decorating cakes professionally for 42 years. Willie Nelson gave a free concert in my town 35 years ago, and she baked the cake for his reception. She had a snapshot of this cake, which contained a portrait in icing of the singer. It really looked just like he did back then!

When he saw the cake, he said, “I’ve been done in everything but frosting until today.”

A Random Summer Evening

I don’t have much experience with making videos. I’ve only made shaky handheld clips in which I’ve pushed the shutter button a moment too late to catch the scene I wanted to capture, or I’ve pulled a bit of my proverbial hair out trying to make slideshows.

This evening I made a slideshow video with Adobe Spark with some pictures I took eleven years ago of my daughter and my late, great cat Chunk playing in the backyard. When I watch it, I’m so glad that I’ve taken so many photos of family moments. A random September evening that seemed all too ordinary glows with nostalgia for me now.

Keep taking pictures of your babies, whether they have two legs or four.

The Gift


When my daughter was little, I hoped that she wouldn’t stop drawing pictures for me. So far I’ve been lucky that I still get these gifts, even though the interval between new ones has grown longer over her fifteen years.

These pictures are my best window into my daughter’s evolving self. When I look back at my early years, I really wish I had just kept drawing pictures for my mother instead of acting out my angst in silly, sometimes destructive ways. The contrast between the cat’s melancholy and the Pomeranian’s exuberance says much about my daughter.

Last week, I told her, “You are so far ahead of where I was at your age. I was lost in my appetites, wearing the same size clothes as Roseanne Barr and drinking MD 20/20.”

I don’t worry that she’ll try to copy my teenage self. She shows no signs of wasting her energy on liquor, cigarettes, or indifferent boys.

Buttercream Dreams

My daughter and I have signed up for an entry-level Wilton cake decorating class in June. Provided at least two other people register for the evening session we prefer, I may be close to learning how to ice a cake evenly. When I was my daughter’s age, I iced a friend’s birthday cake, and her mother asked me if I was paying a pink tribute to the mashed potato mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I shied away from learning the Wilton method in the past because I thought that I might be better off being bad at icing cakes than learning passé or gauche techniques. I imagine that someone in America made a cake shaped like bell-bottom Levi’s Action Slacks and decorated it with a tiny star tip to reflect the tight polyester weave of that fabric. Last week I bought some large Wilton icing tips and was just thrilled with the results. Maybe just maybe this is the clan who can help me decorate a cake decently.

A dear friend of mine dug into the Wilton hobby twenty years ago, and she lent me her class books and the fantastic 1997 Wilton Yearbook. When I think of the late 90’s, I feel like this era happened about five years ago. These catalogs remind me that my sense of time is warping. 1997 really was 20 years ago, and my daughter, who already ices a cake better than I do, was minus four years old.

Before I close, I will share some shots of these catalog pages. By the way, I love aged catalogs. When I worked at a department store, I’d study the store’s past catalogs whenever customer traffic evaporated. I learned that the store had offered a hookah bong by mail order back in 1977, with the advice, “filter with water or liquor for a smoother smoke.”

The bong could have paired well with the clown technique below. This method must be more responsive to trends than I suspected. While you can learn to make buttercream mountains on top of cupcakes nowadays, back then creating a 3D figure was part of the class:

I hoped Robert liked chocolate. The script on this cake looks positively funereal:


I need this cat pan! I ordered it off Ebay, and my daughter and I hope to ice cat cakes in several versions based on our favorite shelter cats:


All that is missing is tobacco, or else one could have birthday cake candles to represent all three players in the unhold ATF trinity:


I don’t remember that the 90’s were so baroque: