Paralyzing Inadequacy And Birthday Cakes

The Monkey is turning 1 next month, and I’m already in shock. How can he possibly be a year old already? Where did the time go? I never realized it would fly by so fast. That he would grow so much and have so much personality and vivacity and life. That I would love him more today than the day he was born, when my heart melted and oozed tiny unicorns and candy canes at the sight of him.

One year old. You know what this means, don’t you? It means we have to have a party. Check that: PARTIES, because my family has always done a family-only party. And since most of those family members haven’t seen the house we bought two years ago … we have to clean. And since we bought the house as a foreclosure — despite the fact that the back yard looked like a scene from “Where The Wild Things Are” — we’ve had to do some major yard work. Including paying others to do some of it. And since my family is ginormous and the house is not (it would implode if we tried to squeeze everyone in there at the same time), we’ve had to buy some outdoor furniture. And since one fence decided to fall down during the last winter storm, we — and thankfully our neighbors — are paying to fix it.

Are you feeling that vibe? That this is spiraling out of control? That next, the damn party is going to ask for a glass of milk? And a napkin? And a toothbrush?

You are so not using my toothbrush. Just sayin’.

So we’ve mostly been focused on the front and back yards. And when I say “we”, I mean the Hubbs. He’s been mowing and weed whacking and pulling up roots like his life depends on it. I’ve been in charge of “the help.” I hired an arborist to remove a bunch of tree branches, stumps, knobby things (don’t ask), debris, and to level off the stumps of two mulberry trees we removed this winter. (Note: NEVER plant a mulberry tree. They grow 20+ feet A SEASON and have to be cut down to nubs each spring. They’re insane.) I’m also in charge of interviewing and choosing fence people. (Almost done.)

And since the fence people also do retaining walls — and ours is falling down — its insanely tempting to have it redone. As in, bring in your tractor, remove a ton of dirt and push that bad boy BACK 4 feet so we have more yard and not just a landing strip of cement. But since that costs around $5K (debris removal and new wall), its not happening right now.

Add those costs to the necessities of having people over: Additional banquet tables, chairs, and shade structures to keep the sun off them, and its adding up. FAST. A lot of these things are one-time purchases. After this party, we’ll always have the tables and chairs so future parties won’t be so expensive. I get that. But it doesn’t stop me from trying to pinch pennies elsewhere, which is why I’m CONSIDERING making the birthday cakes myself.
I called around the a couple of local bakeries and grocery stores and it turns out that Safeway had the best deal for a 1/2 sheet cake: $31.99. Yes. $32 for flour and sugar and a Sesame Street theme to feed 40 people. And so my mind wanders.

I have like 6 boxes of cake mix in my pantry that I got on sale for $1 each. I know how to make a sugar frosting — I’ve got a stand mixer, so I’m pretty sure the fancier frosting wouldn’t be too hard to do. So all I’d have to do is buy food coloring, raspberry preserve for the filling, some decorating tip things, and some figurines, then decorate it myself. MUCH cheaper, right?

I consider myself a pretty good cook: My steak with reduced red wine and shallot sauce? Heavenly. I roast a succulent and juicy chicken with perfectly crispy skin. Hubbs BEGS me to make him green beans. My homemade french bread gets devoured within minutes of pulling it out of the oven.
So why am I deathly afraid of frosting and decorating cake for a 1-year-old who won’t know the difference anyway? For starters: I’ve only done it once. It was a round cake and I made a cream cheese frosting (it was delish) and spread it around. No big deal, and no decorating. But decorating it? And finding the TIME to bake and decorate it? Its enough to make me twitch.
Looking on the Internet is no help: You’ve got these Suzy Homemakers making three-tier cakes with colored marzipan bases for their kid’s first birthday. Just look at those! How can I not feel inadequate when my version was MAYBE the top layer of the Elmo cake to the left? And that’s if I was feeling ambitious.
The fact that I was even considering a Safeway cake — a sheet cake no less, with no tiers or streamers or dancing girls baked inside — makes me feel cheap and shameful. Well, maybe just cheap, because I’m not willing to shell out a bunch of money for something the Monkey will only remember because there’s a picture of it.
And then there’s the fear: IF I make these two cakes, will I have set the bar too high? Will I have to do it every year once setting the precedent? (More importantly, will Hubbs expect me to do it every year to save us $64?)   

What would you do? (And if you’re a master baker/cake decorator, why haven’t you volunteered to do this for me yet?)

Inspiration

A very talented friend has made me pause and think today.

She’s on a mission to be ridiculously optimistic and radically trusting this year. She’s challenging herself — and all of us who read her blog — to come along for the ride. (http://windshieldrosary.blogspot.com)

This weekend, her challenge for us is to be quiet. In essence, to shut up. And listen. To take things in. To detach ourselves from our electronic, plugged-in, nonstop world.

It made me think about my favorite quiet moments during my week:

My first is on the weekends. Early in the morning just after the Monkey wakes up (and the Hubbs is still asleep), we sit in our new rocker/recliner and snuggle. The Monkey will cuddle up next to me, his little head laying against my side as he rubs the sleep from his eyes, yawns, and sighs. We keep the lights off, preferring the sleepy darkness for about 20 minutes.

Then he’s awake, squirming away from me to play with his trucks and farmhouse, looking at me expectantly because this is when we watch Sesame Street together.

Christina’s post made me think about why I cherish this time so much. Its because this moment is fleeting. Some mornings, we sit for 20 minutes. Other times its 10 minutes. And someday, hopefully far in the future, he won’t want to sit and snuggle with me anymore. He’ll be too old or too cool for it. And it’ll break my heart. So I cherish it now. Because its fragile, yet one of the most soul-refreshing parts of my existence.

The other quiet moment I enjoy is after the Monkey goes to bed and after the Hubbs and I have done whatever we need to do for that night and settle on the couch together. We’ll watch a movie or a show and just be together for awhile. Its just so peaceful and restful.
_____________________________

My other inspiration this week comes from another friend, MOAM (http://www.zeromusings.com/). She’s quitting her job to follow her dream of writing a book. I’m truly awed, because she’s daring to be unemployed; daring to step out into the great unknown; daring herself to succeed.

She’s also running a 5k in two months, something that makes me cringe and reminds me of Fridays in high school when we’d have to run a little over a mile. To set that goal on top of her other ambitious goal is just so … brave? Ambitious? I can’t seem to find the words.

But most of all, I’m proud of her. I’m proud to know her, she with the iron-clad cajones and determination to make her dream a reality.

I’ve learned something from these strong, amazing friends of mine: If you need inspiration, look at yourself. At your family. At your friends. If you’re as blessed as I am, you’ll never need to look any further.