Henry’s Basilisk Birthday Cake

We recently celebrated our grandson Henry’s eighth birthday. I haven’t a doubt in the world that he has already begun planning what his ninth birthday cake will look like and what should be on next year’s birthday gift list.

My daughter described her boy so very well on her Facebook post commemorating her second son’s birth.

“This kid will start a conversation with a stranger with “Do you want to learn about me?” He refuses to let a bee sting slow down his fun. He crosses his eyes in his school portrait just to make people laugh. He’s always thinking about something grand. He has my heart. Happy birthday, Henry!”

Henry has my heart too.

Henry snuggled up to me on the sofa at our family Thanksgiving gathering with a special request. He wanted US to decorate his birthday cake together. This boy always has a plan.

“We’ll have mommy bake the cake, ‘cuz her cakes taste good,” then gushed with great anticipation, “and I will help you decorate it because you make the cakes look good.”

How could a grandma refuse?

Henry further informed me of the details of his grand plan. He wanted a “basilisk” cake, then told me everything he knew about basilisk lizards. It’s a good thing that this boy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to anything reptilian because I had NO IDEA what a basilisk was. Henry and I poked around a little bit on Google so he could show his less than informed Grandma Cindie what one looked like. I didn’t know there were basilisk snakes (of Harry Potter mythology, of course) and basilisk lizards. Henry assured me he wanted the lizard variety. “It’s cool, Grandma! It can run on water.” (Click here if you’re even remotely interested in learning more about basilisks.)

Yes, that is pretty cool. And a pretty ambitious decorating feat for the two of us. I am by no means a professional cake decorator but willingly spend an entire day playing with frosting and cake trying to come up with whatever a beloved grandchild dreams up.

I ended up baking the cake using my daughter’s recipe, baking up three chocolate 8″ layers to hopefully carve up and assemble into something that resembled a lizard…a basilisk in particular. My hubby helped me shop for a few of the details we would need, per Henry’s ideas, like orange M&M candies to make the eyes and animal crackers to crush and use for making the sand the basilisk would be crawling on.

As his mommy said, “He’s always thinking about something grand.”

In preparation for our big lizard making day, I poked around on Pinterest for a few ideas as to how to create something that resembled a lizard. I baked the three layers of cake ahead of time, then made up some delicious chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting. I cut one of the cake layers in half and “glued” the two halves together with frosting to make the body of the lizard, using this dragon cake as a general guide. I wrapped the body and the remaining cake layers in wax paper, then slid them into freezer bags and placed them in the freezer. Several Pinterest reviewers suggested this step of freezing the cake would make carving the cake and frosting the cut sides of the cake a little easier (it was a good idea).

Dragon cake - naked
Idea and photo credit: http://www.dinnerwithjulie.com/2010/08/07/chocolate-dragon-cake/

We would celebrate Henry’s birthday on the Saturday which followed his official birth date. Henry would come over in the morning after breakfast and we would work on constructing his cake throughout the morning.  Papa would take him out to lunch (so grandma could do parts of the construction best accomplished without the help of an 8-year-old), then we would resume decorating the (hopefully) lizardy-looking creation during the afternoon. All of this in anticipation of a family celebration of his birthday with pancakes for supper (his request) followed by his special birthday cake and presents.

We had fun together. I’m not sure that we ended up with the basilisk of his imagination, but one thing was clear: no matter how it turned out, Henry would love it because he had worked on it with me. Several heartwarming times throughout our day together Henry told me he loved me.

As we worked side by side, at one point Henry asked me if we had bought a birthday present for him. Before I could answer, he quickly added, “It’s okay if you didn’t because making this cake with you today is like the best present ever already!”

My heart smiled.

I assured him we had a present for him too then teasingly asked, “Do you want me to take your present back?” Eyes wide open he wagged his head an emphatic no.

Making Animal Cracker Sand

The first task for Henry was to crush the animal crackers to create the sand that would be used later in the decorating phase. As he rolled over the crackers with the rolling pin, he retold the family story of how he would squirrel away animal crackers under the cushion of his highchair so he could help himself to a treat when Mommy said no to his request.

We laughed together.
Tail-carving time

Next step was for Henry to carve the tail out of one of the layers of cake. We made it fatter than a real basilisk’s tail because nobody would want a piece of cake THAT skinny. Henry deemed it the perfect lizard tail. I popped that tail back into the freezer while we worked on carving the legs and head and crown-thingy (the crest, I think) out of cake. Henry let me do most of that carving, adding ample praise as I worked.

Henry told me about his best friends at school.

It was lunch time. Papa took Henry out for lunch so I could pay attention to my mom’s needs. Momma has Alzheimer’s. I had worried that she would not cooperate, as she can be a handful on one of her bad days. Thankfully, she had rather enjoyed watching us work at the kitchen table together.

The tree stump

While Henry and Papa were enjoying cheeseburgers at Culver’s, I put the lizard head together and affixed it and the tail to the body with more frosting. Returning from their guys’ lunch together, Henry was super excited to see what had been accomplished in the construction phase, and we set ourselves to work creating a cross-section of a tree for the lizard to climb. We stuck the lizardy-looking parts in the freezer again while we worked together to create tree rings and bark out of chocolate frosting.

Next came the hard part. Frosting the little guy. I made a batch of cream cheese buttercream frosting without chocolate. I reserved a little plain white, then tinted the remaining frosting in a few shades of green. We propped Mr. Basilisk on the log, then added legs and started frosting with a crumb coat of green. (Freezing the cake greatly helped keep the cut edges under control, as did using a frosting spreader dipped in warm water.) Once he was thoroughly crumb coated, we started piping on frosting, smoothing here, adding “scales” there, shoving bits of leftover cake and frosting into gaps, and chatting as we worked.

Henry added the orange M&M eyes and was happy with how it looked. Basilisks also have white dots that run down their sides. Henry carefully added  white chocolate chips for the bigger dots and then and dotted white cupcake sprinkles in just the right places to make the little ones.

While he worked on those details (and snitched a few white chocolate chips), I melted some of the white chocolate, then tinted part of it green and part of it orange (took a little artistic liberty on that color). I piped this onto wax paper to create the arched fin-like crest that continues along its back and tail. After the melted chocolate hardened off on my chilly back porch, we peeled it off of the wax paper and added those fun details to his birthday cake.

The birthday boy’s eyes lit up. He had one word to describe our creation.

“Awesome!”

That would be the same word I used to describe my day with the birthday boy.

Awesome!

Five Minute Friday: Balance and “Oasis Moments”

This post was brought to you (a day late, I know) courtesy of Kate Motaung’s blog Five Minute Friday and the word “balance.” Writers set the timer for five minutes and then free write on the word of the week. Check out more great posts and find inspiration for writing here at Five Minute Friday.


Things have been quiet on my blog. Good sleep is rare. Interrupted at best. Most days I live life in a sleepy fog. In my exhaustion, I’m having trouble staying focused enough to write.  A few of my friends have recently heard my silence and inquired as to my well-being.

My friend Sue wrapped me in a big hug on Sunday and told me that she was quite concerned. She had observed that caregiving seemed to be taking its toll on me, noting that I looked really tired. I was not the least bit offended by her basically telling me that I looked terrible. It’s really hard to cover up exhaustion. God knew I needed this confirmation of what I already knew. Sue’s concern and assurance of prayer meant the world to me.

Rita caught up with me a few minutes later and kindly inquired as to how momma is doing. This sweet friend is known for her ability to see a need and step in to help. I have been on the receiving end of her prayers wrapped in practical ministries of help. Her loving and thoughtful ways have often helped me find balance as a caregiver as she sits with my mom while I try to get some sleep, or hangout with my grandkids, or take my brother to a doctor’s appointment, or go out to dinner with my husband. Her kindness refreshes my spirit.

Yesterday I heard the familiar “chirp” of my phone indicating that I had received a text message. My heart smiled when I saw it was from my friend Barb – also my sister in Christ, and former co-worker (from way too many years ago).

“How are you and your momma doing? Haven’t seen anything on FB lately.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Barb and I worked together, but we’ve managed to keep in touch via Facebook, chats via Messenger, and occasional lunch get-togethers at a restaurant somewhere between my here and her there. It has been awhile since I’ve been able to get away and have lunch with Barb, but her little “I noticed you” via text meant so much. It felt good to sit in my favorite chair wrapped in a soft blanket and “chat” for a bit about what’s going on in our lives.

Amazing how a timely word from a friend can bring a little balance to your life when life feels weighed down and precariously listing toward one side.

This morning a message from another friend, Danielle, popped up on my phone.

You’ve been in my prayers a lot recently, especially since I haven’t seen too many posts about your mom. I know I didn’t post much about Tim as things got worse, so I’m assuming things are really hard right now.

She was right. Danielle knows firsthand what life as a caregiver can be like, as she takes care of her father-in-law in his struggle with memory loss. She walks this really hard road a few steps ahead of me and knows how to pray…and she does pray.

It’s not just these four friends who’ve helped me find balance. It’s my hubby who helps in countless ways, the friend who buys me a coffee on a whim, or the one who pops a surprise care package or a sweet card in the mail. Or the thoughtful neighbor who recently rang my doorbell and asked me to point him in the direction of something that needed to be done in my garden.

I’m so thankful for each and every one of the wonderful people God has put in my path. Through your prayers and acts of kindness, God refreshes my soul with “oasis moments” and helps me find balance in my life as a caregiver.

 

 

Encounters with Grace

Encounters with Grace

Saturday, November 25, 2018

In his sermon last Sunday, our pastor reminded his congregation that it is easy to miss the beauty of God’s grace in our every day lives. We are so accustomed to receiving his daily gifts and benefits we often grow blind to His goodness and loving kindness toward us. Pastor Jeremy challenged us to watch for ways God demonstrates His abundant grace toward us. To do this, he gave us an assignment asking us to take out a sheet of paper and list 20 things God has given us that we do not deserve.

I’ve been watching and taking notice this week – here’s my list with a little bit of explanation on each.  

 

  1. My copy of God’s Word – with real pages I can turn and plenty of room in the margins to jot special notes. By God’s grace, my granddaughter Violet loves God’s Word and has the same Bible.

    Our matching Bibles
  2. The Grace of Family. Growing up in a family who lived several states away from our kinfolk, I recognize full well the grace of having my family close.
  3. Veiled grace. Our friends had their baby on Thanksgiving Day. My first thought was, “Oh no!” Their wee girl wasn’t due to make her debut until February. While ‘Baby K’ was more than a mite too early, she arrived on the day that was just right on God’s timetable. By His grace, she weighed 2lb 14oz – a good weight for a babe who arrived much too early. Also by His grace, she was delivered by emergency cesarean in a hospital equipped to handle the very special needs of Baby K and her mommy. A careful look at the circumstances surrounding Baby K’s arrival reveal God’s veiled grace in everything.
  4. Grace for Rough Days. Momma struggles with the little things in life. Just getting out of bed is rough. Walking hurts. Underwear are disposable, and for good reason. Sleep comes…eventually, and not always when everyone else wants to sleep. Grace for rough days comes in many forms – usually shaped like people who care.
  5. Hugs. If grace could be measured in a currency of hugs from grandkids, I’m one very wealthy woman.
  6. Testimonies of God’s Grace. We attended a Thanksgiving Eve Service at Wildwood Church where our son serves as an elder and missions pastor. It was a blessing to sing favorite hymns together with brothers and sisters in Christ we were meeting for the first time. We listened, sometimes with a laugh, other times with tears in our eyes as members of this congregation shared their testimonies of God’s grace in their lives.
  7. Grace in having a furnace to keep our house warm. Our thermostat is set at 72 – mostly because my mom is always cold. My body must have grown used to her temperature preference; at times, I felt a bit too cold at my son Matt’s house where it was 63 degrees. Then my mind recalls my husband’s recent trip to India where he discovered winter temps can fall into the 30’s at night. Many folks there don’t have heat in their homes. Or insulated walls, windows and doors. Or a fireplace. I’m thankful for a warm house, socks for my usually bare feet, and money to pay our heating bill.
  8. Grace in owning a washing machine, a convenience totally foreign to many in the world. A blessing for the umpteen loads of wash in the week of a caregiver.
  9. Grace in laughter. A cheerful heart really IS good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Yesterday, one grandson with especially infectious laughter was riding in the back seat of our car and his giggles blessed my heart.
  10. Grace in a Spirit Who prays for me. Sometimes I am so fatigued and emotional, or tired and discouraged. I don’t know how to put my needs into words in prayer. My gracious God knows what I need, and the Spirit of God dubs in the words my heart utters but my lips cannot speak.
  11. Me and my guy (Photo credit: Don Yantis)

    “This is Us” kind of Grace. When it feels as though my caregiving responsibilities are sucking the “us” out of our marriage, I am reminded that God gifted me with a husband whose generosity goes beyond material things. He lovingly supports me in this decision to care for my mom in our home by unbegrudgingly giving of his own time while I give of mine.

  12. Grace notes. Musical ‘grace notes’ are tiny ornaments decorating a musical piece with beauty. I’m blessed with three granddaughters who love to leave little surprise notes for me to discover as I go about my day. I call them my grace notes. I don’t deserve granddaughters who love me like that, but God blessed me with them and I am SO grateful.
  13. Grace in the ability to hear and enjoy music. Momma lives in a rather silent world. Oh, how I wish she could hear the beautiful music I heard this week. Two “hymn sings” in one week; lovely piano pieces played by special granddaughters; my daughter-in-law singing and humming to Christmas music while prepping food in the kitchen, to name a few. I found special joy in watching my daughter teach her daughter to line dance while my son-in-law sang a little boot-scootin’ country tune. I cannot imagine a world devoid of the grace of music.
  14. Grace in Technology. I confess, I really enjoy Facebook. Frustrating as I sometimes find my laptop and iPhone, the ability to see the faces of loved ones near and far gathered around their own Thanksgiving table is priceless.
  15. Diet Coke and Coffee. Enough said.
  16. God’s grace of comfort as I sleep. One of the missionaries we support shared a picture yesterday that made me realize how blessed I am to have a comfortable bed, an abundance of blankets, and pillows that are just right. His photo was a reminder to pray for refugees in Iraq whose city had been hard hit by recent heavy rains, drenching their dwellings and meager belongings. Lord, as I fluff and arrange my pillows at night, remind me to pray for those who have no place to lay their sleepy head tonight.
  17. God’s gracious gift of helpers. Momma’s Friday and Sunday caregivers, Kathryn and Kathi, are an amazing grace gift, allowing a bit of time away from caregiving each week. And I must not forget my friend Waldely, who helps keep my head above water (and dust) by helping me with housework.
  18. Amanda and Lisa. As my caregiving responsibilities grew, I contemplated stepping down from my church ministries, including teaching Sunday School. Then, just as Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses to hold up his weary arms, Amanda and Lisa stepped in to help me with teaching responsibilities. They are a gift of God’s grace in my life.
  19. Grace in a basket of warm, freshly dried laundry. Momma so relishes feeling useful…and handling warm laundry in need of folding brings her extra-special joy.
  20. Grace in the next generation. Tomorrow about 24 young faces will look up at me as we sing praises and learn more from God’s Word in Sunday School at Memorial Baptist Church – evidence of God’s grace continuing to the next generation.

Now, it’s time to flip my list over and start again. Would you join me in the comments below by sharing evidences of God’s grace in your life? One or two will do, but I’d encourage you to begin your own list too.

Thanksgiving and Old Photos

Our son Matt and his family are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. This is the second year they’ve hosted us in their splendid home set on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Hampton, Illinois. I enjoy helping out in their spacious and well-appointed kitchen.

I am thankful my sister is hanging out with mom so Wayne and I can get away from the responsibilities of caregiving for a few days.

What a blessing. God bless her.

On Sunday my daughter mentioned she is bringing the pies…lots of pies. I hear there will be pumpkin, French Silk, and chocolate pecan. On Monday she stopped by my house to borrow a few extra pie plates and Tupperware pie carriers.

Lord, help me.

Knowing Beth will be the bearer of pies made me wonder what I would be bringing. Other than an email asking for my stuffing recipe, I hadn’t heard whether I should bring anything. I sent my son a text which read

Did I miss a memo on what to bring for Thanksgiving?

His reply –

Just yourselves! 🙂

Wow! Another life change happened when I wasn’t looking. Not cooking anything for Thanksgiving?

When did that happen?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that THIS happened?

I found these photos while working on a long overdue project of creating some family photo albums. Matt must have been 4 years old and Beth almost 2, so it must be 1981.

I love everything about these memory evoking photos. The teeny tiny kitchen in our first house on 49th Street. The hand-me-down kitchen table and chairs from my in-laws. The 1950’s wallpaper. The orange tiles on the kitchen floor. Our tiny refrigerator barely had room for the turkey to thaw.

At the corner of one photo I spied the shelving Wayne custom built for our itty-bitty kitchen. The shelf now has a couple of coats of blue paint on it and sits in a place of honor on our three-season porch holding memorabilia of years past. As I examine the photo below more carefully, I see on one shelf a turtle cookie jar (I used to collect turtles), which I have since passed along to my son.

Thirty-seven years later, I still use that very same turkey roasting pan…and the brown-striped kitchen towel!

I love Matt’s facial expression as he examined his messy little hand after helping stuff the turkey. I think we need to recreate this photo.

This helper will be preparing our Thanksgiving turkey this year.

And my little blonde sweetheart Beth! Look at the cherubic face of my little helper. Be still my heart!

My little helper now has four helpers of her own.

These old photos have taught me the importance of capturing images of special moments we have together as a family. Tomorrow we will have Matt and Beth and their families gathered together in one place.

And I will have a camera.

 

 

Six on Saturday: Snowy Morning

Like last week, we awoke again this morning to a thin layer of fresh snow covering the yard – and a promise of more to come. In between snowfalls, we had two days where the temps hovered near 40 degrees. I managed to get those daffodil and tulip bulbs in the ground, but had to tuck them in close to the house where the ground was warmer.

The sunshine lured me outdoors this afternoon while Momma took a little catnap. Drinking in the fresh, clean air, I took a little stroll through the yard and snapped a few photos of things that caught my eye.

My garden bench, beneath the Tulip Trees. 

Do you think this garden bench would look pretty painted a grape-y shade of purple? I’m toying with the idea. Or should I leave it to weather as is? What say ye?

The garden ladder and bird houses

Hubby found this discarded ladder a couple of summers ago and painted it a lovely shade of green to serve as a trellis and whimsical piece of yard art with my painted bird houses perched on top. The garden ladder supports a clematis vine I snagged from my mother’s garden before I sold her Milwaukee home. I’m so glad that I was able to dig a few of her pretty flowers to make the move with her. I’m not entirely sure what pruning type this clematis is, but decided to take a chance and prune it back today to make the area look tidy. My mom can see it from her usual spot at the kitchen table and often comments about how the gardener really should clean that up.

The crab apple tree has held many a grandchild in its branches. 

Hubby added the rope to assist little climbers after he cut off one of the lower branches they used to hoist themselves up into the crab apple tree. One of my favorite memories is of my granddaughter Violet sitting up there perched as high as she dared singing praises to Jesus and thanking God for this tree to climb.

A view from the crab apple tree to the locust tree.

Friday night is date night at our house. We pay a caregiver to come and hang out with my sweet Momma while we go out to dinner, see a movie, or do some shopping. Last night we found ourselves at Menard’s where we replenished our birdseed for our feathered friends. I also replaced my worn out garden gloves with some brand new hot-pink ones…hopefully won’t lose them next year.

My garden apron hangs on a hook in the 3-season porch waiting for the 4th season to pass. Who knows? Perhaps there will be a sunny winter day or two to play in the yard.

It has been a crazy week here. Short on sleep most nights and long on trying to keep mom awake and occupied during the daytime when she’d really rather sleep. Sometimes I’m just so tired that I give in and let her nap. Today is one of the days when I did my best to keep her awake, thus putting off my contribution to Six on Saturday. It’s still Saturday and here it is.

If you would like to join in with this fun weekly meme started over at The Propagator, take a look here.

 

Five Minute Friday: ONE

It’s hard to believe in less than a week hubby and I will be gathered with our kids and their families celebrating Thanksgiving. I’m personally looking forward to time away from caregiving (thankful for my sister who will care for mom while we take a little break), time with my grandkids, a little uninterrupted sleep, good food cooked by my kids and a few of their kids with a little help from me (When did THAT happen? Used to be the other way around!), and everything else that goes with spending time with family reflecting on God’s goodness to all of us.

I’m linking up for the first time with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community. Five minutes of free write on a weekly word prompt.  Today’s word is one. Here’s the first thing that came to my mind.


Just ONE thing

I have so many things on my always growing “to-do list”. In my world of being a full-time caregiver for a mother with Alzheimer’s, there are days when I may as well throw my to-do list in the trash, as Momma’s needs trump my would-like-to-get-done checklist.

One thing has helped. Simply focusing on one thing at a time.

“One bucket of weeds” is doable. I can certainly grab a 5-gallon pail during one of mom’s catnaps and do a quick cleanup of one area of my garden. That one bucket often leads to two…or maybe even more.

“One load of laundry” is much more attainable than devoting an entire day to the job. It’s an on-going job that is never truly accomplished anyway…so just do ONE load now. The rest will follow.

Sometimes it does help to break my big job up into lots of little “ones”. Spending time in the garden is one of those things I love to do, but also one of the things that is HARD to do while taking care of my sweet Mom. But, truth be told, even on the worst of days, I can get ONE thing done if I create a few bite-size chunks.

  • Trim back the red peony and bag the leaves
  • Dig out the aggressive lamium
  • Divide the red iris
  • Plant a piece of the red iris on the other end of the flower bed
  • Trim back the clematis to 1 foot
  • Spread compost
  • Plant the tulip bulbs
  • Mulch
  • Repaint the birdhouse (a rainy day project)

Very few of those jobs take longer than 10 minutes to accomplish. A little here and a little there. One small bite at a time. Each little job accomplished leads to the satisfaction of being able to cross the big job off the list.

There you have it. My ONE contribution.

Now, I’m going to fold ONE load of laundry before a much needed night out with my ONE guy.