Thursday, January 27, 2011


When you think about the sheer number of incidents that occurred in the lives of my grandparents and parents lives, it's a wonder the four of us kids were ever born at all.

To whit:

My grandmother, Corinne, was born 2 months early. In Jamaica. In 1908.


Mom said they pinned her to a pillow to keep her close by. She must've been teeny tiny at birth, because she was tiny as an adult.

Then, at 18, in 1926, she got pneumonia. Her doctor sat beside her bed and begged her not to die. Only two shots of penicillin were sent to the island and were meant for someone else, but that person died before they got there. The shots were given to my grandmother instead. She went on to outlive all of her immediate family, doctors and friends and died at the ripe old age of 96.

My dad, born in 1933, was what they called a "blue" baby. Apparently my Nanny had rH factor problems after her first child was born and my dad, the third surviving child, could've died. They actually gave him a blood transfusion to save his life. Then later, still as an infant, he got horribly ill with what we think was bronchitis. All of the doctors in the area were at a conference, so none were available to come and help. Someone apparently put a mustard plaster on his chest, but he didn't improve. A cousin who was also a nurse went out to find the one doctor that didn't go to the conference. He came, saw dad was turning blue (Again!), ripped the plaster off and gave him a teaspoon of brandy. Mind you, this was during Prohibition, so that teaspoonful came dearly. The brandy caused him to shudder and cough and breathe again.

Saved by booze.

Then, my parents having met at all was sheer coincidence. Mom was supposed to have left for the US on a piano scholarship in the fall, except that the nun she gave her application papers to didn't submit it. Dad was on assignment to the bank in Jamaica, but was already past his allotted time. He should've only been there for 2 years, but was finishing up his 5th year by the time he met HER. At the bank. So she should've been in the States, but wasn't. A friend of hers told her that a girl had just quit and a position had opened up at the bank and that mom should apply for the job. She did and was hired. Dad showed up a few months later to relieve the bank manager and met mom.

From the stories I've heard, once dad laid eyes on mom he immediately started referring to her as Mrs. Family Name (i.e. where Family Name is my maiden name. Obviously.). Nowadays, we'd call that harassment. Back then? That was flirting. Dad was dead lucky that mom was able to get past his "stuffed shirt" appearance to get to know him.

Their romance is a tale in itself. One day I'll get the whole story. A drunken serenade is involved, so you know it's good!

Our family tales are made of equal parts unlikely happenstance, pathos and comedy.

But maybe that's the stuff of which all of us are made. We just have to live through it and make the most of it while we're here.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I don't know about you, but here's what I've learned about myself: I've never, ever regretted spending more time with my family.

No matter how inconvenient or expensive or late or distant a trip might have been, it has always been worth it to go. To attend. To be there for whatever event may have occurred. Weddings. Funerals. Anniversaries. Birthdays.

Sometimes it was just dinner.

It's always been worth it.

Now the issue is illness.

And here I am, in Canada, with my mother and sisters, brother-in-laws, nieces and one nephew. I am here, because here is the right place to be. My dad is not doing well. My mom needed me to be here, although she never asked me to come. She wouldn't have, because she doesn't ask for things like that. She doesn't make requests for herself.

She's used to being The Rock. She's not used to being on the receiving end of caring. However, I knew that I needed to come out and see her now. Not in a few months from now. Not after I've processed the emotions I'm currently running through (Grief. Remorse. Fear. Sadness. Horror. Anger. Disbelief. Loss. More fear. Anxiety.), which will take quite awhile. Not when it may be more convenient for me or I can find a cheaper flight, or any of a billion reasons excuses that I might otherwise come up with to not come.

Now is the time to be here. The troops have rallied. My sisters and I are here. Even if we can't do anything for dad (And honestly, we can't. There's nothing TO be done.), we can be here for mom and for each other. Even if all we did was sit around and stare at one another over dinner for the week I'll be here, we can do it together and provide each other a shoulder to cry on (That would be my job: to cry.), an ear to listen, someone to bounce ideas off of, or just to chat about completely unrelated things (So, this one time in Band Camp? No...wait...we talk about raising children and gardening and food and I listen to weird stories about television shows I know nothing about and offer completely unsolicited marital advice and tips on child raising because I'm such an expert. Ayup.) and to sometimes even laugh.

Even though dad isn't going to look up and recognize any of us and you can't really hold a conversation with him and you certainly can't resolve any outstanding issues you may have with him, you can still show up and be counted. Maybe he will look up suddenly and recognize me for a moment. He probably won't. But if I wasn't here to see him myself, I would never have even the slimmest chance of that happening.

Each time I see him, my heart breaks a little more. It's true. Each time I see him, I have to say goodbye. Each time I say goodbye, there's always that chance that I never will see him again. Hell, I could get hit by a bus and he could outlive me by years and years. You never know.

You never know when your "last" visit will come. Not with anyone.

I'm not willing to waste time making up excuses for why I can't come and see my father or my mother, or my sisters and their children. I'm not willing to waste my life waiting for the "right time" or "enough" money.

Now is the time.

Now is the only moment we have.

I have no regrets. I am exactly where I should be.

Even though it hurts.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Healing Power of Tears

"Go ahead and cry," my mother said to me. "Tears will heal you."

If only they could heal you. If they actually possessed a magical healing power I would capture them all in a cup for you and anoint your brow with them; your eyes with them; your ears with them. If I covered you in my tears would you come back to me? Would you remember me? Would you awaken from this walking sleep that holds you?

If I could brew you a bittersweet draught from my tears that would strip this fog away, I would cry every tear for you. I would weep again at all of the sadness I've ever caused you; all the pain I ever inflicted on you; all the anger I engendered in you. I'd weep for all of the things you've lost. All of the people you've lost. All of the years you've lost.

But it doesn't work. These tears I can't shed in front of you go unused. Dripping down my cheeks, they land useless in my hands. Only my eyes are changed by their passing. You remain the same.

The hollow man. A ghost of your former self. A shadow. A shade. A revenant.

Where are you? Where have you gone?

Are you still in there? Do you rage inside your mind when we don't understand you? When you want to communicate and yet can't? Do we frustrate you when we can't translate what you want or need into a form we can understand?

I want you to know me. To remember me. To recognize me.

Just for a moment. Just for a minute. Just a bubble of memory that will cause you to look me in the eye and let me know that you see me.

It's still your voice, your chuckle, your hazel eyes that look back at me. 

Dad? Daddy? It's me. I'm here.

Come back.

I miss you. We miss you. We love you.


These tears are for you, though you may never know that they are for you or that I am yours. To you, I am no more than the smiling stranger with the tears standing in her eyes.

But I know. I know you.

I miss you.

I love you.

I'm sorry.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cross Country Adventure: First Stop NY Baby!

I'm in NY for a few hours on my way to Ohhhh, Canadaaaaa! To visit my mom, dad, sibs and nieces and nephew.

I've finally met my (month old) niece, Madeline! She's so little! She's teensy weensy! She makes all those cute little baby noises! Grunting, nursing, hiccups. I've forgotten just how small "small" really is, since my version is now 3!

Anyway, we'll soon be on the road headed up the East Coast, through a snowstorm, to get to my mom. I'm driving up with Dawn, Matt and Madeline.

But first, a quick stop to go visit a certain cousin-in-law in NY.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spelling Euphoria

Today was the Spelling Bee* at Caitlin's school. She had signed up to do it before Xmas break and studied a bit, on and off (Mostly off.) over break. Then, with two weeks left, I started asking her to study. Suddenly she decided she wasn't going to do it.

Cold feet.

At first, Eric was going to let her drop out, but I convinced him that this was a clear situation where giving in to fear was a bad idea and would set a bad precedent. If she really hated it, she didn't have to sign up again next year. But since she was already signed up, she needed to follow through.

I know. I'm a hardass, aren't I?

Well, Eric spent the last three days reviewing the word list with her, over and over again. I cheered from the sidelines between diaper changes, meltdowns and screaming fits (Logan's, mostly, not mine.) and stayed out of it.

Today was the big day.

There were about 33 kids all lined up in seats, ready for the Spell Down. We sat way in the back with the twins. Logan had to be removed immediately since he wouldn't be quiet and this was definitely a Quiet Required activity. Emma and I made it to the end of the first round before Emma had to pee.

Caitlin's first word: quarterback.

I left with Emma as the first round was applauded and took Logan from Eric. The three of us went to Caitlin's classroom to get out of the way and keep our noise to a minimum. Mostly.

At 10 am, people started filing into the classroom. The Bee was over and I'd missed it. I was crushed.

But wait...!

Turns out that there were 7 kids still standing, but they'd run out of time! Those remaining 7 would finish the Bee at 1:45 pm in this very classroom.

And Caitlin was one of the seven!


After some negotiation, it was determined that since I'd missed the 6 rounds that Eric got to watch, that I'd go back at 1:45. Alone.

Armed with my camera and a notepad I set off.

Seven children sat in chairs. Only one other parent was there and a whole lot of children. Caitlin's entire class and the other 4th and 5th grades were squeezed into that one classroom. After the first round ("Your word is 'lugubrious'.") was over only two children were left and Caitlin was one of them (Her word was 'hexagonal').

Holy cow! I was amazed.


Now was the moment we'd all been waiting for: the final round. In case you didn't know, the first child to get a word wrong puts them into the Death Spiral (If that's not what they call it officially, it IS what they should call it! I'm just doin' my part to sexy up the Bee.). The 2nd child has to spell 1st child's word correctly and spell a new word of their own. It went down something like this:

1st Child: spelled something correctly (I can't remember.)
Caitlin: Effervescent. CORRECT.
1st Child: spelled something correctly (I still can't remember.)
Caitlin: Quizzical. INCORRECT. She put an 'a' in there for the second 'i'.
1st Child: spelled something correctly and then whiffed her second, potentially winning, word.
Caitlin and 1st Child get Lackadaisical incorrect (So did I, for that matter.).

Caitlin: Incendiary. CORRECT. Whiffs potential winning word Malleable. So does 1st child, who then goes on to misspell Endocrine.

Caitlin: Endocrine. CORRECT.

Tension mounts.

Caitlin: Intermittent. CORRECT.

Holy shit! Caitlin just won her school's Spelling Bee!


She was immediately mobbed by her classmates, after congratulating her opponent and accepting congratulations graciously.

They carried her around in a little circle until she made them put her down so she could come and That teary-eyed, terribly proud mom with the stunned look on her face and the too heavy camera.

And that is the story of perseverance that I'm going to trot out every time the going looks scary or tough. For Caitlin, for the twins and for myself.

That's my girl.


* In her first Spelling Bee she made it through the first round and whiffed it on the word 'futon'. In her second Spelling Bee, last January, she made it to fourth place. I appear to have skipped writing about it. Whoops! So she's made significant jumps in her spelling, year over year. Yay, Caitlin!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Christmas came and went at a slow, torturous pace. Rather like being drowned in treacle.

With glitter.

We got a tree and instantly learned we couldn't decorate it with glass ornaments thanks to Destructo Boy. I strung lights around the arch at the front door and set it up on a timer. Every night when it winks on at dusk, Logan squees with delight, so that was a big win. We hung our stockings by the chimney with care and then needed to put them up on the mantle until Xmas day because Destructo Boy desperately wanted to pull them (and their brass weights) down onto his head.

Christmas shopping was very, very light this year. Except for one uber present for Caitlin.

Note the fantastic wrapping job? Yeah. That is a bed sheet. We're totally stylin'.

It was a fish tank full of...small animal gear!

The very next day, we went shopping for the owners.

Please welcome Digger

and Gryphon.

The newest members of the Hatchet family.

Caitlin approves.

Just mind the cats, boys, and you'll be juuuuust fiiiiine.


You know what's fun? Letting your inner 9 year old girl squee while you're sitting in a bathtub with a pair of gerbils running around and checking you out. Squeeeeee!

Why yes, I am enjoying the gerbil taming!

* Pronounced: mouse-ah-roo-LEE-uns. They look like mice. They stand on their hind legs like kangaroos and they have an extra tuft of fur on their long tails like lions. What else would I call them?! Other than Gerbilitos, that is.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best Cheesecake EVER: Caramel Cheesecake

Since it was Eric's birthday just recently, I needed to come up with a cake for the occasion. Unlike my friend Val, who always has Red Velvet Cake for her birthday, I make a different cake every time. There are just so many amazing recipes out there, why wouldn't I?

Caitlin had suggested an ice cream cake, but I didn't think Eric would go for it. However, whilst poking around one of my favorite bread baking sites, I saw that she had the recipe for Caramel Cheesecake. Immediately, I knew I had to bake it.

I've made cheesecakes before, and they've turned out very nicely, but this one took the cake (Sorry, I had to say that.) and received top honors. Mind you, it wasn't without its frustrating points. I broke the cake getting it out of the pan. Whoops! The first caramel I made for the topping went too far towards burnt sugar, so I had to toss it and start over again. Whoops! I also determined that next time (For there will be a next time! Oh yes. Yes there will be!) I will chop up the toffee bar finely. Or skip it entirely.

Did I mention this cake was crazy? Graham cracker crust, cheesecake, caramel top and bits of toffee around the edges. It may kill you, but you'll go out with a dreamy look in your eye!

My photo absolutely does no justice to this cheesecake. Instead, go to Wild Yeast's entry. Now that's pretty.

Instead, let me share with you her recipe with a few adjustments I've made.

Caramel Cheesecake
(Cake adapted from Wild Yeast's version of the SFBI cheesecake and Epicurious topping.)
Yield: one 8-inch cake
  • Mix: 15 minutes
  • Bake: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Cool: at least 2 hours
  • Chill: overnight
  • Unchill and top: about an hour
  • Chill: 2 hours or longer
Crust Ingredients:
  • 132 g graham cracker crumbs (1 pkg or ~9 graham crackers)
  • 44 g sugar (1 1/2 oz)
  • 64 g butter, melted (2 1/4 oz)
Filling Ingredients:
  • 532 g cream cheese, softened (18 3/4 oz)
  • 160 g sugar (5 5/8 oz)
  • 26 g melted butter (1 oz)
  • 10 (2 t.) g lemon juice
  • 5 g (1 t.) vanilla extract
  • 139 g (3 medium) eggs at room temperature
  • 46 g heavy cream (1 1/2 oz)
  • 46 g sour cream (1 1/2 oz)
Topping Ingredients:
  • 150 g sugar (5 1/4 oz)
  • 14 g (2 T.) water
  • 1/4 t. lemon juice
  • 120 g heavy cream (4 1/4 oz)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Heath Bars, coarsely chopped (Any candy bar will do here and you really just need one. I used a high end toffee bar and chopped it finely.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 285F if you have a convection setting, or 325F for the regular bake setting. Start boiling water for the water bath.
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
  3. Mix the crust ingredients together well with your fingers. Press the crust into the pan and partway up the sides, to a thickness of 1/4 inch.
  4. In a small bowl, blend the cream and sour cream together.
  5. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese on medium-low speed until it is very smooth.
  6. Add the following ingredients is this order, mixing on medium-low speed until smooth after each addition and scraping the bowl frequently:
    • butter
    • sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla
    • eggs, one at a time
    • cream/sour cream mixture
  7. Pour the batter over the crust in the prepared pan. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.
  8. Place the cake on a rimmed sheet pan and set it in the oven. Pour boiling water in the sheet pan to just below the rim. (This may cause your pan to float. Cut back the water to about 3/4s up the sides of the pan. You want it surrounded by water to act as a temperature regulator and to keep the top from cracking. You aren't sending it on a float trip.)
  9. Bake until the cake has just a slight wobble in the center when nudged.
  10. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool, still in its water bath, to room temperature.
  11. Run a knife around the edge to make sure it is free of the pan, then invert the cake onto a plate and again onto a second plate so that it is right-side-up.
  12. Cover the cake with plastic wrap directly on its surface, and chill overnight.
  13. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it unchill slightly while you prepare the topping. Keep the plastic wrap on during this time so any condensation forms on the plastic and not on the cake.
  14. In a medium saucepan, stir together the topping sugar, water, and lemon juice over medium-high heat to dissolved the sugar. Heat on medium-high without stirring, washing down the sides with a wet pastry brush occasionally, until the mixture turns an amber color.
  15. Add the cream and the salt and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring from time to time, until the caramel is thick but not chewy (gauge the consistency by dripping a bit onto a metal spoon).
  16. Remove from the heat and pour into a metal bowl. Cool at room temperature until it is slightly warmer than body temperature; it should still be quite pourable at this point.
  17. Pour the topping over the cake; use an offset spatula to spread it to the edges and let it drip down the sides.
  18. Top with chopped Heath Bars. (Chocolate bars. Nuts. Crunchy bits of something yummy. Bacon? Maybe not.)
  19. Cover with a cake dome and chill for 2 – 6 hours before serving.
Here are a few of her cheesecake tips:
  • To make a smooth batter, the cream cheese needs to be very soft. Leave it out to soften overnight, or put it in the microwave a few seconds at a time.
  • Keep the mixer on low-medium speed, to avoid incorporating too much air. Scrape the bowl and paddle frequently.
  • Avoid using a Springform pan, which can allow water to seep into the crust when you bake the cake in a water bath (even if you protect the bottom with foil). A straight-sided cake pan works just fine.
  • Cool the cake completely at room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.
  • To cut cleanly, dip the knife in hot water and dry it with a towel before cutting each slice.
I've found that if you have the extra wide, heavy duty foil, you CAN use a springform pan. I tried this recipe initially in a regular cake pan and couldn't get it out of the pan to save my life. Fortunately, once you add the topping, you can't see all of the cracks where it fell apart after I whomped it on the counter to "extract" it. Cracked cheesecake is just as yummy as uncracked cheesecake, so don't fret if the same thing happens to you.

The best part about making the topping for this cheesecake is that once you've done it, you need to realize that you just made caramel. From scratch. And since that wasn't too terribly hard, you can do it again. And again. It's a lot of fun and yummy, too. Add assorted flavors to it and suddenly you have candy to give away to friends.

Or not. I won't tell.

This was my second attempt at the caramel cheesecake and it turned out even better. This time I used a 9" springform pan and only 1 chocolate bar.


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Potty Training Twins, Act III - the Logan Edition

On Dec. 24th, after a normal diaper change, Eric asked Logan if he'd like to wear his big boy underwear. Tempted yet again by images of Lightning McQueen and Buzz Lightyear on his butt, Logan agreed. He also agreed to actually sit on the potty for the first time in months and months. This was, clearly, a major breakthrough.

After listening to our pediatrician and just leaving Logan alone about the potty issue, something finally clicked in his head. After months of "Would you like to wear some underwear?" "No!", "Would you like to pee on the potty?" "NO!", "Would you like to poop on the potty?" "NOOOOO!", we're finally seeing the light at the end of the toilet.

Of course, to keep things interesting, Emma has regressed and started peeing all over everything. I changed her sheets 3 times in one day and then gave up entirely on putting her down for naps or to bed without pull ups* or a diaper. I watched her sit on the stairs, look me in the eye and just let 'er rip. Ugh!

Maybe she was giving Logan a chance to catch up?

This morning I woke up to the dulcet sounds of "Mommy! I PEED!". Eric was in the bathroom and Emma was curled up in bed with me, so I got out of bed, expecting the worst. Instead, royally ensconced on his throne, was Logan. He had taken off his PJs, taken off and disposed of his pull-up properly -- in the trashcan, climbed up onto the potty and peed.

All by himself.

There was no pile of sodden clothing. No puddle on the floor.

Just one little boy, proud as can be.

Let the squeeing commence!

* After years of the reusable Bum Genius diapers, we thought we'd try the pull-ups to see if introducing those would make a difference to Logan's potty training. Something more like underwear, but a lot more absorptive. I don't know if they actually helped him get more into it (They have Woody and Buzz on them, you see.), but whatever the combination of factors, it's currently working. After this box is gone (We only bought the one box.), we'll switch back to the diapers for bedtime, if necessary, or see if he can transition to underwear all of the time. He pees like a racehorse in his sleep. Wish us continued luck!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to take a nap...

There I was: napping.

Eric was downstairs with the twins. Or was he?

I was woken from my very odd dream of the twins getting in a great deal of trouble to the sounds of...the twins getting into a great deal of trouble.

"Oh no! Why did you...?!" Clearly, words were failing Eric as he attempted to express his utter astonishment that in 5 minutes the twins were able to redecorate the living room.

Note that the tree has lights but no ornaments. Logan convinced us within the first 15 minutes of tree trimming that we couldn't put any ornaments up that weren't made of paper. Even then...he tore up half of those, too.

That's just under 5 lbs of bread flour and about 3 ounces of rye flour. They helped themselves, you see.

Oh and let's not forget the entire 1 lb box of penne noodles they put in their oven. Clearly they were cooking up something.

What? Me? In trouble?

This is what I refer to as Emma's Princess Hobo outfit. Liberally dusted with flour, of course.

"But I looooooves my sister! She's not bad!"

"Logan! Get off!"

"Fine! Then YOU get to take the fall alone!"

Apparently 5 minutes, under the cover of watching a movie, was long enough to coat the living room, sofa, kitchen and part of the dining room in two kinds of flour. Fortunately, they hadn't gotten to the whole wheat flour by the time Eric found them. That would have been another 5 lbs all over.

These babies need bells! Or constant video monitoring. Maybe low-jacks.

Or maybe I just need a fairy godmother. Ack!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Time Keeps on Slippin'...

Into the futuuuuuuuure! You can hear that song, can't you?

Anyway, during my month of not writing there've been several birthdays, including that of my new niece, Madeline; 2 caramel cheesecakes to die for; Christmas Eve celebration with my SIL and nephews and a whole lotta screaming/squealing; Christmas and more squealing; rotten behavior; excellent behavior; tons of urine soaked clothing and bedding (because that's what potty training really is: Olympian Loads of Laundry); New Years Eve, where we got to go to an actual adult party sans offspring; caramels and fudge and a decided lack of shipping of Xmas gifts or creation of Xmas cards.

Now, Caitlin is back in school and the twins are running amok. So much so that it deserves its very own post, with photos.

Oh and the best part? Logan has finally decided to start potty training. That was his gift to us for Christmas.

I kid you not.

Now I just need to get some safe time where I can edit the photos to show you.

So! How is your new year going?
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