In Like a Lion

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
– from Daffodils, by William Wordsworth

Well, hello there, friends.  Is it really possible that, after blogging nearly every day for the month of February, I let nearly all of March go by without writing once?  Indeed it is.  Things were a little rough around the homestead and in my family at the beginning of the month, and I was dealing with a lot of things that aren’t entirely mine to share, but because they were/are so big, it often felt impossible to write about anything else, so . . . I just didn’t write at all.

Anyway, things on the homefront have improved a bunch, and while things in my family remain unsettled, I feel like I have some space and distance to be able to focus on other things.

If we’re pals on Facebook, you know that one of the biggest house issues got solved last Friday – we finally got seating for the great room!

couches 1 couches 2

I love them so much I could cry.  We’d looked everywhere we could think of for furniture and we found at least one L-shaped set up that we loved but that was way too big.  Then, a few weeks ago, my brother was here, and out of the blue I asked him, “Where else can we look for furniture?”  He said, “Bassett.”  Which we hadn’t even remembered existed.  We found one nearby, went that day, picked out this set up, came home and taped out the dimensions on the floor to be sure they would fit, and went back and bought it, just before the end of a 15% off sale.  They are so super comfy, and I haven’t spent an evening downstairs in the family room since these arrived.  I can’t wait to find a rug to really tie the room together.

A couple of weekends ago, Karen and I took an overnight trip to Virginia Beach, just because.  We got a room right on the beach, and I finally got to fly the kite that’s literally been in my trunk for going on 6 years now.

dolphin kite

After we sat in the hot tub for a while, we got dressed up and headed to Macaroni Grill, where Karen had almost TWO whole alcoholic drinks, made besties with our waitress, and flirted shamelessly (and expertly) with every male employee her BFF (our waitress) called over to our table.  I haven’t laughed so hard and so long in a really long time.  It was awesome.  We also saw a ton of high school juniors dressed in prom gear eating dinner before heading to a ring dance, which made us feel about 100 years old because they looked like babies.

So that was my March.  How was yours?

Shamrock Cake

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
–Irish Blessing

Finally.  It’s cake time.  I found the inspiration for this cake on Pinterest, and the original link is here.  She doesn’t give a tutorial, and I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll give some pictures and tips.  You can do this with any color scheme – rainbow is very popular these days, too!

I thought this would be a great thing to do with Ellie and Adam when they came up to DC for the circus.  When they got here, I mixed up the cake batter (I used one box of white cake mix, but homemade is certainly great, too) and separated it into  6 small bowls and mugs, 1/2 cup of batter per container.  I had some batter left; probably enough to make at least two more layers, but that would have made for a disastrously tall cake!  Then I dropped varying amounts of green food coloring into each of them to get deeper and darker greens and let Ellie and Adam mix them up.  (I took the original blogger’s suggestion to leave one layer white, but I don’t think I will next time.  It’s just a matter of preference.)

I can’t tell you the precise number of drops of food coloring per bowl, except for the lightest green, which has only one drop.  I do wish I could have gotten darker greens at the end for more contrast, but this turned out just fine.  I suspect food gel would give you a more customizable array.

Next, I poured each bowl into a greased 5-inch cake pan.  The original blogger used 6-inch pans, and I can’t say really why I bought 5-inch, but either would be ok.  I only had two, so I started with the darkest two batters, since they would be the bottom layers.  I baked them at whatever temperature the box said, but for much less time.  I started with 10 minutes, and when they weren’t done, I kept checking every two minutes or so.  I think I found 14 minutes to be the perfect amount of time.  However hot your oven runs, they’re done when a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

Once they’re done, they have to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes.  This is where the patience comes in (the kids were long in bed by this time).  After 10 minutes, turn them out on a wire rack to cool completely, and then regrease and refill the cake pans with the next lightest batters.

The cake on the right had a slight dome to it, and since it was the base layer and I wanted it to be flat, I just took a serrated knife and cut the dome off.

Repeat until all your layers are done.

Next is frosting.  I used canned vanilla frosting, and it took about a can and a half.  I cannot emphasize enough the cardinal rule of frosting cakes: make sure the layers are completely cool before frosting.  Otherwise, you’ll have crumby frosting, and no one likes crumby frosting.

Start with the darkest layer and cover the flat top with a thin coating of frosting.  Build up, from darkest to lightest.

When you frost the top layer, you can let the frosting fall over the sides and smooth it out.  I found that it was easiest to sort of do a thin “base coat” of frosting on the sides and then go back over it with more frosting to make it look pretty.  For decoration, I used the aerosol frosting from Wilton; I found it at Target in the baking aisle, but I’ve seen it in the grocery store, too.  It’s like EZ Cheese, but frosting.  Awesome.  It comes with four different frosting tips.  For the base, I used the star tip, and for the shamrock, I used the thin piping tip.  It was hard to get used to the pressure it took to make the frosting come out, so I ended up with more green on top than I would have liked.  But it worked out perfectly, because I just took a toothpick and swirled the edges of the shamrock into the white of the frosting underneath and got this neat textured look on top!

After the circus and the museum and the butterflies on Saturday, we had dinner at Red Robin and then came home for dessert.  The kids were super excited and, I’m not going to lie, so was I.  I couldn’t wait to cut into it, and I wasn’t disappointed:

I was so in love.  The kids were thrilled, and they gobbled it up, along with a little vanilla ice cream!  It was delicious!

You guys, this is so easy, you can do it for any holiday or color scheme you can think of.  I’d love to see pics if you attempt this!

Ellie and Adam’s Day of Fun!*

(* to be said in your best Janice voice)

To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kind of scary. I’ve wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad.
– Jack Handy

So, my niece and nephew, heretofore referred to as the Princess and the Conductor, came up last Friday night to spend the weekend.  Friday night, they helped me make a special Shamrock Cake – to be blogged separately – and then went to bed to rest up for the big day on Saturday.

We took the Metro into DC – which they love.

Decked out in St. Paddy's Day finest!

Everyone smiled when they saw Ellie with her shamrock deely-bobbers (that’s what I’ve always called them – what do you call them?).  We arrived at the Verizon Center, and they were super, super excited because we were going to the circus, which they’ve never been to before.

I bought Adam a toy (Ellie declined) and we headed to our seats.  The clowns came out for the pre-show, and the kids were laughing and clapping.  Then, the lights went down, and were were asked to stand for the National Anthem.  And then this happened:

After that, it was basically non-stop awesomeness:

Strongmen

glow-in-the-dark jumpers

And my absolute favorite:

Tightrope walkers

But wait – it gets awesomer:

On a bike!

There was lots of other stuff I didn’t get pictures of – more clowns, tumblers, those guys who run around those giant hamster wheel things, oh – and the rope swingers, the ones who wrap the ropes (or fabric, really) around their hands or feet and slide down and back up.  Amazing.

There were animals, too, of course, but aside from the elephants, watching them just made me sad.

I don’t know if it was the PETA assholes outside the entrance protesting making me feel guilty or what, but the horses and the tigers were just a let down.  The tigers seemed almost drugged, and watching the horses run around those tiny rings, with their heads constricted so they couldn’t rear . . . it felt dirty.

Anyway, the big finale was a guy who set himself on fire and launched himself across the arena.  It probably goes without saying that that was Adam’s favorite part – boys and fire, you know.

Afterwards, we took a break for lunch, then headed to the National Museum of Natural History on the Mall.  On our way, we wandered through the Sculpture Garden:

Adam loved this giant bunny.

Once we got to the museum, we wandered around the ocean hall, where we saw the jaws of the largest shark ever known, and then the mammal hall, which had all sorts of animals from all over the world:

(Sorry for the quality; that one’s from my camera.)

Finally, finally, after a walk through the gems and minerals hall, it was time for the big deal, the reason we came in the first place – a trip through the Butterfly Pavilion.  It was as neat and amazing as billed – walking through hundreds of live butterflies of all species, nothing between you and them but air.

One landed on Ellie’s leis, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture.  This lady had one land in her hair:

Neither of them wanted to hold the paintbrush this big guywas on, so I took one for the team:

And then.  And then.  All of a sudden, Adam hollered, “Mel-mel, come here, look!”  And this is what we saw:

Untitled from Melanie on Vimeo.

Yeah!  A butterfly being born!  And two more trying their hardest to break out of their cocoons!  How cool is that?

By the time our turn in the Pavilion was over, the kids were worn out and ready to go home.  We drove down to Fredericksburg (they both fell asleep) to pick up David, whose car had broken down, then had dinner and came home.  Then it was time for the super special Shamrock Cake!  I know you can’t wait to see it, but you’ll just have to tune in tomorrow!

Is This Thing On?

Space, like time, engenders forgetfulness; but it does so by setting us bodily free from our surroundings and giving us back our primitive, unattached state.
– Thomas Mann

Well, hello there, internet.  How are you?

Yeah.  It’s been a while, I know.  But I’m not making any apologies or explanations.

Anyway, I thought you might like to see this t-shirt I recently bought for my niece (aka the Princess):

from ThinkGeek.com

This is the only way I can get behind her whole princess obsession.  I don’t want her growing up internalizing all this Disney crap about how you’re supposed to sit around and wait for a man to come save you or make your life complete.  She loves those goddamned princesses, though.  I’m trying to do what I can.

So what else?  Oh yes.  If we’re Facebook friends, you probably know I recently went on a lovely vacation with David, since I went back on my word to have an internet-free vacation about 10 seconds after we set foot on the train in Chicago.  It was pretty awesome.  I will do some posts with pictures soon.  I think.  We did a LOT of stuff – it was the busiest vacation I’ve ever been on.  I did not, however, get engaged on that vacation.  I’m a little sad about that; I’d hoped he’d ask, but I’m trying to trust the universe on this one.  I know it’s in the cards, I just kind of want it to hurry up and happen already.

Am I the only one who thinks this year has FLOWN by?  I mean, Christ, it’s the middle of September already.  It feels like last week was Snowpocalypse 2010, and now it’s practically October.

While we were on vacation, I got a new cell phone – the Droid 2.  I love it so much.  It has changed my life.  No more dumb phones for me!

Tomorrow, we’re going to the Texans-Redskins game – a friend on FB was selling his tickets to this game, and it’s on the list, so . . . I’m excited, even though I really hate the Redskins.

Are you reading Rachel Wilkerson?  I can’t remember how I found her, but it was very recently, and I’m kind of digging her.  I’ve got at least one idea for a post inspired by something she’s written, so you’ll be hearing more about that in the weeks to come, I hope.

Anyway, as usual, even though I wasn’t writing, I was reading all of you who write, and thinking of those of you who don’t.  I hope you”re all well and happy!

Choose My Bicycle!

The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.
– Christopher Morley

David had to go to the bike store today to get reflectors put on and I met him there after I went to the movies (The Losers = awesome).  I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a new bike for a little while, and we just signed up for a 19-mile ride at the end of the month, so now is as good a time as any.  I found two that I really liked and test rode them both.  First, the Breezer Citizen:

Pros:  It’s SO cute, it comes with fenders, a chain guard (and I usually ride in pants, so that’s useful), automatic lights on the front and back (pedal powered), the spring-loaded basket holder on the back, 3-speed on the handle bars (like a motorcycle), and a bell. I can imagine myself tooling around town, to the farmer’s market and stuff, in this adorable but durable bike.

Cons: Maybe it’s not so sporty for the kind of riding we do (road and trail riding; no off-road stuff), though the guy at the bike shop said it should do just fine.  I also worry maybe three speeds isn’t enough, though I tested them all on my test ride (and I don’t use anywhere near all of the gears on my current 10-speed).  As a womens bike, it only has one place for a water bottle cage.  Also, I don’t love the color (it’s more yellowy-cream than this picture shows) and it’s the only color it comes in this model year.

Next up, the Marin San Rafael:

Pros: It’s definitely a good bike for the riding we do, the seat has awesome shock absorbers, so I hardly feel bumps, the handle bars are adjustable, it’s got two places for water bottle cages (because it’s a men’s/unisex bike – I guess woman don’t need as much hydration), 10 speeds more than fulfills my needs, and I love the sparkly dark blue.

Cons: as-is, it doesn’t have reflectors on the front or back (but those are easy enough to add), and no spring-loaded basket holder (which I really love) or bell – and it’s already a bit more expensive than the Breezer, so adding these things brings the price up even more.

I don’t know.  Or maybe I do.  What do you think?