Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Friday, June 25, 2010

Before I Had Children (Installment #1 in a Series)

Before I had children . . .

. . . I did not have a LEGO Bruce Wayne sticker on the back of my Blackberry. (Okay, technically, the kids predated the Blackberry, but I'm quite confident that if Thing 1 and Thing 2 did not exist, Bruce would not be lurking on the backside of my smart phone. But doesn't he look powerful? I tell you, nothing says high-powered attorney like a sticker of a fictional billionaire constructed out of plastic bricks.)

I also did not have two Bruce Wayne action figures in my office . . . along with a myriad of other toys. Let me be clear here: sans kids, I totally would have some toys in my office. Buddha magnet on my bulletin board?

Yeah, that's all me. (And, yes, the sign in the background does say "You are the best mom in the world.")

But because of my kids, I have, inter alia (that's fancy lawyer talk for "among other things"), a Brobee doll from Yo Gabba Gabba, some sort of Pokemon, a Kim Possible doll (because my kids think I kick butt; see "best mom," above) and various McDonald's toys, all residing on a shelf at the back of my computer desk.

Cardboard Baby did not come from the kids; this was a gift from my friend, Lindsay. Random? Yes. Staying in my office forever? You betcha.

Guido and Luigi from "Disney PIXAR's Cars" hang out on the top of a bookcase:

Kachina doll in the background belongs - technically - to my oldest son. Not really sure if he is aware that he owns a kachina doll; hope that he is not reading this now. After it was purchased for him by my parents (who - NOTE TO FILE - REFUSED to purchase a similarly pricey kachina doll for their own darling daughter, who begged for one every time we went to Prescott, AZ to visit the grandparents), it was decided that I should keep it in protective custody until he is mature enough not to break it.

Yeah, I'll let you know when we get there.

Also in protective custody: the aforementioned Bruce Wayne action figures, plus two Wonder Woman action figures and a Wonder Pig. "Red Bruce Wayne" actually belongs to me (yes, a gift from the kids), and he's pretty cool - ridiculously metrosexual red coat peels off to reveal a Batsuit underneath. Never seen one like him. He lives at my office, because the dorgi dog LURRRRRVES to eat action figures. Most of the boys' superhero pals are missing at least one limb. Many have been decapitated. I have suggested to Connor (who LURRRRRVES to build things out of cardboard boxes and other recycled materials) that a vet hospital for wounded superheroes should be next on his list. Another note to file: toys made out of recyclables? Adorable idea when viewed in the pages of Family Fun or Martha Stewart Kids. Not so adorable when cluttering up your house . . . . Perhaps this explains the sigh and eye roll I always got from my own mother when I suggested that the perfect rainy day activity would be to make a fleet of flying saucers out of paper plates and tin foil. (May also explain my lack of kachina doll?)

Anyway, I have advised the dorgi dog that, given that his given name is ACE THE BATDOG, chewing on the Bat Clan is tantamount to cannibalism. He keeps munching away. The funny thing is, no one gets mad at him - not when he mistakes action figures for rawhide chews, not when he poops on the floor because he is too lazy to request entrance to the backyard . . . . After cleaning up the third Ace mess in as many days (they have tapered off as he has gotten used to the place, but they aren't entirely a memory), my husband looked at me and asked, "Is it weird that I can't get mad at him because he's so darn cute and pleasant otherwise?" Nope, not weird at all - I share the sentiment, and the kids do as well: "ACE! Don't eat Lex Luthor's arm! Oh, well, actually he kind of looks cooler that way. More menacing. Hey, thanks, Ace!" My working hypothesis is that Ace is a grifter - a small Irish Traveler in a dog suit who is putting the con on all of us. And we are falling for it, hook, line and sinker.

So Bruce #1 resides in my office to ensure that he does not have a run-in with the grifter cannibal dog. Bruce #2 and the Wonder Woman turned up when we started cleaning out toy bins at the beginning of the summer. Bruce #2 was placed into my protective custody, and I decided to appropriate the WW not so much to protect them from the dog as from the boys. Not that I am accusing my boys of misogyny, but . . . every WW that they owned prior to these two, and every other female hero, comes up missing a body part. And, no, the dog was not contracted to make the hit. All mutilation has been at the boys' own hands. When these two WW disappeared, I presumed that they met the fate of all other female action figures at Casa McGlinchey (whoops, lost a leg - better toss her under the bed before Mom gives us a lecture about the right way to treat a lady). So now they share shelf space with my collection of Soviet leader matryoshki. Hey, I wrote my honors government thesis on emerging elites in post-Communist Eastern Europe. I'm entitled. Also - tip for travelers - when traveling in Eastern Europe, nesting dolls are the perfect souvenir. They are, by definition, quite portable.

Do you like the fact that Diana #1 appears to be punching Bruce #1 in the chest? Her arm sticks out that way, and the only position in which I could prop her was that one, but . . . yeah, it still makes me laugh.

One more photo from my office - Parker's Kung Zhu hamster, Drayko, in full battle armor, hanging out on a shelf. He was only visiting for the day, having gone to preschool that morning for a quick show-and-tell.

Speaking of which . . . before kids, I had no shot of winning "Let's Make a Deal." Now? I have the full-on lock. First of all, I don't just carry a purse anymore. Oh, no, party people - it is summer, I am a swim team mom, and so I carry a ginormous oilcloth bag at all times. (Yes, it's monogrammed. Need you ask?) I carry my purse, too, but - because my wallet, phone, etc. are constantly getting tossed from purse to oilcloth bag and back as I move from work to home to pool - I end up taking oilcloth bag along, even to the office, because I can never be entirely sure that wallet/phone/etc. have ended up in one place and not the other. So, oilcloth bag sort of serves as a funky briefcase. Last time I checked, contents of oilcloth bag included: various legal documents; two bottles of sunscreen; a silver tablespoon (don't even ask); a Fisher-Price Imaginext Joker Cycle mismatched with a Penguin action figure; three Uglydolls (keychained-sized Wage and Mr. Kasoogi, medium-sized Ninja Batty Shogun); assorted Yu-Gi-Oh cards; several Sonic straws (because you always need straws); a couple of ketchup packages (ditto); multiple packages of Glow Sticks; various swim meet ribbons; and a camera.

Please do remind me to add one Kung Zhu hamster, answering to the name of Drayko, before I leave the office. Or there will be hell to pay over the weekend . . . .

(Postscript: Before I had children:

1. My departure from the office was not delayed fifteen minutes because I could not figure out how to set my child's battle hamster to "hibernate." Thing wouldn't stop chirping at me . . . and I just didn't want to deal with the unwanted attention at the valet stand in our parking garage.

2. I never had occasion to use the words "battle" and "hamster" in the same sentence.)

More Kid Art (and Kid Musings)

Going through personal files in my office, and came across two more Connor masterpieces, circa 2nd grade. The first is a companion piece to his elevation for a mixed-use residential project. Yes, you are looking at a depiction of the Montgomery Plaza Super Target. God love him - he knows where his mother's heart resides. Second grade? Yeah, I was PTA president back then, as well as a room mom, and I was making, on average, 5.3 MPST runs per week. If I managed to make it two days without a MPST visit, the checkers would get concerned and ask where I'd been. I was the Norm Peterson of MPST. I am proud to say that I only make it to the store around three times per week these days. Despite my husband's initial concerns, this scaling back has not resulted in the collapse of either the local economy or Western civilization.

Second item was intended as an homage to Diego Rivera:

Finally, I found a short but sweet (and funny) journal entry dating to November 16, 2007 (so first semester of second grade):


I am thankful for my cat Max. Because when I am depressed he makes me feel better. And he hurts my brother before he hurts me. And he is really silly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sweet Charity

Subtitle for this post, as suggested by my spouse: "S**t My Five Year-Old Says."

The scene: spouse is driving, five year-old is in the backseat, and ten year-old is not present, meaning that five year-old is able to get a word in edgewise.

We recently have come to terms with the fact that we don't really know the five year-old, as what we see 99% of the time is the five year-old standing in the shadow of the ten year-old. How does one get noticed when standing in the shadow? Certainly not by mimicking the shadow-caster; rather, the natural tendency seems to be to distance yourself as much as possible from the bigger person. Thus, because big brother is ponderous and pontificating and opinionated, and likes to throw around a bunch of two-dollar words, little brother's stock in trade is the quick quip, the silly face, the pratfall, the gross sound effect, etc.

However . . . increasingly it is becoming obvious that "silly Parker" is a character - part of who he is, certainly, but not all of who he is. His brain is much more active and engaged than is immediately apparent. As we are heading into his kindergarten year, we are seeking out - nay, forcing - opportunities to let little brother shine in his own light. Hence, we have switched from a zone defense to man-to-man coverage, and whenever possible Mom takes one boy and Dad takes the other.

This was one of those times.


"Yes, Parker?"

"Does that girl Charity have a lot of brothers and sisters?"

"Um, I'm not sure who you're talking about."

"You know, Charity. [At this point, Dad decides that this must be a new friend from preschool. Dad always tends to be the last one to find out about new additions to the classroom - actually, he finds out when everyone else does, but he is late in taking actual note of the information.] Does she have both of her parents, or just a mom or a dad?"

"I'm not sure, Parker."

"Well, I figure that she has to come from a big family, or else she must be missing a mom or a dad, because she sure needs a lot of stuff. It seems like we're giving stuff to her all of the time."


"She just seems really needy, Dad."


Dad then proceeded to clarify that, while, yes, Charity is a girl's name, the charity at issue is a concept rather than a single person.

But Parker wasn't finished thinking about "that girl Charity."

"What color is Charity, Dad?"

"What color do you think Charity is, Parker?" (Note: This was not a cop-out by Dad. Well, not entirely. He was genuinely interested in the answer. At age five, Connor was completely unaware of skin color - almost to the point of absurdity. Asked to identify a person who happened to be the only dark-skinned person in the room, Connor was likely to respond, "The fifth guy from the left, wearing a red shirt, tall, with big ears.")

"Um, kind of a nice light brown. Because no one's really white, Dad. We're CALLED white, but LOOK AT US [stretching out his forearm]. We are NOT WHITE. We're just sort of tan."

Nice to know that in my five year-old's world, people exist on a spectrum of browns, from light tan to chocolate. Nice, also, to have confirmation that all of the lights are on and the wheels are well-oiled and turning. The natural tendency of a parent, I guess, is to focus on the differences between your children, so it's a bit of a revelation - and oddly reassuring - when you see the similarities. Hearing my husband recount the car conversation, all I could think of was a late December car conversation that I had with Parker's big brother, age 4. Connor explained that he knew lots about Santa, and Frosty, and Rudolph, and it was clear in his mind why they each merited their own songs - but who in the heck was this Felice character, and why did she get a song of her own?

"You know, Mom . . . Felice. Felice NAVIDAD?"

Ah. Of course.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Snarky Cupcake Recipe Reviewer

Parker and I spent some time this evening perusing my “Hello, Cupcake” book, and we tagged a couple of decorating ideas to try over the summer. I tend to find the actual recipes that come in these books a bit tedious, though – tedious and overrated. Inevitably, I don’t incorporate the dry ingredients enough (high on my list of things for which life is too short – sifting), the cupcakes themselves don’t rise all of the way, and they come out as dense little cornpone-like lumps. So, Duncan, Betty and I have reached an agreement: they don’t try to practice law, and I bow to their superior talents in the cupcake mixin’ arena.

I do like to make my own icing – it tastes better, and you can control the quantity. Is it just me, or have others noticed that a can of icing does not stretch to cover a full batch of box-mix cupcakes? Like packages of hot dogs and hot dog buns – they should match up, unit for unit, but they don’t. If you have never read the book “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” by the British fantasy writers Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, you should. (I promise that I will tie this into the subject of cupcake icing in just a tick.) It’s a tremendously funny, sort-of parody of “The Omen,” wherein the Second Coming and the Anti-Christ get switched at birth, so the family hand-picked by the devil to raise the demon spawn can’t figure out why the kid is so nice, and vice-versa. Anyway, in the book, angels and demons walk among us, and over time the demons have refined their evil-doings to be a tad more subtle:
Many phenomena – wars, plagues, sudden audits – have been advanced as evidence for the hidden hand of Satan in the affairs of Man, but whenever students of demonology get together the M25 London orbital motorway is generally agreed to be among the top contenders for Exhibit A.

I fully agree with this principle, as I firmly believe that Satan had a hand in designing the I30 traffic cloverleaf in Arlington, Texas. Likewise, I believe that some minor demon is responsible for packaging hot dogs and hot dog buns in non-match-y quantities, and the same guy probably decided how big to make the frosting container.

Or, it’s entirely possible that I’m just a frosting-abusing freak. After all, I was raised by a woman with a serious frosting addiction. Running joke between my dad and me: to my mom, a five-layer cake is one layer of cake topped with four layers of frosting. Why she bothers with the cake at all sort of escapes us; maybe she thinks that you need to have just a little cake in order to actually call it cake?

So I’m serious about my frosting – and I think I’ve perfected my recipe, which I will include at the end of this post. But, cake-wise, I’m all about starting with the box mix. And so it was that I found myself perusing the online version of one of those folksy cooking magazines where every recipe is accompanied by one (or more) of three phrases: “Always requested at family gatherings,” “Always a hit at bake sales,” and/or “Kids love these.” (Variation: “Even my adult children love these.”) Oh, and there’s a fourth phrase that is flogged perhaps more than all of the others combined:

“The pecans make these special.”

In place of “pecans,” feel free to substitute any ridiculously common and/or otherwise obvious ingredient. Example: “This week, Thelma shares her recipe for Chicken Drummettes. The tiny legs severed from the bodies of smallish chickens make these special.”

You get the idea.

I thought that this particular Web site would be a good source of box mix-based cupcake recipes. And I was not disappointed. Some of these represented actual value-added to the boxed mix:

I’ve seen lots of pirate-themed cakes, but the Swiss-Cake-Roll-as-treasure-chest is danged ingenious. So, while the accompanying recipe wasn’t much more than “prepare a box of cake mix following the instructions for cupcakes,” the way that everyday items were incorporated took the finished product to another level. (Or, put another way, “the Swiss Cake Rolls make these special.”)

I also loved these harvest season babies, baked from a spice cake mix to which apples and other ingredients were added. Not only are they decorated super-cute, but the batter additions actually converted the basic spice cake flavor to something different and unique.

Then there were the other 98% . . . . Another pop culture reference: Helen Hunt, playing a gingerbread baker on Saturday Night Live. As a guest on the fictitious (and hilarious) “Delicious Dish” NPR radio program, she points out to the clueless hosts that she added a garage to her gingerbread house, itself made from gingerbread. Then, in the most deadpan voice imaginable, she adds, “I made the cars out of Matchbox cars.” For whatever reason, this phrase stuck with Parnell and me, and whenever we encounter someone purporting to “invent” something that already exists, it’s a race to see who can reference Matchbox cars first. (Hey – unintentional Matchbox pun.)

So, our first Matchbox car creator submitted a recipe for “Candy Corn Cupcakes.” Now, you’re expecting these to incorporate the flavor of candy corn, right? Like the caramel apple cupcakes above? Or, at least, the cupcakes should look like candy corn.

Um, no. The recipe is a plain vanilla (that small pun was intended) cupcake recipe, and once the cupcakes come out of the oven you are instructed to ice them with “frosting of your choice.” Then . . . you top them with candy corn. Except, actually, the recipe calls for “candy corn or other decorations” (Italics theirs). So, what makes them CANDY CORN CUPCAKES is just the candy corn on top . . . which is totally optional.

Another cupcake equivalent of the Matchbox car: “Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes.” Box mix, canned icing . . . but the caramel, pecans and chocolate chips inside “make them special.” Really? You took stuff from the store, added three of the most obvious baking go-to’s that are found in everyone’s pantry (and, at one point or the other, get thrown into EVERYONE’S batter) – and somehow this engenders pride of authorship? And what’s with the title? Shouldn’t these be called CARAMEL PECAN CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES? Because, apparently, to “author” a cupcake recipe you just (1) score a box mix from Duncan or Betty, (2) throw in X and Y objects found in your pantry and (3) name the result “X and Y Cupcakes.” Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. By the way, here’s how you make Easy, Peasy Lemon Squeezy Cupcakes: you buy boxed cake mix, you follow the ingredients for cupcakes, you top the cupcakes with canned frosting, and then you plunk a pre-squeezed wedge of a lemon on top. Correction: you top them with a wedge of lemon or other citrus fruit.

Because the non-specific citrus topper is what “makes them special.”

So, in that spirit, here is my recipe for “Cream Cheese Butter Almond Extract Confectioners’ Sugar Cupcake Frosting”:


• 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 4 tablespoons butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon almond or other flavored extract of your choice
• 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Beat together cream cheese, butter, and extract on medium speed with a heavy-duty mixer for 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time. Increase speed to medium and beat for an additional 5 minutes.

If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, the 10 minutes of whipping time is overkill – 2 or 3 minutes, each cycle, will do it. I have made this with coconut extract and topped the cupcakes with shredded coconut; very yummy. Parker is partial to lemon extract. I am also planning on adding cola-flavored extract to my arsenal and experimenting with a rum-and-coke cupcake (rum down below, coke up top).

I like this recipe because it remains soft, spreadable and pipe-able. Grady Spears’ buttercream recipe (acquired through my oldest child, who took a cooking class from Grady – yes, my ten year-old is my recipe mule) rocks my world, but it quickly returns to a butterlike consistency, and you are constantly having to re-whip it.

So, actually, factually, I can say that the cream cheese makes this frosting special. And I bet that cupcakes iced with this stuff would be a hit at bake sales . . . if I participated in those.

Idea Boards

I have gotten all organized and created idea boards for my summer home decor projects. First board features all of the colors in the main living areas, including the new paint color that I think we will be introducing in our long-neglected office/den. Other highlights: a paintable wallpaper (mimicking pressed tin) that may be going on the ceiling in the kitchen and an image of how the living room ceiling will look when I finish painting it a very pale blue.

Paint color for the den is "Stone" by Benjamin Moore and is actually on the same card as the brown in our dining room. Like that brown, it has a lot of purple in it, which is good, because we need to tie in TCU purple as well as burnt orange and navy (Parnell's extensive collection of sports memorabilia includes a lot of TCU, UT and Cowboys stuff). Plan is to have a bookshelf at ceiling height going all of the way around the room, to hold all of his memorabilia plus a lot of our books, freeing up more space down below. There will also be built-in shelving next to his desk, painted white but with oak-stained shelves, a la the bookcase example here. Love that look (thanks, Martha Stewart!). Martha also has inspired me to paint the ceiling in this room the true "Stone" taupe, with a slightly lighter version on the walls. (I know that darker colors are supposed to recede, but when you put the same color on the floor, it wraps the room in color and really makes things warm.)

Current ugly Berber will be replaced with a tonal carpet tile, and the current ugly leather sofa will be replaced with a dark brown sofa (to tie in all of those lovely autographed footballs).

Parnell authorized the Ikat pillow covers, which are darker than they appear here, and he also showed borderline interest in having a custom Jonathan Adler initial pillow made ("as long as it has purple and orange in it"). I soft-pedaled the fact that JA doesn't have a purple so much as he has a fuchsia on his color palette. Hey - this is the most interest that Parnell has shown in throw pillows in . . . well, ever.

Also thanks to various Martha inspiration rooms, I will be staining the ottoman/coffee table a warm oak color and spray-painting various accent pieces a dark navy. Fun, fun, fun!

Living room is also getting a makeover for the summer, inspired by my Liberty of London throw pillow and frames and my "Keep Calm and Snack On" coffee table tray. Love Martha, love Target! Bought some great fabrics to make envelope shams for existing throw pillows (and by "make envelope shams" I mean "beg my mommy to make envelope shams for me").

Love house porn! Love Martha! Love Target! Love idea boards!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Like (Silent) Lambs to the (Monogramming Machine) Slaughter

My monogramming behavior is escalating. It's like I'm a serial killer, except my victims are inanimate objects rather than people, and my weapons of choice are a needle and some thread. (Well, actually, since I don't own my own monogramming machine, I guess technically my weapon of choice is my Visa card. So I'm not so much a serial killer as someone who hires a hit man - hit stitcher? - a la those cheerleader moms.)

I have now moved on to monogramming furniture. En route to me, courtesy of my friends at Ballard Designs: one monogrammed Parsons chair in "Skyler Check Chocolate." Well, actually, only the slipcover is en route at this point, as I opted to wait on the chair proper while I consider a sofa purchase. (And - proof that good things come to those who wait - they just sent me a 10% off e-coupon.)

So, I guess you could say that the SKIN of a monogrammed Parsons chair is en route to me, making me the Buffalo Bill of serial monogrammers. Okay, enough with the extended metaphor. But I did get a killer deal on the chair, which is very Southern-looking (and will be that much more so with a big M on it, sitting inside a diamond). This will be primarily an occasional chair in our den, but it will also look quite nice at the head of the dining room table.

Many home decorating projects are looming on the horizon. Forgive me, Father of My Children, but I am about to sin - multiple times. The evidence (AKA "billing statements") will be coming to you in the mail. But the hallway/boys' bathroom/den/etc. are ripe for re-dos. Also, I've been watching that strangely addicting "9 By Design" show on Bravo, and that Cortney Novogratz is quite the enabler. Watching her design spaces without rules gives me license to do the same. I knew we were kindred spirits after watching the first episode. Eight and a half months pregnant, she and husband Bob moved their family into temporary quarters en route to their latest design-build, and their first stop after dropping off the suitcases wasn't at the supermarket but, rather, was at the flea market to shop for tsotschkes. By that evening, they had whipped that space into shape and made it totally their own. They probably didn't have milk in the fridge, but hey - they had a giant found art piece that said "Tourists" with a bunch of candles clustered on it! That is SOOOOOOOOOOOOO me. When I spent the better part of a summer studying law in Salzburg, Austria, I brought two duffel bags, and half of one of them was filled with items to decorate my spartan quarters in my nunnery-turned-dormitory. My first shopping purchase upon arrival: a rug. My second: a poster from a local art gallery featuring a really disturbing-looking pottery Mozart (grotesque head, white wig, little legs coming out from under his chin).

I still have that poster in my office. Heck, yes, it's weird - but it's ME weird. Dare I say it, it's purposefully whimsical. And I have all sorts of crazy, crispy plans to inject similar whimsy into the long-neglected spaces within our old, imperfect, funky-and-oh-so-us home.

Stay tuned . . . .