Playing “I Spy” with a cat

Yeah, this one’s been around for a long while but never fails to crack me up.  (Spoiler: the cat wins)


My MixAdventures: Let them eat (pink) cake!

My daughter’s birthday is coming up this Thursday – the big 17. (We’ll pause here for a moment of reflection on how the F–k she got to be that old this fast!)  Because our weeks right now are filled with craziness, between school, work, drivers ed, civic orchestra, homework and getting everyone fed, clothed and transported as needed, I was getting a bit worried about having a chance to either make a cake or consume said cake with the birthday girl.  Add to this the following weekend has my husband out of town and my daughter performing Solo & Ensemble (a yearly torture thing where the kids have the opportunity to play a solo that is rated by a judge.) and beginning an ACT prep course and you’ll see our dilemma.

As it turned out, my daughter had a driving session (on actual roads! with other drivers/cars present! OMG!) and a rehearsal with her S&E accompanist so she’d be out of the house for several hours.  This gave me the opportunity to pull together a quick party.  Less you, dear reader, think I am any sort of Martha Stewart type who did so effortlessly planned a sophisticated soiree with homemade favors and tasteful decor, go ahead and wipe that thought right on out of your head.  We’re talking delivered pizza, paper plates, bottles of pop or beer (for the grownups, silly).  One thing that I decided wouldn’t be store-bought, delivered or, hopefully, made of cardboard, was the cake.  Time to pull out the trusty KitchenAid and try my hand at a cake.

Okay, since I had just a short time (I also had to squeeze in catch-up work, oversight of my son’s work and assorted Sunday duties), and it had to work right the first time, I decided to skip a step or two by using a box cake mix. Two boxes of yellow cake mix later, I was pouring  batter into pans and popping them into the oven.  The frosting I did decide to tackle from scratch and nothing was going to do but good old fashioned buttercream.  I found a recipe on the Food Network site that looked easy enough and set about making it.  Butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream went into the bowl in the appropriate order. The final touch was several drops of red food coloring.  My girl likes color – her hair is a lovely shade of blue at the moment – so nothing would do but a tasteful pink icing.

Frost, frost, layer, frost, frost and all looked lovely.  Sadly, I neglected to take a photo before we all dug in so you’ll just have to imagine the magnificence of the whole from the remaining bits. I’m pleased to say it was a big success – the birthday girl was tickled and everyone was quite complimentary.  I’ll call this one a success.

Yay, yellow cake and pink frosting!

Yay, yellow cake and pink frosting!

Makeup after 50 – a work in progress

One of my birthday gifts this year was a gift certificate from a local salon, Todd’s Room, that is known for fantastic makeup artists.  Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, wondering if my husband was subtly attempting to tell me I needed help – this is a gift I requested. (as previously discussed, I am pretty exacting with my gift suggestions.)  It should come as no surprise that as I approached – and then sailed past – the big 5-0, things on my face are different than they used to be.  My eyes have changed shape, my skin is dryer and gravity is having it’s way with my visage.  The same ol’ tips and tricks I’d learned over the years were no longer working and I didn’t know quite how to adjust.  It was time to call in a pro.

Todd’s Room came very highly recommended to me by a good friend, Laura, who has been visiting the place for years.  I got the name of her favorite artist and made my first appointment for an eyebrow shaping.  Here’s the thing: I am terribly intimidated by places like this. They are inevitably filled with ladies of a certain income who are used to having things done for them – they have standing appointments to have their hair color tweaked, have their personal shopper on speed-dial and wouldn’t consider ever painting their own nails.  This ain’t me.  Yes, I visit a salon regularly for haircuts but I generally do my own hair color, my own shopping and my own toes.  I’m also pretty shy (I mask that well) and having to talk to someone one-on-on that I don’t know for any extended period of time is scary too.  Therefore, walking into places like this where the chairs are filled with expensive blondes is daunting, but walk in I did.

As it turned out, Todd’s is pretty down to earth.  The makeup artists work in a large room with several chairs and mirrors.  There’s some comfy chairs in the center as sort of a waiting area, music (not too loud) in the background.  I believe I saw a dog snoozing in a bed in the corner but it may have been someone’s coat, too.  Jeanie, my chosen artist, was ready for me just after I walked in and away I went.  After a few questions, she went to work with her tweezers and in under 15 minutes, I had nicely shaped eyebrows that actually matched each other.  We talked make up and my needs for a few minutes and I made my next appointment – this time for a makeup lesson.

I spent 2 weeks being inordinately impressed with my eyebrows until make up day arrived. I invited my friend Laura to meet me there – ostensibly so she could benefit from all of the learning but really because I wanted a bit of support.  Jeanie was ready for me when I arrived and away we went.  After a few questions about what products I used and what issues I felt I was having, she set to work.  It didn’t take too long to discover that for the last several years at least, I’d been doing EVERYTHING WRONG.  Jeanie never came out an said this, of course.  She just gently corrected my assumptions along the way and helped me understand what was needed.  Here’s a few of the important lessons I learned:

  • Sparkly eyeshadow is a big NO once your eyelids start to get droopy.  Seems all that glitter just accentuates the “texture” – as Jeanie so tactfully referred to what I’d call wrinkles.  Time to bid a sad goodbye to all that shiny, shiny Mac in the little black pots.
  • Eyeshadow goes on first, then foundation, powder and all the rest.  Otherwise you’re just dropping bits of eyeshadow powder all over the pretty foundation you’ve just carefully patted into place.  Darker color (matte, if you please) on lid (apply 3 times for staying power), lighter color to brow, then lid color is extended up past the crease and blended nicely.
  • The time for liquid liner and cat eyes is past (not that I’ve done either for years, truth be told) so no great sadness there.  Instead, she recommended a nice gel-based pencil, applied to the top lashline first, outer to inner, a bit at a time.  (lower liner is done after foundation/powder/bronzer is in place)
  • It’s time for Teri to accept using a real foundation.  The tinted moisturizer I’ve been using for years is fine on the days I don’t wear makeup but it’s time to allow a bit more coverage.  Powder is needed too, to set the foundation and make later applications of bronzer and blush go on smoothly.
  • And speaking of blush, the Nars “The Multiple” I’ve been relying on for 3-4 years needs to go as well.  Again, sparkles don’t do me any favors.

There was much more, of course, but these were some of the biggies.  All of this information was imparted gently, while showing me how to do each step and allowing me to make the decisions about shades, depth of application and more.  The whole thing took about an hour and ended with Jeanie writing the directions for all of this down, along with the colors and brands used, so I had step by step directions for my own at-home attempts.  Also deeply appreciated was the lack of hard-sell of product.  Todd’s sells their own line of make up, along with a few other select lines but Jeanie suggested I wear my new face for the day, look over what I had at home and then decide what I needed to buy.  I did just that and two days later ended up at the shop to purchase the foundation, liner and lipstick. (reasonable prices, too – especially for someone who’s been buying Mac)

I skipped off home to show off my new look to great acclaim.  Husband and daughter were very complimentary. Son didn’t notice but that’s probably a good thing – he’d only notice if it was startling.  The best part: the next morning I was able to do a fairly decent job of recreating my new look. Jeanie’s directions were so easy to follow I could handle things easily.  It takes a bit longer than I used to spend and I do miss all of my sparkles but I really am liking this new-ish me.  I don’t necessarily look younger – but I’m no longer making myself look older. If you’re in the area, give Todd’s Room in Birmingham, MI a call and ask for Jeanie.


Why do school conferences make me question my existence?

Last night was the thrice-yearly school conference night at our kids high school. Because we’re on a trimester plan, we get this fun three times a year. It’s not the process or set up that strikes dread in my heart every time conference time rolls around. It’s handled pretty well, actually – teachers in 4 main rooms, all arranged in alphabetical order with a handy map to get you there. As long as you come in armed with your kid’s teacher’s names, you’ll get to the people you need without too much fuss. You’ll also have an opportunity to sugar-up on bake sale goodies (fund the orchestra!), buy a sweatshirt (fund football!) or any number of money-raising options to support the various activities and clubs at the school. This is all fine, expected and no problem to handle or experience.

As anyone who has ever been to a cattle-call type conference knows, you will not see every teacher. We have two kids at this school so chances are even lower. Therefore, we have to determine the highest priority teachers we need to hit. You know what that means – the classes that either child is having any sort of issue with: trouble with material, missing homework, general shenanigans and monkeyshines, etc. Important stuff, to be sure, but not always the most fun. We sit with each teacher, review transcripts, discuss options and suggestions and move on to the next teacher. And so on, and so on. It all boils down to the same basic thing: I have two very smart kids who aren’t particularly driven. They have all the ability in the world but not a lot of interest in using what they have – at least not on the things that they don’t want to. Give my son a song and an instrument and he’ll sit all day and night trying to noodle it out. Give my daughter pen and paper and she creates wonderful things. Ask them to care about Chem 2 and you’ve got a battle on your hands.

I recognize this because this is where I was in high school. In middle school, I was a smart kid in a dumb school that got A’s just for showing up unarmed and not high. My parents pulled me out and put me in a private school where I was well and truly challenged and I had no idea how to cope. Over time I scraped together enough skills to make it through high school and into a decent college but never graduated. Here’s the thing: I didn’t see the point. I didn’t care enough to understand why it mattered and what limitations it would put on me in later life. Since that time I’ve been incredibly lucky and have landed in a career I never saw coming in a field I never had considered but getting there was a series of serendipitous happenings that would defy the belief of any Hollywood writer, including, but not limited to, the invention of the Internet. Over those years I’ve learned to care, to work hard and to enjoy the benefits that comes from this work but I am incredibly lucky to have bounced into my path.

I think I’m a pretty smart person but I see abilities in my kids I’ve never dreamed of. They’re quicker, sharper and more adept than me in many ways. But they are just as unimpressed with the possibilities that I was at their age. What frightens me is how well I understand how truly lucky I am to have landed where I am. If they follow my path, will the same serendipity follow them? Maybe, maybe not. But we likely shouldn’t bank on it. But back to conference night…

Step 1 of Post-Conference Club is don’t talk about Post-Conference Club. My husband and I ride home in near silence. One of us might start a sentence: “maybe we oughta take away internet access?…” or “It’s that South Park crap, right?” but inevitably our voices trail off. We’ve said these things before, we’ve tried many, we get the same results.

Step 2 of PCC is The Talk. That’s when one or both of us report to each child separately about what we’ve learned and where they need to step up. Said talk might include the following ingredients (in no particular order):

  • The bit of encouragement: “Your math teacher appreciates that you aren’t drawing so much anime on your worksheets anymore”.
  • The dangling of the rewards/consequences: “You do understand that if you want to go on the band/orchestra/French club trip, you have to hit your grades, right?”
  • The tearful recrimination: “But you swore this tri was going to be different!”
  • The ‘we’re just trying to help you understand the impact on your future!’: “blah blah blah blah blah” (as apparently heard by my children)

This is largely how it goes:


This sends me very quickly into step 3 of PCC: self-recrimination. I begin questioning myself and all I’ve done up till now as a mom. The mistakes I’ve apparently made to mold these bright and eager minds into the just-can’t-be-bothered teens of today. Do I work too many hours? (without a doubt). Too many preservatives in their diet? (duh) . Did that one time I largely wrote my son’s summer essay have a bigger impact than I thought? (well, maybe. But who the hell assigns a 10-year-old to read King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, in damned near middle English, over the summer and expect an essay on the importance of goal setting by the first day of school? Eesh!) Whatever the cause – and it’s likely stuff I can’t even fathom, I circle down into the “I’m a bad mom” pool of despair, questioning why anyone decided I should be allowed to have shared responsibility for these two creatures. This step will last 2-3 days.

Slowly but surely, the memory of this trimester’s conference will fade into the mists of time. We’ll perhaps make an improvement or two or maybe not. But I’ll bet my cat there’ll be a new set of crap opportunities for growth to discuss next time around and the steps begin anew.

Maybe next tri, no matter what’s going on with grades, my husband and I will only sit with the teachers of classes the kids are rocking. And there are those classes and they aren’t just orchestra. A reminder that perhaps we’ve done *something* right along the way would be a good thing.

In the meantime, I’m open to other coping strategies. What works for you? Or, as I secretly suspect, are everyone else’s kids perfect?