Monday, June 8, 2015

Comparison Really is the Thief of Joy, Our Journey to Loving the Home We Have

 "Comparison is the thief of joy." ~ Theodore Roosevelt

For some reason, this is a hard post to write.  I have a confession to make.  I've been unhappy with my home.  Not with the people in my home.  Not with my neighbors.  Not with the area.  Just my actual home.  And it's become a problem.
Let me give you a little background on how I got here.  My husband and I were high school sweethearts who were married at 19.  Several months before my 22nd birthday, I found out I was pregnant with B.  I had some complications at 10 weeks and my husband was working over an hour and a half away from home and making the commute daily.  I was already discharged from the ER before he could even get to me.  At that point, we made the decision to move closer to his job.  Kids get sick and hurt and I didn't want to be in that situation again. The opportunity to move opened up the month B was due and we moved over an hour away from our home and families just 5 days before B was born.
We spent the next 4 1/2 years living in a 2 bedroom duplex on the MS Gulf Coast and I loved it.  I hadn't lived in a city of any real size since I was 11 years old and even then I lived outside of town.  This was a city and it moved!  There were options for shopping and dining and entertainment and, ohmygosh, we had pizza delivery for probably the first time in our lives.  Country kids in the city for the win!  When I found out that I was pregnant with C, we made the decision to buy a home near our duplex and started the search.  Then Hurricane Katrina put an end to that plan.  Our apartment was uninhabitable.  With only 4ish months left until C was due, we made the decision to move back to our home town because that area was not nearly as adversely affected.  My husband was working away from home and as long as he could get to the heliport we could live anywhere.
We started the search for a home and closed on our first home 3 days before I was scheduled to be induced with C.  It was a 3 bedroom/1 bath ranch house in the country.  Because most of our furniture wasn't usable after Katrina, I brought a baby home to a basically empty house.  In the next few months, we began to furnish and update our starter home to make it our own.  The plan was to stay for three years and move to a bigger house.
Nearly three years into that plan, the company that my husband worked for restructured heavily and because he had no seniority, he was laid off.  Honestly, we were up a creek.  I was pregnant with A.  We had very little savings and a whole lot of bills.  Our mortgage company and the bank that held our car loan were great about working with us, but you still have to pay that bill eventually.  He found another job three months later but the damage was done.  It took us nearly a year to recover financially.  We decided to stay in our house two more years and then sell.
In 2010, I found out that I was pregnant with D.  We were about to be 6 people in a house with one bathroom and decided that we would start the search for a bigger home but that we could take our time and find something we really loved.  My husband was working for a government contractor in the midst of the government shut down worries.  To save money, his company had a massive layoff and we were caught up in it.
We'd done better and had some money in savings but not enough to cover a six month period with no work and no prospects.  I was having some pregnancy-related issues and we were fighting so hard to keep up.  We made the decision to sell our house instead of refinancing since we had no idea when  we'd be able to start paying our house note again or worse, losing it in foreclosure.  We had no money to handle even the most basic home maintenance so we knew we'd have to wait to put it up for sale when he found work again.
Eventually, he started working again.  It was a job he didn't like and it didn't pay as well as his previous job but it fed our family and paid our bills and he sucked it up because he's awesome like that.  I called a Realtor friend to come look at the house.  "It's not ready," I told her.  "We were in the middle of a thousand things when the layoff happened."  She wasn't deterred.  She asked me to tell her a little bit about the house.  A funny thing happens when you've been in a house for six years.  You have stories.  It seemed like everything in this house had one.  C's nursery with it's 24 inch by 24 inch checkerboard walls, the mural I hand painted in the room that became B & C's when A came along, the wallpaper that we almost never got to come off in the master bedroom, the bathroom I painted the night before I had friends coming over and the living room curtains that I hung as they were pulling in the yard, the bushes I planted in the front yard because they were cheap and I wouldn't feel bad if I killed them, the seemingly endless row of liquid nailed apple border I had to remove in the breakfast nook and kitchen, the carpet I ripped up without telling my husband I was going to do it (I don't advise that!), etc., etc., etc.  And it wasn't just the house.  Three of my four babies came home to a bassinet in that master bedroom and that nursery was their first personal space.  I bathed those babies in the tub in that hastily painted bathroom.  The carpet I ripped up was ruined by a boxer we rescued who was so near death he couldn't even control his bodily functions and we nursed him back to health.  We still laughed about the funky linoleum under the carpet.  I started making cakes in that kitchen.  Those cheap bushes out front get so big that I have to cut them back every few years (dwarf, yeah, right).  I told my Realtor friend I would call her back.  I could. not. sell. this. house.  Barry would be strong though, right?  He'd handle it.  Eh...not so much.  Turns out he'd been down nostalgia road too.  We decided not to sell.
But, we were still left with the 6 people in a 3 bedroom/1 bath problem.  We had stuff, you guys. Lots of it.  After we put the emotions aside, we started looking at the logistics of staying here.  We loved the area.  The house could be added on to.  We could afford the mortgage comfortably.  Those were all important to us.  So we started making the house our own again, but this time with a forever home state of mind.  Turns out, that is totally different than starter home mentality.  We completed some Pinterest inspired projects in the front, made an emergency toilet replacement, finished D's nursery, made a list of home goals for 2013, closed in the carport and then had a setback, I made this ruler and this wall art, we painted the walls green and hated it so we wallpapered in a last ditch effort to keep from ripping out paneling and installing drywall and loved it.  I repainted the bathroom the night before a birthday party (what is wrong with me?) and I chronicled most of those things on this blog (highlighted and underlined text will point you to those projects).  And then I got overwhelmed with cakes.  I wrote about that here.  And then I didn't blog for 2 years.  Two. years.  I was still completing projects but I wasn't writing about it.  And then I got dissatisfied because no matter how hard I work, I never could seem to get things finished in a timely manner.  My husband works away from home 21-28 days at a time.  I homeschool 4 kids who are in a variety of activities.  My days are pretty full.  Meanwhile, all these fantastic bloggers I follow are sitting in the gorgeous homes that are more or less done and I'm over here nearly 10 years in and mine is less finished than when I moved in.  And I started to really get dissatisfied with my home.  Sure, we've made some improvements but by the time I get finished with a project, my style changes.  Or the walls need to be repainted because of sticky little fingers.  Or the dog gouged the floor.  It was like one big hot mess circus and I'm the ringleader.  I hem-hawed about planning B & C's birthday party this year until I finally confessed to my husband that I hate our house. 
I understand this is a first world problem.  We own a home in the greatest country in the world.  We have more than enough to eat.  We don't worry about how we're going to clothe our children.  We don't worry about clean water or deadly illnesses or violent civil wars.  We have a pool for crying out loud.  Yes, I realize I am whining about nothing important and that makes me feel horrible.  Bear with me though.
As a child, we moved a lot. I think in the first 8 years my parents we married we lived in 8 different houses.  We only owned homes infrequently and I never had a "me" space.  Even my own room couldn't be personalized with more than a NKOTB poster or 50 (that life size one of Donnie though--be still my heart).  So now I'm struggling with perfectionism in my own home.  I want this to be a place my kids call home.  In that, I've lost the idea of home.  I'm competing with people who aren't living my life, who get paid to do projects and blog about it, who are given sponsorships and freebies, who aren't homeschooling 4 kids, who have a husband available in the afternoons/evenings/weekends to help with the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, I'm over here like

 Comparison really is the thief of joy.
But I've done stuff!  Did you know that D's nursery is now a full-blown little girl's room?  Or that I redid C & A's room?  Or that the master bedroom got a redo?  No?  Well, it did.  And that playroom is becoming B's room until we finish the addition.  We took the window out of the breakfast nook and put in a door.  I really do still love this house, but I've lost a sense of accomplishment along the way.  I'm putting that to rights today.  Just talking about all of the wonderful/crazy/weird/things that have happened in this house with all of you has given me a renewed purpose when it comes to loving the home that we have.
Over the next few weeks, I will be photographing and blogging about some of the projects that happened while I was gone and making an updated list of goals.  I hope you'll come along for the ride.
And if you're struggling to love the home you have too maybe this will encourage you to break free of the chains of comparison and perfectionism and really see your home through new eyes!

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stacked Book Baby Shower Cake

My dear friend Robin is having a baby girl!  That calls for a celebration.  I was asked to make a cake for her as a surprise.  She's a bibliophile like me so this was the perfect cake for her!

Each book is chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream that was then covered in marshmallow fondant and decorated to look like a stack of her favorite children's books.  The board was covered in fondant and painted to look like the books were sitting on a wooden table.  Robin loves owls so I made an owl topper out of fondant.
I can't wait to meet her little sweetheart!  Congratulations, Robin and Carl!

Sweetly Yours,

Monday, April 27, 2015

Vow Renewal Cake

A long time friend of ours renewed his vows to his lovely wife over the weekend.  It was an insane weekend of cakes (at one point I had 12 individual cakes of varying shapes and sizes in my cooler waiting to be decorated) so I didn't get to attend, unfortunately. But I did make a three tier cake for them to celebrate the occasion.

Vow Renewal Cake--4/25/2015

It was all white cake swirled into peacock colors that was then filled with vanilla buttercream and covered in fondant.  All of the decorations were also fondant except for a loop of ribbon on each tier that held a pearl and rhinestone gem.  I created the cake topper from purple roses, pearl and rhinestone picks and peacock feathers.
Wishing you a lifetime of blessings and happiness, Jeff and Nikki!

Sweetly Yours,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Multicolor Cake Batter Tutorial

WOW!  I took a break from blogging for a bit and when I came back I had a ton of messages requesting a how to on the peacock cake.  It was insanity.
First, let me say that there are two things that I am not.  One of those is a professional blogger.  The other is a professional chef.  To wit, you are probably about to view the least technical and poorly photographed tutorial you have ever viewed.  Sounds fun, right?  Here we go!

The first thing you are going to do is whip up a batch of cake batter.  I scratch bake but you can also use a boxed mix.  I won't judge you for it.  ;-)  The important thing is that it is white.  You can use a yellow cake batter but it will cause your colors to have a yellow tint.  If that's not a huge deal to you or if you are using yellow-based colors like orange or green then go for it!  If you want a more true color, you'll need to use a white batter.
Divide the batter into bowls. You'll need one bowl for each color.  Save just a little bit of white batter in your mixing bowl (maybe a cup or so).

I was doing another peacock colored cake when I did this tutorial, so you will see those colors being used.  I prefer to use AmeriColor gel colors. Can you use regular food coloring?  I would assume so.  I never have.  My only concern would be the amount that you might have to mix in to get vivid colors and whether that would affect your batter.  I use gel colors pretty much exclusively.  You can order AmeriColor gels online or you can pick them up at Hobby Lobby.  Wilton makes a line of gel colors also and you can pick those up pretty readily at Walmart, Party City, Hobby Lobby, and some grocery stores.  My only issue with those is that you have to scoop the color out of the container so you need to have some way to measure the amounts for consistency.  And it's messy.  Ask me about the time I dropped purple gel color down the front of my kitchen cabinets.  Not cool, man.  AmeriColor has a squirt top and if Wilton went to that I would probably be more inclined to buy those.  Also, AmeriColor seems to be a bit brighter and doesn't require quite so much to get a vivid color when coloring buttercream or fondant.
But I digress, per the usual.  Cake.  Colors.  Focus, Jen.  I used AmeriColor Royal Blue, Americolor Violet, and Americolor Leaf Green.  I used three drops of each color in the corresponding bowl and stirred it very well until the color was even.  Yes, I realize it looks a little pastel right now.  Just you wait!  You should not add anything to that cup or so you have reserved in the mixing bowl.

You will want to prepare the pan just like you normally would. I use Baker's Joy spray and love it!  I have not had one single cake or muffin stick to the pan since I started using it.  I don't get anything for saying that, but if they ever wanted to send me something free I wouldn't turn it down!  Take enough of the reserved batter to just cover the bottom of your pan.  I have made these multicolor cakes many times and every. single. time. that I didn't put the plain white batter on the bottom of the pan the cake stuck.  I'm sure it's operator error on my part and I have not attempted it again since I started using Baker's Joy.  You only have to throw out so many cakes before you learn the lesson.  White cake batter on the bottom of the pan, mkay?

Here's where it gets interesting!  Scoop a bit of the first color into the pan.  There is no precision in this step.  Glob it out.  Let it ripple.  Whatever your little pea-pickin' heart wants.  You just want a bit of that first color down.   Do that same thing with the second color.  Do it again with the third color.  If you have more colors, add those in one at a time also.  Resist the urge to swirl it together.  Just add colors.

When you've gone through all of them once, go through them again.

Repeat this process until the pan is about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full (whatever your recipe calls for--some rise more than others).  If that didn't quite fill the pan up enough, add whatever white you have left in the mixing bowl.

Can I be frank with you for a minute?  Here's why I say to resist the urge to swirl the colors together.  It is VERY easy to overmix the colors and end up with something that resembles, well, vomit.  Sorry.  I'm just keeping it real here.  Don't swirl it.
Bake your cake according to your recipe or package instructions.  When you pull it out of the oven, don't freak out.  The colors on the top are going to look pretty terrible. 

But watch what happens on the inside!  Gorgeous colors, am I right?  I've done this with many colors and they always bake up brighter than the batter.

And there you have it!  If you've got questions, send me a comment.  Or if you make this cake, I'd love to see the results!

Sweetly yours,

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

You're Doing a Good Job--My Letter to a Young Mother

Dear Mama in The Checkout Line,
I saw you well before you got in the checkout line behind me.  It was hard not to notice.  Your little guy was making his displeasure known and I watched as you walked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth before he finally quieted down enough for you to gather your things and, dare I say, your sanity and walk over to the checkout line of least resistance, the one directly across from where you stopped pacing. 

B--20 months
And I saw what you saw too.  The people.  Oh, the people and their various stages of disapproval.  The stares, the flat lined mouths, the whispers, Mama, they weren't lost on me.
Let me tell you something, Mama.  I've been there.  I've been there more times than I can count.  That's why I turned to you and said, "You're doing a great job."  Your eye roll said it all, but I felt the defeat in your voice when you said, "It doesn't seem like it."  Oh, mama.  Girl, I know where you're coming from.  "The days are long but the years are short," I told you. "We're all doing the best we can."
C--9 Months
 See, Mama, what I didn't tell you was that there have been times, especially in my early parenting years, when I could have used a "You're doing a good job" myself.  The time the lady walked up to me and told me that my 6 month old would have horse teeth if I kept letting him suck that pacifier, the time that a man told me he thought baby wearing was cruel, the time that the woman tsked at me for giving my child a bottle instead of breastfeeding, even though she didn't actually ask what was in the bottle, the time that my kid threw up all over everything in a store and not one person, not even an employee stopped to help, the time the lady gave me "the stare" because my child was excited over a display of frogs and kept saying it but it sounded suspiciously like another four letter F word, the time that the guy told me I was what was wrong with the world for letting my kid bring his Gameboy in the pharmacy when I knew it was going to be a long wait and I was sick, the time that a lady told me my newborn was going to have diabetes because he was a big baby, the time that my 2 year old child was having a meltdown in a restaurant and a man loudly exclaimed that his kids didn't act like that and I should beat my toddlers rear end.  Don't even get me started about all of the fun and awesome things people have said since I started homeschooling.  And mama, the disapproving looks.  I've had more of those than I can count.  These are all moments that are imbedded in my mind because they are all times when I was made to feel like a failure.  Anybody, anybody, could have reached out in that moment and let a young mother know that she was doing the best that she could, but no one did and I was left to navigate those waters alone.

A--5 Months
D--4 Months
 Here's the thing, mama.  Sally Sue the Disapproving isn't raising these kids of mine and or that sweet baby of yours..  There are going to be times when you're embarrassed and you feel like a failure.  It will happen.  And your little guy is, what maybe a year old?  Sugar girl, you've got a long time of feeling that way.  And then one day you will blink and that baby will be talking about colleges and getting his license and scoping out some pink haired girl in the mall and you'll be like, "What just happened?"  Here's what I figured out though, mama.  I am doing a good job. Yeah, I'm doing the best I can and it's not perfect.  And you may not feel like it right now, but guess what, mama.  You're doing the best you can too.  And it's a good job.

Peace and Love,