Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Presidents Day (Friday Roundup)

In honor of Presidents Day ... while the rest of you are buying new furniture and bed sheets, I will be taking my high school junior on her First Official College Visit that is:
(a) to a campus I would have never have chosen for her and has me scratching my head, asking, "Where did I go wrong?";
(b) alerting me to the fact that she has never truly cleaned a bathroom on her own and is certain to offend and alienate any future roommates; and
(c) reminding me that I'm almost through making all of her decisions for her.

I remain hopeful that:
(a) she will visit many, many campuses that will encourage her to open her eyes;
(b) she will discover that the bathroom floor is no substitute for a trash can; and
(c) she will let me make one more decision, one that will help carry on the family tradition and lead her to end up here.

And that leads me to this next story ... which is not really a story at all, but more of a memory. A reminiscence. One of my good friends in elementary school was the fourth of five kids. I would walk to her house several times a week—almost always on Saturdays—and all these teen-agers would be there, hanging out, playing basketball in the driveway, sitting around the kitchen table and being all teen-agery. As the oldest kid in my own house, I loved going to thishouse so that I could be one of the annoying younger kids. I would sit in the grass and listen to the 14- and 16- and 17-year-olds as they delivered quick and witty teen-ager cutdowns while they played basketball. Sometimes they would allow us younger kids to sit in the den with them while they ... who knows what they did. I think they just hung out. No video games, no computers, no texting. Just hanging out. I don't remember any smoking, cussing or other carrying on that you might suspect. It was all very innocent and wonderful. Sometimes they would even ask me a question, or let me talk.

The mom, with her long, platinum, Cheryl Ladd hair and her casual ways, went about her business, always leaving the front and back doors open for anybody and everybody to come and go as they wished. She always had Cheetos and Little Debbie cakes on hand and didn't hover or interfere or nag about homework. She was there, but she wasn't so there that we noticed her.

She hosted with an unceremonious approach that attracted neighborhood kids. Her own kids were fairly normal—smart, popular, well-rounded. Not so much because of what their mom did, but maybe because of what she didn't do. I'm no sociologist, but maybe there's something there. Maybe I need to let more things go. (Gosh, this is starting to sound like a confessional.)

And while that story may seem to have come out of left field, it popped into my brain this morning for a reason. Maybe that reason is that our lives have recently been SO dominated by kids' schedules this past week that I have found myself gripping the steering wheel with seething resentment—not because I don't want my kids to have full lives or fun-filled days or because I mind transporting them—but because we don't seem to live near anywhere they need/want to go.

No matter how much you love your kids, I love mine more. But if I could have raised them in the late '70s, who knows? Maybe it would have been easier? Simpler?

And the winner is ... well, you'll have to mosey on over to here to see who won this week's give-away at the book review blog. And be sure to check that site Monday for a new post.


Happy weekend. And whether you observe or ignore Valentine's Day, I hope yours is super.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You Have Only One More Day

If you haven't entered your name in the drawing for a free book, this is your friendly and final reminder. Click on over to excellentbookreviews.blogspot.com and follow the directions at the end of the post. You can't win if you don't enter.

To the newer visitors who may be saying "what the hay?", the aforementioned book review blog is brand-spankin' new this week, with a new post scheduled every Monday. The current post is chock full of non-fiction. Next week: Whoa, Nellie! Memoirs of the Southern variety! But don't let that scare you. I have found some pretty good stuff. You'll see.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out of here and on over to here ...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Every Funeral Calls for a Good Cake

After my grandmother died more than 14 years ago, women from all over Cobb County, Georgia, it seems, did as Southern women do in such times. They cooked.

Among the many, many things delivered to her house and to her hungry, tired relatives was an orange mandarin cake, which is still referred to today as Mimi's Funeral Cake. Yes, it is that memorable.

And while I am not one to get bogged down in recipe swaps, I think this one merits a blog post. I have a fourth of a Mimi's Funeral Cake in my refrigerator this very minute—a remnant from last night's birthday dinner. My oldest turned 17, but I failed to buy 17 candles or a "1" and a "7." All I could find in the cabinet just minutes before serving were very used keepsakes "5," "5" and "7." And that's when the 10-year-old pointed out, "Well, just use those. Add them up, and they equal 17." So that's what we did.

Those three chunky rainbow-colored candles sat atop what you will find to be one of The Best Cakes Ever. My gift to you today:

MIMI'S FUNERAL CAKE (or Orange Mandarin Cake)

1 box yellow cake mix (don't get fancy; store brand works just fine; take the bag out of the box, and throw the box away, or you'll be tempted to follow the box directions, which have nothing at all to do with this recipe; when my friend Leslie tried making this the first time, she called me no fewer than four times because the box directions were throwing her off)
3/4 c. cooking oil
3 eggs
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges (do not drain; I repeat, do not drain, tempting as it may be)

Mix all above ingredients. Bake in three cake pans at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. (An aside: I have only two round cake pans. So in my early years of baking Mimi's Funeral Cake, I would bake two layers, while the third sat in the bowl, just waiting. Big mistake. My husband ate the entire third layer in its batter form, thinking it was bowl-lick. So I've since amended these instructions and just make two really thick layers. It's really the only safe way around here.)

Frosting
1 large Cool Whip
1 pkg. (large) vanilla instant pudding
1 large can (drained) crushed pineapple
Mix pudding and pineapple, then fold in Cool Whip. Chill overnight in sealed container. (Another amendment: This frosting is a stand-alone dessert. Chill overnight at your own risk. You may find an empty bowl in its place the next morning. Really, an hour or two does the trick. Just make sure the cake is cool.)

You can toss chopped nuts on top, if you like. I don't like.

Unless this cake is being served, it should remain in the refrigerator at all times. Or you will have pudding.


P.S. -- If you haven't yet visited Excellent Book Reviews, I encourage you to do so. Unlike this blog, the book review blog allows comments AND has a give-away at the end of this week. These are hard times; go win something.

Monday, February 09, 2009

T Minus Zero: The Book Review Blog Is Now Open for Traffic

Whether you have arrived here by accident or on purpose today, I'd like to direct you over to my newest project, the book review blog. You will find it at excellentbookreviews.blogspot.com. Bookmark it, write it on your hand, do what you have to do in order to visit it often. Or, at least, regularly.

I will be taking on the monumental and thankless task of managing not one, but TWO blogs. I make no promises about when either blog will be updated, but my intention is to post book reviews every Monday; more frequently if and when the mood hits me. You never know what title will be reviewed, so that should keep you coming back for more. Reviewed books will be fiction, non-fiction, well-written, total crapola, children's, young adult, technical, how-to, self-help, biography, cooking, you name it. Few will be recent releases, so you don't have to worry about reading about a certain title over and over and over until you're ready to scream, "Shut up, already, Oprah!" I might find something on my shelf, at the thrift store or, more likely, at the library where books are free, and there you have the criteria for inclusion on Excellent Book Reviews.

The amycates.blogspot.com blog will retain its original voice and spotty updates. Content will remain without direction or editorial policy. I write what I write--no parameters, no guidelines. And no pay. A friend recently asked if the book blog was for pay. I choked on a tortilla, then laughed out loud. "No, this is a public service. My way of giving back to the community." So you should at least visit it occasionally, if only to be nice.

Now, go read.