Doctored Up Cake and Fairs

DOCTORED UP CUPCAKES/CAKES

Slightly different strategy today: I’m going to teach you my cake witchcraft.

Of course, it’s not real witchcraft–not enough jars of dirt for that–but it’s basically how I manage to make really good cakes when I’ve got three kids and an absurd lack of time (like, really, Isaac–you couldn’t sleep for another 20 minutes at least? No? Had to do a 45 minute nap today? I’m not bringing you downstairs yet, you’ll just have to entertain yourself for a little bit), coupled with low enough self-esteem that the idea of making a cake the “correct” way scares the piss out of me!

tumblr_lat62ah3v81qcoqtho1_400

What I do, therefore, is cheat: I use box mixes. And this apparently happens quite a lot in bakeries and similar places–it’s just quicker and easier to get the measurements right when they’re measured out for you beforehand. The trick is just to use slightly richer ingredients and compensate for the plastic flavoring, and the results end up being absolutely amazing.

Ingredients

  • Your favorite box cake mix
  • Whole milk or buttermilk 
  • 4-5 eggs or egg whites (see notes below)
  • Butter (salted or unsalted, depending on your taste)
  • Additional flavoring (see notes below)

The big thing with this recipe is that it’s not so much a recipe as a series of tips to make your box cake taste like you got it from a bakery instead of Betty Crocker. The ingredients above are substitutions for the ingredients you’d usually add to a box cake mix, so the resulting dessert will be much richer and more flavorful. 

Your milk/buttermilk will replace the water in the recipe because, let’s be real here, how many from scratch cake recipes are like “also, add SO MUCH WATER”? None of them, that’s how many. Usually, you’ll want to stick with whole milk, but I’ve found that using buttermilk for red velvet produces really nice results. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to use as much milk or buttermilk as the box suggests for water.

Most cake recipes call for three eggs, but to make your cake or cupcakes extra rich and amazing, you’ll want to add 1-2 more. I always end up adding two more because baking is my one area to be extra, and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about this. You’ll also want to crack your eggs into a separate bowl to make sure you don’t have any bad eggs/can fish out any shells that get into the cracked egg.

Another note about eggs: if you’re baking a white or angel food cake (or, if you’re me, lemon cake), (a) you’re brave; and (b) you’ll want to beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and add ⅛ tsp cream of tartar per egg white to make sure they keep their fluffiness. You’ll add the egg whites at the very end of your mixing and fold them in gently–the end result will be a gorgeous white, fluffy, delicate cake. 

You’ll replace your oil with melted butter, but you’ll also double the amount you add. Melt the butter long enough beforehand that it’s no longer hot when it’s time to add it to your batter; for most recipes, this will end up being about a cup (or two sticks) of melted butter. Using unsalted butter is great for controlling the overall salt content of the cake or cupcakes, but I also really like salt?

Finally, flavor enhancers are going to vary on what kind of cake you’re making. Vanilla extract is a good standby overall, if you’re not sure what you want to add to the cake mix, but you can really get creative with add-ins. Some ideas:

  • While vanilla extract is a good standby, you can look into other extracts as well. I’ve always gotten a lot of love when I add orange extract to vanilla buttercream frosting. Almond extract is great, along with peppermint and rum. 
  • Replace half the milk with a fruit juice that complements the flavor (e.g., orange, lemon, lime, etc.). Or all, if you like; that said, don’t replace all of the milk with alcoholic liquids.
  • Espresso powder does amazing things for any cake that tends towards chocolatey. You can get it in decaffeinated form, and it legitimately makes your cake taste other worldly. 

Once you’ve baked your cake, you can continue to improve on it, even when using canned frosting like the lazy person I am. For example: 

  • Brush the cake with simple syrup (boil one cup of sugar in one cup of water until dissolved and allow to cool), which will keep it moist. 
  • Add some of those flavor enhancers to your frosting before you spread it and whip it for a few minutes to add some air. 
  • Use jam, jelly, or other fruit preserves in the center of the cake. 

*

I’m thinking about cake and cupcakes because I’m diving into my second-busiest time of the year as a mom. The cupcakes are the first Big Busy Thing of the season: I volunteered to make 26 Halloween cupcakes for Sam’s kindergarten class because I love baking. This past Sunday, I braved insane crowds and hit up Wegmans and Michael’s for almost everything I need to make them spectacular (I say almost because the awesome bag of Halloween candy I got to top the cupcakes turned out to have a lot of NOT awesome candy in it, so I’m heading up to Target sometime in the next week to get another bag while the Wegmans bag is now relegated to the “we never get trick-or-treaters, but just in case” pile). I have to say, I’m pretty excited about them, and if I have enough energy after I make them, I’ll probably end up baking brownies after Halloween because my birthday is November 5 and I like brownies more than cake. 

So it’s my birthday November 5, my mom’s birthday November 12 (WHAT KIND OF CAKE DO YOU WANT MOM??), then driving down to Texas for Thanksgiving (have I talked about that yet? I should talk about that), then Christmas and New Year’s, and then I can breathe for another two or so months before the busy stuff starts back up again. 

I’m breathing right now. I’m focusing on things I do because I enjoy them– well, no, that’s not how I want to phrase that. I enjoy baking for myself, for my mom. I’m excited about this trip to Texas, and I’ve basically been prepping Christmas since May. So I do enjoy all of the busyness, but I guess the difference with the last couple of weeks is that it doesn’t feel as hustly and bustly. It’s more “this is a fun thing to do and we can do it or not” as opposed to “I genuinely enjoy doing this and it’s also important that I do it.” 

Which is all to say, we’ve been to two (2) fairs in the last week. 

The first was the Topsfield Fair, which bills itself as the oldest county fair in the country, which… maybe? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s the location of some of my earliest childhood memories. My parents took us there every year for years and years (I completely forget why we stopped going?). This year, they wanted to go back and wanted us to join them with the kids, so we all packed up and hoofed it across the state to the Topsfield Fair grounds, about an hour to an hour and a half away, depending on traffic (most of which was right outside the fair). 

The drive itself was probably the only bad part of the day, because Isaac got carsick and Kyle didn’t have cash to pay to park, so we had to go find an ATM after pulling into the parking lot (which resulted in a lot of frantic texts from my mom, who watched us go through the whole routine: “where are you going?? That was you right?? Is everything okay??” and most of these because the fairgrounds don’t have very good 4G). Once we parked and got Isaac out of his pukey clothes (and Carrie into a sparkly skirt and tights and boots), everything started going well. 

Sam had the best time of all of us, which is par for the course. I didn’t know if he’d enjoy it or not because he’s not generally into agriculture things, and as a general rule, the Topsfield Fair is about agriculture. They have giant pumpkin contests and livestock contests and a greased pole and a duck race and things like that, none of it the usual fare for my kid whose favorite things are Star Wars, Minecraft, Legos, and space, sometimes in that order. 

But Sam had a blast. He and I went down one of the giant slides together…

73069247_10156562534795592_4913850148955619328_o(shown: me having regrets)

…before heading to check out the produce barn…

72228416_10156562535260592_1755297204811071488_o(this year’s winning pumpkin–and a gourd behind him lolol)

…and then hurrying to the poultry barn, which ended up being the day’s clear favorite. Sam got to hold a chick and fell in love. He decided he wanted a pet chicken, which Kyle and I told him “maybe when you’re older” (which translates to “like maybe when you have your own house” because I’m all for chickens but I do not want to be the one cleaning the coop, thanks). Unfazed, he proceeded to feed as many chickens as could figure out how to get the chicken feed out of the little cup he received (which ended up being about ⅗ of the ones he addressed with it). 

And he pet a calf and he met some goats and he watched honeybees and he had slow churned Oreo ice cream and won at a midway darts and chased Kyle through a “haunted” fun house. 

I’ll be honest: county fairs are not my speed at all. They’re a bit too much sensory overload, with the blinking lights and ringing bells and the barkers at top volume… but the overwhelmed exhaustion at the end of the day was totally worth it for how much fun Sam had. 

Much more my speed was the second fair of the week, King Richard’s Faire, our local Renaissance Fair (faire? I can never decide?). 

Kyle and I have been Renaissance Fair(e) people since we started dating; one of my earliest trips down to Texas was during Scarborough Renaissance Faire, about an hour from where Kyle grew up. We went together, loved it, and kept going back as long as we lived in Texas. When we moved up to Massachusetts, we switched to King Richard’s Faire, which is significantly less hot and significantly less gigantic… which makes it perfect for a family with twin toddlers and a five-year-old. 

(I mean, aside from the giant tree roots that make strollers an adventure, but that’s neither here nor there)

We had a much more relaxed time at King Richard’s Faire, mostly wandering about, watching a few shows (like Jacques ze Whipper, which was delightful), and letting the kids run around in quieter areas while we people watched. The weather was gloriously autumnal, with highs only in the low 60s and not a cloud in the sky. We spent WAY too much money on food and tickets, but honestly, I’d do it again a hundred times over. It’s a great fair, and I genuinely felt sad that we had to leave when we did. 

I think the reason I end up preferring King Richard’s Faire boils down to that it’s a quieter, more relaxed place. It’s kind of an escape from reality–for those hours we were there, we were in a fantasy pseudo-Renaissance realm that just had this really pleasant aura about it (not a literal New Agey aura, but more of the general feel of people around the fair). The air was full of the scent of wood fires and incense and roast meat, the trees dappled our arms and the ground with shade, pipes and drums played faintly from all corners, and it just felt really relaxing. 

Less sensory overload. That’s what it boils down to; I enjoyed the Topsfield Fair, but I didn’t feel as exhausted when we got home from King Richard’s. I’d love to do both again next year, but this time going into the former with the expectation that it’s going to wear me out and also avoiding the giant slide like the plague.

But in the meantime, we’ve got to plan for our big trip next month, and I will write about that the next time I write here (along with Halloween probably? We’ll see). Until then…

Mushroom & Mustard Pork Chops + Communication

MUSHROOM & MUSTARD STUFFED PORK CHOPS
I have no idea where this recipe originally came from–I learned it from my parents, and I think they learned it from a magazine somewhere? Maybe? It probably dates back to around the 1970s in this incarnation, but it’s still good… if you like pork. And mushrooms. And mustard.

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless pork chop for every person eating (i.e., two for two people, three for three people, etc.)
  • 1 lb pasta of your choice (we always use tri-color rotini, but see below for notes)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup heavy cream for every person eating
  • Butter to coat frying pan
  • Mustard
  • Mustard powder
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • OPTIONAL: As many or as few sliced mushrooms as your heart desires.

Directions

Preheat oven to about 175 degrees F (should be the “keep warm” setting if your oven has one). Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat.

Use a fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of each pork chop. Coat the stabbed side in yellow mustard. 

Place pork chops in frying pan, mustard side down. Use fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of non mustard side and coat that side in mustard. Now there are two mustard sides.

Let pork sit for 5-7 minutes before flipping, then cook on opposite side for another 5-7 minutes. Remove pork from frying pan and place in warmed oven. 

Add can of cream of mushroom soup to frying pan without rinsing (gotta keep all those good pork bits in there!), along with yellow mustard (to taste; I like to taste a LOT) and cream. Add mustard powder, tarragon, parsley, pepper, salt, and mushrooms as well.

Combine ingredients and set to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Serve pork sliced into bite-size pieces over bed of pasta and sauce. Enjoy.

NOTES:

  • You can use whatever pasta you like for this dish, but I’ve found it works best with short cut pastas, usually either tri-color varieties (rotini, penne, and radiatore are perennial favorites) or with egg noodles to make a sort of pork stroganoff. If you use a longer cut pasta, you’ll want a pappardelle or else a spinach linguine/fettuccine for best results.
  • Your pork should cook thoroughly between the frying pan and the oven, but make sure you check it for doneness! Pork should not be consumed when it’s under 145 degrees F. Unless you’re super into parasites and salmonella poisoning, in which case, go nuts.
  • I’m a bad Millennial and use canned mushrooms when I make this dish, usually just a can of sliced mushrooms that you can pick up at pretty much any store. If you’re a fancier Millennial than I am, you can slice your mushrooms yourself; just make sure they have time to cook down to a nice tender consistency before serving.

*

Sam has been in school for a grand total of two weeks now, which seems both like an eternity and like no time at all. We’ve all sort of slid into a routine of getting things done at night or in the morning, of going to the bus stop for a certain time in the afternoon and spending the school hours on various baby things until that afternoon time when Sam gets home. Of setting out clothes the night before so I don’t have to get up super early to help him choose an appropriate outfit and making sure everything he needs is tucked neatly into his backpack before he leaves. Of newly enforced strictness about the TV (after all, his pre-K didn’t care much if he was a couple of minutes late) and less screen time.

He’s come home with plenty of stories for us. After a particularly rough day last week, his teacher made him star of the day the next day, which mostly meant that he helped out more around the classroom, but it still made him happier about being there. He’s had to hang out on the wall at recess twice, once by himself (for pushing another kid in line while they were heading outside, which he knows not to do) and once with his best friend Hunter, together but far apart (they were… “blowing on each other” he says? And weren’t mad about it? But were still on the wall? Sigh, I miss getting daily reports from his teachers). He’s doing well, as far as we can see, where academics are concerned, but then again, academics thus far consist of sorting things by color and shape and spelling the words “the” and “red,” which he’s been able to read for about six months now. 

(small personal victories: I was determined that he’d have the basics of reading down before kindergarten and HE DID! Now to try that with the twins…)

So it’s… a process. A transition. I hope he doesn’t end up being That Kid, who always starts recess on the wall (I’m pretty sure most of it’s just that transition period between the sort of relaxed structure of his old school and the stricter one of the new school), which has mostly meant just trying to talk to him when the day is over.

BUT as any parent with kids in school will tell you, that’s harder than it seems. Instinctively, you want to draw out every detail about your kid’s day the second they step off the bus. You want to know everything. Who did they talk to? What did they play at recess? Did they like their lunch? What new words did they learn? What new books did they read? (They read “Red” and I’m so excited about it!) What special class did they have today? What did they do in the special class? 

And then your kid is like “I don’t want to talk about it” or their post school answers end up being one-syllable grunts. “Stuff. I dunno. Yeah. Fine. I guess.” And you wonder if they actually were at school or if they’re leading a secret double life as a teeny tiny international super spy. 

giphy

What we’ve mostly discovered with Sam is that he needs time to decompress at the end of the day, and that we’re most likely to get the full story of his day at bedtime, after the twins are in their room and he’s had a chance to wind down with some screen time and ruckus and little boy things (ranging from Legos to “WHY ARE YOU THROWING THAT???” to “STOP TRYING TO SUPLEX THEM THEY’RE BABIES”). That’s when he’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to tell you,” and Kyle and I listen and affirm his feelings and help him to feel better about the day. If he has a rough day, we tell him that we’ll try again tomorrow. If he has a great day, we tell him that tomorrow may be even better. We try to end the day on a positive note.

We’re not always successful, but we try.

Most of his communication nowadays is about science, and I’m dying to chat with his teachers about how much he loves science, because I completely forgot to list that on his “things he likes” paper (I listed “Minecraft” and “Legos” and “Star Wars” because those are his top three Things, but science legitimately trumps all of them). He’s so incredibly curious about the natural world, and he loves learning everything he can about it. Mostly, he focuses on space–it is, after all, the scientific gateway drug–but thanks to Octonauts, he’s also been really into animals lately; and then he’s also been really into weather the last couple of days. 

(today, we watched a bunch of Weather Channel augmented reality videos–I can’t recommend them highly enough–and Sam just fell absolutely in love with Jim Cantore, which is the cutest damn thing)

giphy-1

(I also adored a weatherman when I was five. His name was Dick Albert, he was my parents’ age, and I once made him a Christmas tree ornament that I labeled “For Dice” and my mom still has it)

I maintain what I think is a healthy amount of worry about his schooling. I hope that he’s challenged but not so challenged that he loses interest. I hope he behaves himself but doesn’t lose his spark. I hope he makes new friends but doesn’t lose his old friends (so far so good on that one–we are, per his reports, batting 1000 in terms of playing with old best friends Hunter and Kaia at recess)

(they had one day last week where they were, apparently, all Spider Man: Sammy as Peter Parker, Hunter as Miles Morales, and Kaia as Gwen Stacy)

6e9bc1ca792d62de3cb6fdcb0eea6545

Then there’s the little ones. 

Isaac, in particular, has me gnawing my fingernails in worry. He’s right where should be with his fine and gross motor skills–he’s our little runner, and he never stops moving. When it comes to communication, though, well…

You’re not supposed to compare babies, which is 100% impossible when you have twins because you have another baby RIGHT THERE, so even when you don’t mean to, you end up just looking at the one who’s ahead and then looking at the other who’s behind and being like “…well? Aren’t you going to do that too?” You don’t mean to and you’re not supposed to, but the dumb part of your brain that doesn’t listen to what you’re supposed to do does it anyway.

Communication-wise, Carrie’s doing great. She’s slowly moving into my favorite phase of language acquisition, which is the parrot phase, where your child just repeats everything you say right back to you as a question, and you want to get mad because you’re trying very hard to explain that they shouldn’t bite other children, but when they look up at you with big eyes and repeat, “We don’t bite our fwends?” in that high-pitched voice, your willpower crumbles. She’s got a good dozen or more words consistently (to either my shame or my pride–not sure which yet–three or four of those words are Disney princesses), and she’s got hand signs for two or three more words. She’s frequently able to tell us when she wants something and what that something is. It’s very nice.

Isaac, not so much. At best, he has three-ish words: mama, dada, and Wubba. He also makes kissy noises at the cat. The trouble is that he doesn’t do any of that consistently or in a way that’s helpful for literally anyone, least of all himself. If he loses his Wubbanub (which is his pacifier with a stuffed animal attached, they are perfect, buy one for your baby today!), instead of saying “Ba! Ba!” like I know he can, he’ll stand in front of me and yell, constant long “AAAAH!” sounds at higher and higher volumes. 

Worse than the yelling, though, is the expression on his face. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it seems like pure frustration that I’m not understanding what he needs and that he can’t communicate it back to me. The longer he yells without me getting it, the more distraught he looks, the more his eyes fill with tears, and the more my heart breaks. 

I want him to have words or some way of communicating with the world. If it turns out he’s autistic, I don’t want him to be neurotypical or anything but himself, but I also don’t want him to be unable to express his wants and needs. I don’t care if it means he has a sign with pictures on it or sign language or a computer or what; I just want him to be able to express himself because I can see how much it hurts him when he can’t.

Anyway, I say all of this because he has a meeting with a speech and language pathologist on Friday for an evaluation and sort of game planning session, hopefully to move forwards into speech therapy for him. Which, again, I don’t want to force him into a mold he doesn’t fit, but I want to see that pain and frustration go away when he’s able to actually communicate that his Wubbanub is missing or that he needs a diaper or wants a bottle. 

As for Carrie, she’s just an absolute peach. She’s honestly dangerously cute, always posing with her chin on her hands and saying, “Cheeeeese!” for me. It should be illegal, really, being that cute, but I can’t complain. 

She and Isaac have started bonding together more now that Sam is in school most of the day. They bring each other their respective lovies when they see the other is upset, or they’ll bring each other clothes and try to get each other dressed. It’s a relief; I was wondering if they’d ever like each other or if it would always be World War III between them. And battles still break out very easily, but they’re usually because we have one of something and they both want it. 

(this even applies when we have two of something but Carrie’s is prettier–Isaac, for instance, is not terribly impressed with tortoiseshell sunglasses but adores Carrie’s sparkly rainbow shades)

They’re sweet. And they’re good. All three of them. And as always, I just hope I’m doing right by them, overall.

 

First Day of School Stuffed Cookies

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL STUFFED COOKIES
Recipe borrows liberally from Tasty’s recipes for The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies and Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. Check out the notes below for variations! 

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter, toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups chocolate chips
Stuffing (hot fudge, Nutella, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, caramel), chilled

Directions

  1. Melt one cup (2 sticks) butter and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to ensure an even brown. Once you notice dark flecks in the bottom of the boiling butter, transfer to a liquid measuring cup and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. *note: if liquid butter does not reach the 1 cup marker, add water until it reaches that line*
  2. Sift or whisk together flour, kosher salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. 
  3. Cream cooled butter, white sugar, and dark brown sugar in a large bowl. 
  4. Add vanilla extract and eggs to the large bowl and combine thoroughly. 
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients to the large bowl (about ⅓ at a time), mixing until just combined. 
  6. Fold in 2 cups of chocolate chips and other add-ins. 
  7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (overnight if you’re an A+ student!). 
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  9. Use 3 oz. ice cream scoop to form large balls of cookie dough. Flatten balls between the palms of your hands and rest on cookie sheet.
  10. Place fillings (about ½ tbsp per cookie) in the center of the cookie and seal cookie dough around the filling. 
  11. Top each cookie with chocolate chips and other toppings.
  12. Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes. Allow to cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack. 

NOTES:
I use salted butter for my cookie recipe because I really like the contrast of a saltier cookie with sweet chocolate chips (using unsalted butter is a bit too cloying for me), but unsalted butter will work just as well!

I usually only mix standard, semi-sweet chocolate chips into these cookies, but other add-ins can really boost them to a new level! Try any of these: 

  • Chopped dark chocolate. Use a bar of dark chocolate (not bitter chocolate, unless you’re REALLY into that) and give it a rough chop before folding it into your dough alongside the chocolate chips. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. Substitute for about a cup of regular chocolate chips to give some texture contrast to your dough.
  • Espresso powder. Add one tsp after creaming your butter and sugars. 

The possibilities for fillings and toppings are absolutely endless! I tend to stick with just chocolate chips and rainbow sprinkles (to give the cookies a celebratory flair!), but you can top and fill with any number of things! Experiment; that’s what fun in the kitchen is about! 

*

I always hate when I’m looking for a recipe for something and I have to scroll through hours of reading on somebody’s life before I get to the actual recipe. I get that it’s a THING, and I get that it’s all about self-expression, but look. If you’re coming to my blog because you googled “chocolate chip cookie recipe” and this somehow popped up instead of the Food Network or Epicurious or something, here you go. The recipe is at the top, and if you want to read about my life, you can keep going while the cookies bake or something.

67396929_10156380619950592_4343912859269332992_o(they’ll look like this after they bake, for reference)

It’s early August, and Sam is less than three weeks away from starting kindergarten. I’ve got all his supplies here in my office, still sitting in Target bags (more supplies than needed, because I was a bad student and tried to find his supply list online… and the list I found was The Most Wrong, so now I have a bunch of pencils and erasers and things that he’d probably need at some point, just not this year). I’ve got his metaphorical Hogwarts letter with all of the instructions and a little fish with his teacher’s name on it. I know his best friend from daycare is going to be in his class with him. I’ve no idea what bus he’ll be taking home in the afternoons, but if this year’s routes are similar to last year’s, he’ll be getting home a little past three in the afternoon–hopefully while the twins are still napping. 

We’re winding summer down slowly with trips to the beach and company picnics. This past weekend, we packed everyone up in the van and drove up to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, an experience that fell squarely in the middle of the stressful things scale. On the one hand, Isaac got carsick three separate times during the drive and then had a huge diaper blowout after about two hours on the beach. On the other hand, he, Carrie, and Sam seemed to have a blast despite the sickness. Sam and Kyle built a sandcastle together, and the twins huddled with me under our beach umbrella, experimentally playing with sand and eating Goldfish crackers (and sometimes eating sand, too, because they’re babies). 

It was a typical outing for a family with young children. Kyle and I looked at it as a balanced affair, with frustration that having young kids meant we couldn’t do as much around Hampton as we otherwise would have (they have some great arcades and candy shops, and even though I’m trying to lose weight, I have a hard time turning down a beachside candy shop), relief that things went smoothly aside from Isaac’s bodily fluids, and happiness that it was a good day overall. It lasted just long enough that everyone was happily tired when we got home, not so brief that the hour and a half drive seemed a waste of time, not so long that we were exhausted.

And today was Kyle’s company picnic, at a conference center about 40 minutes from our house. I say “conference center,” which makes it sound like it was some sort of buttoned up meeting space and very dull; really, it was more like a summer camp-slash-carnival, with lawn games and bounce houses and cotton candy and face painting and so on. They had some great typical cook-out food (not quite barbecue–hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken, plus a bunch of sides) and some free ice cream, and all-in-all, it was a nice set-up. 

Trouble was that it was LOUD. This is par for the course at every company event I’ve attended for every company ever. The DJ always has the music turned up to 11, the fans are always going to keep the tents cool, there’s a lot of talking and buzzing and noise. I gather that this isn’t something that bugs most people, but it makes it hard for me to engage with anyone–my brain just won’t filter out unimportant sounds like the conversation way over there, the constant roar of the fan, the faint buzz of some fly that wants my lunch. 

Basically, I spent most of today staring blankly into space and probably looking really strange. 

The times I didn’t spend staring blankly into space were fun. The babies enjoyed their cook-out fare, mostly (good: chicken, corn, pasta salad, hot dogs; bad: bell peppers, zucchini). Sam played in the bounce house and obstacle course until he was too sweaty and exhausted to do much more than whine at us. Kyle and I split a cherry cotton candy, and Sam and I giggled our way through a pair of ice cream sandwiches. The twins were adorable, my hair and lipstick were awesome… it was mostly good.

But I am tired. 

So is Isaac, for that matter. He didn’t nap at all today, which meant that the afternoon following the picnic was flavored with his exhausted sobbing at all points, with him nearly nodding off while standing on my lap and then crying when he realized he wasn’t actually completely asleep. I wish we had a clearer picture of what’s going on with him, if only so that we could plan for days like today, maybe with noise cancelling headphones or with frequent breaks or with one of us staying home with him.

He can’t go for an evaluation most places until he’s 18 months old, which is frustrating. He and Carrie turn 17 months old less than a week from today, but the Early Intervention autism specialist can’t test him until he’s 18 months old, and I really want to go through them because otherwise, wait times for an autism screening are many, many months long. And like I’ve been saying, if it turns out that he’s autistic, I’m not bummed out or even slightly disappointed; it’d be nice to have another brain that works like mine in the house, someone to sympathize with me when everything is just too much. 

BUT I also want him to have better coping skills than I have, and to know from a decently early point if he’s going to need more assistance in any area–if he’s going to be like me and deal with frustratingly heavy executive dysfunction and sensory overload issues; if he’s going to need help communicating with us; what accommodations he’ll need to live a happy and healthy life. And I’d like to know that stuff sooner rather than later. 

Sigh. I don’t know. It’s not a super rough waiting game, because at the end of the day, we’re probably only waiting another month, and the screening centers our service coordinator suggested to us haven’t gotten back to me yet anyway. But it’s still frustrating to have no news whatsoever, not in a good or bad way, just because we’re waiting.

And then there’s Carrie, just running laps past every milestone, perfecting her toddle, adding new words to her vocabulary every day. She’s frustratingly cute; she’ll say ‘uh oh!’ or shake her head while saying ‘mm-mm!’ if she’s caught doing something she shouldn’t be. She has her stuffed Bear that she found after my mom brought some boxes to our house a couple of weeks ago; said Bear is now her constant companion, and between him and her stuffed Ariel doll, she’s constantly on about her favorite little friends. She’s impish and giggly and basically everything you’d want out of a little girl, almost stereotypically so. All she needs are the little pigtails and she’ll be sitting squarely in the “Platonic form of Daughter” box. 

She and Isaac get along better these days than they used to, though they still fight over toys and books and my lap. They give each other kisses pretty frequently, team up to accomplish whatever baby feat they’re working on, hide in their “clubhouse” (which is underneath and behind their high chairs, against the wall), and find each other’s lovies whenever the other is crying (Carrie will actually toddle around calling “Wubba! Wubba!” when Isaac loses his pacifier-slash-Wubbanub; Isaac throws Bear at Carrie whenever she cries). I think that’s my one fear with Isaac having autism; I worry that it will affect their relationship. I don’t think it will, but I want them to be close, or at least as close as they can be. 

But. But but but. 

School starts soon, and there are cookies to bake. Good night.