Sunday, July 11, 2010

Birthdays, Butterflies, and CAKE

I've already written about The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, turning eight, but I didn't write about what we did that day. We celebrated by inviting our homeschooling group over to our house for swimming and socializing. I'm still sore from all the prep we had to do to get the house and yard fit for company! Here are some before and after pictures of our back yard; what a difference. It was as dramatic as any "reveal" on HGTV.

I didn't take "before" pictures but I found this one (above) from a few months ago; it shows all of the weeds around the pool and the hedges growing through the fence. The weeds got worse; this picture really doesn't show how awful things were.

Here's the "after" of the same area; no weeds, hedges under control.

Our picnic table and seating area, table washed down and toys neatly put away.

The other side of the pool. I'd love to rip out the pool (and that horrendously out of date, mismatched maroon tile) and all of the pavers and start over, but a good clean up will have to do. (I'm going to have the peach pavers pressure washed, say that 10 times fast, next week.) I wouldn't change our view!

As for the party, here's how things went down. On the Friday a week before the party, the homeschooling group moms were sitting around deciding what we were going to do next. I mentioned that The Youngest's birthday would fall on the same day as our next meeting. One of the moms said we should just have his party then, so I said wow, what a great idea, and we all wrote it in our calendars. I'm going along with my week, and about Wednesday I decide to go out and clean up the back yard a little. Toys and garbage (my kids are slobs, OK?) are all strewn about, so about an hour of work should do the trick. Then I walked out there. OMG, what a nightmare!! So much more to do than pick up a few toys! Weeds and ants. Somewhere along the line when I wasn't looking weeds and fire ants took over our back yard. I needed help and I needed it bad.

First order of business was to call for reinforcements. I called a landscaper who has done some work for us in the past to see if he would be available to help out at the last minute and thank heavens he was. I called DH and said BRING HOME AMDRO. I don't like using poisons and chemicals, but when it comes to fire ants there just isn't any other choice; they have to go. I did what I could to get rid of as many of them as possible before DH got home by pouring 8 pots of boiling water on the mounds. That may not have killed them all but there were mass casualties, let me tell you, because the bodies were an inch deep. DH finished up by sprinkling the amdro on what was left of the mounds so hopefully that got the queen/s. (The mounds were massive; they ran a good 20 feet long along the back wall of the house, around a foot high, and extended out at least a foot, more in some areas, plus two mounds out in the grass.)

After the ant situation was somewhat under control we had to deal with the weeds. As you can see in the pictures we have pavers with spaces, like little cracks, in between each block. Weeds were growing up out of every single crack! I knew we had a lot of weeds around the pool but we never seemed to have a problem with them in the high traffic areas were the kids play... in the past. The kids haven't spent as much time outside this summer (it's too darn hot) so I guess the weeds took the opportunity to GROW with no one running them over. I was absolutely dismayed. I went out there on Thursday, pulled out my little rolling gardening seat, put on my work gloves, and started pulling. (There will be no Round Up used at my home, EVER, no matter the situation.) The Middle Child helped then Alex, the landscaper, came over later. DH took most of our pool fence down which helped a lot. It gave us easier access to the weeds around the pool and it opened up the space for both the view and using the pool itself. DH also worked on the pool, cleaning out the filter and so forth, and took care of getting that spiffed up. Alex pulled weeds, including the big ones that were too tough for me, and cut back our hedges, which were growing through the fence and into our patio area. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, and The Eldest even helped when I forced them to. We worked all day and by the time the sun was going down it was like a different yard. I still can't believe the difference! I told Alex (who really did most of the hard work) that he gave us our yard back. The Middle Child was thrilled; she walked all over and said "I can go everywhere in the yard now". (None of us liked to walk in the areas where the weeds and over grown hedges were really bad.)

I also called in help for the house. We have a wonderful housekeeper/babysitter who came to the rescue inside. She normally comes for a few hours on Tuesdays, but she made time to work again Thursday evening to get ready for the party. I was so grateful for her help. I was totally drained from working outside, especially in the heat, that I didn't have anything left for dealing with the inside of the house. (It's times like this when having fibro really sucks.) She breezed in, did her thing, and voila, the house was party ready. I totally, completely, love this woman, and I would not be able to function without her; she is a blessing to me and our family.

I picked up take out for dinner, took some Tylenol, and fell into bed. The next day, party day, I found the energy to take care of the final details and even managed to make a 1-2-3 pound cake from scratch. (It's a very quick and easy recipe from my grandmother; see below.) I delegated the homemade ice cream to DH; he also picked up the ice and the store bought cake The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, chose. (He wanted two cakes; the one from the store had frosting flames on it! It was very cool.)

The homeschoolers arrived and I'm afraid I was a little frazzled, but I think things went well. Several of the moms brought additional munchies including some grapes, raw veggies with a hummus dip, and a great quinoa salad that were all a deliciously healthy contrast to the junk food The Wild Child wanted on his party menu. (And more chips- not so healthy but they were all eaten!) Our group is so terrific; the moms are all warm, giving, supportive, and totally amazing. (In fact, I know they wouldn't have minded our weeds one bit but I wanted everything to look great for our first time hosting the group.)

A highlight of the party was the butterfly release. We found a monarch caterpillar almost 2 weeks ago that was ready to form a chrysalis so we put him in our Bugville Treehouse. He crawled to the top of the enclosure, made his silk button, and turned into a chrysalis just like he was supposed to. I didn't think there was any way he would be ready by The Wild Child's birthday, and when I checked that morning he was still a chrysalis. Ten minutes later The Middle Child yelled for me- he emerged!!! I could NOT believe it! We took the BT outside and let him hang out, pump up his wings, and get heat acclimated for a few hours, which meant release time was right in the middle of the party. He did not seem to want to come out so I had to carefully pick him up (the way they showed us at Butterfly World so that you don't damage their wings) to get him out of there, then I let him go and off he went into the world. It was so cool.

The Bugville Treehouse, which has gotten a lot of use.

The party eventually wound down and everyone went home. We gave the kids Silly Bandz for party favors. (I figured one really cool treat would work instead of a goody bag full of junky stuff; from the reactions I made the right choice!) I took to my bed for a while, but I was too sore to lay down for long so I got up and puttered around. We were going to go out to eat dinner later, we always let the birthday child choose the restaurant, but The Wild Child decided he would rather swim with his new snorkel and mask. Fine by me. I took a long hot bath, more Tylenol, and finally went to bed.

So it wiped me out, but I'm very satisfied about what we did. I am so happy to have our back yard in decent shape again. I've always said that having company over is a good excuse to do what you need to do anyway, and this was no exception. It was a lot of hard, hard, work and we never would have done it for ourselves. (Silly us.) I'm paying the price in terms of the fibro flaring up, but I'll recover, and then I'll be able to enjoy the yard, too. I have a busy week next week (appointments and such for The Eldest) but after that I should have a few weeks without much going on so I can catch my breath before the fall, when Girl Scouts and all of our regular activities pick up again.

PS: Here's a bonus for you- my grandmother's pound cake recipe:

1 - 2 - 3 Pound Cake

1 cup Crisco
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs
Milk, if needed

Cream Crisco and sugar with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Add 2 eggs, mix well, then add one cup of flour. Alternate eggs and flour until all is used. If cake dough is too thick add a little milk until proper consistency. Pour into a well greased bundt or loaf pan. Bake at 325° until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, at least one hour.

Add mashed strawberries mixed with a little bit of sugar and some whipped topping for the best strawberry shortcake you've ever eaten.

*This is a good recipe for the shaped, 3-D cake pans. I made a teddy bear cake using this recipe once and it was perfect.

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