Baked to perfection

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

With New Year’s Eve approaching, we’re almost through another holiday season. It’s always downhill for me after school lets out for Christmas.  That’s great given I’m in a near-comatose state by then from all the rich foods consumed at holiday gatherings. That state also affords an incredible excuse to eat with wild abandon on Christmas Day. Honestly, I was unaware of what I was doing. My bathroom scale, however, will remind me exactly what I’ve been up to.

Since being in a heavy carbohydrate haze is probably not an adequate excuse to miss my deadline, I’ll try my level best to put together enough words to fill my spot. (Note to self: If I run short on words, I can always submit a new photo. That will absolutely fill more space. Hmmm . . . public humiliation may be what’s required to get me to push away from the table and exercise something other than my jaw.) Despite my mental fog, I still remember that today marks a very special event in my life.

On December 28, 1998, I got out of the bakery business forever. (This is where everyone who knows me pauses and scratches their head.) For six and a half years I baked on and off, with roughly 27 of those months spent working around the clock.

It was a family business, and Jeff and I learned we could withstand the heat in the kitchen about as well as any others who dared travel the same territory. But boy, oh boy, did we get an education on ovens. Ours worked just fine save for one minor detail: It baked little buns to perfection but the oven door simply would not open when the timer went off.

We didn’t discover that little problem until the first bun was baked. Countless people yanked, pulled and otherwise tried to force it open: no luck. A man with lots of tools and special skills removed the door and retrieved the bun looking every bit like it had been nearly pulled through the vents. It’s a good thing buns are malleable.

The oven mechanic decided it was probably a one-time fluke and that the door probably wouldn’t stick again. Well, he was almost right. The timer went off on the second bun, the door opened a tiny bit, but not nearly enough to get the bun out without squishing it. The door had to be removed again.  And, much to our surprise, the bun we thought we were baking turned out to be a totally different variety –with raisins instead of without.

We gave not another thought to the oven door, decided two buns with raisins was plenty and put up the “closed” sign.

A year and a half later, and much to everyone’s surprise, there was another bun in the oven.  Thankfully, the oven mechanic suggested setting the timer and removing the door prior to the “done” alarm sounding. That was the way to go! My last little muffin (without raisins) came out perfectly cooked with not so much as a single mark and not squished in the slightest. Of course she was the prettiest we’d ever seen.

Over the years, she begged for us to re-open the bakery. I explained that the plumbing had been altered and no longer met code.

I’m quite all right with being out of the business. I don’t miss the constant clean-up, long sleepless hours, or the mind-numbing worry over whether all the ingredients mixed up just right.  Plus, there’s all that stuff about the third time being a charm, and not messing with perfection –especially when it falls straight from heaven. Happy Birthday Muffin!

© 2008 Natalie Whatley


‘Twas the week of Christmas

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, National

The paragraphs below are what I hashed out after three weeks of running at a crazed pace. In some ways I can hardly wait for life to slow down, but I’m very aware of the price. Like many of you, I’m in the trenches of parenthood 24/7. Some days the trench fills with water, and I struggle to keep my head above the surface. Others…why, I have the most beautiful trench there ever was. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

‘Twas the week of Christmas, and all through my mind, not a coherent thought was stirring, not even a rhyme. The lights were hung ‘round the house without harm, no body parts broken, or too much cause for alarm. Christmas parties were had, social obligations fulfilled, and all I wanted was some quiet and still. The children wrote lists as long as North Main, while dollar signs floated ‘round their father’s brain.

And Papa with his headache, and I with my new cat, were hoping one day it’d be possible to just take a nap. When from the upstairs there came a horrid smell. I looked up at the ceiling and started to yell. Away to grab Lysol, I ran a mad dash, began spraying the air wondering which kid to splash.

The light on the carpet outside the bathroom lit the offending parties — they’ll be needing a broom. When what to my frustrated eyes should appear three young people frolicking in good cheer. With an old dog in on the fun, I knew right that moment they’d better run! Faster than lightning the children they split, as they had no idea which gluteal target I’d get.

To a clean bathroom before the herd bathes, I pay homage to my silly rage. So down to the rooms I fly lickety-split, with a few thoughts in mind and envisioning a sit. In that moment, I felt in my heart, the tugging of strings from children so smart.

As I drew in a breath and dared turn around, up in years they went, almost without making a sound. Dressed in much bigger clothes, they’ll all be taller than me. I barely saw it happen. Could it truly be? Larger amounts of knowledge they now carry in their heads. Looks like they’re growing up; it’s full speed ahead.

Their eyes how they wonder, their smiles, how toothy. Their faces are changing, and at times they act goofy. Their mouths sometimes speak in ways that amaze.  And the kind things they do leave me in a proud haze.

With a tiny bit of childhood left, maybe they can handle my not always being deft. The years they’ve gone by faster than I ever imagined, like the blink of an eye, faster than I ever fathomed. It’s had its ups and downs — I’ve always had doubts. And sometimes I cried after filling their day with shouts.

On the brink of tears, and with a new vision in sight, I’ve learned that giving my best would make things mostly right.  They love me anyway, in spite of mistakes. And I’ll see them through no matter what it takes.  Bowing my head, I pray they’ll be safe, while asking forgiveness for decisions made in haste.

Onward and upward, I hope we’ll proceed; it’s not easy being the one in the lead. But a quiet voice tells me as I turn in for the night, it will all be OK, for your path I will light.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Raising generation text

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

On top of all that is my life, I’m trying to learn a foreign language. As a lover of proper English it’s proving painful for me, but it was bound to come to this.  There was a tremendous struggle and near bloodshed, but my teenaged son can finally claim victory. (He’s matured in his fighting style, and I decided to let him win.)

The Whatley household has seen its share of cell phones over the years. I purchased my first one back in 1994; my daughter found it in a box recently, and we had a big laugh over the monstrosity. The battery alone is bigger than my current phone! Still, I looked very cool back in the day leaving the downtown Houston office building where I worked – rushing to the parking garage in hopes of  making  it to the daycare on time while still conducting business. (That scenario was the beginning and ending of my belief that I could do it all.)

As the mother of three, I routinely hear horror stories when the subject of cell phones and children rears its ghastly head in polite adult conversation. I listened with both ears wide open and learned that I was not parentally cool. I held out on having kids with phones until it became a “necessity”. Necessity in regards to cell phones is a gray area; those of us who grew up without them somehow survived. I put it off as long as I could…OK, I was worn down. “Hi, my name is Natalie, and I allowed my oldest to badger me into a cell phone.”  I feel better now.

Roughly two years ago, under the auspices of sports practices after school with erratic ending times, we bestowed cell phone service on the oldest.  He was thrilled. But we removed what I’ve since learned is the ONLY way teens today want to communicate: text messaging.  I had good intentions and was looking to avoid a horror story of my own. I was constantly reminded of how incredibly lame I was, and that by extension, he was receiving the same tag. For two years, he complained, cajoled, and whined. For two years, I reminded him who paid the bill.

With the ending of a two-year contract and new phone plans dancing in his head, the issue was raised again. It was a different game because he’s been gainfully employed and stated very bull-headed like (I have no idea where he got such gumption) that texting would be on the new plan. He negotiated with fine skill (I’ll take credit for that), and we haggled over whether or not he’d have his own plan, or piggy-back on the family account.

Paying a portion of the family bill would cost far less than having his own, and we’d have to co-sign for it anyway, but he was willing to shell out some big bucks (that’s a lot of hunting for him) for modern communication. A downtrodden man, full of conviction and teenaged angst triumphed over his eternally un-cool parents.  I’m sure the moment will go down as one of the sweetest in his near 16 years of life.

I strive to look for the good in life’s happenings. The really cool part about the whole experience is that the inbox on my phone is half-full – my favorite almost 16-year-old includes me when he’s checking in with all the peeps (slang for people) who matter most in his life. The only problem: It’s written in cryptic homophones and acronyms. I have immersed myself and hope for fluency before my thumbs require surgery for repetitive stress injury.

Here’s the 411 (information) to avoid KPC (keeping parents clueless):

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

‘Tis the season to wake clothing giants

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

I feel like I’m losing my mind. Bouts of irritability are on the verge of being full-blown two-year-old tantrums, and I’m suffering from CRS (can’t remember stuff). Jeff attributes my condition to older age. While I am turning 38 today, (Yes, I’m aware it’s Pearl Harbor Day… and, yes, I’ve been told I have an uncanny knack for waking sleeping giants.) I don’t think it has anything to do with my current afflictions.

I contend that external stimuli in the form of a home, three children, a dog, and a cat (Shadow is doing well; he’s currently convalescing from having his tomcat status removed.) combined with the holiday season is enough to send anyone on the hunt for some spiked egg nog, or a hot tottie.  Can I have both? December is to blame for my recent scatter-brained ways.

A mere glance at the calendar causes me shortness of breath and heart palpitations. (No, it’s not one of THOSE calendars; it’s a plain run-of-the-mill planner.) Not to brag, but my social calendar is quite full.  I was stressed over it for about a nanosecond before I realized how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. Plus, free meals at nice places are involved. My sanity would be called into question if I declined.     

The stress was derived mostly from the fact that I don’t have a thing to wear to all these events. (We’ll pause for a moment to let the men folk complete their mass eye-roll.) I set out to remedy my fashion crisis and came home with some comfy pajamas and matching slippers. Give or take a few, I tried on about 5,000 ensembles and decided clothing designers and retailers have lost touch with reality.  How could such a thing happen in this age of focus groups and market research?

I bumped into Yvonne McMullen and Susan Freeman in a local store. They, too, were searching out attire for holiday events and gatherings. We held our own brief assessment of the market’s current offerings: Everything looks like maternity clothes! That’s swell if you’re expecting, but for those of us who aren’t … After having three children, my body has pretty much entered a perpetual state of looking about five months pregnant. Note to clothiers: Most women look for clothing that detracts from that area, or at the very least throws some sort of camouflage around it. I’m not looking to show off my belly! Ugh!

I have some suggestions for boosting apparel sales, and I hope someone in charge of something is paying attention. For starters, smoke and mirrors are as American as apple pie. Dressing rooms have mirrors; the apple pie is glued to my thighs. Where’s the smoke? If I can’t have smoke, could you please do womankind a huge favor?  Dim the lights and try some bulbs a little less harsh than fluorescent. The most flawless among us don’t look good in that lighting.

And, for heaven’s sake, get rid of the three-way mirrors! Had the good Lord intended for me to view my own backside, He would have placed my eyes in a different location or designed the human neck differently.  Hint to clothing stores: You’d sell more if I were able to at least parade around the dressing area thinking I looked far better than I really did. Merchandise wouldn’t be returned because my lights at home are dim, and I avoid cleaning the mirrors to attain that soft, filtered look only given to magazine cover models.  You’re missing out on sales, and labor costs for mirror cleaning could be saved.

Somehow, I’ll make it through the coming weeks. If a certain someone who I know is reading doesn’t raid my house and take all the hot tottie fixings, I’ll make myself a batch and hit the town wearing my new microfiber plush pajamas and matching slippers. I can get away with it…I’m turning 83 today.