From My Kitchen Pantry. Rich and Luscious Crème Pâtissière.

Ron and I are making eclairs this pastry weekend. I had never made pastry cream before, but have made curd numerous times. I was thrilled to find out they are equally easy. I used this recipe and followed her instructions exactly and my cream turned out perfect on the first try!

The Paddington Foodie

Creme Patisserie

This weekend we’re celebrating my husband’s birthday, and as always I’m baking a celebratory cake. Last year we embarked on a serious chocoholic indulgence with a Chocolate Mousse Torte with Candied Morello Cherries and Hazelnut Praline, this year it’s to be something lighter – a berry and cream filled Pavlova. Of course for my family one regular sized pavlova just won’t do so I doubled the recipe. What to do with eight left over eggs? Make Crème Pâtissière; an idea initially inspired some time ago by Ana over at her blog Delicious By Ana.

Crème Pâtissière is a ludicrously rich and luscious French pastry cream or custard that can be used to fill all manner of desserts, tarts and cakes. Think simple fruit tarts, choux pastry puffs, mille feuille, éclairs, Napoleons and layer cakes.  In my family it is also enjoyed inelegantly and stealthily; by the spoonful, straight…

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I Can Hold On Fine

I received an email from a dear friend/surrogate parent asking why he hasn’t seen any posts since January. I guiltily admitted that I had not written anything. To be fair, I had no idea it had been that long. I swear yesterday was Christmas; I blinked and tomorrow I turn 47. Only 8 more months of shopping days until Christmas again. No. Someone please stop the tilt-a-whirl for a minute because I feel a bit dizzy.

I think I’ve slept through a lot of the past three months thanks to my ramped up migraines. I still have another month before I finally have an appointment with a neurologist, but thanks to a four day hospital stay after being admitted through the ER, at least I know I don’t have any tumors and my spinal fluid volume is normal. On the plus side, I did find out that I have an aneurysm (very tiny and in a spot that very rarely hemorrhages). I swear this is karma biting me in the ass for when, 25 some odd years ago that I first had pray-for-death level migraines, I joked about it being from an aneurysm. While some types certainly can cause migraines, mine is not one of them. Rather than a neurological problem causing migraines, my migraines are causing neurological problems. It’s a better situation, definitely.

That’s not the only way that karma is working overtime around here. All my younger (much, much younger and much more evil) days of flirting with married men now sees me on the other side of that equation. Intellectually, I know that my marriage is safe and sound (thank goodness this didn’t happen even just a couple of years ago), but psychologically, I know exactly how insidious attraction can be. Add in a whole lot of insecurity from being chronically ill and it’s a formula for misery. Oddly enough, this has been a positive thing. In spite of our weekly fight cycle, we’ve been spending some great quality time together, partly due to my husband’s attempts to reassure me that he’s not going anywhere. It helps that we finally have a mutual hobby.

In February at a knitting retreat, a couple of other knitters started talking about a baking competition reality series called The Great British Bake Off. Initially I was watching it with Aubrey but after passing through the living room while it was on, Ron got caught up in it. What started as simply watching episodes turned into talking about baking, and eventually we attempted our own. It’s exciting because there aren’t any local gluten free patisseries so we can’t just go buy pastries. Nope, if we want to eat this stuff, we have to make it.

I’ve always loved cooking with my husband. Making frittatas on Saturdays is one of my favorite things that we do together. But this is different. We’re both decent cooks but novice bakers so we’re learning it at the same time. Yesterday was our first go. I found a recipe for cherry-lime curd and figured it would be great in crepes. Since curd only uses egg yolk, we had four whites left over, so Ron decided to make meringue cookies as training for future macarons. I wish I’d thought to snap a pic of him looking up into the bowl of meringue as he held it upside down over his head to see if it was thick enough. He flavored them with Grand Marnier but thought they tasted too boozy. I thought they were delicious, even if they did have the texture of packing peanuts. Unfortunately, we also learned that we’re both sensitive to sorghum flour. Although Ron can have gluten just fine, sorghum gave us both a gluten-like reaction. Being sick sort of took the shine off our morning but now we know to avoid it.

In addition to migraines and baking, we now have Aubrey living at home again. Her roommate had a major health issue and had to move much earlier than expected. Rather than moving in December, she found out at the beginning of March that she needed to be out by April 1. Of course that was right when I ended up in the hospital…worst possible timing! Somehow we managed to get everything packed up during her last week and hired movers to get it all down the two flights of stairs.

Having her here is both good and bad. She’s easy to live with and I love seeing her every day but we are crammed in. If it weren’t for all the KonMari work we did in January and February, we wouldn’t have had room at all. As it is, all of our KMing came to a shrieking halt just when I was almost done with the craft studio. We managed to do our bedroom, the bathroom, the office, the kitchen, and most of the living room. The unfinished craft piles were moved from the studio into the office. The first few days after Aubrey moved in were rough because crap was piled everywhere and boxes were stacked in the living room. I ended up making her put the living room boxes in her car until she gets a storage unit.While that still doesn’t solve the boxes in the kitchen and the ridiculous amount of clothes in her room, at least my living room is clean.

In case you’re wondering, our bedroom is still clean and uncluttered!  All of our drawers are full of perfectly folded clothes stood on end. My nightstand is occasionally in need of purging and our pillows tend to stay piled on a chair since I go back to bed too often to warrant bothering to make it in the mornings, but the floor and our dresser tops are all clear. During the days of disaster in the living room, it was my safe haven so I didn’t go crazy.

Considering that tomorrow is my birthday, I’m glad I got a sort of end-of-year clearance post done. Hopefully age 47 will see me not gain 300 lbs as I eat all the carbs that I swore off last fall. I also hope to finally (after five years!) get rid of the shit brown paint in my kitchen. Yup, those are my two main goals for this year and trust me, they’re huge. After all of the leaps and bounds of progress during age 46, I think 47 is going to seriously kick ass. Happy birthday to me!

An Infinite Thing

Yesterday was a tremendous day of a hundred different sparks, like a freakin’ firework. From my own therapeutic perspective to my daughter’s growth as an adult, for me it has been one long day of explosive joy.

It started out with news that Aubrey’s yarn was one of the first sales of yarn crawl at our local yarn store. Like, the yarn hadn’t even been checked into inventory yet when someone scooped it up and bought it. Considering how hard she’s worked on skeining, caking, and winding after working her real job all day, it was gratifying to see her efforts rewarded.

I finally figured out what my therapist was trying to make me see when she said that the company a person chooses to keep says a lot about that person. I didn’t take their choice to mean that I’m “less than.” I realized that just like people who are in love with being in love, infatuated with someone new while keeping someone old around just in case, there are those who engage in the friendship version of that. That has no bearing on my value as a person. I can be their friend anyway. I’ve certainly been guilty of that behavior myself and no one is perfect.  Do I still respect them as much? No, but that’s okay too. Strike one for the unfillable void.

I didn’t get pissed off at my mother’s comment on facebook. While I would normally rant against her fictionalization of our relationship as one where she’s supportive, I have zero expectations therefore zero disappointments.

Spent the day catching up with my friend Cyndi whom I haven’t seen in ages. She gave me perspective, validation, and the reminder that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.

I waded into the friendship waters and decided they weren’t worth swimming in. Someone new failed my litmus test; how people treat waitstaff isn’t just useful for deciding who is worth dating. It works for friendship, too. My caution flags were raised when we met though I couldn’t put my finger on why. Being rude doesn’t make you cool but leaving a small (or non-existent) tip because of things beyond the server’s control makes you decidedly uncool. Done and done.

For whatever reason, when Aubrey got home from work, she was feeling chatty. Not just “this is what happened at work today” kind of chatty, either. More like “this is who I am, what I believe, what I dream about, who I love” kind of chatty. We talked for hours, about people, life, but mainly about Isaac.

Turns out she’s secretly been texting with him for over a year, off and on. They even went to a movie back in the spring. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he is still the love of her life, and she readily admits that he always will be. He stopped texting after the movie and she finally confronted him about it five months later. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he is still broken. She told him she’ll always be here for him and that she considers him family. That was the last time they talked.

In tumblrspeak, I believe the Universe shipped them. They are the fucking Titanic of ships, but they are eternally shipped. That being said, as much as I love him like my own child, I’m glad he walked away. The moment she saw him, she knew she was still in love with him and would take him back in a heartbeat. But until he gets to the other side enough to know that he deserves her, they would just be a time-bomb of disaster, and this time, I don’t think she’d recover. It breaks my heart that he’s still broken, and it especially breaks my heart that he may always be, but it would kill me to watch her implode again after he was gone. And no doubt about it, with where he is in his own life, he would eventually leave and she would never, ever get over it. The last time literally almost killed me. I don’t think *I* would ever get over it.

He’s still angry with me, almost five years later. I told her that it’s okay that he’s angry at me. I’m a big girl and I can take it. No matter how he feels, I do still love him like my own. One of our favorite Supernatural quotes is, “Family don’t end in blood, boy.” It could be another twenty years and if he showed up on my doorstep needing to hide a body, I’d give him crap but I’d get a shovel. I’m also adult enough to know that people don’t feel anger at those they don’t care about; they feel nothing. I stand by my belief that I’m the one it’s safe for him to be angry with, because I do love him no matter what. And if that’s what he needs me to be, that’s what I’ll be.

Life, the Universe, and everything, all in one night’s conversation. Things change and nothing changes. My daughter is amazing and I could not possibly be any more proud of her. She’s going to be just fine. I’m going to be just fine. I hope with all of my heart that Isaac will be just fine.

We. Are all. Enough.

 

Short, Dark, and Chubby

When I was in Europe 15 years ago, no one could guess what country I was from. I was too dark to be English (plus I had no accent), not dark nor blonde enough to be Spanish (plus I had no accent), and I was really too chubby to be European of any nationality. I certainly couldn’t possibly be American because I was quiet, polite, inquisitive, respectful, and not arrogant. But American I was and American I am and 15 years later, I am still short, dark, and chubby.

My husband loves short and dark. He finds my brown eyes and black hair and olive complexion most attractive among a sea of blonde haired, blue eyed, pasty white skinned soccer moms, which I don’t understand but I’ll take it. However, the chubby is something we both struggle with. Don’t get me wrong! He still finds me attractive and I still feel sexy and we have a healthy sex life, but I would be so much more confident if I could look like I used to and he worries about my health, rightfully so. It doesn’t help that in the back of my mind, I keep hearing words he said back when I lost a ton of weight with Overeaters Anonymous. He loved my new, thin, body, and said it was such a relief after my being so chubby for so long. That was great until I gained the weight back. He never said anything mean or derogatory, but I knew he longed for the days when I was the perfect size to complement his size.

After coming back from my trip to New England in January/February, I weighed more than I’ve weighed in five years. It’s not my highest weight, but it’s getting there. I couldn’t even fit into my fat clothes. The only thing that fits are knit skirts with elastic waistbands and t-shirts. Fortunately, I have plenty of both, but I’m sick of wearing them. It was long past time to do something.

I love to swim. I can spend hours in the water, backstroking across the English Channel in my mind. I have waterproof music, so I can swim until my battery dies. I feel graceful and light and athletic when I am in the water. I decided I need a pool if I’m going to stick to any kind of exercise regimen. I looked at various pools around town and it was a nightmare! The JCC has a fabulous pool but it’s outdoors and in the summer, there will be 50 million kids splashing around, plus they have limited hours. UIW has my favorite pool, but the parking situation is ridiculous, plus their locker room is beyond disgusting. The public natatoriums are filthy, the locker rooms make me wretch (I once saw the same used tampon on a shelf for a month in spite of my complaining about it every other day), they have limited hours, and they are expensive. A few of the school districts have their own natatoriums, but again, limited hours and expensive.

No matter where I went, it was going to be expensive. I started looking at gyms, which around here is Gold’s Gym. I saw five that were decent, but the pools weren’t very clean and they were crowded. However, there is a gym about 30 minutes from my house that has a gorgeous, clean pool with clean lockers and is loaded with amenities, but it is pricey; about three times what a regular Gold’s membership costs. Ron very generously agreed that it was worth it if it meant I would swim regularly. So I joined last week and let me tell you, with that price tag hanging over my head, I’m swimming, dammit!

I’ve missed one day out of four, which isn’t bad. It takes me almost four hours from start to finish to swim one mile. A lot of that is travel time to the gym and back. Even without travel time, it’s three hours. I have to gather my stuff from where I put it all out to dry, change clothes, rinse off, swim (which takes about an hour and a half), then shower, change clothes, come home and hang everything out to dry again. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is.

On top of that, I sleep about twelve hours a day to compensate for the exercise. While yes, my body is less sore, the payoff is that I am more tired. When I’m awake, I’m more energetic than when I don’t swim, but I’m not awake for as long. What it comes down to is that 16 hours of my day is taken up by sleeping and swimming.

All of this puts my husband on the other side of the fence. Now he’s telling me to slow down, not to swim, not to go to the gym, to take it easy. This is what ALWAYS happens. He teases me that I need to exercise, but when I do, he insists that I’m overdoing it and need to rest.

This time, I am not listening to him. I’m not listening to anyone except myself. I will know when I’m overdoing it, but until that time, swimming is my focus. I will Nike this bitch one day at a time, one lap at a time. I don’t care what time of day I have to swim, I will “Just do it.” I can’t do anything about short, I can’t do anything about dark, but I can certainly change chubby.

The Great Clutter Clear Out Day 2

One of the worst things about fibromyalgia is the lack of consistency. I might feel great one day then feel like crap the next. In fact, that’s pretty much guaranteed. So while I managed to get a lot done yesterday, I got very little done today. However, what matters is that I at least did *something*. Even if I only manage to get rid of two things a day, that’s still 730 things in a year, right?

I thought for sure I would sleep like the dead last night, but I was oh so wrong. I slept for a little less than four hours. I managed to grab another couple of hours this morning, but I finally gave up and got moving at 9:30am. I tackled more coffee cups and the two drawers of spatulas and spoons. I assigned a shelf for the wine glasses and got them washed and put away. I loaded up the dishwasher, washed a few pans, then left for knitting. My 15 minutes was more than up, so I didn’t feel at all guilty.

I’ve been having major sensory overload issues since I’ve come back from Leigh’s. I love love love my knitting groups, but both Sunday and today left me with light and sound sensitive headaches. As part of “doing things differently,” I decided to be happy with what did get done instead of running myself into the ground and not being able to do anything at all tomorrow.

As Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Moving On

After much discussion, Ron and I decided that it was time for Aubrey to move out. We feel that the only reason for a 21 year old kid to live at home is if they are in school, which she is not. Considering she doesn’t want to share a bathroom with Matt, she was pretty motivated to find a place before he moves home.

We spent days looking at apartments online until the wee hours of the morning. We laughed our asses off at some of the reviews that people have posted at apartmentratings.com. From possums to a girl who steals stuff and leaves it in the bushes, to the people complaining that maintenance won’t come change their light bulb, but especially the ones obviously written by management, we waded through probably fifty different properties. It’s pretty easy to tell which reviews are fake; if there are several positive reviews written on the same day, or clustered across several days; if they gush about how great management is; or if they use an excessive amount of exclamation points, it’s a safe bet those aren’t residents.

I found a couple of places on craigslist that seemed worth checking out. One was a garage apartment over in Matt’s neighborhood. I thought it was perfect, but Aubrey didn’t like. She said she couldn’t figure out what it was, but she just had a bad feeling about it. Later we looked at crime statistics and the registered sex offender database…turns out that a rapist lives across the street!

We checked out an apartment complex that is just down the street from us, and although Aubrey loved the closet and kitchen in the tiny one bedroom, I was wary of all the extra fees tacked on to moving in. They wanted $45 to do a credit check, plus another $75 “administrative” fee. Then there was the deposit and first month’s rent. It was going to cost her over $600 just to move in, assuming she passed their various requirements. It was also going to be more than she could really afford. Although we could cosign for her, Ron said we wouldn’t be doing her any favors by allowing her to live above her means, and it would teach her a bad lesson. I had to agree, and Aubrey took it well when we said no.

Finally, I came across an ad for a roommate. Two guys wanted to rent out their extra bed and bath for $600 including all utilities, even internet.  When we went to meet them and see the place, it was perfect and exactly what I had hoped for. The apartment complex is slightly more upscale, and it’s in our old neighborhood so Aubrey knows where everything is. The apartment itself is great, other than being on the third floor. Since the guys are a couple, I don’t have to worry about Aubrey’s safety and I absolutely adore them. One guy is an immunologist and the other one is military intelligence. The immunologist is a complete biology geek, so he and Aubrey have much in common. She snapped it up within ten minutes of walking through the door, and I feel so much better knowing there is someone to notice if she goes missing. Mama paranoia, I know.

The best part is that it is month to month, so if she hates living away from us and her dog, she can easily move back home. There’s also the possibility that Aubrey could become a manager at work, which would likely require moving to a different city. She’s not sure about applying, though.

We had a long talk about the whole management track and she said one reason for putting it off is that she’s scared to move to a different city where she has no family and knows no one. If she ended up in New York she’d be fine, since we have friends in New England that are like family, but Pittsburgh, Miami, or DC? Not so much. However the most important factor for her is wanting to be here while Matt is recovering. She’s terrified that something will happen with him and that she won’t be here, or won’t be able to get back fast enough. Even though we are all moving forward with the assumption that Matt will be okay, I can understand her fear.

She started moving in last Saturday, but her car was giving her all sorts of grief last week. Then there’s the face that she’s packed about seven boxes and moved six. My friends are suggesting that I pack for her, and I’ve threatened her that if I have to do that, I’m packing pretty much everything into the trash. She’s off tomorrow, so we’re going to try to get the majority moved then.

As exciting as it is to see her make the next big step into adulthood, it is scary. I am going to miss her terribly. She’ll only be ten minutes away, and I’m holding her dog hostage, so hopefully I’ll see her often. I’ve been knitting myself into a frenzy to cope with all the stress. At least it’s productive!

 

Achey Breaky Heart

Both of my kids were absolute terrors when they were little. From Matt barrelling down our street straight towards a busy intersection when he was 10 to Aubrey climbing anything and everything, they constantly made my heart stop. Aubrey was actually worse, because she loves bugs and has no fear of creepy crawly things. Kids don’t understand that most of the reason why we scream, yell, and punish them is purely out of fear. Fear for their safety, future success, happiness, security…It’s why we push and hover.

I’ve always feared for my kids, especially Aubrey. When she was about a year old, she drank Era (laundry detergent) from the lid that Matt had left on the bathroom counter. At 18 months, she swallowed a penny. I’d never felt time halt before, but from the moment she started to choke, time screeched to frame by frame. I grabbed her and threw her onto my knee with enough pressure to dislodge it so she could sort of breathe. I raced her to the hospital where they took her into an operating room. They wanted her in a sterile field in case they needed to cut her open if it fell in her windpipe while they were pulling it out. She was fine, but I was ever more vigilant after that.

Matt was my easy one. Not to say he never did anything, but his death defying idiocies were fewer and farther between. I never worried about him walking alone, living alone, driving alone. Now all I do is worry.

He had a MUGA scan on Wednesday to see if his ejection fraction has improved in the month that he has been on his medications. The echocardiogram on the day he was diagnosed showed his EF at 30%. That means 70% of the blood in his left ventricle was just pooling there and not being pumped out. A normal EF is anything above 50%. His cardiologist had warned us that if his EF was below 35%, he would need to wear a LifeVest, which is a type of external defibrillator and heart monitor.

The nuclear tech that did his scan was lovely. She explained everything that she would do before she started, then explained again as she went. A MUGA scan involves taking a rather large amount of blood, separating out the red blood cells, tagging them with a radioactive agent, then injecting them back in. Then a large “camera” takes pictures of the heart, allowing the tech to see how much blood stays pooled in the heart while it pumps.

She let me watch while she measured the blood pool frame by frame, so we knew the results immediately. Matt’s EF was 33%. MY heart stopped for a moment, and I wanted to cry. Instead, I pulled on my hair to keep the tears away. Without a LifeVest, Matt could quite literally drop dead. If his heart went into V-Tach (beating too fast) or V-Fib (beating erratically), he likely wouldn’t know it. His heart would just stop and he would die. He would be fine until he wasn’t fine.

Fortunately, the LifeVest is 98% effective. While I do worry about that 2%, I can sleep with those odds. His cardiologist ordered that he be fitted for the vest immediately. A visiting nurse came out to his apartment to show him how it worked, what to do when it went off, and how to arrange all the wires and pads. Aubrey, Amanda, and I were all there so we would know what to do if it went off and Matt was unconscious.

Watching my son’s heart beat was an emotional thing for me. No one understands how different a mother feels about her child except for other mothers. This person on the table grew inside me, was birthed by me, nursed at my breast for 11 months. His heart is a piece of my heart. Knowing he is ill and could possibly cease to exist terrifies me in a way that I’ve only felt once before, and that was when I thought Aubrey might cease to exist. I cannot imagine living in a world that does not have Matt in it.

Our family had already discussed Matt moving back home if he needed the LifeVest. We decided it would be best. Since his lease is up, he can move without ruining his rental history. Being home will give him the option of not working so many hours and will relieve a lot of his financial stress. He knows I’ll make sure he’s eating right, and he won’t have to exert himself to clean his apartment. He can focus 100% on resting and allowing his heart to heal.

Of course, that decision threw life into a tizzy. Aubrey refuses to share a bathroom with Matt, so she’s looking for an apartment. While it’s about time for her to move, she was waiting until she turns 21 in June before moving out, because then she’d be eligible for a management position at her work. That would possibly mean she’d end up in a different city. At the very least, she’d be making enough to afford a nice place versus whatever dive she could afford right now.

Because Matt has asthma and is allergic to animals (although he loves them), I am going to have to clear as much dust collecting crap out of my house as possible. I will need to dust and sweep every day to keep the pet hair under control, and that will be much easier if we have less stuff. We plan for Matt to take over Aubrey’s room. We will install a window AC and block off the central AC vent to keep his room as dander free as possible.

As Matt said, he hates to be a, “woe is me” kind of person, but right now, he gets to be, “woe is me.” We agree. For at least the next six months, the world will revolve around Matt. It is all about him. It really is only fair after all the times Aubrey was the center of the world while we took care of her medical issues. She’s been great about giving up her room and is completely supportive of Matt moving home. As much as my kids fight and pick at each other, they love each other. She’s worried, but she is a rock.

Once again, life is one day at a time. I cannot think about tomorrow, I cannot think about “what if.” I am focused on what has to be done right now, this moment, today. I will not whine about being cramped together in this house. I am grateful that being cramped means we are all still here. More than usual, I have an attitude of gratitude. All these changes we must make are because Matt is still alive. To me, that is worth it.