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The Sweet Life

Cancer Sucks but Birthdays Keep Coming

jo5.jpgShopkins cookies, a HUGE favorite of these girls!jo6.jpgReady for the party!

My daughter turned six last week, as did my cousin’s daughter.  It’s a special relationship, the two girls.  They were born within a day of each other and despite living an hour apart, they are close thanks to face-time and frequent visits.  It helps also that Helen’s mom, Josie, and I were raised in an extended family so we grew up as sisters. Ironically, Josie and I are completely different.  I am a social butterfly; she likes to keep her circle small, mostly just family.  I love being in the kitchen cooking, she loves to clean…as in vacuuming HER ENTIRE HOUSE multiple times daily!   I love to entertain, she loathes it!  She has cancer, I do not.  And therein lies the biggest difference between us. 

I knew Josie’s treatments would prevent her from planning anything for Helen so I offered to take care of the birthday celebration months ago. Not only was she relieved to have it off her plate, she seems to have used the birthday as her milestone.  Josie scheduled her chemo treatments and surgeries hoping that the recovery time would allow her to attend Helen’s birthday party.

I was nervous about her anticipation and more nervous that she would push herself too much.  Instead, it was like the rainbow theme of the party…a beautiful thing to work towards to earn that pot of gold.  And while Helen turning 6 was Josie’s inspiration to finish healing from surgery and chemo, she couldn’t deny the limited control she had…but what control she did have, she planned to execute all the way.

jo7.jpgRainbows and Shopkins!jo4.jpgCousins!

With an agreed joint birthday between us, I just had to convince the girls.  Like most kids, Asha has been talking about her birthday for months.  Specifically she wanted a Minions cake, something about bananas and golf clubs.  Oh...and Shopkins cookies since they are just so cute!  Our kids are obviously aware that Josie masi (Aunt Josie) has not been well.  When I asked Asha if we could offer to have a joint party with Helen, she face-timed her favorite cousin right away to talk about what they could plan for their special party together.  Helen had her own ideas.  When Asha asked what she wanted, she said “a rainbow cake with raindrops and clouds and both chocolate and vanilla flavors.”  I heard the conversation and wondered how the Minions would merge with the rainbows but Asha responded, “That’s exactly what I wanted too!”  Voila, cake plans made and I was so touched and proud of Asha at that moment.

We were all a bit anxious with Josie insisting she would be well enough to join the party.  After her HIPEC surgery she was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, home for a few days and then back to the hospital.  I really did not think she would be healthy enough to travel an hour to my home from Richmond to come to the birthday party.  But sure enough, she made it.  It was thrilling to see her out of a hospital gown and in regular clothes.  We agreed not to talk about her weight loss and to keep the talk happy and light and focused on the girls.  It was a better than expected day.  We limited our gathering to just family and a couple of friends, small enough to keep worries of a compromised immune system at bay.  It was a really good birthday and a memorable day.  Josie was determined to be there and she was there.  She worries now about the cancer coming back but we’re going to put that thought away and try to enjoy the day to day of life with these girls.  Screw cancer, we have lives to lead and children to raise!

jo1.jpgJosie and I with the girls as infantsjo2.jpgThe girls in matching sweaters knitted by Helen's very talented grandmother

BACKGROUND

Last summer Josie was diagnosed with Appendiceal cancer.    Three chemotherapy treatments and two major surgeries later, her body is minus an appendix, gall bladder, uterus, ovaries, ovarian cysts, part of her diaphragm, omentum, stomach lining and spleen.  After her first surgery, which was basically a hysterectomy and appendix removal, she told me that there was a silver lining; she went in at 125 pounds and came out 114 pounds.  We laughed then, not knowing that the weight loss would become an increasing concern over time.  It’s a horrible and daily struggle, this disease.  But she continues to impress me with her courage and determination and today, in this moment, she is cancer-free!

 

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Snow Much Fun?! Well Mostly Anyway!

Jan201611.jpgAnyone feel like packing this cake and flying away to escape the snow?!

We’ve all been “stuck” home now for 3 days.  I have to confess, I like it.  We stocked up on all the food items we need before the storm hit.  I have a large cake I can prep for which is fun in the early mornings.  I really need to get my house organized and my husband is much better spatially so he can help because he's here.  I love knowing my kids are close by and I have several projects we can work on together.  Quality time with our family of four...priceless!  For me anyway...my husband has been worried about power, the fish in our pond (which is no longer even visible) and how we’ll plow the driveway. 

As I sit here Monday morning after 3 days home, here is what I’ve accomplished: I started organizing in the basement, making piles…for my niece, for the cleaning lady who is pregnant, for my new friend who wants toys for her little boy, to keep for kids who come over to play, those I want to keep for my kids, to sell, Goodwill…so many piles.  My husband has a different system, put everything in a trash bag and take it to Goodwill.  I hate that system knowing that so many people I know can benefit from the toys, so many of which were passed down to me.  When Asha told me her classmate Illy shops at “Goodwills” I wondered how to just give Illy some toys…another pile maybe?  I got tired after an hour and moved upstairs to organize the pantry.  In the midst of those two areas, I searched on Pinterest for the best way to organize Legos and wine bottles…two areas, which are taking up too much space in their respective areas.  Currently my entire pantry is sitting on the counter top waiting to be reorganized.

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Playing in the snow became the priority yesterday and it was a rare opportunity to get out and really try to build a snowman.  Asha and I got to the middle of the snowman and then she wanted to come in for hot chocolate.  I needed no convincing!  The “satellite” part of my cake is drying along with some decorations Asha made for her birthday cake later in the month.  The fact that I stocked up on Valentine’s cards last year is a plus, because I’m frugal and everything is so inexpensive after the holiday that you can buy a bunch of designs and give away what they don’t use.  As I suspected, Rohan picked the dragon cards and Asha picked the cupcakes.  Perfect…done! 

Jan20168.jpgOrganized, right?!

My husband…and kids always request some baked good or the other when we are home together for an extended period.  I made him a chocolate cake with butter cream, I made Rohan apple turnovers with the apple pie filling I froze when my friend Eva went to an orchard in the fall and gave us a huge bucket of apples.  It’s my last bag is the freezer and I’m happy to see it go!  We baked fresh chocolate chip cookies to share with the kids sledding up and down the street.  But my foodie husband and I took it further:  spaghetti squash with onion and mushrooms made with a touch of balsamic, cauliflower soup with a recipe I love from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, warm macaroni and cheese with béchamel sauce (with tomatoes for us and without for the kids), fresh baked pizzas with dough my mom made right before the storm, frittatas, rice with home-made yoghurt and dal (a traditional Indian soup).  Oh it was such fun to experiment in the kitchen on Saturday as the snow fell.  My husband and I remembered the five years we were married before the kids were born when we would try cooking all kinds of different foods.  He said he had forgotten how much he enjoyed cooking.  I do have to confess…I kind of dislike making cakes “for fun” anymore.  I’d rather make something else…savory dishes, custards, soufflés, cookies, macaroons, brownies, pies…anything really.  But I relished watching my family eat the warm chocolate cake out of the oven, barely patient enough to wait for the icing to be made. 

However, there were plenty of moments I chose not to share on Facebook.  The kids arguing incessantly.  Whose turn is it on the iPad?  Who gets to pick a TV show?  I almost lost it when I realized how little they would “choose” to play with their toys given the option with screens.   I threatened to get rid of all the toys in the house; they responded by carefully making piles to give away and keep.   Asha was so upset about me yelling, she wrote me notes to let me know…  They wanted constant interaction and attention…Asha with the book she was writing, a pretty impressive feat for a 5-year old so I was happy to help with that….even if she did need help spelling every single word for a story she came up with on her own.  She wanted to ‘bind’ the book in blue covers.  Rohan spent time reading his Pokémon book as though he was studying for a test and playing with his light sabers, trying to engage all of us in battles.  He also watched the Star Wars movies with his dad while Asha and I worked on crafts.  After watching ‘Return of the Jedi,’ he’ll be going to see ‘The Force Awakens’ with Ashoka.  I looked at the two books I had kept for the blizzard, longing to start at least one...but that is not going to happen anytime soon…The Orphan Train and The Book Thief will have to wait until the kids are back in school.

Jan20167.jpgAs if mom guilt isn't bad enough, my daughter (5 yrs) writes notes!

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When we could finally leave the house on Sunday, we spent time down the street at our ‘bus stop’ where there is a house is on a huge hill.  The couple that recently moved are wonderfully generous when it comes to having kids around.  There were so many kids sledding, snowboarding and tubing down the hill.  The fire pit came out later in the day as did the wine and beer.  Neighbors were out in full force, glad to breathe the fresh air and socialize after being cooped up for a couple of days.  We had a neighbor snow blow our entire driveway,and myparents had someone do the same.  How fortunate to live in such kind-spirited neighborhood.  My mom has trouble staying home so I’m glad she has been forced to do it for a few days.  When she calls daily, she talks about making samosas, parathas and organizing her house.  We are far more alike then I care to admit.  She face-timed us so they could talk with the kids, they want to hear about their reaction to the snow.  I would think they would be glad to have a break from the kids (and us) but not so.  Oh the adoration of grandparents! 

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When the kids were in bed, we binge-watched Narcos, a show my husband just found out about, chronicling the life of Pablo Escobar.  It's not for the faint of heart but a real life soap opera which rings true to home since we have many friends who are affiliated with the DEA.  I more enjoyed other favorite shows:  Homeland, The Good Wife and Blacklist.  But to give my hubby company, I can watch almost anything with my computer on my lap (thank you Facebook and Pinterest)! 

I love snow days…to which my husband added, They're fun once a winter but that’s enough.  I disagree…I can’t wait for the next one! 

 

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Time to Bake?

People ask me all the time, when do you have time to bake?  Well I don't have time so I make time at the cost of too many other things, mostly taking care of myself (i.e. going to the gym!).  I start my day around 5 am mostly because I enjoy the solitude and quiet of the morning.  I begin by checking emails until my coffee kicks in and then I begin decorating cookies and cakes.  I love that time, when I can completely focus in the mornings.  If I have huge orders, I'm often up at 4 am but 5 am is my natural time to awake.  It's not ideal, especially when I should probably work out, organize my week, pay more attention to appointments that are listed on my huge whiteboard calendar but I tend to get lost, especially during busy weeks. 

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Last week was not one I considered busy and I missed a well check appointment for my son; SO unacceptable and not typical but it did happen!  Apparently the doctor's office left a message, when I checked the voice mail, I heard it at the end of the 18 messages I played back.  I used to pride myself on my organization skills but now I feel like an absent-minded artist, constantly thinking of my next cookie design and cake creation.  I've tried explaining it to my husband.  He wanted me to cut back until our daughter started kindergarten, now he thinks I should just take a 6-month hiatus.   He is also my biggest cheerleader.  He boasts about "his wife" making the cakes when he overhears compliments, he shows pictures of cakes and cookies to strangers which is so embarrassing.  It reminds me of people who share baby picture upon baby picture, the first couple are nice but after that, they are all the same! 

I certainly don't accept every order I get.  I prefer not to do sheet cakes.  I mean come on, Costco makes an awesome sheet cake, I really can't beat it.  The appeal for me is in the artistry and creativity so I try to limit my orders to those involving something you can't really get at a store. I really love it and if I just figure out how to manage my time better, life will be perfect.  It's not that hard to experience an entire day going by and realizing I am still in my yoga pants which was necessary for the workout I never had.  I start the day with such good intention, quiet and creative early, then complete focus on the kids from 7 until the bus arrives and then cleaning up the morning mess, making beds, throwing in laundry, paying bills, sketching cake and cookie quotes, uploading my latest creations and waiting until it's just a little bit sunnier to go on a walk.  By the time I take a break, it's almost noon and I have just enough time to shower before lunch and volunteering.  I volunteer a day for each child, I go to all the parties and field trips at school and that pretty much determines my activities for a couple of days of the week.  Plus, I have parents who live close by, several extended family members in the vicinity and those obligations take up some of my time as well.  On one day of the week, I find myself making a Costco/Wegman's run; everyone has to dedicate time for that right? By 3 pm each day, I finish whatever I’m doing so I can pick up Asha.  A half hour later, whilst she’s still snacking, I walk to get Rohan off the bus unless my husband is working from home, he loves bus duty (and I love that he loves it J).

129.jpgMy very willing taste tester!128.jpgSundays are reserved for family baking

If I work when Asha is home, she sits next to me with her own decorating tools.  The days fly by and there never seems to be enough time for anything.  But it does make you feel like a bit of a loser especially when I recall my niece, Neema, who used to babysit a set of twins when she was a college student in Washington, DC.  She told me how she would show up and the mom immediately wanted her to take the kids out, to the zoo or somewhere, anywhere so she could work at home.  Neema enjoyed the babysitting but she found it mortifying and slovenly that the mom would always be in her workout clothes hours later.  According to my lovely college-going niece, "the least she could do is take a shower and get herself together."  Well of course, but it's quite possible that she did take a shower and then put on the workout clothes...probably not, but it is possible.  And then Neema probably doesn't know that the day literally flies by...especially when you are trying to find time to bake!

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Each year my friends Danny and Scott host a Christmas party with a different theme.  For a couple of years, the theme was Cookies and Champagne.  When I asked Scott, of the 30 or so varieties of cookies he made, which seemed to be most popular, the most obvious was at the top of the list, chocolate chip cookies!  I use a few different recipes when I make chocolate chip cookies.  My husband likes them with sea salt, my daughter likes them gooey and fat and my son likes them warm…never mind the recipe, they have to be warm.  This recipe fits most needs and it’s easy to recreate in your kitchen.  It’s posted from the All Recipes website and it’s wonderful!  I’d love to hear how your family enjoys it.  I hope you find time to bake this holiday season!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.
  4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

 

 

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Kindergarten...An Almost Mid-Year Not So Bad, Not So Great Report

Here we are, almost three months into kindergarten and I was waiting to write a post because it was going to have to entail much progress from the first week of school.  Well…I have to admit, progress has been slower than I hoped.  I’m not sure why? My daughter was so easy in preschool and we’ve always thought of her as a little more social then her brother (wrong!).  But he had a hard time in kindergarten and she is having the same experience. 

 Reeya1.jpgTurkey cookies for class party
Turkey cookies for class party
 

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The main complaint appears to be the long days.  At a recent gathering of friends from various states, I discovered that amongst us, Virginia is the only state mandating full-day kindergarten.  Some other states have a half-day with an option to pay additional fees for full day school.  I wish that was the case for us.  Asha is happy once she is at school but getting there has been a continuous struggle.  The bus is my son’s favorite way to get to school but she refuses to get on it at all.  So…we walk Rohan to the bus stop after which we go home and leave to take Asha to school.  I know…you think I should just throw her on the bus crying…well judge all you want…but I didn’t Feberize and I’m doing this either. 

It’s not all bad; there has been some progress.  We don’t have to walk her into school, she’ll get out in car line.  We still walk in to pick her up.  And, she appears to be doing very well in school.  She gets on ‘purple’ daily and she is the helper in the mornings who organizes the folders.  She has told me that she and her friend Willow are the only two students who consistently behave, follow all the rules and consequently “get on purple.”  After five purples, you get to pick a prize.  In true Asha fashion, her first few prizes were picked out specifically for her brother.  She was more excited to give them to him then she was to get something for herself.  But several prizes later, she is getting herself little presents as well.  

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Fall Field Trip

Asha still says her favorite part of the day is when she sees me at pick up.  She insists that she doesn’t play with anyone at recess.  She does not want me to pack lunch because the cafeteria is too loud and the lunch ladies are mean so it’s not conducive to eating.  This makes me sad because my food-loving daughter ate pasta, cheese sandwiches and even rice on occasion at preschool on the few days she stayed for lunch.  She used to bring herself a little bottle of ketchup to flavor her sandwiches.  As I re-read this, I recall that she stopped going to preschool optional lunch bunch midway through the year.  Her attendance was sporadic and realizing it was her last year at home, I was more lax then I was with my son.  I got some new ketchup bottles and of course now, she wants none of it.  Now she’ll have a yogurt drink and bring everything else home because “it’s not fun” to eat at school.  That makes me sad. 

It also makes me sad when she tells me that she plays by herself at recess. My niece Sophia, who is the same age as Asha and goes to kindergarten in Richmond, says the same thing about playing by herself at recess and not having a friend with whom to play.  They are both social girls so I don’t understand where this comes from unless it’s overwhelming to see so many kids out playing at once. Or perhaps it's the noise level. My daughter used to frequently fall asleep in the summer after a busy day.  She no longer naps but she gets cranky and tired and I think the adjustment to school is a priority so we’ve canceled all extracurricular activities.  She wants to be home as much as possible, insisting that on her birthday, unlike her brother, she’s going to choose to stay home and not go anywhere. 

reeya4.jpgHalloween Class Party

Halloween Class Party

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First present for being on purple was chosen for her brother

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Waiting at the door with Rohan's present

She seems even more anxious to be with her dad or me at all times.  I accompanied her class to a farm for a recent fall field trip.  Several kids asked her to sit with them but she just wanted to sit and hang out with me.  I’m not going to lie, I love being around her all the time too but I worry that she needs to be more independent…even just a little!  She was upset about a recent birthday party for kids because she wanted one of us to be there.  I didn’t even want to feign how excited we were for the two hours both of them would be at the party.  I can get used to the no-parent party invites…it seems that with kindergarten, a whole new set of rules is emerging.  I’m adjusting, but my five-year old…well it’s a work in progress!

P.S.  The second field trip to a play, Click Clack Moo was too full for parents but it was only half a day.  She had a great time and her first words to me were, "Mom, there were three bad words in the play:  flip, what the quack and stupid."  How did she know those were bad words, because other kids told her! She repeated that to her dad and her brother...perhaps the excitement of learning three bad words kept her distracted, I'm not sure but nonetheless, a solo field trip was a good step towards independence!

 

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First Time Soccer Mom

OMG…my son scored his first goal at the first game I did not attend on Halloween morning. I hope the person whose Harry Potter wedding cake I was working on appreciates the sacrifice that they’ll never know I made! I wanted to finish the cake so I could take the kids trick or treating in the evening, so I decided to forego the game. Mom guilt never ends does it?

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First Goal...Woooohoooo!

Fortunately, my friend Natalie captured every moment and I was elated, on cloud nine. His dad and sister saw the ball slide into the goal and Rohan’s face registered complete disbelief. Afterwards, he called all the interested people in his life to tell them the good news, after which he down played it and said it was only exciting when it happened. Nonetheless it was just the boost he needed to get back into the game about which he wasn’t so excited as a newbie.

In general soccer was an adjustment to our already busy life. The week started looking like too much for the calendar especially since my kids turn into pumpkins and are fed, bathed and in bed by 8 pm.
Monday: Tae Kwon Do at 4:30
Tuesday: soccer for Rohan 5:30
Wednesday: soccer for Asha 5:30
Thursday - Tae Kwon Do for Rohan
Saturday: Tae Kwon Do in the morning; soccer games for both
Thus, coming off the bus was one big rush and I started picking him up at school. By the second practice, Asha was too tired from school to go to practice. She literally stood in the middle of the soccer field and refused to move…anywhere, including off the field. At her first game, she whined and cried and refused to play. Kindergarten was proving to be a big enough adjustment and I really didn’t have the energy to expend to “force” her to like soccer, which ironically she did but the timing seems off. So I withdrew her and she continued to go to Rohan’s games with me. As long as she had a snack and a parent, she was good to go.

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Super Awesome Coach Tyler

Rohan was a trooper, he is the least experienced on his team but he enjoys the game, the camaraderie and the practice. The games have given him a completely different outlook on sport. When he was “too tired” to go to a game on a Monday night, we talked about how he had to be there for the team. He went and he ended up having a great time talking about their win. Weekday games seem toughest for him with school. When he was again hesitant to go on a dreary weekday evening, he perked up seeing his friend William at the door offering a ride. For my ordinarily solitary son, I’m thrilled at the social interactions the game has bestowed upon him. He still prefers Tae Kwon Do and I suspect that will be something he continues for years, but soccer…well it’s been good on so many fronts!

Being a soccer mom has been an education for me as well. I really look forward to the time I spend with friends on the field. It’s relaxing to sit outside, cheer on the kids and catch up with the other moms on what’s happening in their lives. Elaine, Natalie, Mimi, Betsi…all present in the name of sport…not so bad! When Ashoka is in town, he joins us. The first time I saw him, he was sitting on a chair, which I had no idea we owned. Apparently blanket sitting is not his thing! He also learned what I’ve told him for years…you don’t peel apples, the peel contains the best part, not to mention the nutrition. When he took time peeling apples to cut and serve as a snack at a game, the boys were baffled by why anyone would peel the apple. It was both hilarious and vindicating to see his confusion at why they didn’t appreciate his efforts and their confusion at why in the world would you bother to peel apples?

soccer26.jpgA game in the rain

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End of season party and words of wisdom from the Coach

Autumn is a beautiful especially here in Virginia. When the air started getting crisp, Elaine bought a thermos of hot chocolate for the team. Rohan is still talking about how nice that was…it’s all wholesome fun. Well except at the game last week when the kids from the other team were purposely kicking the ball out and they kept tripping our kids. Some of those soccer dads were a sight to behold. They were rabid in their coaching…both off and on the field. It’s an “under 8” team for goodness sake! It was entertaining until they scoffed at kids from my team. The natural urge to protect, another quality I learned about being a soccer mom. My son does not want to play again unless he has the same team and especially the same coach. Being a soccer mom was such an education this time around, imagine how wonderful it will be going in experienced next time! Oh well…one can hope!

P. S. I have to add that I wrote this post before he had scored his first goal and since I wrote it my son scored his second goal. He has become more confident on the field and he was over the moon to get a trophy, his first ever. He asked me to make cookies for his team, which despite one of my busiest baking weekends, I did…with pleasure! It has been such a joy to watch his entire attitude towards the game change and progress in just a few weeks. Unlike his thoughts from a few weeks ago, he has now decided that he most definitely wants to sign up for spring soccer!

 

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About Ameeta

Moms of the world...we're in the kitchen all the time so why not make it fun...RIGHT?! After working in the field of higher education for over a decade, I decided to stay home. Being here is wonderful (sometimes!). BUT, I love the invaluable (read crazy but good) moments with my children. One thing I miss about work is having a creative outlet. Decorating cakes and cookies gives me that focus for my creativity. It's therapeutic to work on cakes, cookies and the like. As you will understand, with two young children, lots of therapy is necessary! Hence I've been baking more and more....and in my blog I'll be sharing my culinary adventures with you with a side serving of raising my two kids! For pictures and information about my confections, please visit my site at www.ameetabakes.com

 

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