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celebration and mourning

Mother Nature seems to be making up for the lack of spring and summer by making every day of August so heartachingly beautiful that you feel like your heart might burst from its perfection. Every day for the last two weeks has been comfortably warm but not hot, still and fragrant and clear blue sky, and if the extended forecasts are to be believed, we're set to continue like this for the next two weeks or more.

August is also the time for two important birthdays: Sister's and the Fabulous Miss M's. They're not actually until tomorrow and Wednesday, respectively, but Saturday was the celebration for Miss M's, so that was the centerpiece of our weekend.

One of the perks of having a chef for a godfather is that you get beautiful and delicious cakes for your birthday. One of the (many, many) perks of having Sal for a godfather is that he will make your beautiful and delicious cake extra beautiful and extra delicious, even when you are turning four years old and your only requirements are that it be pink and girly.

His original plan involved fairies and flowers and lots of pink and purple, since those are Miss M's current favorite things. But reality collided with good intentions, and a fourteen hour day necessitated a quick reworking of those plans. He arrived home from work Friday night with enough layers for two round cakes (vanilla flavored "with a kiss of cocoa), a ginormous bowl of chocolate Italian buttercream, a smaller container of plain Italian butter cream, and a blob of handmade molding chocolate. The chocolate was for the roses and leaves he was determined to sculpt, but he wasn't sure what to do for the rest. I suggested tinting the plain icing pink, and doing it up in pink and chocolate brown for a more sophisticated take on girly.

It takes a surprising amount of skill to make a cake look clean and deceptively simple. It takes a significant amount of skill to do so without disguising your mistakes with a heavy slathering of icing to even things out.  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader as to the level of Sal's skill. Except to also point out that the chocolate roses and leaves were sculpted by hand, and the wording was done with straight tempered* chocolate. Oh, and to note, yet again, that Sal normally has the handwriting of a serial killer, but put a pastry bag in his hand and suddenly he's got the penmanship of an 19th century Victorian aristocrat.

The cake was well received by the birthday girl, who asked to view the cake repeatedly while it was still in the box, well before it was actually brought out and served. The pink feather boa from Aunt Bitty was also a big hit, particularly since Miss M and her young guests spent the better part of the party playing dress up in their finest princess couture. (The biggest fashion hit of the day, however, belonged to one her friends, who put together a pink dress with a set of swim goggles, a dozen bracelets, orange flip flops, and a beaded Mardi Gras necklace that featured miniature plastic beer mugs. Wish I'd gotten a picture of that one.)

Since we'd spent our Saturday partying, it was time to be grownups yesterday and do some straightening and other such chores around the house. Sal tackled the apple tree in the backyard, which we finally conceded this spring would have to come down. We've known for a few years that it was inevitable, but this year, when the roots on the upper slope had actually come loose from the soil, we knew it was time.

Still, we hate that it has to go. It provides such a lovely green canopy over our patio, and is perfect for stringing lights through for our famous backyard parties. Not to mention the thick privacy screen from the attic window, so that when you're up there in the summer and you look out the window to see nothing but heavy green foliage and bright green apples, it feels like you're up in a tree house.

It's the also the last of the apple trees that were originally planted on our lot and the one next to it. The people who built our house, you see, had an apple orchard. Yes, that story from the Cathedral Park Chronicles is based on real history. When we moved into the house, the orchard next door was long since gone, replaced by the apartment building that's there now, but there were five apple trees in the back yard that remained from that orchard. We had to cut down four of them because they were diseased and in danger of falling on the house or the neighbor's. It killed us to do it, but we saved the healthiest one, and hoped we'd have it for years to come, even if it was too late to give it the care it needed to make the apples edible.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. And although we were fortunate enough to enjoy it for nine years, and we'll keep parts of the trunk to use in the yard the same way we did with the cherry tree that had to come down, it was hard to watch it come down bit by bit yesterday. We'll have to have an arborist to come in to finish the work, but I'll schedule it for a day when I'm not at home, so I don't have to watch.

Instead, I'll be at the nursery, looking for a new tree to plant. Not to take its place, but to honor its memory.

lunch, pink Natural Lunch:

  • Parmesan breaded chicken
  • rosemary roasted potatoes
  • carrots
  • peas
  • cherries

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Reader Comments (4)

You do so well preserving what has been done, what, of significance has happened. Thank you for writing all this down, in your usual elegant style. And thanks for making me look like a hero, every time.

Aug 8, 2011 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe man with the sugar thumb

Isn't this the part where you have a wardrobe made out of the wood?

Aug 9, 2011 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnne Hawley

Well, you are a hero, sweetie.

Aug 15, 2011 at 2:26 PM | Registered CommenterBitty

@ Anne: I hope you lol'd when you typed that. :) Otherwise you overestimate our carpentry skills and ambition.

Aug 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM | Registered CommenterBitty

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