Spiderweb Cupcakes

I hate spiders. I hate them so much, in fact, that I won’t even put fake ones on the spiderweb cupcakes I made for a Halloween party. I know, it’s a little much, right?

It all began when I was about four years old. My family decided to go to our local mall, and that day happened to be during the grand opening of Petland. I remember being excited to see the puppies, the kittens, and the hamsters. My Dad picked me up and carried me on his hip, and we walked toward the back of the store to look at the reptiles and fish. Little did I know what we’d find back there, and how it would affect my life!

I remember being so content, amazed by the animals all in one place, safe by my Dad’s side. I then saw something out of the corner of my eye, and turned my head. I came eye to, er, eyes with a tarantula that was on the shoulder of a worker. I screamed, jumped from my father’s grasp, and ran into the middle of the mall, crying like I had been attacked. Thus began my fear, ultimate distrust, and (sometimes) hatred of spiders.

*shiver*

Things have gotten better, and most spiders I see I try to avoid. The spiders and I have reached an agreement-as long as they stay hidden, I’ll pretend they aren’t there. If I see one outside, it can live…as long as it leaves me alone. Then again, if my cats happen to find and eat one, they get an additional treat from me afterward.

And, uh…I still won’t put them on my cupcakes.

If you’d like to make the design on these cupcakes for a party of your own, it’s very simple.

Spiderweb Cupcakes

What You’ll Need:

Cake Mix (any kind, although I like to get the white mix & dye it with food coloring)

White frosting

Food coloring (red and yellow)

Black icing (I buy the gel in a tube-saves time and is less messy)

Toothpicks

Bake your cupcakes by following the directions on the box. Let them cool, and then frost with icing that has been dyed orange by using a mixture of a few drops of the red and the yellow food coloring.

To make the spiderweb design, make three circles with the gel frosting. Start with the largest circle on the outside and move inward. Use the tip of a toothpick by placing it in the center of the cupcake, and pull it outward. Do this all the way around the cupcake, and you’ll begin to see the spiderweb design.

Whether or not you decide to use spiders on top is up to you. :)

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Awake My Soul

Lola and I took a walk today.

We’re lucky to live on a road that isn’t too curvy, where the twists and turns aren’t dangerous, and we have plenty of space on each side of the road to walk without worrying about being hit. The stretch of road in front of our house is a straight one, with no hills. That’s rare in West Virginia, and we don’t take advantage of it nearly enough.

Tonight, I needed to walk. I needed to breathe the cool fall air in my lungs, I needed to feel the wind blow across my face. One would think I needed the peace of the outdoors to go along with these feelings, but tonight all I wanted was music. Music in my headphones, too loud to be appropriate. I needed to reflect and relax. I needed to walk to the beat of songs and feel the passion in the lyrics, the intensity of the music. I needed to be alone with myself and that music in order to find my center.

Mumford and Sons accompanied me on my journey tonight. Nothing too fast, mostly White Blank Page and I Gave You All on repeat. Over and over again I listened to Marcus sing his haunting lyrics about love and loss, about wanting but not being able to obtain. About trying and failing, about love that is so great that nothing compares to it. The twists and turns we all experience in relationships, good and bad. I lost myself in the music tonight, and it’s exactly what I needed.

Lead me to the truth and I, will follow you with my whole life…”

-Mumford and Sons, White Blank Page

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In Too Deep

“You know the feeling…when you’re in too deep…and then you make it out, the taste, so sweet.”

-Dave Matthews Band

Most of you that read my blog know that I’m a therapist in the mental health field. While my passion lies in working with children & teenagers, I also see adults. I work in a small office, so I see all sorts of clients…people who have depression, kids with ADHD, those that are drug seekers, etc. It’s safe to say that I see a little bit of everything.

I love what I do, and while it can be draining, most days aren’t too bad. I hear several stories, about day-to-day life, about relationship problems, life at school, and life at home. I look for facial expressions and hand motions, noting the sound of my client’s voices as they explain their story. I help them process their feelings and try to make things better. Not every story is bad, not every story is one that rips my heart out and leaves me hollow. Some stories, however, stay with me. Those stories…they come home with me. They stay in my head, make me pray for those clients that are living with the experiences, the demons inside. Today hit me hard, especially after hearing a particular set of experiences.

I know I’m being awfully vague, but it’s my job to protect my clients and to keep their secrets confidential. All I can say about today is that I had someone call me after wanting to commit suicide. This person is one that I have established rapport with, have laughed with, have brought out deep, deep secrets that they forgot about and never thought they would express. The therapist-client relationship is a tricky one, and we had made such progress. Hearing the tone in the voice scared me-I knew this person was serious, and had a plan. That is what so many people don’t understand about suicide-the person that expresses intent, the person with the plan, that’s who you have to watch and believe. That is what puts me in crisis mode, ready to do what I need to in order to ensure that they are safe.

Luckily, my client came in. They are safe now. My thoughts, however, are still with this person. All the what-ifs are floating around my head. What if I hadn’t been there to answer the phone? What if I hadn’t heard the intent in this person’s voice? I know if something had happened, that it wouldn’t have been my fault, but it scares me.

I suppose days like today that begin with a simple play therapy session remind me that life is precious, and can change at any moment. I can get a phone call at any time, with someone who needs to vent, to talk, to know that someone cares. As corny as it sounds, that’s who I want to be for them. It’s more than just a job.

I think about suicide and those that have attempted, and those that have succeeded. I think about what their thoughts were like, and at what point their decision was made. I wonder how they decided on the plan…how they determined the way they were going to die. I think about what they were thinking when they bought the supplies, when they wrote their final good-byes. I wonder if they had anyone to write to.

I believe we’ve all been to the point where we’ve thought about suicide. Sure, we’ve never attempted, never went through with anything, but the thoughts might have been there and then left as quickly as they came.

I suppose this is a universal letter that I needed to write to my clients, my friends and family, to anyone that stumbles across this blog and needs to read these words. I needed to let you know that I never want suicide to be your option. There are people who do care for you, who want you to be ok. It’s ok to be depressed, and it’s ok to wonder how you’ll pull yourself out of a bad situation. There is hope, there is help.

If the thoughts are there, with or without a plan, tell someone. If you’d prefer, call someone anonymously, like the Hopeline.

You are important, you are worth something. I just needed you to know that.

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Tick tock…

It’s been a while, I know. I wanted to write here during my 29th year, to find a way to document all the things I wanted to do before I turned 30. Some I did, some I wasn’t able to do, some I realized I didn’t want to do or have a passion for. Things became overwhelming-not in a bad way, but in a way that made me question my posts. I began thinking too much, too in depth, about the right content, the right pictures…and I lost my passion. I thought about blogging, every day in fact, but was too afraid to write without a witty topic, phrase, or recipe. Now, I want it to be simple. I don’t need a label, I don’t need to write for anyone but myself and those I want to share my thoughts with. That being said…

Tick….tick…tick…

That’s all I hear in my head. It wasn’t turning 30 that did it…it’s the fact that my mind and body have been changing. My biological clock ticks so loudly that at times, it keeps me awake at night. All at once I feel like I’m running out of time to be a Mom, and it scares me. The timing might not be perfect, the circumstances might not be just right, but I want a baby.

Whew. I’ve said it a thousand times over, but to write it? It feels good and powerful all at the same time.

I have a nephew who is about to turn 8. He’s my only nephew, my little guy who I have watched grow up from day one. Ok, so day two…I couldn’t get to the hospital the first day, but I was there within 24 hours of his birth. The love I feel for him surpasses that of any love I’ve ever felt. His hugs are priceless…seeing him and talking to him just further reinforces my feelings, makes me realize just how much I want someone to care for, someone who depends on me. Someone who is my own blood, someone who will come into our lives and complete our family.

My husband and I have been married for almost eleven years now. We were married young, at 19 and 21, for no other reason than love. It was right after September 11th, and I told him I’d rather take the chance of being his widow than to never have the chance to marry him at all. It was a quick decision, but we’d been together for so long that all we needed were the rings and the ceremony to make it official. Kids were something we had discussed, but knew we needed and wanted to wait for. He graduated from college, I graduated from college. He went on a deployment, came home safely, and I wanted to get my Masters degree. There was always something holding us back, always making me say “well, let me graduate first,” or “he has to be completely out of the military first…”

And now it’s time. No more excuses. We have good jobs…we’re up to our eyeballs in student loans, but we’re ok. It’s hard…it’s hard for everyone, I know, but people do it. I know we can do it. Am I completely ready? I’m not sure yet. I know I’ll lose a lot of freedom, I know my life will change. I get that. I understand that…and yeah, I want it.

I talk to a lot of my clients who have had kids, are about to have kids, and some who don’t want kids. I hear so many horrible stories throughout some therapy sessions with them, but I hear a lot of good things too. Some parents tell me how their children have completed their lives, others are scared to death because they don’t know what to do now that they are pregnant. I work with a lot of kids and teenagers as well, and I get to see the good and the bad. All of it combined in a mixed-up jumble just makes me want it more, and makes my clock tick louder.

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something so badly in my life. I just don’t know what I’m/we’re waiting for.

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Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins

As of this post, I’ve completed another one of my 30-before-30 list items, which was to write 12 blog posts. Whoo hoo!

It’s fitting that my post relates to one of the first bloggers I started to follow regularly, and that I made one of her recipes. Who, you may ask? None other than Joy the Baker. I have made so many of her recipes, and have honestly had success with each one. She’s helped me try new flavors and score points with my husband, family, and co-workers with the desserts I’ve made. She has a fantastic podcast along with Tracy (Shutterbean), and I love them both. I even used her recipe for the wedding cake I made for my Mom, and even though my cake didn’t look great, it tasted so, so good.

Ok, ok, enough gushing.

I found Joy’s cookbook last weekend when we went to Books-a-Million in Charleston. I knew I could order it online, but there’s just something about picking the book up, flipping through the pages, and actually holding it in my hands that makes it more exciting to buy. When I got home, I couldn’t stop looking through it, and decided to make a recipe the next day.

I decided to make Joy’s brown butter blueberry muffins, (not just because I had most of the ingredients on hand), but because the first recipe I made of Joy’s were her maple pancake muffins. I loved those, so I had no doubt that these would be good.

Oh my gosh…they are AMAZING. I had them every day for breakfast, and got approval from my husband and a few co-workers as well. I followed her recipe almost exactly, but I used salted butter because I didn’t have unsalted butter. I’m not sure that it made a huge difference, but that’s the only change I made.

Go make these…seriously. Yum!

Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins

Muffins:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 c. milk

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

2 c. fresh blueberries (if frozen, let them thaw & drain before using)

Topping:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners, and set aside.

To make the muffins: melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. The butter will melt and froth, and then crackle. This is normal (I was freaked out the first time I browned butter-I thought I burned it, but it was just fine), and let the butter brown until it is a light to medium brown. Take the pan off of the stove and put the butter in a small bowl so it doesn’t continue to cook.

Whisk milk, egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the brown butter and combine.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Combine milk mixture, and then fold in the blueberries. Divide the batter into the cups.

For the topping (this is SO good): Combine the ingredients in a bowl, and mix together until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the batter.

Bake 18-20 minutes, until the muffins are a golden brown. Let the muffins cool 15 minutes before taking them out of the pan.

I love these so much that I may actually make them again this weekend. One small muffin was actually all I needed for breakfast, as these are very filling. I’ll be making another recipe from her cookbook this weekend for a luncheon for my husband’s co-workers, so wish me luck!

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Toffee Cookies

Heath Toffee Cookies

My husband and I both love Panera. Well…I love it, and he pretty much just likes it for the cookies. Last week, he brought home two toffee cookies, both for him (I prefer Asiago bagels, so that’s my treat), but of course, I stole a bite of his. I asked if they were out of chocolate-chip, to which he replied “no…I like the toffee cookies better.”

Huh?

It’s like I didn’t even know him. Toffee over chocolate-chip? Ok, ok, so I’m being a bit dramatic…but still.

As part of my thirty-before-thirty list, I am supposed to make ten new desserts, so I figured I’d try to find a recipe and make my husband some cookies that didn’t come from a bag or a bakery. That’s when I found Bakerella’s recipe for “Heathy Cookies,” and knew these were some I wanted to try.

I spent just about an hour or so prepping and baking, as this only makes about thirty cookies. I’m assuming they were a hit, as the first batch of twelve had six missing by the time I came out to check the cooling rack. I’ve modified the recipe a bit, as I didn’t have some of the ingredients she called for, and they were still great cookies. Enjoy!

Toffee Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
1 cup light brown sugar (Bakerella’s version calls for dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 cup (8 oz bag) Heath Toffee Bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt and set aside. In another bowl, cream butter, brown sugar and peanut butter, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. After the wet ingredients are well-mixed, add the flour mixture, and then stir in the toffee bits, saving a few (about 1/3 c.) to dip the tops of the cookies.

Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes (I found the most success baking them for 9 minutes and 25 seconds.) Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for three minutes, and then transfer to a baking sheet.

As I said, this recipe makes thirty cookies, so I’d double the batch if you love toffee. My husband is on vacation tomorrow, and I fully expect to come home from work to find only a few left. Enjoy!

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Ode to WV Mountain Stage

I moved to Charleston, WV in the fall of 2000 to attend college. I grew up in a town that has less than 1,000 people, so moving to the state capitol was a huge deal for me. Granted, Charleston is a small city, but for me, it was a whole new place to explore. I could indulge in whatever I wanted to, because I had so many options to choose from. Music, however, wasn’t something I found easily, even in this “big city” I thought I had come to. That is, until I found WV Mountain Stage.

I had always heard of Mountain Stage, had always wondered what it was and who played there. At the time, the small set didn’t really appeal to me. I attended large concerts, and did so every summer. That was my style, the thing I loved (and still do). However, one artist named Danny Barnes opened for the Dave Matthews Band in the summer of 2010, and I loved him. He was unique, had a funky style, and I really enjoyed his set. I began to follow him on twitter @wildknees, and found out that he would be at WV Mountain Stage that winter. Little did I know, my new musical obsession would begin.

Thanks to Danny, I was able to get tickets to a sold-out show. My husband and I went to our first show together (he had been as a teenager to see Crash Test Dummies…remember them?) on Valentine’s Day 2011. I walked into a small theater, and immediately felt at home. I only knew one of the acts that was playing that night, but knew I would get to see four other bands play.

That night, I saw Danny Barnes, The Sweetback Sisters, Darrell Scott, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Robert Earl Keen. It was dubbed “Americana Night,” and was absolutely amazing. The acoustics were unlike any I had ever heard…I could hear everything perfectly, and the sound was fantastic. I was completely entranced the entire night by the music, plus I got to see a show that is taped for radio in person. The first thing i said to my husband when the show was over was that I had to come back-we had to come back as often as we could, no matter who was playing. Let’s just say I was more than a little excited.

I have since been to see about forty bands since the winter of 2011, some including Ha Ha Tonka, David Wax Museum, Bela Fleck, Dar Williams, Fitz & the Tantrums, Steven Kellogg & the Sixers, Noam Pikelny and Gabe Witcher (from the Punch Brothers), among several other amazing bands that I never would have had the opportunity to see, much less meet, had it not been for WV Mountain Stage.

I know my description of my experiences at Mountain Stage doesn’t do it the justice it deserves. If you’re close or ever have the chance to go (they often travel outside of Charleston), do yourself a favor and go. Check out their schedule on their website or by following their twitter feed @mountainstage. You won’t regret it, I promise. In fact, I’m actually counting down the time until I get to go again in June. It’s a hidden gem in West Virginia that makes me feel like I’m at my musical home, and when I buy my tickets, I always have something to look forward to.

I gush, I know…but I love it.

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Sick Girl.

This stuff? It’s been my saving grace since Saturday. My Mamaw told me about Oil of Oregano, and that she & my grandfather use it when they feel like they are about to get sick. You take 2-3 drops in about 1/2 cup of water two times a day, and it really helps. It’s not for the faint of heart, as it burns when it goes down, but it’s worth it. Promise.

Last week, one of my co-workers came in to work sick. I’m guilty of it myself, but he was actually told to go home and didn’t do it. Instead, he walked around the office telling everyone how sick he was, and at least three of us were all home yesterday with this nasty flu. Like I said, the Oil of Oregano has helped a lot and has kept me from going to the doctor, but it doesn’t cure the fatigue and general blah feelings I have.

Unfortunately, I’m staying home yet again today…I’m afraid I might fall asleep during a session, or sneeze and cough on my clients. That probably wouldn’t be a good thing.

Politely Declining.

Lola

I’m a mental health therapist, and love my job. I’m a “therapist-generalist,” which means that while my primary focus is children, that I see all different types of clients with just about every disorder you can think of. Yes, it can be very stressful, as I hear horrible stories, secrets that only I know, and nightmares that people have to live with each day. However, the majority of my job is rewarding, as I also get to¬† hear the good things-how people overcome obstacles, how they’ve reached a goal, or how they were able to think of a situation differently in order to change it for the better. I love what I do, and love that I am able to do it. However, there are a few things that are more difficult than I ever thought they could be.

When I was in graduate school, one of the first things we were told was that we needed to be aware of what makes us uncomfortable. Therapists aren’t perfect people, and we have to know who make us uncomfortable and what situations we can’t handle very well. Of course, many of us discussed “oh, I could never work with a pedophile,” while others said “I can’t work with someone who raped a woman.” These are very general things that make many people uncomfortable, but our professor wanted us to dig deeper, even for the little things. When I began thinking about it more, I realized that I would have a difficult time working with someone who hurts animals.

Yes, my primary focus is working with children, specifically ages 4-18. I’ve worked with kids in therapeutic environments for a few years now, and am surprised that I’ve only truly heard one story of how a child liked to hurt animals. It shocked me that hearing those details hurt me more than hearing about abuse or molestation, and it made me feel like a bad person. Why did this hurt me more than anything else? Why did it hit me so hard?

I still haven’t found those answers, but I now see why our professor wanted us to dig deep, and figure out what was difficult for us to handle-if we are too involved, offended, or hurt by a story or situation, we lose our ability to help effectively. This brings me to today’s request.

One of our local humane societies wants someone from our organization to give a presentation regarding stress management, because so many of the workers are suffering from anxiety due to their positions. These people are hard-working individuals who love animals, but a difficult part of their job is making the decision to euthanize animals, each and every day. I can’t imagine what that would be like, or how difficult that burden must be. In fact, I can’t think about it too much, or my heart begins to hurt and I become tearful. When my boss asked me if I would be interested in presenting to this population, I had to say no.

I feel guilty, because I feel as if I’m unwilling to help. At the same time, I know that after the presentation would be over, there would likely be several questions. I would hear stories about animals who had been abused, those who “had to be put down because it was the humane thing to do.” As professional as I am and can be, I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Those would be the stories that would haunt me, that I would come home with and dream about, and that’s why I had to say no.

It feels good to get this out, to explain my side of the story and to see if anyone had any thoughts. What would you do?

Grandma Bolyard’s Carrot Cake

Like everyone, I have very specific holiday memories. Each Easter, we always went to my Grandma’s house. No matter our ages, we always had Easter baskets, she made homemade peanut butter eggs, and we had a huge dinner. The table was always overflowing with food, so much so that it spilled over onto the stove, the counter, and she even kept her rolls on her washer (yep, her washer.) She had a “cold room” where she kept all the desserts, and this carrot cake was one of the many treats we had that we all looked forward to.

I’m not a big fan of carrot cake, but this recipe has always been one I’ve loved. It might have been because my Grandma always made it perfectly, and because of the memories that are attached to it. In her recipe, she even noted to use a wooden spoon to stir the ingredients-not a mixer-and my sister and I have both followed those directions carefully when making the cake.

It’s slightly labor-intensive, but worth the time it takes to make it. I now make it every Easter, and every once in a while I’ll take it to work. I never make it home with leftovers!

Grandma’s Carrot Cake

Cake Ingredients:

2 c. flour

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 c. buttermilk

2 c. sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

3/4 c. vegetable oil

1 c. walnuts (finely chopped)

3 eggs, beaten

8 oz. pineapple (drain slightly, but leave some juice)

2 c. grated carrots

3 1/2 oz. coconut (this equates to appx. 1/2 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 13×9 inch pan and set aside.

2. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl, and mix together. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream buttermilk, sugar, vanilla, vegetable oil, and eggs with a wooden spoon until well-mixed. Stir in dry ingredients, and then add walnuts, pineapple, carrots, and coconut. The mixture will be very heavy.

4. Add batter to well-greased pan, and then bake for 50 minutes.

5. Let cool for at least one hour before frosting-I usually frost the next day if I can.

Frosting:

13 oz. cream cheese

1 lb. (3 1/2-4 c.) powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. butter or margarine

2 tsp. vanilla

Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt, butter, and vanilla, beat until smooth.

Enjoy!

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