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My girls are growing up fast. So fast {sigh}.

In no time at all they’ll be leaving secondary school {high school} and heading to university.

Where they will go to college is anyone’s guess. Being Irish and American, and practically having been born with a suitcase in their hand, they think globally. Ireland…America…the U.K….or even farther afield..are all options.

And, so, with mixed emotions, I am opening my heart, mind, and our hall door to allow them the freedom to chose what feels best for them. Yes, like generations of Irish mothers before me, I am steeling myself for the eventual immigration of my children.

“But why now?”, I hear you ask. The answer is sweet and simple. Not too long ago, while I was making dinner, my eldest daughter walked into our kitchen and said, “Mom, I’ve got to learn how to cook.”

Even today, as I write this blog post, I can see her, plain as day, standing in our kitchen, hands folded across her chest, earnestly running through the list of things she needs to learn to do before she graduates next year. “And, I need to learn how to clean, do laundry, shop, and drive too! Maybe I won’t be ready for college!!”, she said.

In that moment, I realised, she’s a planner…a worrier…and already thinking about leaving.

With regard to food, she was very specific: “I only want to make easy things…not microwaveable ones…I’ll only eat microwaved food sometimes!”. And then just to be sure I was listening, she repeated, “I just want easy food mom”.

So, in the coming year, starting with today, I will be posting recipes that even a sixth-year student {senior in high school} can make while living under our roof, studying for exams, applying to university, making us crazy, and waiting for their lives to begin.

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First up…Maple Vanilla Whipped Cream. It’s a Cooking 101 recipe. For those of us with more than basic cooking skills, it seems a bit ridiculous to write a blog post about whipping cream. And yet, there is science and creativity to making whipped cream {as anyone who has accidentally turned their cream into butter can attest to}.

And, yes, I know it’s a crime to add anything to Irish whipping cream. Unlike cream in my native country, Irish cream is gorgeous. It has real flavour and needs no embellishment whatsoever. But, since my girls may not end up in Ireland one day {and because, on occasion, we all like to try something new} I’m starting my College Bound Girls blog posts with this incredibly delicious recipe. If you’ve got university bound kids, please share your recipes with us.

And, finally, a side note: the Victoria Sponge pictured above was made by my youngest daughter last week. The recipe will be posted soon!

Maple Vanilla Freshly Whipped Cream

Makes about 2 pints/4 cups

Ingredients

1 pint/2 cups cream

1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Directions

1. Pour cream into a large mixing bowl.

2. Add maple syrup and vanilla and beat until soft, billowy, peaks form. You may use a balloon whisk, an electric hand mixer, or a stand mixer…whichever you prefer.

3. To test: lift the whisk out of the bowl and turn upside down. If the cream peak holds its shape and falls slightly to one side, you’re done.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* A ballon whisk is very easy to use…and I think the most satisfying. I used a balloon whisk for years, until my sister-in-law, Rosaleen, bought me an electric hand mixer for Christmas. Now I alternate, depending on how much time I have.

**If you use an electric mixer, beat the cream on medium speed, being careful not to over beat. You will recognise over beaten whipped cream instantly by its grainy  texture. To rescue, add a few extra tablespoons of cream from the carton and, using a hand whisk, gently mix it together.

***If you’re out to really have fun, continue beating your cream until it becomes butter!

****You can make whipped cream ahead of time and refrigerate it, covered, for up to four hours before serving.

***** In this video, one Irish dad gets very creative while helping his wife in the kitchen make cream. And, yes, that’s a drill he’s using!

******And, finally, here’s a video of life hacks one of my daughters downloaded to my phone. Just one more example of how they are preparing for adulthood. Be warned this video is addictive.

 

 

 

 

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Today a friend of mine posted a letter on Facebook that was written by a mom to her fourteen-year-old daughter. It stuck such a cord with me, and is such a perfect follow up to the post I did last week entitled “Teen Angst“, that I had to interrupt my Sundance blogging to share it with you.

As my friend Niamh wrote on FB…” (it’s) relevant to anyone navigating the world with teens or preteens.” AMEN to that sister.

Rearing kids isn’t easy. Rearing a teen/preteen is bloody hard work. And, I would do it all again…in a heartbeat…because I love my children.

Thanks Niamh for sending this my way. Amy Foster…you stole the words right out of my mouth.

A Letter to a 14 Year-Old Daughter

By Amy Foster

Dear Daughter,

Right now you are upstairs in your room thinking that life is completely and totally unfair.

The whole world is against you because there is not a single person in it that understands you. You would say that you love your friends, but the truth is that  you love them more on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram than you do in real life. In real life, you can only handle spending so much time with them before they start to annoy you because, as I mentioned before, no one really understands who you are.

Your room is a pigsty. The clothes that you beg for me to buy you are crumpled in a heap in the corner. When asked to clean – when asked to do anything, really – you roll your eyes (not to my face, because you are smart enough at this point to know that will set me off) because you have a thousand more important things to do like watch Teen Wolf or check your phone.

You are both obsessed with and terrified by boys.

Some days you think you are pretty. Some days you are certain you are the ugliest person on earth. You are sure you are being left out.. of something. Some party, some conversation, some sleepover is happening and you were deliberately excluded because no one cares how you feel. You have every right in the world to be moody because life is hard. Grade 8 is pointless. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t been able to get into the college they wanted to because they got crappy grades in Grade 8. Mostly though, life is just hard and complicated and difficult and confusing. Despite this, you are never given the credit you deserve for always knowing what’s what. You know what is best for you and there is nothing more irritating than someone else (like me) presuming that they know.

I realize that when I broach these topics with you, you will not hear me. Despite all appearances, you are not a small adult. You cannot reason like an adult and so it is impossible for you to understand that I am trying to help you and guide you and not, ruin your life. This privilege I exert does not necessarily come from biology, it comes from the fact that I have been exactly where you are and I have been navigating this life for a lot longer than you. It is true that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is unique, but loss, pain, anger, confusion and sadness are universal. These feelings don’t separate you from the world, but rather they bind you closer to it. Someone out there is feeling the exact same way you do right now, including me, my dearest girl, and I am only a few feet away. There will never be and can never be another you, but you are part of a magnificent community of humans. Humanity at times can be brutal and petty and mean-spirited, but that’s never an excuse for you to be that way. You are so much more and so much better than a bad day.

I am not your friend. I don’t care what you think about me. I am not aiming for popularity in our house. Most importantly, we are not equals. Think about it: how can we be equals if you depend on me for everything? If you’re going to take the iPhone, then you have to take my rules. Some people call it parenting. Mercenary me, I call it leverage. When you don’t need me for things, only advice and council, then we can explore a friendship.

When I ask you to do something right now, I am trying to teach you something about success. Procrastination is a dream killer. No one ever became a grand success by doing it later. You’re right, your room is yours. I am less concerned with the state of it than I am of your mind. Ever see a happy person on Hoarders? It sounds ridiculous to you, but a clean space makes it easier to be creative and productive. When you let your room slide, you are likely to let everything else slide too, like homework.

I am not a Tiger Mom. I am not interested in you getting straight As (though, of course, that would be great), I am interested in you doing your absolute best. Sometimes you do your best and you fail, and you need to learn to be okay with that, too. You must learn to be good AT school, so it will be easier for you to be good AT college and AT work. Yes, of course, it’s pandering to a system, but everyone, regardless of status has to work within a system, unless you’re becoming a hermit which let’s face it, is never going to happen. When you become overly concerned with pleasing your friends and making them happy it takes away from your focus, your job, which right now is school. The balance you learn to strike right now will carry you through your entire life where friendships can be vital. But, you cannot rely on a great friendship to buy you a house.

I don’t tell you often enough how beautiful you are. Even though you are stunning, I do guess I do this on purpose. Being beautiful should never be the most interesting thing about you. A girl who relies on her looks is setting herself up to be a woman lost as sea as she gets older. We live in a world where beauty can and will open many doors, but how you choose to open them and what you do inside becomes about character. Character, moral aptitude, empathy, grace- these are the traits that will carry on your beauty far after your looks are gone. You aren’t anywhere near understanding this right now, even though I am trying to lead this charge by example. When you look at me all you see is old, and mom.

Unbelievably though, I was young (and not so long ago, I might add) once, and nothing you can say will shock me. In point of fact, if I was to over share and talk about some of the things I’ve done, or still do actually, on a pretty regular basis with your step dad, it is you that would be shocked. Don’t worry, I would never, because like I said, we are not friends. I promise you this, though: as long as you tell me the truth, you will never get into trouble, though I can’t promise I won’t be disappointed.

Until you have children of your own, you won’t realize the depth in which I love you. I would do anything for you and it is the great irony of life that the person I love most, I get treated the worst by. I am your greatest cheerleader and your biggest fan. Sometimes you scream “Why do you hate me!” when I am doing my job as a mother. You don’t understand that if I indeed hated you, or felt a far more heinous thing, indifference, I simply wouldn’t bother. I would let you get on with it and shrug my shoulders and not say a word. When I stand my ground and open myself up to your vitriol and disregard and general railroading, that, my dear, is love.

The most important thing for you to understand is though you may be convinced otherwise, whatever happens in this crazy, upside down life, you will never, ever be alone. So maybe, just once in a while, will you keep this in mind and be a little kinder to me.

Your ever loving,

Mom

 

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Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 9.18.45 AMRecently my friend Niamh and I spent a few hours catching up over a cuppa and some homemade caramel. As you do, we talked about life: our homes and gardens, the people we know, and our children. It’s when we were talking about our children that Niamh said…

“You know…they need to kill-us-off in order to grow up.” 

And for about an hour we talked about what she meant. She’s no stranger to teens, my friend Niamh. She has three and she is surviving. I, on the other hand, have only one at the moment and, some days, am barely hanging in there.

Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments of greatness. But for the past year-and-a-half, those are becoming “occasions” and not “the norm”. What happened to my sweet girl with the great belly laugh, who used to say, “thank you” and “I love you” and “look what I made for you Mama!”?

I miss that girl.

Sometimes I secretly wonder if she’s been abducted by aliens in the middle of the night and replaced with a girl who looks like ours but is often surly, angry, insensitive, self-centered, and entitled.

In the past year I have thought “is it us?”…have we done something to change her? Are we too controlling? Have we become her bully…always passing judgement on the way she looks, how much time she spends on social media or how she never seems to buckle down and just get her flippin’ homework done at night?

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 8.40.44 AMThanks to Niamh, I am starting to look at our teen angst differently: they need to kill-us-off in order to grow up. Clearly we’re not talking about grab the kitchen knife and stab us in the heart kind of “killing”. We’re talking about the “separate themselves from us” kind. Either way, it is slow and painful for us. And, in reality, it’s not fun for them either. In pushing us away…our teens oscillate between wanting their independence from us and wanting to depend on us, which makes for an intensely confusing time.

Case in point…the other day our daughter was complaining about 1) not being able to find her gloves; 2) having to get up at 6am for school; 3) sharing a bathroom with her younger sister; and 4) being forced to eat a hot home-cooked breakfast before going to school…all this grief before 7am. Then, in the car, she says to me, “Mom, I wish I could go back to being young again so I didn’t have so much responsibility.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to throw my arms around her and give her a cuddle. She’s up before the sun, faces a tough day at school, plays sport, comes home after dark, and then has at least two to three hours of homework. On the weekend, she’s got more sport and more homework. Thanks to peer pressure and social media…she’s also got to stay up-to-date with Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and Vine. My husband and I think she’s relaxing when she’s looking at her computer but, in reality, she’s scanning those pages much the same way we scan The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It’s fun but it’s also work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 8.34.37 AMKilling us in order to grow up…that’s what our teens are doing. If we want to keep our teens close in the years ahead, we’re going to have to pick our battles. I don’t mind telling you that I sought out some professional help on this one. My recent visit to a therapist taught me that we need to decide what we want in the long run. Do we want our kids leaving home one day “thankful to be gone” or “looking forward to calling in”? The other piece of advice I was left with is this: let them fail…let them make mistakes. Sounds simple but it bloody well isn’t!

Our daughter goes to a fee paying school and I can tell you that when she chooses to blather away an hour rather than study for an important test…I see red! When she doesn’t turn in a homework assignment or paper she’s completed because she’s forgotten to put it in the right place and she can’t put her hand on it…I feel frustrated by her disorganization!! When she’s roaring and shouting at me because she can’t find something in her room in the morning (because it looks like a nuclear bomb went off)…I want to shout back…”THEN CLEAN YOUR ROOM WHEN YOU GET HOME!!!” None of these reactions are helpful to her or me.

My friend Moe recently said to me…”When my son gets frustrated and starts shouting, I imagine that we’re at the train station, walking along the platform. His destination is Crazy Town and I don’t have to get on the train with him. I can let him climb aboard and wave to him from the safety of the platform.” I like this imagery. Now, when our daughter starts getting puffed up and cross, I try to remember what Moe said…she’s headed to Crazy Town and I don’t have to go.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.00.10 AMRaising a teen…be it a son or a daughter…is not easy. I think it’s helpful to realise these years are not easy for them either. In the heat of the moment, let’s remember why they are killing us off (hint: they have to grow up)…and be sure to pick our battles carefully (so what if his/her room is a mess)…and stay focused on what we want our relationships with them in the future to be like (positive and loving)…and let them fail (failure leads to success)…and, finally, remember the phrase “Next stop Crazy Town” (you don’t have to get on board too!). Then and only then will we all survive in one piece. Lastly, be thankful for dear friends who remind us that, though it may kill us, our kids will grow up. Now…where are those caramels?

Vanilla Caramels

Ingredients

225g (8oz) salted butter

225g (8oz) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons treacle or golden syrup (light corn syrup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

400g (14oz) tin of condensed milk

8x12in baking sheet, lined with parchment paper

Directions

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Melt the butter is a heavy-bottomed saucepan (about 8″ wide) over a medium-low heat.

3. Add the sugar and treacle or golden syrup.

4. Add the vanilla and stir until well mixed.

5. Add the condensed milk and stir constantly until the caramel is a rich golden brown colour. To know if the caramel is done cooking, use a candy thermometer. When the temperature reaches 118ºC/245ºF, you’re done. To confirm, fill a small glass with ice cold water and drop a tiny amount of the hot caramel syrup into the water. Pull the cool caramel from the water and check the consistency. The caramel should be firm but pliable.

6. Carefully pour the hot caramel syrup onto the baking sheet. Using an off-set spatula, quickly spread the caramel syrup to desired thickness. Let cool completely.

7. When caramels are cool, lift them off the baking sheet and onto a cutting board. Cut the caramels into candies with a sharp knife. If the caramels stick to your knife, spray your knife with nonstick cooking spray.

8. Wrap the caramels in wax paper a little longer than the caramels, twisting the ends to close. Caramels will keep at room temperature for about two weeks.

 

Related Articles:

1. 15 Sites and Apps Kids are Heading to Beyond Facebook from Common Sense Media.

2. Teen drama overload article at NPR.

3. Irish Whiskey Salted Caramel Recipe at Cheese and Chocolate

 

 

 

 

 

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