Doing it the Hard Way

I make excellent oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The recipe isn’t a big secret. I found it online at the Quaker Oats site.  But the cookies are chewy and just what a cookie should be. I think I like them even better than regular chocolate chip cookies. Almost three years ago I baked a batch for my son’s birthday and sent him to school with them. He came home and said one of the kids told him it was the best cookie she’d ever had. A day later, the schools shut down because of the pandemic, but I like to think that wasn’t my cookies’ fault.

Today I baked a batch to send to school again. Tomorrow my son’s class is having a holiday party, and he requested the cookies. I have a stand mixer that lives on the counter, so making cookies is a breeze. But, for some reason I don’t entirely understand, I didn’t use it for the cookies today. Instead I creamed the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon and my own muscles. By the time everything was as it should be, my arms were spent. The whole time I kept telling myself I could just use the mixer, but somehow using my arm strength and a spoon seemed easier.

The cookies turned out just right. 30 of them are in a tin for the class party tomorrow. Ten of them were designated for home, and we’ve been enjoying them. I had my cookie with a cup of decaf earl gray tea. There is no big moral or meaning in this story. Just, I made cookies today. I did it the hard way, and they came out well. Tomorrow a classroom of kids will eat them, and hopefully one or two will think, wow. Good cookie.

Special Breakfast

Every Sunday morning our family has what we fondly call Special Breakfast. I started making Special Breakfast on Sunday morning when my son was small, pretty much pre-verbal in fact. At first, I made the same pancake recipe every week. I remember one week my tiny son coming downstairs, seeing me at work in the kitchen, and running over to me, pointing and grinning and saying “Cake! Cake!” It felt good to be appreciated.

My Sunday morning efforts are still appreciated, though I’m not necessarily told so every week. I’ve branched out from the weekly pancakes, and now also make things like muffins and turkey bacon, biscuits and gravy, waffles, and more. I don’t always feel like cooking on Sunday morning, but I don’t like to break the tradition. And if I really don’t feel like cooking, I can always order doughnuts or breakfast burritos.

This morning I made banana muffins with chocolate chips and turkey bacon. In a break from tradition, we ate in front of the tv. That’s because the World Cup was on, and my husband decided we should watch. He’s mostly given up his old football habit, so it is rare that our family watches sports together these days. It was a treat this morning to watch the game and root for Argentina. I don’t think anyone remembered to thank me for making muffins, not until I gave myself a compliment. But it was still a good morning.

I stepped away from the game for an hour to attend Zoom church for my UU congregation. We’re hunkering down a bit right now in an attempt to avoid illness — it seems everyone around us is sick with something — and I’m grateful that Zoom church is still an option. It’s good to be connected, even as we aren’t seeing very many people in person right now. I suppose that is part of why I’ve been doing this daily blogging thing this month. It is a little tendril sent out into the world even as I mostly am sticking to home. Saying, hi, hello, we are still here, hope you are here too.

Early Morning

I’ve been waking early for months now. And by early, I mean this morning I got up at 4:30. I try to stay in bed until 5:00, but sometimes I just can’t manage it. I don’t want to wake this early. I’d much rather sleep until 6:00 or so, but my body has other ideas. This morning I padded around the kitchen and brewed the morning coffee, all before 5:00 a.m. After drinking a cup and reading the internet, I settled back in with my stitching.

I’m making good progress. I’d say I’m about halfway done with it, and this is the morning of my third day with the project. My husband still hasn’t mentioned it, despite my working on it with him mere feet away. At this point, I’m not sure if he just isn’t paying attention, if he’s messing with me, or if he’s politely not mentioning it because he knows it is meant as a gift for him. Me, I’m used to idly chatting about my stitching with him from time to time as I work and it feels really weird not doing so. I sort of wish he’d comment on it so that my circle of silence could be lifted.

But it remains good, working on the project. I’m still meditating on my late mother-in-law, and yesterday I made good headway into an audiobook too. She was a big fan of audiobooks, so that seems fitting for the project as well. I think she would have liked this one. It’s The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie, and I chose it for obvious reasons.

I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend of working on the piece, and also sheparding my 5th grader through a 5-paragraph research essay he has due on Monday morning. He’s already put together his outline for it, and I think won’t need help besides my company in the room while he works. He does prefer to have company while he does homework, even as he doesn’t want that company giving too much advice or otherwise interfering.

I taught high school for two years, and then undergrad 101 and 102 writing courses for around six years, so I’ve got Opinions about essay writing and the teaching of. I’ve been proud of myself for how I’ve been helping my 5th grader as he starts writing 5 paragraph essays. I’m not trying to impart all my wisdom on him, but rather have been sticking to gently guiding him through the process of making outlines, and also on paying attention to his teacher’s rubric (which is basically a list of all the things she wants to see in the essay). I figure if he has those two skills, he’ll be in good shape for much of the school writing assignments he encounters.

It is now 8:30 and I’ve been up for four hours now. Everyone else is up now too. Time to get dressed, feed the cats, and then get back to my stitching.

Meditation

My mother-in-law passed away this month three years ago. Her death was sudden and unexpected — a terrible accident — and it still feels like a horrible surprise that she isn’t still with us. Her mother lived well into her 90s, and my husband and I always assumed the same would be true for his mother. We miss her, especially this time of year. Both because it is the anniversary of her passing, and because ever since our son was born, we used to host Christmas and she and my father-in-law would come to visit. It still feels strange and wrong to be planning Christmas in our house without taking them into consideration.

Recently Avlea Folk Embroidery released a small design with Scandinavian roots. I showed the kit to Eric and said I’d make it for him sometime next year. He saw it and said, oh yeah, he’d like that. He said it reminded him of the kind of thing his mother would have liked. I put it aside, planning to pick it up later.

Then someone on the Avlea forum posted about the design, and shared that she had stitched the whole thing in a single Sunday. In one day, I thought? Then I thought, there are ten days until Christmas. If she could stitch it in a single day, surely I could do so in ten? So yesterday I pulled out the kit and got to work.

I wasn’t expecting the work to be so sad. As I stitch, I can’t help but think of my mother-in-law. How if she were still living, I would probably be making the piece for her. I like stitching because it is meditative. But I wasn’t expecting that in this case, I’d be mediating on someone we’ve lost, and how we miss her. But I am. It is sad, but also good. It is good to think of her, and how kind and smart and wise she was. Each stitch, is a little meditation on her and how she is missed.

I’m half trying to keep the gift a secret from my husband. I work on it when he’s around, but I carefully don’t mention it and what it is. So far, he hasn’t noticed. He knows I’m sitting there stitching, but he isn’t actually paying attention to what it is I’m working on. If I manage to get it ready for Christmas for him without him ever noticing, I plan to tease him about it a bit. But only because gentle teasing is how we operate together. Mostly I’ll be glad to give him this little meditation on his mother.

Breakfast Songs

I am not a monster, so of course I sing to my cats. (I assume this is a universal thing? Making up and singing songs to your pets?) This summer their breakfast song went viral at my son’s summer sleep-away camp. He shared the song with the other campers and counselors, and apparently it got sung pretty much every day before breakfast. I heard from other parents afterwards that they heard their kids singing it in the mornings at home too. This came as a surprise to me, since I didn’t expect the song to ever be heard outside of our household. The song is also useful for photos. It is hard getting a cat to look at you for a photo. But all I have to do is sing the first few lines of the Breakfast Song, and I have cat eyes piercing right into my soul.

New songs for the cats can’t be forced. They kind of have to organically grow. Yesterday I came up with a SECOND breakfast song. This second one is sung to the tune of a sea shanty, and it is pretty fun to bellow it out in the morning. The cats, being little furry geniuses, seem to understand that this song too means they are about to get fed. I’ll have to try it on them at some point to see if it also helps for photos.

The Breakfast Song

Oh ho, its breakfast time! Oh yes its breakfast time!

Its time to sing a rhyme, because its breakfast time.

Its time to get in line, because its breakfast time.

Its time to get in line, because its breakfast time.

Its time to merp and peep, because you get to eat.

Oh ho, its breakfast time! Oh yes its breakfast time!

Its time to meow a lot, like you’re in Camelot.

Oh ho, it breakfast time! Oh yes its breakfast time!

The Second Breakfast Song, Chorus Only (main verse still in development)

Oh ho, the kitties come! To get their breakfast, to eat their yums.

Oh ho, the kitties come! To eat their breakfast down.

Loud

The house is a very loud place today. Men are up on the roof thumping, drilling, and hammering. The cats are freaking out and did not eat their breakfast. Since I got home, one cat has become my little furry shadow. I am giving her pats and I fed her some fish cookies (otherwise known as cat treats) to make up for no breakfast.

All the noise is for an excellent cause, as we’re having solar panels installed. We live in New Mexico where sunny days are the norm and the sun is strong. Solar panels just seem like a very good idea. Everyone is happy that the project is moving forward. Everyone but the cats, anyway.

The noise does make it hard to concentrate though. Thump. Thump thump thump. I was going to start working on my husband’s new curtains for his home office today. Thump. But I am not sure I will have the mental space. Thump thump thump.

Free

Today I am feeling a little free. You see, this morning I mailed off four Christmas packages to family who live far away. I grew up in Wisconsin, but have lived in New Mexico since 1998. Most of my family is still in Wisconsin or surrounding states, and once we had a child, I declared we were no longer traveling for Christmas. I wanted him to have memories of the holiday rooted in his home. That means people either have to travel to us, or that I’m going to be mailing packages across the country.

Back when my mother and father in law were alive, they and my sister in law would travel to us. I was glad to have them. I wanted my kid to have family around at holidays. Sometimes my father would come too. Sadly, my in laws passed away, my FIL one year, and then my MIL a bit under two years later. And there has been Covid, which means my father is less likely to come as well (flying has no appeal, and a cross country drive in the heart of winter isn’t great either). So the past few years, Christmas has just been the three of us here in New Mexico. We’re pretty good at celebrating just the three of us, but I miss the fun and the stress of having family around.

But I was trying to talk about mailing packages. Mailing Christmas packages stresses me out every year. I don’t know why exactly. It is a task that hangs over my head and makes me fret. I put it off, and then worry about dealing with long lines at the post office. Long lines have even less appeal now that Covid is around, so this year the task was fretting me even more than usual. But I knew I needed to get everything out this week so that it would all arrive in time.

My dad suggested over the phone that UPS might be less crowded than the post office, which struck me as a true statement. So this morning, right after we dropped our kid off at school, Eric and I drove the UPS Store and I went in and found myself the only customer. Three came in while I was being helped, but even so, that was way less people than I likely would have found at the post office. And now the packages are on their way, and they are no longer fretting at my heart. I let them go. I hope they bring happiness to their recipients, but even if they don’t — I let them go.

My next holiday task is to sew curtains for Eric’s home office. But first I think I’ll spend the rest of today with my hand stitching. As a little gift to myself.  Because I’m feeling free.

Soup

Back in my 20s, I really liked to cook. Cooking probably counted as a hobby for me back then. I considered myself to be good at it, and it was a pleasure. At some point in the proceeding 20some years, I lost my passion for cooking. I’m still the family’s cook, but my efforts are pretty much utilitarian these days, and I don’t take much enjoyment from it. I feed us because we need to be fed. Sometimes I enjoy some simple baking. But I mostly don’t enjoy cooking. It’s too bad, really. It would be very convenient if I enjoyed cooking. We all have to eat anyway; what if I took more pleasure in the process of keeping us fed?

Last night I did have a glimmer of enjoyment in the cooking. I had planned a lentil soup with kale for dinner, with cornbread on the side. I usually keep my lentil soup very simple — flavored with garlic, salt, and pepper and then we top our bowls with parmesan. This meal reminds my husband of his late mother, and of course that is a good thing. But last night as the soup simmered, I was moved to do something different. So I added a tablespoon of curry powder and a can of coconut milk, changing the personality of that soup entirely.

And, friends, it was so delicious! Just the best soup I’ve had in ages. We had it with the cornbread, and everyone was happy and satisfied. Even my kid had no complaints. I’m looking forward to the leftovers for lunch today. It was nice to be reminded that I can play with our meals sometimes, and that this can have delicious results. I do not think I’m going to become a hobbyist cook again anytime soon, but last night was good.

Making

I was a little melancholy yesterday morning. That probably inspired my blog post for the day. I’m not sure why, maybe just the bad dreams I had all night. Luckily, in the afternoon I had plans. They weren’t leaving the house plans. Instead, I shut myself in the guest room, which is also my sewing room, and participated in a couple sewing circles over Zoom. During the first, I mostly puttered while listening to other people work and chat. I wound my bobbin, threaded my machine, and did some practice sewing. Then I did some hand stitching until the two-hour circle was up. After that, I joined my fellows in the main part of the house for an hour. Then I went back to the guest room, this time for an apron sewing workshop over Zoom. Both were hosted by Muna and Broad, which is my pattern company of choice. I’ve been teaching myself how to sew using their pattern instructions and videos, and I’m also a member of their patreon community. It is nice to have a sewing community for advice, props, and commiseration.

I was looking forward to the workshop, as I’ve been wanting to sew an apron since I first started sewing. Plus size aprons are almost non-existent, as far as I can tell. Most ready made aprons are one-size-fits-all, and that size does not include me. So, once I decided to learn to sew, an apron was one of the first things I thought of. I bought an indy pattern off Etsy, only to realize it too was too small for me. When I joined Muna and Broad’s patreon, I was glad to see they had an apron pattern available there, but I didn’t have the nerve to tackle it, as the instructions were written up as if you knew what you were doing, and I most certainly did not. I made other things instead — two box tops, a dress, a jacket.

So, I was excited last week when Muna and Broad released their apron as a full-fledged pattern, complete with more detailed instructions. Even better, they announced a Zoom sewing workshop for the pattern this weekend. I enjoyed the workshop a lot. I am too much of a beginner to have been able to keep up with the more experienced sewists’ pace. I tried, but found myself sewing too fast for me and making a really dumb mistake which I had to fix with a seam ripper. So at that point, I stopped trying to keep up and just watched and picked up tips. It was a good way to spend the late afternoon, and by the end of it, I did not have a complete apron, but I did have a partially done one and I was pretty sure I could finish the rest in an hour or two of work.

This morning, like usual, my body woke me at 5:00. I’ve been resolving, since I can’t seem to sleep past 5:00, to use those hours for good instead of idling them away on the internet. So this morning, once I’d had my coffee, I finished up my apron. I carefully followed the instructions, and sewed slowly, and in about 90 minutes, I’d finished it with no real mishaps. I put it on just in time to stir up a batch of pumpkin muffins for Sunday breakfast. I’m delighted with the apron. It fits well, protects my clothes from kitchen mess, and is a really kind of wild woven hemp print that just makes me happy. It is good, being able to make things for myself. I don’t feel melancholy today, and at least some of that has to do with making a new thing with my hands.

On Christmas

As a kid I wasn’t that into Christmas. My parents were divorced, and every year there was some push and pull about when I was going to be where. I found it stressful, and in general found the expectation that I be happy and grateful and sweet stressful too. I can remember from a pretty early age opening presents and reminding myself — act happy, act sweet, smile, say thank you. It was a lot of pressure, opening presents. It probably didn’t help that neither my father or my mother really seemed to like the holiday either. My dad was vocal about disliking the holidays, and my mom resisted even simple traditions. We didn’t even have a Christmas tree, though I begged for one every year. She said we were too poor for a tree, and while we were poor, I am pretty sure we could have come up with something. One year a friend of hers informed her that she HAD to get her grade school daughter a tree, and so that year we had one and I reveled in it. We didn’t have any decorations so I made them. I made popcorn and cranberry strings, and hung pictures from the branches. But the next year, we were back to no tree. She even gave me a lump of coal and nothing else one year when I was a teen. Another I was surprised to see multiple boxes piled up for Christmas — I was used to just getting one present from her — only to open them and find out one was a real present and the rest were half-empty wrapped cereal boxes and such. Which is all to say, Christmas really isn’t my thing.

But my stepmother did introduce me to a different kind of Christmas. Some of it made me uncomfortable. Like, she seemed to assume I believed in Santa for years (my mother told me there was no Santa when I was in kindergarten, the year of my parent’s divorce) and I didn’t really know how to respond to that. But some of it was pretty cool. We’d bake sugar cut-out cookies each year and decorate them, and that was fun. Or we’d decorate the tree together (there was always a tree at her and my dad’s house) and talk about each ornament as we put them up, telling the same little stories about them each year. We’d also sip hot cocoa and listen to a recording of Dylan Thomas reading a Child’s Christmas in Wales. I thought this was astonishingly boring, though I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that, but even then I sort of appreciated that we did it every year. I liked traditions as a kid, little routines you did every year, and I didn’t get enough of them from my mom and dad.

As an adult I didn’t make a big deal of Christmas for the most part. It was more stressful than anything. But then my husband and I had a baby when I was 38, and from the start, I knew how I wanted to do Christmas with him. As an adult, Christmas is a little internal check list for me. I have the traditions in my head, and I try to make sure each one happens. I try to ride the balance between festive, and not too stressful for me. Like, we bake and decorate gingerbread cookies each year. Not a million different delicious cookies. That would stress me out too much. But we do the gingerbread every year, and then have a little family decorating party for them where we share memories about decorated cookies in years past. A lot of it feels exhausting to me, but I try not to let on about that to my kid.

And it must work, because he LOVES Christmas. He looks forward to it, and he seems to relish in it all with unselfconscious joy. He loves the decorations we bring out each year. He loves his advent calendars (three this year — the wooden tree where he puts up an ornament each day, a Lego calendar, and a fidget calendar). He loves “decorating day” where we decorate the living room for Christmas, telling stories to each other about each one as we bring them out. I feel like I’ve done something right when it comes to him and Christmas. I’ve broken a cycle, and I can’t help but feel good about that. As the years pass, I even find myself starting to take pleasure in some of the traditions we’ve built together. And that’s something to celebrate.