Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

I am in Nashville with nothing to do.  What I mean is, I have no agenda and no plans.  And that was the plan.  To get away and just to enjoy Nashville and Annie and Pete's place.  A respite from cold and chilly Michigan and all the problems that seem so hard sometimes.  Unfortunately that is life and there is no escaping it.  More and more I think it is what I choose to do with it that will determine how it is, but then I so often wish someone would just give me a map of directions for the rest of my life and say, "Have at it".  Doesn't happen that way either.

But I am in Nashville and for two blessed days I have no one to worry about and nothing to do but enjoy it.  I took Lily, the dog out to do her thing.  I read a book I am sure I will recommend to every female over the age of 50 I know, especially those from Michigan.  I walked the road by the Cumberland River and glimpsed what it could have been 200 years ago.  I watched a kickball game last night.  Yup, there is such a thing as a kickball league down here, played intensely and for fun by a variety of young people.  Took me back to the days of my early marriage when I sat on May evenings watching men's fast pitch softball and freezing my ass off.  I did that last night, also.  I went to bed with a pounding headache from lack of caffeine in the form of my usual 4 cup a day coffees.  I awoke after a good night's sleep and a big mug of Joe feeling like I had the best of everything.  Too bad that feeling can't last, but its not the way it is, so deal with it and enjoy the short ride.

I had a hankering for peanut butter cookies.  Don't ask me why.  I love peanut butter but generally alongside it I like a large dollop, (or two), of chocolate.  But for some reason it was peanut butter cookies that stuck with me.  When Annie called me from work I told her I thought I would whip up a batch of cookies.  She said she thought I had everything I would need, and to have at it.  I probably lit on peanut butter cookies because they are so easy and as she said she had all the ingredients.  After a quick search of cabinets I surmised she did indeed have the butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, flour, baking soda and salt I would need.  She has a very nice Kitchen Aid mixer that I could handle until I went to plug it in.  Three pronged plug and two pronged outlets.  Peter had lent me a converter for my laptop, so I guessed I could just move that to the outlet and plug in the mixer.  However, an incident with a converter in an old plug yesterday that blew the outlet cover off, sparked a blue flash and scared the bejeesus out of Annie, made me think twice about plugging another large appliance into such a deal.  Checking where the microwave is plugged in I saw it was a 3 pronged outlet, and so I moved the microwave over to another counter and hooked up the mixer.  I can rely on my own ingenuity when need be, especially if cookies are in the offering.  I found the ingredients, measuring spoons, cups, and a rubber spatula.  Making cookies I could do in my sleep, aside from the slight mishap when dumping the flour into the mixed sugars, butter and egg, the cup slipped and a goodly amount went down the side of the mixer and counter.  Oh well, 5 second rule and I just scooped it up by hand and dumped it in the bowl.

Cookies mixed up, beater removed and oven preheated.   Rats!  All set to place the first tray of cookies in the oven and saw the rack was near the broiler top.  Now where is there a hot pad in this place?  Looked all over, nada.  Finally grabbed the dish towel, newly cleaned and folded it to approximate a good hot pad and moved the rack.  Cookies in.  For lack of a clock in her kitchen or an appliance that has the correct time, I grabbed my cell phone and figured 10 minutes would do it.  I started reading my book, then Lily decided she needed to go outside immediately.  Lest she have an accident I didn't want to clean up, I grabbed her lead and attached it to her collar and out we went.  I thought I still had time and I made sure Lily knew this was a business trip only.  Back in under two minutes but I smelled cookies as soon as I walked in.  Rats again!  The cookies were way too brown when I pulled them out and after dislodging them from the pan, I saw most were burnt black on the bottom.  Frugal German that I am there is seldom anything I hate more than having to throw out food, I neglected and allowed to burn.  Especially cookies...

But nothing to do but to throw out half of the first dozen and watch the second more closely.  When I had the second pan ready I took the precaution to move the rack back to where I found it, as that was probably part of the reason the cookies burned on the bottom.  The second batch I watched more carefully and I am happy to report that they turned out perfectly.  Unfortunately there was only dough for 3 more cookies.  I am sure Annie won't worry about the cookies and there fore ingredients that had to be thrown out, but I hate the notion that a seasoned baker like me can still burn cookies.  It points out my fatal flaw.  The need to be in charge and knowledgeable.  But I smile as I am still obviously a "Work" in progress and its kinda nice to know I can always learn...

Now should I tell Annie about the burned cookies?...


I tried to think of something clever to title this, but there is nothing clever about it.  I flew down yesterday to visit my daughter, Annie in Nashville. I had come down to get away, but I left behind an early spring in Michigan, unheard of and never experienced in all of my memory.  Sure we have the January thaw and temps that will melt the snow and give us glimpses of the end of winter way too soon.  Those 40 degree days of sunshine will fool the best of us, but we hardened Michiganders know its a mirage and that snow storms and bitter winds are still with us into March and beyond.  Last winter was the winter from hell and I know of no other words for it.  Bitter cold and snowstorm after bitter snowstorm through February and March left all of us thinking spring let alone summer would ever get here.  It did of course.  I have never known a summer that wasn't.  But this was very nearly the winter that wasn't.  We had minimal snow, and when we did it was the wet, heavy variety that melted soon after it had fallen.  February was unusually pleasant and March came in like a lamb and almost left the same way.  Two blessed weeks in mid March of above 60 degree temps.  The second week we sat in the 70's and even 80's and above for over a week.  It didn't cool down at night and we had to pinch ourselves that this was March.

A friend went looking for ice cream at the Whippy Dip on the 20th of March, and was irate that it wasn't open.  Its March for pete sake, I wanted to tell them.  But we all fell under the spell of warm springlike temps.  The crocus bloomed and faded quickly in the unusual heat.  The Lenten Roses followed quickly by Hyacinths and Daffodils.  The Gregii tulips are out and with another few days of warm the tulips would be in fool bloom, all before the last week of March.  But all good things have to come to an end and the "heat wave" that brought us an early spring ended when a front passed through bringing warm showers but upon its departure much cooler temps.

I didn't really care though as I was winging my way to Nashville on the first day of cold in Michigan for over two weeks.  Here the temps were a very wonderful mid-70's by noon and everything is in blossom, the last of the tulips just fading.  I heard last night Michigan had 27 degrees and frost.  While the practical side of me hopes that it didn't get the peach tree blossoms which covered the tree when I left, the rest of me loved the feeling of being without a care.  I am truly on vacation here.  I have no schedule, no calendar to follow and no one to take care of.  The kids went to work this morning and I leisurely arose and read for a blessed two hours in the sunshine.  I walked Annie's neighborhood, a favorite past time of mine, and met the wife of the family who bought the lovely new house being built last spring when we were here.  An added bonus they are transplants from Michigan, so we had much to share.

I look forward to an evening of plant shopping and seafood for dinner.  I know I can't live like this always and will be returning to chilly Michigan, but sometimes you get just what you need when you need it.  That has seemed far apart this past year, and most times it was just put one foot in front of the other and rely on the Good Lord to somehow pull you along.  It has been nice to be in the land of southern hospitality where everyone is outside and likely to say, "Hey".  Sometimes you have to pull the trigger and go for it, and hope that the Lord is guiding you, no matter how selfish the dream seems.  I just know that I am enjoying this respite and I am wise enough and grateful enough to enjoy it while it is upon me.

We seldom get what we want, unless we are foolish enough to go after something because it is there.  There is an old Stones song, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might get what you need".  Nashville is what I needed and I am grateful.  I would miss my life if it weren't there to go back to.  I sometimes think we truly vacation to make us glad to return Home...

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Hope Chest

My dog was a bad boy.  For some reason, and I am sure it is due to incorrect training, he "marks" certain areas when he is left alone without he feels real cause.  I work out every weekday morning and he is fine, but if I leave again for most reasons he will find something to lift his leg against, especially if its in our bedroom.  On days like today, he about drives me to drink.  I went for a short bike ride to enjoy the beautiful, unreal spring weather.  I forgot to shut the bedroom door.  After I returned I was cleaning the upstairs bathroom when I decided since I had the vacuum out to do the bedroom carpet.  Just because it doesn't show black dog fur like my almond bathroom does, doesn't mean its not there.  While hustling to get it done, I found the tell tale yellow spots on the carpet under my grandma's hope chest. 

I quickly got out the mini carpet cleaner and got the carpet cleaned up.  Upon further examination because with a male dog, "it" doesn't go straight down, I found some spots on the chest.  I cleaned them off and then decided a good lemon oil rubbing was in line.  After I had brought out the lovely woods used in this chest I opened it and drank in that wonderful cedar aroma that takes me back to the funniest of places....Souvenir shops by my grandparents cottage at Sand Lake.  They always featured cedar plaques and gifts and the stores were redolent of the smell of cedar.  I wanted every little gift-y souvenir I saw back then.  And once when we went on a trip to Wisconsin, I bought a small cedar box emblazoned with Mackinaw City on its top.  Oh the memories...as I gazed into that chest.

When my grandmother died rather unexpectedly, twenty days short of her 81st birthday, we were all in shock.  Grandpa just tried to negotiate his way without her, but it was like a spring was broken inside of him.  When he passed away four years later in 1999, it was immensely sad, but in a way very comforting as we knew he was in Heaven with Grandma and all he loved.  My mom and her 3 siblings arranged to have a house auction quickly and then put their house up for sale.  In cleaning the house and going through the items to be auctioned, they found a list Grandma had made.  The list contained items she wanted each of her grandchildren to have.  After the kids went through the list they realized Grandma hadn't quite been equal in what she wanted given to each grandchild.  So the children decided to put the items all in the auction and if the grandchild wanted the designated item, they could bid on it.  Many of the grandkids didn't care what had been wished for them, but I was curious.  I am the eldest grandchild, and always thought my grandma and grandpa were about perfect.  When I asked my mom what Grandma had wanted me to have, she said a walnut chest.  For the life of me, I couldn't remember this chest even when my mom told me where it had set in Grandma's house.  So, I had to go over and take a look at it.  As soon as I saw it, I remembered it, but would not have thought much of it.  The finish had darkened over the years and it looked more like ugly mahogany than walnut.  But Mom told me it was cedar inside and they believed it was a hope chest.  That made a difference, but I still thought the chest looked ugly on the outside.

As the day for the auction approached I looked at the chest a few more times.  It kind of grew on me, but what I really wanted from the auction was a straw boater hat, Grandpa had worn courting Grandma.  Grandma had shown it to me once and I fell in love with the hat and the story.  The day of the auction, Mom whispered to me to bid on the chest because she was sure it was walnut and could be refinished and on the inside was a birthday card from 1932.  Grandpa had given Grandma the hope chest for her 19th birthday in March.  They were married a little over a month later.  The birthday card with the chest had been saved by Grandma all those years.  Mom said they took the card out but if I bought the chest she would give me the card.  It wasn't easy as the hat I wanted was prized by another relative, and I paid dearly for it, and the chest was bid up by my mom's sister.  But I bought both.   I wasn't too sure how smart I was, but back then tradition and "family" pieces meant a great deal to me.

I set about refinishing the chest that summer.  My mom was right.  It refinished beautifully and after the dark finish was removed there was the gorgeous walnut my mom spoke of.  There was also inlaid maple decorative motifs on it.  And when you opened the chest came that tantalizing smell of childhood, the lake and cottage, and summer.  The smell of cedar.  I put the chest in our bedroom and despite our matched bedroom set being oak, it fit as quality old pieces quite often do. Over the years I added things to it.  A child's derby hat found in the walls of our house when we tore down some plaster in remodeling.  Two German Bibles that were my grandparents confirmation Bibles, though neither of them spoke German to my remembering.  Some letters of my grandpa my mom had found and made copies of, along with some pictures of she and her brothers at a young age.  I added my own children's things as they grew.  A baby plate bought for one of the children.  School pictures and newspaper clippings from their sports adventures.  The striped socks I had on when Ryan was born.  I was cold in the delivery room and the nurse said I could leave my socks on.  They were red and blue striped and every time I saw them thereafter I smiled, until I put them in the chest.  I have no notion of why, but because I could. 

Lastly was a journal of sorts I had kept at another bad time in my life.  A dozen years ago and it was one of the darkest winter's I remember, and funny thing there was no real cause for it now.  In retrospect it seems silly as compared to some of what went on these past two winters.  But what I read didn't seem all that silly and took me back to what I was feeling and why writing was an outlet for me.  I hope that a dozen years from now if the Good Lord sees fit to keep me around, that what I am experiencing today will seem just as silly, but the writing just as insightful.

So my dog was a bad dog, but if I had not to clean up a mess, I wouldn't have stopped to open my hope chest.  I wouldn't have smelled the enticing smell of cedar, have remembered all the good times, and imagined all the hope my grandma put into that chest as she prepared for a marriage that would last over 65 years. Hope seemed to be in short supply of late.  It seemed more to be a time of endurance, and just trying to stay afloat.  There were times of endurance in my grandparent's lives and in my parent's. I was reminded that I am part of my larger family who's roots run deep in this area.  I have tradition and things of my family I still care about, even though I have learned I am not tied to this place with roots so deep, I can't be transplanted.  I am more than the sum parts of what is visible now, and still have ways to grow beyond this day.  I am so grateful for those who went before me, loved me and gave me wisdom.  I hope my grandchildren will feel the same some day.   Its funny how a hope chest and a bad dog, equaled a bad day, then a very good day; a day of hope....and that's a tremendous thing.   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tree Pruning

I love to write.  On bad days I sometimes trip over my maudlin outlook, and on those days I want to pour out my anguish.  I've learned on those days its sometimes best not to write or to write myself a letter, never meant to be mailed or even looked at by anyone but me.  On good days I want to share with everyone what I find so appealing in the written word.  It is a natural to me and I can find something to write about in every day, as a photographer wants to capture just the right light, I want to find that perfect word or phrase that lets everyone understand what I see, what I feel.  On the best days, it flows out of me like a spring stream, racing, roaring to life.  I have felt like the best days often of late.  Call it the no winter, winter we've been having and an early March day that speaks of 4 weeks down the road, but it is a day to write.

It is a day to write, but the outside called me, and a job of spring, tree pruning was staring me in the face.  We usually prune the four apple trees in our backyard, somewhere in early April, but the nice weather have allowed me to prune the one inside of our back fence a couple of days in a row the first week of March.  Much of the pruning is just cutting off the water sprouts, long, straight new branches that grow upward.  They don't branch but can grow 4 feet in one season.  They grow out of the bruised spots where larges branches were cut out to open up the tree.  Pruning out last season's water sprouts is a necessary chore every spring.  And there are always larger branches we have left from the year's before, waiting to see if we would shape the tree more.  I spent over three hours pruning the tree in the back yard.  My two dogs were more than happy to help me.  One chewed on the sticks I dropped, the other tried her darnedest to dig a hole in the grass under the fence.  My pruning saw became a good friend as the pile of larger limbs grew and my tree grew smaller.  I liked what I had done, even though the apple tree looked pretty bare when I finished.  Somehow, in the still raw days of  March there is something poetic and visual about seeing the silhouettes of trees pared down to their very extreme form.  Against the backdrop of our pond and the still wintry steel blue sky, they seemed to be waiting out the winter. 

Today is an Indian spring day if there is such a thing.  A warm, day a month early.  Blue skies and light winds and temperatures over 60 degrees.  Its a spring day before its officially spring.  And today I tackled the last three trees with Kurt's help.  He brought out the chain saw for a couple of good sized limbs that would have taken a sizable amount of sweat equity to saw through with the smaller pruning saw.  He also started up the tractor to load the big limbs into the scoop of the tractor and take them to back where he dumps them and uses them as brush cover for the deer.  I cut and we pruned, and he cut and we pruned.  After two and a half hours we had the trees cut down and pruned up.  The largest of the limbs were loaded and taken to the back.  And the smaller ones await raking and piling on the burn pile. 

Now I can find that few minutes to write.  But I think I did....I went out and I enjoyed the unseasonable warm the day gave me.  I reveled in colors, still winter brown but a blue sky that can only be seen and not described.  Spring creeps into our bones even though we know we have miles to go yet and weeks to be in winter mode.  But the first of my spring chores was done and I feel like writing...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just Tell Me What to Do...

I stopped to talk to a friend about the Magic Jack phone today after my workout.  I know that sounds very trendy, but I go as often as I can every weekday morning to a new, small physical therapy unit opened in our small town.  It has a dozen exercise machines and fitness options and a small pool for water therapy and water aerobics.  For a minimal monthly fee I can go work out and get in the pool and relax in front of water jets and still exercise without feeling like I'm really working at it.  It has become my lifesaver this winter, literally.

My friend had mentioned having this Magic Jack and I wanted to pick her brain about how well she liked it.  In this advent of everything techno in our lives and every child, 5 years or older having their own cell phone, I often feel hopelessly out of it.  Of course, with all of this advancing technology is the rather hefty price tag.  The younger generations seem to shrug this off as just part of daily living but a $100 a month bill for satellite television for 400 channels, only an eighth of which I actually use, seems out of kilter to my rural, economizing, German background, somehow.  I am learning that if I would only pay attention to all those infomercials on tv, there is a world of people who feel exactly as I do and they are constantly inventing ways for me to get ahead of this rat race at only $19.99, and they'll throw in whatever will enhance the experience for free.  I usually disregard all of these, but the Magic Jack I had seen and it was recommended by my computer "guy", and coming from him I took notice.  We now own two cell phones and paying over $50 a month for our land line in addition to the cell phones, just doesn't make sense.  I could give up the land line and that seemed the course of action, but it is the number I use for everything when a phone number must be given.  It is the number I have had for 35 years, (yes, I've lived in this house all of my married life, how weird is that), and I've become sentimentally and some would say, stupidly, attached to it.  One of the hooks for the new Magic Jack phone was that you could port your old land line telephone number over to the Magic Jack and then cancel the service.  The Magic Jack runs off the internet.  I was all set to order this wonder from Amazon and then I started reading the reviews of it.  There were over a hundred reviews and roughly fifty per cent were unfavorable.  Many cited difficulty of porting the number over and the cost to do so and because everything is done online there is no "real" person you can talk to for technical support, even if that tech support sounds suspiciously like they are coming from Bangladesh. 

So there I was inquiring of my friend how she liked  the Magic Jack.  They had had it two years and she was well satisfied with it, but a caveat, her husband is retired and very computer nerdy...   I greatly admire how they live comfortably with many of the new technologies but adapted to fit a useful lifestyle, not just having them to have them and spending hours playing on Facebook on your $200 smart phone.  As we talked, she laughed and said, "If someone would just tell me what to do".    Ding, ding, ding.  Ain't it the truth.  The older I get and the more supposedly wise, the more I just wish someone would tell me what to do.  Everyone says, "research it on the Web", and if you are doing trivial pursuit of some kind, the web can be very helpful, but it doesn't tell me practically how to make life's great decisions.  They may not be life's great decisions, but they seem to clog up my airwaves with noise clutter and I just wish someone would hand me, "The Guide to Get You Through Life".   Many would say its already there, and if I only pay attention I will get it. 

I have been reading books on the Amish.  They know from early childhood on what their daily roles are.  As they grow the genders assume roles pertinent to their age and bearing within the family.  While it sounds monotonous and hopelessly boring to many, it is saved in all of these things by the faithful commitment to God and family, the Amish exhibit.  They are happiest in their family and the community.  There is a sense of belonging and knowing who you are that I wish often I had.  Too often I feel like I'm dog paddling in a circle.  I get to see 360 degrees, but I'm sure not going anywhere or learning anything.

We use cookbooks to learn to cook.  Many of us like to free style in our cooking or just know recipes from making them for so long, we are pretty much assured of the outcome.  We learn to read and then can't remember when we didn't know how.  We learned the simple jobs that were once part of our existence and know how to rectify disasters and break downs.  But technology has left many of us in the dust.  It has moved so much faster, I all too often, feel like those salmon trying to swim upstream.  We have cellphones, ipads, laptops, net books, high def. televisions and video streaming.  We may know how to adapt many of these things to our daily living, at least my kids do, but what if they have a techno glitch?   It goes back to the place of purchase or they go online and hope for advice in customer support.  You can call and talk to the a fore mentioned, tech support out of Pakistan, which I have done in the past and is not a pleasant experience, or you can try to avoid as much of the new technology as possible.  It often seems the best alternative, but once hooked on the newest smart phone or ipad, there is no going back.  I could no more go back to dial up with my computer after having high speed, than I could go back to black and white television after having color and not just color but now high definition color.  Where does it all end?  That's the scary, million dollar question and sometimes I just wish some one would tell me what to do....