Friday, December 21, 2012

Graduation Day

Being a mother of a certain age, some days I  can’t remember to put the lid down on the washing machine or whether I put milk on the grocery list –or where said list is.

However, I can remember with crystal clarity where I was 22 years ago today: giving birth to my first son, Erik. He was born at 5:54 p.m. on a Friday in Flagstaff , Arizona during one of the coldest winters on record.  Snow even blanketed the cacti outside of Phoenix.

Last Friday Erik graduated from college. I sat with my mom waiting for the ceremony to begin while my professor husband was down on the venue floor as part of the processional. To strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’  I imagined the words of the host of the reality show  Amazing Race as the winners cross the finish line: “Three continents….”

During his academic career, Erik studied abroad in Europe and Asia. With snowstorm  Draco hitting the prairie earlier this week,  my mom and I were reminiscing yesterday about Storm Daisy that hit Denmark a few years ago – stranding Erik and a friend in his father’s ancestral homeland.

Being a parent is an adventure. Being the parent of an adventurer adds a whole new dimension of worry  and yes, pride.

And don’t forget worry.

My Grandma Rock always poked her head in the car window as we (my mom, my late father and my younger sister and brothers) prepared to leave her house after visiting. “Be careful” she’d say and add “Don’t forget to call when you get there.”

For the most part those half hour trips home were uneventful except for the time a deer ran in front of the car, the animal flipping up over onto the hood, sending glass shattering into the car and a hoof grazing my mother’s cheek  - below her eye.

My brother Steve, sitting in the front seat between my parents (this was the old days), was wearing a little sailor hat with the brim turned down. All weekend my grandmother had advised him to turn the brim up the way the hat was supposed to be worn.

The downward turned brim kept the glass out of his eyes.

We’d been on this trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan to buy a bunk bed for my sister and me. Joan and I must have been maybe in second and third grade. I don’t remember.

I do remember once the bunk bed was assembled,  I rolled over the first night (I wanted to sleep without the safety bar) and landed on the floor. Unhurt. But I did want the protective railing after that.

With one child ‘launched’ and another due to graduate from high school in May, I sometimes long for that safety bar.

But I’m not sure whether I want it more for them – or me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cookie Rerun

Since Sunday, I've baked six pans of cookie bars -- seven if you count the one that ended up in the garbage can. Some will be mailed to my older son's friends in school on the east coast, friendships forged in middle school -- and these boys are now young men. My older son will be 22 this month and graduates from college in less than two weeks. Others will be mailed to our old neighbor girls...who were in 3rd grade with same son. Still more are for current neighbor girls and others will be plated and head to work with my husband.

I should be writing but I'm baking, booted still from recent ankle surgery. The boot prevents me from walking outside in the unseasonably warm December weather. It's sixty degrees on December 4th in Nebraska. To keep my spirits up, I tell myself how necessary this latest round of surgery was, and it means I'll be able to keep walking well into my dottage. Which sometimes feels like now. 

But as long as I can remember how to turn on the oven, I like to do a little holiday baking....and reminiscing.

Here's a holiday baking 'rerun' blog post from November 29, 2009.

It’s not yet December 1, but my holiday baking is done. Granted, the Buckeyes still need to be dipped in melted chocolate (yes, a Michigander-born girl doesn’t let the Ohio-ness of those tasty treats dissuade), but that’s it.
Why the frenzy? The reasons range from wanting to mail a tin of cookies to son Erik in Germany to having a nice variety for a tray for my department chair husband to take in to the last faculty meeting of the semester and…
…wanting to get it over with. There I said it. The days of joyfully dumping out all my Grandma Rock’s old metal cookie cutters and pulling out her sugar cookie recipe are long gone. Sometimes I wonder why?
Frosted cut-outs and golden cookies studded with M&M’s were just two of my maternal grandma’s specialties. Both my grandmothers excelled in the kitchen. My dad’s mom, widowed when my dad was just 12, supported him and her four older daughters by being the head cook at Mercy Hospital in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Even though she was on her feet cooking all day, Grandma Andrews spent all her time in the kitchen when all her children and grandchildren gathered for holidays. From her sister Carrie, my great aunt, I learned how to make shortcake dotted with butter and Sugar Cakes, melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies made fluffy with buttermilk.

My mother didn’t like to bake so she taught me when I was very young. Soon I was adept at family favorites from both sides, including chocolate applesauce cake, date nut bars, tomato soup cake, best two egg cake….and inept at things like fudge and one concoction involving powdered sugar, cocoa, milk and Cocoa Krispies. I think it was supposed to be frosting.

In 7th grade I nearly flunked the sewing part of Home Ec (In middle school, my sons took BASE, which was…home ec with careers added. Sensible addition.). I did much better in the kitchen. I can still remember the day we learned the ‘water displacement’ method to accurately measure peanut butter. It’s slimy, but it works.
So what happened over the years?

Well, writing became a much better (and lower calorie) outlet for my creativity. Then there was my husband’s diabetes diagnosis…and the fact the disease runs on both sides of my family. The oldest of Grandma Andrews’ four daughters was Dorothea, a nurse, who had a foot amputated due to complications from the disease. Also, while both my children enjoy an occasional cookie, and Erik is very partial to the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (recipe listed below), neither seems to have inherited my raging sweet tooth. Finally, the whole working mom balancing act ultimately left no time for laboriously rolling out cookies and decorating with colored sugar, not when there were papers to grade and copyedits due.

Now there are no more papers to grade, not for me. After 15 years at a large university, my husband and I were ready for a lifestyle change. This will be our second holiday season here on the prairie, in the town my husband wanted to live in for nearly 20 years. Long before we had children, we’d drive ‘home’ for the holidays from Flagstaff, Arizona to our folks in Iowa. This Nebraska town on Interstate 80 enchanted him, though at the time I thought he was nuts. And not the kind that go in cookies. Instead we went east. But when a job opened at this university of 6,500 students in his ‘dream town’ at the exact time we were ready for a move, it seemed like fate and faith were aligned.

It’s been a challenging yet wonderful change. Soon I will be realizing my life-long goal of staying home to write fulltime. It’s scary, exhilarating and, apparently, baking inducing.

Maybe next year I will pull out Grandma Rock’s cookie cutters.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe?

Basic Cake Box Cookie/Bar recipe
  • 1 box any flavor cake mix (Pillsbury Classic Yellow particularly good)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 egg
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients. Add one 12 oz. package chocolate chips or any flavor. Spread in a greased 9 x 13 glass pan. Bake at 350 for ten – twelve minutes til golden brown. Let cool and cut into bars.

You can also use this dough to make cookies. Bake the cookies at 375 degrees.
Roll the yellow cake mix cookie dough into balls and flatten with a sugared glass slightly. 

Bake at 375 7-8 minutes or until golden.

Frost or sprinkle with colored sugar.

You can also use a chocolate cake mix, but it’s drier so use ½ cup oil. Or just make brownies!

Lemon is also a good flavor. Just form into balls and let flatten as they bake. Make a thin glaze out of lemon juice, powdered sugar and a little milk or water.

Or bake in a greased 9 x 13 pan again til done and frost with canned lemon frosting.
Try cherry cake mix, and add cherry chips and almond flavoring and a vanilla frosting glaze or spice and melt caramel and drizzle on top.

Iowa State Fair Cookbook Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine (I use margarine sticks)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 12 oz. Package semisweet chocolate chips
In a bowl, combine sugars, shortening, and eggs; beat until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda, powder and salt. Add to shortening mixture. Add oats. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree oven 8-10 minutes or until done.

The dough works better after it’s been chilled a bit in the refrigerator. And the best thing about these cookies is you can freeze them as drop cookies or roll up as logs in wax paper. Either way you can bake right from the freezer when you want some.