Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Because You're Mine, I Walk The Line

It's been a juggling act around here this month!  I've had many extra hours at work and am hanging on until the end of the month, hoping to find my sanity again then.

Sometimes, okay, most of the time, I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.  What to give up, without feeling like I've abandoned something uber important?  Important to ME anyway...

So, most days I find myself walking the fine line between being happily committed to my commitments.....

.....and hanging on to my spiralling stress level by the wee tips of my fingers....

Commitments to 'outside-the-home' activities aside, it's my family that counts.  At the end of the day, how I spent my time with them, how well I fed them (body, soul and spirit) is the measuring stick to my days' success.

I'm not a hero in that department.

Not every day around here meets the needs of any of us, though.  Sometimes we blunder, sometimes we succeed.

Last week, when my days off were far too short, I, um, yeah, I had a HYSTERICAL MOTHER MOMENT.


Mother-Grumpy-Pants arrived in full force, spent her anger, and demanded a group apology (which she got).  Too many episodes of undone dishes and wasted food and the occasional lack of appreciation fueled my fire.

The next day, my blessed sons walked through the door after school to find a bright orange poster greeting them, taped to the island, entitled "HOUSE RULES".  It started with seven directives, followed by five asterisks and two FYI's.

Mama laid the smack-down.  She meant business.

Son #1 walked through the door with a big smile, read the poster, looked at me, re-read the poster, looked at me....

....and wondered how long the poster would remain plastered to the kitchen island.
"Until you do all of these things without reminders!!", was my reply.

My supervision of said chores that night wasn't particularly enjoyed but, sheesh, someone's sons have gotta learn how to be responsible.

Or else Mama might cross that line between sanity and insanity!!!
Here's my domestic nod to Johnny Cash, my version of "Walk The Line":
"I keep the fridges full so we can dine
You have clean shirts and pants most of the time
I go to work so you can spend my dimes
Because you're mine - I walk the line!!!"
Everyone's participated rather well with the new house rules, thank you very much.  It's notable that having help with even the tiniest tasks spreads the load, eases the burden.
And sometimes, the most important part of my day is laying aside house rules and to-do lists and chores and expectations - to take advantage of opportunities to be a mom - a cheerleader on the sidelines of the volleyball court, a cheerleader in the midst of someone's discouragement, a cheerleader when someone needs a little help to find their mojo.

I took this picture last night at Ben's volleyball game.  I wish that I could show you the full picture but these aren't my kin and I don't expect that they or their parents would appreciate me plastering their picture on the www!  But this was a moment that was sweet to find when I uploaded the pictures last night.  Seven lanky 11-12 year old boys, sitting on the bench, talking, anxiously waiting for their next game (the competition was steep!) ... some great facial expressions were captured as they, being boys, posed for the camera!

But the deeper message of the picture to me is knowing that we all have our own lives to live, our own lines to cross, our choices to make.  We are as different and as varied as the shoes and feet represented here.  What works for you doesn't work for me, what I need may not be what you need. 

But, walk on, my friend, walk on.  Find your "line" of things that are important to commit to and go hard!  Insanity may strike on occasion, but go walk your line with joy!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Walking The School Block

I've been thinking a lot today about the changing of the seasons.  Just days ago, the weather was warm, the sun coaxed my hoodie off, flip flops were acceptable and the days held the split personality of half summer/half fall.  Today, the "chill" is in the air, you know, the chill that you can't ignore, that bites through your jacket and makes you turn away from the wind.  The chill that makes you dress in flannel and hoodies, don socks, plug in the ignored-all-summer heating pad and start searching for those cheap gloves that you get at the dollar store, 3 pair for $3, or some such 'deal' that are warm enough until the real cold shows up.

I found myself wondering - how did that cold sneak up on me?  It was warm just the other day

Like a chameleon adapting to its' environment, I've adapted to mine too.  Fewer meals come from the BBQ; soups and stews fill my cooking pots; I time my cookies so they're baked in time for the boys to burst through the door after school.  We've survived the first month of school and have become slaves to the school schedule.  We've abandoned the freedoms of summer and have learned to embrace, or at least abide, the fundraising and early morning volleyball practices and packing lunches and evening homework and tired by Friday/sleep in Saturday bodies.

I went for a walk around the school block this afternoon.

I walked this path dozens of times when the boys were little and needed, or wanted, company on their way.  We would hold hands, maybe only until the playground came into view, then it was hands off so they could be cool.  Before we reached the playground, we exchanged lots of hand squeezes - two squeezes = "I love you". 

I will squeeze your hand while no one's looking and you will know in that moment that my heart is ever so full of love for you.   

Back in those days, the school seemed to me to be a big fat monster, ready to suck up my child and influence him with Lord-knows-what information that I may or may not like, influencing him to prefer their company over mine and I sighed and worried about how this kid would still love me at the end of the day when all I was was 'mom'.

I needn't have worried.

No one takes the place of mom and dad and home and family.

I walked a little further around the school block.

Two, maybe even three hundred kids are out on the school ground at recess and I can't believe the noise.  I can't believe that I don't know these little ones who are climbing the monkey bars and swinging high on the swings and fighting some imaginary foe on the ball diamond.  A green dodgeball lies abandoned on the sand pit while some group 'playing pretend' trumps throwing a green ball at each other until someone gets touched.  Where did all these babies come from and why is my boy not on this playground?  Oh, he's over there, with the big kids, because, it seems he IS a big kid.  And he's my baby.  How did that happen?  We're in our 10th year at this school, and my baby is one of the big boys on the playground. 

I guess it happened one year at a time.  We morphed from being kindergarten parents of one into being parents of two Division One students into being the mother and father of boys in growth spurts and facial hair and then one hit Grade 8 grad and moved on, leaving the other one flying solo, kicking butt at being a well respected leader on the playground.

Someone, please make it stop.....

At least, couldn't this all just slow down - those are MY kids growing up, making their way across unknown paths. 

In my mind, I'm still walking them to school, squeezing their hand ... twice, of course ... reminding them secretly that I love them.  But they walk to school alone and that's all good and I'm glad and grateful that my happy healthy boys can maneuver their way in their own worlds with a great deal of success and competency.  That is exactly as it should be.

So I'll guess I'll keep the warm fires burning for them at home.

Seems that my fears of the school monopolizing their affections were unfounded.  They want to come home at the end of the day.

Of course they do!  How silly I was to doubt that.

Yeah, and about that big bad monster (school) that I was so afraid of?  Get this.  I stopped in at the school this morning to pick up my boy for a quick appointment.  Mr. A.'s former Grade 7 and 8 teachers hovered around me - "How's Andrew doing in high school?"  I shared with them all of the ways that he is happy and adjusting and succeeding and they smiled and nodded.  When I mentioned that he has a whole new circle of friends, they smiled even bigger - "we knew that would happen!".  We shared for a few moments some of the struggles that Andrew had had to endure while in public school - specifically - how his class hadn't been a friendly place and how he often stood out by virtue of being not like any of the others.  When I mentioned that it had just seemed like he never did fit in at public school, a teacher looked me in the eye and said "that's okay, we saw that, but WE loved him." 

A statement I won't soon forget.  This big bad monster school that I feared back in 2005 loved my boy in some of his darkest moments.  They had his back all along.

Sweet.  So much for being a monster.

I'm glad we have a couple more years to hang out there - I think I have some teacher appreciation moments to fulfill.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Pumpkin Cakies

I have been a cooking machine this last week!

Our youth group made a pasta meal for our church as a fundraiser on Sunday so I was busy with that.  Then I hosted a board committee meeting here for supper last night so I made soup, buns and a sweet treat for a few extras around the table.  Add into that cooking suppers for the family ever since I started my week off (a few days at work eating leftovers is inspiration enough for this chickie to get cooking as soon as I'm done my set of shifts).  I'm almost getting tired of cooking.

I said 'almost'.


I'm making sweet and sour meatballs for supper tonight.  We had a 'round table' discussion at work the other day on how to make the best meatballs.  We debated the merits of soft bread crumbs vs cracker crumbs, small meatballs vs large meatballs, wondered (or was it just me?) how to properly brown a meatball so it stays round instead of turning into some sort of wicked pyramid thingy.  Ah, the things we talk about around the lunch table.

While I searched through my recipe binder for the handwritten scrap of paper with "Linda's" sweet and sour sauce recipe on it, I noticed that I've been collecting recipes for a loooong time. I have so many handwritten ones in that orange binder - many recipes from my mom - some for things that I've made, some for things that I thought I should make (hello homemade perogies....ain't gonna happen); signature recipes from special people - like Great Granny's chocolate roll recipe handwritten on the thinnest of papers in her signature green ink; somewhere in there you'll find a monster cookie recipe from my mother-in-law long before she became my mother-in-law; recipes from friends spanning many decades, co-workers through the years, classmates from my Grade 12 year (can you imagine - that's what I wanted from each classmate as a souvenir of our 12 years together - a hand-written recipe from their home!!).  Seems I've been a geek for quite awhile!! ...(no comments please)...  I can't bear to throw any of them away, whether I've actually used the recipe or not.  I can't imagine re-typing any of them into a recipe data base - they are precious to me in their current scrappy handwritten state, representing the lives of those that have shared them with me - bits and pieces of unique people that have graced my life with theirs.

"Someday" I'll put them in order and glue the scraps onto paper.  Maybe. 

For today, I'm happy to be "in" rather than "out".  I'm happy to be "done" rather than "starting" a big project.  I'm delighted to be on "days off" rather than "days on". And I'm happy to have my house clean (kinda), my supper on the go, cookies in the cookie jar and a good book waiting to be read.  Go ahead, go out, shop, run your errands - you'll find me watching from the comfort of my warm house, on a cosy couch, wrapped in a soft blanket, cupping a warm mug between my hands, breathing a happy sigh.

Here's a new cookie recipe that I tried out yesterday.  When I took a look at my "Sweet Things" board on Pinterest, I found it to be dominated with pumpkin and apple recipes, with a smattering of chocolate/peanut butter combos mixed in between.  I smell a sweets preference....

These cookies have a cake-like texture - thus, I made the recipe exactly the way I found it, but re-dubbed it "Pumpking Cakies"!!  Please, do make the icing with the browned butter - really nice flavor!

Pumpkin Cakies with Brown-Butter Icing
Yield: 48 cookies
 For the Cookies:
 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
 1¼ teaspoons ground ginger
 ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
 ¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
 2¼ cups light brown sugar
 2 eggs, at room temperature
 1½ cups canned pumpkin
 ¾ cup half-and-half
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Icing:
4 cups powdered sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
 ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the pumpkin, half-and-half and vanilla. Beat until very well blended, about 2 minutes (the batter may look grainy at this point, but don't worry, it will come together). Keep the mixer on low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to give it a final mix, incorporating any flour on the sides and scraping the bottom of the bowl.
4. Use a large cookie scoop to scoop balls of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1½ inches between them. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes then remove them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
5. To make the icing: Add the powdered sugar to a heatproof bowl. Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium heet and let it start melting. Continue cooking, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes golden brown and smells nutty (be paitent and watch carefully, it can go from brown to burnt quickly.  I found that this step took a little longer than I thought it would but don't walk away from it either - hover and watch, hover and watch!). Remove it from the heat and pour it over the powdered sugar, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the half-and-half and vanilla and stir until the icing is smooth. Using a small offset spatula or a table knife, spread icing on each cookie. (If the icing stiffens before you get them all frosted, stir vigorously to lighten it up.)

Sigh, yawn and good night.