April 2012


It’s Saturday morning and the rain outside is falling gently, greening the grass before my eyes. It is cool and wet, and a good day to stay indoors. I hear my yellow bowl calling me.

So I’m in my kitchen, staring into my cupboard at that huge bag of quinoa that I bought the last time I was in the city. I’ve tried a few quinoa recipes off the net, and so far, not so happy. I could try this one more time, I think, or, I could do something tried and true.

When I was a little girl I loved getting off the school bus and walking into our bright orange kitchen, especially if it was perfumed with the smell of my mom’s good cooking. And if the scent was chocolate chip cookies, well … pure happiness! The ultimate comfort food from back in the day, before anyone had heard of high cholesterol and gluten-free was not a household term.

This was my mom’s recipe:

Mom’s Original Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups shortening

4 eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

4 tsp vanilla

Beat above until light and fluffy. (Would you believe I’m still using the little hand mixer I got as a wedding present from John and Carol Harvey? True story. And it’s still going strong, although I have been having quite the exotic dreams about a big, beautiful Bosch mixer.)

Add:

4 cups flour, sifted (Truthfully, I’ve never sifted flour in my life.)

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

Stir in 4 cups chocolate chips. (Yes, 4 cups!)

Drop from teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

I’ve probably eaten a billion of these cookies over the years, and I’ve made this recipe more times than I can count. But in the past few years, I’ve been trying, you know, to be a little healthier. So here is the updated version of this recipe that I make now:

Mom’s New and Improved Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups butter or margarine

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

4 tsp vanilla

Beat above until light and fluffy. (I know, it’s not much different yet. But just wait!)

Add:

4 cups whole wheat flour (I do this recipe with whole wheat all the time and I promise you, the kids won’t even know the difference. And if you have a wonderful friend who will grind you some fresh organic spelt that you can use … even better!)

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt (I use skimpy teaspoons, because it can be a little salty if you do the full amount.)

Mix it all together and then, before the temptation is too great, hand the beaters to whichever child is closest!

Stir in 2 cups chocolate chips, plus 2 cups of whatever else you have hanging around your kitchen. Today I used pecans, but I’ve used dried cranberries, walnuts, coconut … pretty much anything you like will work.)

Drop by teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheets. (They do spread a bit, but I still pile a bunch on each cookie sheet. Like 16 or 20 at a time. I’d rather have them a little squarish from cozying up with their neighbours than be baking cookies all day.) Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

And if you have a cool old green ice cream pail from, say, an Aunt Viv to store these in, then … you and I have both had a perfect rainy Saturday morning.

(And hey, if you have a great quinoa recipe, please share!)

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Yesterday was all wind and cold. Carter and I, in town for errands, run from vehicle to post office, vehicle to bank, vehicle to cafe, our coats pulled tight against the weather. We stop for a slushie at the Sub Shop, waiting for the phone call that will tell me the baby chicks are ready to be picked up.

This morning my house is chilly and I turn up the kitchen thermostat. Carter sits on the electric heat register, bouncing up and down when it gets a little too warm on his scrawny bottom, hardly able to open his eyes while he waits for the porridge to finish its work on the stove.

And this the last bit of April in Saskatchewan. Cold. Wind. And the possibility of snow on the weekend. And I know that when my husband walks through the door at the end of the day, he’ll be worn right out from the battle.

He heads out to do chores. I’ve been wondering okay, worrying about the babies in the chicken house. They seemed fine last night, nestled under the red glow of the heat lamp. I ask Lyndon to text me from the barn so I will know right away that they survived the night. And he does, good man that he is. He sends a video to my phone and the babies, chirping and scrambling over each other, are fine.

I watch through the window as he opens the barn door, and the goats charge out into the field, ready to stretch and romp and the wind and the cold seem to bother them not a bit. Even runty little Fudge is happy to be out and in the fresh. They’re goats, I say out loud. They like being outside.

I turn to check the tomatoes and the peppers and the chives. They seem to be taking forever to show themselves, and then, just when I’ve almost given up I see them, tiny and new. Babies breaking free from their blankets, reaching up for sun and warmth and life.

In my kitchen, the air warms slowly as the heat seeps into the room. I stand at the windows. The old panes shiver a bit in their frames and the tree branches in the yard whip noisy in the wind. The old tire swings listlessly.

Yes its windy and cold and my heart struggles against the dreariness, but all the babies are fine. In my little world, everyone is keeping warm, and the mother in me is good with that. Today, keeping warm is enough.

When I was ten, a great day would have included a Trixie Beldon book and several quiet, uninterrupted hours. I’m a girl. And I had sisters.

Now I am the mother of boys, and although I hoped they would love to read as much as I do, it hasn’t been the case. There’s much more noise and dirt and activity that goes into a great Ross day than I remember from my childhood.

If you are ten, and a Ross boy, then this is what a great day means:

Have a friend spend the night. Sleep in the basement so nobody can hear you, and try your darndest to stay awake. Give it up at about 3:00 in the morning, stumble upstairs with your blankets, and fall asleep on the couches.

Get up, wake up the friend, and rush outside to see or pee or just run around the yard for a few minutes, checking out the day. Hurry back into the house to gobble down some breakfast, because Mom insists it is important to have breakfast, and by that she means something breakfast-y and not just a handful of cookies from out of the freezer. So, gobble it down and then discuss with the friend what the day’s agenda should be.

Begin with filming the action scene from the movie that was planned during the non-sleeping-basement-adventure of the previous night. Gather various articles of clothing for costumes (because there are only two boys and seven parts to play), duct tape the little movie cameras to each others’ chests, and run out to the pasture to begin the epic. Race at each other brandishing swords (or rakes, or random scraps of wood from the garage). Awesome!

Take a break from movie-making to play with the goats, spend a bit of time in the fort, sneak some of the previously mentioned cookies from out of the freezer, play with the goats some more, ride bikes, and then, lunch. Whew.

An after-lunch break to play a little Wii, some more movie-making, and then, help dad build the head-catch goat stand he’s been working on all day.

And of course, try it out.

Then, try the stand out on a few actual goats. Beg Mom to let the friend stay for supper. Jump up and down and yell and throw your arms around her when she says yes.

And end the day with a fire. Race around the yard with the original glow sticks – flame-tipped branches – and paint streaky pictures in the evening sky.

A perfect day, requiring a signature on which to end …

**********

Leaving next week’s My Dad and Me up to you, Dad. It’ll be your turn to start the conversation.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but our neighbours to the west are having a big election today. I’m not super informed because, well, politics (ew!), but to me it sounds a bit like a gathering of the Garden Club. All this talk, you know, about tea parties and wild roses.

So that’s the big news in Canada today. An election in Alberta. But my big news is that today is my mom’s seventieth birthday. And guess how she is celebrating? She’s working the election polls in her community.

It’s been a little retirement job for her and my dad. Working the elections. They’ve done a couple of federal ones, and now this one. On her seventieth birthday. My guess is she stayed up late last night making Blonde Brownies to take to work for all the other election poll staff to enjoy throughout the day. Actually, I think her brownies are the reason they keep hiring her.

So, happy birthday, Mom!

I was reflecting, the other day, on moms. On being one and on having one. Truth is, my mom and I clashed a little bit a lot when I was growing up. I was not a fun teenager to have around the house. Oh my goodness, I knew how to throw a good sulk.

But a mom is a mom, and mine weathered my stormy years with me. And by the time I’d started my own brood, she was the smartest, kindest, nicest person ever. Funny.

A while ago, I had to call my parents with some tough news. It was my mom who answered the phone, and after the chit-chat about the kids and whatnot, I blurted out my story. And immediately started to cry.

I’ve shared my heart with many other people since, but it was only when I told my mom that I cried through it. Because when I’m talking to her, I’m the little girl again, coming with my hurt finger or scraped knee. Or I’m the lonely, homesick girl living half a world away, or the young woman with her first broken heart.

That’s a mom, I guess. The person most tangled up in childhood memories. The person who, even for the grown-up children, still bandages the hurts and dries the tears.

And bakes the brownies.

You may have heard me talk about it before, my grandma’s yellow bowl. I think of her every time I use it, which means I think of her almost daily. I love using this bowl, because it says so much to me about who she was. Practical, hard-working, loving, generous. All of this is summed up for me in this old, well-used, scratched yellow bowl.

Today the yellow bowl is mixing cranberry/oatmeal/pecan cookies. We love these cookies here. We love them so much that I always make a quadruple batch. Overflowing goodness.

This is my wish for you this Saturday. That whether your day holds sadness, joy, grief, laughter, pain, or peace … that you will somehow feel the connection, the love, the goodness that I feel from this simple, yellow bowl.

Ross Family Favourite Cranberry Oatmeal Pecan Cookies (quadruple sized)

2 cups butter

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (I’ve been decreasing the sugar amounts each time I make this, and will likely decrease again next time.)

1 1/2 cups white sugar

4 eggs (or three, if that’s all you have in the fridge ’cause you used the rest up making the morning pancakes)

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp nutmeg

6 cups oats

2 cups dried cranberries

2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In your own personal version of the big yellow bowl, cream butter and sugars, add eggs and mix. Add flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and mix (I use my electric mixer). Add oats, cranberries, and pecans and stir with a big ole spoon. Drop by heaping tablespoon onto cookie sheets and flatten each cookie a bit with your palm. I make these babies BIG. I fit twelve of them on a cookie sheet.

Cook for about 20 minutes until the edges are a bit brown. Let cool a bit, and enjoy!

There’s a reason, I think, why the bible starts with those famous words. In the beginning. It’s the initiation of it all. My husband loves to say that those three words indicate God’s first act of creation, the creation of time. With the beginning came all that was to be. Beginnings are the best. Usually. But the challenge of the beginning is always the middle, and then, ultimately, there is an end. All beginnings are foreshadowed by what is to come.

For the past few weeks, Lyndon has started the day with goats. He loves this new adventure, this goat adventure. Every day starts with a promise. Things will happen. Babies will grow. Their goat-y personalities will be revealed. More goat knowledge and goat experience will be acquired. This is the sweetness of the beginning of his day.

And then, the day. Some things go wrong. Work is required. Backs get sore and bellies get hungry and sometimes those unkind things get said. There is good and there is bad. This is the reality of the day. This is life.

But the evening comes and this is the letting go time. The resolving-to-do-better-tomorrow time. The asking-for-forgiveness and becoming-reacquainted-with-the-sweetness-of-it-all time.

And then there is rest and there is dawn and it begins again.

Until it stops.

Tomorrow my parents will attend the funeral of a friend whose death came way too soon. Leaving daughters who will miss his presence, and a wife who is just a girl. That is how I think of her, this older sister of my childhood friend. Isn’t she just a girl who has loved this boy all these years and now he is gone and I know she will miss him so much.

I met him, Walter, back in the day, before the marriage and the daughters. It must have been the 70’s and our family gathered up the boy and the girl from the University of Edmonton where he was learning about those strange computer things and she was studying to be a doctor. I shared the back seat with them, mile after mile, and he quizzed her on medical terms and the names of all those obscure nerves or bones or whatever it was that a girl studying to be a doctor needed to know. And once in a while he put his arm around her and I watched them from the corners of my eyes. And we brought them with us, back to our childhood home where her parents and my grandma and all the aunts and uncles and cousins still lived.

I’m thinking about Walter and Cathy and this family that we shared space with when I was a child. Cathy and all her brothers and sisters and their artist parents who potted and painted right next door to where we hung our coats and left our shoes. All those kids and all that creative stuff going on, on the other side of that door in our entryway. And it seems like yesterday, and it seems like a million years, all at the same time.

Tomorrow they will gather to remember this husband and father, this gentle soul, this boy …  and there will be an ending. For now. But there will be a rest and a dawn, and there will be a new beginning. I can almost see it through my tears.

And there was evening and there was morning. Again.

I am a great reader. And by that I mean I love to read, not that I am good at it, whatever good at it might be. But I read. A lot. I breathe in words, daily, like air. I read from almost all the categories. I can’t really do genre romance, but other than that … you could give me a cookbook and if I was desperate for the words, I’d consume it, cover to cover.

I love books for different reasons. I can escape into a Robert B. Parker and his quick and quirky dialogue. I love me some Kathy Reichs or some Sue Grafton from time to time. I was sad when I heard that Anne McCaffrey, who first introduced me to fantasy, had died earlier this year. I spent hours with her in the world of Pern.

I’ve spent time with many spiritual teachers through their books, from C.S. Lewis to Francis Chan to Beth Moore. I’ve been challenged, stretched, and even disheartened at times by the things I’ve read.

More recently, I’ve been a blog reader. I’ve had favourites I’ve read daily for a season and then discarded, and some I keep coming back to. Many of the ones to which I return are written by women in their thirties, full of discussions of mommas and babes, of healthy eating, of community of motherhood. Of doing it differently, and I remember that time in my life, when being a mother was all-consuming and the children were almost the whole of my world.

I’m encouraged by these women, by this generation of seekers and writers. But sometimes, what I feel when I read these passionate women’s words is, maybe, left out? Or passed by? And maybe, even, a little condescension on my part. Although it hurts to confess these thoughts, because part of me would like to still be the young mom with the years ahead. Or at least to be considered a part of that group. And I want to say to them that one day they will look back and realize that, no matter how they tried to do it right or better than it had been done before, the children grow and separate and do their own thing, and then the whole world is about the whole world. A big old world, waiting.

But I love to read their words. To read about their desires for radical love, and radical hope, and radical parenting, and radical worship. Radical seems to be the thing. The adjective to describe the yearning that is out there, to make it all more.

I read the words. I breathe them in, gulp them down in noisy swallows, and I think that I, middle-aged and with the children growing and the church hurting and the marriage aging, I want to be radical, too.

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