Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Special Ingredient

I've been thinking about my grandparents this weekend. I do that on occasion, such as at dinnertime when I use the bowls that came from my Grandma's own kitchen, mismatched but full of memories of family meals and good cooking. One memory always links to another and gives me brief moments of nostalgia. This weekend, it's not Grandma though ... it's my mom's mom, the one I called Nanny, because this weekend I've given in to a craving I had and I am making oatmeal raisin cookies, using my Nanny's recipe.

Growing up, my grandparents (either set) didn't live in the same city as we did, no matter how many times we moved. Yet, each year, time was spent with them at our house and us at their house. No, I didn't get to see them every day, but that is what made visiting with them special. Each visit like Christmas - filled with presents, good food, and lots of love. I was lucky. My grandparents didn't have to become second parents to me and my little brother like so many have had to step in and do so today. Instead, we were able to enjoy our time with them as we should - to be spoiled and then returned to our parents. Atleast that was the theory.

For me, my Nanny's raisin cookies were a staple. Even better than chocolate chip ... and I have had my love affair with the chip of chocolate for *mumblemumble* years, so this isn't just a changing declaration. When Nanny and Papa would come to our house for a visit, there would always be a box of oatmeal cookies that made the trip with them. When we would visit their house, there would always be plenty of cookies while we were there - but still enough to take a box home with us. The perfect cookie in my childhood, they were always soft inside, with that sweet goodness provided from plump & juicy raisins.

As I grew older and moved off on my own, I would often try making them but they never seemed to be quite right. They were too crisp. The raisins were chewy. They dried out too easily. They just never seemed to taste like my Nanny's cookies. I finally dispaired, thinking that it must have been from my Nanny licking her fingers and putting them in the batter. But that so wasn't right because that is something that my Nanny would NEVER have done ... got my fingers smacked enough to know that to be fact! Still I was puzzled ... what was the secret??

There ended up being a couple of them, but the one that struck me the most was not a complicated step at all. It wasn't a technique or a timing ... it was simply a step of proven love. You see, my Nanny always made the cookies ahead of time and froze them in her big old deep freezer. Taken fresh, wrapped with wax paper and put into boxes or big old coffee cans, they were frozen until the trip was made to visit our house or our arrival on their doorstep. That time in the freezer, waiting, did something to those cookies and made them seem even better - making them even softer and tastier than could ever be fresh out of the oven. The step of love meant that these cookies were being prepared special, as a treat for whenever the time would be for us to be together. They weren't thrown together at the last minute. They were thoughtfully baked ahead of time ... and then frozen ... waiting for that moment to share the love of being together with the people that meant the most.

I'm baking these cookies this weekend and while I'm sharing (and munching on) a few right now ... the majority are being nestled between sheets of wax paper and placed in a box in my own deep freezer to be shared in a month or so with those that I love. No ... I'm not a grandmother, but there are people who mean the world to me ... and when I share my Nanny's oatmeal raisin cookies - it will be with them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Observations From A Trip Up The Road

Baby and I took another road trip last week. It was just a quickie ... up one morning early and back the next afternoon. So ... of course ... I had to make some observations and what fun would observations be, unless they are shared?

Now ... this trip, I must admit, was a true test of how much Baby and I have bonded. It was a true test of how well I've learned to handle her and how well she is able to protect me. You see, this trip was taken during a flooding thunderstorm of blinding rain, ear-shattering thunder and sky-splitting lightning. Traveling down the 75 mph turnpike at a scary 35 mph, it was definitely a test of Baby's tire traction and my nerves for it was note exactly optimum traveling weather.

My plan was to begin the trip at 4 am, however the meteorologist on my television was telling me about the possible twisters in the area and the hail using my house as a drum was the size of a hen egg.

I decided it would be best to wait.

Instead, my trip began at 6 am. It probably should have waited another hour, but I was already late and antsy to get to my destination. My first clue should have been the fact that getting out of my neighborhood included going through "puddles" that completely covered the street from side to side and were actually deep enough to hide part of the curb on each side. Once out on the main streets, the going was a bit easier as long as I managed to stay on the inside lanes and away from the sides. With windshield wipers going non-stop and rain beating a staccato beat on the sunroof, I made it to the turnpike entrance.

Did I mention that the toll booth doesn't have a covering? Yes ... it's always fun to roll down a window to face the elements of wind and rain in order to throw .50 cents to the toll booth basket and pray that one of the quarters isn't blown away. I almost opted to let caution go to the wind and run it, but knew that, as sure as I did, the toll booth cameras would snap Baby's picture and list her on the "Most Wanted" board. (Although, she would look pretty up there, next to that picture of the sleek black '67 Impala ...)

After a knuckle whitening hour of pushing against the northwest wind that was slamming my Baby with it's force, hurtling rain from all sides at us, the storm finally seemed to slow down. I wasn't sure if I had gotten ahead of it or if it had passed on by. All I knew is that the sky began to lighten from black and charcoal gray to a lighter, more dull metallic gray and the wind and the rain began to taper back to a manageable gust and patter. Picking up speed, I was finally able to begin to feel more like a car and driver, instead of a fish in a row boat.

Of course, then I began to check out my surroundings ... noting the water swollen fields, the overflowing ponds and creeks, and the man who was trying to get a load of wet hay unloaded from the back of a truck in order to feed the cows that were lining up at the trough, despite the lightning in the background and the miserable cold rain that continued to pelt out of the sky.

Observation number 1:
Farmers deserve much more thanks than they are given ... more dedicated than a postman because despite the elements ... wind, rain, hail, snow, ice, heat ... the animals must be fed.

Continuing down the turnpike, feeling calmer and more relaxed, releasing the clench that I'm sure Baby had to be feeling on her steering wheel, I turned up the music on my radio and listened to the sounds of Steve Carlson, CCR, BTO, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and others as they played from my Baby's speakers. The wind had died further to occasional gusts and the rain wandered between drops and drizzle. The most difficult part now was working to stay away from the 18-wheelers as they kicked up the water, throwing a fine, and very blinding, mist up onto my windshields.

Now ... in my old car, the windshield wipers were controlled by my left hand, as they were attached to the part that operated my blinkers. Baby's windshield wipers are a bit more complex, with varying levels of delay and they are located on the right side of the steering wheel. While I've used them before, this trip gave me ample opportunity of practice in adjusting the settings that would set the wipers beating from right to left and back again regularly, swiftly or delayed, or, if I so chose, manually.

Observation number 2:
It's a fascinating way to pass the time when one finds themselves attempting to match the rhythm of the windshield wipers to the rhythm of the music coming from the speakers. Best song to work with? Dude! Asia's ... "Heat of the Moment" makes for hysterical laughter and can only be done with the manual wipers.

Observation number 3:
By this point, I might be a bit slap happy with dealing with little sleep, worry for my mom's upcoming surgery, trying to get to the hospital before they took her and driving through torrential storms and floods.

In case you hadn't figured that out yet.

With the rain finally having abated two hours after beginning the journey, my stomach told me that it required more than just the large thermos mug of tea (RoT's Earl Greyer ... really really good!), plus I needed to simply stretch for just a moment. So, I pulled off at a truck stop that I have frequented before and knew to be clean and prepared to go inside for a moment.

Observation number 4:
It's when you're pulled over and ready to get out of the car that you find you haven't completely gotten out of the path of the storm.

I literally opened the door, got out, closed the door and took a step towards the entrance of the little shop when the heavens opened up and sent forth the gale force winds and the blinding rain, shattering my hearing and sight with the subsequent thunder and lightning.

Yep ... me and Murphy's Law ... we're just THAT tight.

Making a quick stop, grabbing a bottle of water, a bag of chex mix, a bag of dark chocolate M&M's and saying a prayer that the "looked like fresh" danish really was fresh, I took the bag - after giving the clerk a raised eyebrow and glancing at the rain outside when she asked me "Paper or plastic" ... seriously ... and dashed to Baby's door, pulling it open and jumping inside as fast as possible to avoid minimum wetness both on me and in her.

Fixing up my little nest of goodies, starting her engine and heading Baby back onto the highway, I took a bite of my danish. It wasn't bad ... not completely fresh, but not bad. I thought to myself that I should have let it be zapped a moment in the microwave and of course, then, in the back of my mind, I'm hearing Dean from Supernatural's episode, "Simon Said", saying just once he'd like to eat something that didn't need to be microwaved at a mini mart.

Did I mention that I might be a bit slap happy?

Did I mention that it wasn't 10 minutes after leaving the truck stop that the rain once again slowed to a light, occasional mist?

Yeah ... not kidding ... me and Murphy ... we're that tight.

Heading on up the turnpike, breakfast, such as it was, is completed. The M&Ms are stowed in my bag for later snacking and the chex mix is open and occasionally being munched. I'm getting closer to my destination and, I'll be honest, I'm beginning to get a bit more anxious to get there. Still, conditions that they are, I keep Baby set on a cruise control of the speed limit. No need in Murphy letting the highway patrolmen have fun with me.

To occupy my mind, since it's way to early to be calling my friends and passing the time with my cell phone, I begin to let my gaze wander around the countryside. Now ... I know that they've been there ... I've traveled this road dozens of times over the last 18 years ... but it was on this trip that it simply amazed me as I realized the number of adult video shops that are located along the highway. I'm serious. Big signs advertising "XXX Videos" and "Adults Only" flashing neon in the pale gray light of morning. There aren't any other businesses. The towns are located back and away from the turnpike. These places have been opened in the abandoned buildings left from previous occupants such as Stuckeys, Nickerson Farms, etc. Those family friendly places that I remember stopping at as we traveled from Texas to Iowa and Kansas City to Minneapolis to visit family and friends during my childhood. The bright red roof or the pale blue trimming has been replaced with black and white and the rooms that held the restaurants serving homestyle food and offering tourist trinkets of t-shirts, tumblers, bells, & spoons have been replaced with ... well, I don't know and I don't want to know what the inside looks like now.

Observation number 5:
How can things be changing for the better when those places where parents felt safe to let their children roam, searching out candy and treats while they stretched their legs, have been replaced for places that are dark and advertise and cater towards the baser, primal instincts of our species?

Plus ... what the heck! These places are 24 hour and I'm here to tell you that many of them had cars and trucks parked in their lots as I passed and it was barely 8:30 in the morning!

That's. Just. WRONG.

Moving onward, I approached my destination. The rain was beginning to pick up and I was needing to pay closer attention. Keeping a close eye, I made the right exit and Baby hurtled towards the hospital where my Mom & Dad were waiting. Startled when my cell phone rang, I heard a family friend's voice telling me that they were taking my mom to surgery and wanting to know how much longer I would be. Checking the signs, I knew that I still had atleast 10 minutes to get to the hospital and then it would be a matter of the time it took to find a parking spot and get inside to the surgical area. Luckily we've been through this before and I knew in my mind exactly where I needed to go and how to get there.

Pulling into a parking spot, I gave a quick and silent thanks ... for the traveling mercies, the safety from the elements, for having Baby handle the roads like a champ ... and I ran into the hospital, stopping briefly at the door to close my umbrella and drop it into one of the handy dandy umbrella shaped plastic bags that the hospital provided at their entrance.

Arriving to the surgical waiting room, I found my family's friends but noticed the absence of my father. Finding out that he had gone with my mom to the prep area, I dumped my stuff and went to the large information desk I passed as I entered the room. Using my best "I've been delayed by the storms and I'm her daughter and she truly needs to see me before she goes" voice, I pled my case to the volunteers stationed there. Locating my mom in the computer, they glanced at each other and then back at me and one nodded to the other who rose and told me to follow her, that she would take me to see my mom.

And I did.

Despite the elements, the lack of sleep, and the slap happiness, I had made it in time to give my mom the hug and encouragement that she needed from her eldest child and, as I posted earlier, make it to the doctor's smile on the other side of the hours of waiting.

Final observation:

When it's really important, we do the things we need to do. We face the finger clenching elements and feed the cows or travel the turnpike and we do it with a rhythm that matches the music of our lives, with a giggle and a grin. Dry or wet, we take the sustenance when and where we can and we hurtle on, mindful of the past that is rich in memories, passing by the evil that surrounds us as we make our way to the ones who need us and love us.

But then ... those are just my observations on this trip. We'll see what happens next time Baby and I decide to go somewhere.

Watching, Weaving, Waiting and Wondering

I love to watch people.

It began when I was in high school and living in Minnesota. In the winter there wasn't a whole lot of things to do on a little amount of money, so my friends and I would go to the mall to simply window shop. Soon we would end up with a cold drink and a comfortable bench and we would watch the people as they would make their way through the mall. Busy shoppers, some hustling and bustling, some meandering their way along ... each one with a purpose, each one with a story.

My friends and I would amuse ourselves making up stories and dialogue to fit the people that we would see, weaving fantasies and spy mysteries around the individuals, couples and groups of our unknowing cast of characters. In the span of minutes, my imagination could take an individual on a quest for the perfect outfit for a romantic interlude, place them in an alternate reality, or have them be spied upon by the agents from a foreign government. Watching people became a habit to indulge in whenever I find myself alone in a crowd.

Over the years I have watched people in company meetings, restaurants, theater lobbies, airports. Being single, there are many times that I find myself in situations alone and, although I usually have a trusty book to keep me occupied, I still tend to keep an eye on my surroundings and the people who move around where I am sitting. Occasionally I still make up the stories and dialogue in my mind to amuse myself, however I mostly just watch.

Last week I found myself in a hospital surgical waiting room. I knew that I would be spending a long amount of time simply sitting and so I had prepared my little bag with a couple of different books, my notebook to do some writing of my own, snacks and other little odds and ends. Yet, after a time of reading, I found myself falling back to my little habit. I watched.

Surgical waiting rooms don't gather people like malls or restaurants or airports or theaters. There isn't a hustle or bustle. While there is a steady flow of people, the air that surrounds is differently charged. There isn't the excitement of a deal found, a trip to be taken, a show to be seen. As good as I am at weaving stories out of the individuals I see, I found that fantasies and dialogues just don't work when watching someone in a surgical waiting room.

This particular hospital's waiting was very large and was sectioned nicely for large and small groups to be able to gather. In the center, positioned in front of the main entry was a large information desk staffed by a couple of volunteers who were quiet, friendly and quick to respond to any question. Over to the side was an area for people who had children, stocked with books and television and toys to amuse.

It was a noisy room, and yet it wasn't. It was a room filled with strangers, and yet everyone there had something in common - concern for a friend or loved one that was currently undergoing surgery.

Waiting ... hoping ... wondering ... praying ... anticipating ...

Husbands ... wives ... children ... parents ... brothers ... sisters ... family ... friends ...

Clusters of people chattering about nothing consequential, simply filling the time with words to chase away the anxieties of waiting until the name was called by one of the volunteers and the time came to meet with the physician in the surgical scrubs. In the hours I watched I found myself smiling for those who were met by the doctor at the information desk. Hands would be shaken, heads would nod, words would be exchanged quietly as the doctor gave the information that brought smiles to the waiting faces. I found myself offering silent prayers for strangers when they were directed to meet with the surgeon in one of the private little rooms off to the side of the main waiting room. Door closed, voices muted, faces emerging grave, some silent, some with tears and tissues, my heart would go out to those individuals and the patient for whom they were waiting.

I found that, unlike the mall or the theater or the airport, I wasn't able to "watch", I was only able to glance from time to time as people came and went - alone or in groups of two or more. Hospital surgical waiting rooms are not places of fantasy and spy mysteries, of intrigue and romance. They are places of reality where strangers come together for an hour or a day with a common goal of passing the limbo time waiting ... and wondering ... and praying ... and hoping.

Oh ... and in case you might be wondering, when my wait was over, when my name was called, I met the surgeon at the information desk with a handshake ... and a smile.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Holey Moley! It's A Supernatural Thursday!

This morning I got up a bit extra early. (I have no clue as to why) I've been doing laundry and I'm thinking about holes and decided to write about them.

Yep. Holes.

What kind of holes, you might ask? (and even if you don't)

Well ... I can tell you that I'm not thinking of the holes in the ozone right now, I've only had my one cup of tea yet this morning and right now it's easier to contemplate the holes in my Rice Krispies and what about them makes that inviting little "Snap" "Crackle" and "Pop".

I would give thought to those black holes in space, however I'm still trying to figure out how cyberspace opened a hole and swallowed the last three pages of my DaLDoM blog I have been suffering through for the last month when all I did was click the "Save" button on Microsoft Word. (If anyone has a number for Bill Gates ... I'd like to give him a "word")

No ... I'm not thinking deep philosophical thoughts ...

I'm not wondering about the fact that kids of all ages find a donut hole much more fun to eat than a regular donut.

I'm really not thinking about golfers and their intense passion to find that elusive "hole in one". (Although I was thinking of a particular friend this morning who truly does love the game of golf and hope she's doing alright ... "Hi Friend!" *waves*)

I'm actually not even giving a moment to thinking about that mysterious hole in the bottom of my lip that only opens when I am eating red sauce pasta and wearing a white shirt.

It's a bit more basic than that ... I'm folding laundry and I'm thinking about the holes I have found in clothing. You see, I just plucked from the basket this pink t-shirt with a daisy on the front. It's a nightshirt that was originally a regular shirt of my oldest girlie and passed to the twinks when they were smaller to be used as a nightshirt. It's been a favorite ... there was a struggle to have the oldest relinquish it even though it had grown entirely too small to wear (yes I know ... shirts don't grow, children do ... *sigh* ... work with me here ... it's early) and then when it was passed to the twinks, there occurred regular arguments between The Bickersons on whose turn it was to wear it. At one point the disagreements grew so large, we had to keep a chart of who wore it and when.

Needless to say ... it is one of those loved items. It is also an item that could be worn on Sunday, it is so holey. :-) Seriously.

When my girlie came out, dressed for bedtime, wearing this faded (yet still incredibly bright pink) shirt last weekend, I had to do a double-take and contemplate how best to retire said shirt. I had already fought the battle of the beloved Pinnochio shirt that was barely being held together at the top by the rim, one sleeve hanging down - anchored only by the stiches of thread under the arm. The hem had been ripped and a hole had emerged around the belly button area that a knee could easily fit through from underneath. In comparison, with three worn tears across the left side of the chest and three fingersized holes at the base near the non-existent hem, the pink daisy shirt seems to be all in one solid piece. I realized that retirement is still several wearings & washings & dryings & foldings away for this article of nightshirt bliss.

I'm not sure what it is about these holey t-shirts that makes them so comfortable and sought after to be worn. Yet, if I look in my own closet ... there is a purple and black flannel shirt that has been stitched back together so many times that I'm not exactly sure where the original thread stops and the new thread begins. With a hole in the side, and one at the cuff ... it is not a shirt that sees the public light of day. Yet on a cold, rainy Saturday, combined with a pair of grey sweats (or red and blue plaid flannels, whichever is handiest) it is my favorite thing to wear.

I don't know the reason, and at this point in the morning, I don't believe I really care. It was just something that struck my mind and gave me a thought to think for a moment.

Besides, here's the real conundrum ... why is it I just folded and put away 3 t-shirts with the size of holes that another arm or head could be inserted in my girlies jammie drawer and yet I threw away 1 sock because it had a hole about the size of my pinkie in it?

Oh ... and why would this have anything to do with Supernatural, besides the fact that I wrote this on a Thursday morning?

Well ... I am a true obsessive and I can turn just about anything around to reflect my favorite show and the Winchesterboys. Afterall, as any fan can tell you ...

"Driver picks the music ... shotgun shuts his pieHOLE"