Queenie and The Quiet One

I began a new job this past spring with a small company. I am one of 11 employees, and I like it. I am a copy editor of a small, weekly, hometown newspaper.

Now, I am a friendly person and I like to think I can get along with most people. However, this time I am the oldest female that works there and after the owner, I am the oldest person there by at least 10 years, if not more. Most of the women are single; I am not. But I repeat: I get along with most people.

But there is one young man that I really have no direct work relationship with. I am to write “horoscope” on a piece of paper, drop that into his “in” box and make sure the horoscope for the following week is in the appropriate folder. Handing him that piece of paper once a week is all the interaction I have with him.

But I always say hello when I walk into his office in the production area. And he keeps working. He doesn’t say hello back, doesn’t lift his head to make eye contact, doesn’t acknowledge my presence at all.

I am perplexed. I see him laugh with the others and even have a conversation with them. But not me.

I try again. And again. With simple “hello’s” when I walk in or walk by. No response. Never got to “how was your weekend” or any other niceties.

One day I forgot to add the horoscope to the appropriate folder and The Quiet One stopped by my desk to let me know, calling me “queenie” in the process.

Queenie? That hadn’t sounded like a compliment. What had I done to deserve that, I wondered.

I say hello, with no response for another week or two. I finally decide to give up. If he can ignore me, I can ignore him. I just drop off my weekly “horoscope” note on his desk.

And so it goes for the next month or so.

Until one day I am sitting in the production area and am part of a brainstorming session. We are coming up with ideas right and left and suddenly,  a young man who shares the production area with The Quiet One stops and turns to the him and says, “Hey, man, what do you think?”

The Quiet One continues working. He doesn’t lift his head, make eye contact, or acknowledge he’s been spoken to. I watch with fascination.

With this no-response, another young woman in the room says, “Oh, he’s got his ear buds in! He can’t hear a thing!”

The young man walks up to The Quiet One and says loudly, “Take out those earbuds! What do you think of these ideas?”

The Quiet One removes his earbuds, looks over the ideas and responds.

I sit there stunned. Ear buds? He had his music on so loud he can’t hear me when I say hello? I have earbuds, but I could always here what was going on around me. It had never occurred to me that The Quiet One would have his music so loud he didn’t even know if I entered the room!

This changed everything!

The next week was the Quiet One’s birthday.  Of course I signed the card and the day after his birthday I made a point of beginning a conversation with him – without earbuds! – about his birthday celebrations with his girlfriend and family. Other than the perfunctory “It was great!” answer, I didn’t have much to say. But I went back  to saying hello when I noticed the earbuds not in use.

I still don’t know much about The Quiet One, but I have worked to make sure I get to know him little by little and break down the barriers that silence may have built between us initially.  Kind of crazy how the younger generation works!

Recently, we ended up calling the fire department to come to our 116 year old building.  Many of the women thought they smelled gas and the exasperated owner called in the claim and the fire trucks and their lights all came out to the building.  We had been told to evacuate.  The “gas smell” turned out to be the Golden Girl’s (top sales woman’s) lunch – tuna salad with onion.

However, while we were waiting for the ok to re-enter the building I made a point of talking to The Quiet One and found out that he has an amazing interest in art and music.  Later that week I made a point of asking to see photos of some of the art he told me he had been working on.

I have been working there for over 7 months now and I think The Quiet One and I certainly respect one another, if nothing else.  If he continues calling me Queenie, although I have not heard the term since,  I will assume it is only with the best of intentions.

Guess you can say this old dog is still learning a few new tricks.  Or at least learning that not every earbud is set to the same volume.

 

Love Letters

Mar-Apr485A good friend of mine always received a letter from his mother every Sunday night by fax. (“Imagine!” his mother once told me, “your letter magically appears half way around the world in seconds!”) Every Monday morning, he would fax back his response.  I was charmed by this letter writing relationship that went beyond weekly phone calls, and later e-mail exchanges and even more advanced, texts.

When my children went off to school, I diligently began my own weekly letter writing to them, clearly realizing that this would be a one-sided correspondence.  I wasn’t doing this to receive anything; I was doing this to brighten my children’s day.  (Who doesn’t like to receive a card or letter in the mail?)  Every Monday morning I would post a one page letter, type-written (so much faster!) and maybe include a colorful comic strip from Sunday’s newspaper, or a recipe that they might want to try or a page taken from my favorite calendar, “Life’s Little Instructions,” or whatever I had on hand.  I would write about my week, but more often than not, I would write about the mourning doves nesting in the Cape Honeysuckle, the long-eared jack rabbits I spotted on walks along the bay, or just the way the sunshine would spill into the windows brightening my day.  Truly nothing exciting, just tidbits from home.

When a holiday approached, I would send each of my children a holiday themed box filled with goodies.

As a side note:  A fun way to fill a themed box is to attend (or host) a “box party.”   The hostess provides free boxes from the post office and each guest is asked to bring something to go into each box (no more than $5 for each box) and a note for each college student letting them know you are thinking of them.  You never knew what clever things others would find to fill the box!  Creative people would come up with holiday decorations – maybe some window stickees or a string of lights (not candles).  Practical folks would bring large bottles of shampoo or body wash.  Socks, whether decorative or basic white, were always a hit.  Lighted key chains, lip balm, mints, and hand sanitizers.  Hometown newspapers would be added.  And for that just-before-finals box – Advil and maybe a Starbucks gift card.

More often than not, though, I was on my own when it came to filling up a box to send.  And I almost always include homemade cookies or treats.

Sometimes, though, I admit to wondering how my letters were received.  After all, they weren’t filled with goodies, or even exciting stories.  The boxes were always a happy surprise, but the letters…?

When I drove to Texas a few years back to transport William’s items from school to home, I noticed that he had every item I had ever sent him.  He also had every funny, every life’s little lesson, every photo that had been included in a letter.  And every letter.

Ruth had similarly kept every item and letter.

And when Geena returned home from studying abroad, her luggage bursting at the seams, I found the stack of letters I had sent her tucked away amidst her suitcase.  I remembering sputtering in surprise, “You kept all my letters!”

“Of course,” she said.  “Why wouldn’t I?  I love your letters.”

So of course it is Monday.  And yes, I wrote my weekly letter and sent it.

For Valentine’s Day I have sent these cookies in the past and have actually had a request for them from Husband this year!

LINZER HEART COOKIES

  A beautiful cookie to serve on Valentines Day!  However, with Geena being allergic to nuts, I had to change the recipe a bit.  Instead of ground almonds or hazelnuts, I used all flour but added more spices to the dough.  I also created a variation by adding a thin layer of chocolate brushed on just before adding the jam.  Everyone seemed to like them!  This is not a hard recipe, but it does take time.  Give yourselves two days or more to make.          

½ cup light brown sugarMar-Apr486

3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 12-ounce jar seedless raspberry jam (can use strawberry or other seedless jams)

confectioners sugar

* 6-8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

* two tablespoons heavy cream

* one tablespoon butter

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and lemon zest in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (about 6 minutes with handheld mixer).  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

With floured hands, form dough into two balls and flatten each into a 5” disk.  Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap until firm – at least two hours or over night. (If wrapped well, the dough can be frozen at this point.)

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Roll out one disk of dough to about 1/8” thickness between two sheets of wax paper.  (Keep remaining dough chilled.)  If dough becomes too soft, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm.  Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with larger cookie cutter and transfer to ungreased baking sheets.  Using smaller cutters, cut our centers from half of the cookies, reserving centers and rerolling along with scraps.  Refrigerate cookie cut outs on the baking sheets for 20-30 minutes.  Then bake until edges are golden, 10-15 minutes total.  Transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely.  Make more cookies with remaining dough.

Spread about 1 teaspoon jam on flat side of one solid cookie and sandwich jam with flat side of one windowed cookie.  Sandwich remaining cookies in same manner.

Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, chilled in an airtight container up to two weeks.

* Non-traditional Variations:  Once cookies have cooled, melt chocolate in a double broiler.  Add cream and butter until the chocolate is a good consistency for “drizzling.”  Using a pastry brush, brush the flat side of one solid cookie with the chocolate.  Let cool.  Then add about 1 teaspoon jam over top of the cooled chocolate and sandwich cookie with one windowed cookie.  Dust with confectioners sugar.

* Another option is to keep the small heart cut outs and sandwich them with the jam, then dip half of the cookie directly into the chocolate.  Let cool on wax paper.

* I also had an in-between heart cookie cutter.  I sandwiched both pieces with the jam and then drizzled the chocolate over top in a pretty pattern.

* Another thought is to fill them with lemon curd.  Someone else made it with the chocolate and marshmallow fluff.  Another pretty idea is to mix the jam with a bit of water and dip the cookies in that and then into the confectioners’ sugar creating a light purple color.

Be creative!  🙂

This recipe in its original form comes from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  It called for 2 cups grated shelled walnuts and 2 cups flour.  I added the spices – the cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves.

Enter the New Year

photo

Ok, so not a coffee, but a mocha with whipped cream!

Just one more day.  Just one more party to go – at our house –  before I would begin the arduous, and somewhat daunting task, of putting all of our Christmas decorations away.  Many people had already removed their pretty lights from outside, but mine still illuminated the night.  I spent so much time putting everything up that I wanted to enjoy my tree and other décor just a little longer, but even I knew that it was after New Year’s Day and the world was moving beyond the season.

As  a renegade would, I had my coffee in a Christmas mug this morning before I went out for a walk.

The morning air carried a light mist where the fog had settled in.  No matter, I set my timer for 25 minutes to alert me to when to turn back for home.  This was my first chance to take a walk in a long while and I was eager to start a healthy new year.

Not long into my walk I noticed an open car door and trunk.  The trunk was filled with baby items and suitcases.  A quick peek revealed a baby kicking in its car seat as dad was strapping the little one in.  I imagined the mom inside, saying teary good byes to parents.  It must be sad to see the holidays come to an end for them, I thought.

I passed the lot where people could bring their used Christmas trees to be recycled.  Mine wasn’t there yet.

A little while later, I came across the 4 star hotel near by and I noticed the line of cars slowly proceeding down the drive, away from the place where most of these folks must have spent their time welcoming in the new year.  Off to their homes, no doubt, and back to work.

Everywhere around me there were signs that life was moving away from a holiday of good cheer and glittering lights.  I passed another person, who a few days ago would have said a jolly “Happy New Year!” or “Happy Holidays!” as we passed but now there was not even a polite nod of acknowledgement.

I noticed it was high tide and I stopped to admire the birds that were grousing for their breakfasts.  No holiday for them, I thought.  No, it was just ordinary days for them, just like the day before.  Nothing to mark religious holidays or a new year.

My timer went off and I turned around to head home.  As I neared the hotel again, I could see a UPS truck slowly driving by.  I couldn’t see the driver, but I could hear voices.  I wasn’t able to make out the full conversation, but I did hear a cuss word or two.  I could just picture a boss yelling at a subordinate.  The poor driver!!

Why did the holidays have to end?  And all that good cheer with it?

The truck had come to a stop, awaiting a gate to open for it and I looked inside and saw the driver – with a BIG smile on his face.  “Good morning,” he said joyfully.

That I did not expect! He hadn’t been chewed out at all.  I forget that a lot of people like to cuss in regular conversation.  I blurted out the first thing I could think of:  “Happy New Year to you!”

His smile got wider, if possible.  “And Happy New Year to you, too!  Have a great day!”  And he proceeded to slowly drive through the gate.

Huh…  So maybe I needed to stop worrying about the season passing and concentrate more on the good will thing.  The next person I saw got another “Happy New Year!” from me, and the next and the next.

As I neared home, I saw another trunk open and a couple of young 20-something girls were loading up suitcases to head home.  OK, the party is almost over.  Kids will be back in school, some people are already back at work and I will have to take down my Christmas lights and decorations.

But I still have one more day – company coming over tomorrow and then I promise I’ll get ready for the new year.

In the meantime, I had been given some black-eyed peas for new luck in the new year, a southern tradition.  I found a recipe from Paula Deen, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/black-eyed-pea-dip-recipe/index.html, to bring in the new year.  It was so good!  Even though I changed it up a bit to use what I had on hand.  I think I preferred tortilla chips to Fritos, too, but the rest of my crew was happy with either!  To get the original, click on the link above.  Below are the changes with what I had on hand.

BLACK EYED PEA DIPphoto 3

4 cups black-eyed peas, soaked in water to soften, then drained

2 cups corn, used frozen, brought to room temperature

1 chopped green pepper

1 chopped yellow pepper (original called for red)

1 diced jalapeno pepper

Dressing:

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of sugar

½ teaspoon oregano

1 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas, corn, tomatoes, yellow, green, and jalapeno peppers.

In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the wine and balsamic vinegars, salt, pepper, mustard, sugar, oregano, and olive and vegetable oils. Shake until the ingredients are blended.

Add the dressing to the pea mixture and stir gently but thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Miracles to Come

DSC08688Imagine that I posted this about three weeks ago…

While I was working on the outside lights on our gate this year – ok, struggling with the lights on the gate this year – I heard a noise coming from my right side, very close to my ear.

I froze.  I knew the sound – almost like a bicycle wheel with cards on it, but spinning very, very quickly and softly – hovering just over my right shoulder.  It was the sound of a hummingbird’s wings beating.  It couldn’t be more than a foot or two behind me.  I didn’t move as it lingered there for a few seconds more before flying up into the tree above me.

Instantly I was brought back to this time last year and I wondered…  Could it be?

Last December I was glad to be seeing the end of 2012.  It wasn’t a bad year, just a difficult year.  Two deaths in the family, issues with staying in school, possible loss of job, heart issues with Husband…  Lots of anxiety.  It amazed me then when I pulled out the Christmas cards I had purchased that prior January for use that year.  “Miracles to come…” it promised.  And yet, there was that morning during the holidays when all the kids were home.

Geena  and I were heading out the door to go shopping at the mall.   It was a cold, gray day here – “winter” in Southern California.  After we exited our front gate, we stopped short.  There was a tiny hummingbird lying on the red tile walkway just in front of us, flapping one of it’s wings.  It was lying on its side and it’s eyes opened and closed, opened and closed.

Two other hummingbirds were zipping down, zipping back up, hovering as they could over their fallen friend.  When they realized that we were looming over the tiny bird, they stopped swooping over.  The little guy stopped moving its one wing.

“What happened to it?” Geena asked.

“Maybe it ran into something…”  I really didn’t know.  How does a hummingbird with all of it’s fancy flying end up on its side on the ground?

I had to close my eyes.  Just what we needed, another difficult moment where we would have to see this tiny creature die.  Is this truly what we had to deal with just before Christmas?  Hadn’t we had enough already?

I sighed.  I could just imagine someone else stumbling upon this bird, stepping on it by mistake.  Or dogs being taken for a walk and seeing this bird as a plaything.   “Geena, we need to move it somewhere else.  We can’t leave it here in the open.  Get your brother Will.”

I went into the garage and came out with a soft cloth.  Will came out and said, “Oh, man.  What do you want me to do about this?”

“We just have to make it more comfortable.  There is nothing we can do for it, but leaving it here on the stone will zap all of it’s body warmth.  When it dies,  you need to bury it or put it into the trash.  I don’t care which you choose.”  I felt awful about speaking about the death of this bird so callously, but I knew that something would have to be done.

“I will move it.”  Geena gallantly took the cloth from me and tried to gently pick it up.  “We need a shovel.”

I took a flat shovel from the garage and Geena was able to scoop it onto the shovel and I moved it inside the gate.  Geena laid the soft cloth in the grass and I carefully laid the tiny, colorful hummingbird on top of it.  Geena then drew up the cloth to gently fold over the body of the little bird, leaving its head and long pointy little beak poking out.  Will leaned down and tried to roll the cloth up so that no wind could get to it.

We stood over it as it continued to blink at us.  Even though the other hummingbirds were not flying over, I knew they had to be in the trees, watching us.  “I wish it didn’t have to die, but I don’t see anything else we can do for it.  If it has a broken wing, we can’t fix it.”

I think we each said a small prayer for it and then I told Will to keep an eye on it while we were gone.  In my mind, I was hoping he would take care of it so that we wouldn’t have to see its dead body when we returned.

Christmas shopping absorbed me completely and I had totally forgotten about the little hummingbird until hours later when we walked through our gate.  Geena was in front of me and just as she entered, a hummingbird swooped down in front of her, pausing to check her out and then flew into the Cape Honeysuckle just to the right of the gate.

“Mom!  Look!  The hummingbird is gone!”  And sure enough the soft cloth was empty.  There was no little beak or head poking out.  “There it is…”

Geena had to direct my vision until I could make out the tiny bird.  I had to step closer, closer, until I could see it.  I was only about 3 feet away from it at that point.  It was very still as we examined it.  “That has to be the hummingbird…”

We stepped away and it continued to watch us.  We picked up our packages and maneuvered them inside.  When we returned, the hummingbird was nowhere to be seen.  All that was left was the very empty cloth in the grass.  And here I had expected nothing but the worst!

And now as I labored over my outside lights, trying to make my children’s’ homecomings a bright and beautiful one, I had this moment with a hummingbird.  Same one from last year checking out my work?  I don’t know.  But the possibility is there.

And so it begins… Another year, a fresh start.  Miracles to come, indeed!

Stepping Outside Yourself – Oktoberfest in November

An old recipe brings back memories of a friendship

An old recipe brings back memories of friendship

Here it is November; time for our favorite “German dinner,” a family favorite recipe to celebrate autumn.  While the recipe is dog-eared with gravy and notes marking the page, it not only brings the anticipation of a great meal but the memories of an old friendship.

Years ago I was a new bride in a new city with a new job.  I was very happy to be married, very happy to have a city to call my own and very happy to have a job.

The problem was, that after living with sisters all my life, then girls in the dorms and sorority roommates after that, I was now surrounded by men.

At my new job, I was the only female.  Nothing wrong with that, but they didn’t really want to talk about the latest shoes I wanted to buy or hairstyles I debated trying.  Their conversations were Monday night football, the Buffalo hockey team, and the latest in snowblowers.  (We lived in upstate New York then.)

My husband worked at a big plant with many other engineers – mostly men who were not married and many didn’t even have girlfriends.  Gathering with them was usually after a softball game at a dive bar.  I was typically the only female those first years.  (What else did I have to do? I certainly didn’t cook back then!)

Then I met a woman who came into my office looking for work.  Jackie and I seemed to have so much in common – both new to upstate New York, both from New England, both went to college in Ohio, both had husbands working for the same big firm as engineers.  But she found employment elsewhere.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t make myself ask her to meet me for lunch or make other plans when I had the chance.  As eager as I was for a new friend, I had just been to0 shy to put myself out there.

A few months later I was walking into a travel agency office downtown, just as Jackie was walking out!  We stopped and chatted excitedly.  What were the odds that we would be planning delayed honeymoon trips at the same place at the same time?  We both said how we should get together and even have our husbands meet.

But this time I asked, “When?” And before we left, we had exchanged phone numbers and set up a date to meet again.

We got together with our husbands shortly after that.  And just like everything else that was similar in our lives, I found out that she had been as lonely, too.

I learned so much from Jackie!   One of the best things about Jackie was that she loved to cook.  At the time, I was barely able to make shish kebobs and meatloafs.  Choosing meat in a supermarket was overwhelming!  Menu planning?  Ugh!

She found these cooking classes offered by a retired couple who used to do catering.  They opened their home up for about 11 students and Jackie and I would attend about once a month.  When we got there, we were handed the recipes for the evening and took a seat at their kitchen table.  We chatted as they prepared the dinner in front of us, giving us advice and tips on creating the meal, answering questions.  At the end we all sat down at their dining room table and enjoyed the meal.  It was a cozy environment where we met other people (not just men!) and even got to know each other better.

We had very limited funds at that early stage in our married life and cooking class was a stretch, but it was so worth it.  Jackie and I became good friends; our husbands benefited as we would then pick a weekend and recreate the meal that had just been tutorialized for us.  Not to mention that I began to truly have more interest in cooking!

My world opened up – a new friend and a new culinary hobby.  All because I made myself ask “When?”

As an ode to Jackie – and the Seasonal Kitchen for their great cooking classes (Dick and Ginger Howell are still at it – I checked:  http://www.seasonal-kitchen.com/contact_us.htm ) – I’m sharing a recipe that while complicated and time consuming is fabulous!  My kids request these all the time and I only make it once a year.  I tend to make a ton and freeze some for later and that works well.  (And maybe that’s why it is time consuming – I make so many at one time!)  Generally when I make them, I try to have company over – it seems such a special treat.

Beef Roulades with Capers and Bacon, served with Spatzle and topped with gravy

Beef Roulades with Capers and Bacon, served with Spatzle and topped with gravy

BEEF ROULADES WITH CAPERS AND BACON

This is the basis for the “German dinner” that my family loves that came from the Seasonal Kitchen from years ago.    I do go to the butcher at my local market and ask him to “tenderize” the meat for me.  The last time I made it, 2 pounds of beef made about 13-15 roulades.  These roulades are kid-friendly and a family favorite – especially when served with spatzle!  (I will add the spatzle recipe soon.)  Also the menu called for Rott Kraut and Oven Crisped Pumpernickel and a dessert – a chocolate walnut torte. 

For the roulades:                                                               For the roulade stuffing:

2 pounds (8 slices, 6 X 4 inches) round steak                     2 tablespoons butter

Salt, pepper                                                                     1 ½ cup finely chopped onion

Flour                                                                                2 cups finely chopped parsley

4 slices bacon, cooked and cut in half                                  2 tablespoons capers

For the gravy: 

2 tablespoons salad oil

2 tablespoons butter

12 small peeled onion (I cheat and use frozen pearl onions)

2 cans condensed beef broth (condensed if you can find it; otherwise use regular beef broth – skip the ½ cup water)

½ cup water

½ cup sherry

2 bay leaves

8 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise

Chopped parsley for garnish

*If meat is thicker than 1/8 inch, pound gently between wax paper.  I like to ask the butcher to “tenderize” the meat and cut out the pounding step.  It comes out looking like a cube steak and ready to go!

Mix salt, pepper and flour in a flat bowl.  Set aside.

For the filling:  in 2 tablespoons of butter, sauté chopped onion until softened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add parsley and capers.  On each piece of beef place about ¼ cup of the filling and half a slice of bacon.  Roll up and tie with twine.

Roll in seasoned flour, reserving any leftovers.

Heat oil and remaining butter in large skillet or electric frying pan, one with a lid.  Brown roulades on all sides, adding more butter and oil as needed, until very brown.  Pour over beef broth, water, sherry and bay leaves.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, 1 hour.

Add onions and carrots and simmer 30 minutes more or until tender.

With slotted spoon, remove roulades and cut off twine.  Mix reserved flour with ½ cup of water and stir into gravy to thicken.  Return roulades to the pan and heat through.

This dish is even better the next day!!  (Reheat 1 hour at 300° – 325° in oven from room temperature.)

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“The Witch is Back”

DSC08498“The witch is back,” the sign read.  Uh huh.  Yup.  After spending time in Europe being a tourist and visiting a good friend of mine, the witch is back.  No wonder October went by so fast – I spent most of September out of the states and then after my lengthy stay, I rushed back to my family and temporary job.  I don’t even remember putting up all the Halloween decorations.

Usually I send out Halloween care packages to kids in college.  This package would contain small, very inexpensive Halloween decorations, maybe a pair of warm socks, and of course, some homemade goodies.

This year I was limited in time.  They received a card and a Starbucks gift card instead.  That’s how fast my month went by.

The clocks fell back last night and it was time to throw out the fake fingers and plastic fangs.  My ghost had swung with the ocean breezes for its last evening of the year.  It was time to put him away, white sheet, hanger, Styrofoam head and all.  IMG_0398 The morning fog sifted slowly by as I climbed the ladder to remove my cute-not-scary Halloween ghost and the purple lights that adorned its post.  Soon I would be hanging Christmas lights in their spots, but not today.

I gathered my spooky paraphernalia from around the house and those funny pumpkin faced candle holders.   The spider webs came down from the chandelier.  The jack-o-lanterns had gone out earlier with the morning trash pick up.  Halloween truly was over as I packed up all the decorations for another year.

As I mourned the passing of such a fun holiday, I went into the fridge to scrounge around and see what I had to snack on.  There were the apple bars I had made just before Halloween.  I had done some Halloween baking!  Just not in enough time to share with college kids, but to share with my neighbors and friends.  And there was just a little left.  Enough for a snack!  Enough for this witch~!

Ok, on to the next holiday, Thanksgiving – and these bars would be perfect for that holiday, too!

APPLE CRUMB BARS

This comes from the Taste of Home recipe,http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/apple-crumb-bars .  I added some cinnamon and then a caramel topping.  It is a bit like having an easy slice of apple pie you can eat with your fingers if you don’t have a fork available!  Easy to make.

3 cups all-purpose flourDSC08499

1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats

1 ½ cups packed brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 ¼ cups cold butter, divided

5 to 6 cups thinly sliced and peeled apples (I used 5 large MacIntosh)

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup cold water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Caramel topping:  ¼ cup melted butter, ¼ cup brown sugar

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and baking soda; cut in 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set aside 2 cups for topping and add 1 tablespoon cinnamon.  Press remaining crumbs into a greased 13 X 9 inch baking dish.  Arrange apples over top; set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, water, vanilla and remaining butter.  Bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thick and bubbly; spread over apples.  Sprinkle with reserved crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 35-45 minutes or until top is lightly browned.  Remove and let cool.

For caramel topping:  combine the ¼ cup melted butter and ¼ cup brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil for three minutes.  Drizzle over top.

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Hello Mother, Hello Father…

I never heard such anxieties coming from my two girls, (Ruth 11 and Geena 9), in the back seat as I drove them up to camp.  I assured them they’d love the food, they’d be with their friends and that there would be many great adventures just about to happen.

Geena , 9, was fine the instant she saw many of her other teammates.  (Almost her whole club team had decided to go to this soccer camp for the week.)  Ruth, 11, was fine when she caught up with her teammate who had chosen to go to camp as well.  After all that anxiety I had heard on the way up and now they could hardly wait to say good bye to me!

That evening I received a call at 9:45 p.m. from camp.  I had packed Geena’s daily asthma medicines box, but no medicine inside the box!  Luckily I didn’t have to rush up there that evening, but I did have to go the next day, leaving work at noon to run it over.

After dropping off the medicines with the camp counselors, I decided to sneak in and stop and say hello to the girls, even though it had only been 1 full day since I had last seen them.  Parents weren’t supposed to see their kids until the end of the week, but I couldn’t resist.  I knew according to the schedule that it was “free time” during my visit.

The gang's all here!!  The crazy water-gun wielding, dinosaur path making soccer crew.

The gang’s all here!! The crazy water-gun wielding, dinosaur path making soccer crew.

Geena was on a floor with all her teammates.  (Soccer camp was held at a college campus and the kids were staying in dorms for the week.)  Not sure what to expect, the greeting I did receive was totally unpredictable.  The girls were racing between rooms, screaming each other’s names and shooting off water pistols at each other when I got there.  I had to duck a few of the streams of water inadvertently coming my way.  They were really wound up!!  (And this was after a full morning of soccer instruction!)

When Geena broke away from the water pistol game of tag and led me to her room, I was shocked.  Geena’s room was horrible and it had only been 24 hours or less!  Smelly soccer boots and shin guards where thrown all over the place. Wet towels and swim suits were in heaps on the floor.   Crackers were everywhere on the floor where their wet towels weren’t.  The odor was unbelievable.  And unbearable.

Being a mom, I couldn’t help but say, “You girls really need to pick this up!”

I tried to tuck that mom part away after that.  After all, I’m not their mothers and they were having fun.  They were all very happy and having a blast.  All the girls were excited to see me – and even stopped their water gun tag game to point out the cracker trail they had created for the toy dinosaurs to follow.    They told me of what they had for breakfast, swimming at the pool yesterday afternoon, the rainbows they were drawing on each other’s camp t-shirt.

I had to ask them about how soccer was going.  At their soccer camp!

But that mom part kept trying to come out.  “You girls have a great time,” I said as I started heading out.  “But I would consider that water gun tag played inside may make your beds a little damp tonight when you want to go to sleep.  Oh, and be sure that the ants don’t decide to follow your dinosaur cracker trail!”

And they waved and hugged me goodbye, happy as could be.  I felt as though I was an honored guest.  They had only another 5 minutes or so before they had to be at their next soccer practice.  However, whatever I said was NOT going to sink in.  There was too much of a sleep-over party mentality and I wasn’t going to stop their fun with my common sense suggestions.

Talk about adventures!  I hadn’t expected my visit to be one!

And if I saw one child, I had to stop in to see the other child.  I peeked in on Ruth, in a different building with her age group.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  However, the hallway to her room was quiet.  Very quiet  Was anyone here??  When I reached Ruth’s room, I was shocked to find the girls were not only there but that their room was incredibly immaculate!  Was I in the right room?  (Why didn’t her room at home look like this??)

And such a difference from the room I had just left with smelly soccer boots and dinosaur cracker trails!

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The quieter soccer crew…

But Ruth and her friend were calmly getting ready for that afternoon’s soccer work out.  She and her friend had even put their suitcases underneath their beds to make the room look better and to have more space.  I was again amazed.

Ruth was happy to see me but tired from the morning’s workout.  She had forgotten a hairbrush and I dug through my purse and gave her a comb that I just happened to have.  I said quick goodbyes and walked back through the quiet hallway, outside and back to the parking lot and to my car.

All in all, I had only been there for a total of about 10 minutes – from giving the counselors the missing medicine to visiting the two girls’ in their rooms.  On my drive back to work, I pondered my visit.  As a parent, you often wish you were the fly on the wall to hear and see what your kids do when you are not around.  I had a small glimpse of that and it had rocked my preconceived ideas of my daughters, the good and the well-we-still-need-a-little-work areas.

No wonder they don’t want parents to visit camp during the week!!