Why do I bake at Christmas Time?

It is no secret that I love to work in the kitchen, except for the monster pile of pots and pans that require hand washing, it is where I thrive.  It involves hunting down the PERFECT recipe, shopping for all the ingredients for that PERFECT CONCOCTION, and then building it into something AMAZING like a Project Foreman.  Not to mention the Warrior feeling I encounter when I try something new.  There is also this innate desire in me to SHARE what I have created.  Almost like a 2nd grader who wants her hand painted snowman to be displayed for all to SEE. Because if no one ELSE tastes it and experiences it then it didn’t happen right?

The Overachiever escaped into the Kitchen

9 Types of Christmas Cookies

This enjoyment of cooking mixed with my desire to CONQUER new things becomes MONUMENTAL during the holidays.  It varies from cooking the PERFECT Thanksgiving MEAL (not just the turkey but the WHOLE THING), to mastering the perfect rib roast on my own, and then there was my NEED to create the PERFECT Pecan pie.  However, my GRANDEST feat, was one year I made more than 9 varieties of cookie creations.  Some new, some old favorites including the all to important hand frosted sugar cookies.  It was fun, but it was also weeks of work and an exhausting process.

Since then I have tried to reduce my investment both in time and in ingredients. Each year it begins with JUST sugar cookies, ok but I really like the Toffee Crunch.  And then I am at the store and I see these bright GREEN Granny smith apples and I am confronted with the MOST important decision of the season: “Are you going to make THEM this year?”  It’s usually near Thanksgiving time and I have plenty of weekends to consider and I evaluate my Vacation Days and think.  SURE, you have yeast and all the other ingredients already, just pick up a few apples and if you have time you have time.

And after all the Christmas cookies are mixed, cut, baked, and frosted there is a level of exhaustion that sets in just below the JOY of frosting that VERY LAST COOKIE!!! I have also made my own apple cider these last couple years, so I have pounds and POUNDS of Fuji apples hiding out in my peripheral vision.  So the Weekend arrives with PLENTY Of time and energy, so I set to the task and mission.  Chop the apples, make the dough, set up the creation station.  The smell in my home is swirling with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves as the apples cook down into their lovely liquor.

The first half of this project seems simple, melt the butter, grow the yeast, mix with flour put in the fridge.  Easy.  The apple preparation is a little tedious, peel, core, chop the apples (I have tried short cuts and the size of the apple pieces is just NOT quite right).  The next steps do not seem to be that significant, HOWEVER it is about the gentle assembly, careful construction, and the PERFECTLY heated kitchen.  While gently rolling out the dough, adding the sugar, cinnamon, & apple mixture; there is this fight between my perfectionist nature and the baker in me that says IF YOU TOUCH IT TOO MUCH IT WILL RISE LOPSIDED, so STOP TOUCHING it…it’s FINE…IT WON’T LOOK PERFECT IT’S ABOUT THE TASTE!!! (My internal conversations often mirror those of the Movie Inside Out.)

Apple Tea Ring

The last few tries at this recipe I have discovered that the hotter my kitchen is the better the rings rise.  So I boil water, open the preheated oven, close doors and windows, try to close off the kitchen from the rest of the world, just for those 2-3 precious hours (and I wonder WHY my electric bill for December is higher than usual).  YES hours!!! For these little gems must rise for 1.5hrs and it usually takes me about 20-30min to assemble each one.  Then they bake. All by themselves. But we are not done yet, there is drizzle to make and candied cherries to add (I forgot them this year), then wait for them to dry; and wrap in plastic wrap to deliver for Christmas. WHEW!!! I am exhausted just writing the steps.

So this year as I bought the apples, started the dough, but made it to the middle of the assembly process began to ask myself a VERY VERY serious question.  WHY DO YOU DO THIS?  I always give them away and sometimes I struggle to find people who would really enjoy them (gluten free, no sugar and carb avoiding peoples I am sorry). So realizing each year that time is the most precious commodity in life, why would I dedicate so much time to creating this particular goodie, I am SURE there are other baking items that take less time and effort and are just as delicious.

Virginia Wedding CakeAbout a month ago, I found a picture my brother gave me of our Mom.  It is her in the kitchen cutting their 1 year anniversary Wedding cake topper with a smile on her face and dreams in her eyes.  I moved this picture out of my purse and into my kitchen.  Because this is where I remember her most (A close second is her behind her sewing machine in her crafting room). Whether it was coming home from school and sitting at the counter to share my day with her, while she made dinner or learning how to cook by her side when she made cakes and cookies; I see her and feel her in my kitchen.

The Apple Tea Rings as they became known in my house was one of my Mom’s crowning jewels.  She made clever bunny birthday cakes and amazing cookies; but SOME HOW, some way she began making these one year and Someone MUST have said you can sell these; because the next year, I remember the assembly line in our kitchen of what felt like DOZENS of these covering EVERY surface area.   She took them to a Christmas bazaar to sell I can only assume to bring in a little more money for Christmas presents.  I was SOMEHOW a part of this because I remember the various stages and I remember how much care we took to prepare each one to make it BEAUTIFUL and wrap it carefully on cardboard to that is would be sturdy and easily transportable.  ONLY one TEENY TINY hiccup… there was a storm. A blizzard you might say in as much as people in Portland, Oregon think a couple of inches of snow is a blizzard. So even though we were able to get to the bazaar and the rings made it there FULLY intact; there were just NO people to buy them.  In my childhood mind, I remember thinking ALL THIS Work and NO ONE wants them.  Business is a rough gig, man. So we brought almost all of them home, still too many for me to remember the count.

But despite this fiasco, the apple tea rings have always represented the ELABORATE baking my Mom was so good at.  And on the years I do CREATE them, I feel a sense of closeness to her and the memory of us baking together to create something AMAZING.  I feel like I am getting closer to being just like her and in my childlike mind that is the BEST thing I COULD BE – just like her. Even though I know she had her flaws and short-comings; I still aspire to be like her.  The strength she showed while balancing so much: taking care of the family, baking, sewing, AND working it really seems so amazing to me now. So this year I am realizing that in taking the time to make these AMAZING creations it is more than just baking, more than just a TO DO, more than a compulsion to impress people.  The undercurrent really is to be closer to her and improve the talent she gave me all those years ago.

So each time I see those granny smith apples and the thought races across my mind, “Are you going to make THEM this year?” I can now smile a sneaky grin and ask myself if I am up for the challenge. It’s just time after all, time well spent.

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I really AM a Feminist!

Words I found myself shouting as I was washing dishes after cooking an amazing batch of enchiladas.  Not necessarily something I would hear myself saying, but not necessarily something that would avoid either. To be honest it is a word and a movement I have struggled knowing if I belonged or if I didn’t.  So many ways I have heard the term used and the movement promoted that I just decided not to think about it.  It seemed complicated and full of crazy extremes that beginning to sort through it just wasn’t worth it.  More detailed in its components than being a Republican and more divided than the many denominations of Christianity where could one even begin.

There I was listening to one of my FAVORITE Apps these days (Umano-gotta love an app that will read to you), when I stumbled across this article, “8 Myths About Feminism Debunked.”  Just as I was worried that it would be dripping with things I didn’t agree with or aspects of politics I don’t agree with, I was pleasantly surprised.  And it all began with the definition of feminism:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes... someone who wants equality can’t hate the people with whom they want to be equal.

Yes… YES THAT!!! And without even getting further in the article, my thoughts announce, “I really AM a Feminist!” For as long as I can remember, I have been wrestling with boys for permission to do what they do.  To step up to the starting gate to compete with them on their level.  To challenge them skill for skill, talent for talent, award for aware.  To be measured the same by my work, contribution, and effort as just as good or even BETTER than the men I work with.  I remember this constant theme of my life, “You can be what ever you want to be, even if only men have ever done it.”  I remember stories of many women being the FIRST in many different positions of leadership in sports, in space, in politics, in business; and knowing I wanted to DO that.  I wanted to work that hard to stand out, be better, accomplish AMAZING things.

There have been moments in my life where I feel that intense desire to be a model in life of things a woman can accomplish.  That even though there are set backs and things aren’t perfect, there is a fulfilling life in hard-work and successful accomplishments that can be obtained as a woman that exist outside of marriage and motherhood (Both good things… I have MANY MANY amazing friends who are both). That there are accomplishments to be achieved as an individual based on effort and skill and drive; not gender and position.

I completely believe in marriage, I am hoping to be married one day.  I am falling in love with femininity and what it is like to feel sensual and pretty and glide through life in pretty girlie clothes and makeup.  (Something I didn’t think I could do and be competitive – I am learning more and more how false that is.)  I love gallantry and am extremely inspired by courtesy and chivalry not matter where it comes from.

This article really gave me the opportunity to explore some of my own myths and beliefs about feminism; as well as allow me permission to explore something I have been afraid of JUST because of what other people have said.  But don’t worry I won’t start acting ANY crazier or more hysterical than I already do; and I won’t be adopting the Feminazi title any time soon… IF EVER!!!

This post inspired by the #blogging101 task to Be a good Neighbor by commenting on other people’s blogs.

Because I thought it was clever and cute

As I am trying to follow each step of this #blobbing101 adventure, today is about creating a Title and tagline.  Since I have the title of my blog I like my first thoughts were to SKIP today’s assignment.  But if I recall correctly part of this little process is to WRITE, not necessarily with the intent of producing something AWESOME and interesting.  So I scrolled down the page and found another topic option to be to EXPLAIN why I like my title and tagline.  Well that sounds right up my alley, I LOVE to explain things; I mean it is kind of my job in real life.

A few moments ago, say 3 years, I was in the throws of life when I found people commenting that I should write a book. Whether it was about all my stories, that I tell on a regular basis, or about how to learn how to learn, or the weight loss journey I was in the middle, it really didn’t matter because the theme was WRITE.  The more I contemplated and thought and talked about these mentionings I do believe someone who blogs on a regular basis, mentioned, “You should start a blog.” UH that would be a NO.  And then fast forward to various moments of thinking and wondering.  So there I was dialing the phone and blurted out, “So how do I start This Silly Blog Thing?” And after scheduling a time to discuss how all the details around here work, he mentioned that I needed to pick a title.  I felt a certain amount of pride in my clever little witty blurt, so it became my title.

The tagline seemed to take some development.  Trying to find, in a way, a mission statement of sorts.  Wanting to be as honest and forthright to any potential readers that would wander by; I tried to provide an overview of sorts.  So much of the things that seem to occupy my brain revolve around: the emotions I am feeling or trying not to feel; my life long war with food, exercise, and this silly thing called physical health; and the thing I desire the most in life: a real relationship with God, my friends, and (one day) a significant other (preferably real man).

So as I try to live life out in the real world, I will be attempting to catalog it here in whatever method and fashion it falls onto the page.  No matter what the topic of the hour or day, (especially those days I feel SILLY, dorky, boring, random, confused, or unimportant) I will be faithful to post something.  Even if it is from the archives of life because Heaven knows I can Tell a few stories.

PS. I do believe the last few times I began blogging I was trying too hard to make it into something.  I was constantly caught up in the aspect of WHAT IS THE POINT?  WHO IS MY AUDIENCE?  HOW WILL THIS WORK TOGETHER TOWARDS MY GOALS? (What goals?) So this time I am just writing.  I guess those therapy sessions to work on my perfectionistic personality disorder are really paying off.

There might be something to this blogging thing

Let’s see if participation in this Blogging 101 thing MIGHT JUST MAYBE JUST POSSIBLY get me to actually blog for 3o days.

Sure why not.  It will get me writing about whatever the topic of the day is instead of having to feel compelled to write on the DEEP gut wrenching emotion of the hour. My life has been altered and some of my obligations are no longer demanding attention, so writing might just be possible again.

So assignment #1: Who am I and why am I here…

Now that could be a long story.  Let’s try bullet points instead:

  • 42 years Alive
  • Single Never Married
  • Northwest Resident – Oregon
  • Corporate Trainer – I teach people how to use their computers
  • Extroverted Conversationalist – I love to talk and be around LOTS and LOTS of people
  • Focus on the comedic and sarcastic comments that could or should be said in any given situation

I am here because a friend recommended, well challenged me to write a blog… but that mostly started because I was told by 3 different people in my life that I should write a book all within the same 6 weeks.  That seemed like a little bit of a nudge rather than mere coincidence.  So I started a mis-mash of blog postings on various subjects, which then resulted in a pile of topics I SHOULD write about, only to be overrun by the burden or obligation of doing it RIGHT all the time.  SO there are those ideas that sit waiting to be realized or perfected at some point when I can FIND THE TIME.

Therefore, as with a lot of things I have been experiencing these last 6 months, no more planning, no more perfecting, no more polishing, just DO IT and see what happens.  Success or failure, accomplishment or flop, victory or needs improvement, I DID something.  And that my friends is what I need to begin doing again.

So cheers to Day #1 Back to the Blog and yes I am cheating and re-posting something from say JANUARY!

#blogging101

Flashback circa 2006 – Florida

It isn’t so much that I was a literary genius back when I was rambling on-live without focus,  before I knew it was called blogging.  But like any form of journal writing it is nice to see where you were, what ya thought and how those things looked back then.

This was one of the 4 week trips I took to Florida for work.  I usually am part of a team that will travel for 4-6 weeks to train a company we have purchased on the new software system and procedures for our company.  We spend 2 weeks training them one on one with the new software and then FLIP DA SWITCH “Go-Live” and support them for 2 weeks walking them through the actual application of all that training.  I remember this branch in Rockledge, Florida having a very positive attitude with a small crew of 5-6 to train.  One of  my New Hire training stories I use to this day, I experienced at this branch post Go-Live.

The Florida adventure:

It has been quite the LONG adventure to Florida for the last 7 weeks for work.  But the final outcome was more than I could have hoped for.  The branch I was working with had a fantastic Go-Live day and there was so many things that made that possible.  The great co-trainer I had, Katrina; the open to the important suggestions Branch Manager, Chris; and finally myself keeping enough checklists that I remembered to cover and recover almost EVERYTHING.  It was a great experience and I am truly blessed because the Branch Manager actually called my boss and asked me to stay an extra two weeks.  I didn’t end up staying, but I would have because this crew was such a good one to work with.

It was a long time away from my friends and psuedo family, but when I came home it was just as sweet.  The only down side was realizing I had left my own space in total chaos, so there is a lot of organizing and sorting to do.  Goodness I hope I get out from under all this mess soon.

So how am I doing… I think things are good.  I have at least four major work projects coming up and I am hoping and praying I don’t screw them up.  I am getting really good with my lists and lists.  I am trying to cut back on the caffeine, at least the mochas and the Dew.  Since my stay in Florida I am now drinking more water daily than I have most of my life.  I am gonna try to keep up the habit.  And I have pledged to be more thrifty in the next few months in an attempt to get a better handle on my finances.  I know its possible… just need to focus my attention.

Today’s Reflection: 

I have since sworn off Mochas in my daily life, am practicing a sugar-free life in my drinks (no more Mt. Dew), but I am back to struggling with the water.  For some reason I just can’t seem to get that part of my lifestyle into place.  I have DEFINITELY made progress on the financial front.  Come December of this year 2013, I will be FREE of my stupid Debt and only have my Student Loan (although HUGE) left to pay off.

You did this to me…

… and other things you didn’t realize your parents did to you.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand they did the best they could and I do not believe my parents were EVIL or anything.  But let’s just say I can hear the voice of Yoda as I type, “The dysfunction is strong with this one…”  Especially my family.

But this post has a very specific INCIDENT to which I want to address.  I FINALLY get those PINK Shoes out of the box and onto my feet to try them out for a few hours.  I am visiting my Dad and feel the need to IMPRESS him with the Newness and BRIGHTNESS of my PINK SHOES; because there is still a part of the little girl in me who wants his validation and the REACTION that a good story USUALLY generates.  So I raise my FEET and announce the presence of my NEW SHOES.  Aren’t They BRIGHT??? Aren’t they cool?? Here are all the reasons I needed them… I DID not mentioned a SINGLE word about RUNNING or the 5K idea that had begun to marinate in my head.  The purpose of the Shoes were JUST to be comfortable for WALKING more. After ALL I needed to do better with my Fitbit Steps.

Somewhere before I had EVEN gotten to the punch line of my story, my dad interrupts with his commentary on RUNNING: “I don’t get runners.  Have you EVER met a happy runner?  I mean look at them they ALWAYS look MISERABLE, Unhappy.  I’ve never met a happy runner.”

AND THERE IT IS SPORTS FANS… the seed to the root of my dislike of running.  HOW is it that ONE parents perception, belief, or joke about an activity can root itself so far down deep into their child’s psyche as to generate a subconscious belief they cling to with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY.  Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like running the mile in Jr High (who did) and by the time I hit High School I couldn’t do the sports I wanted, why would I entertain the thought of running something that was supposed to make me feel miserable.

As soon as he made that joke about the unhappy runner, I heard my inner WOMAN scream, “YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!!” Just like Bill Cosby’s wife says in his comedy routine about her giving birth to their first child.  So I sit there through the rest of my visit and most of my ride home with a new-found sense of identity.  Mostly entertaining a lot of questions, “Who said you can’t run?  Why not do the Couch to 5K?  What could it hurt?  Why not try something else NEW again?  What have you got to lose?  Hasn’t your Dad been wrong about MOST things in life?”  Pretty Much.

So with this new-found realization about my avoidance of running, I begin anew a rebellion against the beliefs of my father. Deconstructing the belief systems I have always had, replacing them with New things.  Taking the bucket list to a whole new dimension, instead of doing things I have always wanted to but haven’t yet; doing things I have always thought I could NEVER do.  Sometimes I don’t know the reason behind the belief I couldn’t do something, but doing them none-the-less.

So November 2nd began my Couch to 5K training.  I got out on the track, in the PINK shoes and completed my first workout.  Having an app and a plan and a GPS and music and a track near by has made this EMOTIONAL first step easier than feared.  But don’t get me wrong, THERE WAS FEAR.  I have been OVERWHELMED by the internal warnings of my fearful lymbic system, “What if it’s locked?  What if you’re not suppose to use it? What if you look stupid?  What if there are people there that laugh and point?  What if your too cold, too hot? What if it starts raining?  What if it’s too hard?  What if it hurts?” and on and ON. I hear it, and push past it, like a determined healthy shopper pushes past all those COSTCO vendors begging you to try a sample of their fried food.  And I made it to the parking lot, I made it to the track, I made it around once, I jogged each interval my app said to do, and I made it through the cool down to complete 35min.

SO THERE DAD!!!! I may not have looked happy while I was doing it; I may have been SCARED out of my mind to TRY IT; I maybe have even looked COMPLETELY out-of-place by the 2 guys doing their own track workout; BUT I DID it.  I ran and finished.  There is nothing and NO ONE saying I can’t do it but me…  And I’m not saying that EVER EVER AGAIN!!!

It’s a pair of shoes… PINK SHOES…

It all started with a pair of shoes…

These are THE shoes that started it all.

These are THE shoes that started it all.

It was a classically stormy SUMMER day on a drive to Seattle, when I stopped to buy a SPECIFIC pair of Sketchers.  Now I did buy those shoes but then started to say… It would also be nice to have a good pair of dress shoes… Anyone else have that experience where ONE simple shopping trip turns into a mega purchase instead of JUST THAT ONE Item?  But alas this post is not about my shopaholic tendencies.  After the Dress shoes were acquired, that little inner voice says, “If you are gonna be doing ALL that NEW walking you are going to NEED actually runner type shoes.. the ones you have hurt your feet.” Insert DEEEP sigh here.  The inner voice for once was right, I DID want to do more walking and ALL 4 pairs of my current tennis shoes were not cutting it.

As I began to walk the shelves of running shoes, I INSTANTLY became overwhelmed in NEW uncharted territory.  So many choices, so many options, and the PRICE tags drove my blood pressure to new heights IMPRESSING upon me I COULDN’T afford a pair of $100 shoes that were going to sit in my closet.  I began to think, I CAN’T make this decision today; I need input from some EXPERTS, I have to AT least Facebook it or message a few friends I KNOW are runners for advice.  THEN I SAW THEM… The brightest PINK Shoes you have EVER seen, as the comic relief part of my brain took over and shouted, “NOW THERE’s some shoes you would NEVER Buy…” Having a moment of levity I actually chuckled out loud.

For those of you playing from outside the realm of KNOWING me… You have to understand I HATE pink.  I don’t care that it is the champion color for a great cause that I should support with every fiber of my being.  I don’t care that it has been the champion anthem colorant of my gender, I have had a total rebellion against ANYTHING girlie for as far back as I can possibly remember.  At women’s luncheons where the theme is wear ONE item of pink, I come dressed in ALL black as a statement.  I JUST DO.  So to even CONSIDER an item of clothing or footwear of the PINK variety is very contrary to one of my life’s missions.

“…You have been doing A LOT of things you would have never done before these days…” Says an ENTIRELY different voice.  One with way more wisdom and authority.  So my only response is to think YES… YES I HAVE. And with that I grab the BRIGHT PINK shoes off the shelf to try them on.  AND If that wasn’t ENOUGH I see a picture of Jillian Michaels on the side of the box, OH GREAT just ANOTHER reason I would NEVER buy these shoes.  I HATE feeding the Marketing machine, and she stresses me out just WATCHING her on TV let alone imagining her as my trainer.  I would fall apart in an instant; I don’t do well with being yelled at.  But at this point I am determined.

And as I am taking them to the bench to try them on I see they are K-Swiss brand.  This is their ONE saving grace… I LOVE K-Swiss shoes, 3 of the 4 pairs of worn out shoes I have are K-Swiss.  So I have mentally bought the shoes before they have EVEN hit my feet; at which point I am REALLY hoping they will even fit and feel good.

AS EXPECTED, they are like a dream on my feet.  Soft, squishy, plenty of room and I actually FEEL sporty wearing them.  As a last-ditch moment of anxiety I pray, “Please Lord don’t let this be a mistake.”  There I go THREE boxes of shoes in hand to the register, they are MY shoes NOW.