To Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who mother. This day is about honoring the first relationship human beings experience through the process of birth. Rightly so. But giving birth is only one element of mothering, and many women reach out to nurture, encourage, protect, and sacrifice for those they love…for those they mother.

Motherhood is a pay it forward business and not for the faint of heart. But worth it. So worth it!

I thank the women who have inspired me to be a better mom, who challenge me to continue to grow and mature in this role. First to my mom, and then to other women in my life who demonstrate unfailing love and commitment, thank you. Bless you.

“Of all the rights of women,
the greatest is to be a mother.”

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My mom

I’m not going to be with my mom tomorrow, although we’ll have a chance to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day together in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to be with her on the day. But often we make do with phone calls to mark special events, the price of living many states apart.

While I won’t be with her in person, she knows my heart. In many ways, we are very different people, yet we share a strong bond that has stood the test of time and distance.

My mom is a passionate person, and cares deeply about family, faith, and country. She loves to cook big meals and have a crowd around her table. One of her favorite things to do is to plan treats for the little ones in the group. She has a play area set up for the small fry, and over the years the grandchildren and nieces and nephews have all had their turn among the toys. They’ve had their special cakes and tea parties, and they know she keeps kid food on hand at all times. “Goodie bags” and little “unbirthday” presents have marked many a visit to her house.

She’s a great one for family photos, and is always on a mission to gather the group to get an updated shot for her wall. You can see the changes over the years…the babies who are now teens, or worse, the young adults who are now grey adults.

She and my dad were married more than 50 years, and though he left us in 2008, he is still in her thoughts, a close companion throughout the days. She remains married, even in her widowed state.

She’s a strong woman, healthy, energetic, and motivated. She always has more to do than she can do in a day. She is creative, and when she was younger, channeled creativity into sewing, cooking, yard work, painting, and mothering. She made my wedding dress, sewed special things for my children, made drapes for the house. She’s an artist who painted in oils, and a gardener who loves flowers. She is a legendary cook, and has created memorable feasts over the years. She’s famous for her yeast rolls, her fried rice, and her Italian Cream cake, a few of her many specialties.

She’s enthusiastic about her work, continuing the commitment to Christian missions that she shared with my dad. She’s a writer and publisher, a traveler and a speaker. She is tireless in her efforts to share her heart, and her faith in God.

She is a prolific author and an amazing correspondent. Computer savvy, she emails and Facebooks friends and co-workers across the country and around the world. No slouch, my mom. She often works late into the night keeping up with her commitments.

She has been a support throughout my life, listening, listening, listening. She has heard my sorrows and my joys, and has made soothing noises at the right moments, rejoiced in the good things, and resisted opportunities to throw out the occasional “I told you so,” even when it has been warranted. She is ever hopeful for me and mine.

My mom is generous in her caring, ferocious in her concern, and sympathetic to a fault. I rarely catch her in a down mood. She’s carried along by the tide of her hopes and plans, and by the memories: so many good memories through the years.

My mom has been fortunate in many ways. Though not a rich woman by monetary standards, she has had love and family and calling to fill her life. Though the family picture has changed through the years, and some dear ones are not in more recent photos, she finds joy in those around her. And she looks toward the future, to accomplishing her goals, finishing her mission, and watching the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, grow.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Betty Burton Choate: my example, my encourager, my friend, a charming woman with a charmed life, and a full life. Long may she live it!

No Valentine, please

My husband is off the hook. I don’t need, expect, or want a Valentine’s Day gift. This is just my personal thing. If everyone else in the world wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day, please, enjoy. I know couples who put thought, effort, and love into the occasion, and I think that’s wonderful. For them. But not for me.

I have never been a fan. I’m not speaking about the traditions of the day for kids. The little Valentines that kids give out in school…well, I guess that still happens. Maybe not. I haven’t had an elementary school age child in my house…oh, for the past dozen years. But the small gestures of Valentine cookies, or Valentines for children to exchange…those things are fun, and are another marker of childhood.

I’m not a fan of the manufactured and obligatory gift giving that is milked to death in the name of love. Last week I had the thrill of having access to cable TV, an experience now limited to hotel stays or visits with family who still subscribe. Since we pulled the cable plug last summer, my TV exposure has been minimal, to say the least. But I digress.

All week I saw commercials for Valentine’s gifts suggesting that the perfect thing this year is a HUGE stuffed teddy bear; or footed pajamas; or edible fruit; or the ever popular trio of jewelry, flowers, and candy.

I love gifts, and I’m happy to be on the receiving end on my birthday, my anniversary, or any other day that has meaning to me, or to me and my husband. (Christmas doesn’t count in this scenario as everyone in the family gets gifts at Christmas.) In our culture, there is a tradition of giving gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, which are personal events. But I don’t like to feel that my husband and I are buying gifts for each other because of a commercial expectation that isn’t even personal. I don’t like the messages some commercials give when they show gifts being delivered in an office setting, and the lucky woman is envied for the gift she’s received. I don’t want my gift giving, or receiving, to be a competitive sport, thank you very much.

And most of all…this is specifically addressed to my husband, but anyone I know…please, please, listen carefully: do not, under any circumstance, ever give me a life size teddy bear to cuddle with. I can’t imagine what I would do with it, other than find a place that accepts new and unwanted bears for donation. If this is your idea of a great gift, you may have my bear. But this is definitely not for me. Take me to dinner, give me my favorite tea (that’s Republic of Tea Ginger Peach, in individual tea bags, if you’re interested); give me a gift card if you’re stumped. But please, don’t send giant bears my way. And the same goes for footed pajamas. Who comes up with these things?

One last word about gift giving. In my opinion, the best gifts are those given “just because.” Because someone saw something that reminded them of me. Or because I saw a need and filled it for someone else. That giving is straight from the heart, and without obligation or expectation on the part of giver, or receiver. Or one step further, in this day when most people have what they need, and even what they want, maybe the best gift, regardless of occasion, is the gift of time and presence: the gift of self.

Well, even though I don’t want a gift, I’m a sucker for Valentine’s cookies. I think I’ve previously admitted my guilty love of Lofthouse sugar cookies…you know, the ones in the grocery bakery that have garish colored icing, but are so soft and delicious? Well, that’s how I celebrate the day. Nothing like a little red and pink food coloring to make a cookie look inviting.

Boy, do I feel better. Now that I’m pretty sure no bears or pajamas are heading my way, off to find some cookies.

I’m taking Gingerbread to Seattle

We got home from Prince of Wales (POW) this morning. The little plane…not a float plane, this plane has wheels, and it seats about a dozen people…left the island at 7:00, and by 8:00 we were crossing over on the airport ferry to Ketchikan. After three weeks away it is good to be in our own space again. But no rest for the weary! This is Saturday, and we leave on Monday evening to meet our kids in Seattle, so today has been about catch up.

First we made the rounds for errands. Picked up the mail, bought a few things at Wal-Mart, stopped by the bank, dropped off a couple of things to ship at the mall. We were sidetracked a few times, but eventually made it back home. Good to get comfy, put on Christmas music, turn on our twinkly lights…no tree for us this year as the next two nights will be our only time at home before Christmas. So I miss having the scent of a fresh tree, and feel I’ve let the Boy Scouts down by not giving them my business this year. But it was not to be. (And I have to admit, the bright spot is that I don’t have to put away all the ornaments in a couple of weeks.)

After sorting the mail, I’m adding to my to-do list. I have a few Christmas cards to finish, some work on a project I should complete before we leave on Monday. But the most important thing to do this weekend…more than laundry, online work, or the other chores on my list…the most important thing I have to do is make gingerbread cookies.

We get to see Alex next week, and Stephanie and Matt, and little Riley. I’m excited to spend a few precious days with them, and it is a bonus that these days come at Christmas. We don’t get that every year. This one will be a little different. Last year they were with us in Ketchikan, and it was easy enough to do all the traditional things, have the favorite foods. But not this year.

This year, Stephanie and Alex and Riley are arriving in Seattle only a day ahead of us. Matt is out of the country on business and won’t be home till next Tuesday. Alex flew out to Arizona earlier this week to drive with Stephanie and Riley from Prescott to Seattle so Stephanie didn’t have to face a multi-day drive with an 18-month-old by herself. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to stay over a few days, so we get to see him. He goes back to Atlanta on the 23rd.

We’ll be in a hotel. Matt and Stephanie are literally still in the process of their relocation to Seattle, and as they are hardly settled, this is not the year to be creating home cooked feasts. So, I’m taking the homey touches with me. And the iconic treat for Alex is gingerbread cookies. He loved these as a little guy, and to this day, if I had to name one thing I make that he enjoys most, it would be these cookies.

I know the point is that we’ll be together, and that this holiday will not be about food, at least not the homemade variety. Except for this one thing. And I’ll admit that I’m taking gingerbread as much for myself as for Alex. Not for my taste buds: for my heart. You see, he loves to eat these cookies. But I love to make them for him. This is one of the few ways I can reach out and touch that little boy that used to live at my house. At 24, there isn’t a lot he needs me to do for him. But this is a gift from my heart to his, and he understands that.

To date, we have been able to see Stephanie more often than we see Alex. Part of that was due to his life in the army. Now that’s ended, and he’ll have a bit more flexibility than when he was in the service. But he lives in Georgia, at least for now, where his wife is based at Ft. Benning. Now Stephanie and Matt will be a short flight away from Ketchikan, and I’m already planning frequent visits. Hard to resist Riley’s little face, or pass up an opportunity to connect with my favorite daughter and son-in-law. So I anticipate that we’ll continue to see Stephanie more often than Alex. Maybe he’ll eventually relocate. Or who knows? Maybe we will.

Regardless, for now, when I have a chance to make gingerbread, I’ll do it. I’ll be the one flying down Monday night with a tin of homemade cookies. And no, I’m not the white-haired grandma. I’m the mom, anxious to see the young man who makes me smile, challenges me to watch him play games, sends me funny texts, walks with me down memory lane when we share this treat together. I’m taking gingerbread to Seattle, baked from the heart.

GINGERBREAD
(Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulphered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts, if using. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.

My new favorite recipe – Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

Tonight I tried a new dessert/cookie recipe, which I’ll share below. But first, let me tell you it incorporates a lot of good things. It combines butter, caramel, and (my own personal addition to the mix) chopped pecans. The dessert/cookie…haven’t decided which category it will ultimately fit in my opinion…is baked, so it has an ooey-gooey warm comfort feeling. It has a sprinkling of French sea salt over the caramel layer, so it has a hint of sophistication. You can cut this into squares, or if you want to serve as a more formal dessert, cut into wedges and add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on top…decadent, decadent!

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A few other notes: I made a half recipe, as the full version calls for a pound (a pound!) of butter, and it is my policy never to make such a large amount of a dish I haven’t tasted. Just in case, you know, that the combination of all the luscious ingredients listed is not greater than the sum of the parts. After all, it would be, at the very least, a small tragedy if I had a pound of butter baked into a dessert I really didn’t care for. So that was my choice for a first attempt with this recipe. Having made it, and now, tasted it, I can safely say that I wouldn’t hesitate to commit to the whole thing. Provided I had a good way to dispose of all but one or two pieces. Otherwise, I would be needing to invest in a new size of clothes very soon. These are that good. But I wouldn’t care, most likely, because, these are that good.

So, onto the details. First, credit to the site where I found this. Check this out for a great read. So funny! And thanks for the recipe, which I discovered on Pinterest.

Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

For the Crust:
1 lb. salted butter room temp
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tbs vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour

For the Filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
⅓ cup milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 T. coarse sea salt (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans (my addition, optional if you don’t care for nuts)

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.

Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. (I found I used about half the dough for the crust and the remaining amount was enough for the crumbled topping.)

Preheat to 325F.

Bake until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.

While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth. (I did this step in a small sauce pan on the stove top. Just put the caramels and cream on a low simmer and stir now and then until all melted and gooey.)

Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you choose to salt the caramel, sprinkle it over the caramel layer now.

Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.

My addition: Top with a cup of chopped pecans.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into squares.

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Other ideas: I’m thinking of sprinkling mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top the next time I bake this. Don’t overbake! The cookies cut beautifully after they cooled. Last, if you’re looking for a great shortbread recipe, this one is as good as any I’ve tried. I have never made shortbread with two kinds of sugar, but the dough was easy to work with and baked beautifully. It could stand alone as a wonderful shortbread if you want something a little less sweet, or a bit more simple.

Enjoy!

Springtime

Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

It’s mid-March, and with the time change, the light lingers into the evening. It’s 7:00 pm and I can still look out and see the Tongass Narrows outside my window. Nice to welcome the softer seasons back after a snowier-than-usual stretch.

And with the return of spring months and lengthening days come other signs of rebirth. There are daffodils pushing up through the soil in the flower bed outside my house. The spring clothing catalogs have made their appearance in my mailbox. I’m beginning to think about Easter presents to send my kids. I look at dates to fly down to Arizona to celebrate Riley’s first birthday in late April. And I begin to think of summer plans. All good, all reward for getting through the winter months once more.

I love seasons. I love the change of mood that each season brings. Spring is about awakening. Summer is inherently a more relaxed time. Is that programmed into the American psyche from all the years of the school/summer cycle? First by your own school schedule as a child, then for anyone who has children, by their years in that rhythm. But even beyond the calendar, there is something about the long days that demands a slower pace and a celebration of all things summer: beaches, picnics, road trips, ball games, fireworks, watermelon and burgers.

Fall is the first season of “new year” to me. I always think there should be two re-sets of the year. Also tied to the academic calendar, September (or now August, as classes begin earlier each year) is the beginning of another school year, for so long a way of defining and staging each person: “What grade are you in this year?” And the excitement of fall harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving…each event is a beloved marker of family and communal sharing that punctuates the months.

The peak of the year for many people, “the holidays,” is both the best and the worst of the annual cycle. I am better than I once was at enjoying the people and not stressing so much about the events. It is a magical time: for children waiting for gifts; for adults, touched by reminders of what is real and good in life. And when the real new year comes, we each have the chance, once more, to reset ourselves by the calendar. To resolve again to be “good,” however we define that for ourselves: diet, money, exercise, goals…it’s going to be different this year!

So, springtime, the second season, is upon us. I look at my spring decor, knicknacks that I am sorting through as I box things in my basement. I have a collection of blown Easter eggs that my kids and I made over the years. I have ceramic bunnies and an egg tree, an assortment of spring wreaths and linens that I’ll pull out for an Easter lunch. The brighter colors and lighter fabrics imitate the outdoors on sunny days, and remind me that many things in life are worth waiting for. Spring is one of them. Then summer. Then fall. Then winter. It’s all good, and fortunately, just as we’re weary of one, the next arrives, in perfect timing. Just as we need the next cycle to begin, it does.

Small town Alaska

I live in a small Alaskan island community. Ketchikan has a Wal-Mart, a Safeway, a small mall with mostly local stores. The only restaurants in town that are not local are McDonald’s and Subway…oh, and Godfather’s Pizza. I’ll admit, I frequently miss living in the foothills outside Denver…largely for friends and intangible things. But I also miss the wonderful variety of retail shopping, the plethora of restaurants throughout the city and suburbs, the option of choice. Let’s face it, when Wal-Mart and the hardware stores are out of Christmas lights, you don’t have other possibilities a mile or two away, living on an island. And the funny thing is, Ketchikan is the big city for other surrounding island communities! People come over in droves on ferries to spend the day shopping here…maybe that’s why Wal-Mart is out of colored Christmas lights.

But small towns have other good things. The checkers in the grocery are friendly, and I hear people wishing each other “Merry Christmas” when I’m out and about. Ketchikan puts up Christmas lights and you could almost believe you have stepped back in time at the mall, except that everyone walking by has a cell phone in hand. There are singing Christmas tree productions, holiday celebrations listed in the paper. No one seems to be agitated if the term “Christmas” is used. Of course you can say “Merry Christmas!” This is small town America…no controversy about being politically correct here! 

Alaska has an interesting combination of residents. There are a lot of transplants, like us, who have lived in the state a few years but will likely not be here too long…too far from family and the life we have had in the past. This is a passing through for us. But there are people who have multi-generation roots here. The state only just celebrated 50 years of being a state. And a lot of people who have spent their adult lives here came as children or young adults looking for adventure and higher pay. They say that Alaskans are independent in spirit, and maybe that is true. Alaska is also called the last American frontier, and that is definitely true. You need to be a bit hardy to live here, or at least to live here long. I think we’ve done ok because it is an adventure for us. The inconveniences are still mostly novel. But they also insulate the state from a lot of things that are more common “down south.” One of the positives is that life does seem just a bit more mellow here, a bit more old-fashioned. I actually have an account at the hardware store. I go in and charge to the account, not my Visa card. I never had a local account before. I also have that with the fuel oil company. Who knew these practices still existed? I thought everyone used credit cards almost exclusively now!

I’m not sure where we’ll live next…larger city or another small town. That decision has yet to be made. But regardless, I’m glad I’ve had a chance to experience small towns in Alaska, first Kotzebue and now Ketchikan. It has given me a glimpse of a world that I thought was largely gone, a world where you actually know people in stores or at the post office, where small kindnesses frequently happen and community events bring neighbors out to participate. Alaska still has Norman Rockwell charm, in spite of the rough and tough image people know from TV reality shows. And if you’re fortunate enough to visit Ketchikan, “salmon capital of the world,” check out the local restaurants for chowder and fish and chips…chain restaurants don’t get their fish fresh from the dock an hour before serving to customers. Small town grace and the best seafood you can get…now that’s a great combination!

Favorite things

Riley photos

 AND

  • Berry wreaths
  • Clear glass vases or jars, especially with something interesting filling them
  • Tiny white Christmas lights, used year round as backlighting
  • Bread fresh from the oven, lots of butter
  • Anything from Pottery Barn
  • Cooking magazines
  • Traveling anywhere with Rob
  • A quirky sense of humor
  • Sentimental anything….music, movies, commercials, cards
  • Quaint towns that make me think “I could live here!”
  • Warmth
  • Soft gingerbread cookies
  • The shared look between lovers that tells each of you that you know the other’s thought
  • The fragrance of home baking – anything from the fall…apples, pumpkin, spices, all those comforting aromas
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Frank Sinatra’s music
  • King crab legs cracked open by my husband and dipped in melted butter…heavenly!
  • Cranberry colored paint on walls with white trim
  • Family photos
  • Cilantro, basil, and rosemary…fresh herbs in salads and soups

Happy Birthday Stephanie!

Today is my daughter’s 27th birthday. This has been an exciting year for her. She finished her master’s degree, became a full-fledged teacher, she and her husband bought their first house, and, most importantly, she became a mom to Riley. Some years just seem to hold more than others, to be more meaningful than others. And now she is marking her first birthday since these events occurred…all grown up and part of the adult world now! No doubt about it!

This year I’m not doing my ususal lament…where does the time go? How could she be 27? I’m just happy that she is well, productive, and experiencing the joys of her own little family. What more could I ask for her? And the fact that we are able to talk frequently, to share our lives, is icing on the cake.

We’ll be together at Thanksgiving and at Christmas…good opportunities to catch up on baby time! But also, I’m excited to continue to have a part in Stephanie’s life. The little person that came into my life has blossomed into a beautiful, capable and humorous woman. I don’t want to miss the unfolding story before me as I watch in awe the child/woman I gave birth to, now continuing the cycle with her own daughter, and still teaching me about life through this new chapter.