Working among nuns and radicals

On a post about five or so months ago, where I told of my relocation up North, I ended by saying I got a job at a hospital near our house.

Maybe you wondered why I never mentioned this job again? Or maybe you never thought about it, which is completely understandable because why would you?

The reason I never talked about the job was because 10 days into said job, I quit.

Have you ever started working at a place and as you stood there watching the other employees do their thing, know deep in your heart it’s not your thing and never would be your thing and what in God’s name ever made you think it could be your thing?

Also, what I was told would be my schedule turned out to be more theory than practice. It might one day be my schedule, but for now it was anything goes. So I went.

What followed was a time of self-reflection, doubt, and existential malaise. Or, what is commonly known as, a job search.

grumpy-cat-300x200I forget how many interviews I had. Or how many times Indeed-dot-com notified me with: “______ looked at your resume!” Without bothering to note that “_____” was in California or Florida or Guam.

I tried to stay positive.

Hey, with all this free time, I can write blog posts galore! Resuscitate its Facebook page, update the blog theme, tidy up the sidebar!

Gosh, maybe I’ll even dig out that novel I’ve been working on for… oh gee, I don’t know… 15 years? Hey, now I can be a full-time writer!

Oh, if only I had a smoking jacket! Or smoked!

But lo, this writer’s dream was not to be. I found that with no pressure on my time, I make sad use of it. I needed to get out of the house. I needed a sense of purpose. I needed—gasp!—I needed to be around people. (For an introvert, this is a startling revelation.)

Then Husband found a help wanted ad in the paper:

Administrative Assistant with desktop publishing and database skills; ability to write and format newsletters; creativity and good writing skills a must; knowledge of video editing software a plus. Please send letter of introduction with resume.

There was one peculiar addition:

Must be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.

Forgot to mention, the job was at a convent.

So, yeah. I’m working at a convent now. Have been for a little over a month. It’s a fascinating place.

I don’t mean to put down men—honestly, I love you guys—but there’s something about women who choose to live without them. It’s like they come into their own.

Also, this Franciscan thing.

The couple I work for–they’re a lay couple who oversee two of the convent’s ministries–they give me books to read so I can understand their work better. They reserve a quiet room for me, I can get free popcorn at the convent’s top-notch cafeteria. We meet afterwards to discuss what I read.

It’s like I’m getting paid to attend a book club.

Things I’ve learned: St. Francis was a radical. And here I thought he was just a guy who liked birds.

St FrancisThese nuns can be pretty radical too. Never before have I worked with a group of people who are so focused outwardly. Even things like tossing a piece of paper in the garbage—Wait! That can be recycled!—Wait! Did we write on both sides first?

The woman I work for, let’s call her Mrs. Boss, said if anything were to happen in town—if some injustice was occurring—these sisters would be the first ones marching out the door, carrying signs in protest.

And I can see it happening, too. Though it would be a slow procession, given their ages and several using walkers.

walkersSuch is my life now. Living in a blue state, working among Franciscan nuns.

And here I thought the biggest change for me would be the weather. 😉

Featured photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

 

Dinner for Eight — Our Thanksgiving with the Professor

Many Thanksgivings ago, back when we lived in an old green house in central Nebraska, we were invited to an elderly professor’s home for dinner.

thanksgiving table

He was a widower, tall and lean, with thick, white hair and a gentle, noble demeanor that all elderly professors should have, if they can possibly do so.

We were joined by five others: a truck driver, a convenience store clerk, a school secretary, a dental hygienist, and one of the professor’s former students who was currently “between jobs.”

You might say we were a rag-tag bunch, but I won’t because I was part of it. Rather, I choose to believe we were an eclectic group of wise and witty conversationalists. A regular Algonquin Round Table, Nebraska-style.

The school secretary and unemployed student loved movies. They recommended Double Impact highly, but Child’s Play 3 was a disappointment. The truck driver admired the layout of our host’s home. The dental hygienist commented on the color of the drapes (mauve). The convenience store clerk had many opinions that he was only too happy to share, mostly with regards to Thanksgiving being a complete sham. (There’s always one in the crowd.) Husband played the role of devil’s advocate with aplomb, pointing out that whatever the original Thanksgiving was, at least now there’s gravy.

I delighted in the homemade cranberry sauce.

“It’s made with brandy,” the elderly professor said.

“That’s brilliant,” I declared. And it was.

I’ve been thinking about that Thanksgiving so many years ago. Imagining this kind man striking up conversations with people and upon hearing they had no plans for Thanksgiving, saying, “Well now, that won’t do! Stop by my place at four for cocktails, dinner’s at five. Here’s my card. Cheerio!”

Okay, maybe he didn’t say Cheerio.

Anyway, the idea is a lovely one and beings how Husband and I had no plans this year, I threw out the idea of following in the path of our kind, elderly professor. And we probably would have, but we found out the town in which we live has its own version. A community-wide Thanksgiving dinner that apparently is quite the to-do.

little fa

It started several years ago with the idea of it being for low-income and elderly people, but over the years it grew to include just about everyone, from all walks of life, all getting together to celebrate the day. And so many people want to help out, they actually have to turn volunteers away.

Fortunately we got our names in early; I think we have dish duty. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Back to our elderly professor: being the kind man he was, he shared his recipe with me.

You only use three ingredients: cranberries, sugar, and a small amount of liquid which can be water, juice, or in our kindly professor’s case, brandy.

The amounts are as follows,

  • 4 cups cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup liquid

Kindly Professor made his on the stovetop (cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens), but I’ve seen recipes that bake it (one hour at 325 degrees, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so).

I’ve played around with the recipe because that’s what I do, and I like to add about 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and an apple. You could add raisins if you feel so moved, but if your family is anything like mine, it’s best you don’t.

Another note: in place of the brandy, I’ve used red wine and once did Bailey’s Irish Cream. I like the brandy version best, but if you’d rather not use alcohol, orange juice is an excellent option.

Final note: the fresh cranberries I used were Minnesota grown. Meaning I now live in an area with bogs, as that is where cranberries grow.

Mind. Blown.

fresh cranberries
Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 🦃

P.S. Per Susie’s request, here’s a picture of a cranberry bog in Walker, Minnesota:

Cranberry bog Walker Mn

Right before harvest, the area is flooded and the cranberries float, then the harvesters wade in and collect the berries. According to what I read, cranberries are native to Minnesota, but most of the cranberries grown commercially are from Wisconsin.

 

Praying for Snow

A few days ago we had our first real, honest-to-goodness snowstorm. It’s Dog’s first and she’s not sure what to make of it.

A change of scenery

I, on the other hand, love it.

I also love the gray skies and the way my phone claimed it was -4° when I woke up yesterday.

Screenshot_20181113-053944

Mind over matter, folks. Mind over matter.

I’ve always loved snow so this desert gal is glad to be back in it. The -4 and dropping?

Hey, I can handle it. As long as I have my LL Bean boots and down coat, I’ve got this.

boots ll bean

I’m pretty sure our neighbors think we’re crazy. Moving from Phoenix, AZ to central Minnesota was the first clue, but when a grown woman tromps around in the snow and giggles?

Yeah, she’s a nut-job.

But then I’ve always been a little crazy when it comes to snow. Like, for instance, the time when I prayed for it.

I was an innocent preteen, back when there were such things, and we were headed to South Dakota in early October to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. We usually visited them in June or July, on account of school, but I was a good student and my teachers gave me plenty of work to keep me occupied for the entire 10-day trip. (I finished it in two.)

When my parents announced the trip, I was beyond thrilled. For the first time in my life, I might see snow!

Okay, let’s back up. I’d seen snow before, but I’d never been in it. Never felt it upon my face. In the winter Dad might drive us a couple hours north of Phoenix, point out the window and say, “Look guys, there’s snow.” That was about it.

Twelve years old and never built a snowman.

But now, in South Dakota, in early October? Will it snow?

“It’s too early for that,” Dad said.

Mom agreed. “It never snows this early.”

Never? Never ever?

“Well, it’s highly unlikely.”

So there’s a possibility?

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

Too late.

But I wasn’t leaving it all to chance. Every night, I made my requests known unto the Lord.

Please, oh please, oh pleeeease, let it snow! I don’t need a lot, just enough for a snowman. That’s all. All I want is to feel it on my face and build a snowman. That’s it. Please?!

Every night, over and over. (I was a strange 12-year-old.)

We left Phoenix on October 2. Two days later we were at a motel in Nebraska, right at the border to South Dakota. It was morning, our last day of travel, maybe three hours from my grandparent’s house. Dad took our luggage to the car.

He walked back in. “It’s snowing,” he said. Not happily.

What?!”

I zoomed past him.

“Christi, get your shoes on!”

“Prayer works!” I cried.

Alleluia and praise be!
This is the snow that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

My South Dakota relatives were not amused. It was one thing to deal with an early snowfall, but to find out your young relation had prayed for it? Hoo-boy, that didn’t sit well.

Even so, two of my uncles and one cousin aided me in my quest for a snowman. Despite everyone’s belief there wasn’t enough snow.

O ye of little faith. I knew better.

I had prayed for “just enough” snow and that’s what we had. Along with a lovely coating of leaves for rustic charm.

Uncle Bobby loaned his hat, Uncle Richard fashioned a pipe from a stick, Cousin Sheila found some fallen apples for the eyes and nose.

Me with snowman

My first snowman.

You know, it’s funny. As much as I love this picture and the flood of memories it gives me, I don’t really believe it was divine intervention that created that snowstorm.

Had it happened today, my dad would have checked his weather app before we left Phoenix and would have known all about the storm. And he probably would have stopped off at a gas station to buy his silly daughter gloves because she forgot to pack them.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in prayer and I pray daily.

Well, mostly daily. Sometimes I forget. (Hey, I’m human.)

I think far too often we confuse God with Santa Claus:

If I’m a good girl and I pray really hard, God will give me what I want.”

Sorry. Doesn’t work like that.

I read something recently that said prayer is about making yourself open to a relationship with God.

Which, when you think about it, is a whole lot more scary and probably why I “forget” to do it.

Like I said, I’m human.

In any case, that’s my take on the situation. Maybe you have different views and that’s okay. There’s room enough for all here.

But right now there’s a layer of snow in my backyard with more to come, that’s for sure. And while I have no plans of building any snowmen, I remember a time when I did. With complete confidence it was God who made it possible.

And who knows? Maybe that 12-year-old girl had it right.

I mean, just look at the joy on her face.

me with snowman up close

Are you going to tell her otherwise?

Take Heed: Transgressing Teens Trick-or-Treating

For context, see this article on how several towns are making it illegal for teenagers to go trick-or-treating.

However you stand on the proper age for trick-or-treating, you gotta admit that spending time and energy on passing a law is the type of folly this blog feeds upon. 🤗

rawpixel-1048261-unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Hello, I’m Roger Stolid and this is your evening news.

Our lead story tonight — trick-or-treaters are making their rounds tonight, but before you pass out those mini-Snickers, be aware: You might be abetting a criminal. On location with this story is Paula Propellant. Paula, what have you found out for us?

Paula: Thank you, Roger. Yes, it’s true, some of these trick-or-treaters are risking steep fines and possible jail time for soliciting suckers from citizens. I’m standing at the corner of 12th and Ambrose Street and by my side is Officer Handy, who’s been patrolling the area. Officer, who are these desperate individuals seeking sweets?

Off Handy: Well, Paula, it’s now illegal for anyone over the age of twelve to trick-or-treat, and that means we got ourselves a situation. Fact is, some teenagers think it’s fun to get all dressed up like, oh, I don’t know, vampires or serial killers or Hello Kitty. And that’s all well and good. But if we catch them going door-to-door asking for candy? We’re just gonna have to run them in.

Paula: I see. What should homeowners do if they suspect one of the children at their door is past the age of legal trick-or-treating? Should they attempt any action on their own?

Off Handy: No, I don’t recommend that. There’s no telling what a teenager might do in that kind of situation. I’d say the best course of action would be to ask their age and if they’re over twelve, tell them to kindly step away from your porch. But if they say they’re younger and you think they’re lying? You can call the station with a description and we’ll send someone over.

Paula: I see. They could say something like, “There’s a witch on fifth street who looks old enough to drive.”

Off Handy: Exactly.

Paula: What do we tell parents whose child looks big for their age? Like, let’s say their ten-year-old looks fifteen? Should they be concerned?

Off Handy: We’ve thought of that Paula. What we’re recommending to parents is if their Tommy makes a tall mummy, consider slipping his birth certificate into his treat bag. That way if anyone detains him, he can prove his age.

Paula: What if they bring their school ID? Would that help?

Off Handy: Problem there Paula is school IDs don’t show their age, and we might have a SquareBob SpongePants who’s been held back a few years.

Paula: You mean SpongeBob SquarePants?

Off Handy: Yeah, that guy.

Paula: I see what you mean. Like over there, that boy in the banana suit. He looks like he needs a shave.

Off Handy: I’m on it! Hey, you there! Drop the candy! (Runs across street; Banana splits.)

Paula: Thank you, Officer Handy. Roger, we’re also speaking with Bella Buttinsky, head of the local watchdog group, No Treats for Teens. Bella, when did your group start meeting?

Bella: Let’s see… I guess it started after last Halloween. One of my neighbors posted on Facebook that a Batman grabbed her whole bowl of candy. I mean, he just took it! The whole bowl! So we were all like, how old was he? That sort of thing. She was pretty sure he was a teenager. It’s a real problem. These kids are just too blame old to be trick-or-treating. I know with my kids–

Paula: So all this is on account of one rogue Batman?

Bella: No, he just started it. Her post wound up going viral. I think it got over a hundred likes.

Paula: I don’t think that’s what “going viral” means.

Bella: Well, there were tons of comments. Everyone agreed teenagers were ruining Halloween. I mean, honestly, parents need to–

Paula: Did you have any specific concerns about teenagers? Other than the lone Batman?

Bella: Of course we did! Anytime you get a group of teenagers hanging around together, you’re just asking for trouble. They’ll be smoking, drinking… they could be selling drugs to your little princesses and cowboys. Listen, all you have to do is let your imagination run wild and then you’ll see my point.

Paula: Right.

Bella: And teenagers are just plain rude. The little kids will take whatever candy you give them, but these older kids are all like, “Don’t you have chocolate?” and “I hate coconut.”

Paula: Okay, thank you, Bella.

Bella: If you’re begging for candy, you take what you get!

Paula: Thank you for talking with us, Bella.

Bella: Where are their parents? That’s what I want to know. I mean, when my kids were little–

Paula: Thank you, Bella. Roger, we were hoping to speak to someone in favor of teens trick-or-treating — or just in favor of teens in general — but we couldn’t find anyone. Until now, that is. Roger, this is Bud Light, a concerned citizen and father of the banana we saw earlier. Mr. Light, were you aware there was an age restriction on trick-or-treating?

Bud: Damn straight, I knew.

Paula: And yet you allowed your son to go trick-or-treating?

Bud: Allowed him? Hell, I told him to do it! I said, “Son, if you want to go out with your friends and enjoy Halloween, you damn well do it.” I even helped pay for the banana.

Paula: Even though you knew he might get fined or arrested?

Bud: Oh hell, the banana suit cost more than the fine. Listen, it ain’t often the boy still wants to do something fun from his childhood. If it means I have to pay a little fine to help him do it, then I damn well will.

Paula: I see. But what if the fine was higher? What if it was five hundred dollars?

Bud: The fine is five hundred dollars?

Paula: No, I think it’s a hundred dollars.

Bud: It’s a hundred dollars?! He told me it was twenty-five dollars! That damn kid lied to me! (runs across street)

Paula: Sir? Sir?!

Bud: (from a distance) Someone grab that banana!

Paula: Well, that’s it from me. Back to you, Roger.

Roger: Paula, what about adults? Can adults trick-or-treat?

Paula: I don’t think so, Roger. The law states no one over the age of twelve.

Roger: Oh, that’s a shame. Guess I’ll have to break it to the wife. Haha.

Paula: Haha. Happy Halloween, Roger.

Roger: Happy Halloween, Paula. And Happy Halloween to all our viewers out there. Have fun, be safe, and keep a lookout for fugitive bananas.

Banana suit

 

 

 

In Which I Channel Beatrix Potter and Write a Tale of The Two Mice in My Shed

If you’d rather I read this story to you (think of it as story time for grownups) click here:

Once upon a time there was a very useful garden shed; it was made of wood and painted red. It had no windows, but it had two big doors that stuck a little in humid weather.

The shed belonged to a blogger named CJ Hartwell.

CJ was a gardener, or at least she liked to say she was a gardener. Between you and me, she kinda let things go to seed.

One afternoon on a frosty October day, CJ decided it was time to pick the last of the apples on her apple tree. She put on her coat and her Isotoner gloves and walked out to her garden shed to get a ladder. For the apples were very high on the tree and she could not reach them.

First, she unlatched the big wooden doors and pulled them all the way open. Next, she pulled out her seldom used lawn mower and her even more seldom used rake. And who do you suppose she saw hiding behind the rake?

Why, it was none other than Ethan, who made the garden shed his home.

Ethan was a mouse.

cute mouse, drawing of mouse

Ethan looked at CJ; CJ looked at Ethan.

Ethan didn’t say anything because Ethan was a quiet, unassuming little mouse. CJ did say some things, but we will not repeat them here because some of the words were naughty, and good little boys and girls ought never to use them.

Ethan didn’t know what the fuss was about, for while the garden shed was a modest home, he did his mousy best to keep it tidy and clean. So he squeaked a soft little squeak, which was to say, “I’ve seen your house, lady. You think you can do better?”

Did it do any good? No! CJ stomped her feet on the floor making a terrible racket!

This frightened poor Ethan something awful. He called out to his very special lady friend, Tiffany, who had come home with Ethan after a romantic evening together in the woods.

At this particular moment, Tiffany was on CJ’s bicycle.

small mouse on bicycle

Mid-stomp, CJ saw Tiffany scurry down the bicycle. She garbled a few more choice words for now there were two mice!

Ethan called out to Tiffany, “Hey babe, over here!” and together they raced underneath the ladder that was leaning against the wall.

Quick as a flash, or rather stumbling in her haste, CJ put the mower and rake back in the shed and shut the doors, latching them tight. She said to herself, “Screw it! The apples can rot!”

Then she went inside her house and opened a bottle of red wine that she had bought at Costco for $8.99. She had two glasses, one for each mouse.

After her second glass, she decided mice in the shed were better than mice in the house, and she was very happy she had a cat in the house.

As for Ethan and Tiffany, they were very happy CJ left. They agreed the less they saw of her the better, but Tiffany did enjoy a nice bike ride now and again.

Later that evening, Tiffany made a nice dinner of mushroom salad with a rotten apple compote. Ethan said it was the best meal he’d ever had.

Afterward they had consensual sex and fell asleep in the bed Ethan fashioned out of an empty box of Milk Duds.

drawing of mice in a bed

It was a busy day after all.

The end.

The Seasons, They Are A’Changin…

This is my first real Autumn in I don’t know how long.

My first, honest-to-goodness, stomping-through-piles-of-leaves kind of Autumn.

park maples

It’s not like we didn’t have Autumn in Phoenix, it’s just that we faked it.

In Phoenix you wear sleeveless shirts in fall colors, switch out your flip-flops for brown sandals, and drink iced pumpkin lattes.

And it’s not like I haven’t lived in areas with four seasons before, it’s just I don’t remember being wowed by the colors. When we lived in northern Arizona, the first snow came sudden-like. Shocking the leaves into a quick drop. When we lived in Iowa and Nebraska, there were too few trees to matter.

Clearly, Minnesota is hoarding all the trees.

Autumn by the river

Real or fake, I love this time of year. In truth, it’s the transition phase between the seasons I love best, and I’m thrilled to be living where it’s so apparent.

I’m not alone in my appreciation; several homes are decorated for Fall. I’m told it’s quite common for Minnesotans to have quirky lawn decorations and from what I’ve seen, it’s true. A home near us has 11 screen doors in front — eleven!

This is a permanent display and I’ve no idea how they mounted them, but I wondered if they’d add anything for the seasons. I’m pleased to report, they do:

Doors

Looking forward to seeing their Christmas display.

Our decor is more understated, but not without its admirers.

Autumn at the Hartwell's

Last Saturday when our newspaper was delivered, I saw the delivery girl taking a picture of our display.  (I wonder if we’re trending on Twitter?)

At the website for Minnesota State Parks, you can enter your email address for “color alerts.” The state park in our town, the Charles A. Lindbergh Park, is currently listed at 25% to 50% color.

I think the Hartwell Maple Tree is nearly 60%:

Maple tree

Neighbor Buddy told me not to worry about raking leaves; he’ll use his leaf blower and take care of them for the whole street. The total number of homes on the street being three.  Even so, he’s a nice guy.

(Probably a requirement for anyone named Buddy.)

In my backyard hidden among the leaves is a petunia. I didn’t plant it and there are no petunias in the vicinity. Yet there it is. A petunia.

Petunia
It’s a Petunia Miracle.

I asked someone how long we’d have the color, she guessed another couple weeks.

Guess we better enjoy it while it’s here.

autumn color

Something I did in Phoenix to commemorate the seasons is to change my computer’s desktop background. My favorites pictures included curving paths, usually through woodsy areas or by rivers.

Never in my life have I lived in an area with more desktop-worthy scenes:

desktop picture

Question is, which photo do I use? Current contenders are first, second, and last pictures in this post. Your opinions are appreciated.

Meanwhile, if it’s Autumn where you are, find a pile of leaves and stomp through them with abandon.

If it’s not Autumn where you are, fake it. 🍂 🍃

Meditation for the Easily Distracted

Welcome to Meditation for the Easily Distracted. Before we begin, let’s take a moment to… hold on a second, that’s my phone…

Sorry about that. Okay, let’s silence our electronic devices and take a moment to situate ourselves in our chair or on the floor. Whatever is most comfortable for you.

Meditation 1 (2)

You can cross your legs if you want to, but considering your knees maybe not.

Getting old really bites, doesn’t it?

To begin, let’s take a deep breath… inhale… and let it out through the mouth – fwoosh… another breath in… and fwoosh

Try not to think about what you’ll have for dinner… or how you need to go to the grocery store… or about that weird spot on your arm… (should probably get that checked out)…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Or the sound your clock is making… ticking… ticking… ticking… okay, seriously? We can put a man on the moon but we can’t make a quiet clock?

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Let’s quiet our thoughts… unlike the damn clock… and let’s imagine our thoughts as little bubbles… don’t judge them, they’re just little bubbles…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Watch the bubbles as they float over your head… one by one floating up and down, and… oh, stop looking for the bubbles. There are no actual bubbles…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

I once knew a woman who collected clocks… bet she had over a hundred of them on her wall, ceiling to floor… ding-donging and cuckoo-ing every hour…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Imagine your thought bubbles rising up and down, sometimes stopping — there’s the one about your dinner plans… really need to see someone about the spot on your arm…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

You know, that clock lady would make a great character for a story… hold on while I write it down… where’s my damned notebook?

Breathe in… and fwoosh

Pork chops would be nice for dinner… maybe pick up some crescent rolls… better get some milk while you’re at it…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

You know what amazed me about the clock lady? All her clocks chimed at the exact same time, down to the last second…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

How long do you suppose it took her to get them set like that?… Daylight savings must have been a bitch…

Breathe in… and fwoosh…

Aw, screw it. I need to go to the store. This has been Meditation for the Easily Distracted. Until next time– Namaste.

And please, get that spot checked out. I worry about you.

On Apple Trees, Cake, and Planning Ahead for Panic Attacks

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an apple tree.

Here, look upon my apple tree:

Apple tree 1

Beautiful, is it not?

Better yet, it provides a marvelous view from my kitchen sink.

Here, look upon the view from my kitchen sink:

kitchen window mn

The window screen makes it a little fuzzy, but you get the idea. It’s a damn fine view.

For comparison sake, here was the view from my former kitchen sink:

Kitchen window az

You’re probably wondering why I bothered taking a picture of a brick wall.

About three months ago, give or take a day, I got a wee bit concerned about our move from Arizona to Minnesota.

I started thinking that at some future point — say, in February when it’s 30 below here and 70 in Phoenix — I’ll think to myself, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”

So in preparation for that event, I took pictures of all the things in our Phoenix home that drove me nuts. Hence, the picture of a brick wall.

(Just curious, what’s that say about a person who plans ahead for panic attacks?)

I also have shots of my kids’ rooms (cleaning is not their strong suit), our “music room” (it was more a catch-all room), and – my personal favorite — a stack of dirty dishes one of my kids left by the empty sink.

The question is, will looking at a picture of dirty dishes ease the pain of moving away from my kids?

Um… yeah. It has. (I’m a monster.)

Anyway, back to the apples. I’ve no idea what kind they are except they are wonderful for baking. (Score!) Also, I’ve come to a better understanding of why commercial growers use chemicals. Up close and personal, my apples are not pretty.

Tell me, would you pay good money for these apples?

applesNeither would I. Yet they’re delicious in your morning oatmeal with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.

So far I’ve made a couple pies, muffins, several bowls of oatmeal, and a wonderful cake that I will share with you in a moment.

(*gasp* She’s actually sharing a recipe?!)

This weekend I plan on picking the entire tree; I believe it’s time and the bugs have had enough of a feast. I foresee a batch of applesauce and apple butter in my future.

But first, cake!

This cooler weather (54° this morning) put me in the mood for baking. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes using apples and found no less than five for cake, all a tad different. I took what I liked best from each (more apples and spices here, less oil and eggs there, ooh a glaze!) and came up with this one. It turned out marvelous and it works either as a coffee cake or a dessert.

By the way, the town in which I now live has the best coffee. Really! It’s a downtown shop called Reality Roasters. Their beans might cost a little more, but dang, they’re worth it.

Just the thing for this cake. ☕

Apple Cake with Butterscotch Glaze

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Apple cake

This is a rich tasting cake but without a lot of oil and eggs; Perfect for a cool autumn morning with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups diced apples, unpeeled (about 5 or 6 baking apples)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda*
  • Granola or rolled oats for topping (I used Full Circle’s oats & honey granola)
  • Glaze (see below)

Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and apples. In separate bowl mix together flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add to the apple mixture, stir well and pour into a greased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of granola or rolled oats. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Prepare glaze while cake cools.

Butterscotch Glaze: In small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-n-half. Bring to a boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and drizzle on top of cake.

Can serve warm or cooled. 🍂

*I know it sounds like a lot, but the two teaspoons of baking soda is correct. 🙂

 

Quantity Over Quality: Master the First and You’ll Achieve the Second (Theoretically)

There’s a story of a ceramics teacher (and if I had the gumption I’d find the source for it) that carries a lesson for us all. It goes as follows:

It was the end of the year and the teacher gave the class two options for their final project: they could choose to have their work graded by quantity or quality. Those who chose quantity were challenged to see how many pots they could produce in one week’s time. It didn’t matter what the pots looked like, only that they were completed. The students who chose quality only had to make one pot, but it had to be the best pot they could create.
Half the class chose quantity and began churning out pots right and left. As soon as one was done, another was started. And so on. All week long.
The other half of the class spent their time working out their designs, analyzing their methods, pondering and planning and pouring over every detail, in order to create their one perfect pot.
At the end of the week, the results were graded and an interesting discovery was made. Not only did the “quantity” group produce the most pots, they also produced the best quality pots. Over and above the “quality” group.

Reason being, or so we can infer, they focused on the process rather than the results. And because they kept churning out pot after pot, they were learning and correcting errors as they went.

Ceramics teacher
Let’s pretend this is the ceramics teacher. He’s kind of cool, don’t you think? (Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash)

The article wherein I found this story related it to our own creative endeavors. Whether writing, painting, quilting, woodwork, music — anything we do where we hope to improve — the key is to focus on quantity over quality. Push yourself to produce as much as possible.

Want to improve your writing? Push out story after story. Your drawing? Create five or more drawings every day. Your photography skills? Take pictures everywhere you go. Really annoy the hell out of everyone you know.

You get the idea.

This concept was driven home to me a few days ago. I was working on a project, actually it was the “Bible Stories in Text” project I mentioned before, and I wanted to include some limericks and silly rhymes for it.

How hard could that be?

Turns out pretty hard. I spent one hour alone on Jacob and Esau and still didn’t like it. I was about to give up when I thought of the ceramics story. For the next hour I produced five more rhymes. None of them particularly good, but at least they were done. I shut the laptop and left to run some errands.

I had to go to my credit union because like a dope, I left my debit card in the ATM when I last used it. (No worries, nothing bad happened other than a dent to my ego.) On my way home I decided to stop at the park and sit on my favorite bench, the one under the willow tree. And though I never noticed it before, this time I read the inscription:

In Dick's memory

There was something about “Tuesday Bridge Club” that tickled my fancy. I grabbed my notebook — another article I read said you should always carry an idea notebook — and jotted down:

written in notebook

Soon 15 more lines appeared under it in some semblance of a poem. (I’m guessing since I spent the morning in rhyme, it just naturally flowed out that way.)

Not knowing anything of Bridge, I googled the rules and added a few references; once I got home I finished it up and within the next hour had that bad boy ready to post.

My point is, I’m fairly certain that had I not spent the morning focused on those silly rhymes, had I not pushed myself to produce several even though I was dissatisfied with them all, Dick’s tribute poem might never have happened.

Of course I can’t prove any of this, but it feels right and I believe it so. Plus I’ve got that ceramics teacher backing me up.

Here, let’s look at the guy again:

Ceramics teacher

Quantity over quality.

Now in truth, none of this is too surprising. If you want to improve at writing, write. If you want to improve your singing, sing.

All together now: Duh.

But the fact is, however much we know this truth we still fail to put it into practice. Or at least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe you’re self-disciplined to the core, wake every morning at the crack of dawn and write 20 pages before your first cup of coffee. In which case I don’t like you very much and I think you should go away now.

For the rest of us, we need reminders to keep going in spite of the drivel we produce. To push on, produce, finish our stories and trust the process. Let go of our need to produce lovely rhymes or charming stories, to let go of our desire to like everything we’ve written. Eventually — hopefully — we’ll like what we’ve written, but we’ll probably produce plenty of crap before we get there.

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. — Anne Lamott

I have a stack of messes. About five or six unfinished stories I found while unpacking, one of which I barely remember. Each one began in a fever of creativity, that much I remember, but as soon as the going got rough they came to a screeching halt. As I look at them now… well, they’re not horrible. Some spots are quite good, others maybe not so much, but overall they don’t suck.

So here’s the thing: I’ve decided I’m going to dig them out, one by one, and give myself a timeline for finishing them. Let’s say one story per week.

They may appear in this blog — that part I haven’t decided yet. I’m not in the habit of printing much fiction here, so I’ll give it some thought.

(Okay, technically, I suppose there’s fiction here. For instance, I have no idea if Dick liked white wine or if he was a bourbon man.)

Mainly I thought that if I told others what I was doing — Hey guys! I’m spending the next 6 weeks writing 6 stories! —  I stand a better chance of actually doing it.

The key is, and golly I sure hope I remember it, is to finish them even if I don’t like them. Because maybe by the sixth one I will.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you the cover of my idea notebook:

my idea notebook

I’m not expecting too much here, believe me. I just want to get the stories finished. And if you’re reading this, I expect you have something unfinished to work on as well, or some skill you wish to improve?

Quantity over Quality: Ready, set… go!