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Picking My Battles Posts

Waylaid

I had a mountain of paperwork waiting for me at home, so when I got the text last night that a mountain of sand at the top of our driveway was blocking the last 900 feet of my trip home, I groaned. All I wanted to do was to get my work done and go to bed, but suddenly there was time to kill. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it soon turned out to be just what I needed.

I drove around for a little while and finally pulled into the parking lot at the Wayside Country Store 5 minutes from the house. It was well past sundown and the light from the store cast a warm glow on the slushy snow. As I pushed the door open, the smell of roasting chicken blasted my senses, followed immediately by the aroma of baking scones and cookies.

Normally I go to the drinks aisle or the kitchen supplies to grab what I need and go. Tonight, however, I headed toward the deli where the gingham oil cloth-covered roundtable serves as a meeting place for farmers and contractors on their way to work in the mornings and knitters and time-killers like myself in the evenings and on the weekends.

The guy who normally plows our driveway was sitting there, recounting the tale of how the sand came rest at the top of our driveway, and I sat down, suddenly feeling an unexplainable smile emerge. Another friend was sitting at the table listening, and we talked about goings on around town. Talk turned to the quality of heat from the various woodstoves that were waiting for us at home. The sound of food being made in the deli was our background music, and I thought of how rare simple, comfy moments like this are – especially on a work night when the world outside our doors is at odds with itself. And, as suddenly as my schedule had changed, so did my mood as I realized I was glad to have been waylaid at the Wayside.

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Winter Warrior

We woke up to about a foot of snow this morning. this time last year I was at work at home mom, and The news of a snow day what are you meant sleeping in for an extra hour before logging on for work. This morning, however, my new life as a teacher at a residential school where snow days just don’t exist meant the alarm was set the night before for 5 AM. call cement rediscovering a slightly more adventurous part of myself that has been buried for a long time.

I’ve had trouble with my eyes for the last few years which has limited night driving. In the winter when the weather is bad, I tend to be a homebody at night. combine the bad eyes with a little PTSD from two winter time accidents, and I am normally just as happy to keep my car parked in the driveway and my butt parks by the wood stove for most of the winter.

Two years ago when Thing1 was sick, I had to suck it up and find the nerve to drive over the mountains almost every week and a winter that miraculously had a major storm almost every single time we drove. My concern for my son help quell my fear, but today I didn’t have a bigger fear motivating me. There was just a knowledge that our students need us to be there whether or not the weather is bad.

So I got up and showered and got the car out. I was rewarded on the way down with a glowing early morning view of the snow. I had an emergency backpack packed in case I get stuck. I have heavy duty ice and snow scraper and shovel, and suddenly I felt less like a tired and nervous middle-aged hausfrau and more like an adventurer — a winter warrior.

when I got down our mountain, the roads seemed easier to navigate. I thought about some of the women in my family who have been happy adventures as they get into their 50s and 60s and how I always joke that I want to be then when I grow up. As I pulled into the parking lot at school, accident free and wrapping up my morning spanish lesson on tape, I felt my old fears fade as I took a step towards becoming a happier adventure.

Bring in winter!

but this morning I had someplace to go .

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To Every Purpose

My journey to teaching began as a selfish impulse. I wanted to do something more meaningful and useful, but I also wanted more time for creativity.

Yes, you read that right. I went into teaching because I wanted more time.

Are you finished laughing at that yet?

I was still giggling about it as I sat at my desk on Thanksgiving eve wrapping up dishes and a last minute IEP.

Now as I write this, it’s the last minute of the last night of Thanksgiving vacation. I’m watching a winter storm bury us under at least 10 inches of snow as I try to figure out lesson plans for tomorrow.

I’ve also earmarked a little time tonight — and each day for the foreseeable future —- for blogging, always made a little longer because I illustrate most of my posts. The reality is, however, that I can’t complain about not having time for creativity. I can complain about having to squeeze creative writing into my day, but my day is nothing if not filled with the creative challenges of getting kids to engage with something other than an iPhone.

I heard a line in a movie recently that if you go to teaching, you give all your creative energy away to the kids. I don’t think that’s true. I think you give away time, but I think using that energy all the day is like exercising a muscle. It doesn’t get used up– it gets stronger.

I know the work-life balance will sort itself out as I get more experience, but, for now, I’m learning to distinguish when I am having trouble being creative and when I’m simply having trouble finding the time to exercise it exactly the way I want on a certain day.

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Holiday with a Side Dish served Dark

It takes more than a perfect menu to make a great holiday. It takes at least one good tradition, and sometimes those come from the craziest sources.

Thing1 had graciously offered to spend his first afternoon home from college helping me with the big shopping trip for the big meal that was coming up on Thursday. The sentimental part of his brain (coincidentally attached directly to his stomach) had apparently suggested that any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without now just one or two of his favorite recipes, but all of them, and he had ideas about the shopping list.

The final list included ingredients for his favorite green beans, the boys’ favorite cranberry relish, enough stuffing ingredients to feed an entire village, and, finally, burnt bottoms.

Yep, you read that right. With Thing1’s help, I finally realized that our family’s signature recipe for every holiday meal includes a big basket of buttery, flaky, burnt bottoms.  Here’s how I make them:

I start with only the best ingredients:

  • Enough tubes of Crescent rolls to meet the real and imagined capacity of two average teenaged boys (I just get what’s left in the freezer case).
  • A functioning timer
  • One too many irons in the fire (or pots in the oven as the situation permits)
  • Optional ingredients (one, maybe two, glasses of wine or a good conversation)

I roll out the crescent roll dough from the tube and then re-roll the pre-cut dough from the fat end of the triangle to the skinny end (The boys and/or their cousins often volunteer).

We then put rolls on a cookie sheet after a good debate over whether eating rolls baked on a non-stick coating or a greased metal sheet will be worse for us 20 years from now. We set the oven to recommended temperature, put the sheet in and set the timer.  I used to be tempted to set the timer a little early to keep the bottoms nice and golden, but this strategy somehow always backfire.

Someone usually pours a glass of wine, and I go back to preparing the rest of the meal, often talking with a family member or other guest about food or some other non-distracting topic like politics.

When the timer goes off, I check the oven to confirm that rolls are almost but not quite done. I set the timer for another minute or two – or, actually, I don’t – I know I’ll remember to check them again before they get too well-done just like I’ve never done for the last 23 years.

This year I deviated from the routine, setting the old-fashioned timer with the bell along with the timer on my phone. It was Thing1’s first Thanksgiving as a college man, and I wanted the dinner to be perfect. But the bell rang, and the bottoms weren’t even done.

I set out the cranberry relish and the stuffing and completely missed the buzzer on the phone. It was only as I pulled out the green bean recipe that a distinctly smoky smell made it clear that I’d done it again.

“Oh man,” I moaned and then laughed as I pulled out the first cookie sheet. To be clear, I am not the only hostess in my family cursed with the inability to serve anything but burnt bottoms in the bread basket, but, I was sure this Thanksgiving would break the curse.

I hollered the bad, but expected, news to my oldest son who blurted out what he had asserted in the grocery store when I presented the option for an alternative starchy side dish just a few days earlier:

“It wouldn’t be the holidays without a burnt bottom, Mom! Now Thanksgiving can officially begin!”

And when I thought about it each time, it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one good inside joke.

What’s your signature dish?

 

P.S. The burnt bottoms get eaten every single year – every single one.

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After They’ve Seen Paris

“Is it always this dead on Friday nights?” The college boy had home for ten minutes and the perfunctory welcomes and unpacking were done. He had been away for less than three full months, but the question highlighted how a few months can make an entire lifetime.

“I drove through the center of town, and there was no one out– at 9 o’ clock!”

“Well, it’s almost winter,” I said. The dairy bar has closed for the season, and the school sports teams have finished their fall championships. Absent a benefit supper at one of the churches, there is little to pull people away from their woodstoves at this time of year.

This should not be a new discovery for Thing1, but after a few months of being surrounded by midnight cookie delivery restaurants (yes, that’s a thing) and pick-your-favorite-food places, he has made no secret of the fact that his tiny hometown is, well, tiny.

The tininess is what drew us to the Arlington, VT area almost 20 years ago. We know most of our kids’ friends’ parents. We see their teachers at Little League and suppers. The  country store — the only store in our valley — proudly boasts, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” and, for the better part of the last 2 decades, the entire family has been on board with that philosophy.

But now Thing1 is discovering the other philosophies outside our mountains and valleys — as he should, and we’re discovering that, even though he’s home for the holiday, there’s a little, adventuring part of him that may not come home again for a long time.

In my head, I knew even three months ago that, once he’d “seen Paris”, he might not come back as the confirmed country boy we’d known all these years. But knowing something in my head and watching my first-born become the adventurer he’s supposed to be adds a bittersweet sting to the cutting of yet another apron string. It’s a realization that, even as he’s making his identity, I may be on the precipice of creating a new one for myself as well.

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