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ornamental memories

December 5th, 2010 | 18 Comments »

My friend Missy, the Marketing Mama has gathered some blogging friend together to talk and reminisce about Christmas ornaments that they love, and the reasons why they’re so important to them. I knew I had to participate in this fun blog carnival because I’ve often considered the fact that should I ever have a fire in my home, one thing I know I would be crushed to lose would be my boxes of Christmas ornaments. The history that unfolds each year as I pull them out and unwrap them never ceases to amaze me, and to fascinate Griffin. He loves looking them over as much as I do, and has contributed many ornaments over the years that are absolutely priceless to me.

And that’s where I will start…. with the first ones he gave me.

This wreath was made when he was in Kindergarten, in the after school program he went to each day.


It’s the simplest thing; a hangar twisted until it was round and then covered with dozens of strips of cut white plastic garbage bags that were tied on. Here you can see a little more detail.

My little guy was mighty proud of this when he showed it to me, and I was really impressed, especially when his teacher told me that he was very diligent about tying his strips on to ‘make it look really nice’. I’ll never forget his face as she praised him, and when he handed it to me. He looked like he could burst wide open. This wreath graces our front door every year, and I love how it looks against the lovely green tone.

The very same year, from his actual Kindergarten class came this adorable little Christmas tree, complete with his Kindergarten picture. It’s faded almost to gray and most of the glitter has worn off, but it is always placed in a very prominent position on our tree every year.

The best part about this particular one is that I have one to match it from when I was in Kindergarten. That faded little paper chain was something I put together when I was but a five-year old too, some 30 years before my own young man. His is imbedded with the year 1999, and mine was made in 1969. These two ornaments always hang next to each other.

Another treasured set of ornaments date that far back as well, and likely even before. These are ones that my Grandma made for us each year.

Some of them even still carry the tags she attached, penned in her careful script.

Each year on Christmas Eve, my Grandma came to our house for dinner. We loved her arrival because she always had a box with her, filled with her handmade ornaments, one for each of us. She had 15 grandchildren, and she did this for all of them each year. We loved the anticipation of what was to come, and often mobbed her to help her with her coat, get her boots off and have her situated so she could bring out our box. We would then rush to our huge tree in the corner to add it to the staggering wealth of ornaments hanging there already. It seemed like each year when we opened our boxes that we had so much to place on that tree. I get that same feeling now, but I place them all carefully so that I can see each one. My Grandma passed away in 1988 and had long gotten out of the habit of making our ornaments each year, but to have these on my own tree always reminds me of her warm smile and the way she would throw her arms around us to give us those perfect grandmotherly squeezes.

I have even yet another set of very special ornaments that were given to me by a friend when Griffin was three years old.


These are superbly old fashioned glass ornaments and are very fragile. I’ve lost a few over the years to eager little fingers but when I pull them out of their tissue packing I remember a year that was very difficult for me, and a friend that stepped up to try and add some necessary cheer to a cheerless situation. It was my first Christmas as a single parent, I had little money and was feeling extremely sad about celebrating. This friend took me out shopping one evening and bought me a small little tree for my tiny apartment, a stand to put it in, a cute holiday tree skirt for underneath, some light strings and a few ornaments, including this set. They simply said ‘You need to have Christmas for your little boy.’ and I was not allowed to say ‘No’. I’m very grateful for that generosity because it helped make our first Christmas alone a little bit better. Growing up, we had a small box of old-fashioned ornaments that were very similar to these so they carry fond memories of when I was really young too.

One last decoration that requires special mention is this porcelain christmas tree.

Griffin’s paternal Grandmother gave this to me many years ago. I had always admired it in her home each season, and when she moved from a house to an apartment, she passed on many treasures to me, including this little tree. It has tiny glass bulbs that slip into holes on the tree branches, and when it’s plugged in it shines with it’s numerous colored lights on a lamp stand in my office. It’s so unique, and so perfect. Grandma Annie passed away this past March, yet she left me several wonderful keepsakes of her and this tree will always have a place in our holiday decor.

This year, on a whim, I took that old tree skirt from my friend, the one that covered that tiny Christmas tree in 1997 and laid it out for the cats to use as a festive means of celebrating Eli’s first Christmas with us.


Because I think everyone in this house should get into the holiday spirit, even if they’re covered in fur.

Join the rest of the bloggers participating in this fun walk down memory lane. Follow the links to their sites to see what they’ve got hanging around their homes this holiday season.

remembering

November 11th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

It’s Veteran’s Day, which is set aside as a day of remembering those who served our country. And then there’s Memorial Day, as a day to remember those who died serving our country.

But where’s the day, the national holiday that honors our loved ones and the normal folks who didn’t lay down their lives for their country? Where’s the day that we remember the mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles and grandparents that are no longer a part of our lives? The friends we’ve lost? Why is there no national holiday that honors those everyday heroes, the ones who raised children but left them too soon? The friends that no longer smile upon us and brighten our lives? The grandparents that dote on their grandchildren?

My answer to that is simple- it happens every day. Or it should happen every day.

If you’ve read this site for any amount of time you know that I no longer have my Mom and my sister Karen in my life. They died three years apart in the mid-90′s. It was a really awful time of my life as both died suddenly and tragically. But I think the worst part of losing them both is how the world simply forgets about them once they’re gone. My family certainly doesn’t forget; we can’t ignore those holes in our memories regardless of how long it’s been. And no one who has ever lost a parent forgets that influence. My Mom has been gone for 16 years and yet I still hear her laugh, and feel her guidance every day. I still bristle years later from the callous remark made to me a short time after my Mom died when someone made the offhand comment that “Jane was your Mother.”

Jane still is my mother, no less than she was when she was here and even more so because she’s gone. The influence never stops. And the fact that she gave me life doesn’t stop at her death. It’s the same way with my sister, who doesn’t cease being my sister once she leaves this Earth. Along the way of learning to navigate life without them, I began to think it was vital to do something to remember them, every day. And somehow have a means of showing others that I will never forget, and that they shouldn’t either. I didn’t know what that would look like but somehow the vision I had kept coming back to Dragonflies. And then browsing the Internet one day, I came across this from The Dragonfly project.

“In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their group ever came back after crawling up the lily stems to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what had happened to him.

Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on the top of a lily pad and went through a glorious transformation which made him a dragonfly with beautiful wings. In vain he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realized that even if they could see him they would not recognize such a radiant creature as one of their number.

The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation which we call death is no proof that they cease to exist.”

Which then led to this permanent reminder that I carry every day on my right forearm.

Our culture doesn’t like death. We don’t honor it much and for most people, I think the thought of dying is pretty frightening. The means of one’s dying becomes a source of discomfort too, such as the case with my sister, who committed suicide. People don’t understand it and it’s better to just ignore it than talk about it, talk about why, try to make some sense of it. People turned their backs on me when my sister died because they couldn’t handle it. And when I would talk about her, I saw fear in the faces of others. We don’t honor the dead. We sweep them under the rug and act like it never happened. Or we want to, anyway.

But I don’t. And I won’t. That’s why I inked the symbolism on my arm. And I love it when people ask me what it means. To me, it means the world, my world and what I’ve lost. That’s important to me and I will never tire of telling anyone about it.

where i’m from….

September 28th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

I’m from the heartland, midwestern stoicism, the strong and silent types that never talk about their problems, much less admit they even have them. I’m from the large green house on the creek, the body pulled from the water that has never left my memory, from the moaning of pine trees outside and the wind-whipped leaves, verdant green playgrounds with twisted dirt paths and hiding places. I’m from the idyllic childhood that fractured at the seams and poured forth to disappear forever; I’m from the fresh and innocent turned empty and aching, from the heart that sought refuge for too many years to count, or get back. I’m from the pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start all over again side that finally, finally got it right.

I’m from a land of four seasons, the blistering summers, burnished autumns, icy winters and fragrant springs. I’m from summer vacations of cabins and sandy beaches, swimsuits and fishing poles, boat rides with thick lifejackets and sunburned noses. I’m from shortie pajamas, crisp cotton sheets and bedtimes before the sun went down. I’m from backyard picnics, Mom’s potato salad and jello in the colors of a rainbow. I’m from hotdish and baked chicken, mock chow mein, meatloaf, homemade cookies and bars and bundt cakes. I’m from smudged peanut butter fingers, graham crackers with butter and cinnamon sugar, and waffles on Sunday, Dairy Queen treats, pails of ice cream, the old green water jug in the fridge and gallons of milk.  I’m from the coffee percolator on the stove and the dishwasher that connected to the kitchen faucet. I’m from the accident-prone tomboy with skinned knees and stubbed toes, torn fingernails and broken front teeth, the wild tangle of sun-bleached hair that my mother could never tame. I’m from constant moving around, never feeling settled; a written note of promises dropped on the sidewalk that I tried desperately to catch before being borne away in a stiff wind. I’m from the eyes that watched the promises disappear, never to return.

I’m from the college educated parents, the fifth child in a family that was supposed to stop at four. I’m from sleepovers and birthday parties, bicycles, neighbor girls and their brothers who teased. I’m from shag carpeting and plaid sofas, a console TV in a wooden cabinet with four stout legs, the grand piano in the corner, a record player that sometimes caught on fire and burned fingers from the hot iron. I’m from Ennis and Jane, and influenced by Roger and Elaine and Carol and Jan. I’m from Kris and Karen and Mark and Mike. I’m from Karen, full of suffering who gave up and stopped her own story, breaking us in a way that both stunned and saved us. I’m from Mike who was, and still is my hero. I’m from Jane who left me far too soon. I’m from Jesse who dealt me pain I didn’t deserve, and Griffin who smoothed it all over. I’m from the husband who tempered my heart, who showed me unconditional love again, who held me up when the world wanted to rend me from his hands. I’m from a little part of every soul and smile that’s crossed my life. I’m from every friend who led me through a season, those that faded and reappeared, from the lives that touched mine in the most unexpected and perfect ways.

I’m from ambition and depression. I’m from high expectations and the infertility that turned my dreams into an eternally empty and painful reality. I’m from that which never seems to settle, from a desire to always better my life, from the need to be heard and appreciated, from a tumbleweed of emotions that catches on a stray branch only to be yanked free once again. I’m from coffee and cooking, laundry, gardening, reading, writing, evolving, seeking and reaching. I’m from the admission of imperfection so I can truly stop striving for the impossible; I’m from brokenness and redemption, from the Holy Trinity that saved my life, from the desire for internal peace, from forgiveness and moving on, from stretching and never ceasing. I’m from every moment of a lifetime that’s tattooed on my mind, still constantly shaping, directing, influencing and spurring me onward.

{{this post was inspired by the ever thought-provoking Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary, fueled by Amy of The Never True Tales and this writing exercise}}
{photo credits to ‘Oh Eliza Jane’; The Christian Meditator; The Bostonist}

this face, this life

September 7th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

{this photo makes me weep- it’s my Mom, and Griffin when he was 2 weeks old}

My boy is a Junior in High School this year. I repeat this to myself often, trying to implant it in my head in a way that makes it sound familiar enough, like I’m truly talking about my own child instead of some stranger who hangs around my life.

I only have a few friends with kids the age of my own. We can commiserate on parenting teenagers, watching them grow and evolve and it helps to see another set of eyes grow wide in wonder at the amazing transformation that happens right in front of us. But a lot of my friends are parenting young still; they’re experiencing potty-training, weaning, first days of school and all sorts of other milestones that have already faded to sepia tones in my own mind. They lament the startling rate at which their children are growing, and yearn to keep them young. I want to embrace them because I understand. But I also want to tell them ‘The best is yet to come.’ And I truly mean that.

I’ll never wish for my son to be young again. I won’t. Beyond the fact that he’s just so much of an amazement to me, I look back at our life then, and for us, so much was different. And it wasn’t always fun. I parented single-handedly, with a few dedicated adults that lent solidity to my son’s life. But it was a lonely and empty existence sometimes. There was no one to ease my worries as I sped to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night (twice in one month, people) with a sobbing, anguished child in the backseat. There wasn’t an option of rest at the end of a long and tiring day, someone to make dinner while I tried to push the stress out of my head. No one else was there to assemble the tricycle, teach the proper way to swing a bat or encourage the training wheels to come off. At the same time, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, no one else saw the first bowling strike, the first homerun, the first exclamation of “My tooth came out!!” or the triumphant first circling of the driveway on a two-wheeler. I get to cherish those memories alone. I got to teach the importance of a bike helmet by pointing out the dent that took that first impact. I got to hold the hand of a nervous boy the first time he sat in a dentist’s chair. I got to see his face as he confidently told me that he didn’t need me to walk into his Kindergarten class with him anymore. It is both lovely, and bittersweet. Even as the tone of them fades in my memory with the clang of an ever-changing clock, no one can take them away from me. No one.

There are times my boy comes rolling down the stairs in the morning and I am still shocked at the young man in my house. But I am not sad to see him grow, evolve and become the person he was created to be. This is exciting. This is an adventure. Those firsts are all behind us and his entire life is forming and beginning to unfold now. And I am amazed. I’m humbled. And I’m pleased. When people tell me how polite he is, I barely am able to thank them because I’m too busy thanking myself for never giving up on the constant, day-in and day-out reinforcement of teaching him manners, even when I would have rather torn out my fingernails before reminding him to say ‘Thank You’ or ‘Excuse me’ again. When the girl cousins tell me how nice it is that he puts the toilet seat down, again, I feel better about the thousands of times I hauled him back into the bathroom and made him put the seat down himself until he got it on his own. You put it up, you put it down. You take it out, you put it back. If you open it, you close it. Every day, every month, every year, for years on end thinking I would go mad with the repetition. When it pays off on it’s own, and my friends- IT WILL- you will feel the same that I do. It isn’t pride, really. It’s the inherent satisfaction of a long and difficult task that’s finally- finally!!- shown it’s just rewards.

I may have, at some time felt the urge to keep my boy at a certain age forever, but as he grew I realized that I don’t have to wish for that anymore because it’s already there. It’s just there in memory, but it’s the sweetest memories of all because as he grows, I can look back and see just how far he’s come. I’m excited to see what his life will do in the years ahead. I do have my own wishes where his life is concerned, and they are far more selfish because they’re for me, not for him. I wish to never forget the first time he smiled, or laughed, or said “Ma!” or the sound of his voice before he went through puberty. I wish to never forget the look on his face when he finally got something, when he fully understood for the first time. I wish to never forget how empathetic he was a young boy, the time he sat by my side at the tender age of three, stroking my hair as I lay on the floor crying, trying to ease the pain of a terrible backache. Or the time, stuck in rush hour traffic on a snowy December afternoon and going nowhere, that we talked about how excited he was for Christmas to come, and he says to me- all of five years old- “Mom, it’s too bad that you have to spend Christmas without your Mom.” I wish to never forget, at maybe 2-1/2, when he wanted to call his beloved Uncle Mike, my brother (that’s them above, BFF’s now and forever), and when the answering machine came on he said loudly “Pees call me yater.” I wish to never forget how he loved to help me with everything I did, so I’d put a sponge in his hands or give him a dust cloth and allow him to clean to his hearts desire, even if it took him an hour to do one simple job that would have taken me 5 minutes. And I especially don’t want to forget when I told him that I’d met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and he smiled and said “That means he’d be my Dad, right?”

I can look at him now and see the person that I envisioned sixteen years ago, as he lay his chubby baby cheeks on my chest and gazed up at me with his perfect love. I can see that I’ve given him a firm foundation to base himself on, that he can speak for himself because I gave him a voice, that he can stand up for what he believes because I first believed in him, that he can laugh himself silly at how ridiculous life can be because I had to show him that even as beautiful as it is, it will never be perfect. I can see how resilient he is because he learned from me that not everyone will be his friend. I can see the good choices he makes because I gave him room to choose for himself. I see how he aptly deflects the pain of life because I never lied to him about how the world will hurt, how life is often unfair and how difficult some days may be. It went against the very instinct of parenting sometimes, but I knew he would never survive if I sheltered him, kept him safe within the circle of my arms or never let him know the truth. It’s better for him to see the world through the filter of my eyes than to be pushed into it with no ability to cope.

I loved him enough to do that for him, and to show him anger, frustration, pain, sorrow, grief and despair. I loved him enough to discipline him, sometimes with severity. Yet I also loved him enough to explain why I felt all those emotions, and why for his entire life he was going to have to follow rules so it was best that he start now, not to mention being strong and humble enough to apologize if my feelings made me into an ogre. I always made sure he was aware that it was his behavior that disappointed me, not him, and while I may not have liked what he did, I still loved him more than anyone else on Earth. As he grew and changed, I learned also to forgive myself for the bad times, for telling myself I was a horrible parent when we had a rotten day and for thinking I was doing irrevocable damage by those punishments. Because, you know what? He doesn’t remember it. He just remembers the love, the lap time, the stories before bed and the talking we would do before he fell asleep.

Two years ago when he entered High School, I knew it would be but a blink and a sigh before we were planning his graduation. I’m OK with that. I’m OK with the young man who roams my house, loves his friends and his music, his video games and God. I’m OK with the young man emerging, spreading his wings and learning to fly. I’m OK if he comes home and heads to his room, covering his ears with his headphones, tuning me out. I give him the space and he’ll come out eventually. I’ll be waiting for him when he does. I’m OK with requests for ice cream, Mavericks roast beef sandwiches, and the occasional steak. I’m OK with our cribbage games, even when he skunks me. And I’m OK with knowing that all too soon he’ll be off on his own and showing the world what he can do, with that amazing smile, his politeness and helpful attitude and the ability to put the seat down.

memories in the ashes

February 20th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

I’m Minnesota born and bred, raised on summer sunshine, hot dish and 10,000 Lakes. Although there are times that I wish I had the experience of living in other places, experiencing other cultures, I can’t deny my roots, the ones that run deep. My entire family is from this area and I’ve never considered living elsewhere.

Almost all of my upbringing occurred in South Minneapolis. As an adult, I migrated across the river and took on Saint Paul, learning to love it’s unique fingerprint, then I packed up and ditched the urban landscape for the quiet of the exurban living, out where frogs sing to the glory of a spring night, coyotes howl and possum wander lazily under the bird feeders (and pick the underside of your sunroom for their demise- ugh!!) Deer are pretty used to seeing humans, and vice versa. But my heart, my life and all my stained glass mosaic of childhood are firmly rooted in the 55419 zip code. There isn’t a time of my entire life, from my first permanent memories onward, that did not include the tiny commercial corner of 50th and Bryant, the two brick buildings that lined 50th Street, home to an ever-changing parade of tiny businesses. It was a nod to “Locally Owned and Operated” before anyone even knew what that really meant, or how important it was to a community.

And it simply shredded me inside to watch it burn.

All photos courtesy of Kate NG Sommers of The Heavy Table

The power of social media and the internet reaches beyond almost any scope of comprehension. I turned on my computer around 1:30pm on February 18th and took in one Tweet from the local Twitter populace that said ‘Corner of 50th& Bryant in SMpls is scene of large fire” and something clutched deep inside me. I could see the area in my eyes, and as the tweets, news videos and updates began pouring through the internet, I sat utterly transfixed with tears streaming down my face. The heart of my upbringing was so deep in that area. I sadly posted the news on Facebook and the lifeline reached out even more.

My high school is just up the road from there- Washburn High School, of which I entered in 1978 as the first Freshman class, and exited in 1982. Through the magic of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with all of my old high school friends and they are scattered around the US, and even in other parts of the world, but when they started seeing my update, the shock and grief overflowed. As did the memories. It was a flood. Between that and the Twitter updates, the scenes of devastation playing out live in front of me, it was all I could do to keep from laying my head on my arms and weeping uncontrollably.

I lived barely 1/4 of a mile from there as a child, and as a very young girl walked with my sisters and the neighborhood girls, nickels clutched tight in our hands to the tiny store that was once in that building. The owner, a crotchety guy named Paul, always intimidated us a little, but the candy selection gave us reason to face him. Back when candy was a nickel, we got off easy at that place, gleaming through bags of Sugar Babies, ropes of Bub’s Daddy bubble gum and Black Cow suckers. One of the earliest and most painful memories of my life occurred at that store; it had a huge heavy door that we always struggled to push open, and one day as I attempted to dart through it, it slammed shut on my hand shattering the tip of a finger. It was a ugly bloody mess that dripped all over the worn linoleum floor of Paul’s store. And the stain never went away. I could go back time and again only to see the shadow of my blood on the floor. Paul eventually passed away from a heart attack, and the store closed.

There was an incredible deli in that building at one point, named Zorka & Ollie’s. It was a tiny, tiny space that made monstrous and delicious sandwiches, slathered in their signature Zorka sauce that was both spicy and sweet. It was the first place that dared to sell thick cut potato chips, and I distinctly remember the initial magnificent crunch that hit my mouth. Z&O’s had wonderful coleslaw and terrific potato salad. It was way ahead of it’s time with the fresh made flavor, variety and personal touch that everyone craves, and these days actively seeks out. A sandwich from Z&O’s was a feast.

In the corner of the building, long before Patina took root- an event I remember feeling quite ambivalent about- there used to be a store called Punky’s Corner Consignments, and long before that, a gorgeous Antique store. That antique store was where I honed my love of antiques, and of classic old china to be exact. As a young girl I would go in there with my Mom and marvel at the patterns, the delicacy and the array of beautiful dishware and serving pieces. To this day that love remains. And Punky’s was a fun, funky and odd place that you could find any manner of interesting and unique items. My friends and I could roam there for hours.

All of these memories came roaring through my head, as I watched video and took in photos of the flames eating up a piece of history.  The loss of the current businesses is sorrowful; the two restaurants were stellar destinations in the local dining scene, and at the forefront of a whole movement bringing fine dining into neighborhood pockets of the city. I don’t doubt the area will be rebuilt, but the historical aspect of that building, with it’s artistic brick work and façades can never be duplicated again. Driving through there, even with the new businesses so well established and a more modern feel to the block, I never failed to sense the tremors of history, the laughter of my friends and I, the wonder of the small child in me as acutely as if those moments were still occurring. With the collapse of the roof, and the imminent wrecking ball, it likely will all be pulled down, memories gone for good. Hopefully a new generation of locals will come to know and love what stands on that corner in the future.

Even with such devastation, two high points are well worth mentioning; other than minor injuries to two firefighters, no one was injured and there were no deaths from the blaze. And the venerable Malt Shop, in a building across a tiny alley was spared any damage. The Malt Shop holds a vast sea of memories for myself, my friends and more people than I even care to imagine. My friends and I almost lived there in high school, and the wait staff knew many of us by name. One underlying current that came in from many of my old classmates flung far and wide was the urgent need to know that The Malt Shop survived. Some of these old friends of mine left Minnesota after graduation and have returned only for visits, but the history, nostalgia and a piece of their heart is still there with me in Lynnhurst.

chocolate toll house bars

February 7th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Mmm hmm….that’s right. Chocolate. Toll house. Bars. An unlikely sisterhood of fudgey brownie and the famous toll house recipe baked into a pan. I’m really a cookie lover at heart, but sometimes I just don’t want to scoop and bake repeatedly. Sometimes I just need to cream, stir, blend and fold myself into contentment, the end result being more easily achieved than what requires parchment, trays and repetitive movement. Take one recipe for your favorite version of a Toll House bar and stir some good cocoa powder into the dry goods. Take a bite and sigh with contentment. See? I would never steer you wrong.

I can bake. I love to bake. My lifeline to my guardian angel, my mother, lies in my mixer and flour container. With a spatula. I have no fonder memories of her than baking with her, the sunlight streaming in her kitchen window. I should recall her laugh, which was loud and shrieky, I mean, have you heard mine? She caused that, no doubt. My brother too. When he and I laugh together, people cover their ears. They wince. We get asked to be quiet in movie theaters, and we shock people. But her laugh, while amazing and warm was just a blue ribbon pinned on the strong and capable woman that she was, and that I strive to be. I may bend in the breezes, or twist against the savages of life, but no matter what happens, I am still the person she raised me to be, no more or less. With a spatula in hand. And cookies. They were her favorite. She made pies, bundt cakes (ooh, lime green ones sometimes. Eeek.) and she made bars too. But cookies were her specialty. Now I could do without the nuts that she loved, and to this day I haven’t been able to abide by the walnut, so overpowering was that in my youth and usually rancid if I am able to judge now. She put it in everything, and I picked them out of everything. If I was woe to forget to throw them away, the pile left behind would elicit one of her pretend indignant shrieks of “KATE!!!” because she just knew me that well. It was always me who carefully and diligently despised her walnuts. Or maybe my siblings were just better at remembering to dispose of the evidence.

One thing that Griffin does love to do is make cookies now and again. I like to keep everything on hand in case he gets a hankering for a homemade treat. The other day he was all set to make some Toll House bars when he discovered we didn’t have enough butter. With the saddest sigh that he could muster, he replaced all the ingredients he’d taken out and silently went upstairs. Mommy guilt overcame me. Although we had a few options available in the form of frozen commercial cookie dough, there is one thing that my teenager has inherited from me that sticks like glue: when he gets his mind on something he wants, he can’t settle for anything less. So the next day I went to the store and bought a lot of butter. Then when he was gone one night, I made a pan of bars and on a whim, added cocoa to the flour mixture.

My mom is probably smiling right about now.

Are there any alchemist secrets to baking? I’m really not one to ask, as for me baking is like looking at my right hand. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t recognize what might make it special. Or difficult. But plenty of people struggle with it. Baked goods fall flat, are dense and hard, they don’t rise enough or they balloon out of control. The fall when they come out of the oven. You know what? Mine do too. Even after a lifetime of experience, I can still often see fault in my bars. This pan, for instance, was so beautiful and fluffy when I pulled it out of the oven, and 20 minutes later, the center had collapsed like a mutual fund. It happens to me all the time but it never stops me from trying. They taste the same. And really, when I die, no one is going to be standing at my casket shaking their heads morosely and saying “Her bars always collapsed. It was so sad.”

The cocoa gives these familiar and comforting bars an added depth. While Toll House bars are nice and all, they really lack the pizazz of their more colorful and opulent baked counterparts. They’re reliable and sound but they’ve been left behind for everything sweet and dotted with sea salt, doused in browned butter, lavender essence and gold leaf. Oh Toll House, those new millenium treats smirk,  you are so 1975. Place them on a table with something exotic, and the poor plate will get skimmed over. Turn it into a delicate brownie-like, cakey and soft square, and it will stand apart. If nothing else, it will just make your mouth pretty happy. In a less expensive way. And we like that, don’t we?

Chocolate Toll House Bars
by Kate, adapted from the original recipe. My version is a little different so read it through. Some new tips are included.

2-1/4 c. AP flour (i used half whole wheat flour)
1 t. baking soda
1/2  t. sea salt (this is a personal preference; I don’t like the taste of iodized salt in my baked goods. use what is right for you)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 c. softened butter – NO substitutions (or at least don’t tell me about it)
1/2 c. EACH white sugar and brown sugar (firmly pack the brown)
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/8 c. (or about 3 T. ) whole milk or cream (i used vanilla soymilk)
1  12-oz package Chocolate chips of choice (i use Ghiradelli semi sweets)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. In a large measuring cup, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, or a stand mixer, blend the soft butter and both sugars until fluffy and light. Be sure to really beat these well. The more air you incorporate into this, the fluffier your finished product. Beat it, scraping the bowl occasionally, for at least 5 minutes. Longer if you can.

Add the eggs, vanilla and milk. Blend well. Now remove the beaters and scrape them into the bowl.

Add all the flour at once, and with a stiff rubber spatula, begin gently folding it into the butter mixture. Remember to scrape across the bottom of the bowl and gently turn it over. Don’t stir it or you’ll deflate all that air you beat into the butter. Watch what you’re doing and when you’ve incorporated about half the flour, stop folding and add in the chocolate chips at this point. Continue to fold the remaining flour into the mixture, along with the chocolate chips. There will be a single magical moment when it all comes together in a beautiful glossy homogenized mass, and at this point, make sure there is no flour at the bottom of the bowl and then stop folding. Scrape it into the prepared pan and gently spread it to the edges. It’s fine if it doesn’t look perfect. Bake it for about 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick to determine if it’s done. Remove pan and allow to cool before cutting.

KATE’S NOTES:
I know that all recipes for these bars tell you to incorporate all the flour and then fold in the chips. Somehow this has worked for decades, but once you incorporate the flour, the more you stir and mix it, the tougher it will get and the bars will come out denser than you might expect. If you add the chips partway through the flour step, the finished product is lighter and you get more distribution of the chips. If you’re like me, you prefer your chip ratio to be even, not clumped up in some spots more than others. Even with the beating and gentle folding, these bars collapsed but they aren’t dense, just moist and fudgey.

This recipe calls for less sugar than any recipe you’ll find in print. With the addition of the milk, and of course those chocolate chips, there really isn’t the need for that much sugar. I’ve realized as I get older and experiment with baking that many, many recipes are too sweet, and cutting back sugar is always a good thing, isn’t it?

And yes, most recipes don’t call for milk to be added but if you follow this one, the additional cocoa needs to be balanced by a little more moisture, and the milk adds a nice touch, making them sweeter with a bit of richness. Experiment with what you have on hand. Flavored coffee creamers might be lovely to add a hint of something extra. And if they fall while they cool, no one will notice because they taste simply amazing. Especially for breakfast with some really dark coffee.

perfect cornmeal waffles

January 27th, 2010 | 25 Comments »

Winter weekends sure can be a mixed blessing. You’ve got an entire day spread out in front of  you with endless possibilities; time on your hands and hours to make just the way you want, and yet, if you’re like those of us in Minnesota, you often wake on those long days to crackling cold air and sunshine thats full of promise but delivers nothing in warmth.

Those are the days that just require waffles.

There’s something about a crisp and aromatic waffle that deems it a culinary perfection for a chilly winter morning. A morning that you know needs to lead to a productive day. A morning where the coffee pot seems to be endlessly working, where your pajamas are often more desirable than a pair of blue jeans, mornings such as one that finds you casually sipping your brew, and noticing that the bright sunshine has highlighted your neglect of the vacuum cleaner, the dustmop and a Swiffer cloth or two.

I’m sure others can relate, right?

I grew up with Sunday morning waffles. It was eagerly anticipated to come down the stairs to the pungent scent of the percolator on the stove as it bubbled away, competing with the creaky old waffle iron, hissing emphatically, cranking out perfect rectangles of golden hued delectable treats. I do love pancakes, especially ones that stray off the beaten track of breakfast food; pancakes with shredded apples and yogurt in them, bananas and pecans in a whole wheat pancake, chocolate chip flecked ovals cooked to soft perfection and then topped with summer cherry sauce. Pancakes even spread with peanut butter and eaten out of hand. Oh, do we know about pancakes in this house, yes we do. But waffles, why there is really no other means needed to enjoy them other than good butter and syrup, because the waffle, in all it’s dented glory is the perfect palate to top with a few slices of cold butter and then drizzle warm maple syrup over to run through tunnels, cubes and edges to dress them in sweet buttery delight. Those edges crunch, the syrup absorbs and the bites come together in the mouth, a marriage to linger over, knife and fork in hand, coffee to the side. I’ll eat pancakes for dinner, and often we do, but waffles are strictly breakfast, and best on the weekends when their sturdy personality buoys you up for the long day ahead.

And who wouldn’t love the crunchy and wholesome addition of some cornmeal to the waffle?

I’ve made cornmeal studded pancakes before, and really, they’re pretty good and all, but there’s something about the added crunch of cornmeal on batter placed in the waffle iron that just sort of gets me right there. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that. And when I came across the recipe for these crunchy beauties on Kristin’s lovely blog, somehow I knew I would adore them like a treasured memory so I put together a double batch. People, I made waffles for hours, it seems. Hours. Did I care? Oh no, not at all. You see, after I made the first one and dressed it appropriately, I consumed it with gusto. My tummy, loving the introduction of it, politely asked for another. And I complied. The batter seemed endless, but I stockpiled waffles for the next few days and two packs to go into the freezer. We are happily away in waffle ecstasy. Don’t bother to look for us, ok? We’ll be fine, really and I will come back when they’re gone and do it all over again.

Oh yeah, and after I ate that delicious breakfast, it spurred me on to clean my house from top to bottom and boy, did it look nice in the dazzling but cold winter sunshine then. All thanks to a perfect little cornmeal waffle.

Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffles
(from Kristin at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, slightly adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing waffle iron

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting 2 more times.

In another large bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and oil. Add flour mixture all at once and whisk just until combined.

Preheat a waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 °F.

Brush waffle iron lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with more oil before adding each batch.

Serve waffles with syrup.

Cookies, version 2009

December 10th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

Sugar Cookie Memoirs

August 26th, 2009 | 5 Comments »

Growing up in South Minneapolis, there was a bakery that my Mom went to regularly on W. 50th St. between Aldrich and Bryant called Meyer’s Bake Shop. It was a tiny little place with decorated cakes in the windows and mirrored cases along the walls, loaves of yeasty breads in baskets on the countertops and long glass front cases that held every imaginable delight, right at eye level for a kid my age. I remember the decisive creak of the door as we pushed it open; the warm of the room, the smells…oh the smells!…. that rushed forth in the humidity inside to meet us. My head swoons just recalling what it was like.  Mom would load up on sandwich breads, rolls or buns and chat with the friendly ladies behind the counter as me and my sisters would oogle the baked goods, the luscious cupcakes, fudgey topped brownies and petit fours, waiting until the expected moment when Mom would tell us to pick out our cookie. We always got to choose one. Karen wanted Oatmeal Raisin, Kris usually took Chocolate Chip. I asked for a Sugar Cookie every single time.

sugar cookies 012

Meyer’s had the finest sugar cookies. They had scalloped edges that had the perfect crispy snap to them, with centers that were soft and moist. The cookie nearly melted in my mouth and was rich in vanilla and butter, with crystallized sugar covering the surface. I never refused a trip to the bakery with Mom. Meyer’s meant Sugar Cookies. Getting just one was a wonderful experience, although I easily could have eaten as many as I could hold, if just once given a chance. It was perfection in waxed paper.

But then life as we knew it ended, and suddenly there were no more trips to the tiny neighborhood bakery, no more moments of sugar cookie bliss. We moved too far away, life became more about making it through each day than about bakery breads and kindly chatting. And even when Mom made me a batch of specially requested Sugar Cookies, the flavor was flat and uninspiring. I ate them, but they didn’t have the same snappy crunch or sweet tender bite. Sometimes I would ride by Meyer’s and see the decorated windows, and think in my mind that I had to get back there and buy myself a sack of their Sugar Cookies. A sack that would be full of the nostalgia I sought, and craved. When I was in high school, which was about a half mile or so from that bakery, I went down there one day after school and pushed open the big heavy door. The creak was still there, and the smell of yeast and sugar came rushing to my nose like I hoped it would, but my teenage eyes took note of the worn countertops, the dusty curtains in the window and had I ever realized that those cakes were fake? The ladies behind the counter weren’t very friendly, mostly they looked tired and worn. The glass cases were scratched and one had a long crack in it. The selections of breads were minimal, but in the cookie case lay the prized scalloped sugar cookies like always. I bought six of them and eagerly dug into the bag as I left the store, yearning for the first buttery bite. I was going to stuff myself with each one of those golden discs and no one was going to stop me.

sugar cookies 005

But the cookie that came to my mouth was nothing like I remembered. It was pasty and dry, and left a coating on my tongue and lips that could only have come from shortening. The butter was gone, a wisp of memory. It was crunchy through and through. There was no soft interior or moist crumbs. It looked the same, but it was wrong. All wrong. And it was a crashing disappointment. Somewhere along the way life had veered off into the direction of adulthood, and the whimsy of simpler days ends up left behind in nothing more than shadowy memories. What I wanted from that cookie was to be taken back to something that no longer existed; a trip to a neighborhood bakery, holding on to a trusted hand and the sweet buttery bite of love. I know that life has to change, and we have to grow and move on, learning hard lessons along the way and laying waste to a warehouse of memories, but really, do the beloved flavors have to go with it? Maybe the cookie was exactly the same, but my mouth, having now experienced the bitter plate that life pushes our way, had become jaded and sour. It’s probably a combination of the inevitable change for both the cookie, and the hands that consumed it.

sugar cookies 008

So it would stand to reason that I’ve looked long and hard for a recipe that closely duplicates that flavor and crunch. It has to be with butter and just the right touch of vanilla. The edges need to be crispy, the interior moist and soft. And it needs the scent of my childhood. I’m fairly certain that what was in that cookie memory from days back when wasn’t much different than any recipe out there, but surrounding the standard butter, sugar, egg, flour and vanilla was the cozy cocoon of a life that had yet to break at the edges, where trust was all you needed that from the moment you awoke to when you lay to sleep at night, someone had your back, and was holding your hand. At some point we’re all cast out into the chasm, finding our footing and learning how to navigate a life we know nothing about. We seek comfort in our foods to help remind us that it wasn’t always this way. This recipe comes awfully close

Sugar Cookies
1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, give it a few more turns with the mixer. Here’s where you don’t want to mix more than necessary. The dough will come together when it bakes, I promise.

sugar cookies 003

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie.

sugar cookies 010

The cookies will bake up just fine if you don’t wish to flatten them; that’s just my preferred method. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway through.

I like to remove the cookies right way, on the parchment to a cooling rack. These are pretty sturdy once baked, and will slip off the parchment easily with a gentle nudge. You simply must eat at least a few of them warm. Of course, a glass of cold milk, or a nice cup of coffee or tea is an excellent accompaniment. The cookies will become firmer as they sit for a day or two.

Dads of any shape or kind

June 21st, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Here’s to the Dads of life, no matter what form they take.

Here’s my Dad
dads

That’s me, yup…on the right; kid sized anyway. My sister Kris is on the left. I must have been 7 or 8 because I still have my original front teeth which were broken in an accident when I was 9. I vividly recall that sweat shirt I was wearing as being one of my favorites. Funny how you can remember things from so long ago.

I have a very fond memory, food related, of my Dad. When we were younger one of our most requested dishes that he would make for us was Fried Chicken. I don’t recall how he did it precisely, I just remember that it was so delicious and moist that I could eat it until I was about to burst. The smell alone was enough to make me crazy. It wasn’t anything fancy, but we loved it. Time with my Dad meant pizza, pigs in a blanket, lots of ice cream and plenty of fun.

My Dad taught me to swim, patiently teaching me to arch my back with my arms out to the sides, relax and breathe as I tried to float. Over the course of one winter, he would regularly take us to the pool and play all afternoon with us, and I got so good in the water that in high school I was on the swim team, and I recall that he told everyone he knew that his daughter was a swimmer and that I had got my start as a skinny little kid learning how to swim at his side.

Each Spring my Dad would take us for a fun leisurely walk from Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, to the edge of the Mississsippi River. It wasn’t very long, but we were pretty young and it seemed like to took forever. We would linger on the riverbank, tossing stones, watching boats and exploring the water’s edge. The day always ended at the Dairy Queen nearby, with an ice cream cone or a Root Beer float. Those were my Dad’s favorite.

One of my very earliest memories involving my Dad was from when I was 4 years old and learning to ride a bike. My brother Mike was teaching me, running up and down the sidewalk with me as I pedaled frantically, picking me up after I wiped out and soothing my scrapes and bruises with graham crackers before taking me back out to try again. This is, by far, my fondest and most beloved memory of childhood. I was riding that bike by the time my Dad came home, and as he pulled into our driveway, he stopped to watch me come pedaling down the sidewalk, bobbling around like the novice I was, and of course, without even understanding what was going to happen, I pedaled right into the side of my Dad’s car and crashed to a heap. Mike helped me up and pulled the bike upright. My Dad looked at him, and at my shining face, bruised and scraped knees and elbows and said  “It’s a good idea to teach her how to stop too.”

buddies003

This is my brother Mike, with Griffin, who is maybe 9 or 10. Mike has been a doting Uncle, and a wonderful father figure to Griffin from the time he was born, and they have a wonderful bond. Mike is famous for teaching Griffin Apple Baseball, using the abundance of the fallen apples from his backyard tree to enjoy a rousing and loud game of Baseball, complete with exploding apples. Never have I seen Griffin having so much fun as I would see on those Fall weekends, the yard rich in colored leaves and Griffin, at about age 3 or 4 with a giant plastic yellow bat, standing with his favorite Uncle smacking rotten apples around their yard. It was a sad day indeed when Mike had to cut down the old apple tree as it meant the end of an era. Mike and Griffin golf together, take in current sci-fi movies and other hits and enjoy all kinds of fun together like sleepovers, bowling and Boys Day Out at the Twins baseball games. My brother has been a rock in Griffin’s life, and the love is very apparent.

Dads come in all forms, you know; it isn’t just the ones that create the life that can be a “Dad”, in fact, sometimes it’s in the ones who see the need and step in to fill it that I feel are more worthy of the title. My husband, my Mike, is one of those people, and I’ve extolled the merits of his attention to Griffin many times. It takes a very special person to look into the eyes of a child and accept them into their hearts and soul even when they’ve missed out on the first seven years of that child’s life, nor share one scrap of genetic material. These two have formed their own unique form of father-son love, and it’s wonderful to me to listen to them guffawing over old videos of Red Dwarf, seeing them glued to Mythbusters or The Dirtiest Job or find their heads bent over any number of projects and the basic everyday stuff of life that they’ve decided to try and figure out.

Griffin is so very lucky to have not only a great Dad, but a wonderful doting Uncle and a terrific Grandfather. Happy Fathers Day to you all, and my heartfelt thanks at making my son’s life so much more rewarding and fun.