One Smart Cookie

On the first day of Christmas vacation during seventh grade, I found myself with a whole day of nothing to do. I took my mom’s stained Betty Crocker cookbook out of the drawer to see what I could make that would shock and awe all of those who would receive her annual cookie tray that year.

I stumbled upon a gingerbread boy/girl recipe that was intriguing because I had not made those before. I checked to be sure all of the ingredients were in the house, and I rummaged around a drawer until I found a cookie cutter that was in the shape of a traditional gingerbread person.

As I went over the recipe and looked at the cookie cutter, I decided that just one batch was not going to be enough. I wanted to be sure we had plenty to give away. I decided to double the recipe just to be safe.

I gathered up all that was necessary and began an afternoon of what I was sure was going to be the best experience ever. The recipe called for seven cups of flour, but I was doubling it, so I had to measure out fourteen cups. That should have been an indication to me what was to come, but I did not take heed. I happily went along mixing, measuring and stirring.

I did each ball of dough in two bowls so I would not lose track of what I was doing and accidentally omit an ingredient. I decided that one bowl would be for gingerbread boys while the other would be for girls.  After chilling the dough for an hour, I preheated the oven and took out one bowl to begin rolling, cutting and baking. I pressed raisins in for eyes, noses, mouths and buttons. While one batch was in the oven baking, I was sweating it out attending to the next assortment.

My parents were going to a Christmas party that evening, so when they left, I was in the middle of production.

“How many of these are you making?” she asked as they left.

“I don’t know. I doubled the recipe so I’m not certain.”

With that, they departed for dinner, and I was left with a monster I was creating.

By the time I finished baking, the entire kitchen table, dining room table and an extra table I had to set up in the living room were covered with baked cookies ready to be frosted. I had not taken a minute to eat and had worked all evening in an attempt to use up all the dough I had made.

I cleaned up all the baking dishes and plunged into making a huge batch of white frosting that I split up for pink and blue frosting.  I followed the instructions in the cookbook by trying to make neat fringe around the wrists and ankles of each cookie followed by a hat.  My hand grew tired after the first few, but I looked up at the sea of naked cookies around me.  I couldn’t stop now.

As the hours wore on, my eyes were beginning to droop.  I heard the garage door go up signaling the arrival of my parents.

When my mom opened the kitchen door her mouth popped open and she froze in place.  She scanned the dining room and the kitchen with a look of amazement. Not the good kind.

“What is going on?  Are you still baking?”

“No,” I said trying to be optimistic.  “I am frosting.”

“Have you been doing this all night?”

I glanced at the clock.  It was midnight.

“I guess so.”

I went back to the cookie in front of me.  Over the moments spent with them, I silently vowed I would not eat any because I was so tired of looking at them.  After I finished, I was going to part ways with them for good.  My neck and back were developing stiffness and pain from hunching over cookie sheets all night long.

“How did you end up with this many?” she asked.

“I doubled the recipe.  I didn’t think I was going to have enough.”

“What?!”  She went over to the drawer, pulled out the Betty Crocker and found the recipe.

“Did you use fourteen cups of flour?”

“Yes.”

“What?! Fourteen CUPS of flour? Really?”

I put my head down and kept going.

“What are we going to do with all of these?”  I didn’t know.  My job was to bake them and frost them.  After that, my duty was done.

When I heard a gasp followed by the exclamation,

“There is more out here too?!”  I knew she was putting away her coat in the living room closet and had walked past the extra table that held more.

I kept quiet and continued on with my self inflicted slave labor.

I believe I finished just before 2 am and stumbled off to bed not caring what would become of my creations.

The next morning, she had packed all of them into multiple empty ice cream buckets and put them into the freezer until she assembled her trays to give away.  For weeks she brought them to work just to rid our house of them and by the fourth of July, she finally threw them away as everyone had lost interest.

In the years that have lapsed since then, I have only made that type of bakery good once with my daughters.  And, I did not repeat the mistake of doubling the recipe.  In my attempt to control what I thought was going to be lack, I created a mess that would never have transpired had I stuck to the original recipe.

This is exactly how life becomes complicated.  When a person entertains limiting thoughts or has a fear of lack, and she uses her own will power to remedy this false belief, all sorts of trouble can happen. I found out that trying to manufacture an abundance of something by my own doing was not a blessing at all.  It was a nuisance that I could not free myself from soon enough.

In the same way, when we find ourselves short on material resources, we have a tendency to give less and hoard more. However, this flies directly against a well known passage that states: Give and it shall be given to you.

It is a bit frightening to give a hand out when you are terrified of going under financially.  However, it can be exhilarating to actually follow through, put it to the test, and see how it not only brings a blessing to the receiver but also to the giver.

To rest in a state of peace even when it doesn’t seem like you have enough isn’t easy.  To laugh when you should cry, to sleep peacefully when you should be up all night worrying and to give a gift when you don’t think you can afford it, are signs that you believe all is well.  It shows that you are in agreement with God, and that is the sweet life of one smart cookie.

 

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Bringing It To the Table

As the smell of cinnamon and apples fill my home tonight from a dessert being prepared for the holiday to come, I am reminded of her. Even with the invention of the newest fan-dangled mixer with all the attachments, I still use hers to whip together a recipe that she would have hand picked herself.

When I feel the blades whirl beneath my grip on the handle, I think of her. She has been gone for awhile now. I use the word ‘gone’ loosely because she is more near to me than ever before. We don’t have the miles from Minnesota to North Dakota separating us anymore. She is closer to me than when she was on earth.

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There are times when I feel her standing near me. Watching. Encouraging me to do the best I can. She and I are kindred spirits of the written word. I may not be able to see her with my natural eye, but I can feel her presence surrounding me more than ever when I am at my computer writing.  She loved to write short stories and was quick to pen a poem.

I was always greeted when we arrived at her house with a long hug as if we could make up the lost time just in that moment.  From the minute I walked into her home, I was expected to eat from morning until night. This is how she really showed her affection.

It wasn’t unusual for her to look me square in the eye and say,

“You look hungry.”

People would probably call it a food addiction of sorts these days, but my Grandma Hazel loved to watch someone eat and enjoy the labor of her work in the kitchen. It was her Norwegian descent in full manifestation. No one would ever grace her home without leaving with his or her stomach distended.

Often, when the meals were done and the dishes had all been put away, she and I would spend hours at the dining room table playing cards. When I get too serious about life, I recall the many games of Hand and Foot, Crazy 8’s and Kings in the Corner she and I played. How she made me laugh with her dramatic sighs and feigned sadness if I was winning. If I would play a card that went against her hand, she would always say, “Why are you being so dirty to me?” with a shocked look and high pitched voice. It just made me want to win all the more.

Of course, no match could ever take place without a snack to eat as we battled it out with our Kings and Queens. There was always Brachs candy, homemade caramel corn or some other sweet confection. As we went along in strategy, she asked me questions about my life, and I told her my deepest fears and my biggest worries. I always knew it was safe to tell her what I felt without concern of the news getting back to my parents. She was an ally who truly wanted to know what was going on with me and would take the time to listen.

She would tell me about her childhood and her step-mother who was mean. How her house burned down when she was nine and the woolen dress she despised was the only article of clothing hanging outside on the line that survived. That she only was allowed to complete the eighth grade because she was needed at home to care for all the young children being born. And despite all of her hardships, she had managed to make the most of what she had. At the end of every story she told, she made sure I was aware that without God helping her through, she would not have made it. She emphasized the power of prayer.

Some grandparents leave a fortune to their heirs. Some leave no notoriety. She gifted me with the idea that nothing in life is too hard or complicated to get over as long as heaven is on your side. I am grateful to have known her so I can pass along her wisdom to my daughters not only with oven mitts on but in those times when life is turbulent.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, and the mixer does its job, Grandma Hazel is still bringing it to the table.

 

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What’s That Smell?


As I shuffled into the communal women’s bathroom in the early morning hours with my shorts, shirt and undergarments clutched in a ball, I began to wonder if this had been a good decision. I had thoroughly showered the day before I had arrived knowing that the facilities would be limited and crowded. The information sheet that was handed out at orientation emphasized that we were swearing over our lives, and our toiletry and solidarity needs would be at a minimum for the week. In essence, it was like we were transported to a women’s prison just for signing up to be a camp volunteer.   I realized we were not out in the woods eating sticks and scrounging for the biggest and softest leaf to use for private matters, but the buzzing fluorescent light overhead that was blinding me while the sun slept reminded me that I was not at my peaceful home.

I observed that some women were totally unfazed and seemed to be enjoying the chit chatter as they went about their business while the rest of us were wondering who had actually coerced us into doing this.  When a stall became available, I slipped in and began to figure out how I was going to get dressed without letting any of my items touch the dirty sticky floor.  I delicately draped clothes over the toilet roll dispenser and carefully placed my Ziploc bag of toothpaste, brush and makeup onto the top of the toilet tank. I made the decison to keep my flip flops on as I proceeded into doing a flamingo type stance to slip out of my pajamas and into my shorts. One foot remained in the sandal while the other was ever so carefully removed and found its way into a pant leg.  I was determined not to let skin come into contact with the ground.

I heard the room go pleasantly quiet as the ‘earliest of early risers’ chipped and chirped their way out to gather for breakfast.  They must have all jumped out of bed at once in a pack.  My ears were glad for their departure.  It was just me, the stall and whoever else had decided to get up at a normal rate of speed.

“What’s that smell? What’s that smell? What’s that smell?” “What’s that smell?”

A shrill woman’s voice echoed off the cement walls.   I paused with my head not yet through the neck hole of my assigned camp tee shirt.  It seemed to be coming from a stall two over from mine. I froze in place.

Who would ask such a question so loudly in a public bathroom?  Doesn’t one know that when in such a place that there may be scents that one may not like, but according to all good social graces we refrain from shouting out our nasal disturbance? Who would be so bold as to announce her disdain in a space that is set apart for such matters to be settled without judgment? It wasn’t like someone was in a restaurant or grocery store inappropriately letting gases fly.  We were in a restroom where this type of thing was to be expected.  This was unacceptable behavior that lacked decorum ranking right up there with yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

There was a frantic flush and the stall door crashed open.  Next, came the sound of soft soled shoes running for the exit.  Now, fully dressed, I slowly made my appearance to see other doors opening and all of us looking at each other for answers.

“What was that all about?” A lady with a shower cap peeked out from behind the curtain. “I heard screaming.”

All of us were thinking the same thing. Had a detestable odor sent a woman fleeing for the door? Was she outside sucking in as much fresh oxygen as she could?  I sniffed the air to test the possibility that I was missing something.  I detected only the usual fare of pink hand sanitizer soap.

After a few moments of this, we all resumed our activity wondering what had just happened.

“Ladies, I apologize.” I glanced up as I was about to put paste on my toothbrush.

No one said a word.  The silence was more silent than ever.

“I had an outburst earlier, and I’m sorry if I frightened any of you. But, my brownies were burning!”

I noticed the crooked hairnet that held all her grayish strands in place and her white apron had smudges of yellow batter on it. Her face was red and her breathing heavy.

Only one individual was brave enough to ask,

“Your brownies?”

“Yes. The kitchen is right below here. The oven is quite old, and I had forgotten that I had put a batch of brownies in.  When I was in here earlier I could smell them burning. I ran down the stairs into the basement and got to them just in time.”

There was a collective “oh” as we all realized she was the resident cook for the camp.

Sometimes things aren’t always as they appear. We are led strongly by our five senses which influence our decisions and opinions.  In some cases such as this, we can jump to a false conclusion because we are not aware of all the facts. Once explained, it all made sense.  I went from thinking she was rude to feeling glad that her baked goods went unscorched.

How quickly we can change our minds about something when given a new perspective. I have been attempting to utilize this skill on areas of my life that aren’t necessarily to my liking. I have found that even though I may still not  be excited about the circumstances, I can handle them better with insight.

And where do I gain this understanding? In the quiet moments while waking in the morning, I begin to mentally ask questions and then write down what I hear. Often, words of comfort and encouragement float in to remind me that I am not alone.  Passages such as: ‘Walk by faith, not by sight, ‘ gently drift into my thought process. It’s really not so much the words but the feeling of peace that calms my spirit so I can get out of bed and deal with whatever lies before me.  Knowing that I can call on guidance anytime for clarity makes life more carefree, leaves less room for error and makes jumping to the wrong idea happen less often.  I would rather go through life equipped with the knowledge that something is happening for a reason versus wandering around confused and feeling hopeless.

Still, there are those few startling phrases that one never really grows accustomed to..such as.. “What is this wet spot?” “What did I just step in?” “Is that barf?” And..”What is that smell?”

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