Christmas Cookies

Long before Pinterest could puncture our creative bubble, there was the nativity Christmas cookie cutter set.

I sometimes call Pinterest the dream site: I can only do those projects in my dreams.

Story_squareThe cookie cutter set was like that. The box seduced me with photos of beautiful cookies in the shape of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. A little piping of frosting, a few sparkles in the right place and we would have a unique nativity set.

And the best part was that we could do this project as a family with everyone helping.

I bought the set.

Yes, I knew we wouldn’t get the cookies quite as perfect as the photos. We had a two-year-old at the time. He’d produce a cute but goofy little cookie.

It was OK.

I forgot to factor in his mother.

I knew we were in trouble when I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven. Baby Jesus in the manger resembled a toasted marshmallow.

The sheep – and I’d made lots of them – all were blimps. Some had short fat legs but, since you couldn’t tell where the head was, the legs could have been porcupine prickles, too.

The camels’ longer legs had grown together while baking. “Is this a tree?” asked the six-year-old.

The shepherds had morphed into tall planks of wood and kneeling Joseph was now a giant S.

The kids were game, anyway. They slathered on frosting that was too thin so that the blues and oranges dribbled into each other making a muddy brown on the kings.

Well, I thought those were the kings because of the lumps at the top which I identified as crowns. Maybe they were cows, in which case the muddy brown frosting might make more sense.

I had planned to assemble the stable printed on the back of the box but tossed that after our older son frosted an angel as though it were a donkey. I couldn’t see displaying these.

When we were done, with sticky frosting on our fingers and sparkles drifting to the floor, I studied the blobs of cookies. “Well, this didn’t work out quite like I had hoped.”

My husband surveyed the table, surrounded by sets of eager young eyes, and picked up a cookie. “Then we’d better destroy the evidence.”

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Almost heaven

We were looking for a church home. Our five-year-old son was looking for heaven.Which he found at the church we visited.

It had many children to play with plus a huge box of donuts sitting on a table, free for the taking. This was his definition of heaven.

Story_squareWhen the service began, he joined us but, before the second song, he headed to the back. His father followed and found him in the bathroom, heaving his breakfast.

“Are you OK?” my husband asked.

He was. He washed his face, straightened his shoulders, and nodded.

“What happened? Are you sick?”

Our son shook his head. “No, I ate too many donuts.”

“How many did you eat?”

“Seven.”

His father laughed. “Wow.” And then he seized the parenting moment.  “So did you learn anything from this little episode?”

“Yep,” he said. “Stop at six.”

Laundry?

I have a friend who claims to love doing laundry. She’s still my friend, which, I hope, reveals a ton about my tolerance level.

My children were all instructed in the operation of our washing machine so that, by the time they could climb, they could do their own laundry.

Story_squareA result of teaching the kids to do their own laundry is that they now can use their bedroom dresser drawers for  books and computer programs because those drawers never see clothes. They draw clean clothes from the laundry baskets.

At least that’s the theory. Sometimes clean and dirty co-mingle on the floor.

I did mention I’m tolerant, right?

I cannot blame my upbringing for this laundry tolerance. My mother was a Type-A laundrist. A laundrist is someone who takes the chore of laundry seriously. Even to the point of folding and stashing clothes on the same day they were washed.

I’ve resisted such nonsense.

One day my husband came home with a story about the wife of one of his customers who ironed all her husband’s underwear. It wasn’t a hint. My husband has no illusions about my laundry abilities.

I don’t even fold my own underwear. Why would I iron his?

But recently our washing machine went belly up and my husband decided he wanted a front-loading set, those new energy-efficient machines that should save water and electricity.

So we have a new set with portholes facing into our laundry room. My husband is bummed that the dryer doesn’t fold the clothes, but he’s adjusting. I’m bummed the clothes don’t come out on hangers. I’m adjusting, too.

But I do have one concern. Our grandson, at 18 months, now likes to stand at the glass windows and watch the clothes tumble.

And I’m worried that this might be planting the seeds of a whole new generation of laundrists.

A magnificent cake dream

Our family has always dreamed of crafting those extravagant cakes like the Food Network highlights.

Some of the kids invested time on 4-H cake decorating units.

A 4-H project manual builds basic skills so unit one zeroes in a simple icing, a couple of tools, and a one-layer cake with the goal to exhibit the best project at the county fair.

Story_squareThe cake part proved to be a problem for daughter number one, who baked her show cake the afternoon before it had to be entered. When the edges of the cake wouldn’t release from the pan, she solved the problem by cutting away the edges.

Most of the cakes entered were 8” round but hers was more of a 5” lumpy. She slathered on icing but it was like trying to hide Mount Everest under an ice cream cone. No champion ribbon that year.

Daughter number two was the creative sort stifled by the rules for the unit. When she was required to form a mat of frosting stars, she didn’t understand why the cake couldn’t show through. It would be like hiding the tuba in the marching band.

No blue ribbon that year, either.

Our son, at age 10, signed up for cake decorating and even went to a workshop where he and 25 girls learned the fine art of placing stars of frosting on waxed paper. This, of course, made absolutely no sense to him except he licked clean the frosting after the workshop.

We found out later that he signed up so that he could be in charge of the family birthday cakes. He figured if he’d finished cake decorating, I’d let him do the cakes.

And lick the frosting, too.

His show cake came together on a hot summer day with frosting that needed a lot more sugar than he put in the bowl. Imagine a lava flow sliding across his design.

The lava-icing flow continued until he got the cake to the fairgrounds. His frosting border resembled the outline of Texas.

No blue ribbon that time either.

But he didn’t need any cake decorating classes to take over the birthday cake tradition in our family. I had once served  crumbs molded like the foothills of Colorado with icing drizzled over the top. I had hoped for a puppy shape but that didn’t work out either.

So I had no cake decorating tradition to enforce.

I let him take care of the birthday cakes.

I was in charge of licking the bowl.

Digging into the archive box

I knew things were going to get a little sticky when I uncovered an ink refill for a printer that I don’t remember owning.

I had cracked open my archive box to search for a CD (I’ve already dated this story, huh? My latest computer doesn’t even have a CD drive).

Story_squareBut archive box sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  Downright organized.

Mine is a plastic box with lid that contains CDs from programs I’ve installed. What a great idea, I thought when I got it. All my programs were safely stored in one place and protected from dust and stuff.

I don’t know why the ink refill was in the box. The printer must not have lasted long enough to even earn a refill.

Opening that box was like a trip down memory lane but without the warm fuzzy emotions. Unless confusion is considered warm and fuzzy.

Diving in was kind of like an archeological dig.

I uncovered a  CD with a big black question mark scrawled on the label. What in the world? Who labels their CD with a question mark?

Me, obviously.

Although nobody accuses me of being well-organized (well, someone did once but that was before they saw my desk), I took some pride in my box as a shred of planning. Every program CD went into that box after installation.

I am proud to say that there were no 5 ½ inch floppies in there.  Using my system, that’s a miracle.

I found programs that won’t run on anything newer than Windows 98 and I’m on an Apple platform now.  I found programs for pre-schoolers. (Our youngest is 19.)  I found a CD from our classical music days.

I’d like to blame this on the kids but they never open the box.  They just run the programs and don’t mess with the details.

Wonder where they learned that?

I’m sure there’s a major life lesson in all this. But those lessons tend to roll off me like tumbleweeds crossing the prairie.

So here’s what I learned: I’m cleaning out the box.

That leaves more room for archiving.

A cookie assault

Pushing the beaters into my mixer was guaranteed to bring at least one small person into the kitchen. A little like how the cat responded to the electric can opener.

No, exactly like the cat’s response.

So my four-year-old son appeared at my elbow right after I clicked in the beaters.

Story_square“Let’s make shape cookies,” he said, pushing a chair to the counter.

Impressive. The process to make sugar cookies cut into shapes with cookie cutters took longer. But I would teach him.

We mixed our cookie dough. “Now, we start with a ball, like this.” I scooped a handful of dough from the bowl and rolled it in my palms.

He watched intently, his nose drawing closer and closer to my hands. Yes, he was being a good student.

“Then I put the ball on the counter.” I set it lightly on the flour I had sprinkled out. “And then we use a rolling pin to flatten the dough.”

His eyes were glued to the dough. I rolled out the mixture into a smooth thin pancake and let him press the cookie cutters into it.

He selected a star. “That one looks like an explosion.”

What a creative idea for a cute little guy.

“I’ll do it this time,” he told me after the first batch was transferred to cookie sheets.

Maybe I was training a future chef. He took initiative and had obviously absorbed my careful directions.

He grabbed a handful of dough from the bowl and squeezed it hard.

“Well, you might not—“

Too late. He slapped the crushed dough onto the counter and began pounding it with the side of his fist until the mixture surrendered into an uneven flat lump.

For me, baking cookies is about the aroma and flavor.

For my would-be little chef, apparently it was more about hand-to-hand combat.

Building a cage

Story_squareWe can be a little frugal (I avoided other terms like penny-pincher and scrooge-like) in our family.

That’s why our daughter decided to spend a day crafting her own wire rabbit cage. Cheaper that way. I mean, frugal, of course.

She discovered some extra wire panels behind the garage and set to work with her materials in front of the tool shed.

She had to bend corners, crimp the back and front panels onto the main framework, design her own doorway into the cage.

She spent most of the time on her knees twisting and binding wire.

And then it was done.

She took a step back to admire the cage. It fairly glowed in the afternoon sun.

Her back ached, her hands were sore, and she decided she needed a little recreation after the big project.

We had 40 acres of open pasture and so a run on the four-wheeler looked invigorating.

Off she went. At 14, she hadn’t started training for her driver’s license but she handled the four-wheeler with experience.

She zipped across trails, feeling the wind blow through her hair. She made a loop around the house, leaning into the turn.

The cool early-evening air sliced past her as she drove on and on.

And then she swung around the chicken house with a little more speed than she intended and the four-wheeler refused to turn tightly.

She didn’t want to roll her vehicle so she eased out of the sharp turn.

Just in time to see what was ahead of her on the path.

She spent most of the day building her own rabbit cage but it only took about three seconds to flatten it with those big four-wheel tires.