Christmas Cookies Again

I used to be one of those who would make dozens of different cookie recipes each Christmas Season to give  away.   I would daily bake  a couple of different batches starting the day after Thanksgiving.   I would end up with hundreds of cookies of all sorts and varieties.   On December 15th I would bundle up my hand crafted treasures and give them away.   I would drive all over town to deliver my boxes of homemade goodies.     I would prepare 20 or so boxes and mail them all over the US.        I learned when I lived in Jewish neighborhoods how to make some of their traditional favorites to include in my collections.  No one was left out, friends and family alike were given a holiday treat box.    I wanted people to know I thought of them and they were important to me by giving them a gift of my heart and hands.      I followed that routine for years and enjoyed every minute of it.   Then about four years ago I got a job where the busiest season for them ran from Thanksgiving until the middle of January.   It made making all those cookies a chore and took all the fun out of it.   I finally gave it up.

I have spent lots of time this year re-evaluating things and decided that I enjoyed baking for gifts and am taking it back.  I still have my job, after all it affords me many things including the ability to afford the expenses associated with baking.   But I have decided that I used to like to bake and I am going to try it again.  If I stop baking it will be because it isn’t any fun any more not because my job has over taken my life.   So this weekend I am doing a two day marathon of baking.   I am not sure how many cookies it will yield, but I am going to allow myself two days of baking , and see how it goes.  I will keep you posted.

Volunteering Even When You Don’t Want To

My family  participates in the Bountiful Baskets food co-op.   As a co-op, the food sites are run by local volunteers.    The system would not work without all the members helping out some.    They suggest you volunteer every 4-6 visits.   From a volunteer point of view it is pretty short term about two to three hours on a Saturday.    No real hard work.   A pretty ideal volunteer set up if you don’t want commitment.

Yesterday I had thought it was about time and had decided that today I would volunteer.  This morning I woke up and wanted nothing to do with it giving up my free time.   It wasn’t like I had signed up and I was not leaving them in a lurch by not showing up.    There was always next week.   My mood was foul and my body was cold.   My excuses were plentiful and my motivation was pretty scarce.

In spite of this I still found myself at the food site at volunteer time,  ready to work.    I was part of the assembly line that makes the baskets up.  I sorted potatoes and tomatoes.   I split banana bunches up in to same quantities. So I found I not  cold, but actually hot.   I made conversation with my fellow volunteers and greeted folks who came to pick up their baskets.  My mood never became stellar, but soon I was smiling and life wasn’t so bad.  A couple hours later I was wiping out baskets with a damp cold rag to put them away for next time.  Finally we were sweeping the floor so we left our site in better shape than we had found it.

It was over I had volunteered.   I had fulfilled my obligation that only I knew about.   I had made a difference.   Not like the life and death  kind of difference, but in how easy or hard the job would have been if I had not been there to help.     Like the floor at our site I was in better shape than I had been when I started.

9 for 9

Yesterday was the first day that all our hens have laid.   The last two of this year’s hens have now laid their first eggs.   Nine hens, nine eggs.  Brahma chickens are very slow to develop and this year I have two in my flock.   I was not sure if they were going to lay before the snow flies.

This is a fun time for us, with nine hens laying we have more eggs than we can possibly eat. It is that time of the year that we find ourselves giving eggs to everyone.   It is lots of fun to give them to folks who remember farm fresh eggs of their youth.   I get to share them with friends and co-workers who are trying to eat healthier and with fewer nasties in their food chain.   I get to repay the kindness others have shown or the aid they have provided to us in a very simple, but hopefully meaningful way.

People ask  why don’t I sell eggs.  First because I keep a small flock.   It is only in the summer and when my hens spend most of their days out do I have a flock large enough to support extra eggs. Come winter my flock will be downsized to only six and shorter days will slow laying production.   Second and most of all  because I find joy in being able to give a dozen now and then away.  I get more back by giving away some eggs than those few bucks will ever make on my life.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Each fall when we returned to school from summer vacation, it seemed all my  teachers were programmed to require students to write or tell what they did on summer vacation.  I was lucky, in  that when I was a youngster one set of my grandparents traveled lots and I always had a story to tell.   As I have gotten older it seems we have taken fewer and fewer vacations.   I am always tucking a little money away for that proverbial rainy day or disaster.  I listen to the forecasts and squirrel away more money for that futuristic retirement.   When the bills are paid and the saving is done, it seems there is little left for a travel vacation.     I am happy to report we just got home from a few days away.

We traveled to Spokane, a city I had only driven through in the past.   We went to visit a friend who lived there. She had offered to let us use her home as a home base.   We arrived to find our friend living in one of the older  neighborhoods, with the large old homes from the turn of the last century, full of character, mature trees and small lawns.  It was an overdose of green considering that my home in Montana never can brag about an abundance of rain in August and this year has been particularly dry.

Though the heat was terrible and humidity not  much better, I did find myself sneaking in walks and taking in the architecture of the homes, the flowering plants and even the trees. The boulevards were lined with sycamore trees, creating an archway of shade over cobblestone streets. Almost every house had some kind of porch, and it was decked out with furniture, but seldom was someone out watching the world go by. I on the other hand found myself out there almost every chance I could, enjoying the fresh air, watching the runners, walkers and the visiting cats. It reminded me of summer nights where generations of my family spent the evenings after dinner outside chatting with neighbors, watering the garden, and swatting at mosquitoes.

Our hostess took us out to see parks with exquisite plantings.   There were areas dedicated to roses and an English garden.   There were beds of perennials and herbs.   We visited a conservatory with plants  too delicate for the full set of seasons that Spokane offers.   It was fun to see her share here city with us.

My husband and I are ethnic food junkies and always look for good ethnic food no matter where we visit.  On this trip we took a walking tour of Spokane that was part history and part food called Spokane Bites  It was a great time that reminded us of how much we enjoy a visit to the city.   Our tour guide was full of facts about the history of her city, recent to far distant past.   The restaurants they chose were local joints, no chain stuff here.   We sampled the best smoked steelhead I have ever had, along with a local brew.  We had two kinds of soup at a spot may downtown workers favor that turned into a local night time hot spot each night. We sampled wares from an Italian restaurant that the owner had actually come from our neck of Montana.  We had chocolates and deserts that were just grand.      When we finished both my husband and I wished we were staying downtown for a couple of days because there was so much yet to explore there.  We found ourselves thinking that for a day or two we could once again enjoy the mad rush of energy that comes with living downtown in a city.

Only a day later we would find ourselves back on the road heading back to our piece of paradise.  That dry land in a sparsely populated state with little ethnic cuisine.   As my husband and I chatted on our long drive home we agreed it was a good visit,  but we were glad to be going home.   It confirmed our life choices had been right for us.  We had lived in the heart of the city once and enjoyed it, but we did not long to return to that life.   We knew what it offered and what we were missing, but the scales of life were much more weight in our favor living the rural life in Montana.