A Story Behind Every Cookie

I just made chocolate chip cookies with my eight year old. After the cookies went into the oven to bake, she ran off to play, and I was the one who carefully watched the timer and made sure the cookies came out at the exact right time, quickly sliding them off the cooking sheet onto a cooling rack so they wouldn’t overcook on the sheet. And it suddenly brought back memories. 

My friend Alyssa taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies. My mom was not a cookie maker. No one can beat my mom’s raisin cinnamon rolls or her brownies, but cookies were not her thing. So, I moved to Bethel, Alaska just before my 16th birthday without the great life skill of knowing how to make good cookies. 

Alyssa and I met pretty soon after I moved to Bethel, and our friendship quickly grew into Best-Friend-dom. We were in the same grade at school. Being a Christian was important to both of us. And that’s about all we had in common. Well, we both got good grades in school. She was on all the sports teams, President of the Student Body, involved in every single leadership thing there was and graduated Valedictorian. I practiced piano all the time, loved to read, had a quirky sense of humor, and did not hold any positions of leadership. I ended up being Class Secretary senior year because of her interference. She also would make crazy suggestions like, Let’s Go Running! What??? But, we adapted. I went running, she watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with me. I like to think that we were good for each other. 

But let’s get back to cookies. Alyssa’s family had the secret “Mrs Field’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe (which Alyssa copied into a recipe book and gave to me for a wedding present and which I have passed down to all my children). One time I checked, very carefully, and was able to see that yes, there were some slight variations from her recipe and the recipe that comes on the chocolate chip bag.. But, I honestly think that the Key to her amazing cookies was knowing the exact amount of time to cook them. It’s a science. It’s taken me many years to figure it out perfectly, but Alyssa, you will be glad to know, I am now a master too! 

Alyssa’s house was the perfect tundra-living house. It was two stories, but all the living areas and kitchen were on the 2nd story. That way, you had a breathtaking view of snow and lights, sky, stars, going on for miles and miles. I remember long winter evenings at her house. We would bake cookies while munching on chips and salsa (also something Alyssa introduced me to). We would make the perfect cookies, play games, talk. Sometimes I’d play their piano and we would all sing together. Or we would go out and play in the snow. Alyssa and her family introduced me to the “STEAM” which is a far-north tradition. Small wooden building full of hot steam, so hot that you end up walking outside in Alaska winter in your swimsuit and it doens’t affect you. Her family also introduced me to Lefse (Norwegian potato pancakes), snowmobiling, and all the thrills of having a Dad who worked for Fish and Wildlife and was a trapper on the side. 

I get up from writing and go in the kitchen to grab a cookie. They sure are good. It’s funny how layered our lives are. We bake some cookies, but oh, all the stories and history behind that simple cookie. It’s good to take the time to remember every once in a while. 

P.S. My husband is back at work, mostly recovered from his covid, thank you for all your prayers!

It’s a Place Worth Fighting For

I went jogging in my neighborhood this morning. I looped around and went over some sections of the road twice. I finished running and started walking towards my house. An elderly woman came rushing as fast as she was able, out of her house. She had a big grin and was holding a cold bottle of water. She called out, I’ve been watching you! And handed me the bottle of water. I’m Karen! And then she turned to go back to her house. 

The other day I was jogging/walking and I had hit my walking stretch and another lady called to me from her porch, wanting to know if I got out at a regular time every day, wondering if I wanted to join her on her morning walks. She also wanted to know if I needed a drink of water. 🙂

This morning, as I was running down a familiar road, I realized that I had a nodding acquaintance with almost all of these neighbors. My kids had played with a lot of their kids. I passed another lady out running and we waved at each other. We met last summer when a different neighbor held a block party. Her kids bring their dog to come greet my dog pretty regularly. 

Our next door neighbor has a little girl who is best friends with my foster daughter. That friendship, and their willingness to have my daughter over to play regularly, has been a life-saving thing for us. 

I ran into another neighbor at the grocery store last week. I testified at the trial of the murder of his son. He came up to tell me how the family was doing now that the trial is over. 

One of our elderly, very civic minded couples that live in our neighborhood has started a text chat with as many neighbors as they can add. I think we have forty people on the chat right now, and they are always looking for more people who want to join. They talk about the monthly neighborhood meetings, a community garden that we have down at the park, congratulations to the new parents on the birth of their child, does anyone know who this stray dog belongs to? (pictures attached!) 

Neighborhoods are great things. Our neighborhood has had a rough year. Lots of gun violence, deaths, craziness in our high school. At times I have had the thought, we should just move. This is ridiculous. We talk about it. Where would we want to live? (Definitely the country!) Wouldn’t a small rural school be better? But so far, every time I think about moving, I have a check. No. Not now. This isn’t the right time. 

And I think we don’t give enough thought to what we would be giving up. We have lived in this community for almost seventeen years now. And it’s taken us a long time to establish all these connections. But they’ve been established. They are here. This is our neighborhood. This is our community. And it’s a good community. Lots of good people. 

And I guess this is part of the  answer to the question a lot of people think, but don’t come right out and ask..Why do I live here? Why haven’t I moved? Because it’s home. It’s a good home. And it’s worth staying and fighting for the changes needed to make it a safer and better place. 

Adventures with Friends

We just spent a long weekend with our friends down on the coast of South Carolina. We’re driving back to Tennessee now, car full of kids, favorite music playing, kids counting down the minutes before we can stop at McDonalds for lunch and get a Happy Meal. We’ve got the three youngest sitting right behind our seats, my husband is driving with earplugs in because the high shrill voices of small children wears him down. 

We had a wonderful time playing, kayaking, visiting the beach. As we were talking with our friends, we realized that we have been friends for seventeen years. That seems unbelievable. We met when we were all newlyweds with babies. We were remembering the first camping trip we did together. I was very pregnant, it rained, we set up a canopy and cooked under it while we threw all our kids into our van which happened to have a tv in it. 

Over the years we have done life together, in a very real way. Together we’ve figured out parenting challenges, marriage challenges, career challenges. We’ve encouraged each other in our spiritual walks. We’ve babysat. We’ve crashed at each other’s houses. We’ve taught each other our favorite hobbies. 

Our friends have moved around while we’ve stayed put, but we still manage to see each other a couple times a year.

And the old quote comes to mind,

 “Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.” Joseph Parry

Yesterday our friends took all the little kids to a playground while my husband and I took some of the older kids on a bike ride. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had given my friends zero instructions on how to take care of my children and I had given my kids zero instructions on listening and obeying. Because it wasn’t necessary. I already know they can handle my kids. My kids already know these adults and respect their rules. These are people I don’t have to give backstory to. These are people that I can not call for months, and then send a random text about a random topic and I know it won’t be a problem. 

Gold. 

Friendships are funny things. They ebb and flow. They aren’t something we have a lot of control over. Sure, we can choose to be the best friend possible, but it has to be reciprocated. Sometimes it is, and it’s wonderful, sometimes we just change and grow apart. Sometimes we reconnect later, when our lives and interests intersect again, and sometimes we just remain a fond memory from the past. Whatever the case, long-term friends are rare and precious things and I am very thankful for them. 

I would post some pictures of our trip, but I don’t have any because I was too busy having fun. All I have are a couple pictures of kids squinting into the sun. Ah well. My son asked me today if I had taken a “mind picture” of something, so I could remember it for later. So, yes. I’ve got a whole album of Mind Pictures and another chapter added to our Adventures With Friends. 

The Traveling Clothes

It’s funny how an outfit can get associated with an entire time period of your life. When I was six and half years old we moved from Haiti back to the States. My mom was planning on going back to school so she could become a PAC and come back to Haiti to do medical missions. 

 

I remember shortly before we left, I was looking in my closet, and in the back of the closet found an outfit hanging up. It was a white sleeveless tshirt with blue anchors all over it. There was also a pair of navy blue culottes. Culottes? I didn’t own any culottes. Now, my next-door best friend Helen had lots of culottes. Maybe these were her clothes hanging in my closet? Maybe she had left them here and Mom was just waiting till she could give them back? I went and asked my Mom and she said that actually this was my traveling outfit, I was going to wear these clothes when we got on the plane to leave Haiti. They were my traveling clothes.

 

Oh. Ok. 

 

I remember the confusion of emotions. Excitement that I had a new outfit with CULOTTES! (I’d always wanted culottes!) Anticipation of getting on a plane. But also a bit of dread since I had no idea what all this meant. 

 

I remember when we got to the airport. My clothes were new and a bit stiff. The airport in Cap Haitien was still small and simple at that time, an open air tin roofed structure with a small area of seats. Lots of gates and chain link fences. For some reason or other me and my best friend quarreled at the very last minute and we either did not say goodbye or it was a very stilted farewell as the group of missionaries that had accompanied us hugged and kissed us on our way. But, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on that, we were getting on the plane. 

 

My mom handed me some Chiclet gum that she had bought from a vendor outside the airport. We rarely got candy or gum so this was a special treat. She instructed my brother and I to chew our gum while the plane was taking off so our ears wouldn’t pop. We obediently and industriously chewed our gum as the plane creeped down the runway, turned, and then suddenly started moving very fast. Everything rattled, we gripped the armrests, and then abruptly, all the shaking was gone. We were up in the air. My face was glued to the window as I watched Cap Haitien and the Mountain and the Bay slowly become smaller and smaller, and then all I could see was the ocean underneath us. 

 

We stayed in Florida for a little while. My only memory of that was going into a grocery store with my parents. Being a lot closer to the floor, I happened to see a small bag of Reeses Pieces in the trademark orange bag. The bag was open and only had a couple pieces of candy left in it. I quietly picked it up and tried out this little treasure I had found. Wow. This stuff tasted good! I quickly finished off the bag and then hid the evidence. Maybe a year later, I learned in school that you were not supposed to eat candy you had found because it might be poisoned. I was still too young to understand how poison worked, and I went through an anxious period of time while I wondered if that candy from a year before was still inside of me and might poison me yet.  

The next time my memory kicks in was when we arrived in Nashville, TN. My mom was looking at two different schools, one in Nashville and one in Morehead, KY where we had lived before on the family farm. 

 

While in Nashville, we stayed in a little guest house of sorts. An upstairs tiny apartment. I remember it was rather dark inside. I’m not sure how we got hooked up with this guesthouse. Some kind of church or mission connection I imagine. I remember that outside the house were long grassy lawns that my brother and I ran around on. And downstairs was a grizzly older woman who I somehow made a connection with. When we left that place she gave me a stuffed toy cowboy as a parting gift. I named him Cowboy Bill and kept him for the rest of my childhood. 

 

I remember while we were staying at this apartment, my Mom bought us a box of Lucky Charms cereal. This was amazing. We did not eat cereal in Haiti. In Haiti we had cooked breakfasts. Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, etc. What was this heavenly ambrosia? It had marshmallows in it! Marshmallows! For breakfast! And they were all pretty colors! And this began the long debate in my mind…Do I eat all the marshmallows first and then have to eat all the plain oat cereal afterwards? Or do I eat all the plain oat cereal first and then end the meal with the bliss of mouthfuls of marshmallows? (It took years of gaining maturity before I could learn to enjoy eating it mixed together, the perfect blend.) 

 

Though I’m sure I had other clothes, all of my memories of that time are of me wearing my white sleeveless tshirt with the blue anchors, and the navy blue culottes. A dark haired little six year old girl. Silently taking in the world in her traveling clothes. 

 

In Memory of My Aunt

I just got news that my Aunt Rachel passed away a couple hours ago. She had been fighting a long hard battle with cancer and today was the end. 

 

And I sit here. Feeling numb. 

 

I haven’t been in touch with my aunt, besides the occasional FB message, in years. Lots of reasons. Family is complicated. My relationship with my aunt was complicated. 

 

But, there was a time when it wasn’t. 

 

When I was six and half, we moved back to Kentucky from Haiti. My mother was planning on returning to school to become a Physician’s Assistant and we were looking at being in the States for the next five years. We settled into a little trailer on my Grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky. My grandparents were still living in Haiti as missionaries, and my Aunt Rachel and her two children and husband were living in my grandparents house. 

 

We were now neighbors. 

 

This was the mid 80s. My aunt homeschooled at a time when it wasn’t popular. She had an opinion about everything, and taught me the art of discussing a broad array of subjects. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. 

 

She taught me how to play piano. She would sit down and start playing something really fun, and then if we kids showed any interest at all, she was quick to sit us down and show us how to do it ourselves. She taught all of us kids (my two cousins, my brother and I, my next-door best friend and her sister) all kinds of fun duets on the piano. When I showed even more interest, she taught me about chords and inversions, and then she taught me how to play Fur Elise and how to jazz up Silent Night. She would sit and play Chopin and I would sit next to her, watching her fingers fly over the keys, mesmerized. 

 

Every summer my aunt would get on a kick. One summer it was roller skating. She made sure we all had skates and then made a big space on her porch and we would skate and skate. She taught us how to skate backwards, and do twists and turns, tricks. We would limbo with skates on. Another summer it was jump rope. She got out a big rope and attached it to a post on her porch and showed us how to swing it and then taught us how to jump in the front door, and jump in the back door. We learned how to jump with the steady beat of my aunt turning, the rope at just the right height, and then we learned how to jump to the erratic turnings of my little cousin who could barely get the rope high enough for us to get under. We knew all kinds of jump rope rhymes and had so much fun. 

 

One summer my aunt put up a volleyball net in her yard and taught us all how to play volleyball. She was an avid nature person too, and she knew the names of all the animals and plants and birds. She was a wealth of knowledge.

 

My aunt also had ponies. Ponies that she trained herself. She trained them how to respond to word commands and very gentle nudges of the reins. Heaven help the child who pulled on the bit or was rough with the ponies in any way. She taught us how to saddle them up and how to ride and we would spend hours riding through the wood trails. 

 

One summer she got a buggy and taught one of the ponies how to pull the buggy, then we would ride up and down the holler road in the buggy singing folk songs. 

 

In the winter, if we got enough snow, she would hitch up an old sleigh of sorts to the pony and would let us ride behind, whooshing through the snow. 

 

Later, she got her kids into gymnastics and she persuaded me to take gymnastic lessons with her kids for a while. My cousins far out-paced me, they had natural talent that I was lacking. But I remember her willingness to help drive me to the gym so I could learn too. 

 

She loved animals. Especially birds. She always had a pet bird of some sort perched on her shoulder or her head. At various times she had ponies, dogs, cats, snakes, pet rats, ducks, hedgehogs, frogs in aquariums, and a whole host of different kinds of birds. And there are probably some other animals that I have forgotten about. It was a child’s paradise. 

 

When I moved away at the age of eleven, back to Haiti, she was a constant correspondent. Her letters and cards were always full of stories and words of encouragement. She was convinced that all of us kids were the smartest kids in the world and was sure that we would be amazingly successful as adults. 

 

When I think of my aunt, those are the years that I remember. 

 

For various, complicated reasons, we fell out of touch, only keeping a hazy eye on each other via FB. But, when I heard that she had cancer and was not doing well, I reached out to her. Thanked her for being such a wonderful aunt to me when I was a child. Thanked her for passing on her love of music. Told her how, when I teach piano, I always think of the way she taught me, and I try to emulate her. 

 

She wrote back, kind words. 

 

I am glad that we had that moment. 

 

And my heart is numb. 

 

Thank you Aunt Rachel for being An Aunt Extraordinaire and for investing in my childhood. I pray for peace for your children and everyone else that you have left behind.