I'll Never Write a Novel

The Memoir of a Personal Essayist OR Confessions of a Theatre Widow

Monday, September 08, 2014

On College Selection

The other night my family gathered together for dinner. It was awesome. The food was delicious, but to have all my siblings in one place was beyond any culinary pleasure. I love my family. In the midst of the chaos that is dinner for six siblings, spouses, and dozens of kids of the next generation, I got a chance to chat with my oldest nephew. He is 17. SEVENTEEN. I remember holding him when he was a newborn. I treasure him. Because he is a treasure. He is looking at colleges now because he is a senior in high school. Good gracious.

He is a smart kid, as nice as they come, and has been raised well. He will do exceptionally well at college, no matter where he goes. We were discussing everything that goes into the process of picking a university. Location, programs, campus vibe, etc. He has visited a lot of campuses so far. He had strong impressions of the feeling he got from the people he met, and his sense for what kind of school it is. I shared with him that I never visited my university before choosing to go there. That's craziness. Bonkers. I grew up under a half hour drive from my college and I had never set foot on the campus until I had already enrolled.

Who does that?

What I ended up telling my awesome nephew is this: I knew I was supposed to be there. And I encouraged him to confidently decide that he knows where he is supposed to be.

I am an indecisive person. Just ask my frequently annoyed husband. I mull over things far beyond their mulling point. It is hard for me to make a final choice without feeling like I have thoroughly studied all my options. Did I say thoroughly? I won't make a decision on a block of cheese at the supermarket without consulting my Just4U app, and maybe some circulars, and definitely by comparing price per pound with all the other cheeses. But I made a very expensive, life altering, incredibly important decision without every last ounce of detail on board. And I was right. I also told my nephew that if he hated where he picked, he can always switch. People do that. Successful people do that. The world is full of opportunities.

I adore my college. My love for it is profound. It fully helped me realize the direction of my life. My husband and I met our first weekend on campus, and married while still students. I saw my skills and gifts blossom under the encouragement of great mentors on what is a truly beautiful campus, as it turns out. And the people, all the people, are wonderful. I am so grateful for my incredible friends made there. It is a very special place. In my current gig on the Alumni Board for the university we hear presentations from the admissions office. They talk about the importance of campus visits in student decision-making, I sometimes wonder why I am different from all those other students. And I am so happy I knew where I was headed.

The same might be said for my decision to get married while in college. To be clear, I might tell my nephew he's crazy if he says he met "the one" within his first week of college. My husband and I met within the first two days at college (although we didn't actually start dating till our sophomore year). By the time we got married we had heard every question under the sun from people trying to ascertain whether we were sure we knew what we were doing. Most people thought we were crazy. And maybe we were. But I couldn't have chosen a better match, and I might not have found him if I had picked a different college. All I can say for my wishes for my nephew's college choice is I hope he isn't too far from home, but only he knows what's right for him (I have been gently trying to persuade him to pick my university). I just cling to the hope that I will get lots more times to sneak away for good conversations at family dinners. Another thing I am 100% positive of is that my nephew is a great person, the kind of guy I hope my boys grow up to be like. No additional research necessary.

My campus at Pacific Lutheran University. See, beautiful.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Sometimes I refer to myself as being lazy. This is not accurate. I am a hard worker. My dad once told me that he thought my husband and I were there hardest working couple he'd ever seen. At one point in college I was taking a full course load while working five jobs. Hard work does not scare me. However, I occasionally find some great shortcuts so that I can either A) enjoy life more, or B) find ways to finish one thing so I can get moving to something else.

I love to cook and bake. I am not the fastest at this. Any time I see one of those reality cooking shows where there is a time limit imposed on contestants I know, with every fiber of my being, that I could never finish on time. Some of it is economy of time. I am a clean as I go kind of person. I don't like a pile of dishes at the end and I don't like to cook in a mess. Baking is therapy for me. I like the rhythm and the product, and it makes me uneasy to feel rushed. All of this being said, I do like to keep my style rustic. I don't want to spend unnecessary time on fussing over something when my goal is mostly to make something just taste great. Simplicity is the key.

So, what if I told you that you can make fantastic, crazy-delicious chocolate chip cookies without painstaking process of scooping many mounds and without waiting to load trays in the oven? Well, perhaps born out of laziness, or the need to get to the rest of my busy life faster, I have created a recipe for Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies. Make the dough, spread it in the pan, then you bake just the one pan of cookies and you are done. I mean, these are GREAT cookies, made all the better by how simple they are. Huzzah!

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

1 cup oats, pulverized with a pastry cutter (or food processor) till coarsely ground

2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces (or 1 package) chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I like a mix of chocolate chips and chunks, some semi-sweet and some dark chocolate. I feel strongly that variety is the spice of life)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9x13 pan and set aside.
Combine dry ingredients (first five, thru salt) in a bowl.
In a stand mixer, or in a bowl suited for a hand mixer, cream together butter and sugars till creamy and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and combine till blended. Add in dry ingredients in 2-3 additions. Mix till combined, but not over mixed. Add chocolate chips and stir in with spatula or wooden spoon. Chill for at least ten minutes.
Put chilled batter in buttered 9x13 pan and bake .for about 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and just done in the center.

I assume this goes without saying, but you can now cut into as many squares or bars as you see fit. I suppose this could be just two bars, if you want. I won't tell.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It's All Temporary

School started on Wednesday. I now have a second grader. And my biggest little man officially begins a five-day school week in Pre-K. I feel tempted to say that this, this life of kids always off to school, is how it will be now and forever. As more of my buddies head off to school it feels like this is all I will know. But, it's not, not really. The beginning of the school year is just a reminder that this is all temporary.

When summer began I mused, "What am I going to do all day, every day, with all three kids home?" I thought, "This is going to last forever!" But, quick as a wink, summer is over, and a new school year begins. And, as it turns out, this is the only time that will be just like this.

This is TR's only year in Pre-K. What a year of firsts and discoveries this is. It heralds greater independence and a genuine understanding of what it is to still be little. Seeing him make his first art project with his classmates was precious and classically TR. Asked to draw a self portrait, he promptly grabbed scissors, cut off the corners of the page, squeezed out some glue, made a mini sculpture of four scraps at the center of the page, quickly colored around them, and looked on with pride. All the while, the other kids who were following the standard rules, coloring with the given colors, as per the directions, looked on with awe and surprise. My problem solver found a new, unique, inventive way to solve for the task at hand, as usual.

This is G's only year in second grade, which is an incredibly special year for kids at her Catholic school. This year is filled with intellectual and monumental spiritual learning. I feel like that is a real gift to my little girl who will excel at the spiritual part, as she always does. It will motivate her at times she might struggle. I am grateful for that. She talks a lot about feeling like she is called to be a saint. We talked about this with a priest friend of ours recently. His advice to a seven-year-old for how to be a saint, "Do everything you love, just invite Jesus along." Her First Communion opens the door for her to do that in a new way, and she will love it. And I will love watching it. And it will only happen once for her first time. Then this moment will be gone, as everything is fleeting.

This is my special time with my two and a half year old pumpkin. Everyone calls him Barley, but he is just my baby. Barley isn't sure he wants to have all this time without his big playmates and best friends home. But a little solo time might be just what he needs as he rolls through this magical stage. More likely, it's just what I need. Then, this time next fall, he will start nursery school. Everyone will get dropped off at 8:20. And I have no idea what will happen next. For now, he's still all mine. For now.

Summer begins and summer ends. Each school year comes and then it goes. First grade, lost teeth, first loves, heartbreaks, all here and gone.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a mama friend in New York when we both had little kids and were pregnant again. We talked about how important it is to treasure these seasons, and also to have the perspective that it's all temporary. You aren't pregnant forever, for better and worse. Labor always end, eventually. You do not have a teeny, tiny newborn for all your days, even when it feels like it through days of lost sleep and sweet-smelling heads. You are not in the throes of potty training forever. You don't have a three-year-old forever (full disclosure, I think three is the hardest and most magical). When I meet a mama, particularly in those last days of pregnancy, I try to remind her that she will eventually have a baby in her arms and that labor is incredibly hard work, but you have to remind yourself that it WILL END. And the reward is awesome. It is purposeful. As I cross more milestones in parenthood, and in life, I keep learning this lesson. It is all temporary, and it is all the better when you live it with purpose.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a famous chapter talking about the change of seasons. It is oft quoted, inspired the song "Turn, Turn, Turn," and even people who don't read the Bible know it. It begins "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." And as it goes, there is a time to born, a time to die; A time to reap and a time to sow, and so on... There is a great payoff if you keep reading:

"What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

God lasts forever, but everything else comes and goes. But to find joy, satisfaction, and purpose in each of these fleeting seasons, that is a gift. Sometimes the satisfaction may simply be knowing that the toughest of times don't last forever. And how much greater the joy is in times "to be happy and do good while we live."

Of course, I love that part of Life's great gifts is to eat and drink. Exactly. Here's to treasuring the things that matter and letting go of what doesn't, in this moment and all the ones to come.