Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Butter and Sugar.

Here's the recipe for...


 Grampy Jim's Candied Sweets:



4 large Sweet potatoes (enough to fill a electric frying pan in one layer, flat)
water (enough to just cover potatoes)
butter
sugar

Start day before Thanksgiving or Christmas...
Cut large sized sweet potatoes into quarters and place in electric frying pan in a single layer.  
And then you just add butter and sugar, (as Stella has learned), whenever you feel like it.  (Grampy Jim told my aunt that the recipe was "about a stick of butter and a cup of sugar," but my mom watched him make them for many years and said any time he walked past them he added a little bit more sugar, and a little pat of butter." (You end up using about a cup of butter, and 2 cups of sugar). 

Add enough water to just cover the potatoes.  
Bring to a boil, then turn it on low.  
Cook on low for a lot of hours.  Yes, just a lot.  I have never measured how long they cook, truly. (You'll get the hang of it. 
Begin by adding a stick of butter and about a half cup of sugar.
Let them cook on low... for a long time.  (Yes, a lot of hours, haha).
Cooked on low, the butter and sugar cook them through, and they will become "candied" through--stick to your teeth and delicious.  
They cook all day (Just keep watching them, making sure they are cooking, and not just sitting in warm water, butter and sugar, or burning on the bottoms.  

The water should cook off within an hour. Put the pan in the fridge and then keep them on warm, to keep getting even more sticky all morning the next day until you are ready to eat.   

Flip the potatoes gently, because as they cook, they will get soft, and you want to them to stay somewhat solid, and not get all mashed up.

Stella makes the Candied Sweets, now.  She started helping me make them when she was 4.  I cut the potatoes up, of course, but I let her add the sugar and butter, (which I would put on a low, little bench so she could reach it all), as much as she liked, and she flipped/mixed them by herself. 
***
My mom taught me how to make Candied Sweets, and Grampy Jim taught my mom when when she was young.  She grew up in a multi-generational house.  Her grandparents lived right upstairs, in a two level, large old house.

It's a tradition to make them every Thanksgiving every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We make them every year.  And I make all the pies, now too, because Grampy Jim taught my mom how, and my mom taught me that too.  I know how to make Grampy Jim's flaky crust perfectly, now.  Stella does too.


***
It's funny how the repetition of an action or event or occurrence over years, and through generations becomes expected, and most often something that family or friends cherish and look forward to.  It becomes tradition.  And we adopt and cling to these traditions at a young age.  Change is difficult for everyone.  We want some things to always be the same.  We need some things to never go away.  We need some things we can pass along to our children, knowing they will continue with them, because we've instilled in them the love and family history that holds our lives together.  Tradition.

It took me too long to fully grasp that I can't recreate entire experiences for my children, (which were filled with bountiful and beautiful traditions when I was a child), but instead pull out the ones I know I can teach my children and pass along without any help from anyone else.

Because.

Even as a very grown up (old) person, now, I still have a difficult time letting go of what I knew and wanted my children to know.  I had to accept that traditions fade as generations move along, if we let them.  No, I guess we don't always have a choice.  My children have different grandparents then I did.  They have different extended family.  They have different parents:  That would be me, and that would be Sam.  We aren't my parents.  I am glad we aren't my parents.  I want to be who we are and have been for them, because I know they are them, because of who Sam and I are as parents...

No matter all the craziness I know has existed in myself, and in our adult lives, (And damn it.  My kids are so smart, they know more than we want to think they know), the twins are little people who love deeply. My children want things to "be the same."  My children understand tradition, and the depth of family love, whether they have it tangible and live-and-in-color as often as they should.  They have listened to every story about every loved one I could ever remember to tell them, and every memory of all the people they may never have had the chance to meet, or who left when they were too young to remember fully.  They know. They already know.

This Thanksgiving was quite different than any they had experienced in the past.  It was just the four of us.  We didn't have a lot of warning that it would not be the way they expected... tradition... but things had been slowly changing for years... People in our family have changed, and moved apart from us, even if they weren't moving away.  They still lived 2-20 minutes from our home.  We had never had a Thanksgiving with just the four of us.  We'd never known a holiday without extended family.  The kids were happy, just the same.


***

When I child, we had to sit on the stairs on Christmas morning and sometimes sing holiday songs until my parents would let us go into the kitchen and look into our stockings.  We'd dump them out on the kitchen table.  We had hooks on a kitchen fireplace.  We always had to go to the kitchen first and look in our stockings and eat some breakfast first.  Usually my mom made us Candy Cane Coffee Cakes, and I think it was their chance to make sure everything was still in order, (and that the cats hadn't knocked over the tree, or the "Santa" presents were in order [which were never wrapped, always put out in front of the tree], and they could drink some coffee and prepare themselves for the crazy day).  And it just stretched out all the fun, the anticipation...  I never, ever peeked into the living room even though we could see the tree from the kitchen table if we had looked.

My children never peek, they really don't! They are just like me, or how I was as a child.
They love the magic and the anticipation of the holidays, (however it is conjured), and they don't want to ruin it.

They have even woken up hours before Sam and I even felt capable of functioning properly after a long night of putting together some dollhouses or other toys that seemed to have a million pieces and directions in foreign languages.  And they would lay on our bed, or wait on the steps, or climb back into their beds if we told them it was too early and would giddily chat and giggle and keep calling down, "Is it time, yet?"

(My best childhood friend, Heather, used to unwrap her Christmas presents carefully and rewrap them weeks before the holiday arrived.  I couldn't imagine not wanting to be surprised.  I wondered how she could be surprised or excited on Christmas morning, let alone act like she was anything at all).

Anyway.  It only takes one parent and one child to keep a tradition alive, I've realized.  And I also know I can't try to make anyone else do what I hope and think they should do, and to understand the powerful importance of family traditions.  I know I have to think about my kids.  I must keep them moving along, through time, collecting memories.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Night of Scissors and... Fire?

The other night I pulled my ponytail to one side and cut off a huge chunk of it with a pair of scissors. The scissors happened to be on the bedside table, so it was easy peasy.  I just did it.

Children do things like that.  It's a story as old as time.  Girl, did you not cut your Barbie doll's hair off?  You thought you were doing a good job, right?  I always did.  But some kids see scissors and can't help but cut a couch cushion (my child), or a tablecloth (my little sister), or their sibling's hair (my big sister).. It must be a sense of rebellion or freedom?  Scissors!  Cut, cut, CUT!
Cut all the things!

Yeah, my older sister cut my hair, (secretly of course), when I was about three or four, and I have had bangs ever since.  My mom said, "I was so upset, but then I realized you looked a lot cuter with bangs."  Nice. Thank you Marguerite.  I am prettier with bangs.  (Hey, At least she didn't stab me with them.  My older sister tended to want to hurt me for various reasons, quite often, when we were kids).

I didn't care. I mean, I didn't care about cutting the end of my ponytail off with kitchen scissors the other night.  It wasn't about rebellion, I truly just didn't give a fucking shit.  I just became the kind of girl (woman ?) who does that kind of shit.  I'm the kind of girl who doesn't give a shit.
Fuck it.
Maybe I was making a statement that would be very difficult to interpret, because I really wasn't and I'd like to write about something amazing that I was rebelling or doing when I cut my hair, but I can't think of a damn reason.

Yet, I'm a little crazy if you didn't know.  I really just saw the scissors, and did it without even thinking.  I know Sam walked into the room and I filled his hand with hair and he ripped the scissors away from me telling me I was acting crazy.  "What the fuck?  Why would you do that?"
I didn't feel so crazy at the time.  I was like, "Who cares?"

Just how they like it.
I used to like to look nice, and I cared a bit more about my hair.  I know I don't have a perfect face, and I'm not beautiful, (certainly which would be revealed if I was bald).  I know my hair can easily affect my appearance.  I cut a chunk off without really caring about anything like that.

Maybe I am sick of being blonde.
I'm sick of having to damage my hair to try and make it just right, and compliment my skin tone, or spend a crap-ton of money at a salon to have it highlighted and "look natural."

I'm not blonde.  Well, I did dye my hair all blonde.  Sam has been asking me to do this since we got married. When I went in the other direction and dyed it all brown, he hated it, and has said he doesn't want to see any brown in my hair at all.  Ever again.  Bad.

Some people have to keep everything together--use a flat iron, and apply makeup every day!--or they look like a mess, or feel like a mess.  I guess I'm lucky that I don't look like a hot mess unless I really, absolutely don't do a darn thing when I wake up in the morning (Like I don't smooth my hair into a ponytail, or wash my face, or change out of pajamas, or...)  I might feel like a mess, but I also don't really look in the mirror very often. I haven't worried about being perfect for such a long time, and I guess that's part of my problem?
Maybe I'd feel better if I looked better?  Or if I cared?
I'm low maintenance if no one expresses expectations for me--That just freaks me out.  Even with my job, I will tell you my students thought I looked pretty fabulous every day.  (It was the shoe and boot collection, am I right?). Messy bun, and just a swipe of mascara, before I rush out the door to teach?  I showered. I'm dressed. I'm good.  

So.

Where was I?
I have recently... Let's see...  Yes, I cut my own hair without even looking in a mirror.
I also "high-lift-blonded" the shit out of my hair, until it was just about platinum.  (I don't think anyone reads this who knows anything about hair coloring.  I could have said I bleached the shit out of my hair until it was blonde, but I didn't actually do that, because I didn't want all my hair to just break off.  I actually cared!  See?!  I do care.  High-lift color is more gentle... so there you go.  (Hair color 101).

I also care about making Sam happy, yet I don't want to pay $120 to go to a salon (I really like that salon, and I have very good friends who work there), to get highlights anymore.  We can't afford that.  We haven't been able to pay for that kind of hair maintenance luxury for awhile now.  The last time I went, in June, 2016, it was because my mom gave me money to go get it done.  "You need blonde hair!"  She saw me and was aghast...  because my hair... it looked... so...  brown?

I look prettier very, very blonde, don't you know?
That's what I'm told.
Often.
No, that's not true.
It's just whenever my mother sees me, or my husband feels like commenting about it.

"You are just a blonde," I've been told.  That's the way it is.

Me at 12?
I was born with brown hair.  My hair is brown.  It's not growing from my scalp with the lovely pale, buttery highlights.  Nope.  Just plain brown.  I actually don't remember caring what color my hair was.  I remember not liking having big feet and a big nose, and no one wants pimples, but I don't remember ever thinking much about my hair.  It was a whatever type of thing.  Don't care if I have brown hair, or long or short fingernails, or that I had freckles across my nose and cheeks.  I didn't really think about that stuff.  I wasn't sexualized, which honestly has to be when girls start worrying about stupid shit, until older boys started paying a lot of attention to me.  And even then, my mom had to tell me they were paying attention to me.  And she explained to me what I had to do...  to be... blonde.

Blossom and Six.
I know it was time to not have the brown, straight hair that just happened to me genetically, after I was 13 or 14. Maybe it was not the people around me who made it impossible for me to just be "natural."  I mean, it was the early '90s, and it was all about perms and "frosting."  (Oh my.  Luckily I made it through the last part of that before I graduated from high school).

Blossom was a popular show on television at the time, and people at our middle school called my best friend and I, "Blossom and Six."  I was Blossom.  I swear I even dressed like her.
I didn't know if I should embrace how I looked, or know I could look a whole lot better than... Blossom.  I didn't want to be compared to her.  I also didn't want to be rude, or think, "She's not pretty!" if people really thought I looked like her.  I did have a long face and my nose looked bigger when I was in middle school.  I was growing into my "looks."

"Blossom" on "What Not to Wear."

Let's see, how did those actresses age?


"Six" wearing not so much.
Oh goodness, and being tan became a super big deal!  I remember my mom bought me Coppertone QT self-tanning lotion, which was the first "sunless tanning lotion" ever.  It is so ridiculously funny to think about how bad that stuff was now that they have made advancements in the self-tanning lotion science.  Anyway, I was prettier with a tan.  Don't get me wrong, I sound like my mom was putting me down.  No way.  I had the coolest mom in the 90s, and I really did need a confidence boost.  The "ugly stage" some kids go through during puberty, well, it was traumatic for me.

Obviously being tan was better, too.  Blond hair and a tan.  I had pale, Irish/Russian skin, and I slathered on the QT.  I remember the first time I went to 8th grade all tan, after lathering that stuff all over my body.  I felt awesome, and I totally looked hot for an early 90s 8th grader.  However, after school, during track practice, the sweat made orange streaks run down my arms and legs.  I remember just spraying my water bottle on my face and rubbing it all around, because having a runny orange face could be a disaster, yeah?  Then I just let all my friends pay tic-tac-toe on my legs, because you could just lightly use a fingernail and reveal my pale skin under the orange.  I let my team write funny things on my skin with their fingernails.  Hey, that's grace, I would say, for a middle school age girl.  I thought it was funny. One of the female track coaches saw my body on the bus ride back to school and said, "Oh, that's disturbing," when I explained why I had words and patterns all over my visible body parts.
Nah.  I had a sense of humor about it all, at least!  I could have freaked out.  I didn't.
 I just realized that stuff sucked and I wasn't going to use it anymore.

Tanning beds.  Those were great when I was in high school.  No one got to use them, but my mom let me.  I remember after the school's spring break I was sitting on a bench where all the "cool" kids hung out as school got out, in the lobby area, and a girl, (let's be honest here, I was her biggest threat.  She got best dressed in middle school in Springfield, I got best dressed in Bellows Falls Middle School...  I was killing it. She was no competition...  Anyway...), asked me if I had gone somewhere spring vacation.  I remember saying, "Florida...  The Bahamas... No, just kidding a tanning bed."  And she was more jealous that I got to use a tanning bed, than if I had actually traveled to a tropical location.

I wonder what I would have been like if I was just myself.  I mean, I loved fashion, and nobody could tell me how to dress, but I didn't really know that my brown hair was "mousy" until my mom told me it was.

I think I would have done okay with brown hair.
But now I'm a blonde.  B For life!
Can't stop.