2019-12-13 Island of Misfit Divinity

When I was a wee lass my grandmother (my mother’s mother) always spent quite a bit of effort at Christmas time making cookies. It was part of her tradition and there was always a healthy spread of festive plates piled high with treats on card tables in the back room of the basement on Christmas Eve. The basement was the only room big enough to fit our family for dinner and year after year, the sequence of events didn’t really change much.

We would arrive close to dinner time. All the men would take seats in the living room where some sports ball event would be on the big cabinet that was a tube TV. All the women would congregate in the kitchen and dining room finishing preparations for dinner, my aunt Barb faithfully at the stove as it was her job to make the gravy which was the very last thing to get done. All the cousins would gather in the back bedroom. It was a 2 bedroom house with 1 bathroom on the main and that tiny back bedroom had two twin beds. That’s the room my mom and aunt shared growing up. It was a small space but somehow it was big enough for them and subsequently big enough for the 8 cousins. I don’t remember specifics of activities except one year someone brought a ouija board. Even way back then I was highly skeptical and didn’t believe in the validity of the messages that came through. I always wondered which one of my cousins was the faker. I’ll probably never know.

Once the turkey was done my grandpa would get in the kitchen to carve the bird. Apparently that’s was a man’s job. And after.. we would form a line around the dining room table where all the dishes people brought were set out and then the group would head down to the main room of the basement. The adults would eat at the tables set up in the main room in front of a fake fireplace (it was electric) and the kids would eat at other card tables set up in the unfinished utility room next to the ones with the desserts. There was limited space so even the washer and dryer were used for the overflow of cookie trays.

Grandma made batches of ginger snaps, fudge, sugar cookies, those disgusting coconut birds nests, peanut brittle, rice crispy marshmallow balls, chocolate dipped pretzels, peanut butter melt-aways, and my very favorite.. divinity!! It was my favorite because of course it’s basically pure sugar. She would always press a giant ugly walnut into the top while they were still soft and I had to pluck that out and sneak it into the trash but other than that, they were perfection.

I was in high school when the traditions started to fade and my aging grandparents could no longer host the event. It was really the last time that side of my family would ever be together as no-one took on the task of playing host. The cousins grew up and some moved away and of course some started families and created new traditions.

I have a few faded memories that linger.. my uncle Chuck putting on country music after dinner when we all moved the tables and chairs and he tried to teach us how to two-step. We also sometimes played games after dinner like twister and of course the part where we exchanged gifts.

Someone once told me my grandpa wore a cologne called Jade East and the fancy stuff could only be found at Walgreens. I got him some every year. I’m sure it was terrible and thinking on it now it’s possible he had a cabinet full of unopened bottles, though when he opened it he would always smile and thank me.

As it is with the past, there are always some not so great memories too. I remember being in high school and still sitting at that kids card table in the back room when my cousin, who was the same age as me, got to sit with the adults. It was always clear who my grandmother’s favorites were and I was not among them. They spent way more time with grandma than we did. And they had money and nice clothes and I was the shy, smaller girl who lived on her cousins hand-me-downs. I never voiced my feelings.

Anyway, at some point it was decided that all those cookie recipes would be collected and put into books and distributed to the family. Women only of course as that’s still just how things were. Finally I had the secret of divinity in my grasp and could carry on the tradition. Or so I thought.

What I found on my first attempt was that there were secret ingredients which I did not have the key to… temperature and timing. I knew the sugar had to boil for a certain amount of time but I didn’t have the first clue what that was. At that time, I could still ask.

I made a special visit to my grandmother’s house where she showed me the secret. She was able to tell the sugar was ready by running a spoon of it into a stream of cold water from the faucet. If the ribbon dripping off the spoon turned to “glass” and was easily cracked into hard pieces, it was ready to mix into to fluffed egg whites.

“It’s as easy as that” she said and told how when she was 10, her and her siblings would wait until their parents would be distracted with business on the farm or other errands and they would sneak into the kitchen at the farmhouse and whip up a batch. I remember thinking that if a 10 year old girl could make this treat that I certainly could too.

I was proved wrong time and time again. Most of my attempts turned into gooey messes and flat sticky pancakes of taffy that never “set up” or hardened into the fluffy yet dense texture they were supposed to be. I pretty much gave up trying. My grandmother is long gone now and I’ll never to be able to ask her about that I any other stories from growing up on a farm. It’s sad to think about what has been lost from that generation. Unless we tell stories, the history of it just fades away.

With my current plan to try and be a different cookie every day from now until Christmas, it was only natural that Divinity would find its way into the mix. So today it is!!! And to put an exclamation point on it, I decided last night to try once again to make them.

This time, instead of using the recipe from my grandmothers cookie book, I consulted the internet. I found a recipe that had 5 stars and got out the ingredients and supplies and got to work.

Now I mentioned before that some of the magic had to do with timing and temperature but what I was still missing was a better measure of patience. Instead of constantly testing the boiling sugar for the right done-ness, I used a candy thermometer and waited and waited with my high-speed mixer and bowl of whipped egg-whites ready for the exact moment the temp was 260 degrees Fahrenheit or “hard-ball stage”. Miraculously, that the trick!!

I slowly poured the hot liquid into the egg whites while mixing at a high speed. Then, working quickly because the mixture starts to harden as soon as the mixer is off, I dropped heaping teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. I was truly amazed that they actually looked close to what I remembered having as a child. Of course, I left off that last step with the walnut (and did not put any nuts in actually as most store bought divinity has).

I even had enough “batter” left to try and mix in some cherry pieces which was something the internet recipe suggested. However I made the mistake of adding too much cherry juice and that made the mixture turn back into that gooey substance that never hardens. Even now, the morning after, they are still sticky to the touch.

Anyway.. so that’s the very long, winding tale that led to me finally meeting with divine success. Now I have about 2 dozen cookies to share. They aren’t pretty.. as my dropping technique still needs some work, but they have the right taste and consistency. I’m going to surprise my mom with some when I meet her for lunch today. Hopefully it will lead to some good conversation about her childhood. I want to hear more about that while there’s still time.

In the Mood to Reminisce,

~Miss Divinity

2018-02-11 Just a Times New Roman Girl with an Affinity for Starting Fires

Most of the time when I start to write, I’m writing about what happened yesterday or today or what might happen tomorrow. It’s my current stream of consciousness thats pouring out my fingertips and sometimes I know where I want to start and where it will end and sometimes I have no idea. If I know, then I already have a title in mind but if I don’t know or as I write it turns and goes a whole different direction, I go back and think of a new title when I’m done.

Today I am compelled to write about something because of what I read when I woke up in the middle of the night last night. As I laid in my bed, I did what I am sure all single girls do when they can’t sleep.. I checked Slack, and email, and social media (not necessarily in that order). There was a notification in my email in-box for a new post from a friend of mine which I always enjoy reading.

Contrary to my droning on and on about my life and times in the here and now, his posts are mostly historical accounts of his life. It’s funny how you can be friends with someone and chat them up about current events and maybe never really know them. I talk too much, I’m sorry.

Things revealed about a persons past are very telling. They are a major contributing factor to who that person is today because if they didn’t go through all that stuff, they would be different. Their lives would be completely different and maybe that means you never would have met them at all. It’s a concept that is little too twisted to contemplate for long but it is a factor none the less. We could dwell in the “what if” world when thinking about the past, but that’s not productive either so probably the best thing we can do is stop once and a while to acknowledge it out of respect and recognize those moments that played a part in making us who we are.

So this post is a head nod at little bits of my own past, so I can read what I wrote when I am 75 and remember…

I’ve been journaling and writing poetry since about 7th or 8th grade but I also really liked burning candles and starting fires. We moved a lot when I was a kid because my parents were divorced and my mom was quite swayed by her relationships and most of the time when we moved it was because of that.

She dated and married a guy and we moved into his house. She divorced him and we moved out. She got a better job and bought a house. She dated another guy and we moved into his house. They got married and bought a house together and we moved again. That was all in the span of about 5 or 6 years. My Jr. High and High School years.

One of the houses we lived in had a real fireplace which I thought was pretty much the bomb. Of all the houses we lived in, that one was my favorite (it was also the only one that was in-between marriage 2 and 3 where no boyfriend or husband was involved). There were four of us kids so my option, as a freshman in high school, was to either share a room with my two sisters (8 and 1 years old), or live in the sun room. I chose to live in the sun room. It was less like a porch and more like an addition to the house and the room had nice carpet and windows and came complete with both a stand up piano and an organ left by the guy we rented the place from. I couldn’t play, but I thought it was super cool anyhow. That room was my sanctuary and where I did a LOT of writing. It’s also where I burned a lot of candles.

Back then I didn’t have the foresight to recognize how important that writing would be to me. I was an emotional teenager who struggled in the silence of my own little world because my parents were too preoccupied by their own agendas which didn’t really include us much. I didn’t really rely on my friends much for the heavy stuff either probably because I didn’t think they would understand. In 10th grade I connected with Stacey who I knew did. She was a year younger than I was and in band. I feel compelled to write about that relationship too, but it deserves way more than just a tangent here.

Anyhow, I wrote hundreds of pages in notebooks to work through everything. It was journaling, poetry, even short stories. The main characters in those stories were always teenage girls who were suicidal. I wasn’t, but maybe that’s because I had that outlet to release those kinds of thoughts. I don’t know.

I lost most of what I wrote back then to the fire. Not like a house fire or anything as dramatic as that. It was fires I would start in our fireplace on Saturday nights when I was babysitting and my mom was out on dates. I’d have an emotional moment and get pissed off at my life and throw those pages into the fire. So… poof.. they literally went up in smoke.

That went on until we moved into the house of the man who would become my moms 3rd husband. He didn’t have a fireplace and he had really strict rules. I hated him.

I eventually had to leave because of that. Or I got kicked out.. I don’t really remember.

Can you imagine kicking out your eldest daughter, who didn’t drink or party or hang out with the wrong people? A girl who was in honors classes and excelled at school and was into cheer and drama and choir? No.. me neither, but that was the situation. It’s probably because I stopped babysitting when I finally started dating and coming home after curfew.

I know my mom regrets all that very deeply now, but at the time that is what she chose. It may have been for the best though because that man was willing to take my infant sister as his own and help raise her. She turned out really great and is now a shining light in my life and one of my best friends. So I’m glad she had a father. See.. that’s a case for something rotten that I went through, yet my life is better for it.

Here’s a few more relevant facts for posterity…

1. My favorite childhood movie was The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson, it’s superb.

2. My favorite movie as an adolescent was Dead Poets Society. Yes really.

3. My favorite movie in my 20’s was Shawshank Redemption.

4. Til Kingdom Come by Coldplay will forever be the song that reminds me of the day my 17 year marriage officially came to an end.

5. My favorite font is Times New Roman.

6. I still like to start fires and having a real fireplace was a prerequisite when I bought the house I live in now. I never use my pages as kindling and almost everything I write now is electronic.

I think that’s enough looking back now. Time to turn around and look today in the eye.

Let’s Do This Sunday Thing,

~Miss SugarCookie

PS. 45,000+ songs is a shit ton!! I thought my 7k was a lot! If you like Smashing Pumpkins and don’t know Silversun Pickups, check them out. I highly recommend. 😊

2017-03-11 Conundrums and Chaos

Where to start now? Well.. at the present moment I’m sitting in Flagship Commons and have about an hour and fifteen minutes to kill before the hoard of 15 year old girls I’m hosting today comes back around. It’s a mall scavenger hunt. Apparently that’s a thing.

There is too much going on here. Is this a mall food court? Is it lounge? Is it a sports bar? There are too many people and the music is too loud and not to my liking and there is a faint smell of different kinds of food being prepared lingering in the air. It’s hard not to just stop and watch the people and let your mind wander. This is a test. Can I still write something meaningful that makes sense. I guess we shall see.

Earlier today I took the girls to a place called House of Conundrum which has a set of “escape rooms”. You basically get a problem to solve and an hour to figure out all the clues to solve the problem. It was super fun, but there were a couple parts that were frustrating and we lost time because of that. My daughter is a pretty smart cookie and she’s got some smart friends and I think they would have been just as successful without me there to help. We got stuck on a picture puzzle where we had to translate the pictures into letters. We also stalled out because we solved one of the puzzles and the lock we put the combo in would not open and we tried it multiple times. In the end, we missed a clue that was hidden. It was tough but fun. I think the girls liked it. I would definitely do it again.

It’s a little bit of chaos running Z and her friends around, but so much better now that they are older. I can relate to these girls. We can turn the music up in the car and everybody knows the words. At home they are all laughing and telling jokes and making up nicknames for each other and it’s so awesome to see my daughter so happy. She worries too much about how things are going to go. “What we will do and who will show up” were things she’s been worrying about for a couple of weeks now and I can completely understand that anxiety. I feel it too. I don’t know if it’s a thing that ever goes away. Is it genetic? Is it just us? Or is it everybody.

I will certainly take the voices talking over voices and three conversations going on at once and running around a little wild and crazy. I will embrace the late nights divulging secrets and sleeping in late. I will gladly be the house that people can always walk to and hang out at after school if they need to. These times roll so fast and I know that and I want them to be remembered as good times. The teenage chaos will always be welcome in the house of Miss SugarCookie. I want her to have positive memories instead of what I have which is really not a lot of memories at all. I hope it’s possible.

I’m running on 5.5 hours of sleep again and even with all the stimuli surrounding me my eyes are weary and the words on the screen are blurring. I’m going to quit for now and just people watch.

2017-03-05 Saint Louis – Day 4, Part 1

It’s really already the 6th but like the rest of the weekend, it’s the day after and I’m just now getting to write about it. My last day in Saint Louis was long and again, full of memorable moments.

It was quite overcast and chilly which was very much a contrast from the sunny 71 we had on Saturday. We tried to have a bit of a plan in the morning, to go for Crepes at City Coffee House and Crêperie and walk Forest park but as it often happens, plans were foiled. This time is was mostly a timing issue because it was high noon when we arrived and there were folks packed in waiting for tables. I don’t do “waiting for tables” so we had to move on.

It was also sprinkling just a little bit and I gather that Josh did not want to walk in the rain so we opted to go get coffee and have a taste of some gooey butter cake. We drove to City Park Coffee but not the original location, one that’s new-ish in an area of town that looks like it’s getting a remodel. I’m not sure what that part of the city is called but the buildings had hip, modern look to them and the streets and spaces quite open. This was a contrast from my impression of the rest of the city where much of what I had seen was very old and dense and somewhat industrial.

I ordered a raspberry mocha latte which is a thing I try to order other places, but when it’s not on the menu I end up requesting they add this and that to it to get it right and it’s never quite right. It was, however, on the menu here, so they had the ratio down already and it’s probably the best one I’ve ever had. I’m sure my opinion was not swayed by the accompaniment of the gooey butter cake. He’s told me this is a Saint Louis thing and after I had it, I am certain it should also be an everywhere else thing too. It was the bomb. We lounged for a little bit in some cool chairs and finished the gooey and then took the rest of what coffee we had left to go. (My sweet tooth, getting the better, of me insisted on also getting a triple chocolate brownie to go as we walked out the door.)

From there we drove to Forest Park and first drove around the park a bit and then settled on a spot near one of the museums as the starting point for our walk. He knows that I have a goal to get 12,000 steps a day and when we started out, we were on something like 300, so it seemed like a stretch that we were going to be able to achieve that. Especially since the weather was so chilly and neither of us really felt like walking.

After we got going however, something changed. It was the scenery and the conversation and pretty soon we were far from where we started and not minding the cold at all. Just like when driving around the city, he was the navigator and I was just following directions. We walked past fountains and museums and water with trees and streets and bridges and along walkways near the edge of the park with a view of some really cool houses. It was the biggest park I think I have ever been at and I was quite surprised about that. I’m not sure why. Then, as we were nearing the end of our giant loop and the car was in site, my FitBit buzzed on my wrist signaling that I had indeed achieved the goal. Perfect.

I don’t want to forget this part though. Along the way we sat for a little bit on a bench by some tall trees overlooking the water. It was near the edge of the park where you can also see the main street and BJC rising up behind that. It was very much like the bench that I sat on last year with Matt when he proposed to me and I had to say no. It was such a rush of an unexpected reminder that my heart couldn’t take it and I fell into tears. I was looking away at the time, so Josh would not see, but he might have known anyway.

I’ve sort of felt like this trip was a milestone for me. My first trip without Matt. My first set of experiences that were positive and really proof that life goes on and can be great again. The entire trip had been, up to that point, really unique and amazing and satisfying. This tender moment was no exception, but it was the first time my sadness really swelled. It was such a tough thing for me to do to not accept his proposal but I never want to have to break up with a person just to make them realize how they feel about me. That’s not how it’s supposed to work and that is not what I intended when I broke it off. The proposal was a shock and I wasn’t prepared for it. The heartbreak I endured after was also something I was not prepared for. This trip was about me starting to live my life again.. me living for me. In that moment, on that bench, I embraced what I had experienced as just a tiny sliver of my life as a whole and let it become something happy instead of sad. We are the sum of our experiences, but we also have the freedom to choose how we let those events shape us. I took some deep breaths of cold air and found peace in the stark contrast of the hot tears running down my cheeks.

After just a little bit of time, that moment was passed and we were up and walking again to finish out the loop. I had achieved several goals and I felt wonderful.

There’s more to this day, but alas, I am short on time so it will have to wait.
Much Love,
Miss SugarCookie