Family

Christmas Lessons, Part One: Margin and Macarons

When my family decided on a simple Christmas, I imagined a quiet day of games and puzzles, snacks and naps. No big meal to prepare, no big mess to clear up later. Of course, reality rarely matches the imagination; with 11 adults, three small boys and five dogs in the house, the whole day was a bit more energetic than I had envisioned. 


© Daniaphoto | Stock Free Images

The lack of a formal schedule was amazing. The out-of-towners were able to wake up on their own and arrive refreshed and unhurried, we all enjoyed wonderfully long FaceTime calls with my Army Guy brother in Korea and my cousin and his family in Houston. I even got to go for a short walk with my dog with no guilt about leaving my guests.

But there were two things that were particularly meaningful to me: a lesson from my daughter on the art of using the planner she gave me for my birthday, and helping my cousin conquer her cookie Everest, the macaron, both of which were made possible by our relaxed agenda.

Susie has been an enthusiastic and prolific baker since she was a preteen. She and her best friend would spend long afternoons creating cakes and cookies, while simultaneously destroying her mother’s kitchen and grocery budget. She has kept it up as an adult, baking in her free time and always volunteering to bring desserts for family gatherings. Baking is her comfort and her guilty pleasure, and she can be pretty ambitious in her confectionery undertakings.

To me, baking is a pleasant chore. I tend to stick to the basics: biscuits, cornbread, brownies and a few simple cookie recipes, eschewing anything that requires ingredient or tools not available in any moderately well-stocked and well-equipped kitchen. My husband bakes and decorates the birthday cakes, and our pies often come from the freezer section of the local grocery store.

Back to the macarons. I had been following Susie’s saga with the fussy French confection on Facebook for a few days, but I did not realize that the struggle was actually a year long and that she had made four or five failed attempts at the little beasties. I didn’t understand her obsession, but I sympathized.

When I saw her on Christmas Eve, she was tired and emotional. We visited a bit about our mothers (both gone for some years now) and the holidays we spent together as children. We spoke about balancing family tradition with the needs and desires of the current generations. She also mentioned her disappointment with the cookies, and I asked her to bring the recipe and whatever special ingredients it required, and we would give them a try together.

She did, and in the early afternoon we cleared off space on the counter and went to work making the macarons, which it turns out are a meringue-based cookie often served sandwich-style, filled with buttercream or jam. The recipe she brought called for the creation of a ganache , which is one of those words I like to make fun of, often in conjunction with a phrase like, “The macarons and ganache marry beautifully to form a lovely, delicate dessert that melts in the mouth and sets off the silvery raspberry notes of the digestif.” My husband tells me that the Food Network is not meant to be a comedy channel, but I’m not convinced. (Mirepoix!)

We carefully followed each step of the recipe, including using kosher salt and the food processor; Susie had used table salt and skipped the food processor in her earlier attempts, thinking the ingredients were fine enough. We carefully whipped the egg whites to the proper stiffness, folded in the dry ingredients, piped the cookies onto cookie sheets, and let them sit for a bit before baking.

The cookies turned out beautifully. Susie had to improvise a piping bag because my kitchen isn’t so-equipped, so they weren’t exactly uniform in size, but they were well-formed and chewy with the characteristic ruffled edge and ‘foot’. The main thing is, Susie was happy with them. Delighted, even. If you’d like to give them a try, you’ll find the recipe here.

Takeaways

First, whether you’re baking cookies, knitting a cap, building a website, or trying to get your life back on track, it’s often best start at the beginning a proceed one step at a time. This may seem obvious, but I’ve often misread instructions or made incorrect assumptions resulting in costly mistakes.

It turns out that the problem with my cousin’s first attempts at macarons was probably simple physics. She assumed that it wouldn’t make any difference to substitute table salt for kosher salt, but the larger grain size results in about half the salt by weight than a similar measure of table salt. It’s all explained right here on the website of the network I disparaged in fun earlier. The food processor is need to reduce the size of the salt particles, if not the other ingredients. At least that’s my best guess.

Second, traditions are meant to serve us, not rule us. We have chosen to celebrate Christmas in an apparently much different fashion than our mothers, who celebrated in much the same way as their own mother. But we honor them by making an effort to be together, by loving one another more as sisters than cousins, by cherishing one another’s children and dreams, because in doing so we acknowledge the esteem in which our mothers held each other, and the value they placed in family. We have the recipes they loved and make them regularly, but they are not imperative for observing a holiday. I have shed any number of tears over an absent loved one, but never one over a missing Texas Fruit Salad.

Finally, when you set aside slavish adherence to family tradition or societal expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy what you love, and you create margin for pursuing dreams or being present for those you love. By skipping the big dinner and focusing on family, we don’t dilute our family tradition but distill it to its essence.


Grandma’s Texas Fruit Salad Recipe

2 21-oz. cans cherry pie filling
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges
1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks
1 cup pecan halves, lightly chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 banana, peeled and sliced

Drain mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks; mix into cherry pie filling. Add pecans and coconut. Refrigerate for an hour or so, or overnight. Add bananas immediately before serving.

Honestly, it’s not that great, probably some Depression Era holdover that my family forgot to let go of. But Grandma would be pleased that I shared it, and it does make a nice change from pie.’?

What is it that’s important to you? How would you spend time saved if you weren’t doing what’s ‘expected’? Or do you prefer things to stay the same? (Because that’s OK, too!) Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please follow and share this blog with someone who might enjoy it.

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Personal Change, Planning and Organization

How Big Is Your Elephant?

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The Problem

When the going gets tough, the tough get real. Or something like that. I’m not all that tough, but I feel like I’m up to my elbows in alligators and I’m not ready to give up yet.  My previous post was an emotional purge, an apology for supposing I might have anything useful to say, and perhaps a sample of a low mark on a bipolar roller coaster. (My husband says that sometimes I’m hard to be around; I tell him sometimes I’m hard to be. For better or worse, Mister.) 

So, I’ve been “dealing with” this problem of how to get my life back on track for some time now. 

Finding Help and Inspiration

I have been listening to books and podcasts like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and The Clutterbug Podcast (which I love!), and motivational books like Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (also great), and anything else that might be helpful. 

I’ve been trying out different planners: apps, binders with cute stickers, printables. (Ugh, by the way.)

I’ve been researching alternative points of sale, running numbers to evaluate sales channels, researching suppliers, and looking for other ways to make the business work. 

In other words, I’ve throwing a lot of darts. In most cases, I’m working backwards, finding a shiny a solution and trying to make it fit one of my problems… 

Sometimes my brains just fizzes and I accomplish nothing, not because I’m not doing anything, but because I’m doing too many things. Well, starting too many things. I don’t finish much. (I told you, I’m hard to be.)

Then, I read a blog post today by Allie from HeyMom,NowWhat that I found really helpful. Of course I’d heard it before, but it was a good reminder. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Allie was concerned about getting prepared for Christmas. I could only wish for such a palatable pachyderm, so tiny, tasty, and tender. Alas, that one is Allie’s (and I wish her well!) But the principle applies, and I decided to put it to use. The first bite was a big one, and it took me a full day of contemplation. You might say I had to chew it over a bit. Here is what I came up with.

PROBLEMS

  • Too much stuff
    • can’t find things,
    • can’t enjoy home
  • Too much debt
  • Business 
    • too much time managing inventory
    • too unfocused
    • too many competitors
    • not really enjoying it
  • Prefer to work from home

SOLUTIONS

  • Sell some stuff to:
    • pay some debt
    • have a less cluttered home.
  • Business
    • Immediately reduce number of sales channels by 2 or 3
    • Discount/auction non-core products for quick sale
    • Re-evaluate finances, environment, and happiness in June.

How big is your elephant? Do you need to write a term paper or plan a wedding? Start a business? Buy a house? Get the dishes done? Get dressed? (I get it. Some days are hard like that.) Remember, you can always ask for help. ❤

 

Family

Responsible Parenting: What To Do With Your Grown Children

There are so many blogs about raising children that Mommy Blogging is it’s own industry. I heard a podcast this week featuring a woman who writes a blog for people who want to start a mom blog.  Seriously. And that tells you a little something about how seriously some people take this whole child-rearing business and how much insecurity there is about it.

Long before the advent of the parenting blog, Paul and I were well on our way to ruining our own children with non-organic food, backpacks, candy, cartoons, video games, toy guns, Barbie Dolls, and all manner of unhealthy food and politically incorrect toys and activities. We even spanked them occasionally, mostly for form’s sake and without enthusiasm, usually as a last resort. I don’t think it did any harm, but I can’t say it did much good.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have raised a child or two to adulthood, have a crop that is about ready for harvest, or are at least curious about the process. Raising people is a huge investment of time and money, and people rarely discuss what to do with the produce.

More and more parents these days are choosing to keep their adult offspring at home. My husband and I keep 2/3 of the yield (two individuals) in the basement, and and 1/3 of the yield (one individual) is located off-site at a safe but convenient distance as a designated survivor.

*Net Yield, 1989-2018. Estimated Value: Priceless

When planning your children’s education, it is important to consider their interests and aptitude, but also to take into account the family’s long term needs. Our children each hold at least one post-secondary degree, and two of them hold two or more degrees or certificates. Our off-site DS has been gaining skills in veterinary medicine and pet care, as well as floor installation, welding and assembly work. The youngest has been honing his virtual first-person urban combat skills for years, has experience as a tutor, furniture assembler, and bookkeeper. Our firstborn has worked in management, cooking, sales, and mechanics. When combined with the skills and experience my husband and I have accumulated over the years, we feel the family is well-positioned to survive an apocalyptic disaster. 

I’m kidding, of course. It’s completely true minus the calculation and paranoia. Our oldest and youngest live at home, and we love it that way. Some parents bemoan the kids who won’t leave; we installed high speed Internet service to lure them back. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Parenting my adult children is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have to stand by and watch while they make decisions, and sometimes mistakes, that affect some of my favorite people in the world. Sometimes I’m consulted, sometimes I’m not, but I no longer get to call the shots. All illusions of control have been removed.

When the kids first went to college and  later their first jobs, I worried and my husband practically stalked them by monitoring their checking accounts. In the first few years there was a bootleg tattoo, a boyfriend procured from the Internet and kept past the return date, a bruised heart or two…

There were more tattoos. I don’t have anything against tattoos, but sometimes it’s hard to see my beautiful child cover her body with artwork that she may not want to wear for as many years as I pray for her to live. But in this I am not consulted, much less a decider. And that’s all right, I have my own body to decorate or pollute, or not. 

Later there was one seriously broken heart, two college dropouts, an unplanned pregnancy, an adoption, a frightening car wreck. Another wrecked car; not our kid, but her car.

The thing about painful experiences is that they can be excellent teachers to willing learners. My children are good learners. They are more cautious and less manic than I am, and they have taken life’s lessons thus far to heart. I’m very proud of them. 

You don’t quit being a mom or dad when your kid turns 18 or gets married or graduates college. But at some point along the way you quit being responsible for them and start becoming a trusted resource, and a friend. And one day you realize that your kid knows something you don’t know, or has a skill you don’t have, and is fun to talk to. And they become a trusted resource in their turn.  We can love without controlling, have boundaries without building walls.

No, Mom! I don’t want you to call my boss and ask him to give me a raise.

And if you’re blessed with kids who are emotionally intelligent and generous, and if you’re wise enough to be vulnerable with them, perhaps the day will come when you will have the privilege of having your child tell you something real about yourself. Maybe it will be painful, but actionable. But maybe it will be encouraging or consoling. Or just true. After all, who knows you better?

Do you have parents or grown children? I’d love to hear your stories your questions! Comment below and please ‘follow’ if you found this fun or helpful.

Family

Monday Morning Mistakes: Confessions and Takeaways

I didn’t sleep well last night. It wasn’t my usual insomnia, but several hours of nightmares fueled by this week’s binge of Homecoming on Amazon. I got up well before sunrise feeling distinctly unrefreshed, had some coffee and went to my office to work until I heard the guys start moving around, at which time I went to scare up some breakfast.

I don’t know why, but I feel I should explain that I did not jump up and make breakfast because I am the only woman in the house and it’s my job. I currently live with my husband, two grown sons, an uncle, and my dad, and we mostly share cooking and cleaning duties; not evenly, but fairly and according to ability and interest. I will post more about that later. The thing is, I was awake, they were waking up, and I felt like cooking them breakfast.

Also, I had a “great” idea for an omelet. We had some pickled eggs left over from the Thanksgiving relish tray, and I thought it would be kind of cool to make a pickled egg-filled omelet. Doesn’t that sound great? It doesn’t to me because I hate eggs, but I thought it at least sounded interesting, and maybe a bit meta.

So I Googled it. There were some recipes for omelets served with pickles and omelets with pickled turnips, but no pickled egg omelets. So I decided to wing it.

I whipped up a couple of eggs with a tablespoon or so of milk and poured it in a pan of hot olive oil. I chopped up a pickled egg, a bit of pickled pepper, added a bit of pickle juice… So far, so good. Right? Right??

brown chicken egg
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I added the egg and pepper to the scramble, added some American cheese because I thought good cheese would be too salty, and let it cook. Topped with more cheese, served with buttered toast.

black spatula on black frying pan
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My youngest and the most ardent fan of my cooking grabbed a fork and yelled, “Dad, are you gonna come try the vomit omelet?” He took a bite, and then another. And accepted my offer to make him a plate of scrambled eggs sans pickles.

My husband choked down the omelet. I don’t know whether it is because he hates to waste food or because he wants ammunition, but I’m certain it’s not because he fancied a pickle omelet.

My takeaways are twofold. 1) I should not try to invent new recipes when I am not well-rested,  and 2) If there is not a recipe for something on the Internet by now, there’s probably a good reason.

Uncategorized

Your New Year’s Resolution Is Not A Nose! Pick It Carefully and Don’t Blow It

close up photo of rodent and person
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(Also, Don’t Worry About It, There’s Always Tomorrow)

My son Deej is pretty good at resolutions and has been since he was about 12 years old and decided he didn’t want to be dead last on every heat of the training exercises in basketball practice. He stayed late and did extra sprints, he quit drinking soda, and he put his plate in the sink after one helping of dinner. He was determined to make a difference and knew he had only a few months to accomplish his goals.

photo of four assorted color beverages
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That is the only time I remember him making more than one adjustment at a time, though. He has at various times quit drinking soda, eating candy, using tobacco or alcohol, started exercising, quit taking a second helping at dinner, and any number of habits he wanted to start or stop. As someone who has struggled with overeating, gambling, drinking, prescription drugs, not to mention procrastination and general inability to finish anything, I marveled at his success.

ham burger with vegetables
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

I mentioned this to him one day, about six weeks into his latest no-soda phase (now about a year old). And he said, “Mom, you always try to change everything at once. You quit drinking, go on a diet, start an exercise plan, and launch a new business all at once…”

The kid knows me. But that’s a topic for another post.

Let face it, a lot of us view that magical moment when December 31 becomes January 1 as some point where all things are made new and all things are possible.  If you’re like me, you’re a blank slate sort of person, and you want to 2019 be your fresh start. My message for you is two-fold.

First, as I learned from Deej, choose one area on which to focus. Whether you want to start something or quit something, make one change at a time and do it because you want to.

As someone who will not be celebrating her 49th birthday later this month, but will nevertheless have one, I have never regretted learning something new, and that is a resolution that is much easier to keep.  Instead of going on a diet, try taking up a new hobby or taking a class at the community education center or library.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you can start over any time. Not just at midnight, not just January 1.

If you blow your diet at breakfast, eat better for the rest of the day. If you don’t get all of your steps in on Tuesday, do it Wednesday. You don’t have to wait until Monday.

If you quit drinking and then go out after two weeks and get hammered, keep trying, and ask for help if you need it.

If you swear off cursing and drop the ‘F’ bomb in some highly inappropriate place (aren’t they all, really?), apologize and set aside 15 minutes every morning to work on your vocabulary.

You can and should keep trying to be a better you. I can and should keep trying to be a better me.

 

 

For information about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near you, click here, or check your local yellow pages.

 

Mary Kunst lives in Forsyth, Montana with her husband, uncle, dad, two sons, her dog, and her dad’s dog. She is an expert on nothing, but has made a lot of mistakes and at almost 49, is starting to figure some stuff out.

 

 

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Uncategorized

Bah! Humbug: Bringing Joy to the Season By Making It Your Own

candle celebration christmas christmas decoration
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It’s December, and the air is filled with the scent of mulberry candles, evergreen boughs, fresh baked gingerbread… and the pungent odor of stress-induced sweat oozing from the pores of everyone of us who has bought into the lie that if we aren’t skiing, skating, jingling, caroling, wassailing, dancing, shopping, baking, wrapping, trimming, or feasting our way from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day, we’re failing life.

There are the parties: office parties, classroom parties, house parties, group and club parties, community parties, school concerts, church concerts, community concerts.

There are the gifts for friends, coworkers or boss, teachers, family, and if television and Pinterest are to be believed, everybody you meet on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

photo of red boxes
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

You must also clean and decorate your house to Martha Stewart perfection, pile thoughtful and beautifully wrapped gifts around your tree, and park his and hers Lincolns in the driveway.

On the big day, you must prepare a juicy, golden brown turkey ringed with cranberries and rosemary sprigs, a green bean casserole, and an 18″ pumpkin pie with a single dollop of whipped cream in the center.

Now, to be fair, some people absolutely love the shopping and decorating and socializing, and if you are one of those people, that’s totally cool. You don’t need me to validate your feelings; the whole world does it for you!

There are many reasons for holiday ambivalence: financial stress, introversion, too little down time, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and painful associations. Whatever reasons you may have for dreading the hustle and bustle of the season, the added stress of unrealistic expectations won’t make it more enjoyable.

Usually, our home is Holiday Central for extended family: my twin brothers and their families, my cousins and their families, and our grown children. We clean and decorate, plan, shop, and cook. All while doing our regular work, but admittedly not many parties or concerts.

A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law had a health scare in November so my husband wanted to visit over Christmas. I couldn’t go, so he took my uncle (who lives with us) and went to visit for the week. Our daughter had just started a new job and couldn’t come home, and neither could my cousins or my brothers. It was just me and our two boys. The three of us stocked up on snacks and pizzas and drinks, and spent two days in our pajamas. On Christmas morning, we read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke. They played video games, I read a book, and we watched movies. No tree. No gifts. No stress. No guilt. We all went back to work a couple of days later feeling rested and refreshed and happy.

That might be a little too simple for you, and it’s not how we usually do things. But that year, at that time in our lives, we needed rest more than we needed feasting or tradition. And that’s OK.

This year we have put up a tree and outside lights. We will host a small potlock party for my book club, and about half of my family will be here for Christmas dinner. We will each put a small gift the others’ stockings, and the children will have gifts to open, and I think we’re going to have pizza and snacks because we just had a big Thanksgiving feast. That way we’ll have more time for games and puzzles and pajamas.

What will you do? I encourage you to say ‘Yes’ to those things you want to do or that are important to you and your loved ones, graciously pass on the things that aren’t, or that overextend you. If you can’t afford to or don’t want to participate in gift exchanges, let people know. Respond to unexpected gifts with a prompt, handwritten thank you rather than the hasty, guilt-prompted reciprocal gift that will make you both feel awkward.

Be kind to yourself, true to your beliefs, and forever grateful.

affection appreciation decoration design
Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

 

Mary Kunst lives in Forsyth, Montana with her husband, uncle, dad, two sons, her dog, and her dad’s dog. She is an expert on nothing, but has made a lot of mistakes and at almost 49, is starting to figure some stuff out.