The Beginning of Winter

There is a part of me that will always love snow, and it’s obviously a part of me I didn’t even know existed. The first snow we had here at the new house just made the whole place look so different. The entire yard changed into something new. Everything was quiet. The creek was no longer hidden by the dark canopy of trees. In fact, it was the one thing that really seemed to stick out.

First snowfall. Front yard. This place could make me like winter. #neohio #home #creek #snow

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We are cold, no doubt. But it’s not unbearably cold. Yet. There is no wind like the Oklahoma wind, or else our temperatures here in Northeast Ohio would be unbearably cold. But I’m sure that’s coming. All in due time. Blizzards. Lake effect snow. Icebergs on Erie. The snow sticks are out. The neighbors have fled to South Florida. Preparations are in full swing. One afternoon, I counted four snowplows on the road just in the three miles between my house and work. There wasn’t any snow in the forecast, but it’s nice to know they are out there.

Hot tea is a constant. Candles are lit throughout the house. My husband picked up a tiny living tree at the town grocer to decorate for Christmas. It sits atop the wine rack where the blind dog can’t run into it and get lost. She still seems confused sometimes in the new house. I strung white twinkling lights across our stair bannister leading up to the bedrooms. The next day, half of them stopped twinkling. Later, that same half just stopped working altogether. But the half that works is so darn pretty. Our space heater, designed to look like a tiny wood stove, adds ambience to the unfinished living room. I’m getting by so far with my own half-assed version of hygge.

From our front window we watch the squirrels pick through what falls from the bird feeder. I haven’t had a chance to learn a single local wintering bird. Nuthatches? Finches? Orioles? I recognize a cardinal or a blue jay, but those little tiny things that flutter around all over the yard? No clue. The squirrels are gray, although some are black. Probably half of them are black. It’s a dominant trait, the black fur. A few black squirrels were released from a Kent State University lab years and years ago, and their coloring only occurs in certain areas. Like mine! I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing black squirrels.

We also have a pair of barrel owls who live in our front yard trees. I know there are two because they talk to each other, but I’ve only ever seen one at a time. His name is Owlbert. Whichever one I see at any given time, his name is Owlbert. I don’t know what I would do if I ever saw them both at the same time. And I only have one cool owl name at the moment, so Owlbert it is.

December, so far.

• Our dog, Chimay, went blind just after Christmas last year. Normally we would place our Christmas tree near the front windows so it could be seen from the street when it’s all lit up, but we can’t do that this year. This year we had to consider how often she’d walk into it, or get lost in it, or potentially poke her eye out with a pine needle. After discussing a table-top tree, a fake tree, or continuing with our tradition of picking out a real tree, we chose another Douglas fir and set her up in the corner of the dining room. For all we know,  Chimay has no clue that it’s even there. Everybody wins!

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• It has been so long since we’ve seen the sun that I’ve lost track of time. Its last full appearance happened between 3-4 weeks ago and I have surprisingly kept it together, dosing myself on a regular regimen of Vitamin D gummies and watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Is it odd that I find the opening credits’ sepia tones to be somewhat comforting? Just today my husband manually juiced up the batteries of our solar-powered gate. It died on the third day of no sun and we’ve been opening it by hand ever since. I might just hate that gate more than I hate winter (when it’s not being powered by the sun, that is).

Here is a photograph I took on December 9th. We have seen the sun exactly twice since then, and only for about 30-45 minutes each time.

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• Which leads me to this photograph of our home’s rooftop and a brilliant blue sky in the background. I was outside taking pictures because I was afraid the sun would go into hiding permanently and I didn’t want to forget what it looked like! I was chased back inside by the blare of tornado warning sirens. It hailed. It rained. It earthquaked, too! Then some rotation began on our side of town near the airport and touched down near Edmond.  The sun disappeared for another week. FIGURES.

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• A few weeks ago my jaw started to bother me once again. My TMJ disorder creeps up at the most inopportune times, like on holidays when I’ve maxed out my dental insurance. Things like sprained arthritic jaws happen, or my newest malady – a bruised tooth. Google it. That stuff’s real. None of the muscular exercises or alignment treatments seemed to relieve my pain, and I’m back on antiobiotics through the remainder of the year. Because it’s not Christmas in this household until someone’s on amoxicillin! (That person is usually me.) While at work last week, I came across this book in the children’s section that helps explain to young kids what it’s like to lose your baby teeth. Did you know that in most Asian cultures it’s customary to throw your teeth onto the roof or bury them in the ground? Some culture even ground them into a soup or try to convince rats to trade their teeth with the children. Maybe my belief in the Tooth Fairy is where I went wrong and now I’m doomed to dental suffering for all eternity.

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• I had the opportunity to watch a World War II medal ceremony. My museum’s curator’s father was honored by the French Consul for his service in Europe and North Africa. Another gentlemen was also honored for his service in the Battle of the Bulge, during which he lost his leg. The French Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction. I’m telling you guys, the French do not take America’s role in the war lightly. The ceremony was conducted in English for the first half, but policy strictly enforces the actual medal-awarding portion be conducted in French. Here’s a shot I got of Earl J. Gonzalez receiving his medal. That this happened in his son’s museum was pretty awesome.

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• Last night we went to our first Oklahoma City Thunder game in two years. It’s always fun, and the weather was a bit more balmy than the last time. That was when it had snowed and it was freezing cold outside, making our walk from the arena to our parking spot exceptionally miserable. This time, though, it was a mild 40-something degrees. Believe it or not, we have the fog to thank for that. Yin. Yang. Whatever.

Downtown OKC and a fog-covered Devon Tower. #okc #oklahomacity #devontower

In reading news – I’m researching Gerda Lerner for a historiographical essay project. I absolutely love this woman and I won’t be surprised if I head in the direction of women’s studies from this point forward. I’m still learning historical schools of thought and so far two really stand out for me: feminist theory and a school called “history from below”, stories told from the perspective of those outside the decision-making processes. It’s a social history narrated by those whose stations in life were directly or indirectly controlled by those in power. Slaves, women, child laborers, Jews, immigrants, etc.

I’m reading Fireweed: A Political Autobiography and Why History Matters: Life and Thought, both by Gerda Lerner. Up next is Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy.

Another interesting read is Auschwitz: A History by Sybille Steinbacher. I’m halfway through this one. I’d probably be further into it if I weren’t researching Lerner, because this one is completely by choice. Lerner, a Jew who was once jailed by the Gestapo before she escaped Nazi-occupied Austria, was often threatened as a teenager with deportation to Dachau. And it is interesting to read how Auschwitz, and other Third Reich cities like Dachau, had such a rich history before their names became synonymous with mass murder and concentration camps. It’s fact versus emotion. Place versus person. Everything and everyone has a story.

Finally, a little lighthearted read which, obviously, I sometimes need. Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a short Korean novel. It’s a tale of a few farm animals, their assigned roles in life, and how those roles must sometimes be discarded for the sake of another’s happiness. I loved it. It was a kind of magic, really. And I don’t say that often.

Pie Guilt

There has been very little activity in the kitchen lately. A mid-September food poisoning incident was followed by months of eating soft foods only, per my dentist  (I’m a dental enigma who suffers from TMJ and grinds so harshly at night that I’ve actually chewed through an entire soft acrylic mouthpiece), so food – and baking and cooking and, most importantly, eating – has been indescribably NOT FUN.

I have also fallen out of the practice of baking much of anything and, as a result, the oven has seen minimal use. In fact, Thanksgiving is the last time I remember pulling anything out of the oven. I had planned on baking a brown sugar buttermilk pie, like I did last year, but I felt guilty about not having a pumpkin-based dish on our holiday table. The pumpkin guilt beat out the buttermilk pie and now I have buttermilk pie guilt.

We are having a brown sugar buttermilk pie on Christmas. I don’t like regrets. I don’t like guilt. I DO like pie. Added bonus: It’s soft-food diet friendly, so I won’t risk breaking my jaw and face by eating it.

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Brown Sugar Buttermilk Pie (created by Tim Mazurek of Lottie + Doof)

1 basic pie dough
3 eggs
1/3 cup of sugar
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and add both sugars and flour, careful not to leave any lumps.
  3. Add the melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, nutmeg and salt until well blended.
  4. Turn down the heat on the oven to 325 degrees and pour filling into the pie crust.
  5. Bake for 45-60 minutes until the edges are set and the center of the pie is still wobbly. Let it cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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I will have you know that I actually sent Tim Mazurek a fan letter after I ate this pie for the first time. I’ve never done that before. He was kind enough to reply back and added that the pie actually tastes better the following day. He’s right.

One More Year

Below is a blog post I wrote before Christmas in 2009, when my daughter was just 8-years old. It’s been hanging out on a now-defunct blog I started almost six years ago. A friend of mine asked me about this post yesterday, as it’s one of her favorites, and I decided to share it here. Back then, I was a single mother working full-time and going to school full-time. We lived paycheck to paycheck so money was hard to come by. Christmas was the only time I could justify spending money on unnecessary things. This time of year was always very stressful.

That Christmas when she was 8 was the last Christmas she believed in Santa wholeheartedly. These days Elle is 12 going on 25 and slow to believe in anything unless you can prove it to her.  That’s part of growing up, though.  I knew the day was coming (parents: it’s inevitable), but at the time I wanted to help her to believe in other things, like the kindness of friends and strangers alike, or even the good fortunes that intersect with unforeseen circumstances. I want her to believe in a lot of things, for a lot of reasons, but one thing I don’t want her to believe in is coincidence. Nothing happens by coincidence.

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(2009)

Elle’s at that age when she’s beginning to question Santa’s existence. She is asking if he’s a real person or a spirit, if he brings gifts to little girls who backtalk their moms, and if he might have a tummy ache from all the cookies he eats before he gets to her house. She has even written him a Christmas list with a P.S. at the end explaining that her friends think he’s a “fakey” but that she still thinks he’s real.

I think this is our last year of Santa. Or of believing in a child’s Santa, at least. And it makes me a little sad. Our children have to grow up so quickly these days and it’s just not fair. To them or to us.

They can’t rides their bikes around the neighborhood alone anymore. They can’t play dodgeball at school anymore. They can’t go to music class, or art class, or P.E. anymore. They can’t even watch Cookie Monster anymore because Cookie Monster teaches them bad eating habits that will make them fat. They can’t go to the toy section alone in a department store anymore while their parents shop for barbecue grills, bathroom towels, or something else equally boring. They can’t come directly home from school anymore because both of their parents work (if they’re lucky enough to have two parents). They can’t listen to the radio anymore without hearing “ass“, “crap“, or “damn“. They can’t watch a television show with their parents anymore without being reminded that an erection lasting more than 4 hours requires emergency medical intervention.

STOP IT. Just stop it. Can’t they just be kids, for cryin’ out loud?

And this is why it makes me a little bit sad. I was into the whole Santa thing for a long time and would have continued to be had my older brother not shown me the stash in Mom and Dad’s closet. And it probably happened at a reasonable age…eleven or twelve. An age when I had yet to learn about birth control (or even birth, for that matter) and had probably just seen my first boob on TV.

Mommy, do you believe in Santa?”

And I told her the story, a very true story, of when I was in a panic about not being able to get her what she really wanted for Christmas one year: The Disney Princess Vanity Table.

“Would you believe that I didn’t have enough money to buy you that gift? That I was around $50 short of being able to afford it? And that a very generous man I worked with handed out gift cards to our entire staff? That my gift card was worth $50?”

She smiled…”So, what happened?”

Of course, I got you that vanity table!”

I remember that!”

And just a few days ago, I got an unexpected bill in the mail. But I also received an unexpected gift yesterday that included a $100 bill.”

She put two and two together. “Santa did that?”

I think so.”

And so she believes. I do, too. It’s hard for me not to look at each coincidence as of late. The fact that financial aid paid for my APA Manual. The fact that Elle’s school daycare waived the December fees. The fact that my lawyer didn’t ask for a $5000 (yes, folks – five thousand dollars) re-hire fee. The fact that so many of my co-workers were kind enough to send me home with gifts for myself and my daughter.

My obvious issue is money. But around this time of year, it’s not the money, or lack of money, that bothers me. I live year-round with very little of it, as it is. It’s the stress that having no money puts on me by forcing me to choose between two gifts I know she really wants and can only be justified by wrapping it in Christmas paper and ribbon. It’s that time of year when I can give her all the things that she wants because she already has everything she needs. It’s the joy I see on her face when she opens the box and looks at me with a smile and talks to me with her eyes…”I’ve waited all year for this. Thank you, Mommy.”

That is what Santa gave me this year. A worry-free Christmas.

So, yes. She still believes. And even decades after being shown the stash in Mom and Dad’s closet, I still believe, too.