Friends, Love

Wedded Blissing

Here’s to the happy marriage!
 
Your magic combination of hard work and dumb luck does more than give the rest of us hope. It also offers your friends, kids, and friends’ kids a model of healthy partnership. God knows, we need more of those.
 
The glow you tend through your ways of being together is an inviting place. Thank you for letting us warm our hands there before we set out on the next leg of the journey.
 

Creativity, Determination

Piece of Cake

Is there nobility in poverty? That’s probably a stretch. At a minimum there is resourcefulness, and that can look like creativity or innovation. Or something. Please indulge me. If I don’t get to live at leisure, at least I can feel virtuous.
 
The co-worker whose birthday unluckily follows mine has been subject to my noble projects since we started working together. She will enjoy the delight of yet another DIY disaster tomorrow.
 
In our office, we take turns celebrating birthdays by each taking responsibility for cake, card, and scheduling for the next person in line. The beautiful, polished team-mate whose January birthday I plan also had the poor luck to draw me as her secret Santa at the holiday exchange. She ended up with a home-made bookmark and a second hand cookbook in December. Now she gets to smile politely at whatever I manage to glom together in my kitchen tonight.
 
I just can’t abide dropping $20 on the designer cupcakes. How could I possibly justify that to myself given our increased payroll deduction and my impending (inshallah) mortgage payment? Even with the time store-bought pastries would save, I can’t bring myself to do it. I mean, a gal has to spend money on all sorts of things she can’t do herself, like root canals and oil changes (and perhaps she’ll get around to tackling the latter sooner or later), so there is no earthly reason to short the kid’s college fund on something so easy. Baking? Come on. Piece of. . .
 
Okay. Last year, Beautiful Team-Mate mentioned that she likes plain-Jane yellow cake with chocolate frosting. She is an easy-going Midwestern gal who likes just about everyone and whose smile makes the boys swoon, in no small part because she has no earthly idea of her effect on them. She would never ask for anything fancy, so yellow-with-chocolate she had last year.
 
So, today on my lunch break, I schlep it over to the supermarket and buy exactly one yellow cake mix (the one with Box Top for Education for Bug’s school, of course. Ten cents right there!) I don’t start on the project until nearly 9:00pm, given bath, bedtime reading, lunch-making, dishwashing, and generally lugging around the weight of the world. When I begin, I realize I have no concept how to proceed. I mean, I want to do something special, right? Something more than yellow-with-chocolate, because. . . Why? I don’t know. Because she’s nice and she deserves a little effort? Because this is my playtime? Because I can?
 
Because it’s just really fun to learn something new?
 
While the oven preheats, I poke around the kitchen. All these things I never notice appear in the nooks and crannies, items that go bad or go stale, that we forget we bought in a moment of inspiration. Unopened sour cream. A whole cabinet full of liquor. Powdered sugar, gelatins, puddings and extracts. Nuts, chips, candies and sugars. Oh! And already on the shelf? A yellow cake mix just sitting there. I could have saved $1.29!
 
I visit a website called Yummly and type in “sour cream cake mix kahlua.” A bunch of recipes pop up. This one for mocha cake is the one I follow. More or less. I mean, who knows why — no one in this house eats pudding or even likes it — but I happen to have a box of chocolate pudding on hand. Not vanilla. Also, coffee crystals seem like a good idea, and anyway, it just play. Glop, glop. An extra egg. Who knew you could just pour alcohol right into the batter? And what’s with the pudding? Crack, whip, scrape. The whole blorp of sour cream. A little extra sugar. A few more chocolate chips? I hope the small ones are little enough not to sink. Beat, fold, pour.
 
An hour later, the faint aroma of liqueur and scorched chocolate drifts into the upstairs bedrooms. The concoction comes out of the oven looking nothing like mama’s yellow birthday cake. It is crinkled and singed and lop-sided. There is a good chance it won’t make it out in one piece. It actually looks a little tubercular, all wrinkly taupe and sunk in its fluted tube.
 
On the stove waiting for morning is a double boiler at the ready. Poised nearby are chocolate squares, butter, powdered sugar, and the bottle of kahlua with its lid already loose. Mocha glaze may be a bit ambitious for 6:30 am, but the gal’s got to try to save this poor wretch. Where first aid and a transfusion fail, try chocolate. And a hit on the flask.
 
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but a deadline is the ultimate inspiration. If disaster awaits on the other side of the bundt pan, there is always that extra Betty Crocker mix waiting patiently on the pantry shelf. It only takes about 30 minutes in a 9×13 sheet pan, and I can pick up a can of chocolate frosting at the supermarket on my lunch break. I think those go for about $1.49. Beautiful Team-Mate may have her simple, happy cake after all. Even then, I can say, “I made it with my own hands just for you.” Bug’s college fund is safe (for now). I even have an idea of how to use all that old rum and Bailey’s taking up precious space in my dining room.
 
Tomorrow at 3:00 in the conference room, a dozen of us will get our sugar kick one way or another. I can bask in the glow of my secret treasure, that proud nobility of knowing I swung it all — creativity, learning, play, and even, yes, cake — for the price of a loaf of bread.
 
A loaf of bread on sale.
 

Friends, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 11

“We had a birthday party for Winter today,” Bug tells me, pulling the last of the Oreos out of the crumpled blue wrapper he found in his backpack.
 
“Winter the dolphin?” We are leaving after-school care on the way to drop the pooch off with a friend for the Christmas break.
 
“No,” Bug says, black cookie dust drifting down his chin. Winter is a dolphin with a prosthetic tail that lives down at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. Bug has been dying to go down to visit ever since seeing a movie about the rescue. “Not that one. How old is Winter anyway?”
 
“If it is someone in your class, I assume she’s six.”
 
Bug gives me a blank look. “Is there someone named Winter in my class?”
 
I stop and bend down. “What are we talking about?”
 
Winter,” Bug says, as if I haven’t heard him properly. “It’s the short day, and then it starts all over again.”
 
“Oh! The solstice!” I say.
 
“Right! We had a party for Winter’s birthday. We had cookies and juice.”
 
We get in the car and drive through the night past all the houses decked out in twinkling lights. We arrive at the friend’s place with the dog in tow. Bug sits on our friend’s living room floor and digs through a box of old toys belonging to boys who are men now, off exploring unmapped corners of the world. The pooch snuffles around and makes herself at home in a nook behind the dining room table.
 
After a little while, we go over to the common house where a small group of folks has been cobbling together army-sized vats of vegetable stew and cornbread. Candles are waiting to be lit, wine is opened, and slips of paper with bits of blessing are passed from hand to hand. Soon, a group of friends and neighbors is standing in a circle sending wishes to the four directions. Each of us holds a candle. Bug finds a glass bauble shaped like a star to hold his. When we reach our part of the recitation, I bend and Bug holds his light up to the slip of paper.
 
“Can you read that word?” I ask.
 
“West,” he says.
 
“That’s right. West. And that?”
 
He looks a moment longer. “North,” he says.
 
“You got it.” I read the rest of our share of the blessing. After a few laughs and shared breaths, we eat. Bug finds older kids and joins them at their table. He is a perpetual narrative-in-motion machine. He asks me not to watch him so I only do through sideways eyes. My friend stays near Bug and me, making sure we have enough to eat and that we have met the folks who are sharing this moment with us.The room is alive with the scent of cinnamon, smiling faces, stories of trapeze classes and the lament of kids growing up too fast.
 
It is dark so early now. I barely noticed, what with all the light.
 
We had a birthday party for Winter today.
 

Uncategorized

Happy 100 Days: 45

She asks me how to tag the posts. I tell her any words that capture the essence of the content will do. She considers her options. “Everyone must use ‘gratitude,'” she says.
 
If only.
 
Afternoon light creeps in through the endless windows and churns to warmth the mango walls edged in cream. Her grown son is on the sofa doing his own work. He overhears our circuitous meanderings through the wilds of WordPress, and I catch him grinning. He takes a photo of us. We are too absorbed to look up to cheese for the camera. We manage to create her gravatar and a profile picture, and that bright smile of hers begins to leave its traces across the internet.
 
She is bubbling at the edges. Who would not be tickled at what we are attempting? She asks me to pause before tripping on to setting up an About page. In her notebook, she jots down “Gravatar,” and “Add Post” and “Dashboard.” She tries to number the steps, but sequence is not the way the interface works. It is cross-hatched and concentric (web-like, I daresay).
 
She recounts the story of the Young Monk, Old Monk , and we laugh as she peers into the screen trying to recall which button will get her to the page where a person just writes. She clicks her her first post to life. Her second and third, she whips right through. Less than an hour in, and my help is already unnecessary. I hold my breath as she hovers over the “publish” button. She clicks, and we both wiggle and pump our fists in the air.
 
Alive! The words are waking up, stretching out into the virtual world where anyone anywhere can stumble across them. It is a great contribution, this choice to learn past the boundaries for the sole purpose of marveling aloud.
 
She types in her tags. She chooses Gratitude.
 
I choose it, too.
 
I also choose Friendship. And Learning. And Perfect.
 
And Welcome.
 
And This.
 

When the flower is sated,
the stunted fifth stamen,
secret and invisible below the bee’s belly,
awaits his departure,
then lifts like a drawbridge
and shuts the door.
 
From “Upland Suite” in Sun in an Empty Room by Maryhelen Snyder.