Cute Mom?

My old elementary school, in addition to being just a quarter mile from my house, also has a paved track on which I run sometimes. Today was a gorgeous, breezy sunny day so I decided to forego the gym and make that track a part of my route.

Five laps equal a mile, so it’s a nice way to keep track of my progress. It was that upon which I was concentrating, and I was also rocking out to this, so I did not hear or see the little girl when she addressed me.

“Hey you! Hey you!” Her shouted words eventually filtered through the music.

I don’t react when cars honk at me anymore. I’m not startled when I get catcalled or shouted at. I don’t jump when people come tearing up behind me on bikes or cars.

But I jumped clear out of my skin when I saw this little towheaded girl running beside me. I even yipped a little.

“How are you doin’?” She asked without ceremony or prelude.

My heart, having slammed to a stop and then leapt forward at a gallop, robbed me of my breath. Which was good, because I needed a moment to collect myself. I was already shaken by her presence, but when she took it upon herself to strike up a conversation like we’d known each other for, well, as long as she’d been alive… imagine you’re a goldfish in a plastic bag. You’ve just been won as a prize by a young boy for tossing a ring around a stick in the ground. You are handed to him. He proceeds to jump with joy, swinging his arms, caring naught for you in your rubber-banded prison. I was trying to work through the mental equivalent of that. I spluttered to a walk, stuttered, “I’m doing well. How are you?”

She grinned a baby-toothed grin. “I’m doin’ jus’ fine.”

Dear Yankees, your children will never be as cute as ours. They don’t have adorable Southern accents. Love, North Carolinians.

“How are the girls doing?” she asked.


The few times I’ve been addressed that way, the phrase “the girls” has always referred to my boobs. Such as: “The girls are looking great today, Kate” or “Looks like the girls are trying to come out and play”, etc. This is what first crossed my mind. I glanced down. No, I told myself. She couldn’t POSSIBLY mean those.

But I had my doubts. She was an outgoing, precocious child, and if TV and the internet have taught me anything, it’s that kids these days are growing up WAY faster than they should. I couldn’t assume she wasn’t talking about my tits. Remember the fish and the boy? Well, the boy just dropped the bag and there I go, rolling merrily down a hill.

I let my mouth hang open like a village idiot for a little bit, then gathered wits enough to ask, “To which girls are you referring?”

For some reason, Grammatically-Correct Mode engages when I’m speaking to small children. I think it’s a defense mechanism.

The little girl pointed ahead of us to an eye-searingly colorful plastic jungle gym, where two other little girls, one younger and one her age, were monkeying around.  “Those girls,” she announced. “Are they yours?”

We’re past the fish-in-a-bag metaphor. It’s amazing how far such a small piece of humanity can chuck me outside of my comfort zone. I did some more gaping and some more stammering, trying to form my words so they didn’t sound like me being affronted that she thought I was that old, which I was. Affronted. Not old.
“No,” I ended up with. “No, they’re not mine.”

“Oh. Which ones’re yours?”

I blinked at her. Those big, pretty blue eyes and that big, face-eating smile she had on disarmed me and flustered me at the same time. There were so many things I wanted to say (“Do I look THAT old?”), so many snappy, sarcastic jibes I wanted to make (“None. Mine disobeyed so I ate them.”), but… that face…

After furiously asking myself what the hell I was supposed to say or do, I committed. Words came, halting and piecemeal, like passing a large kidneystone. The psychological pain and strain were about the same too. “None of them are mine. I don’t have any children. I’m here by myself.”

Her face changed, as if an image of it had gone through a CG morphing machine. A comically-exaggerated expression of confusion now sat on her face, making her furrowed brow positively thunderous.

“But you looked like such a cute mom!”

My brain, spinning so fast smoke came out my ears, threw its hands up in defeat. All thought ceased. I sagged. “Thank you.”

“Well, I’ve gotta go to the car. Have a good day. Bye!” The girl launched into a sprint toward the parking lot, tossing a goodbye-wave back over her shoulder. I lifted a limp hand, but she didn’t see it.

Needless to say, it took me a long time to work up the energy to start running again.

On one level, I enjoyed her guileless, unaffected honesty and curiosity. I’ve known kids her age who have already lost a measure of their innocence and it’s just about as depressing as when people are dumber than their dogs.

But that same innocence threw my thoughts into disarray because it’s been so alien to me for so long. Call it a function of the world we live in and the hardships of the past few years, but a great many of the people in my pack are jaded, cynical, misanthropic and/or pessimistic about the future. Some, including me, are all of the above.

Lesson learned: be more like that girl before you really are as old as she thinks you are.


Text-based baking adventures

I'm just going to blame my lack of updates on the Republicans. And the Democrats, so as not to leave anybody out.

And this webcomic.

But I have been baking, and though I have been woefully unable to acquire any photographs of my efforts, I will attempt to placate all both of my readers who have been waiting, breath bated, for an update.

So I give you the text-only version of two of my most recent recipes: Cinnamon Roll Cookies and Kate's Phe-nom-nom-nom-enal Key Lime Pie.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Unlike most of my other recipes, I didn't deviate very much from the original (found here). The main thing I changed is, of course, the sugars. And some proportions here and there.

For the dough:  
2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened 
4 oz softened cream cheese 
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. dry active yeast  
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup honey 

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour  
½ tsp. salt 

For the filling:  
½ cup brown sugar  
2 tbsp. cinnamon

For the glaze:  
3 Tb. soymilk (because we didn't have dairy milk)
1 cup powdered sugar
dash cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
The process:  
Mix 2 tsp. cool/room temperature vanilla extract with 1 tsp. of dry active yeast. You don't want it to be warm because we're not trying to activate the yeast. You just want that yeasty flavor that makes cinnamon rolls so yummy; you don't want these cookies to puff up like them.  

Cream the butter, cream cheese, vanilla with yeast, and granulated sugar until smooth. You can do it with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes or with a fork like me because you're a BAMF. Add the salt, then slowly add the flour. Mix until combined. You'll end up with a nice malleable dough. Dump it out onto a clean flat surface and press it into a flat disk. Wrap the dough well so it doesn't dry out and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375*. Mix 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon together in a small bowl. Pull your dough out of the fridge and cut it in half. Leave one half in the fridge while you work with the other half. Flour a clean workspace (or a piece of wax paper) and roll the dough into an 8-by-18-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick). Cut the dough in half. Sprinkle half the filling mixture over each half of the dough, leaving an inch bare along one of the long edges. Starting with the long edge covered by the mixture, carefully roll the dough toward the bare edge. Press the seam firmly. Repeat this process with the half of the dough you left in the fridge. You should end up with four logs of cookie.

These will, if wrapped well, keep in the fridge for days or in the freezer for weeks. But why would you do that?

Cut the roll into half-inch slices and gently place the slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased with butter; not Pam). Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven.

While these are baking, whisk the powdered sugar, (soy)milk, vanilla and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Once your cookies are completely cool, dip the top of each cookie into the glaze and place them on a rack to set.

Kate's Phe-nom-nom-nom-enal Key Lime Pie

This recipe is a bit more original than the previous, and several times simpler.

For the crust:
1 inner sleeve of (cinnamon) graham crackers (about 1.5-2 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/8 cup water
some vanilla
some cinnamon

For the filling:
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lime juice
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 cup sour cream
some vanilla

Make the crust! First, crush the graham crackers. The quickest way is to crush them in a food processor, but the fun way is to toss them into a gallon-size plastic bag and go to town on them with a rolling pin until they're ground to a coarse powder. Melt the butter and mix it with the crushed graham crackers in a bowl. Toss in the water, vanilla and cinnamon and stir until the crust is sticky but not difficult to stir. If 1.5 cups of grahams makes the crust too wet, add more grahams a half-cracker at a time. If the crust gets too crumbly and won't stick to itself, add a slash of water. Stir well. Press the crust into a well-greased 9-inch round pie dish. It won't be perfect; that's kind of the point.

Next, make the filling. Zest the lime, then cut it in half. Chuck the condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice, zest and vanilla into a bowl. Squeeze the zested lime into the bowl; it's okay if a bit of pulp gets in there. Gives it character. Stir until well-blended and smooth. Pour that limey b*stard into the prepared pie dish and bake for 7-10 minutes or until small pinhole bubbles pop on the surface of the pie. Do not brown the crust. Let the pie cool for 20-30 minutes before placing it in the fridge to chill for another 2-3 hours. Serve this piece of heaven with freshly whipped cream. Nom nom nom nom.


The Moors

The beginning of this dream is lost. The first thing I remember is dark, cold moors. There isn’t a house around for miles. No lights. I have a job to do, but I don’t want to do it. Oh god, I don’t want to do it. But I have to. If I don’t do what I set out to do, my life will be forfeit.
            I smile in the darkness, even though he can’t see it, and grasp his hand. I hope my grip is steadier than it feels. The smile feels traitorous on my face. He drinks more. Good. He’s drunk. Not drunk enough to stumble and fall. I have to make sure he doesn’t drink that much. He’s bigger than me, so if he goes down, I have to do it the hard way. The mere thought of it sends my stomach pitching and rolling like the hills over which we walk.
            Darkness coats the moors like paint, but I look up and read the thick spray of stars well. I know these moors and I know where I must take him. It’s not far, but the bitter wind slices through to my bones and slows me. Neither of us has a heavy coat, but that doesn’t bother him. Alcohol is his coat.
            I stretch out the hand that’s not connected to his and brush something hard and rough. The tree.
            I tell him that we need to wait a minute, but I don’t let go of his hand. Don’t dare. I can’t lose him in the darkness. I lean against the tree, wrap my free arm around it and press my cheek to its crusty, craggy bark.
            It’s warm.
            I know what it looks like in the light: Gnarled and twisted, dark and blasted. Its limbs do not reach for the sky anymore; they’re arthritic fingers, curled into knobby claws by time and age. It’s shedding its bark; it falls off in musty-mossy chunks. Wind and water and day and night have worn away the ground around its roots. They rise from the earth like the backs of sea serpents. He trips over them and almost falls. My heart leaps into my throat. But he leans on the tree to get up again.
            “Don’t touch it,” I almost scream. “It’s not yours!” I screw my mouth shut against the scream pressing against the backs of my teeth.
            Technically it’s not mine either, but I bare my teeth and snarl at him silently. He doesn’t notice. He spilled his beer on the roots of the tree. I want to force his head down and make him lick it off, but there are more important things to get done.
            I don’t want to leave the tree. I draw no comfort from its crumbling existence. Its peeling, pointed bark pierces the bare flesh of my cheek and arm, but I grip it tighter anyway. It is still warm, and that’s what I cling to.
            It’s time to go, I say to myself. You have to. Now.
            I let go of the tree gingerly, feeling like I’ve left my heart impaled on one spiny piece of bark. It’s connected to me only by strings, which spin out like thread on spools as we make our way over the moors.
            It’s downhill now, and I know we’re getting close. I don’t hear it yet, and I hope he won’t hear it until it’s too late.
            There is no moon, which is good and bad. Good because there isn’t enough light for him to read the land and, more importantly, to read me. He’s always been good at that, and I’ve been bad about keeping my heart hidden. Bad because I love the moon. I miss the moon. It anchors my heart. It is my eye, my satellite, my safety, my blanket of light in this always-night.
            He doesn’t notice when I begin to hum. He still holds the empty beer bottle and tips it back from time to time, trying to drink from it. We still hold hands. I try desperately to keep my grip from mimicking the clawed branches of the tree.

                        To my dearest forsaken
                        Who the earth now has taken
                        Empty, the bottle drains no more

A rushing, hushing sound begins to drown out my quiet hums. I’ve been down here dozens of times, but that doesn’t matter. I must be still. Because to most, the sound has no source. It creeps and surrounds, blankets and disorients, makes you scared and dizzy. The very air makes the sound, it seems, and it’s warning you like a rattlesnake.
            But I know better. I know how to find the source of the sound. I close my eyes and remove myself from myself. It used to be a lot more difficult than it is now. I throw my consciousness out wide in front of me like a net and find what I’m looking for. Close. Not even a football field away. Relief and trepidation muscle into my mind and I am sucked back into myself.
            Awareness begins to clear the cloud of drunkenness around him and he asks where we’re going. I squeeze his hand in reassurance, which he seems to accept. We walk. I feel the strings attached to my heart begin to pull. I hum.

                        It is true that I loved you
                        Despite the harm now on you
                        Wash us; the river has you, boy

As we get closer, the sound does not grow or change. It gets colder, though, as we pick our way through the blasted moor grasses, down, down. I glance up. The fog kicked up by the water is separating us from the stars. That’s okay. It’s not them I’m wedded to, not their tiny needlepricks of cold white light. I urge him deeper into the mist.
            We may as well already be underwater. It’s bone-cold and dangerously black. The air, the fog, the sound presses on us like silt on a riverbed. Here is where it gets tricky for me. I don’t know precisely where the drop-off is, so I have to tread like a frightened child, reaching out to test the ground with one foot before I take each step. I tell him not to step ahead of me.
            Even though that would be easier.
            But I still have hold of his hand; if he falls, he’ll grip me tighter instead of letting go.
            I can’t let that happen. I can’t fall with him. I can’t.
            The heartstrings, connected to my heart still at the tree, are nearly taut now.
With my next step I reach out, step on nothing but air. I find the edge of the bank, orient myself along it so that we stand side by side facing the yawning crevasse the river has cut into the flank of the moor.
            Despite how close we are to the roaring rapids, the sound is not deafening. That’s because the water has spent millions of lifetimes carving this never-healing wound; it’s cut so deep into the earth that the sound works so hard to reach us it’s tired and weak when it gets here.
            “It’s warm,” he says.
            It is. The poisonous cold is less here, right at the bank, especially when you lean out over the emptiness. The river ran so deep it must have struck the earth’s vital warmth, which it was now releasing. I look down, even though it’s still too black to see even a hand an inch from my face. The water must be boiling down there.
            I let go of his hand.

                        Here on the eve of too long
                        Where you’ll think I have done wrong
                        Waking in fear of you no more

I am scared. I feel the triphammer-pound of my heart through the strings, which thrum and vibrate and send out a frantic, skittery song.
He is quiet. Still. He’s sober now and beginning to guess why we’re here. I have to do it before he realizes how deeply I violated his trust.
            I have to do it.
            I wonder if he can feel the terror and anticipation baking off me in waves.
            I have to do it.
            I will the soft soil under his feet to suddenly crumble and pitch him into nothingness.
            I have to do it.
            I put my hand on his shoulder.
            If he decides to fight, he’ll win. He’s bigger and stronger than me. What will I do then?
            If I move another inch, the taut strings of my heart will snap.
            I have to do it. Now.
            I take a shuddering, painful breath and push.
            There is a terrible ripping from the center of my chest. The pain is blinding. It tears the breath out of me and I fall back onto the bank coughing and gasping. I clasp the sucking hole in my chest, expecting to plunge my hand into gouts of hot, thick blood, but feel nothing. Not even a hole.
            I feel nothing.
            I lie there for a moment and catch my breath. Gazing up into the stifling blackness, I begin to hum again.

                        To my dearest forsaken
Dearest vow I have broken
Afraid of your angry hands no more
River may help me later
                        Sleeping my lost love for you, boy

Song: "Dearest Forsaken" By Iron and Wine