Time

Time.

Time is the thing that I have come to value in my life above so many other wants. I don’t love time like a pastry or lament it’s passing like the loss of a loved one, but I hunger for it now as I quickly approach the half century mark and resent like hell when it’s wasted with things beyond my control and without necessity. 

Always late to boring office meetings? Suggest this boardroom-on-wheels to  your boss - T2 Online
Me in every meeting ever.

As I write this now, we sit in the midst of a global pandemic. Covid has chased us from our restaurants and workplaces and now I teach high school art from the comfort of my basement classroom, piped into the homes of my drooping students via the internet. And I’m lucky, I know! I have a job that I can do, as does my wife, Action Girl. Our son, Short Stack (who’s nickname no longer fits as he has long passed the height of his mother) and I no longer go into a building each day to work and learn, but do it all via cameras and microphone. Our daughter, Lulu Belle attends school both virtually and with a smattering of in school experience and Action Girl has gone four days a week, with all possible protections taken and fingers firmly crossed. There is a lot of grumbling and deprivation out there right now, but we as a family are fortunate and know it well and never forget that.

I have time. It’s not ideal time at the moment, to be sure, but it’s time nonetheless. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life doing a lot of very different things, from working behind a desk to working over an endless vat of bait fish and each job has taught me something different and yet… each job has also taught me one thing over and over and over again. Time.

Time is the only thing you can’t really make. You can work at making yourself rich or happy or brave or strong or any number of things but you can’t make any more time than you get. It’s what it is. That’s your allotment, so be careful with it. In my past working incarnations, I have done work that took all of it. I very proudly started and ran a successful manufacturing business for ten years and it runs still, to this day, but not with me. There was a moment where I realized that I was working away the hours of not my life, but my children’s lives. Short Stack was two and Lulu Belle, newly born and I was working sixty to eighty hours a week. That made no sense to me, so I left it to become Dad at Home while Action Girl went back to running coastal ferry boats. I stayed with the babies and she became “Mumma on the Phone”. Action Girl doesn’t sit still well and though the idea of being a stay at home mother sent her screaming for the trees, being “Mumma on the Phone” wore her down as well and it was time for a change for her as well. Or rather, it was time for a change back. 

Action Girl and I have a lot in common (and not just our now thirty years of co-experience) and one in particular was a key that we had stuffed in a drawer long ago and let gather dust. It was time to rummage around in the dark, looking for it. We needed the key. We also needed to polish it up again after so much disuse. Teaching. 

We both love the act of teaching and had gone to school for it, but as a kid fresh out of college, getting a teaching job means years of garbage work. They used you as a substitute. They use you as an Ed Tech. They used you for behavioral problems. They used you and use you and used you hard and all the while, pay you garbage, all with the carrot of, “If you suffer this for as long as we want you to suffer, then someday you might get a classroom.” Both of us had traveled this road when we were fresh from college and both of us had walked away weary and beaten. But that was then. We were young and still easily swayed. We lacked life experience. We still were unsure and worried about displeasing. Age can change that, and it definitely did for us. After starting and running a manufacturing business, becoming an IT Director for a local company and then switching to twenty-four/seven infant care for me and running a crew on a variety of multi-tonne, sea going vessels for her, schools just weren’t that intimidating any more. We could do this, so we did. 

It wasn’t quite as simple as all that, naturally! I was insanely fortunate to luck into a job that would let me study to regain my teaching licenses, all while pulling a paycheck. I got in at just the right moment and through some perfect timing and force of will, I managed to carve out the place where I have taught for the last several years. Action Girl had a harder time finding her way back in which included getting a higher degree, bouncing around from school to school in search of a position that lasted more than a year at a time, but she’s there now too with her own classroom and students and is content. We did it. So what did we get? Well…

We both absolutely love doing what we do, even in a pandemic that makes the job that much harder and much less rewarding. It’s a fantastic thing to look forward to tackling each day, but here’s the thing, we only tackle it when it’s in session, and there’s a lot of time it isn’t. That’s not to say that the job is an easy one. It absolutely isn’t, but…Summers are ours now, as an entire family! Breaks happen simultaneously for all four of us! We all get home (when we are at our respective schools) at about the same time and most of all, we can, with a little bit of luck, all get the same unexpected snow day off together. We have time. 

Having the time to walk with my kids or my wife, to play a computer game or one of Action Girl’s beloved board games is just a gift. Sure, Monday through Friday is a thing, but it’s not always a thing and on those days, we indulge in being who we are. There is really nothing to compare. Action Girl, much to my joyful surprise has embraced quilt making with a fevered passion, something she never would have had time for with a job that makes you sign up for blocks of time to work. The work would have always been too tempting and the time would have been lost to the wheelhouse. Lulu Belle draws and paints endlessly while listening to shows on her headphones. Short Stack, being fourteen, is glued to his computer and I… well… So many things, but mainly I build. I make. I create. 

I can’t not. 

And though I fill my time, I do know that time is there. I still don’t sit still well, (well… unless I’m building something), but at least have time to do the things I deem important. Someday, our plan is to have more time and to take it and adventure again. We will travel and look and laugh and eat and share our time with others again. We’ll be busy, but busy on our terms and when it gets tiresome, which it does sooner than it used to, we’ll stop for a while, open a bottle of something nice, and enjoy the quiet of time to ourselves. 

Almost there, again. 

Hang in there. 

*tap tap* Is this thing on?

It’s been far too long.

Faaaaaaar too long. It’s time to write something.

Tomorrow. I’ll see if I can get up early and get typing. Honest.

Summer Motivation

There are a few things that I feel everyone should do at least once to help gain perspective in life. You should work a retail job to better understand what it’s like to stand on the other side of a cash register. Everyone should have to try and run some sort of business to better know the kind of insane workload that entails. People should have to teach an unruly mob of children for at least a year strait to experience not just how rewarding it is, but also how the effort to hold it all together comes directly out of your hide and incidentally, why when teachers come home and grab a beer at 3:30 in the afternoon, it is most definitely for medicinal purposes. Experiencing these things informs you on how to act and react when you encounter the harried individuals who deal with these things on a daily basis. It teaches you empathy and to not stand on their frayed nerves through either obstinance or simple cluelessness.

Mowing a cemetery is one you might want to try some day as well and that is exactly what my wife, Action Girl, and I were doing just yesterday in a vain effort to get through the absurd list of “must do’s” before the time in our island hourglass runs out and the adventure begins. It’s high summer here on the coast of Maine and for us, that means it’s bugout time.

The beautiful islands, sandy beaches, dune grass and quaint villages of where we live acts as a siren song for tourists and they flock here in numbers that boggle the mind and at times, boil the blood. Mostly, they are a good natured lot with smiles, questions and appreciation of everything they encounter here in Maine, just truly happy to be experiencing “They Way Life Should Be”, as our state’s official motto puts it, and they come to experience in droves.

This is where it gets grating.

The produce and dairy sections in our little island market look as though it was attacked by vultures, the once full racks now striped to their metallic bones. If we decide to venture to the mainland for supplies, the time it will take to drive to and get through the big supermarket will be quadruple what it is in the off season due to the slow moving packs of holiday makers looking for lobster rolls, potato chips and sun block. Parking throughout the city is filled up with SUV’s sporting foreign license plates and those giant black hamburger things on their rooves, holding the extra debris of vacation that couldn’t be crammed into the driving compartment. There are people everywhere. EVERYWHERE! And really… I don’t blame them.

Hot Weather

The coast of Maine is wonderful.

Honest!

You should visit some time!

…Just let me get my bag packed, first.

As much as I understand why they come, there are some unavoidable issues that are part of the deal when you live in a place desirable for others to experience. It’s not really the depravations of milk and bread at the local market that makes it aggravating but rather, having to wade through the expanse of humanity on vacation on a daily basis while you, who are NOT on vacation, attempt to get on with your life without having your patience worn down to a painful little nub.

Okay! Okay! Maybe the “not on vacation” thing is slightly disingenuous coming from me. The truth of the matter is that both my wife and I are teachers, and that means that come summer we are in fact out of school, just like our children. This however doesn’t mean that we are kicking back, drinking rosé and eating cheese by noon each day. Summer is when our other jobs kick in and though they may be less intense than our normal school-time gig, they most definitely still count as work. Action Girl, never one to sit still for more than about three minutes, captains a ferry boat transporting clumps of eager vacationers to and from their long dormant island, summer cottages. On her days off, she can be found cleaning houses or teaching boat handling to land lubbers or if the time allows, perhaps doing some fine painting… or possibly fixing the plumbing. Meanwhile, I slide into my other rolls such as working at making our house actually habitable and weather tight using a maximum of noisy power tools and too much lumber. If I’m not making sawdust, I’m carving headstones. If I’m not carving headstones, then I’m desperately trying to make order in our little island house as our children follow in my wake, slowly destroying what was freshly accomplished. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. You start at one end and by the time you reach the other, it’s time to circle back to the beginning again.

See? Action Girl and I don’t get into the rosé and cheese until at least six or seven, just like normal folk. So how do we deal with the added weight of dealing with those “from away” as we attempt to enjoy summer? We flee. We become the enemy. We become… Tourists!

And that brings us back to the cemetery.

With the grass trimmed back nice and neat to the ancient stones, we can now cross its care off our list of responsibilities before we leave. Mow a cemetery some time and like any other job, you’ll be stunned at how much more work it is than you thought it would be, just like most things in life. We do a lot, and now, it’s almost time for us to go so that we can enjoy some perspective in our life as well. We know what it’s like here, and how nice it is, even with the extra work, but you know what we don’t know? What it’s like to be Dutch.

So we’re off to see the Netherlands in the height of Summer and we won’t be back for a good long while, the time made available to us being the one huge bonus of being full time school teachers. It’s beautiful here in New England and to leave our home empty while we’re away would be nothing short of criminal and so the best part is, our place won’t be wasted while we are gone. All our work: the carpentry, the gardens, the view and the expert plumbing will be enjoyed by a lovely Dutch family with whom we are exchanging homes. We will take their place just outside of Amsterdam and they will ensconce themselves on the rocky coast of Maine, each of us joining the tourist throng. I have no doubt that it’s going to be great and hopefully, with both families well accustomed to what it’s like to be neck deep in foreigners, we can adjust to being the best tourists possible. After all, living is about experiencing new things and I can’t think of a better gift to give ourselves, our kids and in this case, another whole family than the chance to gain the perspective of what it’s like to experience a whole new place full of beauty and good food. They won’t have to mow the cemetery, but they get to water our gardens, feed our cat and enjoy our corner of the world while we do the same at their place and I know that we will both do our utmost to be the best tourists possible. Just like all the others.

Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em…

Lost. A poem, 9/1/05

I can’t help it, and it often makes life harder than it needs to be.
I do not know why, but it comes so naturally to me to ascribe a persona to most everything I find and a history is constructed as soon as it catches my notice. The elegant car, now in disrepair. Who was it, all those years ago, so proud of your pristine shine? The pen, forlorn and trod on, resting on the sidewalk, gravel having left its mark on your smooth surface. What pocket did you tumble from, unnoticed? The single shoe on the side of the on-ramp, still shining with buffed leather and looking for your mate. How the hell do they loose a shoe on the highway?
It makes me think of the lost things in my life. Is my missing coffee mug being cared for? Is the stolen backpack at least being used? Why do I care? These are just things and things are replaceable. Yet, I look and see some forgotten thing and it looks back as if to say, “Well, you won’t just leave me here, will you?
I don’t have room for the car or reason for the shoe. The pen writes smoothly though, and dents and all, seems happy with its purpose and nestles in to talk with new friends in the dark, safety of my desk drawer. At least as I imagine it.

What’s Cooking?

My Father, good man that he is, is not what I would call, kitchen savvy, and he’ll admit to that freely. For the most part, to him the kitchen is a place containing cupboards, various utensils, pots, pans, and boxes of stuff that magically transform into delicious things to eat. As he sees it, if the right person enters this place and does steamy things over the stove, wonderful dinners and desserts appear which he most enthusiastically enjoys. It’s not that he doesn’t’ appreciate good cooking. He most definitely does! But quote him, “When I look in the kitchen, it just looks like boxes of stuff to me.” And he’s in awe when others take these things and create lovely food. It’s just not how his brain reacts to canisters of flour, sugar and baking powder… with a single exception that I can recall…

Pancakes. Dad and I made a lot of pancakes together when I was a kid. He’s good at those. It was in the Betty Crocker book.

I spent a fair chunk of my childhood in the little galley kitchen at my home in New Hampshire. Most of those memories are of me standing on a chair at the edge of our tiny stretch of counter, asking my Mom if I could have a turn with the rolling pin or the cookie cutters or kneading the dough. She was always happy to have me there hogging up what little extra room the tiny kitchen provided. Now that I have inquisitive young children of my own, I utterly and completely understand how paining it often is to answer, “Sure. You have a try.” when all you really want to do is get whatever you’re making into the oven and sit the heck down for a couple of minutes after you race through clean up. She frequently let me have a go at what ever she was doing and I’ll always be thankful to her for that.

I can still see in my mind’s eye the counters covered with dustings of flour, measuring cups spread across the back like little Russian nesting dolls awaiting their chance to be filled, scraped flat at the rim and upended into the big crockery mixing bowl. It was a lot of fun for a kid who was always up for messing about with ingredients and hot surfaces and my Mother has told me on more than one occasion that I informed her from an early age that I wanted to be a chef when I grew up.

Though that never happened professionally, (at least not yet, anyhow) the kitchen has remained one of my favorite places to spend my day, exhausting as it often is. I like cooking and very much love baking and do both often.

In a little, low cabinet in my Mother’s kitchen live the recipe books, and there are many to choose from. Some bound, most assembled with hand written cards and others from torn out magazines articles or snipped from newspapers, but growing up, her master reference tome was always the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book. It had been a gift from her own mother when she and my father set up house together.

Betty Crocker

I can clearly picture it laying open on the counter, scraps of paper protruding from the top to mark various pages dusted with the puffs of errant ingredients. To me, the best part was looking in the margins, many filled with notes in her beautiful cursive script noting substitutions, thoughts on cooking times or more often, when to double the laughably small quantities of frosting allotted for various desserts. On more than one occasion upon revisiting this tome as an adult, I have taken a moment to poke through and see what can be found as far as Mom’s kitchen thoughts. It always makes me smile and there is one recipe in particular I tend to look for. It’s located on the left hand page and it’s for a cookie called “Jubilee Jumbles.”

Jubilee Jumbles are a wonderful little puff of dessert with a delicious butter icing to cap it all off. They have the consistency of something between soft bread and cake but the sweetness of a glazed doughnut… but better. They are special to me for more than just their deliciousness, however.

This is where my Dad comes in. With the approach of some mom specific celebration day, (Mother’s Day or possibly her birthday. I forget now), my kitchen novice Father had the great idea that we should make Mom chocolate chip cookies. Who doesn’t love those, right? Both of us had seen her make them dozens of time and we were sure we could pull this off before she came home from where ever she had gone for the afternoon. After all, we had Betty to guide us! Mrs. Crocker would never let us down! We’d follow her recipe to the letter and it would be great!

With the confidence that only comes from naivety, my dear Father and I launched into the project with gusto. The book was found and “chocolate chip cookies” was looked up and the book propped open to the page. Within minutes, ingredients were pulled from their hiding places, the oven was preheated, mixing happened and flour flew. My Dad, who is not known for his studious direction following ability, bent hard to the task and, against his nature, forced himself to focus with laser like determination on not getting his eye off the ball and winding up with a bowl full of batter only good for setting fence posts or spackling the ceiling. He was going to follow this thing to the letter if it killed him and I did my best scurrying about to fetching him whatever the book said to add next.

We first became suspicious when, as he slid the tray into the oven, one of us pointed out that there had been no chocolate chips added to the chocolate chip cookies. Neither of us were experts in the culinary arts, me being a kid and Dad being… Dad, but we were both pretty sure that chocolate chips were a fairly fundamental part of chocolate chip cookies. It’s right there in the name, after all. This required some reflection. Did we forget a step? Dad looked over the cookbook. He examined the chocolate chip cookie recipe and noted that, yes, it did indeed call for chocolate chips, but… that the recipe for those particular cookies was located on the right hand page, while the recipe we had been following so studiously was indeed, on the left. We were off the map! What had we made?!? This was uncharted territory. Dad’s laser like focus seemed to have been focused on the wrong page.

So, we did what we had to. We kept on rolling and soldiered on and out of the oven came Jubilee Jumbles, just as Betty Crocker had intended. We followed her every instruction and the result was a beautiful and delicious, if albeit, unintentional cookie. When Mom heard the story, she loved it so much that she noted it right there in the margin of her cookbook and it has provided our family an entertaining chuckle for all these years.

In my own kitchen a few days ago, I found my self rummaging around in the cookbooks for something new to make. I was feeling in a rut with my dessert selections and thought it was time to find something else. When this happens, rather than turning to the internet, I tend to look backwards in the browning pages of forgotten recipes. I find that very comforting somehow. I reached for my own copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook to see what I could find. My addition, a gift from my Mother some time ago, is a copy from 1950 and she inscribed to me in the front cover in her fluid, perfect handwriting and I love reading that whenever I open its cover. Thumbing through its delicate pages, I stumbled across a cookie called “Butterscotch Cookies with Burnt Butter Icing” and paused to read the ingredients list. I read it again and then skimmed the directions. Ironically, this particular recipe in the Betty Crocker’s “Picture” Cookbook had no picture but since I love to bake and do so often, in my mind I could see what this would make. These were the family famous cookies! These were Jubilee Jumbles! I hadn’t thought of them in years and having long moved from my Parent’s home, hadn’t had those little delightful cookies in decades. Gleefully, I set out to make them and was eventually rewarded with the puffy, sweet cakes that I remember from that day Dad and I followed the wrong recipe. The burnt butter icing, as I quickly found out, was far too little to cover all the cookies and after making a second batch, I pulled out my pencil to scribble just that in the margins.

My handwriting is nothing compared to my Mother’s.

I’d have to call her to ask for the exact wording of what she has written in her own copy of Betty’s book, but I can tell you this, I bet that in addition to the short note about how Dad and I made these for her by accident, it says to double the icing. As I looked at the page in my own book, I decided to add an additional editorial of my own.

“I know these as Jubilee Jumbles. A favorite in our family for decades. -2013”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think its time for some cookies and milk.

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