Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Molasses cookies

My pal Danielle is pregnant. And she asked me for the recipe for my Grandma Lena's molasses cookies because she was having a craving. How well I understand that! I haven't been pregnant for nearly 20 years, but I crave the hell out of these cookies about once a week. Only my inherent laziness (and perhaps a bit of cholesterol related self-preservation) keeps me from having them on hand 24/7.
Before I start, you need to know that these are the most delicious cookies on the planet. And that only by following my step-by-step instructions will you be able to replicate the deliciousness that was a staple of my childhood. And I might leave out a special ingredient to insure that I am the only person who makes them perfectly...

NO!! Just kidding!! I really am going to give you the original recipe from my Grandma Lena (the greatest cookie maker of all time) and then I will even tell you the two additions that brought these babies into the modern age.

Here is the original recipe:

And here are the secret additions that make them even better -

Here are the ingredients -
3/4 cup shortening (butter flavor makes it awesome)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cloves (be generous)
1/2 teaspoon ginger (be generous again)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (be a little generous, but don't go nuts)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Do this:
Double the recipe. It's totally worth it!

Melt the Crisco over low heat. Let it cool, but not congeal.

Mix it with the sugar, molasses and egg. 

In another bowl mix the flour, baking soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and salt.

Add the dry stuff to the wet stuff and put some wax paper over it (or whathaveyou) and put it in the fridge for a couple hours. Or over night. Or a couple days when you keep scheduling things on the night when you planned to make cookies.

Once the batter is cool, preheat the oven to 375, put some parchment paper on your cookie sheet, start ballin'.

(That means, roll the dough in to 1 inch balls, roll them in sugar and put them on the cookie sheet. Then tap them just enough so they don't roll around when you move them. The bottom of a jelly jar works great.)

Put them in the oven and set the timer for 8 minutes. Even if you don't think they're done, take them out after 8 minutes. As long as your oven is preheated, they will be great.

Let them cool on the sheet while you bake a second sheet. (You should have been balling your next sheet while these ones cooked! Live and learn...) Once the other ones come out, put the cookies on a rack to cool further or let your greedy family start eating them right away.

Repeat 'til the dough is gone and everyone in your house is stuffed with cookies.

You're welcome.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Suburban Matron, how do you fill your days?

Wow, I haven't blogged since February? Good grief. I must have been so well adjusted all spring!

I have noticed throughout my life that I only write when I am freaking out or having an adventure. Perhaps that is why it feels so strange to be writing now. But my summer plan is to write for at least an hour each day, and that can't just be scribbling in my journal about what I am reading.

Besides, I have had such a rich fulfilling day, I really must document it.

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head...

Read newspapers, ate fruit, drank coffee, planted vegetables.

HA! Didn't see that last one coming, did you? But it really happened. And I even had to go down into the scary, scary basement to turn the spigot on so that the little shoots would have a fighting chance. (In spite of the fact that I bought them at Home Depot 2 weeks ago and they have been sitting in the backyard getting providentially rained on since.)

Tidied up, sorted laundry, aired a blanket, went shoe shopping.

Got you again! Yes, I bought two pairs of shoes, both of which were designed for women's feet. I couldn't be more surprised myself. One pair are (is? how do you verb for pairs of something?) sneakers - navy blue sneakers that make me feel like doing Zumba! (If Zumba still exists...) The other pair are some sort of hiking sandal that are waterproof and feel absolutely wonderful on my feet. I am going to experiment with wearing socks with them so that I can fit in when I go to Canada. I feel very good about the shoes.

And with all these accomplishments, the only picture I took today was this -

My delicious egg sandwich with cherry limeade on my beautiful Maud Hart Lovelace china.

According to world famous Lovelace scholar, Kathy Baxter, the plate actually belonged to the Hart family. The cup was a find of a friend who saw a set at a yard sale, know the pattern was the same and offered pieces to different Betsy-Tacy friends. I adore it!

And the book is a hoot. Samantha Irby is funny, funny, funny. She makes me feel better about how rarely I left my house this winter.

Okay, I have been writing for significantly less than an hour, but I really need to go prance about in my new shoes.


Monday, February 13, 2017


Tom Hart* 

There is this theory that after the age of 45 or so, women become invisible. There was a book I read back in my 20s where these two middle aged broads go away on a girls weekend and make a wish and apparently are turned back into their more youthful selves and men hit on them again and all is right with the world.

This seems patently terrifying to me.

I reeeeeeally like my 50s. I like being invisible until I speak up. I like not being too concerned that I am wearing socks and Birkenstocks. And most of all, I like having an excuse to be nosy. Don't get me wrong, I have always been nosy! I am always, according to el Guapo, about 5 minutes from poking my nose into someone else's business. Not to stir up the shit. I am very low-drama, thank you very much. I just find people's stories fascinating.

In BETSY AND JOE by Maud Hart Lovelace, Joe, a suitor of Betsy as you perhaps have sussed out from the title, pays her father a wonderful compliment. Something about being a student of human beings. I am far too lazy to look it up. But I like to think I share that attribute. I really do find people interesting.

My best conversation of the past week was with a woman with whom I have worked for years. For some reason we got to talking about husbands' schedules and I casually asked what her beloved does for a living. Well, it turns out he is a horse dentist.

WHAT??? How do you get to be a horse dentist? How do you find any horses to work on their teeth? Is he one of the 4 horse dentists who recommend Trident to their horses who chew gum?

I did not ask all of those questions, but I got her started and out poured the story of how she, herself, used to be a horse groomer at the racetracks in Boston and how she traveled the country and would just show up at a track looking for work and be grooming horses in no time. This is an immaculately put together lady who looks like she spends her weekends drinking tea and looking at the Ann Taylor website from her breakfast nook in Marblehead. And here she has had this amazing life of adventure. Who knew?

I do find the young people of my acquaintance to be interesting by virtue of the fact that they are just starting out and finding their way. High school and college and just beyond are the times just ripe for seeing the world and trying to figure out how it works. I remember the feeling of being adrift and at the same time wanting to suck out the marrow of life. (While at the same time wanting to stay in bed and read...Ah, youth...) When I run across a friend of my kids, or a student at work who seems to have that wanderlust, it warms my heart.

One of the reasons I love the Facebook is because occasionally I will come across one of the travel videos made by a former student, or the political rants of a current student and smile at their newly-hatched enthusiasm. I love that we are churning out more creative, brave young adults every day. But I also appreciate those of us who may have most of our physical adventures behind us, but continue to explore the landscape of humanity through the stories of other people.

*From Julie Schrader's amazing blog - https://betsytacysdeepvalley.wordpress.com/

Friday, February 10, 2017

All My Best Friends' Husbands are Feminists

Mindy Kaling said it best, “Best friend isn't a person, it's a tier.” I have found this to be true throughout my life. In addition to my sisters (the best friends God insists you keep) I have been lucky enough to have a group of best friends I can count on.  Right now there are four women who I refer to as “my best friend”.  I sometimes ruminate about what my standards are for best friend and the commonalities have pretty much come down to - they are all whip-smart, they all love to read and they are all funny as funny can be. Added bonus, they usually ask me to be their children's godmother. I'm really good at godmothering, if I do say so myself...

With the change in the federal administration, I have begun to think more and more about women's issues and how they have changed through time. I have also been thinking about my “bubble” - even though I was born in the midwest and have family members and friends in red and blue states alike, most of the people I am closest too are on the coasts. And well educated. And liberal. And I started thinking yesterday about marriage and why my friends have long lasting marriages. We are all Godless communists – how can we not be engaging in free love and naughtiness? Perhaps it is generational – three out of four of my best friends are pretty menopausal (sorry to out you ladies) – but the ones of us that are married have been with our spouses for a LONG time and while things have not always been a picnic for everyone, we have persisted and remained faithful and loving.

For the longest time I have thought that the divorce rate in the US was 50%. It turns out that (according to the New York Times – which I read every morning, ask anyone!) the divorce rate is dropping. And one of the main reasons for this is feminism! And they reported this in 2014.

Well, dammit.

That was going to be the point of this whole essay. And I was going to have a big reveal at the end. Smart women marry feminist men. Your minds would be blown at the way I was able to pull this amazing truth out of anecdotal evidence.

I was going to tell funny stories of my friends' marriages. Well, not best friend #1 – I was going to call her Victoria. She is my best friend from work. We became friends when I started working at the high school over 10 years ago. She is younger than me and single by choice. She was the favorite teacher of both of my sons and she has had a huge influence on them. She has not made me a godmother, but she has decreed that my sons are her dog's godfathers. So I am essentially a godgrandmother or grandgodmother. (Spellcheck is really resistant to both those options.) Anyway, you can bet your ass that if she ever finds someone she deems worthy of sharing her life with exclusively – they will be a feminist.

There is my friend Lady Chardonnay (she came equipped with her own secret internet name!) and her husband Dr. Chardonnay. I believe she calls him Mr. Lady Chardonnay in her blog, but he is an esteemed academic so I will refer to him as so. So Lady Char just had double knee surgery a few days ago and Dr. Char has been sending email updates to her friends and family. The thing that shines through these is the fact that he respects and adores her. And he may win for feminist-est husband in my circle – these two met when she was working withPlanned Parenthood and he was volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center when those two groups joined up for an education program.

My friend Anna (short for Indianapolis – her zombie survival name) is married to...hmmm...we'll call him Mankato (even though he has a very uncalled for superior attitude about Mankato, the greatest small city in Minnesota). If you look at the facts of their marriage, it doesn't look typically feminist. They were both raised in small towns the midwest. He is quite a few years older than her (although he looks a few years younger than me which is patently unfair). She married young. He is a minister. Ooh! He is her boss at work! (Okay, I have been known to make very funny and only mildly inappropriate jokes about sexual harassment in the workplace to her.) He has spent most of his adult life searching for truth and meaning in this world and helping other as they aspire to do this as well. And he clearly respects and adores his wife. Now I don't know if he calls himself a feminist, but in the 18 or so years that I have known and loved this family, I have never heard him say anything that was disrespectful towards women. And I have heard him talk a LOT! And they have raised a daughter who is a teenaged feminist of the highest order.

Mo is my anomaly. We have been friends for over 25 years. She moved to California 20 years ago, but we have remained besties. She has married two feminists! Okay, yes, I know, the point of this was supposed to be that smart women marry feminists and that makes their marriages last longer. But when I talked to her about her marriages, I couldn't help but think that she had chosen wisely twice. I watched her fall in love with her first husband, Herle. I was actually friends with him before they met and I have to say I was not a fan when she showed up at our house. She mocked my spelling. (This seems to be a theme with me!) And she was a pain in the ass. But she grew on me. And I was the matron of horror at their beautiful wedding. They split up for reasons that were, I think, out of their control. They remained co-parents of their amazing kids. Sadly, the kids have kind of aged out of my spectacular godparenting, but someday they will have children of their own and I will be waiting with a pocket full of butterscotch candies and a used tissue tucked in my sleeve to begin my grandgodparenting.

A few years after their marriage ended, Mo started talking about this guy. Just a friend. But she talked about him a lot. And she showed me a picture. He looked just like Mal Reynolds, captain of the Serenity! And - like any sensible person would do when they met someone who looked like Captain Mal and was a trained chef and was an excellent father – she married him. Now she is married to her second feminist husband. I am not saying that this makes her twice as smart as my other friends, but you do the math...

My husband, el Guapo as he is known around these parts, gave me the stink-eye when I asked him if he was a feminist, way back when. “What do I look like, an idiot? Of course I am...” My mom told me when I was a teenager that if I wanted to have a happy marriage, I should marry a man who is smarter than me. I joke that el Guapo was the closest I could find. Fine. He is CLEARLY equally as smart as I am. I will admit that he knows way more science and how to fix things, but I kick his ass at Jeopardy and I will never stop.

I would amend my mother's advice – to have a happy marriage, you should, of course marry a smart person if at all possible. But also make sure that they believe that, regardless of gender, marriage, any marriage, is the coming together of equals. There must be a word for this, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Oh Aunt Betsy...

Well, you've gone and wrecked one of my favorite names. I usually name my cars Betsy, and, of course, the Betsy Tacy books. And now we have Betsy De Vos. Where do I begin?

So I guess I will begin with the Bloomer list. It is a list of book that is put out by an ALA committee every year that features books with feminist content. I am applying to be on the committee this year. One of the questions on the application is - “Has feminism played a role in your community involvement and/or activism? If so, please describe.”

First of all, how sweet that you assume I am an activist! Most of my activism consists of whining on Facebook. That is an activity, right? But I am involved in the community. And since my community is often times mostly made up of teenagers, I thought I would look there to see how feminism has played a role.

And how does this circle back to the new Secretary of Education, you ask? Well, it became clear to me how closely related feminism and education are. I am a feminist, I have been since I became aware that it existed. And I have had the gift of being well educated in both public and private schools. And believe me when I tell you that a public school education is a gift.

So I talked a girl yesterday at school. She is an ELL student who I have seen around, but haven't really interacted with before. She speaks 6 languages. She is 17 and moved to the US from Malaysia three years ago. She is worried about passing the state standardized tests for 10th graders. Even though she is 2 years older than most 10th graders, this is where she has ended up because she missed so much school. She only attended school for 1 year in her home country.

She is Muslim, but apparently pretty liberal: no headgear, cute fashionable outfit, made up as if angels from Sephora did her face this morning. But with a clearly Muslim last name.

Oh, why did she only have one year of school in her home country, you ask?

Well, when she was 11 she got her first period so she was no longer allowed to attend school. I don't know specifically why, but it sure seems like someone in her her home country doesn't want women to be educated.

Her little sister just turned 11 and she told me with a smile that since they are here in American her sister “will not have to miss any school.”

This student lost the four years that we take for granted. The years where kids wonder if they should be taking AP, wonder if they should try out for the musical, if they should run track, if they prefer math to social studies. She might be brilliant (and she seems pretty damn smart) but she lost 4 of her brain-spongiest years not being allowed to be educated.

(And her Muslim parents upended their entire lives to come here for a better life for their girls. For a more secular life. And yet our government vilifies them because of the their background. That isn't radical Islam, that is radical parenting. But we won't even get into the immigration debate.)

For her, being a woman directly impacted her education in a way that makes me want to scream! Feminism depends on education.

I had an interaction with one of my favorite students yesterday as well. This girl is a senior and she has some pretty significant medical issues and some learning delays. And she is the most engaging kid, she never stops reading and if I didn't adore her already – she is a compulsive book buyer who purges her YA collection regularly and donates her books to the school library!

So this girl came in yesterday wearing a shirt that said, “Books make me happy. You, not so much.” I howled with laughter. And I got to thinking, because of public education, she has been able to overcome so many challenges to become the woman she is today.

And Aunt Betsy isn't even sure if we need to fund special education. I don't even have the words to express my dread.

As I mentioned earlier, I attended private schools. They were very warm, kind places where I was surrounded by a lot of privileged kids who looked just like me, who had parents who thought just like mine and who, if they exhibited any challenging behaviors, were invited to go back to public school. Aunt Betsy would have LOVED my educational experience. And I am grateful that my parents wanted their daughters to have a good education. And I don't regret the time I spent in those institutions.

But the truth is, private schools separate us from people who are different. And it is important to surround yourself with people who have different experiences. So many of the problems of this world (not the least of which is the current administration) stem from not understanding that your experience is not necessarily universal.

My younger son attends a public university where his 10 suite-mates are essentially a United Nations. This pleases me to no end. I was in third grade before I met a non-white child. (Not because my family was racist, I just lived in a super-white suburb. My parents hosted a Fresh-Air kid every summer and caught a rash of shit from some parts of the community for that.) He has had gay friends since elementary school. I met my first gay friend in college. (If you don't count every closeted boy I had a crush on in high school...) It was Michael Tolliver from Armistead Maupin's TALES OF THE CITY. But then I met non-fictional gay friends too.

Part of my slow exposure to people who were not “just like me” was because of geography, part of it was because of the era in which I lived, but part of it was the way that private education can insulate you. The idea that it is somehow superior to public education is laughable.

Take it from me, I experienced it and I love to laugh. And I have devoted what will probably amount to the second half of my life to public education. I tell my students that there is no more extravagant gift that they will ever receive than a free public education. And I firmly believe that.

So, Aunt Betsy, before you destroy everything that I hold dear by your greed, incompetence and misguided sense of superiority, be aware that I am a feminist educator and I am watching you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Betsy Tacy Forever!

Fear of missing out is not a new phenomenon. Many of the worst decisions of my life can be attributed to wanting to be where the action is, rather than being where I should be to get things done. (See entire college education, 1984-1989.)

In the works of Maud Hart Lovelace, the newly acronym-ed FoMo plays a role, even in the early 20th century. In HEAVEN TO BETSY, when Betsy is honored with a place in the essay contest, she blows her preparation time because of a slew of parties to honor a friends who is moving away. In BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF Cab and Tony are supposed to read the noble work of IVANHOW the night before there sophomore year of high school begins. Instead, they decide to hang out at the Ray's, making fudge and singing tunes. Emily Webster of the apocryphal EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY attends the sleigh ride from hell when her friends are home from college even though she knows she is on a pity date and she will be spending the entire evening shivering in the Minnesota winter while her best friend and cousin unknowingly flirts with the undeserving boy who holds her heart. But she doesn't want to miss out.

There are a lot of parallels to current teenage behavior (and adult behavior, too) in these books. Instead of going to Five Guys to celebrate the last night of summer, Betsy and Tacy take a picnic up on the big hill. When Carney's beau Larry moves away to California, Betsy helps her get over it with the 1907 equivalent of listening to Fall Out Boy and binge watching Gilmore Girls – she listens to Carney play classical pieces on the piano and reads out loud to her when she sews. And Betsy's Christmas in Milwaukee is her own French/Music/Spanish trip – the first somewhat-independent trip that is a rite of passage for current upper middle class girls. Especially those who want to come home dramatic and mysterious.

The reason I love these books so much is because even though they are set in a very specific time, the experience of being a high school student generally shares the same emotional arc. Certainly not for everyone, but for many smart girls who like to read and write. And I was (and remain) just that sort of smart girl. Maud Hart lived that arc in the aughts, my mom did it in the 50s, I did it in the 80s and there are the same things going on now in the twenty-teens. Is it the lattice of coincidence? The circle of life? The wind beneath my wings? Perhaps not, but it is a shared experience of young womanhood that Ms Lovelace was brilliant at putting on the page.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Walkin' Back to Making America Great Again...

So I was listening to a Pandora station earlier tonight and the “inspiration” for the it was the song WALKIN' BACK TO HAPPINESS by Nancy Shapiro. Now I had never heard of Nancy Shapiro – I knew the song from a movie and chose it based on having heard that on the soundtrack – but she was voted Britain's “Top Female Singer” in 1962 when she was 16 years old. So a lot of the songs that were played were early '60s girl group kinds of things.

The first song that came up was Lesley Gore's THAT'S THE WAY BOYS ARE. Well, that blew my mind. The lyrics forgive a bunch of really passive-aggressive behaviors with the phrase “that's the way boys are.” And I learned from this song that in 1964, boys were real assholes. According to Richard Aquila (and my pals at wikipedia) this song's lyrics “voice the era's acceptance of sexual double standards” and Walter Everett (a musicologist) says it “perpetuated a boys will be boys tolerance for male, but not female, infidelity.” The first line is about how she feels so awful when he check's out other girls, but she just suppresses those rebellious feelings because, for heaven's sake, he is a boy. They are wired for objectifying women! (Spoiler, when they have a fight it is Lesley's fault.) This is the girl who sang YOU DON'T OWN ME, so it makes this a little tough to take.

But next up is Bo Diddley's CHEYENNE. And that CHEYENNE was up to all kinds of mischief. Manly mischief. It was a good time to be a manly man...

Then Bobby Darin tells us how he wants SOMEBODY TO LOVE. You see, he was off chasing fortune and fame, but all he wants now is a good, good girl to spend his life with. (And she damn well better be good!) He wants to change her name. He is even willing to give up his roaming ways. I think that means he may even stop having sex with other girls for her! (But he might not be able to because he is a boy, after all.)

These are all love songs, but the pining kind. ONE FINE DAY, STAY, TELL HIM – lots of instructions about how to make these crazy teenage relationships work. There was one song by Nancy Shapiro (Britain's Top Female Singer!) called WHEN THE RAINS CAME that seemed like it might be about agriculture. But no, it was a metaphor for love - chaste, sweet love. So much romance and longing in these songs, but no one is getting it on! Except maybe Cheyenne, he had a lot going on. And Bobby Darin back before he quit his roaming ways. Let's put it this way, the boys were getting it somewhere, but not from these nice singing girls!

Susan Maugham hit the jackpot with best song of the night with BOBBY'S GIRL. Okay, Susie, you have one way and one way only to show the whole world that you are grown up now. Are you going to do really well in school? Are you going to help those less fortunate? Maybe you should run for office! Nope, not going to happen. You are putting your eggs in one basket. A basket named Bobby. Being his girl is the pinnacle. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself – the gift of a boy! Admittedly, he's a boy who has someone else and probably doesn't even know who you are, but his love is the only goal worth achieving here! You will be a thankful, faithful girl. And that is the most important thing a girl can be!

Admittedly, I love the feel of these songs. I even like the romanticism of the lyrics and the nostalgic sexism behind them, but it dawned on me as I was listening that these are the songs that 70 year old men grew up listening to. No wonder they want to make America great again! Boys got to do all the fun stuff and girls basically waited around to be noticed. Right around the corner we have the summer of love where everyone gets a seat at the table, eventually Madonna shows up, followed by Lady Gaga and Beyonce. It occurs to me that I don't listen to much modern pop music - give me the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, please – (and don't mock me for thinking that Madonna is modern pop music) and I am not sure exactly what these ladies want out of life. But I am pretty sure it isn't to be Bobby's girl.

But as the worm turns, politically, and feminism is still considered a dirty word in many quarters, these songs I listened to tonight made it clear that there was some programming in the culture that made it seem like if, you weren't a girl, it was pretty awesome to be a roaming, adventuring fellow, secure in the knowledge that when you were ready to settle down you would have a good, good girl waiting for you. And with this kind of advertising it is no wonder that some old guys (and some young guys, and some women who don't have a real grasp of the concept of equality) want to find a way to get these gals back in the kitchen making those sandwiches and remembering who it is who wears the pants in this great country of ours!