The Craft Drawer: Where Dreams go to Die

We are a crafty people. That is to say, my daughter and I are on the verge of becoming hoarders, buried alive by "nice sheets of cardboard" and a drawer full of bottle caps that will someday turn into something super neat. 

Once, a hand-me-down dresser came into my possession. It was heavy and rather than drag it upstairs to a bedroom where a dresser would make sense, I thought, hey, let's put this in the living room. We can keep our craft stuff in it. 

And so it was.

The dresser became packed with dowel rods and resin figures, stamp kits and sticker sets. It held an abundance of construction paper. If you opened one of those craft drawers, the contents would pour out like a slot machine jackpot.

Our craft supplies runneth over.

On a gloomy day in March, I determined it was time to tame the beastly drawers. I had a hand-me-down Sizzix that needed a permanent home. The dresser, I declared, would house only paper crafting supplies. All other materials would be relocated!

Oh, those other materials! Every manner of glued, taped, stapled creation had been stashed in various states of doneness. Construction paper with lopsided hearts cut right from the middle, paper scraps, homemade "books," pipe cleaners with dangling google eyes. The drawers were a time capsule of creativity from a bygone era. Digging through each layer went further back in time. The papers tightly wrapped around pencils representing her scroll phase gave way to long ropes of rainbow loom and playdoh crusted utensils.

"This is really sad," I said out loud to no one in particular. "It's like all of her dreams were just stuffed in here and forgotten."

Two hours later, nostalgic and sad, the craft drawers were organized into adult rows of paper crafting supplies. And childhood was dead.

But not quite. You see, on a cold gloomy April day, I decided that those wayward craft supplies could be rehomed. In the toy cabinet.

The toy cabinet is an Ikea wardrobe that originally housed my clothes like any good Ikea wardrobe would. Once we moved to a home with actual closets, the wardrobe became toy storage.

Lately, it hasn't been getting much action.

Teenagers don't play with toys and since it's been five years since my last decluttering attempt, there was much she'd outgrown. As in, all of it.

I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the mini-princesses. Even the rigid ones with immovable arms and legs that used to live in the sandbox. I put their grungy bodies into a box with Tinkerbell and her fairy friends. I carefully removed the batteries from Strawberry Shortcake's remote control car. I placed it in the box remembering how our dog loved to chase it and bark when he was a puppy. All of these things, about fifteen pounds of girlhood miniatures and accessories, I packaged and stashed away.

Someday I'll show these to my granddaughter, I thought.

Isn't that the ultimate in optimism? Saving the Barbies and the American Girl dolls and the mini-princesses for future granddaughters? As if, somewhere in the world, a family is raising a boy that's wonderful and awesome enough for my daughter. And my daughter will meet that boy and then someday bring her family, complete with at least one little girl, to play with her own childhood toys at my house.

It makes sense that I sold all of my childhood Barbies at a yard sale when I was 15.

After the packing away and the sorting of garbage and the piling of toys for donation, the Ikea wardrobe makes a smart craft storage vessel. All I have to do now is open it for a visual reminder that my child is more adult than kid. And she has a lot of pony beads.

This Cookie is Spelt

It's been almost four years since I first sought a dietary answer to my continued digestive issues. From ill-informed experimentation with a low FODMAP diet to a prolonged course of trial and error with a registered dietician, I eventually figure out I couldn't eat corn, wheat, or soy. The dietician promised my gut would "settle down" over time. After two years of careful eating, my ability to process corn and limited amounts of wheat returned.

Still, no soy for another two years.

But even that is much better these days. It takes a few days of soybean gluttony for symptoms to appear and it's nice that I don't have to be so careful at every meal. In addition to achieving freedom from pain and gurgling, good habits were put in place during the course of my food-venture. Our family is more discerning about grains and I make many of the things we love gluten-free for variety. 

My intestines like variety as it turns out.

Since I have a wheat sensitivity, not celiac disease, I can eat gluten. That distinction brought Spelt to my attention. First, in the form of soup noodles, I found Spelt to be gentle on tum tum even when wheat was making me bloat. It contains gluten but the body processes it differently than wheat making it a safe haven of baked goods with a normal texture for the wheat insensitive set. Last weekend I bought a bag of Spelt flour for the first time.

Baking with Spelt is pretty straightforward (this is what Google will tell you). But it is more "water-soluble" than wheat so you'll probably need less liquid in your recipe. Oh, and it doesn't rise as high, so throw in more leavening. Also, try to avoid over kneading or mixing because it can get crumbly. You know, maybe just try replacing 1/4 of the flour in your recipe with Spelt and see if you like it. Next time, you can try to adjust the ratio.

I'm a bit of an all or nothing experimenter in the kitchen. I took my tried and true Chocolate Hermit recipe and did this:

The dough really didn't need much liquid at all.

Recipe for Chocolately Spelt Drop Cookies

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 T cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill 1-1 Gluten-free baking flour mix
1 cup spelt
1-2 T milk
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for several minutes
before moving them to a cooling rack.
Cream brown sugar and butter. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well. Blend in cocoa powder, baking soda, g-free flour and spelt. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until drop cookie consistency is reached. Stir in raisins and chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes.

After baking for precisely 13 minutes these cookies were done to a perfect state of ever-so-slight crispness paired with a chewy ewy gooey inside. Family taste testers had several moments of closed eye culinary delight. 

Spelt is now the new family favorite.

In other news.... you can't be mad at the snow though, it's
been especially beautiful this spring.

#IWSG April Showers

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs.

Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Visit IWSG to sign up.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The question for April: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

This month, IWSG gives us a metaphor right in the monthly prompt! What can be done about the clouds and rain that so frequently fill the writing life? How can we manage those things that impede productivity? Will the sun ever shine?

You're asking the wrong person. 

Beyond having a new blog post ready every Wednesday, I don't "dig down." I don't force myself to write. Lately, I've been working on a story arc for an as yet untitled work of fiction that may or may not ever be finished. And when I say "working," I mean occasionally thinking about. There's been very little actual writing. 

Does that mean my writing life is dreary with rain? Am I suffering from writer's block? I don't think so. In my experience, stories tend to come out easily when they're ready. Forcing them is a recipe for heartache and wasted words. 

So I take the metaphorical writing rain just like real life April showers. Have a nap. Splash in a puddle. Bake cookies. Enjoy some rest. Soon enough the sun will shine and it will be time to get back to work.

The view from the breakfast table on April 2nd, 2018.

***Note: The Pittsburgh area is still having more snow showers than rain. One wonders what happens when the writing life is plagued with a winter that never ends?***

March for Our Lives in "Real America"

On April 20th, 1999, I was a freshman at Duquesne University. Every door in the girls’ wing of St. Ann’s dormitory was outfitted with a dry erase board. A place to leave messages for roommates or friends, the boards that day were filled with gleeful expressions about 4-20, the international pot smoking time for a full day. That morning, the shared birthday of Adolf Hitler and my future father-in-law, I groaned inwardly. I was never a 4:20 kind of girl.

By the time I returned to the dorm that evening, the news of Columbine was upon us. Two thoughts swirled in my mind: I was glad I wasn’t in high school anymore and boy, those dry erase boards now seemed doubly inappropriate.

College rolled on followed by a full-time job, marriage, and an apartment. Shootings happened in movie theaters, schools, and colleges, but that was just background noise in the midst of the fast-paced change of my young adulthood. Our daughter was born and I lost a few years to mental illness and its aftermath. By December of 2012, my only child was seven and a half years old. She was the same age as the child victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.

I didn’t tell her about it and I was never planning on it. What gain is there in telling your second grader that someone went and killed a bunch of boys and girls just like her? I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary on the Saturday after the shooting. My daughter and the rest of our church youth on risers in the front. They were practicing for our Christmas pageant as those Connecticut families were planning funerals. The contrast was palpable. Another parishioner stood just before the practice ended, “if you need to talk to someone about the shooting, please come to me,” she said. “Find an adult in the church.” 

Her words became distant, lost in my internal monologue. How dare that woman be the one to tell my baby about that shooting? How dare she take away her feeling of safety? She was doing what she thought was right, but I would have done anything to spare those kids from that knowledge.

Sandy Hook was immediately followed by a host of changes to security in our local school district. Parents were shunned from the classroom. No longer could you have lunch with your elementary student. Parent-involved events were restricted to the quarterly holiday celebrations. The ill-equipped buildings were re-configured to keep adults away from the students. The doors were locked, and an ID scanning entry installed that required any visitor to be buzzed into the school. 

And even after Sandy Hook, we were able to return to normal life.

An embarrassment of mass shootings followed. Sometimes I cried and felt outraged, but that passed. The false sense of security here in “real America” is strong. Things like that don’t happen in our township. Those big shootings are only a problem in big cities. Our community just wouldn’t allow it.

Of course, these are all lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves to avoid the hard work of change. They’re our protection from hard choices. Most of all, they’re the only way we can put our children on buses every day. We must maintain the lie that their schools are safe, otherwise, how could we ever send them there?

The day after the Parkland tragedy, it was obvious that the Florida community was going to take the national spotlight and use it for good. My daughter and I saw a news story about the March for Our Lives. Now a seventh grader, she told me she wanted to go there.

March 24th fell smack dab in the middle of Presbyterian confirmation camp, a long-planned intensive faith weekend near the end of her confirmation journey. My insides churned as I told her that we couldn’t skip the church retreat, but I’d do my best to get us to a march.

As the event neared and more locations were added, our plan solidified. We would leave the confirmation camp and attend the March for our Lives at the Mercer County courthouse. She’d miss lunch and some of the fun camp activities, but we could get her there. She could participate.

It felt like a cop-out parenting move. I’d promised her an outlet for her own outrage which was by then growing by the day. One of her fellow seventh graders was suspended in February for threatening to bring a gun to school. That brought things close to home and by the time the school replaced the March 14th walkout with a “walk up” event, she was eager to do something to advocate for real action.

How could an event in Mercer, PA possible give her that? Further removed from Pittsburgh than our suburban home, Mercer County is filled with staunch conservatives. Democrats call the people there “folks that cling to guns and religion.” Trump calls them his base. I fully expected to show up at the courthouse at noon to find a few flower children cowering as the rest of the town battered them with rotten produce. There was a risk, but we made signs and went anyway.

The Mercer County event was an inspiration. A bunch of people gathered on the snow-covered grass in front of a stage outfitted with a large March for Our Lives banner. At the stroke of noon, a high school student took the stage to explain her involvement in the event, read the names of the Parkland shooting victims, observe a moment of silence, and introduce the remaining five speakers. 

It was a powerful rally.

The high school students took the banner and led us on a march around the courthouse. They started chants. Protect your kids, not your guns. Enough is enough. All the while I thought: why didn't we do this in 1999?

My excuses aren't even worth the time it takes to make them. The only thing now is to do what should have been done long ago. March. Participate. Vote. Keep the spotlight on this issue until the guarantee of safe schools is no longer a lie. That people in places like Mercer County are thinking the same thing gives me great hope. Change is coming.