On Christmas Traditions and Cinnamon Rolls

While I really do try to eat healthy most of the time, I’m one of those people willing to just dig into the comfort food during the holidays.  Throughout centuries and cultures, we use food to bind us together, to feel connected, and to show people we love them. I feel that food traditions during the holidays are among the most important, and I’m willing to go for an extra walk in order to eat a few extra calories. roll-and-candles

With this in mind, I was after the perfect cinnamon roll recipe for years. My husband has these wonderful memories of his mom’s cooking when he was growing up. Specifically, he remembers how lovely and warm and wonderful it was when his mom made homemade cinnamon rolls for him and his siblings on Christmas mornings.

Since I love food, especially comfort food, I was determined to make cinnamon rolls for my husband and sons on Christmas morning. This was my plan. I wanted to carry on the tradition. Every year I tried. And every year I failed.

My husband’s mom was a great cook and was even a cook at the local school where my husband grew up in Montana, but, unfortunately, she passed away long before I even met my husband. This means no recipes for me, and while that may seem like a petty thing, “no recipes,” I’m a firm believer in food connections to memories and family, so even though the greatest tragedy is that my husband lost his mother, it’s no small tragedy that our family has none of her recipes to carry on with her traditions.

After first hearing the story about my husband’s warm memory of Christmas morning and cinnamon rolls, I set out to find a recipe and create a similar holiday memory for our family.

I started with a recipe that took like all day on Christmas Eve. It looked great, but, when you work with yeast, you usually are going to be working with it all day. But, oh my goodness, it was pretty awful. It was Christmas morning “this is pretty good because it has sugar on it” good but that’s about it.

Fail.

I tried again the next year, and I found a cinnamon roll recipe that looked good but didn’t take all day. Those were some hard cinnamon rolls and not comforting at all.

Fail.

But, last year, my husband found a quick dough recipe for dinner rolls, and I loved it. It allowed me to make yeast rolls in about 30 minutes. A miracle, right? And, then, one day we had the thought that maybe that dough could work with cinnamon rolls.

So I just invented a filling and icing plan and gave it a go. The results were quite comforting–and delicious.

This cinnamon roll recipe is now a part of our Christmas morning tradition, and I hope you enjoy them. You can make them in just a little over 30 minutes and maybe add a sweet breakfast treat to your holiday tradition.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Dough Recipe (adapted from Kitchenmeetsgirl.com)

Ingredients

1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon very, very warm water

2 Tablespoons active dry yeast

1/4 cup local honey

1/3 cup melted butter or olive oil (I used olive oil but use extra virgin olive oil)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3 1/2 cups of white, unbleached flour

Filling

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

(mix together and add after dough is rolled out)

Icing

1 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 Tablespoons milk

(mix together; icing should be thick)

Directions

In a bowl, mix the warm water, yeast, honey, and butter or oil. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Make sure the water is very warm!

After 15 minutes, the mixture should be fluffy and bubbly. Add your egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix. Then, 1/2 cup at a time, add the rest of the flour. Roll it into a ball and let it rest for 10 minutes.

dough-ball

When the dough is ready, roll it out into a large rectangle. It should be thin for rolls and soft. Spread the filling evenly across the rectangle.

Carefully roll the dough from the long side of the rectangle. Go slowly and try to keep it even. When you have the dough into a giant roll, cut it into pieces about 1 inch to 1 and 1/4 inch wide. I usually have to leave off the ends and end up with 12 to 14 rolls.

cinnamon-roll-process

Bake the rolls in a glass baking dish, 9 X 13, at 385 for 10 minutes. Rotate and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes depending upon your own. The rolls will be golden brown in the top when ready.

Let the rolls cool slightly before adding the icing. In addition to being yummy, these rolls are pretty as well, and I struggle with pretty, so that’s saying something.

I serve the sweet rolls with our farm fresh scrambled eggs and some fruit on the side.

cinnamon-roll

I hope you enjoy these, and I hope our Christmas family tradition can warm your heart and tummy as well.

What are some of your holiday food traditions?

On Something You Want and Something You Need: Keeping Christmas Special on a Budget

I always feel a sort of push and pull at Christmas time. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally, and, in the last year, as we’ve worked to simplify and work less, sometimes, I do feel like things are a little too austere around here.

I should provide context. Austere for me is certainly not austere for most. Although we grow as much of our own food as we can, we buy organic food at the grocery store for what we can’t grow, and, as a family, we eat very well. We also have a comfortable house and a reliable vehicle.

But I’m pretty sure 90% of my socks have holes, and since we gave the family car to our oldest son, sometimes, I really miss having a car. But that’s about as austere as it gets around here, so I shouldn’t complain. I hope I’m not.

Still, since it’s Christmas time and it feels like it has been a really tough year, I’m having really strong urges toward “retail therapy,” but I’m trying to keep my head.

I have a long history of struggling with materialism, mostly in relation to my boys. I think mom guilt played a role. For example, when my youngest was a toddler, I had a particularly demanding job. I worked about 70 hours per week and had to travel quite a bit. I missed my family so much, but I think it was hardest being away from my little one. So, every time I traveled, I would shop for him way too much and shower him with gifts when I came home.

My husband expressed concern about this, but the problem with this mode of operation really hit me in the face when I arrived home after some travel for work and my husband and little one met me at the airport. The first thing my toddler said to me was, “What did you bring me?”

Yep. I knew I had been making a big mistake at that point, and, really, that was one of the moments that caused me to start rethinking things, to figure out how I could exchange money for time. To get more time would mean less money, but it felt like a necessary move.

But Christmas is still a struggle in materialism for me.

To help, my husband and I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post last year about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.

I loved this idea and thought that we should try it this year, especially since we would have to be more budget minded than we usually are. But I loved the way this plan kept Christmas special.

So, this year, we’re doing it! I made a little grid for each member of our family, and my husband and I have been figuring out a gift for each category. The most fun has been the “something to share” category, and I’m excited to see how this works out. We’ve been looking at games, fancy chocolates, and other fun presents for this category, and I’m excited for all of us to share a present with one another.

christmas-present
Photo credit: Ben White, Unsplash

This seems like a good plan for our family. I do believe in keeping Christmas special, even though I totally understand that it has turned into a terribly commercial holiday. But life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—however we choose to celebrate.

But I don’t want to charge things on the credit cards either. I believe we have a plan for balance, and I’m excited to see how this goes this year. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, what are your plans to keep the holidays special without breaking the bank?

 

 

 

 

On Summertime Sadness: Saying Goodbye to the Maine Summer

It turned chilly outside this week. After a very long and very hot summer, you would think I would be thankful. I am, after all, a Texas girl who moved to Maine, in part, to escape the heat. But, today, I feel the melancholy—the melancholy for summer that I feel in Maine more than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

I love all of the seasons in Maine, maybe even mud season because I know what’s coming next. Well, the season after black fly season. Yes, that one. Summer.

Growing up in Texas, we didn’t have seasons like we have here in Maine. It went from long hot summer to like two weeks of fall right into a messy, icy, windy winter. Fall is the best, right? I hated not having fall growing up. In Maine, fall is heavenly, magical, but thinking about fall leads me to a melancholy for summer.

Summer in Maine is like nowhere else. Even though my husband and I work way too much in the summers, the culture here reminds us to take breaks. Swimming is important. Hikes are important. Enjoy the water. Cook out. Watch the fireflies—and the stars. These things are valued here, and this makes summer extra special to me.

The summer is winding down. My oldest son is going back to college. I will begin longer homeschool days with my youngest son soon. And, pretty soon, the beautiful fall will be here.

But, for now, I feel melancholy that summer is passing. Though I enjoyed it, I always feel as if I never enjoy it enough. I want to do more, to take more of Maine in, to spend more time relaxing in the sun, watching the chicky girls eat watermelon, and listening as the hummingbirds zip by to the feeder.

A couple of years ago, at the end of summer, I heard a hummingbird commotion one evening on our back deck. We had two hummingbirds who had been visiting our feeder and our hearts all summer—a male and female we named Mack and Clara. We could tell them apart from the other hummingbirds because Mack was particularly short and stocky, and Clara had an unusual shape to the back of her head. They hung around a lot and seemed to have a nest in a nearby tree.

We loved watching those beautiful birds.

One evening in late August, I heard Mack and Clara making a lot more noise than usual. When I looked out the door, I was mesmerized by the beautiful dance and play Mack and Clara were engaged in. I had never seen them play like that and for so long—and with me so near with the camera.

It turns out that Mack was saying goodbye. It seems the male hummingbird will head south early to find a place for the couple. We never saw Mack again, and, after about another week or so, we never saw Clara again.

I had hoped that Mack and Clara would find us again the next year, but it was not to be. We had more adorable hummingbirds, but they definitely weren’t Mack and Clara.

When I think of those beautiful birds and the summer and how soon both the birds and the summer will be gone, I definitely feel the melancholy. I start to feel regret for the things I have wanted to do all summer but didn’t.

But, in writing this post, I have decided that it’s not too late. We bought a canoe this summer but haven’t taken it out on the water yet. This must be done. I’m also determined to make it to the Blue Hill Fair another year to mark the end of my summer with a James McMurtry concert. But, most of all, I want to take an afternoon nap in the warm air with the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees, making that magical whishy-rustly sound.

And I want to hang out with my husband and boys just a little more, just doing nothing, just visiting. We are always so busy with work, the chickens, the house, the garden, running to activities. For a bit, I want to stop time with my family and just do nothing. Surely, that’s possible in the summer time, right?

These are my goals. I don’t want too many summer regrets this year. What are your goals for the end of summer? How can you avoid summer regrets?

Let’s make a deal to say goodbye to this beautiful Maine summer (or summer wherever you are) with meaningfulness, and share your thoughts on summer in the comments below. I really want to hear them!

On Peace and Beauty

Schoodic Point

“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and [despite] all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was a little girl, I lived right smack-dab in the middle of Texas. There’s not a lot of water there. My aunt and uncle lived on the Atlantic coast in southern Florida, and I so vividly remember my visit to their home when I was nine years old. The first time I saw the ocean, I cried. I felt the excitement in my chest and all over my little body. When I first stood on that sandy beach and gazed into the blue horizon, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence of the ocean.

Fast forward to my adult life, and I have found a way to live close to that ocean that moved me so much when I was nine years old. The coast at Acadia is where we visit the ocean every summer. The first time my youngest son ever saw the ocean was at Acadia. We celebrated his 5th birthday at Sand Beach, and when family members come to visit us here in Maine, we always head to Acadia.

Happy Birthday on the Beach
We celebrated our son’s birthday at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.

When I learned that this year marks the 100th anniversary of our beautiful Acadia National Park, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on its beauty and how much I love having access to the ocean.

Every summer, we make our trips to the Maine coast, but Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park is our favorite, so much so that it has become our summer ritual to visit, enjoy the breath-taking views, and spend time together as a family. These visits also re-energize my soul.

The first thing we do is head to Winter Harbor, and every time, we stop for lunch at Chase’s Restaurant for some delicious fish n’ chips. In fact, Chase’s has the best fish n’ chips I’ve ever tasted, but, most importantly, our youngest son, our picky eater, just loves the fish n’ chips as well.

Chase’s is a small, family restaurant located on Main Street in Winter Harbor, and it’s right on the way to Schoodic Point. After we enjoy the delicious fresh fish, fries, and slaw, we head to Schoodic Point for the breathtaking views.

Schoodic Point
This is one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park.

Just hearing the waves crash on the rocks is relaxing to me, but when I see how much my youngest son enjoys exploring the rocks and water, I’m in heaven. Even our oldest, our grumpy teenager, seems to enjoy Schoodic Point, and fortunately, it turns out there are Pokemon and a cell phone signal there—and a cell phone signal is not always guaranteed in middle-of-the-trees Maine. This is certainly important information for anyone with teenagers. Our son captured a water Pokemon at Schoodic Point, so there you go. That’s reason right there to check it out.

Of course, for me, it’s about the Nature, not the Pokemon. Our family enjoys these summer trips so much, and, each year, when the weather starts to warm up, I start missing the ocean and Acadia. I’m from “away,” but I’m thankful that my adopted state has such easy and beautiful access to the ocean, a place where it feels good to feel insignificant. When I look at that water, the water that’s been there for millions and billions of years, I remember that the tiny worries of my life just do not matter.

They do not matter.

It feels good to remember that.

I’m a nature girl (well woman), but I wasn’t always. When I first read Emerson in college as an undergraduate, I had no idea, really, what he was talking about. But, now, Nature feels like scripture to me. I need to feel the earth, connect with the water and animals. Sometimes, it’s in my own backyard. Sometimes, it’s on the coast.

My youngest son once told me once that he thought Nature was so beautiful because God wanted us to notice it. I think there’s so much wisdom in this, and I know that places like Acadia remind me to stop and notice that God is all around us—in Nature.

What are your places that connect you to Nature, that energize your soul? I’d love to hear about them!

On Birthdays and Big Dreams

boy on fence

This week, I’m late with my post. I have a very good reason for being late. My youngest, my baby, turned 7 this weekend!

I actually spent Friday feeling a little guilty that I had not managed to get my blog post up on time, but then I remembered what my blogging self would tell worrying self: This is your child’s birthday. The blog can wait.

So it did. Until now.

I just put my youngest son to bed at the end of his 7th birthday. Right as he was getting into bed, he paused and said to me, “Now, I have to wait a whole year before it’s my birthday again.”

Then, he said, in a thoughtful tone, “It wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be, but it was still really good.”

“I totally understand, sweetie,” I told him. And I do understand. But I was a little taken aback by his wisdom in the way he spoke this.

He said it like he understood that this is just how it is. You build something up to be so great in your head that it can’t possibility live up to your expectations. But it’s okay if it’s still good. In fact, I’m sure that was his tone, and since he just turned 7, I was surprised by his seemingly deep understanding of this concept.

I always want his birthdays to live up to my son’s expectations, but I know there’s just no way this is possible. I hope it doesn’t seem like my kiddo is spoiled. He’s not. He’s actually this beautifully and honestly grateful kid most of the time. Well, I’m sure he’s a little spoiled, but I’m firm believer that we should all be a little spoiled, at least by love.

But he has this great imagination. No a fantastical imagination! And that means he dreams really, really big, even when I can tell he’s trying to be realistic. It’s pretty fantastic, actually.

Reflecting on the way my son dreams so big got me to thinking about my own dreams for myself and my family. I’m generally such a cautious person, but I’m trying all the time grow and change. I think “adulting” every day makes me forget how to dream big, however.

When I was in college, Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe versus Wade to the Supreme Court when she was in her 20’s, visited my college. She gave a talk about dreaming big, and I remember thinking that this was an important lesson. Her message was that someone has to do the big things, so it might as well be you—if you want it to be. This felt like such a powerful message to me.

But I grew up and forgot it.

As I thought about my son’s big dreams tonight though, I remembered my own. My husband and I want to start our own independent publishing company. In our family, my husband is the real writer, and reading his writing makes me feel like I’m just wasting words. He’s really talented.

I think we could do it. I think his writing could help us get our publishing company going, and I so have my own dream of writing a children’s book about chickens.

Many days, however, this feels like a fantasy, but, as I write this post, I remember that talk from college and I think my son’s ability to imagine so much greatness. He really does do everything with gusto, and if it doesn’t quite work out, he’s at least had a really good day.

boy on fence
I snapped this picture of my son, still in his jammies, standing on a stool looking out at our newly-fenced yard and appearing so thoughtful. I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I imagine it was something awesome.

So, tonight, as I finally get to my blog post for the week, I write it in honor of the most beautiful 7-year-old boy in the world to me. He has taught me to love bigger, think bigger, and, now, maybe tonight, to dream bigger. I hope, if you read this, you will dream bigger, too!

On Making Good Dreams (with Help from Quilts)

Quilt Fabric

This one is about making quilts–well, mostly.

In my grand designs to become more self-sufficient or at least a really good maker, I have many skills I need and want desperately to learn—knitting, canning, making jams, and maybe making wood furniture, but I don’t know how realistic that last one is since I’m terrified of even the smallest power tool. It’s like a phobia or something. I hear a power tool, and my heart just races. I worry about my husband all the time.

But I digress…

One of the things I can make is a quilt. Now, I’m not the greatest, though I used to be pretty good, but I can make some decent quilts—at least I can very slowly. Recently, I was actually very slowly working on a quilt for a friend, when I had a quilt emergency: We decided it was time for our youngest to sleep in his own bed. He’s six years old and a pretty big boy, so my husband and I, even in our king-sized bed, were running out of sleeping space.

Now, if you’re one of those people who is going to say “What in the world are you doing letting your kid sleep with you?” let me just say that you can save your breath or text trying to change my mind on this point. We researched it thoroughly, and my husband and I made a conscious decision to let our son start co-sleeping with us when he was little.

We read all the advice from every major theorist and child psychologist out there and settled on this point—we wanted to get some sleep. Also, we believe in the health and bonding benefits of co-sleeping—but mainly we wanted to get some sleep. But, if you’re a new parent and interested in some of the research on the benefits of a family bed, please message me.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, our youngest made the big move to his own room and his own bed. The first night was hard for me, and I cried a lot. But, by the second night, I was like “Oh, this space is lovely.” “Oh, it’s nice not to be kicked in the back.” And, “oh, I love getting to keep the covers on me.”

However, much like his mama, our youngest is afraid of the dark and has a vivid imagination, so I have decided to make him a “good dream” quilt to keep him safe. It will be complete with a shied of love from mama on it. This is definitely a quilt emergency, right?

This is a picture of the plans I sketched out under my son’s direction. It’s all wrinkly from carrying it around at the fabric store.

Quilt Plans
This is my sketch based on my son’s directions. I have poor drawing skills, but, hopefully, this quilt will turn out well.

So, inside the dream tree in the middle, I told my youngest we could put all the things that make him feel happy and safe. Here’s what he chose:

  1. a Pi symbol
  2. a basketball
  3. a present with a red bow
  4. a pink heart that represents mom and dad’s “love shield” as he calls it
  5. a Pac Man
  6. a Minecraft block
  7. and a green canoe (something our family has wanted for a long time)

It all sounds great, right? I’m so excited just writing about it.

The problem is I barely have time to work on it. In all of my efforts to simplify, I still struggle to get everything done at the end of the day, and I am even, realistically, always a little behind. I still work at least a half day every day, and that includes weekends, and with homeschooling, cooking, planting the giant vegetable garden, and helping to care for the animals, I run out of time at the end of every day. Of course, right now things seem to be worse because the animals are little and the garden planting is a slow, tough process when you’re tilling with a shovel, and there’s just no way to plant carrots quickly. Those seeds are a tiny nightmare!

So I’m determined to make the time. It turns out that, in my efforts to be more of a maker, one of the things I’m going to have to learn how to make is time. Quitting my full-time job helped, but I’m still partially immersed in the academic world, and sometimes, the push and pull between that world and our little hobby farm leaves me with so little time at the end of the day.

But this quilt is important to me because I think it will be important to my little boy. When my oldest son was little, there was one Christmas (my first year of teaching full-time) that I couldn’t afford Christmas presents for him. I made him a star and moon quilt, and he still has it—and seems to really care about it. For his high school graduation, I made him a second quilt because, of course, high school graduations are important. He sleeps under it every night.

Now, it’s my youngest son’s turn. This dream quilt is important, and I am determined to make this quilt for him. It feels representative of my efforts to simplify, make, and find out what’s important. It’s not easy, but it’s what I want. I have my fabric selected. This weekend, I will get this going.

Quilt Fabric
I love these colors. I think this is going to be beautiful!

I think the lesson here is that it’s going to be hard for all of us to find balance in our lives. We all have so much going on with work and family and about a million other things we must balance. But I’ve learned that you have to set your goals about what’s important to you and then just take the time—or make the time—if you want to be a maker like I do and still have time to enjoy yourself and your family along the way. Life’s just going to pass us by otherwise, I think.

I’ll keep you posted on the quilt…