Family Recipe Friday – Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Day of Mom Memories

My mom passed away the end of August 2015, so we are coming up on the anniversary of that. She had Alzheimer’s. It stole her memories and, in the end, it stole her very breath.

Mom’s 87th birthday would have been a few weeks ago – July 7th.

I never quite know what to do on her birthday with no phone call to make, no card to send, no present to buy.

Last year, one of the things I did was go to the store for two of her favorite treats – a Pepsi and some ice cream – and enjoyed them in memory of her.

This year, I made an extra effort to think about Mom as I went through my day – and to maybe do some things the way she would do them. Here’s how my day went.

I’ll eventually get to the cookie recipe! I promise!

You can skip to the end if you prefer. Because I’m telling the whole story of my day!

As I got ready for the day, I knew Mom would make her bed. She made her bed every day. And I intended to make mine! But, I was the first one up to let the dogs out, and I just never got it done. Not like Mom

First on the day’s agenda was a Weight Watchers meeting. Mom never had an issue with her weight until she was at least my age and probably older. This is my third (I think) round of participating in Weight Watchers. Mom joined TOPS (Take Off Pound Sensibly) when she decided she needed to do something about her weight. TOPS became an important social group for her. She made friends with the other members. They attended her funeral. They were close! I’m not so connected with the other WW folks. Kinda like Mom

Next stop was the oncology office to take port pillows to the infusion room. I was so happy to run into Adrian! He sat at the check-in desk while I was in active treatment. Adrian knew who I was by the third time I walked in the door and always greeted me by name (before I signed in!) and with a warm smile. He made coming to the oncology office feel like I was welcomed into a good place. He has since been promoted to a behind-the-scenes job, so other patients aren’t getting the “treatment” I received. Anyway, I saw him and got to thank him and tell him how important that was to me.

I don’t think mom ever visited an oncologist’s office and I know she never made port pillows, but she did have her own ways of doing for others and they often involved crafts. And she always made people feel welcome. Kinda like Mom

I needed to buy a skein of yarn to finish up the Welcome Blanket I was making, so I went to the craft store. Now, Mom loved a good craft store, so I took my time there. I got the yarn I needed and picked up another yarn I possibly did not need. I bought a book of crochet baby blanket patterns because our church has started a ministry of making knit or crochet blankets for every baby born to church members and having a reception once a year and giving them to the parents. Mom would have been all over that, I’m pretty sure, so I really had to buy that book.

I took a stroll down the cake decorating aisle for Mom. She decorated cakes for lots of people and causes – including my wedding cake. I tried to find something to buy that I needed, but nothing called my name. If there had been a Wilton 2017 Yearbook, I would have bought it, but there were none.

I looked at the schedule of craft classes. Mom frequently attended Saturday morning craft classes at her local craft store and then used what she learned to decorate her home, make gifts, make crafts with her grandkids, or use as crafts for her Sunday School class kids. No classes for me, but it was another way to remember her. Quite a bit like Mom

A trip to the grocery story this year was not for Pepsi and ice cream, but for the ingredients for Mom’s meatloaf and for mashed potatoes. And so we ate “Mom” food for dinner. Oh – and I bought chocolate chips – in case I had time to bake cookies. Like Mom

See? We are getting closer to the recipe. It really is coming.

I checked my email when I got home. In my inbox I found that my church desperately needed volunteers for Vacation Bible School and needed volunteers to prepare food and to host homeless families at the church during the upcoming week. I knew Mom would definitely volunteer for VBS and I knew she and dad would also sign up to prepare food – and maybe even to stay the night. So …  I knew I should volunteer for something!! It took me a few days to sign up, but I did end up helping at VBS every day – something I hadn’t done since my kids were little. Half like Mom

Someone needed my attention and time slipped away, so I never got around to the cookies on Mom’s birthday. I decided to extend the “Mom Memory Birthday” into the weekend and made the cookies on Saturday.

I have absolutely no control when it comes to cookies. I knew I might possibly eat every one – and this recipe makes a lot of cookies. So, as I baked, and tasted dough, and ate cookies, I tried to think like Mom and decide who needed these cookies much more than I did. That afternoon, I took some to the kids next door, a friend who had just returned home after surgery at M.D. Anderson, a friend whose dad had recently passed away, and a good friend who has done a lot for me and happened to have her three granddaughters at her house.

I still had cookies! I ate more cookies! I couldn’t even count the WW points! What to do?

I bagged up the rest and took two bags to church with me on Sunday morning and decided I would give them to whomever seemed “right” for my mission. One bag went to a young man who falls within the age range of people Mom would have taught in Sunday School (they were almost all boys). Mom was known for making an extra big chocolate chip cookie (not this recipe) for her Sunday School kids for their birthdays. The other bag went to a couple about the same age as my parents – contemporaries who I am sure would have been friends if they had known each other. Like Mom

I was a little awkward (sometimes really awkward!) when I gave away the cookies because I wanted to say something about my mom and I wasn’t sure how to put it. The poor teenagers next door heard me say, “My mom would have been a much better neighbor than I am.” It’s a true statement, but they must have thought that sentiment very strange! By the end of the cookie giving, I was saying, “These are from my mom and me.”

Oh – And I figured out that since I couldn’t give a present to Mom on her birthday, I could give a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

I was surprised to realize that I had not already shared the recipe here! Mom made these cookies often when we were growing up. I’m not absolutely positively sure – but when I think of learning to bake, I think of these cookies – of being in the kitchen with mom, measuring and sifting and mixing … learning to pack brown sugar. I think making these cookies with Mom may have been my first real lesson in cookie baking. Thanks Mom! I love cookies!

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups shortening                 4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar              4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar                           1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs                                   1 large package chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream together the shortening and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time – beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and the dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Lastly add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. (I don’t do that anymore! Yay for parchment paper!) Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. (I like mine a little under baked.)

Pour a glass of cold milk and enjoy!

Photographic Memory

2012 Mom eating tomato soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup … One of her favorites

A few days ago my sister posted one of those “On this day” memories that Facebook suggests we look back on every day. It was a photograph that she took March 31, 2012. Her original post included the comment, “Grilled cheese and tomato soup…. One of her favorites.”

My sister’s comment with the reposted memory was: This is what I will always remember 🙂 her favorite lunch!!!!!!! Most Saturdays in the winter, this is what we had 🙂

I loved seeing this picture of Mom and remembering that favorite lunch. Several of my sister’s friends commented that they grew up eating the same lunch and one said she had been introduced to tomato soup by our mom – but she didn’t like it. 🙂

This morning I learned from the Today Show that it is National Grilled Cheese Day and then I saw several posts on Facebook reinforcing the significance of the day.

Who knew?

Even the hosts on the Today Show said they needed some tomato soup to go with the grilled cheese sandwiches they were eating in celebration of this great day. Maybe it should be called National Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup Day. Seems more accurate.

I decided the only way to properly honor the day was to have grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and pause to treasure a memory of Mom. I had to go buy a can of Campbell’s tomato soup in order to do it. A friend suggested I go to La Madeleine and get some of their yummy tomato soup, but that wouldn’t really do. I already knew I was going to cheat by using some sharp cheddar instead of Kraft Singles. I couldn’t break tradition on both counts!

2016 me recreating moms lunchAs I started to prepare my lunch, I had a whim to recreate Mom’s meal as depicted in my sister’s photograph. I got out a placemat, found some crackers to break into my soup, and went outside in the rain to cut two roses.

I see now that I missed a couple of details. I should have cut three roses rather than two. I substituted a Ritz crackers box for the Club crackers box because that’s what I had in the pantry. Now I see that there was an open sleeve of Ritz Crackers on the table and a couple of Ritz crackers on her placemat. I did something right without realizing it while also missing a detail.

The roses are also important to the memory. Dad(Jim) loves roses and planted rose beds every place we lived. He sought out new varieties and shared his abundance with friends who needed a pick-me-up… but he made Mom do the arranging. Mom loved his roses too and so there were always roses on the table and around the house when in season – and the season for roses is long in Louisiana. Unfortunately, it became too difficult for Dad to keep up with his roses when Mom needed so much care and he eventually took them all out.

I posted the photo of my lunch to Facebook with the message, “Bon Appetit, Mom!” (because I’m an oversharing nerd) and went back to perusing my Facebook feed… and what popped up immediately, but an article titled Embrace Loved Ones Who Have Passed to Have a Rich & Fulfilling Present .

I liked this quote from the article: “Absence and presence can coexist. Oddly and wonderfully, engaging with the past, and bringing memories into the present, is what gives us the greatest strength to move forward.”

The author, Allison Gilbert, wrote a book titled Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. The blurb on her website gives this summary:

Passed and Present is a one-of-a-kind guide for discovering creative and meaningful ways to keep the memory of loved ones alive. Inspiring and empowering, this action-driven “how-to” manual teaches us how to remember those we miss most, no matter how long they’ve been gone.

Passed and Present is not about sadness and grieving — it is about happiness and remembering.  It is possible to look forward, to live a rich and joyful life, while keeping the memory of loved ones alive.

This much-needed, easy-to-use roadmap shares 85 imaginative ways to celebrate and honor family and friends we never want to forget.

Sounds like it is right up my alley.

What are your grilled cheese memories?
Have you recreated a photo from the past?

Happy Fabulous Fifty, Kristie!

Mom and Kristie

Mom and Kristie

I am twelve years older than my sister Kristie, so I thought I’d share the few memories I have about her birth on her birthday.

I was asleep in my bed in Joplin when dad (Jim) woke me up to tell me that he was taking mom to the hospital and that my new brother or sister was on the way. He promised to be back in time for me to get to school the next morning.

It doesn’t seem that it would be a problem to leave your 12-year-old at home in bed on such an occasion, or that said 12-year-old would be left in charge of her two much younger siblings – after all, I was used to taking care of my sisters and was already babysitting other people’s children.

But I spent the entire night awake – at least it seemed like the entire night – working out survival plans should an emergency happen on my watch. The imagined tragedy that I remember playing out most vividly was that there would be a fire. We had a new one-story, three-bedroom house with a front door, a sliding glass back door, and a garage. But what if the fire was in that part of the house and I couldn’t get the three of us out through one of the doors? The bedroom windows were short and wide and I wasn’t very tall. How could I get a preschooler and a toddler safely out of a high window? Could I throw a crib mattress out the window and then toss the girls out, hoping they would land on the mattress? What if the window didn’t open wide enough for the mattress to fit through? If I stood in the baby crib, could I direct their fall onto some pillows? What if one of them got hurt?

What if …?

What if …?

All night long. Over and over. I was a mess by the time morning rolled around.

We made it through the night and there were no fires nor any fatalities. Dad came home in time to report that I had a baby sister and that everyone was fine and that I needed to get ready for school.

I really didn’t want to.

I attended South Junior High and was suffering through a couple of years of social anxiety. It wasn’t long into the school day – probably while I was still in home room and hadn’t even gone to class yet – that I left the classroom, threw up, and found myself lying on the all-too-familiar cot in the nurse’s office. My stay there that day was a combination of a night of worry and lack of sleep and wanting to see my mother and hoping everyone was okay – made worse by knowing there was no one at home to go home to. It was also just a fairly common routine that year: go to school, start feeling anxious, throw up, go to nurse’s office, take temperature, no fever so lie here until you feel better, go back to class.

I don’t have any vivid memories about meeting Kristie for the first time or when she and mom came home from the hospital. 🙁 But I do remember that I considered myself a second mother to Kristie. I spent many hours holding and rocking and feeding and burping and singing to her. Even though I helped with and played with my other sisters, being twelve at the time made this baby different. I felt like an adult and the time I spent caring for Kristie gave me my first inkling that maybe I could be a mother some day – although for the longest time I really wanted to skip the whole mother thing and go straight to grandmother! I also took pride in recording her firsts in her baby book, as Mom was pretty busy with three little ones.

Friends, Karla, Kristie

Friends, Karla, Kristie

Poor Kristie! Her birthday often gets lost in the Thanksgiving Day celebration and then it’s suddenly Christmas.

I found a couple of pictures of a birthday party with one of Mom’s special birthday cakes. It is tagged as 1973 – Kristie’s birthday, although Karla’s sleeveless dress in December makes one wonder. The family was in Texas by then (or was it New Mexico?), so it is entirely possible. I think the panda bear cakes Mom made were usually chocolate. And very cute!

Kristie, Kim, friends

Kristie, Kim, friends

So Happy Birthday Kristie! And thanks a lot for ruining my sleep 50 years ago.

Love you!