For our next trick…

…we’ll install a laminate floor in the living room!

Hopefully it will work like magic. But if not, we have all the appropriate tools and are letting the laminate acclimate to our house for the next two days.

Maybe cross your fingers for us just in case.

Operation: Find a Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe That Doesn’t Suck was a success!

I got a lot of responses with a ton of great advice and recipes on my last post about my problems with the two cookbook recipes I’d tried for chocolate chip cookies, but on Christmas Eve I ended up trying the recipe on the back of the Tollhouse chocolate chips—and it worked! The only difference between it and the Betty Crocker recipe was one more egg, so those of you who suggested that were totally right.

Eventually I’d like to try all of the recipes that were suggested to me, but it’s great to know that in a pinch, this recipe is easy and produces great cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Ian and I don’t get into the religion part of Christmas, but that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate it just as hard as you crazy Christians. Even growing up in a Catholic family, Christmas to me was always about family, food, booze and presents.

Last night we celebrated Christmas with Ian’s dad and his wife, and sister and nephew. The food and booze were excellent, the family was fun and the presents were incredible.

In a little while we’ll head over to Ian’s mom’s house, where we’ll get to indulge in more tasty food and booze, and what I’m sure will be another ridiculously awesome display of gift-giving and family-time.

Every once in a while I have to stop and remind myself that I wasn’t actually born into this family—I am lucky enough to have been welcomed into it with open arms (and open wine bottles) by two groups of people that both treat me like I really am a part of their family.

And while I’m still missing my mom and sisters, I am feeling very much a part of something. And I am peaceful this morning, which I suppose is the feeling of Christmas after all.

So Merry Christmas to you and yours. Here’s to a day of love and peace.

Mama Kitty

BK (which stands for Baby Kitty) has always been a very sweet and affectionate cat, but this past week she has been spending much more time laying either on or right next to me. I think it’s because I haven’t been feeling very well and she has been trying to comfort me.

It worked. She is a very good mama cat.

Betty Crocker is messing with me

For a year now I’ve been searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. Wait, I take that back. Not a perfect one, just one that yields cookies I’m not embarrassed to give people other than myself or Ian to eat.

The first recipe I tried was from a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook I have, and those cookies were nasty. They were very, very bland, which I’m attributing to the lack of salt and the addition of Crisco.

The second recipe I tried last year was the same one I tried today, except the first time I made it I used salted butter (that’s all we had). The cookies came out too salty—you could see the salt crystals in them after they were baked.

So this year I double checked with Twitter, got confirmation to use unsalted butter and light brown sugar, and made the recipe again. I followed it to the letter. I measured twice, I mixed thoroughly, I read everything 10 times.

And they’re just… not that good. Ian describes the texture as being more like a biscuit. They’re not very chewy, and I guess I would say they taste almost… grainy? I wonder if it’s too much flour—the recipe calls for 2 and 1/4 cup, which is a lot to mix in, even a bit at a time. I even used the exact brand of flour that the recipe calls for.

Or maybe I packed the brown sugar too tightly? I made sure there were no pockets of emptiness in the measuring cup since the brown sugar was kind of clumpy, but I didn’t pack it so tight that I felt it was more than what I actually needed.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I’m using. I’m at a loss.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I used Domino brand)
1 cup butter or margarine, softened (I used unsalted butter)
1 egg
2 1/4 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I left these out)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

1. Heat oven to 375ºF.
2. Mix sugars, butter and egg in large bowl. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

Any ideas on what would be causing these to not turn out right? Or do you have a tried and true and tasty recipe for chocolate chip cookies you’d like to share with me?

Maybe one year

After 12 years in Tennessee, I’ve gotten pretty used to not seeing my family on holidays. I’m lucky in that even before Ian and I started dating, his mom had a standing invitation open for me and all his other “orphan” friends for Thanksgiving or Christmas. And my other friends’ homes were always open, too. I’ve never had to spend a holiday alone because of work or school obligations that prevented me from taking the several days I’d need to drive to Chicago and back.

But for the last four years, I’ve been lucky enough to work someplace that allows us time off at the holidays. For the last four years, logistically I could have gone back to visit my family in Chicago.

But emotionally, I couldn’t. I couldn’t go back there and smile through the pain and pretend that I wasn’t resenting having to exchange pleasantries with my crazy, abusive father just so I could spend time with my mother and sisters. And risk more emotional abuse.

Despite the fact that I don’t speak to my father anymore, my mother is still married to him. My youngest sister still lives in the house and my middle sister lives close and still visits. And though I have their support and understanding, I’m pretty much on my own. Especially at the holidays.

Last year my middle sister Katie and I made plans for her and her now-fiance to come spend Christmas with Ian and I, but she has changed her mind. I guess I can’t blame her, but I had really been looking forward to having someone from my side of the family with me at Christmas this year. (Although I could have done without her telling me they couldn’t afford it and then later admitting they were going to buy a new couch.)

My hope is that one day Ian and I will be able to spend Christmas with my mom and two sisters. It would be nice to be able to go to Chicago so we could experience a true white Christmas, but I’d be happy for the three of them to come here, too.

I just don’t know that it will ever happen. And that makes me sad.

Pretty good year

Yesterday at a wolfpack lunch my friends/coworkers and I were bitching about… well, a lot of things. And after about 30 minutes in the Bitter Barn, Jamie tasked us all with coming up with three good things that happened to us in 2009.

I thought for a few minutes, and came up with my three:

  1. 1. We had our wedding reception and it was a freaking blast.
  2. 2. We got Link. (He’s improved a lot since we first got him, hahaha.)
  3. 3. The photo class that Jamie and I took at Watkins. I relearned a lot, learned a lot of new stuff, and it was a good catalyst to get my photographic juices flowing again.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative, to think about being overworked or stressed or sick or tired or broke, so I was glad to have Jamie make me stop and focus on the positive.

I decided to look back at my Flickr pictures from the past year and see what other good things happened that I might not have remembered off the top of my head. Turns out, 2009 was a pretty good year.

January: We elected Barack Obama as president.

February: For our first Valentine’s Day as old married folk, Ian took me to a fancy-pants (the nicest I’d ever been taken to, actually) dinner at The Stockyard.

March: I got pneumonia and lived. Oh, and this was the month that we adopted Link from one of the shelters at PetSmart.

April: We had our wedding reception April 4 and got to celebrate with about 100 of our closest friends and family members.

May: My 30th birthday! And another great party to celebrate with friends.

June: I finished building my first client site (that later won an award) and went to a great conference with my coworkers.

July: Ian and I went to West Virginia for his dad’s family reunion and I fell in love with the mountains and Blenko. Oh, and my youngest sister came to stay with us again for two weeks!

August: After years of not believing I had the willpower, I became a vegetarian and started feeling better than ever.

September: The photo class at Watkins started, and I remembered once again how much I love photography.

October: Ian and I had our first wedding anniversary, which we celebrated by spending the weekend in Chattanooga. It was an awesome weekend: We went to the aquarium, had a nice dinner at Hennen’s and spent time walking around the art district. Oh, and on Halloween we had a kick-ass Halloween party.

November: We celebrated Ian’s birthday, Thanksgiving and attended some friends’ going-away party on one long, booze-filled weekend.

December: It’s not over yet, but so far it’s been pretty good (despite me getting a nasty cold and a UTI in the same week). I got my Christmas present from Ian early (the Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8), made strides on a huge project at work, and have 10 days of much-needed vacation coming up.

2009 was full of growing pains and learning curves, but in the grand scheme of things it was a good year. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go, though.

From whence I came

I don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire episode of American Idol, but I can’t deny the talent of Kelly Clarkson. I’m not a big pop fan, but I do have several songs of hers on my iTunes. And every time “Because of You” comes on, I stop in my tracks.

There’s a truth in this song that would haunt me for hours after hearing it if I’d let it. I have to make a concerted effort to shake it off.

The lyrics tell a story from the point of view of someone I could have become if I had not made a concerted effort to free myself from the damage my father inflicted upon me.

I could go line by line in this song pointing out the way in which it speaks to how fucked up my dad is and how he tried to permanently damage my sisters and I so that we would never be happy, either.

But the damage didn’t take, and I don’t want to dwell on how shitty I might have turned out had I not been able to escape it. To the extent anyone can escape years of mental and physical abuse, of course.

Instead of focusing on how most of the song spells out exactly how I felt 10 years ago, I’ll point out that after a lot of work to relearn how to love myself and how to accept love from decent, caring, worthy people, the last three verses don’t apply to me.

Despite its struggles and my occasional time in the bitter barn, my life is full of love and learning and peace and hope. It’s full of friends and family members who care about me because of who I am, not ones who try to rewrite me into a version they feel fits their own history better. My life includes people that I love because I am choosing to include them. And they choose to include me, too. And if you put them all together in a room they would be a motley crew, but they are the only family I need.

Because of You
I will not make
the same mistakes that you did
I will not let myself
cause my heart so much misery

I will not break
the way you did, you fell so hard
I’ve learned the hard way
to never let it get that far

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side
so I don’t get hurt

Because of you
I find it hard to trust
not only me but everyone around me
Because of you, I am afraid

I lose my way
and it’s not too long before you point it out
I cannot cry
because I know that’s weakness in your eyes

I’m forced to fake
a smile, a laugh, every day of my life
My heart can’t possibly break
when it wasn’t even whole to start with

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side
so I don’t get hurt

Because of you
I find it hard to trust
not only me but everyone around me
Because of you, I am afraid

I watched you die, I heard you cry
every night in your sleep
I was so young, you should have known
better than to lean on me

You never thought of anyone else
You just saw your pain
And now I cry in the middle of the night
For the same damn thing

Because of you
I tried my hardest just to forget everything
Because of you
I don’t know how to let anyone else in

Because of you
I’m ashamed of my life because it’s empty
Because of you, I am afraid