I love fall. Without question, it's my favorite season. This one has been magnificent, and so have the colors and the caramel apples. That sugary cider donut I bought at the orchard was finger-lickin'-good, as always, and so was the pie we baked with our fresh-picked apples. This year, however, after my children settled a debate about who would get to use the peeler (note to self: buy another), they did most of the work.
I may need to step it up in my Zumba class, though, because they didn't stop with pie. Last Sunday, before the Bears game, Noah decided to bake oatmeal cookies. Whenever I bake them I usually just use the easy recipe on the lid of the oatmeal container, but Noah decided to use one he found in one of my neglected recipe books.
"How does cinnamon grow?" he asked, as he gathered his ingredients.
"In sticks," I replied. "Wait a minute, huh?" I wondered, my brow furrowed. I imagined cinnamon sticks dangling from some exotic tree in the Mediterranean, but that didn't sound quite right to either one of us.
"Google it. I need to know!" Noah said, laughing excitedly, so I ran to the computer. We learned that cinnamon is actually the bark of the Laurel tree, grown in Sri Lanka. After harvesting, the bark dries, curling up into the furled sticks we're familiar with. How come I never heard this before?
Holly joined Noah in the kitchen as I contemplated the clutter on my desk, and before I knew it they were busily measuring and mixing without me. Soon they were giggling and laughing. I had no idea what I'd find when I peeked in, but I hated to interfere in their good time. It's interesting to see how well they cooperate when I get out of the kitchen and out of their way, an insight I'd be wise to remember.
"I need you to get 2 ¼ cups of flour," Noah said to his sister.
"Yay! I'll get the flour," Holly replied.
"We need a lot of flour for gingernaps," Noah reported.
Gingersnaps? What happened to oatmeal? And what about the oatmeal cookie craving I was now nursing, I wondered.
"We're making oatmeal, gingersnaps and peanut butter cookies, all at the same time," I heard Holly announce to my husband as he passed through the kitchen. Phew. But I'd better add a second Zumba class to my schedule. "And only me and Noah. Mom hasn't helped," she added, proudly.
"She helped a little bit," I heard Noah say. I smiled at that. Really? All I did was get out of the way and confuse him about cinnamon's origins. Oh, and I reminded him to get the jumble of extra pots and pans out of the oven before preheating it. Which reminded me ….
"Holly, find your wire cooling racks," I suggested. I heard the chaotic clash of pots and pans and crossed my fingers. Poor kid. It's like wrestling a bear, whenever someone ventures into our cupboard of cookware.
"Found one," she triumphantly announced.
"How much is half of 3/4ths of a cup?" Noah asked. When I hesitated, he kicked me off the computer so he could use the calculator, and then ran back to the kitchen. I couldn't help but laugh. See how helpful I am? How else is a kid supposed to become an independent problem-solver?
"Look at this color. Mom, you've got to see this!" he called a minute later, so I returned to the kitchen. It looked like a fair amount of flour flew, but the mess wasn't too bad. As for the color of his gingernaps-to-be, he was right. It was amazing. Molasses had turned the flour a deep caramel color, like the caramel apples I can't get enough of. I grabbed a cooling oatmeal cookie and returned to the computer to write this column.
"We can't have too many cookies, right?" Noah called from the kitchen.
"Umm, I can't imagine a scenario where that would be a problem," I replied, grinning as I typed. Three Zumba classes. Definitely three. And maybe a few situps.
But if Holly has her way, all I really need to do is rake.
"Mom, get a rake," she ordered one afternoon, as she swept a bunch of leaves into a pile. Soon it was big enough for both of us to flop into. What fun we had.
But the next day the Snuffleupagus truck came by and sucked up Holly's pile. You know that city truck with the enormous vacuum hose thingy that sucks up all of the leaves? That one. I call it Snuffy because it reminds me of my favorite Sesame Street character, Snuffleupagus. For the uninitiated, that's Big Bird's best friend, the huge, shaggy, mammoth-like muppet who lives in a cave just off Sesame Street.
I nearly cried when I heard that unmistakable Hoover-vacuum sound nearing the house. I looked up from my work and peeked out the window as workers raked errant leaves into Snuffy's big hose. Really, I had to stop myself from running out the door and shooing them all away. But it wasn't their fault. Her pile, near the trees that border our street, was pretty close to the curb.
Fortunately, more leaves fell.
"Oh, so she's taking the initiative and getting the job done?" my sister commented the next morning when she called, after I mentioned that Holly was back at it and raking up the freshly fallen leaves. "Good for her," she added.
"Nope, no job to do," I replied, "She just decided to round 'em up so she can flop down in them," I replied, and then hurried off the phone so I could join her again. I'm not known for a neat kitchen or a neat yard, but there will be plenty of time for tidying- up later - after my children are grown and gone.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.