The Sunshine State?

16 Jul

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Growing up, we moved around a lot.  Every 2-4 years my family and I were packing up and relocating to a new state for my dad’s job, giving us new experiences and new fun.  Each place had its own charm; Bartlesville, OK holds great memories of walking with my mom to pet the horses at the ranch down the street.  And I’ll never forget Brahm’s – it’s still my favorite ice cream shop, and the taste of their burgers lingers in my mouth to this day.  Littleton, CO had the entire genuine western regime one may think of when cowboys ride off in the sunset.  I loved that place – even buried a penny in one of Jenn’s baby jars in the backyard with a note asking the treasure hunter to mail it back to me (I never heard anything).  When I moved out of the house on my own to the painted sky of Arizona, the rumors regarding the magic of the desert are more than true.  There may be nothing more amazingly beautiful than the desert sky (and yes, it is a DRY heat).

But there is one place that never really touched me as home.  I’m not sure why.  Somewhere in the lost cabinet of a house where odd socks and spare change and broken shoelaces go to hideout forever, is a videotape of a very memorable Thanksgiving in Houston, Texas.  We lived in a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac, with a pool and giant kitchen, with wings of the house that we could easily get lost in (which we sometimes did).  Jenn was 4, I was 11, we had recently gotten our dog, Casey, who was truly a wild-ass Texas dog that would run, run, run like a blur of brown and white lightning until we literally had to catch the animal like a greased hog-tie.

During times of naughtiness, we had a perfect “time-out” spot on the bottom step of our huge, winding staircase.  It was a place, which Jenn found herself maybe a few times, and my mom’s more-than-annoyed modulation of, “Go sit on the step!” during times of post-toddler vs. pre-pubescent sibling rivalry still rings clearly (although now it makes me laugh when I think of it).  Once during an “on the step” time, unknowingly to my mom, Jenn climbed upstairs, grabbed a pillow, blanket, and a Where’s Waldo book.  Maybe it was her 4-yr old way of Sticking it to the Mom, or maybe she really was clever enough to make her time-out experience somewhat enjoyable.  Whatever the reason, after a very prolonged period of quiet, we peeked around the kitchen corner to find Jenn’s legs stretched out the length of the step, book sleepily fallen on her chest, singing the zzz’s (a picture of this moment lies somewhere… Mom, blackmail?).

So maybe it was my I’m-so-cool-because-I’m-in-sixth-grade-so-everything-is-emo-and-everything-I-say-needs-to-have-an-“ugh”-noise-after-it phase of life, but I did NOT like Texas.  The Thanksgiving videotape, where Dad’s deep voice happily booms from behind the camera, where Mom’s smile stretches a mile as she delivers a perfectly browned turkey, where Jenn’s jibber-jabber about giving thanks for the strawberries and a giant chicken, and where we are all dressed for the occasion in the formal dining room, lends only the image of a Martha Stewart Holiday until my face comes into focus.

“Jilly! Where are you on this Thanksgiving?” Dad’s chipper voice was a decent attempt to change his daughter’s sullenness.

“Texas.” Period.  Ugh.  Sulk.

“Texas!” there’s the chipper again, “It doesn’t sound like you like this place so much, hu?”

Cue: another “duh, Dad” face.

Enter: Jenn almost standing on the table in excitement.

“Well, I live in Texas, and I think it’s Woooondderrfulll!!!!!” The exaggerated arm movements and the high-pitched, very fast talking voice that you are probably imagining out of my little sister at that moment are all true.

For a place that brings back so many clearly vivid memories, I never took to it.  I remember the GIANT bugs, and the greenbelt where Casey tripped Dad and cut up his shoulder.  I remember when I had chickenpox so badly during a 90+-degree summer with gagging humidity that the only thing that gave relief was just floating in the pool.  I remember the time where mom flipped out over a gecko and chopped off its tail and the tail flipped around wildly which made her scream even more, so the terrified (I’m sure) tailless gecko scampered into the scale which made the scale end up tossed into the backyard.

And I remember the thunderstorms.  The everyday cracking, pouring, God was power washing the Earth, thunderstorms.

I think all the moving of my youth kind of primed me for this military lifestyle.  As we are now in Florida, I find myself making new memories, cooking new foods, and trying to experience all we can in the short three years we will be here.  But for some reason, Houston keeps percolating in my mind – little blump, blump, blumps of familiar feelings, images, and scents.  Florida is reminding me, more and more, of Houston.

And I like it.

The icing on the cake is the thunderstorms.  Everyday we wake up to bright, goldenrod sunshine pouring in our bedroom windows, but as sure as the rooster roosts, by noon it’s pouring.  At first we were worried about Sig and his reaction to the smack-you-with-a-two-by-four thunder, but our super laid back, Owen Wilson (if he could talk), Oregonian dog did nothing more than raise his head to the noise.  Huh.  That was new.  Yawn.  I’m sure everything is fine.  But I hope it stops raining before I have to poop again.  Sigh.  Stretch.  Sleep.

Since I have been holding the house down these last few weeks as Rob becomes accustomed to his new job and schedule with the Coast Guard, I have felt it is my duty to make this house a home, especially in a place that feels so different to him from Oregon.  Meanwhile, I’m realizing my ease in the transition is that his place feels so familiar to me.

One thing that I know is Rob loves a cookie.  Especially one with chocolate chips, or, if he’s really lucky, the M&M ones Meagan bakes back in Oregon.  Personally, I feel there is something so comforting (and a little naughty) about having a cookie for breakfast, so in an effort to truly make this house feel – and smell – like a home, cookies, albeit somewhat nutritious in my book, needed to be baked (I waited for a daily thunderstorm, so at least having the oven on during the Southern summer felt validated).

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Thus, the Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies were invented.  They are little old-fashioned, two-spoon drop cookies of oat-y goodness, just sweet enough to be a cookie to return to over and over again.  Hearing the, “Babe, it smells good!” as Rob came home made me just as happy to know he was going to enjoy eating them.  Cookies help make a house a home.

So, as I’m coming to the realization that our Sunshine State is really a quite rainy one, it’s ok.  Thanks to Oregon, we are used to the rain.  Thanks to Houston, I’m used to the storms.  And thanks to the Coast Guard, we’ve got many more memories ahead of us.

Enjoy the cookies – preferably on a rainy day.  🙂

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Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 30 small cookies)

  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • ½  c quinoa flour (this adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey, as well as some protein – again, great for breakfast)
  • ¾ c old fashioned oats
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter
  • ½ c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c good honey (preferably local – it naturally helps with allergies)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ c mini chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • *optional: sea salt, or Maldon salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a bowl, whisking until combined. 

In a mixer (or using a hand-mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar together until just combined.  Add in the eggs, honey, and vanilla and mix to combine.  Scrape down the edge of the bowl, and in thirds, mix in the dry ingredients.  Once all combined, mix in the mini chocolate chips. 

Using two regular kitchen teaspoons, scoop the dough onto the lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room for slight spreading.  I fit about 15 cookies on one baking sheet. 

NOTE: If using sea salt or Maldon salt, sprinkle the cookies with just a pinch of salt 3 minutes AFTER they have gone into the oven.  The salt really does add quite a nice, delicate touch to the sweet bites.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown, and the tops feel firm.  Place on a cooling rack, and enjoy when your taste buds can’t handle it anymore.  And your house will smell just lovely.

Enjoy! 

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2 Responses to “The Sunshine State?”

  1. Gen July 16, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    One of my favorite posts yet, so beautifully written and lots of laughs too!!

  2. paul mccauley July 16, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Jill and Rob- Glad you have safely arrived in Florida. We loved our two years in Key West after five years in Cleveland. We made wonderful friends and memories in Ohio, but loved putting away the young children’s snowsuits, scarves and mittens for two years. Stay well, enjoy yourselves and please keep writing.

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