Cookie Day One: Sans Gluten et Sans Reproche

My godson Rob was diagnosed with celiac this spring, and while we haven’t made all the changes we would if it was someone in my household, there has been a lot more paying attention to what has wheat and barley and the like, what doesn’t, what does but can be made to work without it. Also, we have been saying for years that my goddaughter Lillian is almost old enough (and definitely enthusiastic enough about baking) to be included in Cookie Day. This year, the two things combined: we had Lillian spend the night and then spend all day having Gluten-Free Cookie Day.

Here is what we made.

First, in our pajamas, we made fully glutenated waffles for breakfast. Because Lillian hasn’t been diagnosed with celiac, and sometimes having the gluteny things you like when you’re not sharing them with your big brother is a good plan.

Then we got ready for the day and finished putting out the Christmas decorations (usually wayyyy too early, but I’m going to be in Montreal, so I needed to get it done if it was ever going to happen) and waited for my folks and my grandma. And then the reinforcements got here and we really got going.

We made: chocolate fudge with hazelnuts; double-layer chocolate/peanut butter fudge; caramels; strawberry shortbread with gluten-free flour*; chocolate-dipped apricots; chocolate mixed nut clusters; amaretti (tinted lavender–Lillian’s choice), some sandwiched with frosting and some with raspberry jam; Nutella cookies; and chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. We didn’t get to the blueberry meringues, so I’ll do those tomorrow before we really get going on the gluten-y cookies, and there was a teeeeeensy mishap when we were boiling the apple cider down for apple cider caramels, so that got scratched for the day.

And in the process, we taught Lillian about when you whip a lot of air into egg whites to make them fluffy, how to use a pastry blender to do exactly the opposite, how to use a pastry bag to pipe dough out, how to make frosting from scratch, and many other topics in the worlds of baking, chemistry, finance, and more.

All in all, a lovely day. More of it coming tomorrow.

*This was our only use of a gluten-free flour product. All the other cookies and treats were recipes that are just naturally made without flour. I know that some of the wheat substitute flours can taste pretty good for people who need them, especially with a strong flavoring like strawberry covering up the fact that they don’t taste quite the same, and they’re a good resource to have. But when I’m not working around another dietary restriction like nuts, dairy, or eggs, I prefer to make recipes that were gluten-free to begin with, rather than adjusting things to become gluten-free. Several of the above were also dairy-free, though, so ask if you’re interested.

Tell me about your dreams, Sad Godzilla

There is a blog I like to read that tells funny stories, personal stories, about the blogger’s own life, but about every third entry the blogger does something that makes me wince on her behalf. Before the main subject of the post, she goes into Sad Godzilla Mode, stomping all over her own internal Tokyo with her mascara running, thrashing around destroying the buildings and roaring, “Not perfect! not perfect!” before she can start telling the story she wants to tell. She covers the blog post with disclaimers about how she doesn’t have a perfect life–quite often adding, “not like those bloggers you see” and then a list of the attributes of Perfect Life Bloggers.

And the thing about perfectionists–I know because I am one, and I used to be even more of one–is that telling her, hey, you don’t have to do that, it’s better when you don’t do that will just make her more self-conscious, not actually make her feel better about herself. There is no way to frame this as a far-outsider that will make her feel like she doesn’t have to be perfect. She has to come to that idea on her own, because anybody else introducing it–at least from as far outside her life as I am–will sound like “we have already realized that you suck, and here is another way that you suck: you write your blog posts badly,” not like, “hey, perfection is not a thing that exists in humans, so let’s move on without the disclaimers and hear about where your kid put the peanut butter; that’s what we’re all here for.” I would love to say, “No one reads a blog post and thinks, ‘that person is perfect, their life is perfect,'” but in fact this blogger’s comments are proof that some people do cherish that illusion about others, and flagellate themselves with it. It’s just…most of the rest of us don’t. Most of the rest of us get it. We’re all just doing the best we can, and hey, today the dog was cuddly because she got a haircut and the weather turned, woo. Or today something funny happened in the Ikea elevator when I was there to have lunch with my aunt and uncle. Or whatever. Onwards with today. That is what we’re all doing, glossy photos or not. We are all doing the onwards with today thing.

This is actually why I have started trying to avoid the opportunities to tell my favorite new college student How To College. She will college just fine. She will screw some things up, not because there is something wrong with her but because we all screw things up, and she is in a time in her life when everyone is telling her How To College, as a subset of everyone telling her How To Her. And so when she asks for my thoughts because I actually know something she wants to hear, okay, but otherwise, I am trying to mention thoughts like, hey, I love you and I believe in you, and otherwise thoughts like, I thought this picture Tim took was cool. Here is a video link I liked. Etc. In Hard to Change, Meg Hutchinson sings the line, “don’t wanna make the same mistakes that my parents did,” and once in concert she talked about how her father called her to say, don’t worry, honey, you’ll make your own mistakes. And I think that can be hard from the older side, thinking, well, I’ve made these mistakes, I should be able to stop my younger friends, my children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or godchildren or whoever, from making them. But there’s a line between the sensible teaching and the overadvising, and the overadvising just feeds into the Sad Godzilla that lives inside many of us. I don’t want my favorite new college student to spend her first year at college feeding Sad Godzilla. I don’t want to be a force in her life pushing her towards thinking about what she’s doing that’s not perfect. I want to be a force in her life encouraging her to think about what she thinks is awesome.

This week I started a class in Scandinavian Woodcarving. I knew I would not be perfect at it. If I was aiming for perfect, I would never have taken it, because I was guaranteed to start out vastly, vastly imperfect. As it turned out, I started out even more imperfect than I had hoped, requiring five stitches, so we’ll see if the vertigo meds induce too much neuropathy for me to do this or if I can work around it. But it’s the sort of thing that can’t arise if the question is, “What would my life have in it to be more perfect?” The question has to be, “What might be awesome? Can we try that and see?” And then iterate. Get better or try something else, or both. Not perfect. Not perfect. Yes. Dreams don’t come in perfect. Let’s hear about what might find room for awesome after Sad Godzilla is done with the flattening.

Narcissism, self-assessment, and external feedback

Last week the Strib had an article about teenagers–mostly girls ages 13 to 15–posting painfully sincere selfies and videos asking the internet to tell them the truth about whether they are ugly. And most of this article was about the effects on the kids in question, but there was some of the usual hand-wringing about how supposedly narcissistic this young generation is.

Narcissism, you see, is something that groups mostly suffer from if they’re younger than you. If you go to a nursing home and everyone there wants to talk about their individual aches and pains for hours, nobody wants to talk about the narcissism of the elderly. (And rightly so, because plenty of old people are not narcissistic. But plenty of young people aren’t either.) It can’t be that some percentage of people are pretty self-centered, and it’s more culturally acceptable to call younger people on it than older people. It also can’t be that developmentally people in their teens and early twenties are going through a time when they’re figuring out their abilities and plans and place in the world. Nope. The particular teens we have at any given moment are perpetually uniquely narcissistic. You can read it in the paper. ALWAYS. So it must be true.

Self-assessment is useful in many areas, and it can be hard to get help with it from the people around you. I’m not surprised that these teens want to find out whether they’re pretty or not. I’m somewhat surprised that they’re still naive enough, at thirteen, to think that the internet will tell them the truth. Of course the people around them–Mom, Dad, friends, whoever–will not. They will say, “You look so pretty,” when they mean a dozen different things like, “I love you,” and “I want you to feel good about yourself,” and “I understand and approve of what you’re wearing more today than yesterday,” and “you look so much like your grandmother today–I miss her so much–I wish she could have been here to see you grow up.” Thirteen-year-olds are old enough, smart enough to know this. They’re trying to figure themselves out and figure out how to relate to the world. That’s not necessarily narcissistic. Asking the internet is naive. But we all wanted to know where we fit, who we were, when we were thirteen. We still do, but we’ve got more data, more practice at it, past that age.

I was thinking about this in terms of all the advice about not telling kids that they’re smart, telling them that they did a good job on a specific piece of work. I see where that advice is coming from. But a few weeks ago I was at the zoo with my godson Rob, who is twelve, and I needed to tell him, “Rob, you’re walking very fast. It’s faster than the other people in the group can walk right now. They need you to slow down because they literally cannot keep up with how fast you are walking.” There are times when being a smart kid is like that. There are times when you’re young and not entirely socially aware, when it’s very useful to know that other people are not goofing off on purpose, they’re not failing to pay attention because they’d rather be doing something else, they are just not as smart as you, or not as smart in a particular subset of picking things up. They are trying. Telling a kid they’re smart is not always praise. Telling a kid they’re pretty, musical, fast, strong, whatever, is not always praise. It doesn’t have to be handled that way. Sometimes it’s useful feedback at an age where they’re not very good at self-assessment or at placing their self-assessment in the context of others and compassion for those others or compassion for themselves.

In science fiction, we have an established critique culture. It’s just a known thing that you can go to some group–friends, or a workshop in person, or an online workshop–and get an assessment of how you’re doing at something that affects your life. You can arrange, one way or another, to get other people who actually know something about it to critique your work, and you can get enough of them to do it to get at least a bit of triangulation. You won’t know perfectly, of course, but you’ll have the rough outlines, what’s working, what’s not, whether you’re publishable, whether you’re way out of that category. And I think we take it for granted as adults that external feedback above the level of “u suck” will be available. We need to recognize that while the internet has given teenagers access to all sorts of things we didn’t have, perspective is one of the ones that’s hardest to get that young, and cut them a break.