Friday, April 10, 2020

Acknowledgements, and Cinnamon Buns

Every Friday, I write to the senior class, in a series I call my "senior thesis Friday" emails. All of our AB students (about 75% of them) write a senior thesis, and a good chunk of the engineers do, too. It's something between a rite of passage and hazing ritual, I guess, and it's hard enough to do under normal circumstances, never mind during a pandemic when you've been scattered away from your community of friends, and are now REALLY writing this thing alone. I am worried about them.

I always try to offer some practical advice (like break down a larger thing into small manageable uber-specific chunks, or get enough sleep) and encouragement (the equivalent of "you got this"), and I always include an inspirational song (I always wonder if they follow the links and ask each other whether they think I really listen to Lizzo and Andra Day and Gorilla Biscuits).

We're getting closer to the University deadline, and I have no idea how many of them may not make it over the finish line this year. It's right around now when I start to worry about the ones we haven't heard from, and at least when we're on campus I know how to find them. Now, I really don't even know where to begin if they go MIA and stop answering my emails and texts.

Knowing that it's getting both close to the end and also getting more difficult (as people continue to get sick, and the markets tank and job offers are revoked or not extended at all, and as students lose motivation and a sense of purpose), my piece of advice this week was to write the acknowledgements. It seems a little crazy to do that before you finish, but it's better to do it when you're not exhausted anyway, and I tell them that it will make them feel good to remember the people who have been there all along and are still cheering them on, and that it can motivate them to keep going when things feel impossible. It's like gratitude, I guess, right? When we express gratitude, we feel better about the world, we notice positive things, we feel loved and cared for. The acknowledgements, in a weird way, engender hope.

If I had to write the acknowledgements for what was a particularly sucky week, I think I'd have to do something along these lines: 

I want to thank everyone who helped me get to Friday this week. To my orthopedic surgeon, who continues to see me in 3D for follow up care and makes me feel like an important patient, for not laughing at my crazy jury-rigged pink bandanna mask, and for making me feel like I was doing a good job at something (sitting on my butt), at least. To my colleague A, who invited me to zoom happy hour for two in the middle of the week, and reminded me to take care of myself and stay sane. To the amazing chocolatier that I know on a first name basis, who overnighted a SECOND package of Easter bunnies to us after the first package was lost to the UPS black hole (I know that UPS folks are completely overwhelmed and hope someone is enjoying an early Easter present---you seriously need to order yourself some of his macarons). To the people at my car dealership, who, in a turn of insanity that I can't quite wrap my brain around, risked their health to come pick up my car with the perpetually dead battery from my house and drive it to the dealership for repairs so I didn't even need to worry about how I'd get it there with a broken foot and only one other driver in the house. To my long time friend who checked in on me randomly, even though I should be the one checking in on him. To the kind people who welcomed me back so warmly to my little space here, which I hope I can try to inhabit again for a while. To my husband, who has been pretty patient with me, and who has tried to anticipate my needs. To my son, whose dry and flat sense of humor and ability to be amused by pretty much everything continues to me to maintain perspective. To my daughter, who, in needing lots of hugs this week, also gave them to me. This week would not have been survivable without their support.

We are going to have to talk, at some point, about the problematic nature of acknowledgements. The people who are most endangered by this. The people I can thank, but for whom "thanks" is really not cutting it. The people who need better pay for what they do. Health insurance. Better housing. The people who allow me, who has done nothing to deserve it, to stay home.

It's Good Friday, speaking of acknowledgements (because isn't that what Easter really is about? about someone who made the ultimate sacrifice for human beings? to give them hope?), and I probably should be posting a recipe for hot cross buns. But no one except me likes them around here, so I've got the next best thing: cinnamon rolls. Which my daughter made. The one who needs, and gives, hugs.

What do your acknowledgements look like this week?

Cinnamon Buns (from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

1/4 cup warm water
1 Tbs (1 package) active dry yeast
1 Tbs granulated sugar
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 stick (4Tbs) butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Cinnamon Filling
1 Tbs butter, melted
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbs ground cinnamon

1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine the water, yeast, and 1T sugar in a small mixing bowl and set aside until puffy.  Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan (or the microwave) until the butter is melted; set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside. In yet another bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the milk-butter mixture. Add the yeast and egg mixtures to the flour and stir to combine (it's helpful to whisk 1/2 cup if the flour into the egg mixture first until smooth before combining everything).

Knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turing to coat, and cover. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size, 1.5 to 2 hours.

Grease and flour a 9x13" pan. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll (or press) out into a 16x12" rectangle. Brush the melted butter over the dough.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle generously over the dough within 1/2" of the edges. Roll up the dough long ways and cut off the messy ends if you want (I didn't). Use dental floss (no, really!) to cut the roll in halves until you have 12 rolls. Lay the rolls in the prepared pan and leave them to rise until the rolls are all touching and reach the rim, about 1.5 to 2 hours (or overnight in the fridge, which is what we did).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the rolls for 20 minutes until golden brown. Let the rolls cool for 10 minutes before inverting the rolls out of the pan, and then flipping them again onto a serving dish.

To make the icing, beat the icing ingredients together with a fork (if you don't sift the powdered sugar, the icing will be lumpy). Spread the icing over the warm rolls and eat as soon as possible. They really don't keep well for more than a couple hours!
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  1. My idea of utopia is a world in which everyone has a Justine helping get them to their next finish line.

    My favorite part of writing my own book was the Acknowledgements. And you answer the reason why: gratitude feels so good.

    1. <3 You're very sweet. It's funny ... I write a lot of these email and they go into the black hole, and every once in a while someone writes back and says how much it helped. I think we all need someone to help us get to the finish line.


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