Friday, December 21, 2012

Past Lives, and Rosemary Shortbreads

My mother has been cleaning out her house.  Or at least, my brother's room.

This is, in theory, an excellent thing.  My mother has lived in the same house since she was two years old.  Though over the years before they moved out, her two brothers took things that belonged to them, there is still a good almost-seventy years' worth of accumulation of things there, and after my extremely organized Type-A father died in 2003, there was no longer anyone left in the house to do periodic purging.  She borders on hoarding behavior, her basement pantry stocked full of condensed soup and canned vegetables and brownie mix and pasta (we recently found cake mix there that had expired ten years ago), and every bedroom piled with her clothes and bills and paper and shopping bags with items still in their original packaging, tags attached.  I worry sometimes about what will happen if she downsizes, and selfishly, I worry, too, about the inevitable unpacking of her life that I will have to do some day, even if she never leaves her house.

I know that children create clutter, and I've claimed quite a few things from my mother's house over time.  Books.  Clothing.  Random pillows and throws.  Notebooks.  So, so much paper.

But I know there are also still many things left, remnants of another someone I used to know, like that overplayed and over-covered Gotye song.

On my birthday, my mother presented me with two canvas shopping bags of things belonging to me, which had been living in my brother's room: one bag containing two sets of artist-quality colored pencils, a set of watercolors, and a large box of crayons that probably date back to the late 1970s; the other containing a pile of awards and plaques.  My spelling bee plaque from the eighth grade.  My ten-year Excellence Award plaque from my dance school.   A plaque recognizing my service as the leader of the Children's Choir at my Catholic church, from my senior year of high school.  Another congratulating me on my performance on the National Spanish Language exam.  And on, and on.

The first bag was easy to deal with.  I gave the colored pencils and paints to my art-obsessed son and the crayons to my crayon-obsessed daughter, who has already made them her own.

The second was not so easy.

I've moved seven times in my life.  I am no stranger to the process of purging things, because there was no space in the car or the moving truck or on the bookshelf or in the cabinets.  I regularly recycle and Freecycle what we no longer need.  So it's odd to me that I'm left wondering what to do with these things, feeling on the one hand like I can't get rid of them (besides, the green citizen in me wonders, how does one recycle a plaque, anyway?) and on the other hand that I need to reduce the clutter in my life, not add to it.  This green canvas bag full of the past made me feel both like I need to retain this physical connection to that past, so I can pass it on to my children, and because--as Lori Lavender Luz puts it so beautifully in her post "Presence"--all of my past selves are me, and yet also like I have no need for physical attachment to that part of my past, to that person I no longer resemble. 

My past lives have been on my mind.  We're going out to LA in less than a week; it will be the first time I've been there since I left in early 1998, fourteen and a half years ago.  It will be a trip full of bitter, and sweet, and salt.  We will visit my old street, my old apartment complex.  We'll eat cake down the street at Sweet Lady Jane where, alone, I mourned the loss of a brilliant and generous-hearted college friend to a rare brain cancer, celebrated small triumphs, recovered from the traumatic experience of oral exams.  We'll walk past the alley where I was mugged at gunpoint.  We will step into the Pacific Ocean, the place my then-boyfriend took me in the dark of night when I first landed in the west coast for the first time eighteen years ago, knowing that I needed to touch the west.  We'll see some old friends.  I can't put my finger on why, but there was something about this act of remembering that has been important to me lately.  LA and I parted ways on less than friendly terms, but recently, I've felt like I needed to go back; I was ready.

I've shelved the plaques for now, in a place where I won't see them, where they will gather dust, like old memories do.  They'll stay there, and I suspect I will eventually forget about them, until I'm deep cleaning, moving, reorganizing.  I'll pull them down and look at them, and probably move them again, to somewhere else out of sight.  Maybe then I will know what to do with those fragments of the past; or perhaps, some day someone else will have to decide whether those artifacts are important enough to keep.

What physical pieces of your distant past do you hold on to, if anything?  What artifacts do you wish you could get rid of, but can't?  What would you do with a pile of old plaques?

Rosemary-Lemon Butter Cookies  

These cookies were made by fellow blogger Susan of A Less Processed Life for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I've added a bit more lemon juice and zest, because I liked the pairing of tangy with sweet and salt.  Sort of like memory, come to think of it.

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 c. sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. finely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 t. kosher salt
1 1/4 t. lemon zest
coarse sanding sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350.

Stir together the flour, rosemary, salt, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Mix in the egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat until combined, then gently beat in the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured workspace and pat into a 6" round; cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 10 minutes.

On a lightly-floured workspace, roll the dough to 1/4" thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with coarse sanding sugar and bake for 20-22 minutes or until lightly golden on the edges.

Cool on a wire rack and store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
Pin It


  1. On the one hand, I tell myself "it's just stuff". On the other hand, it's MY stuff, stuff I've chosen to be a part of my physical world. So it's not just stuff, right? We move a lot. A lot. Every time we move, we purge, and it feels good. But there are always some things that we don't know what to do with, and yet can't let go.

  2. Lovely post.

    You know, I've got a box of trophies at my mom's house EXACTLY for the reason that I have no idea what to do with them (I don't really want them) but don't want them in a landfill!

    Hope you share your trip with us. Happy holidasy!

  3. You could call around to trophy places in the area. Some of them will take donated trophies and refurbish them for community groups that have limited budgets.

  4. I am salivating over that photo of the cookies and look forward to trying that recipe someday... What was your post about?! ;)

    But seriously, it is so interesting to get a glimpse of our past lives, like that awesome post of Lori's, and I for better or worse tend to save a lot, just in case. I get very nostalgic and look at things every now and then. I have held on to just about every award or plaque type thing I have ever been given, but most of them are in rubber maid containers in our guest room and have been since we moved to our hew house over a year and a half ago.

    I sometimes wish I would/could get rid of more, but for now I am content to hold onto what I have held onto for this long... My project right now is purging all of the stuff we have been holding onto for "if and when" we had another, which isn't going to happen now, so I am working on lending, selling and/or donating most of it, which will free up a lot of space and then I can eventually move onto the more complicated and nostalgic containers. Thank you for this thoughtful post and for reading my stream of consciousness comment. xoxo

  5. I used to have that problem too. Then when I was packing up my stuff at parents house to move in with my fiance I discovered I had accumulated boxes and boxes of trash. Old hallmark cards people'd sent me from my birthdays and holidays. Notes people had passed me, entire high school classes worth of notebooks. Lots of stupid plastic cups from college years. Awards from college or work. Junk. I purged it all and have found myself less clingy to junk ever since.

  6. This post resonates for me (and not just because of the shout-out -- thanks for that!). Like you, I feel both the push and the pull of wanting to embrace my past and also to release it.

    I wish you a wonderful trip as you reunite with the Justines of days gone by.

  7. Yes, this really is a lovely post. Thank you. I think about these kinds of things a lot. For one, I have two file-size boxes of things like this that I down-sized to about 10 years or so ago. I don't think I have even opened them once since, but I keep them and feel good about it. For that reason -- that stuff is me.

    I also think about this a lot because of my husband. He has a lot of stuff, and I mean A LOT. So many gifts from colleagues, mementos he bought on various trips. He is such a scrooge and hardly spends any money, so it is hard not to feel like he must be quite emotionally attached to the things he has acquired. Plus, he hasn't moved in about 25 years.

    The clutter makes me a little claustrophobic, but most of the clutter isn't my stuff. So I can't purge it. And he hasn't had any time to get around to something that is so not urgent. It bothers me, but not too terribly much. But it does bother me. I would like to feel more organized and de-cluttered.

    I have a feeling, that likely doesn't make any sense, that trophies and old artwork and school notes are things that parents should keep for their kids. This is asking a lot, I know. But I kind of feel like it is my duty to record and hang onto my daughter's childhood for her. But this does then beg the question of, when do you give it back to them though? Maybe once you get to our stage of life it is something we are supposed to take ownership of. I don't know.

  8. I can relate. I haven't lived with my parents in almost 30 years, and I still have a TON of my old stuff sitting in their basement. We did do a bit of a purge a few summers ago, but there is still plenty more where that came from. Here's one of my posts on the subject:

    Oh, and I do have a drawerful of old trophies and plaques there still. I don't think I could throw them out. I'll claim them. Someday. ;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...