Grandma’s Cookie Factory

Christmas cookies always makes me think of my grandmother. I know that probably conjures an image of a sweet little old lady baking a single batch of chocolate chips. But what I remember most is not the warm oven in a cozy kitchen, but the staggering output she managed. Grandma baked cookies not by the dozen but by the gross. Her entire kitchen was an assembly line.

She was the General Motors of Snickerdoodles.

making gingerbread cookies

Let me set the scene.

Once upon a time she’d been a farm girl, then a Flapper, then a young mom in the Great Depression. During the war, she worked the line at a munitions plant — a real Rosie the Riveter.
But the woman I remember (in her late 60s when I came around) was confined to a wheelchair, rarely able to leave her house, yet still possessed of the same drive to stay active. Even in her hospital bed, her hands were constantly in motion with craft-making.

Christmas gifts started in August.

She made gift boxes each year, one for each child and adult grandchild who visited her house, plus always something for the little ones.  Usually you would find a homemade Afghan or  pottery, homespun decorations for your tree, jars of pickles and jellies canned from her garden.

And, ah yes, the cookies.

Every gift box contained a dozen each of the chocolate chips, the raisins, the dates, and the gumdrop cookies. Then on top, packed with great care, her crowning achievement — the cut-out sugar cookies.You’d find layers of precisely and uniformly decorated Santas, elves, wreaths, Christmas trees, and even Rudolphs with Red Hots for noses.
Forty years later, I can close my eyes and picture the cinnamon-scented frosting factory that her small kitchen became. Her dining table, sewing table, and several card tables became holding areas for cookies while they cooled. And still she worked, pounding fresh lumps of dough with flour and attacking it with her rolling pin and cookie cutters. In the 8 minutes that one sheet was baking, she’d get another one prepped. Then with one hand she’d wheel herself around the table, spin around to the oven, swap out the sheets, and circle to the other side of the room to line up more creations — Santas to the right, Rudolphs on the left.
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Grandma and me

The next morning, she’d start whipping up bowls of colored frosting and assembling the sprinkles. I got to help on the easy designs, provided I stuck to the established patterns. Exactly nine Red Hots went on each wreath so she could make her whorls of green frosting around them like bows. There were a lot of rules. You couldn’t go overboard and run out of decorations before you finished all the batches!

And at the end of the day, wiped out and crashing from the inevitable sugar rush (I got to eat all the ones that were too burned to use), I’d sit back in amazement looking at the rows and rows of artwork before us. But Grandma was still in motion, packing everything into Tupperware and already thinking ahead to decorating the tree.
As an adult, I try to keep her assembly-style baking tradition alive, plowing through batch after batch of drop cookies (I have neither the artistic ability nor the patience to try the sugar cookies on my own).  Each season holds for me a day of baking madness while I listen to the old favorite carols.

But let’s face it, I’ll never be as impressive as that tough old lady, wheeling herself in circles over the linoleum with a hot tray of cookies in her free hand.

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The Old Alma Mater

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Private College.
(For more, see my lists for Community College and University.

The Old Alma Mater

I ended up at a Private College to finish my Bachelor’s degree as a non-traditional student (married and with one child). I didn’t get to enjoy the social side of the college since I was commuting from a half hour away and also working full time. Every class was demanding, drowning me in papers, exams, and special projects. But I loved every minute of it.

Private schools aren’t for everyone – they sure weren’t in my spectrum until I started qualifying for grants and loans – but it’s an experience you’ll always be fond of.

Who will love it:

  • People who want a challenge. Private colleges are more demanding in every subject, so be prepared for the work load. But if you believe that what you get out of education is proportional to what you put in, you’ll find that true here.
  • Kids looking for a social scene. Though most Private Colleges can’t compare to Universities in the spectrum of entertainment offered, they still offer plenty of opportunities for socializing.
  • Big Fish. Unlike a University, Private Colleges do tend to have kids that everybody knows. You don’t have to be a sports star to be BMOC here; just bring a big personality.
  • Follow-up-question lovers. So you loved reading The Iliad and want to know everything about that era, from fashion choices and food to the types of trees they used to make their boats? Welcome to the Private College where professors have spent their lives waiting for someone to swing in and ask precisely that question.
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. What, really? Yep. I can’t promise this will be true for everyone, but of all the kids I’ve ever met doing this at a Private College, 90% of them not only stayed in school, they flourished. Unlike other types of schools, your advisors aren’t going to let you skate by and skip classes. They’ll call you in on it and do everything in their power to motivate you.

It’s a toss-up:

  • People living off-campus. You will always feel like an outsider, that’s certain. And I was constantly frustrated when professors would schedule mandatory assignments in the evening with no regard to the minority of us who had jobs. On the other hand, Private Colleges tend to be far more inclusive toward non-traditionals than Universities.
  • Anyone with a really uncommon major. This gets tricky. If you’re looking for something incredibly specific, do your research and find a school that has decided to specialize in it. Otherwise, you’re likely to get classes from several other majors lumped in as requirements just to round it out. Also, whereas a University might offer several specific majors in a field, a Private College is likely to offer only the generic major.

Who will hate it:

  • Kids who grew up poor. Most of the people going to the expensive schools are getting financed by their parents. They don’t have to work, let alone worry about how expensive the textbooks are. If you are paying your own way, it’s easy to build up a resentment to everyone who isn’t.

Quirky bonus:

Check the list of big-name alums for the school you’re considering. It shouldn’t be hard – most colleges look for any opportunity to name-drop. Why does it matter to you? Because the big dogs in the administration building are still courting them, to get them to drop by the campus now and then. If you care about networking, this is the avenue for you. For the rest of us, it’s just cool to be able to say, “Yeah, George Bush gave my commencement speech.”

But I’m a Big Fish!

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Universities. (For more, see my lists for Community College and Private College.

But I’m a Big Fish!

My high school guidance counselor always told us that when we went to the University, we’d feel like small fish in a big pond. I didn’t believe him because in my heart I was convinced I was a big fish anywhere. Boy, was he right!

I wasted a year at a school whose only ambition for my tuition was to fund their football team. I wish I’d stayed home and just bought the merchandise.

My best friend, though, went to the same college at the same time and loved it.  So, once again, it’s all about what you bring into the equation.

Who will love it:

  • Kids looking for a social scene. You’ll find something to do every night, if you’re motivated to look for it, from parties to clubs to events, and I’ve never yet seen a university without a nearby bar scene. Heck, there’s even culture – museums, plays, concerts – you name it.
  • Anyone with a really uncommon major. Not only is University the best chance of finding the classes you need, but you’ll have enough other people attending that you won’t feel like an oddball for loving, say, Aquaponics Studies.

It’s a toss-up:

  • Non-traditional students. When you’re working full-time and possibly raising a family, it’s hard to say whether University will be a good fit. Much of it depends upon the specific school, but other factors include:
    • the flexibility of the classes vs. your schedule
    • whether you’ll have any time to enjoy the social side of the school
    • how much support you are getting at home toward your studies

Who will hate it:

  • People living off-campus. I tried this, living only a few miles off, yet far enough that the buses didn’t come near me. Parking was a nightmare, parking passes only applied to areas on the far fringe of campus, and the meter maids got rich off of me.
  • Follow-up-question lovers. I had gotten used to being able to ask questions in class and even chatting with the professors afterward. That goes out the window when you are sitting in a lecture hall of 300 people, and don’t expect much more if you’re obligated to a follow-up class lead by a Teaching Assistant (shorthand for: some kid who took this class 2 years ago and is now trying for a Master’s Degree.)
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. If you’d rather take time off, you need to be honest about it. The first thing you’re going to learn at college is that it’s easy to skip classes and nobody’s ever going to call your folks when you do. The second thing you’ll discover is that it’s incredibly hard to stay motivated to go every day after you’ve found out that first thing.

Quirky bonus:

If you love the football team, add five hundred points to your list of reasons to attend the school. For four years, you’ll get into every game for free and in between seasons you’ll automatically have something to talk about with everyone you meet.

Community College as a First Choice

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Community College (For more, see my lists for University and Private College. )

Community College as a First Choice

I went to community college straight out of high school, so I found a familiar face in ever hallway. Our running joke was that the only difference between college and high school was the ashtrays in the halls.

Who may love it:

  • Kids not ready to move away from home. My primary reason for going to Community was to live at home a couple more years, and I’m so glad I did.
  • Anyone who didn’t really pay attention before Junior year. Hey, it happens. If you sluffed off classes in high school, Community is the best way to get up to speed before you hit the upper-level classes. Essentially, every college everywhere will force the same core classes on you, so why spend four times the money for English 101 if you don’t have to?
  • Anybody frugal. Like most kids at Community, I worked my way through so I could save up a nest egg before moving out on my own.
  • Shy guys. I always had a hard time speaking up in class. Only at a Community College do you get one-on-one time with professors in the basic classes. Most CC Professors aren’t juggling the high number of classes, so they tend to take time actually responding to requests, answering follow-up questions, and even making themselves available after class. Also, most classes tend to be smaller so even if you do have to talk in class, it’s a less intimidating group.

Who will hate it:

  • Kids looking for a social scene. Sure, some of your friends from high school might turn up here, but even if they do, odds are they’re also working, so they’ll have little spare time. And most of the students are just there for classes, not to hang out.
  • People embarrassed about not going to a “real” college. There’s still a stigma for some people, like everyone will think they’re going there because they’re not good enough to get in anywhere else. If you are in this camp, pass on going to Community or you’ll spend two years mumbling the name of the college and scurrying away whenever someone asks where you go.
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. If you’d rather take time off, you need to be honest about it. The first thing you’re going to learn at college is that it’s easy to skip classes and nobody’s ever going to call your folks when you do. The second thing you’ll discover is that it’s incredibly hard to stay motivated to go every day after you’ve found out that first thing.

Quirky bonus:

This isn’t universal, but at my Community College, most of the teachers were doing this as a side job. (Remember that I’m from a small Midwestern area before you laugh too hard at this, but …)  The Business classes were taught by upper management of local businesses. I took a Psych class from the County Attorney and a Juvenile Delinquency class from a Police Chief. And our Mayor taught History!

It’s easy to tune out when someone is reading to you from a boring textbook, but nothing brings it to life more than people riffing with stories from their own lives.