Tuesday, June 24, 2014

when grace smells like fire

Last night after two chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth, tickling backs, kissing faces, tucking blankets to chins, turning fans on and lights off, fishing pacifiers out from behind the crib, I sat down at the table.  Maeve has burned with fevers since Saturday and wakes the moment tylenol wears off, skin hot to the touch.  My nights have been interrupted and full of strange dreaming.

But last night, before the the wakeful sleep began, I got to sit alone at the computer and catch up on emails.  I'd been sitting for 30 or 40 minutes when I suddenly smelled something I couldn't place -- sweet and smoky at once -- was something burning?  a neighbor's outdoor fire?  electrical wires in a wall?  an oven?  something grilled?  

A few birthdays ago, Ben gave me a kettle I love.  It's unlike any kettle I've seen, made maybe in the 60's, sleek lines, a wooden handle, a round enough body to welcome.  I use it every day.  The problem, though, is that it makes no sound.  Countless times, I've wanted to kiss our obnoxiously loud over-sensitive smoke alarm that's screamed into the house-noise when I've left the kettle on, boiling away until it's dry.  The wooden handle has a distinct scent when it gets too hot and has come dangerously close to burning before, the wood now darkened at it's lowest point.  I've had a couple of scares -- of holy sh-*#!  I could burn this place down, and once was so scared I vowed never to use it again.

But I did use it again (and again and again and again and again--).

Last night, as soon as I realized I smelled the kettle and slowly remembered turning it on so long ago to make a cup of tea,  I knew terror.  I walked to the kitchen like a slow robot picturing the flames from the burner and wondering what I'd do when I saw them, if I could put them out, how, the old fire extinguisher behind the kitchen door empty and useless left by old owners.

As I walked in, I almost didn't believe what I saw -- the kettle smoking and no fire.  I felt sick.  It had to have been close to flames.  I carried it outside with potholders and left it on the slate, as if the pot needed punishing.  

Then I just about fell on my face, pierced to the gut with gratitude and shame at my own insane thoughtlessness.  What IF...., my three asleep upstairs.

When I woke up this morning, I could still smell it through the house -- the almost fire that had not charred us.  The scent of not quite burned wood hanging in the hall.  Grace is not just politeness, not just favor nor ease, it is undeserved assistance (I just looked it up in Merriam-Webster), or more specifically, "unmerited divine assistance given to humans."  Was this ever grace, the smoke alarm down and the smell of fire, just in time.

**just bought fire extinguishers**

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Dessekfast Crumble

As I brought home a huge box of strawberries for this crumble, I realized it's also time for early summer pie (a recipe that always turns into mid-summer pie and late summer pie, too, and is easy enough to make with your eyes closed -- and so good).  

Like Early Summer Pie, this recipe is a backbone that's easy to adjust -- sub butter for coconut oil, add more honey or sugar to sweeten it up (it's not terribly sweet but great with vanilla ice cream or vanilla greek yogurt), play with the topping.  The original recipe (paleo from delightedmomma.com) called for 1 1/2 c almond flour for the topping and no oats or pecans. I've eaten this for dessert and breakfast every time I've made it (hence the name).  

Dessekfast Crumble

  • 4 c of berries -- whatever you like, mix or keep solo (fresh blueberries may end up watery)
  • 1/2 c of almond flour
  • 1/2 c oats
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 2 tbs of coconut oil (melted)
  • 2 tbs of honey or sugar or coconut sugar if berries are sweet, if they are tart, add extra
  • cinnamon 

  • Diretions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Grease a pie plate or 8x8 baking dish with coconut oil and spread out berries  
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until crumbly   
  • Spread the crumb evenly over the berries.  Top with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden brown

Joy (Safety)

I have a knack for instantly imagining worst-case scenarios, like when Ben launches Silas all the way to the sky to plummet down into the shallow end of the pool (where necks break) or shoves his little body onto a giant surf board in huge waves (where confidence is smashed and necks break).  It's been a slow learning curve, but rather than speaking, I'm learning to leave the scene or stop watching.  And when I hear myself say, no, no, they will never be on a diving team/join boy scouts/do flips/rock climb, and I know the real reasons are because I'm terrified they'll hit their head/be sexually abused/break their necks/be dropped by a moron who can't tie knots, I know I have to take a breath and probably go sign them up for one of those things.

I have a secret pact with myself not to avoid activities just because I am afraid of them (within reason).  Risk and growth, they breathe together.

A few weeks ago, I played tennis for the first time in two decades and then skied in crappy conditions wearing boots too big for me.  In both situations, I felt flat out bad at something.

Most days I urge the kids to do what they are bad at and to shake off the self-judgement that comes with it, but it's empty advice when I've forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner, to feel clumsy and like I'm making a fool of myself in front of an audience (even an audience of one).

I've structured my life so I'm not a beginner very often, and when I am, I'm a controlled beginner: "oh, I haven't written on this topic before" or "I haven't gone running in a year, I'll try it" or "Ina Garten says I can make that?  Ok, I'll get the ingredients."  These "beginner" experiences are night and day from, "oh, a lacrosse stick in my hand that I don't even know how to hold and a ball that, try as I might, I can only slap onto the ground a few feet from me?  Ok, let's do that."

Trying new things is not safe.

About a month ago, I walked past this mudflap, right around the time I wrote about pain.  Feeling pain, like playing tennis for the first time in decades, does not feel safe.  I love safety.  I love knowing where the people I love are, I love lap bars on fair rides, I love reassurance and firm plans.  But safety, I continue to learn, is not joy.  Or, I should say, joy is not safety. It can't be, or we're screwed.

I've been wondering about joy.  Joy, rather than in happiness or kindness, seems to be in all this stuff I'm learning about sitting in pain, uncertainty, or unmet hope, and still hoping; seems in the moments when we're unsure of whether a single safe thing will happen, but know that our core, somehow, is and will be ok.

Today it's June, summer, which makes me think especially of reading with Silas and the summer when we read all of the Narnia books together.  In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, just before Susan, Peter, and Lucy meet Aslan they, too, reckon with safety:

     "Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man.  Is he -- quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
    "That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
     "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
     "Safe? said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King, I tell you."
     "I'm longing to see him," said Peter, "even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point." 

Maybe it's like Mr. Beaver said, and I've been longing for the wrong thing all along, and Peter's the one about to taste joy.