Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumpkin Cakies

As soon as pumpkins appear on the scene, my kids start talking about Pumpkin Cakies; they've come to optimize the taste of fall in our house and usually mark Ben's October birthday.

They aren't quite a cookie nor a cake, palm-sized and soft, glazed with maple.  I seem, somehow, never to have shared the recipe here.  Carrie Paschall, a friend from California who just visited DC last week and walked through fall wind with me and ate pumpkin cakies in my brother's kitchen, bridging my worlds, is the one who introduced me to this magic (these, in fact, began our friendship -- they are that good).

Pumpkin Cakies

In one bowl combine: 

1 C brown sugar
14 oz canned pumpkin
1/2 C oil
2 tsp. vanilla

Separately mix together:

1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 1/4 C flour

Stir dry and wet ingredients together and drop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.  

The dough will be thick and sticky -- that's ok.  Also, they won't spread at all so feel free to put them close together.

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.  Top with icing below.

Maple icing:
2 C powdered sugar (it will have a better consistency if sifted)
2 Tbs. soft butter
3/4 tsp. vanilla
5 Tbs. heavy cream or milk  (cream makes this more frosting-like and milk more of a glaze)
1 tsp. maple extract (do not use syrup, it will be too runny)

Mix well and scoop on top of cooled cookies.

(you can also glaze them when they're hot if you want the icing to sink in and become part of the cookie)

ENJOY (you will)

these don't keep very well for multiple days, especially once glazed -- they still taste delicious but become sticky.  Best to eat them all the day you make them (though it's possible I just haven't found the best way to store them yet)

Thursday, October 15, 2015


When my brother was visiting in August he talked about "the weather of the soul" and how sometimes instead of trying to figure out what's causing our internal "bad weather," we can just watch it and wait it out, because weather always changes.

I'm not very good at watching soul-weather; I'm more of an untrained meteorologist... and I like to control things, especially things inside of me.

At the beach this summer, the ocean was sloppy and crashing.  Ben would have a full vocabulary for the waves -- crumbly or soft, mushy or peaky -- but what they looked like to me was messy.  Even when the sea was glassy in the sunrise, promising, the red flags flapped incessantly, and the lifeguards leaned down to tell us "riptides."  It was is if the tides and wind couldn't quite coordinate; waves drove at each other from opposite directions and spray flew.  Then at some point the sandbar would emerge, and the whitecaps would quiet a bit.  And the next day, they'd kick back up.

I've had some of that red-flag weather, driving along and suddenly seeing that all four tires are flashing on the dashboard near-flat -- the waves start kicking every which way, and the wind is so loud.  And though the gas station is not half a mile away, the thought of stopping, even the thought, feels like too much.

And then some hours later, air and gas refilled, I am playing music and loading girls into the back of the car, handing cheese sticks over my shoulder and balancing their wet canvases on the dashboard, reveling in the leaves that keep raining from the trees.

It's like that: weather.

I have found myself saying "no" to more things than ever -- no to happy hour or dinner, to a speaker I want to hear, a Costco run, coffee, people.

Yesterday a friend reminded me to be gentle with myself.  Why do we need this reminder?  The yoga teacher echoed that fall is tricky, that we need to move slowly into weeks, drink warm things, create routine.  That all sounds pretty right.

So I've been saying "yes" to some other things -- sitting alone in the coffee shop with my computer, making a cup of tea (and another), going to bed.  Pulling into the gas station when I feel like I can't, because it helps hold the day together.

Right now I'm having my own secret happy hour in the corner of the kitchen -- a glass of wine and some cheetos I "bought for Silas."

In comfort-seeking I'm trying to remember which things actually nourish and which just comfort for a second (wine and cheese puffs) -- but they are ok sometimes too.  I'm practicing giving myself permission.

A friend just wrote to me about her "alternate rebellion."  She said she's waking up to how much pressure and guilt she heaps on herself about every little thing (putting something back in the grocery store in the wrong place), so she's striking out against the urge "do everything right": she's spitting gum in the bushes, leaving the hall light on all day and night.  If the store is out of organic milk (which mine is ALL the time), buy regular and keep on.  It sounds minimal, but I think we have no idea how many twigs of guilt we pile on -- and you know what they say about the camel...

This summer I bought my niece a pair of black and white leggings with big pandas all over them, kind of like photographs printed on.  And then I had a crappy day, and they were still on the floor of my room, so I put them on and claimed them.  They're now the pants I wear in the face of gloom.  There aren't a lot of other women my age at the grocery store wearing such pants, but it's like that, it's part of the permission as I weather the weather.

How do you weather the weather these days?  I'd love to know.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

September Greys

September.  Usually I dive into the newness and change, the fresh beginning, energized by clean sheets of paper and new pens.  But this year, for the first time, the month settled like fog.  The kids bounded right in -- a first! -- and I settled into a gloom that looked darker each day.

One morning a friend in her 50's, the kind who sweeps you into conversation and treats you like the only person in the room -- looked me in the eye and said, "what's lost for you this fall?"

I felt the question smack even as I blew it off -- nothing's really lost, nothing big, it's just transition, normal adjustment.  And I kept moving.

The gloom moved from my head and lodged itself in my body --  my back ached, my stomach hurt, and still I had no words for it.  After three days of sleeplessness, tossing and turning, achiness, I prayed that God would help me name the block and move it out of my body.

Later that morning, I sat down and made my list.  I know that every change, even the best ones, bring loss.  But what was lost?  I listed all sorts of things about summer, even the little things that sounded stupid.  Write it all.  I kept the pen moving.  There were the long days and loose bedtimes, the freedom, the togetherness.  I wrote and wrote.  Looking at the list, I saw that what underlay almost everything was protection and control.

Dammit.  I was again grieving the impossibility of protection.

In summer, I was with my kids all the time.  Even during camp weeks, the days were shorter than school days and no work came home.  I knew whom they were with, what social interactions were like; I could even pick and choose those interactions.  There was time to make goals and hit them, to provide the kids with small successes.  I watched one of them in particular bloom into a new identity and confidence that had been lacking.  It was a time of controlled experiments, adventure, of my little birds back up in the nest.

And then school started.  Parents weren't allowed to come to campus the first day to take pictures (which we've done every year) because we're in a holding school and there wasn't enough parking.  We weren't -- and still aren't -- allowed to pick our kids up from school afterwards for the same reason.  Straight off the bat, I felt shoved away from my kids without control.

 After months that felt healing, especially for one of my kids, I suddenly couldn't trot alongside anymore and help the processing.  I had to kiss noses at the bus stop and say things like, you've got this, and then sit at the dinner table and listen to how there's no one to play with at recess, listen to loneliness.

One of my mom's many mantras is children must struggle.  Of course she's right -- a fair bit of life involves struggling, and we've got to have the chutzpa to tackle our way through it and find North again.   But in practice, to standby as our kids try to wiggle their feet into the wrong shoe for three minutes or cry their way through writing a sentence or wander around the playground alone -- it's harder.

So what was lost?  What did I believe in these waves of loss?  Ironically as I was making my list (sitting in church), I was listening to a sermon on whole-hearted living, about how God fills us,  makes us whole, is abundant.  Looking at my list I could see my heart clutching those three kids, desperately wanting to keep them safe, protected from too much exposure, astronomically bad decisions, friends who hurt them, kids who are cruel.  I wanted to keep them "safe" right here with me, summer to fall to winter and on.  I wanted them to stay little.  Because the fact was that I wasn't just sad about their growing up and out, I was scared, too.

You know how there is thinking and then there is background thinking -- the kind of thinking we do semi-consciously, underneath the rest.  Lots of times the background thinking springs from a hunch or feeling, and we don't know it's a bogus foundation until the whole tower topples, and it's exposed.
Well somewhere in the background I was building on scarcity (read this by Brene Brown).  I was believing that things were ok here, but out there, my kids didn't have enough -- not enough of God, of Love, of resilience to tackle what might come. I was moving around on a set where there was no abundance.

It's amazing how afraid we can be without knowing it.

The fact is, it's hard to release our kids, and to keep releasing them.  For me it's been hard at each turn, even the ones I was dying for (please for the love, stop sucking your finger!  start using a fork!  stop clinging to me when I leave!) and then one day they get on the bus and don't even wave.  It's good, but it's loss.  It's hard to release these people we love.

I was talking to a woman the other day who has two daughters in high school (a really cool woman I like to stand near), and I started talking about my pockets of fall grief.  Her whole face fell.  Her oldest leaves for college next fall.  I almost can't breathe when I think about it, she said.  This doesn't stop.

It's hard to let God comfort us when we don't know we hurt.

These days, I'm feeling the hurt, which mostly means I walk around a little more tender and vulnerable than usual, which isn't my favorite.  I've cried in front of more people this month than in a long time because I'm just kind of leaky -- so much for composure.  And when I feel the slip of time moving, hear Maeve's lisp (thith ith delithith), I'm asking God to help me love those times, those little faces and thoughts, instead of grip them, and to remind me that this is not a life of scarcity, even as it changes.