Friday, March 31, 2017

All the Rising and What Needs to be Raised

We are in resurrection season, can we call it that?  The trees that have stood silently bare all winter have sprouted buds and are leafing out.  Even here in California, the apple tree has it's first blossom and the bony tree out front is covered with a rustling new green.  Daffodils come by the bunches.  Birds make wild arcs through the air in mating dances, and I can hear them chatter at the sun before it's fully risen.  Easter sits two weeks away.  Once again, the landscape of living shifts.

In the last couple of months, I have been privy to four cancer scares, from very mild to very serious.  From a large mass to possible skin cells that need to be lasered off, from a deadly hereditary brain tumor to an alarming mammogram.

This didn't used to be regular news among friends.  These scares didn't used to touch me.
Is this 40?
Is this being an adult?
Is this the rent we pay for using these bodies for 3-odd decades?

Miraculously -- and I do mean that word here -- ALL four of the scares passed -- masses disappeared, scans came back normal, biopsies were benign.  And each of those good news appointments or phone calls has felt like a resurrection -- you have held your breath for days or weeks now fighting not to imagine the worst, the deadly, and here, HERE is life, full and healthy back in your hands!

Spring usually begs for some reflection.  The very ground under our feet is greening, blooms rising everywhere around us.  Everything that seemed undeniably dead is now breathing, budding, and the air smells good.  What's been dry and brown in me for the last several months (or longer)?  What's waiting to be cracked open again to the sun?

I'm doing some work in my life right now about the daily stuff, about what is "resourcing" and what is simply living up to expectation.  What leaves me depleted at the end of the day and what's energizing me?

I realized, after a heavenly weekend away with Ben, that Vacation Bronwen, who incidentally gets along with Ben swimmingly, is fully "resourced" and energetic (she naps, too).  We both really liked being with her.  When we got home Sunday night, though, come Monday morning, she'd vanished and Business Bronwen was in full effect, all logistics and practicality, all about staying afloat.

What I'm wondering is how to knit Vacation Bronwen into regular life, especially regular marriage.  Where does she fit?  What sparks her interest during the day (cocktails by the pool, a stack of books, hours of talking with Ben?) when she's not on vacation?

Discovery: I'm pretty much burned out by 6PM every day (even 5).  I've been all energy, even fun, stayed on top of the activities, the people, the needs, tried (usually unsuccessfully) to carve out some creative time for myself, and as soon as Ben's shadow fills the door, the fatigue of the whole thing floods me (because it can -- back up's arrived), so I can hardly get through the next couple hours without snapping.

This is not a great set up.  And Vacation Bronwen certainly wouldn't like it.

I have no answers yet, but I'm pretty sure the depletion has to do with not filling the right ways during the day -- in big or tiny ways, not getting my inner world in order before I launch into the outer world.

So on this last day of March (10 days away from turning 40!!) I'm wondering what needs to be drawn into the sun, and what actually needs to be cut back or dug up all together.  I'm marking the resurrections and hoping for one of my own.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Almond Cake

(upside down rabbit on the plate if you can't make out what's happening there)

Perhaps because a cup of tea and some cake is grounding and pure comfort, and my mind's been a bit slurry, I've been wanting cake all week.  Good cake.

Good cake, in the gluten-free world, is hard to come by, especially because I think most of the people who post gf cake recipes have actually forgotten what *real* cake tastes like and actually believe this "amazing" "best ever cake" they write about IS the best ever.  And it's nothing like cake.  And it's sadly neither amazing nor even good.  (If you ask Maeve about her "best every gluten free birthday cake" she'll tell you she had a really pretty cake that was bad.  Sorry, 4 year old...)

This cake is not a moist, spongy birthday cake type-cake; it's denser and crumbly, perfect with tea or coffee, even dipped for a second.  It's the right amount of almond and manages to taste like a pastry and cake at once.  Like all good cake, it's great for breakfast, too.  It would enjoy berries on the side, and I'm sure the orange creme fraiche whose recipe follows it in the book.  (meyer lemon creme fraiche would so good, too).

So here's a cake that delivers (I know, everyone says that).  It's from America's Test Kitchen GF book, which I like for baking.  It can be a bit fussy, but just cut corners and do what makes sense to you.  I've been making their flour mixture for a while and keeping it in the fridge.  Once I sprang for the initial stock of ingredients, it's been easy (and every refill seems free -ha)

The recipe calls for 2 T of sugar on top. I used one and thought it was perfect (of course the more you use, the thicker the sugary-almond slice crust on top).  I used meyer lemons instead of regular lemons because I had them and the lemon flavor was subtle, just a brightness.

Almond Cake 

1 1/2 c plus 1/3 c blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1 c GF flour blend 
3/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda (I know, 1/8 seems hardly worth it -- must do something)
4 eggs
1 c plus 2 T sugar 
1 T plus 1/2 t grated lemon zest (I used meyer lemon)
1 t almond extract
4 T unsalted butter, melted
4 T vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

Preheat to 300
Grease a 9" round cake pan and line bottom with parchment

1.  Pulse 1 1/2 c almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda in food processor until almonds are finely ground -- 10-15 pulses.  Transfer to bowl.

2. Place eggs, 1 c sugar, 1 T zest and almond extract in food processor and process for 2 minutes.  
With processor still running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated.  Add almond-flour mixture and pulse until combined -- 4-5 pulses.

3. Scrape batter into pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 c almonds.
Using fingers combine remaining 2 T sugar (I only used 1) and 1/2 t lemon zest until fragrant.  Sprinkle over cake.

4.  Bake until center is set and toothpick comes out clean, 55-65 minutes (rotate pan after 40 min).
Let cook in pan for 15 minutes.
Then let cool completely on rack.  


The six to nine month window after people move to another culture (or place, let's say) tends to be a swampy period.  The new isn't new anymore, but it isn't familiar either.  There's a certain fatigue to the adjustments, the discomfort, the meeting people, the waiting for life to settle.  Grief can rise, restlessness, unease.

My brother said one word for this is "disorientation."

In the last month, I've had two dreams that we were suddenly moving back to DC, each layered with confusion, and each ending with the sinking fear that we were going to have to live with tics again (in case I wondered if I were utterly traumatized by my kid getting Lyme's disease...).

Recently, on a cloudy cool day, I made a grocery list like always, organizing it by the departments of the store.  When I walked into Trader Joe's I stood there for a second looking from list to produce department, realizing I'd been picturing the layout of our east coast store instead.


This morning it took waking kids, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, dropping off at school, and through yoga class for my brain finally to shake off the dream and reorder back in this reality.

So I think as I go to bed now, I am going to pray for God to orient me -- a big fat anchor for conscious and subconscious to ground me here and now.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Today Silas is 11, a "tween" as he called himself yesterday.

I have all kinds of angst thinking about a boy, my boy, moving into adolescent and teenage years, so much grief that I cannot protect him from SO. MANY. THINGS., and pangs that I have to let him go out there and grow up.

Recently I was talking to someone about praying for healing.  He said stuff like this:
you never know when God will break through and heal, so it's always worth asking.  No doubt God can heal, though a lot of times God doesn't.  We, especially in the West, tend to think the best thing for everyone all the time is to be healed, to have the problem or pain or grief removed.  
(of course we do)
But a lot of times that actually isn't what's best.  I never knew God so closely as after I lost my mom.  I would be heaving sobs and then in the middle of it, God's peace would come, and I'd be able, at least, to breathe.  God had never been so palpable.

I know this in my head.  I know we grow in the pain and come out changed.  Stronger.  With sturdier character.  A zillion illustrations in nature remind us of just that: the necessity of forest fires to keep the forest healthy, how gold has to be refined in extreme heat to be valuable, the deadness of winter, the new moon, bulbs that can sit in paper bags for months and then grow -- the list could be ages long.

But my heart protests all of it.  I don't want any pain.  I don't want any loss.  I don't want my kids to get hurt, to have to struggle through poor teachers, mean kids, bad choices, regret, hurting themselves, hurting other people, physical pain, even a cough!

Yesterday a friend told me that in a conversation with an older parent, she realized all of her parenting questions were about how to help her kid avoid bad situations in the future.  The older parent said, that's the wrong question; there are going to be bad choices and painful situations, the question is how are you going to be the parent who is safe enough to talk to during those times. 

And that's it.

That is the question.

So Silas boy, as you move into 11, the end of elementary school, know that we love you just as much in trampoline parties as in quiet pain, in strong choices as in choices that unravel order.

In one hour and 7 minutes, 11 years ago, I watched you born into a sunny room, ocean horizon out the window, a ring of beautiful people waiting to receive you.  Out you came -- Sunshine in my arms.  You changed me from that moment and teach me constantly.  I love you.  Couldn't me more glad to be your mom.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Second Semester

A weird week.

One of my kids' teacher's disappeared this week in a hurricane of rumors and an article in the paper yesterday speaking of a just-after-school-arrest for a DUI.  She is a champion long-term teacher, and the whole thing is sad, badly played, and full of whispers.  So that's happening, and a long term sub (who seems lovely).

Then there are the backpack capers: SOMEone is digging through all the backpacks (because remember this is Southern California and all the backpacks hang outside on hooks because pretty much the whole school is outside, including the cafeteria -i.e. picnic tables), and taking library books, wallets, phones, gum, poofy keychains etc.  And five of the packs of gum and one of the wallets somehow surfaced in the bottom of my kid's backpack.  The innocence seems clear, but still, that's happening, and sounds like the middle reader books I'm spending a lot of time with these days.

And the rain storms that now have flooded two of my camping (glamping) trips have blown over; the hills are greener than they'll ever be and bursting with California sunflowers; the air smells like sweet sage; and today the sun's heat felt like summer, which makes me restless and excited and want to buck routine.  So there's that, too.

I'm not a second semester senior (though this weather still stirs that), but I am in a second semester -- second semester of the move.  First semester was so many big feelings -- other people's -- that I held and hauled because I had to or just did, and it was exhausting.  There was so much *action* to help the kids, all of us, connect and settle.  And they did -- somehow post-Christmas, they came "home" and settled.  Now, it seems, the second semester is mine.

It's funny how when you're stripped of who you were and what you knew, even if you return to a familiar and beloved place, the ground shifts.

First it was all a balancing act on that shaky ground.  But now the movement's settled and it's looking at what's been unearthed -- a kind of treasure hunt.  There are all these tiny green sprouts, maybe an internal reflection of the spring breaking through back east.  You know when you buy a new house and spend your first spring there, you have no idea what's about to poke through the earth and surround you with blooms?  I feel like that -- walking the yard, bending down to see the green nosing up.  What will come? I keep watching.