Thursday, January 7, 2016

January 7

Life is back to normal around here. School started up again. We’re looking forward.

I’ve taken a good long walk every day. Early in the week, hoarfrost blanketed pockets of the neighborhood, and there were a few wet, fat snowflakes. I haven’t yet tired of the winter landscape. This morning when I was out I watched a flock of birds. It was captivating. What makes them fly in unison? What makes them land; what makes them take off again?

I’m not one for making resolutions, but I do have a few hopes for the year to come. One of them is to organize my shoeboxes full of letters and photos dating from when I was about Abbott’s age, but I can’t bring myself to get started. What do I do with it all? Especially those that pertain to people I’m not in contact with anymore? Things that aren’t necessarily sentimental, but that represent something about me; about who I was at one point in time; that remind me that I was once young. Most of it isn’t anything anyone else will ever care about. Maybe I just need to take everything out and look at it all; it’s been awhile.

Here's wishing that at least some of what each of us is hoping for comes about this year.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December 26

This week was a (mostly very happy) blur of preparations, family, and anticipation, and then it was Christmas Eve, and then the eve after the eve – the inevitable middle-of-the-night finishing of details after the boys are asleep – and then it was Christmas. I slept nearly twelve hours last night. I woke to luminous clouds, and droplets of water suspended from the bare branches outside, and the earthy smell of the coffee Alexi brewed hours before. I felt at ease all day. I made scones; I began a couple of the books I got for Christmas (Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, M Train). For the first time in a long time, there was nothing I needed to be doing. I sat quietly and took it all in: the season’s fullness, and the intricacy of all the things that led up to it.

Every year, I put up some of the ornaments my mom, and my maternal grandmother, made, and used, when I was a kid. My boys have developed an appropriate sense of awe when they come out of their wrappings. They remember their presence year after year, and the corresponding stories of Christmases when I was a girl. They know our delicate paper doves were made by my grandmother Louise for her Christmas tree, and they know how my family flew from Alaska and then drove through barren West Texas in order to celebrate next to the tree that held those doves.

There was always a strand of chunky red bulbs that outlined the roof of my maternal grandparents’ ranch style home. The same felt stockings Grandmother Louise had made for each of her grandchildren were always hanging from the mantle, and the house was always full with all of those grandchildren and their parents. And Grandmother Louise always made gifts for each of us every year.

My dad’s family was more spread out, so the number of aunts and uncles and cousins we saw at my paternal grandmother’s, who lived 80 miles away, varied. The constant at Grandmother Lorene’s was that we knew how to be a family, together, whatever the configuration was; everything always fell into place.

My boys like waking up in their own beds Christmas morning. We have a few constants in our holiday season; other things constantly change. The given is that we know how to be a family: the four of us, and with our extended family, as we celebrate, in person, on the phone, even playing video games with cousins thousands of miles away, thanks to modern technology.

Best wishes to you and yours. xoxo

Friday, December 18, 2015

December 18

A Star Wars encyclopedia comes hard wired into the brains of boys born to parents who watched the original movies first run when they were kids. I don’t know how it works, but there it is.

I can’t talk for long today, because in a couple of hours, I’ll be going to see The Force Awakens with about a dozen of Cal’s nearest and dearest; it’s all they’ve talked about for weeks. I suppose their Star Wars obsession has at its root something we all need: the reminding that against all odds, light can prevail.

My only holiday-ish baking so far has been this sticky cranberry gingerbread, and if it turns out to be the only thing I bake this month, I chose well. One pan was for a friend who just had one of the worst surgeries a woman can have, and is beginning the incremental process of recovery with courage and faith. When I don’t know what to do, I head to the kitchen. I measured and simmered and stirred at high noon, in a pale half light so dramatic and quiet it made my heart widen.

Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread
Adapted from Eat This Now by Melissa Clark

This spicy gingerbread is punched up with a surprise of carmelized cranberries. Its toffee-like texture is spectacular. I cut the granulated sugar to half of what the original recipe calls for (1 cup), in order to fully appreciate the tartness of the berries against the sweetness of the cake. It’s even better the day after you make it, if you can stand to wait; it’s fantastic up to two days after baking, and pretty good up to five days out. To store, wrap it well and refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature before serving.

2 cups/8 ounces/266 grams fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
1 stick/4 ounces/113 grams unsalted butter
⅔ cup/133 grams dark brown sugar
½ cup/120 milliliters whole milk
¼ cup/60 milliliters golden syrup (can substitute maple syrup, but it’s better with golden syrup)
½ cup/120 milliliters molasses
1 ½ cups/185 grams all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon/5 grams ground ginger
½ teaspoon/1 gram ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon/3 grams baking powder
½ teaspoon/3 grams kosher salt
¼ teaspoon/1 gram baking soda
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon/14 grams grated fresh ginger (from 1-inch piece)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square or round baking pan, then line it with parchment paper.

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the cranberries, granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon water. Stir the cranberry mixture over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the cranberries form a sauce that is syrupy and bubbling thickly, 10-15 minutes. About half the cranberries should be broken down, with the remainder more or less whole.

In a separate saucepan, stir together the butter, brown sugar, milk, golden syrup and molasses over medium heat. Bring it to just barely a simmer and then remove it from the heat. The mixture may curdle if you let it come to a boil.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, baking soda and black pepper. Beat in the butter-syrup mixture and then beat in the eggs. Stir in the ginger.

Scrape the batter into the pan. Drop large dollops of cranberry sauce onto the surface of the cake batter. Drag a long, slender knife through the batter in a swirly design, as if you are marbling a cake. Transfer the cake to the oven and bake it until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire baking rack and let the cake cool completely before eating it.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Thursday, December 10, 2015

December 10

Hello. It’s nice to be back here; like unlocking the front door after a vacation and then stepping inside, and it smells just right, and the magazines on the table in the entryway are right where I left them, but now have a layer of dust.

The wind is hard and fierce today. The side gate, apparently, isn’t latched properly; it slams shut every so often, making the walls shudder; sending Nelly into my lap and the cats under the sofa. When I took Nelly out, we went the short way to the end of the street, running past a creaking tree bent, by the wind, toward the road. Two boxers and a poodle live in the last house we come to before we turn around. Nelly sat, as she invariably does, refusing to budge, until they came outside. Then she stood, stretched, cocked her head and watched them behind the bars of their gate: two menacing and muscular; one high-pitched and frenetic. On the way back home, we stopped at the water’s edge to see the restless waves up close, until cold sea water flooded my boots.

So much is happening right now, and all of it feels too big and too small to mention here. Suffice it to say that we are well, and doing our best, trying to find the balance between taking in the elements and letting them take over.

More soon.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I married Alexi fifteen years ago, on the last day of daylight savings time. It was a typical October day, like this one. The air was sharp; the sky was vast and blue. I carried a bouquet with the last of the dahlias. Our friend Steve’s band played at the reception, and there was cider, and there were paperwhite bulbs in little glasses to take home. I was thirty and in my first year of graduate school. My sister was pregnant with my niece, who started high school last month. Our grandparents were still alive.

We didn't know if we would be able to have children, because I’d had chemotherapy for breast cancer, and it sometimes interferes with fertility. But two years later, there was Abbott, and two years after that, Cal came screaming into the world.

For our first anniversary – the paper anniversary – I had our wedding vows framed. They hang in our bedroom; a reminder of what the whole thing is about, beyond the bed we share. We promised to learn love like a profession; to communicate; to listen; to support one another’s dreams; to prioritize our family first and to be enthusiastic parents. We didn’t know, then, what a lot of it would actually mean, but we were sure about wanting to love and support each other “until death do us part.”

We didn’t know I’d get breast cancer again five years into our marriage, or learn that I was born with an abnormal BRCA1 gene that predisposes me to breast and ovarian cancer. We had already been through chemotherapy together once, but when it happened again, we had a one and a three year old. I had to practice love like a profession to understand why there were dishes in the sink when I got home from the hospital; Alexi had to listen, to understand why it mattered to me when the boys had been well cared for.

I have come to appreciate the redemptive power in small things, something Alexi already understood at the time of our wedding. At our reception, he told a story about a morning when he was due to change departments within radiology, as he did every month of his residency. The transitions were generally stressful. I don’t remember the occasion, but he said that I had recognized that he was struggling, so I made the coffee, which was something he always did. It was out of our routine and he described it as a generous act in his time of need. When it seemed he still wasn’t ready for the day, I offered to drive him the mile between our apartments, so he wouldn’t have to walk. I recently pulled out our wedding video to remind myself exactly what he had said in his toast to me.

“People tend to think of generosity in a time of need as something more along the lines of giving up a last sip of water while lost in the middle of the desert, but that’s heroism,” Alexi said. “The generosity I’m talking about exists moreso in the realm of the mundane. Generosity lies in the small things in life. It’s the daily glue that holds us together.”

I’m inexpressibly glad for our marriage; that we’ve kept at it, figuring things out, loving each other for fifteen whole years. We’ve made something wonderful together, and our story isn’t finished. I hope we will always be able to trust that we will find our way back to wholeness, whatever may come.