Bittersweet

Summer is ending and as always I’m feeling bittersweet about the impending transition. I can hardly believe in two weeks I’ll have a second grader and an almost four-year-old preschooler.

Even my daughter is in awe of her rising elementary school status. She keeps saying, mom, I feel like I was just in kindergarten! Yup. I hear you, kid. Me too.

I can still see her posing shyly in front of someone else’s brownstone in Brooklyn because we were too flustered to take a picture before leaving our apartment.

kindergarten 2013

Fast forward a year, a first grader in New Hope, PA, our brand new town, walking through those double doors without me, knowing not a single person. My brave girl.

first day of first grade 2014

Now, here we are, on the cusp of another year. But first: summer.

Summer with kids is always a challenge, as well as a gift. The grinding schedule of school suddenly screeching to a halt, like a city bus we’ve been evicted from, the wheels still turning, as we stumble to find our footing.

With only 3 weeks of camp starting at the end of July, we had many days to fill, and yet, somehow, they blew by. There were touch and go moments of sanity (mine) and some freaking out (everyone’s), but here we are at the end of August, the finish line of this short season in sight, and my heart aches at the upcoming shift.

Before I began writing this post, I studied my phone calendar, trying to figure out where the time had gone. What had we done to fill those days? Did I fail to take advantage of our first summer in our new town? Scrolling through my pictures proved otherwise.

Summer Checklist Highlight Reel

1. Eat LOTS of ice cream. Check.

Dilly's Corner. No, we can't eat any of the fried gluten food, but the soft serve and Philadelphia Italian Ices are GF.

Dilly’s Corner. The soft serve is GF.

2. Go all out for the 4th of July fireworks display. Check. 

summer fourth of july

3. Go to the beach at least once, more to come. Check.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

4. Host family gatherings and insist on very long, hug-filled goodbyes. Check. 

Farewells are not easy.

5. Spend time in nature. Check.

summer nature boy summer nature girl

6. Do a ton of arts & crafts. Check.

summer arts and crafts

Painting fairy houses on the driveway.

7. Get your nails done and let your kid pick the color. Check. 

I have to say, silver might be my new favorite shade.

Silver might be my new favorite shade.

8. Act silly. Also, take full advantage of the ice cream truck. Check. 

summer crazy

9. Go to local fairs and carnivals. ALL OF THEM. Check. 

He got the sparkly pink car. Score.

10. RELAX. Check. 

Summer relax

I love that this was taken the day AFTER the last day of school.

Turns out, we had a lot of fun this summer in the midst of craziness, whining, and all around lunacy. Basically, life as usual, but with no homework and lots of pool time. Not a bad way to spend a couple months.

Did I get much writing done? Not a ton, but more than I expected. There was my successful Highlights trip where I finished a draft of my novel, plus I wrote my first guest post series on The Gift of Writing.

But the best thing I did for myself was to surrender to summer, because fall comes around way too fast.

I’m leaving you with one of my favorite recipes to help ease you into the new season.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Gluten Free)

cran orange w background muffins

This muffin is the perfect blend of summer and autumn. Also, completely irresistible, according to my husband’s sweet tooth. They usually disappear within a day – or less.

If you don’t have to be gluten free, check out this Food Network recipe made with white flour that inspired my creation. But if you dabble in GF, definitely give these a try. They are worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one medium-sized orange (preferably a juicy one)
  • about 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (1 to 1 and a half oranges)
  • 2/3 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use Better Batter)
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour blend has it already)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of full-fat or low-fat sour cream
  • raw sugar to sprinkle on top of each cupcake before baking (if desired)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin OR a jumbo 6-cup muffin tin with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Zest orange and set aside. Squeeze juice and run through a sieve to eliminate pulp and seeds. Place juice in a small saucepan with cranberries. Bring to just a simmer over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and set aside so the cranberries can cool and plump.
  3. In a large bowl, mix (by hand) butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the following ingredients one at a time, stirring well after each addition: eggs, vanilla, orange zest, flour, xanthan gum (if necessary), baking powder, and salt. Beat to combine. Continue stirring until the batter becomes thicker and slightly more elastic, which means the xanthan gum has been activated. Add sour cream to the batter and mix until combined.
  4. Finally, fold the cooled cranberries and orange juice into the batter. Do not over mix.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups – for those who enjoy being extra precise, use an ice-cream scooper. Top each muffin with a generous sprinkling of raw sugar if desired.
  6. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the muffin tin and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

cran orange cloe up

Eat and enjoy! They go fast…just like summer.

Advertisements

Life After Loss: Writing Through Grief

Alhough it’s been eight years, my mother’s death remains one of the biggest turning points of my life.

mom and me

Almost immediately afterward, everything became filtered through a new distorted lens. I felt like a book that had been torn in half. There was part 1, all that had occurred before my mom’s death, and part 2, what came after.

I remember feeling so raw and exposed that summer. My heart felt like it had been scooped out of my chest. I dragged myself through the days in a strange kind of stupor. Nothing looked or sounded quite right. People were too loud, too happy, too eager to offer advice about my grief.

One well meaning friend kept insisting I see a blockbuster comedy that opened that summer. It’s so hilarious, she said, it will make you laugh. But what she didn’t understand was I didn’t want to laugh. I wanted to hunker down inside my grief. I wanted to feel every stab of pain and every searing ache. Funny movies and even most fiction felt frivolous and unimportant. I turned to poetry when I couldn’t bear prose. I made scrapbooks and photo albums. I cried, a lot.

Grief was my work, and I stepped into it willingly. Not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because it was the only thing I could do.

Recently, my friend Claire over at The Gift of Writing asked me to write a post about grief. I focused on how journaling connected me to my mother and helped serve as a conduit for my pain, both before and after her death.

Writing was the one thing I could do anytime, anywhere. It was where I could be completely honest about how I felt, with no one pitying or judging my process.

Please stop by if the topic resonates. I’d love to know what you think.

gift of writing

 

 

 

Asking for Help

This isn’t something I do. Well, not on a regular basis. I’m one of those, no, I got it, kind of people. Pride, foolishness, who knows. I could go deep and examine myself, but I’ll leave that for my future therapist (if I ever go back to one, ha). Let’s just say, for whatever reason it’s never come easily for me.

When my daughter was a baby, a colicky, screaming banshee, I needed help. In retrospect I see that quite clearly. Not with her – because, believe me, she was a handful – but for myself. The realization that I was in too deep came several years later and I wrote an essay about it, which will be published in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness.

Recently, I found myself in a similar place. A rough patch in my parenting journey. Yes, it’s summer and my patience is wearing thin, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s more than that. My colicky little baby girl is now an artistic, sensitive, curious seven-year-old, and still as stubborn and challenging as she was as an infant. I used to call her my extreme baby, and, well now, she’s my extreme grown child.

The other day I was at my wit’s end. I lost my marbles, to put it mildly, and fell into a familiar cycle of self-loathing and despair. Except this time, I asked for help.

Not out loud, but in a note on my phone, which has become a makeshift journal of sorts.

And then, the very next day, this arrived:

hands free life

I am a huge fan of Rachel Macy Stafford and the beautiful writing on her blog, Hands Free Mama. She writes so eloquently about parenting. All of it, the messiness, the shame, and the infinite possibility. Her advice always hits a nerve for me. I even bought her bracelet this winter because I hoped seeing the reminder on my wrist, Only Love Today, would help ground me.

bracelets

Recently, I happened across a Huffington Post article on Facebook that I hadn’t read before called, Manager in My Home, which is about her moment of transformation from manager to nurturer. After reading it, and recognizing my tendency to try to control and rush through the days, I realized that I have yet to put her wisdom into practice.

When Rachel reached out to me on Facebook a couple months ago and asked if I’d consider reviewing her new book, Hands Free Life, I was stunned and moved. YES. Sign me up, I said. The truth is, I haven’t read her first book, Hands Free Mama, though it has been on my to-read list for almost a year.

I think part of me was hesitant to buy another self-help style book. I’ve been through quite a few in the parenting genre. Another part of me was afraid. What if her advice didn’t work? What if I was too far gone?

But after digging a little deeper, I think the real truth is this: what if I had to actually work to make change happen? 

It’s one thing to buy a bracelet and admire another’s work, but quite another to change your life.

Well, I’m ready now. I’ve already ordered a copy of Hands Free Mama (which you can get a free ebook of if you preorder her new book), and I’m a third of the way through Hands Free Life.

I’m soaking it up like a sponge. I’m already starting to make changes in my parenting style, in my life. Let me be perfectly clear – I’m a long, long way from shaking off all my bad habits, but I’m finally willing to try.

I’ll be sharing tidbits of knowledge from the book along the way, and also writing a review closer to the September 8th release. Please note that I’m not getting paid in any way to promote this book, though I did receive a free copy. I don’t usually review books at all here, but this book literally arrived at my doorstep at just the right moment in my life.

Are you familiar with Hands Free Mama? If not, let me know what you think if you end up checking out her blog. I also loved her latest moving post about making appreciation jars for her family on the eve of her surgery. I’m definitely going to make them for my kids, maybe even before summer ends…

Speaking of which, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! The school year is right around the corner, which fills me with excitement or dread, depending on the hour. Knowing myself, I will be in full nostalgia mode, despite all the challenges of this summer. Because that’s the way I roll.