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.

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Living Backwards

Early this morning I drove with my kids, gazing out my window at the soft green fields flanking us and then up at the sky, knitted thick with white clouds. As we crested a hill, I saw the sky brighten as the sun pulsed through.

“Look,” I said to them, “it’s turning into a sunny day.”

My daughter peered out her window. “Yeah, it started out all cloudy like last week and now the sun’s coming out.”

I nodded. “Greedles (our word for my dad) used to say the sun is burning off the clouds. It happens a lot at the beach.”

Then, just like that, I was on the beach behind my father’s house, the one he sold last summer. I felt an ache so deep, and unexpected, it almost knocked me over like a wave.

beach view

Last summer, around the same time we sold our Brooklyn apartment, my father sold his house. I mourned both losses, feeling them acutely, as I tend to do with any kind of change, big or small. The beach house wasn’t my childhood home, but it was the place where my mother died and partly where Emma grew up.

The summer after she turned one, we moved in with my dad for nine months while we decided on the fate of our Brooklyn geography.

Me, my dad, and my girl, shortly before we moved in 2009.

Me, my dad, and my girl, shortly before we moved in 2009.

It was a hard gestation, despite the absolutely stunning backyard beach access and three floors to explore. Emma was a challenging baby, nursed around the clock, and slept terribly. My husband, who was having health issues, slept in the basement level with the cats while I night parented her on my own.

In some respects, I’ve never felt lonelier. But I had the beach to turn to, and the tide soothed me, as did the sunrises I witnessed almost every morning when my daughter woke in the dark.

Despite the long lonely winter, I felt grateful to be living with my dad in his big beautiful house, decorated on every level with my mom’s pottery, and on every level a gorgeous view of the beach. We filled up his house with toys, laughter, and tears, until we returned to Brooklyn the following February.

My girl grew up a lot in those nine months.

My girl grew up a lot in those nine months.

When he sold it last summer, I boxed up my sadness and sealed it shut. I didn’t have much room for beach nostalgia since I was overwhelmed by our upcoming life-altering shift from city to country.

I did quietly weep when I walked through the house for the last time. My husband found me on my knees in my father’s room in the spot where my mother had died on her hospital bed. That sacred spot where I witnessed the depth of her strength, and felt glimmers of my own.

After she died, I couldn’t walk through that room without dissolving into tears, but as the years passed the intensity lessened. I had one child, and then another, both who loved to run into my father’s bedroom after their baths. They rolled around on his thick white duvet, giggling and squealing as I diapered them up and slid on pajamas.

Molecules of sadness shifted to make room for joy.

I still visited the spot. Sometimes during a hectic moment, I’d go and just sit right where her bed had been. Where we once held a vigil for her death had become a place of peace for me, but now it’s only a memory, tangled up with so many more.

As I witnessed the sun burning off the clouds on our drive this morning, I longed to be on my father’s beach. My absolute favorite times of day was during transition – dawn or dusk, but I preferred early morning, when the wide expanse of sand was filled with only a handful of seagulls and nothing else.

IMG_5280

We’d come down early, sometimes with our coffee mugs in hand, forgoing sunscreen for the kids, just grabbing a bucket or two for shell collection. I loved foraging through the piles of smooth wet rocks on the shore, picking out shards of shell that made me think of sunsets, faded purple and gray smudges on pearly white.

IMG_5179

 

When the sun had risen higher, and one or both of the kids started to whine about being hungry or needing to pee, we’d trudge upstairs as the first beach goers would be coming down. The best time of the day had been ours to savor.

IMG_5260

Enjoying the view on one of our last visits.

I will miss those mornings, and also the memories of mornings before my children were born, the summer after my mom died. My father and I each had our preferred “rocks,” big gray slabs that made up the old jetty that is now buried in sand.

His looked like a chair with a straight back. Just like a shiva chair, I realize now, and that’s what he used it as. He sat shiva for my mother there, mourning her loss and the end of their life together. My rock was higher up, flat and smooth, where I stretched out with my sadness and journal.

That house belongs to another family now, and that particular beach is no longer ours to enjoy, but I’m so grateful for my memories. The sweet and the bitter, all swirled together like the soft serve we loved to get at the day’s end.

beach view 2

As we continued on our drive, my eyes damp, my daughter asked me to remind her of Grandma Susan’s favorite flower. I was so taken aback by her question I could barely get out the words.

“She loved orange tiger lilies,” I finally answered.

“I knew that,” my daughter said, and I could hear the smile of pleasure in her voice.

Then off I went, the thread of memory unraveling further, back to my childhood home where I am fairly certain the tiger lilies she planted still bloom.

My childhood home in Middletown, NJ

The bulbs she planted are coming up, still.

Memories live on in our bodies and minds, and often it only takes a phrase, a lightening of the sky, an innocent question to unravel the whole messy ball, or open an abandoned box.

Word Up 2015

I’ve never been much of a resolution person, if only because I’m cynical and already know if I make them, I’ll break them. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the One Word concept. You choose a word that resonates and you try (key word, try!) to hang onto it throughout the year. Since there’s no specific declarations involved, no one (but you) knows if you slack off.

Well. I totally bombed last year’s, which is to say, I can’t remember what I chose. Terrible! I see now it was “open,” which in theory, is a great word, but I didn’t practice it much beyond this post. Oops.

This year I’ve been on the fence. Every time I’m this close to nixing the whole pick-a-word thing, some blogger I love writes a post and I’m overcome with word envy. Here a few I’ve considered stealing and/or am just enjoying vicariously…

Believe (Minuscule Moments)

Reach (Little Lodestar)

Practice, runner up Moose (Tamara Like Camera)

Rise (The Gift of Writing)

I was this close to stealing Kath’s “Believe” because I could really use a hefty dose of confidence and/or magical thinking about finishing my novel.

Naturally, this led me to consider “Finish,” which I almost chose but it seemed kind of resolution-y rather than word-y since what else do I need to finish besides my writing projects? The only thing that came to mind is the enormous laundry pile that I pretend not to see every time I pass it, but the crap thing about laundry is that even when you don’t ignore it you’re never finished. Ever. So forget that.

One morning, after a particularly cranky child-wrangling session, I briefly toyed with the word “Yes.” Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I stopped yelling “NO” at my kids (amongst other things)? But then I scrapped it after pick up. Because how silly.

Then, sometime very late past my bedtime the other night when my brain is supposed to be quieting down but doesn’t, so I do the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to do and reach for my phone and scroll through Twitter, and then become disgusted with myself and delete the app, and then I check my email, which is ridiculous because no one but spam sends me emails at midnight and not even spam because even they are sleeping, so I put my phone face down and start to panic like I did when I was a kid and knew the night was getting on without me, and just then, a word drops in my brain with a thump, like a leftover holiday package that had been temporarily lost in the post office or the back corner of a UPS truck.

???????????????????????????????????????

(Of course I picked my phone right back up and wrote the word down because that’s how addled my brain is and also how addicted I am to my phone.)

So, yes. Focus. I really need more of this in my life. Often, I feel so wild-brained and scattered. I try and fail to multitask. One example that springs to mind is when I’m supposed to be playing/listening/being with my kids but I’m really on my phone. Horrible! I hate this! Sometimes I rationalize, well, he’s perfectly fine playing trains next to me while I read and comment on this blog post… or I say to my daughter for the zillionth time, just let me finish this last thing… Not good.

This year, I’d like to focus on ONE THING AT A TIME.

My writing. My family. Myself.

I may have to tattoo it on my wrist, or maybe just write it on. I used to draw hearts on the top of my daughter’s wrist to remind her of my love when she was in preschool. It’s funny, because now I’m wearing a heart on my wrist, one that she bought me at the gift fair at school.

heart on my wrist

I’m hoping if I can focus more, I will be more present (another good word) and more productive.

I will focus on finishing my novel.

I will focus on my writing as a career, not just a dream.

I will focus on my marriage.

I will focus on laughing more and yelling less.

And finally, I will focus on my children, who are growing up so fast, too fast, rising like beautiful weeds up toward the sun and out of my reach.

I’m sharing this post on Mum Turned Mom’s The Prompt, whose word this week happens to be, focus. Click here to see what other writers have been focusing on…

the prompt