Thanksgiving 2015. Pregnant mommy. No presidential election. Sam had gingersnaps for dinner and clearly, I did something strange to the turkey. Good times.
It’s that time of year, folks. The air is crisp. There’s Halloween candy in the pantry. The leaves continue to fall and, if you live somewhere rainy like I do, to plaster themselves together and cover your deck in wood-rotting, slug-filled piles. Everything you see on the internet is either election related, Christmas advertising, or people griping about either one of those things. Usually, though I believe myself to be at least one-eighth Christmas elf (if you doubt me, take a close look at my ears), I am in the camp that would prefer the Christmas season not to begin until the fourth Friday of November–but not this year. It’s November 4th and already I’ve watched four Christmas specials. Maybe it’s the election stress. Maybe it’s this cold that won’t stop strangling me. Or my increasingly precocious, increasingly needy, increasingly sleep-troubled eleven-month-old. Or my preschooler with ever-evolving special needs diagnoses (more on that some other time). Or something.
Anyhow, it is NOT Christmastime yet, and I do not want to wash up on Christmas Eve thinking, When will this ever end? It is still autumn, my favorite season of them all, and though the pumpkin patches are now closed there’s still plenty of fall fun to be had. More importantly, we have a holiday coming up that, at its core, reminds us to be thankful for what we have. In my case that’s a whole helluva lot. It’s a time to think of the positive, even when the negative rises all around. A feast to fortify us for the coming winter.
That’s what I’ve been looking for in those Christmas specials. Also, the aforementioned Halloween candy I can’t stop picking at. Sweetness. Warmth. Distraction.
So here’s what I’m going to do. Every day until Thanksgiving, I’m going to post something positive. Something I’m thankful for. And it won’t be one of those positive things that’s really an excuse to highlight something negative (e.g. I’m so thankful I have a safe car because there are so many ridiculous drivers on the road.) If you want to loop it up with something negative, that’s your prerogative, but me–I’m going to spend a little time on the bright side. I hope you’ll join me.
It’s November third, which means it’s day three of NaNoWriMo: what you might call a literary event, held every year, in which hundreds (thousands?) of writers sit down for a couple hours a day all November long and try to crank out a novel (or, at least, 50,000 words). It’s a task I’ve tried twice and completed once, both a long, long time ago. The time I “won” (they love their supportive and potentially over-the-top language on the NaNoWriMo site), I never ended up finishing the novel (even if 50,000 words were a full novel draft, which it ain’t, a first draft is not a finished product, I don’t care who you are), though I worked on it for a couple years after that. The novel I eventually did end up completing, which is in my agent’s (and several potential publishers’–eek! wish me luck!) hands at the moment, was the product of maybe five years all together, writing connected stories, figuring out my character, cobbling things together–about as opposite as you can get from the NaNoWriMo model. Because as much as people will tell you to spit out the first draft quickly and then fix it up later, that’s not how I work. New ideas come to me. I reroute and redirect. I comb through the old before I try to untangle the new.
So that’s why I’m NaNoWriMo-ing. Because it’s not me. Because I never work from an outline or spit things out quickly or write without looking back. And I will not cave to all those who would say that’s a bad thing, but I do believe that writers need to keep trying new things. I don’t want to write the same story over and over again, so why should I always write the same way? So this time, I have an outline (at least, through two-thirds of the book–plus a pretty good idea of the ending), and I’m plugging away during my baby’s naps and after the kids are sleeping and whatever stolen moments I need. And I’m already feeling the old urge to polish up the sentences before moving on but I won’t do it. Instead, I’m taking to the internet to publicly remind myself of why I’m doing this and how it is to be done.
That wast three hundred and seventy-nine words. Do they count toward my total?
My baby girl, in all her glory (pictured above), has a little problem that I think a lot of babies can relate to: she’s gassy. She’s gassy, and she only poops once or twice a week (TMI? Not if you’re a mom) and I’ve been searching for ways to help… move her along. She won’t eat prunes straight, and she’s not big into purees. We’re working on teaching her to use a straw, so she can start drinking smoothies with a little probiotic mixed in, but until then, I had to do something. So I came up with a cookie recipe. It’s loosely based on the British digestive, which was originally developed for similar medicinal purposes but is now most often enjoyed as an afternoon snack, dunked in tea, with no thought of digestion at all. Here’s hoping that these somewhat chewy, healthy cookies, will become a regular treat (pun intended) for my darling baby. She’s happily gnawing on one now, and I’d say she’s getting about half of it down, which is pretty good for such a wee one.
1/4 cup prunes
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
pinch salt (optional)
1/2 cup applesauce (no sugar added)
Preheat the oven to 375 F
In the bowl of a food processor, blitz the prunes until they look quite mushy. Add the oatmeal, flour, and salt and blitz again until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add applesauce and pulse until all the crumbs are moistened (it won’t come together in a ball–don’t worry, you will smush it all together in a minute).
Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and dump the contents of your food pro onto it. Use the plastic to help you press the crumbs together into a nice rectangle, then lay another sheet of plastic wrap on top and roll the rectangle to about a quarter inch thick, using your fingers to neaten the edges if you care about that sort of thing. Turn the rectangle onto a sheet of parchment paper, and put the parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cut the rectangle into pieces, as pictured below (I did 14. You could do 16 or 12.) No need to separate them at all, as long as they’re cut through. Bake for 11 minutes, until nice and firm.
On Monday, the boy finally got to ride on a school bus. (I say “finally,” even though he’s only three, because since he really started talking, riding a yellow school bus has been one of the top three things he babbles about.) Though he was excited in the abstract, I expected a screaming tantrum when he saw that his sister and I would not be going to school with him. I mean, I’d told him we wouldn’t about a thousand times in the week prior to his stepping onto the bus, but he’s three, and I wasn’t sure he’d been listening. Continue reading
Happy Labor Day! A sad day for some, a last hurrah, as it marks the unofficial end of summer. Kids are going back to school. It’s getting cooler. In a couple weeks it will be official: summer, quite possibly my least favorite season, will be over. Then fall, my absolute favorite season, can begin.
I was the kid who loved going back to school. As soon as the paper and pens went on sale and every store displayed rows of Pee Chees and Jansports, I went crazy. I loved filling a new three-ring binder with a clean, smooth ream of paper and carefully organized tabs to keep my schoolwork in order. I never really needed a Pink Pet eraser, but I usually bought one. I would put my face in my new school supplies and just breathe. The smell of fresh paper and still-packaged pens, the stiff fabric of back-to-school clothes. There is just nothing like it.
I was also the kid who wore sweaters and turtlenecks as early as possible, then begrudgingly peeled them off and carried them around all day or, if I was optimistic enough not to wear an undershirt, pushed up my sleeves and dutifully boiled in the late-August/early-September sun. It irritated me, the way summer lingered. Kids would go home and play in their wading pools or throw water balloons at each other. They kept eating Otter Pops and watermelon for weeks. It rankled me. As far as I was concerned, the time for that nonsense had ended. I was ready for hot cider and pumpkin pie.
The word “summer” evokes for me the sting of a sunburn; the discomfort of swimsuits, shorts, massive self esteem issues; awkward barbecues where the corn kernels and rib meat get stuck in your teeth and the potato salad’s mayonnaise has gotten too warm. Camping always seems like fun but turns into a dirty, mosquito-bitten mess. I used to enjoy hiking but my three-year-old is too small to manage anything much longer than a mile and too heavy to be carried very far. Yes, the kids can play outdoors with abandon, but there’s the constant application of sunblock, the swim diapers that rip as you try to adjust them, trying to change a toddler’s wet clothes in a park bathroom while your baby does her best to get her hands into that public toilet. Bug bites. Splinters. I could go on.
BUT: Continue reading
Whenever I visit my parents, I bake. Even if it isn’t super convenient. Even if we’re all dieting. For whatever reason, when I get in their kitchen (which isn’t even my childhood kitchen–the room was a laundry room when I lived here, and my cousin’s bedroom before that) I get the itch. Maybe because there are other hands to hold the children. Maybe because I want to feed my family. And maybe, just a little, because I want to show off and have my parents ooh and ahh over my skills.
Of course, they don’t always ooh and ahh. This is partially because I experiment. Either I try recipes I’ve never made before, or I make them up on the fly, or a little of both. I’m a renegade that way. Baking is a love and a challenge for me because my creative brain wants to overtake my technical brain in ways that don’t always work out in the oven. Most bakers will tell you STICK TO A RECIPE. I like to make mine up. But I also like to think I have enough technical know-how that I’m qualified to do so. This recipe, I think, is proof that I do. My dad says they’re like cotton candy with chocolate inside. My mom says they’re like eating sweet air. My brother said they’re weird, but you know brothers.
Chocolate Chunk Meringues
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
a moderate pinch of cream of tartar (put your fingers in that jar and literally pinch)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 bar 70% cocoa dark chocolate (I used Lindt), finely chopped (with maybe a few larger chunks just for fun)
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy. Add one third cup of the sugar and whisk on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the sugar about a tablespoon at a time, and whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold in your chocolate (the egg whites should encase the chocolate–start with about half the chocolate and add the rest in bits, as your egg whites might be slightly bigger or smaller than mine, and you might get more or less air into them). Using two spoons, spoon one- to two-inch globs onto your baking sheets. Bake at 325 for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are firm but still white and they feel light and hollow. Cool completely. Enjoy.