“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” – Philippians 3:13
After weeks on end of so much gray, color finally started to come back. The snow has melted; temperatures are cold but not freezing, and flashes of green wink at me from in between the brown blades of old grass, like Addie flashing me a smile and calling me to come out to play for awhile.
Today I joined her: we rode bikes and drew with sidewalk chalk and drank in the sun even as a cold breeze reminded us it isn’t quite springtime yet. For a moment I was a little girl again, wind tickling my cheeks while I plucked a handful of sour grass and pretended to be Anne Shirley making a flower crown for Princess Cordelia, her imaginary persona that embodied everything Anne wished she herself was: beautiful, important, and loved.
Anne Shirley didn’t have the luxury of parents to invest in her tender heart. Addie does, but I catch myself wondering if she doubts she is the remarkable girl we know her to be. She asks us all the time: am I beautiful? Important? Loved? She asks it in her own way, of course, and we do our best to answer her in a way she understands. Still, I wonder how much of it is sinking in.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
It is fitting that school starts in the Fall: the classic symbol of change that is both beautiful and terrifying. Fall is death put on glorious display, isn’t it?
Ok so fine—a new school term doesn’t bring death, exactly. Forgive me for being dramatic. Most folks probably think of it as a fresh start, a reset button that puts things back to normal in an instant. But it does put an end to the carefree days of summer, and there is mourning for the loss of the freedom summer represents, isn’t there?
The words of Paul are ringing in my ears this week: the old has gone and the new is here indeed. Death and life and renewal and starting over—all these things are vying for my attention these days, and all of them from a whole host of places, not the least of which is watching Mia put the final dividing line between herself and her babyhood while Addie insists on losing more teeth and inching her way toward my own height. This day has been a long time coming, and last fall brought with it a sense that life as we loved it was dying a slow death, and I wasn’t ready to face it. But life changed anyway, didn’t it? And here we are back at the start of another school year, saying hello to a new chapter in the life of our family. I feel more prepared for it this time because I know this fall season really is a fresh start.
The girls seemed to feel the same way. Waving goodbye to us on the first day didn’t pose a problem for either of them. We walked them to the playground and helped them line up and followed them to their classrooms because we were sure they needed us. Mia tromped off with the rest of her Kindergarten class without so much as a backward glance at us. Addie saw tears glaze my eyes and bent down to hug me, saying “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll come home after school. I promise.” Saying goodbye to each other on the second day of school was harder. The girls’ pained eyes poked holes in my heart as I eased my fingers from their grip and urged them forward into the unfamiliar, terrifying reality of change. The idea of going to a new school this year seemed exciting right up until the moment they actually had to let go of my hands and walk themselves to the playground without us. In a flurry of tears and tentative hearts, they walked away from me, seemingly unsure of themselves. I waved goodbye to them as bravely as I could, wishing I could nestle myself in a corner somewhere, watching and waiting, ready to intervene on their behalf the moment trouble comes.
I couldn’t help feeling this way, of course. I am a normal mother with a natural need to protect, nurture, and sustain her children. They couldn’t help feeling insecure any more than I could help wishing I could make everything better in an instant. Of course they felt timid and unsure: everything was new. The people, the buildings, the rules, the uniforms—even their backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes were new. Why would I ever expect them to feel completely confident to take on all the newness by themselves? In that moment of goodbye, I couldn’t do much else but smile through my tears and hope it helped them understand that new isn’t necessarily bad, and is often, in fact, actually good.
We forget that new isn’t always bad, don’t we? I sure do, especially because it seems that when something is new, it renders something else old. Old things pass away, and death is difficult, so managing our feelings about losing the things we love gets tricky. We learn this lesson every year when summer ends and the leaves turn color and quietly settle into their final resting place. Soon fall slips into a quiet winter, a time of mourning that does eventually melt away, waking to the brilliant bloom of spring. The point? The promise of new life hinges on old things passing away, but saying goodbye isn’t the end. New life lingers just around the corner. Don’t you think we ought to say hello?
This is happening in other places in my life this season, too. It is in the reality of living in this new place, of course, and the reality of how it feels to know that part of our story has ended. It’s showing up in friendships and projects and plans and food and any semblance of normalcy that I had before my health issues took an uncomfortable turn over the summer. Admittedly, it felt like this season held the end of life as I knew it. Control over my health slipped even further from my grip, I spent the summer sequestered at home managing my symptoms and squeezing in appointments and going in for blood draws and scopes and ultrasounds—and came out the other end with a few more questions to answer, as well as the relief that comes with a doctor who confirms my suspicions: that colitis is casting its sickly spell on my insides. It came as no surprise that I have a disease that needs my attention, and walking away from his office this summer, prescription in hand, left me wondering how to manage it in the long term. Clearly, gluten is a known problem. But it’s not the only problem these days, and the best way I know how to deal with the unpleasant reality is to say goodbye to simple gluten freedom. Embracing a new way of living isn’t easy or fun, exactly–but I’m encouraged, because the promise of renewal lingers just around the corner, sad as I may be about the reality I face.
So this season, I’m doing my best to lift my eyes above my circumstance and say, “What’s next?” with the sort of grace that only comes from acknowledging loss and greeting a new reality with hope. What other choice do I have? Modeling this for the Goobies helps me believe things will get better: I leave the girls with a kiss and a smile as they skip off into a new school day without the support system to whom they are accustomed, but I assure them they’re going to be alright. This is new, but this is good, I say as I give them one last squeeze. And when I wave goodbye to those smiling little darlings as they head off to their day, it reminds me that we can’t bask in the beauty of anywhere new if we dig in our feet, refusing to leave familiarity behind. So by the grace of God, and with His help, we walk, together, waving goodbye to the old and hello to the new in one hope-filled gesture.
Chorizo Spiced Pork Roast
This is one of my go-to meals, meaning this: when I run out of creative steam to keep dinner new and exciting, I give myself a break, pull out my crock pot, and get a batch of this pork going.It’s fast, easy, and versatile (and inexpensive, to boot!). Plus (and this could be the most compelling reason why I love it so much)everyone around my kitchen table cheers for it. I make it for friends more often than they appreciate, I’m sure, but no one ever seems to mind. (In fact, most of them end up asking for the recipe, so if that is you? Here you go.) I’m especially fond of it now because as I transition to a Paleo lifestyle, I am thankful to have so many well-loved recipes that work within that framework. Shred it and fold it into corn tortillas (if you aren’t Paleo), lay it atop a baked sweet potato, or pile it high on top of a bed of cauliflower rice. Drizzle with some hot sauce and sprinkle on some cilantro and you’re golden. (Add more spice blend if you want a little bit more heat, but as written, this recipe does not wallop your tongue with a punch of heat.) The picture above shows a double recipe, which is just as easy as a single recipe (which is written below). Just double the ingredients–the cook time remains the same. And don’t skip the red wine vinegar! It makes the other flavors come alive.
One 2 pound pork loin roast
2 Tablespoons Chorizo Spice Blend (recipe below)
1 medium onion–any color you choose, but I tend to use yellow
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Spray Crock Pot with non-stick cooking spray (such as Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray). Slice the onion and lay it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then, wash the pork roast, pat it dry, and lay it on top of the bed of onions. Sprinkle a thick layer of the Chorizo Spice Blend on top of the roast, then pat it to cover as much of the roast as you can. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the crock pot, around the perimeter of the roast. Do the same for the red wine vinegar, then put the lid on.
Cook on high for 4 hours; then turn to low and cook for an additional 2 hours (alternatively, cook it for 8 hours on low). Once the meat is fall-apart-tender, shred and toss it with its own juices and the onions and serve.
Chorizo Spice Blend
This recipe is based on Diane Sanfilippo’s recipe in Practical Paleo, 1st Edition, which is super informative and helps make taking the plunge into Paleo not quite so daunting (Thank you Diane! You’re a life saver, kinda in the literal sense.) I keep a jar of this spice mix in the pantry at all times because I love it so very much. I’m sure you will too.
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons onion powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Measure all spices into a jar with a lid and shake until evenly distributed.
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”
Low and slow has been our mantra these past couple of weeks and I am not looking forward to trading it in for fast and frenzied. This summer I have been riding the roller coaster that comes with dealing with flare ups, some days feeling pretty decent and others wishing I could just stay in bed all day long and let the Goobies sort the day out themselves. In some ways, school can’t start fast enough because the sheer amount of energy it takes to keep up with all three of them all day long is more than I have in reserve. I’ve relished these stress-free days with them, but goodness, I’m thankful school is just another week away.
Then again, I’m torn up about it. How can summer possibly be over? It flew, as it always does, and I am not sure how so many days spent at home turned into a blur of summertime memories. We kept busy these past weeks, for sure, but for the most part we spent our days here at home, getting accustomed to a slower, somewhat lonesome life. The girls joined forces against me anytime I suggested we get in the car and go explore our new surroundings, insisting they preferred to just stay home and play Barbies. I let them win most of the time because I didn’t really want to venture far from home anyway because of the not-so-fun games my tummy is playing with me. In hindsight, I wonder if they were sulking because they missed their friends so much and knew it wasn’t easy to just pop over to see them anymore.
We rallied around our big airplane ride last week, fueled by excitement to climb aboard an airplane and make our way to Pepaw & Grandma Lori’s house–and what a fun trip that was–except for the heavy, sticky heat, which I did not love. But I did love the people and the pace and the way land was empty and green, like a comfy blanket spread out for a picnic, inviting us to kick our shoes off and relax a little. Oppressive as the heat was, being somewhere else entirely aired out the stuffy places in the kids’ souls, freshening their perspective in the process.
By the time we got home, I was spent. Vacation zaps the energy right out of me. Does it do that to you, too? But there is no such thing as a post-vacation sabbatical, at least not with three kids in tow. The sun still rose every morning and invited the kids to come out and play, and I begrudgingly got up with them and greeted the day with a steaming cup of coffee and a long to do list. Tired as I was, I started running the moment our plane touched down and haven’t stopped until now. There were doctors appointments and sick kids and BBQs to both throw and attend and Sunday School to teach and school supplies to buy and kids to outfit for the upcoming semester. I haven’t stopped until just this moment.
It is quiet in the house now. The only sound I hear is the scratching of my own mental checklist being ticked off as I recount the day’s activity. It’s barely August and summer seems to have ended already. The week leading up to school is a flurry of activity that leaves me already missing all those lazy summer days that seem to never end, like a summer sun that lingers in the sky well after bedtime, until suddenly, almost without warning, it’s gone.
Addie broke down in tears today just after we finished picking out school shoes, just the two of us. She held my hand and skipped alongside me, content to be quiet and near as we wound our way through the shoe store, until suddenly she flung her arms around me and held me tight, her voice quivering as it eeked out her secret: that she wanted to stay a little girl forever. She doesn’t feel ready for summer to be over either. The immediate future frightens her, as if she’s unconvinced she’s ready to do the big girl things she’ll be expected to do once school starts next week. Putting on a brave face and brushing it off as typical first-day-of-school jitters won’t cut it with her. She doesn’t want the sun to set on summer, on childhood.
I can’t blame her. I tease those Goobies all the time, squeezing them tight and making them promise to never grow up, to always stay little enough for me to scoop them up into my arms and nibble on their chubby little cheeks. The girls’ squeals of delight faded without my permission, and now they huff, “Oh, Mama, I have to grow up” and we giggle and hug and I can’t take it. And then out of nowhere Addie realized she is growing up and it caught her off guard and makes her want to stop inching closer to the big girl she once longed to be. Without warning, she realized that childhood really is temporary.
I held her close and stroked her hair and let her be the one to let go. I didn’t want to rush her. It seems I’m always rushing her. She let go and looked me in my eyes as I admitted I used to feel the same way right before school started. Her eyes softened at that, and her grip loosened a bit as I told her she would always be my little girl. Just like summer gradually fades into fall, childhood slowly shifts into into adulthood. She didn’t have to hurry or make herself sick with worry; there was no rush. The end of childhood will come like summer’s last sunset: gentle and glorious both, when the time is right.
The sun will set on summer eventually, but not today. School will start soon, but summer will linger for a little while longer. Watching these kids grow up breaks my heart and puts it back together again, changing me and creating something new in the process, and my very being is a mosaic made of those fractured, beautiful pieces.
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.
But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
1 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)
Yesterday morning I felt like a failure before my feet even touched the ground. I hadn’t even had a chance to come up short on anything yet, but there I was flirting with the lie that tells me to lift my hands in surrender anyway. The past few weeks have worn me down, sopping up the last few drops of my energy and leaving me very, very tired.
It was Mia’s fifth birthday, which is probably why I felt extra pressure right away in the morning. School mornings are loathsome evil things anyway, but throw in a little girl’s fifth birthday? A whole extra set of responsibilities and expectations greeted me before coffee even had a chance to be my cheerleader. For someone prone to perfectionism (like I am), I was overwhelmed before I started. I wanted to ignore responsibility and nestle deeper into bed, mumbling instructions to just pour the kids a bowl of cereal because I couldn’t bear the thought of making a birthday breakfast.
Instead, I did what I always do: I stretched my legs, rubbed my eyes, and got up anyway because that’s what moms do. We base responsibility on much more than a passing fancy. We show up and do stuff we don’t always feel like doing because we love our kids more than we love our pillows. And so, I trudged into the kitchen and pulled out my birthday morning breakfast arsenal and lined up the ingredients for the much-anticipated chocolate chip pancakes that only show up on someone’s birthday. Just when I was about to scoop out the flour, I realized my favorite recipe for gluten free pancakes was packed away in a box already, not to be unloaded until after our move next month. I hung my head in defeat.
So much for birthday tradition, I thought, and for a moment I tried to convince myself that Mia would understand if I served a bowl of cereal this morning instead. She knows half the house is packed up already; surely, she’ll give me some grace. But the grown up inside whispered to the childish part of my soul: No, she won’t understand. She’s still a very young girl who is staggering through this transition too. She’s just as weary as you are, but uncertain too–and she’s counting on those pancakes to give her a little sense of stability.
We have spent the past several years making these seemingly small, disjointed traditions a priority, laying the foundation to their lives–brick by small, seemingly insignificant brick–in hopes that they will build their lives on the groundwork of love and stability. A “Happy Birthday” banner to greet them the morning; chocolate chip pancakes with a candle and the birthday song at breakfast; the You’re Special plate showing up again and again and again at the kitchen table, filled with the birthday child’s favorite foods; the anticipation of opening their four presents–something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. These traditions somehow became part of their birthday vernacular, and they speak of them with the sort of excitement and awe I always hoped they would. This is what their little lives are built on, isn’t it? Not the stuff–the tradition. And what is tradition without consistency? And oh, how important consistency is. Consistency breeds trust, and trust demands consistency, otherwise things break.
Get over yourself and make the pancakes anyway, I thought, and I managed to whisk together a batch of batter that worked just as well as the other recipe. Maybe all those years of making them trained me for the day I would need to make them without help, I thought as I flipped the first few golden round beauties dotted with gooey chocolate. And no sooner had I thought all this than I got distracted and annoyed and ended up overcooking (ahem, burning) a pancake (or five) and made a snarky remark to Addie after her very innocent observation that the pancakes didn’t smell very good. I was irritated, yes–because the comment sounded rude to my already-bummed out self who felt like I had taken the high road to make the pancakes in the first place, and an imperfect messy batch is what I came up with. Why did I bother at all? I wondered. But I saw the sad look in Addie’s eye and realized she hadn’t meant to be rude; she was being observant, and her remark wasn’t my progress report. I scolded myself for my short temper and made it right with the girl (“You know, you’re right–they do smell a little funny. I sure hope they taste better than they smell!”), settled into my chair, and slurped down my coffee before any more damage was done.
Mia beamed as we lit the candle and sang her birthday song, and she happily ate her sort-of-burned pancakes, and so did everyone else (even Emery, the kid who usually just picks the chocolate chips out of the pancakes, actually said, “MMM! Thas good, mama!“). The overcooked pancakes turned out to be a problem in my mind alone. And as I watched Mia tear open her presents with the purest sort of joy there is, I was glad I hadn’t let my perceived stress get in the way of her joy.
Most days I’m pretty realistic, meaning I know most things don’t turn out the way my perfect ideals dictate they ought to. But yesterday I let my eyes focus on the imperfect pancakes, my own bed head, and the idea that I wasn’t a very good mom because I didn’t greet the morning with lipstick and balloons. I sat and thought about how lucky I am that the Goobies focused on fitting raspberries on top of their fingers and savoring the rare treat of chocolate for breakfast. I’m the grown up, but I was acting far more childish than my own kids. As I watched you usher the Goobies out the door and into their day, I was left wrestling with all this and asking the Lord to help me grow up, to help me be the grown up and model good behavior for these kids who are watching everything. And wouldn’t you know, not long after that, He gently (and pointedly) reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13: 11, and how it’s ok — good, even–to be childlike, but it’s time to give up my childish ways.
I do my best to do my best at mothering, which means sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m the grown up and do things I just don’t want to do. Getting up in the morning is a struggle for me. Being kind in the morning is too. Walking through my day being others-focused is not always easy. Sometimes, I slip into that peevish childish behavior I was supposed to have put away once I grew up. But in a bout of grown up wisdom, the adult in me scolded the child and reminded me that these are the moments upon which lives are built. It was our little girl’s birthday and we don’t get a do-over. It didn’t have to be my idea of perfect to be Mia’s idea of perfect, and because Mia trusts me, and trust is built on consistency, I did the grown up thing and chose to set aside my childish behavior to lay another brick. And then, I got to enjoy Mia’s birthday with childlike abandon.
Classic Pancakes, with or without Chocolate Chips (Gluten and Dairy Free!)
These pancakes are simple and yummy–even when they’re sort-of burned. Leave the chocolate chips out if you want a plain pancake, or add blueberries instead (that’s the way Joey likes them). In a pinch, they can be made with a premixed bag of gluten free flour blend that already contains xanthan gum and measures cup for cup (like Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills), but the finished product will be a little thinner and turn out crepe-like pancakes instead of these fluffy beauties. Bonus? These are dairy free too.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt* (use 3 teaspoons kosher salt when using coconut oil)
2 1/2 cups unsweetened original flax milk (or rice milk, almond milk, or other dairy alternative–or just plain dairy milk)
3/4 cup melted vegan buttery sticks, such as Earth Balance (or refined coconut oil*, melted, or other neutral tasting oil)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk, eggs, and vanilla, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Next, drizzle the melted vegan buttery sticks (or other liquid oil) into the batter, whisking as you go. (If you use coconut oil, be careful to add it slowly and whisk constantly to help keep it from hardening when it hits the batter.) Dump in the chocolate chips and give it one more good stir.
Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.
This morning started out as one of those days. You know the kind. I spent my first few waking moments with the strap of my tank top askew–one strap on, one strap off–having been accosted by children who needed snuggles right now and didn’t care that I was in the middle of changing out of my pajamas. My morning glory was in full force as I juggled kids on my lap, wiping tears and stroking backs and assuring them they would all get their turn eventually.
To the table we stumbled and I managed about three sips of coffee as the kids stared at their plates and all but refused to eat. Addie complained her toast was too dry, so we added strawberry jam. Mia said she changed her mind and forgot to tell us she doesn’t really like toast (and left it untouched). Full tummies or not, we somehow managed to get out the door on time, but as we did so, Mia started crying saying she was finally hungry. I reminded her about her toast and she protested again against it. I wrapped it in a paper towel and set it on her lap in the car anyway, telling her she could eat it if she was hungry enough. She just glared at me and sipped her orange juice.
As we drove, I finally started in on the rest of my now-lukewarm coffee, which leaked water onto my lap as I went. (What?!) Without a towel to wipe it up, I did the next best thing I could think of: wrapped a diaper around the cup and went ahead and drank the rest of that darn coffee anyway. I held it up to show the kids what a weirdo I am, thanked Emery for letting me use one of his diapers, and everyone giggled their little hearts out. It lightened the mood for us all, and we clicked on some of our favorite going-to-school music and I sang my heart out between sips. Down the road just a bit Addie saw a lady jogging backward while walking a dog on a leash and had another good giggle as we declared today must be Wacky Wednesday, just like that goofy book the Goobies love so much. Not long after that, I saw a bird hitching a ride on top of a car that was already in motion. And by the time she climbed back out of the car, Mia had eaten her toast all up. (A wacky Wednesday indeed.)
Admittedly, we did not start the day off on a great foot, but as we lived through the crazy today I realized how much choosing joy in the middle of it helps us all hit the reset button. I also breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who are smarter, wiser and more creative than I am that help me actually do that because let’s be honest: it’s not easy. But nevertheless, lately a few things have helped.
This first one is hit or miss: The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers, meaning sometimes we do it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we forget and other times the kids remind us. When we all gather around the table and listen to you read the short excerpt for the day really does help start our day off right; it’s like breakfast for our souls. When we skip it, we have a hard time finding our footing and we stumble through. But when we do make the effort, we are all energized and focused on the reason we live each day anyway. The short stories and Bible verses are easy to remember and apply throughout the day. Something as easy as “God made all things” could have been applied today as we drove to school by saying, “God even made the wacky stuff. Isn’t He creative? He must have a sense of humor.”
Also, we love to listen to JJ Heller anyway, but “Big World, Baby” and “I Know You Will” (from her I Dream of You album) both help focus my prayers for them as I send them out the car door. After we have said our goodbyes, I usually finish one or both of these songs and end up in tears over how much potential I see in these little faces and how I pray I don’t squelch a drop of it with my own bad mood.
Perhaps the most important one for this season, I think, is a song from Rend Collective: Joy. It is the song I turn to when Addie whispers “I’m a little nervous, Mommy” as approach the morning drop off line to help her say no to the part of her that wants to sulk in the shadows and instead be confident in who she is because of Who she belongs to. It is the song I play when I feel bogged down by grumpiness to remind me I have the power to break out of that mood. It is the song that reminds me that joy is a choice and it does not depend on whether I feel happy or at ease. The song reminds me to see the beauty and goodness that dances around me every day, and to delight in it even when my circumstances are tough.
What I love lately is simply this: choosing joy. I got up on the wrong side of the bed today and I brought my bad attitude with me into the first moments of my day. Somehow I set aside my grumpiness and chose joy instead. Today started off wacky indeed, but there was so much beauty and wonder in it I would have missed had I not chosen to be joyful in the midst of it all.
Yesterday we picked the last three apples from our gnarled old apple tree. Those beauties ripened just as the school year wrapped up last spring, when the promise of summer was fresh and exciting. Somehow, summer slipped by and here we were picking the last few of them just two days before school starts again.
We can’t really make sense of this summertime harvest: apples are a fruit of the fall. What’s the deal with all these things hanging around during the hot summer months, the worst time of the year to turn on the stove and make something with them? I did my best: I baked batch after batch of spiced brown sugar apple crisp and applesauce muffins, along with several jars of applesauce. I sliced apples for the freezer and for fancy cheese platters and for summertime snacks. And we know how many apples Emery munched on while swinging in the afternoons. Still, so many of our apples went to waste. The lawn was littered with them, bruised and cracked open and piling up faster than we liked because it was so hard to use them all.
I feel pretty guilty about all this. I lovingly blame my grandparents: they had an apple tree in their backyard and darn it if they didn’t find a way to use up every last bit of fruit that tree produced. I can still see them working in their kitchen: my grandpa manning the apple peeler and magically transforming apple skins into curly green ribbons while my grandma flits to and fro, slicing apples and hovering over the hot stove, watching as the apples cooked down. They must have done this many times for the duration of apple season because by the time it was over, their freezer was filled to the brim with applesauce and apple crisps.
Not us: we did the best we could, but still so many apples went unused. Every time we tossed another bucketful of rotten apples into the yard waste bin, my heart sank a little lower in defeat. Even as I write this, I hear my Grandma Teague’s voice chiding me, saying “How you managed to put up any of those apples is beyond me! You’re a busy girl, my dear.” She’s right: I need to give myself more grace. We had more apples than we could deal with.
At the beginning of summer, a tree full of ripening fruit symbolized the promise of months ahead full of sweet moments, and I vowed to make the most of every last one of them. And I did, a lot of the time. But as summer wore on, that apple tree turned into an hour glass that emptied too fast. Time passed and apples fell, and I felt more and more pressure to do more, be more, enjoy more, because soon these golden days would be over. The more pressure I put on myself, the more weary I became. I let more and more apples fall without giving them my attention. Before I knew it, the apples ran out.
Summer is gone now; school starts today. The tree sits outside our kitchen window empty, and I wonder if I let too many moments with the girls slip by without giving them my full attention, too, just like I did with those apples. I whisper to God, “Was it good enough?” as I wonder how the girls will remember this summer, hoping their memories will hold on to the good stuff and toss away the bad.
As I sat wondering all this, I thought about Galations 6:9. the verse that talks about not growing weary while doing good, especially to those closest to you, and how it will bring about a good harvest at the right time. I struggle to feel like I’ve done that at all because I became weary a lot this summer, letting moment after precious moment fall, too tired to make the most of every single one of them.
I put so much pressure on myself to make this summer perfect, but in His kindness God reminded me that the process is ongoing. The apple tree is empty now, but the hard work that will bring about the next harvest is just getting started. So it is with the school year: by next summer, what a good crop we will bring in if we work hard with the end goal in mind. They’ll be like a “trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they [will] prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:3, NLT). Being in the moment and investing our time and energy into their little lives, little by little, will turn into something beautiful and good.
After we cleared the branches and brought the last of the apples inside yesterday, I set to work on yet another apple crisp, one meant to share with friends who we had not seen all summer long. It seemed fitting to mark the occasion with the last of our little harvest of apples. The girls surprised me by asking if they could help, and I hesitated for a moment. I really wanted to get the job done quickly because our friends would be there soon and I still hadn’t showered for the day, but with all these ideas about wasted time swirling around my head, I said yes instead. Addie hopped up on the counter and helped mix a few ingredients together before insisting she take pictures as Mia and I worked on the rest. And so, we enjoyed the last real free afternoon of summer vacation peeling, slicing, and baking, turning the last of the bit of the season into something special.
Brandied Apple Crisp (GF/DF/NF)
I realize I’ve been talking a lot about apples lately, but I offer this recipe as penance for my repetition. Gluten free, dairy free and nut free (as always, around here), this crisp is based on my recipe for Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp, which was born out of a need to modify my Grandma’s famous Apple Crisp. This version is tweaked just enough to make it a little bit more indulgent. The topping is a little heartier, but the brandy is really what sets this dessert apart–don’t skimp on it. The alcohol cooks out as it bakes, leaving a delicate brandy flavor that melds beautifully with the brown sugar and spices. And of course, we topped off with with dairy free vanilla ice cream, because is there really any other way to eat it?
For the Filling:
30 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 6-8 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
4 1/2 Tablespoons brandy
4 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons pure cane sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Topping:
2 1/2 ounces coarsely ground gluten free oats
1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 Tablespoons Soy Free Earth Balance, melted (regular butter works too)
pinch of salt
*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 3 1/2 quart baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).
Wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the brandy on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the brandy is well distributed among the apples.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour them on top of the apples and toss it all together until each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.
Pop it into the oven and leave it there for 60 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar is melted and bubbly.
I watched Addie closely at the breakfast table this morning, soaking in the way she sat in her chair, feet dangling and humming to herself as she colored. She has done that every morning this summer, for hours and hours at a time. When she finally took a short break to munch on fried eggs and sliced strawberries,she chattered excitedly about how there were only four more days left until Kindergarten starts, and wave of lonesomeness washed over me. Feeling sentimental, I said, “Addie, I’m really going to miss you.”
Mia piped in, asking “Like when you’re dead?” We all laughed, and it felt good to giggle with those Goobies knowing next week I will be faced with the task of getting them back into the swing of a new routine.
Both girls start school on Monday: Kindergarten for Addie and Pre-K for Mia. I spent last week scurrying around town outfitting them with everything they would need for the year ahead: school uniforms; socks and shoes; a matching backpack and lunchbox. This week there are haircuts and grocery shopping and doctor’s visits and new Epi Pens and all those forms. We’re lucky we don’t have to worry about shopping for school supplies for either of them this year (thank you, Pre-K and K school supply fee). I am already dreading next year when I will join the all other Target moms who approach the school supply aisle as a beast that must be tamed, eyes fierce and determined. By the time I am done, I imagine I will look just as bewildered as they do as they wait in the checkout line, wanting desperately to throw my hands up and holler “I give!”
Practically speaking, we are ready for Monday. Both girls have what they need, including excitement and confidence. Addie in particular. Yesterday she told me she fell in love with her school uniform jumper, plans to actually talk to her teacher on Monday, and let me know what kind of sandwich she would like in her lunchbox on the first day: tunafish with sweet relish on wheat bread, no crust please. This kid is pumped.
I have mixed feelings, of course. Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten trained us for well for the reality of “real” school days and I am ready for a break from wrangling all three kids at the same time. Pre-K isn’t as hard to swallow. I’ll have Mia with me for most of the day still. But Kindergarten: it’s like the first tile in a long stretch of dominoes winding its way through her school life. When we wave goodbye on the first day next week, we tip that tile and the rest will fall all too fast.
I believe we have done well to prepare her for her first day. And I also know there are plenty of other big moments to look forward to after this one passes. But for now, in these last few days, I am weepy. It is deeper than just waving goodbye to her for a few hours; we are waving goodbye to her babyhood. She has graduated into big kid land, and that is not easy for me. I am afraid I have not done enough to prepare her. Maybe that is why I spent so much time running around like a crazy person looking for the perfect back to school things–to make me feel a little better about the whole thing.
But anyway, out of all the things I picked up to prepare her for the big day, here are the things I love most:
1. Surprize by Stride Rite. These are our go-to school shoe for all the small, still-developing feet we have around here. I like regular Stride Rite, of course, but the last time we visited our local store there the proprietor wasn’t exactly kind, nor did he honor the advertised incentives that brought us into the shop that particular day. Plus, at Target, I don’t have to pay $60 for a pair of shoes these cute little toes won’t fit into in a few months. I can pay less than half that and still get high quality shoes that our kids really like.
2. Potterybarn Kids Mackenzie Backpack (Small). Addie adores this pretty little backpack, and I like it because it has cushioned straps and is a perfect fit for the small shoulders that will carry it every day. It has not come in the mail yet, so Addie has been practicing hanging her old backpack (that has always been much too big for her) on our new backpack hooks. It is in perfectly good condition, and I gave myself a bit of grief about it because she doesn’t really need a new fancy backpack. I forgave us this indulgence though because the girl fell in love with it, and if a beautiful backpack reinforces her excitement for school? So be it.
3. Also, this matching Retro Lunchbox–for so many reasons. First, it’s so cute I wish I had one of my own. Beyond that, it is tall and accommodates a warm food thermos with ease. Also, the buckle is genius–hook the thing right onto the backpack and wave goodbye with confidence, knowing the little lady won’t forget her lunch as she leaves the car in a hurry, as I imagine she will.
4. Sistema Food Containers. These are so easy to open, which is a big deal in the confidence department for Addie. The last thing I want to do is set her up for failure. Knowing she can open and close these things without help eases my own nervousness about lunchtime success, so I can only imagine how they must make her feel. Bonus that we found their dressing containers–she was perhaps even more excited than I was to find them, saying she could have ketchup with her carrots without spilling the sauce. We spent a lot of time this summer practicing opening and closing them, as well as ripping labels off of granola bars and poking straws into juice boxes. She is confident she can do lunch on her own now, which is both super awesome (she doesn’t need me anymore!) and heartbreaking (she doesn’t need me anymore!).
So you see? We’re set. I think.
My mom took Addie out for a shopping and lunch date today. They never actually made it to lunch, though. Addie said she didn’t really want to go to a restaurant: she was anxious to get home because she missed her Mommy. It made me feel a little less silly about being so weepy lately. I guess we will both have to get used to this new dynamic–being away from each other so much.
I gave both girls a few more hugs than usual today. Hopefully by Monday they will be so tired of me they will skip off to class without a backward glance. Then again, that would make me cry too.
Last night I lost my cool and yelled at Mia. Poor thing had a fever, but I didn’t know it yet: I thought she was being stubborn and unreasonable, and after a long day dealing with a whiny toddler, the last thing I needed was a preschooler crying over a potato.
That should have tipped me off. On any other day, her refusal of potatoes wouldbe a clear indication she’s unwell. Our carb-loving little girl eats them with abandon, savoring them as if they were a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
But last night, I misread the signs, lost control and made her cry. Later, as I finally sang her to sleep, my mind drifted to a place where guilt and thankfulness made my heart explode with love for her. I kicked myself for what I had done, and wondered at the way our little girl still wanted to snuggle close to me for comfort.
I guess that’s the way of it when we’re facing something that makes us feel diminished. We cling to the things that anchor us and make us feel like ourselves, imperfect as they may be. Being a full time mom–fantastic and blessed as it may be–has revealed major flaws in me. A surprise, I admit. I used to think mothering would bring out the best in me, and sometimes it does, except for when it brings out the worst in me like it did yesterday.
The more time I spend at home with these Goobies, the more thankful I am for the grace that covers me because goodness, I need it. From them, from you, from the Lord. Sometimes that grace takes the shape of a whispered request for “Just one more song, please Mama?” even after difficult day, and sometimes it looks like taking you up on your offer of an icy cold Moscow Mule after the kids are asleep. Lately, the bright spots look like the things on the list that follows.
1. First, I love (love!) theKeurig My-Cup 2.0 you brought home for me. My complaining finally paid off, and gone are the days when I rely on those flimsy plastic pods filled with mediocre coffee. True–I agreed that getting a Keurig was a good way to make our lives a bit easier when the promise early mornings with another newborn loomed heavily before us. Now, even though our mornings are still early, my capacity for brewing a regular pot of coffee has returned, and buying dozens and dozens non-recyclable pods every month got harder and harder to do. Thanks to your thoughtfulness, I get to let go of an immense amount of guilt and enjoy my beloved Peet’s without the grocery budget taking such a hit. Coffee + YouVersion Verse of the day = starting the day on the right foot.
2. Next, Orgain Organic Protein, the Creamy Chocolate Fudge flavor, clearly. I know it might sound really weird to profess my love for protein powder, but I don’t care. I have been devoted to this stuff for over a year and I’m lost if we run out. Two scoops, a frozen banana and unsweetened almond milk blended together and poof: I get breakfast. It’s like magic. (Not to mention the fact that all the kids like it, too. And everyone in our family can eat it–no gluten, dairy, peanuts or problems. It’s a dreamy scenario.)
3. Also (always),Jenny Rosenstrach. I’ve had a completely acceptable amount of devotion to her since I read her debut cookbook Dinner: A Love Story (DALS). You surprised me with it the same Christmas you got your appendix out. We went up North to your mom’s house in Yakima that year. Finding myself surrounded by extra hands to entertain the kids, I plopped myself down on your mother’s couch and did not move until I read the whole book.
In the four years since that day, the recipes and anecdotes in DALS have shaped our own kitchen culture. And while I hope someday we will all have dinner together every night, Jenny’s advice to forego the family meal and just get the job done for awhile freed me, and I hear her voice every evening when I’m trying to finish cooking dinner in time to feed the kids who are hungry by, like, 5:00. It rarely, if ever, happens, and they tend to get bits and pieces of what’s leftover in the fridge more than I like to admit. But because of her, I let go of dinnertime guilt and am thankful they get as much to eat as they do. Plus, I enjoy plopping down on the couch with you after the kids are in bed and eating spicy chicken nachos straight from a sheet pan. Her new cookbook How to Celebrate Everything is all about connecting over food and knitting together a family culture with ritual, and I need to get my hands on it soon.
These and so many others are bright spots along the way, making things little bit easier just because they’re there, like a mother stroking a child’s feverish brow. A strange list, perhaps. But for me, these few things keep me company on a daily basis, fueling me and cheering me on to doing my day well, imperfect or flawed as it might be. Well, these things and you, of course.
Last summer, just after Mia was re-tested for her peanut and possible tree nut allergy, we were relieved at the news that her allergy was peanut-specific, and that tree nuts would not pose a problem for her. The relief was short lived; the celebratory cashew butter we slathered on sandwiches for lunch that day caused the worst allergic reaction Mia had experienced. It turns out the cashew butter was contaminated with peanuts. I didn’t realize it, of course, and I didn’t notice the warning on the label until it was too late.
I made the girls their cashew butter and jelly sandwiches and settled them at the table to eat while I unloaded the rest of the groceries. I was distracted and I didn’t notice until at least five minutes later, maybe longer, after she had already eaten at least half of her sandwich.
I turned around to check on the girls and saw Mia’s face covered with hives. I rushed to her and tore her clothes off to check the rest of her body, which was covered in red-hot, blotchy hives. No swelling, but that could be moments away. She was breathing fine, but again, that could change in an instant.
As I checked her, I must have been screaming something like “Oh my gosh. Mia’s having an allergic reaction. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Dear Jesus. Help. Help me. Help her! Oh my gosh.It was just cashew butter! What happened?”
I always wondered how I would respond if Mia had a serious reaction: would I be brave or would I collapse in a heap of tears, the paralyzing fear of what could happen preventing me from doing what must happen to prevent the worst possible outcome? Turns out, my reaction was panic.
I have no memory of exactly what I said in those tense moments, but both girls understood what was happening. Addie began to cry and Mia just sort of stared blankly at me as she watched my emotions wrestle with my good sense. Before long, she gently said, “I sorry I had ‘lergic action, mommy.”
All I wanted to do was pull her out of her chair and hold her close to me, close enough so she would be absorbed into my own body, so it could take over and heal her. I wanted to snuggle her tight enough for her to understood just how sorry I was I let something dangerous find its way into her body. I wanted her to understand I would never hurt her on purpose, and I would take her place if I could.
Her simple words pierced my heart and snapped me out of paralysis, and in a split second I realized I am going to make mistakes. Even if I’m brave. Even when I’m brave. But it is what I do in the wake of those mistakes that matters most. My children will see both my successes and failures and the way I respond to them, and what they see will shape them. And so, I pushed aside my fear and took action, doing what needed to be done.
Out came the Benedryl, and the Epi Pen was at the ready. Up into my lap came Mia. Addie wasn’t far behind. We prayed. We waited. We cried. We waited some more. Mia apologized again, and Addie asked if her sister would be ok. I told her I believed she would. I shivered as the next 15 minutes passed, praying that God’s grace would cover my mistake. It did.
Slowly, the hives receded. Little by little, normalcy returned. When the worst was over, I checked the packaging of the cashew butter, which said, “May contain peanuts”–words that now mean, to me “avoid like the plague.”
Having a child with a peanut allergy is not such a big deal on most days. Sometimes it is frustrating (we always have to be mindful of it, which can be inconvenient, and honestly, selfishly, I really really miss peanut butter). But once in awhile, it is utterly terrifying.
I used to think being brave meant stifling the tears and being fearless in the face of adversity. Now I know being brave means not letting fear stop you from facing the thing that scares you, even if you do it in tears.