My sons have created this thing. It is something of a game and it always begins like this: How old will you be when...?
When I'm six, Theo, you will be eight. When I'm eight you will be ten. When I'm ten you will be twelve. This continues for one or two more minutes, and then it inevitably goes something like this:
When I am twelve, Mom will be forty-six. When I'm eighteen, says Theo, Mom will be fifty...
I listen to their voices and I admire their budding ability to do quick thinking math. Their lovely sugary sounds ping back and forth from mouth to mouth, and I go still. This is funny business to them. They're competing. They're showing off - How old will Mom get?!
There is cotton in my mouth. My heart pauses. I think but do not tell them that hearing their voices roll our ages out before us, as if each passing day isn't going fast enough, is like beating the rug of our life; the dirt and dust shaking out in lines that appear around my eyes, mouth, forehead. Particles mixed with light linger on my no longer taut belly - the one that has stretched and exploded before me in the most beautiful soft roundness, not once but twice, that I could push in with my finger and feel a foot fold, touch heels when they were on my insides. At times there is even an ache and the phantom pain of an arm stretching, a head turning straight towards my soul, a story past. Wasn't that just yesterday's story? Wait, wait, I say, I'm still doing the math.
I am at my computer editing photos. Pandora is set to Joni Mitchell radio. Her voice makes me feel woozy, like I just hit the bottle of my early twenties, when what was time? Theo saddles up next to me and I stop what I'm doing to smell the top of his head; to kiss his thumb sized hole of missing skull bone that pulses in beat with my own heart. He takes my love but dryly says that Joni Mitchell is no Katy Perry. No, I suppose not, I say. But she's just as awesome - in a different way. He raises his eyebrows and gives his head a shake back and forth, his lips fold into a smile. That is his second-grade way of saying, whatever, Mom. Whatever.
Then I find myself alone at the kitchen sink. I'm peeling a mandarin and staring out the window at the blanket of fresh snow covering our world, the bright scent filling me. A winterized goldfinch sits still on a tree branch. Across the way in the park, the geese have returned after a long summer and mild fall; they are huddled together with the last bit of day's light resting on their backs. I am aware of my reshaped space, the softness of it, the feeling of possibility. Still, it is a challenge, I think, to not always be doing the math. At least it is my challenge.
When I was a kid, I remember wishing to be one of three things when I grew up someday. In no order, I wanted to be a school bus driver; a baby deliverer; someone who worked with books. I also remember thinking that "growing up" would just, like, magically happen someday. It was simply something that would occur, like going from fifth grade to sixth grade. Something big like that.
Lately, I have been waking up in the middle of the night in a mess of anxiety and heaviness. My mind unravels like a ball of yarn, and that yarn passes through my heart where it pulls and makes its way to my belly, where it just becomes a knot of disappointment. What am I doing with my life? God, is this enough - writing stories, suspending the beauty of a moment in a photograph? Am I serving? I want to serve You - the light that shines in the highest presence of myself. If I am not doing enough, please guide me. I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing enough. I toss back and forth like a fish out of water, pleading for clarity. I wish the curtains were open so I could look for the moon. I wait, thinking a sign will magically appear, but nothing happens. Only the passing of time, and eventually I fall back asleep.
Always, deep inside, I have wanted to be someone who served a higher-purpose. Thinking back, I was a very creative child. A lot like Sully, I think to myself now. Creative and a caretaker. Perceptive; an observer. When I'd play school bus driver, it was the route I loved riding on my bike. The crack in the sidewalk that was a "stop" and the way I'd pull over on my bike and wait patiently in the hot Florida sun as the children of my imagination got on or off the bus. Or the way I would set my dolls up with great care beneath the waxy, navy green leaves of our neighbor's magnolia tree. I'd place one of my pocket-sized Beatrix Potter books in front of each of them and tear apart magnolia blossoms, "cookies", that scent just as much a part of my being as my hair or nails. I tell these stories to my boys now, and they love to hear them over and over again, especially the day that as my dolls were having treats and stories under the tree, a bird pooped on my head. Warm white drippings slid down my forehead and I ran home in tears. When I came back to retrieve my books and dolls, my neighbor -who was like an adopted grandpa to us - asked me what happened. I remember the smile that spread out across his face, and his words, You know it's good, good luck to be pooped on by a bird, his North Carolina accent sweet-thick and drippy. Those words, they became as much a part of me as my liver and my skin.
I awoke again last night, in the middle of the night. Only this time the voice inside of me hashed out something like this: Just stop. Stop! You live a life of service each and every day. You are accountable for two boys who search out your arms when everything in the world feels like it's falling apart. A peanut butter and jelly request is not just a peanut butter and jelly request, but your homemade strawberry jam, please. You know when to just hold someone and teach them to feel the feeling, because a fix isn't always the answer. Sometimes the salve is simply the story of how you once got pooped on. Shit happens. And then I hid my eyes because the sight of my dad came to my mind's eye, bone-to-bone. The care-taking that was scary, that breaks dying and death into little pieces that together make you realize that life is both fragile and never long enough. A circle of gold light. That's what we are now. Heaven and Earth.
One time Theo asked me if I was a change maker or an artist. He had been studying change makers - specifically writers locally and globally that make a difference in their communities and the world - in his class. I was stumped so I asked him to elaborate. He said, well, you write and so do many change makers, but you are also a photographer, and that's being an artist, right? I couldn't answer him. There was no magical thinking, only the humble reality of finally being a mixed up grown up. I told him I wasn't really sure what I was. He said he thought I was maybe both.
Those words, I swallowed them. They are as much a part of me as my soul. Only sometimes I forget.
Those words, I swallowed them. They are as much a part of me as my soul. Only sometimes I forget.
When I was growing up, one knew it was fall because the smell of citrus grew thick in the air. And that might be a stretch. Halloween was just Halloween. There were no falling leaves, no spook of bare branches that looked like bony hands in the night. Verdant palm trees swayed in the humid air, maybe a black lizard would cross your path. Now, Thanksgiving. I've been running my mind in circles all morning trying to grab hold of a memory. I know we had it because I come from a family of tradition, and more importantly, a family who likes to cook. But cozy sweaters and roasted birds and golden light do not come to mind. I'm vaguely recalling that after Thanksgiving dinner we'd take a walk - to the lodge pool in my grandparent's neighborhood, for a swim. Winter was a thing. It was marked by a drop in temperature in the ocean and swimming pools, and a great abundance of roadside citrus stands, but not much else. To me, spring, summer, and fall were just the hot months.
As one who practices in many forms trying to stay present and not wanting anymore than I have right in this moment, it is this one thing that constantly makes me upset with myself. After living the last eighteen years of my life in a jigsaw puzzle of Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, and Colorado, why can't I feel as if the West has finally adopted me? Of course in some ways I do know why. I resist. My soul and bones are buried in white sand. My heartbeat turns from rhythmic to wild when I drop down into the ocean between the waves. Pelicans, ibis, herons. Hibiscus, orchids, bougainvillaea. My childhood through early adulthood in Florida, and the time I spent living on an island in Belize in my mid-twenties, charged me in such a positively forceful way. Like shells and driftwood, there is a shape to my life in these places, and the same is so for islands I have only visited briefly. Stark and tangible, I feel the most awake.
But something is subtly shifting inside of me. These days, as I sit on my porch and watch the leaves slowly swirl to the ground around me, I feel a softening. The natural beauty of fall should be enough as it is. But then there is flavor: apple, pear, butternut squash, pumpkin. Roasting, the slow transition from grilling to braising and sipping warm things during the almost cold morning hours, and to wrap the evening around our shoulders and sip wine and darker ales. These things are still exotics to me, things to be truly, truly savored. And then there's this tapping into something much deeper as I get older. The realization that time does indeed pass quickly. There is the exquisite color - the appreciation - and then the slow falling of the leaves, the softening of the ground, and we know in a hollow sadness that nothing lasts forever. That what we have right now, and where we are right now, is everything. Something is shaping me here, too.
I dream of living back in Florida, just steps from white sand beaches and the warm water, almost daily. But then I trail the falling leaf, pull my family tighter against my chest, pull together a pumpkin muffin batter and swoon over the aroma as it all comes together in the oven. Then I wonder - but how could I live without fall?
Pumpkin Bran Muffins
I recently had a pumpkin bran muffin at a local bakery and immediately left there to come home and figure out a way to replicate the deliciousness I had just eaten. I looked at my tried and true bran muffin recipe and then read a few pumpkin bran recipes to settle on this recipe that I'm sharing. I loved how they turned out. Not perfect like the one I had at the bakery, but darn close.
1 c. whole-wheat flour
3/4 c. wheat bran (I use Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (you can use the whole can if you like them extra moist)
2/3 c. milk
1/4 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
Demerara sugar (or any coarse sugar) for dusting before baking
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Either line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners or coat with baking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin, milk, canola oil, vanilla, and lemon juice.
Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients, being mindful not to over stir. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, drop scoops of batter into prepared muffin tin. Dust each muffin with a crunchy sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out dry.
Store in an airtight container for up to three days.