Suddenly I’m going all Martha Stewart?

I baked the BEST cake the other day. I know that this is not a cooking blog and that my beloved readers are accustomed to my slightly sad, too confessional, almost-at-a-crisis-but-not-quite posts. Guess what? You deserve a break today! If I wrote a food blog, it would be a baking blog, and that would be bad for all of us, but mostly for the size of my ass.

But I digress. We have this lemon tree in our yard that produces more lemons than our whole neighborhood could use. (I know. Totally annoying California problem. Even I hate me.) But I managed to make good use of about half a dozen of those puppies when I found this recipe.

marthastewart

I implore you to make this cake next time you’re craving something sweet. It’s insanely good and easy and almost caramelized on the outside when it’s fresh out of the oven. My house smelled incredibly good all  afternoon. Then the dog farted and it smelled normal again.

Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 large lemon, zested
Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a fluted tube pan (such as a Bundt®).

2. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Add eggs one at a time, alternating with flour, allowing each egg and portion of flour to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Stir lemon juice and zest into flour mixture until batter is just combined; pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.

4. Let it cool, flip it over and pop it out of the pan. Put a dab of icing or sprinkled powdered sugar on top. Eat half of it before anyone else gets home and blame it on the dog. Don’t use a knife for cutting while eating, because that’ll give you away. Rip off pieces like the animal you are.

Writing is My Unreliable Lover

Writing_BlogI am a fitful writer. I am happiest when I write, but I often don’t write for weeks, even months at a time. During those times, I can feel myself losing grip of my art, my light, my happiness. I doubt my work. Then life takes over, and I let it. I’ll reorganize the entire house, clean the windows, wipe the baseboards, visit the grocery and hardware stores, take the kids on an all-day outing. I pretend it’s fine; life is just busy. The truth is that life is busy. But it’s not fine. Not writing is like telling my lover it’s okay for him to leave for a month and not call or write. I tell him, “I can keep busy. It’s okay, I’ll be fine.”

No. I won’t.

Well-meaning friends have proposed that writing in fits and starts is just how I work. I have fruitful periods and barren periods. Sometimes the muse just isn’t there. Well, screw that. My testy muse is an unreliable bitch and I need to find a way to forge on without her.

This last week, for the first time in over a decade, I considered giving up writing. I have a full memoir manuscript begging me from the shelf to just finish her, revise her, connect a few more dots. It’s an incredible story of faith and love and magic. And I sat around this week and said out loud, tears rolling down my cheeks, “It’s a stupid idea. I don’t even know why I’m writing it.”

Of course, the little honest bird in my heart knew that this was ridiculous, just a toe-dip into despair to see how it felt to give up. It was a reaching down, a superficial effort to hit bottom so I could sit down at the god-blessed computer and write something.

I guess it worked, because here I am. But I’m exhausted. I’m wet and worn like a twisted rag. I feel the pull, right this very second, to drift to my bed and take a nap. But with each word I type, I’m pushing away the blank page, trying to stare down the dark place, fists raised for a fight.

Sweetness

“Wow! You going to be doing a lot of baking?” the cashier woman at Trader Joe’s said. I felt caught because as I shopped, along with the usuals, I just allowed myself to grab what looked good. I ended up with brownie mix, blondie bar mix, pumpkin bread mix, and white icing. I decided to be honest with her. “Baking makes me happy,” I said.

On the drive home, I fretted. Am I unhappy? Not really. I’m doing okay. Most moments are good moments. So what motivated me to buy all those sweets? “Food is not love,” someone said recently. I’d heard it before, but this time it clanged like a gong in my ears.

I bake because I love to, but as I pulled the car up to the house, I thought about how I also bake now for my daughters, ages 5 and 8. I want to treat them. I want them to come home from school and walk into a house filled with dogs and cats, markers and crayons, music, flowers and cookies that are still warm and gooey. I want them to take a bite (after finishing their healthy snack) and feel safe, feel release. It’s okay. It’s allowed here. It’s all allowed here. Your messy feelings about your friends, the mistake you made in front of the teacher, the fact that you didn’t wipe your bottom well enough and now you have a rash. I bake as a signal that my girls can let go. They’re safe in this house with me.

And I’ll tell them a few things about my day, that I made mistakes too, that my hard work felt arduous at times, but that because we’re home together, sitting around a table with milk and cookies, I feel great.

I look at my girls, my beautiful little beings and I feel such hope and such fear—because I could be doing this all wrong. The mom who has the no sugar policy in her house, who races in triathlons; she doesn’t think I’m teaching my kids good eating habits. Do I tell her that when her daughter comes to our house, she pries open the pantry without asking and pilfers it? Do I stop her? Do I tell?

Essays I want you to read…

…if you haven’t already. These are older essays, but worth reading again and savoring. Both authors have gone on to do stupendous things. 

I’m working on a short opinion piece about mothering daughters. It’s coming along. I’m also busy doing some major tweaks to the memoir structure. It feels akin to taking a truck engine apart, laying out all the pieces, and then reassembling them so that they’ll fit inside a Corvette.

Oh, and some good news. A story of mine got picked up by a pretty snazzy magazine. I’ll reveal which one later on in the fall. Until then, I’ll keep on plugging.

As if a miracle had come

A small excerpt from the memoir in progress:

Bunker followed me from room to room. When the house was empty, we lay on my gray bedroom carpet, his shedding puppy hair entwining with my damaged blonde mess. I touched the wet soft of his nose. He licked my finger, then rolled onto his back. When his eyes drooped, I watched his eyelashes flutter long after they closed. It was a love affair of survival. With him, I began to think I could venture out into the world again. I thought of the days I couldn’t rise from the couch or the time I sat clutching the knife in the basement. I thought of how warm the wind felt on my ankles the day I opened the car door on the highway. It terrified me that I ever felt that desperate. As if a miracle had come, the lid on that endless sorrow clamped shut with this dog by my side. Something about him—some wordless magic he brought—began to close that chapter of my life forever.

For Bunker

June 17, 2012

After he came to me in 1996, I began calculating the years. He was a big dog, so I’d be really lucky if I got 15 years. I spent way too much time dreading the day I would lose him. I remember consoling myself with the thought that when he died, he would’ve done his job by then. I would be okay, able to survive another few decades without him.

I never said it out loud, but I knew that Bunker had come to help me heal. He was a therapy dog before there were therapy dogs. He brought me a level of calm I’d never known. Without him, my depression would’ve probably ruined me. He picked up my broken, battered spirit and carried it alongside his. He took away the heaviness, and I still don’t understand how he did it. I don’t understand who he was or why he carried such medicine. I spend my days writing my heart out, trying so hard to explain the tremendous comfort he brought.

He was 11 when he got sick, and he died within 10 days of his diagnosis. The moment he passed, I felt a shift in the atmosphere. The light changed. In a way, I still feel frozen in that spot, still stuck in that sterile veterinarian’s office with his lifeless head on my lap. I write this book in an effort to move out of that room, to share the beauty that was his being, to share our story of healing. How blessed I was to have him.

Fight Your Way Through

The day after I read the memoir manuscript & announced this site on Facebook, I got a rejection from a well known literary journal for a short story I submitted back in February. The rejection wasn’t a five paragraph treatise on why they almost published the story but didn’t. It was a one line, “We’ll pass” e-mail that made me wonder why I’m toiling away at my desk on a daily basis for that kind of response.

I promptly ate a dozen cookies. Then forwarded the rejection to my husband and mom. Then sulked and made my kids play by themselves while I sat on the couch reading a book. I’ve been rejected plenty before. Getting rejected is a big part of this process. It’s just that this particular “no” felt cruelly timed. I was feeling so good about the book, so elated by all of my supportive friends, and the universe had to go and toss a bucket of cold water on all that hope.

After a day of contemplating, moping, cookies, etc., I realize that in the end, I suppose this is why I do it. Because it’s really, really hard.  Because again and again, especially with the memoir, I’m going to have to defend why it’s an important story to tell.  My notoriously thin skin just will not cut it in this endeavor. So today I will put away the cookies and remember that all these little disasters will help prepare me when it comes time to really fight for this book, for this story I so deeply believe in.

Hope

I just finished reading the memoir manuscript for the first time. Even though it’s an incomplete first draft and it has so much work ahead of it, I feel like I could weep because it’s good. It’s really good. And, of course, it’s awful in places.

But really, the story and the arc and what’s happening is so real and true and amazing that I feel daunted and humbled by the progress. I realize that I’m really only about halfway through, but judging the distance until I’m finished doesn’t seem important right now. The important part is that I feel hopeful. I can do this, and this story is so important and worth telling. Isn’t that a miracle?

I miss you, Bunker. This one’s for you.

Amen.

(Remind me to read this tomorrow when I’m thwacking my head on my desk.)

Magic

The magic comes
in the form of gifts
I don’t know how to accept.

A blue jay clings to my office window,
a remarkable feather lays in my path,
the writing comes so easily.

I take them, apologize,
forget to show gratitude
until it’s probably too late.

Then the silence arrives.
No birds. No words.
I worry the magic is angry.

Right when hope fades,
the magic reappears.
The bird always returns.