March 29th, 2017
It’s My Birthday. Here’s My Wish.
I’m officially a year older than I was 364 days ago, so I thought I’d take stock of life, the universe and everything. Good news: I’m not going to lament getting old. I’m not going to talk about my alarmingly greying hair because I know someone who makes that problem disappear. I’m not going to discuss my soft and expanding belly because, well, I already did. I’m not even going to mention the bittersweet feeling I have knowing I’ll soon be the shortest, lightest and decidedly weakest member of my male-dominated family.
Nope. Today I’m going to share something that is much, much harder to talk about: I’m going to tell you why I’m proud of myself.
Oh. My. God. I said it. I’m proud of myself. Okay, technically, I typed it, which maybe made it easier to articulate (I’m serious). Thing is, I know how hard it can be for us women (especially) to express such radical words, to own such a provocative sentiment. I understand the reasons for this are myriad, complicated and infused with gender politics. I realize we still live in a world where “confident” gals are bossy braggarts and “confident” guys are awesome dudes.
Well, it’s my birthday. I’ll feel proud if I want to.
Here, in no particular order, are three things I’m proud of:
I’ve been writing my ass off. No matter how hard I wish, essays like this one simply refuse to appear on my screen fully written, edited, formatted and uploaded, with a pretty picture to boot. When I first started writing Newsy! nearly a year ago, I never suspected how much time and energy I’d dedicate every week to this project (a couple of national holidays notwithstanding).
I know, in the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if Newsy! pops up in your inbox at 6:00 a.m. every Thursday morning (which, ahem, it does), at 9:22 p.m. every other Wednesday or, well, never. Turns out I’m okay with that. This creative endeavor has reminded me how transformative writing can be. Moving through the world in a writerly fashion keeps my eyes open, my ears sharp and my perspective fresh. It keeps my brain engaged and alert to ideas, inspiration and epiphanies, even when I think I’m just moseying along the trail with my dog, wondering what’s for dinner.
Moment of pride: Typing “v.42” in the subject line of this email.
I’ve helped my kids become skiers. Son One was in 1st grade and Son Two in preschool when we first hit the slopes as a family. If you’ve skied with kids, you know it takes patience (hello, bunny slope), bribery (hot chocolate), money (Do. Not. Calculate.) and a strong back for hauling and untangling people and gear. But this winter, it’s finally happened: We’ve achieved Family Skiing Nirvana. All four of us are skiing the same runs, at the same speed, at the same time.
Somewhere above, snow angels are singing.
Here’s an unexpected bonus. Like many of us, I’m living with a teenager who’s fully embracing every “typical teen” behavior. He’s growing like a weed, eating like a horse and, sometimes, treating his beloved parents like proverbial … (fill in the blank). Skiing is one of the few shared activities we have right now (funnily enough, Yahtzee is another). It gets us off our screens, into the fresh air and leaves us tired and sweaty. I appreciate it more than ever.
Moment of pride: Watching my kids master a sport they can enjoy for life – even with their extremely embarrassing and annoying parents.
I’m trying new things. You may recall I’ve recently taken up knitting and Nia dance. Here’s something else on my “new-do” list: This year, at least once a month, I’m taking myself (and anyone who wants to join me) on a hot date to see Real. Live. Art. My monthly art walk ensures I’ll see a new visual interpretation of the world at least a dozen times this year. It’s also helps me avoid my too-frequent realization that the exhibit I really, truly intended to see is now long over.
Moment of pride: So far, I’ve seen six exhibits – three of them in galleries I’ve never visited before. Wahoo!
So there you are. Three random things I’m proud of.
Now it’s your turn. What are you proud of?
I hope you’ll share your answer with a friend. Or a family member. Or even me. Most of all, I hope you’ll make my birthday wish come true by telling yourself how proud you are of you.
Gran’s Hot Milk Cake
For this issue, it’s fitting that I share a recipe for a birthday cake that’s been handed down for generations on my dad’s side of the family. Gran was my great grandmother, and I’ll bet she learned how to make a hot milk cake from her mother, too. This is still my dad’s favorite dessert, and when I was growing up, it was my go-to choice for my birthday cake. (My folks went to great lengths to transform the cake into a horse, a dog, a cat, even a roller skate.*) These days, my eldest son has become a pro at whipping up a hot milk cake, especially when it’s time to celebrate his grandparents’ birthdays. Nice.
* Clearly, the train cake in the photo on the left represents another family tradition!
Gran’s Hot Milk Cake
(Note: Double this recipe to make two delicious layers)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×9 square pan or a 9-inch-circular pan.
For the cake
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking power
1 ¼ cup flour
½ cup milk
½ stick butter
In a medium-size bowl, beat two eggs and then gradually add sugar, vanilla and baking powder. Stir to combine and then mix in flour. In a small saucepan, bring milk and butter to the boiling point and then pour into the bowl with dry ingredients. Mix well.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
For the icing
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs half and half
1 tsp vanilla
½ stick butter
Slowly melt all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to combine. When it starts to gently bubble and all the butter has melted, pour over the cake. The icing will harden as it cools.
Tip: Place the cake on a plate or platter that extends a couple inches beyond the cake itself so the extra icing can pool there and set. Delish!
Between Them by Richard Ford (a Leigh Ann T. review)
One day, if we’re lucky, we wake up and see our parents as complex people. I can’t remember my exact moment it happened to me, but I remember being disgruntled and a little annoyed, even mildly grossed out. But I was the youngest of five, and there was always so much stuff going on with my siblings that my realization about my parents-as-people registered as just one more thing I had to witness. Richard Ford’s Between Them is a brief and loving meditation on his parents.
Ford was an only child, born many years after his parents married and had been living on the road. His dad, Parker, was a soap salesman whose territory was Louisiana, Texarkana – most of South, really. His mother, Edna Akin, was tossed from her own home early on to work, and she never relished, nor really learned, the role of housewife. The Fords carved their own life out of suitcases, cheap meals, hotel bars and sales calls. Parker was successful and attentive; Edna was the perfect partner. Neither was close to their family, so moving came naturally to them. How they found each other in the sticky poverty of the deep south is a minor miracle.
The unusual thing about the book is its silence. The reader can feel the stillness of being a late and only child – albeit loved – and of being the unexpected side road on a vast straightforward highway. Edna and Parker didn’t expect much, lived day to day, put down no roots, even when Richard was first born. They just accepted what came along and were fine with it. Reading this book was entering an unlikely time portal, one that revealed a long-extinct way of life.
Apparently, Ford wrote each section of Between Them decades apart. His father died when he was young, so the first part is sparse and contains the longing of a boy trying to know his father. The second part is Ford’s poetic tribute to his mother, even if he has no real understanding of her private thoughts and is unable to ask her, since such no one at that time ever dwelled on such nonsense. In the end, though, Ford’s pure acceptance both of her limitations and her pragmatic, wholehearted love for him might be the best bunch of flowers a mom could ever receive.
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