Friends, it’s happening! Winter is here.
While my intolerance for the cold is well-documented, neither it nor the icy, miserable conditions outdoors can dampen my enthusiasm for the holidays, which are, as they say, just around the corner.
Like the rest of you, I am occupied with a long list of happy-making tasks.
While I huddle indoors, shopping on-line and wrapping and baking and getting a hand cramp from the last-minute addressing of Christmas cards (which, yes, should have gone out long before now), I hope you will amble over to the Marion House Book.
I was lucky enough to write a guest post for Emma, luckier still to have Kristin Sjaarda come to photograph the quirky Christmas mantel I styled for our place, and I am thrilled to stake a small claim in the bounty of aesthetic goodness that happens over there.
Please have a look, and then I’ll meet you back here, sooner than soon, ok?
The morning after I turned forty, the power went out.
At first I worried about the significance of the lights going out on the first day of my new decade, but in fact it wasn’t so bad. It was a drizzly day, and we (we grown-ups, at least) were all feeling a little foggy from the previous night’s enthusiastic consumption; we lit candles and gathered vintage silk and Mongolian lamb and feather pillows and coverlets and curled up.
My sister was here for the briefest of wonderful visits, so we took advantage, drinking perfect coffee (courtesy of the restaurant around the corner) and looking out at the rain and reveling in the chance to be together, which doesn’t happen for us nearly as often as I’d like.
At a certain point my husband dashed out for provisions and we opened the last of the bubbly. My sister kept me company while I made dessert for the following day’s Thanksgiving feast. An easy, comforting dinner, a little more wine, an early bedtime – and, just like that, the weekend of my big birthday was over.
My sister flew home early the next morning.
And now I am forty – the age I had been approaching with a mix of curiosity and dread all these months, the age I was determined to be on the right side of, to be content with, to somehow conquer – and nothing has changed.
Things here carry on as they do, haphazard and beautiful.
This weekend, we are having a party.
I have more blessings than I know how to count.
Our summer ended abruptly and sadly just before Labour Day.
I won’t go into the details, but we were left reeling and panicked with worry over someone we love; and even now, roughly six weeks later, everyone having settled into a quasi-routine with this new normal, we are living with a degree of heartache which will, I feel, possibly diminish but never quite disappear.
As it happens, though, I woke up this morning and realized that we are just over a week into my very favourite month of the year – all of us (and all of you too, no doubt) having navigated September like so many hamsters on wheels, careening slightly from one moment to the next – and that there is some mindful celebrating to be done.
This is our month, friends, to give thanks and acknowledge joy and look forward with some gladness.
Just before we leap in to all of that goodness, I hope you’ll permit me this brief backward glance, a grateful goodbye to one of the dreamiest summers on our family’s record and a salute to the September that was – just as it was.
The garden was out of hand – in the best possible way.
New views were discovered, and new paths taken.
The training wheels came off.
We ate dozens of salads and piles of cake and drank glasses and glasses of Pimms.
We shared amazing moments with family and friends.
We made a pie.
My young son went to school for the first time.
The leaves began to turn.
And this dress sits glimmering in my cupboard, biding its time until the next celebration…any minute now.
This is my boy.
Four years have passed since his birth, a day that shifted everything that I thought I knew about myself and what I could survive.
Four! That number sounds so meager, for a child who packs such a wallop of quirky charm and carefully crafted thoughts and a stop-you-in-your tracks smile – if you are lucky enough to earn it.
He’s a treasure, this one.
Early in July, two or three days into her summer holidays, my daughter told me she was bored.
It was the first time in her life that she had made such a pronouncement, accompanied by a sigh and an air of world-weariness that was both amusing and mildly alarming – she is, after all, just barely seven – but it was not the last.
Not even close.
(I remember having that feeling as a child: I’m not sure I was bored, exactly, but being untethered from the daily routine of the school schedule was, no matter how welcome, sometimes a little deflating. So I should have been sympathetic – and in fact I was, for the first while, but then – predictably – my tolerance waned.)
But I am here to tell you, friends, that despite my daughter’s pre-pre-adolescent murmurs of discontent, this summer has been nothing approaching boring.
In the past week alone, there were four cakes baked, three birthday celebrations, two actual birthdays, and one quickened-heartbeat-inducing top secret photo shoot (about which I will gladly tell you more when it is published, in October).
We have begun a holiday-Monday family tradition involving this place.
We have discovered magical hidden parts of our city.
We have purchased airplane tickets and are counting down days.
My garden has grown wilder.
And the other night, in the midst of this delightful, demanding, madcap and anything-but-boring stretch of weeks, the light shifted slightly and a breeze came through the screen door, bringing the kind of cool air that signals imminent change, making me want to catch my absent husband and my perfect summer and my no-longer-babies in my arms and tell them:
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Both of my children suffer from nightmares.
They wake up terrified, crying out for help. When I wrap my arms around my trembling son he struggles, still in the grip of the bad dream, unable to recognize me; I have to wait for him to surface, to stop thrashing and take what comfort I can offer with hugs and soothing sounds.
My daughter, once her tears have subsided, is more analytical. Mournful and perplexed, she won’t rest until she finds out why she’s been dreaming about such unhappy-making things.
I wish I had an answer for her.
Instead, I hold her close and we talk about all of the things that bring her joy: our recent trip to Mexico; riding her scooter; my parents’ dog; the bunk beds at the cottage last summer; waking up early enough to see the sun come up.
We hold each other tight in the dark and whisper about all of these things, and I tell her that enough happy thoughts will push the dark ones aside, at least temporarily, long enough for her to get back to sleep.
I realized the other morning, as I ran through the park on yet another dull, chilly uninspiring day, that I would do well to take my own advice.
The ponds and puddles were all soupy, filled with icy slush that leaked into my shoes, and the swans wouldn’t lift their heads from under their wings. Nary a bud nor a sliver of spring green was in sight. It was windy, and the forecast was for flurries.
To say that I am sick of this weather would be understating the case enormously.
We just celebrated seven years in this city, and things are getting better all the time. It feels like only moments ago that I was, literally, sitting on my empty kitchen floor on a March day, dreaming about the future.
I have work that is thrilling and a business that keeps both my husband and me inspired and involved in our amazing community.
I’ve begun driving, and loving every minute of it.
I have friends who are there for me whether I am seized with despair or not, a small posse of caring, fierce, intelligent women who will shop or run or drink with me, and who will listen while I rattle on about paint chips and food and shoes and furniture.
So really, this is the life.
And these endless, not-yet-spring doldrums? It’s time to shake them off.
Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup
What to cook when the need for hibernation-friendly (read: hot and comforting) foods has passed, but not the desire? This soup. Hearty, rich, and healthy, I have been eating more than my fair share of it lately.
5 cups chicken broth
2 whole star anise
a 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and smashed with a heavy knife
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets (to make about 8 cups)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine broth, anise, and ginger in a large pot; bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer.
In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower pieces, garlic, and olive oil. Place on one or two metal baking pans, whatever you need to ensure that there is just one layer of veggies and that they are not too crowded.
Roast in middle of oven until golden, 20-25 minutes – don’t let the garlic burn!
Remove baking pan (s) and use a rubber spatula to tip vegetables and oil into the pot of simmering broth. Simmer until cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. Fish out star anise and ginger.
Puree soup in batches in a blender until very smooth and velvety, then return to the pot and reheat over moderate heat until piping hot. Taste for seasoning and add sea salt, if desired.
Makes about 8 cups.