When I lie down in bed at night, the room warm and the hour late, my mind starts flashing images of the day behind me. Desmond’s smile wide open, like a child’s drawing of the happiest face. Lu’s feet gripping onto the skateboard we gave her last week for her birthday, the pink knee pads hovering above them. The greens in the garden bolting bright with the heat and sunlight. (Anyone need some kale? We have plenty.) The sound of the ocean rushing continually out of the baby monitor as Desmond sleeps upstairs in his crib. He’s a sleeper, this kid. Oh heavens yes, he’s a sleeper. Lucy on my lap, a stack of books besides us, waiting to be read. Dishes in the sink that will have to wait until the cool evening air comes through the windows. Dinner on the back deck, plates set on top of the yellow chalk drawings and hopscotch squares. The quiet click of Lucy’s bedroom door shutting behind us when we finally realize she is asleep for the evening. (Remember that feeling of being a child in summer, perplexed at why you have to go to bed in broad daylight?) The relief of a hard day’s work finally done — no work or computers after 9 pm here — Danny and I together on the couch, talking through the day. And then we watch another episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
(Can we talk about this show? We are obsessed. We don’t watch television, normally, but now, every night, we’re perched on the edge of the couch, watching. On Danny’s birthday card the other day, I wrote to him, “Shanté, you stay.” My dear friend Sharon, my best friend for 31 years, stayed with us this week. We started her on this brilliant parody of a reality show that is also a reality show and somehow manages to normalize drag queen life while also being relentlessly flamboyant and hilarious at the same time. She was hooked too. Every evening she visited, as soon as we knew both kids were asleep, we called my brother, who lives on the island, and he came over with his wife and pre-teen son to watch another episode. It may seem like an odd family bonding, but no one ever claimed to be normal over here. And honey, those drag queens are fierce. When I remember this time, I’m sure to think of it as the summer of Ru Paul.)
When Lucy is at camp or on play dates, the days are packed full of work for projects I can’t tell you about yet. At our studio, we’re hatching plans and writing emails and tackling to-do lists. Meanwhile, Danny stands at the stove, flipping onions in a skillet, then adding greens and bacon, goat cheese and lentils, and a couple of fried eggs on top. We may be broke after the adoption process but we’re still eating well. And that little guy kicks his legs and giggles on the table beside me and I stop thinking about money.
When Lu is at home, the living is slow. Mostly, there are popsicles. And board games. Jumping on the trampoline. Long walks before dinner. Chores in the morning. Lots of lying on the floor with a book open before her. And an entire troop of imaginary friends who make their way into our days. That’s sort of the feeling right now: everything fantastic, beyond our wildest dreams, and yet mundane.
Hi there. I’m waving hello from our kitchen studio, where the sun is shining brightly outside and I’m in here, sitting on my exercise ball chair, trying to pause from typing every 20 minutes or so. The first draft of the manuscript for our next cookbook, American Classics Reinvented (or is it Reimagined?), is due in 6 days.
This is the fourth book I have written since 2006. Fourth book! There’s magic in that phrase for me — the girl who always wanted to be a writer — and exhaustion — the woman only two years away from 50 with a three-month-old and very energetic almost-6-year-old. For most of the last year, Danny and I cooked and baked and schemed and planned and cut recipes and created foods we’d never made before and want to make again and again. Knishes! Reuben sandwich soup! Seattle coffee cake! California roll salad! Hash brown waffles! Smoked salmon eggs benedict! Elk and morel mushroom pot pie! Pimento cheese sandwiches! Baja fish tacos! Amish chicken and noodle! St. Louis gooey butter cake! All of it gluten-free, of course. We’ve also created a grain-free flour mix we love, which those of you who have to avoid grains can use in any recipe. We’re really happy with this book, even this last week before it’s due.
It has been quite the year.
Usually, by this time of a book being due, I’m a frantic mess. Shower? No time. Food? Forgotten. Writing until midnight and getting up at 4 to write more? Of course. It’s just too easy to put my head down and work, work, work, and then look up and see the day has waned without my seeing it.
This time, however? Forget about that frantic flapping. I don’t want to live that way.
Part of this extraordinary year for me has been looking at my celiac more closely, realizing that it truly is an autoimmune disorder. For me, simply avoiding gluten is not enough to heal me now. Enduring the return to sleep deprivation for the sake of a lovely baby and the hormonal shifts of a woman who’s nearly 50, plus getting some gluten by mistake has made this a rough year, health wise. Still, I think there are gifts in every hard place, the times that question and throw everything into disarray. For me, this has been a chance to step back and decide how much to breathe and see how gently I can treat myself. Stressing out, not sleeping, forgetting to exercise, letting fear and anger and guilt burrow into my gut? Those are not the way to heal from an autoimmune disorder.
I think every day these days about this quote from Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics): “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Every time before this one I would turn to Danny in the middle of the crash-and-burn ending of a book and say, “Look, when life calms down, after the book is done…” And eventually he’d laugh and gently smack me on the arm.
“Good one, honey. When does life ever calm down?”
Now. In this moment. Danny has taught me that. Lucy and Desmond have taught me that. My celiac has taught me that. Nearing 50 has taught me that. I’m tired of living frantically, waiting for the right moment to breathe. Now. Here.
Here. Now. Time to eat the raspberries picked this morning.
So I’m writing up the notes from recipes all day today, while Lucy is at stilts camp (yep, you read that right) and Danny is at home with baby Desmond, who’s a little under the weather from his first round of vaccinations. I have Cat Stevens playing, a cup of green lemongrass tea that needs refreshing, and a piece of writing I didn’t expect to tumble forth today. This evening, I’m playing softball and going to bed early.
I have a feeling this will be the best book we’ve done so far. Even if it’s not, it will be done soon, followed by relief and joy. Then, we start back to work again.
This was a most mediocre and tremendous meal. It wasn’t locally sourced, grass-fed beef. I’m sure the guacamole came out of a tub. The beans were sort of spongy, the tortillas lukewarm. That pre-grated cheese…