Outside this window, blackberry bushes are huddling together, their white flowers rustling in the breeze. Overhead, a thin layer of grey clouds, the same ones that have been hovering over our heads all of June. (My brother said it the other day: it’s like walking under Tupperware all the time.) The garden, finally planted, is still a clutch of hopeful little plants, somehow striving toward full height before the fall.
It’s summer here.
I know that it’s summer with you too. Too much summer for many of you. A friend in Maryland told me yesterday that it was 85° in her house at 10:30 pm, with the power company saying they’ll have power restored by Friday. A friend in Kansas posted on Facebook today that “We are rapidly moving from ‘fry an egg on the sidewalk’ heat to ‘open a sidewalk omelet station’ heat.” In a few days, we’re heading to Tucson to spend a few days with Danny’s parents. Seeing them? Oh yes. 106° heat? Well, I’m not sure how I’m going to explain to Lucy that she really can’t go outside.
So I’ll take these Tupperware conditions and the faint breeze that is blowing on my arms as I write this.
(Summer in Seattle always starts the day after the 4th of July. It will be in the 80s when we are gone, I’m sure.)
Summer flashes so many images through my head. My pointed feet sliding into chlorinated blue water, silently. Egg salad sandwiches in an air-conditioned house after swimming outside, a glass of cold lemonade beside. The smell of baby oil on my skin growing warmer, as we sat on the hot sand at Newport Beach, trying to tan. The cool of my room in the hot afternoon, the musty smell of library books permeating my nose as I turned the pages.
Danny and I have been talking about what summer feels like for Lu, what images she might remember later. Hers will probably be of blackberry stains on her arms and lips, the way her tiny blow-up pool bends under her body as she jumps in with both feet, the frustrating feeling of being told to go to sleep when light seeps in around the edges of her blackout curtains.
Of course, years from now, she may not remember one thing from this summer. That’s one of the biggest acts of love: to parent, knowing the kid won’t remember the thousand little chosen moments.
I sometimes wish that I were the kind of organized summer parent my friend Molly is. She has lists of activities planned for her kids, all summer long: identifying beetles, a butterfly study, creating comic books, gardening, making movies, board games, and paper mâché. People, I have always been a failure at paper mâché. I always ended up with glue splattering my arms and a sadly withered little figure, intended to be something but mostly just a flop. Kid crafts intimidate me. We do science experiments around here — baking soda and vinegar explosions! — and play t-ball, water the garden, play dress up, cook together, watch Lu put on puppet shows, and read piles and piles of books every day. (I started reading Charlotte’s Web to Lucy last night and had a hard time not tearing up.) But planned crafts and scheduled activities? I kind of stink at that.
(If you have suggestions, let me know.)
But yesterday I read this wonderful piece about the necessary joys of idleness and unplanned time. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
And suddenly, I remembered that the best feeling of summer was the hours in the backyard, building replicas of Knott’s Berry Farm in the mud or throwing a tennis ball up against the nubbly wall of our home, pretending that I was the first baseman for the Dodgers. I can still see my brother sitting at the old wooden desk in my parents’ bedroom, tapping out letters on the electric typewriter, the sun lighting up his blond hair into a glowing halo.
This is what I want to give Lucy in summer (and the rest of the year). The feeling that our lives are only loosely planned. We live within a structure that bends to our touch instead of resisting stiff against our hands. Let there be a few hours on a Sunday morning with absolutely nothing ahead of us. That way, Danny and Lu can bring chairs onto the grass, find the blue blanket with green circles and drape it over them to make a fort. They can huddle under the blanket, Danny telling Lu what camping is like, and how rain sounds on a tent at night. From that springs the idea, fully formed: let’s take her camping on the Oregon coast this summer.
From idleness, the best ideas.
(Still, if you can teach me how to make paper mâché, I’d be pretty excited.)
And salads. Summer, to us, means salads. Beet greens, fennel tops, chard leaves, nasturtium flowers, and bits of kale. All topped with goat cheese made by the woman on the island with enough goats to create a goat cheese CSA. Sunflower seeds. And a new favorite dressing.
Maybe that is what this summer will taste like. Time will tell.
I just know I want to enjoy it all, relaxed and planning as little as possible.
TAHINI-TAMARI DRESSING, adapted from Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
My friend Sara Kate wrote wonderfully last week about a salad dressing she has been loving. “…there’s a five-year-old at my hip who declared it ‘the dressing that makes me into a lover of salad things’ or perhaps it is because that five-year-old’s babysitter asked to be paid in jars of dressing rather than real money.” Sign me up. Everyone in our family is already a lover of salad things. I went to the store to buy tahini and miso to make it.
The problem is, I haven’t found a red miso yet that has been certified gluten-free. I googled the only brand at our store and found this conversation. If the starter was possibly grown on barley, I wasn’t willing to take the chance on it, no matter how good Sara Kate’s dressing is. (Do you know any commercially available red miso pastes that are definitively gluten-free? This brand labels itself that way, but I have never seen it.)
Luckily, we’re intrepid around here. Danny and I talked about the taste of miso paste, what it might add to this dressing, and we figured out a substitute. Fish sauce and tamari both have the salty umami quality of miso. (You have to be careful about fish sauces too. Our favorite gluten-free brand is Red Boat.) With all that salty and a bit of bitterness, we added some maple syrup to mellow out the dressing. Since making it yesterday, we’ve had three salads each with this on it.
I’m pretty sure it would make a great dip for fresh snow peas, a lovely sauce for brown rice, and when it thickens, a spread on gluten-free bread. Here, we’re sticking with the salad for now.
1/4 cup tahini
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons wheat-free tamari
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 cup hot water (you might need more. or less.)
Pour the tahini into a jar. Add the brown rice vinegar, maple syrup, tamari, fish sauce, and pepper. Whisk it all together well into a smooth paste (if you can’t fit a whisk into the jar you have a chosen, a fork will do). Taste the dressing. Add more of whatever you feel it might need.
Pour in the hot water and stir like mad until it has emulsified and looks like the dressing above.
Let the jar sit for an hour, to give the flavors a chance to mingle, before you use it. It stores in the refrigerator for up to a week, thickening every day, so don’t be surprised if you have to add a bit more hot water and stir on some days.
Makes about 6 ounces (enough to make 6 to 8 salads).