The plum dumplings are ready and they are - almost - worth every second of the process. As a child, plum dumplings have been one of those treats that marked the end of summer vacation, and the arrival of the new school year.
School starts in two weeks and I haven’t even gotten to the back to school shopping. Yes. I AM that mom.
The more I think about it, the more envious I become of all the moms whose kids wear uniforms. Or of all the moms who write a check for school supplies and send it along with their kids on the first day of school. And since I’m at it, also of all the moms whose kids are old enough to go shopping on their own.
So what about you? Are you done with all back to school shopping already? Or do you wait until the last possible minute?
Summer’s finally here. And it is HOT! In the Pacific Northwest we only get two, sometimes three months break from the relentless rain that hammers against us, our towns and our forests. When summer finally arrives we treasure it for about five minutes and then proceed with complaints about how unbearably hot it is.
Which just shows how ungrateful we are. Because really, what’s there to complain of? Hours of doing absolutely nothing other than sitting at an outdoor cafe with our kids or our friends? Picking raspberries, cherries or peaches at the multiple family farms surrounding Portland, which we’ll take home and turn into pies and cobblers? Biking and picnicking in the shade of a tree by the water’s edge? Meeting friends for happy hour and not having to rush home and get the kids to bed? Exploring new hiking trails?
There is really no reason to complain.
So hello, Summer. And welcome!
No matter how busy I am throughout the year, I always make time to slow down in the summer. I make time to pamper myself and those I love. I make time to relax. To laugh. I make time to be present in the daily moments of wonder, of gratitude and of beauty.
So here’s my recipe for a magical summer:
Daily one-on-one time with my sweetie. Yup. I KNOW he’s gorgeous.
Eating well. Summer is my favorite food season. Oops, second favorite. Winter’s first;
Long talks with my BB’s - beautiful brilliant - children. Far into the night;
Creating. Playing. Relaxing;
Ice cream dates. Every day. Why not?
Get-togethers with friends. The conversations, the laughter, the ease of being with people who love me and don’t judge.
Reading. Reading. And more reading. Inside. Outside. On a blanket at the beach. On a blanket in a field. Anywhere. Anytime.
How about you? What are your recipes for a great summer?
When I was a young child, the summer days stretched endlessly from dawn to dusk. Mornings were always my favorite time: the bright sunshine, the cool air, the quiet. I would fluff up my pillows and open my book. In our overcrowded and busy family house, the best time to read was when everyone else was asleep and no artificial light was needed.
Breakfast was usually a hurried affair of cold cereal and toast, as the day awaited and we all couldn’t wait to get going. The playground awaited. Visits to family friends awaited. Lakes awaited and picnics awaited and barbecues awaited and laughter and fun awaited. There was always something going on. And when there wasn’t, lazy days of reading and sunbathing in the backyard awaited.
No matter how censured I felt as a child and young adult, both by my parents and the church community, my parents did their best to create for us a childhood and youth filled with happy memories and free of financial worry. We weren’t rich. Far from it. My dad worked hard, often three jobs at a time, so that my mom could stay home and take care of us. And it wasn’t easy. I knew it then, and I know it now; being a parent myself, I find myself pulled in all directions. Work. Family. Books. Guilt I’m not at work enough. Guilt I’m not with my family enough. Guilt I’m spending money on books I don’t have time to read. Always on the phone… Or checking my messages… Or sending texts to my employees, reminding them what to do. The list goes on.
Excuses. All of them. I’m sure that on my death bed, the only thing I’ll regret are the days and times I’ve spent away from my kids. These summer days my goal is to be with them as often and as much as I can, and to provide them with a legacy of golden memories. What about for you? What are your goals?
After an early, misty morning trek to our favorite boulangerie for croissants and coffee, we decided that the best way to spend the weekend was at the beach. The husband and I have very opposing views of what constitutes a perfect day at the beach. I tend to be drawn to gloomy, stormy weather, relentless crashing waves and pelting rain. After an invigorating, brisk walk on the water’s edge, I look forward to the coziness of the beach cabin, with its crackling fire, mugs of hot coffee and cocoa, countless board games, and hours of staring at the incessant waves from the comfort of my wing chair, open book ignored in my lap.
The husband, on the other hand, wants scorching days where he can spread out his blanket and doze off to the lively chatter of kids playing in the sand and seagulls calling to each other. Later on, he wants to fly the kite with the kids, go in search of dripping ice cream cones, and have a game of beach volleyball, after which he’ll take another long nap.
But hey, we know a happy marriage takes a lot of work and compromise, so that’s exactly what we do.
The only clouds to be seen were far on the horizon, but the wind was picking up. We laid our blanket and bags down and the husband, sweatshirt zipped up, hood on, and went for a nap. I opened my book and started daydreaming. In another couple of weeks school would start, and shortly thereafter the preparations for the holidays.
And then the rain came in errant little plops at first, and then in great big ones. The mountain whose road we had meandered on, had donned a cap of foggy gray descending in waves, it seemed, down the side. We gathered our things and ran to our little cozy cabin where we quickly built a fire. Snuggled in our blankets, hot drinks in hand, we all agreed that we were in the perfect place to watch a summer storm push through.
In the last month, I have been to more weddings, parties, showers, birthday celebrations, family barbeques, dinners, and lunches than I have the entire year. With the exception of the winter holiday season, the months of July and August are spent hopping from one place to the next. Rarely a day goes by that we don’t go somewhere or see someone. And while it is tiring (and we are the only neighborhood family carrying our sleeping children from the car into the house at midnight), it is also great fun. Both hubby and I are sociable people who love to be around other sociable people every chance we get.
Yet I am reminded that my turn is coming. One way or another, I have to reciprocate. Today I spent a good portion of my free time looking over easy summer recipes for a dinner with family and friends that I’m to give in the next two weeks. I say easy, because I usually go for the complicated, only to find out halfway through that either the meal will never be ready in time for the guests’ arrival, or judging by how dry it is, it was ready a while back, and the only thing it’s good for now, is the garbage can.
Because hubby is a fabulous cook (who really should do all the cooking in our family), and I am good at delegating, I’ll give him the job of preparing the meal. I’ll do what I do best: selecting and arranging the flowers, staging various surfaces throughout the rooms for exquisite presentations of food, donning my favorite embroidered apron from my mother-in-law, arranging the sofas and chairs in a conducive conversation provoking sitting area, and so on.
With the crowd coming, I don’t need to stress in the least. Because they love us, they believe everything we do is spectacular (and I am not giving away the menu, after all, some of you readers will be there). Still, we aim to impress, if not our guests then at least each other. That’s just how it is when one’s married, I suppose.
I love the sound of trains at night. Sitting at the kitchen table with all three windows open, the curtains ruffling in the breeze, I listen to them, and to the nighttime stillness of the house, and feel so comforted. As a child we didn’t have an automobile. My parents didn’t need one as we lived in the city, and the tram and bicycles delivered us wherever we needed to go.
Every summer, as soon as school was out, our mom packed our suitcases and off we went to the countryside to spend our summers with Tanti Marie, our cousins, and the kids in her village. It was a six-hour train ride from our place to hers, mostly filled with anxiety over the summer-long separation from our parents, and worry that our elder cousins might have outgrown the wish to play with us. My sisters and I were the youngest of the bunch, and still very much interested in physical play, not talk, boys, or dress-up.
Despite the uncomfortable wood benches in our compartment, and the beauty of the red poppy fields flying by, the train would eventually lull us into a restless sleep until our mom would wake us urging to eat some of the chicken schnitzel she had prepared for the road. Because we were picky eaters, we needed to be bribed with candy. Sweets were a scarcity then, as was pretty much everything else, but somehow or other, our dad never failed to produce the most delicious candy for us. It was their hope that the fresh mountain air, and fresh cheese and milk would stimulate our appetite and upon our return we would be a few kilos heavier.
When the train pulled into the station closest to our destination we were overjoyed. Whatever trepidation we may have had up to that point was replaced with excitement by the promise of an entire summer of freedom and play. We couldn’t sit still for a moment. We were ready to shed our shoes and take off running.
Although the village was remote, and another half hour by bus from there, the air was different, almost pungently sharp to our unaccustomed city noses, and the country folk with their baskets returning home from the market in town, were loud and crude in their manner toward each other. There was a ton of winking and pinching going on, and we stared unabashedly fascinated, despite our mom’s urging to look out the window.
Tanti Marie welcomed us with her customary pink raspberry cake. To this day, it is the most scrumptious raspberry cake I have ever eaten, and sadly I will never know how to make it, as she had passed away before I had a chance to ask for the recipe. She served huge slices of it with fresh glasses of goat milk for the kids, and thick Turkish coffee for the adults. It was the first day of summer, in the most beloved home of my childhood.