NYC, There’s Something About Ya’

The Best Weekend! I told my family that, for my BIG birthday, I wanted to wake up with my loves in a place we’d never adventured together before. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations and landed on: New York City.

How does a nature-loving, bookish homebody—easily overwhelmed and edgy in crowded cities and cold weather—choose November in the Big Apple as a celebration destination?

Because: art, architecture, design, history, science, technology, culture, music, food.

Because: The Met. The Guggenheim. Central Park. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. Broadway. Times Square. Rockefeller Center. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Terminal.

Because: a life well lived is all about trying new things and making memories.

Any travel adventure comes with its own set of misadventures. Ours included: an unheated and less than clean AirBnB; an Uber ride with a non-English speaking driver and the app insisting that, instead of the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal, we really must visit a dentist (tip: choose Lyft); and a reservations mix-up that meant finding a day-of one-night hotel room in Manhattan—on a budget—for five people (grateful for The Stewart Hotel across from Madison Square Gardens for making it work!).

Still, we laughed and played and explored, walking on average ten miles daily. The City may never sleep, but from personal experience, people must: we collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each long day.

On my actual birthday, we started with The Met (The Temple of Dendur—an actual Egyptian temple order by Caesar Augustus; Greek and Roman antiquities; Tiffany glass; Rodin sculptures; 19th and 20th century European paintings; something breathtaking in every direction), then strolled through Central Park (fall colors and crunchy leaves underfoot, a perfectly sunny/crisp fall day).

Next up was The Guggenheim (surprisingly different Kandinsky’s), after which Guy made reservations at Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant where I had the best cauliflower of my life, za’atar roasted and topped with pesto. From there we took the subway to The Empire State Building, and ended my just about perfect day with artisanal ice cream at Kaylee’s Creamery (another surprise: black sesame seed vegan ice cream—tastes like slightly salty-unusual nut butter).

I won’t bore you with site-by-site blows, but a few highlights:

Looking for a show to appeal to all of us, we saw Wicked. Making her Broadway debut, Hannah Corneau kills it as Elphaba. And we have a list of shows we’ll see when they come to the West Coast.

Carlo’s Bakery, made increasingly famous by Buddy the Cake Boss from TLC, is an easy walk from Times Square and has truly delicious (though not cheap) pastries. We had a cannoli in Little Italy that couldn’t compare.

The American Museum of Natural History does not look like the set from A Night at the Museum. And if you’ve visited some world class zoos, the stuffed animals will disappoint (I cringed as one mom, taking a picture of the White Rhinoceroses, said to her daughters: “Look, girls, White Rhinosaurs!”). But they do have a one-page movie-based guide to seeing the exhibits you expect, including the Easter Island statue. I expected this museum to be our kids’ favorite; it wasn’t.

The Met won hands down for all of us. So much so that we went back for a second visit; so glad, because we’d missed a whole section of 19th century European masters (my favorites), including Monet and Van Gogh.

For tourist sites, City Pass is the way to go. Save your money and skip the lines.

I wanted all good memories of my 50th birthday trip: mission accomplished! I’m still not a converted big city gal and, admittedly, we experienced perfect fall weather, not NYC’s  muggy-heat or frigid-cold extremes. But now that I’ve been, I get it: the Big Apple tastes sweet. NYC cast its enchantments over all of us, and I expect we’ll be back sooner than later.

Note: I unplug when I travel, so the next few days my IG feed will be filled with trip highlights. Follow me to see more: @sivricketts.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

It’s my birthday month, and I’m celebrating a milestone: a half-century of my life.

Years ago, I roller skated to Kool and the Gang’s song, Celebrate:

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Current mood: bring your laughter and celebrate with me!

The year C20 turned 1, Guy and I turned 30 a few weeks before and after. From November through January, we enjoyed a tiny treat every day for seven weeks. In advance, we made a list of daily celebrations, like a post-dinner walk, a candy cane in our hot chocolate, an afternoon at the park or the zoo. Simple celebrations gave us something to look forward to each day and added so much joy.

I haven’t celebrated my birthday in three years. In 2016, when my birthday fell on the day after the presidential election, I gave myself the gift of stillness; I turned off WiFi, tuned out the world, and spent the day in solitude.

On a whim, I also deleted my birthday from Facebook. A year later I learned not to underestimate the power of social media as most people forgot my birthday.

To be clear, I’m not having an actual party. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal. As a child, I cried when my friends sang Happy Birthday to me. Instead, my family is preparing for an adventure together (more on that afterwards). But I’m ready to receive all the love and to celebrate for the next seven weeks: 50, 21, 50!

Let’s go for a walk or grab coffee. Send me a birthday card telling me how I’ve made your life a little brighter. I will happily enjoy gifts: flowers, bubbly, jewelry (wink, wink). Or make a donation to your favorite charity and tell me why you support their cause.

One of the best gifts you can give me: follow my blog! And please share freely and widely anything I write that strikes a chord with you.

As I celebrate this milestone birthday, I’ve also made a significant turn in my career path. And in order to catch the notice of those who matter in these regards (agents/publishers), I need followers on my blog and social media accounts. Your quick clicks to follow/share could make a big difference, and hopefully what I write adds something meaningful to your life.

I recently reread Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Circle of Quiet. What I first read at 21yo held different nuances as I approach the age at which Madeleine wrote it. For obvious reasons, this passage stood out:

So my hope, each day as I grow older, is that this will never be simply chronological aging–which is a nuisance and frequently a bore…but that I will also grow into maturity, where the experience which can be acquired only through chronology will teach me how to be more aware, open, unafraid to be vulnerable, involved, committed…to understand that I cannot take myself seriously until I stop taking myself seriously–to be, in fact, a true adult.

My mom says that I first laughed at seven weeks old. Most babies don’t laugh until four months old, but there I was, belly laughing on the floor as I gazed at my mom’s New Year’s Eve beehive hairdo, which of course made my parents laugh in response. As I grow into what Madeleine calls, “a true adult,” I’m hoping to take myself less seriously. To be, to laugh, and to celebrate life.

[As I wrote this post, a package arrived on my doorstep containing this candle, a beautiful gift from a thoughtful friend living too far away. This one is called Begin Again, perfect for where I am in life. I’m positively tickled at the serendipitous timing…]

Meatless Monday – Rum Cake

I had planned to make a “healthy” dessert for Guy’s birthday, an Orchard Crumble–after the main event, we could eat leftovers for breakfast. Unfortunately, from Sunday to Monday the pears went from perfectly soft to rotten-brown-inedible and I had to switch to Plan B: rum cake. [Note: this cake was originally based on Bacardi’s recipe, but the changes are all mine]rum-cake

You can make this cake with either yellow or chocolate cake mix. This was the first time I’ve used chocolate, but that’s what I had in the cupboard. I can now heartily say–either way, just so much yum!

This was also the first time I made it vegan and, happily, still yum! In fact, I learned something: instant pudding mix is vegan. Surprising, since most likely you’d buy Jello brand and one would think Jello products contain gelatin, but the ingredients list does not contain gelatin or dairy.

Also interesting, I didn’t have instant pudding mix, so I subbed two mashed bananas and still no problemo. Next time I might use the pudding mix and sub bananas or unsweetened applesauce for the oil, more fruit making this decadent deliciousness a smidgen healthier without changing the flavor. Oh, but I also added about 1/3 cup of non-dairy dark chocolate chips, so forget any notion of “healthy” happening here.

It will look like way too much glaze, but it will soak in, I promise. And the longer it soaks, the better. Not as healthy as Orchard Crumble, but I have had house guests request leftovers for breakfast! 

Rum Cake

Cake:
1 c chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts
1 18-1/2 ounce yellow or chocolate cake mix
1 1-3/4 ounce (4-serving size) instant vanilla or chocolate pudding mix
4 flax eggs (1 Tbsp flax meal + 3 Tbsp water per “egg”)
½ c cold non-dairy milk
½ c vegetable oil
½ c dark rum
1/3 c non-dairy dark chocolate chips (optional)

Glaze:
½ c non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
¼ c water
½ c sugar
2 Tbsp agave nectar
½ c dark rum

Cake: Prepare flax eggs and set aside. Preheat oven to 325, and grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan. Combine all cake ingredients. Beat for 2 minutes on high with electric mixer. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan. Invert on serving plate.

Glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water, sugar, and agave. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum. The rum will cause steam. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Prick top with fork. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Use brush or spoon to put extra dripping back on cake. Enjoy!

Meatless Monday – Birthday Mac & Cheese

The one who made me a mama was turning 18. Because his birthday gift is a 3-day trip to an out-of-town concert venue with family + seven teenage friends over New Year’s (yes, we might be nuts, but we also have a lot of experience chaperoning teens…), we decided to have a celebration dinner at home. And because on his Thursday birthday he had rugby practice while Brother had a band concert, we made Sunday his birthday dinner.

He asked for homemade mac & cheese.mac-n-cheese

And because he will only turn 18 once and I have only this year leaned hard into a (mostly) plant-based diet, I gave him what he asked for.

Not only that, but between four different lunch requests between three people and several courses for dinner, I cooked for five hours and made nine different recipes: boxed mac & cheese with veggie dogs for Tween; a big salad and a tuna melt for Teen; spicy coconut noodles for me; homemade mac & cheese, veggie meatballs, and coleslaw for dinner, and orchard crumble for dessert; and–since I opened a can of tomato sauce but only used 3 Tbsp–enchilada sauce which would provide the base for two more weeknight dinners.

Food is most definitely one of the key’s to this young man’s heart! (Not to mention the traditional gingerbread pancakes and homemade applesauce he devoured for his birthday breakfast…)

This has been a big week in our lives: Thursday he became a legal adult. Friday Guy and I designed a congratulatory ad for his high school yearbook (and yes, I cried just a little, admitting to myself that there is no one else on this planet with whom I have such a unique relationship). Saturday he got his first job (other than kid-, pet- or house-sitting): for almost eight hours of absolute downpour, he stood outside and helped people select and attach their Christmas trees to vehicles; Guy had to take him not one but two dry changes of clothes (he even stole the shoes Guy had on!), and he did it all with a big smile and great attitude. And today, four days into his nineteenth year, he found out that he got accepted to his #1 college choice: Colorado State University at Fort Collins, where he will study Wildlife Biology and play rugby. And yes, I cried just a little more. He even let me hug and kiss him more than once this evening as the news sinks in…

Go rams!

Go rams!

So, yes, I made him exactly what he asked for and more. How many more birthday dinners will I have the privilege of cooking for him?

Macaroni & Cheese

¼ c red onion, diced
1 ½ c elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat mac)
3 T margarine
3 T flour
2 c milk
½ t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 c sharp cheddar cheese
Bread crumbs (mix w/ a little extra cheese & Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute)

Boil the macaroni according to package directions.

Warm small amount of oil (veggie or olive) in a sauté pan, then sauté onions until tender. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, melt margarine and blend in flour. Add milk, cook, and stir until thick. Add salt, pepper, and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Mix sauce with macaroni and onions and put in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Notes:
I use one large stock pot to cook onions and make mac & cheese.
You don’t have to use oil to cook onion; you can sub a tablespoon of water if onions start to stick.
The roux (margarine, flour, milk) always looks like it won’t work, and it always does. Seriously, it has never failed me. Just keep stirring and breaking up flour clumps by pressing them with a wooden spoon against the pot.

 

 

Be Still…

happy_birthday-8

“Stillness can be an adventure,” says Pico Iyer, and so on my birthday I gave myself the gift of stillness.

I left my phone on airplane mode and turned off my email. No news, no social media.
I went for a longer-than-usual run.
I gave myself a mani-pedi.
I lit a candle, sipped a cup of tea, and prayed.
I listened to calming music.
I read and wrote, my job but reframed today as my work-at-home retreat.
I smelled the roses and lifted my face to the warming sun.
I took deep breaths.

Of late the world has been particularly noisy. Beyond the normal seasonal work-and-life stress, global conflict and racial strife explode from gun barrels; politicians and their supporters shout in lieu of dialogue; and under our own roof, the extra of one kid applying to college while another struggles for health… One can only take in so much.

The antidote: stillness. And gratitude.

No year in a life can be perfect, even perfectly easy. This year had its trials, but in so many ways, this has been a good year in my life.

I initiated the Create Challenge on my blog, a source of encouragement and inspiration that has also connected me with people in new ways.
I started running, so unlikely it still makes me laugh.
I didn’t quit, despite set-backs.
I took on new work challenges with confidence.
I preached a summer Sunday sermon.
I have made good progress on a personal creative project.
I have friends and family who love me and a job that fulfills me.
Life is good, and stillness helps me to hear its goodness above the clamor.

I jotted down this quote from Kate Atkinson’s book, A God in Ruins, because it spoke to my need for stillness: “The last thing she wanted was people looking for her. No, that wasn’t true—the last thing she wanted was people finding her.”

I want to be looked for—I want people to need me and enjoy my company. And I want to be found. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we can have a party, a loud celebration. For today, I trust that those who love me will appreciate my self-gift of self-care. Thank you for your patience with me as I extend patience to myself.

Stillness has been both solace and struggle (how to still the hum of shattered nerves?). It took time and effort to stay put, to keep at it, to avoid easy distractions. I carefully guarded my daylight hours and, in so doing, I completed a major project in record time while also receiving a different measure of quiet rest. Like any discipline, any adventure worth having, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I might just do it again, sooner than later.worth-it

Birthday

The year I turned seven my mom made a beautiful Doll Cake for my birthday party. She stuck a Barbie-type doll torso into a dome cake which she decorated with frosting rosettes.

Something like this...

Something like this…

I ran and laughed together with my friends in my Backyard Birthday Party. Later we sat around the dining table, all eyes admiring the cake in its center, until someone (probably my mom) starting singing, “Happy Birthday.”

“Stop,” I whispered, then again with more force.

The girls kept right on singing while I crawled under the table and cried.

I’m sure I had a piece of cake, but I don’t remember it. The overriding memory from that party is feeling awkward as the center of attention.

That was long before “introvert” entered my vocabulary and became part of my self-understanding. One of my many introvert dilemmas continues to be how to receive love, which requires being seen, when focused attention sometimes feels uncomfortable.

Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me speak publicly, and I look so comfortable.

Yes, and no.

You don’t see the hours and hours I put into crafting Every Single Word. You don’t see me reading my manuscript under my breath time and again until I have it just about memorized. You don’t see me visualizing all going well, and the prayer that undergirds each step. You don’t see the hours of solitude that precede and follow the speaking event.

And then, when I speak publicly I have Something to Share, and guaranteed I’m not there if I don’t. I will never volunteer for improv night or karaoke. “Extemporaneous” will never describe me.

After returning from our honeymoon, some of my co-workers who had been unable to attend the wedding joined me to watch our wedding video. One boldly asked, “What is that look on your face? I’ve never seen it.”

She was right: I smiled, overjoyed to be walking down the aisle to my Love. But the pressure of All Eyes on Me while I walked down the Longest Aisle Ever, well, it warped my smile. Apparently I have my own unique “everyone is looking at me” smile. Great…

Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me at parties, and I look so comfortable.

Yes, and no.

I love a good party! I love the decorations, food and drink, the company. At least, I love talking To You, yes, You, Standing Right Here. If/when we run out of things to talk about, I will choke down panic. Small talk, and even worse, maneuvering from person to person remain skills I haven’t mastered, and my constant prayer is that I don’t look as awkward as I feel. Safely at home later, I will crash. I will then wake in the Wee Hours to mull over Every Word of Every Conversation until daylight creeps under the window shades. It will take me at least a day to recover.

A Party is one thing; My Party is altogether different. Some days, though, being loved really is about receiving it whether or not people plan with your quirks in mind. This birthday I had a morning meeting. One friend stood to hug me as another friend set out cake and people began to sing. I whispered under my breath, “As a little girl I crawled under the table when people sang to me.” She held her arm around me and whispered, “So did my daughter,” and squeezed a little tighter.

Safe in her embrace, I smiled. If anyone took a picture, I’m sure I could show you my “everyone is looking at me” smile. And I enjoyed the cake.

Transitions

Eleven years ago today this Beautiful Boy was born:

1 week old

1 week old

His brother wasn’t yet three years old when we began praying/hoping/trying for Baby #2, and it took twice as long for this one’s arrival on Planet Earth (+prayers, tears, too-many doctor visits, pain, and money). His brother was 5 1/2 years old when Lil’ Guy surprised us with his five-weeks-early arrival; his brother said, “Oh, yay! I needed someone to play with today!”

5-9 Q and Dene-OMy dad held our New One for the first time at Four Days Old. Lil’ Guy had jaundice; so did Dad. They kind of match, if you look closely. Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer not long after I discovered I was at-last pregnant. He lived for fifteen+ months with a cancer that kills too many in about three months.

[Just so we’re clear, this post is harder to write than most…]

I worked hard to capture this pout!

I worked hard to capture this pout!

Lil’ Guy is all Lovebug, snuggles and sweetness, joy and smiles, laughter and exuberance. Honestly, I’m cracking up just looking at that attempt at a grumpy face, especially because I know only a moment later he cracked up with sillies and tickles and pounce-on-Mommy goobers.

Today he is 11 years old. This morning he left for school-sponsored Science Camp, a sleep-away camp for the next four nights. Yup, he will sleep away from home on his birthday for the first time at 11 years old. I slept away from home on my birthday for the first time at 18 years old and, even then, I thought it something of an injustice. What, the whole world doesn’t stop for my birthday? You’ve got to be kidding me, I have a mid-term exam On My Birthday? Egads!

As parents, we tried to bill this week as: “The Biggest and Best Birthday Party EVER!”

Tween is smart, creative, talented (you should hear him play trumpet!), devoted, funny, loving, sweet, sensitive, peacemaking, willful, and a little bit sassy: of late, as he steps into this new stage, I call him my “sassy sapling.”

This year has been odd: Teen growing into the independence of mid-adolescence, increasing amounts of friend-time and driving; and Tween rounding the corner towards Middle School. I have been aware since August that my Baby is almost done with what we call “Childhood.” I’ve ached with it all year, almost like the groans of pregnancy.

Q social

Tween + friends, discussing “Life.”

Ten years ago today Dad slipped into Eternity. Ten years ago last night my siblings and I slept over at my parents’ house, our childhood home. Actually we’d had a several-nights’-sleepover; Night 1 of which involved sipping wine and telling stories late into the wee hours. Did we expect Dad to go in our midst? Maybe. I wish someone had turned on a video camera, as we told stories and extended grace to one another like I’ve never experienced before or since, our individual and complimentary gifts magnified by the light of life and death. In the middle of the night Dad made it clear he wanted a sip, too, so we brought him a glass of wine and a straw, and held it to his mouth. Always a pleasure-seeker, I hope he enjoyed it.

So Yes, Tween’s birthday is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death, which makes today stranger than strange.

I have the coffee mug from Dad’s local coffee shop, which I had made for him, emblazoned with his name. After a too-long hiatus from his own visits to the shop, obviously due to health issues they didn’t know, I picked up his mug for him and he was thrilled to have it back for a time. For nine years I sipped morning coffee from his mug on May 4th (Tween’s birthday/Dad’s passing) and October 15th (Dad’s birthday).

Ten years makes a difference.

Today, I did not completely fall to pieces.
Today, I chose not to sip from Dad’s coffee mug; I can drink from Dad’s mug on his birthday, or other days, but maybe not during the celebration of Tween’s birthday. I did, however, drink a margarita in Dad’s honor.
Today, I saw Tween off to camp, had a second cup of coffee, and treated myself to a seat in my stylist’s chair.
Today, I honored my dad for his strengths and weaknesses.
Today, I waved “Hello!” from this new stage of life – a whole new era of life and parenting, this ‘new’ church and town and house and community… How my dad would have loved where we are now, who we have become in this place/decade of life!

My dad didn’t get to meet his most recent three grandchildren; he met but didn’t get to know the two before that. All of these children are delightful and amazing and full-of-life. Dad would have loved them and (probably) grumped at them at least a little, as was his way.

Q rock toss

Hey, Dad, these kids are Day-Glow, glow-in-the-daylight-and-dark fluorescent-brilliant. And you paved their way. They’ve heard stories – you riding horseback between San Diego’s mountains and beaches; you flying planes the world-over. They love your city, they get where you came from even if they see it only in glimpses. They skip rocks as I’m sure you did in your day.

Today, I appreciate that Dad waves back at us more often than we know. Cheers, Dad! The future looks bright.