Monday, October 24, 2016

Microblog Monday: Ask Again Later

Magic 8-Balls fall into the same category for me as Easy Bake Ovens: things I desperately wanted as a child but never had, because my parents found them frivolous.

Being the control freak that I am, maybe it's not surprising that I needed certainty from an early age, even if I knew, deep down, that it was unachieveable.  (There's something telling about the fact that the first appearance of a Magic 8-Ball was in a 1940 Three Stooges short, as if to say that seeing into the future is the stuff of slapstick.  And yet, only a few years later, the son of a clairvoyant filed a patent for the real thing, which drew the attention of Brunswick Billiards in 1950, and became the toy we all know and love.  I guess I'm not the only one who wants answers?)

Before we left Flemington, when I was out running with my daughter in the jogging stroller, I noticed a box of discarded toys at the curb.  And there, on the very top, was a Magic 8-Ball.

I picked it up, because I thought it would be fun for N. to play with as I was running (teaching her how to ask the right kinds of questions was a little challenging), and because, let's be honest, I wanted it for my office, where students often ask me questions that demand I have some ability to peer into the future.

I'd never noticed just how ingeniously the Magic 8-Ball mirrors our own inclinations.  Dreamers and optimists ask the Magic 8-Ball for things that they hope will happen, and 50% of the time, the 8-Ball responds with affirmation; 25% of the time, it responds with uncertainty (which might as well be hope); and 25% of the time, just to make it seem like chance is as work, it responds in the negative. Do pessimists ask pessimistically-phrased questions, I wonder? Some people (Mike Dooley of among them) would say we create the future we imagine.  The Magic 8-Ball would seem to agree.

One of my colleagues comes to check the Magic 8-Ball every day. She shakes it, but doesn't ask a question; she just looks for a general approach to the day.

Over the past few years, the world has seemed more and more unknown, unfathomable, unpredictable, precarious.  I don't know if that's because I'm older, and my world is wider, and I know more about how plans go awry; or because everything is shared so instantaneously that we feel the small ripples in the space-time continuum that we never felt before; or because the world itself is changing and becoming unpredictable.  I worry for the future: I worry about the rift between people in our nation that this presidential election has made painfully evident, I worry about the safety of my children (especially my daughter), I worry about refugees and immigrants, I worry about terrorism.  I hardly know what to ask the Magic 8-Ball, but I worry that when I do, it will say: Reply hazy try again.

Maybe it's the "try again" part I should focus on. Because really, that's the only certainty we have, isn't it?

This weekend I went to yoga at my old studio, and the focus of our practice was the story of Hanuman, devotee of the god Rama, who goes looking for Rama's love Sita, just as we go to look for truth.  What we find, through the practice of yoga--through not looking ahead but looking within, by staying still--is that the truth is always known, though just temporarily forgotten.  Something about this version of seeking and knowing feels more comforting, somehow, than shaking the Magic 8-Ball.

Did you ever have a Magic 8-Ball?  Would you want to see into the future if you could?

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read Mel's inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Homecoming, and Cinnamon Apple Cake

I stand in the kitchen, spoon deep in the batter. My oven is on, not for the first time, but for the first time that involves cake.  Tomorrow, I'd be pulling extra chairs into a living room that is now big enough to fit my entire book group.

There is something about the light, the space, the countertop filled with apples and flour and cinnamon and sugar, that makes me feel like yes, this is home.  And I am me again.  Not that I'd lost myself, exactly, but that a part of me had been missing.

There is room to dance in my kitchen now, too.  My daughter bops up and down as she pours ingredients together.   We turn up the music, and it echoes, partly because there are no rugs, partly because we may need more furniture.  It doesn't seem to bother anyone.

I don't have the right pan for this recipe, but I'm making do with a Bundt pan, and I don't worry about how things will turn out.

Two days later, I am cooking dinner, and it occurs to me that maybe we have enough for friends.  So I invite them over, on a whim.  They come, bearing wine, and guacamole, and chips.  What started as dinner becomes a party.

Two weeks later, after dinner, there are neighbor children in our yard, in the playhouse, chasing each other with flashlights, on a weeknight.  I lose track of them in the darkness, only to realize that they've reappeared on the other side of the house.  They flow in and out like water, as if they've been there all along.  When they have to go home for dinner, inexplicably, there are other neighbor children that replace them, having let themselves in, or come in with one of mine, appearing out of nowhere and entirely comfortable and welcome; they tumble upstairs where they are laughing and playing.

At some point, before children, after my own childhood, I imagined a parenthood like this, having a place where children come after school and eat cookies, but somehow a place that is also compatible with a full time job, a home that smells like baking cinnamon and sugar, where food is homemade when it can be.

Our house is not perfect.  There is a man in my bathroom today who has ripped out the shower walls because the crack in the floor led us to mold in the walls, in the insulation.  The doors don't all close all the way.  Things stick. Wood is rotten.  There were parts put together hastily.

Our house is not perfect.  I yell at my kids in the morning to move faster, try to motivate my son to work harder at his piano and trombone, sometimes feels like I'm juggling a schedule for our busy family that doesn't allow me time to grow or learn anything new.

Our house is not perfect.  I watch the news too much, and despair about Syria and the election and hurricanes and poverty and racism and senseless killing of people who never deserved to die.

But our house smells like apples and cinnamon sometimes, and it's warm, and children play there and feel welcome without being invited, and friends come, and we can be spontaneous, and there is space for everyone, and there are moments when this house feels like home.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
The recipe is originally Smitten Kitchen's, though it also seems, if you read the comments on that post, to belong to everyone.  I almost didn't try it because I didn't have the right pan, but I thought it worth a shot, given that it had worked for so many others.  I've since bought a tube pan, and they both work fine. I love bulletproof recipes.

6 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into 1" chunks
1 T. cinnamon
5 T. sugar
2 3/4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. vegetable oil (or other oil of your choice)
2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. orange juice
2 1/2 t. vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. If you have a tube pan, grease it; I used a Bundt pan.

Toss the apples with cinnamon and 5 T. sugar; set aside.

Stir together the dry ingredients (through salt) in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (through eggs). Gently fold wet ingredients completely into dry ones (don't overmix!).

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples (and their juices) over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. (I started at the shorter end and kept going until the batter under the apples was dry.)

Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.
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