I'll Never Write a Novel

The Memoir of a Personal Essayist OR Confessions of a Theatre Widow

Monday, May 02, 2016

Per Ardua

I have no idea why, but the phrase, "Per Ardua" popped into my head at bedtime with the kids. It had been a little bit of an emotional afternoon/evening for a variety of reasons and getting all settled in was tricky, but we got it done. I have a love/hate relationship with bedtime. There is a lot of magic and a lot of drama. Kids sometimes rise to the occasion, and sometimes collapse under the weight. Same goes for the parents.
But all through the last of the nighttime rituals I kept thinking "Per Ardua." A phrase hung on something from my youth. It was about more than bedtime. It was a message. I finally sat down and as I typed it, I remembered where I know if from, The McEntee Clan coat of arms!
It means, "Through Struggle," and is often followed by the phrase, "To the Stars" (ad astra). I thought about what my family has been through, and it all kind of made sense. And it also reminded me of my favorite verse of the Bible, Romans 5, an excerpt here from verses 3-5. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I recently wrote that I had a pretty blissful childhood. And I did. But, as in any garden, the roses do wilt. I love my beautiful garden in all of the seasons. And I appreciate the struggles that build from season to season.
We have seen some struggle. It has given us endurance, character, and hope. I have seen what it is to make it through the struggle to the stars. Per Ardua.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2 X 2

I just got back from a walk around my neighborhood. I live in a truly beautiful place. It was a perfect day and I came back feeling like a million bucks (side note: this is TR's current favorite phrase).

This walk has prompted some wild, endorphin-induced commitment to walking two miles every day for the next two weeks, 2 X 2. I told my husband about this. He said, "I'm going to hold you to it." Then, I saw the Pioneer Woman's post about giving away a free FitBit and made my comment in giveaway post (fingers crossed) with the same proclamation.

This might be an task since I don't usually even take five minutes to do my make-up on a regular basis. I am not out of shape. This is something I can accomplish if I make the time for it. Make. the. Time.

So, now I am here with another claim that I will do this. Yikes. But, I have to do this. I will never run a marathon, or a half-marathon, or anything of the sort. I have bad knees, mild asthma, fibromyalgia, and, quite honestly, a general aversion to running. But, I like to walk. And I can do it. And I live in a beautiful place. Walking makes me feel good. So, it would be awesome if I actually followed through on this.

See you around the neighborhood.

Monday, September 08, 2014

On College Selection

The other night my family gathered together for dinner. It was awesome. The food was delicious, but to have all my siblings in one place was beyond any culinary pleasure. I love my family. In the midst of the chaos that is dinner for six siblings, spouses, and dozens of kids of the next generation, I got a chance to chat with my oldest nephew. He is 17. SEVENTEEN. I remember holding him when he was a newborn. I treasure him. Because he is a treasure. He is looking at colleges now because he is a senior in high school. Good gracious.

He is a smart kid, as nice as they come, and has been raised well. He will do exceptionally well at college, no matter where he goes. We were discussing everything that goes into the process of picking a university. Location, programs, campus vibe, etc. He has visited a lot of campuses so far. He had strong impressions of the feeling he got from the people he met, and his sense for what kind of school it is. I shared with him that I never visited my university before choosing to go there. That's craziness. Bonkers. I grew up under a half hour drive from my college and I had never set foot on the campus until I had already enrolled.

Who does that?

What I ended up telling my awesome nephew is this: I knew I was supposed to be there. And I encouraged him to confidently decide that he knows where he is supposed to be.

I am an indecisive person. Just ask my frequently annoyed husband. I mull over things far beyond their mulling point. It is hard for me to make a final choice without feeling like I have thoroughly studied all my options. Did I say thoroughly? I won't make a decision on a block of cheese at the supermarket without consulting my Just4U app, and maybe some circulars, and definitely by comparing price per pound with all the other cheeses. But I made a very expensive, life altering, incredibly important decision without every last ounce of detail on board. And I was right. I also told my nephew that if he hated where he picked, he can always switch. People do that. Successful people do that. The world is full of opportunities.

I adore my college. My love for it is profound. It fully helped me realize the direction of my life. My husband and I met our first weekend on campus, and married while still students. I saw my skills and gifts blossom under the encouragement of great mentors on what is a truly beautiful campus, as it turns out. And the people, all the people, are wonderful. I am so grateful for my incredible friends made there. It is a very special place. In my current gig on the Alumni Board for the university we hear presentations from the admissions office. They talk about the importance of campus visits in student decision-making, I sometimes wonder why I am different from all those other students. And I am so happy I knew where I was headed.

The same might be said for my decision to get married while in college. To be clear, I might tell my nephew he's crazy if he says he met "the one" within his first week of college. My husband and I met within the first two days at college (although we didn't actually start dating till our sophomore year). By the time we got married we had heard every question under the sun from people trying to ascertain whether we were sure we knew what we were doing. Most people thought we were crazy. And maybe we were. But I couldn't have chosen a better match, and I might not have found him if I had picked a different college. All I can say for my wishes for my nephew's college choice is I hope he isn't too far from home, but only he knows what's right for him (I have been gently trying to persuade him to pick my university). I just cling to the hope that I will get lots more times to sneak away for good conversations at family dinners. Another thing I am 100% positive of is that my nephew is a great person, the kind of guy I hope my boys grow up to be like. No additional research necessary.

My campus at Pacific Lutheran University. See, beautiful.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Sometimes I refer to myself as being lazy. This is not accurate. I am a hard worker. My dad once told me that he thought my husband and I were there hardest working couple he'd ever seen. At one point in college I was taking a full course load while working five jobs. Hard work does not scare me. However, I occasionally find some great shortcuts so that I can either A) enjoy life more, or B) find ways to finish one thing so I can get moving to something else.

I love to cook and bake. I am not the fastest at this. Any time I see one of those reality cooking shows where there is a time limit imposed on contestants I know, with every fiber of my being, that I could never finish on time. Some of it is economy of time. I am a clean as I go kind of person. I don't like a pile of dishes at the end and I don't like to cook in a mess. Baking is therapy for me. I like the rhythm and the product, and it makes me uneasy to feel rushed. All of this being said, I do like to keep my style rustic. I don't want to spend unnecessary time on fussing over something when my goal is mostly to make something just taste great. Simplicity is the key.

So, what if I told you that you can make fantastic, crazy-delicious chocolate chip cookies without painstaking process of scooping many mounds and without waiting to load trays in the oven? Well, perhaps born out of laziness, or the need to get to the rest of my busy life faster, I have created a recipe for Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies. Make the dough, spread it in the pan, then you bake just the one pan of cookies and you are done. I mean, these are GREAT cookies, made all the better by how simple they are. Huzzah!

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

1 cup oats, pulverized with a pastry cutter (or food processor) till coarsely ground

2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces (or 1 package) chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I like a mix of chocolate chips and chunks, some semi-sweet and some dark chocolate. I feel strongly that variety is the spice of life)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9x13 pan and set aside.
Combine dry ingredients (first five, thru salt) in a bowl.
In a stand mixer, or in a bowl suited for a hand mixer, cream together butter and sugars till creamy and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and combine till blended. Add in dry ingredients in 2-3 additions. Mix till combined, but not over mixed. Add chocolate chips and stir in with spatula or wooden spoon. Chill for at least ten minutes.
Put chilled batter in buttered 9x13 pan and bake .for about 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and just done in the center.

I assume this goes without saying, but you can now cut into as many squares or bars as you see fit. I suppose this could be just two bars, if you want. I won't tell.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It's All Temporary

School started on Wednesday. I now have a second grader. And my biggest little man officially begins a five-day school week in Pre-K. I feel tempted to say that this, this life of kids always off to school, is how it will be now and forever. As more of my buddies head off to school it feels like this is all I will know. But, it's not, not really. The beginning of the school year is just a reminder that this is all temporary.

When summer began I mused, "What am I going to do all day, every day, with all three kids home?" I thought, "This is going to last forever!" But, quick as a wink, summer is over, and a new school year begins. And, as it turns out, this is the only time that will be just like this.

This is TR's only year in Pre-K. What a year of firsts and discoveries this is. It heralds greater independence and a genuine understanding of what it is to still be little. Seeing him make his first art project with his classmates was precious and classically TR. Asked to draw a self portrait, he promptly grabbed scissors, cut off the corners of the page, squeezed out some glue, made a mini sculpture of four scraps at the center of the page, quickly colored around them, and looked on with pride. All the while, the other kids who were following the standard rules, coloring with the given colors, as per the directions, looked on with awe and surprise. My problem solver found a new, unique, inventive way to solve for the task at hand, as usual.

This is G's only year in second grade, which is an incredibly special year for kids at her Catholic school. This year is filled with intellectual and monumental spiritual learning. I feel like that is a real gift to my little girl who will excel at the spiritual part, as she always does. It will motivate her at times she might struggle. I am grateful for that. She talks a lot about feeling like she is called to be a saint. We talked about this with a priest friend of ours recently. His advice to a seven-year-old for how to be a saint, "Do everything you love, just invite Jesus along." Her First Communion opens the door for her to do that in a new way, and she will love it. And I will love watching it. And it will only happen once for her first time. Then this moment will be gone, as everything is fleeting.

This is my special time with my two and a half year old pumpkin. Everyone calls him Barley, but he is just my baby. Barley isn't sure he wants to have all this time without his big playmates and best friends home. But a little solo time might be just what he needs as he rolls through this magical stage. More likely, it's just what I need. Then, this time next fall, he will start nursery school. Everyone will get dropped off at 8:20. And I have no idea what will happen next. For now, he's still all mine. For now.

Summer begins and summer ends. Each school year comes and then it goes. First grade, lost teeth, first loves, heartbreaks, all here and gone.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a mama friend in New York when we both had little kids and were pregnant again. We talked about how important it is to treasure these seasons, and also to have the perspective that it's all temporary. You aren't pregnant forever, for better and worse. Labor always end, eventually. You do not have a teeny, tiny newborn for all your days, even when it feels like it through days of lost sleep and sweet-smelling heads. You are not in the throes of potty training forever. You don't have a three-year-old forever (full disclosure, I think three is the hardest and most magical). When I meet a mama, particularly in those last days of pregnancy, I try to remind her that she will eventually have a baby in her arms and that labor is incredibly hard work, but you have to remind yourself that it WILL END. And the reward is awesome. It is purposeful. As I cross more milestones in parenthood, and in life, I keep learning this lesson. It is all temporary, and it is all the better when you live it with purpose.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a famous chapter talking about the change of seasons. It is oft quoted, inspired the song "Turn, Turn, Turn," and even people who don't read the Bible know it. It begins "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." And as it goes, there is a time to born, a time to die; A time to reap and a time to sow, and so on... There is a great payoff if you keep reading:

"What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

God lasts forever, but everything else comes and goes. But to find joy, satisfaction, and purpose in each of these fleeting seasons, that is a gift. Sometimes the satisfaction may simply be knowing that the toughest of times don't last forever. And how much greater the joy is in times "to be happy and do good while we live."

Of course, I love that part of Life's great gifts is to eat and drink. Exactly. Here's to treasuring the things that matter and letting go of what doesn't, in this moment and all the ones to come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chocolate Swirled Banana Bread

I posted a photo of this banana bread on Facebook, and it turns out people wanted the recipe. So, I guess that means I should write it down. In fact, I am starting to think I should be writing a lot of recipes down. 

I used to follow recipes religiously. I never thought of myself as a creative or smart enough baker or cook to tell people how to make something delicious. But, I sort of love the things I make, and maybe others will too. I write recipes rustically, as if they are being passed to you by word of mouth, almost. I read an interesting analysis recently saying that recipes are written much more complexly and overly described than they were a generation or two ago. It was assumed that you learned to cook and bake in the shadow of a mom, a grandma, or a mentor. Now people buy beautiful cookbooks but have never cooked side by side with someone who has been standing in front of a stove for a few decades. So, now instead of a dash of this and stir till just blended you get 1 scooped and leveled off Cup plus a Tablespoon of something, or remove from oven with mitts and cool before eating. Thanks for letting me know. So much burning if I hadn't gotten a heads up.

I was lucky to bake by my mom's side. I don't remember studying recipes with her but I absolutely remember how she measured shortening in a Pyrex measuring cup, balancing water against the volume of Crisco being added. I know her shortbread had brown sugar despite the fact that no written recipe exists anywhere in her things left behind. I studied and tried recipes till I figured it out. But I knew where to start. She taught me all the important things, and that statement isn't limited to baking.

And my start for this recipe has family ties, too. My sister Aileen shared this recipe with me. I doctored it a bit and here you have it, in my version. She's a great pal to bake side by side with. More gifts my my mom gave me.

Chocolate Swirled Banana Bread

3-4 overripe bananas
1 & 1/2 C. Flour (you can do 1/2 whole wheat for a slightly heartier texture)
½ C Brown Sugar (you can use less if you don't want it too sweet)
¼ C Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
dash of salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 C. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
Handful of chocolate chips of your choosing

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

2. Mash bananas in a large bowl.  Add flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and egg.

3.  Melt butter in microwave, add to the bowl, and stir until just blended.

4. Melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave or over double boiler.

5.  Pour half of batter into greased loaf pan. Put ¾ of melted chocolate on top of batter. Swirl with knife or toothpick. Pour remaining batter on top. Put last of melted chocolate on top. Swirl with knife or toothpick. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

This recipe is great for variations. I often add a half teaspoon of cinnamon, good cocoa powder, etc. One variation I hear is great is to omit the chocolate and sub in blueberries and lemon juice. It also bakes well in a 9 x 9 pan and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Holy Thursday

What would you do if you knew you only had one day left to live? This is a common philosophical, very human question people often ask. And for some reason this Holy Thursday it struck me that Holy Thursday and venturing into Good Friday, is Jesus' answer to this query. He sets an example for who we are called to be, in all the most human and truly divine ways. Part of Jesus' answer is stunningly in line with my answers. Another part is a challenge, I think, to what we think of as our time on Earth.

Now, of course, we should recall that Jesus knew he would rise from the dead. But, it is a great mystery now, as it was then, what exactly that would look like. Jesus is transformed. He is "new" in resurrection, so part of Him truly dies on the cross. He is not the same. And, thankfully, we are all not the same because of it. But the point of clarity here is that the future is unknown, but Jesus was aware that time was fleeting. Suffering and death were unavoidable. This is universal truth.

When I think about what I would do with my final hours, I am certain that I would gather everyone around a large table and have good food and drink. Honestly, this is my dream for how to spend every Thursday (or Friday or Monday or... you get the idea). It sometimes catches me off guard how very Catholic I am at my very core. It has thoroughly imbued every aspect of my life in all the best ways. But there are things that surprise me when my eyes are opened to the connections. I dream of a huge dining table to have all my loved ones over and feed them. My husband and I have always lived in small places. And I am so grateful to have a roof over my head and a cozy home that I try not to beg for more. But, I eventually dream of a home that accommodates a giant table right at the center. And, I realized while at funeral yesterday, as the priest gestured toward the altar, that I have spent so much of my life gathered at the largest table. It has been the example set so beautifully at church, and so perfectly by my Irish Catholic mom at home. I want to have the table to invite others to. And, even in my small home, I have done it. And it is what Jesus does on Holy Thursday. He invites all of His closest friends. He offers them food, drink, and Himself. Surrounded by friends and memories, Jesus begins his journey. An example I understand and gladly follow.

The challenge he sets is that, with his last moments, Jesus serves others. Jesus washes feet. He serves others at the table, not waiting to be served. He gives completely of Himself. If you knew you only had one day to live, would you spend it washing other people's feet? It is not that I do not understand it. I want to make this life one about giving back and touching lives before I move onto the next life. I hope to do this in this life anyway. But if I knew I was down to 24 hours, would I volunteer to scrub someone else's stinky toes? People often talk about their "Bucket List." How many of these lists involve an activity of that kind of profound, personal service? I challenge myself to add this if I ever get around to making a bucket list.

The last way Jesus dedicates his time in his final hours is prayer. Aren't we all called to this? Having now watched people I love spend their last weeks, days, and hours, this surprises me less than it might have when I was younger. My Dad's last hours in hospice were dedicated to calling his family around him, laughing a bit --and deep, contemplative, powerful prayer. It was a gift to witness it. He wanted to venerate the Lord without distraction. But we need no bucket list to answer this call to prayer. If you believe death is a form of transformation, as seen in Holy Week, in a funeral for a good person, the passing from one life to the next, then it is natural to see prayer as the continuum of this. Prayer is our transformation. Our ability to believe in something opens us to transformation. And we do not need to wait till our last hours to participate. Jesus isn't afraid to ask for too much or too little in prayers. We can do the same. Every day.

The question of what we will do with our final hours is common. But I think the Easter Mysteries, ask us what we will do with our life, with all of our hours? Do we connect with others? Are we looking out for the greater good? Are we nourishing our friends, ourselves, even strangers, with our days? When asked to serve, do we say "yes?" Even Jesus struggles with His grand call. We are invited to struggle and find redemption in our suffering. Every day is not Holy Thursday. But if we want to be more than our answer to a handful of hours, we can try to make each day a little more "Thursday," filled with hope, service, fellowship, discipleship, and prayer.

Christians consider themselves Easter people. We are not just the people of Christmas, or just the people of the crucifixion on Good Friday. We require those events to happen, but they are not the reason we are Christians. The joy of Christmas, its innocence and majesty, inspires us. Good Friday is a reminder of the greatest sacrifice, and the suffering we all share in our humanity. God became fully human, which essentially requires suffering. But the miracle of Easter, the Resurrection, is the ultimate definition of the divine. Without Easter we are a collection of joy and suffering without purpose. But in the Resurrection we find real, true hope. Whatever we do in our final hours is made greater by this hope. We are more than ourselves. There is a greater good, and a greater glory, made manifest by the transformation begun in earnest on Holy Thursday. So how will we spend our last hours waiting in joyful hope?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

what if?

I say the phrase, "what if" a lot. As a rule I keep my expectations low, but dream big. Sometimes the "what ifs" are about wee steps out onto limbs I might take. Sometimes they are about amazing outcomes of far off possibilities. Today, I thought, "What if I just started blogging again?" would I share it with anyone? Would I keep doing it? Looking back at this blog it is genuinely hilarious to see my starts and stops.

I have seen a lot of "what ifs" come to fruition in the years of this blog, through our on again, off again, off again, off again, on again relationship. "What if we had kids?" "What if we moved to New York?" "What if my mom died?" "What if my dad died?" "What if I made a giant Barbie cake?" "What if I did that twice?" "What if I stopped living out my calling of being a writer?"

And finally I ask, "What if I stumble upon something worth saying here?"

What if I never write here again? It is a world full of possibilities.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Cake Challenge

I was a lucky little kid. This is true on so many levels, but today's topic is birthday cakes. And I had some cool ones. My favorite, of course, was the Barbie cake. It was the coolest cake. Ever. My mom had a friend who owned a bakery. Beck's Bakery, in Fircrest, was the closest thing I have ever seen in the Tacoma area that rivals the bakeries in my neighborhood. I assume it was modeled after the East Coast awesomeness. And I know my mom loved Beck's because of it. And, Mrs. Beck loved us kids. She was an amazing gal to know as a little kid. She was so nice and sweet (no pun intended) and you always got a free cookie or something delicious out of a trip to Beck's Bakery. Oh, and, you got kick booty b-day cakes. And the Creme-De la-Creme was the doll cake. Usually* there was a whole Barbie (or Barbie knock-off) standing in a dress made out of cakie wonderfulness. C'mon, you just can't beat that. Cake and a doll?! Too cool. (I say "usually", because I distinctly recall one cake that just had a torso and head. Yikes.)

And, now, living in bakery mecca my daughter has seen the Barbie cake and instantly recognized it's magnificence. Her first glimpse: A sight to behold rotating on a stand in the window of La Guli. She began requesting a Barbie cake at least six-months ago. And we kept saying, "for your birthday." So she began to pass by the bakery saying, "I'm going to get a Barbie cake for my birthday." We continued to agree. It never occurred to us to ask how much one would cost, we'd just enthusiastically promise Gwen the coolest birthday cake. Ever. Wanna see what they look like so you can agree? Click here then scroll through a couple images. If you want to see even more extraordinary images just do a google search. Ahh-mazing.

As Little G's birthday quickly approached The Dad Guy and I decided to find out how much it would be to procure fantasy cake. Then we found out. Now, for all the work that goes into such a masterpiece, and knowing how delicious this bakery's goods are, the price is not absurd. But when you think about the fact that we aren't likely serving more that 5 people cake, it's ridiculous. $80-90+. Seriously. But no other cake will do for our girl. I think she'd genuinely wonder where her Barbie cake is if we didn't deliver on the promise we made this week (her birthday is Thursday). So, what's a family with big promises and small wallets to do? Bake your own, you say? Well, that's what we are about to do.

I am taking on the crazy task... mission... nay, quest, of baking a Barbie cake. I am no crafter. I've got no secret cake decorating skills up my sleeve. I am just a girl, standing in front of an oven, trying to make her daughter happy. I have watched a couple tutorials on You Tube. I have selected the Belle doll to inhabit the cake. All the appropriate supplies have been obtained after stops at a lot of stores. And now, via the internets, I have announced to the public that I am reaching way beyond my capabilities to bake the improbable. I mean, I can't say it's impossible. Clearly, it's possible to do. It's just a stretch for this little lady.

The stats:
Doll: Beauty and the Beast's very own Belle. Her dress just screams to be recreated in frosting, right? Plus, the one I purchases actually has her top moulded to the body.
Cake: Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake
Frosting: Cream Cheese Buttercream. I hope I bought enough yellow food coloring.

The best skills that I bring to the project, I think, are a) my tremendous love for my daughter and my joy in her happiness; b) lots of experience eating cake (and enjoying the doll variety quite a bit); c) even more experience playing with Barbie.

So, now you know. You are officially on the Barbie Cake Journey with me. If you have any advice or words of encouragement, please do not hesitate to share with me. Isn't that what the comments section is for? Now that this is public knowledge I can't really back out. You're counting on a picture, right? I guess it better look good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Broadway Show!

I just want to take a moment to say congrats to my hubby's big Broadway show. When he was offered a year-long contract on the project we both thought getting to the one-year mark was a long shot. We were excited about the prospect, but reticent about this small show about a pretty messed up family making it. But, here we are. With three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer added to the legacy, it seems to have worked out A-Okay.

We were talking the other night about how fun opening night was. It was a true highlight of our lives together. Uncomplicated joy. The show was perfection, the reviews brilliant, and the party was one for the record books. It was simply so much fun. We stayed out till the wee hours with my in-laws and loved every minute of it. There are few nights in life that can ever be so effortlessly exciting and surprising. This was one of them. I am sure there will be more opening nights in the future, but it was all new, and firsts, and amazing. I will never forget it.

So, here's to an amazing year and to enjoying the landmarks moments in all our lives!