A glorious granola recipe (plenty to give & some for you, too)

jarsMy grandmother Kenison crocheted afghans and made the world’s best doughnuts, two skills I still wish I’d learned from her before it was too late.

She was also the first person I ever knew who made her own granola, back in the days when “health food” was considered a fad, “organic” might as well have been a foreign word, and the cereal boxes in our kitchen cupboard at home ran from Raisin Bran to Cap’n Crunch.

At least, on a visit years ago when I was newly married, I did have the foresight to write down Grammie’s recipe.  recipeAnd although I can’t present every member of our family with a hand-made afghan this Christmas as she once did, I am following in her footsteps. With the exception of books (I always give books!), most of the gifts I’m getting ready to wrap this year aren’t coming from stores.  They’re coming from me.

My granola isn’t exactly like my grandmother’s. I’ve taken some license with her original recipe over the years.  It’s fun to play with new combinations of ingredients, and it never turns out quite the same twice anyway.  (She liked carob powder in hers; lately, I’ve been experimenting with cardamom in mine.) The one thing I always do, though, is make a lot.  And it’s always delicious.  I think of my grandmother every time I start gathering the ingredients, and I feel happier creating something simple from scratch than clicking a “buy now” button on my computer or wandering through stores looking for the “perfect” gift.

As I type these words, the smells of maple and cinnamon and cardamom are still lingering.  [continue…]

The View from My Window

IMG_5681The Christmas gift I remember most vividly from my childhood wasn’t one I received myself. Early one autumn, just over forty years ago, my father purchased a rusty, decrepit antique sleigh and set about restoring it to present to my mother.

As a teenager and young woman, horses had been her passion, a passion that had no place in her adult life as a busy mother and full-time partner in my father’s business. Yet as she entered middle age, I think my mother began to worry that if she didn’t climb back on a horse soon, she might not ever do it again. Her greatest joy in life would be nothing but a passing memory, relegated to her unfettered past, a time before marriage and children and working for my dad conspired to ensure that her own hopes and dreams took a back seat to everyone else’s needs.

And so, on the cusp of forty, my mom bought herself a horse and proceeded to fall hopelessly in love all over again — with her spirited three-year-old Morgan and with the smells of sawdust and grain and fresh hay and saddle soap. Of course, the horse needed a place to live. We left the modest in-town house attached to my dad’s dental office on a busy road, where my brother and I had spent most of our lives, and moved out to the country, to a remote 1765 cape with a barn, deep in the woods and surrounded by trails. A house of low ceilings and wide, sloping floorboards, steeped in silent history.

For months, most nights after his last patient, my father slipped away to work on that old sleigh, rebuilding it from a broken down skeletal form, cleaning and polishing the runners, refurbishing all the parts, upholstering a new black leather seat, priming and painting and detailing the bright red panels and the glossy black trim. He raced against the clock, working late into the night and every available weekend hour, to make sure it was finished, perfect, by Christmas morning.

Many of my childhood memories are hazy. The horses, the sleigh, even the barn itself are long gone. But I can easily recall the dazzlingly bright Christmas morning when my dad hitched up my mom’s horse, lifted her up into the seat of the sleigh he’d made for her, and took her for a ride.

What I remember, of course, is this great labor of love on my father’s part; how, in giving her this extraordinary gift from his own heart and hand, he was really saying: “I see you. I know who you are and I know what you love, and I honor that.”

This Christmas, my husband Steve gave me the equivalent of my mother’s sleigh, a gift that is so much more than the thing itself.

I knew, over these last two years, that I was writing a book; in fact, it was never out of my mind. Even when I wasn’t working on it, I was working on it. Of course, I was also living my life, taking care of my family, spending time with my friends, writing this weekly blog.

I began the blog the week before The Gift of an Ordinary Day was published, back in the fall of 2009. My publisher had told me I needed a website, and that I should write something for it. But until the day I wrote my own first blog entry, I wasn’t exactly sure what a blog was; I’d never even seen one.

Once I started writing, though, I didn’t stop. I loved taking time out of the busyness of life to sit quietly and reflect on the meaning of the living, loved gathering up my thoughts and trying to make some sense of them, searching for the story beneath the story, the one that would give depth and shape to my experience and perhaps begin to illuminate the experiences of others as well.

Even more, I loved the conversation that soon got underway here, the thoughtful comments from you, my readers, the glimpses you’ve offered into your own lives and passions and predicaments, the heartfelt support you’ve extended to me as I’ve shared mine.

And yet, I’ve never thought of these pieces as much more than parts of that ongoing conversation, temporal and fleeting, musings that are very much of the moment in which they were written.

Turns out, my husband saw things a little differently. Perhaps he understands, even better than I do, what matters to me and why. And so months ago, unbeknownst to me, he began to gather these three years worth of pieces into a book. The result is the beautiful 350-page illustrated hardcover volume I opened on Christmas morning.

He titled the book The View from My Window, and for the jacket he shot a photo of our mountains, as I see them every single morning from my spot at the kitchen sink. He chose photos, wrote captions, assembled and re-read and copy-edited three years worth of my posts. He hired a proofreader, designed the pages and the cover, and asked a printer friend in Minnesota to produce a print run of thirty elegantly bound copies.

To say I was surprised on Christmas morning to find out I’d written not one book but two, would be an understatement. Realizing that my husband had been laboring for months, in hours when I’d assumed he was working on his own stuff, to produce a book printed and published just for me, reminded me of the long-ago efforts of my dad.

At the same time, this gesture is entirely in character for my husband, who shares my passion for books and who is at heart a publisher himself. We met, after all, at work, back when he was the marketing director at Houghton Mifflin Company and I was an aspiring young editor there. Little wonder then, that all these years later, the gift from his heart was this: to lovingly collect my words and give them back to me between two covers.

I’m not sure what to do with these books. I will give them to a few close family members and friends and save a couple for my sons and their families. But I also know that without you, the readers of this blog, The View from My Window wouldn’t exist. I would have stopped writing here long ago if it weren’t for the connection and sense of community we’ve created in this place — together.

And so, with the publisher’s gracious permission, I’d like to give away two copies of this (very) limited edition to you, the readers who show up here week after week, to read and respond and share your own stories with me and with one another. (To enter to win, just leave a comment below. I will draw two names at random on January 8 — publication date for Magical Journey!)

Today, as the snow fell softly outside, I opened my new book and began to read. It seemed right somehow, that as I bid good-bye to 2012 and prepare to welcome a new book into the world just a week from now, I pause to look backward as well as forward. Here, then, are a few of my posts from the past. Perhaps you will remember them. If you’re new to this space, perhaps you will be happy to read them for the first time.

Blessings to you and yours for a joyful new year. May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.

“Adulthood for Amateurs,” Oct. 26,2009

“Good-byes,” Jan. 3, 2010

“Asking for Help,” Feb. 4, 2010

“You Have What I Want,” Jan. 7, 2011


IMG_5409It is still dark as I type these words, though I’ve been awake for hours on this snow-hushed morning of the year’s shortest day.

Soon, I will turn lights on, brew coffee, let the dog out, confront the pile of unwrapped Christmas gifts in the basement. But here in the shadowed quiet before dawn, I’m thinking of gifts that aren’t wrapped and placed under a tree. Gifts that are hidden within each of us, waiting to be brought forth and shared with the world.

This week, to celebrate Henry’s birthday, our family went to see the dark, dazzling revival of “Pippin” at the American Repertory Theatre in Harvard Square. “How far will you go to be extraordinary?” the show’s narrator asks Pippin, an aimless young man with oversized hopes and dreams who’s desperate to find his “corner of the sky.” Will he choose a life that’s mundane and ordinary, or sacrifice all in exchange for one blazing moment of glory?

Last night, we went to another production, right here in our home town: an abridged version of the medieval Shepherd’s Play, performed in a church hall by members of our local life-sharing communities, men and women whose mental and physical challenges require special care in special homes devoted to their well-being.

Rehearsals for each of these performances began months ago. All fall, the actors in each committed themselves to the work of learning lines and music, preparing for their roles. And then, when the moment came to shine, each and every one of them got up on stage, took a long deep breath, and offered everything they had to give.

In the case of “Pippin”: death-defying, gasp-inducing acrobatics; soaring, searing interpretations of the killer Stephen Schwartz score, and a faithful recreation of Bob Fosse’s dazzling original choreography. Thrilling moments of pure, over-the-top theatrical magic and stripped-bare moments of aching, human vulnerability.

And at The Shepherd’s Play: simple lines painstakingly recited (with some unobtrusive support from unflappable volunteers and patient staff members), age-old songs and exuberant comic bits, a few inevitable stumbles and a few unexpected onstage tears. And, yes, here too, thrilling moments of theatrical magic and stripped-bare moments of aching, human vulnerability.

In the plush theatre, my eyes filled as a young Broadway star sang an exquisite love song to the older woman who finally cracks open his heart. And in the dusty church hall, I wept again, as a stout, shy young Mary hesitantly lifted her arms in silent rapture to receive the divine touch of an awkward, determined angel Gabriel, a Gabriel whose hair stuck up and whose mouth was a little odd and whose words were a little garbled, and whose white tunic didn’t quite fit his gawky frame.

At the end of both of these plays, the audiences leapt to their feet. The ovations were long and heartfelt and joy-filled– our grateful human response to gifts shared openly, offered in good faith and with nothing held back.

There is, of course, no way to compare these two productions, the extravagant New York- bound musical and the humble small-town pageant. One is not “better” than the other; they are both special, both worthy, both performed with all the love and courage their players had to offer. I wouldn’t have missed either of them.

And side by side, they have set me to thinking. All year, I’ve been squirreling presents away in closets; yesterday, I was out in the stores, buying yet a few more. But today, as I wrap these gifts and put them under the tree, I realize how quick I am to judge my own gifts and find them wanting.

I love finding the perfect something for a friend, surprising a loved one with just the “right” treasure, taking time to spend with those near and dear, answering letters from strangers. I take deep satisfaction in sharing the books I love, the food I prepare, the seats at our dinner table, the hours in my day, the freshly made bed in the guest room.

Yet, I am much less sure when it comes to sharing the gift of myself. Looking at my schedule of bookstore visits and public appearances in January and February, my stomach clenches into a tight little knot. Can I really go out and do all that? Will I disappoint readers who expect more from me than I can possibly deliver? Do people understand that, just because I’ve written a book about growing older, I don’t actually have all that much figured out? That I’m still grappling myself with losses and changes and questions that leave me at a loss for answers?

At the end of his two and a half hour search for fulfillment, Pippin discovers that his own “corner of the sky” isn’t fame or fortune after all, but the place in his heart that’s filled with love for others. His search ends not with a blaze of glory, but with acceptance of his own ordinary, un-glorious and imperfect but truly compassionate self. He chooses a life that’s authentic and meaningful to him, rather than a flashy trick to impress an audience.

The message hit home. As I watch my own two sons at twenty and twenty-three, each struggling in their own way to make sense of their inchoate hopes and dreams, each wondering what mark they’ll leave on the world, I do know what they cannot possibly have learned yet: it’s the journey itself, not the destination, that matters most.

Only time and hard-won experience can teach them this lesson, that the more truth they are willing to risk along the way, the more courageously they are willing to give of themselves, the more they will have to offer. And, of course, each time they do step forward and bring their own humble gifts into the world, the more they will receive in return.

Perhaps that’s exactly the reminder I need myself at this vulnerable moment before my new book arrives in bookstores. And perhaps this is my task for now: to remember that my job over these next few months isn’t to judge the worthiness of my gift, but to find the courage to show up and offer it.

For what, after all, do any of us really want from one another? Certainly it is not more stuff. Nor is it perfection or fool-proof answers or second-hand wisdom. We want more presence, not more presents. And the most valuable gift we have to give is, always, the unvarnished, unadorned truth of who we really are. Joy comes when we are both courageous and generous – brave enough to be who we are, and as generous with the gift of our own flawed, vulnerable, unique selves as we are with the gifts we wrap up in pretty paper and ribbons and bows.

A quick MAGICAL JOURNEY update – and books to give away!

Events: I hope to meet you in 2013! To see where I’ll be and when, visit my events page by CLICKING HERE. (Check back often!)

News: My deep gratitude this week to fellow travelers David Abrams and Beth Kephart, two much-admired writers who graciously share their own gifts by generously celebrating the works of others. I am honored to be featured on their websites.

CLICK HERE for Beth’s. And HERE for David’s.

Finally, it’s not too late to win an advance copy.

  • You can enter to win one of ten that Goodreads is giving away by clicking HERE.
  • And, I have five author copies right here on my desk, waiting to be signed and shared with you. To win, subscribe to my weekly newsletter (if you haven’t already done so), and then leave a comment here. (Any comment at all will do, but feel free to share a gift you’ve given this year, or one you’ve received that touched your heart.) I’ll draw one winner at random each day from December 26-30.

Joy! In the meantime, from my house to yours, warm wishes for a most wonderful holiday. May you both generously give and gratefully receive the precious present of presence!