autumn

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Autumn in Central Park

Central Park. Manhattan’s gem. The dichotomy between the natural and manmade worlds never fails to quicken my heart. What a sight to be seen. What colors to behold. What a world to savor.

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Stay tuned for the American Museum of Natural History and the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

We Are Objects Manipulated

Autumn in Seattle

“We are all objects manipulated and fashioned by ourselves and will be endlessly doing so.”
– Martijin Schirp in reference to You Must Change Your Life

Flashes of clarity. Brief patches of a straight-forward existence. Circles of bliss.

I hang onto these little moments of truth, they get me through the confusion and chaos, both planned and unplanned.

I can’t ignore the desire to change things, shake up my existence and rearrange a few pieces, from purely a mental perspective. If I can look at the world from different angles using new lenses, then everything will change. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m missing something. Not literally but figuratively. The more I study spirituality and creativity and growth, the deeper I understand this beautiful mess.

Hence the flashes of clarity, mere fairy scratches upon the surface.

I choose to believe that I am always growing into myself. I am transforming from the camel to the lion to the child, à la Nietzsche, on my way to the great philosopher’s conception of Übermensch aka Superman aka Overman, “one who has superseded the bondage of the human condition and reached a liberated state — one of free play and creativity” (highexistence.com).

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Even while overwhelmed with gratitude, I still want to edit my existence. Change is inevitable, like the shifting of the seasons, the dying of the leaves. We can transform haphazardly according to how the wind blows, or we can evolve mindfully. Into truer versions of ourselves.

So how do we turn those flashes of clarity into days and weeks and months of it?

I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. But I have some ideas.

I think we grow by reading certain books and having conversations and stretching our minds.

I think we learn by asking questions of others and ourselves.

I think we expand by submitting to vulnerability and new experiences.

I think we shine when we love ourselves, unafraid of our power.

I think we excel when we work hard and persevere for weeks, months, years.

I think we change when we visualize it and keep the faith.

What do you think? How do you cultivate personal growth?

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This Grateful Gray Friday

Gray.

Today I am grateful for tall trees that turn yellow and red, for the lake that fades into skies without borders, for gentle rain that clears the air.

I am grateful for gray, for Octobers, for pumpkin spice candles.

I am grateful for thrift shops, for online shops, for money in the bank.

I am grateful for stay home days, for DVDs, for raw honey in my tea.

I am grateful for baby kicks, for princess pictures, for homegrown apples.

I am grateful for my home, for this city, for the view from my desk.

I am grateful for the highs, for the lows, for the in-betweens.

I am grateful for the blessings, for the struggles, for the tears.

I am grateful for sleep, for dreams, for stars.

I am grateful for you, for him, for them.

I am grateful for language, for stories, for the catharsis of gratitude.

Every child is an artist.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars (A Recipe)

Fall cravings: pumpkin cheesecake bars.

When I came across this recipe for pumpkin cheesecake bars, I knew nothing else would do. Not Starbucks’ pumpkin cream cheese loaf nor any other kind of cheesecake or pumpkin bread, not even store-bought pumpkin cheesecake. I craved the homemade version.

I feel better about consuming desserts that I’ve made myself because I am in control of the ingredients. Which is always important, but especially when there’s a growing babe who also gets a piece.

When I went to Trader Joe’s and discovered they were out of canned pumpkin but stocked in pumpkin cheesecake itself, I hesitated. Would I forget about the bars? Would I succumb to the store-bought version, inflated with sugar and who knows how many days old and not precisely what I wanted?

Nope, I didn’t. (I’ll save that for later in the season.) I bought a sugar pie pumpkin and cut it and roasted it and peeled it and pureed it in the food processor. Though time consuming, the end result would be more of what I wanted: fresh pumpkin-y goodness. And even better, I wouldn’t have to worry about BPA leeching from the can into my dessert. But God, opening a can would have been so much easier. Sometimes I wonder if convenience has the power to kill us.

Anyways. I modified the recipe to include less processed sugar and more nutrition. In the crust, I replaced the sugar with medjool dates and the flour with coconut flour, ground flaxseed, almond meal and whole wheat flour. In the filling, I used raw turbinado sugar and the flesh of 1 pie pumpkin instead of a 15 ounce can of pumpkin. I doubled the vanilla extract because I felt like it.

Pumpkin Pie Bars
Adapted from Pinchmysalt.com – a sweet food blog so click over!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9×13 pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough to hang over the sides of pan. Coat foil with butter or oil.

Crust:

2/3 cup whole wheat flour (I like white wheat for it’s mild flavor)

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

1/4 cup almond meal

6 medjool dates, pitted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar

flesh of one pie pumpkin (quartered, roasted at 375 until soft, peeled and pureed well)

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Make the crust: Combine flours, dates, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour crust mixture into prepared pan and press evenly and firmly into the bottom.

Bake crust on the center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until just starting to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and set on wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and raw turbinado sugar until creamy. Add pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice and beat until well combined, scraping sides and bottom of bowl a few times as you go. Pour pumpkin mixture over the pre-baked crust and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely on a wire rack then refrigerate for an hour or until thoroughly chilled. To serve, use the foil to remove the entire dessert, then slice into squares. Leftovers should be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Note: I am not a food photographer nor a food stylist. While I greatly appreciate this art, it eludes me. If you’d like to see a pretty picture of these bars, go here. 

Portland Japanese Garden

Mystical Maples

Portland Japanese Garden

image via onebigphoto.com

This mystical tree can be found in the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon, 144 miles south of Seattle.

We have a Japanese Garden up here, too. For a while, I was a member and I dropped in every chance I could get. Especially when the Japanese Maples looked like this.  Two years ago we slipped in our holiday portraits during the last days of crimson and gold.

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image by Jessica May Photography

Today is the first day of fall, the autumnal equinox, the changing of the seasons, the balancing of day and night. And I love this post about activating balance in our own realities:

For as we all move toward a rebalancing of opposites within and without, we see that this duality within the whole is an intrinsic part of Reality. One cannot exist without the other, and the seasons and the ebb and flow of life reflect to us this elemental wisdom.

Like last year, like every year, I am eager for the leaves to change. Even if this means they’re dying. As the branches becomes barren and the rain drifts sideways and the days turn cold and the nights endure, the Pacific Northwest is never more beautiful or haunting or polychromatic.

Our pumpkin patches sprout bulbous mounds of orange. Our apple trees bear green and red and pink orbs of sweet fruit, crispy like the air. Our homes fill with mulling spices. Our cafes tempt with pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin bread. And Trader Joe’s offers everything pumpkin-flavored from ravioli to yogurt (I’ve tried them all).

Soon we’ll be carving pumpkins and choosing costumes and toasting to the spirit world. Soon I will be celebrating five years of love with my husband–not to be confused with our wedding anniversary in July. Soon I’ll be thinking about Christmas presents and preparing for baby.

And best of all? I’m pregnant and I get to eat all of the creamy butternut squash soup and pumpkin cheesecake that I want.  I have my eye on these bars. And by this I mean I can’t stop thinking about them.

Japanense Maple

image via sillyboyartistry.com

Excited girl with backpack

First Day Back

Excited girl with backpack

Today was Giovanna’s first day of her second year of drop-off preschool. She has the same teacher and all of the same classmates, with the addition of two new kids. She calls them friends.

Will there be lots of friends at school, mama?

It was a soft start which means she went for just an hour and there were only two other children with her. When I picked her up, she loitered. She wasn’t ready to leave. On a normal week, she will go for three mornings. Not a lot, but enough.

Last night, I had a hard time sleeping so I retrieved my journal from inside my bedside table and I wrote in the dark. I recalled the irony that plagued my thoughts. I crave time to myself, time to write and work and think. I didn’t get much of this over the summer which made me grumpy. I have told everyone who asks that I cannot wait for school to start again. And yet I was irrevocably sad last night. I couldn’t bare the thought of my baby going back to school. She is a beacon of light in my days and I want to keep her under my wing forever.

I wrote these words that are barely legible and then I put away my pen and I fell asleep without further lament:

I know I will fill the hours with tasks and words as I always do. I might blog more. I might share more. I might get through all of my unfinished manuscripts. I might do more of what feeds my soul. I will do more of this. I will work hard and I will lay in bed each night knowing I made the most out of that day. I’m changing my habits, too. Less internet, more writing. Less procrastination, more living. Less research, more follow through. Less unpublished essays sitting stagnant in my folders, more queries. More small wins. I need to make every minute away from my baby count. This needs to be worth it. 

I will miss her while she’s at school and I will be grateful for this time I have to be present with myself and my dreams. I know it will make me a happier person. And if I’m happier, she’s happier. (See photo above.) That’s what I’m after in the end.