HELLO AUTUMN

autumn flowers

The first day of autumn. A time of change. The overall mood of the season shifts towards comfort this time of year as we start to spend more time in the kitchen baking foods that make us feel good.

This morning was one of those days as I unwrapped a new cookie sheet and proceeded to bake scones. I'm still getting used to another oven and figuring out how to set up an efficient kitchen.

As I started to peel away the protective blue plastic film on my cookie sheet, I wondered why. Why was this warning necessary and how many complaints did the customer service department at Vollrath receive about blue plastic melting in the oven? I shook my head in disbelief and continued with my scone making.

cookie sheet warning

Banana oat scones. The first scones of the season and the first baked in a "new" oven. The kids each had two with a glass of cream top milk before heading to a picnic with their father. I stayed home and continued to bake today's cake to take over to Sunday dinner at the ex's later in the evening.

One tradition I hope to instill is the coming together for dinner on Sundays. The kids already look forward to it and remember to say "Happy Sunday" when we sit together around the table. This week's menu was grilled salmon, green beans with almonds and lemon, and grilled corn. Next week will be my week to host.

banana oat scones

My intension was to make an orange spice layer cake with mascarpone cream frosting. However, upon further inspection of my spices, I discovered I lacked cardamom and ginger. I also did not have mascarpone but was going to remedy that issue with whipped cream instead of the mascarpone.

The other choice was an orange hazelnut cake. Since ground hazelnuts were also absent from my pantry, I settled on a new recipe I had written in January (but never tested) involving melting raw local honey and light muscavado sugar with butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

The result was good, judging on the fact that not a slice was left to take home and photograph the next day. I find that a 5" (12.7 cm) cake is a perfect size for one evening.

lemon honey cake

Autumn is also a time to start something new. In my case, returning to work on my bake book of small simple cakes. Despite the fact that three publishers have already rejected my queries, I will continue with my recipe development. Giving up is not an option. A lesson children need to learn early on as they encounter the frustrations of life.

So ends another week of co-parenting life with the younger two in Texas and the oldest in Germany.

seena sunday
sage sunday bw

Autumn is here. Another summer has passed. I look forward to cooler weather, more baking, and evenings spent reading and writing.

autumn grass

SOMETHING ANYTHING

red cart

"Did you get the picture you wanted?", asked the lady collecting the carts outside of Trader Joe's.

She saw I was still fiddling with my troublesome lens - the one where the autofocus sometimes works - so she made her way to the store entrance with the two carts she'd gathered from the parking lot, leaving me to continue with my composition of the lone cart along the wall.

bw trees

There is an empty building space (the old Saks building) in between the new Trader Joes' and Williams Sonoma at the Arboretum. I have no idea what the new store will be, but for some reason there are several large photographs plastered on the windows. When I saw the bright red shopping cart against the black and white street photo, I knew I had to make my own photograph.

On the way into the store, I noticed some beautiful green plants which I thought might look good in black and white. Sage commented on how soft the leaves were and I watched with anticipation as he grabbed at the leaves.

green bw plants

The day had been a challenge with the younger two pushing my buttons all day long. First, the one with the waterworks. With her being able to cry on demand, I'm guessing she'd do well as an actress. No onions needed.

"Sagey threw my shoe...why don't you care about that...Sagey broke my special magic wand...don't take my picture...". On it went.

cinnamon floor

Then mischievous Sage with "it wasn't me". No, it's never you, is it.

sage bed

Cinnamon finally let me take her photo and showed me the broken magic wand that Sage broke. "By accident", he claims. He has a knack for breaking a lot of things. Somehow they're never intentional.

broken wand

At that point I decided I needed to do something, anything. Get in the car with the kids and go somewhere, anywhere. Which is how we ended up at Trader Joe's buying an orange for tomorrow's cake, more Greek feta, provolone, spaghetti for tonight's dinner, Nero d'Avola, two different chocolates, and a small box of lasagna with which I plan to create some kind of vegetarian meal for one next week.

Sometimes when things seem impossible, the best thing to do is to get up, get out, and do something...anything.

trader joes

ECHO

old room

A hollow sound resonated as I closed the French doors to what had been my room for the past eight years. The longest I've ever lived at one address - which at present totals to somewhere over 40.

Growing up, I had to encounter the inevitable question of whether my parents were in the army. "No", I replied repeatedly and wondered why we moved so often. Sixth grade was the worst, having gone to three different schools spanning two states and three cities. Crazy, I know. Even in college, I would move once or twice a year.

Born and raised in California - besides the five years in Oregon, the four years in Nevada, a year in Colorado, three months in Washington, one month in Georgia, a year in Croatia - I now live in Texas.

window and door

The reason for having moved here from California is the same as I suspect many other Californians have migrated to Texas - affordability. With husbands going to work, wives are able to stay home and raise a family. I haven't heard of many stay-at-home moms in California. But that chapter in my book of life is over and another is being written.

"An echo", my daughter commented as we returned to the house and I took one last look at the room. She ran upstairs to staple the hat she'd made at school today while Sage gathered some toys to bring over to my place.

Cinnamon helped her brother carry a basketful of Brio wooden tracks and bridges to the minivan. Tired of playing with the same game throughout the week, the two figured they needed a change. Having forgotten a few key connecting pieces and more tracks, they made the best out of what they had. Their next stay would be better.

cinnamon basket

The room, now empty, will be turned into something else. It is a beautiful room at the front of the house with cherry wooden floors and a large window that I framed with red velvet curtains. The white cotton voile sheers drape onto the floor and soften the bright sunlight as it shines through the window. 

voile drapes

"Mama's room"...as the children grew to knew the room. I had always envisioned it being a room for my boy when he got older - with the other two rooms upstairs going to the girls. 

sage window

Life. A journey along which you meet people who lead you to your next destination. Some places you stay awhile. Other places you're meant to linger but for a moment. Every stop is a place to gather experiences, memories, and lessons. Lessons to take with you to your next destination and to share with people you meet along the way.

sage smile

The rule is simple. Move forward. Going backwards in time serves no purpose but to hinder your progression into the future. The past is gone. The future is unknown. The now is writing itself with each passing moment.

These words from this song by b-Movie...

I thought, I saw you smile at me
But it was meant for someone else to find
I thought, I heard you say my name
But it was just an echo in my mind
window light




CORK SCREWED

corks

The man held up his arms in defeat.

"I give up", he bemoaned as he stumbled out the door.

"If they want to leave...let them."

She stared at him in amazement wondering what possessed him to give in to defeat. Was it the boss again? The new girl who never should have been hired in the first place?

"Wait!", she yelled after him.

corkscrew man

Ok, so that's not what Cinnamon was reading this afternoon. Rather it was Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham".

"Easy, peasy", she declared as she walked upstairs upon finishing the book.

green eggs ham

While she read, her brother practiced letters with his elephant and lion. Today was better than earlier this week - the stack of "unknown" letters of the alphabet cards was reduced to five...G, N, U, I, H.

lali and sage
lost in thought

The news of the day from cyber land...Scotland voted for independence from the UK. Results will be in tomorrow. Then there was much ado about Gerard Depardieu's claim to drinking up to 14 bottles of wine in one day. How this became news is beyond my comprehension. Although I wouldn't mind having those corks for my collection.

HALF DAY

fog

The fog this morning was a rarity. I long to live by the sea just so I can have a great collection of fog-filled photographs. I ran inside to get my camera and walked past the construction site to capture this moment of mystical vapour hovering above the canyon trees.

A half day of school for the kids meant a restructuring of my day. The children were finished with school by noon instead of the normal 15:00. Three hours they did not get to burn off the energy of childhood - the one we as adults would love to harvest and use for ourselves. Silliness ensued by late afternoon.

silly cinnamon
silly sage

Without a yard at my place, my children are confined indoors every other week. A "good" thing in Austin as you cannot let your children play outside for fear of someone calling the police or Child Protective Services on you as in the case of this Austin lady. Absurd, I know, but what can you do.

"I like sporks", exclaimed Cinnamon at dinnertime.

"That way we don't have to have forks and spoons", she continued.

I wasn't able to find the bag of plastic spoons for her applesauce this morning, so she was given a spork at school. She found it quite amusing.

For dinner, I revisited an old recipe of mine from last spring - red lentil soup with honeyed onions and yogurt. Instead of scaling it down to a dinner-for-one size, I opted to make the recipe as is and have the soup for the next two dinners since the children refuse to eat it. I'm hoping one day their taste buds expand beyond penne pasta with Greek feta - the same dinner tonight as they had last night minus the Parmesan. Dessert was sweet red raspberries.

red lentil soup

For the most part, my son and daughter played well together today. They first went to Bunny Land - where they pretended to ride on a plane and subways, following a map to get to a place where their stuffed animals lived. Then they played with their Ravensburger game.

ravensburger game

More than anything, they enjoyed being silly. Even during story time when we started a new book I am having a difficult time reading due to the writing style. I simply cannot get into it - must we say the aunt's first and last name so often and use every adjective imaginable to describe things. Since it arrived in the mail today, I will make my way through to the end. Silliness is welcome in this case...as is wine.

silly sage bw
silly cinnamon bw

 

 

MR. CRAP

20 cabinet drawers

Sometimes you have to wonder what children's book authors were thinking (or doing) whilst writing their books. Helen Palmer's "Fish Out of Water" is one example. The kids and I could not stop laughing tonight during story time. The second line is what started the giggling:

"This little fish,
I said to Mr. Carp..."

You see, it was easy to reverse the letters to read "Carp" as "Crap". In a way, I wanted to see if the kids were paying attention - which they clearly were. After two minutes of laughter, we continued the story of the boy who overfed the little fish even after Mr. Carp told him there would be consequences to overfeeding it.

The fish kept growing to the point where it was too large for even a swimming pool. Magically, Mr. Carp came to save the day, jumped into the pool, and shrank the little fish underwater. He handed a fishbowl, with the now little fish, to the boy. 

It was owl day for Cinnamon. She learned to draw owls in school today and continued when she returned home. I was happy to see how proud she was of her drawings.

owls

Sage was content to sit and play a game - making up new rules along the way. 

ravensburger game

He then asked for paper so he could draw colourful dots with his new rainbow pencil.

rainbow dots

And me? I was photographing the last of the baby tomatoes for tonight's spicy sauce. The sauce was enough for one as I knew the kids wouldn't eat it. They preferred their penne pasta with feta and parmesan.

baby tomatoes

As we reached the end of tonight's story, I wondered how the fish was reduced to its original size. Magic? Or was Mr. Carp just full of "Crap".

NO LEMONADE

lemon yogurt cake

"When life gives you lemons..." - make lemonade? No. Make cake. Zest two lemons, combine with yogurt, eggs, sugar, flour, leavening, butter, salt. Nothing complicated. Nothing fancy. No frosting or ganache or glaze. A simple 6" cake for Monday.

The kids are back this week. Sage building his Lego car...

legos building

And Cinnamon reading a book she checked out from the school library...

cinnamon reading

Cinnamon insisted we go to the pool after school today. So we did. And we had most of the pool area to ourselves. Afterwards we had lentil soup, tortillas with Tillamook cheddar, and lemon yogurt cake.

Sage was explaining to me how sparkling water is made "first you put in bubbles, then water, then you mix it together".

As to how bubbles are made. Simple... "with soap". Nice.

I skipped the bubble water and had Nero d'Avola instead.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

colorado stones

Rejection is never easy to accept - in any form. Dating, job search, finding a publisher for your book, or any other endeavour which requires an exchange of ideas, time, and money.

I knew that getting back into the work force was going to be an uphill battle after being gone for over eight years to have my three children. It's absurd to believe that the first job you find will be "the one". But employers...please be honest. I know it's not an American thing - honesty, that is - but don't tell me I'm not qualified to file papers, answer emails, and do basic office work. Have you looked at my CV? Do you not see that Bachelor's degree in Finance with a  minor in Economics + accounting classes. Does having attained one of the top IS certifications mean nothing? Granted I'm not in IT anymore, but it takes discipline to sit and study for the CISSP or any other exam.

Yes, I realise "things happen for a reason" and "there is something better around the corner". Or "it wasn't meant to be". I get it. But be honest about why I was passed over for a job I can do in my sleep. Tell me I'm overqualified and you think I'd be bored out of my mind. Tell me you think I would ask for more money than you were planning on paying for that position. Tell me my going overseas to visit my daughter in Germany (something I was honest to disclose) was the reason. Or simply tell me you don't like me or my style. That is all fine. I am me. I will never be anyone else but me. Like me for who I am, but never tell me I'm not good enough.

MEDIC NEEDED

daybed

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to go it alone, you come to the realisation you need help. Albeit you might feel like a failure for not being able to do a seemingly simple task, the truth is that an extra pair of hands or point of view will lead you to clarity. Or an assembled piece of furniture.

Even then, with two people, you come to the further realisation that a third person is needed. A medic. A "furniture medic" - words the customer service lady was delighted to repeat every chance she could. In this case, a rubber mallet might have helped but I'd rather someone else inflict the damage.

Two precious Sunday hours lost, only to discover a defect outside my control. Hours I could have spent making Sunday cake. Alas, not all is lost for tomorrow we shall have Monday cake.  

 

DAYS LIKE TODAY

rainy window

A cold front swept in this morning, bringing along the rain. Rain that graced us for hours on end. One comes to appreciate days like today after the sweltering heat of summer that lasts well into September.

So, I embraced this day and stayed indoors - turning on the fireplace for the first time this season. I busied myself with some decorating but mostly enjoyed the sound of the rain hitting the pavement below my window. It's days like this you simply want to get a blanket, sit on the sofa by the fireplace, and read or think or write. To be still and listen to a different sound of nature.

As summer draws to a close, we find ourselves catapulted into autumn - a time when the kitchen comes alive with warm soups, stews, and comfort foods. A time when the oven, with its sweet aroma of spice-filled cakes, fills the house with that familiarity only autumn brings.

The seasons change, as they do every year, but each new day is different from the day before. Every day is unique. New experiences. New thoughts. New opportunities.

 

HERE AND THERE

rain clouds

Dark, ominous clouds filled the sky this afternoon. The rays shone through and I ran to get my camera to capture the sun's rays as they beamed through the clouds. Faint as they were, I knew they were there. I could see them off in the distance.

Rain followed shortly thereafter. A heavy rain where one would rather stay indoors curled up on the sofa with a blanket and good book than at the doorway waiting to run to the car to cross off yet another item on today's To-Do list.

Sometimes you'd rather be there when you need to be here. Or here when the world expects you to be elsewhere. One day you will get to your destination. Albeit the reasons might not be apparent now, they will. One day. A patient mind is required. Tomorrow will come soon enough.  

FORWARD

rosemary

The community is covered with rosemary bushes. They thrive in the Texas sun. The fragrance is overwhelming - in a good way - and whenever I take a walk with the kids, they always stop to pick a few needles to eat.

As I walked this evening the 10+ minutes to my old home, I noticed the rosemary bushes but did not stop to admire them. I continued towards my destination as the evening drew to a close and the pink sky faded to blue. I needed to drop off some photos and stickers for Cinnamon's school project and a new backpack for Sage. I wasn't sure he'd like it, but he was so thankful and happy about it. And I was happy to see them - if only for a while.

Change is difficult. Moving forward is not easy, but necessary in order to grow. As we get settled into a comfortable life, we often are unwilling to take the next step. The step that will propel us forward to something better - to new experiences and opportunities and new connections. Resistance to change will get you nowhere but where you are now. No one can tell you when to take the next step forward into the unknown. The power is in your hands.

NO WEAPONS

luxe beanie pearl

On the edge of my bed, I sat and read the email I received from my son's kindergarten teacher informing us of the upcoming show-and-tell. I read it three times to be sure I was seeing what was in front of me on the iPhone screen. An uneasy feeling came over me. I sat there aghast at the words staring back at me in black and white: "no weapons". What?! How has it come to the point where we need to instruct parents to make sure weapons are not part of the items going into children's backpacks?

I understand we live in Texas, but this is preposterous. Should I be worried? Or move back to California or out of the country even? What has this world come to that I need such a reminder? I hope there is nothing to worry about, but the truth is it happens. You read about stories of children bringing weapons to school and you have to wonder why. How does this happen?

What does any of this have to do with the hat in the above photo? Nothing. This afternoon I was enjoying photographing my work...the newborn hats and cocoons I hand knit for newborn photographers. The initial title of this post was to be "Finding the Light" - as I was trying to get used to a new studio and finding the right time of day to get nice natural light.

Then I was distracted by the email and my thoughts turned elsewhere - to worry and concern for my children. From before birth to forever, we want the best for our children. We put our trust in others as we let go of their hand in the morning as they board the bus and hope they return safely to us in the afternoon. The words "no weapons" should never even enter our minds. Ever.

NO TWO THE SAME

sunset

Sunsets. As children, no two are the same. Evening after evening, the clouds disperse into diverse shapes. The intensity of colours vary. Most of the time we give this daily phenomenon little thought as we go about finishing our day. Busying ourselves with everything and anything - forgetting the simple pleasures in life.

sunset branches

As I continued my walk around the community this evening, I glanced to the opposite side of the setting sun and noticed the full moon. Shivers swept down my spine to the ends of my fingertips as an overwhelming sense of euphoria came over me and I realized how much significance we place on the insignificant at times. It's the little things that matter most.

Days. As sunsets, no two are the same. But with each day we're given the opportunity to make the new day better than the day before.

SPECIAL SUNDAY

willow

"Tomorrow is Sunday!", exclaimed Cinnamon yesterday afternoon.

"What will we have for our special breakfast? Scones?", she continued.

This Sunday morning it was French toast. Three eggs, whisked with milk, a spoonful of raw cane sugar, and cinnamon. Made with the last of the challah bread. Topped with pure maple syrup with raspberries on the side.

french toast

Sundays are special. At least they should be. It should be a time when we slow down before the new week begins - before the weekdays speed past us. A day when we spend more time in the kitchen baking something special. Sunday cake is what the kids look forward to in addition to the special breakfast and Sunday dinner. Getting used to that routine will take some time, especially with the new schedule. This is the end of the second week of co-parenting. Tomorrow starts my "off" week.

In time, things will get better. A little progress each week.

Today was the return to scouts, with the boy getting to attend this year. While I waited for the one and a half hour session to finish, I sat at a coffeehouse nearby and had an "artist taco". My "design" was simple...cilantro lime rice with black beans and potatoes (fried thin strings of potatoes).

It's difficult to be bored when you have a camera in your hand. I took some random photos whilst I ate, then walked around to find more to photograph.

cherrywood coffee
red orange mosaic table
cafe lights
motorcycle
sign post holes
fence leaves

I will see them in 7 days...

sage
cinnamon
kids

A RETICENT EVENING

tree canopy

Half an hour to the playground, a rapid 20 minutes on the return home, plus another half hour playing in the 35 Celsius Texas heat was sure to make the children tired. Silence ensued in a matter of minutes. Unlike previous evenings when silliness, giggles, and the occasional insistence of "it wasn't me!" as I walked by and noticed they were still awake, this evening was different. 

As soon as their heads touched their pillows, they were asleep - magically, as if pixie dust had been sprinkled upon them. Quiet blanketed the house and "Enjoy the Silence" played in my head - a most favourite Depeche Mode song - this link from the amazing concert I attended last year in Dublin (albeit my viewpoint was from way up high).

I was proud of the children for enduring such a long ride. They insisted on taking the Kettcar and balance bike and surprised me by pushing forward even though the sun beat down on us. At times I could not even see Cinnamon, as she rode far ahead of us. Sage insisted on a slower pace, claiming it was for my benefit so I could keep up with him.

kettcar and pedal less bike

Despite the intense heat, the children enjoyed a day free from school. Although if you'd asked the girl, she most likely would have preferred to go to school.

monkey bars

The boy, on the other hand, would have been content where he was - pondering life's complexities, coming up with more questions as to how something works (as the wheels on the Kettcar), and wondering when we'd get home so he could continue building something.

swing contemplation

Take advantage of those silent moments. Ponder life. Enjoy the silence.

CALL ME TOUMOERO

austin rain

Rain. It's not often we have the pleasure of being blessed with water falling from the sky. The kids ran outside on the front porch and were enchanted. Although it did not last long, it was a welcome event. I'm sure people in other parts of the world - like Ireland, Germany, and England - would see rain as anything but special. It's quite ordinary in those parts of the world.

An hour and a half earlier, the sun shone bright and hot. I drove to the old place and took the pedal-less bike and Kettcar for the kids to enjoy. One minute was the time frame of excitement for Sage, as he preferred to be indoors building his 300-piece puzzle. Entertaining him is easy. Give him a puzzle or a Lego kit to build and he is happy for hours. Cinnamon did not care to be outside alone and came in after ten minutes. With her sister away in Germany, Cinnamon relies more on her brother for company albeit no reenacting scenes from "Frozen" with him as she does with Saffron.

IMG_3066-1-2 combined.jpg

It's interesting to see how Saffron has embraced technology at the young age of 8. She writes me emails and logs onto her computer to call me on Skype before her 20:30 bedtime. She must have had her iPhone (an older one of mine) in bed with her tonight as I received an email from her at 03:27 her time in Berlin:

I love you can you call me toumoero
Love saffron send back

I understand that she meant "tomorrow". And tomorrow she will be able to see her siblings via Skype. She is immersed in German classes and afternoon programs - getting all the attention for herself from Oma. I hope her speaking solely German does not affect her returning to class in the US in February and forgetting English.

A semester abroad with Oma is an experience of a lifetime for most children - even most adults - but is an important lesson to be able to adapt to your surroundings. Every place is a new experience as you are transported from your comfort zone to a world that makes you wonder. A world with endless possibilities.

 

BEYOND THE NOISE

black red plant

I used to think social media was something to avoid. I've distanced myself from the online world for most of this year, having returned two weeks ago after my travels to Ireland and Germany. I've abandoned my blog, ignored my thoughts, forsaken photography, and in effect relinquished life.

 I observed from a distance - from beyond the screen. Watched people interact, read articles from links people posted, and studied human behavior from afar. The kindness of a few started to thaw the ice of disbelief, doubt, skepticism, mistrust.

Not everyone will like what you say. There will be those who think they are better than you and will run around flailing their online arms convincing everyone you are not worthy. Saying whatever it takes to bring you down so they themselves (falsely) believe they are better than you. Then one day, a post or comment will catch your eye. It will make you think. It will start to restore your faith in humankind. All is not lost if you learn to see beyond the noise, to hear that which is not readily audible, to let the kindness of one person change your point of view.

I'm reminded of an exam I once turned in to my high school teacher in US government class. On the front of the exam I wrote the following words - the chorus of Depeche Mode's "New Dress":

You can't change the world
But you can change the facts
And when you change the facts
You change points of view
If you change points of view
You may change a vote
And when you change a vote
You may change the world

I'm sure the teacher had no clue the words were from a song of my favourite band, both then and now. He agreed, scribbling something to the effect that I was right.

Noise is prevalent. It is all encompassing. But it takes one. One person to change your view of the world. It's only when we learn to see beyond the noise that we notice beauty within.

PUSH THE LIMITS

black white clouds

"This is a picture hike...where we take lots of pictures", exclaims Cinnamon on our evening walk around the community.

The kids were both pretending to take photos alongside me, making the clicking camera sounds as they pressed the shutter button on the toy camera that came with a magazine I bought Sage at the bus station in Ireland last month.

click

While Sage had the toy camera, photographing the cactus...

sage camera

...Cinnamon closed one eye and pretended it was the viewfinder. Shutter clicking sounds followed. I'm amazed at how much they've observed from my having taken photos over the years.

cinnamon no camera

What seemed like nothing to photograph, became many interesting things when viewed from the eyes of the children. I even found a lonely piece of 2x4 a mere 15 feet from my front door - just the size I needed as a sandpaper block. Piles of limestone lined driveways of the new townhomes being built.

wood and stone

"What is that?", asked Sage. "A meter", I answered.

meter

"Why are you taking a picture of the man?", he continued. I love his interpretation of the fire hydrant.

fire hydrant

As we walked out of the parking lot and around the bend where the foundation of a house was being laid, Sage enthusiastically exclaimed (as many times before) that he wants to be a worker. I asked him why. "I love to build!", he replied and I told him how my father was a builder.

foundation slats

"Do the workers drink?", he continued with the questions. "Drink?", I asked confused. "Yes, they bring lunch boxes with them", I replied. "They do?!", he asked in amazement. Then he followed me to the pile of 2x4s and took a photo with his toy camera as I was taking one with my own camera. Both children were excited as I told them they'd eventually get their own real cameras. The point-and-shoot kind. They wanted to know if I'd get them while they were in school tomorrow. I told them they'd have to wait a little longer than that.

two by fours

Push the limits of a child's imagination and they will reward you with amazement.

by the dumpster