Mr. Smith and I are on a road trip through Canada to the thumb of Michigan. We are celebrating Easter with my delightful mother-in-law. And yes, there is Smith Family Cheesecake for brunch.
Here I am at not quite seven years old in my lovely blue frock with little white gloves, an Easter hat, and new purse. Didn’t we look swell for Easter services? On a side note, I loved my dress so much, I tried to wear it to school a couple weeks after Easter. I managed to spill grape juice all over it during breakfast. My mother was not pleased.
Happy Easter, happy Passover or happy spring. And if you feel like wearing your fancy dress today, go ahead. Just don’t spill grape juice on it.
Serendipity, it’s one of my favorite words. It’s such a nice sound for what it means: a fortunate accident.
Sara thomas, serendipity
The impetus for our latest trip to New York City was for me to attend a Blog Writing seminar at Gotham Writers. I had been looking for a class on my new favorite endeavor for a while when I stumbled onto this workshop. This particular class at Gotham Writers was also offered in July and I did wonder if I should wait until we had our move to Pennsylvania behind us. Another reason I hesitated before entering my credit card information was that I have attended workshops in the past that left me thinking, “Are you kidding, I paid for this???” Despite the misgivings, Mr. Smith and I decided a trip to New York City was worth it no matter how the workshop turned out, so I hit the “Enroll” button and we started making plans for our weekend. We drove into the city on Friday afternoon through rain and snow but were greeted by the sun on Saturday morning. The walk through midtown Manhattan to my class in the Paramount Building on Broadway required sunglasses. When I entered the classroom that sunny, crisp morning, the above quote was stenciled on the wall. I hoped it was a sign.
My instructor was stimulating and professional. The other participants were a fascinating and delightful cross-section of women of all different ages and interests. We discussed concept, content, knowing your audience and much, much more. The seven hours flew by. It did feel a bit serendipitous that after months of procrastination on signing up for anything, I had landed with this group. If I had waited until July, I wouldn’t have met Becky who writes a blog for military families focused on the challenges to the family of the frequent relocations or Elizabeth who writes a blog on China Law and Policy from a perspective other than old white male. And we are all eagerly awaiting Patricia’s post on the difference between parmigiana cheese and its very distant cousin parmesan.
I think of myself as a pragmatic person. Merriam Webster defines pragmatic as: Relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters: practical as opposed to idealistic. Why would a pragmatic person read a movie quote stenciled on a wall and hope it was a sign? I’m toying with the thought that perhaps the “sign” to me that day was that I have reached the point in life where I don’t need to be so damn practical and can be more open to the fortunate accidents that life presents. I can follow my fancy a bit more and not worry that I’m not “accomplishing” something.
Do you believe in Serendipity? American novelist, Elizabeth Berg, wrote in The Year of Pleasures, “Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.” Could it be that once we find our intention and follow it, all sorts of possibilities will appear?
Like Monet, I am always inspired by fresh flowers in my home, but never more than in spring. The beautiful blooms signal the coming of welcome warm days ahead, helping to drive the long upstate New York winter out of our house.
While my childhood Easter memories are more closely tied to new church clothes, Easter baskets and chocolate bunnies than flowers, I do remember loving the delicate purple violas popping up in our yard and picking them to put in teacups. The Easter tradition that my siblings and I most looked forward to was dying the eggs. Mom would boil dozens of eggs. We would cover the kitchen table with protective newspapers and proceed to drop Paas color tablets into cups filled with hot water and a teaspoon of vinegar. When the colors were dissolved, we would carefully slide the eggs into the cups of dye, trying hard not to crack them. Occasionally we tried to demonstrate our creativity by using the wire dipper to attempt to hold an egg half way submerged in one of the colors, repeating with the other side in another color. We thought we were the first ones to come up with such a brilliant idea. Though our efforts never won any awards, it was a lot of fun.
We did have a family friend who would blow the eggs hollow and use them to create the most exquisitely decorated eggs I had ever seen. Her artistry broadened my horizons. Since childhood, I’ve experimented with dying Easter eggs with natural items like purple cabbage and onion skins, as well as some attempts at wax relief. If you need inspiration for coloring your eggs, a quick peak at Pinterest will have you busy for hours.
With Easter a week away, I wanted to provide you with a snippet of holiday ideas. Setting the table has always been my favorite part of entertaining. I’m happy to consult with Mr. Smith on a menu and then let him work his magic in the kitchen while I plan the appropriate table setting. Since we are planning a move soon and packing and purging, this year I challenged myself to design an Easter table without purchasing anything new other than fresh flowers and consumables.
For this table setting, I used my china with a lovely purple violet design and let that direct my other decorative choices. I was happy to find elegant purple tulips which I used individually on the napkins and in the arrangement. I did succumb to the purchase of a spool or ribbon, but at least it’s not a 3-foot tall ceramic bunny that I will need to store the other 51 weeks of the year.
I positively love my cloche, a large glass dome I used to house gourds in the fall, an Eiffel Tower and Christmas trees scene in December, and now it’s helping me welcome spring.
I decided to lighten up the fireplace mantle, focusing on spring blooms.
Do you have any special Easter traditions in your family? Through the years I’ve colored many an egg, made bunny-shaped cookies, and filled countless Easter baskets, but the one tradition I have maintained each and every year is the baking of the Smith Family Cheesecake. My mother-in-law served it at the first Smith Family Easter celebration I attended. I’ve been making it ever since, sometimes cutting the recipe in half and creating an adorable little cheesecake when it is just Mr. Smith and me for Easter. Though I have no idea where this recipe came from, we’ve enjoyed it for over 40 years and hope you do too.
SMITH FAMILY CHEESECAKE
Beat until thick: 2 eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons evaporated milk.
Mill until smooth 16 oz. cottage cheese. Add a pinch of salt and ¼ teaspoon vanilla.
Combine all the ingredients and pour into a 9” unbaked pie shell.
Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees and enjoy! (Can be made the night before and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.)
Whether you are spending Easter with family or friends, or taking some time to yourself, I hope you have some spring like weather, enjoy some spring flowers and perhaps spot your first robin!
I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie and my heart does a little dance.
Mr. Smith and I spent last weekend in New York City
As the calendar pages turned to April and May, inevitably my mother would start the spring cleaning of sweeping and dusting and she would tell the tale of her short lived step mother sweeping their rambling Wisconsin farmhouse and murmuring “let the bad air out, let the good air in”. Mom, in her house cleaning uniform, dark curls tied up in a cotton scarf and wearing an old print house dress, would tackle the winter dust and grime. Our childhood home had a gravity coal furnace so following the long cold snowy winter in northern Indiana, a coating of dust and grey ash was found on many surfaces. The wear and tear of an energetic family of seven created never ending daily tasks to maintain some order but spring time brought the seasonal ritual whereas things got a more robust cleaning, scrubbing and polishing up.
Historians may not completely agree as to the origin of Spring Cleaning, but they do agree its roots run deep. Some believe it originates with the old Jewish custom of cleaning the house before Passover to avoid inadvertently insulting God, or the Chinese custom of cleaning their homes to clear it of any misfortune or evil in anticipation of the New Year. The origin most commonly held goes back to the Persian New Year, the ancient Festival of Nowruz. They would scrub every inch of their home and fill it with fresh flowers. This was called Khooneh Tekouni which translates to “shaking the house.” I picture in my mind someone turning the house over and shaking out all the dust and dirt.
While I assisted my mother and sisters with some spring cleaning projects when I was very young, my most vivid memories of spring cleaning come at about middle school age and involves washing windows. My mother had a “thing” about clean windows. We were now living in a mid-century house with a wall of floor to ceiling windows and in spring I would be tasked with washing them. I never seemed to succeed the first time, always having to repeat the chore until she approved the results. As an adult, I do appreciate a clean window and always think of my mother when I am evaluating my results, wondering if she would require a do-over.
If the tease of warmer weather has inspired you to deep-clean your abode, there are a plethora of Spring Cleaning checklists on the internet. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Pottery Barn has an opinion on what you should be scrubbing, polishing, and purging. Sorry Martha, while I will be waging a war against cobwebs, I won’t be washing down all my walls and ceilings. And I certainly won’t be resealing my grout! Yet, I am old school enough to get a feeling of contentment from a well-cleaned house. And much like transitioning my wardrobe from winter to spring, I’m also transitioning my home. While I enjoy the coziness of our reading chairs pulled up in front of the fireplace in the winter, warmer weather makes me want to rearrange and refresh. Opening up our living space and paring back a bit on decorating while using more fresh flowers and greenery. I am eagerly awaiting the day I find the first peonies of the season at the flower shop!
I think Spring Cleaning is partially a result of longer days, plants and bulbs popping up in the garden, and a resurgence of our energy levels. Who doesn’t love opening the house to that wonderful smell of spring that you can’t get from a candle? Thankfully, Spring Cleaning these days doesn’t have to be dragging rugs outside to be beaten with a carpet beater. It can be as simple as cleaning your inbox, your junk drawer or tackling the pile of papers that has accumulated over the winter. And if you need some help with windows, give me a call. I have lots of experience.
I’m back from my road trip and back to reality. A week off from work seems like such a great idea until it’s that first Monday back at your computer and there are 337 emails in your inbox. In addition to a week’s vacation from work, I also gave myself a week of not obsessing about the details of moving.
Mr. Smith and I have signed a lease on the love nest in the sky and now the fun really begins. We are lucky in that Mr. Smith’s employer will hire a professional to do our packing and moving, but there’s still much work to be done on our part. We’ve been sorting, purging, and discussing what goes with us and what doesn’t make the cut. Then came my moment of panic. Was the apartment big enough??? Had we been hypnotized by the great view and not given enough consideration to the number of cupboards and closets? But then I had a tremendous epiphany. Maybe it wasn’t that there isn’t enough room, maybe we have too much stuff.
We both recently read The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. After much discussion and negotiation, a journalist and her husband move from London to rural Denmark so her husband can accept a position with Lego. Helen sets out to document her experience and figure out whether Danes really are the happiest people on earth. I was particularly struck by her passage about looking for housing in Denmark. When viewing potential rentals and looking in the drawers and cupboards of the kitchen, she was amazed at the organization and tidiness. They had all that they needed, but not more than they needed. I kept this passage in mind when sorting through our kitchen and felt better and lighter seeing the pile of items that won’t be on the moving truck.
Sorting through just our wine glasses revealed that two people who have lived alone for over ten years somehow owned over 75 glasses between wine and champagne. Some were in boxes in a closet, but many were crammed on shelves in a cupboard and rarely used. The ones in the boxes hadn’t seen the light of day in our four years in New York. Sixteen wine glasses and eleven champagne glasses will be moving on to Pennsylvania. While that’s still probably more than we’ll need, sometimes baby steps are needed. In another step forward, I’m packing up some things that I truly don’t need, but am not quite ready to part with yet. I’m going to store those boxes in my sister’s basement and if they aren’t needed in the next few years, I will donate them to someone.
While I’m not ready to Marie Kondo my life, I will try to make sure that everything we take with us into our next adventure is either useful or beautiful. The decluttering and letting go of things feels right. Besides, a bigger apartment would just take longer to clean!!!
Who is this old woman who looks back at me in the mirror? Ninety is my age, but I can still feel the warmth of the sun as I lie in the field behind my childhood house. I am still a little girl in a patch of brown-eyed Susans, and I liked that no one could see me. I am still the little girl who gloried in a box of eight new crayons that were all mine and a new coloring book to use them in. I am still the 16-year old making my first prom dress and dreaming of the magical dance. I am still a bride – smiling at my love and saying “I do”. I am still the new mother snuggling this sweet baby who grew in my body. He is as soft as a rose petal and I glory in it. I am still the young mother who held each child so close and loved dearly. I am still the young mother with so many children – making time to love them. I am still the young woman who makes time to learn her art. I am still the new grandmother holding my first grandchild and taking in the joy of this being. I am still the empty nester enjoying the freedom of having time. I am still this woman but often feel like a child. I am still amazed of the wonderful things my love and I did. I am still the young woman who could walk faster than any of her children. I am still a daughter as I see my parents age. I still feel as a child as I say my final goodbyes to them.
Time passes to quickly and so much happens. I still remember my last few moments with my love. I still feel the pain of loss. I am growing older, but my mind sees me as young. Who is the old woman who looks back at me in the mirror?