"Highlights and Interstices" by Jack Gilbert + Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Henry and I were in his room, where a few bookshelves still live, looking at the spines. The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert was in my sightline, so I pulled it down and flipped through a few pages. I landed on the poem below.

I've been thinking about the ordinary moments that make up our days. Like the times I spend sitting on the couch with Henry tucked into my lap.

He reaches for pages in a book or pushes buttons on his toy dump truck while I rest my chin on his head, smell his hair.

He smiles at himself when we walk by the mirror in the dining room. I'll look straight into the eyes he most certainly inherited from my husband, still surprised he was once inside my body.

He is currently entranced by the silver mixing bowl attached to my KitchenAid.

He nibbles on broccoli and cucumber, delighted by the texture in his mouth, and is trying his very hardest to crawl.

These are the kinds of moments today's poem wants you to hold on to.

Oats in the Blender
Pancake Batter

Highlights and Interstices

By Jack Gilbert

We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional
and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,
vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.
But the best is often when nothing is happening.
The way a mother picks up the child almost without
noticing and carries her across Waller Street
while talking with the other woman. What if she
could keep all of that? Our lives happen between
the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual
breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about
her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.

from The Great Fires (Knopf, 1996)

So many of the poems in this collection are about his late wife. There are tender moments of beauty and love, and also a twinge of fear that all the "commonplace" memories he once held are slipping away.

If "our lives happen between the memorable," I suppose it would benefit us to refocus our efforts. The most obvious memorable moments will surely come as the months and years go by, but it's in our daily routines when our lives are truly lived, moment to moment. 

Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Saturday is a memory-making kind of day, when we have a ritual of making pancakes. It's done so often now that whisking flour and eggs and buttermilk has become second nature. Just last weekend I told Henry I'd teach him the basic recipe one day so he can have it when he goes away to college.

It might be a little early to start passing along kitchen skills, but what I was trying to say just then is we will be making pancakes for a long time. We will eat them often enough to make uncommon memories.


A bit of vanilla extract perfumes the pancakes just enough without being overpowering. I often mix several flours together for pancakes. It adds variety, and is a great way to utilize all the bags I amass in the pantry. 

Makes about 9 pancakes

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for serving
Coconut oil, for cooking

Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, maple syrup, vanilla, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; gently stir until combined and only a few traces of flour remain. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix until incorporated. If the batter seems thick, add up to 2 tablespoons more buttermilk. 

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Melt a small knob of coconut oil in the pan. When the oil is glistening, add a scant ¼ cup of batter; press the pancake lightly with the bottom of the measuring cup to help it spread slightly. Cook until the surface begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

One secret to finding more time to write

Six months pregnant may not have been the best time to subscribe to the New Yorker. I was excited, though, and when the first few editions arrived I read them in the evening before bed, and even aloud as Andrew occasionally rubbed my feet. It felt like bliss. Then I had a baby, and my dreams of keeping a contained, almost non-existent magazine pile were dashed.

Having a baby certainly changes the amount of productive time you have in a given day. Also, your definition of productive changes from something like "I put together a presentation for work!" to "I put together a load of laundry... that's washed, but still needs to be transferred to the dryer!" 

Some might find this frustrating. And yes, I've had my moments, but in some ways it makes my spare time all the more valuable. I must be extra picky with how to spend my hours. This isn't a new concept to me, though.

As a proud introvert, I've long felt my energy stores dwindle at the expense of small talk, mundane tasks, or non-valuable social activities like loud cocktail hours. It's who I am, and I know it and love it. It means I'm less giving of my time, which may seem selfish to non-introverts or someone who doesn't know me personally, but if I'm not going to get value out of an experience, or if I'm going to be forced into social situations void of meaning, count me out.

So when I have free time nowadays, which mainly consists of brief windows , I act fast. Laundry in the dryer? Folded. Email in my inbox? Answered. Teeth brushed? Check. Blog post drafted? Done.

Sometimes, though, I just take a nap.

Of course, you don't need to have a baby in order to learn this kind of lesson, but it does help.

Finding time to write has required a new strategy, too. 

Many people ask me how I do it, and how I've done it. How do you start and finish writing projects and have a full-time job, and have a new baby?

The short answer is, I write in the margins.

I've always loved taking notes. A fresh notebook full of possibilities. My very first notebook was bright pink with blue lined pages and a thick, silver spine. It served as my personal journal for a time, and the place I recorded silly songs and poems I made up on our family vacations. I still have it, actually, buried in a box in storage.

In college I had a notebook for every class, to keep my notes organized.

Today I have a hardback moleskine where I write one sentence a day in an effort to streamline my journaling efforts, and a lovely baby book I discovered, that will last until Henry turns 18.

I also take copious digital notes. The first draft of this post, in fact, was typed in the middle of the night on my cell phone.

You see, I wasn't sitting at my desk with a cup of tea, or outside on a bench in the lovely warm weather. I was awake at four in the morning, pumping milk for my newborn son. This is writing in real life, and sometimes it's the only way to get things done.

Writing in the margins is about taking advantage of small windows of time we have every day and getting some words down, even if they're not very good ones.

So when someone asks me how I do it, I tell them a little adds up to a whole lot. And I tell them, above all else, that they must keep writing, even if it means finding new ways to do so.

At so many points in my life, writing was the first to go. At first, it seems like an easy thing to rid yourself of. But the work of writing is a lifelong vocation, one that never leaves us even when we move from job to job, or have a baby, or endure periods of not writing. 

Sometimes, we need a little nudge to get moving again. If this sounds like you, my new e-course might be just the thing. I'll send one encouraging assignment over the span of six days, and by the end of the week, you'll have a clearer sense of focus and renewed enthusiasm for a writing project you've been aching to work on.

What about you? We all fit writing into our lives differently, and I'd love to hear about your own approach. Leave a comment and let me know what's working for you! 

And we're back

hot cocoa

After turning on twinkle lights most evenings and listening to my Christmas mix on Spotify for approximately six weeks, the holiday season has burned out like the pine-scented candle on my coffee table with no wick left. This happened to several candles, by the way. The shift is most severely felt when the boxes come out of storage once again. Stockings are folded, ornaments rolled back into crinkled paper, and the whole house just feels so empty, at least for a couple of days. 

And we're back. Another year, another round of resolutions, another chance to take a deep breath. The post-holiday clean-up almost feels like redecorating without buying new furniture, no? All the goodwill towards clean slates and starting fresh without the price tag of new chairs or rugs. (I'm one to talk, though, because last year we actually did buy new furniture. A sprawling blue couch with a chaise on the end that I don't regret for a minute.) But I digress.

The holidays were a mix of cozy and crazed, which was to be expected. Although thankfully, there was far more cozy to be had, thanks in part to still being on maternity leave, not traveling, and having an infant to snuggle with at all hours of the day. Between hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's meals, hanging out with Henry, plus working on my new project (!!!), there was rarely any time to wander through the house wondering what to busy myself with. On the occasions I was able, I made sure to take advantage of Henry's long naps. 

Sometime in the middle of December I made Smitten Kitchen's hot chocolate mix, which was a very good idea indeed. And when the baby rested, I warmed milk on the stove and whipped cream. I even managed to sit on the couch for a solid 15 minutes to read a magazine. I can't even talk about my magazine pile right now. Let's just say these opportunities leave me feeling very relaxed and accomplished. 

Hopefully you're not completely sugared out from December, because as far as I can tell, winter is still here, and hot chocolate is still very much worth making until sometime in March, I would guess. 

peppermint hot cocoa

Oh, and just to keep it real, I should tell you a story about Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve reminded me of the day I lost my keys. It all started out very Christmas-ey. I spent most of my time in the kitchen prepping baked ziti, Italian beef soup, and meatballs for Christmas Day. We took a break in the afternoon to meet some of our friends nearby, then I came home to keep working away. A few minutes into washing dishes, our drain started clogging up. The disposal would suck down water then spit it back into the sink. Eventually it started to drain, but painfully slowly. This was around 6 pm. Thankfully a nearby drugstore was still open, so Andrew went out for Drano, which dashed my plans to turn on twinkle lights and sip on hot chocolate before dinner. 

We managed to get by, but it meant avoiding washing dishes as much as possible. It also meant eating our Christmas lunch from paper plates. We layered the soup bowls three layers thick to keep them from warping, and picked at my mom's delicious salad with plastic forks. 

I tried to remember that celebrating the meaning of Christmas did not hinge on whether or not I pulled down earthenware plates from the cabinets, but I wasn't the happiest of hostesses at the beginning. It turned out to be a wonderful day, of course, but I certainly had to talk myself into letting go of the table setting I had planned on. 

Such is life. To close on a more uplifting note, give this poem a read. It certainly reminds you of winter's magic. And do make yourself a cup of hot cocoa sometime this season, too.

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon

by Kevin Cole

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways
The sight would not have been so startling:
A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.
Perhaps they would not have worried as much
As I about the fragility of it all:
Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears
And beatific face just above the water.
At one point she hit upon a shoal
And appeared to walk upon a mantle,
The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.
I thought she might pause for a while to rest,
To gain some bearings, but instead she bound
Back in, mindful I suppose
Of the vulnerability of open water.
When she finally reached the island
And leapt into dark stands
Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,
I swear I almost fell down in prayer.
And now I long to bear witness of such things,
To tell someone in need the story
Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

-from the literary journal Third Wednesday