Small Pleasures: August 2017

August was a month of changes for my family and me.  My youngest son, my baby, turned sixteen.  Sixteen!  He has his permit and now my husband and I can look forward to six months of being scared witless every time we get in a vehicle with him because he will be behind the wheel, learning how to drive.  In August we also experienced the bittersweet and disorienting upheaval of sending our two older kids to college for the first time and the subsequent struggle to establish a “new normal”.   The realization that life will never be the same has been sobering.

Needless to say, August was an emotionally complicated couple of weeks for me.  This is why I’m happy to focus on the simple things that added sweetness and lightness to my month.  It feels good and right to acknowledge that no matter what is going on externally or internally in my life there is always something to appreciate and be thankful for.

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August’s Small Pleasures

  • Fresh flower bouquets.  I think the flowers have been breathtaking this summer and the local orchard had spectacular bouquets for sale all month.  Zinnia, hydrangea, black-eyed susan, lisianthus, coxcomb, snapdragons, sunflowers – you name it.  I couldn’t help myself.  I bought a bouquet every time I stopped in the orchard outlet.
  • Definicils mascara (Lancôme).  This is the perfect mascara – no clumping, no flaking, no running.  Even though it is always showing up on make-up “Best Of” lists, I avoided purchasing it because of the price tag.  No more!  My eyelashes have never looked so good.  🙂
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (in audiobook format).  Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning (National Book Award and Newberry Honor) autobiography is children’s literature of the highest order.  It’s written in verse, which makes for an interesting reading/listening experience.  The story provides a singular, intimate portrait of a young African American girl’s experience growing up in the South and in New York City in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Woodson narrates the audiobook and it is so well done.   I can’t recommend it enough.
  • Spending time with my family.  I always enjoy being with my family, but the times we spent together this month seemed more precious because I knew the kids were heading off to school.  I’m thankful my kids still enjoy hanging out with Jay and I and hope the changing circumstances don’t interfere with this too much.
  • Shetland. I’m talking about the series which I discovered on Netflix, not the actual islands.  My husband and I spent several nights watching the atmospheric murder mysteries which take place on the northern islands of  Scotland.  Breathtaking cinematography, moody music, interesting crimes.  What more could a person ask for?  One small warning, though.  Some of the characters have heavy brogues which make understanding what is going on a bit dicey.  We spent a fair amount of time replaying certain scenes to get the gist of the dialogue.  Trust me, though.  It’s worth the effort.
  • Solar eclipse shadows. (See below)                                                                                         We were not in the swath of the United States which experienced a total eclipse of the sun on August 21.  This was somewhat disappointing until we discovered the partial eclipse in the dapple patterns on the patio.  When the sunlight filtered through the leaves of the Zelkova trees in our backyard, the spaces between the leaves acted like pinhole cameras.  These “cameras” created multiple partial eclipses that shimmered over the pavers and furniture.  I took photos but they don’t do the experience justice.  It was magical.

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August has faded away and it’s departure marks the unofficial end of summer.  It makes me sad to say good-bye to my personal happy-go-lucky season, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to cooler temperatures, brilliant fall colors, harvest fairs, and hot chocolate.  It’s time to look forward to the new season and all the good things that come with it.

Bonus

A fun song…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny!

What is the thing that repeatedly catches my attention and has me grabbing my camera for yet another photo?  The equivalent to the squirrel that is forever distracting Dug in the movie Up?  The theme in over 20% of the photos on my cell phone?

The sky.

I have a fascination with what is happening in the wild blue yonder and regularly point my camera upward to capture the ephemeral drama.  I’ve chosen a sampling to illustrate my addiction.  (They are cell phone images so the quality may be a bit questionable.)

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:  Ooh, Shiny!

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

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At the back of our yard is an unruly patch of wilderness we loosely refer to as “our garden”.   We never seem to have the time to plant and tend anything worthwhile so the patch is overrun with leggy raspberry canes and  prickly thistles.  As bad as it sounds, it’s not a total bust.  In one small corner of the patch, four little blueberry bushes are thriving and have produced a gorgeous crop of spicy, midnight-colored gems.

This surprising bounty is due wholly to Jay’s efforts.  He is the blueberry whisperer and an all-around green thumb.  He grows and tends to all the things and I take that raw potential and create art with it in my kitchen.   This recent blueberry windfall is the perfect example.  As soon as Jay brought the berries in from “our garden” I put butter on the counter to soften and then grabbed my camera to capture the dark beauty of the tiny fruit.  After about a hundred shots of blueberries from every angle and degree of magnification, I got busy making the real magic – turning these berries and a few other humble ingredients into one of the finest coffee cakes in the history of the world.

Seriously.

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Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake (Adapted from a recipe submitted to Taste of Home by Lori Snedden several years ago.)

9 servings

Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Streusel:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  4. Add egg, milk and butter.  Beat well.
  5. Fold in blueberries and pecans.
  6. Spread batter into pan.
  7. In another bowl, combine the sugar and flour.
  8. Cut in the butter until crumbly.
  9. Sprinkle over batter.
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.

I can’t really tell you what it is about this cake that makes it so good.  The delicate crumb topping?  The abundance of blueberries?  The pecan chunks in every mouthful?  Who knows.  Maybe it really is magic.  All I can say is that I’ve eaten four pieces of this cake in the last two days and I’m about to have another and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Do yourself or those you love a favor, friend, and make this cake.

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