I’m struggling to begin this entry in my blog. My mind is whirling with thoughts that are fearful, hopeful…unsettling one minute and more optimistic the next. I’m sitting here at the kitchen table…tap, tap, tapping words that need to be released though I don’t know why. I spent the morning with my son…packing up all of this things for the journey to college tomorrow. It’s been a roller coaster of events for both kids this summer. After a rather baffling soul searching summer, our son is heading back to college in an entirely new direction. We’ve been trying to encourage him to take the reigns in his life and steer a path for himself…but he is confused, unsure, undecided which way to go. We’re hoping this new direction will show us a glimmer of excitement in his eyes and a possible passion to push towards something concrete. We’re optimistic…we think…we hope…
For some children it is easy to fly out of the nest. They rest on the edge of it for a moment or two then spread their wings and confidently fly off. For other children, I’m learning it is a different process to move into adulthood. We’re in unchartered territory as parents right now. I have a son who is as sweet and kind as any parent can hope for. He is a dreamer, a philosopher, a story teller, an introvert, a home body… I must believe there is a path he is destined for even though we cannot see it clearly right now. After a summer of soul searching and contemplation…there are fears and worries still but there is also relief, a concrete plan, and now hope. The role of pushing and nudging feels right one moment and then feels all wrong the next. I try to step back from myself and my selfish desires for certain futures for our children to see and accept them for who they really are and who they want to be. At the same time, I try to peer over them…into that hazy future to see clearly a path of security and success. Frankly, all this peering leaves me in a state of duress lately.
I’m looking out my favorite windows right now onto the patio garden. Last summer, I pushed during our remodel for a few windows that swing inwards because I’ve always loved that about the windows in Europe. I picked out a few and placed those windows where I sit in the kitchen to work and type. Both windows are swinging open right now and beautiful waves of late summer/early fall breezes are filling the house tickling and teasing the rooms to be ready for seasonal change. One moment, I’m sitting here, enjoying the beauty that surrounds me and in the next moment, I am eyeing the college piles of T-shirts, pillows, and bedding that are ready to be heaved into the car in the morning… fretting over the unknowns of our son’s future.
And then all thoughts land squarely on this blackberry pie I made recently since I am sitting in front of the photos. Well, I made two of these blackberry pies recently and I’ll probably make two more before the end of summer. There is something completely settling about looking at pie, isn’t there? When things around us seem to be swirling with uncertainty and worry…there isn’t anything more comforting than making a pie, baking a pie, and tucking into that first bite of fruity sweetness mixed with buttery flakiness from thick rich crust. No wonder we all love pie. Right now…a pie feels like it has all of life’s answers defined…it is goodness and satisfaction personified…all seems right with the world where pie is involved.
My gardens are flourishing and I’m beginning to turn inward as these last days of summer flip over the days of August. All the hard work of clearing overgrown old gardens, redigging the long ignored soil, plucking out the ever present weeds, and choosing then planting a new round of flowers is done. There have been bouts of poison ivy that got the better of me…as choking blackberry vines and invasive bittersweet vines down towards the river where no one has walked for many years rejected being challenged and pushed back.
As I sit here and feel the rush of late August wind tousle the cluster of pretty pink cosmos flowers I snipped from the garden yesterday and placed in my pewter pitcher next to me, I am overcome with emotions of fear and hope. So I have surrounded myself with all of my calming charms. An open window inviting in cooling air, my hot cup of strong coffee doused with hot steamy milk in my favorite mug bought 10 years ago from the artisan potters in Silver Dollar City in southern Missouri. I can lock my eyes on fresh flowers and marvel at their beauty as they sway in the incoming breeze. The lulling and comforting smell of the mixture of wild orange and lavender oils push wisps of fragrant mist out of my diffuser to envelop the room with soothing aromas.
Saint-Gaudens Historical Site in New Hampshire
This overwhelming sense of urgency and worry and hopefulness takes over my world every year at this time. Social Media is becoming overbearing to me right now…in both good ways and bad. The constant flow of adorable photos announcing first days of kindergarten, middle school, and high school bring back floods of memories that leave me so happy for these present children and then revisiting so many memories of my own with my children. The number of social media announcements depicting college bound kids packing carloads of belongings to be carried off to freshly scrubbed dorm rooms brings thoughts of all of the friends I’ve had in various states whose kids are the same ages as mine. We’re all becoming empty nesters. We’ve all dreamed of these carefree years and now they are here.
I’m looking at these photos of the Blackberry Pie and wishing I had a slice of it right next to me. Oh, wouldn’t that be the most perfect touch to my calming afternoon as I collect and try to corral all of these whirling thoughts. I’ve been working on choosing and perfecting the ultimate pie crust. Bob’s Red Mill makes a fine pastry flour specifically for baked goods like biscuits, pie crusts, and cookies. I wondered if it would make a difference in the quality of the finished crust. It has had the bran and germ removed for a lighter, more delicate texture.
Saint-Gaudens Historical Site in New Hampshire
It did make a difference. No fretting over this uncertainty in life! I kept the butter as cold as I could get it. I kept the flour, the bowl, and the shortening cold too. We fitted a piece of marble onto the end of our old butcher block island we found in an old barn last year so I arranged all of my ingredients right next to the cold hard marble. Trying not to touch the ingredients too much I used my plastic pie round (which looks like a plastic pillow cover) that zips up to gently knead everything together inside.
I have to say, this will be my go-to pie crust recipe. I will always keep fine pastry flour on hand now and I can’t wait to try it out on homemade biscuits too. The crust was thick but melted in the mouth and had that wonderful flakiness that we all love about a good pie. Two more blackberry pies to go…I’ve already promised them for various BBQs and get togethers in a few weeks.
If life could just be as simple as sorting out pie dough, sprinkling generous amounts of sweet sugar onto berries, and spooning all of this lusciousness into a pretty pie plate…for a predictable, well-planned outcome. Perhaps we all love pie so much because of its simplicity and its juxtaposition to the complexities of life. Is that looking too deeply at pie? Perhaps. I’m searching for any symbolism or analogies right now. But, much like pie, life is just as messy sometimes…juicy, flavorful, but messy and pretty easy to mess up too.
Even with elements of uncertainty about life and the pursuit of elusive passions, this summer has been a joyful one too in terms of celebrating milestones for my children. Graduations to celebrate, new jobs to stress over, summer courses to complete, and cross country moves to trek belongings.
It also seems that this summer has brought me back together with some of my closest friends who live all over the country. There were friends who were my life line when my children were toddlers in Michigan. Then there were new friends gained when they were elementary kids in New York…then homeschoolers in Kansas and a new soul mate addition in Texas. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. In all, I have held on to about 5 absolutely wonderful women who were unconditionally supportive of me at these various stages of motherhood.
We took road trips together. We cooked meals for one another together. We worried incessantly about whether or not our children were making the right decisions or were ready for the next hurdle they had to leap over.
For whatever reasons, these ladies, who were anchors to me, are coming back into my life one by one. It’s like bookend friends that hold firmly upright segmented stacks of motherhood years. This image of my friends as bookends of life makes me laugh as I sit back and let the cool breezes sweep over my worried brows and take another sip of my strong brew. Friends as bookends of life’s segments…it really does describe our relationships sometimes.
Our kids have all entered college ages at this point…whether they have chosen that path or not. I have a motley collection of women friends. I cannot name many people that I call true life long friends…but just a handful is enough for me. This beautiful group of women all have childhood stories that have driven them out to fight many battles in this world. They are strong. They are survivors indeed. It is like the cosmos has driven us together knowing that we would bond immediately…support each other unconditionally.
Being on the other side of motherhood with these ladies is truly a unique and wonderful place to be right now..in spite of my worries and concerns. For we have all pulled our baggage around…and have gone on to struggle with the challenge of parenthood. Our perfect little toddlers, while growing up have tested us, confused us, angered us, and inspired us to be women who have become more accepting, encouraging, and most of all…humbling.
Reconnecting with some of these life long friends this summer has been amazing and emotionally taxing all at the same time. It’s impossible to get through parenting without having struggles that push one to their limits. Sharing, listening, and caring for one another without judgement of our children is the elixir that smooths the bitter taste of all the ups and downs that we now swallow knowing that this is it…life with its bells and whistles and its stomach aches and heart aches.
New memories are being formed with newly made friends here in New Hampshire. As always, I have never needed many friends. I don’t crave large social gatherings and long lists of acquaintances. I am most happiest on my own or with my husband…experiencing life in a quiet fashion that suits me and leaves me feeling the calmest.
I had a special road trip this summer… with my new friend Megan. Megan has had the whole of the world swept out from under her feet several times. Her strength of character is undeniable as she looks behind her and her jumble of unplanned and unwanted memories but insists instead on turning her head forward to the hopefulness of a brighter future.
We decided a road trip was in order as I continue to discover my newly adopted state of New Hampshire. What is lovely about road trips is they usually evolve along the way and fulfill that yearning we all have for peeking down all those roads less travelled.
We chose for the day the lovely historic home site of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, NH. He was one of America’s greatest sculptors and his works are all over the site and grounds mixed in with the works of visiting sculptors and artists.
We also wanted to relish the gardens on the site. Megan has fabulous full gardens sweeping down her back yard. I am hanging on to her skirt tails as I learn now to care for this particular flower or that one…She is a fountain of gardening knowledge…and what is lovely about her is she thinks she barely knows anything!
Saint-Gaudens historical site surpassed my expectations. The drive there, the quiet pine tree lined path walking up to the family home, the relaxing quiet tour walking the grounds, peeking into the family home, enjoying the flower gardens and art galleries …all were summertime treats.
Along the return, there were a number of enticements that had us pulling over the car and steering onto the roads less travelled…or so we hoped. Stands selling fresh eggs sat quietly waiting for that day’s collection to be discovered. Strawberry farms spread out before us with colorfully dressed people dotting the green fields in the distance picking the sweet summer fruit. Nurseries were nearly bursting with pots of summer annuals and perennials to be scooped up by people like us who will spread them all over New Hampshire’s gardens…like decorating some sort of Christmas tree…but in the summer.
The Collector’s Armory beckoned us to swerve over and poke through their jumble of antiques. The locals pointed us towards Anne’s Store as “the place” to get the best sandwiches, New Hampshire baked goods, maple cookies, and chocolate milk from a dairy farm right up the road.
Day long roads trips momentarily erase life’s troubles, don’t they? Little mini vacations that only last a day but somehow recharge our batteries and push us right back out there into whatever life is determined to throw our way. Discovering new friends in New Hampshire must mean that I am setting out another bookend to eventually collect another segment in this life of mine…one that I think will be filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and all of the ingredients that we throw into this pie…called life.
- 3 packages (6 ounces or 1⅓ cup each) Driscoll's Blackberries
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cups quick-cooking tapioca
- ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
- ⅛ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons butter, cut into pieces
- Pie Crust (** I like thick pie crust so I make one batch for the bottom and another batch for the top of the pie)
- 2 ½ cups Bob's Red Mill Pastry Flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon sugar (I use 1 tablespoon)
- ¾ cup cold butter, cut into chunks
- ¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into chunks
- ¼ cup cold water
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Make the pie crust:
- Mix the 2 cups of the flour, salt and sugar together lightly in a large mixing bowl.
- Combine blackberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon zest and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir gently to combine.
- Add the butter and shortening chunks and cut into the flour using a pastry cutter. The mixture should look like large crumbs and begin to cling together in clumps.
- Add the remaining ½ cup of flour and mix lightly. I transfer the clump of dough onto my plastic pie crust zip up pouch (it looks like a zip around circular pillow cover). Now, I am not touching the dough with my hands any more and the plastic pillow cover will contain the clump. If the dough needs to come together a bit more...then the plastic can be lifted and used to smush the dough altogether until it is ready to be rolled.
- Starting in the middle of the dough, roll gently outwards until the crust fills the circular pie plastic edge. Also, you can roll everything out between two pieces of parchment paper. When a nice circle has been formed, unzip the plastic covering. Place the pie plate over the dough and flip the entire dough onto the pie plate with the bottom plastic still attached. Once it is flipped over, gently peel back the plastic so you can continue to form the crust.
- Enjoy working the dough into the desired design you like. Remember it doesn't form itself easily...it takes time so think of yourself as an artist at this point.
- Spoon the luscious blackberry goodness into the pie crust and arrange it evenly.Perhaps eat a few sugary blackberries for strength to continue on...
- Take the second round of dough, roll it out in the plastic pie round or use parchment paper. Transfer it onto the top of the pie. Tuck it into the edges of the crust like you are tucking in a blanket. A rounded spoon might help to poke it in easily. Gently cut the excess crust from around the edges with scissors or a sharp knife. Use the extra dough pieces to form decorations for the top of the pie.
- Crack an egg into a small bowl and wisk it up. Using a dry pastry brush, clean off any residual flour that might be on the top of the pie crust. Carefully coat the top of the pie with the egg mixture. Be generous...coat it really well so it doesn't come out all streaky.
- Some people sprinkle sugar on top the pie before putting it in the oven...it's up to you.
- Slide pie into the oven. Set the timer for 40 - 45 minutes.
- Remove pie. Let it sit in an open window to scent the kitchen and the outdoors! Slice...and eat!