I’ve been made increasingly aware in the last decade that love…true love… is not something many come by easily nor can ever be taken for granted. This sounds like words on a Hallmark card, but the meaning is hitting hard as one friend after another struggles with life changing events. I have so many long time friends who are now divorced. From my 30’s into my 40’s…one story after another kept coming in…divorce…another divorce. In some cases I was shocked to hear the news. In other cases I was silently relieved. Their stories make my head spin with dizzy confusion about where and why love goes wrong and makes me think more about how very difficult it is for love to go right. The more I look behind me at the life I have lived thus far, the more I realize how increasingly grateful I am to have found something called true love. I’m discovering in life that for many people this is elusive, misguided, and dispassionate.
I don’t say that I feel that I am one of few that has found true love in order to toot my own horn in any way. At least I hope that isn’t how this sounds. I say it with base bewilderment and realization that to be in a stable loving relationship isn’t a life guarantee but rather just the opposite in so many cases. As I get older and Patrick and I celebrate life’s milestones together, I marvel at the mystery of the strings of relationships I have seen and how fragile, vulnerable, and destructive they can be…with a myriad of confusing reasons why.
I say that I marvel at the length and breadth of our relationship frankly because I can now look back at the complete naivety that defined the early years of our marriage with increasingly different perspective. It’s sort of like getting old furniture re-upholstered when we were newlyweds. The new crisp material with freshly styled patterns seems so pretty. It was taken for granted that it will always look that way…vibrant, crisp, and colorful…so perfect in its newness. Over time, with so many experiences and occasions swirling around that furniture, the patterns fade and age…but somehow now become even more beautiful than when new.
Now, several decades later, when I sweep my hands over some of those threadbare fabrics, I appreciate and admire the pieces so much more. The prism through which I see the colors and textures is incomparable to how I saw them 3 decades ago. Each piece represents a kaleidoscope of happy, sad, confusing, and joyful memories. I am fully aware they will continue to age and change but with those changes, each piece becomes now woven into our lifetime of memories…more vivid but in a completely different way.
Patrick reached a milestone birthday this past week. Much of the planning for his birthday has prompted all of this heavy thinking. His parents flew in from Missouri. Our son came home from college. Our daughter flew in from NYC. For the first time since knowing him, he peered at his birthday year with trepidation tinged with sadness. I felt an overwhelming sense of protectiveness for him and wanted to wrap him and his world in moments of love, food, and memories. I’ve prompted him instead to search for a varied perspective rather than any tinged with sadness. Happiness and longevity are rare gifts…this reality is revealing itself each year that passes. We have no room to indulge ourselves in pitiful reminders of the glory days of youth but should celebrate the mystifying intangibility of life defined by love and happiness.
My mother-in-law has said for years that she sometimes prefers to ignore reality and see life through her fictitious rose colored glasses from her little house on the top of a mountain. I believe at one point, I remember she actually had a pair of rose tinted glasses that she would wear around when making this point. She would offer the spectacles to one of us and say, “Here, put my glasses on and they will help you to see more clearly.” We would all chuckle. But now I see it. We can choose how to see our lives as they have unfolded and how they will unfold. We can put on our virtual spectacles and choose to see more of the good in life all tinged with rosiness and softness.
So we all gathered together for 4 days of celebration of Patrick. He asked for a coconut cake this year instead of the usual Boston Creme Pie. No problem. He wanted lots of coconut. O.K. He also wanted cream cheese filling…with pineapple slices tucked in the layers. Errrhem…eww. The pineapple slices tucked in the layers didn’t happen but there were double doses of coconut sprinkled all over an extra thick layer of cream cheese frosting.
We all went to Plum Island (and I lost all of my photos by incorrectly backing them up onto my hard drive. So all I have is cell phone photos) and walked along the beautiful secluded beach at the very tip and climbed over the huge smooth boulders worn smooth by the waves. We had lobster rolls in Newburyport at the The Black Cow Tap & Grill and butter pecan ice cream in Portsmouth at Kilwin’s Chocolate Shop.
We drove out to Gould Hill apple farm and picked out a bag full from their plentiful varieties and snacked on cider donuts. I love fall and the beautiful winds whooshed in just in time to make the weekend feel like the calendar has certainly flipped a page.
Just a quick ride down the road from us, we walked around Sunapee Harbor under the brilliant September blue sky and felt the waters cooling and settling down from the tumult of summer fun. The backdrop of trees surrounding the lake will soon be surrounding the bobbing boats with a rich wreath of corals, reds, and yellows.
Onward to hay rides, fall festivals, and pumpkin carving events. New Hampshire has vineyards that we weren’t aware of so we might make our way over to some grape harvesting festivals and see what they are like. Snow skiing season will be next. Will I conquer my fear of hopping off of the lift? Hmmm…not so sure about that. Embarrassingly, it may be the bunny slopes for me…again.
Our little town of Warner swells to several times its size by hosting a huge Fall Foliage Festival in October. We’ve only been once so I cannot wait to return this year and soak it all in. I bought this lovely carved gourd last year made by a local artisan and I want to add a few more perhaps.
- ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
- For the frosting:
- 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
- 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans and dust lightly with flour.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.
- Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.
- For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).
- To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.