Mundane turned Miraculous

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Upon the death of our trees,
I learn the Hebrew word for orchard is paradise

I’ve grown up watching my father eat apples
straight off the trees.
His mouth wide,
he’d take one giant bite,
tearing the skin,
exposing the belly,
carving out one side of the round, crimson masterpiece

with the sharp of his teeth.

Then, baring the pearl white
of its insides,
and without noticing his own arm,
he’d toss the fruit
a few rows behind him, an offering
of half-eaten McIntosh,

Ida Reds, Galas, Spys.

We could afford this.

They were ours.
We could take only one bite and
throw it down, throw it back.
We had no reason to finish every bite,
to eat all the way to the core, to the seeds.
  ~
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I wrote this poem in 2001, before kids, before meeting my husband, before college graduation. It was about that time that I started writing about my family’s apples, our trees. My grandpa was an apple farmer, and when the orchard he managed closed up, when the equipment was auctioned off piece by piece, when the fall came and no one was out picking, I became keenly aware of how much of me and my family was wrapped up in that land, of how those rolling acres were the setting for so much of our story. 
 

Now, several years later, my mom and dad have planted apple trees on nearly every available inch of their land. And so, when I get to witness my boys playing on the farm, picking apples, or riding the tractor with Papa, I well up with gratitude. And I remember the words I wrote late at night in that college dorm room nearly two decades ago:

The miraculous can be so close to mundane that we often miss it.

I’ve grown up watching my dad grab a fresh apple off a tree, take one giant bite, and then throw it back into the tall grass surrounding another row of Spies, Ida Reds, Galas.  It seems he would do this without even noticing the apple, or maybe with the deliberate arms of a man who knew he could take only one bite, a kind of taste testing of a masterpiece.

I’ve started to take pictures of them now, of the trees, of the apples, of the baskets we carry them in.  I’m terrified of losing them. My kids may not grow up with the indulgence of taking just one bite, then throwing the apple back, knowing there are millions more hanging on the trees.  They may not get the chance to go for rides in the back of the pickup truck on Sundays, with their Grandpa driving, aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers sitting on the back of the cab, ducking under low-hanging branches, getting off while Grandpa tries to drive the raggedy truck up the hills.  They may not be hushed to spot a couple of deer nibbling off branches, to be quiet so that everyone can get a glance at the timid creatures before the white tails run, bouncing farther into the trees. They may not know this. They may not live this.

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But my kids are living this, I’m still living this, and this time – miraculous or mundane – I’m not missing it.  Each fall, I’m extraordinarily grateful not just for the sweet taste of apples, but for the memories my kids are planting – for the the dirt under their fingernails, the holes in their jeans, and the sticky chins I’m washing.

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Our apple crisp

Apple Crisp is my go-to fall dish. It’s much faster and easier than pie, and the smell that fills the house is almost as good as the taste. My recipe is a combination of my Grandma Lamers and Betty Crocker — Grandma skips the oatmeal; Betty uses less butter.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

  • 5-6 medium tart apples (I like Paula Reds or Courtlands)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 stick butter, cold & sliced thin

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease sides and bottom of a pie pan or 8×8 square pan.  Peel, slice, and scatter apples in the pan. Eat a few as you work. You’ll have to cut up a couple extra because your kids will walk by and steal a few, too. It’s okay — they’re good for them.

Mix remaining dry ingredients, adding butter last and cutting it into the dry mixture. Sprinkle the mixture liberally over the top of the apples.

Bake about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm. It reheats just fine.

That first hill

Photo credit: Priscilla Westra, unsplash.com
Photo credit: Priscilla Westra, unsplash.com

 

It took me awhile to enjoy rollercoasters.

I was a nervous, cautious kid, not one to take risks — and it wasn’t until high school that I remember being talked into venturing onto a rollercoaster and walking off the platform with a smile on face. My problem was that as soon as I reached the pinnacle  — that moment of the first drop, as soon as momentum picked up — my stomach went under, and I would panic and forget to breathe.  But eventually, by laughing and screaming with a good friend beside me, I came to realize that if I could will myself to let out my breath as we plunged down that first hill, I might actually enjoy the ride. I might get why people waited hours in lines to ride these things.

(Now, as I near forty, my brain and my bladder would rather me speak metaphorically about this experience than get in line to prove it’s still true.)

For teachers, August can feel like that slow click, click, click up the first hill of the rollercoaster.

I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m anxious, I’m anticipating — I know the steep drop ahead of me. I know I will have 140-some names, faces, and stories to learn. I know I will trade my summer sunrise walks for earlier-than-usual alarm clocks and lessons that I am inspired to revise while in the shower that morning. I know that my email box will fill quickly, and I will decorate my desk with sticky notes of to-do lists. I know I will finish the first day and sit down relieved, only to grasp the reality that I get to do it again the next day. (More than a decade in, why is this continually a surprise to me in September?)

And so this weekend, I’m mentally rehearsing my breathing. I’m reminding myself that the joy is in the work, that the reward is in showing up — and that the fantasy of finishing it all or doing it perfectly is silly.

Because that’s not the point.

I most enjoy teaching and my students most enjoy learning when I remember the basics — when I keep it simple and share my passion for reading and writing. When I don’t overplan or push too hard. When I honor the slowness and the messiness that is learning.

My tendency to forget to breathe is a symptom of trying too hard to control things that are not mine to control. My tendency to tense up and feel overwhelmed is a symptom of forgetting that life is, in fact, not an emergency. That teaching is an art, not a science, and that I’m working with adolescents, not machines. That the beauty — the fun of the ride — is easily missed when I’m closing my eyes, holding my breath, and clenching my hands too tightly.

Tuesday morning I’ll walk into my classroom to teach, but I’ll also send off my three sons to their own classrooms. Like me — like their teachers — they will be a little nervous, a little tired, a little afraid, a little excited. Let’s all promise to breathe, to laugh, as we take this first hill together.

A past first day, minus the youngest, who will be a preschooler this year.
A past first day, minus the youngest, who will be a preschooler this year.