Life is always happening. There is no pause button, no daily translation of the chance to pause on a run for quick breather while you stretch your quads, and certainly no real-life version of holding onto the side of the pool wall when you can't tread water any longer. Or need a sip of your sunbathing friend's strawberry daiquiri. Oh wait! There is essentially a real-life version of that and it is called wine, and it is currently in my left hand while I type this with my right.
I don't mean this in a oh-shit-I'm-drowning way (although hey, we all have weeks like that), but rather in the loveliest sense: every second is full of life, even when it doesn't feel memorable or important. The in-between Times and the ordinary moments make up the bulk of our days, which thus makes up the bulk of who we are and what our experience of our life is.
Consider the shift from the thrilling high of the first flush of falling in love (SPOILER ALERT: It only gets better and nicer! Don't believe anyone who says otherwise) into the brush-your-teeth-in-front-of-each-other phase. What you crave most when you're apart isn't the glamorous drama of fancy dates (although, I will not turn down an excuse to put on very high heels and sip a blush-pink glass of sparking rosé), but rather the little moments. The everyday things. The absent-minded kiss on the forehead. Sharing a plate of scrambled eggs in the morning. Folding laundry side by side. Being there in the morning and at night. Being there when the days are utterly unimportant, not just living for the special, starry-eyed dinner dates and carefully planned interactions.
Annie Dillard says that "how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" and I've loved this quote deeply since I read it in high school. Consider how you spend your days. In kindness? Deliberately? Choosing small, simple moments of happiness where you can? And to drive home the point, Jack Gilbert pens these lines (about his deceased wife, Michiko, which melts my heart):
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.
It would be nice to try and have the commonplace, forgettable moments be as pleasurable as possible. If they were forgettable because they were all equally full of joy, blending together in a general parade of being a good and solid friend and sister and partner.
OKAY OKAY this is very soft and sappy. I did not forget the crucial way to achieve all this joy and goodness: CAKE. Duh.
Clearly we should also fill each regular day with delicious things like dessert inspired by retro nostalgic packaged processed food I was never allowed to have (hello Little Debbie, you minx!). In particular, squares of soft and chewy oatmeal cake: the kind of cake that teeters on the edge of cookie and cake. And we should top it with a swath of fluffy frosting: sweet but not tooth-achingly so, made with marshmallow fluff. Because if something as fabulous as marshmallow fluff exists I say we should all fully embrace that fact.
Who's with me?
Iced Oatmeal Pie Bars
Makes 9 large bars
For the bars
1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (3 1/8 ounces) quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup (3 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
For the frosting
1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners' sugar
7 ounces marshmallow cream (fluff)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Swirl it constantly until the butter begins to brown and dark solids appear--it will start to quickly smell nutty. Remove it from the heat and whisk in all the spices, then set aside to let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8" x 8" baking pan (I like to line it with parchment for good measure).
Add the egg, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, and salt to the cooled butter and beat until light in color and well-mixed.
Fold in the oats and the flour. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare your frosting.
Beat the softened butter until fluffy, then add the confectioners' sugar and keep beating until pale in color.
Add the marshmallow cream, vanilla, and salt and beat until light and fluffy.
Spread over the bars, cut into squares, and serve!