It is Saturday morning, the first weekend in April, and I am thirty-six years old. The van before the old van is new, and the house that is the new house is just about finished being built. We live in the old house, up the street and around the bend, with its English Tudor trimming and the pineapple etched in the glass on the front door. I have resisted my internal weekly urge to get in the car and drive away, newspaper in the passenger seat, a collection of classified ads for garage sales circled and numbered. Instead I have risen before our children are awake and shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen. I pull the mixer toward me on the counter top, unwrap the butter I set out the night before, softened to room temp, and plunk it into the bowl. My fingers pull my apron from the drawer and slip it over my head as I inhale the morning. I hold a little silent conversation with myself, asking why it’s always so much easier to wake up when I am going to garage sales. It should not be hard to wake up to nurture your family, Self One says to Self Two. She shakes her invisible little finger. Self Two curls her shoulders in toward her heart and agrees, knowing the guilt is never enough motivation to change, it just makes her feel bad. Reaching up above the microwave I pull the old red cookbook out of the cupboard, jarring myself out of the hopeless internal interaction. When you argue with yourself, no one ever wins.
It is Saturday morning in 1994. The daffodils have sprung in the front yard and popcorn is popping on the apricot tree outside our front door, but the tree out back, shaded by the garage, has not blossomed yet. My children, all four of them, are upstairs asleep, savoring the absence of school bells. They are past the point of rising early for Saturday morning cartoons. Dreams are more interesting. John is sleeping off the defense he gave last night, representing himself before the jury of two who waited up past curfew for him to get home. His fifteen-year-old brain is full of Thoreau and Kerouac and songs by Springsteen and Dylan. I do not know what his dreams are filled with, I only know it is hard to pull him from them.
Down the hall Sarah is snuggled in her down comforter, a paperback book lost in the covers, her feet sticking out at the bottom of the bed. She sleeps soundly and silently, released from the tensions brought on by eighth grade angst and the winter blues. Across the hall eleven year old Kate is snuggled in her bed, scooched down between the arched Victorian headboard and the curved wood of the foot board. Her Ali cat is curled up on the comforter beside her. Her silky dark hair lays across her pillow, a streak of platinum falling like a waterfall through it. She savors the silence of a Saturday morning, the solitude comforts her and she feels safe alone in her room.
Next door, across the sea of stuffed animals and other play things, Annie’s arm hangs over the side of her bed, her purple blankie is wadded under her head, and a pair of pants hangs like the legs of a rag doll from the drawer of her dresser. She hovers on the cusp of adolescence, hanging tightly to her childhood while wanting to belong with her older siblings. She is nearly ten years old.
It is Saturday morning, the first Saturday in April, and because it is this particular weekend we have particular plans. To us, this little cluster of a family on Kensington Street, the waters of baptism still have meaning in our daily lives. We fight for this, and we let go for this. Our lives seem to be a pendulous rhythm of control and release, spiritually speaking, and we as parents sail carefully the mysterious waters of faith and worship with our little crew. We are believers. And because we believe, we want our children to believe. And yet, by divine decree, we cannot make them believe. It really is a sort of carnival game, this parenting thing. This weekend is unusual because it is General Conference, the semi-annual meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and all are invited to listen to four two hour sessions of instruction and inspiration on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and afternoon. We watch the conference speakers, Apostles and Prophets of our church, on television. Or we listen on the radio, which holds considerable more risk of falling asleep because it uses fewer senses. Because there is no need to dress in church clothes, or even shower, the troops upstairs have given themselves permission to sleep until the very last minute. So I concoct a plan. In an attempt to make rising more desirable, I mix butter and sugar and flour and such with sweet cinnamon and brown sugar, place it in a hot oven an hour before Conference starts.One by one they trickle down the stairs, their hair all matted and pajamas wrinkled. They drag their blankets and pillows and situate themselves in front of the TV, like kittens before a fire. I slice the Sour Cream Coffee Cake in wedges and pour six glasses of cold milk. They come to the counter, where we pray while the Tabernacle Choir sings. I want them to associate sweetness with General Conference. It’s bribery, I know. Heavenly bribery. Whatever it takes.
Something about this recipe makes me yearn to have my children around me, makes me want to hear the voices of our Lord’s disciples instructing and encouraging us.
When I was a teenager, living in Pittsburgh, the only piece of General Conference we got was a two hour block that WQED graciously aired for local Mormons on Sunday afternoon of Conference Weekend. Here in Zion, in 1994, we feast for two days, which feels like an overdose to a teenager. And so, to sweeten Saturday morning, I have made this traditional coffee cake (which I renamed Sour Cream Conference Cake) for the last couple decades.
This weekend, in April 2015, I will make two conference cakes, sending portions to John’s family of six down on Quail Run Road., and a chunk up to Gram’s house on the corner. Annie and Sarah must bake their own for their own little families because they live too far away. For Sarah, having lived in Kansas City and Herriman, she has already established it as her family tradition. I weep that Annie and her little nest of birds have flown to Spokane. But it is in one way a blessed year for us: our Kate is back in Utah with us, after six years in Houston and two in China! I will bake this and happily serve a nice warm piece to her with a cold glass of milk.
I know her. She will smile, maybe even giggle, and sit up. Her sweet angel voice will whisper “Thanks, Ma”, followed by “You’re so nice.”
My heart swells to overflowing with love for this crew of mine, growing and shifting and shrinking and stretching the way it does. I love their goodness, and their tenderness, their questioning minds and their obedient hearts.
This weekend General Conference for the LDS Church will be broadcast worldwide on Saturday and on Sunday. Wherever you are you can join us via LDS.org. We will be tuned in, ready to learn and be strengthened by God’s servants. And no doubt there will be the aroma of cinnamon surrounding us as we partake: feasting on the Word, and on Sour Cream Conference Cake.
Sour Cream Conference Cake
¾ c. soft butter or margarine
1 ½ c. sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 ½ t. soda
½ t. salt
1 ½ c. sour cream
Mix ½ c. brown sugar
½ c. finely chopped nuts
1 ½ t. cinnamon
Heat oven to 350. Grease bundt pan or two loaf pans. Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 mins. Mix in flour, soda, baking powder and salt alternately with sour cream.
Spread 1/3 batter in pan, sprinkle with ½ Filling. Add another 1/3 batter, followed with Filling. Top with last of batter.
Bake 60 minutes. Cool slightly before inverting onto plate.
(Sometimes I make a double batch of filling and put some on the bottom of the bundt pan, so that there will be a nutty crunchy gooey topping when you take it out of the pan.)