fall knits

I am forever texting my sister Joanie style questions. She understands fashion heritage and trends in a way I will never fathom. I was so excited when she agreed to do a regular column on here! All links are affiliate. You are welcome to suggest a focus for her next column, secretly I’m hoping: jeans. And now, Joanie:

Joanie writes:

I’m excited to be collaborating with my sister on this new style column. I can sum up our style relationship as me knowing almost everything that is in her wardrobe and being truly shocked when I see her in something I didn’t pick out or approve for her to buy. Sister honesty is nice when it comes to things like clothing. She can send me a text asking what I think of a sweater and I can simply respond with “no” without fearing that I’ve hurt her feelings!

The agenda of this column is less trend, more: personal style, share things I’ve found and loved, styling tips, and general clothing fun. I worked in fashion for several years and have dressed hundreds of women of every shape and size which has given me a deep appreciation for the female body and clothing it. I’m also sympathetic for the mass confusion that clothing brands have caused for women trying to dress for themselves. Fashion or style can be categorized into vanity but in reality, it’s something that impacts us everyday. I don’t think it should occupy too much of your brain-space, but I do know there is comfort, efficiency, and power in having some items in your closet that you really love and that make you feel good. And then building on those items over years so that you have a wardrobe that, for the most part, you love.

There are lots of tips to make shopping (in-person and online) easier and I’ll share some along the way. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a question! The first thing I want to touch on as a baseline  for all posts going forward is size/sizing, since it impacts every part of shopping. We’ll call this tip, “letting go of your grip on size”. Fashion has become a numbers game with people constantly telling themselves,  “I’m a 6”, or “I’m a 12” and living and dying by that number. Every brand (and within that brand every item) is going to run differently. Even if you ordered the same pair of pants year after year they would all fit slightly different. I can’t tell you how many great pieces I would have missed out if I only tried the item in “my size”. And beyond that, how many amazing sale rack pieces I’ve found because the sizing was clearly wrong and most people left the piece behind when their believed size didn’t fit.  I have things that fit in my closet from a size 0-8 and that’s a realistic range, given that I’m generally a size 4. Plan on freely going up or down two sizes whenever you’re trying something on. We have such a strong relationship to our size equalling some part of our self-worth that a self-identified Size 6 fitting best in a 10 can throw some people off. Focus more on the fit than the number. I’ll make notes around items if I believe they run large or small. Some brands like H&M always runs small and others, like Everlane, run on the bigger size. And don’t be afraid to order multiple of the same item. We are fully in the online-shopping age and surrendering our access to the dressing room means creating options within your online order.

A note on items that I pick, I get feedback from both sides of people saying please don’t promote fast fashion and others who say please make things affordable. And I see both sides, the reality is not everyone can afford to spend $150 on a dress and as much as I promote ethical manufacturing and practices I also want to be inclusive so you’ll see a mix of all brands here. I also believe that vintage/second hand shopping is one of the best ways to shop for a number of reasons but that’s hard to include in a blog post. I would say that 50% of my wardrobe is second hand and I’ll include tips, when I can, for the best ways to shop secondhand.

And now for today’s topic, KNITS! to me, knits are year-round, but Fall is upon us which means they’re even more in focus. H&M and Mango happen to be one of my favorite places to buy them and I’ve included several in this round-up. My recommendation is if you see something you love, act quickly, things sell out fast. Knitwear is also easy to find secondhand, when people clean out their closets to make space they give away bulky items like sweaters and coats. The Men’s section of the thrift store generally yields better results.

a.H&M

b.H&M

c.H&M

a. I love the vibrant red of this cardigan. Nothing more cheery than a bright sweater on a gray winter day.

b. This cable knit sweater is going to give you the feel of an Irish fisherman sweater, it’s supposed to be boxy! I’d order a size up and embrace the chunkiness of the knit by wearing it over a slim t-shirt or dress.

c. I find myself reaching for my oversized v-neck sweater more than any other. This is going to be slouchy so maybe try ordering down in size, but the extra room makes it the perfect thing to pair with a slim pencil skirt or a pair of skinny jeans.

d. & other stories

e. Uniqlo

f. JCrew

d. There is a special place in my heart for ribbed knits. They’re classic and the ribbed element is a nice detail. I like that they’re showing this sweater with a cuffed sleeve giving it an extra level of relaxed. On par with ribbed is waffle knit, like this sweater (not pictured), which reminds me of old school thermals that people used to wear.

e. I love this turtleneck sweater from Uniqlo. It would look great with denim or with a knee length silky skirt and low boots. All four colors are beautiful but I can’t resist a winter white (natural).

f. I really like the preppy feeling the collar give to this J.Crew cashmere sweater. The price point is excellent for cashmere. I’d order one size up so that I could layer a striped t-shirt under it or wear it alone with a little slouch at the neckline.

g. babaa

h. MANGO

i. MANGO

g.If you’re looking for an investment piece, the answer is Babaà. I only have one of their sweaters, this one (not pictured), and I love it, and I’m planning how to get my hands on another one. I love the option for 100% cotton. Wool is beautiful, but I love how easy it is to wash cotton and the way it feels on my skin. For investment pieces, I think buying in a neutral shade is safe but I respect a statement sweater as well, like green, yellow, or red. Her colors are perfect.

h. This cardigan from mango is beautiful and a great price point at $60. This sweater is a classic, from the length to the buttons.

i. I could write an entire blogpost on dusters (long sweaters/sweater coats) but in the mean time I’m here to tell you that it’s the missing item in your closet. It’s as comfortable as wearing a bathrobe while being as chic as a trench coat. They are amazingly versatile from traveling to morning school runs. My one point of advice is not to buy any that are too thin. They end up being clingy and not cozy and relaxed. I also love this one (not pictured).

Favorite Camping Dinners

As I drove to the grocery store to buy supplies for our camping trip, I asked Instagram for inspiration. I received a flood of Favorite Camping Meals ideas in response.

One of the groundbreaking moments came among the first messages: you can buy pancake mix in a bottle to which you just add water. This has been on the shelves of my grocery store all this time and I never noticed it. (Admittedly I don’t buy pancake mix because I make them from scratch with a near-obsessive ranking of recipes. But still!)

Back in February, I found out when a nearby church did their camping trip, and then booked a spot for our family. Once the date approached I shortened our trip dates and removed our younger children from the reservation. I did the grocery shopping and borrowed a cooler from a friend to store the food. But it was Joe who loaded up the bikes, found the sleeping bags, packed the cooler and took the two older girls camping for two nights. That’s how we sort these things through these days.

In addition to packing our kettle for making pour-over coffee in the morning, Joe brought our 12″ dual-handle cast iron pan that we use for almost everything on our stove at home. I really prefer the dual-handle style, less risk of random wrist burns on a crowded stovetop.

The girls’ favorite meal were the pancakes, made from the shake n’ pour, cooked in the grease from the breakfast sausage. Vermont maple syrup, of course

The List

Major theme among the messages: Tinfoil dinners. Packets of chopped veggies, hamburger meat (or no meat), butter, salt. I get the sense these are very nostalgic? Lovely idea.

Second major theme: pie irons. Another lovely idea. Primarily people suggested making personalized sandwiches, sweet or savory.

  • Freeze things ahead of time and use them to keep your cooler chilled:
    • Taco meat: I am partial to Julia Turshen’s approach to making taco meat: cook the meat, once it’s no longer pink, add a jar of salsa, let it cook down. Done!
    • Baked cinnamon rolls: I make em, bake em, freeze em, and then get very excited about how they work as an ice pack in our cooler and by the second morning camping they are exactly thawed enough to cut in half. We just toast them over the fire.-nikaelamarie
    • Pork or chicken fried rice (simplicityfound14)
    • Taco soup–serve with toppings
  • If you like carne asada buy some skirt steak and marinade it in ziplocks with Italian dressing. (mhandmaid)
  • Tacos: prep everything in advance and warm up the meat and shells by the fire.
  • Stomboli: wrap it in foil and warm it in/near the farm. (ephie_jg)
  • Pesto pasta, made with jarred pesto sauce.
  • Box of spanish fried rice with diced tomatoes, black beans, and shredded cheese on top. Throw in some cut up hot dogs if you’re feeling feisty. (monicaeshortell)
  • Baked beans with molasses over cornbread in a skillet. (fieldandhome_)
  • Pre-made chili or other soups. (brooklinheirloomhome)
  • Quick cooking oats in a bag mixed with nuts, raisins, cinnamon. (krosenberg3)
  • Splurging on Justin’s peanut butter or almond butter packets.
  • Skillet nachos.
  • Marinated steak tips cooked over the fire with veggie kabobs. (abbiebabble)
  • Chocolate chip cookies s’mores–less crumble than graham crackers. (mcusack7)
  • Shrimp tacos: I love this idea because shrimp cook instantly and are always over-cooking in the home kitchen! (bethannender)
  • Bread toasted over the fire with avocado on top. (scusack3)
  • Kebabs: marinate chicken and veggies beforehand, skewer and roast over the fire. (emilyhgardner).
  • Baked potatoes: rub them in oil, wrap in foil, throw them in the coals. (ritacusack)
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Anything you can make ahead of time and reheat. (kottenweller).
  • Peppers/potatoes/onions & olive oil, generous pat of butter, wrap well in foil and throw on the fire. Top with creole, sour cream, and grated cheddar. (itsahuntlife) Bridget and I have a longstanding joke on how she always manages to eat the most vegetables per meal. This…proves it again.
  • Kendall’s Catwalk Chicken & Dumplings (kkpinckney)
  • Ramen (mulvihilla)
  • Extra sharp cheddar and wheat thins. (jennyschmucker) I gave a little sigh of joy I read this one.
  • Big juicy burgers with grilled onions and avocado and a can of bush’s baked beans. (merrittkinkadegee)
  • Banana boats (honeybeebop): I’ve had walking tacos, but I’ve never heard of banana boats! Such a fun idea. I ended up sending bananas and nutella with Joe, but the inspiration was the same.
  • Steamed mussels: I love this idea because, like shrimp, mussels cook so quickly at home. (mgoscinski)
  • Frozen cheese tortellini layered in marinara sauce with mozzarella. (The tortellini is frozen when packed into the cooler.) Cook over the coals in a Dutch oven for thirty minutes. Serve with bread and bag of caesar salad. (kayceann)

I tried to attribute all specific ideas. Many ideas were mentioned several times! Thank you so much to everyone for helping us!

Warm times and the rhubarb bellini

The upper reaches of the United States are at fifteen and a quarter hours of daylight and counting. My day begins at 6am with the youngest child, and I typically kiss the oldest goodnight between ten and eleven pm. It’s not a period with much sleep, but the outdoors are stoked with brilliant green, the furious buzzing of bees and wasps, sneech kasnitches of the crickets, and the casual side-eye of the garter snakes that shyly circle the yard. Wild strawberries are just beginning to turn red, and if you walk very slowly, you will see their garnet teacups, the size of baby fingernails, peeking out.

The interior of the house slopes into neglect. Dishes gather around the sink, laundry quietly piles up, the floors seem gently rugged with grass clippings and chip crumbs. Walking in from the brilliant sunshine outside the kitchen looks dimly lit–sleepy hollow at noon. No matter how tidy, the sensation of the indoors is a damp envelope compared to the rolling plateau of the lawn and trees.

As a month June is generously supplied with biting insects of many kinds. They come out and disappear again at certain times of day, so the only way to be sure you’re not missing a wonderful hour outside, is to constantly wander out to check. You take the wonderful hours as much as you can get them.

I have so many observations from this wildly vocal and informed time on social media, alongside the viscerally physical protests, marchs, vigils, rallies that I have scoped, as if with binoculars, through my screen from afar. I don’t have any particularly unique thoughts to share yet, but mostly mundanely, for myself, I took on the following delightful commitment: of those I follow on instagram, at least 15% of them should be Black. Such a tiny step, yet far beyond what I had. Therefore far beyond what my daily feed and intake of stories was mixed to reflect. It humbles me to share that with you, and yet I think it’s important to start honestly and begin with the stories.

Perhaps it’s too late for rhubarb in your region, but I’m putting this recipe here for next year anyway. We received three enormous starter plants from Joe’s mom, but my batch of eating rhubarb came from a neighbor–brilliantly pink and tart.

Joe’s mom told us she can remember as a girl sitting with a friend, each of them holding a cup of sugar and a stalk of rhubarb–dipping and biting. I treated myself to this same snack while chopping up the rhubarb for this recipe. Faintly jammy, wonderfully tart and but uniquely rhubarb flavored, you can put this in the bottom of the cup to pour soda or prosecco over. Kids and adults sipped with delight. And it is so pretty in the glass.

rhubarb bellini puree

  • 2 cups rhubarb (about 4 slender stalks) cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • grated zest of a lemon
  • 1/4 water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Place the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, water, and lemon juice into a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes. It will steadily break down as you check on it, and stir. Some of the texture will remain, but that’s the fun of it.
  2. Remove from the heat and place the saucepan in a bowl of ice water to cool it quickly, about ten minutes. (I skipped this step, just turned off the heat and left it alone for twenty minutes.)
  3. Place about 1.5 tablespoons puree in the bottom of the glass. Pour in prosecco one-third full. Stir well to blend in the rhubarb puree. Gradually top up each glass with more prosecco, stirring to prevent the sparkling wine from bubbling over.

Serve, share, be thankful.

From The New York Times Cookbook.

 

 

Curriculum and Homeschool Resources I Love

Let’s think broadly for a moment about what homeschooling in Fall 2020 might look like. It will be pieced together like a very homemade pie crust. You might be working in the mornings, and homeschooling in the afternoon. Your neighbors might be homeschooling one day a week (twice on Thursdays, as Eeyore likes to say). Your mother-in-law might take on dictation with one child. Your dad might take on science with all of them. You agree to some sort of co-op lunch program with your neighbor where every other day the kids eat lunch at the other’s house and hear a story read aloud.

Or, perhaps you will be handling quite a lot. You are totally by yourself. You do two hours a day, whenever it fits. 

The rest of the time the children are checking chores off a list, creatively playing/trashing the one room you conveniently never deign to look in, helping you prep lunch, staying up too late in their room telling stories to each other, and sleeping in. They wake up and tell you their dreams with enviable recall. They learn how to use wikipedia and tell you at dinner what they read. Likely, very likely, they take on projects of their own, like listing the personality traits of every character in their favorite book or designing bug traps that are eerily successful. 

Would that be so bad? 

Continue reading

Anything for 30 minutes

The sky was moody yesterday and my mood matched. I did that thing where you just sit quietly in the center of the action and respond to the queries that come to you, but you don’t seek them out. Don’t try to intervene in an argument, don’t redirect energy, don’t suggest other activities to try beside arguing about who sat on the white pillow first.

You’re just there, present, but gazing softly at your notebook.

Much to my dismay, time in the warp of social distancing seems to be speeding up. Weeks are the new state of being. I feel that without the book markers of the calendar–the festival, the birthday party, the spring parade–the months are’t being perceived. Are we entering an alter-planet, like that of the space voyager in interstellar (film, 2014), where a few moments spent too long evaluating a dust-storm on a distant planet means his missed his daughter’s high school years back on earth?

As part of their homeschool curriculum the girls memorize a timeline of historic events. Indus River Valley Civilization. China’s Shang Dynasty. Roman Republic. India’s Gupta Dynasty. Black Death. Seven Years War. Mexican revolution. President Nixon resigns. Apartheid abolished in South Africa. (I’m just sharing a few examples, there are 161 total markers on the timeline.)

I’ve relied on this timeline concept in recent weeks when we’ve had to announce camp weeks that will not happen, and the cancellation of festivals they were looking forward to attending. “This will be on the timeline, girls. You’ll tell your children about this year. And your grandchilden!”

It seems to help lend a bit of the perspective that is easier to come by as an adult. This is unique, and it’s not forever.

I was chatting with my sister the other day when I shared this incredibly clever cocktail with her that I had just invented: half a lime squeezed into a white ale beer. “It is very evocative,” I said. “Of what?,” she asked. “A corona with lime?”

Critics notwithstanding, I recommend to you simple riffs like this. Take a moment or two or ten to make something nice for yourself. I’ve also returned to the erstwhile negroni, that Italian cocktail that seems to taste best when the sun is setting. Evaluating the bar cupboard, I made the simple riff decision to replace the vermouth with chilled box white wine. I didn’t notice the difference actually, I felt it tasted better than the traditional vermouth version!

Whenever I’m feeling dread or intimidation over an activity a child has asked for help with, I remind myself: I can do anything for 30 minutes. Reading aloud book I don’t like. A sewing project I don’t understand myself, much more understand enough to explain it out loud. Standing sentry behind the toddler while she practices climbing the stairs. Surely I have thirty minutes for this child, right? Right.

I’m all for boundaries and saying no, but there are those projects that your child will insist on, with patience and eager hope in their eyes: please, please do this with me. I settle in, privately deciding if, at thirty minutes it’s as awful as I suspected it might be, I can be done. If we’ve done nothing but muddle the cutting and sewing project, it can be done. If the book is barely readable, if the experiment seems a meaningless mess, either way, we can be done. I can even have the presence of mind to say as the end approaches, “Just ten more minutes and then I’d like to do something else.”

The result is almost always that the child is satisfied with my time spent and very nearly on the verge of moving on themselves. I am satisfied that I’ve finally done the thing, and only thirty minutes has elapsed. It works very well. Try it, anything for thirty minutes, but keep it a secret from your fellow participants.

As for the way I like to sometimes spend thirty minutes, these brownies take about that to whip together, and they are exactly what I always hope brownies will taste like. They are steady staples in our stay-home dessert rotation.

Thick & Chewy Brownies from Canal House Cook Something

  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I do this, but I feel its optional too)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (very optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack set in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with some butter, then dust it with some flour, tapping out any excess.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, stirring until it has the consistency of soft slush and just begins to bubble around the edges, 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add both chocolates, the espresso, and the salt to the pan, stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well combined.

Put the eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed. Gradually add the warm chocolate mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating constantly until well combined. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour and walnuts, if using, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a rack, then into squares.

“Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Eat a lot of good food. Spend some fun evenings watching movies, reading with, and doing music with your kids.”  

Two homeschool master theorists came together for an hour long zoom chat this week. Susan Wise Bauer, author of the four volume Story of the World (a series that tells history in the most fascinating read-aloud-friendly way) and The Well Trained Mind: a Guide to Classical Education at Home. And Julie Bogart, writing coach and author of The Brave Learner, an energetic and creative go-get-em homeschool book.

This is something that may have happened at a conference in the pre-COVID days, but instead I was able to watch on my couch with a heated blanket and a mug of sweet black tea. I put it on my calendar, announced it to the family, and lo: I listened in at 4pm in attentive silence.

Both women homeschooled their 4+ children. Susan classically, and Julie in a free-form unschooling “magic,” yet intensive way. Their books are full of ideas for curriculum, method, and approach. I can become overwhelmed reading their work, saying to myself “I might do one of these twenty ideas.”

As intense as that sounds, in Thursday’s talk, they were commiserative about life these days. It was an excellent call. I definitely recommend watching it, no matter which stage of homeschool-acceptance you are in right now. Julie compared grocery shopping now to doing an errand in a foreign country: you go to the Italian post office and come back home, ready for a nap. That rang so true for me. I’ve been anxiously hyped before each grocery visit.

Susan said seven-year-old boys who don’t like writing were about as common as autumn leaves in the fall.

Julie said to pick one or two subjects every day, and plan for no more than two hours of academic work of any sort each day total. Susan said she wishes she hadn’t been so dismissive of video games and comic books when her boys were little.

“Take a super short view and say: what do I want to do over the next two months? For each child, what is my number one priority, over the next two months? Put it in your calendar, make a physical note for two months from now. Decide then–do I still want to focus on this, or do I want to focus on something else?”[…] “Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Eat a lot of good food. Spend some fun evenings watching movies, reading with, and doing music with your kids.”

I hope you have a chance to enjoy it as much as I did. Link to the video of the call, posted on facebook.

dreamy sheep farm image via Thankful Sage Farm School

 

 

The Garlic Pause

Even since Pamela Druckerman wrote about “le pause” in her hilarious memoir Bringing Up Baby, I’ve thought of it as her clever idea, though she attributes it to French parents one and all. Le Pause is a five-minute delay that French parents wait out (wine sip) when their baby begins crying. It’s an opportunity, given from the newborn stage on, to let the baby try to sort out what’s wrong on their own. It is a habit that ends up being intuitive for parents of multiple children (mostly because it takes you five minutes to respond). Both sets, the experienced and the inexperienced, often observe that babies will settle back in after a screech or two mid-nap.

A few years ago I met the curious culinary equivalent: the garlic pause.

Researchers into garlic’s immune-boosting strength discovered that if you leave garlic to sit for ten minutes before cooking with it, 70% of the allicin is preserved. If you use it immediately you destroy the heat-sensitive enzyme that triggers the reaction to create allicin. Allicin is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal property and what researchers often attribute to garlic’s cancer fighting potential. (I am not a nutritionist, I learned all of this from the fascinating book Eating on the Wild Side. <–that’s a link to where she discusses allicin!)

To recapture all the antibacterial allicin being squandered in my kitchen, I had to switch up my cooking pattern a bit because garlic is typically the first ingredient in the hot pan. Now, I chop up the garlic first thing, then do a few dishes, wipe down the counters, and come back to cooking. Thus, the garlic pause came into being in my kitchen.

Below, my three very favorite pasta recipes lately (two out of three contain garlic). I’ve included my favorite pesto recipe. Controversial. There are so many pesto recipes out there! This one is from Simply in Season (shout-out to the humble Mennonites cooks) and the proportions are perfect. To save money I always use walnuts in pesto, instead of pine nuts.

  • Julia Turshen’s sausage & caramelized onion one-pan dish from Small Victories (pictured above, thanks for the photo, Rachel!). I’ve made this delicious dish for countless dinner parties. It is packed with favorite things: sausage, greens, cream, lemon zest! It also seems to make one box of pasta go a long way. You can see the recipe as it is written in the cookbook right here.

A Pesto recipe, from Simply in Season

  • 1 cup / 250 ml packed fresh basil leaves and tender stems
  • 1-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup /75 ml pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts (toasted)
  • 3-6 tablespoons parmesan grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 2 springs flat parsley (if you happen to have it!)

Finely chop all of the above together in a food processor.

  • 1/3-1/2 cup / 75-125 ml olive oil

Add gradually while food processor runs to make a thick paste. Serve at room temperature with any kind of hot pasta. I like to retain 1/2 cup of pasta water in a mug, and dribble a bit of it in when I add the pesto to the pasta. It makes the pesto creamier. Add a bit at a time until it looks how you’d like.

  • Jon & Vinny’s fusilli alla vodka. This is a new one for me, I learned of it from my west-coast sister Joanie (thanks for the photo, Joanie!). After she shared it, several members of my family all made the same dish in their homes! Is that happening in your extended household during quarantine? I love the minimal ingredients and honestly, fusilli is my favorite pasta shape. Recipe at bon appetit. 

 

the birthday edition

Here I am, 35. Weaning my fourth daughter, thinking about buying a lamb. Saying “last baby,” in the way that people who believe in last babies say, because they want to see it coming and say goodbye.

Baking bread, simmering beans. Wish I cared less about messy corners.

Once I believed in no shampoo. Once I believed in all shampoo. Now I believe your body changes what it needs and you should look in the mirror and decide then.

Did I ask for anything for my birthday? yes. I asked for new slippers because I wore mine nearly every day last year and they simply gave up on day 360. I asked for oysters and a cake by mail. I received a handwritten book (“My Story” by Lux Ringenberg), a cherry wood platter sanded to gentleness by Joan, and a small box for my drawer of chaos crafted from wood and glue by Alma. There was also a sawdust cake topped with real candles and sprinkles (ferried away from the kitchen without my noticing), with frosting made from flour and water.

This week the girls learned about valkyries and watched The Ring Cycle opera which is available on the Metropolitan Opera’s streaming service. The fact that the Met has a streaming service is a thing I never would have bothered to google if not for this being week six of family quarantine. Thanks to Ronia (Netflix/Astrid Lindgren) the girls already love harpies. The valkyries seem to be an even fiercer inspiration for them to contemplate.

I did not watch it with them but I listened from the other room and overheard the selective reading aloud of subtitles. “Giant. I think that’s a giant? ‘Unless you are honest and keep your word. A simple minded giant tells you this–wise woman, heed what he says.'”

I came in to watch a few minutes. “Mom, you’ll love this, it’s so cool. It’s freezing cool.” said the four-year-old who cannot read subtitles.

If you can’t make a list of what you love in life on your birthday, when can you? A few things:

I’m in love with the anti-fragility of google forms right now. I feel like everything wonderful has migrated to a google form of one sort or another. Sign up. Volunteer. Spread the news. Let me know.

example: This farmer in Southern Vermont grows the most beautiful and obscure flowering plants of all sorts in her greenhouse, and then sells them from her front yard. She has a google spreadsheet order form posted up for spring orders. Place the order, drive and get your plants sometime in May. Bunker Farm Plants (click the link in her instagram profile for the order form.)

Bon Tucson: such a classy shop that seems to carry only the most lovely things presented in the gentlest way. I so admire their style.

The cookbooks story on Tonke’s instagram account. What a pretty collection she has, and her reviews are wonderfully precise. It’s the most recent story listed.

Our monthly coffee subscription from my hometown coffeeshop Madcap (Grand Rapids, Michigan). It is the best most delicious coffee I’ve ever had, they strive to pay more than fair trade prices to their growers, they are obsessed with quality, and they ship three bags once a month. It’s been perfect for the last year and I’m so thankful for it.

Speaking of cookbooks, Tim of Lottie and Doof told me about Midnight Chicken and it’s one of the books I happened to have with me during quarantine. My quaran-team. A thoughtful reflective cookbook filled with short memory-essays and encouraging ideas. Extremely British. It is the single reason I buy more expensive butter for toast now (strictly for slathering) than I did before.

Papers of All Sorts

We are in day two of deep engagement with scantily clad golden age Greek paper dolls. Scraps of paper are blowing hither and thither around the house, but the girls are loving cutting and coloring these detailed creatures and as previously mentioned, I have zero better ideas. They are using ones copied out of the Story of the World Activity book, which I unfortunately can’t find scans of online. But the blog Practical Pages has fun detailed ones which you may print off for free.

I’m feeling disinterested in making meals right now. I think perhaps I’ve parceled them off too much? Taken the glamour out of the evening meal? It might be the gradually more meager supplies at the store influencing me too. Simplicity feels smart. I only want to eat pesto, bread, pink pickled onions, and cheese on repeat.

I finished my book this morning and I miss it already. Girl, Woman, Other. A collection of chapters each about a different human, often related to each other as friend, child, mother, grandmother. The writing was lovely and poetic and the chapter style made it easy to pick up and put back down. The characters were so interesting and most of their stories had quiet endings as if of course, isn’t life itself interesting enough?

I’m codependent on books right now so I’ve already ordered another. The local bookstore is offering porch drop offs (lovely!). I ordered Weather by Jenny Offill. Went for the hardcopy, because maybe Joe will want to read it too.

Aloud, I am reading the Railway Children to the girls. We love it. The writing is fabulous, and the family is isolated and self-entertaining like the rest of us.

In a rare moment of prescience I bought the supplies for egg nests back in February and saved them until now. These are so easy to make but the girls turned them into a really lengthy project this time–spooning the sugar into the bowl by spoonfuls, trying different designs of nests. I typically expect projects of being 1:1:1–equal ratios of time spent setting up and cleaning up, to the time the project was actually engaging. It’s unexpected when it turns into something longer. The girls each selected one nest to save for Easter morning.

descend on our whole horizon

I keep waking up with a feeling of profound anxiety. When I wake the anxiety momentarily balances, like a hat resting on a doll, upon something I am not truly anxious about–the state of the kitchen dishes, a friend I forgot to call back, I never did write that thank you note…then the soapy water of sleep swirls away and the thin drain appears: the pandemic.

In general I am not an anxious person but I do like to forecast forward, and I am pessimistic. I have realistic projections of situations, and because of this I am rarely surprised by things. Though we read the news of the virus, the lockdowns, and the rate of infection in China in January, looking back if feels like we treated it as deeply other, as a nearly fictitious level of science reality. The way in which the pandemic has been handled by American federal authorities has been so outrageously bad that it feels like no projection can get too dark. The lack of oversight of infections and travel, the lack of ventilators for the hospitals, the untruthful  communication and lax restrictions. The time they had, that they wasted. Putting our healthcare professionals on the front lines, as if as innocent sacrificial lambs for the sin of arrogance.

It is an astounding experience to be in.

In April of last year I had an infant, a big messy house, three children at home all day and a thick layer of snow on the ground. One early morning, predawn, I was sitting under the blankets, nursing the baby in the dark, with my layers of socks and frozen windowpanes. A vision appeared: waking up in the morning with the baby, making our coffee, Joe and I sitting on the porch in the sun. Birds singing. Grass growing before our eyes. Though it seemed unbelievable, it was a totally attainable vision. A month or so later, as soon as it warmed up, we woke up earlier, crept downstairs more quietly, made our coffee and sat outside. Every day. For nearly the whole of the summer. And it was glorious.

I often wonder if we would have bothered to get out of bed, or ever discovered the beauty of that thirty minutes, had I not had that vision in the darker spot. It is the case that you can hold both dark and light projections in your hands at the same time.

I am savoring these words of Brian McLaren’s, quoted on the Center for Action and Contemplation’s blog yesterday:

Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . .

From Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality. Quoted on CAC.