This week I made Alison Roman’s lasagna x 3, in one big batch. I wanted to make a pan of lasagna to drop off at “winter camp,” the occasional weekend camp that our two older girls go to–skating, sledding, skiing, being cold, watching movies, drinking cocoa, sleeping over, basically the best of winter in a weekend (the kids are asked to be vaccinated, test negative, and wear masks when playing together indoors). I wanted to make a pan for a friend who had surgery a few weeks ago. And I wanted a pan for my family. I have actually never made lasagna for my family. I have never been intrigued by it. But after listening to Alison make it while I was doing other kitchen tasks, I was into it. (I think watching her handle the noodles and keep them from sticking was the most reassuring part to me.) And it was so. good. Yum. And it fed us for three nights–I’m sold! (Recipe; Youtube edition)
My sisters-in-law, sister, and I had an interesting discussion over the holiday about Alison Roman coming back from being cancelled. Given that she apologized for her in-poor-taste comments within 24hrs of the publication of them, it feels crazy that abruptly afterward she lost everything she had, career-wise. Being cancelled/crowd-mobbed-criticized seems inevitable these days, so watching someone lose their career and then restart it as her own thing feels like joining her post-apocalyptic, in a relaxing way. (This long New Yorker article summarizes it, if you missed the whole thing.)
Speaking of cookbooks, gardening podcaster Margaret Roach occasionally interviews baking hero Alexandra Stafford to get Alexandra’s take on new cookbooks. The interview is delightful, and the recommended cookbooks are always gems.
It’s been in the teen digits here lately, so cold, so I’m wandering around in knitwear and Joe and I often find ourselves in same sweatshirts from day to day. It’s still so important to get outside though; I’m thankful for whatever excuses we can come up with to do that and the random extended opportunities like the “wild” church service my friend holds outside once a month at her house. I’m always surprised by how quickly we acclimate to the temperature, as long as we are dressed warmly. We began our first week back to homeschooling after the holiday break and I felt like our brains were in birds-take-flight mode. We could handle in an hour attention span together and then needed long breaks in between. Our community day with classical conversations was as near to chaos as one could imagine. I found refuge in a few trips to the library for wanderlust-inspired reading about the Balkans, diving back into cooking for the family, and tucking into bed early.
photo of lasagna (not mine) by betainflight
The week after New Years found me and the girls staying at friend’s condo on the marina in Naples. The sun poured in through the windows first thing in the morning; the white plastic deck chairs on the porch basked in the humid breeze. While the girls slept on the pullout couch, I would make a cup of coffee on the machine that was nearly instant and piping hot and pour Esme a bowl of cereal. Around 10am there was a gentle clinking outside the windows as two female bartenders prepped their poolside marina bar for the day’s customers. There was very little for the girls to do indoors in between the trips to the beach and pool; they unpacked and repurposed the bits of fabric and toys from their backpacks over and over again, turning coffee tables and ottomans into homes for their favored stuffed animals. We sat outside at a restaurant on the water with a margarita special (happy hour specials don’t exist in New England) and a kid’s menu that included dessert and drink. We walked to the restaurant and the girls wore flip-flops, a new shoe style for them; I could only sympathize with the painful first ever flip-flop blister-to-callus process. I bought a few grocery snacks (food costs at Publix made me feel we have it good in Vermont, surprisingly!) that could work as meals, spending no time on dishes or meal prep. It was sunny escape and a chance to see old friends following an intensive few weeks of holiday-at-home life; unexpectedly I found myself with time for reflecting on the last year. I thought through a prompt that Allie included in her recent newsletter:
“I made a list of the top 10 relationships in my life and how I can show up.
I made a list of all the teeny tiny things that frustrate me regularly. One of them was that my laptop charger only works if the battery pack is tilted at a 45 degree angle. And then I made a plan to fix it.” -Allie Lehman [link to sign up]
This week for the first time we took advantage of the fact that we live within a short drive of several ski hills. Why wait three years, you may ask. Because this was the first year it worked! Age is a funny thing–it makes all the difference in a parent’s calculation of what might work. These past three winters even the prospect of one parent going with two girls and one parent staying home with two, though it would have “worked,” has not been how we wanted to spend our weekends.
But now, on a weekday, two girls are old enough to ski (together) alone at a ski hill small enough for them to come and find me at the base when they need. One girl is old enough to take a group lesson in the morning and then sit with me by the fire while her sisters ski.
Things like this take an enormous amount of prepping, schlepping and encouraging, and this year was the first year it sounded both fun and doable to me. Looking back, I would have said to myself, “good job mom, you’re making the right decision to wait.” (Both the girls are wearing Reima one piece snowsuits. We initially tried that style with just one kid and she was always warmer than the kids with two-pieces, so we’ve migrated toward that for everyone. Reima is mostly sold out by now but, just a note for next year.)
I also like to take a “first pancake” approach any of these endeavors that walk the line between experiment and investment. You’re trying it and it doesn’t quite work out the first time, but that does not mean it was a bad idea to make pancakes. Each time they get a little better. For example, on our first snow/sledding day this year, each of the girls was crying at one point or another. The week’s First Pancake ski day involved almost an hour of coaching one of the girls through getting dressed for adventure. It was twenty degrees outside and estimated to feel like fourteen degrees, we were going to be there for three hours at least; the right clothing was a nonnegotiable. Each layer was a struggle, and even after my slowest most patient cajoling, she almost bailed at the last moment. But we survived, she had a wonderful morning, and left so proud of her accomplishments. So yes! It was a good idea to make pancakes.
I slipped into my 2022 reading with a reread, the only-gets-better-each-time Circe. A wonderful story, like the most lush picnic of ancient stories paired with modern perspective and sprinkled with feminine wiles. A couple of people posted their year in review reading lists (1, 2, 3,), I always like to see those. I myself end up making a digital one, just jotting them down on a draft in my gmail, but there is something wonderful about the written list. I finished last year’s reading with Oh Beautiful World Where Are You? and the nonfiction Truffle Hound. Loved both. Happy January! I’m hoping to be here a bit more often this year.
Interior days. Gray skies, crisp cold grass, damp weather. Made a soup and didn’t like it. It’s time I admitted I can really only eat beets with a vinaigrette. I have a spiral bound book of soup recipes my grandmother loved, I should have started with those recipes, rather than a random one from online. The trouble is, I get distracted: merrily cobbling a soup together without examining the recipe closely because I’m always thinking about the bread that will come with the soup: flaky buttermilk biscuits, crispy olive oil croutons, cornbread with honey.
So, didn’t like the soup. Composted it. I’ve found that one of the great joys of composting is flinging food that didn’t work out on to it, the best regift. I do see the genius of soups though; why my grandmother loved it for lunch and had it almost every day. Often times you get in four to six vegetables in one go. And it’s so elegant…somehow.
I continue to reflect on what ten years of parenting has meant, since we passed that turn around the sun this summer, in July. Where it has brought us. How we have changed. Especially: which roles have faded somewhat, and the new ones that have emerged. I’m working on a “ten thoughts for ten years,” but concrete descriptions of the whole thing elude me. They roll away from me like yarn in this case. Having everyone in the house all the time forces the roles of each parent-child stage to be more transparent. They watch how things go with one another. My parenting of one child seems strange to the other children, as it is not age-appropriate to them. I see one needing a project, a chore, and a walk. I see another needing an hour of working together over a paper. I see one tucked away, listening to an audiobook, happy just for a snack now and then. Sometimes the girls demand that they be treated equally in all things and it’s just so awkward. It doesn’t work.
One challenge of this stage is taking on the role of severe matron. Taking it all so seriously–watching for squabbles, registering the temperature of the moods, keeping tabs on the bottomless groceries, and laundry and clutter. I find myself correcting more than laughing.
Midst-reflection (as a result of?) I’m backing up all of my photos and videos. Ten years of parenting–it is far too much for any laptop to manage blithely. I prefer laptop actions to be lithe and swift; the photos are holding us back. So I’m putting them on a hard drive, plus uploading them to the cloud (amazon, all the clouds seemed shaped as amazon these days), and seeing them sorted under a different algorithm, with ones I haven’t seen in forever popping up. I can’t believe how few photographs and videos I took of our first baby. Evidently Rachael in 2011 could go days, weeks, without bothering to take a photo. Compared to the hundreds…it’s definitely escalated. I bought my first iphone when I was pregnant in 2010; actually, I had to leave the store mid-purchase because I was about to faint and I had not figured out how to manage the pregnant metabolism, aside from wondering if the At&t guy had an orange juice in the back. I did get the phone in the end, and the photos followed. I think we’re all better photographers than we were before instagram, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Staring at screens and thousands of photos has payed off, a bit.
Though I am now playing nursemaid to them, shepherding them gently from one maternal cloud to another, I am grateful for the photographs and especially the videos, wow. The videos of a three-year-old talking to a one-year-old. A two-year-old telling me something, only translatable by my repeating it back on video. Of dancing. Walking. Laughing. Tense facial expressions while having their face painted. Passing time in an apartment on a dingy carpet that only a few of them remember now. Some of the value comes from the “this is how it was” feeling that I want to share with the kids when we watch these together. This is how it was–we just hung out a lot, and tried to eat and sleep on time, you were a little confusing, and I was never sure what you wanted.
In the super sweet and startling memoir Everything Sad is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri declares, “The patchwork story is the shame of the refugee.” He misses all the things his mom couldn’t bring with them when they fled Iran. He misses the end of a childhood reminisce, and the middle of a story his grandfather would tell. He misses the photos and the old bedsheets. He writes so clearly of this missing-heartache into his book, you can’t help but clutch your trove of complete memories with gratitude, to say nothing of fancy photo books or bobbling framed smiles.
I set an old photo of the girls sleeping under our Christmas tree as my laptop’s background screen a few weeks ago. The more you carry the responsibility of the festivities, the more you relate to “Christmas people”—the ones who seem to launch into the holidays promptly after Halloween. Launch early or you’ll probably wake up halfway through, right?
But I was drawn to putting up the photo as a reminder of all the simple things we love about December, like blankets and lights, even as I fill online carts with gifts and scrutinize lists for fairness, and dance with the creeping acknowledgement that we have far more than we need already.
The trees are all sticks now, the temperatures are dropping and the hours of dark are growing each day, so this time of year it does feel natural to fixate on the special moments ahead. I rarely buy a wreath from the small market near us, but I absolutely love to look at them every time I stop by for groceries, often times in the dark of early evening (4:30 around here). Just after Thanksgiving they make great piles of wreaths on the long wooden tables lining the entrance. The wreaths are trimmed with all sorts of things–juniper berries, dried orange slices, evergreen springs of different varieties with cranberry colored ribbons and dark twine. Taking a moment to gaze at them each time is a favorite private tradition.
Last week I happened upon this Calm Christmas podcast, a warm and lovely listen. Listening to her soft British accent, the entire time I was visualizing Kate Winslet’s cottage in The Holiday. The first episode for this year was just released last week, and she plans to do one every week through December.
Last year here I asked for ideas of holiday things a family could still in isolation times. Jayme shared with me the idea of a box of candy bars and energy bars put out for the package delivery people, with a note thanking them for all they do. She said her children loved peeking through the window to see what they picked out. We did the same thing, filled up a big box, and had so much fun with it. All December we kept the box stocked and the kids often went outside to greet the drivers, and watch them choose something. Honestly, it was one the few times there were treats in our home that were not intended for the girls to immediately consume. It was wonderful for all of us, the girls have brought it up as a fond memory a couple times throughout this year.
Taylor wrote to me about their family carol sing along, just the four of them around the tree with a guitar.
Margaret wrote about the muslin bags she reuses each year for an Advent calendar–tucking in chocolates, notepads, ideas for a day off together.
If I had to sum up my personal goals for the season, they would be to clear some of the administrative tasks of the household to one side before December begins–treating the month as an extended sabbath of a sort, the seventh day of rest. I’m not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Perhaps a meal plan. Perhaps clearing out the drawer that holds old bills, cards, notes, receipts. Perhaps letting go of a holiday card, this year. One success of this school year so far is that we’ve gotten to a good system with keeping the house clean together, so I can count on help with that. I’m not planning to make a homemade Advent calendar for the children, but I wonder what a personal calendar for myself might look like. This is a goal on my mind because one of my current pitfalls of parenting to wooshing around completing tasks all day, ever in pursuit of the next accomplished moment. The reason for this is entirely understandable–the list of things to do each day is truly bottomless. But accidentally it’s become a focus of my days, and I’m ready to play with that and switch it around.
This summer is the first summer our homeschool group made a plan to meetup almost weekly for swimming, hiking, or berry picking. It’s been such a treat to see them, I’m so glad we made that intentional plan together. When it’s not raining, the girls and I are loving swimming in lakes, ponds, and pools. I make it out to the garden every once in awhile and pick my way among the weeds to check on everything. So many of the flowers are blooming for a bit, then dropping, with new ones quick to open. The pearls of green tomatoes are so promising.
Doing old-normal things like going to outdoor farmer’s markets with the kids, having the neighbors over for drinks, and buying candy at the public pool feel SO special. I am just soaking it all up.
A podcast, a recipe, a book, a newsletter I’ve loved lately…
+This old interview with Esther Perel on the goop podcast. Esther is a famous sex therapist, you see her everywhere, speaking wisdom with her warm Belgian accent. But this particular talk was full of great thoughts about monogamy, relationships over time, and refreshing your perspective by allowing yourself to desire.
+Books. I’m reading so many good books this summer. I absolutely loved Elaine Ferrante’s newer one, The Lying Life of Adults. She’s always incredible on the adolescent perspective, but this one felt modern and irreverent and sexy as well. The perfect summer book. My sister-in-law Hannah let me read some of her copy of Always Home by Fannie Singer, written from a daughter about her famous mother, Alice Waters. I’m looking forward to paging through for notes about her kitchen. I know Alice has a kitchen hearth—a kitchen fire that’s about waist-height—because I’ve seen it in videos. I love that idea and want to know more. But in my brief page-through I was immediately taken by thoughtfully and joyfully Fanny writes about her childhood. If you’re in the mood for an audiobook, I loved listening to Gabrielle Hamilton read her Blood, Bones, and Butter.
+ I’ve recommended Younga’s instagram account, kidbookrecs, but now I must recommend to you her substack email Making it Work. She writes about some quirk of parenting and childhood every week or so, and dashes in a few recommendations at the end. It’s the perfect newsletter. I’ll share her opening paragraph from the story of her trip into New York with her daughter Ada…
- “A few Fridays ago I took Ada to NYC for a day, a self-serving idea born out of my desire to see the Julie Mehretu show at the Whitney masquerading as quality solo time with my elder child. I revealed the idea to her the day before, that we’d be skipping school, waking up early to catch an Amtrak train, then going on an “adventure day” before sleeping over at her aunt and uncle’s apartment in Park Slope. It’s the thing I always wanted my parents to propose to me—joy-slash-adventure prioritized over education—which now seems preposterous to expect as a child of immigrants growing up in the 80s. I remember the envy of having friends whose parents let them take “mental health” days, and others whose parents pulled them out of class 48-hours before February break to depart for their trips to Disney World. I remember once proposing the idea of a mental health day to my mom, and was met with a truly blank stare of confusion, before being shuttled out the door to the bus.” [read it all here!]
+ Lux has a new book series she is obsessed with, Keeper of the Lost Cities. I wasn’t sure if there were any left for her to discover and fall in love with, so this is a treat. We found it sitting innocently on a bookstore shelf in Michigan. We bought the first book, she’s on her fifth re-read of it. She says it’s right up there with The Wizard of Oz series, Harry Potter, and Land of Stories.
+ And Joan has lately fallen for the audiobooks of How to Train Your Dragon. Few things as soothing in this life as a busy afternoon in the sun, followed by an audiobook and a snack, in the dim of the house.
+ This one-pan recipe for pasta tossed with ricotta, corn, basil, and brie. The kids loved it! It comes together very quickly, and I’m looking forward to subbing in zucchini for the corn. Our kids eat ricotta on toast with olive oil, so we always have it kicking around in the fridge.
Well, that’s all for now. Anything you’re loving? Hope your summer is feeling sweaty, hydrated, and relaxing (or maybe just one of those?). A few things I’m in the market for, if you have any recommendations…a/ waffle iron b/ a one piece bathing suit c/ a ceramic stovetop pan.
I’m in my two-week countdown toward full immunization. I’m planning monthly summer field trips with homeschool friends. I expect to host once or twice this summer. The girls are signed up for overnight camp. There’s a wedding on the calendar. So yes, it feels like things are “ramping up/opening up,” alll the euphemisms we use to describe the normal none of us even remember all that well now.
One particular aspect of the former normal, I’ve been thinking about friendships and how much it seems like the terms have changed. The primary and most important elements for friendship right now are patience, understanding, empathy, and…patience again. Speaking from the experience of finding myself with an irrationally drained well for sympathy, I suppose it will take pathfinding to get back to that cool meadow where we understood each other fully and felt comfortable leaning on each other.
a couple things of I’m looking forward to this summer, be it what it may…
Contemplating an outdoor shower. A meditational experience that requires no action, only imagination.
Foraging more. As each season I ends, I realize which plants were the plants I was looking for, like, “ooo that was blood root” after seeing the peppy tiny white flowers by the roadside all spring. Then, the following year I come into it so ready. This year, for the first time, I was prepared for ramps and fiddleheads. I was prepared to ask my friend for nettles before they went to seed. And to ask for rhubarb at the point in the season when there was plenty to share. Forestbound’s forage pinterest board is full of dreamy wandering inspiration.
To make: day pickles. Cucumbers sliced really thin, sprinkled with salt and vinegar, and refrigerated.
To make: Popsicles, always a riff on Molly’s recipe, which itself is a riff on David Lebovitz’s recipe. Please don’t try to skip the sugar. There is something about tart raspberries mixed with chillingly sweet sugar that can’t be replicated by honey. (I don’t bother to strain out the seeds.) Her recipe makes more than enough for our six small molds. So I either put the extra mixture in the fridge and re-fill the popsicle molds after the girls have eaten them, or serve the extra as a sweet smoothie while we wait for them to freeze. Speaking of popsicles, we have these IKEA popsicle molds from eight years ago, and I thought I was in the market for an upgrade. But actually, I think I may just want a second set of those same IKEA ones. I like the size (small, very kid friendly amount), they are easy to pop-out, and the reusable sticks.
Visiting a friend’s garden. Once you begin gardening and have made a healthy amount of mistakes, you learn SO much from seeing friend’s gardens! I like to plan stop-bys in late June when everything thriving.
So. much. reading. Lux is in an online reading group this summer. Theme: Growing Up is Hard to Do. I think I’ll read all of the ones they are reading, just a week behind. A couple of the titles on the list are: The Red Pencil, Wonder, and A Monster Calls.
Potato chips with sour cream. This is the snack I put on the table outside when I’m watching adult education things on zoom. The children descend and eat until the bowls are empty, stare at the screen for a bit, stare at me to see if I’m actually interested in this stuff, and then disappear. Classical Conversations has online tutors training that I’ll be working through, notebook at my side. I’m also thinking about signing up for this natural wine conference, since we’ve been learning about growing grapes here in Vermont. Are there any online education events you’re looking forward to?
To order: a takeout burger, with fries. Thankful thankful to have an excellent burger and fries available at the Brownsville Butcher, not far from us. Soft serve too.
Making dinner in the afternoon when it’s hot and sleepy, so you can settle into your evening and enjoy the best time of day.
Staying too late at the water (pond, lake, etc). Staying through dinner because the light and the temperature are perfect. Even if everyone cries in the car on the way home.
it’s a list lover’s favorite time of year! Here are a few treasures from my 2020.
Julie O’Rourke: I was shopping with a friend (a phrase I can use to describe two hours in all of 2020) and the shopkeeper and I struck up a conversation about wool felting and how we wanted to get better at it because of Rudy Jude. “She’s always doing that,” we said to each other, nodding enthusiastically to make up for the way our smiles were covered by masks. My friend said, “Who’s Rudy Jude?” We both looked at her like she had just told us she didn’t know what rainbows are. A mixture of deep concern and regret furrowed the visible and invisible parts of our faces. And so dear reader, I worry that some among you may be similar! I once insta-responded to Julie that she was “the da Vinci of our time” and I meant it fully.
Airpods: I waited a long time to adapt to these little white plugs dripping gently from my ears like melting taffy pieces. I didn’t buy them when they came out because I was very busy judging everyone wearing them as rude isolationists who were too busy to live. Well, now I absolutely adore them. I love how I can keep one in and actually hear what I’m listening to while doing the dishes. I love how it automatically pauses when I pluck it out of my ear, so I can be a good listener without inwardly panicking that I’m missing great chunks of storyline. I love how it begins again when I place it back in my ear so I don’t have to find and tap my phone with batter-covered fingers. I love how I can listen to something while walking ever-so-slowly at a toddler’s pace around the yard and down the road. I love the way Joe and I can each put one in one of our ears and listen to something adult together on car rides with the children.
Poetry Unbound: a man with deep Irish accent reads a poem, discusses it, and reads it again. He references peacemaking, relationships, affection, sexuality, parents, neighbors, expectations of self. The poems are so good and all of them are written by modern authors who are alive. It is short and unmatched in how quick it cuts to the quick the things that drive us. One caveat: I love listening to this show with my airpods, I have a hard time catching his words when played over the speaker or in the car.
Lazy Genius: with episodes about actually using your iphone photos, how to structure your day, plotting a fall reading list, and how to begin using your instant pot without getting overwhelmed, I find these 15 minute pep talks do wonders for re-scaffolding my approach to things.
a Sunday afternoon babysitter: When we moved to Vermont two years ago, we gave up on babysitters entirely. Not only did we not know anyone in the area, but we were about to have a baby. Reflecting that she would likely be my last baby, I decide to commit to nursing her exclusively. Even tethered to her nutritionally as well as emotionally, I suspected her first year would fly by. It did! She passed the one year mark just as full quarantine set in, and naturally we had no where to go at that point anyway. Late summer, a friend suggested that a nearby neighbor would likely be able to handle babysitting our gaggle. Knowing that half the mental energy of working with her would go to schedule doggling, I asked if we could just do the same day and time every week. We decided not to bother with bedtimes because what our children desperately needed was someone else to talk to. We settled on a late afternoon early dinner time slot. I’m so thankful we got to have her in our lives this fall and winter, thank you Izzy!
An excellent email newsletter: my friend Meredith shared Laura Olin’s newsletter with me back at the tippy of the pandemic and I’m always sparkle-struck by how Laura finds and emails exactly the type of link list I was in the mood for.
Here is a totally fascinating random bit: when I googled Laura to tell you more about her newsletter, I learned that she’s an incredibly savvy digital social media manager, a primary player in the 2012 Obama campaign. I felt I knew her from her newsletters, knew her taste, her natural sympathies, knew the way she liked cocktails and poetry and internet tv shows. But I also didn’t know her at all!
Laura pointed me to AOC’s beauty routine recording that she made for Vogue. I think about it every other day or so ever since watching it. She also pointed me to the You’re Wrong About episodes about Diana and the Royal Family–which are AMAZING.
Company in the Evenings: It feels odd to admit but I do have fond (fond!) memories of those March/April pandemic days when we were all scrambling to adapt and no one really believed 300,000+ people would die and healthcare workers would be asked to sacrifice everything their entire lives and essential workers (which we soon learned meant meagerly paid hourly workers like grocery stork clerks and gas station attendants) would fall sick in droves. As our community around us quickly shuttered, we turned to distant old friends, and family. I began talking to my two old best friends from high school. We love talking to each other, but had completely fallen out of the habit of it. When we did talk, I hated that I had grown so clueless about their day-to-day lives that I had to wade through constant catchup to even begin to relate again. We began talking once a week, and I was astonished by how quickly our friendship flame grew stronger by these little bits of kindling. So grateful for that.
And then there were the two or three times when my parents shipped three bottles of wine to all their kids’ households, and we sat on zoom and “tasted them ” (downed them) together. A couple of times our conversation and themes were guided by Ryan + Wine zoom wine tastings ($25 per session!), and it was fun to learn something together. Afterward, we would stay on zoom, laugh, and talk, some of us signing off to go to sleep, some of us staying up late talking. I cherish those memories.
I’m sure, despite how awful this year was, there are more. Just now I think of the way libraries morphed to get kids books again, the thoughtful mail that came, the nostalgia of past adventures that welled up and reminded me of all the memories I had to treasure…and I will try to keep writing them down! But that’s all for now.
Pictured above, a few Advent calendars I noticed this year. Number 6 is a link to Walmart, highly irregular! But it is a Spanish chocolatier and I was so taken with the illustration with brown-skinned people (unfortunately rare in American nativity illustrations). It’s hard to see clearly in the photo, but Walmart is the only online retailer I found carrying it in the United States. And yes, the Vosges one is $145 but yes they are one of American’s finest chocolatiers. And female-owned!
I have such affection for Advent Calendars. I love looking up all the options, in particular the ones with edible gifts, or useful ones like pencils or paperclips, or ones with just bits of paper.
(By the way, I’ve never seen the Present and Correct paperclip calendar available, it must sell out November 1st, but I take such joy from their web shop anyway.)
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.
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.