good things I want for you
It’s slow mud-gravel-snowmelt season, when the roads narrow between the stiff hedges of frozen snow and scattered mud potholes. We very nearly collide with our neighbors around the narrow bends. Once we safely pass each other, we hold up two fingers or a full hand, both a greeting and a salute to a successful driving maneuver.
In that perversely modern way where we plan for distant realities we can barely imagine, it’s also summer camp sign-up season (the extension of it, at least, of course official camp sign-up began crisply in January). So I’m thinking about how parents want new things for their children but they also want the things they had for them. So they want kite sailing sessions and wheel throwing class, but also long bored afternoons when you memorize the wood pattern of the steps out front the porch. We want manners and careful, fair language but also nintendo and pizza nights.
The sinister side of generational inheritance when we pass down our dusty animosities and jealousies. But the vibrant side is when you pull off potlucks and teach them to sing hymns and smoothly shuffle a card deck.
Some of the things I had that I can give my children are unstructured days outside, household jobs, allowance, sleep-in mornings when it doesn’t matter what time you wake up, mosquito bites, sleeping outside in the summer, church on Sunday mornings, lemonade from a frozen canister, squinting in the sun at 4th of July parades, and reading aloud together.
I can’t give them the same chance to tool around on a bicycle, going in circles, letting the handlebars drift to the side, turning the bike as you follow its lead. Our dirt road out front is too hilly and peppered in gravel for that. I can’t give them the constant access to a pool and a hot tub that I had. Instead we troop together to the town pool for an hour or two, and buy a popsicle on the way out, one child insisting she’d stay for another two hours, another begging, near tears, to leave immediately. They won’t be able to bike to their friends’ house whenever they want, the way I did. I hold these small things against myself, wishing they could have all of them. They are able to watch the garden, and stop by for cherry tomato snacks and berries that ripen overnight.
Some other things I want to tell you about this week…
I’m so thankful my friend Nikaela texted me about Rebecca May Johnson’s podcast Dinner Document. I love listening to Rebecca reading through what she calls “recipes and eating notes from the week.” It’s the English accent, it’s the ruminations on household kitchen cooking, its the frequent mention of chips, and the snacks she eats while she’s making dinner, it’s the frank way she braids observations of society with sharing food, it’s the way she mentions where she was sitting while she was eating. Listen on her substack site or any podcast site.
DesignMom posted some tremendously insightful thoughts about oversharing, over-commenting and over-caring in the fraught waters of families that share on social media.
I made this chicken and feta-yogurt dressed salad and found it to be delicious and simple. It even managed to make winter tomatoes taste good! I liked the way the feta just disappeared into yogurt dressing. (gifted article, you should not get a paywall.)
The kids and I watched this free PBS documentary My Garden of a Thousand Bees. I learned all sorts of things I hadn’t known, and I felt it was such a refreshing way to do a nature documentary.
Some things so far
This week I made a chili for dinner using ground venison from last year and for flavor, italian sausage. I used Melissa Clark’s recipe from her Dinner cookbook, Black Bean and Pork chili, and I didn’t have the fresh sage, but everything else was simple. The ground venison broke down into textured bites and the sausage stayed together in delicious lumps. There is something special about the way tomatoes from a can of diced tomatoes will hold their shape as soft red monopoly houses. We had it for dinner the first night with grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream on the table. We also had leftovers of Ina’s sour cream cornbread, a slice of which you can place in the middle of your bowl and drape the chili around the edge, like a moat around a safe castle. The second night I had extra black beans which I kept separate, because of course some would rather have a pool of dark black beans instead of a bowl of complicated multi-textured chili. I didn’t know who would prefer which though, and I was curious to see that nearly half of us chose plain black beans over the chili. This worked out perfectly as we had enough for four bowls of chili and two bowls of black beans. Small economies like this are not the most important thing, but I end up keeping a tally of them in my brain anyway. (Wednesday Chef has the recipe written up.)
I can’t decide if the youngest is a greater eater because we never notice what she eats, or if in fact she is not a good eater and I just haven’t realized it because I never notice how much she actually eats. She doesn’t complain about the food and I don’t ask her if she likes it. Sometimes while she is telling us something–at dinner this is usually asking to “do the forms” by which she means “share your rose and thorns,”–I idly notice that there is still plenty of food on her plate. But then my attention immediately flits to something else and I move on. Somehow she became the 3yr old who asks if “they have salad?” at the airport, and for “the black sprinkles” of everything bagel seasoning on her avocado toast, and wants to know what I’m eating and if she can try it.
Earlier in the week I made a really rich but not particularly flavorful chicken stock and used it to make tomato soup. I asked the 11yr old to slice onions for me while making the soup. After that she could go back to her reading, but I said, “Any interest in opening the tomato cans for me?” And she said, “Yes I love opening cans.” Which was something I didn’t know.
I always make the same tomato soup, a very simple version from Martha Stewart originally I think, with sliced onions and garlic cooked down in butter for awhile, whole tomatoes added and cooked for a bit, and then about equal parts chicken stock added and the whole thing blended until the red color is lighter, more golden, from the onions. Unfortunately most of the children did not want the tomato soup (which I could swear on my life they loved this past fall), they wanted the chicken stock on its own, the supply of which had been greatly reduced, indivisibly.
We did end up going outside every morning after breakfast every day since I last wrote, and it has been remarkable. It has involved getting everyone out of bed earlier than we are accustomed to (around 7:30) and coming down for a briefer breakfast. There have been statements, made from pillows, such as “Not a walk today I hope?” and, “Well I don’t think I’ll come.” But after walking out the door, we’ve found new things to notice every morning. It’s been in the twenties and thick sheets of ice have formed on all flat surfaces, but once outside we quickly realize that it’s not as grey/cold/dark/ as it looked from the inside. All of us feel emboldened by this success so far.
23 for 2023
Here are 23 very particular ideas of mine for this year. It is worth writing these down because, as Gretchen Rubin observes, studies show that we are far more likely to accomplish or be satisfied with our goals if we write them down.
Here we go…
1. Getting outside first thing in the morning with the kids. If there is a time of life we can do this, it is would be when homeschooling! Getting outside first thing has never been a priority for us, but admittedly it did happen more easily when we lived in a tiny apartment. This year, it’s a priority. Check out these these fun free downloadable trackers for hours spent outside together (I’m not going to use these, just do it on a lets-go day-by-day basis).
2. Drinking more mugs of chai tea in the winter months. I love a spicy chai tea, with its light shoosh of caffeine and warm simmered milk. There are so many chai options in the world, always room to enjoy another! Ones I’ve enjoyed in the past are dona, Bellocq, and Chai Wallahs of Maine.
3. Keep knitting with the kids. In December Lux and I started knitting next to each other on the couch, and then suddenly Joan and Alma were also interested in learning. It felt easy and fun (as opposed to two years ago when we tried and it just didn’t work). The most relieving part about it is that we had absolutely no ambitions for how good or bad it was going to look. I hope we can do some more of this during the inside months.
4. Get this book and learn more about Classical music.
5. Settle on cycle of ten dinner meals that we all love and get the kids integrated in helping me make them on a daily basis.
6. Settle on simple and clear lunch options and daily snack options so the kids can start making their own lunches and allowed snacks without asking me. This one is inspired by Jodi Mockabee’s book (which I did get for Christmas!).
7. Reengage with my sense of style. As part of my general re-emergence from early motherhood (which I feel ended March 2022 when Esme turned three) I feel that I’m sort of grasping at my personal style these days. I ruthlessly paired my closet down to tops that could get stretched and stained, and I haven’t had more than a few pieces of clothing that I actually love for a long time. I’m ready to spend some time (and ahh…money) figuring this out again. I may try a subscription service like Nuuly for a few months, just to experiment.
8. Learn to make homemade yogurt. At last we have a great reliable source of raw milk! This will be fun to try.
9. We had a better garden last year than we had the year before, and now I have even more ambitions for this year. I’ve dialed-in some vegetables that we love that grow well, and am ready to try for our biggest harvest yet.
10. Another gardening goal: plant a sage section. Sage grows easily around here and wouldn’t it be fun to have enough sage to lop a bundle of it off and make your own smudging sticks?
11. Work on my teeth. Sigh…I’ve been putting this one off for awhile. It’s going to be expensive and slow and probably painful at times; and it would be just so easy to ignore! But I have two fake teeth and bridges that are a little over twenty years old and need replacing. And one central tooth that died awhile ago and is steadily turning permanently yellow. I have gum recession, and I need braces to ever-so-slightly realign my upper jaw. It was really easy to delay when I was pregnant/breastfeeding but the time has come!
12. Thank Joe consistently for all the things he does for our family. Some of them are how he always has new songs for us to listen to, how he takes project ideas and turns them into actual things in the world, how he helps me clean the whole house on days when it just has to happen, and how he patiently helps the kids do things I hate like measure stuff and cut straight lines. I also want to make a point to say these things in front of the kids.
13. Work on my book! I’ve been going through all my private writing from the last ten years, and I am teasing it into a concrete piece. I have a goal of trying to send out small selections to writer friends for their perspective and critiques. I feel squeamish about committing to a timeline, but a goal of sending one email with attachments once a month seems doable, I think?
14. Use a sticker chart to encourage my writing just like Catherine Newman does.
15. Make some plans with Joe for a dream kitchen renovation. We have lots of ideas for improving our kitchen, but an actual plan feels a long way away (to say nothing of a mood board). Just want to start pulling together concrete ideas. I’m convinced there is no more important room in the house.
16. Visit my friend Ashleigh in Mississippi.
17. Make a mood board for a writer’s cabin in the back field (and I could imagine more than one out there, if any daughters eventually wanted one!).
18. Savor my babies. I have an oldest who loves to talk and celebrates the moments of conversation we have alone together. I have two middle kids who pop up to give thanks and hugs for things that they are excited about. And a youngest who loves to snuggle, giggle and read together. It’s a noise overload every day and the moments are often a blur, but such a stage of life!
19. I must quote at least two from this brilliant collection of goals by publiclibraryquilts: “We are loving our wholesome hobbies. We are planning lots of books we might never write & that’s just fine.”
20. Get away with Joe for two weekends. Could be a long way away like an island off the coast of South America, could be close like a hotel just around the corner.
21. Memorize more Bible verses as a family. Believe it or not, one of the children suggested this one to me!
22. Find 6-12 clean wines (ideally biodynamic) that don’t bother me with headaches or heavy hangovers. You can subscribe to services that will do this for you, but I know my local grocery has good affordable options, I just need to figure out which ones they are, and then only buy those ones.
23. Every month, try to make granola, Heidi’s cashews, and sprouted almonds. All delicious and nice to have around.
pretty fresh-start-feeling art by Rebekka Seale
I had the nicest Mother’s Day. I wanted to get up before the older girls wake, like Joe and I usually do, and have our cup of coffee outside when everything is still quiet. Yet I am a big believer in the breakfast in bed parade–there’s something formative about it–so I did go back to bed with my kindle so they could still present the breakfast that Joe made. [Scrambled eggs, plus I made this King Arthur cinnamon bun box mix the night before, let it rise overnight outside (crowded refrigerator) and then put it in the oven in the morning when I was down early–delicious.]
At some point in the day I reflected on Mother’s Days of the past when I genuinely believed that I would in some way feel more treasured and special than I did on other days of year. Lauded was probably the word I was looking for. This expectation was entirely the wrong way to approach the day because it disabled me from enjoying the tiny special things that came about, distracted as I was in seeking my Greater Meaning. These days, I’m more interested in whether our daily patterns are working for us and if they aren’t, it’s better to see that and fix it than wait for a special day to declare something isn’t working.
a kitchen I like to think of as at rest. Source long lost and not findable with google images.
And yet the memes about how sleep is all a mother wants still hold of course, and being allowed to sleep in, by the subversion and removal of whatever child typically disrupts the sleep first, is still by far the cheapest luxury available to the partner-giver. Why there is still a child disrupting sleep and why I’m not in a routine of waking up before this child is just one of those things. You move the high water mark and the water rises higher anyway.
For the record, the pursuit of breaks and time to reset is one of those tangible acts with intangible results that can be very effective at solving many states of child raising fatigue. A couple hours away have allowed me to return to my tasks, just as constantly circular as ever, feeling ready to engage them again. I can still recall the refreshment from when I asked Joe to stay the girls by himself for the whole day, while I went out. I went out to a long lunch by myself and then walked around like a loner and was just silent for hours. Do I like to be silent, as a person? Not really, I’m an extrovert. But it was THE thing I needed at that moment and asking for it and receiving it was transformative before I returned to the week ahead.
Taking breaks is one of the things you hear mentioned frequently by those looking back on their child-raising years. People remark that if they could have taken breaks better, it would likely have been possible for them to enjoy their children more. The idea being that most people absolutely love spending time with their kids and innately long for them to never grow up, but it’s the other things in the room that keep the adults from experiencing that truth on a cell, soul level.
But the questions are: how to decide on the break you need based on the refreshment you seek and how to go about getting it. And beyond this question, there is the sentiment that it is important to share with your children what you are doing for yourself and why you are doing it. Sometimes the postcard of “Mommy is going away for awhile” can look picture perfect, and that’s what we’re avoiding here. It should look ruthless and lonely. As a writer my intentions are also haunted by the vision of presenting children with an inexplicably closed door–this foggy memory seems to crop up often in the recollections of writer’s children.
In parenting over the years I’ve learned it plays better to share your fullest self to them from the beginning–the one that wants a break for fifteen minutes, a nap, some time with her own book, to finish her lunch without getting up for something, who forgets to and then remembers to trim her fingernails, who confesses “I don’t like reading this book aloud,” and “I’m all done playing that game but we can sit next to each other for awhile” right alongside “I can’t wait to read this together,” and “You make the best drawings of bunnies.” It’s like the plot of you can be a complete story to them this way, instead of random chapters left out. This is in the same way that it works best to introduce manners and chores as quickly as their consciousness invites it. I write that as someone who did not do it and had to introduce it later. As we sort out ourselves in the safety of our home, we’re giving them tools/stepping stones/foundation blocks (pick your metaphor!!) to sort themselves.
Lasagna & back to it
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.
from one cloud to another
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.
on a quarter past November
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.
Emily wrote to me about the a cross to cradle wreath, a wooden wreath holding candles for each night of December, to be lit with an accompanying evening reading.
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.
A Summer at home goals list
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.