• At Home

    This is Hard

    Such homeschooling! No homeschooler I know would voluntarily sign up for a homeschool devoid of libraries, parks, friend meetups, rousing trips to the coffee shop and long days at the museum.

    Not to mention we’re all walking around like pale atlases, trying to hold up under the relentlessly grim news.

    This isn’t homeschooling; this is HARD.

    Let’s get that straight now, before we spend the next eight weeks doing it.

    Now, when we should be bolstering our natural immunities, I’ve been craving sweets. Typically I live and breathe a savory palate—salt, vinegar, fries, oysters, etc. When I crave sweets it’s a sign that I’m feeling denied. Mind controlled. Like the word CANT is stamped on my forehead. Craving sweets told me my psyche was truly battling with all the NOs flooding my inbox. Closed. Done. No idea. Shouldn’t.

    (That photo is banana bread which was good, but a tad mushy on day 2.)

    As an extrovert at home with our outings cancelled, I immediately began hunting for further intellectual engagement in my daily life.  I can’t believe I didn’t grab more books from the library when I was there three days before they abruptly closed. I had one giant bag of books for the girls—couldn’t I have grabbed a few novels for myself?!

    That’s how you become the generation who always carries six books around with them. “What if these were the last books I could check out for weeks?” we’ll tell our grandchild when they ask why granny insisted on carrying the bag to lunch.

    But I found some other projects in short order…. I’ve wanted to understand naturally leavened bread for FOREVER. I have the Tartine cookbook. I understand patience, dough, and staying calm when everything is sticking to your fingers. I own flour. The last time I read the cookbook it seemed unintelligible. What was it saying? Why did single step directions seem to take pages to explain?

    But this week I took a look at it again. All of a sudden it didn’t seem so hard.

    If there’s one thing teaching kids has taught me, it’s that the first draft should be sloppy. Gratuitously sloppy. Pool splash sloppy. Round two might be a little better. Round three—just imagine!

    Here’s round two. It was super sloppy. First draft style. On to the next batch! Honestly I’ve never cared less how my bread turns out. I just want something, something else, to mull over for a little while.

    In the spirit of adult engagement, here are few more things I’ve been enjoying lately:

    These soft spoken interviews with fiction writers. They may make me fall in love with reading fiction again. This fall I read The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, a fiction set around the romance of a zealous Christian and a former Christian, and a circling cult leader. Her interview was superb. Here, on her sense of being since losing her personal faith: “I’ve tried to find more value in ephemeral joy than I did when I believed I would live forever.” The most recent Jenny Offill one is so good.

    Signs of Bloom’s anything & everything pinterest board. Such a pretty collection.

    Bright orange zinging ice cubes of immunity. You can do whatever you like with them, I like throwing them into green smoothies.

    The titles of Lullatone songs. There is one Lullatone song that Esme falls asleep to sometimes when we’re driving–Falling Asleep with a Book On Your Chest–but reading their titles is like a perfume squeak of happiness to your wrist. Going to Buy Some Strawberries. Here Comes Sweater Weather. Adventures Songs for Migrating Birds. Finishing Something You Worked Really Hard On.

    Bright orange carrot dressing with ginger and turmeric. Try it on soba noodles, and relish the flavor of anti inflammatorys!

    Let me know if you have a favorite mental mulling escape to add to the list!

     

  • At Home,  Homeschool

    Consider the Bedtime

    Because of the crazy times, people are suddenly home with their young children for extended and unexpected periods of time. I’m writing up a few general ideas I’ve learned over the years of being at home with one, two, three, and now four children. 

    General idea number three…

    Consider the bedtime.

    Is it working for you? What is it that your family needs out of bedtime if your schedules have changed? What do your energy levels look like in the evening right now?

    When sharing a house all day with children, bedtime is a method to close up the day so that you still have a few hours of thoughtful mental space before you fall asleep.

    A bedtime after a day apart and full of activities is one thing. The bedtime after a day together is a garden feature of a different sort. It is a hedge between two yards. On one side of the hedge, adults relax on the couch with books, silence, glasses of wine. On the other side of the hedge, bedside lights are lit, piles of books threaten to fall off the bed, there’s talking, there’s gazing off into space.

    Some things to consider:

    • Is bedtime early enough? Not likely–on average American children do not get enough sleep. Nine hours at a minimum for ages six and above. We plan on twelve hours in the bedroom, more on that below.

     

    • Is the process itself beginning early enough? If bedtime has always been your cozy time together to unwind, consider beginning it earlier than usual so that you can take it at a leisurely pace–the teeth brushing, finding the pillow, resetting the blanket. The goal is to have two hours to yourself afterward before you need to sleep.

     

    • Wakeful bedtime allows children to practice time apart. You may be surprised to see how much a child wishes to accomplish when suddenly freed of the mundanity of adult availability.

     

    • If they stay up, let them sleep in. This is one of the greatest perks of not having to get the children out the door by any specific time in the morning! I like to project a 12hr cycle. (Here’s a sleep chart by age by Dr. Sears, though 9 hours does seem like the absolute minimum for a six/seven year old.) If they stay up until 9pm, wake them around 9am. If they stay up until 10pm, it’s up to you, but I like to wake them up at 9am anyway. If they wake up at 8am but you wish they’d slept in, be sure to let them stay up until at least 8pm.

    Here’s what we do, having been on a homeschool schedule for over a year. I do not expect it to be guidance for you in any way, this is just what works for us right now. 7pm: Baby in bed. 7:45pm: Begin bedtime for the older three. 8pm: Girls in bed. Parents out of the room. 10pm: Lights out, but nightlights are allowed for those still reading.

    In the morning, the baby and I will wake between 7-8am, and have some peace to ourselves. I often write for a twenty minutes or so during this time. The four-year-old will wake around 8:30, and the older two will likely have to be waken at 9am. They would sleep until 10am but that doesn’t make for a great morning cycle for us.

    xo

  • At Home,  Homeschool

    Read Aloud

    Because of the crazy times, lots of people are suddenly home with their young children for extended and unexpected periods of time. I’m writing up a few general ideas I’ve learned over the years of being at home with one, two, three, and now four children. 

    General idea number two…

    Read Aloud. 

    You don’t have textbooks, curriculum, flashcards, or workbooks. But you have a something wildly more powerful than any of that. Something that will increase their vocabulary, strengthen their listening comprehension, give you a shared language of characters, and all but guarantee that they will love books as adult. And if they love books, then they love learning, and (dusts hands) that’s the best it can get.

    To begin, plan to read aloud for one hour. But aspire to two hours. You will get there sooner than you think. Pick a few books to move between within that hour. Books with long words and dense story lines that one can listen to while sprawled on the floor, staring at the cracks in the ceiling.

    Books like Anne of Green Gables, Birchbark House, The Hobbit, Chronicles of Narnia, The Laura Ingalls Series, The Penderwicks, Twenty-One Balloons, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, Dr. Dolittle, and My Father’s Dragon.*

    After you read one chapter, ask “Should I read another chapter?” And they will likely surprise both of you by shouting,”Yes!”

    But if they say no, move on to the next book and read a chapter of that. If you have a book of poetry, or Winnie-the-Pooh which is basically poetry,` read a few pages of that. If you have something really dense, like actual history like The Story of the World or Our Island Story, read one chapter and don’t expect more.

    I like to read in the morning, right after breakfast. Morning energy is often a little wild, creative but not directed quite yet, and very cuddly. For whatever reason, in the morning, it’s easiest for all ages to find a comfortable place to sit and to listen for a few hours. After an hour or two, I get up and say something like, “Ho! I have to start lunch,” and walk off and the rest of the day begins.

    If you have a child younger than age four in your group, there are a few things you can do to include them. 1: Read several illustrated books of their choice to begin with. Read to them first. 2: Provide something for them to do nearby while you read aloud, like markers and paper, a puzzle, magnatiles. They’ll do it for a little while and likely wander off. You will have to remind them not to interrupt you. They will forget, of course, but they will begin to get it, over time.

    * We’ve read all of the books listed above to children ages five and older, and they loved them. But lighter options that are great for reading aloud (I think of these as afternoon books) include the original Boxcar Children (any book between #1-20) and the older American Girl series books: Samantha, Kirsten, Addy, Molly, Felicity. There are loads of book lists online, this is an educational approach you can really lean into. If you need more ideas, let me know.

  • At Home,  Homeschool

    You are Not the Entertainment. 

    Because of the crazy times, lots of people are suddenly home with their young children for extended and unexpected periods of time. I’m writing up a few general ideas I’ve learned over the years of being at home with one, two, three, and now four children. 

    General idea number one…

    You are Not the Entertainment. 

    You are a provider who sources food, keeps a roof intact, equips a bed, encourages brushing teeth, and coos softly over headaches and stubbed toes. You are not an entertainer.

    With the exception of one highly concentrated 45 minutes a day, you are not available to play.*

    You are a pond, and your child is a frog. You are lily pads that they like to hop on every once in a while. You do not have good ideas for interesting games. You do not know what might be fun. You have a speckle of imagination, a leftover algae of green krongu imagination, to their utter essence of it. One of your imagination speckles is actually something they told you they were interested in, and you can periodically repeat this back to them.

    Your child is returning to you from a scheduled environment where they have been interrupted ceaselessly: just settled on a good game? Playtime is over. lunchtime? Is now over. You were still writing? Stop writing. They adapted to interruptions. Now they will have to adapt to no interruptions. It may take three days. It may take four. They will adapt, I promise.

    Don’t think for a moment that you have better ideas of what to play than they do, because you don’t. And if you think you do, you will confuse them and they will believe you, for a little while.

    You are boggy and slow moving and they can splash through you and swim around to be reminded of what it feels like to be underwater and slow moving. Not only is this a useful approach to keep in mind, it is absolutely the truth.

    *Play whatever you and they want during this 45 minutes and live it up. Tag. Hide and seek in a room that has one piece of furniture. Pillow fight. Card game they adore. Extraordinary slow-moving board game that has no winner.  

     

  • At Home,  Baby,  Boston

    January 2, milk street

    wireless

    This week I listened to vintage Diane Rehm episodes. She has already retired from her daily radio show, but before she did, she replayed old favorite episodes. In one, an interview with her best friend, they confess that they’ve spoken to each other every morning at 7am for over thirty years. ADULT. GOALS.

    (Thank you to reader Julia for suggesting these wireless headphones for nap time listening/doing, right when I needed something to ask for Christmas! Thanks mom.)

    But I began by listening to her interview with Fred Rogers, a show which sounded like a pillow and a blanket had curled up to talk to each other and recorded it for radio. Quiet and deeply soothing. I listened to the whole thing on the couch and nearly teared up it was so encouraging.

    After the episode finished I immediately hunted down the current best-method to watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which is: all seven seasons streaming on Amazon, free to prime members. What a gift to modern parents! The girls have both watched Daniel Tiger, the cartoon iteration produced by PBS that carries many of the same sensibilities (and the background-ambient feeling that this is all just a rouse to make better parents out of us), but I see a big difference between the shows. On the Neighborhood adults are running into each other all day and interacting: well mannered and thoughtful. You see adults shaking hands, asking after each other’s health, thanking each other, and bidding good day. You see Mr. Rogers make a point to greet his local shoe salesman, his grocer, his milkman. Watching this social courtesy modeled in slow-motion on television is really quite something.

    shakshuka

    Another wonderful thing from last week: I had the great pleasure of visiting 177 Milk Street, Christopher Kimball’s (founder of Cook’s Illustrated) new endeavor in downtown Boston. Like Cook’s Illustrated, Milk Street has a TV and radio show and a bimonthly magazine. However, unlike Cook’s Illustrated, they have designed their kitchen to host monthly classes and talks. It is a wide open space with fabulous big windows, located right in the heart of downtown. They are offering free cooking classes to Boston teenagers, which is so cool.

    I went with a gaggle of wonderful-cook girlfriends to see Julia Turshen. Julia was a wee bit shorter in person than I expected after seeing many photographs of her fabulous hair. She was soft spoken yet an amazing public speaker. She made several simple recipes for us but even in their simplicity we were all able to pick up a few professional tricks. For example, before mincing garlic, she always crushes the cloves under her knife to flatten them. Genius. When adding garlic to a pan of olive oil, she tips the pan for a minute so the garlic can merrily slosh around and very-nearly fry. She said she roasts pretty much everything at 425–easy to remember!

    There’s something reassuring about watching a professional do things you do in your kitchen every day.

    So we began with glasses of wine, potato chips, and scoops of her scallion chip dip. Then we sat and watched her cook (luxury!), then we got to taste everything and get our copies of Small Victories signed. It was really fun and I highly recommend it for your next outing.

    The photo above is from when I made her turkey and ricotta meatballs along with her very easy to doctor-up can-of-tomato sauce. The next morning I turned the leftovers into shakshuka, where you poach eggs in the simmering sauce (takes about ten minutes, just dump them in and put a lid on the pan) and then serve with a crumble of goat cheese.