slow food

For years I had been unwilling to attempt sourdough baking because I was put off by the idea of throwing away perfectly good ingredients just to maintain the sourdough starter. But a while ago, I’d read about making a smaller batch of starter. That was a revelation.

And now that we can go through a half a loaf of bread in one meal – thanks to my sons’ growing appetites – it was time to “up” my bread-baking game. With kids who seem to be hungry about an hour after a meal, it’s good to have plenty of bread on hand. So after I read a post last fall that made sourdough baking seem more approachable, I made my first batch of sourdough starter. I used just a quarter cup each of whole wheat flour and water per day for five days – no discarding was needed. With that starter, I make everyday sourdough a couple times per week and lots of sourdough crackers (half a batch at a time).

The bread is “top tier” in taste (to borrow a term from my teen), though it would not win any beauty contest. A lot of my loaves turn out sort of lop-sided, as the one shown. The crackers are tasty too, and have been known to disappear in one sitting, with or without hummus. I like that we can control the salt content.

Some days a spare moment is hard to come by, now that pandemic concerns have dissipated and we’re living life at top speed again, but I am making a point to hold on to slow food practices such as baking bread. Both the process and the results are worth it.

holding on to Christmas

I tested positive for Covid-19 on the first day of Christmas break. This meant that all my last-minute plans for sharing baked goods with neighbors and picking up the last few gifts came to a screeching halt. I had to stay home. There wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

Though I was disappointed about not being able to see extended family on Christmas day, I did get to hang out with the people who live with me, and I was thankful for them in a new way. As much of an introvert as I am, I can’t imagine spending ten days alone, especially when one of them is a major holiday.

I wasn’t that ill, but I did have less energy. I focused on being present in the moment and being okay with adjustments to the plan. The boys decorated the tree by themselves. Staying home for Christmas made things simple, unrushed. I could be still. I could reflect.

The Sunday after Christmas, we logged in for a service online and were challenged to reflect on what we learned this Christmas that we wanted to hold on to for the coming 12 months. The pastor suggested that when we pack up the Christmas decorations, we keep out one item to serve as a visual reminder of what part of Christmas we want to keep in the forefront all year.

I grabbed this stuffed star ornament off the tree before my sons took the rest of the decorations off, and I hung it up where I can see it everyday when I’m doing dishes. It’s a reminder that even when things don’t go as I’d planned, I can still choose joy. I can view the perceived interruptions as blessings, as reasons to slow down, as opportunities to be thankful.

ring out the false, ring in the true

Despite mild protest, our evening included a reading of In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson. After the critics quieted down, we were struck by how apropos some of the poem seemed. This year more than ever, we agree with Tennyson, “The year is going, let him go.”

We’re ready to “ring out” a number of the things he mentioned, including false pride, civic slander, “darkness of the land,” and “old shapes of foul disease.”

May 2022 be marked by peace, a larger heart, and “the love of truth and right.”

Happy New Year.

shared stories

“What do you do for fun?” the dental hygienist asked me this week. That’s a question I rarely get anymore – and a topic I rarely think about. In this season of parenting, it’s still mostly about the kids.

“Well, I read with my boys,” I offered.

“They still let you? At their ages?”

“I insist,” I explained, and even though the older one sometimes complains, he’s usually glad we do read together. Often our discussion of a book continues days after we’re done reading it.

We’ve just recently finished reading The Yearling – all 509 pages of it – and I’m sad that it’s over I told my kids. “So that’s why you were crying,” my younger son joked. I pointed out that we’d been reading the book long enough to feel like we knew the characters and were invested in the story. We all were rooting for Jody. The Yearling (Aladdin Classics): 9780689846236: Rawlings,  Marjorie Kinnan, Giff, Patricia Reilly: Books

I appreciate being able to pick up a book at dull moments and find ourselves transported to another time and another place. The boys do too. Our 11-year-old is the one who most often asks, “Mom, can you read now?”

But the older surprised me about a year ago when I asked him, “What to your parents do that makes you feel loved?”

He said, “Read to us, I guess, because you could be doing other things — or you could just read to yourself…”

ready for fall

Around here, August became so busy and chaotic that I felt the month couldn’t end fast enough. While other people were talking about the last things they wanted to squeeze in before school began, I was trying to finish up the details for another run of the Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair. The plan was for my husband to take the time off work and hang out with the boys from the end of August through Labor Day. Instead, he spent the 12 days of the fair gritting through the pain of shingles in his eye. So the boys were tasked with lunch preparation and clean up most days, and making sure their daddy got his eye drops and other medication on time. They rose to the occasion.

Then, I asked them to “volunteer” at the Alphabet Forest on the last day, when we were so short of help. They showed up around noon on Labor Day, donned red aprons, and got to work. The 11-year-old helped with the spinning wheel and the 13-year-old, who requested no photo be taken, helped kids make yarn necklaces with their names. They were good sports – one noted that they were indeed laboring that day.

After additional help arrived at the Alphabet Forest, I relieved them of their responsibilities and we set out in search of veggie fries and mini donuts. I also offered a ride on the giant Ferris wheel. They seemed indifferent, so we walked to the car instead. The younger one and I got our hands stamped, but teen son wasn’t interested in returning later.

Two of us did, and found there wasn’t much of a line for that giant Ferris wheel. So we were in and out of the fair in about an hour that evening. (It helps to have an employee parking spot.) The view from 150 feet in the air was splendid. We could see both downtowns and noted how many trees we have in the Twin Cities.

The next evening I got some one-on-one time with my older son. While the younger one was at soccer practice, the two of us strolled around Lake Phalen Regional Park. It was a beautiful evening, with just the slightest hint of coolness in the air, and so I did end the summer with one of the things I treasure most – some quality time with each son.

I am grateful for the calm moments I was able to claim amid the chaotic last days of summer. I’ll also note that I was surprised both of our boys made a point of articulating their appreciation for all I do around the house (and that they’re glad that I’m back at it.)

a night out like no other

When we moved into our house in 2009, some of our first interactions with the neighbors took place during the National Night Out picnic. Since then, that first Tuesday in August has proven to be an opportunity to catch up with people whom we live near but don’t really see that often.

Last August, there was no National Night Out – people didn’t even get one day of reprieve from all the isolation. This year, I thought it would be important for us all to get back together other again. But the landlord who usually allows the picnic on his lawn said, “We’re not going to do it this year.” It’s the one day a year that people actually come out and talk to each other, I pointed out.

“Someone else can host,” he countered. So that’s what I attempted to do. Part of me didn’t want to, but I felt that I ought to. People are important. Community is important.

But building community is hard work.

I invited the new families in the neighborhood. They sounded pleased to have been invited. I stopped and talked to various people in the neighborhood on my evening walks. I called those whose phone numbers I had or could track down, even some who had recently moved away. People were polite. A few said they’d come, and offered to bring something to for the picnic.

I cooked all afternoon. We borrowed a few tables, and my sons and I set up tables and chairs in the backyard. We blew up balloons, and wrote a “welcome” note in chalk on the driveway. The one who lent the tables informed me that some people in the neighborhood are mad at each other and may not show up. (Was that the real reason she wasn’t coming?)

One neighbor stopped by. We ate and talked and I tried my best to ignore the nagging feeling that I’d failed. But if one person didn’t have to spend the evening alone, wasn’t that enough? 

But what should I do with all the leftovers? I sent our guest home with some of the curry. I also delivered some to the neighbor who lent us tables. I packed up some sloppy Joes and buns for the neighbor next door who was sitting outside smoking. I called up another and delivered some food to her too. She met me her door and we chatted. Another neighbor walking by joined the conversation, and the three of us talked for several minutes. 

“If people don’t come to you, you take the food to them,” I concluded. My husband and kids thought the evening was a failure, but I noted that I did end up spending a good portion of the evening outdoors talking to neighbors, mostly one-on-one. Though different than I’d expected, I did have my night out. 


finishing well

“Did you get an email from school? our middle schooler asked when he arrived home Tuesday.

“An email about what?” I asked.

“School’s done for the year because it’s so hot.” I hadn’t yet received the email. I was actually looking forward to getting a lot of things done the last two days I’d be home by myself… Instead, I get one more opportunity to adjust to a change in plans. Another abrupt ending. Feels like that’s been a recurring theme in the past year.

“Did you get an email?” our fourth grader asked when he came home later in the afternoon.

“Yes, I found out that school’s done for the year. How did your classmates respond to the news?”

“Some of them started crying.”

“Why do you think they did that?”

“Because it was unexpected,” he responded.

Couldn’t they just have just gone on and ended the year according to schedule? Lots of kids will be missing the closure they really could use right about now.

I still insisted they do their homework. I directed my middle schooler turn in the assignments due that day. I tried the same thing the next day. Since the work is all submitted online, his only counterargument is, “But WHY? They’re not going to grade it anyway.”

Because the teacher assigned it. Because the main reason we do homework is for the sake of learning. Because your education is at stake. No, I’m not talking about your grade; I’m talking about your education.

When I was a kid I had to feed newborn calves. Every once in a while there’d be a calf that didn’t want to take a bottle. The preferred way I dealt with those finicky calves was to tell Dad they wouldn’t drink. He’d take care of it, he’d say. But as I got older, that didn’t work any longer, and Dad would send me back to finish the job. He offered some tips, like try putting the calf in a head lock with your legs and then get the bottle in its mouth. Sometime that worked. Sometime it took more than half an hour to get some milk into a calf. Sometimes I got pretty irritated with my dad for making me do something so difficult. More than once I was surprised to discover that what I’d called impossible was actually possible.

Finishing up a few school assignments – even if they’re hard or take more time than a kid would like – seems like a poor proxy for the real-world experience I had on the farm, but it’s what’s before us at the moment. So the past two days have involved working on math packets and science assignments that my boys are convinced no other kid in their classes is actually doing. They are probably about as irritated as I once was.

When this week is over, we’ve still got time to enjoy our summer vacation. In the mean time, we might just be developing a little bit of grit.

a test of endurance

Our middle schooler went back to school today for his first day of in-person instruction in 13 months, on this first day of fourth quarter.

We survived distance learning. Many days were good, and it truly was a privilege to coach my kids through the challenges of time management, analytical thinking, and hard algebra problems – in some cases modeling how to find an answer when we don’t know. But I’m exhausted. I did a lot of reminding and redirecting. I tried to maintain screen-time limits. I expected them to do quality work. I even expected them to do their school work before giving in to the pull of online games. I earned the distinction of “meanest mom ever” for such expectations. I was frustrated at their unwillingness or inability to monitor themselves, particularly the older one. Mid-pandemic, I wallowed in mom guilt about not providing my boys with sufficient opportunities for social interaction. I planned and served three meals a day, day after day, week after week, in months that started to all blur together. (The kids did help with the cooking and the clean up, but ultimately, making sure it all got done rested on my shoulders.)

All was not in vain, I realized during a conversation with my older son on the last day of third quarter.

“I’m sorry for making your life difficult,” my teen had said, poking his head in our bedroom, where I’d silently retreated to get away from his brother who was whining about being on kitchen clean-up duty that evening. 

Many days he had made life more difficult. But parenting is worth the effort, I was sure at that moment. We had grown in patience and grace during this time, even if some days the evidence looked meager.

We’re ready for this fresh start. May the things we’ve learned serve us well as we face new, unknown challenges ahead.

This picture at the bus stop was from late February, when weekly middle school in-person support started (still all middle school classes were online) and the boys rode the bus together for the first time this year. The photo idea was vetoed this morning.

February lessons

I saw my ten-year-old off to school this morning – something we hadn’t done in a good 11 months. No one else was at the bus stop, not even his older brother who goes to the same school, because only elementary learners have been welcomed back so far. We waited in the below zero weather, thinking about how much more pleasant it is to wait for the bus in September, when you don’t even need a jacket. This is not the way I would have written the script. But I’m trusting that things have happened this way for a reason.

And if I were writing the script, I surely wouldn’t have included any broken bones, but that’s what I got earlier this month. Trusting that it has happened for a reason is a little bit harder when it comes to my broken wrist. Yet I’ve come to see that there are things for me to learn in the forced stillness, including things that I hadn’t known I need to learn. My new (metal) accessories were attached last Friday:

After a week with a rather bulky wrap around my wrist, I got a slimmer brace yesterday.

I’m rejoicing at the increased mobility and looking for ways to savor the moments that are rich and meaningful: helpful acts, kind words, and time spent with those I love best. Sure beats worrying or getting stuck in the “I can’t wait until…” mentality where I’m so preoccupied with what I want to happen next that I’m not fully living in the present.

a lesson in lunch prep

The library is one of the few places we go during quarantine. While browsing at Rice Street Library last week, our older son picked up a copy of the Bone Handbook by Jeff Smith:

While he was reading it, he pointed out that there’s a recipe for quiche in there. “Let’s make it,” he suggested.

“Good idea,” I responded, deciding not to mention that both he and his brother complain whenever I put a veggie-laden crustless quiche or frittata on the table. 

His ten year-old-brother grabbed the book when he had set it down and looked over the ingredient list. “As long as you leave out the green onions,” he said.

“Okay,” I agreed. “I could just sprinkle some on my piece after it’s baked.”

So I made the pie crust, fried the bacon, and delegated most of the other preparation tasks to our teen. He likes his vegetables raw, he pointed out. The unstated message was clear: resist any urge to add something green to the dish. So made a cabbage and kale salad to serve as a side. Once the quiche was in the oven, he jumped onto a Google meet with his Computer Applications teacher, and I was left to keep an eye on it during its time in the oven.

It turned out to be a lovely lunch, we all agreed. The leftovers were great, too, but one of the best parts is that he’s starting to take more ownership for his cooking lessons, which officially began last month as his mom’s addition to the studying-at-home curriculum.