a spring on one's own

March, from a Window in the Country

My April calendar still cradles the titles of things cancelled. What a month we had with the last twenty days of March spent in isolation. Just down the coast, we followed the news of the virus ravaging New York City. But up here in Vermont it is still mostly calm and so quiet. We didn’t have the experience of zoom-meetings coming a knocking (well, not more than one or two a week anyway) every morning, or worksheets and expectations communicated by email. Yet the isolation made our already small world feel smaller, and dimmer.

Looking back, I see that I savored the quietest of nice things to get through each day. The company of a cup of black tea—milk, sugar, and tea bag in the cup as the water is added—whenever I took on a new afternoon task. Unexpected shafts of sunlight to sit in. Soliciting requests and writing a thankful list at dinner, when the whining was a bit much. A wonderful fascinating novel on my kindle to refresh my mind once or twice a day for a few minutes. Sap gathered slowly in buckets and boiled over wood fires on Saturday afternoons. Learning French words over a child’s shoulder as she merrily clicks through duolingo.

As it turned out, the true throttle of March was when to draw the digital boundaries. A pitcher of resources tipped forward and very quickly a lake of opportunities appeared beneath it. Initially I was overwhelmed, and a bit spiteful of it.

But after a week, I was able to dip my hand into the lake and pull out a fish or two, flipping and gleeful. A ballet teacher that we loved years ago before we moved from Boston, moved her classes to zoom. That had never been an opportunity before! JK Rowling released unlimited downloads of the audiobook Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for library patrons everywhere. I played cards before dinner with my mom in Michigan, and my sister in Los Angeles, and a friend in Canada.

I’m still sorting through what we need and when we need it. Most of it is lovely, but we don’t need it. And that’s ok.

A few notes of homeschool from our last month and half, below…

with love from 

Two months ago Lux began reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to Joan (6). I always hoped the girls would each read the series at an older age—maybe nine? Maybe eleven? I find a few of them scary, and the last two dark. But the girls came up with this plan to read together, and it was irresistible.

After they finished the book, Joan wrote a detailed letter to JK Rowling full of questions—how Hermione is just the best, and how did she come up with her name anyway? Weeks later, she was elated to receive an envelope from Scotland, for her, from JK Rowling (notwithstanding that it was essentially a personalized form-letter)!

This was not the first fan-letter written by the girls and dropped in mail to an admired author, but it was the first to receive a response. I suspect JK Rowling has her fan-response team better equipped than most.

Writing letters is an engaging way to practice handwriting and punctuation. Since it can be torturous to spell each individual word for them, often over the din of washing dishes, I take dictation from the girls, type the letter up for them in front of them, print it out and have them copy their own words down. This intentionality on both of our parts gives the whole experience a pleasing significance.

Here’s JK’s address, as written on her website for fans:

J.K. Rowling
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
50 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3DP
United Kingdom

Curiosity Knows No Calendar

Looking for a way to accomplish one or two tasks with my homebound time, I submitted our report to Vermont state for the end of the year. So in a sense the academic year is winding down for me.

I keep this feeling to myself though, because the girls’ interests seem only to change and grow with the seasons. They feel no guilt over curriculum that was purchased and wasn’t finished. They don’t worry over spelling lists that weren’t mastered, and handwriting working upwards at a slow ebb.

I find their proclamations inspiring. Mom, we should learn about that! Why shouldn’t we pick a new set of things to explore right this minute? Why shouldn’t we jump in to a new topic we’ve never tried? I don’t always have a way to channel their response, or even answer their question, but maybe I note it down in Tiro and make a plan later on.

A Great Book: Mason Jar Science

I’m not sure how long it takes to get books these days, but I have to share how wonderful I found this book Mason Jar Science to be.

If you’ve attempted kids-experiment-books before, then perhaps you’ve experienced that not all the books in this industry are truthful, both in their recipes and their photos of the projects.

Anything misleading can be so frustrating for the parent (lost time!) and child (expectations!).

I cast a wary eye on this book when it came home from the library, but as we made our way through the experiments, it won me over! The details are correct, the science makes sense, and the projects actually work! Amazing. There is one final brilliant element: the author, Jonathan Adolph, designed all the experiments to work with mason jars. By simplifying just one of the materials in this way he makes the experiments seem more feasible than they otherwise would.

This is our four-year-old’s absolute favorite thing these days. She loves to bring the book to bed with her. She loves to read through the descriptions with me. And once I’ve gathered everything we need for an experiment, she loves to do them.

I am sharing one experiment here, with Mr. Adolph’s permission, that is fairly simple—ingredients-wise—just a cabbage for the grocery cart, but fun and very magical with its dramatic changing colors.

When you begin paging through the book together, digital or hardcopy, make a list of which ones you can do right away, and which ones need supplies ordered. Note down the supplies you’ve chosen to buy. That way you’ll have one in mind to do when the request comes. Enjoying this type of thing absolutely relies on boundaries, and only diving in when you’ve got the energy for it.

Calendar Days

Each month the girls look forward to rearranging the calendar. It is an afternoon-long activity. They use my phone to look at what day the month begins, how many days it has, and the events I’ve noted down. Sometimes they write down only the events that interest them. Other times they’ve noted down everything I have—great aunt’s birthdays, dentist appointments, taxes due—which I find very entertaining and interpret as a show of solidarity against the list of to-dos.

Here is a design similar to the one we have, a pocket-wall calendar. But I imagine it would be fairly easy to construct one with cards of paper and cardboard with slits for the days. Or if you have extra clothespins from an Advent calendar project. Readers of my blog may remember this vintage post about useful homemade calendars with young children.

Snacks: dearly beloved

Have you tried perfect bars? They were once for sale at Starbucks, back when places like Starbucks were open. If your family is nut-friendly, they are truly perfect. High protein, low glycemic, delicious, and filling. My sister sent a care package of them to us a week ago. I set them up on the bottom shelf of the fridge and said everyone could have one per day, help yourself. One aspect of quarantine is the feeling that I’m making meals or doing dishes for a heavy majority of my day, so having an afternoon snack be filling and easy is WONDERFUL for me.

As of this writing they are still shipping from California, and here is a 20% off code that helps the price a bit. Our favorites are the chocolate peanut butter cups and the chocolate almond bar.

Homeschoolers That Inspire Me 

Jodi Mockabee & and the lovely pdf guides that she sells.

Farmhouse_Schoolhouse.

The Wild and Free Podcast.

A smart mom blogger with older children (eight and up): Navigating by Joy

And a Blessing for You  

“I spent too much time focusing on academics and not enough time, setting aside time, for play and fun, and going places and enjoying life.”

-Rea Berg, founder of Beautiful Feet Books, speaking on a podcast about homeschooling her four children through high school.

Six Extraordinary Things

January nearly killed us with endless sickness. One child became well, another was felled. The mornings began with a chorus of quiet coughs. After a long up night with one child—me asking, “Do you want some water?” her a quiet “Sure,”— she ended up on antibiotics for pneumonia. I don’t think I’ll ever fulfill a prescription for antibiotics without sensing the shadow of the mothers before me who didn’t have that option. When an infection might have meant death.

Modern mother or not, caring for them and the mental burden of tracking their symptoms was totally consuming for me. I’m sure I gave it far more mental space that it needed, but there it is. If the kids did much by way of formal schooling during this time, I didn’t notice. Keeping linens and countertops clean, kleenexes relatively available, toast buttered, and Vitamin-C at the ready was all I could manage.

I write to you nonetheless! I have a hodgepodge of inspiration to share with you.

Bedtime Looms

The square looms from Harrisville Designs allow children to design and weave potholders—with their fingers. Every year this activity seems to get a rich two-week-period of attention in our house—corresponding to intense weather outside—and then is abandoned for something else. Fortunately new colors had arrived in the mail in time for this year’s fleeting passion.

The girls love having total control over their patterns and choosing the colors. As the six-year-old said, she loves that it “actually makes something. Not just a craft. But I made an actual potholder.” I often find them weaving in the morning in bed after they wake up, or in the evening before falling asleep. We have two of the traditional 7” size looms, and we prefer to order the colors individually instead of buying the mixed bags.

The above photo shows the way the four-year-old lays out her design. She can’t yet weave by herself, but after she lays out the colors, her older sisters will complete the weaving for her.

Note: parents typically end up doing the final binding for younger children. Don’t be discouraged or afraid of this step. It takes some tussling, but you’ll get the hang of it.

The Simple Field Trip

Here in the Northeast there are dozens of famous field trip locations. Art museums, historic homes, science museums of all sorts.

However on a recent visit to a dilapidated location in a quiet nook of New Hampshire, I was reminded of the beauty of the low key field trip. It doesn’t take much to catch the imagination a child, even less if their friends have come to explore with them.

We visited an aging space discovery center and had the run of the place. I was intrigued by a long line of framed newspaper front pages—one for every space mission matched with the missions’s respective NASA badge. The planetarium show was an old one for the LunarX prize—propaganda for Google’s “Back to the Moon” mission—but well-executed educational propaganda. The girls loved the flight simulators from the ‘90s and the heat maps.

All that to say—don’t dismiss the simple spots near you that will spark learning and discovery nonetheless.

Four Books on Digital Habits

I’m intrigued by the idea of digital limits and habits. I’m thankful for technology, but it is a rather greedy thing, isn’t it?

I haven’t read any of the books published on the topic thus far, however my friend Susie Wales has! So I asked her to review four books for us.

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch

Crouch talks about creating a family culture that engages technology wisely. It is practical, well researched, and hope-filled. I've dogeared it and returned to it many times.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

Lanier uses research and industry anecdotes to convince readers that social media companies have too much control in their online lives. It can be gimmicky at points but it did motivate me to change the way I consume information online and inspired my own social media hiatus a year ago. (Wanting to read more about Lanier, I fell into a deep wormhole reading about his work and, WOAH. Talk about homeschooled! Try this.)

Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators) by Drew Dyck

Highly relatable, Dyck's book draws from Biblical principles and research about human psychology to equip people to become not just more productive but more self-controlled. It was a quick, enjoyable read. 

Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

This book is full of research about tech use and considers how one's spiritual self is harmed or helped by it. The research was instructive and eye-opening and the questions for reflection were very useful to me. 

Crouch and Lanier both have years of experience in the backgrounds they use as foundations for their approach—raising children, working in tech and VR, respectively. In contrast, Dyck and Reinke act as peers as both have recently benefitted from the research, introspection, and practical steps outlined in their books. Crouch, Rienke, and Dyck all approach the topic from a Christian perspective, arguing that submission to God enables flourishing. Lanier doesn’t have a faith component and contends that human freedom is the ultimate goal.

An App for Record Keeping

Last summer my coding brother and I started talking about the missing tech for homeschool. We felt there were all sorts of opportunities that were going untapped, and he decided to make a go for it. After lots of work, this week he launches that product! An app to be the modern education log.

I have been using it in beta for months. It has become my quick go-to depository for fleeting thoughts like What did we even do today? Oh right….and then I quickly list the titles we read, conversations we had, recipes or experiments we concocted. On field trips (one of the key learning times when I have my phone on-hand, as opposed to on the kitchen counter, buried under cookbooks) I like to bomb in all sorts of things—quotes, ideas that were brought up in passing, questions, photos—and have them saved in one place.

Perhaps your state requires you to report academic aspects of your student’s year. Then like me you’ve already encountered the dilemma of how to track the many disparate trails and lasso them in one place at the end of the year. Or if you have a nanny or tutor that works with your child, you may have the dilemma of how to best keep up with what they’re working on with your child. If you have a prescient preschooler (they all are!), then you are forever hearing quotes that you want to remember. Or vaguely answering questions that you’d like to follow up on more fully later.

Tiro is designed to help with all of this. Track everything in one place—worksheets, unanswered questions, quotes, photos of field trips. Posts can be tagged and searched by date, subject, and learner.

As an evolving platform, Tiro is priced at $8/ year for early users (like you!). There are many elements of the app that will continue to develop, including social sharing with limitations set by you—which I think could be super cool, sharing some of the learning moments of your household among friends.

Would you consider giving it a try? You can download it from the App store right here.

And a Blessing for You

“I always say one good year of homeschooling can make up for two bad years…if we get in a really good year—no baby, no move, no sickness—and, you know, be consistent on the good days. Because the bad days are coming, and you’re going to get interrupted. But if we just take advantage of those good days, then we’ll be fine.” -Cindy Rollins, mother of nine, from an interview on the Wild + Free podcast.

Preparing for the new year

Admittedly with life at home as the steady stage for our days, the holidays begin with gusto. Promptly on December 1st the festive moments seem to unspool like ribbons caught in a rowdy bird’s beak—stacks of holiday books appear, celebratory parties speckle the calendar, indulgent baking supplies spill out of the pantry, extra candles arrive at dinner. Practices for the local rendition of A Christmas Carol filled up our afternoons. Mixes of carols took over the stereo.

(May I recommend this playlist on Spotify? It begins with grand hymns and moves onto modern renditions. Lovely.)

Also during the holiday: the particularly heady mix of household manager, ritual-creator, tradition-upholder, and gracious all loving benevolent gift manager yet wise budget-keeper becomes a weighty crown. I would be remiss not to mention it here, though I cannot lighten its load nor can deny its value.

Our co-op wrapped up academic work the first week of December, with a big party and potluck the week following. This year I realized that the schedule of our weekly co-op naturally pauses every six weeks. Of course I had realized that last year too, but last year I just took that week as a break and each of them blinked on by. This year I made a point to sit down and reflect on the last six weeks.

So that’s what I’ll be doing at the end of December. And though it’s tempting to look back and reflect on what we wish went differently, be sure to write up a list of all the moments to celebrate alongside.

For example, I’m really pleased with the simple success of assigning a three-ring binder to each child. Taking a moment to hole-punch documents—the good ones, you know?—completed science experiments, creative writing, particularly attentive art projects, and tuck them in has totally paid off. I was able to recycle the piles of otherwise, and keep things sorted and easy to find.

And as you mark the approach of the last days of 2019, I’m curious: what are you thinking for the new year? Anything you are particularly excited about? To change, or leave behind? Reply to this email and let me know, and I’ll compile a list of reader ideas for the January edition. This newsletter has over 700 subscribers now! Here’s to reading emails together with eggnog and blankets. Or lemonade and bare feet, as your case might be.

A Springish Book That We Started Anyway

After we finished A Christmas Carol, Joe began reading The Hobbit in the evening and we began Anne of Green Gables in the morning. The timing isn’t quite right: it would be much better as a Spring read, what with Anne’s beloved flowering trees and armfuls of tulips tantalizing us from the page.

I was interested to find the six-year-old was my most eager listener. The eight-year-old remained quietly supportive. I’ve noticed that as a courtesy (or a true fear of spoilers) she does not read ahead in books I’m reading aloud. I appreciate that. The three-year-old listened, occasionally repeating a word loudly that I had just read, though largely missing all the plot elements. All of three of them bemoaned and cringed at Anne’s dramatics, but like all of us—it secretly appealed to them.

We are planning a tea party to watch the movie with some friends for when all three families have finished the book.

On the idea of celebrating after a book—I loved this photo and invitation that Erin Jang shared on Instagram. She and her son finished reading The BFG and she invited him to watch the movie with her and drink very special green Frobscottle.

It’s brilliant and sweet, and more to the point: it just nails the advanced literacy that can come along reading together. Retelling the story to each other (“narrating”), noticing the details (“themes,” “motifs”), parodying or dressing up as a character (“character studies”) are all powerful tools in reading fluency.

A Recent Youtube Favorite   

I can’t think of any parallels to describe what YouTube is for our children. If your parents allowed television, perhaps your life was shaped by Fred Rogers and Bob Ross. Maybe you remember watching the Olympics, and the moment you realized what a triple back handspring could be.

But the amount of fascinating, detailed, narrated content at their fingertips today? There is no parallel.

As we make long road trips for the holidays, the girls open their YouTube app to find downloaded videos by makers of all sorts. Primitive Technology is a recent favorite of theirs. They silently watch his videos of making bricks, creating lime, building a stove, thatching a hut, and weaving with dried grass. Birdsong and crickets hum in the background, the occasional sound of rushing water, a slap of fresh clay, and the crackle of a fire break up the otherwise silent film.

My primary source of video content is The Kid Should See This. Aside from that wonderful vetted source, I never download a video for them that I haven’t watched in its entirety. And we don’t allow browsing from video to video, they only watch from the offline downloaded “library” within in the app.

In the Mood for Homework  

After spending the weekend with friends that attend public school, the eight-year-old requested more homework. By which she meant—packets of paperwork that she could complete on her own. I looked into teacherspayteachers, a site full of all kinds of options, but settled on an education.com membership for the month. I wish Teachers Pay Teachers offered a one-and-done pricing option, because they have better documents. But the search capability, the option to sort by grade, and the monthly price that Education offered was ideal for me.

So for the next two weeks I printed off worksheets of all sorts—telling time, Roman numerals, basic math operations, punctuation review, and completing short stories—and left them on the table to greet the girls at breakfast. They loved it and I liked watching them decode the worksheets. Each one seemed to be written from a different deep room within the Common Core matrix. Assessing, decoding before solving the question was half the puzzle!

A Blessing for You

All the goods in heaven and on earth belonged to him. They presented no danger to him; he could use them and yet keep his heart completely free of them. But he knew that it is scarcely possible for people to have possessions without succumbing to them and being enslaved by them. Therefore, he gave up everything and showed more by his example than by his counsel that only one who possesses nothing possesses everything. Edith Stein

October, from a Window in the Country

Our October learning traced a map of streams and waterfalls. For days at a time it felt like formal learning came as a trickle: writing was avoided. The suggestion of reading lessons nearly induced tears. Even reading aloud was protested in favor of elaborate pretend games outside, and lengthy inscrutable art projects.

Of course, I could have insisted that the lessons happen anyway. Instead I waited, uncertain but hopeful.

Then, suddenly a waterfall: a full page poem written on inspiration. A reading lesson that wouldn’t end, the learner wanting more and more content, progressing through a week’s material in an afternoon.

These paths can be hard to watch from above. One longs for a steady churn of a reliable river. One longs for daily inspiration. One knows a few rote tasks must be done.

But from both accomplished results, we watched as their creators took enormous pride in what they had chosen to pursue.

One Thing at a Time 

The eight-year-old lucked into the opportunity to be in a play at the local high school. It was an immersive, time-demanding, socially stretching experience that would have been exhausting had she had anything else going on. But as it was she slept in late, played, read, and talked about the performance to come. She sat for the hour before drop-off each day to have her hair brushed and plaited into french braids. She read the script, watched the rehearsals over and over, and murmured the complicated Greek character names under her breath.

It was the ultimate of what unstructured schooling can offer: the time to dive into a passion project, the time to reboot in between, and the focus that naturally results from those two elements.

Presidential Unit Study

The nearly four-year-old spent a good bit of the month paging through through Pete Souza’s photo book of the Obama presidency. I’d find her sprawled on her bed in the afternoon, staring at the images, many of them quiet, evocative captures of the president waiting, listening, or thinking. The photos introduced all sorts of questions and conversations for us: the presidential seal, Air Force one, soldiers, flags, Congress, the First Lady, the White House. At the end of the month we had the chance to share with friends favorite books that we were into—I asked her what she wanted to share. “I’m really into the Obama book.”

Allow Me

We do monthly allowance, untied to any strings of performance (though household chores are a daily reality). Your age in dollars, setting one dollar aside for generous giving each month.

It’s enlightening to watch personality-driven impulses develop and shift—the nature steadily altered by nurture. The generous one who consequently almost always has empty pockets. The spendthrift who can browse a store without asking to spend a single penny. Seeing that play out and learning from each other.

One child wanted to spend several months savings on a birthday gift for Dad. After crossing the $20 threshold, she was still a dollar short. I offered ten cents for every word looked up in the dictionary. By this I meant: look up a word and tell me how it’s defined. She interpreted it as: Look up words at random and write down the definitions.

Whichever! Within a few days the dollar was earned, and the juxtaposition of words was delightful.

Moonscape—Stromboli—Methylphenidate

A Book I Loved

The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery, The tale of a couple of writers in New Hampshire falling love with their pet pig. The pig spends its life with them—twelve years!—and Montgomery documents life alongside him. His favorite food and how they got it (mostly the compost bins of nearby cafés), his many visitors (neighborhood children), the times he escaped and various townspeople called to ask them to pick him up.

A writer of nature tales and anthropology reporting, Montgomery packs the book full of knowledge about pigs and otherwise. A natural introvert, she writes about the ways having an enormous social animal in her backyard brought richness to her life in a small town.

It makes you want to be a better human, and to have a pet pig.

After I finished it on my kindle (it was a library borrow), Amazon suggested I might like to read the most recent collection of Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019, edited by Sy Montgomery. Indeed I would, Algorithm, indeed I would.

Winter Warmup: Read This Book with Us!

Find a copy of A Christmas Carol—look for an illustrated unabridged edition like this one. Read it aloud in the evenings, stopping every few sentences to explain what’s been said. Charles Dickens is a master of description, and 175 years later it feels like the source of what we mean when we say Merry Christmas. Not to mention Bah, humbug!  Even the depiction of grasping, penny-pinching capitalism feels downright modern.

When asked why she liked it, the six-year-old said, “It’s a little creepy, but it’s also funny, and I never know what’s going to happen next. I like that it’s about Christmas.”

Begin reading it with your family in November so you’re not in a hurry.

After you finish Dicken’s “ghostly little book…may it haunt their houses pleasantly” as he called it, plan a family viewing of the Muppet version, or check your local theater listings for live performances nearby.

And a Blessing for You 

We must cook, rather than graze, if we are to survive the cold and the wet. Those allergic to cooking may need to bite the bullet and get the casserole down from its shelf if they are not to short-change the family dinner table. Only onions, starch and meat juices can get through to our marrow when everyone comes home soaked to the skin.

-Nigel Slater, Kitchen Diaries (cookbook)

To remember winter isn’t to remember a variation in weather, but to remember an entirely other world. Winter is less of a season and more of a planet.
-Nikaela Peters, Winter is the Season of My Childhood (article)

Early Pursuits Found Fulfilled

sent to you on a gust of October air

The mornings when I had to announce it was time to begin school soon gave away to the mornings when they would ask me when is school starting. There were episodes of doing hard things that felt hard, and we survived them. The girls latched on to a few subjects excitedly. Whenever that happens we are instantly reminded of how easy it is to do a subject when they are excited.

As for a schedule, we continued our slow mornings from the summer. If I’m up with the baby at 7, I often have an 1.5-2 hours by myself before the girls come down around 9 a.m. They will frequently wake up earlier than that, but stay in bed looking at books and chatting.

And the very late nights, with the girls reading to themselves in bed, have continued as well.

I sometimes remind myself that those two simple elements represent two of my favorite things about our lifestyle choice.

A baby mouse was found lost and mewing and adopted, for the worse. We couldn’t keep it alive—couldn’t feed it every two hours, and couldn’t feed it that well at all when we did feed it. And should we even have tried? I don’t know. It was very sad.

A bit of summer advocacy paid off this month. The two older girls were enrolled in classes that didn’t exist until I looked up the instructor’s email and asked them to offer them. Both classes are nearly full, meaning that other people wanted them as well.

There were other emails that I sent that did not receive replies. There’s a balance somewhere in there, and I’m savoring the ones that clicked and settled.


An App & Hardware We Liked

After we bought a letter tablet and set of letters from Square Panda it occurred to me that we are still in the early stages of Bluetooth and the tech-touch reality it will someday bring our households. Square Panda makes hardware that pairs with their apps to teach reading and encourage phonics familiarity. Watching a child line up letters in the physical world, and the app responding cheerily in the digital world, astounded me.

The backend is strong too. When a new game downloads, it recognizes your profile and iPad hardware. You can make profiles for each of your children, and find out which game—of their current list of eleven—is best for their age group.

The home edition retails for around $50.


The Loneliest Quiet Time

How well I know the litany of my long afternoon. -Maxine Kumin

That line is taken from a poem of Maxine’s about mowing the lawn, but say the word afternoon to me and my brow will furrow. It is a hard time of day. Dinner seems hours away, a shared cocktail on the couch barely visible in the distance. Lunch is done but snacks are inevitable, aren’t they. I began the laundry, but did it go anywhere from there?

Even if our morning has gone smoothly and many wonderful boxes have been checked, it’s usually when my energy has slumped.

So it is often the time I announce, “Quiet time for everyone, ending in two hours.” The girls can go almost anywhere, the only requirement being to leave me in silence. And though the words hesitate on my lips, my spirit wondering if I could bend to just one more request…it works! They always end up doing something that I never could have orchestrated, like watercoloring on the lawn, or skewing together a tent down by the trees, or an intensely imaginative game upstairs out of earshot. An hour in I often set out a snack of some sort to stave off requests, and two hours in I feel ready to jump back in with them.


A Recipe to Share / Soft Sandwich Bread

I am reprinting with permission Alexandra’s soft sandwich bread from Bread, Toast, Crumb, the best and easiest bread recipe I have ever encountered in my years, years!, of baking bread.

My private theory is that Alexandra is a genius who happened to apply her genius to bread baking and that’s how she made all sorts of breakthroughs. Like no kneading on the counter. And one-bowl mixing. And one measuring cup pouring.

If you can take fifteen minutes to mix a batch of dough before the kids wake up, it will rise while you have your coffee, share breakfast, wipe up spilled milk. You’ll canoodle the dough into bread pans during your morning reading, slide the pans into the oven an hour before lunch and the house will smell of early pursuits found fulfilled.

Like her, I think a kitchen scale and a bag of good instant yeast is worth the order. It will speed up your process and lend easy exactitude to your baking, meandering questions surrounding you in the kitchen or not.

But do go ahead and try this recipe as soon as you can with what you can buy at your grocery and have on hand in your kitchen.

Soft Sandwich Bread

makes two loaves

  • 6 cups (768 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

  • 3 cups lukewarm water

  • 1/3 neutral oil

  • softened unsalted butter, for greasing

  1. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. Add the water, followed by the oil. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the liquid is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1.5 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

  2. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F. Grease two 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pans generously with the softened butter (I do this with my fingers). Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.

    (Watch her clever, mess-free fork technique in this video.)

  3. Using your two forks and working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. With greased hands, lift each half of dough into a prepared pan. Do not cover the pans. Let the dough rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the pans.

  4. Transfer the pans to the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and firm to touch. Remove the pans from the oven and turn the loaves out onto the cooling rack. Let them rest on their sides for at least 15 minutes before cutting.


A Moment / A Photograph

A lunch tray supplied for three, carried away up the hill, the dishes forgotten until after dinner, brought in before dark.


A Book They Read 

A tale from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen retold and illustrated, Saint George and the Dragon is an ethereal and oddly readable tale is of brave Una and her confused, but valiant knight. I must have read it aloud twenty times in September. When I finally asked the 3.5-year-old what she liked best about it, she said, “the way the lamb wears the crown at the end.” To each their own—I originally collected it from the library for the evocative illustrations and antique language as we delve into Middle Ages history with our Classical Conversations group this fall.


A Blessing for You

Shampooing the hair, washing the body, brushing the teeth, drinking enough water, taking a daily vitamin, going for a walk, as simple as they seem, are acts of self—respect. They enhance one’s ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world.

-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

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