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