• how we homeschool: Rebecca from Pennsylvania

    I met Rebecca and Patrick through my blog years ago. They left a few comments, and then one thing led to another — an overnight stay at our place, a weekend breakfast at theirs, oodles of chatty emails, and so on — and now we’re friends!

    Cast of Characters:
    Rebecca: all things home — I garden, sew, preserve food, knit, mend, cook.
    Patrick: radiologist and beef cattle farmer and enthusiastic, amateur wood worker.
    Clara: 22 yrs., working in environmental advocacy and policy in Washington, D.C. 
    Aden: 20 yrs., sophomore in college, studying biochemistry

    Why did you decide to homeschool? 
    I had Clara’s first-day-of-Kindergarten dress sewn, pressed, and hanging in the closet. All of a sudden, the thought of having her, and then her little brother, gone all day was just too sad to contemplate. I checked out the two books the Ann Arbor library had on homeschooling. One of them was John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down. I read it and was immediately converted. I made my doubtful husband read it: same conversion experience. Both of us have a strong anti-establishment bent so it was basically a match to dry kindling.

    Describe your homeschool routines when the kids were little. 
    We were lucky to begin homeschooling in Michigan. The laws were super relaxed. No reporting. No compulsory curriculum. No oversight. So I tried a little bit of everything. Waldorf-inspired, Charlotte Mason, super-traditional reading, writing, ‘rithmetic; I always included things that mattered to me and the culture I was trying to build/pass on. My kids know a lot of archaic hymns and Pete Seeger labor anthems and could iron a shirt (properly!) by age 10. I considered all of that curricular. As they got older, the kids found educational styles that fit them individually.

    How did you keep from feeling over-run by the children? 
    I’m not sure why but I always had a pretty old-fashioned understanding of the parent/child roles in the family structure. I did the work I found meaningful and important, made the kids help me for the good of their little souls and Executive Function (which we were discovering in the early 2000’s), and then ordered them to “take that noise outside!” I mean, I supervised school work until I couldn’t stand it any more; I read and sang to them, snuggled and talked to them every day, but every day also included activities that were solely mine. We were together all the time but also in our own, clearly-defined, parent and child worlds. I think that preserved a balance for me that mitigated against burn out.

    What was the transition to college like?
    Both kids were pretty homesick their freshman years but so are plenty of schooled kids, so maybe that’s the result of increasing attachment in families and a willingness to question white, Western notions of “independence” and authoritarian parent/child relationships? Or is that another topic, LOL? 

    Was it hard for them to get in because they’d been homeschooled?
    Homeschoolers going to college is no longer a novelty. Atypical high school diplomas or no diplomas at all are accepted at many college. Clara and Aden found a template online and filled it in with their course work: some appropriately official and graded and some “here’s a cool thing I did/read.” Both kids took the PSAT and the SAT at a local high school, looking up scheduling and requirements online.

    Looking back, what was most challenging aspect of homeschooling? 
    That’s an easy one: my own anxiety and other psychological baggage.  I hadn’t done the inner work that maybe you can’t do when you have little kids, but that definitely put stress on our homeschooling that didn’t need to be there.  I was also dragging along my own very-schooled brain which made me worry about time tables and grade levels in a way I certainly wouldn’t today.

    If you had so much self-doubt (is that even the right word?), what made you stick with it?
    Hmmm. My anxiety (more than self-doubt itself) made me a pain to live with at times (sorry, guys!) and caused the self-doubt that made me do dumb stuff like try to cram phonics down the kids’ throats because they weren’t learning to read On Time. But I never doubted the wisdom of homeschooling. Like, never. Because schools are such a recent phenomenon with such a shady founding agenda. The family/clan/community is ancient.

    Did people around you express doubt in your choices?  
    Oh, sure. Pat’s mom and mine were professional educators. They were both polite but there was definitely some surreptitious quizzing and heavy-handed “educational” gifts at Christmas. We generally let it go without comment but I did ditch the stupid starter “computers” that played songs and flashed lights. Sorry, kids.  

    I fielded the usual “what about socialization” and “you must be sooooo patient” b.s. from all and sundry. I either smiled weakly and changed the subject or launched into a philosophical rebuttal that made them sorry they asked. A critical life skill is knowing when people really want to hear what you think and when they can’t muster the courage to say what they’re really thinking which is, “You’re weird.”

    Avoid the haters.

    What did homeschooling teach you about yourself? About your kids?
    Homeschooling taught me that while I love to parent, I don’t love to teach academics. The culture says, “Uh-HUH! That’s why we have the division of labor!” I disagree with the culture. In my opinion as a graduated homeschool mom, a half-ass homeschool “diploma” from a happy, functioning home beats a diploma from the fanciest of institutions. 

    Do my kids agree with me? Enough to homeschool their own someday-kids? Jury’s still out. They have both had times of wishing they’d had a more standard education, and we’ve have more than one heated, post-game-analysis. 

    I will say this: no matter how iconoclastic your leanings, your kids definitely need a functioning community beyond the nuclear family. Your voice is the most important one in their heads (and while we’re on that subject, get yourself some therapy sooner rather than later!), but make sure its not the only one.  

    I also learned that I really, really like my kids.

    Where did you get your inspiration?
    First, I got my inspiration from my Anabaptist culture, then John Taylor Gatto, and after that, all the dreamers, idealist, rebels, and radicals whose books I read.

    My husband was my strongest supporter. After a reluctant start, he became more evangelical about homeschooling than I. I didn’t have a lot of support from other homeschoolers because I was too no-nonsense for the hippy co-ops and too heathenish for the fundamentalist ones. In fairness to both, I was too introverted and jealous of my time for either group.

    Again, my kids might have an addendum about how they did or did not experience inspiration and support. I’ll tell them they can P.S. in the comments.

    Do you have a homeschool philosophy? 
    Surround your kids with the healthiest, most loving culture you can find and create. Learning will almost inevitably follow. If you as homeschooling (or non-homeschooling!) parent strive for anything, make it your own healing and wholeness; that matters way more than nailing down an educational philosophy.


    Thank you so much, Rebecca! (Check out those lovely Thanksgiving pies, people!)

    This same time, years previous: Clymer and Kurtz, my sweet beast, the quotidian (12.4.17), writing: behind the scenes, oatmeal sandwich bread, the college conundrum, sushi, baked ziti, red lentil coconut curry, wild.

  • millionaire’s pie

    I have a new pie to tell you about. 

    This, I’m sure, comes as no surprise, considering my job is all about the pie and, as a result, my spare time is spent researching new recipes about pie, watching videos about pie, and ogling fancy cookbooks about pie. I talk about pie (I can really talk about pie), and I spend enormous swaths of my time making, tasting, and photographing pie. Most nights, I even dream about pie. Pie, pie, piepiepie — 

    You get the point. 

    ***

    Interlude: a brief marital conversation

    Just the other day, my husband informed me he’s jealous of me. 

    Jealous of me,” I said, mildly thrilled by this new insight. “Say more!”

    “It’s just that your creative projects are so easy to do,” he said. “They don’t take much time or money, and you can do them whenever.” 

    And then, worried he might’ve overstepped, he quickly added, “Not that it doesn’t take skill to do what you do — I didn’t mean that.”

    He’s right, though. Cooking is generally a low-cost, creative outlet, especially compared to the sort of expensive creative projects of my husband’s choosing: a new shop, an addition, a house

    “There are smaller creative projects you could do,” I pointed out. “A bucket of paint doesn’t cost that much.” 

    “Yeah, but then I’d have to do them.”

    “Well now that’s a different problem,” I said, thus effectively concluding that particular brief marital conversation.

    ***

    Back to pie. 

    When one of the other Magpie bakers recommended this pie — Millionaire’s — I went home and made it right away. The combo of chocolate, pecans, and coconut remind me of the frosting for German chocolate cake. Still warm from the oven, it’s gooey and lush. Cooled to room temp, it’s like turtle candy, those pretzel-pecan-caramel confections. Either way, it’s dangerously addictive. 

    Unless you’re the rest of my family. They’re all like, “Millionaire’s pie? Meh. Pass the sweet potato pie, please.” 

    And my mother, bless her heart, thinks it’s downright horrid. “A plain pecan pie is so much better,” she scolded, her nose tipped skyward. “The chocolate and coconut ruin it.” 

    But I disagree. This isn’t a pecan pie (and for the record, I, too, think pecan pies that have been “enhanced” with chocolate are blech) — it’s a Millionaire’s Pie, which is a different beast altogether. 

    And when I informed my mother, with my nose skyward, that these pies go like hotcakes and that customers, with a glint of panic in their eyes, return in search of more, she was duly chastened (though she still claims the pie’s an abomination).

    Cautionary note: this is not the sort of pie you eat by the piece. Each bite is like — no, is — a candy bar so go slow.  

    Millionaire’s Pie
    Adapted from Midwest Living.

    For the coconut, I’ve used a blend of unsweetened and sweetened flakes, as well as coconut chips — it’s all good.

    1 parbaked butter crust
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1 cup flaked coconut
    1 cup chopped pecans
    1 cup white corn syrup
    3 eggs
    ⅓ cup white sugar
    ⅓ cup brown sugar
    ⅓ cup melted butter
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    ¼ teaspoon salt

    In the parbaked pie shell, sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the coconut, and then the pecans. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and then pour into the pie shell.

    Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set.

    Serve warm or at room temp, with or without whipped cream. Pairs wonderfully with a cup of hot coffee.

    This same time, years previous: Friday fun: books and movies, in the sweet kitchen, the quotidian (12.1.14), Thanksgiving of 2013, potatoes in cream with gruyere.

  • the quotidian (11.30.20)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Pretzel rolls, made with poison.


    Safety precautions: the only casualties were two aluminum baking sheets, oops.


    Grilled, gooey goodness.


    Rumming the fruitcakes.


    Sushi! On Mondays when Magpie is closed, the owner treats us to takeout.


    Magpie’s newest part-time dishwasher.


    A (stinky) reading nook.


    We found toilet paper!


    Boy-built.


    My husband’s mowing technique.


    This same time, years previous: Thanksgiving of 2018, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2017, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2016, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2015, pot of red beans, butternut squash pesto cheesecake, all a-flutter, apple chutney.

  • thanksgiving in the sun

    This year, I held off planning our Thanksgiving dinner until the last minute. I knew Leryann and William would be joining us, and my older son said that he and his housemates would be coming, but still, so much was up in the air, what with my bakery work load, the spiking pandemic, and the big X-factor: the weather. If it was cold, rainy, and windy, then we’d probably have to pick a different day or else nix the company idea altogether (unless we opted to throw the windows wide and wear masks in the house which didn’t strike me as very much fun). 

    And so I waited. 

    But then the forecast said it was supposed to be 65 and sunny (!!!), my days at the bakery weren’t as long as I’d feared, and nobody in our bubble got smote (smited?) by Covid. 

    So Tuesday morning I pulled the turkey from the freezer to thaw and emailed my parents to see if they wanted to join us, too. Wednesday afternoon when I got home from work, my younger son proudly showed me the sweet potato pie he’d made from scratch — pie crust and filling — for the feast.

    And that evening I made the stuffing and a double batch of ludicrous mashed potatoes and started giving some serious thought to the pies.

    Thursday morning, I emailed the crew with final plans. We’ll eat around two, I said. Dessert will be around five. We’ll be outside all day, so dress accordingly. 

    All that morning I steamed around the kitchen baking pies, roasting turkey, and making gravy and cranberry sauce. The rest of the family worked outside, raking and mowing, scrubbing the porch, and washing windows. Once everything was ship-shape, I fluffed the porch, aka the living room, hauling out the house plants and a couple soft easy chairs, and tossing throw pillows and old (clean) blankets about.

    with a tutorial, carving goes much more smoothly
    notice the tray, because a regular plate wasn’t big enough

    All that afternoon and evening, we lounged around, eating ourselves silly, drinking coffee, visiting, and playing corn hole.

    At dusk, the twinkle lights clicked on and I dug out a couple candles. My younger son built a small bonfire and we toasted our toes (my shins were still marbled red the following morning) and told stories. 

    Then, tummies full and clothes smoky, everyone split for home. The kids dismantled the outdoor living room, my husband finished washing up the dishes, and I filled my biggest soup pot with the turkey caress and vegetables, topped it off with water, and set it to simmer on the stove for the annual big-batch of turkey broth, the end.

    This same time, years previous: 2019 garden stats and notes, the day before, kale pomegranate salad, monster cookies, Thanksgiving of 2011, pumpkin pie.

  • how we homeschool: Jen from Oregon

    When I first happened upon Jen on Facebook, I immediately developed a fangirl crush. She’s salty, whip-smart, and really, really funny. That she homeschooled, too, was just icing on the cake. When I decided to do this series, she was one of the first people I approached, and, fortunately for all of us, she said yes!

    Hello, Jen! Tell us about your family!
    My husband David and I have two kids. Verona (10) is super social and loves writing and fashion designing when she’s not being the maker of jokes and life of the party. Finnegan (9) loves video games (specifically programming and designing them) and architecture. David is an engineer in the tech industry, doing all the fancy stuff with big words that boils down to “he’s part of the reason computers and phones and anything with a microchip works,” and I have a handful of small internet business I can do from the computer.

    Why did you decide to homeschool?
    We started talking about homeschooling when Verona was still a baby, mostly because we’d both had decent experiences in school but were very aware that, educationally speaking, it was definitely not set up for us and even if we enjoyed it we would have benefited a lot more from a wildly different educational system. We wanted that for our kids. 

    Wait. What do you mean by “it [school] was definitely not set up for us”?
    Both of us (David and I) are smart but neither of us fell into the traditional learning styles or educational time frame that most schools use. For example, I was gifted in a lot of ways in elementary school and a very very “late” reader. I think that an environment that encourages the growth of things you’re really good at, while slowly working on the things you’re not, is a much more efficient way of educating. One can “do well in school” (for the most part, we both breezed through high school, bored) without those hours spent in a chair in a classroom actually being all that beneficial.

    So how old were you when you learned to read?
    About 10. I went to an amazing school full of amazing teachers who had the freedom to use a lot of out-of-the-box kinds of methods and one-on-one instruction and all that, but my brain just wasn’t ready. Until the summer between two of the grades, when it just clicked. By fifth or sixth grade I was at an upper high school reading level. 

    Some of our brains are too busy doing other things for a bit, so we gotta wait til there’s an open space to put something new, like reading. 🙂

    So as you were saying: you were thinking about homeschooling….
    Yes, and the older the kids got (read: the closer they got to going to school) it became obvious how ridiculous it would be to stop all the amazing learning that was already happening so they could go sit in a desk and do worksheets. Verona was already reading by then, and it made my eyes roll knowing how that would affect her in an overcrowded and understaffed classroom, especially where test scores are paramount and kids who are “ahead” often get ignored in favor of getting everyone else up to par. I used to joke that we couldn’t send them to school because it would take away from all their time to learn.

    How do they learn?  
    Usually we have a few books going and topics that people are interested in, so in the mornings when everyone gets up and about (10ish usually, we’re not early risers), I’ll make breakfast and then while we eat, we’ll read and talk and do whatever other “schooly” stuff I had planned. Usually this means we listen to a piece of music and discuss it, and sometimes we’ll read a short passage, or work on a poem we’re memorizing. I’ll read aloud while everyone eats, and then once breakfast is over, we’ll do anything from busting out the art stuff to Minecraft projects to more reading to watching an (at least moderately) educational something… whatever. 

    Afternoons are kept open for anything we’re doing out in the world. One day a week we participate in a small, child-led co-op. One day we have a standing date for coffee with some really awesome old ladies who tell great stories and have wisdom I can only dream of. Other days we meet friends at the park or go to a museum, or maybe somebody has a class that they wanted to do, or someone wants to go down to the river to explore or fish. 

    On days that we don’t have anything else planned, Finn’s favorite favorite thing is going to one of the coffee shops or brunch places right by our house with card or board games and hang out all afternoon playing together. We all get drinks and share a big plate of fries. The waitress is so used to seeing us in there she worries about us if we’re gone for a week or two.

    As the kids have gotten older, how has homeschooling changed?
    The only thing that has changed is the amount of things the kids plan on their own. When they were younger there was lots of me saying, “Here’s a couple things we can do today, what sounds wonderful?” and as they’ve gotten older there’s a lot more of them being like, “Ok, today I want to finish working on X, Y, and maybe learn something about Z” and me just helping them find resources and being around in case they need help.

    Is it hard to balance your own interests with those of your children?
    I haven’t found that to be too difficult, mostly because we’re so relaxed in our homeschooling — we just all work with each other to get what we all need to get done, done. I also am a pretty big extrovert and thrive off the 100,000,000 “but why?”s of children, so once they got past being really little, I didn’t ever really have to deal with getting enough “alone time” like a lot of moms talk about.

    So what are the challenges?
    I think one of the major challenges is just the fact that we’re doing something new, we’re doing something different. There’s always risk with that. If kids in school graduate without knowing certain things, nobody bats an eye, but if a homeschooled kid can’t answer a relative’s unasked-for pop quiz at Thanksgiving dinner, suddenly people get very concerned about “the kind of education they’re getting.” Especially when you’re further on the unschooling or eclectic side, it feels really hard to talk to people about what we do because in order for them to even begin to understand, I feel like I need to completely reframe the entire way they think about family, education, the way the brain works, etc.

    What have you learned from homeschooling?
    Homeschooling completely reframed the way I thought about my own education. I used to think I’d be in college forever, just because I liked learning. But now I’ve figured out how to do that without college. Really digging into how people learn, and understanding that college isn’t always necessary (though it is sometimes helpful), has given me the tools and courage to attack my own education in new and amazing ways, even when my schedule/life/financial situation made it impossible for me to be taking any actual college classes. As a result, I no longer feel the need to formally take classes in order to feel like I’m learning.

    Homeschooling has also totally changed the way I view children and how they learn. We were part of a distance learning charter for a while: they let us homeschool however we wanted, and they gave us funds for books, supplies, and classes, but one of the catches was that the kids had to do some regular testing to make sure they were “on target.” Once I started seeing how my children were scoring at the same level as their publicly schooled peers even though they’d never had a formal math lesson in their entire lives, I realized how much of children’s learning is in spite of school. Not because of it.

    Where do you get your support? 
    I am lucky to live in a city (Portland, Oregon) with lots of very relaxed homeschoolers and unschoolers (and all the activities that go along with that). Being able to get together frequently with so many other relaxed home — or un — schoolers has given me a ton of support and inspiration for the kinds of things we do, and is a wonderful blessing for the kids.

    What are Oregon’s requirements for homeschoolers? 
    You have to register and test a handful of times over the course of the kids’ childhoods. I don’t have to have anything approved or have someone looking over my curriculum or anything. Just, a handful of tests across grade school.

    Any good resources to share?
    I use several blogs and a lot of pinterest to find ideas, and I draw a lot of book ideas from the Wildwood Curriculum, which is a secular Charlotte Mason curriculum that’s available for free online.

    Do you have a homeschool philosophy?
    Our homeschooling philosophy is that wonderful and engaging time together does a lot more for education than things like worksheets. We’re very unschooly, but the unschooling world can get weirdly cliquey so I usually describe us as eclectic instead, and with a healthy dose of Charlotte Mason because that has worked well for our family and everyone has loved it, and a lot of Gameschooling. 

    My philosophy has evolved as I realized more and more than even “have no rules” is sometimes a rule, and we can do what best works for us without worrying that it’s enough this, that, or the other thing for anyone else. We’re never going to be schooly enough for a lot of people, we’re never going to be unschooly enough for hardcore purists, and that’s fine. We don’t need to be.

    Any advice for people who might be considering homeschooling?
    Make sure you don’t skip the deschooling process. Even if you plan to move towards a more structured schooling setup, you, as the parent, probably need that deschooling time more than your kid does, just to unlearn and relearn how learning happens. That, and don’t feel a need to keep up with public schools. Until they start showing real evidence that they’re doing it right, they don’t need to be your measuring stick.

    I said what I said. 


    Thank you so much, Jen! It’s a treat to have this little peep into your world!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.25.19), apple crumb pie, in my kitchen: 7:35 a.m., the quotidian (11.25.13), a Thanksgiving walk, steel-cut oatmeal.

  • pie!

    A few weeks back, the Magpie Powers That Be asked if I’d be willing to take over the pie-making part of the bakery. I said yes, of course.

    I love pie. 

    Turns out, making pies at home is one thing. It’s another entirely to make them in bulk in huge ovens. It’s not nearly as easy or straightforward as one might think. 

    prepping for Thanksgiving orders

    First, the kind of pie. At home, I bake fruit pies year round — sour cherry, rhubarb, grape, berry — because I have all those fruit, fruits we picked in season and squirreled away in the freezer. But for the diner, I don’t have a freezer full of prepped, in-its-prime fruit to pull from. Plus, I have to think about things like shelf-life, fridge space, and customer preference. 

    All this means I’ve been experimenting with lots and lots of pies. (Thank goodness Magpie lets me take home rolled crusts — at the bakery, we use the sheeter to roll them out — for my test bakes!) I make a bunch and then run a plateful of samples over to my parents for them to taste test. The bum pies that no one wants go to my brother’s family because they say they want them. 

    A sampling of my fails…

    Black Bottom Oatmeal: tastes like Ellie’s food bin, my daughter said.
    Salted Caramel Apple: made with a fabulous homemade caramel sauce that, once baked, could not be detected, so — why bother?
    Apple Sweet Potato: nah.
    Spiced Shoofly: too dry, and the spices didn’t add anything.
    Another variation on Shoofly: didn’t like the dry top.
    Bourbon Pear Crumble: Bland and too sweet.
    Assorted fruit pies, assorted crumb toppings, etc.

    fail: black bottom oatmeal
    fail: salted caramel apple
    fail: sweet potato and apple
    fail: shoofly

    My mother says I’m getting too picky. I disagree. Rather, I say I’m becoming acutely discerning. (Recently scrolling through a NY Times pie montage touting “pies that taste as good as they look,” I was horrified: gelatinous fillings, blatantly imbalanced flavor combos, and scandalously soggy bottoms. What, oh what, is this world coming to?)

    Second, the baking. Even set at 400/425 (the ceiling/floor temps) and baking the pies directly on the floor of the oven, it takes the pies longer to bake than in my home oven. They don’t burn, which is nice, but it takes forever. 

    Because the pies start out on the floor of the oven (for proper brownage), they have to be transferred to baking sheets part way through when they start bubbling over (and it works best to start them on the floor of the oven so the bottom crust gets sufficiently browned). Also, when parbaking (or straight baking) them on the floor of the oven, the pies have to be placed at the front of the oven so they’re accessible — this means, only about six pies at a time and all that wasted space and heat at the back.

    Maybe there’s a sturdy thin metal peel that we could use to get pies all the way to the back? On the other hand, heavy glass-pan pies and floppy aluminum-pan pies are pretty tricky to manage… 

    To parbake a crust, I line it with foil, fill the pan with dried beans to weight it down, and bake it for about 25 minutes. Then I remove the foil full of beans and return the crusts to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. Sometimes the crust, freed of its bean weights, bubbles wildly, even rising up above the pan rim. Other times, the crust doesn’t bubble even a little.

    There is no rhyme or reason, best I can tell, so when it bubbles high, I just press it back down and go about my life. 

    Third, the pans. My mother had always told me that glass pie pans were the only way to go — how else to see the underside to make sure it was sufficiently browned? And most all the aluminum-panned pies I ever saw did look colorless and soggy. So my whole life I believed her.

    almond cream pear

    But for the bakery, we needed to figure out how to make pies in those dreaded aluminum pans. So I started working on it and — guess what! — they brown beautifully!!!

    blueberry

    The trick is to parbake the crusts until they’re golden before adding the filling. (Pies baked with raw dough will brown on the bottom but the sides have trouble getting color — something I’m still puzzling over.) This means, for to-go pies, custard pies and fruit pies with crumb toppings are best. 

    pistachio coconut cream

    (Update: just this morning I discovered that pastry in aluminum pans can be parbaked on baking trays — not directly on the oven floor as I do for the glass pans — which means that now I can parbake twelve, and maybe even fifteen, crusts at a time!) 

    So far, I generally bake pies for the diner on Monday — I choose pies that have a good shelf-life since they need to last several days (if/when they start going through two to three pies a day, I’ll add in more fruit pies) — and then I bake a dozen or so pies on Friday to sell whole, out the door. I’d love to make more, but we’re still building clientele; hopefully, I’ll soon be able to pull out all the stops and go full throttle. 

    These are the pies I’ve made, both for the diner and to sell out the door…

    • Grits: vanilla custard with grits as the base, served with sour cream whip and lemon marmalade; this pie, the head baker’s choice, is available weekdays in the diner.
    • Sweet Potato: served with buttermilk whip (people seemed a little unsure of this pie which surprised me, considering we’re in the South and all)
    • Coffee-Spiked Shoofly: this was surprisingly popular
    • Apple: both lattice-topped and crumb topped
    • Triple Berry Crumble: the spiced oat topping is so yummy
    • Blueberry Crumble
    • Red Raspberry: store-bought berries are quite different from homegrown ones; I’m still tweaking. 
    • Peanut Butter Cream
    • Pumpkin Torte: a fig-walnut biscotti crust, pumpkin mousse filling (leftover from the diner), whipped topping.
    • Pistachio Coconut Cream: pistachio and coconut crust, pistachio-infused custard, whipped cream and toasted coconut; I never even tasted the final product!
    • Almond Cream Pear Tart: one of my favorites.
    • Millionaire’s: coconut, chocolate, and pecans drowned in caramel — wildly delicious
    • Pumpkin: except I use butternut

    I have a couple new pies I’m excited to roll out in the next few weeks (citrus! chocolate! cranberry!), and have even more I’d like to experiment with soon (salty honey, mincemeat, chiffon, buttered rum cream, fig crumble, chess, savory).

    peanut butter cream

    I’m especially trying to up my fruitless (ha!) pie game, so if you have recommendations, do share!

    This same time, years previous: a fun kitchen hack, curried Jamaican butternut soup, apple raisin bran muffins, how to use up Thanksgiving leftovers in 10 easy steps, cranberry pie with cornmeal streusel topping, apple rum cake.

  • fight poem

    My cousin(in-law)’s book of poems came out last week and, in a blaze of glory, immediately skyrocketed to number one on the NY Times paperback bestseller’s list, can you even imagine? (I can’t, but it’s true!) 

    Last night my husband picked up the book and started flipping through, reading, reading, reading.

    I cut him a look. “You’re more absorbed in that book than you were in mine.” 

    “This book is finished, Jen. Yours isn’t.”

    As though that makes any difference.

    And then— “Listen to this,” and he read out loud:

    Crescendo
    The moment in the argument
    when the only sound between us
    is the buzz of locusts, cars from a
    passing street, God licking her
    fingertips, wondering how this is
    going to go.

    We both burst out laughing. God licking her fingertips! Oh, yes.

    Later, talking in bed, my husband rudely interrupted more than once and I fell silent. 

    Him: So now you’re not talking to me. 
    Me:
    Him: It’s really quiet. [Beat] Is God licking her fingers? 

    And we both busted up laughing all over again. 

    Thank you, Kate. And congratulations! We’re all so very proud of you.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.19.18), spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, sock curls, the quotidian (11.19.12), orange cranberry bread, Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin, peanut butter cream pie.

  • my favorite moment

    photo credit: my older daughter

    The other morning, quite by accident, I discovered my favorite moment of the entire day. 

    It was Sunday, I think, and I was standing in the kitchen pouring my first cup of coffee.  My husband was leaning against the island, chatting with me. The kids still in bed, the house was quiet, clean. I’d lit candles, a fire burned in the woodstove, and outside rain clouds threatened. Already, I’d gone on a run, lifted weights, and showered. Dressed, with my eyes in, make-up on, and hair scrunched, I felt both gloriously wide awake and luxuriously relaxed.

    As I screwed on the lid of my thermal mug, I sighed happily. “This is the best part of the whole day.”

    As soon as I said it, I realized just how true it was. All the hard stuff was done and now I got to enjoy my coffee. Visit with my husband. Catch up on computer stuff. Eat.

    There are lots of other happy moments throughout the day — all of us lingering at the table after supper, talking sput; shooing the kids off to bed and cuddling on the sofa with my husband to watch a show; burrowing deep into a writing project (or rather, finishing a writing project); drinking tea on the porch with a friend — but there’s nothing quite like the deep satisfaction of a dreaded task completed mixed with the anticipation of that first cup of coffee and it’s-a-new-day buzz.

    It really is the best. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.18.19), the quotidian (11.16.15), in my kitchen: noon, the quotidian (11.18.13), lemony lentil goodness, three things.

  • change

    Hello, hello!

    In case you haven’t already noticed, this blog is in the middle of undergoing a massive overhaul. After months of listening to me fuss about the new blogger format, and then coming to my rescue over every little thing, my brother finally convinced me to let him switch the whole thing from blogger over to wordpress. 

    For a little bit there, it was touch and go.

    One night, with the transfer in process and my blog in tatters (or at least inaccessible — is there a difference?) and the rest of the world falling down around my ears (a state of affairs which are, I’m afraid, becoming increasingly normal but some days I just can’t even), I had to pop an Advil PM just so I’d be able to sleep. 

    And then my brother worked his magic and everything turned out hunkydory!

    Or mostly so. There are glitches, still. Scrolling through, you’ll see line-spacing, font, and centering issues (just to name a few), all lingering evidence of the HTML contortions I had to put myself through to make my posts look uniform.

    Now all that junk is visible.

    photo credit: my older daughter

    It pains my soul, it does.

    But not enough to make myself go back through and painstakingly pick through each knot! My time is too valuable (or so I like to believe) and this blog too inconsequential. The content is still legible and that, I’ve decided, is good enough. Thank you, in advance, for being gracious and overlooking my computery ineptitude. (That said, if you do come upon a particular post that is twisted unbearably — especially the popular posts and the ones with recipes — tell me.) 

    But now, for the good news: I love wordpress! I’m only just getting started, and I’ve got miles to go before I’m even a little bit competent, but — Holy cow, it is so easy!!! There are so many options! It makes sense! I have control! 

    The other night, jittery with excitement from all the wonderfulness, I left my desk to stand in front of the sofa where my husband was deep in an episode of Game of Thrones. “It’s amazing,” I hissed. “Like, really, really amazing. It’s like—” I cast about, trying to find the words — “It’s like all those years with blogger I was chiseling my bog posts out of stone.” 

    Sure, there will be glitches and headaches and unfixable problems — this is me working with a computer, remember — and I have a dozen years of blog posts that are in varying degrees of imperfectness, but so what. I’m imperfect, too, and heck if I’m going to let that stop me from trying to coax beauty and meaning from the daily grind of my flawed and oh-so ordinary life. 

    To change! [clinks glass] To imperfections! [glass shatters] To life!

    xo

    This same time, years previous: sourdough English muffins, guayaba bars, success!, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), I will never be good at sales, lessons from a shopping trip, official, the quotidian (11.16.11), chicken salad.

  • introducing how we homeschool: a series

    photo credit: my younger daughter
     

    Over the summer a friend (no idea which one — sorry, friend!) suggested that I write a blog series profiling homeschooling families. With so many children being educated from home, she said, it might be helpful to hear from experienced homeschoolers. 

    At first I was hesitant. In the beginning when Covid hit and schools shut down, it bugged me to hear everyone refer to themselves as “homeschoolers.” For me, homeschooling was an intentional lifestyle choice rooted in freedom, not to be confused with being confined at home all day washing our hands nonstop. This parenting-in-a-pandemic thing was not normal for us, either. 

    The whole situation got my panties in such a twist that I even wrote an op-ed about it. Being forced to stay at home full time with one’s kids because of a pandemic is not homeschooling, I ranted: It’s parenting in the midst of a global crisis. And supervising school-mandated assignments is not homeschooling; it’s helping with homework.

    Nobody snatched the piece up though (sniff), which was probably just as well because then, a few weeks later, I was like, “Hang on. If anyone’s homeschooling, it’s these pandemic homeschoolers because they are, quite literally, doing school at home.” If anyone was misnamed, I realized, it was us, the pre-pandemic homeschoolers, aka the dinosaurs. (What should we be called? I’ve been pondering this for ages, and have no idea. Help me out, people.)

    And even while I was getting all worked up about our fringe lifestyle getting co-opted, at least in name, by the mainstream — Who would’ve thunk it! — I knew I wasn’t being entirely fair. The divide between schooling and homeschooling has never been clearcut. Schooled kids study at home with their parents’ help. They learn via all sorts of nonschool activities like clubs, community volunteering, jobs, and voracious reading, same as homeschooled kids. And homeschooled kids, in turn, often enroll in actual school courses.

    There’s no one right way to homeschool. 

    So here’s the thing: As Covid has drug on, more and more parents, worried about contagion and frustrated with the switch to virtual learning (and its accompanying many hours of screen time), have bailed on school — some just for the year, others maybe for longer. Some parents are even beginning to question the value of school, an institution they’ve always taken for granted. They’re starting to ask hard questions about what they want their children’s learning to look like, and to make changes accordingly.

    But should I host a blog series as my friend suggested? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Homeschoolers are a wildly diverse bunch, and showcasing a few of them might help make the transition to homeschooling easier for all these newcomers. If nothing else, interviewing a bunch of interesting people would be a heck of a lot of fun for me.

    And that, my friends, is how my new blog series — that I am oh-so creatively calling “The Homeschool Series” — was born. 

    If you’ve signed off of school-sanctioned learning temporarily (or indefinitely, or forever, whatever) OR if you’re considering doing so OR if you’re just curious about what life without school looks like, this series is for you. I’ve got a bunch of people queued up for the next few weeks and months, ready to tell the nitty-gritty of homeschooling.

    Stay tuned! 

    This same time, years previous: study stills, the quotidian (11.12.18), enough, for now, George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, refrigerator bran muffins, sparkle blondies.