• the coronavirus diaries: week 57

    From other people’s stories, I’d known there was a good chance I’d get sick from my second shot, so I planned accordingly. I scheduled my week with a couple free days in which to recuperate, and the morning of, I washed my hair, shaved, and painted my toe nails. It’d been over a year since I’d last been sick and I wanted to look my best for my potential date with Misery.

    The shot itself was a lovely, no stress affair, and all the rest of the day I felt great. On the way to the vaccine clinic, I’d stopped at a dollar store for ginger ale and crackers and now I worried I’d have a six-pack of ginger ale going flat in the pantry for the next year.  

    But then.

    Around one in the morning — almost exactly ten hours from when I’d gotten the shot — I woke up with fevers and chills (a phrase which sounds almost cozy, like “berries and cream” or “milk and cookies,” but was anything but). I could feel the fever rising, the heat radiating out from my core, my teeth rattling.  

    Complicating matters, I’d tweaked my shoulder and neck getting dressed on Saturday (I know, I’m pathetic) and had been operating like a stiff, bent-over owl ever since. Now, my muscles rigid and sore from the fever, my shoulder and neck pain intensified. Finding a comfortable, restful position was impossible. 

    ALSO, my arm hurt like the dickens. I’d thought it’d been sore the first time around, but this time I was only able to move it mere inches without pain. All night I cradled my useless appendage against my body and worried that I was going to give myself a frozen shoulder from lack of use. (Because I am rational when sick.)

    Even with a steady diet of Tylenol and ginger ale, the fever didn’t let up, and the next day when my older son informed me that I was overdosing on Tylenol (oops), I went cold turkey, and then when I talked to him again he said I’d misunderstood him and that it was fine to continue the Tylenol and that I could alternate it with Ibuprofen, too. Apparently, when I get a fever, I lose my hearing.

    I also had a crushing headache and bone-weary fatigue. Just mustering the energy to go to the bathroom took ages.

    “Over the next few days, you might experience mild side effects” is what it said in the follow-up email I got from the vaccination clinic. 

    Ha. Hahahahaha. Clearly someone does not understand the meaning of “mild.” Here, let me help. 

    Mild side effects are when you have a mysterious low grade headache and then a day later you remember that Oh yeah, I had a vaccine yesterday so that’s why I feel bad. BEING KNOCKED FLAT BY A RAGING FEVER FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, on the other hand, IS NOT MILD. It might be expected. It might be acceptable. But mild? No. 

    If I hadn’t known any better, I might’ve thought I’d been injected with an honest-to-goodness case of Covid. 

    (I still wondered….)

    Sweet boy made me a breakfast that I declined (and he then ate).

    In bed, miserable and aching, I marveled at the lengths I’d go for the sake of not getting sick with Covid, or not getting someone else sick. For the first time in this whole blasted pandemic, I felt like I was actually sacrificing for a greater cause. 

    It’s only gonna last twelve hours, I told myself (because that’s about how long it’d been for my older son). Soon it’ll be over. 

    But that evening I was still solidly miserable — I am not a pleasant sick person — and yet I knew I shouldn’t complain. Getting this vaccine was such a gift, and I was grateful beyond measure to get it. 

    (I still complained.)

    I slept fairly well that night and by the next day I was much improved. My body temp still had trouble regulating itself for the first few hours (I kept on-and-off sweating), and my head hurt (but now the painkillers worked), and I moved slowly, but I was vertical! 

    I made coffee, glorious coffee, and drank it out on the deck, marveling at the warm weather and the birds and sunshine and how lovely it was to no longer feel like I was dying. 

    And then my brain exploded. 

    Suddenly I wanted to do all the things. I wanted to make something Italian and bake muffins and plan all the meals for the next week and also make all of them right now, and I wanted to get more house plants and paint a picture (huh?) and squeeze the calf out of Daisy so I could make creme fresh and yogurt and clotted cream and oh, I’d need scones to go with the cream and what about that blueberry muffin cake I just read about? and chicken meatballs! and am I actually out of frozen spinach? gotta write that down. 

    It was like I had a caffeine buzz times ten. Suddenly, I’d unleashed — or tapped into — a huge reserve of creativity and energy. (Was this what people felt like when they get high? I wondered. Because if so, I can understand the draw.) Are other people getting this vaccine buzz? Step one, get sick. Step two, get better. Step three, fly high. 

    Or maybe feeling like you can single-handedly take on the world is one of side effects?

    Questions I Have

    • Why do some people get sick from the vaccine and others don’t? My son theorizes that a stronger reaction means there’s a stronger immune system, but I don’t know if that’s true. (Oh wait — maybe?)
    • Does the neanderthal gene have any effect on how a person handles the vaccine?
    • Do people who have had Covid still have a reaction to the vaccine? 
    • And what about all the people who were Covid-positive but asymptomatic? Does that have any effect on their reaction to the vaccine?

    Oh, hang on. I just found some science.

    My husband had his second vaccine the day after me. He had a touch of a headache but otherwise felt fine, lucky dog.* My younger daughter gets her second vaccine next week, and my older daughter got her first vaccine this weekend. Soon, there might be a vaccine for my younger son.

    One by one….

    ***

    *I spoke too soon:

    Thirty hours in, after working (albeit slower and slower and slower, according to my son) for 8 hours, Lucky Dog bites the dust.

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week five, the quotidian (4.8.19), missing Alice, fifteenth spring, yellow cake, this slow, wet day, writing it out, coming of age.

  • the different kinds of meals

    I’m a sucker for those “what chefs eat when they don’t want to cook” interviews but usually I end up rolling my eyes because invariably the chef says something like, I mash some canned sardines into a hot skillet, toss in some pea shoots, and reach for the truffle oil, blah-blah-blah, and I’m like, THAT’S CALLED COOKING, DINGLEBERRY. HOW ABOUT A BOWL OF COLD CEREAL.

    Because that’s what normal people eat if they’re not going to cook, right? I mean, if not cereal, then popcorn, or maybe apples and peanut butter, or — and this is my go-to — hard pretzels, cheese, and white wine. (There was one chef who confessed to eating leftover cold rice. If he was feeling fancy, he’d dribble some tap water on it to soften it up. And that, my friends, is what honesty looks like: cold rice dressed with tap water. I nearly swooned.)

    So that’s one kind of meal: the no-meal meal.

    Then there’s the planned meal. Planned meals can be broken into two kinds: a) the “read the recipe from top to bottom and buy ingredients ahead of time” structured meal, and b) the old-hat “made from the standard stuff that’s always on hand” type. But it’s gotta be planned. That’s key.

    Moving on! The leftovers meal is structured around whatever you cooked the last couple days, adding to and/or reshaping them accordingly. 

    There’s the silly supper which is just straight-up leftovers, plus vegetables and a couple junky additions, like cereal or toast, to make it feel fun. One might also call this The Hodge-Podge Meal. (The only difference between this and the no-meal meal — and they are nearly indistinguishable, I admit — is that this has more components, plus veggies, which therefore makes this meal a smidge fancier.) 

    And then there are the Magic Meals, unplanned and cobbled together entirely from whatever bits and pieces are banging around the kitchen, but in this case the end result, while not predetermined, is an honest-to-goodness meal, seemingly conjured out of thin air. Even to the cook, these meals feel like pure magic. 

    For example. Here’s what I rustled up one night when there was (what felt like) no food in the house and I had less than zero inspiration. 

    I doused my eggs with champagne vinegar.

    I started with a half pound of pasta (because I doubted my concoction would be a smash hit and there’s only four of us). While the pasta boiled, I minced part of an onion I found in the fridge, the last of the celery (leaves included), and the rest of the fresh parsley. I drained a can of tuna, a can of chickpeas, and, oh hey! How about a can of black olives, too? I pounded a bit of garlic with a hefty pinch of salt and added lots of olive oil, and squeezed in the juice of a lemon. Then I remembered a container of goat cheese and tossed that in, too, the heat from the pasta turning it creamy. Since we were drowning in eggs, I quick boiled up a kettle of them. I was going to chop them in but at the last minute I decided to keep them separate. A bag of green beans from the freezer, boiled and salted, and — voila — supper! 

    My son’s portion, boxed up to eat in the car because he was running out the door to youth group
    (but then he left it behind in the back hall, ha).

    In just minutes, I went from feeling like there was nothing to eat to dishing up a veritable feast. Made me feel like a queen, it did. And that, my friends, is how magic meals work.

    So there you have it. My meals, classified: the no-meal meal, the planned meal, the leftovers meal, the silly meal, and the magic meal. What other kinds am I missing?

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.6.20), scatteredness, the quotidian (4.6.15), the quotidian (4.6.13), daffodils and horses, my baby’s faces, the case of the flying book, sourdough bagels.

  • the quotidian (4.5.21)

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

    The Easter Edition

    For my sloppy joe contribution to our potluck lunch.

    Food and family.

    Eating like a Roman: with a silver platter and reclined, but minus the puking.

    Red raspberry, berry cream, chocolate peanut butter, burnt Basque cheesecake.

    Hours upon hours of visiting.

    Filtered water.

    Little dog lover.

    All set: my younger daughter finally has actual competition.

    Filming Easter greetings for the absentee cousin.

    Hunting.

    And finding: from the hens, fresh ones.

    This same time, years previous: instead of a walk, kickboxing, Caribbean milk cake, a trick for cooking pasta, the quotidian (4.4.16), red raspberry pie, sun days, working lunches, cup cheese, he wore a dress.

  • ground beef chili with chocolate and peanut butter

    It’s April first, the grass is greening before our very eyes and the forsythia are so brilliant it’s painful, and — it’s snowing.

    But of course. This is Virginia, after all.

    Upside: it’s the perfect day to tell you about chili!

    I do love me a good chili and I have the recipes to prove it: chocolate-kissed chili, chicken chili, green chili, ground pork and white bean chili, black bean and sweet potato chili — you get the point. And yet somehow I manage to have a new one!

    The wonders never cease.

    Interestingly (to me, anyway), this chili has no garlic or chili powder. Instead, it’s seasoned with canned chiles, a medley of dried spices, beer, chocolate, and peanut butter. The canned chipotles add smokiness, the chocolate and beer add depth, and the peanut butter adds a creamy nuttiness that’s barely detectable. All together, it makes for a deliciously richly spiced chili. 

    The perks of having a son with a friend who’s a beer bottler at a local brewery, whoop-whoop!

    At least it better be barely detectable. I added too much the first time around — You can never have too much peanut butter! Look at me go! Wheeeeeeee! — and the chili became all about the peanut butter which was not a good thing. You want just a little.

    On this, trust me.

    Ground Beef Chili with Chocolate and Peanut Butter
    Adapted from the NYTimes.

    I used between 2 and 3 chipotle chiles which, for my family, is pushing acceptable levels of heat. I also chopped up a dried chile (a pasillo chile, perhaps?) and added it straight in; it rehydrated in the cooking process.

    When making chili, I use any mix of cooked beans: black, pinto, red, kidney, etc. If the chili feels too thick, add a cup of chicken or beef broth, tomato juice, water, or more chopped tomatoes.

    1 glug of oil
    1 onion, diced
    2 teaspoons salt
    1-3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons smoked paprika
    ¼ – ½ teaspoons cayenne powder
    2 teaspoons dried oregano
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
    2 pounds ground beef
    I quart diced tomatoes with juice
    1 pint tomato sauce
    1 cup stout beer
    2 15-ounce cans pinto beans
    4 ounces chocolate chips
    2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
    Condiments for serving: tortilla chips, sour cream, avocado, cilantro, green onions, radishes, cheese, hot sauce, fresh lime, etc. 

    Saute the onions and salt in the oil until soft. Add the chiles and spices (down through the allspice) and cook for another couple minutes. Add the ground beef and cook through, chopping it up and stirring as it cooks. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and beer. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir in the beans, chocolate, and peanut butter and heat through. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Serve with the condiments of your choice.

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week four, babies and boobs, warning: this will make your eyes hurt, three stories, oven fries, flaunting my ignorance.

  • how we homeschool: Jane

    Even though Jane and I live only six miles apart, we often go months without seeing each other. But then! One of us sends an email — “Tea?” — and soon we’re curled up in one of our living rooms, or on a front porch, or at an actual tea shop, talking, talking, talking. It’s the best. She’s the best.

    Hi Jane! Tell us a little about your family!
    We are a family of six. My husband works full time (normal work hours) in the medical field. Before kids, I was a clinical social worker at a state psychiatric hospital for children, but I’ve been at home full time since our oldest was born — he just turned 18. We also have two daughters, ages 15 and 11, and a five-year-old son. 

    Why’d you decide to try homeschooling?
    I knew I had it in me to teach. Growing up, many people told me I’d be a good teacher — mostly because I liked children and had nice handwriting, I think — and education had been my initial major in college, so I had some confidence in my abilities, even if it wasn’t based on a whole lot.

    But what made more of an impact was when I agreed to be the assistant Sunday school superintendent at our church and ended up spending a lot of time working with the head superintendent who happened to homeschool her three boys. Even though our oldest was only a toddler at that point, I peppered her with questions about homeschooling: how it worked day-in and day-out, what she did if they didn’t want to do work, etc. She was very patient and answered honestly. And then she invited me to go with her to our state’s homeschool convention where I attended the sessions for those thinking about homeschooling. I was hooked. I liked the idea of spending time with our son, helping him learn at his own pace, incorporating faith into our learning, and having some control over his exposure to things like video games, bullying, etc. 

    My husband came on board pretty quickly. It helped that both my friend and her husband held advanced degrees in the sciences which was my husband’s field as well. No one else in our families had homeschooled, so we knew in some ways we were stepping into uncharted waters, but we were okay with that.

    So did the reality of homeschooling live up to the idea?
    I think, overall, it did. I felt so positive in those early years of homeschooling. We believed play was so important, and since the kindergartener’s studies took only about an hour — and then in first grade only about two hours — the kids had plenty of time to play and to just be. When one child became an early, voracious reader, I was able to meet his needs and keep him interested. When another had trouble with certain math concepts, we slowed way down until they built confidence and were in a place to move on. A structured school setting wouldn’t have been able to flex with their needs like homeschooling could (and did).

    As they got older, how did your homeschooling methods change?
    As the kids approached middle school, the benefits of learning with peers and under the instruction of trusted teachers and tutors (that were not me) led us to explore Classical Conversations’ Challenge, a homeschool hybrid program where, one day a week, the kids joined a handful of other students to attend classes taught by a trained tutor. As much as I felt confident in our homeschooling choice and successes in the early years, I began to realize the importance of hearing sincere input from our teenagers. Soon they would be making big, life-altering decisions and we wanted them to be able to flex those muscles. 

    How did the kids respond?
    Each child has been different. One child did Challenge for four years and then decided that, since he loved the peer-setting and classroom instruction so much, he wanted to try school away from home full time. Another child did one year of Challenge but felt stifled by not having time to do the things she wanted — to babysit and learn sign language — so she returned to homeschooling and we tailored her subjects to meet her interests and support her future plans. One child chose not to try Challenge at all and instead headed into full time school right at the start of middle school. Our youngest will go to school next year for kindergarten, and will likely continue on in school.

    Too busy watching the construction workers to break for lunch.

    So for your family homeschooling is a way of life that includes schooling, yes?
    I guess what I want to stress most is that while I do believe we know what’s best for our kids overall, this can look very different from child to child, and it can change from one age to the next. I don’t advocate riding the wind of our children’s whims and changing their schooling plans accordingly — our kids often said they wanted to go to school while homeschooling, and sometimes vice versa — but I’ve come to believe that I can serve my children best while steering them when they’re young and then, as they get older, teaming up with them to help them steer, as they prepare for their future solo driving. For each child, this drive through education looks different.

    This makes total sense and it underscores how in-tune with your kids you are.
    I am a planner, and I feel passionately about what I believe, so I credit my flexibility in this area to the grace of God. He softened my grip, and, as a result, this process has felt more natural — liberating for me and empowering for our kids. I entered homeschooling with one vision of what it would be, and then learned that it is more than a one-time choice. It’s a wonderful option all along the way.

    What has been your husband’s role through all of this?
    I keep referring to myself as the one making the homeschooling decisions but all along my husband has been a supporter. He helps with science fair projects and studying for advanced science tests, but I’ve done the daily teaching. It used to be that sometimes when I heard of other dads doing read alouds with their kids in the evenings, I would get envious, but then I would remember that my husband falls asleep when he reads (even if he’s reading out loud), and I enjoy reading the read alouds too much to hand them over anyway.

    You sound like such a chill, relaxed person. Are you?
    I am what some people call a Type A personality. Or at least I used to be. Age, experience, and a health crisis have chilled me out significantly. At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I was pretty uptight and paranoid about my choice of curriculum and my kids’ performance. But with experience, I was able to relax and breathe. I began to feel confident in my choices, and I realized that no single choice is perfect, so why sweat it?  I still follow a curriculum and we’ve always had our days scheduled out, but now I am better able to go with the flow and not internalize the hiccups — both behavioral and academic — as failures.

    Can you say more about the health crisis? 
    In 2017, I suffered from a rare type of heart attack called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection due to an arterial disorder called Fibromuscular Dysplasia. It’s a long and (from my perspective) traumatic story, but what I’ve gleaned from it three years out is: Life is too short and too precious to allow myself to freak out and be uptight about things that don’t matter as much as I thought. 

    Now I take each day as a gift and try to focus even more on creating a safe and loving environment for my family. Since I don’t know what the future brings, stressing only robs me of today. This may sound cliche but it’s real. The beta blocker I take to protect my heart and arteries has the brilliant side effect of keeping me calm (physiologically), which also aids in my chill attitude. I am grateful for the extra nudge in this healthier direction.

    Cake made by my younger daughter.

    How is life actually physically (and emotionally) different?
    There was a time when I thought we needed to accomplish all the work that was listed in the teacher’s guide each day. It took me awhile to realize that even the writers of Sonlight did not expect us to do all of it. It was okay to pick and choose what worked for each child and what fit into our day. Over time, I became the queen of ditching this or that as I saw fit. Some of this is just a byproduct of years of homeschooling experience, but a lot of it, for me, centered around letting go of expectations and giving myself permission to make changes.

    I also began to realize that my relationships with my kids were more important than whether or not their work was done perfectly. Early on, I think I strained our relationships sometimes because I was pushing for what I thought needed to be achieved: perfect spelling, solid study habits, neat handwriting, a gracious and cheery demeanor (wink), etc. It is helpful if you can write legibly when you graduate highschool, but our connections are precious and deserve to be high on the priority list. 

    Time really does fly and I wish I had loved on them and praised them more. There is such a balance here that is really hard to get right. Thankfully, my kids showed me grace as I learned to extend it back to them.

    A few years ago, you decided to become foster parents. How did your homeschooling shapeshift to accommodate this major life event?
    The first infant placement came to us seven years ago in the summer, so by the fall we were in a good routine and began school as normal. The Department of Social Services was willing to pay for daycare since they considered my homeschooling a full time job (which it is!), but after our foster child picked up a nasty cold at daycare, the birth mom and I decided not to send him back; she was thrilled that we wanted him home with us, and he fit right in to our school day. I had homeschooled with my own infants before and, while they do cause interruptions, homeschool lends itself to flexibility. Eventually, he returned to his birth mom; they are doing wonderfully and we’re still in close contact.

    Our second infant placement — a preemie with special needs — came to us as in the middle of the school year. He needed a lot of care and there were TONS of medical appointments, in-home nurse visits, etc, so we took three months off from schooling. Our oldest worked on his own (he was in Challenge then), and the girls learned all kinds of life lessons during this time, such as specialized baby care, increased empathy, medical terminology, and, via our foster child’s birth family, they were introduced to a new language. 

    I’ll be honest: it was stressful. But being able to set the schooling aside for a spell was huge.  When things calmed down, we resumed our studies and worked into the summer until we caught up. The girls loved the break, and they loved caring for the little guy . . . who later became their brother!

    Do you have any favorite homeschool resources to share?
    When I first started out, two books I found helpful were A Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper

    Curriculum we’ve loved:
    Sonlight’s literature and history read alouds and readers.
    All About Spelling: I think we tried five spelling programs and this one, hands down, is the best.
    Teaching Textbooks: for math, especially as they get older and checking their work becomes a momentous task.
    Geography Songs: these songs STICK, although some of the geography is a little outdated (you can correct as you go).

    What advice do you have for parents who might be considering homeschooling their children?
    Deciding to homeschool can be tough at first — you can feel lonely, even crazy sometimes. Reach out to any homeschool family you might know, or even just know of. Even if you don’t become good friends, you will still get a peek into how others do it and this will help you refine your goals. You may learn a new trick or technique, or you may just learn that other homeschool parents also sometimes feel like pulling their hair out. Some families may (inadvertently) teach you to chill and others may encourage you to make time for art or work a little harder on math. It can also be really helpful for your kids to learn to know other homeschool children — they, too, will feel less alone and different and may even appreciate you more, like when they find out other moms make their kids learn Greek and you don’t. My experience has been that these connections ebb and flow and that’s okay. 

    Any final words of wisdom?
    No matter what your homeschool journey looks like, you will make mistakes and learn from them. I think this is one of the most beautiful parts of it all — having the chance to start each year, month, or day over again. This might mean switching curriculum, slowing way down, skipping over easy lessons, laughing at each others’ mistakes (when everyone is laughing, of course), learning to be more gentle with each other, sleeping in until nine just because, or taking a teacher work day because the tomatoes need processing RIGHT NOW. 

    Another bonus to homeschooling that I wasn’t expecting was that, over the summers, I discovered I missed my children. Oh, they were right at home with me like usual, but I missed the one-on-one time that comes with homeschooling. Thanks to homeschooling, I have a front row seat to watch them grow and learn. I witness the a-ha moments when they learn to read or a new algebra skill clicks. And the cuddles on the couch during read alouds are pretty special, too. So just as I yearn for summer at the end of every spring, by mid-summer, I’m eager to get back to focusing on the kids again.


    Thank you so much, Jane! To the rest of you, be sure to check out her blog — she’s no longer posting regularly, but it’s still a weath of all sorts of useful information related to gardening, beekeeping, homeschooling, and parenting, as well as loads of recipes.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.30.20), Asian slaw, for-real serious, the art of human rights, the quotidian (3.30.15), the quotidian (3.31.14), Good Friday fun, braided bread, baby love, grape kuchen with lemon glaze, coconut brownies.

  • the quotidian (3.29.21)

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

    Working from home: whoopie pies (in the bakery this week only).

    Fajitas and sunshine.

    Spotted dick for St Paddy’s day.

    “Pineapples are useful,” he said.

    It’d been awhile since we’d gone to Costco.

    His legs keep getting longer.

    Virtual crash course in auto mechanics.

    Yard working.

    Sisters, vaccinated: the first visit in more than a year.

    Stopping by his house to drop something off, and then he pulled up, too.

    After months of delay thanks to Covid, she finally has her license.

    LOOK AT ALL THAT GREEN.

    This same time, years previous: milk bread, now that she’s back, teff pancakes with blueberries, absorbing the words, seven-minute egg, wuv, tru wuv…, on being together: it’s different here somehow, the boy and the dishes, cream puffs.

  • update from the north

    Nearly every afternoon around four o’clock, my cell phone rings and it’s my older daughter, finished with her day’s work and ready to drive home (hands-free and bluetooth, don’t worry).

    I put her on speaker phone and for the next half hour she fills me in about her day — which horses she rode, how training went, what she had for lunch, the weather, the barn gossip — while I peel potatoes and chop onions. 

    Iron Horse Dressage: the hot walker is to the left.

    Sometimes she has to stop at CVS or the grocery store and I get to weigh in about what painkillers or knee braces to buy, or what might go good with a roast chicken (vegetables! buy the vegetables!). Often I hand her off to the other kids so they can discuss animal business, or to my husband to talk about insurance or car problems. A few days ago she tightened the clutch on the car while facetiming with my husband. Her observation: Now I can see why you swear and throw things when you work on the cars.

    The paddocks are a distance from the barn; she treks back and forth a bunch of times each day.

    Her work is pretty much all-consuming. In exchange for a small stipend, housing, and lessons, she’s at the barn six days a week from 7 until 4 feeding horses, taking horses to and from the paddocks, putting them in the hot walker, tacking them up for clients, warming up horses for the trainer to work with, giving meds, assisting the vet, and taking riding lessons. 

    Send photos, I beg. 
    Of what? She asks. 
    Everything, I say. ANYTHING. 

    And then she sends me a photo of horse poo, the little stinker.

    On her one day off, she runs errands, usually getting hopelessly lost in the process. One time her phone died while she was ensnared in Boston’s web of twisty streets and about freaked. Another time she was looking for a bank and ended up at a military base (everyone’s in camo and carrying automatic rifles, WHAT DO I DO!!!).

    30-something horses + a couple dozen clients = a tight schedule

    cleaning tack in the tack/client locker room

    tacking station

    massage therapy

    Her original goal was to move to Germany (the birthplace of dressage) to study and train, but it turns out that, along with the other top-notch trainers, one of the trainers at this barn is German and trained extensively in the very system my daughter was wanting to study in, so now my daughter’s realizing that she might be able to get most everything she needs right here. Inadvertantly, she’s landed in a position that’s perfectly suited to her interests; it’s like an internship, or a work-study program, for dressage.

    trainers sit at the bar: both trainers and riders are miked

    One wall of the riding arena is mirrors.

    From a text this week: “Windows are open.”

    The riding arena has sensors scattered around the room that connect to a phone-holding device. If a rider wants to film a lesson, they wear an arm band so the sensors can track them and the camera can record it. The rider can pause the recording by pressing a button on the arm band. In this clip of one of our daughter’s lessons, you can hear the camera whirring as it follows her.

    Watch for the flying changes at the end: even for the untrained eye, they’re easy to see.

    Soon she’ll be moving from her current home — the mother-in-law suite in the barn owners’ home — to a little house right next to the barn. One of the assistant trainers is leaving, and my daughter will be taking on some of her responsibilities.

    Once she move here, it’s a one-minute commute . . . by foot.

    Speaking of responsibilities: As the trainers get to know our daughter, they put her on more horses. A few days ago she texted that her trainer had her work his grand prix horse — “walk, trot, and canter!!” — which was, apparently, a big deal.  

    the 80-something acre farm is right next to a state park

    Walking sixty-plus miles a week and riding multiple horses each day does have a downside: her knees and hips are taking a beating. At first we chalked it up to getting in shape, but now we’re concerned about long term wear and tear. She’s working at it, though. The trainers know about her issues and spend time troubleshooting with her, a client (who is also an ortho doc) gave her a side-stall exam, and she’s using knee braces and pain killers and doing stretching exercises and yoga. Here’s to hoping it works!

    Recently, she extended her original four-month commitment to a full year, through spring 2022. I expected this would probably happen, so I’m not surprised. She’s where she wants to be, so we’re all pretty happy. (And I do have one small ulterior motive: now that she’s staying longer, we’ve got a good excuse for a trip to Boston and the Cape, whoop!)

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week three, the quotidian (3.25.19), the quotidian (3.26.18), apricot couronne, more springtime babies, the Tuesday boost, maple pecan scones, of a moody Sunday, the quotidian (3.26.12), fabulous fatira, my brother’s weirdnesses.

  • beef tamales

    I kind of feel like these tamales are an emergency. Like I have to get the recipe out of my house and into the hands of the rest of the world STAT because they’re that good and everyone — YOU — needs them in their life. (Excuse the savior complex, food excites me.)

    Seriously, though, when I made that comment about tamales being easy and that we should make them more often, y’all were like, Excuse me?? Tamales are easy? So then I had to make them again to see if they were as easy as I thought they were, and yes, I’m happy to report, they are. They are also extremely inexpensive and OUTRAGEOUSLY delicious. Plus, they freeze well and, with just a quick zap in the microwave, make fantastic emergency snacks. 

    Usually, I veer towards chicken when making tamales, but what with all the beef in our freezer, this time I decided to try a roast as the meat base.

    Roasts kinda scare me (still!), but this one was smack yourself simple: after a quick browning on the stove top, I covered it with water — a lot of water — added a sliced onion and some minced garlic, and then clapped on a lid and baked it for four hours, at which point I lifted the falling-apart chunks of beef from the gross-looking water (which gets reserved for the masa dough), shredded it, and doused it in the smoky, spicy red sauce.

    Simple, right? 

    Oh, wait. It’s the unusual ingredients giving you pause? That’s easy. Just look at it this way: maseca flour, dried corn husks, and dried chiles are cheap and they can live in your pantry or freezer indefinitely. Having these few items on hand is what switches tamales from the realm of Exotic to the realm of Everyday Accessible; once you’ve got them, the tamales practically make themselves. Promise.

    Well, except for the shaping. I will admit that this step, done solo, can feel a bit tedious (unless you have a good podcast on, of course), so my advice? Assemble these when you know you’ll have a couple extra sets of hands available. A half hour of work should equal about 50 tamales, give or take a dozen.

    Now are you convinced??

    I don’t really know what else to say except that making these makes me inordinately happy. They’re so delicious and I feel good eating them. The flavors are unusual enough to make me feel special and yet they feel familiar in a primal sort of way, like soul food on steroids.

    And the family loves them. For my younger son, they’re his snack-of-choice. Even when I think I’ve filled up his bottomless tank, he always has room for a few tamales. Example: The other day, for an ordinary clean-out-the-fridge lunch, I handed my son a plate of toast with sausage gravy, eggs, and peas, plus a mystery string cheese from the back of the fridge.

    He fussed that it was too much, promptly polished it all off, and then he got five tamales out of the freezer and ate them, too. 

    I guess what I’m saying is this: tamales are power food. Make them, eat them.

    Amen and the end.

    Beef Tamales
    Adapted from a Food Network recipe by Tayler Florence.

    There are all sorts of different ways to make the masa. Melissa’s recipe for chuchitos calls for only a bit of butter and salt in the dough — the flavor comes from the meat filling. Other recipes call for heaps of lard and a bunch of other seasonings. This recipe is a cross between the two extremes: I amped up the flavor with the beef broth and more salt, added some baking powder (because the recipe said to, but I can’t tell a difference), and put in a bunch of lard, and then I added extra maseca flour, too. 

    If you don’t want to use lard, butter’s fine, and oil would probably work, too. 

    The original recipe called for two ounces each of ancho and pasilla chiles; I know nothing about chiles and used ancho and guajillo instead, and probably not a full four ounces.

    The meat and red sauce can be made ahead of time — it might be better that way — and leftovers can be frozen. I bet it’d be great in a stew.

    The Components

    • Maseca dough
    • Dried corn husks
    • Red sauce
    • Beef
    • Some sort of steamer get-up
    • To round out the meal: curtido, beans, sour cream, salty cheese, extra red sauce and/or hot sauce, cilantro

    the beef:
    1 boneless shoulder roast, about 3 pounds 
    salt and black pepper
    a bit of oil (canola or olive)
    1 onion, chopped
    6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

    Sprinkle the roast liberally with salt and black pepper, and brown it on all sides in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and enough water to cover. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 4-5 hours. To check if it’s done, try to shred it with a fork: if met with resistance, let it go another couple hours; if it falls apart, it’s done. 

    Remove the beef from the water, and reserve the water (and softened bits of garlic and onion) to use in the dough. Once the meat has cooled a little, shred it using two forks, and then rough chop. Mix the beef with a bunch of the red sauce (see below), reserving any extra sauce to serve alongside the tamales as a dipping, or spoon-over, sauce. The beef with red sauce can be made several days in advance, and any leftovers can be frozen. 

    the red sauce: 
    1 onion, sliced
    6 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
    2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
    3-4 dried ancho chiles
    3-4 dried pasillo (or guajillo) chiles
    plenty of salt

    Cut the tops off the chiles and dump out the seeds. Place the chiles, onion, garlic, and cumin in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until the chiles are soft. Working in batches, puree the mixture until smooth. Add salt to taste — do not undersalt! — and set aside. 

    the dough:
    6 cups maseca flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 cup lard, room temperature
    1 quart beef broth, warm

    Stir together the maseca flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the lard, gently mashing it into the flour with your fingers, just a little. Add the warm garlic-and-onion beef broth and continue to mix with your fingers, gradually stirring in more of the flour mixture. Once the lard is incorporated, switch to a spoon and stir together until you have a fluffy, stiff (but not dry) dough. Cover with a damp towel and set aside. 

    to make the tamales:
    Prior to assembling, soften the corn husks in warm water for about 20-30 minutes. Put a little ball of dough in the husk and press flat. Add a small spoonful of meat. Fold over the dough to seal (it doesn’t have to be perfect), and wrap the tamales. This can be done however you like! It depends on the size of your husks and how much you fill them. Some people tie both ends like a taffy candy. Some people tie just one end like a bag. Some people wrap them up like a parcel. Some people don’t tie the ends at all, choosing instead to just fold them over. And some people wrap each one in parchment. Whatever works for you!

    Set the tamales in a steamer basket, cover the top with a towel and then the lid, and cook over merrily simmering water for about 45 minutes. 

    Serve warm — don’t forget to pass the extra red sauce — and refrigerate (or freeze) the leftovers. 

    This same time, years previous: from my sister-in-law in Hong Kong: coronavirus at the two-month mark, the quotidian (3.18.19), the quotidian (3.19.18), piggies!, the creative norm, no buffer, family time, our house, lately, a fast update.

  • the milking parlor

    In anticipation of Daisy’s due date — we’re about two weeks out now — my younger son has transformed our little shed into a milking parlor. 

    “Milking parlor” is, admittedly, a bit high falutin for the reality, but considering that we had nothing before, I think the new digs are pretty darn posh. 

    Now the shed has shelves mounted on the wall, and a milking stall: there’s a “door” to close her in (she fits, but just) and an open spot along the side for easy milk bar access.

    There’s even light!

    In his words (mostly): I bought a charge controller for 32 dollars. Then I hooked a car battery up to the charge controller and bought two LED, 12-volt lightbulbs which I hooked up to the charge controller and the light switch. I used the wires from Christmas tree lights to hook the charge controller up to the lightbulbs. Now I need to get a solar panel that can produce 20 volts and a few amps of power so that it can plug into the charge controller to charge the car battery.

    He keeps badgering my husband to take him shopping — rattling on about filters, iodine, lanolin, and stainless steel buckets — and he’s slowly working on digging a trench to get water to the shed.

    He’s also been practicing with Daisy to get her comfortable walking into the stall and then backing out of it. As long as he has grain, she’s pretty good with following him wherever.

    Soon, if everything goes well, we’ll be swimming in fresh milk.

    I’m beginning to get excited.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.16.20), the quotidian (3.16.15), smiling for dimples, warmth, my reality, enhanced, bedtime ghost stories, a religious education, butterscotch pudding.

  • the quotidian (3.15.21)

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

    Because I was famished, a quick lunch: steak and eggs.

    Movie night piña coladas.

    Beef (leftover grilled steak) stroganoff with cabbage.

    Inspired by Mandy and Kathryn: a new snack.

    Because regular cereal bowls aren’t big enough.

    When your housemate has a motorcycle and you have the license to go with.

    Spelling is exciting.

    Fun mail: Girlfriend offered on Facebook to make bookmarks for anyone who wanted,
    and I did.

    The bedroom renovation has not stalled (yet).

    Dog pile.

    Sleepover.

    Ditch diggers.

    Team watch.

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries, puff pastry, expanded, fresh ginger cookies, good writing, wear a helmet!, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, bolt popcorn, cornmeal blueberry scones, nobody’s complaining.