• what we ate

    Repeating myself here, but: I’m a bit sick of food. There’s just so much of it, all the time, and we don’t eat a great deal anymore. Plus, everyone’s plenty happy with the simplest of fare — eggs and toast, baked mac and cheese, granola — and some of us would eat popcorn every night for supper if we could, so why bother cooking? Not complaining; explaining, blah, blah, blah.

    But we need a balanced diet. We need vegetables. We need to not always eat our favorites — some less-than-exciting food helps to keep consumption in check — so I play the Mean Mom and cook boring meals like baked potatoes and green beans and corn, or zucchini parm and toast, or vats of Italian Wedding soup. It’s not that nobody likes these meals (except for the one child who would rather skip eating altogether rather than have a forkful of zucchini grace her mouth — but a little fasting here and there is good, right?), it’s just that they’re not the kind anyone’s inclined to gorge on. 

    And so, therefore, I make them.

    Now. Forget everything I just said for a minute because we had a birthday and spent the whole day feasting on all the favorites. For his breakfast, Birthday Boy (he’s 15!) chose Dutch Puff with warm vanilla pudding and sugared strawberries from the freezer. 

    Lunch was what he has every year for his birthday lunch: subs with all the fixings and chips. Those pickled peppers make the sandwich, I think. I can’t get enough of them.

    And supper: bacon cheeseburgers with grilled onions (for me), more chips, tons of shrimp, and steamed broccoli.

    To cap it all off, a very sloppy-looking ice cream cake: coffee, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla, and cookies and cream. Instead of a brownie layer that turns rock-hard in the freezer, I used oreo crumbs. I made a copycat DQ fudgy chocolate sauce which worked great, but the caramel sauce turned into caramel toffee in the freezer and we once again had to hack our way through. 

    (And no, we didn’t eat more than half in one night. The photo above is from a later eating.)

    One of these days I’m gonna get it right. (Maybe.)

    Upon the recommendation of a friend, I checked this cookbook out of the library. Flipping through it, the farro fennel salad caught my eye. I had one bag of farro left (from a whole bunch of bags that my aunt gave me), and I love fennel. Plus a whole lemon and garlic? It sounded wonderfully simple and delicious.

    But nope. While it was beautiful, it was also horribly bitter, thanks to the whole lemon, and way too mild/boring tasting. I’d followed the recipe exactly, too. Made me mad, it did. I ate two helpings though, stayed mum about my disgust, and then watched in amusement as my husband quietly, diligently, and painfully chewed his way through his serving. The meal over, I pulled out a bag of leftover lettuce and told everyone to make themselves salad and sandwiches. And later there were bowls of cereal and, when I confessed that the salad was a bust, a roar of indignation and incredulity from my husband, ha!

    This morning for my breakfast, a banana muffin from a coworker’s test bake yesterday. 

    Bakery leftovers are a huge part of our diet and one of the reasons I’m not cooking as much. I bring home all sorts of things: sourdough heels, random pieces of leftover quiche and pie, egg whites, pie crust scraps, croissants, loaves of multigrain, cheese rinds, caramel sauce, toffee cake, the dregs of a container of pie filling. And then my daughter sometimes comes home with leftover biscuits, sausage gravy, fresh-squeezed orange juice, chopped cucumbers, pancake batter, etc.  It’s great, and a huge financial help, but then we’re eating Magpie food and not the food that I’ve canned and frozen, and after a bit I start feeling food overwhelmed. 

    I have a new favorite granola recipe (with pumpkin seeds!) that my husband and I are nuts for.

    I can’t share the recipe because it’s a Magpie classic, but if they ever give me the go-ahead to write about it, you’ll be the first to know, pinky promise.

    For supper tonight, grilled cheese using a loaf of failed sourdough I made months ago (cleaning out the freezer, yay!), and tomato soup.

    Also, we had sweet pickles and then, for dessert, leftover ice cream cake. (I scooped mine into a cone.)

    P.S. As I finish up this post, both kids are in the kitchen making — you guessed it — popcorn. I hope they share.

    This same time, years previous: stack-of-books birthday cake, snake cake, good morning, lovies, crispy baked hash browns, a horse of her own, the quotidian (2.9.15), gourmet chocolate bark, addictive and relaxing, corn and wild rice soup with smoked sausage.

  • lemon coolers

    About a month ago when I went over to my mom’s for a chat, she served me some hot tea and lemon cookies.

    Actually, there may have been other cookies artfully arranged on the cookie plate, but I only remember the lemon. They were crispy and buttery and delicious, but it was the powdered sugar that got my attention. 

    “How is this so lemony?” I asked, examining the white sugar for tell-tale signs of lemon zest, of which there were none. 

    And then she told me about her special little bottle of lemon crystals (which makes it sound like my mother has beaded doorway curtains, troughs of smoldering incense sticks scattered about the house, and horoscope readings magnetted to her fridge — but she doesn’t) and how they get mixed with the powdered sugar for a kick of lemon.

    Back home, I looked into buying some for myself, but when I couldn’t find any at the grocery store (and didn’t feel like trekking all over town to track some down) and saw how pricey the stuff was on Amazon and how long it would take to get to our hosue, I shelved the idea. But then Mom said I could use some of her crystals, lucky me. 

    Confession Number One: I’m still a little cookied-out from Christmas. With no holiday parties and gatherings upon which to unburden myself of excess confectionary treat, we’re still slogging through the stash — just today I dug out a box of gingerbread men. I miss having an excuse to bake!

    Confession Number Two: I’m sick of food. Our freezers are full, half my kids are gone, and I need almost nothing upon which to subsist so, more often than not, any cooking I do ends up feeling like overkill. It’s depressing and boring and will probably be a persistent problem for the next few years as I try to figure out how to downsize my culinary customs. 

    But! On the off chance you’re looking for a bright pop of buttery citrus to go with one of the many countless cups of herbal tea you’re using to self-soothe your way through this long, cold winter, here you go. 

    If ever February needed a cookie, it’s these.  

    Lemon Coolers
    From my mother’s recipe and she, in turn, got it from Who Knows Where.

    10 tablespoons butter
    ½ cup white sugar
    1 ¼ cup confectioners sugar, divided
    1 ½ cups flour
    2 tablespoons cornstarch
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ¼ teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    zest from one lemon
    1 egg yolk
    ¾ teaspoon lemon crystals

    Beat the butter, white sugar, and ½ cup confectioners sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and lemon juice and zest. Add the dry ingredients — flour down through baking soda — and mix just until blended. 

    Shape the dough (there is no need to refrigerate it first) into small balls, 15 grams each. Place the dough balls on a prepared cookie sheet — my mother likes to butter hers for added flavor; I was lazy and lined mine with parchment. Gently press the cookies flat using the bottom of a floured measuring cup or drinking glass. 

    Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes — they ought to be golden brown around the edges, and maybe on top, too. The browning gives flavor and crunch. (Although completely done, mine weren’t quite brown enough.) 

    While the cookies are still warm, dip them in the remaining ¾ cup of confectioners sugar that’s been mixed with ¾ teaspoon of lemon crystals. Save the leftover sugar and, before serving the cookies, coat them once again.

    This same time, years previous: the least we can do, the quotidian (2.4.19), twelve, the quotidian (2.6.17), timpano, cheesy bacon toasts, eight, seven, travel tips, the perfect classic cheesecake.

  • a family milk cow

    Remember back when, upon returning from Puerto Rico, we got three bottle-fed calves to raise for beef? And then remember how, a couple days later, we went back to the farm to pick up a heifer calf because we (I) thought it might be fun to maybe have a milk cow someday? 

    Welp, Daisy’s preggo, thanks to a little rendezvous at a neighboring farm last summer, and now her sides are bulging out most alarmingly. I don’t know anything about pregnant cows — and her size is probably perfectly normal — but as any pregnant person, or person around a pregnant person (or animal) will tell you, there always comes a point in the gestating process when one begins to question just what, or how much of whatever it is, is growing inside there, and right now it looks like Daisy’s gonna be popping out a set of twins come April. Doubtful, I know, but she’s HUGE.  

    Regarding the encroaching milk tsunami, I vacillate between excitement and profound dread. Having a milk cow is kinda a big deal, I think — everyone talks about it in hushed, knowing tones — and here we are just kind of sliding into it sideways, fingers crossed. There’s a very real chance that we’re in well over our heads.

    Take, for example, the following reasons why a milk cow is most definitely not a good idea:

    • A Holstein (mix?) cow does NOT a family milk cow make. One is supposed to thoughtfully acquire an appropriately dainty breed of cow, not one that’s bred to be a milk producing machine, squirting out 5-9 gallons of milk daily. Oops. 
    • My husband’s lactose intolerant and hates farming.
    • Half the children — in other words, half the milk drinkers and half the chore dooers — no longer live here.  

    BUT IN MY DEFENSE: What better time to tie ourselves down with a little farm project than in the midst of a pandemic? Also, my younger son thinks this is a fantastic idea and has agreed to spearhead it. Also also, a family milk cow is endlessly educational, providing a cross-disciplinary venture in horticulture, nutrition, husbandry, cooking, economics, and The Art of Waking Early. Plus, we have the land, the animal, the time, so why not?

    (Don’t answer that.)

    Not that it really matters how I feel — it’s happening — so we’re gearing up (some of us more begrudgingly than others). A couple weeks ago, my husband and son visited our neighbor-friend to observe his one-cow milking operation. My younger son has read a couple articles and made a supply list. Plans for the milking set-up are being cobbled together. I’m considering (or beginning to think about considering) purchasing a second fridge for out in the barn. And we’ll need a bunch of glass jars. Also, starter stuff for homemade sour creams and cheeses and such — once the milk hits the house, it’s MY domain.

    For now, though, the biggest task is prepping Daisy for milking. She’s actually already pretty docile, but each day my younger son spends some time taking her halter on and off, leading her around, feeding her treats, and grooming her, especially around her back end so she gets used to having a human hang out back there. Next step: set up a stanchion to get her used to putting her head through and holding still while eating and being groomed. 

    Once the calf is born, the (loose) plan is to, as per our milk cow-owning friend, separate Daisy from her calf every evening, milk her in the morning, and then leave the calf with her all day. Depending on how much milk Daisy gives, we may need to get a second calf to help drink it all (if Daisy doesn’t let it nurse, then we’ll have to bottle-feed the calf . . . I guess?), or we might have to get a couple pigs and feed them the extra. And we’ll probably be sharing lots of milk with family and friends, and I’ll be making tons of yogurt and ice cream.

    To sum up: This could be loads of fun or it could be a disaster. Either way, we’re bound to learn something. Wish us luck!

    This same time, years previous: object of terror, the quotidian (2.2.15), how we got our house, wheat berry salad, advice, please.

  • the quotidian (2.1.21)

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

    Filet mignon: raising our own grass-fed beef tastes AWESOME.


    Lunchy leftovers: Half a bacon cheeseburger on toasted sourdough.

    Free spinach + free sausage + free lettuce = this supper.

    The pantry hang.

    Hello, Saturday. Meet my husband.

    Twice vaccinated!

    Yet another bedroom shuffle.

    Pretty pecker.
    photo credit: my younger son

    What working all day in the bitter cold looks like.

    Pro-tip: if you lay too long in front of the fire, nausea may occurr.


    Faces of winter.

    This same time, years previous: all things Thursday, chicken and sausage gumbo, ROAR, the quotidian (2.1.16), stuck buttons and frozen pipes, and just when you thought my life was all peaches, peanut butter and honey granola, rock-my-world cocoa brownies.

  • launching

    Early early this morning while I was still snuggled in my bed, our second child flew the coop. All day she’s been driving north to Massachusetts and her new job as a student worker at a dressage barn—

    Let me back up.

    At the end of last semester, she signed up on some sort of horse-related message board thingy where people looking for jobs post their information and people looking for workers post openings. She got a handful of queries from farms in Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, etc, but nothing came of them.  

    And then she got a query from a farm in Massachusetts. She responded, they responded, and within a couple weeks she’d had three phone interviews and gotten the job.

    She was over the moon.

    The place sounded pretty incredible — put-together and professional — so the first week of January, she, my husband, and I headed up to see the place for ourselves. 

    It was our first road trip since the pandemic and it felt disconcerting, like we were doing something illegal and dangerous. At one point, we passed two hearses, a bunch of ambulances, and a huge tank of nitrogen with steam billowing out of the ice-covered pipe at the top and suddenly I had the eerie sensation that I’d been plopped into the middle of a dystopian novel in which we were fleeing north to Canada in the midst of a pandemic, can you imagine? Uh, yes, actually. I sort of can. (And then the next day on our drive home, there was the insurrection at the capitol which only intensified the otherworldly feeling.)

    We arrived at the farm at dusk. An assistant trainer gave us a tour of the facilities, and then we hung out at one end of the arena and watched the various riding lessons. Since the trainers and clients were miked, the whole place was weirdly quiet, just the muffled sound of horses’ hooves and the gentle murmur of conversation.  

    She’ll work six days a week caring for clients’ horses: medicating, feeding, and exercising them, as well as taking them back and forth to their paddocks (they said she’ll end up walking about twelve miles daily). As a student worker, she’s assigned to work for one of the trainers: she’ll warm up client horses for him pre-lessons, and do other horse-related tasks that go with that (I know nothing).

    In exchange, she gets room and board (she’ll be staying in the farm owner’s home), a monthly stipend, and dressage training — because she doesn’t have a horse of her own, she’ll be training with one of the owner’s horses, which she got to meet.

    The job is everything my daughter could wish for, and then some. By the time we wandered out of the barn and into the cold dark of early evening, she was practically vibrating with excitement. 

    And then we drove home and the countdown for her move date began. Almost within minutes of learning she’d gotten the job, she’d started packing, and now she began gearing up to move out in earnest.

    She leased Ellie to a family that we know through church. Our younger son is buying her chickens and goats from her, as well as taking over her job as barn manager at the neighboring farm and moving into her vacated room (he’s overjoyed). She made granola to take along (never mind that they provide all her food — she wants her granola) and bought some more winter clothes. She got her Covid test. My husband fixed up the beater car (it needed a new clutch, inspection, new tires, etc), and then she backed it right up to the foot of the porch steps, ready to load up and fly north.  

    I’m sad to see her go, of course — and her departure hit my husband particularly hard —  but, for me, at least, that sadness is far outweighed by my happiness and excitement at seeing her land her dream job. 

    I can’t wait to hear her stories.


    P.S. Mid-afternoon, she texted that she’d arrived safely — huge exhale — and this evening we exchanged photos of our suppers and then she facetimed me from her cozy nest of a bed. Let the fun begin!

    This same time, years previous: perfect pita, vindication, women’s march on Washington, through my lens: a wedding, the quotidian (1.27.14), and then we moved into a barn, shoofly cake.

  • how we homeschool: Milva

    I’m a long-time reader of Milva’s blog, so when she agreed to be interviewed, I was thrilled. Even though I don’t know her know her, for years I’ve counted her as a key person in my little circle of homeschooling mentors. Her insights — in all their earthy, practical, and gracious glory — both ground and inspire me.

    Hi, everyone! I’m Milva McDonald, my husband is Glenn Dickson, and we live in Massachusetts. 

    Us (2018).

    My oldest, Justine Buckley, is 35 and also lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two boys (2.5 and 9 months). She works in a supervisory capacity as a behavior specialist at a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. 

    My 33-year-old son Eric McDonald lives in Montreal with his wife and their newborn daughter who arrived this past New Year’s Eve. He’s a full-time folk musician, playing mostly Celtic, although the pandemic has turned that upside down! 

    My third is Claire Dickson, 23, graduated from college in 2019 — the spring before she enrolled, I happened to be interviewed for an article in Boston Magazine, and when they found out she was going to Harvard, they surprised us by putting her on the cover! She is now living in New York City, making music, thinking about grad school, and enjoying life. 

    My youngest, Abigail Dickson, 22, graduated from college in 2020 with a degree in Women and Gender Studies and a minor in theatre arts. Because of the pandemic she moved back home. She’s teaching virtual Shakespeare classes to local homeschooled kids, has joined the board of the local farmers market, and is thinking about running for office.

    Why did you decide to homeschool? 
    Like many parents, I couldn’t wait to send my kid to school. We had made financial sacrifices to move to a community with a “good” school district, but by October of Justine’s kindergarten year, the rose-colored glasses were off. 

    I don’t know what I’d envisioned – interactive, creative, interdisciplinary projects and lots of good books? Instead, there was busy work and Disney movies. Coloring in the lines was more important than using your mind or imagination. Worse than that, it quickly became clear that the kids were already being tracked. Justine, a people pleaser who paid close attention to the teacher and could follow directions quite well, was at the top of the pyramid. As a classroom helper I’d heard firsthand the teacher’s judgments about the other kids. When Justine started repeating them, I knew something had to give. 

    I started exploring options, and during that process I asked a homeschooling friend for information. (Until I’d met her when I was in my early 20s, I didn’t even know homeschooling existed, and I didn’t tell her what I really thought: that is nuts!) She handed me reading material including an essay by John Taylor Gatto called “The Crisis of Compulsory Schooling.” I read it and knew I wouldn’t send my kids to school. I call it my one and only conversion experience. 

    It’s really important to point out, though, that while my impetus to homeschool began because of dissatisfaction with my daughter’s school experience, our continuing to homeschool had less to do with a rejection of school and more to do with the fact that homeschooling worked so well for us. 

    Abby’s birth.

    Describe your homeschool style and how it evolved.  
    When I started homeschooling in the early 1990s, I thought we’d be doing school-at-home. That didn’t last very long. When the workbooks and assignments didn’t go well I decided to forget about them, at least for a little while, and focus on settling into our new situation and getting to know the handful of other local homeschooling families. Justine was already beginning to read, wrote voraciously with “invented spelling,” was good with numbers, and was always working on some project or other of her own. As I observed her doing deep dives into stuff that interested her, it was clear she was learning plenty, so we stuck with that unschooling approach. 

    Since that word has evolved and changed so much over the years (there are even “unschooling schools” now!), I call what we did “slow” homeschooling, a phrase I and a couple other parents in my homeschooling community thought of over coffee some years ago (and then I wrote a book about it). Values of slow homeschooling include trusting kids, lots of play, nature, family relationships, and connecting with the wider community. 

    When all the kids were home, what was the homeschool routine like? 
    In my family, things were pretty mellow. We’d go to homeschool park day, the library, nature walks, things like that, but just as often the kids were busy engaging in some kind of pretend play, listening to story tapes (we didn’t have a TV), putting on puppet shows, making art or music, playing in the yard making fairy houses or taking care of our ducks, or whatever struck their fancy. This self-sufficiency when it came to filling their time left room for me and my husband to pursue our own work. 

    As they got older, the kids joined book clubs and writing groups with their homeschooling friends, played organized sports, did lots of theater and music, and generally pursued what they cared about. As teens the kids also got curious about school and academics and started enrolling in community college classes, as well as finding volunteer jobs and internships in their areas of interest.

    Abby with our ducks.

    What steps did they have to take to get into college?
    For college applications, we had to create a high school transcript. My kids had to write essays and, depending on the school, supplemental short answers or essays. The kids had to ask teachers and mentors to write recommendation letters. They had to take whatever standardized tests were required by the schools. If they felt they had materials — for example, music recordings — they wanted the admissions department to consider, they submitted them. My kids who applied to music schools had to attend auditions. Some schools did interviews, others didn’t.

    The schools are looking for the same thing regardless of how the potential student was educated: they want to see how you spent your high school years, how you made use of the resources that were available to you, and (through the writing samples) get to know you a bit. 

    What did you do to have to meet your state’s homeschool requirements? 
    Some people think Massachusetts’ homeschool requirements are excessive but that’s not been my experience. Homeschool oversight, which involves submitting an annual education plan including a form of evaluation — this can be test scores, dated work samples, or the most widely used, a progress report — is outlined in case law and operates at the local level. It sounds very complicated on paper but in practice it’s pretty simple. Most states have volunteer organizations to delineate their reporting requirements. I encourage any new homeschooling family to reach out to these grassroots groups for the lowdown in your state.

    What were some of the challenges of homeschooling?  
    One of the biggest challenges for me was dealing with sporadic doubts. If my kids were eschewing writing, or seemed to be terrible spellers, or had no interest in math, I’d wonder, will they be able to write? Balance their checkbook? Survive in college? Mostly these insecurities were fleeting, thanks to support from my current spouse and homeschooling community. 

    Apple picking: my husband and the kids (2000).

    What did they say that helped you work through your worries?
    My husband is way more laid back than I am, and he’s not as prone to doubts or anxieties, so he was pretty much a pillar when I needed it. The community is so important because it allowed me to observe and be in relationship with kids other than my own. It was really helpful to see kids just ahead in age of mine, happy and thriving. At support group meetings or at the park, I could lay out my concerns and other parents would be there with stories, ideas, and affirmations.

    Your children are from two marriages. How did you navigate homeschooling through a divorce?
    My older kids spent a couple of years in school after my first marriage broke up, which was hard because I couldn’t wait to start homeschooling again. It was also challenging at times to deal with an ex-partner who wasn’t always on board with homeschooling, especially since he’d been so gung-ho about it while we were married. Fortunately, the homeschooling wasn’t an issue in the divorce, just in our parenting post-divorce. It was important to me to try and respect the wishes of my kids’ father, so I definitely did things I wouldn’t have done otherwise, like enroll the kids in certain classes and hire a math tutor.

    Claire, with fancy bread she made.

    What did you most enjoy about homeschooling?
    I just loved the lifestyle. I loved the synergy of our slow homeschooling, the way it allowed us to be in tune with each other, enjoy each other’s company, learn from each other. I loved hanging out at the park with other parents while the kids played. I loved not having to enforce bedtimes or drag kids out of bed in the morning. I loved the gatherings, the field trips and folk dances and performances and potlucks. I particularly loved getting to know my kids’ idiosyncrasies and passions, and watching and supporting those passions as they grew. 

    What has homeschooling taught you about our culture’s view of education? 
    Homeschooling allowed me to understand the folly of the dominant culture’s focus on testing and evaluation, especially when it comes to children. Kids need the freedom to experiment, explore, and make mistakes, all of which are essential components of learning. Without the rewards and punishments of gold stars, grades, and the like, kids are more likely to be intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated to read, learn, and create. 

    The more I absorbed this, not just by reading or hearing about it, but by living it with my own kids, the more I was able to expand my own capacity for learning. For example, we hear all the time that making mistakes is an integral part of learning, and most of us have experienced that to some extent, but at the same time our school and cultural conditioning fixates us on being correct. Slow homeschooling helped me begin to let go of that kind of counterproductive perfectionism.

    Backyard reading: Abby.

    What were your main homeschooling resources? 
    Without a doubt, our number one resource was the public library (or libraries; we went to several). That’s where we went regularly to get books, participate in programs, and even gather – most libraries have community rooms and we used them for play rehearsals, creative writing workshops, Valentine’s Day parties, and history fairs. We could also get library passes to cheaply visit museums, nature sanctuaries, historic houses, and more. 

    Nature was also important for us. We enjoyed walks in the woods (where I could observe my kids collecting materials for fairy houses, hunting for lady’s slippers, and munching on pine needles and exclaiming “Vitamin C!”), getting together with friends at the beach or the lake, or climbing mountains. 

    Our local support group was a major resource – weekly park days were essential, allowing parents to connect and brainstorm while kids engaged in free play. 

    Claire and Abby, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

    Tell us more about how your local homeschooling support group.  
    The first support group I joined in 1991 had fewer than a dozen families. We created a paper newsletter every month and got together often. There were no classes or other offerings for homeschoolers, so we created our own. We organized field trips, put on plays, gathered for book clubs and science fairs and math groups, went to the beach, for walks in the woods – you name it. 

    It’s ironic, but it seems to me that the exponential growth in the number of homeschoolers has in some ways made it more difficult to find community. When I started out, we needed each other, and we stuck together. 

    Do you have any resources to recommend? 
    For homeschoolers in Massachusetts, AHEM — Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, a group that I helped to found — helps navigate the state’s homeschool requirements. Also, they offer a page of curated recommendations for books here.

    My friend Sophia Sayigh and I wrote Unschoolers, a series of fictionalized vignettes about homeschooling families. Every family is different, and even in the same family every day is different!

    When my kids were younger, I got a huge amount of support from the Growing Without Schooling magazines that came to my mailbox every month (they’re archived here).

    Abigail as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing

    How did your homeschooling evolve when the kids reached their teen years?
    I wouldn’t say there was much of a shift. The play-centered lives we’d always lived continued, but the kids’ interests began to crystallize. 

    My son Eric developed a major interest in animals and started volunteering at the local science museum’s live animal center and doing wildlife care at an Audubon sanctuary. At the same time his interest in folk music blossomed and he hung out at the local folk music club, performing at open mikes and making connections. 

    Claire, who had always loved singing, developed an obsession with jazz and spent hours learning about and performing it. She started entering competitions and enjoyed some amazing opportunities, including going to the Grammy Awards and becoming a US Presidential Scholar in the Arts. 

    When Abigail was thirteen, she decided she wanted to play major Shakespearean roles. Fat chance for a young girl, right? Undeterred, she started her own youth theater company and went like the blazes for a few years, mounting more than a dozen Shakespearean productions starting with “Hamlet” in our backyard and simultaneously offering a fantastic resource for her homeschooled peers and the community. One of my favorite stories regarding that time is when a neighbor told me his four-year-old kid got up the day after the show and said, “So, are we going to see some Shakespeare today?”

    Some other involvements: my daughters were co-founders of the Boston Area Homeschoolers’ Queer-Straight Alliance, which we think may have been one of the only homeschooler-specific LGBTQA+ groups in the country. Claire interned for Elizabeth Warren’s first senate campaign and spent several election days as a poll watcher even though she couldn’t yet vote. She also volunteered for The Samaritans and worked as a project assistant for a psychologist at Mass General Hospital. Abby became a stage management intern for a professional theater company at 15, a job usually reserved for college students, and continued to work with that company in various capacities for several years.

    I don’t think I could begin to tell you everything my kids did when they were teens. I’m sure I don’t even know about all of them! 

    Abby, after directing ASP’s first-ever youth-led production.

    I’m impressed by their initiative! 
    I saw my role as seeking resources and opportunities that might interest my kids, then giving them the choice about whether they wanted to take advantage of them, but just as often they found their own opportunities.

    Funny story: when Eric was a teen and I was in a tandem nursing fog, I remember him handing me forms to sign related to an opportunity he wanted to pursue at the science museum, but it wasn’t until the end of the summer when I got an invitation to an event — a celebration of the program in which Eric been participating — that I realized he’d landed a coveted summer internship completely on his own steam.

    Eric, wildlife care.

    What advice do you have for parents who are considering homeschooling their children?
    *Avoid dumping a ton of cash into a curriculum or other resources at the outset. 
    *Give as much time and space as you are able for “deschooling,” the adjustment period after leaving school. 
    *Build a support network. 
    *As you’re searching for resources, don’t forget you can create your own. What are you good at? What does your kid love? Don’t get discouraged if something you organize flops, just try again! 
    *The decision to homeschool is not set in stone. If it doesn’t work for your family, you can always go back to school. 
    *Be flexible. What works one day, or month, or year, might not work the next. 
    *Give your kids a voice in the process. 
    *Prioritize play. 

    And remember: Don’t forget to have fun! Before you know it, your kids will be grown.

    Me and the kids (2015).

    Thank you so much, Milva, and congratulations on the new grandbaby!!

    To the rest of you: check out this gorgeous article in Mothering magazine written by Milva and her daughter Justine about the births of Milva’s younger two children. Reading it, I cried. (ALSO, the midwife’s quote, “Long is not wrong” applies to so many things, including how people learn. . . and now I have a new motto!)

    This same time, years previous: Samin’s soy-braised beef short ribs, overnight baked oatmeal, what kind of stove should we buy?, the quotidian (1.25.16), the quotidian (1.25.16), hobo beans, first day of classes, housekeeping, corn tortillas, thoughts.

  • four fun things

    Fun Thing Number One: A Book
    I discovered Fish In A Tree in a list of recommended books for middle schoolers when I was searching for a pleasurable read-alouds with quality writing for my read alouds with the younger two.

    The book’s about regular people with ordinary lives and real issues, told without all the angsty sensationalism — sex, violence, abuse, etc — which seems to crop up in so many books. Not that I’m against books with those topics, but tackling a heavy read at the end of the day when we’re tired isn’t much fun, and bedtime reads, I think, should be all about the fun — something we can all look forward to, or, at a bear minimum, at least don’t dread.  

    Son: Gimme the book! I wanna hold the book!
    Daughter: NO! I was the one who couldn’t read until I was thirteen

    so I get to hold the book!

    ANYWAY. The book was a smash hit, the kind that made me ignore the chapter divisions and plow right through. I even cried, which cracked my kids up because it’s not a sad book. My older daughter read it on her own, too, and loved it, and I recommended it to a friend — she told me that she started it as a read aloud with her son but then he got impatient with her for not reading it as often as he wanted and finished it on his own.

    Fun Thing Number Two: A Conversation
    Here’s a conversation that went down the other night between me — I was laying on the sofa feeling mildly punk and wishing for tea — and my husband who’d come over to chat with me. 

    Me, to my husband: Aw, thank you for making me tea. I didn’t even need to ask. So sweet.

    My husband: I didn’t make you tea. I asked if you wanted me to make you tea.

    Me: No, you didn’t.

    My husband, voice rising: You didn’t tell me to make you tea! I said you should drink some tea.

    Me, lying: I thought you made me tea.

    My husband: Do you want me to make you tea?

    Me: Yes, please.

    And then our older daughter exploded. YOU GUYS. Your conversations are like roundabouts!

    Now whenever my husband and I have one of our rapid-fire, nonsensical, exchanges, my older daughter yells “ROUNDABOUT.” She’s not wrong.

    Fun Thing Number Three: A Good TV Show (Or Two)
    After I finished watching Schitt’s Creek with my husband — my second time; his first (and now he recommends it to everyone) — we started two new shows: Community (Netflix) and Ted Lasso (AppleTV). 

    I heard about Community — an older comedy about life at a community college — from a couple friends, and I kept reading about Ted Lasso on the internets.

    Turns out, both shows are smartly funny and have — Ted Lasso, in particular — a hefty dose of genuine goodwill and decency. Both my husband and I are thoroughly enjoying them, something that ought not be taken for granted since, for us, agreeing on a show is a rare occurance.

    Final seal of approval: the other day my husband made a bold and uncharacteristically perky announcement. “I have a new role model,” he said. “Ted Lasso!” 

    And then he did a giddy little shoulder shimmy, I kid you not.

    And that, my friends, is about as near a rave review as you’ll ever get from my husband.

    Fun Thing Number Four: A Recipe Hack
    I recently discovered an apple pie recipe that called for apple cider reduction: boil a cup of cider down to about two tablespoons of tart-sweet, intensely apple-y syrup to add to apple pie filling.

    While you can’t detect the syrup in the pie outright, it adds a depth of flavor — “the x-factor,” one of my Magpie co-workers calls it — similar to adding chocolate to beef chili, or coffee to chocolate cake. It’s really quite brilliant, I think.

    The cider reduction lasts for weeks (months?) in the fridge, so if you decide to make it, consider reducing a quart or two of cider. It boils down rather quickly, and then you’re all set for a whole winter’s worth of apple pies.

    This same time, years previous: lazy stuffed cabbage rolls, the good and the bad, multigrain bread, chocolate cream pie, peanut noodles, five-minute bread.

  • ham and bean soup

    Every year we make a ham for Christmas, and then every year after Christmas I decide to make ham and bean soup with the scraps but, because I’ve never bothered to nail down a recipe, I end up frantically casting about for a recipe. What I cobble together is, more often than not, decidedly mediocre.

    But this year, the soup turned out dee-LISH-ous, and I was like, “That’s IT. I’m taking notes. This one’s going in my files.” BANG-BANG (the sound of me nailing down a recipe).

    My future self thanks me. 

    Ham and Bean Soup
    Adapted from the blog A Spicy Perspective.

    The original recipe called for navy beans but when I got home from the store I discovered I’d mispurchased Great Northern. Now, looking back, I think one of the reasons we may have liked this soup so much is because I used Great Northern beans — they’re bigger and creamier — and everyone (even the non-bean fans!) gobbled it right up.

    Our ham bone was picked pretty clean so I added two cups of chopped, leftover ham.

    In the above photo (on Day Two of the soup), the kale looks darker and the soup creamier — the beans have begun to break down — than it was on Day One, but it was equally delicious both days. 

    1 pound dried Great Northern (or navy) beans
    1 ham bone
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 cups chopped ham
    6 cloves garlic, minced
    2 carrots, peeled and diced
    2 stalks celery, diced
    2 teaspoons cumin
    ½ teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
    ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    10 cups chicken broth (or water)
    4-6 cups fresh kale, rough chopped

    Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain, cover with water again, and simmer over medium heat until almost completely tender. (I skipped the overnight soak and just simmered them longer.) As the ham may be quite salty, do not add any salt to the beans until the very end.

    In a large stockpot, saute the onion, carrot, celery, ham bone, and garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat for about 5-10 minutes. Add the dried thyme, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook another minute. Add four cups of chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the mostly-cooked beans along with their cooking water (about four cups, I’m guessing?), and simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until the beans are completely soft. 

    Add the chopped ham and kale and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the kale is cooked through. Remove the ham bone — pick off any remaining bits of ham and add it to the soup — and season the soup with salt and black pepper.

    Serve with hot biscuits, cornbread, or buttered toast.

    This same time, years previous: salad dressing: a basic formula, lemon cream cake, the quotidian (1.19.15), chuck roast braised in red wine.

  • the quotidian (1.18.21)

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

    Working lunch: chorizo, egg, and warm tortillas.

    Crostata test: rhubarb and red raspberry.

    Sunday dinner door-drop from my mama: incredible chicken with dried prunes and olives.

    The steers have relocated.

    David Copperfield and dishes.

    Girl’s got flair!

    All the time: talking, arguing, and thinking, and in that order.

    In town with a friend, a walk-by sighting of my husband’s work.


    Dogsitting: killing us with cuteness.

    That’s not how you wear a mask, son.

    Sunday geography lesson, and my new rug.

    This same time, years previous: pozole, no-knead sourdough bread, doing stupid safely, homemade grainy mustard, the quotidian (1.18.16), just do it, cream cheese dip, day one, polenta and greens, snapshots and captions, Julia’s chocolate almond cake.

  • this is who we are

    We were on the interstate, driving home from Massachusetts (more on this later), when the news of the insurrection broke. I was stunned and horrified, of course. But I was not surprised. The President had been rabble rousing for weeks, so I’d figured something was bound to happen.

    Listening to the reports, it didn’t take long for me to grow exasperated with the newscasters and their tiresome “How could this have happened?” refrain — as though this came out of nowhere — but when they started with the somber intonations of “This is not America” and “This is not who we are,” that’s when I exploded.

    “This is EXACTLY who we are,” I yelled at my husband, “and denying nearly half of our population — dismissing them out of hand as though they don’t even exist — is stupid. If we don’t see things for how they actually are — not as we wish them to be — then we will never change.

    A couple days later my mom forwarded a link to this video which succinctly encapsulates my thoughts. Watching it was cathartic. I’m not the only one.

    I have relatives who were in the crowd that day — they didn’t go into the capitol, they say, but they were at the base of the steps — and I have other relatives who, watching from afar, were exultant. 

    With my friends, I puzzle over the best approach. My ideas run the gamut: from mockery to serious debate, from lambasting rage to loving rebuke, from complete disengagement to silent watchfulness.

    Nothing I come up with feels right.  

    Awhile back, I heard a report on how best to engage with people who are ensnared in conspiracy theories. The solution is simple, the guy said: hours and hours of conversation in which each theory is painstakingly broken down into bite-sized chunks and overlaid with facts. It’s a tedious exercise in logic, reminiscent of the sort of conversation a parent might have with a teen (speaking from experience here), and there are two key requirements: lots of available time, and a close relationship important enough to warrant the time commitment. 

    Regarding my personal connections, I have the time but not the closeness — so, so much for that. Not that it really matters, though — the guy on the report said that it’s all but impossible to detangle someone who is committed to conspiracies. 

    Discouraging, no?

    So I try to take the long view. What can I do now that, five years from now, I will feel proud of? What about fifty years from now? I think of the future history books and try to imagine myself in them. I mean, not me as in Jennifer’s Going To Be In A History Book!, but my position in the pages. Where will I fall? 

    Better yet, where do I want to place myself?

    Thinking this way doesn’t really change anything — I’m still mystified and repulsed by these staggeringly bizarre theories — but it helps me stay open and hold my anger (of the retaliatory, unhelpful sort) in check.

    These conspiracy theories (and all the other accompanying dangerous and damaging ideologies) aren’t going away any time soon, so if you have any brilliant insights for how to cope and/or confront them, tell me. I need help figuring this out.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.14.19), through the kitchen window, quick fruit cobbler, starting today.