The Longest Day

I mentioned here, that we have been looking into using the virtual option offered by our local school district for the first time this year. We’ve been homeschooling since before the pandemic, but we’ve always tried to keep our options open to make sure that our kids are getting the best of what we can give them.

One of the many things that I find valuable about homeschooling is that, compared to when they were enrolled in school, our home and family feels much more central to their lives. Especially as they are young children (or have been for most of the time), six to eight hours (half of their waking hours) in another building, away from us and each other felt like … a lot. And we found other ways (sports and church mostly, they odd class here or there) to socialize with their peer group but to maintain their homes and us, their parents, as their main focus and anchors in life.

Obviously, the pandemic changed a lot of that, but as Eric has been work from home and therefore more able to be present to them as a dad primarily and as a teacher secondarily, it has more than made up for the lack of peer time. (And, of course, as I’ve mentioned, we are lucky that we have extended family nearby who have been part of our “pod”, or at least enough so that they could see fresh faces from time to time.

And there are times when being responsible for ALL of their learning has been … a lot. Because of this, we are trying to maintain an open mind, but, if I”m being completely honest today, our first day of any sort of interaction with their virtual option has been rough and exhausting. Primarily, this is because we seemed to have dropped completely off of the public school’s radar and we haven’t been receiving any information directly from them .. at all. Nothing. (Other than a couple of conversations with the tech help desk where we were able to confirm that we are, in fact, enrolled in the virtual option.) We heard about orientation today from friends (who ironically reached out to us last week to ask about the homeschool option should the virtual option not work out for them). But we haven’t been able to access any more information. We have left a few voicemails and emails and messages over the past few days, but the response has been crickets. I even tried tweeting at an administrator this evening.

Somehow I find all of this exhausting: the having to explain our situation over and over, the searching the websites over and over for information I might have missed. But mostly, I find being ignored to be the most exhausting part of it. I mean, are we absurd to expect a school district to communicate with us? Because that’s what it feels like.

And the other thing that is frustrating is that this virtual option appears (from their website) to have a color scheme and font, even a mascot. So this summer time and resources were put in to making a mascot and they can’t even give us, the parents of enrolled students the time of day.

I don’t know. It’s tiring. Fortunately, my husband picked up on how tired I was after all of this right before I was about to start cooking dinner and offered to pick up some take out instead. I gladly accepted.

And, of course, I just fear that this is going to continue on like this and that we will be spending hours and hours trying to sort all of this out and our kids being ignored, for what? Are they going to get a satisfying amount of peer socialization in this setting? (They’ve both taken on-line classes this year with different amounts of live interaction and it doesn’t seem to take a whole like for them to feel satisfied.)

One of the many things I do not want for my kids is for them to feel confined and hemmed in by education. I don’t want them to feel like they are just a cog in a wheel or that the focus of an education should be anything other than a one hundred percent commitment to learning. And all of this beauracracy feels like the ultimate hemming in.

We will solider on, at least for the next few days. But please, in your kindness and if it is your way, pray for us. In fact, pray for all the students and families returning to school this next week — virtually but especially so for those in person.

Little Flower

On Monday something (I did not know what it was at the time, but I suspect I know now) compelled me to search for, find, and pull out of the closet a turquoise cross-body purse I haven’t used for perhaps four (?) years. Part of my thinking was that it was a purse better suited for the bike ride I was about to take up to the grocery store. And, indeed, it was better for such a task, at least once I had emptied it of its years-old contents, which I dumped rather unceremoniously on my bed: receipts (thankfully none the eight-foot long ones from CVS), prayer cards, appointment reminders, chapstick, a pocket notebook with to-do lists and musings about parenthood, and even a whole paperback book. I’d go through it later, I thought, and I did when I got back from the grocery store.

Fast-forward to today, scrolling through Twitter when a portrait of an old man caught my eye. He was outside in sunlight, looking off to the right side of the frame through tortoiseshell glasses, white bearded, and with a bemused but friendly expression on his face. In the lower left hand corner of the frame, the edge of his brown hood can just be made out, marking him as a Franciscan and specifically as a Friars Minor Capuchin.

One of my Twitter friends, who seemingly never fails to offer prayers up for anyone in need of them, had posted the picture with the question, “Who do you feel is the patron saint of the current season of life you’re in and why?” and the portrait he had posted in answer to his own question was of Blessed Solanus Casey, who I know little about but whose portrait has always struck me as a lovely one. (I looked up a few things about him and he was born in Wisconsin, where I went to school, and lived for a while in Minnesota, which I also lived.)

Further down the thread, someone used a Random Saint Generator, which I had never used before but was happy to. Who was my patron for this season of my life?

“Saint Therese of Liseaux” popped up. And to tell the truth, I was slightly unsurprised. Remember the contents of the purse I had dumped out a few days ago? The book that I’d found in there was The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Liseux: The Story of a Soul, which I had dipped into periodically (although, apparently, not for a while). Alongside the book in my old purse had been a small rose pin.

Calling her by her well-known nickname of Little Flower, I tweeted my Saint Generator at Michael. “She seems to have sent you a rose today,” he responded, well familiar with how the Little Flower is known for sending flowers and specifically roses. I told Michael about the pin. “Too on the nose!!! Definitely trying to get your attention.” Saint Therese is known for, amongst other things, promising to send a shower of roses from heaven.

One of those flower pics I often take but then never use … until now.

Which she definitely has been. I’ve been thinking about her a lot these past few days. Earlier this week, I saw a girl in a t-shirt that read, “Little Flower,” which at first I thought might be from the nearby elementary school of the same name, but then I realized it wasn’t.

I found the book this evening. I opened it to the page which was marked, very obviously, by a pencil.

“And like Solomon, who when he ‘turned to all the words which his hand had wrought and to the labors wherein he had labored in vain, saw in all things vanity and vexation of mind,” experience taught me that the only way to happiness in this world is to hide oneself away and remain in ignorance of all created things. I know that without love all we do is worthless. So instead of harming my soul, the talents God bestowed on me drew me closer to Him. I saw that He along was unchanging and that He alone would satisfy the immensity of my desires.”

I get a great deal of joy from these seemingly very simple tasks: knitting a sock, baking bread or pastries, painting simple watercolors of Japanese food, talking with my kids, preparing a comforting meal, writing a blog post or a few lines of a fiction project that will probably never see the light of day. But no matter how much personal satisfaction and joy I get from these things, part of my mind continues to be drawn to the questions and the self doubt: “Is this enough? What can I or should I be doing to make these tiny little things BIGGER?”

The answers: Yes and nothing.

Saint Therese was known for the simplicity of her spirituality. Do these small things with great love. That is enough.

Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing

Some days, I struggle with the idea of doing nothing. Here we are, one week of summer “vacation” left and I’m just now settling into the idea that sometimes, it’s ok to do nothing.

I walked around the yard a few times today. I’m listening to an audiobook (another Stephen King, no less), so I plugged in my ear pods and made a few loops, which by all reckoning, I think is a behavior that is encouraged. I was getting steps, clearing out the cobwebs. But each time, I had to justify myself: that I was cleaning up after the dogs or pulling in the trash cans or battling mosquitos (which is mostly what I’m doing when I step outside lately). I feel compelled to pile on what I’m doing, how I’m being productive.

Perhaps I feel this pressure extra because we homeschool the kids. I feel like I have to constantly be offering them something to do or sitting down to do something with them. Not that this is something that I do, but just that I feel the urge and the commensurate guilt. And it doesn’t really matter how many times they come up with something to do — art or a book or even pulling out an old science project — on their own, without any prompting. I suspect I’ll always feel like I should be filling up their time. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I’m getting a bit better about it.

Even now, I’m trying to figure out how I can come around to how important “doing nothing” is because it’s actually rest, and rest is just as important as non-rest. But even here, I keep getting back to: rest is non-productivity, which is important because it …. makes us more productive.

I often feel I have little worth outside of productivity.

But I don’t want to pass this idea, this feeling on to my kids. So I get up and I walk around my yard and I usually have the compulsion to tell them “I’m going outside to brush the dogs,” or whatever else it is I’m going to do. And sometimes I resist the temptation to justify it to them, to explain what I’m doing, to show them that I am always, always productive, that I am always doing something. And sometimes I can’t resist. But I’m trying.

And some of the time, I know that they are modeling this for me. I’ll come across one of them just sitting, sometimes their bodies twisted into odd positions, staring off in to space. “What are you doing?” I’ve sometimes asked. One might reply, “Just daydreaming.” And sometimes, she’ll snap at me for disrupting her daydreams, for making her lose her concentration and justify and explain herself. And I reckon she’s right because daydreams are important and I should try to be more like her, valuing the daydreams and the wandering mind.

The younger one, the 8 year old, sometimes when I’ve asked her what she’s doing, she’ll just saying, “Nothing.” And I marvel.

Progress

Many of my thoughts and much of my planning (what little I do) goes towards figuring out what we (my kids, my husband, and I and sometimes a few other members of are family) are going to eat, three meals a day. I do not think this is unusual for parents to spend much of their energy on this. Or perhaps just people in general.

This Saturday morning we went to the farmer’s market. It’s outdoors and most people are still masked there so it feels like a safe place, even with my kids unvaccinated. They have the standard booths they like to visit: popcorn, lemonade, and cookies. The charm of this is starting to wear off over the course of this summer, but at the beginning, they acted as if they’d won the lottery, shocked that Mom was not only saying “yes” to whatever they wanted, but offering which stands they might like best. The guilt over the fact that your kids are spending so many of their childhood years in a pandemic makes “yes” go trippingly off the tongue.

I think the first farmer’s market I went to was my freshman year of college in Madison, WI where the stalls line the sidewalk encircling the capitol building, or at least they did back in 1994. I lived in a dorm then so it didn’t make sense to pick up much in the way of food but I still enjoyed seeing all there was to see. I think I might have, on occasion, bought a baked good or some cheese curds. I recall some straw flowers sitting in a cup on my desk. Surely, they came from the farmer’s market.

Cockscomb from the farmer’s market.

It’s strange to me now, that I would have, at that age been drawn to this Saturday morning ritual back then when I wasn’t cooking and probably believed I couldn’t cook. I remember being well into my twenties and insisting, “I can’t cook” to various friends. Turns out that spending the first four or five years in your parents’ restaurant doesn’t actually mean that you were somehow baptized into the flames of a kitchen. Turns out, that actually takes time and attention to learn. But that came later.

This Saturday, we made one round through, stopping at the kids’ regular spots and I kept my eyes out for ingredients that I thought I might be able to do something with. In the end, I picked up Thai basil, yam greens, long beans, beets, tomatillos, watermelon, Chinese eggplant, ground pork and scrapple, Thai chilies, smoothie, and a Street Sense newspaper on top of the kid’s regular selection. I was pretty confident I would make pad gra pow (a Thai basil stir fry) and perhaps turn the tomatillos into a salsa verde for some enchiladas, which we hadn’t had for a while.

Sure enough, the pad gra pow worked out for Sunday evening. I’d been baking a fair amount lately. Specifically, laminating dough for croissants had absorbed a lot of my time and cooking energy. So I was relieved to have a fairly easy go-to meal that evening. The icing on the cake was that the ingredients had come together so nicely at the farmer’s market.

Homemade plain chocolate and pain at chocolat.

Truly, it wasn’t so long ago that I wouldn’t have been comfortable cooking so freely, preparing meals without even checking a recipe on-line.

But the farmer’s market cooking didn’t stop there. I still had that salsa verde to make. I awoke thinking about whether I should just make up some tortillas in the morning and use them at the end of the day for the enchiladas. Seemed like a lot of work. As it so happens, we ran out of cow’s milk this morning. (I tried to offer almond milk as a replacement but some of them wouldn’t have it.) This is, in a way, lucky because I could pick up a few other things than milk.

Here’s where it really came together: I decided to bike.

It’s not a far bike ride, but it’s pretty busy and my weather app was telling me that even in the late afternoon, the day was clinging to 90 degree heat, refusing to yield until the sun gave up first, retreating behind the horizon to the west. Still, it ended up being a nice ride and all of the items I bought — including the gallon of milk and even a container of ice cream — fit snuggly into my bike bag.

I haven’t been able to exercise much lately, so it felt like a bonus that I could bike to the nearest grocery store, getting my exercise and grocery shopping done at the same time.

Back at home, I charred the tomatillos, a poblano, some garlic and onion under the broiler and processed it all up with some lime a cilantro. Lovely salsa verde (admittedly, I did look at a recipe on-line for this one). I cooked the chicken before shredding and rolling it up inside the tortillas (store bought rather than homemade). I layered on both the sauce and cheese thickly. I served them with beans and salad greens and they all ate well. We followed up with some vanilla ice cream topped with frosted pecans which Ms8yo made this week with my mom.

And it was lovely. Here’s a thing I have to keep in mind: how far I’ve come. Imagine that I used to say, “I can’t cook,” which was completely wrong at the time (everyone can cook) and even more so today.

Chasing down that next fix

When I place the final dish on the table, I remove my earbuds, place them back into their smooth curving white case and shout, “Avez-vous faim?”

Often it is Mr3yo who is the one who answers with his little voice, “Oui!” Where he answers with his voice, the others answer with their bodies: making their way to the table.

This is all one of my favorite parts of the day. Yes, I like to sit down and enjoy a meal with my family. (And, yes, I love his eager “oui!”) But I feel a moment of intense satisfaction even before that as I am placing food that I have just finished preparing on the table. And that’s where that particular little shot of serotonin comes from: the moment of finishing, of completion.

And that feeling is the fix I’m almost always chasing down.

Chapter 2 of Genesis opens with, “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the Seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.”

I suspect that somewhere deep inside, I crave this feeling of completion because I know that it will be followed by rest, by, perhaps, a certain enjoyment of the fruits of my labor. So that moment becomes a mixture of done-ness intermingled with anticipation (of rest, of enjoyment).

Dinner preparation might start hours or even days or weeks beforehand: whenever I decide what I am going to make on a given day or a given time. And there’s the gathering of ingredients (which often involves telling my husband who is our primary grocery shopper), the planning out the timing of the preparations and all the dishes that I’m going to serve. There’s the actual execution, which might involve tracking a few things going on at the same time.

And so, when the food ends up on our table, some times, honestly, it feels nothing short of a small miracle. And I feel that my enjoyment of the food, of my family is well earned.

I chase down that feeling other places too, not just in the kitchen. I knit, for example, towards finishing the project. Weaving in stray ends of a project is tedious work, but it signifies that I’m one soaking and drying of the piece away from being able to wear it or give it away. And when I wear a pair of socks I made or see one of my kids wear something, again, it reminds me of the small miracle that had to happen for this to get from some strands of yarn into something useable.

Sometimes the only way I can get myself to start what feels like a particularly tedious project (cleaning or organizing anything in my house, for example) is reminding myself of the little rush I’ll get when the project is done and in the knowledge that I’ll now be able to enjoy it. Part of me wants to say that I wish I could bottle (and even sell) this feeling. But I know that part of the satisfaction is that I worked towards that moment. And that I can look back and enjoy the fruits that came of it (eg wearing something warm that I made or seeing my kids enjoy a meal). It can’t be bottled.

Even with painting or drawing, which are activities I’ve only taken up in the past year or so, I work towards that moment when I can put down my brush or pencil and look at something that is not only finished but recognizable as what I intended for it to me.

And so it is that I’m always looking for that next little serotonin fix that comes in the moment between completion and enjoyment, whether it’s food I’ve prepared or knitting or sewing project.

Or pushing publish at the completion of a blog post.

Unlearning how not to enjoy myself

A confession. I’m reading a book right now… no, wait… I’m listening to a book right now and I’m really enjoying it. It’s a Stephen King book.

Did you notice that? Did you count the strikes against me? It was two: two strikes right there on my learned literary-type card. One, I’m listening to a book, not reading a hard copy. Two, it’s a Stephen King book, which means commercial fiction. In other words, I’m trash, low-brow, common, everyday. And I’m loving it.

You might think I’m joking or playing this up, but I’m being earnest. I’ve mentioned before my many long years spent in elite institutions of higher learning (I’d say it was about 8: four in high school where I went to a fancy DC private school and 4ish in graduate school where I went to a fancy Ivy League). In both, we read and we read a lot. I don’t know if it was by design or just unintentional, but the feeling that I walked away with is that reading is rarely fun or accessible. In order for it to be important and worth your time, it must not fall into a category of “entertaining” or “commercial.”

I studied nonfiction in graduate school and I remember once hearing a fiction student saying, “Well, somebody has to write commercial fiction? Might as well be one of us.” The impression I got was that the pressure to be “literary” in fiction was strong too. To tell another truth, I’m not even sure what literary really means, but I’m stuck with the lasting feeling that it means something that I will never really be able to “do.” Look, even here, this post is almost as bad as “commercial”: it’s confessional.

I recall different instructions, or rather, perhaps, subtexts in these literary classes. Worthy writing (and reading) is timeless and therefore we must not write about current events or popular culture. An audiobook is never a replacement for actual reading. In order to be “successful” we must find our one voice and stick with it. Experimenting is bad. Deviating from what works is bad.

Here’re some of the things that I’m enjoying about the Stephen King book I am currently read — er — listening to. The performance by the reader is excellent. (And I can listen whilst cooking dinner or something else so I don’t have to sacrifice valuable and limited time when I can only be doing one thing.) It’s plot driven. He sets it up beautiful: I have to find out what happens next. It’s about a hired gun (Billy Summers) for some sort of crime organization on his last job. He was a sharp shooter in the marines. These are all topics that I know very little about. Does Stephen King know more than me? Did he do a bunch of research? I don’t know for sure. There are sections where I’m sure he must have spoke to marines and others to get a sense of how certain things work. But as I’m listening, am I thinking about whether this is well researched and true? No, not really. I’m not using it as a reference guide. I’m using it for entertainment. He’s done such a great job at creating these characters — and especially Billy Summers — that I feel genuinely invested in finding out what has happened and what will happen to him. And, honestly, right now, it feels pretty good to be invested in someone’s story, even if it is fiction.

More to the point. I’m really and truly and simply enjoying it. And enjoying stories for stories’ sake is not something that we (or at least I) have ever learned to do in school. I’m becoming unschooled. And it feels pretty good.

The Gift of a Morning

We went up to my parent’s community pool today. It had been a few days since we’d gone. The weather (and life) had limited our trips there. Today was one of those rare late mornings that, to me, are lovely to spend outside: warm but slightly overcast, the mildly ominous rustle of leaves high in the trees threatening rain and more. It had kept people away too, so we had the baby pool to ourselves and our older kids had most of the big pool to themselves.

Mr3yo found two little floating toys. “Horses!” he told me and he was so pleased with them that I barely had the heart to tell him that I was pretty sure they were unicorns. He was insistent. “Horses!” I recalled an episode of This American Life where people were relating false beliefs that they had held into past when it was appropriate. One woman explained that her family had eaten the exact same dinner every night (I can’t remember what it was but I’m pretty sure there was chicken involved) and it wasn’t until she was in college that she realized that not everyone did that. Another woman remembered the exact conversation that she had as an adult when she realized that unicorns are mythical creatures. The unicorn woman seemed alright. So I decided that maybe knowing the difference between a horse and a unicorn wasn’t going to impact his kindergarten readiness.

All of this took place, of course, in a matter of seconds, in flashes of thought and remembrances.

I found a rainbow colored ball in the grassy spot under a maple tree in the corner of the fenced in baby pool area and tossed it into the pool. Mr3yo eventually found it and abandoned the unicorn-horses in favor of the ball, which he kicked and then chased into the grass, giggling. Over and over. I could see how his brain and body were collaborating to predict the movement of the ball. I usually discourage him from running around the pool but we were alone and, truth be told, living in a pandemic, part of me needs to let my kids find joy where they can. And, honestly, I need to too. And he kept laughing each time he kicked the ball away from himself, each time he chased after it, whether or not he caught up to it.

An older woman paused on her way towards the exit to watch him run and kick and laugh.

The rain started as a few drops here and there, which I could dodge. And then a little heavier to where I stayed dry under the maple tree. Mr3yo took the ball into the pool and was throwing and chasing it in there. Already soaking wet, he looked up at the sky as if just noticing the rain and exclaimed, “Oh no!” to himself, worried, perhaps that the rain would mean we’d have to leave soon.

I carried our bags of try things to underneath some nearby pool house eaves and his older sisters joined us when adult swim started in the big pool: Ms11yo with me on the dry bench and Ms8yo with Mr3yo in the baby pool, which they still had to themselves. Ms8yo fiddled with one of the fountain spouts until she was able to close it, leaving only one spout open. She screamed with delight when she saw how high the one open fountain arced, now that she had directed all of the water pressure away from multiple openings and into that one. “Look!” she told us. Her sister and I smiled at each other, infected with her excitement. “She’s so happy,” I said.

The two younger ones played in the rain until the sun came out and it was time to leave.

Resourceful

Since the start of the pandemic, my husband has been doing the vast, vast majority of the grocery shopping. I’ve leant the assist with an occasional run to a nearby store (or to the Asian markets where I have a much better sense of what we need), but he’s been responsible for all of the big, BIG trips every few weeks to one grocery store. And for this I am grateful.

Much of the time, he picks up various proteins and then we sort through what to do with each of them: which to eat right away, which to freeze. He usually picks up a few things so that he can cook a few of the meals. Tonight, for example, he grabbed some crab cakes that he could throw in a pan for dinner. Sometimes, I’ll ask him to pick up a few things with a specific meal in mind, but some of the time, at least, I’ll just sort of throw together what makes sense based on what he brings home. (This was especially key towards the beginning of the pandemic when some items were rationed at the grocery store and when supply chains had been disrupted enough that we couldn’t necessarily count on getting certain items. For a while, All Purpose Flour and yeast, for example, were hard to come by.) These issues seem to have been mostly sorted out, but our system of him doing the big trips persists.

This weekend, the pantry and freezer were just starting to thin out enough that a big trip would soon be necessary. But in many, I kind of love this “test” of “how many scroungy meals can I come up with in these waning days of supplies?”

I’d picked up some ground beef and ground lamb from the farmer’s market a few weeks before, so those were easy enough to pull out of the freezer for defrosting. If there’s ground beef, chili is almost always an option, as it’s not hard to be continuously stocked up on red kidney (and other) beans. Sunday, I plucked some cucumbers, peppers, and mint from the garden to go with the lamb meatballs and flat bread that my husband could make on the grill.

Grilled lamb meatballs, onions, and bell peppers from the garden with grilled flatbread and a cucumber, yoghurt sconce. Feta on top. The bread ends up beautifully smoky and chewy.

On Monday, I resorted to a slightly scroungier meal that included frozen vegetables alongside pasta. We had some mascarpone which Eric had picked up on a mini-grocery trip for Ms8yo to make cupcakes. So I sort of had an idea to use up that with some pasta. We were out of canned tomatoes, which I would normally use in a sauce that I was going to cook for a while. But we had fresh tomatoes from the garden, most were small ones that I prefer keeping for everyone to eat “out of hand”, but I needed something for the sauce. Onion and garlic in the pan with a little olive oil, dried oregano, some tomato paste (which I had frozen), tomatoes from the garden (chopped up with the liquid saved). the mascarpone and finally a little of the pasta water. I was quite pleased that I’d managed to make-do like this. The icing on the cake (the frosting on the cupcake?) was that the kids all loved it (I mean, it wasn’t a hard one, they all mostly like pasta dishes).

We still had a little cream cheese in the fridge, so later that evening, I mixed up some dough and then in the morning, after it had risen overnight in the fridge, I shaped and baked some (plain) bagels for breakfast the next morning, which Eric was also able to use for a lunch sandwich as we had been out of bread for a day or two.

Ugly good. These bagels puffed up so much that the holes closed. Still tasty and popular.

This is all to say that this is one of my favorite things: when I am called upon to come up with a meal with whatever we have on hands and the children end up loving it. I like feeling resourceful and I like feeling confident enough in my cooking that I can sort of put together something moderately decent and unplanned.

Baking into the Deep

Today, I went outside of my normal routine for the first time in …. I don’t know … months? A year? I went inside someplace other than a grocery store (and not on vacation). It was an eye doctor appointment. My former eye doctor had retired and the new clinic had opened in his old space. I decided to give it a shot. And it was fine. I felt, more or less, safe. I have to say, though, that it was exhausting with very little return. My prescription had changed very little and so, while, I will be getting new glasses, it doesn’t feel like it was worth it to go through all of that — the getting there and the forms and the, you know, TALKING TO PEOPLE.

Ok. It wasn’t all that bad. But I have been exhausted all day. It’s as if doing anything at all, having any sort of human interaction these days is on par with running an emotional marathon. I considered grabbing a coffee or something whilst I was out, but, in the end, I honestly just wanted to get back to the familiar territory of home.

Being out in the world, it felt like many internal gauges were off. I wasn’t sure what was “normal”, for me or for the other people I had to interact with. “Am I acting normal?” I kept thinking to myself.

I was trying on new frames and the man helping me told me I could take down my mask for a few moments to see how they looked. I obliged but also mumbled something about how I also wanted to check whether they’d fog up with a mask on. And I felt really vain and awful for pulling down my mask to see how I looked. Later on, at home, when my kids looked at my selfies, they asked, “why aren’t you smiling?” (Well, the two older ones did. Mr3yo just said, “Did you get new glasses?”) In the pictures, I’m not smiling, I’m just looking stressed out. Because I was feeling stressed out. I didn’t really want to take my mask down. I did it because, I don’t know, the guy told me I should see how I look and it was fine to take it down for a moment.

I’m exhausted just thinking about how difficult the whole thing felt.

In Luke 5:4, Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” They comply and pull in so many fish that their nets tear.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of putting out into deep water for a few days now. Where is the deep water I’m supposed to be casting my nets into?

This weekend, like many weekends, Ms8yo wanted to bake something. She pulled out one of her favorite books (Sweet by Helen G’oh and Yotam Ottelenghi) and paged through, looking for a recipe to try out. She chose the Raspberry and Lemon Cupcakes. At first, she was a little wary that they weren’t seasonal and asked me what berries or fruit would be in season right now. I told her that raspberries would be fine, more or less, right now, and she set about coming up with what ingredients her dad would need to pick up at the store and which ones we already had.

She’s getting better about reading through the entire recipe and checking all the ingredients. She’s learned her lesson from missing a few things in the pass. Nothing that couldn’t be replaced or easily found, but nonetheless, it’s made her more diligent about reading through things first.

This particular recipe called for lemon curd, which she managed to make herself on the stove with only a little help from us. I was thrilled because I love lemon curd and would definitely ask her to are it again. Even if not for these specific cupcakes, I’d love some on crumpets or other baked goods. She asked for help a few times reaching things. I zested the lemons; her sister helped her frost the little cakes when they were done. I dug out the cupcake papers I was fairly certain I’d picked up not long ago at the grocery store. (Although, when she couldn’t find them herself at first, she was perfectly willing to butter and flour the pan, which is always a feasible option.) She opted to weigh out (rather than measuring by volume) some of the ingredients and thus we talked about the different settings of the kitchen scale: lb/ oz and kg/ g.

The cupcakes were lovely: tangy and sweet with a lovely sponge (although Mr3yo stuck almost completely to just the mascarpone/ lemon curd frosting). We had two nights of dessert out of the dozen. “Baker” is one of the things that Ms8yo would like to possibly become in the future (although we try to tell her that she already is one). She’s currently reading From the Desk of Zoe Washington and says that one of the reason she loves it is that the main character also wants to become a baker.

As a parent, I worry. A lot. And currently, one of my concerns is just the fear that, with the pandemic and my kids basically having very limited options right now for movement and activities and socializing, that somehow they will miss out on something. What? I don’t know. A “normal” childhood? Knowing how to interact with people? The learning and knowledge that they can gain from going out into the world and being comfortable there?

Here’s the thing. When Jesus instructed his followers to cast out into the deep, I don’t think that it was the “outwardness” of the casting so much as the depth. If we are to catch fish, I don’t think they are going to be, mostly, “out there”. The fish, the sustenance of life and of learning, can be found in the depths, not in the shallows. And, for now anyway, the depths are in our very home, and inside ourselves, and in our families or immediate communities. For me, the shallows were the outing to the eye doctor (high cost, low return) whilst the depths are at home, where my kids do things like decide to bake cupcakes one weekend and end up pulling each family, in turn, into their activity, giving and receiving little lessons along the way, and ending with a lovely, sweet and tangy treat.

Twenty Blog Posts

About a month ago, I set a goal to increase my blogging. At first, I thought I’d attempt to post every day for a month, but then I thought, “BURN OUT”. So I scaled it back to five times a week for four weeks. Each entry would be at least five hundred words on one topic.

Yesterday was my twentieth post in this little mini-streak.

I’m quite proud of myself.

I’ve mentioned here before that I went to graduate school to earn an MFA in writing with a focus on creative nonfiction. (Yes, if your first thought was that “creative nonfiction” is an oxymoron, you are not alone. We write about things that are true but we weren’t studying journalism. Think: memoir, essays, movie and book reviews, “think pieces”, even blog posts. Op-Ed’s and opinion pieces would be considered “creative nonfiction.” As with these types of things, there’s often a little bluriness between the categories, so these are pretty rough rules, if one can even call them that.)

This process of starting a blog, writing in it, and here now setting — and accomplishing — this goal of writing twenty posts in a month was, as it turns out, a necessary sort of recovery from my MFA program. Ironic, I know: that I would have to write in order to heal from my years in a writing program. There are plenty of people who come out of a writing program with their relationship to writing intact or, it would seem, even stronger than when they went into the program. For me, the program left me shaky and unsure of myself. It was at Columbia University, in New York City. It wasn’t the first time I’d been at a prestigious institute of higher learning. I’d gone to high school at Sidwell Friends, in DC, where a few presidents have sent their kids alongside numerous senators and representatives.

A few years ago, Stephen King wrote a novel called The Institute, in which kids are taken from their homes and placed in a hospital-like facility where experiments are run on them. It has something to do with psychological warfare of a sort and the plot had sort of vague shades of “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. The details of the plot are neither here nor there. I’m merely bringing this up because being a student in these prestigious institute felt to me, in retrospect, a bit like being in something like The Institute.

It’s possible that I just wasn’t a very good student at either Sidwell or Columbia. But I don’t think it was that.

I’ve mentioned here before that I a few times I had interactions with professors that left me feeling as though my writing was a frustration, or bit of a disappointment to them, and that these shortcomings on my part were somehow personally upsetting to them. A sort of feeling of, “Can’t you just do better?” One professor told me, upon my departure, that I wasn’t ready for an agent. A few years later, when I signed with an agent who then dropped me not long after, his opinion was confirmed.

This, understandably (I think, anyway) led a reluctance to write (much less try to publish) on my part. Somewhere unconsciously, I’ve felt as though my writing would disappoint people. Or that it would be a waste of their time. Frankly, I needed to just get over it.

Setting a writing goal and following through has helped me do that. It’s been liberating to hold myself to this one daily (or nearly so) practice of writing at least 500 words. It’s allowed me to not fear quite so much that I will be judged … or that somehow my words would disappoint people or cause them to feel they had wasted their time.

Part of this whole process has also been to pare it down, to a certain degree. The goal has been to simply write. If I have an image handy to go with it, then great. But if not, that’s fine too. And I’ve even stopped including tags and categories and comments. I needed to focus on the words alone, not on the extraneous aspects of blogging. Just the words.

To some degree, this has all worked. I’m writing regularly. I’m actually, sometimes, looking forward to blogging each day. I have ideas for blogs floating around in my head and in a few notebooks but I’ve also started to learn that I don’t even really need to take notes through the day or jot down ideas or phrases for fear that they will be lost if I don’t. Writing is what I do. And I’m free to write.