Monday, April 24, 2017

the quotidian (4.24.17)

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


Anticipation: apples, hopefully.


Pastel overload.


Sunday scones.



 
Supper, sculptured



If you're going to finish it, then finish it all the way. 


Finally, all the eggs we can eat.


The collection, pre-supper.


Brown rice bowls, except with plates. 


Bringing home the groceries.


Blacks and greys, mostly.

This same time, years previous: life can turn on a dime (one year ago today—such a sorry photo...), creamed honey, Sally Fallon's pancakes, out and about, the quotidian (4.23.12), cauliflower potato soup, my lot, rhubarb crunch, me and you, and the radishes.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

what it's like to write full time: an experiment

When one of my writer friends told me he was going to rent space at The Hub, a collaborative coworking space that's located downtown, I laughed in his face. “Why do you need to go away to write? Your kids are grown, your wife works full-time, and you have an entire house to write in. Are you nuts?”

“I’ll have to get dressed and go somewhere,” he said. “I think I’ll be more productive.”

I snorted. “Just pay yourself a hundred dollars each month and stay home.”

Then someone posted an article about The Hub on social media. The place did look pretty nifty, I had to admit, and suddenly I found myself thinking about The Hub all the time. What would it be like to write full time? Would I even have the stamina? What would I do with the kids? And then, when I (sheepishly) admitted to my friend that The Hub might be kind of neat after all, my friend told me that The Hub allowed people to try it for a day for free!

My trial day, I spent my precious hours furiously working on a chapter (that I later decided wasn’t relevant, welcome to my world), drinking the free coffee, and falling in love with the place. All those people quietly working, thinking, typing—what communal energy! For my extroverted self, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect.

So I took the plunge. Just for one month, I said, to see how it goes. And because I was worried that my family (and my brain) would crash and burn if I did an entire month of full-time writing straight-off, the owner graciously allowed me to split my first month into two, two-week segments. This experiment would either be a rollicking disaster or a profitable venture, but either way, I consoled myself, I’d only be out a hundred bucks.


I’m at the halfway point now. Here’s how the first two weeks went down.

Week One
Monday: I write all day and feel exhausted. I’ve never spent so much time focusing my eyes on something just two feet away from my face. But writing is like any other muscle: if I exercise it enough, it will get stronger, right?

Tuesday: I get stuck with my writing. The afternoon drags. I take breaks: lay on the sofa and close my eyes, take a walk around the block. Finally, I send a chapter to my private writing coach—thanks, Bro!—and head home. After supper, I send an SOS to my mother and she stops by to help me brainstorm.

Wednesday: My brother's feedback is positive, and I’m immediately re-energized. I do edits and then spend the rest of the day churning out new material. I still get sloggy in the afternoon, though.

Thursday: My day off.

Friday: I send a chapter to one of my writing groups. I spend the majority of the day doing edits, thinking (this is the hard part), and rewriting. I go back through my latest pages and try to formulate an outline. When I can't do anymore, I work on a few other non-book projects.

Week Two
Monday: I take in a plate of maple pecan scones to share with my quiet co-workers. I spend the day wrestling with a chapter and when I leave work, I’m fried. I’ll never be able to write another word in my life.

Tuesday: Because I can’t stand to think about it anymore, I send the chapter to my brother. I brainstorm for the next chapter and write new material. I hate every second and have to force myself to keep my butt in the chair, to keep thinking. My mother surprises me with a visit and a piece of her homemade shoofly pie, and I give her a tour. Despite the break, I’m still going crazy in my head, so I leave a little early to visit a friend. That evening, the larger of my two writing groups meets (but not to discuss my work).

Wednesday: My day off, but in the afternoon I have a meeting with the smaller writing group (three cheers for gritty, productive feedback!), and in the evening Mom helps me plot and brainstorm for the next couple chapters.

Thursday: I write all day, not even stopping for lunch. I don’t get tired, either (do I write better on an empty stomach?), and I have to tear myself away at 4:30. For the first time, I leave work invigorated, not drained.

Friday: I work until 3:30 when I have to stop to run errands.


A Few Observations
*I write like an accordion, blowing up the idea and then cutting pieces away, shrinking it back down. When the document becomes too unweildy, I lift the best paragraphs to a new document and start over again, expanding the topic and then shrinking it. I repeat this process until my eyes cross and my brain shortcircuits. For every four or five finished pages, I have several Google docs and miles of words.

*Working full-time does not make me more productive but it does condense my process. It normally takes me a month to write a (small) chapter, but working full time, I am writing a chapter a week.

*I love treating my writing like an actual full-time job. How will I ever go back to writing in two or three hour snatches? Will I ever be satisfied? (Answer: probably not.)

*Writing a book is not a solo project. Every step of the way, my friends, parents, sibs, and husband are egging me on by providing child care, writing advice, and general rah-rah-rah encouragement. I am so grateful.

*Since I’m working on the book day after day, my brain is never completely shut down. Even when I’m at home, ideas bubble just beneath the surface, often sending me scurrying for a piece of paper on which to write them down.

*While working at The Hub, I don't cook, homeschool, or blog. I clear my schedule of doctor appointments, unnecessary meetings, and extra projects. All my energy is focused on me: I eat well, go running, get full nights of sleep, and write, write, write. What a luxury.

*Before this writing experiment, I worried I wouldn’t have enough time to keep the family fed, but it’s not nearly the struggle I thought it would be. Since the younger kids are at other people’s houses and the rest of us pack lunches, we don’t go through leftovers at noon—which means we end up having leftovers for supper. Also, it’s quite easy to fix a pan of mac and cheese or a pot of soup when I get home. I do miss homemade pastries, though.

*My younger children don’t like being shuttled around to people’s houses. In a couple years they’ll be old enough to stay home alone, but until then I’m limited. I’ve chosen to be at home with them, though, so I’m not complaining. (Or I’m trying not to complain, at least.)

*Good news: The house does not fall to ruin when I'm gone! I leave the older kids with a list of chores, and when I come home the laundry is folded and put away, the windows washed, the floors swept, etc. They love when I work because they can blast their music and make pancakes for lunch, and I like it because I have live-in maids.

This same time, years previous: with an audience, the quotidian (4.20.15), let's pretend this isn't happening, the quotidian (4.21.14), ailments, chocolate mayonnaise cake, bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

in the night air

Every night at bedtime, instead of trotting upstairs to bed, the two younger children meet at the kitchen door. They call Alice, and then, flashlight in hand, the three of them head out in the dark to their sleeping quarters: the clubhouse.


They’ve been sleeping out there for weeks now. In the beginning, my younger daughter had to do a bunch of bribing—sharing of birthday candy, promising to help with chores, and sometimes even making direct cash payments (not allowed)—to get her brother to accompany her. (The girl can hardly stand to turn off her bedroom light at night yet she’s fine sleeping outside in the pitch dark, go figure.) Even when the temps dipped into the low 30s and we’d all be toasting ourselves by the blazing fire, the younger kids would happily go running out to the cold, dark clubhouse, leaving my my husband and me shaking our heads in disbelief.

With the younger kids outside, the house feels more spacious. The rest of us can rattle about, playing music or visiting, without having to worry about inciting the younger ones’ jealousy. And in the mornings, the younger ones linger in their beds, undisturbed by our alarm clocks, creaking doors, and clattering breakfast dishes.

One particularly balmy, clear night, the two of them slept under the stars.

They spread a tarp on the ground and then the queen-sized foam mattress pad that we got second-hand from some friends who were moving (and that gets hauled everywhere), and then a pile of blankets and pillows. They even made a headboard from a piece of wood and set up lamps.


They wanted to keep the bedding out all day, but I said no way. I didn’t want the animals dragging it hither and yon. (The clubhouse floor is piled with blankets, but at least during the day the door stays shut against the pets.)


Now that my husband installed electricity and hung a little lantern by the door—so charming!—the after-dark clubhouse is looking ever cozier. For a little while after the kids go out, lamplight spills from the windows and we can hear their (muted, glory be!) bickering and chattering.

And then my husband goes out to tuck them in and turn off the lights, and we don’t see them again until morning.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.18.16), joining the club, loose ends, picking us up, ground pork and white bean chili, banana cake, baked spaghetti.

Monday, April 17, 2017

the quotidian (4.17.17)

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



I really must make these more often.


Her tart from my pie-baking leftovers was better than my pie.


Straight into cake: the first rhubarb.


My Smart Mama Move: arranging for them to make the mess while I was gone.


When making scones and you realize you have no pecans, mine the mixed nuts
(...and then when it's still not enough, your mother's pantry).


Eggs in a helmet.


In the drive-though, when I asked for a napkin. Seriously, McDonald's?


Potted.

 
Ticking another Finally! Project off the list: electricity to the clubhouse!


What happens to a fence when a steer jumps over it.


Because when a couple American Boychoir kids stay the night, you have to entertain them somehow.

This same time, years previous: right now, wrangling sheep, cheesy popcorn, crispy almonds, take two: Omri, nutmeg coffee cake, deviled eggs, cardamom orange buns, mint wedding cake, asparagus walnut salad.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

beginner's bread

When my younger son gets an idea in his head, he does not let go of it until it becomes a reality. Watching The Great British Baking Show (there's a season three!!!), he got it in his noggin that he wanted to bake. "I’ll make crackers," he said. "I’ll just mix up some flour, water, and salt and then roll out the dough."

"That’s not how you make crackers," I said. "You’ll need a recipe."

"But I don’t want to follow a recipe. I want to make it my way."

Which was exactly what I was afraid of: a big mess with nothing to show for it. I kept putting him off but of course he only pushed harder. Sick of the fussing, my husband muttered, "Come on, Jen. Just let him make something, why don't you."

"Fine," I told my son. "You can make bread. Papa says he will teach you."

My husband glared at me, but his mouth stayed shut.

They made the bread on a Saturday morning. Even with my husband in the kitchen, the boy kept coming to me with his questions. Ask Papa, I said over and over, each time getting a little thrill from deflecting the questions. Teaching a kid to bake bread is amazingly relaxing when I'm not the one teaching!



The boy handled the dough with an assuredness that I hadn’t anticipated, the mess was minimal, and the bread delicious. So a couple days later, I told him to make another batch. He was thrilled, and once again, the bread was a raging success.




Beginner’s Bread
(Otherwise known as Cuban Bread)
Adapted from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads.

The shaped loaves go straight into a cold oven and rise as the oven warms, which means that, with no hot oven to fuss with, this bread is a great one for young beginners. Plus, it’s a crowd pleaser—the rave reviews are sure to make any novice feel like an old pro.

5-6 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups hot tap water
sesame or poppy seeds for garnish, optional

In a large bowl, mix four cups of the flour with the yeast, salt, sugar, and hot water. Gradually add more flour, as much as you need to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.

Flour the dirty bowl, place the dough in it, and cover the dough with a cloth. Let it rise until double. 

Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a round. Place the rounds, smooth sides up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If using seeds, spritz the dough with water and sprinkle the seeds on top. Slash the top of each loaf.

Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of a cold oven. Place the pan of bread on the rack above. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and set the time for about 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, rotate the bread (if the loaves are getting too dark, cover them with foil) and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes.

This same time, years previous: scatteredness, the quotidian (4.11.16), oh please, millet muffins, oatmeal raisin cookies, the greening, answers, the quotidian (4.6.13), yellow cake.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

a trick for cooking pasta

When the pot of pasta begins to boil and froth, place a wooden spoon across the top of the kettle to prevent the liquid from boiling over. I do not know why this works (or where I first heard this tip) but it does.


It used to be that once the water boiled, I’d have to lift the kettle off the heat until the burner cooled, but the wooden-spoon trick makes it so I can leave the kettle alone, just turning the heat down when the water boils too fast. The water froths around the spoon, but it doesn’t spill over.


Anybody else use this trick? Am I batty for thinking it works? Anyone have an explanation?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.4.16), red raspberry pie, sun days, working lunches, cup cheese, spinach cheese crepes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

the quotidian (4.3.17)

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


This time with lard.


Dog-littered.


Now, for the greening.


Cousin watch.


Not funny.


For a young neighbor: in exchange for animal care, a riding lesson.


Solfege workout. 



This same time, years previous: not a special breed, an ecclesiastical funk, this will make your eyes hurt, the quotidian (4.2.12), three stories, chickpeas with spinach.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

the art of human rights

This morning, I took my children to an art exhibit.

They weren’t exactly gung-ho (more like riotously grumpy) but I decided this time their preferences didn’t count. They would see art and they would appreciate it, end of discussion and get in the car.


As a board member of the Arts Council of the Valley, I had already been treated to a private tour of the exhibit. Our guide, a woman who knew everything about Shahn (she wrote a book about the guy, for Pete’s sake), gushed information. Her passion was contagious.


I don’t think I did a very good job conveying that passion to the kids. But I sure as heck tried! I wrote down questions for the younger ones and encouraged them to draw a picture they liked. I pointed out interesting facts, read the long quotes out loud, and babbled commentary. Guys, his art is so relevant even today. Isn’t that amazing? And, Look at all the hands. See how he draws small hands on the politicians he doesn’t like? If he were alive today, he’d be having a blast.


Two kids were begrudgingly compliant and one refused to appreciate anything, but my younger son, bless his heart, was totally into it. He had fun looking at Shahn’s photos and then finding the same people in his drawings. He asked questions that I couldn’t answer and got all wrapped up in copying one of the drawings.


The kids were ready to go after about thirty minutes, but I stretched our visit to an hour. I hoped that just by hanging out in the space, some bits and pieces of Shahn’s message would seep into their souls, shoring them up so they could spend their lives fighting for human rights.

Or just not killing each other.



Whatever.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.30.15), babies and boobs, braided bread, grape kuchen with lemon glaze.