Papa’s Police Preschool

This month, J returned to work after a full two months home with us as a new family of five. It’s been such a gift for us for him to have a long parental leave — and a perk for taking what amounts to a six-year low-pay apprenticeship.

We all recovered quickly from the whirlwind birth of our Elizabeth Ann, since I didn’t have any injuries this time and we are slowly figuring out how to handle this newborn thing, three kids deep. So we returned to Police Preschool sooner than I would have expected, and it was such fun to see how different homeschool looked with the papa on the premises.

Although we’d talked often about why we might homeschool and what we’d like it to look like, when J was actually home, it became clear he didn’t actually know what our day-to-day looked like. He hadn’t realized where our co-op was held, for instance, or what I do with Scout while I’m trying to knock out lessons.

But I hadn’t realized all the riches he had to contribute. I had thought, abstractly, that someday I could lean on him to teach geometry and my other academic weak spots, but the kids and I were delighted to see what he could contribute to our school day, especially during these weeks of frequent interruptions for nursing.

J has always been the border collie to my basset hound, so I wasn’t surprised that he often had the kids outside, romping on the playground or boisterously playing Swallows and Amazons. I loved that he worked more music into the kids’ day, teaching them Christmas songs throughout Advent so they could sing when Christmas arrived; I didn’t love that he got Pip playing a Chase McCain video game, but I try to remember that there are cognitive benefits to playing video games and that other people can love my children differently than I do.

With a strongly structured start that gave continuity to the kids’ new world, our days relaxed with Advent. While I baked cookies with the kids and read Advent books, J began to teach Pippin chess and tracked down movie adaptations of books P had heard read aloud — Little Women and Swallows and Amazons and A Christmas Carol — so that we’d casually discuss what changes the movies made to the books as we snacked and cuddled.

The season looked different than I would have planned it for our family — and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.


A Year in Meals

After Christmas 2016, without a lot of consideration beforehand, I bought myself a magnetic meal planning calendar. I’d done meal planning for a few years at least now, but this was a more visual means of organization — and besides, it was pretty.

I’ve kept most of the pages from this year, and in reviewing them, drawn some helpful conclusions: 2017 was a year of more meat. Lots of meals brought by sweet friends. Heavy reliance on the slow cooker. So often, nearly every week, so many changed plans, but still, in the end, I think the exercise was a good practice.

Here were some greatest hits that featured again and again:

  • Ciabatta
  • Pesto chicken pasta in the slow cooker, which I could just about manage in my season of constant blah, and eat on for days. Cheese, salt and garlic are always welcome in my book.
  • Chili because it’s easy and delicious and you can have it over noodles or baked potatoes or French fries. My mother in law’s recipe makes 11 servings and if I freeze it in chunks, we can eat it once a week for nearly a month. (I don’t have the recipe right at hand, but trust: it’s about as basic beans-tomato-ground beef as it comes, and it is delightful.)

  • Brownies are my go-to potluck item when I don’t have much energy. I almost always have the ingredients on hand and it’s so easy Scout can do a fair bit of the work. In a year in which I often didn’t feel well, they appeared often in my meal plans.
  • Salmon. It’s good for you while pregnant. Maybe. I hadn’t tried it until recently, because I’m a recovering picky eater, but it turns out that there are several simple and inexpensive ways I like it, and it gives us more options for meatless Fridays.

In 2016, I collected and formalized most of my favorite recipes in a cookbook; in 2017, I  began to look forward to the ceremony of sitting down with cookbook, meal plan schedule, planner, shopping list and computer to envision the next week.

It was a good exercise to review our meals of 2017, and in so doing, review our 2017. Despite so much morning sickness, which leaves me with a bad taste for the year, the meal plans reminded me of how many folks we did manage to have over, how many evenings we spent out, even if I was sleepy or queasy or didn’t fit my pants

And meanwhile, against the changing landscape of adult meals, the monotony of peanut butter—chicken tenders—yogurt marched on in the background. It was a year of picky eating for some of our company, but I look forward to reflecting on coming years, as my band of choose eaters branch out.

Did you have any cooking resolutions for 2017? What do you expect 2018 to look like in your kitchen?

Commonplace Book, 43

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Are you sick of cookies? I nearly am, except these double chocolate crinkle cookies, which I’m looking for an excuse to make again.
  • A couple days before Christmas I embarked on the horror show that is cut out cookies. Why are they just the worst? I love baking with my kids, but the whole process was painful — the rolling out, P’s inability to cut near the edge, the dough getting warm and sticky and tearing. I had such fond memories of baking cut out cookies with my mom, and when I mentioned it and how much I hated it, Mom responded vaguely, “Oh. I think we only did those once. They were so stressful!” So there you have it, folks: cut out cookies, delighting children and enraging adults since at least the 1980s. If you’re more ambitious than I am, these soft gingerbread cookies taste good, at least.
  • Nothing says Christmastime like cookies and cheese. If you’re looking to use up your spare bits of cheese, you might try this template for fromage fort. I made it for a NYE party, but I kind of want to make another batch to serve over pasta. Except I’d make it with blue stilton and then my marriage would be over.

What I’m reading:

Church bells rule the day: so much so that during the relatively freewheeling 2016-17 academic year […] he wasn’t always sure how to spend his time. “It was actually hard for me, because there wasn’t a dang bell saying, ‘You do it now, then you’re done,'” he says. “I really need more external framework.”

From Here to Timbuktu: A globe-trotting monk with the Benedictine “survival gene” seeks out treasured manuscripts. The piece is interesting, and that bit has me thinking again about how I might revise my mother’s rule of life for life with three kiddos.

  • The Essex Serpent. I wanted to love this — readers I respect loved it — and I made it all the way through and hated it. Every character disappointed me, and I struggled to understand how I was supposed to interpret each action until the author told me. The atmosphere was pleasantly mysterious, but that’s all that it had going for it. I’m an inveterate book abandoner and I wish I’d abandoned this one.
  • Anne’s House of Dreams. Ring in the new year with a good start. And Goodreads told me it’s been five years since I read this one. It’s a strange book, certainly — why are we supposed to believe Leslie’s life is so much more tragic than Anne’s was before Green Gables? Why is Gilbert so damn boring? But there are so many good bits — Captain Jim forever.

“Building community, investing in the lives right in front of us, requires us to take the long view. Eugene Peterson refers to this type of relationship as ‘a long obedience in the same direction.'”

On Lying Down with My Sick Child

I have friends who cosleep with their kids till they’re two. I have friends who spend a stretch each evening stroking a child’s hair or singing her songs till she drifts off.

I am not that mom.

I’m the mom who values consistency, independence, a nap where I’m free to roam about the cabin. My kids fall asleep on their own, and I’m more often proud than wistful about it.

But a couple times a year, I am called upon to violate my precepts. We are in a new place, or someone gets sick, and I need to lie down and wait for someone to fall asleep.

Recently, it was both: we were in a new place and Scout had a tummy bug and fever and asked me to help her fall asleep.

She lay down on her back and I settled on a narrow strip of trundle bed beside her, one arm draped over her warm belly. She whispered spookily, words I couldn’t understand and I began to catalog all the things I would do to get comfortable if I were free to do so: take off my glasses, remove my cardigan, roll over onto my back. Scout stirred against me and my hand twitched for my phone, bored and restless. I’ve spent so much time during my most recent pregnancy forced to be an observer in my own life that the last two months have been energetic, almost frenetic, and to be suddenly still again is frustrating.

But in that moment, stillness was my only job. Eventually, I extricated myself with agonizing slowness–my hair trapped under her heavy head, almost as close as two people can be– as her sweet little snores began, praying my saucer-eyed girl felt better by morning, that her siblings might be spared, that I might have the grace to give and receive this sacred trust of motherhood: a warm little body, nestled for comfort against mine.

Read Your Own Books

If it hadn’t started by the time I began working in libraries, it started then. Some of it was good: I realized if I had enjoyed a book but probably wouldn’t need it again, I could give it away rather than hoarding it and borrow it back if necessary. But along with this swing toward (comparative) book shelf minimalism came a new problem.

My book collection started shifting toward a higher concentration of unread books. I was getting rid of more books I had read, and at the same time neglecting unopened books on my shelves less often because I was tempted by all the new books passing my way at the circ desk.

J and I are trying to tamp down our Amazon habit (cutting down on cardboard to be hauled to the curb, if nothing else!) and it seems like a good time to focus on the good I’ve got, not the next thing down the Amazon rabbit hole.

So for 2018, I’m committing to reading my own books. I can buy books for my book clubs, and books for the kids, but otherwise I’ve got to work through my own shelves. Here are some I’m looking forward to:

  • Not God’s Type
  • a Rumer Godden biography I found in a box of free books last spring
  • Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry — started at least twice before I got distracted.
  • Shirt of Flame: A Year with St Therese of Liseux
  • The Catholic Church and Conversion by GK Chesterton
  • English Lessons — a loaner from Emily.
  • The Blythes Are Quoted — started and abandoned because it’s boring, but I NEED to know and if I could get through Go Set a Watchman I can do anything.
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit — as I write this my children are playing with Legos and facetiming my parents…
  • Numbering My Days: How the Liturgical Calendar Rearranged My Life  — from my mother-in-law, and neglected for at least a year.
  • A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War

And…that’s probably only half of the neglected books lying around here, max. I don’t know that in December I’ll make myself get rid of all the ones I haven’t read, but I’d like at the end of the year to have things pared down and opinions to report back to you on most of the books above.

Do you do new years (or Advent) resolutions? What are yours?

2017 in Books

(For 2016 and before, check out this post.)

So, I hit my goal of one book a week this year, due in large part to fetal first trimester reading holed up in my bed (shout out to my mother’s helpers to making this happen!) and lying in binge reading. I couldn’t have done it without you, crappy pregnancy!

Among the 50-ish books I read, here are notables and favorites:

Nonfiction Nominees

We’ve got a faith and vocation thing going here as it starts to look like I’ll be home full time for the foreseeable future, so I might as well figure out what that means to me, my home, and the world.

Fiction Nominees

In other trends, audiobooks are still going strong and I officially can’t read a library book without it coming overdue, so that’s the season we are in I guess. Our little free library finally got its first book from someone other than me — a Baha’i faith book — but I’m counting that a win, too. And I’m enjoying reading aloud chapter books to Pip, too, even if I’ve lost a bit of ground on my own reading.

What did your year of reading look like? What was the best book you read in 2017?

My Man In the Wing Chair

While I was spending my first (always insomniac) night postpartum in the hospital, J and Roo snoring softly on either side, I read The Awakening of Miss Primsomething I’d been meaning to read for ages. Unsurprisingly, given all the recommendations I’d received, I loved it.

Prudencia Prim is a practical modern woman looking for escape, who finds it in the eccentric job posting for a private librarian in a small French town. She soon finds herself working for the equally frustrating and charming Man in the Wing Chair, organizing his enviable private library and taking part — somewhat unwillingly — in the life of the household, where he’s raising his nieces and nephews and educating others from the village. Almost despite herself, Miss Prim is drawn in to the unusual community, challenging everything she held dear.

Along the way, she receives the wonderful advice:

“You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you.”

This was something I took for granted in my parents’ marriage: it was always obvious that each believed the other had settled. My mom admired my dad; my dad admired my mom. And so I set out to find a boy who was my superior, and, like my parents before me, lucked out: John Bowers, a constant inspiration to me to be more kind, patient, energetic, creative.

(Warning: mild Awakening of Miss Prim spoilers)

Like the Man in the Wing Chair, he’s brimming with bookish ideas and convictions and cheerful rants. One of the lines in which the Man in the Wing Chair most reminded me of my husband was this one:

“He wasn’t delightful in arguments, or in debates: he wouldn’t yield an inch concerning what he believed to be true, and he had no mercy with opponents when he saw they weren’t on his level.”

J is a formidable debater who argued several friends into the Catholic Church before succumbing himself. His conviction in debate can make me nervous — I spend a lot of energy monitoring people’s feelings and worry about hurting someone. But his bravery in arguing for the truth reminds me I could stand to gain in tenacity.

One piece reveals the author’s inspirations in crafting her protagonist, exclaiming: “How could one not want to read a novel in which the male protagonist is a composite of C.S. Lewis, John Senior and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma!” While I’m not familiar with John Senior, except by name, biographies of C. S. Lewis have often reminded me of J: intellectually fleet and tough, slightly intimidating in intensity, boisterous with joy. And while Emma isn’t my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley is definitely one of my favorite Austen heroes, one who’s absolutely and completely superior to Emma.

Another passage that struck me as familiar is this one, in which a friend characterizes the Man to Miss Prim:

“And there’s a third group, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”

Especially in this season, when J’s been able to take a lot of parental leave, I’ve seen all the big and small ways he seeks to protect our kids and “return to the purity of old customs” as he helps educate our kids, reads them books by the fire and leads them in Christmas carols on his violin.

We don’t know from the text if the Man in the Wing Chair sports a spectacular beard, like J, or if Miss Prim ends up with her Man in the Wing Chair. But today, on my Man in the Wing Chair’s birthday, I’m so glad I married mine.


The Man in the Wing Chair