Baking Redemption

That loaf of sourdough that I overproofed really did turn out quite flat. And worst of all, I cut the shit out of my finger when I was slicing it. Has anyone else noticed a greater tendency to injure yourself during This Special Time? I have felt anxious and distracted, my mind reeling with lots of thought-fragments, and I keep hurting myself. Sliced finger, slammed thumb in car door, burned self just picking hot cheese off of a hot frying pan like some kind of cheese-eating ding-dong. 

At any rate, I have achieved sourdough bread redemption. On the advice of a twitter pal, I tried a different no-knead recipe. I had been using the NY Times Sam Sifton one, but I switched to the King Arthur one and followed the technique from Maurizio Leo’s blog (he is great on technique!) and I have done this twice so far and had good results both times. I also finally got my paws on some bread flour (as opposed to all-purpose) and I can see it made a difference from loaf to loaf. 

Here’s a little progression if you want to see the difference:

The first loaf is the overproofed one from the NYT recipe — not necessarily the recipe’s fault. I should have put it in the fridge overnight, but I didn’t realize. The second one is my first try with the King Arthur using AP flour, which is already much better. The third is my newest one from yesterday: King Arthur again and bread flour. Very happy with this loaf!

I also used my starter to make some sourdough cinnamon rolls for Mother’s Day and shewwwww:

They were good. Everyone has requested I make some again soon, which I absolutely will.

On the other hand, I’ve been having some issues with my chocolate chip cookies. I have had a go-to recipe for ages now — the one from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve never had a problem with it ad they cookies turn out just the way I like: even thickness, chewy texture, minimal spreading. The dough is easy to work with. 

That recipe calls for tapioca flour, however, which I don’t currently have. I tried to make it with an egg instead, assuming the tapioca was a substitute for egg, but it turned out all wrong. The dough was too wet; I had to add extra flour; the cookies came out too cakey. Disaster. That’s what I get for assuming I know enough to hack a subsitution in a baking recipe!

phoebe

Next, I tried the NestLAY TollHOOSE recipe after lots of people said they loved it, and it was fine but not great. It’s an all-butter recipe, and while I like the taste of butter and the way it allows for some nice crispness on the edges, it can be tricky to work with. I know to keep the dough extra cold to prevent spreading, etc., but they still spread too much, got too thin in the middle, and were delicate where they should’ve been chewy. They tasted great, but the recipe just isn’t quite what I am looking for. 

I finally have some tapioca flour on order from Target (it has been oddly hard to find!), so I may just go right back to my vegan recipe, but I’m also interested in finding a non-vegan go-to for when that’s what I have, ingredient-wise. The quest continues, but I am suppose I am willing to take on this onerous research.

Baking & Books

It’s nap time right now and while I usually follow the popular advice of “sleep when the preschoolers sleep,” I am awake right now tending to the loaf of sourdough that is currently in my oven. It smells amazing but is going to bake up too flat because I think I overproofed it. Next time I will try something with a refrigerator rise. It’s fine. I will keep trying and keep learning. Until I run out of unbleached flour and can’t get any more, I suppose.

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Looks beautiful from the top but I assure you it is the shape of a frisbee.

Earlier in the week, we finished our family read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which was really fun. The kids are not quite 4.5 years old, so they are probably a little too young for the series, but I had bought the (beautiful) illustrated version when All This began, and they were curious about it, so we gave it a shot.

At first, they were mostly intrigued by the images but had a tough time staying focused for the length of an entire chapter, but as we went along, they got better and better at sitting and listening and asking questions at appropriate breaks in the narrative. They have a lot of questions, it seems, but really they just want to talk about it and they get so excited. They erupted into cheers after we read the chapter where Harry helps Gryffindor win the first quidditch match. They want to know why Professor Snape does not like Harry. What does it mean to get “expelled”? What does wingardium leviosa mean again, anyway? How does Prof. Dumbledore already know that the cat is really Prof. McGonagall?

We also put on the audiobook sometimes while they are playing or coloring, so they get a low-key review of what we’ve read recently.  The morning after we’d read the last chapter, they came into our bedroom first thing asking if we could read Harry Potter again, starting back at Chapter One.

We’ve talked about the book so much that it shouldn’t surprise me that when we finally started watching the movie they remembered so much detail. At various points, L yelled out, “This is Chapter Two, The Vanishing Glass!” and “That is Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys!” His favorite part of the book, by the way? Was the illustration where we finally got to see Voldemort’s eye peeking out from Prof. Quirrell’s turban. He’s really hoping that in the movie we will get to see Voldemort’s “WHOLE BODY.” Kids, man. (We saw the first half of the movie last night and will finish tonight — they don’t necessarily do well with watching 2.5-hour movies in one sitting at this point.)

It has been such a delight to share a book I love with them, I tell you what.  I have no plans to get the next novel for them any time soon — I’d rather move through the books slowly so they have time to grow up a little between the earlier stories and the scarier later ones — but I do hope they keep up their enthusiasm for the series and it becomes something we can enjoy together going forward. Please please please!

 

Rainy Day Dog & Deferred Worries

It’s been about 8 years since I have had a typically-abled dog who needed to be walked outside, so I had forgotten about the whole situation where the dog needs to go out and it’s the middle of a torrential thunderstorm. Surprise! That’s exactly the situation right now, in fact, and I am starting this post as a way of procrastinating a trip out into the deluge with Harriet, who strongly dislikes rain (and baths) and will be too scared to go, anyway. When I run out of things to type about, I will take her.

Here’s a photo from a sunnier day because she is just too cute:

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This is the last week of classes (“classes”) for spring semester; final exams are next week. I’m just hoping I have managed to bring my students through the end of the semester adequately. I have really tried.

I will appreciate the brief interlude between finals and the start of summer classes. It will be nice to have a week or so when I am not constantly having to tell the kids that I can’t talk to them/help them/answer their questions/be with them right now because I am doing a work task and I will have to help them later.  Lately, that’s the only difference between weekdays and weekends around here — on weekends, I get a brief break from pushing my children away.

Just the other day I had to confirm with their daycare that we wanted to keep our summer camp registration — I said yes, because although I do not think daycare will be able to open again by the end of May, I don’t want to lose our spots for fall. If daycare is able to open again for fall. I mean, it might not be. Or, on the other hand, it might legally be allowed to open again and we might not feel safe to send them? But if we are back to face-to-face classroom teaching for work, we will have to send them?

Well, I don’t want to spiral down that way of thinking right now. I am going to have to wait to worry about that, as Swistle would say. I will go take Harriet outside.

A Few Quick Takes

BUNNIES: Last week, it came to my attention that the kids believe that the Easter Bunny is real, but is not a real rabbit. Instead, according to them, it is a “mascot” — an adult in a giant bunny costume — who comes to people’s houses and brings treats. They refer to all humans in animal costumes as mascots. Can you imagine? An adult in a rabbit costume coming into your home at night? The children are not even terrified about this?

SOCKS: The other night, my husband and I were up late watching Ozark, eating chocolate eggs, and musing about socks. He was just boastfully relishing the new pairs of wool socks he’d bought for himself somewhat recently as I started to complain about how every time I buy fancy socks for myself they don’t last more than a season without getting holes in them. Of course he needed me to know about and try his preferred brand of nice socks and I needed to warn him about the surprisingly crappy “nice” socks that had burned me in the past. Reader, can you believe we were thinking of the same brand of socks? He swears by them; I cannot make a pair last without getting holes like a slice of Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, my cheap socks from Old Navy and Target are going strong after years of wear. To what do we attribute this difference, friends? “User error.” My husband thinks my problem with getting holes in my expensive socks is due to user error.

 

SLEEP: Speaking of staying up late, I rarely stayed up late in the Before Time, but now it is an absolute necessity. After being around my charming and delightful children all day and engaging in conversation with them for every waking moment, I need to use the post-bedtime hours to mentally rebalance my. brain with some quiet. I used to be ready to fall asleep by 9:30 or so, but now I need to be awake in the quiet until at least midnight. As a result, I also now require a nap. Basically, I sleep from 12 or 1 AM until 6, when L comes in to get us up. Then I nap from 1:30-2:30, during the time when the kids are either napping or “napping.” The other day, I had to be on a work Zoom during what has become my usual nap time and it was a challenge. Oh my god this is a boring blurb; I’m sorry.

MASKS: Finally, a question: if you had a family member who was a health care professional (RN) working directly with patients in a hospital emergency room, and that family member offered to send you some of their personal stockpile of N95 masks, you wouldn’t accept them, right? I turned down such an offer because a) I only need a mask to go grocery shopping and I already have a cloth one, b) I wouldn’t know if it was my size anyway, and most importantly, c) if I, a civilian, had any N95 masks, I feel like I would be ethically obligated to donate them to my local hospital. So that’s my take on it, anyway. What would you do?

Locking Doors

I keep having the following brain malfunction on the weekends: the thought of doing some work starts to flit into my brain and I immediately push it out, the just-barely-conscious thought being, “I’ll get to that Monday when I have some time.”

A HA HA HA JOKE’S ON ME, MOTHERFUCKERS. I will never again “have some time.”

I have been mostly getting my job done in 5-10 minute increments, but occasionally I will find myself reading or typing the same sentence for what feels like half an hour while I answer 487 questions from the children or tend to a dozen urgent dog scenarios.

We just finally added a desk back into our guest bedroom so it can also function as a workspace with a locking door (our other “workspaces” are the couch, the bed, and the kitchen table). This morning, I had a conversation with my husband wherein I informed him that I would be using an hour a day in that room with the door locked in order to do my most urgent work tasks. The subtext was that I, in my extremely high self-evaluation, believe I can do my entire full-time academic job in seven hours a week. The subtext of his response was that he has to work all day every day and no matter how much time he spends working his work will never be done. We have very different attitudes and beliefs about work and our own efficiency as it pertains.

This morning I worked at the desk behind the locked door for about 30 minutes, during which time I had two separate conversations through the door with each of my two children (i.e. four conversations total) and three pieces of crayoned artwork were slid under the door for my inspection.

I got done everything I needed to do. Bitches get shit done.

But CAN you let that pass without comment?

Can I just tell you that now that we have adopted a puppy, all of my targeted social media ads have turned into ads for cute dog-related shit? I am here for it. Show me all the puppy ads.

In worse news, apparently our garbage disposal is broken and leaking and there’s water all under the sink and leaking through to the other side of the island and are we supposed to have someone in to fix it? Can we even have someone in to fix it? What if we can’t use our kitchen sink anymore? Worse, what if we (“we”) have to attempt some kind of DIY home repair??? I am feeling panicky just typing that out, so let’s move on.

Another thing that makes me feel …agitated right now is all the “I would never X” and “I can’t believe people are Y” that I’m seeing online. The advice keeps changing every day and everything is so conflicting. I’ve got people who can’t believe folks are getting carry out on the one hand and others who can’t believe folks aren’t getting carry out on the other hand. The germs! The local businesses! The virus isn’t food borne! The containers are germ vectors! Local restaurants are dying! And that’s just one of many issues. WHAT DO WE DO.

No, never mind. Don’t tell me.

I have been gathering some fun stuff for the kids’ Easter baskets and putting some key food and drink items in our grocery order. I’m not a person of faith and don’t celebrate Easter in a religious fashion, but I do like to celebrate spring, candy, cute animals, and Bloody Marys. So I mentioned to my spouse that I had been secreting away some Easter items and he started to launch into some commentary about how he doesn’t care about Easter and wasn’t even thinking about it, which I promptly interrupted with, “It will be something to do and I have stuff planned, so.”

My point: this is your biweekly reminder that if someone else cares about, enjoys, or is simply planning to participate in something that you don’t care about, don’t enjoy, or don’t plan to participate in, you can let that pass without comment.

Harry the Dog

Hi, so, yeah, we adopted a puppy. Technically we are still fostering her for a couple of weeks but we’re planning to make it official as soon as we can.

Her name is Harriet and we also call her Harry. We think she’s about 3-4 months old and she’s kind of on the large side, so she’ll probably be a big one. There’s likely to be some pit bull in her (almost all mixed breed dogs at the local shelters and rescues seem to be pit mixes?) and something with a short tail. Who knows.

She’s super sweet and comes right up for pets and hugs every time she gets out of her crate. She is eating meals and sleeping in the crate and will usually be happy in there for short stints during the day when we need her safely contained.

It only took us about 14 days of quarantine to bring a puppy into the mix, heh. It may seem sudden, but actually we’d been talking about adopting a dog for several months now, just sort of waiting for the time to be right. We thought maybe after our spring break trip, or maybe during the summer, or maybe after our summer road trip…but of course no one could have foreseen that we’d suddenly find ourselves working from home for several months. With everyone home, what better time to adopt a puppy, right? We don’t have to worry about coming home to walk her during the work day, or whether she will tolerate being crated while we are gone for hours at a time. We are simply never gone. We can walk her as many times a day as she needs it, and we can gently crate train her and can be here with her as she gets adjusted to our house and learns the rules. It’s gonna be great. Just a little bit of happiness during this weird, sad, and scary time.

It’s been so long since I have trained a puppy. I had sort of forgotten how some of the elements can be unexpectedly frustrating, like when you’re walking them outside and they just won’t go and then they promptly pee on the rug five minutes later. Just as an example and not to call anyone out, ahem. We’ve made some progress on nighttime crate training just by moving her crate into the bedroom at night. She seems comforted to know we are nearby and in the past two nights (that’s as long as she’s been in our room) she hasn’t whined at all. She’s also so eager to learn! We have been working on “sit” and “down” with some good success. As L is now fond of saying, “it’s going well.”

I’m here.

Good evening. It is Tuesday; my children are asleep in bed; I am done working for the day. By my count, it’s day eleven of social distancing for my household.

My husband and I came home from a spring break trip basically the very day this was widely advised. Things happened fast that week— when we left on the trip, we’d been advised simply not to travel internationally or to go on a cruise. By the time we were returning, things looked pretty different.

Classes at our university went online after spring break and at this point it’s been declared we will be “delivering instruction” remotely for at least the rest of the semester. I will let you guess what i think of that phrase. I assume this will continue through the summer, too, though no one’s said so on the record. The kids’ daycare was open last week, but a state mandate required them to close Friday. We were choosing not to send them in, anyway. We are still paying tuition, which means their teachers are still getting paid, thank goodness.

So. We’ve been redesigning our courses for online instruction, teaching and meeting online, and caring for two loud and demanding four-year-olds at home. What a time to be alive.

The kids are getting a lot of time to do artwork and “workbooks” (e.g. alphabet and counting practice), have been enjoying various story times via instagram live (@oliverjeffers is the best!) and have been spending a lot of time riding scooters in the cul-de-sac while we adults talk to our neighbors from a safe distance of at least six feet.

I’ve discovered the joys and pains of Walmart grocery curbside pickup: I can get a whole week’s worth of groceries without having to enter the store? But alas, the avocados and bananas were overripe and they will not sell you wine or beer unless you come inside.

I have no idea how I’m getting any work done. There are not enough hours in the day for grading papers or creating digital content. There are far too many hours in the day to keep two small people entertained and happy. Today I hired Elsa and Anna to babysit for one hour and forty-four minutes so I could grade midterm exams.

I’ve been enjoying seeing a lot of your faces more online recently— Instagram stories and Marco Polo, mainly (message me your number if you want to chat on there). And reading your words, too. Thanks for being here, friends.

Year In Review: 2019

I’ve been doing this annual questionnaire for so long now that I don’t think I’m allowed to quit it.

Previous years’ answers are available here: (200720082009201020112012201320142015, 2016, 2017, 2018). Over time I have modified and deleted some of the original questions, but here’s what I’m working with this year:

1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?

Started powerlifting. Stopped at a portapotty in the middle of a 10K race. Almost served on a jury for a murder trial (got eliminated from the pool at the final stage, after 3 days of voir dire).

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I wrote, “I don’t have a real resolution. I am going to sprinkle a few monthly challenges into my year, including Dry January (currently going on right now, yay?), a month of daily blog posting, a no-spend month, a run streak month, a decluttering month, and more to be determined later. My leisure reading will focus on the voices of women, people of color, and LGBTQ writers.”

I did pretty well on these. The only monthly challenge mentioned above that I didn’t complete was the run streak. This year, I have a few similar goals: Dry January is happening again (we have been doing it yearly for a while now); I’d like to run a half marathon without getting injured in the middle of the training cycle (eyes on Magic City in November); and I plan to work with CW to organize our garage, donate some old furniture, and make better use of our third bedroom.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Internet friends and work friends. And another local friend is due any week now!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No.

5. What places did you visit?

Atlanta (for shopping and the aquarium), Iowa (family visit), Sioux Falls (friend visit) and Mississippi (friend visit). We have some bigger travel plans happening this spring — more on that later!

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

I’ll repeat last year’s answer, which is still true: “A sane president, mainly. I would also appreciate more time alone and a more organized house.”

7. What days from 2019 will you always remember?

Nothing comes to mind as I sit here. I may think of a day later, but if I do, it wouldn’t really qualify as a day I’ll “always remember,” so.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Lots of little daily achievements involving mundane exercises in patience.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I kind of mentally checked out on myself in a couple of areas of life and wound up feeling like I was constantly playing catch-up or trying to figure out what I needed to do that I’d forgotten. I’m trying to stay more present and intentional now.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Plantar fasciitis crept up on me in the midst of a half marathon training plan and kept me from running the race. I was so sad about it.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

We finally upgraded to a king-size bed with a new Casper mattress and it is just divine.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My husband has been a pretty awesome member of the team this year.

13. Where did most of your money go?

Daycare. I’ll just keep repeating this answer every year until they start kindergarten.

14. What did you get really excited about?

Designing the new course I’m currently teaching. Running in general.

15. What song will always remind you of 2019?

“Water Me” by Lizzo. My very favorite running tune this year.

16. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? same
b) thinner or fatter? fatter
c) richer or poorer? same

17. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Racing.

18. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Getting injured. Emotional eating. Spending money.

19. How did you spend Christmas?

Sandwiched in between two different family visits, we had Christmas at home just the four of us. It was great.

20. What was your favorite TV program?

The ones that stand out to me are The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Schitt’s Creek. Other shows I enjoyed: Atlanta, Shrill, Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects, the final season of Game of Thrones, and the return of Veronica Mars.

21. What was the best book you read?

The Lager Queen of Minnesota — J. Ryan Stradal

Here are some other highlights from this year:

  • Evvie Drake Starts Over — Linda Holmes
  • My Sister the Serial Killer — Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • The Carrying — Ada Limón
  • Good Bones — Maggie Smith
  • There There — Tommy Orange
  • The River — Peter Heller
  • Becoming — Michelle Obama

22. What music did you get excited about?

Lizzo and The Highwomen

23. What did you want and get?

A new bed, a Garmin, and an Impeachment trial.

24. What did you want and not get?

A new car. I don’t need a new car. I’m just jealous of my husband’s new car. His pretty, pretty new car.

25. What was your favorite film of this year?

Nothing stands out as a clear favorite, but some highlights were: BlackkKlansman, A Star is Born, Always Be my Maybe, Booksmart, and Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

26. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Went with the family to Krispy Kreme on the way to work/school, ran 12K (an almost-yearly tradition on my birthday) and got a manicure. [ed note: I did these exact things last year, too!] I also had brunch with my husband and cake with my family. I turned 42.

27. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

Stretchy.

28. What kept you sane?

Last year I wrote, “Coffee, running, and Twitter,” which is still true.

29. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Maggie Smith. The poet, not the actor.

30. What political issue stirred you the most?

The Democratic primaries, I suppose. (Team Warren.) I mean, and the whole impeachment thing.

31. Who was the best new person you met?

My powerlifting coach?

32. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.

You cannot take your body back in time to make it something it was in the past. It will never be its past self again. And, as I say every year, qui patitur vincit.

33. Quote a song lyric or poem that sums up your year.

“Rain, New Year’s Eve” by Maggie Smith

The rain is a broken piano,
playing the same note over and over.

My five-year-old said that.
Already she knows loving the world

means loving the wobbles
you can’t shim, the creaks you can’t

oil silent—the jerry-rigged parts,
MacGyvered with twine and chewing gum.

Let me love the cold rain’s plinking.
Let me love the world the way I love

my young son, not only when
he cups my face in his sticky hands,

but when, roughhousing,
he accidentally splits my lip.

Let me love the world like a mother.
Let me be tender when it lets me down.

Let me listen to the rain’s one note
and hear a beginner’s song.

Today

The twins have been doing really well on their “sleep goals,” so this week they earned a trip to the movie theater (“moobie feedoh”) to see Frozen II. I don’t particularly care for animated movies in general, but we enjoyed this one.

Afterward, we came home and watched the Iron Bowl, which was honestly completely bonkers! We won, but even better than that was this moment when the fans started to rush the field:

And last but not least, I have completed NaBloPoMo, a month of daily blog posts. Come over here for the rushed, nearly content-free writing, stay around for the daily repetition thereof. Maybe something interesting will happen eventually.