COVID-19 is here. We are in the thick of it in Maryland. Our governor has just announced we will be at home and schools will be closed until May 15th.
I highly doubt that, come May 16th, we will be free to join crowds, hug strangers, and go back to our favorite restaurants. I think it’s going to be longer than that. A lot longer.
And it will be okay.
Would I like to go out and get sushi with my friends? Or go and see the new Marvel movie in the theater? You bet I would. But there will be other times for that. Right now, we need to listen to the CDC and stay away from each other. COVID-19 is highly dangerous and very deadly. As much as I would like to go back to my parents’ house and use this time as an extended vacation with them, I can’t. It’s too dangerous to their health.
But I have a secret. While my friends are posting about the horrors of having your kids around you 24/7, I have found this time of enforced togetherness a kind of blessing, similar to our time in Switzerland. We had nothing to do, nowhere to go, nowhere we have to rush to be. Instead of rushing, my family has gotten a chance to breathe and just be together. We are playing games, having reading time, adventuring in the unknown of online learning, and getting to experience the regular occurrence of family meal times.
It turns out I like my kids. They are turning into neat people to talk to. I hope they think I’m a pretty good listener with a few cool things to share.
Please stay well and healthy. Be safe and be smart.
All last year my amazing husband made me a garden. I helped, but it was mostly him doing the hard labor of a 1920’s prisoner.
I designed the plans – to scale, thank you very much – of 2 different gardens. One for veg and one for fruit.
All summer long he augered in the posts by hand to create an 8-foot fence that would discourage even the most determined deer. Then He and his dad put up the fencing and the mesh roof on the fruit bed. We used regular animal-proof fencing for the vegetable garden and then got hardware cloth to keep the birds away from the precious, precious raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries that we would be growing.
Then he started on the actual raised beds. We built the vegetable bed just about 3-feet high while the fruit beds were only about 18 inches high. I am particularly proud of the strawberry beds, which I designed to be squares that stacked on top of each other in a diamond pattern. It allows the strawberries to cascade down as they throw runners. It actually also makes it easier to plant and harvest, too, which was an unexpected bonus.
Then came the dirt. 7 cubic feet of soil specifically for raised bed planting. The dump truck came, he dumped, and then, wishing us good luck, he drove away. I would like to give a special thank you to our friends Trish, Bill, and Natalie who helped us take an uncountable number of wheelbarrow loads around the house and into the beds. Even the boys helped. And thank you to Karl and Nadine who let us borrow their wheelbarrows so that everyone could have one. And because of their amazing help, we were done in only 3 hours!
Just so you know, all this took the entire spring and summer of 2018. We didn’t get anything planted or harvested that year. It lay there, taunting me all fall and winter. So this spring I was very impatient to get things planted.
I started with radishes, as you do, since radishes a) like to be planted early and b) only take 80 days to be ready to harvest. And I threw in some lettuces and peas because they also don’t seem to care that it’s March. I also threw in some (a whopping 75) onions and some beets. Because why not.
Then we planted potatoes. H filled one entire bed all by himself specifically so he could grow potatoes. So, by heaven, there are little potato seedlings in this deep trench waiting to sprout.
Now that it’s April I’ve moved into cabbages and cauliflower and I just today planted some tomatoes!
Warning – photos ahead!
I’ve been learning a lot more about companion plantings. The tomatoes will have basil with them. There are some marigolds planted around to serve as a natural pest deterrent. Then I’m going to add nasturtium, which are edible and serve as a pest deterrent for a lot of plants.
More plants also need to go in. We are mulling around adding other plants we eat a lot of – bush beans, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers are only a few. (i.e. updates will be coming.)
On the fruit side of things, we have fewer decisions to make and more waiting to do.
We planted the strawberries last week and we are already seeing some fruit.
The blueberries are in. They were beautiful bright emerald green when I planted them. After a flurry of Googling I learned the bright emerald leaves turn purple when they get cold. They are greening back up rapidly, which is a relief.
I am waiting for the raspberries to show up. I found a variety called Joan J that is thornless (yay!) and produces a berry specifically for eating. We’ll let you know how delicious they are this fall. (Fingers crossed.)
And then for the part I am super, duper excited about. The terrace between the gardens! We are putting down landscaping cloth and spreading pea gravel over the top to create a nice area for a fire pit and a couple of chairs. It’s not done just, but we are getting close.
The garden is so lovely and inviting to dig in I am finding I want to spend more and more time out there in it. The fire pit will be a fun addition that will let us enjoy the garden in the evening as well.
Now to convince my lovely husband that we need lights out there, too!!
Sorry for the long absence. Things have gotten really busy here!
First, I have a middle schooler. I’m still reeling.
Second, there is the house to deal with. We still have a few boxes to unpack and I just cannot get it together to finish this gallery wall I’m working on. (Hopefully before we host book club in April.)
Third, I have an additional job. I’m now the editor for AFineParent.com! That has kept me really hopping! I’m working with authors, formatting pieces for the site, working on a conference, and writing more pieces for the site. (I just got a book review done on Thursday.)
Fourth, I’m still the Director of Admission at Rock Creek Montessori and that means open houses, marketing the school, helping out in the classrooms when I’m needed, and – lately – designing t-shirts and such. And it’s working! We have loads of interested families!
Fifth, there is the garden. I actually hired a guy to come out with his people and clean up the garden beds. I cannot fully explain to you the absolute joy that this brought me. It was like watching an actual miracle happen. The yard is 1/3 of an acre and last year not much more than mowing got done so the yard was in need of serious attention. And it’s done!! Now we can move on into clearing other beds and replanting and building two enclosed bed so that we don’t accidentally open a salad bar for the local deer population.
Five-point-two, planning the garden. I went on some kind of crazy seed buying frenzy the other day. I could not be stopped. And I can’t even plant any of it yet. I’m not going to start seeds inside (this week at least) and so buying them as of March 9th was a bit premature. Or perhaps I need spring to just get here more than I thought.
Sixth, I’m writing my own stuff. I am working on a project that I don’t quite want to put out there yet, but I have given myself a daily word count to hit and maybe one day I’ll get this book out!
Seventh, I’m finishing a family cookbook. I’ve got recipes from all the branches of my mom’s side of the family and I’m compiling it and some photos into a cookbook. That needs to get bumped up in priority, but then I risk not getting my word count for the day. Tricky.
Eighth, I still have to feed the children. And they are eating an ungodly amount of food. It’s indecent, frankly. The fridge is constantly empty. I’m at the grocery store so often now I see my checkers Marcos and Harold more often than I see Mark. H ate an entire fish last night. A big one! 2 fillets! E is currently in the middle of hoovering down the banana bread I made yesterday.
Ninth, Cats. We got two kittens in September. One of them, tragically, contracted a disease called FIP, which is fatal in all cases. And now we are on the hunt for another kitten to keep the first kitten company. Plus there is all the cleaning that comes along with owning a cat with long, luscious black hair.
Tenth, H’s violin duties. He’s in a Suzuki program which means that he needs to practice with a parent and the parent needs to attend all lessons and function. He and I are practicing in the mornings for 30 minutes since he doesn’t have to get to the bus until later in the morning. This means I pretty much have time to drink coffee and get dressed on top of pushing the boys out the door.
Eleventh, cleaning. Children are messy and they haven’t invented a self-cleaning house. I do have a Roomba, though, so that is something. Next I want a robot that scrubs the scum out of the shower. [FYI – the children do clean. They have chores they are responsible for on a weekly basis and then each of them gets a list of chores to do on Saturday while Mark and I do our own chores. It’s just hard to keep up.]
Twelfth, these chairs! I got them off Free-Cycle in a fit of insanity brought on by watching DIY trash-to-cash shows on Netflix. I have a vision for them. One of them is badly broken and might need professional help. Or I can pull it completely apart and fashion it into a bench with its chair-mate.
I am putting together a cookbook for my family that celebrates all the recipes that we have grown up with. I come from a long line of really fantastic cooks and bakers and I decided that there are recipes that we were in danger of losing.
One that we almost lost is this recipe for Gold Cake. My cousin Cathy emailed this to me. I’d not only never eaten it before, I’d never even heard of it before. Naturally, I had to try it out – if only just so I could have pictures of it for the book. Plus I love to try out new recipes! And the whole point of a family cookbook is to try the recipes that our grands and great-grands loved enough to make and keep and pass down.
I hope you enjoy it!
1 ¾ cup sifted cake flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp lemon extract
¾ cup unbeaten egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Sift the flour and then measure it. Add in the baking powder and the salt and whisk those quickly in with a fork. Set the flour mixture aside.
In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon extract. Add the egg yolks to the butter and sugar mixture and beat on high until the are light and a lemonade color. You need a lot of air whipped into this so don’t cheat yourself on time.
(A note about the egg yolks: I ended up using – I kid you not – *9* egg yolks. 9. Egg. Yolks. The look on my face increasingly become more horrified as I continued to crack and separate egg after egg. And the yolks need to be unbeaten as they go into the cup or your measurements will be off. Given the price of eggs in the Great Depression I can only wonder if the name of this cake isn’t for the golden color the yolks provide, but for how much it would have cost to make it. Now I need to decide if I should make the world’s largest batch of Macarons or an Angel Food Cake.)
Fold in dry ingredients alternately with the milk – beginning and ending with the flour. And they mean fold, not beat with the mixer. You have just added a ton of air when you were beating the eggs, so folding will ensure you keep the air and lightness.
First flour addition
Second flour addition
The finished batter is actually quite thick. Carefully spoon or pour into two lightly greased and floured 8” square pans. I didn’t have square pans, so I used round. I’m sure it ended up tasting just the same.
Do NOT tap it on the counter to remove the air from the pans.
Bake at 350° 25 minutes (just until cake begins to pull away from pan sides.) Watch this. You don’t want to bake it too long or the cake will end up dry.
Cool. Put together with lemon curd filling (recipe below).
¼ cup lemon juice (this works out to be the juice of one lemon)
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 T butter
Get the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a simmer. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the top of a double boiler and set of the the top of the simmering water. Then add the egg yolk (Lord!), water, and lemon juice.
Cook until thickened stirring constantly. This took me about 45 minutes to an hour to get it really nice and thick. I had to remind myself that this is a filling and not a glaze or sauce. And it will thicken as it cools, but you do want it really nice and thick.
Remove from heat. Add the grated lemon peel and butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Leave aside to cool completely. Spread between layers of cake.
Our family traditionally frosts this cake with a simple powdered sugar frosting, but you can also adopt our family’s other time-honored tradition of opening a can of Betty Crocker and using that instead. (She’s practically a cousin.) A nice mascarpone frosting would be awesome with this, too.
This cake lasted exactly 1 day. The kids loved it, Mark – who is not a fan of lemon – also enjoyed it, and then I took it with me to girls’ night and the rest of it was devoured. The curd is really sharp and very lemony and the sponge is light and airy with a hint of lemon itself which makes it perfect for a summer treat.
The move has happened!! It was weeks of taking small loads in our minivan and then a long and hard 4 days of “real” moving with a moving truck (and a few very excellent friends), but we managed to clear out our rental house and move to our new home.
Our house looks like Boxlandia rather than the Carlson Household, but we are starting to win the battle on the boxes. With my Mom’s help I got the kitchen tackled first. Then we moved into the dining room and got the bedrooms sorted out.
I even got my youngest’s room finished! He’d picked out a Marrakesh stencil pattern he wanted done on one wall in yellow and grey. Stenciling is trickier – and slower – than it seems. You can only do so many repeats at a time until you have to stop and let the stencil dry out. If you don’t, you risk having wet paint smeared across the lovely grey surface that you’d just gotten all nice and pristine.
Considering I could only do about 3 or 4 stencils in a session, it took me over a week to get his wall done. But it is spectacular! He is so pleased. “It turned out better than I imagined it could.” The boy sure knows how to get me willing to commit to more fussy projects.
The unpacking is a constant chore. Just this week I finally got the boxes unpacked in the living room. Now it is clean! And I feel calm – or at least a lack of stress – when I sit in the room.
Today I went down to the basement and got some entertainment gear out and put away – dishes, glasses, grilling equipment, etc. And now we can see most of the bar top. The likelihood of having a housewarming is looking better and better.
I also got a new TV stand delivered! And it was brought as an actual piece of furniture. Not a flat box with pieces of MDF that I had to put together myself. The boys were delighted to help get the television set up on top and then, with the unerring accuracy of a bloodhound on the trail of an unwashed convict, they found the Wii in the bottom of some random box and got it set up to play in record time.
This inspired Mark to get his stereo equipment out and set up as a unit with the TV as well. We are almost ready to start having family movie nights again!
And then there is the CHANDELIER!! We have a winner and it isn’t anything that we thought we’d get. But that’s what happens when you walk into a lighting store to check out a your two favorites in person and end up hating them. This is (a) round and with (b) gold tones. Two things that would never, ever be in my Boolean search parameters. But I ended up really liking it.
What we have left are the rooms that are easy to avoid. Like the office and a section of the basement family space where I avert my eyes as I pass by to get the laundry. Many of the boxes are full of mementos. Or things that we shoved in there in moments of desperation during any one of our last 3 moves that would should now really and painstakingly go through and purge.
And on top of that there is the decorating aspect of making this house into a home. Pictures to hang. Mirrors to position. Furniture to nest (and purchase). The foyer needs painting, too. There was a great hanging shelf in there that the previous owners took with them. I filled the holes and I need to repaint the wall to cover some other incidental scratches and dings. And I would LOVE to find a shelf like it again.
And clearly I need to buy another orchid. And a basket.
But we are far enough along that I can look forward to an actual house warming party! The plans are in the works and we would love to have you all over to see the house once we are finished unpacking. xoxo
OMG, people! It’s official! We can finally move into our house!!
I’m going to hyperventilate and faint.
The previous owners have just moved out and as of this week we can start bringing boxes into the house. And boy! do we have boxes!
We didn’t bother to unpack most – at least I hope it’s most because otherwise we need a more stringent purge and some counseling sessions about our consumerism – of our possessions because we knew that the stop at this rental house was blessedly temporary. That is saving us tons of time.
All 4 of us stopped by on Sunday and dropped off a few things. Rugs mostly and a small cafe table with 2 chairs. Oh, and H took a literal armload of his stuff animal menagerie and dropped them into the closet in his new room. Then he changed his mind about our building him bookshelves and a window seat and instead requested a desk, bookcase, and comfy chair. He also changed his mind about which wall he wants the Moroccan tile stencil to be painted on. 3 times! And the more I look at his walls the more I think I kind of want to just put a fresh coat of paint on them and the trim.
E has also been dictating his hopes for his room, too. So far there is teal, a red star, and really dark grey walls. I’m trying to counsel him out of the dark grey walls and into a lighter shade of grey, but he is unmoved. I also tried to explain that his room will look like a dark cave if we painted it that grey color. “I like caves,” was the reply.
I’m moving the wine over next.
We still have miles of books that need to find their way over as well. Some of them might go with me when we do our final walk-through with our real estate agent, Rob Spicer. He’s been so fantastic. Very warm and approachable. I’ve felt like I can call him anytime with any questions I might have and he’ll either know the answer or know where he can find the answer.
My plan for completing the moving in is to take a load over every day in the mini van and to pack 3 boxes everyday – if possible. It is the end of the school year and “things happen” so I’m not sure if I can actually meet my goal, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I may swap “pack 3 boxes” for “purge a bag” on some days. And I do need to give myself at least 2 days to paint. Or probably 4 days to paint. Which will turn into 8 days.
Then we will have a big push and get a moving truck right after the kids are finished with school. Following all that up will be a group of professional movers to help with the big heavy stuff like the sleeper sofa and the filing cabinet.
And there is something that happens when you move. You start seeing your furniture and your style differently. I’m looking at our couches, chairs, rugs, and even throw pillows in a new and highly critical light. Is this neutral brown color what I really want to see all day everyday? Is there another color that will go with our crazy couch? Should I recover the couch? Is now the time to fix the dining room table? What is the real aesthetic I’m going for?
I’ve even subscribed to a decorating magazine to help give me some ideas and direction. And with all that I have a huge and growing list of “should Is” and “I shoulds”. It’s a bit terrifying. And potentially expensive. But this feels like the time to do at least some of the list. It feels like a Fresh Start Moment. It feels buoyant and hopeful and like I’m about to complete a very long journey. Like this squeezing of my chest is just about to stop.
This is part of a two piece series I did for a Positive Parenting Conference. It is FREE from May 22nd until May 26th. All the speakers are amazing and have really learned a lot about how to help my children become successful, happy, and intelligent adults. It is well worth your time.
There are so many things to know! And not just know, but to be an expert on. During my almost 12 years of parenting I feel like have had to become an executive assistant, strategic planner, dietician, psychologist, nurse, and wizard. (If only that last one came with a wand!)
And I’m constantly searching the Internet for ways I can be a more effective parent. That’s why I go looking for simple and easy tools. I don’t have time for complicated and hard!
I was helping Sumitha summarize the “deep dive” talks for her FREE online Positive Parenting Conference and I found myself jotting down note after note about the simplest things I can do to help get through my most complicated parenting issues.
Like handling school stress. Just last night my oldest called me into his room at bedtime and let out all his anxiety and anger about these Basic Skills Tests that he and his class have been taking for the last 9 days. It turns out that he’s so anxious his feelings are leaking into his relationships with his friends and coming out as anger.
Because of all these amazing experts I was able listen to him and then help him to express his anxiety and reframe these tiffs and hard words with his friends into something not quite so scary. (You’ll read more about all that below!)
I’ve put together a list of these simple tools from 10 amazing experts that helped me with the parenting issues I feel most at-sea about. I know they will help you, too! —> CLICK HERE
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain