21 March 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not

 

Dear Diary,

Once upon a time, when I was 13ish, I lived with my family in a remote village in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia. The Dani tribeswomen wore string skirts and no tops and would sit on the ground in a field on market day to sell greens and sweet potatoes, handing a dangling breast like it was a sandwich to whatever child was sitting next to them feeling peckish. The kids held the boobs like sandwiches, too — flattened with two hands and gnawing on the ends. The tribesmen wore hollowed, dried gourds tied with strings around their waists and up their butts like g-strings to cover their bits — the bigger the gourd the better, obvs — and they stood near the women to make change for their purchases, grabbing money out of their wallets, shuffling it around, and shoving it back inside when the transaction was complete. Their gourds weren’t just their penis covers, Diary; they were also their wallets. So we learned thorough hand washing and not to ever — EVER — put money in our mouths earlier than we otherwise might have. #LifeSkill  But even though the men’s gourds were a feat of magic and engineering, I was WAY more fascinated by the boobs. Never had I ever seen body parts stretch so far. And the VARIETY. My goodness. The shapes and peaks and valleys were as varied as the mountains, each pair like a fingerprint — totally unique. And uniquely lovely, especially in their practicality.

None of which is what I came here to chat about today, but I got distracted. Because boobs. What can I say? I am apparently still a child.

Once upon a time, when I was 13ish, I lived with my family in a remote village in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia.

And a British family lived nearby with their four kids. The mother’s name was Mary and the father’s name was David and I thought they were Very Fancy, because — hello — British accents. One day, Mary invited my mama and me to tea. TEA! The fanciest of the fancy! Tea in the afternoon, and not just the beverage. Tea as repast. A time to linger and chat.  With crumpets Mary had made on her woodburning stove.

CRUMPETS! I didn’t even know crumpets were real. I thought they were an imaginary, literary food like Anne-with-an-e’s cordial or Little Miss Muffet’s curds and whey. (Imagine my surprise years later when I learned those weren’t imaginary, after all.)

Oh, Diary, Mary’s crumpets were DIVINE. Light and spongy. Coaster sized pillows with itty bitty pockets of air. An epiphany! Wonder made manifest in bread as wonder so often is. And it’s funny to look back on the events of a childhood through the lens of an adult. Because now I’m certain Mary didn’t know she was creating a formative memory for the awkward woman-child up the path. Now I’m certain Mary will laugh when she learns I thought her family was fancy. Now I’m certain Mary and my mama didn’t know they were making magic. Now I’m certain it was just an afternoon for them. A bit of batter and circular rings and a pot of hot water and a minute with friends in an otherwise overwhelming life filled with stressors and pressure and the uncertainty inherent in raising children and wondering if you’re doing it right. 

But it was magic.

Whether they knew it or not.

It was a gift they gave a foundering young human full of her own uncertainties. A brief and very real taste of joy.

Which is where we are today, Diary. Overwhelmed. Under pressure. Smack dab in the middle of a jungle. Uncertain whether we’re doing right by our kids in an increasingly stressful environment while they’re engaged in a formative experience. While they’re building memories and their understanding of the world.

So I’m deciding now to try to shape what my kids will gain from lockdown with us. I’m deciding now to move my expectations away from Formal Education and Productivity and the Harder You Work The More Valuable You Are. I’m deciding now to move my expectations away from Task Completion and Box Checking and the Frenetic Attempt to Keep Up or at least Not Fall Further Behind. I’m deciding now that I have permission for my family’s Lock Down to look different than others’.

I’m deciding now to pivot toward Crumpets.

That’s the plan for my family right now. Just Crumpets. As in, just little things that are ethereal — here one minute and gone the next, but created with love and given in the spirit of generosity.

Just Crumpets — looking for ways to love my neighbors as myself, to feed their hearts as much as their bodies.

Just Crumpets — taking the time to add the bits and pieces together, then mix to create a sliver of comfort.

Just Crumpets — choosing what’s simple and brings us together instead of elaborate Schedules and big Plans which are just More Pressure I don’t need right now.

And — don’t tell, Diary — but I have a sneaking suspicion that the crumpets are where we’re going to find the memories in this crisis. It’s those small spaces and tiny efforts where our kids will receive the magic. Years from now, they’ll regale us with the tales of This Strange Time with “remember when…” and “oh, but my favorite part was…”, and we won’t carry the same vivid memories they do. We’re likely to miss them in the now, even as they’re happening. We won’t know which pieces are Significant. Or which bits will stick in their minds. Good or bad.

But we will know we made the crumpets on purpose. We created room for all of us to be. We just did tiny things. And that was more than enough.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. I’ve been playing with sourdough starter. Which isn’t to say I’ve made sourdough bread. It’s just that I have starter from my friend, Becky, so I’ve been feeding it and hoping it will become “robust” soon so I can try to make bread. FINGERS CROSSED. But it turns out “feeding” starter also means “discarding” some of it so you make sure you’re feeding the right amount, and it ALSO turns out I DO NOT LIKE throwing away stuff I’ve worked hard to make. (There’s a life metaphor in there somewhere.) So instead of actually discarding the daily leftover starter, I found a recipe for — YOU GUESSED IT — CRUMPETS!

 

 

P.P.S. Despite waxing eloquent about crumpets and children and memories, I haven’t necessarily SHARED these with them. They seem to be fine with Captain Crunch for now. THE CRUMPETS ARE A METAPHOR.

(Ugh. Fine. I’ll share.)

P.P.P.S. If you’re interested in making sour dough starter, Becky made hers from the King Arthur Flour recipe.

And there’s no need to have fancy silicone rings that cost a whopping $6.89 from Amazon as pictured above — pro tip that greased canning jar lids work just fine. I just happened to have the rings because one of my kids is like Mary — SUPER FANCY — and he asked for them for Christmas, and I was all “$6.89 for a Christmas present? SOLD.” 

If you’re interested in making Sourdough Crumpets from discard starter, I used the King Arthur Flour recipe. You can also search their site for “discard” and it’ll bring up lots of options to use up the discard starter. NO DISCARDING FOR THE WIN.

If you’re interested in making traditional English Crumpets, IDK — we should probably ask Mary. Or maybe one of our fancy British friends can post one? Is this a thing people make? Or do you just buy them at Tesco like I do when I’m visiting?

P.P.P.P.S. Did you think that table pic of my crumpets looked SO PRETTY and like I POSSIBLY HAVE ALL MY CRAP TOGETHER?? Me, too! That was a fun second and a half. Here’s another angle at that pristine table, friends.

Just keepin’ it real. 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
31 comments
  1. You reminded me that I have crumpet rings (still in the packet, purchased after I accidentally found a recipe for gluten free crumpets that looked like (a) it was edible, (b) it didn’t have 200 ingredients and (c) a normal human being could make it with (d) the gluten free flour (aka cardboard dust) she might have to hand. Homeschool for us tomorrow will consist of three lessons: lesson 1 – find that recipe (Pinterest? that GF blogger’s site? in one of many – mostly unhelpful – GF recipe books?); lesson 2 – making crumpets; 3 – eating crumpets (including scientific experiments to discover if they are more or less delicious/edible with a variety of toppings including, but not limited to, butter, Nutella, raspberry jam, a non branded and GF version of Marmite, or ‘scrapings’ as my Marmite hating hubby calls it).

    1. Now THAT is a homeschooling lesson I can endorse. LOVE. ❤️

  2. Thank you for being real.
    Also? Boob sandwiches! Bwahahahaha… so perfect!

  3. I love you for keeping it real.

    1. And I love you back.

  4. I love this! My kids are 2 and 5 and I’m fairly certain my son (2) will mostly “remember” this time because he’ll have heard the stories his whole life. But my daughter – she will remember. And I decided sometime last week that what I want her to remember is that mama was home more (yes, working during business hours but ONLY those hours), that we all got to eat lunch together almost day, that it was spring and we got to spend hours together on my bike/in the new bike trailier (yay for a wonderful Christmas gift from my parents!) and in the backyard. And I want her to remember that we were extra kind and gentle with each other, even in the midst of stress and sometimes *not* being extra kind and gentle. And that we tuned in on the regular to be part of our online church community. And that we wrote letters and drew pictures to mail to lonely friends. And that we paid attention to our own selves and actions and habits for the sake of our neighbors. I try to remind myself about this every day, to help me pay attention to the crumpets we are serving one another so that I, too, can remember this way, even as I remember the tension and uncertainty and fear. <3

    1. I love this so much. ❤️ Thank you for sharing!

  5. Hi Beth.

    We are starting a network for people at HOME to share stories and help each other out (with a bit of humour I hope).

    https://stayinghome.mn.co/

    Can I post a link to your blog, it is great!

    Thanks!

    1. Of course! ♥️ Great idea for connecting people.

  6. This is a great reminder. I’ve been sitting in my home office working 7 days a week, while my children do their online school work in about 90 minute and then melt their brains on their ipads. Until I remember and yell up to read a book, which they do for a while. There is some outdoor play time – for them – with neighbor kids (and me begging to stand 6 feet apart and then wash their hands). IDK, maybe I have to kill that bit. There is lots of cereal eating, and maybe martini consumption (not at the same time). Clearly I do need to add some form of crumpets. A daily chess game with my 12YO. A family walk. (We did do this yesterday and it was rather divine.) A decent dinner together. From there, I start thinking about bigger things – family yoga hour! board games! puzzles! Alas, those crumpets might be a bit too ambitious for now.

    1. So far, I’ve only walked with one kid. I always take both dogs, which is fine. Adding the kid meant managing THREE wandering creatures, though. Would’ve been easier if I could’ve put the kid on a leash. 😉

      Good luck as you navigate these new waters! ❤️

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful posts! And I agree that it’s amongst the air pockets of the crumpets that we will find the rescue moments in this crisis. One silver lining I’m seeing already is a re-evaluation of what’s important, and a pivot away, as you said, from checking the boxes and racing to keep up.

    And I especially love the alternative angle pic of the table. I really appreciate Keeping It Real because otherwise I use the beautiful social media post photos to judge my own efforts to be inadequate.

  8. This was lovely in so many ways Beth. Thank you. I very much appreciated the fantasy pic & the reality one. Both were lovely in their own ways. Have you tried to make Clotted Cream for your Crumpets? As easy as it is divine! You’ll want to skip the Crumpets & just eat the Clotted Cream.

    1. YUM! I’ll add that to my Recipe Goals!

  9. You, my friend, have a beautiful heart. I truly wish I lived closer so that I could come by and fill your kitchen with my unique brand of awkwardness and hear you laugh… and yell at your kids and swear so you could then turn and look horrified as you realize you just swore in front of company, and we could laugh.., because that’s what I miss about my mom friends.

    I’d invite you here but I can’t post a pic of my kitchen right now without having someone call code enforcement on me (literally). Depression is a deep, dark, and very ugly thing sometimes and it kicked me around pretty hard in the last year. Climbing out of the pit took time… and reclaiming my spaces is going to take even more time.

    Take care of you, and thank you, so much, for letting us have these little glimpses into your craziness and making us feel better about our own.
    We’re all in this together. I needed the reminder this morning. <3

    1. Aw. Thank you, sweet friend. We ARE all in this together. Even though we’re separated. ❤️

  10. Thanks Beth for a reminder to shift perspective during this unknown time. We WILL get through this a community of people. Instead of checklists, I am trying to stay positive with the kids (we are needing to self isolate for 14 days as we left Canada during the crisis, so now zero contact with anyone! Grocery pick-up offer are given by caring friends which warms my heart), and we are doing fun challenges as a family instead; bake something new every day and give it a score; everyone picks an Academy Award Best Picture film to watch as a family but no phones allowed while watching…mine was Titanic from 1997 (!) as my teenage girls had never seen, and I officially feel old seeing Leonardo! We do pick one “cupboard” a day to tackle but we do it all together (hello tupperware drawer today!), and just slowing down together as we pair lids to containers. Socks were yesterday, and the girls got into a fit of laughter. We each “ask a question” of each other at dinner time is another one, while we put together dinner from the items at we never knew were in the back of the freezer. Slowing down, breathing, taking advantage of this time locked down in the house together for 2 weeks. We have wine so we will be OK.

    1. Blessings on you as you quarantine together! Thank goodness for friends delivering what you need. I love the idea of tackling a cupboard a day. I may add weeding small bits of our yard to our repertoire. ❤️

  11. Try something new, that is my advice. Long and short, we did a 30 day wash out hair dye on my girl. Learned that brand/type dye is not like what I use every 4 weeks on gray, and is quite gooey. I imagine we can now safely say we know what a shower stall would like like if a Smurf exploded in it. And we learned together how hard it is to scrub a shower stall. Ahem. 😉 Making memories is fun, and you usually don’t know you’re doing it until it’s done. We learned, we laughed, one of us cried, but we did it together and nobody yelled so WIN. Always a joy to have you point out the trees in the forest lady. ♥

    1. I love it! Especially the bit about the smurf explosion. Hahahahaha! We’ve had similar explosions of pink and purple. One of the bathtubs is forever changed.

  12. You made me cry! Yes, I am trying to change my mindset from sheer panic at the idea of having my children at home indefinitely, to trying to make this a significant memory.
    As a child, I was dragged along on often gruelling mountaineering adventures. Not always fun at the time (my father ignored bad weather) but lots of memories. Maybe this period of being together will be the Big Memories for my children.
    The parents’ WhatsApp group for my youngest is a mix of hot housing ideas, guilt at children falling behind, and the reminders to take it easy in the midst of the stressful world situation.
    One thing I do want to do is to teach my 12yo some life skills. If my husband and I are sick in bed simultaneously, I want to know that she can make a couple of basic meals for her and her sister.
    Keep safe. Keep sane. I would look on bbc for a recipe for crumpets. Xo

    1. OMG — I feel you on the mountaineering adventures. Ha! My dad is a Marine — we called them “Forced Marches.” As an adult, I learned I quite enjoy hiking — I was SHOCKED — but I call it “sauntering up and down the mountains because my pace is NOT my father’s. 😉

      Still, MEMORIES of my dad spending time with me = priceless. Even the downs are precious.

      Love to you. ❤️

  13. Beautifully written! Now I need some crumpets.

  14. Imagine my utter dismay to realize that Little Miss Muffet was eating COTTAGE CHEESE! I mean, of all the pedestrian foods out there!!!

    Crumpets look amazeballs. I’m not making sourdough — but I *am* devising a Disney-movie-led “international studies” program for my boys. Because an ultra-WASP like me needs some animated inspiration. And while it’s truly preposterous to imagine that I can teach anyone about cultural diversity, I WILL TRY, DAMN IT! And there will be much rejoicing! Or something…

    Love to you and yours, Beth! We’re all waving, albeit from behind glass. xoxo

    PS: I’ve just added crumpets to my grocery order. Because I’m off to have “prison tea” with my mum (as in, separated by thick glass, and over the telephone, but Actually Seeing Each Other), and I think we could use some magic for that!

    1. Ha! Fantastic concept on “international studies.” LOVE. ❤️

      And I was equally dismayed at the curds and whey revelation. SUCH a disappointment.

  15. Why is there a drill on your crumpet table?

    1. To rebuild the bike wheel at the other end, of course!

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