The Yellow House is more than it appears to be. Nestled in a neighborhood I know well — on a tree-lined street just three blocks from where I spent the first 18 years of my life. It's more than brick and mortar or bedrooms and bathrooms. This house is a vessel for moments of teaching and learning, tears of joy and sadness, and plenty of calm and chaos.
The home of April Russell and her family is aberrant, and not because of the bright red door or yellow painted brick. There is an unassuming quality of nostalgia and peculiarity that go beyond the exterior, one that only exists when a place or person strikes the perfect balance of quirky and comfortable. I immediately felt it when I stepped inside — this place is special.
That feeling comes to life most when I am introduced to April's daughter, Harlow, whose paintings and crafts adorn the walls in the living room and kitchen. Harlow is wearing a pink and yellow ballerina outfit when I meet her. She tells me her name and even shakes my hand — a sweet interaction that speaks to her colorful mind and independence, just one of many favorite moments from the day. Another being her polite interruption to ask if she could put Bjork on the record player.
As April and I sit at the kitchen table she built with her husband, she shares stories of their life together before children. The two once lived in Austin, Texas in a small apartment without a car. (They drove around the city on their moped). Quickly after Harlow was born, they moved their family five hours north (back to Texarkana) to be closer to parents and siblings. The cost of living in Austin and the lack of blood relatives to help with the chaos of a newborn influenced their decision. April tells me the transition wasn’t an easy one.
“Barely a day has gone by in the two and a half years since we left that I haven’t felt homesick for Austin,” she says, “It was so hard to leave the city where our daughter was born and where Lance and I started our marriage together. Age and experience have helped me to see the importance of valuing your family, and we want to make sure our children understand that.”
There are many moments when motherhood can be less than glamorous. My own mom has always told me I won't understand the immense joy and insane struggles felt when working your way through motherhood until I have children of my own. I agree with her wholeheartedly. I see those joys and struggles firsthand through friends as I watch them become new moms. I've seen several fake the ease of parenting, leaving me thinking, 'Wow, it can't be that hard.' But I know I'm wrong — it is that hard.
One of the things I admire most about April is the way she unabashedly shares the good, bad, and ugly parts of her day raising a baby and a toddler. April isn’t a mom with a perfectly polished Instagram feed, where all flaws and bad days are covered by clean kitchens and peaceful napping babies. One of my favorite posts of hers is from a store bathroom, distracted toddler in the foreground, and baby spit-up on her shirt as she holds her son, Ollis. Her caption documents their day — “Major blowout in the car with no spare diaper, followed immediately by a mad rush to the potty for the 3-year-old, during which Ollis spit up all over both of us. I didn't find what we came for, which was okay since I left my wallet in the car.” She ends her post with humility, “Fortunately my sense of humor decided to show up today."
One of April's earliest memories is standing on a metal stool watching her grandmother bake. She remembers the cake batter swirling in the electric stand mixer, the smell of the pound cake, and being given the spatula to lick clean. April says she believes the greatest need of any child is to be wanted and loved. The same way her grandmother made her feel when she invited April to bake with her.
“When Harlow cooks with me, she’s also learning about math and science as we measure and talk about things like yeast, leaveners, and the cooking process.”
April engages Harlow through all parts of the baking process. Watching as Harlow takes measured steps and doesn't try to rush, noticing details that any skilled baker might miss. At one point, she turned to me and said, “Ms. Morgan, come listen to the yeast.” A moment I quickly jotted down, because I didn’t want to forget such sweet and attentive words.
“Of course, she’s only three, so she’s clumsy and messy and has an especially hard time remembering not to lick things. She has a particular affinity for raw flour, which makes bread-baking a rather interesting (and frustrating) experience," April says. "To be honest, I often don’t have the patience to have her help me. But it is such a rewarding experience for both of us, so I take a deep breath and remind myself that messes can be cleaned and mistakes can be fixed but my little girl is only little just this once.”
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.
- Stir in remaining water and whole wheat flour. Let stand about 20 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients and let stand for 10 minutes, then turn out to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
- Place in a greased bowl and cover loosely with a clean towel.
- Allow dough to rise until doubled, approximately two hours. (Leave the dough at room temperature, do not rush the rise by placing in a warm spot.)
- Once risen, turn out the dough. Divide in half, flatten with a roller and fold in thirds. Turn the dough and fold in thirds again. Flatten once more, then roll up from narrow end to fit in loaf pan.
- Cover loosely and allow to rise until doubled, approximately 90 minutes or more.
Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.
If you'd like to follow along with April, Lance, Harlow & Ollis, you can follow her on instagram @_aprilrussell