Kate Baer Turns Rude Comments into Poetry—and Friday Nights into a New Tradition
The best-selling poet and mother of four walks us through her ideal Friday night.
As temperatures drop and holiday stress rises, we want to get back to the basics of what makes spending time inside so nice. So, in addition to hosting a series of virtual events called Inside Time, we reached out to several women in our community to find out how they spend their Friday nights. Next up is Kate Baer, the New York Times #1 best-selling author of What Kind of Woman and the newly released I Hope This Finds You Well.
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In her newly released poetry collection, I Hope This Finds You Well, Kate Baer extracts words and phrases from the annoying, persnickety, and more often than not, misogynistic emails and comments she receives from strangers and reworks them into something new. A long-winded email claiming her poetry is bad for women is edited down to a few pointed words about the way men do—and do not—think of their daughters. “It’s funny how men go ahead and have daughters,” she collages with precision, wryly using each of the email writer’s words against him. “Even though they can’t fathom what daughters can be.”
Creating poetry this way—as she’s done via her popular Instagram account over the past year—is both clever and resourceful, and it requires an eye for symbolism. And just as Kate finds meaning in every word on the page, she’s keenly aware of the details needed to cut through the chaos of the week and create a truly lovely Friday night at home.
Her routine begins with a subtle, aesthetically pleasing playlist of French cafe music, which was recommended to her by her friend Lisa. “[If] you play it in your kitchen while you’re cooking and drinking wine, it feels transformative,” says Kate. “Anytime someone comes over and says ‘this is really nice,’ and they can’t pinpoint what it is they’re feeling, it’s the French cafe music. Plus, it makes the food taste better.”
Once the music is on, Kate pulls together a charcuterie board that her family—her husband and their four children, ages 10, 7, 5, and 3—can nibble on as they settle in. Lately, she’s reached for smoky gouda and sharp cheddar as the centerpieces. “Everyone’s coming home, dropping their backpacks, and finishing work,” she explains. “Almost every Friday night for about 10 years, we used to do takeout. But we moved to the country a few months ago, so this is our tradition now.”
Reworking what a Friday night looks like is just one example of how Kate thinks of traditions more broadly. Like those dreaded emails, Kate is fearless in tearing up anything that doesn’t work for her family; good traditions are malleable and should always create more joy than exhaustion.
“I [used to] put a lot of pressure on myself as a young mother to establish traditions and come up with very special, unlike-anyone-else things that our family was going to do around the holidays,” she says. “But as time went by, I really had to let go of the expectations I was putting on myself. My goal during the holidays is to watch our favorite movies, eat our favorite foods, and just be cozy. Getting older and becoming a more seasoned mom, I’ve realized kids just want your attention—undivided, with zero phones and zero work. Things like playing games in your PJ’s while the snow is falling are so much more meaningful than any big commercial experience or some kind of elaborate Elf on the Shelf situation.” When she has time to herself, she’s picking up some favorite, recently published works, like Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (which just won the Pulitzer Prize) and Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen.
When she does decide to have a larger gathering, Kate focuses on drinks and games while her husband cooks. “I think it’s integral to have drinks for the adults and way more snacks than you think you need for kids. Kids are hungry, and parents need to chill out from the second they all walk in.” Her go-to is a Mexican mule, which is a Moscow mule with tequila instead of vodka. The recipe is simple: 2 ounces of tequila, a healthy splash of lime, and ginger beer. It’s been a favorite among her group of friends for five years running.
Her clothing choices are intentional and expectation-free, as well. Kate stocks up on reliable favorites that are easy, comfortable, and not trend-focused. “I have a very basic wardrobe of black clothes, and I’m very distressed about low-rise jeans coming back [in style]. That’s what I wore in high school! And so I’ve been compulsively buying high-waisted pants. At home, I just wear high-waisted jeans and a very basic shirt.” For more festive events, like hosting friends or attending a celebration, she’ll slip on a flowy linen top, which still fits within her parameters of a streamlined wardrobe.
There are plenty of celebrations for Kate to attend this year, now that I Hope This Finds You Well is finally on shelves. To mark its release, she’ll be traveling to New York for press events and book signings, as well as celebrating with the tight-knit group of women who live around her in rural Pennsylvania. “My friends and my friendships with other women are just as important as my marriage,” she says. “Sometimes, people talk about their friends and their friend groups as if it’s this gift that’s been bestowed on them, that it’s this perfect thing where everyone is always getting along and the kids are always getting along. And I think that that’s how we come across, because I’m constantly having outdoor movie nights and kickball and potlucks. It looks really great, and it is really great. But it takes work. It takes patience. It takes organization.” In other words, it takes commitment, creativity, and thoughtful communication.