The Last of the Sunflowers

Mexican Torch Sunflowers

Up until yesterday there was still no hard freeze, despite the chilly mornings and regular frosts, and as a result, a few hardy tomatillos ripened, and against all odds, a few last flowers grew into the middle of the month. They are gone now at last, as colder nights came, but the the lovely orange flowers in my garden served as a touchstone for me.

I mostly leave the sunflowers to the bees and the birds, but they were so utterly lovely that one morning I couldn’t resist a few to sit behind my desk while I work.

We tore out the garden with many more tomatillos ripening but not yet there. Next year I need to remember to plant them even earlier. Nonetheless I got about 3 more batches of salsa worth. Since we both gift it and eat it, I got to work on making a few more jars to finish out the season. It’s been an unusual year for us in many ways, but the holidays are coming, and packages of homemade goodies will still get mailed.

Indeed, the holidays are coming, and my response to them is to want all the merry. I want lights, lots and lots of lights to ward off the cold and the darkness, and the sadness that still flows through and over our family like a river. Celebrating does not feel like a disservice to the dead but instead is a gift to us and those around us – what is love of one’s family members if not a light against the darkness?

Sometimes a literal one or a few hundred is just what is needed.

I remembered as Eli and I ripped out the dead vines and plants how peaceful I find the garden. I haven’t spent as much time as usual in it this year after a rainy summer and a stormy autumn. I start to feel as though I am coming back to myself after a long absence, slowly. I am still sad, and I likely will be for a while, but I am incorporating it into my days rather than it consuming them. I’m sure I’ll have more recipes and things soon, but for now, the ability to take in air while swimming in a sea of grief is enough.

And to turn that into action has been our next step. Care packages for my sister. And more. Billy was, above all, kind. He would help anyone, and his sister asked all of those who grieved with us to do something kind in his name.

Last night, our daughter and I chose a little girl in Ecuador for her to sponsor from World Vision. This is something I’ve done for years, and it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ve made an actual life better. She now has the responsibility to write emails and letters and send small packages over the years, in addition to our sponsorship donation. Tonight, we and our son will pick something to make the world better. Then Eli and I.

It can never bring him back, but it’s a path back from sadness, to turn outward and add some love to the world.

Autumn Mourning

Pumpkins and Firewood on the Porch at Sithean – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

November has rolled in, and with it the cold nights. We lit our wood stove for the first time, and the heat has clicked on. It’s time to do the final preparations for winter – taking down the paper lanterns that adorn the roof of the porch in warm weather, insulating windows, covering the RV for the wintry weather to come. The last of the things that will allow us to curl up inside for the respite that we get when the cold finally takes hold.

In the mornings, frost covers almost everthing, but by mid-day the sunshine glow is glorious.

Our grieving is tempered by a return to life, but it’s still there, around every corner, commingled with love and worry for those he left behind. Big family celebrations of the upcoming holidays are being traded for something more quiet and simple this year. There’s an empty seat at our table, and none of us will recover from the loss very quickly.

Loss – not just of the person but also all the things they, and we, will miss out on. Milestones. Joy. Grief is not just for today and simple presence, but all the future things that no longer get to happen. It’s a perpetual gap in what should be, a future missed out on from all sides. Someday we will learn to move around the terrible hole in our midst, over time it will be less of an abyss, but not now. Not anytime soon. My sister grieves and we all join her in her sorrow.

I’ve noticed, a few weeks in, that my return to the topics of grief and loss and sadness makes others uncomfortable, but I’ve reached a point where I won’t apologize or speed it along to make another person at ease. I can’t, it consumes us all, and so be it. Someday I won’t wake up and hope it was a bad dream, someday it will be a loss that fits into the landscape of my family’s life. Not today.

Still, we continue to move, as we must. There are chores and homework to be done, yard work to be performed, work, school and all the interactions of our lives, food to be made, laundry to be folded, birthdays to be celebrated, vaccination for my son to be scheduled. We serve nothing and no one by stopping our movement. The show, as it were, must go on.

And go on it does, in this place that gives me a sense of the eternal. My brother in law and I were very different people, but we shared a sense of belonging to a place, him by his river, watching the sunsets with my sister, me with Eli, here in the garden of fairies and witches and ever-so-pink sunrises.

Sithean is a sanctuary, in all the ways.

Our garden has continued to grow despite the light frosts and so I harvested another pumpkin yesterday, and I think there’s hope for the last few still-ripening squashes. I picked them partially ripened and put them in the sunlight to finish their process, turning them every couple days. This is not a foolproof process, but it can work, and there are at least 10 more spaghetti squashes, so it is worth the effort.

A large number of tomatillos survived the frost as well, so one last batch of salsa verde is on the horizon.

The garden is dying down slowly this year, and I’m letting it take it’s time. We’ll get out and rip it out and plant our garlic when it’s all done. Leaves are still on trees, rather than the bare grey of November. My lawn is still green. The endless rains have slowed, but not stopped. It’s in the 50s and 60s still, for days on end after the night chill ends in the sunshine.

Still, I’ll plant my spring flower bulbs and we’ll prepare for winter, because it will come. My son yearns for snow that we hope will arrive soon. On weekend mornings, the living room stays warm if we throw one last log on the fire before bed and close the door, and becomes a cozy spot to return to after I brave the chill to feed the bunnies their breakfast. The wood stove can’t warm the whole house, but it does keep the living room nice and toasty.

I’ve begun to cook again and do food prep in earnest. This morning I made 2 meals worth of Beef Bulgogi and froze the beef in it’s marinade to be cooked later, and then started in on some applesauce. We have infinity apples, and they won’t keep forever, so preservation is key. Applesauce is another no-recipe recipe – apples, some water, maybe a bit of sugar to taste. It freezes well and is great alone or in baked goods.

2 large-ish zucchini were left from the garden, so a last batch of zucchini fritters will be part of tomorrow’s dinner, and for tonight I made popovers to go with Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon. Added to the leftovers from Saturday’s dinner, Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto and stuffed chicken.

Despite the days tinged by sadness, I am grateful for the peacefulness of my kitchen, and the love that surrounds me, the flowers that bloom still, against all odds, and the gift of each day.

A few Mexican Torch Sunflowers Remain in the Garden

Black Watch

What do you wear to bear witness to the end of things for someone who is part of your family and you love has been the all-consuming question this week. I mean, it wasn’t really, but then again it was.

It’s a thing you can control. In a time where no one is very hungry or sleeping well, and there’s more sorrow than anyone, especially my sister, should have to bear, at least you can pick an outfit.

What is lovely to me is that the world rises.

So we put on our black, our mourning clothes, and we went to lend our bodies to the grieving at the wake. To watch my sister stand next to the body of her beloved, him but also no longer him, nearly drove me to my knees. She, and her children did what was necessary.

And then she walked out alone.

I’m not a fan of platitudes at death. It’s crap to lose people, and it’s more crap when they go too young. Sure, there are always upsides – death can be an end to suffering, or a quick death can mean minimal suffering. And there should always be a celebration that the person happened to those who love and care for them. “I’m sorry for your loss” is wonderful. “They are in a better place” is a pile of poo even if you really believe that. Keep it to yourself. Try “This is such crap. It’s garbage. I’m sorry.”

It is now our job to follow her into the long twilight ahead, to be there for as long as it takes, to sit quietly in the darkness. It’s not our job to rush this, only to be present with a hug, support, help.

We cannot go where she and her children are going, we can only stand watch to ensure that their journey is smoothed as much as possible. So stand we will, even as the waves of sorrow try to bring us down.

Grief, after all, is the price of love.

Comfort Food

Saturday Comfort Soup

Having a stomach bug followed by immense tragedy kind of sticks a fork, as it were, in food preparation. Other than the occasional piece of toast I didn’t really eat for several days again after our loss, but when I did get hungry again I just wanted soup.

Meanwhile, the food here was piling up. More than 20 spaghetti squashes, and several pumpkins, not to mention tomatillos were still ripening in the garden. My husband, daughter and niece came home from our last week of CSA with tons of veggies, followed immediately by an order from Azure Standard, placed long before we knew that we would not be hungry. And my lovely friend brought a half bushel of apples over. Add to that the food already here that had been uneaten for almost a week, plus the overflow of generosity that was emanating from my sister’s, and there was no way I could justify anything like take out.

I was in the process of turning roaster chicken into chicken broth in my crock pot that will become Chicken Soup with Rice for Sunday dinner. The kids were with their Dad, and chicken rice soup is something we would only eat with them, so instead I turned to the the piles of butternut squash and sweet potatoes and onions we had brought home from New York, and started googling. And there wasn’t quite the thing. But a few ideas from other recipes and some of me just tossing things into a pot later, and what came out was all the right parts of dense, spicy, tangy, creamy, slightly sweet and warm in one. Cheap, healthy and filling too. But importantly it was comforting. There’s just something about soup that fills in not just on cold days but also in moments where you need to feel warm in your soul.

I roasted a butternut squash in the oven and then began to cut up onions and garlic, sauteeing them in olive oil. I then added a largeish sweet potato in chunks and a quart of chicken broth. Once that had cooked for a while, and the potatoes were tender, I scooped in the roasted squash, added 2 tablespoons of red curry, salt, a can of coconut milk, cilantro and a generous teaspoon of lime juice. I had no idea how this was all going to come out.

I cooked it all together for a few more minutes and spooned it into my bowl. I suppose I could have pureed the whole thing, but I liked the chunks of sweet potatoes swirling in the orange soup. I topped it with more lime juice, which added brightness and depth, some chives and then proceeded to eat more than my fair share. This is a meal you could serve to company or just eat in bed with a book and a cup of tea on the side, very carefully, as I did.

And then…I felt better. For the first time in days, almost myself. And then the sun came out, and Eli brought me tea.

Saturday Comfort Soup
1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 large sweet potato, chopped into spoon-sized chunks
3 onions, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, depending on the size
2-3 teaspoons red curry paste
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cilantro
Lime juice, to taste and more for topping each bowl

Oil a baking sheet and roast the butternut squash, face down until fork tender, about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the broth and sweet potato and cook until tender. Add the fish sauce, salt, coconut milk, cilantro, curry paste and lime juice and let cook another 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a sprinkle of chives and a little lime juice for extra flavor. The good feeling that will spread through your belly comes free with the food.

Sky Fall

Sometimes everything just goes along as it does. Seasons change, harvests get harvested, days pass in rapid succession in our full life. And then, every now and again, the world spins off its axis.

Which is what happened on the night of October 20th. The phone rang at 10:24 pm, long after sleep has usually come for me.

The phone never rings that late.

Grief, to me, is like the ocean. Vast, inexorable, with waves that can pull you off of your feet and riptides that can pull you under as you try to hold yourself upright carrying heavy loads in each arm that you cannot put down no matter how badly you want to. Rapid fire, one after another the waves take you down until you are too exhausted keep standing, but stand you must.

Eventually it is more like a gentle tide on the beach. There, but peaceful most of the time, except when the occasional giant wave soaks you and takes you off your footing. They become less and less, but the surprise waves still arrive unbidden, at a smell, a memory, a moment. The heavy loads are lighter, smaller, then eventually they have begun to wash away.

That second part takes a long time. For some it never comes. And for us now, the grief is too fresh. My beloved brother in law, gone too fast and too soon, leaving my sister and her daughters alone against the buffeting water and falling horizon, too young to be a widow, too young to be fatherless. My sister was fortunate to have found a real love story in her other half, and that story should not have ended the way it did.

Too soon, brother mine. Too soon.

So we grieve. People send food, far too much food. More food than anyone could possibly eat in 2 lifetimes, food that tells us they care even if we have no appetite whatsoever.

There are calls and texts and questions “How are you?”. The real answer is “Terrible” and that’s just my grief. How do you watch your sister realize, over and over that their person is gone and never coming back? The realities are agonizing, too much to bear. The rest of your life is too long to love someone and lose them and face it alone.

All the things that are left, no longer needed where he is. Phone, car keys, shoes. Reminders of what he left behind. A world of 5 is now 4, wondering how they will ever do without him, looking at the the things that are left and wishing for just one more moment of their use.

So we do what we can. We thank the folks who brought food, we tidy up, we offer support, we field the calls. The world has wrapped us all up in a loving embrace to grieve with us. We hug, and we cry, and for the moment decide that worrying about Covid-19 has to move to the background.

We cry some more. The crying passes, but then another wave, and more arrive.

We prepare for the inevitable – a funeral, a final goodbye, the return to daily life that will be emptier, one less. The world is not a better place without him. It is far worse.

Sometimes life goes along as it does. And then every now and again, the sky ruptures and falls down upon us and the waves wash over us and the pain is too much to bear but bear it we must.

Goodbye, my brother. I miss you. Too soon.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Just as all the October busyness came to an end, our son caught a cold (thankfully, just a cold) that lingered and we got it too, but in the adults it was a weird cold/stomach bug thing that apparently is floating around. For the first time since I had the Norovirus in my 20s, food was not only the last thing on my mind, but the worst thing I could possibly think about. Thankfully Eli and I tracked about 36 hours behind one another, so while I was down for the count other than work meetings he was taking care of kids and animals, and when he needed to be let off the hook, I could take over, even for a little while.

I returned to life after days with little energy and no appetite for the bounty of fruits and vegetables that fills our home, other than the apples. When I could eat though, I recognized that we needed something simple, filling and with nutritional density, so I pulled up the recipe I’d seen pre-illness of Homemade Hamburger Helper. Sure enough, I still had some shredded zucchini in the fridge from last year, and I dumped the whole frozen block of it in the pot to cook, and got at least some nutrition into everyone. Casserole-type dishes aren’t my usual, but the do have their place. I would modify this one next time, making it a bit thicker, maybe cooking the noodles separately, but as comfort food goes, this one hit the spot. It also used up some things in the fridge and freezer, so it will get some tweaks and be moved into the ‘save for cold winter night‘ column.

HalfbakedHarvest.com’s Homemade Hamburger Helper

The weather is scheduled to finally cool in the next several days, but has been unseasonably warm for weeks. A few more tomatoes, and lots of squash are still ripening, and the weather has allowed me to leave the tropical plants outside longer than usual, but it’s now time for them to make their trek inward.

Around all of this democracy in the US continues to undergo earthquakes, the earth is on the climate brink, and the pandemic, while abating for now, is raging it’s way across the earth. Illness dogs one of my dear uncles. All of it has an effect of destabilization, giving the sense that there’s nothing to hold onto. My missives of apples and flowers and weather and dinner seem small in comparison. We live in stormy times, but what else is there to anchor to if we don’t hold to the firmament of home?

When your stomach wobbles, the world shrinks – you can’t make a meal plan when food is anathema, you can’t plan your day or even know whether a cup of ginger tea is going to help or create more unpleasantness, and you muddle through responsibilities, doing only what needs to be done, skipping everything else. So too when the world wobbles it distracts, throws us off, creates anxiety and an inability to make solid plans as well. We’ve all had a lot of stress in the last few years, and a little grace is important.

Oddly, one of the things that makes me most hopeful is articles about the tiny intricacies of home life. The Washington Post has a home maintenance series that talks about how to clean your gutters or preserve kale and potatoes. The reality is we all want our food to last longer and need the gutters cleaned. Food Network is explaining what certain food items are and how they are used, like evaporated milk. Everyone has recipes, but these are useful bits of information that actually help people, instead of wondering what some politician or celebrity is doing. They center their writing on us, not them, and are something we all can use.

The next thing we need is how to play certain card games and start local clubs. Mass media would do a lot worse if they talked about how to bring a supper club back into vogue (and of course everyone who can should be vaccinated, because that’s how you also invest in your community, by not spreading disease by accident). We need to start borrowing one another’s tools, bringing a casserole by, and hosting Supper Clubs and maybe we should all learn Whist. This is not a lyrical wax of the poetic to olden days when women wore high heels to breakfast and half of people were shut out of things on the basis of color or sexual orientation or all sorts of other things. It’s a hearkening to what’s been lost and what we all need – community. I don’t really want to learn Whist, but we do need to get back to talking to one another and the only way to do that is at ground level.

Remember the pop song Breakfast at Tiffany’s ? It’s about a couple about to break up because they have nothing in common, except they both liked the Audrey Hepburn film. It’s also a seemingly good articulation of where we are as a society. I don’t know that big sweeping things – these are important, of course – are the only thing that can save us. We need to talk to one another too, even if the only thing we can agree on is that the food needs more salt.

The size of our worlds may get smaller, but the horizons may grow much larger than we think.

No-Recipe Recipes

It’s almost impossible to imagine that it’s already mid-October. Time seems to keep jumping forward at impossible speeds. We watched our local Fair open and close, and even braved it a couple times ourselves at not-so-busy times, rang in the number 9 for our son and went to visit my sister and her family in upstate NY, all within the month.

Ferris Wheel in the distance

The garden is still producing spottily so I’m letting it run it’s course for a few more weeks. I have this weird aversion to ripping it out if even there’s a tiny chance of something ripening. And there are still – mystery squash, made mysterious by me forgetting what variety I planted and then proceeding to forget to go look in my seeds for the all-too-findable answer, are readying themselves in abundance, which is just fine with me, and a few lingering tomatoes and peppers still appear. With another week of 70-degree days ahead I expect a little more summer food out of it yet.

A trip to my sister’s invariably means a trip to the Carrot Barn and bulk fall foods to store and preserve. This time we came home not just with squashes and onions and sweet potatoes but also with half a bushel of tomatoes to can and slice. Not feeling like steaming the skins off and pureeing them, I instead decided to oven roast them before freezing.

Oven roasted is simple. Slice the tops off, slice them in half, and place on an oiled baking sheet. Roast them at 450 for 30 minutes and set aside to cool.

Peel the skins off and remove as much of the seed pulp as possible – squish them in your hand a little, then place in bags to freeze. When you defrost them they turn into sauce quickly (recipe to come). The key is to deal with them quickly, because hyper-ripe tomatoes go south fast. You can slice off any localized soft or black spots in tomatoes safely and still slice or roast them (really, you can) but typically you have about a day to use them.

I ended up with about 8 tomatoes left to use as slicers this week, so we’ll be eating a lot of tomatoes. Which is just fine with me, as everything I want these days is flavored with autumn.

Despite the warmth, it was time for roasted vegetables and a bit of creative, October-ish use of veggies, what I call the no-recipe recipes. Things that you just throw in the oven or in a pan, using what you have. Doing this is frugal, creative, and seasonal, plus healthy – all the things. One sweet potato I cut was the size of my forearm, and half of it remains in the fridge

We had 2 cabbages, so I sliced up one in an oiled pan with 4 onions and 2 Gala apples, and topped it with a bunch of sausage sliced in half. I added a few pats of butter and 1/4 cup of apple cider and roasted it for about 2 hours. I covered the pan with foil for all but the last 20 minutes or so. When you cook cabbage like this, it ‘melts’ into an ever-so-sweet and savory bed for the sausage, onion and apples.

Add to that a pan of beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions, leeks and carrots drizzled with olive oil and about 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of rosemary, then roasted at 375 degrees F for about 4.5 hours and you have a tray of deliciously caramelized veggies that can be eaten with just about anything. Roasted veggies are remarkably filling and flexible and you don’t need to have a mix – try baking whole onions that way, or just a tray of whatever you have.

With a lightly salted plate of sliced tomatoes and a bit of leftover naan, Monday’s dinner dinner was simple, filling and we ate no less than 8 kinds of vegetables. Not to mention the turnips really needed to get eaten, so it was helpful in more than one ways. To eat seasonally and not waste much food takes work, but the work is so satisfying.

We bought fresh yellow and orange peppers in NY, so tonight Eli is making stuffed peppers with our Walden Local ground beef, and that too is an amalgamation of ideas – meat, sauce, cheese, cauliflower rice, put in the air fryer, which is a handy little tool we acquired for free from someone who didn’t want theirs.

Our food abundance is also a race against time to use up the things that need to get used, and that drives all our meals for a while. We’ll get back to intricate recipes in winter, but fall produce, commingled with the last few tastes of summer calls for use-what-you-have eating in it’s simplest form.

At The End of The World, Plant a Garden

Part 1 of lots….

I remember a time when living in the US and occasionally traveling abroad, Americans were known as often loud and ignorant of other cultures, yes, but more importantly than we ever knew, we were seen as happy. “What are you all so happy about, anyway” asked a colleague in Munich, just after Bush v. Gore.

These days between political polarity and climate angst and the pandemic, cheery outlooks on life seem harder to come by. Everyone is mad or worried about something – I should add that they should be, absolutely, but let’s talk about mindset for a minute – and added to that is a nice topping of performative rage on social media. When I found myself apologetic for the lack of diversity in my community I received back “Well, you could move“.

Well, we could. But we’re planted here, and I’d rather do things to enact change than leave the home and space we adore. To live in a more diverse community and that would be valuable for sure, but to leave our home, the animals, the home we’re invested in and the soil we enrich and the gardens and trees and community we’ve so lovingly invested in would be a loss for us, and I believe for Sithean as well. We are tending and loving our land with the intent to leave it better than we found it. While 1.24 acres isn’t a lot of land, it’s enough to grant us a garden, fruit trees and a somewhat curtains-optional environment.

But this generalized sense of needing to feel bad about all the things in order to demonstrate commitment and depth of emotion seems a little…off to me. So I thought I would unpack it a little, and talk about some things anyone feeling like they aren’t doing enough.

So let’s talk about Climate Change for now. What are the things that don’t cost big piles of money – or any – that you, or I can do today? Recognizing that it’s fall and I’m writing this as the growing season is coming to an end in the Northern hemisphere, here’s some carefully chosen things you can do whether you have land or not, in the coming months.

You see, hope is about taking steps. Is one little compost bin going to change the world? No, but 50 might, and if all 50 people got one more person to add composting that’s 100, and then the next 50 and the next 50. Remember that Mother Theresa quote “We can do no great things, only small things with great love“?

So in the spirit of yes, there’s little time to act, but most of us will fail if we try to change everything about our lives at once, here’s a few things you can do.

  1. Compost. Whether you have land and can put up barrels (or just find a location for a pile if you aren’t in a heavily populated area) or need to enroll in a municipal composting program, composting is something everyone can do. And if you have neither land or one of those programs you can still do it! Have a rose bush in the window or on a balcony and once a week feed it your leftover coffee grounds. When you steam broccoli or kale or chard or cauliflower use the leftover water to feed your plants. You do not need a fancy compost container for the counter, anything will do. Need some help? Composting for beginners, right here!
  2. Find local food producers and buy from them as you are able. I’m fortunate to live in Massachusetts, which has an incredible local food movement I can take advantage of, but almost everywhere I’ve been has at least a farmer’s market, local farms or even local wineries. Between Eli and I we’ve found local meat, tea, flour and bread products, we have our garden and our CSA that we share with the neighbors, apple orchards….I haven’t found local coffee, so we try to buy as much as possible from Tiny Footprint. Many farmers markets take SNAP, and if you can, gleaning is also a great way to get free food and support your local farmers and community. Wherever you are, there’s a farmer or a community garden that needs you. The week I spent near Lancaster Central Market remains one of my favorite food memories ever, as is the pesto and fresh pasta I ate in Italy from a local shop, or the pesto-swirled minestrone I ate in the Cinque Terre.
  3. Plant something. Even some lettuce in a bowl – dirt, seeds, water – is a single ingredient of just a meal or two, but it’s one less plastic bagged salad to purchase. Imagine if we all did. But even if it’s just a tiny tree on a balcony, you are capturing carbon, my friend! Every time you water your tiny whatever-tree, you are
  4. Eat a meatless meal. I’m actually not an advocate for worldwide veganism or anything like it, but I do think that my family and I need to get better about thinking of meat as a condiment rather than the central component of a plate. Still, one meal a week is just grand. There’s so many choices that you probably already know and like, such as spaghetti.

5. Vote. At this point, it really matters at the local level as well as the national one to get involved. If you want a say, it’s a simple process. Add a letter or a call or a visit to your congressperson to ice the cake, but really – unless we want the world to burn, we have to care enough to take the steps to make it happen.

6. Bonus round: have a buy-nothing month. Eat down your freezer and fridge and pantry (full disclosure, even in buy-nothing months I have to purchase milk and fruit for kids lunches if there’s nothing from the garden or CSA, so it’s a buy almost nothing month). Don’t got to the store, just eat it up. By the end of the month you may have some fairly interesting meals, but if you try to view it as a fun challenge for the family rather than an experience of bleak deprivation, you might find it’s something you can all get into. Kids love a challenge.

And that is the true key. It would be easy to get all depressed and angsty about the future, and if you did, no one would blame you. But depressed and feeling like you have no power to change anything at all is a surefire recipe for nothing to ever change. The first thing we must do is feel hopeful, do things we are proud of, and build on that feeling.

I’ll have lots more to say on this, so consider this Part 1 of ‘How to live with Climate Change’. Today’s lesson – even the small stuff matters.

How Does My Garden Grow – September 2021

The garden is a riot of vines and flowers these days, with pumpkins and squashes having long given up any semblance of order, and growing anywhere they feel like. I have to step carefully just to enter, and I’ve lost track of what might be under the endless squash vines.

Tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers and peppers still ripen, but the end is near for them and I think I pulled the last zucchini this morning.

The basil has died completely, and the last batch of pesto made it to the freezer. I still have preserving to do – tomatoes, salsa verde, and grape jam, but soon enough that will be the end of the line, and all there will be left is to harvest squashes. In addition to our ever-prolific (also delicious) Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, the spaghetti squashes are rampant this year. Stuffed spaghetti squash is a winter favorite for Eli and I, healthy comfort food at it’s best.

The days are still warm now, but it starts to get chilly overnight, enough that fewer windows are open.

Eli and I took the RV out for one last trip, our last of the year to do some hiking and just to spend some time togeher.

Despite the wonderful September weather, we have a lot to do at home, so our tiny house on wheels needs to be put away. We had some water issues in it with all the rain, so Eli started on the renovations to it we would have done anyway, although maybe not so soon. He transformed the dining nook, which turns into a spare bed. I’m fortunate to have a house that is permeated with art, which is in turn inspired by the gardens I work so hard on. A photograph of one of our Mexican Torch Sunflowers became the painted art that we eat at while we camp.

Final bits of home study paperwork have surfaced for the adoption, testing our patience with the Backyard Ultramarathon-meets-Alice in Wonderland’s Caucus Race style process. But we’re almost there, and it’s just a bit more to go.

I haven’t done as much canning and preserving this year as last. It’s been a less-than-ideal year for tomatoes, and we haven’t dried or preserved really any. But we’re in good shape generally, and our lives are still filled with the bounty of the season

Soon enough we’ll begin to stockpile winter vegetables and cooking will focus on soups, stews and fire up the woodstove on chilly evenings.

The last few zucchinis helped me perfect my zucchini fritter recipe. For some reason I got obsessed with the idea that I could make a perfect zucchini fritter, and went through multiple large zucchinis in service to the idea. After multiple challenges where the flavor was perfect but the fritters fell apart every single time, I finally realized that pan frying was just not going to work, so I baked them on high heat instead.

And then they just worked.

Healthy Zucchini Fritters

1 large zucchini
1 medium onion
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup almond flour
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Shred the zucchini and the onion in a food processor. Place in a colander over a bowl and mix in the salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain water out of the zucchini.
Rinse the zucchini and onion mixture and let drain for a few minutes. Then squeeze the mixture to remove as much water as possible.

Drain the onion and zucchini using salt to remove the moisture

Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Preheat oven to 425, and line 2 baking sheets with foil. Drop on sheet and flatten, then bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping them once carefully. Serve with any number of dipping sauces – applesauce, sriracha mayonnaise, or honey mustard.

The fritters will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator, but should be reheated in an air fryer or the oven.

Remembering to Listen

A shared view of our little corner of the world

I tend think everyone who can remember, remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was in an all-team on a project on an Air Force Base when the word came in that there was ‘a fire’ in the World Trade Center. The conference room we were in had recently had a television installed on the wall – this is common now, but it was ever-so-new then. We turned on CNN and watched the second plane hit.

Shortly after the base was evacuated for anyone other than critical personnel. The traffic out of Boston was astounding. My cell phone, in those days a tiny flip phone, didn’t work. I finally got through to my Mom, who wanted me to come home. I couldn’t – I just wanted to be alone. I drove to the beach. I looked out at the view of a Nuclear Power Plant and wondered if that, too, was on a list. I realized there was no safety anywhere.

And yet there I was, perfectly safe. The news and the pictures of the towers dominated for weeks. People speak of the unity, and it was there, but what was also there is what I can only call ‘Patriotismo’ – the idea that if you disagreed with war, you were un-American. The idea that if you didn’t have a flag sticker, you were un-American. That if you were brown, you were suspect and inherently un-American.

It was the macho approach, and there wasn’t much room for nuance.

I saw that too, and I saw the first ideas that if you dissented with the prevailing wisdom, you were un-American, or worse. I sometimes think that I can draw a straight line from there to the rage posting on Facebook, to ‘purity tests’ I started to see a few years ago become more pervasive on both sides of the political coin, that if you were not sufficiently enraged about something, your feelings and beliefs might be not just insufficient, but something worse. By far, this is exhibiting itself most dangerously in violence and misinformation on the right, but it’s also on the left. We have stopped listening to one another.

Yesterday I took a long, peaceful walk, did more canning and preserving, more house chores, and went and fetched my kids from their Dad’s. There was no big ceremonies here, but I did go spend some time with my neighbors. Melissa, who in many ways sees the world differently from me, but in many ways the same, has been my treasured friend since I moved here.

I often think I might not have made it through the first winter without my neighbor’s generosity – from the first meeting, where they sent us home with Chicken Broccoli and Ziti and fresh eggs, to her husband Jay’s plowing my driveway, unasked, to the countless evenings we just wandered over for wine and conversation. Over the last several years, she has often listened to my rage and frustration at the people who support policies that actively harm my family and to the impact and fear that Covid-19 has brought into my life. The day before I started coughing on April 4, 2020, I was running 10 miles. 2 weeks later, and for 6 months after, I couldn’t go for a walk without catching my breath. And I know I’ve had it easy compared to some.

It was not my grace that preserved our friendship, I was too angry for that. It was hers.

Melissa listened, valued what I said whether she would agree or not, and valued my friendship enough to keep at it. It’s not without trepidation that we navigate tough topics. Vaccination, politics, that the personal is political and vice versa, and what that means. It’s hard, and when we hit those topics, we both feel the stress and the weight of them.

But at the end of the day, we value one another. Our advice, our advocacy for one another. We don’t agree about everything, but that’s ok. I’ve recognized that in her listening to me, even when she has wanted to walk away, she’s exhibited maturity I can learn from. I’d like to think she’s learned from me too, but that’s not the really important part.

I turned off social media for the most part about 6 months ago. I’m still engaged in the news and social issues, but I think I’ve decided that there is still, 20 years later, not enough room for nuance there. If you listen to people, put down the computers and the phones and walk the dogs together, you can hear what’s in their hearts. You can find a way across the divides that get in the way and find a common understanding. We don’t have to agree, but we do need some grace.

I believe most of us are good people who will help our neighbors when they need it. 9/11 brought us evil, but also thousands of acts of good. No one cared who you voted for that day, we cared that each other was okay.

Every day I go to the garden she & Jay helped me build. We share a CSA. They welcomed me, the kids, and then Eli with their full hearts. We share trees. The love and commitment to this place, and the knowledge that as we grow old, the worn path between our homes will continue to be used.

It’s easy to be surrounded with people you agree with, but I have never learned from the easy stuff. And so, 20 years and a day after American political divisions turned into cracks that turned into fissures that turned into cravasses we could all lose our humanity in, my gratitude is for a friend who never stopped listening, and for how lucky E and I are to have them.