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Friday Wisdoms or Something Like That

Robert Frost wrote “The Road Less Taken” in 1916, and it has been lauded as the ultimate paean to following your own path.  The reality of the poem is a little fuzzier, and Frost alluded quite a few times to the irony of regret for what’s on the other path.  It’s easy to get caught up in what could have been.  The regret for zigging when you might have zagged comes for all of us.

I write this sleep deprived, with a very busy day of client work and chores ahead, plus I have to drive to get my kids who have been with their grandparents for a few days.  Last night I chose to spend time with a friend rather than cleaning the house and the bunny hutch like I was supposed to.  I might regret that today when I am getting ready for company for dinner, but then again, I had a wonderful evening, and that too, is valuable.  The vacuum will be there, waiting.  Sometimes nachos and conversation is the right choice.  Almost always, actually.

I wander off the path in life regularly.  If someone asked me how I got to where I am today, the conversation would go something like “Well, I started out going over here, but then I stopped in this field of sunflowers for a picnic and found this other path so I went there, but that one was a bit to brambly so I tried this…”.  I’m a huge fan of taking alternative paths to whatever destination you want to get to.  I always have goals, but I never assume the bullet train is the best way to get there.  Sometimes it’s on foot, stopping off to see the sights.  It’s a complicated way to live, but somehow I always get where I want to go.  From my messy, complicated, beautiful life I have learned a few things, often the hard way.  There’s still so much more to learn, but these are the things I live by, when I don’t forget and lose perspective.

Don’t only spend time with people just like you
Most of us have community -friends, family, neighbors, colleagues that are just like us.  Maybe they like hummus more than guacamole or watch basketball instead of action flicks, but commonality is the name of the game, be it lifestyle, kids activities, or politics.  But it is from those that are different from me in culture, background, perspective and choices that I learn the most. There’s more than one way to live and experience the world, and seeing it through other’s eyes is going to make you a bigger, better person. Plus fun.

Comparing yourself to others is the worst thing you can do
It’s hard to avoid, I admit.  It’s so easy to look at others who have more money, perfect outfits, perfect marriages, kids who eat their broccoli without an argument.  They aren’t always fighting some secret bad thing either, maybe everything is really just good for them.  But looking at other people’s assets and finding your own lacking is a quick way to feel bad and not much else.  Set your goals, check your compass, and go towards what you need.  You don’t actually want their life or their spouse or their broccoli anyway, you want your own version.  Trust me.  Your broccoli is just as good.

Navel-gazing is going to stop you from living 
Self-introspection and awareness are important, but so is actually doing stuff.  Don’t get so caught up in self-examination you forget what you are here for, which is is live, to build community, to add love and good things to the world, be that anything from bad puns to fostering kids to feeding the neighbor’s dog while they are away.  Look up and out most of the time.  I promise you will feel better about yourself and be surrounded by far more love and support as a result.

Exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk
I know, I know, you are busy, and when you aren’t, you are tired.  I get it.  I really do.  Taking the time and effort to build in an exercise routine is hard,  It isn’t always fun.  But here’s the thing – you will feel better, look better, and you just might find your mind working better too.  Those endorphins do eventually come, and when they do, they are awesome.  We all have 15 or 30 minutes a few days a week.  Use them.

Money is just money
Sure, having some is way better than not.  But money as a sole scorecard of success is toxic, and culturally, it seems more and more like that’s the only measure that seems to matter.  Money typically takes our life energy to accumulate, and our life energy is ultimately finite. Here’s my take – give away enough of your time to make what you need and a little on top.  Know that if you lose some of your assets to job loss, divorce, illness, home repair….well, that’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world either.  Money is handy, but it is not the measure of a person or the value of your life, it is merely an exchange vehicle.  Put it in it’s place, and your decisions around it will be cleaner and less emotionally charged, and chances are it may make you more generous overall.

If not you, who?
This is one of the hardest things I have learned.  I always assumed that others were smarter, more creative, more competent than I was.  It took a great deal of time to learn that my perspective, my creativity, and the way I think were something that no other person can mimic.  If you are waiting for permission to write, do art, start a company, speak about your experiences, consider this permission to stop waiting.

There is more right with you than wrong with you 
So go ahead, wear the pink kitty hat when you need to, screw what everyone else thinks. kitty hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When To Blow Your Budget

On a hike this summer

Yesterday I bought my oldest a pair of shoes. Platform Ugg booties to be exact, for $150, full price, at Nordstrom. They had asked to go get some concealer, and so we went off for a very rare trip to the mall. On our way out we spotted them, tried them on, bought them instantly.

It was neither planned nor budgeted. They were far out of the normal price range of anything I would buy for a 13 year-old. I don’t think they have taken them off since, they may have even slept in them. The delight on their face at their height and comfort could have been measured in kilowatts.

For me, it was a bit of a way to exorcise some anger at learning that last year a former friend had bullied them, hard, in an approach called relational aggression, which is the pointing, whisper campaigns, talking about someone loudly in their hearing at the cafeteria lunch table, etc. Hard to track or prove, it had been an undercurrent in an already hard year. When it popped up again last week at a shared extracurricular activity, I finally got the full story.

Of course the other child’s mom went into deep denial (Not her baby! We must have misunderstood!), and as there went 11.5 years of social niceties and casual friendship, so did all of my give-a-s**t about it.

I did what any Mom would, I documented, I notified the school it had happened and asked for future monitoring, and I informed the parent that we would be watching, closely in the event that her commitments that it would stop proved themselves not worth the air they were promised in.

And then I took my oldest child to Sephora, got what they needed plus a little, and then as we saw those shoes on the way back to the car, I figured my husband would forgive me (sorry honey, I should have called) and I bought them. Not as a te absolvo to myself for not realizing that their reluctance for school and stress was something bigger than the loss of the friendship compounded by a fall consumed with the loss of their uncle, but because as a result of that and other things makes them think they don’t warrant their parents spending money on them. So they don’t like asking for things.

So I damn well did spend money and reminded them they are worthy of attention, money, and to feel good about themselves. If that was received as parent-y gibberish or it landed I don’t know, but there was a day wreathed in smiles (also hugs as they reveled in their ability to be taller than me).

We’ve been being extremely careful for months and months now. We filled the year with trips and that plus some fairly major unexpected expenses and all the deposits and architect fees we put into the renovation have made things tighter than usual. Add to that inflation and we’re just being super thoughtful before we spend any money on nonessentials.

And this was a nonessential, but in the end…also kind of essential.

Money really can’t buy happiness after a point. Given how often Elon Musk whines on Twitter I observe that no matter how wealthy you get, you can’t escape yourself. Often I feel as much or more delight hiking or sitting with a book as I do in the bigger experiences. I love to travel, and I used to like shopping a lot, although I really don’t now. But sometimes money buys not just a pair of shoes, but a demonstration of value, an experience of real joy along with the stuff.

And that is worth a broken budget once in a while.

When A Door Closes, A Window Opens

Hibiscus in bloom, Photo by Eli 5 Stone

Our summer of nothing and everything had more twists and turns than a miniseries plot, but somehow we landed in a peaceful Labor Day weekend.

The children are back to school – 4th and 8th grade respectively – and Sithean is off the market. There’s nothing to buy in our town, keeping the house show-ready was an exercise in exhaustion, and we may have the general lines of a solution on how we renovate without having to move out and to get the space we need.

We’ve jettisoned the architects, the builder we were talking to jettisoned us after we declined to go along with an out-of-control cost per square foot quote – lovely people all I’m sure, but not useful to us now, and we are starting the process of drawing and researching for a new builder.

We’ve taken the control back into our hands and it feels so, so much better, not to mention the relief we feel at no longer having people wander through our house on demand.

So what happens now is that we figure out the path forward without the stress of more architect bills, or without feeling like everything has to be a negotiation downward on a non-realistic construction quote. It’s freeing.

I mean, it wasn’t fun to be dumped by our builder, someone the neighbors raved about – but at the end of the day, he was never accessible, and non-responsive, so what he was to them was a different thing than what he was to us. And that’s okay, because in the end we need to focus on what we need. And what we need is reasonable and decent communication, for a start.

I do believe that sometimes the universe throws up walls in your way when you aren’t walking where you are supposed to go, and that happened here, over and over again. So much so that we started to believe the only thing we could do was move. Once we started to let go of some pre-conceived notions about what our options were things started to open up, in our minds and in the world.

For now, we’re staying put and getting estimates on our newly designed-by-us plan to get our needed space not by lifting the roof and flipping the stairs, a move that would require us to move out for 6+ months, but to go back and to the left, creating a bit of an L-shape for the house with a wrapping porch.

But for today, there’s pesto and zucchini fritters to make, and food prep for the week. For today, we can let go and let things play out over time.

And for another day, Sithean is home.

Summer of Nothing and Everything

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

August is already half over. At first, it was dry and hot – too dry. Now it’s cooled, but there’s still no rain. There’s hope of it this week, thankfully. We need a few days of drenching rain to offset the drought. I’m doing everything I can to keep the plants hydrated, but the earth is baking, and so are we.

And yet the world here is still lovely, and my breath catches at every sunset, despite the seemingly endless swelter.

The first few tomatoes have begun to ripen in the garden. And the kids have had a summer much like I had as a child. No camp. No schedule, with occasional exceptions. Just pool (if there’s no wedding next door the kids are allowed to use the estate pool), bike rides, Mario Kart competitions, and relaxing. I’ve let go of the kids missing out on camp or educational experiences, because that’s not what they want. They want unstructured time. Friends. Sleepovers. Late night tag in the yard, flickering with fireflies. They are happy and content and (mostly) well-rested.

And that’s what I want for them. It’s delightful to watch from my chair as I work. Childhood is short, and the ability to just be is a gift. Also, it’s cheaper than camp, although we do go through a lot of ice cream.

Sithean is up for sale. We don’t know exactly precisely how this is all going to work or even if we’re going to move – if the numbers don’t work it’s moot – but we’ve acknowledged that something has to give. We need space, to simplify our stressors and to be truly settled. I’m grieving at the idea of leaving this magical place, but I also know when we are stretched so tight with all the things that must be done that we may snap – and we are – that it’s time to change the paradigm.

We can’t renovate and adopt and re-launch Eli’s career and maintain my own and eat dinner together and garden and and and….

So we’re capitulating. It’s in the universe’s hands right now. We do not have anywhere else to live planned yet, but we know we are staying in our town. My feelings are all over the place because this is home, but at some point the must-do list became too long and the weekends of picking sinks and fixtures got old just as it started. In another life, another me with fewer demands on time could do it.

Just not this me, in the here and now.

Our Farm Share (CSA) and the garden are both producing. I’ve made several batches of pesto already, and I have the zucchini teed up for fritters. A first pile of Tomatillos will become Salsa Verde later in the week. We are full of vegetable and fruit abundance.

So what happens if I no longer have a little house on my little enchanted hill? I don’t know – so much of my identity is wrapped up in this house and this place I’ve somewhat forgotten what it’s like not to be grounded to a piece of earth all the way to my bones. When I came up the driveway the first time and saw this place, with asparagus plants, past their producing time but looking like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, waving in the trench bed, I felt a sense of home. This house wanted us here, it wanted the love and chaos and cherishing. Homes have energy, and this one was ours. So what now? Do I become big-old-rambling-house-down-a-long-driveway person? Big Ol’ House on the Whatever Hill (in Topsfield that you can expect to live on a hill is a safe bet, an almost inevitable likelihood)?

I don’t know. It’s weird, to be honest, like I’m walking down a long hall with no real destination. But here’s what I do know. I know that at some point the to-do list, rather than the enjoyment of our place, took over. I know that we must live for the life we have now rather than the life perhaps I envisioned when I drove up that driveway.

There’s more of us now, and more will arrive. I know that Sithean is okay with it – a sense that we’ll miss each other but we did our job, providing safety and grounding, and an opportunity for love to creep back in. Maybe we don’t need the sanctuary from upheaval that this place enveloped us in quite the same anymore.

So we’ll find new magic, and let this place wrap a new family in it’s warmth. As for us? New magic will find us. That I know.

The Cheap Girl’s Guide to Inflation Eating

Water lilies on the Ipswich River

It’s hot. Really, really hot. As July draws to a close (how did that happen already!?) we are lucky to be at the cooler end of the heat dome that has covered a huge chunk of the US over the last week, but it’s still 98 degrees here today. And we are in extreme drought conditions, so I’m working hard to keep the plants and animals alive. It’s supposed to rain some tomorrow, and I’m grateful just thinking abut it.

Our CSA is in full swing, and we are working to keep up with using the produce. I’ve got my first batch of basil pesto in the freezer, and more to come soon. It’s almost time for me to make zucchini fritters in bulk to freeze, and shred and freeze zucchini for winter meals. I picked the first cherry tomato out of the garden, too, and that will all ripen soon enough. It looks like we may have a banner year for squash again.

Our summer has been busy and the gardens became a weedfest while we were off doing our things, so I’ve been getting up early to try to clean things out and get the last of the compost spread.

Over the last couple months we’ve pared down what we buy at the grocery store and are really trying to use up what we have. Inflation is impacting us for real.

I admit it, I’m not the world’s most frugal person, but I used to be, and I’m leaning in again, not just because of inflation, but because we’re almost 10 months into our 10-year plan to save, pay off debt and be ready for retirement. While we’ll still travel, something I value highly, and our renovation will be with an eye to the long haul, for the most part we’re just not spending on anything other than food and bills. (And this spring I bought pansies. Lots and lots of pansies because they are so pretty) .

Ok, well the kids both needed new shoes and clothes too. But I’d be lying if I said the state of the economy wasn’t on my mind, enough so that we’ve contemplated whether it might be more financially prudent to move than to renovate this house. I know, I know. Leave Sithean? I can’t even. But I also acknowledge that in order to fit us the dining room is now a master bedroom, and there’s no room to move and nowhere to put anything. The decision process is heavy on our minds.

My son raised money at his lemonade stand for games but also for charity, and he and I went over to my hometown outreach organization to bring them the $20 that he had set aside. Their food pantry demand continues to spike, especially with the cost of everything rising, so even a little bit helps. We are fortunate enough to be able to afford to eat healthy and delicious food, but we are being thoughtful and careful with what we spend.

So how are you going to keep eating well through all the economic uncertainty? Because you are. And so are we.

First, as I mentioned, I’m buying less. I try to run out of things before I replace them, and I’m trying to be conscious of what I can substitute. Today I made homemade macaroni salad (this recipe is so delicious) but I didn’t have sweet peppers so instead of what it called for I added celery, onion and chopped up cucumber. Was it as colorful as the picture in the original recipe? Nope, but it was still lick-the-fork good. We might still buy salmon, which somehow became cheaper than beef, but instead of frozen and in bulk we’re buying just enough for a meal.

Second, we’re using up the stuff in the freezer. I’m inventorying what we have before we shop all the time.

Third, we’re meal planning. Even if we sometimes veer off the plan, it’s always with an eye to using things up. As soon as the weather is cool enough to roast a couple of chickens I’m going to use one of Fed and Fit’s weekly meal plans to make several meals for the week, since our Walden Local Meat share has been delivering whole chickens regularly lately.

And we’re eating very well. Last week I marinated chicken in a mixture of shallots, garlic, oregano, paprika, salt, pepper and lemon juice and served that over pesto orzo (last summer’s homemade pesto from the freezer) with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil from the plants on the porch and burrata, which I had bought in a fit of hunger the prior week. I toasted some walnuts and threw them on top of the orzo and it was incredibly good.

For recipes: I am hooked on this blog and I can’t wait to try her lentil sausage skillet recipe – ThriftyFrugalMom
I also can’t recommend enough the recipes in the Good and Cheap cookbook, which is available as a pdf for free! It’s designed for someone who lives on SNAP benefits or $4/day for food.

For grocery shopping: Bulk is almost always a cheaper option if you can squeak it in. I found 4 lbs of steel cut oats for $10.82 on Amazon, and that will last for a lot of meals. I don’t make homemade oatmeal a lot, but it’s cheap, filling and good, so I’m going to start. Bulkfoods.com is a great source for lentils and other bulk grains but definitely shop around.

If you can, try ethnic grocery stores around you. I use a fair amount of Ghee in cooking, and the Indian grocery store is far more frugal. Same for bulk rice and lentils – I buy Basmati and Sushi rice in 10 or 15-lb bags and store them in mason jars. Even fruits and veggies can be much, much cheaper here. Especially if you buy in season.

I’m not going to wade into the meat vs. meatless perspective, but I will say that there are cheaper proteins than beef and chicken. And breakfast for dinner (my favorite pancake recipe is here and it makes quite a few) is almost always cheaper than other options.

Other than oatmeal, here’s a few things i suggest keeping on hand for easy, cheap meals:

Tortillas & Shredded cheese for quesadillas, burritos, etc
Dried beans (really easy, especially in the crock pot or instant pot)
Rice – filling and you can add spices and a few veggies to it for a really good meal
Lentils. These things are the best. Quick cooking, nutritious and tasty, and cheap, cheap, cheap. I guarantee you will find this Dal recipe addictive.
Flour and potatoes: making almost anything from scratch is cheaper, add a little cheese and make pierogies in giant batches – filling and super good.
Onions – I use them in everything, they are vitamin C and flavor powerhouses
Bananas – if you need a quick fill of your stomach these are amongst the cheapest of fruits. Banana bread is also cheap and delicious if they start to get brown.
Melons also go a long way. I can get a cantaloupe for $2.99 and it adds fruits for lunches for days
Pasta can be added to almost anything and even though prices are up, it’s still pretty cheap and a pound goes a long way. I don’t recommend all the carbs all the time but add some chopped onion and a drained can of solid white tuna to sauce (I’m serious) and it’s a great dinner.
Milk
Eggs
Bulk yeast – do not buy the little packets, get a pound at a time and bake! Well, when it’s cooler.

Of course spices are great and these too are way, way cheaper in bulk. If you can save up for a couple bulk spices each month you will fill your pantry.

The last thing I will suggest for saving money on your food is gratitude. Feeling grateful for a plate of food is something I never stop feeling, even if it’s not what I thought I wanted for dinner.

The moon over Moosehead Lake, Maine



Summer Eating

Roses on the garden gate – photo by Eli 5 Stone

Summer mornings, even the weekday ones, are my favorite time. The air is cool enough for a light blanket over my legs. Everyone else is asleep, and I can watch the sunrise through the living room windows while I sip coffee.

Taco the rooster starts crowing far too early, but even that is part of the ambiance here, although I do occasionally consider really how badly we need his company in the here and now, and come up fairly empty on what he’s useful for.

This year is flying by. Everyone I talk to agrees, and no one is exactly sure where the time is going. It’s crawling up on July. The garden is planted, the world is green, but won’t be for much longer – we desperately need for it to rain. School is out and there are two full, lovely months before we have to start gearing up for it again.

And we’ve been busy, with every weekend being filled with commitments. After 2 years of quiet weekends, I’m happy to see everyone and feeling quite overwhelmed, and wishing for time in my garden. Unstructured time is good for all of us.

But on a rainy Sunday last weekend, I was able to slow down. While it was, in fact, Father’s Day, my husband was in Los Angeles, my bestie, who had come to stay for a few days left early that morning and the kids were with their Dad. Other than the dog, who decided to nap through the morning, I was alone and not on a schedule for the first time in ages.

The rest of the country was experiencing a heatwave, but it was downright chilly in Massachusetts. I sat in bed under the blankets and contemplated all the things I could be doing, which included nothing. I sipped my tea and pondered more, occasionally getting up to do a small chore, such as laundry or dishes, then returning to my seat.

Even that time though, was productive, as Sundays are the days to make our meal plan. As we go into summer, time becomes more fungible, and meals more flexible, fresher and based on local ingredients. Our CSA is heading into week 4, and while the garden isn’t producing yet, it will be soon enough. This week I brought home the first zucchinis from the CSA, and cheerfully broke out my spiralizer. I don’t eat zucchini noodles because they are just healthy, I eat them because they are completely delicious, absorbing whatever flavors you add to a saucepan.

We have lettuce and bok choy and turnips galore right now, along with farm-fresh scallions, so my daughter made us homemade Ramen. All you need are noodles, broth, soy sauce and some seasonings, eggs and cut up veggies. It’s cheap, delicious and most of all, accessible, i.e. you don’t have to have a pantry full of fancy ingredients to make it. Slicing up scallions, cucumbers and carrots to go in keep it healthy and they are all affordable veggies.

I do have a pretty diverse pantry, but these days, with grocery prices skyrocketing, I’m focused on how to do it better, cheaper, and full-flavor, with a focus on using up what we have. We love Moroccan and Israeli pearl couscous, and I finally bought a 5-lb bag so that we can have it any time (for comparison,Whole Foods sells 12-ounce boxes for $3.19 each) and 0ver the next week we’ll add Moroccan Chicken and Couscous to our repertoire. The cost of it on Amazon has gone up to $23 but I think we paid $17. Bulk food purchases pay off in the short and long haul if you can store them. I regularly make Dal and my own Lentil Sausage Soup and a 5-lb bag of red lentils still lasts me quite a long time. 18-24 months maybe?

This week I bought some beef (ouch! So not cheap) so that I could marinate some Beef Bulgogi, and pop it in the freezer. Two pounds will feed us for dinner and a couple lunches at some point when no one feels like doing food prep. While it was a bit of a splurge it is very handy to have ready to thaw. And tomorrow we’re going to give Pesto Chicken Saltimbocca a try. I have lots of cherry tomatoes on hand from my last trip to BJs, and I bought some chicken cutlets.

But otherwise, we’ll eat the food we have. The raspberry bushes are starting to produce and we have some other fruits. It’s prime grill time and most of our meals will be focused around that. Hamburgers, grilled veggies, and simple sides, lots of no-recipe recipes. And occasionally just cereal for dinner too. Because it’s summer, and we can.

Simple Spring Meals

Thompson Falls, Gorham NH

And just like that, everything is green and in bloom. How I love spring!

Our return home from the much-needed respite of the mountains coincided with a few things, and not just driving up to see the tulips blooming. I love tulips, and can’t wait to plant more.

We’re less than a year until our renovation starts, so cleaning out and organizing things in earnest has to begin, and so does a cutback in our spending so that we can start to place deposits on our renovation. While we will have to finance some, our goal is to do as much in cash as possible. This is a very big renovation, and we want to be able to add a few splurges, like my new cookstove.

We also all need eye exams and the adults need new glasses, so we need to watch our spending all fronts. We have lots of fun trips planned this year, in the RV, and to bring the kids to NYC for a big surprise, so we’re going to do plenty of enjoying even as we get frugal.

This also means we need to cut back our spending on food and eat down what we have. Despite the rising food prices and temptation to stockpile, it’s time to empty our pantry and freezers. We want to be able to unplug them next summer when the house is under construction. I haven’t emptied a freezer since the pandemic started, and honestly it feels weird and uncomfortable to do it given all the food price uncertainty, but it needs to be done.

Of course, it also won’t hurt us to be buying fewer snacks and packaged food. The pandemic took that to new heights, and now it’s time to get back to more healthy basics. Eat healthy, spend less – what’s not to like?

I came home to some veggies that needed using up – while things that go bad can always go to the chickens or the compost, I don’t like wasting food, so I’m trying to be better about fruit and vegetable management.

Leeks and turnips in particular needed to be used, but the spring weather, and some really heavy vacation eating meant that I needed something lighter, so I stumbled upon, and proceeded to adapt, an old NY Times cooking recipe for soup. Vegetarian, vegan if you omit the parmesan, light but creamy and tasty, and a good use for cheap vegetables. I made mine for lunches this week, but it’s a great meatless Monday option as well. It’s a good winter soup, not that different in concept from a vichyssoise, but it was also wonderful the Saturday night of our return.

Turnip Leek Soup with Lemon & Parmesan

3 leeks, sliced in 1/2″ rings
2 large turnips, chopped into 1/2″ dice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 c grated parmesan
2 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons white wine or cooking wine
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup arborio or short grain rice
Chives and croutons for garnish

Slice the leeks and soak in cold water to remove grit
Peel and dice the turnip. (If you have chickens, they love the scraps)

In a large soup pot, saute the leeks in olive oil for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the diced turnip, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute.

Add the bay leaves, stock, wine, rice, bay leaves, pepper and cayenne and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until the turnip has softened and the rice is cooked through. Remove the bay leaves, and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot, add the lemon, parmesan and salt, and stir over heat for another minute.

Ladle into bowls, top with chives and croutons.


Another great and healthy meal prep food is this Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad that I had with hardboiled eggs after getting a couple miles in on the treadmill, which I can honestly say is one of the best investments I’ve made ever. It’s healthy, quick and delicious, and a hit in my house, even with my 13 year old daughter. I buy dried cranberries in bulk and put them in anything.

And then there’s one of the cheapest side dishes of all, Polenta, literally cornmeal, salt and water, with some Parmesan cheese and butter. Paired with Chicken Francese – it’s a bit of work but a really good meal – and any of the vegetables you might have around. But really, you could pair it with any protein or skip the protein and just saute some veggies on top.

Our meal plan this week:

Lunches: leftover soup, cranberry quinoa salad and leftover enchiladas

Sunday: Chicken Francese, polenta, roasted asparagus
Monday: Beef bulgogi (pre-prepped and in the freezer), rice, salad, naan
Tuesday: Parmesan crusted chicken, broccoli, popovers
Wednesday: Just Eli and I, cheese and crackers and fruit
Thursday: Eli cooks
Friday: Instant pot chicken gnocchi soup (personal rave for Skinny Spatula, everything she blogs about tastes amazing)
Saturday: MYO Pizza in the Ooni oven
Sunday: Picnic with cousins! Menu TBD

Happy Spring!


Farmlet Retreat

Twilight in Topsfield

At 3:46 pm a couple Friday nights ago, I decided to stop adulting.

The kids left for their Dad’s for the weekend. My husband was tired. Work had been relentless and my daughter had been sick most of the week. I had woken up with a headache.

So I cooked some frozen dumplings, put on pajama pants, and ignoring the sun and nearly 60 degree weather, climbed into bed under the blankets with a copy of a book I had previously read and loved, The Wilder Life, and decided that everything in the world could be dealt with – later.

I should have gone out to clean up the yard and weed. But I didn’t.

It felt glorious to just check out. And retreat into Laura World, which is what the author, Wendy McClure calls it. And yes, I know Laura Ingalls Wilder is complicated and there’s ugly parts of her books and opinions and perspectives, this is not lost on me. But when life gets too much, no matter my age, I find myself craving the simplicity of butter churns and cheese making, over 401k balancing and client issues. I don’t actually want to live a life where I sit on tree stumps for dining room chairs, but I do always feel a little wistful that I don’t want to be that person.

Most of all, I took the signs that my body and mind needed rest very seriously. I slept, I did some chores, ran, and went for a walk with my husband at twilight on a nearby trail. When Sunday arrived, I had a long list to cook, and some things to do before the kids came home, but I did just about all of it and then some. I went into Monday not fully restored, but better rested and with my batteries charged again.

When I returned to the world, so to speak, a transformation had taken place. Daffodils were in blooming, the apricot tree was starting to flower, and everything everywhere was green and in bud.

Daffodils in bloom on the front lawn – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

My seedlings are huge now and some are in need of transplanting. Eli and I are spending countless hours designing next year’s home remodel – from counters to paint to sinks and hardware, and everything in between – thousands of decisions to be made. I can’t wait to share how it will all look, as much art installation as house, in large part because of my amazing and talented husband.

The world continues to be unsteady around us, with the IPCC’s new climate report, war and famine in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, the bent to autocracy here in the US – we walk a fine line between aware and engaged, and trying to maintain our shields against a constant barrage of bad news, with nearly no mention of all the good in the world. Worrying about the explosion of weeds and how to manage them, or what to have for dinner is a relief, in a way. I can’t apologize for needing to retreat to Laura World or my garden or kitchen. My mind and home and family need tending to, and while I can participate in making the world a better place, I can’t change the course of world events, or only a little, so I do what I can and try the best to preserve space for joy and flowers and love.

And after a long, cold, sad winter for us, there’s starting to be all those things. But the honest truth was that despite all the joys of spring, I was just teeth-grittingly, bone-wearingly tired. It wasn’t even one specific thing, although work had been unusually stressful and more busy than usual, and crossing the 6 month mark of our loss of my brother-in-law Billy is a gut punch even now. The loss of him, the loss for my sister and her daughters, and the idea that we’ve now entered a phase of life where losing people may become common is is a cord that runs through our days.

And even renovation planning is tiring – as we make renovation decisions that will both restore and improve Sithean, the sheer daunting volume of them overwhelms.

So when the kids schools broke for vacation, we vacated our life in the most literal sense, and drove to the mountains, Eli, I, the kids and their Dad, for a few nights of escape. We cooked meals in advance, packed all the snacks and games one could possibly want, sent Teddy the dog on vacation to his grandparents (and original owners) house, arranged for the chickens and bunny, for we had lost Clover in early March, leaving only Marshmallow to be fed by my neighbor Melissa, watered the seedlings heavily and got out of dodge at 9 am on a Wednesday.

Despite the Jenga-esque efforts of packing coolers, 3 seasons worth of clothing for the ever-changing mountain weather and all the aforementioned snack foods, we arrived in Jackson NH just past lunch time on a Wednesday and breathed relief into the rented house. We heated our chicken parmesan with some garlic bread, salad and pasta and then I went off to nap.

When I woke up Thursday (my nap didn’t last that long, we did manage to have an evening) I felt somewhat restored. I love to travel, but the feeling of ‘I have to get out of here right now so I can rest‘ has become recurring lately at Sithean. ‘When did I lose that sense of sanctuary at home’, I not-infrequently wondered, along with ‘and how do I get it back?’. Maybe it’s just going to be more going to be more transitory until we’ve renovated and moved back in, late next year. Maybe home is a project, not a sanctuary for now, and I just have to ride that out.

I miss that feeling of sanctuary though.

So it’s not surprising I needed to retreat into Laura World, even though it’s impossible to not see the grinding poverty and endless tragedies she endured as an adult. But maybe that makes it all the better – she went through all that and could still see the magic, and create her own Laura World. And maybe that’s the lesson – even when grasshoppers eat your crops and your house burns and you literally lose your farm, if you can still see the magic and the beauty in the world, you can create some for yourself.

Maybe that’s enough.

So I rested and was ready to come home to the sunshine and the flowers and my garden.

Springtime Grace

Moonlit Spring Night

All of a sudden, the bitter cold transitioned to something resembling tolerable, and we even had a day over 70 – concerning if you think about climate change, deliriously wonderful after 4 months of shivering – to cap it off.

Seed starting is in full swing, and so is planning for our renovation next year, with an infinity of decisions to be made, we’re starting now to reduce our stress later, and get a better grip on our budget.

But mostly we are focused on spring. The first of the seedlings have started to come up, which gives me a sense of hope, and the yard is slowly starting to turn green. I don’t have to travel for work again for a while either, which is nice. After 2 trips in 3 weeks, which was immediately followed by the annual butt-kicking that is Daylight Savings Time, I can rest and enjoy being home before the hectic spring yard work really kicks in.


Seed Starting is the Best Kind of Magic

There’s a bit to do now, as it’s time to mow down the trench bed, and Eli is removing debris, including a huge branch that took out some of our old lilac bushes after a recent wind storm. The lilacs were going to have to go in service to renovation anyway, so maybe in the end that will turn out to be a gift, Mother Nature taking them down for us so I don’t have the heartbreak of watching them dug up.

Next year, it’s unlikely we’ll have a garden, and even this year I’m shying away from planting trees or perennials, other than a commitment to start working on turning at least some of the front yard into a wildflower garden in front for my son and a few varieties of poppies, which I’ve been meaning to add for years.

We begin to use the last of the winter vegetables. A few remaining onions from our 50-lb sack, the last few of the half bushel of sweet potatoes, one of the last 2 spaghetti squashes. Once spring warmth comes they will not last any longer. We’re also walking the line between keeping stocked, with food prices soaring, and eating down our pantry and freezer space. As we eat through the last of the pesto and kale from last fall, we won’t be filling that space up again until after our big renovation. I have mixed feelings about that, as I view a full larder as an edible emergency fund, but it is the most sensible approach for us.

As we pass the 5-month mark of loss, the gut punches of memory are less frequent, but no less powerful.

Which is why my thoughts return to my 2022 mantra, Go Easy, and the idea of grace for myself and for so many others. The pandemic, climate change and Russian war-making, and the return of famine to the news have left me worried, angry, sad, stressed. Inflation is real, and has seen our gas, food and energy costs spike. We’re anxious about the costs of our renovation, even while acknowledging that the time has come for it. We’re grateful for warmer days, even while recognizing that perhaps it just shouldn’t be this warm in March.

But we are blessed with family, friends and a safe home, and my endless gratitude for it all. I’m grateful for the grace of today, and right now, that’s enough.

Vacationing in the Suck Palace (and Maybe How to Check Out of It)

The Moon On October 20th of Last Year

Warning: This isn’t my usual kind of post. There’s no recipes, for one. There’s a pretty picture, but a sad one.

Sometimes bad things happen to perfectly good people and families. The call in the night. The diagnosis. The accident. And a terrible, horrible no good very bad moment turns into a very long and crummy time.

I’ve done it a bit in my my life, and I call it Taking a Trip to the Suck Palace. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s like that book We’re Going on A Bear Hunt. You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it, you have to go through it. Whatever the it is, there’s no way other than to acknowledge that for a while it might just be kind of, well, shitty.

For us, it’s been 3 extended family deaths in 4 months and a lot of other crises in between, the kind of run of things where you start making dark jokes with others about how you might be able to open your own morgue and call it Dying to See You. But whatever your ‘it‘ is, sometimes life is kind of hard and sad and difficult, and you have to go to the Suck Palace.

Maui it isn’t. I visualize it as a depressing motel room that needed to be renovated about 30 years ago with grimy 70s orange carpet and a window that looks out onto the dumpster.

Your job now is to be in that room.

And you have to visit it while you are also simultaneously doing your regular life. Meals need to be made. Laundry done, work attended to, bills paid.

I woke up this morning in a good mental space despite it all, knowing that this too, shall pass, even as I was choosing what to wear for a drive to yet another memorial service, this time for an Uncle I adored, who lost a 2 year agonizing battle with cancer. It was no life for him at the end, but his going leaves yet another empty seat that can’t be filled. No one again is going to show my children how to find hermit crabs on the beach in Cape Cod, or help my daughter find so many shells I have to take off my shoe to hold them all.

Even though at night when I step outside, I look at a certain point in the sky, where we noticed an ultra-cool moon at about 9:20 pm on October 20th, 2021, not then knowing an hour later we would get the call that changed all the things, I still know that even if it will never feel ok to lose my people, I will be ok. We will be ok.

But I also remember what it’s like not to know that.

To not know that grief, which is truly physical as well as emotional – it really hurts – will become less of a pile of bricks, less pain. It doesn’t go away, and if you are in the first of the concentric circles of loved ones around someone, their spouse or their children, it’s different than it is if you are in a different concentric ring, a little further away. It’s still awful, it’s just different.

Visits to the Suck Palace last longer than anyone wants to hear about, and even the most patient friends just wish maybe you could just get over it and move on? Gently and politely they push you to talk about something, anything else, and talk about getting your mind off. You know, like even a liquid lunch isn’t likely to make you forget unless you drink to the point where you probably need to get some help for it. I don’t suggest that, as it creates it’s own crisis, although a few well-placed margaritas here and there can help some, if that’s your jam.

In the end, your visit to the Suck Palace will last as long as it lasts, and the more I talk about our losses the more I hear from others who lost multiple family members in a year or less – it’s more common than you think, as are the secondary challenges as you watch grief in action. I have a new boss, and I wasn’t sure how he would react to yet another impact – but instead of frustration, he told me about his year of it, when there were so many deaths so close together he and his siblings had to juggle who could make it to what funeral.

His kindness was everything, as are the random texts from friends just checking in. It really is the little things.

If you are in an outer ring, you send support inward, and any other feelings outward even when that’s hard to do. Finding a physical way to support, such as meals or notes or texts or visits or flowers is a good place to put that energy, even if you don’t get much back in the beginning, consider it an investment in being kind without expectations in return.

Gratitude helps, sleep helps, connection helps more, and giving yourself all the grace in the world. These days my exercise routines are shot between weather and just nonstop demands on my time, so I’m getting a treadmill to help squeeze in the workouts, but I’m also cutting myself a whole bunch of slack.

Hug your people, tell them you love them, plant some flowers, make donations, go for walks, bake…there’s no one right way to do this. And one day you’ll open the door and step out onto the beach and remember how to find a hermit crab in the sand.

And you will smile because it happened and that person’s gifts are still here. Even if through tears.

Meal Plan and Batch Cook Your Way Through Anything

There is always something lovely to see on my walks

The weather continues to be challenging – first a giant, but rather pleasant snowstorm, then rain, then sleet and snow followed by another drop in temperature. Saturday afternoon was warm enough for us to bundle up in snow gear and take Teddy for a walk on nearby Greenbelt land. Sunday morning I woke up to 5 degree temperatures, with the bunnies having to take up residence in the basement for the 3rd time in a month. If it stays above 10 degrees, their hutch & run, which is covered in a tarp most of the winter, plus their winter coats keep them warm enough. Below that and we’re likely to wake to bunny popsicles, so in they come, bunsicles being on no one’s list of favorite things.

Challenging these days is more than the weather as my uncle is likely to succumb to his cancer soon enough. We’ve lost a lot in the last few months, my family and I, but I am trying to appreciate and hold gratitude every day as a result, and hold on to all my people.

The lingering warmth in the living room from the fire was lovely, as were my cozy blankets, but I had spent much of Friday afternoon and Saturday morning running errands, primarily food related – Costco, Trader Joe’s and Market Basket, plus our local dairy for a week’s supply of milk, and then the Co-op for bunny food and treats, and suet cakes for the birds. At this time of year, there’s not much for the wild birds to eat, so we try to keep our feeders full. By the time I was finished I had spent $518.41, which is the bulk of our grocery budget for the month. I’ve lately been returning to my old habits of buying most of our groceries at the start of each month, and supplementing fruit, veggies and milk in.

We’re also coming to the end of stock-up shopping, as we’re going to renovate the house next spring, and that requires us moving out completely for a while. Moving some food is inevitable, but it’s time to start emptying the pantries and freezer for real. I tend to view a full larder as an edible emergency fund, and that thinking has served me well, but it will be kind of fun to start to see empty spaces too.

To do that we’ve got to eat what we have and carefully manage our inventory and stockpile. Some things we simply can’t run out of – coffee, cereal for my son, olive oil and spices, things like that. Others I want to make sure we see how long we can go before we need any more. And to eat healthy and stay within a reasonable food budget, meal planning and batch cooking.

I’ve also made the commitment to make 1 dinner and 2 lunches each week for my younger sister – she’s still dealing with the death of her beloved husband, and while I can’t make the loss easier, I can ensure that once a week she and the girls have a hot meal, homemade bread, and that she’s got a couple lunches to take to work each week. Sometimes I add cookies or a treat, sometimes I don’t. But it’s forced me to be a creative and thoughtful cook, since variety and healthy is very important. And it’s making me way, way more efficient in the kitchen. It’s a small thing, and my target is 12 months of food delivery, once a week. Eli helps too, last week we sent over a big pile of his homemade Empanadas. My take is that their life is hard enough, and a little help is sometimes the difference between being able to tie a knot in your rope and hang on, and not having enough rope left to tie.

This week’s meal plan is varied, healthy and yummy, and I’m excited about it.

Pre-prepped Lunches
Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad topped with chicken – this stuff is so, so good and filled with fruit and veggies. I subbed in the apple since the store didn’t have jicama
Falafel and Tzatziki

Dinners
Sunday: Roasted chicken and vegetables, homemade dinner rolls
Monday: Creamy sun dried tomato pasta for our family and for hers (this is also an insanely good and easy recipe, just use a very deep skillet)
Tuesday: Beef Bulgogi (I made a triple batch, with 2 in the freezer for later)
Wednesday: Salmon over cauliflower rice with Garlic Scape Pesto I froze last summer
Thursday: Eli cooks, always delicious
Friday: Homemade pizza in the oven or chicken soup with rice, depending on moods and motivation
Saturday: Whichever one we didn’t make for Friday

While I’ve made all sorts of breads and baked goods, I’ve never made a dinner roll. This week I decided to tackle that gap with a recipe for Scotch Baps. I took the recipe from one of my oldest cookbooks, one I got in my early 20s, called Soup and Bread, by a writer and chef with the worlds coolest hippie name, Crescent Dragonwagon. Soup and Bread is a contemporary of The Moosewood Cookbook, a cookbook I bought about the same time and proceeded to hate every recipe I tried from it. Some I made twice thinking it was me, and never have I disliked a cookbook so consistently.

Maybe it’s me though, because it was a bestseller. If Mollie Katzen, the author, taught me anything, it was that it’s okay to be disinterested or even loathe things that everyone else seems to like, which is perhaps why I was always so comfortable disliking Sex and The City. I tried – and by that I mean I toughed it out through 2 episodes – and always thought that show would be improved by all the cast being taken out by a wayward Zamboni.

By 11:30 on Sunday the Baps were in their final rise (more on them in a moment), everything else was either made or in the oven and my wonderful husband had rescued my too-damp falafel in the air fryer.

So about that cookbook, and those Baps, Soup and Bread (and if you want to have a splurge to the tune of $4.59 you can have a wonderful read and a happy belly) – Baps are a dense roll, with a butter and milk base. I think I would use less flour than the recipe calls for, maybe 4 cups total for the rolls and more for dusting, and they really weren’t terribly photogenic, but these things are good. It’s my understanding in Scotland they are morning rolls, toasted with butter and with some sausage on them, but we’ll eat them with our roasted chicken for dinner.

As we roll into another busy week, the peace of Sunday afternoon with warm food and loved ones is something I treasure. The cooking is done, the preparations are complete, and there’s nothing left but to sit and enjoy the last of today’s sunshine before twilight comes again.

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