Murphy’s Law

Memorial Day weekend has come to a close, and with it two 4-day weekends in a row off for me. The garden is partially planted, I got runs and walks in, and the kids rooms are super clean. We’ve also had some massive quakes in our life – the adoption we expected isn’t happening, and we’re shutting the doors for a bit, as heartbreaking as that is. And some health issues in our home have made things more complex, short term though they seem to be.

It’s been an eventful couple of years here at Sithean, and I’m a little tired of the persistent upheaval. A little boring would be nice for a while.

Also so my feet hurt.

Despite that, everything is green and in bloom, the baby chicks have grown into energetic teenagers, the yards of compost are being spread, ever so slowly, on the desperately nutrient-poor soil in the yard. In other words, even on our worst days, it’s pretty damn good here.

Even on our first days here, which were more challenging than I can describe, we found beauty and hope. And 2 very different guides to help us through it all.

Today I took my son to his pediatric rheumatologist for the 2nd time in a month. My son has polyarticulate psoriatic juvenile arthritis, although it is currently probably maybe in remission. Polyarticulate = multiple joints and psoriatic = amongst other things, a gratitude from me that it’s not rheumatoid, which attacks the organs and sometimes sight. It’s an immune disorder that came on on suddenly, shortly after his 4th birthday after a fall that had impact on his right knee. From there it spread from one joint to another, until a few weeks later he could barely walk, just as we were preparing a 1500 mile move to here.

Right after we got there, we found his doctor, and it felt like a small miracle when Dr. L asked what part of South Florida we had moved from, and we learned he had grown up literal blocks from where we had lived. For over 6 years he’s carefully managed my son’s disease, even shepherding it to remission, for however a short time. In our life, Dr. L is nothing short of a rock star. When we showed up in his exam room my son was on steroids, miserable and because he was 4, frustrated and unable to process what he was going through or what he needed. Dr. L gave us a road map and hope that it could be managed.

Today when we showed up to check on the knee, it was supposed to be another doctor. Dr. L was booked. But in he walked. “I am his doctor, I’m the one who sees him, that’s always the plan” was his explanation. In other words, this is my patient, and I’m invested. Finding Dr. L was one of the early signs that we had made the right decision to move here.

While Dr. L gave us a path to a future without crippling pain, there was one other….person..that gave us what we needed when we got here, cold, a little lost, not sure of our next steps, and with a budget so tight you could hear it squeak with both of our kids trying to find their way. My son, especially was having a tough time. Oldest at least was returning to friends and the familiar. He had left everything he knew for this place, having been too small to remember it from before we had left.

But in walked Murphy.

Murphy, who for the short 5 months he lived after we arrived, became his best friend.

Murphy lived next door with our neighbors, who also became friends and anchors. Murphy was their dog. And Murphy and my son became fast friends. Murphy would come looking for him each morning and the two would go off, as boys and dogs do, roaming around our yard and his. Without equivocation, I can say that he and Murphy loved one another. When he announced that Murphy was his best friend, I was hardly surprised.

If ever there was a dog that was almost human, Murphy was it.

Murphy died right before the first Easter after we came here, just as every day we discovered new green things and flowers on our property, just as the white lilacs started to bloom. He had already raised a little boy who was then a teenager and now a man, next door, and my son was his last little boy. He did his job, giving my son something constant to hold on to. Their joy was something to behold, it really was. I always knew he was safe out wandering with Murphy.

I’m not a dog person. But this was quite a dog.

The last couple of years have been kind of stressful. I’m trying to learn to step back, to breathe, to invest in ensuring that we have time to enjoy our place in the world, to work in the garden, to fulfill the promise of sanctuary this place has always had for me, and somehow it got lost in all the work and things that needed to be done and things that weren’t getting done. I’m trying to step back and remember why we came here, to this forever place, this drafty old gorgeous, closet-less spot and why we stayed, enduring a giant pine tree falling on the house, every year refining the garden we built, and appreciating the love that came to live here when Eli did, filling an empty spot we didn’t even know we had.

And part of that memory is paying homage to what makes home the nicest word there is, the place that bring us joy, safety and hope. We can’t go back to the start, and I don’t think I would if I could. But I have to remember what makes this place magic, and it’s not just the flowers and the sunsets. As I step back and breathe and appreciate my life just as it is, I am grateful every day to live here and share life with my family.

Here’s to you, Dr. L.

And here’s to Murphy. Thank you.

Staying in the Moment

I want to start this post with a celebration. No, not of adoption or spring or anything, but for the first time in approximately…5 years there isn’t a giant pile of laundry obscuring the end of my bed. Now, I want to stress here that the pile has shifted over time in size and scope and of course it’s always clean – there’s another location in the basement for the dirty stuff – and we do tend to be dressed fairly often, so I definitely keep folding stuff and putting it away.

But it has always been there, an omnipresent stack of cloth that has to be shifted and stacked ever-so-carefully so as not to fall on the floor when it’s bedtime.

When we put the house on the market briefly last summer, I might have hid the pile in the closet, so it appeared as though there was no laundry pile, but in fact there still was. The laundry pile is always there, like an immobile clutter stalker, greeting me every time I walk into the bedroom. Since the bedroom is also my office (that tiny 4×38″ – approximately, I think it’s really 36.5″ – area has a different kind of omnipresent clutter) I walk by the giant pile of laundry dozens of times every day.

It stares back at me, daring me to think I could clear it. I avert my gaze and keep walking to heat my tea.

But since we’re deep in preparing for children, and while I really don’t think a 4 or 7 year old is going to judge me but their social worker, current foster families who want to stay connected and all other the people who are starting to want to visit and meet our fabulous new family members, and presumably also enjoy seeing the not-so-new ones, might, I decided to make it go away.

I should note that this anticipation of judgement has also got me bleaching grout and contemplating if we have just enough time to paint every single wall in the house so it looks fresh and pretty.

Eli says we don’t have time, but I don’t think he’s being fair – he could do it in his copious free time if he really wanted to. Did I mention he doesn’t have any free time?

Just ignore that point – not pertinent.

But the laundry pile. It meant turning the accidentally bleached black t-shirt that I had to secretly replace for my oldest child into rags, actually putting outgrown kid clothes into labeled bins and transporting them to the attic (or an attic-adjacent location with good intentions of getting them to their final destination soon) and actually folding fitted sheets, which no one on earth except my ex-husband actually knows how to fold flat.

And NO, I emphatically didn’t stay friendly with him so that I could occasionally implore him to fold my fitted sheets, although I freely admit I’ve wondered if that’s over the line to ask a few times. He stresses that I could learn if I just took the time, but clearly that’s not the right solution.

In any case, for a brief, shining moment, the foot of the bed is almost laundry free – almost because of the giant pile of unmatched socks that still linger on the bench that sits in front of the foot of the bed. These too, morph and evolve, but there’s always a really spectacular number of unmatched socks. If it wasn’t so annoying it would be impressive.

Are you ready? You must be so excited!” says people. “Huh, I say. I had forgotten that the end of the bed matched the headboard. I mean I sort of knew, but it’s been so long, you see...”

I think they are talking about kids, but I’m busy being mesmerized by the clean spot in the house I’ve made. It’s also distracting me from other things that are far, far weightier like how in the world I’m going to parent 4 kids, work full time, garden, run, manage the house, find time to occasionally lob a kiss at my husband and remember that friends and family need me too. Oh, and also we have to feed everyone. 2-3 times a day, every day.

Totally excited.” I murmer. And while truly, I am, I am also worried.

You see, I’ve done this before, well, not really – but I had babies and neither one slept for a year and I was so tired I forgot to pay bills and the exhaustion was so bad I would go to the store for bread and come home with no bread and 14 kinds of cheese because it was just so exciting to be alone for a little while even though there were almost certainly other people in the grocery store, I would think.

I don’t know, I don’t remember.

And your life gets down to the minute. Will I make it through this hour, to bedtime, to Friday. But the difference this time, accounting for the extra complexity of caring for kids, integrating our family with them here, dealing with their traumas and losses, keeping our eye on the ball with the older, biological kids to make sure that they are okay too, and do this while juggling housework, laundry, meal-making, groceries, yard work and work work.

And that’s where truly living in the moment has to come in. In order to make it all happen, it’s really fine to break life down into 15 minute chunks where maybe some laundry gets folded (but please not at the very clean foot of my bed kthx) or dinner gets prepared, at least in some part, or you get that thing that’s overdue at work finally completed. I used to write down the 6 things I was going to do each day, often only getting to 3-4, but writing them down does indicate that there’s a strong likelihood you will get to them.


And that’s going to be our lives for a little bit. And with that comes the other piece – acceptance. This is a phase. It’s a phase where there’s too much to do and not enough time, but it’s also our last round of littles, and Eli’s first true round of them, so we need to be present and enjoy it. Is it all going to be enjoyable? Ohhellzno. But some of it is going to be really, really fun. The next 2 weeks while we drive 60+ miles each way for transition visits and upend everyone’s schedule and I cram in 2 more work trips, not so much.

But after that there’s a little downtime. Just enough to go to the playground and come home and eat string cheese with a very small little person who just needs somewhere to belong. The laundry can wait.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…..

How is it even late April? Garden season is upon us, and I don’t feel ready. Wasn’t it February last week?

I’ve been transplanting some of the bigger seedlings, and getting the garden cleaned out, something I ran out of time for in the fall. This year I have fewer seedlings, as I’m trying to be strategic about what I’ll have time to tend as we add children, and also what we tend to need to supplement from the CSA. I rarely need lettuce for the 20 weeks the CSA runs, or kale. So this year, I simply haven’t planted any. I will later on in the season, but not yet.

But spaghetti squashes, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes – there are never enough of those. Apparently I planted garlic last fall because it’s up, and I had completely forgotten. I mean, I vaguely remember, but that was a lot of busy ago. Nonetheless it’s there, in neat rows in the back of the Potager garden, so hooray, there will be garlic this year. I mean, so will there be from the CSA and by fall we’ll probably be drowning in garlic but I planted it so it must be a good idea.

Somewhere along the line in the last year I lost my sense of humor, and I’ve been working on transplanting that, too. We’ve had a decidedly un-funny couple of years, to be sure, and I have tried to not see folks going about their lives all cheerfully are total aliens, but it’s been a little like that. In my defense, a steady stream of pandemic, family deaths, money stress and not enough time will do that to a person.

But I’ve realized that taking everything seriously is actually kind of…boring. It shrinks your world and your interests.

And I really, really hate the idea of being boring.

So my new plan is to be amused by (almost) everything, because life is in fact really funny and weird, and embrace the chaos. I have always joked that I want “It seemed like a good idea at the time…” on my headstone when I die along with a recipe for something that someone 100 years from now will try to make and now I think I mean it. I also want a Viking burial, but those are not really a thing, so maybe I’ll just be composted instead.

As I approach my 50th birthday, speaking of the impossible, I have concluded that it’s really important to know what you want to happen when you die. I don’t really care if there’s a party, but if there is, there should be a wide variety of appetizers, because those are everyone’s favorite’s anyway. No stuffed chicken thank you.

And everyone should take something and use it. I still regret not taking my grandmother’s deviled egg plate, and although I have one now that is probably much nicer, it’s still a regret.

That said, my plan is to go on living for quite some time, enough to be annoying to everyone, so don’t come for my egg plate quite yet. I have a lot to do, and my intention is to be a very fun old lady.

Just not yet.

Yesterday was my probable last day of no-real-plans aloneness for what is probably a long time to come, and I tried to get everything done. Eli is still recovering, so I spent time in the garden and dealing with the laundry that needs to be folded and put away, did some cooking, including clam chowder and organized and cleaned out kids drawers, including starting to load up drawers for the kids who have not arrived yet.

The yardwork is especially a challenge – we have 1.24 acres, and we are the clean up & maintenance crew. Before the giant tax bill we were occasionally able to pay for a spring clean up, but those are pretty expensive, so we just do it as we can. This year that’s going to mean every time we have a free half hour we’ll need to be out there, but it does eventually get done. And in a couple weeks we’ll lay down a few yards of compost. Much of the soil here was pretty bad, so we’re slowly and iteratively working on it, building it up a bit more every year.

And of course, there’s our weekly meal plan and weekend meal prep, which is essential.

Clam chowder was dinner because Eli is finally be able to consume somewhat real somethings, as long as I cut up the Canadian bacon really small. That said, I was probably blithely optimistic about the switch in diets in my last blog post, this is really going to take some work and preparation to make sure there’s food he can eat, and while he eventually will be able to help, not yet.

The rest of the week is going to quite be busy so meal prep and planning is critical, for all 3 meals of each day. And because we have been tightening our belts more, I’m making snacks and things as much as possible.

So this weekend has been heavy on batch cooking. To help make breakfasts easier, I made egg muffin cups – this time with sauteed leek, zucchini and little bits of bacon – quick to grab, easy to chew, good for the freezer. We have a dozen, and I froze all but 4.

There will be leftover clam chowder for a couple lunches during the week, and I may make myself some chicken or tuna salad.

Today I’m going to make these Malted Milk Ice Cream Sandwiches with my son for desserts. We started making them during Covid lockdown, and they are worth all the time and effort. I’ll make tonight’s dinner, the meatballs for Monday, and then Monday evening I’ll mise en place for Tuesday’s dinner.

My target is things that all of us can eat – that the kids like, that Eli can consume, and things that aren’t too stressful for me. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. I might have been wildly overconfident in my last blog post about this. It’s definitely doable, but it is going to take some real prep and planning.

Sunday: Dinner will be stuffed Shells with Ground Beef and Spinach, which is always a hit meal in our house. I’ll probably make popovers to go with it

Monday: Garlic Butter Meatballs with Orzo with some onion and other veggies cooked in. I may make a salad on the side for myself and the oldest, and cut veggies for my son.

Tuesday: We need easy, quick and filling. Creamy Parmesan Sausage Soup should do it. I can do the prep work quickly Monday night or early Tuesday, and then finish the soup with the dairy later so when Eli and my son get home from Fencing class around 6 pm I can feed the hungry folks.

By Wednesday we should have enough leftovers we can have a night of everyone-present-feeds-themselves.

Thursday: More soup! This time Creamy Chicken and Mushroom but with boneless, cooked-until-shreddable chicken. Or maybe Chicken Tortilla Soup. Not sure yet. But definitely soup.

Art by 10 years old

Friday: Eli and I have to travel out to to do a transition visit with the little one, so we likely won’t eat until later. My current plan is to have soup leftovers, but if not I’ll quickly throw some meatballs into broth with sauteed onions, finely chopped and whatever other veggies I can squeak in, unless I manage to make Pav Bhaji in the instant pot that we can come home to.

By Saturday I’ll need another meal plan, and I definitely think that Shepherd’s Pie and Potstickers will be part of it. I also want to get Masarepa next month and make stuffed Arepas, which are a soft corn-based thick pancake that can be topped or stuffed.

I wanted to note a few things here. One, because we’re tightening our belts, we carefully choose the places we spend. Most of our meat comes from Walden Local Meat, a meat delivery service that specializes in local, organic, and sustainable animal welfare. Its important to me if we’re going to eat meat that we do it thoughtfully. We do end up supplementing our chicken and if we need – very occasionally – ground turkey, because there’s never enough and it’s really expensive, but we’re also trying to eat less meat, and less generally.

It’s a pretty expensive investment, so we’re cutting down in other ways. We have a budget and we plan around that based on what we need. Because I don’t always know what Walden local will bring, we often pick our protein and then plan the meal around that. I view this mostly as a fun challenge.

I really focus on things that can make multiple meals. Time is at a premium here, with careers, 2 going on 4 kids, and house and yard work. We have enough going on to keep 4 or 5 adults busy all day every day. In order to sustain that, batch cooking on weekends is essential.

And lastly, I rely on frozen veggies as much as fresh. I have found i sometimes don’t get to Cauliflower when i mean to, and after throwing a lot out, I sometimes buy frozen, which means our Pav Bhaji maybe won’t be quite as authentic as it should be, but I’ll make it when I have time.

And lastly, I love to experiment, especially with foods from other cultures. Often those mean much cheaper ingredients, like lentils, where a 5-lb bag goes a very long way, is a complete protein, and really tastes good. Dal is something I’m working on mastering, as it’s really good, and a great quick and easy lunch. Also there’s just infinite varieties of it, and other uses for lentils – here’s 25 possibilities. Not everything I try is a hit, but by providing variety I find that our options for inexpensive, filling meals grow every month.

Spring Beginnings

The first of the tulips started to bloom yesterday, and they make me so happy to see. I love flowers generally, but tulips for me, even more than daffodils, are the harbinger of spring and green and warmth and gardens. My delight in them is endless, and I plant more every year. Cheap entertainment, are tulips if you add a few at a time and then forget what you planted in the cold of fall, so you get a gorgeous surprise in the spring.

We have been getting a lot done. I ran a 10-mile road race under a canopy of cherry blossoms in Washington DC, much more slowly than in 2019, but as a return to running it was pretty good – I finished, and I definitely wasn’t last. We had a 4-day weekend in DC as a family as well, and it was wonderful.

The giant split-trunk pines are down, and my relief comes every time I look out the window. Yard cleanup is in process. The old, broken attic stairs are out, and the new ones are in, needing just some trim and paint to make them look like they have always been there. Eli’s surgery was this week, just as the kids are on vacation and I’m working straight through, so I’ve prepped self-serve foods for myself and the kids, and this weekend we stocked up at the Asian and Indian grocery stores so the house is filled with fruits, veggies, yogurt drinks and ice cream for Eli as he recovers, and all the snacks.

In addition to a few things from Amazon Subscribe and Save, we’ve spent $621.28 on groceries this month, and that’s the bulk of what we expect to spend, with only fruit and milk for the rest of the month, and probably not much of that, as we have at least a week’s worth still. I tend to prefer to buy more in bulk and then eat it down than go to the grocery store every week, but when we’re deep in savings mode, which we’ll revert to for most of this year, it’s cheaper to do smaller shops on a weekly basis. We went to Costco in March, and will likely do that or BJs in June again, but in between we’ll spend as little as we can and eat up what we have.

Shopping at multiple grocery stores over the course of a month is a big part of our food strategy, and comparing prices is essential. For example, 10 lbs of onions at HMart, the big Korean grocery store near us was $10.99 today, but at Spiceland, the smaller Indian grocery store we frequent, that same bag was $5.99. By waiting, I saved $5 – not much in the grand scheme of things, but I got the same exact thing for almost half the price by paying attention. Because it’s a bit of a trip to go to these stores, we only go every few months, but it’s a fun outing Eli and I really enjoy, and we mostly go by ourselves, since The Adorables, now ages 14 and 10, can be left to their own devices for a few hours here and there.

The next time we go though, we’ll be taking kids with us. 4 arrives mid-May, and her older brother, 7, will arrive in July after he finishes first grade. We’re madly doing projects and going through saved clothes and supplies to get ready, as well as taking on some cleaning projects. This past weekend I emptied and scrubbed out the fridge, did some yard clean up, deep cleaned 14’s room, and several loads of laundry while Eli helped on all fronts and removed the old attic stairs & replaced them to boot.

We have a lot to do in the month before 4 gets here, and not a lot of time to get it done in.

We’re excited, nervous…all the feels. Going from 2 to 4 kids is going to be a thing, and these kids have had some trauma, and for at least a bit our biological kids are going to have it somewhat worse, to be sure. But we’re pretty good at rolling with things, so we’ll go day by day and do all the things we can in order to make it work. But in so many ways, this spring feels like we are in a brand new place – this is a real beginning for us with a larger, finally complete family, renovation on the near horizon, and other big life changes.

During the big things, it’s easy to lose sight of the small ones, but I never try to lose sight of food in the form of meal plans and our budget. We’ll be cooking a lot with the new kids and our existing ones. This month my food splurges – I do have small ones each month – were Tomato Passata and Fennel Pollen to make the now-famous Red Hen Pasta when Eli recovers, a dish apparently so good that your date will order the same dish and never share.

Eli will be on a modified diet for a bit, so my challenge is can i fill our weeks with healthful, varied foods that don’t require a knife to cut? The answer is challenge accepted. Hello to dal, soups and curries. And pasta, of course. Ragu bolognese, in all likelihood. Soft breads, like English Muffin bread. Maybe this Crispy Fried Tofu recipe. And a thing I am so excited to make – Pav Bhaji, served to me by my friends Kalpak and Preeti for dinner this winter. I bought and froze some Pav rolls to go with it already and they gave me the just-right Pav Bhaji Masala. It should be a fun experiment.

As we go into summer, and heavier soups and stews give way to simple things, this is still a good challenge. Dal, of course, is good all year long. Burrata and sliced tomatoes with a little bit of basil and balsamic vinegar over a soft bread is a good dinner when it’s really, really hot. And then there’s Gazpacho. I’ve made a lot of gazpacho in my time, and I can’t say enough good things about this one and then this one, which I was fortunate enough to have several times at Charley’s Crab in Palm Beach before it closed. And then of course fish – lots and lots of fork-tender fish.

And then as the weather cools later this year, I’ll probably splurge on some good Hungarian paprika in the fall and make Hungarian Goulash, which honestly, I’m thinking needs a side of pierogies.

We definitely won’t starve. And soon enough the seedlings will become the garden and our CSA, and we will be living in sunshine. Happy Spring!

Realigned Perspective

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

This year is flying, just like last year did. Seedlings are starting to come up, we’ve begun to tackle yard cleanup, a multi-week endeavor, my 10-mile spring road race is just one short week away, oldest child won an art award that is a pretty big deal, and our lives are totally different than they were just a week ago. We’re in the process of making our final decision on whether to adopt a very cute brother/sister pair, and we’ve been moving forward as if it will be a yes. It’s both exciting and overwhelming, and with not a small touch of worry about the impact on our biological kids tossed in.

We have a lot to do this spring – the big, split-trunk pines are finally coming down, as are a couple smaller dead pines and a giant pine that split and fell behind the garage but didn’t hurt anything, thankfully. There’s a lot of old, very tall pines here, and taking them down is a very expensive endeavor. But it’s critical to do, and worth the it so that we don’t worry every time we have a windstorm. The split-trunk pines are house and human killers, and we’ve been putting it off, but we just can’t now. These are not a-guy-with-a-chainsaw trees, these are where-do-we-put-the-crane trees.

And our walkway, which is filled with pea gravel is getting a redo. I truly loathe pea gravel – it gets in everything and everywhere, when we shovel snow we inadvertently throw it onto the grass, and the guy who plows sometimes gets too close in and tosses it everywhere. So we’re done, and budgeting for a brick walkway, which is really a weekend’s worth of effort, plus the cost of bricks, edging and sand. We also need to replace the two cracked storm windows on the porch, and the pull-down attic staircase, which broke right around Christmas because why not. I’d really love to replace the light on the stairway landing, but we’ll see. I hate it, it collects bugs (who in their right minds puts a light up that high – really too high to clean very often – that doesn’t have an open base?) but it’s not super critical.

Last year we got hit very hard in the financials – we had a thing, and it took out just about all of our hard-won savings, accrued some debt, and left me feeling pretty deflated, after the intense ups and downs of the last 7 years. We had finally been in a place where savings was up, expenses were down and the future felt bright. Enter a heart-stopping, mind-rending tax bill from closing down my consulting company, and literally the day after we paid it, our furnace guy telling us ‘your old oil tank is leaking, I have to pull it out and replace it, that will be $5500.00, no it can’t wait also here’s a $1700 bill for your heating oil‘.

There’s not a lot of things that put me in a mood to lie down in a fetal position, but those couple days did. So we did what we had to do, and have been working through bringing ourselves back to level ground since, somewhat more challenging with inflation being what it is. We still have to do much-needed repair work – and the bottom of the driveway will have to be repaved soon, but we can leave it for a while.

The good news is that we had some additional income that came in shortly thereafter, the bad news is that we also have some fairly major and expensive dental work for Eli this year, and renovation probably can’t wait much longer. So we’re in this interesting place where we’re fine, really, but not at all where we want to be, and it’s been a little exhausting. The upside is that I have hotel and airline points for travel, so we’re able to do some things this year despite the unexpected convergence of us needing to pay for everything, everywhere, all at once.

So we did what anyone would to plan for it. We broke our multi-month stretch of only buying what we needed for the week, went to Costco and stocked up on literally everything, then bought all the Easter candy and basket stuffs, and now our grocery shops are small and focused again. We have plenty of food, we have warmth and safety and a roof over our heads, we have friends and family who we love and are loved by us, and we’ll rebuild to where we were, it’s just going to take a while. It’s hard to have to do that yet again, and I won’t lie and say it isn’t demoralizing at times.

But my gratitude for our life is immense. What hit us in the last year could have been a tidal wave that took us out. Instead, because we’re generally good savers it was a hole in the boat, granted a huge one, but our ship was far from sinking, and we chugged in to shore for repairs under our own sail, a bit battered and tired, but still upright.

We’ve not eliminated all the luxuries of our life – the kids activities, occasional fun outings or short trips, but we’ve pared back significantly, eliminating lots of recurring charges, finding frugal or free ways to solve problems, and still tried to be there for family and friends. We budget for the stuff we really enjoy and have jettisoned a lot of extraneous spending.

For a long time, I was mad and upset – we had worked so hard to be where we were, and it was so not fair to have instability tear through our lives again. But after a while I realized that it was my mindset that had to change, not so much our circumstances.

Shit happens, and that’s why you structure your life so you can handle it when it does. We have a home full of love, our kids are safe and well, and money is – well, it’s just money. It’s great and all, but it’s a vehicle, not the end game. It took a while for me to remember that. And so this afternoon as Eli and I started on the monthlong venture that is spring yard cleanup, I turned my thoughts to where we have both been. It is a thousand miles from where we are now and while there has been grief and challenges, our joy is only limited by our perception of how things are.

And when I really take stock, they are pretty damn good. That’s not a Pollyanna-ish happy ending, there’s still stress, too much laundry, and we’re often so busy and tired we can’t see straight.

But it is important perspective – joy is not a thing that is bought.

We Stopped Buying Groceries in Bulk for 3 Months. Here’s What Happened.

Wow, how is it late February already? We’ve had an absolutely delightful Valentine’s Day, our oldest turned 14 and just gets better with age, and I’ve been traveling more frequently for work. But we did something else as well, that has taken much more creative effort, and that is to (albeit temporarily) completely stop bulk-buying groceries. It’s time to start seeds too, which always gives me hope for spring.

I write this as we head into another weekend of freezes, after snow and ice hit us – and a lot of people across the US – while I was in Florida on my last business trip. When I finally got home at 3 am after multiple delays, home could have been an ice cave for all I cared, so long as it had my family and my pillow in it. This winter has been an oddly warm one in Massachusetts, but we’ve already had one polar vortex, and this weekend is shaping up to be pretty frigid.

But back to no bulk-buying, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom on how to procure groceries. Still, there’s a method to my madness.
In January, the focus was on our pantry challenge, which was a mixed bag when time got to be an equal challenge for us, and we spent a chunk more than planned on food, but still a lot less than usual. And we ate significant space into our freezers and pantry, and used up things that had been lingering around. There’s still more work to do there, but overall I’d give us a B-. Not A+ grade, but still pretty decent.

But the other thing that I’ve been trying to address is that our grocery bill has spiked hugely since the pandemic started in March of 2020 for a variety of reasons. For one, unlike those that had time for hobbies, I work in Mortgage Servicing, and the pandemic job losses and governmental programs that launched to help struggling borrowers meant that we were busier than we had ever been before. I regularly put in 12 hour days, time on weekends, and logged in at night after everyone’s evening routine had wrapped up and I kept this up for multiple years. No sourdough art bread for us, between that and the kids schooling at home we were slammed. Which meant putting homemade food on the table required a lot less analysis and a lot more winging it.

Lots of mindless grocery shopping happened. Lots.

And with the kids home and everyone uncertain about the future, we started buying a lot more snacks and junk food than we had ever before, which we’ve tapered significantly, but that definitely added to the bill. What at first was a ‘whatever-gets-you-through-today‘ philosophy simply morphed into less-healthy habits and a higher grocery bill.

And of course shortages, and inflation. Add that together and our pantry and freezers were always full, but too full and with a complete lack of knowledge of what was in there.

So step 1 was to really concentrate on using things up. Step 2 was really to re-focus on meal planning not just for dinners but breakfast and lunches as well, and buy what we needed, and very little else. I mean, occasionally we needed chocolate covered pretzels or strawberry cheesecake Ben & Jerry’s but doesn’t everyone?

We really needed to get a grip, and we started to. And when we looked at our shopping habits, what I realized was that while stock up shops at Costco or BJs happened about once a quarter pre-pandemic, they were happening a lot more frequently once Covid hit. We never ran out of anything, and it was like having our own grocery store at home. Which is great, honestly, because we could make anything we wanted anytime, but also a little silly after we got vaccinated, boosted and were able to get out more. Groceries are meant to be used up.

So I shifted gears completely. Dinner meal plans were made and (mostly) adhered to. We reduced our meat intake, something we’d been working on separately. And we added a lot more vegetables, also working on 30 unique plant-based foods a week, which is a whole lot.

Our food budget has gone way down – on a weekly basis, we’re spending about $160 including several gallons of milk from our local dairy. Last week and this we spiked over $200, but that was because we were actually out of things we never run out of, like those aforementioned snacks. Even with baking cookies weekly to add to school lunches, there comes a point where you need to buy some things.

And we do still shop to recipes, because cravings! Like this amazing buffalo chicken skillet pictured below with ground beef instead of chicken because that’s what we had, but mostly we’re shopping around raw ingredients, sales and using the meats we have from our Walden Local Meat delivery. I’ve made this one 3 times now, and we rave about it each and every time I do.

It was a pretty big paradigm shift to just shop for the week, and the best part is that it has worked extremely well. Where we need to focus next is ensuring that there’s always healthy lunches available to us when we’re short on time during the week, but our weeknights have been remarkably smooth and pretty healthy, all things considered.

It’s true, we do run out of things these days, and it definitely requires a bit more thought, but it has also been a fun marital collaboration exercise, making a meal plan and a grocery list. Today it was especially fun because both of us had slept very little, and walking to and from the living room where we were lazing in front of the fire to check to see if we had things like lemons left felt like a lot of work, so when Eli managed to be the one to ensure we didn’t overbuy, it felt like an achievement. Try to keep in mind that the kitchen and the living room are about 8 feet apart. We are nothing if not exciting here at Sithean. This week we had a lot more leftover veggies and food because I traveled, but conversely we had a dinner request from my son and we were out of some things that we needed.

So what does that mean in practice? Well, we did already have lots of food in bulk form, so we’ve been eating that down. We’ve made exceptions for a few items, like rice, that we normally buy from the Asian grocery store in 15-lb bags, and go through about every couple months. But mostly we’re buying what we can eat in a week, and supplementing with items in our freezer and pantry. We’ll still do quarterly stock-ups at big bulk stores, and while we’ve trimmed down what we get from Amazon’s subscribe and save service, we still do have some items supplementing our normal grocery shopping.

So what does it look like? This week we ordered groceries from Whole Foods/Amazon because we would have otherwise been to multiple stores. While their prices are high on some things, they are also often lower on vegetables, and the produce is very fresh.

I’ve included our whole order with exact amounts below. This week included more meat than usual because my son requested Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon and Eli wanted homemade bread to go with it. We were running low on flour, which is normally delivered to us every few months in 30-lb quantities, so I ended up buying a 5-lb bag of it. We were also out of bacon, which normally comes with our Walden Local Meat delivery. I would say meat added another 25% cost to our budget, something to consider in the future. We already had the baby potatoes, onions and mushrooms, as well as beef broth, so it was the bacon and beef that were the costs.

And I accidentally orderd 1.5 lbs of deli sliced cheddar instead of .5 lbs, so we’ll be finding ways to eat cheese. And we bought eggs because while the chickens are laying intermittently, the cold tends to put them off of production.

Fortunately for us, cheese consumption isn’t typically a problem. And we have pineapple, honeydew, apples and oranges for fruit, along with a few blackberries we’ll eat in the next 24 hours.

So what does this week’s menu look like?
Friday : For breakfast Connor and Eli made me and themselves some eggs – Connor’s first omelet was delicious! I supplemented with Trader Joe’s bake-your-own croissants from the freezer, which are a favorite treat around here.
Instant pot beef bourguignon and homemade bread were dinner for 3 of the 4 of us, since our oldest met friends for dinner. The weather was cold and I was tired from traveling all week for work, so this was a lovely warm dinner to sit down to, and not a lot of effort.
Saturday: Dinner out, our annual Igloo dinner on the water with my parents. Breakfast and lunch were leftover beef stew and bread, eggs and bagels. Oldest had leftovers from dinner out.
Sunday: Waffles and bacon for breakfast, leftovers and catchall for lunch, Stuffed Shells for dinner with salad and cut veggies – I had bought most of the ingredients for the stuffed shells the week prior, and ran out of time to cook them.
We’ll prep cupcakes for my son’s lunches and Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad for lunches. If I have time I’ll make granola. We’ll also cut up the pineapple we bought previously and eat up the last of the blackberries from Misfits Market.
Monday: Breakfast is leftover waffles, or egg sandwiches with English muffins we already had, ham, egg and cheese. Lunches are quinoa salad and whatever supplements catch our eye in the fridge. Eli cooks chicken with plenty of leftovers, broccoli that we already had and rice will be the sides.
Tuesday: Breakfast is pretty similar to Monday, but I’ll probably have scrambled eggs and we have oatmeal as well. Dinner is a simple Chicken Pot Pie Soup, using up some cooked chicken I have in the freezer with salad and cut veggies on the side. The celery was bought last week and really needs to be used.
Wednesday: Our oldest goes to Dad’s after Volleyball, so it’s our son and us. Eli cooks, TBD but we have a lot of peppers from previous shopping trips, so maybe stuffed peppers. Breakfasts again are egg sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or oatmeal.
Thursday: Same breakfasts as before, but usually by this point in the week I’m eating leftovers for a combo breakfast/lunch. It’s just Eli and I, so we’ll make the last 2 frozen salmon fillets in the freezer over cauliflower rice and with some crispy brussels sprouts.
Friday: Simple breakfast – eggs, cereal or oatmeal, and Eli and I will eat Tuna Salad for lunch, which we have everything for already. I tend to add dried cranberries and red onion to it. The kids are with Dad this weekend, so dinners will be simple and healthy for the 2 of us.
Saturday: We’ll probably need a few things for the week, and some more milk, but this week’s grocery shop should be much less. Lunch is TBD, and dinner will be a simple marinated meat or fish with Kale Salad with Crispy Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas. In addition to a few things we’ll need for the week, we’ll get more of the La Fermiere Honey Blossom yogurt, which is a huge splurge and treat, but oh-so-delicious.
Sunday: The kids come home today, and I have one more big package of chicken breasts in the freezer, so I’ll make Sheet Pan Sticky Ginger Sesame Chicken, which I’ve been meaning to try and then also marinate chicken for sheet pan chicken fajitas on Monday and probably prep some chili for lunches during the week as well as chocolate chip cookies for snacks and lunches.
Monday: Sheet pan fajitas, guacamole and salsa, salad

We’ll still have a bunch of food to use up, including a couple of butternut squashes from our autumn stock up, so I’m already planning the next meal plan. It’s almost, but not quite, time to stockpile for a few months, and Eli and I have decided to splurge on a Costco membership, mostly for the reduced-price gas. We still like to go to BJs as well with the Moms because they have things Costco doesn’t, so we’ll try to do that periodically.

Items in your order (40)

Bell & Evans Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast


3.83 lb ($7.49/lb)


Beef Stew Meat Grass Fed Step 4

2.97 lb

2.97 lb ($10.99/lb)


Weight adjusted from est. 3.00 lb

Wellshire Farms Virginia Baked Ham

0.50 lb

0.50 lb ($12.99/lb)


Cabot Mild Cheddar Cheese

1.50 lb

1.50 lb ($8.49/lb)


Burnett Dairy Provolone Cheese

1.00 lb

1.00 lb ($8.49/lb)


Bacon Pork Bulk Dry Rub Black Forest

1.00 lb

1.00 lb ($10.99/lb)


Onion Green Scallion Conventional, 1 Bunch



Carlson Orchard, Cider Apple, 64 Fl Oz



365 by Whole Foods Market, Eggs Brown Large Grade A, 12 Count



365 by Whole Foods Market, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, 12 Ounce



365 by Whole Foods Market, Pasta Elbows, 16 Ounce



365 by Whole Foods Market, Tater Puffs Organic, 16 Ounce



365 by Whole Foods Market, Mushrooms Mixed Organic, 10 Ounce



King Arthur All Purpose Unbleached Flour, 5 Pound



Red Mango



365 by Whole Foods Market, Olives Green Ripe Pitted Medium, 6 Ounce



PETIT GOURMET French Beans, 16 OZ



English Cucumber, One Count



365 by Whole Foods Market, Seed Mustard Ground, 1.41 Ounce



Lime Regular Conventional, 1 Each



365 by Whole Foods Market, Syrup Chocolate Organic, 15.8 Ounce



La Fermiere Orange Blosson Honey Yogurt, 4.9 Oz



Sunset, Cucumber Mini, 12 Ounce



365 by Whole Foods Market, Pretzel Chocolate Milk, 5 Ounce



Sunset Grown Honey Bombs Tomatoes, 12 Oz



Organic Navel Oranges, 4 lb Bag



Large Hass Avocado



365 By Whole Foods Market, Butter Salted Organic, 16 Ounce



Icelandic Provisions 5.3oz Traditional Skyr Yogurt, Peach Cloudberry, Icelandic Cultured Dairy Product With 15g Protein Per Serving | Thick & Creamy T



365 by Whole Foods Market, Peas Green Petite Organic, 16 Ounce



Little Leaf Farms Crispy Baby Red & Green Leaf Lettuce, 4 Ounce



Better Than Bouillon Organic Roasted Beef Base, Made with Seasoned Roasted Beef, USDA Organic, Blendable Base for Added Flavor, 38 Servings Per Jar, 8



Honeydew Melon



365 by Whole Foods Market, Organic Carrots, 1 lb Bag



Kitchen Creative

We’ve migrated into the part of the year when we’re all supposed to be reinventing ourselves into new, better selves. As I sit at my kitchen table after a run on my treadmill (I’m training for a race, so eventually I have to run outside but right now it’s cold out and I don’t want to), I contemplate all my new improved self behaviors, such as patiently, rather than my usual impatiently, waiting for my husband to leave the kitchen so I can finish the leftovers by myself, or being excited when I accidentally drop a bath bomb intended to be used by the kids and break it, therefore making it fair game for me.

In my defense it is dragon shaped and apparently emits vegan sparkles.
I mean, wouldn’t you?

Our meal plan this week was just about flawless. Well, it was. Coming to the end of the first week of our pantry challenge, with a mantra of using up what we have, we had made a plan through Saturday to use what we had, with Sunday picking up on some added fruit, veggies and milk. Total spend for the 2 weeks on groceries? $66.61 + another $8.78 on a couple of gallons of milk from our local dairy. Not bad. We had plenty of apples, squashes, sweet potatoes and onions, plus some other random veggies in the drawers to use up. Our freezer had plenty of meat in it, and so far we’ve eaten pretty well. Then of course as we were taking stock for lunches we realized that we had definitely under-planned, and spent another $49.01. Way less than our usual, more than we had hoped.

Eli and I were by ourselves on Saturday evening, so my plan was stuffed spaghetti squash, a house favorite. And then I took a look at our 4 spaghetti squashes. Moldy, all of them. And I had just spent the grocery money that was supposed to hold us until January 20th, just under 2 weeks away.

The only thing between me and running to the store is our pantry challenge. That challenge is part of us cutting back spending to achieve bigger goals. But you know, I could have just run out.

I didn’t. I quickly started googling recipes for the ground lamb I had thawed in anticipation of stuffing the squashes, and mentally inventorying our food supply. Theme? I really thought I was going in a Lamb Keema direction, but since we’re short on our 30 plant based foods for the week, I was going to jazz it up. To be honest, we have a lot of root veggies to use up, so I peeled and chopped a few sweet potatoes and a rutabaga that had been part of our last winter CSA distribution, and melted some ghee in a glass baking dish. I had actually never cooked a rutabaga before, but I took 2 home as a challenge in late December.

And then, um, they sat in the veggie drawer.

I put the chopped sweet potatoes and rutabaga in the baking dish, tossed a bit more ghee on top, and popped them in the oven at 375 degrees F. I was going for nutritional density without heavy refined carbs. Not being totally sure how I wanted to season them, or even really if I was going to mix them in with dinner or have them as a side, I didn’t put anything else on them.

At some point I started mulling just how many vegetables I could stick in this meal. I have recently been targeting variety – 30 plant-based foods a week, which is supposed to be a huge differential in gut health. I had some baby spinach that needed to be used up, half an already-baked butternut squash from a recipe earlier in the week, and of course, onions and frozen peas. But the night prior, in a planned exception to our Uber Frugal Month I had dinner with a friend at a Tapas bar. She and her family are going through a thing, and sometimes you suspend your spending freezes and dry Januaries for a night of friendship.

I got a little inspired by the Potatoes Bravas we had shared, and went in the general tapas direction. Mostly.

I made the Potatoes Bravas sauce for the sweet potatoes and rutabagas, tossed them after they had baked for 45 minutes, and left them for another 45 or so.
There was a lot of sauce left, so to that I added a generous splash of red cooking wine, and the butternut squash, which had been baked into a soft mush. Stirred that around and it was surprisingly good.

In a separate pan I cooked the ground lamb, a package of frozen cauliflower rice, and the last of the spinach. I then combined it together in my cast iron skillet – I splurged on a Staub skillet a while back, and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made – and topped it with a hard cheese that we hadn’t opened over the holidays, called Casa de Medivil, in keeping with my not-really-but-maybe Spanish theme.

I toasted (ok, sort of burned) the last few pine nuts I had in my fridge, and added some olives and marinated peppadews and mushrooms to a plate of sliced burrata, then topped it with a little bit of Maple Bacon Aioli we had in the pantry that needed to be opened and used, and topped it with the pine nuts.

And that was dinner. Total plant-food count? 11, 7 of which we hadn’t had previously during the week. I don’t count the seasonings, although technically you can.

I did all this while Eli was putting on our new storm door, which required hours of creative carpentry, because nothing in this house was built to any standard sizes, since there wasn’t as much of that back in 1850. The new door is just about done and lovely, and my husband braving the cold to do carpentry on the porch is something I have endless gratitude about, especially considering I wussed out on being cold this morning even for the 5 minutes it would take me to break a sweat running.

Did we meet our 30 plant-based food varieties goal this week? I honestly don’t know, I totally lost track. Close…I think? I’ll track better this coming week.

Sunday I made a batch of chicken tortilla soup, and put together a shepherd’s pie, for Monday dinner I splurged on tortilla chips and fresh Pico de Gallo because it’s just not the same without.

I was traveling Tuesday and Wednesday, so Thursday I pulled some meatballs out of the freezer, cooked pasta, and added a jar of Rao’s sauce, and made some popovers and that, plus sliced avocado and peppers was dinner. Friday was bulgogi, also from the freezer, with rice, roasted broccoli, and some Trader Joe’s scallion pancakes I had bought on a whim and stuck in the freezer a while back. There were plenty of leftovers for weekend lunches.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and my plan for breakfast is two-ingredient pumpkin donuts (thank you @sydneyinsuburbia), fresh fruit, and breakfast sausage from the freezer. And then it will be time for steak tacos and more meal plans.

Days of Rest

It’s all over. Christmas, and the big turkey feast. Trips to the grandparents for the kids to ice skate. A big evening out for Eli and I. A New Year’s Eve feast with the grandmas. In one short week, we filled our lives with wonderful meals, company, and so much of everything – fun, work, joy, celebration. So much time with family. Our hearts are filled with love from it all.

But we’re also weary.

But from here, it’s mellow. It’s January, and oddly warm as it is here, it’s the quiet part of winter. We have another couple days of vacation before life comes back to greet us, and I intend to use that time well for both rest and restoration, as well as to get a few things done.

We still need to dismantle the Christmas decorations, but from now until late February when I start my garden seeds, it will be the small things that really matter. Meals, routines, small cleaning or home improvement projects, time to do a puzzle. Later this month or in early February I’ll order more seeds, but not yet.

Because today and tomorrow the plan is to rest, to cook, to organize, and just be. It’s time to get my training going for the 10-mile race I am planning for April. This year is home-centered. We’ll spend some time away in the mountains and in Maine this summer, and depending on the adoption situation we’ll maybe get away for a few days over April vacation, but most of our time this year will be spent at home, and that contents me. Last year was a big one for trips, but being away from home so much meant that some things, like being an attentive gardener, or keeping track of what was in the freezer went by the wayside.

This year the focus will be much more on making sure we have time to breathe and spend in the yard.

Garden. Kids. Home. And in May, baby chicks. Most of our flock is almost 4 years old now, so it’s time. While we are still getting eggs after a prolonged pause, we are sporadically losing chickens and it’s time to replenish our flock.

But first, we are in day 1 of our pantry eat down and frugal month challenge, which means overall we’re just not spending money on anything other than bills. The biggest part of this is the pantry challenge. The rules are this – for the full month of January we can buy vegetables for planned meals, milk for drinking, coffee augmentation & cereal, as it’s an essential in this house, and fruit. Alternatives must be found (for example, toasted tortillas if we’re out of tortilla chips, etc) for anything we don’t have. Other than our monthly meat delivery, which I forgot, in the holiday madness, to put on hold for January our total budget for the month for food is $198, which is about 1/4 of the usual expenditure in this area, and we may be able to do it for less.

And a perk of the big cleanout is…cleaning out. As things empty – and our time is put into cleaning out closets and drawers, we clean as we go along. To say the house needs it is an understatement as clutter is creeping in everywhere.

Since we had our big Chinese feast last night, most of the meals so far today have been leftover oriented, but tonight we’ll need something healthy to offset all the heavy meals of the last week or two. I have some fresh broccoli and cauliflower, so I’ll pan roast them with a little garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and serve them up with a simple chicken dish, maybe Butternut Squash Butter Chicken, or a simple stir fry. This week is the race to use up all the veggies in the vegetable drawers that I bought around the holidays. My budget starting next Friday is $72 including all groceries, and milk. If I want delivery, in order to stay out of the store, that has to include delivery and tip, so I’ll be very careful about our meal plan, but this week we have to be a bit more flexible to use up what we have.

Tomorrow I’ll make Chicken Parmesan that will cover lunches for my son as well, and prepare some sort of turkey soup with the broth I made for Tuesday, when everyone is back to work and school, and likely to be tired at the end. I’m thinking something along a Mexican theme, with salsa verde and tortillas toasted into chips.

Wednesday is just Eli and I, and I have the ingredients, minus the ground chicken (I’ll sub in ground beef) for a re-creation of Buffalo Chicken Enchilada Bake.

Thursday Eli is planning to make us Broccoli Cheddar Soup, and then this weekend, while the kids are at their Dad’s and we’re cleaning out closets and doing projects, I’ll stuff spaghetti squash, roast sweet potatoes, and maybe make some homemade Indian food dishes for us as well as preparing something delicious for Sunday night when the kids come home. Probably Shepherd’s Pie, which we haven’t had in ages, and will help use up the last of the red potatoes we bought for Christmas dinner.

Tuesday and Wednesday of next week I have to travel, getting home Thursday morning, so Eli will be on his own for food prep, but I’ll pick back up for Friday night dinner with the kids on the 13th, and cook straight through the weekend.

It might sound funny to take so much pleasure in using up what we have, but there’s something about January that makes me want to use things up and tidy, maybe making space for all the new that’s on the way in.

Happy New Year to you and yours. May today be restful for you, body and spirit.

Counting our Blessings

This time of year I feel like we’re never still for more than a moment. Their are presents to buy and make, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, food to deliver, packages to mail, and all of that on top of just our general busyness – work, school and life.

We finally start to still on Christmas in the late afternoon – all the work is done, gifts are gifted, Christmas dinner is eaten, and there’s nothing left but to sit back and breathe. It’s that moment around 5 pm Christmas day when there’s nothing left to be done that I finally sit and relax. And for us, the day after Christmas is a continuation of the nothing – leftovers, a fire in the wood stove, everyone gets to enjoy their presents and relax.

But as I sit and write, we’re still a couple of days from that. The Christmas turkey is thawing, I’ve got batches of cookies to bake tonight, and gifts to wrap, and the refrigerator is filled with delicious things, so full it’s hard to squeak it all in.

Still, for all the craziness, it’s been joyful as well. I managed to sneak away for a weekend in Montreal with the oldest, just the two of us, and it was a delight. Cold, but marvelous 1-1 time visiting the Christmas Markets, Biodome, A Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit, and a dress-up dinner, plus exploration of bakeries, the underground city, and Chinatown. 13 is honestly a delight – interested in food and experiences, willing to try new things, funny and opinionated. While we did that Eli took my son into Boston for a night for pool time and holiday shopping.

January is our pantry challenge month, and so far I have meals planned to the end of the first week. We have a lot of things to use up right now, so our meals are being built around what we have in most cases. But first we had to have all the things for our Christmas meal, so our final grocery delivery came today. We also have a few things we don’t usually cook from our last winter CSA, like celeriac and rutabaga, so I need to get creative to use those up.

I have some days off after the holiday, and some of that time will be spent prepping freezer items, such as homemade pizza dough, so we can just grab it and thaw it. 2022 was full of travel and adventure. The coming year will be much more centered around home, and that’s just fine. Adoption, the garden, and some home maintenance in advance of full renovation – taking trees down, the end of the driveway needs repaving, and just generally getting ready. In order to be fully ready, and because interest rates and construction costs are so high, we postponed a year, but we’re reaching the point where we can’t wait.

So it’s time. But first, it’s time to gather and celebrate, and be profoundly grateful for our life, just as it is.

Meal plan for Christmastime:

Friday December 23rd
: Taco Pizza, guacamole, salsa and chips
Saturday December 24th: Dinner with Family – their house
Sunday December 25th: Cheese board, turkey, stuffing with sausage, sage and onion, 4 cheese mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and onions, and cranberry-raspberry sauce. Eli will make pizzelles, and our guests will bring green bean casserole and pie.
Monday December 26: Leftovers. Mom definitely doesn’t cook
Tuesday December 27th: Turkey pot pie, broccoli cheese soup
Wednesday December 28th: Play-it-by-ear day, maybe leftovers, maybe something else, definitely the day to turn the turkey into soup stock. I do have to cook for some friends who have a child fighting cancer, so we may end up having the same thing they are
Thursday December 29th: Time to detox from Christmas food so Salmon with horseradish and mustard crust and a squash salad
Friday December 30th: Date night – some nice person at an Italian restaurant is cooking
Saturday December 31st: Homemade and ordered Chinese food
Sunday January 1st: Montreal Steaks with Green Goddess salad
Monday January 2nd: Chicken Parmesan, popovers, pasta and broccoli

From my home to yours, Happy Holidays. May they be filled with warmth, light and food.

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving and I’ve Already Bought Christmas Dinner

There’s no turkey shortage this year, but still, reasons.

I hope your Thanksgiving day was warm and cozy and merry however you celebrated, and that might be ‘uh, not at all, Rachael, we live in East Somewhere that doesn’t do the whole Pilgrim-y myth thing, we do what any sane person does in November and that’s stay inside and eat soup‘. This is all good, although I’m going to unequivocally state that turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and whatever sides you prefer is the meal of the year. Which is why we frequently hit the repeat button for Christmas.

This year food prices are absolutely shocking. I mean like the tub of cream cheese that was $3.69 last year at this time is now $7.69. Even though we are doing ok, we have to be thoughtful. I’ve considered making a price book again, just to track the changes.

Last year prices weren’t so bad, but there was shortages of everything. While the supply chain has smoothed out, the increase in prices is reason enough to spread out the costs. So here’s what we did.

  1. November is our big food stockpile month anyway, so this year we have most of the goods from that – squashes galore, sweet potatoes and a 25 lb bag of keeping onions my sister brought from the farm by her that we love. So with the exception of potatoes and cheese and crackers, most of the sides are set. We have 5 pie pumpkins alone, so I see a lot of pumpkin recipes in our future. So most of our sides will come from this bounty.
  2. Stuffing bread and mixes are cheapest around Thanksgiving, and for the most part, they keep. Same with turkey brine mixes if that’s your thing. So those are bought and tucked away in the pantry for a few weeks.
  3. Our meat share offers turkeys at Thanksgiving, but not at Christmas, so we ordered a lovely bird and popped it in the freezer. Same with salami/cured sausage, so we got that too.
  4. We ordered 5 lbs of cranberries – I love cranberries – this fall and used some for Thanksgiving #2, but still have plenty for more Cranberry-raspberry sauce, cranberry bread, and so on.
  5. Flour and sugar for Christmas baking are also the cheapest right around now, so we just buy a lot. We also have a lot of butter from our last (and likely last) Azure Standard order. We make baked goods for gifts, and of course, for ourselves.
  6. Our Winter CSA runs through December and so we’ll choose our greens and some sides from that. We have a pickup every other week, and the list of what’s available is published the Monday of pickup week. So we’ll eat well, but won’t be able to plan that part out.

So what that means is when I start doing Christmas dinner prep sometime on the 23rd – because much prep can be done in advance – I’ll probably only need a few things. December’s grocery budget is much, much lower than November’s, but we’ll still need to shop for our traditional homemade Chinese feast (the last couple years we have supplemented with ordered food, not sure how we’ll do it this year). We’ll take the kids with us to the Asian market to get our supplies the week before Christmas.

January’s budget is lower still, since that’s the month of our pantry challenge. We’ll buy milk, fruit and veggies and that’s all. It’s pleasant to start cleaning out the freezers and cabinets as we head into a new year. It makes meal planning super important, because we can’t just run out to get something, but it also means being creative, which is a fun way to challenge oneself.

And all that’s great. But by doing it in advance I also saved myself time and mental energy, which is a holiday gift in and of itself.

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