How Does My Garden Grow – July 2020

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Spaghetti Squash

I figured I had better get motivated and publish this post before you know, July ends.  Which it’s going to, very shortly.  Which brings me to – holy heck this year is traversing it’s portfolio of months fast.  Except the back half of March, which lasted 3 years, I feel like every month of 2020 is lasting about 6 minutes.

I admit it, other than watering and checking in on the plants (okay tomatoes, RIPEN!) I’ve been ignoring the garden.  I did get a little weeding in the trench bed done last weekend, but between the fact that it’s been well over 90 degrees on the weekends, the work we’re still doing on the house and some commitments, the garden has mostly had to tend itself lately.  Which means it’s very weedy, but doing just fine.

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Birdhouse Gourd

But it’s gone completely insane.  In a good way.  The squashes and pumpkins are trailing everywhere, despite my efforts to make them stay up and orderly in their spaces.  Our zucchinis are regularly growing into things that could more accurately be described as baseball bats, and those are in the process of mostly becoming Zucchini Relish for holiday giving – it’s a bit of work, but this stuff is really delicious! And when we’re done with that, anything we don’t immediately eat we’ll shred and freeze the rest for baking.

Pumpkins and butternut squash, as well as one Red Kuri squash are also thriving.  From a curcurbita perspective, the garden is the most healthy and productive it has ever been.  The Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkins, lovely Cinderella pumpkins that are gorgeous to display and eat – I have at least 4 growing healthily on the vines that I can count.   I’ve always felt lucky to get even one.  This year is a squash year for sure.

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While my Son’s Jack Be Little pumpkin plant looks healthy it still doesn’t have any tiny pumpkins yet, but there’s time for that.

But I am still waiting on the first ripe tomato.  Yellow tomato flowers and green ones abound.  But for Sungolds and slicing tomatoes, along with the San Marzanos that feed my desire to make sauce – messy and time consuming, but so delicious in the winter when it’s cold and dark and nothing is growing – I continue to wait, making my pesto, watering my flowers, and dreaming of red and gold.

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Looking Ahead

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Back in early 2014, before moving to Florida, moving back 2.5 years later, getting divorced and starting over with not even a fork to furnish an apartment (I took my clothes and a few small items, that was about it), and some major financial whacks over the head since then  – 50 foot pine falling on the house, appliances dying, major dental bills, etc.  In the before, I was deeply frugal, and within 10 years of paying off my mortgage.

But I was also pretty unhappy.

Fast forward 6 years, and I’m very happy, but for a long time I, and then Eli (who was also decimated by some health issues over the years) have been rebuilding our lives from a possession/asset/financial perspective.  Some of this was absolutely self-inflicted, and that’s okay.  You make choices, you live with them.

This summer, as we reconfigured the house as a first step to both accommodating all of us home all the time due to Covid-19 as well as ensuring we had places to sleep for more kids as we start our journey to adopt, we hit a point where we had actually basically acquired most of the things.  Sure, we still need a generator and Eli some more tools and all that, but basically, we’re done other than some budgeted-for home maintenance, like taking down more scary pine trees around the house so they don’t fall on us and dealing with the basement water issues.

Which leaves us in a place where we are free of all debt except the mortgage, and can turn our efforts to more long-term goals.  While sometimes it’s hard for me to look back and see 6 years of financial shakiness and upheaval, I can also look at what we’ve both accomplished, and feel incredibly proud.  Not only have we settled in here for good, we’ve also constructed a life that is exactly what we want it to be.  Can we hike, camp and canoe, 3 of our favorite, no-added-charge activities?  Yes, yes we can.  Garden, chickens?  Check.  Living spaces that are comfortable and make us happy?  Check.

This because when we do spend money, we employ foresight, and invest in things that will bring us joy for long periods of time – the garden, the chicken coop, and so on.

When we took out the canoe last weekend for it’s maiden voyage – because a canoe was not just a canoe, we also needed a rack for the car, a rack to keep it on here, paddles, life preservers and so on, so it took a bit of time and investment to get it to a place where we can use it on autopilot, I thought a lot about goals and foresight.  Upfront spend and elbow grease were required here – I ordered the canoe with backs on the seats because we’re already in our 40s and I know our backs aren’t likely to improve with age – we have a canoe we can use for 20+ years.  Eli built a rack that allows him to simply slide the canoe on the car, no lifting required.   The sheer joy we both felt as we (ok, mostly Eli) paddled down the river is now replicable over and over, without costing another penny.

So what’s next?

Well, so that’s the interesting thing.  We have some major goals and projects in the time ahead, and we’re already planning for them.

First up, is to cut our expenses down to the bare minimum so that we can save as much as humanly possible.  This is going to require us relentlessly reviewing every dime we spend, from my $6.99 weekly bottle of wine – which is actually really great wine – to what we spend on food, entertainment, and even whether we can save on electricity and water.  We’ve started talking through each expense.  Eli is naturally frugal, I used to be, and we’re going back to our roots to see just how much we can save and conserve. Frugality is the path that will allow us to maximize our dollars, and minimize the time it will take to achieve other goals.

Second, and deeply important, is to structure our lives so that we can ride out Covid-19 for as long as it lasts.  This means freeing up Eli from pounding the pavement for one-time illustration jobs as much as possible so that he can work on some more long-term creative projects.  The idea is that these pay off, but even if they don’t, we won’t know unless we try.  But also we’re freeing up Eli so that he can be more present for the kids, because my job isn’t that flexible during the day, and their Dad has to be physically at his workplace.  It also means budgeting in our babysitter at least through fall, as I have my doubts about schools reopening, or if they do, staying open.  The idea is that she is teacher some of the time, with our support and guidance,  if we have to switch to a fully homeschooled structure.  This costs us money in the short term, but we view it as an investment in their future.

Third, we have 2 house-related goals.  The first is to pay off the house as fast as we can, and the second is, in 2 1/2 years, to do some really major renovation.  This is our forever house, and we’ve spent some real time and money with an architect making a design that is meant for that.

And no, I didn’t type those two goals in reverse.  The house payoff goal is independent of the renovation goal.  Both are obtained by saving more, spending less – and slowly ratcheting up what we overpay on the mortgage.  Ideally, we manage both in cash, but we’ll see where we land.  We know what we have to do, it’s still just a little fuzzy to us how we do it.  But most things become more clear over time, and we have a time limit: no more house payment by the time Connor goes to college.  We’ve got time, but not a ton.  Still, like most longer-than-5-year goals, this one will evolve.  In the meantime, we continue to amp up our mortgage overpayments and watch what we spend.

Last, we have some other savings and spending goals.  Up our emergency fund to a full year of expenses.  Give, because we’re blessed and we can.  We currently support our local food pantry with a monthly donation and sponsor 3 children through World Vision, which is a great charity.  We certainly want to do more.  And once we have that full year of expenses  we’ll probably start to build out a fund for other projects. We may eventually buy an RV but we’re not sure.  We’re going to see how life plays out.

Goals are good for marriages, in my opinion.  Sharing goals and finding a path to get there together feels good, and strengthens bonds.  When, over 9 days Eli and I reconfigured 3 rooms and turned Connor’s new space into a room fit for a growing boy or two, we felt pride and partnership.  Setting goals together, like adoption or renovation, is next-level teamwork.  This doesn’t mean it all goes perfectly – did we bicker about whether my weekly wine expense was a grocery item or should come out of my personal spending money budget – sure we did.  Did we bicker while painting?  Oh yes.  But in general, this is teamwork above all, and we know that at the end of the day, both of our perspectives make it better.  And working together we accomplish so much more than we ever could alone.

These are BHAGs – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals – that we set to challenge ourselves to meet over time, without getting distracted by the day to day.  Will there always be a cute sweater I want or a tool he wants?  Sure.  Will we ever cut out ice cream as non-essential spending?  That’s probably a no.  But slowly, little by little, we’ll position our lives and our finances so that we knock these goals off the list and strengthen our relationship as we go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Be More Effectively Productive

I have what is known in my family as ‘The Busy Gene’ .  For those of us with the Busy Gene, we are compulsively occupied with projects and things to do.  Leave us alone for 5 minutes and we’ll come up with 10 crackpot ideas that must be started immediately.  And we’ll want everyone else to do them with us.

Insufferable?  Possibly.  But never, ever boring.

In order to be effective though, I have to be productive in the right ways.  With a job that consumes me 50+ hours a week, 2 children, an old house, giant garden, animals, and my marriage, there’s a lot going on.  Add to that exercise, friends and family, and all the projects I take on, and being smart with my time is the only thing getting us through.  And honestly, that’s not always the case – sometimes I manage my life, sometimes my life manages me.  But as much as possible, I try to control the parameters I can, so that I’m ready for the things I don’t control.

What does that mean?  Well, first of all, it means planning our time here as well as possible.

This morning I had the day off, and we’re neck-deep in renovating a bedroom for my son, having spent the weekend rearranging the house to a large extent.  My job, before I go back to my 9-5 profession tomorrow, is to get as much of painting of trim and edging done today, so that my husband can just use rollers on the walls.  We made some good progress on the room yesterday, but there’s a lot more to do today.

I have observed there are three things that make me both productive and effective, and when used in concert, the sheer amount I can accomplish in a day is huge.  I mean, after a few days of that I need a nap, but hey, this life thing is a marathon, not a sprint.

First, Know Thyself

Despite the sheer amount of work waiting for me in the room we’re working on, I didn’t start there.    I started my morning doing chores and in the kitchen, figuring a little investment of time might make our day and week easier.

See – I know myself, and boy, howdy, am I an extreme morning person.  This means I can wake up at 3:30 am and function just fine but by about 8:30 pm you might as well be talking to a soggy towel for all it will get you.  Just ask my husband, who is just waking up and ready for prime time at that point.

So by 8:30 am, I had eaten, checked emails at work, scheduled our septic system to be pumped, popped in a load of laundry, made 48 paleo turkey meatballs for tonight’s dinner and for the freezer, roasted some pumpkin seeds and made some tuna salad for lunch.  In addition, I had thawed some pulled beef for our lunch tomorrow (I don’t know, it came with out meat share)  Oh, and the dishes were done too.  Also, I was thawing sausage and rinsing spinach to make some Paleo Egg Muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast.

So when I headed upstairs to start laying painter’s tape on my next section of trim,  I had our lunch prepped and made, our dinner mostly prepped and some basic daily chores handled, along with the start of breakfast and lunch for tomorrow.  Later on, when my brain is the consistency of a damp sponge, we’ll at least be fed.  I have learned if I don’t have a meal planned and food prepped at dinner time we’ll be eating takeout pizza every time.  Which brings me to point #2.

Leverage Your Strengths

Why me on the meal plan?  Under normal circumstances, with the kids away for the week with their Dad and Eli and i working on projects, I’d have jettisoned the meal plan and left us to scrounge.  But a few factors are at play – we have our CSA and meat shares coming this week, so freezer and fridge space will be at a premium.  We’re also starting a modified Whole30 until our vacation in August, so if we want to eat healthy and stay on track, we have to think about it.

And I do it because I’m good at it, and it will free my husband up to put all the bedroom furniture together for my son’s room when the painting is done.   He doesn’t have to think about food, it’s just there.  Which plays to his strengths –  I am lucky to be able to assemble basic things, but anything with more than 5 pieces tends to have to be left to the professionals.  Not so Eli, who can turn a bunch of sticks of wood into a custom canoe rack seemingly overnight.  Assembling things mostly makes me cranky and frustrated, but I can contentedly feed us for weeks on end.  For him, planning meals is enjoyable but significant mental load.  So we divide and conquer.

Know When to Focus

As I was writing this, between putting some of those meatballs, now cool, in the freezer for a later date I realized it was getting late.  My 9:15 target start time for painting had passed, and it was time to bring this blog post, as well as my other chores to a close.  It wasn’t that there weren’t more chores – there are always, always more chores in my life, but it was time to ignore them and spend 4 or 5 hours on accomplishing the things that we set out to do for the long weekend.  Are there weeds needing to be weeded in the garden?  Of course.  Tidying to do? Sure.  But not if I want to get this thing done, and as a side effect – because my husband really hates trim and edge work in painting, I want to make sure I make as much progress as possible for him.

Besides, the weeds will still be there next weekend.