Letting Go

To everything there is a season is especially true in New England. And the season of gardens and flowers came to an end, simultaneously slowly and abruptly, with the onset of frost and impending snow. I ran out in the early evening after work last night, braving the cold rain to pick the last few pink tomatoes and a couple tomatillos. Everything else is harvested now, and what is left is soon to be gone.

The freeze that is set to follow it will kill all my plants, and then it’s a matter of pulling out the old, and planting some garlic and more bulbs around the yard before the dirt becomes impacted with ice for the season. This too shall pass – more words for gardeners. But there is still one final round of preserving work to do – a few more apple chips, that last batch of salsa verde, and a friend dropped off a garbage bag filled with kale to be turned into kale chips and blanched and frozen. Add to that our final CSA visit tomorrow, and the harvest is complete. I may get inspired to make apple sauce or apple butter, but by Sunday afternoon, what can be done for the season will be.

And while there’s some sadness in letting go, there’s also relief. Another season is past, and what will come next is to be seen. We enter another winter warm, safe and well-fed. A full cord of wood will help keep us cozy, some desperately needed new pipes provide our water and the squashes and preserves are just a tiny bit of the bounty that fills the freezer and pantry. For all that there is so much to worry about, my gratitude for the small things – enough to eat, a warm house, my morning walks, my family – is boundless.

I pray I never lose my ability to be grateful for the basics.

Now it is the tiny respite before the holidays, that few weeks where the doing of things – other than work and school – starts to wind down. This year the holidays will be mellow and quiet for us, and Eli and I will do something we’ve never done, in celebrating Thanksgiving with just the 2 of us while the kids go with their Dad. I love big family gatherings, but I’m truly looking forward to a quiet and lovely meal with my husband. We’ll do the big family things next year. I’ll cook a turkey and all the sides in December, because it wouldn’t be winter without it, but I don’t feel a need to keep everything ‘normal’.

It simply isn’t this year, and that’s okay.

I’ve reached the point where I don’t like where we are with this virus but I’m at peace with it. We’re home. We are creating our new normal, and that includes lots of cooking and doing house projects. Our groceries primarily arrive by delivery and we go out almost not at all, so much so that I recently realized my car inspection sticker had expired…2 months ago. We have almost finished a wide variety of house projects and winter preparations, with only insulating our old, leaky windows for the season left to go.

It’s time to take a breath. Here on the Sithean farmlet, there are of course, endless things to be done. Paint needing touching up. Closets and a chicken coop to be cleaned out. Laundry, cooking, planting the things that need to winter over out of doors.

But as I make my lists I also revel in how much we’ve accomplished.

When I look back on 2020, I will be sad about the virus running unchecked through the country, about 1000 acts of police brutality on protesters, about the housing insecure and the hungry, and that somehow in 2016 we elected a petty narcissist who wanted to tear down democracy and create an alternate sense of truth. My feelings on this are powerful, and I am unapologetic about them. But also I have let go of my anger at those who brought us here – and that, too, is an accomplishment.

I cannot ask for empathy for others who need it if I don’t first give it myself. 2020, then, is a year of evolution. If what we need is a shared reality to bridge our divides, I can either rail against those on the other side of the chasm or I can build bridges. I choose to build.

Tonight we will settle in with homemade pizza, a movie, and probably another fire in the wood stove. We will celebrate another week of hard work gone by and a weekend spent cooking and planting and continue trying, probably unsuccessfully, to teach Teddy the dog what it means to go for a walk (Dear Teddy, it means actually walking, not alternatively pulling my arm out of it’s socket or randomly lying down in the road).

Tomorrow we will celebrate Halloween in whatever way we can that involves no trick-or-treating. And while I don’t know what’s next, where we are is enough right now.

May you be warm and safe on your journey through the rest of this year.

It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful: An Homage to Travel and Staying Home

Years ago, as a 20-something, I became obsessed with the idea of saving up for a year off, to travel around the world. I read, and saved and mapped routes and read some more.

Then I met my first husband, and instead of a year off those dollars went into savings for a house. There were trips sure, but there were kids and careers and that year-long trip around the world never happened. But at the time, it was my ultimate dream.

This was the early 2000s, and blogging was just starting up. And I stumbled across a travel writer called ‘Jet City Jimbo’ aka Jim Klima. He and his wife, Sue, went on an an African overland journey with Dragoman, one of the oldest overlanding companies. One of the most compelling installment stories I have ever encountered, it was called ‘It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful‘. They spent a month trying to cross Zaire. They had to dig the truck out more than once. Flash floods. New people. It was both epic and amazingly human. The blog posts are sadly long gone, and I am firmly planted in my day to day life now. Still, despite the fact that Jim Klima and I never met, and he died too early of cancer, I owe him a lot. His words held me spellbound, and while I read many other travel blogs and books, only one other writer and book, Jeff Greenwald’s The Size of the World, ever came close to that level of immersive reading.

I didn’t want to just take the trip, I wanted to be that kind of brave and independent and free.

I started thinking about Jim Klima and his writing as we approach late fall here at Sithean. There’s still a bit of basil growing and some tomatoes ripening, but mostly it’s about harvesting everything we can. One or two batches of salsa verde are still waiting to be made, but other than apple chips and some applesauce, the preserving is basically done. Our CSA is winding down it’s last few weeks, and root and cool-weather crops dominate the harvest.

There’s no real travel being planned other than camping, and with infection rates spiking, we expect to turtle up even more. We are far, far from an overland truck in an African desert, but on some level, this is the same. We are deep in a pandemic in a time of political, climate and economic instability. Each of us, because contact is fraught, is traveling with a small group of people into strange places and circumstances we didn’t expect. We all hope that our jobs, pantries and bank accounts are going to protect us, but no one is sure.

Still, this odd time has also allowed Eli and to really consider how we want to live. I still think someday I would like to take that trip around the world, trekking the Dogon Escarpment, seeing the Fjords in Norway, and immersing in various cultures, but I am more focused in how we get, over the next several years, to a point of financial independence that allows us to do that whenever we are ready.

We’ve made some big outlays this year, and the most recent one was one that has been on the dream list for both of us for a long time – a small, tow behind RV. We knew we wanted one, but it keeps us safe and mobile for as long as the pandemic lasts, and long after.

But that, along with the other house maintenance and improvement projects, are investments for us. As we start to look forward to 2021 and onward, the number of things we need to spend money bottoms out. While we are a long way off from financial independence, it’s a place on the horizon. And while our outlays this year have been very large, we know they are for a purpose, setting ourselves up for a longer haul.

There’s awful to the pandemic, in that I miss our people, I miss traveling, and I worry about our kids being isolated. I worry for the world and people around me. But there are so many gifts also – time at home, the joys of watching my kids master sign language in homeschool, the slower pace that our mornings entail, the delicious food that comes out of our kitchen. The views from my morning walks, which never fail to take my breath away.

Tonight, it’s just E and I, and after a hike this afternoon, we will enjoy some homemade baba ganoush, pantzaria salad, made with garlic and beets grown less than 10 miles from home, and a recipe for meatloaf from one of my favorite cookbooks, Cooking From Quilt Country, based on a PBS series with Marcia Adams. The meat, too, is local. I love to roam, but I am also well-planted here, and content to be.

There’s no round the world travel in my future, but there’s a path to the freedom towards it. As we all traverse uncertain times, I hope my fellow travelers – all of you, are finding joy and wonderful in the awful.

And here’s to you, Jim & Sue Klima, for changing my little world.

A Breath in Autumn

It’s hard to believe we’re already well into October. Time seems to be passing so fast these days.

It was down to 37 degrees F two nights ago here and while the garden once again survived, it’s end is near. Yesterday morning I pulled 3 last zucchini, a few tomatoes and enough tomatillos to make another batch of Salsa Verde. The zucchini will be weekend meals and the bigger ones will go into the dehydrator with a little olive oil and salt. The tomatoes, especially the Sungolds, taste of sunshine still, but they won’t keep long unless I dry them. But I’m reluctant, because I want that sense of fresh summer produce to last.

Still, I can’t really complain because Autumn here is profoundly lovely, and truth be told, I’m a little tired of canning and preserving after a couple solid months of it. I am looking forward to the rest that comes with winter.

But first we must prepare for it. A cord of firewood arrived on Wednesday, and I have reluctantly capitulated to the necessity of the central heat on sporadically. We have started to remove air conditioners from windows and insulate them. The kitchen smells of soup and warm, cozy meals.

We celebrated my son’s 8th birthday yesterday, a day of joy and fun for all of us. We worry a lot about family members that are going through some tough times. And I am torn between watching the news and wanting to shut it all off. Of course, I can’t, because this time so much of what I truly believe in, so much of what I am for is at risk. Women’s rights. Equality. Economic security for all of us. Social safety nets. Healthcare.

The things that make strong, open, trusting societies. We’ve lost too much of that here. And all the while, Covid-19 numbers have begun to spike.

We start our final push towards our pre-adoption home inspection this week, we are decluttering still, and with some yard cleanup to do after a windstorm covered the lawn with leaves and pine needles.

I took a couple days off to extend the long weekend, celebrate 8 with my son, and to do all the things that need to be done. But I’m finding that I needed to take it off for other reasons – I’m getting burned out. I needed a couple days where schedules were more lax.

Some of my tired, our tired, because Eli is too, it is our own fault – we’ve done so much this year, too much. But some of it is the endless on button that is 2020, with always more meals to prepare, housework and yard work, schoolwork to help with, all the emotions (theirs and ours) of isolated kids, a job that basically runs 24/7 and and all the other things – chores, family time, etc – there’s this sense of never switching off.

And it’s taking it’s toll. Most of my friends aren’t sleeping that great. I know I’m not. Mental health is a huge thing for all of us, a large bucket encompassing everything from sleep to downtime to connection with others. The knowledge that it’s likely that we’ll still be in a similar situation – maybe a vaccine, but only 50% effective, and lots of people refusing to take it – at this time next year is a challenge to face. I’m profoundly lucky in all of this and my stress is off the charts. I think of those who are facing real challenges and then I feel kind of guilty for being so stressed, but that only makes it worse, not better.

So I’m going with one thing at a time. – one day, one moment, one tidied-up corner of the room, one more day when everyone ate and laughed and hugged. I’m counting my blessings. I’m going for walks. I’m telling people I love them more. Connecting. Letting myself go back to bed.

I can’t control the world around me. Some days I can’t even fully control my emotions. So I remind myself that so far, my track record for getting through tough days is 100%.

And so is yours.