Winter’s End

Another round of fluffy snow fell the other night, and the landscape is all whites and grays, cold loveliness. Despite what any groundhogs may or may not have seen earlier this month, winter’s grip remains and won’t loosen for at least another few weeks. Still, it’s time to start thinking about spring, with things to plant being ordered and the potting bench migrating it’s way under the living room window. My Meyer Lemon tree has begun to bloom, a tiny sign of hope for and warmth.

This year we’ll add blueberries, more mulberry trees, and replace a few of the baby trees that have not made it over the years. My son is lobbying for walnut trees as well, although I don’t really know where to put them. And with our parents starting to be vaccinated, hope of a different sort is taking root as well.

In between daydreams of flowers and sunshine though, pandemic reality continues to warp at Sithean. My 8 year old has begun to chart his speed and success rates at levels (worlds?) in Mario Odyssey with notes on paper, like a stockbroker from nineteen tickety-two. If he begins dressing like a Newsie I will find it only mildly odd, and would mostly wonder where he found brown knickers in a child’s size 10 and whose credit card he swiped to get them. The possibility that he’s founded a gaming platform since November and now is a multi-billionaire who can buy his own knickers is just the sort of thing that would turn out to be true.

Honey Locust in the Snow

Additionally mind bending is that my tiny baby daughter who only yesterday was dressed in a giant pink-and-purple fleece onesie, is now twelve and educating me on Cottagecore, which seems to primarily be about wearing floaty floral dresses and eating banana bread in fields of wildflowers. That the potential wildflowers are currently covered in several inches of ice and snow does not dissuade her, nor does the fact that she doesn’t even like floral prints. Or dresses.

Suggestions to add a thatched roof to Sithean do not go unheard so much as the general upkeep, lack of expertise, total lack of thatch material locally, and the fact that the current roof is only 2 years old leave me no choice but to reject her plan out of hand, with the counter-offer of a t-shirt with some fancily sketched mushrooms on it and some banana bread for breakfast paling in comparison, but deemed potentially acceptable. Maybe.

And so our pandemic winter treks onward. My brief fit of rejoining the world with Museums and cheese and outdoor brunch under patio heaters while a cold February rain misted in for my daughter’s birthday has passed, and I find myself content to return to my natural state of sweatpanted isolation. My web conference colleagues got excited about being ‘on video’ for a while, but that trend seems to be slowly trailing off somewhat. June sounds like a good time to get out again.

It’s time to turn inward again anyway. With impending spring comes the start to rush, and to finish the inside projects before the outdoors calls us to clean up and prepare for the next season. Before us is the final large stack of paperwork to initiate our home study and launch into adoptive parenthood, alone with our continued reorganization projects. Our decluttering efforts are showing their fruits in spaces that got- and remained – without piles of stuff on them. But there’s still more to do.

So today, in and around a short run, projects and lots of laundry, we’ll prep chicken parmesan, potstickers, and lots of other delicious foods for the week, as we do most Sundays. And tonight, as the 4 of us settle in for a simple evening with hamburgers, roasted potatoes and a movie before the week begins we’ll count our blessings.

Because while our ever-so-slightly-bent-reality pandemic winter treks on, we know spring is coming.

YOLO French Onion Soup

The deep, freezing cold that had been lingering for over a week finally went away, if for a few days. While 28 degree mornings are still chilly, they are a marked improvement over 5 degrees. Spots of bitter cold will return here and there, but we may be past the worst stretch of it for this year. February marches on, and soon enough it will be March and April, still cold but filled with crocuses and signs of spring.

Deciding we needed to occasionally get out and be actual humans, Eli and I we decided to spend a quite literal 40 minutes in the Peabody Essex Museum yesterday afternoon (remember museums? One of my most-loved trappings of before times, I had almost forgotten. The PEM and I have been friends since I was a child, so it was especially poignant), followed by shopping for some fancy cheese and edible accoutrements for Valentine’s day, a holiday I normally shun but this year we’re celebrating with some level of gusto. Celebrations make pandemic-ing more fun, so I’ll take whatever. And this week we will also celebrate my daughter’s birthday, so my party hat is going on and it’s not coming off for a little while, no matter what happens in the world around us.

So when Valentine’s Day did roll around, we sat in front of a fire, watching a Star Wars movie, and eating really good cheese and French Onion Soup. As days go, pretty good.

Despite worry about variants and a large variety of other political, social and environmental crises, I’ve decided to feel hopeful about vaccines and the future.

We’ve started planning some summer trips, and for a point in time when we can be with people again. I don’t expect life to get back to normal for a while yet, and I do suspect that we’ll be getting vaccinated on the regular for new variants of Covid-19, much like a flu shot, but I also think there will be a point in which we can go use up all the hotel, airline and car rental points that I accumulated in the before times when I traveled for work. We are also picking through the various home improvement/maintenance options to settle on what projects we try to take on before kids arrive, which should be any time after August 1, our artificially selected ‘we’re open for children’ date.

I’m sure it will be a good idea to gut the kitchen between now and then. What could possibly go wrong?

In short, I’ve decided that optimism, despite all the things to worry about, is the only way to go. It is cadenced optimism though – we’re deeply invested in our food supply, in financial security, in a more sustainable living model. Balancing all of those things plus all the small notebooks, unnecessary but lovely smelling candles and additional fleece sweatpants I want to buy, along with the 2 1/2 weeks in Greece I fully intend to spend at some point in the next 5 years so I can wear giant floppy hats and bandeau-style swimwear while pretending to be carefree and as if there won’t be a huge pile of laundry waiting for me when we return won’t be easy, but I’m going for it.

Can one have cadenced optimism and still toss in a big bucket of oh-what-the-hell decisions? I think that latter thing arrived between the squirrel event I last blogged about and the point at which, deciding it was late enough in the afternoon for wine this weekend, I mindlessly started pouring it into my coffee mug. Which, if you think about it, is just damn efficient. I can go straight from caffeine to booze without breaking stride or wasting dishes.

It might have been in some part due to the soup as well. I tried out a new French Onion Soup for Valentine’s Day, and while i can affirm it was delicious, and the fresh thyme a perfect flavor addition, it was accompanied by a very loud SNORT as I read how I should first make bone broth. “Oh Epicurious, how I love you, I thought, but really – just eff off. I have enough to do these days.” and proceeded to dump in some lovely boxes of beef broth from the store in it’s place. Last Week Me would have run out to buy some soup bones, and probably Epicurious is right, it would have been better if I did. Yesterday Me can’t be bothered.

Because Yesterday Me, like Today Me…is.just.over.it.

Today me wants to regularly eat meals other people prepare, go shopping for some useless things and generally forget about pandemics, civil unrest and our disastrous climate future in exchange for some new really soft pants with drawstrings and a total lack of obligation to everyone and everything.

Except not really. I mean, yes to the soft pants and restaurants again someday. It’s just that the world has been a teensy bit relentless lately but I still want to generally be the kind of person who makes my soup from homemade bone broth. To put effort into my amazing husband and beloved children and my home. And it’s almost time to start seedlings again. But with pandemic-ing and winter is a touch of ‘oh fuck it’ too.

So if you find me with a glass of wine on a beach on some island this summer while some lovely human is taking a sledgehammer to the kitchen, don’t be shocked. And in the meantime, try the soup. And make the broth from scratch, because it’s probably better that way.

Radical Acceptance

I’ve started writing and stopped on multiple blog posts in the last couple weeks. The dark and cold of a pandemic winter overcame my generally positive mindset. My daughter was struggling in school, bad things kept happening to those around us, and the pandemic was spreading, and spreading some more. New variants, vaccines but not for us, even my walks, oases of time to think and breathe, were given over in service to ice and cold and dark and school schedules.

I started thinking about escape to somewhere warm and near the ocean, with a pool and where, just for a while, we could ignore the pandemic. Pretend it wasn’t. Since Covid-19 washed up on our shores I’ve been worried but calm about it, other than ensuring that every bit of pantry and freezer space is filled at all times. Did we need 4 bottles of lemon juice? No, no we didn’t, but it, and all the other things filling the cabinets staved off some of the stress. Finally I took a day and reorganized things, so I could stop the overbuying and easily see what we have.

But facing down another year without our people was maybe more than my always optimistic mindset could manage, and all the things, combined with the sheer relentlessness of work for me lately, I reached the tipping point. Even the Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Parmesan Tater Tots and other cooking I was doing, normally therapeutic, wasn’t helping.

Then the TV started having issues, and out the window went family movie night. Our Friday night homemade-pizza-and-movie is something that the kids participate in only some of the time, but I hold out as always there, a connection point that holds us together.

Of course, none of these things are particularly huge problems. We are warm, fed and housed. We have enough and then some. But I was tired and overwhelmed, and nothing felt quite right.

Nonetheless, despair and I are not friends, I’m deeply programmed with a little too much of ‘put on your big girl pants and deal with it-itis. So I did, a little at a time, after first, wallowing in feeling sorry for myself for a few days.

First, my daughter, putting in place tools to help her with her schoolwork and a lot of listening. Then, acknowledgement that winter in 2022 might include a warm-weather vacation away, but not this year, so alternative plans for some days off at home. Our de-cluttering and tidying continues, this time as much for mindset purposes as anything else. Normally I don’t get much of it done on weeknights, but this past Thursday I sat down and slogged away at a corner of the living room that was piled up with puzzles games and the last few things from Christmas that we forgot to put in the attic and started on it. There’s still more to do, but every little bit helps.

Eli and I planned our summer RV trip to the mountains, and a random day off later this month when we will drop the kids off at school and take some time to connect and walk and be together.

My daughter and I took the dog for a walk. Eli and our son took a quick trip to the Art Store and Target, a rare and tiny burst of normalcy, carefully timed to limit exposure. We cooked homemade Indian food, something I’ve been trying to master. Eli fixed the TV.

Homemade Onion Pakora, Palak Paneer and chicken Tikka Masala with Naan and some homemade tamarind and yogurt sauces.

But it wasn’t any of those things that truly made the weight of the world leave my shoulders, although at one point Eli offering to literally take it from me did leave me laughing.

It was a squirrel.

We have this one determined squirrel, whom we have semi-affectionately named Stinker, who loves to clean out the bird feeders. Some of our feeders are more squirrel resistant than others, but the one just outside the living room window is an easy access point for him (her?). Birds eat from it too, the birds of my grandmother’s house – chickadees and goldfinches and robins and Bluejays. And even some rarer birds like bluebirds show up. This week it got emptied, as it always does, and sure enough, when I woke up, there was Stinker, trying to glean the last few crumbs before another snowstorm arrives.

And I remembered. My job here is to tend this place and it’s denizens. Eli and I are both providers here, each with our critical and respective jobs in caring for animals, children and home, but even before him I took on the role of Provider, first when I became a mom, and then when we arrived here, promising leave this place only when my time on earth is over and in better shape than I found it. I had, amidst piles of laundry and long hours at work and worry about all the everything, completely lost perspective. I chose this work, and some days it’s harder and more than I can manage. But this the long game, and Sithean and I belong together. I will almost certainly get lost in the day to day again, but at least for today I know where I need to be.