Farmlet Retreat

Twilight in Topsfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss that feeling of sanctuary though.

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

Maybe that’s enough.

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

Springtime Grace

Moonlit Spring Night

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

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

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


Seed Starting is the Best Kind of Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moon On October 20th of Last Year

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

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

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

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

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

Your job now is to be in that room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meal Plan and Batch Cook Your Way Through Anything

There is always something lovely to see on my walks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Storm

26″ of snow later…

A giant snowstorm hit New England this weekend, just as Omicron paid a visit to Eli, I and my son – my daughter was spared, and is spending our 5 days of isolation with her father. We were feeling neither very good nor horrible, just middle of the road crummy , which led to doing a lot of nothing, in and around Eli and I working.

Saturday I felt better, and the storm was in full force, so other than some shoveling and a bit of playing outside for my son, the only thing to do was to putter around the house, make meal plans, drink tea and cook – dinner last night was Half Baked Harvest’s One Skillet Greek Meatballs & Lemon Butter Orzo, one we’ll definitely make again.

Snow Day Dinner

I contemplated a nap but it was a little bit late in the afternoon before I considered it, so I skipped it, opting instead for a long sleep into Sunday morning, when I woke up to cold and over 25 inches of snow having fallen in 24 hours.

It was profoundly lovely, although cold enough that the chickens decided that even their run was a little much.

The chickens were having none of it and hid inside

Despite Covid leaving us tired and coughing, and the frigid temps, we all got outside for a little bit and enjoyed the snow. Teddy the Doggleby especially enjoyed it, despite the snow being taller than him in most places.

Teddy watches as Connor uses the driveway as a sledding hill

Tonight’s dinner is Instant Pot Carnitas in taco form, adjusted just a little to reduce the spice by omitting the chipotle powder along with some broccoli

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Just over 3 months ago, our lives changed utterly when my brother-in-law, more brother than in-law, died suddenly. The loss reverberates daily – in our missing him always, and in small things, like making sure my sister has someone to plow her out for her shifts in the ER, to which I can only say that John, who plows me out has taken it upon himself to make sure she’s okay, even heading back to help clean off cars after a bit of a snafu at the beginning of the storm. I say it a lot, but it is so true – we’re lucky ducks, even when bad things happen. A new normal is starting to knit itself out of the tear in our hearts and lives, one that involves being there to help his loved ones hold up the sky.

As I went out to bring the chickens some scraps and overripe grapes, I watched the cold January sun sink down through the trees, illuminating our house like a Maxfield Parrish painting, and just felt grateful for this lovely place, for our family and friends, and all the blessings around us.

Saturdays in the Kitchen

Picture of our walk – photo by Eli 5 Stone

As January rolled in with our first snowstorm and kid snow day, so did a critical phase of what Eli and I are referring to as our ’10 year plan’, our combined target of some big goals, like adoption, which we are just in the waiting phase on, and some really big house renovations, and a parallel track to financial independence. In order to achieve our goals it’s going to require serious focus. And in 2022, that means tightening our belts and evaluating all of our expenses.

I’ve found that spending less feels onerous without a goal, and only minimally painful with one (or more). And we are going for strategic use of our money, with travel a priority, but focused on trips where we can use hotel, airline and car rental points or the RV, as much as possible. Our recent loss of my brother in law, still fresh and painful, has taught us not to wait to make memories, but like with all things, balance and a plan for the future – a plan that there will be a future -is required.

I sat down to start this post the other night with a glass of inexpensive wine, and a bowl of Half Baked Harvest’s One Pot Hamburger Helper , which uses up a lot of my frozen shredded zucchini, as well as a bunch of the fancy leftover Christmas cheese and is filling and warm and yummy. I used cassava pasta instead of traditional pasta and added a splash of white wine for flavor, but this recipe is good, healthy and uses up what’s in the freezer and the pantry.

Because if you preserve something you really need to eat it. Past me was admittedly terrible about this, forgetting things in the freezer and fridge, current me is getting much, much better at it. For us, meal plans, batch cooking and planning ahead are the only things that work. And because our lives get so busy, cooking ahead saves us a ton of stress.

Yesterday Eli and I went to the grocery store and then I spent about 5-6 hours in the kitchen. I made Anadama Bread, a double batch of Butternut Squash Lasagna with Garlic and Rosemary, chipotle turkey stuffed sweet potatoes with spinach, and a pot of healthy Butter Chicken with mashed cauliflower for Saturday dinner. I also took some of the last of the beets we had from our farm share, and peeled and chopped them small, coated them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 375 degrees until slightly crunchy. Roasted beets are a no-recipe recipe that both Eli and I love.

We have lunches now to take us at least until Wednesday, between the stuffed sweet potatoes and a pot of French Onion Soup I made on Friday night. We have a squash lasagna for the freezer, which will reappear on a night where no one has the time and energy to cook and provide lunch leftovers for a few days, and we had a great dinner from about 20 minutes of effort.

Later this morning I will return to the kitchen and prep tonight’s dinner and Monday as well. Tonight is a simple batch of parmesan-crusted chicken, with broccoli and popovers on the side, and Monday is likely the bulgogi I prepped and froze in December, with a side of couscous and edamame. Eli takes meal prep Tuesday and Thursday so the next time I’m on duty is Wednesday, but we’ll see how the leftover situation is then, we might need to eat down what we’ve made, or we may pull some chili from the freezer.

We’ve tried batch cooking and eating the same thing for days, but generally that isn’t popular here, and it doesn’t help us when we have highly variable meats that arrive from our local meat subscription, or when we have to plan around garden/CSA produce, also highly variable, so we try instead to rotate meals that we enjoy that allow us to use up the food we have. And I go looking (and get inventive) when I need new recipes for when we have something to use up. Right now our pumpkins and squashes need using, so the squash lasagna and stuffed sweet potatoes served multiple purposes.

We’ll be eating stuffed spaghetti squash probably once a week for the next few weeks too, as we have a plethora of them that we grew, and they won’t last forever. I’m holding on to some tomatoes that I froze in the fall to make a giant batch of sauce later this month, and that will turn into spaghetti and meatball dinners and probably lasagna and homemade pizza too.

Come February, it will be time to go to work on the sweet potatoes and keeping onions we bought back in October before they reach the end of their life. By early March, when we start our seeds most of the pesto will be gone from the freezer and we’ll be mostly beholden to the grocery store for our fresh fruit and veggies, although my plan is to plant some greens next weekend to supplement with lettuce for salads and greens for stir fry. In April and May the farm stands will open again, and we’ll maybe wander into Boston to Haymarket to supplement now and again if time allows. By then we’ll be back in the garden as well, and by June the garlic scapes will be turning into pesto again. But for now, the unhurried afternoons in the kitchen keep us warm and well-fed, and are part of what has become our annual cycle of food use here at Sithean.

Bird Feeder in the Snow by Eli 5 Stone

All the Reasons to Love January

All the cozy

Most people I know hate January. Cold, dark, it is the month of giving up alcohol and unhealthy food, with it’s only holiday one that not a lot of people get to take off.

I used to feel the same, but after returning from a 2 1/2 year stint in Florida 5 years ago, I now love the it, dark and cold and all. As a recovering winter-hater, the peace and quiet of the month is a breath in our general busyness. There’s no birthdays, no major holidays, nothing that needs to be bought or wrapped or shopped for. Our weekends, even without Omicron putting things on hold, are calm and unplanned. Seedlings, unless I want winter lettuce or sweet peas aren’t planted. There’s no yardwork to do except the occasional shoveling.

It’s a time to get frugal and eat up what we have in our pantry and freezer. I try to limit what we buy, make meal plans, and find new and interesting healthy recipes to try with what we have. The winter squash start to soften up around now, so we need to consume them before they become compost-worthy. We still have tons of onions, garlic and sweet potatoes. Pesto, Kale, and other preserved foods are waiting to be used in cozy meals.

It’s also time to clean and declutter. On January 1, the lovely holiday decorations somehow magically transform themselves into annoying clutter that needs to be immediately put away. I like to hang on to the outside lights for a week or two, but the inside stuff needs to go. Along with that I spend my time sorting and clearing surfaces and spaces.

It’s time to be cozy. A new coverlet and knit blanket cover our bed in creams and whites with touches of red trim, making for a warm spot to curl up. There’s fires in the woodstove, there”s soup and stews on the regular, and lots of cups of tea after walks in the cold. We have throw blankets everywhere in the house, and we use them.

Hygge is a term that has been widely circulated in the US, the Danish concept of cozy, and we live it here at Sithean. Warm things, soft clothes, cozy homemade food, getting rid of clutter and time with people we love. Come February there are school breaks, my daughter’s birthday, Valentine’s day and the world starts to pick up energy again, but in January, restful and warm is the only way to be..

Over Easy

Sheep grazing in the field – Topsfield MA

After the holidays, the kids went to their Dad’s for a couple of days, and Eli and I finally took a breath. There were lots of chores to do, including deep cleans of the various bedrooms, and the start of dismantling the Christmas decor, but there was also quiet mornings sitting with coffee and my thoughts, and time together. I was also inexplicably cranky and mad at the world some of the time, despite getting more sleep than I had in probably years. Still, I managed to put my cranky down long enough to celebrate the 4 years, and immense changes in our life, since Eli and I had our first date on a bitterly cold December 30th night, a quick drink that turned into 6 hours, mostly spent laughing.

And then our New Year’s Eve feast, with our traditional homemade scallion pancakes (there’s non-paleo ones to be made as well of course, but these are so good I don’t know why you would bother), homemade lo mein and this year’s new star was Eli taking on Crab Rangoon that supplemented some take out, and was paired with the 2nd Harry Potter movie, now that the kids are old enough to work our way through the series.



The new year is coming, and I’m not too old or too cynical to set resolutions and plan for things to be different. Our eating always gets healthier in January, using up all the veggies we’ve preserved over the summer and fall, and trying to spend as little as possible on groceries. Tonight we’ll eat homemade Chicken Tortilla Soup, a simple pantry-based recipe

In addition to our New Years Day tradition of setting goals for the year, Melissa, my next-door-neighbor/close friend/life coach guru, handed me a tradition a few years ago of choosing a word or phrase each year that defines what you want of it – a mantra, so to speak, with an expiration date.

Thoughts of what it should be percolated in my head as I went to HMart to stock up last week, and as I went for long walks as many mornings as I could. This year is not one for radical change, that I knew. It’s for tweaks to make our lives more balanced, less cluttered, easier. It’s about acceptance, making peace with our loss and the things that I don’t love about myself. It’s about making things easier for myself and others.

And so this year, for 2022, Go Easy is my mantra. Go easy on the world around me, struggling with all the things. Go easy on my family, who do the best they can. Go easy on myself – I expect too much, and push too hard. I’ll invent recipes, blog and do a great job at work and as a parent and a spouse without having to feel bad when I sometimes miss the mark.

January and February are for decluttering, relaxing, exercising, and making cozy, healthy foods. Work and school of course. But I’m going to try to let up the pressure on myself and others to get it all right and go easy on all of us.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2022 is softer and gentler than 2021 for all of us.

Holiday Lights

Twas the Night Before Christmas….

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” – Abraham Lincoln

Right after Thanksgiving, we went to cut down a Christmas tree. My husband lit up the house beautifully at my request to have all the lights, and we began to celebrate the season despite the underpinning of grief, and the news that my uncle was hitting new lows in his cancer battle.

And I found myself unable to write or really, make clear decisions about almost anything.

It was a little like the final guitar wire snapped, 2 months after the bomb that was the loss of my brother-in-law detonated in our family, as we tried to navigate our grief and a way to live with it. I found myself tired constantly, forgetful, and disorganized. The kids were just…off. No one could concentrate. I would buy groceries and forget to use them, couldn’t for the life of me remember what to make for dinner, and wander into rooms and just stare. The Omicron variant blew up some of our plans. “Why do we even make plans?” I wondered not infrequently.

Grief, they say, is disorienting, but I found it to be more along the lines of dislocating. Something is not where it belongs, and the ripples of that strange ‘gap in the system’ mean that nothing quite makes sense, which in turn made my brain feel like it was wearing a sweater most of the time.

But we are blessed, and the greatest way we are is in that our people just keep showing up. My best friend, tired of hearing me cry from 1500 miles away, hopped a plane and joined us for a weekend in the mountains, surprising my children and creating a sense of normalcy and fun, then extended her stay a few days when my daughter wasn’t ready for her to go. My next door neighbor showed up with a bag of dog food for Teddy (also, he keeps eating their dog’s food, so this was partially an investment in brokering peace on earth and goodwill between dogs) and checked in frequently. My husband took over much of the cooking and mostly adapted to a weary, forgetful wife, perhaps preparing for what it might be like 30 years from now.

But my children, most of all, grounded me. Because my son still fiercely and fully believes in all the magic of Christmas. Elves on shelves, magical appearing candy and surprises in Advent Calendars, and Santa in all his magic. He made lists and planned surprises for all. No matter what, all the enchantments that are the holiday season needed to appear, and so they did.

Every morning, finding Elphidelphia, our Elf on the Shelf, and checking the advent calendar for treats or treasures, but most of all, as my husband strung the house with lights, he decided to make me a lighted North Pole for the yard with my husband as a gift. My daughter made us all homemade Ramen for dinner.

Our Christmas was filled with love, and then a multi-day playdate/sleepover with the kids down the street capped it all off. I took some days off and started to catch up on sleep. I cooked all day on Christmas, the kids loved their gifts, and suddenly joy crept back in, like vines that flower through cracks in the pavement.

Tempered of course, with sadness and worry about those whose loss is greater than ours, but joy and hope nonetheless. I wish the same to you and yours.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

First Snow

Thanksgiving passed with light and food and joy and sadness as well, augmented by another death – this one of my brother-in-law’s mom, who had come to the end of her time with little quality of life, but so soon after her son, and on the Thanksgiving holiday as well is another brutal knife in that family.

This year, we are all winding more tightly together as a result for the holidays. Every candle in the window, light on the porches, and tradition that can be upheld will be. Every hug of our people is another candle lit.

Eli and I were fortunate enough to have a day out to do some small-business holiday shopping and even go out to dinner in an actual restaurant for the first time in ages. Of course, we woke up to headlines about the Omicron variant the next day, so it might be the last time in a while. While I don’t miss all the things of the before-times, before Covid-19, I do miss some. Restaurants are one of them, mostly because it often symbolized a too-rare evening out with my husband.

I miss my brother too, with a grief that is sometimes so deep I need an extension ladder to climb out and back into the world. Saturday morning was particularly tough. I woke up too early again, and prepared to go for a walk with my neighbor and friend, Melissa. I wasn’t feeling it, sad and unmotivated, but I had postponed enough times that I knew I was out of excuses, although she would have understood. There was an ever-so-tiny bit of snow on the ground, and the wind was biting. All too many excuses to stay home were there.

But.

I saw something oddly pink in the stark landscape as I stepped off the porch.

A Rose in Winter

Melissa describes the process of grief as much like the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ and I’d add to that the ever-pervasive pandemic as well.

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.

By the end of the walk I was warm through from talking and smiling. And I kept returning in my thoughts to that one rose which really shouldn’t be blooming on a day like yesterday. It was too cold, too grey, too out of season, too-all-the-things. But bloom it did, if only for a day. By the time we got home from a lovely dinner at my parents that night, it had started to crumple and die, as all things must, leaving behind a photograph, and my memory.

Even though it only stayed for less than a day, it was enough to remind me that there is always magic here, and that nothing ever truly leaves us, that energy is neither created nor destroyed.

“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen. Aaron Freeman, via NPR


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