Self-Sufficiency, or the Lack Thereof

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All of a sudden, spring finally arrived at Sithean.  The cold nights have gone away, the days hover near 70, everything is so very green, and the lilacs are finally starting to bloom, weeks late.  The asparagus bed is producing almost more than we can keep up with, meaning we’ll be making some well-received donations in the coming days.   The chickens get to roam most days, with leaf cover protecting them from hawks and it being time for them to do their job of bug-eating.

For us, as we see states reopening and infection rates and deaths continue to grow, we’re slowly formulating our plans.  It seems likely that I won’t be traveling for work until fall, at least, and our social schedule isn’t going to resume anytime soon.   Everyone is still working, at least right now, and I don’t see that changing either, thankfully.   The economy gets worse every week as well.

So budget and sustainability are top of mind, and we definitely are not alone in that.

On our rocky, tree covered acre and a quarter, complete self-sufficiency isn’t a likely option, even if we turned the entire front yard into food-producing crops or grazing land.  And for me, what that equals to is exhaustion and a zero-enjoyment life.   At least right now, radical food production isn’t on the table.  What is?

Taking the long view and making the investments a little at a time.   Investing in the things that we believe to be the most financially rewarding as well.  And re-looking at our budget for more radical cost-cutting.  I call it the ‘go easy’ method.

How does that work?  Every year, as time and budget allow, we add.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes not.  Baby fruit trees, even with protective cover, don’t always survive the winter.   Last winter we lost one of the apricots, the fig, and an old apple tree that finally died.  We put in 3 apple trees and 2 cold-hardy cherries this year, and we’re going to replace the fig and apricot next season.  One more older apple tree looks to be dying as well, and I want to add at least one more peach tree, as well as more asparagus crowns.  But that’s next spring.

Last fall, when gardening supplies went on sale, I bought 6 tomato cages, and I’ll get a few more gratis from my neighbor.  I have 2 metal cucumber trellises as well, and we’ll build some bean supports.  Other than the additional bricks we need to finish garden beds, and some compost and grass seed, our investment in the garden is complete for the year.

I have plenty of seeds, and other than onion seeds and a few other things, most seeds last more than one season, so I’ll need fewer next year.  I’m also, 4 gardening seasons in, starting to learn what works for us and what doesn’t in conjuction with our CSA, although I may have to rethink it a little, depending on how CSA pickup works this year.  And we have our Misfits Market box every couple weeks, but we’ll put that on hold most of the summer.   Our chickens are likely self-sustaining at this point, and at some point we’ll let them raise a batch of babies.  I don’t expect to have to buy any eggs for many years to come.   I think this year we’ll can enough salsa and pasta sauce to get us through the winter, along with pickles to give away.  And those fruit trees – we already get apples, and this year I’m going to manage to protect at least a few peaches from the squirrels.

We have infinity raspberries, and hopefully at least a few strawberries this year.  I don’t buy asparagus ever, because the stuff from the store is tasteless compared to the fresh-picked spears from my garden, so it’s become a seasonal thing, although hopefully we will have enough to freeze for a couple of winter meals.  In short, I don’t have everything planted, but we do continue to grow our repertoire so there may come a day in a couple years when buying fruit is a rare thing for us.

What I’ve learned over the years is if I try to do it all, we fail.  There’s simply not enough of us to go around.  So our planning involves a cadence of expenditures of both money and time.  We paint and patch around one room a year.  When we renovate, we’ll do a lot at once, but trying to do it all at once sends both our budget and our time completely off kilter.  We want to be as self-sufficient as possible, but we also recognize that our limited family time is precious.  Life is often about what you choose not to do as well as what you choose to.

Is this a lot of work still? Sure.  But these are investments, and in the long haul, they will pay off.  Instead of paying someone to cut the lawn, this year we spent $3600 on a really good lawn tractor and another $200 on a string trimmer and we will do it ourselves.  In 2 years, they will pay for themselves because we are no longer spending money on a service, and after that, it’s money in the bank.  So too is it with fruit trees and raspberries and seeds.

So self-sufficiency homesteading – is it in the cards?  In total, no.  But carefully chosen elimination of dependencies on the outside world is.

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The Sanity-Saving Magic of Planning Meals

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This morning I woke up to snow outside, and my relentlessly blooming Hibiscus gazing out the window, as though it was longing for summer, not unlike the rest of us.  It’s May already, and Mother’s Day is tomorrow.

Fortunately the snow dissapated quickly – by the time I sat down to eat around 11 am, it was gone and the sun was shining, but there’s a frost warning in place for tonight, which meant we needed to cover up our delicate baby fruit trees and flowering shrubs.   I brought in firewood and sent my wonderful husband to the hardware store to get something to cover the garden beds.   We spent about 45 minutes tacking plastic over the trench bed, the front garden, and the baby snap peas and lettuce in the gardens, as well as covering our fruit trees.  It wasn’t work I planned today, but I’m grateful if it keeps my gardens safe.

This past week found me overwhelmed a lot.  Between work, kids and life in general, plus the fact that my energy levels nearly 5 weeks after last feeling truly ‘sick’ are not back to normal.   I have the energy to walk in the mornings, but after work and dinner, I’m wiped during the week.  I needed a reset.  So on Friday after a couple of morning meetings, I called it, signed off for the day, and proceeded to spend some time doing non-work things like housecleaning and spending time with the family.  

This morning I woke up refreshed, and decided that I needed to better plan to get more control over my time and energy.  Key to that is a meal plan.

I made a menu through next Saturday.  I tried to focus on the things we have, but even then I needed some additions.  So then a grocery list, and even found a store with a pickup window for this morning.  I’ve been experimenting with delivery, as well as going to the store, and drive-up-and-they-put it-in-trunk style grocery acquisition, and I have to say I like that last one best.  I’ll still need to go in stores occasionally, but the combination of meat and vegetables delivered every few weeks plus a few trips out seems to be keeping us well-stocked.

And honestly, while I don’t want to over-buy and reduce what’s available to those that need it, making sure our pantry, refrigerator and freezer stay full is part of my plan now.   We are in uncharted territory from an economic and disease perspective, and I am behaving as though an abundance of caution in almost every aspect of our life is necessary.   We are in for a long road, and my eternal optimism is becoming tempered.  Food, we will spend money on.  The garden too – we planted 2 cherry and 2 apple trees this year, and Mulberry and Witch Hazel trees are both on the way.  Add to that my lemon tree, which I will work to keep alive during winters in the house, the existing fruit trees, chickens and the garden, and we start to become just a tiny bit more self-sufficient every year.

To our Walden Local Meat subscription, as well as Misfits Market, we now get bread flour on subscription too from One Mighty Mill.  Sustaining a more local food supply is necessary, even as we see more and more supply chain interruptions.  True, it can be expensive, but right now it’s an expense worth extending for.  For those of us who can afford to weather the storm right now,  local food and farmers are great places to put dollars.  I don’t like to indulge in fear-based thinking, but I also don’t think there’s a fast path out of this.  None of us will be unscathed at the end.

But if this is a long-haul situation, anything that gives a sense of control is good.  And to that end – the meal plan I mentioned.  It helps in myriad ways – I can do food prep early in the morning to ensure that food is ready at dinnertime, just as I am wrapping my work day, rather than stepping away from my desk and staring vacantly into the fridge, as if hoping that amongst the peppers and tofu is a tiny, chilly Oracle with an idea of what we should eat.  It means that we’re typically eating healthier, as from-scratch food is almost invariably healthier than packaged.  And it means we’re working our way through the vegetable drawer, which is critical to conserving dollars and preventing waste.

So what are we eating this week?

Tonight, a pot of chili, some popovers, and veggies.
Tomorrow my husband is in charge of food, with me trying to do as little cooking as possible
Monday through Wednesday it will be just Eli and I, so one night we will have fish with tumeric-roasted cauliflower, and another night sticky chicken meatballs and sauteed veggies with salad, and then a bbq chicken Cobb salad saved for whatever night is warmest
Thursday and Friday will be kid-friendly, with spaghetti and meatballs taking center stage one night, and homemade pizza another.  Either Friday or Saturday we’ll do our once-every-few-weeks takeout.  So far, Indian food is the greatest hit, but we also got all the ingredients to make Onion Pakoda, and we’ve mastered butter chicken and saag already so maybe we’ll opt to skip the taking out.

In a world where every choice we make is possibly deadly to our loved ones and to our wallets,  simplification is important, as is controlling what we can.

May you stay safe and healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Food

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The other night, my husband and I were alone and simultaneously not consumed by work taking up our attention 24/7 for the first time in weeks.  Spring is exploding all around us, even as the worldwide deaths climb to nearly 250,000, 65,000 in the United States alone.  Massachusetts is a hot spot, and we remain in lockdown until at least May 18, but perhaps longer.  As we hear the news around us, and continue to isolate from the people we love, we are trying to focus on the things we can control – working hard, taking care of the kids and the house and yard, tending our animals, each other.

And like so many others, our focus is often in the kitchen.

Since we were alone and wanted time together more than anything, I made Beef Burgundy in the instant pot, and we settled in to start watching Julie & Julia, a movie I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade and he hadn’t ever, and we realized something – Julia Child’s obsession with food was much like my own, and Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of Julia and Paul Childs reminded us of ourselves to an almost silly degree, only I’m not as tall or permed or talented as the amazing Julia was.

But the love of food, on that matter, there’s no question.    No matter what is going on, if I settle down to fresh eggs from our chickens or a delicious home-cooked meal, it invariably makes it better.

I love food, the process of making it, the magic of turning flour, water and yeast into the most delicious bread imaginable, the delight of mastering a new recipe, the joy of when someone says “More please!”.

Almost everything I do is surrounded by food.  Hence the regularity with which I exercise.  And also, while so many people around me focus their charitable dollars on medical research and other important things, for me, it’s making sure children and families eat.  All the places we can put our dollars matter, but for me, it’s the basics.

Without food, we cannot thrive.  Without food, our brains don’t develop or function correctly.  Food is a basic requirement of our survival, and so many lack it.  Food is literally right there with shelter, water and bathing.  It’s a basic building block for all of us.

Yesterday while talking to a neighbor I may never agree with politically, we both worried about famine as a result of our new reality.  Here.  Food is something we can all agree on –  we all need it.  In a polarized world, food may be a common ground we all can share.

It’s also why I’m endlessly driven to the garden, to find yet another local food source, to source from another local farm.  Because as much as I love the grocery store, and oh,  I do, I also know our food chain is fragile, dependent on shipping, low-paid workers, and the continuation of farms that we need but seem, as a society, not to value nearly enough.  For those of us who can, diverting our food dollars – even a few more than we usually spend, to local food makes a huge difference.  It ensures a safer food supply – Tyson doesn’t need your dollars, but these guys do.  Find someone near you at LocalHarvest.org.  So does Onemightymill.com, who grinds wheat in Lynn, MA, right down the road from me.  And WaldenLocalMeat.comhas been supplying our meet for 6 months now.  It’s honestly some of the best meat we’ve ever had.  That Beef Burgundy?  Made from there, with the produce mostly from our Misfits Market box.  I love my MisfitsMarket.com box – they rescue organic produce that the grocery stores think looks too imperfect to sell.  We use them in the winter now, while our CSA and garden aren’t producing.  While it isn’t as local as I would like, it’s preventing food waste, and they are trying to add SNAP to their list of ways to pay.  I like a company with morals like that.

We are about to enter the season where food is plentiful in the northern states.  Snap peas and lettuce are peeking out in the garden, and either today or tomorrow we’ll harvest the first asparagus.  We’ve been relentlessly planting fruit trees.  I’ve begun hardening off our seedlings on the porch, and dropping extras to friends.  We have several friends and acquaintances on our regular egg consumption list.  I cannot feed the world, but I can provide a dozen fresh eggs to a short list of people every couple weeks.  And help out our local food pantry.  And start extra seedlings.  For me, feeding people gives back.

I can cook for my family –  a physical demonstration of love for them.

Tonight, I stir fried ground beef with rice noodles, onions, broccoli and fresh chives from the garden, which are always amongst the first things to come up.

I added to that Connor’s fresh bread, and if anyone gets hungry later, we have leftover chocolate pistachio cake, dropped off as part of the Mom’s weekly baking program, and sliced strawberries.  Sometime this week I’ll take my parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips and turn them into latkes.  I have several mangoes lying around, so I’ll make a simple mango salsa.  What are we going to put it on?  Who knows, maybe the latkes.

I haven’t thought that far ahead, but maybe we’ll grill some scallops in brushed with Chimichurri sauce.  As soon as there’s enough up, I’ll make Half Baked Harvest’s Sesame Roasted Asparagus with Whipped Feta.  I drool just thinking about it.

The love of good food and cooking is one of the best ways I can think of to cope with the loss of normal life.  Getting lost in the growing of it, and the creating of it is, to me, a reminder of the infinite blessings we have.

And if you want to feed those in need around you, here’s some ways.

 

 

 

 

In the Land of Suspended Animation

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It’s been a chilly, wet spring, with very occasional days of sunshine interspersed with mostly cold and rain, even snow far past the point of normalcy.

Normalcy.  I think up until mid-March, I could probably define what that is.  Now, I’m not sure.

Eventually, we humans normalize everything.  And so it is here, as we, along with so many others, have adjourned from most human contact.  We venture out very little, and when we do it is masked, gloves and with cleaning wipes in hand.  It’s nearly impossible to imagine that just 2 months ago we were sharing food with friends and socializing.

I’m accepting of our new normal, but I miss our family and friends.  And as I find my energy again I’m torn between loving some of this pause in the eternal busyness of my life, and wishing it would get back to normal for all of us.

Whatever normal is.

Despite that wish, there are so many joys in what I call the Land of Suspended Animation.  Finding a free weekend day for yard work is no longer a problem.  Feeling overbooked, or too busy other than my current work schedule is a nonissue.  Since even a trip to the grocery store is a fraught experience, and up until recently no one could go anyway because of quarantine, we’ve opted for delivery for the last month, saving us time and energy, if costing more in tips for the hardworking Instacart delivery folks, to whom I am profoundly grateful.

Eventually we’ll have to venture out, but not yet.

Despite the odd pause that much of humanity is taking, Mother Nature is not.  The world continues to bloom around me, despite the ongoing chill.  The birds begin to sing in advance of dawn every morning.  While the heat is still on inside, outside is becoming a riot of color.  Myrtle is blooming everywhere, with tiny purple flowers among the deep green leaves,  and naturalized daffodils and violas spring up in the strangest places. I check daily in the hopes of one tiny stalk peeking up, the harbinger of Asparagus season kicking off.  And yesterday, there it was.  It will be a few days before we can harvest, but there’s nothing like it to tell me that the world is moving on whether humanity is or not.

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Spring is my best reminder of how many lifetimes Sithean has seen.  The asparagus was planted over 60 years ago, the peach trees are older than that,  It’s almost impossible to know how long the trench bed has been there.  It may have been part of the original gardens back in 1850, long before the house moved to it’s current location, about 200 yards from where it was built.  It gives me perspective on our relative impermanence here in the world, and how humanity is just a component.

This is just a moment.

My seedlings are getting big, and I transplant them to larger pots and containers at every opportunity.  The tulip bulbs Eli and I planted last fall are starting to come up, including the checkered tulips, or Fritillaria meleagris that my neighbor and I were enchanted by during an outing for her birthday last year that bloom with their heads hanging down.  I searched for until I found some for both of us, and we planted them last fall.  “They’re up!” captioned a delighted picture from her a few days ago, so I went hunting for mine in the rain.    I think I’ll add some more this year.   It’s hard for Eli and I to get excited about digging into the rocky soil here in the chill of fall, but it’s worth it as each spring more and more flowers bloom because of it.

But despite all the movement and growth, here we sit.  For as long as it takes, without having any idea of how long it will take, like hedgehogs in a perpetual winter hibernation or caterpillars in their chrysalis  .  Unlike hedgehogs though, our heart rates are fast, and anxiety is often high.  Still, we have adjusted to the confines of our smaller world.  I remind myself always to enjoy these moments, for they too, shall pass.

We cook.  We talk.  We work.  What comes next I don’t know and there’s much I can’t control.  But the garden will still grow and the flowers will still bloom, and for that I am grateful.  This place is our stability from the storm, which may last far longer than all of us hope for.  There’s so much I miss, but I find myself so grateful for this place and my family with me.   We are tethered to this tiny piece of earth and one another, and it fills me with hope, always.

I wish the same for you.

 

 

Springtime Chill

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Despite the fact that we woke up to snow Saturday morning (which was then sleet and finally rain), the sun came back the next day, just in time for springtime preparations here on the farmlet.  Sunday we spent a good chunk of our morning in the yard, cleaning up leaves and debris, planting some snap peas, and a few other projects that have been lingering.

Like every year,   there’s good news and bad news.  Only one of the two baby apricot trees made it through the winter.  The fig tree didn’t survive either, but we have 2 new apple trees and a couple cold hardy cherry trees as well, and a mulberry tree on the way.  On the good news front the Seckel Pear tree seems to be budding, all the bulbs Eli and I planted last fall are coming up, and my hibiscus trees, bought on discount last year as I went to order wedding flowers, thrived in the dining room over the winter.   Which has indicated that perhaps I can also keep citrus trees that way, so I ordered a Meyer Lemon tree in a mad rush of optimism.

I’m technically done with quarantine, but taking it very slowly as I re-enter the world, and of course we’re doing that as little as possible.  I’m still exhausted a good chunk of the time, weeks later.  Still, I and my family got lucky to be minimally impacted, and I’m grateful.

While I had to pace myself, gardening and yard work is somewhat meditative for me, and I find it more relaxing than tiring, even though I could clean up the yard for months without stopping and there would still be more to do.

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Still, after 2 wheel barrels full of leaves and debris, and some snap peas in the ground, it was time to take a break.  Alice the chicken apparently thought so too.

Monday was back to chilly and grey, and I got up early to go for a walk and get dinner into the Crockpot.  This time of year, when it’s warming up but all too slowly, it’s the perfect time for a Crockpot meal.

I took a 3-lb pot roast and sprinkled it with salt, and pepper and then pan-seared it, before putting it into the crock.  Using the same pan, I added more olive oil, chopped a couple onions, 4 cloves of garlic and a carrot, and sauteed them until soft.

Then I took a large can of crushed tomatoes, a cup of red wine (cooking wine works just fine here) a teaspoon each of Allspice and Cinnamon, and a half a teaspoon of ground cloves, plus some salt and pepper, let that cook for a few minutes to meld flavors, and then poured it over the roast in the Crockpot and let it cook for 8 hours.

The kitchen smelled amazing – the combination of tomato and red wine with spices more frequently used for baking is not to be missed.

I served it over cauliflower mash, and honestly, it was just the thing to start the week off.  Today is due to be warmer and there’s plenty of pot roast leftovers, plus some chicken soup with rice to finish off as well.

I hope you and yours are staying safe.

 

 

Breadmaking in a Time of Pandemic

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It seems like everyone has re-discovered their kitchen these days.  With lots of time at home and a need to limit contact with others, cooking and baking are on the rise.  Here’s some simple things you can make in quarantine, with things you probably already have in the kitchen.

I’ll talk more about my own experience with C19 later.   Let’s just leave it for now, as I still waffle between bursts of energy and profound exhaustion.  Still,  I finally found myself back in the kitchen, profoundly grateful to be able to be where I was.  While I recognized that my relative youth and good health were in my favor during my comparatively mild experience, there’s nothing like a bout with a virus that has killed over 100,000 people in a couple short months to give you a reality check.

I felt nothing but blessed to be back amongst my cookbooks and cooks tools.  And given the challenge that finding flour is, I was deeply glad I buy mine in bulk.  We had the better part of 20 pounds of organic white flour (I buy 30 lbs at a time) lying around, plus a few variations.  Still, if you need some, I highly recommend One Mighty Mill, right down the road.

Connor and I, who have been reading the Little House books,  with the intent to make everything in the Little House Cookbook as a result (He hasn’t been into homeschooling.  Food, he’s into, so I decided it was better if Mohammed goes to the mountain, so to speak) dove in to his first recipe of homemade bread.  In this case we veered off of the Little House so for something simple that might pique his interest, and it did, and then some.  On and off for well over a decade I’ve been making the recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and it’s a great starter recipe for anyone who hasn’t got tons of experience with baking.   Years ago, Kiera titled it ‘Mommy Bread’ but now it’s officially ‘Connor Bread’.  His pride in his breadmaking skills is profound.

I veer off the recipe link in a few ways.  One, we add different flours.  Typically about 1 cup of the 6.5 cups in the recipe are a combination of whole wheat, buckwheat and oat flour.  This is healthier and richer than plain white bread.  The other is that I use a regular old baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking.

We ate it with Rosemary Ranch Chicken, salad, couscous and another so-easy-anyone-can-do-it recipe, pickled onions.  Pickled onions have been something of a trend in the last couple of years, but they are very easy.  All you need is cider vinegar, sugar, salt an onion and some time.

You will need:

1 red onion, sliced thin (you can use white too, but you won’t get the awesome pink color)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix vinegar, salt and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Add onion slices.  Let sit for a couple hours, until soft, periodically stirring.  Eat.

Today, we’re going to prepare for Easter by making birdseed eggs for our bird feeders.  These are a great project for kids too, and super easy to do.  A bit messy, but that’s not bad, if you can take the mixture outside, all the better.  Birds can then help you clean up the mess.

Keep safe all.

 

 

Remembrances

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I’ve been walking a lot lately.  I haven’t had a lot of interest in running, although I’m sure I will at some point, but right now, it’s about being outside and enjoying the peace that comes with exercise rather than any need to push myself.  I make my coffee, lace up my sneakers, and unless it’s raining heavily, go as soon as it’s light out for about 3 miles.  No music or podcasts, just my thoughts and the scenery around me.  I never grow tired of the landscape around me, and every day I notice something new – the moss growing up a tree trunk, the way a tree leans over a small creek, birds.  It’s a time for me to collect my thoughts and prepare for the day.

Before I go though, I log the day’s counts in my diary.  The number infected in Massachusetts, the US, Globally.  Recovered.  Deaths.

I don’t do it to be morbid, I do it to ensure I remember.  To hold myself accountable for my memory.  Years from now I may forget how the body count doubled in just a week, how 1000 died in a single day here in the US, the terror I feel knowing my sister, a nurse, is treating the ill with a limited amount of protective gear, like so many other medical professionals.  How completely exhausting it is to weigh every decision to go out as a matter of life and death.   How, at the beginning it seemed like a slow threat, but then one that advanced so rapidly it was hard to figure out what reaction was correct at any given moment.  How much time I spend praying that this horrific virus passes us by, and our loved ones, our friends, our community.  How I got upset at my daughter for not helping make her bed, which wasn’t what mattered, it was my fear that maybe I wouldn’t be there to do it for her in the future.  How much I fear that, most of all.

And how little control I feel about all of it.

It’s important to remember this stuff.  Someday, when the veil of history comes down, and it’s ‘this happened, and people died’ it’s important to remember the stories of the people that were impacted by job loss and food insecurity, by illness, that died too early.  To remember it as it really was, and to tell the story that way, not through the haze that time eventually puts on all of our memories.

But it’s also important to remember the moments.  I admit, as stressful as it is for all of us to juggle work and kids home all the time, I love them being there.  I love being home with my family every single day.  In early March, as the virus closed in and schools started letting out to ‘disinfect’, ultimately to never reopen, my son and I went to the grocery store.   In retrospect, I shouldn’t have brought him, but my memory of him grabbing his own basket and going to select the things important to him is one I love right now.  I remember the worry and not a small bit of admiration at my fiercely independent 7 year old trotting down the aisle, determined to contribute.  “Did I do good Mom?” he said, as he came back with ice cream, a couple bags of orange chicken, cups of ramen, and frozen edamame.  “Yes, baby, you did perfect.”.    He was so proud to have helped us be supplied with the things he liked.  I’ve always loved grocery shopping, and it seems that I’ve passed that on to my younger child.  We always come home with stuff I might not buy, but he views the grocery store much like I do, as an endless wonderland of options.

Only a few weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime.    I want to remember too, that the world still turned green, that the forsythia started to bloom, and daffodils appeared in the yard, that spring is here, regardless of the horror outside our yard.  I need to remember the good things and the beauty as well, when the world paused for a while.

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Tonight we start up a new tradition.  Dinner and a movie, with the 5 people allowed in our world right now – Eli, myself, the kids and their Dad.  I’m cooking Pumpkin Lasagna with Fontina and Sage, and we’ll grill Rosemary Ranch Chicken, add a salad and some cut veggies, and maybe make Pac Man cupcakes with the leftover frosting and cupcakes from Eli’s birthday.    We might do a little Just Dance on the Nintendo.   We will absolutely laugh.

Above all things, I want to remember how much gratitude I have for my amazing and limitlessly patient husband, for my children, for my life.

I will remember this, someday in a later time as one of pain and fear for all of us in the world, but also as a time when we remembered what really mattered.  Each other.

 

 

 

How to use the Grocery Store During a Pandemic

Early on in the C19 panic-buying days, which was only about 2ish weeks ago, people were doing some super-crazy things, like buying out entire stores supplies of toilet paper and meat.  It was awful and greedy, and impacted a lot of limited-income people.

I’m an advocate of keeping a full pantry, fridge and freezer, but I want to differentiate between what is a ‘good’ stockpile and a ‘bad’ stockpile.

Here’s some helpful hints on how not to be a jackass at the grocery store.

Good: Buy extra so you don’t have to go out more than once every few weeks.
Bad: Strip the store of things you don’t even need and more than you can eat, or with the intention of reselling at crazy prices.   Feeding off people’s fear isn’t good business, it’s icky.

Good: Buying things you like to eat so that you can eat them over the next couple weeks
Bad: Buying things that are WIC eligible when you can buy another brand (they literally cannot) and stockpile shopping in the first couple days of the month when SNAP benefit recipients, who likely never have enough food anyway, are in dire need of resupply.  Sure, go to the store if you need a few things, but save your big shops for later.

Good: Thanking the people who are going to work every day so you can eat.
Bad: Voting against policies that would give them increased job security, benefits, and living wages.

Good: Buying what you need.
Bad: Grabbing the last thing on the shelf because it’s there, even if you don’t need it.

See?  Not complicated.

 

Home Bound

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Photo by Eli 5 Stone

 

As I write this, 664,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Over 30,000 have died.  When in a matter of days it was reported that an otherwise healthy 17 year old and an infant died, my calm shattered and ice water ran through my veins.  We are still on the uphill slope of this, the curve that everyone is now trying to flatten is a mountain, and we are less than halfway up the side.  2 of the 4 of us have compromised immune systems.  The only thing we can do is hold the line, stay home, sterilize everything, and hope for the best.

As I drove my children to their Dad’s house for a couple days, I passed a church that summarized, even for those of us that aren’t particularly religious, the correct direction:

No Services
Keep Praying

And so I am, for all of us.

We are safe and sound here, as much as we can be.  I just stocked us up again on groceries, and our meat deliveries continue.  Eggs are an abundance that we can share by leaving cartons on the front porch for friends and neighbors.  To our monthly meat deliveries I’ve added Misfits Market, until the garden and CSA start producing.  I’ve learned the local cheese shop delivers as well, so if we find ourselves in need of cheese, we have options.  I know that what we are experiencing is positive luxury, and my gratitude is boundless.   I also know we’re helping keep some local businesses in play, and for that I’m happy as well.

Knowing that our intentional isolation is the only way, and that still there is risk to us focuses me in on what matters.   I am content to just be home.   I plant, I work in the yard, clean the house, and cook.  Oh, and Eli and I juggle work – which is impossibly busy for me and very much the same for him, plus homeschooling kids.  There’s no relaxing or boredom here, no need to think up things that will fill our time.  We take it day by day, trying to balance all the things, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.

There’s a lesson in all of this – there is only now, and we have to take advantage of it, live our lives.  Nothing is written.

The other night a surprise snowstorm blew in, and Eli and I went for a long walk in it, coming home soaked and chilled to the bone, but pleased to have had the outside world to ourselves. We try to walk as much as possible these days, needing the fresh air.  My son has even taken to occasionally disappearing to the play set in the backyard, sometimes accompanied by his iPad, just to be outside.  And probably away from us, as there’s a lot of togetherness happening.  Still, the kids are happy about my prolonged grounding at home.

Spring came back right after our snowstorm, with a few daffodils showing up in the yard, and the lilacs turning green with buds, and the snow melting by morning.    Yesterday we started clearing out the trench bed.  Asparagus Season is only a few weeks away, and the yard needs a great deal of work.  We haven’t figured out where the bricks to finish the garden beds are going to come from if we can’t go buy them – there are old, crumbling bricks in back of the garage that we can use as placeholders at least.  We would like to paint a bedroom, but that, too, requires a trip to the store no one should risk.  We definitely need a lawn mower, rather than a service this year.  At some point we may have to manage that, but not quite yet.

So we putter with what we have, like so many generations before us, only with infinitely more resources.  And we rest.  This morning, I watched the rain.  I woke up early and started some seeds, when it was dark enough that I still needed a lamp to see by.  I read, and I wrote.  I sat, at peace with where we are right now.  My children were asleep upstairs, so too my husband.  The world begins to green around me.  Thus far, we are only touched by isolation, not illness.

And I cook.  We still have some onions, butternut squash, and potatoes from our Thanksgiving stock up, but these need to be used quickly now.   The onions will go into some French Onion Soup this week.  We have 2 small pumpkins hanging on as well, ready to turn into Pumpkin, Sage and Fontina Lasagna.  Eli’s birthday is coming up, so we’ll need to celebrate that as well.

For tonight, it’s simple.  Stuffed Spaghetti Squash – simple and delicious.  Serves 2, just double the recipe for more.
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Here’s how to make it:
1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
Small container of pesto
2 oz goat cheese
1 lb ground turkey or lamb
2 small onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, to top

Preheat oven to 400
Oil a baking sheet and put the halved squash face down on the sheet
Bake until tender, about 40 minutes

While the squash is baking, saute the ground turkey, onion and garlic in a pan until turkey is cooked through and onions are soft.  Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Remove the squash from the oven and flip until they are rind-side down, let cool slightly

Mix the cooled turkey mixture with the goat cheese and pesto until well combined.  Load up the squash ‘boats’ with the mixture, and top with Parmesan, Asiago or another grated hard cheese.

Return to the 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Passing Through The Shadows

 

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You can only come to the morning through the shadows – J.R.R. Tolkien.

It’s hard to know what the right words are for what we, as a human race, are experiencing right now.  COVID-19 is exploding, we are, by and large, socially isolating, and the future, always both sort of fuzzy and somewhat predictable, all of a sudden isn’t predictable at all.

Even though we have plenty of food, warmth, light, running water and employment, and most of all each other, which are the greatest gifts imaginable, fear creeps in.  Like for the rest of us, seeing or hugging my family and friends could result in a death sentence for one or more of us.  We have no guarantee of supply chains remaining intact.  No one yet knows when or if immunity testing, vaccines or treatments and diagnosis is going to improve.  There’s a lot to worry about right now.   I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t worry a lot for us and others.  As I write this, we are about at 300,000 diagnoses, and almost 13,000 deaths from C19.  I know we are just at the beginning, with the numbers continuing to escalate.

That said, I’ve tried to hang onto the things I can control and celebrate whatever gifts are out there.  Our world has contracted to 5 people in the course of the last week and a half.  Eli, I, the kids and their Dad, with the adults working their tails off to make sure that we partner, make transitions between houses simple, and communicate openly and honestly with the kids as much as we can.

And yet, I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t seeing the gifts in the situation.  We’re all home a lot more.  I’m getting more sleep, no longer waking up at 3 am to catch planes (sometimes waking up at 3 am to worry though).  Yesterday, the 5 of us took a long walk through a local state park, and then Eli and I worked in the yard for a while – it’s spring cleanup season, and that waits for no one.  We have family time, time to cook at home.  We have an abundance of love and affection for one another.  We are able to keep friends and family supplied with fresh eggs.  We are able to be generous to those around us.  We are adding love and kindness to the world, a world that desperately needs it.

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And spring is coming, something that I have endless gratitude for.  My seedlings are coming up, and more are getting planted every week.  The yard is starting to green, and our Forsythia is beginning to show it’s colors.  Here and there, crocuses and daffodils are peeking out.  Yesterday, the sky was impossibly blue.  We ran and laughed and watched the chickens peck in the yard.  Today, it’s about setting up my permanent work space, as having all of us home all day has meant some restructuring of spaces.

Soon I’ll be posting about things we are doing, and that you, too can do to pass the time, and keep occupied.  Recipes, crafts, and projects.  My eternally creative husband created a schedule for families cooped up at home.  For today though, I am focused almost entirely on the blessings around me. Sunshine, family, flowers.

This too shall pass.  None of us will ever be the same, and I think the world around us will change significantly as well.  But we will emerge from the shadows of COVID-19 into a new morning.  Almost certainly dented and dinged, and for many of us, grieving.  But we humans have a great capacity to keep on keeping on, and that’s the thing we must hold to now.  “If you are going through hell, keep going”, said Winston Churchill.

So keep going.  And may this shadow pass quickly for all of you.

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