When in Doubt, Make A Plan

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It rained again the other night the tail end of Hurricane Isaias, which means now we have more zucchini the size of baseball bats to harvest from the garden.  Which is okay, because in addition to eating zucchini spiralized and sauteed in a myriad of dishes, zucchini makes amazing relish, and I’ll be making some more this weekend.  With, by the way, my new food processor, which a wonderful friend sent me after reading my last blog post.  What an amazing gift.  I cried.

This is a busy year.   We finished most of the junk removal this week (and by we, I mean Eli) and now it’s on to plumbing and tree removal, and we decided to splurge to have the living room and hallway painted for us in a few weeks, because we were buried in to-dos.  I’ll paint the kitchen myself this winter, but we have a sectional coming in a few weeks for the living room – a splurge because our existing living room layout will not easily accommodate a family bigger than 4 – and we want it done before then.   We don’t usually spend like this, but these are much-needed and budgeted things.

The garden is ripening fast.  I have a Red Kuri squash that’s almost ready to be picked, and pumpkins and squashes coming up fast behind them.  Winter squash storage is going to be a ‘thing’ this year, and a fun problem to solve.

 

 

Home life is somewhat all-absorbing right now, between kids, garden, projects and taking care of the house and yard.

Still, that’s okay, because I’ve been thinking.  Massachusetts Covid-19 cases are already starting to rise.  I have to assume that this is a result of re-opening, and it has already caused some slowing and cutbacks of the re-opening plan.  Plans for returning to school are underway, but it’s unclear what’s happening there too.  I certainly don’t have the ability to see the future.   So we are, in that absence of clear knowledge, making our plans.  Plans for school, plans to add more sustainable resources to our little farmlet, plans for saving, and plans for future fun.

I’m a huge fan of plans.  Do they all work out?  Oh, no, nope, not at all.  They stop, change and adapt.  But plans are a path to getting where you want to be, the project plan component of goal-setting, the process flow to set you on your path.

I’ve ordered some homeschool books, had the kids started listing things they want to learn about and been working with our babysitter to figure out how to keep her as long as we can, both from a financial and time perspective.   While we’re still holding to see if our schools can make something work that doesn’t mean the kids will have a challenging experience, we know that we’re not the experts.  We’ve been working on lists of what the kids might want to learn about (thanks for the idea, Mom!).  And I’ve been soliciting help, most specifically from my ex-husband’s Aunt Mary, who is a retired educator and author who homeschooled her now-grown son.  My older sister and my brother-in-law are also very experienced in this area, as are others.  They can’t do it for us, but they sure can help.   We’re planning and that plan will allow us to be ahead of the curve this fall.

Which brings me to an important point about setting goals and making plans – don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (and give when it’s needed in return).  When I bought Sithean, I had basically no business buying a 170-year old house in need of tons of maintenance on 1 1/4 acres by myself.  There was so much, from plowing the driveway to tree removal to even basic things I couldn’t do myself, and in most cases didn’t have the budget for.  Once Eli and I met – actually re-met – my life became much easier, but before there was him, there was my neighbors, my parents, my ex and others who just…helped.  I still remember one night when the kids were with their Dad and I was going to do just one small thing to make the house nicer.  The toilet paper holders in the house were silver-painted plastic, and ugly.  I bought nice ones, and towel rods, just to do a little thing – I was on a very tight budget, and this was a splurge.  So off the kids go, and I open up the toilet paper holders and all there was in the box was drywall screws.  Mine were both installed in the side of vanities.  I didn’t have the right hardware, it was 9 pm at night (not my best time anyway, as I’ve mentioned) and I couldn’t even do this one little thing without assistance.

I sat on the bathroom floor and sobbed because I was so overwhelmed.  The next day as I relayed this to my neighbor over wine she said “So why didn’t you call us?  Jay would have come right over to help”.  My ex said “Next time, call me.  I’ll help” and proceeded to install them.  And so on.  And you know what?  Next time, I called.  Not too much, and so many times I returned the favors with another favor, but still – just because it was my goal doesn’t mean others wouldn’t help me to get there (she says, sitting in bed under the gorgeous red ceiling her Mom painted for her and for which I will be eternally grateful).   This was the true beginning of a mutual-help arrangement that my ex and Eli & I have, and I value it so much.

When you set your goals and make the plans to get there know that especially for the big ones, there will be a lot of unknowns about how you get from where you are to where you want to be.  They need patience and periodic revisiting.  I wanted a rose covered garden gate.  So I bought a gate and then 2 years later the rose bushes.  This year, they are starting to climb. I water and fertilize them as they need, tending to my goal every day.   As I walk through it, I stop to see if I can weave the growth through the gate.  In a few years, I will have a rose-covered garden gate.   Was this practical?  No.  Could that money have gone elsewhere?  Sure.  But every time I walk through the butterfly gate I’m happy.  Every, every time.

That too, has value.

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In the background is one of our less-than-mentally -gifted hens, who still gets confused about how to go back in the coop. Every single time.

Start with ‘this is what I want’ and then figure out what it will take to get there.  Do not be disheartened if you can’t right then and there.  That’s okay.  Take a step.  Then another.   Even if you get somewhere you didn’t quite expect when you started,  it will be closer to where you need to be.

And then, as you find yourself weaving rose canes (did you know the branches of a rose are called canes?  I didn’t either) through your proverbial garden gate one summer, you will think “I’m here”.  And the joy and gratitude will flow like a river.

Christmas In August

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As it rolls into late summer, and we begin to harvest more and more from the garden (translation: the zucchini is becoming unmanageable and we start to consider leaving bags on our neighbor’s doorknobs, and running away before they can catch us doing it and try to give it all back), our thoughts turn to the winter holidays.   No, it’s not that we don’t have enough to do – there is always way too much to do – but because this is exactly the time to get the winter holidays under control, or at least something resembling under control.

And this means I’ve been dicing a LOT of oversized zucchini.  I mean, a lot.  Because I do’t have a food processor. Yet.  It’s on my list but it will show up in my life when it does, and I’m in no hurry to shell out $200 for a good one, so instead I mince.  This is a fair bit of work but kind of mindless and I don’t really mind it.

More concerning is that the zucchini plants keep producing and if I take my eyes away for even 5 minutes they grow to the size of my leg.  If I left them there they would probably grow to the size of Godzilla, develop Artificial Intelligence and take over the world.

I pick them to save all of us from that fate.  You are welcome.

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But back to Christmas and getting that sorted.   The monster zucchini and endless chopping is a key component.

‘Sorted’ has multiple parts.  The first is budgetary – we’ve done varying degrees of spending on holidays, but we’ve really been working to ratchet it down, both for our immediate family and those around us.  Which means a lot of what we do is homemade.  This year, Eli will be making some gifts with his woodworking skills, and we as a family always do food gifts.  Baked goods, for sure, along with our ubiquitous Peppermint Bark, but there is always food in jars to accompany, along with a handmade tag by my husband.  Last year we made infinity jars of Salsa Verde, this year it’s masses of Zucchini Relish.

Here we come full circle to the dicing effort.

By my estimates, we need 16 jars of the stuff and some to keep, but maybe more.  I can make 3-4 jars at a time, and each batch takes about 24 hours, because the onions and zucchini bits need to brine in salt overnight.  So for right now, each day I make a batch of relish, and then chop the onion and zucchini for the next batch.

Once the 16 – or 20 – or something jars are canned and ready next week, they will be stored for the holidays, which is when everyone wants sweet pickle relish, right?  I mean, what’s December without that.  But seriously though, this stuff is really amazing, and a complete labor of love.

And then, we will set aside the jars in a cool dark place (translation: box in closet) until it is time to line them up, apply tags and add them to boxes of cookies to share.  But the effort will have been expended in August, also the planning.  There’s no need to think of what to get the people we love, because it’s there, complete and ready.

 

Zucchini Relish to Eat and Share
Makes 3 pints

8 cups zucchini, finely chopped or shredded
4 cups finely chopped or shredded onions (yellow or red)
1 tablespoon of salt

Combine zucchini, onions and salt in a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Rinse and the zucchini and onion mixture, then add to a large stock pot.

Add:
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
3/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tablespoon of mustard seeds (any color)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 jalepeno pepper finely diced

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Bring the zucchini mixture to a boil for 5 minutes, and then turn off heat and let sit for about 15 minutes, which will allow the relish to thicken.  If you have hand-chopped the ingredients, use an immersion blender to process the mixture, leaving a fair amount of chunks.  Return relish to a boil and prepare your jars.

Here’s how I do the jars: I fill our water bath canner (this is an old enamel pot, but calling it my water bath canner is both accurate and sounds nicer than ‘old soup pot’) with water, and put it on to heat, immersing pint jars and rings. Wash the rubber lids separately, and don’t boil those.

Bring everything to a boil, and then when you are ready to can, pull out the jars onto a waiting towel.  Use a towel you don’t mind getting stained or dirty for this.

Fill the jars most of the way, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top.  Wipe off the rims with a wet towel and place the lids and rings on.  Be careful, because the jars will be pretty hot between the boiling and the relish.  Using a jar lifter or pair of tongs, place the lidded pints in the boiling water bath, making sure there’s enough water to cover them completely.

Boil for 10 minutes, remove the jars and set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, remove the rings and lightly test the lids to make sure they have sealed by pulling on them just a little tiny bit.

Store in a cool place without the rings over the lids.

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How Does My Garden Grow – July 2020

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Spaghetti Squash

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

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

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Birdhouse Gourd

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

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

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

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

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How To Be More Effectively Productive

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

Insufferable?  Possibly.  But never, ever boring.

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

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

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

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

First, Know Thyself

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

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

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

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

Leverage Your Strengths

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

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

Know When to Focus

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

Besides, the weeds will still be there next weekend.

Zucchini Rainstorm

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It finally, finally rained. Our part of Massachusetts is officially in drought, and while we need more, I’ll take every drop I can get.  As I watched the grass brown and the dirt turn to dust where we weren’t watering,  I worried more and more.  When it rains, I feel like I can breathe again.

My garden is mostly faring well, although a family of hares and a groundhog made short work of most of our snap peas, the last of the lettuce and quite a few cucumber plants.  I’m hopeful that the cukes will recover, but it’s questionable.  I go out to check the garden regularly, and I find the groudhog especially bold – he just looks at me and keeps munching until I get close, then finally scampers off, to come back right when I stop looking through a hole in the fence.

I shout and scare him away, feeling part Mr. McGregor and part Beatrix Potter, because the animals are adorable and I like them here, although I wish they would do just a tiny bit less chomping.  My life is a storybook in more ways than one.

The weekends fly by here, with so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it in.  I’ve managed to keep the Potager mostly weeded, and am making inroads into the trench bed.  I took my turn picking up veggies at our CSA this week, and picked some herbs in the gardens there – basil, sage, thyme and lavender make a lovely scented bouquet and taste wonderful as well.   Yesterday I cleaned off the porch, which had collected just a little too much mess,  and began to store some clothes – with our upcoming re-engineering of spaces, some things just have to go into storage.  If I don’t miss them, they can leave permanently, but I often find when I purge too fast I end up replacing the things I let go of, so I’m more cautious about it these days.  Still, an inch at a time we get closer to where we want to be.

July is just about here.  This year is flying by.  Zucchini is ripening in abundance, and it leads me to one of my favorite simple dinners – Zucchini noodles and cherry tomatoes in pesto.  It’s simple, fast, incredibly healthy, and right about now starts being local food.  You can put chicken or salmon on top, a bit of Parmesan, and you have an amazing dinner.   My pesto recipe is here but you can always buy some.  Still, fresh is so easy, and so delicious.

You will need:

2 medium zucchini (can we please call them courgettes, like they do in Britain?)
A couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes
A pan with olive oil swirled
Some pesto
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice or spiralize the zucchini, and saute until soft.  Add the tomatoes midway, and allow them to get soft as well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and stir pesto into the hot pan, coating everything thoroughly.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

No need to measure a thing, just cook to taste.

Serves 2

 

 

 

 

 

How Does My Garden Grow – Late June

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The Irises and Peonies are gone for the year, and the raspberries, who just 3 years ago were tiny sticks and now are riotously taking over the yard, are beginning to ripen.  It’s hot here.  For the last several weeks, with one exception, it’s been a dry, baking heat.  We’ve had rain once in nearly a month.  In the forecast…maybe Wednesday.  Maybe Saturday.

Despite a cold, wet spring, we are headed into drought.  It’s not yet classified as drought in Massachusetts, instead deemed ‘Extraordinarily Dry’ but the next step is the first phase of a drought.  I’ve never seen it this dry in June.

Because of the heat I water several times a day.  As much as possible,  I hand water, which, while it is slower going than using the hose, allows for much more water retention right around my plants.

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My plants are thriving, even the hungry ones, like my Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkin, despite the lack of rain.  Squash and zucchini blossoms abound, and it’s just about time for one of my favorite meals, sauteed zucchini noodles and cherry tomatoes in pesto.  Topped with a little parmesan and some grilled or pan-fried salmon, it’s summer simplicity at it’s best.

I’ve always said I wouldn’t live anywhere that rain doesn’t fall from the sky.  And the world is still lush and green around me, but we never go this long without precipitation, and, for someone who loves to grow things, I spend a lot of time worried, hoping for rain.   Every gardener understands the premise of a rain dance, the need to just do something, especially when it comes to something that you have no control over.

The pandemic continues, as do the Black Lives Matters protests, just outside our door and so far away.

In an effort to keep our cooling costs down, blackout curtains went up in the living room yesterday, slightly impeding my Maxfield Parrish-style view, but definitely blocking some of the  beating sun.  While there is always weeding and planting and tree removal to do here, the next few weeks are focused indoors, painting rooms, moving furniture around, adding and changing the layout of the house for our next big thing, as we prepare to welcome Teddy the Yellow Lab in August, and start the process to get us to adoption of one or two more smaller humans.   We had intended to do major renovation next spring to augment our space, but given the pandemic, that will have to wait a year or two.  In it’s place is moving rooms around to add beds and options.  It’s a good opportunity to declutter as well, and we’re slowly working our way through corners and closets.

But this is a good time to take our eyes off the garden, save for a bit of weeding here and there, because for the next couple of weeks, the garden can be left to do it’s thing, growing away in the heat and light, needing just a bit of fertilizer and care.  Our CSA started last week, and this year my neighbor and I are alternating weeks for pickup, so our first arrival comes Friday,  with Misfits Market right on top of it the next day, due to a massive lack of planning on my part.  Our preserving efforts will have to start right away.  And while more recipes are coming, here’s a great place to start, and Eli and my latest addiction in television.

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Gardening in the Time of Monsters

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Time does not freeze, not for all the wanting it to that a human can have.  The world is moving on around us, beginning to open back up, despite unchecked infection rates and over 111,000 dead in the US alone.  We lead, but not in a good way.    Cities continue to be filled with protests because of more unnecessary killings of people with dark skin. People are literally starving here in the richest country in the world.  I grieve.   I don’t understand how armed white men can storm a state house and be left alone, and blacks protest without weapons because they are tired of dying of police brutality and the police response is horrific and violent.

I don’t understand how this can happen,  and all the while the leader of the free world drives us into darkness.

“Now is the time of monsters” wrote Antonio Gramsci in 1929 from a fascist prison.  And so it is now, too, 91 years later.

But rather than join the anger and the hating, I decided it’s on me, on all of us, to create more love.  An image of white women in a line protecting black protesters with their bodies?  Love.  Those feeding the 42 million plus people out of work?  Love.

Even smaller acts of love make the world a better place.  Wearing masks, helping others start gardens, checking in on the people around us.  If we are to live in a time of monsters, we must bring out the angels of our better selves to counteract them.  We must give, yes, but we must also sustain ourselves, because this is not going to be a sprint to a better place.

A wall of richly scented white lilacs dangled over the outdoor dining table like a benediction for several weeks.  They don’t last long, lilacs – but they held long enough to have our first social distancing picnic with friends among them two weeks ago.  I typically spend a day at the ever-lovely Pickity Place with my next door neighbor for her birthday in May, but this year it wasn’t possible, so her 50 cycles around the sun that occurred a few weeks ago went unmarked by anyone other than family.   Her husband, mine and I decided to remedy that, and I took a long drive to New Hampshire to get her birthday dinner, given that take out and a quick visit to the greenhouse was an option, so lupines and violas now grow in my front yard.

Last weekend we celebrated France Day here, a completely arbitrary, made up holiday that involved us making and eating french food, playing french music, and building a 3-d Eiffel Tower puzzle.  Why?  Our plan to spend April vacation in France visiting the sites, shopping at Farmer’s Markets while channeling Julia Childs (ok, that bit is just me) and visiting some friends who happen to be brilliant enough to live there was put aside by pandemic.  And in a world where every day tends to be much like the last, making something special for us is important.

I’ve sat out the protests, not because I want to, but because we’re pretty sure I had Covid-19, I’m still fatigued a lot, and with two immune-compromised household members and still no sense of whether there’s some kind of post-virus immunity, we need to put our lives above participation.  That’s hard for me.   I’m praying for change as I plant tomatoes and cook for some friends who need a hand, and parent and work and hope that no one else gets hurt.

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The peonies began to bloom on Friday, and their scent fills the yard and house.  We are almost done planting and building the last of the garden beds.  We chose cement bricks, even though they are less beautiful than clay, they last  longer.  We have a desire to build something that will last.

My son filled a bed with cabbage, small pumpkins, Nasturtiums and seeds for a moon garden, and has been watering it with dedication, like the little boy in The Carrot Seed.  He struggles sometimes, without his schedule and friends and family.   But the garden for him, too is a place of peace.

If now is the time of monsters, we must create hope wherever we can.    My hope is in the garden.

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A Dangerous Business

Sithean May 11 2019

“It’s a dangerous business, walking out one’s front door”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

If I could sum up in three words how I feel about the general state of our world right now, it’s the shift from ‘I don’t know’ to these words.

Very well, then.

To me, these are three words that speak volumes.  They are used when we’ve established the facts of the matter, and it’s time to stop ruminating, to make a plan.   Grieving for the people we are losing, and those that are hungry or in danger of losing their homes will go on, but now it’s time for us to lace up our boots and get to work figuring out our new normal.  Grieving time for our past world is coming to an end, more or less, and it’s time for us to get on with things.

It doesn’t make what we’ve lost less sad, just that there’s only so much dwelling, in both senses of the word, that we can do.

Covid-19 is not going away.  We are not going to hug or go to concerts or return to normal, mask-free life for a long time to come.  A vaccine is wildly optimistic at 12-18 months, so it’s likely we’re looking at years.  And while the curve is flattened in many cases, the virus has not agreed to negotiate, there’s no white flag raised.  A resurgence is almost inevitable, once we all leave our bubbles.

Like those who have been subjected to a prolonged bombardment, we are emerging to both sunshine and rubble, but emerging knowing it isn’t safe to do so yet.  Still, sunshine calls.

Very well then.

This is where we are.  If we cannot go back, we must learn to live with it.  And so now comes the endless decisions about what to do, and what not to do.  And how to do it to balance our need to do things (work, school, care for family members and so on) and safety

I find myself changed.  I miss restaurants and still have no desire to be at one.  I miss working with my team, but I don’t see traveling to see them for months yet, maybe even not this year.  Financially, we are battening down the hatches. We have hundreds of decisions to make, small and large ranging from whether to get a haircut – equal parts fear and oh please yes – to whether to postpone our long-planned house reno.  I’ll probably bite and get a haircut at some point, and we will push out the reno a year.   I will likely learn to cut the kids hair, at least for now.  Will we go on vacation?  Summer camps?  Can the kids see their friends and be safe?  I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I’m watching, waiting and talking to the adults around me about the plan.   As it formulates, I’ll share more.  Until then, I’ll stay here with my family, and my garden.   But always thinking about how and when to do what’s next.

Very well, then.  

 

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.