How to Live

View from above the canopy, Vermont Institute of Science (VINS) – Photo by KRM

The heat broke last weekend, and September rolled in just a few days ago. Summer is over, just like that. Finally, finally I hit the kitchen with relish rather than dread of the heat. Snuggling under the covers to write with a mug of steaming coffee in the morning feels delicious. The fall home-maintenance spree continues, and between chores and food preservation and some other big items, there is more to do than there is time. It’s also expensive this year – we need a new chimney liner and the furnace needs some intensive maintenance, things that make us glad we have the savings to cover it.

The children alternately rail against the fading of the unscheduled bliss of another summer and look forward to their friends again. Eli and I continue our near-endless preparations for fall and winter, with home maintenance, food preservation, and continued cleaning and organizing. The bunnies are also doing their part. They are almost done with their August moulting, in which they generally look bedraggled and natty, covered in hair balls for about a month before their winter coats come in.

And in the midst of it all, my daughter and I snuck away to a tiny cottage in a remote corner of Vermont for a girls weekend that had been near-infinitely postponed and relocated due to Covid-19. Originally set for Newport, RI in May of 2020, a few days ago we found ourselves in a tiny cottage on a Wagyu beef farm in Vermont, about 7 miles from Okemo Mountain and infinitely far from almost everything. Which was just fine with us.

I came home to prepare for the increased busyness of fall. It’s time to start the dehydrator – with cherry tomatoes and apples alternating. Our meal plans and life work better if I can do a lot of food preparation on the weekends. The basil is still thriving, but not for many weeks longer, so pesto gets made every few days, and mostly gets tucked away in the freezer for the colder months.

At the end of just that one food-preservation effort, we’ll have enough to have it every couple weeks until next July, when the first fresh batch is available. This year I may freeze a little fresh basil and water as well to have it for other recipes. There’s nothing that beats the smell of food made with fresh basil, and pesto is a favorite of ours. The options for it’s use are near-endless.

The first of the ripe tomatillos became Salsa Verde , and there is more to come in the next few weeks. And the zucchini, which i neglected to pick for a few days, has once again grown into baseball bat-esque appearance. We’re still eating last year’s zucchini relish, so I set out to find a recipe for something a little different. I’m hoping to share my zucchini fritter recipe with you soon, but it needs a little refining – the taste is amazing, the look and texture not quite there yet.

Our life doesn’t have much balance in it. During the week, I am tied to the phone and WebEx nearly constantly, often for 9 and 10 hours a day, with work deliverables on top of that. When the kids are home, Eli is the primary parent, with me rushing in to help when I have a moment. He parents while managing an exhaustive number of chores inside and out. And we’re still never done, although we always make a ton of progress. The kids are well-fed and loved, even if they have had a little too much screen time this summer, and to be honest, throughout the pandemic.

By the time the evenings roll around I’m often too tired to take on much other than any dinner prep and cleanup that must be done. Which means things pile up to be addressed throughout the weekend, and that often makes for really busy weekends. A need to focus on preserving and cooking and indoor chores often means a direct choice to watch the weeds get bigger. Outdoor chores get selected, and the laundry waiting to be folded and managed piles up and we eat more Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken than is probably the right amount. Parenting fills much of Eli’s day, interrupting work on the book that we’ve both decided is worth more to write then him taking one-off illustration jobs. When we realized the constant water had created a mold issue in the RV, he stopped everything to handle it, and there goes another week or more.

If you are getting the idea that we can’t really keep up, you have it right. Our life is particularly compressed right now, and will become more so when we open our doors to adopt in October. We originally said August, and then realized that we needed to get the garden preservation done and kids settled into school routines. We are trying to do it all, and we simply can’t.

So what we do is triage. This past week the zucchini were overwhelming the refrigerator, the house needed some interior work and we needed to cook and prep for the week, so I was on cooking and food preservation, and I finally broke down and did some string trimming over weeding – not ideal, but it bought me some necessary time. Add to that I’m slowly pulling runs into my schedule along with walks, and the fact that my daughter needed a few last things for fall – another trip out – and last Sunday passed quickly.

This weekend was a holiday weekend, and I took advantage of the day Monday to cook nearly all day. This of course meant again – minimal yard time, and the clothes are not necessarily sorted and put away, as one would wish they would be. But throughout the day I made: salsa verde, pesto, paleo meatballs, chicken souvlaki bowls, roasted shishito peppers, took another crack at zucchini fritters, and my personal favorite, a slightly modified version of these Cherry Crumb Bars for the kids lunches this week.

The only change I made was to heat the cherries, lemon juice, cornstarch in a pan with my own addition of a teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Letting the cherries cook in the juice, water, sugar and cornstarch gave it a great texture. My ever-tolerant husband did most of the cherry pitting.

By the end of the day I was pretty tired, but meals for multiple days were prepared, the kids school lunches were set, and I had washed and begun to pack up the RV bedding into bins in the attic and done most of the lingering laundry. It’s piled on the chaise near my bed, and there is a pile of paperwork right next to it, waiting to be gone through. But we have our priorities straight – food preservation comes first, because it’s a time-driven activity.

When I sat down to breathe as the cherry bars baked, despite my weariness I had a moment of gratitude that our life is messy, busy, cluttered, and lovely, and almost completely exactly the way we want it to be.

Another Trip Around The Sun

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

The summer is flying by now. Which, to be perfectly honest, is fine. I love all the seasons, and we have, despite near-incessant rain, enjoyed our summer – seeing friends and family, travel, and time to be homebodies as well. It’s been one of the first years where I thought we struck a good balance between time to spend on goals and rest and time spent out doing things.

The weather has continued to be mostly soggy, with a few sunny days in between. In the last 7 days we’ve seen the remnants of Tropical Depression Fred and Hurricane Henri in addition to the heavy rains that still hit periodically. The cabinets and doors are sticking, we can’t leave bread on the counter out without the risk of near-immediate mold, and the ground is spongy to walk on frequently. The west is dry as a bone and we have almost more water than we can bear.

Still the garden is doing well. The garlic is cured and in use or being given away, and tomatoes have started to ripen along with cucumbers, near-endless zucchini, and giant pumpkins and squash abound, getting us ready to roll into fall. Which I am completely ready for.

Garlic curing on the porch

I look forward to all the seasons these days, as they are all full of gifts in their own way.

I woke up yesterday morning to begin my 49th trip around the sun, 48 chronologically. My house is filled with flowers from the farm where we have our CSA, and the day was a peaceful one. I walked, then weeded, which always gives me a sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that it was way too humid to be out in the sun. My husband made my parents and I a delicious dinner in the garden, complete with paleo chocolate cake for dessert.

And that followed a relaxing Friday with the kids, with lunch on the water, a church yard sale and a trip to the farm together to pick up our CSA and pick endless flowers among the butterflies and bees.

We are preparing for back to school, with great trepidation. While masks and testing will be in place for the first month, the Delta variant has made me long a bit for last fall’s homeschool experience again, as much work for Eli as it was. I want my kids in school, they need to be, and it isn’t safe for them to be there either, so the stress abounds endlessly. Still, we will hold our noses and plunge ahead, as best we can. Every decision is once again filled with worry, which isn’t much fun at all.

And there is no more bubble to nest in, the world has recalled us. Life keeps moving forward, ready for it or not. I am holding tight to all the blessings we have, which are many, and looking forward to hot apple cider, leaves crunching, and this wave of the pandemic to pass us by.

How Does My Garden Grow – July 2021

It has rained with just a few days of sun, for weeks now. The days it is sunny we take advantage as best we can by weeding and mowing the lawn, and trying to be outside. It veers between gentle showers and sudden thunderstorms and wind that take down branches all over town. I generally like the rain, and last year at this time we were rolling into drought but I admit, this makes me uncomfortable. I watch the wildfires and drought in the west through sheets of rain here. Everything is green, but how long until it gets too wet to handle? I don’t know. And yet, there’s not much we can do. So I try not to worry about it. Try.

And when the weather is beautiful, I try to take advantage, like having dinner in the garden at my neighbor’s.

Melissa’s Garden

We made it through our in-home walk through (our adoption social worker being really just the absolute loveliest person, boy did we get lucky) and began to turn our attention to the last few details of readiness. Most of the de-cluttering work is done, although there are some closets still to clean and paperwork to go through. The timing of opening our doors has shifted a bit, with the idea that kids come in after my daughter is settled into middle school. But not long from now.

Garden bounty from our CSA is in full swing, with kale, cucumber, lettuces. summer squash and things like beets and turnips in abundance. I love summer salads. Last night I made my first batch of basil pesto with cuttings from our CSA. It was a bit runny, but it will be delicious this winter, so into the freezer it went. Sunflowers have begun to bloom as well, one of our favorite added benefits of the summer.

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

Our own garden is a bit behind the CSA as it always is. The tops of the garlic have started to die down, so I should be able to pick it and cure it next weekend. With the humidity, ‘store in a cool dry place’ may require getting creative. We should have enough to get us through the winter holidays and to share, and I think I’ll plant it again this year. It absorbs a whole large garden bed for a chunk of the summer, but it’s worth it for the garlic scapes and the joy of it. I may add shallots too. And it’s time to order those things – with the farmlet, summer is the time to plan for fall.

Soon enough our preserving will start in earnest – tomatoes for drying and sauce, infinite zucchini and more. But that’s in a week or two, and for now we just watch the rain and take pleasure in summer’s beauty.

Summer’s Longest Days

Probable evidence of fairies, in which the children no longer believe

The 10 days the kids are away on vacation with their father are, in fact, the longest days of the year. We madly rush to get projects done (last year we rearranged the entire house to accommodate adoption plans), work, spend quality time together and with others, pandemics permitting, and despite our busyness, still only truly light up when the kids call. Mostly they have nothing to say really – yes, they are having fun, yes, they miss us, yes they have to go bye.

As it comes to an end, our underlying maudlin takes on a new flavor – should we go out to dinner one more time, just us? Perhaps, but absolutely not anywhere the kids might potentially enjoy. We should absolutely power wash the porch but not disturb anything my daughter might disapprove of us displacing. In short, we are at the end of our ability to miss them and function normally. This does not bode well for any future college attendance or growing up that seem to occur without any authorization from us.

The weather has been weird over the last few weeks – a sweltering week-long heatwave at the beginning of June, followed by intermittent rainy periods and a day or two of sun. Our most recent stretch of rain lasted about 5 days. The weeds have been taking over, despite my best efforts. As July rolled in, the hot weather, followed by chilly rain pattern continued, and the weeds continued to be a challenge, especially benchmarked against my free time, which was nonexistent.

There’s an upside to all the rain though – despite it really being time ffor it to go out west and cool that side of the country off – even though it continues thwarting my weeding goals, it has allowed me to turn my attention indoors and to using our CSA and the first of the summer garden food.

The garlic in the garden is getting close to harvest. In order to get the plant to focus on a bigger head of garlic, you trim down the garlic scapes, which is nothing more than the flower part of a garlic plant. We had a pile from our CSA, as well as a dozen or so from the garden, so I set out to refine my recipe for Garlic Scape Pesto.

Lest you think I made this just because I had the scapes available, that was true…the first time. Now I am truly sold. 12-15 garlic scapes make a bit more than a cup of pesto, which will get you a couple of meals worth, plus what’s left in the blender or food processor is usually enough to slather on top of some salmon and toss on the grill.

Garlic Scape Pesto has a bit of a bite to it, so it’s good with pasta and fish and a light salad. It’s also really great as a spread on bread, maybe topped with a sliced tomato and some mozzerella. The salt is critical.

The ingredients are simple – scapes, parmesan, a bit of basil, olive oil, lemon, walnuts and salt. The key to the recipe is to modify it to your taste.

Garlic Scape Pesto

12-15 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2-2/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon (ish)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup basil leaves

Whir. Taste. Add oil, salt, parmesan or lemon to taste. Slather on anything from bread to fish to chicken to pototoes…need I go on? It’s just good.

When the rain abated we turned our attention to the last few bits of readiness for our adoption social worker visit – one of the last gates we have to pass to be ready – later this week. The porch had become the detritus-collection spot of choice during Covid (which, let me just mention, is not over so please go get vaccinated for all of our sakes), so we cleaned it. A table one of the Moms found at her church’s thrift shop has been our mail-and-stuff location, but was looking pretty run down. Eli crafted a new drawer plate and painted it after even with a coat of color the existing one still looked a little cruddy. Have a mentioned my husband is amazing? If I haven’t, let me do so now. Total cost of the table rehab – $11.98 in spray paint and a pile of cleverness.

The porch looks nice, the piles of mail are dealt with, and the tops of the garlic plants are starting to die down, which means harvest soon, and to be replaced by fall broccoli and lettuce.

And at least for now, the sun is out.

Spring Cleaning

Visiting some neighbors

I’ve written a lot in the last month or so, but none of it was publish-worthy. In large part that’s been because I don’t sleep enough. I go to bed just fine, but I wake up at ungodly hours on a regular basis, and find myself brewing coffee, and sitting down to write. I accomplish drinking the coffee successfully, the writing not so much lately. It isn’t that I don’t write at all, but what I do put down doesn’t seem worthy of keeping. Which, given the abysmally low standard I have set in writing about the day to day of my life here on the farmlet, indicates that some of what I’ve recorded has passed the line into the truly boring.

I can’t quite form a description of this weird set of feelings – waiting-for-vaccination eagerly, coupled with lack of desire to return to ‘normal life’ plus – and this is hard for my homebody self to admit – boredom at doing the same things each day. This year, starting seeds, something that generally fills me with great joy, felt sort of ho-hum initially. I’m glad I did it, because I love my garden, but it didn’t spark joy in the least. Part of it is just being crabby about waiting to be vaccinated, I’ll be honest. Vaccine selfies abound, both making me happy for my community and frustrating me simulaneously, because we still wait – Eli is finally eligible and I will be tomorrow, but our children aren’t. My excitement is tempered because my job is to protect them, and from this, I cannot.

No matter how the adults grow safer, until my children are as well our life can’t change much.

Except life is changing a little. We are in the final stretch of getting approved to adopt, the home study. At some point, the infinity of paperwork and interviews and gates will come to an end, and then the real work begins. And because we’ve hit a lot of our financial milestone goals, we were able to put a deposit down to start our kitchen renovation next year. Add to that my career being as busy as ever some new and interesting opportunities opening up for Eli, so we’re busy as ever, if not more so.

Still, we find time to celebrate, be it Eli’s 50th or the occasional random event, and our world has recently opened up to include vaccinated parents. For us, these interactions, lost for a year, are celebrations in and of themselves.

And better weather is coming, although the chill has been hanging on. Yesterday it stormed and even snowed a little. Today is sunny, and I look forward to being out in the yard weeding for a few hours. For now, we’ll continue to work on the house and yard, and our goals, waiting to re-emerge to the world.

Winter’s End

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

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

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

Honey Locust in the Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a squirrel.

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

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

Taking Stock

Early mornings are my favorite time. Before everyone is up, there I am, with a book or my computer and my cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet of being alone before the world starts up around me.

Yesterday morning after I put a pot of eggs to hard boil on the stove, I sat in the living room, which was still cozy warm from the previous night’s fire in the wood stove, and illuminated by the lights on the Christmas tree. With just a few days to my favorite holiday, we are starting to slow down. There’s still much to do – I am late to getting the last few packages in the mail (this is true every year), we still haven’t gotten much wrapped and there’s some baking to be done. But all of our shopping is complete, Eli continues to create Elf on the Shelf magic with our house elf, Elphidelphia, most nights and other than a lot of wrapping still to do, which I actually enjoy, there’s just not a ton left to manage.

This year we will not spend our Christmas Eve with my parents or Christmas Day with my former in-laws. We can’t – we made the decision a couple weeks ago to put the kids into a school that is open and in-person 5 days a week, and so all semblance of assured safety for those around us is gone. It was the right decision, but it comes tinged with regret. Our cozy 9 month long bubble popped, and now we go out into the world again, just as infections rage all around me. I can’t say it doesn’t worry me, but I also know it’s what the kids needed. So we rolled the dice, and the outcome is now one of crossing our fingers and hoping that the other families there are as careful as ours.

So Christmas will be simple, with a lovely cheese board and a ham and some simple, pre-prepped side dishes for lunch. Eli, I, my ex and the kids are the sum total of the humans we will be with, and for this year that’s just fine.

Our winters are always quiet, but this one will be so much more so. But as much as I miss our people, I intend to enjoy it fully, with long peaceful walks and runs, time spent in the kitchen, Friday nights spent with homemade pizza and movies, and books. My garden seeds – although I need very few this year – are ordered because I know there will likely be shortages again this year, even though I am several months away from the potting bench taking up residence in the living room.

After re-engineering our spaces last summer to make room for more kids to arrive in our lives in 2021, we ended up with a lot of clutter in various places. Little by little, I’m going through and clearing it out. This week I tackled the top of our bureau, which has long been the resting place for unmatched socks, outgrown kid clothes, and various things that we don’t quite know where to put. Now it has just a few items on it, all carefully placed, and it’s a serene view for when I sit propped in bed with my laptop on chilly mornings. Of which there are a lot of these days. Decluttering – it’s what’s for winter.

Yesterday I did all my ordering of groceries from various locations, and stopped off at the Asian grocery store. From now until February 1, or maybe longer, other than milk from the local dairy, which we pick up 2x a month, and our Misfits Market deliveries, we’re on a grocery store & spending freeze. No going, no ordering. I stocked up this weekend because our holiday meals are important and there’s a pandemic on, but at the end of the day it’s time to get some daylight into the pantry and freezer, and one does that by eating it down.

Covid-19 is also spreading really, really fast in Massachusetts and everywhere, and we’re hunkering down for the next few months as much as possible, so having less coming in from the outside world while we eat through our stockpile is a good idea.

This year we have done so very much. As I look at the patched, and still to be painted walls in the bedroom, I think about the gift that new pipes throughout was to us and the house. There’s still more trees to take down, and I get a little sad about each one as they are removed, but the 7 trees we took down posed danger to the house and us, and now we have the start of a clearing that might eventually become something. An orchard? We don’t know yet.

And then there’s the RV, which sounds like a way too big investment until I tell you how very much I love it. It’s like playing fort, only for adults (and the kids, but mostly it’s for us, ha!). The sheer coziness and contentment Eli and I felt in the mountains over Thanksgiving weekend was not something I think you can put a sticker price on, as we lit candles at the little table after a day of hiking, and sat down to a delicious dinner of homemade enchiladas that he had prepped at home. Moments like that, when you realize you have everything you need and then some, are an amazing gift. Twenty years from now I imagine it will feel exactly the same.

And there’s been so much else. The pleasure of knowing that an entire bed of garlic for us and our neighbors is tucked away under the snow in the garden. The freshly painted walls in the living room and a comfy couch that will seat all of us and then some. The fact that we are moving along in our adoption journey. Our kids. One another. 2020 has been a hard year to sit with, with illnesses and mental health issues and job challenges for so many we love, plus a pandemic and so many people at risk and in need. We have been incredibly lucky, despite me getting sick and our work and life load having exploded in intensity. This meant that Eli and I had to team up on a whole new level, ruthlessly prioritizing our time. We’ve settled into most of a routine based around our various strengths and weaknesses, and I think we’ll just continue to refine that over time.

Since this year we tended to some very expensive items, next year will be a little different. Our focus, other than replacing the super crappy electric stove in the kitchen and adding a few needed implements like a leaf blower and chain saw, is savings. We have our RV, which means for us now travel is cheap and awesome and comes with our own private bathroom, which is wonderful in a pandemic (we love tent camping but communal restrooms are a no-fly zone for us right now). We are a few months away from being adoptive-parent certified, we hope. And we’ve been taking steps to get a better handle on expenses, cutting as many as possible. We’re also knee-deep in a refinance, dropping the mortgage down to 20 years at 2.25%. Our target is to pay it off in way less than that, but carving off a full percentage point and dropping the term from 30 to 20 years for effectively the same monthly payment will save us a ton of interest over the life of the loan.

We still have a lot of big goals ahead of us – an eventual renovation, kids to college, and a lot of expenses to evaluate and cut over the next several months. That includes some recurring expenses but also our grocery spending, which is a little uhm….well…never mind. More on that later.

But the name of the game for 2021 is using and enjoying what we have. We have spent the last several years building the life we want, and now it’s time to slow down and live in it for a while.

A Breath in Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so is yours.

Harvest

Photo by Eli5Stone

I woke up yesterday to a chilly morning, dark and 46 degrees F. It was cold enough Friday night that we brought the lemon tree into the house. Soon enough it will have to live inside again until May, along with the hibiscus trees, but not yet. Please not yet.

The garden seems to know that the end is coming. Pumpkins and squash are ripening faster, ready to be picked and cured for a few weeks – stored in a cool place before eating to let the sugars develop better – and the tomatoes require picking twice a day. Fall raspberries are producing in abundance, and the apple tree needs clearing off.

The dehydrator runs almost nonstop these days, mostly turning our cherry tomatoes into dried ones, to be packed in oil and used on our winter pizzas, pastas, and wherever else I can use them. My neighbors can the bigger tomatoes and the San Marzano tomatoes for me (I grow, they can, which is a fantastic arrangement).

Dehydrating tomatoes is easy – slice in half, coat in olive oil and salt, and pop in the dehydrator. Mine takes about 24 hours to turn into dried tomatoes but every dehydrator works a little differently. As soon as I get the next jar filled with dried tomatoes I’ll switch to making apple chips – adding a little lemon juice before drying keeps them from turning brown, but apples need no other help.

Our weekends are busy beyond compare these days, as we still work on cleaning and organizing on top of preserving, still finishing the projects we started in July and we have also started homeschooling, after determining that remote school wasn’t really going to work out for the kids. There’s more things to do than there is time, so we do as much as we can in priority order, jettisoning the things lower on the priority list for now.

Food preparation on weekends doesn’t get us through the whole week, but it does get us through several days each week. Today I’ll be making a double batch of Chicken Parmesan and thawing sausage for Lentil Sausage Soup. On top of that I’m going to finally make these treats for the kids, preserve some zucchini, which is still, unbelievably, producing in the garden, and start the process of making grape jam. My neighbors have Concord Grape vines, and there were more than they needed this year.

Despite all the things to do, the nonstop motion of our lives is winding down. In just a few more weeks all the preserving will be done. While housework, laundry and errands never end, we are beginning to see the end of the major reorganization and home improvement projects as well. This weekend, as we completely cleaned out and reorganized the living room and hallway closet, I could start to see the the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, there will always be organizing to do, but the big stuff is getting knocked off. Soon enough, I’ll stop writing blog posts about how much we are doing and focus on one or two things (with recipes) to share again.

Even our newest household member, Teddy, is settling in. Teddy came to us from some family members, and is, even for me, who has never necessarily been a ‘dog person’ a fun addition. That he likes to canoe with us helps a great deal.

Teddy the Canoe Dog

But even despite that, we took the time to have a great dinner last night together, and watch a movie. In a few weeks we’ll take some time to do some fall camping. If the garden doesn’t get cleaned out and readied for the winter until November, and the laundry doesn’t get folded today, oh well.

When there’s everything to do, the best thing you can do is decide to focus on what you can, and avoid any pressure – internal or external – on your priorities. Through all this I try to remember the wise words that we are Human Beings, not Human Doings. And I rest, between whirs of the food processor. I hope you can too.