When A Door Closes, A Window Opens

Hibiscus in bloom, Photo by Eli 5 Stone

Our summer of nothing and everything had more twists and turns than a miniseries plot, but somehow we landed in a peaceful Labor Day weekend.

The children are back to school – 4th and 8th grade respectively – and Sithean is off the market. There’s nothing to buy in our town, keeping the house show-ready was an exercise in exhaustion, and we may have the general lines of a solution on how we renovate without having to move out and to get the space we need.

We’ve jettisoned the architects, the builder we were talking to jettisoned us after we declined to go along with an out-of-control cost per square foot quote – lovely people all I’m sure, but not useful to us now, and we are starting the process of drawing and researching for a new builder.

We’ve taken the control back into our hands and it feels so, so much better, not to mention the relief we feel at no longer having people wander through our house on demand.

So what happens now is that we figure out the path forward without the stress of more architect bills, or without feeling like everything has to be a negotiation downward on a non-realistic construction quote. It’s freeing.

I mean, it wasn’t fun to be dumped by our builder, someone the neighbors raved about – but at the end of the day, he was never accessible, and non-responsive, so what he was to them was a different thing than what he was to us. And that’s okay, because in the end we need to focus on what we need. And what we need is reasonable and decent communication, for a start.

I do believe that sometimes the universe throws up walls in your way when you aren’t walking where you are supposed to go, and that happened here, over and over again. So much so that we started to believe the only thing we could do was move. Once we started to let go of some pre-conceived notions about what our options were things started to open up, in our minds and in the world.

For now, we’re staying put and getting estimates on our newly designed-by-us plan to get our needed space not by lifting the roof and flipping the stairs, a move that would require us to move out for 6+ months, but to go back and to the left, creating a bit of an L-shape for the house with a wrapping porch.

But for today, there’s pesto and zucchini fritters to make, and food prep for the week. For today, we can let go and let things play out over time.

And for another day, Sithean is home.

Summer Eating

Roses on the garden gate – photo by Eli 5 Stone

Summer mornings, even the weekday ones, are my favorite time. The air is cool enough for a light blanket over my legs. Everyone else is asleep, and I can watch the sunrise through the living room windows while I sip coffee.

Taco the rooster starts crowing far too early, but even that is part of the ambiance here, although I do occasionally consider really how badly we need his company in the here and now, and come up fairly empty on what he’s useful for.

This year is flying by. Everyone I talk to agrees, and no one is exactly sure where the time is going. It’s crawling up on July. The garden is planted, the world is green, but won’t be for much longer – we desperately need for it to rain. School is out and there are two full, lovely months before we have to start gearing up for it again.

And we’ve been busy, with every weekend being filled with commitments. After 2 years of quiet weekends, I’m happy to see everyone and feeling quite overwhelmed, and wishing for time in my garden. Unstructured time is good for all of us.

But on a rainy Sunday last weekend, I was able to slow down. While it was, in fact, Father’s Day, my husband was in Los Angeles, my bestie, who had come to stay for a few days left early that morning and the kids were with their Dad. Other than the dog, who decided to nap through the morning, I was alone and not on a schedule for the first time in ages.

The rest of the country was experiencing a heatwave, but it was downright chilly in Massachusetts. I sat in bed under the blankets and contemplated all the things I could be doing, which included nothing. I sipped my tea and pondered more, occasionally getting up to do a small chore, such as laundry or dishes, then returning to my seat.

Even that time though, was productive, as Sundays are the days to make our meal plan. As we go into summer, time becomes more fungible, and meals more flexible, fresher and based on local ingredients. Our CSA is heading into week 4, and while the garden isn’t producing yet, it will be soon enough. This week I brought home the first zucchinis from the CSA, and cheerfully broke out my spiralizer. I don’t eat zucchini noodles because they are just healthy, I eat them because they are completely delicious, absorbing whatever flavors you add to a saucepan.

We have lettuce and bok choy and turnips galore right now, along with farm-fresh scallions, so my daughter made us homemade Ramen. All you need are noodles, broth, soy sauce and some seasonings, eggs and cut up veggies. It’s cheap, delicious and most of all, accessible, i.e. you don’t have to have a pantry full of fancy ingredients to make it. Slicing up scallions, cucumbers and carrots to go in keep it healthy and they are all affordable veggies.

I do have a pretty diverse pantry, but these days, with grocery prices skyrocketing, I’m focused on how to do it better, cheaper, and full-flavor, with a focus on using up what we have. We love Moroccan and Israeli pearl couscous, and I finally bought a 5-lb bag so that we can have it any time (for comparison,Whole Foods sells 12-ounce boxes for $3.19 each) and 0ver the next week we’ll add Moroccan Chicken and Couscous to our repertoire. The cost of it on Amazon has gone up to $23 but I think we paid $17. Bulk food purchases pay off in the short and long haul if you can store them. I regularly make Dal and my own Lentil Sausage Soup and a 5-lb bag of red lentils still lasts me quite a long time. 18-24 months maybe?

This week I bought some beef (ouch! So not cheap) so that I could marinate some Beef Bulgogi, and pop it in the freezer. Two pounds will feed us for dinner and a couple lunches at some point when no one feels like doing food prep. While it was a bit of a splurge it is very handy to have ready to thaw. And tomorrow we’re going to give Pesto Chicken Saltimbocca a try. I have lots of cherry tomatoes on hand from my last trip to BJs, and I bought some chicken cutlets.

But otherwise, we’ll eat the food we have. The raspberry bushes are starting to produce and we have some other fruits. It’s prime grill time and most of our meals will be focused around that. Hamburgers, grilled veggies, and simple sides, lots of no-recipe recipes. And occasionally just cereal for dinner too. Because it’s summer, and we can.

Simple Spring Meals

Thompson Falls, Gorham NH

And just like that, everything is green and in bloom. How I love spring!

Our return home from the much-needed respite of the mountains coincided with a few things, and not just driving up to see the tulips blooming. I love tulips, and can’t wait to plant more.

We’re less than a year until our renovation starts, so cleaning out and organizing things in earnest has to begin, and so does a cutback in our spending so that we can start to place deposits on our renovation. While we will have to finance some, our goal is to do as much in cash as possible. This is a very big renovation, and we want to be able to add a few splurges, like my new cookstove.

We also all need eye exams and the adults need new glasses, so we need to watch our spending all fronts. We have lots of fun trips planned this year, in the RV, and to bring the kids to NYC for a big surprise, so we’re going to do plenty of enjoying even as we get frugal.

This also means we need to cut back our spending on food and eat down what we have. Despite the rising food prices and temptation to stockpile, it’s time to empty our pantry and freezers. We want to be able to unplug them next summer when the house is under construction. I haven’t emptied a freezer since the pandemic started, and honestly it feels weird and uncomfortable to do it given all the food price uncertainty, but it needs to be done.

Of course, it also won’t hurt us to be buying fewer snacks and packaged food. The pandemic took that to new heights, and now it’s time to get back to more healthy basics. Eat healthy, spend less – what’s not to like?

I came home to some veggies that needed using up – while things that go bad can always go to the chickens or the compost, I don’t like wasting food, so I’m trying to be better about fruit and vegetable management.

Leeks and turnips in particular needed to be used, but the spring weather, and some really heavy vacation eating meant that I needed something lighter, so I stumbled upon, and proceeded to adapt, an old NY Times cooking recipe for soup. Vegetarian, vegan if you omit the parmesan, light but creamy and tasty, and a good use for cheap vegetables. I made mine for lunches this week, but it’s a great meatless Monday option as well. It’s a good winter soup, not that different in concept from a vichyssoise, but it was also wonderful the Saturday night of our return.

Turnip Leek Soup with Lemon & Parmesan

3 leeks, sliced in 1/2″ rings
2 large turnips, chopped into 1/2″ dice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 c grated parmesan
2 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons white wine or cooking wine
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup arborio or short grain rice
Chives and croutons for garnish

Slice the leeks and soak in cold water to remove grit
Peel and dice the turnip. (If you have chickens, they love the scraps)

In a large soup pot, saute the leeks in olive oil for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the diced turnip, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute.

Add the bay leaves, stock, wine, rice, bay leaves, pepper and cayenne and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until the turnip has softened and the rice is cooked through. Remove the bay leaves, and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot, add the lemon, parmesan and salt, and stir over heat for another minute.

Ladle into bowls, top with chives and croutons.


Another great and healthy meal prep food is this Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad that I had with hardboiled eggs after getting a couple miles in on the treadmill, which I can honestly say is one of the best investments I’ve made ever. It’s healthy, quick and delicious, and a hit in my house, even with my 13 year old daughter. I buy dried cranberries in bulk and put them in anything.

And then there’s one of the cheapest side dishes of all, Polenta, literally cornmeal, salt and water, with some Parmesan cheese and butter. Paired with Chicken Francese – it’s a bit of work but a really good meal – and any of the vegetables you might have around. But really, you could pair it with any protein or skip the protein and just saute some veggies on top.

Our meal plan this week:

Lunches: leftover soup, cranberry quinoa salad and leftover enchiladas

Sunday: Chicken Francese, polenta, roasted asparagus
Monday: Beef bulgogi (pre-prepped and in the freezer), rice, salad, naan
Tuesday: Parmesan crusted chicken, broccoli, popovers
Wednesday: Just Eli and I, cheese and crackers and fruit
Thursday: Eli cooks
Friday: Instant pot chicken gnocchi soup (personal rave for Skinny Spatula, everything she blogs about tastes amazing)
Saturday: MYO Pizza in the Ooni oven
Sunday: Picnic with cousins! Menu TBD

Happy Spring!


Springtime Grace

Moonlit Spring Night

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

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

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


Seed Starting is the Best Kind of Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meal Plan and Batch Cook Your Way Through Anything

There is always something lovely to see on my walks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Storm

26″ of snow later…

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

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

Snow Day Dinner

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

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

The chickens were having none of it and hid inside

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

Teddy watches as Connor uses the driveway as a sledding hill

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

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

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

Saturdays in the Kitchen

Picture of our walk – photo by Eli 5 Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird Feeder in the Snow by Eli 5 Stone

Autumn Mourning

Pumpkins and Firewood on the Porch at Sithean – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

November has rolled in, and with it the cold nights. We lit our wood stove for the first time, and the heat has clicked on. It’s time to do the final preparations for winter – taking down the paper lanterns that adorn the roof of the porch in warm weather, insulating windows, covering the RV for the wintry weather to come. The last of the things that will allow us to curl up inside for the respite that we get when the cold finally takes hold.

In the mornings, frost covers almost everthing, but by mid-day the sunshine glow is glorious.

Our grieving is tempered by a return to life, but it’s still there, around every corner, commingled with love and worry for those he left behind. Big family celebrations of the upcoming holidays are being traded for something more quiet and simple this year. There’s an empty seat at our table, and none of us will recover from the loss very quickly.

Loss – not just of the person but also all the things they, and we, will miss out on. Milestones. Joy. Grief is not just for today and simple presence, but all the future things that no longer get to happen. It’s a perpetual gap in what should be, a future missed out on from all sides. Someday we will learn to move around the terrible hole in our midst, over time it will be less of an abyss, but not now. Not anytime soon. My sister grieves and we all join her in her sorrow.

I’ve noticed, a few weeks in, that my return to the topics of grief and loss and sadness makes others uncomfortable, but I’ve reached a point where I won’t apologize or speed it along to make another person at ease. I can’t, it consumes us all, and so be it. Someday I won’t wake up and hope it was a bad dream, someday it will be a loss that fits into the landscape of my family’s life. Not today.

Still, we continue to move, as we must. There are chores and homework to be done, yard work to be performed, work, school and all the interactions of our lives, food to be made, laundry to be folded, birthdays to be celebrated, vaccination for my son to be scheduled. We serve nothing and no one by stopping our movement. The show, as it were, must go on.

And go on it does, in this place that gives me a sense of the eternal. My brother in law and I were very different people, but we shared a sense of belonging to a place, him by his river, watching the sunsets with my sister, me with Eli, here in the garden of fairies and witches and ever-so-pink sunrises.

Sithean is a sanctuary, in all the ways.

Our garden has continued to grow despite the light frosts and so I harvested another pumpkin yesterday, and I think there’s hope for the last few still-ripening squashes. I picked them partially ripened and put them in the sunlight to finish their process, turning them every couple days. This is not a foolproof process, but it can work, and there are at least 10 more spaghetti squashes, so it is worth the effort.

A large number of tomatillos survived the frost as well, so one last batch of salsa verde is on the horizon.

The garden is dying down slowly this year, and I’m letting it take it’s time. We’ll get out and rip it out and plant our garlic when it’s all done. Leaves are still on trees, rather than the bare grey of November. My lawn is still green. The endless rains have slowed, but not stopped. It’s in the 50s and 60s still, for days on end after the night chill ends in the sunshine.

Still, I’ll plant my spring flower bulbs and we’ll prepare for winter, because it will come. My son yearns for snow that we hope will arrive soon. On weekend mornings, the living room stays warm if we throw one last log on the fire before bed and close the door, and becomes a cozy spot to return to after I brave the chill to feed the bunnies their breakfast. The wood stove can’t warm the whole house, but it does keep the living room nice and toasty.

I’ve begun to cook again and do food prep in earnest. This morning I made 2 meals worth of Beef Bulgogi and froze the beef in it’s marinade to be cooked later, and then started in on some applesauce. We have infinity apples, and they won’t keep forever, so preservation is key. Applesauce is another no-recipe recipe – apples, some water, maybe a bit of sugar to taste. It freezes well and is great alone or in baked goods.

2 large-ish zucchini were left from the garden, so a last batch of zucchini fritters will be part of tomorrow’s dinner, and for tonight I made popovers to go with Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon. Added to the leftovers from Saturday’s dinner, Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto and stuffed chicken.

Despite the days tinged by sadness, I am grateful for the peacefulness of my kitchen, and the love that surrounds me, the flowers that bloom still, against all odds, and the gift of each day.

A few Mexican Torch Sunflowers Remain in the Garden

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.

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