Summer of Nothing and Everything

Photo by Eli 5 Stone

August is already half over. At first, it was dry and hot – too dry. Now it’s cooled, but there’s still no rain. There’s hope of it this week, thankfully. We need a few days of drenching rain to offset the drought. I’m doing everything I can to keep the plants hydrated, but the earth is baking, and so are we.

And yet the world here is still lovely, and my breath catches at every sunset, despite the seemingly endless swelter.

The first few tomatoes have begun to ripen in the garden. And the kids have had a summer much like I had as a child. No camp. No schedule, with occasional exceptions. Just pool (if there’s no wedding next door the kids are allowed to use the estate pool), bike rides, Mario Kart competitions, and relaxing. I’ve let go of the kids missing out on camp or educational experiences, because that’s not what they want. They want unstructured time. Friends. Sleepovers. Late night tag in the yard, flickering with fireflies. They are happy and content and (mostly) well-rested.

And that’s what I want for them. It’s delightful to watch from my chair as I work. Childhood is short, and the ability to just be is a gift. Also, it’s cheaper than camp, although we do go through a lot of ice cream.

Sithean is up for sale. We don’t know exactly precisely how this is all going to work or even if we’re going to move – if the numbers don’t work it’s moot – but we’ve acknowledged that something has to give. We need space, to simplify our stressors and to be truly settled. I’m grieving at the idea of leaving this magical place, but I also know when we are stretched so tight with all the things that must be done that we may snap – and we are – that it’s time to change the paradigm.

We can’t renovate and adopt and re-launch Eli’s career and maintain my own and eat dinner together and garden and and and….

So we’re capitulating. It’s in the universe’s hands right now. We do not have anywhere else to live planned yet, but we know we are staying in our town. My feelings are all over the place because this is home, but at some point the must-do list became too long and the weekends of picking sinks and fixtures got old just as it started. In another life, another me with fewer demands on time could do it.

Just not this me, in the here and now.

Our Farm Share (CSA) and the garden are both producing. I’ve made several batches of pesto already, and I have the zucchini teed up for fritters. A first pile of Tomatillos will become Salsa Verde later in the week. We are full of vegetable and fruit abundance.

So what happens if I no longer have a little house on my little enchanted hill? I don’t know – so much of my identity is wrapped up in this house and this place I’ve somewhat forgotten what it’s like not to be grounded to a piece of earth all the way to my bones. When I came up the driveway the first time and saw this place, with asparagus plants, past their producing time but looking like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, waving in the trench bed, I felt a sense of home. This house wanted us here, it wanted the love and chaos and cherishing. Homes have energy, and this one was ours. So what now? Do I become big-old-rambling-house-down-a-long-driveway person? Big Ol’ House on the Whatever Hill (in Topsfield that you can expect to live on a hill is a safe bet, an almost inevitable likelihood)?

I don’t know. It’s weird, to be honest, like I’m walking down a long hall with no real destination. But here’s what I do know. I know that at some point the to-do list, rather than the enjoyment of our place, took over. I know that we must live for the life we have now rather than the life perhaps I envisioned when I drove up that driveway.

There’s more of us now, and more will arrive. I know that Sithean is okay with it – a sense that we’ll miss each other but we did our job, providing safety and grounding, and an opportunity for love to creep back in. Maybe we don’t need the sanctuary from upheaval that this place enveloped us in quite the same anymore.

So we’ll find new magic, and let this place wrap a new family in it’s warmth. As for us? New magic will find us. That I know.

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.

Black Watch

What do you wear to bear witness to the end of things for someone who is part of your family and you love has been the all-consuming question this week. I mean, it wasn’t really, but then again it was.

It’s a thing you can control. In a time where no one is very hungry or sleeping well, and there’s more sorrow than anyone, especially my sister, should have to bear, at least you can pick an outfit.

What is lovely to me is that the world rises.

So we put on our black, our mourning clothes, and we went to lend our bodies to the grieving at the wake. To watch my sister stand next to the body of her beloved, him but also no longer him, nearly drove me to my knees. She, and her children did what was necessary.

And then she walked out alone.

I’m not a fan of platitudes at death. It’s crap to lose people, and it’s more crap when they go too young. Sure, there are always upsides – death can be an end to suffering, or a quick death can mean minimal suffering. And there should always be a celebration that the person happened to those who love and care for them. “I’m sorry for your loss” is wonderful. “They are in a better place” is a pile of poo even if you really believe that. Keep it to yourself. Try “This is such crap. It’s garbage. I’m sorry.”

It is now our job to follow her into the long twilight ahead, to be there for as long as it takes, to sit quietly in the darkness. It’s not our job to rush this, only to be present with a hug, support, help.

We cannot go where she and her children are going, we can only stand watch to ensure that their journey is smoothed as much as possible. So stand we will, even as the waves of sorrow try to bring us down.

Grief, after all, is the price of love.

Sky Fall

Sometimes everything just goes along as it does. Seasons change, harvests get harvested, days pass in rapid succession in our full life. And then, every now and again, the world spins off its axis.

Which is what happened on the night of October 20th. The phone rang at 10:24 pm, long after sleep has usually come for me.

The phone never rings that late.

Grief, to me, is like the ocean. Vast, inexorable, with waves that can pull you off of your feet and riptides that can pull you under as you try to hold yourself upright carrying heavy loads in each arm that you cannot put down no matter how badly you want to. Rapid fire, one after another the waves take you down until you are too exhausted keep standing, but stand you must.

Eventually it is more like a gentle tide on the beach. There, but peaceful most of the time, except when the occasional giant wave soaks you and takes you off your footing. They become less and less, but the surprise waves still arrive unbidden, at a smell, a memory, a moment. The heavy loads are lighter, smaller, then eventually they have begun to wash away.

That second part takes a long time. For some it never comes. And for us now, the grief is too fresh. My beloved brother in law, gone too fast and too soon, leaving my sister and her daughters alone against the buffeting water and falling horizon, too young to be a widow, too young to be fatherless. My sister was fortunate to have found a real love story in her other half, and that story should not have ended the way it did.

Too soon, brother mine. Too soon.

So we grieve. People send food, far too much food. More food than anyone could possibly eat in 2 lifetimes, food that tells us they care even if we have no appetite whatsoever.

There are calls and texts and questions “How are you?”. The real answer is “Terrible” and that’s just my grief. How do you watch your sister realize, over and over that their person is gone and never coming back? The realities are agonizing, too much to bear. The rest of your life is too long to love someone and lose them and face it alone.

All the things that are left, no longer needed where he is. Phone, car keys, shoes. Reminders of what he left behind. A world of 5 is now 4, wondering how they will ever do without him, looking at the the things that are left and wishing for just one more moment of their use.

So we do what we can. We thank the folks who brought food, we tidy up, we offer support, we field the calls. The world has wrapped us all up in a loving embrace to grieve with us. We hug, and we cry, and for the moment decide that worrying about Covid-19 has to move to the background.

We cry some more. The crying passes, but then another wave, and more arrive.

We prepare for the inevitable – a funeral, a final goodbye, the return to daily life that will be emptier, one less. The world is not a better place without him. It is far worse.

Sometimes life goes along as it does. And then every now and again, the sky ruptures and falls down upon us and the waves wash over us and the pain is too much to bear but bear it we must.

Goodbye, my brother. I miss you. Too soon.

YOLO French Onion Soup

The deep, freezing cold that had been lingering for over a week finally went away, if for a few days. While 28 degree mornings are still chilly, they are a marked improvement over 5 degrees. Spots of bitter cold will return here and there, but we may be past the worst stretch of it for this year. February marches on, and soon enough it will be March and April, still cold but filled with crocuses and signs of spring.

Deciding we needed to occasionally get out and be actual humans, Eli and I we decided to spend a quite literal 40 minutes in the Peabody Essex Museum yesterday afternoon (remember museums? One of my most-loved trappings of before times, I had almost forgotten. The PEM and I have been friends since I was a child, so it was especially poignant), followed by shopping for some fancy cheese and edible accoutrements for Valentine’s day, a holiday I normally shun but this year we’re celebrating with some level of gusto. Celebrations make pandemic-ing more fun, so I’ll take whatever. And this week we will also celebrate my daughter’s birthday, so my party hat is going on and it’s not coming off for a little while, no matter what happens in the world around us.

So when Valentine’s Day did roll around, we sat in front of a fire, watching a Star Wars movie, and eating really good cheese and French Onion Soup. As days go, pretty good.

Despite worry about variants and a large variety of other political, social and environmental crises, I’ve decided to feel hopeful about vaccines and the future.

We’ve started planning some summer trips, and for a point in time when we can be with people again. I don’t expect life to get back to normal for a while yet, and I do suspect that we’ll be getting vaccinated on the regular for new variants of Covid-19, much like a flu shot, but I also think there will be a point in which we can go use up all the hotel, airline and car rental points that I accumulated in the before times when I traveled for work. We are also picking through the various home improvement/maintenance options to settle on what projects we try to take on before kids arrive, which should be any time after August 1, our artificially selected ‘we’re open for children’ date.

I’m sure it will be a good idea to gut the kitchen between now and then. What could possibly go wrong?

In short, I’ve decided that optimism, despite all the things to worry about, is the only way to go. It is cadenced optimism though – we’re deeply invested in our food supply, in financial security, in a more sustainable living model. Balancing all of those things plus all the small notebooks, unnecessary but lovely smelling candles and additional fleece sweatpants I want to buy, along with the 2 1/2 weeks in Greece I fully intend to spend at some point in the next 5 years so I can wear giant floppy hats and bandeau-style swimwear while pretending to be carefree and as if there won’t be a huge pile of laundry waiting for me when we return won’t be easy, but I’m going for it.

Can one have cadenced optimism and still toss in a big bucket of oh-what-the-hell decisions? I think that latter thing arrived between the squirrel event I last blogged about and the point at which, deciding it was late enough in the afternoon for wine this weekend, I mindlessly started pouring it into my coffee mug. Which, if you think about it, is just damn efficient. I can go straight from caffeine to booze without breaking stride or wasting dishes.

It might have been in some part due to the soup as well. I tried out a new French Onion Soup for Valentine’s Day, and while i can affirm it was delicious, and the fresh thyme a perfect flavor addition, it was accompanied by a very loud SNORT as I read how I should first make bone broth. “Oh Epicurious, how I love you, I thought, but really – just eff off. I have enough to do these days.” and proceeded to dump in some lovely boxes of beef broth from the store in it’s place. Last Week Me would have run out to buy some soup bones, and probably Epicurious is right, it would have been better if I did. Yesterday Me can’t be bothered.

Because Yesterday Me, like Today Me…is.just.over.it.

Today me wants to regularly eat meals other people prepare, go shopping for some useless things and generally forget about pandemics, civil unrest and our disastrous climate future in exchange for some new really soft pants with drawstrings and a total lack of obligation to everyone and everything.

Except not really. I mean, yes to the soft pants and restaurants again someday. It’s just that the world has been a teensy bit relentless lately but I still want to generally be the kind of person who makes my soup from homemade bone broth. To put effort into my amazing husband and beloved children and my home. And it’s almost time to start seedlings again. But with pandemic-ing and winter is a touch of ‘oh fuck it’ too.

So if you find me with a glass of wine on a beach on some island this summer while some lovely human is taking a sledgehammer to the kitchen, don’t be shocked. And in the meantime, try the soup. And make the broth from scratch, because it’s probably better that way.

Letting Go

To everything there is a season is especially true in New England. And the season of gardens and flowers came to an end, simultaneously slowly and abruptly, with the onset of frost and impending snow. I ran out in the early evening after work last night, braving the cold rain to pick the last few pink tomatoes and a couple tomatillos. Everything else is harvested now, and what is left is soon to be gone.

The freeze that is set to follow it will kill all my plants, and then it’s a matter of pulling out the old, and planting some garlic and more bulbs around the yard before the dirt becomes impacted with ice for the season. This too shall pass – more words for gardeners. But there is still one final round of preserving work to do – a few more apple chips, that last batch of salsa verde, and a friend dropped off a garbage bag filled with kale to be turned into kale chips and blanched and frozen. Add to that our final CSA visit tomorrow, and the harvest is complete. I may get inspired to make apple sauce or apple butter, but by Sunday afternoon, what can be done for the season will be.

And while there’s some sadness in letting go, there’s also relief. Another season is past, and what will come next is to be seen. We enter another winter warm, safe and well-fed. A full cord of wood will help keep us cozy, some desperately needed new pipes provide our water and the squashes and preserves are just a tiny bit of the bounty that fills the freezer and pantry. For all that there is so much to worry about, my gratitude for the small things – enough to eat, a warm house, my morning walks, my family – is boundless.

I pray I never lose my ability to be grateful for the basics.

Now it is the tiny respite before the holidays, that few weeks where the doing of things – other than work and school – starts to wind down. This year the holidays will be mellow and quiet for us, and Eli and I will do something we’ve never done, in celebrating Thanksgiving with just the 2 of us while the kids go with their Dad. I love big family gatherings, but I’m truly looking forward to a quiet and lovely meal with my husband. We’ll do the big family things next year. I’ll cook a turkey and all the sides in December, because it wouldn’t be winter without it, but I don’t feel a need to keep everything ‘normal’.

It simply isn’t this year, and that’s okay.

I’ve reached the point where I don’t like where we are with this virus but I’m at peace with it. We’re home. We are creating our new normal, and that includes lots of cooking and doing house projects. Our groceries primarily arrive by delivery and we go out almost not at all, so much so that I recently realized my car inspection sticker had expired…2 months ago. We have almost finished a wide variety of house projects and winter preparations, with only insulating our old, leaky windows for the season left to go.

It’s time to take a breath. Here on the Sithean farmlet, there are of course, endless things to be done. Paint needing touching up. Closets and a chicken coop to be cleaned out. Laundry, cooking, planting the things that need to winter over out of doors.

But as I make my lists I also revel in how much we’ve accomplished.

When I look back on 2020, I will be sad about the virus running unchecked through the country, about 1000 acts of police brutality on protesters, about the housing insecure and the hungry, and that somehow in 2016 we elected a petty narcissist who wanted to tear down democracy and create an alternate sense of truth. My feelings on this are powerful, and I am unapologetic about them. But also I have let go of my anger at those who brought us here – and that, too, is an accomplishment.

I cannot ask for empathy for others who need it if I don’t first give it myself. 2020, then, is a year of evolution. If what we need is a shared reality to bridge our divides, I can either rail against those on the other side of the chasm or I can build bridges. I choose to build.

Tonight we will settle in with homemade pizza, a movie, and probably another fire in the wood stove. We will celebrate another week of hard work gone by and a weekend spent cooking and planting and continue trying, probably unsuccessfully, to teach Teddy the dog what it means to go for a walk (Dear Teddy, it means actually walking, not alternatively pulling my arm out of it’s socket or randomly lying down in the road).

Tomorrow we will celebrate Halloween in whatever way we can that involves no trick-or-treating. And while I don’t know what’s next, where we are is enough right now.

May you be warm and safe on your journey through the rest of this year.

Managing Food Waste

LHFH_blogpost_5-28-19_01b.jpg

It’s cold and soggy out tonight, despite it being nearly June.  We had a lovely, summer-like Memorial Day weekend, but the weather turned this morning, and it’s cold enough that the heat is back on.  Still, I got tons of time in the garden – more on that later – and the soaking rain means I don’t have to water plants any time soon.  I’m excited for the season – our garden is partially planted, and the CSA starts up next week.

Our life at Sithean creates a little too much waste, like most of us first-world folks.  Despite the fact that we use cloth napkins, try to buy in bulk and garden/have a CSA, the amount of waste still astounds me, and we’re working on it.  We can’t reduce in all ways, but we’re going to try.

One thing we do manage pretty well is food waste.  Our food-waste management program has 7 distinct areas, and together they serve to help minimize our load on the environment, at least in this one way.   None of them work perfectly, mind you, but it is something I feel pretty proud of generally.

  1. Kids create a lot of leftovers.  Eli and I are midway through Whole30, so we’re not eating a lot of the kids’ food. Under normal circumstances he finishes a lot of what they don’t eat.  I do occasionally, but significantly less.  This is simple and doesn’t require a farmlet or any special equipment.  He simply waits until they are done with breakfast or lunch before figuring out what he’s eating.  Dinner we eat together, but we still have been known to polish off what they don’t. 
  2. Compost.  We have 2 compost bins and we compost peelings, icky fruit, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags etc.  This eventually becomes soil for my garden.  Coffee grounds in the summer also directly fertilize my rose bushes about once a week – roses love leftover coffee.  I keep a small compost container on the kitchen counter, and we empty it as we fill it, every few days.  I know we’re eating healthiest when we have to empty it every day or so.
  3. Bunnies.  Apple cores, broccoli stems, zucchini ends, lettuce leaves and other vegetable pieces supplement their bunny pellets, hay and 2-carrot-a-day habit. In kale season, they can give my blanch-and-freeze process a run for it’s money in their kale consumption alone.
  4. Chickens.  Chickens are omnivores, and ours, at 3 months old, are just starting their scrap-consumption.  There are a few things that aren’t good for them, and I don’t ever feed them chicken (eww) but otherwise all the scraps go to them.  They love their extra treats, we love not tossing food, and in a few more months there will be eggs galore.
  5. Reuse.  Leftovers from dinner are often lunch.  Roasted chickens become soup.  Mushroom stumps and onion peels add flavor and complexity to the broth.  Parmesan rinds flavor soups and stews.  So many things can be transformed into another in the kitchen.  Fruits that are starting to get soft or slightly less appealing go into our smoothies.
  6. Refrigerator and pantry management.  This is the most labor-intensive one, and requires constant monitoring to ensure that nothing is going bad, and adaptation to recipes to ensure that things get used up on time.  It’s the one we are the least skilled at remembering to do, of course.
  7. Eating less and preserving more.  This too, is hard.  But it’s good for our health and our waistlines, as well as Mother Earth.  The less food we buy, the less there is to go to waste.  In the summer, when the CSA and the garden are producing food we preserve for the winter months.  I reuse my canning jars over and over, and every jar of salsa or sauce I make is one less I buy later.

I’ve still got so much more to do to reduce our footprint.  But food waste management is a skill I have been perfecting, and it’s not much effort.  Need help in managing your food waste?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

How to Simplify Your Life – Stocking (and De-Stocking) the Pantry

big churn

Today,  I wanted nothing so badly as to just have a very large, calorie-intensive italian meal delivered to me.  Whatever it was, it needed to involve lots of food slathered in sauce and ricotta cheese.  What can I say – it’s cold outside, and  I wanted Eggplant Rollatini and a lot of things to go with it.  I was hungry, more than a little, I certainly didn’t feel like cooking dinner, and I definitely wasn’t interested in anything I had in the house.

Even with my near-limitless pantry options, I get bored.  And unmotivated.

So when I pulled some meatballs out of the freezer, added them to tomato soup, and then tossed in some chopped, frozen kale, and added a cheese quesadilla (melt some cheese on a tortilla, fold, eat)  I felt virtuous on a couple levels.  First, because I really don’t need the calories from a large Italian dinner right at this moment – this was a loose take on it without the guilt.  But secondly, because this is food I have already bought and paid for.  Part of my effort to eat down the pantry over the next few months is pure housekeeping.  But there’s another, no less important part of this – to offset the myriad expenses that have popped up as Eli and I combine lives with some budget sanity.  Avoiding take out for one night will hardly offset the money we just put into a slightly used Nissan Pathfinder, or cover the cost of a new chicken coop with a predator-proof enclosed run, but I truly believe that attention to the small leaks of money is just as important as the big successes.

That doesn’t mean we never intend to eat out or pick up ready-made food again.  Just this weekend Connor and I ordered Chinese food, because that was what he wanted more than anything for our special weekend.  And I fully believe in prepared food -sometimes from the store, but often from my own freezer, like the meatballs in my soup.  But part of simplifying your life is learning to be content with what you have.  And today, that contentment consists of not having to drive to pick up food when there is plenty available right here.

I believe strongly in having a full pantry for a number of reasons.  They are, in relative order of importance:

  1. It is an emergency fund you can eat.  In times where paychecks might be spotty or income inconsistent, even the most well-prepared of us will want to tighten the belt.  A full pantry is a buffer against times of having less
  2. It offers options to the perennial question of ‘what’s for dinner?’
  3. If stocked properly and over time, it’s variety of the inexpensive sort – out of my pantry I can whip up Thai, Indian and lots of yummy favorites, like my Simple Lentil Sausage Soup

Stocking the pantry is simple.  Focusing on the things you eat, buy them at the most affordable points.  Some foods go on sale cyclically, such as baking supplies in November and December.  Others you have to watch sale flyers for.  Some things, like my favorite wine, that also happens to sell for $6.99 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, I buy half a case or a full case at a time – not just for the case discount, but because I am not the only one that likes it, and it sells out quickly.

By the way, a great skill to cultivate in life is to like the cheap wine just as much as the expensive stuff.  Cheap doesn’t have to mean bad, although you may have to taste a few bad ones to encounter something you like.   I know a lot of people who only like ‘good wine’ and while I do too, I cheerfully enjoy the not-so-fancy too.  Which leaves a lot more options open to me, and is a lot less painful, budget-wise.  

When pasta goes on sale for 69 cents a box, I might buy 10 boxes.  And then not buy any more for a while.

I admit, I’m lazy about it.  I’m imperfect about watching sales, and sometimes I end up paying more for bulk than I would individually – I try to be careful, but it does happen.  I have also learned that you will never get the best price in one place – one of the grocery stores I tend to find the most expensive has the best loss leaders around.  So long as I stick with the sales, I do very well there.

I also strongly advocate periodically eating through what you have in your pantry and freezer before restocking.  It will force you to be creative after the first week or so, but it will also be kind of…fun?  I found some Stone Crab meat in my freezer that I bought a month or so ago and promptly forgot about.  Apparently we’re having crab cakes pretty soon.  Eating down your food supply gives you a chance to clean the fridge, the freezer, the cabinets, as well as making sure the investment you have made with your wallet in your cabinets doesn’t go to waste.

What do you keep in your pantry, and have you ever skipped the grocery store to clean it out?

Sustainable Resources

Duckle Eggs January 2019.jpg

Even if you are a long ways away from any kind of ‘homesteader’ title, there’s nothing that will make you feel like one so much as battening down the hatches in advance of a ‘NorEaster.

We are due for a heavy load of snow and ice tonight and tomorrow, followed by frigid temperatures on Monday, so today was all about getting ready.  I paused on the pantry reduction to stock up a bit on food we could easily eat in the event of power loss, did a bunch of laundry, and made sure the bunnies had a nice clean hutch to hunker down in.  We are on Dog-and-Duckle-duty while the neighbors are away skiing, so we made sure everyone was fed and watered.  Once the chores were done I put a chicken in the oven with sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions and mushrooms, made some hard-boiled eggs,  put a bottle of white wine on to chill, and started a fire in the wood stove.

To say we are tucked up and cozy is an understatement.  This is about at good as it gets, life-wise.

My son, who decided he wanted some 1-1 Mom time instead of heading to his grandparents overnight yesterday to ice skate, has been my constant companion this weekend, while Eli wraps up his last few weeks at his day job, before returning to full-time art.  Connor was even patient when Mom, not expecting to have him with me this morning, didn’t cancel my hair appointment, and made him tag along.   My daughter came home this evening after a wonderful time in Maine, and now we are just, as my children say ‘chillaxing’.

I love this feeling of contentment.  I don’t always find time to have it – my list of ‘to-dos’ doesn’t ever seem to get smaller, and there are a lot of things I could probably be doing better, smarter or more/less of.  But I can feel those things tomorrow or later or whenever.  Tonight is for being satisfied -we are warm, dinner is waiting, and if anyone can be prepared, we are.  We don’t have a generator, but we do have plenty of wood, flashlights and candles.

Roaster Chicken January 2019.jpg

These days flashes of peaceful contentment comes almost surprisingly often.  I had a lot of it when I first moved, that feeling of being settled and home, of creating something for myself and the children.  And then it got lost for a while in worry and stress. But somehow it has come back, in no small part because of our artist-in-residence, but also because I am allowing myself to acknowledge all I am doing, with an absence of judgement about the things left undone.

It’s a trick I learned from distance running – to focus on the mileage behind you rather than what is left in front of you – it is that, more than anything, that allowed me to pile on the miles.  It’s knowing that despite imperfections, I am doing Ok at the Mom thing, the life thing.  I don’t know if it’s age, or simply that I have finally given myself permission to be happy, but it’s that sense of ‘Ok, here we are, this is now, and it’s good enough’.

Winter is time for planning, for cleaning and organizing, but most of all, for finding that breath between the moments.  Spring will come, and with it the mad rush to finish the garden, get seeds in the ground, a few more fruit trees planted, and if all goes well, transition a new batch of chickens to a brand-new coop with an enclosed run, along with some rain barrels for the garden.

We are slowly but surely headed towards a sustainable life.  It’s a process, not something that we’re getting to with any immediacy.

After dinner, the kids and Eli played a game while I washed the dishes and fed the wood stove.  Can we do this without grocery stores and regular income?  No. Not yet.

But we are on some level, infinitely self sustaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for Home

january sunset

It’s late on a Friday afternoon, and we are heading into a cold January night.  As I wind down my workday, I started a fire in the wood stove, our secondary heat source.  Within the hour, the living room will be deliciously cozy.

It’s a simple dinner tonight – rice, broccoli, dumplings and Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken, a house favorite, and easy to put together for me, since I’m a little tired and sleep deprived after a late night arrival home from my work trip. Fancy dinner it isn’t, but combined with a warm fire and a movie, it’s about as perfect as it can get, with one exception – we’re a week or so away from Eli being with us full time, and despite the homestretch, it’s starting to feel a bit too long.

Tomorrow there will be plenty of time for scratch cooking and chores.  This weekend I will finish putting away all the Christmas decorations and start preparing for the next phase of our winter  – decluttering and preparing for spring.

There’s always too much to do here at Sithean, but post-holiday winter has a particular form of silence and peace to it that allows me to take moments of rest and enjoy the life that I have built so far.  Most of my time is about rushing to do all the things that need and want to be done, but there’s something about a January weekend that allows me to take a breath.  It reminds me of that Edith Sitwell quote “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home

fire in winter

And so it is.  No matter what happens during the week, with rare exception, Fridays are our nights at home.  They are family time, time to pour a glass of wine and relax, with the whole weekend ahead of us.  Far from a constraint, Fridays at home are cherished.

It’s an evening to feel lucky and blessed.  We have so much – warmth, good food, family, love – Fridays are the one evening when gratitude is not a struggle for me, it isn’t lost in the noise of the to-do list, or the things I wish I had accomplished.  This is the evening where everything, just as it is, is right with the world.

I wish you the happiest of Fridays.

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