Make Do

I’ve been making out my list of grocery items to order from the local country store to last the next few weeks and noticing the dwindling availability of of luxury, prepackaged foods like microwave popcorn and cake mixes, as well as staples like rice or pasta. The recognition that this pandemic could lead to shortages of some food as well as higher prices is changing my list but not necessarily for the worse.

When we first moved to the country, I wanted to learn how to do everything. I wanted to make a quilt from scratch. I wanted to make our own bread. I want to grow all our own food.

I worked full-time and, eventually, learned to pick the battles that mattered for our little homestead. I learned how to make a garden. We learned how to raise chickens. The Big Guy makes a mean sandwich bread. The quilting supplies and a pair of half-finished quilted are still in the linen closet, waiting for backings.

Now, some of those skills are getting a revisit. As grocery stores empty their supplies of spaghetti, I begin thinking about how we could make our own pasta again (some thing we did when we were first married). We know we can get flour from the country store, eggs from the neighbors and soon from our yard. We’re taking a look at what vegetables we can grow and, especially, what we should preserve in the fall.

Instead of thinking about where to buy things or how things are made, we’re thinking about how we can make them.

I’ve seen a meme circulating recently suggesting that, when all of “this“ is over, we consider to which parts of normal we want to return. Like so many people, I’m sitting on the sidelines right now, wondering when that will be. Whether that new normal is a time of scarcity or plenty, I do know that, when it arrives, I want to preserve those old-fashioned, farmed-out maker and saver skills that are going to get us through the spring and summer.

And I never want to take anything for granted again.

Faking It

I am able to walk an extra lap around the house or drag a few branches out of the garden these days, but my real skill these days is corralling the boys into believing that all of the work they’re doing to get our house ready for summer is fun.

This morning I got Thing2 to believe planting 125 seeds was fun. Later, after catching up on some homework, I got him to believe that seeing the weed pile slowly vanish was a good reason for a high five. And when Thing1 came out to try out the new blade on the trimmer and clear away some stubborn raspberry canes, the Big Guy and I swore we heard him say, “This is a good way to spend the day.”

Score one for the parents.

Wasting Not

When I was a kid, my parents moved to Peru for a couple years. My father researched infant nutrition and worked with a clinic there that served malnourished children. There was a glut under-nourished children there, and, while my parents were never wasteful before, experience left our family, especially my father, with a strong aversion to wasting even the smallest amount of food. I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot this week each time I survey my larder.

Ever since hurricane Irene, I’ve made it a point to have cabinets full of shelf stable food just in case. The canned goods and even the stuff in our freezers rarely goes unused, but just because it finds its way into a recipe, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get wasted. I’m not proud to say that every few months a refrigerator clean out yields fur-covered meat or green spaghetti and meatballs that end up being tossed, and I can imagine my dad’s disappointed face every single time.

When the big guy and I were first married, we didn’t have enough money to throw away food. We’d buy a whole chicken for Sunday night near Boston’s famous Haymarket and have a traditional dinner with stuffing, veggies and potatoes. Monday night we’d make a peasant soup from the leftovers, stretching it out through much of the week.

Back then thrift was more about the benefit to our budget and less about being mindful of our blessings. These days, when I see whole chickens on sale, nostalgia prods me to buy one or two for the deep freeze for a future family Sunday dinner.

Sunday a last blast of winter was on the way, and I decided to dig a chicken out of the freezer for a comfort food meal. The boys tend to make short work of roast chicken, but, in recent years, I’ve gotten away from extracting every last meal from those leftovers.

As social isolation becomes more of a way of life, the Big Guy and I have both become more determined to not throw away food. Sunday as I thought about the blessing of simply having the chicken on hand, then of my dad, and then of the need to ration our larder for the short term, I filled up stock pot to make a peasant stew from whatever would be left.

When dinner was over, I was happy to see enough meat on the bird to make a good soup base. As good as it felt to make that one bird last through several dinners, however, chopping onions for my stew on Monday became an unexpected gift.

I sautéed the onions and celery, thinking how much this reminded me of the first year or two of our marriage. The smell of the spices in that plain old chicken-noodle soup transported me back to our tiny, cozy basement apartment in the city and to the start of a family tradition that started before we even thought about having a family.

It was as if being mindful of the things we have and the importance of not wasting them made it easier to be mindful of the moments in life that have brought and will continue to bring true joy and, ultimately, strength.

Sanity Security

As a recovering nomad, I can’t claim to be a “real Vermonter“ or a real native of any place, but Vermont has been my home for longer than any other place. For the most part, it’s been a pleasant adaptation, especially when it comes to putting up.

Our first summer in our first Vermont house – a 200-year-old tinderbox of a farmhouse — I laid out a 25’ x 25‘ garden. I had a vague idea of what I was going to grow. By August most of the overgrown beds had produced enough freezable casseroles and jars of beans and pickles to get me permanently hooked on gardening. At the time it made a nice dent in our grocery bill. It was also a point of pride to be able to serve homegrown veggies at thanksgivings and Christmases.

Over the years, the content in the garden bed has evolved as has the need for the garden. Paychecks have grown a little and stabilized, and we are not as dependent on our plot.But that patch of dirt gives something every bit as valuable as food.

Every spring I trot out to the garden, still doughy and out of breath from over-indulging in comfort food, too much time by the fire, and not enough at the gym or in the woods. The first hours of digging and moving winter debris produce more sweat than six weeks at the health club. Clearing the plot down to rich, black, promising dirt, however also offers more satisfaction than stepping on a scale and seeing the needle go down.

Mother Nature may upend some harvest plans, but even the worst summer weather has allowed my labors to yield enough fruit and veggies for a few decent meals. In the spring, that knowledge and those imperfectly laid beds, waiting for seeds and veggies starts, offer the peace of mind that comes from knowing I got this.

The last few years, life, in the form of injuries and illnesses and a child moving on, have taken attention away from the 40‘ x 40‘ plot on the east side of our house. Being housebound with 6’3” Thing1 and his monstrous appetite for the last few weeks, however, has highlighted the wisdom of digging back in as soon as the snow melts (Vermont, snow into April). But, as I get ready to go back to work next week (our school is a health care facility and operates in spite of the shut downs), I realize that getting my kitchen garden ready will also be my daily act of hope at home.

It will be the reminder that I — that we — got this.

What are you planning for your garden this spring ?

Selfless self-care

One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.

All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.

I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.

I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.

This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.

When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“

and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.

Fall Colors

Ironically, the first pile of firewood in the driveway is still a sign spring is still springing. The day-lilies still so brilliantly blooming announce and celebrate summer, but for me, the Black-eyed Susans are the first color of fall.

They open just after the middle of summer and the orangey yellow is a reminder to stop complaining about the heat, but take the time to enjoy it because it won’t last.

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