Wife, writer, tinkerer, grower of food. I'm happiest outside our rambling farmhouse with a basket looped on my arm, picking dinner from the garden. That's joy right there. Please follow along; I'm so glad you're here!
Oh man, what a WEEK! I was on the man-lift at the stroke of 9 every morning, with hot tea, and I spent my lunch hours planting spinach and repotting houseplants and coring tomatoes, and my afternoons writing writing writing the ten articles I was responsible for writing this week. And I spent an afternoon hauling home farm stand produce, because my squash plants are done, and my tomato plants have yet to produce more than a handful of tomatoes (!), and an afternoon and two evenings canning tomatoes, freezing squash, picking beans, and making curry paste. In between all this I slept fitfully, walked the dog, made dinner using the one available stove-burner, and felt bad about all the other things I didn't manage to get done because I was busy painting, writing, canning. Sheesh!
This is the time of year when being a homesteader can feel like a tremendous pain in the ass, and really, the only way I've found to make myself feel better about the task is to tell people, Patrick and my mom and you guys, I did all this stuff and it was hard! So there, I said it. It is worth it, but it is hard.
I kind of love that it's hard, but oddly, that doesn't make me any less apt to gripe about it, at times.
Anyway, I got to take a day off... two weeks ago now... to go to my home county's county fair, and it was SPLENDID!
I tell people, I grew up at this fair, and I mean it. My dad, the cabinet maker, had a booth in one of the commercial tents all week, starting when I was six and lasting until I was about 15, when he decided he had enough customers and didn't need to work at attracting new ones. So, for the very cream of my childhood and early adolescence, I was a fair brat. I was pretty young, I think, when my parents started letting me navigate the fair by myself, with the understanding that I would under no circumstances cross the Midway and comingle with carnies and shills. The Delaware County Fair is a big one, so that was satisfactory to me. That meant I had the two commercial tents, the Grange, the Art Show, the Sportsman's Association area, the 4-H building, the Historical Association tent, the petting zoo, the animal barns, the horse ring, and innumerable ice cream, hot dog, and funnel cake stands all to myself. At least in the early mornings, it was pretty much All Mine.
It was great to be back there for a whole day, enough time to take in everything twice, to really stand and look at table settings and analyze why the Grand Prize won the Grand Prize. Enough time to access the quality of light in the eye of the painting of the Native American girl that won Best in Show; enough time to mind-meld with a Jersey cow, and give in to the slowness and bigness of the fair, and lose myself.
I've brought Patrick to the fair before, and he's content to look at everything once. Any more than once and his interest ebbs. And if I ask him to contend with the crowds for more than two hours he starts to get a steely look in his eye. Not steely in a good way, either.
So it was good to be there by myself and take it all in, all of it, at exactly the pace I wanted to travel. Fairs are such special things: the pride, the simplicity, the effort. The complete lack of pretension. It's really pretty magnificent. It was a good day to be there.
This weekend, I got a whole lot of the doin' not much time I've been craving. We house-sat for my inlaws last week, three nights in a clean house with grander details than ours, cable, a pool, and a wine cellar. It was great. I worked, and Patrick worked, during the days, but freed, temporarily, from my own house and garden, I found my days a lot more open and relaxed. There was no house-painting, no broccoli blanching. Friday night we ate Triscuits, hummus, olives, cheese, and grapes for dinner, and watched part of the Simpsons marathon, and it was PERFECT! I guess I just wanted some time for us to be together as a unit, you know?
Saturday morning, we came home to our very messy house where the broccoli was awaiting blanching... and we were slated to host my parents later that evening. But it was a rainy day, and somehow, cleaning the house together after three days away felt... okay. It felt like the right thing to be doing, on a rainy Saturday.
And then my parents came and we ate little toasts with bean spread and olives that my mom made, and big piles of yellow rice and roasted-veg-topped pitas that I made (keeping it simple is so good, and so easy, in August), and a peach galette with vanilla ice cream. And that was terrific.
Sunday I had to myself while Patrick was at rehearsal, and I made it count. I overhauled two enormous flower beds, mowed the garden, blanched that broccoli, and made food. And drank a gin and tonic on the lawn after sunset. PERFECT! This is how summer should be! And, with y'all as my witness, this is how it's GOING to be, for the next three weeks, until the weather starts to really turn.
There is only one proper way to greet a 'mater sammich, and it is this way, Carrie Bradshaw-style: "Hello, lover." Especially when it contains fresh basil, and an egg that is oozing onto your plate.
I feel like every over-committed moment of my summer has gently been building towards this sandwich. Do you ever feel that way about a sandwich? Without even realizing it, as I assembled the parts and pieces for this beauteous creature before lunch yesterday, I began mulling over my general dissatisfaction with this summer, and thinking, slowly, hey, it's not so bad, because I get to eat this sandwich. As if one tomato sandwich could take a ho-hum summer to new heights.
I took one bite and all was right with the world.
I had done summer up right, finally, I realized. That was all it took.
Should you find yourself in the midst of a ho-hum summer yourself, well, don't delay! Toast two slices of soft bread (this is not the time or place for crusty baguette). Fry an egg. Leave the yolk a bit runny if that is your bag. When you flip it, add a few shards of cheddar cheese. Slice into a fresh homegrown tomato, and pluck a few basil leaves. Smear a little bit of mayo or butter on the toast. Pile it up: toast, egg, tomato, basil, toast. Then give it a good firm smash with the side of your hand, just enough to break the yolk and release those heavenly tomato juices. Eat. Feel unfettered bliss.
Our weekend actually started on Friday. We drove down, down, into the Mohawk Valley, and then down, down, into the Hudson valley, and then UP UP UP into the Berkshires, and then we came upon North Adams. We were headed, not unsurprisingly, to another Jason Isbell show, this time at MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Hey, what can I say? He booked another show within a three-hour drive, tickets were $24, and some things just can't be resisted.
(Maybe I might have a problem.)
The show was at eight, and we hit town about 1:30 in the afternoon. We found a state park and checked out the old marble quarry, natural bridge, and... that chasm.
We went to check out the museum, pre-show. Art is always so hit-or-miss for me, and, well, most of what we saw failed to move me. BUT, two of the exhibits were dark and weird and interesting and disturbing and I loved them very much. This was one.
Then we found ourselves a very fine meal, and then we went looking for a bar. But there were no bars. There are no bars in North Adams, only restaurants. We walked and walked. We saw a lot of slate-roofed duplexes with vinyl siding. We despaired. But as it close to doors-time, we wandered back over to the museum, and what do you know, they were serving BEER there!
Rock just isn't as good without beer, y'know.
Then the doors opened, and then the lights went down, and then we stood in a flood of sound and were moved... and I may have shouted along to the lyrics for a few whole songs... what can I say? There are people who fail to ever really be moved by anything, who just don't seem to have much passion for living. And I am not one of those people. If I am going to see my current favorite band live, even for the third time in six months, I am going to press myself to the rail and dance and shout and holler and wipe away tears. And so, I did.
And even after all that, my favorite part may have been keeping each other awake while debating the merits of our favorite lines and melodies, all the way home through the mountains.
Saturday, I lazed. P had a gig. Then I went to my parents' house to look at old photos of the valley with the neighbors who've had the house next door since 1942.
That's my parents' front yard in the early 1940s. GOOSEBUMPS.
And now, Sunday is happening. Patrick made us lunch.
Del laid on my onions.
For the next couple of weeks, P and I are going to try really, really hard to DO LESS STUFF. It's hard to do less stuff when it means turning down invitations from friends, but in the interest of lawn beers and chill family campfires and listening to Hank Williams on Sunday evenings while we grill, it must be done! Wish us luck.
Man. I feel like so much of my summer has been spent dealing with emergency situations: deer getting into the garden! manlift needs to be moved tonight! tile has to be done by this weekend! Some of those were self-made emergencies, it's true. But now... now after spending $165 to repair my $65 chest freezer, it isn't cooling again... and I am feeling just a little grumpy here, people!
It is time to buy a new chest freezer.
It is also time to pay the guy putting the rubber membrane on our roof (so it stops leaking), time to replace our exterior door (one quote came in at $1,800!), time to buy a new furnace.
Oh, those times when adult life just seems like a big unfortunate hoodwink. Grow up and be a productive member of society! they told me. It'll be fun! they told me.
But. Butbutbut. My friend up the street has a chest freezer she isn't using, and she invited me to go plug it in and fill it with my stuff. How awesome is that? Hooray for friends and small towns. And we got a nice dose of gentle rain yesterday, with more on our way today, and that is comforting. Things were getting a little bit dry. And I did grow a really freaking beautiful crop of onions this year, and shallots too, and it is my first time growing either of them from sets, and I am pleased.
Having a garden doesn't stave off the emergencies, and in fact, sometimes it precipitates its own kind of emergencies (see deer!), but everyday it gives blessings, too.
I went to an art opening, a Tumbleweed Highway show, dinner at my favorite restaurant, a family lunch on Sunday. I froze peppers, eggplant, and broccoli. I raked the entire yard, which had not been mowed in three weeks, and lugged toppling wheelbarrows full of grass clippings up the garden rows, mulching. It was 85 degrees while I did that, I should mention.
Last night I went to a meeting of the Village Improvement Society, and got myself confirmed as a board member.
I never anticipated getting involved in local politics or civic organizations. In college I ran myself ragged for the environmental society (is that really any big surprise?) establishing an on-campus organic garden, running campaigns, working with the core group, educating younger members about campus organizing. I loved it. But when I graduated, that part of me went dormant. Binghamton just didn't inspire involvement, and a lot of the people there were crotchety.
But now, Gilbertsville. This town. Oh my goodness, this town has my heart. This town has managed to save itself, thusfar, from dollar stores and Walmarts and cinderblock buildings and housing developments. It saved itself from being flooded for an Army Corps of Engineers dam project in 1982. It is beautiful, still, but it is not thriving. Last month we lost our hardware store-- the only hardware store for fifteen miles-- and now it seems the general store is slipping, as well. If ever there was a time to DO something about all this, it is now.
In hopes of being done with the dirty-towel-countertop-protection-system by the end of this week, I set myself the goal of finishing tiling and grouting the area to the left of the sink and behind the stove.
Yesterday, I learned how to use a tile grinder. I also learned how to remove the blade guard from the tile grinder. And THEN I learned how to wear my balaclava, in addition to safety glasses, to protect myself from tile shrapnel. And this morning, I grouted. Yay. I wish grouting took as long as cutting tile: it's one of those ta-da! kinds of projects that takes a thing from totally unfinished and kinda ugly to shiny and pretty, and it's usually pretty easy. Less easy on a wall, but still. Fairly easy.
This weekend I am looking forward to CHILLING. It's Friday night, P has a gig, and I might even stay home from the bar. Imagine that. I did that last night: lounged on the lawn with Pete and Del, talked to my mom while chopping peppers, and drank a mojito in bed. Kristina's ideal August Thursday night. So glamorous.
I know I'm supposed to be all awed and cowed and "WOWee, this is so amazing, we can eat off this place, we are so lucky," and of course I am grateful-- but it's more a gratitude of practice than of... what's the opposite of practice? Okay, maybe I should just say that it's more concrete than abstract. I don't have time to contemplate gratitude: there is only time to put my money where my mouth is and show it. There is no goddamn time for lip-service, for sitting back and saying, wow, the cukes are amazing this year! because the only proper way to show gratitude for cucumbers, in August, is to pick them, eat them, pickle them.
I honor that plot of land every single day, many times per day, usually, by walking out there with a harvest basket or a berry bowl or nothing but two arms, and coming back with cukes or squash stacked like cordwood in my arms, enough raspberries to last all year, a heap of greens, a bouquet of fresh herbs.
It is work. It is absolutely work. And every unexpected harvest-- like those squash and those cukes-- drops a note of panic into my kitchen-mind, where, I should remind you, tiling is still going on. There are (increasingly food-stained) towels taped to our counters, to protect them from thinset. August is already like trying to purchase an elephant from a gumball machine, and here we've added the ongoing kitchen progress AND painting the exterior of our house. Um, yeah. Suffice it to say that I'm spending more time thinking thoughts like "@%&$! Another squash!" than bowing my head in thanks.
But maybe I should just spend a minute thinking, as I walk the twenty paces from kitchen door to garden gate, thinking of my harvesting as praise. That's what it is, after all. I feel a little rueful, at times, that I don't have ten minutes to sit in a chair and drink water and just take it all in, quietly, because taking it all in, bodily, requires four limbs and nimble fingers. If I feel like I'm lacking the time to feel thankful, it's maybe on me to find ways to bring thankfulness into the everyday act of harvesting.
Whoosh. I suppose I am feeling philosophical this morning.
But really, what is this if not one of the lessons to learn about homesteading, along with higher fences and more confined chickens? Multitasking. Weaving meaning into all the many mundane tasks that fill each day, even when you're up to your eyeballs in those (beautiful, splendid, important) damn cucumbers.
The burning-the-candle-at-both-ends summering continues! Weekends are supposed to be restorative, but I feel like I did a triathlon.
I did not watch Orange is the New Black. I did not drink a gin and tonic in bed. (I drank a mojito with my neighbor Zena in our backyard during which we both got tippled and started scheming a collective takeover of the general store.) I did go to the fair with friends and ride the bumper cars. I did attend a father-daughter cello performance and stay out until 11pm last night carousing with other friends.
But during daylight hours, I worked. Patrick had an all-day festival on Saturday, and for about the first four hours I thoroughly enjoyed my This American Life-fueled canning and freezing marathon. I had raspberries, blueberries, peaches, zucchini, broccoli, herbs. Thank goodness the green beans are still in the process of rebounding from deer, otherwise I would've had to deal with them, too.
I made five half-pints of blueberry jam, eight half-pints of raspberry jam, a blueberry coffee cake, eight half-pints of peach salsa, a gallon of peach slices for the freezer, a gallon of broccoli for the freezer, a quart each of dried sage and basil, a quart of hot sauce, and a batch of curry paste. (I use the paste method from this recipe, subbing in the zest of a lemon for the lemon grass, and a small onion for the shallot. It's one of my favorite things to make when I have fresh herbs, and it keeps so well in the freezer.)
With a freezer full of amazing produce, and a cellar full of condiments and tomato sauce and jams, all we need to buy at the grocery store is flour, sugar, salt, oats. Spices, of course, and cheese, and butter. Tortillas. Peanut butter. Yeast. Tofu. We probably spend about $60 a month on food. Is it enough in savings to pay me an hourly wage for the food preservation and garden growing work I do? Well, no. But having a hobby that saves us money feels terrific.
This is the kind of setup I wanted before we moved to Gilbertsville, the kind of near-self-reliance, at least for food, on our land. And baby, we're doing it. Deer notwithstanding, we've arrived. I'm not sure the thrill of that will ever get old.
Man. Friday tends to be the day when the rest of the week catches up with me. All this... SUMMERING, you know? Hurling myself at work to be done-- both outside and in, mental and physical-- from nine to five, then doing a feverish "second shift" of food preservation/from-scratch dinner making from 5-7, then grabbing a ten-minute shower, getting dressed, and jetting off to find free outdoor live music/a pool table/the county fair/a creek/take a hike/build a fire. Bed, usually a little tipsy from cheap beer, at 11, too late to keep waking up EARLY the next morning and hitting repeat. But I do, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday-- and then, err-rrt! Record scratch! Friday morning my body and mind says NO.
This morning was supposed to be calm and rested, and it was, mostly, until I went to put a few bags of blueberries I picked yesterday in the chest freezer, which I'd just plugged in (for the season) only to find... freezer not cold. LE SIGH. $65 Craigslist chest freezer I bought six years ago, my lifeblood from July to March, needs... something. Hopefully something cheap. Meanwhile, my fridge-freezer is CRAMMED.
I will be making jam tomorrow, because there is no room to store frozen berries.
But yesterday we sold our old kitchen cabinets and counters and sink for $400! And this weekend Patrick is going to be gone most of both days, and-- it is terrible to admit I'm looking forward to it, a little bit-- I am looking forward to wallowing in me-stuff. Weeding and food preservation, sure, but also watching Orange is the New Black, and Nashville, and maybe drinking a gin and tonic in bed. Y'know.
Incredible progress continues to be the name of the game. I only spent three "shifts" painting the house this week, instead of the strived-for five, but hey hey, my my, look at the progress that was made.
For reference, this was last week:
Fooosh. And now it is August. Good heavens. In my weaker moments I think, longingly, about the possibility of vacation. This time last year we were in Nashville. And I remind myself of everything that is coming up, of the genuine value of staying put most of the summertime, at least when you're of the homesteader persuasion, just to get it all in. And I remind myself-- three months and twenty-eight days and we will be going BACK to Nashville, for in an especially dark moment of late March, I went and booked seven nights in Music City.
And I have to say, booking a vacation eight months in advance? Awesome. Every little calamity that crops up in life-- kitchen reno dragging into extra innings, car breakdowns, deer getting into the garden-- our mantra has been It's okay! We're going BACK to NASHVILLE! It had been wonderful. It's the light at the end of the tunnel, not that our life is a tunnel, but, well, it's still nice to have something AMAZING to look forward to.
Oh yes. Just right after the raspberries and the green beans and the zucchini and tomato season and I finish painting the house and the KITCHEN and and and... just right after all those things. No problemo.