“no groceries” update 1: planning ahead

On my mind a lot is the point when I will have no more fresh produce. I’ve been anxious about it. I almost cooked the spinach I have, though it will last a while so I’ll leave it be.

IMG_3108In the name of not letting things go bad, I decided to make one of our favorite soups (Rosemary Red Soup) for dinner on Tuesday night. Already, I’ve noticed how much more I think about advanced preparations. It’s not as if I was leaning on prepared foods or takeout, but, knowing that it “won’t be an option” to pick things up at the market, it all seems more weighted. I want to use everything, I want to waste nothing. I had everything needed for this soup (wrong kind of lentils and wrong kind of miso, but that didn’t matter) and we all love it. The recipe would make plenty to freeze for another day when I didn’t have time to cook. So, great, right?

IMG_3109I got to work. I’m chopping away, proud of myself for gathering the ingredients first as I have a tendency to find out 3/4 of the way through I’m missing something essential. And, well, it turned out I did miss something essential. “Lower heat and simmer 40 minutes.”

I needed this soup for the table in a total of about 30 minutes, including prep time. Duh. It’s not a long-simmering soup, but getting it ready in time for dinner wasn’t going to happen. I kept on with it and will use it for our next meal.

This left me without a dinner plan, so I scrambled and came up with this:

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That’s leftover salmon, a tortilla with melted cheese and salsa, carrot sticks, and some Romaine lettuce with mayo. It’s a little embarrassing laying out for all the Internet what I gave my daughters for dinner. But, sharing this is part of what I want from this experience.

“Coming up with dinner” takes mental energy and planning. It’s not a simple thing that takes no time. Add the stresses of bills barely paid, health problems, and work deadlines (let alone more significant issues I don’t face, like violence in the home, children struggling in school, or active addictions, etc.) and “coming up with dinner” is a major emotional drain.

Why do people make unhealthy or expensive food choices? Convenience is my first answer. Second is “I know my kids will eat it.” I happen to have children who are relatively great about eating, but, at the end of a terrifically long day, spending time cooking food knowing the children may find it inedible can feel overwhelming.

So, the bits I’ve learned already:

  • every trace of food seems more important. I have half-drunk cups of milk my daughters didn’t finish sitting in the fridge to use for my coffee, for example, that probably would’ve ended up down the drain last week;
  • planning and deciding what to cook and how to best use the ingredients on hand takes time, and that’s not just time in the kitchen, it’s throughout the day as meals approach or planning for the days ahead;
  • I already made an exception and let my parenting partner bring oyster crackers, ginger ale, and pedialyte popsicles to our daughters because they were sick. It felt a bit like a cheat, as I would’ve gone to the market for those things if I could’ve left the girls at home to do it. I have a supportive ex- and that means my daughters don’t have to only rely on me for their love and care, and for extra food when the need arises;
  • I’m out of coffee and haven’t yet decided if getting more coffee counts since I generally get it at Starbucks and that purchase goes toward my credits for an eventual “free” fancy drink. We’ll see… I did put together fixin’s for chai tea concentrate, so, maybe I’ll get my caffeine there.

I’m barely a couple days into this and already I feel hurried and worried. Trying to stay in the present moment (where we have plenty of food) is already a challenge. My refrigerator and shelves are full to bursting, but instead of just feeling grateful for that I feel especially stressed about making the best use of all of it so it will last as long as possible and will be the most healthy and delicious. I’m living in a deeper awareness of the time required to manage food and sustenance.

gratitude update

It’s been just over a year since we moved into this apartment that now feels like Home.

Before that, we lived in “high density housing” (American for “poor people’s apartments”) where we were as happy as we could be. It wasn’t because my daughters walked in on a couple guys smoking not-tobacco and not-marijuana in the stairwell, or because of the dealer who camped out on the back stoop, or because of the unsupervised children so desperate for adult guidance their behavior was not always safe, or because the man who lived downstairs disturbed me so much that I told him if he spoke to my daughter again I would call the police—this is the same man who invites those same unsupervised and hungry children to his apartment for snacks after school. None of these are the reasons we moved. We moved because we could. My parents have money and they paid for our move. That move put our lives back on course and the course is good.

The last 4+ years have been difficult. Rocky. Challenging. Full of lessons. Any way I say it, it sounds white-washed. There were times I wasn’t sure I would make it. If you know me well, you’ll know that means it was really bad. Normally, no matter how bad things get, I’m like Pippi calling up to her mother in Heaven, “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top!”

Just over four years ago, I was pregnant and our marriage was ending. Then, we had a second child, the very new baby, and our marriage ended. We declared bankruptcy. We moved (me to Brookfield/”high density housing” and him to Orono, a decision I supported). We began sharing custody of our children over the hurdles of physical distance. We readjusted from married-forever to being loving friends who co-parent. Add to all of this many other events, happenings, choices, and significant difficulties that all brought me to the content for my newspaper column, being “newly poor.” All of that also brings me to now.

I’m writing this because today I had a really good day. I’ve had a lot more of them lately. There are many reasons for that, but there’s a distinction for me between having a good day and having a day where the light at the end of the tunnel is so close I’m almost in it (and, I’m now sure it’s not a train).

This wonderful home, some outstanding help in my business (life-changing for me, though she won’t let me give her so much credit), high quality preschool for my nearly-four-year-old and an excellent public school for my nine and a half year old, a spiritual community we love, and heaven on earth (my parents’ summer place near Bethel) to visit in the summers. There are other outward expressions of how much better things are, but I want to keep this relatively brief.

So, I’m tired. I’m very, very tired. Despite my ex-husband’s incredible co-parenting and generous support, I’m still a single mother. Being a single mother is a job I could only understand after living it. I love it, but it’s not easy. At the same time, as I said, work is going well. The column is the job I’ve dreamed of since the 90s when I was writing, “It’s all about me! (the column)” on my website every week. I’ve made several new paintings (not shown on my website) and will be showing them at Bard in time for First Friday in April (they’ll still be there for First Friday in May, too!). My daughters are extraordinary. More and more often, my gratitude nearly overwhelms me. Life is good.

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advantages.

Helping my older daughter with her math homework, I was struck by what an advantage she has. I’ve always enjoyed math, so learning how it’s taught these days has been fun. (It’s taught differently than when I was a child.) I thought about families where the parents don’t have the time or energy or motivation to get involved in the math homework. Even more than that, I thought of the families where the parents want to help but simply don’t have the skills.

My daughter has parents who are involved and academically skilled. Combine that with her luck at being born with a brain that works very well, and she will probably have continued success in school. Children who need help (what child doesn’t?) with parents who aren’t able to help their children with math homework will have a harder time. If they don’t catch up later in life, they will probably become parents who can’t help as well, etc. Advantages and disadvantages. What a cycle.

My 9 year old is a lot smarter than me

She asked me to make roasted broccoli for the fourth grade “holiday feast.” Happiness, pride, delight… I felt all of these things knowing she liked roasted broccoli so much she wanted to share it with her class. But, I also felt fear. I didn’t want the roasted broccoli to be met with “ewww!” reactions by her classmates. I didn’t want that for her sake (would she feel embarrassed? ashamed? regretful?). I also didn’t want it because I was afraid such a response would taint her love of the stuff.

Children hold wisdom we adults lose through life experiences. Her response to my confession that I worried her class might not like it was, “That’s okay. We’ll get to eat it all then!”

roasted broccoli

How beautiful to not get caught up in fears of rejection or social error. I learn from my daughters every day. They help me live the life I  most enjoy.

Plus, the class ate all the broccoli complete with audible “yumm!” sounds. So, it was a win-win all around…

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How I make roasted broccoli: preheat oven to 425, cut the very-dry (washed and dried, or not washed) broccoli in pieces, coat with olive oil-salt-drizzle of balsamic vinegar, spread on a cookie sheet, roast for 20-25 minutes. I also take the pan out and shake it around, or use tongs to flip the pieces, but I don’t think that’s necessary.