A friend on Facebook recently messaged me to thank me for my “no groceries challenge” posts. Her family was out of money so she couldn’t buy food. She told me she remembered the no groceries challenge and it helped her find a way to look at what food she had on hand so they could get by. My heart is full that she took the time to thank me, that she found my writing helpful, and that she was able to find cook-able food in her shelves.
I told her that maybe I’m due for another “no groceries challenge.” When I did it the first time, in May of 2013, I did it because I had to. We were in serious financial trouble and I had to find a way to spend less. Doing a challenge like this when I don’t have to feels fake and shallow on many levels. But, it’s true that money is still very tight (relatively speaking). More importantly, I’ve paused and paid attention: I’m spending more and being more wasteful than I need to be. I’m not helping the earth or my bank account.
My heart started racing a little, in that not-good way, when I thought of doing a no groceries challenge. I immediately thought about taking stock of everything I have, making a shopping list, filling up my shelves so I can make it for a long time. I felt worried. Nervous about getting back to that kind of thinking — don’t let leftovers go to waste, do plan meals, do appreciate everything we have — because it reminds me of how scary it was then.
This morning, I didn’t want to do my meditation. My 8 year old said, “You might feel glad you did it if you do it.” She was right this morning. I bet the same is true about embarking on another no-groceries challenge again, even without any “prep work.” So, here I go…
For more than a week, my daughters and I explored parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico. We rented an RV for some days and we stayed in hotels for the rest. We saw the Grand Canyon (below is a picture of us at Oak Creek Canyon on the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff), went to Four Corners Monument, and made several other stops along the way.
As we made our way back home to Maine, I’ve thought a lot about how to share our experiences with our friends and family. Long gone are the days when we might sit around the living room with the loud slide projector seeing “pictures from our vacation.” I’m not sure yet what the modern equivalent will be. It feels like it needs to be more than sharing pictures on Facebook or on this blog.
Traveling as the only adult turned out to be a pretty big deal. As we drove — for hours and hours at a time — I’d be gasping at the landscapes on my own. Both of my daughters have a greater capacity than a lot of children for awe and wonder at things like mountains or rock formations, but they tired of the views a lot more quickly than I did (I didn’t tire of them). Add to that the sheer exhaustion I felt from being the only grownup on duty as the parent, and there wasn’t a lot of “vacation” in my week.
That said, oh my gosh. Wow! I’m in my late 40s and while I have seen some of southern New Mexico, I got a real taste of what the southwest looks like on on this trip. I feel like I’d never really seen anything like it. I resisted the urge to take photographs at every gasp, but I did take a few and some of them effectively remind me of what I saw.
Photographs, of course, don’t actually come close to doing it any justice. I can see why Georgia O’Keeffe was struck by the need to capture what she experienced out there. Just driving across the landscape was emotionally overwhelming. I wish we’d had a geologist and a botanist traveling with us. I didn’t do any research in advance and had no time/energy to do it as we moved along. Someday I’ll learn about how and why the land looks like it does.
That’s it for now. I’ll share more later when I figure out just how I want to do it. (Photo below is me at (I think?) the Petrified Forest.)
Reading a “facts of life” book last night with my almost-7 year old daughter, she stopped me after I read about what makes boys boys and what makes girls girls. She said, “That’s in the brain. It’s not there [pointing to the genital areas].” She was talking about the fact that there are people whose bodies are biologically one sex, but their identities are another gender. I’ll admit I felt a little proud of myself that I’ve been mothering my daughters to understand that gender is much more complex than biology alone.
A couple years ago, my older daughter called out, distressed, when she realized — admittedly after years of playing with them — her playmobil figures had only one person of color among nearly fifty people. We searched the website and found one brown skinned figure with what looked like a Native American set among hundreds and hundreds of characters. Looking at the site this morning, I see they have new figures that look like people of color in the top banner. Scrolling through the characters, I don’t see that much else has changed. The point I’m making here is that I felt glad when my daughters noticed the playmobil set was made with a foundation of racism. We talked about not playing with the set, what is our responsibility? How can we help? We talked about different things we could do (color with markers?) to make the set have a wider range of people figures. We ended up writing a letter to the company complaining about the issue. That’s not nothing.
There will be people who think these kinds of smaller exchanges are not as important or valid as participating in a drastic overhaul of our entire system. And, indeed, we need to change our whole system. We need to do more than have conversations in our own families. Personally, I am doing more. But there are times when “all I’m doing is parenting.” During those times I’m not missing my opportunity to help my children know more than I did about injustice. I want them to notice problems and think critically about solutions. I want them to practice responding to injustice with action. I believe these smaller steps count. They matter. They are more than “better than nothing.” My children and many like them are people who know that just thinking about and talking about changing the world is not enough; they want to walk the walk and, as my daughter said (she’s sitting on my lap and I asked her how I should finish this), “make the world a better place than we found it.”
It’s a fresh start. Again. We’ve stocked up on staples and are prepared for the challenges of yet another (strict, again, this time) “no groceries challenge.“
Borne out of necessity this time around (again)—food is one of the few areas where I have control of the amount we spend—we’re going to see how long we can go without going to the supermarket. The exceptions will be for fresh fruit and, eventually, fresh vegetables (after we’ve gone through all we have now). Eggs and possibly milk will likely be the first items beyond fresh fruit to get us into the supermarket.
This no groceries challenge started a few days ago. I got some good news that has my mood up again: my daughters told me they loooove the roasted squash seeds I included in their lunch. The delicata squash rings are a favorite of ours, and they freeze well (bonus!).
In the name of having snack-y foods for school lunches, I roasted the squash seeds like I will our jack-o-lantern pumpkin seeds. It turns out they are yummy!
I had been doing a modified version of the no groceries challenge since August, but I made a lot of exceptions. The up side is I mostly stuck to “only what is on my shopping list” rather than getting what seems like a good idea. This saves a lot of money and limits food waste, for sure.
After the illness and death of a pet, an unexpected car repair (following an unexpected car repair due to my backing into a telephone pole), and dental work, the savings I had built up are pretty much shot. It’s back to paycheck-to-paycheck for a while. Selling what I can, cutting corners where I can, and simply revving up those good habits I’ve started developing over these few financially-tight years.
As with the very first “no groceries challenge,” I find the act of choosing to restrict my food purchases is empowering. Rather than deprivation, I’m in a place of motivation. This one’s gonna be a good one.
In May of 2013, I imposed a “no groceries” rule on myself to see how long I could go without going to the supermarket. I learned quite a bit more than I expected. I repeated the challenge in less stringent forms a couple more times. (To view those posts, you can visit the “no groceries” category on this site.)
With the full involvement of my daughters, we’re embarking on the challenge again. Two weeks of summer camp (paid for with scholarship money) for the last two or three years aren’t available this summer. This means decreased childcare and increased expenses. With some good luck and some good choices, I’m not currently facing the threat of negative bank balances. But, bills will come due. Without some drastic budget cutting or with some bad luck, it could be dire.
Most of my expenses are fixed (rent, phone, Internet, tuition, insurance). One area where we have some control is food. I don’t expect it will make all the difference we need as I look towards the challenges of summer, but as it was before, just the actions themselves—knowing I can do something—keeps me on the side of gratitude rather than fear.
Full disclosure: I will not have a zero-tolerance rule for this challenge. We’ll get fresh fruits and vegetables as we need them, and, after a chunk of time going without (almost) entirely, if there are one or two ingredients that will make a meal complete, I’ll get them. No “grocery shopping,” at all. No remembering “I need x or y” when I’m picking up a prescription, etc. No “I wish we had a frozen pizza, I am so bleeping tired…” purchases.
We went to Hannaford today which I only recently learned has much better prices than the Shaw’s we had been using (I assumed grubby = cheaper!) and stocked up on some staples like dried beans and kale (to parboil and freeze) as well as some perishables that will last like tofu and sweet potatoes. We’re ready.