Friday, October 3, 2014

the applesauce is in the pot--but where are the strawberries?

The applesauce is in the pot cooking down. I'll can it later, and then, I just might put the canner up for the season. But you never know.

It's getting to be that time of year - when the fall crops come in and the frenzy of canning and freezing food goes out. You gotta love winter squash and root vegetables. All you have to do to preserve them is put them in a cupboard!

Up until now, we have been busy. My food dryer whirs through the night full of peppers, garlic and onions. My canner bubbles, processing all kinds of stuff: salsa, tomatoes, peaches, pears and now applesauce. My freezer is filling up with chard, collards, carrots and chickens.

But something is missing.

Every year I am lucky to get organic strawberries from a local farmer. I wrote more about that, and why I insist on eating organic strawberries here several years ago, but the gist of it is: strawberries suck the pesticides up inside of themselves. You can't wash or peel the nastiness off. While strawberries are one of the worst fruits to eat if they aren't organic, the organic ones can be nearly impossible to find locally.

I knew I was lucky to have an organic strawberry connection. I even protected it--wary of sharing the information with too many people. Every year, I bought them in bulk in May. For 2-3 weeks we'd binge on berries. I'd make shortcake every night, put up jam for the year, and stuff bags of whole ones into the freezer for winter shakes. Then we'd wait for them to return the next year. By the end of those weeks, I felt I couldn't look at another berry.

I can't imagine that feeling now.

This year, a hailstorm destroyed "my" strawberry crop just days before the harvest. All of those beautiful berries: gone.

At first I felt so bad for the farmer, I didn't think about what this meant for me. But soon, the reality sunk in. No strawerries!

I asked around at markets and couldn't find anyone with organic berries. No surprise. Then a new vendor appeared at one of my markets. He said he'd have organic berries all summer. Woohoo!

Except he didn't. Not really, anyway. He had berries: raspberries, blueberries, lots of elderberries (I have no idea what to do with those!), and pints of blackberries. Occasionally he showed up with a pint or two of strawberries.

To get them, you had to wait like a cat outside a mouse hole and pounce on them the minute the market bell rang. It was embarrassing.

Once I got enough to make jam.

After that, I got nothing.

Just a few booths down , my regular fruit vendor offered mountains of strawberries. They looked beautiful. I like these farmers and buy all of my other fruit from them (none of it organic). But strawberries are something I've committed to eating without pesticides. I don't want to contribute to the seepage of methyl bromide into our environment.

Still, each week those berries tempted me. Denial is such an easy thing. It's so easy to stick your head in the sand and go with the crowd. Everyone else is eating strawberries. Why shouldn't we? It can't be that bad, right? Or better, just pretend you don't know anything about it. Hope the farmer didn't use THAT stuff on THESE berries. Right?

I walked through the market each week never sure if this would be the day when I'd give in.

I suppose it's easy to commit to a principle when the committing only asks you to buy in bulk. It's another thing when it means going without. As the summer has progressed, I think I believed my organic berry vendor would come through with some magical last-minute strawberriness.

But he did not.

Now, the season is over. The freezer is full (of other stuff), and we are committed. It will be the year without a strawberry.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

in the weeds

Do you know this phrase? My manager used it at a waitressing job I had in college. Just when you needed to get drinks to table 3, bring extra salad dressing to 5, take orders at 10, and garnish the Manhattan at the bar, the kid you just brought a straw to at 4 spills his milk all over his mother’s lap.

The dad looks at you as if you personally dumped the offending beverage. The people who haven’t ordered slurp their sodas out of the bottom of their glasses with a loudness that disturbs their neighbors. The person at 5 rolls his eyes and starts eating the naked salad while calculating the miniscule tip he will give you later. You want to drink instead of garnish that Manhattan on the bar, but instead, you fly through the kitchen with a tray over your head yelling, “I’m in the weeds!”  

It’s such a great phrase. It can mean you’re overwhelmed at work. It can mean you’re bogged down at home. It can mean you’ve stepped off the path and gotten lost. It can mean you’re fishing and you’ve floated into a particularly vegetated area. In the singular, being “in the weed” could even mean you’re the dude with the good connections. Of course, it most often means you haven’t gardened in a while.

But who knew it could mean you haven’t blogged in a while?

In the spring, when the oregano in my garden is bright green and the spaces gape between new plantings of basil and cilantro, I am attentive. Everything has so much potential and needs so much care. It seems I can’t walk past my little plot (which is right next to my driveway) without stopping to pull out this or that individual green intruder. As the summer progresses, however, and the herbs turn woody, I grow complacent. Now, not only do I walk past the weeds, I even dismiss the strawberries I can see hanging like red exclamation points in this otherwise indiscriminate sea of green. The garden isn’t dead, but it has the harried look of a thing unkempt, unused.

And so it is with blogs. I didn’t know that leaving my blog to the internet would be like leaving my garden to nature. In the days when I was attentive, posting here twice a week, 50 hits in a day felt like the big time baby. Though this was never a big time blog, posts were plentiful, hits were real, comments made sense.

But now that I’ve left the premises to the elements, I get over 2,000 hits per day. All weeds. Thankfully, these “readers” only manage to leave the occasional comment. Things like: “You can as well mechanical phenomenon from one taxonomic group of treatment are numerous and studies rack up been fit to put in the freezer.” It seems the bots have been into some weed of their own.

I now see my blog as this miniscule and irrelevant bit floating in the flotsam of an internet that too seems choked with extraneous and suffocating things like pop-ups and click bait.

How to reclaim my space? I thought by posting—intruding—I could take it back. Will the bots scatter like sparrows interrupted? I doubt it. In fact, now that I’m at the end of this writing, I’m wondering if the repetition of the word “weed” in this post will only draw a whole new hoard of spammers, these coming perhaps from the dark internet, looking for a person with weed instead of just a person in the weeds.

How disappointing for everybody.

Friday, July 18, 2014

plant killer in the garden

You may remember my sister and I rented a community gardenplot together. I worried and wondered if she knew what she was getting into, partnering up with a plant-killer like myself.

It turns out a plant killer has a purpose in the garden after all.


They cower when they see me coming.  I mean it. I'm better than any herbicide. In fact, someone should put my face on the bottle of how-the-heck-can-I-control-weeds-without-chemicals.   

Last week, I went to the garden with my sister. While she watered (life giving), I weeded (plant killing).  After she finished, she said to me, “the garden looks great. Look at all the tomatoes we have coming!”

Tomatoes? I’d been there an hour and hadn’t looked at a single vegetable. It’s as if I only see the photographic negative of the garden.

It sounds terrible, but it’s rather validating. I’ve always slunk about in the shadow of my sister’s plant growing success. But it turns out the green thumb in the family has no aptitude for a hoe.  

Seriously. She’s always all about how the ground is too hard, or the weeds are too thick. It’s never about how the hoer is too helpless.

Since I can flat out turn over a row, it turns out she needs me!

AND, I even managed to grow these!
Imagine my surprise when the first one came out of the ground--like magic!

It turns out everyone has their place in a garden. 

Where’s yours?

Monday, April 21, 2014

family traditions: bond or burden?

I took Gareth to look at colleges last week. While we considered a variety of obvious things like academics, cost and location, one thing that stood out for me about the different schools was the presence of school traditions: things like secret societies, painted rocks, tailgate parties, and annual ceremonies/rituals (that ranged from marching incoming freshman under a school archway to paint fights with the school president) . The schools that had traditions felt more bonded than the others, and the tour guides spoke with more pride about their school (after all, it's more fun to describe an annual mud volleyball tournament than it is to describe the smart classrooms just installed in the business building).

 Or perhaps it was just my bias. I love traditions, mainly because I think they do bond a community together. By looking forward and backward, they give a shared sense of both purpose and history. In those things, I think we find security.

For this reason, I value the traditions in our family life. Most of them involve food, like baking my grandmother's recipes over the holidays or eating cake for breakfast the day after a birthday. I never thought we were tradition crazy or anything, but one holiday season a friend told me, "your traditions stress me out!"  Her comment surprised me and, I admit, hurt my feelings a little.

Why would traditions stress her out? After thinking about it, I realized there is a tipping point between having fun traditions and being bound to burdensome routines that create more work around already busy times of the year like birthdays and holidays.

I think the key to the former is to let your family traditions evolve with your family life. Almost all of our traditions come from a thing we did one year that we repeated the next year because it was fun.  For example, on the morning of your birthday in our house, we will wake you up with a blaring version of Cracker's "Happy Birthday" and dance around your room until we get tired of it.

Steve and I started doing this to each other before the kids were born. We like the line, "I'm feeling grateful for the small things today." Also, we thought it was funny to wake up to loud music, so we kept at it. We had no idea it was something we would still do with our children sixteen years later.

Other traditions come from long-time family rituals. For at least three generations, we have put butter on the birthday person's nose for good luck. So the morning of your birthday around here is particularly unpleasant because we will wake you up with loud music and give you a greasy nose.

The above two traditions have probably lasted as long as they have because they're simple. They don't cost money or require any extra planning, both of which can create pressure.

I learned to keep it simple years ago, after I had the brilliant idea to have my kids color a wooden egg every Easter. This "tradition" did not evolve from a fun activity we wanted to repeat. I imposed it because I imagined 10-15 years of egg painting would create this beautiful huge bowl of eggs that my kids would color with increasingly skilled hands as they grew.

The problem: this tradition involved a craft.  The idea of doing crafts sends chills down my spine. My kids aren't fans either. At the time, however, I thought this was a craft we could handle: wooden egg, markers, child. Done. 

Except not only did I have to go to the craft store to buy the eggs (I hate errands), but I had to do it in a timely fashion. It turns out, if you go to the craft store for wooden eggs on the day before (or after) Easter, the eggs will be sold out.

I had this idea for two years before I ever managed to purchase an egg. Then, after I purchased them, it took me a year to get the kids seated for the event. By this time, Olivia was 5 and Gareth was 8. Gareth, who didn't like coloring, thought it sounded more like a chore than a fun ritual, so I had to make him do it. To make it worse, we enacted this fun celebration of Easter a week after the holiday because I was too busy to make it happen earlier.

That was 2005.  Apparently, we never got back to it for 6 years, because the next eggs I have are dated 2011! By then, Gareth was 15 years old. Again I made him color an egg because, "look, we started this "tradition" and I don't have any eggs! Someday, when you're 30, we'll think the egg you painted when you were 15 is sooo cute!!'" In that year, I changed things up and painted an egg myself, and made Steve do one too. That way I could put them out for display because it gave me enough to cover the bottom of a small cereal bowl.

Needless to say, the tradition that I planned didn't come to fruition. But another one did. Now, the "tradition" is something more along the lines of how Steve and the kids color an egg for me each year because they feel sorry for me because my tradition didn't work. The kids look at their eggs and say, "Remember when you made me do this one!?" and we all laugh with nostalgia.

So, after all that, I still ended up with this:

Not too shabby, but hardly a childhood record of Easters-gone-by (several eggs are painted by parents and several others by my kids' friends!), but still a charming if not telling display of our family's relationship to crafts.

So, the lesson is: make your kids participate in traditions and you too can have a big bowl of painted eggs!


I still think traditions are a fun way to bond any group, especially a family. But the key to good traditions is to let them evolve from fun things you already do so you don't create more work for yourself.

Also, if you don't want your traditions to "stress you out" or otherwise feel burdensome, don't plan them around chores you dislike (for me: crafts and shopping for anything, especially craft supplies).

And finally: be flexible. Don't feel pressure to make your tradition happen every year. Just because you miss it for one year (or five) doesn't mean it's over. Pick it up again when you can, if you want. And let it be what it is: a fun way to celebrate a holiday or a birthday, or perhaps just a pity party for mom!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

bottled water: just say no!

There was a point in my past life when I bought a case of seltzer water a week. I developed the habit during graduate school when I felt perpetually ill from stress, lack of sleep and too much caffeine. Bubbly water seemed the only antidote to the buckets of bad coffee I drank to stay awake.

I traded the caffeine (and the stress) for more sleep when I graduated over a decade ago. But my habit of drinking seltzer water continued for several more years.  Then one day I looked at my recycle bin and noticed the way it overflowed with empty plastic. Why hadn't that bothered me before? Deciding that was way too much plastic for any one person to produce in a week, so I resolved to quit the habit. 

I still drink seltzer, but instead of buying twelve plastic bottles each week, I buy one or two glass bottles instead.

Just a week ago, if you'd asked me if I drank water out of plastic bottles, I'd have said "no way!" I wonder if my feelings of self-righteousness would have showed through. With the exception of "rare occasions" when a plastic bottle of water seemed unavoidable, I did not see myself as part of our growing bottled water problem. 

Then last weekend, we watched the documentary Tapped.  Have you seen it? It skewers the bottled water industry at every step of the product cycle: from extraction, where beverage companies haul water away from local communities who don't share in the profits; to packaging, where manufacture of the bottles relies on petroleum and harmful chemical elements (BPA when the film was made, antimony now); to testing, which is overseen by one FDA employee; to advertising, which misleads consumers into thinking the water is safer than tap water; to disposal which is turning our oceans into a "plastic soup."

After watching it, you'll vow to never touch another bottle of water again. That's what Steve and I said anyway. Of course, I was thinking in my I'm-already-all-over-this way about how I gave up bottled water years ago, but I didn't say that out loud.

The next day, I went to the coffee shop to work on my book. I don't do this every day - maybe once every one or two weeks.  After a long morning drinking decaf and writing, I decided I needed something to eat.

And I was thirsty.

I looked at my drink options: plastic bottles of water, plastic bottles of soda, and glass bottles of juice. 

I hesitated. I couldn't drink a bottle of water the day after watching Tapped! But I hate juice, refuse to drink soda (it's in plastic anyway) and couldn't stand the idea of another sweet drink after all the coffee I'd had (I'm not a black coffee kind of girl).

What should I do? I could hear the people behind me shuffling their feet in line. Their looks of "make up your mind!" drilled into the back of my head as I tottered on the edge of a panic-purchase.

My mind raced. I didn't have a reusable water bottle with me, and besides, would it be fair to bring my own drink after sitting in this restaurant using their electricity and wifi all day? I felt like I owed the proprietors my business.

So I did it. I pulled a crinkly bottle of water out of the ice, purchased it, and drank it. The day after watching Tapped.

Just this once.

Two nights later, I co-hosted a team-dinner for my son's soccer team. The other family provided drinks: two cases of water and a case of Gatorade. Egad! That was more water bottles than I wanted to be responsible for in a year!

An hour or two into the evening, I offhandedly mentioned how thirsty I was to Steve. The other mom heard me and kindly brought me a bottle of water. "Oh, thanks!" I said with a pained smile. I didn't know what to do. Could I sneak through the living room, return the bottle to the cooler, then rummage through her cupboards for a glass without her noticing? And would it matter if I did? Someone was going to drink that bottle of water, whether I did or not.

My friend stood in front of me, expecting me to guzzle down this drink with relief. Not wanting to be rude, I twisted off the plastic top with a crackle, and drank up.

Later, I noticed Steve doing it too.

Just this once.

Three days later, I volunteered to help out at my daughter's swim meet. I brought a reusable water bottle with me because all-day meets in hot indoor pools never fail to dehydrate me. In the afternoon, I sat at the scoring table entering meet results into a computer. Toward the end of the meet, things became frenzied as we worked to finish the events on time. I had drained my water bottle long before. Parched, I asked a swimmer if they could refill my bottle at a water fountain. Before I could stop her, another mom intercepted, explaining there was no need to do that because "We have a whole cooler of water bottles right here!" She was nice enough to bring me one.

And I drank it.

Just this once.

"Just this once" turned out to be three bottles of water within one week of watching Tapped!  That's hardly a record of abstinence.

If I were in high school trying not to get pregnant, I'd be in big trouble.

I still feel completely committed to the idea that I should never drink or purchase a bottle of water again. What I discovered, however, is how much our culture has acclimated to this idea of portable water. With bottles so omnipresent, other ways of accessing and drinking water (like large thermoses, pitchers and, imagine: CUPS!) have disappeared.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who watched Tapped and swore myself off of bottled water. And I bet I'm also not the only person to discover this can be a challenge.

As a country, we consume bottled water like it's...well...water. Check out the numbers. Between 2009 (when Tapped came out) and 2012, sale of bottled water increased by 1.2 BILLION gallons!

For the visual effect:
Data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Graph by Peter Gleick

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) cited a bright future for bottled water sales last spring, noting a 6.2% increase in bottled water consumption between 2012 and 2013.  According to IBWA, U.S. consumption rates work out to an average of 30.8 gallons of water per person per year!

But there's good news for conservationists too. San Francisco just banned the sale of bottled water on public property. How cool is that!?  As part of the ordinance, the city will also take steps to provide more "water filling stations" around town.  At least in San Francisco, public water won't go the way of the public phone.

While San Francisco marks the first major city to ban bottled water, smaller movements have led the charge. Concord, Massachusetts became the first city to implement a ban when it did so on January 2013. That same month, the University of Vermont became one of the first public universities to implement a ban on bottled water sales.  The movement continues to grow with other smaller communities and private universities getting on board. In the latest news, Western Washington University will remove bottled water from campus shelves in just a few days, on April 1st.

If you want to learn more about the movement to ban bottled water, check out the blog Ban the Bottle.

As for me, I'm regrouping. Over the past week, I discovered that really giving up bottled water is not a passive thing. I had no idea the "rare occasions" when I drank bottled water were so frequent. All of my nice friends and acquaintances caught me off guard with their kindness and generosity.

But now I'm ready for them: "Thanks so much, but I've given it up." It's as simple as "Just Say No!" If anyone asks why, I get a chance to spread the word.

So many world problems feel impossible and expensive to solve. This one is so easy.

In the U.S., public water is safe and free.

All we have to do is drink it!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

strawberry smoothie mandate

Last year, I wrote in lazy locavore hangover about how I couldn't get inspired to cook or do the work of food preservation for the coming winter. Cooking usually feels like a creative outlet for me, and preparing/preserving/eating local organic food feels like a spiritual practice. But last spring and summer, something was missing in all of that. For the first time in as long as I could remember, food felt like a chore. 

As the winter winds down and I remember that lethargy, I am surprised to realize that somehow, I still pulled it off.  We ate well this winter. In jars we had the usual suspects: apple and tomato sauces, peaches, pears and green beans among other things. We also had some new foods like pickled beets (they were delicious!), pickled peppers (yum!), and BBQ sauce (Yuck. It needed some serious doctoring out of the jar).

In the freezer we had various roasts, a few racks of ribs, a little ground meat, a lot of breakfast sausage, half of a lamb, and over 20 whole chickens.

I don't know why, but for me, there is something obscene about all those birds. When I layered them on the shelves with packages of wings, legs and thighs last fall, I couldn't help but wonder if the birds minded sharing space with so many packages of parts. I had this gruesome flash of how I'd feel packed into a room surrounded by bags full of frozen elbows. Ugh. My throat felt a little tight at the thought.

With an imagination like that, I suppose I am well-suited for vegetarianism (or lessatarianism to be more accurate).

When March arrived a few weeks ago, I looked in the freezer feeling satisfied. While I still had plenty of food for the next few months, I also saw a lot of empty space. Many of the birds had flown the coop (if we want to fool ourselves in that way). The green beans, collard balls, corn, black-eyed peas, and various kinds of pesto had dwindled.  I was just thinking how well I'd planned when I looked at the top shelf, the one reserved for fruit and saw it was...FULL.

Holy Toledo!--we forgot to eat the fruit!

That top shelf sat bulging with 4 gallons of strawberries, 2 gallons of blueberries, 1 gallon of pears, a few random small bags of melon, and several quarts of raspberries.  Aside from uses like muffins and pancakes, this stash was supposed to fuel a winter's worth of smoothies.

What happened?

I could say it was my hoarder instinct in overdrive. And I'm sure there'd be some truth in that. Sometimes I get so caught up in the gathering and storing "for later" I forget that "later" is NOW. This is especially true of the strawberries because I freeze them in May and must look at them for months before I'm "allowed" to break into them.

But that's not the whole truth.

If this local and mostly organic fruit didn't fuel my winter smoothies as intended, then what did?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe a banana or two?

Some almonds?

A bit of chocolate?

I might have added a "splash" of coconut milk.

And sugar.

It's true.

There is NOTHING local about a chocolate-banana-almond-coconut shake!

Unless, of course, you live within 20 degrees latitude of the EQUATOR.


All I can say is: I got addicted. Surely that is some kind of defense? I think it was the caffeine in the chocolate.  I don't otherwise drink caffeine, and I found myself waking up every morning saying, "Don't talk to me. I can't think before I've had my chocolate-banana-almond-coconut shake!"

In my chocolate delirium, I plum forgot about the fruit.

Now, spring is a week away (one week! woohoo!).  Except holy crap - we've got a lot of frozen fruit to eat. There's only one thing worse than running out of your winter stores before the new growing season starts, and that's leaving your winter stores uneaten.

It feels so wasteful--of the food left over and the time spent preparing it.

So we've been hitting the strawberries hard. We've been under a near daily strawberry smoothie mandate for two weeks and have already polished off two gallons of them.

My kids have no idea why there's suddenly an influx of berry flavored stuff on the menu.  I wonder what exactly goes through their heads as they endure my manic directives.

In one day I can swing from "Don't touch those strawberries!" to "Good God! Why haven't you eaten more strawberries!"

We have an urgency around food that wouldn't exist if we shopped for this stuff at the grocery store. 

Or if, perhaps, the person in charge of all this food storage and consumption was a tad less neurotic.

Or forgetful.

Or susceptible to the intoxications of chocolate and coconut in a blender.

Still, despite the berry mania, I feel like we're in good shape as we ride out this last week of winter. In reality, I discovered the fruit just in time. After all, it's not like it'll start raining berries on March 23rd.  We still have two months before fresh fruit will appear in the markets.

And I'm happy to say that, unlike my lethargy of last year, I feel tired of this year's winter food coma. After such a frigid season, I'm more than ready to do the work of eating fresh food and am happy to make my chocolate shake addiction a distant memory--an anomaly of a winter gone by.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

anchor of death: or teens, blogging & transition

I've written before about the difficulties of raising teens. One day your kids think you walk on water, the next they think you're the anchor of death, threatening with your mere presence to drag them to the sea-floor of all that is uncool and embarrassing.

I started this blog right on the cusp of this teen adventure, when Gareth (now almost 17) and Olivia (now 13) were 14 and 10 respectively. Although Gareth was already a teenager, he'd slipped into that rather quietly, and it hadn't yet sunk in for me.  I still imagined my kids were kids: attached to me, influenced by me, mine.

The transition to "anchor of death" has taken some doing (in my mind, not theirs). And one place where I've felt awkward about my new role has been on this blog.

When I started writing here, the name "small house, big picture" referred to how the activities of one household connect to the world outside of it. An easy example of this would be how our consumption and disposal habits contribute to the pile at the dump.  But I also thought of this connection in terms of parenthood: our household would teach by example that each of us is more than an important individual; we are all members of a string of communities: from family, to school, to town, to nation, to planet. I wanted to raise children who were not just loving and caring individuals, but active citizens of the nation and responsible stewards of the planet.

It all sounds so lofty now. And it was great for a while. It was easy to feed my toddlers local organic snacks and say we were a green household. But when the toddlers grow up, they eat industrial snacks like Ramen noodles and drink sugary food-dye laden beverages like Gatorade out of, it's true: plastic bottles. If that's not enough for my faint green mother's heart, they throw those bottles in their bedroom trash cans instead of the recycle bin! Egad. When you ask why they didn't adhere to this most basic of green household activities, they'll say, "Oh, sorry. I forgot--" as if you haven't been teaching this practice since they were old enough to walk.  They'll promise to rectify the matter later, but they won't.

A good parent knows to stand back during this time, to trust in what you've taught and let your teen experiment with his or her autonomy. Teens need to make mistakes and try things their own way so they can decide for themselves if they agree with their parents' way of thinking, right? I know I need to pick my battles and keep my mouth shut. But it's so hard!

To be fair, my kids are great. As far as I know, nobody's on drugs, or bullying their classmates, or shoplifting cigarettes from the corner market. They're just typical teens in an our-mother-is-a-hippie-freak kind of way: they're lazy about recycling, never turn off the lights, and take showers that far exceed the recommended 5 minutes touted by many water conservationists. (Although I have to give them a break because I do this too!) And they roll their eyes at me a lot.

The point of all this is that I began to feel uncomfortable about how to write about "our" environmentally conscientious household. Are we really all small-house-big-picture around here if my kids think I'm a kook? I hadn't forgotten the rule about how teens will reject everything I've taught them until they hit their twenties. It's just that I discovered how hard it is to wait that long to see the fruits of my labor.

So this is yet another reason why I haven't been writing as much.

With time, however, I'm getting used to being the anchor of death. It's not so bad, really.  I've also figured out this is still small-house around here, even if I'm the only one who turns off all the lights, loves the compost heap like it's an old friend, or is willing to try brushing my teeth with a piece of bark (I haven't actually tried it yet - will let you know how that goes if I do!). Part of this transition into parenting teens is remembering that you live your life the way you do because it's what you want, not just because you hope your kids will want it too.

That's what I should be writing about.

Just as I'm figuring this out and feeling good about it, Olivia comes home from school and says, "Hey mom, it turns out my English teacher is a 'crazy hippie' like you!" Then she shows me this "totally cool" video she's been "waiting all day" to share with me because she knows how much I'll LOVE it.

So I watch it, not sure what to expect, and it's a Chipotle ad. Perhaps you've seen it:

I do love it. And what a bonus to discover she's been listening all along.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

bits and pieces

Well.  I generally feel like it's bad form to write blog posts about how you haven't been posting, so naturally, I'm going to do it.

You may have noticed things grinding to a crawl around here. I admit my time for blogging has dwindled. It's not for lack of interest, rather, for something much better: greed. Or perhaps I should just say: money.  This fall, I decided to pursue editing and writing projects that pay. Of course, when you try to make your hobby into your living, the hobby inevitably suffers.  That doesn't mean I don't plan to write here anymore--I do!--it just means I've had less time. 

And that will change.

It will change because the real drain on my time has been my book. What book, you say?  Ahh, yes.  That is the problem:

What book. 

I started a memoir almost 8 years ago when I quit my adjunct professor work.  The book traces my professional life from corporate ladder climber, to grad student, to my work as an adjunct English professor.  It culminates with my decision to leave academia (woops.  I guess I should have given you a spoiler alert!).  I've worked on this project for years in, you guessed it, bits and pieces, only carving out time when I wasn't child-rearing, grant writing, tutoring and/or cooking.  You can see why it's taken so long.  I hope.

But now, the time to publish is ripe.  The working conditions and employment prospects in academe have sunk to new lows and more people are speaking out.  While I'm participating in that conversation through twitter and on my other blog, Professor Never, publishing my memoir and telling my story would give me closure on that part of my life. I have a real sense of urgency about finishing.

So I've been working on it A LOT.  I can be a "bit" monomaniacal about writing projects. I have trouble drawing boundaries around the work, forgetting to drink water, cook dinner, or to go to bed.

The same thing happened with my dissertation.

The consequence? Everything around me crumbles into bits and pieces.

This blog, with a post here and a post there, looks as neglected as the parsnips that have languished in bits and pieces in my vegetable drawer since the last co-op delivery in November! 

And what's up with those parsnips anyway?!  And the turnips. And the butternut squash--these remnants of fresh stuff I've neglected nag at my conscience. Don't worry, we haven't resorted to McDonald's every night (or ever), but my meal planning is more haphazard, and my plans less ambitious.  I've been falling back on the greens I pre-cut and froze in October, or the almost-ready-to-eat beans I canned in September. I "forget" about the squash and turnips that need to be washed and chopped--egad.

At the same time, stores of other winter foods have dwindled to their own meager collection of bits and pieces: white potatoes, garlic and apples are in short supply from our co-op.  I could supplement with trips to the winter market, but I've reduced even those trips to bits and pieces as well, with late Friday nights and cold Saturday mornings collaborating to keep me home.

My herbs, which are way ready for the jar, still hang from my pan rack and other sundry places about the kitchen, begging me to bottle them up by dropping bits of themselves onto my counters in despair.  I sweep them up and wonder, should the pieces go into the compost, or our dinner? Who will know?

Even my primary paying job: tutoring, has grown sporadic.  I've cut back on my students to make time for freelance writing/editing jobs that I can do while the kids are at school.  But in the transition to finding new work, I have felt the spaces open up between appointments. Whether that's good or bad, shouldn't it at least mean I have more time to do the things I always used to manage anyway? You'd think.  But exercise, meditation, email maintenance (what a drag that's a thing now), laundry and Christmas thank-you notes (I've written only one) occur in smatterings. What good is just a "bit" of exercise or one clean "piece" of laundry?

It all gets sacrificed to the book.

Still, I have managed to step away from the memoir to write a few other related "pieces." I  published an article in Inside Higher Ed a few weeks ago. You can see that here if you want to read my post-academic rantings about the perils of seeking a humanities Ph.D.  I also submitted an excerpt from the memoir to a literary magazine back in October.  That rejection should arrive in my inbox any day, so I hate to even mention it.  But no worries. I will not crumble into bits and pieces when I get the news.  Like most writers, I'm an old hand at taking rejection. 

In the coming weeks, I will continue to make my book revisions a priority, but I will also try not to be such a stranger around here.  I miss this blog, the ideas it generated for me, and the small community that grew up around it (that's you if you're still out there!). You know I have bits and pieces of a zillion different posts floating around in my head. Writing here more regularly would clear my mind and hopefully help me to see the minutia of life that lies littered around me not as evidence of my neglect, but of my industry!