Stepping back

THIS is the post I meant to write for Friday, before I got distracted by my oldest. 😉 I tell you what, though, I’ve got it so much easier than my mother ever did when I went to college — it’s a constant conversation that I have with that kid, whether that’s on the phone or through apps. Good times, my friends, these are good times.

Anyway. These past few weekends have been busy ones, just in terms of the projects I’ve been working on in my kitchen. I love a good kitchen project — and with my jerk of a stomach (to recap: No artificial anything if I want to stay upright), I really like knowing where my food comes from and what’s in it. Bonus that I live in an agriculturally-rich area and literally know my farmers by their first names.

(Another bonus that a few of those farmers are women. Looking at you, Lisa and Trina and Ellen and Anastasia. These women rock. Take Trina as an example: She’s a social justice role model in this community, and she’s upgrading her picker cabins just because she wants to — because where a person lives is important, she says. How can you not get behind that as a consumer?)

Because I love a good project, I tend to get a little, shall we say, optimistic when I’m at my favorite farm stand or favorite farmers’ market stall. Bulk basil? Bring it! Eggplant? Yesssssss. (Say that a la Napoleon Dynamite, incidentally.) Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! Apples and plums and grapes and pears! Carrots! Herbs and dried beans and potatoes and zucchini and summer squash and …

I mean, how do you NOT go crazy in a situation like this? I honestly have no idea.

After I get all my bags home, though (and one more farm stand / farmers’ market bonus: Everyone loves it when you bring your reusable bags), and I start lining everything up on the counter, overwhelm is common. It’s a good problem to have, and I’m always amazed at how much food I can get for $50 or whatever. And my pantry and freezer are looking awesome because of it.

But last weekend I had a bit of an epiphany. I spent all day Saturday drying apples and plums and tomatoes, making zucchini muffins and roasted tomato soup, cutting corn off the cob for the freezer, and prepping the fruit and veggies we’d eat throughout the week. I was feeling accomplished. I woke up on Sunday ready to do more of the same: I canned the crock pot apple butter I’d put together the night before, made a double batch of pesto (huh, when you actually follow directions, it turns out kind of great), and continued with the fruit drying. But then noon hit, and I was looking around like, you know what? I think I’m done.

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I know, they’re angels, they would NEVER walk on the counter, what am I even talking about?

I’ve been treating the season like a race, and while the finish line is off a bit yet, I’m going to take a quick break in the bleachers* and just, like, enjoy the clean air we finally have, read a book, and try to convince the kittens that WE DO NOT WALK ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER.

Hey, guess what? There they are on the kitchen counter as we speak.

I’d still like to dry more apples, make more apple butter, make peach butter!, get a few more tomatoes canned or in the ol’ freezer. But I can do that in the coming weeks. And this past weekend, I did nothing but read and write and visit my sweet Grandma (who was so pumped about the applesauce and peaches I’d canned for her in Grandma-sized portions) and play with Johanna and the kittens and send Abby lots of Snapchats. It helped the house was already in order.

And it was kind of awesome.

*

Quick fire update, or lack thereof: It rained through Wednesday, cooler temperatures have remained, and we even had some blue sky on Saturday and Sunday. The interstate opened in both directions Sunday, which was great timing for visiting my Grandma, who lives in Washington. Although not gonna lie, it’s a little spooky driving and seeing such extensive fire damage. It’s really heartbreaking and astounding and overwhelming to finally see it in person. It got much closer to us than I had imagined.

But the most amazing part of all of this is that the air has been crisp and clean. It’s just … like, walking out of the house or the office, and being able to see the hills in the distance, and being able to breathe, it’s a huge relief. It’s a gift. The fire is still not contained, but it’s not the raging crazy beast it was.

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Fall is definitely in the air, but what I’d really like to point out is those are just regular clouds behind Mount Hood, not smoke.

Nothing like clean air and water to make a girl swoon.

*Senior year of high school, having to take fitness tests in PE, Mara and I “ran” the mile in 18 minutes because we took a break on the bleachers. The PE teacher said he was going to fail us if we didn’t get moving, but you know what? We sat there a bit longer to prove a point (that we were idiots, I guess) and we still got an A. The end.

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Hell Yeah!

Fridays are deadline days at the office, and come Friday afternoon, I’m usually just done — which is fine, since as long as I get my hours in during the rest of the week, I’m good to ditch out early (assuming I have no evening assignments). I go home — or to acupuncture, if it’s appointment day — and SIT DOWN.

And I do not get up.

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I mean, why WOULD I get up, now that I think about it?

But Friday, I found myself … well, I was tired, but not so tired. Johanna was home sick from school — she has my stomach, although hers manifests in throwing up, poor dear — and I left as soon as I was able. Nothing like announcing your kid puked overnight to have your coworkers usher you out of the office in record time. 😉

Because we’ve been able to dial back our 24/7 fire coverage, and maybe because deadline actually went smoothly, when I sat down, I realized that I didn’t need to stay seated. I took a break, chatted with Jo, petted kittens and looked around my rather thrashed house.

I give myself a couple hours to food prep, I thought, why not a couple hours to cleaning?

So I got up. I cleaned my kitchen, I picked up the living room, I swept and vacuumed and cleared clutter areas.

Eric came home and about fell over. This was very non-Trisha-like behavior. By 5 p.m., I had the house licked and looking fantastic. I was able to read, chat with my girls (one in person and one through the magic of technology), pet kittens, and generally enjoy my evening.

And when I woke up Saturday morning, I saw this …

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I told you my house is small.

… and was deeply grateful that I had made the decision I had the afternoon before.

Bonus: When my house is clean, the family tends to try to keep it clean. When the house is a mess, it’s like there’s no holds barred, so projects get left on the table, dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor … you get the idea.

I have no idea if I will feel like cleaning this coming Friday afternoon. I don’t even know if I want to make this a habit. I really hate cleaning, it’s so boring. But Saturday was calm and easy.

Hell yeah!

Repost: Looking back, kitchen edition

Trisha’s note: I was all prepared to write a post about food waste and preservation projects, but then I ended up having a long phone conversation with Abby instead. Oops. This is a post I wrote three years ago on kitchen gadget, or my lack thereof. It’s kind of funny to look at these photos now because I’ve further culled since writing this. That’s minimalism! But I do owe you a real post.

So have you guys ever heard of The Daily Create? Yeah, me neither, until Mara (who you can now find over at The Writing Life) clued me in not too long ago. It’s a site that gives you daily creative assignments, like “Tell the story of the Muppet Conspiracy Theory” or “Make a video of a rolling rock,” just in case you’re a creative type but are out of ideas, I guess, or maybe to challenge yourself.

The August 21 assignment was “a photo of the most unusual utensil in your kitchen drawer.” Mara emailed me all like, I thought you’d like this one, unless you’ve gotten rid of everything. And I was all, um, kinda have. I think my most unusual utensil now is just my pasta spoon, which made me happy and sad all at the same time.

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Here’s what I learned from this assignment: It is HARD taking pictures
of kitchenware. Even with a big girl camera.

Because: Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic collector of all things kitchen. I had pie crust shields, an avocado slicer, even a julienne peeler. I had all manner of baking dish, cookie cutter and wooden spoon and spatula. I never really used many of those things, but I liked having them–and so, so much more–because I bought into the dream of what I could do in my kitchen, as opposed to what I was actually doing in my kitchen.

Do you know how many times I used my cheesecake pan in the seven-plus years I owned it? Zero times. But I kept it because I liked the idea of making cheesecake, not because I was making cheesecakes all the time. I didn’t need it. I didn’t need 75-percent of what I thought I did.

That’s what I discovered when I started cleaning out my kitchen in 2012 (after I’d declared myself a minimalist and decided to get the hell on with it). It actually took a few tries to get it properly purged–I got rid of the easy stuff first (the pie crust shields, avocado slicers, and julienne peelers of the world), then went on to the harder stuff (my vast collection of stoneware, my specialty pans, even my garlic press), and then finally dumped what I liked but never used (strangely, my biscuit cutters were the hardest item to get rid of by far. Whaaaaaat?).

My kitchen drawer, circa this morning. My pasta spoon doesn’t even live here.

In the end, here’s what it all boiled down to: Was the object in question something I actually used on a regular basis? (Don’t talk to me about Thanksgiving-like scenarios. That’s not reality.) If I didn’t use it, it didn’t really matter how pretty it was, or what awesome recipe I could potentially whip up using it, or that I might need it some day. I just tossed whatever it was into a bag and got on with my life. Don’t think about it–that’s my motto. Don’t think, just act. It’s totally not as hard as you’d think it’d be to mindless. 😉

But while it makes me seriously, seriously happy to look into my rather sparse, beautiful drawers and cabinets, when you get a creative assignment like taking a photo of your most unusual gadget, it does kind of pull you up short.

Bad for creativity, good for sanity. Eh, we’ll call it a win.

Oh, I almost forgot: I did try to find the weirdest item in my kitchen drawer, just for the sake of completing the assignment, and here’s what I came up with (and this is kind of pathetic, I totally admit, but I don’t have a lot to choose from, as we’ve already established)–my can strainer and my small collection of sorbet spoons that I inherited from Eric’s Grandma Jane. True story, I originally thought those spoons were just, like, play spoons for kids. It took an anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant–where we cleansed our pallets between courses with sorbet–for me to figure out what they really were.

Figures 1 and 2.

So… the end, I guess.

 

The care package project

Things have gotten a little heavy here lately, just because things ARE heavy (well …), so we’re going to take a break from all the wildfire and smoke talk for a second and focus on something lighter.

Like care packages.

Abby and I sent a care package each month in 2014, and that was really fun. I was mildly disappointed that most of the packages arrived late, and one didn’t even arrive, ever, but the whole process of picking someone to receive a package, finding items and sending them off was a highlight of that whole year. Some of my favorites: HERE, HERE and HERE.

This year has been a raging bummer for a multitude of reasons we don’t necessarily have to get into now, but I’ve found myself searching for some kind of project, some kind of something, to just … I don’t know, affirm that goodness still exists, I guess, even though that seems awfully dramatic somehow.

Having Abby and her friends start college this fall presented an opportunity to dust off the ol’ care package project, this time with help from Johanna. I asked all of Abby’s friends to send us their mailing addresses, and so far I’ve got one response.

This friend is going to school in Michigan, and her letter was so nice to receive — and she told us not to send her anything because postage is expensive. That made me laugh. You send me a letter, you are getting a package! (Also, having Abby five hours away suddenly doesn’t seem so far.)

So on Saturday, Johanna and I hit the cute little stationary store to see what we could find. I was going for light, flat items that are practical but cute.

I think we did pretty well:

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I ended up buying two pairs of those socks because Johanna LOVED them and I figured that, as my only child at home, it’s her fundamental right to be spoiled a little. (If you Google that company, know that they are awesome yet prone to swearing, so if you’re offended by, say, the F word, don’t bother.)

A cute journal for jotting notes, a pen in a bright color, an inspirational card (you can do it!), and a couple of organic fruit leather snacks for emergencies (Johanna’s idea) … a flat mailer from The Store That Must Not Be Named (okay, seriously, why are we selling single mailing envelopes wrapped in plastic?! This was the only kind that was not, and it’s too big, but what to the ever) … and BOOM.

First package down. I’m hoping word will spread and then we’ll get more addresses. Johanna and I kind of excel at this sort of thing. (It’s not bragging if it’s true.)

*

Fire update, just because at this point it would be rude to leave you hanging after I’ve talked about it so much: We had a nice, cool weekend, and the forecasted rain actually came Sunday night/Monday (can I get a HELL YEAH!), with more slated for today and tomorrow.

I have never been more excited for rain in my life. Even if now we’re under an emergency flood and landslide watch. Not even joking. I’m beginning to think the Earth is trying to just get it over with and end us already.

All evacuation notices were lifted yesterday afternoon everywhere but the interstate corridor (’cause landslides), as was the boil water order late Friday night (celebrated by cleaning my kitchen), so there’s two less stresses. I’m working on a list for a 72-hour zero waste emergency “take” kit (great idea, Idgy!) — I honestly don’t think we’ll actually have to leave our house, but this experience has taught me that emergencies are unpredictable (uh, you’d think that would have been obvious, and yet) and that I need to add another element to our emergency supplies. So there’s a future post is what I’m saying.

P.S. I was going through photos and found a bunch that Johanna took at the beginning of summer. So she’s responsible for my new header image. There are so many that I like that I’ll probably be switching it up more often.

Evacuation level 1

Let’s see: School was let out early Thursday because of worsening air conditions. The smoke was so thick in the valley that we could smell it inside. We’re under a boil water order. (Not fire related, just aging infrastructure.) School is canceled for today because of said air quality and boil water order. (School started Sept. 5 and we’ve already missed two days.) The sheriff’s office issued new evacuation zone notices and we’re included. But we’re right on the cusp and I still can’t believe it will actually reach us. My editor was out sick Thursday, so it was eight straight hours of trying to stay on top of all of the updates that kept rolling in. Trying to deal with both print and online versions of stories, most of which affect you personally, is kind of a trip. You’re both detached and involved, analytical and emotionally invested. It’s exhausting.

Although our publisher brought us big coffees to “keep morale up,” so that was awesome.

I left work, knowing Johanna was already home in that evacuation zone (level 1 is just “get ready,” so no real threat, but she is my baby) and under that boil water order. My anxiety level was starting to ratchet up, so I made a couple of quick decisions: I was going to the store, and I was going to buy bottled water. And ice cream.

After work is a pleasant time to go for groceries because you can be there with 47,000 of your closest friends. I got the ice cream first because priorities, and then wandered around looking for the water section. Since I never buy water, that took a bit of detective work.

Here’s what I found:

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I guess I should have seen this coming.

Just then, an employee whose name I should know because I’ve been going to this store since I was 9 wheeled out a cart of water bottles — you know, the 24 in shrink wrap kind. And I was like, sigh. 

That is not what I wanted to do. But I did it.

Then I waited patiently in line. Then I drove home.

When I got home, I was like, Jo, let’s cuddle!, so we hung out and talked about our respective days and how a level 1 isn’t that big of a deal, just that we need to start thinking about possibilities. Johanna decided she wants to save her sketch books, pens, American Girl doll and box of cards, and that we should save Abby’s too. I voted for my Kindle and iPod and baby books. We laughed at how all three cats are going to hate being stuck in the same carrier, and devised a way to save her fish as well.

And then we had dinner.

Eric came home and saw the bottled water, and listened to me rant and rave about my day (coffee! No break! Evacuation notices!), and then was like:

We’re not in Texas.

We’re not in Florida.

We have a house and food.

We’re not flooded.

We’re not in the eye of a hurricane.

We’re just on the cusp of an evacuation zone.

And we’ll probably get the all clear on the water tomorrow.

And this is not a crisis.

And I was like:

Oh.

And then I felt slightly better.

So the moral of all of this is that things are terrible, but I guess they’re not that terrible. Perspective is everything.

I am just so, so sick of smoke and fire and alerts and updates and simmering anxiety about it all. I said after last winter that I wouldn’t complain this summer when it got hot, and now I guess I have to promise myself not to complain this winter when it gets cold.

Choosing local

We’ll start today’s post with a tangent that’s only semi-off topic: The fire that’s raging in our county is still raging — I mean, it will until it rains, whenever that might be (and yeah, I get the irony of praying for rain in Oregon, although to be honest, we’re not nearly as wet as people seem to think we are) — but life is finding a new normal. Classes are running as scheduled (after school activities are another story), the school in the evacuation zone has been moved to a different location, and — I’m not sure how this is even possible — but we had a brief reprieve from the smoke Saturday, which was lovely.

Everything smells like smoke, inside and out, and it’s just gross and depressing. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that the interstate is still closed (not surprising, the fire is right up against it). They’re worried about falling trees and rocks.

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I went on a “media tour” of the local fire incident base last week — this was taken at 8 a.m.

I’d joke that it’s awesome that our tourist trap of a town is sans tourists, only none of us can enjoy the quiet anyway because no one is going outside if they can help it.

It’s also not a joke that our businesses are suffering. No tourists, no sales. Our town runs pretty much on a year-round basis, but summer is when everyone makes enough money to get them through the rest of the year. I’m half tempted to take a walk downtown and see what’s open and do a little shopping.

Half tempted. I hate shopping and I don’t need more stuff.*

But we do need groceries. We’re a tourist town, but we’re also an orcharding community. I’ve got cherry trees as neighbors, and my favorite farm stand is less than two miles from my house.

Farm stands also rely on tourist traffic. And farmers have to work no matter what is going on outside.

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Bonus: Super amazing, very local salads!

I’m on a roll anyway with projects that I’ve been putting off all summer, but I decided to throw it down this weekend, purchasing everything I could from the farm stand instead of the grocery store. Dried pinto beans? Give me two bags. Carrots, bell peppers, apples (Honey Crisps are in and they’re Eric’s favorites), more tomatoes and plums, basil, table grapes, red potatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini and summer squash, to eat now and to preserve for later.

Lisa, who runs the stand, thanked me especially for buying the tomatoes — she has a grower who “keeps bringing them in.” And that’s the thing about this particular farm stand: They have their own produce (apples, pears, blueberries) but they also serve as an outlet for other growers in the area.

My $50 isn’t going to save them from these terrible weeks (or months). But I do feel like it shows support and acknowledges that they work hard to feed my family, and I appreciate that fact — we eat very well because of Lisa and her farm stand, and frugal though we are, I don’t care what she charges for her produce. I’ll pay it. She’s a small farmer struggling to make this work. It’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned, and judging by the number of locals at the farm stand this weekend, I’m not the only one who believes that.

And the fact that my pantry and freezers are looking amazing? That’s just icing.

*Another tangent, I’m on a roll: After our terrible winter, one of the organizations in town hosted what was basically a shopping party for locals — sign in, go shop, bring receipts back and get a free tote bag plus be entered into a raffle. And Johanna and I went. (I bought dish towels and I ended up winning chocolate, which I did not expect but the family enjoyed.) Every shop I went into was unfailingly grateful for the show of support. It made a big impression on me — and is probably why I’m thinking about this current crisis in these terms. We might be a tourist trap, but we’re all in this together.

Smoky thoughts

Bean is helping me write this post, which is probably why it’s not going very well, but I admire his enthusiasm. 

The forest fire raging in our county has got me thinking about possessions and minimalism and life in a consumer-driven society. While we aren’t in any danger of being evacuated, our neighbors to the west have been forced to leave their houses behind in a matter of hours and deal with the uncertainty of whether or not there’s going to be anything left for them to come back to later. For some of them, there won’t be.

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Red sun in a smoky sky.

It does kind of put things into perspective.

I’ve been asking myself what I would take if we had to leave. Clothing is replaceable, but you’d need it in a shelter situation, as would you need medicines and toiletries (although I suppose you could buy those items later on). Documents, that seems obvious, but what documents? I won’t lie, the first things I’d grab would be my Kindle and my iPod, but I think I’d also want the girls’ baby books and portraits … and then that brings up the issue of scrapbooks, all of which are filled with photos I can’t replace.

There have been stories on the news about people who have left and what they chose to take. Looking at their filled vehicles, I’ve thought, what junk! But maybe that globe in the front seat is the equivalent of their Kindle …

There have been times in my minimalist journey where I’ve wished I could just walk away from everything I’ve collected and start over. I would make much different choices if I had to do it over again, I tell myself. But actually, I don’t know if that’s true. How do you not have scrapbooks or photos? Or blankets and dishes, clothes and furniture? Kindles and iPods?

Is the answer somewhere in the number of items you let yourself keep? The ability to give away what you no longer want? In not purchasing something in the first place?

I honestly have no idea, and it’s probably not fair to end a post like that. But I don’t know. I’m no closer to figuring out my list of items I’d take for an evacuation any more than I know what the answer is to traveling light upon this Earth. Which is kind of depressing, I suppose, considering I’ve been a minimalist for the past five years.

I’m kind of wondering if this … itch … to sort this out really just means that I need to start going through cupboards and cabinets again. Although I’m not convinced that will help, either.

Also, irony: When I’ve thought about emergency preparedness in the past, I figured it would be a snowed-in / earthquake kind of situation, not a leave-the-house scenario. It’s honestly easier to think of what you need to bring in than what you’d have to take out.

Um, the end, I guess. Wait: Too depressing. Here’s a photo of the boys to end on instead:

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For future reference: Bean is red and Goose is blue.