Category Archives: House and Home

Love me, love my unpainted walls

     The southeast corner of our bedroom had to be repaired two years ago. The drywall corners hadn’t been sealed by tape and mud, so over time the corners pulled away from each other. We had a contractor repair the problem, and said that I’d paint.
     It’s still unpainted.
     The hallway upstairs needs to be painted; the closed doors in my office need to be painted; the drywall in the living room needs to be painted.
     I get tired of painting. So I live with the consequences of not doing it. Consequences that, in the scheme of things, are not so bad. I’m a little embarrassed when I give a tour of the house to someone visiting for the first time, but I just brightly say, “We still have some work to do!” Eventually, I’ll get all of that painting done. Love me, love my unpainted walls…or something like that.
     One of the things that I have learned about myself is that I can live with a certain amount of dirt and mess (as long as no one is coming over) if there are other things I’d rather be focusing on (and there usually are). The dog hair tumbleweeds into corners, the piles of cookbooks and recipes and life’s paper trail multiply, a jacket lives on a chair-back for a week. But I might be absorbed in a good book, or cooking a bunch of new recipes, or planting seeds, and that thing is more important than the other stuff (as long as no one is coming over). I tell myself that we’re building up our resistance to germs. (My mother is probably banging her forehead on her computer desk right now. I know, Mom, you taught me better. Love you!) The exception is my cooking area, which I keep cluttered-but-clean. Because otherwise, gross.
     I know this isn’t particularly socially acceptable—we’re all supposed to have sterile-looking Pottery Barn houses—but I don’t particularly care, usually. There are, of course, those days when I look around and say, “Holy cow, this place is a pigsty!” and I get busy with the vacuum and dust rag. Or there are days, like today, when I have to clean up after our latest construction project. (Today’s is red brick dust from our chimney repair. Worth it, but ugh, that stuff is EVERYWHERE.) But I’d rather read, or write, or try out new recipes, or…you get the picture.
     I’m learning to stop beating myself up about these things, because as that meme/poem/thingy that goes around the internet every so often says, dust if you must, but there’s more to living than a clean house. As long as no one is coming over.

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Again Today

The fox came again today,
trotting along the garden fence and
making a right toward the house.
I watched him from the kitchen window,
where I was washing breakfast dishes that
I decided could wait.

He settled in an ever-expanding patch of grass
beneath one of the spruce trees, and I
settled in a crouch by the office window.
He groomed his ragged tail until
it fluffed out to twice its size, and then
gave the rest of himself a good going-over.

My knees decided we needed a different perch
so we stood at the bathroom window.
After a quarter of an hour, he curled up and
went to sleep, and I went back to dishes,
keeping my eyeglasses on and
checking on him every few seconds.

The fox slept under the tree for about an hour,
gracing us with his presence.
Though I knew that we had nothing to do with it,
I liked thinking that he felt safe with us.

The “Poetry Inside Us All”

Still following along with Georgia Heard. I didn’t quite follow directions…but those who know me probably aren’t surprised.

The Fox

Yesterday, a fox ran by the bay window
where I sat at my computer.
He was a tawny-beige,
black legs, black ears and
a black tuft where his body and tail met.
His tail was lighter, almost blonde,
with a circle of fur stripped away.
Thin and furtive, he moved with no hurry
stopping to sniff the patch of grass where
a bird lost a fight last fall.
I moved from window to window
to follow him, startled
by how close he was to the house.
Winter has been a deep freeze for weeks,
with more clouds than sun.
Watching him, I imagine that
we feel the same hunger.

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Not the best photo…but here’s the fox!

And then it was Autumn

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I went away for five days and when I returned, Fall had arrived in the hedgerow to the north of us, with its mustard yellow, russet red, and piney green. The sun is setting right now and as I type, my view is of a lavender light settling over the mountain just beyond that hedgerow. To the west of us, the sky is still an icy, crisp blue. The light in Fall is one of the reasons I never want to live anywhere without seasons again. The hazy light of summer is giving way to the sharply delineating light of winter, and the transition is magical.

The garden is on its way out for the season. I may throw in some radish seeds, perhaps try some late kale under a row cover, but at this point it is mostly harvest and clean-up. There are collards, kales, and Swiss Chard to cut, de-worm (those things are having a field day right now) and blanch for freezing. The cranberry and cannellini beans need to be picked and shelled. The winter squash are desperately trying to fully ripen before the local rodents gnaw through them. So far, two of the Red Kuri squash have been half-eaten by what look to be rabbits, based on their, um…leavings.

There might be sweet potatoes, though I don’t know yet. The squash vines over-ran their garden area, and covered the sweet potato vines. As the squash vines die back, I’ll be able to get into the sweets and see what we have. It’s possible that, given the amount of compost laid on the bed at the beginning of the season, there are no real roots. I’ve only recently read that sweets don’t like a lot of nitrogen, and there was a good amount given by that compost. Fingers crossed. I’ll know better next year.

The red-skin (I have to look up the kind I planted, because I love them and want them again next year), Yukon Gold, and Russet potatoes seem to have done well. All of the reds died back and have been dug and stored, along with about half of the Yukons and 1/3 of the Russets. The rest are slowly fading, and I figure I’ll be digging those up in about a week or two (depending on the weather, of course).
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There are still tomatoes and peppers, both of which produced beyond my expectations this year. This season, I may be up to about 150 pounds of tomatoes processed by the end of this week, into jams, diced, crushed and whole tomatoes, marinara, plain sauce, and salsa. I’ve also cored and frozen a few pounds, and roasted pounds of cherry and plum tomatoes for quick sauces I can defrost. I was only somewhat joking when I told the tomatoes I needed them to distract me from writing, but they sure took me seriously. Part of the problem is that I think I might not be a very efficient canner–I’ll have to take a look at my process and see how I might be able to speed things up. I found a blog post that talked about an assembly line for prepping the tomatoes, and that helped some. More research to do.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the mistakes I made this season, and will do a post soon about what I can do to have a more productive garden next year. Most of the things I learned are things I “knew” because I’d read about them, but until I had a 40 ft x 80 ft garden full of food in front of me, it didn’t all start to come together. This was a good year for learning.
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From bush to jelly in 82 easy steps

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I woke up yesterday determined to pick some of the Nanking cherries that were ripe and glowing on the bushes. It turns out that picking these beautiful red fruits on a beautiful summer morning requires no determination. Simply being out there with the dogs, eating a few cherries for every few I picked, was a peaceful and enjoyable way to start the day.
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I was so inspired that from there, I went and picked some of the black-cap raspberries that are growing wild (read: taking over) by the pool house (read: rustic shed). That was a little less peaceful, but the scratches all over my arms and legs are worth it. I’m combining them with strawberries and making a cobbler. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it.

The raspberries yielded a quart and a half, and the Nanking cherries yielded 2 and a half quarts, by the time I decided there were other things I might need to do besides picking fruit. The cherries are incredibly tiny, so other than eating them fresh and pulping or juicing them, the eating options are limited–there’s no way I’m going to pit them, ever. I found a recipe online for jelly, and figured, “Why not?”

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I then proceeded to dirty every dish in the kitchen, along with dish towels, counter tops, and cabinets.

At least it’s a beautiful color.

This was not the recipe’s fault, but mine, as I kept waffling about what exactly I was going to do with the four and a half cups of juice the cherries yielded. I finally landed on a jelly recipe on the Pomona’s Pectin box (see the box for instructions for jelly from juice). My jelly is clouded, because I couldn’t be bothered to strain the juice through cheesecloth, but it tastes wonderful. I used a half cup of honey with four cups of the juice, and the final jelly is tart-sweet. We’ll look forward to saving some for the winter, when its brightness will be wanted.

Picking fruit. Making jelly. Roasting chickens. Making chicken stock. Life is slow right now, which feels right after a momentous change. I’m enjoying the steps in making and preserving things, and the opportunity to focus on minutiae, after the grand scope of uprooting my life, is good.
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Alien life-forms, bumblebees, and dinner

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Spring is showing signs of sticking around. The bumblebees are always one of the first signs that there will be warmth again soon. When I first moved to the Northeast, and saw those zeppelins flying around, I was terrified. I thought people were feeding bees steroids. (They might live in Florida, too, but I never saw one there.) I could only obsess about how it would feel if one of those suckers stung me. Now, I’m always ecstatic to see them. And that loud, humming buzz makes me smile. How could I not love such an ungainly, enthusiastic creature? I was thrilled to see two of my favorites–Nanking cherry blossoms and a bumblebee–in front of the house the other day.

The planting continues, with a Gala apple, two Montmorency cherries, a Seckel pear, two high-bush blueberries, and an assortment of ornamental shrubs. One of them, speaking of enthusiasm, is a forsythia. Ohhh, that yellow! I read a very respected gardener’s opinion of forsythia early last winter; she called them gaudy, among other things. To that, I have one thing to say: pssshhhttt. Whatever.

I seem to have settled on my early spring planting uniform:
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I might like bright colors. I might also not care too much about matching when I’m gardening. If this next phase of my life isn’t working out financially, my fashion sense indicates that I could always be a clown, no?

But here’s hoping that this next phase includes cooking for others, and doing tasty farm-to-table things. A recent, simple recipe that we had is something I’d be happy to pay for in a restaurant. It involved a lion’s mane mushroom, which I had never seen before last week, when we got our CSA share. We had one lion’s mane, one oyster, and one large shitake. The lion’s mane is definitely one of those, “So, who do you think first looked at that and thought ‘Hey, I bet that tastes good!'” foods. I had to look it up, because I was sure someone had made a mistake and given us an alien life-form. But, nope.

It turns out that they hold a ton of moisture, and it’s wise to squeeze that out (yes, squeeze away…it can take it…just don’t wring). I took the blogger’s advice and sliced the mushroom thinly, then seared it in olive oil and butter.
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After searing it and the oyster mushroom pieces, I set them aside and slow-cooked an onion with some red pepper flakes. I tossed in a rinsed can of cannellini beans, some salt and pepper, and towards the end, I wilted in some spinach. If my husband wouldn’t have protested his lack of dinner, I would have eaten the whole pan myself. Simplicity in a skillet, and so delicious. The lion’s mane was a little chewy, the oyster mushroom was meaty, and there was a lot of savoriness to the dish. I might actually seek those crazy looking things out, next time I’m at a grocery store.
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My space

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One of my favorite spaces to create each time I move is my “office.” There was a time when that was a literal term. I did a lot of work at home for the literacy institute I worked for, and then the reading program that I wrote for (Hi, Janet! I love you!). Now, though, my office has a lot less to do with work and a lot more to do with writing, reading, dreaming, and staring out of the window.

The office space that I created in our Massachusetts house was lovely. The room is tiny, and its walls are a buttery yellow with white trim. I had tchotchkes and flying ladies and books in every space. It felt homey, and cozy, and comfortable. I have been sad to think about losing it, but I began to gradually move all of the bits and pieces to the New York house about a year ago, and the disassembling actually made it easier to let go.

The one thing I knew I needed so that I could pull the space together was the desk. My stepfather built the desk in my Massachusetts’ office, and as much as I love it, it won’t fit in the new room. (We’re keeping it, and Larry will have the benefit of its awesomeness now.) Larry and I talked about him building me a new one, and then yesterday, poking around in a shop in Vermont, et voila!

I don’t know exactly why the desk is so paramount, but there is something about a beautiful and serviceable writing surface (or, as in right now, typing surface) that makes me happy. This one absolutely glows in the light (well, now it does…it required a fair bit of cleaning…) and is perfectly imperfect. The surface is one large piece of pine, about three inches thick. The edges are in varying states of roughness, and at the back, there’s a chunk taken out on the left side.

But I can sit at the desk, tucked in the bay window of the room, and watch the sun sink behind the mountain to the north. I can sit at the desk and watch deer and wild turkeys cross from the hill behind the house to the woods across the street. From my vantage point, surrounded by windows on three sides, I can watch the headlights of cars approach and pass, briefly illuminating the darkness. I can watch the twin fir trees wave as the wind buffets the house.

And I can see the pool. Swamp? Frog-breeding ground?
We really need to decide what we’re doing about that…

But that’s okay. Because I have my desk.