Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gratitude

Some weeks, I am way better at being than other weeks.  This has not been one of those weeks. I have managed to take down the Christmas decorations…mostly, and vacuum the living room and dining room. It only took two days to get both rooms done. I have managed to do all of my dishes, though not always right after I used them. I have managed to walk the dogs in bone-chilling weather, except for today, and I managed to get them to the groomer and pick them up without one of them leaping out of the back of the car while I was trying to get their leashes on them.

There have been two naps. Today’s will probably have me awake until 2 a.m., which means I’ll need another one tomorrow–it’s a vicious cycle, you know.

Last night, I went out to dinner with friends, and I was talking about the garden and needing to place my seed orders.  Then I heard myself say, “I don’t know why I bother. I’m mainly just feeding me. My fridges (plural) and freezers (plural) are stuffed with last year’s vegetables, and I still have tons of canned stuff. Who am I growing a garden for?”

Um.  What?

Soooo…I’m whining about having too much food from the garden that brings me so much joy? While I’m out to dinner?

Hi. My name is Arsehole.  Nice to meet you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the less-than-awesome aspects of our lives, isn’t it?  What I was really whining about was the fact that my husband and I don’t live together (Because he’s supporting us while I live my dream of growing food and starting a food business.  Poor, poor me.), and so the food that I’m so happily growing for us winds up often being for me, which means it takes a long time to eat it all.  I could bring it to a food pantry, but I’ve been told that the ones around me won’t take fresh food (don’t get me started).

We all know–or I would like to think that we all know, and if it isn’t true, don’t tell me, okay?–that someone, somewhere (lots of someones, actually) have it waaay worse than we do.  That, in fact, our lives are pretty damned awesome.  But everything is relative, isn’t it?  And so during the weeks that I’m really missing my husband, or bummed that I’m not working more, or just plain out of it, I get trapped in the woe-is-me cycle in my head. It slows me down, and makes me bored with myself (cue the Springsteen). I take a lot of naps, and take multiple days to get a room vacuumed.

I’ve learned two things that help when this happens.  First, don’t beat myself up.  The laundry starts to pile on the floor because the cabinet is too full to stuff any more clothes into, the dying flowers drop their petals on the table and I leave them there (How’s that for a woe-is-me image?!)…and it’s okay.  I’ll snap out of it and get it all done.  I’m not perfect, because I’m human.

Second, a good way to snap out of it is to be grateful.  When a whine creeps into my thoughts, I squish it with a reminder that my husband loves me, or my dogs are awesome, (even with 5:45 a.m. vomit wake-up-calls…I’m talkin’ to you, Montana, you adorable rotten animal) or my friends and family are supportive, or…  There are a lot of grateful reminders I can give myself.

Grateful people are happy people. So while I work on snapping out of my funk, I’ll remind myself againandagainandagain that I have an embarrassing wealth of things for which to be thankful. And I’ll move that pile of laundry to the top of the washing machine, where no one can see it.

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We have lift-off

“Say yes.  Whatever it is, say yes with your whole heart & simple as it sounds, that’s all the excuse Life needs to grab you by the hands & start to dance.” -Brian Andreas, storypeople.com

A year and a half ago, I said “no” to continuing to teach under conditions that I found (find) reprehensible for students and teachers. I left teaching, a profession I loved (still love) and expected to do until I die. After 21 years, it was like being just out of college again.  Worse, actually. When I left teaching, I had no idea what I wanted to do, other than the vague notion that I wanted it to be something relating to food.

For the first three months, I threw myself into the garden.  Then I threw myself into putting up what I had grown in the garden. (I still twitch a little when I think of all of the tomatoes I canned in October of 2014.) Then winter set in, and I threw myself into sitting at the kitchen table and wondering what the hell I had done.

While there is a lot that’s appealing about not working, it turns out that I function better with a schedule, and the feeling that I’m contributing to my family’s coffers.  At least, contributing more than canned tomatoes and blanched, frozen kale. It felt good to grow most of our produce that first year, and again this year. Really good.  But it didn’t feel like enough.

During that first autumn, I struggled with what the “food thing” might be.  Then one night, friends were here for dinner.  One of them said, “Hey! I have an idea! Why don’t you cook for us?” I laughed, then said yes.

The idea for a personal chef business took root in my gray matter that night, and it worried around in there until I began tentatively saying to people, “I’m starting a personal chef business.  If you know anyone…”

Lo and behold, people DID know people that might want to use a personal chef, and two friends recommended me to two families that I wound up working with this past summer.   Then one of those friends asked if I might want to help her with a large order of the (wonderful) energy bars that she makes, (‘Dak bar plug! If you see them, buy them.  They’re great!) and a few months later, she asked if I might want to help with a catered dinner. Yes, and yes again.

All of this saying yes helped me understand what I do and do not want to do as a personal chef.  Once I knew that, it was time to start a business.

Gulp!  Me, start a business?  I don’t have a business degree, or management experience, or any of a million other excuses that I used to slow myself down. What did I know about starting a business? Not much, but neighbors and friends did, so I asked a million questions.

Which brings us here.

I’ve started a business: My Garden, Your Table: A Personal Chef Service.  It’s official. I have a Certificate of Authority that says I can collect sales tax for the State of New York (lucky me).  I have business insurance.  I have a business certificate from the county. I have business cards.  And because I am still addicted to school supplies, I have pens with my business name and number on them.

I have a family that did a two week trial run of my services, and just tonight, committed to six months of me cooking for them–once a week, a meal to eat the day I make it, and another for later in the week. They said they have two other families that are also interested in the service.

Holy shit.  I started a business.

It all started with, “Yes.”

Review of Local Contractors–Willsboro, New York and surrounding areas

When my husband and I bought our house, we knew no one in the community. The house was old and in major disrepair, which meant we needed to find contractors who could help us with the things we couldn’t do ourselves (most of it…). Not knowing anyone made this a challenging process, especially since there weren’t many reviews we could find. While Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau are options, I: a) don’t believe you should have to pay for information about a business’s work, and b) don’t believe an organization that makes money from the businesses it has information on is going to always be objective.

Because finding information has been a challenge, we’ve had some hit-and-miss experiences. Some were simply frustrating, but others left us with dangerous results that had to be redone. And working with some of the businesses has been an utter delight.

The reviews here are based solely on my dealings with the businesses, and are alphabetical by business name. As we use more of them, I’ll update the information. The beginning of the review will have mostly factual information, and I’ll put my opinions at the end. My hope is that this might help people who use the Internet to search for information make decisions about businesses they are considering hiring.

Belzile, Gilbert (Electrician)

Work performed: troubleshoot power issues with two overhead lights and a double-outlet box in the kitchen; run new wire for one of the lights and the outlets

Ability to reach by phone and/or internet: does not often pick up–has happened once in seven phone calls, returned my phone call once out of six messages; does not seem to have an internet presence
Cleanliness: swept up and disposed of debris
Cost: $35.00/hour plus the cost of materials
Demeanor: polite, willing to explain what he was doing and answer questions, good with the dogs (we have two; it matters to us)
Timeliness: arrived 15 minutes to half an hour late for all three appointments
Work: When he left after performing the work on 9/21/15, both overhead lights and the outlets worked. He had to run new wires to the circuit box in the basement, and move the outlet box about 18 inches to the left of where it had been. I told him we would repair the channel left in the drywall and the hole where the former box had been. We then went out of town for a week, and upon return had a guest. On Sunday, 10/4/15, the guest (my dad) moved a chair in the library behind and to the left of the kitchen (if you ran a straight line without the interference of the dividing walls, it would be about two feet to the left and three feet below the new outlet box) and found a foot-long length of exposed electrical wire coming out of the drywall and going into a hole drilled into our finished wood floor. From the debris left around the top of the hole and the splinters in the bottom of the hole, it was determined that the hole was drilled from the first floor into the basement. Disregarding the ragged hole in the drywall and the hole in our wood floor, the exposed wire was not to code and could be dangerous, especially if one of our dogs had decided to chew on it.
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I called Mr. Belzile Monday morning and left a message; called again on Tuesday afternoon, and finally reached him mid-morning on Wednesday. He denied any knowledge of the exposed wire and said he would be at the house Thursday morning at 8. He arrived at 8:30 on 10/8/15, looked at the wire, and continued to state he had no idea he had done it, stating that he thought the wire had gone down between the walls. He apologized and commenced repairs, pulling and re-running the wire after cutting a new hole in the kitchen wall, about three feet below the new location of the double outlet. He began repair on this hole and the one in the library, and in addition began repairs on the channel and empty box area that we said we would fix. When he left around 11:00, he stated he’d be back in the afternoon to finish repairs. He did not return or call.
At 4:45 I called and left a message, and again at 5:15. In the second message, I stated that if he didn’t return my phone call, I’d assume he was returning first thing Friday morning, 10/9/15. There was no phone call, and he did not show up.
There are still all of the drywall repairs to be finished, the painting to be done, and the hole in the floor to be fixed.

My opinion: This has been an altogether unpleasant situation. While I appreciate the fact that he did the repair of the wire and the beginnings of the repairs on the drywall, this does not change the fact that Mr. Belzile lied about his knowledge of the wire, because the hole in the floor could only have been drilled while standing in the room it is in, unless he owns a drill that is about five feet long, with an adjustable 75-90 degree bend in it. He moved the chair to cover the damage after it was done, and I can only assume that he would have been perfectly happy to have left an exposed electrical wire hanging out of the wall for as long as it took to discover it. Fortunately, the humans discovered it before curious dogs did. Bottom line, I would not hire him again, and would recommend to anyone asking that they not do so.

Carriage House Landscaping Service (Landscaping and Hardscaping)

Work performed: spring 2013–enlarged the garden; spring 2015–installed a stone patio and supplied compost for the garden

Ability to reach by phone and/or internet: easy, as is contact via email and on Facebook
Cleanliness: both jobs were left tidy, with minimal to no work required by me
Cost: by the job; provides a detailed written estimate and both times came in at the estimated cost
Demeanor: polite, willing to explain what is being done and answer questions, good with the dogs (we have two; it matters to us)
Timeliness: has always arrived on time for appointments
Work: Our first dealings with the Carriage House were for enlarging the vegetable garden; they added a 20’x40′ area, requiring removing the top soil down a foot, bringing in a bed of sand, and adding a mix of top soil and compost to the surface. This surface area was covered with garden fabric anchored down by earth staples. They were able to seamlessly add this to the existing garden.
The second job the Carriage House did for us was a stone patio in front of our sliding glass doors. The job took one and a half days and required hand-digging of the area because of the existing garden. They made sure that the patio was sloped so that water runs away from the house, and they followed the curves of the garden with minimal (unavoidable) damage to the plants around the edge.

My Opinion: I would (and will) hire the Carriage House for future jobs. Pat, the owner, is professional, friendly, and skilled at what he does, and so is his crew. I highly recommend them.

Woltner-Summit Contracting (general contractors, specializing in energy-efficiency)

Work performed: did a NYSERDA engergy audit for us, and performed work based upon the recommendations–insulated the attic with cellulose insulation to an average depth of 10″, reduced air infiltration by sealing areas between the conditioned living space and the attic and basement, repaired wind-damaged soffit area

Ability to reach by phone and/or internet: cell phone is best, though messages left on the office line are returned; email works–calls and emails usually returned with 48-72 hours
Cleanliness: work areas swept and debris disposed of
Cost: by the job; provides a detailed written estimate and came in at estimated cost
Demeanor: matter-of-fact but polite, willing to explain what is being done and answer questions, good with the dogs (we have two; it matters to us); has a dry sense of humor that took me a bit to get, but which I came to enjoy
Timeliness: has always arrived on time for appointments
Work: The initial energy audit was thorough, and Ed let me ask him a million questions. He wanted me to understand what he was doing.
The work was done by his crew. Ed stopped by each day. The first NYSERDA-driven estimate included additional work in the basement, but Ed was reluctant to do this because we had a wet spring and early summer, which meant our basement was incredibly damp. He didn’t want to seal that moisture in, possibly leading to rot in the wood. A field-change was made to the estimate, removing that phase of the work.

My Opinion: Ed and his crew (who were polite, efficient, and as unobtrusive as possible) are knowledgeable about the work they’re doing and up-to-date with energy-efficiency developments. They monitored-and-adjusted based on what the house was telling them, rather than simply going ahead with the work. I would use them again, and highly recommend them.

19 Carrots

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It’s been so long since I posted here, I didn’t know WordPress had added such a handy “new post” button to the tool bar. Bear with me as I creak back into the swing of things.

Grow:
Upon reflection, I’m thrilled with how the garden went last season. I still have a freezer full of vegetables, tons of tomatoes, Red Kuri squash, a single Butternut squash, and a few Blue Hubbard squash big enough to feed the town. The pickled collard greens recipe I used turned out to be outstanding, and I’ll be doubling what I preserve next year. The other recipes for canning turned out equally wonderful (Thanks, Food in Jars!) We finished the Yukon Gold and Red Norland potatoes, and still have a few pounds of Russets, along with a few pounds of onions. I think there are two bulbs of garlic left (I planted a ton more this fall–there can’t be too much garlic in this house).

On the “Hmm, that didn’t go so well” front: I grew 19 carrots and 23 beets. These do not a winter root cellar fill. Not that I got that built, mind you, so it’s a moot point. Nor did I get the portable green house built, though I have the materials. I also really need to figure out the watering situation, especially now that it looks like the town’s water bills will be going up considerably.

The sweet potatoes were mostly bust. I got about a pound of tiny roots to eat (and they were delicious!). I’ll be skipping them this year, since there are farms in the area growing them organically, and they take a lot of room in the garden. I’ll fill that space with other root vegetables (I hope).

I ran out of time to get the garden completely cleaned up…but that will give me something to do as I pace the rows in April, wishing I could plant things. I picked two bunches of escarole in mid-December, saving them from shivering under their row cover, and that was the end of fresh-from-my-garden food for the season, which makes for a looong haul until May. Though, it was a good run from June to December. I planted an indoor herb garden using a “kit” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and an apple seed that had sprouted inside an apple I cut up to eat (it’s two inches tall!) and that’s been the extent of fingers-in-the-dirt-time for me. I’m starting to get a little angsty.

But I’ve made my seed-starting chart, ordered seeds and seedlings, (I am once again the definition of over-enthusiastic here) shrubs and trees. Because eventually this snow will melt, and the garden and I will be ready to go again.

Cook:
The picture above is evidence of a labor of love: squeezing key limes for their juice. My sister sends me a box of citrus for Christmas every year, and I asked for lots of key limes in the most recent one. She delivered, ’cause she’s awesome like that, and I have about two and a half cups of key lime juice in the freezer, waiting to be made into pie. I know there are other things I could do with it, but in this house, key limes=key lime pie.

Today, I made a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast that I could probably eat every day of my life. I sauteed a quarter cup of chopped onion, the greens from a grocery store bunch of beets (because I grew 23 of them, and we’ve already eaten the greens), half of a peeled, chopped Cortland apple, and some nutmeg in salted butter until the greens were wilted and the onion and apple were soft. I sandwiched some of that between two pieces of sharp cheddar cheese and slices of sourdough bread, and griddled it up. Starting the day with a kitchen that smells like melted butter is not a bad thing, let me tell you. And the sandwich was earthy and cheesy, with pops of sweetness from the apple and crunch from the bread…I think I’ve just talked myself into having it for dinner.

Read:
Oh! There have been so many fabulous books! Here’s a partial list:
The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Book 3 in The Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater
Tell Me by Joan Bauer
Our World by Mary Oliver, with photos from her deceased partner, Molly Malone Cook
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

There are more, but that’s all I can remember for now. In other news, today was the first meeting of my Battle of the Books team at our local library: two fifth graders, a sixth grader, and a seventh grader. We have to read six books chosen by the contest’s panel, and in May we’ll compete in a Jeopardy-style tournament with other teams from around the region. The kids are a lively, delightful group, and I enjoyed our 45 minutes together. I have missed–sometimes gut-wrenchingly so–working with kids, so today was really, really good.

Write:
Yeah. Well. Hmph.
Look at these really cute dogs!
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What I Won’t Miss (an incomplete list)

Standardization

standardized tests

the use of an archaic points-based system for grading, because we can’t/won’t do the hard work of finding a better way (and because school districts won’t give teachers the time to do the real, hard work around rethinking assessment)

incompetent colleagues

incompetent administrators

uncaring colleagues

uncaring administrators

helicopter parents

absentee parents

the legislative belief that it’s only our schools’ job to raise children to be kind, thoughtful people

grading papers (though I’ll miss reading student writing)

the belief that it’s only the English teacher’s job to teach reading and writing

the belief that kids only need to read in school

standardization

overpaid administrative positions

being on the receiving end of the notion that teachers don’t deserve fair pay and benefits

bells

three hours (sometimes four) between bathroom breaks

standardization

What I Will Miss:

my students

 

 

 

 

 

Fagardening

Hello, farm.

I find I often say “farm” self-consciously, even when I’m saying it in my head. Our land did used to be a farm, so it’s true in that sense. But to talk about what I want to do as farming seems a bit grandiose. On the other hand, to simply call it gardening doesn’t seem big enough. Am I farmening? Garfarming? Fagardening? 

Lord, that last one sounds like an egregious swear word, in Italian.  So no, I’m not fagardening.

I don’t know what to call it, but I do know this: I’m really excited to get started. The school year of the very long goodbye has been emotionally draining, and I’m ready for the transition. I feel like a traitor to my kids for saying that, but this has been hard and painful, and I’m ready to let the scabbing over and then scarring/healing start.

We continue the season of long beginnings tomorrow. Into the ground: cabbage, escarole, Swiss Chard, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings. Probably in the rain. But it will be okay.

It will all be okay.