Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Handmade is the Best

This year, Mother's Day seemed extra special. We were sheltering in place (or whatever you call what we are doing), the malls and restaurants were closed, there was not much shopping to be done or decisions to be made on what restaurant to go to. We never really go out to eat for Mother's Day anyway, because we have lived in the Chapel Hill area for a long time and UNC has graduation on that day, there is no way you can find a place to eat. We started a tradition years ago of a home cooked meal and enjoying just being lazy at home. It was no different this year.

No flowers from a florist, our yard was bursting with blooms, Gerry walked around in the early morning and put this rose, peony and snapdragon arrangement together, it was beautiful. Wesley made a card for me from one of my favorite photos of us.

One of the best gifts though, was a bookmaking "workshop".  I have intended to make books for years and just never found the time for one more craft thing. Wes gathered up all the papers, ephemera and supplies we have both hoarded for years and bundled it all together at the kitchen table. We sat there all afternoon making books, having tea, talking, laughing. Could you ever imagine a more perfect gift!?

We used pages from one of my friend Shannon Bueker's old calendars, postcards we have collected, ticket stubs, saved poems,  yarn spun by a friend, talisman charms, handmade paper, and so many other things. I can't remember when I have had more fun!

 Wesley and I used to take turns walking the dog in the mornings and we would compose a Haiku while we walked and give them to each other. This is a poem I wrote one cold fall day. Once she and Gerry were walking in the woods and came across what they believed to be an Indian burial spot. Hard to know for sure, but it really looks like one. I was walking the dog by that spot and the dog acted so weird, I wondered if we were indeed among the dead......

This is a part of the alter space I created after reading Creating Sanctuary. The book I made fits in perfectly. I'm enjoying this small space and Wesley adds things to it from her walks, a broken turtle shell, a beautiful piece of lichen, feathers, rocks. I have an old rosary there, incense in a small pot I glued broken pottery tiles on. Just little things to represent earth, fire, water and wind. Its a peaceful space I pass by often throughout the day and it gives me a moment to pause and be grateful. I am so grateful for this time we have had as a family to pause, to create handmade gifts for each other and for ourselves. Handmade is always Best!  How has your time in quarantine been? I hope you find some time for peaceful reflection and rest!!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Warehouse shopping and such

Hey there moms, how are ya doin'? Happy Mother's Day!!  
I'm going on day 59 of the shelter in place, stay at home, hunker down "new normal", looking for clues on FB about where to find yeast and toilet paper and flour and such. Yes, I am one of those who got the other new affliction, the need to bake bread. However, my oven has decided now would be the time to stop cooking things in the middle, so I may be about over the bread thing.  I picked up a loaf of rye bread at the grocery and forgot how much I love that bread, definitely a new favorite. Toasted with butter, sautéed spinach and a fried egg on top, oh heck yeah!

Luckily we are not meat eaters as I see the new hoarding item is meat. The meat dept at BJ's Wholesale was completely wiped out except for one section of organic all beef hot dogs. What? Nobody wants organic hotdogs? All you got to do is tell someone there is going to be a shortage of something, and by God it will surely sell out, a self fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.

 I'm feeding my family well, we are having simple but flavorful and nutritious meals and its almost a game now to see how creative we can be with leftovers. We try hard not to throw anything away unless it has some furry stuff or green moldy stuff growing on it! How many things do you know how to fix with kale and spinach?  and beans!

So, today was "Phase I" of the slow opening roll out of North Carolina. (So many new terms in our vocabulary!)  Let's see how the next week goes. Friends reported being out and seeing parking lots full, stores packed, retailers were facebooking saying come see us, wheeee, we are open! So my question there was COVID 19 and today there wasn't? Did I miss a thing?

Imma stay home. Forever. I like it here. I like my family, we are getting along amazingly well, staying out of each others way when we need to, being respectful, helping each other, trying to laugh instead of not laugh.  We are growing food, we cook, we read. Gerry has to go out amongst the fools that want to protest and carry their big army boy guns around, I hate that part of this the most. Check out my FB for a good photo package from Travis Long at the News & Observer in Raleigh. Beyond absurd!!!!!

Let's see... this past week.... I am having to keep a journal to remember what I do during these weeks, another good reason to blog.  Thanks to my friend and tarot card reader/spiritual advisor Carolyn Hill, who by the way did a reading for Wesley over the phone for her birthday if you are interested, just sayin', it was so cool! anyway, Carolyn tipped me off to BJ's warehouse. I haven't been a Costco kinda girl since I stopped packing school lunches, but buying in bulk at the grocery store is sort of embarrassing, you know, filling a cart up with 12 packages of butter, four loaves of bread and all that. 

But at BJ's, bulk is king! I bought soooo much butter! AND, I found flour, AND large quantities of snacks for boredom relief! But best of all, I got the tips on how to acquire paper towels and toilet paper. We have been out of paper towels for three weeks, we got on fine without them, but I like them for certain things, we missed them..... and LOOK how much I got. They only allowed one per customer, but I bought a 12 pack of TP at the end of February and we still have one roll left, (we been going easy on the ass wiping round here!) so this should last a few months, whoop!

Never in my life would I have imagined a time when shopping for these two items would be such a challenge for me. So I got the 411 on how to do it:  Carolyn advised-  I should go on a certain day, sit in the parking lot and watch for carts with these items to make sure the store got the delivery. Sure as hell, EVERY cart that came out had one of each of these in it. Oh Shit, like everybody was there for the same thing!  

I hopped out of the car, followed the blockade wall constructed of vertical standing shopping carts, got a nice sanitized cart, and got in the one way only line. It was like we were a line of ants, all going to the back corner of the store for the same thing. I followed the crowd (trust me when I say this, I NEVER follow the crowd). My heart was beating a little faster than it usually does and I was chewing on my lip behind my mask and talking to myself,  an AHA moment, you can talk to yourself with a mask on and people don't look at you like they do when you talk to yourself without a mask on! Cool. Sad to say, they can't see you smile at them either, and I haven't figured out how to indicate that I am smiling when I am trying to do that southern polite smile thing.... 

Anyway! SCORE! I got my allotted paper products just in time. The very tall shelf that was probably filled that morning was half empty. I shopped around, got lot of other great stuff and thought I would go back and check out the shelf, just to see. It was nearly empty and it was just noon, whew, I barely made it. And I was very surprised by my elation at having achieved this feat and the day was just at noon.....  I tell ya, right now, it is the simple stuff, am I right?

A big shout out to the BJ's in Burlington. They were well stocked, the employees ALL had masks on, some gloves, there was plexiglass for protection, everyone was helpful, kind, polite. 98% of the shoppers had masks on, most of us were following the one way path, though I give folks a pass on this one, its a hard thing to get used to. There was lots of room to spread out, high ceilings for good ventilation. Shoppers were courteous, we all seemed to be walking around learning how to navigate this new shopping paradigm. It went well. 

Feeling so good about this, I stopped at the local Food Lion in Mebane to get a few things I couldn't find at BJ's. Almost no one had a mask on, I got funny looks, the employees did not wear masks, the store shelves were quite empty and no one apparently knows how to read a One Way sign..... or keep their distance. Come on Food Lion.... step it up..... they were making announcements to do the 6' thing, but who listens to a voice coming from the ceiling?  

I left my house at 11am and walked back in the door at 3pm. It took two hours to unpack and disinfect, at 5pm I sat down and pondered what I was going to cook with all these treasures I brought home. Normally I would have said, "lets go out"! 

I hope you all have a safe and a grand Mothers Day! You deserve one

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. We sure are missing our friends at Los Altos and Samantha's Papusas in Hillsborough. These are our go to places for authentic amazing food. Wesley loves Mexican food so she and I spent the afternoon in the kitchen making a fiesta.

I gave her this Turnip Greens and Tortillas cookbook for Christmas and I love how it blends Southern cooking with Mexican cooking and makes the connections so easily. 

Tonight we made our own enchilada sauce, Mexican red rice, homemade corn tortillas for cheese enchiladas, refried pinto beans with hatch chilies we ordered from New Mexico and Mexican wedding cookies from a recipe from our old friend Joe Rodriguez. Can I just say..... this might be one of the best meals we have made since shelter in place!

This is pretty much the state of my kitchen most days. I am getting more and more inventive to keep from being bored with eating, cooking, staying homes, etc.  It's all about the cast iron for me these days. Over the weekend, we had roasted sweet potato and chickpeas with garam masala, cumin and chili powder, with sweet and sour onions caramelized in brown sugar with a splash of vinegar, almond slices roasted in butter, and then topped on a bed of rainbow kale from the garden, coated in a nice olive oil, garlic, and parmesan dressing. (I'm still on a quest to make a kale salad like Pizza Torro in Durham, I'm getting close! ) OMG! Healthy and full of flavor, definitely not boring!

This was also a winner. Noodles tossed in toasted sesame seed oil, and soy sauce, red pepper, chopped broccolini leaves, and chickpea miso garlic sauce with a side of lacinato kale and broccolini with the miso sauce. Trying to sneak in greens wherever I can, we have soooo much!

I am really enjoying cooking more and having the time to plan good meals and even more time for cooking. We have been able to sit out on the porch and eat in the evening and its so nice. Gerry has had a crazy schedule for as long as I have known him and dinners were almost impossible to plan most weeks. During basketball and hockey season he leaves the house around 4pm, so I eat alone or Wesley and I just grab something quick if she is home, or we go somewhere.  Many days, when he worked for a newspaper, he would call at the last minute and say he wasn't going to make it home for dinner. I learned to make meals that could stay warm for whenever he got home.  Then I started working 11am-8pm and what meal do you eat with that schedule? Never mind cooking. We have had more meals together for a sustained period of time than we have had since we met. It's nice.

What are you cooking these days? What do you miss eating?

Monday, May 4, 2020

50 Days

Shelter in Place, Stay at Home, Lock Down, Social Distancing, Quarantine. I have been doing this for 50 days. I have now started having COVID 19 dreams. I didn't at first, but this past week I have had several. Last night I dreamed I was walking around in a crowded mall and no one, including me, had a mask on. I suddenly realized it and started to panic. I tried to find my way out of the mall and couldn't't find an exit.  Anyone else having COVID dreams?

I have only been away from our house five times since this started. Three trips to the grocery and two ride alongs with Gerry,  looking for pictures with him. One day early on, we went out on a cold misty morning and drove through the country, looking for rural pics. The trees were just starting to bud, everything was that brilliant chartreuse green and pastel pink against a misty fog. It was so beautiful and I remember thinking, how could it be so horrible in other places when I was experiencing such beauty.

The first couple of weeks at the beginning of this virus attack I stayed home, I went back and forth from feeling depressed to feeling manic. I slept late, laid on the sofa a lot, watched the news (big mistake) played video games, (yes I do that!), didn't have much to say to anyone. I went out on the porch and cried at least once a day. I couldn't sleep. I missed work. Then, I started cleaning like a person possessed by a cleaning demon. I purged closets, old clothes got tossed, our very cluttered shed got organized, drawers were cleaned out, baseboards dusted, files sorted. 
All the while, the winds blew like March winds do, the rain came almost daily it seemed, the skies were gray, like my mood. 

Second phase was new cooking skills. I think I have read every cookbook I own now. I have prepared many breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. I wash dishes constantly, no need to remind myself to wash my hands, they are almost always in water, washing greens or dishes.  I have learned to make tortillas, new breads, english muffins, pasta, and can fix kale and spinach one hundred different ways. Thank goodness we planted a winter garden last year. The kale s still going strong, lots of spinach in the freezer. Also, thank goodness I bought a freezer when this first began!

Third phase, the weather cleared, the sun came out, days got warmer, flowers started to bloom, starts were ready for the garden. We tilled the rows we grew hemp and flowers in last year, and decided we would grow vegetables instead.  These rows now have six varieties of tomatoes, several 
peppers-sweet and hot, okra, summer squash, Italian zucchini, cucumbers, cantaloupe and watermelon.  I did put in a row of sunflowers, which I think will be amazing as a border wall. I put in some zinnias too, just for fun.  Sooo excited to have 100 foot rows of vegetables in the ground and growing!

Sunrise Bumblebee  tomatoes from our kitchen garden last year, so good!

We also have a small kitchen garden in the backyard where we grew everything last year. It isn't big enough to grow food for a pandemic but its a nice little garden. I am now calling it the beans and greens garden. We have garlic, red and yellow onions from winter planting, cowpeas, bush beans, ground cherries, kale- three kinds, spinach (I just pulled that), basils: cinnamon, lemon, thai and tulsi. Also, epazote, one fig tree, blueberries, blackberries and some flowers for pollination. 

Since I have been working outside, my mood has lifted, I don't watch the news anymore, skim the headlines, edited and deleted much on FB, skim through there briefly, I read more blogs, and have found some new instagrams I really like a lot. There is so much to do when you have a big garden, who has time for a panic every day?! I guess this would be the denial stage, I seem to be going through phases much like the stages of grief I suppose. 

(Sandy Miller, this photo is for you xo)

Yesterday I washed the chickens butts. Never in my life did I once dream I would ever do that, but there it is, it has to be done.... and they seem to really like sinking down into the warm water, they coo and cluck and let me do this unholy thing to them. They give us eggs, I was their ass. 
Seems fair....  my sweet Sybil had to be put down year  before last because she got fly strike, a horrible thing for a chicken's ass. You can look it up, I don't want to describe it here, ick. So we try and keep a close eye on our other girls. We have discovered they love kale, so every day they follow me to the garden gate and wait patiently for me to pick some for them.  

smothered, covered and chunked

And so life goes on, not as planned, but I have never been one to establish a five year plan. Living with a photojournalist for 40 years has taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected, and plans will often change at the last minute. The news doesn't wait for you to plan for it!  There isn't much I miss with this quarantine. I miss normal grocery shopping. I miss going for breakfast with Wesley at her favorite Waffle House. I miss our local Mexican restaurants, but I am learning to cook pretty great Mexican dishes. I miss lattes at Reeds coffee shop, they have the Best coffee,  and I miss meeting our friend Martha Grove there for conversation.  I don't miss much of the social aspect. I like to be alone, I don't like groups of people. People wear me out, I think retail has done that to me more than anything. I like the merchandising part of my work, not so much the people part. I traveled for many of my previous jobs, I loved the travel, but it was time for a rest. This is a nice pause for me. I needed to get some things done here.

this place is in Bennettesville SC, our stop on the way to the beach,
they used to have the best tamales I have ever had!

How are all of you coping? Will this ever end? Last night Wesley asked us after dinner to tell her what we thought was something important to know about life. No pressure there, right?! I answered, but later, I thought about the question again, I went to her room with another answer. Good topic for another blog post, I'll save that for another day!

What is important to you?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Day 5 Creating Sanctuary This house..... (last one)

This is my sanctuary. I found that trying to follow the Creating Sanctuary book to create a space for reflection, intention, rest, whatever was more difficult than I thought. Did I want a space in the garden, in the house (which room) on the porch? My whole house IS my sanctuary. When I was traveling for my work, the minute I turned on to our road off of the interstate, the tension in my shoulders eased off, my body softened and I couldn't get home fast enough. This is the house I have wanted most of my life and I am perfectly happy not having to go anywhere. The lights are soft, the wood stove warms us in the winter, the windows let in cool breezes in the spring, the porch is a sheltered place to enjoy a gentle rain...... it is my safe place.

This is how the yard looked when we first bought the house. When we got Shasta, we fenced in the front yard and it created another defined "room" for us. More opportunity for herbs, flowers and outdoor living space. 

 Our house is not fussy, we cook outdoors sometimes, we track dirt in the house, I don't dust as often as I should, the pine floors are scratched beyond repair, right now as I look around this room, there are coffee mugs and books piled on the table, several pairs of shoes lying around, dog is on the bed asleep and sort of wet from her walk this morning, and a load of clothes in the washer is waiting to be taken out. This is a house that is lived in.

Sometimes we even find Shasta perched on the dining table for a better view of what is going on outside. This is her house too. Sometimes the chickens come up on the porch. They like to hang out with us.

This house is a place where Wesley learned to drive a tractor, where she helped me can tomatoes last year. Where Gerry can decompress from a life as a photojournalist with the news media. A place where I can slow down.  A place that eases demons.

This house has also become our refuge from a Pandemic. It is where we eat all of our meals, grow our food, protect ourselves from an unknown enemy. A contagious virus. I feel so blessed that we found this house several years ago and it is the thing that keeps me sane now. It is my shelter from the storm, my sanctuary. And I am grateful every day for this amazing house that protects me and my family!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Day 4 Creating Sanctuary Have some tea

We drink a lot of tea around here. I have a couple of cups of coffee in the morning to get my brain set in motion, but I have to limit my caffeine intake, so I switch to tea mid morning. I love to walk out in the wet grass on a warm summer morning and pick some herbs for a pot of tea.  I also love to grab some jars from my grandmother's pie safe and mix up a blend.  My new morning routine since starting my blog again is to light a candle on my altar, light some incense, have some coffee, read for a little while, pick some herbs, make some tea. Then my day can get started with a much better attitude. Survival of the pandemic at its finest.

 Besides our herb jars as a resource for teas, we grow an abundance of mint around here. I seem to be obsessed with it.  My new favorite fresh herb blend is Lemon Balm, Peppermint, and Hyssop. I put a handful of fresh herbs in a pitcher, pour a kettle of hot water over them and let them steep. I keep this on the counter and Wesley and I sip on a cup throughout the day. Most of the herbs we have are for common problems: digestive aids, help for insomnia, anxiety (especially right now) and respiratory health. 

This is my favorite mint, peppermint. I grabbed a leaf yesterday while I was working in the garden and it was like eating a peppermint candy! I think my herbs are at their peak in flavor right now. I like to have a cup of peppermint tea after supper. It seems to settle things down and help the food process properly. It also helps with respiratory issues if that's an issue for you.

We planted this Lemon Balm the first year we moved here and it has been coming back stronger and stronger every year. I have a large jar of dried leaves for the winter, but I like to use up the fresh ones while they are around. It is a very nice tummy soother and a great calming herb for tea.

This is a fun mint I added to the mix late last year. It's called Mojito Mint and it does taste just like a Mojito. I like to fill a pitcher with ice and limes and add this mint with sparkling water. So great on a really hot day. It would probably be nice with some Rum, but no one around here drinks liquor, so sparkling water it is.....

I also have some Chocolate Mint and Spearmint around in beds. All of the mint is contained because it likes to travel.  It's not difficult to have some medicinal herbs around. They are easy to grow in pots on a deck or a porch if you don't have a garden. You could probably grow them indoors in a sunny room, though I wouldn't know what that is, I seem to always end up in a dark house where plants suffer until they can get outside in the summer.  You can create a place for herbs in a small space and incorporate them into a sanctuary space very easily. Think about the kind of herbs you would like, what do you need from them? What flavors do you enjoy? 

I like the ritual of tea. I like the implements of tea. The tea ball, tea cups, tea pots, tea strainers. I like the aroma of both fresh and dried herbs. I like growing herbs, I like drying herbs. Mostly though I like that I am putting something natural into my body for healing or immunity instead of a synthetic drug. I find that many times herbs help me and I have no need to rush to a doctor. Of course if I needed something an herb could not address, I would go that route, but luckily, my ailments are mild and a cup of tea is often just the thing I need.  

If you are not a tea drinker, give it a try this summer. It doesn't have to be a hot tea, it can be a really flavorful iced tea, served in a beautiful antique glass while sitting on the  porch in a rocking chair. 
Sanctuary can be anything you want it to be!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Day 3 Creating Sanctuary

Gathering from the garden

Nature is the perfect place to seek sanctuary. A walk in the woods, sitting by a stream, enjoying the sound of the ocean..... during this crazy time, none of that may be possible for many of us. But you can go out in your yard or your garden and bring nature's gifts inside to enjoy as you pass by during your day.

Just being outside and getting some sun has helped me tremendously with this quarantine. When I first started staying home, I took it very literally in my brain, and stayed inside, basically in a curled up ball all day. After a week of that, I had to snap out of it and thankfully it was gardening time so I have been spending more time outside and I can tell a big difference in my mood and my energy. Good medicine!

Last year my sanctuary was my flower garden. I loved being out in the rows of flowers while the bees buzzed around me and the only sounds were the birds singing, the horses across the street trying to get me to notice them and the geese in the pond honking.  It was the calmest place on the planet for me.

I have loved flowers since I was a little girl. As soon as the first daffodils and Iris bloomed, I was out in the yard on Saturday mornings cutting flowers and bringing them in, finding the perfect vase from under the sink and putting them out all over the house. Always a vase by my bed, one on my mom's dresser, some for the living room, and some on the dining table. When the camellias bloomed, I took them to my teachers, floated some in bowls. My mom dd not have a green thumb and didn't really spend any more time outside than she had to, unless it was on the beach tanning. We did have those few bulbs that came from my grandmother (Who did have a green thumb) and we had the typical beach landscaping, cactus, azaleas and ornamental grasses. I made the most of what we had, because when spring came, I wanted flowers!
Now we grow our own vegetables and flowers and my happy place is digging in the dirt.

My roses are blooming right now, and they have never been so big or so fragrant.  I fed them well last year, and it has paid off. I also cut all of that nasty landscape fabric away from them, and I think that helped. I read somewhere that it wasn't good for plants, and after seeing the packed gummy clay beneath, I can believe it!  I will bring them in the house as long as they continue to bloom. When the Japanese beetles arrive, I'll cut them way back and have a second bloom after the beetles leave. What an irritating garden pest!

If you don't have a yard or garden with blooms, you can always pick up a fresh cut bouquet at a local farmers market or a grocery store. Its worth it to treat to yourself and have bright beautiful flowers in at least one room of your house!

If flowers aren't your jam,  just set out a beautiful bowl of fruit or vegetables. Lemons, apples, limes are all really pretty sitting on a counter, even a bowl of peppers can brighten a space. In the winter, you can bring in branches and evergreens. There is always something out there. We grew theses figs last year, and I almost hated to eat them, they were so pretty on the table! 

I picked up this garden journal last year titled The Mindful Gardener. It offers prompts for journaling and blank pages for drawing garden spaces and really helps to inspire me when planting. I want a garden space that also feels like a sanctuary. Gerry wants 100 foot rows of tomatoes, so this year we compromised. We have a small kitchen garden behind the house that I am now calling the beans and greens garden, and then we planted six 100 ft rows of vegetables where my flowers were last year for food, now that we have this pandemic it seems to make more sense to grow vegetables rather than filling those rows with flowers. Today I ordered more beans and peas. Cannot wait to sit on the porch shelling peas in the evening!

How is your sanctuary coming along? I am feeling better just writing this blog, moving away from Facebook has been the healthiest thing I have done for my brain in a long while...... tell me how you are finding your sanity in these times..... lets share ideas!!