Making It, Faking It

What do you find worthwhile to make and what would you rather buy? Let’s compare notes:

Make:

  • Stock: I like to roast a chicken whole in the slow cooker and then toss a carcass or two back in to cook on low overnight. Easy peasy.
  • Fancy bread (mostly ciabatta, 90% of the time): I will occasionally buy stuff, especially at the farmer’s market, but Pip eats almost nothing I make myself except ciabatta, so that’s a pretty strong incentive.
  • Iced tea: This is new, but J’s gotten into unsweet tea in a big way, and it’s sooooo much cheaper than buying bottles and then I don’t have to lug the bottles inside with my wimpy pregnant upper body (non)strength.
  • Pizza crust: It took awhile for me to find a bread machine recipe for the dough that I loved, but now I’m never going back.
  • Cookies, brownies, cake: I am not against a box cake (ok, I love box cake), but I recently suggested we make one and Pip was genuinely perplexed, and I realized maybe I’m doing some small part of this real foods thing right with him, even if he mostly subsists on fruit and Goldfish. He loves to bake, so I bake, and sometimes, he even eats it.
  • Cream of chicken soup: Use that stock!
  • Biscuits: These are one of the few things I can make now that are honestly my favorite way to eat them. Not that they’re objectively the world’s best biscuits, just that they’re exactly the way I like them. Do you have anything like that for you?
  • Granola: I like to mix it into my (storebought! for shame!) Greek yogurt.

Buy:

  • Bagels, sandwich bread: although I just ran across a recipe for bagel dough in the bread machine, and my brother-in-law made some beautiful bagels…
  • Pie crust: My mom makes terrific pie crust and I struggle to even work with frozen crust.
  • Pumpkin purée: Martha Stewart says this is OK.
  • Ice cream (90% of the time): It gets rock salt everywhere to make it!!
  • Pasta sauce (90% of the time): The only time I’ve routinely made it is when we’ve had a CSA, and that hasn’t been since Pip was born. Might be worth resurrecting, though, because I love the fresh taste when you puree it a bit and don’t cook it forever.
  • Yogurt: Trying to gather the discipline to do this again, because I have a yogurt maker and it saves a ton of money, but it’s so tedious.
  • Canned beans (vs cooking from dry): Why can I not make normal beans? This is supposed to be easy!!

I could list thousands of others, especially if I spent a little time looking at DIY tags on Instagram (no, I don’t make my own pickles!). Things are always in flux, of course, based on where we are in the life of our family. Sometimes it’s a struggle to make toast for the kids when I’m really morning sick, and sometimes, when the baby’s pretty old and I’m not pregnant yet and everyone’s napping reliably, I can really branch out and take on new skills and recipes.

What are your make-from-scratch priorities?

Granola for our mailperson last Christmas

Being Cool About a Reno

We have only been homeowners a little over a year and have only had a grownup salary for two years, so we still find it hard to spend even an unnecessary $100 on a rug for which we have no pressing need. So we might have limped along with lame white (!!!) laminate counters for quite awhile if not for MOLD.

Mold. Also, dirty dishes.

Our house was built in 1940 and I think the cabinets are original. They are beautiful, but mean we have a weirdly narrow counter, which, paired with no backsplash, means the back wall gets soaked. So, mold.

Are you bored yet? I don’t blame you.

We discovered the problem early in my morning sickness but didn’t mobilize till late first trimester because I am not a glutton for punishment or crying in the countertop swatch section of Home Depot.

Instead I just read about countertop materials and sinks and cried from the comfort of my own bed.

 

Be thou my vision. AND NO I DO NOT HAVE ATTRIBUTION I AM A BAD LIBRARIAN!!!

 

 

 

And after all, I would kind of recommend making renovations after two months of fairly crippling illness. Otherwise, I might have chosen soapstone instead of imitation soapstone quartz, because sure I’ve got time and energy to oil my counters (and move all the kitchen detritus off them each time). I definitely would have chosen the period appropriate and on trend cast iron sink, possibility of chipping be damned. I would have gone apron front even though there are well-documented drawbacks. I would have gotten mad that the first sink we ordered didn’t fit and maybe fussed at the sales rep, instead of taking a nap and going back to the drawing board.

As it is, you have a really reasonable idea of what your ambition/cleanliness level is after limping by for weeks. And so I made practical decisions for what I hope is my forever kitchen. Because in the life of a family, this probably isn’t the last time we will lack the time and energy for extra kitchen upkeep.

And at the very least, we won’t have white laminate anymore.

Easy solution: Keep counters tidy by removing them! (Mid-reno. Will post an update when they actually get around to installing.)

A Mother’s Rule of Life

I’ve asked it before: How do you decide what of all possible things to go deep in, when, as a stay-at-home mother, you’re a jack of all trades?

It would help to have a job description. As it is, I almost always have the nagging conviction I should be doing something other than whatever I’m doing at that moment. Last winter I read the Rule of St. Benedict and this winter I fell in love with the cloistered world of In this House of Brede — its quiet peace, and sense of purpose, and hard work, and order.

This reading primed me, I think, for A Mother’s Rule of Lifewhich is a pretty divisive book in my tiny microcosm of Catholic married mothers who are home full-time. Some friends worry it’s a temptation to rigidity; the one who lent it to me found it tolerably helpful in prioritizing; an Insta friend adored it. In it, Holly Pierlot promises to walk you through developing your own Rule, if you happen to find yourself a Catholic married mother at home rather than a nun in a convent.

Pierlot defines a Rule as “a reflection of the aims and mission of vocation,” and much of the book led me to fruitful consideration, as I followed her advice and took notes. Eventually I decided this: Our aim, as a family, as a household, is to progress in kindness and holiness through love of God, love of each other, and love of learning. From there, you take the tasks you believe are most essential to your vocation, prioritize them, and slot them into a schedule. If you were a Brede nun, it would involve singing the liturgy, working at your talent (translation or writing or gardening), common labor, prayer. For me, in this stage, it involves less liturgical singing and more laundry.

If my aim is to progress in kindness and holiness, I need to not over schedule, but I do need to keep things clean enough that I don’t flip out on my sweet family. I need to practice discipline so I’m not always fighting fires, but build in time for the seeming non-essentials of learning and reading. I need to take breaks from the fun (the latter) and the challenging (the former) to play with my children, to do nothing much with my husband. If I can just remember that, I feel like the rest will fairly fall into place.

The book has obvious weaknesses. I think it’s ordered badly, so that the rationale for a Rule comes at the very end, instead of as an argument before launching in to the nitty gritty of scheduling errands and drawing up monthly rotations. The writing style also isn’t my cup of tea, but Pierlot does have a knack for crystalizing a lot of the ideas that have been kicking around in my head while bringing in pretty compelling authorities. She also seems to assume the existence of bigger kids to share the load, which is hard when I only have littles, but it does remind me to be on the lookout for places Pip can help — putting away silverware, running the vacuum extension hose thing, which he adores.

I was surprised, reading, to discover just how much of a schedule we’ve already drafted toward, my routine-loving children and me. And writing that schedule down started to show me some gaps where maybe, after all, I could choose to be still, could choose to give to prayer, could choose to use for writing or frivolous reading or napping without guilt. It’s also, unexpectedly, giving me permission to let done be done, helping silence the guilty conviction that there’s always something I should be cleaning, or something noble I should commit to, because there I have, in writing, what my priorities are, and what qualifies as “done.”

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Ethical Groceries Outside the Farmer’s Market


So, everyone knows we should be shopping local. But what about when the farmer’s market is closed, or the grocery budget is tight? Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Closeout grocery stores.

Back in Massachusetts, we had one of these that sold all shelf-stable stuff, mostly organic, often dented or about to expire. It’s where we got almost all of Pippin’s squeezy foods so he could live the infant good life on his parents’ grad school budget. Here in Virginia, there’s a more full-service grocery with lots of baking supplies, an unpredictable stock of fresh and frozen food, and horse-and-buggy parking. To make this kind of shop work best, you really need to either a.) keep completely flexible on your grocery list or b.) shop two stores. I usually opt for the latter.

Another point in favor of closeout grocery stores is that, as with shopping second hand at thrift stores, you’re not directly profiting producer, so (maybe?) you don’t have to worry as much about whether the meat is ethical and the farming sustainable. (Unless you’re really committed to eating organic for health reasons, of course.)

  • Ownership of the grocery store.

Is it locally owned? (Do you care?) Is it Christian? (Do you care?)

  • Employment practices of the grocery store.

Costco is a great place to workWal-Mart, less so. When we lived in Massachusetts, I liked shopping Aldi because the savings were all about shifting the labor to the consumer: you bagged yourself, you rented and returned a cart, etc. It felt better than saddling the employees with the same amount of work for less pay, as some businesses do.

  • Donation practices of the grocery store.

In some places you’ll only have the choice of big box stores and multinational chains, but consider, if you can, whether the grocery store donates its surplus to local food pantries. This may take some digging, but in Massachusetts, where J spent a stint driving the food donation truck, some grocery stores donated and some trashed their surplus. We tried to support places that supported the poor in our community.

What other rules do you apply in grocery shopping?

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

You’re pretty burnt out by this point. You have one or two or five little Christmas elves actively undoing all you clean. Or you’re packing to go out of town and someone’s velvet Christmas dress doesn’t fit, nor will everything cram in the car.

Either you have your Christmas presents ready to go and are trying desperately to find places to hide them, or you don’t have them yet and don’t know when you’ll shop without the recipients riding around in your shopping cart.

Maybe your car is accumulating snow melt water on the floorboards as you drive from errand to errand. Maybe it’s not snowing yet, but the 40 degree rain is as bad. Maybe this was supposed to be your quiet, contemplative Advent.

On the radio, in the car, in the stores, at your kid’s lame Christmas concert, are fairly ridiculous secular Christmas songs. They jar in your head hours afterwards. But some of the lyrics linger:

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

I’ll be home for Christmas, where the love-light gleams.”

Why are so many Christmas songs about home? It’s something I noticed while driving around snowy Western Mass a couple Advents ago, morning sick and homesick. Pip was in the backseat, J on a multi-state interview tour, Scout a tiny Charizard in my belly, and everything was in flux. The radio played, I drove to Target for pregnancy-craving beef jerky, I cried. There’s no place like home for the holidays, indeed.

Maybe you’ve had Christmases like that, where nowhere in particular felt like home, or you longed for Christmases past. (“They’re singing ‘Deck the Halls’ but it’s not like Christmas at all…“).

And now you have a home where the love-light gleams if only you could find it under half-written Christmas cards and cookie sheets that still need cleaning.

Advent is about making room, in practical ways, in lofty, interior ways. We give away toys, carve out space for the tree, try to find a little extra time in our day. We make space for the people, like Mary and Joseph, who needed a comfortable place to rest.

Embrace hygge. Embrace the shabby hospitality Mary extended to shepherds and kings alike. All you can do is what you must, as kindly as possible.

Advent can’t always be contemplative and slow, or picture-perfect, either, and Christmases can’t always be white. But if we look real hard, I do believe the love-light is there, in our homes, in our churches. And our work, as homemakers, to amplify that light, to keep it alive, is nothing short of the work of story and song.

“Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.”

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Advent: candles, wreathes, take out, pajamas.

Google Drive for Life

I first encountered Google Drive in library school. A lot of my program was distance learning, and so when I’d collaborate with a classmate who lived in New Hampshire or Rhode Island, it was helpful to be able to pass projects back and forth using Google Drive. Later, working a tiny job when Pippin was a baby, Google Drive allowed me to collaborate on a grant application from home during nap time. Now that I’m footloose and fancy(/job-) free, I still love Google Drive for a variety of tasks:

  • Thanksgiving spreadsheet: master shopping list of what is being served, who’s making it, when to make it, and ingredients to shop for. (I break that list up by stores, because I am insane.)
  • Christmas and birthday gifts spreadsheet: track your purchases, and record ideas when you don’t have a chance to shop, or links to items you’re considering.
  • Addresses: I have a master list of everyone and then a separate one I cut and paste onto for Christmas cards. This also helps with travel, because I can easily send a postcard, look up the address of a friend’s house we’re visiting, and get a thank you note mailed promptly.
  • Party prep: I learned this from event planning for library programs. Include these categories: food, activities, RSVPs, do/make/buy/borrow, etc. You can also cut and paste photos and URLs. It’s not as pretty as Pinterest, but it’s very handy.

How do you use Google Drive to make homemaking and hospitality easier?

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Insourcing and Outsourcing 

I really like checklists. I like knowing concretely that I’ve done my work, which is one of the reasons I liked menial tasks like shelving even once I had my MLS. I like report cards.

And that’s one of the hard things about staying at home full time.

Because I can fill my day with any combination of tasks, but I’ll never be able to do all the things.

I make my own bone broth, my own granola, my own pizza crust. I don’t make pickles, or yogurt (though I’ve tried), or hummus. I can embroider, but I can’t knit. I’m not much of a gardener, though I might like to be. I mend shirts that need buttons, but the other day I threw out a cookie sheet because whatever was on it (baked-on potato starch???) was so thick and unyielding that I refused to scrub anymore. I like to bake and I don’t like to iron, so I do a lot more of the former than the latter, and people might be able to tell. (Wrinkles, waistlines.)

 

Most of the jobs I have had centered around scheduled hours and specific tasks. If I showed up for the scheduled hours most of the time and performed most of the specific tasks, I was doing well.

I like doing well.

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Stay at home motherhood is not that way. I need to take care of the kids, keep them safe and tolerably clean and reasonably happy, and it would be good if, barring illness and crisis, I made sure we had regular meals and enough clean laundry to limp by.

Beyond that, it’s kind of up to me, and it’s kind of bewildering.

I’m listening to Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect right now, and while that’s helping, I’m also remembering my reflections years ago on her essay, “Things I Don’t Do.”

My question, I guess, is this: How do you, as a homemaker, choose? Frugality? Interest? How do you know if you’re doing a good job? How do you feel good about the decision to hire a cleaner, or buy your produce at the farmer’s market instead of growing it yourself? When you can do almost anything, go deep on any one task, which ones merit your lingering attention?

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Fairly typical, honestly.