Stuff and Nonsense

Okay, here’s a true confession. I think I might have borderline hoarder disorder.

And I think it might be getting worse.

I spent the day today (my one full day of the week off) moving stuff around in the garage to try and make a more winterized space for the ATV, the ride-on mower, some furniture pieces my daughter has lined up to refinish, and for, well, other stuff.  All that stuff that is too good to throw away, but not good enough to keep is stashed in my garage and storage shed.

Where does all this stuff come from? It’s not all mine. Every family member who comes home or who moves away, or who even comes to visit, leaves possessions that they want, but not in their own houses.  This includes the belongings of my partner’s ex-wife, whose extraneous stuff takes up an entire corner of the garage. I have seriously considered changing the name of the place from Everyday Grace Farm to Everybody’s Stuff Farm.

I took a break from re-organizing to take the garbage and recycling up to the transfer station, and could not resist peeking into the cool sheds there; the book barn, the take it or leave it shed, and the clothing bin. The last thing I need is more stuff, but shopping at the dump is fun, free, and (I rationalize) fiscally responsible. It’s retail therapy that doesn’t cost anything.

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Sometimes I feel odd when I take more away from the dump than I bring up there, but then I remind myself people are getting rid of this stuff, so in a way, aren’t I helping out?  Isn’t it being green to repurpose and re-use? I get nearly all of my clothing and reading material from the dump, and have stocked my home daycare with awesome toys culled from the TIOLI, many of them in really good shape or only needing minor repair to make right as rain again.

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It is almost a channeling technique. Come Saturday or Sunday morning, as I am sorting out the bottles, cans and paper recyclables, I find myself getting excited for the serendipitous adventure that is in store. What will I find today that I can use? It is astonishing to me how often a book by an author I have been reading or thinking about is right there waiting for me.  I have been re-reading Madeleine L’Engle and three books were right there on the shelf this morning. The older girls who spend Wednesday afternoons at the farm asked for clay, and voila, a nearly full package of 24 colors.  It’s almost like magic. True, the euphoria dissipated a bit when I got back home and realized I had to find room for the so sweet, only slightly damaged watercolor from 1937 (possibly of value, something that old?), the great casserole dish (with a LID, and I can always use another casserole dish, right?), and an armful of 4T clothing (Oshkosh, B’gosh!) that will come in handy when Gracie gets her clothes wet and her mom forgets to pack a spare outfit.  Plus, I still wasn’t finished with the garage project; all of the stuff I had dragged out now had to go back in the garage, in a hopefully more organized fashion, but which in reality more often feels like I am playing a life-sized version of Tetris with STUFF.

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One of my cute dump finds is a deck of black and white postcards with those 1950’s style housewives spouting smart remarks. You know, like, “Make yourself at home, clean my kitchen’. My very favorite is the lady languishing on her couch and thinking: ‘I dream about storage space’. I can totally relate.  Maybe it’s not hoarder disorder. Maybe I just need a dry basement, an attic and a barn! Now that is the stuff dreams are made of!

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(Photo source)

Easy Bourbon Ginger-Apple Cider

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Whoop whoop! Happy Friday, folks! I’m here to bring some cocktail inspiration to this virtual Happy Hour party :) I feel like the holidays are in full-swing immediately following Halloween and carry straight over into the New Year! And what’s more festive than mulled cider? This cocktail tastes like autumn. As the cider heats up, the naturally sweet apple flavor concentrates deliciously. The ginger liqueur enhances the drink with an extra burst of flavor. Spiced and warming, this super easy recipe yields two cocktails and can be made in about 5 minutes. Double or triple the recipe and share with friends! Or just drink it all by yourself– I won’t judge.

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Easy Bourbon Ginger-Apple Cider

-         2 oz. bourbon

-         1 oz. ginger liqueur (such as Domaine de Canton)

-         1 c. apple cider

-         1/4 c. mulling spice blend: dried orange rind, ginger, cloves, allspice berries

-         1 cinnamon stick

-         fresh juice of one orange

-         fresh grated nutmeg

1. Add all ingredients minus the booze to a pot on the stove top and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

2. Remove cider mixture from stove and strain the spice blend out, retaining the concentrated liquid (unless you’d like to keep the spice blend in your cocktail. Hey, it’s Friday, Do what you want! You earned it.)

3. Add bourbon and ginger liqueur to cider mixture, and stir. Add a thin slice of orange and cinnamon stick to glass and enjoy autumn in a glass!

*** This cocktail can also be served over ice! Be sure to chill the cider mixture after removing from stove top, however, so the ice doesn’t water it down.

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Mmm, this is the perfect chilly November afternoon cocktail… whether it’s Friday or not :)

Mavens of the Unknown: in which nin thinks about blogging

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Mom, I made us a blog.

(Gulp. Now we’ve done it. Made the leap.)

What’s it called?

Maven Haven.

(Oh, no. That was my idea, but now I’m not so sure. It’s catchy, I think, but does it sound a little arrogant? But it’s a fait accompli, the deed is done, the die is cast, here’s hoping for the best).

First, some stream of consciousness thoughts on blogs and blogging.

I have mixed feelings about the “I, I, I”-ness of blogs. I sometimes get irritated with people who (I feel) overshare on Facebook and aren’t blogs like Facebook entries on steroids?  Some of the words of Emily Dickinson’s poem pop into my mind, with a twist:

I’m nobody, who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

How dreadful to be somebody,

How public, like a BLOG.

Blogging is putting it right out there; you hit publish and it’s there for anyone to read. Maybe there’s a way to edit or retract a post, but, digital immigrant that I am, I don’t know how. And they say no one is reading it anyway. So why bother to do it at all in the first place?  For me, blogging is a practice, a discipline; it is putting on the writing miles with a purpose; like weight watchers with words, it holds you accountable. Blogs are a bridge between freewriting and a personal essay, a way to discover what you think and to practice making your thoughts clear. Plus, the fact that no one will read it is liberating and the thought that someone might is exciting.

This brings us back to maven-ry. Webster’s dictionary defines a maven as one who is experienced or knowledgeable (also a freak). Well, the former has a presumptuous tinge and the latter a little Asperger-y. But the Yiddish roots add this spin: one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge. And in The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell calls mavens those who are intense gatherers of information and impressions and adds that mavens work well with connectors (those who have a wide network of casual acquaintances by whom they are trusted).  Now we have more to work with.

What right do I have to call myself a maven? Maybe none. Maybe Maven-in-training would be more accurate. Maven-in training Haven doesn’t have the same ring to it, though. Then again, between us, Vicky and I have nearly fourscore years of living as accumulated experience, we both seek to understand, and truth be told, fit the weird quality of the definition, too. (Who isn’t weird?  The older I get, the more I relish being me the way I am and don’t worry if other people think it’s strange.  I always liked Louisa’s plea in The Fantasticks: please God, don’t let me be ordinary.) But I digress.

Back to the definition: where better than the web to find connectors and connections? True, trust (and true trust) must be earned, and that leads us full circle back to the purpose of the blog. The blog is not a place to show off knowledge, but a chance to work with words each day, a place (a HAVEN, a refuge) to explore ideas and thoughts, and to offer them up in that effort of faith that says, here I am and here’s a notion and what do you think?

Rilke says, “We must learn to love the questions themselves.” It strikes me that the thing I am expert in is asking questions, and that we are all mavens of the unknown.

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Where I’m From

Writing is a craft. Just like any other endeavor in life, theoretically the more you practice and work at something, the better you become. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers this wisdom: ““Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite — getting something down.” Sometimes it is difficult to put away those nagging thoughts that tell us we need to be more creative, more innovative, think of something more brilliant, despite feeling like we have nothing about which to write… Sometimes, it is just so difficult to put pen to paper and get it out! But in the spirit of Cameron’s outlook on art, the just “getting something down”– we are reminded of the importance of daily writing as a way to honor the muse. We started by simply thinking about telling our stories, and looked to George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem as a template to get the creative juices flowing.

Where I’m From, by Vicky

I am from jars of peanut butter, from pints of ice cream, and empty Slim-Fast cans.

I am from salt water—ocean spray and sea foam and ancient infinity.

I am from the white birch, the ficus tree, from rose gardens and bramble bushes.

I’m from the woods, and jumping over roots that try to unfurl gnarled, arthritic fingers.

I’m from “early to bed, early to rise” and working harder than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

I’m from glittering Christmas lights, a world lit up after dark, and the family songbook

from percussion instruments and Persian poetry.

I’m from airport terminals and wanderlust.

I’m from spiral-bound notebooks, from graphite and black ink.

I am from burnt incense, Nag champa, and Egyptian musk.

I’m from sacred circles and love is always

from Virginia Marie and Shefki Mati.

I’m from the double-headed eagle, from witches, and the wolf clan.

I am from the matriarch, from the three V’s

from bed-warmers, from bear hugs, from belly laughs that squeeze out tears.

Inculcated from observation, seared into memory, imprinted on my heart:

I am from home is where your mom is, and I’ll always be here for you.

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Where I’m From, by Nin

I am from the circle

I am from Ginny eggs and Johnny’s scrapple

From the morning smell of coffee to wake up to and from the fragrant afternoon tea with cinnamon toast always waiting for us after school

I am from  bayberries and seaspray, from  the changing moods of the Peconic and the varying landscape of the beach and from the safety of the thick walls of  home, our stronghold, home where the food is and home that is family, home that is where, when you gotta go, they gotta take you in

I am from books: books everyplace, stacks and piles of them, books lining the stairs and filling the storerooms

I am from daffodils along the path to the beach, from violet patches like fairy rings, from the apple orchard with our favorite climbing tree, from a childhood out of an English novel, paradise and pathos in equal amounts

I am from family gatherings: Christmas Eve tree trimmings, Fourth of July picnics and home weddings

I am from loud overlapping conversations, from serious talk and light banter, from hearty laughter, from someone always strumming the guitar, from lots of singing (not always in key) I am from Mom, Dad, Steve, John, Dave, Nin and Bet all there for dinner at six and from late evenings hanging out in the kitchen around the table, the kitchen the heart of the home, the Bayberry kitchen with doors everywhere…..portals that more often let others in than let us out

I am from wanting to get out, from wanting to be a writer and having nothing to write, from gathering experiences, and then seeing and hearing too much, from escaping the Hotel California, from working my way back home, and from looking for an anchor

I am from going back to school, from being a single mom, from sweet baby eyes looking up at me with trust and me growing into strength in order to provide. I am from just me and my girl, growing together on the journey

I am from the little house and the tiny cottage and from running the dogs on the beach, from library research on Sundays and from walking in the woods, from quick jaunts to the city, from not enough time for reading and from dreaming of farms

I am from leap and the net will appear and from change as the only constant

I am from finding romantic love later in life, true love that offers comfort by day and a song in the night and that is even more treasured because of the bittersweet poignancy of its timing

I am from thinking about fine lines and polar opposites and how they are the same; I am from delighting in paradox; from chaos and order/make it messy and make it clear.

I am from the circle and in the circle.

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Coconut Banana Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I can’t even really call this a recipe because I just dumped three ingredients into the Vitamix and blended on high for 30 seconds. The result? A rich, creamy dessert that can be made dairy-free and with zero refined sugar if you opt to go sans chocolate chips. Super sweet potassium-packed bananas pair perfectly with the tropical flavor of the coconut milk (banana daiquiri, anyone?) and the healthy fats in the coconut milk ensure a thick, ice cream-like consistency– no ice cream maker or freezing required.

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Coconut Banana Ice Cream

Serves two appropriately or one obnoxiously

Ingredients:

- 4 TB coconut milk, regular or lite will both work great

- 2 frozen bananas, chopped into chunks

- handful mini chocolate chips (optional)

1. Blend ingredients in Vitamix on high for 30 seconds

2. Devour!

Healthy No-Bake Rice Krispie Treats

I’m not sure why rice krispie treats strike me as an autumnal treat. Maybe because my mom never bought them when I was a kid, but I would see my classmates eat the sticky little bars wrapped in shiny blue packaging once school started up in the fall. Really, rice krispie treats are the perfect medium for creating delicious snacks in any season or for any occasion– but what with Halloween just in the rear view mirror, they seem especially fit to be devoured, to me at least :) These no-bake bars are way healthier than the processed kind, and a cinch to make to boot. They should more aptly be named coconut oatmeal raisin chocolate chip rice krispies…. but that’s quite the mouthful, isn’t it? Actually, that’s how these tasty little treats went down– by the mouthful. They are delicious, super easy to make, and the recipe calls for minimal refined sugar. Winning.

ImageI adapted these no-bake delights using Gina’s recipe for Coconut Chocolate Chip Crispies as inspiration. I add an oatmeal raisin twist, and also wanted to spice it up with dark chocolate coated candied ginger bits I got from Whole Food’s bulk bin. However, the candied ginger mysteriously went missing by the time I got home to try the recipe. I have no idea what happened to it ;) Walnuts and cranberries would also be great additions to these treats– or sliced almonds, dried cherries, white chocolate chips… the possibilities are endless.

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Healthy No-Bake Rice Krispie Treats

Ingredients:

- 2 c. chocolate rice crisp cereal
- 1 c. quick cook oats
- 1/3 c. unsweetened shredded coconut + 2 T. for garnish
- 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 c. almond butter
- 1/4 c. honey (I used mesquite for smokiness)
- 1/4 c. coconut oil
- 1 t. vanilla extract
- 1/4 c. raisins
- 1/4 c. mini chocolate chips
- 1/4 t. salt

1. Add cereal, oats, 1/3 c. coconut, pumpkin pie spice and salt to a mixing bowl and stir to combine

2. Microwave almond butter, honey, coconut oil and vanilla for ~ one minute until you have a smooth, thick consistency with no lumps

3. Pour almond butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until completely incorporated

4. Stir in raisins and mini chocolate chips

5. Spray an 8×8″ baking dish with non-stick spray and add the almond-coconut-oatmeal-raisin-chocolate goodness to the dish, pressing down so the mixture sticks together better. Sprinkle additional 2 T. of shredded coconut on top to garnish

6. Refrigerate (I let it sit for about an hour). Cut into squares. Enjoy!

ImageEven with Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos behind us, I still have a new episode of The Walking Dead to get through tonight. Lucky for me, I have these treats to munch on instead of my nails.

in which nin makes a change

I’m not sure who said it, but I think often of the quote: “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” When I was younger, I always had the idea that smooth sailing was just over the next wave crest, that the present challenge of whatever choppy life crisis  I was dealing with would (and could) be dealt with and then the life I wanted to live could begin. I was well into my thirties before I realized that I don’t think it works this way…that life IS the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys, the daily challenges that don’t really ever stop at all…like that beautiful line from Christina Rossetti’s poem about the road going uphill all the way. I know this is not original thinking, but the notion hit me with the “blinding glimpse of the glaringly obvious” that has a visceral- and changing- effect.

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It was the desire to live a more fulfilling, more authentic life that prompted the move from eastern Long Island to western Massachusetts. And while it is true that “wherever you go, there you are” it is also the case that a change in geography can re-route old patterns of thinking, habits, and ruts. Driving around the Pioneer Valley on my exploratory missions to find a place to live, I could almost feel new brain cells developing as I tried to suss out the lay of the land and the different vibes of different towns.

ImageWhen I finally leapt, the net did appear, though not in the way I thought it would. (In retrospect, I realize I didn’t think, I acted: I was ‘done with the compass, done with the chart” as Emily says (her words are palpable here, they seep into your soul after a while).  I got caught in the net that appeared, ensnared in it, bogged down by all the effort I had exerted to make the move happen.  (All that paperwork involved in buying a house! Packing up forty-five years of stuff, leaving my job of a dozen years, the place that had brought me along as a teacher, where my daughter and I had spent a decade of learning together, and where I had built up a fairly lucrative tutoring gig in the summers). I was not expecting to be sidelined by depression, a trifecta of midlife crisis, empty nest syndrome and dark night of the soul all rolled into one. It didn’t help that I had no job, and I was pretty sure that if I had a financial planner, her advice would not be to live off my home equity loan for the next year. The feeling I had when I had bought my first house six years before was that of being totally stoked about my achievement: that I, a single mother who did not get child support or have a parent or a rich aunt or uncle to help out with the down payment, had managed to buy my own little corner of the earth that would always be mine as long as I paid the bank $650 every month; it was a victorious feeling and I was proud of myself.  Perhaps I should have remembered that pride goeth before a fall…I have ruminated long and hard on the paradoxical applications of giving something your all and yet not being attached to outcome, of walking the mystical path with practical feet.

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In any case, my feeling about this new place was nothing like that. As family members and friends congratulated me on the great find, the sweet spot, the beauty of the brook bordering the property, the wide open meadow, all the fencing and landscaping already in place, and the functionality of the studio building on the property, I nodded and smiled, but inwardly, all I could think about what that I had overextended myself. Yes, it was a great deal by Hamptons standards and with Hamptons tutoring income, but it was still a hefty chunk of change to come up with each month, and the thought of opening the daycare I had so airily announced I would start was exhausting and unappealing at the moment. All I wanted to do was cry and sleep.

Image I named the place Everyday Grace Farm and desperately wanted to start farming it. But just exactly how do you farm grace? I yearned for the plentiful abundance that I was sure the universe wanted for me if only I could allow it to happen. Instead I got all the mundane everyday bills and headaches, the dishes and chores. Six acres to mow and the weeds grew so fast.  Where does good old third chakra will come into play? First the gesture, then the grace.  I thought I had made the gesture by getting here. But I was ruefully realizing it was only the beginning of starting all over again.  It was not the most auspicious start. Or maybe it was; like the lotus whose beautiful blossoms are rooted in mud, my deep, if not deeply thought out, desire for change set the wheels in motion. Change is inevitable. My growth, it appeared, was up to me.

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