Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stockpiling the Fruits of the Season

I am well-poised for October 1st. I am in the midst of making grape juice right now (more about that, and a delightful discovery, in an upcoming blog) and today bought 2 bushels of apples: 1 of Stayman Winesaps (my absolute favorite apple--and imagine my surprise and delight to find them in our little valley after spending a great deal of energy tracking them down for 10 plus years in New York and New Hampshire). I also got a bushel of JonaGolds which I thought might be good mixed with the Staymans for applesauce to can.

We also got 3 bushels of local butternut squash that we will steam, mash and butter and season before canning or freezing it. We all love squash and my husband and I enjoy our annual fall ritual of putting up the squash. I've never canned it before and may do that to save on freezer space.

I'm also setting up a bread-baking operation again, too. It is hard to find good bread around here and my family likes a variety of types from whole grain to sourdough to just really good white. Our local Mennonite bulk foods store, Sunny Valley (formerly Nolt's), has just opened a bakery and their bread is good and reasonably priced. But I enjoy making it--all varieties--and just got out of the habit.

I might just do a daily report on what I prepare from what I have (and what I buy in terms of food) with recipes as warranted. But no promises...maybe just weekly recaps.

In the meantime, I'm reading more again in the evenings and enjoy that. More about books at Cupcake Chronicles where a certain Cupcake is mighty glad that October is almost here as it is Edith Wharton month!

As our Edie (Cupcake) posted yesterday, Edith Wharton once wrote:

My ruling passions:

Justice, Order, Dogs, Books, Flowers, Architecture, Travel, A good joke--and perhaps that should have come first.

[I would personally have to add to the list: children, husbands, food and not necessarily in that order. I don't believe Edith Wharton ever married or had children but I may stand corrected!]

Stay tuned and happy harvest ~



Once I get used to the idea of fall being here, I love it. All of the nesting and the preparation for winter. Here in Kentucky we'll be more involved in that process and already have been. My husband helped "fill silo" at many Mennonite farms in September (and I had the honor and privilege of helping the women prepare a noon dinner for almost 30 people on one day) along with our boys, who also picked watermelons for the better part of August after school and on Saturdays.

Today I woke up to rain and gray skies. I don't believe I was ever so happy to see a rainy day. The clouds are clearing now but that bit of a drink was much needed after two months of drought here in south-central Kentucky. Every tropical storm remnant has gone either east or west of us here, just teasing us with long tendrils that promise rain but do not bring it. As I've recently learned, all signs fail in times of drought.

With the economic gloom and doom of the past few weeks, well out of anyone's control, I do want to control what we can in our own home economics. For some time we've been paring down, cutting back and all of those things one should do any way. Our move to Kentucky was our first big step and can I just shout out now a big "YEAH" for our recent house closing in New Hampshire? As hard a process as it was to say goodbye to the old place, we are amazed that it still sold despite a week of bank collapses and an increasingly deadening real estate market that proceeded it. We are blessed by the timing and not having to heat the place this winter. The new owner, a Bear Stearns refugee (oh the irony), seems delighted with our former home, now his, and all's well that ends well. [The closing was also on what turned out to be the 85th wedding anniversary of Temple's grandparents who bought the house in 1959.]

So here I am on the ridge, feeling much more settled, despite the boxes still to wade through from the big six-week blitzkrieg from mid-July tea party (remember that blog?), when the house was at its very best in terms of presentation, until our pre-Labor Day final move and emptying. Most things will stay in their boxes until we eventually build our farmhouse and barn but there are still those to open now or in the near future or to at least sort into categories.

The pundits and financial gurus on CNN are all spouting doom and gloom, how to buy T-bills, what to do about the stock market (don't) etc. Few others are the voice of reason for the masses: spend LESS, cut BACK, don't indulge. We have been doing this for a while now: gathering forces in one place for our own sustenance farm in a part of the country that we can afford to live in and that doesn't have endless winter.

Last January we arrived here with a partially full freezer towed in a trailer behind our car. [See January 2 blog on Pantry Preparedness.] It's full again and I've decided that this month I am not going to buy any food except for fresh produce, eggs and needed dairy products. We are going to live out of the freezer--and what's in the pantry--and see how far we can get. I might even see how long we can go without going to a large store (and now that Target is out of our system again!). I am even getting back to making bread again. While we are eating from what we have we will also be putting more food by: juicing, applesauce, some preserves and canning (more about this throughout the next few months). I'll keep you updated as to our progress and fun recipes I find, or old standbys, with what's on hand in the pantry and freezers.

As long as the larder is full, there is some sense of security in a crazy world. Just remember in the midst of this economic downturn, it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. This was perhaps best said by Chance the Gardener in Being There (1979). These are his words of wisdom while providing counsel to the president [one of my favorite parts of a favorite movie of all time, with Peter Sellers in his last role--you'll just have to see it or see it again]:

President "Bobby": Mr. Gardener, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President: In the garden.
Chance: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President: Spring and summer.
Chance: Yes.
President: Then fall and winter.
Chance: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin: Hmm!
Chance: Hmm!
President: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President: I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Target...or BUST!

I have a friend in our region of Kentucky who has just gotten her kitchen back after several months of tending to an active, all-consuming, litter of adorable puppies. They took over her kitchen and she just reclaimed it. During our time at Casey County Apple Festival, after watching the parade go by in front of her porch, she brought us in to see her "new" kitchen. I had forgotten how warm and inviting her space is but also the large, lidded glass jars that she uses for storage.

Several readers and friends have been hearing me moan on of late about finding "the perfect pantry" storage for dry goods. I have a lead on a good wooden flour bin in Asheville, North Carolina (and cheap) but need something short term for some bread making I intend to tackle again in earnest (good breads are hard to find down here, let alone a bakery).

"Where did you get those glass jars?" I said, my eyes popping out of my head, remembering I'd probably asked the question before on another visit but had forgotten the answer. Target or Wal-Mart, she said. Well, I'd already scoured every Wal-Mart (and K-Mart) within a 50 mile radius but Target, given its locations 90 miles away and further, still eluded me.

Saturday afternoon, a day later, I decided I had to get some jars. I checked on-line and the nearest Target that had them in stock was Elizabethtown, a two hour drive. Now we're always up for a new road to explore and with Target as our destination it seemed like a good idea. This is after weeks of looking on line at bins and tins and jars and plastic containers. I wanted something bigger than my flour bin and ideally something big enough to store a lot of flour or sugar but not ugly and not plastic. These 2.5 gallon jars seemed perfect for the kitchen space I'm working on now.

So off we went, a few complaints from our boys but even they enjoy Target on occasion. When we arrived in late afternoon (we left at almost 3pm and even stopped at "The Dairy Dip" in Columbia--spontaneity was key that afternoon), I found they had two jars in stock, which is really all I needed for two kinds of flour at this time. We were also able to pick up a few pairs of school pants for the boys and some items for upcoming fall entertaining. We didn't go too crazy. The drive itself was a pleasing journey of new sites and architecture and we actually came up, the back way, to Lincoln's birthplace where we'd been before.

In this era of high gas prices, I would have done better to just pay for the shipping and be done with it. But sometimes you just have to get into the car and you just have to take a journey that you might not have otherwise anticipated. And who knew that on the way home we would happen to hit gospel karaoke night at The Porch in Russell Springs? I was feeling just spontaneous enough that day to sing...well, almost! Maybe next time.

Dear Reader

This is really an extension of my previous post on a variety of topics. I am striving for authenticity of thought and belief in my own life and writings but I sincerely hope that I have not offended any reader with my political rant in the national--or domestic--realm. You see, my frustrations with the national scene are spilling over into my daily life. I don't like it. So I'm questioning the litany along the way and also examining my own role as a woman, wife, mother and "domestic goddess" in this modern world in which we live. Believe me, there are some days I wish it were 1908 or better yet, 1878. I grapple with this daily--this dichotomy of self and place and purpose. There is so much I embrace about modernity but much that I would rather do without in my life.

I welcome everyone to my blog from all backgrounds and lifestyles and ideologies and hope that this kind of essay, which I tend towards on occasion, will only provoke a dialogue.

Please, as always, feel free to comment, to disagree, to start a conversation. That's why I'm here.

If you would rather email me privately I encourage you to do so at info@catherinepond.com

Many thanks!


PS The cartoon image of a woman in her messy kitchen in the column at left is entirely me--well, on some days. I even have a pair of aqua Birkentock croc-like shoes (and pearls) and I always wear a dress or skirt--often black--because I'm doing the world a favor by not showing my legs (well, there is still the cankle factor). However, just because I "wrote the book on pantries" does not an orderly writer's house make! In other words, while I love to bake, cook, organize cupboards, and sometimes clean my house, Martha Stewart I will never be.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vaseline on the Lens

I often wonder how much people in the world feel the pain and the angst of the world? Do we just go on, oblivious to what is happening, impervious to it all? Or are we like sheep in a fold and just "giving it all to God" in the process? Climatic change, Katrina, economic death knells, post 9-11 fallout, an unnecessary war in the name of Democracy? Is this God's plan? Or does he put us on this planet to work effectively for change, for good, for a harmonious world and not one that kills and hates and eschews common sense?

I try not to be political on this blog but to ignore what is going on in this world now and just focus on my house or my boxes of grapes to can or my children and husband seems somehow selfish. But what else can I do? I can't storm Washington, a one-woman banshee of angry, pent-up feelings towards her government. I can write and blog and cook well--that is something. I'm a good wife and mother about half the time--that is also something. I think I'm a good friend (and probably a more authentic friend, at times, than anything else.) But that's the key, isn't it? Authenticity. To ourselves, our mates, our children, our friends. "To thine own self be true."

I can probably strive for better household order and harmony at home. "It starts at home..." Well, if that's the case, why aren't they listening [the family with whom I share a home--and even family members from whom I'm exiled (their choice)--and politicians alike]? I could fold my towels differently or clean the kitchen floor a bit more often. I could allow myself to express anger at the system, within my household or extended family when appropriate. I can nag about everyone's stuff that gets in the way of my stuff or I can invert it and make it all about them, all the time. We can not cage ourselves in and expect that the steam valve won't eventually burst. So we need to let it out and we need to strive for balance. We need to deal with our own stuff and accept responsibility for it, to pick it up and put it away. This I can do.

I've decided that what I can do is just to continue to be who I am: a good enough mother, writer, partner-to-my-husband, daughter, friend and not necessarily in that order. I won't tick off the homemaker box because that is not a role I do well. I strive to do that: to keep a house, to tend to healthy meals, to keep up with the laundry. But my mind won't allow it: it has other plans. It's not that I'm against harmonious homemaking, either. In fact, I envy those who can and do. Like exercise and good health, I like to read about it, I like the idea of it but fail miserably in the execution. It is the same with housewivery and yes, often parenting and in my relationships. It is easier to read the recipe or the manual than to implement it. You have to have the right ingredients or tools, the right climate or atmosphere, the right setting. But with most recipes, I usually end up adding my own touches.

A Mennonite friend of mine says she has better things to be doing than keeping her house clean all the time. Here, here. But her "better things to do" are far more pressing than mine: growing her own food and processing it, helping her husband on their farm. She works hard and in her idle hours she quilts and reads. I'm a cleaner-under-pressure (eg. before entertaining) and I also happen to be blessed with a husband who vacuums better than I could ever do. Another friend, who works equally hard and homeschools (a full time job in itself), and blogs, is happy to be called a Stepford Wife. I don't quite get that as I find it a derogatory term. It is one thing to be proud about the work that we do--in the home or out of it--but it is quite another to embrace your inner robot.

From many of my internet travels I've found that many women today are back in an odd "Cult of Domesticity" that began in the 19th century, an extended period of great change and unrest in the world and modern society. In fact, my self-proclaimed, and proud-of-it, Stepford friend is right in the thick of the movement's modern incarnation that puts God, husband and family first. [I've tried to tell her that, unlike a true Stepford wife, she actually has a brain, heart and soul.] This post-modern cult is one that embraces the feminine and the housekeeper, the pious tender of the hearth and home, like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher advocated in their pivotal book, The American Woman's Home (1869). The original movement was also a Christian women-driven movement but not one that could be associated with feminism. I find this phenomenon fascinating both in the 19th and 21st centuries, and have studied it endlessly, although I don't necessarily agree with all of its tenets. It is also ironic that Harriet Beecher Stowe, while advocating a harmonious home and hearth for all women, actually had a supportive husband in her writing career (they had seven children and only three lived into adulthood).

We see the Cult of Domesticity today in magazines like Victoria, for which (ironically) I have written in the past, that give us a hazy filtered view of the world. There is no Dickensian grit here: just the romantic written and photographed longings of a world that probably never was, and a way of removal and refuge from the present. [But, this is true: in the original Victoria Magazine, at least one photographer used to get his diaphanous imagery by smearing Vaseline on the camera lens. All smoke and mirrors, just like the well-staged homes in interior design magazines. You should see the work that goes into making them that way before the cameras arrive. The media tells and shows us what we should see--it was ever thus. So we have to see--and read--through the film and draw our own conclusions.]

My maternal grandmother, a brilliant, highly educated woman with the great fortune of a comfortable and loving childhood, was a Pollyanna. Don't get me wrong: I loved the book and the movie and cry buckets every time I see it. I also loved, no adored, my grandmother, especially when I was a child before she became consumed, for the last ten years of her life, by Alzheimer's. That's when the "Glad Game" backfired and she became a different person: depressed, angry, challenging. Grandmother unwittingly played the "Glad Game" for most of her life and I don't doubt that it helped shield her from its realities and get her through some difficult times. But to ignore the grit and the unjust is to also deny and not validate that it is happening. We need to validate our children, our partners, ourselves, our world and not bury our heads in our dough bowls. If only the world were as wonderful as how Pollyanna experienced, we would all be living happily ever after--but it isn't.

What I always connected to with my grandmother, apart from her love and extreme selflessness, were her ideas. She, too, was a frustrated housewife and had other things she'd rather be doing (one was running a farm with her husband, another was teaching, writing and reading). Her intentions were good but she failed in the execution. I'm convinced, like me, she had adult ADD. Her own Victorian mother set a high bar for motherhood and its virtues, for a perfect, seamlessly run home (but she also had household help). Grandmother had too many ideas for one person or lifetime and sadly, she never published a book (but wrote many articles for magazines like New Hampshire Profiles and even won an essay contest with Connecticut Mutual Life on how the individual struggles in the age of automation). So I intend to correct that for my grandmother: to publish some of her words but to also lift up her voice to the world. And to maybe be a better housekeeper for the both of us.

Like my grandparents and my mother and many of my friends who work at or from their homes, I want to be home more than anywhere else (ok, well, maybe excepting Target where I drove for 2 hours yesterday to buy two large glass jars for my pantry--more about that later!) and if not at my home, then in the kitchen of a friend who doesn't care what their house looks like all the time. I've learned to let people see me, dust and all. It's important that our children and partners see our "dust," also, for to cover up and hide it is deceit. Embrace your inner dust, dear reader! Sweep it or vacuum it up, or polish it away, if you must, but acknowledge that it is there and sometimes it is ok to just leave it where it is.

Of course, that said, guess what's on my "to do" list this week? Sort out and clean the brick house (yes, we're still in boxes) for Thursday night Bunco; make grape juice with my friend Anna (so I have to organize the kitchen a bit better first to make room for canning operations); sort out and do laundry piles (that's tonight); cook up a storm (for Bunco); and read and edit a book chapter for a collaborative project (sorry, Nancy, I haven't forgotten that...and please check out her website with essays! Nancy writes novels about hearth and home and the delightful complexities of family). But I wouldn't do it all if I didn't want to do it--and I never complain about it. Procrastinate, yes, but never complain (ok, well, that's not entirely true--I'm remembering that dust remark now). I'll try to save that for our government and failed leadership and things I can not control.

A wise elder woman--and we need those in our lives--once said to me, "I always tell my daughters, you can do anything you want in this life, you just can't do it all at once." I try to heed those words and to remember them. I still have books I want to write and publish, I still have children to raise, I still have a house to perpetually get in order. For now, I'm trying to be more in the moment, in the task. Robotic, if you will, but with feeling, like the Shaker motto: "Hands to work, Hearts to God." [And did you know they were an entirely egalitarian order, even believing in a mother deity and a father deity?] I'll tuck into my home even further after some more fall canning and look forward to a more introspective winter of cooking, reading and writing and nestling into the warm embrace of my family--and new friends--in our new land. For now, it's all I can do.

[Image above by Charles Dana Gibson, No Time for Politics, 1910. All other images, except the last two, © Anne Taintor from www.AnneTaintor.com]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

All Signs Fail in Times of Drought

The wind has been blowing up quite a gale today and I've been watching Weather.com and an advancing "back door" band of rain from the dregs of Hurricane Ike. The major rains have gone up into Illinois but we desperately need some here, too, in south-central Kentucky. As I checked the radar a few minutes ago (with that useful "in motion" feature) I see that the rain bands are dissipating as they advance to the northeast. Perhaps the wind is too strong and the air too hot. I have been hoping for their arrival all day but now see them evaporate before my eyes. Maybe we will get some of Ike if it moves to the east just a bit.

Since we have returned to Kentucky in early August we have only had a few days of rain. The weather patterns seem to favor the Ohio River Valley and fronts will swoop up and around us to the west.

Weather has always fascinated me--I watch the skies and the radars with great interest. I believe, like my skills for map-reading and directional savvy, I inherited this from my father who liked to watch the heavens and the weather patterns, too, even though his job was in a bank. My brothers are in weather-dependent jobs: one is a pilot, the other works on ski patrol at a major resort. Our mother lives to be outdoors in her garden. Studying the weather is a way of self-orientation, of knowing where we are and what will be.

The other day we were visiting our Mennonite friends at their farm where my husband was helping to "fill silo" and I was helping with the preparations of the noon dinner for over 20 people (I'll write about that soon). When I commented at how the clouds were building and rain seemed imminent, and then failed, Anna said, "All signs fail in times of drought." I had heard this expression before but never understood its true meaning.

I believe that more often than not, all signs of hope fail in times of personal hardship. It can be hard to see ahead of the struggles in our midst. Farmers learn to take things one day at a time by necessity as there is only so much in their control. I suppose this fatalistic attitude is useful as there is only so much in our lives that we can manage from personal choice.

It is my hope that this country does not fail, either, when there are so many hardships facing our nation right now, too. Hard economic and social realities that are filtering down into our homes. We need to make "family first" before we can make "Country first." The leadership of our country has been letting us down and we can't be fooled by the jargon we are now hearing.

So, whatever the political weather and storms ahead, I plan to write more, bake and cook more and be more present--for myself and my family. Fill the pantries. Because that is really all I can do about it.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;

Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

from the Thanksgiving hymn Come, Ye Thankful People, Come by Henry Alford, 1844