Food, planning, and life going on

The other night I made dinner. Though it was made up of mostly great sausages, Kiolbassa, and Russian rye from Central Market. I can claim credit for steaming the cauliflower. And finding the last 4-pack of Midas Touch, too. Regardless, it felt more like I cooked. This was the kind of meal I would have made at our home. We had the right kind of mustard. We didn’t have steak knives, and I couldn’t grill the sausages, but that didn’t matter. We ate a meal together like we always used to.

I also made a meal plan yesterday and prepped food for the week. I plan breakfast and dinner for the week on Saturday or Sunday. By planning the week it reduces the thinking I have to do during the week. That stuff you read about decision fatigue is real, so the last thing I want to do at 5pm is figure out what’s for dinner. This planning stuff has been going on for at least 5 years now, so it’s pretty second nature, and I sometimes do get bored and try new things, or change my mind, but not often. Anyway…

Last night I sauteed the veggies for Taco Tuesday and the onions for mujaddara (basically this but I don’t cook the onions as much and sometimes use just cumin, other times balti seasoning) on Wednesday. This kind of prep work felt normal and all I needed was a cutting board, knife, cast iron skillet, and wooden spoon.

So the list of things I will save from a burning house includes the cast iron. Not the first or second run (with the children and after the kids were safe but before the big fire), but after the fire, the cast iron came out. The skillet I used to saute veggies was was my great grandmother’s. I also had Sean pull out the crepe pan and 5-quart Le Creuset. Crepes, pancakes, and fritters, and soup will feed a family for a long time. Though in the crazy of the afterwards, I’m afraid that another skillet–that I stored in the oven–may have been tossed in the dumpster with the stove. That one was a different great grandmother’s. Here’s to hoping that the salvage people knew to check the oven for stuff because lots of people store stuff in the oven.

Lastly, I quick pickled veggies. Because every parent wants their kids to eat more veggies, right? Mine have loved a bread and butter pickle that I’ve done in the past, and a cookbook I got at the library reminded me that you can pickle anything. So I made pickles. In second round of kitchen purchases, a dozen 16 oz, wide mouth canning jars and lids were procured. They store food, serve as mugs, are dishwasher safe, and cheap. They also serve as measuring cups, which I was reminded of when I realized after my decision to pickle carrots, zucchini, and peppers that I didn’t have any measuring cups. Hey, those markings on the side are good for something! And, I’m happy to report, David decided he’d eat pickled red pepper and zucchini in his lunch any time.

So despite the missing things, and with the things we have, we eat and generally eat well.


Have you ever thought about everything in your house? Like all of it? At once? In one list?

When your house burns down, you get a list of what was in it and what it was made of. This list includes everything from the hooks on the walls to the light switches to the couch. Each bit–ceiling insulation in the living room and a pillow–gets a replacement value, a percentage of depreciation, and an actual cash value. These numbers then dictate what your house and all the stuff in it is worth. Many of these numbers are created in a massive database that the insurance company keeps–at least this is my guess–that includes various averages and assumptions. These numbers are useful in that I can’t remember what I paid for a lot of stuff, or what it would necessarily cost to replace.

This accounting presents some odd moments. First, I get a lot of stuff on sale or used. So a lot of what we have was pretty nice, but we certainly didn’t pay full price. Some of our stuff looked nicer or newer than it was because we took good care of it (Aside: I’m having a hell of a time with verb tenses.) But we’re getting the replacement value so that we can, as the insurance guarantees, replace it.

My favorite entry, by far, is this one.Had no idea this was the official name of that chair.

We refused reimbursement for the broken printer that was sitting by the front door waiting to go to Goodwill. We also refused reimbursement the many alter candles we had squirreled away that we would bring out for Halloween or Christmas. And, yes, we end up with alter candle leftovers because there are just enough church ladies who can’t throw away the end of a candle even when their pastor wants to switch them out for taller ones.

All told, we’ll likely end up using about half of what we’re insured for.  Some of that is a function of getting a lot of stuff back: the high-quality wooden furniture, most clothes, the good stuff (ceramics, glassware, and metal) from the kitchen.  I always felt like we had enough stuff, maybe a bit too much, but not too too much.  But we’re insured for twice what we have.  Crazy.

And, thankfully, others’ extra stuff has become some of our in-between stuff.  Friends have donated dishes, pots, sheets, towels, etc.  My folks have sent quite a bit of stuff they were saving to use down here at some point.  And the house we’re renting has a lot of the furniture.  So we aren’t necessarily in need of a lot of stuff, both because we’re getting it from others and we’re getting our stuff back (at some point).  But we’re certainly learning how much less stuff we do need, not that we had much.  We’ll see how we use our insurance check, what we find we need to replace and what we find we don’t.


As a parent, I acknowledge that there are relatively few things I can actually control about my children. The limitation comes from my own desire for them to learn to chart their own course–to a certain extent–and my own sanity. One of the things I’ve chosen to focus on is food. I was a somewhat picky eater growing up and, as with many things with children, I didn’t want my kids to be that way. I also enjoy cooking, so figured I’d cook. Having three active boys and a triathlete for a husband, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Though the food thing seems to have worked out as dinner at my cousin’s house ended up with my big boys having three helpings of salad (helped along by ranch) and polishing off the broccoli.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been kept in meals through the generosity of our village here in San Antonio, and far beyond. Sandwiches, chili, soup, casserole, and gift cards have meant I haven’t done much beyond making sandwiches for lunch and pouring cereal. In triage mode, we can revert to processed carbohydrates, which I supplement heavily with fresh fruit.

After getting our feet under us in the in-between house, though, I knew it was time to start restocking. I also wanted to restock. Because I’m committed to this food thing, I’m a bit out of sorts when not cooking, even as I sometimes grumble at my four hour Sunday kitchen shift.

When things are running normally, I do a Costco run about every 3 weeks and spend about $230, mostly food and some household supplies. Carbs (cereal, pasta, oatmeal, crackers), soy milk and other dairy, fresh fruit, meats (organic sausages, sandwich meat, organic gr beef), beans and rice, and frozen food (veggies, and veggie foods like spring rolls and burritos). And, of course, the school snacks. We’re always well-stocked at home because of sales, space, and my knowledge that we may have to push off the run for a week or two, and the prices are just that much better. That means we put a fair bit of our capital into having food around the house.

So how much did my restocking trip cost?

That does include glasses, pillows, and Pyrex storage containers, but otherwise it is food. And I spent about $200 at HEB the next day, when $100 is our normal weekend run. Baking powder, flour, sugars, more bananas (seriously, they eat easily 10 lbs a week [I can’t stand bananas]). Now I feel like we’re settled in because I can make food, though we’ve got folks signed up to bring food through this week and more offering. Though, as I consider diving back into the cooking, I’m confronted again by what we don’t have– a vegetable peeler was the realization as I went to peel carrots for my lunch. (I’m having cucumbers instead.)

The ability to drop $800 on mostly food in a weekend is an immense privilege. Seeing the line items for food on our contents inventory (more on that next week), means I’ll actually get a fair bit of that back. The fact that we can float $800 for food is also a blessing brought to us by friends’ and families’ generosity, and our general spendthriftness. And a privilege based on our knowledge that our jobs are relatively secure, our incomes won’t fluctuate wildly in the near future, and our general creditworthiness.

This weekend’s restocking is also one of the many moments I’ve had in this whole affair where I feel, viscerally, the reality of my privilege.  We have the insurance, cash, credit, and resources to buy a whole bunch of stuff–including rent for a new place to live–on short notice.  So, so many families don’t have that privilege.  We can even ride out the short term disaster this is wreaking on our finances, another privilege. 

To be of use

I’m not a hoarder, but I am a saver. If something can be of use, I tuck it away, probably with other objects like it, and wait for the moment when it is needed. I am constitutionally opposed to waste of almost all kinds–food, containers, paper, water. I attribute this trait to my first nanny, a farmer who grew her own food, raised chickens, and had a rubber band ball, string ball, and made cinnamon treats from the extra pie crust.

Yep, original 1950’s tile in the bathroom.

This ribbon was wrapped around the washcloths that I bought for the boys. Some woman in East Asia tied this blessed ribbon around a bunch of washcloths so they could be priced a bit higher. (Really, this is what I think to myself when I see this kind of packaging.)  And I can’t bring myself to throw it away.  It feels like disrespecting the time and energy–literally–that went into making it.  It’s a perfectly good ribbon that could find a host of uses.

At home, I have a ribbon box in my sewing closet. It’s exactly what you’d expect: a box filled with ribbons and other bits of trim that I’ve collected from shopping bags, packages, garments beyond repair or cleaning. And I sew just enough, usually gifty things, that bits of ribbon come in handy.  My box isn’t particularly big–the size of a shoebox–and ribbon gets cycled through it with enough regularity that I don’t feel the need to purge in the 10 years I’ve owned it.

So this ribbon presents me with a challenge. I don’t have my ribbon box.  I think it was salvaged, so I’ll get the ribbon back and will need to buy a new plastic box.  But right now I don’t have a ribbon box.  Do I buy a new one?  And then move it?  How much ribbon do I think I’ll end up with in four months?  These questions would be easier if I just got over it and threw stuff away, and I did for the first 10 days or so after the fire.  But now, after seeing dumpster load after dumpster load of stuff being hauled out of our house, that deep-seated conservationist is rousing and doesn’t want to throw the ribbon away.

And, if you’re interested, the title is inspired by a beautiful poem of the same name.  Hear Garrison read it here.

Places and rituals

As much as I love to travel, I really am a homebody. I’m deeply attached to places and the rituals those places support. It’s the small things, like where the keys and shoes go, and the bigger things like making lunches and breakfast while chatting with the boys. And reading the paper with my coffee after they’ve gone to school.  I also love to putter around the house doing little projects and always putting things back in their place.  Fighting entropy.

Having moved into our in-between home–that’s the phrasing I’m using with the boys because what you call things matters–last night, the depth of what we’ve lost is sinking in a bit more. Some of it is the stuff–my spices!–but more of it are the rituals that we’ve crafted for the family. Those rituals are helter skelter right now and that’s proving challenging.

On the suggestion of a brilliant friend, we’ve taken to watching about 20 minutes of TV before bed as an incentive to get ready for bed. Sounds crazy, TV before bed, I know. But it turned out to work crazy well. We watch NOVA and my kids, who always like science, are absolutely enamored. I am too. Batteries, origami, geology, moving lighthouses: it doesn’t matter, but we’re entranced. It had become a great family bonding time in the midst of bedtime craziness. And we don’t have internet yet, so NOVA is on hold and that’s really sad to my big boys.

We’ll get that ritual back–though will need to buy a TV–and recreate and reimagine many more. But that takes a lot of energy, that is also focused on getting everything that we need in the house–pots and pans. While also not wanting to buy things we’ll get back–pots and pans. My inner conservationist refuses to buy stuff that we’ll only need for a little while, but I also don’t have tons of time to run over to Goodwill or Salvation Army.

And because I am a silver lining person–the shower in our in-between home is great. Hot water, lots of it.