Dear Santa

Dear Santa

I’d like a pony this year, and world peace for Bob, please. Again, I know. It seems silly to ask for the same things every year, but old habits are hard to break.

Both Bob and I were very well behaved this year. We didn’t fight much, we kept the house clean, and we played nice with our neighbors. We both concentrated on giving more than we took, and I feel we did a pretty good job of supporting our family and friends. We managed to stay true to our values by not buying too many frivolous things, by growing some of our own food, and by eating in most every night.

I understand why you haven’t been able to give me a pony. I imagine you get quite a few pony requests, and there are only so many to go around. But I won’t lie and say I want something else, because I know how important it is to be clear about my desires.

As for world peace, I am not having as easy a time understanding why you can’t make this happen. I truly believe this is within your power, and with all due respect, it seems like a no-brainer. I can only imagine how wonderful life on earth would be if humans stopped fighting. For one thing, hunger would be a thing of the past the instant we stopped plowing resources into war toys.

Seems to me that if everyone decided to share and treat each other fairly, (isn’t that what world peace would look like?), people would stop wanting other stuff to distract them from the daily news. Your job would probably get a lot easier. If you put an end to war, I’d be so happy, chances are I’d stop wishing for a pony.

But maybe, because it’s a habit now, I’d keep sending you the annual letter, only instead of asking for stuff, I’d be thanking you for such a great life. Okay, I know you have another seven billion letters to read, so I’m going to wrap this up. Thanks for listening. Talk to you again next year!

Love, Cookie

Post Publication Depression

“It’s probably just winter”, I think, slogging through sleet and slush from the car to our back door. I’m suffering from malaise, and looking for something to blame. Lately, I find myself just going through the motions. I don’t feel like starting anything, and I really don’t want to finish anything, either. My brother Michael suggests I take a few days off. Celebrate my achievement; give myself time to re-balance after leaning into the gale for so long. “Eventually you’ll get bored and pick up another project,” he says.

Bob wants to know what I’ll do with all my free time, now that Honey Sandwiches is published. I tell him I don’t know, and he looks a little startled. I sense him thinking, “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

We’ve been a little edgy with each other lately. I’ll add that to the blame list. Neither of us thrives in the short, cold days of waning daylight. Thank god Helen turned us on to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed, and dinner with Midge, the will to limp through the day.

I don’t remember feeling this way after Steph and I published Two Brauds Abroad. We had a lot of help from her mother, Andrea, so the editing process wasn’t nearly as onerous as this time around. Two Brauds wasn’t Andrea’s first rodeo; she’d worked in publishing and published half a dozen books of her own. “I love helping birthing baby books!” she exclaimed. She didn’t mention the risk of addiction to birthing books, or post publication depression, and neither kicked in until this, my second child.

I should be making veggie burgers. Or backing up my files, or deep cleaning the kitchen cupboards. Instead, I spend twenty minutes crafting a witty response to someone’s Facebook post, and resume staring out the window at another short day.

At the height of my push to finish the book by mid-December, I confided to Shelley that I had jettisoned “shoulds” from my life. She’d been super busy, too, and was also operating in prime-objective-only mode. “It feels good,” we agree, vowing to avoid shoulds after my editing flurry and her holiday imperatives pass.

Honey Sandwiches – From Riches to Rags went live on Amazon.com yesterday morning. I placed more than a dozen orders for books to be shipped to family across the U.S. before driving in to work. I high-fived Hannah and Jenn, my writing buddies at Abundance NC. I ran errands, and mopped up a water leak, and hauled a load of wet towels to the laundromat. The flat sky began spitting ice. Eventually, I made my way home to Bob and Mrs. Maisel.

Today, my accomplishment seems anticlimactic. The project is done, the unrivaled call for my attention, gone. I’m adrift, and it isn’t even a nice day for a long walk. But, I’ll rally with a few imperatives; I’ll make tortilla roll-ups for the Janeri Merry Chilimas party, finish off the Christmas cards, and wash my hair. Maybe I’ll write a blog post. And, if I get desperate, I can dip into my “shoulds” and make a batch of veggie burgers.

Manifesto To My Peeps

I love this place, and all of you.
I love lazy mornings in bed with Bob, and I love my job keeping an eye on things at The Plant.
I love walking in Tami and Lyle’s woods, and over to your houses for meetings and parties.
I love potluck, when we all bring something to the table, and laugh, and hug, and tell stories.

I love that we share so many of the same values.
I love how you acknowledge my strengths, and accept my shortcomings.
I love how we pull together when tragedy strikes.
I love how strong we look from the outside, and how tender we are on the inside.

I love when snow and ice have us all walking, often ending up at the same house for tea and cocoa.
I love looking at our footprints in the snow the next day.

I love the call of barred owl and coyote, the hawks, the jays, and the crows.
I love our collective voice in song.

I believe that heaven and hell are what we make of our lives, or are born into.
I’m incredibly lucky to have been born a white American woman in the age of birth control and internal combustion engines.
I’ve had the freedom to craft whatever the hell I wanted out of my existence on earth.
I can go where I want, eat as much as I like, work as little as I choose, and have the freedom to read whatever I like, and to write, and speak freely.

I believe honest work is the surest path to general well-being.
I believe that getting up each morning with a sense of purpose makes me shine with positive energy and good health.

I believe drama comes with the human package, and that, sometimes, gossip helps define problems and promote solutions.
I believe gossip can do a lot of damage.
I believe actions speak louder than words, but there are times when we have an obligation to speak our minds.

I believe we are all working on being the best we can be, and doing the best with what we have.
I believe in live and let live; in paddling my own canoe.
I believe in stepping aside to let others find their way because free advice is worth what you pay for it, and often ignored.

I believe in greeting everyone with as open a heart as possible, even strangers, and in the magic words, “please”, and “thank you”.
I believe I never know when I’m about to meet my next best friend.
I believe in following my heart, and I believe my heart led me to be here with all of you.
I believe in honoring time-tested relationships with loyalty.

I believe everything comes with a price, that every path chosen is a path not taken; that it’s never too late to turn back; and that “re-dos” are a first-world luxury.

I believe in grassroots movements, in bottom’s up change, and I’m indebted to the honest people working on legislation to make things better for the 99%.

I believe complex organisms, like our village here, rarely look as good on the inside as they do from the outside, and that we owe it to ourselves to see, through the eyes of our beholders, the beautiful safety net we’ve woven from our individual strengths and skills.

I believe we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

I believe commitment is the glue that keeps us together, that communication is essential for keeping us on track, and that fun is the fuel that keeps us moving forward.

I commit to love over fear, to slow over fast, to mindfulness, and to savoring every bite of this rich life.
I commit to finding the happy medium between affluence and poverty.
I strive to live by my values, knowing full well that I leave a bigger-than-average ecological footprint because I was lucky enough to be born in the post-industrialized United States of America.

I’ve heard it called voluntary simplicity. To me that means; do a little less, spend less, eat less, sleep more, cook most of my meals, grow some of my food, leave the car at home for a day here and there, shut down my browser, and wander around the neighborhood, taking time to stop and chat.

I commit to being less judgmental; and more accepting, respectful, and supportive.

Our community, born of privilege, intention, and hard work is a priceless gem – polished on the outside, a work in progress on the inside, an enviable privilege, and a sacred responsibility.

We live in the perfect time and place to enjoy the fruits of a simple life.

We each contribute to the perfect whole of this community.

We need each other to be strong, whole, and complete.

Note: Once a month, Bob and I meet the neighbors in a clearing in the woods to share joys and concerns, sing, and read inspirational material. I prepared this manifesto for this purpose, and read it on October 29, 2017.

My Old Man

Dad joking with his grandchildren Taylor and Teresa, and me.

My father is a complex human being. He is funny and cynical, educated, Spartan in his habits, short-tempered, and transfixed by Nazi Germany. At 91, he still ambulates without walker or cane, fixes his own meals, and sleeps a lot. I’m not sure he can still read, although he pretends his eyesight is fine. I believe he still has all of his teeth. His asthma is the same as it has been all his life, not good, but bearable.

I am sure I got my intellectual curiosity from my father. I also inherited his sturdy gene packet, his zest for simplicity, cynicism, and a short fuse. I wish I had gotten his teeth. I believe I got his pride, and thrift store addiction. Both my dad and I like to brag about our self-sufficiency. Neither of us wants anything to do with doctors. When complimented about a particularly fine piece of apparel, he’ll say with casual pride, “I paid 25 cents for it.”

My father and I are both dogmatic, and absolutely sure of our convictions. “I don’t eat flesh,” he proclaims, after converting to lacto-vegetarianism. He is sure milk is okay, because the cows on the Amish farms in his neighborhood seem happy and content. Eggs are a different story. Once a lover of beer in frosty mugs, he decided alcohol was an unnecessary evil and joined the WCTU (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union).

I got my sense of humor from my father, a healthy mix of wry quips and physical humor. As a young father, he was king of the surprised double-take, the master of fake falls. His standard dinner jokes still ring in my ears, “Done to a turd, er, a turn!” “Uh! This stuff keeps getting in my mouth!”

Grandma, me, and my Dad at a picnic where it looks like one of the hot dogs bit the dust, with my grandmother on damage control, and my father, no doubt teasing me for over-reacting.

And there was the magic glass joke, where he would point out the window and top off our milk glasses when we turned our heads. No matter how much we drank, the glass never got empty. Following his lead, we were all giants at the table; glaring menacingly at trees (broccoli) and baby’s brains (brussel sprouts), soon to be devoured. “Who wants the pea water?!” he’d exclaim, and we would fight over who got to drink the green liquid from the vegetable steamer.

My Dad and I are both a little like the character Dustin Hoffman played in the movie, “Rainman” – easily nonplussed by commotion. He often accused me of being hypersensitive, which was the pot calling the kettle black. In the chaos of my childhood, my father would retreat to his windowed study and jack up his classical music while he graded papers. When he’d come out and find his six kids tumbling around the house he would growl, “Settle down kids, settle down, or there’ll be pissing, and moaning, and blood on the floor.” He was right, of course – we never quit until someone got hurt.

Luckily, I inherited my father’s talent for writing. Until recently, he was still sending letters to the local newspapers, and The New York Times. Once I asked what he was up to, and learned he was transcribing Louis Pasteur’s notes from French to English. This man loved books so much, he brought home boxes of them every week from auction until he had stuffed an entire cow barn full to the rafters.

In grade school, I filled black marble pads with illustrated narrative. I would not have survived puberty without my diaries. I wrote my first letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News in the early 80’s. How surprised I was to see it in print, augmented with an editorial cartoon! Like my father, I’ve written many letters since then, enough to fill a scrap book with faded newsprint. And now I’m working on my second book, and am about to get published in a second anthology!

I owe much to my father. He bequeathed me his good eyes; his humor, rich in puns and pratfalls, his sarcasm, aversion to turmoil, and his intellectual approach to life. Like him, I’ll probably live a long life, and keep on writing until either my eyes or my fingers fail me. All in all, I ended up with a healthy selection of my father’s strengths and foibles.

The Seven C’s of Community

“C” words continually pop up in conversations about community; they circle my brain when I’m falling asleep, and dance in my mind before dawn. I’m awash in C’s! So, I decided to pick seven (my lucky number) and talk about what they mean to me.

First off, there’s Conflict. I want to believe conflict should never happen, and I don’t like dealing with it when it does. But, I have no choice but deal. Like small weeds in a garden, little conflicts quickly grow into unresolvable differences when left unaddressed. I know what my yard would look like if I didn’t diligently smother poison ivy and uproot sweetgum seedlings. Or maybe it’s like fixing a hole in a boat, as soon as it begins to leak. Anyhow, you get the picture. Best nip it in the bud, by speaking up and working out a solution.

Clarity. Let’s be clear, this is essential to everything from navigation (where am I headed?) to baking (am I making cookies or bread?) Clarity is especially important when working towards a common goal. First, I need to understand my own needs, goals, and expectations, or risk getting swept away by the energy of the group. Second, I need a clear picture of what we are trying to accomplish. Only then can I pick up my oars, assured I’m paddling in the right direction.

Communication. I once heard someone say, “You can’t over communicate,” and I believe this is true. I don’t live in a void, so I owe it to the people around me to be straight-up about my intentions. Likewise, I need to listen to what they are saying, and ask for clarification on what I don’t understand. Good communication means asking myself who might want to know what, and provide them the information. And it requires that I say what I’ll do, and do what I say.

Compassion. I’m continually surprised to find that not everyone thinks like me, or has the same standards, values, and needs. You’d think I’d be used to this by now! In some circles, I feel like I’m sitting in a canoe surrounded by yachts. In other company, I risk swamping a flock of rubber rafts. Either way, I need to paddle my own canoe. In the interest of harmony, I vow to allow others to be different. Compassion is the opposite of judgment.

Compromise. Well, this is not a popular word in the land of “Just Do It!” I was bottle fed the American Dream, and reached maturity in an era of consumer-enabled isolation. Community was something only needy people needed. Come to find out, I do need community, and it turns out the price of admission is compromise. I yield some aspects of my vision to support the vision of the group, a little privacy to belong, and a bit of time for the satisfaction of working towards common goals. And I’m continually impressed at how richly rewarded I am for my small concessions.

Commitment is the fuel that keeps me in the game. Without it, I would quit paddling with the first wave. In 1996, Bob and I got a taste of community in the steamy jungles of Belize. We realized the power of being connected to both the land and its inhabitants. Thirty years later, we moved to Moncure to recreate that connection and made a commitment to our neighbors at The Bend.

Conviviality. I saved the most important C for last. Potlucks, living room laughs, long walks through the woods, drinks on the deck, swimming parties, dance parties; these are all great ways to celebrate community. And then there’s the sublime; random encounters on driveway and trail, beaming smiles and outreached arms, or simply a knowing nod acknowledging an unspoken contract to enjoy each other’s company and have fun.

Many of my seven C’s sound like work, and it’s true – I like to earn my rewards. I’m a person who believes in work before play, and dinner before dessert. And sometimes, I get so mired down in earning, I forget to celebrate the rewards. So, as a reminder to myself, here are some of the benefits of community: companionship, contentment, connection, comfort, and camaraderie. So many C words!

Clarity Begins at Home

Clarity is essential to happiness and well-being, and I’ll happily step out on a limb to make this assertion. Or, an extension ladder, as is the case today. Today is window washing day.

In addition to washing windows, we are celebrating Bob’s 59th birthday. Birthday week (we prolong the pampering and chocolate cake) inspires me to write about one of Bob’s special talents – Clarity.

When friends come to the back door looking for Bob, I know their footsteps will have more spring to them when they leave because of Bob’s ability to find clarity in any situation. Bob begins by asking questions (another of his special gifts). And, while at first, he seems to be pulling us into a bog, his questions soon lead to solid ground. When the light bulbs begin going off, we see that Bob has done it again. He knows what to leave out, and what to leave in, and his advice is concise and to the point.

Bob tests out as an ENTJ (extraversion, intuition, thinking, judgment) on the Meyers Briggs personality spectrum. This set of traits has been nicknamed Field Marshall, and that fits Bob to a T. Field Marshalls are “good at systematizing, ordering priorities, generalizing, summarizing, marshaling evidence, and at demonstrating their ideas.” They are natural leaders, capable of seeing the whole picture, and pointing out a path forward. Personally, I will follow him anywhere, and we both know it.

The information age has been good for Bob. He now has at his fingertips answers to pretty much any question he or anyone else comes up with. And while you would think easy access to answers would make problem solvers of everyone, it hasn’t. That’s because not everyone has Bob’s talent for deciding which question needs to be answered first. Many of us go to the google and end up chasing information down a quagmire of rabbit holes. It’s Bob’s knack for finding the right path that has earned him guru status among our peers.

These thoughts come into focus for me as I stand on the fourth rung of an aluminum ladder with a bottle of Windex and a washcloth. I spray a pane and wipe at two years of wet, windblown dirt, spider poo, and sometimes little feather fluffs where a bird has smacked into the glass. It looks like I’m making a muddy mess until I take the dry side of the cloth and finish the job. Voila, a clear look at the inside of my house. All looks to be in order. I step down, move the ladder and tackle another one.

The Almighty We – the price of community

I learned at an early age that everything comes with a price. Everything costs something, be it cash or energy. Every bite of food had to be grown and processed, every asset built and maintained. In my world, there is no free lunch and for as far back as I can remember, I’ve done my best to earn my keep.

I’ve written about ‘who we are’ and ‘what we’re doing’. Now I’d like to chew on ‘how we contribute’. The wealth of a community is measured in assets. Orchards, roads, livestock, infrastructure, know-how, and labor all qualify as assets. Intentional communities usually build common areas which are maintained collectively. Some have a budget and managers. This is not the case with us. We have common areas owned by us all. Many of us are landowners and therefore have sovereignty over our property. We all own our time and energy. Sharing these assets is how we make our neighborhood feel like community.

Bob and I have a nice open floor plan, so we often host potlucks. Tami and Lyle share several miles of wooded trails which Lyle selflessly maintains with Kubota and chain saw. Alisa has created a farm, and a space for workshops and gatherings. Stuart pops in with vegetables, Bob mows over at the school, Chefs Whitney and Kabui are always cooking up something, and Hope often shows up with floral arrangements from her gardens.

When Bob gets too old to mow, the school will find another volunteer. Jason and Haruka used to provide the neighborhood with fresh produce. Now we’ve got two new farms. Maybe someone will move in who knows how to fix engines. Our arrangements evolve organically as people come and go, grow up and leave, age, and get sick. Fortunately, we have multi-generational appeal. The old folks need the young folks and vice versa. Still, there are no guarantees this neighborhood will be working together to create community 50 years from now, or even 20. And that’s fine with me. I am pleased as punch to contribute to the collective enrichment of this group of people here and now. It feels good to belong and to be needed and that’s enough for me.

Each individual decides how much to contribute. Sovereignty is a double-edged sword. I love the freedom to do anything I choose on my property, but may not appreciate what my neighbor does on theirs. Harmony demands we accept, without judgement, a myriad of lifestyles. It matters how we regard one another. It’s not enough to share. We need to be nice.

Happily, we hum along in harmony most of the time, getting things done despite lack of budget or hierarchy. The desire to belong motivates us to interact, to share our assets, and give of ourselves. There is no set price of admission in our village. The price of community is involvement, and how much we pay up to us.

More musing on community:
The Almighty We – Proximity
The Almighty We – Expectations

The Almighty We – Expectations

Community is absolutely necessary to humans, probably fourth in the hierarchy of needs after air, water, and food. But most of us don’t get too tangled up with our neighbors.

For one thing, it’s culturally appropriate in the U.S. to live independently. For another, we haven’t had much experience living together. First there were waves of immigrants, then the westward expansion, and finally, we all got cars and went our separate ways. We don’t depend on each other like villagers in developing countries, who need each other and know it. Americans are designed for independence.

As a kid, I idolized the heroes of 50’s and 60’s television, Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Batman. They were rescuers who seldom, if ever, needed rescuing themselves. I became a movie buff and was entranced by “The Seven Samurai.” A village of farmers hire some samurais to protect them from the bandits who make off with their rice harvest year after year. The samurai risk much to put an end to this injustice. One of the most interesting facets of this movie is the secret longing these samurai have for villages they could call home. Sadly, they know they will forever be outsiders, and at the end of the movie, the seven go their separate ways.

Eventually, I too, longed to belong. When I first hooked up with Bob, he taught me how to be more of a team player. We traveled, and gained a reputation for throwing in with others. In this way we honed our interdependence skills.

Ten years ago, we made the big leap and joined a group of community-minded neighbors in North Carolina. We didn’t discuss our expectations, but we liked the concept. And for some years now we refer to ourselves as an unintentional community. We’re rather proud of that. Its working, this community thing, and we’re not even trying too hard. We get together for potlucks, come to each other’s aid when asked, and do our best to get along.

Until, lately, we decide to put some intention into it. We ask ourselves, “What do we want our community to look like?” Now we were faced with a “blind men and the elephant” situation. Some of us want a deeper spiritual connection, others, more programs and facilities. We all agree we want food grown on the premises, a school for our children, and a burial ground. We take inventory and begin deploying under-used assets. We say no to nothing, all new ideas are worth manifesting. We want it all without losing our peace and quiet, and security. The children swim in the pond, we are a village of fun and parties. My head begins to spin.

I reach into my memory for insight, and find a dog story. It was my first day at dog obedience class. I’d brought a young husky bitch, a sweet dog in need of a program. When the trainer explained that we dog owners could have it any way we liked it, I remember laughing to think it could be this simple. If we wanted our dog to jump up into our arms, that’s what we would teach it to do. If we wanted a dog to pull a cart, we could have that, too. Eat out of our hand, never touch our skin with its lips, pee outside, pee in the toilet; anything was possible. All we had to do was decide.

Back to our community. I give it some thought and can’t come up with anything structural. I don’t know what I want us to look like. I think we look fine as we are. I’m getting everything I need, perhaps a little more. I decide to turn the question around. “What do I expect from my community?” The answer erupts with clarity; acceptance, respect, and support. That’s all I want, and I want it for all of us. No more, no less.

Sounds simple.

Read Part I: The Almighty We – Proximity

The Almighty We – Proximity

I learned something about community from the dogs in Nicaragua. Thirteen years ago, Bob and I found ourselves managing a vacation lodge on a 3200-acre Caribbean island without police or doctors. We lived in small house inside a large chain link compound. Six dogs served as security guards.

The first time one of the dogs got outside the fence, we tossed her back in. The other five turned on her as if she were any other intruder. We were shocked. Occasionally all six of them would escape and become a snarling mass of teeth and flying fur. The rest of the time they were backyard pets, goofy and polite.

Their hierarchy was completely territorial, the lone pack member instantly turned outsider by a few millimeters of fence. The humans were equally insular, separated from the mainland by miles of water, and therefore connected to everyone on this little island. At one point we had a problem with someone who was interfering with our staff and wanted to ban him from the grounds. But the lodge owner stayed our hand with, “You can’t write anyone off on an island.”

Another thing about this island; although there were no elected officials, everyone knew where to bring their troubles. We took our problems to a handful of elders who could be counted on to shoulder the burdens of dispute. Every social ripple ended up at their doors.

It’s easy to see how people sort themselves into groups on an island. You are either on the island or not, resident or visitor. Within the group of residents are levels of belonging based on time. On Maui we were often asked, “How many years have you lived on the island?” “One,” earned a sniff, “Two,” a nod, and “Four,” the hint of a smile.

Likewise, down here at the bend we hesitate to write anyone off, there are a handful of elders, and concentric circles of belonging. Tami and Lyle are the center of our community for all three reasons. They’ve been here the longest, actually sold many of us our homes, and never shrink from the difficult work of keeping peace. Radiating outwards are those who have lived here and been actively involved in the community for fifteen years or longer, then ten, then five. Populating the outer circles are renters, interns, and future homeowners.

But, unlike dogs inside a fence, or islanders strapped to a rock in the sea, our community members are far more mobile. Regardless of what I want to think about my connection to my neighbors, the truth is I am often outside the fence. I hop in the car and join other tribes for a time, then come back home and try to get back inside the fence.

It’s a challenge to behave in a tribal manner despite our jet-setting lifestyles. No way did our tribal ancestors move freely in and out of other tribes, yet we often find ourselves in communities dozens or hundreds of miles from home. We are constantly reconnecting. Despite our mobility, we do our best to mimic the bond we imagine tribal members had with one another. I have to say, we’re doing a pretty good job.

‘Read Part II: The Almighty We – Expectations

Potatoes!

Those who know me well have heard me say, “I’m never bored,” and yet I worry my life appears boring. My life is as predictable as the sunrise, especially in the culinary department. Bob and I get up, make the bed, and sip coffee and cocoa at our desks, before wandering down the well-worn paths of our day. I drive to work three days a week, and divide my time at home between yardwork, desk, and kitchen.

My fourteen or so hours in the kitchen yield a rotating menu of our favorite dishes. We used to be gourmets, were never foodies, and have settled in the middle with extraordinarily simple, down-home comfort food. Of late, Bob’s been pulling potatoes out of the garden at a furious rate, so there are plenty of potato meals. You can tell we came from Irish stock! We’re eating new potatoes with sour cream and garden chives, potato salad, oven fries, scalloped or mashed potatoes and fried potatoes in our Saturday night burritos. When people drop by they leave with a bag of potatoes. German Butterball, Yukon Gold, Colorado Rose, Rose Apple Finn, French Fingerling, Red Thumb – yum!

Shelley and I swap tomatoes for potatoes. There’s nothing better than a slice of home-grown heirloom on toast with lots of mayonnaise after my Sunday morning walk with Shelley. Last week she put up a half a bushel of her tomatoes sauce and gifted us a couple of jars with one of her Delicata squash. I went right home and put eggplant parmesan with roasted squash on the menu for Tuesday. The next week she gave me cucumbers which I turned into tangy refrigerator pickles. On Thursday’s Bob returns from farmer’s market with eggplant, sweet corn, cucumbers, and squash. Most of our other neighbors aren’t keen on potatoes. “No thanks,” they say, eyes rolling, “We’ve got plenty of potatoes.”

On Sunday I plan the upcoming week’s menu on a dry erase board. Lately, I don’t have to do much erasing or writing. We may as well have cheezburgers with potato salad on Monday again this week. Ditto for new potatoes and sauerkraut on Thursday (did I mention that Bob makes delicious sauerkraut using cabbages from Granite Springs Farm) chick’n sandwiches and sweet corn on Friday, Saturday burritos with fried potatoes, and potatoes again on Sunday.

We bake all our bread and meat analogs: veggeroni, ribs, veggie burgers, breaded seitan cutlets. Whenever possible we buy this season’s dried legumes for black bean soup, Greek butter beans, chili, garbanzo Brunswick stew, baked beans, and cassoulet. These are nice served with a crisp salad and corn tortilla quesadillas. We doll up our salad with homemade croutons and pickled beets, refrigerator pickles, tomatoes, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

I love the instant gratification of the kitchen and will often go there rather than my desk. A few years ago I started listening to audiobooks while I cook which made it even more addictive. Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, The Evanovich “One for the Money” series, “Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, Gone Girl, Poisonwood Bible, and Go Set a Watchman. I get them from the library or stream them off Youtube. Next up, one of my very favorite reads, 100 Years of Solitude.

As if this weren’t enough fun, Bob set up a projector and screen in our living room so we can watch part of a movie or TV series while we eat dinner. We found Downtown Abbey especially enjoyable, and are addicted to House of Cards. Loved Stranger than Fiction, Whatever Works, Sweet Bean, Zootopia, and Sully. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Youtube, we are seldom at a loss for something good to watch. “Dinner and a movie with my best friend, again!” Bob predictability exclaims.

This is predictability by design. We two old folks have spent years fine-tuning recipes and rituals that bump our quality of life into the “no comparison” zone. No matter what challenges our day presents, we close with a stellar meal, and this time of year it usually involves potatoes. Call it boring, I call it delicious!