5. Bake an Apple Pie

breakfast

We are finally sleeping at the new place. We’re not fully moved out of the old apartment, but we have officially started living in my new home.

The shininess of it all is still shiny enough that I feel special and sort of woo woo positive about setting up new housing and home based rituals. I have not had a formal kitchen table since I had an on-campus apartment in grad school so I’m still enjoying the ability to actually set a table and eat at a table. We made a rule based on both an attempt to keep our new furniture as nice as possible for as long as possible, and the summer of bugs, that we wouldn’t eat in the living room. We have a small space built into the kitchen that’s big enough for a small table to act like a separate dining space.

I needed a break from packing last night, plus it was raining and already dark by the time I got out of work [I’m one of those people who work four ten hour shifts between Wednesday and Saturday]. I hadn’t tested the oven yet and decided it was time for a pie.

pie

I don’t scratch my pies, not really. Pie crust is one of the products I fully admit to buying in a box. Mine are terrible, on a level where the amount of years necessary to improve them daunts me and I just find it easier to buy a box of crusts. I don’t peel my apples unless I’m really bored or looking for ways of filling time. I normally toss them with sugar, flour, and pumpkin spice but I just went with cinnamon this time [better quality cinnamon than I normally have in the house, however]. A little bit of butter.

It came out of the oven around 11 last night, and I went straight to bed. This morning I got up before Mid, set up his plate for breakfast, made his coffee. Wandered off to do whatever.

When I came back into the front of the apartment he was sprawled in front of Star Trek, on the couch. With the pie.

Our plan of not eating in the living room made it a full 24 hours.

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The Broken Teapot-Mental Health, Homesteading, and Self Care

This one was hard to write.

There is a meme that goes around Facebook among the more woo woo set that talks about how empathy and the self are a teacup, and you can’t pour from an empty teacup so take care of self first.

However I’ve also seen a great many of the same people who share that meme share another meme that basically says give…and give…and give, and keep giving in effectively thankless situations because you’re a Good Person and Good People are just compassionate perpetual motion machines.

I am deliberately posting this entry after the Great Roach Confession for a reason.

I pretty much lost my mind this summer. Over a bunch of cockroaches.

This is not an exaggeration. This is where I get really, really honest, and very bare and very direct. So consider this your trigger warning if you need one, for discussion of self harm, depression, anxiety, and mental health.

I have written in the past with my long lasting battle with my mental health. I had a very bad winter and my housekeeping slid backwards to where the apartment really, truly did need work. That, I will not deny. There’s an article going around social media about ‘depression did this to this woman’s bedroom.’ That’s….basically what my mental health did to me. A situation developed to where I -had- to start taking care of my physical surroundings and I sort of wrote it off to personal woo woo the Universe is giving me a kick, I can start over again.

Then the roaches came. And it turns out I’m phobic to roaches.

By the time the dust settled, I had thrown out close to half of my personal belongings (though in fairness, this is not inherently a bad thing), calorie restricted and otherwise self harmed myself out of two dress sizes, stopped sleeping, and basically got obsessive with cleaning my kitchen. Which didn’t even necessarily have the decency of completely stopping the bugs, because it became obvious that they’re probably traveling in from a different space. I admitted to myself that for the first time in a decade my actually well developed self treatment system wasn’t going to be enough anymore. I wasn’t suicidal-but I had stopped caring. If you had tried to hurt me, I would have let you. It would have been better.

If this sounds extremist, remember that this is what mental illness does to a person. You lose your compass, and your ability to stay whole.

Bear with me, I am getting to the homesteading in all of this.

There is trying to pour from an empty cup, and then there is trying to serve from a broken teapot.

An empty cup is bad enough, but when you’re trying to sure that you’re taking care of a large, carefully balanced interplay of a tea party inside a tempest inside a ballroom, and your teapot is cracked with tea dribbling everywhere and the guests staring at you wondering why you’re not performing at top level and you’re wondering what the hell is wrong with you, every other tea party seems to be going okay…you really need to understand that it’s time to work on fixing your teapot before going ahead with more serving.

By the end of this whole situation, I ended up breaking lease, finding a much, much nicer, much larger apartment with a functionally designed kitchen and storage space and light (glorious light for two people living with SADD), and a landlord with a written extermination policy. And minimalism is looks good on me and I want to keep purging, because purging means less stuff and less stuff means less to clean and less places for bugs to hide. Things will be okay, they will be work because the new place is that much more expensive but they will be okay.

This is what the Summer of Bugs has taught me about self care and attempting to restart a homestead, even an urban homestead like I’m doing in Buffalo:

  1. You have to eat. That is non-negotiable, even for the mentally healthy. It is absolutely pivotal for the mentally ill. I have both an EDNOS plus at least one anxiety disorder. I have literally never flared to the point where my blood sugar triggered my anxiety until this summer. I am still waking up having to try to decide if I’m hungry or having a panic attack. Eat something small once an hour or whenever you can fit it in if you can’t fit in a full meal.
  2. You have to sleep. I understand that sleeping on a homestead is often a matter of working around your homestead’s schedule. But you must do it when you can.
  3. You have to stay on top of your meds if you have them. Herbal, mainstream, mental health or otherwise, you need to stay medicated if they’re prescribed.
  4. You need to learn when you’ve had enough, You have a natural limit, and then a point where you’ve overworked, and then a point where you’re actually damaging yourself. Try to set up a system to avoid causing more problems in the long run by overextension.
  5. You need to try to engage in basic levels of physical care. I get that this one is hard when you’re depressed or exhausted, or both. But try to brush your teeth. Try to wash your hair. Try to remember deodorant. I see this a lot as an idea that gets interpreted as ‘making it easier to socialize’ but it’s helpful for grounding out back into yourself. And it feels good.
  6. Ask for help. Ask for help if you need a task done, ask for help if you need a mental health professional. You don’t need to work under extreme duress. There are even places that do mental health work online.
  7. Learn when it’s time to say no. You don’t need to do every project the Internet suggests for your homestead, and you don’t need to listen to people when they tell you what a perfect homestead should look like. One of the best pieces of homesteading advice I’ve seen lately was ‘there’s no brownie points for misery.’ Don’t work yourself into exhaustion just because you feel like it’s more noble or more authentic. It’s wonderful to have goals and vision, and compromise is certainly a valid option, but don’t come down too hard on yourself for not being able to be Little House on the Prairie all the time.
  8. Shit just happens. Animals die, fires happen, rivers flood. Your building gets cockroaches from some unknown source because humans and vermin have lived in tandem for thousands of years. Sometimes life is going to knock you on the ass. Sometimes just acknowledging that things are beyond your control is enough to knock your head free.
  9. Tomorrow is not certain, place 95% of your energy into today. I don’t like never planning ahead. Assuming my head is in the right place, I function better knowing what the absolute worse case scenario is. When I was potentially facing housing instability over this whole mess [seriously. Things got that bad. It was truly bad.] I came to realize that the worst case scenario was moving back to Central New York, renting a house, and truly homesteading. That was very calming, to have a mantra of ‘the worst case scenario is home.’ Then in the space of 24 hours I had the money to move, found a new apartment, applied for it, got approved, signed paperwork, and told my old landlord I was leaving. A day can and sometimes will change everything. So let tomorrow take care of itself, as long as you’re not so caught up in today that you forget that painful situations will end.
  10. It is better to make consistent 1% changes over time than it is to try to change everything and burn out. This has been a very firebird summer, a lot of hot burning to ashes and rebuilding in a better place. But the greatest success has come from training myself to be at least a consistently mediocre housekeeper than keep cycling between spotless and chaos. Very little change on a day to day basis needs to be extreme, fast, and intense. Be kind on yourself and let it be a journey. [Not my original idea. I’m not sure where it comes from, but it’s not my original phrasing.]

The biggest takeaway from trying to serve with a broken teapot is this: it is very sort of woo woo but you are the pot and the pot is you. You need to do those things that keep you both physically and mentally well enough to not let reality feel like a horror movie. Very little, precious little, of what the Universe throws at you will need to be addressed so completely and so quickly that you can’t care for self first.

If you do feel like you need help preventing self harm or addressing suicidal ideation, please contact 741741 via text if you are in the United States. 

30. See What Target Has for Halloween

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Checking out the Target Halloween section has become a seasonal tradition. I almost never buy anything but I do it every year, on the off chance that this is the year I have to have whatever they’ve put out this year.

I have been trying to keep myself pretty level with the move and the associated stress. I only have until the 30th to get everything done, but at the same time, I don’t need have everything finished by the end of this week either. I think it’s partially my own fault. I’m terrible about putting off moving until I have to do everything in the space of a week, so I have myself trained that moving means tight schedules and high stress. In other words, I think I have to have everything done by tomorrow and I need to panic. So I have been trying to make sure I hit self care in some way every day.

I gave myself a rough budget of $5 a piece for Halloween decorations for the new place. I actually assumed that this would work out to one, maybe two pieces from the dollar store, a lot of photos for future ideas, and not much else. I was okay with that, actually.

But this year is weird at Target. Weird, in a good way. I swear they’ve lowered a lot of their prices on decorations. I feel like there may be less of them this year than normal, but I also think I hit the displays right after they flipped from school supplies [in fact I know I did. I was there on a Tuesday and they were just putting up the signage and then was there on Saturday and suddenly Halloween stuff]. But the stuff is really, really cute this year. Sort of quasi-gothic for the main line, and then there’s this adorable folk art/retro inspired line that seems to be really popular, even with the people on my Facebook who don’t normally like Halloween.

Basically I went home with a cup, a bird, and a pumpkin. All under $5 a piece.

birdcup

birds

ghosts

skittles

target

Routine Makes it Easier 

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So this one time my apartment got roaches.

There’s an interesting split on the Internet regarding bugs. Actual, scientifically driven or professional sites are basically like ‘sometimes bugs just happen. They come in on a box or up through your drains or on some dog food.’

…Unfortunately at least some bloggers imply that roaches mean you’re filthy. I won’t name names, because I don’t have them at this point, but nothing like adding shame to the mix.

Guess which one my anxiety disordered brain internalized.

However, both camps both stressed the same thing: roaches mean you have to have a pretty intense cleaning routine in place.

That apartment has been sprayed, rapidly is becoming ‘my old apartment’, and it’s been 11 days since the last roach sighting.

One of the odd things to come out of it is the realization that routine is pivotal for us mediocre housekeepers.

-Do a serious deep cleaning. Whether you’re just establishing habits or fighting pests, housekeeping will be easier if you’re not fighting backlogged grime. I actually hired someone to help me and it was money well spent.

-Make small changes and build on them. I started by sweeping and taking the garbage out daily, then worked up from there every few days. Don’t expect to go from nothing to everything overnight.

-Spend serious time looking at your schedule. Watch how your day flows and what is best accomplished when.

-Find the best tools for the job. Taking the garbage out at night is easier on me mentally with half sized bags.

-Try to keep the same order. It will start to feel familiar and almost like muscle memory.

-The more you do it, the faster it gets. The days you have to do heavy cleaning like floors will move slower but normal days will speed up.

-Buy supplies you like to use. It’s simple and obvious but if you’re not fighting your toolbox, you’re more willing to do the work.

-Work out a schedule for the big cleaning. I started out trying to bleach my cabinets daily. Unless there are many hands to help you, don’t try to do deep cleaning every day. Set up a monthly schedule.

-It’s okay to fall. Don’t sleep in the ditch. I don’t take out garbage when the skunks are out. I bought a garbage can with a lid. It gets bleached weekly. It’s okay if the bag has to wait overnight, but it has to go the next morning. It can’t just sit there, waiting. Life will happen. Let it.

-Sometimes stuff just happens. If roaches are a pure filth issue, then a chunk of New York City and multiple American Southern states are gross places. Life will do things like encounter pests, experience depressive episodes, or family deaths. Deal with it, calmly and quickly. I don’t mean to sound harsh, truly, but getting on top of the situation will be easier if you don’t blame yourself or panic. Figure out what habits need to be shifted and do it.

-Ask for help. Seriously. Ask someone to come in and help you get going, or teach you new ways of cleaning that might streamline the process. Turns out I’ve been doing my floors wrong and that’s why they’ve always looked terrible. Who knew.

The Halloween Mask Effect

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This is a repost from 2014, but in light of it being Halloween season again, and actually an election year, I’m pulling this one out again. No, I have no idea currently which mask is selling better this year, and I would be surprised if that data is out yet-but I might check in a few weeks.

I know that we’re now in November and therefore past the point where this is relevant, but at the same time, I really like this quirk (assuming this is true, and I sort of want it to be true).

It’s claimed that you can tell who will win a presidential election in November by what masks are sold for Halloween in October. This claim holds true for American society, but I’m not sure if it’s limited to Americans, if it’s because Halloween is currently a heavily American holiday, or if no one’s bothered paying attention to anywhere other than the States.

But it’s apparently accurate with a fairly freakishly high success rate-you can tell who will win by who is the most popular candidate to dress up as.

However, that’s probably the key word: popular. While the ‘nasty’ costumes for less than loved politicians are common, people like to collect and surround themselves with images of things that they like. Therefore, they’re going to be more likely to buy a costume of someone they are more willing to vote for than those they have no interest in. It’s an extension of popular culture; the images that people like are the ones that they want to dress up as (I read that Ryan Murphy was startled to already see Twisty the Clown costumes on the street this year-and multiple of them, to boot). The trend supposedly dates back to the 1988 election, with Reagan being the successful candidate and the highest selling mask. Or 1980, depending on source. However, the basic idea is still the same-for the past 30 years or so, the American election can be predicted by the sale of Halloween costumes.

This is one of those trends that is weird enough that pop culture loves it. It makes for a wonderful headline (Halloween predicts presidents! Next it’ll rain frogs!). I like it because it starts getting into those interplays that make sociology fascinating.

Strange Election Indicators: Halloween Masks

6 Bizarre Factors that Predict Every Presidential Election

Halloween masks predict Obama win 60-40

Halloween makes predict elections?

For Halloween 2012 prognosis, look to…Halloween masks?

Halloween Presidential Mask Sales Have Correctly Predicted Last Five Elections

Recommended Cleaning Supplies

And I do mean recommended. I’ve been asking for suggestions for this series of posts, and this is the question that got the most responses.

Not all of us are trained in the high art of cleaning. Or, again, we’re young enough to be just learning. Mix and match from this list to create a cleaning kit. The list runs from crunchy-green to conventional products.

Soaps

Dawn [I prefer the Platinum but a lot of people swear by the original blue]

All

Tide

Dr. Bronner’s [castile soap in general]

Oxyclean
Woods and Furniture 

Lemon Pledge

Olde English oil

Bona

Murphys oil soap
Solvents, Cleaners, and Fluids
Bleach

Ammonia

Scrubbing Bubbles

CLR

White vinegar 

Windex

Easy Off

Lemon juice 

Rubbing Alcohol 

Hydrogen Peroxide 

Zep

Clorox bleach scrubbies

Vodka [don’t downplay vodka. I use it everywhere in the house.]

The Basics toilet cleaner

Toothpaste  [for grout]
Tools

Brillo pads

Steel wool

Gloves

Squeegee

Magic erasers 

Bucket

Grout brush

Toothbrush

Toilet brush 

Kitchen cloth

1 roll paper towels

Mop

Broom

Microfiber wipes

Spray bottle

Scrub pads [look like sponges but feel like Brillo, often green]
Scrubs and abrasives 

Comet

Bon Ami

Bar Keep’s Friend

Baking soda
Brands

Myers 

7th generation 
Essential oils 

Tea tree 

Clove

Lavender 

Lemon

Orange 
Diy General Cleaner 

In a spray bottle, mix a splash of vinegar, water, a squirt of dish soap, and 5 drops orange or lemon oil.

Stocking a Kitchen

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For whatever reason, I can blog without guilt.

I can’t do much else without guilt right now-if I’m at home, I feel like I should be cleaning, packing, or sleeping. You’ll notice eating isn’t on that list. Ha. Ha. [Now is not the time to talk about mental health and homesteading/intensifying homesteading, but I feel an entry coming on at some point.] I can’t even unwind with a movie or a book for a few hours without feeling like I’m wasting valuable time. We went to a free Shawn Lennon concert…do you think I could relax enough to recharge? Of course not.

But blogging seems to be ‘productive’ enough to let me unwind a little and regroup without kicking the guilt into gear.

This may be a 101 entry-but there are several situations that I can think of without really trying as to why you would be looking for information on stocking a basic kitchen. Fires, fast/long moves [quickly or across country, or both], first households, natural disasters are all situations where you might find yourself suddenly having to flip a kitchen with little guidance. If this isn’t the first household you’ve set up, this will be easier, but if you’re finding yourself interested in hearthcraft and have no idea where to begin, this will hopefully be helpful.

-Buy the best you can afford, and upgrade if you can

I feel like all of my lists lately have an entry that I mentally label ‘the cloth toilet paper’ entry. It’s the point where I feel like if I’m going to get any push back, it’s going to be that entry. What I mean here is really literal-whatever your price range is, buy the best you can at that point and then upgrade from there. You can almost always upgrade [or not, if the pieces you have are completely functional and holding out fine for you]. Here’s the thing, though-I am fully aware, having lived that reality, that the dollar store is sometimes your current price point. The dollar store is actually good for starter pieces, as long as your careful with the plastics. They’re flimsy and not going to go for years-but they’re cheap and available.

-Use your thrift stores

This is a great option if you have them available. The same idea applies to garage sales, estate sales, and the like.

I have a thing for measuring spoons with molded/raised size markers. I have destroyed more than one set of measuring spoons by washing off the markers. I can eyeball sizes fairly accurately but with canning, I don’t want to risk throwing off a recipe. I have upgraded several sets of spoons with trips to the thrift stores. I have also found small pieces of cookware, and when I was first starting out after school I bought all my plates and coffee cups at the Salvation Army. You do have to be careful with pricing-thrift stores are notoriously expensive for things like canning jars where they try to charge per piece.

-Give up form for function [or save it for gifts]

I love most of the stuff in gourmet cooking shops. I love the cookware, the amazing ladles, and the coffee makers. The only thing I really have my eyes set on, truly, are good European canning jars and a coffee maker. I spent six years working as a barista, loved it, and learned the value of a truly good brewer. However, about those ladles. I have an Oneida solid metal ladle that after 8 years of my mediocre household skills is still puttering along fine. I can’t justify the price difference to upgrade a solid metal ladle to another solid ladle just because it’s shiny and pretty.

But. There is something to be said for what could be called heirloom quality tools. And knives especially are aided by a little more money being put towards the cause. If you’re the type of person who celebrates gift giving situations, ask for these tools [or gift cards towards them] as your gift. People might think it a little odd that you want a $20 ladle, but you might get it.

-Shop beyond your normal zones [or your normal stores]

Goya sells a lot of inexpensive staple cooking supplies like spices, sofrito, and beans. In fact, a great many of the food staples in my kitchen are cheaper in ‘specialty’ sections of Wegmans or specialty stores. Target and Tops both want $5 a bottle for sesame oil for drunken noodles, whereas it’s $3 a bottle at T&T Grocers up the street, who specialize in several Southeastern Asian cuisines. In fact, I get my instant coffee strips for baking and camping at T&T-they’re less than half the price for high quality instant coffee compared to mainstream American grocers.

-Buy a cookbook

The Internet is a beautiful thing, but get a solid cookbook. Just one, to start. You can flesh out your collection once you figure out what you want to be cooking [unless you already know]. I actually like the workhorse basic Betty Crocker red and white cookbook, but Cook’s Illustrated have several huge, well tested cookbooks on the market.

-What fits your style?

Do you need a waffle maker?

This has actually been a running battle in my household for years now, and with getting a much larger kitchen in the new apartment, I fear that Mid will ultimately win this war and we’ll get a waffle maker when the Christmas sales start up. So basically tomorrow in American shopping reality.

Do not buy things just because you feel like a well rounded kitchen should have one. If you don’t see yourself using it, then don’t spend the money on it. It causes clutter and eats up money. I do feel like you should have a good quality stand mixer, preferably one you can get attachments for like a Kitchenaide or similar. But I honestly can’t think of anything you need beyond that. You can live without a microwave, you don’t need a toaster oven, and I know that even my beloved coffee makers are optional.

Unless of course you actually do need those things in your household. Then get them, but ignore the waffle makers of your world.

-Multitasking items

I used my graniteware canner so infrequently as a canner and so frequently to corral kitchen cloth that during one of the waves of purges over the past two months getting ready for this move I got rid of it. I use a stockpot for most of my water bath canning. And the beauty of it is that I use the pot for more ‘normal’ pot things. Buy items that you can get more than one use out of.

-Out of the box and into the basket

One of the very, very few things I do enjoy about moving is finding the farmer’s markets and CSAs. I…have never actually subscribed to one but I like to find them and daydream. And then forget about actually signing up because I almost always find them in January when all we’re growing is lake effect snow. I do have friends however that swear by them, and for someone like me who now works Saturdays during most farmer’s markets, it might be on my to do list for next summer so I can still get my local produce without scheduling conflicts.

-Give up on matching

Pick a color. Or a color family. Or a generic print family like ‘flowers’ or ‘fruit’ or ‘flamingos’. Great. You now have your kitchen theme. My theme for the new kitchen is fall colors and harvest themes-fruit, pumpkins, golds, dusty jewel tones to pull in the colors from the living room. So now that I have a rough idea in my head I can mix and match items that I find on sale or are gifted without trying to fit things I find on sale into my kitchen without throwing off the visual of the place. You don’t need to give up personal style or your budget, you just have to be flexible with what you’re willing to work with [this is also why my Kitchenaide is egg shell white. It was less than half price because the color was discontinued.]

-Shop online

I buy my loose leaf tea in bulk via Adaigo. I know people who swear by Mountain Rose Herbs. I actually ordered both my bed and my mattress online (which I understand is not a kitchen item but you get the point). Don’t be afraid to shop online for good sales on items that you don’t need in the immediate short term. You can often get good sales on bulk items like spices, and you will most likely be able to get access to supplies you can’t get locally-I can get a lot of herbs at Penzey’s down the road, but I can’t get dried scorpion peppers or Carolina Reapers, like I can online.