muddy feet memoirs

The Chronicle of My Comeback

Month: June, 2013

This Is What I Have Time For

Wet Garden

Late June rains – a delightful anomaly in Northern California, especially with the drought threatening our summer crops.  I can feel the garden growing!  Tomorrow I will attack the weeds that have entrenched themselves, and forage through the beds for the spontaneous produce brought on by the heat and the rain.

Jay’s cancer is spreading.  Like the weeds in the garden, some can be yanked out and some need to be poisoned.  I don’t use herbicides or pesticides in the garden, but I’m afraid it’s chemo time again for Jay.  Our last treatment option.

The canning season has begun in earnest with dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, and ketchup.  A bag of quickly rotting onions needs to be caramelized and frozen asap.  Soon the produce will start to pile up around us!  I must build more shelves in the basement – our pantry is already spilling out onto the floor.

I have started a farm – another farm – behind a cemetery where I will raise turkeys for Thanksgiving.  Heritage turkeys.  I have 3 attack geese (very friendly) and will one day have heritage hogs, maybe breed chickens, maybe ducks…  there are 4 sheep there now.  Quite a little laboratory!  I will take it slow, however.  I must remember that I can only handle so much these days.  The future needs me to hold a spot for it.

The kids are 2 weeks into summer vacation.  Much like 3 years ago, their summer will be shadowed by cancer and their fear of losing a parent.  They don’t know yet and I savor this transient fact.  Tonight Jay and I will listen to records real loud,  probably self medicate.  Maybe watch a comedy.  Be grateful for our life.

This is what I have time for now.


Food Stamps at Whole Foods


Jay and I just got food stamps – in California it’s called CalFresh.  This was not something done out of desperation but out of excitement and zeal.  We continue to master the art of living well on very little, but still, there are some compromises I’d rather not be making.

For instance, cheap non-organic bread flour is about a quarter of the price of the ginchy stuff I prefer, so I tend to bake with Con-Agra instead of Giuisto’s.  CalFresh is going to change that.  Another example will be seen in our pantry this winter; through our non-profit Food Rescue we tend to supplement our garden’s produce with cast offs from the local Farmers’ Market vendors, but much of that produce is not organic.  CalFresh is going to change that, too.

Are you shocked?

I know there is a stigma to accepting assistance.  I think somewhere in the back of our minds – whether we identify as the Us’s (foodies with a budget for fine fare) or the Thems (impoverished folks with little taste and less money) – we know the roles each group is supposed to play.  Those who “need help” should be using their government money at discount grocers, buying commercially manufactured food in boxes and cans.  Scraping by.  When we realize we’re behind them in the grocery store line we critique their food decisions – is that a case of soda and a bag of chips?! – yet I bet we’d be more shocked if they were buying imported French cheese.

Which is exactly what Jay and I did today at the Whole Foods in Napa (the hub of aspirational shopping), along with two full bags of whatever we wanted worth $185, and for which we paid absolutely nothing.  Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?

As anyone who has read this blog can attest, I think of “living well” as canning organic pears and pickles, making bread from San Francisco’s finest flour mill, storing enough organic strawberries for jam and smoothies all year long – not extravagant  luxuries like God’s Own Roquefort.  But hell, is there any reason why low income folks should never enjoy fine things?

I think the taboo around using government assistance to purchase Really Good Food is that our culture views people on assistance as failures of the American work ethic.  They should be ashamed when using their “handouts,” not gleeful – and certainly not refined!

Since we can everything in our pantry, make our own bread (etc, etc) we are already way ahead of the curve financially.  We aren’t “needy” in any way, though we are clearly low income enough to have qualified for ~$450 a month, so why shouldn’t I use this new resource to improve the quality of what I feed myself and family?  We all agree that GMOs are bad, artisanal is good, and that every person deserves fresh, nourishing food, but somehow these practices are still (subconsciously) considered the pervue of the privileged.   I reject that.

Tonight we dine on our french cheese, Acme bread, and our favorite olives – our idea of date night when the kids are gone.  Tomorrow we will harvest plums (green, Italian and Santa Rosa), possibly as much as 500 lbs worth.  We will also collect excess from the Farmers’ Market vendors, also likely to weigh in at ~500 lbs.  All of this fresh produce will find its way into the hands of our neighbors, through food agencies and networks of generosity.  What would half a ton of produce be worth at Whole Foods?  Certainly more than our monthly CalFresh allotment.


That’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by!