taking a break

empty house III

Our house is empty, our things are packed. In the flurry of these last few weeks I have, multiple times, shoved all of my belongings into various cabinets, boxes and suitcases. Needless to say, I’m ready to take a little break as Andrew and I travel to see family before jetting off to our new home. In my absence here I’ll be breaking in a new journal and wearing out an old pair of shoes, and I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

empty house side by side II

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tip for moving #5

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If you’re a closet food hoarder like I am, you should probably start paying attention to what’s in your pantry right about now. If you’re moving in less that three weeks, you should probably start cleaning out your pantry. Starting yesterday.

I grew up in the country, several miles outside of the town in which I went to school and at least half an hour any direction from the nearest large grocery store. We had to drive 30 minutes one way to get to Walmart, 40 minutes another way to reach Hart’s or Price Cutter or Harter Haus, and if we needed bulk or specialty items — well, that was an hour and a half, at least.

Understandably, I learned to hoard pantry items. When it’s a Saturday afternoon and you need homemade chocolate chip cookies but have no butter or chocolate chips, there is no change-out-of-sweatpants-and-drive-to-the-store spontaneity because that would take at least an hour, and then where are those cookies? So, we stockpiled. (Interestingly enough, this is also how I learned to experiment and substitute so freely in the kitchen. My creative mother was judicious in her cooking experiments — I learned from the best.)

Fast-forward ten years and I’m within walking distance of the farmers market and just a short drive from the commissary or my favorite grocery store. I don’t have to stockpile because I can easily pick up some canned tomatoes or a rasher of bacon any afternoon I might need it, no long-term planning required. And yet.

I hoard canned tomatoes in my pantry and rashers of bacon in my freezer. I have little tins of hatch peppers and bulk jars of jasmine rice and gluten-free oats and a couple bags of seaweed and canned tuna and olives and coconut milk and all sorts of things stored away, like a little chipmunk saving up for winter hibernation. Which is all well and good was I living with said stocked pantry for another couple of months, which I am not. Take it from me, friends — it is better to start cleaning out early and buy what you need later in the proper amount than to be saddled with too many jars and cans.

To begin, make a list of all of the dry goods and frozen items you have. Take stock of the perishables in the refrigerator and, with list in hand, start brainstorming meal-planning ideas. You’ll save money, get creative in the kitchen, and prevent wastefulness.

Got a half a bag of frozen peas just hanging out? Throw those bad boys into a pot of soup. What do two boxes of crushed tomatoes, a can of pumpkin puree and a jar of broth have in common? They are an excellent base for chili. Coconut milk added to ground meat and veggies and a dash of curry powder makes for an easy ethnic meal. Green tomato relish add pizzaz to daily scrambled eggs, and don’t forget those olives! You should probably just eat those as a snack, plucked from the jar with your fingers.

My pantry/freezer inventory includes:

bulk gluten-free oats, steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats

jasmine rice

sugar

tapioca starch

dried shiitake mushrooms

onion jam

balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar

green tomato salsa

dried seaweed

carob powder, cacao powder

flaxseeds

frozen Ezekiel bread, coconut granola

tahini, Siracha, homemade mayo and all the condiments ever

aged parmesan

frozen vegetables + fruit

canned crushed tomatoes

coconut milk

2 tins hatch peppers

Castelvetrano olives

salmon filets, ground lamb, ground turkey

1 rasher of bacon

frozen homemade waffles

And I know this sounds like an absolute mess of items — one of these things is not like the other — but it is actually quite easy to meal-plan from my kitchen. Some ideas include:

turkey chili with canned tomatoes, hatch peppers, frozen green peppers

lamb coconut curry with frozen bell peppers, peas, broccoli

seared salmon with garlicky aioli (homemade mayo)

fruit smoothies with frozen mango, blueberries, coconut milk

chicken thighs with shiitake mushrooms + fish sauce

brinner: eggs, bacon, waffles

Thankfully, we have neighbors on either side who will gladly profit from any incomplete meal-planning. Those random jars of oatmeal and the half-open jars of hot sauce and the uneaten chocolate ice cream and the orphan frozen pizza will all get new homes. They won’t be wasted, and at least I can say I tried.

SONY DSCBraised “Everything-In-The-Pantry” Turkey Chili

1.5 lbs. ground turkey

two 4 oz. tins of Hatch peppers

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 c. broth

28 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

2 tsp. sea salt

fresh black pepper

dash of cayenne

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 c. chopped green bell pepper

2 pints Sungold tomatoes

In a large, oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, brown the turkey. While the meat is cooking, smash and peel garlic and set aside. Season the turkey with salt, pepper and spice, and continue to brown until cooked through. Stir in the canned peppers, fish sauce and tomatoes, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Mince the garlic and add to the chili, along with the broth, bell peppers and whole Sungold tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. After the chili has reached a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer the chili to the oven to braise for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. After the time has elapsed, increase the heat to 350 degrees and allow the chili to reduce uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.

tip for moving #4

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When faced with an impending challenge, my favorite way to tackle it is through preparation. Call me a Boy Scout if you will, but I will research and list-make and conduct dry-runs until I have conquered the situation. Moving is no different.

With a military move overseas, we will be sending two separate shipments — one is called the “unaccompanied baggage,” and it is smaller, arrives earlier and travels by air. The final shipment is referred to as “household goods,” and it includes larger items like furniture. This shipment usually arrives one or two months after the physical move, and travels on a barge, often going through the Panama Canal.

Trying to decide what items go in which shipment has been the  most complicated process of the move so far. I haven’t wanted to send anything too early that we will need in the weeks after shipping, but I certainly don’t want to be burdened by tons of luggage on our trip to Hawaii. Take into account the changing seasons and a week of cross-country travel to see family at the end of October before flying to a tropical island and you have one complicated situation.

So, to cope, I do what I do best: I made a list. A list for unaccompanied baggages, a list for household goods, a list of things to give away, a list of things to send home to my parents, a list of items to pack with us in our traveling luggage. Knowing exactly what we would need in each stage of this process was the first step to feeling more in control.

Last week Andrew had the brilliant idea to stage a practice run of our packing process, and this was the second step to arriving at a fine-tuned moving plan. With list in hand, I gathered everything I wanted to pack in check and carry-on luggage — including clothes for fall in the States and active living in Hawaii, a few kitchen items we will be using up until our move, an air mattress and bedding for when our household goods are shipped — and spread it all out on our bed. Various open suitcases were strewn about, and once all items were gathered we set about the arduous task of packing.

It was handy to have one person manage the list while another gathered items, and I recommend having a hard copy of the list available for note-making and the checking off of items. We had several instances where we realized we wouldn’t need something, or that an item would not fit or be useful; in that case, we simply made a note on the list and altered the other lists accordingly.

Now, this may sound a little extreme, but trust me when I say that it is a valuable exercise.

We undertook this mission one free afternoon the week before our first round of movers came, and it did wonders to soothe my worry and relax my tangled mind. No more concern over whether clothes will fit or what kind of bag we’ll have to put our files and important documents in — that puzzle has been solved.

After documenting what we packed and where we packed it, we set about un-packing — but this was the best part. Before unloading the clothes we had just packed (two weeks worth of transitional items for warm weather or as layers for cool weather), we took all remaining hanging and folded clothes and stacked them in a giant plastic bin. This left us with plenty of drawer and closet space in which to store the clothes we knew we would need for traveling and living until our goods arrived, and with no need to separate them from superflous items.

Not only is it a relief not to have to worry about sorting clothes, but it is a breeze to get dressed in the morning. Andrew and I share a tiny closet and it is always crammed full — although this speaks more to the miniscule size of our closet than the amount of clothes we have — but now, all of my favorite, most useful items are hanging, unimpeded, in my closet, and it is a relief.

For your reference, I’m including my abbreviated packing list. No matter if you’re moving overseas, PCS-ing with the military, or just hopping over to a new house across town, this list can be helpful.

bathroom:
toiletries
1 set beach towels, 1 set Turkish bath towels
laundry soap, dryer ball + sheets
shower curtain + rings

bedroom:
clothing for 2 weeks
shoes + jackets
jewelry in travel case
uniforms
iron
travel alarm
air mattress + pump
bedding + pillows

office:
travel safe
important files + documents

kitchen:
vitamins
sm. cutting board + knives
1 skillet
Blendtec
electric kettle
pour-over coffee maker + filters
dishtowels
travel mugs + water bottles
reusable bags
cookbooks: Well Fed, Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods

carry-on bags:
laptops + cords
cameras + cords
travel chess set
snacks: EPIC bars, activated nuts, homemade trail mix, fruit…

*     *     *     *     *

photo by katiekatt via flickr

tip for moving #3

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Let’s cut to the chase — Invest in ziplock bags. You will need them in all shapes and sizes: extra-large vacuum seal bags for storing seasonal clothing and linens, giant zipper-seal baggies for checked luggage, sandwich bags for containing all of the little bits and bobs that live in the kitchen drawers…

My friend Grace told me a story recently about her last move. She was grateful that the packers assigned to her were willing to pack her spices — some companies are a little weird about packing spices, as they are with cleaning supplies, foodstuffs, etc — and let the experts do their work in her kitchen and elsewhere. Her stuff arrived at her new place and everything seemed fine until she and her husband were unpacking the kitchen boxes. Grace opened one seemingly harmless box and was greeted by a noxious cloud of Cajun seasoning, released into the air in a puff once the seal was broken on the box. Unfortunately, the packers had thrown all of the individual spices into a large box, left to shake around precariously in the mix with pots and pans, a Keurig coffee machine, the likes of which have only recently stopped smelling like gumbo. Poor Grace would try to make a cup of coffee in the first few days after the incident, and it would taste like so much etouffee.

Lesson learned: store all of the small things in ziplock bags in the same way that you would take caution with toiletries in a carry-on bag. Anything that could leak or spill, anything that could get lost in the expanse of a big box, anything that could scratch a larger object needs to be in its own container.

I have designs to corral all of my office supplies — pens, printer ink, paper clips — in bags, along with rogue cookie cutters, medicines, candles, serving spoons and everything else that I would rather have in coordinating batches and not smelling like one of my many spices.

Not only does this protect your property, but it makes unpacking that much easier. All the silverware is in one baggie, wrapped in a dishcloth? So easy. All of the gadgets are in another bag? When you need the can-opener on your first day in the new house, you’ll know exactly where to  look.

And you’ll thank me later.

another tip for moving

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I mentioned in last week’s DIY post that it’s a good idea not to save all of those crafty projects for the last month or so leading up to a big move. That was just one of many moving tips I’ve been collecting over the summer, and I’m thinking I’m going to start sharing them as a part of a series. There are just so many little details that many of us never think of until it’s too late, and I’d like to bring a little more thoughtfulness and awareness to the process, for myself and for you.

We’re currently doing a daily online search of real estate listings in Hawaii and it’s thrilling. Seeing all of the condos, the cottages, the houses in suburbia that could actually be ours, just a few minutes from the beach and all the busy city-glory that is Honolulu. Our goals is to rent something big enough to stretch out a little in, big enough to host friends and family, but not so big that we get lost in it. I saw an affordable four-bedroom property last week and dreamed for a minute about furnishing two whole guestrooms before I realized how ridiculous that would actually be. Two small people in a four-bedroom house? We’d jangle around in it like so much loose change in a pocket.

I’ve also seen the most amazing condo in a high-rise in downtown Honolulu, with an entire wall of sliding glass doors leading out onto the lanai — a Hawaiian term for an outdoor living space, like a porch or a deck — and a travertine shower and a bright kitchen with maple cupboards and granite countertops. Wowza. It was also small — with two bedrooms and less square footage than we have in our little home now. I got a little distracted from that important fact of space, and can you blame me for letting the glitter of cosmopolitan living get in my eyes?

This brings me to my point: don’t overestimate the square footage of your new home, and don’t underestimate the sheer volume of stuff that you have.

When we first moved into our current home there was stuff everywhere and hardly any space to move. The movers kept unloading cardboard box after cardboard box until I felt like I was going to be swallowed up by cardboard and never found again. I had made the mistake of overestimating the size of our place — which is plenty large enough for us and our furniture, a little under 1,000 square feet — and the bigger mistake of not getting rid of enough superflous stuff before shipping it all across the country.

So I went to work, purging and making piles to give away and piles to throw away and piles of recycling…it was liberating but it was hard, and a project I wished I had undertaken while we were still at our first apartment.

This time around I’m being a little more ruthless with our things. All of the objects that made the cut in the last round, but still haven’t been touched in the eight months that we’ve been here, are going to the charity shop. Someone else will get plenty of use out of my spare yoga mat (who has a spare yoga mat??), all of those t-shirts from college, the junky Christmas decor I scrounged for secondhand.

Ideologically I prefer minimalism. It’s frustrating when my actual needs don’t match up with what I believe to be the best; i.e., when I want to live with less but in reality need to keep those winter parkas and gloves for our next move. (Or, more truthfully, when I want to live with less but just can’t bear to give away any more books or shoes.) I’m coming to peace with the fact that I won’t be like those people who pare their belongings down to the bare minimum of 100 things. And that’s a good thing, because for me and my life that would not be a truthful existence but rather a weird, self-imposed challenge for sake of the challenge. Instead I’ll take each move as an opportunity to gladly and gradually shave down our load, to pursue a simpler, less wasteful life, one full of beautiful, useful things.

All this to say: be realistic. Be ruthless. Live with less and carry a tape measure, always.

Image via Lisa Congdon.

dreams, reality, and fruity cocktails

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My mind has been going every-which-way for the past few days. I’ll start making a to do list and then remember that I need to switch the calendar over to July in the kitchen, and on my way there I pick up some shoes to put away and decide I’m thirsty, so I’ll stop for some water at the fridge. Then I’ll remember to take my vitamins, and before I know it I’m at the table cutting up an apple for a snack. Sometime later I’ll remember my original task — lately, I’m in more of a “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” mood than anything else. 

You see, the reality of this life as a military spouse has finally hit me. Last week we found out our next assignment will be in Hawaii, and we’ll move there — from Texas, across the ocean, with all our belongings — in the fall. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that amazing? How is it even possible?? Those are some of the things my mind has been turning over and over. Moving to Hawaii is not “normal” or “common,” but hell if I want that kind of life anyway (see this beautiful reminder of the possibility that life affords). Right now I’m probably a little too focused on the little things, like how to even begin this process of shipping a car, storing our winter coats, scheduling a move and a flight or two. Sure, I’ve done a move before, but never like this. It all becomes a bit overwhelming once the details and the big picture intermingle.

A little over a year ago my husband and I were in Hawaii for our honeymoon. We visited Volcano National Park, toured Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day, cruised Waikiki beach with fruity cocktails and wore nothing but bathing suits and sandals. Had you asked me then to think about returning to live on the islands I would have brushed the suggestion off as an inconceivable dream.

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But it’s here — it is my new reality. And it’s fitting that the Equals Record published this essay of mine this week, even though I submitted it months ago. As with all things, the timing is perfect.

In the midst of all of this thinking and wondering and questioning, I’ve let go of my original sense of euphoria. I’m here to bring back the dreaming and keep the excitement for this next adventure alive, starting with a cocktail and a list — my two favorite forms of celebration.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to about island life:

learning to surf and paddleboard

hiking every weekend, to waterfalls and through rainforests and along towering cliffs overlooking the ocean

learning about a traditional culture and the amazing foods that go along with it

eating fresh coconut and pineapple

perfecting beach hair

hosting family vacations

running on the sand

making new friends

settling into a new house

dancing the hula and playing the ukelele

I’m excited to soak up every new flavor and texture, to embrace this new reality with an attitude of adventure and celebration. Another aspect of military life is what I like to call reinvention — every few years I get to pick up my roots with my family, clean out our belongings and start afresh somewhere new. I can inject a fresh perspective into myself, my home, my work, my experience.

So instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of my to do lists, I’m trying to remember that although small accomplishments like organizing one closet or taking a load to the thrift store can make me feel like I have control, truthfully I am not one step closer to controlling things than I was a few months ago. But, thankfully, what has turned into my reality is better than any dream I’ve had yet. Keep it coming, world.

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Watermelon Mint Mojito

flesh of half a small watermelon, seeds removed

handful of fresh mint, washed

4-8 oz. dark rum

6 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and combine until smooth and frothy. Serve with a watermelon wedge and a sprig of fresh mint to garnish.

I used a small “personal watermelon” but any kind will do. Play with the proportions to make a stronger drink or to increase the volume.This makes enough for 2 delicious drinks. I’m planning on triple-ing the recipe to make enough for the weekend — this will be perfect for watching fireworks with friends.

P.S. Happy Independence Day!