The start of a new month is always an inspiration to me. It asks me to rethink what I have been doing, to take a deep breath, and start again with perhaps a revised plan. I have been rethinking all the things I have volunteered to do, whether they bring me joy, are crucial to other people, bring in needed income, or provide opportunities to learn new things. All of the things I am doing fit at least one of these criteria, yet I am up in the night worried about some of them and feeling rushed and stressed. I am struggling to go forward and something is pulling me back. Just like the month of March. I will no doubt come to some resolution, some comfortable place eventually. Meanwhile, I will try to discern a clear path through the piles of snow in front of me.
How about you? Are you pushing to get something done, to accomplish something new that will be a great benefit to you or others. And is something holding you back at the same time? Some kind of doubt or resistance or laziness. Use the energy of spring to move forward. Latch onto that extra sunlight and take a giant step.
This week in cooking
Jean’s Stir Fry Formula
Every once in a while, instead of a recipe I like to give you a formula for making a dish that allows for a lot of flexibility of ingredients and flavor. A stir fry is one of the dishes I make regularly, maybe once a week. I like it for several reasons. It is full of vegetables and just a little meat. It can be prepared quickly. It is or can be inexpensive. It uses up food I have in the refrigerator. I always have the sauce ingredients. It is convenient for making second meals out of a larger meal such as a chicken or roast. And, I don’t need a recipe because I have a formula. The formula can be adjusted easily to whatever you have. This is one of those meals I can make in half an hour, provided I have defrosted the protein of choice in the morning and soaked the rice a little before I am ready to cook, like while we play Yahtzee at 4. Then I slice all the vegetables, make the small dish of sauce and fry it all quickly while the rice is cooking. This week I had about a cup of chicken that I had frozen last week, a quarter of a cabbage, two different kinds of mushrooms, carrots, onion. But there are plenty of other possibilities. Like asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choi, or any kind of greens. The fun is that you can play around with the ingredients, use up bits of this or that in your refrigerator.
In Writing This Week–
(I am doing an experiment this week–including the whole Medium article on my website for the sake of those who are not members. I may or may not do this again. Not sure)
How Did Semi-Retirement Change My Life?
Why haven’t I retired for real?
Among other things that I could claim to be, I am a psychotherapist. For the past 26 years, I have listened to people tell me about their lives. The good, bad, and the difficult to talk about. I have mostly loved doing this work. It is interesting, exciting, always different, challenging, awe-inspiring, and very, very hard much of the time. I get to meet all different kinds of people, tackle their life problems with them, and do my best to be helpful.
And to be honest, I haven’t yet retired. I still keep my license and see maybe six-to-ten clients a week. I used to work four days a week and had a nice little office where I felt comfortable and in charge. I went to work in the morning and came home after dark each night. Since Covid, I have an upstairs office that’s open to the house and rely on headphones and my husband’s discretion to give me privacy. But I am basically home all of the time. Except for those six-ten hours a week, I am retired. So, semi-retired?
This change, from giving up my own office in a different location from my home to working from home, made sense financially and from a safety perspective. After all, I was seventy years old, putting me way over the 65-year-old cut-off for people at high risk from a Covid infection. I didn’t trust all the people I worked with to be safe about the virus and didn’t want to expose my family to the risk. Working online from home, I was completely safe from the virus and could continue my work without paying for an office and the other expenses of going to work every day.
And I found that these expenses were not negligible. First of all, there was the daily coffee and the more frequent eating out at the local diner and other stores in the town where I worked. Working away from home allowed me to excuse my eating out because I had “forgotten” to make lunch or didn’t want what I had packed. Or if I had an emotionally difficult morning, it was easy to allow myself a special treat at lunch, allowing food to console and soothe me so I could finish the day.
Secondly, I needed a complete wardrobe so I was not wearing the same thing every day because my clients would notice and comment on my outfits. Dressing well, though in my own style, was part of my professional persona. Then there were the little shopping trips and impulse purchases of earrings or gifts for coworkers or myself that added to the expense of having an office. Not to mention the rent and the upkeep and insurance and city taxes and a separate phone and computer, etc.
When the pandemic began, I took my work home, upgraded my internet service, and began figuring out how to get through the first crisis. As the pandemic kept going I realized that I was going to be old enough to retire before I felt it was safe to go back to my office and I eventually gave up the office permanently and began the process of formally changing my address with everyone I did business with. And I stuffed all the things from my office into my upstairs loft/library room. So, here I am.
How has this changed my life?
Overall, This semi-retirement has changed my life for the better. And I think the pandemic has been part of this change too. When we were restricted to home for that first month, in March and April 2020, I learned that I truly appreciated the slower life. The workweek was less stressful —for one thing, at least an hour or more of transportation time was eliminated. I didn’t have to rush to dress and get out the door in the morning or cook dinner at 7 pm at night. I didn’t feel as stressed. And the weekends were not a frantic effort to “relax” before it was time to return to work. I began to relax most of the time.
I continued seeing clients, but mostly my time was my own. At first, there was this incredible peace. I didn’t have to go anywhere or keep to any schedule except on my workdays. And, I began consolidating my clients into at first three, now two, days per week. I decided not to take new clients at first, and to screen people carefully for their level of risk since I was on my own and had no treatment team to back me up or coworker in the next office for support. I decided to stop seeing couples because they were too difficult for me. I didn’t want my home to be full of conflict, even virtually. I kept those clients I felt I could help and referred out those people who needed more intense or face-to-face care. I began choosing clients based on my own and my family’s needs. After all, I could not as easily separate the work and home parts of my day. I found people calling me while I was making dinner and I was not able to answer the phone professionally. I began instructing clients to text or email me and kept my phone’s ringer off.
But the lack of stress has allowed me to begin to do things that I have longed to do all of my life, namely writing memoir and poetry. I have the time and the peace of mind to add these new things to my life and spend uninterrupted time working out a story or poem, studying others’ writing, and practicing my craft to improve myself. I have started a yoga routine and continued my daily piano practice. I have time to spend with family or friends. I have time to relax and walk in our woods or sit on the floor and pet my grand dogs. My weekends blend into my weekdays and there is always extra time. Most of the time I am not rushing or frantic. I have learned how to slow down and enjoy all the little bits of my life, from watching the birds or a snowstorm to reading through a long book a little each day, to knitting socks again. The main benefit is that I am much calmer than I used to be.
There have been downsides
I can’t pretend there are no problems with this change in my work life. The main problem is one of too much togetherness with my husband and not enough space for independence. This is a problem of balance. I want to spend time with my partner, but not all my time. And this new situation requires us to reconfigure all the old arrangements between us that had been carefully worked out over fifty-some years. He goes to work, I go to work, we have time together and time alone, and all of it is important.
Except that now he is not working much and neither am I. My office is upstairs in the loft, and when the time for my clients is done, on the hour, he is peering up at me wondering if I am ready to play Yahtzee. Instead of my half-hour ride home during which I could change gears and become pleasant (hopefully), I have no time at all.
He is home when I practice the piano -not bothering me, but I’m not alone either and it’s not the same. Then there is the problem of me worrying about him. What is he sitting there reading on his phone half the day? Why isn’t he busy outside doing manly things? He never used to do this? Is he depressed? Sick? Did I do something wrong? All those stupid fears eat away at me sometimes and interfere with my tranquility. And my fussing bothers him, too.
None of these problems are really a big deal, however. If we talk about them we can come up with a solution and over the past two years have worked out a decent routine and are managing to get along. But there are still those times when I notice myself breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing when Don drives off to do some errand. I like to have the house to myself sometimes. Just as when I had my own office. It was entirely up to me what I did in there. I could nap, read, study, take an online course, and do any number of other things when I didn’t have an appointment without answering to anyone. I don’t have that now. But I’m working on it.
Why do I keep working part-time?
The main reason is that my financial advisor suggested we both keep working until our mortgage is paid off. That’s the ostensible reason. Another few years of part-time work will do that. I also wonder if I will miss being in close connection with clients. Or if I will want the challenge of working.
At this point, I think that the challenges of learning to be an even better poet and writing the books and other projects I have in the pipeline will be challenging and stimulating enough for me. But I am not quite sure what I will decide when that mortgage is finally paid.
A Seventyish Woman’s Farewell Elegy for Baggies, Those Useful, Reusable, Space-Saving Bags Made of Plastic
Someone asked me: what do you use instead?
Baggies have been great, haven’t they? They hold liquids like soup or broth, blueberries, screws and nuts, cookies and pastries, snacks for the kid’s lunch, seeds from this year’s crops, puzzle pieces. My husband used to freeze fish in them, slide his lunch in one, hold parts for appliances in another — small things that need to stay together. But the day for the joyous and carefree use of baggies is gone. While they are not single-use plastics necessarily, they have a relatively short life and are even thicker and stronger and less amenable to breaking down than those flimsy produce bags that have been banned in many places. For me, baggies have got to go.
Brainstorming this problem together with my husband, Don, we talked about what people used before plastic. Having just dismantled both of our family’s homes after the deaths of our parents we had a good idea of how this worked for them. Both of our fathers used little baby food jars for small things, and coffee cans for nails, screws, bolts, drill bits, etc.
Our mothers used butcher paper and twine, waxed paper, and scotch tape to wrap and secure sandwiches or meats to store. When plastic bags entered the house they saved every one of them, along with the cardboard or styrofoam trays from produce or meats, washing and drying them carefully and wrapping the pile in a rubber band. There were also balls of rubber bands, a drawer full of candle stubs, a box of empty thread spools. Depression people, our parents weren’t about to waste anything they might use later.
I think using plastic for food storage seemed to come at about the same time as the more common use of large freezers for storing bigger quantities of foods than could be used up before spoiling with just refrigerator temperatures. I know my mother never had a chest freezer until I was grown. I don’t think this was a problem because she didn’t really have anything that needed storing. My parents shopped for a week at a time and planned to eat the longer-keeping food later in the week and the chicken and fish first. Many people canned or dried or salted produce in the summer and fall to preserve it. There were other ways of preserving things.
But when chest freezers arrived, people needed some sort of extra protection for storing food for longer periods. First plastic pint and quart storage boxes were used, then baggies. I remember my mother-in-law storing dozens of quart baggies full of peas from the garden to great effect. They were narrow and flexible and allowed for efficient use of the freezer space.
But back to our question — what do you use instead of baggies?
Turns out that freezer paper has a sprayed-on silicone lining. Waxed paper can be made with petroleum-based wax. Even butcher paper often has some kind of non-eco-friendly liner these days. You need to check the brand and the materials used in each thing you buy. This is often exhausting.
I am gradually making my peace with all of this. I had to make a decision about what I would use (glass jars or compostable plastic bags, waxed paper made with vegetable oil, not petroleum, and beeswax-covered paper or cloth) and what I wouldn’t (anything that doesn’t break down in the trash)and as situations arose that didn’t fit into my categories I had to invent something. I remember one particularly difficult time when we had purchased half a pig and I was trying to wrap it to store in the freezer. I had a heck of a time trying to fit the ungainly pieces into glass containers. That didn’t work so I have taken to using freezer paper, which is not a perfect solution, even if it is made with silicone instead of plastic. I am doing the best I can, and keep looking for new solutions.
Those green compostable trash bags are a good one. They are made of cornstarch and do begin to break down quickly, even in my trash can, if I leave them in there for more than a week. But that’s ok. I can empty them once a week and know they are not adding plastic to the landfill.
This article linked below lists all the options currently available for freezing foods as far as I can see.
It’s a good read on reducing plastic leakage through systemic change. While we’ll continue casting our ballots for the…
As consumers and stewards of this planet, we need to keep asking for the kinds of materials we want to use in our homes and businesses. We are the bottom line as far as the market goes. If we don’t buy it, they will make less of it. If we demand a material, companies will be forced to make more of it.
So, goodbye, baggies.