Exploring Cooking

In these times of hunkering down and staying close to home there are reports about ingredient shortages as folks apparently starting cooking more from home. Many folks out there are first-time cooks, while others returned to their roots and made family favorites. There were folks who took up cooking to take some sort of control over all the craziness out there. Others took up cooking out of necessity to stretch their shrinking budgets. I’ve always cooked at lot from scratch for both enjoyment and for better health. Staying home was not going to change that, but it did.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love making pies.

My cooking style was influenced by my grandmas, all three. I came from a blended family and I had an amazing group of women who influenced my life in so many ways. They all brought something different to the table in my cooking experiences. One of my grandmother’s belonged to a cookbook club and made one new recipe a week for as long as I could remember. So experimental cooking seemed to me to be the norm. Another of my grandma’s was the queen of comfort foods, feeding others, and was well known for her pie skills. She gave to me the importance of sharing food with others and the ability to make pastry by gut instinct. My third granny lived in the city and she exposed me to all sorts of foods with her statement that I had to try two bites of everything on the table. It was a taste palette expansion I don’t think I would have had any other way.

Pandemic cooking has brought two things to our home. Learning to really cook for two and making meals that I had never imagined before. RangerSir always was a trouper about eating leftovers and trying new things. I have always loved to browse cookbooks looking for something new to make. Unfortunately for me my collection of cookbooks is old and full of tried and true, but not much new in there begs to be tried anymore. Cooking magazines are outrageously expensive so they are a very rare guilty pleasure. Lucky for me Amazon “gave” a full year of The Food Network app away just after the lock down started and I suddenly had more recipes to try than I had days in the week.

Half of a chicken dinner done on a sheet pan. Thank you Marc Murphy of The Food Network

The Food Network started me thinking about foods I didn’t really use and provided me with new recipes without breaking the bank. We would watch a food show while we ate lunch. Sometimes it was a “What???” moment and other times it had us thinking we should make that. This chicken was suppose to be a spatchcock chicken cooked on roasted vegetables. Once I split the whole chick down the back bone and flattened it on the pan, I got to thinking ‘why am I cooking both haves at one time?” I put the second half in the freezer for another day. The roast vegetables included leeks, something I saw in the store many times. I had always bought onions, shallots and garlic so did I really need leeks too? This recipe got me to try them. They are one of my new favorites to add when doing fall and winter root vegetables. There are now a staple and no longer shy from recipes that call for them.

Another fun thing about using a TV network show is it has turned into a group effort cooking. I know I can print the recipes, but that makes it a one sided affair. Now days I am in the kitchen prepping foods and RangerSir is assigned remote control. His job is to stop, rewind and start the video as I get out of sync with the TV chefs. It makes this cooking a joint effort and we laugh at ourselves in this crazy synchronization of making dinner. He always asks about the food we eat and this way he is much more informed because he was part of the cooking in a way.

Are you cooking more during these times? If you’d care to share I love to hear about what you are making.

What Did You Do For Summer Vacation?

When I was a kid, one of the first projects school children were assigned was to write about what they did on during their vacation from school. It was always a hard assignment for me because my family did not go on summer vacation. I suspect I was not alone in the small working-class agricultural community I grew up in. There was no money or time for the local families to leave Dodge on some great adventure.

This always seemed a daunting assignment to me as a child. It somehow implied that you were supposed to report some amazing trip that would leave others in awe. As we enter the next season of COVID and I think back over my summer season in Montana for our family. It seems like writing about what I did with the season of good weather would be hard when all the plans we had were blown away with the sensibilities of limiting our exposure.

Dining out and eating new things is a form of recreation for RangerSir and I. Suddenly the idea of going out and eating just held no appeal. We regularly participated in “Take Out Tuesday.” We called ahead, don our masks, and picked up dinner from all sorts of local joints. We discovered new places. We mourned old favorites who decided to call it quits. We want local businesses to weather this storm, but take out just isn’t the same as sitting in a place and knowing when it is over you get up and the same folks who have taken care of making your dinner, will clean up after you leave. There are no cleanup fairies at our house. I miss this most of all. I don’t know what a comfortable eating out will look like to us, but I am looking forward to it.

Another of my favorite things to do this summer was to meet up for picnic lunches with friends. Some friends bought into the idea and others not so much. I ended up eating lunch out at least once a week, sometimes twice, and on one rare occasion three times. Sometimes we’d pick up carryout from a local place and other times we’d collaborate and make a picnic lunch each of us bringing food to share. The local park had a lovely pavilion where you could people watch and sit in the sun or shade depending on the day. It was relaxed because for a little while I did not worry about the virus and I caught up with friends. It was fun because my friends who liked to cook got a chance to show off their skills, and I did the same. It was nice because we did “show and tell” on our creative adventures and cheered one another on. I renewed friendships and discovered that others were feeling as alone as I was, but they were just as concerned as I was about reducing risk.

Now I wish I had take pictures of the many picnics I had gone on. I wish I had captured those simple moments of human connection. We have had our first serious snow and the temperatures dropped so lunch in the park is over. Now the ladies who I met so often at the park that allowed us to relax and stay in touch are now trying to figure out what we can do to keep up the momentum. Simple safe gatherings of friendship. We are batting around ideas. I am sure we will figure something out.

Where’d I Go?

I was planning on getting back at being a regular blogger this time reflecting on life at the pivotal time of retirement.  And then suddenly I disappeared again.   It was because I had these great plans sharing what our new life looked like.   I had planned to share the fun times, the surprises, and the challenges that came with this new phase.   We got challenges and they were nothing like we imagined. As the world was rapidly changing, when I thought about our challenges  I felt blessed that my challenges were so small to what some others were facing so I decided to sit it out for a while.

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Water

Life in the country is one where you are responsible for all your water; your freshwater and your wastewater.   When we lived in homes on public utilities we liked to think we were conscious of our consumption, but in retrospect, we did not even begin to understand water.   I think most folks on public systems are not truly aware of the impacts they have on fresh and wastewater.   This last week we were reminded of the cycle of water for the home.

We live in a cold semi-arid climate in southwest Montana.   It means we get an average of 13 inches of moisture.  That is snowmelt, rain and anything else wet that comes from the sky.  Only 13 inches of moisture occur each year to flow into streams or rivers, replenish aquifers, be used for irrigation, furnish wildlife and humans with water, support the native and non-native landscapes and everything else that needs water.    We are too cold for the cactus most people think of in a semi-arid climate.   Instead, we are covered with bunch grass, sage, and a few slow-growing trees.

When you live in an arid or semi-arid climate you are much more aware of the scarcity of freshwater.  If you live in the country with a well I think you are even more aware of your freshwater source.   I look out my kitchen and see my wellhead every time I do dishes.   I drive by it each time I leave and return home because it sits near the road.   I am lucky because my water is plentiful, soft, nearly mineral-free (based on the lack of buildup in my shower, and tastes great because it has no taste.

When we moved here we made modifications to our home to conserve water in every way we could because though we had been on a well before this was our first time on a septic system.  We swapped out all faucets for ones with aerators.   We changed shower heads for something that would restrict our use without thinking.   We got a front-load washing machine for the single reason of how much less water it uses than a top loader.  We made sure all our toilets used a minimum of water. We don’t water our lawn. When the natural moisture causes it to go dormant, it is okay with us.   We treated water like the precious commodity it is.  Not only did we want to consume less water, but we also wanted to generate less wastewater for the septic system.

Our septic system was here when we arrived. We read up and researched how to treat our septic system correctly for function and to help it last as long as possible.   We had it pumped on even years and did not send “bad” things down the drain.  We are on our same gallon of bleach that we had when we moved in here 18 years ago.  We try to use the least damaging to our septic bacteria, but effective cleaning solutions for dishes, sinks, floors, and toilets.   Grease is collected and put in the trash.   Obviously, we generate as little wastewater as possible based on the paragraph on our consumption.  In spite of all these proactive actions on our part, it failed last Sunday.   What that means is the drain field stopped draining and the tank filled up and backed up.

We had no clues or warnings this was going to happen so we ended up with a failure in the middle of the winter. We were able to get someone out here on Monday and pump the tank.   We were told the solids showed that yes we should have had one more year before it was pumped.   Unfortunately, the liquids were topped out and then some.  We are working with our contractor to look at what may have caused this failure.   Our system is 30 years old which by all standards is at the end of the lifecycle.   This year we have had inadequate snow cover and there are folks around the area who have had their leach field freeze for the first time ever. This is all complicated by the fact it is winter and it is not like we can walk out in the drain field and see what is different right now from the other 17 years we have been here.  Once we understand this a little better we can move forward on the “what next?” step.

I shared this with you all not because I wanted to gross you out, but because I am hoping that this will remind all of you that water is precious.   Freshwater to drink isn’t unlimited and there are many things that dip in the usage pool of that precious resource.   Wastewater, though most of us don’t think anything of it other than to flush the toilet is an issue out there. If you learn a little about your usage of both and change one habit to be a better water steward then I will be please and thank you for being aware, when it would have been much easier to not be.

 

By Diana who Looking Out the Window Posted in Odds & Ends

Retirement is in Many Ways More of the Same

Sorry I missed last week. I was under the weather. RangerSir and I hunkered down at home and worked our way through the nasty crude making its way throughout southwest Montana.  It was while we were laying low that we were reminded that retirement is in many ways just like life was before retirement.

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When you are under the weather there is nothing like chicken soup.   We love homemade best.

One of the things that I think people about retirement is that this is some imaginary transformation that takes place in life.   You wake up and your life is different in so many amazing ways.  That somehow you are a different person in a different life.   You are the same person you were the day before you retired.  Actually, it is like your pre-retirement life than you’d imagine.  Life doesn’t change much when you retire.

In retirement you still have to grocery shop, do laundry, pay the bills, walk the dog, cook dinner,  and other tasks that keep your household running.   Yes, you suddenly have time to meet friends for a game of racquetball at 10 in the morning three times a week, rather just one night after work.  If you did not like to exercise before retirement, you will not likely change your mind just because you are no longer required to show up at work.   You might have time to try a class in yoga or tai-chi.   You will find time to try new things and discover some you like and some you don’t.  If you were not a reader before retirement, you won’t likely become one after.  There are exceptions to everything, but I don’t think your likes and dislikes change too much.   The choices you have for your free time open up.   The excuses you have recited for years suddenly are not bound by lack of time so things can change.  You can add some new things to your life, but many of the old things still will need your attention.

Retirement is full of opportunities if you allow yourself to explore them, but your old life and all that goes with it will still need your attention.   Enjoy the new, and continue to embrace your old life, because it is what got you to this destination.

We Still Like the Same Simple Things

There are things that are on our life list we want to cross off that we haven’t gotten to before now that we are retired.  We are making some plans to take care of some of those.  But retirement isn’t all about running around non-stop crossing things off your bucket list.   Yes, you have time to do some things you could not carve out of your busy lives before, but many of your days are doing those same simple things you enjoyed doing every other day of your life.

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A daily walk down the road has always been great together time.   Retirement has not changed that.   RangerSir,  Zip the Dog and I try and get out every day for at least a short walk, no matter the weather.   

By Diana who Looking Out the Window Posted in Odds & Ends

Get to Retire Isn’t Easy

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read and/or comment on my return to blogging.   I am hoping to move over to some of the fun things about retirement, but comments and emails have let me know folks have some questions and concerns about how we did it.   Here are some of my thoughts on what got us to the point we could retire.

retirement

First and foremost it started with saving.   I wish it had been as easy as putting money in a savings account that paid 5% interest.   If you are olden enough you may remember those days when a standard passbook paid that rate.   You may have read about a janitor who saved big sums of money doing just that.   Unfortunately, those days are gone, I suspect forever.   Our history of saving started when I  went to work for a company that had a 401k when they started in 1978.   RangerSir and I  started saving then and have not looked back.   No matter who we worked for, we have always  participated in the 401k, always making sure to saved enough to get the match even if it meant we had to cut out other things.

You can not have it all, and many things really aren’t necessary. We lived in apartments in fringy neighborhoods.  I never had a car until after we were married for nearly five years.   I took the bus to work, grocery shopping and everywhere else I needed to go because it was much cheaper.   Everyone has guilty pleasures.   I  was willing to cut out things or work a second job to be able to afford my wants that were not necessary.    I will freely admit I have a love affair with good shoes.   I have been known to visit the Hostess stale bread shop regularly to save for that magical pair of hunter green leather shoes  I still remember 30+ years later.    When Ranger Sir and I built our home we wanted new furniture because it was about 2.5 times the size of our prior home.  We did not need a second table for the formal dining room, our old one was in the kitchen and perfectly functional, but we wanted it and so much more.    I went to work for a store that carried furniture and he went to work for a home store that had appliances and hardware.   We both had good white-collar jobs at the time, but we did not want to save for a year or more to get what we wanted and so second jobs made it possible much sooner.

My parents never owned a home, and RangerSir’s parents did not have their own home for many years.  We felt that our parents not owning their home was one of the things that made retirement for them near impossible.  We were convinced that we would not only own a home, but it would be paid for before retirement.   I will say the downpayment was one of the hardest things we ever had to come up with.   It was one of two times we dipped into our 401k  (paid the penalty and the taxes.)   Our first home was not as nice as our prior rental, but it was that foot in the door.  We constantly were putting extra money on our mortgage all the time.   On our first home, every Friday we would round down our checking account and take the excess to the savings & loan who held our mortgage and put it on the principle.   Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference.   In the end, we met our goal of having our home paid for before we retired.

Another thing I think made a difference for us was every promotion and raise was split with us and our 401K.   Even if it meant we lost ground.   What I mean here is when you get a raise of $50, and your health insurance premium went an additional  $50, we still split the raise $25 more to the 401k and $25 to us.   I can say there were many times we felt like we were losing ground, and on paper we were, but knew we wanted to retire someday and so we realigned our spending.  Sometimes it was very hard.  I feel it is getting harder and harder to be middle class.

Lastly, the thing we did that I think was the hardest was we took control of our 401k as we changed jobs.  We never took the money we saved and spent it.   We generally rolled it from the 401k to an IRA.  I honestly would have been happy if it was as simple as that and letting it compound interest like the old fashing savings account but it wasn’t. I am sure we could have done different things and made more with our IRA/401k money.   We have had five, if my memory serves me correct, financial advisors.  We have asked each of them how they make money on us point-blank. If we didn’t like the answer they weren’t for us.  We have told them how we feel about risk in real terms i.e. if my IRA lost $2000 how would we feel.   Not some imaginary “how risk receptive are you?” question.   There is nothing real about that; it is all relative to each, the person asking the question and the person answering the question.    As we approached retirement our financial planner said we should take our money from our house when we sell it, put it into the market where we would make more money than the new house mortgage payment each month.   My  risk tolerance said, “are you smoking crack?” We remember market corrections before and we are due in our minds for another one.    One of our retirement goals we have always shared is to be mortgage-free. To have an advisor we had been working with for nearly ten years suggest that said he wasn’t listening to us and we sought out someone else.   We have found that as we have gotten closer to retirement our risk tolerance has gotten less and less.   Managing your money is hard.   I sure think that the idea of having no 401k and instead some business with all their smart accounting types setting up and managing a defined retirement plan would have been much nicer, easier and less stressful.   But those days are gone.  Businesses models have changed and it isn’t going to happen for most of us.   Our retirement is going to be at least partially sponsored by how we save and what we do with our savings.

What worked for us will not work for others, because each of us is different in our wishes and what we are willing to sacrifice to get there.   Our goal was to save like crazy, pay off our home and retire at age 55.  We were willing to work more than one job at times, forego vacations, and purchases to make it work for us. We missed that age goal, but the rest of it we managed to do and it all made retirement possible. We plan to travel some and have budgeted for it.  My wish and statement to others thinking about retirement is to make a goal and then move toward it every day.     Know you can not have it all ever.   There is a cost to everything and sometimes you have delay what you want because the time is not right.  There is a give and take to everything in life. Make the decisions that will allow you to control as much as possible of that given and take and when and how you do it.

Wishing you much success.