The Downsizing Dozen: Diminished Drumsticks

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Over the last few years, gatherings around our extended family’s holiday table have dwindled, sad to say. We’ve lost the older generation of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and while I’m blessed to still have both my parents, the scores of side dishes and days of preparation are over.

Dinner was pretty simple this year: my dad’s special brined turkey and sausage stuffing, the creamed onions he only makes at Thanksgiving, my mom’s fancy cranberry sauce spiked with undiluted Grand Marnier liqueur, and a pumpkin pie using almond instead of cow’s milk to accommodate my new diet. Mashed potatoes and roasted butternut squash rounded out the menu, and I even tried my first turkey liver to fulfill a weekly quota of organ meat.

I have to admit it was refreshing not to crowd my plate with so many different foods that outer fringes of peas and brussels sprouts rolled off the brink, and real estate around my place setting became a maze of bread plates, dessert forks and wine glasses. In the past, main dishes grew cold waiting for the rest of the meal to find its way to the table. My mother was often so exhausted the next day that my father took her out for a drive and a nice lunch to get her away from the tremendous pressure of the holidays.

There were just four of us gathered for the holiday meal this year. No need for place cards or a children’s table. The kitchen counter wasn’t groaning under the weight of dirty pots and pans. Clean up took an hour instead of a whole night switching sodden dish drying towels. Our smaller turkey actually fit into the refrigerator along with a manageable amount of leftovers.

And while I do miss the relatives who made the holidays special and colorful, let it be known that I’ll never wish to live up to the reputation of a Norman Rockwell holiday feast ever again, however nostalgic.

Happy holidays from 900 square feet.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Finding Your Feet in September, and Case of the Missing Mac in October.

Food for Thought

Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott's beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.

Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott’s beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.

Over three months into the Paleo Approach and Autoimmune Protocol diets (AIP for short) and it’s time for an update from my (rather grubby and well-used) kitchen. As faithful followers of this blog may recall, I began the elimination journey back to my hunter-gatherer ancestors’ fireside feasts on the first day of August. And, despite the formidable lists of forbidden foods and ingredients, bounty from this year’s autumn harvest has been my saving grace.

Every week, besides our usual visit to the regular grocery chain, I travel to a local orchard’s farm store to consciously purchase pastured meats, as well as fresh cider and the perfect cooking apples for homemade applesauce and crisp. I buy fermented raw kraut from the Saturday farmer’s market, and gorgeous multi-colored chard from a vegan/GF restaurant that grows its own vegetables behind the building.

I’ve taken to hanging around the organic sections, and familiarizing myself with strange, misshapen fruits that hide their beauty on the inside. Sarah Ballantyne, well-known AIP author and cook, challenged herself to buy and prepare any exotic produce that she’d never seen before. I’m not that adventurous yet, but I’m making friends with some pretty homely root vegetables.

As winter sets in, I’ve stocked up on every kind of squash and lined them along my counter, where they wait patiently for me to whip up enough courage to cut into their hard exteriors before softening them up in a slow-roasting oven. I’ve discovered that braising in a tightly covered pot can tame any wild beastie or vegetable into delectable submission. And I utilize everything, from poultry innards and bones, to the tops of beets and fennel — nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

Granted, all of this takes commitment. If I still worked at my old job, I wouldn’t have the time or energy. Slow food can take hours, even days to see results. Crock pots, pressure cookers and heavy cast iron utensils can take a toll on your arms, patience and wallet. Our lack of space in the new galley kitchen often leads to a frustrating dance while family members prepare different meals for separate diets. More than once I’ve caught myself longing for the generous side-by-side fridge that we left behind as cabbages and cauliflower roll out of our currently overstuffed apartment refrigerator.

But is there a payoff, you ask? How about no more joint pain, considerably less inflammation even after injuries, weight loss without your friends becoming alarmed, and lower doses of medicine, all while chronic conditions grow quiet or go into remission. The benefit to eliminating misbehaving dietary culprits, however socially painful, is that when I reintroduce them, I can usually tell within a day or two whether we can play well together yet. If not, the offending foe is placed on a back burner for another day.

While I had hoped for these intended results, what I didn’t expect was the spiritual connection I’ve discovered from taking this often rocky road to recovery. As in life, I’m learning not to wait until I’m starving and desperate to cook and nourish myself. This should be second nature, but in the modern world, we find it so easy to reach for the quick, impersonal calories of convenience that leave us unfulfilled and a little sick. Now, I can take a bite into something that has slowly simmered and stewed in the warm glow of an Indian summer afternoon, and really taste the thought in it.

The Downsizing Dozen: Case of the Missing Mac

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Well, this has been an interesting October. While one would hardly call me a Luddite, I was reduced to a smart phone, some stolen moments with my husband’s computer, and the throwback of pen upon paper, while my ancient five-year-old laptop was away for updates.

I admit that I was one of the lingering Mac users who still clung to the old Snow Leopard pride in operating systems while the rest of the world marched on to bigger cats, and eventually became mavericks reaching new heights in Yosemite. When links failed to open, secured sites became insecure, and social media lambasted me to change my browser with such frequency that I could’t ignore the situation any longer, I reluctantly scheduled surgery that would require wiping my laptop and restoring its information.

What caused such fear of change? Not so long ago, I eagerly embraced the latest operating system or newfangled gadget that would supposedly enhance my life. In a word, it is “digital,” a battle cry for minimalism, and the blessing and bane of my life. During my Great Downsizing Purge of 2014, and even before, I extolled its virtues while digitizing music, photos and documents, and backing them up in various formats.

The problem with updates and interconnecting devices, however, is that sometimes you are locked out of older program versions after updating, or your phone, computer and tablet can gang up on you in the Cloud these days, deciding to delete everything in your best interests. This, along with the realization that I’ve digitized nearly all my meaningful music, writing and photos since 2003, is enough to give me pause.

So, in October I spent an inordinate amount of time googling worst-case scenarios and possible options while waiting for my beloved word processor to return from Apple’s latest mountaintop, wondering if it could even survive the thin air of progress much less work properly. I’m happy to report that it’s running well with a fresh outlook under the lid, although my old friend came home to find a new grandchild added to the family, a tiny tablet with better retinal vision and response time than its elder.

For now, we’re progressing cautiously, with a bigger backup arsenal, a variety of devices to do the job, and a little more confidence.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, and Finding Your Feet in September.

The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Your Feet

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Here in our new home of communal living, exercise options are abundant. There’s a pool and jacuzzi (about to be closed for the winter), fitness center, and even half a basketball court in addition to the local Y and miles of walking trails and bike paths. Combine that with a tiny amount of storage space in the single-car garage where we fully intend to shelter our vehicle, and you can guess which type of equipment was jettisoned first in our move.

A whole host of balls, bats and mitts was sent away to greener playing fields. One football, the only inflated basketball (for the new court, of course) and our beloved wiffle ball set were kept, as well as my husband’s modest bag of golf clubs to see if he can renew or even revive that particular pastime. If not, then they will follow their obsolete brethren to other well-manicured pastures.

But so far, despite all the tempting new choices, walking remains our main form of exercise. An embarrassing number of cool summer days and a cloudless blue beginning to fall have pulled us from our device screens and out the door. We find our feet wandering into local parks and public areas, or strolling to errands we used to complete by auto, as the soles on our sneakers wear down to a satisfying thinness.

Back in the bad old ‘burbs, walks were limited to a close-minded neighborhood orbit, and shoulder-less local roads became too inhospitable to navigate, even in midmorning’s deserted hours when most everyone had gone off to work and school. Our bikes gathered cobwebs full of possessive spiders while rusting in a spacious two-car garage. To tell the truth, we can’t remember when we sold them, it was so long ago.

Perhaps as we put miles of exhaust behind us and treat our environmental elders with respect, ever-green Santa may reward us come December, and we’ll awaken to discover shiny forms of alternative transportation among nature’s gifts, the chrome of our intentions still un-smudged, and brand-new handlebar tassels glittering in fresh, unpolluted air.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, and Make It Stick in August.

Shine On

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Something happened during the last full “super” moon of the summer, with her extraordinary harvest light beaming down from the watery skies of Pisces, my birth sign. All that I’ve sown in the last few days, months and even years is coming to fruition. Now, I can replenish those empty coffers in my creative cache, confident that I will never lack again.

In cahoots, two days later, the moon in her wane summoned a fall-like front that cut through resistance’s last hazy gasps with cold vengeance, dumping wrath from Neptune in the streets, and washing away any doubts I’ve had about embarking on the beautiful new artistic path I’ve chosen.

Since those tides of change departed, the dreamy eye of the Fish remains upon me, watching from the bright seas of a freshly scrubbed sky.

Love Potion

DAY 31: LOVE

DAY 31: LOVE

Almost every monring, my husband makes us a pot of tea. Real tea, with loose leaves, a mesh steeping basket, and water brought to boil then just briefly left to sit. He’s even been known to make me coffee, although he doesn’t drink it himself. He says he just likes the smell.

And I more than like him.

This is the final day of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. I want to thank and share the love with all those who liked and supported me this month, in particular commenters Maureen, Bonny, Karuni, Linda and Shirah. Everyone who stopped by kept me going with your camaraderie and encouragement. Plus, a big shout out to Meg of Meg Wolfe Writes, who accepted my double-dog dare, and not only joined Instagram, but also used Susannah’s visual suggestions as a starting point to blog about her own writing prompts while she works on a second novel in her mystery series. If you are a writer, I highly recommend that you check out Meg’s insights!

Take away for this second time around: I really enjoyed the interesting topics (thanks Susannah!) and the addition of Instagram this year to help me see everyone’s creative interpretations of the daily prompt. As for the diet challenge, going public kept me accountable so I only cheated twice, to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a little champagne, and a few sips of G & T while listening to some live music on a Friday night (hey, I’m not a saint and besides, no gluten was involved). I’ll write more about the autoimmune protocol results later, but I will say that blood pressure and TSH were greatly improved at my doctor’s visit this month. Yay! Hope everyone has a great weekend (and Labor Day in the US).

Bunny Fur

DAY 30: SOFT

DAY 30: SOFT

His coat has grown coarser as he’s aged, but the pure snow of his belly still reminds me of a pet rabbit my brother set free long ago.

My cat hates that comparison.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!