Welcome Fall

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It is now officially Fall, as we celebrate this Fall Equinox. That means we put up our Autumn decor! Welcome Fall, from all here at the Purple House!

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Apple Season

 

The most overwhelming harvest season of the year is upon us here at the Purple House: Apple Season.

We were blessed to find this place, which had functioned as a farm or hobby farm since the house was first built here in 1897. There were apple trees: ancient gnarly ones hanging on in the shadow of much younger evergreen trees that would still give a few apples a year, and there were old trees still giving lots of apples even though they were sour and wormy, and there were a few tall but young trees which bore well each year, and then there were some very young trees just starting to bear fruit.

We haven’t been able to identify all the kinds of apples. There are some Gravensteins, we’re pretty sure, and there are golden and red delicious. I’m carrying on with planting new trees, and I’ve added a pink lady.

I love these apple trees. And yet, the harvest comes in right during one of the busiest times of the year for a parent and educator – back to school! I know the apple is the symbol of teaching and back to school, but I find that ironic when I am trying to choose between putting up my apples and getting some work done with my educator hat on.

The struggle is real. And it tastes like cider.

Happy Labor Day

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I’m doing my traditional Labor Day celebration here at My Purple House … this year painting some repaired siding on our barn and a trash shed.

This is my engagement with work, as I explored in a sermon I wrote for last year’s Labor Day:

“The Inherent Worth of All Labor”

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and I plan to spend it in my family’s traditional manner: engaged in some sort of home improvement or manual labor project. In fact, weather permitting, I’ll be up a ladder painting the trim on my house tomorrow, but the specific project doesn’t matter. I would simply feel that I hadn’t properly engaged with the holiday if I didn’t take on some work of some sort.

My childhood memories are full of work, and working hard seemed like how we defined ourselves as a family. Both my parents are DIY folks: my father was constantly remodeling our home or his medical office, as well as the other houses that he bought to “flip” in his spare time, while my mother gardened, canned, cooked from scratch, and sewed. They both were heavily involved in community theater, and as a family we built the sets, ran the box office, sewed all the costumes, and arrived first to set up and left last after clean up. I also got to be involved with their paid work, as they were both self-employed and I was homeschooled. This meant that even before I was legally old enough to work I was an assistant in my mother’s home daycare and a receptionist at my father’s medical practice.

And then there were those Labor Days, and other weekends like them. My father would joke that the main reason he’d had kids was for free labor, and he wasn’t shy about conscripting us into whatever project he had going on. One particularly vivid memory for me is that we at one point had to replace the main sewer line from our home to the street, and to get down to the pipe my dad had my younger brother and me dig a ditch that was six feet deep and twenty feet long. It was miserable and hot work, and I hated it because I was down in a ditch that was taller than I was, filling buckets with dirt so dad or my brother could pull them up and dump them out. I literally have spent a summer of my childhood digging ditches.

I am a product of this work ethic, as it was passed on to me. And, most of the time, I am glad for it. I enjoy working, and find a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning in being useful and engaged in the many tasks at hand.

We can’t talk about work without talking about money. That’s because, at least in our society but in most societies, most of us trade our work for compensation – money – that we need to pay for necessities and survival. Work and money are intrinsically linked issues. But for today, it will have to suffice for me to say that all labor should be fairly compensated. No one should be exploited and work should be good and fair.

Economists and social scientists have developed models of work, though, that have deeply affected us in more ways than just the economical. Adam Smith proposed and described the assembly line model of work as being the most efficient way to get the most production out of workers. In his example of a “pin factory” he described how one worker would snip the wire, another would grind the point, still another would attach the head, and so on, so that the relatively skilled craftsman could be replaced with unskilled workers who were themselves always replaceable. In this model, the only reason someone works is in exchange for a wage, and the quality of the work itself is largely irrelevant. Assembly-line work might not be satisfying in its own right, but that was the price we would have to pay for explosive growth in production.

Barry Schwartz, in his book, Why We Work, theorizes that this model has actually been responsible for changing the way humans engage with work in this country and in other parts of the industrialized world, even as assembly lines themselves have been disappearing. He says that we essentially “design” human nature by designing the institutions that we live within, and when we build institutions on the assumption that people are inherently selfish, lazy, or unmotivated (as many institutions assume), the way those institutions treat people leads to that very outcome.

Schwartz writes that: “if we want to help design a human nature that seeks and finds challenge, engagement, meaning, and satisfaction from work, we have to start building our way out of a deep hole that almost three centuries of misconceptions about human motivation and human nature have put us in, and help foster workplaces in which challenge, engagement, meaning, and satisfaction are possible.”

New theories and studies of concepts such as motivation give us a better understanding of what people need in order to find meaning and satisfaction, even enjoyment and happiness, from work.

One study I heard about on a TED talk and found very intriguing engaged subjects in simple tasks in exchange for money. One of the tasks was to build something out of legos, and then there were two treatment groups: one treatment group had the lego creations set aside in a box after they turned them in while the other treatment group saw their lego creation immediately smashed and put back into the bin of loose parts. Both groups were started off with a high dollar value for their work and then each subsequent time were offered less and less money. Guess which group got fed up first and turned down the money?

Yes, it’s not satisfying to be like Sisyphus, the inhabitant of Hades in Greek mythology who was forced to roll a big boulder up a hill every day only to have it roll back down again and have to do the whole task again. That was someone’s idea of a special hell – definitely demoralizing.

But that same study tried something else. They also paid participants to take math tests, and one treatment group had their test just stuffed in a pile without anyone looking at it, while the other group had the experimenter look over the test for a minute, make a non-committal comment such as “alright then”, and then set it in a box. With this experiment, just that tiny bit of feedback was enough to make that treatment group continue taking math tests for less money. We want people to see and acknowledge our work. These are just a few of the clues to what makes work good for us, what truly motivates us all to work.

Growing up steeped in the Protestant Work Ethic, I knew what my motivation for work was: to prove that I was a good person. Essentially, working hard would earn me my place, or show that I belonged, with the righteous. Even though my parents had both left their Presbyterian beliefs behind, they hadn’t managed to shake the heavy moralizing overtones to hard work that said that good people worked hard and “bad” people were lazy or indulgent. Taking a nap could threaten your chances of going to heaven.

This meant that work was a defense against being judged and found wanting. It wasn’t enough to just get the job done … people needed to see and know how gosh darn hard you had worked to get it done. It’s like a cartoon I saw once that showed an office full of cubicles and folks sort of zoning out at their desks, and then an angel is arriving in a cloud of sparkles to tell everyone “Quick – Jesus is coming – Look Busy!”.

Only for me, Jesus was replaced by my father and then later by anyone whose approval I sought.

This is what I think is the shadow side of the work ethic of my protestant ancestors – it is just another way to divide us into the holy and the unholy, the righteous and the unrighteous, and just another way to feel that you are better than someone else. And, if you fail to measure up to those standards, it’s another way to inflict the punishment of self-loathing and guilt on yourself.

I will always have my cultural roots in the Protestant Work Ethic, but in my own adult life I have sought other models to help me find a healthier relationship with work. One model that has been influential for me are Buddhist teachings about engaging with the here and now with mindfulness. As I understand this way of thinking about work, it is not how much work you get done, but how you work that is important. If we engage with the work at hand, the work of this moment, now, with mindfulness we can find peace, happiness, and usefulness in the work.

Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has written a book about engaging with work in this way titled Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day. His teachings include mindfulness practices that anyone could utilize in any workplace, such as mindful breathing or mindful walking, as well as a discussion of the concept of Right Livelihood. Right Livelihood is one of the eight practices the Buddha taught, known as the Eightfold Path, and it means to earn a living in a way that does not break any of the moral teachings and that is not harmful to self, others, or the world. Thich Nhat Hanh describes it as finding a way to earn a living that does not transgress your ideals of love and compassion.

However, if you feel that your work doesn’t quite meet that standard, remember this: we are all truly co-responsible for creating right livelihood. We cannot only look to our own contribution to society, see that it is good, and then pat ourselves on the back for being lucky enough to have right livelihood. Jobs that contribute to violence, pollute our planet, or other harms still exist because there is a demand or a societal or economic reason for those jobs. Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Please try to help create proper jobs for others by living mindfully, simply, and sanely. Because there is such a culture of exploitation and destruction of the Earth, it’s a challenge to find work that one can support wholeheartedly, that one can really stand behind and morally agree with … don’t despair or give up if you are not yet in a position where you feel you can practice right livelihood one hundred percent. You can go in the direction of right livelihood and do the work that you currently do with mindfulness and compassion.”

Any work can be done with mindfulness – it doesn’t matter what kind of work it may be. Thich Nhat Hanh says “One day an American scholar said to me, ‘Don’t waste your time gardening and growing lettuce. You should write more poems instead; anyone can grow lettuce.’ That is not my way of thinking. I know very well that if I do not grow lettuce, I cannot write poems. The two are interrelated.” Later in the book, he notes that many have said that you cannot possibly find happiness scrubbing toilets, but then asks, why not? Why not be grateful that you have the toilet in the first place? Toilets, as unglamorous as we may perceive them to be, are an essential feature that makes people’s lives better. Cleaning them is a useful act, and a chance to practice gratitude and mindfulness.

I can relate to those comments, because housework has been a particular struggle for me. It’s unpaid labor, it’s underappreciated labor, but that’s not the sticky wicket for me. I have some very heavy moralizing in my head around housework, messages that I picked up in my family of origin and from society at large that basically say that a good person – especially a good woman – will have a spotless and lovely home and yard, keep everything organized and tidy, and do the laundry, ironing, and polish the shoes, while always having homemade dinner on the table on-time. To do all this well means you are good, moral, and superior, while to fail at this ideal implies moral failure … it’s the Puritan or Protestant work ethic for the home.

This has caused some interesting debates in my marriage. During one of those debates, many years ago, my husband made a comment that has really stuck with me. It was one of those off-hand comments – he doesn’t even really remember it from his point of view, just from how much I’ve talked about it since. We were talking about housework and he said that having a clean house was nice and all, but he certainly wouldn’t pin his self-worth on it. It made me mad at the time… how dare he! …. But he was right. I shouldn’t pin my self-worth on how hard I work at keeping a clean house.

Because none of us should pin our self-worth on that or on any other kind of work. We are worthy because we are. It is inherent, it is intrinsic, and it does not need to be earned or proven to anyone. I, you, all of us … we were not born to be used, we do not have to be productive, we do not need to earn our way into heaven, and anyone whose approval we have to earn in that way isn’t someone worth having the approval of. Maybe by saying that out loud a thousand times I can make my inner-child believe it.

But the work is still worth doing, as well. Realizing that housework has nothing to do with my self-worth, I can still acknowledge that the floor should be swept, the dishes should be washed, the toilet bowl should be scrubbed. Because that work has its own inherent worth – it contributes to the well-being of my family, to the peaceful orderliness of my little piece of the world, and it can even be an enjoyable practice when it’s engaged with mindfully.

All good work, that is work that contributes to the well-being of the world, is worthy, but it does not define the worth of the worker

We have a tendency to value different sorts of work on a hierarchy. It is like what the American scholar said to Thich Nhat Hanh … anyone can grow lettuce, so that work is less worth-while for this time, less worthy. We value intellectual labor over manual labor, and have conflicted attitudes toward creative and emotional labor … sometimes treating them like they aren’t work at all. Frederick wasn’t “doing nothing” while the other mice were gathering the harvest in … he was performing creative labor and it was labor that contributed to the well-being of the world. It was worthy work. But so was the gathering in of the harvest. It’s all worthy work.

Recently there has been more discussion of emotional labor, but it’s still a relatively new category to be considered work. Emotional labor includes the work that is done to self-regulate and control one’s own emotions while dealing with other people – anyone in the service industries such as front desk clerks or restaurant wait staff end up doing plenty of this sort of emotional labor – but this sort of emotional labor of self-control is required in all sorts of jobs.

The other part of emotional labor is the work of actually caring about and for other people. Those in the caretaking professions do this emotional labor in obvious ways, but other jobs and professions can include this sort of labor even if it is often counted as an “extra”. I still remember from my own childhood that our neighborhood postman would always take the extra time to deliver the mail to the door of the older lady who lived across the street from me. He would ring the bell and wait patiently for her to come to the door, and then he’d hand her her mail and chat with her for a minute or so. It was the only human interaction she got all day, usually. And then one day she didn’t come to the door to perform their little daily ritual, and so our postman called 911. She had fallen, and no one might have noticed if that postman hadn’t included the emotional labor of caring about the people on his route into his job.

Intellectual labor, manual labor, creative labor, emotional labor  – all kinds of labor contribute to our collective well-being and the well-being of the world and its non-human inhabitants, and there is an inherent worth to all this labor.

Manual labor has a long history of being pushed onto the less-privileged, and yet the well-being of our community has as much to do with the building of road and the collecting of trash as it does with the writing of newspaper articles or the creation of computer code.

Creative labor can be highly valued: think of the rock stars, famous artists, and opera divas. But it can also be discounted and belittled, even though the art on a greeting card or the music played at a wedding contribute to the well-being of our world even if they don’t end up in a museum or as a hit on the radio.

Emotional labor hasn’t even been considered labor, although the tired moms, nurses, counselors, wait-staff, and many many more certainly worked hard at caring for and about others.

We must begin to appreciate and value all of this labor, for any work that contributes to the well-being of the world is truly work worth doing, and worth doing well.

Which brings me to my final point. How can work work for us, the workers? There are many, many treatises out now on what makes work meaningful and enjoyable for people. Very few of the readings I found focus on pay or compensation, but of course that matters. Feeling exploited will lower your job satisfaction. But for the many people in this room who do unpaid or volunteer work, you know that money isn’t always necessary to make work satisfying.

What I did find listed over and over again were: autonomy, complexity, and direct connection to results. In other words, we find work most satisfying when we have a sense of control over what we do and can make choices and do things in our own way. We find work most satisfying when it is complex and challenging, when we see there are skills to master and we can improve as we work at it. We find work most satisfying when we can see the results of our labor and know that we made a difference.

Autonomy, complexity, and results. That might seem like it’s only the realm of the creative or intellectual elite, but if we return to Barry Schwartz’s book Why We Work, he gives examples of workers who found this true in all sorts of jobs: janitors in a hospital who enjoyed the knowledge that how they went about the job of keeping the rooms clean made a difference for people going through some of the most stressful days of their lives and factory workers challenged to contribute ideas for improving the product they were making who felt engaged and motivated by the desire to make the best possible product.

All work that is good for the common well-being can be good work. Even work that doesn’t quite meet the standard of right livelihood still could be an opportunity for the worker to engage with greater compassion and mindfulness. All labor is inherently worthy, and we must make it so.

May it be so.

Processing the Harvest

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When we first really embarked on our dream of hobby farming, we made the mistake of focusing too much on the planting/building/growing end of things. Yes, it was important to plant and start new gardens and so forth … but we were moving in to a property that had more than 10 apple trees and several pears and plums already and we didn’t know what to do with them all!

Gradually, I’ve come to realize that what happens in the kitchen is just as important as what happens out in the garden. I can plant and grow produce like a champ, but if I don’t harvest, cook, preserve, and put it all up for the winter it’s still a waste.

A saying I’ve heard is Eat what you can, and Can the rest.

Yes, can it. Or freeze it, ferment it, dehydrate it, distill it, smoke it, or if all else fails give it away.

It’s harvest season, and so far I’ve canned blackberry jam, pickles, and stewed tomatoes. I’ve frozen more blackberries, and am starting a batch of blackberry wine. I’m just as busy in my kitchen as I am out in the garden! And that’s how it needs to be, if food is not to go to waste.

Present Over Perfect: A Book Review

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I recently finished Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist. Here, I’ll try to give it an objective review:

Objectively, this is a fine, well-written book about choosing to pull back on career in order to feel less stressed and have more time and energy for self, family, and home. The author is a white, Christian, wife and mother with moderate economic advantages (I’m defining that based on summers at a lake cottage, but not household staff), who is open and vulnerable about her own inner emotional and spiritual landscape but refrains from sharing much about her family. The book is a bit repetitive, and it’s light on the bigger picture …. this is not where you will find discussions of systems level causes for why we all feel frantic, for instance. It’s a personal memoir, and as such much of the reader’s experience is riding on whether they find the author likeable and relatable.

That’s my objective review. Now here is my subjective experience of reading the book:

p. 32 You can use whatever term you want: besetting sin, shadow side, strength and weakness. The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great, that makes you different from everyone else is also the thing that, unchecked, will ruin you.

This passage jumped out at me with a big Aha! After years of trying to shore up all my weaknesses and make myself something I was not, in the past few years I’ve been big on self-acceptance and strengths/assets-based approach. I leaned in to my natural tendencies, and vowed to stop beating myself with the “should be like this …” stick. And yet, I still ended up taking on more than might be good for me. So here’s an interesting idea, that even our strengths may draw us too far out, that being 100% true to yourself might still lead to burn out.

p. 41 But what I eventually realized is that the return on investment was not what I’d imagined, and that the expectations were only greater and greater. When you devote yourself to being known as the most responsible person anyone knows, more and more people call on your to be that highly responsible person. That’s how it works. So the armload of things I was carrying became higher and higher, heavier and heavier, more and more precarious. 

OK, I may still be in denial on this one. I remember my father telling me at one point that the only reward for digging a good ditch is that you’ll be given more ditches to dig. Similar sayings came my way in the military and from the first minister I worked with (who would sort of smile and say “it’s to my advantage that you over-achieve, but don’t you know that doing good work just gets you more work?)

And yet.

And yet I just can’t help it. It may be crazy, but part of my personal philosophy has taken Gandhi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world” and twisted it into “be the person you wish you encountered”. In other words, I am trying to be the person that I would want to have around me in any situation. If there is work to be done, someone should do it. If there is a person in need, someone should help them. I cannot long for “someone” to come along … I am here and I am that someone. So I will continue to be that responsible person who carries the load.

p. 102 Along the way I’ve realized that most of the hard work during my last couple seasons has been claiming authority over my own life. This is not a group decision. We’re not voting for “most this” or “most that” in our yearbooks. This is actually my life, and it doesn’t matter a bit if it would be lovely for someone else to live in. What does matter: does it feel congruent with how God made me and called me?

Bam. This is not a group decision. That’s hard, when you are a people-pleaser, or when you naturally turn to the committee of others for advice in life’s choices. Others are quick to give their advice or opinions, but no one else is looking at my life from my own particular perspective.

p. 152 This little tribe may look squeaky clean, maybe like the kind of people who have no problems, like the kind of people who’ve only ever been swimming in the shallow end. But no one lives in the shallow end. Life upends us all, and there’s no sparkly exterior that can defend against disease and loss and cheating spouses. We carry depression and wounds and broken marriages. We carry addictions and diseases and scars and loss of faith. We carry it because that’s what love is. That’s what friendship is.

Yes, no one goes untouched. Too often, I feel like my sorrows and stresses are not worthy of my own attention, because I’m overall a very privileged and lucky person. Often this attitude is good. I like it when my own kids are willing to accept not getting something they want, because they recognize that they are getting all that they need and that they are fortunate and should be grateful. Yes, we are blessed.

But the flip of that is when I hide my pain because I can’t complain until I’m the worst off in the room … and honestly that’s never going to happen. I’m not the worst off, I’m a lucky privileged woman. But I still have pain, and denying it or trying to carry it alone is harmful to me. And it’s harmful to others. Pretending to be Superwoman is stupid, because then others think they have to be Superwoman too.

p. 157 You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry. 

Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to. Management, organization, speaking and traveling: you must ask not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

Well, that’s a doozy for me. Really? One of my life mottos is from each as they are able, to each as they require. (Yes, Marx gave me that idea, homeschoolers get a different kind of education!) And, perhaps out of pride, I always put myself on the ABLE side of that equation. Ego, pride, whatever … I see my capacity more readily than I see my need. So … OK …. that’s a growth edge. (Gotta love always having a growth edge to keep working on!)

It was a good and powerful book for me. Applying it to my own life, I have a lot to chew on. Let me leave you with this:

May I be Present. May I live my own life, the one I was created for.

May you be present. May you live your own life, the one you were created for.

May we all be present. May we all live as we were created to … loved and worthy as we are.

My Omnivore’s Dilemma

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Here’s a breakfast plate that my husband lovingly prepared for me that is all (with the exception of a slice of gluten free bread) part of our current 100 foot diet. All this food was grown or raised within 100 feet of our kitchen.

And it includes meat and eggs, because we have decided that we will not be vegetarians or vegans. This decision was not made lightly.

My husband’s parents were both vegetarians, both for ethical reasons. My parents were both natural-food advocates, for health reasons. My husband and I have both known hunger for economic reasons at various points in our lives. We have both lived in institutional settings (the Army) that dictated what we ate. And I have two genetic diseases that are best controlled through diet (celiac disease and a rare genetic anemia/blood disease). There’s a lot of history that goes into how we choose to eat.

I first became aware of the global environmental, as opposed to simply the personal health, impact of my diet when I read Diet for a Small Planet while I was in college. I was deeply concerned to realize that the way I ate was unsustainable for current population levels on our planet. That, combined with my ethical concerns about factory farming of animals, led me to become a vegetarian.

Several years of vegetarianism that was conducted on the low-budget and inexperienced cooking style of a college student left me really ill. My genetic anemia is much easier to manage when I’m eating meat, which is unfortunate but it’s the reality of my health situation.

So I went back to being an omnivore, but that has certainly not been the end of my dilemma, as Michael Pollan puts it. If I realize the impact of meat-eating on the global environment and the ethical issues of factory-style animal farming, and yet I want/need to eat meat, what do I do?

There is the option to reduce. Meatless Mondays is an international campaign to get people to eat vegetarian just one day a week, and we did that for many years in my family. Eventually we increased to more than one day a week, and then eventually we were eating more beans than meat.

Another option is to pay more for “humanely raised” or “ethically raised” meat. Many of these labels are not quite all that we imagine them to be, however. Yes, sometimes that label means the animals were treated with care. Other times, who knows. The only way this works is if you actually know the source … local and accountable relationships are key.

This led us to our dream (the Purple House is part of this) … a few acres, room to raise our own animals, living as sustainably as we can (while recognizing that it is a privilege in itself to take up this much land in an increasingly crowded world). We started to raise our own animals, and the reality of the choice to eat meat is that animals will die, animals that we have cared for and raised and become attached to … and we will cause that death.

The reality of actually killing animals was too much for my son when he was twelve years old. We do this as humanely as we can (I cry and say a prayer for my animals … this isn’t easy and I’m not going to pretend it is). My son chose to become a vegetarian rather than be part of it all.

So now what do we do? Here we are, raising our own animals for meat, filling up freezers with cuts of meat, and now my son doesn’t want to eat any of it. On the other hand, when I eat vegetarian I tend to end up sick …

Do I cook two separate meals? Do I force my son to eat the meat meals? Do I try to be vegetarian again and see if there is some way to manage my health condition even though it’s never worked for me in the past?

Here’s what we’ve settled on: we eat mostly vegetarian. Almost all the food I prepare is vegetarian. We eat vegetarian more days that not. I prepare a meat meal once a week, and on that night my son is a little deprived … he may only eat the side dishes. He accepts this and doesn’t complain.

It’s an imperfect compromise. It hurts my heart, both ways. It means that there will be days like today, when I start off by getting up early to piece apart and freeze 7 home-raised chickens, and end by cooking a vegetarian meal based around a zucchini the size of my head that I pulled from my garden.

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The Ups and Downs of Cook Ahead and Freeze

 

This month is my one-year anniversary of a full on commitment to the Cook Ahead and Freeze Lifestyle. After a complete year, I’m convinced this is a great way to feed my family, but I’m also well aware of the downsides. So here are my Ups and Downs after one year:

The Downs:

1. Time – I need almost one full day a month that I can set aside for cooking. Especially at the beginning, before I really mastered my routine on Cook Ahead Day, it really did take a full day. Now, I can make it work with a half-day but I’d still rather have a full day so I could work slower and take breaks.

2. Effort – Cook Ahead Day is exhausting. I always finish the day with sore feet.

3. Heat – Cooking Ahead in the summer months means having to work in a very hot kitchen (plans for building me an outdoor kitchen are in the works, but remain a level 3 budget priority for us, so who knows when it will happen.)

4. Not all recipes work – There have been some real failures (gluten free pasta in soup is one example) that didn’t do well being frozen and then reheated.

5. Planning ahead – Frozen meals are not the same as microwave dinners (for one thing we don’t have a microwave!). In other words, you can’t just go out to the freezer at dinner time and pick something out and expect to eat it within 15 minutes. The meals need to be thawed, and that requires planning ahead and pulling them out of the freezer in the morning before you plan to eat it (or even the morning prior, if you thaw it out in the fridge).

6. Space and Energy – You will need a lot of freezer space. We have two freezers in our garage, for both storing the meat from animals we have raised and for storing my frozen meals.

 

The Ups!

1. Convenience – We have healthy homemade dinners stockpiled. If I get sick, it doesn’t disrupt the flow of food. When we are very busy, we still have homemade food. On evenings I am working, my family still has homemade dinner without me.

2. Health and Eco-friendly – There is a great reduction in packaging and preservatives, compared to “convenience” meals we could buy at the store. I have complete control over ingredients and can meet our dietary needs and make all our food organic for a lower price.

3. Eating Seasonal and Local – I’m able to make use of bumper crops and seasonal foods, but eat them over a longer period of time. Case in point: this spring we had a lot of asparagus in our garden, but I didn’t just want to continuously eat asparagus. So I put it in my cook ahead recipes. In July, we eat our last frozen quiche that contained asparagus from our garden.

4. Convenience, again – Frozen foods can be included in more elaborate and complicated meals. I had parsnip soup already made that I could thaw out for the first course of Christmas dinner, when I already had plenty of other things to cook and bake that day.

5. Efficiency – It’s much more efficient to do all your prep work at once, and family members can be brought in as prep cooks. I’m also more willing to get my food processor and blender dirty when it’s for a big job, as the cost/benefit of having to wash it all gets re-balanced. We can just peel and chop and grate and lay all the ingredients out, then start heating and boiling and cooking.

6. Simplification of choices – We never have that “what’s for dinner?” moment of indecision. Whatever is thawed, is dinner.

7. Dietary accommodations – The issue of people with different diets can be solved without having to cook two different dinners each night. My vegetarian child and my meat loving child can have two different meals if I just thaw out two different things in the morning (here portion sized freezer containers are the key).

 

For us, the math is clear – no matter how much work it is for me on that one day each month, the benefits make it all worth it.