Keep Calm and Carry On: The Tradition of Sunday Suppers

Earlier this week, as I gathered my usual groceries, I had comfort foods in mind. I knew that we would be home for the weekend due to Coronavirus and possibly longer, depending on if my husband’s work unit asked his team to teleconference or not, and we’ve been experiencing sunny, but cold days. These things, as well as the fact that I’ve been re-reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, inspired me to bring home ingredients for a roast chicken with vegetables, cabbage and leeks for a St. Patrick’s Day meal, and enough other random produce to create any soup—carrots, celery, and onions will take you a long way to dinner!

The chicken and veggies, ready to go into the oven.

Sunday morning after breakfast, my husband and I sit in the living room with our coffee. We watch the cats wrestle in the sunbeams on the carpet. We chat about future plans, current family events, and what we want to plant in our garden this summer. As the coffee cools and the day really begins, he asks me what I want to do today…and the answer is pretty much my standard reply. I love to cook on Sundays, when the lazy hours stretch before me in uninterrupted potential. I gather my supplies and let my mind fly. 

Usually, I’ll listen to NPR, but the usual Sunday program didn’t fit my mood today, so instead I put in a Loreena McKinnett CD, “the book of secrets”, and begin on my chicken. 

As I cut vegetables and apply the rub to the chicken, my mind wanders to my great-grandmother. Whenever I cook chickens on Sunday, I think of the stories my mom tells of the days of her childhood when her parents sent her and her two sisters to live for the summers with her grandmother in the mountains of West Virginia.

My great grandmother, Glennis Carter, lived in a mountain community so small that you didn’t bother with a house address when you sent her letters. She married young, and she and her husband were expecting their third daughter (my grandmother) when he was killed at 25 years old in a mining accident. Glennis never remarried, and raised her daughters alone while running a general store. Her life was hard and she struggled. But she also found joy. Every Sunday, she killed a chicken and the town gathered at her house for dinner. She was renowned for her cooking. Even when I was a child, when we went to visit, she still baked little individual pies for each of us—she knew each of our favorites. 

My great-grandmother with almost all of her siblings: Nellie Reed, Glennis Carter, Hallie Lambert, Gene Hardway, Carol Hardway, Irene Lambert, Brooks Hardway (Not pictured Casto “Doc” Hardway)

I learned to cook by watching my mom, and she often shared stories of Grandma Carter on those occasions. They were her happiest memories of childhood, and I know that I was influenced by their simplicity: stories of swimming holes where kids swam with cattle on hot summer days; the one room school house that was open in the summer; my mom meeting her grandma after school to have a NeHi and a MoonPie on the front porch of the general store. Stories of my great-uncle Brooks, who went to the war and returned “shell-shocked”, became a hermit further up the mountain, and spent his days writing poetry. Stories of outhouse runs in the middle of the night. 

These stories often remind me that much can be made with very little. Grandma Carter made abundance from whatever resources she had on hand. Brooks only came down from his cabin once or twice a year for supplies. People grew gardens and shared their bounty.

I chop carrots, and peel potatoes. I slice onions—tears pouring down my face, sensitive not only to their aroma but to the feelings bubbling up inside as I think about how much I have, of all the abundance that surrounds me everyday. 

I don’t need to, but I start a pot of water boiling on the stove. I throw in the scraps of vegetables and spices that I’d normally throw away. The tops and ends of carrots and celery, a partial lemon, the potato peels, smaller stems of thyme and rosemary. A bay leaf and a knob of ginger. And, made from what we now could consider garbage because we are so bountifully blessed with grocery stores and restaurants, fridges and freezers overflowing, is a fragrant vegetable broth that I can use as a base for a more elaborate soup, or eat as it is. 

My kitchen is filled with the smells of roasting chicken and bubbling broth. The CD begins to play a Scottish ballad, “The Highwayman”, bringing back memories of my own country childhood with my sisters, playing Anne of Green Gables. The sun shines through the windows, and the birds and groundhogs dance through the backyard on various missions of their own.

And I know, no matter what our future holds, there will always be Sunday supper, as long as we are able to look around us and find—then share—the bounty in what we have.  

Roast chicken and vegetables.

Week 4 (a little late) is all about self care

How appropriate that my schedule listed Self Care as the topic for this weeks’ blog, because I got really sick and was forced to spend a LOT of time taking care of myself, and had time to think about self care as well.

This is another area of my life where I struggle to maintain focus and consistency. If it were up to me, I would totally live inside my brain—thinking, reading, writing, and creating art. I would never have to stop a project in order to do silly things like eating food, brushing my teeth, or plucking the pesky crazy chin hairs that have started popping up in my life on a regular basis! I might be more inclined to go to the gym if…nope, there’s not really anything that makes me actually want to go to the gym! (If you have tips on this, please share!) I know that I feel better when I eat regularly, when I go to the gym or do some yoga, and when I take a shower! I just have a hard time making these things a priority.

One self care ritual that does come naturally to me is writing and reading. I’ll journal all day if you let me. I’ll read inspirational books and think about how to apply the lessons that they teach to my own life.

Recently, I had a conversation that changed my entire approach to self care, and that’s why I put the topic on the list of things to write about. Here’s what I learned:

Self care is not a reward

Mind. Blown.
This is exactly how I was thinking about my self care, and I didn’t even realize it until she pointed it out to me. I was waiting to eat until I did a certain amount of tasks. I was waiting to shower until I had completed so many chores. I was allowing myself the ability to put down my responsibilities in order to read or relax only after I got past that arbitrary point on my to-do list that I’d created for myself.

Self care is also not optional. I was missing that aspect when I thought about it. I had an image in my head of massages, bubble baths, and face masks as self care. Those extras really could be considered rewards or special occasion treats for times when we want to celebrate a goal reached or a task accomplished. But that’s not the full picture when it comes to self care.

Self care is actually taking a step back (if you have trouble with it) and looking at your life and realizing that EVERYTHING needs maintenance and care in order to run properly. Our cars need gas, and oil, and tire changes. Car washes aren’t even frivolous because they help maintain the materials that make up the body of the car. If you don’t wash your car regularly, rust and other deterioration happens a lot faster.

Our homes need to be cleaned, we need to fix the little things that break, and do preventative measures like adding salt to our water softeners, and checking our fire extinguishers and alarms. At our house, we have to call a plumber every 2 years to get a pipe routed out or our basement floods. The maintenance saves us from emergencies.

We feed our children and our pets everyday. We make their doctor appointments, dentist appointments, or grooming appointments.

I realized that I was taking care of all the other humans and animals, and all the things in my life. But I wasn’t taking good care of me. Self care is simply maintenance—but we have to do it ourselves because as adults, we’re responsible for our own maintenance.

Why can this seem overwhelming? Because we don’t take time to do this on a regular basis, and wait until our bodies are screaming EMERGENCY!, until our engine lights are blinking, and our metaphorical basements are flooding. When you’re standing in ankle-deep water, wondering what to do next, you don’t have time to address the cause until you clean up the effect.

Which brings me to last week, when I was supposed to be writing this post. Instead, I was sleeping, sick and exhausted. AGAIN. I hit full-on crash and burn mode. I had a list of self care that needed to become a part of my schedule that was literally a page long, but I hadn’t implemented any of it yet.

On this list?

  • Start taking my supplements and vitamins again
  • Drink more water
  • Get back to the gym and start doing yoga again
  • Get back on my anti-inflammatory diet that helps with my PCOS
  • Make a doctor appointment
  • Make a dentist appointment

(See, all these things are just regular maintenance necessities that I wasn’t doing. And I wonder why I was sick?!)

I am also creating a second list, of things that help me to relax and feed my soul. I’m putting them in my planner as priority items that I will do in order to take care of me. These are all simple and free.

My Self Care List

  • Take a hot bath
  • Use my foam roller, or use the sauna or steam room at the gym after exercising
  • Drink tea, make a latte, or eat a snack
  • Color, paint, or draw
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Do a face mask or paint my nails
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Watch a movie or listen to music
  • Pet a cat
  • Turn off my phone for the evening
  • Dance in my kitchen

I’ve decided that none of those things are rewards. If I have some money to spare, having lunch with my girlfriends, getting a massage, or buying myself flowers are also things that I might do to reset my mind and spirit. But I’m not using them as rewards anymore. I don’t have to spend a week at the gym in order to have a snack. I don’t have to eat healthy all week in order to go out with my friends on Friday. I don’t have to work for 2 hours in the morning before I take my shower.

I’ll keep you all updated on my progress with this goal of not turning self care into a reward, and I’d love to hear from you. What is your best strategy for making time for yourself? What are your favorite things to do to reset and center? Do you wanna go to a yoga class with me?

Sending love out to you all! Take CARE. 🙂

Week 1: Setting up the Plan

Imperfect.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

— ellen goodman.

In my mid-30s, I blew up my life, and over the last 2.5 years I’ve been slowly working to put everything back in order—but not back together, because I want a completely different life by the time I’m all done and ready to move forward.

I went back to grad school, I left a job that made me miserable, and I started my own business. Those were the big 3 of the shakeup.

As I let go of those big things the smaller things that I’d put up with because there were more important things to address started to clamor for attention, too. I started to ask why I didn’t stand up for myself more, why I wasn’t taking care of myself, and whether the beliefs I’d carried about myself through life to this point were even true anymore. I started to take a look at my relationships and the way that I spent my time.

Now, I am starting this project as a way to reset my parameters. I’m going to experiment with how I do things, do a lot of writing & thinking, and talk to other women.

By my 40th birthday, I hope that my life will be all set for the next chapter, full of joy and intention. I hope to have a framework to get me through whatever challenges come in the next decade.

While I’m going to write about a lot of ideas and subjects organically, these are the main topics I plan to dive into each month:

  • January: Health
  • February: Visibility, Self-Love, and Self-Care
  • March: Soul Searching
  • April: Financial Independence
  • May: Fashion and Organization
  • June: Relationships & Family
  • July: Travel
  • August: Creativity
  • September: Stepping Out of Comfort Zones

Another part of this project is being okay with imperfection, and being kinder to myself in the process of redesigning my life. My husband recently pointed out that I was hyper self-critical…and I knew that, but it was startling to know other people see that in me, too.

I don’t deserve to have to live under such hard criticism, even if it is from myself. I need to show myself some grace, and learn to make room in my life to learn, to make mistakes, and just to breathe. So, I made my word of the year for 2020: Imperfect.

If any of this sounds interesting, I hope you’ll follow my blog. I’ll have some challenges if you’d like to do some of the same projects that I tackle.

So, there it is. That’s the plan. I’ll share January’s Challenge on Wednesday.

It’s all happening.

Penny lane, Almost Famous.