Learning to “Make Do,” as in “Revel in What I Have”


I was astonished by many things this week:  the gentle friendship of my 91-year-old dad and his 84- and 94-year-old visitors, who’d flown up just to see him. A stunning garter snake with a very orange head. My sourdough starter popping the lid off its container. The thickness and rigidity of a cherry leaf on a tree I walked up to.  Achillea still blooming, white above its fronds, and a mustard (Rorippa curvisiliqua) already germinating with the fall rains. Our wood-fired hot tub under the almost full moon, and the micro mist that batted my checks and decorated my husband’s hair.  When I got up this morning it was still dark. The moon was large and soft in the dawn sky. And the game camera showed me that a big black bear–the one with a black face, not the white-faced one–had ambled by, looking for apples, no doubt.

But I’ll write on a different astonishing note: our cuisine. Time has been tight for us because we’re getting ready for a vacation. (I’ll say that’s why time has been tight. I hope to keep time loose in the days and months and years to come). I wanted to finish a draft of two papers on saplings, wood density, and drought before we left, we had to get the house and dog set up for a house- and dog-sitter, there were things to help my dad with, I wanted to talk with both my kids, I had some other pressing things to keep moving at work, and the lab above mine flooded down into mine and mine flooded down into the one below it. So when it came to cuisine, we decided to just make do.

I had planned on making my standby interpretation of pad thai, but we’d thrown out our malleable cabbage and almost everything else when we’d got a new fridge this week. But on Friday night, one of dad’s guests couldn’t finish her blueberry and spinach salad from Tommy’s Fourth Street Bar and Grill, so she gave it to me. She’d only picked off a few of the blueberries and a couple of the sliced almonds. At the cabin we added kale from our garden, carrot that we shredded, and cubed and fried tofu with garlic, green onion, rice noodles and peanut sauce. We had a very nice meal, blueberries, raspberry vinaigrette, peanut sauce and all.

This evening when we returned to Corvallis from the cabin, we were just as pressed for time because we’re packing to leave. Greens? Whatever was left in the new fridge, which was bok choy, the rest of the kale, a golden pepper that had frozen and thawed, and some more green onions. We topped it with kale (there’s always more kale) and green onions fried in coconut oil, the remaining rice noodles, and scrambled egg. (We also cooked up some oyster mushrooms from an alder log we came across yesterday, but the little worms that cooked out of them were unappetizing so we didn’t eat them after all.) We had no blueberries so we added the hardy kiwis we’d picked today. Pad home, we called it, and it was fine.

So. We can eat what’s on hand in a pinch.

But I’m a long way from the grace of “making do” that dad and his friends had demonstrated.

They recalled the gentle stories, some of which they all remembered, most of which I think they didn’t. They stayed away from pain. They stayed away from negative speech about olden times, or olden people. They didn’t spend a second on politics or on anything dire. They talked about people who’d died, but they didn’t talk about losses. The best of Jack, the best of Elder, the best of MaryLou. “Eileen was always put-together, so perfect,” one of them said. “And you always liked any kind of food, as long as it had butter on it,” another responded.

I’m learning slowly to “make do,” as in “revel in what I have.” I’m learning, slower than many, to not compare. (Did you catch the contradiction?) After years of “being productive,” I’m learning to tally activities differently.  It may be that the Curriculum Vitae of life has more headings than I thought.

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