Getting the Board to Groan

Today is a bright, windy, snowy day. There’s an inch of snow, maybe, a surprise covering, and it’s enough to close the local schools.

[Close schools for an inch of snow??? we always scoff, we who nanooked our way through childhoods in the frozen tundra southwest of Buffalo, New York; who trudged to school (uphill, both ways) on plowed sidewalks walled in by three and four feet of snow.

This ain’t SNOW, we begin, and Jim rolls his eyes. He has enjoyed the benefits of one- and two-inch snow days, and he doesn’t care to hear our hardship stories.]

And maybe the streets ARE a little slick, especially on the back roads, but nothing’s keeping me at home. Today is Big Shopping Day, and I have an unbearable itch to fill the larder.


The end of the month brings weariness, when everything in pantry and fridge seems old, known, stale: the crumbly end of a bag of chips, the last few slices of bread, a sour cream pot with a scant cup left in it.

We are down to the last few chicken legs. The beef is long gone. I decide to cheer up the kitchen by making cookies; not chocolate chip, though—the chips are long gone. If we had molasses, I could make ginger snaps.

I search through the baking supplies, which are randomly depleted: flour is fine, brown sugar is missing. White sugar: gone, too.

Every menu, every cooking expedition, in the last week of the month, becomes a master planning and rooting chore.

And then comes this magical day, when the pension check arrives on the same day as the college pays post, this day poised at the beginning of the weekend, and just before the first of the month drags hordes of hungry shoppers out.

It’s Big Shopping Day. Watch out.


I pull up my First of the Month Shopping List on the computer. This list, I realize, is like a family historical archive; going back through all of its iterations would tell a detailed story.

Just last month, for instance, I finally deleted the ‘Dog Stuff’ section—sadly highlighted kibble, and doggie treats, and rawhide chews and pressed ‘delete,’ sending those no-longer needed items into oblivion.

We miss having a furry little beast in the house. Just this morning, Mark played a video of a lovable, prancing, rescue pup at a local pound; we both felt that dangerous melting.

Then I thought about an upcoming five-day trip with no worries about kennels or traveling with hound; I remembered that we have been discussing taking off for some sort of spur of the moment weekend adventures.

There is freedom in being doggie-less.

So, just for now, I let my heart freeze back up, and I enjoy the white space on the shopping list.


Other list items have morphed into anachronisms. Trying to use as little single-use plastic as possible has changed the way we shop. Toilet paper (in paper wrappers) arrives on my step in a big cardboard carton. We buy vats of dish and laundry detergent. I have amber glass spray bottles; I fill them with my own concocted cleaning sprays.

I go through “Paper Products” and “Cleaning Supplies.” I delete, delete, delete.

Then I add things to “Grocery” that we’ve never used regularly before—honey and coconut; coconut oil; all kinds of nuts. For breakfast now I eat granola mixed in my kitchen: no wheat, no additives, no plastic packaging.

I cross “Mom cereal” off the shopping list, too.


My challenge at this time in life is to keep myself out of the supermarket as much as possible, to avoid weekly replenishing trips that lead to splurges.

So…“Six pounds of butter,” I write on the shopping list. I guesstimate how many rice dinners we’ll need, and how many times we’ll have potato sides.

The shopping list, when it is finished, is a page and a half long.


Jim, who rises early, is my cheerful partner in crime; after eating the last raspberry paczki, he laces up his sneakers, dons his jacket, and helps me carry bags to the car—paper bags for packing groceries; a sack full of plastic bags to recycle.

At Aldi, we park far away from the store to get steps in. A lady gives us her cart and will not take the quarter we try to press on her.

We’ll pay that forward, I tell her.

Inside, we load up on baking supplies, canned veggies, dairy products, and the chicken cordon bleu roll-ups that Jim loves. A harried mother chases two very active small ones, pushing her heavily stocked cart; her serious oldest son tries to run and get things for her from far away aisles. He is downcast when his choices are the wrong ones but incandescent when he scores.

“They’re kind of noisy,” Jim stage-whispers, and the mother sighs. I eye-signal Jim to hush.

“Sorry!” he mouths.

We check out and grab a section of packing area; we load bags and head out to stow them in the trunk.

Jim tries to give our cart to a gentleman who pulls in; the man insists on giving him a quarter.


At Kroger, we fill in the blanks with produce and local honey, frozen goods, pasta sides, and snacks. The patient cashier comments on our gauzy produce bags, and her helper gamely uses our brought-from-home bags to pack up our goods.

She comments that the store’s paper bags are running low, and the cashier clucks her tongue.

“Do most people ask for paper these days?” I ask her, and she shakes her head.

“Nah,” she says. “MOST people want plastic.”

The little helper carefully fits the bags into our cart. She looks at the cashier and then whispers, “Really, it’s just about half and half.”


At home, we wish for a stock boy to carry the bags in for us. We make many trips, tromping snow onto the tiled kitchen floor, and then the sorting and putting away begins.

It is good that I have cleaned out the refrigerator, ruthlessly culling partially filled bottles and jars of sauces, relishes, and pickles. We make room on shelves, stack things, reorganize freezers.

After lunch we drive to the local butcher and buy beef and sliced ham, cubed steaks, a whole chicken; we bring them home, and repackage and wrestle them into the packed freezer spaces.


By 3:00, Big Shopping Day is wrapped up, and I grab an hour in the reading chair. Then I get up to fashion a dinner from things that were here before the shopping trip. There is red sauce in the refrigerator; I separate two of those last chicken legs into drums and thighs. I peel and slice a zucchini, bought today, and prep carrots, onion, and garlic that predate the zucchini.

Everything sautés in the heavy old cast iron skillet; then I turn off the heat, douse it all with the red sauce, sprinkle on mozzarella and parmesan and slide the whole pan into a hot oven: a dinner made by pairing some old stuff with some new stuff.

Jim runs up from trying out his newly refurbished PS 3 and slides a couple of cordon bleu chicken rolls into the oven.

The kitchen begins to smell good.

I open cabinet doors, straighten an item or two; look at the bounty in the refrigerator; check the line-up in the pantry. I think of a phrase from Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room: she wrote about “happy, humming domesticity.”

French wrote about that as a cautionary tale, as a vacuum that can suck women in, urge them to relinquish other freedoms for the allure of providing a well-organized house, and she is spot-on in so many ways. But there’s a deep, atavistic drive in us, too, I think, male and female, old and young: the urge to provide, the yearning to have a plenty on hand,–to stave off hunger, to nourish and delight, others, yes, but ourselves too.

And that’s what Big Shopping Day does for me: it fills that need. And those of us who are able to enjoy a sense of plenty are lucky, lucky, lucky.

“It’s all right,” I think, celebrating plenty in the cupboards, as Mark pulls in the driveway. I pour penne pasta into bubbling water, and I enjoy the thought that the larder is full.

6 thoughts on “Getting the Board to Groan

  1. Do you menu plan for the whole month?
    I shop from a list but probably every 10 days. It’s always the fresh veggies I go back for. I use up all my home preserved ones as the winter progresses.
    I also get most of my meat straight from the farmer/rancher which means I always have meat in the freezer. Expensive outlay but good quality and as a farm kid that’s what I grew up knowing. For 40+ years we’ve managed to source it locally. Except for chickens and I can’t convince my other half we should raise some.

    1. I try to plan menus weekly from what I stocked up on, BernieLynne…I love the idea of buying meat from the farmer, too…I have to change my freezer situation to make that happen.

      Milk and eggs, as well as veggies, take me out to the store between times…we get eggs from a friend, whose hens are lazy right now, or from the Farmer’s market when it’s open, but right now: the grocery store.

  2. Patty Roker

    Living on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic where Ritz crackers are imported crackers, this threatened worldwide plague may impact our food supply chain. Having gloriously full shelves is always lovely, but, right now, it is a necessity. The lovely cans of San Maranzo tomates and boxes of whole wheat pasta promise sustenance no matter what comes; the bags of whole wheat flour will make lots of bread; and the glass bottles of French preserves and bags of coffee beans will pair with that bread for comforting breakfasts. Let what will come come; we are getting ready.

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