Slip

Permission to wander.
Permission to go outside.
Permission to be gentle.
Permission to rest.
Permission to feel.
Permission to feel sad when you “should” be happy.
Permission to feel joy, even when you are sad.
Permission to be confused or scared or both.
Permission to ask for help.
Permission to tell the stories.
Permission to be quiet.
Permission to evolve.
Permission to not know the answer, and to live in the not-knowing space.
Permission to be messy, inside and out.
Permission to be.

Rhubarb cake

I have an abundance of rhubarb from the garden these days, along with a distinct scarcity of compelling rhubarb recipes. Let me be clear: there is no scarcity of rhubarb recipes, just ones that satisfy all of my persnickety criteria.

I am a purist, so anything where the rhubarb is disguised by a pile of strawberries (or anything else, for that matter) is disqualified. Similarly, my goal is to eat delicious rhubarb so I can’t be bothered with anything that buries a cup of rhubarb chunks in a giant cake or loaf or the like. And I’m just not interested in anything requiring equal amounts of sugar and rhubarb, so that the finished result is cloyingly sweet with a hint of tang.

For years, I was content to make a good compote to spoon generously over some plain yogurt or a scoop of ice cream. And that still sounds delicious but I’m off all dairy (and pretty much all fake dairy) these days, and the dairy always seemed essential to that whole approach.

So this weekend I got desperate and resorted to the internet. And there on the front page of smitten kitchen, the second page I opened, like a clear message from the universe, was rhubarb upside-down spice cake.

I made this cake yesterday at a point in the late afternoon when I was too exhausted to use my arms or legs. It became apparent about three minutes in that I was in no state to be baking an unfamiliar recipe – pretty much every direction was following by the thought, “f*#& it, close enough”. But at that point, I was committed, so I half-assed and short-cut my way through. My only deliberate modification was to cut the sugar by about 1/3, because, ahem, me.

I think this is my all-time favorite rhubarb cake recipe. There’s a generous layer of rhubarb, mellowed as much by butter as sugar so that it’s neither cloying nor pucker-inducing. And the spice cake is the perfect complement, adding depth and flavor, neither austere nor rich. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my all-time best cake specimen. But given the deliciousness that came out of that wreck of a baking session, I am confident in the potential here.

Confident enough that I needed to tell you about it.

Now there’s still a pile of rhubarb in my fridge so if you have made it this far and still have any suggestions, please do share.

 

An incoherent jumble

Well, that’s a hell of a photo collection for one post. I’ve been meaning to write here for the last week or two, but every time I started to collect my thoughts, they would turn out to be an incoherent jumble of things I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Since that seems to be the state of things, it’s a jumbled list sort of post…

  • Today was the most joyful mail day of the year, the day the chirping box of chicks arrives. It feels like the official start of another season of homesteading. I’ve been slow to find my rhythm this spring, but after dashing out between rain showers every couple hours today to make sure the new crew weren’t too cold or out of water or starving for attention, I feel like they are already pulling me into the season.
  • I finished the toddler hoodie nearly a month ago, but never showed you the final photos. It was my first time adding a zipper and ribbon to knitting, and both took time but were easier than I expected. The hand-sewing complemented the knitting well, and I would definitely like to add more ribbon to reinforce sweaters. I was a little concerned the green and white ribbon would look completely out of place, but I think it works, and I love the charm of the vintage French design.
  • We marched for Black Lives Matter in Seattle last weekend and almost felt guilty for how enjoyable it was – walking through the streets of downtown with several thousand friends soaking in the sunshine and standing in solidarity on one of our first truly springlike days. Get out there for Science this weekend if you can!
  • Dean spent a week in Maine so I spent a week here on my own and figuring out what I was going to eat next. I had all sorts of grand plans for how I would fill the expansive hours and space of being having the house all to myself, but then spent about 90% of that energy on feeding myself. So when he left again after less than a week at home (to visit some friends in Oregon for several days), I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. He did leave me stocked with 3 1/2 bunches of kale raab, though, so I quickly settled in to a routine of kale and eggs three meals a day. Which seems like a decent option, if you’re going to be so repetitive. And just when the kale supply was waning, I went rummaging through the freezer and found a quart of leftover chicken curry from a few months ago. Victory!  So just in case you were worried, I think I’m going to make it through this week without resorting to popcorn or saltines (both of which I stand by as totally legitimate meal options, if employed sparingly).
  • “Make soap” has been on my to-do list approximately every weekend since mid-October, when I thought it would be nice to have a supply for holiday gifts. I am down to the final near-transparent shard of my last bar, so went to buy a bar when I was at the corner store yesterday. After picking up every single (local, handcrafted, beautiful) bar, I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on any of them so I came home and made my own. It took something like 30 minutes, dirtied a handful of dishes, and nothing about it was difficult or smelled bad or was in any way unpleasant, just like I knew all along. Of course there’s still the small fact that it should cure for a month before use, but I made a couple extra small bars that I think will get me through the gap. So there you go, I’ve managed to take care of feeding and bathing myself this week. I don’t know what more you could expect of me.

Direct sunlight

So far in April… I have made and eaten my first batch of nettle pesto. (I expect there to be many more.) I have crawled between my flannel sheets under a full pile of wool blankets without my trusty hot water bottle, twice. I have inhaled charcoal smoke while waiting for my dinner. And today, for approximately ten minutes while I was running, I stripped down to a short-sleeve shirt and my elbows saw direct sunlight for the first time in many months. It felt a little like exhaling a breath I didn’t know I had been holding since October.

March time

March feels like a time warp many years, the light and the season changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. This year, March feels more like the opposite, the trees seemingly in a state of suspended animation waiting for the spells of sunshine that will give them permission to release their pent-up energy.

Or maybe I’m just projecting, because I feel like I’ve stepped outside time for the past few weeks. I spent ten days at a meditation retreat, just sitting, walking, watching, listening, every day just full of countless moments. From retreat, it was right into five days at the home of friends with a brand new baby, which it turns out it also outside the normal rules of time. Toddler-sitting is all about the right now and right here. Later in the week I was the relief newborn cuddler, which is nothing but the sweetest kind of meditation.

By the time I returned home, it felt a little like I couldn’t remember when I had last been here and a little like nothing had changed while I was away. It’s good to be home, to settle in and notice what has shifted over the last few weeks, both in me and in the natural world around me. It feels like it is time to shift more of my attention outdoors, to dig in the soil, to start growing things. I have this sense that there’s some pent-up energy in me as well as the trees, and I’m hoping to find the rhythm of spring that coaxes it out of all of us at the right pace.

February

February. The stars are fading quickly when I wake these days, and the afternoon light is stretching well past quitting time at the day job… We’ve also had snow on the ground more days than not so far this month.

Spring is imminent, as evidenced by the tree buds nearly busting out with fresh bright green leaves. But it’s disorienting to notice them while I’m walking the driveway because there is a layer of ice under the snow and it seems wise to park at the bottom of the hill rather than test my traction.

It’s still winter here, but I get the distinct feeling that I’m going to wake up one of these days and it will be gone, overcome by the galloping spring light and cold mud. Maybe I should be doing something to steel myself for that day, but I don’t know what it might be. So mostly, I’m trying to appreciate the spaciousness of these days of calm, watching the light in the grey skies, wrapping my legs up in a cozy wool blanket, and happily puttering on indoor projects before spring pulls all of my attention outside.

Late December

Well, that went quickly. I thought I’d pop in here with a quick holiday photo post but it turns out I haven’t been taking too many photos. Last week I did that thing I’m prone to where I decided all the things I was going to do based on wanting to do them without regard for the actual number of hours in the week. So the solstice was a whirlwind and while we had my favorite kind of quiet Christmas, filled with board games, conversation, carols on vinyl and bracing winter walks, fueled by endless grazing and our best Christmas sauerkraut casserole yet… I have to admit I still feel a little spent.

We’re heading out to the beach for a long weekend next, so I’m hopeful I will find that sense of spaciousness yet with a few quiet days watching the Pacific roll in. Hope your new year nourishes with just what you need!

 

Officially

The annual Christmas tree hunt happened yesterday. It’s really quite a recent tradition for us, but as with all the best ones, it feels like the only way it’s ever been.

I packed up a thermos of tea and a couple of snacks and Dean rustled up a saw from the shed. When we stopped to pick up the $5 permit at the ranger station, there was no charge because some kind stranger had pre-paid for an extra. We were delighted enough by the gesture that we bought one for the next family to arrive.

Permit in hand, we set out into the network of forest service roads. Perhaps 5 minutes later, Dean started pointing out potential candidates and I started immediately disqualifying them. Not for their size or shape or variety, but because it would ruin the joy of the hunt to consider so few. So we drove a minimum acceptable distance, found a bit of space to pull off the road, and scrambled up a slope. Scrambled not in the light and sure-footed scamper sense, but in the way that involves clinging to saplings for leverage while guessing whether that dusting of snow is sitting on solid ground or a fern-covered hole.

It was the kind of cold clear day that is scarce here, and it felt good to bundle up against it and breathe in the winter air. Dean continued to nominate tree candidates and I expertly pointed out their disqualifying flaws, until I was absolutely done with hiking on that slope and Dean was wondering if we were searching for a unicorn. And magically, our tree appeared – a perfectly homely tree that looks perfectly at home in our living room.

Later, there were familiar carols played while we unpacked the box of decorations and re-told each other the stories behind our favorite childhood ornaments or those picked up in our travels and we appreciated the recent additions. It feels very rich to me right now, the whole collage of old and new, past and present, our traditions, our celebrations, our physical memories, all inextricably part of this moment.

We finished the evening with another of my favorite (and not very old) holiday traditions, watching Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas special. And so, despite a few more days of work this week, it feels very much like the holidays are officially here.

December

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It’s December, and I feel like I should say “I can’t believe it’s December” but mostly I think it feels about right. I took a walk out to our mailbox during my lunch break today, and there was a bite in the air I haven’t felt this mild autumn. It was raining just enough that everything I was wearing was damp but not quite wet and I was surprised to find that even after climbing the hill back up to the house, I was still cold. Another cup of tea warmed me up, I seem to drink it more or less continuously these days. We’re twenty days out from the solstice and twenty minutes shy of the darkest morning, but it feels very much like the midwinter stillness is settling around us.

I have some good winter crafting to share with you if I ever remember to take some photos during daylight. But it won’t be this weekend, because we’ll be away, a bit south visiting some dear friends. Last weekend’s trip a bit north to spend Thanksgiving with family-you-choose felt like soul medicine, and I’m looking forward to another dose. Winter always feels like a time for soul medicine, but this year I need to fill up on as much of that as I can. Tea and good conversation and the company of good friends, my kind of medicine.

Fruitcake. Seriously!

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Fruitcake is seriously misunderstood. Someone really needs to develop some marketing on its behalf, maybe right after they tackle the hot water bottle’s campaign.

I mentioned way back in December that we made old-fashioned fruitcake again. Somehow amidst all the winter treats, one little loaf was never cut open and eventually tucked into the back of the pantry. I remember seeing it last spring and thinking that I should really unwrap it and see what kind of state it was in but then I chose to pretend not to see it. I’m aware of the concept that fruit cakes keep but I wasn’t terribly interested in personal experimentation with the subject.

Fast forward to three days ago, when the cupboards were perilously low on treats and Dean was scavenging deep and he re-discovered the forgotten fruitcake, just sitting there wrapped up in waxed paper. Driven like only a man in a house without cookies could be, he bravely opened it up.

And it’s totally good! Like the flavors have mellowed nicely and it’s maybe a bit dry but overall, just as tasty as it was ten and a half months ago. Which is to say that it’s damn good.

So I think this means that fruitcake has the approximate shelf life of a Twinkie without any creepy industrial ingredients. And it’s actually delicious. What’s not to love? Seriously!

ps – And just in case you’re tempted to start your own holiday fruitcake tradition, this is the recipe that we’ve used and I highly recommend it (obviously).

Morning after the storm

img_1640 img_1643 img_1645 img_1647 img_1650 img_1651Emerging from our first big fall storm here, which happily turned out to be less dramatic than the forecast. Three days of wind and rain but never too intense. This morning the sky is full of weather – the remnants of the storm sitting heavy in the sky, another succession of showery cells blowing in, and clear blue defending some territory for its own. Layers of clouds and light that just kept drawing my attention up into the drama.

It was a good morning for a walk and plenty of the neighbors seemed to agree, gathering in the street to share relief that the storm had passed, walking the dog, just spelling the cabin fever. There’s something about that morning-after-the-storm walk that reassures whatever got unsettled, and this was a good one.

A bench

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Fair readers.  That last post about that gradual “waning” of summer? I was utterly wrong. I can see now how I was ardently hoping for a (very) gradual transition to autumn and pretending that conditions indicated such but it wasn’t true and summer came to a very abrupt end about 25 days ahead of schedule. And if I’m being completely honest, it threw me into a bit of a tailspin.

So… let’s discuss a bench. Early this summer, when weeks of day job stress were wearing me down aided by the persistent June gloom totally overstaying into July, I was daydreaming about improving our outdoor living space. About having more places to BE outside during the summer, even when I had nothing to DO there. I decided that benches would help. Perhaps a bench near the garden, so that I would take more breaks to lounge there instead of just weeding until I was exhausted and then heading back to the house. Perhaps a bench at the top of the orchard to entice me up to admire the best view from our property. Perhaps a bench on the south side of the house to remind us how we’ll have a patio there someday. There seemed no shortage of demand for outdoor benches.

I found some simple online plans and had Dean pick up the materials I needed to make a pair. I was determined that would be his only contribution, not because he couldn’t make them better and faster than me (he certainly could), but precisely because he could.

It’s a natural dynamic of partnership, I suppose, but I feel especially prone. If Dean is more skilled than I am at some category, he becomes the owner of all tasks in said category. Which seems natural enough, but before long whatever skills I did have whither and die. Which can be less than ideal (for example, it turns out being able to feed oneself is handy). So I decided to reclaim basic carpentry and aim for lovable imperfect benches.

I jumped in on my very next day off and managed to get one almost-square seat frame put together. And then the reality of how many more urgent things I had to do hit and progress slowed to a crawl. Slowly, over the next month or so, the frame was finished (with help from Dean) and then the decking, siding, priming, and painting. It took until the middle of August, but I had a bench! Yes, somewhere in there one bench started sounding totally sufficient. I just needed to decide where it should live.

Before I managed to find its home, though, it started raining every day. So this weekend, we moved it out of the way where it can be a very bright blue reminder of the fleeting days of summer. But NEXT year, I will definitely sit a spell and soak up some extra rays of sunshine. Maybe I’ll even convince Dean to crank out its pair. Sigh.

My bit and bob collection

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Ha! This shot I took right after pedaling through a massive cloud of bugs is cracking me up. I found these photos from a Saturday bike outing on the computer today and it was a bit disorienting – that ride was the beginning of this month but it feels like a hazy memory from another time.

In a way, I guess it was. It’s been an intense couple of weeks at the dayjob – nothing unexpected or indefinite, but a long and stressful couple of weeks nonetheless. I’m feeling the toll of it and noticing all the small ways I cope and adapt. My daily runs have been replaced with a few bike rides each week. I’m spending more of my precious free time reading in the hammock instead of getting out and about or tackling a project. Everything is getting a hard look through the lens of what is truly necessary, and I don’t even want to go near how much housekeeping I can decide is unnecessary.

One of my sanctuaries of the last couple weeks has been my herb garden. Because it’s right next to the house, I can escape to it for a few minutes anytime, as often as needed during the day. And as often as not, I have been grabbing my basket and a scissors when I go, collecting a little of whatever looks good and bringing it in for the dryer.

I know that lots of people have great success air-drying herbs but I never have here, so I rely on my food dehydrator. The size is fine for my small batches and by keeping the heat low at about 100 degrees, it doesn’t seem to affect the quality. When things are nice and crackly, I add each bit and bob to my growing dried herb collection. Most of these will go into tea blends, the calendula will infuse oil for salve and soap… and in the meantime, the jars make for some good eye candy in the pantry.

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Red clover
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Calendula, lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and sage
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Red clover, calendula, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, and sage

A bit scattered

 

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I had a birthday yesterday. A 39th birthday, to be precise. And I thought I might have something to say about that but none of my thoughts seem witty or profound or even moderately interesting. Maybe I’m getting some perspective on this decade of my thirties, the threads that run through it all and how it fits into this big puzzle. But mostly, the occasion of a birthday seems to have tossed me into the gap between my experience of how life is right now and how I imagined “the life of a 39-year-old” would be. And by gap, I mean the light years separating universes. To which you’re all thinking, “um, duh” or some much more articulate version of that.

So, moving along… how about a craft project update? I’ve been pretty scattered on the making front of late – my hands regularly doing something, but no one project or medium really inspiring or holding my attention.

On the knitting front, my striped tights stalled out again so I cast on a blanket project that has been sitting in my stash for years. I bought 10 balls of this Rowan Scottish tweed chunky (the color is gorgeous but it confounds my camera) on super closeout a few years ago and from the start it was a cozy lap blanket in my mind. The simple lace pattern I chose is excellent mindless knitting for busy summer days, which is good because admittedly the big heavy blanket is less good for warmer days. I haven’t knit much with bulky yarn but I see the seduction. It goes so fast! I’m just past the halfway point and feel like I’ve hardly tried.

I’ve also been doing more sewing of late. Last weekend when it was bucketing down rain again, I cut out a cross-back apron from this pattern. I’m learning that working from free internet patterns means the cutting process is a bear – all the measuring and drawing required makes me want to beg for a shape to just cut around. But after it was finally cut out, the sewing part went well and now it just needs a hem to finish it up. And you might recognize that I’ve had the clothesline out again as well for some mindless zigzag satisfaction.

Finally, I’ve been playing with herbs. The dehydrator has been on low more often than not, slowly drying down my regular little collections of treasure from the herb garden or wild surrounds. The calendula jar is slowly filling up with brilliant orange petals, and the chamomile is trickling in. I made a couple big batches of salve this week with oils infused from last summer’s St. John’s wort and the winter cottonwood buds, good inspiration for collecting as much as I can now while there is so much to be had.

The uphill slog

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I’m calling it “string trimmer near gravel”. Only the fringes remain but it was fascinating and maybe even beautiful if you could somehow block the dollar signs from exploding all over your brain while you look at it. Also, the voice that says, “of course it was the largest window in the house”.

I noticed a couple years ago, maybe when I was training for my first half-marathon, that my brain most often checked in on how I was feeling while going uphill, generally around the midway point when I was feeling the extra effort and not yet close enough to the top to feel hopeful. Once I noticed, it was almost laughable how reliably this would happen. I would be lost in a story or a song or the clouds and then think, “Man, I’m feeling rough today.”

I’ve since trained myself to quickly check in with the terrain when I hear that thought and more often than not, respond with a stern “We do not evaluate how we’re feeling while running uphill.” If it’s real it won’t just go away but most days my mind has wandered off by the time I actually do reach flat ground. If I don’t actively negate the thought, though, I’ll get to the end of a run and believe that I was feeling rough for the whole thing, because the 3 times I noticed were the 3 uphills.

I think this week is a bit of the same. I got home from my meditation retreat on Monday really filled up but also at the start of a full week of work and spring projects and trip planning and life. A week and half at home between my retreat and our upcoming trip to visit family and friends on the east coast feels cruelly insufficient. I’ve just been feeling beat.

The other day I found myself reconsidering the whole enterprise of vegetable gardening, and then it clicked. Oh, I’m tired. And tired is tough on me. It’s not always like this. When I’m halfway up the hill the best thing is to maintain effort not pace, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to promise myself that I will reconsider the overall plan after I’ve crested the top and recovered a little bit, when I have the benefit of my full oxygen capacity. And a little perspective.

So for today, just a quick hello from the uphill slog.

Greetings from the Waldorf Kindergarteners

DSC_3910 DSC_3911 DSC_3912 DSC_3913 DSC_3914 DSC_3915 DSC_3916 DSC_3917 DSC_3926Consider this a guest post from Dean, it was too fantastic not to share. We live adjacent to a Waldorf school and farm, with our driveway running across their fields. Waldorf kids are outside every day, and Dean frequently crosses paths with the kindergarteners when he’s driving to or fro. Over several months, they’ve developed a relationship of exuberant waving and smiling which built to the kids flagging Dean down a couple weeks ago to ask his name. And then this morning, we were heading out together to pick up the truck from a tire appointment and spotted a parcel in the garden. Dean jumped out to retrieve his care package of spring greetings while the kids waved enthusiastically from halfway across the field. It was a complete accident that I got to see it unfold, and a delight.

Randomness on a January night

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Another week up and evaporated and I am feeling quite baffled as to where it went. Actually, I’d like all of January to account for itself. I was pleasantly surprised when I was turning into the driveway at 5:20p this afternoon and there was still waning daylight, so I guess February is all right on some fronts, but that doesn’t help to explain how none of the handful of blog posts I’ve written in my head over the last week and a half failed to even make it to electronic draft form.

So, in no particular order:

  • The giant man sweater is very nearly complete and I am thrilled. I completed the neckband and sewed one of the sleeves to the body and have a start on the second sleeve seam. Beyond that, it just needs the ends woven in and a good dunking. Dean shall have a sweater before winter is over and I shall be released to embark on other knitting projects guilt-free.
  • I got distracted from the sweater for a bit by hat knitting. For a good cause! My local yarn store is collecting hats for refugees and I couldn’t resist contributing. The best part? The utter freedom of casting on an arbitrary number of stitches and knitting without a pattern and feeling confident that “it will fit someone” and really, that’s all that matters. I finally understand all those grandmas who knit whatever the hell they want without worrying about who it will be for. It always seemed so… altruistic, to be so unattached to the end product but I finally get it, it’s the absolute freedom from producing a result that meets a stated intention or satisfies an intended recipient. It’s knitting bliss!
  • I made some of my standby leftover oatmeal muffins last week and they were a delicious little treat. So of course Dean made some sweet potato and carrot muffins the next day and (just to show me up, I think) frosted them with a quick goat cheese frosting. Think cream cheese frosting for the dairy-challenged: chevre, butter, powdered sugar. A little bit of heaven. I don’t even like frosting and I have been daydreaming excuses for more. I’m scheming to decide what quick baking project will prompt him to bake a full-on carrot cake in order to retain his chief baker title.
  • Finally started running again a week ago after a long winter break. It’s crazy how I’ve been trying to convince myself to go for weeks (months?) and just couldn’t get over the mental hurdles of the short winter days and then when I finally got out there in the dark and wet it just felt like a relief, like it was exactly what my body had been needing and I finally gave in to the inevitable. It’s just a short 15-minute route around the neighbors and back but gads do I feel better. I am so stubborn I don’t even want to like running anymore but nothing else feels so… native to my body.

 

Stocking making

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Two days after conceiving this project, Dean has a stocking. One of those projects that actually happened like you always imagine they will, it all just fell together. He even very sportingly tackled his first-ever embroidery project in one day to keep it rolling. I can’t take a decent picture to save my life in this perpetual dark, but hey, it’s documentation.

Holiday making

DSC_3726It’s December, and I have lists and sublists and more lists to keep track of all the making – the printing and sewing and baking and knitting and concocting. Planning, supplies, tasks, timelines. I was starting to feel like all the holiday making was just crazy-making this week, but then I realized that all the making… is what makes it the holidays for me.

Lucky for me, Dean is usually just as swept away by it as me, so we combine forces quite a lot. So far we’ve had mixed results – the first batch of candy ended up in the compost but team sewing was a resounding success. Which is about how it goes every year as we inevitably dream up projects we’ve never done before, that rely on skills we’ve never practiced.

Yesterday I went off-list and snuck in a completely unplanned project. When we pulled out the Christmas box this weekend, it struck me that Dean really needed a better stocking. So I decided to make one that would coordinate with mine that my mom made many years ago. Over my lunch break I ran out to the quilting store and picked up some holiday prints and then in the evening I jumped into the sewing . It made for a very satisfying evening – a project just simple enough to make it up as you go, to start after dinner and see it mostly done a few hours later.

The rain has been relentless for the last week, the puddles merging into small lakes and the sky looking like a dull grey twilight even at midday. There’s something about making – creating something beautiful or fun or useful, something that didn’t exist before – that feels like the sanest response to these long winter nights.