12.29.2017

I got a burst of creative inspiration this week in the midst of so much doing very little. And this particular inspiration was very specifically about extemporaneous quilting. It seemed to come from nowhere, but I can trace its roots to the sentimental clothing retirements of late and thinking about reusing scraps in rag rugs or other projects.

I wasn’t willing to use any sentimental bits on my first attempt, but the bin of fabric leftovers and irresistible thrift store finds was generous. I quickly got sucked into the piecing and cutting and just seeing what would emerge next. Of course then I decided I could turn my playing into a throw pillow and that took several times as many hours as I imagined it would… but in the end, I replaced a generic Ikea pillow and sparked all sorts of ideas for future projects. A win from the week of doing very little.

 

12.27.2017

We woke on Christmas morning to fresh snow, so I went for a walk to watch the light come up. The snow felt very congruent with my general plan for the week, which was to stay home and do very little. It’s been a good plan, the last few days filled to the brim with very little.

12.14.2017

Hello from a pale December day at 48 degrees North. I’ve been a bit of a failure at December-ing so far this year, I just keep thinking there will be time for everything as the days evaporate and I blithely putter along, making a few things here and there and then making time for another walk. Walking feels necessary these short days, especially when the sky is blue.

Tonight I did a little sewing and listened to an On Being conversation with Rebecca Solnit and collected a few flickers of candlelight for the mind on a winter night…

“People in this culture love certainty so much, and they seem to love certainty more than hope, which is why they often seize on these really bitter, despondent narratives… they know exactly what’s going to happen. And that certainty just seems so tragic to me. I want people to tell more complex stories and to acknowledge that sometimes we win, and that there are these openings. But an opening is just an opening; you have to go through it and make something happen. And you don’t always win, but if you try, you don’t always lose.”

And a reference to this quote from Michel Foucault: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”

Early snow

I decided at 5p Thursday that Friday would be a mental health day, a bit of compensation for all the extra hours at my desk over the last month. Without too much more thought, I determined that a day for myself meant going for a hike first thing, enough of an effort to come home tired and really enjoy settling into my couch nest for an afternoon knitting session.

I wasn’t expecting to wake up to a dusting of snow. But it was just that, a dusting on the roofs and cars. According to the Gaelic view of the seasons, winter began three whole days earlier, with Samhain. It felt like summer lasted right through September this year, so I guess I missed autumn while tethered to my desk.

I considered changing plans, but it looked like it was clearing. Maybe I’d have an extra-special view of a snowy morning from the top. Or maybe not, as it turned out. The dusting at home was a couple inches at the trailhead and gradually grew to about four up the trail. Clouds wrapped tightly around the mountain. The forest was almost utterly quiet, my breath competing with my footsteps for the loudest disturbance. At some point, the snow filling the air was coming from the tree branches above instead of the clouds. Periodically, some branch would get just heavy enough to dump it’s load with a satisfying “woosh”. Beautiful and disorienting.

And best of all, I returned home the perfect level tired where I couldn’t manage anything more than knitting and old episodes of Victorian Farm all afternoon.

29 Oct 2017

Hello out there. I’m so glad you’re still there. By which I mean, I’m so happy that I can remember that the world outside my little bubble exists today. There have been lots of days when that wasn’t the case of late.

So I’m a little bit delighted and a little bit chagrined to realize that I popped in here with a little something to share and it’s exactly the same topic as the last time I was here. My worn clothing. (Because that’s fascinating enough to warrant multiple posts?)

When I turned my closet over a few weeks ago, I pulled out a bag of socks that needed mending and was surprised to discover it had somehow grown to eight pairs of hand-knit socks that were out of circulation. A week later, a deep dive into my knitting basket (for unrelated reasons) turned up a further three pair that I had completely forgotten existed. Eleven pair! That is either a testament to my powers of procrastination for letting so many pile up, or to the excess of my sock supply that I was still getting by with that many out of commission. Maybe both.

I finally sat down with the monster pile this weekend to see what I could do. Two pair were deemed beyond repair and retired. One pair that was little-worn but riddled with tiny holes from a wool moth attack several years ago was unravelled to salvage the yarn. Most needed a darned patch or a few areas of duplicate stitch reinforcement. And then there was this pair (in sorry enough shape my camera didn’t even want to focus on them):

One of the first pair of socks I ever knit, and the blue merino really wasn’t durable enough for socks. As I was debating whether I could justify another layer of patches or not, I realized that this sock construction, one I never repeated, lent itself to heal replacement. A couple careful snips and a bit of unraveling later, they were back on needles…

And some leftover sock yarn filled in the gap nicely.

So satisfying.

I actually have a few new knitting projects to share if I ever get pictures taken. Soon, I hope. And in homestead news, the pigs will be off to freezer camp in less than two weeks but in the meantime, they are making adorable afternoon nap pig-piles.

It was a good shirt

I turned my closet over today, a little semi-annual task that I enjoy enough it feels more like a seasonal ritual than a chore. I pulled my linen, along with my summer skirts and most of my short-sleeved shirts, and packed them away in the off-season side of my closet. At the same time, I revisited the stash of long johns, long-sleeved t-shirts, and wool sweaters that had been tucked out of the way since spring. As I sorted, I did a quick cull. There are always a couple things for the thrift store, items I thought I might wear six months ago but I haven’t even considered doing so since. And this time, there were a few old gems that I couldn’t put away for next year, it was just time to bid farewell.


First up, the best flannel shirt I have ever owned, purchased circa 2008 at the Senior Citizens’ thrift store in Beulah, ND for $1. It was perfectly soft and worn when it came to me, all brown plaid and pearl snaps. I never “wore” this shirt, I just threw it on over whatever I was wearing when there was any bit of chill – pretty much every morning and evening of every summer day for the last decade.

I patched the elbows last summer, but it was obvious then the situation was less a hole than the generally disintegrating state of the fabric. I managed to squeeze another year out it, but I’m afraid it’s time to love this one fondly from the rag pile.

Next up is a very close relative of the house flannel, the brown house sweater. This one came to me as a hand-me-down from my brother-in-law in roughly the same timeframe, maybe 2010.

It, too, has seen it’s fair share of shoddy mending jobs over the years. The left elbow went first, of course. (It’s a bad habit of leaning my left arm on my desk while the right operates a mouse for endless work hours.) But I needle-felted an orange elbow patch and liked it better for the character. Then the seams started to give in the armpit, but that’s easy to hide so it got a quick stitch back together. By the end, the left elbow was two patches deep, the right had a matching one, the armpits were hopelessly ripped out, and I loved it.

There simply isn’t enough fabric that isn’t falling apart to hold any more mending, so it will get felted and recycled into some future sewing project. Maybe my next hot water bottle cozy.

And finally, an unlikely addition, a pair of gray hiking shorts. A pair of shorts I bought just before leaving for New Zealand in December 2005. I wore them every day for more than four months on that trip; they were the only option I had except for a questionable skirt I wore while doing laundry. And for most of the years since, they have been the only pair of shorts I own. A bit like magic, the nylon seemed impervious to wear and they fit perfectly regardless if I gained fifteen pounds or lost it.

The thread was always the weak spot, I made the first hem repairs in a backcountry hut on that initial trip. There have been many more, and these days it all seems to be breaking and falling out. And it turns out that even nylon does wear, and these days it’s a bit… translucent. So another relic of another life, made by a company that no longer exists, is retired.

In summary, it was a good shirt (and sweater and pair of shorts).

If you’ve actually read this far, you deserve some sort of prize. Unfortunately, all I’ve got for you today is the satisfaction that there are people in the world who are moved to eulogize ordinary articles of clothing, but you’re not one of them.

The other side of September

Hello from the other side of September. I’m bleary with tired, but somehow this little patch of sunshine on some very old marble tiles is making me feel a bit more hopeful.

September was absurdly full here, every weekend day booked from start to finish with off-homestead activity, every weekday seemingly overflowing with two extra things on the schedule. I decided at the start that my best strategy for coping was to just keep moving, and aim to be as present as I could with the constant motion. It mostly worked, I think, but I have some serious plans for sustained sitting in October.

Clearly I’m in no state to write coherently today, but perhaps we can start with a few postcards from the last month…

Greetings from the northwesterly most point of the lower 48! For our anniversary, we spent a day exploring the Makah Reservation, which has a fabulous museum and this gem of a little hike. 

The University of Washington, with the quad as quiet as an actual postcard. I attended a conference that happened to take place at the UW in Seattle. Due to the quirks of ferry schedules, I had some time to kill and I discovered that a Saturday morning between terms may be the quietest time on campus. I hardly saw another soul while I wandered around, and it was seriously good soul medicine to just take in the quad, the big old trees, the beautiful buildings, the library filled with stained glass, the gardens, the whole pedestrian scale of the place. Just to remember that such places exist and they have existed for a very long time.

Everyone loves pigs! At least everyone in our neighborhood, which is a relief. Our go-to pig-sitter moved away last month, so we had to figure out new arrangements in advance of a ten-day trip to the east coast. In the end, three separate neighbors pitched in to share the load, we have a stronger web of connections, and the pigs are still happy and growing.

And… it turns out I took surprisingly few photos this months, so that’s all I have for postcards. More words soon.

Blackberries

As I sit down to type, I see my purple-stained fingers and imagine that there’s some evidence of berries on my face as well. It’s sort of a constant right now, when the blackberries are ripe.

The Himalayan blackberries, to be more specific. The ones that crop up in the untended verges, all the compacted, abused, spent… humanly impacted places. And not just grow, their thick vines grow impossibly long, arching up and out and forming a tangled mass that quickly overwhelms fences and given the chance, swallows small buildings.

Which is precisely why, for 50 weeks out of the year, I curse the blackberries and cringe at their sight. But then there is that window in late summer when the berries are ripe, and our relationship becomes so much more complicated.

For those few weeks, the overgrown corners and unkept edges hold the abundant, sweet taste of late summer. We have plenty around the homestead but I always smile to see people picking along roads and around town, braving a tangle with the vines to fill a bucket or a bag. The berries are free, but not without cost. Payment will come by way of shredded shirtsleeves, time with tweezers spent extracting festering thorns from tender fingers, and the tell-tale marks of forearms criss-crossed with bramble scratches.

I love wild berries for the ways they taste wild – their tang, tartness, complexity mixed with the sweet. But there is none of that in these blackberries, they are just big and sweet and juicy. The sort that will drip down your chin if you’re not careful.

I baked a peach-blackberry crisp last week. When we finished it off on day three, I washed the pan and made another without bothering to put it away empty. As we were finishing off the second one, Dean subtly mentioned that there were just enough peaches left for a third. If you find yourself in possession of peaches and blackberries, I highly recommend you make one for yourself. (My only modifications were to cut the brown sugar to 1/3 cup and use AP wheat flour.)

In summation: Himalayan blackberries, love and hate. Which seems alright, I should undoubtably spend more time considering how nothing is as simple as my judgments of it.

A bench, part 2

The bench that I built last summer, only to finish it just when summer ended, finally found a home. It is tucked up above the orchard under a big leaf maple. A spot to watch the sun rise over the far-off mountains or to enjoy the cool shade on a sunny afternoon. I finally moved it up there a couple weeks ago, and then properly leveled it a week later.

It’s a simple thing and it is giving me so much joy. Another perspective on this homestead, another excuse to just be outside, another reminder of how powerfully our environment influences our days.

I used to think that I excelled at efficiency, that I got things done. But I think I mistook what I thought I should be for what I was. I meander, I get distracted, I come back. Usually. It’s only about a year after I thought I would have that bench, but there it is, giving me joy. I’ll take it.

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.