Extending the Flock

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So, today we brought home some chicks.

We have a Welsummer, an Easter Egger, a Blue Laced Wyandotte and a Gold Laced Wyandotte, and right now they’re peeping away quietly in our spare bathroom, which is where they’ll stay for the next two weeks or so until we can get a more permanent home set up for them in the basement.

New chicks weren’t anywhere on the agenda when we started the day, but we had some plans fall through with friends, and I was suddenly struck with the notion that we should at least have a conversation about whether we even want to extend the flock, and if we do, when?

So I sat down to chat with Matt about it, and he said, “Well, maybe we should get more this year, but I think I’ll need a good week or two to wrap my mind around it and prepare.”

And I said, “Yep.”

And we kept talking about the pros and cons, and all the equipment we would need (which wasn’t much because we’ve done all of this before), and we decided we probably should go ahead with it this year. After all, we have loads of space set up for chickens and a fortress of a coop, so why not?

So I said, “You want to go get them today?”

And he said, “No, I think I’m still going to need some time to wrap my mind around it.”

And I said, “Uh huh.”

And about a minute later, we were making plans to go to the feed store to pick up some chicks.

That’s about how all our big decisions get made.

A Few Thoughts on the Holidays

Thinking back a bit, I really sank my teeth into the holidays this season. Not in a frenzied, super rushed way, but a kick-up-your-feet-and-relax kind of way. It’s so easy to get stressed out this time of year, but for some reason all I wanted to do was knit things and smell the Christmas tree.

I know my daughter has a lot to do with my relaxed mentality. Not just because she keeps me living in the moment, but because I get to witness her first moments with twinkle lights and wrapping paper. There's something undeniably magical about a child’s reaction to all this Christmas stuff when they experience it for the very first time.

When I was a kid, I thought our Christmas traditions were set in stone. I thought all families celebrated the holidays like we did, and that we would continue those patterns for the rest of our lives. Granted, I didn’t think much about death, but I guess I assumed the younger generations would continue to carry out the family's traditions once the older generations had passed on.

I was wrong, of course. At least as far as my family goes, the holidays look different now than they did when I was a child, and it feels a little displacing. Similar to how it feels when the home you grew up in is demolished and the land is turned into a housing development for 20-something new cookie-cutter homes (true story). To cope, you create your own home base, your own traditions, your own sense of family and magic.

A lot of things are fluid right now, and I’m just going with it as best I can, but I think I’d eventually like to settle down into a solid yearly routine. It’s comforting to have these things to rely on, these people you know you’ll make the time to see, these activities surrounding the holidays that make it fun and special.

I went through a phase where holidays didn’t mean much to me. They were just a day or series of days where people made a meager attempt to be kind to one another and give each other things, and I thought why shouldn’t we be like that with each other all the time? And that’s true in some ways, but I think the frustration I was feeling was compounded by the fact that certain things were expected of us. I felt I was supposed to spend a certain amount of time and money, of which I had neither, and it made me feel like a failure, which made me feel resentful, which made me feel ashamed, which made me feel…

Regarding the money, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations on both myself and others about what's involved in our gift exchange, and it has made a huge difference in my attitude. Regarding time, I think that’s what it’s really all about. You take this time every year to focus on your relationships with others, and to invest something of yourself toward them. That’s the part of it that’s special, and the part I willingly partake in.

Time doesn’t have to come in the form of expensive gifts (though if that’s your jam, go for it). For me, it comes in the form of helping my mom and her partner decorate their home for their Christmas party, knitting a hot water bottle cozy for my friends and family, baking the cookies, making a long drive out to my dad and step-mom’s house, waking up extra early to be with the in-laws for breakfast Christmas morning. Time given is what I wanted to focus on this holiday season, and for every season hereafter.

Hopefully the traditions we want to solidify and revisit each year will naturally follow.

A Slow and Simple Life

This has been a hard post to write. I’ve been wrestling around with how to approach it for the past two weeks because, on one hand, I think it’s important to talk about the reasons why I choose this lifestyle because slow and simple living is the foundation for everything else I write and share here. On the other hand, it’s impossible to discuss my reasons without getting personal, and while I’ve never had a problem opening up about myself in the past, I have, over time, realized the value of discretion. So I’m hoping I can strike a good balance that remains authentic and succinct without compromising my boundaries.

To start, here is some relevant information about me: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I am an HSP and an introvert. I have difficulty with things like making eye contact or articulating thoughts in large groups and new spaces, not because I’m shy, but because I’m trying to cope with and filter through a barrage of invisible stimuli. And although I do a pretty good job with managing my depression and anxiety on a day-to-day basis, I find myself dipping low sometimes. Whenever that happens, I have to drop what I’m doing and prioritize me-time to get myself back to a healthier state of mind.

This list of issues so easily summarized in one single paragraph has taken me 32 years to grasp, and along the path toward understanding has been a lot of confusion, pain, damaged or broken relationships, a shattered sense of self, and days and weeks and months of feeling out of place. It has been a long journey toward self-acceptance, which is why I feel compelled to write about it. Because even though my disabilities have often led to feelings of isolation, I know I’m not the only one who suffers from them. Not by a long shot. And once I began to understand that these things were part of me and weren’t just going to disappear, I was able to finally take measures to heal and explore new ways of living that were and are more in tune with my nature.

So, in 2010 I started a blog (with blogspot) to document my learning process with gardening, cooking and making things by hand, all of which was completely new to me at the time, yet so compelling that it felt like a calling. I didn’t have the words “simple living” in mind back when I started all of this, but the concept of it formed for me over time.

And it’s not original or new. Over the past six years, I’ve connected with a whole community of folks through social media who live simple lives for one reason or another. Some of them struggle with the same issues I do and some of them don’t, but for whatever reason, we are united in our calling, and silly as it may sound, it helps to know that we aren’t alone

Nowadays, living a slow and simple life is much more than just an experiment or a trend. I live this way and keep coming back to it because it keeps me healthy and allows me to thrive. And although I sometimes get swept up in the way life is “supposed” to look, or don’t pay attention to the red flags telling me that it’s time to slow down, I always know that my path toward balance and health is through a focus on the fundamentals. Making my living spaces calm and inspiring, eating good, whole foods that nourish me, spending time outdoors or with good friends, interacting with my daughter, working with my hands and investing time in myself. 

Simple.

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But when you're out in daily life, among the pressures and people who are caught up in the 9-5, Keeping Up with the Joneses culture, it can be very difficult to go against the grain. It can be especially hard to protect yourself from cynicism and negativity without sticking out like a sore thumb and making yourself a target. And it can be hard to take the time for yourself to heal without pissing off your boss or offending the people you care about who don't understand your need for alone time.

In my experience, depression and introvertedness are not very well understood issues, and most people have never even heard of HSPs (highly sensitive people). The resources for those of us who suffer with such things are out there, but they are difficult to find, especially if you're afraid to admit that you are suffering with something that carries so much stigma.

I can only hope that discussing this openly, without shame and despite fear of judgment, will help someone who was in the same position I was in before I got the help I needed. That if you are feeling hopeless, there are options for you. You can be happy, you can thrive, and you can find a way of being that works for you and helps you manage your stress. Slow and simple living is the answer for me. What's the answer for you?

Spiced Chai Concentrate

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of posts I’d like to share with you on my blog now that I’ve started up again. I’ve never been one to stick to a single topic, though I know I’d probably get more “engagement” that way, but I have to think about why I’m sharing what I’m sharing, and my strongest motivations are personal. I post because I want to remember moments in time, favorite recipes, garden projects, house projects, adventures we take as a family… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reference my own blog to pull up an old standby recipe, or to try and figure out which plants did well in the garden in previous years. I mean, when it comes down to it, maybe I just blog because I have a really bad memory, and this helps me keep track of the things I’ve done in my life.

In any case, I know for sure that I want to share all the recipes I turn to again and again, and especially those that are seasonally inspired. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what I like to do with the food we harvest when I’ve got baskets and baskets of it staring me right in the face. It can get pretty overwhelming in those moments, so it helps to have a list of favorite recipes in a centralized location I can turn to.

Some of the recipes I’ll be sharing, like this recipe for spiced chai concentrate, are recipes I’ve already posted on my old blog, but I want to bring them here and perhaps talk about how they have evolved over time or how they’ve been used in our household. 

For instance, this chai concentrate recipe is one I’ve made every year since discovering and posting about it back in 2011. I usually make it in fall when the weather turns cool because the transition between summer's heat and autumn's wind and rain can be abrupt here, so it’s nice to cup your hands around a cozy beverage for warmth. Plus, the warm spices that flavor the tea are very autumnal.

Over the years, I’ve tapered off my use of refined sugars, so I tend to use honey exclusively as my sweetener rather than a combination of honey and brown sugar. If I make this for guests, I still use the brown sugar, though, because I know most people aren’t as accustomed to the strong flavor that the honey gives off when it’s used on its own.

I also play around with different milks. You really need a rich, thick milk to cut the flavor of the concentrated tea to make this beverage really work, so I tend to stick with goat or cows milk, or I’ll use homemade almond milk because I can ensure that it’s nice and creamy. Soy milk would probably work, too, though I’ve never tried it.

And look! I've made you a video for this recipe too. Enjoy!

Spiced Chai Concentrate

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken in pieces
  • 1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 7 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  •  5-10 peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (or a couple strips of orange peel)
  • 10 bags of black tea
  • 1/2 cup honey, or to your tastes
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)

Pour the water and the spices in a saucepan. Bring water to a boil and remove from heat. Add the honey and the brown sugar (optional) and the tea bags. Allow mixture to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags and stir. Taste to check for sweetness and add more honey or brown sugar as needed.

Strain the mixture into a quart sized mason jar, discarding the spices. To serve, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk. Heat for a warm beverage, or pour over ice to enjoy cold.

Place lid on the jar with the concentrate and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. 

Gift Knits

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When I first started knitting, after the initial awkward stage of holding two pointy sticks in my hands had passed, I got a bit of a "knitter's high" from the realization that I had this new ability to create. The possibilities were endless, and I wanted very much to share my new skill with everyone I knew, so I drove to the nearest craft store to purchase 10 balls of super bulky acrylic yarn. Everyone recieved a hat from me that Christmas.

Super bulky yarn is kinda magnificent for new knitters because it allows you to complete a small project, like a hat, in a day. It's instant gratification knitting. It really is awesome. If you are a new knitter, I highly recommend making a washcloth or two and then going straight to a super bulky hat, such as this pattern, which I've now knit over 15 times.

Anyway, like many knitters, my tastes have evolved to the point where acrylic yarns rarely hold any interest for me. This can be problematic in regards to gift knitting because while acrylic yarns are super easy to maintain - they can usually be thrown in the washer and dryer, no problem - the natural fibers I prefer to work with these days require different care instructions, and most people don't want to go through the effort to hand wash and lay flat to dry, or they don't know how. Plus, unless you're working with super bulky weight yarn, gift knits tend to be a lot more time consuming, taking weeks rather than days to finish.

That said, I still really enjoy knitting gifts for close friends and family on occasion, but because there are only so many knitting hours in a knitter's life, I have to go about the process a little differently. I have to be reasonably sure the gift recipient actually likes handmade things (because many people don't), and I have to be reasonably sure it'll fit, which means I have to have them try it on before I can gift it. It ruins the surprise, but it's worth it.

That's what I had to do with these socks, which I made for a close friend of mine who is always wearing interesting footwear, and who has shown a healthy appreciation for wool over the years. I ran across this pattern, Father's New Socks by Susan Crawford, and immediately thought of my friend, who just so happened to have a birthday on the way. And I'm really glad I had him try the first sock on before I started the second one because the foot portion was way too big. Unlike store-bought socks, hand knit socks really need to be the right size or they won't fit at all.

The construction for these socks is a little different than any other sock I've knit. First, the colorwork is deceptively easy because it's created with slipped stitches, so there are no floats in the back of the work. However, once you reach the bottom half of the foot, you can no longer work in the round, so you knit the sole first, hold the stitches on a cord, and move on with the instep, picking up stitches on either side of the sole to attach as you go. The instep is pretty finicky and time consuming, but I think it's worth it. I love these socks. They're very warm and squishy, and I hope my friend likes 'em. I know I'll definitely be using this pattern again in the future, and I'd love to use this slipped stitch technique for another type of project again someday too.

For more detailed notes on these socks, check out my Ravelry project page. And thank you so much everyone for the warm welcome back, both here and on my Instagram feed! It's so nice to be blogging again. 

Psst. Hi.

So hey…

I don’t really want to do the thing where I apologize for being gone for nearly a year. Life happens, motherhood happens, employment happens (and then un-happens), and if I had to feel guilty every time life got in the way of blogging, I’d probably give it up. 

Which would be a huge bummer! Because being creative and working on projects and sharing favorite recipes and connecting with like-minded folks are some of the very things that make me feel most balanced as a human being seeking a slower, more simple life. So instead of apologizing (to both myself and you), I’m just going to dive right on in and give you a general overview of what’s been going on and what I’ve been working on lately.

Back in March, I quit my job as the blog editor for a small company in Portland to do the stay-at-home-mom thing. I enjoyed my job, but it took all my creative energy and left me with very little motivation to work on projects at home. Plus, the last thing I wanted to do after sitting at a computer screen all day in the office was to go home and sit at another computer screen.

It took a few months to get into the rhythm of life as a stay-at-home-mom, but over the past few months I've found myself feeling creative and inspired again. And now that we're back to a primarily one-income household, I'm feeling even more motivated to simplify our lifestyle. Which, for me, means spending less money on junk food, junk clothing, junk toys and junk things in general, and more resources on quality items and experiences. 

It also means digging deep and somehow finding a way to reinvigorate my long lost passion for baking, fermenting, preserving, sourdough bread and seasonal cooking. I’m not sure why I lost my love for making good food (actually, I think I do know why, but that’s a whole separate post), but I’m definitely feeling the pull to cook and bake and experiment in the kitchen again.

And because it’s #slowfashionoctober, I’ve been feeling inspired to elevate my wardrobe by spending more thoughtfully on quality pieces, making things by hand, and mending clothes that are damaged or in need of repair rather than throwing them out. And I've been talking about teaching myself to sew for years, but now is the time to follow through with it.

Truthfully, if you've been here before (or to my previous blogspot address, I should say), you know that none of this is new for me. It's just that this time it feels like less of an experiment and more of a way of life that continues to compel me toward it. A way of being that feels more harmonious and healthy. I knew I'd get back to this place in my life eventually, and I'm so glad to be here, sharing my projects, favorite recipes, experiments and experiences with you again.

Fall Knitting and Thanksgiving Traditions

Happy November! We three stayed in for Halloween last night, and watched reruns of The Walking Dead, our favorite spooky show. Life has been super busy lately, so it was nice to stay home, sippin’ tea, listening to the crazy rain and wind outside.

My pillow project is coming along nicely. I’ve made three wool/wool-blend cases so far using yarn from my stash. Mostly just yarn that I purchased back when I first started knitting, like Fishermen’s Wool and Wool Ease, but these are covers that will be used for the pillows on the living room couch, so I know they’ll get a lot of wear and tear as the kid gets older.

What I’d really like to be working on right now is another wool garment or two for Ella. She’s growing out of the little knit dress I made for her while I was pregnant, so it fits more like a tunic these days (which is still really cute, imo). Problem is, and most new moms can attest to this, knitting for a baby when you have a baby (and a part-time job) is almost impossible. I know I’ll have more time for crafting as she gets older, but right now I’m soaking up all the cuddles, and watching her come closer and closer to full mobility. Ack!

Anyway, now that Halloween is over, I’m starting to think about Thanksgiving, which just happens to be my favorite holiday. I love any excuse to gather together with my closest friends and family over delicious food and hot mulled wine.  I know families tend to have slightly different traditions surrounding the holidays, but one that seems to crop up a lot is the tradition of going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for. In the past, I’ve had trouble with this tradition because the things I’m thankful for are typically quite personal to me, but I very much appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the positive things that are happening in life.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, what are your Thanksgiving traditions?

Autumn Vibes

Autumn, I can't believe you're finally here. I've waited so, so long.

The weather is still warm where I live, but the sun feels different in the sky, even when it's hot. We harvested the last of our tomatoes and peppers from the garden boxes last weekend, and Matt went out to the family plot and brought home tons of pumpkins and acorn squash of all shapes and sizes. I've been roasting, pureeing, and freezing the pumpkin puree to keep as baby food for Ella because, out of all the foods we've given her, pumpkin has been her favorite so far.

Ella and I even managed to curl up together in bed to read a good Gaiman book about graveyards and ghosts, which put me in the mood for Halloween, Harry Potter (especially Prisoners of Azkaban), crunchy leaves and pumpkin-flavored anything. This really is my favorite time of year, and I'm trying to slow down my crazy life so I can take a few moments to enjoy it.

This time last year, I was nearly three months pregnant, and saw my future a little differently than the way my life is now. I had always fully intended on quitting my job and becoming a stay-at-home mom, so it took me by surprise that I would actually want to keep working part time after Ella was born. It was a nice surprise, really, but it never occurred to me to prepare for the fact that I wouldn't have as much time to spend on my favorite hobbies.

My hobbies are really important to me. Knitting, gardening, reading, writing... They help keep me centered and balanced, and make me feel rejuvenated, so you can imagine that it has been hard having enough time to devote to all (or any) of those things. In fact, my anxiety levels have been through the roof this past week, and I suspect that it has to do with how out of balance my life has become lately.

But somehow, with all the crisp autumn vibes surrounding us,  there's a part of me that's saying Slow down! Read a book. Don't go out tonight.

So I'm going to try to listen and embrace my homebody nature for awhile. We'll see what happens.

The Year of the Tomato

We went a little crazy with the food preservation this year. Jams and fruit butters of all kinds, dilly beans, tomatoes (and more tomatoes, and more tomatoes). Our chest freezer is now so full of garden food that we have to stack a box on top to keep the lid down. Lets hope the power never goes out.

Next year, I will definitely plant potatoes. I've been missing those homegrown purple potatoes we grew in our first garden back in 2009. Carrots, too. We forgot to plant carrots this year, and I'm beating myself up about it a little because the babe is now old enough to eat solids, and pureed carrots from the garden would've been perfect.

In any case, there's always next year. We have officially reclaimed some of our tiny backyard from the hens by setting up an outside run, so we'll be able to grow even more food (and flowers!) next year without fear of mass chicken destruction.

How did your garden grow this year? Anything you would do differently next year?

A New Home

Hello everyone! I finally made the move. After blogging for five years with Blogger, I've decided to switch to something a little more user-friendly. I'll still keep all my old posts up as long as possible because there are lots of memories and delicious recipes within the archives, but I won't be posting anything new there anymore unless it's to remind folks that I've relocated. So... that's that!

Aside from working on my new site, I've been working on a light knitting project for the past few weeks. I call it light knitting because the project was started on a whim. Near the bookshelf next to the couch where I usually sit when I'm watching my daughter were the following things: two sets of straight bamboo needles, a pile of leftover wool from previous projects and a remote control. So, while she was napping one day, I turned something on Netflix and settled in with my needles and wool. I figured I could just knit a pillowcase or something easy because she doesn't nap for long these days, so I didn't want to start anything that would require much concentration.

As of now, three weeks later, I'm halfway through my second pillowcase. It's kind of funny. Before my daughter was born, a pillowcase would be a half-day project for me, but nowadays they take me a week (or longer) to finish. Mostly because I enjoy spending as much time during the day with my daughter as I can while I'm not at work, though I manage to squeeze in a few minutes here and there when she's busy playing by herself.

Anyway, though I have finished one of the pillowcases, I think I'll wait until I have two or more complete before I share them. The first one is pretty simple, but the second will have stripes. For the rest, I think I'll play around with some simple colorwork techniques - we'll see.