November 22, 2015

With Gratitude

In this season that can be filled with abundance, connection, and joy, it is hard to forget the loss, fear, and despair that also fills the world. Though it is only a tiny tiny thing in the face of such challenges, I try to practice gratitude regularly and I wanted to share some of things that I am really appreciating in my life these days. So here goes. I am grateful...

For the inspiration, time and energy for new projects. As I prepare for Thanksgiving and beyond I find myself dreaming up ideas that had not previously crossed my mind but that quickly go from unimagined to absolutely necessary. I'm glad I had time to stitch these leaves for our thanksgiving table and that this week will bring lots more making.

For the opportunity to share some of the abundance that we have and to give, in small ways, to others.

For the challenging, wonderful, exhausting, fun experience of every day with my son. I am so grateful that we are part of each others lives, constantly learning, sharing, and trying to do better.

Also for parenting with and sharing a life with someone I love.

I am always grateful for good food and this week I get to cook lots of it. I am grateful for the chance to host almost all of our immediate family in what will be a crowded, cozy, messy, delicious day.

For being able to truly appreciate this time of the year with its many celebrations as well as this season of life.

Although this can often go without saying, I feel so lucky to live a safe and happy life, something that is not taken for granted by everyone and, unfortunately, not available to all. I hope to find more opportunities and ways to make sure that everyone has the things they need, the respect they deserve, and a chance at happiness or more.

Sometimes gratitude can seems like a way to gloss over or ignore the difficult things. For me, it is a way to shift my focus, to think and act from a place of abundance and to be more joyful and less discouraged. One of my favorite poems speaks to the way that gratitude and hopelessness can be intertwined. I wrote this post and was quite happy with it, then hit the wrong button and it was gone. Forever. I was writing about gratitude and suddenly feeling very ungrateful and annoyed. I've done my best to recreate and articulate the thoughts I wanted to share while both laughing and feeling frustrated with the way that life happens.

If you're up for it, please share what you are grateful for.

November 6, 2015

Celebrations Together

November reminds me that we are firmly in autumn and that I should enjoy it while it lasts for winter will be here soon. The warm days spent outside and the cold days spent in a new seasonal rhythm are both equally welcome. The wind sighs through the tree branches, bringing the last leaves to the ground. Jack o'lantern smiles turn to mush and we move gradually into the holidays and festivities that begin later in the month. For these few weeks, though, I find calm in the gray skies, early sunrises, and nights made cozy by the bright lights inside.

Halloween was the first holiday that we got to explain to Amos and celebrate with his full involvement. Carving pumpkins and baking together, talking about trick or treating and the monsters who would come to our house for treats got me thinking a lot about what family holidays will be like for us. On Saturday, after carving pumpkins and while the seeds were still roasting, we were all in the kitchen. Amos and I made gingerbread while Ray prepared dinner. I thought about this as one of the many beginnings to many more warm and cozy celebrations together.

Ray and I have enjoyed small, quiet celebrations for the past several years. We've created a few traditions of our own (thanksgiving pie contest, christmas lasagna) but have kept things very simple. The beginnings of these experiences as a family is a chance to reconnect with the excitement and wonder that I felt on many holidays as a child. Being a parent gives me a completely different perspective but no less delight in sharing these special days with my family. Already, I look forward to the way traditions will come together and the way they will change and evolve as we do.

Every day, Amos asks about 374 questions and I find myself calmly explaining things that I didn't know I could so clearly express (not every time, but more often than I would expect). Explaining a holiday is definitely on the trickier end of the spectrum of questions. The day after halloween Amos was waiting for darkness when we could light candles in jack o'lanterns and trick or treat again. But, a few days later, we talk about how halloween day is over even though there are still spider webs, ghosts, and skeletons on people's houses.

And now we are sliding into a few weeks of regular days and settling into a late fall routine. Time for small projects and planning for bigger preparations, more holiday explanations and the anticipation of gathering with extended family and friends. Time to enjoy the season, the weather, the celebrations together.

October 15, 2015

Keep Trying Again.

I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.  I loved listening to her podcast, Magic Lessons, and found that each episode related to my own experiences and inspired me in my own creative work. While I didn’t find the book to be deeply revelatory, it was positive, reassuring, and gently inspiring with the reminder that we all need to create and that we all have permission to do so. It's like having a confident and experienced friend or colleague cheering you on.

She doesn’t claim that creating is easy and often, its not. I was corresponding with a friend lately about life with a very little one and once again read this post that I wrote a year and a half ago. It is still so applicable, if not more relevant, than it was then. I lost the nap battle and, while Amos has a bit of quiet time each day, I don’t have a current strategy for getting creative work done. I am lucky to have some time each week that Amos spends with his grandparents. Even so, I find myself letting go of a lot of expectations, which feels like letting go of ambition.

Then I remember that striving for accomplishments is not the most important thing and her book reminded me over and over that creativity does not depend on success, on accomplishments, on audience, or even on passion. Although it may seem hard to take from someone who has had such success as Elizabeth Gilbert, she asserts that it is the writing that matters above all else. She doesn't force her creativity to provide income, wait for her creative work to bring success, or demand that everything she makes must be perfect. This book reminds me that I can let go of expectations, the need to have a greater purpose, the hope of a certain outcome and just create.

Most of my creative projects lately have been simply making, not dancing with inspiration or creating something new out of thin air. But I still believe that making is creative even if it is the same stitches over and over until the yarn forms a hat. And practical creativity is satisfying, even if the hat is a little too big or the pants a bit too small, they still keep you warm. And you keep trying again.

If you haven’t read the book or listened to the podcast, I highly recommend both.

September 30, 2015

Of Autumn and Apples

The sky is the brightest blue, the grass is dry and prickly, the leaves are beginning to take on many hues. The mornings are cool but I shed layers as the day grows warm, retrieving them when evening arrives. Late September is a burst of glory before everything falls, the ground is covered in frost, and cold overtakes warm for good. We're remembering the rhythms of autumn and making the most of this season before cold weather settles in.

Ray and I have often thought of how fun it would be to have a cider press, but not having so much as an apple tree, it seemed like a silly investment. Luckily, you don't need an apple tree or a cider press when you have friends who can supply both in exchange for apple picking and cider pressing labor. My friend Michelle has three big apple trees in her yard and she borrowed a cider press from our local tool library. Thanks to her, we got to experience the fun of turning apples into cider.

Luckily, Ray got obsessed with picking as many apples as he could reach. The trees are tall, nothing like the carefully groomed orchard trees, and there were always more apples hanging from branches way out of reach. Amos loved picking up the apples, filling the wheelbarrow, and helping to put the apples in the grinder. He took some breaks to play on the swing set but was very focused on picking up fallen apples and, later, branches that came down it the process of shaking the tree.

Cider pressing can be a practical approach to food preservation but it is more so about the sweetness of autumn and apples and many hands gathering together. Seasonal, communal activities like this aren't as common as they once were. Working together with friends and neighbors to accomplish a fun and enjoyable task creates connections and interactions that might not happen otherwise.

September 21, 2015

Knitting Season

Summer has lingered, but certainly not overstayed its welcome. The mornings are cool, though, the golden light in the late afternoon doesn't last long, and some nights need extra blankets. It is nice to have this gentle transition, to take trips to the beach and eat popsicles on the the porch while noticing the fading green of the maple leaves, the darker mornings and earlier evenings, and the cool rainy days that seem to say, who are you kidding, fall is here.

For me, it is knitting season again. I rarely knit year round and often don't start projects for fall and winter until most of the leaves are gone. The shift in seasons encourages me to draw inward, to settle more comfortably inside our home, to feel content with rows of stitches and soft wool.

I am attempting to make a barn sweater. My approach to knitting is: I might as well try. I don't consider myself a serious knitter, although this will be the fourth sweater (hopefully) that I've made. I have never done a button hole or pockets and usually I don't know what the abbreviations or some of the instructions mean. But fortunately there are plenty of resources to figure these things out. I can't be sure if I'll finish the sweater before spring comes, but I am happy to have this meditative process to warm my hands as the season changes. 

September 3, 2015

Tiny Project #5: Felt Balls

We have an assortment of blocks, puzzles, cars, musical instruments and other toys for Amos, but most often he plays with household items. A spray bottle filled with water for squirting and misting outside, a potato masher and kitchen tongs for carrying random things around the living room, and a bicycle pump which he uses to "pump" wheels, tires, and pillows. He raids our kitchen drawers and cupboards for his favorite pots, bowls, and utensils and it is fun to see the creative ways he turns things into toys.

I've made Amos a few things to play with over the last couple of years, mostly soft and throw-able. Stuffed cloth blocks, bean bags, and now felt balls. Soft things that can be rolled, tossed, gathered, and occasionally thrown are nice to have available for all kinds of play, but especially when you can say if you want to throw something, you can throw this.

Instead of seeking out wool roving, I realized that I could make balls from the scrap wool that had been hibernating in my knitting basket for years. Most of the yarn wasn't a color or weight that I really liked so I gave it new life with this project. I love being able to transform unwanted materials into something that is actually enjoyable. As long as it is wool, you can use scraps, tangles, or any kind of yarn.

These felt balls don't take a long time or any excess water and soap. Wrap or scrunch your yarn into balls and use an old stocking or pair of tights to hold them in balls shapes. Toss them in with your load of laundry and you will soon have a new, soft, throw-able toy. Soft, colorful and cozy, they can also be used for cat toys, dryer balls, juggling, or playing catch indoors making them completely not essential, but still quite fun.

Felted Balls
100% wool yarn
A jingle bell if you want your ball to rattle
A pair of stockings or nylon tights

Cut the legs off the tights so you two have long tubes.

Roll the yarn into a tight ball using a single color or many colors together (if you are using a bell, start rolling the yarn around it so it is hidden in the middle of the ball). If you have a very tangled ball of yarn, like I did, you can scrunch it into a ball shape and wrap some more yarn around it to keep it that way. Once your ball has reached the desired size (it will shrink a bit when felted) stuff it into one of the legs of the tights. Tie both ends to keep the yarn in a tight ball. 

Continue making yarn balls until you have as many balls as you wish or you have filled both stocking legs. The next time you do a load of laundry with HOT water, put the yarn filled stockings in with your dirty clothes. Transfer them, along with your clothes, into the dryer to dry. 

Once they have been washed and dried, remove them from the stockings. Depending on the type of yarn you use it may just look like a very tightly rolled ball of yarn or it make be hard to tell that it started out as a long strand. Some yarn doesn't felt together easily so you may need to repeat the process to get all of the strands to stick together in a ball.

August 19, 2015

Tiny Precious Berries


Even if we didn't have the bears, the hillside, and the plink! plank! plunk! of the metal bucket, Blueberries for Sal is a very accurate manual for picking blueberries with a two year old. Amos picked five, ate four. Wandered around looking for Blue berries, not green ones, ate one, two, three. Picked four. Dumped them in my container. Picked and ate. Meanwhile, I was just a little less obsessive than Little Sal's Mother about picking blueberries to save for winter. I will freeze mine, not can them, but I think I will have to go picking again by myself so we can keep a supply of berries in the freezer.

We eat blueberries by the quart full around here but I managed to save some to make the most amazing blueberry cake. The recipe caught my eye in the beautiful new Seven Spoons cookbook by Tara O'Brady. I couldn't resist the idea of making a blueberry snacking cake, but I also wondered if that was the best use of these tiny precious berries. What if it was bland or dry or the sweet juicy blueberries got lost in a spongy cake? These are important questions when summer produce is ripe and fleeting. Fortunately, the cake exceeded all of my expectations. The sturdy cake was lemony with hints of vanilla which perfectly highlighted the blueberries, turning each one into a burst of flavor. It is an absolutely worthwhile use of freshly picked summer fruit.

Blueberry Snacking Cake
Adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady
The original cake calls for two tablespoons of poppy seeds but I didn't have any and I was happy without them. This recipe is not fussy, but it takes a bit of time, especially for baking. It is worth every minute.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 eggs, at room temperature
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or two teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
juice and grates zest of one lemon
1 cup blueberries 

Preheat the oven to 300' Butter an 8 inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Butter the paper as well. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 8 minutes on medium high, scraping down the sides of the bowl regularly. It will turn into a light thick mixture, almost like icing. Decrease to medium speed and add the eggs one at a time, scraping the beater and the bowl and mixing well after each addition. The batter may look curdled at this point, but it will still come together just fine. Add the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add half of the flour. Then add the creme fraiche and lemon juice and finish with the remaining flour until everything is incorporated but not over-mixed. Stir in the blueberries by hand and pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with sugar. 

Bake for 80-90 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out clean. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the pan. It will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for four days, if it lasts that long!