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December Dispatch: Christmas Vignettes

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Rather than have one essay about our December, we’re going Currier and Ives style with a collection of Christmas vignettes. Please enjoy.

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Nutcracker Sweets
   When I was small, my parents kept on the bottom of their bookshelf a Nutcracker book illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It came from the gift shop at Seattle’s Nutcracker ballet, and for years I'd creep into the living room, pull out the big, square book from the part of the bookshelf that lived behind the couch. I would leaf through the book’s pages, both delighted and horrified by the swirl of snowflake fairies, magical candy dancers, vicious mice, and the dreaded, seven-headed mouse king. The two-page close up of the nutcracker’s maniacal, wide-toothed grin was so deliciously terrifying that my brothers and I would flap the book open at each other with screeching noises.
 As my own children’s Nutcracker dance recital approached, we watched George Balanchine’s Nutcracker on Netflix three whole times. It’s a long show with minimal narration, so I was surprised and gratified by Selah and Ozzie’s pure enthrallment with the story and its host of magical characters. We spent most of December scurrying around the kitchen making whiskers with our fingers like the mice dancers and leaping across the living room like the Sugar Plum Fairy.
   Finally, the dance performance arrived. (Click this link to see!)
I couldn’t have hoped for a more satisfying and delightful passing down of this memorable childhood story.

Wish List
Ozzie: “I would like ten pairs of pants, a toy motorcycle, and a toy plant.”
Nana: “What is a toy plant?”
Ozzie: “Like that.” (Points to a houseplant.) “But a toy.”

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Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments
   A few weeks ago, friends of ours described their first-year marriage crisis: pretty tree with matching ornaments or wonky tree with sentimental value? Our tree is a smattering of random ornaments I collected throughout my childhood and ones added in ornament exchanges with my family. Our annual visit to the Christmas Store in Gig Harbor always provides another weird little glittering tribute to banjos, ballerinas, or mushrooms.
  Wonky works for this vignette.
  When it comes to other Christmas decor, however, I get quickly overwhelmed by excess. A house full of kids is an automatic battle against clutter, which hardly leaves me with room for snow globes or figurines (at least not emotionally!)

   Here's the truth about cinnamon applesauce ornaments.
   They fall apart.
   But not immediately, no -for a few glorious weeks they will hold up on that garland between my kitchen and dining room, issuing delightful wafts of apple-cinnamon as I pass by. Then, when I am ready to pack up my tree and random ornament collection, the cinnamon ornaments will mercifully resign themselves.
   They hold no obligations over my head like the stiff perseverance of salt dough. They crumble when they're time is up, not only to graciously release me from packing them every January but also as an invitation to relive the fun of making fresh-smelling ones every year. How polite!
       1 cup applesauce
       1.5 cups cinnamon
       Mix until a dough forms. Roll out, cut and bake on parchment at 200 for an hour. Your house will smell like a spicy apple pie!
   When they start crumbling, compost them. (No hard feelings!)
P.s. You can add elmer’s glue to these so they’ll live forever BUT WHY.

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Christmas Givers
   At the holiday market in Fort Jones, I brought piles of my naturally dyed tea towels, pillows, and tablecloths, expecting to be the giver behind the table. Instead, my friends helped me set up my booth (redesigning it to be 10x better,) brought me breakfast and coffee, and sat with me all day, each one coming and going so that my little 10x10 space felt like a rotating living room. At one point there were four women and two babies behind the table with me; in the tiny nook we sat together on fleece-draped chairs, sharing with an openness that made my heart squeeze against my chest cavity. 
   After practically the whole valley had drifted through the craft fair, we packed up. Still, I was relentlessly helped by a friend who stayed to get all my things into the truck. As the two of us moved my tables, boxes, and sets of chairs into the pickup, tears stung my eyes. 
   The women in my life have not only challenged me to be a better person through conversation and example, but also they have asked me to grow in vulnerability through receiving their extravagant love. Sometimes the giving role feels easier: the “doing” posture can feel more comfortable, more in control. Receiving is an act of embracing someone else’s feelings of love for me, and it nudges my own struggle with self-acceptance.
   This Christmas, I am learning to silence that icky voice of self-accusation and instead behold the overwhelmingly gracious gifts being given to me.

A thrill of hope: when he appeared and the soul felt its worth. May your soul feel its worth through all the vignettes of the holidays.

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A Christmas Meditation

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Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.


A beautiful reflection on this poem.

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November Dispatch: Forty Days of Winter Quiet

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 Fall colors are a visual swan song: rust, ochre, and amber give the year’s symphony of botanical color a final flourish before falling silent. In November, the trees become bare, fog settles over the dry fields, and frost blankets the ground. Autumn’s hue loses its saturation; everything becomes a quiet brown. It’s the pivot towards winter.

    I have always associated winter with cold, loss and hardship. The weather’s icy, adversarial attitude, the darkness looming and foreboding —our language and cultural concept have made winter out to be the bad guy. Most of us are privileged to have a warm house, but I still hear a tone of drudgery everywhere in reference to winter’s season of waiting.

    So maybe winter has been tough on humans in general, but the rest of the natural world seems to take it in stride. Animals have stored their food, perennial plants have buttressed their internal functions against the cold, annual plants have scattered tiny promises of their future, which lie sleeping in the ground. 

    Cold isn’t bad for the bear who has eaten enough, dark isn’t bad to the seed who’s proteins are maturing for spring’s light. Everyone else is ready for winter’s quiet journey inward —so why aren’t we? Why do we need constant stimuli to feel ok?

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    I started an earlier version of this essay with books in hand, trying to answer my burning questions about dreams vs. reality. I had some really punchy, meaningful thoughts which were actually just a load of BS. The books I read were super helpful and inspiring, but I actually need more time to sit with them before I have anything to say. 

    I need winter. 

    Winter is when the world dims and drives us towards what’s going on inside. Everything freezes and becomes covered with snow, like sheets that cover furniture in an empty house saying “It’s not time to use this right now.” Like animals in curled-up hibernation we ought to stop moving. 

    We ought to turn towards the quiet, towards the silence and stillness so we can hear God’s spirit speaking in our hearts more clearly.

    Dreams and reality. I ran at my questions with all the blustery fire of fall’s red leaves and I found…

    …More questions. 

    I am more comfortable with spring’s energetic new starts, summer’s vibrant bustle, and fall’s busy gathering. In winter everything else has gone away: my questions face me with the stark contrast of an empty background. It feels cold and harsh until I remember that winter is my friend. I accept the invitation to stillness and silence.

Do you tend to shy away from stillness too? Is your attitude toward winter a grim “this difficultly will make me a better person” mantra? Did you feel like your soul missed a beat between the candy hangover of Halloween and the inane “Fa-la-la-la-las” resounding through Costco?

    I am trying a new thing this winter. Every day from 6:30 to 6:45 from now until Christmas Eve, I am going to be still and silent. For me, that’s going to look like a contemplative prayer of letting go and waiting on my friend Jesus to speak to my heart. 

Would you consider joining me in 15 minutes a day of winter quiet? It helps me to set an alert on my phone and/or have a friend or two to text about it. I’ll be cataloging my experience on Instagram, #40daysofwinterquiet.

    As fall fades away, may you be ready for winter’s quiet journey inward. May you not shy away from darkness, stillness, and silence, but let these things offer room for your heart to process and, when the season is right, grow.

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How to Find Local Apples

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Growing just around the corner or on the outskirts of your town are apples ripe for the picking! Here are some tips for finding a spot for a little weekend outing with your people, gathering your own fall harvest of future pies, applesauce, cider and/or apple butter!

  • Search on Facebook for u-pick orchards near your city. Facebook pages will often contain the most recent updates for varieties in season, opening times, and prices.

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood and identify apple trees that are going untouched this year. Perhaps you can knock on someone's door and ask to harvest their apples (and make a new friend?)

  • Search this directory for registered orchards by state.

  • Get permission to harvest apple trees that are decorating green spaces in your local business park, library parking lot, schoolyard -apple trees are literally everywhere and many groundskeepers would be happy for someone to save them the hassle of cleaning up after an ornamental apple tree.

  • Plant your own to supply apples in the years to come!

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October Dispatch: Apples, Pumpkins and a Hymas Family Road Trip

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Temptation! The apples seduced me twice this month: we eagerly loaded everyone in the car with all our snacks, water bottles, absurd baby accouterments and extra toys for the hour-and-twenty-minute drive to indulge in the harvest. 

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    Two Saturdays at the orchard may seem like a lot, but until we can get the kids to match the feverish drive of our apple-picking obsession, we’ll have to gather our annual cider crop in several waves. After all, the two hundred and fifty pounds we harvested still produces hardly enough cider to fill a fraction of Justin’s charmingly dumpy collection of mismatched beer bottles. In the kitchen closet behind the pantry shelf, the various shapes of amber bottles of cider will ferment on the floor in row after row like a tomb of jade soldiers (if some were skinny and others chubby.)

    Leonard Orchard in Medford supplies several green cider varieties, Newtown and Twenty Ounce Pippins, as well as an overabundance of perfectly sweet/tart Golden Delicious. There were also brilliantly red Fijis, but we missed all but a small amount which clung to the topmost story of the trees (and were too few to bother with the ladder.)

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    Our first visit was met with generously stocked trees, their downward branches carefully pruned to offer glowing fruit obligingly toward Selah and Ozzie’s reach. Two weeks later the orchard hosts were less hospitable, their remaining apples peering shyly down at us from their lofty perches. Justin was at the very top of the ladder searching for the tail end of the crop, while Selah and Ozzie darted up and down the bottom two rungs to transport these finds into some cardboard boxes we got from the grocery store. Asa howled throughout both apple harvests (he does not like the baby carrier.) 

    For the past couple of years, both Justin’s and my work has been like apple picking: we see a small opportunity, we take it (if it doesn’t have bug-holes, that is.) The job is short term and we keep picking opportunities, eventually filling our economic needs like a forty pound box of apples. However, as apple season closes this month and we transition to pumpkins, we’re also hoping to switch to another kind of searching that’s a lot more like pumpkin picking. Picking pumpkins is slower, you’ve got to wade through the options and not only pick one that’s ripe and ready —it’s got to have the right “personality” for you since this will be the one you carve up and display.

    In the same way, this month we’re continuing our search for a farm with an intentional step: a “walk through the pumpkin patch,” if you will. We’re spending the next few weeks driving to several locations that have been on our heart: meeting with realtors, friends, and potential employers to scout out a future home. I will share about our journey on Instagram Stories!

    I have some doubts and fears about doing this: I feel pretty tender and raw about all the times we've thrown ourselves toward an opportunity, only to find that it wasn't quite right. Would you pray that I would have the strength to put my heart out there anyway? Would you pray for Justin and me as we sort through our very different preferences?

  In all your harvesting this fall, whether it be apples or pumpkins, may you have enough courage, enough hope, and enough slow time to be satisfied, plus an abudance to share.



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Homestead Hospitality: Throwing a Halloween Open-House Party with Grace Running-Nichols

While there are many ways to make Halloween more mindful and relational, my friend Grace Running-Nichols has created a #slowhalloween tradition that deeply inspires me: a warm, light-filled open house that offers comfort and friendship to anyone out on a drizzly Halloween night in Gig Harbor.

Photos by Elise Nichols.

Photos by Elise Nichols.

Grace is a follower of Jesus, wife to Dennis, mother of eight, writer, and skillful cultivator of all things cozy and hospitable. In a neighborhood known for being a Trick or Treating hot spot, Grace cultivates an environment where her home becomes a cozier extension of the festivity happening on the street, with neighbors, acquaintences and freinds milling in and out of her bright, welcoming party. Today we’re unpacking Grace’s philosophy behind party-making and delving into how to naturally welcome your community into your home.

Allie: You are someone who I have found to be extraordinarily hospitable, both in the atmosphere you create in your beautiful home and your welcoming presence! These values just seem to emanate from you and I have to ask, what/who in your life nudged you towards developing your sense of hospitality and holding space for others?

Grace: When I consider those who've influenced me to live a life of hospitality, the most important one is Jesus; the second is my mother.

In the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples asked Jesus to send the hungry people away. Instead, Jesus invited everyone to sit on the grass, then asked what there was to share. A young boy offered his lunch. Jesus looked to heaven in thankfulness, blessed it and all were satisfied.

Hospitality to me means all are welcome to share what we have, here and now. At times it may be a feast, on other days it's a half sandwich, with neighbor Ava and our youngest daughter, Ezra, sharing the same chair. And on most days, you'll find flowers on our table.

When I was a girl, my mother always created a beautiful setting with a bouquet from the garden or field, accompanied by something delicious to eat. I loved her oatmeal cookies, hearty and full of spice. I never knew that these she made when my father's paycheck didn't quite stretch to the end of the month. Oatmeal and shortening were two of the last items left in the pantry. With joy she'd serve coffee and these cookies, or whatever she could find, set on a pretty plate. In the Norwegian culture, if there's room in the heart, there's room in the home. 

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The open house you host in your neighborhood on Halloween night has become a fixture in my memory of a party that felt both intimate and cozy, while being radically open and welcoming to passers by. Describe the structure of this gathering; how you would explain it to someone you might invite?

Each Halloween, the children and I carve pumpkins with joyful faces, bake mounds of gingersnap cookies, heat a kettle of spiced cider and make two huge pots of red and white chili. We light every lamp in the house, plus candelabras here and there and I'm transformed into the Tooth Fairy (now you know her true identity). Our extended family, neighbors and friends have a standing invitation to join us, but there's always room for more.

Word of mouth invitations mean the evening unfolds loosely. We offer cider and cookies to every parent that accompanies a child to the door, trick-or-treating, and sometimes someone unexpected slips in for chili as well. This year, a couple of my husband's patients are coming. He laughed when he told me they'd asked if they could! 

What inspired you to start having this gathering? What made you decide to make it open house style, as opposed to just a typical Halloween party?

Two decades ago, we moved back to the states from Germany to Memphis. The American Halloween tradition had traveled to Europe, but was present only in its darkest elements. Upon our return home, I was determined to infuse light into every possible aspect of the evening. We created our first "Hallelujah Party" in the garage, inviting everyone we knew. The problem was, there were still children coming to the door to trick-or-treat with whom we'd have no other interaction than dropping candy into their bags.

A few years later, we settled in Washington State in a neighborhood full of children. As our first Halloween approached, I heard that several of my Christian friends planned to close up their homes to arrange harvest parties in their churches. The common thread amongst them was that Halloween focused so much on evil and darkness, that they dared not participate. I refused to leave our house dark and silent on such a scary night for children, asking myself, "If not us, than who will spread Jesus' light?"  My delightful mother found a white chiffon gown, perfect for the Tooth Fairy! Then we bought loads of pumpkins, candles, travel toothpastes (to mix in with the candy) and as many travel cups with lids as we could find. It was an 'all or nothing' plan!

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Go over your fundamentals with me: what things do you always like to have/serve at a party at your house? How do you prepare?

The children and I work for many days in preparation. We plant mums, pansies and purple cabbages in the planters in front and always carve a cross in one pumpkin, to speak of the hope that is in us. We all dress in costumes, buy a bounty of candy (more than anyone in their right mind should) and bake dozens of cookies. My close friend Tiffany brings extra delicious side items like grainy bread and chocolate cheesecake. To accompany the chili, we set out every topping imaginable along with sturdy chunks of cornbread. We position cookies in napkins on a table by the door and pour the first cups of hot cider to be ready for every parent at exactly at 6:00. Though friends float in and out, one or two of our oldest children and I stay close to the door all evening.

This may seem like a silly question but how do you let your neighbors know that they are welcome to come in? Does it ever feel strange to invite acquaintances or neighbors you don’t know very well into your home? How do you overcome that potential awkwardness?

Because of the fluidity of the evening and light streaming through every window, there's no awkwardness to inviting people in. Most are satisfied with cookies and cider at the door, but that childlike awe of sharing joy in community is contagious. The adults become less inhibited in the company of delighted children and some are drawn into the festivities without even knowing it. And everyone loves the tooth fairy—unlike the dentist, she is the great equalizer between fervent brushing and terrible teeth habits! On a night filled with candy, there's no condemnation from her!

I've always prayed for God to bring to our door those He wishes for us to serve. Ultimately it's a night where we can share joy to willing recipients. Even the shyest children feel welcome when we look into their beloved faces with love and kindness.

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How do you move through your gathering to accommodate for the blend of friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances mixing together?

As far as blending in with those who gather inside, I let my husband, older children, in-laws, close friends and parents do that. Our teamwork makes the Halloween celebration work from the outside in. It isn't my evening for fellowship; I'm the meet and greet gal. Though I must carefully choose who stands with me at the door. One year, when our youngest son was a toddler, he thought he'd help me. Unfortunately the first crew of children on the porch were all dressed in creepy costumes. "You scarwwy, you no come in!" he stated, slamming the door in their faces. That's not the most winsome way! 

What suggestions would you give to anyone who want to throw an open house halloween party like yours? Is there a threshold for how busy your neighborhood would have to be on Halloween night before it will feel really natural for neighbors to be coming and going?

Throwing a Halloween gathering like this solely depends on our own willingness to be open and not worry about the outcome. Some years the house overflows with people, other times we've had very few, leaving us with boatloads of leftovers.

A few years ago, I felt weary of the whole thing; I'd convinced myself that it wasn't worth the effort. Then one fall evening when we were out for pizza, a mother approached me for her children, who smiled shyly from behind her. "Aren't you the Tooth Fairy?" she asked. "We have always loved coming to your house." I didn't recognize her, but she knew me and more importantly, her children had been given joyful memories.

It's been a privilege to share Halloween joy throughout the years, because ultimately hospitality is a wonderful way to express love. And love, like the candy dug from pillowcases, tucked under beds, long after Halloween is over—sticks!  

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Painting with Local Dirt

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On Justin's daily winding drive over Scott Mountain, he passes a natural wonder: the rusty, Mars-scape dirt that is Trinity County's signature. He pulled over at a spot where the blazing red hue screamed from the embankment and scooped some into an XL pickle jar, bringing me a solid three pounds of this magical earth to experiment with making natural paints.
   While grinding the sediment down with my mortar and pestle did make me feel like a Rennaisance painting apprentice to Leonardo DaVinci, mixing up an earth-based paint was actually pretty simple. I made both egg tempera by mixing egg whites with the pigment and a water-color style paint using a 1:4 ratio of gum arabic to red dirt. 
   Some of the paint was grittier than I wanted because I discovered that you REALLY have to grind it up quite a bit!
   Justin told me that with every commute he observes more different shades of Trinity Red Dirt, he intends to bring more pickle jars home in the future!

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Sustainable Steps: Buy Food from Farmers Who Feel Bad

       I shared on Instagram last week that we lost two lambs because I didn't clear the ewe's milk ducts when I checked on them after they were born. I still feel a heavy weight about being responsible for their loss, but I've switched from beating myself up to carrying a responsibility for doing better. Making a mistake like this has actually catalyzed my learning, and feeling bad about losing those two lambs has actually helped me care more about the minutia of my management.

In struggling to adjust to animal losses, I have begun to notice that other farmers -the ones who are doing it right- feel horrible about the deaths that happen on their watch. My friends, Craig and Jen at Rockside Ranch, almost scared me initially with their stories of dismembered chickens and shriveled stillborn piglets, but I realized that those images affected them because they are brilliantly conscientious farmers. I really believe that farmers who don't feel bad about death are probably not the farmers you want raising your food. 

      Full disclosure: I am an omnivore and I raise animals to eat them. I spent many hours last year trying to reconcile the connection between eating meat and death, cementing my own justification for it while responding to vegans online. It's still too strange for words to witness the raw disassembly of living beings, but getting food on the other end of that process makes it worth it. What feels less noble to me, is the inevitable deaths of animals that don't become food for anyone. Little sparks of life snuffed out by bad genetics or sloppy management. These deaths feel frustratingly unjustifiable. 

      Last June I looked in on our brooder of 30 brand new heritage turkeys and found a wreck of tiny bodies strewn about in the straw, gasping for air. It was only days since their arrival and some had brought with them a fatal respiratory disease that typically arises from poor sanitation in the hatchery. Half of them died.

     The worst of it wasn't really the loss, since I talked the hatchery into refunding us, but I felt horrible that those tiny birds travelled so far just to suffocate in their own bronchial fluids. In my conversation with the hatchery's sales associate, I passed along the comment I had learned from several industry-leading turkey breeders that pneumatic E. coli can often from unsanitary eggs. I could literally hear over the phone that the man was rolling his eyes, and it made a splash of white hot anger wash over me as he dismissed my gentle critique. Of course a business that large would be comfortable with a larger margin of error than our minuscule operation, but that sales associate wasn't the one filling an empty pizza box with the dead. I believe that it matters to God when even the littlest animals die so shouldn't it matter to us?

      Buying organic is great. Sometimes, however, organic food comes from the same big farms that casually pick out dead animals like they're sorting dirty laundry. Agribusinesses that house tens of thousands of creatures in tight quarters just can't escape disease (and sometimes cannibalism!) so they've learned to medicate the heck out of those animals and they've become numb to the high volume of senseless death that happens inside their walls. It's impossible for giant factories to replicate the care and attention that family farms provide.

      When you purchase your food from somebody who is emotionally invested in the animal from which your food comes, you can bet that they devoted themselves to learning the best management techniques for the highest quality product. Sure, we're a little emotionally unstable at times, but it's totally worth it! Just give us hugs, ok?

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This Week At Our Place: Sick Week Essentials

Five little things that helped facilitate place sharing amidst a stressful week of head/chest colds.

1. A giant snuggly blanket.

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!

 

2. An invaluable herbal intervention.

This company  has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.

This company has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.

 

3. A quiet afternoon of I Spy.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.

 

4. Wood fire heat.

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 

 

5. Some hand stitching to do while snuggling with sleepy sickies.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

Things for sick days:

What are your sick day (or week) essentials? 

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This Week At Our Place

Five little moments of place sharing from my week.

1. Bee pollen: for getting ahead of allergy season.

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!

 

2. A view that I'm trying to imprint into my brain, every day I can while we're still in this house.

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!

 

3. Juniper berries in the loveliest tiny hands.

 

4. Noodle Face.

 

5. Front porch bling.

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Hospitality Matters: Say It With Pie

  As with any food that has a prized, cult-like place in our culture, pie matters to people. Almost everyone has a folkloric pie experience committed to memory: a grandmother's delicate, flaky crust or a cascade of warm, melting filling topped with whipped cream from a favorite restaurant. It doesn't matter what town or strata of society you're from, -they have pie there. Pie goes with most of our major holidays and it's recently become a trendy replacement for wedding cake.

   Everyone has something to say about pie, whether it be Ralph Waldo Emerson's incredulous response when asked why New Englanders eat pie for breakfast: "What else is pie for?" or Carl Sagen's cerebral musings: "To make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe."

   I'd like to suggest that the particular resonance of pie in our culture makes it a special social currency. We have lots of ways to communicate with each other these days and while it's never been easier or more instant, technology often falls short when it comes to matters of the heart. We all know that texts and emails just don't convey the tone of a human conversation (which is why emojis were invented) but pie is never vague. Every layer of melty goodness says "I love you" loud and clear.

    A text with thoughtful words is wonderful, but pie is pie, enough said! 

   Making someone a pie is a dual expression of love; it says, "I love you enough to get out all my ridiculous baking accouterments and trash my kitchen," and "I love you so much I want your day to be filled with the surpassing deliciousness that only pie can provide." This is not a casual statement. In high school I knew a girl who landed a boyfriend by baking him a pie -she could not have communicated her intentions more clearly (and unsurprisingly, they got married.) That's the power of pie, folks.

   A homemade pie is so laden with personal investment and emotion that it only seems right to share it with people you care about, like in this chilling haiku by food writer Caroline Lange:

a nightmare: my least
favorite people eat a pie

i'd not meant for them.

  (Although, maybe enjoying a pie might make one's least favorite people more agreeable?)

   Give someone a pie when they've had a crummy day. Mail them a pie (perhaps in this box) when you miss them. When you've had an argument or you totally acted like a jerk, a pie will go a long way toward emphasizing your apology. Bring a pie to your friend-crush and take your budding friendship to the next level. Make pie for your significant other all the time and keep the romance alive! All we need is love, yes, but maybe all we need is pie!!

   Part of what makes pie so special is that it's not the easiest thing to make, but the good news is that the little tips and tricks you use to bring the whole thing together can become your signature style. See? Pie elevates everything! When we're talking about the difficulty of making pie we're usually referring to the crust, and fortunately, Food 52 has an excellent pie crust troubleshooting guide here. I have been using this recipe for the past several years with success:

Pie Crust:
1 ¼ c flour (I used organic sprouted flour)
½ c butter cold from the fridge
¼ tsp sea salt
4+ tbs ice water (as needed)

   In a food processor, I mix the flour and salt and then add the butter in pieces, 1 Tbs sized squares at a time. After the butter and flour combine into tiny pieces, keep the food processor going and add the ice water a little at a time until the dough starts forming into a ball. Then flour up your whole work surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick. I move my crust to the greased pie dish by folding it into quarters, moving it gently to the pie dish, unfolding it and then pressing it into the dish. This recipe makes one crust, multiply by two for a double crust pie. No matter the filling, I bake this crust at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and then check it incessantly for the next 10 minutes until it looks like the crust is finished.

   If you want to up your Pie-As-Love-Letter game even more, you can get these adorable alphabet cookie cutters and actually include a message in your pie crust. A Pie-gram! You can punch in your design before you place your crust, but after tends to work better. There are no guarantees on the legibility of the finished product, but this crust recipe seems to hold its shape pretty well.  For other fancy crust design tips check out this article.

   I am confident that pie is a catalyst for love in relationships, because it's the intentional things that we do for one another that communicate how valuable those people are to us. I think the people in my life are totally worth it!

Do you have any pie making tips or memorable experiences? What does pie mean to you? Is it overrated? 

 

 

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This Week at Our Place

Five little moments of place sharing from my week.

1. This fresh batch of avocado dyed tea towels ready to be printed for Etsy

The trick was to leave them in the dye pot and forget about them for two weeks...

The trick was to leave them in the dye pot and forget about them for two weeks...

 

2. We have two cats: the active-duty mouser and the slob. Guess which one this is?

Answer: this cat is looking very stealth perched up there on the tire, but that's about as ninja as he gets. He's normally lounged on the doormat. Sometimes I actually use him as a doormat.

Answer: this cat is looking very stealth perched up there on the tire, but that's about as ninja as he gets. He's normally lounged on the doormat. Sometimes I actually use him as a doormat.

 

3. Mornings wrapped up in linen.

Favorite toy names: Ozzie's raccoon: "Waccoo," Selah's striped cat: "Little Kitty Octopus Flower Star"

Favorite toy names: Ozzie's raccoon: "Waccoo," Selah's striped cat: "Little Kitty Octopus Flower Star"

 

4. These girls who are (hopefully) lambing in a few weeks!

 
It looks like Taco is yelling, "Hey, would you be a dear and grab me the sriracha?"

It looks like Taco is yelling, "Hey, would you be a dear and grab me the sriracha?"

5. A lovely gift from an Instagram friend, handmade out of Ace & Jig alterations remnants!

Each fabric is lovingly hand woven by artisans in India who are paid a fair wage and work in excellent conditions. I am so glad my friend saved every last scrap of these beautiful textiles to piece together something new!

Each fabric is lovingly hand woven by artisans in India who are paid a fair wage and work in excellent conditions. I am so glad my friend saved every last scrap of these beautiful textiles to piece together something new!

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Sustainable Steps: Reducing Plastic Use

   Plastic. It's only been around since 1907 and yet every single piece of plastic created since then still exists today (with the 5% exception of incinerated or recycled pieces.) Every year enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth four times, including 48,000,000,000 plastic water bottles. 48 BILLION. The fate of all these discarded materials is pretty grim, and while recycling can alleviate this damage, we have been trying to progressively cut down our use of plastics altogether.

   Part of my reasoning is safety. We've all heard about the carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting properties of Bisphenol A and phthalates, and yet still, an estimated 90% of adults have detectable levels of BPA and phthalates in their blood. Even BPA-free plastics have been found to be equally unsafe. Here are just a few of the side affects credible research has linked to plastic exposure: diabetes, liver toxicity, heart disease, low-sperm count, irregular ovulation, high blood pressure, genital disfigurement in baby boys, hyperactivity and developmental delays in children. In the video above, Allegre Ramos from Ember Living explains which types of plastic tend to contain more of these harmful chemicals, and which ones tend to have less.

  Beyond the safety and waste issues, I have a more personal, aesthetic dislike for plastic. Actually, I should say that I have a huge preference for the weight and feel of natural materials and that using plastic has been somewhat of a chore to me. There's a practicalness of the cheap, durable plastic things I've had in my life that made me feel obligated to slate them for my primary, everyday use and save the nicer things for fancier times. Then, two springs ago, I ran out of plastic bowls and reached for a gorgeous, swirling-blue handmade stoneware bowl for a boring, everyday bread recipe. As I kneaded the bread, I held the soft, organic form of that beautiful bowl and this delicious, irreverent joy came over me like I was stealing back all the saved-up fanciness for that mundane moment. That afternoon I put all the obligatory plastic in a box for the Goodwill and have used all my best ceramic, stoneware and glass things every single day since.

   The same goes for textiles. I am a firm believer in natural fibers firstly because of the environmental and health impacts, but mostly because I love the feeling of cotton, linen, wool and silk against my skin. You can read a little more on my natural textile philosophy here

   I don't think we can ever fully escape plastic, (I'm typing on plastic keys right now) but if you want to reduce the plastic in your life, chances are you already have a lot of things already in your home that you can sub-out (we use old glass jars for everything!) If, however, you're looking for some replacement options, I have complied a list below of some plastic alternatives that I personally use (or want to try when the funds allow.)

You can go as far as you want with this whole plastic-free thing, but personally, I would rather not spend a ton of money on replacing items that don't come into physical contact with my family as often as the items listed above, (like this ridiculous leather fly swatter!) I am also painfully aware of the fact that so many of my cleaning, health and food products come in plastic containers -but, while those things can't always be avoided, I can always check the bottom of the products to see what type of plastic the container is made out of (Remember, 1-2-4-5 stay alive and 3-6-7 straight to heaven!)

Do you have any plastic substitutions that I missed? Do you have any recommendations for small, handmade businesses that offer beautiful, plastic-free home goods?

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This Week At Our Place

Moments of place sharing from my week.

1. This auntie-niece relationship, which has taken on more of a bff status.

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2. The rescue that occurred after I came to this washed out part of the road, chickened out, and then returned home to be picked up by my father in law to cross it in his giant truck instead! (We made it safely across.)

 

3. Tiny jackets.

 

4. A valentine I keep reading and re-reading from the man I started dating eight years ago.

 

5. A sweetie dog who is wondering when all the snow will go away (or maybe she likes the excuse to curl up and be cozy?)

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Hospitality Matters: Make Your Home Smell Like Spring

  There are still patches of snow in the yard, but I'm ignoring them because the sun is out, I can hear birds and I've cracked the windows to let in that first bit of spring air! I was joking with a friend on Sunday that a day just like today in August would have us all grabbing sweaters and whining about the cold, but in February this day warrants bare feet and t-shirts. Context is everything, no?

  Speaking of context, when I opened the window and felt the clean air rush past my face I realized with disappointment that it smelled so much nicer outside than in my house. Noseblindness is real, my friends. Sometimes when I arrive home after being gone all day I notice how my house smells, and while it's usually ok, I'm fairly certain that having two toddlers as housemates has lowered both my smell expectations and overall sensation. There is also a half-intentional smell agnosticism between my husband and I as we wait for the other to acknowledge a poopy diaper first (which automatically assigns the changing duty.)

  Smell agnosticism may be a survival mechanism for days when laundry or cleaning just don't get done, but I do become extremely conscious of how my house smells when someone else steps through my door. I try not to be overly obsessive about having my home perfect for guests because I think most people are understanding of a little clutter, but smells are different. Smells are less logical and more primal: the olfactory sensors in your nose trigger the parts of your brain that are associated with emotion and memory, which is why smelling warm bread makes me think of my mother's kitchen, and the fumes of a sun-warmed trash can bring back images from my childhood wanderings in the streets of Tirana, Albania.

  The brain's processing of smell shows us that the scents around our house can go a long way towards how someone feels in our home. People are often happy to ignore a bit of mess in our houses but they literally can't help themselves from absorbing the odors. Or as science historian Diane Ackerman puts it, "Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and stop smelling, you will die.”

  For those of us who have a bit of funk to tame in the service of invoking good feelings and comfort for all who enter our home, here are some tips for good smells all around:

Nothing beats the smell of breakfast for my sweet valentines!

Nothing beats the smell of breakfast for my sweet valentines!

  1. Deep clean all the areas of your space that tend to trap stink, such as the back of the trash can/compost bin, under the microwave, in the cushions of the couch, around and under toilets, anywhere you store food, garbage, or compost. I'm into using natural cleaners like this or this, but plain old vinegar works great and can be mixed with lemon for a brighter smell.

  2. Place textiles on a tarp outside in the sun for an hour, so that your rugs, cushions, blankets and pillows can disinfect in the sun's UV rays and freshen up in the clean air. Be aware that the sun can sometimes bleach out colors that are not very lightfast (like naturally dyed items.)

  3. Burn incense or sage, which has been traditionally thought as both spiritually and physically cleansing. These incense sticks from Juniper Ridge converted me; I am not a fan of straight-up patchouli but these ones are made from foraged plant matter and sap, emitting a beautiful, spicy campfire smell. 

  4. Diffuse essential oils throughout the house with therapeutic-grade blends you can get from a friend. Essential oils are powerful mood boosters and they've been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, pain and a range of other conditions. My friend, Char, brought this diffuser to a baby shower and it was almost like the grapefruit, floral smell matched the colorful decorations! I love the look of this pretty humidifier, but I could also go for a reed diffuser, in which case I'd choose this smokey scent.

  5. Find a new favorite candle like this delicious one, my old favorite, or this one I'd love to try.

  6. Cook or bake something before guests arrive and let those good smells permeate your whole house. My grandmother would throw butter and garlic on in the frying pan when she saw my grandpa pulling up from work, just so that it would smell like she'd been busily preparing dinner all along! (Good one, Oma!)

  How do you like to fill your home with lovely smells? Have you suffered from nose-blindness this winter, and what do you do about it?

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This Week at our Place

1. These tiny soccer cleats were very hesitant to jump in and join the fray, revealing that I too have that crazy parent inside of me that wants to shove my child out onto the field, "Suck it up and play ball!" All she needed was a few moments in Justin's arms and she leaped after the ball as it went by.

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2. This wooly mister is going to the freezer soon, which is truly sad and I am bracing myself for some hardcore tears. Meat is so costly! Farming has me constantly on the brink of veganism, which I think is a healthy tension to live in.

3. She's halfway through her first time learning to write the alphabet (and I'm scheming to add some Waldorf-style activities to our school routine.)

4. The #farmfailfriday award goes to these turkeys who will NOT be ready for turkey day! I'm crossing my fingers that they'll fill out in time to be someone's Christmas Roast Beast

5. Crisp from the ridiculous volume of apples Justin has brought back from his days at Scott River Lodge.

Also this:

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Why I prefer animals that hate me

They are all judging me.

They are all judging me.

  Icelandic sheep are more genetically similar to their wild counterparts than many conventional breeds, making them tougher and more intelligent. However, these qualities also mean that the sheep aren't as compliant with the will of humans. When we tried to milk an ewe this afternoon, she warily kept her distance and didn't fall for any of our tricks. She was the best milker for the lady who raised her, but she wasn't about to share that with us for free. These sheep are smart, and a lot of trust and respect must be built between us before we can start taking things from them.

  I realized that while modern farming has created low key, placid breeds of animals that are easy to extract product from, those animals aren't as healthy and vibrant as the wilder breeds. According to the Livestock Conservancy, many conventional breeds of animals that end up in grocery stores have been so inbred that their immune systems are unable to keep the animals alive without antibiotics. Some are unable to mate naturally or have lost the instincts to take care of their young. Industrial farming methods try to supplement and mechanize these problems away, but the fact remains that when you treat an animal like a machine, it actually starts to become a machine and lose its animal-ness.

  The lineage of animals in the wild have persevered and adapted throughout history because of their ability to survive, which means that they hold the key to our collapsing agricultural complex. Even though cultural traits like instant gratification and short-term profit strategy are in the DNA of our economy (and in the DNA of those mutant, giant-breasted chickens that can't stand up in their tiny cages) our survival depends on the adaptation of our values. We need to treat our land, our animals and especially our people like they are not disposable, because they aren't.

  It turns out that even Icelandic sheep will be your best friend if you give them a little grain and spend some time with them. When I went out to meet our new baby ewe born yesterday, all the mamas were excited to see me, "Hey there's that grain girl again!" I really couldn't earn the right to be friends with them until I put aside my own agenda and considered what interaction would be meaningful to them on their own terms (lets hear it for snacks.) I am really confident that the people who are thinking relationally about their animals and land are going to be the ones who change our food economy, because the best things in life require a meaningful relationship built on patience and love.

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