Sunday, January 31, 2016

tidy, tidy

It's definitely late winter in the Northwest, and the spring cleaning bug is hitting pretty hard. Did you ever buy a calendar that you loved so much, you just didn't want to give it up after the year was up? I'm thinking I'll cut some sheets of lightweight newsprint and stitch them to these inky/watercolor-y moon phases, to make a dozen pretty little notebooks. I'll still have to give them up eventually, but it's an excuse to keep them around a little longer, and get some more use and enjoyment out of them.

I still have the images from The Wild Unknown's calendar from two years ago, tucked into a box upstairs. I want to use them to make embroidered samplers; now that Solvy makes a printable, water-soluble stabilizer, it'll be easy to scan the images and print, stick on fabric, and stitch away. I can't wait to get started! I have a baby gift to make first, which is rather unfortunate as I'm far more in the mood to do hand work lately than to cut 80 feet of two-and-a-half-inch strips. Meh.

(Yes, the crow is done - I figured I'd post a picture when I got it framed, but if you'd like to see it now, feel free to say so.)

This spring catches us putting more than just the inside of our house together; we've worked about 12 yards of compost and planting mix into our little suburban yard, tearing out a patch lawn, massive laurel hedges, and ivy to build a native understory/shade garden, and sunny berms for a cottage garden of flowering and fruiting plants. This weekend we finally started to unpack some of the many plants we brought with us when we moved. It'll be lovely as everything starts to leaf out and bloom in the spring. (For reference, those smallish-looking black pots in the middle of the frame are quart-sized; I was lugging some seriously large and heavy characters around today!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

a little on my lately

Well that was a week. A new client needed me to put in extra hours; twice this week I came home and crashed on the couch. Hm. Maybe three times; I can't quite remember! (So tired!)  I knew it was going to be a bit intense.  I tried to ready everything to make it easier. Sunday saw some serious food prep going on (here are chickpeas soaking for the dish shown below, almonds soaking for our weekly half-gallon of almond milk, red cabbage slaw pickling, and shrimp marinating in lime juice and tequila for these really good tacos).

I did have a nice weekend last weekend, though. Ever walk into a shop to buy a bar of soap and then find yourself asking the proprietor, "Can I buy that print off your wall?" I'd never done it before! (The lino artist is Kate Powel. I can't find anything about her on the web. But I'm thinking of going back for her bee print this weekend.)

But now, blessedly, it's Friday again, and I'm back to my regular work-from-home Friday schedule  -which means getting all the laundry done and running the dishwasher while working; it makes such an impact on my weekend workload! Plus, I get so much more done in the quiet, especially when I've serious thinking-and-writing to do. I've just treated myself to a little pre-workout fuel-up, comprised of this Chickpea of the Sea tunaless tuna salad recipe (one of my husband's favorite vegan meals), with a nice slab of perfectly ripe avocado, on a butter lettuce leaf.

TGIF! Happy weekend!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

ceci n'est pas un sampler

It's one of those days. Actually, it's one of a series of those days, strung in succession like beads on a thread: pouring buckets, lowering sky, a bit too damp and drear for even us locals to bother with things like woodland walks and visits to the wetland pools (though they'd be wonderfully swollen with all this rain). As I type, the deep bank of clouds are taking on a rosy cast: sunset, observed from under our thick, wooly blanket of precipitation.

I'm curled up inside, making the most of it - working through this afternoon, then getting a bit of exercise before finishing this embroidery project off tonight.

This is more than a sampler; this is a ward and blessing for our first home, and once I finish it I'll have to find someone to cut glass for the antique, hand-carved frame that I created it for.

Monday, January 18, 2016

craving color

Looking at back posts on social media, I was making a lot of brightly-colored vegetable breads through the tail end of last year's non-event-winter. I think it's a combination of being kind of burnt out on heavy foods by the end of the holidays and craving the lighter vegetal flavors of spring that drives me to it. Whatever the reason, this beet bread (based on Twigg Studio's beet and walnut recipe, here) is amazing. I started dreaming up other combinations this weekend - carrot and dill was the most popular version I made last year, but what about carrot and dill and turmeric? Or parsnip and parsley and sumac! Cauliflower and nigella!

But this week, it's just plain old beet. I think it'll serve as a pinch hitter for lunches on days when I don't have a lot of leftovers to bring in; a slice of beet bread slathered with "Up in Smoke" smoked chevre, and topped with some of the last of my friend Amal's pickled cauliflower? Yeah, that'll hit the spot. Tasty and bright; just the thing to chase winter doldrums away.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

mucking about

Such promise in a little plant! It is very early to be picking these fellows; last year I posted elsewhere about harvesting in the first week of March - the earliest I'd ever gathered nettles.

This year it's January. I've been feeling particularly impatient to be out, picking weeds in the woods again. A little late-winter itchiness, if you will.

Crouched in deep, wet leaf-fall, stepping gingerly around ferns, we picked in silence, listening to the constant drip-drip-drip of moisture gently gathering and falling. There are days in Seattle when the weather reminds me of nothing so much as life inside a giant terrarium. Little birds twittered in the misty rain and fog as they drifted overhead, and off in a soggier depression somewhere, frogs sang their amphibious romances to each other.

A nice soak in cool water, and picking-through (with tongs!) to remove the muck and detritus.

Then a quick, 1-minute blanch, a shock in ice water, and gentle draining before pureeing into beautiful, nutritive emerald paste. Buccatini with nettles, pancetta, and black pepper is on the menu for this week, a first taste of something wild and green and woodsy-deep since summer faded last year.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Oh, this face! Tonight she was reunited with her favorite blanket in the whole house: the handmade quilt. Naps ensued.

I've been eating Yumm bowls all week. Our favorite version is rice (arborio, because that's all we had on hand) and beans (borlotti, this time), with shredded carrot, sprouts, sliced tomatoes, avocado (leftover guacamole this time), and Cafe Yumm sauce. Soo delicious. And yes, a bit out of season with those tomatoes and avocado, but sometimes you just need a little tomato goodness in January, you know?

Also hopping on the golden milk train. Mine turned out super thick (did I cook it too long?) and tasted kinda like cooked squash. Been using it in everything from smoothies to lattes; it does seem to be helping with my back pain!

And finally, a cozy tableau: the mattress for the sleeping nook in our guest room finally came today. At first I was feeling kind of bummed by the mishmash of patterns and colors involved in setting up the bed (sheets, duvet, quilt, pillows, handmade rug - nothing really matched or felt cohesive), but when the sun sets and the room is lit by the glow of some twinkle lights, suddenly this room glows with a special magic. And do you see the little face peeking around the corner from the foot of the bed? I think anyone who stays here will have to expect to share the nook!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

taking in the woods, the woods taking in me

It's a funny thing; the older I get, the more porous life seems to be.

When I was a kid, I used to think of myself as a solid entity, a single individual (the famous American individualism!), hermetically sealed off, really, from the world. I was an individual living and moving in the world, yes - but inside my skin, that was ME, and outside my skin, that was NOT ME. I remember experiencing something of a shock the first time I really conceived of the fact that I was permeable. And not just through my mouth or nose, my ears or eyes ... but my skin. That I excrete through my skin the foods I eat, that my skin breathes in and absorbs the environment around me. 

Yeah, I think it was realizing the porous nature of skin that really started to shake my sense of myself as a solid being, a singular entity: if chemicals, molecules, could pass through my skin - if things could come and go through me - then how could I be certain what constituted me

The older I get, the more everything feels ... impermanent. Just chemicals, elements, atoms constantly reconfiguring. Energy transmitted, passed, shared. Touch, go, leave something behind. Maybe it's my yoga practice; maybe this is what it means to start to conceive of one's existence as but a wave in an ocean.

It's a little unsettling. And at the same time, comforting.

In particular, lately, I've been thinking about states of matter. I touch a wall or a crystal or a piece of wood and think about the fact that its solidity is, in some ways, just an illusion of my limited sensory capacity; really, if we could excite the atoms to loosen the molecular bonds connecting them, this solid item could melt and run through my fingers - or evaporate into air, and I could inhale it into my lungs. I think about the act of swimming, about myself as a collection of more densely packed atoms moving in a body through more loosely arranged atoms.

(nettles are just starting to come up; I have half a mind to go pick these young things early, just to satisfy an early craving for the flavors of the woods. It'd take a long time to gather enough for a meal, and I'd have to range over a lot of territory, but my mind fixed on them some weeks ago and I have been contemplating them with something bordering on obsession.)

(miner's lettuce, too)

Even our experience of sound and light are determined by varying resonances of vibration; red could so easily be green; treble could so easily be bass. (I have no idea what these fat, juicy little mushrooms are, but aren't they delightfully plump and succulent-looking little fruits?)

I think, too about the conservation of energy in all this, the recycling, the recombining of elements, particles. Nothing is lost, the physicists tell us. 

I don't know to what end these thoughts are tending, but I feel like my sense of my own existence is shifted by them, in subtle ways.

I wonder what changes these changed and changing perspectives work upon me?

Friday, January 8, 2016

waiting to break ground

The bulbs I planted outside two weeks ago haven't broken ground yet. (I know - shocking, right?) But each warm (aka: in the 40s) day, I go out and peek. Today, a little leafy bit of a weed from somewhere had blown over the bulb patch and for a moment my heart was in my throat. It's hard to be patient - even when there's so much to do before the time comes to just enjoy the garden. I miss having snowdrops; we had them in our rental garden, and they always started coming up so early! Maybe I'll add some this autumn.

For now, these bulbs will have to fill the days of watching and waiting (and working). They're amaryllis bulbs, a bit past their prime. I had this great idea for a Yule gift for a friend who lives back east and who is discovering the isolation of the lingering winters in a small New England town: a pretty turquoise dish of a pot, some intensely-colored amaryllis bulbs, a packet of soil and some stones. Life, shipped right to your door.

Of course, when I hatched this plan, I forgot that my friend will be spending the next few months in Oaxaca, leading an undergraduate study abroad session. Ah, the best laid plans...

I transplanted an African violet into the pretty turquoise dish and planted the bulbs before they could languish. It's a bit late in the season, so we'll see how they recover and whether or not they perk back up. I'm optimistic.

A bit of rare midwinter sun for us -though this hasn't been much of a winter at all. This blueberry hasn't even lost its leaves from last year yet, which is kind of crazy to think about. Will we have enough water, come summer? Will we have another devastating fire season, this year?

An old friend of mine is also getting back to blogging with the turn of the calendar; today she posted and asked what our dreams or plans are for the new year.

 Neither of us goes in much for New Year's resolutions, but we do both enjoy a good list (whether it's a to-do list or simply an ideal list of things we'd like to get to within a given period of time); we're both highly productive women with many interests. Planning is essential if you want to do many things at once.

I've already written about getting back to blogging more regularly this year, but on that ideal list, I have another goal, aspiration, or mantra of sorts for the year:

To invest in what is mine, and to relinquish that which is not.

I am working this year on placing my time, my focus, my energy, my care on things which are under my control - that which is "mine." And the rest? I'll be practicing graceful acquiescence to others, to what must be. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

holiday wrap-up

Still finishing up holiday gifts around here, especially the homemade variety. I seem to be having the hardest time just packing up care packages and sending them, for some reason - even when the presents have been made and/or purchased for almost two months now. I try to convince myself that this is okay, arguing that we're just stretching the holidays out longer for everyone ... right?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016: A New Direction

The other day I was feeling a little hungry for some time on one of my favorite blogs. I cruised on over to her site, and realized the author hadn't posted since I'd last been there - in November. She had said that she expected her posts to be infrequent for a while, so I wasn't really surprised.

As an alternative, I thought, I wonder if she has an instagram account linked to this blog? Lo and behold, the answer was yes. So I crawled inside her instagram for a while and got what I was really craving: lovely glimpses of Northwest life, from one of our state's islands; a romantic picture of a life somewhat more agrarian than mine in the the 'burbs (though the author frequently points out that real agrarian life is not at all romantic - and as I grew up working around horses and volunteering on ranches, I understand that); some time spent with another person's aesthetic, one which I really enjoy; an escape.

Is Instagram the new blogging? You can post a small caption with your photo, so in a way it serves a dual purpose - people get the images they crave (haven't blogs steadily become more and more picture-based, with fewer and fewer words? And haven't contributions and comments from readers become shorter, more hurried/harried, fewer and farther between?) more frequently, with less effort and input overall from both content-creator and content-consumer?

It's enough to make me wish I had a smartphone, because I think I kind of like it.

I suppose I'm not supposed to say that, but it's true.

I had a wonderful time looking and reading; I think I spent a quiet hour cruising back through months of photos. It satisfied exactly what I'd wanted, the same kind of drive that also feeds my pinterest account (11,000 pins and counting), but at the same time, more satisfying, somehow - perhaps because all the images feed from a single life, and I know there is a single, living, breathing woman creating this content. Perhaps also because I read her blog and enjoy her point of view on life, eco-activism, hedge witching, etc.

Which brings me back here. When I created this blog in 2007 (wow, time flies), I was getting a Master's degree, on my way toward a Ph.D. This was a place to share creative pursuits, all the things I'd been making, with family and friends who were now very far away from me. It was like a joint phone call to everyone: here's what I've been up to.

But things are different now. I've finished my Ph.D.  I'm working full time as a grant writer and building a freelance business as a writer and editor on the side. My husband and I just bought our first home. Both the reality of a longer commute (since we couldn't afford to live close in to the city) and of owning one's home (so much to fix, change, personalize, do!!) mean that creative time was in short supply in 2015. Life moves and changes, and you must evolve with it.

This isn't a farewell; it's a makeover.

I've been thinking a lot about this other blog that I enjoy so much. And I've realized: I don't care if she has a recipe or a lesson or an article or a finished project to share; I just like seeing her life. And my enjoyment of it spurs a desire to join, to participate - that old drive toward community that was the hallmark of the blogging community back in the early 2000s, the DIY aesthetic applied to a virtual platform. And this also constitutes an aesthetic practice: learning to create content that hits just the right tone, that satisfies something I've been seeking out from others. I haven't spent a lot of time experimenting with form lately; mostly I've just been helping other people to hone theirs. This is a vital, energetic process - and I think it's an important practice for me to cultivate on a more regular basis.

So, while I don't really do New Year's resolutions, as such, I do think that in 2016, I want to be more active here, just in a different way. More regular glimpses, such as these snaps from a sunny winter's walk along (and on) some frozen wetlands ponds. Probably not so many posts as long (wordy) as this, but we'll see.