Magic of the season

Posted on December 12, 2017

This is the first holiday season in a long time that Seth and I have had more than the bare minimum of cheer. We didn’t have strong traditions between the two of us, and anyway as two childless adults we felt there was no point setting up the miniature village on the back of the piano (figuratively, of course. There’s no piano in the tiny house). But now — oh, now! — this baby changes everything. She’ll be a year old this month. That’s old enough to want to instill some magic into the next few weeks. We’ve started putting up solstice decorations, and there’s a pile of presents accumulating.

More than once Seth has come home to find some project scattered over the kitchen table as I squeeze in a few minutes while Addie is distracted. We’re once again shuffling crafts from counter to table and back again. “What are you working on?” Seth asks every other day.

Well I’ll tell you. It’s something that I could probably go out and buy for $10. But instead I’m hunched over it for hours or days, or in the knitting’s case, weeks or months. Usually there’s Mod Podge on my fingers and bits of paper or threads lying in piles. With eight nieces and nephews and assorted family and friends, I sometimes feel like I’m running Santa’s workshop.

As the countdown dwindles to the bubba’s birthday, and winter solstice, and Christmas, I’m feeling the heat and I remind myself that I could go out to the store and buy these little doodads instead. But whenever I go to any store besides the grocery store, I am frozen with indecision. A panicky undercurrent. I made Seth and Addie walk across the craft store three times this weekend in order to compare notepads. Notepads! And then I hyperventilated a little while Seth helped me decide. There wasn’t even any eye rolling, just a knowing smile as he pulled the glitter glue from the baby’s mouth again and added the notepads to the cart.

I’m really not trying to complain. Come on. Culturally sanctioned craft time? Yes, I’m ready! And I’m not the only one. My browser history is full of things like “18 best Harry Potter ornaments to DIY” and “patchwork gifts for teenage boys.” These articles actually exist and I’ve read them. Guilty as charged. It’s a good thing I can laugh at myself.

Making presents, however much the time and money don’t add up, is my magic of the season. There’s something about slowing down and using my hands, picturing the recipient with the gift even as the radio hosts ask each other, “have you gotten all of your shopping done yet?” Maybe homemade gifts aren’t really in style with most folks. But they sure do bring me back to those days as a kid when I would sit down at the piano to play a Christmas carol and look out over tiny lights illuminating a snowy village street.

Holiday making

Posted on December 2, 2017

I’ve got a bunch of crafting going on here, but since most of it is for the people who read this blog, it’s going to remain a mystery. But it’s happening! I’ve picked up my needles once again and invested in some lovely yarn. Of course, a little bit of the yarn is for me. An early solstice present. Ok, it’s a lot of yarn for me. I couldn’t resist.

Addie features prominently in my holiday crafting, except I haven’t started anything for her yet, hoping to knock some of the other presents off my to do list. I’m planning on a double layer hat in this red wool and whatever matching scraps I have, and then a little vest to keep her core warm, and maybe a Tomten sweater like in that photo. There are 19 days until solstice, and 18 until her birthday. She’s not a big kid, her clothes should knit up quick! Totally doable, right? Especially if you don’t factor in the sweater I’m finishing up for Seth, which needs one and a half sleeves, the yoke, collar, and cuffs. But hey, it’s in big yarn! That should knit up quick too. Maybe.

Ok, so maybe Santa can loan out some reinforcements.

With gratitude

Posted on November 23, 2017

To my U.S. friends, family, and readers who celebrate it, happy Thanksgiving! This is one of the holidays we honor, and it is especially timely for farmers who are wrapping up the growing season. It’s nice to have one last hurrah before the dark of winter. The final CSA pickup and farmers market are bursting with fall and storage crops: cabbage, kale, potatoes, onions, squash. Time to cook good things and sit together in anticipation of a season of rest. Preferably with post-dinner knitting in hand.

Thanksgiving has some troubling origins that I think it’s important to acknowledge too. Native Americans in New England call this the Day of Mourning, and there is an annual gathering on the site of Plymouth Rock in protest of the way Natives were and continue to be treated. It’s important to us that we pay attention and raise Addie to do the same.

With all of this and recent events in mind, I’ve been cooking for today’s small but merry gathering. There will be just six of us, which is enough for a turkey. We’ll bring good cheer to the table, and shed some of the uncertainties that have been worrying us this month. It’s been harder over the last few weeks to pay attention and also to live a life somewhat out of the ordinary. We are tired at the close of this season. And yet I can’t help but feel all the more thankful for each other, our health, our house and the company we keep.

Cooking is relaxing for me. I can do it even through a migraine, and though the food isn’t fancy, neither are we fancy folks. Simple dishes, lovingly prepared, eaten together with people we love. That’s what we’ll have today, and what I wish for you too. Happy Thanksgiving.

Herbs forever

Posted on November 15, 2017

I've opened an Etsy shop for my herbs. Because the thing about herbs — I mean, I feel the need to explain since I'm the only one I know who's in love with them — is that they're some kind of magic. I was volunteering at Stearns Farm, minding my own beeswax, when I realized it. Just plugging along weeding vegetables every weekend. Then it struck me that I could learn what makes people say herbs are medicine. It seemed like a terrible waste to let Stearns's three herb gardens all die off for the winter without knowing what the heck they did.

Research is always the answer. One Kindle book later, I grew obsessed with lemon balm, which seemed like an easy one to identify, and it's pretty safe to try if there's nothing wrong with you. And Stearns had some! Cue the trumpets. Then I realized the farm had quite a few beginner-friendly herbs that I could play with: dandelion and burdock and red clover and comfrey (all this in addition to the calendula I began collecting around that time).

Over the winter, with my small store of herbs stashed in a drawer, I did more reading. And in the spring, I took over the herb gardens.

As I got to know the plants, I realized there were more medicinal uses than I would ever need, and that there's no point in taking medicines you don't need. All those wonderful plants, and I'd get to try only one minuscule amount of the non-culinary varieties.

Thankfully, history is full of herbal uses beyond eating: Luck! Protection! Love! Strength! The list goes on and on, and I read and learned and fell a little bit more in love every day. I could use them without having to eat them. For someone with food sensitivities out the ears, that is a very big deal.

I've done my fair share of reading and experimenting with my herbs. I love them all. It seems unnatural to me that they've fallen out of favor in our society (even as I know that's due in part to devaluing traditional women's knowledge and I could probably write a book about it. Or it's been done, right? Witches, Midwives, and Nurses. But I digress). In my small way, I like sharing these ancient uses for herbs and showing off how pretty they can be. And it's another way of supporting our little family, one that comes from something I've grown and made and can feel proud of.

Rainy days

Posted on October 29, 2017

Rainy days in the tiny house are a strange animal. The house seems smaller in this weather with the windows closed and no excuse to take the baby outside. Lily mopes on the bed as the scent of wet dog slinks down from the loft. A gray gloom settles over the living space. We have to turn on the lights.

Yet we can hear the rain's flowing applause on the metal roof, and it is one of the coziest sounds I've ever heard. It makes me want to curl up in a blanket, and also to hug Seth. After all, he put on this roof. He is the reason why we have such a snug, dry house. His enduring quest for perfection, his love of the craft combined with (ahem) my ability to score a mean Craigslist deal.

We set out through the patchy showers this morning to visit a potential new house site. It's set in among the woods, with horses nearby, and trees all around. As you can see, there's space enough for growing as well.

Will this become our new landing pad? We're not sure, we have a lot to discuss with the landowners and each other. There are neighbors to consider, regulations and rent and commutes and things. And that indecision is part and parcel of owning a tiny house. Where do you put it? Will it work? Will we be happy? And safe? The tiny house doesn't eliminate these questions. I'd hazard a guess that it causes more questions than a big house because everything is so out of the ordinary on the tiny scale. But if you disagree, by all means chime in. I've never owned a non-tiny house.

It's nighttime now, and raining in gusts and waves. The baby is asleep. Mama is nearly there too. Yes we have questions and uncertainties, the stress of finding a parking site when our house isn't universally accepted and a wintertime deadline. But we also have the swelling and ebbing of rain on the roof. And that counts for quite a lot.

Can’t see the garden for the weeds

Posted on October 10, 2017

I just realized that I missed my garden update last week. I've been missing a lot of things lately. The migraines have been coming every second day since the tail end of August, and that sort of pattern wipes me out. Understandably, I haven't been so vigilant in the garden. And, well, for a while there it seemed as if my herbs were suppressing the weeds, so I sat back and enjoyed the break. But as the season approaches its end, the weeds are fighting back. I've got this sole photo as proof for the rest of the garden is so overgrown that it's hard to distinguish from the background.

My echinacea bloomed. If there is one plant I am truly glad to have, echinacea misses out on the top spot because calendula forever has my heart. These echinacea blossoms are gorgeous. I don't use them for anything and the root won't be ready until next year, so these are for pure enjoyment. The monarchs love them, and the bumblebees. Every time I visit the garden I watch the insects and feel thankful for flowers and friends who give flowers. Then I pick some more yarrow and clary sage and squirrel it away for herb bundling.

I gave my perennial culinary herbs a good trim, the last of the season so they can recover before winter sets in. There's time enough to mulch them. I still have to dig up the ashwaghanda root, and I want to collect several more heads of calendula seeds to save. Other than that, winter will cause my garden to die back. Most of the plants are native perennials; they'll be fine. I've got tentative plans for next year too. Fewer borage plants (just one, I think), more calendula, and some plot rearranging. It will be time to dig up the biennials too. But for now, rest! Rest is in order, and it sounds good.

A bit of organization

Posted on September 19, 2017

I had some rest time this weekend, and resolved to organize my herbal stuff. There's only so many times I can shift my herb bundles from counter to table and back again before the untidiness drives me to distraction.

I made some space under the counter for all the herbals that will be going up for sale, and the supplies I use to make them. That's all of the essences, the herb bundles for smudging and smoke cleansing, and the little finishes I used on my daily card base. It's been interesting coming up with a storage method for the herbs. The dried flowers are fragile and can't be stacked. Right now it looks like trays are my best bet.

The cupboard isn't appropriate for drying, as there's not enough air flow, so it looks like I'll need more drying screens. Or a workshop! For herbs! Oh dear, maybe we're going to turn into a tiny caravan.

Ebbs and flows

Posted on September 14, 2017

Time flies. I've had a busy few weeks, dating back to a recent acupuncture appointment. We talked about the possibility of Lyme Disease, which is no joke here in our part of Massachusetts, and since then I've felt a fire growing. Was it the words or the acupuncture treatment? Regardless, my ginger is up and all I know is that my hands want to be full of herbs. Everything else is taking a backseat to figuring out what I can do with my plants in the time I have left this season.

I have some ideas in the works, plans for helping people and selling the things I've been working on. They are so pretty! And we all know that I love pretty things. The more pretty things I sell, the more I get to make. Making and sharing herbs, connecting with people over one of my favorite subjects — this is what I'm after. Instagram is great for pretty things but not so strong on conversation.

At some point the season will die down and there will be time again for sewing, browsing the library, and cozying up to friends and knitting. But now is not that time. There are herbs to work!

Garden update, end of August

Posted on September 1, 2017

It's a good thing the August garden can take care of herself because I did very little this month. Mostly because there was minimal need for my interference. I planted my plants so close together that only the most persistent weeds stand a chance. These I pull up with ease after they grow tall enough to poke through the canopy. After a while one of my growing season goals becomes less about getting every weed out and more about reducing those weeds that are sending out seed heads to make next year a bit easier, so I don't sweat the small fry.

Weeds aside, the garden is (dare I say) blossoming. Each plant is growing with all her might, putting out flowers and packing on the growth. I had to rip out several square feet of toothache plant to prevent it from overrunning my calendulas and the little garden path. Don't be fooled though, there is plenty of toothache plant left.

My calendulas are producing. Most plants I leave to flower for the bees and to save my sanity, but not the calendulas. I pluck every flower and they go straight to my drying screen. When I miss a day, I let those flower heads go by so I can save the seeds. How I love calendulas.

I've been enjoying those plants that you don't harvest until the second year: valerian, clary sage, echinacea (first bloom soon!), and marshmallow. It's nice to see them growing and knowing that I'll get to play with them next year. I have several ashwagandha plants that should be in this category but they won't survive the winter, so I'll be harvesting their roots this year. This will leave me with several big spaces in the beds. Thank goodness! I mistakenly planted my rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano plants too close to some of the taller plants and they get very little sun. I'll relocate these next year to the empty spaces. This is what happens when you don't know much about the plants you're planting, and you think that blue vervain will stay small and shrubby.

I'm not sure what to do about the oats that are growing. They don't look like they'll produce heads any time soon. Although I know I have most of September before me, I'm not sure anything will come of that cluster of plants. And meanwhile they are disguising all kinds of tall grasses in there. Ah well. I'll just let them go and see what happens.

That bee balm from last month is thriving. Farmer Brittany suggested I cut the plants back to encourage root growth before the winter, so I did. The plants rewarded me with another round of blooms, which I turned into flower essence this week. August is a gift from the garden. I know it will all go by soon, and I'm planning my winterizing activities already, but it sure is good to enjoy it now.


Posted on August 28, 2017

We went for an overnight trip to a friend's family lake house in New Hampshire this weekend. It was our first time away from home with the baby, and what a time! There were a dozen farmers there, including two who are starting their own commercial kitchen, which meant an abundance of beautiful food. And there was always someone interested in hanging with the two babies visiting. I'm not a confident water person, but this was just right. Seth went paddle boarding, kayaking, and water skiing while I tried the kayak and hung out on the beach. There was a bit of napping and music and lots of eating. It felt good.

The weekend made me wistful for how I grew up, visiting my extended family often for picnics and playtime, knowing there were adults and cousins around to watch me and for me to watch. Addie loved having so many friends to play with, to encourage her to walk or try to make her smile. Seth and I were able to relax because we knew that Addie was always in good hands. And no one felt burdened by being the sole baby carer because someone would always step in (eagerly!) to give the others a break. Addie, for her part, played and slept like a dream.

And let's not forget Lily. This happy dog had chipmunks to chase, Lake Winnisquam at her paws, and a crowd of people to beg for tidbits. What could be better? Four out of four paws from our happy canine.