Harvest Swap

Come and get some plums!

Dear Fellow Preservers of the Harvest,

You are cordially invited to a Delectable Harvest Swap in which the bounty of our gardens, barnyards, orchards, and wild lands will be celebrated and shared.

Consider this your advance notice to put up extra of whatever putting up you do. Bring that extra bit you know you can’t use, and let it be your currency to barter your way to a dream pantry while spending a morning amidst fabulous folk. 
  

Wondering what to bring? 

Whatever you’ve canned (according to Dept. of Ag regulation specs, please!)—chutneys, jams, fruit butters, sauces, salsas, whole fruits, pickles, but also vinegars, condiments, fermented fare, dried fruits, cider, chiles, and garlic. Not a big canner? How about baked goods, salves, tinctures, honey, soap, seeds, dried culinary or medicinal herbs…or whatever your homemade, homegrown, or wild harvested specialty is. Oh, and don’t forget pumpkins, cabbages, and other fresh fall crops.

Register here: Santa Fe Harvest Swap

Learn more about food swaps here: Food Swap Network

Happy High Summer days, and see you on the flip side!

Kyce and Erin

 

Archiving the Apricots

The glorious days of fruit season are upon us again. It’s been a few years since we had a really good one, with all the trees bending low with the weight of  heavy fruits. Across Santa Fe, grocery store shelves are sold out of jars and lids within hours, and the sound of ball jars pinging sealed can be heard ringing out.

It’s been a couple few years since we had apricots to speak of, some say a decade has gone by since the sight of fallen apricot covered streets and gardens graced our fair villa. So much happens in a decade! I can’t help but reflect on how we grow between each cycle of harvest and preservation, gleaning our fruit, learning new ways to preserve it, and ripening into our ability to put everything else on hold because the apricots must be put up today.

From the fledgling days where we nervously try to get every last air bubble out of our jars, to the experiments with fermented chutney or hard cider, we are always in some state of beginners mind when it comes to putting up the harvest. And we are also rewarded for our efforts, becoming more and more skilled with each go round. The fruit teaches us, and brings us gently into the fold of radical homemaking. How can we say no to this gift from the trees, the bees, and the magical year that it all bears fruit?

Because I know I’ll forget between now and the next apricot year, here’s a little log of what’s gone down in my kitchen so far.

First, the canning. Here’s a blurry, satisfied, late night shot of some of it. I wasn’t super creative with my jams this year–next time I’ll make spiced ginger or rosehip-clementine-apricot jam like my friends did. Me, I’d just cook down the fruit as it fell (I call it “splat-ripened”) or was picked, then either make a simple pomonas pectin jam (my attempts at homemade pectin have flopped–advice?) or apricot butter (fruit and sugar in the crockpot till cooked down and darkened) depending on how much time I needed to buy myself.

I stopped myself after 45 jars, because really there is too much of a good thing and how much can we truly eat when so much fruit is still ripening on the tree?

Next I got to work freezing the choicest fruit–Just ripe enough to be heavenly but not even close to mushy. I dumped the fruit into a big bowl filled with water and a few teaspoons of citric acid (ascorbic acid from Vitamin C capsules would also be great) to keep them from discoloring. Then split, pitted, and frozen on cookie sheets and then stored in bags or containers.

Not pictured is my apricot brandy–a gallon jar filled with ripe, whole fruit, covered in three cups of sugar and cheap vodka. Already the smell of this brew is positively ambrosial, but I think I’ll give it a few more weeks for kicks. Strain as well as humanly possible. This is another place to get more creative–anise stars? Cinnamon sticks? Since we don’t really drink much brandy, however homemade-ish, I’ll be giving pretty little bottles at Christmas time. Also, next time I’ll be sure to use an organic, quality vodka.
Totally new for me this year is drying fruit. We don’t have a dehydrator, so it always seemed sort of off limits. Funny how the simplest things that you know are as ancient as mankind can seem like the most impossible. In my ’80s edition of Putting Food By there was a little note about how Ferminia Chavez of Las Trampas, New Mexico sun-dried her apricots thusly: Add two table spoons of kosher salt to a gallon of water. Dip the ripe fruit in, then split with your fingers, take out the pit, and turn the fruit slightly inside out. Then put in the sun till dry. I thought to myself, if this worked for Ferminia Chavez just up the road in Las Trampas, why shouldn’t it work for me?

Well, it did.
It happens that Mr. Old Recipe has all sorts of magical things in his collection, including an old screen door and matching glass door. He raised the screen onto bricks over a concrete “collector,” I spread the fruit out like so, and we set the glass door on bricks over top. Even with cool days and plenty of clouds and occasional showers, the fruit dried within three days.

The pros will say it’s best to not have the fruit directly in the sun where they lose some vitamins. But I thought of Ferminia and didn’t fret too much about it. Perhaps a bit of cheesecloth over the top? Or a window/door with frosted panes? On a warm, dry day, I’d say this would have worked fine in the shade, too.

Look at this gold! My friends, it tastes even better.

I thought at first that the salt bath was some old-timey way of keeping the color pure, but our friend Alberto who knows everything said it was to draw the moisture out for better drying. Those old timers weren’t born yesterday, I guess.

::

What are you doing for the first time this year in the food preservation department? What works for you every time? What should I know about storing my dried fruit? What’s your favorite way to make apricot jam?

Gift from the Chama

We traveled to the Chama, some friends and I.

Her beauty rose to meet us as we dropped into the arms of rock walls of layered time, through dusky green tides of rolling desert, to the river flowing like blood in a beating heart.

The land opens and we behold the rainbow of shifting light, clouds passing over, wind brushing the tops of willow thickets.

We behold all this, and remember that just as the land contains such beauty, so too are there blessed places hiding in our own souls. Wild places, where everything–drought and rain, rock and cottonwood, flowing water, and light, so much light–exists to make us whole.

We come to this place, and grace comes to us.

Reverence fills our thirsty hearts, awe floods our humble lives. And in the grace of this place, we deepen into the grace of ourselves. Those hidden canyons that are timeless, that belong to the sacred.

We come and in coming find joy–communion, laughter, song, feasting. And more than a few rattlesnakes.

We delight in our togetherness, and the many lights shining out of our circle, lights that have found one another, and so grown brighter.

 We celebrate our families and friendships, our blossoming children, our musical menfolk, and another year around the sun (that would be me!)

Most of all, we celebrate the life giving waters of our dry land.

Oh Chama River, what a gift you are indeed.

Ways to Spend a Summer Day: Washing Woolens

Remember woolens? Those hats and sweaters and whatnot you meant to wash in May?

We pulled ours out of the four corners of the house in the last round of summer sorting (which is always a good way to spend a summer day). Then, one day when the girls were done getting pruney in the kiddy pool under the apple tree, they watched with wide eyes as I squirted soap and vinegar into the still warmish water and dumped the whole wooly pile of that winter gear in.

We got in and did a grape stomping style gentle agitation, and it was a sensory treat so beautiful I wished I had my camera, but then within minutes the water turned rich brown then black, and I was glad I didn’t. But oh, how satisfying.

The water got pumped out onto the apple tree, as usual, and I rinsed everything in the washing machine and put it through the spin cycle before spreading flat on towels to dry.

And there it is. Just about everything woolen I have made or been given over the last few years. Now squeaky clean for a someday winter day.

Home on the Range

We took Miss Shelley, our 1971 VW camper (hands up if you cruised one of these when you were a kid) with a rasta stripe, for a little spin up country, round about the Spanish Peaks in Southern Colorado.  We retraced our footsteps from long ago, places we visited as young herbalists newly in love, then a little older, then pregnant for the first time, now a family. Still in love, it seems.

We’ve known this land in many lights. This time it was overflowing with green plants. Some places burned down last summer and were springing back to life. There were bears in the thicket and turkeys on the run, arnica and red clover blooming to make a gal swoon. One favorite place, an aspen covered mountain, had been eaten alive by bajillions of caterpillars that left not a green leaf in sight. But oh, the birdsong in that place! Mountains we once climbed still pierced the sky, and we were content to tell stories of what it felt like on their summit.

We had hard moments, good moments, and plenty of time to move between the two spectrums. We walked the trails, dug in the dirt, shopped for produce at SuperWalmart (whoa!), made stick houses, tied bonnet strings just so, bickered about whose turn it was to keep the children from wandering into the forest while dinner cooked, and practiced positive thinking when that seemed like the hardest thing to do. We went to bed together with the sun, and felt at home in our little home on wheels. At home with each other, at home with the land.

And that’s the story of how we added another layer to our migration through this life.

Summer Rhythm

We’re finding our summer rhythm, slowly but surely. At first I didn’t think we needed one, but oh! friends, rhythm is life. Especially when these days are so long. Each day needs some purpose to give it meaning, even if its only picking cherries, visiting a friend, or just dusting the house and baking a chicken like I do every Tuesday.  Feeling driftless, I was heartened to put down in writing all the things that form our rhythm these days. Each in its turn, our days contain a sprinkling of:

Time outside, under the apple tree, by the river, in the green woods, at the park, in the garden.

Time to move, to ride bikes, walk, splash, stretch.

Time to rest, to nap, to read stories, to look up at the fruit ripening over the hammock.

Time to sweep, sort, build, dig, spin, wash, to cross things off the to do list.

Time with friends, to play and talk and celebrate the goodness of our community.

Time to create, paint, cut, paste, stitch, cast on, dress up, sing.

Time to wander, to do nothing, to hold each ripening moment in our hearts.

A handful of those things and we call it a day. Another very sweet summer day.

::

What have you been up to?

Homemaking Lost and Found

Well, since I gave up my big plans to organize the revolution and save the world (it’s a long story, but let’s just say my friends and I settled on starting a facebook page instead), life has been rather quiet, the kind of days where you can’t think of anything much to report when someone asks you what’s the latest. The garden is in at long sweet last, so at least there is a bit of watering every day to be proud of. As a recovering type A uber mother, this is in so many ways a sweet victory for me–pulling back, returning to center, letting go.

So I was surprised to find myself feeling stifled. If I couldn’t organize the revolution and save the world, I wanted to write, I wanted to sew, I wanted something more. But I wasn’t doing any of it. I was just muddling through the days with a growing feeling that something was missing. Here’s the funny conundrum that is my life: I don’t want too much, and I don’t want too little. Maybe I was wrong and things can get too simple. Surely there is a way to get a good nights sleep and also have a stimulating and productive inner life. Right?

Well, maybe sometimes. Life follows its rhythms of fallow and fertile, whether we remember to embrace it or not. We go sometimes so far into one polarity, like simplicity or hyper productivity, that it spits us out into the polar opposite. And from there we have to slowly watch the next seed begin to grow, to accept the mystery that will be its flowering.

I’ve known that something new would slowly emerge for me to lift and carry as I walk through the ordinary days of my life. As Kim John Payne reminds us to tell our bored children, “Something to do is just around the corner.” I knew it was coming. I just also knew I didn’t have will forces to make it happen. Write something? But there was no muse. Sew something? But there was no time. Think of something else? Sigh.

My dad used to tell me, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” I knew I had to wait, however impatiently, to trust that guidance and direction would come. And that’s what I resolved to do. I reminded myself  that doing nothing is the best way to be receptive, to be that empty vessel from which all possibility is born.

Still, I was taken by surprise when something did start to happen. A thread of life came beating into my slightly discontented world, but it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t a poem or handmade dress (which I had now latched on to as the gold standard of That Which I Must Do). It was a burst of renewed energy for my ordinary work of homemaking.

While looking outside myself to find myself, I had turned my gaze, even if almost imperceptibly, away from my home.

While expecting that I should be doing something Worthwhile, I forgot how worthwhile the work I do every day is. And not just worthwhile in the cosmic sense of childrearing as an act of grace, though it is all too easy to forget to put our faith in that simple truth, but worthwhile in the sense of it gives me meaning.

I won’t describe the very ordinary scene of my epiphany, which came while writing a menu plan. I’ll just say this:

Homemaking isn’t what we do while waiting for something better to come along. It isn’t biding our time, or settling for less. It is the source of our creativity, not the stealer of it. Meet it with purpose and passion, and behold the keys to the kingdom.

Now if you’ll excuse me while I go water the garden.


Head, Heart, and Hands

Thinking that no matter how simple I think my life is, there is always room for still more simplicity. How even when I have dedicated myself fully to this work of homemaking, I can be tempted by ambitions and the big ideas that seem in alignment with the values I believe in, seem worthy and good, and yet are not right for this season of life. They are too much, too soon, and pull me away from my center, rather than growing out of that grounded place where I try to live. Thinking that sometimes I just have to go along for the ride, and enjoy finding myself back where I started, wiser and with renewed commitment. That said,  I should add that sometimes it is the right time to stretch and take on more. Perhaps the indicator of whether or not something is in the flow or not should be how much sleep one loses over it. In my case, big plans were scrapped for simpler ones, and my how sweet the sleep is these days!

Feeling grateful and relieved when I remember that who I am and what I’m doing is just right. It is enough. In fact, it’s amazing. Feeling blessed and connected by the small rituals of the day: pouring dish water into the garden by hand, several times a day (thank you Erin for reminding me that sometimes the smallest acts are the most meaningful); singing the songs that the little one loves best; and every so often, spending five minutes in something kin to stillness, save for prayer and thanksgiving. I’m also feeling so relaxed, in this moment, about motherhood. I’m both grateful for  all the work I’ve done to reach this place, and wondering why I had to take it so seriously, to make it so hard. I came across this quote in an interview at The Wonder of Childhood:   “The parents are working hard. If they aren’t working hard to make the money, the parents are working hard to be PERFECT.” Gah. Just as our children are blossoming in their time, growing into themselves in their lovely way, so are we. Time to take it easy, mamas! Sit back and watch your garden bloom.

Doing a lot of spinning on my Navajo spindle. After a year of thinking I’d never learn to use it, that perhaps when I was an old Grandma the time would be right, a friend sat down and showed me and within five minutes I was on my way. Amazing how something can be both so complicated and simple. And so dang fun to do while the children bumble around the yard like drunk bees. Also tending the gardens, planting and transplanting, watching for rain, reading about wishes and wabi sabi, revisiting an old writing project, setting the sourdough to rise, holding little ones, and accepting the mess that goes along with all this as a sign of a life well lived. Oh, and still searching for the last mitten or two needing to be stored…

What are your head, heart, and hands up to these days? I really wish you’d say…

Thanks for visiting and have a lovely day!

Community Garden

Happy Earth Day weekend, month, year, life!

The randomly selected winner of How-to is Becca T. Thank you to all of you for your kind words and support of poetry! I am grateful to be a part of this project that honors the work of nurturing–be it a garden, a community, a life–in such a lyrical way. If you really had your heart set on it, do consider purchasing a copy from the publisher, Old School Books. For the rest of you curious readers, here is one of my poems that appears in the book. It’s about how I have to teach myself how to make zucchini fritters each year as if for the first time. And other things. Like an afternoon in a community garden. Enjoy and be well!

Community Garden

Summer opens in these moments,

wide mouthed and generous as a squash blossom

promising ample fruit to slice and grate,

to bake and fry in those dozen lost recipes reclaimed

come harvest time. The garden sits on a knoll,

blue mountains layered off in the distance,

blue sky raucous with clouds and shadows

and waves of shifting evening light. My child pacing

mulched paths, taking hold of the wheelbarrow,

screeching with something like exhilaration,

but is unnamable, unspoken. We gather

in a garden made with tools and water,

the unyielding soil softened with manure

and persistent grace. Fellowship.

It is a feast tasted with every turning of the wheel

towards warmth, a recipe calling for sun and rain,

forgotten in due course, but recovered

as we set the table together once more. This smell

of fertile earth. This sound of unnamable delight.

Confluence: On Creativity and Motherhood

Last month, my e-friend and mothering and soapmaking mentor, Renee of FIMBY, published a wonderful e-book called Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms. This little book is my cup of tea: inspiring, rejuvenating, down to earth, and only three bucks. It’s like manna, royal jelly, and super blue green algae all mixed up into a power bar for the creative soul. Yup, that nourishing. She writes, “My dream for this book is to tend the garden of your creative spirit.” And it’s true. This book is like a rich load of compost followed by a long soaking rain (or a week of sun, for those of you non-desert dwellers). While she was writing this book, Renee asked me and a few other bloggers about our experience balancing creativity and motherhood. She was looking for about a hundred words on some specific questions, but once I started writing I found I had a great deal to say on the subject. This the gist of it:

Confluence

Before I had children, I spent much of my time crafting poetry and fiction and nonfiction. In those days, I believed that writing was the most creative and important thing I could do with my time. When I was pregnant for the first time and just wanted to sit and dreamily crochet granny squares for a baby blanket, it felt almost like a waste of my creative energy. Shouldn’t I be doing something “real” like writing a poem? A good friend reminded me that however lovely it was, my poem would be virtually unread, while the granny squares would keep an infant warm. “How could that be a waste of time?” she asked me. Eventually I made peace with the question by writing a poem about crocheting a blanket for my unborn babe.

In the years since I have become a mother my creative life exists in the confluence of two streams that seemingly contradict each other. Out here in the West we have hot springs that send warm water into cold rivers. Imagine it as kind of like that. Except one of these creative streams has been Letting Go, and one has been Holding On.

Letting Go

The Letting Go Stream has been the release of my old ideas of what it means to be creative. No longer can I accept the idea that to be a writer one must write every day, for a certain amount of time. Or that I am only legitimate when I write a poem every week, or a few hundred words a day. As I let go of those notions out of necessity, I found that motherhood opened up a vastly more creative world for me.

How could it not, when every act in my daily life—from birthing and nurturing two daughters, to cooking our daily sustenance from simple ingredients, to keeping our home beautiful, to actively creating a positive outlook and being curious about the world around me—is a creative act. In fact, I have a hunch that while I might have to wait a few more years to complete my next book (and I feel the pull to do that strong as ever, even if it is simmering on the back burner), I will remember these years with small children as the most creative in my life.

Holding On

Because I am (like you) a complex creature, the other stream flowing through my life in the last few years has been the Holding On Stream. This is the one that reminds me that This Is It—my one life to live. Having a child and then another made me realize that I couldn’t wait to someday sit down and write a book—it had to be something I made room for and nurtured, or else I was truly at risk of losing my voice. And while it may not always be possible to have a regular, steady practice of writing, I can nourish my writer self by reading great writing, by keeping a freehand journal when I can’t work at the computer, by letting creativity not be defined as only one thing, but as a way of life.

It hasn’t always seemed this way. I have felt at times like I was sacrificing my writing self for motherhood (never mind that my first book was conceived at the same time as my first child, and born the same month as my second). I had a lot of old ideas about how much I should write and how disciplined I should be. Looking back I see that they did very little to motivate me, and a lot to hold me back.

While I was feeling guilty for not writing poems or chapters in my half-done novel about a tree pruner in 19th century New Mexico, I was busy with all kinds of other things. I embraced the domestic arts—things women have done for ages to bring creativity and beauty into their lives. Things that can easily be done alongside a child. I have taught myself to sew and knit, and make much of my children’s clothing. I sing and tell stories. I make toys: dolls, stuffed animals, books. I write Old Recipe. I bring together a circle of friends for a mothers’ circle each month. I have grown into a much more holistic view of creativity, and see it flowering in every part of my life as a homemaker. Writing continues to be essential food for my soul, but the diet has become more varied.

Like a Garden’s Seasons

Creativity comes from the joy of creating. It is a natural outpouring of a healthy life. And, it should not be a constant. Like the earth itself, our creative energy needs time to rest and lie fallow, while new seeds germinate and begin to grow. And so I accept that the creative spirit will move me when it does, and be ready to receive it when it comes.

While I go through long periods of not even keeping a journal, I also have intense phases of writing thousands of words a day. I no longer judge either of these times as good or bad. I welcome them both for the gifts they bring. If I feel especially in alignment with my sense of purpose when writing, I trust that the times in between are fueling that creativity in essential ways.

Eventually, the little seeds inside me go in search of light. I am filled with ideas and inspiration, and move naturally back into a rhythm that includes space for me to work alone.

And slowly, I find myself surrounded by handmade things. Slowly, I find new stories coming to life, new ideas that want to be manifested. I find myself in the midst of a beautiful and surprising renaissance, where every act is a creative act.

::

To read my simple technique for making time to be creative, you’ll have to get Nurturing Creativity. Which I assure you has much, much more to offer than my little bit of advice.

To see a little of my poetry in action, leave a comment in this giveaway for a new poetry anthology I am included in.

And do tell me, how has the confluence of creativity and motherhood shaped your life and work?