Words from the Willows and Other Wise Women of Winter

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After a grouchy week I went down to the river by myself. It was dry, but beautiful. I sat quietly amongst the dry leaved willows, shoulders tense and brow furrowed with whatever angst I was carrying around. After a while I heard my voice say out loud, “What do I need right now?” Sometimes I manage to remember that bad moods and behavior are a symptom of something that needs attention–be it in my children, myself, the crazy world. Usually the answer is something along the lines of “love.”

This time, I was pretty sure the answer was going to be something more like, “I need time alone! Time to write, time to sew, time to clean the damn house!” But those familiar whines were drowned out pretty quickly by these five words:

“I need to let go.”

Really? Again?

Yes. And it’s not just the willows giving me this message.

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My friend Becca wrote these amazing words about motherhood during the fall, and they moved me then and move me now. She writes:

“I work when I can, paint when I can, try to keep up my relations with family and friends, try to keep a house and little garden, and often these things fall short.  Mostly I am a mother.   I learned this new role hard way, the way only a new mother can learn things… by trying to be my old self and to be a mother at the same time. With those expectations came many disappointments.  I guess I eventually realized that it might be better if I just tried to be a mother first and the other things would fall in where they may.  As soon as I relaxed into this new reality of myself, I began to relax and enjoy motherhood. “

Her words are simple and eloquent and come from a deep-heart place. I am so grateful to share this mothering journey with her.

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I have also found a new friend and companion in  The Mother’s Wisdom Deck. An old friend illustrated it, and two souls that feel kindred to me wrote it. They make no bones about the complexity of motherhood, and created the deck to, as they say, “shed light—and beauty—on the deep soul work that mothering entails.” My mothers’ circle is currently using this book/deck as our guide; each of us takes a turn leading the monthly group around a theme we draw from the pages according to what moves us on a personal level, and then bring it alive for each other.

This recent post on their blog, Mothering With Soul, speaks to the grief and sadness I feel during this dark time of year–Demeter’s season. It is a beautiful reflection on the loss inherent in mothering. While this story is about childbearing losses, even when our children are healthy, we mourn the loss of our former selves, or the child we imagined, or ourselves as the ideal mother.

“All of my losses have shown me this incredible gleaning underside, if I am willing to be curious, to to see the vibrant underworld, hidden from sight. In the height of grief, there can be no digression from its unrelenting presence, but when the grief settles, one can explore, with new urgency, what matters most.”

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Follow it up by reading Teach Your Daughters Wailing: The Power of Mourning Women. It will make sure you never choke back tears again!

What wise words are finding their way to you, these day?

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These pictures are from a Thanksgiving hike in Arizona, by the way. Posting unrelated images with your Deep Thoughts is a side effect of only blogging once every 8 weeks or so. See you in February, she signs off with a grin!

October Travel Notes

Here we are — the long river of summer slowing into the still eddies of late fall.

 I am sinking into it little by little.

Tending the small things close at hand.

Walking the path I am given to walk, and marveling at how far it has carried me.

How good and full this summer and harvest season have been!

How sweet it is to pause and rest. To be quiet and take it all in.

Do nothing extra friends, and be well.

 

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.

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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.

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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!