There isn't much more that I can add to capture this beautiful time of year. No filters or editing required! Happy weekend!
I had the pleasure of reading Mary Oliver's collection of poems, Felicity, this week. (And I'm looking forward to listening to this tomorrow.) If you think that poetry is high-falutin' or inaccessible, give hers a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Her poems are saturated with a deep appreciation for the natural world, and this collection is filled with words on love. The two most basic things that make everything else worthwhile - that's the highest recommendation I can give.
In other springtime news, I am delighted to report that I have channeled the efforts of two of my broody hens toward hatching out some eggs. They've been sitting for two days, and the chicks should hatch on Easter weekend. How fitting! I had firmly decided after last year's chicks that I did not want any more chicks. I didn't like the mess, the noise, or the hassle. Or the fact that they were in our basement. But then these hens took it upon themselves to be broody, and I had to figure out what to do. After considering the price of laying hens or chicks of the breeds that I want to add, I figured that free is worth a try. Since I didn't have space to house four broodies and chicks, I put two of them in a spot to discourage broodiness for a couple of days, which worked like a charm. With a bit of help from a friend and a dozen fertilized eggs from her beautiful flock, I moved the other two into the maternity ward where they are patiently waiting and rotating the eggs as needed. I am much, much more excited than I thought I would be. I'm really, really hoping that all goes well and that we at least have a few hatch, and that they're not all roosters. Time will tell!
I really can't put into words how it feels to make (or grow, or nurture, or even just do) something practically useful. For me, it started when I was a kid with some marigold seeds that arrived in the mail at my house when I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9. They were from a charitable organization, and I took it upon myself to plant them. And would you believe that they actually grew? I couldn't believe it. (I'm sure that my parents probably watered them more than once as they sat on the windowsill when I forgot.) The next summer, my Dad let me choose a few of whatever plants I wanted at the Dayton Fruit and Vegetable garden centre. I chose red salvia, which I planted next to our front step. I enjoyed them all summer and felt so proud every time I looked at them. I was around the same age when I decided to wallpaper my bedroom with a roll that we had; I put it up horizontally starting in the middle of the wall and of course ran out, leaving swaths of bare wall and a generally unpleasant scene. (I'm guessing that I probably didn't ask permission, either.)
Side note: This also makes me realize the importance of giving our boys the materials and space to create and do the things they're interested in. I remember that freedom to choose whatever I wanted so very vividly and it has surely affected the rest of my life in a thousand unknown ways - it was an invaluable gift that Dad gave me just by letting me choose the plants I wanted. (I made him a lemon meringue pie for his birthday last weekend.)
Gardening, soapmaking, kombucha, baking, cooking, tending chickens, beekeeping - people ask me how I have the time. This is the stuff I LOVE to do. We make time for the things that we love. And if we don't, we suffer. Making/growing/nurturing/doing makes me feel purposeful, productive, curious, insignificant (in the very best way), industrious, independent, interdependent, self-sufficient, humbled (over and over again), intelligent, foolish, bewildered, awed, and filled with gratitude. The seemingly simple act of planting a single seed and nurturing it as it grows into something that I can eat and feed to people I love brings all of those about a million times over. You take this tiny little speck, give it the right conditions, and it reproduces a thousand times over! You can save the seeds to repeat the process the next season, and you can eat the results, which give your body energy and life! It's AMAZING! Collecting eggs from the hens and cleaning the coop (my favourite solitary time, no joke), watching the bees, snipping some chives to go in with the breakfast eggs or pinching some bergamot leaves for summer tea - it is indescribably wonderful. It connects me to so much that is beyond myself and my control. Oh, Mother Nature! You're all kinds of wonderful.
Things that I've been enjoying lately:
Sow, Grow Repeat. I have been dreaming of the upcoming gardening season, especially along with a few really lovely and mild days that we've had recently. Alys Fowler is just so lovely. Watching her Edible Garden series is one of those things (like 90's Martha Stewart Living) that takes me immediately to my happy place.
On Being. It's a new-to-me podcast, and I have a lot to catch up on! It reminds me a bit of the CBC show Tapestry and the host Krista Tippett is just lovely. This episode is one that I've already listened to twice, and I saved it for at least a few more listens. And I just heard this one yesterday for the first time, and I have some serious thinking and re-listening to do. Her ideas about sustainability vs reciprocity are fascinating, and it's her work that inspired The Signature of All Things. (Which is why I included the moss picture.) Happy weekend!
Adam put together a video of 5 and 6 year olds talking about Valentine's Day. Holy bananas, it is adorable! Feel free to share.
We have hearts all over the house, valentines for classmates are made, and we're feelin' the love. Hope you have a lovely weekend, celebrating any and every kind of love.
January was lovely. It certainly helped that the weather on the whole was pleasant, there were sunny days to be enjoyed, and no long stretches of really cold weather. But another reason it was lovely was because I decided to be good to myself. I finished the Whole30 and did yoga almost every day, with a local class on Mondays and Yoga with Adriene videos at home on the other days. I went outside. I took my vitamin D and fish oil with lemon water every morning and made time for things I love like playing with art supplies one day when the boys were out for a few hours, and mixing up fresh batches of surface cleaner and deodorant, and vacuuming the car. And finally cleaning out the desk, something I had been putting off for ages. Momentum is such a splendid thing. And you know what? Just like everyone says, putting that bit of time and effort into doing things that I enjoy and that fill me up somehow magically expands into making everything seem lighter and more manageable, and really is better for everyone else, too.
There was enough snow for things like a cross-country skiing workshop that the four of us did (which was so much fun!) but for the most part, the roads were clear and the driving was good. There was also enough snow for a Saturday afternoon snowshoe with a friend, complete with sun sparkling on icy branches.
And yes, those are bare knees on the last day of January. We have this perfect little spot for playing and exploring. It's sheltered from the wind, and there is the biggest birch tree I've ever seen down there, with a perfect branch to hold a snack bag. And a perfect spot for a bench... I'll see what I can come up with.
The ladies have been laying faithfully, and we're usually getting 10-12 eggs a day. I am such a fan of the timer light in the coop! And most definitely of the days getting noticeably longer.
Last week I booked all of the details for a trip to a work conference in May. Across the country. With a lovely colleague. In Vancouver! I had put off even deciding about the conference because it’s kind of a scary unknown thing, you know? Then I put off booking everything because I wasn’t even sure where to start. And then the aforementioned lovely colleage texted at the perfect time, and we got everything booked. And now I can’t wait to tackle the next unpleasant thing. Because once it’s done, it feels so good. There's that momentum again.
A few things worth sharing:
I love this post over at The Woman Who Married a Bear. YES to the outdoors!
Speaking of things I'll be making this month, my Valentine's Day treat plan is made. The house is lightly sprinkled with hearts and we love to celebrate love!
I love this book so much that I was hesitant to write a word about it. I drafted this post more than a month ago and have been mulling it over ever since - you know those things that you feel as though if you share them they may be spoiled somehow? That is definitely the case. Gift from the Sea was written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1955. It could absolutely have been written today, and addresses pretty much all of the things that I think about all of the time – simplicity and mindfulness in living, relating life at home to the broader world, and the importance of finding stillness and quiet in which to create. It is the perfect book that came to me at the perfect time, as a gift in the mail in early December. I read it in one sitting, alternating between catching my breath, tearing up, thinking "Y.E.S!" and wondering how she managed to somehow pass through time and space to find me here in the future with her book in my hands, reading the exact words that I needed. Despite the fact that the author has since died and the book was published 61 years ago, this book made me feel like I'm not alone in the world and how I think. (Which is not a small thing.) It reassured me that the world is both beautiful and heartbreaking and has been since the beginning. I’ve been struggling lately with all of the horrific things going on in the world, and how my little life fits into it all. The book provided some much needed perspective, (it was written just after World War II; that alone puts anything into perspective) as well as assurance of some things that I know are true but which can be so easy to forget. I really don't want to say any more about specific chapters and thoughts until I've at least read it a dozen more times. But it seems like that might take awhile, and I wanted you to know that you should get your hands on a copy as soon as you can, fill the tea kettle and settle in by the fire. I hope you love it as much as I do.
I love a new year! The possibility and wide-openness are so inspiring. (Truly, I try to approach the world with that every day, but it's more fun when everyone else is on board.) But the new year arrives in winter in this part of the world. Januaries and Februaries can be tricky. They're the months that it's easy to not enjoy, so in an effort to fight that fiercely, I've found some things over the past few years that make them awesome. And in the interest of making the world a more pleasant place, I'll share!
One funny little super-simple thing that I usually do at the beginning of January is to change up the wallpaper on my phone. I tend to find a picture I've taken that I love and leave it there for a long time, and changing it up is just a little reminder of the fresh start that a new year brings. (I chose this picture.) It's surprisingly refreshing. I usually repot some houseplants, and grow half-price amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs found at the grocery store.
Last year, I did my first ever challenge-y sort of thing and did Yoga with Adriene's 30 Days of Yoga. (All of the videos are still available for free on her YouTube channel to watch any old time.) This year, I'm following along with her Yoga Camp. Just the satisfaction from completing something like this is worth the time and energy. It's one of those little things that then makes you feel like you can tackle all sorts of other things, you know?
And the light! It's very much worth appreciating. The days are getting longer, bit by bit (about one minute per day). On a sunny day, the light reflected from the snow is so lovely. And there seem to be plenty of January days where the sun peeks through the layered clouds, particularly at sunset, and it's so, so beautiful.
But since it is winter, there are things like dry skin and winter colds that find us. I posted a recipe for winter skin lotion last February, which is still awesome, and if you're keen on making it, enjoy. I've switched this fall from making lotion to just adding essential oil to grapeseed oil in a small pump bottle. I love it. I use a blend of frankincense and orange oils for scent, and it is perfect. You need to be a bit more careful with the application so it doesn't splatter, but the moisturizing results are similar, and it's simpler to make. It seems to soak in more quickly, too. You can also use straight coconut oil, which will melt in your hand, or any liquid oil right out of the bottle.
For my hands, I melt equal parts beeswax, coconut oil, and olive or grapeseed oil together over a double boiler. The beeswax takes longest to melt, so if you make it, put that in on its own, add the coconut oil when the beeswax is almost melted, then the liquid oil at the end. Swirl together and add some essential oil if you like, then pour into jars or containers, or molds for a lotion bar. This is what I put on my hands every night; mine is in a repurposed mint tin. I just scrape it out with the back of my thumbnail and massage it into my cuticles and all over my hands before hopping in bed, and my hands are in fine shape. We also use it on the boys, especially around their lips. As you can see, the cat likes to put her claws into the edge of that windowsill. It's the perfect height for her to stretch.
In other news (I'm planning to only mention this once because there is nothing less interesting than hearing the details of someone's eating habits) I'm giving the Whole30 a try this month. It's more or less an elimination diet to see which foods might be problematic, and I know I need a break from sugar especially. I'm hoping to maybe find a food-related cause for the headaches I get. (I think they're more stress and tension related, but it can't hurt to try.) Day 3 is almost done, and I am amazed that I haven't missed sugar yet like I thought I would, or been really hungry at all. On tonight's menu is a fennel pork roast; I just rubbed the pork with a mix of fennel seed, black pepper, salt, fresh garlic, and orange zest. I layered orange slices on the bottom of the pan, and buried the meat in chopped fennel. Yum!
Also on a food note, I LOVE GRAPEFRUIT. We have piles of it on hand (my one mandatory purchase when we were in the big city and visited Costco over Christmas was two giant bags of grapefruit.) I have a bit of a gross cold / sinus thing, so I'm hoping that overloading on citrus can only help.
Happy, happy new year. I hope that the year has started well for you, that you're looking forward to the months to come, and that 2016 brings you love and joy.
Merry, merry Christmas! Happy holidays, merry everything. I was considering not posting about our Christmas season - it has seemed so lovely and perfect I almost didn't want to spoil it, somehow. But I do look back at my posts now and then, and I want to remember this. We hosted a potluck for friends, which we do pretty regularly, but until this year we hadn't at Christmas, and it was the best! I made the ornaments above with melted beeswax (from our bees!) and was so happy to give them as little gifts from our farm, mixed and matched with a few half-dozens of our gorgeous eggs, some soap, hand balm, and honey. My loveliest wrapping job this year was some gifts that I wrapped and delivered for friends and just had to document. We have two trees up, one with just white lights at the top of the stairs, and of course there was turkey! A really-delicious-fresh-and-local turkey my parents brought over, and baked oatmeal with raspberries and blueberries and pecans for breakfast as is our tradition (mostly because it's easy to put together the night before). There was a game of magnetic darts found under the tree, and a walk at the lighthouse on a balmy Christmas afternoon.
So much love and joy to you, today and every day. May you have a heart full of gratitude and love.
To make the beeswax ornaments, I melted beeswax, poured it into nonstick cookie molds, and carefully looped baker's twine and laid it on the backs of the ornaments just as the beeswax was beginning to set. When they were almost cooled, I etched a message and the year on the back. Easy peasy, simple, and beautiful - I'm tickled pink with how they turned out.
If you lived in Yarmouth in the 90's, you may well remember Joshua's on Water Street. The building now houses the Yarmouth Pub (where I still haven't been) but back when I was in high school, there was a little coffee shop there that served sandwiches and soups. Incidentally, I believe it was named after Joshua Slocum. My high school was within a 10 minute walk, so often on school days, a bunch of us would scurry down for lunch, hoping to get a table first, and if it was available, I ordered their cream of broccoli soup. It was perfect. Especially so when it happened to be freezing outside, and because I was a stubborn girl in high school, I was almost never dressed for the weather.
For the past 15 years or so I have been learning to make everything under the sun from scratch, but for some reason, I think I've only ever tried making cream of broccoli once or twice. It just didn't turn out as deliciously as I knew it should, and the only thing worse than no cream of broccoli soup is cream of broccoli soup that doesn't satisfy the craving for it.
Well, I have good news to report. Last night, in a hurried dig through the freezer to see what I could rustle up for supper, I found a bag of frozen broccoli. I read through a few recipes, took this thing and that thing and came up with one to try, managed to remember to write it down, and here it is. I am happy to report that it is PERFECT. It is creamy, but not too thick and heavy - and very pleasantly broccoli-ish. Perfect for this time of year!
Cream of Broccoli Soup
1 large onion, or 2 small ones, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 bag frozen broccoli (you could also use a head of fresh)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken Better than Boullion because that's what I had on hand)
2 cups milk
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
pepper to taste
Sautée onion, celery, and carrot in butter until softened, 5 or 6 minutes. Add broth and broccoli, and simmer 10 minutes, or until broccoli is cooked through. Very carefully whiz the soup in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender right in the pot. I prefer leaving some chunks intact. In a separate pot, melt 3 tbsp butter and whisk in flour and pepper until it thickens and comes together. Slowly whisk in the milk, and heat through. Add milk mixture to broccoli blend, stir, and season to taste. Enjoy! It's even better the next day.
*I made this with all of the flour and dairy called for, but there are some substitutions I imagine would work (but I can't vouch for them). For gluten free, I would add a cubed potato for some thickness, or you could still do the roux at the end but use tapioca or another starch. You could try to replace the milk with coconut or unsweetened nut milk, but I can't promise that it will taste as amazing. But please report back if you try!*
Our little town's Christmas parade was last night, and as always, the boys were delighted. One of the best things about having kids is seeing things through their eyes, and being more or less forced to go to or do fun things that you might otherwise skip. I'm always glad when I do, and seeing their delight is so good for my heart.
I picked up a few little things on a walk in the woods with the boys last weekend, and have the kitchen windowsill decked out. We don't have many Christmas decorations (very intentionally) but we brought out the boxes yesterday, and the boys were very excited to take everything out. I keep Christmas books and music in one box, and they were so sweet as they took out the books - "Oh! The Mitten! Do you remember this one?" I guess that's the magical thing about traditions. We'll go back in the woods to cut our tree, probably next weekend, and then it will really feel like Christmas is coming. I'm still somewhere back in October in my mind. I have most gifts ready, our cards are ordered, and our calendar is looking gloriously open for the month, but I feel the need to do a master list of everything that needs to be done and remembered. I think I'll tackle that and the week's menu / grocery list today.
Proving that I'm really a senior in disguise, my favourite thing on the internet right now is a YouTube channel with episodes of Martha Stewart Living from the 90's. The bread she makes in this Christmas episode is epic! (I love watching Martha make bread.) And the thatched walls at the beginning are hysterical. I can't imagine anyone going to those lengths - but it's still fun to watch. What I love most about watching those and looking at Martha's old books (I picked up this gem from 1989 at Frenchy's) is to see how much has changed. But there are still some great recipes and ideas in there!
It's a beautiful morning, sunny and clear and mild. I tidied the barn, cleaned the coop, cleaned up the chickens' run and collected 8 beautiful eggs. As an early Christmas gift, I built a little swing for the chickens out in the run. They were off free-ranging behind the barn as I was cleaning up, so I haven't seen if they're interested in it yet - I hope it provides some entertainment and keeps them out of trouble.
We watched Mr Holmes the other night. It was wonderful. And to our bee-and-Sherlock-Holmes-loving hearts, it was especially great. A beautiful story, beautifully portrayed. Get the kleenex out before you settle in!
If you're looking for something simple and delicious to make, try this Curried Squash Soup. It's been a staple in our house since 2004. I first posted the recipe way back in 2007. I made it again last night, and it's what's on the menu for today's lunch. Enjoy!
I feel a lot like a squirrel in the fall, save the furry tail. I’m skittering around, doing a million things and chattering away. And like any good squirrel, putting away some goodies for the winter. I can’t even describe how pleasing it is to store something away for later, by drying, canning, or freezing. Whatever the method, it’s doing something kind for your future self, it’s being intentional and planning ahead, and when you put those local blueberries into a smoothie in January or pop open a jar of dill pickles in March, it’s really, really satisfying. Really. I did most of these things in October, but there are still a few little tasks left to be done - the weather this fall has been exceptionally mild and things hung on for much longer than usual. I posted about our little garden earlier in the season, here.
The garden is pretty much wrapped up. I collected the dried peas to plant next year. I grow organic Green Arrow peas; I’ve always had really good success with them, they keep on producing for ages, and and they’re delicious. This is the first year that I’ve saved the seeds; I’m going to dry them really well, and hopefully have good success next year too. Saving seeds is so… sustainable. It’s like trying to hold Mother Nature a little bit and feels like accomplishing a minor miracle.
The tomatoes! Holy smokes, did we have tomatoes! I have no idea what variety they were; Adam started them and they were nice plump cherry tomatoes. Not a tonne of flavour, but passable. Staking them up just didn’t happen, so they flopped over and went wild, and I thought that we would be lucky to get any. We got SO MANY! I’ve frozen some, we’ve eaten lots fresh, I’ve used them in soups and I have another basket full in the freezer. It was especially delightful to have so many this year because we lost all of last year's crop to blight.
This year was also the first time that I grew pumpkins or garlic. I had a pile of chicken litter from the coop composted down by the barn, and that’s where we planted the pumpkins. Again, I don’t know what variety they were, but the one plant that survived a late frost in the spring did so well. We have eleven large, gorgeous pumpkins at the front step for the last several weeks. The garlic did incredibly well, too – huge, gorgeous bulbs. We’ll use them in our regular cooking, as well as my crazy concoctions I come up with when we’re feeling colds coming on. T, the five year old, will even eat a freshly crushed clove in honey! He’s a trooper, that one. (And then he smells like garlic for days.)
I’ve now collected the last of the herbs to dehydrate; I’ve got mint, parsley, sage, and tarragon dried and tucked into the pantry. We were given a beautiful bag of local pears which I'll do something delicious with this week (any suggestions?) and we have a couple of spaghetti squash from my Dad's garden to eat up soon.
Just writing this post makes my heart happy. It just feels so good in every possible way to grow and eat food. Speaking of food, a few things I've been enjoying lately:
I saw this recipe, and made it the next day. It is AMAZING. I have been eating it every meal since, and sneaking bites of cold leftovers for breakfast. It's incredible. I used some tiny, super-flavourful apples from one of the old trees at the edge of the field and apple cider vinegar that I made from apples from another tree.
My new favourite snack is whole toasted almonds pressed into dates. SO good.
Pomegranates! Clementines! Juicy grapefruit! It's my favourite fruit season again at last.
The past couple of weeks have been full of all sorts of 'exceptions' to regular life, but those are the things that make up our lives after all, aren't they? Thomas and I were both sick, Phillip had minor ear surgery, and on it goes. These are the times when I have to remind myself that these are simply the ebbs and flows of life, and there is no perfect point at which I will feel on top of everything. Finding contentment and peace in the midst of it all is key. And so I clip beautiful berries and bring them in the house.
I have a few favourite things about November. First, beeswax candles and the coziness that early sunset brings - it feels like the house is hugging me each evening when I close the curtains. The scent of the woods is so sweet and magical. I haven't been out in them lately at all, due to aforementioned sickness and hunting season, and that needs to be remedied, but I keep catching sweet whiffs of earth and it is heavenly. There's also anticipation of the holidays, which I haven't given a whole lot of thought to and am feeling super relaxed and easy about this year - greens and beeswax candles, a tree from our woods, a few homemade gifts and I am set - I want as low-fuss a season as possible. Honestly, it feels like Christmas morning every day when I go to the barn and collect eggs. I'm being completely serious - it's such a happy and surprising delight to discover these beautiful little gifts each morning.
Our friendlier chickens, the brown layers (in the foreground) and the Easter Eggers (they were behind me) always come running when they see me on my way to the barn, as they're looking for treats. Which is wonderful, delightful, and hilarious. Everyone should have the experience of having a flock of chickens half running, half-flying/skimming the ground to meet them. Our other dark-feathered birds are Marans and Olive Eggers, which have the most beautiful feather colours, but they're so jumpy and skittish, it's hard to get close. I have to sit still with treats for quite awhile before they'll warm up and come remotely close to me. (And then there are the Barred Rock roosters which I was hoping were hens. And that's all we'll say about them.) But I caught this picture of these two lovely ladies and couldn't help sharing. They're 16 weeks old now, and should start laying sometime over the next several weeks - I'm already excited.
A few other odds and ends:
I've been feeling entirely too serious and grown-up lately. I need some funny podcast recommendations, and any other suggestions to bring a bit of lightheartedness and laughter would be welcome!
"There was a blizzard on. The cold was something frightful. Made one quite thankful to get back to the fug, though as a rule I think the way these trains are overheated is something scandalous.” M. Bouc sighed. “It is very difficult to please everybody,” he said. “The English they open everything—then others they come along and shut everything. It is very difficult.” Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
There are several subjects that I could talk about for days, and cleaning is one of them. (Agatha Christie, Murder She Wrote, and chickens are a few of the others.) So I thought I would write up a few posts about how I keep our house clean, in the hopes that you might find some inspiration. Of course, do your research and figure out what works for you.
Since air takes up most of the space in our homes and we're breathing it as we're awake and asleep, I thought it would be a good place to start. It's been about a decade since I started questioning conventional 'wisdom' (i.e. marketing) about what makes a home clean, and I have some definite opinions. The long and the short of it is: don't believe people who are trying to get your money by convincing you that you and your housekeeping skills are inadequate.
These aren't particularly glamorous insights, but practical and true. And I think that's far more important. A few things of which I am firmly convinced:
- Clean does not have a scent.
- Cleaning does not need to involve separate purchased products for ever possible eventuality.
- Perfectly simple and effective ingredients that you probably already have on hand in your kitchen can clean your whole house effectively.
- Reusable is better than disposable.
- Soap and hot water will take care of pretty much everything.
There are plenty of sources of indoor air pollution. (You could spend days reading about all of the things that contribute; I find that focusing on those things gets tiresome. But if you're interested, there is plenty of information out there. Cleaners, candles, air 'fresheners', burning wood, pets, off-gassing of glues in pressed wood, flooring, and furniture, etc. ) Here in Nova Scotia, we're fortunate to have clean air and a fresh sea breeze pretty much all of the time. So my number one way to improve the air quality in our house is about as simple as it gets - I open the windows. If it were up to me, they would all be open, all year. (Adam takes issue with having the furnace running and windows cracked open in January. But I'll still sneak one open even for a few minutes to freshen things up. Stale air is my arch-nemesis.)
Keeping dust in check also improves air quality. We're fortunate to have all wood floors, which are simple to keep clean. I love the Bona mop and hardwood floor kit - simple, inexpensive, effective, scent-free, and reusable; the cleaning pads just go in the wash. (No one's compensating me for any products I mention!) The boys actually enjoy helping with that chore. For dusting other surfaces, I use water and a microfibre cloth or mitt. I bought a few Norwex cloths several years ago (the travel size; I find the others way too large), and they look as good and work as well as the day I bought them. Again, they just get tossed in the washer. For windows, I use the microfibre cloth and a diluted vinegar spray. (1 part vinegar to 2 parts water in a spray bottle.) If you don't care for the smell of vinegar, the scent dissipates quickly. Especially when the windows are open.
I do love a beautiful natural scent, and essential oils are a lovely alternative to artificially scented air "fresheners", and I use them in many ways. They're concentrated plant oils, and are completely different from artificial fragrance oils. I also use them when I make soap, so I have plenty on hand. They are pricey, but a few drops go a loooong way and can be used for many different things. I will often put a few drops of an essential oil (usually lemon or orange) on a cotton ball and put that into the vacuum canister for a little hit of fresh scent as I vacuum the area rugs. (Which I always do with the windows open, just because I can.) I also have a diffuser that I use primarily when someone is congested, but which is lovely any time. I add a few drops to the unscented dish detergent that I use (made by Down East), which is also what I use with hot water and a dish cloth to wipe down counters and the stove top in the kitchen. I also dilute it (3 parts water to one part soap) in a reused foaming pump for hand soap. I also have a diffuser in the car that I put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on as I drive.
Another lovely way to scent the air is baking, as is simmering thyme, vanilla, and citrus peels on the stovetop for a little while. Cooking a batch of apple sauce or butter in the slow cooker smells particularly delightful and fall-ish.
Plants also help to filter the air, and I obviously have a plant problem. Making our own cleaners saves money, time, packaging, waste, and avoids rinsing questionable ingredients down the drain. And it is not complicated! You could read books and blogs and spend weeks learning everything that there is to know, but I can sum it up for you: diluted vinegar and water for cleaning glass, hot soap and water for just about everything else. Baking soda if you need scrubbiness. (I have mine in a shaker jar from a restaurant supply store.) Spray 5% hydrogen peroxide (sometimes sold as 'oxygen bleach', but completely different from chlorine bleach) then vinegar on a surface to disinfect; let sit for 5 minutes after the first, then spray the second. (This is not effective in the same way as chlorine bleach, which wipes out just about everything, but it's suitable for general household purposes and I could talk to you all day about that, too.)
Ooooh, I could go on for days! Actually, I could write a lengthy post about each thing I mentioned in this one. But I'll stop there for today. I hope I've inspired you to think about the air in your home and to open a window or two.
In other house news, Phillip woke up at 5:00 this morning (thanks, time change!) and spent 2 1/2 hours sorting, itemizing, listing and placing today's allotment of candy in order. He volunteered to give half of his candy to Thomas, who has had a high fever for several days and couldn't go out trick-or-treating last night. Thankfully, Thomas is much perkier this morning and his temperature is finally normal! I'm hoping that's the end of it.
In other miscellany, a great horned owl broke through our coop window and killed seven chickens last week. (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.) Three were roosters, so I suppose the owl saved me a bit of trouble in the long run. It also killed my blue-egg laying Easter Egger and three ISA browns. Par for the course, I suppose - the owl was just doing its thing. I was away for work and Adam had to deal with the mess, which I felt kind of bad (and kind of thankful) for.
Happy November! I hope the month is good to you.
We enjoy the most beautiful sunsets over the treeline at the top of the back field. Tonight's show was especially peachy on my way down to tuck in the chickens and kittens for the night. Like most days, we're busy with the usual evening routines, and there are always so many things that need doing. I really appreciate how the chickens need one of us every night at dusk to close them in safely for the night - I'm always glad to go down, catch a breath of fresh air and see something lovely, and it's usually when I need it the most that I'm least keen to do it.
In other chicken news, we've been getting 13 eggs for the past couple of days! This is terribly exciting. Also, we are sending Amos Tupper (I) (the gorgeous Easter Egger rooster) off to a new home tomorrow. He's come after Thomas and I when our backs are turned, and I'm concerned that he could seriously hurt one of the boys. I will have none of that. We have two younger roosters, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, which are the last remaining roosters. They can stick around, and if they don't cause any trouble, they're welcome to stay.
There aren’t too many things that make me happier than cool weather, wearing scarves, seeing pumpkins and mums on steps, and spiced EVERYTHING. I'll add a few more things to that list - collecting fresh eggs first thing in the morning to warm my hands as I walk back up to the house, the feeling of wearing a soft sweater and house socks, the crispness of the air and lighting beeswax candles at the supper table. So far this fall, I’ve made pumpkin spice syrup, spiced peach butter, cinnamon raisin bread, and a spiced plum upside-down cake. And I've tried (again) to make a batch of my own apple cider vinegar with apples from our trees, and it seems to be working this time! My tea has shifted from summer's green tea in the mornings to September’s Yorkshire Gold, and now I’m on to Tazo’s chai. I had a glass-walled thermal mug that I used every day to drink it from on my way to work, which I broke yesterday while trying to carry too many things into the house at once. Such is life!
Fall is a full time for us, as it is for most families. The boys are now settled into the new school year routine. The bus is going very well! I am really, really enjoying that part of our mornings – we all go out together to wait for the bus; it’s only a couple of minutes, but they’re sweet ones. It’s a little bit darker each morning when we go out; the moon has been in view these last few clear mornings. Adam’s coaching basketball again this year, and both boys are participating in that, as well as piano lessons. One thing we haven’t done as much as I would have liked by now is getting out to the camp. It’s always when I’m the busiest and need it most that I don’t make the time to do all of the things that make me feel alive. Note to self.
In other fall loveliness, some fallish things I enjoy:
Create a "To-Don't-Do List". You might want to grab the tissues before watching this one - fall also seems to be a time of more, more, more - and I want it to be a time of less, less, less.
P.D. James - I've gone on P.D. James benders every fall for the past several years, when the weather turns colder and the leaves are gone - usually right around the beginning of November. Fall seems to be the time of year that many of her books are set, and i love listening to them while I drive - the ones narrated by Charles Rogers are the best.
Happy Thanksgiving to you fellow Canadians - I hope you enjoy a restful weekend with family and friends!
I associate months of the year with corresponding colours. Not in a true synesthesia sort of way; just the way my brain works. When I think of the month names, May is pink, and June is vivid green. While I'm at it, here are the rest: January is grey (but a lovely light grey with a hint of blue), February is navy blue, but with a bit of grey in it, March is white, April is bright Smurf blue, July is red, August is a washed-out yellow like bright yellow canvas that was out in the sun for too long, October is vivid orange, November is a lovely dark rusty brown, and December is the deepest forest green. September is the golden yellow of sunflowers and goldenrod. Obviously. (Just to clarify, it's not goldenrod in the picture; it's actually called Stinking Willie, which I think is possibly the best weed name, ever.)
I have tried to grow sunflowers on many, many occasions. I love how perfectly cheerful and wide open to the world they are. It's one of those gardening things where everyone else seems to have no trouble at all, but mine would never grow - usually just before the first true leaves appeared, slugs or some other critter would nibble them down to the ground. I tried starting them indoors, directly, in different beds, at different places we lived - no luck. So a few years ago, I gave up. Not in a defeated sort of way, just a happy relinquishing of control to the universe. So imagine my great delight and surprise when this summer, with almost no effort on my part whatsoever, this happened.
I think I was more delighted than I would have been if I had worked hard to get these to grow. In the spring, I scattered some sunflower seeds in the run for our old flock of hens. After they were gone, the seeds they missed had a chance to get started while the younger chickens were still too small to be out in the run. By the time they were big enough, it was like their own personal little jungle filled with sturdy-stemmed sunflowers. It was perfect, actually - they had shade from the leaves through the hottest weather and could have a spot to hide if they wanted.
The bees were certainly pleased about it, too. This isn't one of our bees, but there were often at least four or five on each flower.
I took these pictures a few weeks ago; things are looking sparer now that the first frost has come and many of the weeds have died back. Now that the sunflowers have faded and the seeds have developed, the chickens are enjoying those, too.
I do love a good poem. E.E. Cummings, and Mary Oliver are two poets whose work always hit the spot. I think I need to have a poetry binge, and soon. This is the one, by Alice Walker, which came to mind as I was thinking about surprise.
Expect nothing. Live frugally
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.
Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.
Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
I felt the last remainders of my summer mentality of ease and possibility fade away yesterday, as I became completely wrapped up in the new school year and all of the hectic nuttiness that comes along with that. My job is very scattered; I cover a lot of physical territory, and have a lot of details to keep on top of. Usually it's fine and feels manageable, but there are days when I feel like there are lists coming out of my ears and threatening to bury me alive, and how on earth is one person supposed to accomplish this all and stay sane? So I was thinking back to that summer feeling and trying to figure out how to capture that in little snippets through the rest of the year. When I'm at my best in the summer, I feel calm, not rushed, like I'm doing the things I want to do, and like there is enough time to do them well. Of course during the school year, I have to succumb to the schedules of schools and all of the other people I work with, which sometimes makes me feel as though it's impossible to do my job well. That's part of the reason, I think, why home is so important to me - it's my constant, and the place where I have created 'space' through minimal stuff and living intentionally. Speaking of which, I've been listening to The Slow Home podcast as I've been driving these past few days, and I really enjoyed the episode with Kelly Exeter (Episode 21) and the chat about white space and inefficiencies. Oooooh, boy - I identified with trying to maximize every moment. I will say that one of the perks of my job is that I get to travel the most beautiful part of the most beautiful province (in my humble opinion). Evidence above - today I got to take a ferry just before heavy rain started, and I somehow magically managed to capture that very particular colour of the water, which I adore, and that particular light that happens just before or after rain. Bonus: the little lighthouse on the island at the left of the picture. Moments like that take me out of my swirling head and make me feel like everything is going to be fine.
And this moment from the week wasn't too shabby, either.
Back on the home front... in my last post, I commented on how the boys' bus schedule would affect our days, and I'm pleased to report that their pick-up time is magical. It falls exactly where it best fits for us, at 7:10. We're all usually up at 6:00, and that gives us time to get up, I get ready to go to work while Adam feeds the boys breakfast and packs their lunches, and by the time everyone's ready and has their shoes on, it's just at the right time. Even more perfectly, it gives me a precious few minutes before I have to leave for the day - I go down to the barns to feed the kittens and let them out for the day (they're doing very well at catching mice down there!), take stock of the morning and take a few deep breaths as I look across the fields for deer and other interesting developments (the morning mist is gorgeous at this time of year) and if I'm really relaxed about it, I putter over to the garden to pick some cucumbers, tomatoes, and kale.
Two more exciting developments at home - the first is that we at long last have dining room chairs that aren't dangerous! I'm thrilled with them - they actually match the original chairs that were with the table quite well, and are even more sturdy. They feel like they're meant to be sat upon, quite unlike the previous ones. I'm tickled pink.
And the second - we did our first honey harvest last weekend! We just extracted from seven frames, and have thirteen beautiful litres of honey! I am so very, very, very, very pleased. I'm glad that I have so many beautiful jars on hand.
In other good news, it is pouring rain today! It has been so, so dry. We've filled the well twice, and I've been lugging water to the gardens, and washing laundry and getting water jugs filled for the chickens and kittens at my parents' house. Which is not exactly convenient, but it does remind me how much I can take this precious resource for granted. I'm going to wash a celebratory load of laundry tonight!
I'm finally forced to admit it - I return to work this week, and the boys to school. Truthfully, I love so many things about the shift to a more structured routine, and the boys are excited to start school again. Their bus schedule will absolutely set the framework for the day for both Adam and I, and we're eagerly awaiting the call which will give us specific times. Their new shoes and school supplies are packed and ready, and I have my new package of Sharpie Pens and my weekly Moleskine planner just waiting to be put into action. It gives me a little thrill.
Any kind of shift like this always has my brain jumping in a thousand different directions. So many things to be excited about, all at once. All of the perfect lunches for the boys (even though Adam puts them together every morning), all of the perfect lunches for me to take (my favourite is a bit of bean salad, some delicious meats, and a bit of Swiss cheese) and all of the suppers that I can be clever about and put in the slow cooker before I go to work. I want to go all Pinterest-crazy and make everything perfect and new and exciting. But then I settle into a more realistic version of things, and just make sure my thermal tea mug is clean, and that I know who needs to be where, when.
So while my brain explodes over here (it's a good thing, really!) and I have menu ideas swirling around in the back of my mind along with being excited abouteverything else related to fall (harvesting the zillions of fall pumpkins that are growing down by the barns and lighting beeswax candles and wearing scarves and finally (hopefully) finding wide-calf brown leather boots that fit (this has been an ongoing struggle) and cool mornings and the changing light), here are a few things that I've been enjoying.
Erin has a great post about bar soap over at her beautiful blog Reading My Tea Leaves. I love her style, and of course she's right about the soap. There are so many great things about it! I think I'll make a few batches tomorrow to last us for the next little while.
I'm reading this book and really enjoying it. Speaking of books, the beautiful book pictured was a gift from our neighbour - she is 89, it was her father's, and he kept bees next door many, many years ago. It's beautiful.
I can't wait to make these! Maybe tonight!
And I'm also hoping to get a batch of these put up very soon.
I hope that your week goes smoothly, whether it's one of transitions or not!
I've written about it before, but there is one little beach that I think is the very best. Living in Nova Scotia, there is a wonderfully ridiculous number of beaches within easy driving distance, but this one has my heart. There are a couple of more popular beaches, like Port Maitland, and Mavillette, which are long, sandy, gorgeous places, but my favourites are the quiet ones which you're almost guaranteed to have to yourself.
I grew up at the top of the hill, just a few hundred metres from this little spot. We always called the entirety of the little area at the bottom of the hill 'the shore'; the term loosely includes the buildings, the wharf, the beaches, the drawbridge, and the 'shore pond'. If Dad was 'at the shore' in the summer, it meant that he was repairing pots or rope, freezing bait, or some other task related to his work running a lobster boat, and I loved helping him whenever I could. One of my preferred jobs was holding the freezer bags for bait open while the slimy, not-super-fresh bait was slopped by dip net out of a large grey plastic box on the back of the truck and flipped over into the bag, which rested in a shallow cardboard box. I folded the edges of the bags in, fitted the cardboard lid on snugly, and the box was whisked off into the freezer to be ready for use in the winter. This resulted in being generously splattered with fish scales and smelly fish juice, and I loved it. It was real work, a tangible job that needed to be done, and I felt helpful and useful (whether I actually was or not).
My Dad still fishes from the wharf, and it has changed a lot since I was a kid. But the smells are the same - bait and hot sand, mud flats and the ever-changing sea smell in the air, fuel and seaweed.
I spent hours and days on the beach, collecting shells and sea glass, lying on the hot rocks, wading in tide pools, and looking for fossils in the giant shale ledges. It has my heart.
These days, I most often stop at the closest little part of the beach with the boys for a little while before we visit my parents. They're both completely happily occupied for a long time, and Thomas always wants to stay longer. It's calming and quiet for me, and I love soaking in the particulars of the day - the shades of blue in the water, the types of shells that have washed up, and what the light is doing as it moves through the water. And if there's fog or mist, that's the very best.
These pictures were from yesterday, when we visited the beach before heading to my parents' for showers, since the formerly almost-empty well was down to the very last bit of water. I'm happy to report that we just had it filled for a very reasonable price, and we have some very dear guests coming to visit for a few days this week. It's been far too long since we've seen them, and I'm looking forward to catching up with them and making the most of this last full week of summer.
We have been having the loveliest summer. My heart feels so content and full - we've seen so many friends this summer, old and new. We just participated in weddings of two couples we're very close to, and there's really nothing like a big party celebrating love to make a person feel warm and fuzzy. It has been so, so lovely! I'm smiling as I type this.
One unfortunate thing to have happened was this morning when Adam turned the tap, and nothing happened. Apparently our well is dry, so we're going to have to get creative. Thankfully, my parents aren't far, so we can shower and do laundry there. The chickens have a few days' worth of water, which I filled up yesterday. The forecast is calling for rain on Saturday, and I'm hoping for a lot of it. We'll manage!
Some wedding decorations made it back to our house after Adam's brother's wedding, and I'm pretty pleased. It's the sweetest, cheeriest bunting! Perfect for the summer.
Speaking of that wedding, someone fell asleep partway through. He was just too sleepy - when he woke up, his nose was all smooshed in and lined. Who could fall asleep in that position on a hard wooden pew? This kid, apparently.
And honey! We have a bit of honey harvested, and more on the way! I am over the moon. The chickens are doing well; the younger chicks have moved down into an enclosure in the larger coop for the next little while, until everyone's old enough to co-mingle and eat the same feed. I cannot even explain how glad I am to have them out of the basement! I'm seeing plenty of roosters amongst them already, but I'm holding out hope for plenty of hens.
We still have a bit of time before going back to work and school, and there are many lovely things (including more visiting with friends from away!) to enjoy.