If Marcie Chambers Cuff lived down the road from me, or a town over, or even two or three towns over, I have no doubt that we could be friends. Like, really good friends. Like our children would run through mud puddles and muck about in creeks and look for bugs under rocks together. Those kinds of friends. We’d be tight, for sure. We’ve never met in person, but based on her new book, This Book Was A Tree, she and I are seriously cut from the same cloth. Birds of a feather. Like minds. Kinfolk. Etc., etc..
I can’t recommend This Book Was A Tree enough. Marcie wrote me several weeks ago, asking if she could send me an advance copy, and perhaps include me in a blog tour when the book published. Already a reader of her blog, I enthusiastically accepted her offer. Marcie’s book is a thoughtful, inspiring, beautifully illustrated manual to get you out in nature, curious about nature, awed by nature, and otherwise enamored with our verdant planet.
I’ve long felt that the more interaction you have with the natural world, the more likely you are to champion it, to become a steward of it, to vow to tread more lightly on it, to want to protect it for future generations, both human and otherwise. Looking over chapters 4 (“Spend Time Wisely”) and 5 (“Get Dirty”) last night, I thought about how I’d spent the day with Huxley yesterday.
We weeded all 14 of our raised beds, to prep them for the bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, chard, and cabbage starts we’ve got waiting. Then, as I weeded the mulch path around our in-ground beds, Huxley played in his sand box. “Mama, can I put sand in my hair?” he asked. “Hmmm, okay.” And then, “Mama, can I lay down in my p.j.’s on the sand (we were both still in our jammies)?” “Uh, sure.” My initial hesitancy to let him get all kinds of dirty was quickly overridden by my larger interest in having him feel comfortable with, well, with getting dirty!
Later, as we lay on a blanket on the grass, snuggling and watching clouds, my mind jumped to the too long to achieve mental list I’m always running through. “I love you, mama” was all I needed to bring me back to my senses, to what was right in front of me. I can sometimes get so entangled with all that I think needs to get done that I miss what really matters most. Love. Health. Life. Yep, that’s about it!
Marcie’s book is rife with reminders for bringing us back to the sensory world of wonder and magic right in our midst. Just check out the list of nature crafts she offers:
*Create a pinhole camera.
*Live in slow motion.
*Start a flower press.
*Examine snowflakes through a magnifying glass.
*Make a treasure map.
*Create an upcycled terrarium.
*Camp out in the backyard.
*Upcycle a sweater into a felted hat, gloves, or wine cozy.
*Recognize equinoxes and solstices.
*Create homemade seedbombs.
*Come to know local flora and fauna.
SUCH a great book. Job well done, Marcie! Small measure readers, I highly encourage you to check out This Book Was A Tree. I hope you find it as equally inspiring as I have!
4/14 Small Measure
4/15 Lil Fish Studios
Happy Friday, friends! I’m writing this to you outdoors. There are flip flops on my feet. I am not, repeat not, wearing a sweater. The grass is the greenest I’ve seen it in months, our giant maple is putting out greenery that borders on chartreuse, and the dandelions, spring’s eternal bellwether, are popping up through the flagstone in our patio. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
This week has been amazing. Handmade Gatherings published, we photographed the second picnic for my new book (due out in 2016), I taught my regular class on backyard chickens last night at AB-Tech, we enjoyed some hang time with the ever lovely Joy Wilson (aka Joy the Baker) and her friend and assistant Jon Melendez, and so much more. Meanwhile, in the stew of life that has been abundant and profuse and intense this week, I’ve been working on sleep training Huxley to remain in his own bed all night. Whew. So. Tired.
Without planning to do so, at all, we ended up bed sharing with our little guy. We’d bought a Moses basket, and a crib, and that was the plan. Until he was born, and he was so very tiny, and it was so very cold outside, and I was struggling so very much to recover from his birth. Keeping him with us just seemed right. Until it wasn’t anymore. I transitioned him to a “big boy bed” a few months after he turned two. Every night, we’d begin in his bed, reading stories and cuddling and snuggling until he fell asleep and I’d retreat to my bed. And every night, at some point, he’d come get in bed with me. I never fought it until he began to assume what we’ll just call “the starfish position.” For those of you with children, you know just what I’m talking about. It’s the most bed hogging position imaginable. There’s also “the horizontal maneuver.” Inevitably, for the parent, this means you take a foot to the chin or a head to the nose on the regular. Not. Good.
So, even though I knew it would mean a great deal of haggard nights for me, and even though I knew that I was going to have one heck of a crazy, busy, work-filled April, I decided the time had come, for us all, to have him stay in his bed for the duration of the night. I’ve been working on it for the past week and a half, and I’m here, now, to report that it is working. Yes, there’s some crying involved. Yes, it involves a tremendous deal of effort to not go check on him. But, yes, it’s all totally worth it, in the final analysis. Separation is a part of life, and he wasn’t about to make the transition on his own. BUT! I’m here! I’m typing! He’s sleeping! YAY!!!!
In other news, here’s an article I wrote for Verve about, what else, potlucks!!!! There are NKOTB references sprinkled throughout. Consider yourself forewarned.
And here’s a smattering of this and that’s that caught my attention this week:
*Lemon Yogurt Poundcake from my favorite perfumers, MCMC Fragrances.
*My friend Gina wrote a lovely essay on mindful parenting.
*Intrigued by Genevieve’s oil pulling, with an extra detox twist.
*Picked up a copy of The Simple Things magazine and am completely smitten.
*Very fun DIY geometric cement paperweight.
*Oh, Fog Linen. Could you possibly be any more amazing?!
Locals! So much going on this weekend. Tomorrow evening, at the same time that I’ll chatting about Handmade Gatherings at Malaprops Bookstore (7 p.m.-there will be fun readings! and Rhubarb Buttermilk Bread!), there will be a free lecture by Joel Salatin at UNC-Asheville and a wonderful benefit for Carolina Ground at All Souls Pizza. I’d love to meet some of you, but totally understand if you end up attending either one of these other worthwhile events.
Also, locals. Get this on your radar, please. The illustrious and imminently talented Marisa McClellan, she of Food In Jars, will be in town next week. She’s on the southern leg portion of her tour promoting her new book Preserving By the Pint. Marisa will be giving a free demo and book signing at Villagers in West Asheville. She’ll also be our houseguest for the evening. Yay!
Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!
*I post a photo of Huxley in my What I’m Digging round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. This was from the other morning, after he got up from his bed and came in to snuggle with me. Sigh. Love that little bean!
From May 2000 to February 2003, I lived in the town of Weaverville, NC. Located about 10 minutes north of Asheville, the small hamlet was just beginning to experience a revival of sorts at that time. In the ensuing 11 years, its main street has been completely revitalized, and I now consider Weaverville to be one of the most charming small towns in the area.
Along with a vibrant dining scene (the Well Bred Bakery is a perennial favorite, with eclairs the size of baby’s heads), gorgeous parks, small organic farms, and an environmentally friendly dry cleaner, Weaverville is also home to a number of artisans. Ceramicists, painters, glass blowers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jewelers-a wide community of makers live and work in Weaverville.
Several weeks ago, I was contacted by Sherida Buchanan and Steve Forbes on behalf of the Weaverville Art Safari. A free, two-day, family friendly event happening April 26-27th, the Art Safari is a self-guided tour of artists’ home studios in the scenic area surrounding the villages of Weaverville and Barnardsville, NC. Occurring every spring and fall since April 2001, it’s a wonderful opportunity to peruse the wares of and purchase directly from these artists.
Participants use the Art Safari map to plan their route through Weaverville and the surrounding communities. Area artists open their studios to guests for the day, mingle, and talk about the creative process. Some also offer demonstrations and door prizes. It’s a wonderful chance to experience world-class art on an extremely personal level and meet some extraordinary folks.
In addition to sponsoring small measure for the month of April, Sherida and Steve offered to give away two tickets to the Weaverville Art Safari Preview Party to a small measure reader. Held at the Weaverville Town Hall at 7 p.m. on April 25th (the night before the Safari), the preview party includes a silent auction, music, light bites, and door prizes. It’s a great evening and a nice excuse to explore downtown Weaverville. Glenn, Huxley, and I will be going, and would love to see some of you there!
Clearly, this event is open only to Western NC locals. To enter, simply leave a comment saying what type of handmade, artisan item you’re looking for. Glenn and I love pottery and are always on the lookout for ceramics (Melissa Weiss is one of our favorites). I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding next Thursday, April 17th, midnight EST. A winner will be randomly selected and contacted via email (so be sure to leave a means of contacting you in your reply!). I’ll forward your information on to the preview party organizers and they’ll hold your two tickets for you at the door or mail them to you, your choice.
Even if you don’t win the tickets to the preview party, consider hitting up the Safari itself. It’s entirely free, takes place in a gorgeous setting, and supports a worthwhile cause. Plus, you could always conclude the day with an eclair.
I have a lot of hair-brained schemes, for lack of a better term. My problem has never been coming up with ideas, it’s been finding the time to actualize them, to move them from nebulous concept to tactile, real world product. The idea for Handmade Gatherings, which officially publishes today, came about in a really organic way. Glenn and I entertain, often. For years, we pulled off all of our events on our own. Meaning, we shopped for, purchased, and prepared all of the food, beverages, and decor every time we entertained. Over time, though, we realized that our time with friends could really be enhanced, our experiences deepened, if they participated as well.
We began to move from our two person entertaining M.O. to that of the potluck. Our friends, many of them just as passionate about food and seasonal eating as we both are, showed up with inspired, delicious dishes. Everyone became involved. It wasn’t about one person showing how elaborate or fantastic or determined they could be, it was about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Glenn has been passionate about collaborative entertaining for a very long time. He was integral to this book coming to life. After we began hosting increasingly more potlucks and collaborative get togethers, he suggested we parlay those events into a book. We both knew, though, that we ultimately wanted the book to be much more than a simple collection of recipes. We wanted it to speak to the magic that happens when people come together to achieve a common goal, especially one integral to our very existence, preparing and consuming food. In a recent exchange with a mutual friend on Facebook, he wrote the following, which I just love:
While developing Ashley’s upcoming book on seasonal, interactive potlucks, which I was particularly involved with, our view was that if people’s takeaway impression was that it was a great cookbook, we will have failed. It was of paramount importance to us that it it was about more than just recipes; it was about creatively connecting to each other over food, which is as Joel Salatin puts it, our umbilical cord to the natural world. It is about the heightened relationships with each other and the food that we eat. And inspired by the philosopher Hakim Bey, it is about creating shared transcendent moments that break us out of the everyday patterns of consensus reality, which he calls Temporary Autonomous Zones.
While we were creating the vision, it was my deepest hope that this book would be a catalyst that helps people to rethink the way we socialize and how we relate and communicate over the food that binds us to each other, our communities, our agricultural systems, and the natural world. The gatherings were designed with that in mind, which is why we took every effort to include things like gathering wild edibles and creating inspired foods from them, while celebrating both them and our time with each other.
Our hair brained scheme is now out in the world, as of today. All of the love and sweat and worry and bliss that we poured into it is now available for enjoyment, inspiration, and scrutiny. Thank you so very much to the fine staff at Roost Books for making our wild idea into a reality. Massive thanks, also, to Amanda Soule for taking this idea to Jennifer Urban-Brown at Roost when it was just a wee thought shared during a visit at her home two years ago. You are a true friend!
To celebrate this festive occasion, I want to give you two things. Firstly, I’m sharing the instructions for making Silk Dyed Eggs, part of the activities included in “The Good Egg” gathering. These come together easily and beautifully, and would be lovely to make and feature at any spring event you might be hosting or attending these next few weeks.
Secondly, I want to give away a signed copy of Handmade Gatherings to one small measure reader. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below telling me one of your favorite seasonal activities or foods, for any season. I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding next Tuesday, April 15th, EST.
Thank you to all who attended these gatherings and helped this book to be filled with actual events and real food. You’re the best. Massive thanks also to Jen Altman, for shining her lens expertly, providing such gorgeous photographs. Finally, as always, thanks to Glenn and Huxley, to whom I’ve dedicated the book. They are my perennial reasons for partying.
The foraging walk and chat with herbalist and permaculture educator Keri Evjy on Saturday was a blast. Ten folks made their way out to our cove, gathered baskets, put on hats (it was chilly that morning!), and trekked off into the woods to explore, examine, glean, and learn. We thought we’d see if Huxley was up for the walk, but very, very early into it (as in, like, the first 10 minutes), he decided that this whole business of taking a few steps, stopping to look at a plant, and then sticking around to chat about it wasn’t the kind of walk he had in mind. So, he and I headed back to the house to play and prep for the lunch.
When the group returned, they brought with them a number of the wild edibles they’d discovered. All manner of greens went into a salad, while others were added to olive oil and garlic and seasonings for a “pistou”, a greens-based topping for soups and other dishes that’s based entirely on what is seasonally available.
Several guests brought items from their homes to contribute to the meal of vegetable soup that Glenn made, salad, and bread. Black walnut & nettle pesto, pickled fennel and orange peel, blueberry muffins, and rosemary chevre rounded out the feast. I also made a gallon of my friend Maria‘s “April Showers” tea blend. Composed of lemon balm, lemon verbena, spearmint, rosemary, hibiscus, and lavender, it is the liquid essence of spring personified. For dessert, we feasted on a spiced apple galette with maple candied bacon and some bacon blondies, both part of a freelance article I’m writing on, you probably already guessed it, “Bacon Desserts.” The weather was perfect, the guests delightful, the instructor knowledgeable, and the occasion celebratory. Spring!
Afterwards we headed over to Sacred Mountain Sanctuary, the site of Huxley’s Starseed forest kindergarten program. The community had been having a Working Bee that day, which we’d missed owing to our event. We rallied and made it to the potluck part of the day, though. What a trip watching Huxley run around, playing with sticks and swinging on the swings and mucking about the creek with his buddies. It’s fascinating to see his identity and personality emerging and yet, admittedly, it’s hard. He’s my little guy, and the bigger and older he gets, he pulls more and more away. I know, I know. He’s only 3. It’s not like he’s packing up for college next week. Still. It’s so encouraging to know we’re raising a child with the confidence to head out into the greater world and make friends and feel brave, and hard, too, to see him let go. Such is parenting, right?
Sunday we stopped by the UNC-Asheville Botanical Gardens for some photo shoot location scouting. I’ve got a shoot planned on Wednesday and it’s going to be so much fun. Two words: breakfast picnic. YES! After that Huxley and I headed north to my mom’s place. We picked up my grandmother on our way, and then settled in for a bit of play time with Huxley’s “granny nannies.” There was time in mom’s sandbox, and tickling sessions on her bed, and rock-throwing in her creek. It was wonderful.
I’m excited about this week. So much going on. So much to look forward to. From our home to yours, here’s hoping it’s filled with love, health, and happiness.