Into the woods, behind our home.
My freshman year of college, I took an Existentialism 101 class. I’d read a bit of Camus and Sartre in high school and wanted to explore the topic more in depth. What resulted was a bit of a week-long existential crisis of the soul. When you’re 18, you’re so vulnerable and open to suggestion anyways, and taking a class that challenged and questioned the very nature of existence and meaning itself cut a deep divot thru my skull. I was being confronted with ways of thinking I’d never before encountered, that suggested that we were at the helm of our realities, guiding our own fates and determining and plotting the course of our lives, not puppets being moved to and fro by outside forces.
While I reconciled my own leanings towards the notion of a higher life form having created us with the concept of our emerging from the void without meaning written into any actions, I found solace in a quote I discovered in another course, a required humanities class. Walt Whitman, in Song of Myself, wrote “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” What I ended up with, when I combined what I’d learned at such a tender age, was the idea that identity is fluid. Contradiction is built into the nature of reality.
Around the same time, I also encountered another quote that would stick with me, this one from Heraclitus. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Life, and identity, and who you are, or who you might think yourself to be, are constantly in motion. Fixed notions of who we perceive ourselves or others to be are illusions, just like the notion that winter is a time of stillness and quietude. Underneath the surface, if you push back the mulch, there is so, so very much going on.
So what do existentialism and Whitman and Heraclitus have to do with homesteading and my life in the mountains of western North Carolina? A great deal. For as long as I can recall, I have loved winter. Pined for it in summer, thrilled at its arrival when the leaves turned color and cascaded down in late autumn. I’ve told everyone that will listen how much I love cozying up with blankets and mugs of hot tea indoors, tending to the wood stove as I pad about in wool sweaters and fuzzy slippers. What I realized a few weeks ago is that, while true, there’s also a part of me that suffers in winter. I go deep, turn into a bit of a recluse, and hide inside my heart, my mind, and often times, my home.
That’s what I’ve been doing these past few months. Creatively, this has served me well. I find my largest rushes of creativity when the weather is cool and cold. Mentally, though, it’s not the best. I struggle. I feel the winter blues a bit, especially if I don’t spend time outside and get a nice dose of Vitamin D, courtesy of the sun, to elevate my mood. I sequester. It’s always good, until it’s not. Lately, I can feel both the tug of my heart and mind to contradict myself, to say, “You know what? I don’t know that I really do enjoy winter anymore, for now.” The two thoughts are not mutually exclusive-they’re sides of myself at different times. Life is moving, and so am I.
Later today I’m going to collect soil samples in the garden with my friend (and neighbor!) Natalie. We’ll send them off to the local extension office for testing, to see what the nutrient profiles are of all 14 raised beds, and amend the soil accordingly. Tomorrow, it’s going to be in the upper 60′s. Next week, we three Englishes are taking off for a long overdue visit with family in Florida. I need these things to happen just like I needed winter to greet me with open arms back in December.
You never step into the same river because you’re never the same person each time. The river is never composed of exactly the same water. Go ahead, contradict yourself. It’s all you, anyways.
If you know me personally, then you can attest firsthand to my abhorrence of waste. I am a trash vigilante. From recycling toilet paper inserts, to sorting and recycling the plastic attachment and paper tag on new garments, to upcycling ribbon from gifts, I go to great lengths to keep things out of the waste stream.
Which is why Elana Kann’s “Love This Bag Dryer” is so amazing. Long time readers may recall my initial post about this item (formerly known as Branching Out Woodworks). I’ve been using the dryer for over 3 years now, and can attest to its durability, its unobtrusiveness, and its efficacy. In short, it holds up well, it doesn’t get in the way, and it really works. I am constantly drying bags out on it. I painted my bag dryer dark brown, to match the trim color on my moulding, but it doesn’t need it to work.
Made locally by Elana, a woodworker and artist, the dryers have a spruce base and birch dowels. There are two models to choose from, either countertop (shown in the second photo) or wall-mounted (shown in my house and in the third photo). They come in kits, easily assembled in about 5 minutes. Best of all, Elana has offered to give away a model of their choice (countertop or wall-mounted) to one small measure reader!
To enter, simply leave a comment below. You can write “Pick me!” or perhaps detail something specific that you’re doing to reduce waste and curb pollution. I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for additional ways to put the kibosh on waste. I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding next Monday, February 2nd, midnight EST. Open to those in North America only (sorry international buddies! That shouldn’t stop you from ordering, though!).
Even if you’re not the winner, now would be a wonderful time to purchase one of those bag dryers for yourself or a loved one, as local non-profit RiverLink and LoveThisBagDryer! are teaming up to keep plastic bags out of the French Broad River in Western North Carolina (which has the distinction of being the third oldest river in the world-it’s true!). To raise funds for its river cleanup, 14% of all sales of LoveThisBagDryer! through Valentine’s Day, February 14th, will be donated to Riverlink for its annual springtime Clean Streams Day. The goal is to raise at least $400 for this purpose. Let’s help them reach that goal!
UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. Thank you so, so very much to all that entered! Congratulations to our winner, Tess Church, randomly selected. Please keep in mind that there’s just over a week left to support the LoveThisBagDryer and River Link joint initiative. For every bag dryer sold, 14% of the profits will go towards the annual French Broad River Clean Streams Day this spring. So, hop on over and purchase one now, if you’re so inclined!
Friends, it’s already 2015! And the holidays have passed! And I feel like I’m finally coming up for air, just in time for an arctic blast to take my breath away. What about you? How are you feeling? Have things been wild and wacky and wonderful for you, too? I look forward to the stretch of days from Halloween to New Year’s Day all year. I’m overcome with emotion and activity when they’re upon me, reveling in their frenzy. And then, as though right on cue, I’m completely ready for them to subside and move on out and make way for something more still, more internal, more intimate as January appears on the calendar.
I have big plans for 2015. More books, more videos, more freelancing, more homesteading adventures, more kids (Maybe! Nothing cooking in that department just yet!). All kinds of new adventures. I’ve begun lately to think of life as more of an ever evolving, never finished endeavor than anything that can fully be managed or contained. The latter mindset just leaves me feeling like I can’t get all of the things I want to get done completed, which then spirals into guilt and frustration and self-doubt.
The thing I’m discovering is that it’s just fine for projects to always be “in process.” It’s as it should be, really. Life expands and contracts. It ebbs and flows. It’s always kinetic. You can’t get a handle on it, because it’s wild and fluid. But if you step into the current, and accept that you’re along for the ride, it’s much easier than trying to swim upstream. So, here’s to more coasting along and enjoying what comes and less worrying if my pantry is organized (it never, ever lets me get a handle on it, really), or if my upstairs craft/guest room/office is just so. Que sera. Whatever will be, will be!
In other news, I had so much fun chatting with Celine MacKay of Pure Green Magazine recently. We talked about homesteading and writing and community and so much more. You can check out the podcast here and learn more about Pure Green here. Thank you for having me, Celine!
Alright, if I’m going to make all of these big dreams for 2015 happen, I’d better get on it. After finishing up the picnic book, I took a bit of time to teach and entertain and host and decorate and enjoy the holidays. Now that they’re over, it’s back to work.
Sincerest wishes for a happy, healthy, love-filled 2015, from our home to yours.
Happy Christmas Eve, friends! Can you believe it’s already here?! I know one little 4 year-old that’s enormously excited about what will occur this evening. So much so, in fact, that we presently have zero presents under the tree. He just can’t handle the waiting. I get it. All that wrapped up temptation. Better to just hold out and see nothing. But, man, I can’t wait to see his face in the morning! It’s entirely likely that I’ll cry, because I’m a complete and total sponge when it comes to other people’s emotional states.
What I want to share with you, though, before you, like me, move on with your merriment and gift-wrapping and fellowship and conviviality, is a little bit of holiday cheer. Our dear friends Rich and Jen Orris are golden. They have supported my career and been such solid, trusted friends and confidants since we met nearly 4 years ago. Not only do we share interests and pursuits and seriously goofy senses of humor, we’re now working on a project together.
With their ace help, Jen and Rich via their cheekily-titled business “What the Farm” created the first of what we aspire to be monthly “Small Measure” videos. Each will introduce a simple DIY project to do at home, based around food or crafting or homemaking/homesteading. Since it’s the holidays, a time when libations and laughter abound, our debut video is about making wassail.
The recipe comes from my book Quench, and was graciously provided by local Folklore expert Byron Ballard. I’m offering the recipe here for you, for creating your own holiday cheer this season. Thank you to Byron for the recipe, and massive thanks to Rich and Jen for, well, just being their wonderful selves (not to mention allowing me to use their home and property for the shoot!). From our home to yours, sincerest wishes for the happiest of holidays!
Wassail (excerpted from Quench: Handcrafted Beverages to Satisfy Every Taste & Occasion, Roost Books, 2014).
At once a wish for good health, a hot beverage, and a traditional British ceremony that blesses apple trees for a fruitful harvest the following year, wassail covers many bases. This recipe comes from Byron Ballard, a writer, scholar, and expert on nature-based traditions and folklore. Don’t forget to wassail your trees, per her suggestion, by offering them the very first cup!
Makes: 10-11 cups.
You Will Need
-½ gallon fresh apple cider
-1 cup orange juice
-1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
-½ cup honey
-6-8 cinnamon sticks
-Whole cloves (a handful)
-Several chunks of fresh ginger
-Rum, to taste
Combine all of the ingredients except for the rum in a deep pot or Dutch oven. Whisk gently to combine.
Simmer the mixture over the lowest setting at least 3 hours, stirring periodically.
When you feel the flavors have all come together to your liking, remove the pot from the heat. If desired, stir in rum in an amount to your inclination and taste preference.
If you’re in the area this coming Saturday, December 6th, stop into Malaprops Bookstore & Cafe. It’s a day of author signings at Asheville’s much-loved independent bookstore. I’ll be there signing copies of “Quench” and offering samples of a warm beverage from the book from 4-5 p.m..
Come say hi! Have a drink! Get a hug (I’m a hugger)! Cheers, and happy holidays!