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What I’m Digging

Huxley Black Balsam 1
Happy Friday, friends! It’s raining and cool here in the cove today, a welcome break from the warmer temps we had this week. Really, though, who am I kidding, talking about “warmer temps” and other such nonsense? For my birthday last month, Glenn bought me a portable air conditioner, owing to how I get all kinds of crabby and wilty and otherwise unpleasant when really hot. It’s been so nice and cool, though, that we haven’t even had to fire it up! And halfway through the night, every night, we’re still pulling the comforter up around our shoulders. Even on the second floor.

When looking at my garden the other day, and feeling equally frustrated and guilty and anxious and discouraged and hopeful at its tandem successes and failures, several things occurred to me. To begin, four years ago, I was quite pregnant and it was also the hottest summer in 50 years, so the garden didn’t really happen. And then, over the past three summers, I have been writing books. When I’m working on a new book in earnest, there are some things that have to get sidelined in order to get the writing done while simultaneously take care of Huxley, and maintain the home, marriage, homestead, etc.. I’m also not a fan of the heat (see above). Finally, I still have so much to learn about organic gardening. I’ve been working on building up the soil, but I do live in a temperate rain forest, with its attendant plethora of insects. The challenges they present is ENORMOUS, people. Enormous.

It dawned on me that all of these things in combination have made it increasingly challenging to have the lush, verdant, abundant vegetable garden of my dreams come summertime. So I made a few decisions. For starters, screw the guilt. There’s an incredible organic farmer about 1/2 mile down the road from us that grows exactly what I’m working on here, but with multiple decades worth of organic gardening experience under his belt. At Hominy Valley Organic Farm, I can stop in on Fridays (open farm day), chat with Tom, and purchase some of the most beautiful, delicious vegetables I’ve ever encountered at a very, very good price. I can stick (for now) to growing what really works for me in the garden, and leave the battles with cabbageworms, squash vine borers, carrot fly, and more to him.

Secondly, my intuition keeps telling me that perennial gardening is where it’s at. Working with nature instead of against it and achieving a symbiosis is what I want. To that end, I recently purchased Gaia’s Garden. I’m getting all kinds of excited about implementing some of the perennial/permaculture techniques it details.Then I can have the garden I desire, purchase some crops from Tom, keep writing in the summer, and feel less crazy about the entire process. Amen to all that.

In other news, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that’ve caught my attention recently:

*The mason jar-use it for SO much more than just strawberry jam and pickled beets!

*Several weeks ago, when I was feeling a bit misanthropic (it happens to us all!), Glenn directed me to this. So, so good.

*When I was in college, I used to burn rosemary essential oil in a diffuser when studying for exams. Here’s why.

*Six reasons to love lavender.

*My friend Jenna Woginrich, fellow author and blogger, has launched a Kickstarter campaign. She’s working on her first bit of fiction, a novel about (as she described it an email to me) “a farm in upstate NY in 1920, a farmy-paranormal piece of mystery and a heck of a lot of fun.” Check out the video and help her realize her dream, if you can!

*It’s tomato season. Genevieve has 28 ideas for what to do with them.

*Very sweet idea for a DIY campfire candle.

*Speaking of fragrances, I picked up a box of these cedar incense cones as a gift to myself on Mother’s Day. I begin each morning now by burning one, to clear the air and enliven the kitchen while I feed the animals, get Huxley going, and prepare the coffee. Good stuff.

*If you’re a mother, you might enjoy checking out The Ma Books, a collaboratively written blog about what mothering means to each of us.

*My father, his wife, and my sisters gifted Glenn for his birthday with this amazing book about the oldest living things. Exquisitely photographed, it is a sensory feast, and a reminder that we’re not the only beings witnessing what’s happening on this planet.

I’m back to working on picnics this weekend. We photographed 10 of them before Jen Altman, the book’s photographer, headed out of town for the month of July. She’s back, and so we’re back in action, as of Sunday, as we’ve got 10 (!!!) more to go. Fingers crossed the weather accommodates and our shoot isn’t caught in a deluge. We’ll be high atop a mountain bald up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Should be epic if all goes according to plan!

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!

*I post an image of Huxley in my What I’m Digging posts because, truly, he’s what Glenn and I dig the most. This is him a few weeks ago, up at Black Balsam on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He said “This is a good hike, mama. I love this view!” 

Write: Doe Bay

About four years ago, I wanted nothing more than to visit the Pacific Northwest. I’d been there once, for less than 12 hours, when I was traveling to San Francisco with my friend Bonner in the summer of 2002. We stayed overnight at a hostel in Portland and were up and out early the next morning. No, what I wanted was a full immersion. From the Columbia River Gorge to Astoria and Cannon Beach (Goonies!) right on up to the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. So intense was my devotion and consuming desire of the PNW that I’d check the weather forecasts out there, especially when I was pregnant and it was sweltering here and I was miserable, but it was a cool, happy 72 degrees in July on Friday Harbor.

Well, friends. I’m here today to tell you that dreams really do come true. This October, I’m turning my compass (er, jet plane?) west, hopping on a plane (many planes, actually), and making my way to the place I have long dreamed of, pined for, and desired to tromp around in. Not only am I visiting it, though, the crowing glory is that I’ll be doing so while teaching. On Orcas Island. At a writer’s conference. Be still my heart.

The video above gives you a taste of what Write: Doe Bay is all about. Held at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island, Washington,Write Fall will take place October 9-12, bringing together 25 participants and a handful of alumni. As detailed by the conference’s producers: “Through shared meals and shared housing, a new vision for a writer’s retreat will take place. Community will flourish, walls will break down and love will flow. The workshop bridges genre gaps along the feather of storytelling, where songwriting presents as poetry, poetry as memoir and memoir as narrative song. At Doe Bay, we are all storytellers and we all have a tale to unlock, whichever genre our words choose, and we’ll present the key to unlocking the raw narrative inside.” So, so good, right? Right.

Registration is about halfway full, so now is the time to claim the last few remaining spots. Myself, Claire Bidwell Smith, Jillian Lauren, and Daniel Blue will gather with Write participants to guide workshops in creative writing. While I’ve taught numerous classes on how to raise chickens, can preserves, make cheese, yogurt & butter, and create body care products, I’ve yet to actually teach about the craft of writing. This is a new direction for me, and one which I feel emboldened to embrace. I’m also wanting to dabble in other literary genres myself, and hope to learn a thing or two while there, in addition to teaching. The teacher is the student, and all that.

Come out to Orcas Island, if you can! I would so love to meet you! This event promises to be more than just a writer’s retreat in a gorgeous setting. From all I’ve seen and read, it looks like lives are changed here. Dare to dream, friends!

Blue Ridge Books Event

Blue Ridge Books Flyer
Local friends, let’s meet and greet! I’ll be at the lovely Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, NC this coming Sunday. Details are above. If you’re available and interested, I’d love to give you a hug in person!

What I’m Digging

Huxley Ice Cream
Happy Friday, friends! I’m writing you today from my dining room table, where the windows are open, rain is falling, it’s about 68 degrees outside, and I’m comfortably wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. In mid/late July. The forecast for the next 8-9 days calls for more temps in the 70′s and low 80′s. While the mountains of western North Carolina are known for their temperate summers, this is proving to be an especially unusual one. But when I’m still sleeping under a down comforter at night, on the second floor of a house with no a.c. in the middle of summer, I have no intentions of complaining. I know parts of the midwest had mornings in the 40′s this week. Craziness. Meanwhile the Pacific northwest is hot and battling wild fires (sending these in the line of the blaze thoughts for safety and calmer winds and rain!). It’s a wacky summer, to be sure.

Since I last posted, I had a birthday. It’s funny, with the amount of entertaining I’ve been doing professionally, for my books, come my own celebratory day, I just want things to be as low key and chill as possible. We headed up to the Pisgah Inn for pancakes and stellar views, where several dear friends met up with us. Then, with our buddy Rich, we drove to Black Balsam for a hike. A mountain bald, that spot is my favorite of the hikes and views I’ve encountered on the Blue Ridge Parkway thus far. The summer I turned 30, I took a friend with me to the U.K.. After several nights in London, and one night in Glasgow, we travelled by train to the western highlands of Scotland. Pure magic, that place, and one of the few places I’ve visited that felt so very much like “home” upon arriving. Black Balsam reminds me of the Scottish Highlands (minus the black pudding and beans for breakfast, mind you). For the past three years, this has been my birthday ritual-pancakes at Pisgah Inn followed by a hike at Black Balsam (or Graveyard Fields). It is peaceful and fulfilling in a way that seems genetically appropriate-which is to say, my ancestors hail from the very part of Scotland I visited, and Scottish settlers called this region of Appalachia home long ago, so, it is well with my soul, to be here, in this place, on the day of my birth.

In other news, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that caught my attention recently:

*The cabbageworms wiped out my brassicas this year, twice over. Next year (or maybe even for my fall garden), it’s all about the row cover.

*Karen Solomon has done it again, this time with a new book on Asian Pickles.

*Love the idea of making these DIY leather earrings for loved ones.

*Baking Tara’s blueberry crisp as soon as I publish this round-up.

*Got mosquitos? Battle them by planting and growing all-natural repellant plants.

*Easiest fridge dill pickles.

*Go immediately and enter this AMAZING giveaway, offering all of these things (including a full set of my Homemade Living books series!):
1) One $200 Gift Certificate to Local Harvest
2) One “Locally Grown” t-shirt, graciously donated by Fed by Threads
3) One Preserving by the Pint book, graciously donated by Marisa McClellan
4) One set of autographed Homemade Living Series books, graciously donated by Ashley English
5) One The Art of Gardening: Building Your Soil eBook, graciously donated by Susan of Learning and Yearning

*Wonderful blog post on the Evocative Power of Hands, by my dear friend Nicole.

*Tim’s Tabbouleh is infinitely adaptable to whatever inspires you at the farmer’s market or in your garden.

*Six ways to preserve summer’s bounty (there’s much more to preserving than just canning!).

*This lovely U.K.-based crafting blog is giving away 5 (!!!) copies of my book Handmade Gatherings!

*Just discovered Dig This Chick and am seriously enjoying getting to know it.

*I need some Sweet Cherry Chutney in my life.

The forecast for rain continues all weekend. Taking Huxley to a toddler ninja class in the morning. He’ll be pumped! Then we’ll likely make a beeline for the North Asheville Tailgate Market, and the Farm & Sparrow tent specifically. I dream about their pastries all week. Glenn’s younger sister, Pam, and her three children Sophie (15), Sam (12), and Zeke (8) are visiting, so the weekend will otherwise include much cousin hang time for Huxley. He loves those kids so much, calling Sam and Zeke his brothers, or, to be phonetically specific, his “brudders” (he’s remarkably gifted at enunciation, but there are a few works he says in the sweetest kid way, this being one of them. “Brek-tist”, for “breakfast”, is another. I almost don’t have the heart to correct him. He’ll say it right eventually, but for now, brudders and brektist it is!).

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. We finally discovered our amazing community pool this week (after only 7 years of living here, sheesh!). This ice cream treat at The Hop was a post inaugural swim treat (not seen, my and Glenn’s banana splits-each of us-off camera). He begins swimming lessons there on Monday and is beyond excited to swim “like a fishie”! 

*When I’m working on a new book, as I am now, I sometimes just don’t get around to posting here as regularly as I’d like. Such is life. You can always keep up with me on Instagram, though. And if you’re not on there, you can still see my captioned images by clicking on the photos on the left column here titled “Instagram.” 

Cold Antler Farm (+ Giveaway!!!)

Cold Antler Farm 2

I have long been an avid practitioner of delayed gratification. For what feels like, well, always, when considering adding something new to my life, be it a pair of shoes, a new coat, or something really simple, like a new bar of soap, I hem and haw and take an unduly long time to finally commit to the new purchase. It’s not that I haven’t made up my mind. I definitely know I want whatever is in question. It’s just taking the leap to moving it from something I pine for to something I have actually acquired can be a long, drawn out process.

My penchant for delaying the inevitable can also sometimes extend to the cinematic and literary domains. If there’s a film I am absolutely certain I wish to view, or a t.v. show that’s clearly got “Ashley” written all over it, I can take forevvvvvvvvvver to finally head to the theater or settle into the couch and flip on the remote. Who knows why. The answer for that isn’t for me to determine. It’s simply a trait about myself that I know, and have long known, and truly, sincerely appreciate that others can tolerate and even embrace (Glenn, I’m looking at you).

When it’s a book in question that has attracted my attention, I am so very torn. A wordsmith myself, when I encounter text that deeply resonates with me, I want to consume it whole, in one sitting, while simultaneously wanting/allowing/wishing for it to take months to turn over the final page. Jenna Woginrich’s newest book, Cold Antler Farm (also the name of her homesteading blog), tore me into competing camps. A chronicle of a year in her life, closely tethered to the Earth and to the seasons as it is, is luminously and humorously penned. It is captivating and heart-wrenching and candid-my literary holy trinity. As such, I had a hard time finishing it, and said as much in my back-of-the-book-jacket review.

In Cold Antler Farm, Jenna relays her story, as a small scale homesteader in Washington County, New York. It’s also the story, though, of countless generations before her. Of those whose lives were measured in hours of sunlight and stores of food in the root cellar, of calve births and harvest moons. It taps into a time both wholly new to many in the modern world and yet timeless and ancient. It is lovely and stirring and poignant and I kept closing it up, so as to draw out its splendor for yet another day.

Today is Jenna’s birthday. Tomorrow is mine. As such, we are both Cancerians, as well as, with this new book of hers, Roost “sisters.” We’re two of a kind, she and I. If we lived a bit closer, I have no doubt we would swallow cider frequently (we’d make it together in autumn, of course, just like she shares in her book), and carve pumpkins on one another’s porches, and let our dogs chase each other, and cheer on each other’s successes and mourn each other’s challenges and travails. As it is, we do that digitally.

Today, let’s celebrate Jenna. It’s her day, after all. How about a giveaway? Roost has generously offered to give a copy of Cold Antler Farm to one small measure reader. I promise, you’ll equally not want to put it down and find any excuse to do so, to draw out its tale. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below about your favorite season, or month of the year. For me, it’s October and all of autumn. The fact that my sweet Huxley was born both in my most beloved month and during my favorite season endures him to me all that more.

I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding July 17th, midnight EST. Please leave a means of contacting you in your reply, should you be the winner (email addresses are visible only to me). Even if you don’t win, do check out Jenna’s book. It’s one for the ages, truly. Happy birthday, soul sister!