Thursday, March 14, 2019

Celebrate the Seasons: March!



After the long, dark winter (longer and darker for some parts of the country than others), spring is just around the corner for most of the United States. Although the “New Year” takes place in the dead of winter, the Vernal Equinox seems like a better time to review the year, to contemplate where you’ve been and where you’re going, as cultures all over the northern hemisphere celebrate the birthing of spring. Here are some ways to celebrate!

1. Look for spring foraged foods. The first foraged foods of the year are here! If you’ve never foraged before, start with the dandelion: pick the early leaves and throw them in your next batch of stir-fry or pasta sauce. Violet flowers are also delicious, and a host of other edibles are at your fingertips: redbud blossoms and pods, henbit or deadnettle, and wild garlic, to name a few.

2. Have a vernal equinox party. It’s a time of renewal, rebirth, and new life, so celebrate by serving up some foraged greens (see point #1) along with eggs, asparagus, new potatoes, lamb, or other traditional spring foods.

3. Sow early seeds. In the St. Louis area (zone 6), now is a great time to plant cool-season crops such as peas, spinach, lettuce, or onion sets.

4. Divide perennials (or ask for some). This is also a good time of year to dig up sections of summer-flowering perennials and herbs; they need to be divided to keep them healthy, and you can share your bounty with other people. If you don’t have any perennials of your own, try putting out the word that you’re looking for some— if you have any gardening friends, they’ll likely jump to the rescue. (If all you can manage are houseplants, ask if anyone has succulents they can divide.)

5. Think of how you will celebrate this upcoming year in tune with the seasons. Humans, like nature, are meant to live in predictable cycles, and I can think of no better cycle than the passing of the seasons. Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, take time to notice the rhythms of sky and clouds, seed and harvest, hibernation and foraging. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

~~~

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Mount Hamilton



Since arriving in the Northwest, Zach and I have gotten to do a fair bit of walking and short hikes around the area, but the highlight so far was our summit of Mount Hamilton, a peak along the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, a couple weeks ago.

We arrived in a snowy parking lot and set out into the woods, our shoes squelching in the slushy mud. The trail began fairly mildly, winding along the hillsides covered in Douglas firs. Zebra stripes of light fell across the trunks, creating a dappled pattern of green all around. A mile in, we paused to check out some waterfalls that bounced down the hillside, including a pool where the first ten-foot fall thundered into a smooth sink it had cut out of the rock.

Skidding and slipping on the muddy snow, we began climbing up the shoulders of the mountain, then began a series of switchbacks that zigzagged their way up the slope, pausing at an outcropping of mossy volcanic rock that looked out over the Columbia Gorge. The sky, which has been hesitantly blue at first, was more solid now, and we could see far west down the river, from where we’d come.



After that, the snow grew deeper and more icy, and we tromped in frozen footsteps of hikers before us. The trees we passed were first dusted, then weighed down, with snow, which sunlight thawed and flicked off the needles, causing snow to trickle down or fall off in clumps with a soft rustling.


The higher we hiked, the more intermittent the trees became, and we often found ourselves switchbacking up empty snowy slopes that slid off into oblivion. My heart began racing, and Zach and I kept reassuring each other that we would turn back if it got too scary. The snow became deeper and got slushier, making us tread lightly to avoid post-holing. We scrambled under huge fans of fir branches touching the ground with the weight of snow, and tiptoed over tracks in the snow that ran a line across smooth cliffs. But at last, we scrambled through a short bit of brushy snow, and found ourselves on the summit.



Now we could see in almost all directions, both east and west down the gorge, looking at the town of Stevenson below and seeing the snowy mountains all around. The cliffs along the gorge almost look fake because many of them form perfect triangles, rising like pyramids alongside the huge river.

A woman and her adorable dog were at the summit, and we sat next to her and ate lunch while her dog rolled around in the snow (and tried to eat our burritos). On the way down, neither of us felt nearly as much fear, and we made it down safely and bought a huge tub of Tillamook hazelnut ice cream to celebrate.


~~~

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A New Adventure

Zach on our recent hike up Mount Hamilton


I’m sitting at a desk in front of a triptych of large windows, looking out at golden sun melting into the forest of Douglas firs, English ivy, and bare maple trees across the street. My second-floor room, the guest bedroom, is a good spot to edit papers, or watch birds, or just daydream and watch the last of winter’s snow spiraling down. 

I’m supposed to be working right now, but it’s hard to find the focus. I’m just staring at the tiny Anna’s hummingbird perched on the tip of the pine free in the front yard. He’s fluffed out against the cold, and flicks his tongue in the frosty air. In the shadow he’s a dull green with a black head; when he turns, his face catches the sunlight and flashes an iridescent, electric-golden pink.

The past month is a blur. The past several months, in fact. I remember my hands in the dishwater at our house, our home, in St. Charles, so many miles and days away. I was washing, Zach drying. He had to leave for work in five minutes. It was early December. 

Zach said, “What if we moved to Portland for six months?”

My mind processed the words slowly.

“I could transfer to the Walmart out there,” he continued. “We could live with my dad and spend the summer there.” His eyes sparkled with a light that I hadn’t seen in months. 

I think I murmured something about that being an interesting idea, but I stared at the dishes and dug in my heels. What, uproot everything we had worked so hard to build— give away our chickens— say goodbye to our friends— leave behind the garden and the fruit trees— just to continue living the same normal life, but two thousand miles across the country?

Zach left for work, and I cried.

For two days I was beside myself. If we went to Portland, would we come back? Would moving there truly destroy everything we had built here? Why on earth would I want to pick up my life and haul it across the country, after investing so much here?

For two days I exhausted every possible fret and hiccup and worry, trying frantically to shove it away, but the idea lingered, even apart from the sparkle in Zach’s eyes. 

On the third day, something inside me clicked. The whole idea now seemed perfectly reasonable. Exciting, even! What a great way to travel while still making money! Why hadn’t we considered this earlier? I hadn’t felt so sure about something in months, perhaps years. 

Zach and I talked about what a six-month trip (temporary move? long-term stay?) might look like. The anxiety melted away as we talked about spending time with the Strader side of the family, visiting friends and grandparents, hiking in the mountains, learning trail skills in volunteer work, growing cool-weather crops in his dad’s backyard, visiting Mount Hood and Forest Park and the Oregon coast. Within the course of a day, the trip felt utterly inevitable.

Huge obstacles tumbled out of our way, one by one. Zach’s dad was excited to have us come stay with him, and the rest of his family in the area welcomed us enthusiastically. A close friend agreed to move into our house while we were gone. We found a wonderful home for our chickens. A successor stepped up to take my place as secretary in my neighborhood group. Zach was able to transfer to the Walmart a mile from his dad’s house, still as a customer service manager.  

My certainty didn’t waver. Not when I told our close friends and felt my heart break as they cried. Not when I cuddled Fluffy Buffy one last time before giving her and her sisters away to a friend from church. Not when I was having a nervous breakdown because packing was so stressful. The conviction remained. We wanted out and away, a break from the routine of life, a chance to look at our normal life through binoculars and figure out what the heck we were doing. 

Was it running away? It felt an awful lot like running away. Was that okay?

Finally, less than two weeks ago (I had to double check the dates, because I couldn’t believe that it was so recently), we sat on a plane, in the very back in the last two available side-by-side seats. I felt the ache of the stress of the past couple weeks wearing on me. Zach listened to music and I doodled and ate Oreos and drank plastic cups of orange juice even though yesterday I had promised myself to go all zero-waste and not get a beverage. We flew mostly over clouds, although a couple times I glanced down to see snowy wilderness below.

Finally, the plane submerged into the clouds, blotting the windows gray-white. This was always how I had entered the Northwest, and I found myself staring at the window, remembering my first solo trip to Washington: descending through two huge cloud banks and seeing the twinkle of lights below and knowing that I was in a new place, full of adventure, and feeling amazed that I wasn’t terrified.

Now, I found myself staring at the window in desperation. I didn’t want to look away or blink, even though my eyes were hurting from trying to see any pattern in the solid sheet of gray. Falling through a cloud that first solo trip, almost ten years ago, had felt like a new birth— I had known then that my life would never be the same. I wanted to feel that significance. I wanted to feel like this moment counted, like this trip was a kind of starting over, a new birth, a chance to open wide my heart and draw deep breaths of new air and say, “Here, this is my life. It’s an adventure and I will take it as it comes.”

I abruptly realized that I had zoned out; so caught up in trying to tease out the meaningfulness of the moment, I had missed it. Gray fir trees and little arteries of highways slid by under the window. We had broken through the clouds, and within a few minutes our plane roared to a stop. We had made it.

~~~

Friday, February 8, 2019

Celebrate the Seasons: February!



In my part of the country, February is one of the most temperamental months, weather-wise (yesterday the state of Missouri had a tornado warning, freezing rain, dense fog, flash flood warning, snow, sleet, sub-zero temperatures, and everything in between— in just one day). When the weather is being crazy, it’s tempting to stay inside, but I encourage you to put on some good clothing and head outdoors! (Then come home afterward, make yourself a hot chocolate, and consider some of the suggestions below.)

1. Find a new nature area to explore. It can be tough to find energy to go out in the weather, but exploring a new place can provide the motivation. Look around what’s near you and see if anything sounds interesting! (St. Louisans, I highly recommend Powder Valley Nature Center— which features a cozy indoor area with a bird-watching wall. For Missourians in general, check out the new Missouri Department of Conservation's Outdoors App.)

2. Have a waste-free Valentine’s Day. Holidays are always a good time to consider gift-giving and wastefulness. See the New Dream guide for a meaningful (and environmentally-friendly) Valentine’s Day. 

3. Try your hand at a craft. Traditionally, winter months were mostly spent inside working on things that would be useful for the upcoming year. If you’re looking to try a new craft, now is a good time to start! Choose one that doesn’t require buying a lot of gear (for instance, ask to borrow someone knitting needles and buy a single skein of yarn, rather than buying several sizes and a rainbow of colors), ask a friend who knows the skill, see if your library offers free classes and instructional books, or check out the ever-helpful mentor, Uncle Google. I’ve enjoyed making wreaths and other decorations out of natural materials, and have been practicing my drawing more lately. How about whittling, weaving, candle-making, or baking?

4. Swap seeds. There may be a seed swap happening near you, but you can always hack it by asking other gardening friends if they have seeds to trade. If you’re in the St. Louis area, make plans to attend the STL Seeding Frenzy Seed Swap— last year I brought zinnia seeds and came home with all sorts of veggie and flower seeds, plus a Jerusalem artichoke tuber that grew into towering sunflowers!

5. Read aloud to a friend. Storytelling around a fire has been part of winter in the North for time out of mind, and reading a book aloud by candlelight honors that tradition. Waiting for spring is inherent in winter, but listening to stories in the meantime is a beautiful way to embrace this unpredictable month.

How do you celebrate February?

~~~

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Why I Forage



Like gardening, my love of foraging came to me later in life— but unlike gardening, I did have some experience with it. As a kid I spent many wet spring days tromping through the woods with my brother Christian, ducking through thickets of bush honeysuckle and poking around rotted elm trees in search of morels. I never found any (unless Christian told me, “There’s one somewhere in these three square feet”), and I never ate any (I didn’t like mushrooms), but I enjoyed the quiet of the forest, the birds flitting away from us, the challenge of scanning the forest floor straining my eyes to pick out a pattern. 

As a kid I could identify a handful of edibles: our backyard had a mulberry tree, and we’d snack on the berries a bit in the summer (not too much, though; they weren’t very sweet). I liked to chew on sassafras twigs, which have a root-beer-like flavor, and occasionally the blackberry brambles would yield a berry or two. Other plants— like dandelion and stinging nettle— I knew were edible but didn’t care to try. As I grew up, I didn’t bother searching through the woods because I wasn’t likely to find anything, anyway. Aside from a mulberry snack here and there (and, whenever I visited the Northwest, blackberries), I gave up foraging.

Over the past year, I was determined to learn more about foraging, as a way to expand my palate, identify more plants, and get a sense of what kind of useful plants were growing for free in the nearby woods. Through the year, we worked our way through dandelion, stinging nettle, garlic mustard, elderflowers (the birds got all the wild elderberries before we could), mulberries, oyster mushrooms, and spruce and pine needle tea. I learned about a lot more edibles, too, although I only got a taste of each: violets, redbud blossoms, and purslane, to name a few. Goals for next year include more mushrooms, cattails, sassafras leaves (you powder them to make filé for gumbo), wild grape leaves, beechnuts, pawpaw, and persimmon (we found persimmons but they were underripe, even after the tree lost all its leaves).

Throughout these experiences, I’ve come to appreciate foraging a lot more, for several reasons:

1. Foraging is a fun angle for approaching the woods. I love hiking, but foraging encourages me to slow down and scan every plant, searching for a pattern that matches what I’m after. Once we find a good patch of nettle or cluster of oyster mushrooms, we can either gather it then or come back later, enjoying the process of gathering, carrying, and cooking the food.

2. Foraged foods are an excellent source of nutrients. Most wild greens are much more nutrient-dense than cultivated plants! This is one of the reasons Zach likes foraging: he hates to spend money on greens that he doesn’t consider “real” food, but will gladly eat greens he gets for free. 

3. You learn a lot about plants. Identifying plants always seemed overwhelming to me. However, when you need to identify something you’re going to eat, you have to be absolutely sure you know what it is, so foraging attunes your eyes and senses. Once you start getting a sense of what plant is what, you can spot similar species nearby. The more you learn, the easier it is to identify like plants.

4. It helps you see the abundance all around. After foraging dandelion all spring, I now feel almost offended that people buy poison specifically to kill this incredibly useful plant. This is free hardy greens, available to anyone— assuming that it’s growing in a non-contaminated area. The same goes for any foraged plant. Garlic mustard is an invasive plant, so all this free pesto material grows all over. Literal pounds of oyster mushrooms grow on trees, offering free nutrition to anyone who can identify them. Once you start to see how the forest can feed you, it’s staggering.

Have you ever tried foraging? If not, what are your hesitations or fears about trying?

~~~

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Celebrate the Seasons: January!



It’s the dead of winter, which may mean knee-deep snow or just a lot of gray days, depending on where you live. January to me is a time of reflection and reframing, a time to appreciate cozy evenings, warm drinks, and fires. Here are five ways to celebrate the new year!

1. Start a library habit. There are few habits that will reap more rewards than getting into the routine of visiting the library. If you don’t have a card, figure out how to get one, then mark “Go to library” on your calendar. Visit on a prescribed schedule until it’s just habit. Libraries are one of the most amazing underutilized resources. Even if you don’t like reading, check out the movies, video games, audiobooks, and more!

2. Order seeds. If you’re thinking about a garden for springtime, now is the time to cheer yourself up by thumbing through seed catalogs. I highly recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

3. Forage some pine needles. Learn to identify white pine, and you’ll have ingredients for an herbal tea chock-full of Vitamin C to get you through the winter months! Simply chop the needles roughly and steep them for several minutes in boiling water.

4. Figure out how to cook something you’ve never tried. Winter is the perfect time to learn different cooking techniques— whether you’re baking, braising, roasting, or sautéing, the extra heat in the kitchen is a plus rather than a minus this time of year. Do you want to learn how to make sourdough bread? The perfect soufflé? Sushi? Meatloaf? The Internet (or the library, see above) has everything you need to get started.

5. Bundle up and get outside. Play in the snow, take a walk, watch winter birds (St. Louisans, did you know it’s eagle-watching season?), throw some rocks into a frozen pond. It can be intimidating to brave the cold during the winter, but the benefits are well worth it!

How do you celebrate January?
~~~


Monday, January 7, 2019

18 Skills I Learned in 2018



When I look back and reflect on a year, my first instinct is to be negative. “I never did build those cold frames.” “I didn’t have a fall garden at all.” “I still didn’t learn how to drive!” However, while scrolling through my blog, I found an old post titled “16 Skills I Learned in 2016.” It was fun to read what I had learned that year, and thinking about 2018, I realized that I learned an incredible amount this past year. Sometimes I have to remind myself of how far I’ve come, even if I didn’t do everything that I hoped I would. 


In 2018, I learned how to...

1. Identify dozens of plants. Point out a bird and I can tell you whether it’s a warbler or a wren, but until this year I could only identify a handful of plants. Zach and I worked together to start learning more plants— beginning with the ones we could eat— and although I still have a long way to go, I’m able to spot patterns now, and at least make educated guesses about whether I’m observing a leguminous vine or some species of dock.

2. Raise chickens. This has been one of my favorite things I’ve learned! Reading about keeping chickens was incredibly daunting, but once we actually started raising them, I realized that, like many things, it’s easier in practice than it is in theory.


4. Cook and eat weeds. I’ve always been able to identify dandelions, violets, field garlic (“onion grass”), stinging nettle, and mulberries, and even snacked on them upon occasion, but this was the year that I sat down and actually learned how to make them taste good. There is so much free food growing around!

5. Make sourdough bread. I have my favorite whole-wheat sandwich loaf recipe memorized, and incorporate it into my weekly routine.

6. Make flatbread through feel, rather than a recipe. After making bread so many times, I’ve started to get a feel for the proportions of flour, water, salt, and starter— and so I can make pizza crust or flatbread without measuring anything. It’s a fun way to use up the extra starter!

7. Notice when my brain is being hacked by advertisers. I wrote a blog miniseries about this, here, here, and here.

8. Cut hair. Well... this one is debatable. But I did give myself and Zach haircuts, and nobody reacted in shocked horror (or noticed at all). So I’m calling that a win!

9. Balance salt, fat, acid, and heat in my cooking. Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat is a must-read!

10. Grow sweet potatoes, butternut squash, watermelon, and cucumbers. I had never grown (or successfully grown) any of these crops before, but this year they all grew like weeds.

11. Use cloth toilet paper. Save money, save trees, gross out everyone even though it’s not gross! (If people can do it in the backcountry, I can do it with ready access to a washer.)

12. Allow my mind to be changed. I’ve tried to embrace more fully the idea that I can be wrong, and focus on reading perspectives and opinions that stretch me out of my comfort zone. It’s not fun, but the paradigm shifts are well worth the effort.

13. Preserve produce. I learned how to cure squash and sweet potatoes, cook down fresh tomatoes into paste, and preserve basil by mixing it with olive oil and salt. I also hung bundles of basil, thyme, oregano, and peppermint to dry in the dining room, and now I’m enjoying the benefits. 

14. Appreciate the true cost of food. I read several thought-provoking books about the impact that our eating choices have on the environment, the culture, and our spiritual lives. I highly recommend The Third Plate by Dan Barber, Kiss the Ground by Josh Tickell, and Food and Faith by Norman Wirzba.

15. Scale back our everyday spending. I came into this year hoping to cut back on our spending more than ever before, and I think we’ve been successful. It doesn’t feel like deprivation— we have plenty of walks and hiking, foraging and gardening, reading, potlucks, board games, and library DVDs.

16. Handle big expenses. Between a lot of doctor’s visits and having to replace our air conditioner and furnace, it’s been a year of cringe-worthy expenses. However, living below our means and having a cash cushion has helped us weather these expenses fairly gracefully, a trait I hope I’ll keep in the future.

17. Reframe questions. In permaculture design, knowing how to ask a question is an extremely important part of the process. For instance, instead of asking, “How do I grow all my own food?” you can ask, “How do I meet my food needs sustainably?” This kind of reframing has been key in our decision-making and dreaming this past year.

18. Make pumpkin pie from scratch. I grew pumpkins, harvested and cured them, baked them, scraped out and pureed the flesh, and used that to make pie for Thanksgiving. It was pretty simple, but for some reason, this was one of my proudest skill-building moments of the year. 

What did you learn this last year? What do you hope to learn this year?

~~~

Friday, January 4, 2019

Recipe: 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Peanut-butter-honey-chia toast with kale salad = delicious breakfast!


Since Zach and I loooove our carbs, we eat toast with peanut butter and honey basically every morning. And since we want delicious, hearty homemade bread for our toast, bread-making is a weekly ritual for me. 

I had tried for years to find a good recipe that was 100% whole wheat, but most of them had tons of sugar or honey, or weird ingredients like powdered milk, and half the time they still came out like crumbly bricks. That was before I discovered the magic of sourdough— it produces whole wheat loaves that, while denser than the fluffy country blond boules that Zach makes, have a nice crumb and a delicious nutty flavor. The process is a bit involved, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly simple. 

I can’t for the life of me remember where we got this recipe, but it’s my favorite so far.

This process has several steps:
Create a sourdough starter (see below)
Soak flour and water (20-30 minutes).
Add starter and salt, then fold several times at intervals (about an hour and a half).
Let rise (overnight or eight hours).
Shape into loaves and let proof (a couple hours).
Bake. 

Ingredients and equipment needed:
Whole-wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur brand because it’s very fine)
Rye flour (optional, can sub whole wheat instead)
Salt 
Kitchen scale 
Very big mixing bowl
Knife or pastry cutter
Cooking spray or oil
Two bread pans
Kitchen towel
Kitchen thermometer (optional)

This particular recipe is made with a sourdough starter that was fed about eight hours previously (longer if the house is cold). I usually start the sourdough bread in the evening around 7:00, which gives me plenty of time to mix and fold it.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Makes two loaves; I wrap one tightly in a kitchen towel and two plastic bags, then freeze it for later use.

(Start in the evening)
Combine in a large bowl: 
1,006 grams whole wheat flour 
94 grams rye flour (or more whole wheat)
978 grams water, heated to 95ºF (very warm to the touch)
Let sit for 30 minutes or so.

Then, spoon in:
25 grams salt
200-250 grams sourdough starter
Aggressively squish together with your hands until thoroughly combined, then “fold” a couple times inward until the dough is a tight ball. (It helps to wet your hands.)
Cover the bowl and let rest 30 minutes.

The dough should be puddled out; grab one edge at a time and firmly fold it into the center until you have a tight ball again. Cover the bowl and let rest another 30 minutes. Do this at least twice more, resting for 30 minutes in between each time.

Let the dough sit overnight, or until it doubles in size. (If your house is excessively cold or hot [like ours], it helps to put the dough in a cooler with either a heating pad or an ice pack, to keep the temperature consistent. If you keep your house at a normal temperature, this is unnecessary.)

In the morning, spray two bread pans with cooking oil. Spritz some water on a counter or large cutting board and dump the dough onto it. Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut the dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place in the loaf pans. 

Sprinkle flour over a dish towel and use the floured towel to cover the bread so it can proof. Let it proof for a couple hours, until the loaves are nicely fluffed. If you need to wait, you can proof them in the fridge, wrapped in plastic.

Once the loaves are proofed, slash the tops and preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Bake for 20 minutes, then check. If the top looks scorched, turn down the heat. It usually needs at least 15-20 minutes more, but I usually tell when it’s done by inserting a thermometer (it should be 200º on the inside). If nothing else, stick it with a skewer to make sure the inside isn’t still doughy. Getting it baked right is a bit of trial and error.

Let the loaves cool for a few minutes, then turn them out onto cooling racks.

Voila! Delicious sourdough loaves, begging to be made into breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

~~~

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year!



After anticipating the new year for several weeks now (I kept on accidentally writing “2019” for the date), I’m happy that the calendar has finally turned! Zach and I kept up our tradition of ringing in the new year with my friend Amy, accompanied by board games, cocktails, and entirely too much cheesy food.

As I reflect on 2018, I think about the goals I scribbled on a note and stuck on the refrigerator a year ago: “Grow food. Share knowledge. Build community.” Looking at each of those intentions, I feel pretty happy. We grew several hundred pounds of food (not to mention all the miscellaneous trees, shrubs, and herbs that we planted), I blogged fairly regularly to share what I’d learned, and we made some moves to plug in more to our local community. 

Last year’s intentions came pretty naturally, but this year I set to work overthinking my intentions for 2019. After a ton of back-and-forth, I ended up with three words:

Explore,
Design, 
Create!

Although this list sounds suspiciously like an inspirational string that would end up written on a t-shirt in a saccharine font, each of these words has a lot of meaning to me. Specifically...

Explore new experiences, step outside your comfort zone, and be relentlessly curious.

Design your life with intention, simplicity, and abundance.

Create art, memories, and joy more; consume things less.

(Side note: The “design” point was inspired by a book I just read called Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Highly recommended!)

Even with their broad scope, these are only part of the picture as I continue to grapple with questions like, “What does God want me to do?”, “What does true community look like?”, “What does ‘being like Jesus’ really mean in a 21st-century context?”, and more. Still, I hope these words will act as a compass to keep me on track through the next year. 

Here’s to a joyful and abundant 2019— God bless you all. Happy New Year!

~~~

Friday, December 21, 2018

Celebrate the Seasons: December!


“December” has always been synonymous to me with “Christmas,” which I’ve always considered a season unto itself. Since I’ve worked an outdoor Christmas job for the past 13 years, I have a lot of firsthand encounters with the weather! Despite that, it’s often difficult for me to slow down and truly appreciate the beauty of the onset of winter. Here are some ways I’ve been celebrating December so far.

1. Decorate with natural materials. Working with evergreens, twigs, or berries to make something beautiful is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. This can be anything from placing a few fir sprigs around a candle on a plate, to bunching together a bundle of attractively-shaped branches, to making a wreath. Don’t forget the traditional decorations for birds: string popcorn into garlands, decorate pinecones with suet and seeds, or simply leave fruit hanging from ribbons.

2. Celebrate the Winter Solstice. Light a candle or a bonfire and celebrate that the darkest day of the year is past! If you want to curl up with a mug of glögg and a book of Norse mythology, even better.

3. Commit to eating seasonally. When consumers eat food that’s out of season (for instance, “fresh” tomatoes in December), it creates pressure to grow food in a way that is often exploitive, both to the land and the people who harvest the produce (check out Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland for a great example of this). The way forward to sustainable agriculture lies in being in tune with the seasons, and that is paved by more and more consumers commit to eating winter vegetables in winter— kale, broccoli, root vegetables, and so on. Learn more about what’s in season in your area here!

4. Take a walk on Christmas Day. Christmas can be a hectic day for many people, but try to take some time to step outside and center yourself. Breathe the crisp air (or the unseasonably warm air, depending), look for birds, get your blood moving, and remember what the holiday is about.

5. Consider an eco-friendly New Year’s Resolution. I actually prefer the idea of replacing “resolution” with “habit:” think about one habit that you would like to cultivate in the upcoming year, and consider taking on an environmentally-related one. This could be committing to using a canvas bag instead of plastic, eating less meat, carrying a reusable water bottle, shopping at the farmers market, or doing a retail-shopping ban. Whatever you choose, let people know you’re trying to build the new habit so they can join you!

How do you celebrate December?

~~~