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the magazine for makers, doers and dreamers

ISSUE 20 :: SHARE $12 US/$15 CAN


holiday celebrations & gifts to make :: natural skin care :: healing stocks & broths :: embroidery :: knitting :: coloring pages





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Farming the Suburbs by Sarah Koff

The Quiet Hum of Industry by Maya Stein

Taking Over the Farm by Emmet Van Driesche

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

by Sina Schneider


In Honor of Saint Sunrise Day

44 Good Things Come in Small Packages


Potluck Dips

by Kaity Farrell


Taking Stock

The Power of Handmade

by Christine Chitnis

by Holly Bellebuono

Share: A Coloring Page

by McKenzie Elizabeth Ditter

by Khristopher Flack


by Ashley English

Share: A Coloring Page by Jennifer Judd-McGee








Listening to Our Elder by Katie Spring

Oil & Vinegar by Rachel Wolf

74 How to Cut Perfect Six- Pointed Snowflakes


by Caitlin Betsy Bell

A Woolen Portrait



A Word Requiring No Translation by Amy Woschek Schmidt

Sharing a House by William Powers

106 The Thirty-Two Project

by Penelope Rose

108 Working Together

by Nicolas Lindholm

by Kristine Vejar

82 Cross-Stitch Holiday Ornaments

by Alicia Paulson


Knúsa Shawl

by Bristol Ivy


taproot /'tĂŚp,ru:t/ noun

1. The large primary root of plants such as the dandelion, which grows vertically downwards and bears smaller, lateral roots. 2. A quarterly magazine celebrating food, farm, family, and craft through writing, photography, and the arts, both fine and domestic.

ISSUE 20 :: SHARE Publisher Jason Miller

Editor Amanda Blake Soule

Advisor Ted Blood Associate Editor Meredith Winn Designer Caitlin Betsy Bell

Copy Editor Amy Chamberlain Business Manager Veronica Medwid

Marketing Manager Katie Ustaris


Subscribe Questions? Taproot Magazine (ISSN 2333-6293) Issue 20 published November 9, 2016, by Beautiful Child, LLC. Taproot is published quarterly in Shelburne, Vermont (120 Graham Way #200, Shelburne, VT 05482). Periodical postage paid at Shelburne and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to: Taproot Magazine, 120 Graham Way #200, Shelburne, VT 05482-9906. Copyright Š2016 Taproot Magazine. All rights reserved.

from the Editor ALTHOUGH OUR MOVE to the farm six years ago had been long dreamt about, strategically plotted, and financially planned for, we were unprepared for the reality of all the things we would come to need. And I mean “need” in the most literal and practical sense of the word. Tools. Gear. Equipment. At the outset of nearly every new farm activity came the discovery that we were lacking some or all of the proper tools or equipment to get the job done—or, more accurately, done well. We had the axe and chainsaw, but not the splitter. We had the bee boxes and frames, but not the extractor. We had bought a truck, but not a tractor. It isn’t that we were surprised by the fact that efficiently splitting wood requires a wood splitter, or that removing stumps from our reclaimed pasture is a job best suited for a tractor (plus a stump-grinding attachment!). It’s just that perhaps we didn’t fully realize how immediately we would be using all of these things, how completely we were diving into the areas of farm life that require them. But our naiveté also came with a gift. For we were quick to discover that, somehow, in our attempts to be self-sustaining as a family, we would absolutely have to rely on the help and support of others. The need for a wood splitter came first. With the purchase of our house unexpectedly delayed by many months, we eventually found ourselves tucking into our old farmhouse a mere month before we’d light the season’s first fire in the woodstove, our only source of heat that winter. Not knowing yet that it would be the coldest winter in recent decades, we still knew we would need to cut a great deal of wood to heat such a large (and, then, poorly insulated) house for a family who is home all day and night. A job not very well suited for one man, one woman, and a single axe. What a blessing when, in the woods on those first days on our property, my husband came across our neighbor Bruce—a lifelong resident of this land—for the very first time. With wisdom and humor and maybe a little bit of pity in his nearly eighty-year-old eyes, Bruce saw the impossibility of the task ahead of us. Before the day was through, his wood splitter was in our dooryard—he himself at the helm and Steve at his side. It’s a sign I’ve seen many times since: the two of them at work over the wood splitter together, one log after another, one winter after another one. A dear and true friendship was formed right there and then, and now I am left unable to count the number of times our neighbor has come to our aid in one task or another, with this tool or that one that we did not have. Bruce’s friend Buddy was the one with the stump-grinder attachment for the tractor—the same Buddy who came and bush-hogged the overgrown pasture to make way for our meat birds to live there. When it was time for those meat birds to be harvested, eighty of them in one day by just two adults (one with a baby on her back), it was then the very friends who taught us poultry harvesting who kindly called to say, “Borrow our plucker!” (We’ve borrowed that plucker six times since.) Later, when it came time to shear our sheep for the first time, we called the farmer who had sold them to us for a shearing recommendation. “I’ll come and show you how!” he graciously said, and did just that. And when all that fiber was in my hands—so much more than I ever anticipated or knew what to do with—he led us to another farmer, who said, “You should use our drum carder!” And on and on like that. Humbling, really. For we can’t be the only homesteaders with a streak of independence who got into all of this to make our own and do it ourselves. Time and time again, we have learned that we cannot do any of it without what has been shared with us. Six years in, we have an assortment of tools piling up in the barn, and relationships whereby we can borrow what we need from others. And now we find ourselves in the incredibly lucky position of being able to ask ourselves the question, What do we have to share? When I return the chicken plucker to our friends, now I leave our sheep shears for them. I drop off our surplus lard for another farming family and pick up their surplus of rabbit meat. The honey extractor we bought rotates among beekeepers: why do we need it all to ourselves when we use it for a single day of the year? We do not need to have all the things. We simply need each other. Steve and I finally bought our own wood splitter this season. And wouldn’t you know it, just this month neighbor Bruce’s started giving him trouble. Despite his mechanical skills and dogged perseverance, it might just be the end of that splitter. Fortunately, we have one to share.



Letters I MET YOUR MAGAZINE at this year’s Asheville Mother Earth News Fair. Everything I picked up at the fair that weekend has remained in a bag until these past few weeks when I was at home, off work with a knee injury. Finally with spare time to sit, I thought I’d catch up, but I got no farther than the issue of Taproot. Browsing through this amazing magazine took me back to those moments at the fair when I was first completely bowled over by the incredible inclusion of so much beautiful wonder and common sense impossibly held together between two covers. So now I’m back for more. Thank you so much for doing what you do, and for doing it with such an eye and heart for sensing what people need.








Lyne Marshal, NC

MY SON, RÓNÁN, 15 months, has been loving looking through our stack of every single Taproot published, for months. Not only are these the sturdiest magazines (they’ve never been ripped, and he loves “flipping” through them) but also he’ll stare at the images like he’s soaking in its rich content. Rachel Bingham Kessler

We want to hear from you! We are pleased to receive your letters, both snail and electronically mailed. If we print yours, you will be rewarded with a free one-year subscription or extension. Send letters to or Taproot Magazine, 120 Graham Way #200, Shelburne, VT 05482. Letters may be edited for length and style. Please specify in your correspondence whether you would prefer us not to print your last name and/or physical location.

Contributors CAITLIN BETSY BELL spent much of her childhood either elbow deep in the dirt or the craft drawer as her family moved all across the U.S. Her college years took her to Savannah, Georgia, for a BFA in fibers. Now she is living in Vermont with her favorite guy and their sweet baby girl. She spends her days designing, making, and being a part-time children’s librarian. See more at How to Cut Perfect Six-Pointed Snowflakes, page 74 & Cross-Stitch Holiday Ornaments, page 82 HOLLY BELLEBUONO connects plants with people. She directs the award-winning Vineyard Herbs Teas and Apothecary on Martha’s Vineyard and the Bellebuono School of Herbal Medicine. She is the author of several books about herbal medicine and women’s empowerment, including The Essential Herbal for Natural Health and Women Healers of the World. Taking Stock, page 60 CHRISTINE CHITNIS is a mother, writer, photographer, and avid home cook. She lives with her husband and two young sons in Providence, Rhode Island. She is the author of Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet (Roost, 2016), Little Bites (Roost, 2015), and Markets of New England (The Little Bookroom, 2011). Her recipes, writing, and photography have appeared in Country Living, Self, the Boston Globe, and Edible Rhody, among many other local and national publications. The Power of Handmade, page 34 MCKENZIE ELIZABETH DITTER is an illustrator, photographer, and one-half of a handmade-mbira duo. After farming for five years, she now lives in Baltimore and illustrates custom storybook family portraits. She’s working on her first picture book for grown ladies, and her artwork pulls inspiration from days spent tending gardens and wrangling mischievous lambs. Find her at Share: A Coloring Page ASHLEY ENGLISH is the author of the Homemade Living book series and A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Homebaked Pies, as well as Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties (Roost Books, 2014). She homesteads with her husband and their young son, Huxley, along with a menagerie of chickens, dogs, cats, and bees, in Candler, North Carolina. Follow her adventures in homesteading on her blog at Good Things Come in Small Packages, page 44 KAITY FARRELL is a mother, maker, artist, and private chef compelled to work with her hands and gleaning a slow, simple life with her creative partner and their young son on the island of Nantucket. She styles, photographs, and waxes poetic about seasonal plant-based fare on her blog. Delve into Kaity’s world and her homespun and handmade offerings at Potluck Dips, page 54 KHRISTOPHER FLACK lives along the edge of the woods halfway up the coast of Maine. He’s the proud co-schemer of a homestead in progress, chef of an occasional restaurant, and assistant project manager of Veggies for All, a food-bank farm. He has written for publications large and small and is passionate about breakfast, cider, and freedom. In Honor of Saint Sunrise Day, page 30 KATIE HICKEY is an illustrator from beautiful (and slightly soggy) Cornwall, England. Having grown up there as well as in the Middle East, she takes inspiration from her travels and surroundings to create characterful and atmospheric images. She now lives in the woods with her two dogs, making pictures and picking too many blackberries. In Honor of Saint Sunrise Day, page 30 XAN HOLYOAK lives in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, where she writes about natural parenting and living a conscious, sustainable life. She lives from scratch as much as sanity allows and relishes any opportunity to learn how to do it herself. Find out more at, and follow her on Instagram @theconsciouscaterpillar. The Power of Handmade, page 34 BRISTOL IVY is a knitting designer and teacher from Portland, Maine. Her work focuses on the intersection of classic tailoring and innovative technique, and has been published by Quince and Co. and in Wool People by Brooklyn Tweed as well as Pom Pom Quarterly, Interweave Knits, Amirisu, and many more. You can find her at and on Twitter and Instagram as @bristolivy. Knúsa Shawl, page 88

Contributors JENNIFER JUDD-MCGEE is a full-time artist and mother of two. She recently renovated an old house with her family and works from home in her Downeast Maine studio. Paper cutting and illustration are her primary mediums, and her work is influenced by her coastal surroundings. She shows her original work in galleries across the U.S. Find her at Share: A Coloring Page SARAH KOFF lives in the seacoast of New Hampshire with her husband and two girls. She is a block printmaker, a writer, a gardener, and a dreamer inspired by the forest in her backyard, the rocky coast, hardworking farmers, and the people who are part of her wonderful village. Her work can be found at Farming the Suburbs, page 12 NICOLAS LINDHOLM lives and farms in the coastal town of Penobscot, Maine. He and his wife run two MOFGA-certified organic farm operations: Hackmatack Farm and Blue Hill Berry Co. To afford his farming addiction, he also works as a carpenter. His other interests include hiking, camping, doing things with his two sons, and playing in a jug band. Working Together, page 108 ANISA MAKHOUL is an American artist who just returned to the U.S. after living overseas in Amsterdam. The time she spent living abroad has influenced her work in many ways. In fact, it was the canal houses and Old World beauty that sent her peddling on her bike to an Amsterdam art supply store to buy her first paints. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, in a tall, skinny house with her son, husband, and two Devon Rex cats. A Word Requiring No Translation, page 96 LISE METZGER is a freelance photographer from Washington, D.C., and the writer-photographer of the Grounded Women project. She is a tireless advocate for real food and a healthy and just food system. She’s a site host for a CSA and loves to connect people to the source of their food. You can see her work at and Farming the Suburbs, page 12 ALICIA PAULSON is a needlework designer who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and young daughter. She is a big fan of tiny calicos, fluffy eiderdowns, hot coffee, and big snowstorms. She blogs about life, love, and all things crafty at and sells original patterns and kits for sewing projects, softies, and more at Cross-Stitch Holiday Ornaments, page 82 WILLIAM POWERS is award-winning author of Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin, Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, and New Slow City. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, the Sun, and the New York Times. He has worked in aid development and conservation for over two decades. He lives in Samaipata, Bolivia, with his family. For more, see Sharing a House, page 100 DEMETRIA PROVATAS is the baker, photographer, and artist behind Woodland Keep, a baking and otherwise creative space nestled in the woods of the San Juan Islands. Fueled by the natural landscape and a cozy home, she makes everything from pies to recipe illustrations to moon calendars, taking photographs all the while. See more at Good Things Come in Small Packages, page 44 PENELOPE ROSE loves the outdoors, cooking for others, and her family. A native Michigander, she is happiest when exploring new trails, using local food to create recipes for her blog,, and laughing so hard she cries. She thinks every day should end with Cabernet and dark chocolate. The Thirty-Two Project , page 106 EMMA ROULETTE is an artist and English teacher based in Madrid. She loves lush and verdant landscapes, the impossibility of translation, mornings, global political ecology, and Latin American literature. She believes that life is in the details. View more of her work at emmaroulette Working Together, page 108 JESSICA ROUX is a Florida-based illustrator and a plant and animal enthusiast. She is originally from the woodlands of North Carolina, where she grew up surrounded by an abundance of nature. Using subdued colors and rhythmic shapes, she renders flora and fauna with intricate detail reminiscent of Old World beauty. See more of her work at Cover

SINA SCHNEIDER’s craftmanship is founded on folklore, feminism, and a pure punk DIY ethos with origins in farming, urban gardening, and her main interest, herb folklore. Her work is always genuine and, she hopes, shows her clear respect for the author who is her inspiration. Read more on her blog Mistletoe (Viscum album) , page 28 AMY WOSCHEK SCHMIDT writes and dwells contentedly among the tall pines and emphatically beautiful people of Lake Superior’s northern shore. Among other things, she derives particular delight from her husband and daughter, homemade tattoos, and hugs that linger longer than socially acceptable. She blogs at and A Word Requiring No Translation, page 96 ESME SHAPIRO was born and raised under the palm trees of Southern California. She packed everything up to move to the East Coast to become a children's book illustrator. After studying illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she currently freelances from her tiny desk. Visit her at The Thirty-Two Project , page 106 PAUL SHOUL is a photographer living in Northampton, Massachusetts. A longtime contributor to many newspapers and magazines in the region, he has also traveled the world for With a strong commitment to social justice and environmental issues, he is currently working on projects for United Way, HAPHousing, and many other social service associations. Taking Over the Farm, page 24 RIKKI SNYDER is a freelance photographer, stylist, and writer currently residing in Queens, New York. She grew up in the heart of the beautiful Hudson Valley with a wonderful family focused on food. When she’s not in the kitchen baking or taking pictures, she can be found perusing antique stores or relaxing in the backyard with a good book of poetry. Visit her at Taking Stock, page 60 KATIE SPRING is a farmer, writer, and mama on a Central Vermont hillside, where she and her husband run Good Heart Farmstead. Whether she’s in the garden, hiking a mountain, or diving into lakes, Katie is constantly drawn to and inspired by the natural world and all its wonders and complexities. Find her on Instagram @goodheartfarmstead. Listening to Our Elder, page 66 MAYA STEIN is a poet and creative nonfiction writer and facilitates writing workshops for adults. She has published two collections of personal essays and two collections of poetry and photographs. Her “10-Line Tuesday” poems, which she has been writing for more than seven years, reach nearly a thousand people around the world each week. To learn more, visit The Quiet Hum of Industry, page 18 EMMET VAN DRIESCHE lives in Western Massachusetts, where he and his wife and two daughters run the Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm, a sixty-year-old grove of coppiced balsam. The remainder of the year is spent editing scientific manuscripts, teaching scything workshops, and making wooden spoons and binding notebooks for the sister business to the farm, Anchor Goods. When he isn’t forgetting to open up the chickens in the morning, he can be found on the front porch, carving knife in hand. Follow the daily adventures @pieropantrees, or learn more about the farm at Taking Over the Farm, page 24 KRISTINE VEJAR is a natural dyer and the owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm, a natural dyeing studio and textiles shop offering yarn, fiber, fabric, and textile-based classes. She lives in Oakland, California, with her girlfriend, Adrienne, and her two dachshunds, Cleo and Callie. Her first book, The Modern Natural Dyer (STC Craft), was published in October 2015. Visit Kristine at A Woolen Portrait, page 76 RACHEL WOLF is the owner and founder of LuSa Organics (, an herbal body care company specializing in exquisite balms, soaps, and potions. She lives with her husband, Pete, and their two children on a scruffy farm in Wisconsin. Together they raise sheep, goats, a few veggies, and lots of weeds. You can find her at Oil & Vinegar, page 70

Photo: Forrest Elliot


The Power of Handmade


Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.


—Dalai Lama XIV



t’s just getting light on a chilly April morning, and Emma Jagoz is starting her day. She lets the chickens and ducks out of their coop, feeds them, collects eggs, and waters her starts. Jason soon arrives, and over a cup of coffee they discuss the day’s to-do list before he loads up the farm pickup and leaves. Emma feeds her kids oatmeal and brings the six-year-old, Mason, to meet his bus down the street. Driving down the quiet road in this subdivision of singlefamily homes, a person would have no idea Moon Valley Farm is here—no sign by the road, no barn, no indication at all of a farm except, perhaps, for the excessive number of cars in one particular driveway on CSA pickup day. It would actually be surprising to most locals to hear of a farm in this neighborhood—or in this town, for that matter. This is one of the suburbs of Baltimore County, Maryland, which have seen rapid population growth over the past few decades. As people move out of Baltimore into the rolling hills of the county, cornfields are being replaced with McMansions. Subdivisions and strip malls are rapidly covering green spaces like kudzu. A fair amount of woods, parks, and playgrounds still exist here, but any farms that remain are generally relegated to the rural outskirts of the county, beyond the suburbs.

suburbs. Farming on several properties is not unconventional in and of itself; plenty of growers lease or even own multiple pieces of land. What is unusual about Moon Valley Farm is that most of its properties are less than an acre in size, in backyards, and rent free. Emma’s “suburban” approach to farming relies on building and cultivating personal relationships among neighbors and, ultimately, on the goodness of people who are willing to share their land. That is, building a farm scattered around this busy, populated county took more than just knowing how to grow plants from seed. It took hosting farm tours, farm-to-table dinners, open houses, solstice celebrations, and chef tours, as well as radio interviews, farmer mentoring programs, master gardener and farm conference presentations, and good old-fashioned knocking on doors and having conversations with neighbors on the street. It took developing a whole community of people—some of whom never gave much thought to where their food came from, until they met Emma. But Emma’s resourcefulness, community-building efforts, and—let’s face it—old-fashioned friendliness have led to offers of land by numerous locals, most of whom don’t expect a thing in return, other than maybe a bit less lawn to mow.

What if there happens to be a person living in this suburban jungle who wants to be a farmer? How would she find the land—and afford it? She could start by getting to know her neighbors. That’s what Emma did.

Moon Valley Farm is spread over seven properties in the towns of Cockeysville, Phoenix, and Lutherville. Emma’s own backyard, nicknamed “The Farm Proper,” is one. “The Loch” is two. Then there’s Marc, Sweetair, Next-door, Richard, and Ed, mostly named after the person who owns each yard.

Emma spent a few years building up a network of local supporters, including many of the families in the development where she lives. Now, she and co-farmer Jason James grow fruit and veggies on several plots of land scattered around their community and have made a business of farming the

After spending the morning transplanting seedlings in the high tunnel on The Farm Proper with her daughter, Anisa, Emma hops into her minivan, which is filled with trays of scallion starts on every possible horizontal surface. It’s going to rain tomorrow, so she’s got to get these into the


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ground today. She pulls out of her driveway and drives twenty minutes to the Loch, where she’ll spend all afternoon transplanting with farmhand Becky. . . . Admittedly, Moon Valley has been unconventional since the beginning. At age twenty-six, with a toddler and a babe in arms and no experience in either farming or business, Emma decided to start an organic fifteen-member CSA. Facing a situation familiar to most young farmers—lack of land and funds—Emma started off small, first growing intensively in her parents’ backyard using recycled and secondhand tools and infrastructure. Never mind that the yard was a rock-filled eighth of an acre. After opening up her CSA to twenty-five members in the second year and filling all of the spots by February, she knew she was onto something—and that she needed more space. “I wanted more land to grow on, but we didn’t have it, so I asked our next-door neighbor if we could farm her land,” Emma says. “I wasn’t friends with her, but I was outside right next to her backyard every day and noticed she didn’t go into it, so it seemed like she wouldn’t mind if I grew there. So I knocked on her door and asked her if I could grow on her land. Eventually she said yes, and she’s been an enthusiastic supporter ever since.” Neighbor Esther’s backyard plot added an eighth of an acre. That same summer, one of Emma’s other neighbors learned about what she was doing. He said his brother-in-law, Dave, had some acreage down the road and that she could probably grow there as well. Emma contacted Dave, and he agreed to let her farm his land. The land, a twenty-minute drive away, is a mostly wooded twenty-five acres that backs up against the town reservoir. Emma fenced off a half-acre parcel and started farming it. . . . We have an aging farmer population in this country. According to the USDA, the average U.S. farmer is fiftyseven. With the cost of land and farming equipment so high, the farming industry needs to consider ways of attracting young farmers who might be intimidated by these initial challenges. One way to do that is by creating farms where people are already living and where land is affordable. Urban agriculture has been on the rise, with farms springing up on unused city lots and community gardens gaining in popularity, but what about all of that farmland just outside of the city limits? Development and sprawl are gobbling it up at a rate of fifty acres every hour, according to the American Farmland Trust. Creating new farms and local food hubs in these suburban areas—within their communities and a commutable distance to the city—sure would be nice, but

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any large contiguous acreage is prohibitively expensive for new farmers. As with urban farming, in order to achieve a suburban model, we may need to change our perception of what a “farm” is. A series of quarter-acre backyard plots? That can be a farm. Jason says, “We shouldn’t talk about ‘local’ having to be only ‘out there somewhere’ or ripping out blacktop in the city. It should also come from the beltway, from the suburbs. All these neighborhoods were farms seventy years ago. There’s a strong appeal to do suburban farming; it’s ideally suited for the expanding food market.” Building a farm piecemeal across three towns certainly isn’t the easiest approach. It not only requires extra time and effort to drive to and from various properties, but also serious organization and planning to ensure that all the right tools, plants, and staff are at the right spot at the right time. Emma and Jason regularly work seventy-hour weeks. Watering is also challenge; they don’t have access to water at most sites, so they watch the weather and carefully time all plantings immediately before rainstorms. And until last year, harvesting greens had to be done in the cool darkness of 5 a.m. in order to avoid their wilting in the heat of the Baltimore summer; the farm’s cooler was a twenty-minute drive away. But there’s the whole “free land” part. “A lot of farmers think I’m crazy for spending so much time driving,” says Emma, “but everyone knows that the biggest hurdle for young farmers is access to land. City farmers have adopt-a-lots and take over parking lots. A lot of farmers have done it in more rural areas by renting a farm or a piece of a farm. But that’s still a large cost for a young farmer who has little or no infrastructure and has to buy it.” And even the distance has its benefits, one of which is that crops can be rotated miles from each other, rather than feet. “Because we grow organically, we don’t use chemicals to combat disease,” Emma says. “One of our main crops is tomatoes, so we’ll put them in two different spots twenty minutes apart; if one gets blight, the other might not.” Jason is quick to agree that “cheap” land does come with hidden expenses, however. “Right now a lot of the reason that what we do works is because gas is cheap,” he says. “If gas wasn’t so cheap, that might change our viability.” Right now driving, for Emma and Jason, is a small price to pay. . . . In 2014 Emma spoke about farming in an interview on Baltimore public radio. Ed, a Lutherville homeowner, heard the interview and called her to offer up his backyard, which she then planted with native fruits and perennial herbs.

That year, the neighbor next to Esther, Richard, offered up his land as well. His quarter-acre plot became the third contiguous house on the street to be part of Moon Valley Farm. Jason, who had been working with Emma for few years, officially joined her as co-farmer/owner in 2015 and took over the sales side of the business, which allowed her to focus more on farming. They expanded on the Loch property by adding one and a half acres. At this point, they had two and a half acres in cultivation for an eighty-five-member CSA and a growing wholesale business for farm-to-table Baltimore restaurants. “One of our growing areas at the Loch was right on the road, and we grew a field of sunflowers—people loved it. Someone stopped and asked if we wanted to farm his land too,” Emma says, so later that year they added a half-acre in another Phoenix backyard. This year, they posted an ad on Craigslist and found a third property in Phoenix, close to an acre of additional land. Now, four years after Emma officially started the farm, she and Jason cultivate more than four acres divided over seven backyard properties. Moon Valley Farm does more than half of its business with farm-to-table Baltimore restaurants, and its CSA feeds more than a hundred families. A dozen families in Emma’s own neighborhood of approximately eighty-seven houses are part of her CSA and can walk down the street for their weekly shares. What’s next for Moon Valley? Is all of this just a stepping stone to a large farm on a single piece of land, or is this how Emma sees Moon Valley operating in five or ten years? Actually, Emma says, she likes farming the suburbs. Yes, it’s risky in that property owners could move away. (She makes two-year contracts for short-term security, but nothing is certain.) Then again, there are always more lawns to potentially cultivate; although she doesn’t anticipate adding any more land over the next year, Emma is always open to making connections for future sites.

Meanwhile, Emma and Jason are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and productivity, like any other farm. In the fall of 2015 they successfully raised nearly ten thousand dollars through crowd funding to purchase a mobile walk-in cooler so harvests from every site can stay fresh. And they are building a gas-powered mobile irrigation system for plots where they don’t have access to water. . . . Moon Valley’s success thus far shows that bringing small pieces of fragmented lands into cultivation represents a replicable model of farming. Emma points out that, in regions that experience humid 90-degree stretches, people rarely use their yards in the heat of midsummer. In neighborhoods where lawns stretch out over an acre or more, there’s a lot of potential for a farmer who is willing for forge connections with these landowners. “There’s plenty of land to be had in suburban yards, and the majority of people who own them don’t need income from the land. Most people are so far away from farming these days, but we still need more healthy, local food. Good land to grow healthy food is right under our noses, and plenty of good farmers need land, so this just makes sense,” said Emma. And, in a world of shopping malls and traffic jams, Anisa Jagoz and her brother, Jason, are growing up learning how to weed, transplant, trellis, harvest, wash, and—perhaps most important—chat with the neighbors who stop by for their week’s worth of veggies. As long as people have lawns to share and growers are willing to do some legwork, suburban farming offers the promise of more young farmers and more people eating their food, keeping agriculture from being pushed entirely to the fringes of our communities. As long as they can keep doing what they’re doing, Emma and Jason are optimistic about the future of suburbia.


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The Quiet Hum of Industry BY MAYA STEIN

You wouldn’t have noticed she was making a bookshelf out of paper, or that he was figuring the math for a skateboard ramp, or how the backyard was plotting next summer’s harvest. It would have been impossible to recognize the musician turning an ear toward a field of rustling corn, or a painter puzzling over the weave of a blank canvas, or that writer in a hotel room in North Carolina, her fingers on a warm keyboard, remembering the steps all over again. But this is where the work gets done, this quiet hum of industry, away from the world’s fluorescent attention, with a beauty untheatric as a sea lion tottering off the docks at Pier 39 and into the salted, murky waters of the Pacific, where no one can see his eyes lifting toward a filmy horizon or his back, gleaming with moonlight.


’ve always believed that creativity is an act of solitude; my writing and making tends to take place when I am alone, without the stimulus (read: distraction) of company. Maybe it’s my own predilection or personality quirk (I do, after all, tip toward the introvert side) but when I talk to other artists, I often find my own experience mirrored in theirs. They simply cannot create with anyone else in the room. And yet, we also agree that making art in a vacuum doesn’t quite satisfy; it isn’t, on its own, enough. Because, despite the sense of purpose and pleasure that our creative solitude offers, it is inevitably followed by a desire—dare I say, a need—for conversation and connection, a deep yearning for companionship. It seems that the atomic structure of creativity can’t sustain itself on the nucleus of the art alone; rather, it gathers energy through those electrons that dance around its outer surfaces, carrying the art making beyond the personal and into the communal. Simply put, we want

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to share our creative work because it is, in essence, about sharing who we are. For an artist, the art and the self are one and the same. When my partner, Amy Tingle, and I cofounded the Creativity Caravan in 2013, sharing became one of the guiding principles behind the workshops, educational programs, retreats, and other events we were planning. Our mission wasn’t just to make art making more accessible (especially to those who never considered themselves artists) but also to design experiences in which everyone had a seat at the table, and to nourish the spark of creativity for the sake of building community. We purchased and refurbished a 1965 Covered Wagon RV to serve as our version of the neighborhood ice cream truck; we imagined it as a joyful gathering place, a symbol of communal creative nourishment. This past spring and summer, we transformed the caravan, nicknamed MAUDE (Mobile Art Unit Designed for Everyone), into a mobile museum of miniature books, and circumnavigated the country with a touring exhibit of more than 325 works made by artists of all ages from around the world. Along the exhibition route, Amy and I stopped in at more than sixty libraries, art studios, bookstores, and community centers to lead an all-ages workshop on tiny book making. The beauty, whimsy, and wonder of miniatures has stuck with both of us for years; we each have fond memories of a childhood dollhouse that spurred a fascination with the tiny objects inhabiting the rooms. What we didn’t anticipate when we conceived of the project was that the appeal of miniature books would be so large in scale. When we put out a call to artists for the Tiny Book Show exhibition last fall, we tentatively hoped that 100 books would travel with us for our tour. Soon, however, we were fielding messages from dozens of book arts groups, teachers, and artists in farflung places who were thrilled to contribute to our roving collection. By late winter of 2016, we’d collected books from more than 160 contributors in twenty-nine states and five countries.

Once we received the books, we realized it wasn’t merely the cuteness factor that attracts people to small things. It’s the broad range of materials and subject matter that can be developed on such tidy real estate. The depth and artistry of the books we received astonished us; it turns out, the size limitation—a miniature book is defined by the Miniature Book Society ( to be no more than three inches in any dimension—is a launching pad for an incredibly diverse range of creative expression.

My favorite moments during our twenty-seven-state, 10,000-mile Tiny Book Show tour? The low rumble of “oohs” and “aahs” when people first saw the books on display. The excited “ahas” that came the instant workshop participants folded their first book together. And then that “quiet hum of industry” at the communal tables as participants explored their constructions, added embellishments, experimented with the folds, and then, invariably, turned to a new visitor to show them how to do it, too.

We received books made from brass, buttons, and plexiglass. We received squash books, boustrophedon accordions, Turkish map-fold constructions, and carousels. There were books made of pastry paper, books rendered in original watercolors, books with tiny pointillist portraits in pen and ink, books with photographs, and books created entirely from paint-chip strips and old postcards. And each work, individual and unique as it was, became part of the collective. A book about a Chinese astronomer joined forces with one headlined by a character named Super Banana. A New Jersey third grader’s tutorial called How to Laugh claimed space next to a tenderly constructed tome called Forgiveness by a South Dakota printmaker. A Portland, Oregon, author’s collection of zines tucked into a painted cigarette pack nudged up against an elaborate Zentangle, hand-inked by an Irish illustrator over nine folded pages. Junk Journal, a sewn book featuring bits and bobs of ephemera (luggage tags, old stamps, Monopoly money, decorative pins) abutted a half-inch volume called How to Clean Your Room. The books shared shelf space in a set of three vintage suitcases whose insides had been gutted and reconstructed by Chris Danchise, a furniture maker in New Jersey who specializes in reclaimed wood.

Here, again, we saw how the joy inherent in the making extends to a desire for a broader sharing. We saw how the act of making—the art of making—wasn’t sacrificed by working in close proximity to other makers but rather elevated by it; a different—and infectious—delight grew out of the collective gathering. It turns out an experience that seemingly depends on solitude can happen alongside company and not just outside of it.

What visitors to the exhibition saw was an expansive demonstration of creativity at work and creativity at play, a commingling of professional and amateur artists, a collision of the serious and silly, and a wide acreage of creative expression from young and old alike. But what they also experienced during each tour stop was the connection between the maker and the making, and how, no matter their own level of ability or skill set, they could easily learn a few techniques and make a book or two of their own. Our book-making workshops took their cue from the collection itself; we’d taught ourselves to make many of the constructions during the spring, distilling the lessons into easy-to-replicate steps that became the building blocks for the workshops. We narrowed our supplies to the basics—paper, scissors, glue—not just to keep things simple but also to encourage participants to keep making at home, unencumbered by the belief that they need special art materials.

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As a writer who tends toward working in solitude, I unexpectedly found myself caught up in the jubilant energy at each tour stop. I had slowly become accustomed to sharing creative space with Amy since the launch of our business, but this feeling of almost instant creative camaraderie was new. At the same time, threaded in between the connections and conversations and the show-and-tell of the books, I also witnessed a powerful revelation of self-expression, each participant recognizing the value and necessity of their voice and point of view, not just as part of the communal but in service to the communal. It felt as if, no matter the personality or perspective, each contribution was necessary to the whole. Midway through our tour, at a stop at the library in Moorpark, California, we spent four hours walking people through the exhibit and demonstrating a series of book constructions; the day was a jumble of visitors. After, as we were cleaning up from the workshop, a young woman remained at the table. To her left was a pile of miniature books that she’d put together, and she was in the throes of assembling something else, which turned out to be a miniature paper bookshelf. She’d been playing with origami folds and figured out how to create something that would nest her collection. I immediately recognized the look of concentration on her face. I, too, have been locked into a similar focus, gripped in the seat of my own creative investigation. Happily wrestling with a poem, I have surely had a gaze like that. And yet, the young woman’s intense absorption seemed surrounded by a halo of softness, a contentment that comes from having found a sense of belonging.

This, it turns out, is the beautiful by-product of sharing time and space with others, engaging joyfully in an experience in which personal expression isn’t just accepted but encouraged. What I saw on that young woman’s face was the relief of a woman in the thrall of her own “quiet hum of industry” amid the happy clatter of others. I was struck by how easily she was able to share that space despite—and perhaps because of—getting lost in her own making. I wondered if, perhaps, this kind of contact, this shared adventure of making, magnifies and confirms our singular contribution to the whole. Throughout our six-week tour, Amy and I would discover this experience replicated everywhere. Within each bubbly gathering of tiny book aficionados, a sweet exchange would take place at the communal table. A period of quiet tinkering with the constructions would be followed, consistently, by proud, unabashed sharing of the finished books. It didn’t seem to matter whether a maker was seven or seventy; the discovery of creative camaraderie was breaking all barriers. Even better, each gathering unfolded unself-consciously and became equal parts concentration and collaboration.

As facilitators and witnesses to this fluid unfolding, Amy and I found ourselves loosening the reins of instruction, focusing our efforts on supporting each participant’s exploration and experimentation. Arriving back home, following our marathon excursion over the spring and summer, I find myself settling back into my old rhythms of creating—early mornings on the porch with some art project or another, late nights on my laptop trying to thread some writing together—but my ears keep tuning to the buzz of the tables in all of the places we visited, the purposeful slice of dozens of scissors, the sound of fingers folding a single piece of paper into sixteenths, and the happy sigh that settles on a room where people are making things together. Maybe it’s the tilt of the earth this time of year, those lucid skies of autumn, but things feel cracked open in that way that makes you think you’re onto something.


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Taking Over the Farm BY EMMET



never planned to take over a Christmas tree farm. Coming from a background in vegetable farming, trees seemed frivolous, not really farming at all. As a child I grew up rummaging around in the woods for a tree at Christmastime, excursions that were as important a part of the tradition as the tree itself. You couldn’t get the same experience from cutting a tame tree. But then my wife and I found ourselves renting an old farmhouse on a Christmas tree farm in Western Massachusetts. It was the height of the recession, and with a newborn daughter and no idea of what kind of work we wanted to do long term, we decided to take over the farm from our landlord, who was seventy-eight at the time. We knew that this farm was not a typical Christmas tree farm. Our landlord had coppiced the trees since the 1950s, when he made the initial cuts above the several layers of branches

that would keep the stumps alive. The stumps put out dozens of sprouts every year, most of which get culled during pruning to select the best ones and prevent crowding. Sixty years of doing this has produced ten acres of stumps that are now huge, gnarled things, each supporting two or three trees at different stages of growth above a luxuriant skirt of branches. This is not a field but, rather, a managed forest—entirely created by human actions, but a forest nonetheless. It includes a diverse understory community of shrubs and mosses, and hardwood trees are constantly sprouting up. These I cut back, save for the carefully selected individuals that I am limbing up to form a canopy of full-size trees; in twenty years they should provide me with shade from the summer heat while I prune the grove. The trails throughout this forest wander and connect at random places, even shift over


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time, as branches fill in and are cut back. The experience this place offers is as similar to my childhood tradition as a tree farm can give. I know of only one other tree farm in the Northeast that coppices their trees. While I and many of my customers love that this method of growing trees is more sustainable than the more common method, I also love that this is not the reason why my landlord, a thrifty Yankee to the core, chose to grow his trees this way. He did it because it is easier (no seedlings to plant or stumps to pull) and because it is cheaper (nothing really to buy, and all you need for starting out is a pickup truck and some hand tools). He doesn’t care

so much about the sustainability angle. To him, it’s just common sense. It is also easy to understand why most farmers don’t grow trees this way. There is no way around the hard, physical work of coppiced trees. There is no way to mechanize tasks in a grove grown on what was once steep, rocky, marginal pasture where tractors couldn’t go even when the ground was clear. Everything here gets trimmed by hand, cut by hand, hauled by hand. In some ways the efficiencies of low operating costs are balanced out by the effort required, but as long as I am willing to put in the sweat, the grove will continue to produce. The low overhead means that some-

one like me can get into the business with almost no money, just an old truck and a strong work ethic. Six years in, I have come to understand more and more that my role here is not to make something new but to preserve this valuable thing that came before me. Cutting a Christmas tree is a task steeped in tradition for every family, and there are families who have been coming here for forty years. This place is important to them and to all the new families who are making it their tradition, so I do this for them just as much as for me. Back when I turned up my nose at Christmas tree farms, I never considered what part they play in peoples’ sense of home. When people come to cut their tree, they routinely see friends and neighbors—not because they planned to, just because that sort of thing happens here. People bring grills and have family reunions by the side of our road. To my surprise, this farm manages to embody the true spirit

of Christmas: thankfulness and adventure and tradition and family. So many new farms of all kinds fizzle out after a few years, their young, idealistic farmers unable to match a dream to reality. In part because it takes tree farms years to realize a crop, they are not immune to this, as is evidenced by the overgrown, regimented stands of spruces and firs dotting New England—retirement schemes come to nothing. Those farms that last are worth fighting for, for the simple reason that they matter to people. And for a farm to have mattered to hundreds of people for sixty years, that is something very special indeed. So whenever I’m out there tangling with a thicket of multiflora rose, or swatting flies and drenched in sweat in August, or stomping my frozen feet in December, I remember that I am a part of something bigger than myself. I didn’t start this thing. But I can sure as hell keep it going.


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Mistletoe (Viscum album) BY SINA SCHNEIDER

Useful plant parts: Leaves and berries Gathering time: Traditionally around summer and winter solstices Active ingredients: Mistletoe lectin, viscotoxins, flavonoids, phenylpropanoids, lignans The mistletoe is one of the most mysterious and magical of the healing herbs. Unlike most plants, it does not root in soil; instead, it grows between the earth and heaven. Impervious to the season’s cold and darkness, it carries its berries during the wintertime, and its leaves are evergreen. In ancient Britain, the druids harvested mistletoe during the winter solstice. It is said they used a golden sickle for this, believing that iron blades would make the mistletoe’s spirit disappear, and that the most precious mistletoes were the ones growing on oaks. The druids are also said to have coated the berries in silver to be worn on a necklace to protect against evil witches and spirits. In Scandinavia there is a legend about mistletoe involving the goddess Freya: The tears she shed for her absent lover transformed into pearls. She got to keep a string of those pearls, and she hung it between earth and heaven. Some say this is the source of our tradition of hanging up mistletoes at Christmas. Another Scandinavian legend tells about the sun god Balder, who was killed with an arrow made out of a mistletoe by the mischievous god Loki. In most European cultures, mistletoe is known as a “key” herb, or one that opens the gates to the other world. The Greek goddess Persephone unlocks the gates to the underworld each year using mistletoe. In traditional medicine, the use of the mistletoe is versatile. It is mainly used in form of tea or homeo-

pathic preparation. The tea slows down the heart rate and expands the arteries, and it is used for high blood pressure and other circulatory problems, to increase physical endurance, and as an antispasmodic. The druids saw the mistletoe as a symbol for fertility, perhaps because, even against the rhythm of nature, the mistletoe bears its fruits during the wintertime. Herbalist Maria Treben recommends mistletoe juice or tincture in combination with yarrow tea to increase fertility in both men and women. The most well-known use of the mistletoe in traditional medicine is in cancer therapy. It is said that injections of mistletoe extracts (from certified sources) can have a anti-neoplastic effect on tumor cells, as well as stimulate the thymus and activate important immune functions in the body. The mistletoe is used in homeopathic medicine to relieve stress-related sicknesses as well as to keep epilepsy patients “up standing,” perhaps because this unique plant resists stresses and is able to stand up, independent of both the earth’s pull and seasonal conditions, the whole year round. Sources Hollerbach, Elisabeth & Karl. Kraut und Unkraut zum Kochen und Heilen. München: Heinrich Hugendubel Verlag, 1983. Madejsky, Margret. Lexikon der Frauenkräuter. Baden und München: AT Verlag, 2008. Madejsky, Margret, & Olaf Rippe. Heilmittel der Sonne. Aarau und München: AT Verlag, 2013. Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Pflanzen der Kelten. Aarau und München: AT Verlag, 2014.


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very November for the past several years, I’ve had a similar phone conversation with my mother:

“So . . . how big of a deal would it be to you if we celebrated Christmas on the twenty-third this year?” Silence. “I mean, look, I know The Holidays are important to you, but it’s not like we’re religious, and it’d just be a lot easier if . . .” “Whatever, Khristopher—whatever you need to do.” I can tell she’s not happy about it, but she’s never happy about it. The strain started during college: “You’re not coming home Columbus Day weekend?” “What do you mean you’re not coming home for Easter?” “Oh, I guess I just assumed you’d be home for Saint Patrick’s Day.” But now I’m loosening my grip on the big ones, too, as consistently, year after year, there is something that feels more important, again distinguishing the importance of visiting my mother from the significance of the popular holiday that might compel the visit. Granted, these are holidays my family and I celebrated throughout my childhood. But, as I’ve grown older and grown out of many constraints of character and living, holidays, and by extension the calendar, have become equally suspect. Over the past decade I’ve recalibrated my relationship to food by learning how to farm and cook from scratch; I’ve recalibrated the way I consume to prioritize locally available, sustainable products; and, in order to establish a direct connection between my lifestyle and the provision of my basic needs, I’ve recalibrated my daily experience and my identity to the rhythms of a new homestead. Each of these cycles of change and many others have come from recognizing opportunities to evolve closer to the person I’m in the process of becoming, and to hold on tighter to the essence of that person despite the shifting world around me. So when I talk about “going home for the holidays,” I have to be honest about how far from home that errand feels,

and if I’m honest, I also have to ask myself deeper questions about where “home” lives on the calendar. Sure, I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Hallmark, Nestle, nationalism, most of the history I was taught in school, or Jesus, and that makes the calendar I’ve grown up with a pretty hollow place. But certainly there are things I do believe in and do want to honor and acknowledge each year. How many days have I set aside to celebrate those? The day my fiancée and I finally closed on our homestead land, for example, is much more of an “Independence Day” for me than July 4th, so we marked that day, August 1st. We also marked the birthday of the friend whose help made that purchase possible. His last name is Sunrise, and so his birthday became “Saint Sunrise Day.” September 5th—the day we got engaged—is now Proposal Day, a type of end-of-the-season Town Meeting among ourselves during which we reflect on the season that’s wrapping up and propose some ideas for the season-to-come. After years of being away from our childhood homes for some of the bigger holidays, we’ve also made a habit of Friendsgiving, a kind of misfit holiday for ourselves and others like us who simply want to have a big harvest meal with good friends the weekend before or after Thanksgiving to celebrate what does feel near and nourishing—usually an abundance of recently harvested food, a break in the rhythm of farm work, and the company of the people we appreciate in the place where we are. In this way our calendar evolves and becomes more relevant. We try not to be too gimmicky about it, and we know when we’ve got a good one when we’re just putting a name to something that already has meaning for us. We’re also not adamant about blatantly ignoring some of the standard holidays we grew up with. Going on thirty years old, I can’t remember the last time we didn’t dress up for Halloween; we just skip the candy (or challenge our neighbors to trust us as much as they trust candy companies and accept our homemade treats). We also celebrate the winter and summer solstices, birthdays, death days, and the new moon, as well as the components of our regular routine that have been elevated to a holiday-like ritual, like monthly potlucks. While not holidays per se, these hold a festive place on our calendars as we exalt the extraordinary pieces

of our ordinary lives, the amazing friends and neighbors we’re fortunate enough to have access to all the time. Devoting all this attention to redefining holidays may seem like a lot of unnecessary lifting or irrelevant quibbling in a world that keeps us all so busy with other priorities. But that distraction—not how many ways you can slice the meaning or application of “holiday”—is exactly the point. In a society that puts increasing pressure on us to package our identity into a generic, reactionary role based on how we can be most useful to a business, an industry, or a government, there’s more at stake here than a schedule of events. The opportunities we take to add intention to the details of our lives profoundly influence the degree to which we’re able to preserve and celebrate who we are as individuals. Like so many other details of living that have been decided for us under the guise of convenience or security, the calendar is another tool-in-waiting for resisting the inertia of mass culture and expressing the people we really are or want to be.

Consider: A calendar tells you how to relate to your day. A calendar is how you organize your activities. A calendar is one source of the personal pressure by which you steer your life and remind yourself what’s urgent and what can wait. A calendar is an opportunity to choose when and how you invest significance. A calendar is a list of orders you passively follow. A calendar is both a record of your day-today life and a record of what you elevate above it. A calendar is a guide for how you interact with memory, with personal and family history. A calendar is uniquely a record of the past, the present, and the future. A calendar is a mirror. A calendar is either a tool imbued with this profoundly powerful scope of capabilities and influence, or it is a stack of papers printed with numbers that is yoked to a wall (or a smartphone screen). Although the calendar’s influence on a person who sees its poetry isn’t necessarily different from its influence on the person who sees its pages, the relationship these two people have with all kinds of dynamics is

different, and drastically so. They are living and acting in profoundly different personal worlds, and in living as they do, they populate the world we all share with more or less of either attitude. Fortunately, in the material sense, the calendar often is still a stack of paper, which means we can write on it whatever we choose, and we can actively use it to bring the more nuanced parts of our identity to bear more heavily, more than the persuasion of society and the inertia of history would otherwise have it. And not just for the sake of ourselves. When we pay attention to who we believe we are and we surround ourselves with the things that reflect that story, with all its urges, aspirations, and processes, we develop a perspective that’s uniquely ours to share. In turn, we can share that unique perspective and, acting from a place of greater wholeness and awareness, thus become better and more useful members of our community. Of course, the alternative is to go on as we have been. But if that means that the feeling of every holiday, regardless of its inspiration or origin, is dominated by gratitude for simply having the day off from work and by gorging on whatever’s in front of us, I think we can do better. By better, I mean we can use holidays and our calendars to affirm stories native to ourselves, instead of a generic story that reinforces conformity instead of freedom, more dilution and less substance. If we’ve already conceded that the status quo in so many other arenas—politics, diet, health care—is not the healthiest choice personally or systemically, surely we’re capable of applying the same scrutiny and action to something as familiar and human-scale as our own calendar.

nourishes a personal mythology, a history, and an intimatescale culture that we can enjoy as much as our children and grandchildren will. So my family and I celebrate Saint Sunrise Day, we celebrate Independence Day in August, and we’ll probably add several more holidays to our calendar over the years, when we meet more of the moments and qualities we want to preserve for ourselves, our family, and our friends. . . . During one of our most recent November phone calls, my mother was unusually calm. After I pitched celebrating Christmas a day or two late to accommodate some other obligation I felt was more important, she said nothing. But after that short pause she said, “You know, I just saw this thing on TV the other day all about Kwanzaa, and it sounds pretty good. Maybe we just do that.” I howled and cackled until I ran out of breath. “No, really . . . they gave this recipe for an African peanut stew that sounds really yummy. It has peanut butter and sweet potatoes in it. And it goes on for days, like Hanukkah. You’re not little anymore, we don’t do the presents-under-the-tree thing anymore—that was always my favorite part—so . . . whatever.” This was not my suggestion. But we did it. Or at least, we ate peanut stew and celebrated the holiday of being together in one place after so many years and various degrees of separation. It’s debatable whether we really celebrated Kwanzaa that year, or any year afterward, but we did set a new precedent for what it means to celebrate. In other words, we adapted. We found some meaning. We rejoiced. And we felt just a little more than we may have otherwise, because we made this holiday—whatever it’s called—ourselves.

After all, philosophical details like this are among the reasons so many of us have committed our lives to homesteading or other alternative lifestyles: we want to have a say in our own experience. So we owe it to ourselves to go farther. Yes, we grow our vegetables. Yes, we compost. Yes, we try to live more sustainable lives. Now let’s keep going into the finer point of connecting with the next draft of our self-definition, strengthening the boundaries of what’s ours in a world laden with defaults. Within those boundaries we can reclaim the relevance of our lives; we preserve our story and our innate right to celebrate it in a way that


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The Power of Handmade BY CHRISTINE CHITNIS


t all began with a coat. Throughout the fall and into the winter, my mom struggled to get her arm into her coat, and it drove my brothers and me crazy, watching her arm swing aimlessly around in hopes of finding the sleeve. We’d hold the coat for her and try to guide her arm to where it should be, but it would always take many attempts. We’d vacillate between laughter and annoyed eye rolls—why was she making things difficult? Then came the lip tremors and foot drop, which led to multiple falls. The diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s, a progressive neurological disorder, was devastating. In her early forties, with my youngest brother still in elementary school, it seemed terribly unfair to saddle my lively, vibrant, creative, and big-hearted mother with such a diagnosis. As I’ve watched my mom deal with this disease over the past decade, my love for her has only deepened. She is the bravest, most optimistic person I have ever met, and continues to live life to the very fullest. She does so much for others and has never let her decreased mobility or pain get in the way. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever know the real toll of the disease, because she is not one for self-pity, nor does she dwell on her pain. She takes medication throughout the day, and although the disease is progressing, if you were to meet her, it is unlikely you’d even know that Parkinson’s is at play. Who knows what the future looks like at this point: she could live to be a hundred, or the disease could rapidly progress;

we don’t know. But what we do know, and what a diagnosis like this brings into focus, is that now is the time—the time to travel, to be together, to make memories—because really, in the end, what else matters? It was in this vein that we began planning our epic road trip for the summer of 2015. We would begin in Savannah, Georgia, where we’d spend a few days enjoying the beauty, then my mom and I would drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, ultimately arriving at Blackberry Farm for a weekend workshop with the, one-and-only, Natalie Chanin. I’ve been an Alabama Chanin devotee for years now, since the first time I laid eyes on her exquisite hand-stitched garments. I couldn’t wait to learn from Natalie, and to share the whole experience with the original creative force in my life, my mom. I’ve always considered my mom to be my best friend. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company and share many interests and hobbies. She is the one who instilled in me a deep love of making, and there is no one I would rather travel with. And so we set off for the South, spending our first few days exploring Savannah and falling in love with the gorgeous architecture and haunting graveyards. We then drove through South and North Carolina and on to Tennessee, winding through the mountains, stopping in small towns, and pulling over whenever something caught our eyes. Arriving at Blackberry Farm, we were overwhelmed by the


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beauty there, the way the fog rolled in through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and clung to the streams and fields. There was a magical hush to the entire place. Every meal there was exquisite, every building on the property beautifully and comfortably furnished. It was pure luxury. My mother and I gathered every morning with a small group of women to learn from Natalie Chanin and work on our chosen garments. I was struck by the artistry and integrity with which Natalie approaches her business. She founded Alabama Chanin in early 2000, creating heirloom clothing, hand-sewn by local artisans. Natalie spoke frankly of the challenges she faced while starting the business, and Alabama Chanin, as it stands now, rose out of the ashes of much trial and error. The garments are made from cotton jersey fabric that is stenciled and hand-stitched, often with intricate embellishments including decorative stitching techniques and beadwork. The company is committed to slow design, elevated craft, and sustainability. Through all facets of the company, Alabama Chanin “preserves traditions of community, design, producing, and living arts by examining work and life through the acts of making.” Spending time in the presence of Natalie made it clear that she lives this mission daily, in her life and her work. When we returned home that summer, after the workshop, I worked feverishly to complete my Alabama Chanin tunic, painstakingly completing the entire thing by hand in just over four weeks. I was a woman on a mission. I kept urging my mom to work on her dress, hoping that we could someday wear our completed garments together. The following fall was a very challenging time for my mom, as she dealt with many difficulties related to my younger brother as well as her declining health. I saw my mom stripped of so much of her joy as she internalized the stress of the situation, and quite frankly, it broke my heart. I wanted to use the power of the handmade to create something of beauty for her that would show her the depth of my care and concern. I decided that I would finish her Alabama Chanin dress (pictured opposite) in time for Christmas. It was a ridiculously lofty goal, what with those six large panels of appliqué to conquer, so I decided to enlist the help of my community. I envisioned an old-fashioned quilting circle, women collaborating to create something of beauty. I imagined each stitch sewn with intention and love. Three amazing women came forward and offered their sewing assistance, and together we created a masterpiece: I sent them each a panel and a little instructional video I had made. Then, a few months later, they sent back those panels, each completed to perfection. I stitched them all together, including the three I had worked myself, then I finished the

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neck and armholes, and the garment was done. In all, it was a six-month project. Wrapped in a big box covered in red sparkly wrapping paper and swathed in sheets of tissue paper, the dress was the last gift my mom opened on Christmas morning. She was absolutely speechless. Nestled in along with her dress I had placed notes from the women who had helped to sew it together: Kellen, Amy, and Ann. The dress fit beautifully, and my hope was that every time she wore it, she would feel embraced. There is something so powerful about wearing a garment that other hands made for you with love and intention. The experience of making my mom’s dress shifted something deep within me; it proved to me that there is not only great power in the handmade, but an even greater power when makers come together. I decided to expand on the idea and post an open invitation on my blog welcoming expressions of interest from anyone wanting to participate in an Alabama Chanin sew-along. I had no idea what to expect, so when seventeen women from across the country and one from Australia jumped on board, I was pleasantly surprised. Being so many sewers, we were able to choose four women to receive four different garments. The group put forth nominations, and we decided on the four women together. We chose Sarah, who had lost her firstborn son and was dealing with a heartbreaking divorce; Jen, a mother of three undergoing treatment for breast cancer; Betty, a grieving new mother whose son had died after a premature birth; and Joyce, whose breast cancer had recently returned after remission. We kept the project secret from the recipients, instead relying on their relatives to help choose color and sizing. It was such a joy deciding on the specifics for each garment, and I spent hours poring over stencil patterns and colors, hoping to choose the perfect combination. When the package arrived from Alabama Chanin, I went about divvying up the panels, sealing each into a bag along with some thread. Once again I made a video tutorial so that we’d all follow the technique properly, and on some of the panels I sewed a sample stencil for those sewers who hadn’t done the Alabama Chanin technique before. (Every single stitch on every single panel is done by hand, then tied off individually. From there, the shapes are cut, known as reverse appliqué technique.) I sent it all out in eighteen separate packages; I made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the mailing addresses and which panel was sent to each seamstress. I gave us a rough deadline of a few months. Over the course of those months, a community began to form as we emailed

questions to one another, sent progress pictures, and shared our stories. I was amazed when the panels started coming back completed: they looked as though they could have been sewn by the same hand. Luckily, four of the sewers live in New England, and we picked a date to gather at my home to assemble and sew the garments together. In the time leading up to our gathering, I stitched together what I could as the panels arrived: When a panel is complete, it is then seamed together by hand with the other panels. Finally binding is hand stitched in place, and the garment is complete. (For the dress and A-line top we were working on, the assembly was quite simple, but construction of the coat and the skirt with six panels proved to be quite time-consuming.) When we finally gathered, five of us in total, the day flew by as we stitched for hours: seaming, felling the seams, and sewing on yards of binding. We talked as if we were old friends, and we shared our stories of what this project had meant in our own lives—all while our needles were flying through layers of fabric. Once the garments were finished, I packaged them along with notes from all the sewers, then headed to the post office

and sent them off on a wing and a prayer. As for our group, the story ends here: we know the packages were received and deeply appreciated. For myself—and for the other sewers, as far as I can tell—I am content just knowing that our gifts have found their homes. It is easy to wish for a happy ending, both to my mother’s story and for the women we sewed for, but if there’s one thing that adulthood has taught me, it is that happy endings are often just for fairy tales. Life is beautiful and difficult, full of joy and sorrow. But I will say this: whether knitting in a hospital waiting room or hand sewing late into the night when sleep is eluding me or sadness threatens to pull me under, making is what keeps me afloat. It brings me into the moment, focuses my thoughts, and allows me to lose myself in the stitches. And no matter what, there is beauty in that simple fact. A special thanks to all of the women who participated in the project. It was a joy stitching with you: Ann, Anna and Anna, Anne, Clare, Gina, Joan, Judy, Karen, Laura, Leslie, Lisa, Liz, Maureen, Megan, Stacey, Susan, and Xan.

Photo: Forrest Elliot

Photo: Forrest Elliot

Healing Stitches BY XAN HOLYOAK

It felt like I had waited an eon by the time Australia Post delivered that package to my door. Once I finally signed the delivery slip and unfolded the panel, I couldn’t help but trace my fingers along the stencil line, release the thread from its notch on the spool . . . I noted the difference of that thread; it was unlike any I had used before. It was of fine quality and felt thick and strong. It wasn’t a thread that you could break between your teeth or pull at until its tension snapped. No, this thread demanded respect, and superior workmanship. I also knew that it demanded a quality needle, something fresh that would not snag the cotton cloth.

my internal chatter stilled, and my thoughts rolled with the movement of the needle. As I worked, the grace of the needle as it motioned each stitch along the flowing lines of the Magdalena stencil was akin to that of a whale gliding through the water, breaching and submerging. Whale song carries a healing vibration that is cleansing, clearing, and calming. It reminds us to connect with our breath, and the symbolic energy of whales’ wisdom fills me with peace and acceptance. Parallel to the healing energy of the whale, that needle and thread—and each stitch of the process—carried a healing energy of their own.

When I first heard of Christine’s sew-along project, I responded with heartfelt enthusiasm and a deep internal knowing that this creative work was important. I knew the gift of this work would reach well beyond my act of stitching on a tunic panel.

The panel I worked was one of the four constructed into the A-line tunic. The finished tunic has been gifted to a woman who is in the early days of grief; she is perhaps shadowed by the raw intensity that comes with a fresh emotional wound. I know what those days are like, and I know that she will need enormous courage and strength. She will need to embrace her vulnerability while she surrenders to her grief and feels all she needs to feel, slowly building her resilience. I hope that, as she places one foot in front of the other, she might find a little comfort from the energy imbued within her tunic. Her garment was handmade by a community of women, all of us connected through our stories and the threads of our stitching. May she feel some of our fortitude through that thread, and may our support and love help her to feel a little stronger than she did yesterday.

The early weeks of 2015 had seen me beginning a kind of journey I had never imagined. That was when my husband, the father of our two young children, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Since then, grief and I have traveled a long way, and it has been my creative joys that have guided me through. This project was to become a part of my continued journey of healing, and I wanted a little of my strength and courage to infuse each and every stitch. Hand stitching cannot be hurried; it must be deliberate and mindful. Within that quiet space of working on my panel,


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A Woolen Portrait


Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.


—Ruth Reichl




his past summer, I had a milestone birthday. The kind that invites deep reflection, assessing where you’re at in your life, noting how far you’ve come, and considering where you’d like to be headed. As I thought back over the past four decades, I wondered about the key, pivotal moments that had, without my necessarily intending them to, managed to inform the woman I am today. One of those touchstone events, the ripple effects of which have shaped the trajectory of my life, occurred in December of 1991. I was visiting the country home of my friend Laura’s family a day or two after Christmas. I entered her front door, and as we walked through her family’s living area on our way upstairs to her bedroom, I noticed an array of items left on top of the coffee and side tables. There were jars of jam, hand-knit mittens, hats, and scarves, candles, bath salts, and a variety of other homemade objects on display. Noticing my gaze and sensing my curiosity, my friend turned to me and said something along the lines of “Those are the gifts my family gave each other. We try to give things we’ve made ourselves.” That experience left an indelible mark on me. A child of the ’80s, I had parents more of the ready-made than the handwrought persuasion. Still, I immediately recognized the significance and admired the intentionality of handmade gift giving. A seed was planted, and a passion has been flourishing ever since. For decades now, my friends and family have come to count on packages arriving on their doorsteps during the holiday season filled with an assortment of homemade preserves, baked goods, and other kitchen comforts. It’s a tradition they, and I, truly love. These days, I’m not alone in my bowl stirring and cookie cutting. Both my young son and husband are in on the action now, too. I’m offering here some of our favorite gifts to give, all of which have a reputation of being well received. The holidays are brimming with magic, so I invite you to concoct some of your own magic, right inside your kitchen, and share it with your loved ones this season.

Almond, Fig & Anise Biscotti Biscotti are twice baked, providing their characteristic crunch, practically begging for a hot mug of something to be dipped in. A batch of these would be lovely gifted alongside a box of tea or package of coffee, according to your recipient’s preference. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder Pinch of sea salt 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup granulated sugar 3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract 1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped ½ cup dried figs, chopped 2 teaspoons aniseeds

Instructions 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set aside. 2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. 3. In another medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters with a rubber or silicone spatula as necessary. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture and then scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and beat to incorporate. 4. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Beat until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the almonds, figs, and aniseeds, and beat just until incorporated into the dough. 5. Divide the dough in half, and place each half on one of the prepared baking sheets. Shape each piece of dough into a 3 × 8-inch log. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, just until the tops begin to crack and turn golden brown. 6. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Allow the logs to cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut on a diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices. 7. Return the pans to the hot oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown, then flip the slices over and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Allow the biscotti to cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days.


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Spiced Pear Chutney I always make this chutney when pears are in season. It is equally delicious partnered with roast turkey and toasted sourdough, or served alongside herbed crackers and sharp Cheddar. Makes 6 half-pint jars.

Ingredients 4 pounds pears, peeled, cored, and diced 1 yellow onion, chopped 1½ cups seedless raisins 1 cup golden raisins 2 garlic cloves, minced 3 cups dark brown sugar 3 cups cider vinegar ½ cup water 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground cloves ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds 1½ teaspoons sea salt

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Instructions Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over mediumhigh heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for about 1½ hours, or until the volume is reduced by half. While the chutney cooks, sterilize 6 half-pint mason jars and keep them hot. Set aside 6 canning lids and 6 screw bands. Place a canning rack, cake cooling rack, or silicone trivet in the bottom of a water-bath canner or large stockpot and fill with water. Set over mediumhigh heat, and bring just to the boiling point. Place the hot jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the countertop. Pack the hot chutney into the jars, reserving ½ inch of headspace. Using a nonmetallic spatula or chopstick, poke the chutney to remove any trapped air bubbles. Wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth. Place the lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight. Using a jar lifter, place the jars in the canner. Process for 10 minutes (that is, bring the water bath to a rolling boil, then start timing, keeping it at a rolling boil for the full 10 minutes). Remember to adjust the processing time for high altitudes.

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Homemade Marshmallows Whether swimming in a mug of hot chocolate or roasted then sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate, marshmallows are always a hit. Add in a bit of all-natural flavoring for a treat that’s infinitely customizable and perennially well received. Makes about 2 dozen marshmallows.

Ingredients ⅔ cup cold water 3 envelopes of unflavored gelatin (¼-ounce each) 1 cup granulated sugar 1 cup corn syrup ½ teaspoon sea salt 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract ½ teaspoon flavor extract of choice, optional (see note) ¾ to 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (as light and airy as possible)

Instructions 1. Lightly oil an 8 × 8-inch square baking pan. Coat the insides liberally with powdered sugar. Set aside. Fill a small bowl or mug with water and set aside. 2. Pour ⅓ cup of the cold water into a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle the contents of the 3 gelatin packets over the water and leave to soften for 8 to 10 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ⅓ cup of cold water and the sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium-size saucepan. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom. 4. Without stirring, allow the sugar mixture to come to 240°F. While it’s heating, dip a pastry brush into the bowl of plain water and use it to brush down the sides of the pan (above the level where the mixture is boiling) to wipe away any sugar crystals as they form. Once the mixture reaches 240°F (known as the “soft ball stage”), remove the pan from the heat.

Note: In turn, I have used lemon, orange, and peppermint flavoring in my marshmallows, but you could also try almond, butterscotch, cherry, coconut, coffee, maple, strawberry, and others.

5. With your electric mixer on a low setting, slowly and carefully pour the hot syrup over the softened gelatin and beat to incorporate. 6. Add the vanilla and other flavor extract of your choosing. Turn the speed up to medium-high and beat the

mixture until it turns white and becomes quite stiff, 8 to 12 minutes. (The time will vary based on your mixer, but look for the mixture to turn very, very white, fluffy, glossy, firm, and super sticky.) 7. Liberally oil a rubber or silicone spatula, then use it to remove the marshmallow mixture from the mixing bowl and spread it evenly over the prepared pan. Wet your hands and pat the mixture evenly around the corners. It will be very, very sticky, so keep wetting your hands as necessary to keep the marshmallow from sticking to you. Set aside for at least 1 hour to firm up.

this, but you can also boil the glass bottle in a stockpot and then dry it on a cookie sheet inside your oven set at its lowest setting.) 2. Place the rosemary sprigs and lemon zest ribbons into your sterilized, dry bottle. If necessary, use a skewer or chopstick to press them down through the neck. 3. Heat the vinegar in a small saucepan over high heat until hot but not yet boiling. Transfer the hot vinegar into a glass measuring cup with a spout and pour over the rosemary and lemon until the bottle is full. Cap tightly.

8. Use a wet butter knife or other dull knife to loosen the sheet of marshmallow from the pan. Turn it out of the pan and onto a cutting board.

4. Allow the vinegar to infuse in a cool location out of direct sunlight (such as a cabinet or pantry) for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle every few days.

9. Put about ¾ cup of confectioners’ sugar into a shallow bowl. Wet a sharp knife and cut the sheet of marshmallow into 20 to 24 squares. Toss each square in the bowl with the confectioners’ sugar.

5. Strain out the solids and discard or compost them. If desired, place a small amount of fresh rosemary and lemon zest into the bottle for presentation. Pour in the strained vinegar. Cap tightly, label, and use within 3 months.

10. Line an airtight lidded container with wax paper or parchment paper. Transfer the marshmallows to the container, layering them with more sheets of paper. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Rosemary & Lemon Vinegar Infused vinegars are such an easy yet overlooked way to enliven a meal. Incorporated into a salad dressing or splashed across cooked greens, they elevate a dish’s flavor beyond measure, and they make excellent gifts for any enthusiastic home cook. Yield varies.

Ingredients Zest from 1 lemon, cut into thin ribbons 2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary 1 to 3 cups white wine vinegar, depending on the size of your bottle (see note) Note: To find out how much liquid your bottle will hold, first measure out 1 cup of water and pour it into your bottle. Continue to add measured amounts of water as needed to determine the bottle’s full capacity. This is how much vinegar you will need.

Instructions 1. Choose a glass vessel for your vinegar. (I keep a variety of pretty used bottles on hand for just such purposes.) Sterilize and dry it. (I use my dishwasher’s hottest setting for

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An essential ingredient in nearly all baked goods, vanilla extract makes a simple yet meaningful homemade gift. Look for vanilla beans in bulk, as they’re often considerably less costly than packaged ones. Makes 1 bottle of extract, size varies.

Ingredients Vodka or bourbon, or a combination of both 2 to 4 whole vanilla beans

Instructions 1. Choose a 4- to 8-ounce glass bottle or jar. Sterilize and dry it (see step 1 in the Rosemary and Lemon Vinegar recipe). 2. Using a pointy-tip knife, split the vanilla beans open and scrape out the “seeds” (this includes all the pulp): Hold the stem end of a bean down on your cutting surface. Starting at that end, carefully run your knife tip down the length of the bean, slicing almost all the way through without puncturing the bottom side. Then use the edge of the knife to scrape out the seeds. Repeat with the remaining vanilla beans, retaining both the seeds and the scraped pods. (You’ll need about 2 pods for a 4-ounce jar, 3 for a 6-ounce, and 4 for an 8-ounce one.)

3. Put the vanilla seeds and the split pod into your glass bottle (alternatively, you can use only the scraped pods for this, and save the seeds to use in another recipe). It may be necessary to cut the pods in half in order to fit them into a short bottle or jar. 4. Fill your bottle with vodka, bourbon, or a blend of the two. Cap or cork the bottle and give it a vigorous shake. 5. Store in a cool location out of direct sunlight, such as a cabinet or pantry, for 3 to 4 weeks (the longer the infusing time, the stronger the final vanilla flavor will be). 6. As your recipient uses up the extract, he or she can continue adding fresh vanilla pods (and seeds, if using) and more alcohol as needed to keep the bottle mostly full. This way, if stored as directed, your gift could last indefinitely.

Tummy Time Tea With all the parties, festivities, and gatherings that occur during this time of year, it’s easy to overindulge. When your belly begs for relief, brew up this tea. Makes 1 cup loose tea, 8 cups brewed.

Ingredients ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons dried spearmint ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons dried peppermint 2 tablespoons fennel seeds 2 tablespoons dried tarragon 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried chopped ginger root

Instructions Put all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir with a spoon to combine. Transfer to an airtight lidded container, such as a glass jar or metal canister, to gift or store. Store at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for up to 4 months. To brew an individual cup of tea: Spoon 2 tablespoons of tea blend into a tea cup and pour 1 cup of boiling water over the herbs. Cover with a saucer and allow to steep for 15 to 20 minutes, according to taste. Strain off the herbs and discard or compost. To brew a full pot: Scoop ½ cup of the tea blend into a ceramic or heatproof-glass teapot or container. Pour 4 cups of boiling water over the herbs. Steep and strain as above. Serve as is, or with honey and lemon.

HOMEMADE PACKAGING TIPS • I squirrel away pretty glass bottles in my basement yearround, so I can turn to them during the holidays for decorative gifting. They’re lovely for presenting vinegars, cordials, elixirs, infused honeys, and extracts. • A length of simple raffia or jute wrapped around the lid of a mason jar or the neck of a bottle makes an inexpensive yet charming decoration. • Themed gift baskets are always well received. Tuck in a mug and a package of homemade tea, or a hand-stitched kitchen towel with a bottle of vanilla extract. • Thrift stores are often filled with handmade baskets at great prices. Pick up a few and use them as the foundation for your gift baskets.



he term “potluck supper” may conjure up visions of casseroles and alien-like gelatin creations, but—while tuna paired with cheese, and green, jiggly, marshmallow-studded blobs may have their rightfully earned place at the church dime-a-dip—I like to keep it simple and fresh when preparing a communal dish. Here are three vegan-friendly and crowd-pleasing dips to add to your potluck arsenal. In the first, hummus gets “rainbowtized” with vibrant garden veggies like beets,

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carrots, and aromatic herbs. In the second, eggplant is roasted to bring out its best flavor, which gets even better paired with tangy homemade labneh (aka yogurt cheese), oregano, and a drizzle of honey for a little sweetness. Last is an an easy spread made from homemade cultured cashew cream cheese that will delight your plant-based pals and your omnivore mates alike. Just watch out for those sneaky double dippers!

Rainbow Hummus Dip Makes about 6 cups.

will add 1 portion back to food processor at a time while following the instructions below to create the different flavors and colors. To prepare the roasted beets and carrots: Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Ingredients For the Base Hummus 4 cups cooked chickpeas ¼ cup tahini ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 garlic cloves 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper For the Roasted Beets & Carrots 2 large or 4 small beets 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 large or 4 small carrots For the Roasted Beet Hummus—Magenta 1 recipe Roasted Beets (about 1 cup; see recipe) ¼ recipe Base Hummus (about 1 cup; see recipe) Pinch of cayenne (optional) Sea salt (optional) For the Cumin Roasted Carrot Hummus—Orange ½ teaspoon cumin seeds 1 recipe Roasted Carrots (about 1 cup; see recipe) ¼ recipe Base Hummus (about 1 cup) ½ teaspoon annatto For the Lemon Turmeric Hummus—Yellow ¼ recipe Base Hummus (about 1 cup) 1 teaspoon ground turmeric Finely grated zest of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice For the Garden Herbs Hummus—Green ¼ recipe Base Hummus (about 1 cup) 1 cup loosely packed fresh green herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, basil, thyme, rosemary, or a combination

Scrub the beets and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a medium bowl, toss the beet pieces with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Transfer beets to the prepared baking sheet and distribute evenly over one half of the sheet. Scrub the carrots, cut into quarters or halves lengthwise, then cut into 2-inch-long pieces. In a medium bowl, toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Distribute the carrots over the other half of the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, until fork tender. To make the magenta (Roasted Beet) hummus: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the roasted beets, portion of base hummus, and cayenne, if you want a little kick. Process until smooth. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Set aside. To make the orange (Cumin-Roasted Carrot) hummus: Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast, stirring or shaking the skillet constantly, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the roasted carrots, base hummus, toasted cumin, and annatto powder and process until smooth. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Set aside. To make the yellow (Lemon Turmeric) hummus: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the base hummus, turmeric, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Process until smooth. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Set aside.


To make the green (Garden Herbs) hummus: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the base hummus and fresh green herbs. Process until smooth. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Set aside.

To make the base hummus: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if needed to achieve a smooth and soft consistency. Divide the mixture into 4 portions. You

To assemble the rainbow dip: Spoon the four colors of hummus into a bowl in alternating swirls. Serve with fresh baby vegetables and/or toasted pita bread or crackers. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Roasted EggplantLabneh Dip Makes 2 cups.

Ingredients 1 quart plain, unsweetened dairy or nondairy yogurt (for making labneh—see note and instructions) 2 pounds small eggplants 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Sea salt and ground black pepper 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 teaspoon dried oregano, or a few sprigs of fresh (preferably flowering) oregano, chopped Pinch of cayenne 1 teaspoon raw local honey (optional) Fresh oregano flowers, for garnish (optional)

Once the eggplants are done baking, scoop out the flesh onto the baking sheet and discard the skins. With a fork, mash the eggplant on the baking sheet, then scrape it into a medium bowl. Add the reserved ¼ cup labneh, the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and the lemon juice, oregano, and cayenne and stir well to combine. Add more salt to taste. Just before serving, transfer the dip into a serving bowl and drizzle with the honey. Garnish with fresh oregano flowers, if using. Serve with toasted artisanal bread, toasted pitas, or crackers. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Cultured CashewCream-Cheese Spread Makes about 4 cups.


Notes: Labneh is also known as yogurt cheese, and is essentially strained yogurt. My homemade nondairy yogurt and labneh tutorial can be found in the recipe archives at

Instructions To make the labneh: Line a fine-mesh sieve with a thin cotton tea towel or piece of muslin cloth and place over a medium bowl. Add your choice of yogurt, then transfer the bowl and contents to the refrigerator. Allow the yogurt to strain in the refrigerator for 2 to 12 hours, until it reaches the desired thickness. (The longer it strains, the thicker it will become.) Measure out ¼ cup of the strained yogurt (labneh) and set aside. Scoop the rest of the labneh into a clean glass container with an airtight lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Save the nutritious whey left in the bowl for other uses, such as added to bread recipes or smoothies, or discard. To make the dip: Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Using your hands or a pastry brush, coat the eggplant halves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle each half with a pinch of salt and black pepper and place, skin side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until well browned and soft.

2 cups whole raw cashews 1 cup plain, unsweetened nondairy yogurt with live active cultures (see note) ½ teaspoon sea salt Note: My homemade nondairy yogurt tutorial can be found in the recipe archives at

Instructions Put the cashews into a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to soak overnight. Drain and rinse the soaked cashews and put into a blender. Add the yogurt and salt and puree until smooth and creamy. If needed, use a tamper to push down the mixture while the blender is running or, alternatively, stop the blender periodically to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Taste for salt and add more if needed. The spread can be served immediately, or if you like, you can let it culture for 24 hours to intensify its tangy flavor. To culture the mixture, scoop it into a clean glass container and cover loosely, then let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Serve on toasted rye bread or rugbrød (Danish rye) topped with chopped fresh herbs and/or edible flowers, or with avocado and seeds such as hemp seeds or sesame seeds. Store leftovers (cultured or uncultured) in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


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Taking Stock



’ve eaten meat, broths, and stocks all my life, but the first time I went hunting with the intention to harvest an animal to eat was a very strange experience. I’ve always been a plant girl—I schlep in the garden and work with baskets of vegetables and little green herbs; I’ve never hunted a living animal or even fished. That’s been the domain of my husband and son, two men who love to wander in the woods for days, planning and learning, and who meticulously care for their equipment and winter hunting gear. They are not avid hunters; rather, a few times a year, when the air is crisp and the maple and sycamore leaves have started falling, they take the rare opportunity to get out into the woods and hopefully bring home food. So when my 15-year-old son, Gabriel, asked me to go hunting with him, I had to think about it for a while. I’m not squeamish, but the idea of actively stalking a living animal gave me pause. Finally, I accepted his offer, and that’s how this green herbalist found herself dressed in camouflage and a bright orange hat and carrying a shotgun. I followed my son along a quiet path that crested a glacial hill, between giant boulders and beneath sprawling oaks whose lanquidly draping but massive branches reached more than 50 feet on all sides. Gabriel told me when to crouch down, and he pointed out signs of deer and taught me how to listen for their sounds. Eventually, we settled down to sit for hours, and I enjoyed the peacefulness of the forest. To be honest, I was a bit relieved when we came home empty-handed.


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That evening simply spent in the deer’s habitat underscored for me how utterly important it is to respect the animals we hunt and kill, part of which is using as much as possible of the animal, not wasting any of it. When we get a deer, we vacuum-seal the meat, tan the hide, and then use much of the rest to make that most essential pantry item, cherished by every homesteader: stock. Stock, or broth, is the flavor of the harvest. It lends a depth that can never be achieved from little wrapped packets of store-bought bouillon. Use stock in place of water when cooking rice, couscous, and soups, or add it along with red wine to tomato sauce for a surprising richness of flavor. Stock also cans well, which delights me if only because it justifies my small obsession with glass mason jars, and the row upon row of those beloved jars stacked in my pantry. Of course, making stock doesn’t require the woodland experience of hunting a wild animal. It can be made from backyard poultry, or you can even create stock from fish bones and shrimp shells. And you can always use mushrooms or vegetables to make vegetarian stock. When I was a kitchen-and-homesteader newbie, I made a large batch of stock from some meat birds we raised, and I dutifully canned all the fragrant broth. But when I pulled out a jar I had kept in the fridge, I was surprised to find it was thick and congealed—not at all the liquidy stock I expected. I panicked, thinking I’d done something wrong, and threw it out. Imagine my chagrin when I later learned that its gelatinous character indicated just how good it was! Stock congeals because of high levels of collagen, an essential protein that the body breaks down into amino acids—the “building blocks” of the body, as every high school biology student learns. Bone broths or stocks also replenish the body’s electrolytes with their natural sodium content, and they contain vitamins and minerals that help restore exhausted bodies and minds. Stock is one of those opportunity-friendly kitchen staples that can be started anytime, then placed on the back burner and tended to occasionally. Whenever you bone a fish, a chicken, or other animal, plop the bones (along with any connected cartilage or skin) into a very large pot and cover with fresh cold water. The ratios of the bones to the water, and of other optional ingredients such as garlic cloves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme, are completely forgiving (no need to measure!). It’s easy to put a pot on the woodstove and let it cook throughout the day in the wintertime, or to fill a slow cooker and set it on low heat for 6 to 8 hours. Bring your ingredients to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover loosely with a lid. The length of the simmer is up

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to you: 20 minutes is a good length of time for shrimp shells (especially if you’re making stock for the rice in paella) and for lighter fennel and herb broths (such as the Clear Fennel Broth, below). Anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours is a general rule for meat or mushroom stock. Periodically skim off the foam that collects on the top (I like to mix this foam into my dog’s food as a special treat). When you’ve decided the stock is finished, carefully strain the liquid into glass canning jars. Cap, label, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, ladle into freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to 6 months, or screw on the lids and bands until fingertip-tight and process in a pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Clear Fennel Broth (excerpted from The Healing Kitchen [Roost Books, 2016]) This lovely broth celebrates the flavor of fennel, with its hint of anise, and it pairs well with light spring and summer meals that feature tomatoes, asparagus, and baguettes. Makes 1 quart.

Ingredients 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil ½ yellow onion, coarsely chopped 5 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped ¼ cup fennel seeds 2 to 3 fresh fennel leaves (optional) 2 to 3 fresh chive flower heads, or 1 teaspoon dried chopped chives 2 bay leaves 4 cups water Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring continuously, until the onion is translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t allow the garlic to burn! Add the fennel seeds, fennel leaves (if using), chives, and bay leaves and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in the water and increase the heat until it comes to a slow simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then either strain into serving bowls to sip hot or use as a base for other soups.

Deep Healing Chicken Herb Broth

Venison Broth with Oregano & Thyme

(excerpted from The Healing Kitchen)

(excerpted from The Healing Kitchen)

This delicious stock is steeped with immune-boosting herbs and spices. Makes 3 to 4 quarts.

During the cold and flu season, I like to heat up this strongflavored broth and pour it into a Thermos to sip throughout the day. Add any herbs you wish, such as juniper berries, elderberries, garlic, or astragalus root. If you don’t have venison broth, use chicken, turkey, or beef broth. You can also freeze or can this broth to have on hand throughout the season. Makes 1 pint.

Ingredients 1 small whole chicken (3 to 5 pounds) 3 to 4 quarts water 1 tablespoon each crushed dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage 3 bay leaves 1 teaspoon fennel seeds Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredients 3 cups venison broth or other broth ½ cup fresh oregano leaves, or 2 tablespoons crushed dried ½ cup fresh thyme leaves, or 2 tablespoons crushed dried 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves Salt, to taste

Instructions Rinse the chicken and remove any giblets or feathers. Place the chicken in a medium pot and fill with 3 to 4 quarts water, enough to cover it by an inch or so. Add the dried herbs. Add the bay and fennel seeds. Turn the heat to high and place a lid loosely over the pot. When the mixture is close to boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the meat pulls easily off the bones, 30 to 40 minutes. At this point, most of the herbs will be floating, and you’ll notice a lot of oily bubbles on the surface. Together with the herb-infused water, this fat is what makes the broth so special. Carefully lift the chicken from the pot, place on a plate, and set aside for another use. (Allow it to cool, then remove the meat from the bones and use in soup or another meal.)

Instructions Combine the venison broth, oregano, thyme, peppercorns, and rosemary in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced to about 2 cups and the broth is fragrant, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Strain into a Thermos. .

Using a ladle, pour the broth through a strainer into 1-quart glass canning jars. (You will probably fill three to four 1-quart jars.) Be sure to pour some of the broth into a serving bowl to enjoy while it’s fresh and hot. Cap, label, and store the jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, ladle into freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to 6 months, or screw on the lids and bands until fingertip-tight and process in a pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s directions.



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lder called to me in the summer of 2014, as I was driving out of town on a 50-mile-per-hour road. Several days in a row, I’d driven past this red umbrella perched on a wooden table at the end of a driveway; finally, on an early September afternoon, I stopped. On the table’s worn, gray wooden slats sat quarts of elderberries: tiny, almost-black orbs in dense sprays on the stem. $1.50 per quart, the sign read. Herbal study has taught me that, when a plant calls, it’s wise to answer, so I scrounged the car for dollars and coins, deposited them in the locked box, and left with two quarts. At home, I pulled down Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health off the bookshelf to look up a recipe for elderberry syrup. It was surprisingly simple—just water, berries, and honey—and I set about destemming the berries and simmering them in water on the stovetop. Ever since that first encounter, I have been hooked. Or, perhaps it’s more fitting to say, enchanted. Elder, I learned, is a magical plant, believed to fulfill wishes, add longevity, and bring luck. It’s been said that, if you sleep under an elderberry bush on midsummer’s eve, you may wake to see the fairy

king and his brigade strolling by. As the berries simmer on the stove, I breath this magic in, filled with the healing properties that elder offers. Another part of elder’s magic is in bringing things together. As Candace Hunter of The Practical Herbalist writes, “Elder magic is the magic of juxtaposition, the place where opposites find synergistic expression.” In the wild, you’ll find elder in transition zones, on the banks of brooks, along old stone walls, or in sunny spots alongside dirt roads that weave through the forest. Its medicine reflects a synergy of opposites: in the summer, cold elderflower tea is effective at cooling and rehydrating the body; drink the hot tea when you have a fever, and it encourages your pores to open and sweat. Elder flowers can be used topically to reduce skin and joint inflammation, and to soothe eczema and psoriasis. Elderberry syrup is also anti-inflammatory and antiviral, and reduces the severity and duration of flu symptoms; drink it when you’re healthy, and it will help keep the flu at bay. In these ways, elder offers healing from the inside and out.


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Each batch of elderberry syrup has a vibrancy that asks to be shared. That first one had me so excited, I could hardly wait to uncap it and dole out spoonfuls. “Look!” I said, holding up a half-gallon jar as my husband emerged from the farm fields. “Whoa,” he said, understanding the value of the jar—an equivalent amount from the local Coop would cost around $130. But making elderberry syrup taught me that its value is so much deeper than that: the energetics of the plant and the magic, the sense of wonder, and the physical healing it offers—all of this simmers together in the pan, creating a worth beyond dollars. I went back to that red umbrella for a few more pints, once, then twice, but soon they were gone. It was only then I learned from my parents that they had a few trees in their own front yard, put there by the man they’d hired to plant an orchard of pears, apples, and plums and who had said, “Everyone should have a few elderberry trees.”

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“The birds were all over them,” said my dad, an avid birder. “Come get some the next time you’re here,” said my mom, but by then the birds had picked the plants clean. I was ready for them the next fall, though, and kept watch for the elders’ ripening. My harvest was fast and heavy: after only ten minutes of clipping clusters of berries, I walked away with two grocery bags laden with fruit, the plastic handles stretching under the weight. That year, elderberry syrup became a mainstay in my holiday gift giving. We don’t always know how plants will move through our lives. Some appear for brief moments when we need their healing. Others become infused into our rhythms, becoming sustained partners in creating health and vitality. In April, less than two years after my first batch of syrup, we planted twenty bare-root elderberry trees in two curved lines above our pond, forming an elderberry corridor between the fields and the farm store—a physical transition to welcome visitors, but also a magical space for us to stop and breathe in the healing that elder offers.

Elderberry Syrup Elderberry syrup is now a staple in our family. We make a half-gallon in late summer, when the berries are fresh, and freeze excess berries in quart-size plastic bags to make new batches all winter long. We give out quart jars full as gifts during the holidays and again later in the winter, when friends or family need an extra immune boost. The first recipe I followed to make elderberry syrup, from Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, was simple— only elderberries and a cup of honey—but now I add cider vinegar because my family likes the zing it imparts, and I use less honey. This is our go-to syrup for winter cold prevention, drinking a teaspoon 2 or 3 times a day with meals, but when we do get hit with illness, I’ll make a batch with a higher dose of honey to soothe sore throats. Use: For winter cold prevention, take 2 or 3 times a day with meals. To treat a viral infection, take 1 dose every 2 to 3 hours. Dosage: Children, ½ teaspoon; adults, 1 teaspoon

Ingredients 3 cup water 1 cup elderberries, fresh or frozen 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger or ginger put through a garlic press (optional) ¾ cup honey, or to taste ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, or to taste

Equipment Fine-mesh sieve Glass quart-jar with lid Large stainless steel saucepan Medium stainless steel pot Wooden pounder or potato masher

Instructions Combine the water, elderberries, and ginger (if using) in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. (If using a garlic press for the ginger, press it over the saucepan in order to catch the juice that will squeeze out.) Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, then crush the cooked berries with a wooden pounder. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium pot. Ladle the mashed berries and liquid into the sieve and, using the back of a spoon, press the berries against the sieve to squeeze out any remaining juice. Return the strained liquid to the pot. Compost the elder seeds and ginger mash. Add the honey to the warm liquid in the pot and stir well to combine, then stir in the cider vinegar. (You can play with the ratios of honey and cider vinegar, using more or less to taste.) Pour the syrup into a glass jar, cover tightly, and label. Elderberry syrup will keep in the refrigerator for at least three 3 months, and possibly all winter (but you’ll likely go through it much faster than that!)

Oil & Vinegar Exceptional Facial Care from Unexpected Ingredients BY RACHEL WOLF


hat if the path to clear, healthy skin begins in the pantry? What if our commercial facial care products could be replaced—and improved upon!—with homemade versions that are gentler and more nourishing to our skin? And what if those superior homemade versions were made with ingredients so safe and familiar you already use them often, whether in a salad dressing or breakfast porridge— ingredients we’ve been more inclined to eat than to find in a facial serum, such as oil and vinegar, milk and honey, and oatmeal and sunflower seeds?

thinking my skin would look even worse if I stopped. So I kept at it, scrubbing away at my tender skin, for years.

It would be a radical change in how we care for our skin.

Fast-forward ten years, and I was starting my own small body care company. Experimenting with safe, natural alternatives to unpronounceable ingredients had become a near obsession, and I was creating products with simple, familiar, food-based ingredients. My skin was healthier than ever before. I discovered once again that simple is better, and that real, healthy ingredients make for healthy, nourished skin. Today I have a preteen and a teenager in the house, so I’ve been tinkering with new recipes to support healthy and vi-

As a teen I bought my facial care products at the drugstore. There was little in those ingredients lists that I could pronounce, much less would consider adding to a salad dressing. My facial care lineup included cleansers, scrubs, masks, astringents, lotions, and acne treatments. It was an expensive, time-consuming routine that left my skin either excessively dry or blemished, or both. Yet I was undaunted,

Finally—thank goodness!—I lost my resolve. One by one, the bottles disappeared from my bathroom, never to be replaced. I discovered that in facial care, like so many things, simple is better. My skin improved. It turns out, stripping away our skin’s protective oils and scrubbing it into oblivion is not the best route to a healthy complexion.

brant skin for all of us, products can help us navigate the hormonal changes to our skin (whether preteen or midlife) naturally. You can make these simple facial care products at home, too.

Simple Facial Care Routine Healthy skin begins on the inside—with what goes into your body, not what goes on your skin. Keep your skin hydrated by staying hydrated yourself. Healthy digestion also leads to healthy skin, so support your gut with probiotic foods or supplements.

you use your homemade facial cleansing oil once or twice a day as an all-in-one cleanser and moisturizer, and apply homemade toner once a week to remove dead skin cells and tighten pores. (This simple regimen is what I recommend for my teen, who doesn’t want to be bothered with masks or scrubs, and it’s a good choice for busy adults as well.) To go the full measure, you can make all five recipes that follow, and occasionally practice all six facial care steps I will describe below. (This is a fun and effective option for older teens and adults.)

Basic routine:

How much attention does your face really need? Not as much as you might think. The less scrubbing and picking and irritating of your delicate skin, the better, especially during times of flare-ups or breakouts. Focus on a simple, gentle facial care routine to cleanse, moisturize, and tone.

1. Cleanse (once or twice per day) to remove dirt, makeup, and excess oil.

How much is enough? It’s really up to you. At a minimum,

3. Moisturize (as needed) to replace lost moisture.

2. Tone (daily for oily skin, weekly for normal to dry skin) to tighten pores, remove dead skin, and balance pH.


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Facial Cleansing Oil & Moisturizer Makes 6 to 7 ounces. Oiliness is often the skin’s response to the stripping away of its natural oils with harsh soaps and cleansers. The more we remove our skin’s oils, the more our skin overproduces, in an effort to find balance again. So harsh cleansing is a fast track to more acne, not less. A bonus for simplicity, this oil is a gentle cleanser and moisturizer in one. It may sound counterintuitive to wash your face with oil, but it’s an ideal way to care for oily and dry skin alike. Cleansing with oil is a gentle, natural way to maintain balance and encourage healthy skin. Then, after you’ve used your toner or anytime your face feels tight and dry, a single drop of this oil blended into damp skin is all the moisturizer you need.

Ingredients For Oily or Acne-Prone Skin 2 ounces castor oil 4 ounces sunflower oil 1 ounce grapeseed oil (optional) For Dry or Damaged Skin 1 ounce castor oil 5 ounces sunflower oil 1 ounce avocado oil (optional)

Instructions Put all the ingredients into a glass measuring cup and stir well to combine. Transfer to a bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label the bottle and store in your bathroom. To use: Begin by tying back your hair and securing bangs or short hair away from your face with a barrette or headband. First, get oil onto the fingertips of both hands: pour a small amount of facial cleansing oil (approximately 1 teaspoon) into the palm of one hand, then dip in the fingertips of your other hand and transfer to the rest. Apply oil to the face in a gentle circular motion, working from chin to forehead. Continue to massage in gently with your fingertips.

Wet a washcloth in very warm (almost hot) running water. Ring out excess water, then tilt your head back and drape the cloth across your face. Steam your face for a moment, then gently blot your face with the cloth to remove excess oil. If desired, wet the washcloth again and repeat. Blot your face dry with a towel. Apply toner, if using, and moisturize with another drop of oil; otherwise, no additional moisturizer is needed.

Apple Cider Vinegar Facial Toner Makes 9 ounces. Apple cider vinegar helps remove dead skin cells, heal acne, balance pH, and tighten pores. It’s a helpful treatment for those prone to breakouts. Apply toner daily (for acne-prone skin) or weekly (for other skin types) after cleansing with facial cleansing oil.

Ingredients 1 ounce witch hazel 6 ounces distilled water 2 ounces organic apple cider vinegar (“with the mother”) 4 drops of lavender essential oil (optional) 1 drop of frankincense essential oil (optional)

Instructions Put all the ingredients into a liquid measuring cup and stir well to combine. Transfer to a bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label the bottle and store in your bathroom. To use: Shake the toner well and apply to a cotton pad or cotton ball. Gently swipe over your face in a circular motion, working from chin to forehead. When the pad becomes dirty, turn it over or replace it with a new pad soaked with more toner. Pay extra attention to any areas prone to acne, but be gentle: don’t scrub or rub. Allow the skin to air dry. If desired, follow with a single drop of facial cleansing oil applied to dampened skin as a moisturizer.

Special Treatments These facial care extras can be nice additions to your facial care routine, especially when you feel your skin needs a little TLC. Special treatments: 4. Apply a facial mask (weekly or as desired) to deeply nour-

ish and moisturize your skin and to reduce acne and blackheads. 5. Exfoliate (weekly or as desired) to gently remove dead skin cells and soften skin. 6. Spot treat blemishes and breakouts (as needed).

The Simplest Face Mask Make this mask right before you intend to use it. Makes 1 treatment.

Ingredients 2 teaspoons raw honey 2 tablespoons plain yogurt Pinch of cinnamon (for acne-prone skin only, optional)

Instructions Put all the ingredients into a small bowl and stir well to combine. To use: Begin by tying back your hair and securing bangs or short hair away from your face with a barrette or headband. Cleanse your face as usual and blot dry. Using clean fingers, gently dab the mask all over your face. When your face is thoroughly covered, gently massage the mask in with your fingertips. Allow the treatment to remain on your skin for 15 minutes to 1 hour. (A full hour will provide the deepest treatment, but even 15 minutes will be beneficial to your complexion.) Rinse off with warm water, and blot your skin dry. If desired, follow with a single drop of facial cleansing oil applied to dampened skin as a moisturizer.

Sunflower & Oat Facial Scrub This is another recipe to make and use immediately. Makes 1 treatment.

Ingredients 1½ teaspoons rolled oats 1 teaspoon raw hulled sunflower seeds 1 teaspoon granulated or raw cane sugar 1 teaspoon Facial Cleansing Oil and Moisturizer (see recipe) or olive oil 1 teaspoon cream, whole cow’s milk, or goat’s milk

Instructions Combine the oats, sunflower seeds, and sugar in a spice mill, coffee grinder, or food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the oil and cream to the oat mixture and stir. Allow the mixture to sit until oats have softened, about 2 minutes. To use: Again, begin by tying back your hair and securing bangs or short hair away from your face with a barrette or headband. Dip clean fingers into the facial scrub and dab it over your face. Gently rub it in with your fingertips using a circular motion. Rinse your face well and blot dry. No additional moisturizer is needed.

Acne Spot Treatment A dab of this potion can help calm inflammation and heal your breakout. Makes 1 ounce.

Ingredients 1 tablespoon coconut oil 25 drops of tea tree oil 15 drops of lavender essential oil

Instructions Put the coconut oil into a small, nonreactive pan and warm it over low heat until it melts. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow the oil to cool until slightly warm to the touch, then add the tea tree and lavender essential oils and stir to combine. Transfer to a small glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (see note). Label the jar and store in the bathroom. To use: Using a cotton swab, apply directly to pimples or breakouts. (And don’t pick at or pop trouble spots! It will only make the skin more irritated and fuel the acne fire.) Reapply treatment as often as needed. NOTE: Acne Spot Treatment will be solid when cool but will become liquid during warm weather, so store it in a leak-proof container.


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how to cut perfect sixpointed snowflakes BY CAITLIN BETSY BELL

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Tools & Materials Pencil or pen Lightweight paper (copy paper and even tracing paper work great) Scissors

←f ol d

Instructions 1. Start by folding your paper in half longways and then find the center point along the fold. All you really need is a little crease there so you know where it is. (B)




2. Now here is the trickiest step: fold over the right-hand side of your paper at a 60 degree angle to make a triangle, starting at the midpoint and ending so that the corner lines up with the edge of your paper. (C) 3. Fold over the left-hand side, also at a 60 degree angle. (D) 4. To check your work, undo those two folds. Your creases should form an equilateral triangle as indicated by the dotted lines in illustration E.


5. Refold your paper as before, then snip off the excess paper that extends beyond your triangle shape. (F)



6. Cut out the template of your choice from this page and trace it onto the folded paper, using the “fold” markings to line up the correct sides. (G)

← fo

7. Begin by cutting away paper from the edge that doesn’t have any folds. (H) 8. Cut out the remaining small shapes along the folded edges. (I)



Get creative and try your own designs using this folding method, and experiment with both small and large pieces of paper!

A Woolen Portrait

Transferring Memories to Cloth BY KRISTINE


lmost fifteen years ago, I learned the craft of hand spinning and began acquiring knowledge about different types of sheep and their fleece. I found Icelandic sheep particularly captivating because their fleece has two types of wool: a coarse, long, outer layer and a soft, downy underlayer. Their fleece is separated according to its coarseness and spun to create everything from rugs to sweaters. After all of these years of learning about wool, I have therefore also learned a lot about Iceland. Iceland is known for having few trees, and because it is located near the Arctic Circle, it experiences long periods of cold darkness. Long ago, Icelanders responded to this environment by raising sheep, who provided meat for food, dung for fuel, and wool for warm clothing, not to mention hours of entertainment—spinning, knitting, and weaving are still popular pastimes on the island.


ect there named Vatnsdæla on a Tapestry. Vatnsdæla is an Icelandic Saga that details the history of the region where the Icelandic Textile Center resides and where Jóhanna is from. For the project, students from the Icelandic University of the Arts helped to translate the story of Vatnsdæla from written word to painted portrait. Then volunteers transferred the portrait onto linen cloth. Now, the portrait, a tapestry 46 meters long, is being embroidered with woolen floss made from Icelandic sheep fleece. So far, nearly 1,500 people have embroidered on this piece, having spent about 3,000 hours. Currently, the tapestry is just over halfway complete.

The other popular pastime is reading. Iceland has a long literary tradition, beginning with a revered group of texts called the Sagas. Although the author or authors of these texts are unknown, they are believed to have originated sometime during the tenth to twelfth century. The Sagas tell epic stories about how Iceland was settled, including tales of feuds, natural calamities, births, marriages, and deaths.

Vatnsdæla on a Tapestry captures history, storytelling, and memory, and is providing a space for folks to gather and stitch together. On my visit I became completely captivated by this project, and I wanted to use the same technique to create a record of my time in Iceland. Going through the printed photos from my trip (I am a bit old-fashioned and had shot film), I chose a photo of Icelandic sheep. I traced its image onto tracing paper and then transferred it to cloth. Next, I foraged local plants (oak galls and marigolds) and used them to dye woolen embroidery floss. Finally, I embroidered the sheep onto the linen using the same technique I learned from Jóhanna.

I received the opportunity to travel to the island this past June. At the top of my list of places to visit was the Icelandic Textile Center (Textílsetur Íslands), which is located in a small town named Blönduós in Northwest Iceland. Its director, Jóhanna E. Pálmadóttir, had started a phenomenal proj-

I have provided my pattern for you to use, but you could choose your own photo or draw a family story and record it on cloth just as Jóhanna and I have done. You may want to make your piece larger as a way for your family to come together and create.


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Tools & Materials 8" Ă— 12" piece of natural-color linen Embroidery hoop Pencil Sashiko needle or any needle with a sharp tip and large eye Tracing paper Water-erasable fabric pen Wool embroidery floss in one or more colors (I used chocolate brown, light brown, green, and white)


1. Lay the tracing paper over the illustration of the sheep. Trace all the lines with a pencil (photo A).

2. Using the sashiko needle, pierce holes into the tracing paper along the traced lines (photo B).

3. Place the tracing paper on the linen. Using a fabric pen,

mark each poked hole, making sure that the ink is transferring through the holes and onto the fabric (photo C).

4. After you have marked all the holes with your pen, remove the tracing paper. You will see the outline of the illustration on the linen (photo D).

5. Stretch your linen onto an embroidery hoop. 6. Thread your needle with embroidery floss and, using a backstitch, stitch along the dotted outlines. (I used a chocolate brown color for the sheep and green for the grass.)

7. After you have outlined all your shapes with stitches, re-

thread your needle with one of your fill-in colors, if using a different color. Make vertical stitches close together to completely fill in one shape at a time (photo E). (I used undyed white for the sheeps’ bodies, light brown for the mama sheep’s horns, and green for the grass.) Once the vertical fill is complete, make loosely and evenly spaced horizontal stitches over them. Anchor any long horizontal stitches with small stitches. (This is referred to as couching and adds durability to the stitches as well as shaping and contour to the animals.) A note on vertical fill stitches: Start stitching all the way to the left or right side of the shape you will be filling in, then work to the other side. Stitch as close to the outline as possible.

8. Once you are done, pull out some of the threads along the edges of the linen to create a simple fringe for your hanging (photo F). Pin to the wall and enjoy!








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Cross-Stitch Holiday Ornaments



hese counted cross-stitch ornaments are done on 32-thread-count fabric over 2 threads using 2 plies of embroidery floss. If you are an inexperienced cross-stitcher, see my tutorial on the basics of counted cross-stitch at cross-stitch-tutorial.html.

Tools & Materials Three 3" embroidery hoops Three 7" × 7" pieces of 32-count Belfast linen by Zweigart in Black DMC 6-ply cotton floss in colors shown in the key on page 85 #24 tapestry needle(s) Black felt for backing Glue Pinking shears Scissors One 12" length of ¼" gingham ribbon in black Two 12" lengths of ¼" gingham ribbon in red

Instructions BEFORE YOU BEGIN To start, prepare the fabric: trim the edges with pinking shears or use a sewing machine to stitch the edges with an overlock stitch to keep the threads from fraying. Press your fabric with a dry iron set on the “linen” setting. You can use a spray bottle filled with plain water to mist any stubborn creases and then iron. The pieces of fabric include about a 1½" margin all around. Find the center of the chart for your first pattern (follow the lines indicated by the black arrows) and the center of a piece of your fabric (fold the fabric lengthwise and crosswise—the intersection is the center). Begin counting stitches from there. BEGIN STITCHING Again, if you are an inexperienced cross-stitcher, see my tutorial on the basics of counted cross-stitch at www Choose one of the samplers and begin stitching.


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Yew Wreath

Tea for Two 84 taproot | SHARE

Color Name

DMC Color #

Black 310

Christmas red


Salmon, medium


Gray green, medium


Turquoise, light


Olive green, very dark


Terra cotta, very light


White White

Beige brown, medium


Golden olive, dark


Yellow green, medium


White White

Starry Night

FINISHING AND FRAMING When you’ve finished stitching, place your sampler rightside down on a clean terry towel and press with an iron. Cut a circle of felt the exact size of the larger hoop from one of your pairs of hoops. Center the stitch area, right side up, in the smaller hoop, place the larger hoop over it, stretch the fabric tight, and tighten the screw. Trim off the excess fabric from the back, leaving about ½" all around. Place the sampler face down and, using a warm iron, press the extra fabric down toward the inside of the hoop (this will make it easier to glue the felt to the back).

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Glue the circle of felt to back of the hoop, neatly enclosing the extra linen fabric behind the felt. For hanging the ornament, fold a piece of ribbon in half (black ribbon for Starry Night, red for Yew Wreath and Tea for Two). Feed the loop under the screw in the embroidery hoop, then pull the cut ends through the loop and tighten. Tie the ribbons ends in a knot and trim neatly. . . . Repeat these instructions to create the other two ornaments according to the charts provided.


knúsa (Icelandic). verb. To hug. FINISHED MEASUREMENTS 82" wingspan and 21" deep at center back YARN Sylvan Spirit by Green Mountain Spinnery (50% fine western wool/50% tencel; 180 yards [165 m] / 57 grams) 5 skeins in Antique Brass NEEDLES One 32" or 40" circular needle (circ) in size US 7 [4.5 mm] GAUGE 20½ sts and 31 rows = 4" in garter stitch or in 4- or 8-row garter ridge pattern, after lace blocking NOTIONS Blocking boards Blocking wires (optional) ABBREVIATIONS BO bind off CO cast on dec(’d) decrease(d) inc(’d) increase(d) k knit k2tog knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased) LN left-hand needle

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p pm rep RN sm s2kp


st(s) yo

purl place marker repeat right-hand needle slip marker slip 2 stitches together knitwise, k1, pass the 2 slipped stitches over (centered decrease; 2 stitches decreased) slip, slip, knit (left-slanting decrease)—Slip 2 stitches, 1 at a time, knitwise to the right-hand needle (RN); return stitches to left-hand needle (LN) in turned position and knit together through the back loops (1 stitch decreased) stitch(es) yarn over—Wrap working yarn once counterclockwise around RN (1 stitch increased).

PATTERN NOTES This shawl has five “wings” in the body. The outside wings are worked in garter stitch (knit every row), the wings to the inside of those are worked in 4-row garter ridge, and the center wing is worked in garter until it reaches 15 stitches, and then a spine is worked in garter and the stitches to either side of it are worked in 8-row garter ridge. It gets finished with a lace border.

MMM Cast On Using long-tail cast-on, CO 6 sts.

Next row (RS): [K1, yo, knit to m, sm] twice, k1, yo, pm, k12, pm, yo, k1, sm, knit to 1 st before m, yo, k1, knit to 1 st before end, yo, k1 (6 sts inc’d)—48 sts.

Next row (WS): [K1, pm] twice, k2, [pm, k1] twice. Set-up Row 1 (RS): [K1, yo, sm] 2 times, k1, [yo] twice, [k1, sm, yo] twice, k1 (6 sts inc’d)—12 sts. Row 2 (WS): Knit to m, sm, purl to m, sm, k1, [p1, k1] into double yo, k1, purl to m, sm, knit to end. Row 3: [K1, yo, knit to m, sm] twice, k1, yo, [knit to 1 st before m, yo, k1, sm] twice, knit to 1 st before end, yo, k1 (6 sts inc’d)—18 sts. Row 4: Knit. Rep these 4 set-up rows twice more (24 sts inc’d)—42 sts: 7 sts in each outside wing, 7 sts on each second wing, 14 sts in center panel.

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Next row (WS): Knit to m, sm, [purl to m, sm] twice, k12, sm, [purl to m, sm] twice, knit to end. Next row: [K1, yo, knit to m, sm] 3 times, k12, sm, [knit to 1 st before m, yo, k1] twice, knit to 1 st before end, yo, k1 (6 sts inc’d)—54 sts. Next row: [Knit to m, sm] twice, [purl to m, sm, knit to m, sm] twice, knit to end. Begin pattern Row 1 (RS): [K1, yo, knit to m, sm] 3 times, k12, sm, [knit to 1 st before m, yo, k1] twice, knit to 1 st before end, yo, k1 (6 sts inc’d)—60 sts.

MMM Row 2 (WS): *Knit to m, sm, [purl to m, sm] twice; rep from * once more, knit to end. Row 3: Rep row 1 (6 sts inc’d)—66 sts. Row 4: Knit. Row 5: Rep row 1 (6 sts inc’d)—72 sts. Row 6: Rep row 2. Row 7: Rep row 1 (6 sts inc’d)—78 sts. Row 8: [Knit to m, sm] twice, [purl to m, sm, knit to m, sm] twice, knit to end. Rep these 8 rows 12 times, then rep row 1 once more (294 sts inc’d)—372 sts: 62 sts in each wing. Next row (WS): *Knit to m, [sm, purl to m] twice, remove m, k6, pm, k6, remove m, [purl to m, sm] twice, knit to end. Begin border The border patterns can be worked from either the written instructions or the charts.

Next row (RS): [Work row 1 of Right Lace pattern to m, sm] 3 times, sm, [work row 1 of Left Lace pattern to m, sm] twice, work row 1 of Left Lace to end (6 sts inc’d)—378 sts. Next row (WS): [Work row 2 of Left Lace to m, sm] 3 times, sm, [work row 2 of Right Lace to m, sm] twice, work row 2 of Right Lace to end. Work even in pattern as established through row 32 of the Lace patterns (90 sts inc’d)—468 sts. BO all sts using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy BO (for a tutorial, see Finishing Weave in all ends and wet-block to finished measurements.

Right Lace Pattern

Left Lace Pattern

Row 1 (RS): K1, yo, [k1, yo, ssk, p7, k2tog, yo] 5

Row 1 (RS): K1, [yo, ssk, p7, k2tog, yo, k1] 5

times, k1 (1 st inc’d).

times, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 2 and all WS rows: Purl.

Row 2 and all WS rows: Purl.

Row 3: K1, yo, k1, [k1, yo, k1, ssk, p5, k2tog, k1,

Row 3: K1, [yo, k1, ssk, p5, k2tog, k1, yo, k1] 5

yo] 5 times, k1 (1 st inc’d).

times, k1, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 5: K1, yo, k2, [k1, yo, k2, ssk, p3, k2tog, k2,

Row 5: K1, [yo, k2, ssk, p3, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] 5

yo] 5 times, k1 (1 st inc’d).

times, k2, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 7: K1, yo, k3, [p1, yo, k3, ssk, p1, k2tog, k3,

Row 7: P1, [yo, k3, ssk, p1, k2tog, k3, yo, p1] 5

yo] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

times, k3, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 9: K1, yo, k3, p1, [p2, yo, k3, s2kp, k3, yo,

Row 9: P1, [p1, yo, k3, s2kp, k3, yo, p2] 5 times,

p1] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

p1, k3, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 11: K1, yo, k3, p2, [p3, yo, k2, s2kp, k2, yo,

Row 11: P1, [p2, yo, k2, s2kp, k2, yo, p3] 5 times,

p2] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

p2, k3, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 13; K1, yo, k2tog, k1, yo, p3, [p4, yo, k1,

Row 13; P1, [p3, yo, k1, s2kp, k1, yo, p4] 5 times,

s2kp, k1, yo, p3] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

p3, yo, k1, ssk, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 15: K1, yo, k1, k2tog, yo, p4, [p5, yo, s2kp,

Row 15: P1, [p4, yo, s2kp, yo, p5] 5 times, p4, yo,

yo, p4] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

ssk, k1, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 17: K1, yo, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, p3, [p4,

Row 17: P1, [p3, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, p4] 5

k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, p3] 5 times, p1 (1 st inc’d).

times, p3, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, yo, k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 19: K1, yo, k2tog, [k1, yo] twice, k1, ssk, p2,

Row 19: P1, [p2, k2tog, (k1, yo) twice, k1, ssk,

[p3, k2tog, (k1, yo) twice, k1, ssk, p2] 5 times,

p3] 5 times, p2, k2tog, [k1, yo] twice, k1, ssk, yo,

p1 (1 st inc’d).

k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 21: K1, yo, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, p1,

Row 21: P1, [p1, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk,

[p2, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, p1] 5 times, p1

p1] 5 times, p1, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, yo,

(1 st inc’d).

k1 (1 st inc’d).

Row 23: K1, yo, k2tog, k3, yo, p1, yo, k3, ssk,

Row 23: P1, [k2tog, k3, yo, p1, yo, k3, ssk, p1] 5

[p1, k2tog, k3, yo, p1, yo, k3, ssk] 5 times, p1 (1

times, k2tog, k3, yo, p1, yo, k3, ssk, yo, k1 (1 st

st inc’d).


Row 25: K1, yo, k2tog, k3, yo, p3, yo, k3, [s2kp,

Row 25: K2tog, [k3, yo, p3, yo, k3, s2kp] 5 times,

k3, yo, p3, yo, k3] 5 times, ssk (1 st inc’d).

k3, yo, p3, yo, k3, ssk, yo, k1. (1 st inc’d)

Row 27: K1, yo, k1, k2tog, k2, yo, p5, yo, k2,

Row 27: K2tog, [k2, yo, p5, yo, k2, s2kp] 5 times,

[s2kp, k2, yo, p5, yo, k2] 5 times, ssk (1 st inc’d).

k2, yo, p5, yo, k2, ssk, k1, yo, k1. (1 st inc’d)

Row 29: K1, yo, k2, k2tog, k1, yo, p7, yo, k1,

Row 29: K2tog [k1, yo, p7, yo, k1, s2kp] 5 times,

[s2kp, k1, yo, p7, yo, k1] 5 times, ssk (1 st inc’d).

k1, yo, p7, yo, k1, ssk, k2, yo, k1. (1 st inc’d)

Row 31: K1, yo, p2, yo, [s2kp, yo, p9, yo] 6 times,

Row 31: K2tog, [yo, p9, yo, s2kp] 6 times, yo, p2,

ssk (1 st inc’d).

yo, k1. (1 st inc’d)

Row 32: Purl.

Row 32: Purl. SHARE

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PAGE 106

The Thirty-Two Project


We sat side by side in the morning light and looked out at the future together.


—Brian Andreas

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izza was his love language.

The adobe oven he’d cobbled together sat just outside the haphazard hut where he lived. The only foreigner granted permission to build a home in this tiny Nicaraguan fishing village, Paavo had taken the village elder’s permission with high honor, crafting his humble straw-thatched house in the exact rough style of his many neighbors. Nestled among all the rest, his was just one more meager shelter protecting the indwelling from sun in the dry season and torrential rains in the wet. His furniture consisted of a hammock strung between two corner posts, a faded and cracked plastic patio chair, and a handful of skinny tree stumps propped up in the sand. His possessions were no more than a guitar, a bedroll, a small cookstove, and a few brightly colored bracelets made for him by the local kids. He would never have counted the adobe oven among his earthly possessions, though it was clearly his. It was his brow that had been beaded with sweat from mixing the clay with a broken oar, and his ghostly handprints that were scattered all over the oven’s dome. I was walking the parched dirt road that skidded by his hut when I met him. He’d yelled out to me in English, the words like a small bright stone in a sea of language I didn’t understand. “Hey! We’re singing songs over here.” This statement of fact was all the invitation he gave, singing songs being, in his mind, reason enough for anyone to alter their course and join. I took a stump beside a young girl holding an infant. She was singing loudly and off-key. Her baby reached out a plump, dirt-covered hand to tug at my hair. I smiled meekly and, returning my shy greeting with a broad smile that

revealed nearly all her teeth, the girl handed her infant to me and began clapping to the beat. I looked at Paavo, who’s name I didn’t yet know. Strumming wildly and still singing, he winked and nodded warmly at me. I stayed on that awkward stump, the baby perched contently on my lap, until Paavo put his guitar down and said something in Spanish that made everyone cheer. One by one, his guests turned to leave, chattering as they went away. The random American sayings and logos on their faded T-shirts were the only things I understood. “I told them the oven’ll be ready at seven,” Paavo said to me, motioning with a flip of his head to the adobe dome. “Bring that guy I saw you walking with yesterday and whatever you’ve got lying around to throw on a pizza.” He stood up, hung the strap of his guitar on the broken-off branch that extended from a corner post of the hut, and walked off toward the brilliant ocean that hemmed in the tattered village. It was only when I stood to leave that I realized the baby, now soundly asleep, was still in my lap. Her mother, holding her brown arms out to me, smiled her wide, gracious smile again and said a sentence in Spanish. Strung together as carefully as pearls, her words hung delicately in the air, just out of my grasp. And then she was gone. The guy Paavo had seen me walking with was my husband. He was sitting in the sand boiling a tin pot of water over our propone stove when I found him. “Coffee?” he asked, holding up a chipped mug. I squatted down and picked up one of the mango slices sweating on a plate next to him. I watched the rhythmic ebb and flow of waves on the sand without speaking. I could sense his curious stare in my

periphery but couldn’t pull my attention away from the ocean long enough to acknowledge it. With each rush of foamy water, the vastness seemed to be reaching its soft arms out, offering an ineffable gift. In gentle retreat, it took whatever parts of my heart I was willing to let it have. What we happened to have lying around for a pizza turned out to be only a bowl of beans and a parchment of leftover red snapper we had purchased from the men who return to shore every dawn in their perilous wooden fishing boats. As we walked the short stretch of beach to Paavo’s, we passed the boats, lined up and waiting like unmarked gravestones. Done over the midnight hours guided by nothing more than a single lantern, fishing was a dangerous undertaking that brought only meager returns to the men whose livelihood

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depended on it. Each night we’d been here, we’d seen the lantern lights glimmering faintly on the dark horizon, and each morning, as the burning sun replaced the lanterns’ glow, the wives congregating on the beach with buckets to await the arrival of their loved ones. The wives’ voices rejoiced with the heave of fish from boat to bucket, while their faces nearly crumbled in the relief of another safe return. Children were playing a rowdy game of soccer on the hardpacked sand near Paavo’s hut when we arrived. When they spotted us, they shouted happily, running around my husband and me like we were a fire hydrant belching out icy water on a sweltering city street. Pulling my husband’s shirt, they beckoned him to join the game. It took little persuasion, his love for soccer overwhelming any shyness he might

have had. He hooted and hollered right along with the boys, chasing after the ball whenever it escaped toward the shoreline, cheering loudly when anyone, his team or not, scored a goal. His laughter met theirs and made a sacred common ground. He relished it until the last of the sun’s rays dipped like ladles into the ocean and the ball was tossed into the oldest kid’s backpack for the night. Paavo was standing in the center of his hut, rolling dough into rough circles. Circled around him were more kids, all trying in turn to sneak a chunk of sticky dough. Paavo’s eyes were bright as stars, even in the dimness of the dying light. At a small table next to him, a handful of kids were topping crusts, reaching into bowls filled with everything from potatoes to hard-boiled eggs. As fast as they could top them, another kid, face smudged with ash, ran with a roughly hewn peel to retrieve the unbaked pizzas. At the same time, yet another kid was pulling pizzas out of the oven, heat and fragrance wafting from its opening every time he stepped aside. For every baked pizza he set on the flat stone beside him, another went into a box set carefully on top of a whole stack of similar boxes. Every five minutes or so, a boy on a delivery bicycle would appear. Strapping a box to a rickety rack on the back of his bike, he’d pedal away down the same road I’d found myself on earlier that day. The pizzas on the flat stone disappeared as quickly as they appeared, the scalding hot pieces passed gaily around to all the people who lingered in or near the hut. I was mesmerized by this diligent, jubilant assembly line. They looked like a strange but intensely beautiful ballet, each movement of their bodies in perfect time to a melody found only in the urgency of the present moment. Paavo saw me and, handing the rolling pin to the boy closest to him, came over. He hugged and kissed me briefly on each cheek before putting one arm around my shoulder and, with a broad sweep of the other, said, “This is what I live for.” “What’s your name?” I asked, realizing he’d never told me. He laughed loudly. “Paavo!” he exclaimed, “It’s Paavo, and this, this chaos, is what makes me feel alive!” He went on to explain that, through a series of providential events, he’d stumbled on this remote village during one of his backpacking adventures through Central America. He fell in love—not with the place and not with a girl but with the community of people, especially the kids. Despite the haze that comes from a life of desperate poverty and relentless hardship, there was a spark in their eyes he couldn’t bear to see unkindled. “So, I called my folks and my girlfriend in Italy and told them I wasn’t coming back. I’ve been here ever since.” He said this as nonchalantly as if he were commenting on the weather.

“The kids,” he went on, “they’d never had pizza before!” His voice was one of sincere shock and concern now. “So I went to the village elder and told him I wanted to build an adobe oven so I could teach the kids how to make pizzas. I had this absurd vision to kindle that spark I was talking about by helping them start a small-scale pizza operation. I figured it’d give them something they could be proud of. I was sure the elder would flat-out refuse, telling me to take my good intentions and move on. But instead, his son showed me how to build this hut, and the elder himself helped me dig the mud for the oven.” The space around us buzzed with happy noises. I saw my husband walk by with a slice of pizza in each hand, a gaggle of grinning kids trailing behind him. Someone was strumming a guitar and singing a song I recognized by the tune to be Oh Susanna. Two little kids were scrawling out a tic-tactoe board in the sand with a stick. “Nobody has any money to buy the pizzas they eat,” Paavo was saying. “But I’ve got enough money squirreled away to keep us in flour and yeast, and everyone pitches in on the toppings. We’ve had to get pretty creative, but man, you should see the expression on the kid’s faces when the night’s over. They glow, I tell you. And as you can plainly see, there’s no overhead lighting to credit for that.” Someone shouted Paavo’s name, and squeezing my shoulder in a sideways hug, he said, “Pizza is my love language,” and turned to go. A kid in a light blue Reebok shirt handed me a slice of pizza as he passed by. Smeared with red sauce and dotted with chunks of fish, corn, onions, and cheese, it made my stomach gnaw with hunger at the sight. About to take a bite, I felt something brush my free hand, and turning toward it, my eyes fell on the girl whom I’d met earlier in the day. She was sitting in the hammock behind me holding her baby, who was gumming a piece of what appeared to be peanut brittle. She patted the space beside her on the hammock. As I sat, she said, “Araceli,” and pointed to herself. Pointing to her baby, she said, “Lupita.” She pointed to me. “Amy,” I said. Then she pointed to my hand and said, “Pizza!” I lifted the steaming slice to my mouth and, between bites, repeated emphatically, “Pizza.”


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ragrant subtropical air arrests my nostrils as I listen to my eighteen-month-old daughter, Clea, baby-talk to the phosphorescent beetle perched on her wrist. Here, on the porch of my family’s new adobe home on our Bolivian farmstead-in-training, I feel an ecstasy that’s become daily fare. We live on a six-acre swath of hill, forest, and creek bordering a pueblo near the equator, not far below the ruins of an Incan fort and bordering a national park the size of five Yellowstones. “Gentle!” Clea says, counseling me to touch her insect friend just so. My wife, Melissa, and I regularly hold ladybugs, crickets, and stick bugs with her, embracing cultural ecologist David Abram’s “more-than-human matrix.” But Clea knows limits too: spiders, bees, and wasps are nono’s. We are re-villaged New Yorkers, finally living out the eco-centric ideas we’ve long championed. A year before, we’d left Manhattan, moved into a rental in the center of Samaipata—Quechua for “Place of Rest in the Highlands” (population 4,000)—and begun building a minimalist, carbon-light house using indigenous and modern bio-construction techniques. Having worked here for years in conservation and development over the years, my wife and I had fallen in love with Bolivia’s people and immense biodiversity, and we decided this was the place to build a home and raise Clea. Then one day it becomes real: our house is finished.

Just after we move in, a very nice family of wasps does too, building their adobe home between the discarded wine bottles built into our walls. We don’t mind. Ahh, a giant blue morpho butterfly is winging through the fern trees; ooh, that mega-moth is curling its mauve wings into a snake shape for camouflage!—such bug-love continues from our lives in New York City, where Melissa and I would gaze at monarch butterflies migrating down Fifth Avenue in the fall, and watch the first fireflies warming Central Park in springtime. Romantic entomology was a snap in Manhattan— we could ignore subway cockroaches and redirect dull bedbug tales—but, morpho butterflies notwithstanding, it is proving difficult in the Bolivian outback as roaches move into our ecohouse. A corner-of-the-eye noticing of the pests now and then blooms into a minor plague. Unlike their thickset Big Apple cousins, Bolivian roaches are shiny coffee-colored slivers, long skittering pinky-nails. Two things are clear. First, they all must go. And second, the Dalai Lama never kills insects. “Mosquitos?” he said, during a talk my wife, Melissa, and I attended a couple years back in Carnegie Hall. “I give them a little of my blood. At most, I shoo them away.” We abide, little Clea watching us cover each roach with a plastic cup, slide a paper under, and then shuttle our brother into the guapuru fruit-

tree forest just behind the house. But soon the few become unshuttleable dozens. We’re loathe to spray Mata-todo (“Kill-Everything”), a home insecticide available at the local market. So, with apologies to the Dalai Lama, we distract Clea and wincingly snatch those suckers off of chairs and sinks. A pinch, a corpse. One morning I wake up, stretch, and find myself staring into the eyelets of a roach on my pillow. Melissa and Clea, who co-sleeps with us, are lying on the other side of the roach, on our stillon-the-floor mattress. Melissa’s eyes open. In revulsion, she rolls away, startles the nursing Clea, who begins to howl, and sends the roach skittering onto my shoulder. I reel; la cucaracha hopscotches down my arm and into the laundry pile. Straightaway, Melissa orders a bed frame from a local carpenter, which thereby elevates us off the floor and mostly keeps the roaches out of our bed. We also install an insect guard on our external doors. Meanwhile, new visitors have arrived in the garden where we grow our food. Scientifically termed “fat-ugly-terrible-gooeys,” these green, sloth-slow addicts suck at our peppers, beets, and achochas, an Andean cucumber. Not wanting to use el remedio (“the cure”—an impressively Orwellian term) prescribed by conventional local agronomists, I follow permaculturally correct “hand picking,” squeezing a hundred gooeys between my fingers. It’s gross, but it avoids the grosser halofenozide. This ends up saving maybe two-thirds of our veggies; the rest, our tithing to Pachamama. Before long, a militia of cepes ants spies our orchard. They strip nearly every leaf from the pomegranate and avocado saplings we’d planted

with our neighbors during a minga, a traditional communal work party. I watch the ants march up the thin trunks and carry down leaf-shreds. Halfpanicked, I call our neighbor, Lucio, a cheery, fifty-year-old Bolivian builder with graying hair. Lucio arrives on his motorcycle, studies the problem. “Se necesita el remedio” (“You need the cure”), he pronounces. “We’re organic,” I tell Lucio. Barely suppressing an I-humor-gringos smirk, he musters up a local solution: he and I cut the tops and bottoms off discarded two-liter plastic bottles and insulate our trees with them. The ants seem flummoxed. The following Tuesday evening, while I’m cooking dinner, Clea pees on the kitchen floor. No problem. “Nakey-nakey time”—going around in her birthday suit—is her normal, and she’s not yet potty trained. As usual, I mop up the pee and spray the spot with a vinegar solution—takes thirty seconds and saves diapers. But Clea points toward where she peed, exclaiming, “No-no!” “It’s okay. Bebé can pee. Daddy cleaned it.” I drain pasta in the sink, wondering why she’s suddenly so hygiene oriented. “No-no, Papá!” I bend down and fold her into my arms, “Yes-yesyes, honey,” I console. “Look, all clean!” Papá—finally—looks down. Not at vinegarnullified pee. It’s something black and bushy. “No-no-NO!” Clea pronounces indicating the massive tarantula.


I evacuate Clea. While Melissa distracts her, I heatedly shoe-heel the invader and compost the cadaver. The tarantula would be a mere tip-off of the coming crusades. Our area insects, it turns out, use changes in humidity to predict rainstorms before humans can, and seek refuge. Trails of black ants steal through the kitchen. Smaller reddish ones stream into the foyer. The miniroaches, only partially thwarted by our doorguards, reappear. Spiders—those “no-no’s”—trek up the stair railing. Now I’m truly pissed. Hand picking becomes butchery. This is our house, and we shall reclaim it. Melissa and I squash spiders and snuff out cucarachas. Still, they come. “Maybe they’re crawling up through the pipes into the bathtub,” Melissa theorizes. Our bathtub pipe goes fifty meters downhill into a graywater-composting banana grove. Impossible. I investigate the corners of our house; all of the adobe appears to be sealed. Riled, I once again seek out Lucio, finding him harvesting figs on his farm. Lucio listens attentively. Then he smiles and says, “Nosotros compartimos una casa con las arañas.” We share a house with spiders. This is no Park Slope bumper sticker decreeing: “Co-exist.” Lucio and his family, through the necessity of subsistence living in the subtropics, have had to come to terms with bugs. Back on our land, I muse on what Lucio said. We share a house with spiders. The Greek word oikos (“eco”), I recall, means “house.” Is Lucio suggesting that we share this larger house—our environment—with

even the creepy-crawlies I once sentimentalized and now abhor? I don’t have time to think about it, because part of my work in Bolivia is teaching “sustainable development” study tours for graduate students at an American university. I head off to meet a group in the country’s capital, La Paz. During our first lecture, at the Bolivian foreign ministry, a high-level official in President Evo Morales’s governing socialist party says, “We must dethrone humans.” It’s Carla Esposito, the attractive, forty-ish head of Bolivia’s diplomatic academy, and she’s busy sketching two very different diagrams on a blackboard. The first shows Homo sapiens at the pinnacle of the pyramid, with all other creatures arranged submissively below. The second, in complete contrast, puts the human figure in the middle of a web, with a deer above it and a whale to the left and . . . what’s that she’s drawing to the right? I squint to see it. A spider! Esposito seems to be echoing Lucio. She talks about an indigenous response to the climate crisis: known as Bolivia’s 2011 “Law of Mother Earth,” it gives the planet the equivalent of human rights. That night in our hotel, my students gone to bed, I’m wide awake, pondering naturalist Gary Snyder’s book The Practice of the Wild. He lived among indigenous people, including the Inuit, and writes about the “knife edge” of nature. Wilderness is neither Eden nor Hobbesian savagery. It’s a place, to those enmeshed in it, that demands vigilance, economy, awareness.


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I think back to Liberia, where I was a development worker in the mid-2000s. The U.S. Embassy there, a swank five-story building in Monrovia, used imported air. You had to walk through a sealed chamber before you entered an atmosphere utterly apart from Africa. My thoughts then slip to a meeting I attended at the elite Carnegie Council in New York, where a Hewlett Packard executive declared, “We’ll put a chip on every dolphin in the Atlantic.” He held up a nickel-sized device. “Then we’ll be able to track them, and thereby save them. Part of a single global brain.” Heads nodded in appreciation. The executive, pausing, seemed to think of something off-script: “Why, we could even put a tinier one, someday, on every blue morpho butterfly.” Are these anecdotes, extreme as they may seem, really so different from what’s “normal” in contemporary life? We use sealed-off vehicles to travel from air-conditioned and heated houses to similarly nature-divorced offices. My family, I realize, has moved to Bolivia with this mind-set as luggage, an anthropocentric worldview that shores up the destruction of nature. Lucio and Mrs. Esposito—and insects—are pushing me into fresh depths, beneath the surface of what I’m passing off to myself as environmentalism. If I want blue morphos wild, perhaps black widows have to be wild. And me wilder too, more on the “knife’s edge”—of flashing trout, swallow-tailed hawks, and, yes, all manner of bugs. . . . Weeks pass; my students gone, papers graded. Melissa and I reinforce our door-guard corners, cutting back sharply on what turns out to be the main insect flow. There’s no longer an Earth Day Parade through our kitchen, but bugs still reside

with us. Aside from concepts about relaxing-ourassumptions-about-insects, we’ve been quite simply living with them for months, and have habituated to them. One day, Lucio comes by with a container of chunky, gray-brown bugs. “Watch,” he says, and, vexingly, releases them into our garden. But within fifteen minutes they’re eating the greenfat-ugly-gooeys that consume our vegetables. “It’s permaculture,” he says, adding that he’s all about balancing the insect array. “No more remedio?” I tease. He smiles, saying that a Bolivian nonprofit has been training him in nonchemical techniques. Ours is one of Bolivia’s twenty-six “ecomunicipalities,” which means the government is investing in organics here, including a recently completed half-million-dollar organic produce-processing center. My own recent study of Samaipata using Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness metrics found happiness levels to be higher here than in the United States, partly because of the Bolivian ethos of suma qamaña, or “living well”—that is, living in community with both humans and nature. More remarkable still, the average Samaipateño achieves these high well-being metrics on a stunning oneseventeenth of the average American’s carbon footprint. But, even in Bolivia, there’s also Monsanto and Dow Agro. There’s the opening of the country’s first shopping mall up the road in Santa Cruz, an ultra-dazzling air-conditioned building with the carbon footprint of 300,000 average Bolivians, all desires to be fulfilled therein. Living better—not just living well—has landed here, right from my northern tribe.

Mother Earth laws, a suma qamaña philosophy, and towns like Samaipata that incubate biocentric practices may be inspirational, but they are not enough. Without a felt inner change, turning away from anthropocentrism, such ideals are easily smothered, as one can already see in the growing influence of corporations over Bolivian policy, including sanctioning of environmentally destructive mega-projects. “Eco-municipalities” and ideas of “dethroning humans” are necessary, but insufficient. Fundamentally, it’s about letting our land become our skin. As the months on our acres become a year, I find myself feeling, for the first time in my life, more like an insect. Or a soil molecule. Less cerebral, more feral.

I raise the shoe. Then I lower it. Instead, I fetch paper and a plastic cup, trap the scorpion, and go out into the moonshine. I pass our achocha patch, traverse the now-thriving pomegranate and avocado orchard, and duck into the tula forest. There’s no path here. Branches scrape my arms; a thorn scratches my neck, drawing a thin line of blood. I stalk, deeper; the scorpion, millimeters from my hand, a knife. Panting, I’m invigorated. Finally, in a remote corner, far from human hearth, I put down the page, lift the cup. The scorpion, shining with rich red life in the moonlight, scurries Home.

. . . One full-moon evening, Melissa discovers a scorpion under the rock we’ve carved to channel water in the gap between the faucet and bathtub. Clea, now two and a half years old, is bathing a few feet away. Melissa lifts out the dripping Clea and calmly tells me about it. I put down a book, go into the bathroom, and lift the rock. The scorpion has ducked back underneath. Now its poisonous tail arches upward, and I feel something strange: grateful. I’m glad, I realize, to share a house with bugs. They’re here to keep us on the “knifeedge of nature”—alive—partly through the daily possibility of death. I retrieve a shoe to crush the scorpion. Killing it won’t end scorpions. It would be in compliance with the Law of Mother Earth. It’s the same heel brought down each moment in this Great House.


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y last birthday, giving was on my mind. Since reaching adulthood, I haven’t been one for material gifts, instead preferring to take a trip to celebrate another year of life. I love to remember birthdays this way. I may not remember a scarf I received for my thirtieth birthday, but I’ll certainly remember the trip to Colorado, hiking in the mountains and sampling new restaurants. For this birthday, I created the Thirty-Two Project. To celebrate my thirty-two years of life, I decided to cook thirtytwo extra meals over the course of the next year to help feed thirty-two families in my community. I committed to making seasonal, vegetarian meals with as much of the food as possible sourced from local farms. I further promised to publish the recipes on my food blog for all to view and make. It felt both important and slightly terrifying. Some nights I can barely get dinner on the table for my own family—was I foolish to think that on any given day I could feed another family on top of meeting all my personal demands? I wondered if I’d overestimated my abilities and resources. However, this project taught me—and not for the first time—that, when intentions are pure, tangled questions seem to loosen up and begin answering themselves, like yarn finally unraveling from a tough knot. The CSA we subscribe to happened to have a surplus that summer, and was offering its members giant piles of free extras at pickup. My neighbor ran over one evening with a thrifted bowl, a casserole dish, and some reusable containers to support the project. People in the community nominated deserving families. What I didn’t realize, upon my declaration of intent, was that the Thirty-Two Project would change me in profound ways. I was unaware how many ways the project would change my life: not only did it mold my flow in the kitchen— gently training me to plan ahead and encouraging other efficiencies as I cooked multiple dishes at once—but it also reshaped my perspective. The lens through which I view privilege, vulnerability, and sharing responsibility for one other in the daily struggles and celebrations of life is tinted

with a deeper sense of grace and generosity than it had before. I didn’t count on kneeling on the floor weeping, green mixing bowl in hand, grateful I could prepare a nourishing meal for people with struggles unimaginable to me. I made roasted vegetable enchiladas for the family of eight whose eldest daughter had been diagnosed with cancer and was in the thick of chemo. I made a roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, and wild rice gratin for the single mom struggling to simply breathe among the demands of her reality. The pregnant mother with the family issues loved the peach-blueberry bars with the pistachio-honey crumble. My family ate with the widow who would have otherwise eaten alone, and I distinctly remember the joy in her voice when she said she had been looking forward to this meal all week—the potato-leek soup was her favorite. The new-again mother who, with her husband working and in school fulltime, hadn’t been planning on another baby was grateful for the Southwest quinoa chili. She eagerly awaited the arrival of the recipe on the food blog. It still seems impossible to me that I would remember each family, and every last detail of every meal. But I do. The year following thirty-two candles—a year I chose to spend sharing resources, time, food, and care—came alive in ways I couldn’t have predicted. And I hope my children, too, will remember this season: Remember when we left our dinner on the stove to drop off food for that family? Remember how much she loved the cinnamon-chocolate torte? Remember scrubbing the dirt off of all those extra beets and garlic, to prepare them for the next meal? The gift of food is consumed, but the effects of sharing an experience—a flavor, a feeling, a moment—are lasting. If the purpose of my birthday travels is new experiences and self-discovery, then this past year’s project was also a type of travel. But this extended exploration caused a greater purpose to come into focus, one I hadn’t fully recognized before: one of my reasons for being here is to quietly, intentionally nourish my community.


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Working Together



n the summer of 1991, we made the Skyfield bigger. It was just me and Mark and Stacy. We used a tractor with a two-bottom plow, but that kept tripping on the thick roots and big stones till it practically wore out the reset mechanisms. So most of the work was done with rock bars, pick axes, pruning loppers, and shovels. We cleared maybe an acre and a half. It took us at least three or four long, hot, sweat-stained and dust-covered days to do it. It was called the Skyfield because it was at the crown of the hill, high above the rest of the farm, with spectacular views of all the other fields, the surrounding woods, and the distant hills. The sky just seemed to open up up there, bigger than life. On a very clear, calm day, you could even see Mount Katahdin a couple hundred miles away in the north. I was there working for the third consecutive summer as the hired experienced laborer or assistant farm manager or veteran apprentice—actually, I’m not sure what my title was, but today it might be called something like “journeyperson.” Mark owned the farm along with his wife, Bonnie, and they

were running a busy, expanding, mixed vegetable, grain, and sheep operation. Stacy was the apprentice on the farm that summer, learning to grow and market produce, drive a tractor, and work long, hard days outdoors. In a way, I felt that we were like the characters in Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey; although not doomed as they were, we were like them in that we found ourselves somehow all in the same place on earth at the same time, brought together by larger forces and fates than our own. . . . After the final day, when we’d all had enough and we had pretty much cleared the encroaching woods back to the old stone walls up along the southern edge of the Skyfield, Stacy and I were sitting on the stoop in back of the barn, nursing some very nice cold beers. “That was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” muttered Stacy, partly in relief, partly in contempt, but mostly in exhilaration and celebration of a herculean accomplishment, being part of a group effort to see something through.


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I immediately agreed with her, “Yeah, me too.” But there was something stark gnawing at me, and I didn’t stop there. “But you know, what makes it even harder is knowing that no one after today will ever know we did it: who we are, what we did, how hard it was . . .” Stacy was silent. She was often reticent, stoic. But this was a silent silence; I knew I had said something far deeper and farther into some grim reality than the lightness of our friendship was accustomed to. Not one to hesitate when I hear myself saying something awkward or sticking my foot in my mouth, I went on, “I mean, we don’t know who cleared that field the first time— who they were, how many of them there were, how they felled the trees, removed the stumps and rocks, and built those stone walls. We don’t even know what their day was like, what they drank after it was all over, what filled their bellies. Those people and their memories have vanished. All there is, is the farmland itself, a sign that someone was here before and did something of great effort as part of their livelihood. All else is lost. Gone.”

on a farm just after college, there were countless days filled with picking rocks out of newly plowed fields. Even the year before that summer we worked on the Skyfield, Mark and I had spent an eternity working up a field across the road from their old farmhouse, where apparently a barn had once stood—we pulled a lot of old foundation stones up and out of that field. It’s the nature of keeping farmland to do the same tasks over and over. Some things are done, then done again, and then undone, sometimes by others, sometimes as part of our own repetitive efforts.

. . .

And what I’ve found from all this work is that there is a persistent line of dirt under my fingernails and in the creases of my hands. It just won’t leave me, no matter how hard I scrub. To this day, I feel like there are quite likely a few bits of the Skyfield still in my fingers, if only I could recognize them. But I’ve also found that these small stains don’t hold the depth or the breadth of the experience. As time goes on, my memory gets more and more disjointed and murky. What really persists is this lingering sense that, in time, all of this hard work becomes anonymous, maybe even forgotten.

I am no stranger to the apparent meaninglessness and endlessness of maintaining or reclaiming old and abandoned farmland. In Vermont as a child, I remember walking miles of barbed-wire fence line in the spring, clearing fallen branches and brush and resetting posts and repairing downed wire along the pastures’ wooded edges alongside my dad and brothers. As an apprentice myself

There is a deeply melancholic, brooding question that lies unanswered within the heart of those working the land: How do we hold on to these experiences? Who, or what, preserves our efforts, our work on the land? Certainly, the land itself does not. There’s no memory or long-lived storyteller there to carry on the tale of who and when and how, and why.

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. . . On my own property, where I now live and farm with my family, there is an old stone wall that runs in a perfectly straight line for about a quarter of a mile. Cutting across the top of a northwest-facing slope, the wall was made from the rocks taken out of the cleared field to the west of the line; this field has had cultivated crops in it for probably over a century. Curiously, none of the rocks were ever removed from the cleared field on the east side of the line, the other side of the wall. To this day, that field remains a wild blueberry field with lots of huge glacial erratics and tons of stones of all sizes—it’s never been plowed. Partway down the slope from the point where this stone wall emanates from a different, perpendicular stone wall, there lies one very large stone into the surface of which someone long ago carved or drilled a distinct, unique shape about four inches deep; it is the shape of an old-fashioned keyhole, like one might find on a treasure chest or jewelry box. But the most astounding thing about this wall, something that I discovered only after we’d lived on the property for five or six years, is that its straight line of stones, over 1,000 feet in length, is directly aligned with and points to the place on the horizon where the setting sun goes down on the summer solstice. You can stand on top of this wall—right near the “keyhole” rock, if you want—in the evening on June 21st, and look straight down along the wall to watch the sun disappear into the ridge of hills many miles away, as if it’s pointing the very way.

I ache to know who built this wall. And when. And why. But alas, I never will. All I know is that this work leaves a yearning, a deep feeling of the need to connect beyond our humble places in time. The silence of a cleared field and a stone wall ultimately and simply underscores our brief, but significant, relationship to the people around us and the work we choose to do alongside them. . . . I didn’t know it at the time, but Stacy was sick. She had been sick as a child, had beaten it, and was trying to enjoy a young adulthood in remission. But, only a few years later, the cancer returned, and within another few years she passed away before she was even thirty. Stacy’s memorial service was held at the farm where we had worked. It was her wish that her ashes be spread all around the farm. With heavy steps, I once again walked up to the top of the hill, this time to cast a handful of Stacy’s remains upon the Skyfield. That field now holds part of Stacy along with our work there together. I am left holding on to the memory of that work, which both filled us and emptied us completely.




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