Friday, October 9, 2015

October 2

The night before E was born, I took my big belly out into the front yard and dug some shallow holes in the pitch black of night.  Every Oct. 2 since then, E and I have planted our own bulbs.
There's something so different about planting in the fall. Spring planting coincides with the waking of the earth, living things bursting forth from every crack in the sidewalk whether we ask them to or not, encouraging our little intentions to bear along side them.  In autumn, the world is warning us, in all its beauty, that everything is dying. Plants draw inward or disappear completely. The earth grows so quiet and still.
 Planting at this time helps me remember. I remember that darkness will be followed by light, and that new life will always appear, charging through the cold and pulling us into spring. This small act of faith reminds me that the fervent summer is only cherished insomuch as it is rare. These bulbs will not bear unless they are given a long, cold, quiet winter first.
There is a time for all things.

I'm thinking of you always. Come follow along on instagram, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Writing and Where I Buy Groceries

Last week I attended the last session of a food-writing class.  We were working on food writing in general, and on magazine pitches in particular.  As usual, the class pushed me outside of my comfort zone and the pitch turned into an exercise for me in clarifying my tone as a writer, and my intentions for this space.
I started to talk about my story.  About not really being interested in cooking at home growing up, discovering cooking (and blogging) as a newlywed, and developing a passion for home-cooked food and local food, both as a hobby and even as a source of income.  In the midst of all these things converging, I became a mother. The first few weeks and months of motherhood stripped me of many of the things that used to be a part of my identity, including the time and brain space to maintain the lifestyle of eating that I'd gotten used to. I no longer had the time to cook elaborate recipes. If I'm honest, the harder part is that it hasn't been as interesting to me anymore as it once was.  There was a solid year or two in which food became almost utilitarian for me.  Before these rushed months, I spent a good amount of time and energy appreciating food and cooking, only to have all these free moments taken from me, however joyful my preoccupation.

I'm slowly finding my new food identity. I'm learning how to weave my appreciation for healthy, high quality food into my routine and my sense of self. I'm learning to accept compromise, which is difficult for me.  But I'm doing my best to make it work, including making time to sit here and share this journey with you.  Because maybe you're going through the same kind of thing I am.  Or maybe you just wonder what it's like.  Either way, I think it's important for me to share my experience, in the hopes that people might identify, or at least sympathize.  The struggles of motherhood can be difficult to share, especially publicly. I hope that by being honest about my life, my goals and failures in all their glory, I can make it easier for other people to be more accepting of themselves or others. Because everyone is going through something, and it's much harder to feel like you're alone.

One thing that has become particularly fraught for me as a parent is grocery shopping.  I remember being childless and going to the grocery store with no idea what I wanted. I'd walk up and down the aisles, pick up jars and glance over labels, always take a stroll by the plant section just to look, and generally take my time. It was never a problem to visit more than one store in an outing, so it was easy to buy things consistently at two or three stores.
Now, grocery shopping is all business. It has to be over quickly and done as infrequently as possible.  In her early years, there were many times that I found myself at the grocery store looking through the freezer section. I remember feeling totally averse to cooking because I was so tired and drained of creativity.  (This is actually a terribly sad realization to have, the inability to muster creativity. I remember looking at turning raw food into dinner as an exciting project that I could never grow bored with.)

In the last couple years, I've slowly managed to carve out a grocery shopping routine that doesn't feel like torture, doesn't cost an exorbitant amount, that lends itself well to quick and healthy cooking, and works for us year round.
When the season is favorable (for me, May-early Nov.) I buy and cook as much local produce as I can get my hands on.  When it's not, I still have to put dinner on the table.  Here are just a few of the things that I buy consistently that I know I can always fall back on.
Your mileage may vary, given that this routine depends on some sources that are local to the midwest.  If you're close to me (Iowa City) please feel free to email and I'll get you in touch.

We have a huge supermarket chain (HyVee) and I go there as little as I possibly can because I hate it.  But there are a few things that are significantly cheaper there than other stores, and of course it has a huge variety.  Here is Kalona SuperNatural cottage cheese, which is one of our favorite things to eat because it's free from thickeners/stabilizers and full of protein and good grass-fed fat. There's also a dozen eggs from a local farm. The dozen runs $3.99 and the yolks are darker than other year-round local brands that I've found.
The other brick and mortar store that I visit regularly is our cooperative grocery store, New Pioneer.  They have tons of great in-store options.  I'm a huge fan of their potato bread for toast or hot sandwiches, and we love these locally made tortillas. E's favorite thing in the world is one of these tortillas warmed up and slathered in butter (I'll get to that in a minute) and local raw honey.  
(p.s. once I wrote a guest blog post for New Pi's food blog and you can find it here. Omg that salad was so good.)

We also have a Costco and there are a few things that I buy there regularly, including organic chicken, Ezekiel bread, and lots of frozen vegetables. The frozen mixed vegetables have been indispensable for feeding a small human, and I love always knowing that I have a strong side of vegetables on hand even if I don't have anything fresh.  
We also found this huge bag of dried apples at Costco, which are great for easy mess-free snacks, and canned wild salmon which we keep on hand for my favorite pantry dinner, salmon cakes.  (That recipe is one of the most popular in the history of this blog! Also consider clicking if you like baby fat rolls.)  
Another place I buy from frequently is Aldi's.  Do you have one where you live? Aldi is a German store chain, so things are a little different. The biggest things practically that are different are that you must use debit or cash (no credit cards) and you have to use a quarter as deposit for carts.  The business model is very interesting and we have been mostly very happy with our local store. Much of their stock is packaged foods, but we've found a few things we love and can count on. They have the best price of frozen fruit that I've found outside of Costco, which seems to have an inconsistent supply, and these cheese crisps are bonkers, guys.  We also buy organic salsa and pasta there. It's a great place to buy baking essentials, too.  
Lastly, I'd like to talk about Azure Standard.  Azure is a bulk buying group that delivers monthly via semi truck that starts on the west coast. As far as I know, Iowa City is its easternmost drop point.  You have the option of placing an order monthly and a week or so later, the truck stops at a parking lot in your city and all the goods are distributed.  I love Azure for its excellent prices and variety of product availability. Their prices change frequently but I've found them to be consistently good.  We buy all our grassfed butter from Rumiano through Azure and this has been a game changer for us. Ellie often asks for a piece of butter to eat raw, and it's because this butter is so flavorful.  (Seriously, you should see her face when she tries conventional butter.)  We use coconut milk a lot and the organic is cheaper through Azure than the conventional is at our grocery store.  Vegenaise, which I find to be the best tasting mayonnaise, is the same. Lastly, I have never met a Greek yogurt that I love as much as this one from Strauss family creamery.  
So, as I said above, these are the basic ingredients that I use to throw together a lot of our routine family meals.  I try to plan ahead and have easy things on hand and these sources help me do that, but this routine is always changing.
I'd love to hear how you make regular meals work for your family. It's a priority for us to sit down and eat a meal every night as a family, so I'm always looking for new ways to make that happen.  What do you always have in your pantry and fridge? Where do you buy it? 

Lastly, I want to say with as much emphasis as possible, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving even the slightest crap about what I think and write here. It means so much to me.

p.s. It is still totally weird to think of myself as a writer, of this as writing. I can't explain it, but that doesn't feel like a title I own. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Half and Whole Assing

Yesterday was a hard day for me at work.
I'm teaching more than usual and it has me worn thin.
I'm also sick, which is extra unpleasant when your job involves speaking aloud in front of people for a few hours a day.
Midterms just came and went, so I have students in my office. I have known one of these students for a long time, and this semester has proven to be especially challenging.  In spite of great effort, this student is not getting the kinds of grades we all want to see when we look down at that glaring white piece of paper in our laps.  This student sits in class every day and is often overwhelmed.  I am still humbled by this profession because I didn't recognize it.  I saw that look and thought it was boredom, disengagement.
We had a meeting yesterday about the grade, and there was sweat and tears, the words "I am just so upset" were said in a voice that I will never ever forget.  And I sat here and thought, "I can't fix this.". 
I saw it all unfolding and saw myself trying to be here for this student in the best way I could, while still feeling like I'd failed.  I tried to radiate compassion and understanding, and be clear that I will do whatever I can to help.
I just tried to hold the space between us in that moment.
Would you believe that I had this very article on holding space open as this conversation unfolded? One of the many tabs I open and breeze past in my short bursts of inattention at the computer screen between tasks.  It was sitting there all along, quietly waiting for me to notice.
If you have a moment, read it.  Try to hold space for yourself, and for me.
See, this meeting and this student, that feeling, it hasn't left. I can't get it to go away, or even really soften.
Because in that moment, I felt like I was half-assing my job.  If I had just had more time, more mental energy, I could have been there for this person the way that I should.
And the lovely flip-side of this work guilt is mom guilt.  The extra teaching I have been doing has required me to work at home sometimes, which is something I never do if I can avoid it, including during my break and on weekends. Including some of the time that I would normally spend soaking up moments with my two favorite people.  So, of course, I feel like I'm half-assing motherhood and wifehood.

Why can't I whole-ass anything? Everything?  Does anyone?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm always thinking about you.

 Some recent photos, for your time.  Sorry for repeats, instagram people. (I'm xoaliciarose, come say hi!)

Dough thief.
"This is Elsa's cowl."
A sunny living room is my happy place.
Just us.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Lately I have been


this. will there ever be grass again?
all my people! 
but especially cousins
seriously.  The light of her life.

and honestly, running. I hate the treadmill and haven't been making winter running work. It has been rough. I need to figure out a routine that isn't weather dependent.  I'm trying morning workouts. Pray for me, and maybe send coffee. 


brunch for these wonderful people on New Year's.  
a ton of school lunches.  Soon I will write a post about the supplies we bought. So far we've carved out a good routine and are happy with the containers we have.  

pancakes.  We have made a thousand recipes over the years and it turns out that she loves the one I winged and will likely never recreate.  Kids.  
these cookies for book club. They're a simple shortbread with frosting and strawberry jam layered in between.  They were shared at one of the the nicest gatherings we've had to date in which we read a book of poetry (about motherhood! and life! by a mom with a daughter named Ellie!) and the author came a did a puppet show about her rabbit named Chess Piece Face and then agreed to (possibly) join our book club. So, it was sort of the best. 

Her most beautiful binocular.  Her drawing has taken a huge leap recently and I'm trying to keep up with her motivation. I can't wait for warmer weather and more time spent noticing and drawing nature.  Her interest in butterflies and birds has been through the roof lately.
So many knitted things. Some for a sweet baby that I just can't WAIT to meet (not mine. not pregnant.) so I can't share.  I am working on this seed stitch hat for myself in Madelinetosh yarn in holifestival. I'm such a neutrals girl, but this yarn makes me happy. 
She wanted a pink pom pom, of course.  
gifts for her teachers with homemade olive oil soap. I got the soap decks on Etsy. They're made in the US and reasonably priced.  
some naturally dyed yarns.  This fall we cut down our walnut tree. It was not an easy decision to cut down a tree, but it was poisoning our garden. It broke my heart to cut down a tree, one so old and so special, but I'm confident that the extra hours of daylight and a ton of compost will make our back garden plot productive.  
I had a hard time seeing the tree go, and I have been listening to the Woolful podcast, so I was inspired to use the last harvest of walnut hulls and bark to dye some yarn.
Merino on the right.  
The middle skein is also merino but was dyed in the exhaust bath.  
This experiment in solar dyeing resulted in a light vanilla yarn. 
I love them all.  
I am so inspired by natural dyes. I can't wait to experiment with growing plants and dyeing from them. This summer will certainly bring some yarn dyed with poke weed and goldenrod, and I'm searching high and low for a supplier of woad, and some knowledge about it. There is a ton of information out there about natural dyes, but I'm especially interested in the ones I can grow at home.


one of my favorite Christmas gifts.  
My mother insists that this plant was grown from the original plant in this Grant Wood painting. She's had her own for years and I've always said that I was going to steal it, but this is the next best thing.

I'm trying to write more often and more openly about what's going through my mind.  I got such an amazing response from my post about depression and that has fueled me.  I want to start sharing the story of what I'm experiencing more clearly, positive and negative, beautiful and ugly, because I think that there's intense value in it.  There are so many stories of women, of people, and hopefully hearing what I'm going through can make even just one person feel less alone.  I've started opening up blogger and putting up the beginnings of a post, even if I can't see the end of it.  Here's an idea I've had rolling around recently:  

When we're sitting in meditation (i.e. when we're being in the world), sometimes we experience negative emotions related to something in our lives.  The practice is to observe these feelings as reactions, and kindly and non-judgmentally witness and try to understand them.
I frequently feel sad that I'm not able to make my living doing something with food or farming.  I wish that I could dedicate my working hours to a job that makes a direct impact on my local food system, especially as a producer, and I'd prefer to do most of my child's schooling at home in this environment.  I enjoy making and tending and see great value in a rural life, and it would be such a pleasure to make this my living.  But financially I don't see how to make it a reality right now.
Tonight I found myself with this feeling again, which has been pervasive lately.  So many thoughts of leaving, developing a different pace of living, retreating from the hustle and bustle.
When sitting in meditation, if we feel something painful or difficult, we don't try to reject what's happening to us.  We become receptive to what's actually happening, and then explore easing ourselves around this difficulty, with affectionate attention.  Even if we can't make the back pain go away, we can try to soften around it and relax the muscles that we can control like our jaw and neck.   This eases tension about pain, which makes the actual pain more bearable, in my experience.
I'm trying to soften around my life right now.
I have a temptation to tense up about it all, my shoulders pinched to my ears.  It's freezing, so I'm constantly twisted up into a curl just to survive.
But I am trying to wrap myself in cashmere and wool and relax a little.
I may not be able to become a an alpaca farmer or have my own CSA.
But I will buy locally sourced ethical foods and help those farmers stay in business.
I can afford this because of my job.
I will knit with yarn made from American sheep and hand dyed in small batches by an artisan. All of the included workers will be well paid.
I can afford to do this because of my job.

I am thankful to have the chance to do my job every day.  It affords me great luxuries, which do help improve the causes that are important to me.
Sometimes we need a small shift in perspective.

What can you soften around today?  How can you find some ease and forgiveness for yourself in even the most challenging times?
Tell me all your secrets :)
All my love to you, as always.
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