Sunday, March 30, 2014

Making It

We made our own wedding invitations.  Matt's mother, Sharon, is a downright wiz with cards.  My mother has a pretty good hand in that department, too.  Matt and I, well, we know nothing, but are receptive students.

Sharon, Matt, and I got together and figured out what the invitations would look one Saturday afternoon earlier this year.  We then set a date to make them all--assembly line style.  My mom said she was so happy to have Matt help with making the invitations.  She said most men don't seem to be into stamping and crafting like that and would just leave it to us women-folk.  I am glad about it too, frankly, but not surprised.  I told her Matt just likes to make stuff.  He's not going to take up card-making as a hobby or anything, but if cards need made he would gladly help make them himself rather than go purchase something mass-produced and generic.  That is the way he is.  That is the way we are.  We are do-it-yourselfers.  We are creators.  We are builders.  We are artisans.  We are makers.
Building raised beds in the garden with our windfall of free lumber.
I went to a session at a library conference in February about "makers" and "makerspaces" in libraries--which is apparently a growing trend.  Prior to the conference my only exposure to this movement had been through a magazine we subscribe to at the library called Make.  The magazine mostly focuses on the high-tech end of things and as a result was only marginally interesting to me.  Turns out, that is just the tip of the maker iceberg.
Baking grandma's wacky cake for my cousin's birthday.
A little background information is probably in order.  Makers are just that--people who like to make things.  Makerspaces are just spaces designated for making things with the necessary tools and equipment--usually public, shared spaces which enable collaboration and shared learning.
Mending an old favorite canvas bag.
The item that is made in the space varies widely--it can be primitive crafts such as weaving grass baskets or high-tech such as programming robots.  During the session we heard from a few institutions in Montana that were actively cultivating and providing space for a maker culture.  And it was really cool.  I was quite impressed.
Pointing out a particularly vigorous cabbage seedling.
One of the institutions was a private college in northwestern Montana.  They had done research with employers in their area and found that there were qualities lacking in the incoming workforce.  These notably included poor critical thinking skills, poor problem solving ability, and a low ability to work together, collaboratively, as part of a team.  Naturally, low performance in these areas has far-reaching impact on the employer, the community, and ultimately the whole world.
Serving a homemade trifecta:  seed crackers, cashew cheese, and pepper-garlic jelly.
Makers, in general, excel at these things.  So, the idea is that if we--as libraries, universities, schools, individuals, and communities--encourage more people to build, craft, construct, wire, draft, glue, paint, program, etc, then we will have a population who are better equipped to solve problems and think critically as part of a team.  Clearly a population like that that would benefit us all.
Making postcards out of seed packets.
I think its pretty brilliant.
Making music with friends.
There are at least two libraries in Montana that are offering dedicated spaces for making things--Great Falls Public and Missoula Public--though there may be more.  At these libraries users can check out a book or learn how to use scrap-booking tools.  They can use the internet or they can wire and program a catbot. They can attend storytime or build a birdhouse at the construction station.   They can print a resume on the laser printer or they can make a working ukulele at the 3D printer.  I think its a pretty great way for the library to serve the community.  Apparently the State Library has created a traveling kit of maker supplies that can be hosted by libraries around the state for designated periods of time.  I think we're going to try to bring it to our library.  I think it would be fun and educational--and I love that.
Knitting with my niece in her homemade tie-dye get-up.
It seems to me that nearly everyone gains pride and satisfaction when they make or build something from scratch--even, and possibly especially, when they don't do it very often.  And I don't think it really matter what sort of making it we're talking about--whether it is to stamp cards, bake cakes, fix old cars, sew quilts, build computers, carve wood,  grow flowers, or whatever.  That part isn't the important bit.  The important part is just to make something.  To stretch the brain.  To expand the world.  To put the hands to work.  To have fun.  To learn new skills.  To test what is possible.  And to watch something come into existence through the process.
Cutting spinach pasta.
For me, making things is infinitely more interesting and rewarding than buying them.  The end products are more unique, more customized, and of greater immaterial value.  And if I must buy things, say honey or yarn or other items that I do not yet have the capability of making myself, I like to know the person who made them, like the rancher and Thackery.  Makers trading with makers.  That's a community philosophy that I hope continues to spread throughout the world.
Picking herbs in the rain.
Hooray for making it.  By the way, there is a great "radical home-ec" book out there called Making It that is totally awesome.  I highly recommend it.
Sewing a new dress.
My newest project is to learn how to make is soap.  Matt's is to build a greenhouse.  One step after another has taken me so very far.  I think this is the next step in the journey.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You're Doing It - Inspiration Thursday

"As soon as you take that first step towards a simpler life, you're living it. Some of us will be doing more or less than you but there is no grade to pass, no percentage to aim for, no right location, no formula. When you make a conscious decision to spend less and then move towards simplifying your life, that's it, you're doing it."   - Rhonda Hetzel, from the post Its the Journey That Enriches Us

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring Equinox Party

Matt and I like to make merry. We take any opportunity we can, pretty much. The standard seasons of festiveness such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and News Years Eve. But there are also music festivals, birthdays, solstices, harvest festivals, and most recently, the spring equinox. The changing of the seasons is certainly cause for rejoicing! We celebrated with friends, games, homebrews, and laughing until I nearly cried.  I am so blessed with friends, family, and life, in general.  I am also very ready for spring--bicycle rides, bare feet, flowers, fresh spinach, birding, flying kites, camping....oh the joys--the special joys--of each season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sesame Stir-Fry

My boss was eating a frozen microwave meal in her office the other day. It smelled so good that I could hardly believe it was a frozen dinner. I couldn't stop thinking about sesame all day after that.  And it made me go home and make my own stir-fry for dinner with a sesame sauce I came up with a few years back.
Simple Sesame Sauce
1/8 C Tahini
1/2 C water
1 T tamari/soy sauce
1 T lemon juice
2 t light miso
2 t honey
pinch cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy.
Toss with stir-fried veg.
You may want to double the recipe if you're cooking for a big family or using rice or quinoa which tends to absorb more of the sauce than the rice noodles do.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Curried, Golden Supper

I found a recipe for something called Curry-Ginger Sauce in our box of recipe cards that neither Matt nor I could really remember making any time in the last couple of years. It'd gotten stuck to another card and we'd quite forgotten about it, so it seems. So, it was a real treat to rediscover this tasty sauce.
We paired it with some cauliflower pakoras for a lovely golden-colored and curry-flavored supper. Yum all around.  It was so good in fact that we made it again just a few days later.
And since I didn't have a photo to post along with the recipe the first time I wrote about it I thought it was worth sharing again. I don't think I'll be forgetting about it again any time soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Make the Ordinary Come Alive - Inspiration Thursday

Make the Ordinary Come Alive by William Martin

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Happy first day of Spring everyone.  (Or for my readers from the southern hemisphere:  Happy first day of autumn.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making Invitations

We made wedding invitations last weekend--Matt, my mom, his mom, and myself.
They look great.  They're simple, natural, and, well, look like us.  Sharon was the mastermind behind the design, but Matt and I helped.
With the four of us--and help from some pretty remarkable crafting gadgets--we managed to make them up pretty quickly.
And it was a really fun family activity.  My sister and niece also helped a bit in the way of offering fingers to hold down ribbons while we tied small knots while my mom took a break for lunch.
I am enjoying the sort of homespun feeling I've got about our wedding plans.  I'm wearing my mother's wedding dress.  We're making our own cake--and likely most of the food.  The DJ is a friend of the family.  The wedding party is our brothers and sisters.  The center pieces are handmade.  We're getting married outside under the (hopefully) blue Montana sky.  Its good.  I like it.
And now we are one more step closer to the big day.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Harvesting March!

The backyard is finally clear of snow again and so we took the opportunity to check on our overwintering carrots this past weekend. Some of my family was visiting--including my niece, Keleigh, who always like to help in the garden--and it was great to get some fresh air and sunshine after being cooped up for so much of the winter.
Even with a winter of record-breaking winds, snows, and cold the carrots were still amazing. Covered with black plastic garbage bags filled with leaves and a sheet of plastic they stored perfectly. They were crisp and oh so sweet and tasty. Even sweeter than the ones from the fall--which I'd heard could happen when they're exposed to cold temperatures. If they could withstand this winter its seems like it would be a good technique for us every winter.
This means we've been keeping ourselves supplied with carrots since August 5, 2013--and we eat a lot of carrots! Carrots and onions go in just about everything at our house. We harvested just under eight pounds on Saturday. In addition, there is easily thirty more pounds of carrots in the ground, probably more. So we've got fresh carrots for a while yet.

Matt and I are are absolutely tickled pink that this experiment worked so well. We now know how we can grow more, and more importantly, keep it good until we can eat it all. Its totally fabulous. We planted these carrots on March 30, 2013. Here it is almost a year later and we're still eating them. How cool is that?! And what a bargain!!
Keleigh--who like so many youngsters can be finicky about eating her vegetables--was clearly pleased with the whole project. She selected a huge carrot to be specially washed--and she helped with the washing--for her to eat. She then gnawed on it for a half and hour until her face was stained with orange. It made my heart so happy to share the experience with her.
We also were able to move the garden sink out of the garage and into its permanent location. It looks great and we're so happy about it. We also dug some squishy scallions that we failed to harvest before they got ruined and tossed them in the compost heap. Afterwards it seemed like a stroll though the neighborhood and kicking off the shoes for swing in the hammocks was in order.
Matt and I both remarked later that evening as we were getting ready for bed how enjoyable working the soil had been. I guess we're really ready for spring.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Snowshoeing in the Sun

Snowshoeing last weekend was fun, but I sure liked digging in the garden and swinging in the hammocks this weekend. I am sure there will be at least one more cold snap or snowstorm in store for us, but there are definite--and increasing--signs of spring. Huzzah!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Love Light - Inspiration Thursday

"Keep your love light shining all night.
Keep it shining bright.
Keep your love light shining all night.
No bother fuss nor fight.
Keep your love light shining all night,
And everything will be all right."
-Clinton Fearon

I first encountered the term "love light" through the my experiences in the Grateful Dead culture.  I immediately found it to be a tremendously apt expression.  Love light.  Turn on your love light.  Let it shine.

Seeing the sheer joyfulness and open generosity of the Grateful Dead family--tents, foods, rides, money, art--really helped the idea resonate within me.  I'd never before met such a beautiful, generous community of strangers--strangers no more.

It seems to me that when people are filled with love--and I do not mean just romantic love--they really do shine with it.  Not only that, but they really do make the world around them a brighter place.  They are almost a beacon of hope in a world seemingly going mad. I've been blessed to know many free-spirited, generous creatures of love.  People who love beauty just for beauty's sake.  People who are kind to strangers.  Who cherish the small, sacred wonders of this planet we share.  Who look at you with eyes glowing with tender warmth.  Who share with you--ideas, food, clothes, homes--with their whole self.  Who live life with almost infectious happiness and pleasure.  They inspire me to be better.  To give me.  To show more kindness.  To be more playful.  To love more.  I like to imagine a whole world of people like that--where everyone is shining brightly with love on all that which is around them.  I don't know if I'll live to see it or anything, but I do like to believe that it is possible.

Perhaps too many of us are just in the dark without knowing we have this light within us.

I've since found this phrase--love light--in numerous great songs from a diverse range of artists including folk singer Kate Wolf, R & B artist Bobby Bland, and reggae star Clinton Fearon.

(The video is 17 minutes long because Clinton introduces the band near the end of the song and they each do a little solo.  But, the first part is the critical bit as far as this post goes.  There are many other versions of this song out there on the web--if you'd like something shorter--, but I thought this was the best sound quality with the full band.)

As I've mentioned before my brother-in-law Alex plays bass for the Boogie Brown Band which backs Clinton Fearon.  I adore this band.  Clinton writes such up-ful, positive words which are matched with a delightful, bouncy instrumentation that just makes me want to dance in my joy at hearing it, feeling it.

Love shines out of our deeds, our words, our very lives.  May our love lights shine brightness into every corner of the world and every corner of our hearts--until we're all together, surrounded in the light.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


So, we got a cat.
Her name is Ginger.  Her previous owner was my boss--who in a most unfortunate turn of events suffered serious health problems which sped up his retirement and forced him to move into a rehab center for the past several months.  During that time Ginger has lived basically alone.  She had someone who would come and feed her daily and spend time with her once a week, but for all practical purposes she was on her own.

Matt and I had been talking pets for, well, years.  We'd talked several options, but, for a variety of reasons, the timing was just never right.  And then it was.  Ginger needed a home.  I wanted an animal to love and care for.  Matt wanted me to have an animal to love and care for.  And so Ginger moved in.  Or rather we came and kidnapped her from her home and took her to a strange place with strange people one dark, winter night.  (I am quite sure that is how she perceived it.)

She hid behind the furnace for several days and would not come out at all.  But, we took turns sitting by the furnace and petting her through the gap between the furnace and the wall and she started to purr and ever so gradually come out of hiding.

We've had her with us almost two weeks now and she is gaining confidence in us and her new surroundings in leaps and bounds.  We took a nap together for the first time over the weekend.  I had to nap on the carpet in the basement as she refuses to get on the furniture (which is fine by me) and is still most comfortable in the basement of the house, but still!  Progress is being made.  She curled up sweetly on my tummy and purred and purred and purred.  She didn't move even with Matt going up and down the stairs--which had usually set her running for the furnace.  Yesterday she surprised Matt and I by strolling out of the craft room when we had never really seen her voluntarily hang out upstairs before.  Progress is being made.  She seems to be realizing that what's ours is hers.

So, its cool.  I am oh so happy and so is Matt--and based on all the purring so is Ginger.  I knew I would be.  I am totally a pet person--more specifically a cat person.  Almost all of my life I lived with a dog, a handful of cats, and usually a small rodent or two.  But, this is Matt's very first cat and one of his very first pets, really.  But, I needn't have worried they get on with each other quite well.  Matt seems to get a kick out of making her chase strings and the like.  Ginger can't get enough petting and is very quick to play--almost like she's been missing it for the last several month.  So, we're a happy little trio at our place.

I'll do my best to not let Ginger photos take over the blog, but no promises.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Derek's Incredible Falafel

I love falafel.  In a pita, on a plate, as a hamburger, or just about any way one could be eaten.  I didn't realize there was anything wrong with our falafel recipe until we went over to visit our friend Derek and his family and he let us try some falafel he'd whipped up.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It was like a whole other world of falafel that I never even knew existed!  And to think we almost didn't try it because we'd already eaten dinner!
Turns out it is Israeli-style falafel where the chickpeas are not really cooked.  The beans are soaked for a minimum of 12 hours and then--without any additional cooking--ground up with the other ingredients, formed, and fried in oil.  The beans are then tender, but still with a fabulous, al dente, almost-but-not-quite crunchy texture.  Our old falafel recipe results in soft, fragile, smooth patties.  Derek's is chunky and chewy in a most delightful fashion-- though they are still a little fragile until you get them in the oil.    The recipe makes a lot.  But, its so wonderful that isn't really a problem.  But, we've also made half-batches before, too.
Derek's Israeli-Style Falafel (just ever so slightly modified)

1 lb dry chickpeas
1 onion
3-5 cloves of garlic
1/4 C flour
1/4 C vital wheat gluten

2 t salt
2 t cumin
1 t ground coriander
1/4 t black pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 C parsley (optional)
oil, for frying

Soak beans overnight.  Do not cook.  
Process onion and garlic in food processor.  
Add all other ingredients except the oil for frying.  
Process until uniformly broken down into small bits.  
Refrigerate at least two hours.  
Shape into patties or balls--sometimes putting a little extra water on your hands helps.  This part can be a bid fiddly, but squeeze the dough and shape them gently as best as you can.  When they are added to the oil they develop a crust which helps hold them together.
Fry each side in oil until lightly golden.
I am hooked.  Matt and I have even eaten them for breakfast (top photo) just because we can.  That is how good they are.