Monday, October 31, 2011

Sharing our Unplugged Sundays

Written by Kimberly

In the midst of our huge life change of moving from Denver to rural Idaho, we were working on endless projects around the clock and seven days a week.  No one gives you a day off when you work for yourself and are trying to revive a severely neglected homestead.  After a few months, I knew I needed a change.  I began to organize my week to make Sundays easier and more restful. 

It took awhile to get my Sweetheart on board, but he is now.  Around that time, Unplugged Sunday started up.  It spoke to my heart.  I shared it with him and it is now a part of our week.

Being in a new place, there a so many new neighbors we want to get to know better.  When Sweetheart and I were discussing what we wanted our Sundays to look like I told him I wanted to include having guests to dinner at least once a month on a Sunday evening.  Part of me would love to say that we would have company every Sunday night, but I know that that would quickly become too much.  Once a month feels manageable.  

Of course, we always try to keep an open door and be ready to set an extra spot at the table whenever needed.  And around here, that is a good way to live.  There are often folks that just drop by without warning and I like to be able to make everyone feel at home.

I used to try to have everything perfect for company.  I wanted them to enjoy themselves and to have everything be just right.  That perfectionism made for trouble.  I would take on way too much and try to do too much that by the time the guests arrived, everything might look perfect, but I was a wreck.
Now, I still like to make everything as nice as I can, but my attitude has changed and everyone is happier for it.  It is so freeing!  I have learned to plan simple and delicious food.  To serve what I can easily make and enjoy making has made such a difference.
To make it work to have company on Sundays and still have a restful day for me does take a bit of forethought.  I try now to have everything cleaned up on Saturdays whether or not company is coming.  I also am prepping as much of the Sunday supper on Saturday as I can.

I am choosing meals that can be made in advance and don't require a lot of last minute details.  Especially this time of year, a big slow cooker of soup or stew is a wonderful thing.  A salad and some fresh-baked bread served along side makes it easy for me to visit with my company as soon as they arrive.  I like to either have dessert already completed, or just set to slip in the oven when we sit down to eat.

Whether or not we are having guests I still enjoy setting a beautiful table and using my pretty things for serving.  I change our centerpieces and dining room decorations with the seasons using whatever is growing, or I can forage at that time.  Most meals this time of year are eaten by candlelight as well and I usually have instrumental music playing in the background all day.  With three little kids, it is soothing and even the kids  notice if I don't light the candle, or turn on the music.  These details only take a few minutes and make such a difference.

I believe that beauty refreshes our spirits.  I want our home to be a lovely, loving and welcoming place for my family and anyone else who comes our way.  Now that my attitude has changed about practicing hospitality versus entertaining, I can truly say that I strive to bless, not impress.  Unplugging for the day and being fully present with my family and friends all seem to flow together for me. Being mindful to include others in our unplugged days just feels right.
Here are some ideas I have had to make this a success:
  • Be intentional.  Invite people a few weeks in in advance.
  • Keep the guest list small and manageable.
  • Plan simple meals that can be prepared early with few last minute tasks.
  • Do clean up the day before. 
  • Enjoy simple beauty.
  • Focus on your guests, not on appearances.
What are some ways you share your unplugged days with those around you?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Filling the Pantry

Written by Heather

Well friends, it appears winter is just around the corner. As a little preview, we enjoyed our first snowfall last night! Can you spot the snow on the roof behind my squirrel friend? He was looking pretty stunned this morning. This weekend we have a possible seven inch snowstorm heading our way. Oh boy, here we go!

This is a time of preparation, for sure. The last couple of Sundays I have spent some time canning or freezing to build our food storage and preserve this season's bounty.

Each year I work harder and harder to stock our pantry and freezer for the cold, dark months ahead. I do believe I'm setting myself up for a banner year in the apple department, putting up nearly 200 pounds!

I do a mixture of canning and freezing. The freezer is convenient and sometimes offers a "fresher" method of storage, but Irene reminded me that canning is a wise and resourceful practice.

"We were given a freezer and find it very handy for storing overstocks or surpluses from our meals or from the garden... we could live happily without electricity for lighting, but we find the freezer of considerable assistance in keeping certain few foods."

Several years ago my husband received a substantial gift card through his work. It was one of those things where we could choose from a catalog offering items from all kinds of stores. All things imaginable were available, from expensive jewelry to fancy clothing to practical home offerings. We chose an upright freezer. What a good decision that was. 

I tend to freeze nearly all of our food in glass jars and often get  questions about how to do so, specifically with regards to avoiding breakage. 

Tips for Freezing In Glass Jars:
  • Use canning jars when possible, they are tempered and can withstand slight expansion.
  • Leave one inch headspace at the top of jar, liquid contents will expand 10% when freezing.
  • Once jars are filled, chill in the refrigerator until completely cool. I leave overnight.
  • Leave the lids unscrewed when freezing, tighten only after contents are completely frozen. This gives the jar room to expand with out breaking.

Since I've been following this method I've had zero breakage. I think leaving the jars unscrewed until completely frozen is the most critical factor for success. 

Resources for Canning:

I'm pretty casual about my canning methods and have never had a jar fail. That said, I don't want to encourage careless canning practices - I just try not to overly obsess about every detail. Taking care and following basic canning procedure will give you good results (and huge satisfaction).

When canning, I make sure to have:
  • Clean and hot jars.
  • Lids simmering in hot water,  not boiling (new lids each year, screw on bands can be reused).
  • Freshly cleaned hands, utensils, and work surface.
  • Followed proper processing time according to my recipe.

That's really all there is to it. A bit of mental and material organization, a window of time, and a bounty of fresh produce is all you need. A few simple things and you are on your way to a stocked pantry and freezer. 

I really enjoy the activity of preserving food on a quiet, unscheduled afternoon. 

Over the last few Sundays I have put up countless pints, 1/4 pints, and quarts of apple butter, apple sauce, apple pie filling, pear ginger jam, and canned pears. Later today I'll be making one more batch of pear ginger jam, and a bit more apple pie filling. 

A sampling of this year's pantry supply.

My quick method for apple pie filling? I loosely follow this filling recipe (substituting sucanat for sugar and cutting back a bit on the cinnamon and lemon). I make huge batches of this filling and pack it into quart size canning jars to freeze. Two jars (slightly thawed) per pie is a good amount. It is great to have apple pie at the ready!

If you have any tips or resources from your own canning experiences, please feel free to share!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Five Tips for Art-Making with Children

Written by Jaimie

My kids and I make a lot of art.  Because one of my daughters just started school, and we’re quite busy and scheduled on the weekdays, we’ve been spending most of our Sundays at home.  With one parent and two kids rushing around all week, the most relaxing and centering option at the moment is to cozy up together in our nest before the hustle and bustle begins again.  And since we love to make art, it’s a natural way for us to spend the day.
If you’d like to spend your Unplugged Sunday creating with your kiddos, here are some tips I’ve acquired over the years of art-making with my daughters:

1. Don’t worry about the mess.  
I wish families could eliminate this concern all the time, but most of us are not blessed with either housekeepers or the time and desire to spend all day cleaning up after art projects.  A low-key, unplugged day at home is a great opportunity for the kiddos to create freely without worrying about spilling paint, dropping paper scraps on the floor, or pouring out too much glitter.

2. Consider leaving the supplies out all day.  
To those who keep a spotless house, this may sound like an invitation for chaos, but give it a try.  The creative urge doesn’t always run on schedule, at its allotted time of, say, 1:00-2:30 on Sunday afternoon.  My children, one in particular, will often return to the art supplies several times throughout the day, and an at-home, unplugged day is the perfect time to make this possible.  

3. Abandon expectations for final products. 
Kids (and their parents) are more relaxed when no one is worried about the end result of an art experience.  Whether you’re simply painting with watercolors on paper, or you’re doing a more specific holiday craft, try to put as few constraints on yourselves as possible.

4. Get your own hands dirty with the art.  
This is your time, too.  Like most, you’re probably very busy all week and don’t have much time to just sit and create uninhibitedly.  Don’t worry if you’re not an artist (though I’d argue that you probably are, in one way or another).  Relax and create, and your comfort will not only enhance your own experience; it will rub off on your children as well.

5. Prepare the supplies ahead of time.  
The younger the child, the shorter her tolerance for sitting around waiting for you to set things up.  Any parent who has announced to a three year old that it is art time and then subsequently spent twenty-five minutes fumbling around looking for supplies understands the value of preparation.  And if one component of Unplugged Sundays is the opportunity for you to relax and breathe, you don't want the stress of realizing at the last minute that you ran out of glue during the previous art project.  And, even worse, you don’t want to end up accidentally checking email and Facebook when you turn on your computer to print out the tutorial for a craft project.  

    What kinds of art work well for Unplugged Sunday?  

    Anything, of course, but here are a few ideas to try:
    Completely Open-Ended Art.  
    This is what we do most often, on any day of the week.  I set out supplies, or the kids just grab them, and they make whatever they please.  If you’re looking for something a little more specific or with more of a theme, consider the following two options.
    Seasonal projects. 
    I interpret Unplugged Sunday as an opportunity to peacefully experience the present moment, which means no TV, no computer, etc., but it also might mean intentionally connecting with the current time and season.  

    If you need inspiration, a great place to find seasonal (or any other) arts and crafts ideas is Pinterest.  I've got a board dedicated to fall-themed projects here, but the whole site is filled to the gills with seasonal crafts and activities.  

    You don’t necessarily even need a big “plan.” Over the course of the week, collect bits and pieces from outdoors to use in open-ended art-making. Right now, this might mean brightly-colored leaves, acorns, chestnuts, flowers gone to seed, and much more.  Setting these out with some glue, fall-colored papers and felt, markers, scissors, and paint (or far fewer supplies, even—whatever feels right), along with the invitation to create, is everything you need for a day of fall crafting.

    Crafts that reflect upcoming family events. 
    Do you have upcoming birthdays?  Great—spend the afternoon making gifts or simple, handmade party decorations.  If you’re dressing up for Halloween, work on costumes.  And if you celebrate a winter holiday (or two or three!), get a head start on decorations and gifts.  Or make welcome banners for relatives who are coming in from out of town next week.  All of these give you the opportunity not only to create together as a family, but also to prepare for important events you’ll share.
    Above all, remember this: don’t put any pressure on yourself or your kids to make something “perfect” or “right,” or even “good,” for that matter.  Just lose yourself in the creating, and the kiddos will follow suit.  
    If you’re already the crafty type, awesome—we’d love to hear your suggestions and input in the comments.  And if you’re not, what are you waiting for?  Make this Sunday the day you stop saying “if only I were artistic…” and get messy with your kids!

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Off the Trail

    Written by Carrie

    After many days of seemingly unending rain, it finally stopped. Always eager to get outside on a crisp fall day, my family went foraging for mushrooms.
    A successful mushroom hunt is equal parts acceptance that you may come home empty handed and excitement about the thrill of the pursuit.

    We'd only taken 6 year old Abby once before when she was still tiny enough to ride in a backpack. You see, mushroom hunting is best done off beaten paths, following veins of golden fungus up through mucky, rough terrain.

    “All paths are possible, many will work, Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure, Getting through is a joy “
    Now that Abby is a more experienced hiker and able to manage herself, we felt she was ready to try off-trail travel.

    My husband and I have been crossing paths for 25 years, but have only been together for eleven of those years. Our “way” has always been slightly different from the mainstream. We think and plan before we leap, but we are willing to leap, to tread together off the trail.

    After getting engaged in 2001, we finished our contracted jobs, I sold my car to buy a kayak, and we loaded our boats on top of Tom's wagon and drove south along the west coast of the United States. We crossed the Mexican border on September 30th, 2001. Our friends and family were worried for us to travel outside of the U.S. just weeks after the September 11th plane hijackings. We saw it as a chance to gain some perspective.

    A chance to extend some kindness and step outside of our comfort zone.
    When we got married the following year, we read Gary Snyder's beautiful poem, “Off the Trail.” Swapping lines, we hoped it would extend a bit of explanation to our community about what sort of path or non-path we saw in front of us. One of meandering, leaning on each other and then not. We have always been open to seeing“where the wild will take us.”

    We jumped at a chance to follow the promise of meaningful (low-paying) employment and found a home-base in a small community on the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Long before this area was known for fictional werewolves and vampires, it called to us. We moved in on the way home from our honeymoon.

    We've lived in this small town for the totality of our marriage. No one here was at our wedding or knew us before the kid and the house and the station wagon.
    We live a quiet life here.
    Tom made his way up the rungs of the non-profit ladder and found himself running the whole organization.
    We had a kid.
    We built community.
    We invested ourselves and the people of this place gave back.

    When we discovered a huge tumor tucked away inside of Tom's brain in 2007, this town came to our aid in ways that I will always be awed by. Aside from that “excitement,” we've lived a seemingly “normal,” path-following life here.
    So, when Tom left his job at the end of June this year, people here were a bit shocked. A few even insisted that we must have come “into some money.” I mean, why else would we decide to leap from the security of his employment into the unknown? Especially in this economy.
    I've heard that last sentence from folks more times than I'd like to remember.

    “Especially in this economy.”

    The simple answer to their question is that it was time to move on. As his job changed, he was away from us on business travel more and more and after nine years, it was time to pass on the reins and find our next adventure.

    We've built our relationship on a whole lot of faith. The faith that our way will appear when we need it. Faith that fear will only bring darkness for our family. If we spent our energy worrying about what might come next, we'd be stuck. Mired in non-action, discontent, unhappiness.

    “No path will get you there, we’re off the trail, 
    You and I, and we chose it!”

    We're nearly four months into this experiment of unemployment. We've both been seeking employment that will work for our family. We know this in-between-ness won't last forever, so we're attempting to take full advantage of Tom being home all the time.
    It was in this spirit that we set off to show Abby the way of the non-way. We took her into the damp, spongy understory of our wilderness.

    She picked her way across a clear-cut, over fallen logs, through deep mossy bogs, down steep hills and back up equally steep inclines. She made decisions about which way was safe, which way was risky and walked a fine line between the two. She found plenty to notice. Multitudes of fungus. A banana slug. More trash than I'd like to admit.
    We spent an hour and a half out there. Being off-trail though, it was like the work of climbing a small mountain. She found her way, stopping to rest, looking for a clear path, and sometimes, choosing the steepest section, just to see if she could climb it.
    The fruits of our labor? Well, in actual edible mushrooms, we found four. 
    The true fruit in all of this lays deeper, of course.

    “This is wild!
    We laugh, wild for sure, Because no place is more than another, All places total“ 

    (Poem excerpts from Gary Snyder's Off The Trail.)

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Just Make It

    Written by Jonah Lisa

    Us bloggy types have a tendency to collect projects the way some people collect teacups, or stamps.  We bookmark, we favorite, we clip, like and digg.  
    And now, we pin.  
    It’s a strange compulsion, an obsession almost, this hoarding of ideas.  And the sheer number of things we mark “for later” almost insures the fact that most of them will never be looked at again, let alone made.  It’s a great big internet out there and so the ideas just pile up, like plastic bottles in a landfill.  
    The scary thing is, that landfill is my computer...and MY MIND!  And both of them are getting full!
    No doubt, there are beautiful things to build and sew and repurpose, and places to go, and things to buy and look for at thrift shops, and sayings to remember and bedrooms to covet.  But are we creating stress and unrealistic expectations in our lives as we create these lists?  Are we missing the point?
    I don’t know the answer.  Frankly, this brand of pop psychology has already gone way beyond my pay grade.  Interesting to think about though, isn’t it?   What are we saving all these brilliant ideas for?  What rainy day?  What chunk of time?   
    I can tell you this much, since I’m probably not going to stop collecting neato ideas any time soon, I better start whittling down the lists the only other way I know how.  And Fall and Winter Unplugged Sundays are going to help me do it.
    You see, this past Unplugged Sunday I tried a novel approach to dealing with the lists...
    l chose a few ideas: a project for me, a craft project for the kids, a cool snack idea and a dinner recipe from my multiple, massive lists and do you know what I did?   
    I MADE them!  
    I know.  Out there, right?  I’d almost forgotten this was the point and not the pinning and digging and bookmarking itself.  
    During the previous week I spent some of the time I might normally be surfing the net, surfing my lists instead.  Then I picked my Sunday projects and made sure I had all the materials on hand.  I printed out the recipe and some photos for the kids’ project so there was no reason to turn on the computer “just to check” anything.
    I started off with a simple but fun milk and cookies snack brought to you by Pinterest.

    They loved the novelty of it, as I knew they would when I first pinned it.  Then I got them started on a cool Dia de los Muertos craft project that had been bookmarked in my browser for at least a year.

    And while they painted to their hearts content, I played with yarn and felt and ended up with something beautiful inspired by one of the talented artists on Etsy.

    Another Pin brought us dinner, but we ate the photo op.
    I’m not sure I think this will really make my all my lists shrink, but I do know it was a nice  and needed reminder of the actual purpose of pinning and saving the ideas in the first place.  
    To DO them.  To MAKE them.  To VISIT, and SEE, and CREATE.  
    It also made for a perfect, rainy, Unplugged Sunday and I imagine, as the weather turns colder and wetter here, I’ll be using this formula again.