The Weight of Things

In the end, our move will have taken almost half a year– one trip at a time, one trailer-load at a time, one month at a time. But now the essentials and most of the furniture is there, so we’ve reached the point of packaging all the little things we plan to take, and setting aside the things we don’t.

There’s an added weight to an out-of-state move over many hundreds of miles, more so now even than I remember from our move down here. We did it so lightly before, just the two of us, freshly married and exploring new possibilities. Now, we know what we’re leaving behind and mostly what lays ahead– and we recognize the void of what we don’t know.

Going through and touching each thing that makes up the tangible parts of our lives brings to mind the many miles we’ve come. It’s a unique opportunity to really see the things that surround us.

We’re trying pointedly to cut back on material “stuff.” On principle, I’m committed to that effort, but item for item I struggle to let go. Going through my daughter’s baby clothes, her Bumbo seat, her swing– we’ll need it all for the next baby, I say.

But there is a lot. Some of the clothes were barely worn. Sometimes I liked them so much that I didn’t want them to get ruined– so I rarely dressed her in them. How absurd, I recognize now. How irrational to not use something we like when she fit into it for such a fleeting time. I look at the piles of baby clothes and I can hardly believe how fast the time went, or how long the time seemed then.

The days are long but the years are short, wrote Gretchen Rubin. There are no truer words for parenthood.

I took apart my favorite piece of decor and nostalgia– old wooden cubbyholes originally mounted in my grandfather’s office, where I now work. It holds found things of all sorts, tiny pieces of art, stones and shells, the boutonnières my bridesmaids and mom and her friends all made for our wedding, the pie-topper bride and groom that I made with trimmings from my actual wedding dress, which I also made.

But I didn’t keep everything. Some little rocks and knickknacks had lost their value, their memories, and I let them go. In fact, I collected them in a bowl and let my husband scatter the natural ones outside, something he surely long wanted to do. He doesn’t store emotion in physical things, and I envy him that.

One freeing aspect of a many-phased move is that each round of selecting and packing, the things I leave don’t have to be immediately thrown out or gotten rid of. I can tell myself that they’re just not coming yet. And maybe by the end, I’ll have picked out all the things I know I want and let my husband come in and take the rest while I look the other way.


How To Make A Fabulous Easy Wreath For Free

I’ve been making wreaths from scavenged greenery since I was a small child, using anything from grass to ivy to palm fronds to conifer branches. This one took about 20 minutes and used nothing but the plants in my yard.

Don’t have any trees to rob from? Christmas tree lots generally give away their trimmings for free, and they make spectacular wreathes. No flowers or berries? Try using herbs, such as the rosemary accent pictured, or pinecones dropped along the street. I make a habit of taking walks just to collect artful pods and cones to later use on decorations like these.

Since they have no wire, ties, or glue, these wreathes can be composted or burned when dry. But even better: once they drop their leaves, they become a perfect base for next year’s wreaths.

Here’s how to assemble them:

Start with several long, thin (1/4-1/2 inch at the base) branches that bend easily without breaking. Willow is perfect, but conifers work well, as do fruit tree suckers. (You can use ivy, crab grass– you name it. It just won’t be as sturdy.)

Bend the longest one into a circle the desired size, starting with the thick end and winding the thin end through and around to secure the ring. Ignore the leaves or needles at this point; you won’t see them.

Gently poke the thicker end of each additional branch between the already woven ones to secure it, starting in varied places in the circle. Wind them around to strengthen each side of the wreath.

When the base feels solid and there are enough layers to poke new greens in without damaging the circle, add the filler foliage.

Use the leafy tips of shrubs and tree branches with enough “stem” to secure it; poke the twig straight through a hole in the base, pull it through until the leaves are where you want them, and in the back wind the remaining stem through another layer to hold it in place. Keep adding until the base is fairly concealed and the wreath appears full and even.

(I’ve made plenty of sparse bare-twig wreathes as well– design it how you like!)

Finally, decorate. Tuck contrasting greens and colorful accents in sporadically; try rosehips, pepper berries, cones, fruit, or dried flowers.

Wreathes make the pretty decorations year-round. Since these use only what’s growing nearby, they are a perfect way of capturing any season as a festive welcome on the front door.

Staying Warm

As we listened to stories of kayakers in Healdsburg’s parking lots and highway closures in San Francisco, as my mom complained that she thought her windows might shatter behind the wind and rain in Sonoma County, and as local people scrambled in the path of the anticipated “megastorm,” we went to bed last night under a gentle drizzle.

We had prepared to cook by candlelight, perhaps in the fireplace with the Dutch oven. We’d gathered flashlights and moved the penned goat to a stall in the barn. And when it appeared nothing would materialize, we were disappointed if not surprised.

In a place, and a time, where even clouds are a rarity, I’ve come to use my imagination to enjoy a cozy winter hunkering-down. Even on warm days if the clouds roll in I turn on lamps and keep a pot of chili or stew simmering on the stove. Just to enjoy the feeling of warmth, of desiring warmth.

So yesterday, excited but skeptical, I bundled up and donned a hat and scarf for my drive to work.

My drawer of handmade winter accessories have hardly been touched since we left Oregon and I miss them. Making new ones was my way of welcoming the fall. I’ve kept my husband and me in more hats than there are chilly days for, and my daughter’s supply is growing. Soon enough, they’ll once again be essential.

This morning at 4:30 I got up to make coffee and noticed lights glimmering off the front field as if it were a lake.

It’s still too dark to tell the extent of the flooding, but on the flat, drought-hardened valley floor, rain backs up quickly. The old, old house groans overhead, and I’m enormously grateful that we managed to remove the dead trees from our backyard earlier in the week. Today will be a first, and likely a last before we leave the Valley for good.

Handmade Holidays

I’ve always been a lousy consumer. Handmade gifts are mandatory, and I almost never think beyond them. When time is tight and hands are rarely free, though, such little accomplishments become quite large indeed.

These small hat and scarf sets make a simple bottle of wine far more meaningful. They’re quick and fun to make, because each one can be unique and as ornate as you like.

This project is a perfect use for leftover portions of yarn skeins.

Ours come out each year as new decorations, and I have no doubt that in a few years, they’ll double as cute little dolly clothes.

Gratitude for Then, Now and Moving On

Today is our last Thanksgiving in the Valley.

The past few years, living here, have been complicated. Our feelings toward this time, the experiences, the ups and downs, are tangled and recoiling. The end has always been somewhat in sight– we knew we wouldn’t be here forever.

What has changed is the beginning that now stretches out before us. A beautiful new home. A goal, a plan. Rain. Grass. Possibility.

The beginning on the horizon has enabled us, encouraged us, to examine the time here and those elusive sentiments. From this I’ve extracted two products worthy of deep gratitude.

First: perspective. I’m certain that I will always recognize the value in my surroundings, though at my lamest I may fail to aptly appreciate it.

From where I sit in Central California, every day in our new life, on the new homestead, under every raindrop, should be cherished and praised. But I know it won’t be that way. There will be broken pipes and long winters and failed crops. There will be times of exhaustion and frustration. There will be times of missing the long tomato seasons and fresh lemons. But there is treasure to be found in the bitterness we’ve felt here, in the dust and heat and unhappy people, because I will be able to hold it up against the good and bad times of the future and be grateful for those times.

Second: tradition. We’ve moved largely into the life we dreamed of, even here. We’ve made extravagant shared Sunday dinners. We’ve established a way of eating daily, of the food we buy and way we grow and harvest our own meat. The way we feed our child.

And we’ve become the Thanksgiving hosts. I roast a goose, make stock and giblet stuffing, and render the goose fat for months of use. My husband makes the potatoes and bourbon-glazed Brussels sprouts. I pick wild greens for salad. He makes dessert. These are the traditions that we will bring to Little Fall Creek, that we’ll nurture and grow over years to come, that our daughter will grow up celebrating. We can thankful for their beginning in our time in California.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!