Let’s go swimming.

Andy’s alarm goes off for a full minute. It takes him a while to reach his phone to turn off the chirping because he threw his back out. He moves slowly, forcing inhales through the pain. I offer to help and he declines. The rain taps the metal roof just above our dry heads as we lay under down and linen in the dark. The furnace kicks on.

He gets up first, he always does. I hear the click of our espresso machine button. I feel around the floor for the hoodie I took off last night. I walk gently down the hall, avoiding the three floorboards that creak. Andy tunes the radio to NPR. Another terrorist attack. In Brussels, he says.

The familiar words reach our ears. I hate that they are familiar. Isis. Extremist. Suicide bomber. 26 dead. 30 dead. Retaliation. War. Terror. Terrorist. Terrorism.

The rain lets up. I feel the wetness in my bones. The heaviness of rain sinking into soil. Washing the streets clean, adding volume to rivers, feeding gardens. Relentlessly nourishing. Pure love. Steadfast. The cool, clear, generous liquid that gives everything life. Water is the antonym to Terror.

Our daughters are still asleep. Andy leaves for work, kissing me on the forehead with a sigh. Be sure to change the radio station when the kids get up, he says. I nod. He climbs into his old work van and drives away.

I wake the girls, as I often do on school mornings. I spoon their warm, alive bodies. My fingers trace their faces. I coo and hum. I kiss their eyelids and ear lobes. For a moment I forget that moms are wailing 4753 miles away because their daughters were murdered. Just for a moment — and then that information pushes on my chest and my eyes fill with tears. Water pooling, spilling.

They shuffle down the hall, landing on all three squeaky boards. I make egg burritos while they check their hardboiled eggs that have been immersed in dye overnight. We all agree the yellow onion skin and red cabbage leaf dyes are superior. We decide we should dye more eggs. Ten thousand eggs! Piles of beautiful, colorful eggs!

I wonder what our world would look like without guns or bombs. I wish I could sit down and talk with a suicide bomber who believes killing people is his god’s will. I want to understand. How else will this change? I fantasize about a group of moms who conduct a terrorist intervention. Does that sound silly? What’s your idea? When we arrest terrorists they kill more people. When we bomb them back, they bomb more. What is this pushing us toward? What next?

Let’s go swimming. Naked bodies of every skin color and faith, floating in the cool current. We’d realize how little control we have. How beautiful it is to not know what happens when we die. To feel buoyant and blissed out. We’d inhale a deep breath and submerge and hear all the gods of all the religions telling us stop trying to dam the ancient canyons of another’s heart. They’d sing a lullaby about a great flood that sweeps us all up and sets us down on a mountain top to dry. The great flood sunk all the weapons and all the hate to the bottom of the deep, new sea. We are left with only each other. We listen and learn and love, unarmed.

Laying in bed with Ruby last night, she told me she missed being a baby. She feels sad when remembering nursing and being held all the time. She didn’t blink when she told me this, her eyes steady and serious. Like, if she concentrated on her words enough, if I understood enough — we could rewind time. I’d hold her tiny body to mine and she’d gulp milk from my body as she fell asleep.

I think about keeping my kids home from school today. If they even suggest it, I am ready to abandon work and spend our day playing memory and baking bread. If this life is to be so painful and short and so stunning and expansive, maybe I ought to do this differently. I daydream about walking deep into the woods with my family and living an intimate life, holding hands with the season’s quiver. I like that daydream and I know I am meant to do more. Maybe.

But my kids are excited for school. Margot ties her hair in low pigtails – one with a crooked black bow – and wears her favorite black leggings and talks about plans to finish the story she is writing about the dog named Ranger who is lost in China. She tucks her lunchbox into her polka dot backpack and jumps rope in the kitchen. Ruby is excited to get a new library book and to hand out clementines for snack. She wiggles her loose tooth with her tongue as she tries to master the double knot on her new sneakers.

The house is quiet after my daughters leave. I watch two magpies build a nest out our living room window. The male and female take turns flying away and returning with a single twig to tuck into their home. They’ve been at it for weeks. Driven by instinct and survival, they just keep building the nest as strong and warm and secure as they possibly can, tucked deep into the high branches of a blue spruce. They see the raccoons and hawks and me. They build it anyway.

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The Artful Homestead: Digging Into Daily Ritual

**We had originally planned a 3 day gathering but received valuable feedback suggesting people didn’t have enough time to plan for a big, expensive trip. This is our first time doing this and we greatly appreciate your enthusiasm and willingness to make suggestions! Thank you. We listened and simplified. This post has been edited since initially posted.**

I am excited to invite you to The Artful Homestead: Digging Into Daily Ritual.

I began imagining this a few years ago: a weekend focused on creativity and earthly awareness – with attention given to the whimsy and practicality of everyday acts. I envisioned working with the people who are passionate about things like baking bread, writing, gardening, poetry, deep breaths, art, music, canning jam, learning, doing, being. Together, camping and getting groovy with our homesteady selves, identifying our values and rituals.

It’s manifesting this spring, collaboratively with my dear, old friend and exquisite photographer Paige Green. You’ve heard me mention Paige many times before; she’s my best friend of 20 years. Our first-ever Artful Homestead gathering is happening over Memorial Day weekend. Will you join us?

photos by Paige Green

WHEN: 9am-7pm, May 28, 2016

WHAT TO EXPECT: This day is for people who want to explore, grow and create. The whole thing takes place on Windrush Farm, a real working farm located in Chileno Valley, CA. Participants will get dirt under their fingernails and forget about unanswered emails. Special bonus: no cell service! You can expect a comfortable yet rustic experience grounded in nature, community and expression.

photo by Paige Green

Together with Paige, I will lead participants on adventures in writing, nature exploration, art-making, photography, cooking, gardening and movement. Our day will have a good balance of light, leisurely flow and focused activity — time to relax and explore at your own pace balanced with time to interact, engage and accomplish. The evening will take root in a healthy, shared meal followed by fireside storytelling and a swim in the secret garden pool.

All food will be lovingly prepared by Paige, me and two other friends. We will feed you so well!

WHERE: Windrush Farm | 2263 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma CA 94952
Located in the green hills of Chileno Valley, Windrush Farm was founded in 1995 by Mimi Luebbermann, with an intention of living simply, farming fiber, and functioning as a quiet space for Luebbermann’s longstanding writing career. Windrush Farm has since evolved into an educational facility educating and entertaining Bay Area children and adults about farm life, wool, and the real world of animals, grass and sunshine.

I know first hand the magic of Windrush Farm. Paige’s mother-in-law is the founder and owner so I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the years. I’ve helped with milking cows, feeding lambs and cooking pizza in the outdoor wood-fired oven…

Giant live oak trees lend their nobby, knowing spines for leaning and listening. Wisteria drips from the farmhouse eaves, involuntarily intoxicating every passer-by. Goats summit abandoned shed roofs, sheep bleat to be pet, cows step into the worn walls of a well-used barn. Lavender and rosemary elbow each other for more room.

The photos below are from two of our visits to Windrush Farm at this same time of year.

April 2009, for Paige and Arann’s wedding (I was pregnant with Ruby but didn’t know it yet!):

 

May, 2012:

photo by Paige Green

photo by Paige Green

with love and appreciation,
Nici

:: DETAILS ::

This event is sold out.

The Artful Homestead is an intimate gathering and space is limited. SIGN UP NOW.

how much: $200 / includes food and workshops. Participants will need to arrange their own travel and accommodations. We can assist with this! Just shoot us an email if you have questions.

if it rains: if it happens to rain a little then we’ll put on rain boots, bring out our umbrellas and play in the rain. If El Nino hits then we’ll reschedule the workshop and if you can’t make the new date, we’ll happily refund your workshop fee.

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Day trip: Quinn’s Hot Springs

Spontaneous adventures are my jam. The kind that are casually planned over a post-ski beer and then happen the following day. I am enlivened when I’m “unprepared” — when I get to dance about in the early morning hours fashioning road snacks out of back-of-the-pantry bits, feverishly gathering the pieces we will need and then leaving. As ready as I’ll ever need to be.

I let the kids sleep, aiming to get the car all packed up and then scoop them straight from bed into their seats. Part of this plan is practical: I have to get a lot done to meet our 8am departure and if it’s just me, hip hop and the to-dos it’ll be lightening fast. And part of this plan is magical: I remember being 6 and 8 years old and I decide it would feel thrilling and cozy to climb from bed to carseat where my blanket, doll, bagel and open road await. Mom at the wheel.

photo by Ruby

We meet our friends and begin the caravan north along the fierce, alive Mission Mountains, through the Salish & Kootenai Reservation and then west along the turquoise blue Flathead River. We drive to Quinn’s Hot Springs.

Ruby: How much longer?
Me: Ten minutes.
Ruby: How long is that?!
Margot: Not too long! Just count to 60, ten times.
Ruby: one two three four five six seven eight…
Margot: IN YOUR HEAD, PAL!

There are several hot springs around here and I’ve been to most more than once. Each has their own unique vibe and lore. Quinn’s vibe: tidy and strict.

We arrive in the pouring rain, change into suits and tip toe across the cold cement to the healing waters. We all slip into the pool, feeling that welcome pin prick of warmth seep into our winter-cold Montana bodies. Eventually the four kids don goggles and find the slightly cooler pool where they romp and squeal. Kara and I find the hot hot pool. The hot hot pool followed by icy cold pool followed by moderately hot pool is my favorite sequence. Oh the luxury in willingly taking your breath away at a temperature shock.

notice the rainbow!

Most places in Montana – especially remote places – are famously trusting and chill. At Quinn’s, there is a lot of “you can’t do that here.” Like, they approach all things with a noticeable skepticism. It’s a funny quirk, really, but I have been annoyed before. No personal water bottles, no keys to your room until your friend who made the reservation arrives, no babies in the karaoke bar, etc. On this trip, I am hollered at from the edge of the pool. “Ma’am I know that is fun but it is DANGEROUS to lift your daughter that high.” (#troublemaker) There is a positive side to all those rules: it’s clean and predictable.

We soak and luxuriate for almost three hours, moving around between the six pools of varying temperatures before we get out, dry off and head out. It is still pouring rain – harder now – so we huddle under our car hatch for a snack before deciding to explore up the hill. It’s wildly lush and green – feels more like the Oregon coast than Montana, feels more like April than February. Kara reminds me that this valley is kind of a banana belt; the farmers up here grow a fruitful bounty. The Dixon melons, the Forbidden Fruit Orchard peaches.


We planned to be heading back home by now but nobody is ready for this to end and us moms convince ourselves that work can wait. So we drive a bit further west to a roadside spring we adore. I’m not sure if the water is actually the best tasting water in the world or if it is just my history with stopping and filling water bottles here that makes it so. Either way, I love the abundance of water from this risky place.

We take our time on the road home, stopping for photos and running and snacking and staring at the river. I’ll forever be an amazed admirer of rivers. Tiny, inconsequential droplets of water join together to create a holy force that inscribes earth and supports life.

Margot: Mom how does the ocean move because of the moon? Is that kind of like technology or something?
Me: That’s nature, baby.
Margot: It’s nature’s very own technology!
Me: What is technology anyway?
Margot: When things connect to make other things happen.

I try to always stop by The Perma Store to see if there are things we might buy. But mostly, to talk with Harold.

He remembers me this time, notices the girls have grown since the last time we stopped. His store sells earrings, lukewarm sodapop, fishing tackle and other provisions. His chicken coop sits between the store and his small cabin; it’s all just a few feet off highway 200. Harold has a gentle, interested way I appreciate. We always start with small talk. I wait with restricted earnest for him to reveal what is on his mind. He seems to delight in sharing his wisdom and theory, earned from his many years on this planet and lots of time to think about stuff. On this day I notice he has fewer Native American handworks and he proclaims a dissatisfied acknowledgment of youth choosing iphones over making medicine bags. “It’s hard to find young people who care enough to keep making this stuff.” He tells us about his hunting lineage, how he was raised to hunt for meat and not for the rack. Last fall he stumbled into a pile of six decapitated deer bodies. Killed for their antlers, left to rot. It’s a thing, we learn: people want antlers to decorate their homes and so poachers are making a living off of it. His neighbor found 20 headless deer last year. With all the antler-shed around here, I have always assumed those antlers-for-sale were found in the mountains. Silly, naïve me. I deeply detest this reality and silently promise myself I will tell everyone I know about it, starting with you, here. Because I trust that people who admire antlers also like and respect the lives of all animals and want to be responsible about where their decor comes from.

We make a long day of it, stretching our 1 hour drive into 4 hours. Our last stop is for milkshakes at the Bison Café. My mom and dad used to stop here with us on our way up the Flathead Lake, I think. Or some place like it. Any which way, these old diners with milkshakes make me pause to smell that good memory. Of being on an adventure with my family and getting malted treats at foreign restaurants.

That night Andy and I lay in bed with our kids; I (mostly) successfully try to enjoy the last bits of the day without thinking of all that is now piled on tomorrow’s agenda. Ruby’s face is pressed into the curve of my neck. Margot is next to her and Andy on the far side of our queen bed. Mabel and Sam at the foot. George on the window sill waiting for a vacancy.

Ruby: Mama? Stay here until I fall asleep ok?
Me: OK.
Ruby: You’ll know when it happens because I’m hugging you so tight right now. When I loosen, that means I’m asleep.
Margot: You know that moose show when the mama moose kicked her calf out when she was just one? That made me sad. I wouldn’t like that. That won’t happen, right?
Andy: That won’t happen buddy. You can stay here as long as you want.
Margot: Like forever?
Andy: Yeah, forever.
{ pause }
Margot: What’s college like?

:: :: ::

Details, with links:

Our sturdy new adventure rig, a Honda CRV, c/o University Motors (please email Toby if you’re interested in a special deal for dig readers)
Quinn’s Hot Springs
Favorite road trip snack: honey balsamic almonds
Soundtrack: Modest Mouse, Taylor Swift, Bill Harley
Old Perma Store
Natural spring location: on hwy 200, just west of the hwy 135 turnoff to Quinn’s
Bison Café
Forbidden Fruit Orchard (where I get my peaches every year!)

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38 things

I missed last year! And the year before! Both drafts are immortalized as drafts. Things happen that way and I’ve found – as I age – it is often best to give in than to muscle through.

Click to read: 30 things, 31 things, 32 things, 33 things, 34 things, 35 things

My birthday weekend began with a snowshoe into my friend’s cabin with girlfriends. We pulled our gear up a super steep hill, making that mountaintop beer so so delicious.

 

We came up in a few rounds, the first being myself and Amanda (my extraordinary co-worker who kept shouting “team-building exercise!” which never failed to make me laugh). At the very top, we were tired and happy and I unlatched my hip belt, let my grip off my sled just as the pitch turned downhill. All my stuff sailed down a near-vertical slope, off a huge rock and into oblivion. Amanda told me later that I stood there in total silence; I didn’t say a word as I watched all my clothes, food and gear fly down by the old mountain lion den.

Mabel ran up and down and all around my stuff without effort. Hmpf.

We got it all back. There was no staying upright to get down there so I slid on my butt on the snow and mud, gripping tree roots and branches to keep my speed down. The hike up was exceptionally difficult because I didn’t want to do it more than once so I shoved each bag uphill inch by inch, involuntarily grunting at the effort. And regretting packing in a cast iron pot. Amanda tried to lower straps to help me but the whole ungraceful (and hilarious) fiasco couldn’t be helped. The avocado and apples were obliterated but the vodka and camera held up. Team building exercise!

Once we were all there, we cleaned the cabin, chopped wood, started the generator and settled in for two days of bananagrams, hikes, fabulous food and storytelling. My friends surprised me with a full length butter yellow chiffon ball gown to wear. It was a size 4 and the gaping space in the back just added to the energy of my immediate alter ego. She was a little bit Beyoncé and a little bit Fraggle. My girlfriends also each packed in sparkles and we danced and danced and danced in the tiny cabin in the middle of starry, moonlit wilderness.


I often think about setting the tone for an experience — to be thoughtful about what I hope to achieve. Not an outcome, but a vibe. Some people choose a word to guide them, I choose feelings. When we identify what we hope to feel, our actions will naturally support the goal.

Last week my yoga teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice that day. Immediately, I thought of the word success. It surprised me a bit, that word. But I quickly made sense of it. Success in that space, in my body; I sought to achieve a satisfying and rich hour on my rectangular mat. To feel successful without comparison or worry. To be. With my body, both corporal and spiritual.

On the mountain with friends I started the adventure with the intention to feel at ease and alive. On the hike out, I smiled at the fun I’d had, at the strength and connection to people and the planet. Effervescent, fallible, messy, successful in just showing up.

So I am here this year on my 38th birthday with 38 things I love right now.

  1. Flipping my pillow in the middle of the night to reveal a fresh, cool surface.
  2. Cooking with Ruby.
  3. My lover’s winter mountain man beard and his spring shaved face.
  4. My lips fit perfectly on my daughter’s eyelids.
  5. My new exercise routine. I joined a gym a few months ago and go to four classes a week (pilates, yoga, weight lifting). I feel strong and energized and tall and fast. I have stomach muscles again. Holy, I needed this.
  6. Taking heaps of stuff to the thrift store.
  7. Taking risks.
  8. Eye contact.
  9. Day old braids.
  10. Warming by the fire, inside and outside.
  11. Them, in their bedroom together in the mornings – readying, talking, arguing, sharing.
  12. Making our new kitchen messy with real life.
  13. Birds on our feeder.
  14. Working on my next thing: We are partnering with other makers and releasing a new online storefront called Dig + Co. Co = Company, Collaborators. The store will feature well-designed, handmade objects that support adventuring, homesteading and artful living. Have something we should know about? Tell us!
  15. My new essential oil diffuser.
  16. Walking to school with my kids.
  17. Ordering seeds.
  18. Ruby still, at six, wants to be held all the time. I felt frustrated the other day and she said, “Mama I just want to be so close to you.”
  19. My friend’s hand balm.
  20. Collecting eggs.
  21. Textiles.
  22. Those two freckles on Margot’s left brow.
  23. Last fall’s cross-country adventure with my daughters.
  24. The books I made for them for Christmas documenting our trip.
  25. Dreaming about where we will go this fall. (Yes: I plan to do another October car adventure with my daughters!)
  26. Kefir.
  27. This space. This time capsule, accessible with a click.
  28. Home.
  29. Talking to Margot on the chairlift. She tells me every detail of everything in her world and asks the best questions.
  30. Planning for my husband’s dream concert that we recently got tickets for: two days, Pearl Jam, Wrigley Field. It all makes zero financial sense but when he was losing sleep over wishing so badly it could happen, it all made 100% financial sense. What do we work so hard for? I asked him. Let’s do it.
  31. Tumeric Twirl tea.
  32. Our pets.
  33. Teaching art in my kids’ classrooms.
  34. People who try hard for betterment in this world.
  35. This gift from a friend: an antique cake pan full of dirt and grass seed. The most hopeful thing.
  36. Jeggings from H&M.
  37. All the jumping rope that happens around here.
  38. Learning new things with my kids.

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sparkle

Me: What makes me happy?*
Ruby: Snuggling with me! And I like snuggling with you!

I have this dear old friend whom I hardly ever see. Even though she lives in town. Even though every time I see her it feels like we are again 22 and the cosmos made extra special room for our relationship.

It’s because our lives veered – just a bit – away from one another. Me: more settled. Her: more wandering. The thing that makes it work so well is that we both deeply love and appreciate each other. We both have a bit of each other in us. She is equally settled and I am equally wandering. Sometimes it feels like a glacier is plowing down the valley between her things and my things, widening the gap. But then we gather and we realize that gutted out ravine symmetrically curves up and into two great expanses. Wide open prairies of adventurous spirit, needful wonder, wistful want.

Me (frustrated, after repeating myself for 20 minutes): Margot. Seriously. Right now it is time for bed.

Margot: I know mom! I just have to real quick ride this blanket like a skateboard down the hall a few times until I’m good at it. Geez!

Me: What was I like as a child?*
Margot: Me!


My friend is two weeks older than me and, last weekend, she planned a celebration for her 38th birthday: Skiing in costume and then a night concert in costume. The theme: Sparkle. Sunday night after I failed to show up skiing, I was in bed with my kids, reading books with a glass of wine. I was tired and noticed it was 8:00. The concert was just starting. I grabbed my phone and looked on Craigslist. I found a few tickets available for sale. I can rally, I thought. Paint your eyelids with glitter, throw on that gold shirt. Buy the ticket.

Me: What is my favorite thing to do?*
Margot: Spend time with me and my sister.

My 17 year old cat Sam started yowling in the middle of the night a few months ago. It kind of crept up on me. Like, I suddenly noticed it was a habit. One night I woke – instantly wide awake – in the middle of the night and heard him differently. He spoke to me, begged me out of bed. I went to him. He told me he is confused. Things are changing. I knew in my bones. Panic, senility is taking hold in the darkness. So, now, every night he calls for me from the living room. I rise and hold him close, bring him back to our bed where he sleeps the purring and dreamless sleep of a spry kitten. My bubbas.

Me: What makes me sad?*
Ruby: When animals die.

Ruby has a double ear infection. The first administration of 1 teaspoon of sugary medicine took every molecule of patience in both my husband and me. It was an hour of clutching a plastic syringe carrying neon pink liquid. Negotiating, raising voices, leaving the room for deep breaths. She drank it. She spit it out. She hates it. And maybe she ought to. As a child of the 80s who was prescribed amoxicillin like orange juice, I am quite thoughtful about big meds. Or maybe she needs to feel her fear and do it anyway. Yes. That. I yelled. Margot got really upset with me for yelling. She asked, “Mama, how would you feel if you were sick and afraid of medicine and your mom yelled at you?” And then Ruby, with giant watery eyes looked at me and said, “I love you mama.” Good grief. I believe I can do better next time.

Me: What is something I’m not good at?*
Margot: I don’t know. Wait…Do you think you’re not good at jumping rope?

She eventually took the medicine. I eventually calmed down and hugged my girl while we talked about life and how it’s hard to do things we don’t want to do. I thought about how parenting is this sometimes graceful/sometimes struggled dance between soft and strong.

As mothers, it is our charge to be the soft place to land and to carry a strong resolve. To soften into feelings and nowness; to be the strong grown up. To have a soft heart and strong guts.

Me: What makes me sad?*
Margot: When we don’t like the dinners you make.

Me: What do I do when you’re not around?*
Ruby: Sew and cook.

The kids ask me all the time if they can brush my hair. They are fascinated at the fact that I didn’t own a brush until I had daughters. One night I said yes and they howled at the frizz bomb.

Margot left the room to do something.

Ruby: Margot told me not to touch the bun. But I can take out the braid right mom? Right? Actually, can I take out the bun? (pause) I can. Because Margot is not the boss of me. She’s just not. (long pause, holding my in-tact bun and not moving). Right mom?

Me: Right baby.

Me: What’s something I always say to you?*
Ruby: I love you.
Margot: I  love you.

* I copied these questions from an interview my friend did with her kids. I sat down with each of my daughters separately and casually asked them a series of questions; these are a selection from the lot.

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