putzing: deck nuggets

We spend the cold months shut in our home, fire blazing, puffy coat layering, soup eating. It always feels like a miracle when we can leave the sliding glass door open all day, the scent of cottonwood a welcome guest in our living room.

Our home gives us plenty but sometimes we do feel packed in our small living space. When the sun is high and the air warm, we enjoy the ease of eating, sitting, living in our outside spaces.

And I just love putzing (as my grandma and mom say) around, arranging and readying the additional “rooms” we have for five months of the year. Just as the chives emerge and the bees stir, I can be found digging around our garden shed for pots and chairs.

Today I am sharing a little peek at our cheery deck! Come on. Have a seat.

Wait, first let me show you what our deck and living room look like right this minute. We are in the middle of laying tile in our kitchen – the exciting next phase of  our ongoing project.

When curating our outdoor spaces, I hold myself to the same standards that I have for our indoor spaces:

  • I want interesting and beautiful things; I don’t want anything I don’t want to look at. Yes: this includes kid toys and functional objects like trash cans and brooms.
  • I use what I already have kicking around and only buy what I really want. Most things in our home are thifted or found. And the things we buy? We save up and get the thing that will last, the thing we love, the thing that adds joy to our ritual. I don’t want disposable things or cheap, cute things that will be in next year’s giveaway pile. I’d much rather wait. And usually, when I wait I find it or something even better. I am not a spontaneous purchaser. Unless we are talking about grocery shopping and then I am a different, impromptu-purchasing beast.
  • We live raucously in our space. We don’t always take our shoes off and our small kids jump and cartwheel through their days, usually with several pals in tow. I want the space we create to share with our loved ones to be joyful, comfortable, artful, restorative and not too precious.

The things that I bought new on our deck: plants, metal chairs & square table (Costco, 8 years ago), oil cloth for the tables, outdoor mat and the glass hummingbird feeder. Everything else was free or thrifted for less than $5.

People say you have the best luck thrifting! I don’t. I’m just patient and I enjoy the process of looking – I SO did not get all this stuff in one thrift/alley hunt outing. And the things I made didn’t happen in one night either.

deck detail nuggets!

:: The oilcloth booster seats were made from a pattern in One-Yard Wonders years ago and they are still going strong. And here is my tutorial for the DIY patio chair cushions I made last summer. Both are super easy to make.

:: I cut the oilcloth to size and to keep it from flying up with the wind, I attached some old curtain clips around the edge of the table. And! I found a use for all those mateless earrings I’ve been holding onto.

:: I always grab sturdy, old metal things when I find them, even when I don’t know what I’ll use them for. Andy loves this habit of mine! Like the chain that holds the hummingbird feeder (garage sale) and the ring that holds the hanging geranium (found buried in garden) and the horseshoes that hold the tablecloth down (free pile).

I chose a red geranium for the hanging basket next to the hummingbird feeder because hummingbirds like red and I don’t want to dye the sugar water solution. It works! We are getting lots of hummingbirds.

:: The plastic school chairs are one of my favorite thrifts from a few years ago. They are durable and comfortable and work well to disguise the red railing that we don’t love (we plan to do horizontal cedar boards like the other railing and like our garden rain wall.)

:: I get asked a lot about this outdoor mat. It is entirely effortless regarding upkeep etc. It is woven plastic! There isn’t a backer or anything that could absorb stains or water. The first time I saw a mat like this was at my mother-in-law’s house and she had picked it up in Mexico (I think?). Anyway, they are so lovely to sit on and water just rolls right through.

:: For container plants I like to do herbs and succulents and a few flowers. The herbs we use all season, the succulents become houseplants or gifts and the flowers just because they are jolly. For the containers: freebies, thrifted. I am always looking for plant vessels. Herbs I purchased: tarragon, rosemary, lemongrass, cilantro, sage.

:: My kids love to play kitchen and restaurant. They spend hours writing up menus, taking orders, mixing and baking. We used to have a little red kitchen but they outgrew it and, since then, their concoctions have been concocted on our table. I saw a $.50 mint bowl at Goodwill a few weeks ago and it called to me. The bowl whispered I want to be a sink. Make a kitchen using the existing bench on your deck! (that we can’t sit on because it is falling apart).

A cut hole, a few nails and an assortment of second-hand kitchen things and we have a kitchen play space. I put it together when the kids were at a friends house. When they came home Ruby said it was the best gift she’d ever received. Yes.

I love it because they love it and also because this bench was previously a dead, useless space. Now, it is full of life and imagination.

I am a meanie and won’t let them use real food for play so the kids mostly bake with sawdust and used coffee grounds. Occasional bits of pinecone, dirt, watermelon rind etc.

:: This grapevine is quite old and giant. I pruned the heck out of it this spring and cannot believe how much new growth is bursting out as a result. Do you have good grape canning recipes? I think we are about to be into pounds and pounds of grapes.

:: Our table centerpiece is an old pot in a serving dish atop a thrifted doily. We surrounded the pot with found colored glass, much of it seaglass – a thoughtful gift from my friend Tammi. Antlers are from my uncle.

:: And, the best part of our deck is the life that happens there. Lots of food to be shared around this table, forts to be constructed, naps to be enjoyed, birds to be watched. With handstand and roundoff breaks, of course.


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On one bright sunshiney day last January, our family skied with our good friends. We aimed our skis into Snowbowl’s East Bowl without talking about it first. A few turns in I whispered that it was my kids’ first time in the bowls. It was their kids’ first time too. All four tiny humans held the tips of their skis together, their little quads straining against gravity as they talked and sang their way through the deep snow exactly like kids who grow up skiing together every weekend.

And then it all went south in the East. One child had to poop. One was suddenly unable to turn. One went too fast and out of ear shot. One crashed into another and tears rolled down the mountain with rogue skis.

All four parents sweated through it, taking deep breathes, taking turns with each others’ kids. Straining our backs, swallowing our swears. Using encouraging, empathetic words. And the inevitable statement of fact: there is only one way to the Shirley Temple down there.

It took damn near forever to get off that slope. And then we hit a narrow trail through the woods that I swear was uphill. I am pretty sure it was my idea to make the cut over to Longhorn, thinking it would be a better run out for the tired offspring. My optimism was an empty hope. The adults lined up, each with a child holding on to a pole as we trudged through deep, sticky snow, literally dragging our moaning kids to Longhorn. They moaned all the way down.

We made it, laughing into the flats and unclipping from our bindings. Ever since that day “East Bowl” is a thing we say to each other. You know, if something feels like quick sand, like a shit show, like too much to handle at one time: we hold hands and EASTBOWL our way through it.

This last week included a broken appliance and floor, a conflict, an allergic reaction, a sleepless night, a death. This last week included a fixed appliance and floor, a resolution, a recovery, a restful day and plans for a whole lot of family to gather in eastern Montana this weekend to celebrate a life.

The thing is, there is probably at least one moment every day when we find ourselves skiing a pitch, wishing we weren’t there. We might fall hard or have to poop or make poor choices by not listening when our brilliant, usually-right mother yells STOP! We might feel angry about it, we might sit down and cry about it. But eventually we square our shoulders up with the fall line and link one turn into another turn. We know there are other skiers on that hill too. And they care about us. They want to give us a hug, help us get to the valley floor and buy us an age-appropriate beverage. We needn’t look beyond the ten feet in front of us because after we slide those ten feet, we can focus on the next ten. All the way to the end of the run and into the beginning of the next run, supported by the earth and each other. #eastbowl

:: :: ::

*disclaimer* Just in case somebody who knows Snowbowl sees that photo and thinks “that’s not the east bowl!”, you are correct. It is the outhouse trees. I couldn’t find a snap of the east bowl! 😉

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rock paper scissors shoot!

I seem to remember (I say “seem to” because my memory is sometimes quite imaginative from when my kids were babies) people telling me – as I nursed one daughter, made peanut butter toast for the other and dreamed of a shower – that time would unfold with abundance for me in a few years. And I remember feeling like my baby orbit was already slow and breezy, as if I had cracked into a simpler pace. I know not everyone feels that way. I did.

It was the first time, since I lost my first tooth, that I wasn’t scrambling out the door with the sunrise to school or work. I was largely unflapped by mess and sleep schedules. I was so blissfully keyed into every gorgeous detail. Yes, there were HARD times but they were remedied by slow walks around the block while Ruby sucked on my collar bone and Margot counted sidewalk cracks.

Now, at 5 and 7, my kids play rock paper scissors to make their very own choices about who gets to sit on my right side when reading, who gets the flower bowl for oatmeal and who first gets alone time on the trampoline. Several times a day we hear it: rock paper scissors shoot! This system works well for them. They trust the process. It feels fair and they both win often enough to feel validated.

Life today is different than it was back then. It feels busier and I am constantly resisting the plethora of wonderful, alluring offerings to fill our time. I really dislike feeling spread thin and my kids dislike rushing from one activity to the next. It seems that in order to maintain the unstructured space we value, we have to be more and more intentional about it all. I cherish our slow walks to and from school. I like that we don’t have a tv. We gather around the table every night for dinner and try to take our time there. I have a strong desire to hold tight to these rituals and choices. Sometimes it is hard. I am human and motivated to be and do things and I can get sucked into the dizzying world of crammed hours.

I’ve been thinking about these words that I hear a lot lately: efficiency and productivity. And how it’s up to be to define these words for myself.

Efficient means preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource.

Productive means achieving or producing a significant amount or result.

I used to write here several times a week. I used to document all my garden chores, triumphs and woes. I used to create a garden map in photoshop, all color-coded and pretty.

This year is much like the last several: I grabbed a piece of my daughter’s least favorite color of construction paper and sketched out our plot. I wrote my ideas in pencil because those ideas will definitely get erased and rewritten when a friend gives me her extra pepper plants or the arugula bolts early or I decide I want to just plant tomatoes on top of tomatoes and then live in the tomato patch and be a crazy tomato lady for the rest of my days.

February 15

May 5

This is our third gardening season in this home and oh mama, I have big hopes this year. I know the sun’s path intimately. I unearth nests of fat worms with each shovel. I get lots of steady time in my plot while Ruby counts millipedes and Margot swings on the monkey bars until her palms ache.

March 7

March 15

April 12

May 4

I added a truckload of compost two weeks ago, folding the loamy espresso earth into the winter-compact soil. With each turning in, I could feel the dirt thanking me, promising me it will do its best to breath life into our seeds. The dirt and me, we have a solid partnership. But I feel like I am always working against a deficit: the dirt will always give me more than I can give it. This is where my kids come in, for I figure my greatest gift to the Mother is two humans who appreciate and advocate for the delicate world under our feet.

garlic, May 3

rhubarb x2, May 3

Peas are always the first thing to go in the ground. Usually the same week as spinach, lettuce and arugula. This year, in our zone 4, we sowed that batch in mid-March. The leafy greens were slow to come up because I kept assuming it would rain; I don’t usually need to water much this time of year. But this year, the heavy clouds roll in and linger. They feel like rain and smell like rain but they roll right out without dropping water. So I started watering regularly and sure enough, those tiny leaves exhaled right through the soil.

My husband’s grandpa Lewie always said potatoes need to be planted by Easter. We were a week late this year but I think it’ll be alright. I am giving more of my plot to potatoes than ever before, hoping those jolly tubers will last through the winter.

The girls each had a packet of their favorite seeds in their Easter baskets this year. For Ruby: Nantes carrots. For Margot: Bull’s Blood beets. We dropped the seeds in rows last month, my daughters eager to see if something Easter Bunny-magical happens in those rows. I’m pretty sure they will find evidence of magic wherever they choose to see it.

We have two new chicks on our little farm. Meet Clover Clove Biscuit and Lydia Butter. We might add just one more. Hands down, the most remarkable part of getting chicks is their relationship with Mabel. Mabel keeps watch over them, pets them and snuggles them. When the big chickens get all pecking-orderly, Mabel defends them. It has happened a few times where Mabel’s puppy paws are a little too heavy but, for the most part, we have been watching a pretty cool kinship form in our backyard.

I am trying my hardest to be present in this unusually warm and dry spring, without focus on the predicted gnarly fire season. I am feeling a strong pull to not wait to camp and hike and explore because we don’t know what comes next. But, truly, when do we ever?

rock paper scissors shoot!

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Spring Vacation Ideas!!!

Dear readers of my words,

I didn’t know I needed it. Did you know I needed it? That I needed to hear from YOU? You must have known. I sometimes find myself gulping nostalgic memories of when things felt gentler on the internet. And I also appreciate the challenge to hold steady and true in the midst of so much noise. You gave me and this space a wholesome boost and I am so appreciative. So, THANK YOU. For reaching out and telling me how you are. I wanted to know, and I read your words in solidarity.

With love,

:: :: ::

Mama! Come here!

I’m making coffee. She hollers from her bed, under her polka dot comforter, quilt made by Gram. I step over bright, decomposing piles of leggings and leotards. She says

Do you know what I love most in the morning? I like it when I wake up and you are already in the kitchen with the radio on and making breakfast. I like that the best.

I lift her sleepy big sister from the top bunk and she wraps her legs around my waist like she has since her little ankles barely reached my hip bones. Now, she can easily cross her ankles at my tailbone, her elbows hinge over my shoulders, her arms drape halfway down my back. She is heavy. I think I will miss this more than anything as my kids grow. The day I can’t carry them.

Mama? I feel like I will cry. But I don’t think I am going to. I feel sad. I don’t know why. I just do. It’s uncomfortable.

I know that feeling my love. We don’t always know why we feel like we do. We just feel it. And try to help ourselves feel better.

Squishy grapple pours from plum clouds. Ruby says the mountains look like they are sleeping. She says they are tired and just leaned over to take a nap.

We spend spring break at home. Sure, we’d love to go somewhere warm. It seems like most everyone we know is somewhere warm. Maui, Mexico, Moab. All their friends are talking about it so it becomes a thing. We explain it to the kids 12 times and they still ask why we can’t just stop working and write a check for the plane tickets?! I might be overly Pollyanna-esque but my kids are used to it by now. I tell them we must imagine our best week here at home. We all must focus on gratitude and the big adventures that await – if we choose to see them.

There are groans and no fair!. Later that night, Margot disappears into her bedroom to write, as she does. And emerges with a piece of paper, a smile and these words

Mom. I decided we will have a wonderful week. Here you go. Look.

Spring Vacation Ideas!!!

(1) cabin!
We make the short drive to our friend’s cabin. It takes hours and hours to get out the door, on the road. It is our first trip of the year that requires camping stuff, so I go through all our bins and remember and restock what we need. Just us girls. It is hard work to hike into the cabin with all our gear and food and generator and 27 stuffies. I am impressed with my kids. They hike in and out four times carrying big loads with me. Mabel runs and bounces down the trail that was so familiar to Alice. It feels wonderful and painful at the same instant. Andy joins us the next day. We hike, make food, make fire, stay one more night.

(2) Little!
We finish The Long Winter. In addition to the death of Jack and the excitement over candy at Christmas, this episode of the Ingalls’s lives has a great impact on my kids. No warmth, no food, no play. Just gutsy survival and love and hope. When the wheat is low and they run out of firewood, things seem grim. Margot is pensive and then softens with a realization: Laura definitely lives because she wrote these books!!! And there is no way she could live alone as a little kid so I bet her family survives too!

(3) eggs! pante!

(4-6) Quinn’s! picnic! nail polish!
These things don’t happen. Instead I get some work done while the kids watch How to Train Your Dragon on my studio floor. Instead we clean their room and take walks up the hill. Quinn’s is a local hot springs. Here’s a snap from our last visit – the Old Perma Store, a stop we love along the way.

(7) sewing!
We do several small projects but the favorite for all three of us is Margot’s hoodie. She turns her drawings into clothes.

(8) jump rope!
All day, every day.

(9) friaend dinner!
We do breakfast instead.

(10) new chicks!
Doesn’t happen but will tomorrow.

(11) ski!
This last month we gardened in the mornings until the sun warmed the south facing mountain slopes and skied in the afternoons. We kept thinking it would snow again. We skied those faces until the last bits of snow gave into the spring earth. Our last few runs are sunny and slushy and required us to take our skis off to hike down over patches of mud, tiny creeks racing to the valley floor. Margot snowboards for the first time.

They say our snow pack is 80-90% of what it was but that it is only above 7000 feet. They say we are the lucky ones with snow compared to our neighboring states. They say our winters will be a full month shorter and our summers a full month longer in 50 years. My daughters will be 55 and 57 and I wonder how the forests will stand? I wonder where bears will wander and what our favorite swimming hole will look like?

Read this piece by my friend Rachel Turiel.

(11a) In an effort to save cash money, we tried to avoid the post-ski beer/shirley temple stop and instead have those things at home. Also I try really hard to be groovy with occasional bits of food dye and corn syrup but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I have been told that my shirley temples are way better than any Shirley Temple anywhere ever. Ahem.

My secret? Soda water + sweetened pomegranate cranberry juice + lime. Boom. Healthish Shirley. To sweeten the juice, pour the entire jar into a pot with 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and stir until sugar dissolves. To make: 2/3 soda water, 1/3 juice, lime with a cherry on top.

(12) goodwill shopping!
The kids want to spend their money on new wallets at goodwill. We spend 45 minutes right here, choosing and counting money.

Ruby makes coffee. Two mud splashes on her face from the bike ride. Dirty dishes in the sink from dinner, from breakfast. That leaky faucet is like fingernails on a chalkboard. It needs to replaced after the broken deck boards are replaced, before the trim around doors. The kids argue first about the orange bouncy ball and then about the white chair, the purple pony, the pencil sharpener.

I start in on the dishes. I’m tired and I feel a bit lost, like these neverending dishes are a metaphor for the neverending pile of things I want to accomplish. I scrub melted cheese from the knife that cut the quesadilla. I push hard on the cloth, not realizing the knife has shifted in my grip. I slice the tip of my finger right off. Just the very tip. It doesn’t hurt so bad but the mental replaying of doing what I did sends shivers to my brain. It bleeds and bleeds.

At the end of the day on Easter Margot tells me that her favorite part of the day is that I am her mom. She says it’s hard to explain but she just feels it. She then pushes her face to my chest and infuses my body with her words. It’s one of the top compliments I’ve ever been graced with and I hold my breath to remember the way it is said, the place it is said. That is my favorite part of the day too.

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8 years: 8 giveaways

Eight years ago I started this blog as a place where I would document my gardening. It was anonymous and private.

I wrote:

I have journaled about gardening and subsequent life endeavors ever since I managed an organic tomato and grape farm in the Rattlesnake Valley in Missoula, Montana. In journaling I recorded things I would likely forget like…start beets earlier next year or don’t ever plant anything in the southwest corner of the garden because my lame neighbor’s unruly, weedy, eyesoreish tree will completely block the sun by June…that kind of stuff.

A blog seems much more permanent and less likely to be left in the arugula row during an April deluge. Although those crinkled, barely readable pages offer nostalgia, really the whole point is for the information to be available the following year. And who doesn’t love to save paper?

Every year I can’t wait for this day. The first day I get to dig in the dirt, count worms and hope for a great tomato year. It is exciting and disappointing–I always wish I had done something differently the year before.

This space has grown and evolved in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I published that post. This space gave me the courage and purpose to leave my museum work to write and make and – mostly – be home with my kids.

This space doesn’t exist without you. Thank you for your thoughtful conversations, your wit, your wisdom, your humor, your support of our family business. I say we are all in this together a lot and you, dear ones, are a testament to that truth. I am happy to be in this life with you, where we make our own definitions of Rich and Success. Where we strive for the most authentic, brave-hearted versions of ourselves. Where we notice, give, receive and love what we love. Thank you.

In celebration of 8 years I am giving away 8 things to 8 of you chickens! Simply leave a comment below by Friday, March 28. I will announce winners here! Sometimes it’s nice to have a comment assignment so here is one for you (only if you’d like!): Sincerely, how are you? How is your day going?

Winners announced next to each item below! xoxo

1. Jar of our plum jam, label by Margot.

WINNER: Tessa Gochtovtt-Stine
I’m a big fan of your blog, you, your family, and your chickens. Pick me because I just bought a little farm house and all of those things are calling me

2. Bag, handmade by my friend’s mom out of crocheted plastic sacks.

Happy Anniversary! I am so glad you chose to start the blog…love your attitude about life & kids & the outdoors!

3. Handmade beaded earrings.

WINNER: Nicole Booker Reynolds
Your blog is such a special place. I truly cherish it. Blog on, sistah!

4. Set of two of my photographs (from my exhibit Sow, Mend), mounted on ironwood and ready to hang.

Hi! What a great time it has been! I’ve found your site when Ruby was just born. I was searching for something about gardening and just stumbled upon you. I have never looked back. What a great experience it’s been for me to learn from you (apricot-fig bars) and admire your fun loving attitude! I’ve bought your beautiful handmade wares for our little cousins, too. Even when you lost dear Alice, our dog, Daisy, was in the last month of her battle with cancer. I cried right along with you. Thank you for sharing with all of us all this time.

Much Love,

5. Vintage linen tablecloth and 6 matching napkins.

Jessica says:
Today I spoke to my brother for the first time in two years. I’m a perfect mix of heartbroken, sad and at peace that I heard from him. He had actually left a little grocery bag of punch, brownies, bbq chips and Swiss rolls at my doorstep yesterday. I had peeked out the window when I heard the door knock but i didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the old pickup truck. My brother has never been kind to me. And a lot of pieces in my family have been broken for a long time. Once I saw what the bag contained, I knew in my heart who it was from. As silly as it sounds, punch and Swiss rolls and bbq chips are so “him.” I can’t get it out of my head… Picturing him buying each item at the little convient store across the street. And the way he perfectly placed it at my door step so the wind couldn’t blow it over. It was just so “him” to do that. I can see the kindness in his hard heart. So much of me loves him and forgives him but so much of me is scared too. I’m not sure if I can have a relationship with him anymore. He’s hurt me deeply. Which makes the punch, bbq chips, brownies and Swiss rolls all the more heartbreaking. I never thought I could look at a brownie and cry. Anyway, I decided to speak with sincerity. Thank you for asking, friend.

6. Book: Steal Like an Artist.

I didn’t know I was the type of person to lose myself in a blog, like I did with yours right after I gave birth. I absorbed years of your life during those hours of early breastfeeding. I developed a strange lip allergy (?). I was dog-tired (SO TIRED). I got sick. My excema came back. Your blog soothed me. Thank you. I don’t know how I stumbled upon it but man did it help me. How am I today? Studying for yoga teacher training, mostly rested, waiting for my just turned one year old to wake up. Pretty damn good I would say. I LOVE the art. Thanks again.

7. Heart hot pad, made by me.

Happy Blog Anniversary! I used to read many blogs, but you should feel honored that yours is the ONLY one I still read. I adore your little writing space and feel motivated and empowered by your words at times. 😉 As for my comment assignment, I am doing great today! Sitting on my boys’ floor as they fall asleep.

8. $50 gift certificate to my shop.

WINNER: Catherine
I’ve followed you for 5 years. I love your words and the impact they have on me – encouraging me to think deeper, feel more fully and be more aware of my world. I have appreciated having your voice to come to. (And the inspiration for my novice gardening attempts!) And now being a mother I love your words even more. Your writing is so honest and refreshing. You have created a wonderful space and I enjoy visiting so much. Thank you for that. I think there are a lot of voices out there and I am so glad yours is one. Congrats on 8 years!
Take care! And PS your tomato pie recipe is a FAVORITE in my house!

With gratitude,

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