homemaking


I’ve talked about this before, but while I’ve always enjoyed and valued cooking from scratch, this past year I’ve discovered that I also really enjoy some more extreme kitchen-and-home DIY. I waxed rhapsodic about home-brewed kombucha, I plotted homemade yogurt, and I experimented with oil cleansing. A huge – hugepressure canner took up residence in my kitchen. It has been a lot of fun, BUT it must be said. It has not all been successful fun. Here are the ways I have totally failed at my extreme DIY domesticity.

1. The kombucha.

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So beautiful, right? –  but where I struggled with homemade kombucha was both in execution and need. First, I have not been able to make a good batch of kombucha. I can’t seem to get it fizzy enough! However, I think a large part of my lack of success is because I just don’t have a lot of experience with it; you get better at most things by doing them, so I suppose if I were to keep at it, my kombucha skills would improve. The bottom line is, though, that I just don’t drink enough kombucha to make brewing it myself worth my time. I know, I know — there goes my merit badge. And I know, I know: ferments are so good for you! I do still have my collection of SCOBYs, though, so I may give it another go this summer just for fun when I start getting a lot of fruits and berries in my CSA. I do like peering at what’s growing in the jar as it ferments.

2. Oil cleansing. Now, the oil cleansing method sounds so intriguing, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound … too good to be true, maybe? THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS. I don’t know why I’m such a fool, but I experimented with oil cleansing for way too long and my skin is still trying to recover. I freely admit that I am jealous of the thousands and thousands of people who wrote glowing reviews of the OCM claiming that it was life-changing. I wanted this to work. It’s so natural! So cheap! So easy and promising and nourishing! I was (and still am) tired of feeling like my skin was dry and then slathering on a thick layer of moisturizer. But I finally had to throw in the towel, because my skin, instead of being dewy and younger-looking and fresh and glowing, was constantly irritated and inflamed. And there goes another merit badge!

However — I have found another cheap, natural and very hydrating and nourishing cleanser that is conveniently oil-free that my skin happens to love. Raw honey! Raw honey doesn’t remove makeup, so I usually only use it in the morning. Smear it on a dry face, leave it for a minute or two, and rinse off. Done! At night, I’m using a more traditional face wash that’s paraben- and sulfate-free, and things are getting back to normal. Lesson learned: if you have a good skin-care routine, don’t mess with it.

3. Homemade yogurt.

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This pains me to write, because it’s not like I found making my own yogurt to be too inconvenient or time-consuming or messy or annoying. I didn’t. I actually really like making yogurt. No, it’s far worse than that. You see, the reason homemade yogurt and I are on a break right now is this:

I like store-bought yogurt better.

I know: it’s almost too horrible to comprehend, isn’t it? And yet, there it is. I like store-bought yogurt better. It’s the pectin. Homemade yogurt is too runny for my taste! I guess I was just raised with the thickened stuff and it’s what I’m used to and prefer. The other issue with the way I was making yogurt was that the yogurt maker I have has you culture it in seven small glass jars, which makes just over one quart of yogurt total. I could then strain the yogurt to thicken it, which I did several times — the only thing then is that you wind up with about a pint of Greek yogurt, and we can go through two quarts in a week.

Now, I will say that I haven’t yet tried making yogurt in my crock pot, but I have a friend who does that to great success; she strains two quarts of Greek yogurt every week. I am definitely interested in giving that a try if I can come up with a way to keep the milk culturing well enough. My friend uses a crock pot insulator, so maybe I’ll try that out. I know you can also use coolers filled with hot water, heating pads, towels … what I really want is a warming drawer under my oven, but that’s not a part of my life right now. Heh. But seriously, if I could make yogurt in larger quantities successfully, I’d definitely do it. So this hasn’t been totally taken off the table. Like Ross and Rachel, we are just on a break.

But take heart, my friends: my merit badges have not all been torn off my happy-hippie-homemade-scouting vest. For one thing, canning is going well — I processed twenty-seven jars of strawberry jam a few weeks ago, and I’ve also tried out chicken and beans to great success. A few more weeks and canning season will be going strong, with tomatoes, peaches, and pickling cucumbers getting ready to ripen. My goal is to can a ton of tomatoes to use throughout the next year, and I am looking forward to making my own bread-and-butter pickles, hopefully with cucumbers from my garden! I am also hooked on home-canned chicken (excellent for salad toppings and casseroles) and beans are super easy if I can remember to soak them the night before.

I’ve also had a lot of success with homemade deodorant. (Stick with me here.) Mine is a mix of coconut oil, cornstarch and baking soda, with a few drops of jasmine essential oil; it works every bit as well as Dove ever did and there’s no potentially harmful ingredients in it! Plus it costs a fraction of what conventional deodorant does. I am also using a shampoo bar. I have never had much of an interest in doing the whole baking-soda-as-shampoo thing (it’s too utilitarian for my tastes), but I love my shampoo bar! It works every bit as well as conventional shampoo, with all natural ingredients and much less waste. I was following it with an apple cider vinegar rinse, but I ran into a few issues with that: the same utilitarian feel (I like luxury bath products, ok?), plus it kind of smelled like vomit and I found the actual rinse kind of awkward and would often wind up spilling it on the floor of the tub behind me. These are terrible problems, I realize, and I appreciate your sympathy here.

Overall, though, I think I’m finding a happy medium when it comes to an all-natural lifestyle. When I’m trying new things I like to jump all in and then assess to see what I want to keep and what I can let go of. I did the same thing when I started running; I’ve spent enough time out on the road (and the treadmill) by now to know that I love running — but I have absolutely zero interest in a marathon. I’m coming to similar conclusions here. I love and highly value a natural lifestyle, but I am not going to forgo Western medicine in favor of herbs and essential oils, and I’m okay with buying my yogurt at the store simply because I like it better than the stuff I make myself. It’s all a work in process, though. I’m sure I have many more merit badges to earn still!

I finished Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours last week feeling pretty settled in the fact that I don’t think she’d like me very much.

Don’t get me wrong — I gleaned some good wisdom from her, especially stuff that I can take with me when I eventually resume working outside the home again. Learning more about how to be more efficient and mindful with one’s time is something I am always interested in.

But I would love to hear her thoughts on my lifestyle in general. Cloth diapering? Homemade yogurt? Cooking from scratch? Cleaning your own house?? — Based on an entire chapter in which she chronicles women’s triumphant liberation from the tyranny of homemaking, she clearly doesn’t think very highly of it in general, which is a sad thing to me. I’m not morally opposed to some of her suggestions, but her basic advice in the “home” section of the book seems to boil down to if you don’t want to do it, pay someone to do it for you, which I think is overly simplistic, not realistic for a lot of people, and frankly short-sighted. I think eschewing a lot of these humble, everyday, unglamorous errands and chores is, in a way, eschewing a lot of life in general.

Yeah, it gets old and tiresome and tedious, but there’s something inherently satisfying in homemaking to me that I think I would miss — a lot — if I were to allow someone else to maintain my home for me, do my cooking, wash my clothes, and do my gardening. And I read a blog post* today that elucidated that feeling pretty well:

A few weeks ago, as I was turning on the dishwasher before we left my place, she said something like, “Dishwashers are what’s wrong with the world.” Something about that sounded right. I asked her to explain.

“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments,” she says. “If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice. To me, the dishwasher is the embodiment of our insatiable need, as a culture, to keep on running, running, running, trying to find something that was inside of us all along.”

We used to have to spend a lot more time and attention maintaining our basic possessions. Dishes had to be washed by hand, stoves had to be stoked, clothes had to be mended, and meals had to be prepared from scratch.

Little was automated or outsourced. All of these routine labors demanded our time, and also our presence and attention. It was normal to have to zoom in and slow down for much of our waking day. We had no choice but to respect that certain daily tasks could not be done without a willing, real-time investment of attention.

“It helps to cultivate patience,” says Lily, “and the enjoyment of a task which we usually discard as ‘not worth it’, too boring, too mundane, blase. It gives us the chance to take a little peek into the tiny but enormous world of simply noticing what is around you, and engaging fully with it. If you are someone who is naturally averse to washing dishes, you abhor it, you avoid it at all costs, you grudgingly go through it as quickly as possible… Well then, this is the perfect opportunity to engage fully with those feelings, and to gently scrub them away, until what you are left with is the realization that life is an amazing, and beautiful, and precious gift, no matter what kind of activity you are engaged in. You are surrounded by great textures, and images, and formations of light, and sounds, and smells, and everything, all the time.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. This time of year, you hear a lot of people talking about how much they’re looking forward to summer vacations or bemoaning that they just need a break from the mundane. One of my goals in life, generally speaking, is to have a life I don’t feel the need to escape from. As I’ve said to Steve many times, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming the floors and doing the laundry and all that goes into homemaking is, in essence, Sisyphean (Laura Vanderkam even uses the same word!)It makes no sense to me to spend so much of my time fighting against it when these “primarily mundane moments” are all around me. If I want a life I don’t feel the need to escape from, I need to be at peace with everything in it, not just the pretty parts that I like.

So this is why I can’t fully get on board with Laura Vanderkam, though I think her advice probably works really well for people who have a very different life than I do or who are truly more pressed for time than I am. As a stay at home mom I need to use my time wisely, but I have a lot more flexibility with that time than a working mom does. But even if my time were more divided and I did find myself feeling more frazzled and rushed every day, I still think I might stop and do the dishes (or fold the laundry, or pack my own lunch, or plant my own flowers). I want to be fully engaged with all of my life. Not just some of it.

Anyway. In other news, I did this to my hair:

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I think the lighting here makes me look kind of sickly … but you get the idea. Now I just need to find a mountain to climb so I can start singing about how the hills are alive. I love it.

* Raptitude.com: one of my favorite blogs these days. Go check it out.

Hello! I’m just stopping by briefly on my way to make popcorn and watch last night’s Top Chef finale to share a few things I’ve been up to on my little blog break.

First:

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The maiden voyage! Leah came over last weekend with some homemade turkey stock and we got to work. The pressure canner was VERY easy to use thanks to some blog tutorials I had pinned. When I get a little more well-versed in pressure canning, I’ll share some more. Next I want to try canning beans, and then hopefully I can move on to soup bases and chili. (I want to see if I can can my own butternut squash soup and chili recipes, but I don’t know enough about the process yet.)

I haven’t popped open either of these jars yet but I think (and hope!) that we were successful. And no explosions.

Next:

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I feel like I have been working on this handwarmer for an eternity. I am a slow knitter again, but I have a bunch of Downton Abbey to watch so hopefully the second one will be done in time for, you know, June.

Also:

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We mastered the side carry and I am babywearing again! It’s so convenient. I carried Will like this the other day when we braved our first consignment sale. (BTW, ignore the clutter in the background. The bedroom is always the last room to get organized …)

Lastly: I ran THIRTEEN miles last Saturday. I can tell that I spend a lot of time with other distance runners because that did not sound all that noteworthy of an achievement to me until after I finished and was basically useless for the rest of the day. I can also tell my body is not at all accustomed to running such long distances. I am still undecided about a half marathon in April, but am leaning toward it, as long as I can keep my mileage up after the ten-miler in two weeks. However, I feel like diving back into a serious yoga practice again (which I REALLY want to d0) would necessitate cutting back on my mileage, just due to how much time I have to devote to exercise these days. I don’t think I can do both. Decisions, decisions. I’m going to see after the race whether I can wait six more weeks to start practicing yoga 3-5 days a week again, or whether I feel like I need to head back in that direction. We’ll see.

Now it’s time for popcorn and Top Chef. Is my blog break over? Another thing that we’ll just have to see!

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A 21 quart pressure canner has taken up residence in my kitchen.

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I am equal parts excited and intimidated.

Excited for obvious reasons — for one thing,  I can stop freezing my chicken stock. I either freeze it in plastic bags or quart jars, but the plastic bags are hard to freeze into flat shapes in my freezer, and I keep breaking the quart jars. Besides that, there’s the added inconvenience of forgetting to defrost it until I’m in the middle of a recipe! (This is one kind of thing I’m trying to address through my 2013 attempt at mindfulness, but in the meantime I can’t change my spots.) And in addition to canning chicken stock, I can process tomatoes (or anything, really) in about a third of the time, and hopefully I can also process things like soups and chili. And if I get really ambitious, I can even can my own smoked salmon, Kilcher-style. This gives me a lot more options for preserving my own food than a hot water bath canner will, though I think I will continue to use both, particularly because the hot water bath canner used to belong to my mother and therefore it has nostalgic properties.

But I am also intimidated:

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And rightfully so, I think. The scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where they talk about how pirate code is really more a series of guidelines describes pretty well my basic approach to life in general, so it’s going to take some serious focus and self-discipline to make sure I feel comfortable operating this thing, especially for the first time. I don’t think I know anyone who uses a pressure canner, either, so I’m going to be flying solo here.

I have a lot of frozen strawberries that need a purpose in life, so their destiny this weekend is to become strawberry jam. I actually am not sure the pressure canner is the best method for preserving jam, so I may try it out as a water bath canner in the meantime. (It obviously doubles as both.)

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Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the kind of equipment I expect to keep — and use — for the rest of my life. Maybe someday I’ll hand it down to Will!

It also serves as a visual representation of how differently I [strive to] live now vs. a year or so ago. I have been making my own stock for a long time and started canning here and there about two years ago, but I don’t think I even knew what a pressure canner was or why I would want to use one until more recently. Now, though, I think it’ll be an indispensable part of my kitchen arsenal.

This thing looks like it means business, too, which makes me feel like I have taken a very large step in my journey toward a quasi-self-sufficient-productive home. I just hope I don’t incur any bodily injuries or cause any explosions along the way!

While wasting time on Pinterest just now I came across this quote that I pinned a while back:

Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming.
– Alice Walker

To be honest my present does not look at all like the future I am dreaming. I want to be doing, not observing, and creating, not consuming. But lately that’s not happening.

This is a total excuse, but part of my sluggishness is that I am struggling a lot with my energy levels. I feel tired and worn out a lot of the time, so it makes it harder for me to motivate myself to get anything done. Little tasks feel like big tasks, and big tasks feel like they’re insurmountable challenges — even if I’m just thinking about loading the dishwasher. I am getting enough sleep these days, for the most part (Will has slept straight through the night [with a 10:00 dream feed] for about the last week! so exciting) but it’s still super hard to drag myself out of bed early for a run. I don’t know whether I’m not eating enough to sustain running and breastfeeding, or if my thyroid is out of whack, or if it’s just that I feel like I never really fully kicked that virus I had last month, or (honestly! I can take it!) if I’m having a long lazy moment, but it’s getting old.

I think I am just in a funk. What’s the best way to break out of a funk? I am letting myself slide into bad habits, becoming disorganized, overlooking clutter, and then feeling too overwhelmed to address anything. That has to stop — and yet, even just thinking about snapping out of it and getting off the sofa feels too hard. I feel stuck.

I want to reboot 2013. I have an ongoing list of projects in the back of my mind, and I need to address it without allowing it to make me feel overwhelmed. I need to remember that life is a process, not a destination to race toward. More than checking things off an endless to-do list, I need to get back on track with creating and maintaining good habits — both homemaking practices and personal wellness practices. I guess I just didn’t realize how easy it would be to fall off the wagon!

So to get myself inspired, I have been reading some zen habits.

Many of us work in an endless stream of tasks, browser tasks, social media, emails, meetings, rushing from one thing to another, never pausing and never ending.

Then the day is over, and we are exhausted, and we often have very little to show for it. And we start the next day, ready for a mindless stream of tasks and distractions.

That is not how I want to live anymore. (But we are making progress here, and not achieving perfection, even when it comes to living mindfully.)

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(source — this is enso, the Japanese symbol of zen mindfulness.)

I’m also thinking about something I’ve seen some other bloggers do, and that’s choose a word that I want to represent 2013. I am trying to decide between mindfulness and simplify. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a great big obvious word to represent 2012, and that was joy. I kept that word in mind as I moved through the year and looking back, it did turn out to be an incredibly joyful year. So I want to do the same for 2013. Simplify or mindfulness?

At any rate, I need to be doing more to make my present look more like the future that I want — but I think I need to start from the ground up, not just forcing myself to go through the motions just to check them off the list. One thing at a time. I need to clean my kitchen, but why do I need to clean my kitchen? — because I want a calm, serene living space. Why do I want a calm, serene living space? — because walking into a messy kitchen stresses me out, but a clean, streamlined space makes me happy and relaxed. — And so on.

One thing at a time, though. One thought at a time. Happiness is a practice, remember?

One of the biggest changes I experienced in 2012 (I mean, besides becoming a mother) was Steve’s and my transition into a more natural lifestyle. Out went the parabens and sulfates in our shampoo and GMOs in our cereal, in came loads and loads of organic produce, full-fat dairy and homemade household cleaners. It’s been so good. I’m not much of a crafter, and I cringe at the thought of DIY home improvement, but somehow where those two things meet in the middle, I feel right at home. Plus, despite the fact that all my life I’ve struggled with my champagne taste and beer budget, I am really enjoying finding new ways to be frugal! So you might say I have been busy these last few months earning my natural living merit badges. And I thought I would share a little about the things I’m doing and learning.

First — the kombucha.

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The kombucha is a work in progress. I am having a hard time making it, well, taste good — by the time I drink it, it’s vinegar! I found a good method of flavoring it (using frozen berries from last summer’s CSA boxes) but where I falter is knowing how long to ferment the berries, and then knowing whether and how long it will keep in the fridge. I have made a few good batches but in general I think I have a long way to go before Whole Foods offers my specialty brew on tap.

Next — yogurt.

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I got a Euro Cuisine yogurt maker for Christmas and I am in love. As it turns out, making homemade yogurt is INCREDIBLY EASY — basically the yogurt maker just acts as an incubator. Lots of people use insulated coolers or crock pots for their yogurt (or, in my dream kitchen, an oven warming drawer), but a yogurt maker takes the guesswork out for a newbie like me. I made my first batch last week and was thrilled with the results. My next task is to strain it so it thickens to be more like Greek yogurt, but for right now I am just so excited to have found a way to enjoy organic, grass-fed full-fat yogurt for a tiny fraction of the price I would pay to buy it at the store — that is, if I could even find organic grass-fed full-fat yogurt.

Third — oil cleansing.

I waxed poetic a few months ago about the oil cleansing method, but our relationship has not been smooth sailing. Yes, I loved how it left my skin feeling soft, nourished and moisturized, without the flaky dry patches and tight feeling I was so used to. But my skin seemed to be having a hard time adjusting to the new routine, and just last week I declared that the oil cleansing method just didn’t work for me, and that I would have to go back to using ordinary face wash every night and spackling on ordinary moisturizer, jumping right back into the vicious cycle of dry skin. But the more I read about it, I think my skin was just going through what’s called a “purge” — basically, that things get a little worse for a while before they get a whole lot better. That is, if the hundreds of gushing testimonials I’ve found are to believed. I am going to give it another try. I promise. I am going to stick with it for a while and (I hope) leave the vicious dry skin cycle behind for good.

And in the meantime, I have a recipe for a homemade foaming facial cleanser to use on my non-oil-cleansing days. Frugal, easy, and natural: yes.

Lastly — gardening.

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Sigh …

Okay, so it’s only January. But I am hard at work planning on what I want to plant this year! We have a pretty small garden space, but we are planning to redo the garden beds and fill it in with new soil. Steve got me a book on vegetable gardening for Christmas which I have been studying, and I am really looking forward to learning more in the coming months. It’s so nice to have warm summer sunshine to think about during these cold (or, well, unseasonably warm as the case may be) winter nights. What should I plant?

Coming up I have a few more merit badges that I’d like to earn — namely in pressure canning (guess what’s coming home with me next week when I turn 33), homemade bread, composting, sprouting grains, and maybe making some kefir. Eventually I also want to try making my own body butters and soaps, but one thing at a time for now!

Told you 2013 was going to be a great year … we are off to a wonderful start already!

I think this is going to be a good year.

Last year I was all about setting intentions for the year — I didn’t want any concrete goals, I didn’t want to feel like I had to try and meet certain expectations when I knew my life was about to change completely come April. And I think I did a pretty good job! I mainly wanted to a) not go crazy in my new life, overanalyzing every last little thing Will did and globalizing every missed nap or bad mood, and b) find a way to maintain my fitness and activity levels post-baby. And considering I ran eight miles this morning at around a 9:20 pace, I am feeling good about the latter in particular today.

But all that’s old news. It’s 2013. New Year’s Day is, I think, my favorite holiday. I love the feeling of a fresh start, and I usually try to imbue the day with some symbolism and meaning — a yoga practice, a delicious meal, doing something that sort of symbolizes how I want to approach the year to come. I actually didn’t really do much of that this year (no yoga, no run, no indulgent home-cooked meal [we had lentils and rice, virtuous but not so exciting], no symbolic purge of unneeded possessions) but hopefully I’m still set up for a good year ahead.

So 2012 was all about intentions. I think I am ready for some actual goals. I love a good goal to give me something to work toward, and this year I figured I would divide up my goals into a few different categories — spiritual, home, kitchen, wellness, and self.

spiritual: Complete the read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan I’ve been working on, by December 1, 2013.

home: Transition away from using toxic cleaners. Purge unnecessary possessions (asking myself if it’s useful or beautiful) so that we don’t feel overrun with stuff in a little house. Ruthlessly organize my bedroom. Figure out how to organize baby/toddler toys and books.

kitchen: Start cooking with dried beans rather than canned beans. Can my own tomatoes (and chicken stock, and jam without refined sugar, and chili, and pickles …). Bake bread regularly. I might even render lard!

wellness: Complete the 10 miler in March. Learn how to do a headstand. Reclaim my abdominal muscles through a combination of yoga and home strength training. Attend at least one yoga workshop.

self: Read at least ten books. Use my time wisely, mindfully and efficiently. Remember how my everyday actions will help me — or not help me — be who I want to be.

Whew! Some of these are, of course, really more intentions than goals, and they’re not very specific or measurable (how will I measure how efficiently I’m using my time?). But my overall goal, and the thing I want all of these smaller goals to work toward, is to get into a flow state. I want to feel settled. I want my house to run like a well-oiled machine, to be in a rhythm of life. A lot of the things I want to be doing — like cooking with dried beans instead of canned, getting (and keeping) myself organized, using my time wisely — require me to plan ahead more. I’ve never been great about planning ahead and I want 2013 to be the year where that stops being weird and uncomfortable. I want it to be second nature. What I ultimately I want is, as Gretchen Rubin did too, to be happier at home.

I learned in 2012 that happiness, like yoga, is both a practice and a discipline. Meeting the above goals will, I hope, bring me closer to that flow state, and help me to be happier at home, in both small ways and profound. Home, by the way, being both my actual physical house … and also my spiritual home, my physical body, my self.

And because this post hasn’t had any pictures yet …

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Will loves his new Little People Nativity!

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to 2013.

 

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