Under the Apricot Tree

Savoring the Abundance of Simple Living

Midnight Lovesong to My Baby

Tonight I cradled you in my arms.

Silently, I rock you back and forth. White fangs of lightning flash outside your window. Your head rests against my chest, the familiar love-duh-boom love-duh-boom whooshing heartbeat is stronger than the menacing growl of thunder.

I hold you close until the sigh of deep sleep, and then a while longer. I pray that if you ever grow too big or proud for your mama’s arms, when the storms threaten, you will still hear the lovesong of my heart.

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Love is stronger than death.
Devotion is as unyielding as the grave.
Love’s flames are flames of fire,
flames that come from the Lord.
Raging water cannot extinguish love,
and rivers will never wash it away.

Song of Songs 8:6,7

Transience

This place continues to teach me. We’ve had quite the show this past month as one by one, the plants dance joyously into spring.

From the brown-gray winter landscape, each emerging blade of green and flowering petal has been like a victory song of new life.

Daffodils in a dozen varieties encircle the house in a golden ring of sunshine. Round tulips bob their crimson heads in the breeze. Lilacs I’ve awaited since we moved here in July spritz the air with lavish purply perfume; their scent sparks a memory of a grade school field trip when I smelled these flowers for the very first time. I carry my baby into the sunlight, let him reach out. “Flower,” I say as his tiny hand grasps at the delicate color. I wonder if he likes the fragrance as much as I do.

What delights me with beauty one day, though, is fading the next. It’s startling how quickly it happens.

The daffodils and tulips are all gone now, papery brown membranes droop from the green stalk. My purple lilacs have shriveled, the slower white ones take their place. A strong wind scattered the petals from the fruit trees weeks ago, a pink and white snowfall on a hot afternoon. Seth and I take turns, unintentionally, reporting the latest casualty: “Did you notice the Bleeding Heart is fading already?”

Who planted the big apricot tree that shades my porch? Was it fifty or eighty years ago? Does anyone remember his or her name?

I am reminded that life is transient. The most precious moments in time pass by too quickly. But I do not want to waste it. Although it fades fast, I want the richness of this time, this moment, to last long into the future. How do I hold on to the sweetness if I cannot slow the clock? How do I secure a guarantee against regrets for what will too soon be remembered or forgotten?

The only answer I know is to savor. There are so many ways to savor.

I walk among the flowers with my little one. I take pictures. I look up from the manuscript for a moment to watch birds outside my office window. I gather armloads of lilacs with a friend and send her home with most of them. I bring them into my home, gracing every room. I kiss my baby’s velvety head for the umpteenth time today and watch him sleep. I hold my husband’s hand when while he asks the blessing at the table. I breathe deeply and commit to memory the scent of my family’s spring.

None of this prevents the passing of time. The flower still withers and fades. But, it does prevent regret because when I look back I will know that I didn’t take it for granted, I celebrated the gift, I realized my fortune and gave thanks for it, and shared it, and delighted in it.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalm 103:15-16

A Country Bouquet

Last night at sunset, Seth and I donned jackets and darted around in the wind, cutting armloads of flowers from our yard. Someone years ago must’ve planted a thousand daffodil bulbs because the place is bursting with them right now.

Today is Administrative Professionals Day and Seth’s counseling office wanted to thank their school secretaries for all their hard work.

In a pinch, we came up with a charming homespun vase solution. It was simple, pretty and practically free. This would make a sweet gift for a friend, your child’s teacher, or really anyone who likes receiving flowers (and who doesn’t?). This could also be a fun, casual centerpiece, with various sized “vases” and coordinating colors.

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Directions:
-Select clean used glass jar(s); Tall jars with narrow necks work well
-Place empty jar over the center of one piece colored tissue paper
-Around the neck of the jar, gather the excess paper and snugly tie with yarn or raffia
-Add and arrange your bouquet of flowers
-Using a funnel, add water, being careful not to spill on the delicate paper

That’s it! There’s nothing like fresh cut flowers to make someone feel special. And in my book, “homemade” is even better. :)

Spring greetings

Spring greetings!

As evidenced by my singular, solar-powered post last month, March was a busy one. My first full month back at work, I was hopping day and night. So many times I felt inspired and wanted to come write a new blog post for y’all, but could not find the free time to do so. Busyness is always a lame excuse, I know (especially for a blog extolling the virtues of simple–i.e., not overly-busy–living). But this little mama/working girl/wifey/chicken farmer/blogger is definitely in the process of figuring out how to manage my days and nights now that little William has entered the picture. But, oh, what a beautiful picture he makes!

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I never imagined how truly magical it is to be the mom of a miraculous little bundle of life. He fills my days with joy. Seth and I are head-over-heels in love with the little man. We waited seven years before having children, and that time was incredible–we were able to grow a ton in our marriage, fulfill our dream of traveling a bunch, get through a master’s degree without debt, and basically have a lot of fun together. If I’m totally honest, I never fully believed our friends with children when they urged us to start and said it was the best thing ever. Part of me thought they just wanted us to jump on the baby boat because misery loves company. Changing poopy diapers, getting spit up on, no sleep, no life outside the baby zone, no more international travel–no thanks, at least not yet! Isn’t that horrible? Well, it’s what I thought at the time. I knew I wanted children, but wasn’t in a rush to get there. Now that I’m experiencing it personally, though, it is an absolute marvel. I don’t regret our wait–we savored the season we were in–but if I’d known how amazing this is, I probably wouldn’t have waited so long!

Now that we are parents, focusing on our love relationship as husband and wife doesn’t come as easily. But we are finding times to be just the two of us and to “date” one another. The other night I made a decadent dessert and we had a yummy little date night at home after the baby went to bed. That is our best time for catching up with each other (when I’m not working late, that is).

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A key part of living simply is rolling with the flow of the seasons of life, and finding beauty in each one. This spring has brought us sunshine, snow, hail, rain, wind, and moments of stillness so calm you can hear a sparrow’s wing glide by. Sometimes we get all of that in one single day! Here are a couple images of spring on our place–the first brave flowers to grace us with their beauty, and a few days later, the first  really big snow (“8 inches).Image

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And what is spring on a farm without some baby chicks? Last week, I picked up some special heritage breed chicks from a local breeder. Two French Black Copper Maran pullets who will lay a chocolate-brown egg, and three Delawares–two pullets who’ll lay a medium brown egg and one cockerel to guard the growing flock. I’m keeping the babies warm and safe in a brooder box with heat lamp in our mudroom. A few times a day, we go in to check on them, feed them treats like scrambled egg by hand, and hold them each. They love the attention and should grow up very tame and friendly. (Let’s hope the roo doesn’t go the way of the turkey tom and turn aggressive once his full-fledged testosterone kicks in!) My mom was out the other day and we took the babies outside on the grass in the sunshine. They seemed to enjoy themselves, running around and flapping their little wings, scratching at the dirt, and staying close to “mom”. William is endlessly entertained by them.

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Well, speaking of William, I hear him waking from his afternoon nap, so I’d better go. I’ll leave with a final image of spring and wish you a very special Easter as you remember our Lord’s sacrifice of love that has made new life possible for each one of us!

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Happy Easter!

The Dark Side of Sunshine

For the first time in a long time, I took my coffee on the front porch this morning, with birdsong and sunshine.

Warm blue-sky days this time of year are a gift, like receiving a bouquet of flowers “just because” in the middle of an ordinary work day.  Most of us can’t help but feel a little happier about life in general when sunshine chases off the cold gray of winter.

But do you hear that dark little voice warning you not to enjoy it too much, because summer’s still a long ways off? Here in Central Oregon, spring is a big tease, mostly comprised of winter weather, with an occasional gorgeous day like this to hint at summer. “Still plenty of wet, gray days ahead,” warns wisely pessimism, “so don’t get your hopes up.”

Well, isn’t that all the more reason to enjoy this momentary sunshine? The attitude almost implies this beauty is a mirage and the naive optimists who bask in it’s glory are merely duped. Our generation is so steeped in skepticism and aware of the world’s harshness that many times we don’t know how to simply enjoy goodness when it shines upon us.

Instead of looking for the dark side of sunshine, I intend to get out there and revel in its brightness today. I have a bunch of work lined up this morning, but after lunch I’ll be strapping on my baby and meeting my friend for a long walk. “Still plenty of wet, gray days ahead,” muses wisely optimism, “so enjoy this moment for all it’s worth!”

I hope you’ll be able to lift your face to the sun sometime this weekend, too.

Easy as Apple Pie

Is there anything more welcoming and enticing than the scent of fresh baked pie in your kitchen? I think not.

I do love me some apple pie. But baking a pie from scratch seems a bit daunting, doesn’t it? The domain of domestic goddesses extraordinaire, in whose league I do not belong, as much as I enjoy dabbling in the culinary arts. In an earlier time, my grandparents’ generation, many women baked pies every week. In fact, my dad tells the story of his mom setting her hot-from-the-oven Saturday pie on the open window sill to cool, and a sticky-fingered thief walked right off with it. Scandalized the entire neighborhood. Well, I’ve discovered a little trick that makes apple pie so simple, it is downright scandalous. :)

You simply prepare the apple filling in advance and freeze it in Ziploc bags. Then when it’s pie time, pull a bag from your freezer, place it in your pie crust and bake. So easy! By preparing several batches of filling simultaneously, the workload per pie is a fraction of what it would be using a traditional pie recipe. And it’s laughably easy to go from frozen filling to warm, delectable dessert on your table. (If you want another shortcut, use the store-bought pie crust dough. I won’t tell if you don’t. ;) ) And the flavor, texture and aroma are everything you’d hope for. Using this method, I was able to serve homemade pie on Thanksgiving, just a few weeks after William was born, when I was still in the newborn-phase-fog and could hardly make toast.

You could whip up a 3-pie recipe for the freezer in about an hour. But if you find a good deal on apples and want to really stockpile, give yourself all afternoon and invite a friend to join you. Big jobs in the kitchen are so much more fun if you make a party of it!

Last week my friend Lisa and I had an apple party. I had ordered 40 pounds of organic juicing apples from our food co-op, Azure Standard, for just 50 cents/pound. So we rolled up our sleeves, turned up the music, and stocked up on pie filling and apple sauce. Since we both have babies (her Luke was born 3 weeks before my William), it was a bit of a juggling act. But the boys were good and spent most of the time sleeping and entertaining one another nearby.

Here are a few photos from our time, and I’ve included the recipe for frozen (or canned) apple pie filling from the Ball’s Blue Book of Canning at the bottom of this post.

Not necessary, but these peeler-corers sure save a lot of time by peeling, coring and slicing your apples at once. And they're kind of fun to use. (Cost $25 new)

Starting to smell sooo good!

one frozen pie filling

Voila! One hot-from-oven pie to-go.

And it really is that easy. When friends invited us for Saturday supper last weekend, I volunteered to bring dessert, knowing it would be a piece of cake to whip up, err…excuse me, easy as pie.

APPLE PIE FILLING RECIPE

from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Yield: about 6 pints (3 pies)

6 pounds apples               1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar                      1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup flour                          2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core and slice apples. Treat to prevent darkening [I skip this step]. Combine sugar, flour and spices. Rinse and drain apples [I skip this, to]; stir into sugar mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle pie filling into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. [I allow to cool and then ladle into large Ziploc freezer bags] Cool at room temperature, not to exceed 2 hours. Seal, label and freeze.

A Secret to Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy.

In America, we are even guaranteed “the pursuit of happiness” as a sovereign right. And most of us are pretty darn good at pursuing what we think will make us happy. Everyone has their own way of going after what they want–some work hard; some cheat, steal, and lie; and others are simply lucky. And occassionally, after all that striving or manipulating or at the end of a rainbow, we actually find our pot of gold, the thing we’d set our heart on to finally make us happy. But at some point in life, everyone realizes the bitter truth in The Rolling Stones’ lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.” 

But there is a truth, deeper still, that surprises. To many, this truth is a terrible disappointment, an emptiness where fullness was needed. To a few, this truth comes as a welcome surprise, a gift of unexpected abundance.

What is that truth, this secret to happiness?

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they make the best of everything.

Yup, that’s it.  Go ahead and chew on that for a minute. Now, I wish I could say that I came up with this concept on my own, but it is actually a direct quote from the greatest philosopher of all time, the Greek poetess Hieronymous Anonymous. (In other words, noone seems to know who originated the concept and you could find 101 variations of it online. But I digress…)

Do you see how this truth could be a bitter pill for some and a sweet balm for others? If we fix our hope for happiness on getting, having, achieving, we will never reach it. Sure, we may be successful at those things, but we will quickly realize they didn’t bring the lasting joy we were longing for. However, if we open our eyes to see that everyday life is a radically extravagant gift and that the ordinary air, objects, work, people we’re surrounded by hold tremendous value, then, in that process we will surprise ourselves with happiness.

It has to do with contentment and delightcreativity and humor, gratitude and selflessness. Which one of these words most jumps out at you? Hold onto that one word for a moment…

Now,  think of a challenging situation in your life right now, something that you’ve allowed to rob you of some happiness. What would it look like if you applied your word to “make the best” of that situation? It might surprise you and turn something loathsome into a beautiful thing.

My word for now is delight.

~Jenni

PS: A warning: don’t be the donkey or the ostrich. By donkey, I mean don’t act like a martyr, moping about pretending you’re sacrificially making the best of everything to get people’s sympathy. By ostrich, I mean don’t bury your head in the ground, pretending everything’s fine and ignoring a situation that you know needs to change. This secret to happiness is meant to empower you to live abundantly in the midst of “ordinary”, not to keep you from truly living.

Poultry Pen News

Hi from the farm! Lots of fun developments in the poultry realm these days.

We moved my hens from their little gypsy cart coop in the round orchard to the big old chicken coop out back. At first, I wasn’t happy at this prospect, but the landlord, who is truly a dear, served their eviction notice so that he could spray the fruit trees. I do like seeing my girls strutting around right outside the house and having them near enough I can literally step out the side door and toss them kitchen scraps from the porch. Plus the fact that the old coop is an ancient pieced-together thing that had us joking about haunted buildings when we first moved in…not very appealing. 

spoooooky!

But the old coop was given quite the makeover, with a new tin roof, running water, fenced yard, electricity for a winter heat lamp, and my dear husband spent most of last Saturday installing a roosting bar, ramp for the doorway, nesting boxes and generally cleaning up the place. So it has been effectively rid of its ghosts. :) Plus, I think I’ll buy one of these cute, retro tin signs to further cheer it up.

Source: retroplanet.com via Jenni on Pinterest

 

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I can’t decide between the two, so let me know in the Comments which sign you like better!

Well, the girls must be happy in their new digs because yesterday I checked the nesting boxes and found an egg! They hadn’t been laying all winter, ever since the days got cold and short. I’ve been buying local free-range eggs from my favorite market / bakery / cafe in town, Great Earth; but availability is spotty and it seems silly (and spendy!) to pay for eggs AND organic chicken feed. I just came in from the coop and found a second egg today, this one a nice olive green color. I suspect it’s the younger white pullets who’ve started laying because the size is slightly smaller and the color is different from the pale pistachio eggs I collected last fall. The little free-loaders are starting to earn their keep again. Good for them–I was starting to wonder if they’d be more helpful in a stew pot! Just kidding, I could never do that…or could I? More on that later.

So the haunted coop is rid of its ghosts, but unfortunately I have a new reason to fear going out there. The tom turkey has decided that I am a threat to his flock’s safety and has been acting aggressively toward me. We used to have a great relationship–I would tell him he’s a pretty bird and he’d puff up his chest, fan his tail feathers and be a show off. But now he comes at me like he’s going to attack and I have to keep a stick between us to defend myself from thirty pounds of butterball fury. Why the sudden change? I think I know why. These boots:

my predatorial Kate Spades

My mom & sis picked up these fun Kate Spade wellingtons on sale for me, thinking they’d be great for traipsing around the farm. But when I wore them into the poultry pen, ol’ Tom saw the animal print and his internal predator alert went wild. After a couple times in the boots, now he’s convinced that I’m the enemy even when I’m not wearing them. Not sure what we’re going to do about this issue. I think someone needs to find a new home. And it will probably be the boots.

he used to bring me roses

And the last item in our poultry news update is that, with the bigger coop, Seth and I are considering taking our poultry husbandry to the next level. But I’ll save the ins & outs of that for a later post. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to having our own farm fresh eggs again. I think I’ll make a tasty cheese omelette for our Saturday morning breakfast tomorrow.

FARM GIRL TIPS

URBAN FARM GIRL (OR BOY, FOR MY GUY READERS): Want farm-fresh eggs but don’t live on a farm? Most city ordinances allow you to keep 2-3 chickens on your property. Certain rules apply (no roosters, must be a certain distance from neighbors’ property line, etc.). Urban poultry keeping has become quite popular as people discover how fun and easy it is to keep chickens, and there’s a lot of good info out there on how to get started. Chickens do require daily attention, but it can be just minutes a day. Farm fresh eggs from hens on a free-range  or varied diet including fresh greens cannot be matched. Try them once and you’ll never want to go back to those  pale, insipid things from the grocery store.

OUTSOURCING FARM GIRL OR BOY: Not into keeping your own flock? Finding a good source for farm fresh eggs isn’t too hard. Check with your local natural foods store. Or, call the number on one of those hand-written roadside signs that advertises eggs for sale. Or, check out Craigslist by clicking “Farm+Garden” and type “eggs” in your search. Be sure to ask about the hens’ diet and pen, if organic is important to you. (By the way, just so we can laugh at ourselves, have you seen this hilarous Portlandia “Is it local?” skit? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2LBICPEK6w) But seriously, don’t be fooled into thinking that the eggs marketed as “free range” at your grocery store are what they seem; the space requirements for that certification are only a little better than the horrendous conditions that most commercial laying hens are kept in. So supporting a small-scale egg producer is a good way to direct part of your grocery money, and your tastebuds will thank you.

Have a great weekend!

~Jenni

Let’s Camp!

What combines my love for Travel, Decorating, the Great Outodoors, Tiny Homes, and All Things Vintage?

A vintage travel trailer!

Isn’t there just something so appealing about a tiny little home on wheels? Now that our duo is a trio, our days of international travel are on hold for a while; and going backpacking with a baby is probably not on the roster, either. A trailer allows us to still get out on the open road of adventure and exploration, in relative ease and comfort.

So this fall and winter we “Goldie Locksed” our way through dozens of trailers online and in person (“this one’s too big…” “that one’s too small…” “this one’s in too many pieces…”). There are so many cool vintage trailers out there in various states of disrepair. The little “canned hams” (like Shastas) are so cute, but most of them are too liliputian to hold a full bathroom, which we decided was high on our wants list. The Airstreams have major cool factor, too, but they’re pretty spendy and we didn’t want to sink our savings. The trailer that really captured our attention was the Aristocrat, designed in mid-century by a guy named Irv Perch. Irv was an areonautical engineer and he incorporated airplane construction elements in his trailers, quite cutting edge at the time. We drove up and down the highway looking at Aristocrats until, right in time for Christmas, we found the one that fit us juuust right.

Meet “Finn”, our 17′ 1970 Aristocrat Lo-Liner S/T.

Meet "Finn" the Aristocrat trailer

Every old trailer deserves a new name. Finn may not look like much now, but Seth and I have big plans to renovate him together–new wheels, exterior paint job, fresh upholstery fabric, cushions, and curtains, and a few decorative touches to make him our own. (Not to mention some not-so-fun-to-me stuff like the new water tank and pipes we already put in and replacing some dry rot walls. Good thing my husband is a handy man, because that stuff intimidates the happy camper right out of me!) Curiously, a previous owner (PO) thought it a good idea to spray paint “Harley Davidson” on the front and the back of the trailer. Maybe he always wanted a Harley, but his wife wouldn’t let him, so he pretended his trailer was a hog? Well, that’s definitely got to go. And we’ve found a man in CA who makes reproduction Aristocrat emblems so that Finn’s dignity can be restored.

Poor Finn's backside. Lower emblem should read, "You're Following An Aristocrat"

We bought this trailer because it was functionally camp ready and we love the floorplan / layout. There are 2 separate sitting areas (couch & dinette), 3 sleeping areas (fold down couch, fold down dinette booth, &  fold down bunk above the dinette), kitchen with original working appliances, bathroom with shower and toilet, vanity w/ 2nd sink, closet and a surprising amount of storage throughout. One thing I love about RVs is how cleverly they maximize a small space. There are also windows on all four sides, which helps it feel more spacious inside.

Here are some “before” shots of Finn’s interior. He’s super clean and has nearly all original fixtures, but if you look closely at the walls, the PO’s texturing job is a mess and needs refinished. Facing rear of trailer:

(left to right): couch, closet, vanity sink, door to bathroom, kitchenette

Yes, those cushions are totally original! The fabric is fun in a funky kind of way, but it is worn and faded in spots and I’m not keen about sleeping on 40+ year old foam, so we’ll get new cushions & upholstery. The floor is also original and I’m voting for it to stay. Facing front of trailer:

(left to right): kitchenette, fridge over radiant heater, dinette, entrance door, couch

We really wanted to take Finn on a maiden voyage to get a feel for him before starting the renovation. So one weekend in January, we towed him down to Trout Creek on the Deschutes River, just 23 miles from our driveway. The weather was cold but beautiful and we had the campground practically to ourselves. This was also William’s first ever camping trip. It was just a one-nighter, but we fit in a nice evening hike upriver, plenty of hearty fare and hot cocoa, and of course several games of Gin Rummy at the table.

starting the hike, with William snug in the Moby wrap

Trout Creek is also a rock-climbing destination

back toward camp as the sunset begins

a glorious Deschutes canyon sunset

back to our little home on wheels

my boys ready for some cards

Fortunately, we brough very warm clothes for William because after returning from our hike, we discovered that the heater turns on but doesn’t work well and it stayed quite cold in there. So now we can add one more thing to the Trailer Reno List: fix the heater! William was terribly cute and perfectly content all bundled up, with fuzzy socks as mittens and his snow suit so thick his arms stuck out like the little boy from “A Christmas Story.”

bundled baby boy on his first camping trip

 All in all, Finn’s maiden voyage (manly voyage?) was a memorable success. I’ll post again soon with some visual inspiration for choosing a decorating theme for Finn!

Old Man Winter

our barn

Old Man Winter finally made a noteworthy appearance here in the northwest. Here are a few photos I snapped around the place of his handiwork.

 

Winston thinks it's the best thing since Vitabones!

 

 

 

My hens prefer their coop in this weather

I love the snow and have been singing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Seth had a snow delay at work, so he got to sleep in a bit and make us breakfast in bed this morning, yay! But now it’s raining and melting, which is not quite so lovely. Oh well, good weather for staying cozy inside and being grateful for a warm house. Wherever you are, I hope you’re staying warm!

Come wintertime, this spruce takes center stage in our yard

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