Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite sights of 2009





spring 001


Berkshires 073







Monday, December 28, 2009

Why I get off the couch

This morning, as I enjoyed the first cross-country skiing of the season, I pondered why I exercise, especially in weather I would have at one time in my life thought inclement (as opposed to my current belief, which was so aptly stated by a Waldorf teacher, that there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing).

I'm the first to admit that I'm not the most athletic person in the world. I'm a very slow and uncoordinated skier. I've recently taken up trail running, and I am even slower at that. I'm a decent cyclist, but still not that fast compared to serious cyclists. I'm actually pretty good at yoga, but I don't think yoga is supposed to be a competitive thing! Recently I've been taking spinning and BodyPump classes, and much to my surprise, I particularly love BodyPump.

My experience with it exemplifies my experience with exercise overall. I started doing it for health-related reasons, specifically to strengthen my upper body after my whiplash injury in March. I hated it for a good month. I can remember getting in the car with T. after one class and just swearing a blue streak. I was feeling incompetent and frustrated; I could only do the exercise with an unloaded bar. After I got the hang of it and finally started to see improvement, I began to love it. Today, 5 months later, I'm one of the stronger women in the class. (You'll allow me to gloat just a bit, won't you, given the fact that I really will never win an athletic contest of any kind?)

Anyway, that’s what usually happens. I take up some form of exercise because I know it’s good for me, I hate it for quite a while because it never comes naturally to me, and then I start to notice the changes in my mind, body, and mood, and I begin to love it.

I love feeling strong, being able to open the jars that are stuck, carrying a heavy bag of potting soil, or being the only woman at work able to change the big water cooler tank. And exercise always improves my mood and clears my mind. A couple of days ago I was in an unusually foul mood brought on by a series of nights of interrupted sleep by things like barking dogs, playful cats, late-night teenagers, and a coughing sleep companion. After a couple of hours exercising, I was a new person and actually fit for human company. Exercise gives me the space to re-gain perspective about what is really important in life.

As for going out in inclement weather, truly, if you are dressed for it, there is beauty in all types of weather. (However, the gym membership is still good for those days when there isn’t enough time or hours of daylight to get outside.) It still doesn’t come easily though; I can feel how easy it would be to remain sedentary. Many days I would be just as happy to curl up on the couch with a good book or knitting project and a cat in my lap. But, usually after some encouragement from T. (who is athletic), I get off the couch and out into the weather.

And I’m always glad that I did. In fact, I recently ordered studded snow tires for my bike. Not because I really love the idea of biking in the snow--although once I get out there, I know I will love it. But more because I like the idea of getting somewhere on the strength of my own body and will, and I really miss that in the winter.

And besides, would you look at that picture at the top of this post? Even though it’s a cell phone picture, surely you can see the beauty of being the first on the trail, with the snow still hanging on the tree limbs, the quiet of the woods, the whistling of the blue jays.

I wouldn’t have been able to see that from the couch.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fresh salad in December

Just popping in to show off my garden success! This weekend we had 2 big platefuls of greens--arugula and baby lettuce. I added some apples, which we have in abundance, along with some local cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

I've covered the garden beds with straw, and it looks like my collards, Swiss chard, turnips, and broccoli will last at least a little while longer. I cut most of the arugula, but I've read that it's pretty cold-hardy as well, so perhaps I will get another harvest.

I also covered my tiny spinach seedlings, in hopes that it will overwinter and I will have spinach in the spring.

I am grateful that I don't have to rely on my garden for subsistence, because I know it would be a ton of work. And I am grateful that I can rely on my garden for some of my food, to remind me to be grateful for those who produce most of the food I eat. And because food grown just outside my back door tastes amazing!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Around here, Thanksgiving is not exactly traditional. We started with a potluck the weekend before with a group of dear friends, who we know through many different networks, but are held together by a common meditation practice. It was so lovely because it felt like the food had all been prepared with such love and consciousness. Unlike the Thanksgiving dinners of my own childhood, this left me feeling pleasantly satiated, but not over-stuffed and lethargic.

This year, we joined a winter apple club through a local orchard, which means we get a huge box of organic apples at the beginning of every month. And don't forget, we also went apple picking this fall. Lots of apples this year!

So, our fall menu has included things like dried apples, apple celery salad, snacks of apples and cheese, and for the potluck, I brought pumpkin apple soup and apple strudel from this month's Veg News magazine.

On the actual day of Thanksgiving, it was just T. and me, as the kids spent the day with their dad's family. I wanted to use as much from our fall garden as possible (which I'm happy to report is really doing quite well). So I made a version of this turnip soup, using turnips from the garden and substituting one third of the turnips with Jerusalem artichokes, also from the garden. It was fantastic. I also made a salad with lettuce and baby kale and Swiss chard from the garden. Not to mention a loaf of apple bread.

The day after was our day to celebrate with the kids. Our tradition is actually to go out for Ethiopian food, for something completely different. It's great food to share and linger over as we catch up on each other's lives. We then went to choose our tree. T. and I had agreed to get a smaller tree, to avoid the tree falling-over debacle of last year (don't ask). T. pulled out a 3-foot tall tree that looked more like a bush. The rest of us vetoed it, through much laughter, and found one that's more like 6 feet tall (we used to go for 8 or 9 foot tall trees). We were able to get it up, with a relative minimum of swearing. (I can't be the only one whose Christmas tree tradition typically includes swearing, can I?)

And then we had hot chocolate and...more apples! Specifically, apple tart with caramel sauce. Oh my goodness, this was amazing.

Finally, our weekend feasting ended with dinner at the home of dear friends, who made a big green salad, Thai-inspired soup with tofu, red curry, carrots, lemongrass, and coconut milk, a rice pilaf, and butternut squash.

A lovely holiday weekend of feasting on food, family, friends...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hold the presses!

After a long hiatus, I am finally blogging about biking again.

Here's hoping it inspires me for more frequent blogging about crafting, sustainability, etc. too, here at handcrafted life!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Enjoying the season (and seeking seasonal gardening advice)

I miss blogging! You'd think with both kids at college, I'd have more time, but somehow the grad. school/working full-time/attempting to take care of other life tasks with intentionality seem to still cut into the blogging time. Fortunately DD came home and requested apple-picking, giving me not only a photo op but a nice excuse to slow down and appreciate the season.

The apple orchard was beautiful. (Rochester folks, we went to the Apple Farm in Victor and it was really nice. I believe they have a sale this week. And, they will be offering u-pick until we get a stretch of weather below 25 F.)

There were tons of apples on the ground. We grabbed a bunch for the chickens, who LOVE apples. We didn't know this, but you're supposed to ask first! They gave us a reduced price, but if you go, please ask first! (Do as I say, not as I do.)

T., Zoe, and I have also been enjoy walks in our local gem, the Mt. Hope Cemetery, perfect for spooky October nights (and the rest of the year).

And now, on to some less exciting pictures, but (for me) very exciting gardening. This is the first year I have tried to garden so late. You can see that I'm not the neatest gardener in the world, as evidenced by the leaves I haven't bothered to rake out and the dried stalks of dill still left. Here are some turnips and collard greens. I think I planted something in the middle there but it didn't come up.

Here is my arugula bed, which has pretty much been going strong all gardening season.

And here we have some younger collard greens and Chinese greens. They're supposed to be cold hardy, although I'm still covering everything on cold nights, since we've only had a couple of nights of frost so far, and it's supposed to be fairly warm still for quite a while.

Here's some kale, just coming up recently. Again, I'm hoping it will last through the winter, but I'm not really sure how these things work.

Swiss chard (and a little head of lettuce), which in my experience can survive for quite a while in the cold.

And more turnip greens, along with broccoli, which have little florets on them that thrill me to no end. Can't wait till they're big enough to eat.

Fall/winter gardeners, any advice? Will this stuff last? Do I have to cover it every night once it gets below freezing?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Soup therapy

(This is just a gratuitous, updated picture of the girls, because really, can you ever get enough of chicken pictures? That short green fence is supposed to keep them out of the garden, but I can't say it's totally effective.)

Aaaanyway...if your life revolves in any way around the academic calendar, September and early October are hectic! My life revolves around the academic calendar in 3 ways: work, graduate school, and getting my kids off to college.

All of which leaves not nearly enough time for my creative pursuits. Last night one of my classes ended earlier than expected, and I had time to make some granola and also my standard, never-the-same-twice red lentil soup. If you're in the market for an inexpensive, easy-to-make soup that can be made with whatever you happen to have around, this is for you. I have to give credit to my (non-blogging) friend Hilary for the basic idea of this soup.

Here's what I do, with rough approximations of ingredients and amounts.

Julie's Red Lentil Soup

1--Saute in olive oil or ghee, some combination of these vegetables--peppers, onions, garlic, shallots, hot peppers. (Last night I used shallots and two jalapeno peppers.) You could add some freshly grated ginger if you like. You can also add dried herbs of your choosing here--ginger, oregano, thyme, basil could all be nice.

2--Add whatever other veggies you have on hand, particularly root vegetables or cruciferous vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, cauliflower. (Last night I used turnips from my garden.) Saute for a few more minutes.

3--Add 4-8 cups of water or vegetable stock and heat to boiling.

4--Add 1-2 cups of red lentils. (Amounts of water and lentils are variable because you can base it on how many veggies you have, how much soup you want to make, and how thin you like your soup.)

5--Simmer until everything is tender and the lentils have started to break down. This could be 20-40 minutes, depending on the type of veggies and how mushy you like your soup.

6--This step is optional, but highly recommended. After it's been simmering about 15-20 minutes, add whatever fresh greens you have around, such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, etc. (Last night I used the turnip greens and collards from my garden.)

7--Simmer until it's done the way you like it! Just a few minutes before you take it off the stove, add whatever fresh herbs you have around. (Last night I used the last of the chives and basil from the garden.) Add about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice at the very end.

This is good on its own, but even better with cheese, if you ask me. I add fresh goat cheese.

As I said to a friend after making this soup, cooking is my medicine and my religion. All the craziness of early Fall melted away, and that's even before I tasted the soup.

p.s. Coincidentally, 101 Cookbooks has a similar red lentil soup recipe today that includes rice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dahlia season

September in the garden is fabulous. This is the first year that I have grown dahlias, but it most definitely will not be the last. I got these as tubers, back in May,at the Proud Market of the Rochester Civic Garden Center, from the Rochester Dahlia Society. They have done much better than any that I have gotten as plants. They're so big and bushy that I have tomato cages around them to contain their exuberance!

Most of my tomatoes were hit by the blight, but my tomatillos are very happy, as are the pumpkins twining around them.

I have had green beans ALL summer, and they just keep coming.

And for the first year, I'm planting a fall garden. Peas, lettuce, spinach, and radishes are all poking their heads up. Looks like I need to thin, which I have a very hard time bringing myself to do. It seems like such a shame to just destroy perfectly good little plants, so I usually try to transplant them elsewhere in the garden. It doesn't always work, but I feel better for the attempt.

More pictures of my September garden are at my September 2009 set on Flickr.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


For her eighteenth birthday, back in the spring, DD's best friend got a tattoo. DD went with her and got one too. The best friend's mom went with them and got one too. I went with them too, but I hadn't found the right design, so I deferred. It was really fun, though, two best friends and their moms. When each girl got her tattoo, the mom held one hand and the best friend held the other. The other mom chattered on to help distract them from the sound and piercing of the needle.

Funny, that seems to be just what young adults need at this stage of life. Their peers have a huge influence on their choices, from clothing to body art to socializing and beyond. They need to have close relationships with their peers, because becoming intimate with people outside the family is essential for their self-development into mature adults.

They also need to have adults in their life, in strong supporting roles, to serve as additional role models and resources outside their family.

And yes, they need their parents. We have more and more of a background role as time goes on, of course, but it seems to me that they still need to know that we are there for them. And when something big happens in their life, be it a source of joy or pain, they are likely to want us in on it in some way.

After the three of them got their tattoos, DD made me promise that we would go back before she left for college, and I would get one, as soon as I had a design. Well, summer always goes too fast, and before I knew it, we only had a couple of weeks left. In fact, she text'ed me from an out-of-town trip to say, "We need to get you your tattoo. Oh, and btw, I want another one too!"

Schedules being what they were, it came down to the LAST night before she was set to leave, and we agreed we would go get the tattoos. I still didn't have a design. I figured I would just get something small in a non-public location, just for the experience of it. However, I really liked hers and indicated that I would consider getting it, but I wasn't sure how she would feel about that. Turned out, she was fine with that, so off we went.

The first tattoo shop we tried didn't have time for both of us before closing time, so we went to another place that came recommended. I have to admit, although I have two tattoos, I didn't quite know what I was in for. My others are pretty small and not too intricate. This one took about 1 1/2 hours for me, and 1 hour for DD (hers is smaller). And yes, it hurt. By the time we finished, it was 9:30, and we still hadn't had dinner! We went off to DogTown for some veggie sandwiches. (By the way, I really liked our artist. He had a great demeanor, and he stayed very late so that we could both get ours done!)

The whole experience was a memorable way to mark the transitions that we each are facing. Here it was, her last night before college, and (although she had been with friends virtually every moment that week), she was spending this night with me. I feel very grateful for that.

The very act of getting a tattoo can represent self-expression, independence, commitment, a turning point. It seemed like all of those to me, and I think to her as well.

And this time, not only was I by her side as she got her tattoo, she was also by mine to support me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How climbing a mountain is like raising a child

In the beginning, everything looks placid and beautiful. You look at the adorable pictures of other children and mountains and think that this will be a piece of cake.

Then, you realize that you are actually climbing a mountain, not just looking at a pretty picture of one. It turns out that the actual climbing requires a lot more endurance than the picture-gazing. At these moments you swear at your partner and blame her/him for making you do this/not making you completely and totally happy and comfortable/the size and steepness of the mountain.

Occasionally, you notice that the mountain/child really is a work of wonder and beauty.

You reach the summit, and if you're lucky, you and your beloved are still together, albeit a bit dorkier and more middle-aged than you remember becoming.

After taking a good long time to celebrate and enjoy the view, you start downhill. You figure you're practically done now. After all, downhill means easy, fast, once again, piece of cake. Then you get a late night phone call, or some other wake-up call that no, you're not done yet. For example, perhaps the sole of your boot (which you've only worn four times, but has fallen apart due to disuse of about 12 years) falls off just as you begin your descent. It looks something like this.

And then, a little further down, the other one falls off. You now have very little support, and even less traction, and the trail is extremely slippery. You are not really sure if you can get through this without some major injury or trauma.

Still, with the patience of your partner (and probably quite a few other friends and family members), you make it down/through the latest trial, traveling much more slowly and painstakingly than expected, using 2 instead of the usual 1 walking pole.

Again, you celebrate, this time over a delicious romantic dinner.

And then, quite willingly, you make plans to train even harder for the next mountain, and vow always, always to enjoy the view.

(For more Adirondacks pictures, see my August 2009 Flickr set.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Living, not blogging

So it's been almost a month since I last posted...but I have been too busy living life and enjoying these precious summer days to sit down and write about it. Instead, how about some pictures to catch up? Starting with above, there has been creek-walking.

DS was home for a few weeks and thus there was cello at a gig at a local coffeehouse. (Hence the bad lighting.)

He has such a fierce determination when he plays.

There has been much cycling.

Some kayaking.

And much grilling on my new grill...this is grilled pizza with tomatoes, basil, rosemary (from the garden), and grilled squash from the farmers' market.

And now, it is sunflower time...

Regular blogging will resume shortly...


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