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Wishing You...


I am up bright and early today (well, dark and early) to pack in as much baking as one can possibly do in a day. Tomorrow local cookies will be delivered, the next day my parents arrive and we'll celebrate Emily turning 18! Followed by Christmas and that blissful week between Christmas and New Years where time seems to dissolve.

Before we all sign off for the holidays, I'd like so say thank you for spending your precious time here, for taking part in my workshops, and especially for your kindness. Every single day you remind me of the good in this world, and I appreciate that more than words can say.

This time of year is magical for many, and for others it is a time of struggle. Quite often, it is both. I appreciate these words from Emily Freeman:

"Maybe you are grieving the loss of someone or something this week. In so many ways, we all carry both sorrow + joy, often at the same time. As we move into this week of Christmas, I pray we resist the temptation to dissect the mystery of our neighbor and instead practice a holy curiosity for the experience of others."

We are all in this together. Wishing you the merriest, brightest, most hopeful holiday season. xo

Celebrating Solstice


In recent years I have not been able to blog nearly as much as I did in my early days. In part this is a side effect of family life during these rich and full teen/pre-college/homeschool years, and in part it has been intentional as I reached a point where I felt like I was talking too much. Who needs to hear from me five days a week? I don’t want to hear from me five days a week! That sort of thing. (This makes little sense though as there are plenty of bloggers that I love to hear from five days a week!) My interest in blogging remains the same, I’ve just slowed down the pace to once a week (or so) posting and it’s felt like a good fit for me. But if you’re plugged into social media, you know that I do stop by there most days. I use Facebook and Instagram, with the latter being my daily hangout place. Renee used the term “micro-blogging” a few years ago to describe how she (mostly) uses her public social media platforms and that intrigued me. I adopted the idea myself, putting it into practice particularly on Instagram. A photo and a mere sentence or two conveys so much. In a way, Instagram feels like the blogging community of yesteryear. I love it and try to follow back everyone that interacts on my feed - the exceptions being if an account is private (I'm too shy to request), or, if I don’t really know the person and their feed is mostly beautiful intimate family pictures (then I feel like a creepy person following their family photo album). All this to say that Instagram, used the way I see people use it, is one of the coolest things on the internet. It also serves as the perfect platform for “micro-blogging" -- daily or near daily check-ins with like-minded folks, low pressure, just sharing a thought or two from the day.

And believe it or not, this long introductory rambling does circle back to the point of this post!

Over the weekend, a friend on Instagram asked if I would share about how our family celebrates Solstice. Feeling limited by tiny spaces on Instagram, I told her I would write a blog post about it. So that is what I would like to do today. Ready? (Phew! Longest intro in blogging history right there.)

Solstice 4

Growing up, celebrating Solstice was not part of our family traditions. Somewhere along the way in early adulthood I became aware of its significance, especially as it pertained to my view of the natural world. It was also my husband's favorite day of the year (who doesn’t love the promise of more light?), so that also made it feel remarkable. But as many of you know, establishing new traditions is not the easiest thing to do. Add to that creating a holiday of sacred ground on what most often is a regular work/school day... well, it was hard to find our footing. But a few years ago I noticed Solstice was going to fall on or near the weekend, for a few years in a row (obviously), meaning that Adam would not have typical workdays and such. This was our chance to establish tradition.

I had a few ideas of how I’d like to mark this holiday in our family, but I also wanted to check in with my friend Amy as I knew Solstice/Yule to be a long standing day of celebration for her family. She recommended a few books that could help inspire the season for us, offered a few ideas and encouraging words, which I added to my already brewing ideas, and with that I was on my way.

Solstice 5

How we (now) celebrate Solstice:

Solstice Eve - This is when our celebration happens. Having a Christmas Eve baby, our family doesn’t really "do" Christmas Eve. In our home, December 24th is a birthday celebration that involves all things related to that. But Eves are amazing and as a child I remember loving Christmas Eve, the anticipation was terribly exciting and hardly is there a day with so much magic in the air as Christmas Eve. Holding our family Solstice celebration on the eve of, felt like a natural fit for a family that does not have a tradition of enjoying Christmas Eve (I know, that seems kind of sad, but what we lack in Christmas Eve celebrations we make up for in Birthday celebrations!).


Atmosphere - Candles, candles, candles. And of course all the twinkly lights I can muster. We have a bonfire in the back field, and dress the old apple tree that sits about 40 feet from the bonfire, in twinkly lights. It requires one heck of an extension chord as this area of our property is far from the house, but it is quite beautiful to have this random sparkly tree beyond the stonewall. Inside, in addition to the candles, I pull out lots of glassware, pedestal glass candy dishes, cut glass vases, etc. Glass sparkles and reflects candle and twinkle lights so it enhances the celebration of returning light quite beautifully.


Food - Yes, there is special food! I have deliberately kept our menu simple but oh-so-delicious. We may be in a cycle of Solstice Eve falling on a weekend right now, but that will not always be the case. If I’m to continue honoring this tradition when it falls on a regular ol’ Wednesday, I need to be realistic about the level of production involved. So, soup it is. I’m not sure how I decided this, but it seems to have stuck. We aren't set on making a particular soup - but to give an indication of how traditions really can be created at any point - here we are, only on our third year of formally setting apart the day, and my daughter has requested a particular kind of soup for Solstice Eve this year, knowing the holiday was approaching. That’s how simple it is, really!

One year I made Cheddar Corn Chowder, last year I believe was Rosemary, Potato, Sausage Chowder (created on the fly), and this year the request has been for Broccoli Cheddar Soup. Apparently we like dairy on Solstice! We aren’t really bread people so mugs of hearty soup around the Christmas tree or bonfire it is. We follow it up with a special dessert that is actually very simple to make (I can easily make it any day that Solstice might fall on). This I do not seem to be changing year to year - Moosewood’s Six Minute Chocolate Cake with a quick chocolate ganache over the top, freshly whipped cream, and raspberry sauce. This is so delicious! To make the raspberry sauce just put some thawed frozen raspberries in the blender with honey or maple syrup to taste and puree. Next, strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer. Don’t skip this step! Seedy raspberry sauce is not very elegant. Last year I added a pan of our Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (those are SO good).


Gifts - We are a family that loves giving gifts to one another. We purchase minimal goods throughout the year, reserving our wish/need lists for the holidays. There are lots of functional items such as tools, soap-making supplies, etc., under our tree. Diamond jewelry does not interest me, despite the commercials telling my husband it would make me the happiest wife in the world. I’ll take a good cast iron pan or sugaring supplies please (even better if they are found second hand). For Solstice, we are establishing a gift theme that I really love. We give each family member two gifts, one being a book, the other something made by hand. I prefer to make the handmade gifts myself, sometimes my family members get worried about their ability to produce lovely handmade objects (they shouldn’t be worried), and they utilize the talents of other artisans. The books are carefully chosen for the recipient, often previously owned.

Books - Solstice and wintry books are pulled from the basket to be read individually, and sometimes aloud. This is an ongoing theme for the entire month of December, but on Solstice Eve there are a few that we are sure to pick up. (A Vermont Christmas is not specific to Solstice, but I read it nearly everyday from Thanksgiving to New Years; nothing illustrates winter and Christmas quite like Vermont.)


 Solstice 2

Solstice 3

An Offering - This is the final and perhaps most significant element to our celebration. Solstice is interesting in that it may signify the return of light, but it also marks the beginning of the coldest, snowiest months of the year. I may love winter, but that does not mean I do not appreciate the harsh severity of the season. For humans and animals alike, the months of January and February are a challenge - for many a feat of survival. We like to create something edible with our hands for our winged and hoofed friends, both domestic and wild. Apple slices with nut butter and seed, hung from tree branches in the woods (the birds and the deer love to eat apple slices dangling from trees), a nutrient rich wreath made of gelatin, berries, nuts and seed. This year the plan is an old favorite, pine cones with nut butter and seed, hung outside for wild enjoyment. (Our pine tree produced a bumper crop of pine cones so we're going with it.)


The first couple of years celebrating Solstice felt right and very us, even if we were still working it out as starting traditions is new ground, which can feel a little awkward. But with plenty of curiosity and a good bit of humor, I think it’s safe to say by this year (our third), we are well established and this tradition is firmly in place.

Because we put so much emphasis on the eve of, Solstice Day is low key and anything goes, really. Although I tend to begin prepping for my big day of cookie baking on the 22nd, as cookies get delivered locally on the 23rd. I don’t mail cookies, so I like to keep the baking of them as close to Christmas as possible.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post, I hope it gives you a clear glimpse into how we formed our family tradition. It is a magical time, for sure. Even though I listed quite a few details, hopefully you can also see how uncomplicated it is. I do love abundant, celebratory, and beautiful holidays, but I do not love complicated.

Wishing you a merry and bright holiday season!

Homemaking Inspiration (and a few recipes that would make a great gift idea!)


When I recently wrote about my current daily routine, Erin asked a great question in the comments:

"I don't feel like I'm a natural homemaker and tidier but am a stay at home mom/homeschooler. Is there any books, readings, etc for further inspiration on homemaking/tidying? I'm not a collector but have a hard time motivating myself and end up becoming frustrated when the house becomes cluttered." 

This is something I’d love to talk about today (or any day!). I do have some favorite books, and a few websites, that inspire me to stay motivated at home. 

Like Erin, I am not a collector (at all), but I am definitely not a minimalist either. I can appreciate the concept of minimalism, but sparsely decorated spaces are not for me - I’m a maker of cozy. If I don’t collect things, and I don’t live with very few things, than what on earth is my home filled with? Being a do it yourself type person comes with an array of tools and supplies that I’m not sure can be avoided entirely. We cook from scratch, sew, knit, garden, preserve food, read a lot, decorate with the seasons, homeschool, work from home, etc. Our home is a place of production! If I don’t stay on top of things, it would be utter chaos in no time. And to be sure, there are busy times in life when exactly that happens. When it does, we take a day or a full weekend (as we recently did... deep cleaning and organizing before the holiday season feels so good), make a list, pull ourselves together and get it done. By the way, if you make a long list of chores on a major cleaning day/weekend, do a bunch of the short chores first. A list can look long and overwhelming, but when you really break it down, many of the chores only take 5-15 minutes (organizing under the kitchen sink, for instance), and it helps to stay motivated for the bigger jobs (cleaning the gutters) when several things are crossed off the list. 

I’m getting away from myself, here. Erin did not ask for the details of how I do things, she just wanted to know how I stay inspired - particularly by way of books or websites/blogs. First I’ll share those recommendations, and then I’ll share a few natural cleaning recipes from our home. Not only are they useful (and the natural aromas very inspiring!), but they also make good gift ideas if you’re looking for such a thing. 



The books that I seem to reach for over and over are:


1. Home Comforts - This tome is not a quick read. Actually, of the titles on my list, it is probably the least inspiring to me. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that Erin’s question was specifically about “inspiration.” This book has occupied an important place on my bookshelf so it is worth mentioning here. Home Comforts, The Art & Science of Keeping House, is such an unbelievably practical housekeeping guide that what it lacks in the Pinterest-y sort of swoon that I am inspired by, it makes up for in sheer detail and volume. (Am I one of the few that is still inspired by Pinterest and blogs that share beauty? I know we all have dust bunnies... looking at blogs full of dust bunnies is great and all, but it doesn’t really motivate me to clean up my own. Dust bunnies are no more “real life” than cozy moments of beauty.) 

The author discusses all of the different elements of running a household, and gives specific instruction on how to perform each task. It’s very helpful in that regard, and I do reach for it on certain occasions, but it is not the kind of book that’s going to inspire me to spruce up my craft space or organize my pantry with baskets and cute labels.

2. Radical Homemakers - This is the book that reminds me why we do what we do. It affirms my belief that a well-tended, well-loved home (which has nothing to do with looking like a page in the Pottery Barn catalog), is good for families, which is good for communities, which is good for the world. Talk about a ripple effect! Radical Homemakers reminds me that even though my husband and I both work full time, we know our home runs more smoothly, and we are a happier, healthier family when someone focuses on keeping and managing the home as their priority. We are not in a current life season where that is possible for our family, but we strongly believe that if both adults are busy wage-earning all day, zero adults are able to devote their full attention toward home. So we are constantly redefining who does what around here, depending on the season and workload we are each experiencing. Communication is key. At the moment, it’s 6:30 in the morning and my husband is running the vacuum before he leaves for work, while I’m spending a few minutes on this blog post before I head out for some grocery supplies to use in my work.  Who the heck vacuums at 6:30 in the morning? Well, if that’s the time you have available, then that’s when you do it.

Radical Homemakers recognizes that homemaking roles look very different today than they did 60+ years ago. Moreover, it speaks of ideas and solutions to keeping home, in new and ever-changing times.

The author, Shannon Hayes, empowers the reader to “reclaim domesticity from a consumer culture.” She illustrates how this is done through stories of the many radical homemakers that she visited and interviewed for the book. One thing is for sure, this is not your 1950s homemaking book. This is a book that encourages a household of production over consumption, where families work together to create a new kind of domestic bliss for a new world, a new economy. A domestic culture that does not force a person into predetermined roles based on gender, but rather taps into individual strengths and talents, and puts those to work for the greater good of the household, and ultimately the family. 

3. Down to Earth - I’ve been reading Rhonda’s blog for years, and she has continued to teach and inspire people around the world to go about their days with purpose and simplicity. This book feels like the essence of her blog without the screen, so you can hold it in your hands to peruse with a cup of tea and a notebook by your side.  Filled with the same kind of wisdom, tutorials and recipes that Rhonda’s blog holds, but without the need to fire up your screen to take it all in. Down to Earth is also beautifully designed, which makes it an extremely enjoyable book to read. Are all of the recipes and ideas a perfect fit for our family? No, of course not, but that is not how inspiration works. There is such a spirit of encouragement and you-can-do-it in Rhonda’s writings. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of anyone out there today who consistently does it better!

4. Make Your Place - This is a sweet little book that is filled with basic cleaning supply recipes, some first aid and body care type recipe, and even a section with gardening advice and information. The design of the book is reminiscent of the style Mollie Katzen uses in her early Moosewood books - handwritten font, cute drawings throughout. There are so many great ideas in Make Your Place for natural housekeeping recipes, it is definitely a favorite place of “how-to” inspiration for me. 

5. The Private World of Tasha Tudor - This is my happy place. It isn't a homemaking book per se, but when I am feeling overwhelmed or simply lackluster in the housekeeping department, this book and a cup of hot tea provide the perfect place to center. It helps me to remember that it’s not about tackling an entire room of the house, but that it’s the little corners - a basket of seasonal books, an assortment of cute mugs with tea close by, a jar of flowers, art and craft supplies at the ready, or a stack of freshly folded hand towels in the powder room - that make a home. 

6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - I have not read this book, but I think it is worth including on this list as it seems to be THE book everyone is talking about this year. Marie Kondo has developed a process for decluttering your home that people seem to feel is incredibly empowering and useful. I will likely read this someday (even though I am not striving to be a minimalist), until then, what I've gathered so far is that her process takes you through every space and object of your home as you ask yourself "does this item bring me joy?" when deciding if it should stay or go. It seems like a small and obvious thing, but based on the popular reaction to this book, I'd say that many people needed to hear that simple question.

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It’s important to remember that these books could serve as great manuals, but there is no reason to be so rigid. For me, they mostly serve as inspiration, which is exactly what Erin was asking about. When I’m in a rut and need some encouragement, I’ll make some tea, light a candle, and find a cozy spot for twenty minutes with one of the above titles. I always feel better after - and motivated.



A few blogs that I like to visit for inspiration: 


Fimby - Renee is a good friend, so I’m a little biased, but she is such an inspiration to me when it comes to managing and creating a well-run home. She is a true home manager (I tend to be a home putterer), so I love seeing how her mind works. Because even though my own driftless/artistic thought process has its place, sometimes you just need to grab the 3-ring binder and organize your thoughts and plans. Renee does that beautifully (although she's gone mostly paperless in recent years, so not too many binders these days).

On Bradstreet - You know that overused expression "so and so is my spirit animal?" Well, Amy is my spirit animal regarding all things home. She does it so well. Check out this post and this one too for insight regarding how Amy considers the ways in which her home is used, and the spaces she creates to support those uses. And while you’re visiting her blog, be sure to visit her Yuletide category. I promise you will get lost in the beauty there.

Down to Earth - I mentioned her book, and now I'll mention her blog. Both are wonderful and have their rightful place in your homemaking inspiration file. For all the reasons I love Rhonda's book, I love her blog. Actually, there are even more reasons to love her blog because the archives go on an on; she has been writing it for a number of years now. 

Do you have a favorite blog that inspires you at home? Please share it with us in the comments! I know I'm forgetting so many as I write this.

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I’ve never met a June Cleaver, and I’m certainly not one. I just like making a home that my family enjoys being in. It’s a never ending cycle of fluffing and sweeping and purging and rearranging. I guess that's why words like homemaking or housekeeping are used. There is continuous action and tending involved. We don’t call it homedone or housefinished!  I love the process of nurturing our home, just as I love to nurture the people that dwell inside of it. The two go hand in hand.


Before I go, I'd like to leave you with a few natural cleaning recipes that we use in our home. I thought they would be a practical addition to this post as well as inspiring a gift giving idea.

All-Purpose Spray

1 tsp castile soap (or natural dish soap)
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups warm water
1/4 tsp lavender essential oil
1/4 tsp lemongrass essential oil
6 drops tea tree essential oil

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Use on any surface other than glass and wood. Shake before use.


Glass Cleaner

1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup water
few drops natural dish soap
10 drops grapefruit essential oil

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray on glass surface and wipe off - not with paper towels! Use newspaper or lint free cloth. Shake before use.


Dusting Spray

1 cup olive oil, or other organic oil of your choice
10-15 drops lemon essential oil
3 drops patchouli essential oil

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray onto clean cloth and dust wood furniture. Shake before use.

Download :: N a t u r a l   C l e a n i n g   R e c i p e s   (click to print)


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I guess that just about does it for me. But what about you? What are your places to visit on the web, or books to read, that inspire you at home? We'd love to hear your thoughts!