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A Different World

Eagle lake 5

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s that I’m finally paying attention, but lately I’ve been struck by how unique my paternal family roots are. At least in this day and age. Not unique in a way that is grand or consequential, but unique in its utter plainness and steadfastness. Both of my father’s parents (and earlier generations, too) are from a small town in northern Maine that by lower 48 standards, is about as remote as you can get. Located two hours from the nearest highway, life there is unlike what most people in this country experience. Of course, in the age of internet and smart phones, it is slightly more integrated today than in decades past, but not by much. 

When people learn where my parents live, and of my father’s extended family still making up much of the town’s three digit population, they inevitably ask, “What do they do for work?” It’s a fair question, given the isolated locale, but I can’t help notice that while it’s not a place of booming industry, and people are definitely not moving here for opportunity, there does seem to be a steadiness in livelihood. As remote as it is, combined with the few surrounding equally-remote towns, it makes sense to have certain infrastructure in place: a branch of the state university, a medical center, nursing homes, libraries, schools, automotive repair shops, police... they’ve even got one of those medical marijuana dispensaries. And let’s not forget the paper mills and logging companies, which of course settled the region into modern era over a century ago. Up and down the east coast you’ll find the remains of various mills, most of which have been closed for decades. But here, many of the mills still run, and with operating mills, comes jobs. So my answer to people who ask what my family does for work remains: in generations past they were mostly trappers, mill workers, farmers, and loggers; today they are also police officers, teachers, nurses, mechanics, electricians, and more. Granted, the resources and infrastructure that I speak of are very small scale, reflecting the population, but just because they are two hours from the highway does not mean they are two hours from a Ford dealership, or from taking a college class (let alone teaching a college class). Although if you want a mall or anything like that, you're heading south for three hours to Bangor. 

Because I do not want to romanticize the sometimes hard and lacking nature of rural life, it is worth noting that people are not moving to the area for lavish opportunity, and certainly many leave for greener pastures. My own grandparents did back in the 1940s, hence my father (and me) arriving in Connecticut. But those who remain seem to be able to fashion a fairly comfortable life for themselves. And by my own cursory observation, I’d say they’re doing it in a more secure way than those living in less remote, but still rural locations. It’s almost as though extreme remoteness forces people to create a local economy, whereas “sort of” remote finds people dependent on resources that are close enough for the occasional need, but not close enough for day to day employment. I also don’t want to underemphasize the paper and logging industry borne from the vast wilderness of northern Maine; this is the sort of thing that many northern Vermonters (for instance) would love to have job access to, but for them such opportunities are fading. There is more to say about all of this, of course, but really I’m just thinking out loud here and my rudimentary insight into this rural poverty feeling less dire than that rural poverty definitely lacks in expert opinion. These are just the things that I think about when spending ten hours in the car. Maybe some of you can relate to what I’m referring to and understand. 

Anyway. Everything about my father’s family comes from this place, I think this is what I find so unique. It feels uncommon to have such a deep connection to a place, not just for part of our family, but for its entirety. 

Eagle lake 1

Of his two sets of grandparents, only dad’s paternal grandparents’ home remains in the family today, owned by himself and his three brothers. Not much has changed in Memere's kitchen or surrounding home in my 44 years on this earth. Many of her belongings are still here: family photos (that’s little me in the green dress up there), dishes in the cupboard, books on the shelves, crucifixes above most doorways, furnishings, and postcards from friends. The family bible. I realize this makes it sound like the home is preserved as some sort of awkward shrine, but I promise it does not feel that way. It just feels like Memere got it right the first time so there is no need to alter the home she created. Dad and my uncles take great care to "update" only what is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the home, and for accommodating how they use it today, while staying mindful of preserving the family story. It's a pretty special place. 

We pulled into the driveway of Memere’s house after spending Christmas day over at Mom and Dad’s place on the lake. The water is frozen well enough for snow machines, but a few weeks out from strengthening to support the crossing of vehicles. Soon enough. Before going inside, Adam walked next door to Aunt Ruth’s house to pick up a box of moose meat cousin Tim left on the porch for us. After a quick hello, Adam left just as soon as he came, and Aunt Ruth turned out the kitchen light and went to bed. It was nearly 6pm after all, and not much happens in Eagle Lake after 6pm.

The next morning we left town, stopping at Dean’s for breakfast. Everybody stops at Dean’s. We had the same waitress as the last time we visited. There is one long table down the center of the restaurant where locals gather family style. The conversation is always in French. I’m reminded of my own father’s native language, and how as a little girl when I would tell my friends that Dad spoke French before he spoke English, they’d look at me (in our very homogenous neighborhood) as if he’d come from a different world. And the truth is, one trip to Eagle Lake will tell you... yes, his people really do come from a different world. 

Tonight we are back in Connecticut, and there will be moose meat shepherd's pie for dinner. 

Santa May Find His Way


Many years ago, a little girl who lives on our street was worried that Santa would not find her tucked away home on this dead end country road. Her father, sensitive to her concern, decided to line both sides of our street with luminaries on Christmas Eve, to help guide Santa’s way. It’s a scene we’ve come to look forward to since moving here, and one that we’ll remember fondly as our time in this house comes to a close. 

Heading to Maine in just a few hours, we’ll miss our decade long tradition of having good friends over on Christmas Eve to celebrate Emily’s birthday. Christmas is not a holiday for them, so they've always been available to hang out on this night, and join us in honoring our girl’s annual trip around the sun. Highly observant in their own faith and its practices, they are curious about the ways in which other people celebrate holidays. I am too. I love hearing the why behind ritual and tradition. Most years during our Christmas Eve birthday celebration, Jeremy (a rabbi, so his curiosity is probably greater than most) will ask a question or two about the ways in which we celebrate: What does the tree symbolize? And the ornaments? Do people celebrate Christmas if they’re not practicing Christian? That sort of thing. 

I should point out that as a scholar of theology, I'm sure Jeremy already knows the answers to his questions, but he asks them anyway; I'm guessing as a way to connect with us around our traditions. I really appreciate his curiosity. Last year’s question was about the lights, which are second nature to me at this middle aged point in life, but of course how intriguing they must be to someone who does not celebrate Solstice or Christmas. What about the lights? Inside and outside... so many lights! This might be my favorite question of Jeremy's because the answer is simple and explains the entire essence of the season. Well, it depends. If you celebrate Solstice and Yuletide, they are strung to brighten the darkest time of year, and to welcome the slow return of the sun. If you celebrate Christmas as a Christian, they represent Jesus as the light of the world. And, as I've learned in recent years, if you happen to be a young girl in a little known town in eastern Connecticut, they help guide a jolly old man in a bright red suit to your welcoming home. For me, the story of this season is one of hope, magic, and generosity. Whether it is felt through celebrating the slow return of light, through the birth of a child who is the light of the world, or through the eyes of a little girl who trusts in her father’s promise. 


You know, the luminaries have been lit for many years now, and I imagine the girl is not so little anymore. And yet, every Christmas Eve, in the spirit of hope, magic, and generosity, her father continues to line our street with glowing warm light, so that Santa may find his way.

Mischievous Generosity


Yesterday I found my way to the big-ish grocery store to stock up on a few things for our annual cookie delivery. I’m not sure there’s a prettier thing out there than a freshly baked tin of Christmas cookies. It’s not too difficult to take any childhood favorite recipe and rework it using your everyday crunchy-girl ingredients, if you’d like to do so. Next year we hope to make maple sugar in addition to syrup, and reserve a bunch for holiday baking. If we get a good run on early season sap, it is more neutral in flavor and will make an excellent baking sugar for the more delicate treats. Sucanat is also great for certain recipes, but not so much in a standard rolled sugar cookie. I like it, but I’m not sure about Adam’s office staff or my neighbors. This post isn’t really about swapping ingredients though, nor am I suggesting that you should, but whenever I mention holiday baking there are questions so I’m just trying to give some info. With a little creativity you can think of all sorts of substitutions. Don’t get me wrong, these tins are unapologetically filled with sugar, but you know... it’s free range, hand crafted, harvested by the light of a full moon, organic sugar. So basically, as nutritious as kale. (Oh! One more thing, India Tree is a good place to find cookie decorating items.)

Anyway, back to the grocery store. I make my way through the necessary aisles and by the time I hit the register, have reached my limit of laundry soap off-gassing and government approved “safe” food choices. Rather than freak out in the middle of aisle twelve as I contemplate this being all that most people can afford, I realize it’s time to get out of here. The checkout lady is in her late seventies, by my guess, with beautifully manicured hands and carefully applied make-up. Her hair is so pretty, too. I’m terrible at styling hair. She seems tired and leans the weight of her small body into the counter. As she slowly scans my items, I wonder if she wants or needs this work. I hope she wants it. We discuss baking for a minute and when my pile of butter makes its way down the belt, she alerts me that Land O’ Lakes is on sale: Buy 1 Get 1 Free. I politely let her know that I saw the sign, but it’s okay, I really like this kind. She looked unsure of me for a quick moment, and resumed scanning without further comment. I immediately felt terrible, like some kind of elitist-butter-snob-jerk in the face of her sale-directing kindness. She wasn’t offended of course, as I wasn’t actually being a jerk, I just felt ashamed, given my seemingly reckless ten pound grass-fed butter purchase in contrast to her frugal sensibility. Silently though, my mind started playing its defensive monologue, explaining the myriad of ways in which we do not spend money so that we can budget for the damn butter. Thankfully though, on this day, my mouth knew well enough to stay shut. We carried on in peace, she with her admirable beauty and me with my lip balm regimen, she with her Buy 1 Get 1 Free butter and me with my pile of fancy stuff. 

Finally, she finishes scanning my items and tells me the total. Then she looks at me with the brightest smile, reaches for a piece of paper on the counter behind her, and waves it in front of the computer, registering me for a senior citizen discount that took $20 off my bill. At first I imagined she thought I was a senior citizen (maybe I should put in more effort than lip balm?), but then she winked and said, “You’re doing all this shopping for your mother, right?” Some moments in life come with a bit of magic, you know? I wish you could have seen the pleased look on her face, which can only be described as mischievous generosity. She was tickled by her exercise of power, and I was happy to see she still felt so feisty at her age. 

Today I’ll make the cookies, arranging each tin just so, and tomorrow is delivery day. I need to make one additional stop on my route this year; I hope she notices how delicious the fancy butter is. 

Starting from Scratch

Thanks for your enthusiasm regarding Hibernate! I'm pretty excited to get started with you all, and as always, it's a pleasure to see everyone buddy up in the comments. You do this so smoothly and independently; it's impressive! There are still a few more days to sign up with a friend and share the cost, but in general, registration will remain open until we begin on January 16. There's plenty of time to join. See you there. xo


Writing something - anything - was the plan for this morning. I pulled up the notes app on my phone which houses a running list of words and short sentences that provide fodder for bigger work. I’ve done this for years and it works pretty well, cataloging snippets of stories, questions, thoughts, and everyday moments that have a pesky habit of presenting themselves at the most inopportune times. So I write them down. Or, type them, as is the case. To an onlooker, there isn’t much to decipher from my list of fragmented ideas, but for me, it represents a larger narrative waiting to be worked out at another time. Occasionally an idea will come, the keyboard happens to be close by, and you have time on your hands: this is the ever-elusive holy trifecta that allows for ideas to be born instantly without the need for recordkeeping. Those are pretty sweet moments. Rare, but sweet. For the most part, it’s a you snooze you lose sort of deal, and those crystalline thoughts that form just as you’re about to drift off to sleep, will definitely vanish by morning if not captured right then and there. At some point along the way I took to using my phone as a tool for this capture, and now as I sit here this morning, I realize how naive I was for placing my confidence in such a peculiar device. 

When I pulled up my notes app this morning, the precious extension-of-my-brain was nowhere to be found. Poof! Not in the trash bin, not moved to another list... gone. Dozens of prompts that will probably never materialize. Sure, there’s always those strong-willed ideas that don’t need placement on some common list, they’ll happily nag at your conscience until you give in and write your way through them. But for the most part, I imagine much of the list is history. Who knows, maybe pieces will find their way to another person who also feels compelled to spend time with a keyboard, which would be nice, because even though most of those stories and ideas weren’t very good, some were not half bad. 

The irony (there’s always irony) is that just yesterday I read that unless your digital material exists in three places, it doesn’t exist at all. It’s fair to say, by that logic, that my single-locale list of prompts was hardly even a conception, let alone a reality. The whole thing an illusion. Live and learn... every single day. Furthermore (continuing with the irony), my creative brain has felt trapped in a vice for nearly two months, despite having this long list of potential material to work with. Maybe I should look at its disappearance as complete liberation. Starting from scratch. Yeah, I like that. How's that for a hot tip: When you lose every single one of your writing ideas, frame it as "liberation." Mastering the delicate art of self-preservation since 1972. 

As for what to do now, I guess I’ll go and gather up a supply of pencil and paper. I hear they still make those. 

Hibernate :: Online Retreat

Hibernate Large Square 2017

 Begins January 16, 2017 (Registration is now closed. Thanks, everyone!)

~ 4 weeks ~



Hibernate is a self-paced, four week, online retreat - a place to celebrate the pause that wintertime brings. A place to linger through the dark and quiet, to welcome stillness, and allow time to enjoy home and hearth.

(Have you taken Hibernate in the past? If so, please know that this year is ALL NEW content!)


Each weekday will follow the themes Nourish, Gather, Refresh, Create, and Rest. Content will be delivered through our private class website in the form of beautiful mini e-books and videos. In addition, there will be an interactive community to share ideas and experience, if you choose.

You will find the days in a single week thread together with projects and ideas that compliment each other. 

Starting where you are, and working with what you have, you will pick and choose the projects, prompts, recipes and inspiration that speak to you.  

Soap and medicine collage


Each Monday will bring an assortment of simple and natural projects, recipes, and inspiration to rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit.    

  • Develop a totally low-pressure House Blessing practice. This takes very little time or effort, and the rewards are deeply comforting and inspiring.
  • Renee Tougas, soapmaker extraordinaire, will join us for a cleansing and refreshing cold-process soapmaking class. You will receive both a step-by-step written tutorial, as a well as a video demonstration. 

  • Learn to make Tummy Soothing Ginger Drops.

  • Herbalist Rachel Wolf, owner of LuSa Organics, will offer a collection of Cozy Winter Wellness recipes. Rachel is a talented teacher and has a way of providing clear and informative instruction, while utilizing ingredients that are readily available to most people.

Gather collage


Each Tuesday I'll share ways to come together with intention during this time of quiet hibernation. With friends, family, or alone in solitude -  be inspired by simple, interesting themes that will add a spark of light and connection to the darkest days.  

  • Learn to make Sourdough Pizza Crust and invite all of your hibernating friends over for a mid-winter pizza party. Plenty of tips and ideas provided as well as a great pizza sauce recipe.

  • Snow Day? Perfect time for some slow cooking on an open fire outdoors. Invite the neighbors or hunker down with your family. One pot recipe, perfectly suited for an afternoon in the snowy woods, will be provided.

  • Celebrate Hygge -  as we do every year during Hibernate, we'll enjoy the Danish art of creating sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted, centered, and alive. (With a new story and a few recipes too!)
  • and more...

Nourish collage


Each Wednesday we'll spend in the kitchen preparing delicious, healing, whole foods for winter enjoyment. You will enjoy recipes, video demonstrations, and mindful reflections from the kitchen.

  • Winter Jam! The dark cold months of winter are a perfect time to get out the canning pot, warm the kitchen, and line the pantry shelves with colorful, honey and maple sweetened fruity delights.  We'll make Persimmon Jam, Orange Marmalade, and Grape Jelly (from juice!). Recipes and demonstration included.
  • Corina from Marblemount Homestead joins us for a Cheesemaking Class! I've had the pleasure of getting to know Corina over the last couple of years, and have taken her in depth Online Cheesemaking Course (totally recommend), so I'm thrilled to bring her teaching to Hibernate. We'll be making Chevre, which is a perfect starter cheese, and Corina will provide both a step-by-step written tutorial as well as a video class. Plus delicious bonus recipes!
  • Chaga Brews. Brew it up as a replacement to black tea, swirl it with cacoa, maple syrup, and raw cream for a delicious hot chocolate, or spice it up with traditional Chai spices for a Chaga Chai Latte. Learn about the nourishing properties of Chaga, and tasty ways to use it in your kitchen.
  • ... and more

Sugar Woods Collage

Create Collage


Each Thursday I'll share art and craft tutorials. Only basic knitting and sewing skills are necessary.
  • Sewing and knitting!
  • You will find a knitting pattern for my Sugar Woods Hat & Fingerless Mitts. This set I've probably knit more than any other, as they provide the perfect amount of warmth, while keeping your hands accessible for the work of sugaring season... which just so happens to appear not long after the close of Hibernate.
  • Follow along as I teach you to make a Log Cabin Table Runner. Full step-by-step tutorial with photos provided. A perfect start to finish in a snowy afternoon type of project.
  • Join Kristin Esser, coauthor of the book, Sew Illustrated, for a morning of sewing a tea cozy to keep those winters brews warm. That her design in the photo above, though I believe she's working on something patchwork-related for Hibernate... I asked her for "winter cozy" and she thought patchwork fit the theme perfectly. I agree and am looking forward to making one with you all.

Hibernate 2015 4


Each Friday we turn inward for reflection and calm, settling in for the weekend. 

  • Turning in a bit of a different direction this year, our Rest portion of Hibernate will focus on seasonal essays and stories that evoke the quiet, contemplative spaces of winter. An end of the week pause.

  • Fridays will honor words, rest, and the importance of doing nothing.

Tea 3

Hibernate is filled with ideas to help you revel in the beauty of the season. As our bodies slow down,  leaving the activity of warmer months behind, our hands welcome meaningful activity and our hearts open to the beauty of home.  

While this retreat may seem plentiful in its offerings, by no means should you feel compelled to do each little thing. Hibernate shares a variety of activities (or non-activities), to meet the interest and schedule of many people. 

If you feel ready for the warmth and peace found during this cozy time of year, than please join us.

I'd love to Hibernate with you. 

Hibernate Large Square 2017
Begins January 16, 2017 (Registration is now closed. Thanks everyone!)
~ 4 Weeks ~ 

Bring a Friend!

  1. If you sign up by 12/19, you may invite a friend for free, or split the workshop fee with a friend.
  2. One person registers, then email me your guest's full name and email address by 12/23, and I will send them a welcome email on 1/4 (I will be away for a bit during the holidays). Please send guest info to hibernateretreat@gmail.com. Thank you!
*     *     *     *     *
"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire."
- Edith Sitwell

Slow to Arrive

Billymead pasture

Grandma June's barn.


We pulled into the first town off the highway, stopped at the post office to mail a package, and noticed Christmas music was playing on outdoor speakers, amplified through the small village. Children of all ages boarded the North Pole Express across the street, and one woman fashioned a roadside wreath shop from the back of her truck. Prettiest handmade wreaths I’d seen in a long time. Just outside of town, at the elementary school, I walked through a craft fair of impressive quality. There was a gentle snowfall. I couldn’t help but think, A+ for holiday vibes. We made our way up the ridge and the ground whitened as delicate flurries picked up in pace with each hundred foot climb; by the time we reached our drive, the ground was a blanket of wintry delight and I was so happy we decided to make the trip. Ozzy was visiting Aunt Johanna, but came running as he heard us on the road. We met up at our place and he stayed for an hour or so, joining Scout in creating a respectable ruckus on this early season snow day. 

The holiday spirit has been slow to arrive this year. Well, for me it has. There are a few reasons why I suppose, but regardless, the advent calendar keeps turning so I’d better snap to it or I’ll miss the whole dang thing. The drive north was helping. I think I’m almost there. 

We visited Aunt Johanna, welcomed into her home by the sweet-spice scent of freshly baked fruitcake, cooling on the counter. In the living room, tree trimming was underway which was a nice surprise because Aunt Johanna has a gift for creating the most enchanting Christmas trees. Adam's mother - her sister - has the same gift. Down at Uncle Kurt’s house, Aunt Jessie had just set up her Christmas Village atop one of the beams in their log home.  The houses were warmly lit and provided the exact kind of wonderment tiny village homes are known for. At Grandma June’s, a few carefully chosen decorations added festivity to her library, where she was restfully watching a Christmas movie. Outside, the snow continued to fall and the pasture was now thickly covered. This was not one of those mid-October dress rehearsals: winter had finally settled on the ridge, bringing with it a quiet peace that is impossible to describe, and impossible to miss. 

There is so much Christmas up here. So much winter. 

Reluctantly, we headed south at the end of the day. As we approached the southern border of the state, I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep which is my favorite way to get through the congestion of Springfield and northern Connecticut. Closer to home, I awoke to a flurry of texts from Emily telling me about her day. She’d made hot cocoa for herself and her friends to take on a tree-hunting excursion. Santa hats were worn,  the perfect tree was found, and when they returned to campus, the tree was set up and extra twinkly lights were added to her already twinkled-out dorm room. 

I couldn’t help but notice the deeper meaning here, that even in the absence of my own holiday spirit, we’ve raised her in a home that come December, glimmered and shined with festive gatherings and warm tidings. She was compelled to bring Christmas to college, and to her floor mates. (They were a little stunned I think with her whipping up hot cocoa for the outing, but it’s the small details that make the best memories.) The next morning I told her she inspired me to get into the spirit, that I had the new She & Him record playing, and Dad and I would start on the outside decorations that day. She replied, “Nice. Glad to hear it. Christmas is important.” 

So Adam and I pulled decorations from the attic and made respectable headway. Then we brewed some tea, spiked some nog, popped some corn, lit some candles, and settled in for a fun old fashioned family Christmas. It was exactly what we needed. Thanks for the motivation, kid.  


Later, Emily texted that a couple of friends, still inspired by Saturday’s hot cocoa and santa hat infused tree outing, decided to host her and two other friends in their room for a holiday dinner. They set out place settings on a card table, smuggled food from the dining hall, played Christmas music, dimmed the lights, and put a fake fire on the TV. They also “dressed in Christmas clothing,” but I’m not exactly sure what that means. A good time was had by all, and there was talk of repeating these Sunday dinners until they depart for winter break. Seems like they really know how to make the most of it. My inspiration grows. 

Solstice, Christmas, Yuletide... they sure have been slow to arrive, but thanks to the good cheer of family up north, and the infectious merriment of college kids, the season is finally here.