Monday, May 4, 2015

following orders.

We can never fully know the impact of our own words on another person.  Our words are powerful. Words have the power to lift someone up, or to tear them down.  I think of this often when choosing words to use with my children.

When I was in college, I loved to write.  I wrote letters, journals, poems, and I especially loved writing screenplays.  I loved bringing to life stories of the women I was learning about in history and women's studies classes through the dialogue of a screenplay.  It was a hobby that brought me great joy.  I once shared a screenplay I had written with a friend. She told me, after reading it, that I was "a terrible writer."  Those words landed right at the core of my being; they became my new truth. Writing had been something I loved, but became something I avoided, something I abandoned.  Our words are powerful.

Last Friday, on my husband's birthday, we got news that his dear friend Greg had passed away.  My husband, left shocked and heartbroken, searched for meaning in the loss. He tried to avoid the guilt that inevitably sets in over precious time that was taken for granted. In his search for meaning, he came across an email that his friend had sent exactly one year before on his birthday.  It was a gift of words.  An expression of gratitude for their friendship that gave my husband great solace and I am sure will continue to for years to come.

At the end of the email, Greg left a gift of words for me too.  He wrote:

"And tell your Muddy Footed Momma to update her blog more often!  She is a really good writer and it let's us keep up with your family.  This is a direct order, not a request."

These simple words of encouragement healed a wound in me that I was never able to express to Greg. While I know we should not be defined by the words of another, there is no denying that our words are powerful and they impact those around us.  Words have the power to break us and the power to heal us.

I am learning to be more mindful of my words, especially with those closest to me, those who feel the impact of my words most deeply.  I am learning to hold back my reactions.  To hold back my harshness and watch as it fades and allows space for me to respond with clarity in my head and heart. I am learning to be more vulnerable, to speak the love and gratitude I feel in my heart, especially when fear is holding me back.

We never fully know the impact our words have on another person. I never got to thank Greg or tell him how much his encouragement meant to me.  How deeply transforming his kindness was. So to honor his gift, with gratitude in my heart,  I will follow his order and keep on writing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


When you've lived on a piece of land for some time, you begin to know it intimately. When my third child was born, I created a dark cave for us to spend her first two weeks in.  She was my third, my last baby, and I wanted that postpartum time to nurture us both.  I tucked us away at the back of the house where it was quiet. While I spent those two weeks resting and enjoying my babe, I had another constant companion.  Outside our bedroom window was an oriole.  A Baltimore oriole sat perched in this giant hemlock outside our window.  All day as I sat holding my baby girl, I would watch this brilliant orange-colored bird shine against the lush, deep green branches of the hemlock.  The stunning contrast of colors was food for my sleep-deprived soul.

When my daughter turned one the following spring, we noticed the ends of the branches on that same hemlock were turning brown.  We were worried that putting in our septic had disrupted its roots. The spring my daughter turned two, the hemlock that was home to my constant companion those precious weeks after my daughter was born was completely dead.  This spring, as my daughter turns three, we will be cutting that hemlock down.

my girls playing under the branches of that hemlock
 a year and a half ago

that same hemlock today

My children also loved that tree, for it was the provider of small hemlock cones, perfect for fairy houses and all sorts of natural play.  My children came running up to me the other day to tell me their tree wasn't giving cones anymore.  They didn't notice it's dry brown branches, just that it's usual offering to their play was missing. We all loved that hemlock and another that is at the end of our property that provides a large, much needed shady space in the heat of summer and is the place where we first saw our owl friend this winter.  We noticed that the ends of its branches are beginning to turn brown as well.

The hemlocks in our woods are all dying.  We hoped it was an isolated incident, but this spring we are noticing that the hemlocks in our yard and up and down our road are all turning brown at the end of their branches.  The hemlock wooly adelgid is a tiny invasive insect and it's wreaking havoc in the woods I love.  I am hoping this cold winter will have stopped its spread through our forests, but only time will tell.

When you live on a piece of land you begin to know it well; it becomes an extension of your home. We are taking care of our remaining hemlocks the best way we can, but we are also savoring them, in case the day comes when they are missing from our home.

white clumps or "cotton" at the end of the
hemlock branches are the telltale sign of
 the hemlock wooly adelgid

small hemlock cones are perfect for fairy houses and all sorts of
nature crafts and play

beautiful striped underside of the hemlock needles

Sunday, April 5, 2015

mortar and pestle.

We celebrate Easter as the beginning of spring and all of the magic this season of new beginnings holds.  My children rose with sun and searched for baskets filled with books and art making supplies. The books were picked up from our favorite used book store and all held a theme close to our hearts: celebrating peace, connection to earth and family.  We spent much of the day cozied up in various places committing these new stories to memory.

My son received a mortar and pestle in his basket.  It may seem like an odd gift for a seven-year-old boy, but it proved to be a new and perhaps favorite art making tool.  A week ago, I bought the book, The Organic Artist, written by my dear friend Nick Neddo.  As my son and I poured through the pages inspired by every turn, we stumbled upon a life-changing discovery.  You can make your own paint from stones.  We are a rock-loving family and this would take our love and respect for rocks to a whole new level.  Ezra spent the day grinding stones into a fine powder to make paint for our whole family to enjoy.

We went through our rock collection and ended up painting with paint made from a stone I have carried with me since my college days in Arizona.  As I painted with the hues of the red rocks of Sedona, I couldn't help but paint the desert landscapes from there, long held in the memory of my heart. It was an incredible way to spend the day. Connecting to one another through words that nourished our souls and art that connected us to earth in a new and inspiring way.


Friday, April 3, 2015

spring chores.

The sun is finally shining here in New England, the snow is melting, the mud is ever increasing, and the daffodils are sending up their shoots.  It is glorious.  It is amazing how incredible spring can feel after a long winter.  We feel ourselves being pulled outdoors again into the late hours of the evening.

Yesterday, we spent the evening starting the neverending task of spring cleanup.  As the snow recedes, projects are revealed: leaves and garden beds to rake out, wood piles to move, chicken coops to clean.  The list feels neverending, but the work feels so rewarding.  After a sedentary winter, it feels good to be out in the fresh air moving, lifting, hauling, playing.  Yes playing.  Work this time of year feels a lot like play, particularly when you have three little ones playing alongside of you.

While I was discovering the gross reality of the layering method of chicken bedding through a seven-month long winter, my children were discovering their own muddy spray paint.  While my husband chopped wood for the last of the spring fires to boil sap, my children practiced chopping kindling.  While we hauled and raked, they rediscovered their beloved hiding places.  Work and play intertwined, children working hard at the important task of play. Spring is here!

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Our house, built long before we moved here, was constructed by a group of Franciscan monks who built it as an office next door to the building where they lived.  It is an interesting history for a house, but what we love most about it is that these monks built our house using passive solar design.

The clerestory windows just under the roofline keep the house full of light and warmth all winter long when the sun is low on the horizon.  The large roof overhang covers the windows just so that as the summer sun passes high overhead, the overhangs block direct sunlight keeping the house cool.  The design of our home is in harmony with the sun as it circles the sky, which in many ways keeps us in harmony as well.

There is one window in our home that embodies this harmony and leaves us every spring equinox feeling like we live in Stonehenge.  You see, every spring equinox the sun sets in this window casting a blinding light down through our entire house for about 15 minutes.  It only happens for about 3-5 days surrounding the equinox.  We make sure we are home each night that week to stand in the blinding light and celebrate the beginning of spring.

The equinox window is above the woodstove

I can't say whether the placement of that window was intentional or not, but given how our home and the sun are constantly in harmony, I like to think the intention was there.  As I watched the sun stream through the house with such intensity tonight, I thought of the monks and our friends who lived here before us. I couldn't help but feel incredibly grateful for those who built this house and all of the history these walls hold.  I thought of each of them standing in this same light on the spring equinox and being bathed in the promise of the season to come.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

best pancakes ever.

In continuing to celebrate sugaring season, I thought I would share a recipe for the best pancakes ever.  It's no exaggeration.  If you've ever stayed as an overnight guest with us, there is a good chance you've eaten these cakes and can attest to that claim yourself.  There is a long-winded tale of how I came to hold this recipe, but I will spare you that.  This recipe was given to me and I have shared it with others on small scraps of paper, the backs of receipts, and on postcards.  Twice, I have lost it and in a panic called one of the holders of those random scraps only to have it dictated back to me....whew!  I thought I would post it here so that you and I know there is a place we can always come back to find it.

This is no health recipe; no gluten-free, grain-free, nutrient-packed anything.  Just good ol' buttermilk pancakes.  While this is not a cooking blog, I thought I would share a few tips I learned from my days managing a bed and breakfast to help you make the perfect pancake.

  • Start with a hot griddle or pan. Test the heat with a few drops of water. When the water dances across the pan, your griddle is ready.
  • After you've poured your batter, wait until bubbles form throughout the pancake before flipping.
  • Flip your cakes only once. No back and forth, back and forth flipping.
  • Never, never squish your pancake with your spatula.  It may be tempting with these pancakes as they are thick, but you end up with dense cakes, rather than fluffy ones.

And without further ado:

Best Pancakes Ever.
serves 4-6

1/4 lb     butter (melted)
3              eggs
1/4 C      vanilla extract
2 C          buttermilk
2 1/2 C  flour
1/8 C     sugar
2 1/2 T  baking powder
1/4  T    salt

In a small bowl mix together your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. While the quantities for baking powder and salt may seem bulky, I assure you they are correct. Mix well and set aside.
In a large bowl beat your three eggs, add melted butter, vanilla, and buttermilk.  Mix very well.
By hand*, mix your dry ingredients into your wet, careful to not over mix.

The batter will be thick and will rise as it sits, so make sure you start with a large bowl.  The batter can be made the night before. Store it covered in the fridge, which lets it continue to rise.  We use a 1/4 C to spoon the batter out.  Because the batter is thick, you may want to spread it out after you've poured it on your griddle.  The cakes will continue to rise while they cook, so expect a thick pancake. Because they are thick, spread your batter and let them cook thoroughly on both sides.

Happy sugaring season!

*An inside joke for my mom and sister and anyone who has had to endure the "mix by hand" tale.


When we lived in Colorado, the gardeners at our community garden told us to plant greens on St. Patrick's day.  This seemed crazy to me, sheer madness.  At the time, I couldn't figure out why I struggled to accept their wisdom. Now that I have been firmly back in New England for seven years and this is what St. Patrick's Day looks like here this year,

I can fully understand why I was hesitant to think putting seeds in the ground in March was a good idea.

Seven years we have been back and I think this is the time of year I love the most. Winters can be hard here, this one was. But as soon as you feel the turning of the corner into spring, you feel like anything is possible. Spring can feel like a hard-earned gift. I love this time of year; I love the return of the birds' song and the squish of the dirt road beneath my feet as it is softened by the sun and melting snow.  I love the familiar plink, plink, plink of sap dripping into a metal pail, the sweet sounds of sugaring season.

We have been sugaring for seven years on a very small scale and while some years it might not seem worth all of the effort, if you have never had real maple syrup, I can tell you it is definitely worth it.  You see, I hail from the Chicago suburbs, where the syrup of my childhood came from plastic bottles with images of log cabins, filled with maple flavoring.  I am embarrassed to say I had no idea as a child that maple syrup came from trees, and so you could bet my children would.  Each year as the sun shines longer and warmer and the snow begins to melt, we tap our maples and our kids enjoy the splendors of living in a magical place where sugar flows from the trees. We gratefully collect it in buckets and boil their sap on our wood stove, making our house, for two weeks of the year, smell like Candyland.

sap buckets

sap starting to cook down on the woodstove

New Englanders, avert your eyes, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do

finishing the syrup off on the stove

the kitchen is transformed into a steamy sugar shack

our first batch

I love this time of year, feeling the transition from winter to spring, and all of the magic that comes from sugar and mud.  While I would be lying if I didn't say planting seeds this St. Patrick's Day sounds a little bit like magic of it's own, I'll happily take the magic I am gifted right where I am.

There is magic everywhere.  What are the gifts of the season where you are?