On Bees & Bread

I thought maybe the isolation offered by universal quarantine would bring blogging back as a cultural trend. But after two months of 24/7 life at home, I realized this is not happening. Reading blocks of text (even when interspersed with pictures) is very early 2000s and our attention spans are roughly the length of a TikTok video. And then there is the fact that we are all too busy in isolation. Freaking out and fighting over available virus information/disinformation, trying to do our jobs and manage online schooling, and baking sourdough bread all take a lot of time. So the anticipated cultural revitalization of blogs hasn’t happened. That said, I would like to start posting again.

Happening Now

Lots of farming-related activity is going on. Bread-making, growing food, and new this year: bee-keeping. As Benjamin Franklin cautioned, I have a beehive…if I can keep it. That’s not precisely the quote but it is in the general spirit of the enterprise.

I am excited about the bees. A little too excited, my kids might say, as my moods swing in accordance with whether or not the hive seems to be thriving. But I have good reason to be nervous: apparently, keeping the hive alive and in good health is on par with keeping our Constitutional Republic alive. Basically, I have the same job as Congress. Even so, I was feeling pretty good about everything related to the bees before I heard about the murder hornet. This two-inch long protein-eating nightmare has descended upon Washington State and is munching its way across the continent, one beehive at a time.

Sourdough Bread

In a gut-level anticipation of a pandemic, I became wound up a few years ago about making my own wild yeast and taking charge of my own destiny through bread. It took me a while (a long while) to really get cranking, but now I’m as weird as the rest of the internet about sourdough bread. I’ve had some massive failures along the way, and I still don’t score fancy patterns into the top of my bread in the way that is Instagram-worthy, but I make the bread and we eat the bread and I smell the tangy, weird smell of my starter once a day and feel a rush of emotion. I don’t understand it but there you are.

Homestead Viewing

Like millions of other people, I watch videos about tiny houses by the trailer-load. I also watch a few over-the-top farm ladies on a regular basis. Why I like the suggested resources: because each of these people make it okay to care about farming and aesthetics, or minimalism and aesthetics. Having a simplified, countrified, even isolated lifestyle doesn’t mean you are surrounded by junk. In fact, it means the opposite. A few of my favorites:

 

 

 

Handmade: A Foraged Wreath

This past weekend we headed into the woods across the street from our house to find all the elements for a holiday wreath, one that we would source locally, in current parlance. We found white pine, spruce, laurel and moss. I wanted to find some vines, as I’m convinced I’ve spotted wild grapevines in our local woods, but we ran out of luck. And patience, more accurately. And I confess to spending much of my foraging time sitting on a smooth granite rock listening to the shouts of my family as they spread out through the woods. At one point I found myself flat on my back staring up at a blue late Autumn sky with sea gulls flying overhead. I entered the sort of stupor the holidays always bring on — and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. So I lowered my sights and decided to settle for what we had, without the vines.

I discovered one of those universal truths in this whole process: making a wreath is difficult.  My oldest child, who started hounded me to make the wreath approximately one second after we collected all the greens, abandoned me 10 minutes into the project — he was even more shocked than I was at how laborious it was — and I was left to my own devices. (I should mention, in the spirit of full disclosure, that my oldest kid is only five, but whatever. He clearly lacks stick-to-it-iveness.)  The whole time I was wrestling with the wire frame that I had to make before I could even get to the fun part, I kept imagining those holiday sweatshops up in Maine, where rows of workers churn out wreaths by the thousands, the same wreaths that retail for $8 at our local hardware store. Yes, you read that right. Eight. Dollars. So why was I doing this again? I suppose because I want to start creating some traditions that involve something more than just slapping a credit card down on the counter and walking out of a store with an armful of instant Christmas. I’m not much of an idealist, but I have been idealizing the tradition of a family we know, where they invite people over the Saturday after Thanksgiving to eat Indian pudding and drink mulled cider and make their holiday greens in a bout of communal creativity. The host family puts out all the tools: wreath frames, clippers, scissors, wire, ribbons, piles and piles of greens, and a bunch of people stand around a crackling fire making wreaths. It’s wonderful, like a Martha Stewart photo shoot without all the intimidation. This year’s wreath is a stepping stone to a better day when I will host a hot-chocolate chugging crowd of friends making multiple wreaths, gazing with benevolence at all I behold, the holiday angel at my shoulder.

The wreath I made turned out to be a little rugged, with handmade looks, clearly created by a wreath novice, but the finished product gives me a sense of satisfaction and a sense of place, reminding me, very specifically, of where we live, with the greens, moss, birch twigs and laurel a direction extension of our own backyard. Even the five-year-old liked it, in the end. And that’s really all you can hope for.

The haul

The process.

 

The wreath.

 

 

Interiors: Tartan Walls

Many years ago I saw an image of a house decorated entirely in tartan, and it stayed with me in the best possible sense. I’ve been determined to pay homage by recreating the look in our upstairs landing, a tiny space that provides just enough room to make a decision about which of the three directions you’ll take at the top of the stairs. So by creating such a high-volume look in this area, I could get maximum impact for minimum input, decoratively-speaking.

Since nearly all the other walls in our house are still awash in Builder’s Special white, I’m a little worried about the overwhelming experience of suddenly being confronted by a plaid wall, but, as I mentioned, I am determined to make this happen, regardless of the consequences. Sometimes you need to take the plunge, be bold, etc. etc. (By the way this is not universally-appropriate advice, no matter what Oprah says. It’s advice best applied to relatively harmless activities such as riding a single-gear bike or eating tripe).

The walls that I remember from the article were papered in a dark blue plaid. I thought – briefly – about attempting to paint the walls myself. But when I looked online for plaid walls of the handpainted variety, this is what I found:

Caravene Showroom from 2008

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The Art & Drama of Handpainted Furniture

I love handpainted furniture. At least I think I do. I love it until I actually confront having a commission and then I panic. I used to paint furniture and all sorts of other pieces (floorcloths, shadowboxes, et cetera) for my store, and as previously mentioned, by commission. But then I grew tired of it. Really tired of it, so I stopped. But lately…

I was scrolling through some old images of pieces I painted long ago and actually felt a desire to take it up again. For me, the pendulum swings between attempting a refined, traditional handpainted style or trying for a more primitive, stylized look. And sometimes I like to go for something altogether more contemporary (read: trendy), when taking on a handpainting project.

It’s been impossible for me to settle on a single style. In fact, feeling as though I should develop a single style, a painter’s identity, so to speak (such as repeatedly painting florals on white bureaus), is what killed the love for me a few years ago.

So now I’m just going with the flow. Feel like attempting a Fitz Henry Lane-style meticulous marine scene? Okay! I’ll try that! Would I rather paint stylized trees rendered against an acid green? Sounds great! So while my ability to brand myself as a decorative painter with an identifiable style suffers (no small thing if I’m going to market my stuff), at least I don’t get so bored and frustrated that I want to crush my paints with my forehead and snap all my paintbrushes into tiny pieces. And that’s worth something, right?

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