REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)

THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP, SANTA LUCIA, AND LITTLE DREAMS

 
Christmas Tree Chop Tiny Tree by Samantha Spigos

The tiniest tree we’ve had yet. Technically only part of a tree; a glorified branch, really. We found it among the lowly pile of “tree tops” relegated to the fence at the Christmas tree farm. So dainty, this tree, that Mark and I were able to forgo the tree wrapping and tie it to the top of my station wagon with ease. This was our fifth year to caravan out yonder for the Christmas Tree Chop, and the first year that no one actually chopped a tree. It was more of a wintry walkabout with hot cocoa and sledding. Turns out none of us could afford to chop a tree, and all the better. As grandma would’ve said, we are clear tickled with our tree.

If my absence here has been any indication, I’ve been finding it hard to share much publicly this year. Mark and I are still so fresh to parenthood. We opt not to share much about our daughter on the Internet, even if we would love for you to enjoy her gap teeth and scrunch face. As for everything else we pen about, we are in a very slow season. I don’t mean winter, though it has been plenty restful. I mean life. There is just . . . not much happening. I suspect it is not for naught. There are things that need tending in our relationship and hearts, and they must be mundane, silent things. (Ugh.) I trust God knows this better than we. Better put, I am trying to trust. We had grown accustomed to major change around every bend, our joint life seeming to always gain momentum. Then Autumn hit, and life slowed. Stalled, almost. We thought we were buying a farm, and when that did not come to pass, we resumed life as usual. The Big Dreams went to hunker down for a nice, long hibernation. Daily life was replaced with Little Dreams like baking cake again, like playing basketball again, like going to the Christmas tree farm again.

Christmas Tree Chop Sledding Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Rosemary Child by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Festive Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos

And then there is Nicholas. Guadalupe. Lucia. The feast days of December that punctuate the end of the year and bring greater meaning to Advent. We celebrate these saints and Our Lady as a family, joining the multitudes around the world who do the same. During an otherwise anticipatory season, these small celebrations are grounding, acting as a sweet reminder to take proper notice of the day at hand. Who came before us? What did it mean for the world? In a special way, I love Saint Lucia. She was an Italian girl who brought light and hope to Sweden, and now brings light and hope to me. We baked the traditional recipe associated with her feast day — lussekatter, or saffron buns — in all manner of traditional shapes: the lyre, the Christmas pig and horse, the golden wagon, the little baby, the hair of the priest (every kid’s favorite around here). Meanwhile, my mom sat on the floor and read aloud a story about her. There is something quite beautiful in watching a child at work in the kitchen. . . that is, if you can look past the constant sneaking of bites and patting down of perfectly risen dough. And really we ought to, because children teach us so much about how to appreciate Little Dreams, especially when you give them their own handful of dough.

Santa Lucia Day Baking Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Saint Lucia Day Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Santa Lucia Day Peg Dolls Saint Lucy Bernadette by Samantha Spigos
saint lucia day lussekater lucy buns by samantha spigos
saint lucia day lussekater family generations by samantha spigos
Saint Lucia lussekater lucy cats baking by Samantha Spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Lucia and Bernadette saint peg dolls.
+ We use the lussekatter recipe from this favorite book.
+ The pink pointy ear flap hat pictured above is a spectacular free knitting pattern.
+ Christmas Tree Chops of yore: 2017, 2016, 2015.
+ Last year’s Santa Lucia Day.


—S

BREATHING IN COLOR

 
Apple Orchard Ohio Organic Image by Samantha Spigos
Mushroom Natural Color Image by Samantha Spigos

Earlier in the Fall I picked up a book from the library for no reason other than the book jacket was covered in illustrated confetti, and I liked how it made me feel. What else are book covers for if not to be judged? The first chapter dove into how color impacts the human brain, and how we can take notice of it. For someone who considers herself attuned to the world around her, I sure had written off most colors. Suddenly, fuchsia made me feel happy, and golden ochres and caramels were all I wanted to wear. I picked out a red gingham apron with someone’s hand stitching on it at the antique shop, and when I wear it, I feel as if I’m donning a cape. I still love our calm and quiet bedroom, but now I understand that I gaze at the still-life painting above Rosemary’s changing table because the colors are invigorating and inviting. Simply put, it makes me feel good. Color is healing and life-giving. Our prehistoric ancestors understood that bright food indicated energy, and so our brains have been wired to be positively inclined towards color for its life-giving potential. (Something like that.) Taking notice of how color impacts my mental state was preparation for this season of hardship and healing. More on that.

Natural Dyed Wool Christmas Stocking Image by Samantha Spigos
Natural Dyed Wool Christmas Stocking Image by Samantha Spigos
Plants Are Family Print by The Far Woods Image by Samantha Spigos
Rainbow Soup by Brown Parcel Press and Sugarhouse Workshop Image by Samantha Spigos

Just a few months into the year, I sent a note to a woman named Jessica. Among other things, she makes quilts. She derives natural color from the plants and minerals that grow around her Vermont homestead, and uses those colors to dye cotton, silk, linen and wool. With a palette too beautiful to overstate, she makes quilts that are at once simple, and on the other hand deep and rich. It’s as though she grows her quilts like a plant from seed, watering and watching, but ultimately allowing it to grow on its own. Her quilts are agrarian by nature—a snapshot of the place, the plants, and the season. Naturally, I desired for Rosemary to have a piece of Jessica’s craft. That dream is coming true, and soon our little bunny will have her very own quilt. What I did not anticipate was the gentle, slow growing friendship between she and I. In a season of life that has not been without heartbreak and grieving — personally and especially worldwide — it feels ever more essential to rest in friendships; to work for justice while loving our families tenderly; to take notice of the color around us if for no other reason than because it’s beautiful. It might just be healing.

Native American Dent Corn Natural Color Image by Samantha Spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ The book that helped me love fuchsia.
+ Rainbow Soup, a set of four playful prints paying homage to natural color and quilting.
+ More about Jessica / Sugarhouse Workshop.
+ Plants Are Family print by two sisters working for justice and teaching us how to darn socks.
+ The knitting pictured above is my progress on Rosemary’s Christmas stocking, which I’m sharing about on Instagram using #RosemaryStocking. The red and green yarn is Wing and a Prayer Farm’s natural dyed (!) wool.
+ Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6th! (Find your voter polling place here.)


—S

WORKS OF THE HOME: CLOTH DIAPERING

 
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

If you ask me, there are too many ways to diaper a child. When left with myriad options, it’s hard to know which is the simplest, or the most suited to your lifestyle, and is there even such a thing as a best method? To say nothing of the names given to every specific style of diaper. Cloth diapering has become something of a culture — one that can inappropriately feel exclusive and expensive — but in essence is just one way to keep pee and poop from getting everywhere. While pregnant, we had the privilege of being able to consider the cost and the environmental impact of our decisions, but I recognize that not everyone can do that. My parents cloth diapered because it was the cheapest way. Now that we’ve established that a diapered tush and sane parents are what really matters, I want to offer the diapering system we adopted and have used with great ease since the day Rosemary was born. I will go so far as to describe diapering as a joy. (Edited to add: That’s not to suggest the contents are pleasant.) The method is very inexpensive in the long run and was affordable in the short run (our family income is under 30k, for reference). It uses natural fibers (just cotton and wool), and allows for usage beyond just diapers. And for any non-parents reading this post, the endless uses for prefold diapers might just convince you to buy a pack for your home.

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

In essence, our method is to use cotton “prefold” diapers, which are rectangles of gauze-y cotton, with a wool cover on top. It’s hard to overstate how exceptional wool is as a diaper cover. Fishermen and sailors living in the coastal regions of the world have rich histories of wool-wearing, because they needed something to keep them a) warm at sea, b) cool at sea, and c) dry at sea. Wool was the only match for the job. Sheep’s fiber is a renewable resource that is antimicrobial, temperature-regulating, and capable of absorbing liquid while at the same time wicking it away. I fell hard for wool when I became a knitter, but it wasn’t until I had a baby that I truly understood its incredible properties.

Rosemary was born a big baby with leg rolls to rival the Michelin Man. We initially set out to use plastic pants and microfiber covers over her prefold diaper, because they were graciously gifted to us (if you know much about modern cloth diapers, they are very pricey, checking in around $20-30 per diaper!), and we suspected they would work well. Pretty quickly Rosemary got red and irritated around her thighs. A combination of unbreathable material being too tight around her chubby legs. After a few weeks I invested in a wool cover (pictured below), and we have used the same cover every day of her life for nine months. I have washed it—wait for it—five times. And it does not smell. I repeat, we have used the same wool diaper cover every day, all day. . . for nine months. . . and I have washed it five times. . . and it does not smell. I don’t know of any other material capable of such a feat; not cotton, not silk, certainly not synthetics. In reality, there is much science to explain the properties of wool, but I prefer to think of and describe it as “the magic of wool.”

The simple, economical diapering method that we swear by . . .

for daytime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, if baby won’t be changed for several hours. (We generally don’t need to use one during the day.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool diaper cover.

for nighttime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, for extra absorption.
+ Wool liner, for keeping the diaper area warm through the night. (Cotton does not retain heat.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool pants as the diaper cover. (Used in hot and cold weather alike.)


Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

As for how to put on a prefold diaper, after a tiny bit of practice (and you will get practice), you’ll see it’s rather easy. (Green Mountain Diapers outlines several fold options in detail. Our preferred fold is “the twist,” pictured below.) Every baby is different, and not all skin types respond the same way to cloth diapers. This continues to work for us, in large part because of the simplicity and economical merit. If you are interested in cloth diapering, you might give this cotton + wool method a try. If questions arise, or if you have something I should know about, please do get in touch. In the next of this two-part blog series, I'll share about laundering and maintaining your cotton diapers and woolens. Here’s to you, baby-rearing/loving/diapering humans of the world!

And a few more uses for prefold diapers . . .

+ Burp cloths.
+ Breast pad at nighttime, for when you just cannot bear to wear a bra but want to avoid leaking milk on your top.
+ Dust cloths.
+ Cleaning up spills of any kind.
+ Handkerchiefs.
+ Laying under your naked baby.
+ Chopped up and put into the compost as fertilizer. (Cotton and wool will biodegrade, but preferably you’ll find an expectant mama who can make good use of them.)

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

—S