natural living

WORKS OF THE HOME: TRIMMING SILLS + A LOOK AHEAD

 
child in front of a brick house in autumn by samantha spigos
heirloom pumpkins and dent corn autumn in ohio by samantha spigos

Can someone go back in time and tell fifteen-year old Samantha that twelve years later her favorite outdoor chore would be sweeping the sidewalk? The shock of that news might have helped me appreciate the countless hours I worked in the tiny, sweltering dish pit of my uncle’s restaurant. It was work that was broken up by one of two other tasks: sweeping the mayflies off the outdoor tables, or sweeping the parking lot. I could not conceive why a person would sweep the ground outside. Now look at me: chomping at the bit to take my hand broom and tidy the cement. Our house boasts a weathered, glorious sandstone step at both doors. Beyond the simple pleasure of imagining my mom as a child sitting on these very steps, they can get, as the name suggests, quite sandy. With Autumn comes sand and twigs and leaves, oh my! Talk about a small-town broom-loving bumpkin’s dreamscape. So, yeah, things are pretty exciting around here.

seasonal bouquet of local flowers in a vase by samantha spigos

Fortunately for you, this blog is intended for slightly more interesting subject matter than How To Sweep The Ground. And more than the big impact of a front door wreath, I want to mention the small thrill of trimming your windowsills. I don’t need to tell you I love flowers. They make an ordinary moment feel bountiful. But it doesn’t end there. Adding a small something to a windowsill or a front door—something discovered or once living outdoors—is a lovely, tiny way to enliven your day. We Ohioans are unbelievably blessed with natural bounty, from the trees to the agricultural capacity to the Great Lake just north of us. If you take three steps outside, you can find something. Here are a few easy suggestions for your consideration next time you’re brooming your sandstone step and thinking, gee, that window could use something.


A few ways to bring natural whimsy to your windowsills . . .

+ Flowers. (It bears repeating.)
Did you know wildflowers grow wild? And that certain weeds are lovely? Put a few in a cup. Or, a sprig of herbs tied into a bundle and hung upside down to dry in a sunny window.

+ Shells and stones.
Collecting pretty rocks is not just for children. There is a way to keep them from ending up underfoot, and it’s called a lidded jar. I have many little collections, and they all live on a shelf in empty honey jars. I suspect a jar of beach glass in a windowsill would help you feel abundant. Scanned the beach and only found three pieces? Great, you’ve started a collection.

+ The humble acorn or pinecone.
Three of anything is a collection, and collections help to imbue meaning into a Thing. A handful of acorns in a small bowl, or three pinecones, can offer a bit of levity to an otherwise serious adult life. They are fun. And when you tire of them, toss them to the wind!

+ Beeswax your leaves.
Are the maple trees brilliantly colored where you are? Well, gather a handful. Warm some beeswax if you have it. (If you do not, you can acquire beeswax pellets for less than $10 online). Dip the leaves in the melted beeswax, shake off any excess, and lay on a piece of parchment paper to dry. Tie a string around the stems for a gorgeous garland that will last for months. (P.S. This is a perfect project to try with kids.) (P.P.S. If at all possible, dedicate a pot to beeswax + other crafting projects so you don’t have to worry about cleaning it out. Goodwill is waiting and ready to sell you a 50 cent pot.)

hand knitted child vest by samantha spigos
pile of woolen diaper covers and small baby by samantha spigos

On another note . . .

I’ve been voraciously knitting for the cold season and the holidays, like a squirrel tucking away nuts, except the nuts are wool. I am excited to share more, especially a post about the beauty of the time-honored Christmas stocking (+ why you should love them, too). There’ll be a roundup of baby + child woolen bloomers/pants you might consider gifting this year. (I’ve tested them all.) I have half a mind to do a few gift guides in the coming weeks — roundups of thoughtful products, books, children’s toys, etc. that I stand behind. This blog isn’t much for comments, but if you are a long time reader or new and intrigued, would you be so kind as to comment if gift guides would be of interest to you?


—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

WORKS OF THE HOME: LINE DRYING

 
windowsill
hanging laundry

When I think about clothes drying on the line, two particular memories come to the forefront of my mind. The first, when as a small girl I would look out our kitchen door and see soaking wet pool towels strewn every whichaway on the line. The towels took days to dry because my siblings and I would drag them into the water with us, the reason unknowable. Bless our mom for schlepping our ten pound towels from the pool to the clothesline, summer after summer. (And while we're at it, bless every mom, everywhere.) My second memory is the first time I smelled the garments that had baked on a line under the hot Greek sun. Mark and I spent the summer after college living in Porto Rafti, Greece with his dad and Greek side of the family, and it was there that I fell in love with the art of line drying. And it is an art—just look at the socks on an Amish clothesline, or the number of garments deftly hanging from apartment windows in Europe.

When works of the home feel artful, they are less Chore and more Cheer. I might go so far as to claim line drying as my most restorative choice of summer, though it must contend against bread baking, ocean swimming, and peach eating. Instead of feeling worn down by the fast pace of the season, or melancholy knowing it will soon be time to make way for a new one, might we all sink a little deeper into restorative acts, however small. You know what your mind, body, and soul needs. If you need a bit of guidance, might I suggest line drying? Below are a handful of ways to do so (even if you inhabit a 100 square foot third floor apartment). Happy dog days, friends.


a handful of ways to go about line drying:

for indoor use —
+ This small floor rack is an economical option for drying just a few things.
+ Erin shared a great post about wall-mounted drying racks for tiny spaces.
+ We use one similar to this for kitchen towels, woolens, undergarments, and airing out denim.

for outdoor use —
+ This entire page is chock full of outdoor solutions to fit your situation. Most are USA made.
+ We installed this kit and dug a post to mount it onto, though it could easily go between two existing structures. (See ours in action with cloth diapers, with sheets, and with a smelly raincoat.)
+ You can tie a thin rope from one tree to another. Voila, a clothesline. We did this very thing outside Pink Cameron.

for if you are loyally devoted to your electric dryer* —
+ Ditch the dryer sheet.
+ The prettiest wool dryer balls I've laid my eyes on.
+ The uses for clothespins are truly endless. In a pinch I used one as a hair clip.

*It never helps to be a zealot, and I want to be transparent about our practices. We use our electric dryer roughly half the time in the summer, and 100% of the time in the winter, though I intend to change that this winter. We are actively working towards drying the majority of our things outside, but all in good time. And we have yet to figure out how to line dry Rosemary's prefold diapers without them feeling too stiff. If anyone has suggestions, please do share.

laundry line 2
sedum
back garden 2

—S

BITTERSWEET | AN UNEXPECTED HONEY HARVEST

 
honey-jars

Our honeybees swarmed. That is to say, they left. We knew what we were getting into when we became beekeepers—we have read all about Colony Collapse Disorder, and we have heard our beekeeping mentor talk about how he continues to lose half of his hives each year. But none of that prevented our chests from tightening the way they did when we walked up to a silent hive early last week. It didn't change the feeling of sorrow we felt upon realizing what had happened. It didn't silence the persistent thoughts that we had failed as beekeepers in our mission to help save the bees.

Needless to say, our catchphrase "I can't wait to not be a first-year beekeeper" still rings true.

strainer-with-honey-dripping
cleaning-mason-jars
table-ready-for-honey
honey-from-tap
honey-in-progress

As it turns out, honey helps. It helps a lot. 

We had initially feared losing our bees after a long, cold Ohio winter—at which point, they could have already consumed most or all of the honey that they had stored from the previous season. However, since they chose to swarm during this unusually warm month of November, they left us with a bounty of liquid gold. How very bittersweet.

Harvesting raw honey is a very slow, very sticky processlike most things beekeeping. Our friends at The Wholesome Hive were kind enough to let me occupy their home for an entire morning & afternoon, uncapping honey comb & extracting honey using their hand-cranked centrifuge. After much straining & draining, I returned home with a very heavy bucketful of honey. 

After spending a small fortune on mason jars, the final, unexpected & bittersweet harvest of our first season as beekeepers is complete. We haven't finished weighing our product, but we estimate there is somewhere between 40 - 50 lbs of honey sitting on our kitchen table waiting to be gifted, bartered, and consumed. Thank you, honeybees, for your generosity. Though our hearts are broken, our coffers are full. And we know that we will be better beekeepers next year.

In the words of Jack Kerouac: "Praised be honey at the source."

holding-jar-of-honey

—M