A Passion for Trees: Judi Dench

IMG_20171204_121510.jpg

The lovely cedar tree — not one I see often in the near South, but one that “roots” me of my Pacific Northwest roots for their abundance in not only the general landscape but my yard growing up. Most of my childhood memories are set in my mind as either sunny or rainy, most likely an effect of the climate, but not in short-part due to growing-up experiences — suffice it to say, there was never a drought.

But the cedar, not the tallest among the trees but most assuredly one of the sturdiest for its pliability, reliable scent, little berries that can drunken birds into flying into windows and of course, their mid-tones of green. I’ve just read and only seen thus far the new BBC One program featuring Dame Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees. In the clip making its way around social media, Dame Judi shares a bit about the program and her six acre garden; the show will lead viewers into the life of trees — what is going on underground, under their bark and what looks to be, some super-cool scientific/electronic renderings. Oh to have that technology at my fingertips.

For me, several years of high school horticulture netted some interesting results. We had barely a quarter-acre, but it boasted a row of these lovely cedars as a barrier to our busy road along with several 50-plus foot Douglas Firs. Our cedars were of the Western Red variety, which adds a brickish-red undertone to the multi-hued green needles. During the holidays, I could mass produce projects for class within a five-minute jaunt outside. Need a wreath? Pop out to the yard. Building a yule log? Pop out to the yard. An aged holly bush in addition to this mini-forest of evergreens added the holiday red adornment that every wreath-buyer wants. Now, I’d incline away from this as I favor the layering of the shades of green as I miss it so in my current deciduous landscape.

What strikes me about Dame Judi’s show from its clips is the focus on the life of trees — for me this life, while distinct from human, cannot be removed from human experience. Trees serve our memories in ways that I believe, we cannot yet fully imagine — the cedar is constant for my sunny-side memories: first romp in the yard alone, the feeling of freedom and confidence to nestle alone in the woods, as a profit-making partner, as a solace when nothing else was right in the world. I hope the program will explore the joint existence of human and tree — we all know that nature provides the buoy to health, but the absolute necessity of the bond, is worth exploration.

These boots, downtown?

IMG_20180104_151735.jpgThese boots are size 10 Keens — purchased at REI several years ago when we still lived in the often damp Pacific Northwest. At the time I was trying to replace nearly 20 year old hiking boots that I’d purchased in the Northwest, hiked parts of the Pacific Crest Trail in, taken these same boots east and hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail in. But those old boots, just could never be replaced and when the sales staff that day in REI told me these new Keens were so stylish I could wear them downtown, all I could wonder is, where on earth are these boots downtown appropriate? While these Keens fit well and seemed to fill a rain/snow need (at the same time making my feet look monstrously huge), in no way were these “downtown” much the same as my aged hikers were not “downtown” — I’m no slave to fashion, but I do have my boundaries.

It’s odd what can be wrapped up in footwear, aside from feet and socks. For me, shoes are m go-to purchase for a seratonin rush that covers all sorts of ailments — from the need for beauty in my life, to the times when current clothing styles and my body don’t match — I can always find shoes. While my style has changed over the years (walking in heels on escalators isn’t happening in 2018 or beyond), my shoes are where my memories rest. So the thought of wearing rugged, somewhat nondescript Keen black boots downtown — unless there is a major snowstorm — was unfathomable. Downtown is lights, work, ready, look great — not slothic, cumbersome (albeit lightweight) and clunky. Even in bad weather, it took awhile for me to transition to these Keens from my sportier (and prettier) hikers of yore. I went so far as to purchase high quality insoles for those oldsters, and hot glue them into the shoe bed (not recommended) to somehow extend their life. Hot glue and socks don’t mix, just an FYI.

But now during Bombogenesis, cyclonic snowstorm of the decade, I have a new appreciation for my Keens — hours in low digit temps combined with bamboo socks and I’m nothing but toasty. Keens are the workhorse of boots — these boots will not let you down, will not leak, will not allow you to suffer when you are the sole shoveler of snow in your household because your working-at-home husband is on a day-long conference call. You can sweep off those cars, sprinkle that snow-melt and tromp to the open coffee shop for hot chocolates with your kiddo, no problem. Downtown these boots will never be, and these shall never replace my old hikers, but they are the future…the workboots for work I didn’t anticipate.

Those old hikers? Yes, I’ve moved them again. And I want to build a shadowbox for them — my love for these laces, swoops and divits will never die. Five cross country moves, and counting…

IMG_20180105_063944.jpg

 

 

Hygge, Hearts and the Solstice

IMG_20171205_131721.jpgLast year the New Yorker named 2016 as the year of hygge — the Danish tradition of “getting cozy” during the winter months; for those of us with Danish and other Nordic roots, hygge — and open faced sandwiches are routine parts of the winter holidays and that the New Yorker, is sort of way behind. Candles and wool socks, warm rice pudding and pea soup are not a new things, and in fact, many of us grew up this way — along with grandparents with accents from all of the Scandinavian countries (hygge is not limited to Denmark). The idea of hygge is one of comfort — in both the environment around us, and in our own skin — which sometimes craves wool, snowflakes and soup. Hygge is not a fad, but an emphasis on the beauty of the soul and our relationship to nature; there is never bad weather, but there can be the wrong outerwear.

So to kick the hygge season off, here are a few of my favorite things:

Danish Sandwiches or Smorrebrod : during cozy times, it’s important to eat well — sandwiches offer creativity, variety and fresh flavors — and the opportunity to gather friends and family to partake in preparation. More on sandwiches from Serious Eats for further ideas on how to concoct delicious creations. Of note: if you’re looking for an excellent, and easier-than-roasting-a-20-pound-bird Thanksgiving, consider smorrebrod with a turky-ish and cranberry flair. We went this route this year, and a total success — amongst our variety we included a turkey (chicken works well) salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, honey and mustard resting atop a rustic sourdough cranberry bread, lightly toasted, with plenty of Finlandia butter as a base. Always open-faced, always use a knife and fork.

Juleharter = Danish woven hearts: a quick tutorial and template from the site Bits of Ivory. Red and white are the traditional color scheme, but going a little rogue is okay. Scandinavian holiday decorations lean towards the natural with use of materials such as wood, wheat, wool and of course these hearts which may adorn trees filled with treats or as a simple exchange with a friend. Legend has it that Hans Christian Andersen invented this simple woven treasure — like Santa, this is a legend I think is worth embracing.

Aebelskiver – round, ball-like pancakey donuts: a little trickier than sandwiches and a special pan is needed to create these treats, or a weeknight dinner or brunch in the winter months depending on how you choose to fill them. This recipe is excellent, but I simply use pancake mix and modify — whether with jam filling, ricotta, bacon or really any ingredient that is choppable and droppable into the batter in the aebelskiver pan. Tip: us a wooden skewer (kabob) stick to turn the sometimes wiley rounds of batter — this will take practice, and is totally worthwhile once you’ve conquered the pan and there is no smoke simmering from your stove. Do not use any cooking spray on this pan, unless a black tinge is something you crave with pancakes.

Bokaflod or Julebokaflod: book flood i.e. buy books and read books for the holiday season. This is an Icelandic tradition and most publishers there issue all their new releases in November to get folks ready to celebrate; and if you’re going to pursue hygge — a stash of books purchased for or during the holiday season, then you’re half-way to sandwich making. Think — a mug of strong coffee, a few butter (spritz) cookies, a few candles (pine or balsam scent) your brand new woolen socks and perhaps a high-performance fleece — a fire and now your stack of reading material. You’ve now achieved hygge nirvana.

As the solstice approaches — remember the outerwear — get yourself outside and enjoy the natural world, as there is no better way to begin to understand the majesty and wonder that abounds when darkness merges to light.

Happy Hygge!

p.s. don’t forget to post a few gnomes!

IMG_20171204_140355

 

 

You can take the girl out of the rain…

IMG_20171116_075658...but you can never take the rain out of the girl. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, rain is a constant; we have 90 ways of describing the gray-ness that envelopes the city, lowlands and coasts — and the words differ depending on your location. In my current near-South location, autumn is rapidly coming to a close and yet, the sun still shines — and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the sun, but I miss the life-giving force and comfort of the rain, despite the fact that when I live in the Northwest I must seek the healing power of acupuncture and high-intensisity lights to work through my seasonal depression. When I find neighbors still watering their lawns here, I’m aghast at the wastefulness — for in such a dry climate, how could one use this precious water for such luxury, when we have no idea when next we’ll see it in the sky? If my skin is so parched that no amount of water consumption or moisturizer makes a dent in my appearance or well-being, how must the land feel? It doesn’t take much historical reading to learn that crop failure is routine in the Mid-Atlantic due to weather conditions — early writings of Thomas Jefferson amongst other historical figures clearly indicate the financial boom and ruin of the region based on rain’s presence or absence.

As a Northwesterner, you learn as a child that rain and then snowpack define your level of water-usage throughout the year — no rain and no snow indicate “hold back” and most folks I knew growing up never watered their lawns — this obvious waste of a natural resource was forbodden. You learn to crave the rain, even when it causes traffic snarls, afternoon letheragy (an abundance of caffeine and chocolate cures exist to assist) and an obsession with the latest fleece styles. I suppose it’s possible that those of us that grew up with constant water in the sky are both blessed and cursed with the love of mist, dew, drizzle, sprinkle, downpour (usually only during November i.e. many famous Thanksgiving Day storms), pineapple express, el nino, el nina — and the list goes on. According to The Weather Channel, most PNW cities have less than five days per year with more than one inch of rain — but it rains at minimum, 150 days per year. To compare, New York receives about the same amount of average rain — but 30 more dry days (120 or so wet ones).

As the season of Advent unfolds, thoughts of light, darkness and shades between allow a bit of time for ponderance. Does my ever-watering neighbor continue in their pursuit of a lush lawn because their faith is stronger than mine? It’s a question worth asking, because my faith generall falls to go-slow, ponderous yet sporadic methodology. Does their watering timer provide the comfort of knowing that moisture, will be restored and that light will always follow darkness? Is my lack of watering, a lack of faith that the skies will once again open to reveal both skin and land-saving drizzle or even all-out stormdrain clogging, fat, lucious drops of what we Northwesterners call liquid sunshine?

This I know — I now dream in rain, because it is missing from my soul — the same rain that often tortures me, is part of me — it allows me a freedom that endless sun and heat do not. Rain provides the mental and intellectual respite for which sun is the opposite — sun drives, it does not rest. So until I return to greener roots…

 

 

Finding Etsy Again

IMG_20171007_124737.jpgI was an early Etsy adopter, at least I think I was — as a new mom I was looking for ways to still take a few photos, and maybe even sell a few. Yes, photography is inherently difficult to sell; but it also provided a little time away, outside, as I figured out my new professional life and what that even meant. The challenge with Etsy, okay one challenge for me, was finding a way to market items and keep a stock of photos that were printed, matted, and ready-to-ship or sell at local shows — the investment alone was daunting. It became clear at my last craft show, when a lady with homemade pickles was selling more than I, that maybe this whole deal was not for me — a Property Brothers moment of realism with the sunshine rays radiating out from my head. I needed a plan, a direction, a different market than competing with the pickle lady (make no mistake, I do genuinely enjoy pickles).

Fast forward nearly seven years — still no real plan. But, Etsy has evolved like most technologies and today offers the option to sell digital downloads — yet another aha moment when I discovered this glory. After a chunk of time away, I’m back — and hopeful. The market for photography of any kind is brimming over with talented photographers — my few photos are just a blip on the screen. But this option, the digital world option, streamlines my own process — and that’s all I will be focused on; yes, there are more talented photographers, much the same as there are writers whose skills and talents surpass mine when it comes to both prose and teaching. My plan has evolved from trying to learn how to produce a supply chain, albeit sporadically which doesn’t lend itself to success, tp focusing simply on the photos I love myself and sharing them on the Etsy platform. If I simply brighten someone’s day with my colorful posts – super; if someone is moved to puchase and download a photo to keep that feeling alive, double super.

My shop name remains Northwest Flora as I lived in the Pacific Northwest when I began this photo journey in 2010. Visit me: northwestflora.etsy.com for a dose of color in the coming days as we head to the darker part of the year.