Happify anyone?

I love to follow many different blogs through Feedly.  It's a great way for me to pretend to stay on top of the websites I mean to visit but don't really have the time to.  One of the sites I follow is called Tiny Buddha:  Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives.  It is a great place for me to go and spend 15 minutes when I start to feel overwhelmed with life and all of my commitments.  Simple comics such as this one make me laugh and remind me not to take life so seriously:

Do More, Do Less form Dharma Doodles

Recently, an advertisment on Tiny Buddha struck my fancy so I clicked and ended up at Happify, a site that utilized activites to “build your happiness skills”.  I signed up for a free trial just to see what is was all about, because all of us want to be happier, right?  From my initial first clicks, the site seems to employ a lot of the same techniques that cognitive behavioral therapy uses to change someone’s thought processes through exercises and building new habits.  Has anyone used Happify or something similar?  I’d be curious to hear about your experiences.

Apple Cider (or the memory of an older home)

Yesterday I spent the afternoon (and well into the evening) with my neighbor CL making apple cider.  We visited another neighbor that had two apple trees teaming with tiny little apples.  The trees had been planted sometime between 1900-1953 when her family settled in this little part of the range.  The trees are gnarled and beautiful with scars of old fires and lightening strikes and no formalized pruning regiment, just the yearly winds knocking down broken and dead limbs.


We gathered as many minimally bruised tiny apples from the ground below the trees and then filled the rest of our bags with the green and yellow ones from the branches above, sending down rains of apples every time we picked a tree-apple.  How many did we gather?  Something like this:  a cooler full + three 3-gallon buckets worth (and a bag of more rotten ones for CL’s goats).  One bucket went to the lady of the house who tells us a bucket full makes exactly 17 pints of apple butter.

But apple butter wasn’t what we wanted.  Former northern east-coast transplants CL and I share a not so secret longing, especially during harvest season. Fall is apple picking and cider making season in New England and Upstate New York.  Glorious memories of afternoons spent picking bushels macouns and macintoshes (among many other varieties) with the reward of a glass of unpasteurized apple cider and a cider donut.  My family never made their own, but there were plenty places around to get a gallon, starting in September through Thanksgiving.  Cider meant fall and apples and abundance.  It meant leaves turning red and orange and yellow; and the seasons changing and getting out those wool sweaters.  It meant sharing and spending time with family and friends.


So we went to work de-stemming and pulverizing tiny little apples in the vitamix and blender to a sauce-like consistency.  Failing to locate a cider or wine press, we struggled with how to press out the juice.  After a couple failed attempts of trying to push the entire pulverized contents of a 5 gallon bucket through an old pillow case, we ended up settling in to wring it by hand through some cheesecloth.  So a couple cups at a time we wrung and squeezed until the juice was extracted and we were left with dry, tasteless solids and the cloudy dark liquid cider.


It was 8:30 before we siphoned off the 4 ½ gallons into containers.


We took a few moments to savor the sweet-tart spicy taste of joy.  We quietly reminisced and spoke of the hard work to obtain this precious liquid.  When I took my leave, both of us agreed that this would be a tradition worth building and sharing in our adopted community.  Perhaps between the end of haying and the beginning of shipping season, a cider pressing potluck could be a way to celebrate the harvest and reflect on the coming season.



40 Things That Make Me Happy

These days it is so easy to get overwhelmed, tired, cranky. It seems everytime I turn around there is bad news or someone trying to rain on someone else’s parade.  I noticed that the past few weeks my usual optimism had taken a vacation and I was bottoming out.  I made the conscious decision to stop focusing on the negative and frustrating and work on gratitude and positive thoughts.  Then, while helping a friend, I sprained my ankle.  Now, I’m not known for my grace, but really?  After everything this year and now a sprained ankle (and no health insurance and a stick shift car) on my week at home.  Moped for a day and then realized that wasn’t helping so I decided to make a list of things that make me happy/laugh/smile.  After 5 minutes, I ended up with 40 items.  I’m posting them here so anytime I start going down cranky street, all I have to do is call up the website and see these.  What about you?  What makes you happy/smile/laugh?  Post in comments if  you’d like.

Fall in the Black Hills with Neko

  1. Dinner with D (especially when we make it together)
  2. Slow mornings
  3. Reading in front of the fire with a cup of hot tea
  4. Good cup of coffee
  5. Dessert
  6. Winter sunshine
  7. Summer rain
  8. The first tomato off the vine
  9. Skypeing with my sisters
  10. Playing with my nieces and nephews
  11. Going somewhere new
  12. Buffy or Firefly
  13. Water
  14. Wine and chocolate
  15. Backpacking
  16. Museums
  17. Libraries
  18. Baking
  19. Feeding people
  20. Musicals
  21. Cashmere and Merino Wool
  22. Fall leaves in New England
  23. New England apples
  24. The Oatmeal
  25. Douglas Adams
  26. Vanilla Ice Cream
  27. Potlucks with friends
  28. Visiting with family
  29. Clam Chowder
  30. The seashore
  31. Getting dressed up
  32. Beers at a pub with live music
  33. Classical concerts
  34. They Might be Giants
  35. Butternut Squash Ravioli
  36. Neko cuddling in bed in the morning
  37. Watching D think when he doesn’t know I’m watching
  38. Phone calls with Ms. B
  39. Big Bang Theory
  40. Packages in the mail

Illness and your soul’s work

Today I write as I recover from the flu or something similar that has forced me to slow down.  I often find myself getting physically ill about the same time I most need to be in control.  For example, this week I have: finished moving out of my apartment, scheduled work from home due to year-end closing insanity, a lot of reading and writing for school (and need to start working on the term paper), a house to clean and organize, thank you notes to finish, lots of gardening chores, and so on.  I don’t have time to be sick, or do I?  Do our bodies and minds know when we are pushing ourselves too much and therefore force us to shut down and concentrate on what is important?  Maybe so, maybe not, but the last 24 hours of sleep and intense focus on what I need to do to feel better is helping me regain focus on my goals and wants.

I subscribe to Lissa Rankin’s blog and today she had a blog post entitled: Are You Doing Your Soul’s Work.  It struck a couple of cords with me and so I took some time to do the exercises:  (A)  What are 5 things you’d like to do before kicking the bucket:  (1) Eat at French Laundry, (2) New Zealand extended backpacking trip, (3) Permaculture design course, (4) extended Maine coast vacation with family, (5) cooking classes in France or Italy.  (B)  What does I long to experience in this life?  to express in this life? Love, acceptance, nurturing. (C) What one actionable thing can I do this week to help experience and express ?  Breathe through the anger, frustration, sickness.  Act from a place of love, not fear.

What does this exercise have to do with anything?  Maybe nothing for you, for me, it jolts me into another set of questions, ones that I can’t answer:  Is it worth pushing and working so hard you make yourself ill, if you’re working toward something you believe in?  Is there anything wrong with wanting to do the best you can and not accept mediocrity, even if it is at the cost of your well-being?  Is it okay to have a life where you strive until you physically and mentally give out from exhaustion, take a couple days to recuperate, and keep going?  Does this type of cycle inherently make you stronger or weaker?  What do you think?

Tired….but things are looking up!

It has been weeks since the Fire and the wedding and I know I am due for multiple blog posts and information about… well, everything. Suffices to say a lot of changes have been happening behind the scenes. It will take some time for me to both process and figure out how best to take everything smooshing together in my brain and turn it into something I can write about. So, in the meantime I’m going to try to start posting about… well whatever comes to mind. I’m still not disciplined enough for regular posts but maybe that’s coming too.

I spoke of changes; two that have happened are graduate school and part time work.  I started graduate school and now am maintaining a blog for one of my classes (LOL): http://indiancreekbunkhouse.wordpress.com/.  Just to keep things confusing, I gave it the same name as this, although it’s called “Connecting out in the Hills” and will be focused mainly on school assignments and how rural communities continue to communicate and maintain relationships in the electronic age.  I am also now only working every other week at my NPS job (still a lot of hours but only away from home every other week).  The fires did damage the ranch and I want to be able to be available to rebuild and do what I can to help.  It’s hard to do anything from 160 miles away.  Luckily, I have supervisors and family who are working with me on both ends to make this work for everyone.  The upside on this is that I get to spend a lot more time in the place I love learning how to run a ranch and having energy jump into projects.  The downside is less actual income and having to give up health insurance (I know this is going to illicit a lot of responses and it is a blog post that I will write about in the future).  It’s the right decision for now, allowing me to continue to do the work I love with my NPS family and friends AND the work I need to learn with my extended family and friends on the ranch.

To conclude this post, here’s what’s happening right now.  There’s a fire east of us that D has gone to help a neighbor with.  Hopefully it’s small and with just a little help can be put out or controlled.  Another reminder that winter is still a ways off and that we still need rain.  It’s really easy these days to get depressed and overwhelmed and tired.  I want to share one place I go to find inspiration and hope:  http://www.ted.com/talks .  One of my favorites is Nancy Etcoff’s The surprising science of happiness .  Check it out!

Check out Flown the Coop Blog

My friend Emily has a collective blog that I also try to post to from time to time.  It is called Flown the Coop:  A collective and can be found at http://flownthecoopcollective.com.

Flown the Coop (v1.1) is an informal collective based in Wyoming, USA. We share skills, knowledge, goods, and good times. The initial emphasis of this website is to create a place where the group can contribute what we know, what we thought we knew, and to provide insights and inspiration for projects. We also share our adventures and what we’ve learned (even if it was the hard way).”

Come and check it out for ideas, inspiration, and community!

Postnote:  My forays into making Mascarpone cheese was one of my recent posts: http://flownthecoopcollective.com/2012/03/31/homemade-mascarpone-cheese/

One more thing off the list.

Invitations are finally sent after a long process of deciding we (a) weren’t going to buy them from a manufacturer (excuse me, $3 for an invite?) and (b) we weren’t going to make every piece of the invite by ourselves.  We did the conceptualizing, printing and assembly over a couple weeks and we’re pretty thrilled with how they ended up.

For all you crafty people out there, we manufactured them with seed paper (from the Seed Paper People out of Colorado:  http://www.bloomin.com/), vellum, twine, and our printer.  Originally we were going to make our own seed paper.  We prototyped a couple sheets before realizing that if we wanted to send these out before the wedding we would have to forego doing everything ourselves.  We came up with the design through multiple edits and help from friends and family.  The drawing is a photo of our home that we sketched over with tracing paper and scanned.  We then printed out the text on vellum and attached the vellum to the seed paper with some twine.  The result surprised both of us in being an invitation that was personal and something we both loved.  We choose not to include RSVP cards and instead ask people to contact us directly.  For out of town guests, we included some specific directions on an additional sheet of cardstock attached to the back of the invite.  We also included direction on how to plant the seed paper.

A couple of afternoons of construction

And more of addressing gave us a hefty stack to send:

It was definitely time consuming to do all this ourselves, but it was actually kind of fun to just sit and construct.  We used the time to talk… about more wedding plans of course, but also of our other hopes and dreams, frustrations and complications, and to share stories.  And now we have another fabulous memory to add to the stories about us.

Postnote:   A few of these have already gotten lost in the mail or returned to us because of wrong or outdated addresses, so please let us know if you haven’t received one and were hoping to come.

9-grain cereal no knead bread


I’ve done a lot of experimenting with no knead bread over the last couple of years.   It’s a great way to make good tasting bread with minimal work. Last weekend I played with the typical recipe (that I purloined from one of my favorite blogs: Onestrawrob’s Cranberry Pecan Bread: http://onestrawrob.com/?p=1755). Using Rob’s recipe as a base, I’ve made a lot of different versions of no-knead bread. This time I had some of Bob’s 9-grain cereal and decided to see how that would work. Here’s what I did:

4 cups water, room temp

4 cups whole wheat flour (I love Wheat Montana Prairie Gold)

3 cups white flour (once again Wheat Montana makes a great all purpose)

1 cup 9 grain cereal

½ tsp dry yeast

½ tsp sea salt or 1 tsp kosher salt

3 Tbsp honey (optional)

Mix water, flours, and cereal together in large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Let sit for 10 minutes (this is called autolyzing which allows starches and gluten to expand and fully absord water, it’s not a necessary step but I like doing it with most of my bread recipes as I like the results-high rise).

Add in yeast and mix well. Sit for 3-4 minutes.

Add salt and honey and mix.

Dough will be very sticky. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and put it in a coolish (60-70 degrees) place for 12-18 hours. Or leave out for a couple hours and put in refridgerator for up to 36 hours (If you do this, make sure it comes to room temperature before moving onto step 5.)

Dump out dough on a floured surface and roll/press flat, removing excess CO2 from the dough. Then form it into a ball and let it rest 15 minutes.

Do a second press and form the dough into a loaf (you can do this free form or loaf pan). I like to put it on floured parchment paper at this time so it can be moved easily into it’s vessel.

Let the dough rise for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, about 30 minutes out, Preheat oven to 450 F and place covered container (pyrex, dutch oven, bread cloche) inside oven to heat up.

After dough has risen and oven is at 450 , remove baking dish to stovetop and move dough into the hot baking dish (this is where having it on parchment makes it super easy to move).

Cover, put back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the cover, reduce heat to 425 and bake for another 15-25 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the crust is hard and deep golden brown.

Cool for as long as you can, at least 10 minute. Remember the bread is still baking at this time and cutting into it will cause steam to escape and may lead to doughy centers. Take this time to gather any topping you want for the bread (I personally love unsalted butter and some homemade jam) and to make yourself a cup of tea.

Enjoy a couple minutes of peace and luxury as you bite into the bread and sip your tea. Be in the moment.

This recipe makes a large family size free-style loaf or two loafs in a loaf pan. If you don’t have a covered container or want to make this in a loaf pan, no worries; just cover using aluminum foil… the bread crust will turn out softer and the crumb tighter than if you steam the bread using a closed container.

There you have it. The bread was a pretty tight grain and dense but definitely good eating. Next time I may reconstitute the cereal before with ½ cup to 1 cup of water and add that to the rest of the flour and water. By adding the cereal dry, I could definitely pick out bits of grain. Or if you have leftover cooked grain cereal, this would be a great way to use it up. I’d also like to try adding an additional cup of the grains and cutting down the white flour to 2 cups.





Shoshone River Hikes

It’s been a little while since I wrote, but after returning to the apartment after a nice afternoon hike with my friend Emily, I felt inspired for a short entry.  We headed out to Cody, WY to take her pups on a mild hike near the Shoshone River.  

It was a blustry Wyoming day with temperatures in the 50s but the wind made it seem a lot colder! Winter has yet to give up its hold on our neck of the woods, but there are signs of Spring everywhere.  Ducks were playing in the river and there were patches of green showing through the sagebrush.

We did two short hikes: the Paul Stock Nature trail and along the Shoshone Riverway trail. Check out Cody’s Parks and Recreation website to learn more: http://www.cityofcody-wy.gov/parks_recreation.cfm?id=30

Cloud Peak Wilderness 2

We woke up to the sound of mosquitos but took our time deconstructing camp. It was delicious having no concept of time. Note to all who hike with a dog: a two person tent becomes pretty tight with two full sized adults and a 35 lb dog! After a leisurely camp pack up, we continue to head up the trail, crossing a beautiful alpine valley.

Taking a couple minutes to check out an abandoned mine, my camera’s flash showed the deep hole that all of us almost walked into. Oops!

We crested Geneva Pass (10400 ft) and I hiked up to get a good view of the surrounding area. Wow! I had forgotten how much I love being at elevation, my body seemed to have endless energy- I wanted to keep bounding up all of the side hills to see what was on the other side. No disappointment there!

We spent the night at Lake Eunice where I worked on my fishing technique.

Neko was finally worn out, and we worried she might have overdone it as it was her first backpacking trip! She was limping all afternoon and wasn’t interested in playing her favorite stick or ball games. We started brainstorming ideas of how to pack her out and what we would need to ditch if she wasn’t feeling better by morning! It was a restless night, but we awoke to the warm sunlight trying to pierce through the tent’s heavy fabric. Another backpacker stopped in for a chat and Neko sprang to action for a game of stick. The little hound had completely fooled us and garnered hours of sympathy (and extra treats); we both felt silly for being such overprotective parents! After packing up, we choose to cross country to a beautiful little tarn for our last night in the mountains. More amazing views of Blacktooth, spongy marshes, and Neko was thrilled to find some snow to roll around in.

We arrived at the tarn with plenty of time to spare and vegged out for the rest of the afternoon, after all it was our last night before heading back to the real world.