Solstice 2015: Gleaning meaning.


At 61, I realize that I'm still trying to find my comfort zone around the holidays. Growing up in a large working class Catholic family, my memories are mostly warm and fuzzy, including my Mom's selection of Christmas cookies, holiday music, the ample traditional fare of turkey and fixins prepared and shared around the table(s), attending Mass (church), gifts beneath the decorated tree, and vacation from school with hours spent sledding, building snow forts, then gazing at the festive, comforting glow of lights through the window as I fell asleep.

As a teenager, I quit attending church, and developed an interest in alternative lifestyles. Once I left my Ohio home after high school, heading for the west coast, I began a quest for meaning that I could call my own. I continued to explore the realm of natural foods, escaped to the outdoors as often as possible on my days off from work, and dabbled in spiritual practices as part of my journey in search of personal fulfillment. I learned about the winter solstice for the first time, (yes, I too wonder how I learned so little of import during 12 years of 'education'!) and reveled in the idea of an ancient seasonal celebration with rituals involving fire.

Season's Gleanings!

Fast forward to the childbearing years of my 30's. Living off the grid, growing our food, keeping chickens, milking goats, striding across the granite boulder strewn, wildflowered foothills of the Sierras with babes in the backpack, living the dream. And yet. When the holidays rolled around, I became somehow lost in a strange hybrid limbo between the Christmas of my childhood and an alternative, more meaningful winter celebration that we could customize to fit our family. We tweaked and fiddled, keeping the most treasured traditions, and created new ones, eventually including a hike to a waterfall with special snacks, candles to light and float and make wishes upon, and a jump into the icy waters to wash away the old year. BRRRR! 

But, as often happens as families grow, our annual trek on the solstice eventually faded away, succumbing to the pull of society's version of Christmas for the most part. Every year I would internally wrestle with the illusion that this particular day should be/could be an entirely happy and peaceful and joy-filled one spent blissfully with my contented family. And every year I would wind up saddened that MY family just couldn't seem to have a happy Christmas day. Until I finally realized that NO one, anywhere can live up to that expectation.

EXPECTATIONS. I'd somehow gotten tangled up in the web of hype, despite my original intention to conjure some magic for us.

Windowsill Solstice arrangement.

Windowsill Solstice arrangement.


It took until the 'kids' were almost grown, but we eventually learned to talk a bit about our different expectations.

And now, when we're lucky enough to be together on the holidays, we discuss and try new ideas, make plans, but most importantly, we enjoy each others company and a shared meal that we all help to prepare.



This year, (after pretty much skipping it last year), I decided that I wanted to have (my version of) a tree, just for myself. (Note: This is NOT an acceptable practice when we are 'hosting' the holiday gathering).  I gather an armload of fallen evergreen branches from the forest, andarrange them, tree-like, in five gallon bucket . Then the bucket is swaddled in a big piece of red felt, and the 'tree' is decked with lights and my favorite ornaments, filled with lots of warm fuzzy memories! The house is filled with the pungent scent of fir and now it's time to put on some baroque or celtic holiday music.

And I may just bake some of my Mom's cookies. ' Tis the season;  the solstice is upon us!

Merry holiday to all, and may peace be our gift.






Autumn is in full swing, filled with  days of ever changing, invigorating weather that increase my motivation to finish  garden cleanup and outdoor projects before the colder, rainier days set in.  If I had to come up with one word that describes this season, it is ABUNDANCE. So, even with the major canning projects behind us, there are still the last of the tomatoes, peppers, and tender crops to use up before the frost forces our hand.

Magical Scarlet Emperor beans


Ripening tomatoes continue to line the window sill, used as needed in whatever I happen to making. Irresistibly gorgeous beans capture my heart , and cannot be put out of sight just yet. A basket of ripe peppers shiver out on the porch, waiting to be transformed into a final batch of fermented Sriracha -Style hot sauce... 


I used a mix of hot peppers; a few Jalapeños, Serrano, Hot Portugal, and some ripened Pimiento De Padron , but mostly a new variety of pepper this year that I fell in love with. It's called Basque, a PNW selection of  "Espalette" chili pepper from Uprising Seeds. Check out their offerings: 


For the recipe I used, look on page 24 of their catalog! (You can find the Basque peppers on the previous page) 

With the record warm summer we had, it was a particularly awesome year for heat loving crops that normally might need some extra TLC in our zone.

And the warmer-than-normal temperatures have followed us well into fall, holding off our first frost until this past week. Though it was very light here where we live, I'm anxious to get my garlic in the ground, so with no further delay, that's the next thing on my list, along with cutting down the asparagus ferns. Right after lunch, that is....

There's something about the last harvests of lettuce that make it taste so much sweeter, don't you think?


October Garden gleaning

This time of year, the big harvesting is over in the garden, most of the storage crops are tucked away in the pantry, and the freezer is filled with a wide array of summer's abundance. 



But as the coming of the first frost looms in the near future, the true gleaner in me is revealed as I busily gather the remaining odds and ends of the late summer crops. 



It seems that everywhere I turn, there are little piles of random veggies to be used, the last pods of fresh shelling beans, ripening peppers to be strung for drying, oddly shaped cucumbers saved as I pulled the dried vines from the bed, not-quite-ripe tomatoes line the kitchen windowsill, a pile of cabbages rescued from invading slugs and decomposition wait in line along with one final shirtful of salvaged apples that look at me expectantly.


Some of the carrots from an early summer planting stayed too long in the ground, and it was with a spirit of determination not to waste that I scrubbed and carved a daunting pile of worm damaged roots over several days, making a big pot of delicious ginger carrot soup, while adding a few more bags to the (already stuffed) refrigerator for use in the coming month.( I will forevermore err on the side of harvesting this root crop earlier than later!)

That I feel absolutely blessed to have such plenty in our lives is an understatement. For our good health, and the ability to grow and share  home grown, nutrition packed food, I'm also deeply grateful .

This rainy day is just right for  making an enormous pot of borscht to share with some Meal Train friends ;   rows of beets await!

Time in the seed realm

My good fortune finds me once again spending my days measuring out  and packaging beautiful seeds at Uprising Seeds this time of year. It's impossible not to fall under their magical spell, becoming mesmerized by their ancient wisdom, listening for their stories, watching for lessons and guidance.

Seeds delight me, intrigue me, and baffle me with their sheer diversity.


Seeds teach me humility.

Seeds fill me with wonder, hope and curiosity.

They make me want to turn cartwheels.

Seeds give me a strong sense of place, and have become  an amazingly solid anchor to the place I call home, holding me steady in a world of tumultuous injustices and greed driven ways. 

Seeds nurture the best in me.


Seeds are that powerful.

Seeds are proof that miracles happen, showing us the way as they unfold and transform themselves , defying the unbelievers.

As so profoundly stated in The Declaration of Seed Freedom by Dr Vandana Shiva, "Seed is the source of life, it is the self urge of life to express itself, to renew itself, to multiply, to evolve in perpetuity in freedom."


As partners in the dance of sowing, growing and being nourished by seeds, we have a responsibility to uphold and protect them as the essential treasures they are, being their voice, and ensuring they are cherished and held in reverence in perpetuity. 

For the entire declaration and ways to become involved, visit 

"Seed freedom is the birth right of every form of life and is the basis for the protection of biodiversity."