I find myself often entrapped by having too many ideas, too many projects yearning for fruition, too much inspiration and optimism and excitement and want, to do anything.

When I get up at 5, after I’ve rushed to make coffee and settle into the couch where I write, there are too many words, too much potential, and I’m frozen.

I ought to work on my book. I’m slogging through the miserable half-ish-way point, hating every word before and after its smeared onto the page. Word-count, word-count, word-count. Blogging becomes a cop-out, a misuse of words and time and thoughts.

There are exactly two months until Christmas Eve, two months that will undoubtedly feel like one. I need  to knit my daughter’s stocking. I felt so bad last year for not having done so, justifying that she would not remember at only a few months old. And it will be hat season eventually– when might I start crocheting?

A word here, a stitch there.

Creative energy is finite, and time more so. The two seem to stumble over one another.

And here it is: time for my daughter to awaken and for me to shower and prepare for work. Any accomplishment, such as it is, never is enough to convince me that I’ve spent well.

Truth, Terror and Postpartum Depression


In the wake of my daughter’s first birthday and in the midst of gentle days and the promise of autumn, I look back only six months to my black hour, a tunnel of my life that seems to have been lived by a different woman. Crazy Good Parent shares my account of postpartum depression.

Originally posted on Crazy Good Parent:

DSC03459-01by Kelly Barrows ofthismomgig.com

I knew I would struggle with PPD.

I knew I wouldn’t help myself until it was too late, until I was in the dark and fog, my feet planted in muck.

I knew I would be exhausted and self-questioning, under pressure and scrutiny in my new role as a first-time mother. And I knew that this part, the part about being in my head, would be harder than giving birth at home, harder than getting up in the night to nurse, harder than trudging onward into parenthood.

By the time I knew all that, though, it was already too late.

I started, by all indications, preterm labor at 34 weeks. I had been slaughtering rabbits in the summer morning heat. I called my midwife and we talked about my options. We discussed bed rest, and the fact that it’s proven to have little or no…

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The Last Saturday Morning


There will be more Saturdays. More long nights of teething, more dawns taken with her in my arms, her flexing, turning, patting my breast. There will be more frustration, and more relief.

There will be more moments that ring out– ah ha! Remember this! Cherish this! Make a note in your memory!

But in memory, it will be faded and only a note, scribbled and abbreviated. It will omit the purr of her breath against my skin, the tickle of her fingers as they move in half-sleep.  It will miss the richness of now, of the last morning of exactly this.



I bottled the plum wine last night. The airlock on the carboy had stopped bubbling over the last couple of weeks, so the yeast had clearly eaten up all the sugars and I decided it was ready to bottle.

I’ve been saving screw-cap wine bottles for some time, and I had one gallon Carlo Rossi bottle that had been gathering dust in the back bedroom (who drank a gallon of Carlo Rossi?). I soaked them all in sanitizer water and scraped off their labels, which took far longer than expected. My one-year-old was on my back in the Ergo carrier all the while.

Syphoning would have been easier with a second adult present. I struggled to keep the carboy end of the tube below the surface and above the sediment while watching the bottle end to prevent it from over-filling. But I pulled it off with limited spills, and was swimming with self-satisfaction and a startlingly solid buzz at the end of it– I had to sample my product, after all.

My little experiment yielded 1 case plus 1 gallon (plus 1 glass).

I’m sure it will benefit from a couple of months in the bottles, but as of now, I’m pleased to report that the wine is golden, quite clear, and pleasant tasting. The alcohol is not bashful in the scent, but it’s not biting. Rather, it seems effervescent, like champagne bubbles that tickle your nose as you sip. The flavor is mildly sweet and slightly tart, like a granny smith apple.

I didn’t measure the brix before fermenting, so I do not know the alcohol content, but I would judge it is, perhaps substantially, above standard grape wines.

Overall, I’m exceedingly pleased. Next, tomorrow: rosehip wine.

This week I canned several quarts of apple sauce and apple chutney from the bags of apples I made everyone pick on my daughter’s birthday at my mom’s in Sebastopol. I also made several bottles of fiery hot sauce from peppers we picked at a local garden.

And most excitingly, I caught the rooster. The one I’ve had it out for since last year. The last of the clutch of tyrants. My knees look like an eight-year-old’s, with scrapes and bruises, but it was worth it.

Work has been intense lately, but my projects at home have felt good. Which helps.

Bird By Bird

I am rereading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott in ten-minute windows, mostly in the bathroom in the morning. It’s the perfect material to read these days because I feel like when I’m reading– and not writing– I’m still working. It’s immensely inspiring and encouraging.

I was given two copies by different people years ago, which I take as a compliment. Not like when I went through a devastating breakup in high school and three people gave me the book He’s Just Not That Into You. They all had some qualifier when they handed it over, like it would soften the blow. It didn’t. Not a compliment.

Writing in the Shower

I’ve been writing a lot. Not blogging much, obviously, but the long kind of writing. The kind you’re not supposed to call what it’s going to be until it is what it will become.

There’s only so much creative energy, and time (oh, time) to go around.

At any rate, it feels slow-going, because it’s a piecemeal process. Most it goes like this: I set my alarm for 5. Sometimes I’m already awake nursing the baby. Other times she wakes up to my alarm or when I try to get up, and then I have to stay in bed and nurse her. Her sleep has become more touch-and-go as she teeths or when she went to bed earlier, like she has been.

I sneak into the kitchen, make coffee as quickly as possible, leaving the bag of beans open and the grinder plugged in, because every second is a second that I can be writing before the baby is awake.

Then I sit on the couch and write, pausing to tiptoe into the bedroom when she stirs, trying to keep her down.

Mornings like today, she just won’t quit, and I let her lay on my lap to nurse while I type with one hand. This keeps her drowsy, and I made remarkable progress despite my contorted back and neck. A small price to pay. Of course, by the time I need to start getting ready for work, she’s back down for real, dead asleep, and I lay her in the Rock N’ Play.

With any momentum of train of thought, I keep writing in the shower, mentally noting outline ideas, robust sentences, and race to the computer naked to type them out.

Other mornings, of course, she stays out like a light and I can’t squeeze a single inspired word from my keyboard.

Weekends have been mostly canning peach-bourbon preserves, roasting a goose, dressing rabbits and chickens and starting rose hip wine (that’s next).  And this weekend will be fruitless in the writing department because it’s my daughters first birthday, which means a trip to Nunu’s and a big party. My husband and I will spend all day Saturday preparing carnitas and enchiladas and salsas and refried beans. Sunday will be a riot, full of friends and family and frosting-faced photo-ops. It will be awesome.

But then Monday comes and no matter how much food and fun memories I have to look back on, I tend to have a bit of anxiety that I’m somehow behind. When my only writing has been the shower, not penned out afterward, lost down the drain.

Plum Wine: An Adventure in Country Booze-making

I’ve been reading various books about making country wines and other boozy projects. A little known secret I’ve unearthed is that you can make “wine” from pretty much any fruit or vegetable matter, from peaches to rhubarb, parsnips to zucchini, even nettles and flowers. And contrary to standard grape winemaking practices, the basics are, well, very basic.

Essentially: Prepare fruit or whatever you’re using; add sugar, yeast and (sometimes) water; ferment once; strain; ferment some more.

There are other varying steps of straining or racking , boiling the fruit, and so on, depending on what your basis is, but for the most part, that’s the process. Not too scientific. And, as it turns out, the most involved parts can be done during baby’s naptimes on a solo weekend with my husband out of town (read: not difficult or time-consuming).

After I’d been casually reading and giving some consideration to attempting some sort of home beverage brewing– we have made beer and wonderful pinot noir before according to all the official, proper methods, but I had something simpler, more old-school homesteady, in mind– I’d also been keeping an impatient eye on our lousy drought-stricken plum tree. Last weekend it became abundantly obvious that the fruit would never ripen. Rather, the ripest of them were still tiny and greenish, like good-sized olives, many beginning to shrivel.

Clearly the drought had claimed the year’s plums. But over my husband’s eye-rolls, I picked the tree clean and hauled my pathetic bounty into the kitchen. They amounted to six quarts.

Since  I gave absolutely zero consideration to peeling and pitting the plums, I rinsed them and removed the stems, then dumped them into our 20-quart stainless pot. I poured in 14 quarts of water, then boiled them until they had plumped up like about-to-burst cranberries. I scooped many against the side to squeeze out the flesh, but didn’t bother with most. Surprisingly, the sorry-looking fruit was smelling quite nice (though I couldn’t say the same of their appearance).

I then waited a few hours, enough time to pop (start) the packet of liquid yeast that had been sitting in our fridge and also have my husband purchase an enormous bag of white sugar. By then the plum mixture had cooled to room temperature, and I measured in 11 cups of white sugar and stirred it well to dissolve and aerate. Then I dumped in the yeast, stirred some more, covered it loosely, and set the pot on a large baking tray in an out-of-the-way place (a good choice, since it overflowed in a sticky mess as it fermented wildly).

I’d been worried that the yeast was too old to work properly, but after a day, the concoction came to life with frothy, foaming activity. It smelled lovely, and looked like this before each stirring, which I did twice a day:

(Yikes, I know.) After stirring,  white foam fizzed over the top.

The following Friday, five days later, the fermentation had slowed down slightly and I was excited to move along when my daughter went down for her afternoon nap. I filled a six-gallon beer-brewing tub with no-rinse sterilizer solution– I can’t resist rinsing most items, anyway, with all that chemical froth– and dropped in my stirring implements, strainers and syphoning hose. Then I syphoned the solution into my 5-gallon carboy.

Next, I scooped my plum must through a medium mesh strainer into the tub, pressing out liquid and depositing the solids into the chicken bowl (meanwhile wondering if the chickens would be staggering around with a buzz). I let that sit overnight, covered.

In the morning, the surface looked like a freshly baked cookie.

At morning naptime, I again scooped the concoction through a strainer, our finer mesh conical style, and agitated it as the liquid slowly drained through leaving a saucy deposit that again went to the chickens. Then I added 10 more cups of sugar, the remainder of the 10-pound bag. I stirred it up and let that settle until afternoon naptime.

Finally, that afternoon, I syphoned the mix, keeping the hose below the surface but above the level of sediment at the bottom, into the carboy. I found little sediment dropped out; the wine has remained highly opaque even after days of secondary fermentation, much like unfiltered cider.

Those six quarts of plums yielded four gallons of wine-to-be. I popped an airlock in the top of the carboy and placed it out of the way where it can bubble away for the next few months.

The dregs that I withheld from the carboy were lovely and plummy, sweet and effervescent, and the alcohol was already substantially present.

Certainly my process was imperfect and leaves much to improvement and tweaking. Some recipes and articles warn that pits impart a bitter off-taste, as can the natural yeasts present on the plums’ skin in the initial fermentation. My sterilization practices were imperfect, but not ignored.

The bottom line for my first country winemaking endeavor: if the result is alcoholic and the least bit palatable, I will call it a triumph. And I look forward to future experimentation with whatever fruit I can get my hands on.

Highs and lows from life on and off our baby-brightened homestead


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