Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Final Countdown

I never was a metal head. Not even close. I adored a whole host of pop icons in the 80's, transitioning later to an abiding passion for the Cure and other sullen, make-up clad introspectives, moving later to pining for a rotating roster of flannel-wearing west coast denizens.

Still, that said, as we approach Nugget's due date, I can't stop thinking about Europe. Not the continent, but the band, witnessed above, and their hit "The Final Countdown." Who else thinks of their impending wiggler and immediately hears the tell-tale opening synthesizer notes of these long-haired Swedish dudes? Watch it for the leather pants and bad perms, if not for the occasional bits of scenery from their motherland.

We had a great nugget warming. It was full of good friends, beloved family members, raucous dogs, and spirited children. In another post, I'll list what we ate, along with a few photos my sister Devan took. Suffice to say, it was tasty and I think our guests enjoyed gorging on the feast just as much as we enjoyed preparing it.

It threw me for a loop, though. I've always been a bit of an overachiever and carrying around a little dude on my stomach hasn't seemed to put a dent in that. Of course, my body has a way of slowing me down. Completely. The day after the warming, I was nursing seriously swollen ankles, feet, and the ever-present, and worsening, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. Since Monday, I've had a chiropractic session, been given a complimentary rolfing session by the extraordinarly gifted Kate Vermeer Wilson (a momma-to-be herself!), and started having contractions. That's right, folks. I've been scarce around these here Small Measures parts because Nugget started getting wily.

I had horrific pain on the right side of my back all night Tuesday. Realizing that might be indicative of early labor, I called my midwife, who encouraged me to come to the hospital early yesterday morning, where she'd been up all night delivering two babies. I arrived, they took a urine specimen (to rule out kidney issues, since the pain was localized specifically on one side of my upper back), and hooked me up to a fetal monitor. Turns out I was having contractions.

After confirming I wasn't dilating, however, they gave me an IV and sent me home with a prescription for a muscle relaxant to take and get some sleep with, in the event that "true labor" should set in (I'd need to be refreshed and well-slept to handle labor after having been up all night the evening prior). I returned home, ate some food, took a bath, swallowed the pills, and hit the hay, for hours. After a little dinner and some Q.T. with Hubs, I went back to bed.

I was able to sleep overnight, waking every one to two hours, still with the lingering back pain. On my way out to the chicken coop this morning, I had a massive contraction, still on that back right side only. Turns out, that's my uterus expanding and contracting, getting me ready for the big event.

Nugget's due date is November 3rd. I'll be considered "to term," however, on October 12th (I'll be 37 weeks then). We're really, sincerely, truly hoping he'll keep on cooking until that time, as home births aren't permitted to occur if you go into labor before 37 weeks. I know you're all busy out there, cooking food, caring for your friends and families, working your jobs, and more, but if you think of it, if you have a free moment, I'd love some "Keep On Cooking, Nugget!" thoughts sent this way. He'll be fine at this point, should he come, but it would be best for him physically to hold on a wee bit longer.

'Til then, cue the synthesizer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

DIY Cleaning Products

Hi everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. This week I'm talking about making your own cleaning products.

We're gearing up for our big "Nugget Warming" tomorrow. Should be a grand time. Now, if I could only get the pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome to leave my hands, all would be well. In the meantime, I've turned to acupuncture, BenGay, Tiger Balm, rigid nighttime arm braces, ice water soaks, and hand rubs. I might give chiropractic treatments, Rolfing, or whatever else I can find a shot next week. During one of the busiest times of my life before my due date, I'm seriously debilitated by what are basically crippled, frozen feeling hands. If any of you have tips or suggestions for handling carpal tunnel naturally, I'd LOVE to hear about them!

Otherwise, I'll be back with pictures from our bash. Hope your weekend, whatever it holds, is just as glorious as ours promises to be!!!

*Image from here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bird Is the Word

Sometimes serendipity shocks me. Stops me dead in my tracks. Something happens, so perfectly aligned and harmonious and balanced that it takes my breath away.

That's what happened recently with Amanda of Bird for Bread. Here's the play-by-play:

1) About two weeks ago, I mentioned to my sister, Devan (who flies into town this Wednesday from Florida to visit and help prep for the Nugget Warming soiree on Saturday) that I wanted us to make some sort of natural decor or embellishment for the party. Something that could go up in his room afterwards, that was hand-crafted and played up on the "forest" theme we're shooting for in the nursery. I told her that I didn't know quite what I wanted, but for us to both put our thinking caps on.
2) Later that day, I checked my Twitter account, to see if anyone had sent me any messages or made any "@ashley_english" tweets I might want to reply to (I always try to reply to folks who mention me, out of courtesy, because I like to both express my gratitude and make myself accessible).
3) On Twitter, I saw that @birdforbread had mentioned recently purchasing my "Canning & Preserving" book. I sent her a return thanks, and then, because I am an inherently curious person, went to check out her own website.
4) It was there that I witnessed her garlands. "EUREKA!" They were exactly the decor I'd been looking for, but didn't quite know how to visualize.
5) I wrote Amanda, who runs Bird For Bread, inquiring into the garlands and whether they were available for purchase, or in a tutorial format so that I might make them myself, with Devan's help during her visit.
6) A little bit later, in my personal e-mail inbox, I received a message from Amanda herself. Turns out, she's read not just my "Canning & Preserving" book, she's also gifted her neighbor with my "Keeping Chickens" book. She proceeded to tell me that she'd like to GIVE me some garlands for the shower!
7) I write her back, detailing the above series of events, practically on the verge of tears, so moved am I by both her generosity and the auspicious, serendipitous nature of the whole thing.
8) She sends me the garlands, which are pictured above and are so, so very perfect, and then tells me she's also sending along a mobile, to go above Nugget's crib.
9) I am floored and humbled beyond words.
10) In a handwritten note, Amanda details the following: the acorns, black walnuts, and birch branch slices were gathered by she and her children during a stroll in the forest; the twine was hand-dyed with fair-trade black tea; the metal on the acorn tops and leaves is recycled scrap metal; and the oxidation finish used on all of the metal is obtained via an egg wash from her neighbor's chickens, so as to avoid use of chemicals.

Stopped you in your tracks, too, didn't it? Thank you, Amanda, from me, Hubs, and Nugget!!! Bird is the WORD!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

GiGi Loves Nugget

That's an "It's A Boy!" banner billowing in the wind.
The view to the left of mom's hillside-situated house.
The spread.
Hay 'a plenty to the right.

The shower Mom (aka "GiGi", her chosen grandma name) threw for Nugget yesterday was unbelievably touching. Her friends, many of whom I hardly know, showed up to celebrate her new role as a grandmother (twice this year!), offering their time, resources, and labor to pull off a truly lovely event.

We played silly games (can you, off the top of your head, name all five Huxtable kids AND all six Brady kids AND both Jetsons kids?), ate scumpious eats, sipped bubbly libations, opened some dear gifts, and feasted on a fantastic lemon cake, lovingly made from scratch by Mom's friend Desiree's oldest daughter. It was grand.

Afterwards, we lingered on the front porch, taking in the scenery and enjoying the light breeze. We then, as promised, pillaged Mom's apple tree, making off with a sweet haul. She festooned everyone with parting goodie bags, filled with bottles of bubbles, body care products, sweet treats, and scented candles.

It meant the world to us. Our little man is coming into a life filled with a very far-reaching circle of love. Thank you, Gigi, and thank you, Gigi's friends.

*To see more images of Mom's house, and the shower, go here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Inedible Egg

This video from Slow Food USA about the recent egg salmonella scare is pretty powerful.

I invite you to sign the petition I just did, encouraging Congress to make our food both safe and edible! You can find more information here.

Apple Love

Happy Friday, all! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. For this week's topic, I pay homage to my favorite autumnal fruit, the apple.

While I've almost never met a specimen I didn't like (exact for dry, mealy types; they're the biggest disappointment ever!), I do have my favorites. "Honeycrisp" are especially swoon-worthy. Henderson County, located directly adjacent to Buncombe (where Hubs and I live) is the seventh largest apple producing region in the U.S.. Accordingly, there's some serious apple love and apple options in my area. We trekked out to the Western N.C. Farmer's Market yesterday (I'm on the prowl for heirloom pumpkins and boy, the market DID NOT disappoint; more options than you can shake a stick at, and at prices I've yet to see the likes of around here).

As we were pumpkin (and tomato-we plan to can lots and lots of sauce and whole jars)-shopping, we found an apple variety (the name of which I cannot for the life of me recall, something like "Soonese", although I know that's not quite it...) that was gorgeous! Dusty-red and faint, muted green tones covered it like a foggy mist. And the taste was pure rhapsody. I'm going back to the market next week to load up on pumpkins and gourds and other decorative (and edible! I love edible table scapes) items for our "Nugget Warming" on the 25th. You better believe I'm going to gather up more of those elusively-named beauties found yesterday, and get their name this time!

Speaking of liking them apples, I'm off to my mom's farmhouse tomorrow, up in Burnsville. She and a friend of hers are throwing Nugget his second baby shower. She's making a cake and setting up the soiree on her front porch. I'll do my best to remember to take photos (I'm notoriously bad at remembering to take photos at functions, let alone remember to eat; I always seem to forget to eat...). While there, Mom has given me permission to pilfer from her heavily laden apple tree. Every year that she's been there (over a decade now), that tree gives and gives and gives without fail. Some mornings, Mom looks down the hill from her house to see a few deer munching happily on her tree's fruits. She never turns them away. There's plenty to give.

Also, my favorite baker, Dave Bauer of the swoon-worthy Farm & Sparrow, is up to his elbows making hundreds of local apple tarts for a Slow Food Asheville event tomorrow evening. Dave has assured me that there'll be extra tarts to go around, so Hubs and I will swing by his bakery (he's also in Candler!) tomorrow morning to gorge on some flaky, buttery, apple goodness before heading north to Mom's. It's looking to be a great Saturday!

May your weekends all be filled with your favorite things, including apples!!!

*Image from here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tiny Guardians

Hubs and I began our first birthing class last night. It was fascinating to see the Asheville demographic represented alongside us. There was: a climatologist, a police officer, a cranial sacral therapist, a massage therapist, an environmental engineer, a UNC-Asheville staff member, an ecologist, two medical students expecting their first baby, and a solar power engineer/installer and his wife, who tends to their mini farm.

Jan, who began the practice back in '97, began by quoting one of my favorite parts of Pam England's Birthing From Within: It's a lot of work, it hurts, and you can do it. She then began describing the work that she and the other nurse midwives perform for their clients as being "Guardians of Natural Birth." That really resonated with me. They're not there to tell you what to do, Jan stated. Their objective, their goal, really, is to facilitate natural birth for you, allowing the woman to tap into her own innate inner strength and wisdom to help the life within her emerge as naturally as possible.

We watched a video after a discussion of early labor (that'll be the format these next 4 weeks-discussion, followed by a video, which works perfectly with my preference for visual learning). I've watched footage of live births before in my life (although, admittedly, not in a long, long time). Maybe it was because it's so literally close to home, but as that first child emerged in the birthing tub and was immediately put onto its mother's chest, tears just streamed down my face, falling onto my shoulders. In fact, just thinking of it now is getting me choked up.

It's incredible, and magical, and beautiful, and painful, and absolutely awe-inspiring to watch new life emerge. Whether it's from a baby chick, pipping its way into the world, a sack of tiny spiders timidly climbing out of their fragile home, or a human infant, transitioning into the greater world, birth is a mysterious, wonderous thing of deep beauty.

T-minus 48 days 'til Nugget.

*Image by Nikki McClure from here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Whip It Up

I'm guest blogging today over on Australia-based WhipUp. Come check out one of my autumnal standbys-the great pumpkin face mask!

Friday, September 10, 2010

DIY Seasonal Allergy Treatments

Happy Friday, everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today on Design Sponge. This week's topic discusses Do-It-Yourself, all-natural treatments for dealing with the least welcome part of autumn's otherwise much welcome shifts, seasonal allergies.

Today I'll be busy writing what will be the first of a regular column I'll be penning for a new quarterly-published women's magazine. The publication debuts in December, and I'll share more details as they become available. After working on that, Hubs and I will, hopefully, get the crib assembled (you never know with IKEA instructions...).

Tomorrow, a former co-worker is throwing us what will be the first of three showers for Nugget over the next three weekends. There's tomorrow's festivities, followed by one next weekend, courtesy of my sweet mother, and then the one we're throwing ourselves on the 25th, more of a "Nugget warming" (as I've dubbed it) and less "baby"-ish (in other words, there won't be any baby games chez English, but plenty of DIY smores-building, local, seasonal food gorging, and hard cider swilling). After the shower, I hope to stop by my friend's Cindy and Laura's farm, as they're having a "Farm Day" showcasing all they've grown and the projects they've got going on (including 7 bee hives and a gorgeous flock of chickens!). They'll also have two other area food producers, SunBurst Trout and Imladris Farm, sharing their trout delicacies and delicious jams and butters. An out-of-town guest will be with us overnight that night, which I always enjoy. Sunday will see me back at work on my magazine column.

Should be a great weekend, all around.

*Image from here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Addition

Not content to add only to our human flock (8 weeks until lift off!!!), Hubs and I added 3 ladies to our feathered line-up yesterday. The hens have been lovingly tended to since teensy chicks by my friend Kristina and her husband Ian. We've been intending on increasing our flock for some time, as our girl's egg output doesn't quite match up to our egg consumption (we're heavy egg consumers chez English). Additionally, our ladies are molting, and they're 2 1/2 years old, both of which contribute to a reduction in egg output.

We've got them sequestered in our chicken tractor for now. Introducing new flock mates to an existing flock can get a little hairy (or would that be "feathery"?). It's best to keep them within sight of each other but out of direct reach for a few days. Hopefully, if all goes well, they'll get along like champs once they're in each others direct physical space. Georgette, our Barred Plymouth Rock, was ruffling her feathers earlier this evening at one of the newbies, making her neck plumage very much resemble an Elizabethan collar. Perhaps she was just strutting her stuff, perhaps she was ticked that the new crew was given raisins in their tractor that she couldn't reach (she's seriously bananas for raisins). Either way, I've got my eye on her.

I'll keep you posted on how the grand unification scheme pans out. 'Til then, fingers, toes, and claws crossed!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Friends With Benefits

Being friends with a professional, dairy goat-owning cheesemaker definitely has its advantages. Witness here Denise's bocconcini balls, blueberry buckle with ricotta, and aged chevre with juniper berries and herbs, graciously gifted to us when she, her husband Josh and adorable 2 year-old daughter Elora stopped over this weekend.

Its taken every ounce of resolve I possess to photograph these delicacies before devouring them. Thank God that's over with.

Have mercy.

Ode to the -er's

We're entering into what I believe are the annual fab four-those months ending in -er. The stretch from September through December really gets my blood pumping, my inspiration flowing, my energy levels soaring. While the heat and humidity of summer make me languid and lazy, the -er's make me, well, jazzed.

It's funny that I'm in the final 8 weeks of my pregnancy and yet I feel the best I've felt in months. Must be the crisp mornings, the welcome sight of plaid flannel shirts back into rotation, and all the apples I've been munching on.

-er's, I love you. Thank you for your falling leaves and vibrant skies. Thank you for your massive pumpkins, floral pears, and apple cider. Thank you for your family gatherings and gift exchanges and love in the air. Thank you for your striped knee socks and happier dogs and cozy kittens. Thank you for your foggy mornings and sweater-clad, under-the-comforter nights. Thank you for bringing us our Nugget.

The four photos above are from past -er's, chez English. September is on bottom, moving upwards through the months until we meet old man Winter, taken in the wee hours of last December 19th's massive snow storm.

*Clarification-the apple tree image is from Sky Top Orchard, while the others are from our stomping grounds.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Honorable Mentions

Georgette (looking her finest, although not looking at the camera; she's coy like that, on occasion...) and I are mentioned in this month's copy of WNC magazine, available regionally. You can read all about it here.

Also, Rachael Ray's "Everyday" magazine gave a shout out to my "Keeping Chickens with Ashley English" book. Look for the mention on page 61 of the edition now available on news stands.

Thanks for the love, everyone!!!

*Image in WNC courtesy of Lynne Harty.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Green-Up Your Bedroom

Hi everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. Today's topic discusses easy and quick tips for remodeling your bedroom with the environment in mind.

I'm off in just a few hours to meet up with my mom and grandmother to look for some maternity clothing. In truth, I loathe most of what is offered out there for us pregos. I find most of it either depressingly matronly, poorly made, or attempting to be flirty and sexy in a way that doesn't appeal to either my pregnant or non-pregnant self. I've been saying it for years, but I really should just make my own clothing line. Maybe that will be my next "Homemade Living" or "Small Measure" endeavor-sturdy, durable, fashionable, ecologically-minded women's fashions!

After that, it's over to my friends Meg and Alisa's place. Meg, currently a photographer but formerly a hair stylist, is going to give my locks a much needed trim in exchange for some canned goodies from my pantry. I love bartering with friends. We've all got our skills, it's just a matter of figuring out the best means of sharing them with one another! Later in the afternoon, our friends Josh and Denise (who you might remember from this post) are stopping by to take an unused filing cabinet and Dogloo off our hands (Denise can use the filing cabinet for her emerging cheese business while their dogs, Abbie and Brutus, can snuggle up in the Dogloo this winter while keeping a protective eye out over their herd of milking goats).

We don't yet have Saturday plans, but Sunday will serve as my last day at the Cake Shop before settling in for the next few weeks to attend to some freelance writing gigs. And then, of course, there's all that nesting to get out of the way before Nugget arrives on the scene!

Wherever your weekend takes you, may it be a glorious one!

*For all you locals planning on attending LAAFF this Sunday, stop by my girl Faryn Davis's Fernworks booth. She's crazy talented and I'd buy all of her pieces if I could. Instead, you should! Tell her I sent you!!!

*Image from All About You.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Just A Little Patience

Last week, I shared some of Hub's artwork with you. The warm response it received made me elect to share a bit more. Just a reminder that these were all crafted by hand. BY HAND! It amazes me still, every time I look at them...

Striving to achieve a "Homemade Living" as we do involves more, at least for the two of us, then just chickens, canning, bees, and the like. It means creativity and artistic ingenuity. It also means patience, perseverance, and deliberation. Glenn is the poster child for these things. He's got more patience in his pinkie finger than I've got in my entire body, and that's saying something because, aside from when I'm ravenously hungry, I'm a pretty patient, delayed gratification sort of gal.

When the cats are screaming at us because it's 7 a.m. and they want their breakfast NOW, it barely phases him. When everyone else is all aflutter to make some hasty decision, he's weighing, patiently, all the possible outcomes and scenarios before acting. This is clearly evidenced in his art work. He'll be a splendid Papa to wee Nugget on account of this.

When I was little, my mom had my brother and I repeat a call-and-return series of words related to patience. It went:
Mom: What is patience?
Me and my brother: A virtue.
Mom: And what is a virtue?
Us: A virtue is "good."
Mom: So what are you going to be?
Us: Good.

I hated saying that little aphorism when I was young. I fully see the merit of it now, though. A well-lived life, a deeply satisfying "Homemade Living" sort of life, takes patience. It takes steadfastness. It takes clearheadedness. It takes commitment. Glenn's got all of that in spades.