Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Signs of the Times

Ah, yes. Spring has sprung. And although it is hovering around 49 degrees today, and although Huxley and his Papa and I all wore hats and sweaters and turtlenecks and wool socks out to have breakfast with my cousin and her family this morning, and although hot beverages and flannel blankets are still the order of the day, spring is definitely here.

There's proof everywhere I look on our property. From the hellebores, cold frame seedlings, flowering quince, budding tulip and forsythia and apple tree blossoms pictured above to the buds on ginkgo and dogwood trees, purple martin nests in the birdhouse, and wisteria sending vines up onto the entry porch, spring is definitely here to stay in this forest abode.

To see more springtime hints chez English, check this out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Give It Away Now

Two fantastic (and generous-thank you!!!) websites are currently offering giveaways of my books. Check out Katy Wolk-Stanley's Non-Consumer Advocate (good through 9 p.m. tonight, PST) and Amanda Formaro's Craft Gossip (lasts until midnight tomorrow, CST) for "Homemade Living" freebies!

Digesting the Reader

Huxley and I both had doctor's appointments today. We're seeing the same physician, Dr. Polansky. She's perfect for us. She's SO Asheville, which is to say, she has big chunks of fire engine red streaks in her otherwise brown hair, has chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling of one of her examine rooms (as well as a plug-in electric water fountain tucked into the corner, next to the vase of forced dogwood blooms), wears neo-hippie clothing (flowing skirts, floor-length cardigans, and clogs) in lieu of the routine staid white lab coat, and has banners with positive mantras festooning the room.

Huxley loves her and she sets us both enormously at ease. And she smiles, a lot, which wins her big points in my book. I like smilers. I'm a smiler. And I come from a long lineage of smilers. We're huggers, too.

After our appointment, I swung by my old workplace. I'd yet to take Huxley to meet the staff and figured it was an ideal time, as we were just down the road. Once inside, one of my old work buddies said "You know you're in this month's Reader's Digest, right?" They pointed out the mention to me (posted above-I'm #5) while my jaw dropped in incredulity. Crazy to think that RD is mining the likes of Design Sponge for content, but, there you have it! They must have come across my post on DIY Cleaning Products and liked the sound of it.

Fine by me! Thanks, RD, for the love!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Much Obliged

So, here I was, on a drizzly Friday evening, eating pickles and sharp cheddar, drinking an Anchor Porter, and chillin' with my men when I get an e-mail from my buddy Sarah up in Brooklyn. "Um, your recipe for 'Honeyed Prawns & Polenta' is the recipe of the day on Epicurious" she wrote.

Epicurious is the online home of Bon Appetit and (the no-longer-in-print) Gourmet magazines.

Holy moly. What an honor. Thanks, Epicurious!!!

*Image by Lynne Harty

The Great Debate

My comment that the "jury is still out" on the use of sunscreen over at Design Sponge has caused some concern amongst readers. As such, I've decided to itemize the reasons this debate rages as listed by the Environmental Working Group, examining each of their points:

1. There is no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent cancer. The fact is, after reviewing the scientific research, the National Cancer Institute concluded that there is no evidence that sunscreen reduces melanoma. “It is not known if protecting skin from sunlight and other UV radiation decreases the risk of skin cancer. It is not known if non-melanoma skin cancer risk is decreased by staying out of the sun, using sunscreens, or wearing long sleeve shirts, long pants, sun hats and sunglasses when outdoors” (NCI 2009) Skin cancer rates have actually gone up with increased use of sunscreen.

2. There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people. The fact is, studies have shown that people who regularly use sunscreen have reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma, a slow growing tumor that is easily treatable, but studies have also shown that people who regularly use sunscreen have a significantly increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is theorized that the reason that regular sunscreen use actually increases your risk of melanoma is because it blocks your body's ability to produce vitamin D, which protects it.

3. There are more high SPF products than ever before, but no proof that they’re better. Studies have found that people using higher SPF sunscreens had even higher exposure to harmful UV rays, not less, so "The user is left with a burn and a significantly higher “body burden” of sunscreen chemicals."

4. Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is of epidemic proportions, and it has risen directly with increased usage of sunscreens, which inhibit the body's natural ability to produce it. According to the research, 7 in 10 children in the US are now vitamin D deficient. Among other things, D protects against a number of cancers.

5. The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer. According to an FDA study, vitamin A greatly speeds the development of skin cancer, and 41% of all commercially available sunscreens use it.

6. Free radicals and other skin-damaging byproducts of sunscreen. "Sunscreens can help reduce UV-related free radical damage by diverting the radiation from the skin, but the ingredients themselves can release their own free radicals in the process. When the sunscreen molecules absorb UV energy, diverting it from the skin, the molecules dispel this excess energy by releasing free radicals."

7. Pick your sunscreen: nanomaterials or potential hormone disruptors. The hormone disruptors in many commercially available sunscreens are a serious problem. Nanoparticles in mineral (titanium and zinc) can pose dangers as well, but according to the EWG, they are a much safer choice.

8. Europe’s better sunscreens. American commercial sunscreens are on the whole much worse at UVA protection.

9. The 33rd summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations. The FDA has been floundering on guidelines for decades. Laboratory studies indicate that some common sunscreen ingredients are seriously toxic, and even cause pre-cancerous cell damage. A study (Schlumpf 2008) found the presence of several toxic sunscreen ingredients (octylmethoxycinnamate, octrocrylene, oxybenzone, 4-MBC, and Padimate O) in women's breast milk, which raises serious concerns about toxicity to the gestating fetus and breast feeding baby.

Ultimately, you have to make the most informed decision that you feel is right for you and your family. I'm never one to tell folks what to do. I simply have examined the information available and come to my own conclusions about the safe use of sunscreen.


Water World & Baby Tears

Happy Friday, all! I'm back! After a week of some much-needed vacation and family time, we three Englishes returned home to our forest abode on Wednesday. I decided to make it a "real" vacation, fixing my compass squarely on my men, my family, and my need to step away from the laptop, hence my scarcity this past week.

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. Being in Florida, enjoying the sun and sea, got me thinking about water conservation and advocacy. I adore bodies of water. If I had my druthers, we'd be living on a lake up here, or next to a craggy coast in Maine, or seaside in the western Scottish highlands, or on one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. I'm happy to enjoy the three creeks on our property in the meantime. Water is such a precious resource and an increasingly scarce resource. Watching someone throw trash out of their car a few weeks ago, and knowing that most debris carelessly tossed like that ultimately finds its way to the sea, truly saddens me. Public bodies of water are habitats for so many creatures and it's our role to protect them while we partake of their pleasures.

So, I successfully travelled on an airplane with an infant, twice! I'm pretty stoked by how seamlessly it all went. Thanks to all of you who offered up travel tips. I seriously took them to heart. Nursing seems to be the golden ticket when it comes to placating a wee one whilst airborne. Huxley did, however, decide to do his "business" mid-way through our 55 minute return flight, which I thought was hilarious. Taking care of that went off without a hitch, though, which was great as it was the one thing I kept worrying would happen. And then it did, and it was truly no big deal. The drop-down table in the rear lavatory was all we needed to manage things. He didn't seem to mind the turbulence while we were in there and promptly fell asleep once we settled back into our seats. Lesson learned: pack the diaper bag well, and be prepared for the thing you worry about the most to be nowhere near as horrific or odious as you expect.

A few other things I learned about traveling with an infant:
1) They like their evening and morning routines, so do your best to recreate them. Huxley pretty much starts to melt around 7:45 p.m.. I'm used to socializing with family until we're all on the verge of passing out. It was challenging to want to continue to chat everyone up and laugh merrily while knowing that my little guy really just wanted me to put him to sleep. He did great at both parent's houses in the morning, though. We sang him "his" morning song ("Good morning, good morning, the nighttime is over, good morning!"; I don't know-I made it up on a whim months ago), got him changed and he was happy as a clam while I drank my coffee and let the grandparents cuddle him.

2) Bring lots of outfit changes. Huxley is in the spitting-up stage. It gets on him, it gets on me, it gets on everything. Bring extra clothes or do some laundry mid-visit.

3) Keep babies out of the sun. Most sunscreens, even those intended for babies, are indicated for use only in infants 6 months or older. Younger babies should simply not be in the sun for extended periods of time, so, if you wanna soak up rays on the beach, get someone else to watch your tiny person while doing so.

4) It's okay if they cry. I'm still learning this one. When Huxley cried on vacation, I felt either self-conscious to be "bothering" family with a crying baby, or "anxious" that he was hungry, scared, over-stimulated, what-have-you. Here's the thing: he's a baby. He's 5 months old. He weighs a mere 15 pounds (I weighed him at Publix!). He's going to cry. He can't say, "Uh, mom, would you mind stripping off that, albeit adorable, too-hot outer layer long-sleeved onesie? We're in Florida and it's 85 outside." So, he cries. That's what babies do. And I'm getting better at being alright with that.

5) Allow your insecurities the space to surface, and then allow them to pass. I learned two things about myself on the trip. Firstly, I felt a mild twinge of panic as we left Asheville. It really surprised me, as I think of myself as a logical, grounded person. I felt afraid, fearful of leaving my familiar setting with this tiny creature for the first time. I fretted about how he'd do through airport security, how he'd handle the change in pressure on the plane, if he'd cry a lot, if my family would judge me for nursing him often (I'm simply following his cues) or for practicing bed-sharing. So, I looked at all of those fears, acknowledged them, and then let them pass over me. Secondly, I found myself mildly anxious whenever anyone else held him. What if they accidentally dropped him into the pool? What if they slipped on a wet floor? What if he puked on them? No matter how irrational, the thoughts happened. And then I let them go. I'm learning that parenthood is very much about letting things go. And once I did, I felt great.

Have a lovely weekend, wherever it takes you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

We're headed out to Florida tomorrow. My Pop and his wife are in Tampa (more specifically, Valrico), while Hubs' folks are in Sarasota (more specifically, Siesta Key). I can't wait to have uncles and aunties and grandparents available to hold Huxley, listen to him giggle, and dip my feet (and his!) into the ocean.

Before I go, I thought I'd solicit travel advice from all you parents out there. Any tips you'd recommend for making travel with an almost 5 month-old (on Monday!!!) as seamless as possible? I'd love to hear them! Thank you in advance!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Calendar Gift Bags

Happy Friday everyone. My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. This week offers up a tutorial on repurposing outdated calendars into unique gift bags.

We've got friends arriving any minute. They'll be staying with us through Sunday, along with their almost one-year old, Awynn. I love it when they come; time creeps along super slowly while we chat, feast, laugh and opine. If only they lived closer (they're in Decatur, GA at present), or, even better, on our land with us (which isn't entirely out of the question, actually...)!

Have a lovely weekend. Sending lots of love and light to Japan today. They could certainly use it.

Big love to you all from we three Englishes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And the Winners Are...

The three winners of copies of "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees" are (randomly chosen by the random number widget):

1) #27=Stephanie Matlock Allen
2) #62=Heather
3) #208=Thrift Queen

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone that entered. You people are truly amazing. Keep on at it. You're making the world a better place.

To those of you who won, congratulations! I'll be in touch privately to get your mailing information.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Huxley started giggling about two weeks ago. If you're ever sad, just listen to a baby laugh. Clears up the blues right away.

There's a lot of happiness going on Chez English these days. Huxley is a large part of it, naturally. We're also excited about the new books' publication last week, the impending spring, our upcoming trip to Florida to see both sets of grandparents, and a visit this weekend from some dear friends and their almost one-year old daughter (we're having a big 'ole brunch out here Saturday morning, with loads of friends, kiddos, dogs, and, finally, homemade donuts-I've been looking for an excuse to host a whole mess of folks here simply to justify making them!).

We're also happy about nothing. Generally happy. Content. Satisfied. I feel full lately in a way I've never before felt. Like I'm no longer chasing comets or second-guessing myself or restless. It's a great feeling. I think it stems, in part, from becoming a mother.

It's not always easy to remain happy, though. Huxley screams, not having yet learnt the art of delayed gratification. Our geriatric set of 5 cats leaves all manner of "bodily deposits" in all manner of locations at any given time. The dogs tramp around the forest and run back into the house with muddied feet, all over my freshly mopped floor. And, on a much more global scale, there are climate concerns, injustice everywhere, unrest in the Middle East, flooding, earthquakes, poverty, and so much more....Despite that, I'm choosing to remain happy. Not always slap-happy, smile-on-my-face happy, but happy, nonetheless.

Pearls of wisdom often show up in the most unexpected places. Fortune cookies. Tea bags. Or Whole Living magazine, the natural health-focused publication from the good folks at Martha Stewart. I picked up a subscription after finding another Design Sponge editor's article in there this past August (yay Amy!). The March issue is dedicated to happiness. One article really hit home with me. Thomas Bien, Ph.D (a psychologist based in Albuquerque, NM), author of The Buddha's Way of Happiness, offers three lessons to always keep in mind on the path to happiness:

*Know that happiness is always available to you. "The moment you see the truth of this, you can be happy right away. There's nothing that needs to happen first for you to be happy. You don't need to do anything else, go anywhere else, reform yourself, or become a different person. Happiness is very simple. It's only our tendency to complicate things that makes it difficult."

*Accept Imperfection. "There always seems to be something naggingly imperfect in life. We have the idea that if we could only get it all together, attain some imagined state of complete wholeness and authenticity, everything would be great. Being happy is about being able to relax into the imperfect nature of our experience, not about finally having everything just the way we want it."

*Don't try so hard. "The Declaration of Independence asserts our right to pursue happiness, but the pursuit of happiness makes us crazy. The idea that happiness is something to chase after deadens us to the wonders of life that are here now. Happiness is about being receptive, about opening to what's good in the present moment-here, now, and this."

Words to live by. May the happiness in the world make itself known to you. Huxley, Hubs and I will be on the sidelines, cheering you on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Naturally Flavored Coffee

Happy Friday, all! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. Today I'm sharing my tips for creating naturally flavored coffee. It's easier than you can imagine and delicious beyond compare.

Huxley, Hubs and I are headed out today to my mom's place up in Burnsville. The ride, which takes an hour each direction, will be the longest the littlest dude has ridden in a car (which is SO not his favorite thing to do). So, fingers crossed that he falls asleep so we can all enjoy the ride and arrive with our sanity intact!

Tomorrow we're headed over to Short Street Cakes to help Jodi and her crew of cake ladies celebrate the shop's two-year anniversary. After that it's on to have Indian food with some dear friends and then go stationary shopping so that I can pen some long overdue thank-you notes for gifts given to Huxley.

Sunday calls for rain, which is fine by me. I want to work in his room upstairs, sprucing it and the office up. He still sleeps with us, and probably will for some time. Still, I'm starting to feel it's time to get his room together (I'd planned on doing it before he was born, but the pre-eclampsia coupled with an intensely hot summer foiled everything!).

Oh, and YOU PEOPLE! You people, with your goats, and your bees, and your seeds, and your gardens, and your knitting and canning and freezing and cheese-making and more are AMAZING! It's been fabulous reading all of your comments on the giveaway contest. What a fantastically industrious, enterprising, inspiring bunch you are, full of vim, vigor, and sass. I love it! Thanks for being part of my community of homesteaders (urban or otherwise...). Big love to you all!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Room With A View

This is the wintertime view from Huxley's bedroom. I like thinking of him a bit older, hanging out in his room, doing what boys do, all the while keeping close watch over the chickens, and pining for warmer weather when we can all gather in the garden and toil in the soil.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Homemade Living Giveaway

As a thank you to all of you who continue to show up here, I think a giveaway of today's new books is in order. It's you folks, and the community of readers worldwide committed to learning more about "Homemade Living" topics that made these books possible in the first place.

I'm feeling generous, so I'll be giving 3 (!!!) lucky readers copies of both "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees." To enter, simply leave a comment telling me what sort of Homemade Living adventures, exploits, shenanigans, and dreams you've got going on in your neck of the woods. And, much as I love all you international friends of small measure, I'm afraid I'll have to limit this contest to those living domestically.

The giveaway contest will run through next Tuesday, March 8th at midnight EST. After that, I'll randomly choose 3 entries. I'll need to be able to reach you if you're the winner, so if your comment doesn't link back to a blog, please leave me your e-mail address when commenting.

Have fun! And thanks for the love, of the books, blog, and beyond!

On the Radio

It's official! "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees" are now fully available in print today! Yee Haw!

My "Homemade Living" series now truly feels like a bona fide, certified, truer-that-true, legitimate series, with four books in the line-up. Thank you SO VERY MUCH to everyone involved in their existence, from concept to completion. The very definition of a team effort, this book series was done by all of us. Cheers all around!

As part of publicity efforts surrounding the two newest books, I'll be discussing "Home Dairy" specifics today at 12:15 p.m. EST on Martha Stewart Radio's Everyday Food show. If you don't have a subscription to SiriusXM but would still like to listen in, check out this link on setting creating a temporary, short-term subscription.

Looking forward to chatting all things "Homemade Living" (and beyond!) in the weeks, months, and years ahead!

*Image from here.