Winter in the North

A few years ago, I was traveling around Scandiland (that’s what I call Scandinavia) and was interested to find that unlike North America, cold weather didn’t shut the cities down or push life indoors for several months of sequestered living. Instead, our Nordic neighbors embrace the cold weather and dark days in a way that is significantly different from our practices in North America. I’ve often thought about writing a book that features cultural comparisons, but for some reason, I just haven’t.

The notion of cozy, warm, inviting is associated with the Danish concept of hygge. The idea is that hygge (pronounced in a way that North Americans and most other Europeans could never understand but generally in line with HOO-g’ where the end of the word is significantly truncated by turning down the volume of your voice so that it becomes audible only to dogs) warms the dark and cold months and creates a welcoming atmosphere regardless of the miserable conditions outdoors. The Danes take great pride in this notion, perhaps because as a national people, they are among the most aloof and coldest hearted people on earth (and no, I don’t say that lightly or mildly). Like so many things Danish, the Danes are good at exporting and propagating the idea, but short on meaning and actual delivery. Lately, it seems that hygge is everywhere in North America, more as a means to market lap blankets and candles than a cultural phenomenon, and perhaps (given its spurious nature), rightfully so.

Over the years, I have have come to explore this same notion of cosy, warmth in many northern countries—Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, and Estonia. Each country has a slightly different cultural spin on the idea, and from my experience, each does with more authenticity and meaning.

To understand the entire concept, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of weather, because ultimately, weather shapes who and where we wound up settling on this planet. In both the North and South hemisphere, there are four broad climactic zones: polar, temperate, tropic, and equatorial. Most of the North America resides in the temperate and tropic zones. The temperate zone is marked by four distinct seasons, a day/night cycle of light and dark in relatively equal shares over a 24-hour period, and a temperate that peaks just after mid-day and cools overnight. Tropic and equatorial zones are typically warm (or just plain hot) year round, have a much shorter sunrise and sunset cycle and a less hyperbolic shift in temperature between day and night relative to temperate zones. Polar zones, however are different. Rather than an equal share of light and dark over a 24-hour period, light and dark is precisely better charted over a 365-day period. Temperatures in polar zones typically do not cycle in a 24-hour period, but a 36-to-48 hour period. Though it is somewhat more complicated, the extremes relative to time and temperature are simply more extreme at the poles. While residents in the temperate zones can bank on colder nights and some warm relief during the day, our polar residents can’t expect that same regularity. Sometimes the temperature doesn’t warm up for days, and then, only slightly.

A relatively small portion of folks live in these more extreme regions. Simple survival skills have, over the centuries, persisted which bring not only comfort but also joy to those living in the somewhat less hospitable Northern climates. As technology has evolved, the necessity and significance of these practices of cultural survival have mutated and have become cultural constants though the evolutionary necessity of the practices may no longer be as necessary as centuries ago.

As Northern communities evolved, the notion of commune spelled for most the difference between survival and the bitter end. Unforgiving land was frozen for the better part of the year, and under the cover of darkness, food was scarce and difficult to sustain throughout the harsh conditions. Stockpiling and sharing became enmeshed in the culture of Northern communities. So to did the physical act best described as nesting. A short journey to a neighboring village becomes much longer and arduous in extreme conditions. Rest before and after the journey was necessary under warm blankets to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. The presence of light — particularly candlelight — provided a sense of security. Imagine walking 10 miles to a neighboring village in sub zero temperatures only to return, nearly frozen. You snuggle up under a blanket into a deep and cold sleep only to wake 30 hours later in a pitch black room wondering if you are dead or alive. The candle, which could burn for days, was a reassuring beacon that you were still alive in the dark, still, and quiet of the 6-month night.

The somewhat more dire cultural practices have transcended time and now translate into a peculiar but reassuring melange of cultural practices across the North countries and climates. Lap blankets—foreign to most North Americans—are a quaint curiosity at most restaurants, cafes, and homes across the North. Often placed in glass jars to buffet the harsh and persistent winds, candles are seemingly everywhere, indoors and out. The artificial light making up for the absent sun. Warmth is abundant. Soft textiles and surfaces provide a counterbalance to the harsh climactic extremes.

While we can certainly celebrate the notion of nesting, comfort, warmth, and light, it is easy to take for granted in our have-it-all society. We should, while relishing these comforts, keep in mind a reverence of its life-giving (and life-saving) presence in the lives of the ancestors that preceded us for many centuries.

Happy Third Birthday, Florence!

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the fourth year of living in Florence! Life in an Airstream continues to be a comfortable dream come true, and I couldn’t be happier that we made the decision to buy Florence three summers ago! 

Happy Birthday, Florence!


You can read the whole original story here.

Soap.


Is too clean dangerous? This is a compelling article that makes you consider (or re-consider) the ingredients in your shower gel and bath soap. It’s strange, so many of the ingredients and additives that are banned elsewhere in the world are still very much in our soap and personal care products.
Read the original story about triclosan at Quartz.

<http://qz.com/779681/the-new-fda-rule-on-triclosan-a-banned-chemical-in-anti-bacterial-soap-is-still-in-practically-every-other-american-bath-product/>

If nothing else, this story should give pause about using commercial products and perhaps prompt you to consider making some soap of your own!

My friend makes her own soap (which is fantastic) and the main ingredient is coconut oil. She uses the recipe you can find on Mommypotumus. 

Homemade Headboard

Molly and I made a headboard last week. We also made some pillows to go with it. I have been searching for a headboard for our guest room, and actually found on at Marshall’s, but wasn’t thrilled with the $300 price tag on it. I thought: I can do this cheaper, better, and on my own. So I did.

The finished headboard and pillows.
I bought 3 2×3’s at the hardware store for $6. My parent’s neighbor, Mike, cut a scrap board to perfect size. I used some old decking screws to assemble it.
Meanwhile, Molly helped out by inspecting the polyester batting.
I used 3M Spray 77 adhesive (one of my go-to products) to affix a piece of foam to the headboard. It was slightly smaller, but that’s OK.
Then I swaddled the whole thing in polyester batting, and stapled it using my wonderful new staple gun from Aldi.
I had a great piece of Irish linen left over from my curtain project, so I stretched that over the headboard, tacking it N, S, E, and W.
Then, working my way around, using my staple gun, I tacked around the backside of the board.
This is how it looked from the back.
Molly and I added some cheap interfacing to the back (to cover up all the rough edges and staples.
And some little felt things to make sure the board didn’t scratch the floor.
I finished off with four hand-made wooden buttons that I bought in Estonia, that I tied through and affixed with wire.

Total cost was about $40.

DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber 

Build this DIY solar heating collector, the Heat Grabber is a “window box” solar collector you can fabricate in under an hour.

This is an interesting project, and one that I wonder about. Perhaps it could be used to heat the area under Florence?

(The image is really grainy, because it’s a really old image from a really old article, but apparently, this works!)

Read the entire article and see plans at: DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber – DIY – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Curtains!

My Airstream Bambi came with some stock white curtains that are sufficient but a little institutional. Shortly after buying and cleaning out Florence, I resolved to make new curtains. 

That was two years ago!

About a year ago, I purchased some great white fabric and all the hardware to make new curtains. I made one panel and just didn’t love it. The fabric was too stiff and didn’t hang right. 

Then, while I was traveling in Europe this summer, I found a source for this beautiful grey Irish linen fabric. It has a fabulous “hand” and seems durable. Best of all the color is neutral but not boring. Sort of a warm grey. Best of all, it’s the same fabric that my new duvet is made from!

So last week, I got to work cutting panels and outfitting hardware. Last week, I did a test fitting, this week I made one more panel and put on the final touches and… voila! New drapes. I made some Velcro tie-backs for the curtains during the day which is an upgrade from the original set. They look really great and much less harsh than the white curtains. 

Definitely worth the wait. 

Qunioa and homemade sauce!

One of my favorite Airstream kitchen meals is rice cooker quinoa with red sauce and steamed vegetables. It’s easy, faster than a microwave meal, healthy, filling comfort food.

The recipe is simple:

1 cup quinoa

2 cups liquid (or 1 cup liquid, one cup tomato sauce or pesto)

whatever vegetables are around, chopped

salt, pepper, and cheese to taste.

Combine all ingredients (except the cheese) in the rice cooker on “white rice” setting.  Plate and serve with cheese over top.

The entire process takes about 15 minutes and the result is delicious.

The drawback, is that commercially made sauce is OK, but nothing special. This year, I made sauce from scratch and canned it. The very first thing that I’ve canned on my own.

It was easy … my mom trained me well, and provided good directions in our family cookbook… but it was a LOT of work for 9 little jars of sauce!

homemade sauce
9 jars of homemade tomato sauce

 

The Broken Tangerine Crate.

About 10 years ago, I took knitting lessons from my friend Dorothy’s 90+ year old mom, Ruth. She not only did the impossible (taught me how to knit), but also imparted many interesting stories about the depression and scarcity during World War II. I remember, one night, she offered me a clementine tangerine, and then smashed up the little wooden crate (before my very eyes) and placed it into her fireplace.

My very first instinct was to think: “That’s odd.”

Then I paused for a beat, and thought… “No! I’m odd for thinking that’s odd.”

I mean, how absurd is it that we wouldn’t burn scrap wood for heat? How much more absurd is it that we would put it in the trash to be hauled away to be buried and take decades to decompose.

That seemingly insignificant, inconsequential moment had a huge impact on me.

Ruth also saved seeds from the fruits and vegetables she ate and grew lots of seedlings in her kitchen that, each summer, were transferred to her garden in the back yard.

Again.. why wouldn’t we do that? Why don’t we do that?

About a week ago, I was listening to some NPR story about Monsanto and how Monsanto forbids farmers from saving seeds from year to year. The story recounted how a farmer had saved a bushel of corn (that he grew) and planted it (with the plan to use it to donate to a local food panty) and Monsanto sued him for millions of dollars. Naturally, Monsanto won.

Out for a run the other day, I watched some Laotian immigrants in Buffalo fishing in the Niagara River. My first thought was “Oh my, that’s disgusting.” But, really it isn’t. It’s responsible and sustainable.

It’s strange: we have been so conditioned by big-corpra: big parma, big agriculture, big everything; that only food grown doused in chemicals is safe, that only drugs made by huge factories are safe. When, in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m skittish when thinking about plucking an apple growing from the tree in my local park, but not skittish about eating an apple that was grown 7,000km away in Chile, its natural protective skin burned with acid then rolled in wax, stored in an oxygen deprived chamber for 9 months, and then shipped to my supermarket where countless people touched it as they rifled through the “crate” looking for a “fresh” apple.

Who knew that Ruth—saving seeds in her suburban kitchen—was a rebel pioneer like the corn snubbing Monsanto farmer? So, inspired by Ruth, I made a resolution earlier year to start to be more sustainable. Rather than buying pickles, I’ll make my own facto-pickles (I learned to do this in Estonia this past summer). Rather than buying dried plums imported from Turkey, I’m making my own in my dehydrator. Rather than buying herbs and spices, I’m drying my own. I made my own tomato sauce this past weekend… which, was a lot of work. It’s all a lot of work.

I stopped shopping at the überbig supermarket chains, and I source my food from farmers markets and from Aldi (which has fewer choices and less distractions with impulse junk that I don’t need or really want.) I buy less, store, freeze, and can more, and seem to be making more adventurous and inventive food.

My thinking is this: if I have to work hard to make my food, maybe I’ll appreciate it more. Maybe I’ll eat less of it and maybe I’ll make healthier choices.

I know one thing for sure: it has made my relationship with food much more complicated, and much more satisfying while at the same time simplifying the amount of choice available from my kitchen.

I’ll keep you posted… what about you: how has your relationship with food changed over the years?