December 24, 2014

5: Winter Textures

As excited as I am to escape Vermont for warmer, more southerly climates on our upcoming road trip, I will definitely miss the perma-snowed-in vibe of winter in the Great White North.

With everything covered in approximately 12 inches of old crusty snow, finding fresh winter textures was a bit difficult, so I bent my own rules to include some seasonal pretties.


Cat prints in the snow! Too cute.

Birch bark + lichen + moss + snow = beautiful!


Hemlock boughs heavy with snow


Moss on macro. I am in LOVE with this picture.


Snow on the back porch steps.


A tarp covering our boat laced with icicles.

PS, check out my fall textures here! Hope you have a great holiday!

December 20, 2014

Photo-an-Hour: A December DIY

9am: Good morning! I'm kind of an "early to bed, late to rise" kind of girl, so my day usually starts around nine with a good Aeropress full of espresso. With AGP out of the house for a couple of days, I have to remember how to do everything for one!

 10am: My cats' animosity towards each other has been thawing lately and I have been delightfully obsessed with seeing them relaxing in the same room together. It warms the cockles of my heart to get an eyeful of two happy cats at once.

11am: Chores in the country include bringing my own trash to the dump. We ain't got no trash collection. Although this is actually a pretty fun chore because they have a cool recycling transfer station including a "take it or leave it" section with lots of free goodies.

12pm:  Just showing off some of the awesome stuff I snagged at the dump. Not pictured is a sweet bench and a few other kitchen essentials. Don't you LOVE that bedspread and tiny frying pan?! Obviously taking free trash is not weird, right? Right!

1pm: I took a walk on the look out for some winter textures. I always forget how nice it is to tromp around in the snow, even on a cold, icy day. I made this quick and dirty mandala out of branches from a downed birch limb. I'm trying to get better at identifying trees, especially in winter, and this book I snagged is great: A Guide To Nature in Winter.

2pm: Potted plant appreciation time! This begonia is one of my favorites. It is prospering fantastically from some clippings I got from a girlfriend in late fall. It doesn't mind the winter at all.

3pm: A little exercise and a little X-Files. This pose looks provocative. Scully looks incredulous. Get it, girl.

4pm: Phyllis thinks exercise is for chumps. She'd much rather turn into a great big pile of fluff for 18 hours a day. Can't say I blame her.

5pm: Project time. A before shot of our little bedroom shows it to be a bit... lacking. I have been gearing up to try this statement wall DIY from A Beautiful Mess behind the bed for about a month now and it's finally time! Okay, take a deep breath and jump in!

 6pm: This is my stencil. A bit of a different take on ABM's design, but a bit more my style. I call it The Aztec Urn Pattern. I perfected the stencil the night before, then carefully carved it onto a fresh piece of cardboard I got from the dump today. I'm about halfway through the wall at this point. 30 Rock is my friend.

7pm: Yes! I LOVE it! I will share a better "after" photo once we install our nightstands and spruce up the space a bit more, but this statement wall project was the first step in our total bedroom rejuvenation. The pattern and overall effect make me smile, even with all the slight imperfections. Thanks for the idea, ABM!

8pm: Dinner in bed is totally reasonable when you just want to stare at your new pretty wall, right? This is some absolute bachelorette food: roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, chicken, brie, and apples on french bread. A DIY dinner to end the day.

December 17, 2014

Winter Road Trip Ideas: Colorado

While everyone around me is hot with Christmas fever, I seem to have come down with a different sort of distemper: high plains disorder.

 No, it's probably not what you are thinking - it's just that I am obsessed with planning the route for our road trip in January. A you know, I have already been scheming on destinations while we are in Kansas, now I find myself wading through the endless wonder of Colorado, trying to determine the best, January-friendliest adventures I can have on a reasonable budget.

No kidding that I love National Parks. I actually have all 58 on my "by age 35" bucket list (I have been to nearly half with 8 years to go!). I am forever drawn to destinations focused on a particularly amazing ecological wonder and Colorado is full of jut those kinds of things. Here are my favorites so far:
(Click on the pictures for more information and credit)
Hanging Lake State Park: Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Although it seems like it might not be a directionally viable option for this particular trip, Hanging Lake remains at the top of my list. The lake is most notable for being perched at the edge of a cliff, fed by delicate waterfalls and abundant with hanging plants. Visiting it in the winter would also be perfect, as it is an incredibly popular destination throughout the summer and I much prefer to beat the crowds. And with all the waterfalls frozen, I'm sure it would make for an awesome bag, especially considering the trail up to the valley where the lake sits is notoriously treacherous.

Great Sand Dunes National Park: San Luis Valley, Colorado
It is heart-crashingly exciting to plan a trip to a National Park that I have never been to before. These particular dunes, which can get up to 750 feet tall, spread for 30 miles against the foothills of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They were formed from the sand and gravel on dry stream and creek beds, which dry up during drought periods and get blown away by the wind to form the dunes. Hiking and frolicking are highly recommended, and you can even rent sleds and boards to use to ride down the dune faces!! I am definitely looking forward to that.

Orient Land Trust and the Valley View Hot Springs: Moffat, Colorado
The Orient Land Trust protects the hot springs and the surrounding area, providing pristine wildlife habitat and rustic camping. There are several natural warm springs to bathe in along wilderness trails as well as a facility with geothermally warmed saunas and hot tubs. That sounds freaking awesome to me. Bonus points for the Orient Land Trust also protecting Colorado's largest bat colony. Although in the winter, the bats will still be in South America. 

Mesa Verde National Park: Montezuma County, Colorado
I'll never forget my decision to not visit Mesa Verde during the winter of 2008. Me and my friend, Katie, sat right on the Four Corners and gazed wistfully northeast towards Mesa Verde - and the threatening clouds that clung to mountains with gray, snowy unease. We headed southeast instead, and I have always wondered what we missed that day. I am still very interested in checking out what is considered the largest cliff dwelling and most well preserved archeological site in the world. The ancient Pueblo people occupied the sandstone cliffs of Mesa Verde for 700 years.

Root Down: Denver, Colorado
With items like roasted parsnip soup, poblano-pistachio pesto, and sweet potato falafel on the menu, it would be hard to try and keep me away from this restaurant once I get to Denver. It also follows my favorite kind of restaurant fad - seasonal farm to table. That means that the ingredients are fresh, in season, and sourced locally. We have a fantastic one in our neighborhood in Vermont, SoLo, and I am always eager get a fresh, funky taste on classic ingredients. Okay, the secret's out - I read the menus just for fun!

Red Rocks Natural Park and Amphitheater: Golden, Colorado 

I'll admit that for once, my desire to visit a place finally has less to do with geological majesty than it does cultural reasons. Because dudes: STEVIE NICKS PLAYED HERE. What we will find here other than the specters of rock 'n' roll history is ancient history, as the gigantic sandstone rocks that form the conspicuously red amphitheater are around 295 million years old. There's more to do here than hear naturally amplified concerts - Red Rocks is a great place to hike and check out the unique rock formations. Although I would be tempted to just it in the bleachers and visualize being there for this:

Getting pumped to visit Colorado with me?

December 16, 2014

Wintry Wilds

Okay, I can not tell a lie - the following pictures are not from my most recent weekend in the wintry wilds of Maine. AGP and I completely forgot to bring any of our cameras with us so we were left with having to make mental memories. To be honest, it wasn't all that bad to be away from the lure of the shutter and just soak in all the magic a long weekend in the woods can be.

So here is the deal: as I have mentioned earlier in my loving descriptions of AGP's cabin in Maine, where we stay is completely off the grid - even more so in the winter. The large, summer cabin is impossible to heat in the winter, so we have to move all the essentials to the little cabin where we can heat it efficiently, and you know, survive. And even though we normally take a boat in to the cabin, since the lake was icy, we had to hike in with all of our food and stuff. At night. In the rain.

To put it in perspective, we were probably the only people around for at least five square miles, in a tiny cabin with a tiny wood stove. No bathroom, no running water, no electricity. I really makes me appreciate the luxuries of my everyday life! And also how dangerous it can be to be so isolated. It's crazy how much seeing coyote tracks in the snow can freak me out.

Although it is incredibly romantic to be holed up with your beloved in a tiny spot of warmth (that AGP built himself) in the middle of a snowy and cold wonderland. Just the two of us for miles. Life in a cabin in winter is actually full of a LOT of chores, mostly centered around lugging firewood, tending the fire, and getting drinking water. All day, everyday.

Of course, we found plenty of ways to entertain ourselves outside of the chores. The lake is full of hiking trails and the woods weren't all that impassable. In fact, the first day we were out there it was downright moist. I had never seen the woods so alive in the middle of winter. Although, maybe I have never took the time to really look at all the moss, lichen, ferns, and cold-loving mushrooms that transform a landscape you expect to be barren and frozen into a cryophilic ecosystem, still brimming with life. And at night we played a Cold War themed board game (nerds).

While I wish I had photographs of bright green moss, rocks bearded with icicles, cedar trees that perfectly match AGP's eyes, and angelic captures of puffy snow falling in the hilltops, there's no way I could have captured the full beauty of the landscape. However, it will be there forever in my mind.

December 12, 2014

Foto Friday No. 4

Although last weekend was our annual Friendsgiving/Chanukah/Christmas party, we are still reveling in the afterglow of a gathering well spent. This weekend, we are headed to Boston and then up to Maine for a rustic romp in the snow. Happy Friday!

December 11, 2014

From the City to the Country

In late summer 2013, my boyfriend and I made a life changing decision to move out of Boston, the city where we had spent all of our adult lives, and move to a small house in a small town in Vermont. With little to no experience living an agrarian lifestyle, we left behind friends, traffic, and years of carefully cultivated expectations for an unpredictable life in the country. It's time to record my thoughts on what I've learned, where I've been, and where I are going.

The biggest lesson I learned is that living in the country is a LOT different than dreaming about living in the country. The thousands of miles of daydreams I had about my future bucolic lifestyle frolicking through meadows and growing vegetables did little more than provide a general lifestyle outline - it definitely didn't prepare me for what leaving my familiar city life and isolating myself in the country would be like. And it certainly didn't magically provide me with the tomes of knowledge I would need to prosper.

In the country, I work from home at a business I started with my boyfriend. We never have to worry about traffic here. I grow my own vegetables in the garden and I hike in the woods behind my house for exercise. I am at the whim of nature - and I LOVE it. Is it sunny and 75 degrees outside? Day off! Let's play! And on a dreary Saturday, I might just sit down and do some work. Did I mention we have a hot tub where we can sit and watch the stars through the wafting steam rising into the night? 

I in my heart, I am my own success story: when she grew weary of the 9 to 5 urban grind, Zy escaped to the country to make a living on her own terms!

If you have ever dreamed about leaving your static, urban life for the romance of the country like me, read on about my journey from the city to the country!

Here's a little background on me: I was born and raised in the suburban utopia of Connecticut. The coupon for my life came complete with a dad who worked in insurance, an older sister, and a stay-at-home mom. We lived in a cookie cutter, three bedroom ranch house in a tidy little neighborhood side by side with similar houses resting on quarter acre plots just a stone's throw away from my high school. From my bedroom window, I could see my best friend's house and my pseudo-grandparent's house, who had "adopted" my family as their own for years of pool parties and lobster boils. Life was sweet - but it was by no means rural. It was suburban to the very core, filled with extracurricular activities, excellent public schools, play dates, and birthday parties at bowling alleys.

Going to college in Boston wasn't a choice I made to escape the suburban matte for the high definition gloss of the city. In fact, I had little interest in leaving my nest and spreading my wings. At seventeen, I had college application apathy and that really worried my parents. So when Northeastern University accepted me with a scholarship, it was really a no brainer - I was moving to the big city!

At this tender point in my life, I was not imbued with the same wanderlust that I am today. That was learned, albeit quickly. I realized Boston was a fine fit for a college kid finding herself, but not a permanent fit for the adult that kid would someday become. That much was clear to me after my freshman year. I also majored in Environmental Geology, which we used to joke was more like majoring in adventure. In the short period I was schooled as a geologist, I traveled to Hawai'i, a remote Bahamian island, Iceland, and countless other destinations all over New England on mandatory field trips. 

I came out of college a changed woman. Not even for the education and career that I left with, but the passions and motivations that followed. And the wonderful, whimsical spontaneity I acquired. The first thing I did once I graduated? I drove to Alaska.

At last I knew more about what was out there in that great big beautiful world - at least more than I knew when I was a just a kid in suburban gridlock, watching TV and going to Disney World. I began liking things that I never knew I had the capacity to like. I liked prairies (what?), camping (huh?), and mossy forests, and the small, boney towns that polka dotted rural routes with a million conversations held in general stores and dimly lit pubs (yes, please!). I knew I needed to give myself a chance to live somewhere else than Boston - and to lead a different kind of life. There were just too many stories I wanted to make for myself than the grind to which I had quickly become accustomed.

The day after I got home from Alaska, which was the day I started my big girl job - I was promoted to field technician after a two year internship with my company while in school - I knew I was going to eventually quit. My friend who drove me to work that first day still likes to reminisce on the mini-meltdown I had in the parking lot of my life in the corporate sphere. "Remember that time when I dropped you off at work and you freaked out?"

It was never really meant to be. I quit 3 years later, got five months of aimless traveling out of my system, briefly lived in a warehouse, and then began my life in Vermont: from the city to the country.

But how does a suburban girl, fresh out of the urban jungle make it in the country when the only experience in the wild she has is with a rockhammer in her hand or from her car window? With a lot of mistakes and second guesses along the way, that's how.

I now live three hours away from Boston, two and a half hours away from Burlington and four hours away from New York City. Those of you with expert triangulating skills would know that it puts me smack dab in the center of southern Vermont: Ski Country. The kind of place that shuts down when the tourists go home. The kind of place that looks at a couple of twenty-something city transplants and scratches their head thinking, what the heck are you doing here?

What are we doing here? I often wonder that myself when I read email conversations my Boston friends are having when they can't decide which live music to see at night. I wonder that when there is two feet of snow outside and I still don't want to learn how to ski - how to praise the sweet, sweet snow like the rest of the ski-bound population up here. But what we are doing is learning a new way of life. A more deliberate way of life. A more peaceful way of life. Okay, I'll say it - a more boring way of life.

There is no nightlife here. Let's get that straight. Anywhere we would want to go for the evening would be at the end of a substantial car ride on twisty mountain roads. And then what? And then we are standing around among the revolving door of out-of-state tourists capping off their day of sightseeing, shopping, and skiing. We can drink beer and shoot pool at home, so that's what we do instead. Alone. Who knew that most unmarried, childless twenty-somethings don't buy houses and move to the country these days?

Well, I always liked breaking the mold.

But on those nights when we are sitting at home, playing board games or watching TV again, I have to remind myself that life in the city was starting to get boring for me as well. Another night on the town to another bar filled with young professionals bursting with ambition, shelling out another $50 for admission, drinks, food, taxis, ugh. Is it wrong that I grew to despise this way of life? To shun the path of the career driven young woman handing out business cards, pimping my LinkedIn profile and worshiping Facebook? I looked disdainfully at their perfect young professionalism and thought, in a very clichéd fashion, there's got to be more to life than this. At the tender age of 23, I was embarrassed to admit that the city was breaking me.

In the country, I have another chance to get it right. I have the chance to build the life that I always wanted. In the spring, we decided to get chickens and further our dreams of self sustainable homesteading. It seemed like a reasonable, pastoral thing to do, so my carpenter boyfriend built a chicken coop and we began the very noisy process of poultry husbandry. We were one month out from expecting our first egg when a fox killed the whole flock. How and why? Well, we never completed the run and accidentally left the door to the coop open one night. Consumed by the never ending tasks of home ownership, we absolutely broke the rules (like a couple of utter noobs). And as painful as if is it for me to admit, I just wasn't ready for that kind of responsibility. But don't think I'm giving up yet. There is plenty more time to get it right - and to plan it right. And baby, you have got to have a plan.

I've learned a lot about gardening, mostly that my thumb isn't as green as I thought, more like a seafoam green than a vibrant kelly green. And forget growing peppers and tomatoes by the bushel. In Vermont's short growing season, you learn to appreciate hearty kale, chard, and firm potatoes. I am getting excellent at making stew.

For now, we are here to learn and find peace. Through every bump along the way, we have had zero second thoughts. While our current location may be a touch too rural for us now, we still scheme about making moves to more acres, more forest, and more opportunities to build on what we have. I still dream of the day I am stocking my root cellar with homegrown veggies and cracking my bird's sunny yolks into bread dough, but I know I have to wait patiently for the spring thaw to try again - good thing I have this long winter to get my research in. I also want to get better at foraging and lessen my dependence on supermarkets and big box stores. 

Before, I didn't realize that these things take time - a lifestyle that reflects a diligent effort to learn, store, and practice. Now I happily attend the school of practical life skills like wood stove maintenance, food economy, and plant identification, which to be honest, weren't skills I considered important in the urban sphere.

I can say with complete honesty that I never want to move back into the city. I love muddy feet too much. I love cows and horses grazing along the side of the road and getting to know the clerks at the bank. To those who have spent a long time in a small community, this might seem a bit trite, but it is still completely novel and wonderful to me. In Vermont, I feel like I have space - endless space - and the ability to achieve privacy even when I set off to explore. Basically, my time away from the city has felt like one long, deep, cleansing breath, and I am looking forward to see in what ways I will continue to grow.