Eggs: Fresh and Freshest

In France, farm eggs at the market are stamped with two dates:  “Fresh until,” and “Extra-fresh until…” You can actually request extra-fresh eggs from your fromager/egg-monger! Eggs are extra-fresh until they are about 7 days old, and during this time are best for coddling, poaching, mayonnaise, aioli, mousse, or a very special cake.

If you have backyard hens, you know there is nothing like an egg used within a day or two, (even if part of it is psychological delight!).  Now we can also rejoice in the certain je ne sais quois of our hip kitchen Frenchness.

For more French culinary arcana to inspire our modern kitchens, see two of my favorites:  Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table, and the lovely classic memoir, When French Women Cook, by Madelein Kamman.

What are you making with your freshest eggs this spring?

Travel Knitting: Tiny Projects to Take Along

We spent last week in New York City, and had a fabulous time.  While packing for the trip, I knew I wanted to take a little knitting project to keep my mind and hands busy during the in-betweens of airports and cafes–it had to be something I could carry easily, that would tuck into a corner of my bag without much weight or space.  At first I thought I might finally learn to knit delicate cotton lace–the sort of thing that would edge a petticoat.  But not really requiring petticoat lace at this moment (alas), I decided instead on this cute “shawlette” I found on Ravelry.  It uses one tiny skein of super-soft lace weight yarn that rolls up smaller than a tennis ball, and circular needles that also roll up, so there are no straight needles sticking out of your purse.  I whipped up a little drawstring bag (directions here) just the right size to carry the materials, and the pattern–printed small, and cut down.  I got a bit of the project started before I left so I wouldn’t have to do the inevitable mathematics of casting-on and first rows on the airplane.  Perfect!

It doesn’t have to be knitting.  Tuck a tiny portion of any project into a little bag –drawing, watercolor, a bit of sewing, writing, even drop-spindle spinning–and take it with you.  We can be ready to create with ease wherever we are, without lugging a ton of stuff.

How do you make your creativity portable?

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland: A beautiful book (and an apology)

Brenda Ueland is the author of If You Want to Write, penned 75 years ago, and one of my most beloved books on the creative process.  Who else will tell us that aimless wandering walking, staring out the window, and “moodling” all count as doing our work?  So I was aghast to realize that when I christened my new craft room with a favorite Ueland quote, my hand somehow disconnected from my brain, and I wrote “Barbara” instead of Brenda!  Dear me!  My apologies to Ueland’s many devotees.  But what a good weekend, here in the stirring of earliest spring, to re-visit her book, or to discover it for the first time.  Happy moodling to all.

Create an Inspiring, Low-Budget Craft Room

Ever since we moved into this house SEVEN years ago, I have intended to make a corner of the basement into a craft room, where I could keep all my supplies, spread out projects, and find inspiration.  But instead it turned into–well, if you have a basement you know exactly what it turned into–a Subterranean Landfill. In spite of a big table, and plenty of light, I would lug my sewing machine upstairs whenever I wanted to use it, because every surface of my basement corner was covered with junk.  But I finally got motivated.

craft room


This half of our basement was finished when we moved in, with new carpet but also funky old paneling on the walls and acoustic tiles on the ceiling.  We are the only ones that go down there, and so it doesn’t make sense for us to spend the money to really re-do it, and it’s a perfectly decent workspace as is. We put in good, energy efficient windows from a salvage yard to keep the room warmer.  It is a long and narrow space, so we decided to split it down the middle.  Tom gets the back for his Man Cave (yes, he is at this very moment shopping  Goodwill for a Levitz-style recliner), and I get the front for my craft room.

I didn’t buy any furniture–everything in the room I begged, stole, re-discovered, or re-purposed.  For organizational supplies, curtains, and lighting, I coupled all of the above with a judicious trip to Ikea, and spent less than $100 total.

A light curtain divides the space (I don’t want to actually see Tom’s recliner!).  The curtain panels came in pairs (FAR cheaper at Ikea than if I had bought fabric and made them myself), and I only needed three panels, so cut the fourth in half and hemmed it for window curtains.

This nice work table used to be for computer work, so it has a keyboard drawer which I use for easy access to the things I constantly need. Thin, plastic placemats on the drawer and table protect the unfinished surfaces from gluing and rubber stamp projects.


I had to take my own neuroses into account:  I don’t like plastic bins, and I don’t like supplies hanging on the wall from pegboards–though I know people make good use of such things, they make me feel unsettled and cluttery.  So I use thrifted baskets, mason jars from the pantry, and Ikea boxes for storage.  My upstairs writing studio (which I will post about soon) is more girly-pretty with lots of sage greens and rose, and I practically live in that room, so  I wanted bolder accent colors here–the black and white curtains, grass green, orange, sunny yellow.


This little table has been around the family since before I was born.  I used a sample bottle of sunflower-yellow paint to brighten it up.


I’m thrilled.  Let the inspiration begin!!

Do you have a version of the Subterranean Landfill just waiting for recovery?  What will you do with it?


(A few current-favorite craft books on the shelf:  The Black Apple’s unique and wondrous Paperdoll Primer, Esther K. Smith’s How to Make  Books,  and Tracy Whelan’s new Sew What You Love.)


A Faerie Tangle

I’ve been engaged these many months in the research and writing of my new book, The Urban Bestiary (and I am supposed to have the manuscript to my editor next week!–hence my shameful neglect of the Tangled Nest this last month…). I’m finding that immersion in the subject matter of the Bestiary is bringing close-to-home nature more alive than ever. So on a walk in Lincoln Park yesterday, I saw this lovely tangled bank:

tangled bank

For a moment, in my mind’s eye the scene resembled something like this, Brian Froud’s painting of a similar tangle:

Fairy Man

In the introduction to  the new deluxe edition of the classic book Faeries that Froud created with Alan Lee, Froud writes that the book is, “a reminder of a world we all once lived in, when we had a connection to the earth itself. It presents faeries as they are:  the spiritual personifications of the hidden as aspects of the world’s workings…They try to remind us of our emotional and physical ties to nature and to one another. They are the keepers of natural wisdom, and we dismiss them at our own peril.”

I love this notion–faeries as personifications of our own innate sense of continuity with the natural world. In this light, I wish you many Faerie visitations (call them what you will!) during this beautiful season of winter-into-spring.

(For more on the earthen complexities of the Faerie realm, see my essay, “The Thrush and the Faerie,” in my first book Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds.)


Chickens Versus Snowpocalypse

Hi, Tom here… Lyanda’s away on a writing retreat so I am hijacking her blog for a few days.

freaked chickenIn Seattle it’s a snow day–we are having our annual “snowpocalypse,” when a few inches of snow completely shuts down the city and sends cars skidding into the curbs and children flocking into the unfamiliar white stuff.

The snow is not just unfamiliar to our children; this afternoon I went to check on the chickens and found them completely flummoxed by it. They had managed to make it out the coop door onto a branch in the run, but were totally unwilling to put their feet down into the scary cold white stuff. It was two PM, and the entire coop was covered with a virgin, untouched layer of snow, more than six hours after dawn.

Ethel was brave enough to fly over to a box, where I found her pacing back and forth, unsure what to do next.

Watching for a while I saw their technique for getting across the coop without having to put a foot into the snow. Crafty!

Even after I pushed the snow aside, they remained completely unwilling to come off their perch. Bird brains!

4 PM update: they are still on the branch. How do your chickens handle the snow?


The Urban Winter Wild

Winter is considered a time of quiet and hibernation, and often we wait until spring to think about viewing birds and other creatures. But the cold of winter increases the energetic need of wild animals, sending them out to seek food at all hours of the day.  It’s one of the best times to watch for urban-wild encounters.  Just a few of the visitors to our little yard at the Tangled Nest these days:
We’ve had lots of Varied Thrushes this year.  Today a Sharp-shinned Hawk rushed through and caught one in the bushes by the back fence, then stood under the cherry and began to “exfoliate” the thrush before flying away with it in her talons!  I wish my photographer husband was here to capture that!  I found myself wondering why the hawk couldn’t have settled for one of the gajillions of starlings in the neighborhood, instead of “my” beautiful thrush.
I do not maintain an arsenal of birdfeeders (I’m too lazy to keep them as clean as they should be…), but I do love the few little window feeders in my study that bring birds within a few inches of my face as I sit at my desk and write.  In the autumn and winter, flocks of bushtits crowd onto the suet feeder, creating giant “bushtit balls,” up to 50 at one time. “Cuteness Overload,” as my teen daughter says.

We call this male Anna’s hummingbird “Old Man.”  He sits on a branch by the feeder on our porch, eats, then sits some more, as if on a park bench, watching the world go by.
The other day I stepped out to gather the mail, and was hit with a barrage of crow scolding.  There was a squirrel sitting on a branch near the crows, but surely that couldn’t have been the problem?  No, in fact the squirrel itself was scolding something.  Even a little Anna’s hummingbird was upset.  I felt very unobservant when I finally looked down to notice, almost right at my feet, the young raccoon that was exploring my front yard.  When I said “hello,” he looked up at me, came closer, and looked up some more.  The spell was broken when my cat Delilah got out, and I ran to get her (I had no worries that this little raccoon would hurt my cat, but Delilah is not supposed to go out!).  It is a common myth that raccoons seen during the day are rabid; here in the Pacific Northwest there is no rabies (except very rarely in bats–never in squirrels, raccoons, etc.), and there are all kinds of reasons raccoons might be out in daylight.  In summer and autumn, adult female raccoons will be out all day seeking food for their young of the year, either alone, or with the baby raccoons.  And adolescent raccoons, who are inexperienced and so have a harder time feeding themselves, are often out alone in daylight, but especially in winter when meals are more difficult to come by.  Distracted by Delilah’s escape, I didn’t manage to get this fuzzy iphone photo until the raccon was loping away, and under the fence into the backyard where my chickens were running loose!–locking them up was my next stop, but by that time he had completely disappeared, as raccoons do…

Who is visiting your urban-wild home these winter days?

The Quantified Year: A Family New Year’s Survey

A guest post from Tom:

How many states did you visit in 2011? Countries? How much do you weigh? What piece of music are you currently practicing? What magazines do you read? How many Facebook friends do you have?

I recently ran across a journal I kept in 2008-09. On January 2, 2009 there is a brief list of data points about our family at that time, and looking back at it is so much fun that I’m sharing the idea. Now is the perfect season to capture a brief snapshot of meaningful personal data, to be revisited in future years.

In the last decade a whole set of tools has emerged that allow us to obsessively track our personal data, share it online, and be voyeurs to the data streams of others. In fact it’s become almost expected that we share our personal data as a form of social bonding–don’t we all have friends obsessively posting about the food they eat, how far they jogged, or their Spotify music preferences on Facebook and Twitter? (Please… just… stop!)

Perhaps we have Nicholas Felton to thank–he serves as the grandmaster geek in this department, each year publishing a lavishly designed “Annual Report” of personal data that makes for fascinating reading, in an Edward-Tufte-Meets-Rainman kind of way. (And he now works at Facebook, which probably comes as no surprise!)

Our little annual family census is handwritten and personal and much less sophisticated, and we don’t keep it up all year, a once-annual check-in is enough. If you want to give it a try, here are a few suggested questions and categories.  In general, focus on data that will change over time, and are easy to capture. Personally I just pick a date (January 1!) and take a quick data snapshot, even if I know that I’m about to change the data by paying off a credit card or receiving the last magazine in a subscription.

Basic household data. What’s the big picture? Try to think beyond just numbers, and find data that will be meaningful to future-you.

  • Current address
  • Checking and savings account balance(s)
  • Retirement account balance(s)
  • Mortgage balance or current rent
  • Credit card balance(s)
  • Car mileage(s)
  • Current salary
  • Current pets
  • Newest appliance
  • Wifi network’s name
  • Last major household repair
  • Last overnight guest

ticketsPersonal data. Pick whatever makes sense to you. Again, try to dig a little beyond just the numbers. For example:

  • Weight of each family member
  • Height of each child
  • Child’s current GPA
  • Telephone number(s) of household members
  • Email address(es) of household members
  • Number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers
  • Most recent Facebook friend
  • Last person or family you shared a meal with in a restaurant
  • Last person you talked to on the phone for 15 minutes or more
  • Oldest living relative
  • Youngest relative

Cultural choices. These definitely change over time and give an interesting window into our past. For example:

  • Current favorite food, movie, television show, song, album
  • Last movie you saw
  • Last concert you attended
  • Last game you played (with whom?)
  • Tickets you are currently holding (travel, concert, show, etc)
  • Magazines subscribed to
  • Last blog you commented on (hint hint!)
  • Musical piece(s) that any family musicians are currently practicing
  • Favorite restaurant meal last year
  • Newest toy you acquired
  • Last city you visited

As more and more culture moves online, this category can also include a lot of data culled from your various accounts, for example:

  • Next three films in Netflix queue
  • Top three items on Amazon wishlist
  • Last website you bookmarked
  • Your last three Facebook status updates or tweets
  • Last text message you sent or received
  • Last three debit transactions

Aspirational data. These are data points for things you intend or hope to change. If you keep meaning to fill your house with more house plants, capture “Number of houseplants.” If you want to learn more juggling tricks, then capture “Most difficult juggling trick I can do.” (In my case I am firmly plateaued at Mill’s Mess!)

Looking back at the data I captured in January 2009, I’m reminded that we had a trip to Cancun to look forward to, as well as tickets to see David Sedaris that winter, and that Lyanda was working on Suzuki Volume 1, song 14 in her nascent effort to learn violin, while Claire had not yet started the cello. Lyanda wasn’t yet on Facebook, and I only owned three bicycles. Boy, how times have changed!

Happy new year.

The Adorned Bicycle: Inspiring Goodwill

There is usually a spray of orange silk tulips at the base of my bike’s saddle. Not a lot, just a little touch of flower-ness. For this season, there are  bells and berries on the handlebars.  Such things look pretty and make me happy, but I’ve been completely astonished at how much conversation and delight they inspire in others–in a city where bicycle laws and “rights” continue to be controversial, this simple act brings an unexpected amount of bicycle goodwill.  Though my bike is not vintage,  it is a classic mixte frame, and that in itself invites a fair bit of discussion when I am out and about, but not nearly as much as the flowers.  When I have  flowers on my bike, people smile, wave, and even call out, “Lovely bike!”  And I cannot count how many times, just because of the flowers, people that pass while I am at a bicycle rack have paused and said to me, “I have a bike I almost never ride, but now I’m thinking…”  Sometimes I hear, “I would ride more if my bike was that pretty,” and I respond, “Everyone can have flowers on their bike.”  A simple celebration of soulful transportation.