What happens when a rare hummingbird shows up at your birdfeeder? (asking for a friend)

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Remember that time when there was a global pandemic and you’d been living in utter isolation for five months, and then one ordinary Sunday you spotted a strange bird on the feeder (a bird, that it turns out has only been documented in your state 7 times in history)? And then a stranger shared your social media post (where you were asking your naturalist friends to help out with field ID) on a rare bird sighting forum and then the birders started messaging you by the dozens and asking permission to show up in droves to stand in your driveway, staring up at your bird feeders?

Yeah, me too.

What a bizarre week we have had. This introvert bird-nerd is both elated and exhausted.

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The bird, for those who are curious, is an immature Mexican Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) hummingbird. And it’s a very long way from home, indeed.

And that innocent little bird derailed our lives for 2 1/2 days and spiraled us into an unexpected journey of opening our yard and driveway to (masked, social-distanced) strangers, making new (masked, social-distanced) friends, and putting down–if only for a couple of days–our normal, quiet, solitary life.

Since our adventure began, I think I have sent out over 200 emails, replying to inquiries from birders asking politely, even apologetically, if they might mask up and come to my driveway in hopes of a peek. I emailed out the rules (considering covid, and considering our need for at least some semblance of privacy), and they began to arrive that very afternoon. They were appreciative, polite, enthusiastic, and sometimes brought to the edge of tears when they caught a glimpse of this once-in-a-lifetime bird.

Some brought gifts, left thank you notes, and offered donations to our hummingbird feed fund. Most were simply grateful.

I put down my projects and plans for the weekend, and simply welcomed strangers and replied to wave after wave of emails. The whole thing was bizarre, exciting, and exhausting.

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We were amused that only the day before our traveling superstar arrived, I had spent 11 hours painting my house trim for the first time in 8 years (resulting, according to one of my kids in our house looking “less abandoned”), and we joked that it was a good thing I had, since so many unexpected guests arrived the very next day, all of them photographing this bird with my trim as the backdrop.

A friend messaged me saying, “I heard your hummingbird mentioned on Minnesota public radio!” An email came through from someone saying, “I got a rare bird alert about your hummingbird and would love permission to visit, but I think I might already know you. I think we bought your off-grid solar house 14 years ago.” They had.

What a small world it really is.

So much magic and serendipity and kindhearted people, it restored my faith in the planet and, to a point, humanity.

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After two bustling days, our new feathered friend had gone, and eventually, the hopeful birders all went home, too. Some were lucky enough to have gotten a look, others (good sports though they were) struck out, despite some driving as far as 10 hours in hopes of catching a glimpse.

But as one birder put it (when I apologized that our traveler had already left), “It’s not a zoo!” Fair point.

What a weekend! What a bird. And now, what a long and quiet rest is in order.

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Savoring this season

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We slipped away (all four of us!) for five days at the cabin on the river we so love.

There was time for books and knitting, foraging and medicine making, board games and boat rides. What a glorious week! Like so many of you, we’ve had a few heartbreaking cancellations this past season, from a long-awaited Boundary Waters trip to a return visit we were just imagining to the coast of Maine when COVID crashed our last-summer-of-homeschooling-two party.

And Lupine bore the biggest hit of all, with a postponed international trip with a group of teens to visit a mutual friend oversees.

And so we pivot. We pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and take stock. And we make other plans.

We packed the cooler, gassed up our rusty old pick up truck, and headed to the Northwoods, to a place we know so well. My family’s cabin and the river that we love.

To reset and regroup in the forest.

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There were plunges into racing waters and wild medicine to forage; mushrooms to delight in discovering and remedies to craft.

And, of course, long and much needed sleeps to savor.

In short: it was just the thing this 4 months-and-counting quarantined family needed.

On the way home, we took a detour past an organic blueberry farm I stumbled upon last year, masked up, and picked our fill before heading back to the welcoming arms of these hills.

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No, life doesn’t look like it did last summer, and yes, there have been losses. But how grateful I am for the small pockets of normalcy, magic, and joy that we may still savor during these trying days.

 

Fall 2020: School or Homeschool?

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So many families are facing the decision of whether they will send their kids back to school in the fall or choose to homeschool instead. Others are not even afforded the luxury of making this choice, due to finances, work, family, or legislation.

As a long-time homeschooler, you might think I’m over here waving the “everyone should homeschool” flag, but I’m not.

Because homeschooling (like homesteading, yoga, or, say, facial tattoos) is delightful to some, but not a match for all. There are many kids and adults who simply don’t/wouldn’t thrive in a homeschooling environment. (Note that I said kids and adults. Because your needs also matter.)

And there’s no shame if it’s not your jam. That doesn’t make you less. It makes you honest.

So if you’re facing two equally awful choices (crisis homeschool or send your kids to school during COVID), please: cut yourself some slack. To be forced to choose between two things that you don’t actually want (for you, your child, or both) is really no choice at all.

And what you are contemplating is not homeschooling. It’s damage control.

And I’m sorry it’s a crossroads you’re forced to stand at.

For those with the luxury of making this decision at all, I wish you comfort in whatever you choose. And if you DO choose to keep your child home this year, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Please. There are a thousand ways to learn, and the vast majority of them look nothing like a classroom.

And the truth is, one year of hanging out and learning how to bake bread, ID bugs in the garden, go geocaching, or build epic worlds in Minecraft won’t break your kid. They’ll gain some and lose some and in the end (just like they do every year they spend in or out of school) will still be a spectacular, unique human being. I promise.

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In my opinion, we put way too much pressure on the value of academics. There are other measures of growth, worth, and strength to be found– things like kindness, creativity, perseverance, compassion, generosity, curiosity, and more. My eldest turns 18 in a month, and he’s never taken a test or sat at a desk in his life. And he’s fine (and way smarter than me, I might add). His sister is only a few years behind him, heading down a similar path.

So maybe they spend the year researching WWII airplanes or cool and weird amphibians. Maybe they go down the rabbit hole of French bakery, Norse mythology, Russian history, or historical blacksmithing. (These are all examples from actual homeschoolers I know.) Or maybe they don’t. Either way, they will grow, learn, shift, and bend.

And so will you.

Hang in there, folks. This has already been a bumpy ride, and we’re not yet in sight of the station.

Find my homeschooling/unschooling/interest-led learning archives here

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Not my stories anymore

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When my children were small, I was delighted to share them through stories and photographs and blog posts aplenty. Nearly every day another entry in the journal of our simple, messy, joyful life.

But as they have grown, so too has my desire to hold them close to my heart, and share less and less.

Savoring childhood and family and the sacredness of this private world.

Indeed, the stories that I once shared so freely are no longer mine to give. And so you will rarely see Sage’s face here (as he dislikes being photographed and it’s easy to respect this simple and reasonable boundary). Don’t mistake his absence for any darker meaning than that! This kid is a bright point of light in our family, bringing wisdom and humor and countless random science facts to our everyday.

For those who have been around for a while, can you believe that he’ll be 18 next month? Oh, time. He was just 6 when I started blogging. Six! And Lupine (now 13) was only 1. And though she is still willing to be photographed more often than not, she is also growing up, and I’m feeling more and more protective of her privacy and providing here a safe and cozy space in which to grow.

And so I relearn how to share just enough, as I hold them close—here in the quiet sanctuary of home: as we honor and savor these final steps through childhood, as a treat for us alone.

A book birthday

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I am over the moon to announce that my second (book) baby was born today!

The Unplugged Family Activity Book is here!

To everyone who pre-ordered, I can not thank you enough. Pre-orders (and online reviews) are a game-changer for the long-term success of a book, and you came through. Goodness, did you ever.

I’m signing the last few pre-order copies this morning here on the farm, and then your books will head out the door, en route to your family’s welcoming arms.

Thank you for cheering me on, again and again! And to anyone who thinks they’re too old to do that thing they set out to do: don’t fall for that story. You’re unfolding at just the right speed. Grab hold of life and do the hard thing! You won’t regret it.

At least I haven’t.

Still waiting to pick up a copy? Find it (along with my first book, Herbal Adventures) on my website! Signed copies are shipping out this week.

Love,

Rachel

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Unplugged Family Summer Camp

Edited to say: As we enter the second week of Summer Camp, registration is now closed. Check back next year to participate!

I’ve been quiet here on the blog this week, in order to not distract from current events, and to honor the voices of people of color who have waited far too long to hold the mic in our collective consciousness.

Today, I’m going to pop in quickly to put this post out there, because if I wait, I fear the first week of content will be missed by many of you. I want to provide this resource to as many families as possible right now, and I feel children everywhere could use a little joy, a little magic, a little space to simply be small. 

Keep fighting, keep protesting, and keep changing the world, beautiful people! 

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How is your heart, friend? My, it’s been quite a season so far, hasn’t it? 2020 is one that none of us will soon forget. Or I certainly hope we won’t. Because where we now stand is a crossroads. And at this place lies the heart of change.

Yet even as I hold fast to the optimistic belief that current events will generate lasting, long-overdue change on a global level–from addressing police brutality and systemic racism to challenging how we live in and navigate the world–I know that this time has been excruciating for many.

I see you. I hear you. I stand with you.

Especially people and families of color who have been marginalized for centuries.

And so I’ve been quiet, though not complacent. As a white person, It’s my time to simply listen, act and donate. So that’s what I have done.

But today, I’m going to break my silence for just a moment, to put an opportunity on the table for everyone this summer.

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While what I have to offer during such difficult times feels minuscule in comparison to what our country and planet so deeply need, I believe there is space for each of us to bring our gifts and offerings to the community.

And now more than ever we are all being called to bring forth whatever we have to share. And so I have decided to offer up a healthy summer activity series for anyone who might need it right now.

A series to give you pause as a family, and draw you and your children away from screens (however briefly), out into the sunshine to reset your souls.

With Unplugged Family Summer Camp.

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What is Unplugged Family Summer Camp?

It’s an invitation to unplug, connect, and play with your child this season, away from the distractions that our screens so often hold.

Because this year more than ever (with most summer camps and other activities canceled and so much is in upheaval), it’s up to us to make our own magic, providing our children a place to simply be children.

And I suspect that many families are hungry for a few fresh ideas to get them moving in the direction of a little more unplugged family fun.

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What if we don’t want to give up our screens?

Great! Because The Unplugged Famly Summer Camp (and The Unplugged Family Activity Book, for that matter) doesn’t ask anything of the sort from you or require you to dive into an austere, screen-free lifestyle.

Spolier: I also appreciate my phone and laptop, and use them often!

What it does offer is resources, encouragement, and inspiration. It’s an alternative to our screens as the place to discover entertainment, gain knowledge, and have fun–together.

And we think that’s a delightful idea for the whole family.

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How does it work?

When you sign up for Unplugged Family Summer Camp, you will receive an 8-10 page downloadable booklet each weekend for five weeks. Camp will run from 6/13/2020 through 7/11/2020. When you receive your weekly content bundle, print it out (or download it to a phone, tablet, or laptop if you prefer), then dive in with inspiration, projects, games, and recipes for the whole family to enjoy.

That’s all there is to it!

And it’s self-paced, so if you don’t get to something in the week it is released, you can always come back to it later.

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What is included in each booklet?

Each booklet is broken down into four sections and contains:

Just for Caregivers

A favorite post from the decade of archives on my blog. These words are intended to inspire connection, acceptance, and presence in our role as parents or caregivers–this season and always.

Nourishing Recipes

Two kid-approved recipes to make together in the kitchen–recipes you’ll revisit again and again, and truly make your own. These are simple and fun and a great way to get started on cooking together–whatever your children’s ages. Snacks, treats, mains, and more.

Unplugged Family Fun

Activities, games, projects, or other adventures that require little more than basic supplies that you already have on hand. Some activities will come from my blog archives, others from my books, and still more straight from our family’s imaginations. Projects and play for backyard or park, kitchen or craft room.

Nature Exploration (bonus)

And finally, several bundles will also include a bonus project or idea to help you explore or discover the natural world around your own neighborhood. These projects may require special materials and supplies, and so we’ve added them in the bonus section since they require more resources and planning. (In the first booklet, we’re talking about raising and releasing native butterflies.)

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The Unplugged Family Summer Camp consists of five downloadable, full-color PDF booklets, that are yours to keep and use forever, plus access to an exclusive community Facebook group for making connections with like-minded families, asking questions, and sharing your completed projects with one another.

Best of all, I want to make this experience available to everyone. (Keep reading!)

In future seasons, I plan to price this 6-week summer camp experience at $25.00 to $30.00/family. But this year, I won’t be offering it for sale.

Instead, there are three simple ways to participate.

1. Book Preorder Bonus

First, I’m giving Unplugged Family Summer Camp away for free, as a thank-you gift to anyone who has pre-ordered a copy of The Unplugged Family Activity Book! (And there’s still time to pre-order.)

Since the book costs just $22.99, this year the book and camp will cost less than camp alone will cost next year. I think that’s one heck of a steal.

You can purchase directly from me, or from your local, independent bookseller.

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2. Donation

Make a donation of any amount to any of the organizations listed here who are fighting for equal rights and civil liberties. Donating directly through ActBlue, as we did, makes it easy to divide up your donation automatically, or however you see fit. Or head directly to these organization’s own websites and give directly.

Then email me with the subject line “Unplugged Family Summer Camp – Donation” and include a screenshot of your donation receipt. I’ll add you to the camp!

3. Scholarship

For those who do not have the means to purchase the book or make a donation, I am offering scholarships to participate. I am especially interested in offering access to the camp to children and families of color, who have been systematically shut out of countless opportunities in their lifetimes, and their ancestors before them.

Applying for a scholarship is painless. Simply send an email to hello@lusaorganics.com with “scholarship” in the subject line. Then let me know why your family wants to participate. There’s no need for you to disclose any personal details or finances. Just tell me why you and your kids want to play, and we’re set.

There is room for all in this virtual summer camp.

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For those who do have the means to purchase my book, I’d be honored to know it has earned a place on your bookshelf. I hope it (along with your five weekly summer camp bundles) becomes a resource your family treasures for many years to come.

Some have shared that they purchased copies to donate to local public libraries, which is an even greater honor. Thank you for that!

So… are you in?

I do hope you will join me!

We start next Saturday. 

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To sign up for summer camp as a book bonus (option 1 above), all that you need to do is pre-order your book from any bookseller (or directly from me–I’ll ship your copy signed). Then include your order number and the store you purchased from on your registration form below.

All camp registration fees will be waived, with my thanks for preordering The Unplugged Family Activity Book.

Or drop me an email with the scholarship request or donation receipt above.

Looking forward to summer camp with you!

Be well, friends.

Rachel

Resources for anti-racism work

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Are you feeling heart-heavy?

Yeah, here too. So yesterday, after a full homeschooling day (mostly math, spelling, and anti-racism work)—and a lot of reading and talking about what is happening just across the river in Minnesota—the kids and I needed some time outside to shake off the cobwebs and clear our heads. We headed down to the barn in a light rain to inoculate shiitake logs, a project we’ve had on the docket all season.

Though our hearts and minds were heavy, the work connected us, cleared our minds, and helped us ground out a bit.

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Pete and I first inoculated shiitake logs 20 or so years ago. It’s been a while, but the process is the same as it was two decades ago.

Starting with fresh, oak logs, holes are drilled at a predetermined spacing, then wooden plugs or sawdust-impregnated with shiitake spawn are pounded into the holes.

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The holes are then sealed with melted beeswax, and the logs are set aside to do their magical thing in a shady, north-facing nook.

It was the busy-hands sort of work that we all needed, and allowed a different energetic space for our conversations to continue, as all of us asked hard questions and reflected deeply on power and privilege.

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Projects like these are among my favorite parts of homeschooling: these life-skills building projects that likely wouldn’t make the cut for most middle and high school curriculums. The forest and field and farm lessons that they will carry with them as they set off into the world, as well as the much-needed conversations that unfold when we engage in this way.

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At the same time, I can’t help but notice how privileged we are to have the time and space, freedom, and safety to learn this way—among so many other privileges we barely even notice.

The disparities in our world are staggering; change is centuries overdue.

Keep listening and keep fighting, friends. Keep learning and talking and demanding change.

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Resources for anti-racism work or anti-racism homeschooling

As a white family, I think it is vital that we do the work to turn the tide of racism in America. And so I’m beginning where I can: by reflecting upon my own biases and leaning in with my kids to explore racism and privilege and using our power for good in our homeschool.

Note: The books linked below are not affiliate links, but rather to go to my local, independent bookstore. If you prefer, search for your local bookshop on the Bookshop.org website, and order through them instead, and support the people who live in your community with your purchases. 

This Book is Anti-Racist

This book is forming a cornerstone of our anti-racism homeschooling work. We’re only a few chapters in, but it’s appropriate so far for all ages.

Lies my Teacher Told Me

I assigned this book to Sage (17). When Lupine (13) is older, she will read it as well.

Seeing White podcast (for older teens and adults)

Pre-screen the content of this podcast if you’ll be listening with younger kids, to be sure they are able to listen. This one is on Sage’s homeschooling list, but not Lupine’s.

Other books for adults and older teens include:

Between the World and Me

So You Want to Talk About Race

How to Be an Antiracist

White Fragility

Me and White Supremacy 

 

And finally, I don’t spend a ton of time on Facebook so I don’t have links for that platform, but if you’re on Instagram, here are a few favorite accounts to follow. Go there to simply listen, then do your own research to answer the questions that arise.

The Conscious Kid @theconsciouskid
Rachel Cargle @rachel.cargle
Ijeoma Oluo @ijeomaoluo
Antiracism Center @antiracismctr

Edited to add this extensive list.

What other books or resources would you add to the list above? If you are white, what are the important conversations are you having with your kids to generate meaningful change? 

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Lilac Soda Syrup Recipe: A gift from The Unplugged Family Activity Book

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Another pre-release from the Unplugged Family Activity Book? You bet! Since lilacs are bursting for many right now, it felt like the perfect time for this simple, delicious, springtime recipe.

Before we dive in with the download, I have a few quick thoughts to share…

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Just a month from today, my new book will land in the welcoming world. And all things considered, I’d say that just about perfect timing. Don’t you think? 

As so many children and their families and trying to regain their equilibrium from an unprecedented end to the school year, we are all entering a summer that will be equally disorienting. Many of our usual summer activities–from camp to summer school, community potlucks to swimming at the local pool–are off the table for so many of us.

If you pre-ordered, in just four short weeks, The Unplugged Family Activity Book will land on your doorstep, and you’ll be off on a grand adventure all summer (and all year!) long. And I can hardly wait to hear which project, recipe, or celebration you try first.

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Will it be bark boats or infused honey? Campfire bread or giant bubbles? A backyard tea party or a backyard campout? There are so many simple, free activities to enjoy within these pages, I can’t wait to see where you dive in.

In the meantime, can I ask a small favor of you?

Because I could truly use your help. Below are five small, but powerful things you can do to help support me during this launch. And aside from pre-ordering your family’s copy, none of them will cost you a dime.

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1. Pre-Order The Unplugged Family Activity Book

You can pick up a copy for yourself, your family, or a friend directly from me, or through your local bookshop. (Bookshop.org is another great resource that many local, independent bookstores are using in order to stay afloat right now. Use my local bookstore’s portal, or search for your own!)

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2. Contact your library

Drop an email to your local library, requesting they pick up a copy for their shelves. It’s a perfect resource for what will surely prove to be a DIY-fun sort of summer season.

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3. Tell your friends!

Word-of-mouth is everything, so talk it up. I can’t express enough how important this one is. Use social media, email, or a good old-fashioned phone call. Whatever your strategy, I appreciate each and every recommendation.

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4. Post a review

After your copy arrives, post a review online. Goodreads and Amazon are both excellent places to generate some positive buzz that helps other families know better what to expect within the pages. Along with sharing with your friends, reviews are profoundly helpful for the longtime trajectory of any book.

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5. Go outside and play!

Then get out there and enjoy all 60+ ideas, projects, recipes, and celebrations. And savor this season.  If you share photographs online,  use #unpluggedfamilyactivitiybook to share your adventures and creations.

 

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Thanks, friends. It means so much to have your support along this road.

And now… the recipe you’ve been waiting for! Find your download in the link below. Enjoy.

 

Love,

Rachel

Lilac Soda Syrup Recipe

 

Are you drinking “too much” coffee, or just making space for self-care?

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Let’s pivot together.

Last week, one of my dearest friends lovingly challenged my language choice when I reported to her that during COVID we were “drinking unreasonable quantities of tea”.

She had called to check in on our emotional health; to see how we were weathering this collective storm.

“I’m going to challenge your word choice,” she said, sliding into her professional role as therapist. “What if instead of drinking ‘too much tea’ or ‘an unreasonable amount’ you are simply ‘enjoying tea together’ as part of your COVID experience? Because unless we’re talking about you pounding a bottle of vodka every night, drinking an extra two cups of black tea every day is a valid part of your coping strategy.”

Oh, yes. Language matters, doesn’t it?

And so her loving lesson settled in deep.

If you were to swing by our kitchen this season, you would indeed find us enjoying copious and frequent mugs of black tea during quarantine. And on the days when I’m really lucky, you might also find my kids cooking, baking, and churning out gorgeous loaves of bread, lofty and beautiful cakes, and rich rhubarb ice cream for us to savor as well.

Are we eating too much wheat, sugar, and other comfort foods these days? Last week, I would have laughed, and said, “YES!” But this week? I’m going to say no. We’re simply… enjoying a few treats during this time hunkered down at home. And not unlike our garden and house projects, foraging trips to the woods, and hours in the workshop, it’s just another piece of how we’re getting by. No judgment, no baggage, just us: surviving (and even thriving) during quarantine. How comforting it feels to put down that judgment and negativity. Exhale.

How about you? What are you gravitating toward this season? Is it more in the neighborhood of yoga or dark chocolate? Television binging or deep meditation? Lattes or herbal infusions?

All are valid. There’s no shame in your coping game, friends.