just a simple village girl living in the shadow of a mountain
June 12, 2019 7:45 AM   Subscribe

What are some small(ish) things I could incorporate into my life to emulate people like Li Ziqi and English Heritage as a contemporary city chick?

So I've been getting pretty into what could be deemed the Simple Village Girl Living In The Shadow Of A Mountain side of YouTube. my best friend coined the term Someone, usually a young lady, is hard at work on their farm/village focused on cooking or making things, they're really focused on their work, it feels wholesome and refreshing and peaceful. The work doesn't seem easy, but it seems satisfying - I read a description about how it's a tiredness that feels fulfilling and you can get a good night's sleep out of it.

I live in the city and am pretty much a city girl through and through - as romantic as rural life may seem, if I had to live there I'd get cabin fever pretty quickly. I also live in an apartment with no garden, but I suck at gardening anyway and it's a rainy winter here, so eh. I'm not looking to find a local urban farm or take up permaculture - rather, I'd like to know how to cultivate that sense of calm fulfilment in my everyday life. Things I can incorporate into my (helter-skelter) schedule, little rituals and practices, mindsets.

Some things that do/might help:
- A hot drink to wind down at night (especially something milky)
- Refreshing food and drink
- Spa time (I'm especially fond of steam rooms)

(sidenote: is there a recipe book for the sort of Sichuan village food Li Ziqi makes because they all look SO GOOD)

One of the things that I'm really drawn to is that they're often working on some project, usually food, and they're pretty focused on that project and then they create something tangible that can be enjoyed by many. The things they make can be complex but each step isn't so complicated as to be a puzzle. So ideas along those lines are useful (except knitting. I've tried knitting a ton of times and get frustrated by it).

Or anything really! If you have the urge to run off into the mountains but can't or don't really want to, how do you express that urge in a more useful way?
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
From the English Heritage suggestion (I LOVE MRS. CROCOMBE!), I'd say any sort of multi-step food basics project that you can do in an afternoon or a weekend might fit the bill. They most recently made butter, which, if you do it by hand, can take quite some time, or you could try making simple cheeses or baking breads.
posted by xingcat at 8:01 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

The first thing that jumps to mind is baking bread - a little physical, a little downtime, smells wonderful and very satisfying when you're done.

Also I love this question!
posted by brilliantine at 8:08 AM on June 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

Seconding baking bread -- you feel like a magician every time. There's some focus required but not a ton, so it's a good starter activity for cultivating mindfulness and peacefulness.

It's a bit harder, but I just started weaving, and I love it entirely. It's peaceful and rhythmic, but you have to sit down and do just that (okay, and listen to podcasts if you want and you are me). It's a little expensive to start, but you should be able to find an inexpensive small rigid heddle loom, and you can use ordinary knitting yarn. YouTube has all the tutorials you need to warp and start weaving.
posted by kalimac at 8:14 AM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do what I call putting the apartment in "Night Mode", i.e. around 8:30 or 9 PM I switch off the overhead lights, put the window shades down, and turn on the lamps. Maybe light a candle or two. I think some kind of water feature would help with this too, something like this fountain or this fountain or this fountain from Amazon.
posted by capricorn at 8:32 AM on June 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

I love what Li Ziqi does too! I think part of it is how she makes so many different things out of one product. She doesn't waste anything- so different from the way I grew up. So one thing I'm trying to do is when I cook to use all the parts and appreciate the parts I usually would throw away.
posted by Mouse Army at 8:33 AM on June 12, 2019

Hah, I only discovered Li Ziqui a few weeks ago and watched her build furniture by cutting bamboo at specific points and was hooked. I'm going to love reading answers here.

I find some of this headspace by writing letters and cards. The act of picking ink, stickers, writing by hand, finding an envelope or the right postcard...It makes me feel like a Bronte, I guess.
posted by PussKillian at 8:38 AM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dive on into the DIY/crafter side of things. Lots of the things people make do verge on being twee, but you can still glean a lot of practical advice and go with different aesthetics if your design style rolls differently. (Like - instead of using big blocky print fabric to make your own cushions, choose fabric that represents what you're into - stripes, polka dots, little Godzillas, whatever.)

This is the blog home of an Irish Youtuber you may like who does a lot of this simple DIY kind of stuff; I stumbled upon her a while back, the things she does are achievable and she's darling. A lot of her aesthetic is indeed twee, and some of her stuff does count on you having your own sewing machine, but she is all about the "reuse your stuff" and "make things over" approach. She does mention that she has a house, but that house is either in either a smallish-city or a suburb, from the look of things (one of her videos shows her prep for a "garden party" in her back yard, and that yard definitely is NOT big).

Or get off the internet entirely! Next time you're in a bookstore, see if they have anything from Flow magazine over in the magazine/crafting section; the magazine proper only comes out a couple times a year, but Flow also has one-off books and special issues that are all more like "big books o' projects", and the projects are all simple little papercraft things. And there's something to be said for pretty paper.

As for spa time - you can also delve into the world of DIY bath products, which can give you a taste of that mindset in your own regular life. These bath salts, for instance, are divine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

(I should probably not have hit "post" quite so soon)

Making your own jam is not difficult and that's one of the ur-homey things. You don't have to make a shit-load either, it's just as easy to make only one or two jars as it is to make eight. And actually canning thing for shelf-stable storage is seriously easy if you're good at following directions precisely. (The steps are not difficult, they just really shouldn't be half-assed.) But if canning spooks you, jam can also be frozen. Either way, they can give you a feel of "ooh I have homemade things in a pantry aren't I clever".

Flavored syrups are another way to flesh out your pantry, and they are even easier. Just combine sugar and water in a pan in a 1:1 ratio, bring that to a boil, throw in something to flavor it with and take it off the heat and let it cool down. Then if you need to strain out the whatever, do that, and just stick it in a bottle and stick that in your fridge; it will keep nearly indefiniately. These syrups make good DIY sodas (a little of the syrup mixed with seltzer), iced coffee sweeteners (some of them anyway), cocktail sweeteners (ditto), or the like. If you want something thicker to drizzle over ice cream or pound cake, double the amount of sugar so you get something thicker. There are a gabillion recipes out there for flavored syrups, using everything from fruit to juice to herbs to flower petals to add the flavor; pick your favorite and try it out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2019

I've got really into urban foraging after watching Li Ziqi. (I am obsessed with her and DianXi). There are so many plants around you every day that are delicious and / or useful! Go on neighborhood walks, or go to local parks and use a book or PlantSnap to identify plants you find and what they are used for.

Bonus points if you bring a cute wicker collection basket. It all feels very wholesome, even if I dont bring a bunch home.

Also, get some dried flowers and herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs or a local shop and make your own pretty tea blends.
posted by ananci at 9:00 AM on June 12, 2019

This topic brings to mind hygge-style coziness, soft sweaters, rustic ceramic mugs and bowls, homemade goods, fresh baked bread, a kind of timeless feeling. Aesthetically I'm seeing a lot of wood and natural materials, stuff that wouldn't look out of place 100 years ago.

As many have said upthread, focusing on something you do with your hands, like baking and other DIY crafts, sounds like a good place to start.

For those refreshing hot drinks, some thoughts:
- make loose leaf tea in a metal strainer / coffee via ceramic pourover cone
- use a handmade ceramic mug (from a local maker, if possible) with a calm muted color glaze
- maybe a little woven or wooden coaster to set the mug on

The music in Li Ziqi's videos reminds me a ton of walking in a MUJI store, which is a Japanese home goods store that focuses on cultivating a similarly calm (albeit more minimalist) kind of aesthetic... I usually think of it as music you might hear if you were the protagonist in a Miyazaki movie, and one of the Spirited Away songs is in the background of her grape-skin dress video. Perhaps throw on a Joe Hisaishi soundtrack (he's the main Miyazaki composer) during the day?

Reading the other answers with interest!
posted by rather be jorting at 9:14 AM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Another mindset - consider the aesthetics of your utilitarian objects. Like, I could just go with tea from the supermarket that comes in tea bags and I just stick it on the shelf in a box. Or - I could go with looseleaf tea in pretty canisters and tins and have those tins sitting on the countertop. Going with the latter makes me feel fancier, so that's what I do. I even decant the tea bags I do get now and then into tins.

You don't even have to buy tins either. If you are a fan of Pringles, save the can next time; wipe out the inside with a damp cloth, paste some pretty paper on the outside, let the whole thing dry, then pop the lid back on and and voila. Or maybe buy one tin of loose tea that comes in a tin, and then just either paint the empty tin or slap contact paper on it or something.

When you think in terms of "what could I reuse this for" you can do all kinds of things. I have lots of tins and jars and stuff that I've saved to use as storage containers for other things, from desk supplies to candy to tea to dried beans to spices to buttons to everything in between. It lets you exercise a crafty mindset, it's useful, and it's also attractive in a homespun way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on June 12, 2019

Oh, and homemade liqueur! This is what they were talking about in cozy books when they talked about people sipping "cordials" - just a little shot-size glass of a lovely homemade infused liqueur.

And making liqueur is omigod so easy - just dump some vodka into a jar with whatever you're flavoring it with, and then let it sit in a corner for a few months. Then strain it, add some sugar, and let sit for another couple months. Then you're done. Here's a basic catch-all of links to some liqueur recipes, but there are scores more out there; the basic principle, though, is always just the "dump vodka/everclear in a jar with X amount of flavoring and wait for Y amount of time".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just made a batch of 45 tealights from old/unwanted candles by melting the wax, pouring it into a silicone mold and adding wicks. After that, I made a pot of tea, set it on a tea warmer with one of my freshly made tealights to keep it warm, and enjoyed my tea a whole lot. The candle, not in an aluminium cup but in one made from glass, spread such a cosy warm light. It burned for all of five hours. (I had to try it out, of course.)

Making leftover stuff into simple things that you can use is extremely satisfying. Can you sew at all? Try making leftover fabric or clothes into reusable shopping bags. Etc.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

From my own personal experience, a lot of the above suggestions (which are all fantastic, I'm getting seriously inspired!) are a lot easier when your phone and the internet are not within easy reach. I have spent a lot of time daydreaming about being a maker and watching tutorials and all that. But it wasn't until I ditched my iPhone for a flip-phone that I was really able to capture the kind of experience that you've described.

As to specific things you could do? I'll second the suggestion of weaving. I took a class recently at a local yarn store and I now have a nice little lap loom and can weave hanging art, coasters, whatever. It's all just for fun and I only show it to my wife, but it is highly meditative and relaxing.
posted by fso at 10:05 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Consider learning to spindle spin. (Wheel spinning is also probably good but more expensive to get started and I am biased because I love spindles.) Spindles are relatively inexpensive, small enough to have a collection, and beautiful while still being useful. They feel good in your hands. There are lots of different kinds to learn how to use. Making yarn is easy enough once you get the hang of it - there are plenty of useful tutorials on the internet - and meditative, with a pleasing tactile element.

You get to feel connected to the generations of people in your family (in everyone's family - just about every culture developed some kind of spinning) who spent their time spinning and making clothing for their family and friends. You can learn about different breeds of sheep - which kinds of wool you like working with best, which are best for what purposes - as well as other animals* and plants raised for their wool or hair. You can get into dyeing, which meshes nicely with foraging - what plants grow near you that you can use for dye? What leftover bits of fruits and vegetables can you now make useful? (Avocado pits, for example, produce a beautiful delicate pink color when used as a dye.)

And then you can use your yarn for weaving, as suggested above, or develop a symbiotic relationship with a knitting friend. They get cool yarn, you get cool knitted stuff - everybody wins!

*My new time machine fantasy is to go back in time and negotiate the purchase of a breeding population of Salish wool dogs.
posted by darchildre at 10:38 AM on June 12, 2019

I buy historic cookbooks whenever I'm at museums/living history sites, and work my way through them as best I can. Part of the fun is figuring out what the original authors actually meant in their bare-bones recipes and how best to cook them in a modern kitchen. I post all this stuff on my Instagram, because it's fun.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:58 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't done this myself, but I have a long-term fascination with rag rugs as a way to make something useful out of what you might otherwise throw away. As I recall, in The Bell Jar, a character makes one out of her husband's old suits. There are lots of instructions online.
posted by FencingGal at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I see a lot of suggestions for things to do for yourself, but volunteering at a local food pantry or soup kitchen is tiring and fulfilling work that gets at the most basic human needs, and there are usually plenty of opportunities in a city setting. (But then my favorite channel like that is Grandpa Kitchen so that may be my own preferences talking.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:23 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Plenty of suggestions for projects, which is great, but I'd also love non-project suggestions if possible (the Night Mode one is a good example). Especially since I don't have a ton of money so I don't want to run the risk of getting into an expensive hobby for just 2 days!
posted by divabat at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2019

How 'bout this, then -

How many cookbooks do you have right now? Are there any cookbooks which you've only used for like one recipe and that's it? If so, I have two similar challenges for you, pick whichever one suits you best.

* If one such cookbook is really massive, then make that the centerpiece of a year-long cooking challenge. Flip through it, mark off recipes that you think you could realistically do, then based on how many recipes are on that list, come up with some number of recipes to commit to trying per month over the next 12 months. Then, do it.

* If you have a bunch of such cookbooks, then work with a different cookbook once each month, committing to making two or three recipes out of that cookbook which you haven't tried before.

Personally, I find home cooking to be very domestically theraputic,
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2019

I have maybe just one cookbook? And it's more of a Science of Cooking book than a regular cookbook. I usually get recipes from the Internet or from people I know.
posted by divabat at 3:53 PM on June 12, 2019

You could go by a bunch of flowers and make pretty flower arrangements for your home. I feel like the cutting of the flowers and arranging them just so in a vase might give you that same feel of the things she’s doing in her videos (which I LOVE I’ve been watching them all day at work after seeing this post lol)
posted by ilovewinter at 4:38 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]


One thing that sticks out to me about Li Ziqi is how very tied into the natural world she is. You know - here's some things she made from flowers since it's spring, here's a chance to harvest things for tea now that it's summer, here's something to do to keep you warm in winter, etc.

Maybe find ways to incorporate the natural world where you are. This doesn't sound like an obvious thing for those who live in a city, but I swear that there are still ways to be in touch with nature where you are - find a little park (or a little corner of a big one) and start visiting it regularly. And study it like you're a naturalist. Like, maybe if there's a tree that you realize you really kind of like for some reason, just visit it every couple weeks or something and check out what's been happening to it. Heck, it doesn't even have to be a park, it could be some random tree that's outside your window. Or this weird rock that's outside the laundromat.

Or watch birds - but I don't mean "watch birds" the way most people think of bird watching, where you have this list of birds that you are trying to see in person over the course of your life and you're just sort of checking them off. I mean "watch birds" the way my ex taught me about watching birds - when we were out and wandering around, sometimes he'd stop me and say "ooh, look at that bird over there, let's hang out a second and see what it does." And he was saying this about things like pigeons. But - he really was on to something, because slowing down to just check out a bird can get really fascinating. One of the most fun dates we ever had we were wandering around the Central Park Zoo and we ended up standing in a corner of one of the bird rooms for 20 minutes, watching this all-out epic race to build nests was going on as all the birds were darting hither and thither and picking up sticks and stealing them from each other and swooping to avoid each others' territory and occasionally squabbling and....and this was all going on under everyone's nose, but most people were just sort of wandering through the room in five minutes, maybe stopping by one or another sign to see what they could see, looking up and spotting one and then going on their way. But we'd slowed down to watch, and this whole DRAMA was unfolding before us. "There's a lot going on this room!" my ex kept laughing.

Maybe also keep a small notebook with you when you do that to make notes or try simple sketches of the things you see. Or a camera.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

And as for the crafting - you don't necessarily have to buy fancy supplies for the kind of "upcycling" stuff people are talking about. One of the Pringles can upcycles I made uses a page I ripped out of an old road atlas, and another one uses a scrap of wrapping paper. I have a project bookmarked from a youtube channel that talks about making fabric notebook covers for things and I am going to use that to salvage a couple of favorite shirts that have ripped past the point that a tailor can repair them; if I can't wear them, I'll cut them up and use them to cover notebooks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:52 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Watching Li Ziqi's channel, you can't help but be struck by a few things---the incredible curated tidiness and organization of her grandparents' property with its balance of usefulness, beauty and simplicity; the sheer number of tools and storage space/containers and the fact that almost all of her projects---and much of the dining---takes place outdoors or in dedicated structures in all seasons. But most strikingly, to watch Li Ziqi work using these resources with so many locally gathered (or traded) natural materials and ingredients is to appreciate a living system built over generations that was intended to support and nurture a culture within a specific ecosystem with limited modern conveniences. Rather than specific projects, you might consider building a similar system that supports you, your family and your community in this time and in whatever space you find yourself in.
posted by Welsky at 8:40 PM on June 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

In winter turn the heat down a bit and use lots of duvets in vintage covers (cheap from charity shops. If anything vaguely vintage is impossible to find cheap in your area, do day trips to more old fashioned rural areas with charity shops).
In spring through autumn, open a window whenever possible. Most city people don't utilise a crisp breeze for mountain vibes as often as they could.
Place your bed and chairs as close to a window as possible to facilitate whistfully looking out, particularly when raining.
Lamps everywhere. Try to not use overhead lights at all eventually.
Wear slightly jarringly modest clothes- it gives a "modern fashion hasn't reached the valley yet" vibe.
Get an analog radio and have it on quietly in the background all the time (assuming there's still analog transmission in your area).
posted by hotcoroner at 10:01 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel more connected to nature when I eat seasonally so I have a list of all the fruits, veg and meat that is available in the UK and what months it's in season. Then I buy what's in season and work out how to use in in my usual cooking. Like, swede curry in the winter, or rhubarb tart in the late spring.
posted by london explorer girl at 2:23 AM on June 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, yes, seconding London Explorer Girl! Eating seasonally is an excellent way to connect with the natural world.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:07 AM on June 13, 2019

slowing down to just check out a bird can get really fascinating

Oh yeah, definitely this! I just spent my lunch break yesterday taking pictures of ducks.
posted by capricorn at 7:09 AM on June 13, 2019

Maybe find ways to incorporate the natural world where you are.
Learning how to identify local plant and tree species would be a great way to do this as well!
posted by Rora at 8:01 AM on June 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Children's zoos too. Children's zoos tend to include a domestic-animal petting-zoo section, and that's a different experience from the rest of the zoo; all you can do is look at the tigers and gorillas, but with the sheep and goats you can pet them and stuff and that's fun. Those zoos also have their own rhythms and cycles of life; there's a petting zoo section of the zoo here in Brooklyn, and they have to shear all the sheep and goats and alpacas and stuff once a year and they turn it into an annual event.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2019

Just found something that may also help with the "natural world" thing -

One of my friends moved from Brooklyn to Brisbane, and she posts a lot of things about Indigenous Australian culture on her Facebook. She just posted a link to these calendars, with different Indigenous Peoples' groups' names for the various seasons. There's also traditional knowledge about the changes in the natural world during each season. They're not "calendars" in the Western sense, with multiple pages, they're more like single-picture infographics, and are attractive enough to download and print and hang up somewhere. I had something similar to that - a wall 'calendar' that was actually four posters with graphic depictions of the changes in the natural world and the different astronomical events over the course of the year- and it helped remind me to notice different things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 AM on June 14, 2019

Your question resonates with me. Not because I'm trying to adopt a new lifestyle or hobby, but because I feel like there's just too much going on in my world, and I question how much of it is high value. I just moved from a big city to a small one, and the difference in the pace was kind of jolting in a positive way. I wonder if you maybe feel like this a bit? I'm trying to notice how I'm spending my time, and asking myself if what I'm doing is really moving me towards or away from the kind of life that I want. To do that, I've been using this momento mori app called WeCroak. It just notifies me a few times a day and says "Remember: you're going to die." It's a good reminder that time is finite, so why spend it on nonsense.

Hope this isn't derailing or mind-reading; just thoughts because I feel like I'm in a similar search.
posted by sincarne at 5:23 AM on June 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the reason a lot of people keep coming in with project advice is because that is a mindset, a bit.

A lot of the DIY stuff is stuff that people are making for their own selves to add a bit of polish and color to their daily lives; like, you don't have to have a pretty container for your desk supplies, but having one just adds a bit of polish to your life - and you can make one out of stuff you were just going to throw away. You don't have to have a cupboard full of different jams - but having that will let you think "hmm, I feel like marmalade today with breakfast instead of the gooseberry jam I had yesterday." Or whatever.

The food/pantry stuff is kind of a self-reinforcing thing - a lot of it is easy to make, and after I go through making it, it's sitting there staring at me and I end up thinking "well, I may as well use it since it's here...." and that's how I end up giving myself tea breaks with fancy cookies or homemade scones and jam, or using the fancy vanilla sugar syrup in my iced coffee instead of sugar, or whatever. The bath stuff as well; I end up thinking "well, I have these bath salts all made up, I may as well treat myself to a bath." It gets me over the inertia of "oh why bother with these little indulgent things" and gets me to do these small pleasures, and I always end up happier.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on June 14, 2019

(I hit post too soon dangit)

You may want to track down this book - "Make Yourself Cozy". That may have more of the "small practices" ideas you're looking for
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on June 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

sincarne has hit the heart of my post. There is a lot going on in my world and finding calm in the chaos is hard. Hell, watching a really talky video afterwards seems like overload. That's why the lifestyle in those videos is so appealing: you're not dealing with a million other things demanding your attention, you have a few things you can just focus on. It's not really about going rural or even reconnecting with nature, though I do see the benefits of either - it's more about being able to disconnect every once in a while.

I've marked as Best Answer stuff that seems more feasible for me (food is tricky as I'm on a modified diet for health reasons and I don't have a bath tub alas, that'd probably resolve half my tension). But I'm sure that the suggestions here are going to be useful to many! The book recs about coziness are good too, thank you.
posted by divabat at 6:10 PM on June 14, 2019

Woodworking is both good and bad for this. Good because you stay intensely focused on something concrete and have created a thing when you're done. Bad because sometimes you have to saw or sand, and (as I have discovered in my small city condo) that creates a lot of fine dust that can cause allergies and isn't good for your lungs.

The tools can also get expensive quickly if you really get into it.
posted by clawsoon at 3:52 AM on June 17, 2019

One of the simplest and cheapest things I own to get this feeling is my red antique-style LED lantern (example). I bought it used for cheap, roughly $7 or so, and every night during my wind-down time, I use it to get around the apartment. This has the added benefit of avoiding bright overhead lights when I'm trying to tell my body it's time to sleep, in addition to making me think that I'm going camping and/or living in the woods.

I've also tried using my air conditioner less and opening the window at night more. Unfortunately, mosquitoes sometimes manage sneak inside, despite the window screen and bug repellent sitting on the window sill. I've now hung a canopy mosquito net ($15) above my bed and I feel like I'm sleeping in a see-through tent. It's wonderful.
posted by lesser weasel at 12:36 AM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

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