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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Painting and Thinking

I think a lot while I paint the hex signs. Yes, my first and primary thoughts are to focus the energies into the sign for the person or people for whom I am painting. But thoughts lead to thoughts which lead to more as I
focus on the sign (today, strength, as I am painting a Mighty Oak) and today my thoughts ran to my recent frustration with being able to paint quickly and accurately, and then on to advise my father gave me when I was young.

You may have gathered -- correctly -- that I no longer fit that description. I am in my 70s, and while "everyone" notes that I am not typical of women of my age, age is showing to me at least. My recent illness meant several weeks when neither my hands nor my eyes wanted to cooperate with the brush. My body is working much better now -- or else I would not be painting -- but it is still more of a challenge than it was last year. And the advice I was given by an elderly painter years back, "just paint between the shakes" doesn't necessarily apply to what I do. He was a fine art painter; his work did not require two, identical, coats of paint be applied to each area of color. Using house paint on the signs does, so not only do I need to accurately follow my light guide lines, I have to accurately retrace those exact steps again, which means I not only have to coordinate the hand, the eyes have to work pretty darn well. And this is getting more difficult.

Somehow, maybe because the energies in this sign are masculine, my mind wandered on to my father's advice: always have "something to fall back on." He meant, whatever your life path, whatever career you aspire to (I was still a student when he laid his words of wisdom on me), make sure you can do something else as well. I took from his words the meaning of something that would be universally required.

At that time, my heart was set on a career in science, astronomy specifically. And yes, even then I wrestled with the notion of doing something "useful" as opposed to something like astronomy, which, at that time at least, seemed pretty irrelevant to daily life. Probably still is, at least to many folks.  He wanted me to be a teacher "as a fall back." Which made sense, in a way, but had no appeal. But as life unfolded, I did not end up in a scientific career but I did end up teaching... a lot. Most of it was not either in a classroom setting or for pay, which is not surprising to me at all, since I came of age not only in the hippie era, but also in the company of the early computer geeks and hackers. "Information wants to be free."

Over the course of my life, I did many jobs "as fall backs." For several years I was the darling of several temp agencies, as I took whatever they threw at me and made the company look good... from detailing cars just off the boat from Japan to fun in a pizza factory, which could have been a plot straight out of "I Love Lucy," to outworking (and essentially replacing) two high school football players at a tent sale, showing huge throw rugs. Over the years, though, my real "fall back" was janitorial work. It was mindless, easy to come by due to high turn over, and paid the bills. And while it was physical, it was not beyond me.

Now, though... I dunno.

Which got me to thinking about the advice we give our kids, and even to ourselves. We try to raise our youngsters to succeed in the world we see coming. The advice we give them, the ideas and skills we try to share, are thoroughly rooted in our perceptions of the world around us. And while we may not always think so, I think those perceptions actually say more about US than they do about the world. We each see the world through our own "filters": our experiences, what we were taught, etc. These are all very personal and individual things.

My dad could no more foresee the world of 2019 -- or 2020, to play with the upcoming year which will have enough memes to drive us all to drink, I fear -- than most of the science fiction writers I read as a youth. And when he gave me his advice, he was still in the prime of his life so had no clue of the challenges that age would bring him, let alone what I would face as a woman going on three times the age he was at the time.

So, in the face of all this, do I have any words for the next generations? Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut, because pretty much, I think they are doing great with the crap that we, unthinking, handed them. I will say, though, DO THINK it through.. all of it. There is always a tendency to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Not all of alleged progress is good, not all of the past is bad. I hope you choose better than my generation did, overall. Just my opinion, of course, but I wish more of us had understood that we all have to live together on this one planet, had worked harder to work together, with her, and fewer had been lured by the love of money.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Life Throws Curve Balls

The big hex sign awaits spring!
Late summer and early autumn bring a flurry of activity to Fussing Duck Farm and often to hex central as well. Equinox weekend brings the Common Ground Country Fair, an offering of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which we support big time. Each year, I end up spending all 3 days of the event on site in Unity, managing the Farm and Homestead Speakers' Tent.  While I enjoy this volunteer opportunity, it becomes more exhausting with each year that I age. Dammit, why does getting old have to be such a challenge!

Painting of the big hex got put on hold for the fair, and then we hit a rainy part of autumn (not unusual here... it is a challenge for me to find even one opportunity to scuffle happily through a pile of dry, fallen leaves) and, even worse, I got hit by an unknown illness that kept me alternately freezing/shivering and sweating. At least the first week of this, I was mostly "not here" even though I did not run what I have, in the past considered a high fever. It only hit 101F. Doc thought "'flu" but the swab disagreed and at this point, I guess I will never know. Hope whatever it was, I am immune now, as it took over a month for me to even begin to feel like I was healing and I have not 6 weeks out, regained all of my strength and endurance.

So, despite Tractor Guy having bought and set up a scaffolding to make my painting easier (it will also serve him as a base of operation for roof repair, later), the big hex is now waiting until spring. While I probably could physically climb and paint now, if I planned my day right... well this *is* Maine and even if the rain were to hold off, the temperatures are dropping below optimal paint parameters. We have snow mixed with rain in tonight's forecast and 7+ inches in the long range forecast for next week!

While I was down for the count, the 25 meat chickens I was raising came to -- and exceeded -- optimal harvest size. I am thankful to have friends who were willing to take up the slack and all of the birds got processed. In fact, I have a hen roasting in the oven as I type this!

Not only did I need help with the fowl, but there were 25' rows of carrots and beets still in the garden, some turnips, cabbage, and a bit of lettuce that the marauding deer had left us. The same friends who took charge of the chicken processing, came out one day and made short work of the carrots and beets and the rest I picked in the last few days, a bit here, a bit there. It feels good to have friends who pitch in and also feels great to have the harvest (except for the Brussels sprouts, which will get picked for Thanksgiving) done!

I am thankful that during my illness, hex orders held off. I have one, a Mighty Oak, that I am completing now and then it appears there will be another break. If you want a sign by Yule or Christmas, I hope you will let me know soon, so I can guarantee it will arrive on time!

I am finally feeling up to doing a little bit of extra stuff, so this coming Saturday, November 9, I am attending the Fall Folk Festival in Dover-Foxcroft, as a spinner. A friend will be a vendor there as well, selling her hand crafted soaps. I will be promoting Dutch Hex Sign by spinning on my decorated
spinning wheel and with a display featuring a small livestock protection sign I painted for my friend's rabbitry (she raises fiber bunnies) and business cards, and hope to generate some local interest in my work...but mostly will be talking about the fine, fun art of spinning wool, and maybe flax, hoping to encourage more folks to take up this delightful pass time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Hex signs painted the old way

Primed and ready!
 My neighbor, a house painter by trade, has been painting my garage in between his other projects and recently announced that the west end was ready for me to begin work on the 6 foot diameter hex sign that I have been wanting to paint there for several years. 

Getting up on a ladder to paint a sign is something that I have not for a good long time, and have only done a few times over my life.  And, at 72 with two bionic knees and hips that are not getting any younger, it does not seem like something to be put off for long! But as you can see, up the ladder I got today and while you cannot see any difference, I am painting the background color, white, over the primer (also white).

 I had to position the ladder right on the disk and paint around it to be able to reach the center of the top of the circle. And yes, one of those wires does carry the house electric, which was why I had my hat on backwards. This is not my typical way to wear ball caps, but in this case, being able to see over my head without obstructions, seemed to make sense.

I ended up getting Tractor Guy to move the ladder to the side, so I could get the spots I missed with it being centered, (left) then moved down to the step ladder. I am much more comfortable with them, and it was sufficiently tall to allow me to paint the left section that I had been unable to reach from the center, as well as the bottom of the circle.

And the finished work for the day... looks just like it did before! LOL But I know that it now has a good foundation on which I can draw the design and then begin painting it. After the rain which is in the forecast for tomorrow. With luck I will get it drawn on before the end of the week and can begin painting!

Below is a shout-out to the folks who supply the plywood for the signs that I make as A local lumber yard, Hammond Lumber, with branches in many towns in Maine, have been my partners in hexeri for many years now. If you're in Bangor, please give the folks at their office at 1087 Hammond Street, a chance to help you with your project. (P.S. Their lumber comes from straight trees! ;) )

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Hopping Centuries for Fun, Painting Hexen for Profit, Growing Stuff for??

One thing I can say for sure, my life is never boring.

Early this year, a friend drafted me to accompany her to a living history event, put on by and in support of the Fort Halifax state historic site here in Maine.  They have an annual event in Fort Halifax park, in Winslow, ME, featuring historical reenactment and other fun stuff, of which we were a part, as spinners. So, on Saturday past, we packed up our wheels and took to the road, me with my Ashford wheel and her -- with more guts than I have -- with a persnickety great wheel! I wish I had hauled along a video camera to capture her work as well as she captured mine, but ...  I am in awe of the garb she produced, both for herself and her young friend (not shown) who also was spinning and weaving on the small loom seen on the table.
It was a delightful day and I suspect we will be doing more of this sort of activity. There are times when I feel more at home with at least one foot in the past than I do trying to cope with the insanity that runs rampant these days.

But, back on the farm, there are many hexen to be painted to ship, the garden is finally beginning to take hold (though we have a great production of lettuce and spinach in process! I must pick more spinach to put by soon, and am very thankful for the cooler, wet spring which seems to have helped one of my favorite crops.) and one of the black hens has gone broody. I hope to get the hatchery crop of baby turkeys outside this week, so I can clean up and make room for the hatchery crop of meat chickens coming next week (both for us and to grow for a friend)  and I really need to go back through my notes to see when I need to begin looking for babies under the broody hen, too. It has been our experience that letting the hen hatch, but brooding indoors, works best for us.

I am keeping a close watch on the baby peaches! Totally amazed that this,
the first year of planting a peach tree from Fedco, I have fruit! Traditionally, peaches have been raised in Maine, but of late the most successful growers seem to be those who live in town - at least here in my area -- where the temperature fluctuate less and the buildings and roads offer protection. But here they are! The tree is mulched with a blanket of moth eaten sheep's fleece, so maybe that is the secret?

"Resistance hex" will be empowered
to support the values our Founding
Fathers promoted.

On another thread, my neighbor who is a house painter by trade, and I have worked out a deal to get my garage painted "barn red" and he has been hard at work doing the prep so this can happen. Other events in play, which I will talk about later, have pushed me to follow through on a several year old plan to add multiple hex signs to the garage, including a 6 foot diameter version of this "resistance hex" at the peak of the west side of the building. I designed it several years ago, and am planning to make some changes, mostly in the proportions of the design, and then painting it directly on the building, the very old way! My neighbor/painter will start with the wall on which I pant to paint this design and then continue to work on the rest of the garage, so I can get started. I will add additional signs of they type I paint for sale (on plywood, mounted with screws) to the long south face of the building and over the doors, where he can be seen scraping in the photo.

I am very excited about this project, as well as the current orders in the queue. And I am excited, as well, by the continued damp weather which means less watering in the garden, but no good painting weather. LOL Just call me Pollyanna; I can find something good in anything! How about you?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Don't Idealize the Seasons, Look Around You

It's been a long, strange winter in many places. The weather has morphed into a long, wet (and in some places, very destructive) spring which follows a rather destructive fall. It's what's happening outside my window. In my garden, which has been planted in fits and starts, plants *are* sprouting and growing, though observations of the bloom cycle of local woody plants is telling me the season is lagging. Normally I have lilacs in full bloom by traditional Memorial Day (nature does not recognize our need to be master of the calendar and lust for 3-day weekends). This year, they are only beginning to bud and the benchmark day arrives tomorrow. This is also the traditional time for "everyone to plant everything" and for me to set out the warm season plants and seeds. But I won't.

I won't wait long, mind you, just until the first of June, to let a predicted overnight low in the mid-40s pass. Things would probably be ok anyway, but as I notice the blooms lagging -- only by a week at most -- I am choosing a bit of a delay.

All of these thoughts bring to mind my frustration, and even anger, at the myriad of folks around me who seem to only listen to the advertisers to mark the seasons. Or perhaps refer to folk traditions from Gods alone know where, or when. Somehow, they seem to think, The Powers That Be have been commanded to adjust the weather programming when Memorial Day (now Memorial Day Weekend... which is even earlier) rolls by. Suddenly, *we* seem to expect warm temperatures, sunny days and mild nights, as if the Gods themselves were chomping at the bit to attend our weekend parties on our newly cut lawns, gathered around the grill and quaffing a brew. As if there was a Universal Digital Thermostat setting for *Summer* that kicked in from Maine to Arizona, around the end of May.
That's as silly as the focus on snow for the December holidays in lands where such weather never happens.  And bears no relationship to reality in many northern or mountain locations. And while I am ranting, have you ever walked into a "big box" store and frozen from the AC in the spring or been driven out by the heat in the fall? That's what happens when the climate in your location is out of sync with that at their main headquarters!

Summer, just to change up the season we are talking about here, begins *astronomically* on June 21. That marks not MIDsummer, regardless of the many traditional midsummer celebrations but the longest day of the year, which is more like the beginning of summer weather, which lags behind the day length.  The lag in temperature occurs because even though the minutes of daylight begin to decrease , the earth's surface and atmosphere continues to receive more energy than just what it receives from the sun.  Average temperatures continue to climb until the sun drops lower in the sky.  (reference

Therefore, come September, while the advertisers have been pushing autumnal images for two months with their "back to school" promotions, and the last things we want to see in the stores are sweaters and heavy coats,  we think "autumn," regardless of the fact that the equinox which opens the door -- tipping the balance toward nights longer than the days -- does not happen until September 23. And again, this is only the beginning of the season as the lag we noted above continues year 'round.  In the words of the poet Ogden Nash: It's Never Too Late to be Uncomfortable, or September is Summer, Too.

And along with our cultural disconnect from the actual seasons, we also seem to value daily weather beyond even what they sang about in the musical Camelot.

I don't expect everyone to like the same kind of climate, but I do get tired of the expectation that I am *also* fixated on a desire for hot days of unremitting sunshine. I am not. In fact, while I know sunshine (or at least bright overcast, which is much prefer) is necessary, it does not seem that there is even close to as much respect for cool days, wind and especially rain. But think about it, folks... without rain, where would your water come from? (And if you say "the store" or "Poland Spring" all I can do is shake my head an offer a "bless your little heart.")

And I hear it now -- regarding the rain -- but there can be too much of a good thing! And yes, it's true... as the storms and flooding attest. But to the contrary, there are few comments in similar vein during prolonged warm-to-hot, dry periods. Even when water use restrictions come into play, the day to day weather comments do not decry the lack of moisture nearly as much as they currently cry for sunshine.

Listen to the world around you, people. Sit on the Earth, with your back up against a tree. Feel his or her thoughts. Run your hand along the grasses... stroke them as you would a cat or dog and learn to know them as well. Walk in the rain, and the wind, and the snow; they are as important to the other beings with whom we share this earth as the sunshine and bathing suit weather are to you.

Monday, May 13, 2019

I love interacting with my clients and customers!

I was up later than hoped last night, waiting for pain meds to kick in enough for sleepy to knock on the door of my brain. A hot Epsom salt soak helped set the sleepy in place and I hit the bed and was out for the count. These spring days, with the extra activity they necessitate, does a number on our aging bodies.

I am thankful for the good rest last night, as today it's time to cut another 4' hex, for which I received the order for yesterday. I also got a delightful email from the client, sharing their intentions in detail. THIS is what I love about this work, which is not just art, but also spirit. The big
48 inch Dutch hex sign being painted
Women's Empowerment hex sign in process
one I am currently working on is not ready to go out yet, but I want to get the next big disk cut and in so, rain or not, things move forward. The current sign I am working on is this 48" diameter version of a sign for Women's Empowerment that I worked up last year, especially for a one-time
PA Dutch hex sign for Women's Empowerment
original 8" diameter sign
local event. Those signs were all painted with artist acrylics on smaller, pre-made disks, like this one to the right. This is the first time that I have designed a sign to be made in a smaller size and then had a request for a large one. Scaling up is a new challenge; I drew grid lines, 3/4 inch apart on a small print of the original and  4.5 inches apart on the large disk and used them as reference to draw the very non-geometric design. It's been years since I used that technique, but I am pleased with the result and hope the client will be as well. He has emailed me recently, inquiring about two smaller copies of a slightly different interpretation of the design, but also for outside display, to be cut from plywood. Of course this delights me, but even more so as I note these signs are being ordered by a father for his daughter. Way to go, Dad!

The remaining smaller versions can be found HERE on the Dutch Hex Sign web site, where there is also an email link to request orders of custom designs or sizes.

On non-related notes, I am crossing fingers that we get the tiller up and running with electric start today, as I could really use to get more seeds in the ground. In many places in our fair land, the time for pushing the early planting season and for getting the cold-loving plants and seeds in the ground has long past.  Here in the northlands,  I am not in panic mode, not even close. Especially not with threats of overnight snowfall which are flitting about on the Internet with folks all a twitter (lower case). Snow, per se, is not a deal breaker and *can* happen even if the temperature on the ground is above freezing. And the "last frost date" for many of us here in central Maine is *not* until the end of the month, later for y'all in "the county" (as folks here say.)

Where ever you garden, learn your hardy crops from the tender ones and make the most of the "shoulder season" without feeling the need to coddle your little green babies with tunnels or the like. Green growing things LOVE to feel the wind on their leaves, real rain around their roots and the sun helping them to create the food they need to feed themselves so they can feed us. When your ground is no longer *soggy* you can plant onions and potatoes, spinach and lettuce, peas, carrots, beets and turnips. Just hold off on the peppers, tomatoes, and all the delicious viney things that we love - melons and cukes and squash of all sorts. They are the tender little ones that need extra time in the house.

Of course, those of you in the southlands will have a very different routine. I remember "summer gardens" and "winter gardens" with the winters being the time for cooler weather crops and the summers sometimes a struggle in the heat for even the most well adapted vines and tomato plants. Now, though, I am thankful for my winter's rest!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Spring Comes (slowly) to the Northlands

The first forsythia blooms outside!
Some of us thought it would never come. Spring, that is. We had a long winter here in the northlands. Many of you across the country have shared this experience. Our snow did not pile up badly, late in the season; instead we got soaking rains on top of snow on top of ice and then as the melt came -- oh, so slowly -- more rain. It is raining, again, as I type this. But ever so slowly, signs of spring appear even here in the country where we have fewer buildings and paving to moderate the climate. The first of the forsythia bushes has burst into bloom. There must be several varieties around, because this one had joined the neighbor's bush in blossom, but the rest of mine, clones of the one that "came with the house" and one sent as a start from a daughter in Utah, are budded but lagging.

 On my trip to town yesterday, I noticed a distinct green tint to the deciduous trees which appeared almost overnight. The birch grove to the north has joined in the display and the ground has warmed to nearly 55F, which means it's time to begin planting! At least that's what the soil says, and I have got some garden work done as the land dried a bit during a brief respite from rain.

The garlic has been up for a couple of weeks, and I have been gazing hopefully at the early seeding of spinach, hoping that the occasional bit of green that I spied was food-to-be and not a weed. In an attempt to keep weeding to a minimum, I have been deploying the paper weed block strips that I make from feed sacks, as you can see to the left. The left-most strip is a walkway between the spinach row and an equally early seeding of some "iffy" lettuce seed. I threw it out when I planted the spinach, hoping that a few -- but not too many -- of the seeds would grow and I would not have to thin them. At this point I am still not sure.  The other two shorter rows of paper are my onion beds; seedling onions planted three abreast through holes poked in the paper.

brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale..)
Brassicas (left) are waiting on the porch for their turn to be transplanted out and a flat of tomatoes (right) push against the lights in the kitten-resistant shelf on the grow rack.

In hex central, I have just completed a new version of the popular Abundance hex sign and two domestic
Abundance hex sign
animal protection signs for German Shepherd dogs and am about to begin construction of a sign for women's empowerment on a 48" diameter disk!