Follow by Email

Monday, October 24, 2016

Winter Nights Tide

As I have been lead to believe (and do understand here that I am NOT Asatru nor a scholar, but follow a personal path that is very heavy on UPG (Unverified personal gnosis)) the northlanders, in the old days, did not break the seasons down into four, but rather into three, spring, summer and winter. I have also read of a festival that was held in October called "Winter Nights" which marked the beginning of the winter season. 

It seemed odd to me, a woman of the northlands here in the USA, that one would not recognize autumn as a season. After all, the turning of the leaves in my native Michigan, as well as my adopted home here in Maine, is something awesome to behold! However, thanks to the internet and friends abroad, especially in Norway, it seems they do not share our dramatic autumns. So now it makes more sense to me, this three season thinking and the recognition of the coming of winter at this time of the year.

It is my practice, as per my observation of the turning of the wheel of the year, that the energies wax and wane, like the coastal tides, so I see each of the markers for the turning year as tides, rather than days, and my "Winter Nights Tide" is currently well under way. 

I have, for some time, been feeling myself being drawn back inside, even though the fall planting and the last of the fall harvest had not yet been done. I want to spin and weave and study and tell stories. The Winter Nights Tide allows me the transition to this mode. 

This year, the seasonal color changes were several weeks later, in my observation, than usual. Shirt sleeve weather continued and getting into the mindset was hard, until recently. But this week I have planted the garlic and (though it is way late and may not work) the winter wheat. I potted up some oregano and moved it and a pot of struggling marjoram into the house. I mowed the fence rows last week, and earlier in the month, managed to get my first two Maine goats -- not that this has anything to do with winter coming, other than I suspect their previous owner did not want to keep them through the winter, as they are small and the doe really should not be bred yet. But the breed and price were right, so they came home. 

Meanwhile, other necessary projects were calling and we have been busy reorganizing the house to make it more efficient. All of the freezers (3 of them) are on the back porch and soon will be sorted by type of food: meat in one, vegetables in another and fruit and commercial products in a third. As the storage gets used up, one or more will be combined, but for now, having all three makes it easier to find things. Moving the freezer allowed me to move a storage shelf unit, and moving that made it obvious that the little space heater in the work/living room needed a bit of a move. That was completed, the grow rack now will get full sun and we have ascertained that we have one full and one partial tank of propane! Great start to the cooler days, as we will need that heater next week, for sure.

I am not sure if it's the coming of a serious -- very cold and snowy -- winter, old age or what, but our outdoor kitty, a TNR feral kitten that we adopted in NC that refused to tame and has been living life as our "barn cat" sans barn decided it was time to move indoors this month as well. At first she just meowed at the door for food, as always, but when we put it out for her, she continued to call at the door after eating. It was still warm enough, so despite the flies, we left the door open and -- for the first time ever -- she walked into the house several days in a row. I began putting her food inside... at first just inside the door and then farther in, and each day she came in more readily and stayed in longer. Eventually she did not bolt for the door when we got up and moved around, and I closed the front door. She has been in ever since, and did not even choose to go out when we had the door open for protracted periods on the day we were working on the propane. She seems to come to me for food and mews back and forth with me like she only used to with Tractor Guy, so he says she has chosen to be my cat. Interesting timing on her part, as the last cat that I could call mine amongst our crew was Ghost, who passed on a couple of months ago. 

We are currently not especially on track to be ready for deep winter, though. There is still stuff to be done in the garden and in the perennial beds, the coops have not been winterized, nor has the goat house, though if the snows hold off a bit, we may make it. 

The coming of  Samhain ( a more recognized seasonal event, from the greater Pagan community ) and the secular Halloween, the decreasing hours of light and the "thinning of the veil" as many folks experience at this time of the year converge to bring those who have passed on - both human and other -- to our minds. Anticipation of the riding of the Wild Hunt at midwinter nears, along with the physical challenges of a northern winter,  motivate us to focus on completion of our autumn tasks as the Tide ebbs and the Days of Transformation begin.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

How to Get Everything Done (on the Homestead) and Cope When You Can't - secong round

Previously I wrote about
  • having spares
  • not getting "target fixation"
  • being prepared
and mentioned
  • Flexibility
  • Making do
  • And a nice glass of wine
So I am going to write a bit about those subjects today.

 Flexibility  So, you ask, "do you have a 'to do' list or just wing it?" While I don't write an actual list unless I am heading to town (and I do lists then to help not only remember errands, but to plan the most efficient route, especially if there are stops at some less-frequented locations) I do keep a mental list which often juggles several categories of things. There are the daily (or should be daily, if you know me you know flexibility trumps should every time) things like dishes, as well as the "gotta be" chores -- tending critters tops that category, always. Then there are the other indoor and outdoor things that need doing, that sometimes get sorted into groups like: quick small jobs, REALLY need doing, two person tasks, need to do eventually which are all often associated with weather-related modifiers: good for rainy days, do in cool temps (which may mean early or late in the day or on cooler, cloudier and breezier days), need still air, and so on.

The current version of our double anti-deer fence is not cultivated
between, like it was in 2013, and the inner fence is no longer
multiple electric strands, but a single strand of twine, as a
visual barrier.
I don't really have a formal sorting routine, though, letting my energy level, tolerance-of-chaos level and other factors determine the starting point and likely list. Today, for example, is a cool and wet day. After I finish writing this (which is happening along with my breakfast) I'll tend fowl and put the goats out to pasture for a while. I am being thankful for the damp today, as yesterdays jobs (cleaning grass from around the fruit and nut trees, painting trunks and starting the between the fences mowing) left me with very sore arms and shoulders. There remains about 60% of the mowing yet to do, and had the weather been right for it, I would have felt the need to attempt to push ahead with that task. Instead, the damp weather is allowing me to work on lighter, indoor tasks and rest the arms a bit. That is a key factor in how I work flexibly. 
Wooly Aphids

Working WITH, rather than against, the weather whenever possible, I find, often allows me to actually be more efficient and get more done in the long run. If your workouts are in the gym, your trainer will guide you to work different muscles on subsequent days, I am sure. This is the "farm workout" equivalent! So, while the mowing, and working on the wooly aphid problem I found yesterday on one of our baby apple trees  (some plant pests go immediately to the head of the list!) get shuffled to tomorrow, indoor tasks that have been hanging fire come to the front of the list.
Small fraction of the onion harvest.

It IS harvest time, so I have bushels of onions to deal with, sourkraut that needs canning, as well as the first of the beets. There are apples to juice and that needs canning and of course hex signs to paint. Orders have slowed down to a more reasonable level at but I have a small wooden Mighty Oak sign and an Abundance for indoor display to complete and post on Tuesday, as Monday is a holiday. And a Protection sign that needs to be started.
Protection hex sign

So... I have wandered a bit from my bullet points but I do want to touch base on "making do" with a story from this past week's supper menu. As I do my canning, occasionally a jar fails to seal. It happens to the best of us, and in the recent past, as I was experimenting with pressure canning the basis for tomato soup (my grandmother's recipe calls for thickening the base a bit with a flour and butter roux and then adding a bit of milk, for a creamy tomato bisque, but you cannot can flour-thickened things) I had a jar not seal. Into the fridge it went, for use -- I planned -- on a chilly day. Weather warmed up, soup was not what we were hungry for, so it sat until I was looking for inspirations for supper a few nights ago. I saw the jar, and thinking it was just canned tomatoes, I started the process to make spaghetti sauce. When I dumped the "tomatoes" into the skillet I immediately knew something was wrong: the texture was totally off. I gave a quick taste (yeah I know... not the smartest thing, but I've not died -- or got food poisoning yet!) and it tasted fine. I was seeing unexpeced "stuff" in the mix, though and still confused, I picked up a largish green leaf (still thinking this was canned tomatoes and wondering how the tomato leaf got in there!) and recognized celery! Finally the light dawned... it was SOUP! And would never thicken enough, even with added flour, to become a reasonable texture sauce.

Thinking quickly, I grabbed the pasta from the cupboard and discovered it was angel hair and had a wild idea... why not break up the pasta (which cooks very quickly) and just throw it into the runny sauce, letting the swelling, cooking pasta take up the extra liquid! So in it went, on went the lid and down went the fire (hoping it wouldn't stick and burn.) As I checked it during the 7 min or so it was supposed to cook, I still was not sure if I was making supper -- or treats for dogs and poultry! After the alleged time was up, the pasta still tasted a bit al dente to me, so I turned off the fire and left it a bit longer. It turned out not only edible, but good enough that Tractor Guy said he hoped I could re-create it again! LOL  Once again, making do for the win!

And it wasn't just on account of that nice glass of wine that it ended up tasting good, I can assure you. Tractor Guy doesn't like wine.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On the Subject of Age

Taking a digression from the "How to Get it All Done..." theme for the moment.

The changes that autumn brings, and yes the analysis and introspection that the presentation mentioned above brought about, as well as a thought prompt shared by a friend who is taking the "30 Days of Harvest" ecourse got me to thinking. My friend, who is only now approaching her second Saturn return -- but who I have always viewed as a contemporary -- was taking aback by today's prompt: When did you first realize you were no longer young?

I have been feeling the weight of my years, more of late than usual and on one of my away missions while letting my brain wander during the drive I got to figuring out at what age in MY life was my mother the same age I am now. And my grandmother as well. I wanted to look back on how I remember their lives, to look through the lens of time at what I knew them to be doing, then and there, and yes (though I don't often do this) compare.

I am  68. My mom was born in 1910, so she was my age in 1978, the year my second daughter, Amy, was born. By that time my dad had recently died of prostrate cancer and she was about to move from Omaha, where they lived briefly during the end of his life so he could be closer to his kin, but where she really had no one she was connected closely with, to Appleton, WI to be closer to us. 

She moved into a "high rise" apartment complex for seniors, a couple of blocks away. I honestly don't know WHAT she did with her days, but keeping up a small apartment, cooking for one really wasn't much to do. I know she spent a lot of time watching TV (it had been a bone of contention between us for years -- since I was a teen and on a rare occasion when I WANTED to talk to mom, was told to "wait" until the program was over), that she did not like to socialize with her neighbors ("a bunch of  old folks who only want to talk about their ailments!") and that a couple of times a week she would walk the couple of blocks to our place and spend time with the girls. I don't recall her sewing much (the one hobby of hers that sticks in my brain) during that time, but she did make things for the kids after we moved out west, so perhaps it is my mind that is faulty. But in any case, there was little in the way of "heavy lifting" in the metaphorical or physical sense, in her life. No animals or plants to care for, other than an occasional house plant. None of the typical stuff that I take for granted in a typical week. I would suspect that her most strenuous activity was her walks to our place -- two blocks -- on the occasions when she had empty liquor bottles to bring! She steadfastly refused to put them down the trash chute at her place, even well wrapped in paper bags and newspaper, concerned that her neighbors might see! LOL

Grandma Katie was born in 1888 to the best of my recollection. That would have made her 68 in 1956, when I was 8. She died, I believe in 1964 or 65... I was in high school and not a senior yet. That would have made her 76 or so at the time of her death. And I honestly, as a 8 year old, who only visited her and Grandpa for a bit each summer, don't remember much. She quilted, and sewed... taught me how to use her treadle sewing machine a few years later. Grandpa was the one who gardened, but I remember her wringer washer and carrying the laundry out to the line in a bushel basket. She cooked from scratch, did a bit of hexeri work, but seems from my current view through time to have mostly been a homemaker.

So, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. And let myself know that it's really ok when I hurt rolling out of bed in the morning after a day harvesting -- or planting -- or mowing -- or canning -- or chasing livestock of one variety or another. Or even the day after that. Or after that.

Because (and I am not feeling sorry for myself or fishing for atta-boys or compliments or sympathy) if I had been born in an earlier time (and not MUCH earlier, for that matter) I would be dead by now. For those of you who don't know, I was born with a major hole in my heart -- between two chambers that allowed the blood, which normally does a standard routine of rounds from the body to the heart, lungs, heart and then back to the body full of necessary oxygen, to totally skip the whole "lungs" thing. Not all of it, mind you. No one would last long that way. But enough that when my body needed extra O2 it just wasn't there. Like when I was a baby and got upset and cried... not enough oxygen and I would, so I am told, loose my normal pinkish color and turn a bit bluish. You may have heard the term "blue baby." I was one.

My mom was not told initially... but being an RN, she figured out there was a problem right quick. And saw our family doc, who told her to try to keep me calm. It must have worked, though I don't remember. When I was 2, we went to Chicago Children's Hospital for a heart work up. I have some strange, disconnected memories that must belong to that visit. There was only one, and that was when they found the problem. And also when they told my mom to "manage me" in such as way as to keep me from being too physical, to keep me calm, and to revisit the issue when I was in my mid 20s. In the early 1950s (my exam would have likely been in 1950 or 51) open heart surgery was not even an option. In 1955, the first open heart surgeries using a primitive heart lung machine were performed, so this was several years after my workup. The doc who saw me must have been aware of the earlier research as he was concerned, he told my mom, that the severity of my leak could likely make me a prime candidate for early experiments, but he was convinced that, with her medical knowledge, she could successfully manage me through my childhood and youth.

It worked, but like many "medical procedures" did have side effects. While I was not allowed to take PE in school (something I am honestly not unhappy about) I was not made to be, or to feel like an invalid. So I learned to pace myself and endurance and walking became my things. As a teen, participating in the school science club camp outs, I know our sponsoring teacher kept a close eye on me (dad was also a teacher, you know!). He was an older gent, thought regularly carrying a 50 lb pack, and while many of my classmates made like rabbits in the tortoise and the hare story at the beginning of our hikes, our teacher and I kept a slower, but steady pace and usually made it to our goal together and ahead of the rest, who were spent and resting. As a result of this type of exercise, I never found any issues of turning blue as I grew. Hearts are muscles, you know, and like other muscles, grow upon exercise. So if you call me "big hearted" I will take it literally. Mine is, so I am told, the size of an NFL linebacker!

So between being raised without physical competition (this must have been really hard for my dad, who was also a coach!) -- though I had by nature a very competitive personality, and as a young child, the use of food -- namely home made chocolate-peanutbutte fudge -- to keep me calm, I made it to my mid 20s. And had open heart surgery. And lived to tell the tale.

So, had I been born -- as me, to my parents -- in pioneer days, or earlier, I would have died. No doubt about it. If not earlier (can you really imagine pioneer life without stress??) then when I got pregnant or attempted to birth a baby. I have no doubt of this. So in a sense the last 43 years, more or less, have been a gift. As are my 5 daughters and the myriad of experiences I have had.

And on top of all that, I can haul hay and grain, turn the earth, plant, weed, grow and harvest, put by, and later enjoy the fruits and vegetables of my labor. I can run the electric saw around in circles and paint, cut cardboard and package wonderful painted blessings and prayers. I can walk goats and chase poultry (even if I do have to out smart them to catch them for wing clipping!) and spin and weave. And keep at it, even when every muscle in my body hurts, if need be. And sit in a hot bath with Epsom salts sipping my wine, if need be as well. And now and then haul my butt to Dover-Foxcroft to be worked on by my massage therapist. Not often enough, but it gets me by.

So maybe 68 isn't old. My dad might have a different idea. I know some "old Mainers" who would likely disagree -- and others who would not. But old doesn't have to mean you stop. Probably will mean you better get used to change, though. Beats the heck outa the alternative.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How to Get Everything Done (on the Homestead) and Cope When You Can't - first round

In the previous post, I mentioned:
  • having spares, sometimes many multiples, of small, less expensive, easily misplaced items
  • not getting "target fixation" when a necessary larger tool is misplaced, but going about other tasks instead, allowing for time and memory to kick in and reveal the missing item.
I want to say just a bit more about that last point here, before proceeding. I used to become totally obsessed when something I needed was not where I left it, or where I remembered leaving it. I wasted HOURS, both tearing the house apart looking and then putting things in order again but NEVER did I find the missing item that way! Eventually something prompted me to give up looking, and almost immediately the thing appeared, in plain sight in a place I had looked multiple times. At one point, I mislaid a sum of money (which is a big deal when you live paycheck-to-paycheck.) I know when I had it in my hand as I entered the house, having been to the bank. I also know that, a day or two BEFORE this, I had started, but not completed, a project to clean and reorganize my books and bookshelves. To do this, I had emptied all the shelves of books, stacking them carefully, by subject, in chairs in my loft. I ran out of time and left that project for the evening chores, supper, bed and trip to the bank the next day, when I returned with the cash. At this point I honestly do not recall where I thought I had laid the money, but upstairs in the loft would not have been in the equation, as we used it only for sleeping, getting dressed and I read there at times (though not when the books were filling the chairs!) It was later the same day I needed the cash and could not find it. Though I did not go crazy, I DID look... unsuccessfully... and then gave up. Oh, I HOPED it would come back at some point, as we did need it, but I was not yet convinced of the surety of my "wait and see" process.

This was my first round of homesteading, and so I got busy with other necessary tasks (likely the book project was something for a rainy day) and it was several days until I got back to that project, and began putting away books by subject, as they had been previously sorted. When I cleared out the last chair, which had been holding 3 or 4 large stacks of books for the duration (which left a temporary depression in the chair cushion) there, in the center of the chair, under all of the piles, was my missing cash! To this day I don't know how it got there, but that convinced me that whatever goes missing WILL come back when it's ready -- and not a moment before -- and therefore more than a few minutes of dedicated thought and looking is wasting time.

Another technique I employ often will be familiar to all the Boy Scouts out there: be prepared.
Honestly, one can not actually prepare for specific bumps in the road, but there are many ways -- including an attitude of flexibility and a willingness to make do -- that will go a long way towards making every day a productive one, even though you may not be working in the direction you had planned.

Take the last few days here at Fussing Duck Farm and as an example.
Artie, from R.T. short for Red Truck

After spending the day Saturday at the Common Ground Country Fair, giving my talk and helping out in other areas, I headed home only to have Artie, quite unexpectedly, loose power and refused to start about 16 miles from home. A kind, Newport, Maine cop, and a wonderful elderly tow truck driver got us home and Artie to my mechanic down the road. Other than Tractor Guy's motorcycle, Artie is our wheels, and it was Saturday night.

For many folks that would be a disaster. As things rolled out, Artie was in the shop not only Sunday (as they were closed and he was just hanging out in their front lot) but also Monday, Tuesday and much of Wednesday. And, as it turned out, was back in Thursday as well. Friends offered transport if we needed, and I did prevail upon one who was making deliveries for her farm -- and was planning to drop off some thyme plants here -- to pick up dog food along her way. But, even had she not done so, the pups could have been feed for the extended period with frozen chicken giblets (which they got some, but not all of) that had not been properly processed for human food during the first Chicken Plucking Day that our MOFGA chapter held, as well as some of the extra eggs -- of unknown age -- that our poultry has been hiding. The dogs may have regretted Mary Lou's part in all this!

Feeding us went off without a hitch. We have three freezers, mostly full, and a pretty well supplied pantry. We were out of bread but made do. I don't cook from recipes (other than vague guidelines for dishes passed down in the family for generations.) Instead I will look for what is in the 'fridge that needs to be used up (leftovers and aging produce usually) and work from there. Recently we had macaroni and cheese (always home made) as the cheddar was growing bits of mold. We had leftover meat loaf (when I get a freezer quantity of ground beef, I often reserve a bit of the fresh stuff for meat loaf, before pattying up and freezing the balance) so it got sliced and layered under a rice, onion, green pepper and tomato concoction (one of my jars of tomatoes did not properly seal) and similar fare. I always look for what I have that can substitute and almost always proceed with a version of the dish I had intended, adding any missing staples to "the list."

Projects that involved going somewhere, however, got put on hold. Instead of moping or fussing, I looked for projects that needed doing with what was on hand. I have 5 hex sign blanks cut, and currently all are in various stages of being painted. I had tomato soup ready to can, so much of it has been pressure canned, and the balance will go into jars tomorrow. I had hoped to acquire another batch or two of pint jars, but having the soup wait until the truck is ready -- or freezing it -- is not really what I want to do. I have enough quart jars (though it will make for a woefully sparse canner!) and the pint that remains will be lunch tomorrow.

You see, I had been planning to take a trip to view a couple of goats that seemed ideal for my starter flock... and ended up putting that on Thursday, when the truck was supposed to be done, early in the day. But, as often happens, things beyond my control changed. Our mechanic -- a great guy whose shop is just down the road -- ended up with half of his staff calling out today. When we finally checked in, he said his office gal was out so the paperwork wasn't done yet, but if we needed the truck, just come get and and we would deal with the rest later. (Did I mention, he's a great guy! Pomeroy's Garage in Corinth Maine.) So we did... only to have the truck pull the same stunt, but farther away from home and NOT close enough to see the goats!

We did get home, with the help of a young mechanic who happened to live across from where we ended up... as far as I can tell a "shade tree mechanic" with experience dealing with "rambling wrecks" like Artie. (Did I mention he's an 1990 Toyota pickup?) who diagnosed and "fixed" the  problem well enough for us to return home without issue, by giving the gas tank three good thumps on its underside! Apparently the issue is either a filter or fuel pump, both of which reside in the tank, and which probably gave our mechanic no issue when he went to move the truck and while he was replacing seals (there had been an oil leak) and doing the picky stuff for the state inspection.

So, we were grounded once again, and I took the truck to the shop again early Friday.  And painting hex signs, and getting Tractor Guy to put the plow on to help dig up potatoes.

yep, goats in the bathroom. Easiest floor to clean.
Some things are on hold, of course. The goat lady is being quite kind, and waiting on a time estimate for Artie's repair before moving on to the next interested party. I will be sad if these goats don't work out, but at the same time, if they DO, we will be working like mad to set up housing for them! Goats are in the equation, but I had not expected them to come this fall. But they are "my" breed and the price is right, so if it happens, we will make it work. And some of the other projects will be rescheduled. The goat trip DID happen late Friday, with an emphasis on LATE. It was dark when we got home, no time to introduce new critters to the guardian dog... so the goats overnighted in the master bath. 

Flexibility. Making do. And a nice glass of wine when I got home, while peeling up some of our already harvested potatoes and carrots to add to the leftover veggies from the recent pot roast, which I cut up for stew for supper.... helps for a good night's sleep. Sleep, and a nice bath are two of the best ways I have found to build resiliency and cope when things are left hanging. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Life gets in the way

Some of the tomato harvest. I have put up whole tomatoes,
enchilada sauce and catsup.
I have indeed been remiss in my blogging. I have, though, what seems to be a decent excuse, at least in my world. There was spring, and summer, planting and growing, weeding, picking, canning, freezing, chicken plucking and an amazing, overwhelming run of abundance. Abundance of abundance, I say... both in the farm world and at hex central.

Every year is different. I say this, each January, as I start a new page in Excel to track order. Some years everyone wants indoor signs painted on fabric. It keeps me busy, but mostly those would be considered "loss leaders" by anyone with a more monetary business head. They take as long to paint and the wooden ones -- though the material cost is less -- but not enough less to really make it "worth my while" to sell them. Yet I continue to do so, as it is important that my work be available to pretty much anyone who would want it, and I know, cheapskate that I am, limited income senior that I am, that as much as I respect artists, there would not be a place in my budget for even a powerfully empowered hex sign at the "made on wood" prices. I could, though spring for a fabric one and therefore I believe it is important to continue to offer them.

This year, thus far, I have had only one indoor sign order. It is waiting in line to be painted, as I am almost caught up with a backlog that has lasted most of the year...fighting for time and attention with the garden and the livestock. This year's backlog is caused by the most amazing event: this year can be characterized as "the year of multiple BIG signs" being ordered. I have had more than one order for 2 or even three signs at 36" or 48" diameter! Delightful as this has been, those signs take longer to paint and even if I wanted to do more than one (one order was for two of the same design) there just is not the space to do so.  By the end of the week, though, I expect to be caught up with painting and have the harvest under control (leaving the beets and carrots in the ground as long as I can helps that!) and be able to find time to write more and to pick up the spinning wheel and the looms again.

Delivering the 48" diameter Livestock Protection sign (oxen)
for installation on the oxen barn.
In the mean time, what is on my mind is the talk I gave at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association's (MOFGA) annual Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday. I had planned to spend the weekend, under a tent shelter at fair, giving hex sign painting demonstrations. My old tent had other ideas, though and presented a large hole when we went to check it out before set-up day. As a demonstrator, and not a vendor, I had committed no monies to reserve a space and the fair book, once again this year, made no mention of my presence as a demonstrator, so I opted to pass on the demos and just deliver the barn sign I had painted for our MOFGA chapter to donate and to give the talk that I had committed to (and which was published in the fair book), setting the day of the talk (Saturday) aside for visiting the fair and doing some additional volunteer work for the chapter.
Oxen barn sign installed.

My talk was entitled "How To Get it All Done (on the Homestead) and Cope When You Don't" and I drafted two homesteader friends (one of whom is a recent transplant to Maine and had not yet attended the fair) to co-present with me. We had a great session, a nearly full house and lots of questions and sharing by those in attendance. It was great, and I plan to write a bit about what we shared, here, later.

What is on my mind at present is what happened on the way home from the fair, and how preparation, flexibility and cooperation turned what could have been a major disaster to something akin to a pothole in the road of life.

My old farm truck, which is our only road worthy 4 wheel rig at present (Tractor Guy has a motorcycle, but that won't haul much feed!) which was scheduled to spend time with our mechanic after the fair, did not get me quite all the way home. This might have been a real downer, had it failed farther away, or had the hex orders not been so plentiful. Seniors on limited incomes rarely have much money set aside for towing. And beyond that, there are often errands to be run that are closer to needs than wants. But there was money for towing, is money for repairs and even though Artie (the truck) won't be in the shop long, friends were lining up to help. I did ask someone who was heading to town and planning to drop off some thyme plants for me (don't you just love having a friend with too much thyme on her hands, who is willing to share!) if she would haul dog food. That was all we were almost out of -- and truth be told, had no one been able to fetch it, we could have got by with chicken parts from one of two massive, cooperative butchering days (the first day, the giblets, which no one else wanted, were not process properly for humans but were fine for dogs, and I collected them all) and some of the older eggs. But of course it's better not to change critters' diets too much at once, so stretching the kibble SOME, and getting resupply today was perfect.

We have plenty of food storage, both home grown and necessary commercial stuff so that is not an issue. And other than the fact that there is no red truck in front of the house, life has gone on as usual.

I have been thinking, though, as I worked today, about all of the "little things" that I do and ways in which I work to save time. I am not an extremely organized person, so finding necessary little things (the weight for the pressure canner, a pair of scissors to cut out motifs to trace onto some of the signs, and things like sharpie markers, pencils etc. ) used to eat up much more time than I was willing to let it. Many years ago, I decided for some of those things I needed "one to use and one to loose" and eventually ended up with "...and one to loose when both of them are AWOL!" LOL Yes, I have three pressure canner weights. No, I do not know where all three are at this moment, but I could easily lay hands on three. Ditto scissors... several large and a couple of smaller ones have currently known locations. So projects proceed uninterrupted.
This evening I was planning to dig potatoes (ended up not doing it, but that is a different story) but could not find the spading fork. I don't have more than one of any of the garden tools -- yet -- but since I have friends who come and help from time to time, they ARE on the list. I knew its previous location but could not remember what had called for it since. Rather than spending extra time hunting for it (I had looked when I went to the garden earlier to collect carrots for our pot roast supper) I walked down the drive to close up the electric fence gate and get the mail and then headed back to the garden from a different direction. Before I got there, memory kicked in! I had used it to turn soil for a late season spinach bed (which appears not to have "taken" drat it) and there it was. It's now in the potato patch, but not for long. Weeds and low light levels were hiding the dry potato plants so I am going to get Tractor Guy and Fergie, with a plow on, to turn the soil in the bed while I hunt for spuds... first day the the weather be good. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Since I was in the garden with a bushel basket, I picked Swiss chard, which I will blanch and freeze tomorrow.

A few of the onions, braided.
One of three varieties of pinto beans.
This has been a great garden year for: carrots, beets, tomatoes, broccoli (finally!!), cabbage, onions and leeks. Friends have had an abundance of blueberries and shared. I planted three varieties of pinto beans that were suited to the shorter season and have some for seed (already set aside) and a small amount for eating. My experiment with rice has proved quite satisfactory, especially considering I did not set out transplants as one is supposed to do. Each of the two varieties are trying to make seed! I will try again next year, with transplants.

My first year of grafting tomatoes has been interesting as well and I will play with this again next year. I did not get the plants staked this year and was not able to keep on top of the sucker growth, so I have lots of little primitive tomatoes trying to set fruit out there (the root stock is a hybrid, so I will not be saving seed) but where the grafted bit produced, the fruit were large and did not seem affected by blight.

And that, for now, is life in the slow lane.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A week of many projects

 This early morning view from a few days ago seemed to set the color tone of this past week. One doesn't necessarily associate the warm colors of this sunrise with the early spring in the northlands, but to me it invokes the lengthening days and soon to be warming temperatures. I say "soon to be" as we keep alternating between warm spells when it seems "real spring" AKA planting time is upon us and cold spells when it is actually necessary to break the ice in the fowl water bowls during morning chores.

Spirit of the Black Bear custom sign
This has been a busy week of juggling many different projects. The custom hex that have been working on, Spirit of the Black Bear, right, finally has gone to its owner. While it does not look like a complex design, the interwoven elements with a colored background proved to be a bit more challenging that one might have expected. I think it turned out really nice, though, and am glad that Dutch Hex Sign could provide this design for my client in Virginia. 
Along with the variable weather that spring in Maine brings, we have also had several bouts of heavy rain, a bit of snow and some high winds. We have roof damage, so every time the high wind warnings go up, we worry. Thursday night the power went our during a wind and rain storm and did not come back on until I had left for my regular Friday day in town. I spent much of the evening Thursday night listening to the wind and rain and spinning more of the brown wool that you can see on the bobbin of my spinning wheel to the left. I took that shot of my hex sign decorated wheel with a bit of fake autumn leaf garland draped over it (hadn't got put away yet... I use the garland as decor on my wreath in the fall), sitting alongside the Black Bear hex, in process, early one morning. I love the way the light and the colors play!

Warping the Weaver's Friend rug loom
I have also begun warping my large rug loom, a "Weaver's Friend" model, from the 1930s I believe. It is very big and very heavy... and strong enough to easily support my weight so I sat on one of the side braces, inside the loom, to draw the warp threads through the heddles. For you non-weavers, the heddles (in this case, wire concoctions with an "eye" in the middle through which a warp string is threaded) are lined up on two harnesses which alternately go up and down, allowing the weaver to quickly "throw" a shuttle wound with yarn or in my case, push a strip of fabric through between alternating warp threads. Once you have a weft yarn (or strip since I will be making "rag rugs") all the way across, "beat" the weft in to place with the beater bar, so that it is cozied up to the previous weaving, and then you raise the alternate harness and repeat. The raising of the harnesses is usually done manually by pressing a treadle or operating a lever, but the Weaver's Friend has a gearing mechanism that automatically switches harnessed when you "beat" twice!

grafted tomato plants! They have mostly not died, yet!
The last photo is a picture of the tomato plants that I grafted in the class I took at Rural Living Day on April 2. The plants were supposed to be kept at 80 degrees and in the dark for a day, in low light conditions for another day to allow them to heal up before they went to work trying to photosynthesize. Plants, like animals, move water and nutrients around their bodies through a system of what we might as well call "veins" and apparently if they don't get a chance to heal up first, the work of photosynthesis will not go well as the channels are not available. Our house is not hot and I don't use bottom heat on any of my seedlings, so I set the babies, in their plastic "greenhouse" on a heating pad with several layers of newspaper on top to even out the heat a bit. The pad goes off after an hour, so I turned it on every time I went by and thought about it during the day. They had a large towel over them to block light, and because conditions for healing were not optimal, I allowed an extra day in the dark and several additional days in low light before preparing to move them to the grow rack and more illumination. Photo to the left shows them just before moving, with their transparent cover removed. One did not want to stay clipped together from the beginning (I think the clip we were given to use was too small; these plants, we were told, are actually a bit larger than the instructor usually likes for grafting. The one at the left does not so much appear to be wilting, when observed in person, but was just a bent scion that I grafted onto the root stock I am crossing fingers that they take! And this has given me confidence enough to try grafting woody plants next spring!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Frigga's day Spontaneity

Friday is my typical day in town. I go on Frigga's day because I can meet with a bunch of fellow fiber folk (though none are followers of Frigga) to knit or spin or whatever at the Page Farm and Home Museum on the University of Maine campus. I often deliver eggs or other produce, in season, and do any necessary shopping on that day, as well.

Today, lacking electricity, I heated water on the stove to wash eggs, delegated fowl chores to Tractor Guy and headed out as soon as I could. Since there was no computer to access the shipping address for the hex sign I just completed, nor to drill the mounting holes, that project got moved to Saturday. I did have chicken and duck eggs to deliver, and the dog food bin was emptied with the morning feeding. With rain in the forecast -- and much spinning having been done by the light of the kerosene lamps last night -- I loaded only my knitting and the eggs for my trip to town.

When I stopped for coffee at the gas station where we often grab a drink and muffin on our town days, I found that I was much earlier than usual. It seemed a good day to try to locate the Central Penjajawoc Preserve.  I had often seen signs for it on Essex Street on my way into town but had never stopped. Today I did.

Getting out of the truck I found that they claimed a 1 1/2 mile loop trail and set off for a bit of exploration. I had not planned to walking the entire distance, but upon reaching the sign indicating the loop, I decided to walk on. The distance shown on the drawing did not look to be more than twice the bit I had walked to that point.

I am not sure if it was not to scale, of if they did not include the walk up to the loop in their distance calculations, but after walking a bit.. and finding interesting things "just up the trail a ways" I realized that (a) no one knew where I was and (b) though it was actually IN Bangor, it did not appear to be a popular destination. "But it's only a mile and an half" I told myself.  "You can do this" I reiterated. 

While my docs have been after me to walk "for exercise" I really don't do things without a "real" purpose. Exercise happens while farming. Meditation happens while spinning. And connecting with the cycles of the seasons and the divine happens while doing other stuff... like spinning, and like pushing my body beyond what it really wanted to do.

The group of  Pagans that I fellowship with most often, the Fellowship of the Wild, holds rituals from time to time on hiking trails in the area. I have not walked with them for some time, and though they are having an event on Saturday, I will be in another area that day and honestly was not sure about my ability to keep up with a group of youngsters! After today, I am pretty sure that I will need to work up to any sort of decent pace or distance, but walking slowly along -- mostly alongside --  the very wet and soggy and even flooded trail today... moving from balancing on a rock to walking over tree roots to avoid ankle deep puddles.. without the help of my "third leg" (my stick) and instead relying on the help of nearby trees... I did it. 

My knees were fine... except for when I needed to limbo under a tree blocking the trail. LOL I may ave beat out all the kids doing the limbo at the roller rink while pregnant with my second daughter, but that was in a universe long ago and far away! This time I had to walk around and climb over. My right thigh, though, which has been complaining for several weeks and threatening to not support me when I stand or climb stairs was put to the test. Bitch, muscles, all you want... but you WILL do it!

I greeted the Colt's Foot flowers at the head of the trail. I hailed the water as each little stream made its way over the rocks along side the trail. I greeted evergreens both large and small and said hello to a grove of maples and another of oak. I waved a spring greeting to the beech trees here and there along the way; they still cling to last year's leaves, tan banners waving in the wind. 

I stopped, briefly, at a large rock and offered a bit of shed birch bark with a hail to Frigga and her Ladies. And I walked on... and on... and on.

Like I said, my long, strong stride of the past was not with me today. I walked the slow tread of the crone that I am. I hoped that power would be restored by the time I returned home, so that a hot Epsom salt bath could be in my future (and it shall be). 

And I saw the early spring woods, poised on the edge of bursting into life. I thought of my colleagues who will be walking and offering up their thanks for the turning of the year on the morrow. 

And eventually, I saw the sign leading back to the parking lot and Artie, my cooling coffee and the eggs to deliver.

And it was good.