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Monday, September 15, 2014

Seeing Old Friends Again

When and where I grew up, it was commonplace to have seasonal wardrobes. Northern latitudes, when you dress for the seasons, kind of call for it. The lengthening nights and falling temperatures evoke desires for wooly sweaters and cozy flannel, even in the absence of store displays (which stupidly begin pushing the season in the heat of August.) And later, along with the rivulets of melting snow and ice, the dawn of mud season brings a longing for fewer layers, summer colors and a return to the feel of crisp cottons and linen.

Just like in "the old days," when clothing was expected to last for years, the choices in one's closet and bureau were fewer and new clothes came only as replacements for garments that were used up, worn out, re-made for a smaller family member and ultimately relegated to the rag bag (remember those??), my seasonal clothing swap involves taking out and putting away, a much larger laundry day and plans for winter sewing sessions, not a trip to the store. When the urge and need for different duds strikes each fall, it's an emotionally rich chore, as I bid seasonal farewell to my summer favorites and rekindle the acquaintance of my fall and winter "friends."

"Old clothes" -- those that have been around the familiar cycle many times -- truly feel like old friends to me. They bring back memories of when and why they were bought or made, the years of intervening wear, the seasons when certain items were relegated to the back of the closet because of living in a different climate and sometimes even a single event that caused the garment to move from the "good" to "everyday" pile.

This year I did it all a bit differently. Rather than just going through the boxes that were labeled for fall and winter, we brought every clothing storage box into the house for a thorough going through, sorting and re-labeling. Now that I am no longer working, clothes fit into one of two use categories: town or farm. And rather than trying to keep them sorted by type of garment (shirts in this box, skirts in that, pants in another) I am simplifying only by season: spring/cool summer, summer, warm fall (short sleeve fall theme or color shirts, dresses, etc.) and winter. Winter is by far the bulkiest category, of course, so there are many empty boxes at present. I was able to let go of a good size pile of things that have not seen use in the last few years, as well as a few things that don't fit or that I have never really liked.

I know I need to look for fabric and make a new robe. In the winter, with my hang to dry obsession, I really need one to wear when the other is not quite dry yet, and one of the old ones has been relegated to the rags. I may need a coat for going to town; when I did the spring shuffle, I sent my old jackets off to charity as one didn't fit well and the other, a huge puffy short jacket, left my lower parts cold and made my torso feel like I was channeling the Michelin man. I do have my wonderful wool cape with the waterproof lining (it's reversable) so I may not need a coat, but it is in my awareness should the right material and pattern present themselves.

One thing about knowing your "old friends" well, is that you miss them when they don't come to the party! One box, apparently, remains hidden... it contains some good, heavy weight turtleneck shirts and my long johns. I remember these going out together rather later than some of the other stuff, so when do chores today I will look for them. Bringing in boxes last night, in the gathering twilight, it would have been easy to over look a box or a bag in the back corner of the garage.

Each of the newly filled boxes currently contains a 2x5 card contents label, which I will tape to the end of the box as I complete the filling later this week once the laundry is done and in, and they can go back to their resting place in the garage. For now, I am glad to have my flannel nightgowns and a robe, more long sleeve shirts and my old chore coat for the gathering chill. We have predicted lows in the 30s this week... last year our first frost came with the Equinox weekend... and have not yet cleaned and refilled the space heater, so warm duds are most welcome. And old friends warm me in more than one way.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Fowl Post

"Birds of a feather?"
Our first year with guinea fowl continues. The babies have been living in the tent, right, with a couple of broad breasted turkey poults,  though since they are supposed to be on bug patrol once they learned where home was, we lifted up the front of the containment poultry wire sufficiently for the little guys to walk out while the larger turkeys remained inside. They have been regularly exploring and, of late, have been finding their wings. Every afternoon now the flock takes flight and spends time perched on the support "towers," left, of the chicken and duck pen. Then they fly back in the direction of their tent and some attempt to perch on top of the slippery tarp fabric. Watching them trying to stay up there, some sliding down and having to flap and run to try to get back, reminds me of online videos of goats playing on teeter totters and arches of flexible metal.  More recently I let the turkeys loose as well, and they have been flocking with the guineas, including one of them taking a stab at roosting, overnight, on the top of a chicken tower! That only lasted one night, though. Now the guineas roost on high and the turks tuck in on the stack of wood next to the current chicken run.

Turkey and guineas "visiting"
The Hussy and her brood
Dawn found the turkey still on high
...only for one night, though.
Recently two of them got down IN one of the chicken towers; I think they either lost their balance or their perch. I had to cut a hole in the chicken wire so they could escape and will have to patch the hole when the  towers get turned back into regular fence panels.

The Hussy, our mama hen, and her babies continue to thrive. All of the babies are growing like weeds and the one that was originally light colored is losing it's color to brown feathers.

We have transitioned the first 4 that were hatched from our eggs into the general population of chickens. At least one, likely two -- of course the most colorful ones -- appear to be roos so they will be stew pot bound before winter. they have settled in, though.

The banding of current layers from the general population has also commenced and the non-layers... as soon as they are found... will be processed into the stew pot. Thus far, everyone who has actually spent time in the confinement tent has produced an egg, most well before the three day limit. However, I had to switch confinement tents as the last few hens, Americanasa, who were confined managed to escape. I though I had blocked all egress, but apparently not. Last night we swapped the meat birds, who only overnight in confinement anyway, into the "leaky" tent and I was able to grab the supposedly confined bird and put her into their now vacant abode. Hope this works. I do not want to carry "liars" through the winter.

Hens and ducks in their new digs.
Next fowl project on tap was the construction of a temporary shelter and erection of the new fence panels that I completed yesterday. It was a several day project. I just don't have the stamina that I used to, it seems. First I hauled the panels around to the back of the house and selected and hauled 6 pallets. Then the fence got mostly erected. It zig zags a bit to help support it and the panels are just tied together with twine for now. Between the zigs, the tying and the uneven ground, there is not a straight line or plumb section anywhere!  LOL

The pallet assembly continued the "redneck engineering" theme, though they do have some screws holding them together... two for the back, one on each end and two, supported by a 2x3 across the front, on top.  After getting the coop structure up, I completed the erection of the fence. Coop extends outside the fence, with abuts it on either side. Two old tarps, almost doubled up, wrap the sides and another very large one, also folded, covers the back, top and hangs down in front. I have secured one corner of the front section of tarp to the pallet roof, to give then chickens a triangular door, a random pole of some sort or another is secured across near the back for a roost and their feeder hangs from the pallet roof, finally out of the rain!  I have a cement block holding the front tarp down to keep it from flapping and I can easily roll it off the tarp to collect eggs. I have stapled and tied the tarps down around the coop but still need to drag a few heavy pieces of wood around to help secure the bottom. I had planned to tie it in place, but getting the twine under the pallets is much harder than repurposing a few pieces of wood.  Before winter, I plan to give them a proper wooden coop, which will likely be positioned in place of the next fence panel to the east of the current coop, as it will separate this pen and a second one so that the fowl can be rotated during the garden season. That location will give the best access to the remainder of the back field for the tractor, so says Tractor Guy.

We will also be putting a motion light in the back, to help illuminate the pen and coop if a predator comes by again.  We had a skunk raid early this morning, which was likely at least partly my fault. I had left eggs in the first nest the hens made, so they would continue to lay there and we got back home after dark last night, in the rain, so I did not go bring the eggs in.  Fortunately, Tractor Guy has been awakening well before dawn to hear and investigate a ruckus. He got off a couple of bb shots and then came to wake me. Skunk had gone by the time I got out but had not been annoyed enough to spray.  I have a feeling that the little critter may have been "scared shitless" by being shot at though, as I found skunk droppings in the grass when I fed the fowl this morning!  LOL

We called her "The Hussy" because we though she just wanted
to be with our roo-at-large, but she had other ideas!
 And on another, more happy, note... this has definitely been the year of  "money for nothing (well, sort of... social security) and chicks for free" to borrow a line from a song. We have not only had a friend willing to hatch eggs from our hens, but The Hussy successfully hatched and brooded a dozen little chicks.

Then the turkey hen the we got in trade from a friend who needed a tom decided to brood some eggs as well! Lady Grey hatched out her babies yesterday. 
One of the babies came to see Tractor Guy.
Mom did not approve.
Seven little turkeys!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Finding the Flow

After an eagerly awaited road trip to visit a yarn mill and getting a chance to see the incredible machines from the 20s -- or possibly earlier -- still cranking out wonderful roving and yarns...

"the mother of all drum
Spinning... they all work at once!
Making a skein

and then a day on the farm, followed by another day away...

a visit to MOFGA  to help with canning and work with/learn from a professional

Busy kitchen - work in progress
"pickle team" shows off

  ...and a side trip on the way home to haul most of a 20 bales of spent hay, which was followed by a regularly scheduled "day in town" (actually more like just a very busy morning), unloading the truck and heading back out to retrieve the last of the hay...

Well just let me say I am glad to be looking at many days in a row of staying on the farm!

Yesterday I just puttered... there were blueberries and peas that needed starting on the drying process and several hexen to draw and begin painting. I was amazed at how beat I was, not sure if it was all the driving in a manual transmission rig, 6 hrs on my feet in a kitchen or what... but the knees were not happy and my left shoulder was complaining big time.

After sleeping with the heating pad the shoulder was happier and after a day of minimal use the knee was willing to work, so I hit the garden in the morning, after critter chores, to weed the row for the day. Ideally, I would like to weed a row each day in the morning and  pick in the evening. I had actually carried out the container that I pick the Dyer's Coreopsis into, hoping to pick them on the way back in (making each leg-yard ... leg miles are a thing of the past... count) but I weeded down and part way back the other side of the tomato row, raising several of the fence sections as I went and meeting up with the part that I had weeded earlier and by then, I was in need of lunch!

I was appreciating the gathering dark clouds that finally hid the sun (though the temperature was not excessive, the direct sun was getting to me) and dropped the air temperature as they rumbled thunder in the distance. My afternoon garden plans were thwarted by a gentle rain. Not complaining... a friend a few towns away got hit with a wee bit of water and golf ball size hail! Sorry for him, but glad we got spared, this time.

Afternoon was easily transitioned to hex painting and catching up on some other indoor things. There was meat waiting to be turned into stew -- the pressure cooker made short work of that. I made granola and then moved on to chocolate chip cookies that I had planned for "sometime this week." Since we have given up using shortening in favor of oil or butter -- and not having the budget to bake with butter -- I looked up a recipe using oil Jury is still out on that one.

Stew needs biscuits, so that's next. Cross your fingers that we don't get hockey pucks!
Can't believe I made them -- Bisquick was not involved but lard was!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lammas Tide Comes

Once again, the wheel of the year has rolled around and the First Harvest celebration is upon us. Many folks call it Lammas and celebrate August 1. I call it First Harvest and consider it a "tide" as opposed to a single day, though I will make a celebratory meal at some point this week.

Here in Maine, it's not so much about grain harvest, for me, though this is traditional. I have seen farm stands offering the first of the local corn; though ours is not ready yet, I may include a few ears in our meal, as much because of my love of fresh corn on the cob as for any other reason! Mostly, though, I will celebrate with the fruits (or more literally, vegetables and meats) of my hands, giving thanks to the Gods and the Elements for the bounty.

These harvest celebrations -- this one, the first and Autumnal Equinox (which I think of as "high harvest") and Halloween/"Winter Finding" at the end of October/first of November which marks the end of the harvest season and the season by which one needs to have the outside work done, gardens put to bed, wood put by and the homestead buttoned up and ready for the dark winters nights -- are not only times for giving thanks, but also for reflection and planning.

I see that this year, our first batch of meat chickens have been long processed and a second crop is well on its way. Last year, with only one batch, I harvested the first of the flock for this harvest meal. Last year we did not get the electric deer repellent fence up early enough and there were other issues that compromised our harvest of peas and beans. This year, though the spring was late and wet and peas and beans were planted within the same week, we got the fence up early and not only are still picking our bountiful harvest of peas, but have begun harvesting the beans.

This year, too, my harvest season is a time to celebrate being able to "harvest" all of my energy and time to the most productive tasks in their own times thanks to having been able to retire.

Though the summer has not been a hot one (for which I, at least, give thanks) and may not offer up as large a harvest of tomatoes and peppers as last year,  and though the tractor's tiller most likely has given up the ghost, all in all this First Harvest offers much for which to give thanks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Days In -- Reflections

It was strange -- and wonderful -- to awaken early Sunday, but not by the alarm, and instead of heading off to do mindless commerce I headed out to the critters and the garden and picked like a madwoman... peas and dye flowers and lettuces for the pot luck later in the day and parsley... because it needed it. Over 6 POUNDS later, it filled the bathtub, where I stashed it to wash and hold until I could process it for drying and freezing.

By the time I had all this food hauled into the house, there were still HOURS until time to head off for the local MOFGA chapter potluck, so we got to start on one of our annual animal chores -- clipping and shaving the apparently unavoidable mats from our long haired rescue kitty, CC. This is almost always a several day project, both for our sanity and the kitty's.

Collaborative pea shelling
By the time we headed to potluck, our salad and a bucket of peas to shell while we chatted, the day began to feel a lot more normal.

It took a decidedly different turn, upon arriving at the farmstead of our friends and hosts. They had several sows farrow and they are not necessarily playing nice with the babies, so several had been moved into the house, with the intention that they would be bottle fed... but they were not really keen on the idea. We got the chance to hold and attempt to teach the little guys the joys of milk replacer from a bottle, with limited success. The baby pigs were great fun, regardless.

The predicted rain arrived while we were playing with the babies and with it, cooler temperatures. I know this is summer, but I truly appreciate the ebb and flow of the thermometer here in the Northlands. The 80+ degree days are so much more tolerable when they are mitigated by cool evenings and passing cold fronts that one can actually feel!

The rain continued as predicted through Monday, though it held off for a brief bit during the morning which allowed me to do critter chores most efficiently.   Knowing that more rain was on the way, I fed the fowl somewhat lightly, as when their food gets damp it clogs the feeders; I also walked the length of the garden on my way back from the turkeys to discover.... BEANS!

Remember when I said how strange it was to be planting peas and beans in the same week?  Well, now I will be processing peas and beans at the same time, which I expected. LOL I am most thankful for the abundant harvests -- not having to share with the deer has given us bumper crops -- and even more thankful to be able to "go with the flow" without town interruptions.

This is what 6 lbs of
parsley looks like, drying.
Parsley with ruler
One of the major tasks for this rainy Monday was getting the parsley out of the tub. I had run the water out after we got back from potluck and thrown a sheet of plastic over it, just to keep it moist overnight, but knew that after we finished shearing the matted fur from our long haired cat and dog, that the tub and shower would be needed! Some will likely try to tell me that, with the size of these stalks and leaves, I did not plant parsley but instead Par-cel (a type of cutting celery that develops more like parsley than the more typical very thick "rib" stems of the kind commonly seen in the store, but I can assure you, this is just plain parsley, planted where the chicken run was located several years back! In addition to hanging 17 bunches, I chopped and froze the bits that did not have long stems -- a heaping cookie sheet full that will be ready to bag up today.

I realized yesterday, while washing up from supper, that if I had still been working I would have been MUCH more stressed by a wet Monday (no wash day) and that having thus been "behind" in the work flow, with the beans calling to be picked Tuesday morning -- after the end of the rain, with laundry also waiting to be washed and hung -- I would have been additionally frustrated by having to head off to town to tend to the dubiously important task of "new release day" for music CDs and movies on disk.

Instead I washed my dishes, painted on a hex and fell into a sound sleep.

Completing this blog entry Tuesday morning, I am feeling calm and centered. The sun is up, shining through the departing clouds. The first load of wash is in the machine, K is busy cleaning the plastic totes that hold, for now, our second round of meat birds and second hatching from our hens eggs, and

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Chapter Begins

Not just turning the page this weekend, but starting to write a whole new chapter in the book of my life, as it were.

Today was my last day on the job in town. Normally I don't work with music -- at least not extra music... there is always some sort of sound going in the store, even before it opens... if not displays telling their stories or muzak, it's other employees playlists on portable devices. Today, I loaded MY playlist for the day on my 'Droid and started the workday with Hoyt Axton's "Boney Fingers".

As my hours came to a close and I was finishing up and getting things set up for my colleague and friend who will take my place until the end of the contract (a couple of months at most) I switched to Kenny Rogers "The Gambler." You'd think I was a country music fan, wouldn't you?  LOL  I'm not, really, except that I find it pretty good road trip music and now and then one of the songs... like these two... hit me. Especially The Gambler....

And, as I roused a manager to unlock the door and let me out, as I was done -- as planned -- before the store opened... Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It!"

I worked without my required uniform of black slacks and white blouse... all of those were in a box in the truck, destined for the charity drop off... and instead I wore my Farm Aid shirt and what turned out to be a freshly washed but definitely FARM pair of blue jeans.

Dropped the former work clothes at the charity drop off, but after delivering veggies to a friend, who had noticed my mention of donating the clothes and asked if by any chance any of the pants would be long enough to fit her, and indeed the newest pair was!

Ran errands, and realized that it is going to take me a while to get used to this not only not having, but not needing to LOOK FOR a job thing. I guess it's kin to my continuing to do double takes at for sale signs on rural properly for months after we bought our farm. I found myself doing the same thing every time I passed a "now hiring" sign on my errand route. Either I have not been noticing them or they sprouted up over night, for the seemed as prevalent as if I had suddenly been transported into the pre-holiday staffing frenzy of early November. They were EVERYWHERE! 

Tonight I shall do ritual with Frigga and thank the Gods for the good run, the good timing and the good times and prosperity ahead. And tomorrow with the turn of the moon, I shall step forward into the new chapter.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hexen, Hummers, Peas Oh My!

24" Inspiration sign
I recently shipped two more hex signs and the customer for the Inspiration sign gladly shared a photo of it. While most are mounted at the peak of a building, that is not the ONLY place they can be hung, as this sign shows. It's mounted on the folks privacy fence!

On the garden side of things, Mother Nature definitely is doing her thing with the peas this year. They got planted late, but the main crop is coming on like gangbusters. This is my pickings of the morning today, and I see there is (likely a) final picking on the earlier row out there as well. The main crop row has at least as many pods still coming on, and many of the plants are still also in blossom. Thanks to the Sun and the Earth, the Wind and Water too for this abundant harvest. And thanks to the Electrons coursing through the fence keeping the deer at bay! I have already frozen over 5 lbs from previous smaller pickings. Looks like we might not have to buy peas in the store this year!

The Hummer's Tail

The Hummer's Tale

 We did have a bit of unexpected excitement the other day. We leave our front door open for circulation, and have not yet figured out how to do the screen door (it's a sliding door, second hand, and the track for the screen is missing. And we have a humming bird feeder hanging from a tiny shepherd's crook attached to a porch post. Several have hovered near the door looking in over the past few weeks, but as I was getting up from the computer,I heard a buzzing sound near the ceiling. I immediately looked up, thinking bumble bee but instead there was a hummer, trying to figure out why it couldn't get through the little window at the peak of the wall. It took us over an hour to get it out and quite a circus it was!

It flew back and forth, right at ceiling height, and the sloped ceiling did not make it easy to put anything up to help direct it towards the door. And, of course, it soon figured out that the ceiling fan was "good cover" from whatever evil predator was down there trying to catch it So around and around it went, taking brief rests perched on the fan and then taking off just as we moved in with a net.

Eventually, though, my patient Dr. Dolittle, AKA Tractor Guy, was able to get it to sit on the rim of the fishing net we use for catching wayward fowl when needed. The mesh on this net was sufficiently large that the little bird just flew THOUGH it when we tried to catch it that way! On the second try with the little bird on the edge of the net, he was able to walk it slowly out of the computer room (I quickly shut the door behind us) and to the open front door.

The silly bird did not make a break for it, but rather flew off to explore the living room and kitchen for a while. Since the door was RIGHT THERE, and OPEN, Tractor Guy hung the tiny feeder above the open door and just outside. Eventually the little hummer spotted it, flew out to drink and then flew off. Whew!  Mission accomplished without damage to the bird, apparently not even to its psyche, as there were two of the small creatures visiting the feeder later in the day.