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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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Year of Transition Coming to a Dramatic Conclusion

With little more than one week left in the slightly shortened Year of Transition, things may be moving to a much more dramatic conclusion than I had expected.

On the town job front,  I am once again amazed to discover that my intuition was spot on in the timing of my retirement... both the original timing and the current, shortened span that has me working my last day a week from Friday. The company announced in a conference call (that I was unable to take, on account of not being scheduled during the time of the call, and instead being on the road on errands... my boss summarized in an email to me after the fact) that our duties at Best Buy will be transitioning back to the Best Buy staff during the coming two months, while Anderson services to WalMart are on an increase. They apparently expect to hire more folks for that side of the business and transition existing staff currently assigned to BB to the Walmart team.

Thank you, but no thank you. I have DONE merchandising tasks (for other companies, on an ad hoc basis over the past few years) at WalMart and have zero desire to be assigned there. The only company lower on my list is Target.

So, once again, my kick ass survival instinct has kicked in and motivated me to jump ship before the waves swamp the boat and the decision was made much earlier and totally based on intuition. I did a similar thing many years ago, in TX, successfully leaving the apparently successful dot-com before it imploded and ended up housed back in the founders basement.

And on the hex sign front, I was contacted some time back by a "lifestyle specialist" media personality in MN who wanted to feature my art in the TV segment. Today it airs... Streaming live CST 9:15-ish... the program that will include my hex signs!

The station's web site already shows what apparently will be the gist of the program

I am hoping for an increase in orders, but hopefully not something overwhelming. I am also thinking on how I can parlay this publicity into articles in print publications, hopefully some of the magazines that focus on the north east and Maine.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Real Life Gardening 002

I said I would publish updates, and so I shall.

Despite a comment that I received on Facebook, I did not just "plant it and walk away" but have been weeding in the rows by hand and between the rows have been worked with the tractor where possible. A spring tooth harrow does NOT remove every weed but does keep them down to what I consider a reasonable level and when I am in the row, I hand pull the big ones. Why don't I hoe, as the FB poster suggested? I suspect he has NO concept of the size of my garden. Would YOU attempt to hoe 1/3 of an American football field? I didn't think so...

At the end of last week I had time and a bit of weather that was not wet nor intolerably hot (over 80 degrees especially with direct sunshine, and I have to pack it in until later in the day) and I began knocking down weeds around the lettuces in preparation for a workshop behind held here.

Weeds knock down prior
to cultivation.
Because the weeds were tall and my tiller is tiny, I attacked between the rows with a string trimmer, until it bound up and then with my scythe. Scythe actually worked much better but unfortunately it can only be worked right handed; the string trimmer, while heavier and more awkward, I can use with either hand holding and the other one operating it which somewhat helps endurance.

Fowl enjoying the weeds.
The fowl enjoyed the green matter, which I pulled out of the garden so it wouldn't get tangled in the tiller.  There was a complete cart load of my medium size garden cart for them to work on.

Banty rooster tiller, left, and the work it has done, foreground.
Untilled rows at the top of pic.
The next morning I started working with the "banty rooster" tiller. As you can see, a pass up and back made short work of the weed stubs and grass... for now. These rows are too close together for the tractor to work them but wide enough apart to be two tiller-widths. The ground where the first crop lettuces are planted and where the onion are -- to the right -- was not worked up mechanically at all prior to planting, nor had it been until just this week. When I started planting, the rotary tiller for the tractor had been declared non-operational but not yet beyond hope, which is about where it is now. Anyway, I started planting what I could because it was necessary and since then we decided to use the harrow exclusively this year.

As you can see in this photo, taken by Yolanda at the workshop, the weeds that you can see as specks of green in the previous picture have pretty much bit the dust. The only drawback to having done this was that participants in the "More than the Tip of the Iceberg" workshop had to knock the dust off the leaves prior to our wandering taste session in the garden. Fortunately, most were gardeners and all were understanding that "a little bit of dirt won't hurt."

The workshop was sponsored by our newly formed chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association was formed in 1971 and is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.

On other notes, it appears that we have a broody hen. We have had a roo on the loose for some months. Having two, who don't get along, they take turns being with the girls and having the run of the farm. Newton, the current bachelor roo, apparently has a hen who is sweet on him, so much so that she kept figuring out ways to "flee the coop" so to speak, regardless of my
Where she appeared to go to ground.
having clipped her wings and block up every hole I could spot. Since they stay out of the garden, I figured we might as well let her keep Newton company, which she did for some weeks.

Then, one day, there was Newton at morning chores but no sign of the hen we had taken to calling "the hussy." We figured she had been outwitted by a fox as we have seen them around. But apparently that was not the case, for she appeared for breakfast with her beau the next day. We continued to see her sporadically, and I began to think she had gone broody and was setting. I determined yesterday to watch her on the next morning that I did chores if it wasn't raining... and today was the day. She was cagey and it seemed to take forever but finally I saw her appear to go to ground. I let her be for a bit, then checked next time I was out and found her in one of the old nests someone (perhaps this very hen) had used when they were all at large. 

I won't disturb her again, but next time we see her off the nest and eating away from this area, I shall go check and count eggs.

On a totally different line of work, I had to make a trip to our little rural post office today to ship off this hex sign. This 24" diameter sign is for Inspiration and is on it way to Tennessee.