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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter at Dutch Hex Sign and Fussing Duck Farm

After blizzard, before rain


The snow is piling up and without a tractor with good grip/functional chains or any other snow-moving machinery, we have opted to park the old farm truck, Artie, out by the road (do you see him there?). We walk/snow shoe out and back in, pulling goods on sleds or in "body bags" (large, extra heavy contractor type trash bags) or wrapped in a tarp. We had made a bit more path down the drive than in this photo, though even after a bit of melt, there was enough snow blowing to pretty much obliterat the trail.

I use snow shoes, and do not have to stick to the trail, though I will if it helps to tow my load. Tractor Guy, on the other hand, weighing in at over 300 lbs, has not yet gotten snow shoes. Most of the large (and of course expensive!) ones top out with a max weight of 250 lbs., so he "bulldozes" through. Not fun. And even less fun now that our weather has turned the tables from hovering in the minus-BRRR degrees to a predicted high of 50F with precipitation falling as rain.

Yes, there is melt, but come Saturday the temperature will drop again. After nearly 2" of rain has fallen (if the weather guessers are even close) it will freeze and stay frozen for a while. 

We often have a January thaw, mind you, but usually not this early and usually not with actual rain adding to the mess. And mess it was, yesterday, when I braved it for a trip to town. Plans were to meet up with a group of fiber folks for a bit, but there was no way I was going to pull my spinning wheel, bagged or not, down to the truck.  I took my drop spindle and ended up having a lovely time, even running some errands and getting home before dark. There was no need to use the snow shoes, as the rain and melt had condensed the snow sufficiently to walk on it, and I only sank in a bit. The driveway is not yet clear of course, so I backed in near the road. When I left the truck, at least one wheel was on actual gravel. With freezing rain and ice predicted for today and an early away mission on Saturday, I am hoping for the best.

The thaw did allow me to dump, clean and refill the water buckets for the herd and the dog, though the fowl water bowls were still too well encased in ice and compacted snow to get loose. Maybe today? In any case, the buckets for the four footed crowd are hanging a little higher on the fence which should make such projects easier as winter progresses. If I can't get the birds' bowls loose, I will at least remember to take rags along and a scoop to remove dirty water, as I did earlier in the winter.  And I see the "Christmas tree" appearing through the melt. It is actually the top of a windfall that I dragged home initially for the making of wreaths; our holiday tree is always one we can plant come spring.  If I can extract the windfall from the snow and ice, hopefully will give the goats something to distract them from trying to eat the sheep. I have a sheep blanket on order. 

Inside, I am thankful to be able to report that -- thus far and despite the massively deep and protracted sub-zero temperatures and even lower wind chills -- our pipes have stayed thawed and water running! Yes, we have had constant drips running during the coldest days, so I am not looking forward to the next couple of electric bills. The heat lamp under the house and two bulbs under the bathroom sinks have also been running 24/7. The water heater and well pump also got in on the action (drips often include both hot and cold),  but it beats hauling water up from a neighbor's place on the sled.

Frodo and Sam atop the indoor laundry
drying rack.
Life goes on, and this week will bring the focus around to the garden again. I need to inventory seeds and put in some small orders for things from which I do not save seed. Onions and leeks are at the top of the list, as they will be planted early next month, kittens willing or not! I fear that this seed starting season will be a struggle, to keep the plants safe from the marauding "itty bitty destruction committee," Frodo and Sam.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Follow the Flow and See Where You Go!

Amazing what gets done that is not "on the list" when one just follows the flow. 

I knew the fridge had some science projects that needed to be relocated, and that it also had the last bit of the 3# piece of beef that had been a pot roast and then donated a good bit of leftover meat, as well as the vegs and gravy to the stew (which will be a "thrice blessed" supper this evening) which I was planing to put into a beef/veg soup starting today. In order to clean out the fridge, though, I wanted/needed to clean off the chopping block to be able to easily stash contents as I sorted.

When I went to move things off said surface, the first thing I found was my seldom-used bottle of clear nail polish. Typically, this gets hunted down when I have a run in my silk long johns but a few days ago I had needed a good dollop of the stuff to cover a small slit that remained in a finger nail after I had clipped as close as I was willing to clip. The slit was tiny, but big enough to catch a hair, or a thread and I did not want to risk pulling and making it run far enough to hurt. It took hot water and an application of Great Strength and Awkwardness to get the thing open and I guess that after treating the nail, I set it there with the intention of taking it to the back bathroom when I went that way.

It had other ideas, however, and had laid on its side. The gunked up and terribly insecure threads on the lid had NOT kept the stuff inside and when I picked up the bottle I discovered a pool of polish -- most still semi-liquid -- on the chopping block. Damn!

Well, I keep acetone around for all sorts of uses -- and removing fingernail polish was one of its primary uses back in the day, so I go hunting under the sink in the chemical stash to find my can of the stuff. After all, letting it dry would make matters so much worse! After looking where it was supposed to be (and by that wording you know my search was unsuccessful at that point) I kept looking in the only practical way: I emptied all the stuff out from under the sink.

Now, it's been far too long since I did that, so it was not a quick search and replace. My rag-bag had long ago been buried under loose rags, as had the secondary paper bag of pieces of spent clothing. I stuffed the bags and I extracted rag after rag, and multiple cleaning products as well. There were the two partial cans of oven cleaner (joined by an almost-empty third one), two boxes of granular Spic-n-Span, (both open, of course), two containers, as well, of the organic-approved bug spray I use only in extreme emergencies and lots of other stuff... including (count 'em!) 5 scrub brushes (not counting the two we have been using that are currently deployed in the bathrooms), etc. etc. 


But no acetone. 

After getting it all back in, I grabbed a rag and a bit of paint thinner to see what it would do. It helped some, but I still need the acetone, which is now on the perennial list. 

And I hadn't GOT to the real work of either cleaning off the chopping block or cleaning out the fridge. LOL

The block got a lick and a promise, making enough space to do the 'fridge. The dog got some old lunch meat, the chicken bucket got some other remains and, yes, eventually I DID find and cut up the beef for the soup.

Soup is now cooking, filled almost entirely -- at this point -- with dried vegetables: onion, celery leaves, tomato, carrots, peas, zucchini and kale. It is a tomato-based soup, so it also has a quart of my home canned tomatoes and half a pint of tomato sauce. Once it gets cooked sufficiently to soften the dried stuff, I will throw in a handful of green bean pieces and some cooked and canned dry beans. It will probably be "too rich" (meaning having too many flavors) by Tractor Guy's reckoning, but this one's for me!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Divining the Cabbage

The Cabbage
There are at least as many traditions for New Years Eve as there are cultures, though when we mark the new year, does, of course, vary a bit.

In many places in the USA, folks eat cabbage (or in the south, collard greens) on New Years Day, as these green cruciferous vegetables are considered representative of money. Although I did not grow up with any particular traditions for this time of year, I have adopted the cabbage, and serving pork for the meat in January 1 supper (with 'kraut for me) along my travels. Usually I end up buying one, but this year I had two heads still lingering in the fridge. Both were harvested late and therefore had suffered some from the ravages of the late season weather. As I worked through the dry layers and underlying moldy leaves, a thought came to me.

There are many traditional forms of divination, also practiced on New Year's eve, preferably at the stroke of midnight. You can light a white candle and drip the wax into cold water, or you can poke a hole into the end of the first egg laid on New Year's Eve day (not something practical for us northern farmers who believe in giving the ladies a season of rest) and let the drips fall into hot water (or, I might suggest a clear chicken broth, as after completing the divination, you could eat egg drop soup as the chicken* scratches the old year into the past!) I have also read of a German tradition of melting lead, or possibly in recent times, tin and dropping it in water. This ancient form of divination, known as Molybdomancy, has been used for 1000s of years in many cultures.

If you read cards (playing cards or Tarot cards can be used by those in the know) there is a layout known as the "Clock" or "Circle of Years," in which you place the cards one for each mark on the clock in a cirle, and the last in the middle. You read them, one o'clock for January and so on, and the one in the middle for the whole year.

Now, I have never been good at divination, or really terribly interested in seeking to know what is around the corner. However, as I was working on this cabbage, without seeking for anything other than clean, edible vegetable matter, it spoke to me. 

"I may not be a very big head," it said, "and yeah, my outside is pretty bunged up and gross." "But, look!" She continued as more and more edible cabbage was revealed, "I prevailed!"

This tiny cabbage, echoing an oft-heard and repeated message over this year, will stay in my mind over the next one. Its lesson blends in my mind with many throughout the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, that I finished last night.

I honor her for her tenacity and for the lesson, and nutrition, she has brought. And set the Intention, going forth, to take time to just sit, and even lie in the garden, to continue to notice each plant. And to persevere. Little Cabbage reiterated another recent awareness: little bits matter.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On turning the Calendar

It's almost that time again, time to take down the tattered old calendar hanging on the wall, and put up a new one. Mine has tractors on it, and soon the page with the Oliver brand machine will be extracted for its trip to my grandson, Oliver. I don't this year, have a replacement though! I will have to go hunting; I usually get mine free from the feed store but last time I was there, I only saw their horse ones. I like horses well enough, but usually they have both and I forgot to ask or search for the tractor version. But I digress.

2017 was a pretty beat up year, all 'round, I think. But since I count the year as beginning in the spring -- and it's all just a continual spiral anyway -- I don't normally make a big deal out of "Change The Calendar Day" or the Eve before. But it seems like everyone else does, so the energy is there to piggyback a bit of Working... and why not!

I am also not a big fan of spending tons of time and energy on looking back and reflecting over the past months. Personally, when I have, I seldom find anything new to discover. Lessons and insights come as they come and I do my best to learn and carry the insights forward as I go. And I know from past experience that if I don't, the Powers That Be have no issue with another round of instructions. Usually I manage to "get it" before the bring out the Celestial 2x4 for the whack 'long side the head, thankfully! 

I am also not a big fan of loud noisy parties (period), getting sloshed (deliberately) and the usual shenanigans that accompany the mainstream Change The Calendar Day Eve. While these past months seem good ones for a rousing farewell, on the national and world stage for sure, our lives here at hex central with the
Stormy, not long before
her passing
critters that share our lives -- fussing ducks and all -- was really not that bad. Several passed on, ones we loved as well as the ones I thanked and deliberately sent... you know, the ones we eat. The plants did their best to cope with the strange seasons and I did my best to tend,
onions
harvest and store them. This was NOT a good year for storage onions, though. Not like last year, when we were still eating the bumper crop long after planting this year's seedlings. This winter, we will be lucky to have them for much longer. The harvest, which was adequate in quantity, is proving to not store well, despite being the same varieties as we planted last year. I am cutting and freezing them; mostly they are used in cooking anways, but it's always interesting to me to see the changes from one year to the next.

So rather than a massive celebration of having survived 2017 (which, considering everything that went on outside our four acres this year, I can, kinda, understand doing) I will, as always, spend this weekend moving forward in the way I would like the next bit of time to move. I had hoped to attend a "setting Intentions" ritual with friends, but because of the arctic temperatures and my truck's wimpy heating system, I have decided just to stay at home and work with them in spirit. This IS something new to me... the deliberate setting of intentions. I have for many years, paid attention to some threads that I wished to encourage, mostly by spending the evening cleaning and organizing my abode. It's been some time since I was last able to do a complete house cleaning in a day, though, so while I will be continuing to work on that
Organizing the fiber stash so I can
actually work with it.
project, I have also thought a bit about other threads that have surfaced recently, and I will spend some time today trying to make sense out of that, and to find ways to organize and prioritize giving them attention.  Note, this is not a plotting, planning, setting goals or resolving to do this or that, beyond the level of "paying attention" and "listening to and following" prompting from those Powers That Be.

And following my tradition, we will eat pork on Monday (and saurkraut for me) and there will be a cabbage in prominent display (from the garden! It's been in storage.) and greens of some kind to be eaten as well (likely spinach, raw from the store for Tractor Guy, cooked for me for the symbolism they bring.

May this Change of the Calendar find you all moving forward with abundance and joy!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

So it wasn't a bank robbery, just weather.

Today is Thursday, and as you can tell by this graph, it's rather chilly here at hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck.
To be truthful, this prediction is a bit off... as I was sitting at my desk this morning, before dawn, I checked the remote-reading thermometer and it said -17F. It was predicted to bottom out at -11, but in the end, neither of those numbers was correct, as it fell to -20 just before sunrise. Yeah, BRRRR!

I had planned a day in town, to finally meet up with online friend and fellow blogger Crystal Sands who was doing a reading from the book of poems for kids penned by her talented hubby and illustrated by their equally talented son. Tag-teamed with that bit of fun was a necessary run for feed and kerosene, the last of which was loaded into the "spare" heater this morning, to take the chill off the unheated bedroom and bathroom. Unheated, in this case, meant the cats' water was frozen in their bowl, in the bathroom, when we went to bed. It was frozen again this morning. Not surprising as the room temp -- surveyed by a digital thermometer I hauled along when I headed to bed last night -- was 35F.

Yeah, it did need a bit of a warm up... but thus far I am pleased to report that, by leaving serious drips going on all the faucets, we still have running water, hot and cold.

What we did not have when we got up this morning, was a working propane wall heater. You know the one... it's attached to the living room wall and it's sole fuction is to keep the place warm enough, overnight, so that it doesn't freeze. Well, it didn't freeze, thankfully, didn't even approach the bedroom's overnight low, but it did need to be dealt with. Fortunately, when we previously swapped what we thought was an empty big tank for a full one, we did so in error. The problem had not been lack of fuel, but lack of flow. The pilot needed addtional link and beast hair removed by proper application of canned air, and ran just fine after first refusing to acknowledge that the canister we had just filled, and knew to be full, indeed was full. So we were able to swap the empty for a partial, getting the heater back on line and buying us some time. With the addition of some more kero, we could put off the big propane fill for a day, thankfully.

The driveway was, as of this morning, still filled with snow. While it is not hard to drag an empty large propane tank down a 200' long driveway over/through the snow, pulling it back UP again -- even though the rise is slight -- is another matter, and one left for its own day.

I was lucky to have Artie start right up...kudos to a 27 year old truck, on a day when my mechanic had spent the morning responding to "won't start" calls. After several trips down to the truck with sled loads of fuel containers, I headed off to get the winter tires put on and then headed to town.

Of the many errands on my list, one was to stop at the bank to pick up cash which I will need this weekend. I was making good progress, so I made my quick run through the grocery store, then figured I'd hit the bank, gas station and feed store and end up at the library just in time for the reading.

Oops... think again. When I got to the bank, which shares a building with several other businesses, there were alarms sounding all over and many folks standing around outside. The front door of the building was open, so I went in, only to discover that the doors to the foyer, from which one entered the bank, were locked tight and no on could be seen inside.  Being on a schedule, I decided to head off to get gas and while pumping I heard sirens responding to that direction.

Hummmm... I was, by this time, almost late to the start of the reading, so should I try to get there or go check out the bank? I realized I had no camera with which to capture any action, and went to the library, had a great time finally meeting Crystal and her family in person, and then headed by to complete my errands. Turns out the problem was not a robbery, but a broken water pipe. It seems any issues like that set off all the alarms and when the alarms go off -- even for cold weather problems or "acts of God" -- security measures go into effect. The tellers were glad that it was just water, which had been restored.

And I got back home, all errands complete, to discover that my mechanic had done a good deed and plowed us out! Not only did I not have to haul several sled-loads of fuel, food and feed up to the house in what is currently -5F with a wind, but we will be able to load and unload the big propane tank about 10 feet from where it needs to go.

And there is wine, and Epsom salts in the house, running water for a nice hot bath and "feel good" meal of creamed dried beef on toast and a green salad in the offing.  It may be going to be the coldest week on record in Bangor for 40 years, but life is good.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Pagan Practice over Time

An online Pagan friend recently posted a series of questions that grew out of her reading of a post on patheos.com and I have felt motivated to use them as a writing prompt today.

She began by asking: What is your practice? Has it deepened or become less? Do you maintain a personal altar/ritual space and when was the last time you physically cleaned it, or decided which objects stayed or needed to go? 
My practice has evolved over time, but remains experience-based. I came to my path being taught directly by the Gods (not all of Whom gave their names initially) and as much, if not more, by the Elements and the natural world around me. I was living in a remote, off-grid community at the time and I think that made it easier, both to hear the quiet voices and to follow thier promptings. It was at least a year from when I began talking with the moon on regular occasions and from when I populated my first altar -- to Earth -- before I labeled the path as Pagan. That epiphany was the result of a philosophical conversation with a young, Pagan friend, who was astounded by what I had *not* read.
 Along the way, various Gods and mostly Goddesses led the way: Artemis, Athena, Hecate who handed me off, after my Croning, to Frigga, with whom I still work. Things have, indeed, changed and I believe deepened.
I do have a personal altar, and have recently added and subtracted to it, as well as having spent a good long time going through the objects in my "magic chest" in which I keep sacred things that are not currently in use. As a result, a few things have gone away, a few more are awaiting shipment to a Pagan daughter and even more were used to follow up on a prompting I got at the time, to establish Elemental altars outside, on our property lines, to each direction and element, which I set on Mothers' Night.
 Do you journal? Do you maintain a connection with the Moon (as well as the Sun)? Do you still have rituals even if you're without a group?
 I have tried to journal at various times, but have never been able to keep it up for long. Now, I often write here on this blog, as well as on Facebook, both of which seem to be longer-lasting habits. And I do keep connection with both Moon and Sun in their cycles. I do this at least in part by building bridges of magical/mundane connections and empowering necessary chores with magical intent. An example of this is my monthy trash/recycle/bottle redemption/charity donation run, which I do shortly before the dark moon. Our dump/recycling center is only open a few days a week, so I designate an open day just prior to the dark moon as our monthly trash and recycle disposal day. We don't generate much, and are looking to further minimize waste, but this ritual is tied to the concept of getting rid of unneeded things, so that there continues to be a "hole" into which abundance can flow. And being a subsistence homesteader, the yearly cycles are easy for me to keep.
I have always been solitary, so of course I have rituals. One of the bedrocks of my practice is a greeting to Frigga each morning that begins with a few lines from the Poetic Edda:
"Hail, day! | Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here | with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win....
And ends with a greeting to Her and her Ladies, followed by a "penny ritual" for abundance. Each Friday, as well, I hold a fire to honor and petition Frigga and her Handmaidens.
I do not regularly read through old writings and only occasionally look at some of the Pagan books that I do have on my shelf, though I do when one speaks to me. 
Are you a life-long learner or do you think you've figured it all out?
I certainly do not have it all figured out, but my "ah ha" moments most often come from not-particularly-Pagan sparks, the most recent of which was a talk by indigenous botanist Robin Kimerer.
How are you being mindful of the world around you? What is it saying to you? How are you learning and reflecting, and how can you look at your circumstances through a spiritual eye? Have you tried doing things in a new way? Why not?
Part of my "mindfulness" these days is an increase in political actions. I have started a "15 minute activism" protocol in which I take at least a few minutes each day to fax or email legislators to support or oppose proposed actions. Following some of the awareness that has built as I read Kimerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass, many of which build on things I was taught while "sitting under the Zen pine" in the beginning of my journey on this path, I find that I am more aware of the plants and animals around me as individuals and populations with whom I can speak.
Having long had a "chop wood, carry water" foundation to my practice, pulls me into a non-mundane point of view often. For me, new ways grow out of old, sometimes as the result of a conversation or something I have read, but always "proven" against my personal experience.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mothers' Night, the Night before Yule

Since I am still counting days as starting with sunrise, rather than sunset, Today was the day before Yule, for me; traditionally Mothers' Night (Mōdraniht) and a night to honor the disir, All-Mother Frigga, our female ancestors and even the landwights. It is also the day that I renew the protective talismans that I place to surround our land. 
Six little talismans all in a row.


This year, I also had been moved to collect some of the altar items that are no longer in my regular rotation, to populate elemental altars on the appropriate sides of our acreage. I felt that today was the day to do this, also. 

It has been a while since I had to break trail on snow shoes to do this ritual, and using only one walking pole so my other hand could pull the sled full of materials made it awkward. Even worse, I lost one of the 'shoes along the way and did not notice it until I had likely walked most of the length of the east side of the land. Breaking trail is hard, walking unevenly as I was made it harder, so I chose to not go back in search. I will get out there in the next couple of days to track it down. 

North Altar
I started out walking North, making my way through the electric fence (turned off before I started) and set up my altar for the North/Earth near the boundary of the field.
After placing the North altar I turned East, greeted the little young grove in the north-east corner and tied the first talisman to a birch tree growing there. 
Crab apples
against the
cloudy sky

  
Talisman in place in the NE corner
Then I headed south, along the east boundary. I greeted the neighbors' horses and said hello to the volunteer crab apple tree that we discovered and identified a year ago last summer. 

East/air altar

The east/air altar came next with feathers from our turkey and a bird's nest with a pecan in its shell standing in for an egg. As I continued, I saw issues with the electric fence, and began working on them as I went along...until I found a place where the lines were broken and I had taken up too much slack as I worked my way along to be able to reconnect them...even if they had not been totally encased in ice! So I proceeded just on the ritual path, making a mental note to tend the fence later. 

South-east talisman.
When I placed the south-east talisman in the evergreen, I noted a faded bit of ribbon hanging just left of center near the bottom of the photo...a left over from last year's ritual. As I turned and continued west along the front and road-side of our land, I took in several of the trees I have planted as a visual screen, and several more places that the fence needed attention. 

I hung talismans on both sides of the drive, and placed the
One of two talismans
beside the driveway.
south/fire altar there. It is small and sparse, with just a bit of charcoal and some twigs to represent the fuel for the fire and I forgot to take a picture of it. 

Along the south-west boundary I greeted more of the young trees, ending up in the southwest corner, where the bush that I
Talisman in baby oak tree.
had been using to support the talisman had gone, so the young oak tree, one of many I planted a few years ago, stepped up to the task. 


As I turned north again, along the west boundary, I found many things of interest!
icy pine tree
Two of the pine trees from my earlier planting had been blown/bowed over the fence and were still encrusted with ice and snow! I gently whacked the branches to remove most of the ice and made a mental note that I will need to look at

them early in the spring.  I also found what appear to be buds on
witch hazel
my witch hazel shrub! I will have to keep an eye on this and catch it in bloom!

The west/water altar and the north-west talismans were next, but I cannot up load any more pictures for this post, so you will just have to imagine them.

All in all, it was a good working, though my body is -- and will likely continue to -- offer complaints from the workout.