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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
from DutchHexSign.com
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.

And the wind blew and the rains came...

High wind alerts for a storm last night were not in vain. While we sustained no damage, thank the Gods, many trees went down and power was off to quite a few folks. It went down for us, here, while we were eating supper and watching an old TV show on Netflix.

Electricity, alone, is not that big a deal for me when it goes down. My many years of living off grid, in what most folks would call a very primitive style, even after we got some solar power capabilities, not only left me with good skills for power outages, but a deep appreciation for the quiet and (at night) dark times like last night. We have had a 2-day outage, once, in the winter, but even that was not especially a big deal.

Yeah, it would be nice to have a solar array and batteries that could power such things as our well pump and Tractor Guy's CPAP machine (and I suppose, for his sanity, the router and computer, IF Time Warner was still working!) but it's not that big a deal for me to cope sans running electrons. Even the water -- for short duration, or in the case of that winter outage, with a decent snow cover -- only rates minimal hassle. We store water in the master bathroom, filling any heavy duty large juice jug and bleach jug with water once it's empty. In the snow season, melted snow serves for flushing and watering beasts, saving the home bottled stuff for washing up drinking and cooking.

But our range runs on propane and the burners can be lit with matches (which we mostly do; it's second hand and the electronic igniters have never worked right) though when the power is down, so is the oven. In the case of the most recent outage, I had competed baking two cakes in the afternoon! We do not have a central heating system. Instead we rely on a wall mounted propane space heater to keep the main living area above freezing at night and light portable kerosene heaters for warmth during the day. When there is power, the propane unit has a fan, but when the fan will not run, the heat still turns on, as needed.

As for light, after living off grid -- for several years without even solar panels -- I have amassed a decent collection of working kerosene lights. I keep them filled year round, and during times of use I automatically roll into the once a week chimney cleaning, wick trimming and reservoir filling routine that I established long ago. I detest that the only way to affordably buy bulk kerosene these days is dyed red, though! The dye gunks up the works and shortens the life of any device in which it is used. Though I cannot afford it for the heaters (instead, we change wicks at least yearly -- even using the additive cannot prolong their life much more than that) and splurge on the clear stuff, by the gallon, at the big box hardware stores.

So last night, when the winds took out the power and TG took his scanner (a former volunteer fire fighters, it's his go-to in times of outages) and hit the sack. Without his CPAP machine, he knew sleep would be hard to find and not terribly restful.

Me... well I grabbed a few lamps, cozied up to the spinning wheel, grabbed my carders and a hand full of Icelandic sheep wool and went to work! It was quite nice, listening to the wind and the rain and the quiet. The lack of electrons was palpable. The weather had warmed enough that I did not feel any need for a fire, though the feeling of the night evoked a sense of many nights gone by -- before my memory -- of women sitting at the wheel, by the light of lamp and fire, and spinning future warmth for their families.

Eventually, sleep caught me and I trundled off to bed, to lay by TG and listen to the wind, the rain (muted some by fewer windows in the bedroom) and the eventual purring of the cats as I petted them.

It was a good night.




Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rituals of the Year

When most Pagan-y folks talk about Rituals in a yearly context, they are -- or so it seems -- referring to times at the quarters and cross quarters -- or perhaps at the turn of the moon (mostly likely when it's full), when they set aside time to sanctify a space (indoors or out) and invoke the elements and their patron deities, in worship or petition or the like.

In my practice, even those times are more appropriately recognized by what might be considered more mundane rituals, and especially those with a lower-case letter R. Case in point today, the day before dark of the moon.

Those who work with moon energies know that it is constantly changing. Some folks plant by its energies: some simply start root crops as the moon turns from full to dark and fruiting or above ground crops as it turns from dark to full. Others also factor in the position in the Zodiac. I have never done that, as weather conditions trump moon cycles for me as a northern homesteader (short seasons!)

Note: I refer to the moon with the neuter pronoun because, while many see it as female, those in the northern tradition call it "Mani" and know it as male.

But back to my "dark moon approaching" ritual.

We all, unfortunately, generate trash and (hopefully) collect recycleable packaging separately to return to its use stream. We all, or so it seems by the plethora of "wealth" and "abundance" workings and spells, want and maybe even need more. Many, many years ago I read a poem penned by Timothy Leary. Whether or not you were part of the drug culture of the 60s and 70s, he was a media fixture and while I did not specifically follow his exploits, this poem did make quite an impact on me.
The Moment of fullness

Grab hold tightly,
Let go lightly.

The full cup can take no more.
The candle burns down.
The taut bow must be loosed.
The razor edge cannot long endure
Nor this moment re-lived.

So...now
Grab hold tightly
Now...
Let go lightly
 "The full cup can take no more"... If our lives and homes are already full of "stuff" -- be it useful things we no longer need and use, or waste that has not gone away -- where is this abundance, that we petition the universe for , supposed to go? How do we stay "in the flow"?  Seems to me that removing the dam in the stream that naturally allows it to flow will also work with the flow of the ethers.

Putting this into practice, in sync with the moon cycles, seemed to come naturally and fall into place with my "de-stuff-ing" routine that I have been working on for a while. When the moon passes full, I begin focusing on things that I am no longer using that need to give up their spaces. Yesterday we took the heavy old filing cabinet that I had emptied of archived client files from my former design business and placed it at the roadside with a "free" sign on it. Less than 2 hours later, when I got back from my massage, it was gone.


Fridays are my "town days" and this past Friday being the last before dark of the moon, I carried the collected smaller "stuff" off to the charity donation box in town.

Today, the last day that our dump is open before the moon turns, I will be gathering up the last bits of  rubbish from the household bins and carrying them off to the dump. Because of our long-standing "waste minimization protocols" (we consider packaging as much as the items we intend to buy and "vot with our dollars" for items with no,  recycleable or minimal packaging, in that order) it will amount to one can or one (recycled) bag most of the time. The recycles are collected at the same facility: paper, cardboard, glass, metal and #2 plastic. Our town does not recycle the other plastic categories, but I have a friend in a town that does, who takes our small quantity of other plastics to put in her waste stream for recycling.

How is this a ritual? Anything can take on ritual characteristics when done with intent. It is my intent to make room for abundance to flow in.  I keep this thought in my mind as I place the items in the charity box that lives in my kitchen, as I remove the items to take them to town and as I offer them up to the workers or place them in the donation box. I will keep this in mind as I empty the bins later today, as I load the bag or can into my truck and drive to the dump, and as I hand off the refuse and place the recycles into their bins.

And when it's all done, I offer thanks to the Universe At Large for the continuation of the rhythm of coming and going, of life and death, and move forward into the next cycle.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Exciting Classes! and one dud...

Just back from Farm and Homestead Day, a series of workshops put on by the Waldo County (Maine) Extension Service. It was an early day for this gal, an hour's drive plus time to get lost (when I allow it, I never needs it, but when I don't... LOL) and allowing time to have a cup of coffee after arrival at the venue meant I rolled out near first light. It was very strange not to have to even light the space heater for a few minutes to take the chill off before getting dressed -- in "town clothes" at that, but the warmth of the last couple of days was still hanging on a bit. Now that the day is almost done and I am back home, though, the damp and rainy day had conspired with the coming cold spell to suck the last of the extra warmth from the house.

Out of focus shot (in a hurry!) of my grafted tomatoes. They are
supposed to be kept in the dark for the first 24 hours, and warm,
so I was trying not to disturb them too long to get the shot.
Need to let the babies rest and heal!
I cannot say enough good things about the tomato grafting class, nor about Johnny's Selected Seeds, which supplied those of us who chose to buy the optional class materials with a "kit" complete with root stock and scion seedlings! The kit we received included only a "replacement blade" for their spiffy knife (which worked just fine as a knife, solo), a couple dozen little grafting clips, one propagation dome with only the lightweight plastic bottom, as far as non-plant materials go, it also included about 10 each of the Maxifort root stock plants and an equal number of Amish Paste tomatoes for grafting. If you are interested in the process, check out this online copy of the hand out we were given.  I have them covered with a doubled bath towel with the heating pad, on low, under them. There are layers of newspaper between the pad and the bottom of their tray. They need to be warm, not cooked.!

Stevens, left and Howes, right
Another class was on how to grow cranberries.  John Harker of Cranberry Creations gave an Vaccinium macrocarpon ... the low growing ground-covering plant and not Viburnum trilobum the "highbush cranberry. They do like a poor, moist, acid soil but do not need a bog. Our instructor generously shared a 4" potted plant of the Stevens variety with each attendee and -- as a way to motivate class participation -- offered a gallon pot of the Howes to the first student to correctly answer each of several questions.
entertaining and informative class that not only covered getting set to grow them at home, but also lots of history, lore and a bit about their nutrition and some non-traditional uses for the plants (holiday decor, anyone?)

The first class of the day was, unfortunately for me, the dud. I guess I didn't read or retain clearly enough to realize that "Solarize Mid Maine!" was going to be (a) a 90 minute sales pitch for (b) projects that did not extend to my "mid-Maine" location and (c) only involved solar installations that are tied into the grid. Not interested... While I would love to increase use of solar here at Fussing Duck Farm, it will not involve paying anyone to install stuff for us nor will it be tied into the existing grid.

Overall, though, the majority of the day's classes were really worth the drive and the day.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Greening Up!

We have not started to see greening outside yet, here around my central Maine farm, though the sap buckets are no longer hanging on the maple trees that I passed on my way to my local post office this morning. If you don't live in an area where folks "sugar," let me say that is one sure sign that late winter has given way to early spring. Catching the sugar maple sap to boil down into maple syrup is dependent on the rise and fall of the sap as warmer days revert to cold nights. The trees are trying to start their engines, but once they are awake and running -- even though they have not yet pushed out the buds that signify spring to most of us -- the wheel of the year as rolled one more bit along its cycle.
Here at Fussing Duck farm we don't sugar, and mark the changing seasons with the arrival of eggs.  Usually our hens take their natural vacation during the time of longest nights; we do not add lighting nor heat to allow them their rest from laying. This past winter, though, our young layers who started in the fall continued all winter long. Around the beginning of the month, the ducks began to lay and more recently the young hen turkey has presented us with a few eggs. I think that the large duck egg, upper right, must be a "double yolker"... something that is not terribly uncommon in the hens' offerings (we get several each laying season) but this is the first I have ever seen from a duck!

Starting around Imbolc/Ground Hog Day (what I call "Spring Finding) in early February, I begin cleaning off the grow rack (a baker's rack in its more typical setting) to start seedlings of onions and leeks. Later, lettuce joins the mix along with cabbages and kale, broccoli and cauliflower and finally, just this week, the tomatoes and peppers met their little soil blocks.
Top two rows of the grow rack currently. Top: onions Bottom: spinach (experiment), onions, cabbage, kale
Row 3: celery and Swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, more cabbages
Row 4: tomatoes and peppers, newly seeded
Bottom rack contains 3 "volunteer" tomatoes that grew in with the onions and the worm bin (which can be seen in the picture of the entire rack, above.
So while there is no new growth showing outside, these babies hold the promise of much good food in the coming months!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How do YOU get ALL the homestead things done?

I am thinking of offering a workshop by that title at the Common Ground Fair this fall. So the topic is on my mind a lot. My short answer is "you don't." I didn't when I was homesteading as a young newly married women, nor as a mother ( of one... or many) and I don't now, as a crone with a disabled (and currently ailing) partner.

I doubt if I am the only one to have a weeks worth of work on my daily "to do" list.

Take today, for example. My list looked like this:
  • laundry - 4 loads total to hang out, 2 were washed last night, 2 today
  • turkey roost to assemble in duck pen, where the young pair will be moved
  •  young turkeys to be relocated, after getting wings clipped
  • sell spare tom
  • feed worms
  • medicate remaining 2 cats for worms
  • make seed blocks and plant cabbage and kale
  • cut hex blank to cut
  • complete file cabinet sorting
  • wash dishes (two days worth
  • organize storage cupboard
  • cull ducks (2) 
What was NOT on the list was: take Tractor Guy to the doc. He has had debilitating pain from neck down the left arm to the hand, in various places off and on for several days (to be honest, it's been ON more than OFF and not responding to much for long.

That is the way it goes; there is always SOMETHING to be added. An emergency trip to town (2 hrs minimum), busted fences or pipes... something.

Young black tom, at left, was supposed to leave.
Young tom, front/center is staying.
Dad is in back.
And there are always things that don't get done. The turkeys' roost is done, the birds moved. ducks were culled, though not yet ready for being made into jerky. Laundry all got out AND back in. Won't be put away until tomorrow. Dishes are washed and dry on the counter. Hopefully Tractor Guy will be up to putting them away tomorrow, otherwise that will get added to tomorrow's list. 

The extra tom is still here but at least I don't have to drive 2 hours (one way) to deliver him. The buyers will be here tomorrow to claim him. This is the result of a mistake a couple of days ago when they were here to buy him and he quickly sidestepped and in the chaos, we did not realize he had let his twin sister (there are a pair of black turkeys and a pair of others with lighter color markings both from the last hatch of 2015) take the fall. The folks want to keep her and acquire him as well, and were going to come pick him up this evening but their day got away from them too (see what I mean about everyone's lists being too long?) so their request to pick him up tomorrow was just fine with me!

But that still leaves over half of the list items undone.