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Friday, December 18, 2015

Being a Keeper of Tradition

I have been thinking a lot, recently, about holidays and traditions, and about the words we use to talk about such things. Most often, it seems, I hear "celebrate" used in conjunction with holidays and other events. We "celebrate" birthdays, anniversaries, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the day of my tradition as well... Yule, Mothers' Night, Charming of the Plow (Groundhog day to most of you) and so on. And that has never quite sounded right, or felt right to me.

The main definition I see for celebrate when I Google it is: publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.  So, yeah, I can see from that apparently commonly held definition that it does not describe when I do. (a) it is not usually public and seldom is social.

Recently my mind landed on what seemed to me to be an older language usage: keeping Christmas.  Among the many modern definitions of the word keep I found: to honor or fulfill, to observe as well as "to guard or protect". Those definitions, while not spot on either, do resonate more with me.

I have been called a "keeper of liminal spaces." So I feel comfortable calling myself a keeper, for I am a keeper of many things and largely of tradition.
Keeper: a person who manages or looks after something or someone.
Synonyms: guardian, custodian, curator, overseer, steward, caretaker
I hold the threads of many traditions, not necessarily ones I was raised to or grew up with, but threads I have picked up, strengthened, held and shared along the way. Not all are even conscious, but build in the background and under the hubub of mundane life. 

This time of year, they call me to stay near the hearth, to bank the fire against the dark and cold (even though this year has seen little of that at present), to cherish the stores from summer on the pantry shelves and to bide my time carefully until the days begin to lengthen. Only then, the threads say, is it safe to begin planning the spring plantings and order seeds.

I do not put up massive displays of lights; in fact, on the darkest of nights, you will see my space lit only with a few candles and oil lamps. Though I am a scientist and know that longer days and spring will follow the short days of winter like a tail follows a dog, as a Keeper, tradition tells me not to try to push the season with "man-lights" galore. We can best appreciate the light when we have experienced the darkness and best appreciate Fire when we know Ice.

Maybe one needs to be a Keeper to feel such things, I honestly don't know... but I do know that I feel the threads stretching back beyond my memories and beyond family stories when I keep traditions as mundane as darning socks, knitting, spinning, weaving, sewing, starting seeds in their season, planting, weeding, harvesting, putting by and then making meals by looking in the pantry to see what looks good. Some of these things my mother did; more of them my grandmothers did and I am as sure as I am sitting here their foremothers did even more.

But for me, being a Keeper is more than just blindly following tradition. What is important is the keeping and honoring of the INTENT of the tradition. For example: tradition holds that during the "12 days of Christmas" (what I observe as the YuleTide... beginning at the period of the shortest days (there is NOT just one, at least here! ) through what I call "changing of the calendar," women are to put down their distaffs and not spin. Back in the day, spinning was what women DID, when they were not actively doing something else. Well, here in our world while spinners do honor the tradition with gatherings to spin on Distaff, or Roc day, it seems to me that a setting aside of my painting for a spell keeps the intent of the tradition, so that is what I shall do. And as the darkest days begin, I shall begin preparations for holiday meals that will continue through the week... with fresh made bread and cookies and the butchering, tomorrow, of our turkey, Fred. And I will spin, and weave... for those are not my occupation, but my joy and in doing so, I honor AllMother and the Norns. And then, yes, I shall join the throngs on Roc day as well as picking up the seed stash to inventory and the seed catalogs to fill in with needed new seeds once the season is well turned.

The last hex signs to be painted this year will go out by post tomorrow: two from the new Companion Animal Protection line (customized) and a custom Love and a Happy Home, as well as a small Love and Happy Home to a different customer.
Custom Love and a Happy Home hex sign

Companion Animal Protection sign

Companion Animal Protection sign
After the holidays I will begin work on a large welcome sign, from the last order of this year.

I do not know WHY keeping tradition is important. Honestly, I am a simple woman and have never really spent time asking the why's of unanswerable questions. Why am I here? For me, it is enough that I AM and my trust in intuition and the guiding whispers of the Gods is sufficient to carry on. And to keep tradition, because that's what I do.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Are you Ready for the Darkness?

After a day of relative warmth, wind and rain, our cold front is passing and the temperatures are heading into seasonal norms yet again. The plunging thermometers and spinning anemometers, clouds racing across the blue sky, all remind me that the season of the Wild Hunt is at hand and winter is bearing down on those of us blessed enough to live in the Northlands.

Am I ready? Not completely... we have materials on hand but have not yet relocated the propane tanks for easier access. We have not worked on insulating the water system nor closed up holes in the skirting. But on the other hand, Fergie the tractor has all her wheels again, all of the manure from the neighbors' horses has been moved to our side of the fence and most of the currently fallow garden has been manured. After two days with the string trimmer, the overgrowth in the hedgerow to the west of the driveway has been flattened, watersprout trees that need to be removed have been eyeballed, it not yet tagged or removed and the asparagus beds have been weeded.

Early in the week, I finally processed the stupid guinea that hanged itself and the dogs have been enjoying the meat.  I am planning to have some home schooled youngsters over early next week to observe and have an avian anatomy lesson with a couple of ducks that need processed. That was supposed to have been THIS week, but I put them off in order to work on the weed removal while the temperature was more conducive to working out for a longer period.

I got back into spinning for the day on Saturday, and cleaned up a bunch of previously carded grease wool, so that I can focus on the Jacob's sheep fleece -- which is almost done -- to be used for spinning starting soon. I have committed to do fiber demos for a local museum at a big commercial show, called the Harvest Fest" again this year, so I need not only fiber to card and spin but also a bunch to weave with AND I need to get the little loom warped up. Soon!

A BIG Welcome! 48" sign ready to ship.
Abundance and Prosperity, 24" outdoor
$190 + shipping, ready to go NOW!
I completed and shipped this 4 foot diameter Welcome hex sign this week, and will finish the re-make of an Abundance and Prosperity sign that I incorrectly painted without the scalloped border. I'll be able to ship this 24" sign early in the week, I hope. It will be ready tomorrow, but poor Artie, my pickup, has been having alternator issues and has been declared on the "sick, lame and lazy list" until "Doc Johnny" at Pomeroy's Garage can see him on Monday. The one I painted incorrectly, shown above, right, is available for impulse purchase, and immediate shipping!

A big part of my preparation for the dark season of the year, which I love, continues to be my ongoing "decluttering" and sending on of things that I no longer really need. I am also reorganizing and hopefully streamlining some to make it easier and faster to accomplish necessary daily and seasonal tasks. We have many home-improvement plans and several continue in process, as we juggle energy, money, time and projects. We were both talking about kitchen issues this morning; it is NOT a two-person room and needs to be. Perhaps we will get around to moving the stove and making new cabinets this winter! Meanwhile, I have lots of fiber-y fun to work through.. I did not get any sewing done last winter, so all those projects are waiting in the wings, as well as spinning, knitting, crochet and an embroidery project for a friend. There will be plenty to do while sitting by the fire, so I think you can see why I am looking forward to the winter months!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

There Won't Always be More Stuff

I got into a "discussion" -- turned into a bit of a pissing contest, though, it seemed -- on a friend's Facebook post recently. I stated my position on bottled water (none, period) and was called to task by another poster who noted how necessary it was "in emergencies." I allowed as how, maybe, that was ok, but for years Red Cross and other agencies got along just fine and supplied emergency water without the wasteful and now ubiquitous containers.

Later in the discussion, I mentioned that I had all but eliminated plastic packaging in my shopping and was working to rid my home of plastic, though I was frustrated by the inability to recycle broken or otherwise unusable plastic items since the codes are only stamped on containers.

My nemesis all but called me a hypocrite and Luddite because "everything is made using plastic" somewhere along the line, much recycled plastic is just shipped to China to be buried and I was doubtless using a plastic keyboard. Which, I will admit I am. I would honestly love to have one made of a more natural material, IF it were made in a manner that would allow it to last at least as long as my electric typewriter, which I got as a high school graduation present and DID manage to wear out (multiple keys developed metal fatigue) after about 15 years of use. Keyboards, it seems, fail after far fewer years... and that is even with my having an old school tech in the house who is able to disassemble and clean them on a regular basis.

I finally opted out of the Facebook "discussion." I don't need extra frustration in my life. However it brought to mind several thoughts.

1. We all need to consider "appropriate technology" and "most appropriate materials" for all of the things we buy, make and do. Just because it's newer, less expensive, faster, brighter colored or such does not mean we need it. In my mind, the "most appropriate" materials are those that can be easily and efficiently re-used. I use only natural materials for clothing, for example, because when worn beyond usefulness, most often they can be re-purposed as rags. Sometimes the most appropriate materials are those than will decompose.

But even more than that, I think, many of us suffer from the unperceived delusion that "there will always be more stuff" as if stuff actually grew on trees. I wonder, since I have only American attitudes to observe, if this is not somehow an extension of manifest destiny. There was, for a good part of the formative years of our country, "always more land to the west" to explore, and exploit. But like the country, which has filled the land from border to border and has no land over the horizon to expand into, our sources for "stuff" are limited. Even stuff that does, essentially, grow on, or like, trees must be considered finite, for as the population on the earth expands, the resources available to produce crops like wood, hemp, food and even bio-fuels will not only not expand, but likely will shrink.

We cannot continue thinking that "there will always be" more raw materials from which to make plastic, be it for containers or for making "stuff.". We cannot continue thinking that "there will always be" more aluminum or iron to be mined to make cans, or cars or pots and pans.

Use it UP
Wear it OUT
Make it DO
because while maybe YOU won't have to... eventually your progeny will otherwise have to

Friday, October 9, 2015


Long ramble ahead. I have often said that it would be easy for me to be Amish, if only one didn't have to be Christian.

How did I get here? Well, it started almost 40 years ago, with a "Question Authority" bumper sticker I had on my car when I joined what proved to be a very authoritarian Christian denomination. I got flak for it, but no, I did not remove and and yes, I did continue to question...not only authority but just about everything. I had come to that particular doorway via previous questions; further questions caused me to walk back out of it and continue down the path. My motto, for a while, became "question everything."

I focused a lot on internal stuff... stuff I was taught or learned along the way. Much of it did not have a "why" behind it; a lot of what we do is habit, absorbed from common culture, from those around us. I heard an anecdote about a homemaker who always cut the end off a roast and set it aside before putting the majority of the meat in the pan and into the oven. She did this all her life. One day a friend was visiting and watched her begin to prepare the meal. Friend was puzzled by the removal of the end and asked why. The woman did not know, but that was the way her mother did it, was the reply; she had not realized this was NOT a common practice. Fortunately, the woman's mother was still living and on her next visit the question was asked, "Why?" Mom replied "I just have a small roasting pan, and they won't fit in unless I trim a bit off first."  I wondered how many similar habits I had, how many unnecessary things I did in a day, in a week...

My Five Daughters (we could have been a sit-com!)
All this came in handy, to me, as a mother of a passel of youngsters. What was important TO ME in raising my crew was not the spotless house my mother kept, but creativity and growing stuff. Being able to let chores that did not, in the long run, matter allowed me to not only claim extra bits of time (and mothers-of-many, for sure, will understand that every little 5 minute increment matters!) but more importantly to let go of the nagging worry about leaving things undone.

And the more I questioned, the deeper I got into things that, while they may not be visible, actually do separate me from the world by virtue of how I think. Take weekends, for example, or workdays. Even folks who have people in their family who do not work "the standard" 9-5, M-F, seem to try to  set aside the standard times off work. And yes, if you want and need to interact with folks who keep that schedule, those times do matter. But more and more, all 24 hours of a day are usable and all week as well. There is nothing wrong with taking a sleeping baby, in a carrier, shopping at midnight or 6 a.m. if it fits your life, and it may make the excursion much faster when the stores are less occupied. And the lake is still there on Wednesday, if fishing or swimming is your thing.

But more and more, over time, and largely as a result of a move "beyond the sidewalks, without electricity but with chickens" I began to sync to the natural world. "Vacations" or down time make more sense in the winter when there are not garden to tend and canning to do. "Daylight 'Savings' Time" is irrelevant when you naturally awaken with the sun and begin supper prep with the gathering twilight, after a trip to the barn to close up the critters. Long summer work days are balanced by extra sleep in the long nights of winter. Changing your clothes every day, regardless of whether they are soiled or not seems silly when you wear older clothes to do dirty daily jobs and save your good stuff for trips to town.

Now, I suspect that the actual Amish would look askance at much of what I have written, with their German heritage and picturesque, spotless farms. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" and all that... But this German crone is not part of an extended family and is doing what makes sense to me.

Some of that shows (if you know me, you know how hard it is for me to find clothes for trips to town that do not show a spot of paint somewhere, and if you have had the misfortune to actually step inside the domestic chaos of my many projects-in process, well, enough said) but much of it doesn't. The way I think about things, the basic assumptions from which I operate, my motivation.

So, maybe then, I am wrong. I probably couldn't be Amish -- or whatever the northern tradition Pagan version of that might be -- because even in that context, I think, there might not be enough commonalities to bridge the differences, even if I wanted it to. Which, most likely, I might not. I am not, despite what many folks who encounter me in short increments would assert, a people person. I like my own company and prefer my solitude on a day-to-day basis. Money, necessary as it is to have some, is not even close to my primary motivation; I have quit or declined to accept jobs that would have required me to wear clothes that I consider uncomfortable (grown up lady-type office wear) or which required a daily application of face paint. A position with responsibility, honor and appreciation with low pay seems much more satisfying than one where the employee is just a replaceable cog in the wheel, regardless of remuneration. And so it goes.

Now, in retirement, my meager stipend from my working years floats the bottom line and the Powers That Be bring in a few bucks with art sales and the sharing of a bit of extra produce from time to time and that is fine with me. It means times, like last month, when necessary trips to town skyrocketed in number and frequency, the gas budget bottomed and borrowed from several other "envelopes," panic tries hard to set in and I may wonder where relief will come from. And I may wonder a bit longer than is comfortable, at that, but always, in the end, the Powers That Be come through and a sign sell or something such. And no, I don't go asking, knocking, petitioning, praying or stirring up extra abundance spells. The Gods know the needs. And I know that by showing gratitude for what abundances I do have -- be it three feed sacks full of sunflower heads of varying ripeness, an extra pepper that had been overlooked in the garden, or a big harvest of small potatoes -- and making the most of it all, and of my time, that I will remain in the flow.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Oh, What a Week it Was!

Draft horses pass under the barn sign I painted for the
Penobscot Chapter of MOFGA
I was going to entitle this post "A Fair Week" but it was so much more than that. Yes, it DID start with a fair, Common Ground Country Fair to be exact, where I demonstrated the fine art of hex painting all day Friday (in the overcast, damp chilly weather) and Saturday (with a bit of sun and much warmer temperatures). I got to chat with several old friends and many new folks, while pointing out the large version of the smaller signs I was painting.

Next year (it appears there will be a next year to this project, as we will move on to sign the next barn, for the oxen) I should be able to demo all three days, but need to make sure that everything is set in motion well before the fair book goes to print. NO ONE seemed to know where I was or even THAT I was there painting! Also need to set specific times for demos, so I will have a bit of time to wander the grounds.

Sunday my fair decompression was accomplished by means of the first of two crochet classes. I am finally learning to follow a pattern, while working on a cute little stuffed bird. I doubt if I will have all my squares done by Sunday, but I am trying!

Life, in many forms, has got in the way of crochet. First off, there is the back-from-fair stuff to be dealt with and signs to finish. But most of what has been occupying me this week involves getting ready for winter.

First off, we mounted a major flea offensive on Monday, with each of the house cats and dog getting a good dose of flea dip and then getting put outside so we could set off flea bombs. Yeah, I hate to do it but there are times, desperate time, when chemical warfare is warranted... at this level, at least. I ended up doing one of the cats and the dog again today as flea combing showed they needed it. We will see what the comb finds on the rest over the next few days; today only those two were still badly afflicted.

Standing water in the tractor tracks in the garden - a first!
Lake at the end of the driveway.
With 4" of rain in the prediction for Wednesday -- and the radar showing good support for that prediction, I spent much of Tuesday getting the last of the potatoes dug, collecting the remaining few tomatoes and hunting onion. Onion crop was terrible but waste not, want not so they are all in the house now. And then the rain came. And indeed it was a good 4" over the course of 24 hours.  Even in our garden here on the rise, we actually had standing water, and the "lake" at the end of the driveway was huge despite Tractor Guy having done some filling and cut a drain channel.

One soaked, soggy, dirty
The poor Moose-pup ended up with no place dry to lay, as his doghouse developed a roof leak. We took pity on the livestock guardian and brought him in to the back porch (until he was dry enough that his shake didn't give me a shower!) and let him visit in the house for a bit. He is NOT a house dog, though, and his sad demeanor in the picture seemed to be as much about his not being able to do his job as it was about his soaked coat!

Of course, after setting of the chemical bombs, all surfaces and all the dishes needed washed and the flea project set laundry day behind, so only today did that finally get completed.

Weather has turned much cooler with lows in the 40s or lower and highs stretching to reach the 60s, so it was time to begin the clothing shuffle. It was great to have a flannel night gown and my winter robe on while sitting by the Frigga's day fire this evening! I brought in some more long sleeve shirts, several pairs of sweat pants and some warmer fall dresses, most of which got a quick washing and are flapping on the line overnight. Tomorrow, I think, I will deploy the flannel sheets.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hope for a Good Season

This week I have been thinking a lot about gratitude and thinking of the sign, above, that I found last year and still hangs on my wall.

Harvests are iffy things. Some years they are good, other years less so, but like the fishermen and boat builders of the Core Banks (about whom the book by the same title as my post was written) what keeps the farmer, the gardener, the hunter, as well as the fisherman going is hope.  And, in many ways, being able to live within your harvest, however that may turn out.

It can be easy to be grateful for abundant harvests. I can also be a challenge, when the last thing you want to look at is ANOTHER sack of potatoes or onions, another bushel of tomatoes to can or another few pounds of an herb that you usually deal with in ounces.

I try to always be grateful, even with extreme abundance, and not to fuss while finding shelf space or freezer room or still more jars. This year's overabundance may very well pad the larder in a year to come. This is the case here at the sign of the Fussing Duck this year; our tomato crop has gone down the tubes. Between a late, cold start and uneven temperatures and rain, the blight and the marauding fowl I have harvested barely a half a bushel of fruit. We are out of canned whole tomatoes, BUT thanks to an overabundance last year, we still have many jars of tomato sauce on the shelves. Cucumbers also are a bust, but with a bit of care we will still have pickles and relish sufficient to get us through.

Likewise it can be very hard to be thankful for meager crops, but we must remember that each plant is trying its best, regardless. If a tomato or a bean or pea plant produces a single fruit, bean or pod of peas, it has more than replaced the seed I planted to grow it. And, even in the worst of years, those plants that survive most likely produce many more than just a single offering.

My 75' row of "Vermont cranberry beans" which started out as a handful of seed from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) seed and scion exchange in 2014 grew enough seed for the long row last year. This year I have a canvas shopping bag full of dry pods, hopefully some to eat and sufficient seed to plant two rows next year. They, too, got a late slow start but they gave their all and I am grateful.

In addition to putting up tomatoes (6 quarts) and having three trays marjoram and two of basil in my newly acquired electric food dehydrator, I have a large baking sheet of basil being frozen. It will join the remaining "overabundance" of parsley from last year in the "fresh frozen herb" larder. I also have dill weed frozen and many more stalks currently air drying.

In the hex world, abundance is again flowing. There is an order for three signs from a single customer on the books, an order for a single small one and -- best news -- the 4' sign destined to adorn the draft horse barn at the Common Grounds Fair is well underway. I am excited to be able to support the Penobscot County Chapter of MOFGA and the fair with my talents! It will be hard work to continue getting the harvest in (there are still potatoes, carrots and cabbage out there, plus lettuce and chard) while getting ready to spend two days painting as a demo at the Fair. If things go as well there as they did at the 55th Anniversary Community Appreciation Day event put on by Pomeroy's Garage August 1, I will have all my orders completed and ready to go by the end of the demo.

Meanwhile, I will be off to a natural dye workshop tomorrow at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Waning Moon

This HAS been a week. With the dark moon approaching very early next week, the end of the moon "dejunking" and cleaning rituals have taken center stage. I went through a plastic tote of books that I had not had shelf space to hold for some time and ended up putting the majority of them up for friends to choose from. I posted pictures of the books, grouped by subject or author, on my Facebook page and shared with some local Pagan groups (they were mostly pagan oriented materials) and before the week ended, I had posted them all off for the promise of reimbursement for postage. Loved the process! Much better than dealing with trying to sell them on Ebay.

I pulled a few from my shelves as well, and cleared out a bunch of old school art projects and moved the remaining books to shelves. That, along with hauling the odd ends that had collected over the month to Goodwill, and finally taking the trash, recycles and redeemable containers out has completed this moon cycle's abundance ritual.

And abundance has been flowing in, as well. Early in the week I scored a free electric food dehydrator and later in the week got an order for 3 hex signs from a single customer. In the hex realm, as well, I accompanied my friend Galen, president of our local chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to the meeting of the committee which oversees the organization's annual shindig, the Common Ground Fair, in an attempt to finalize a proposal that we had offered earlier in the year, to paint "folk art barn sign" style signage for the currently un-signed livestock barns. The last I heard was in February, when the proposal was to be taken before committee. With the fair starting on Sept. 25, I needed to know one way or the other, and after the meeting ended we were able to find out that they did want a sign (this year for the Draft Horse barn) and would indeed allow me to sit and paint "within sight" of the new sign, as I had requested. I will not be selling signs, of course, since each is painted to order, but I am able to hand out business cards, which I shall do.

During the week we also discovered that the "bay window" area of the bathroom actually has openable windows, but only on the outside! The inside window is a single pane of decorated glass. The outside unit is opaque plastic, designed to open but (until recently) lacking screens. We discovered this while cleaning up behind the bathtub. We have at least one cat who does NOT like the new boxes and/or their location. Disgusting. But nevertheless I am glad that the cleaning brought the window issue to our attention. It was quick work to remove (for now) the inside panels. And did not take much longer for Tractor Guy to make screens. It is nice to have the extra air flow, especially as the windows face generally west, towards the prevailing winds. Especially with the 90 degree temperatures that we had to deal with this week, and the lack of overnight cooling. Thankfully, we are back to much more normal Maine weather now.

The cats are another issue... we plan to segregate one at the time to try to find the culprit and meanwhile, scooping boxes each day seems to help.

Midweek I had an appointment with my health care provider (a PA-C) and we talked among other things, about the rapid pulse and non-associated vertigo that had been popping up randomly during the last month. She tried everything to get them to fit into a diagnosis box and failing that, said she would consult with the MD. The upshot of that all is that they fixated on the ONE incident that seemed to have been postural in nature (I bent over to check on something on the chicken pen we were working on and became instantly VERY dizzy) and have recommend physical therapy. Hey, at least it is non-invasive!

I have been hard at work, mostly early mornings and evenings before supper, taking the weed eater to the "green manure" between the garden rows. Some might actually say I am whacking actual weeds, but "green manure" it is, that is my story and I am sticking to it!