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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!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rituals of Autumn

I know it's not Autumn yet. It is barely September, but September is a liminal month and even while I am working hard on the late summer tasks of the Putting By Moon, I am thinking ahead. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons.

As a farming/homesteading witch, from early August through the end of October I focus is on harvest and preparing for the season of dark and cold. Starting with "First Harvest" in early August, through Equinox I am mainly working with the garden, "putting by" with thanks to the Gods and the Elements for all the abundance. Even in years like this one, where some crops are REALLY sparse (I had one cucumber plant survive the late, cold spring for example) it is important to me to be as thankful for that one-at-a-time cucumber as for the plethora of beans and peas. All the plants are giving their all and deserve thanks!
One annual fall project -- weed whacking and mulching!

Then, as September wanes, my focus shifts to having the homestead "buttoned up" against the cold and snow. Even though we don't get more than flurries before December, usually, I like to have it done and everything protected by the time the Hunt traditionally begins at the end of October. That also includes putting the active garden to bed and having the fallowed one ready for spring planting.

I feel an urgency this year to get to, and through, the rituals of Autumn. No, I don't mean gathering under the moons -- dark or full -- with a group of fellow travelers. Nor will I be likely to attend a gathering for Equinox. My rituals are more of the "chop wood, carry water" type and though we do not yet heat with wood, the growing piles and stacks of fuel that I see in yards and sheds and barns as I do my errands makes me think that my neighbors may be feeling a similar urgency this year. Or, maybe they are just reacting to the past long, cold winter and the scarcity (and related price increases) of the supplemental supplied they needed to fend of the cold until Spring finally managed to break through.

I've already started picking up odd ends that gather around the farm... broken pieces of plastic fence post, shredding tarps and the like... for the next couple of dump runs. These odds and ends do not need to sink even more securely into the earth over the winter.

I have been taking mental note of the missing kerosene lamp chimneys and each Saturday brings me closer to beginning the weekly Autumn and Winter ritual of chimney washing and lamp filling. Yes, we have electricity, but the warm glow of these lamps is comforting to me and in the dark of winter, when I arise before the house is sufficiently lit by the sun, it is their light I prefer to use to greet the day.

Likewise, I have been making a note of the location of all the flashlights, many of which have ceased to function over the summer. The stash gets fewer each year, because I cannot stand the cold bluish glow of the LED bulbs (and as bright as they may be, I don't seem to be able to see well by them) and the old fashioned kind are becoming hard, if not impossible to find. Soon I will gather all the units up and give them to Tractor Guy for a working-over. As many as can be made to work will be what I use. When one does not light fowl coops and eschews a yard light, it's important to keep flashlights at hand in various places.

Unexpected apples tree
Unexpected apples!
I am also thinking about food storage. "Fresh" storage of onions, potatoes and carrots, mostly. Apples we don't have in that quantity yet, so I pick up local ones from the store through the winter. I DID get a surprise, though, this week of the apple variety. While none of the trees I have planted are old enough to make fruit yet, there is a tree that came with the house. We were not told what it was, but it has leaves that look like apple and an apple growth habit. It has, until now, not fruited however. And somehow it must have sneaked the blossoms past us this spring, for neither of us noticed anything... until yesterday, when Tractor Guy was working the back field and noticed an apple on the ground. Coming back around, he spotted one, then more in the tree. I have no idea what variety or if they are ripe. I will check them with a spray of iodine solution once I acquire some.

Basil, waiting to be dried.
 In the garden, the tomatoes are beginning to ripen -- a good sign here that the Summer season is coming to an end. They are a late season/early fall veggie for me here in Maine. I am digging the potatoes (another fall ritual, which is early this year) and harvesting herbs like crazy! Basil, dill, marjoram, chives and sage are producing in abundance and the parsley is giving a decent report as well.

We are also getting ready to put an insulated box around the water inlet, pressure tank and such under the house and run plastic around the skirting -- inside, this year -- to hopefully keep the water flowing, another Autumn ritual in Maine. Thawing the pipes is a Winter ritual that we would rather avoid.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The "Putting-By" Moon

I am trying to get back in the habit of blogging each week on Frigga's day.

This week I have been quite busy dealing with food abundance. As the moon turned a couple of weeks ago with the new moon, I declared this "month" to be the time of the "putting-by" moon, as the garden has begun in earnest to give us lots of things not only to eat fresh or freshly cooked, but also to "put by" in the freezers.

Doing so, though, has meant that I needed to get some of That Pig, the 700 pound boar that I helped OUT of the freezer and into jars. The Flow was with me and I was able to get my pressure canners tested to determine that, indeed, they did both need replacement gauges, as well as being able to find and afford the replacements immediately. When they arrived, Tractor Guy did the installation and I immediately set about cutting one of the large pieces of pig meat to fit into my new extra large crock pot. Big pig = big pieces, especially when the entire 3-person butcher crew was totally worn out by the time the quarters hit the cutting table!
"That Pig" in BBQ (left and center) and plain (right) versions
friends butcher this spring,

I know most folks raw-pack meat, but this fellow was just SO fatty that I really needed to cook him down some in order to most efficiently separate meat from fat, which is being saved for soap making later in the year.

I started the process a bit over a week ago, with a wonderful feeling of being connected to both my own past experience canning meat, but with a thread going much farther back. I completed the round of canning recently, filling two of the jars with chunks of pork and a friend's home made BBQ sauce. I am delighted to be able to say that all of my jars kept most of their liquid, which was a problem I constantly fought in the past. This means that "end of the garden" will likely involve several batches of vegetable soup to be pressure canned! Hard to can soup when most of your jars loose half of their liquid contents!  I also want to can some beets, but my beet crop this year consists of 2 (yes, I did count them) plants, so I will have to hit a farm stand or farmers market soon.

I have been freezing green beans and both freezing and drying lots of herbs. This has been a bumper year for marjoram and basil, and I need to pick dill as well. The cucumber harvest has consisted, to date, of three cukes; the picklers' vines are full of blossoms but, as yet, no fruit. The tomatoes are, finally, starting to turn and I will likely have a good crop by the time I need to worry about killing frost and the peppers are also setting fruit.

Pea vines have been pulled and the dry pods removed, to be processed for seed and I just got the trellis and posts brought out of the garden. I am trying to be more organzed, going forward, so I am stowing the trellis mesh and the posts I used in recycled feed sacks. It will take 2, and I will label both as "100' pea trellis" for re-use next year.

11 "pullet surprises," one turkey egg
and the rest of a day's production
Our new pullets, a RI Red/White cross, have started laying and this week I found where they had been stashing some of their eggs. I "float-tested" and all are good.

Lady Grey, our hen turkey, has begun laying again. We do not want her to go broody again (this year, at least) and it appears she shares our sentiment, as she has been dropping eggs randomly in the turkey yard instead of in the house, in the nest she used for the previous broods. The first one must have surprised her while she was roosting on one of the supports for the poult enclosure, as I found it laying on the ground, inside of the closed baby pen!
The 6 youngest turkeys outside finally!

Young chickens, hatched by Lady Grey
had just landed in their outside pen.
We also are now free of "house-fowl" as the last of the living room brooder crew went outside today. As I was preparing to take the photo of the young turkeys, two of them slipped through the fence and into the chicken yard! I netted them and HOPE I have repaired their exit.

After a week's hiatus, I am finally back to spinning again. I missed the evening's end task and working meditation on Frigga, not to mention progress in working through the Jacob's sheep fleece. The last of it is washed ("scoured") and hopefully will dry during the coming heat spell.

And I have another of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" hex signs in process... this one is a custom job based on the "swirling swastika." (In case you do not know, this symbol is not the same as the one appropriated by the "nazis"  from much older spiritual traditions.)  I am also working on a digital model of a old hex sign, with the intention of recreating it for a potential client. not only paints and sells a line of hex signs both based on the traditional and of my own creation, but also is happy to recreate older signs that were painted on masonite and other less durable media, but which still have special meaning for their owners.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer in Maine

We had summer this week -- or maybe August. Temperatures reached and exceeded the 90 degrees (F) mark. I am glad that this does not go on for long, here in Maine. Would be happy to not see that 9 in the tens place ever in a forecast or as a high temperature for the day, but it happens. I AM thankful that (a) it doesn't happen often, (b) go on for long and that (c) it cools off in the evening. I am also thankful that I am no longer working off the farm, so that when I get up before the sun, which I do on these "summer" days, I can have my coffee and hit the garden, instead of the road, as the sun rises over the nearby trees.

This week has been a routine of early mornings, moving soaker hoses from row to row in the early morning fog and dew, followed by a bit of weeding or picking before starting the irrigation and tending the fowl. By the time I am done in the barnyard, I am feeling the heat attacking the back of my neck and I am glad to be able to retire to the house and indoor chores.

This week the indoor chores have been mostly involving blueberries, purchased at the Brewer Farmers Market with the extra benefit of their food stamp matching program which allowed me to buy two 10# boxes for the price of one! One batch was quickly divvied out into quart size freezer bags and tucked into odd spots in the small "meat" freezer. The second batch was divided into makings for blueberry syrup and jam, both "lower sugar" varieties using a 50/50 blend of sugar and Splenda for the benefit of my diabetic. I discovered that I was way short of jelly jars so had to make a run to Corinth since I forgot them on my Wednesday town run. Paid more, of course, but saved gas and driving time. I think, if I didn't count the time, it would be considered a wash, after checking the price in Bangor today.  Some of the berries I just crushed with some sugar on them for blueberry shortcake, as well. I had cake in the freezer, left from strawberry season... good desert and more freezer room liberated!

To get things out of order... the first round of pressure canning of pre-cooked pieces of That Pig was a rousing success! All of the jars kept over 90% of their liquid and most kept most of it. I realized after the fact that I did process them at "too high" a pressure; these guys only require 10 pounds and the weight I have for the pressure canner only does 15 pounds. I now have a variable one on its way, should arrive Monday. Unfortunately the next batch is ready to be canned and will also be done with 15 pounds. Since I am expecting to use this mostly for pulled pork or as an ingredient in stir fry or the like, I am not worried about the over-processing, as it is not a safety issue. I also found out that one of the local meat processing outfits WILL smoke home-butchered bacon... so that big piece will be thawing in the fridge soon and will be sent off to be done. When I get it back, it will be also in smaller amounts which will fit in the freezers more easily and make space. I am glad that most of what remains in the garden is stuff that does not need freezing, but stores "on the shelf" or in a cool, dark location or will be canned.

The heat has, however, set me behind in the hex painting department. I have been taking the time I needed to "just sit" during the heat of the day -- getting out of the heat of the kitchen -- and hopefully will be able to quickly complete the 24" sign that I have drawn and ready to paint during the rainy days predicted early in the week.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Need a Reset?

Do you ever feel like you need a reset? I never really thought about it quite that way, until today, a few minutes ago, while washing dishes.

Week started with the arrival of the customer supplied photo:
last week's hex shipment from installed.
This week has been.... busy.... "off".... and we have been off too, both off the farm a lot and off the routine-that-is-not-a-routine that weaves it way around the turning seasons and quiet farm days.

We spent a day hauling mulch hay, and two more helping a friend move. Tried to put the moving work on cooler days and had to work it around the rain, which meant laundry on Sunday instead of Monday, which always puts the whole week off for me. Somehow, it's not so bad if Monday proves rainy or snowy too otherwise unfit for "hanging out" and laundry day is later in the week. But moving it back a day "for no good reason" sets things a-kilter.

Moving days were long and hard. Harder by far than they used to be, for all of us "no longer spring chickens." The friend we were helping move is my senior by a few years, has asthma to deal with and the upcoming school year breathing down her neck. And she was moving from a roommate situation to a tiny efficiency apartment, which makes having stuff much more of a challenge. I spent considerable mental energy, I fear, longing for the days when I could work even much younger colleagues into the ground.

It really wasn't THAT long ago that I took a long weekend temp job "flipping carpets" for customers to examine at a tent sale. On Friday there were three of us doing the job: me and two college footballers who grunted and groaned through the day. On Saturday and Sunday, I worked solo, as they did not complete their contract. 

It was only 7 years ago, when we moved here, that we loaded a huge moving truck, car and pickup on a tow dolly (full to the gunnels) over night, drove straight through and though the other half collapsed (diabetic who had not been receiving medical care) during the unload, I worked it so hard that the much younger retired veteran that showed up to help took a break to go back home and grab his teen son when school got out and both of them were beat by the end of the day. He says he has not moved anyone since; I know he did not volunteer to help load and unload when we finally found our farm! Instead I got to "work to the ground" a couple of much younger friends and the elderly father, who insisted on helping.    But those days are, it seems, gone for good.

Between all those away missions, and egg and herb delivery on Wednesday (so I can spend time also at my favorite yarn shop, spinning) the kitchen got no attention. It did, however, get inundated with herbs needing processing, pork getting cooked for canning (it's a fat pig and I wanted to remove as much of the excess fat as possible) and general life. I am not a good housekeeper, but eventually it DOES get to me and it had passed that point earlier in the week, though there was no time nor energy to deal.

And this morning, sad to say, STILL no energy. After doing chores, I sat. Just sat, and I guess I dozed while the kitchen called.

It's Frigga's day -- a hearth Goddess -- MY Goddess -- and my kitchen is a shambles, I have no wool carded to spin and it's new moon. 

And the light comes on in the ol' noggin while I am washing dishes after finally summoning the energy to do so.  I need a reset and this is the day for it!

Current spinning project: Jacob's sheep
fleece, AKA sheep of a different color
The "just sitting" was part of it. Too much "going" needed balance.

Washing dishes was part of it. Though I haven't hunted down every last piece, the majority is dripping dry.

Realizing that "all" I need to do is card a little, spin a little, light a fire and lift a glass to Frigga and to Mani and hail the turning cycle and take the time to take the time to allow it all to fall back into place.

By tomorrow, I suspect, the reset will be complete.