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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Falling into the Flow

I love it when I seem to be in sync with the energies of the universe. It doesn't happen all the time, and especially during the time of maximum change in day length at spring and autumn, I struggle. Finally, though, it seems I have once again fallen into the flow for winter.

I look forward to winter, more maybe than some of the other seasons. While I love the busy days of spring promise, seedlings and new birth, tolerate - more or less well - the summer heat for the abundance of produce and growing critters and enjoy the winding down of autumn, with its crunchy leaves and often awesome color displays, I need the rest that winter brings. I relish the short days that call me to sit by the fire, to study, to knit, to spin by lamplight or the light of the low, cold sun. The slower days, I think, makes it easier to find the flow. There is less daylight (and as you know if you have read my blog for any time at all, it is my nature to take my cues from the sun, not from human clocks and electric "man-light."

Being on the farm, our work is often guided by the weather and the short days, coupled with bouts of cold rain and hopefully eventually snow, have an impact. Dry days, when the mercury rises just a bit, call us to work quickly on outside projects and today we did just that. Tractor Guy spent the morning laying out extension cords to power two "heated dog bowls" of 6 quart capacity which will hopefully eliminate our need to break ice, and therefore allow watering of fowl with the hauling of less water. We may have to haul morning and afternoon, if they prove to be heavy drinkers, but if so, so be it.

6 foot long "tip"
I spent the afternoon gleaning more greenery and making our wreath. I had planned to "go tipping" on a friend's place earlier in the week, but missed them on my visit. On the way home, I realized that our past storm had felled sufficient trees that I would be able to gather sufficient branches from those down along the road, and that realization came as I passed what I thought was a small bit of tree in the roadside ditch. I stopped and loaded the bit of greenery, left, into my truck. LOL I dropped it in back, by the picnic table and the goats have been looking longingly at it ever since.

Since I prefer wreaths with different textures, I took a walk yesterday, to find other bits from our road to go with. I had learned my lesson, though, and walked down the road with just my small cart, not the pickup truck! I was only planning to make a few wreaths at best, not to go into production! As I walked, with eyes and mind open, I found three other types of evergreen and several other plants that wanted to be included: red dogwood twigs, bit of birch, with the catkins still attached, and bit of moss and lichen, some still attached to downed dead branches.

With the addition of the birch, a tree sacred to Frigga, I knew this wreath would be more than just decoration. Then I discovered that moss has a floral meaning of charity and maternal love, which fits nicely into a project for AllMother.
I have not yet got the bow on it, though I will do so. It is my first attempt at a two-sided wreath, as it hangs on our glass front door. I hung it immediately on account of the itty bitty destruction committee, kitty version.

And in further keeping with the flow of the season, I realized that, with the payment in hand from last month big design project, I could easily afford to haul my collected non-Icelandic wool to the mill for cleaning, carding and turning into roving. And furthermore, doing so would be in tune with the tradition of finishing fiber projects before the 12 days of Yule commence (or else risk displeasing the Goddess (Frau Holle by some traditions, Frigga in others), as this is the one project that I have been wanting to complete for some time. I have collected many bags of free fleece, which are being stored here, there and everywhere about, taking up space and as I have been organizing and sorting, I determined that it needs to be made into an effecient to use form. I do enjoy carding and working "in the grease" but will reserve that for my special wool... the fleeces from Elenor and her offspring, Rigby, who came to live with us this year.

So, skirting the wool will be a project for this next week, along with making more cookies (which will be fun, because I was planning to use the kitchen table for both projects... just not at once!)  Current plans are to take Tractor Guy on a day long explorationg and rambling drive, now starting with a visit to the mill, then on to visit Liberty Tool Company, whose stock I fell in love with at the last Common Ground Fair, where I hope to find a drawknife for a Yule present for TG, then on to Unity for a visit to the Amish Charcuterie and nearby Community Market and ending in Belfast, for a visit to The Green Store and an art gallery where a friend has a large work currently on display. It will be a long, tiring day on the road, but I am hoping it will be fun for both of us.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Stick Season"

"Stick season" trees in silhouette against the sunrise
I discovered the term "stick season," an appellation apparently borrowed from Vermont, in an article in the Bangor Daily News. It is so appropriate for our northern late autumn days, after most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and before snow appears and stays. It works well as a counterpoint to Maine's infamous "mud season" in the spring.

I was thinking about sticks, branches, and of trees silhouetted against the sky, the Standing People to our indigenous neighbors, as written of in Robin Kimmerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass.

Standing bare against November sky
I seem to see the souls of trees,
With life force safely underground,
Their essence etched against the sky.
One stretches up and spreads
delicate branches in joy, an arched crown overhead.
One reaches out in all directions
calling "come, light on me." "Someday there will be shade again."
One gestures downward, towards the earth;
head upward bound, it seems to say
"Look, I can show the way."
And so he can, if we but watch and listen.
A row of youngsters, pruned this year
(power lines, you know, and planted by humans
who did not watch or listen)
show off a thicket of a adolescent enthusiasm.
"We're here to GROW! You see! We know!"

I need to learn them all, by shape, at least those left to natural growth. And so, as I was sent to Dr. Kimmerer's talk by the corn totem on the hex sign I was painting, I have been sent to a talk on Winter Twig ID by the Bangor Land Trust a week from today. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Back to 2017

 Where to start? Over Samhain/Halloween-tide we had a nor'easter. What a storm it was... winds up to 60 mph and an inch of rain... which doesn't seem like much water until you take into account the four inches that saturated the ground a week earlier! That much water is almost enough to cause unbalanced, shallow rooted trees to fall without other factors. But other factors were in play, including the clearing of a large lot down the road from us, which allowed many of the trees around the boundry of the clearing to topple. One, as seen to the left, laid suspended by our electric line for nearly a week. Just "up stream" from the tree, two transformers were also damaged. So for nearly a week, I got the opportunity to revisit -- more or less -- my off grid days.

It was nice, actually. I did miss having a reasonably close source for water, as our well pump is on-grid and during my off-grid days we had running water in the summer via pipes from a creek and in the winter from a cistern with a hand pump. Other than that, and my curiosity as to why most of my kerosene lamp wicks needed daily maintenance instead of being tended weekly, as back in the day, we were pretty much both content. I have added to my "to do" list, the task of repairing or replacing the burner noses on at least two of the lamps. They have not adjusted easily for some time and got worse this week. If you have not used a kerosene lamp, it is essential that the little knob on the side of the burner turn freely so you can quickly and easily adjust the height of the flame. The wicks need to be turned up to light, but then quickly start to smoke. Unless you get the flame turned down before you replace the glass chimney, it soots up as well and you loose much of what little illumination they provide.

Our freezers survived well; I lost the meat that was in the fridge-freezer and some ice cream melted and re-froze, but over all, our food is fine. I can cook just as well by lamp light as I ever could, and can spin also and did a bit of both after the sun set. I spent much time during the quiet beginning my reading of Braiding Sweetgrass, a book that I bought for my winter study after hearing the author, Dr. Robin Kimmerer speak at the local university back in May. I encourage everyone to read it, and I will be writing more with her discussions as a theme later on.

Much of what she writes about more than strikes a chord with me; many of the places she has come to through following her heritage are things I learned, long ago, in somewhat similar fashion. While I do not have blood that is native to this soil, many hours spent in contemplation, leaning on "the zen pine" while listening to the teachings of the land, the elements and the sky did their job and helped me to begin to be able to listen to the land and the plants and animals upon it.  They are easier to hear when it is quiet, which may explain why they are so little heard these days. In many places, the drone of canned music, radio, TV and now the constant summoning by mobile devices pretty much precludes hearing the quiet voices of nature. Trust me, even the best nature documentary is no match for the real thing.

While the somewhat distant sounds from neighbors' generators did, much of the time, break the natural background sounds, it seemed to me that, annoying as they were, the absence of even the quiet sounds of a still house (we don't run media unless one of us is actually paying attention to it, but the computers, refrigerator, freezers, and so on, are seldom all slient at once) made a big difference in ways that I cannot really communicate. It makes me wonder, if being surrounded by wires carrying electrons -- not just when I am in the house, but outside, with other homes nearby and the wires that feed them as well -- is something I sense at some level. This power outage again reminded me of the striking feeling of space that I felt when I first stepped into the canyon that was our off-grid home. I felt, psychically and psychologically like I could s-t-r-e-t-c-h for the first time in my life.

But now the power is back on, and while we aspire even a bit more strongly to work towards being less reliant on the power grid, the adjustment to the faster pace and longer duration of the day -- thanks to "man-lights" is taking a while. There was much left awry from projects in process and just completed, that I did not get to tend to during the outage and now... several weeks later... I am still catching up. Either I will or I won't, but winter will come and so our focus changes.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Magical, Mundane Ritual

Sun breaking through
clouds during October
nor'easter storm.
-- Started writing in October --
We are well into autumn, and the time of year when darkness no longer creeps slowly into our awareness, but rather arrives, early and unexpectedly, on the doorstep. On days like today, with hard rain, wind and overcast skies, it is even more obvious. The Winter Nights Tide is upon us. I appreciate the return of the dark season, even as I hurry to prepare next year's garden soil and worry about the final harvest of this year's crops. Leeks, beets, carrots and red cabbages are all that remain in the garden at present.

I am gearing up, as it were, to do something I have never done before. I have called on a group of friends, of various spiritual paths, to help me perform a "magical, mundane ritual." House, in whom we live, is unhappy. We have been unable to keep up with keeping her windows clean and last year at this time, though we did what we could, only the insides got washed before we applied the plastic to keep out the drafts. She is sad, because the dirt and cobwebs on her windows, like cataracts on human eyes, cloud her vision.

Most folks, I guess, think of washing windows "to let the sun shine in" but for in her awareness, the sun shines in regardless... but she sees the outer world through cloudy vision. She wants to see the beauty of the wider world, the trees as they drop their leaves and then after a time, regain them in varied hues of green. She wants to be on guard, as a house should be, to protect her occupants... but with clouded vision, she is worried.

So I am convening this ritual, with trusted friends, to clean the lenses of her vision and help put up the clear plastic that helps her block drafts and protect her family.

It has been ages since I have "had friends in" in any capacity. And even though these are all trusted friends, I am still concerned. I am far from a conventional person -- though I suspect that the depth and breadth of my differences often are not noticed, as it is not my habit to wave that flag. And therefore House is far from a conventional house, and even more so from a conventional trailer.

She does not see herself as a trailer, even though there are still wheels underneath her. She has roots. She lives, she is planted here, by her choice and ours. But her nods to her more conventional house sisters are few. Her small kitchen, designed -- if we can even use word-- more for simple recipes, heating up cans and frozen meals with a small place for a small family to eat, is home to more cooking and food-related activities than most houses have seen in many years. And it has to do triple duty a canning kitchen and an art studio too!

The "master" bath lost its tub years ago, to leaks and only one sink has full functionality. Her owners scratch their heads, though, at the idea that a house really needs more than one bathroom, and at that more than one sink for hand washing per bath, so this long-neglected room is bathroom to cats more than humans, and is also their dining hall and one of the humans' storage areas. Poor house was not blessed with much storage space, as she was designed -- there's that questionable word again -- for humans who don't spend much time with her and when home, mostly sleep and watch a small magic box.

Her humans, on the other hand, seem to have a myriad of pursuits... they bring in many raw foodstuffs to store, they make things from cloth and even make cloth from fibers that they collect and need to store somewhere. They make things from wood and paint, and during much of the year there is sawdust in her long-neglected carpets. Oh, how she longs for real wood floors that can be cleaned, like those of the workshop she says she is playing on TV!
-- Continuing mid-November --
I am pleased to report the ritual work day went well. The first to arrive, and workhorses of the window project, were my Christian friends, Bonnie and Galen. These folks truly live their faith and are always ready to "put their shoulder to the wheel" as one of my favorite hymns from the LDS church admonishes. While Tractor guy was cutting cardboard, Bonnie and Galen got quite the routine going, hitting the windows outside with the hose to wash away the worst of the grime and webs and attacking the inside with equal vigor. I had determined not to try to snug the plastic well, and to shrink it. Previous years this has proven not terribly necessary and on the most leaky windows, the need for a bit of "give" showed itself more than once, so the plastic went up quickly as well. We were surprised to find that the window that we thought had a broken or missing storm pane was, instead, simply open! Silly us! I had a plan in mind to apply a piece of plexiglas to the outside using silicon seal, but was glad not to have to do it, as my silicon gun was MIA.
The extra heavy vinyl from the fabric store, which I bought to use on the west facing windows -- which have no storms -- also seems to have worked well. The Force was with me when I bought it, as I had added extra length in case it was not possible to cut the three pieces needed for those windows from a single width. The added bit was exactly enough to go over the kitchen sink window, which actually did have a broken/missing storm pane.

Pagan friends showed up in the afternoon. I joked with the first young mom, Jessica, who dashed in after a frazzled morning...  typical in a family with 3 energetic, curious, busy youngsters, as we were just sitting down to have lunch. "Of course, it's lunch time! The kids are here!" Because they did not get to help much with the windows, which Bonnie and Galen had amost completed with their amazing efficiency, Jessica insisted on helping with something else. The only thing that came to mind was my next proejct: clearing storage totes out of the back (cat area) bathroom and doing a much needed clean and sanitize after the demise of our old kitties, who both had developed incontinence at the end of their lives. I had cleaned up their messes as they happened, but had not had the time to do a thorough, this is NOT happening any more, cleaning. It did not seem like a job anyone else would want to tackle, but when presented, Jessica jumped in with both feet for an amazing, top-down cleaning! Heck just the floor was more than I was willing to ask... but from mirrors to counter tops and fronts, places on the walls...and yes, that gross floor... looked like the "after" view from a cleaning product commercial when she and the kids were done!

Missy arrived shortly after Jessica. I knew she would be late, as she had been committed to officiate at a wedding in the morning. Apparently the wedding had half an hour of unexpected drama, so she was running later than expected and she jumped in to attack the kitchen and living room floors.

Tree down on the electric lines
4 properties up-stream from us.
Before I could complete writing this -- and before we had the chance to complete the sorting and rearranging that our need to move things around for the project had brought to light -- we got WEATHER!  A major nor'easter storm, with an inch of rain (on top of 4 inched the previous week!) and strong, sustained winds proved to be too much for many to many trees.

This one, in a nearby town, missed the wires
but nearby, two trees lay on the same section
of electric line.
We were without power for nearly a week, which was not that much of a big deal, but did prevent me from completing and uploading this post! I will write about that week soon! Stay tuned for the further adventures of the Hexeri and Tractor Guy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Money - the Most Impersonal Medium of Exchange

I have been thinking about energy exchange of late... of gifting, the concept of "a gift for a gift," and how money fits into this paradigm.

Those of you who know me at all IRL (in real life) probably are aware that the acquisition of money has never been high on my list. I have always had a strange relationship with it, and while I am pragmatic and in the world enough to understand that having some of it available is necessary, and even a good thing at times, it has never been a focus. I have always found it easier to make do with the supply of the stuff that finds its way to me, than to figure out how to acquire more.

You may even have heard me tell about my "ah-ha" moment, many years ago, when I heard a young reporter on NPR ask one of the Rockefellers, at the end of an interview, the pivotal question "how much is enough?" At that time, I was raising a family in poverty, well below the so-called poverty line, and my monthly challenges included budgetary triage of the sort that involved deciding between replacing the kids' underwear or socks and fretting over the winter coat hand-me-down ritual, should someone be between sizes and two "new" coats, instead of just one, be required for the winter.  My thoughts on money often ran along the "just a little bit more" track.

When the affluent, if not actually rich interviewee responded "just a little bit more," his response hit me like a ton of bricks and totally changed my outlook. After all, if he did not have "enough," how could I -- who had never been either focused on the acquisition of money, or much good at hunting it down, get there! I did, however, have lots of practice in "making do" and somehow that monthly budgetary triage always managed to work and with that realization, I stepped firmly on the path of "make it do," upon which I walk today.

Yes, occasionally there are wants,  but the needs always seem to be met and I am content on this path.

Other folks mileage does, obviously, differ, and as I interact with others, sharing of my skills and knowledge, I know that sharing does, of necessity, involve a two way exchange. I do, of course, also sell stuff -- mainly my art -- and yes, that does involve money. It's my one foot into that realm of commerce and I have come to terms with it. I will say, though, that the clients who contact me about their signs, beyond just clicking the "add to cart" button on the web site, sharing stories of their lives, farm and homes and reasons for picking that particular sign do give me much joy. The conversations and the exchange of energy really fuels me in a way that an anonymous order does not, though I attempt to fill them all with equal energy and respect.

On another thread, I have become more aware, of late, of weekend and even week-long events focused on various paths and aspects of paths of witchy tradition or fiber arts (and probably other things, as well, but these are the universes in which I dabble). It is not something I can do at this point in my life, would I want to. I am connected to "my" land and the life I live here on these four acres in ways that keep me close these days. This crone likes her own warm bed and cool pillow, the sounds of roosters learning to crow and the herd calling, and these old bones no longer take well to lying on the ground or even on unfamiliar bedding. But what sets me back even more than this is the monetary price that organizers put on these weekend or week-long retreats.

Yes, folks need a place to lay their heads at night, food for the belly, and so on but... hundreds of dollars? Brings to mind the (mis-) quote from the beginning of the digital era that naturally stuck in my mind: information wants to be free.

From my perspective these days, I guess I would say "information wants to be shared" with the emphasis on the exchange. And while money is a medium of exchange, it feels to me like the lowest common denominator It feels to me like the other party, offering money (regardless of the amount) is saying "yeah, I want you to think what you are sharing is important and valuable to me, but I am not going to really get involved, not sharing anything of myself, my soul, my energy... just this soulless paper and coin that we all need."

And on the flip side, for those allegedly sharing real knowledge and spiritual insights, as opposed to goods -- food, clothing, manufactured wares -- I can't help but think the message is "I want you to value what I am teaching, but really, we are not having an exchange. I am keeping my distance by only accepting "gifts" of the mundane and not from your center, your soul, your being.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How do YOU Define Affluence?

How do you, in your world, define affluence? I really do want to know.

For years now, I have been saying that I have the challenges of poverty down pat. That I have "used it up, worn it out, made it do and done without" long enough, and in enough circumstanced that I have become well qualified to do anything with nothing. And that I really would like a chance to have a go at the challenges of affluence for a change. And though I say, and write it, with a joking tone, there are many grains of truth there.

This year, though, I got one of those "whacks 'long side of the head" that I recognize and being administered by the celestial 2x4, wielded by a member of the Powers That Be, and I know I have been looking at it more that a little cockeyed. Because, you see, the abundance of abundance that I am dealing with right now (which I am deliberately not saying "I am plagued by" though I will admit that feeling is rather close to the surface) really does constitute affluence.

I have enough money to get by. Every month, I get to the end of the month before coming to the end of the money. Admittedly, sometimes it's as I come to the end of the money, but it always reaches. I have wheels to get me to town when needed, a flock and herd that give me joy, and food as a side product, and right at this moment, I have more abundance in the food department, almost, than I can cope with.

tomatoes being processed
into sauce
We had our first "killing frost" a couple of nights ago. Killing frost, for those of you who do not live in the northlands, is a phenomenon when the temperature drops below freezing for the first time in the autumn, killing the leaves of tender plants like beans, squash, basil, tomatoes and peppers. The summer crops are now through producing food for the season, though all of the fruit on these plants is still good to eat. The ripe, and mostly ripe tomatoes got harvested and made into juice to turn into sauce (it needs to be cooked down -- evaporated -- to the proper thickness) and I have close to 7 gallons of this liquid. That will make about 3 gallons of tomato sauce... eventually. I don't have enough burners to cook down sauce and make meals, so two smaller pots are waiting in the freezer while the 5 gallon pot is cooking.

But that is not even close to all.

sunflower, mid-August
The rodents were eating sunflower seeds and leaving us with nearly empty heads, so we cut most of them prior to the frost. That means I have 50+ sunflower heads, some very large, laying

around because I haven't yet found time or places to put them to dry so that the seeds can be removed.
Then there are those squash and pumpkins... a garden cart load of them are currently sitting on the front deck, waiting to be brought in. (Can't leave them there... remember those rodents?) They need someplace to be, until we eat them or I cook and freeze or can the flesh. But everywhere is covered in sunflowers.
And it is also potato harvest season (though not on account of frost). Also, even though they will stand quite a bit longer, the rest of the garden will need harvest soon, so it can be cultivated before winter. That means 100' of potato row (though some were dug this evening) and 50' each of carrots and beets. There are still sunflowers out there, as I did not get them all, and a few tomatoes that were left on the vines, to possibly ripen in the next few days. There is some chard, plenty of kale, a few Brussels sprouts (though they did not do well this year) and other odd ends. And I have 150' worth of pinto bean plants that I completed harvesting the day after the freeze that are hopefully drying their pods, to make for easier harvest, as they lay in the bed of one of our project trucks.

I have an abundance of abundance... and the challenge is to find the time, energy, space, containers, etc. to turn it into food. And all the while the hens and ducks have not yet stopped laying for the season, and I have hex sign orders to fill.

So, I must, I think, redefine affluence. It has nothing to do with wearing designer duds and driving a Mercedes Benz (wouldn't hold much hay anyway!) and everything to do with all this good, wholesome, organic food that seems to be covering every available surface.

Thank you, Powers That Be. I got this!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

To Maximize Happiness (and Productivity) Find Your Flow

Nothing could be more peaceful than
sitting on the back steps, listening to
the quiet sounds of our "lawn crew"
at work.
I'm pretty sure we have all had moments when we are hit with the realization that, right now, at this moment, everything just feels perfect. We may not remember them as long as some of those days, when it seems like we are channeling Murphy (the one with the law named after him/her). They are the counter point, but I have found that being aware of my feelings, the energy levels of my body and the world around me and looking at it all from a somewhat analytical mindset from time to time is helpful.  Over time, this process has enabled me to spend more time "in the flow" as I say: when things are going along as they should, with more ease and less interference, as it might be if one was floating down stream with the current.

Of course, like that current, the flow is ever changing. When I was a young woman, I enjoyed the abundant energy of a "type A" personality, could -- and often did -- go "at mach 3 with my hair on fire" for hours, and sometimes even days on end. And balanced this out, as all things must be, with days of essentially complete collapse/rest.

Then I became a mom, and everything changed! Even a breastfeeding, "baby-wearing" (though the term had not been invented yet) family-bedding mom of one really can't sustain that pace. Before I went crazy from "not being able to get anything done" I managed to analyze the situation and realized:
  •  prioritizing tasks, based on what was actually important to me and my family helped -- beds did not have to be made, for example 
  •  priority #1 was going to be the kiddo -- which should be a "d'uh" but one never really realizes the extet to which babies change things
  • breaking tasks into 10-15 minute bites was both possible and worked.
This routine worked through the mommy years until my husband and I divorced, he ended up with the kids (long, sad story) and moved far away. Gradually I fell back into the "mach 3" routine as I tried to find a balance between work and passion. Eventually I worked my way around to life and livelihood being congruent, as I worked in graphic design, a career path that just longs to suck one into the rhythm of 24/7 and total collapse. It is said, only partly in jest, that many take to drink, and the art directors drink whiskey. I did manage to avoid the whiskey, but not a trip to the ER with a devastating headache. What I thought was a migraine proved to be "only" a tension headache and produced the advise from a wise young doctor: quit the job or get used to it. I quit on the spot. This issues was not the work, but the boss, who would not let me DO what needed to be done.

My solution to that conundrum was to start my own company. From the frying pan to the fire? Not really. I have always been willing to take risks when I was betting on myself and have never lost one of those bets. I was still, during those years, willing and able to make a "no matter what" commitment, and having given that commitment to myself, I set about making it happen. At one point, early on, I found myself without transportation, having lent my truck to a boyfriend who proceeded to break and refuse to fix it. We were living in a small community, with no jobs and no alternative transportation to the nearby towns where I could have sold my services or applied for other work. I was lucky enough to have a friend with an extra car who was willing to loan it to me -- but it was several states away! I took the first payment for the first job my fledgling company completed, bought a bus ticket to pick up the car and prayed for enough left to buy gas to get it back "home."

"Home" in quotes, because the next thing that happened was I made myself homeless by moving out of the now-former boyfriends home and into a camp ground. I was only there a few days, when an acquaintence, who happened to have been that first client, caught wind of my situation and suggested I qualified to go to a woman's shelter, which I did. Before I even got there, while living in the camp ground, I grabbed a local paper (from out of a trash can... I was broke, yanno?) to look at the classifieds and began applying for anything that had a hint of possible. Before the first week in the shelter was up, I had employment in my field, riding herd on 6 web sites and doing advertising for a local realty company. With a job nailed down, and a paycheck just a couple of weeks away, my focus turned to housing. I needed something cheap where I could run my own business after hours and live as well. I found a former fish house -- cement building with electric, water, sewer, sink, toilet and shower -- that the owner was willing to rent under my conditions and moved in the day I had my first paycheck in hand. I was in the shelter less than a month. 

Things were hand to mouth from then on for years, but that is how "no matter what" commitments work. You do what it takes. But riding through cycles of working pretty much 24/7 (between a 9-5, M-F and my "off hours" contracts) and periods when I initially got really scared I would never get another contract -- and paying attention to the ebb and flow -- showed me that there WAS an ebb and flow. The lesson I needed to learn was to take the down time as the necessary R&R between the times of total immersion.

Once I learned that lesson, I was on a roll! For years I happily rode the roller coaster, and even added to the chaos by beginning to paint and sell the "Pennsylvania Dutch" hex signs of my family heritage and tradition.

Eventually the realty office closed when the principals retired, I took my unemployment check on the road, moved to Maine,
The "old homestead" the month we
moved in.
eventually found a homestead and "retired" to another life -- and another flow -- one which revolves around the planting, growing and harvest cycles, around season and weather and yet still must encompass the hex sign orders, which increase from year to year.

It is amazing how much things can change in 9 years. Now I am pushing 70, and although healthy and active, my energy level and stamina is not what it was when we arrived at our hilltop home.
Despite having two new knees (which I had needed for years but could not take the down time to have replaced until after retirement) I often joke that I need a new body to go with them. Arthritis is beginning to plague me, I run out of steam more quickly and do not have the strength I had even a few years ago, despite continuing to do all the same stuff. Once again, the flow changes and I must change with it. Is it easy? Heck no! But by staying aware, analytical and conscious, it is happening and I continue to continue. My y'all be able to do so, as well.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Dark Moon Magic in the Day

 Eclipse of the sun! If you were one of the lucky ones to be in, or to have traveled to, the path of totality, I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the celestial magic. To those of you who, like me, watched the phenomenon from the much larger partial eclipse path, do not let the amazingness of the fact that it even happens at all, gets lost. I think it might be easy to do, in the wake of the excitement of its path of totality crossing a wide swath of the country.

Eclipses -- both solar and lunar, are phenomena based in the imperfections (not sure what word would work better, but that doesn't feel right) of the orbits of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth. 

The path the earth takes around the sun and the one the moon takes around the earth are not both "flat" -- that is that they are not on the same plane. The Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic, is by definition our reference point at 0 degrees inclination. The Moon's orbital inclination with respect to the ecliptic varies, but it is, on average 5.1 degrees. 

Think about this for a minute. The Moon's orbital inclination varies and most of the times that it goes 'round the earth, we just get the standard "new moon" (what I call dark moon) when it spends its days positioned more or less between us and the sun. As it moves around its orbit, we begin to see a small sliver of lit moon in the sky, the waxing crescent that appears in the western sky at sunset. As the moon continues around its orbit, it moves farther from being more or less between us and the sun and shows up later in the night until we see it fully illuminated at full moon. And then it continues around the orbit, rising later and later (or earlier and earlier by reference to morning, until we can only see that small sliver of waning moon, in the east just before sunrise.

We think of a lunar cycle as being 28 days, but while the moon completes its orbit around the earth in 27.3 days, due to the Earth's motion around the sun it has not finished a full cycle until it reaches the point in its orbit where it is in the same position with reference to the sun.

With the offset in orbital planes, not to mention the variation in the moon's orbit, the fact that they EVER line up is amazing... astronomical, in fact! 

Add to all of this, that for a solar eclipse to be total, the relative positions of sun and moon need to be just right for the moon to appear the same size as the sun. It's only by chance that the Moon and the Sun each take up approximately half-a-degree on the sky as seen from Earth's surface. Because both the Earth's orbit around the Sun and the Moon's orbit around the Earth are ellipses rather than circles, sometimes the Moon appears larger than the Sun, casting its shadow all the way down to Earth's surface, (a total eclipse when viewed from those locations on earth where the alignment is precise, but as a partial if viewed from other places nearby) while at other times the Sun appears bigger, with the Moon unable to completely cover the solar disk. This latter phenomenon is called an annular eclipse, and while nearly all of the suns's disk is obscured, we see a ring of sun around the moon, rather than the apparent flaming tendrils of the coronasphere that makes total solar eclipses so dramatic.

I am looking forward to the potential opportunity to see a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, right here in Maine. According to this image from Accuweather if the weather gods smile on us (April... Maine... start praying now!) we will only have to travel to northern Piscataquis, Penobscot or southeastern Aroostook
projecting the eclipse
counties. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to attempt to project this partial eclipse with a pair of binoculars, out in front of the house. Somewhere, I have an image of myself, as a teen, doing the same thing with my 4" refractor telescope, which I had recently completed. Believe me, I was longing for the good, solid mount for it that my dad built to go on a heavy, wooden surveyor's tripod that we found in one of our raids on the local surplus stores. By the time 2024 rolls around, I will have a more stable mount for whatever optics I use!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Moon Wanes and the Harvest Builds

It's been a very busy week here at the sign of the Fussing Duck and Dutch Hex Sign. I shipped not one but TWO large hex signs today, destined to grace a barn in Zionsville, PA.
48" Abundance and Prosperity sign

36" Wilkom (welcome) sign
These are the last two of a three sign order and will soon be mounted on a newly painted barn.

I am finally getting caught up with the backlog (only three signs in the queue at present, not counting the one I paint for our MOFGA chapter to donate to the Common Grounds Country Fair grounds. It is nice to have the kitchen table back for a few days!

Out on the farm, the meat chickens continue to grow. In fact, one was so big that I thought it was a wayward hen from the layer flock, which I have been culling down to a more reasonable size for 2 people, and culled it late last week. I realized my folly when I found no evidence of it having ever laid. I can attest to the fact that it made a delicious Sunday meal, regardless. I do intend to let the balance of this flock mature, though. I am not used to getting only one meal and a half from a bird (though to give it full credit, there is still a back and neck to use for chicken and dumplings.)  We are down to 4 hens and a roo (so I think the last count was) plus 4 turkeys, 2 duck hens and a drake and two guineas in the mature fowl department... plus the replacement layers and banty chickens "just for fun."

Broccoli and lettuce
Tall corn!
Garden harvest has picked up, and I have moved from "take a basket when you go to the garden" to "take a BIG basket..." LOL  We harvested the first broccoli (ate some tonight and half of the head is in the freezer) and a good size cabbage. The green beans continue to offer pickings, though the peas are essentially done. I am leaving the vines to harvest seed. Tomatoes are starting to come on, and the second variety of flint corn has given me flashbacks to my younger days, visiting family in Iowa "where the tall corn grows."

We keep having decent amounts of rain, mostly as late afternoon/evening thunder storms and we remain thankful that Thor graces us with the thunder than marks His presence but no hail.

As a former astronomy student and long time hobbyist, I am looking forward to the solar eclipse on Monday. It will be partial here, and I aim to project and photograph it. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Crazy, distracted week

It's been a crazy, distracted week here at hex central, under the sign of the fussing duck.

I have not done any painting this week. I needed to... there are two hex blanks hanging fire in the house and the replacement mail box within reach of completion....but I have been focused on the garden, on culling fowl and on getting rid of STUFF.

Downsizing the homestead to a HOMEstead size takes work; the duck pen got de-commissioned, two more ducks culled and the balance are running with some of the chicken flock. But that left fence panels to be moved/repurposed and other parts of their former enclosure to be dealt with..some will go to the dump, hopefully today and some will be moved elsewhere for re-use.

There are two more chicken hens to be culled. One will be easy to capture some evening. The other has been running with the meat birds and is currently in their "chicken tractor" as they were all locked in at dusk. Tomorrow after a trip to town, I plan to get Tractor Guy to help me get INTO this pup tent size and shaped structure to capture the wayward hen, who will then become food. the other...well later in the day, most likely, will join her. Then the fowl culling will be done and I can focus on merging flocks and making one confinement pen for them all, with two sections and one shelter.

Rigby, out to pasture
I am happy that the goats and the sheep seem to be making a.. flock?? herd?? together. They happily go to pasture and share the former goat house at night. Rigby, the sheep, even trots to and from pasture easily, following me. The goats... well I have leashes for them! One of these days I will get Tractor Guy to shoot video of me bringing everyone back in the evening. It's crazy! One sheep following like a fairly well trained dog and two goats, on leash, both trying to go everywhere but WITH me and a flock of Red Rangers under foot!

We have also been working to make space in the garage... this and the decommissioning of the duck space has called for an extra dump run. I am aggressively offloading stuff scrounged for projects that have been hanging fire for some time and TG has brought the two free bookcases we scored a while back, into the computer room, to help organize stuff there.

I am hoping to get back to painting this weekend. The forecast is for two more rainy days to follow this morning's rain and thunder. There are peas still producing, the green beans are coming on and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen so in addition to the dump run early this afternoon, I will have to get to the garden to harvest. I would like to bring in some beets, as well, but as I pulled some of the larger ones to share with a friend yesterday -- in trade for a bag on perfectly good lemons from the waste food stream -- they can wait a bit.

The cleaning and organizing that I am wrapping up for the week, I am dedicating to Frigga, All-Mother and the Lady of the Hearth. It seems very appropriate to do so as this week's projects wind down on Her day. I will, as always, hold my Needfire tonight. At this point I am not sure if the ritual will fall before or after I make my way into the turkey pen to find the final hen for culling, but I am hoping to complete both tasks tonight. As folks who have tried to catch a chicken that does not want to be caught soon discover, it's easier to sneak up on a sleepy hen than to catch one in broad daylight. Unfortunately, this does not work on ducks or guinea fowl, though guineas are easier than ducks. At least I hope so, as I need to catch our two and clip their wings in hopes of keeping them out of the pen so they don't beat up on everyone else (especially the young layers, who will soon join the flock). If they insist on being bullies, and getting in with the other fowl, they will need to find a new home or will become dog food.

Gotta love life "in the slow lane."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Get Sentimental About Old Plants

Long, LONG ago, when I had barely achieved my majority, I was attending a party with my BF, a PhD candidate in upper atmospheric sciences. This was an after-finals/before summer blowout attended, primarily by a large crowd of doctoral and masters candidtate, a post-doc or two, a few odd dates and a handful of younger students, in '69 or '70, which might explain why I don't, actually, remember too much of the evening. LOL However, I recall vividly entering into discussion with a group of ag students, as I was, even back then, growing a large organic garden alongside the rural home the BF was renting. These students, I suspect, were well in the clutches of "big ag" as it was configured, but not yet named at the time, as they made me promise "not to get sentimental about old plants."

Looking back, I am not exactly sure what they meant, but this memory bubbled up a bit ago, as I was out in the garden pulling up the first planting of peas and combing the vines, as I did, for the ones that had not yet gone by. There were plenty, and while I pulled and searched, I contemplated my usual gardening tactic of hanging on to the bitter end. As long as the plants were blossoming and trying to produce, I usually let them do so. I pick small batches to add to a casserole or soup, as the end of production pickings are never enough to make even two servings for a supper. Is that, I wondered, what they meant, letting the plants finish a natural life cycle? They had just met me, so would not have known that hanging on to the bitter end -- tenacity to those who like me, stubbornness to the rest -- is one of my super powers.

I suspect, though, this was not what they meant. Those days and those times, I think, lead into more hybridzation and then into the genetic level modifications that stir up such strong feelings these days. They were grad students... in the sciences... where research drives the game and having the luck of being named in the paper your research allowed your advisor to write would have been a feather in your cap and a springboard to greater things.

They would not have been concerned about genetic diversity, even had I known to mention it. But, speaking back through the ages, I will tell them that supporting genetic diversity is far from the same thing as "getting sentimental" over old plants, and their seeds and their genetics.

While my mind was playing with the time machine, another somewhat related memory from the same era popped up.   "Grab hold tightly, Let go lightly." Yea, like I said tenacity has always been strong in me, the letting go, not so much so. 
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.
Grab hold tightly
Let go lightly
--- Timothy Leary
 I have been working on this lesson since I first encountered this bit of poetry. So, in the spirit of things gone by, the pea plants have gone by to the fowl, a batch remain to be shelled and the second planting to be picked later today.

As I was pulling, I noticed a new pea plant growing; it is about 6" tall, so was self-seeded a couple of weeks ago, but it reminded me to make a note in the calendar and to try planting a short bit nearby this volunteer, to help pin down the timing for a fall harvest of peas for fresh eating... something for which I have not yet not the planting date figured out.

I love my garden meditations and even more when it talks to me.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let the Harvests Begin!

This week ushers in the tide of First Harvest. Also known as
Lammas, Lugnasad and Freyfaxi, it is a major holiday to this homesteading Northern Tradition witch.

Here in the USA, Pagans often focus the celebration around the harvest of maize ("corn" here, though in the rest of the world I believe it is more commonly known as maize and "corn" is either wheat or a generic term for all grains) though here in the northlands, it is not yet even tassleing, let alone ready to harvest as sweet corn for eating, not to mention as a grain, dried to grind for bread.

Winter wheat, though -- planted in the fall and overwintered under Mother Nature's blanket of snow -- IS ready to harvest here on Fussing Duck Farm. This year, one of my experimental projects was to be growing several varieties of wheat, so last autumn I planted Banatka and Sirvinta, two heritage wheats which I have been harvesting for crafting and hopefully to have a wee bit of grain to grind for flour for a ritual bread later on. I also planted a variety of spring wheat, which is just now heading.

2016 YuleBock was quite skinny!
My main goal for planting wheat was to see if I could... and if so, to have fodder for crafting. Last year I attempted to make a Yule Bock but even after buying wheat at the Common Ground Fair AND from a craft store, he turned out kinda skinny. And I enjoy trying wheat weaving projects so having long strands with wheat on was something I wanted to play with. And over the past few weeks I have been harvesting it. First I cut any green stalk that "lodged" (what it's called when stems of wheat blow to the ground in wind and rain storms) and then continued to harvest as the stalks and grains dried. There are still a few standing in the garden ( or I hope they are, after the thunder storms of this late afternoon!) which I will harvest tomorrow.

I won't have the grains all sufficiently dried, threshed, winnowed and ground yet, for sure... but I am looking forward to seeing this whole process on miniature scale.

In process; I used cable ties to secure the
stalks until they dried.
I do, however, have a delightful wheat craft that I completed last week, a pentagram constructed from stalks of wheat and braided with a wreath form for support. Wheat weaving, like basket making, requires that the stalks be soaked in warm water to make them flexible and I was waiting for the project to dry completely before removing the black cable ties that I used to help secure things while it was being constructed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

When the Garden Talks

I often get insights while doing common repetitive tasks like washing dishes, ironing (yes, I still do some times), weeding, shelling peas. This morning while washing dishes I realized that my garden has been talking to me, guiding me, teaching me.

This is a different garden, though in a part of what I have been gardening since I got here, eight years ago. It is different in how I planted it and therefore how I work it, but I never expected the changes to be so dramatic.

I have only twice before had the space for what I consider a large garden, something measured in a hundred feet or more on a side rather than tens of feet on a side. One was in virgin sandy soil, along a stream bed in western Colorado and the other was a wonderful, existing and previously small commercial organic garden in eastern Washington state. The first flooded and we moved shortly thereafter and the second had been well established and was easy to tend with just the family to help.

Garden at 100'x100'
June, 2015
Moving onto this 4 acres, with Tractor Guy wanting to help, but being unable to work for reasonable periods, while standing or bending to use hand tools, I laid out the garden with very widely spaced rows. The plan was for him to control weeds (many were the ubiquitous runner grasses that had claimed this former potato field long ago) by cultivating between the rows with his tractor while I weeded in the rows by hand and by hoe. We struggled with this plan until last year, when I cut the garden size in half and the row spacing as well. My plan was to weed the smaller garden by hand and it worked almost as well as the previous widely spread/with help set up. Which is to say, not well.

Most of my gardening life, though, I have had to make do with smaller plots, tucked into back yard corners and worked around existing trees and bushes. In these smaller plots, every square foot of earth was valuable beyond measure and because of the smaller size, I could easily add sufficient compost and manure to keep the plants well fed. At the peak of the season, a visitor to the garden would have speculated that I harvested by suspending myself from a hidden crane or had mastered levitation, as there were no visible paths or places to stand. The were there, though, under the leaf canopy. You just had to have seen the garden earlier in the season and learned where the virtual stepping stones were placed.

This year, as I continue to move toward subsistence farming and become aware that my energy is a finite substance, I downsized the garden dimensions again. This year's plot is a nominal 50x50 feet and, in an effort to squeeze in all the species and varieties that I wanted to grow, I pushed many of the rows closer together than in the recent past.

I have been applying truck loads of manure regularly, as well as the tractor-bucket loads that Tractor Guy brings from the horses next door and the soil is showing me that it can adequately support the increasted plant load.

The smaller garden and shorter rows has also meant that it has been much easier for me to keep up with the weeding. At present about 1/3 still needs serious attention, and will get it in the coming week.
The weeded section; except for garlic
(left) more recently planted

needs weeding - earlier plantings
 Much of the section that has been weeded is the most recently planted; herbs, some grains, lettuce, beets and carrots.

But what really spoke to me over dishes this morning was a result of the time spent tying up tomato plants recently. I have a new tomato trellis, made from metal conduit and the tomato plants are secured in an upright position, keeping the fruit off the ground, by
Tomatoes secured to trellis
means of string and small clips. The tomato row is on the west side of the garden, placed there so, if necessary, we could secure it in place with guy wires against our sometimes considerable west winds.
Between tomatoes
and sunflowers!

To the east of the double tomato row is a row of "flowers" that turned out to be mostly sunflowers, which yo can see peeking over the tomatoes in the picture to the left. Now, remember I said I was cozying up the rows, closer together? The photo to the right shows what I saw when I started up that row, securing the tomatoes new growth to the strings. On the ground there were very few weeds, and to the east of the sunflower row, the spring wheat is starting to head up in the afternoon shadow of the tomato/sunflower rows.

A bit farther to the east, the pea row (badly supported by plastic step in posts and plastic mesh) which will be getting its own metal trellis next year, also gives afternoon shade to carrots and beets in the next easternmost rows.

“Full sun” means at least six hours per day, but some plants such as vegetables really need eight to ten hours per day. “Partial sun” or “partial shade” means that the plant needs 3-6 hours of direct sun per day. Here in the northlands where I live, all the plants west of the crops providing shade easily get the required hours of light in the morning to early afternoon, so what my garden has taught me this week will impact how I plant next year. 

With tomato, sunflower and pea rows producing shade, I shall experiment placing my lettuce and spinach, at least -- plants that really do not like the heat and do not especially require extra sunshine -- directly next to the taller crops. 
"Three Sisters" traditional
inter-cropping: dent corn,
beans and squash

As you can see, the traditional pairing of corn, beans and squash/pumpkins seems to be quite happy. The corn in the foreground is Darwin John, an heirloom flint corn for which I was gifted 12 seeds, which is also traditional.

Which brings us to native American wisdom, and to connections that came up this morning. Back in May, I spontaneously decided to attend a talk by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a result of attending her talk, I purchased the book, though as is my tradition, a study of it will wait until the dark season. However, her talk prompted me to consider how I look at, and talk to, and listen to my plants. And I attribute my insights today to this change.

The garden is always willing to talk; we have to be willing to truly listen.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Day Without Women -- looking ahead

Tomorrow is International Women's Day and here in the USA, many are calling for "a day without women, a protest to highlight "the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”

I no longer work for "the man," as we used to say. I am retired from that life, on a minimal pension which is at least partly because of lower wages due to being female. It is also (full disclosure here) because I chose to work only in jobs where I was able to wear clothing that was comfortable to me, thus eliminating the "hose, heels, power suits and makeup" drill required to rise in the work place, if you are female. I am not
Welcom sign which
I painted and ship tomrrow
putting blame on "the patriarchy" or even the common culture because, had I been male, I am honestly not sure I could have dealt with the suit, long sleeve shirt and tie wardrobe required of guys in the same arena.

Anyway, and regardless of all that I do still work. Anyone who knows me (and especially my massage therapist, who I will be seeing tomorrow -- more about that farther on) can attest to that. I am a folk artist and I WILL be going to the post office to ship off 2 pieces tomorrow. Yes, I could put that off, but to do so would require a special trip and I have been
Natural Balance sign
which I painted and will
ship tomorrow
prioritizing "living lightly on the Earth" for years. So I will ship off the work of my hands, wearing a red turtleneck shirt (for those who do not actually strike, wearing red in solidarity and support is encouraged) and my "pussy hat," symbolic of the Women's March.  

And before that, I will tend the critters on my subsistence farm. Could I ask my partner to do that? Yes. Would he? In an instant DESPITE the fact that he really should not because when he was carrying water to the goats this morning, he fell hard and flat on his back and is currently under concussion watch. And it will be no less icy tomorrow, with rain on top of it. So, no, I will not put another human, or the critters, at risk for this.

What I will do is take my poor, old, working-class self to a woman-owned, woman-run business (Carpe Diem Salon in Dover-Foxcroft where my friend, Melissa Veraldo, will work her massage and energy medicine magic to put me back together again (after 6 weeks of hard work, snow shoveling and a good ol' Maine winter.) Missy won't be striking either. Why? Like many families, hers depends right now on her income while her wonderful hubby does battle with cancer.  I am happy to be one of her clients all the time, and especially happy to be able to support her tomorrow.

We're kinda in the backwoods of Maine, but I will be keeping a lookout for a group of women standing or walking their strike and if I see any, you can be sure I will join them for a bit. Because the issues are valid ones, and maybe even more so for those who are less privileged than I; for those who hold more than one job and still can't quite make ends meet; for those caught in positions where they dare not complain but cannot quit.

We, all of us, must do what we can, when we can and where we can -- for those who can't and most need to.

Monday, March 6, 2017

This winter I became A Knitter

I am declaring this winter to be The Winter I Became A Knitter. Decided this last night, as I picked up my third WIP (that's "Work In Progress" for those of you who don't speak knitting acronyms any better than I do).

I learned to knit as a girl, from my grandmother. I knit my way through 6th grade, thanks to an understanding teacher, who knew I was a quick study and only knit when my work was done. Other students wanted to know why I was knitting and they were not, and she told them that any time they got their work done early, they could knit. My best friend, Connie, joined me from time to time. I was knitting a sweater for my dog, Mitzi, a Boston Terrier who -- in Michigan -- appreciated the extra insulation.

Then I pretty much gave it up for years.

Picked it up again as a mom of several kids, who all got wool mittens. Yeah, I went from two needles to double pointed (DPN in knit speak), just like that. Thumbs, no sweat. Blue ribbon in the fair even.

Then I pretty much gave it up for years.

But I got back into spinning and hanging with knitters so...

I picked it up again. I have a young friend who likes to knit socks and I like socks, so that was my project of choice. Circular needles this time (dunno the knit speak for them). Ended up with a sock-like object (right shape, right length, VERY wrong diameter). One not two. Friend Beverly, a knitting guru, talked about knitting two at a time, from the toe up. "Not a beginner technique" she said, but she
Socks! Knit two at a time,
from the toe up! Love this technique!
was willing to hold my hand and agreed to teach me. That was last winter. This autumn I finished them. They were socks and they fit.

Meanwhile I had been spinning Elenor's wool. Elenor is an Icelandic sheep, part of the University of Maine flock. Love her wool...had enough spun to start a sweater, so I did. Circular needles... somewhat larger... wooden, like the ones from the socks. I found I love wooden and bamboo needles.

Modeling the "pussy hat"
Then I decided that I needed a "pussy hat" after having attended the Women's March in Augusta, so I picked up an inexpensive set of regular bamboo needles and knit one. Yes, I finished a project... in a month or so rather than a year or so.

And it fits. And I wear it, pink and all. Made it with Peace Fleece yarn from One Lupine in Bangor, ME.

But winter will not last forever, not even in Maine, so I decided I needed a cotton pussy hat, picked up some commercial cotton yarn and started it. Along with the sweater. Two knitting projects at the same time.

Then I decided I would attend a local March for Science in April and found someone had designed a pattern for a hat for that march. It has "color work" with a pattern that shows resistors and a battery. After fussing with test swatches for gauge, I got a set of interchangeable circular needles from my daughter and set to work.

Three projects on kneedles (intentional typo).

Then a friend gifted me with a bucket full of T-shirt yarn, and I had the wild idea to try to knit a small rug. Grabbed some old size 13 Boye metal needles, cast on and away I went.

Four projects on needles.
Four different needle materials.
Four different manufacturers.
And I am trying to decide if I really like one more than another.

The gifted needles included both a very smooth shiny metal and  wooden ends, two length cables and such from Knit Picks. I started on the metal, changed to the one size smaller wooden, as the metal was SO slippery... much more so than my Boye metal needles. And the wood was slippery too... much more so than the wooden double pointed ones, brand forgotten. All of them have a bit of friction, as does the bamboo. Right now I am knitting with all of them and trying to decide if I have a favorite. Or if the needle material, for me, needs to vary with project, fiber or phase of the moon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sustainability and the Weather

"It is infinitely more "sustainable," to use the currently popular buzz word, to let life's activities revolve around the weather, rather than to expect the weather to bend to mankind's activities." Me, February 15, 2017

If you live in the northlands -- or any other climate where extremes of weather happen -- sooner or later you are bound to have plans that get derailed by it. Here in Maine, of late, we have had some serious ice storms (not necessarily typical winter weather and certainly not on anyones "most favorite" list) and more recently, some serious snowfalls, nor'easters and even a blizzard. Regardless of some of the memes on social media, we DO close schools, town halls, businesses and reschedule meetings at these times.

Yes, there are those who must go to work, regardless. My mom was a nurse; I understand this. Essential services are, well, essential and folks working in those fields figure out ways to cope. Sometimes they stay nearby to their work place, take extra shifts, crash in the break room or whatever it takes. My hat is off to them.

"Back in the day" I sometimes ventured out just to see if I could. I took buses when I lived in towns that had them, and at times ended up walking a few blocks to my destination or to a different line, when a bus couldn't make it up or down a hill. Sometimes I drove (with chains on and very carefully) to a friends house for a "snow day" party... but regardless, life did not go on as usual.
View down the 200' driveway
after the February 13 blizzard
Feed and water sled
going down shoveled path

Path to chicken coop is
3' deep and not at
ground level!
Recently we had a major snow storm/blizzard that dumped up to a couple of feet of the white stuff, with winds that re-sculpted the landscape. Since we accumulated the layers of ice last month, our trusty old tractor, Fergie, has been unable to get traction. We were blessed to have a neighbor plow us out after one
Ducks, in a row, led
by Newton, the old
red rooster

storm. After that, I opted to park my old pickup, Artie, out closer to the road so that at least we could shovel him out for town trips.  A previous year's BIG snow, like the one shown in these pictures, took the use of heavy equipment from a local dairy -- with a $100 price tag -- to get it cleared. Lacking the big bucks, we won't be doing that in the future. Instead, Tractor Guy shoveled paths for chores, and then we attacked the end of the driveway . While I can do chores with snow shoes, getting IN the gates is often an issue.

The town plows had thrown snow and filled in the entire area between Artie, the truck, and the road, including throwing some onto his hood. Working together, we managed to clear a large enough space to pull out and headed into town for our monthly provisioning run for staple foodstuffs that we do not grow and to top off the stash of kerosene, since the forecast at that time was predicting more blowing snow, up to an additional 12", to fall today.

Well, the "weather guessers" have changed the forecast several times since then and the snow is supposed to start tonight and end mid-day tomorrow.

And this is where my opening quote factors in.

Because of the major storm last week, a monthly meeting that I usually attend was rescheduled for tomorrow. I had already taken the initiative to contact the meeting organizer and let them know that I would not be attending. I knew, from previous experience, that regardless of additional snowfall, after helping clear after the big blizzard, I would not be up to either clearing again the day of the meeting (even if the snow stopped near nightfall, as was predicted) and then heading to a meeting. And, at that time, additional snow was supposed to fall during the time I would be traveling to, and attending, said meeting. There is NO place to pull off the road anywhere nearby and with folks still taking this road at fast, unsafe speeds, and a turn quite nearby, I was not going to park our only vehicle IN the road to shovel at 9 pm.

As the forecast for today/tonight became more firm, another attendee asked if the meeting was going to be rescheduled yet again. Seemed to me to be a reasonable question, as many attendees have a ways to travel over country roads to get to the location. A third member of the group shot back a smart alec comment, as apparently their area is only being quoted a couple of inches of snowfall -- or so they claim -- and seriously put down the previous questioner.

I might have just written it all off to "some folks are just jerks, regardless" but the organization calling the meeting is one in which the word "sustainable" colors many of our discussions and decisions and whose members skew towards those living in rural areas, farming and even living off-grid. . Giving the "smart alec" the benefit of the doubt that their forecast does call for only a dusting of snow (in "Mainer-speak") I would think s/he might realize this is not the case for everyone. Living in town with a 10' driveway is one thing. Living in a more rural area, with a longer drive is quite another.

Yes, most folks probably do practice the common, but much less "sustainable" options, to deal with winter: hiring a 'plow guy," or using their own large fossil-fuel powered equipment to quickly move the impediment to normal daily life. Some of the probably have to, in order to get to work. Or to protect their rather considerable investment in a late-model vehicle. Gods alone know, such a rig could not bear to sit, like Artie does, at the end of the road and be pelted with plow gift! But we -- all of us -- need to begin re-thinking everything. We need to find ways to live more lightly on the planet, to not just do as we always have done, to (I really hate to jump on the buzz word bandwagon) have more sustainable lives... especially when we are actively working for and with organization that promote these changes.  
Snow shoe and wagon path
to and from the truck. Even
an old woman can handle this!

I like this year's solution, and not just because it hasn't cost me a hundred bucks that I don't even have. Yes, it has saved money, and will continue to. While we won't see our driveway again until spring, we will be able to run necessary errands. We will get exercise and fresh air. And we will be living in closer harmony to nature.