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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding the Flow

Sometimes a slow day is an "in the flow" day.

Since abbreviating Saturday's scheduled away day and passing totally on the event I had volunteered to attend on Sunday, I have been in a slow flow that seems to really be kicking butt in the productivity department.

It all started with Tractor Guy pushing himself to get the final bit of primary tillage done in the west (perennial) garden. He is a true northerner with a pale completion and knows he needs to stay out of the noonday sun... but like the "mad dogs and Englishmen" of the saying (though don't call him English!) he does it anyway. Then gets overly irradiated and suffers the next few days, which puts him off his flow.

Since I had previously made contact with the owners of the two solar powered homes that interested me (totally off grid, one running 120v AC and the other 12v DC) and plan to, some time in the future, get a chance to see their systems, I just took myself to the nearby home to help serve refreshments, and TG stayed home.

It's a BAG!
I still was not really wanting to spend a day away on Sunday, so I contacted the organizer of the event I was going to help with and found out that even without me, it would have sufficient volunteer support. As much as I had been looking forward to attending -- and had even taken part in a "knit along" project for the event -- I stayed at home.

We had much needed rain  Monday and Tuesday -- along with another unseasonable cold spell. At least the mercury only dropped to the 40s; I have heard of 30s this late in the year for a low, and after all, if mid-May is the average last frost date, there needs to be some much later than that, if my elementary school math is correct! It was not yet time to put the transplants out (and they are still on the porch, awaiting proper weather) but I did get the warm season crops seeds in the ground Sunday, in a whirlwind of gardening! I planted multiple rows of beans, corn, experimented with just throwing heads of wheat that I had used stalks from for crafting and transplanted the boc choy into gaps in the brassica rows.  This was the first day I had spent out in the garden all day long, and I was pleased and surprised that, while I was actually gardening, my back did not hurt!
Pea trellis... just in time. Last year's
sunflower stalks hold the plastic mesh.
I also got the pea trellis finally secured, or so it seems. I tightened up the plastic mesh where it attached to the sunflower stalks and used tent stakes and bailing twine to secure the dry sunflower tripods to the earth.

By the time rainy Monday and Tuesday came around, I was ready for slow indoor days. I planned a baking day for Monday and did it up right! Started off with a pound cake mix (strawberry shortcake!) followed by large batches of medicinal cookies for Tractor Guy and chocolate chip ones just for cookies. Even got all the dishes done... twice! And in between mixing and baking, I continued to sort and putter in the kitchen area, getting stuff sorted to appropriate locations.

9 yards of shirt fabric, blowin' in the
wind.
Tuesday, my organizing took to my work room, as I have to get ready for a big sewing project -- summer shirts for Tractor Guy! Getting the spinning and knitting stuff in a bit of order, kicking things that need to go to the garage out there liberated enough room to move the sewing machine to a more active location for a while and freed up enough space for the small "market table" (6' folding version) which I will use for cutting.

What amazes me in all this, is that on none of these days did I feel like I was working hard! They all, including garden Sunday, felt like "just loafing along, lazy days!" Heck, on Tuesday when I sat down for my morning coffee break, one of our kitties (Little Girl) hopped up in my lap for a pet-and-purr session and both she and I cat-napped off and on for almost 4 hours! If that's not a lazy day activity, I don't know what to call it -- unless it's "just in the flow" as it surely did not have a negative impact on getting stuff done.

Again, on Wednesday, the day started out slow. With his new edibles doing their job, TG slept even later than I did (those of you with chronic pain know how much it saps your energy. I hope those of you who have never been in that space never have to learn).

Some days start out with a burst of energy and then, just slide sideways into frustration.  After getting the hay burners out to their new pasture with LONG grass (picture very happy sheep and goats) I got busy with the next bit of outdoor projects before the rain, again. I cardboarded and mulched 4 more trees -- fruit trees this time, including two pear trees that got taken back quite a bit by the past winter. With the cardboard and mulch around them they no long blend quite as well into the almost equally long grass. Can I say we REALLY need to mow? LOL But between TG's health, needing to cultivate and rain, well the mower is still not on the tractor. I am thinking a walk-behind tiller will be in the future soon, or at least needs to be.

One of the latest hex signs
at its new home in
South Portland, Maine!
After dealing with the trees, and with Dump Day coming soon (new moon is on Wednesday next, but that is also eye surgery day, so dump run will have to be Saturday) and a need for an away mission on Friday to connect with turkey polts, I decided to empty and sort the contents of the old farm truck. It took a while but I have a bag of recycles, one of trash in the garage from behind the seal and all of the tie down straps are organized in an old, almost dead dishpan. I put my tie downs and ropes in their stash place, along with the jumper cables and we were ready to rock and roll Friday, off to the Maine coast to connect up with some baby turkeys and more meat chickens, all of which are now peeping like mad fools under lights in my work room.  Oh, the joys of being an artist/farmer.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Through the Mists, Dimly

I am celebrating the regaining of an hour plus each day, as I no longer have to endure 4 rounds of 4 eye drops a day. One round of non-medicated doesn't seem much bother, now. LOL

I had been concerned that my lack of vision was making me, as in my person, vulnerable. Now, I live in Maine and in the country at that, so this is hardly a serious issue, as it would be in many other places. But not having a clear view of potential issues here on the farm remains disturbing. I mistook a red milk crate in the neighbor's yard for a dead chicken, which is funny... but on the other hand all but 2 of our 14 meat birds have gone missing in the last two days with no sound from either the fowl or the LGD. This IS concerning. On the other hand, it appears my intuition is alive, well and taking up the slack, as I was confident enough in the "recognition" of a neighbor and her car (her from the back, car by color and general shape) when we passed them, with hood up alongside the road, that I had Tractor Guy, who was playing chauffeur, turn around and go back to offer aid.

48" Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth
Sailing through Life sign destined for
South Portland Maine.
 In the hex world, it has been a bit of challenge to get signs cut and painted around "no dusty environment" cautions from the doc and the impressionist painting that is how I currently see the world, with or without my glasses, but this big sign, a standard design with custom colors, was picked up by its new owner here at hex central this week, and I shipped out a 24" Welcome to Massachusetts early in the week. I have a 24" Protection sign in process, a 48" blank cut for the Protection from the Evil Eye which is next on the list and another 24" sign on order as well. With my next, and last surgery on June 13, I should be able to complete these two and get a good start on the third before then.

Pea trellis, using last year's sunflower stalks!
After the wet and cold early spring, late spring has turned bone dry. I thought for sure that the seeds I had soaked and planted the same time as the peas -- which germinated quickly -- had all given up the ghost, or that my vision at ground level near by feet was bad enough that I could not tell their spotty germination from the emerging weeds. I knew the peas could use a drink, so I had Tractor Guy haul the garden hoses (it takes two, 75' lengths, to reach the area of this year's garden) and added a 4 port hose manifold, with Y splitters on a couple of the ports, to try to maximize efficiency. With many soaker hoses to deploy, I attacked the watering issue and on that particular trip to the garden I was surprised -- and rewarded -- to see seedlings! Every row showed germination, even the spinach, though it is spottier than the beets, carrots and chard. My brassica is still struggling and I will either have to try to start more seedlings or buy some starts. Likely I will do both this coming week. We continue to have occasional lows in the 40s, with Sunday night's forecast low predicted to be 41F so I am loath to transplant the tomatoes and vine crops. Maybe next week. #hopeforagoodseason


Sunday, May 27, 2018

I Do Not Support Vulnerability

I do not support vulnerability.  The dictionary defines it as "the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally," and I honestly do not understand how folks can say that is a good thing.

I have heard or read discussions that suggest that it is necessary for compassion and empathy. I am really not sure about that, either. Now, I may not be the most people-oriented, touchy-feely human on the planet -- let me rephrase that, I know I am not the most people-oriented, touchy-feely human on the planet -- but from in here, it has always seemed to me that I have sufficient compassion and empathy to at least pass as a fair-to-middling example of a decent human being. And as far as I know, I have never been even close to having been mistaken for a sociopath or serial killer. Your mileage, of course, may vary. But I am writing here about myself and my experiences.
This is how I see the world at a distance right now
with or without my glasses.
 I come to this topic as a result of nearly two weeks of feeling, for the first time in my life, extremely vulnerable. This has been caused by my recent eye surgery and will become more extreme, most likely,  in another 2+ weeks, for some time after that. My eye surgeon did warn me that my vision would be negatively impacted for some time, but the emotional aspect went totally unaddressed. 

I suspect it is very different for those who choose the "distance vision" option for the implanted lens. My guess, considering how well my left eye works at the close vision distance at which the lens is designed to focus, is that -- had I chosen that option -- I would be able to cover one eye and have decent focus, though a lack of depth perception which would make some difficulty. Instead I see almost the entire world as an impressionist painting. 

I cannot quickly locate the source of a sound that may indicate a problem (where IS that dog the neighbor is shouting at, from the road in front of the house? Was that chicken picking on chicken or do we have a stupid one in the dog yard or a marauding domestic pet?)

I cannot quickly distinguish a potential threat unless it is moving quickly (in this case, bees in the dandelions and I realized the issue before I actually stepped on one) but -- sitting in the truck in a store parking lot in town a few days before a holiday weekend -- I felt like I needed to make sure I did all the necessary errands while K was with me. I was just that much off my game... me, who has never been afraid to walk or drive anywhere, in any city, by virtue of my ability to "read" people and react to defuse or avoid what might be dangerous situations. I guess I have to see them to read them; it seems my ESP is off its game as well

If emotional vulnerability is anything like the physical kind I am currently dealing with, all I have to say is "no wonder 'everyone' out there is terrified of everyone and everything!"

I am expecting to get decent functionality back as a result of all this... eventually. But I also know that one's senses often decline as we age. If that happens to me, I will likely become even more of a recluse than I am. So for those of you who are concerned about elderly friends and ccc
Even inside the house
things have an
impressionist
feel.
ccc relatives that seem to stay at home and not want to go out and about even if they used to enjoy it, perhaps this is why. And perhaps, even if they aren't comfortable "out and about" they might enjoy having the "out and about" brought to them from time to time... as a visit from a friend bearing take out from a favorite "greasy spoon" and a six pack of their favorite brew, or a skein of yarn in a favorite color from their local yarn shop, in the hands of a friend who also likes to sit and knit. Or even a small basket of tomatoes straight from the garden, or a pail of peas with the warmth of the sun still on them in the hands of a gardening friend for a session of "sittin' and shellin' " or just a swapping of "back in the day" stories of gardens and plants from the past. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Slow and steady? More like slow and frustrated!

Gods has this been a strange month so far!

I'll Pack a Cowl
for Rhineback
pattern, Ravelry
While I typically do more knitting in the winter than in garden season, I took a (for me, very expensive) class on color work the middle of April and have been hard at work on the cowl that was the class project. While it was touted as "Fair Isle," my research indicated that traditional Fair Isle includes small, more detailed patterns instead of the larger, pictorial areas of color in the cowl. I will follow that thread (or yarn, as the case may be) later. For now, I need a repeat attack on this pattern to solve my tension problem. The shaping, while it does work (I lucked out and the central part is still large enough for me to get my head through!) is not intentional. It has been suggested that knitting "inside out" is a way to address this issue and I will be following up on that shortly.

meat chickens read to
go outside!
Meat birds outside home.
Our meat birds, which arrived on April 5, have been growing like weeds! But with the damp, cold spring, they had to stay inside much longer than typical for us. 

Red Rangers, discovering grass.
We finally got a warmer, dry spell and set up our old easy-up shelter with chicken wire around the perimeter, and the metal dog crate -- sans bottom tray -- for their outside home. This will be the last hurrah for this shelter, as one of the metal supports failed almost immediately, not the metal, but the plastic connector. I had considered sewing a replacement fabric top -- as it has had threadbare places and leaks for years -- but I will not bother since it is really not worth it with the structural failure. Starting today (after I am done planting the flax and wheat, of course! The bird run to me when they see me -- two legged feeder syndrome, I guess -- and the seeds would not stand a chance) I will begin letting them range during part of the day.
Custom 16" Earth Blessing sign

In the hex world, I completed this custom 16" Earth Blessing sign. It will hang on the door of a lady with Alzheimer's, so I am told. This was a short deadline job, but I felt blessed to be ask to do this work.

48" diameter Abundance, Prosperity
and Smooth Sailing Through Life
Below is a traditional Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth Sailing Through Life sign, in custom colors which I just completed. This sign will hang around here on the farm until the end of the month, as its new owner will be picking it up in person. It will live here in Maine!

I have two circles cut, sanded and primed, ready to be drawn and painted. I made sure to get these ready, because I had eye surgery this week, to remove the first of two cataracts. The doc said to avoid dusty environments! LOL Like this is even possible here... But I am doing my best to not make more dust and I have a pair of goggles to wear when I am outside in the garden, the coop or when it is windy (... like most of the time!)

I am being very frustrated by this surgery thing, as necessary as it is. Unfortunately the doc to whom I was referred is only in the office I go to every other week. While I got on the schedule for the first eye very quickly, I have to wait until the middle of next month for the second eye to be done, and then there will be some time after that before I can get a new prescription for my glasses. I am glad that the doc saw the rationale behind giving me a bionic lens that was set for close vision, rather than for distance. I cannot imagine how disturbing it would be to me to have to use glasses to do needlework, read or paint, as I have always removed my glasses for such work. But at this point, while my distance vision is currently sufficient for me to drive -- at least on familiar routes -- it is not good enough for me to
Not quite the pirate look
the shield is only for bed
time now.
distinguish baby asparagus shoots from the weeds and grasses while standing, nor can I easily make out emerging seedlings (if there are any!) of the spinach, beets and carrots I planted. Fortunately I can see the pea plants and know that I need to get their trellis up ASAP. With this strange lack of clarity -- think of it as looking at the world as Monet saw it -- I am having strange dreams and am less than fully functional, even inside doing daily house chores. This is going to be a STRANGE summer!







Friday, May 4, 2018

What a long strange month it has been!

It's been almost a month since I last blogged, despite my best efforts to the contrary. I guess I got derailed by an unexpected trip to Boston last month and have been scrambling to catch up and try to at least catch the wave, if not get ahead of it since then.

One of my daughters was, once again, running the Boston marathon and I was able, at the last minute, to arrange a trip down to Beantown to visit with her, my son-in-law and her eldest daughter. It appears I do not travel as well as in the past, as planning for, taking and recovery from the trip seems to have eaten at least two weeks. Not that I regret going, far from it. It
They are in there somewhere!
B.A.A. 5K start.
was great to see Mandy and to watch the three of them take off on the 5k race that the B.A.A. put on the Saturday before the famous marathon.

My daughter contacted me before the trip and said that they had planned to visit Salem, MA on this trip east, and wanted to see the town with "a real witch." How could I not find a way to go!

While we were in Salem, I got the chance to see the Witch Trials Memorial, which was especially moving because a friend of mine is an 8xgreat granddaughter of the last person hung during that incredibly barbarian time. I paid my respects at the stone
bench dedicated to Samuel Wardwell and used a few bits of reed I found on site and some yarn I had been spinning on my trip to make the solar/Brigid's cross that I left as a blessing.

While I was in Boston I had to make sure to visit the Make Way for Ducklings statues in the Boston Commons. In the week leading up to my trip, I had been busily knitting a scarf for Mrs.
Mrs. Mallard and me.
 Mallard, from local wool, which I carded, spun and knit in the grease to help keep her warm and repel the cold snow and rain that fell during my visit and plagued the race.

I was pleased to discover that, along with the Easter hats that mama duck and her brood were sporting upon my arrival, that my scarf seems to have stayed as part of the tableau for some time, as evidenced by photos found with the #makewayforduckings hash tag.

And on an additional fiber note, I can report that it is indeed possible to use a suspended spindle on a Greyhound bus, and to "twiddle-spin" with a supported spindle as one of three passengers in a ride provided by an Uber driver!

Friday, April 6, 2018

All about April

April is often a strange month, neither winter nor spring here in the Northlands. It often feels like it takes hold of that strange day, which may have started when we changed the calendar so many eons ago and made the year start in January, and channels it all month long. Those "April showers" that are sung about as the precursor to May flowers... well they are as likely to be white as wet. When wet, as they were this week, they often don't feel like spring. They do contribute to mud season, though, and make puddles which seduce the sleepy farmer, attempting chores before the coffee has completely kicked in, into thinking the paths are muddy instead of brown skating rinks.

Regardless, the mostly rising temperatures and sunny days have been liberating the fields from their white blankets. When I hauled compost to the garden this week, it was in muck boots, with the wagon instead of snow boots and a sled. And the hens and ducks have begun laying in earnest.



I started the week by shipping an order of three hex signs by UPS. I am still working to get things in order after the large sign was completed and out the door. Its place in the domestic chaos was taken by a new-to-me spinning wheel.

Between spinning, working on several knitting projects and getting the current crop of meat chicken babies in the house yesterday, it's been a busy week. The current hex project is the completing of a series of 5 small signs like this digital proof, for Strength Through Community (in this case, Sisterhood) for a client and her sisters.

Here's hoping that spring is, indeed around the corner. My calendar notes that I should be able to direct seed early crops like spinach and peas in a week or two.  I ain't holding my breath.

Friday, March 30, 2018

I always manage to miss Friday!

It has been my intention for some time to have a post for each Friday. Yeah, right... Y'all know how many I have missed.

But I am picking up the thread once again and this week, at least, I will spin one out into the digital world.

It's been a busy time at hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck. Spring -- or what passes for it here in Maine -- is upon us. The days are noticeably longer and the current 10 day weather forecast shows many days well above freezing and many, as well, with lows just below it. There is more rain than snow and we have a good melt going.

That makes challenges at chore time, though, as I always forget my cleats for morning chores and end up fighting slippery frozen snow, pushed into strange angles by footprints breaking through. At the same time I am fighting my sled full of water and feed; it does not want to slide nicely when there is no nice path to follow. And I am fighting to stay upright with one stick and one hand on a fence and one hand pulling the sled. You will likely notice a problem here. LOL

But it is nice to do chores, even in the wind, with a much lighter jacket and while able to doff the gloves as needed without dire consequences. Everyone is drinking more. I will be glad for hose season to arrive again. And the chickens and ducks are getting into the groove of laying.

Spring brings other issues as well. Late last week, the LGD, Moose, was alerting like crazy at something to the north. I caught glowing eyes in the flashlight beam, but whatever left and the dog settled down. We had a similar event tonight, but instead of eyes, there were crazy screams quite nearby. Eventually we IDed the sound as a female fox calling for a mate and thankfully she has also moved on. But when I took a walk to the back a couple of days after I saw the eyes, I found this partial deer head. There were no other parts, and no tracks, so I am assuming the stealthy-footed beast with the glowing eyes was a wild cat of some sort, light enough to leave no tracks on the crusty snow at the time. Even I, at 170 pounds, more or less, on snowshoes, barely left any depressions. The deer was obviously not killed here, but carried and in the day between having seen the eyes and finding it, apparently there were crows investigating, as I saw their tracks which had been made, most likely, during the daytime melt.

On other threads, I have completed the construction of 4 distaffs of various sizes, and have "dressed" two, to experiment with using as I spin with spindles. I have been playing with a "French style" spindle, too... learning how to "twiddle-spin." This is a method of holding a small, lightweight spindle in your hand and making yarn, and rounds out the trio of techniques that incluse supported spinning and suspended (also referred to as "drop") spinning. Since I am planning to work with my flax crop this year, I thought familiarity with a distaff might be a good thing.

In the hex world, I am completing the third of a series of three signs for a order, with two more orders waiting in the wings. The current hex sign in process is a variation on the Welcome sign and was not easy to draw. Next up are 5 small signs, variations of the "Strength through Community" design for Women's Month, commissioned by a local woman for herself and her sisters. Following that, I have will be painting a custom variation of the welcome motif, featuring a pineapple!

Meanwhile, in the "dream come true" department, I will be picking up an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel on Sunday. This wheel belongs to the sister of one of the ladies that attends a local monthly fiber group. The sister apparently bought it 20 years ago to learn to spin and never used it. She is selling it for an amazingly low price: what she paid for it back then! I had to bite!

And now, as Frigga's day draws to a close, since my Needfire has been completed and the last coat of black paint has been applied to the lettering on the current hex sign in process (reminding me how much I love painting letters and numbers), I will pick up the wool that Tractor Guy has carded and finish the evening, and the week, spinning on the Frigga wheel.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Crazy Things are Happening!


Individual
Strength
Power through
Community
As Women's Empowerment Month winds down, I still have some of my small, indoor signs for individual strength and power through community connections available for sale. These are limited edition signs for 2018, and when they are gone, they are gone.

That IS a
picnic table!
Meanwhile, we have been working with the result of two nor'easters in two weeks, with little usable melt. In one way, it's a good thing, as I can currently walk the snowshoe-trod path to the truck without putting the "big feet" on. However, it's not so good for Tractor Guy, who still does not have snowshoes (they are really hard to find for really big guys!) so he has to bulldoze through. We now have two paths down to the truck, one for each of us. It does make it easier for me not to have to avoid the chasms his breaking through make.

While the snow has slowed the arrival of spring (to the minds of many, at least; I know it never really springs until later in April) I have been busy with fiber fun. Ply magazine has a newly released issue all about flax and linen and I have been browsing through it a bit. This is in complete contrast to my usual way of doing something I have never done before. Usually I totally thrash around and learn by what happen, and what doesn't. I think the bit of reading I have done constitutes more research on this one topic than on all the other things I've done for the first time, in the past! I am anxious to be able to plant my 4 varieties of flax seed but meanwhile I have been planning and building some distaffs.

Birdcage distaff, complete
except for fiber!
The distaff -- so common in the olden days as a tool for spinning, that it came to be used as a word for womankind, in general -- is not often seen nowadays, nor featured for sale nearly as often as spindles or even spinning wheels. There are free-standing distaffs that are used with a wheel and a multitude of smaller designs to be held in your hand or tucked into a belt and laid over your arm when spindle spinning, or spindling as I have seen it called.

They can be used with wool, though are often considered essential for spinning flax. One of the things I have learned in my recent reading is an alternative way to hold strands of flax, wrapped in a dish towel in you lap and I may try that when I get to that stage of my flax project... many many months from now. For now, playing with distaffs is proving to be fun.

The style that most appeals to me is called the "birdcage" distaff as seen above, and I have thus far made that one, am working on a second and have a smaller third one on my mind. The first two, shown at the right in their initial stages, are 3/4" and 5/8" dowels, with thin wooden disks, 6" in diameter, from the craft store. We located the exact center of the disks and drilled holes of the exact size to fit snugly onto the shafts.  I used a heavier basket weaving reed for the "cage." It needed soaking before being formed around the disk, just as one
Distaff in process - and a
metaphorical self portrait, too!
would if making a basket. The reeds were held in place with pipe clamps until they dried into the proper shape. then the excess was trimmed off, and the reeds were glued permanently in place. I used the pipe clamps, again, to hold them securely.

After this glue dried, I wanted to wrap the top and bottom of the cage area with raffia for decoration, which I did. I secured it with Titebond, as I had the reeds. I felt the wrappings needed a bit of help to stay in place, so I rubbed some of the Titebond into and over the strands, which -- unfortunately -- still shows when it is dry.  I had to hold the ends of the raffia in place until
all of that dried, too. A little tension on the wrapping from tying the ends to the animal crate on which I was working did the trick!

In case you are curious as to what creature is currently inhabiting the crate, let me introduce Buttermilk, the house
chicken! Buttermilk is a Red Ranger meat rooster who managed to elude the "bus to freezer camp" on a friend's homestead. She is a softhearted soul who, each year, had wished to not have to butcher all of the meat birds they raised, so when this one managed to avoid capture, she convinced her husband that it was fate. Buttermilk has been living with their flock, but was having issues with the rooster in their laying flock. After having him and getting to know him so well, they could not bring themselves around to the "delicious solution" and I offered to help them out. They know what his eventual fate will be... and it must be so. These meat birds, also a crossbreed like the better known Cornish cross, are able to forage and are much less likely to develop leg issues and be unable to walk like the Cornish if carried past 10 weeks. However, they do eventually develop issues and being crossbreeds, would not breed true if kept. And we have our new crop of Freedom Rangers chicks coming on April 4. They will need the space in the house that Buttermilk is currently occupying. So, between now and then... a delicious solution will be found.

I am considering, since I usually skin the birds and his plumage is so lovely, of trying to tan his hide, feathers-on of course, to make a hat. We will see if that happens. But meanwhile, it is really a joy to have him for an organic alarm, encouraging me to arise with the dawn, which is quickly receding into the early morning hours. These last couple of weeks, and the next few coming, are one of the two parts of the year when the rate of change of day length is the greatest. And even if you don't mess with the clocks (I don't) it tends to throw everything off. Maybe I need to plan on a house rooster each spring!








Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hex-y Fun and Work

24" Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth Sailing though LIfe
on its way to Kansas today!
 The hex sign orders continues to roll in -- and out the door to their new homes. I am currently beginning work on three signs for some new construction in Florida, two at the 24" size and one custom that will be 36" diameter.

At the same time I am gearing up with an unusual "limited edition run" of pre-painted signs. My work is typically by commission only, both on account of the size of much of the work, but also the expense of exterior plywood. However, I was asked by one of the organizers of a local event for Women's Month, to have a small selection of unusually small signs (4-6 inches) relating to women's empowerment, as impulse purchase items at the event.  The top design, looking like a group of dryads communing and quietly channeling a hint of maiden/mother/crone energy is a sign invoking strength through community connections.  The bottom sign, featuring a modern take on the traditional symbol for woman, helps build personal strength and power. I have several color variations in process, which I will share in a later post.

For now, it's time to get back to work while I wait for the predicted late winter snow (10-16" today and tomorrow with a potential for a couple more the following days). For your listening pleasure, I offer "This is Maine, It's Gonna Snow" by local singer/songwriter and Bangor Daily News writer, Troy R. Bennett.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Internet Seduced Me!

I do not recall, now, how I ended up finding it, but I did.

"It" is a spindle, a tool for hand spinning called the "Bristlecone Goddess." Now, you have to understand that spinning is not just a craft I enjoy. I consider it a "witch craft" for those of us who
©bristleconeart.com
"goddess" phang spindles
walk and work with the northern Goddess, Frigga. And while this particular shape does not specifically reference the All-Mother in my mind (in trying to describe the shape to a friend, I said it evokes thoughts of an rather elongated Goddess of Willendorf, minus the tits, which would make it spin rather oddly through imbalance, yanno?) And the leap from primitive Earth Mother to northern All-Mother by way of yarn... well that just fits for me. These spindles are, apparently, no longer made.
Spinning with a rock


The discovery of the "Goddess" form sent me on a long and winding journey looking at phang spindles. Phang spindles are a type of support spindle, with no whorl, often a bulge in the middle or two points and a low center of gravity. I have no idea of the origin of the name, nor the original ethnicity of these whorl-less spindles. In point of fact, though, one doesn't even really need a spindle to spin wool, though it does make it much faster! All that is necessary is having fibers more or less aligned and then applying a twist to them. This can be done by rolling on one's leg, twisting between the fingers or using even a straight stick or a rock!


The phang was not the first whorl-less design to catch my eye.
Dealgan in process. Pencil line
indicates the head when finished.
Blood sacrifice included but
not required.
Some time ago I saw a video
of the the Gaelic Dealgan and got Tractor Guy, who has always loved working wood, to try to carve one.  The dealgan is still in process. The first one fell victim to a bad place in thewood. A second is in process (right).  After sharing my new passion with the spinners at a local group, it turns out a friend has a small lathe sitting, unloved, in the attic of her barn and she has offered it to us! And Tractor Guy, having worked, long ago, in a cabinet shop under the direction of a wonderful master wood worker, is excited to be able to find a way to enjoy working wood and supply my curiosity as well! So expect to see many experimental and traditional style worl-less spindles in the future!

One thing I learned along the way is that, apparently, "drop spindle" is an American term. To most of the rest of the word they are just spindles used with a variety of techniques. The term "suspended spinning" most correlates with our drop spindling. I have seen a single whorl-less spindle used with support, suspended and with a technique called "grasped" spinning.
So, yeah, I am curious. And charting new territory, as I have never been one to learn well, easily or with much enjoyment from the video format. I have a local mentor for supported spindle technique, but none that I know of for the more European suspended or grasped methods. So I am attending class with "Professor You Tube." I didn't like, or learn easily from all of my teachers in college either!

Center, bottom whorl made from CD
Left, right top whorl commercial spindles
I currently have three "American style drop" spindles. displayed here on the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign that I am painting! (shameless self promotion du jour) I am planning to add several non-whorl spindles as time goes on and we have tools... and when TG gets the hand carved one done it may be the first of those. Unfortunately, he rather damaged his hand today using a miniature spokeshave -- which worked well on the dealgan but less so with big fingers. Once we get the lathe here we will begin playing with easily available, mostly soft woods. Acquiring specialty woods and appropriate chunks of hardwoods will require day trips to one of two sources on the coast.

As I move ahead with all this exploration, it has become obvious that I "need" a distaff! One has been on my list for a while, and I even bought some heavier basket making reed to use to form the "birdcage" in the style I favor (shown being "dressed in this video).  Today I picked up some dowels, but realized once I got home that I need a light weight wooden disk to drill and slip onto the dowel to help form the shape. I will pick that up in town on Friday.


And that is the report for the week from hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck...where the snow is melting, the maple sap is running (so my friend with trees tell me) and talking heads at the weather desk are calling for another nor'easter.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No-Comfort-Zone for the Win

I just received photos of the willow tree custom PA Dutch hex sign installed on the owner's home.

They love it and I think it looks great, mounted on this brick building. I really like it when my clients send in situ photos!



Out of the Comfort Zone

Custom hex sign - protection and abundance
for the family that uses a weeping willow
as a family symbol
Do you like to be outside your comfort zone? I don't and from what I have read, most folks are in the same boat. But sometimes one gets pushed overboard and -- for me at least -- at that point I flail around like a drowning person for a bit and the, finally, get with the program and swim.

That is always the case when I get an order for a custom hex sign that focuses on a more realistic depiction of something. Usually that "something" is an animal in one of the livestock or companion animal protection signs. Previously, I had done the dog, above left and the cow, to the right...both with much trepidation. But I had never been asked for a realistic tree before this most resent offering, above.

I do think it turned out ok and it has actually inspired me to try to draw, if not paint, some of the trees I have been noticing this winter.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

It's THAT Time of Year Again, Folks!

You know who you are... those who have been pouring... dreaming... drooling over the seed catalogs. Bankrupting yourselves putting in order, perhaps, though I hope not. Moderation in all things... remember! But it's time, here in Maine even, when the potting mix hits the flats and you can almost hear the announcer's voice coming over the aethers: Gardeners! Start your SEEDS!

Or maybe not... maybe you are not sure when to start. Maybe your family tradition has been to put everything out on Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe you have moved and are not sure WHAT your seasons will be like.  Well, wonder no more. I am going to share some of my favorite go-to sites for plotting and planning and learning you seasons.

Your calculations need to start with your last spring frost and the first frost in the winter, in order to choose varieties that will ripen in your climate. This is especially important for us northern dwellers, but folks at altitude have this issue as well, perhaps even more so! PlantMaps.com is the source for this info. You can enter your zip code at the upper left (pay attention! it is in the immediate upper left! the lines numbered 1 and 2 and in large print just below are ADS!) and get an overlay on a Google map base of your area with the climate zones color-coded and first and last frost date averages listed below.

When your seed packet tells you to plant "after all danger of frost" then you are golden, most years. And we all know that gardening or farming is -- always -- a calculated risk. However Johnny's Selected Seeds, one of my favorite suppliers from long before moved to Maine and became their neighbor, has used their and their customers experience to develop a series of interactive tools to help take a bit more of the guesswork out of planting.

They have an online calculator to help you decide when to start seeds indoors for future transplant. The tool also suggest when it will be safe to transplant them after you have hardened the seedling off.

If you have ever considered succession planting -- perhaps when your lettuces have all gone to seed and your tomatoes are signaling the beginning of a bountiful BLT season -- you might find this this tool handy. It is a spreadsheet that can be used with Microsoft Excel, or if you do not have that program, the free and open source OpenOffice Calc program runs it as well. That is what I use. Johnny's says "This spreadsheet calculator allows you to input the date of your first planting of each crop, then it calculates the dates for later plantings. It also allows you to input your first frost date, counting back the appropriate number of days to determine the last date to plant and still get a crop before frost."

They also offer calculators that will help if you want to aim for a specific harvest date (though I know it will not all ripen at the very same time, I have also grown many varieties of paste/sauce tomatoes with the Heinz name that seem to really try to hit that goal! It was a family joke for years.) And if you want a real challenge, a calculator for when to plant crops for a fall harvest.

Another very useful offering is the seed quantity calculator, with which you can work from either the crop, to determine the number of seeds or young plants that you need for a row of given length or from the seed spacing and row length you plan to use, to determine the number of rows.

Based on this last tool, tomorrow I will be making up 300 mini soil blocks, in which to plant 300 onion seeds (plus an additional 40 or so that I will be starting for a friend. Plus shallots and leeks.

Other online tools exist to help you figure out:
-- how much you will harvest per 100' row (you can calculate estimates for smaller gardens!)
-- companion planting, to save space and help your crops thrive
-- identify some of the weeds that inevitably plague us all
-- adjust planting times to avoid some pests and diseases (Maine based)
-- help identify nutrient deficiencies by reference to the plants leaves (You have done a soil test haven't you? Your local extension service can do this as soon as you can access your soil!)
-- how much to plant for your family. Ok, this is just one company's guess... and of course your mileage WILL vary, based on what you love and what you don't like as much, what you put by, and how you cook and plan your meals year round. But if you have never done a garden, and especially if you are aiming to learn to be more self-reliant, it can be a good place to start.

You will also want to become good friends with the folks at your local extension office (this is connection) as they have all kinds of help and publications... from soil testing services, to Master Gardeners who can help answer all kinds of questions, to classes in how to safely preserve your bounty!

Now, don't go broke buying seeds... connect up with friends and SHARE! And all this thought about spring has actually kicked me in the rear to finally get working on a spring-themed custom hex sign order! Watch for the final project photo on Facebook or Twitter.




Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter at Dutch Hex Sign and Fussing Duck Farm

After blizzard, before rain


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Follow the Flow and See Where You Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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


But no acetone. 

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

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

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

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