Thursday, September 22, 2022

Mabon/Second Harvest blessings to all.

Feeling the arrival of the dark seasons very strongly this morning. For the first time I ages, the call to light a candle hit me. So my little solitary witch candle holder, with the partially used tea light, which has been sitting on the shelf above my head since i put up the fiber shelves earlier this year, is now on my desk and doing her job.

K was up in the night for a while and I was as well, after distinctly hearing his voice interrupting a dream that I did not mind having interrupted... except that he had not *actually* called me. I did not fall soundly back to sleep and though I do not recall hearing the thunder that he reported hearing during morning chores, so I must have slept... I do not feel rested. So, keeping the sense of the day in my mind, I will putter today.

I probably have lots of dry apples to put to storage after only being in the dehydrator overnight. I KNOW the tomatoes are dry, I checked them first thing, as the previous round (in my wimpy dehydrator) had mostly all molded instead of drying and I needed to know. Apples are in one that I borrowed from my friend Bonnie and the tomatoes are in a similar unit of different manufacture borrowed from friend Allison. Guess what just went on my non-existent Yule wish list! LOL Both are working wonderfully, though the sound of their collective fans (probably one of the reasons they work so well!) has led me to begin calling the kitchen "the engine room" when I try to answer a question from Tractor Guy in his work room at the other end of the house. LOL

I do need to make bread as we are almost out and while it is rising I plan to survey the status of the home made, whole wheat mixes that I try to keep stashed in the cupboard. I know we need biscuit mix, and I have been planning to try making it with pastry flour, as I am still in search of a whole wheat biscuit that rises decently.

All that, and some knitting and spinning -- if I can stay awake -- sounds like a good use of a harvest festival day.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

I have a bad habit of collecting fleeces.

 July brings the Tour de France and the Tour de Fleece.  Spinners and other fiber folk have for some time had an event that runs concurrently with the Tour de France bicycle race. Some folks group together in teams and compete with other teams to see how much yarn they can spin in the 3 week event. The spinners are suppose to spin on the days the cyclists ride and rest when they do and usually are on the honor system to report their production, in weight or yardage. Knitters and those who crochet can also set project goals and work along and this year I am joining with a different focus.

I have a bad habit of collecting fleeces. Back before I had sheep, I "cornered the market" in free fleeces. Any time I say mention of someone giving away a sheep fleece, I jumped on it like fleas on a dog and soon had a virtual flock in my back room. Getting them washed, carded and ready to spin mostly did not happen and eventually I hauled many huge bags to a commercial mill near by and got it turned into roving to spin. Which I did, at least some. 

 I was overjoyed when they had been dropped off at the mill. The room was empty! It totally did not track in my brain that, eventually most of it would come back as roving, to haunt me. LOL

L to R Major Tom, Enterprise, Rigby
I spun, shared, sold a bit and in the end, gave it away as I began accumulating fleeces from my Icelandic crew, Rigby, Major Tom and Enterprise. Icelandic sheep are sheared twice a year, in case you did not know. Two fleeces per sheep per year.

Yeah, it addes up. 

I have no idea how many fleeces I have but I have declared my goal for the Tour to be preparing them to take to a wonderful small mill in the western part of the state that I like, Underhill Farm.

Getting fleece ready to be processed into roving -- a  long and narrow bundle of fiber from which one spins -- is not just a matter of giving the sheep a buzz cut (like cutting your hair, it does not harm the sheep) and throwing it in a bag. I suppose one could do that, but most mills these days expect the shepherd to remove anything that we do not want in the yarn. Such foreign matter can include bits of hay (especially in a spring fleece), cocleburrs and other weed seeds (fall fleece after a summer on pasture), and since the whole sheep is sheared, bits of poo. Sometimes the shearer needs to make a "second cut" to get the fleece left on the animal even and chose shorter bits of fleece are not able to be spun and need to be removed, as well as any bit of fleece the the sheep has felted by rubbing up against a feeder or such. This is called "skirting" because much of the less desirable bits are found around the outside of the fleece, when it is intact and nicely laid out.

Wool, you see, tends to hang together, both because of the lanolin in the wool and the nature of the hairs as well. When a sheep is properly sheared, the fleece can be rolled up in one piece and then unrolled to look much like a pelt, minus the hide. So the "skirt" is  around the outside, from the wool underneath the sheep, up around the neck, down under the other side and then back around the tail. You can see where there might be some sheep droppings caught up in a long coat.

So, for my Tour challenge this year, I will be finding and skirting all of the white, brown and black fleeces that are lurking in my back room. Hopefully I can get done in time to grab a friend for a road trip to deliver them to the mill.

...while still tending, weeding, picking and mulching the garden (I brought home 24 bales of straw today, to begin the mulching), sending meat chickens to "freezer camp" two at a time, putting by spinach and -- soon == peas, caring for the critters and getting the second batch of "nuggets" as we call the baby meat chickens, started enough to transition to outside.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Chick, chick, chick

Newly arrived by post, the "Nuggets" spring
crop of Freedom Rangers find the food.

I have never done two flocks of meat chickens in a single year before, but it is happening this year. Our first flock of "Nuggets" as we jokingly call them, arrived the end of April and I expect to begin processing them -- starting with the largest ones and continuing over several weeks -- this coming weekend. This was a cold spring, there were "bird dogs" to deal with and we struggled early on to keep them warm enough. The large plastic dog crate did not lend itself to use of our usual heat lamp set up and the electric heater we bought was woefully inadequate. We lost more chicks that in all previous years put together, leaving barely two dozen in the flock that I had hoped to grow out and process before the bird flu, which we were warned about this year, spread to our area... which was why I started so early.

It worked, I guess, for the survivors, at least. There have been no more deaths since we got the birds set up on the back porch, in two totes, under lights, like we used to do. The electric mesh fence and their tarp-wrapped "tent" of chicken wire on a wood frame has kept any predators at bay while they ranged, during the day, and grew.

Despite the cost of feed, which has increased dramatically like everything else, I would still rather have my own birds in my freezer than trust "the economy" and the supply chain -- though the bird I bought at farmers market to celebrate the solstice was delicious. So I did some budget magic (I will be making sure that the electric payment does not arrive at its intended destination before my next social security payment arrives this weekend) and ordered birds last week, to ship today. They will arrive Thursday morning and I will hit the post office well before they are open to collect the critters. Which reminds me I need to stop by today, pick up mail from the PO box and give them a heads-up. They have not yet got the memo that, since I ordered them and have a tracking number, I KNOW when they will arrive and will be there. The lack of a telephone number still causes them to panic.

I am hoping that the nights, which these days are only dropping to 50 degrees, will not be too cold for the little dudes if I use the plant heat mat under their litter. I am also planning to order a heating pad that does NOT shut off, but it will not arrive until after the long weekend. I am also considering digging out one of the free-standing light sockets that I use under the sink cabinets in the master bath in the winter to help keep the water from freezing, and putting that in their crate as well, to add heat. I have incandescent bulbs, and even a red heat lamp bulb, I think, if it will work in the thing. May use too many watts, though. I will check, as I have a couple of days to get this set up.

Fergie tire for reference
Today, I will focus on a bit of laundry -- including washing two electric heated throws by hand -- and weed. Unless Tractor Guy decides that the ground is solid enough, after our bit of rain yesterday, to begin the process of removing the flat tire from Fergie.These tires are heavy, made especially so by being filled with beet juice (the weight is for extra traction) and we need to get it off the tractor and loaded into Artie for a trip to the tire store. Wish us luck!


Monday, June 27, 2022

...a Little Rain MUST Fall

 "Into each life a little rain must fall." While this line is well known (though often misquoted as I have done) the author, American singer and songwriter Doris Fisher, is almost forgotten now. She wrote and performed in the 1940s. For your musical history moment today, I share this rendition, by the Ink Spots, a popular vocal group of that day.

I am sharing this, this morning, as background to a brief discussion of "unremitting sunshine", the cloudless sky that greeted me upon arising this morning, and my feeling twinges of my old friend, summertime SAD (seasonal affective disorder). While it is culturally, at least here in the USA, a "thing" to joy in day after day of bright, hot sunny quintessential summer weather and to consider rainy days "bad" weather, I -- for one -- am badly affected by this weather. When, after receiving medical treatment, which helped resolve my long term depression as a younger woman, I began noticing that it wanted to return the next year -- for which I was also treated -- and then again after at... at about the same time of year. I had been warned that this was a phenomenon and to seek counseling to help locate and resolve the trigger.

I did not go that route, and when, in the second year, my trial of St. John's Wart tea as a therapeutic tool was successful, I began harvesting, drying and keeping the herb on hand. It did not take too many years for me to make note of the timing of the recurrences. My depression happened every year during the hot, dry month(s) of late summer.

I was aware of the traditional winter SAD, often treated by light therapy and began researching what I considered its flip season kin but at that time the only references I could find were for the winter variety in the southern hemisphere!

My struggles with this issue came to a peak while living Down East, on the coast of North Carolina. One memory, in particular, is literally burned into my psyche.

In that location, even with the "ocean breeze" that supposedly cools things off in the evening, once summer hits, it truly never felt comfortable to me. I live for open windows in the appropriate seasons (which includes summer!) and the gentle movement of air through the house, the sounds of bird song, neighborhood dogs and even passing cars as the "background music" for my day, inside or out. I have not often been one to keep a radio or -- Gods help me, a television -- running for background sound.

The morning I am remembering, I had got up early and made a cup of iced coffee. I was still in the kitchen standing by the kitchen window, as something outside had caught my attention as I sipped my cold brew and enjoyed the relative cool of the early morning. The window looked east and my view, such as it was, was of the community fire station across the street. As I stood there, the sun rose over the fire house and struck my bare arms and upper chest. I literally stepped back, reacting to the the feeling of being attacked by the beams of the rising sun.

I brewed a pot of St. John's Wart tea and immediately began my routine of 3-4 cups spread through the day. If I recall, it took a week or so for me to feel close to normal again. That was my reality for the time I lived in NC, until I moved to Maine.

I have been here since 2008 -- August, to be exact -- and yes, that year I was on my herbal routine. But I have not had to do the whole three times a day herbal treatment since I arrived. I do keep the herb on hand and on occasion brew up a pot or two, but since moving north -- despite the longer days here this time of year (1 hour, 6 minutes, to be exact, at solstice).

So, I think it is not so much day length that triggers my depression, but what I call unremitting sunshine. Sun, un-tempeed by clouds. Unbroken by rainy days. I do not feel quite the same about days with a high overcast -- filtered sunshine -- or those summer days I call "Microsoft skies" -- filled with white, puffy clouds. And the heat does not help either.

How did I get to this train of thought today? I went to bed looking forward to a rainy day! I had been hoping for a good rain, but sadly watched the predicted accumulation drop through the day yesterday. What I DID NOT expect, though, was to wake up to bright sun and not a cloud in sight! That just hit me like a ton of bricks as I walked out to the garden in my robe to move the hose to water the last row in the garden...where I am nursemaiding some perennials for a friend who ran out of time this spring to plant them before they died.

The irrigation is running and now, thankfully, the sky has clouded up. I think it will be a good day.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Not everyone is a fan of summer

 If it was not necessary for growing food, I would gladly consider plots to eliminate summer. I am not a fan. Hot weather and the super long days have vexed me all of my adult life. Thinking back, it is hard to believe that I voluntarily went outside in temperatures up to 114 degrees F while visiting kin in the sand hills of Nebraska as a teen. And no, boys were not the lure. My aunt's house had air conditioning, and even then I did not like it. I still do not like it -- and have never used it in any home of my own, despite being plagued by the heat of summer. In fact, I have had at least one case of heat exhaustion in the last three states where I have lived (TX, NC and, yes, even Maine.)

I moved to Maine "for the climate" I say... imagining summer days eventually warming the lakes sufficiently for those who enjoy such pursuits to swim... maybe in August. Wearing flannels to drink my morning coffee, in June -- like earlier this month -- does not feel out of line.

But then the whammy comes. Is it climate change or simply a misapprehension, as when living in the Pacific northwest, I learned that "it's always damp, cloudy and rainy here" was a myth perpetrated by the locals to keep visitor numbers in check?  We are not even close to leaving June behind and our high temperature reached 91 here on the farm yesterday. TFH and I am thankful that I had planned a "do nothing" (but the ritual dump run) day for my body to recover a bit from the aggressive gardening of the previous two days.

I literally did nothing most of the day, and after returning from the dump, did more nothing, but with fewer clothes on, sitting by a window with the breeze and a fan attempting to work their magic. Typically, once the heat hits, it takes my body weeks for the sweating response to kick in. This odd phenomenon does tend to make me uncomfortable and it is also part of the reason I eschew air conditioning. I NEED to sweat; that is the body's natural cooling method and hiding from the heat only prolongs my misery. I suppose I should be glad that, while doing evening chores -- before the sun had dropped below the western tree line -- I had sweat literally running down my face. One day in to the heat... this is unheard of for me.

I am anxiously waiting and watching for the sun to move back south a bit. This year I want to mark how long it takes, past the solstice, for the setting sun to return to the solid bank of trees to the west. When it sets behind their bulk, I can do evening chores earlier and this means supper, which I start after chores, will be earlier in the evening. As it is now, we often do not finish our evening meal until quite late. Where the sun sets at present is directly behind the sheep area, as seen from the house, and that means that chores start with me walking, squinting, directly toward the setting sun to feed the wooly bullies, bring them in from pasture and turn off the electric fence so I can safely access the Nuggets to feed and water their quickly maturing carcasses.

The real issue is not where the sun sets, though, but the gap in the tree line and the scraggly top of the single conifer behind which it currently attempts to hide. Just a few degrees to the left -- south -- the tree line becomes a solid wall of green, effectively making for a much earlier twilight in the barnyard. Eventually we will get there, and even though that does not have any actual effect on the air temperature, it will feel cooler to my mind.

Strange how bodies work, eh?

Now, for the first time this summer, I am heading out to the garden FIRST. Before jumping most of my medical hoops, before critter chores and definitely before breakfast. I need to move the water hose and get the irrigation going again, but first it will be time to check to potato plants for bugs and, with luck, to do some more weeding, in an attempt to complete weeding of the onion rows, and make the last picking of spinach.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Rituals of Daily Life

40 yards of hand spun linen yarn
Yesterday, as I spent time at the spinning wheel, turning two thin bits of linen yarn into this thicker, two-ply version, I sat and meditated with Frigga in my mind's eye. My Lady of Fensalir, Goddess who is said to "spin the battle from afar" was my focus, but the news of the day was on my mind. Among Her many attributes, she is know to "give comfort and solace in childbirth" and she was also known as a goddess of frith, which is a combination of peace and social order. As the wife of Odin (the All-Father), she,, the great Mother, sat in his stead on the high throne of Asgard and fulfilled all of the duties thereof . There are connections here. 

As I spun and talked with Her, I called on Her to lend her attention to here and now, and thanked her for her continued presence as my Patron and for her wisdom, strength and support.

And as I spun... more accurately plyed the yarn previously spun... I thought about the other task still awaiting me: Digging the trench for the replacement potatoes and the planting there of.

Gardening literally grounds me. It always has. And now we read of research showing contact with a kind of benign bacteria in soil improves mood by altering the gut-brain connection. But my rambling thoughts went down another trail, reminding me that even our most mundane tasks -- the (lower case R) rituals of daily life can be transformed into Rituals, with a capital R and power as well, by the conscious addition of true Intent.

Now I go back to the garden, with a mattock (pick axe with wide blade.) I will be making a furrow to plant the replacement potatoes but there will be *intent* in every swing as I "dig up the dirt" and plant anew. The "old ones" (those these particular spuds that did not grow are only stand-ins) are dead and gone. And from the bucket and bags of "yesteryear" (and the work of my own hands last year)_ will come forth a new crop, to feed us here. And with my swinging of one of my favorite garden tools to work off what I am thinking and feeling, and bring forth food to sustain us for the coming year, you can bet your sweet bippy that there will be spell work being done. Again and still, and again and still as needed.

It's how I roll. And today's monthly, waning moon task is another of the household rituals made sacred: the taking out of the trash to the dump. I know there is no real "away" (as in "throw it away") and have been working on trash minimization protocols for years. Part of my process includes considering packaging as equal in importance to the actual product being bought. Less is more. Recycleable is better than not (though these days that is seriously a concern as much of it is NOT being re-used) and where possible, re-used until it is in shreds or more. We take one can a month and it's not the biggest that could be bought and the trash goes into bags that come into the house as packaging. I will not buy plastic bags just to throw things away. Today there will be a bit more, as I have some old wood and metal from around the farm clean up to go away; both those go into different piles at the dump and not into the landfill. Once a month, close before the dark moon is the timing and the Ritual is to clean up and make order to allow for more blessings to flow in, with the turn of the moon. And since we do not want for much, I say it works.

What rituals can become Rituals in your life?

Friday, June 24, 2022

Of Spuds -- Still -- and Fiber (no not the dietary kind)

Seed 'taters, soon to be planted

 It's Friday and the day dawns with loads of meaning for many workers who are looking forward to the next two days off work -- the weekend. The concept has permeated (or infected) our entire culture. Work hours and days truly have never been that uniform, I do not think, though I will say that may just be based in my personal experience. I grew up with a mom who was an RN and a teaching dad and for them, as well as the kids shift-working dad -- and myself also when I was working as a temp == all bets were off. Many factories run two, or even three shifts, day in and day out. Truckers work until their load is delivered. And goodness knows, our desire for immediate gratification cannot abide a day when commerce is not available for our participation.

Here at hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck (figuratively at least... I do need to paint such a sign some day, I guess, if I am going to continue to write this) while this day has special meaning, the following two a just ordinary days. Farming -- even when "just" for subsistence and not for profit -- is like that. In my world, Friday is devoted -- or at least should be -- to the Goddess Frigga, my patron (matron?) in the northern pantheon. She who loves spinning and fiber arts, who is friend of the Norns and keeps them close and uses spinning as a way to (or metaphor for) reaching out beyond her immediate presence. But I have been seduced by the needs of the garden of late and have not sat at a wheel, or picked up a spindle, on her day to commune with Her. That needs to change.

I am also being tempted by the call of the Tour de Fleece (a fiber lover's event that runs concurrently with the famed Tour de France bicycle race, which starts next Friday.) I have played in that world in the past, and it is calling me once again. To participate, one sets a goal for the three week period and works toward the goal every day that the cyclists are riding. They -- and we participants -- do get rest days from time to time. In the past I have spun, but I think this year IF I participate, my goal will be to skirt all the fleeces I have on hand and  be prepared, by the last day of the race, to take them to my favorite mill, Underhill Fibers,  to be washed and prepared into roving.

That being laid out in my mind, I still need to think about today. My spud project is not quite complete. I have a single pot full that needs to be processed and frozen. I need to bag up the spud pieces I froze yesterday and I need to plant and water the well started seed 'taters that I separated from the pack, which will require finishing the weeding of the alleged russet row. I have my work there cut out for me!

Two bobbins, partially filled
with linen yarn

 I also intend to spend a little time at the spinning wheel. I have two bits of flax spun and want to ply them together and then (probably) crochet a bit with the final yarn. This project comes about because I will be moving away from the plastic "rooster clips" as I call them that I have been using to contain my hair. The kind I like (small and understated) seem to be no longer made and -- well -- they are, after all, plastic. for years I wore my hair in a twist, held in place by a single large bobby pin or a skewer through a bit of leather, after I found such a thing that fit the amount of hair that I had. Now, there is less volume and I suspect this may be a continuing changing issue, so I am thinking that an oval of crocheted linen yarn would allow me to adjust the stick (a repurposed orange stick from the cosmetic isle works well) as needed. Thinking linen because (a) I have a wee bit that I have managed to spin and I could use it and show it off! LOL and (b) it is much less likely to stretch even as much as cotton might. But I have never piyed with linen. I wonder, do I do it with wet fingers like when spinning the fiber? Time will tell and the barnyard and garden is calling!