Thursday, January 31, 2013

Of Various Traditions

Many of our holidays, both those that have been adopted by the commercial culture and used to shill all manner of products and those -- as yet -- to be so corrupted, have elements that come together from many traditions. This time of year -- whether you call it "Groundhog Day," Candlemas, Imbolc, The Charming of the Plow or, as I do, Spring Finding -- is recognized as a turning point of one form or another in various traditions.

A friend wrote a blog post about his and his mother's long time celebration of Groundhog day and ended it with the following:
Tell a story.  Write a poem.  Do something you wouldn’t normally do.  But above all, have a little fun and think of Mom and me—fans till the end of a silly little holiday of no consequence.  And if you should feel inclined, feel free to send me a hand-made card celebrating the best of all of our holidays.
And so I shall, and in lieu of a hand made card like the one he shared a picture of in his post, I share this blog entry. 

Feburary 2, 2013

The plow sits, quiet and alone,
in the barn, its winter  home.
The earth, likewise, lies snowy, cold.
There is no soil for it to fold
nor turn nor break.  For this, we wait.
"Will spring come early now, or late?"
The groundhog oracle is sought.
His winter slumber off is fought.
Into the light of... cameras? day?
the wary rodent makes his way.
How can this prognosticating pet
know how long a winter we'll get?
The lights of those who come to see
cast shadows everywhere. He'll be
seeing shadows, if not blind
and a long Maine winter we'll all find.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What of that Groundhog?

By the end of the week, the groundhogs -- both proverbial and those trotted out for media exploitation -- will either have seen their shadows or not. But here in the northlands, many more weeks of winter are on tap regardless; while some who live here chomp at the bit, waiting for warmer weather and enduring my comments suggesting a move to a climate more to their liking, I love the winter.

Something of the long nights, cold weather, warm hearth and slower pace to the day really sits well with me. Don't get me wrong though... come spring, summer and fall I will be bounding about in joy at planting, tending, harvest, enjoying the fresh produce and the activities of the young chickens and ducks. And making abundant use of the longer hours of daylight, most certainly.

I hold the belief that balance in all things is good. Most often that is a dynamic balance; up contrasted with down, long days with short and likewise the nights, and times of contentment with times of stress and distress. A life of total constant balance seems to me, to the extent that I am able to image such a time, to be beyond boring. Some seek happiness like an addict does his drug. At times it seems like our society does the same with safety. Now, I won't say "go forth and seek gloom, misery and woe" or sing the praises of danger, however without contrast, how can one truly appreciate the joys of life and without some risk... well, I, at least, would be tempted to succumb to an attitude of "why bother."

So, as the season is at cusp, let me put forth for your consideration this paraphrase of  Thoreau:  "Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and revel in the influences of each."

Here at hex central, we have most recently emerged from a 10 day spell of weather much colder than typical for the season, during which our hot water stopped running and in the back bathroom, all the water lines, and even two of the drains froze up. I waxed nostalgic for the days with my 1901 Home Comfort wood range (though even here in Main it would be too warm for its use in the summer), as it was easy to keep up to 3 large canning kettles on that stove top to heat sufficient water for dishes and bath, with room to spare for a skillet and a normal kettle. The stove top surface was no larger than that of my current gas range, but now being constrained to 4 distinct burner areas, the canners crowded even the smallest of other pots on the front burner eyes.

However, yesterday the cold spell broke and today the high was well above freezing, as is predicted for tomorrow as well. There has been some cold rain, which is supposed to freeze some tonight becoming sleet. The town trucks were out last night spewing sand and much of the area around the fowl pens that LOOKED like open earth or mud was covered early on with a transparent, thin layer of ice. I am sure it will be that way again tomorrow when I head for town in the pre-dawn hours, but with another day of melt under its belt, perhaps the walkway to the fowl and most of the driveway will clear. Snow is predicted for the end of the week, so any groundhogs peeking out of their burrows in my neighborhood likely won't need their shades. However he's better be prepared for a bit more of a nap, 'cause the likelihood of an early spring seems a bit weak to my bones. But we shall see...

Meanwhile I have used this bit of warmer weather to unearth the growing shelved from the garage and bring them in. Later in the week I'll prep the grow lights for the start of the onion and leek planting in a week or so.

Friday, January 25, 2013

External Confirmation

Not that I need it, but it is always nice to have palpable confirmation of the shimmers in the ethers when they are felt.

Yesterday's post was entitled "It's Getting to be 'That Time."

Today, just a few minutes ago in fact, we heard one of our hens carrying on with her "I laid an EGG!" songs. It's still well below freezing out there though above zero, sunny and the wind has subsided (Weather Underground puts the temp at 14 degrees) so we quickly went out to see if she was telling the truth, or just carrying on.

Lo and behold, our first egg of the year!

The hens have been on hiatus since late that fall, when the flocks -- both chickens and ducks -- were decimated by a weasel. Scared them enough, apparently, that they abruptly fell out of laying mode. Now, typically hens slow their laying way down, if not stopping completely, in winter due to longer nights, and begin laying again as the days get longer. Most poultry raisers light the coops during the winter to offset this tendency, as I did last year.

This year, though, I decided to let them "rest" both on account of the scare and because the box containing our poultry lights had gone missing in the garage. It surfaced a couple of weeks ago, and I was planning to install the illumination, but at this point, I think I will just let nature take her course.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Getting to That Time

Yes, indeed, it's getting there. The moon is all but full (two days hence) and then in less than a week a new month and all the while the tide is coming. The tide of change, again, of Spring Finding, or Imbolc as most call it. Before the land has begun to wake, here in the Northlands, and even before the days have lengthened perceptibly, you can feel it coming, if you reach out in the right way, if you are quiet enough and still enough and unplugged enough.

The tide always calls me with the remembering, or more exactly, the mis-remembering of a poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet:
If of thy worldly goods
thou art bereft. . .
and to thee alone
two loaves are left,
sell one,
and with the dole
to feed thy
Now, the original verse mentioned hyacinths, of course, but somehow, for me, it's always the bright sunny daffys that do the most to feed my soul, especially as the tide turns to Spring Finding with, yet, weeks remaining until it actually arrives.

It used to frustrate me when I lived in coastal North Carolina, that this wonderful little perennial, which grew so well there as a landscape plant, flowered in December and January!  "No!" I used to tell them, knowing full well it was vanity on my part. "You are too early! We need you in February!" I would find a bouquet or a planter in a store at the "right" time of year, though, usually. Until I moved to Maine. Here, it seems, the stores carry the bright sunshine-in-a-pot in January and not commonly again until March. Haven't figured that out yet. Nor have I put the effort into trying to "force" my own bulbs, for which I suffer a yearly bit of mild guilt.

I am keeping my eyes peeled and fingers crossed as this month ends, for daffys in a pot to adorn my altar starting next week. I have encouraged the turn of the seasons by seeding a planter that sits in the (sometimes) sunny front window, with lettuces for an early spring salad and I have set into electrons a planting plan for my garden, based on the seeds I had on hand and have ordered. It is not complete, as I will be adding additional varieties, likely eliminating some of the successive plantings and eventually indicating projected harvest dates, but if you are curious, you can download the excel file here. This two week period has been a "building toward" time. As the moon turns to wane, my moving forward will be focused more on clearing space, cleaning up and organizing. The planting rack will be brought back into the house, the supplemental lighting fixtures cleaned and bulbs checked and replaced as needed, to ready it for the first seedings (onions and leeks) in February.

On the hex sign front, I will shortly complete the prototype Blessed Year sign incorporating the Teutonic affirmation/mantra "Fé, Vit, Friðr, Grið, Heill."  These words mean "Wealth, Wisdom, Harmony, Security and Health." Said in this order it will perform a galdr (magikal operation) of prosperity and health for the person chanting them and thus, in my world, a fitting addition to the sign.

To the left is the digital comp. I'll post a photo of the actual sign once it is completed.

As we look forward to the coming full moon and the tide of Spring Finding, we are thankful that our northern home continues to keep us warm and dry though we are currently dealing with frozen HOT water pipes! We have been heating water on the range for the chickens and ducks, or dish washing and so on. Makes me really miss the old wood stove, upon which the canning kettle filled with heating water was pretty much a permanent fixture come winter time.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


If you have found your way here from a visit to Linda's Realm, welcome! If not, you really need to go visit her site. She is a heathen, a witch and lives in Norway. Isn't the Internet a wonderful medium for shrinking the globe!

Here in the wilds of central Maine, I am getting ready to work on my garden spreadsheet, and as always put more colors on the hex signs I am painting.

This year I have agreed to supply a buyer's coop in a nearby town with produce, so I need to have a good plan for what gets planted when, how often (succession planting to keep a fresh crop) and when to expect the harvest. Plan the work, then hopefully I will be able to work the plan AND keep the deer at bay this year. I need to get this done as it is almost time to begin some of the seeds (leeks and onions come to mind) indoors. Many people, even here, plant everything in their garden on the last weekend of May, regardless of whether the crop likes cooler weather and can germinate in cool soil or whether it needs much warmer conditions for optimal germination and growth. On that date, the weather has varied widely from year to year in the short time I have been in Maine, so my basic thought is... one weekend that is guaranteed to be hostile to MOST of the garden plantings!  LOL

When you see those seed packets saying to plant "as soon as the ground can be worked" they mean it! Those seeds like cool soil and cooler air temperatures to get the best start, often "bolting" (quickly going to seed) when the weather warms. If you have never had luck with spinach, planting too late is likely the culprit. Also, speaking of spinach, it LOVED rotted manure so for the best yield, throw down a good thick layer of goat or bunny dropping, or spread well rotted cow manure in the area where you plant spinach. I don't think you CAN use too much! Then get those seeds in the soil as soon as you can work it, and it has drained enough that you are not making mud pies! All of those "as soon as the ground can be worked" seeds can go in when you plant the spinach, and many of them would like a succession planting a few weeks later, and maybe even after that, depending on how quickly your season heats up. Try it and make notes on your calendar about how well the plantings grow, when you harvest them and when they go to seed. That will give you a better idea for the following years.

If you want to grow things that are most commonly set out as seedlings, you don't need a greenhouse, but to keep the baby plants from getting too tall, spindly and weak ("leggy) you can't just put them in a sunny, south-facing window. You will need to augment that window light with at least one fluorescent "shop light." You need to keep the light CLOSE to the seedlings -- only an inch or two away -- but you ordinary bulbs will work just fine. There is no need for the extra expense of "grow lights." Make sure to have a fan nearby, blowing on your plants, or at the very least, brush you hand gently over them several times a day. Consider is "isometric exercises for your plants" because this does, indeed, help them to grow stronger!

Even if you only  have a porch or a deck and think you do not have room to grow anything, I think it is well worth the effort to try a few fresh herbs, or a "patio" tomato in pots. These green growing things will not only provide you with a bit of extra fresh flavor in their time, but also help connect you with the larger natural world, and freshen the air as well!

Happy growing!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Witch Is Back

Wonderful Frigga's Day just past! I think starting my thinking along Frigga lines on Thorsday, when I clean the stove with her in mind, and light Her candle as darkness comes has proven its worth. With the day just past dedicated to Her, a seemingly monumental amount has been accomplished, with no fatigue or knee pain involved.

My first task was to gather and sort trash for our monthly, or thereabouts, trash run to the dump. We practice serious trash minimization protocols, with the awareness of the waste generated as much in our minds as the products we purchase, and focus, whenever possible, upon making the necessary waste something that can go into the recycle stream. However, my partner has not yet got the complete understanding of what specific items cannot be sent to the "zero-sort" recycling facility. This amounts to thermal paper receipts, plastic bags and things that are really, really trash -- like spent q-tips. Most candy wrappers, now, are made of stuff that cannot recycle, as well as many of the other "resealable" bagged products. So I sort. Ended up, as usual, with more to recycle than to trash but the trash needed taking as I had offal from a small pig we made use of to dispose of. In the process of doing that, I gathered all the receipts that were not needed but had accumulated on my desk, filed the beginning accumulation for this year in the accordion file I acquired, stacked the final accumulation from last year in a pile to go through and file when I do my taxes, if not sooner, thus clearing the desk.

In the process of gathering up trash from various parts of the house, I came across the plastic "insider" storm window stuff that had been brought in from the garage and applied it to one of the most troublesome windows, a full length set of two in the dining area. Feels much warmer in the kitchen now! Also on the list for today was changing the bed linens, plucking one of the angora bunnies, plying my first two spindles of wool yarn and painting on two of the hex signs in process. And supper.. can't forget to eat!

At some point in the afternoon, as I was working away with the efficiency of old and feeling no pain, it came to me that it was time to complete one of the mini projects that had been hanging fire since early fall. That was when we removed the window in which my "The Witch is IN" sign had sat, when I remembered to put it there (which had not been terribly often this past year. Lack of energy from the anemia and shingles that afflicted me kinda put the damper on lots to less essential stuff, in favor of focus on the likes of keeping fed and clothed well enough to go to work.)

The window was replaced by a sliding glass door, sitting next to the original full length glass panel door which is falling apart. Plans, not yet realized, are to replace that panel with its intact twin, currently swinging on the side of a half completed shed attachment to the garage (came with the place) and mount it as a fixed window instead of a door. Three panels of light to illuminate the se
edling grow rack and light/warm the living room! But this left no place for the witch sign to sit. I had planned to hang it in the non-opening panel, in such a position as to not interfere with either the slider opening or the curtain rod operations. Curtains have also not been installed yet, but at least I have the extra-wide traverse rod, pleating tape and pins and plans!

Anyway, the realization came to me, yesterday, while working with Frigga, that the time was NOW. The witch is back and the sign needs to return to its place. And so it has, today.

Thank you Frigga!

Also, sitting before my Frigga candle last eve I plied the first two spindles of  wool that I have spun on my recently assembled spinning wheel.And, wow! It looks like yarn!  Not terribly consistent yarn, mind you but yarn indeed and when I have made enough I am going to crochet a hat from it, using a pattern that I found online today. This wool has been worked "in the grease," that is to say it has not been washed and still holds the lanolin from the sheep. I love the feel of it in and on my hands as I card and spin.

I'll make a bit more wool yarn they likely try playing with the angora from our bunnies.

It is so neat to see things coming together again, to feel that "in the flow" feeling and , Eir and Frigga willing, it will continue thus through the year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Invoke Positive Change with the Moon

With the new moon tomorrow, we can begin a new cycle of creation. I recently suggested to a friend who is nearing the end of her available unemployment compensation, and who also enjoys gardening, that she find and plant a few seeds of some plant that will grow in her climate, that evokes in her mind a feeling of abundance. While it is still just a bit early to start most of our garden seedlings here in the far north, I know many folks who start just a few of something for symbolic reasons, either in their greenhouses or in a warm place on a sunny window sill, where they can supply a bit of extra light during our short winter days. For me, the waxing moon, which approaches us soon, is the time for bringing forth... for setting things in motion. In two weeks we will see the waning moon, and it will again be time to clean, organize, sort, and carry off the things that occupy space and mind but whose time in our lives has passed. I also would like to share what has come to me over the past couple of weeks while I focused on "de-junking." A thought came to me, as I have been struggling through the past "crazy season" of working in retail and trying -- somewhat less than successfully -- to maintain a routine of devotions to Frigga on her day. Perhaps I should try beginning my more intense focus on Frigga on the EVE of her day, Thursday night, which might set my mind more in a path in keeping with the day when it dawned. The jury is still out, but for the last couple of weeks, I have lit my Frigga candle on the small altar on my kitchen chopping block as I began to prepare our evening meal. I lit the stove burners from Her candle, with thanks, and worked on my spinning wheel the first week and spun tonight, while supper cooked. I don't tend to get so caught up in the spinning that I burn dinner (which is serious problem when I am working at the computer, even when I am sitting with it, in sight of the stove. And, I have found, each of my hand carded wool bats contains just enough wool too make it easy to time the kitchen breaks to stir or monitor the cooking.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gathering Energies

I am seriously feeling the energies gathering over the past week or so. It seems, in my mind at least, that the Gods must be pleased with something..perhaps my finally having completed the finish and assembly of my spinning wheel. I had my partner shoot a quick video of my first bit of spinning.. He's tall and looking down, so I will get other shots later. But for now, here!

Not sure if that will work... is something new for me, but I am thinking about doing a series of "Grandma on the Farm" videos to share with the grand kids and so I need the practice! I am also working on answering questions in email for an online interview regarding my hex work, and working on a guest post for a new friend's blog... subject being in the realm of art. Lots of writing and not much time, especially this week, as my part time job has hit me with three full 8 hour days. The first one is in the bag. But with all that is happening I feel energized and upbeat. At least for now. Ask me again on Thursday evening, I may have a different opinion.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Distaff' Day"

My Louet spinning wheel, built from their
kit and dedicated to Frigga. Painted with
"heart-tulips" sending out growing faith
and love and I spin and surrounded with
scalloped border for smooth sailing
through life.

Traditionally, the day that women resumed their work after the holidays. I know it was traditional for women to put down their spinning and other work for a period during the holiday. I know I have read accounts of such traditions, but for the life of my cannot find the right search terms to provide a link at the moment. Very frustrating...

However, a fiber group to which I sort of belong (it's a loose group of women who gather in the farming museum at the land grant college here, on Wednesdays and the first Saturday) mentioned "St Distaff's day" in their weekly email this week and that I was able to research a bit. There was no saint, and it is not really a holiday, but a nod to the tradition of putting aside work for a tide; the work was again resumed, the day after Epiphany, and was called after the tool most often associated with women since Biblical times, if not earlier: the distaff.

This wheel, as a kit to finish and assemble, was a gift from my wonderful K earlier in the year. I did not know that he had arranged to secure it for me at the time when I was whining on the internet about not being able to find one that (a) I could afford and (b) that had all it parts so that it would work. My whining was responded to by an online fiber friend and spiritual sister, who, as part of her preparation to move, offered me an old Indian Head spinner... initially offering to post the head, but then arranging the 'great spinning wheel railroad' of co-coreligionists and fiber folk to carry the entire wheel literally from coast to coast!

Shortly after the Indian Head wheel arrived, K presented me with the box containing the wheel, above. I knew immediately I wanted to dedicate this wheel to Frigga, and to decorate it with a hex sign. I also knew that the summer gardening season was NOT the season to try to carve out time to work on this project, though I did put the hex design on the back burner, to simmer, as I worked on other projects.

The "heart tulip" design is one I originated many years ago. I used it first as a motif on hand stamped Christmas cards, symbolizing growing love. What better design for All-Mother Frigga than this, surrounded with a scalloped border for "smooth sailing through life!

I painted the wheel by bits, thought the fall, as I worked on other signs and after the growing season was done and we approached and entered the Winter season, I began sanding and applying the urethane finish to the wooden parts. Last evening, beside the small altar on my butcher block in my kitchen, before the candle that was lit to honor Frigga on the eve of her day, I assembled the wheel.

Honey Bunny
Today, I shall begin spinning, first with some of the 'three bags full" of wool I have been hand carding, and then, later, with the brushings from our Angora bunnies, Rufus, HoneyBunny, Cotton and Cloud.
Cloud, sitting on K for his grooming.
But first we need to get a path cleared to bring the propane tank around the house so we can carry ti to be filled, and I need to package up two hex signs (and writing this reminds me that I have yet to photograph them!) to take to the post office... which I see will NOT happen today, as it's nearly 11 and that's when they close. Ah, well... Monday then. At least that is a short work-in-town day! The work flow is what it is, as folks say today. I'll go with "don't push the river..."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hello, 2013!

My habit for many years, for the time of calendar changing, has been to set foot into the new calendar with intent and start it in the way I would like it to proceed.

...Thus no late night drunken orgies here, often a night of cleaning, but of late a good night's sleep and a productive first day is on order. Working in town changes the flow.

This calendar started with a "good drying day" with sun and wind, despite sub-freezing temperatures. I had to shovel my way out to the clothes line and would have been better served to don snow shoes after freeing the dog yard gate, but I did not. My calendar opening washing -- two loads -- did indeed dry, though it took a couple of  hours after coming in, draped over the drying rack, for the cold to come off and for me to tell that the thicker fabrics and elastic waistbands were indeed dry. Prosaic? yes... but I see a good omen for domestic productivity here.

I have also been busy with hex building, design work and should be ready to assemble my new spinning wheel tomorrow... to dedicate it on Frigga's day this week!

I am thankful for having a home that is mostly warm and dry (though in these days with sub-zero wind chills, the warm can be slow in coming) and full of love, human and critter.