Friday, August 30, 2013

"Be Careful What You Wish For"

We've likely heard it many times, the cautionary statement "be careful what you wish for." We know that the Fates, the Norns, the Powers That Be, by whatever names you know them, can be capricious and literal in ways we would never expect.

Let me add another caveat to that caution: "wishing" is not always what you think it is.

We all know of the formal wish.. upon a star, over a birthday cake or whatever or even the ad hoc "gee, I wish...." but wishes come is multiple disguises and some of them, as much as the formal ones, can come back and bite us.

Many years ago, leaving a failed marriage and having to leave a backwoods life that I truly enjoyed, despite the myriad of physical challenges (we were "beyond the power lines, without electricity -- or the associated tools -- and with chickens"as I used to write. We heated and cooked with wood, had light from kerosene and later 12v electricity before it became an accepted option, and I walked everywhere in our remote community) in order to get work. Folks then and there did not believe that someone would reliably drive 30+ miles for a relatively low wage temp job, and while it was not a problem for me in the summer, I chose to avoid the issues inherent in a "no matter what" commitment that involved hills, curves, ice, snow and unreliable plows.

So I moved to town (at least in the winter) and at one point I quipped -- only in jest, you know how that goes -- that I was going to move to town "and become fat and lazy."

Fast forward 20 years...

Not so sure about the "lazy" but those capricious Powers That Be latched on to the "fat" with the inhuman tenacity they can muster.  Fifty pounds are nothing to the Gods, but, by God, far too many for me to have added, and allowed to settle in and get comfortable on an aging frame.

Now, down 20 of them, I am determined to meet retirement next year "in fighting form." And I guess I'll get there fighting not just my body, but the quirks of the Powers that heard my unintentional wish.

So, watch out for those non-wishes... they bite

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Garden 2014

Hard to believe I am plotting next year's garden, already, in my mind!

On one hand, though, this is a good time to start it, as the successes and failures are either unfolding before my eyes, or at least recent enough to still stick in the rusty steel sieve that suffices for a brain these days.

Next year, I plan to space the "planted from seed, not very tall" crops such that the tractor can drive OVER the row and cultivate on either side. This will involve removing inner blades from the tiller and perhaps the innermost cultivator tines but it will allow me to double up on rows and at the same time plant SINGLE, rather than double rows. This will, I hope, make the hand weeding immediately adjacent to the plants, easier.

I also need to design a spreadsheet to categorize crops based on how they are planted (seed or transplant), their height, and factors such as days to maturity (to separate crops that remain in the ground for the entire season, like onions, leeks and potatoes from those that mature and get removed and replanted, like lettuce) and how much extra care they typically take (like potatoes, for example, need frequent bug patrol, but winter squash seem to thrive unmolested.)

I would like to keep the long season, less care crops in the west garden until it fills with perennials in a few years, and reserve the east garden for the crops that need more attention.

I need to remember that Dakota and Early Frosty peas were the common varieties that set well (though Dakota was earlier than  EF!) and to focus on them and eliminate the other varieties that I have been trying. I will still hit the petit pois varieties heavy, though, as they are my favorite.

I plan on buying rolls of heavy craft paper (width yet to be determined) as weed block for the annual transplants. The perennial rows will be transitioned from weed block fabric to a cardboard and mulch hay system. ALL annual transplants will go in papered rows... including onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, brassica and vine crops.

And the poultry WILL BE CONTAINED or kept from the garden somehow! As will the deer. Thus far, the electric fence seems to be working for them.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Year (more or less) Of Transition

For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, I am officially an "old fart"... or an old crone, which actually fits me better. I turned 65 this year and thus qualified to begin the insanity of dealing with Medicare. The full Social Security Follies being next year when I reach "full retirement age." I have a lot of company, it seems, as I keep seeing articles about the Boomer generation reaching retirement age, with lots of suggestions and warnings.

I know for sure we are not all alike. Learned that again a few months ago when I called the local Area on Aging to get some questions answered about the extra stuff you are required to buy for insurance when you sign up for Medicare. They would not just answer what I thought was a simple question, but insisted that I attend a two hour class... 99% of which had no relevance to me. Their information was aimed at affluent (... well, at least middle class, if there is such a thing these days) retirees. They had no class for "po' folks" like this not-startive-but-not-rolling-in-dough artist. I knew for sure there was no money in the budget to pay for additional "part this" or "part that" insurance. I'm not proud to say it, but what medical care I have had of late has been provided by my local hospital on their "sliding scale" ... which I fell off the bottom of with room to spare. The only "reassurance" the AA folks could give me was that "if" I qualified for help paying the additional premiums, what I had paid would be refunded to my Social Security. ... which I don't receive for a year. They were also kind enough to point out that since I was not drawing my benefit yet, I would be billed for these new, required insurances quarterly.

What they did NOT say was that, as official po' folk (receiving food stamps), most likely I would automatically be enrolled in my state medical program when I turned 65. The application for both programs is the same and they "vet" you for both upon each year's update. I was automatically enrolled even before I bit the bullet and filled out the Medicare forms.

THAT stress is out of the way (though I am pretty sure I will have to dedicate an entire file cabinet to insurance crap by next year, even though I am really not under the doctor's care for anything. My knees -- a chronic condition -- were put on the "call us when you can't stand the pain" basis by the specialist a few years ago). But as I work toward being able to draw my SS pittance (my only pension) it occurred to me that setting aside this year, more or less, as an official Year of Transition would be a good thing.

I have one very concrete goal: eliminate my credit card debt and any other debt that I can before I stop working my part time job. My SS will be a bit (but not much) less than I make on average from my part time job in town. There is a mortgage, a school loan and that's about it. There is overhead... utilities, fuel, repairs, etc. of course and I do have a partner who helps with expenses. And I do not plan to stop painting hex signs (actually will have more time to do this work that I so enjoy!) nor to stop gardening. Whether I continue to sell produce is up in the air at present.

My retirement actually won't look all that much different that life now, I hope. ..Minus the 4 or 5 days a week trips to Bangor and plus about $200 a month that I won't be spending on gas to get to work, that is...I have no desire to travel, to move, to do anything much different other than be more able to live the life that I have chosen more in tune with the seasons, the flow of work on the farm and the ebb and flow of my energy.

As part of my Year of Transition, I will be starting to ask for my holidays as days off, beginning with Equinox this fall. Being able to set aside days to sync with the seasons is something I miss by being in the mundane retail universe.

And that is where I am now on this journey. More updates later, as they happen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

BIG Inspiration!

More than just a "little Inspiration," this is a 4' diameter Inspiration
hex sign
Have I told you lately how much I love making BIG hex signs?  No? Well I'm going to! The largest they come (unless you have a big barn, lots of scaffolding or a nice "cherry picker," and are willing to cover my expenses for a week or so "away" while I mostly sit around (or help out on the farm) while waiting for the paint to dry) is a 4' diameter circle. The size is limited by the plywood from which I cut the disks. And honestly, a 4' circle of 3/4" thick exterior plywood is a bit to handle. A whole sheet, which is how I buy it of course, is twice as heavy and a real challenge to deal with in the winter, when the ol' farm truck, Artie, gets a rest in favor of the 4wd Subaru. Artie hauls the wood with ease. Actually Boo, the car, does as well... but getting the sheet to the roof rack without damage to the car is work, even with the help of the lumber yard guys, who are often notably less careful about the car's paint job than one might like.

Workout aside, I have discovered that the best way to cut the disk (since, at less than 5' tall, I don't have the reach with a jig saw that I would like) is to climb on top of the wood to cut the edge of the disk that runs through the center of the plywood sheet. Since I usually lay the plywood on my large garden cart, with it's metal sides up, the surface of the wood is thankfully low enough that this operation does not require a ladder. Sanding the disk is next, followed by priming. Of course priming, like drawing and painting the design, requires a large flat surface.

I typically paint my signs on a 2' diameter circular table (with a hex painted on it, of course!) but the large signs take up a LOT of room and that area in the studio is somewhat crowded, so the kitchen table -- itself circular and 3' diameter -- makes a better resting place for the 4' signs. An added feature to using the much larger and heavier kitchen table is that I can lever the sign against the edge of the table when placing it to paint, or flipping it to prime the back side.

This does render the kitchen table useless for typical kitchen table chores, though, for the duration of the drawing and painting. It is currently canning season... with a small kitchen and a large garden, well let's just say that I get added motivation to paint efficiently!

Remember that workout I was talking about? Well, no workout is complete without stretches, right? And the Painting a Big Hex workout has those too! My arms have not gotten any longer since I had to cut across 4' of plywood, so drawing and then painting the center of the design is something best done standing, and the stretch goes from the legs, up the back and down the arms. Relax into it, then straighten and do a back bend... Could this maybe be "hex yoga?"

Usually I paint from the inside out, as much as the colors will allow. Starting with the lighter colors allows a bit of "trapping" to borrow a term from my graphic design career, and eliminates white or light color lines between two areas of color when the background color shows through.

Of course, since I am using exterior house paint for these projects, each element in the design, each color, gets at least two coats. That makes for some nice stretching time, and meditation as well, as the larger signs, with their larger areas of color, make it easy to fall into "the zone."  It's exciting to see the design develop, no matter what size sign I am painting, but the large ones really seem to reach out and grab you!

I have a run of small and indoor signs in the queue at present... not a one over 12" diameter. They will be sitting here and there about the studio, drying colors between coats and there will be many cans, jars and tubes of paint laying around for a while as I work on multiple designs on both fabric and wood, for the next couple of weeks. It's a good change of pace.

But I have half a sheet of 3/4" ply in the garage that is calling me and I anxiously await the next BIG order. In the coming weeks I will be adding a financing option to the store page so watch for the news of that feature. There will be no reason not to order the big signs if you want one (well... maybe you will need a bigger barn... )

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Feel Like Autumn

Ornamental Japanese Lantern plants in the perennial
"herb" garden; perannial herbs doing great, annual ones, less so.
August is usually NOT my favorite month. Nor September, either... though with the coming of equinox, the month grows on me as it progresses. My first thoughts of September, though, always reflect an Ogden Nash poem... September is Summer Too. August is, however, usually just plain summer, and with it many of the things that do not make it my favorite season. Yes, I understand it is a needful thing that we have heat, and sunshine. I know the garden needs, and even loves the heat and sun at this time of the year, and for that I tolerate it. I know many folks lives allow for this to be vacation time, and that they enjoy spending hours laying and playing in the heat, and cooling off in the water of lakes, streams, beaches and pools of many variety. This is not the life I have chosen, nor would it be for many reasons.  So, normally, I do my best to keep the complaints down to a dull roar, take my antidepressant herbs as needed, focus on the garden and survive the month.

Thus far, this August has been remarkably amenable to my constitution, however. We have had temperatures in the 70s... high 70s some days, low 70s like today on other days. And we have had rain, clouds (both partially sunny days and overcast ones like today) with have been mostly minus the insufferable humidity of last month. I am liking it. Even the garden seems to be liking it, for the tomato crop is starting to ripen, the cucumbers have slowed down their fruiting and growth to a manageable level and the cloudy spells have given me enough respite from the typical unremitting sunshine that I have thus far not needed to dig out the St. John's Wart.

The cool mornings call for my fuzzy boots when I arise at 4 AM and a jacket when I leave for work at 5 -- atypical for the month -- and the cool breezes from the north whisper echoes of autumn... from where or when I do not know.

Usually, about this time of year, I begin to notice certain branches on a tree here and there on my normal routes, that take on fall colors well in advance of the season, and of the rest of their tree. Thus far, though, this year, these early color flags seem to be lagging. I am not sure whether to expect a colder than usual, or warmer than usual, winter... but I am sure it will be one or the other.

Hex painting continues: I have an oak leaf design almost ready to ship (2', should go Monday) and a huge Inspiration design just being started that is occupying my kitchen table. That is not optimal for canning season, but will leave my smaller painting table free for the 1' and indoor signs that must be started. I can work on a number of them at a time, since after applying a color I can easily move the smaller signs off the painting bench while they dry. All of the smaller blanks are cut and the fabric has been stretched for the indoor signs, so hopefully they will get started today.

This is, thus far, a cool and rainy day (thought the falling water has stopped for now) which calls me to work indoors. There are, however, veggies to be picked, processed and delivered to the buyers club today to fill orders, so I will be out to do that in a bit.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Four Done Eight to Go!

Four small signs shipped today!
It isn't very often when I get a chance to inundate the Post Office with a shipment, but today was one of those great days! The signs shown above all are headed off to different homes now. Upper left is a Protection sign, upper right a custom design for a wedding, lower left the popular Natural Balance and lower right, Inspiration. All are 1' exterior signs.

Now, on the painting table I will draw and begin to paint a 2' Might Oak, and I need to cut, sand an prime the circle for a 4' sign and two more small ones. Rainy day today and the garage is crowded, so that will wait for dry weather, hopefully tomorrow.

Meanwhile,there are also several indoor signs on order, so I will need to stretch muslin on some 10" and 12" frames. I'll do that tonight so the glue can dry overnight and I can start painting tomorrow.

Meanwhile there are still cucumbers to make into pickles. My other half has a request in for bread and butters, so I need to hunt up a recipe. I have been working hard to get ahead of this particular stream of abundance and have enough small fruit to make small, whole dills. I have succeeded to some degree, so there will be some of these to can as well. Last picking did NOT yield another 1/4 bushel, but merely a good layer in the bottom of the peck basket. Picking every other day works, and should make be able to fill the buyer's club orders this week, too.

I am looking forward to the next week, as the weather guessers seem to think the cooler (low 70s) temperatures  will hang around for a while, as well as overcast or partly cloudy days. I know the garden needs sun, too... but when I can have at least partly cloudy skies, I am much happier. Even when the temps have been friendly, a bright sunny day gives me pause. Too much time spent in climates where I felt that "ol' brazen face" was attacking every time I saw his glory, I guess.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvest Feast

In the world of the pagan folk, harvest feasts and festivals -- a time to celebrate nature's bounty and our hard work, to give thanks for what is and to petition the Gods for their continued blessings -- come more often.  Not surprising, I guess, considering that much of the focus of this path is on nature and the natural year.

Traditionally, at this time of the summer, there is a holiday for the "first harvest" which is focused on bread. Traditionally, or so I read, early August was when the grain harvest was begun. Honestly I am not sure about that, as when I lived in wheat growing country, in various locations in the US, I seem to remember the harvest beginning a bit later in the month and possibly going well into September. However it is, the tradition was codified by the Christian church into Lammas (in which a loaf of bread was blessed) and is also often referred to as Lughnasadh.

Not being a follower of any of those traditions, I just call it "first harvest" and use it as a time to be thankful for what my fields and flocks have provided me here on my four acres, and to reflect and plan a bit for the next year's efforts.

This year I have much to be thankful for! Despite ongoing tractor follies and, of late, increase pain and discomfort from the ol' knees, this is the first year since we landed her that I have been able to serve a harvest meal all but totally based in food grown on these lands! I say "all but" for the fact that we do not make the vinegar or oil required for mayonnaise. 

In fact, not only our supper, but also our breakfast will come from the farm. We will shortly break our fast with a dish of new potatoes -- three varieties, dug yesterday -- fried with onions rescued from a swerve of the tractor/tiller two days past and eggs from our hens and ducks.  The single mature duck has resumed laying after a rest, hopefully to soon be accompanied by her three young companions.

Red Rangers, center, with Amerucana left and RI Red right.
Supper will feature the "first harvest" of our Red Ranger meat birds, potato salad which will include boiled egg, onion, green pepper and cucumber also grown here and that mayo that requires off-farm ingredients as well as a small picking of green peas and a salad made from bountiful cucumbers, accompanied by onions and green peppers as well. I shall toast the Gods and the harvest with a glass of my dandelion wine, and offer a portion of the supper to the land (likely to be consumed by the fowl) and a bit of wine to the wights. I will give thanks for the abundant harvest of veggies and meat, both eaten and to come, and for the constant interest in my hex signs and flow of orders.

Four small outdoor hex signs,  in various stages of completion.
Also on the schedule for today: I will be completing three small outdoor hex signs to ship tomorrow. Another is done, just waiting for it's unique ID to be written on the back, holes drilled for mounting, and to be packaged. There are still more in the queue, so hopefully I shall get at least one more outside one drawn and the fabric stretched for several indoor ones. I had actually considered dropping them from the offerings, as I had not had an order for but one over the past many months... but then came orders for 4, so they shall stay. Despite not being a lucrative line, I do wish to offer them as an option, to keep my work available to those (like me) for whom a $70 art purchase is not in the budget. As soon as I can find time to include it on the website, I shall be offering an option to finance purchases over $100 also... a little incentive for the upcoming holiday gift-giving season.

Regardless of my recent difficulty walking on the rough, uneven ground I am so thankful to be here, now, doing all that I do.