Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Year of Transition -- Stuff and Things and Strings and Such

I have been thinking a lot about THINGS of late, physical, material things... not so much in the sense that "thinking about things" is often meant. You see, in this Year of Transition I am very aware that I am stepping onto the pages of the last volume of my life... the true "crone years" which will inevitably end in my demise. No, I'm not expecting to turn that corner any time soon and to be honest I hope I don't. There are far too many things undone, projects incomplete -- let alone unstarted -- and seasons to be savored, unfettered by having to get myself off to work regularly. And while I hope to be able to meet the turn to the Summerlands with grace and dignity -- I have no fear of whatever comes next, or even of just ending if that be the case, when the time comes -- I have been thinking about what shall become of the Things that have become attached to me over the years.

I see everything that exists as having a thread -- or threads -- in what I call the Tapestry of Life. Every rock, tree, seed, every bit of trash, road sign, person, animal... as they come into existence and "move" through time, has at least one thread. That stop sign at the corner, most likely it has just one. But should it become a part of an accident scene... or lovers' memories as they steal a brief kiss on the way home from a noteworthy date... well it will likely pick up more threads as it attaches to the situations and memories that surround it.

We humans are bundles of bundles of threads. Just think about it; when we get stressed and confused and loose our way, we often say we "have become unraveled!" Our stout strand, which is at once unique and discernible in the Tapestry can get lost amonst the myriad of other threads, as we loose our focus and are pulled here and there by the strands of this person and that, this situation and the next one.

And associated with our bundle are many smaller threads, of the many things that pass through our lives, some more fleeting (that doughnut you grabbed on the way to work this morning) and some that unexpectedly become part of our lives and memories: a favorite sweater, a needed tool that fits the hand perfectly, a coffee mug gifted by a friend that brings to mind both friend and shared experience.

At least that's how I see the world.

I know that "stuff" has power in other ways, as well. Our common culture hounds us with the notion that if we only have the right stuff, wear the right stuff, eat the right stuff... well that we will somehow BE successful, beautiful... and it seems they are always upping the ante, because for the purveyors of said stuff to be successful, they need to keep selling more and more of it.

So "Stuff" also has the power to enslave us -- whether it by pursuit of it (just need a little bit more and I will be... ) or by possession of it (think hoarders here, but stuff also frequently needs upkeep and maintenance...)

Stuff can also bind us in a good way. That heirloom vase from Grandma Jane, even if from the Five and Dime, which sat on her table all spring and summer with bouquets from the garden; which sat in a cupboard in mom's tidy apartment, to be brought out only when tiny hands proffered bunches of dandelions from the park; which finds its way into the heart and home of one of the dandelion-bringers years hence... That humble vase and its thread of memories connect generations across eons.

I have to wonder, though, if the Stuff of the modern world will have such power two generations down the road? And if not, how much will be lost of the connections between years, and generations?

I have been thinking about my Stuff, as you can probably tell. Thinking that it's time to get a will made. Wondering what of my Stuff I should bequeath -- and just how to manage it. None of my stuff has any intrinsic value. I don't have any "vintage toys" in their "original packaging." No valuable antiques. Oh, likely there is an antique or two but equally likely I am still using them for their intended purpose!  And I wonder if any of my stuff will have the kind of power that they do for me, for my offspring -- most of whom grew up being actively mothered by their father's third wife.

I have a camera bag full of camera stuff: the Kodak Brownie that I used as a girl in the late 50s; the Pentax SLR that followed the Brownie when I needed an SLR to use with my telescope; the 3-D still camera with it's two lenses I used to shoot slides in the late 60s... and others accumulated along the way, all using various types of actual film. THEY have lots of threads and power for me; as much as I like my current digital camera, it's just a tool.

I have those vases from Grandma Katie, that were mom's... and a big one that "came with the house" along the way. I have the first vegetable peeler I ever liked (and still use it!); the blade was firmly affixed to its handle, not like the popular ones that rattle and shake. When the blade and handle parted company, the kid's dad carved me a new one from a piece of wood; it's still on the peeler and the tool is in everyday use. I have a bottle and can opener that also needed a new handle, which was carved by the kids' dad and which we painted bright yellow and red -- like many of our tools in "the canyon years" to make them easier to find in the woods and to mark them as ours at community pot lucks.
I have two flat whisks -- reminiscent of the one my grandmother used to make gravy, which for a long time was the only way I COULD make gravy. Somewhere along the way, Grandmother's whisk vanished (did I leave it with the girls when I separated from their dad?) and I looked in vain for a replacement for years. When I finally found one, I bought TWO (under the principle of "one to use, one to loose" that I have espoused for years). I don't use them much now, as I have learned to make gravy with the more common style whisk or -- amazingly -- with a fork, like my mother did!

I have a cloth coat with a fox fur collar -- currently in need of re-lining (that's on the "when I retire, next fall, do it" list) that belonged to a favorite aunt. I used to have my mom's mink stole, but while that fur held energy and power for Mom, it never had much meaning for me. For that energy, I was glad to get my aunt's coat. I know Mom had wanted a mink "coat" for a long time. I really don't know why. Perhaps it meant, to her, that the daughter of a first-generation immigrant - who spoke English with a think German accent to the day she died, having given up her mother tongue in the war years (WWI) - and a railroad breakman-turned-farmer - RN and wife of a small town school teacher had reached the middle class. Perhaps it said to her that my dad really did love her... even though it was only a stole and not a coat and likely not the best mink on the planet.  I only recall her wearing it once or twice and mostly it hung in the back of her closet. My aunt wore her coat all fall, winter and spring and looked SO glamorous with the pouffy collar and 3/4 sleeves, which called for long, elbow-length gloves. My aunt, the wife of a doctor, bought her coat herself, out of the proceeds of her business -- a china and gift shop that grew out of a ceramics hobby shared by Aunt Berniece and several of her friends. And I think, even as a young girl, the impact of that context spoke to me.

And I have many, many "witchey" things... candle holders, cornucopias, seasonal trinkets that decorate the altar in their turn... from Odin-esque versions of "Father Christmas," tiny fir and birch trees to a turtle shell, three-frequency pine cone branch... you get the idea. Each is full of history and meaning and most were found, gathered or made. ...Things with energies that do not need to be thrown into a box and into the trash -- or sent anonymously to a charity store.  ...Things that need to find homes, when I am no longer actively working these threads, with folks who WILL.

And so, I have been thinking about Things and about Stuff In General. No conclusions... just thoughts, hopefully some conclusions will come along in time.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Tide is Turning

I am not one to wish my life away, waiting for the next season. I do, however, acknowledge and greet the seasons' turnings... not at instants, moments, a day here and there when the sun sits on a balance point or reaches zenith or nadir... but as they build energy and wane, like the ocean tides that come and go.

Currently we are approaching the mid point between winter solstice -- the nadir -- and vernal equinox -- the first balance point between light and dark. This cross quarter is known as Imbolc, celebrated with media frenzy as Ground Hog Day and known sometimes as Charming of the Plow. I call it "spring finding" as it opens the door to the noticeable increase in day length and other hints that spring it on its way.

I went out this morning to do chores and found this sign of approaching spring! Without being given a heated or lighted home, the first of our Americana hens has laid an egg. Chickens, like all northern birds that I know of, take a much needed rest as the nights lengthen in late fall. Farmers who have lights in their chicken coops, and turn them on to keep the birds awake for several hours or more each day can usually keep them laying through the winter. I prefer to give mine a rest, and only give them increased light, if I do, starting about this time of year when they naturally begin to lay.

I am personally beginning to have more interest in working more on projects that imply spring. I started germination testing my lettuce seeds, and am using the seedlings in planters that I grow under lights which give us some early greens, usually before equinox and definitely while the ground outside is still frozen.

My first (early) see order has been made and received; I needed onion, leek and celery seeds which I will start next weekend. Also, next weekend, I am presenting a talk on "What to Plant When" at the permaculture center at the University of Maine in Orono. I find that many people do not know that there are plants that prefer an early, cool start. Many of these plants benefit from an extra early start, indoors under lights or in a bright windowsill... like my onion seeds. After trying it a couple of years ago, I was pleased with the yield from the seedling started onions, especially when compared with the cost of onion sets or plants from a garden center. This way I can pick varieties that are known to be good keepers, also, rather than being at the mercy of the garden center's buyer.

Along with the increase in light, it seems, has come an increase in hex sign orders! Though I have not officially opened orders for the year -- I have some changes I want to make to the web site -- they are coming in. I was happy to be able to ship an order of 6 indoor signs to New York State. This order was from earlier in 2013, but was held on account of my not having been able to meet the initial short deadline, to arrive before the customers took off for an extended vacation. Signs ordered for this home included:
Blessed Year

Mighty Oak

Abundance and Prosperity

Earth Star Flower

...and two Abundance signs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Living a Seasonal Life

Ice storm has taken the clothes line "off line" for several weeks.
It's January Thaw here in Maine this week! This typical seasonal phenomenon -- when our normal winter freezing to sub-zero temperatures give way to a week or so of well above freezing, often sunny days and nights that barely drop below 32 degrees, if they far that fall -- has been even more of a blessing this year. Even I, who loves winter, is appreciating Mother Nature's ice melt. It comes after a major ice storm which left at least a quarter of an inch of ice everywhere and much of it has remained on trees and plants much longer than they are comfortable with. In winter, though, those of us who live in the northern latitudes should expect ... and be prepared for... cold and snow.

I hear many, many people, however, who almost from the beginning of the season complain. Mostly, though, they don't say "I'm cold." or "Walking on the ice sucks." or even "I am planning to move/retire to (insert name of southern latitude location) and will be very glad when the time comes that I can get there." No, instead they say "I hate winter." Really, folks.. it is a season, it happens EVERYWHERE. Get over it.

Then it occurred to me to wonder, since as one of my co-workers often says, one should "default to the stupid", if they even realize there ARE options! I know I have lived a LOT more places, and in more states/climates/environments than most folks would even consider. And I read, and am interested in science, weather, etc. So, perhaps, the winter-haters do not understand the nuances of weather. Perhaps, while I would expect everyone in the US to know that snow in Florida, Texas, Los Angeles, etc is uncommon enough to make the news if it should happen, perhaps the extent of a southern climate that might be more to their liking has escaped the notice of often geographically challenged minds. Perhaps,if it is the long nights that plague them, they do not realize that while the extremes of change in length of day/night from summer to winter are a northern phenomenon, the opposite is true the closer you get to the equator. In southern latitudes. The June day length in Miami is 14.25 hours; in Maine it is a bit over  15.5 In winter, Miami shrinks to 10.5 and in Bangor ME, 8.75. That makes the difference in our northern latitude 7 hours as opposed to Miami's 3.75, a BIG difference.

Yes, I know jobs are hard to find, moving costs money etc. But I also know that, after many years of living in the unhospitable-to-me southern latitude climate, being unable to adapt and increasingly less happy, I began making plans to MOVE. I had no idea WHEN this would happen, only that it needed to and as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I hopped aboard.

I followed this rant because in my mind being in a climate that suits one is as important as having a tolerable job and someone with whom to share ones life. And I believe it is essential to living a satisfying seasonal life.

"Seasonal life"? What is that?  Well, for me it has grown out of my spiritual connection to nature and the earth; for others it may well spring from the discovery of seasonal eating. It means consciously committing to such things as eating in season, dressing in season, and engaging in seasonal activities. It means, for me, working long days in the summer and relishing the longer winters sleeps (which I am looking forward to as soon as I retire!) which are currently luxuries reserved for days off my town job. It means seed catalogues in January, several months of seedlings in racks and potting soil on the floor in the kitchen; it means long johns and flannel night gowns and bed sheets in winter and lightweight shifts and cool percale sheets in summer with a window fan to stir the air. It means layering, indoors and out, in winter and short sleeve shirts sent to boxes in the garage come October, not to be seen again until May.

And on a shorter scale, it means taking advantage of the past two days of excellent "drying weather" and the ice having melted from the clotheline in the opening picture, thanks to the January Thaw, to wash bed linens and hang on the line, along with big loads of towels and clothing; the luxury of  "getting it all done" rather than the inclement weather drill of small loads dried on racks in the house.

It means meals from canned and frozen veggies "put by" in the heat of summer and hearty storage crops: potatoes, onions, winter squash, beets, carrots. It means more meat on the table and this year, a return to weekly baking of bread.

And, at the moment, it also means that my brain has shut down, as it's several hours past dark and my inner bear says "you should be hibernating."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Putting Threads into the Warp

It's a waxing moon, new calendars hung on the wall (antique tractors in the kitchen, Gary Patterson cats in the office) and this "long term variable periodic" housekeeper (a term I borrowed from my astronomy days) who follows the path of a hearth Goddess, has finally been kicked in the butt to do some serious cleaning!

The worst parts of being such an irregular housekeeper, especially when coupled with working in town, having a business that requires much of my time actually creating stuff, AND farming/homesteading are that the mess can rapidly get out of control and the time available to shovel it back out again quickly vanishes into painting that needs doing, food that must be harvested and processed or go to waste and similar tasks. Eventually, though, Frigga kicks my butt and I get it in gear again.

One of the big tasks in my life involves "putting by" food -- canning, freezing and just plain stashing away root crops and long keepers for the winter. Not having a proper root cellar, and not even a basement, nor the prospect for one any time in the near future, can make this a challenge. I had planned to construct a space the the room that was added on to our mobile home (AKA the back porch) that was lined with recycled styrafoam panels from work. Some of the impulse purchace goodies come in cardboard boxes lined with 1 or 2" thick pieces of the stuff. But as life got away from me and winter arrived early, that did not happen.

What DID happen was a bumper crop of potatoes and a massive harvest of winter squash, and a less than anticipated sale of same to the buyers club. All of which resulted in several large paper bags of potatoes and piles of squash "stored" in the back porch when the temperatures dropped below freezing and stayed there.

The first part of my turn of the calendar project was to rescue as much of the bounty that the land had provided as possible. I dragged the heavy bags of potatoes into the kitchen to allow them to warm up a bit and piled squash into laundry and bushel baskets to the same end. Many of the squash proved to be a bit soft, upon thawing and I have been busy cutting, seeding and baking them to scoop and mash. Once mashed, the wonderful orange flesh can be frozen in one cup "glops" on a cookie sheet, then placed into freezer bags for later use as a quick, vitamin A-rich side dish or in baked goods. I still have over a bushel of "good" squash, and have stored them in the slightly warmer environment of the master bathroom for now.

The potatoes are a different challenge. I have yet to find an acceptable storage option beyond just keeping them in the cool and dark. Freezing does not do well by them, and I had feared that most, if not all, of the crop was lost. Upon warming them, though, it appears that our bumper crop has left us with a lot for storage despite losing around half of them to rot. I am most thankful to The Powers That Be for this blessing, despite my failure to properly husband my harvest. We still have around a hundred pounds of potatoes of various varieties, which have been sorted, washed, dried and stored in the dark under a built in china cabinet in the kitchen.

After getting all the squishy and wet potatoes and bags out of the kitchen, I was well motivated to attack a much-neglected kitchen floor, and then the living room floor. Still not done, but a least it now looks like I am trying!

Tomorrow I have a short day at my town job, then another day off and hopefully I will be back on track with the cleaning so that I can resume work on the hex signs that have been ordered. Previously, the chaos pretty much made it impossible for me to concentrate on the work, let alone be in the proper mind set to work the energies needed to paint the signs as more than "just for pretty."

So what does all this have to do with "putting threads into the warp?" Well, you see, I view life, the universe (and everything... apologies to Douglas Adams) as a tapestry, with threads made up of the life of everyone and everything, moving back and forth, touching and parting, beginning and ending. Intentions take form in the Tapestry of Life and, sitting on the weaver's bench with the Norns, one can tweak, adjust and even add threads. And that is what I have been doing, as I work with the harvest stores and run the vacuum and the mop... I have been setting threads in the Tapestry to move ahead into the future... threads that will help me keep on top of the work... threads that will help organize the remaining months of my Year of Transition and move on into the rest of my life.

This time of year is good for these things. It's what folks try to do with "new years resolutions." And with the input of the moon as well and the change of the calendar, things done with intent have extra oomph.