Monday, October 24, 2016

Winter Nights Tide

As I have been lead to believe (and do understand here that I am NOT Asatru nor a scholar, but follow a personal path that is very heavy on UPG (Unverified personal gnosis)) the northlanders, in the old days, did not break the seasons down into four, but rather into three, spring, summer and winter. I have also read of a festival that was held in October called "Winter Nights" which marked the beginning of the winter season. 

It seemed odd to me, a woman of the northlands here in the USA, that one would not recognize autumn as a season. After all, the turning of the leaves in my native Michigan, as well as my adopted home here in Maine, is something awesome to behold! However, thanks to the internet and friends abroad, especially in Norway, it seems they do not share our dramatic autumns. So now it makes more sense to me, this three season thinking and the recognition of the coming of winter at this time of the year.

It is my practice, as per my observation of the turning of the wheel of the year, that the energies wax and wane, like the coastal tides, so I see each of the markers for the turning year as tides, rather than days, and my "Winter Nights Tide" is currently well under way. 

I have, for some time, been feeling myself being drawn back inside, even though the fall planting and the last of the fall harvest had not yet been done. I want to spin and weave and study and tell stories. The Winter Nights Tide allows me the transition to this mode. 

This year, the seasonal color changes were several weeks later, in my observation, than usual. Shirt sleeve weather continued and getting into the mindset was hard, until recently. But this week I have planted the garlic and (though it is way late and may not work) the winter wheat. I potted up some oregano and moved it and a pot of struggling marjoram into the house. I mowed the fence rows last week, and earlier in the month, managed to get my first two Maine goats -- not that this has anything to do with winter coming, other than I suspect their previous owner did not want to keep them through the winter, as they are small and the doe really should not be bred yet. But the breed and price were right, so they came home. 

Meanwhile, other necessary projects were calling and we have been busy reorganizing the house to make it more efficient. All of the freezers (3 of them) are on the back porch and soon will be sorted by type of food: meat in one, vegetables in another and fruit and commercial products in a third. As the storage gets used up, one or more will be combined, but for now, having all three makes it easier to find things. Moving the freezer allowed me to move a storage shelf unit, and moving that made it obvious that the little space heater in the work/living room needed a bit of a move. That was completed, the grow rack now will get full sun and we have ascertained that we have one full and one partial tank of propane! Great start to the cooler days, as we will need that heater next week, for sure.

I am not sure if it's the coming of a serious -- very cold and snowy -- winter, old age or what, but our outdoor kitty, a TNR feral kitten that we adopted in NC that refused to tame and has been living life as our "barn cat" sans barn decided it was time to move indoors this month as well. At first she just meowed at the door for food, as always, but when we put it out for her, she continued to call at the door after eating. It was still warm enough, so despite the flies, we left the door open and -- for the first time ever -- she walked into the house several days in a row. I began putting her food inside... at first just inside the door and then farther in, and each day she came in more readily and stayed in longer. Eventually she did not bolt for the door when we got up and moved around, and I closed the front door. She has been in ever since, and did not even choose to go out when we had the door open for protracted periods on the day we were working on the propane. She seems to come to me for food and mews back and forth with me like she only used to with Tractor Guy, so he says she has chosen to be my cat. Interesting timing on her part, as the last cat that I could call mine amongst our crew was Ghost, who passed on a couple of months ago. 

We are currently not especially on track to be ready for deep winter, though. There is still stuff to be done in the garden and in the perennial beds, the coops have not been winterized, nor has the goat house, though if the snows hold off a bit, we may make it. 

The coming of  Samhain ( a more recognized seasonal event, from the greater Pagan community ) and the secular Halloween, the decreasing hours of light and the "thinning of the veil" as many folks experience at this time of the year converge to bring those who have passed on - both human and other -- to our minds. Anticipation of the riding of the Wild Hunt at midwinter nears, along with the physical challenges of a northern winter,  motivate us to focus on completion of our autumn tasks as the Tide ebbs and the Days of Transformation begin.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

How to Get Everything Done (on the Homestead) and Cope When You Can't - secong round

Previously I wrote about
  • having spares
  • not getting "target fixation"
  • being prepared
and mentioned
  • Flexibility
  • Making do
  • And a nice glass of wine
So I am going to write a bit about those subjects today.

 Flexibility  So, you ask, "do you have a 'to do' list or just wing it?" While I don't write an actual list unless I am heading to town (and I do lists then to help not only remember errands, but to plan the most efficient route, especially if there are stops at some less-frequented locations) I do keep a mental list which often juggles several categories of things. There are the daily (or should be daily, if you know me you know flexibility trumps should every time) things like dishes, as well as the "gotta be" chores -- tending critters tops that category, always. Then there are the other indoor and outdoor things that need doing, that sometimes get sorted into groups like: quick small jobs, REALLY need doing, two person tasks, need to do eventually which are all often associated with weather-related modifiers: good for rainy days, do in cool temps (which may mean early or late in the day or on cooler, cloudier and breezier days), need still air, and so on.

The current version of our double anti-deer fence is not cultivated
between, like it was in 2013, and the inner fence is no longer
multiple electric strands, but a single strand of twine, as a
visual barrier.
I don't really have a formal sorting routine, though, letting my energy level, tolerance-of-chaos level and other factors determine the starting point and likely list. Today, for example, is a cool and wet day. After I finish writing this (which is happening along with my breakfast) I'll tend fowl and put the goats out to pasture for a while. I am being thankful for the damp today, as yesterdays jobs (cleaning grass from around the fruit and nut trees, painting trunks and starting the between the fences mowing) left me with very sore arms and shoulders. There remains about 60% of the mowing yet to do, and had the weather been right for it, I would have felt the need to attempt to push ahead with that task. Instead, the damp weather is allowing me to work on lighter, indoor tasks and rest the arms a bit. That is a key factor in how I work flexibly. 
Wooly Aphids

Working WITH, rather than against, the weather whenever possible, I find, often allows me to actually be more efficient and get more done in the long run. If your workouts are in the gym, your trainer will guide you to work different muscles on subsequent days, I am sure. This is the "farm workout" equivalent! So, while the mowing, and working on the wooly aphid problem I found yesterday on one of our baby apple trees  (some plant pests go immediately to the head of the list!) get shuffled to tomorrow, indoor tasks that have been hanging fire come to the front of the list.
Small fraction of the onion harvest.

It IS harvest time, so I have bushels of onions to deal with, sourkraut that needs canning, as well as the first of the beets. There are apples to juice and that needs canning and of course hex signs to paint. Orders have slowed down to a more reasonable level at but I have a small wooden Mighty Oak sign and an Abundance for indoor display to complete and post on Tuesday, as Monday is a holiday. And a Protection sign that needs to be started.
Protection hex sign

So... I have wandered a bit from my bullet points but I do want to touch base on "making do" with a story from this past week's supper menu. As I do my canning, occasionally a jar fails to seal. It happens to the best of us, and in the recent past, as I was experimenting with pressure canning the basis for tomato soup (my grandmother's recipe calls for thickening the base a bit with a flour and butter roux and then adding a bit of milk, for a creamy tomato bisque, but you cannot can flour-thickened things) I had a jar not seal. Into the fridge it went, for use -- I planned -- on a chilly day. Weather warmed up, soup was not what we were hungry for, so it sat until I was looking for inspirations for supper a few nights ago. I saw the jar, and thinking it was just canned tomatoes, I started the process to make spaghetti sauce. When I dumped the "tomatoes" into the skillet I immediately knew something was wrong: the texture was totally off. I gave a quick taste (yeah I know... not the smartest thing, but I've not died -- or got food poisoning yet!) and it tasted fine. I was seeing unexpeced "stuff" in the mix, though and still confused, I picked up a largish green leaf (still thinking this was canned tomatoes and wondering how the tomato leaf got in there!) and recognized celery! Finally the light dawned... it was SOUP! And would never thicken enough, even with added flour, to become a reasonable texture sauce.

Thinking quickly, I grabbed the pasta from the cupboard and discovered it was angel hair and had a wild idea... why not break up the pasta (which cooks very quickly) and just throw it into the runny sauce, letting the swelling, cooking pasta take up the extra liquid! So in it went, on went the lid and down went the fire (hoping it wouldn't stick and burn.) As I checked it during the 7 min or so it was supposed to cook, I still was not sure if I was making supper -- or treats for dogs and poultry! After the alleged time was up, the pasta still tasted a bit al dente to me, so I turned off the fire and left it a bit longer. It turned out not only edible, but good enough that Tractor Guy said he hoped I could re-create it again! LOL  Once again, making do for the win!

And it wasn't just on account of that nice glass of wine that it ended up tasting good, I can assure you. Tractor Guy doesn't like wine.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On the Subject of Age

Taking a digression from the "How to Get it All Done..." theme for the moment.

The changes that autumn brings, and yes the analysis and introspection that the presentation mentioned above brought about, as well as a thought prompt shared by a friend who is taking the "30 Days of Harvest" ecourse got me to thinking. My friend, who is only now approaching her second Saturn return -- but who I have always viewed as a contemporary -- was taking aback by today's prompt: When did you first realize you were no longer young?

I have been feeling the weight of my years, more of late than usual and on one of my away missions while letting my brain wander during the drive I got to figuring out at what age in MY life was my mother the same age I am now. And my grandmother as well. I wanted to look back on how I remember their lives, to look through the lens of time at what I knew them to be doing, then and there, and yes (though I don't often do this) compare.

I am  68. My mom was born in 1910, so she was my age in 1978, the year my second daughter, Amy, was born. By that time my dad had recently died of prostrate cancer and she was about to move from Omaha, where they lived briefly during the end of his life so he could be closer to his kin, but where she really had no one she was connected closely with, to Appleton, WI to be closer to us. 

She moved into a "high rise" apartment complex for seniors, a couple of blocks away. I honestly don't know WHAT she did with her days, but keeping up a small apartment, cooking for one really wasn't much to do. I know she spent a lot of time watching TV (it had been a bone of contention between us for years -- since I was a teen and on a rare occasion when I WANTED to talk to mom, was told to "wait" until the program was over), that she did not like to socialize with her neighbors ("a bunch of  old folks who only want to talk about their ailments!") and that a couple of times a week she would walk the couple of blocks to our place and spend time with the girls. I don't recall her sewing much (the one hobby of hers that sticks in my brain) during that time, but she did make things for the kids after we moved out west, so perhaps it is my mind that is faulty. But in any case, there was little in the way of "heavy lifting" in the metaphorical or physical sense, in her life. No animals or plants to care for, other than an occasional house plant. None of the typical stuff that I take for granted in a typical week. I would suspect that her most strenuous activity was her walks to our place -- two blocks -- on the occasions when she had empty liquor bottles to bring! She steadfastly refused to put them down the trash chute at her place, even well wrapped in paper bags and newspaper, concerned that her neighbors might see! LOL

Grandma Katie was born in 1888 to the best of my recollection. That would have made her 68 in 1956, when I was 8. She died, I believe in 1964 or 65... I was in high school and not a senior yet. That would have made her 76 or so at the time of her death. And I honestly, as a 8 year old, who only visited her and Grandpa for a bit each summer, don't remember much. She quilted, and sewed... taught me how to use her treadle sewing machine a few years later. Grandpa was the one who gardened, but I remember her wringer washer and carrying the laundry out to the line in a bushel basket. She cooked from scratch, did a bit of hexeri work, but seems from my current view through time to have mostly been a homemaker.

So, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. And let myself know that it's really ok when I hurt rolling out of bed in the morning after a day harvesting -- or planting -- or mowing -- or canning -- or chasing livestock of one variety or another. Or even the day after that. Or after that.

Because (and I am not feeling sorry for myself or fishing for atta-boys or compliments or sympathy) if I had been born in an earlier time (and not MUCH earlier, for that matter) I would be dead by now. For those of you who don't know, I was born with a major hole in my heart -- between two chambers that allowed the blood, which normally does a standard routine of rounds from the body to the heart, lungs, heart and then back to the body full of necessary oxygen, to totally skip the whole "lungs" thing. Not all of it, mind you. No one would last long that way. But enough that when my body needed extra O2 it just wasn't there. Like when I was a baby and got upset and cried... not enough oxygen and I would, so I am told, loose my normal pinkish color and turn a bit bluish. You may have heard the term "blue baby." I was one.

My mom was not told initially... but being an RN, she figured out there was a problem right quick. And saw our family doc, who told her to try to keep me calm. It must have worked, though I don't remember. When I was 2, we went to Chicago Children's Hospital for a heart work up. I have some strange, disconnected memories that must belong to that visit. There was only one, and that was when they found the problem. And also when they told my mom to "manage me" in such as way as to keep me from being too physical, to keep me calm, and to revisit the issue when I was in my mid 20s. In the early 1950s (my exam would have likely been in 1950 or 51) open heart surgery was not even an option. In 1955, the first open heart surgeries using a primitive heart lung machine were performed, so this was several years after my workup. The doc who saw me must have been aware of the earlier research as he was concerned, he told my mom, that the severity of my leak could likely make me a prime candidate for early experiments, but he was convinced that, with her medical knowledge, she could successfully manage me through my childhood and youth.

It worked, but like many "medical procedures" did have side effects. While I was not allowed to take PE in school (something I am honestly not unhappy about) I was not made to be, or to feel like an invalid. So I learned to pace myself and endurance and walking became my things. As a teen, participating in the school science club camp outs, I know our sponsoring teacher kept a close eye on me (dad was also a teacher, you know!). He was an older gent, thought regularly carrying a 50 lb pack, and while many of my classmates made like rabbits in the tortoise and the hare story at the beginning of our hikes, our teacher and I kept a slower, but steady pace and usually made it to our goal together and ahead of the rest, who were spent and resting. As a result of this type of exercise, I never found any issues of turning blue as I grew. Hearts are muscles, you know, and like other muscles, grow upon exercise. So if you call me "big hearted" I will take it literally. Mine is, so I am told, the size of an NFL linebacker!

So between being raised without physical competition (this must have been really hard for my dad, who was also a coach!) -- though I had by nature a very competitive personality, and as a young child, the use of food -- namely home made chocolate-peanutbutte fudge -- to keep me calm, I made it to my mid 20s. And had open heart surgery. And lived to tell the tale.

So, had I been born -- as me, to my parents -- in pioneer days, or earlier, I would have died. No doubt about it. If not earlier (can you really imagine pioneer life without stress??) then when I got pregnant or attempted to birth a baby. I have no doubt of this. So in a sense the last 43 years, more or less, have been a gift. As are my 5 daughters and the myriad of experiences I have had.

And on top of all that, I can haul hay and grain, turn the earth, plant, weed, grow and harvest, put by, and later enjoy the fruits and vegetables of my labor. I can run the electric saw around in circles and paint, cut cardboard and package wonderful painted blessings and prayers. I can walk goats and chase poultry (even if I do have to out smart them to catch them for wing clipping!) and spin and weave. And keep at it, even when every muscle in my body hurts, if need be. And sit in a hot bath with Epsom salts sipping my wine, if need be as well. And now and then haul my butt to Dover-Foxcroft to be worked on by my massage therapist. Not often enough, but it gets me by.

So maybe 68 isn't old. My dad might have a different idea. I know some "old Mainers" who would likely disagree -- and others who would not. But old doesn't have to mean you stop. Probably will mean you better get used to change, though. Beats the heck outa the alternative.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How to Get Everything Done (on the Homestead) and Cope When You Can't - first round

In the previous post, I mentioned:
  • having spares, sometimes many multiples, of small, less expensive, easily misplaced items
  • not getting "target fixation" when a necessary larger tool is misplaced, but going about other tasks instead, allowing for time and memory to kick in and reveal the missing item.
I want to say just a bit more about that last point here, before proceeding. I used to become totally obsessed when something I needed was not where I left it, or where I remembered leaving it. I wasted HOURS, both tearing the house apart looking and then putting things in order again but NEVER did I find the missing item that way! Eventually something prompted me to give up looking, and almost immediately the thing appeared, in plain sight in a place I had looked multiple times. At one point, I mislaid a sum of money (which is a big deal when you live paycheck-to-paycheck.) I know when I had it in my hand as I entered the house, having been to the bank. I also know that, a day or two BEFORE this, I had started, but not completed, a project to clean and reorganize my books and bookshelves. To do this, I had emptied all the shelves of books, stacking them carefully, by subject, in chairs in my loft. I ran out of time and left that project for the evening chores, supper, bed and trip to the bank the next day, when I returned with the cash. At this point I honestly do not recall where I thought I had laid the money, but upstairs in the loft would not have been in the equation, as we used it only for sleeping, getting dressed and I read there at times (though not when the books were filling the chairs!) It was later the same day I needed the cash and could not find it. Though I did not go crazy, I DID look... unsuccessfully... and then gave up. Oh, I HOPED it would come back at some point, as we did need it, but I was not yet convinced of the surety of my "wait and see" process.

This was my first round of homesteading, and so I got busy with other necessary tasks (likely the book project was something for a rainy day) and it was several days until I got back to that project, and began putting away books by subject, as they had been previously sorted. When I cleared out the last chair, which had been holding 3 or 4 large stacks of books for the duration (which left a temporary depression in the chair cushion) there, in the center of the chair, under all of the piles, was my missing cash! To this day I don't know how it got there, but that convinced me that whatever goes missing WILL come back when it's ready -- and not a moment before -- and therefore more than a few minutes of dedicated thought and looking is wasting time.

Another technique I employ often will be familiar to all the Boy Scouts out there: be prepared.
Honestly, one can not actually prepare for specific bumps in the road, but there are many ways -- including an attitude of flexibility and a willingness to make do -- that will go a long way towards making every day a productive one, even though you may not be working in the direction you had planned.

Take the last few days here at Fussing Duck Farm and as an example.
Artie, from R.T. short for Red Truck

After spending the day Saturday at the Common Ground Country Fair, giving my talk and helping out in other areas, I headed home only to have Artie, quite unexpectedly, loose power and refused to start about 16 miles from home. A kind, Newport, Maine cop, and a wonderful elderly tow truck driver got us home and Artie to my mechanic down the road. Other than Tractor Guy's motorcycle, Artie is our wheels, and it was Saturday night.

For many folks that would be a disaster. As things rolled out, Artie was in the shop not only Sunday (as they were closed and he was just hanging out in their front lot) but also Monday, Tuesday and much of Wednesday. And, as it turned out, was back in Thursday as well. Friends offered transport if we needed, and I did prevail upon one who was making deliveries for her farm -- and was planning to drop off some thyme plants here -- to pick up dog food along her way. But, even had she not done so, the pups could have been feed for the extended period with frozen chicken giblets (which they got some, but not all of) that had not been properly processed for human food during the first Chicken Plucking Day that our MOFGA chapter held, as well as some of the extra eggs -- of unknown age -- that our poultry has been hiding. The dogs may have regretted Mary Lou's part in all this!

Feeding us went off without a hitch. We have three freezers, mostly full, and a pretty well supplied pantry. We were out of bread but made do. I don't cook from recipes (other than vague guidelines for dishes passed down in the family for generations.) Instead I will look for what is in the 'fridge that needs to be used up (leftovers and aging produce usually) and work from there. Recently we had macaroni and cheese (always home made) as the cheddar was growing bits of mold. We had leftover meat loaf (when I get a freezer quantity of ground beef, I often reserve a bit of the fresh stuff for meat loaf, before pattying up and freezing the balance) so it got sliced and layered under a rice, onion, green pepper and tomato concoction (one of my jars of tomatoes did not properly seal) and similar fare. I always look for what I have that can substitute and almost always proceed with a version of the dish I had intended, adding any missing staples to "the list."

Projects that involved going somewhere, however, got put on hold. Instead of moping or fussing, I looked for projects that needed doing with what was on hand. I have 5 hex sign blanks cut, and currently all are in various stages of being painted. I had tomato soup ready to can, so much of it has been pressure canned, and the balance will go into jars tomorrow. I had hoped to acquire another batch or two of pint jars, but having the soup wait until the truck is ready -- or freezing it -- is not really what I want to do. I have enough quart jars (though it will make for a woefully sparse canner!) and the pint that remains will be lunch tomorrow.

You see, I had been planning to take a trip to view a couple of goats that seemed ideal for my starter flock... and ended up putting that on Thursday, when the truck was supposed to be done, early in the day. But, as often happens, things beyond my control changed. Our mechanic -- a great guy whose shop is just down the road -- ended up with half of his staff calling out today. When we finally checked in, he said his office gal was out so the paperwork wasn't done yet, but if we needed the truck, just come get and and we would deal with the rest later. (Did I mention, he's a great guy! Pomeroy's Garage in Corinth Maine.) So we did... only to have the truck pull the same stunt, but farther away from home and NOT close enough to see the goats!

We did get home, with the help of a young mechanic who happened to live across from where we ended up... as far as I can tell a "shade tree mechanic" with experience dealing with "rambling wrecks" like Artie. (Did I mention he's an 1990 Toyota pickup?) who diagnosed and "fixed" the  problem well enough for us to return home without issue, by giving the gas tank three good thumps on its underside! Apparently the issue is either a filter or fuel pump, both of which reside in the tank, and which probably gave our mechanic no issue when he went to move the truck and while he was replacing seals (there had been an oil leak) and doing the picky stuff for the state inspection.

So, we were grounded once again, and I took the truck to the shop again early Friday.  And painting hex signs, and getting Tractor Guy to put the plow on to help dig up potatoes.

yep, goats in the bathroom. Easiest floor to clean.
Some things are on hold, of course. The goat lady is being quite kind, and waiting on a time estimate for Artie's repair before moving on to the next interested party. I will be sad if these goats don't work out, but at the same time, if they DO, we will be working like mad to set up housing for them! Goats are in the equation, but I had not expected them to come this fall. But they are "my" breed and the price is right, so if it happens, we will make it work. And some of the other projects will be rescheduled. The goat trip DID happen late Friday, with an emphasis on LATE. It was dark when we got home, no time to introduce new critters to the guardian dog... so the goats overnighted in the master bath. 

Flexibility. Making do. And a nice glass of wine when I got home, while peeling up some of our already harvested potatoes and carrots to add to the leftover veggies from the recent pot roast, which I cut up for stew for supper.... helps for a good night's sleep. Sleep, and a nice bath are two of the best ways I have found to build resiliency and cope when things are left hanging.