Friday, December 25, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The weather was perfect for a bonfire; dry for a few days before, sunny and breezy all day, with a lovely autumn chill in the evening air. Many of our close friends joined us, and we had the pleasure of watching our friends and family converse and get to know one another. One of the best birthdays I've had, I have to say.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Over the past year or so, as this economy has really started to slide into ruin, I've become focused on how important it will be to be able to support ourselves in the future. A day when the local grocery store and big box store are no longer available is not beyond my imagining, and I want to be able to support my family when that time comes. It's a simple plan, really
Step one, find a protein source. Eggs for protein was my first choice, because chickens are much more affordable than a large farm animal. Eventually, I'd love to have a goat or cow, and I'm debating buying a butchered lamb from a local farm this year. For right now, however, we don't eat red meat (or pork), so poultry seemed the obvious choice. My original flock of 16 birds has been downsized to six, a managable amount for us. They don't cost an arm and a leg to feed, and when we start getting eggs, we'll be getting just as many as we need. Of course, friends keep asking for eggs, and many people assume we will have extra, but selling my farm-fresh eggs is not my goal. My goal is knowing, start to finish, where my food comes from - these girls.
Step two, grow a vegetable garden that can feed us for many months, not just through the summer. This year I started small, since I wanted to be successful. I don't know enough about eating from a garden to know how many tomato plants it takes to support a two person family, but I hope 18 is enough. I'll preserve what extras I have this year, monitor how long we eat from our produce, and plant accordingly next year. Of course, it's June, and I'm already freezing squash and zucchini from the garden, so I may find I've planted too much. It's a learning process.
Step three, learn to preserve the produce I grow or buy. Growing up as a suburban child, I don't remember eating much food out of a mason jar. Jams and jellies we purchased at the local farmer's market, but canned veggies were just that, canned and bought on aisle 4 of the grocery store. When I met POSSLQ, he had grown up canning and preserving food, and each year, MIL gives us lots of extras she has. I've slowly learned how to plan meals around what's already in the cabinet, but this year, I'll have to master that skill, plus learn how to use the pressure canner, and anticipate the flavors we'll crave come winter. Today, for example, I blanched and froze stir-fry bags, and watched as our freezer slowly fills up.
Step four, develop a good relationship with other people in the area who have what I need, but don't (or can't) produce myself. I've been stopping at the farmer's market every week, buying a little from each booth, chatting a few minutes with the farmers. I discovered that the nursery just down the street carries fresh, local produce of all varieties, so I'll be stopping there as well. MIL is over-burdened with cherries, so she's given me tons. I made some cherry jam, and I'm planning to try my hand at a cherry pie or cobbler this week.
Step five, further remove our household's dependance on products we have to buy in the store - plastic bags, paper products, soaps and shampoos, etc. This includes not only sewing cloth napkins and butt-wipes (no big deal, I've been using a sewing machine for years), but also learning how to make soaps and other products from scratch, a skill I've never even tried. So we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I found a tutorial on using old plastic grocery bags to make water-resistant linings, so I've made a few lunch totes (and a pretty decent dent in our plastic bag stash) using that new skill. Next up, wet bags, handkerchiefs, and a few more canvas grocery totes (so POSSLQ will stop bringing home more plastic bags).
All in all, a pretty simple plan, I think. I'm sure I'll meet challenges along the way, but so far it's going well. Got to eat garden fresh squash for dinner tonight, and we have enough to have squash a few more times this week.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
What an amazing family who readies this beautiful place, harnesses its energy, prepares this piece of Mother Earth to play hostess to a group of people who love this land like their homeland, which it is for many of us. Though we may spend only a few days a year wandering these green fields and dipping our toes in the cool pond, it feels like home when you start down the lane. The greenery closes behind you, enveloping you in the magic, almost as if another world doesn't exist.
It's at these events that I see POSSLQ at his best. The stresses of everyday life melt away, and he gets lost in the magic of Spirithaven. I quietly watch him direct traffic, answer questions, seek out the next back-breaking project, and be free of the corporate harness. He's been here all week, teasing the magic out of the land, and helping prepare it for the citizens who will soon arrive. Any obstacles he encounters are of the good variety, the kind that serve to make you feel like you've affected a change in the world.
And affect change he has. They all have. I've watched this week as they've woken the farm from a lazy spring, readied it for the frenzy of activity. Each afternoon I drive down the lane to a new, beautiful sight. Tall, wild, rain-soaked and sun-fed grass trimmed short to create a soft, natural dancing surface. An inspired new tent organization. Every year, a fresh idea to improve the experience.
Though I wasn't able to throw myself into the hard labor of preparing the farm, I did get a chance to help set up a few big canvases. Trying to stay ahead of the dark cloud looming overhead, creeping over the ridge, we fell into the rhythm of these festivals, throwing stakes, ropes, and tent poles to their proper locations, and quickly taking up the series of tasks required to get the tent off the ground. At one point, we barely had the ridgepole raised when a strong wind kicked up, the raindrops started to fall, and everyone ended up getting soaked in the dashing about to divert small rivers away from the grassy areas. A plush, wet valley at any time, Spirithaven has received an abundance of soaking rain showers in the past few months, making the ground ooze with water as you step.
As campers start to pull in and tents are placed, a hard rain once again starts to fall. Now even the high ground is beginning to get very muddy, and there is a danger of cars getting stuck, or sliding out of control. D.I.D. sees rain every year, but the sheer volume of water already this spring compounds the problem, and Sheque, the Spirithaven Year-Rounders, and POSSLQ had extra work to protect the land and the Darbukastani citizens, including laying last-minute gravel, roping off large areas of the farm, and filling in mudholes. Little Year-Rounder and I stood in the dark and steady rain for more than an hour tonight, supervising citizens and treating our feet to a cool, refreshing mud bath.
As wet as yesterday ended, today turned out quite pleasant. The farm was alive with campers when I arrived after work. Workshops, dancing, drumming, and the simply chatter of catching up contribute to the magic, but the best magic will arrive later this evening.
Two dear friends weren't planning to attend this year, but loads of positive thinking and manifestation have enabled them to drive up for the weekend, and excited simply doesn't describe the feeling of seeing them for the first time in nearly eight months.
I got to spend the afternoon with Little Love Baby and Mama today, playing in the mud and throwing snacks to the peacocks. I do love those two, and LLB gets funnier every time I see him.
As evening falls, the rhythmic chantings of the guedra fill the air, and the CeltHix are preparing to play. The Welcome Concert promises to be a good one. The positive energy in the air is palpable, and soon Little Year-Rounder taps my shoulder and points out a car carrying our friends. Muddy embraces ensue, and we settle in to enjoy the show.
Mud boots were a staple this weekend!
After morning chores and a brief stop at the coffee shop, we headed off to the farm, excited to spend the whole day soaking up the D.I.D. energy. Archery lessons, daisy-chaining, and lazing about by the pond took up most of the morning, and POSSLQ, Hippie Sister, and I took a walk and a swim in the early afternoon. Though the water was quite chilly, it was refreshing to soak in the secluded pool, a hill of daisies to one side, the quiet, damp forest to the other.
Though the sun shone warm all day, the breeze off the pond and light fluffy clouds made the day seem perfect. Small children run around the farm the whole weekend, discovering the joys of rural living. An escape from constantly learning what they aren't allowed to do, they delight in the freedom to simply be children. Though Spirithaven is a working farm, these kids are on vacation in the country, and enjoy the pleasures of spring on a farm without the chores the Year-Rounders are so familiar with.
After dinner, campers headed off for a quick nap, and we lounged a little more under the tree near the pond, awaiting the party. The hafla was more subdued than some years, but still very enjoyable, and the performances were, as always, amazing. POSSLQ and I enjoyed a stroll in the moonlight, then I lay in bed and listened to the drumming continue well into the night, with many citizens hearing the roosters crow before heading to bed.
A quick early-morning trip back home to do morning chores, and back to the farm I go. Today will be spent winding down, packing up, and saying good-byes. After most of the citizens head back, I'm sure we will start to break down the festival site. Though both setting up and breaking down are a lot of work, the pre-festival work always takes more than a week, and breaking down can be finished in a day or so. As Sheque will tell Little Year-Rounder this afternoon, there's an excitement to the setting up, knowing you are getting ready to see friends, share ideas, enjoy music and dancing. Breaking down has a sadness to it, the knowledge that you won't see many of these people for another year. There's a meditative moment when you reflect on the weekend, knowing the energy will fade, but the memory of a good time and the excitement for next year will get you through the daily grind of life until you can escape back to the magic of Darbukastan.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
When POSSLQ and I moved in together, the book got lost for a while. In the end, we determined that it got thrown away in a bag that looked like trash, but was actually our "in between houses" stash. Don't ask me what else was in that bag, none of it was as important as my worn, well-loved, and well-travelled book.
For my twenty-third birthday, my dad presented me with a unique gift; a brand new copy of Ahab's Wife. The new inscription is a little sappy, but very sweet, and the gift was so thoughtful. Over the past four years, this copy hasn't gotten to travel as far, but has been read so many times that the binding is starting to show serious wear, and has split completely around my favorite passages.
After my most recent reading, I decided it was time to give Moby Dick another chance. I vaguely remember studying the Cliff's Notes for it in high school, but went to the library to search out a copy, convinced I would find a reflection on Captain Ahab as enjoyable and richly engaging as Una's voice. What I have found, instead, is a heady, verbose story that I think may eventually be about a whale (I'm only half way through), and only passing mentions of the characters I've come to know so well - Mr. and Mrs. Hussey of the TryPots Inn, little Pippin, and, of course, the girl-wife herself.
I suppose the great chase scenes are still in front of me, and I know I should value the symbolism and character studies of Moby Dick, but I can't help but prefer Ahab's Wife. Throughout the course of the novel, she meets many historical figures, some of which, ironically, were Herman Melville's contemporaries. Ishmael visits the same cities and streets as Una, meets the same people, but they are ultimately unimportant to him, where every event in her life deserves attention and analysis. Maybe I identify better with her simply for that fact, or maybe I take notice and analyze every facet of my life because I've been so affected by her story.
In retrospect, I should have been suspicious of a novel that I borrowed from the library, printed in 1979, that looks pristine next to my worn copy of Ahab's Wife. But I got to know Ishmael while reading Una's story, and though he wasn't my favorite character, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, hear his tale, and listen for whatever quiet wisdom he may have for me.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Today I decided to get back into the routine of things, starting with the weekend laundry - our sheets and the dog's blankets and beds. Dog laundry came first since POSSLQ was sleeping in (and rightfully so, it's his birthday). Shortly after I heard the washer stop spinning, I stepped into the kitchen to check the food dehydrator. When the burning smell hit my nostrils, I assumed a strawberry had fallen on the heating coil of the dehydrator, but I followed the smell to the laundry room, or, more specifically, the back of the washer... Uh-oh.
It seems the drain is blocked (best case scenario) or the pump has gone out (worst case). A few years ago, this would have been disaster #1, but today, it got me thinking... Do I really need the washing machine? I wash a lot of my summer clothes by hand anyway, so why not spring for a nice washing board, scrub most of it by hand, then hit the laundromat for the big stuff? I'm already neglecting the dryer in favor of sun-kissed, line-dried clothes, so why not hand wash too? I can imagine it would give me a better appreciation for the threads that cover my body. We would simply need to re-define "dirty," maybe getting a few more wears out of our jeans before they hit the hamper. No doubt it would decrease our impact on the Earth, in both water and energy. And I'm sure it could be considered "clothing conservation" if we just ran around naked here at home.
I'm hoping this will be an easy fix; maybe a sock or hairball stuck in the drain hose. But, if not, I guess I'll find out if we're ready to take that next step toward energy independence. Then again, maybe I'll forget trying to fix it and head out to pick up one of these cool toys -- http://www.cleanairgardening.com/portable-washing-machine.html -- a hand crank washing machine!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Every so often you do something that takes you back to childhood. Lately, my every-so-oftens have been coming pretty frequently. Today, for example, was a wonderful day spent with my MIL, picking strawberries and going "yard saling."
The farm where I picked berries as a child was biking distance from our house, but we always drove, since we picked so many berries. They handed out cunning little woven baskets, and into the fields we went. I remember eating almost as many berries as I picked, my mom teasing, "You're going to have to pay for an extra basket if you don't quit eating them!" as she popped a ripe berry into her mouth. The sweet taste of springtime is never more evident than in that very first fresh strawberry. The crush of the bright flesh against the roof of my mouth, the sweet juice on my fingertips...
All this I relived as I stepped into that patch today. We quickly picked our five gallons, and turned back to the barn to pay for our cache. Though the sun was hot, the breeze blew at the exact moments I most needed to be refreshed, and my floppy sunhat protected my face and shoulders from the strong noontime rays.
The strawberry farm is right down the road from where POSSLQ grew up, and we had a lovely visit with Mama Louise this afternoon. Such a lovely visit, in fact, that I came home with a brand new pressure canner! I've never canned before, but I'm expecting a bounty of veggies from the garden, and I plan to eat every drop of my produce, so preserve I must. I also got to meet this interesting plant in Mama Louise's garden - a Voodoo Lily. MIL called it a "stink plant," and that's right on the mark... It smells like roadkill!
Speaking of preserving, my strawberry adventure didn't end at the patch. Mom made strawberry jam several summers of my childhood, and I wanted to try it myself. As soon as I got home, I started capping and washing berries, separating them into "jamming berry" and "eating berry" piles. In no time, I had six jars of jam, and loads of berries left over, so I froze some, then sliced some for the dehydrator, pureed some for fruit roll-ems, and (of course) left a bowl for eating right away.
I feel so very self-sufficient today - I can eat my strawberries for the next year!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
My coop is long, narrow room with the lovely roosts at one end. At the other end (the door end) is a curtained-off storage area. When I first moved the girls out, they huddled in the corner at the door end. As they've grown, they have started spending the night in the storage area (which makes for a very messy storage area). Each night, I go out and gently pick them up and place them on the roost. The next night, they huddle up on the floor, and we go through the routine again.
Last night, I decided to go for a little surprise play... I shooed them out of the corner, and stood guard, forcing them to find a new safe place all on their own. After much cackling, clucking, and flapping about, a few found their way to the roost, and the rest followed in not-so-very-short order. I think I stood in the corner of the coop for about 35 minutes last night.
Tonight when I went out, I was greeted by this sight--
14 happy chicks ridiculously piled up on the roost! Don't ask me why they are only using half the roost space... I choose to ignore that and focus on the fact they climbed up there at all!
The other two? I suppose they thought all the piling up was getting tiresome.
Earlier in the evening, Gretchen decided my arm looked like a nice place to take a rest...
Later this week, ten of these lovely ladies will be going to live with my MIL. It's been fun raising chicks, in the same way taking 14 ten year old children to the water park is fun. The kind of fun you tell stories about for years, but never do again.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
There's something inherently comforting to me about a clothesline. Every time I hang clothes, I think of my summers at grandma's house, and rushing out to pull clean, dry clothes off the line faster than the summer squall could start, pins popping off the line and flying in every direction. I always wondered why she hung clothes in the afternoon, knowing the sky would reliably turn dark and stormy for at least a half hour each summer evening. Now, I understand. It's all about squeaking out that last load of white clothes before bedtime. And if that means braving earth-rumbling thunder and deafening cracks of summer lightning to retrieve my sun-warmed clothes, that's okay; I'm a more courageous woman for facing the storm. There's a sense of satisfaction in knowing you are faster than nature; you managed to shove every last t-shirt into the basket just as the first fat raindrop hit your shoulder. Plus, that pre-storm wind dries shockingly better than the "more dry" cycle on the electric machine.
On the coop-front, I made loads of progress today... I finally hung my fancy hanging-bucket-gravity-feeder thing. I made the girls a ramp so they can (maybe) find the roosts, because they are too old to pile up at the coop door overnight. I also, sadly, had to dispatch a wasp today. I've been politely asking her to move it out for about two weeks now, and she just keeps staying, so I had to smoosh her, and it only took a few tries. Question: how long does it take a nesting wasp to regain her composure after being nearly smashed with a purple Croc? Answer: I didn't stick around to find out, I just slapped and bolted. But she was calm (and easy to smoosh, maybe she had come to terms with her fate) half an hour later when I was brave enough to check. I've never been stung by a wasp, but that's an experience I'd rather not have.
I went to the library after work today, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a new book on the "Featured Selections" shelf by the door! A few months back, I checked out the only two books the library had about chickens, and one was, "Raising Poultry the Modern Way," published 1976. Not very modern. But this beautiful book! I suspect I might be the first to check it out... I love few things more than an unbroken spine on a book.
*What's a POSSLQ?
(1) A Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, my POSSLQ is an amazing man who supports me in everything I do, tolerates my every crazy idea, moderates my dreaminess, and keeps me grounded, but encourages me to follow my bliss. He makes so many sacrifices so that we inch closer to the life we dream about, and I don't tell him enough how much I appreciate him. He's an awesome musician, and hearing him sing still gives me butterflies. He's practically an encyclopedia of information, and can talk to most anyone about most anything. I like him, as you can probably tell.
(2) POSSLQ is the acronym the Census Bureau used to use for counting people who lived together, but were not married. (Stay tuned, I'm sure the day will come when I write about why he's a POSSLQ and not a DH.) I'm not sure what they use now, but when I read "Unmarried to Each Other," I liked the sound of it, and it stuck.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Today I set myself the task of sewing up two baby slings. After making one for a very dear friend a few weeks ago, I've made this project my baby shower gift-of-choice.
I have very strict rules about what I give as baby gifts. Though my views on childbirth and child-rearing are speculative, and I don't expect everyone else to share my opinions, I flatly refuse to spend my money on things I deem unnecessary. This includes, but is not limited to, wipey warmers, nursery decorations, bottles (especially plastic ones or the kind with pink bows or blue boats printed on them), expensive cutesy clothes that will never be worn, disposable diapers, disposable wipes, the Diaper Genie (doesn't that sound like something better than POO STINK should come out??), or bath wash/lotion/massage crap with loads of chemicals. I also won't buy into the "pink polka dots and ribbon for a girl, blue boats and trains for a boy" shit, so I only give green or yellow baby gifts, even if everyone knows what sex the baby will be! As you can see, these rules make it difficult to give a gift. At the last shower I went to, I brought a breast pump, a hand-made blanket, and a stack of cloth diapers. I have given that "nursing pillow" that is all the rage right now (which people are using to prop their infant up to see the TV better!!!!), but I just love the idea of handmade items for babies.
So here I am, sewing baby slings. They take about 20 minutes to make, and only 2 1/2 yards of fabric, so it's a no-brainer! Much less expensive than a lot of gifts, and I'm sure no one else at the shower will give one. They are so beautiful, and can be used from infancy until about two years old. I guess the Diaper Genie can be used for that long too, but it's not beautiful! Plus, the sling is great for motor development, fosters breastfeeding, and is ideal for attachment parenting. Three points for baby sling, zero for Diaper Genie.
Ignore the fact that my baby model is a stuffed panda, and tell me, doesn't that look comfy? Plus, I can still use both hands to knit or read or whatever, and my panda-baby feels safe. Almost like he's still in the womb. When he gets bigger, and nosier (as infants do), I can face him out to the world, and still have him close to my heart... So sweet!
I went into "sewing mode" today, and whipped out a few more cloth napkins. We are slowly making the switch to reusables, and trying to eliminate all paper products from the house. These napkins are made of a lovely olive linen, and we use them every day! And look, you can sort of see the garden out the window!
Of my final sewing project for the day, I'll say only this -- aren't these cute fabrics??
And, of course, the obligatory bunny update -- he is, at this very moment, munching GRASS right outside the garden. Good bunny.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
We have young pullets for eggs (someday) and angora rabbits for fiber. For the past few weeks, I've been chasing a big grey tomcat off the property every chance I get. We also have a vegetable garden. And for the past few days, I've been battling a cottontail rabbit, who just this morning munched two broccoli plants to the ground while my coffee was brewing.
My general policy concerning pests/predators is this: if you were here first, I'll work around you, but if I was here first, then you must work around me or leave. For example, I refurbished an old outbuilding into a coop for my six young hens. I started early in the spring, and had a lot of work to do. I didn't see any evidence of mice or rats, snakes or other critters, so if they come now, they must be peaceful, or leave. I delayed working once I realized there was a sparrow's nest in the rafters, but she unfortunately kicked all three eggs out of the nest anyway. A few weeks after moving the chicks out to the coop, a wasp decided to build a nest on the ceiling. Refusing to kill her, I made a big imitation nest out of a paper lunch sack to encourage her to move along. When she was away from the very small nest, I knocked it down. I don't begrudge her a nest, but I was there first, and I'm allergic. She left, and now I assume she's made a nest in an area with less human foot traffic.
This rabbit (or his forefathers) have been dining in our backyard for at least two years now, so when I put the garden in, I knew I'd have to contend with him. I've put poultry fencing up along the bottom of the wooden fence to discourage him coming into our yard, and I throw lots of edible scraps on his side of the fence. But still he comes... So today, I went out and bought blood meal to put on the plants, and sprinkled buck-rabbit litter from my angoras around the edge of the garden. Later this afternoon, I saw him munching on clover on the other side of the yard. Good bunny.
But I'm not above relocating him if he starts to really make a mess of my garden. Or better yet, keeping that old tomcat around to keep the bunny on his side of the fence... I just hope the cat doesn't try to make a meal of a chicken.
The balance of predators and prey is very complex on the small homestead, I've learned. The cat might eat my chickens, but he definitely keeps the bunny out of my garden, and will probably catch a few mice too. The snake might steal an egg, but she keeps the mice and rats out of the barn. The wasps eat other insects, but they will also sting me with little provocation. I put shiny CDs on the "roof" of the chicken run to deter the hawks, but a hawk flying over would probably keep the rabbit under cover of the brush, instead of in my garden. It's much harder to decide who the bad guys are than I ever anticipated.