Tag Archives: New England

The Land Breakers

Currently I am reading a book, The Land Breakers, by John Ehle. It was one of the book orders I placed with my family for Christmas and luckily they complied. ūüôā¬† The book was published in 1964 and is a novel about the first white settlers in Appalachia set in 1779.

I was reading it the other day as I rode the bike at the gym.  I came upon 2 lines on page 107 that caused me to stop breathing for a few seconds because they put into words something deep inside me that I have always known and could never find the words to explain.

I imagine most would read them here or in the book and leave scratching their heads about why this would be interesting. These words don’t describe a choice of feelings.They do describe an undeniable and good force that won’t leave some of us alone. We don’t even want it to.

“The family and the clearing and the crops and the stock and the tools were part of the same thing. The family and the place were the same thing and could not be separated one from the other.”

They describe something inside some of us since birth I think. A feeling of deep connection, working cooperatively with living things around us, that although we are part of the picture on our property,  humans are not IMG_0920 the whole picture. It is a wonderful feeling.

permaculture beginnings

Me with Boone

Not my lamb but I enjoy them when I get the chance!

cat spinning

My little sweetheart helping me spin

I still can’t explain it. It does help to explain why one of my favorite things is to be home working on things, why I only want to travel if it means spending the bulk of time with family and friends, why even on those trips I have in the back of my mind the number of days until I can get back to New England and these things.

Cape Sunset

A Cape Cod winter sunset

It just is.

wool dyed with marigolds

Dyed with my marigolds

sourdough breads

My sourdough concoctions

Slooow Wool and Slooow Bread

This is a cozy time of year around here. We’ve only had a little snow so far and I don’t usually need a jacket when I go out to quickly¬† get the mail or¬† to check on the chickens. But on cold days we get to experience that gratification that comes from going from the cold into a warm house. Making a hot beverage. It’s nice.

I have been gravitating to hibernating activities this week. Hibernation time is never fast and feels so right when it arrives.

First, I am making some sourdough starter. It is magic to mix some flour and water and within a few hours find it bubbling with yeast. What I am told is that there is wild yeast in the air that will join it. We can’t see it or smell it or taste it but it is there waiting for some flour and water to come along.

sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter Keeping Warm. It will be covered.

For a few days I will take away half of the starter that is there each day and add more flour and water. In time I will make tangy sourdough bread with it. In the meantime I can throw what is removed each day into other baked food to add flavor and texture. Yesterday I threw it willy nilly into  banana bread I was making and suffered no repercussions. One day it will be in waffles. My next sourdough adventure will be a new one. I will dry what I remove that day as a way to preserve it. There are claims it can keep up to a year or more dried and quickly be alive again. I guess that is why the early settlers used it so much.

But for now my little concoction is living quietly on top of the tv. Not so I can keep an eye on it like a helicopter parent but because the box is warm and yeast likes warm. I wasn’t about to put a heating pad under it or even keep it in the oven with the light on which is recommended if you keep your house below 68 degrees which we do. Finding something that already gives off warmth is best I think.

From a more colorful perspective I decided to dye wool with marigolds and onion skins that I have been letting dry for probably two years now.¬† I do both chemical and natural dyeing and decide what to do based on my inclination at the time. Natural dyeing with plants begins with soaking them for several hours in tap water so that they can give out their dye. Isn’t it pretty at this stage?

 

marigold and onion skins soaking before dyed

Marigolds and Onion Skins Soaking Before Their Hot Bath

This dye is very strong willed. Some of it comes out even in the cold soaking water. I can dye more than one set of fibers in the same warm dye bath because the dye doesn’t get used up quickly. The jar on the left is dye that came out in the cold soaking and the dye on the right is from the hot dye bath. I diluted the dye from the hot bath when I used it.

 

I simmered the botanicals for an hour, took them out, added my fiber and love the results. Some of this fiber was light gray initially before its golden bath, most fiber was in the first bath, but others in the second and third baths because the dye just kept hanging around. The blue/yellow/green one that sticks out so much was an experiment. I sprinkled a little of a chemical dye that is blue on top of the bath to get the variety.

The appeal to me is not to spin miles of yellow yarn but instead to use it with other colors for colorful spinning¬† batts and unique yarn. The only problem is that I have to let it dry overnight. I have trouble not touching it and pulling it apart a little to see how it will spin or how the dye permeated it. It would felt if I did that and right now I don’t want felt.

wool dyed with marigolds

Kerry Hill, Cotswold, Bluefaced Leicester, Leicester Longwool Cross and Gulf Coast wool

So, this a calm time when slow projects, that cost very little money because you use what you already have, are fun to pursue. I have really only just begun both of these activities because in time there will be bread to bake and colorful fibers to combine at my whim. In time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s All About the Solstice

I have never understand the hoopla around a new year arriving on Jan. 1. It is just another date on the calendar to me.

What does attract and motivate me are the solstices. As I have mentioned before, in the winter the snow and cold don’t bother me and I am happy to put up with them because I love New England and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I don’t like the early darkness.¬† I look forward to the winter solstice, the day with the least light, almost as much as a former co-worker did when she said it is better than Christmas.¬† After that it will get lighter. I have coping strategies which help.¬† One of our rooms gets the last light of the day and beautiful sunsets.

pink sunset

Gentle pink sunset today

 

The morning sun floods our kitchen so I work there when I can be home then. I am not the only one who uses morning sunshine for contentment.

cat in winter sun

A warm Pippi dozing

Ancient people kept track of time passing by the phases of the moon and notching wood. They knew when to celebrate the solstice and the light that was chasing away darkness. Even more ancient people must have felt they needed to stay in favor with a god so that the light would increase. I would do both if I was around then! Can’t be too sure.¬† I wouldn’t forget to do the notching chore if it was mine in fact I would demand to be the one who made the notches so I would know it was accurate. If I wasn’t allowed to do it I would keep my own record secretly. Furtively. Stealthily.

Some people must have used the darkness as a time to spin by the fire. Thank God for electricity and central heating in 2016. I can do those things whenever I want. I am back in a batt making frenzy and have pulled out the fiber I put away before Christmas to make the house neater. It does distract from darkness. Here are the makings and some results:

locks for batts

A creative mess

 

batt

Loveliness that rises out of the mess

We have 2 workshops coming up to teach this month so getting ready to create new addicts- giving free stuff first really does help- also dispels darkness.

The chickens are happy to stay out a little longer too. They are back to laying after the molting ended. Sometimes in winter we literally get up before the chickens and find them still perched up high and looking at us with the “what are you doing here so early?” look in their eyes. Yes, chickens have¬† moods too.

chickens in winter

Chickens ready for winter with a snow fence and the cord from the electric water heater

I am looking at the FEDCO catalog and dreaming about spring planting. We have an excellent farmers market a mile away that comes twice a week during the growing season so I am idly thinking about planting asparagus and a perennial kale and getting the rest there. We have no snow so I could put down newspapers covered by a tarp to kill the grass in the areas needed. But at the moment just winter day dreaming is fun.

I am reading these three books I received for Christmas. Actually I told the givers to get them for me so I suppose I sort of ordered them.

books

Books for any momentary whim

So, the days are slowly getting longer. I do like to feed the wild birds, light candles, and can appreciate not needing to go out and weed but instead can read or spin. I do like to settle in with these activities for awhile. Since I know the darkness won’t last.

 

 

Harvest and Permaculture

I have been thinking about fall being a time of harvest in colder climates such as ours in New England. I do believe we see effects of climate change here because twenty years ago we would have a hard frost by the end of September and it would have stayed cold until we had a few days of warmth called an Indian summer. Our first frost now comes well into October and we no longer have an Indian summer because it doesn’t follow the pattern of getting really cold and then warming up for a few days. It stays warmer longer and just gets colder over time. We get frosts at night but the days remain warm so it isn’t the same. Today it was 63 degrees.

The Harvest Moon is the name of the full moon that occurs in September. I am sure most know that this year it was a super moon which meant it was full when it was closest to the earth and so it looked really big. The lunar eclipse added to the excitement.  It is called the Harvest Moon since that was, and still is despite warmth, the time when most crop harvests were brought in for the winter. I harvest some typical things but I began to wonder what more I could harvest.

The chickens helped me with this little challenge. They recently began molting for the first time since they were not old enough last fall. It is a little ghastly and we still aren’t used to how they look. Next year maybe we will take it in stride. It is a natural process by which they lose their feathers in spots at a time. Which means we see areas of bare skin that do begin to fill in with new feathers but the chickens look as though they are abused and neglected rather than being cherished as all our pets are/have been. They don’t peck each other so we have never seen their skin bare. Their necks look especially ugly. They don’t seem to mind it and get enough warmth from other feathered areas as they only come off in little spots at a time. I look them over each day to be sure they are healthy so I have to look at those areas too. Quickly. I won’t take any pictures of them now!

But it was molting that got me to thinking about harvest and history. Their outer feathers have the purpose of keeping rain and dirt away from the body much as a dual coated dog or sheep get with their coarser outer coat. The expression “madder than a wet hen” comes from the fact that if they get wet they are at a greater risk of developing a respiratory disease. Chickens easily succumb to respiratory diseases. So they don’t like wet. The undercoat is soft, downy and keeps them warm. As I saw these feathers around I began to think of what people did in the old days when they were used¬† everything that came their way and wasted nothing. What could I do with feathers that have come my way?

IMG_1552

Buff Orpington chicken molted feathers

I don’t need to use the quills for a pen. As a left handed person it would just mean that I would get ink on side of my hand that was on the paper since my hand goes over the writing, not before it. So it’s good I don’t need that. But then I realized I could bind together the long outer feathers for a feather duster. So I am gathering them and gently soaking them to be sure they are clean. I don’t know how well it will work or if it would have been the soft undercoat that was used. I am not motivated to gather the undercoat this time because it seems dirtier and more work to clean. I could use them to stuff a pillow I weave. Maybe next year.

So I am harvesting the feathers for me and our kitten. She likes this new toy. She is so very fierce.

Inline image

Pippi’s feather encounter

 

Inline image

I have always harvested other more typical things. I froze our tomatoes and dried our herbs. I had many green tomatoes which I brought in before the frost and let them redden up inside.  My grandmother would put her geraniums near a sunny window in their huge Victorian attic to overwinter and I have done that also. I put them in my fiber studio upstairs as my attic window is small. They get a bit leggy for lack of the full outdoor light they want but it works out.

IMG_1551

Geraniums over wintering

margolds to over winter

Marigolds for natural dyeing

! have brought in marigolds that I will eventually use for a natural dye.  I add onion skins to the dye pot and a bright yellow results. The tint of it varies from pot to pot each year which also makes it interesting. I am also drying some of their seeds for next year. More on that risky possibly scary outcome next time.

The continued warmth means I can continue to harvest the sun to dry my clothes. The compost heap can still be fed because it isn’t all frozen yet.¬† Next spring the chicken’s composted manure, bedding, and all the vegetable and other scraps that they don’t eat will provide a rich nutritious compost to help my plants grow like weeds.

The smaller feathers in the coop get buried in their bedding with their manure. I¬† harness/harvest their manure during cold weather to provide a little warmth for them. Odd as it may sound to non chicken people, and it sure did to me, a neat nick, there is a method to use their manure to help them overwinter in cold climates. My first criteria for a breed was one that was winter hardy but we still make changes to help them stay warm. Deep bedding means I don’t put the manure in the compost heap now as I do in warm weather. I bury it deep into the bedding and keep the bedding layer deeper in the winter. The idea is that the manure breaks down and provides some warmth just as a compost heap is warm internally in the summer. Being buried every day or so the books told me meant it didn’t smell. I was skeptical but it really did work. They never had behavioral changes that indicated they were cold.

We do not lack for fallen leaves and much of them are composted. I take others to put in the back of the hen house for bedding. My husband doesn’t want them in the front area where he walks because he can’t tell what may be camouflaged that he wouldn’t want to step on. I can respect that.

I have found on our one acre that there is plenty to harvest. There is a term called permaculture which suggests we should look at patterns in nature on our properties whether a farm or a tiny lot and apply those patterns to our management of our property. Following permaculture even to a small degree enables us to be more ecologically responsible because we will waste less, work with nature and be more resilient and more self sufficient. It is a holistic approach and its application varies depending on each person’s location and resources. As with any idea I pick and choose what to use. For example, a more dedicated permaculturist than I would eat those chickens when they stop laying eggs. Not me. But I think it is a fun challenge to see what parts of it fit me and then to try them. I figure every bit helps.

Autumn Leaves and Lessons

In early October I decided that twice a week I would get up before the chickens, Lilac, Marigold and Daisy-Dandy, to watch and appreciate the sunrise.

I sat on my deck steps and waited. I watched to the east where I had noticed beautiful colors other early mornings while going to get the paper before work.

But there was no special color in the sky and it got brighter. I was disappointed.  I waited a few minutes, looked up again, and there was still no colorful sunrise. But then I saw the red, orange and yellow autumn leaves on the trees. The red geraniums next to the barn. Hmmm- plenty of rich color when I stopped feeling disappointed about what I had hoped to see and looked at the other good things around me. One of those life lessons that I need to be reminded about over and over.

Autumn in New England

Autumn leaves in Massachusetts on the granite bench next to the barn

To be honest I did not get myself out there again as I had pledged. But I never get tired of looking at the beautifully colored autumn leaves around me.

Onward to Spring

Here are some random thoughts and updates as I move towards spring.

I gasped quietly when I saw in my  yard on April 1st:

crocus April 1 (1)

First Crocuses!

The snow is receding like a glacier and this gives perspective on my excitement at the sight:

crocus April 1 (2)

Crocuses by snow

On Saturday spinning friends gathered at my house and as promised some big scary dangerous equipment came also.¬† The picker is used to open fiber up for spinning and is the first step to getting rid of any short fibers and vegetation. Short fibers can be the result of what are called second cuts when shearing. The path of the shearing blades is not always exact and they may have to go over an area again- like when a lawn is mowed and a small length remains on the side of the path-that results in some short fibers in the fleece. A few second cuts and some vegetation are not a problem and come out with processing.¬† If I am choosing fleeces and there are a lot of short cuts and a lot of vegetation I pass it by since a lot of time would be needed to get them out and wouldn’t be worth it.

I love the sign that comes with the picker.  I feel so important because of it.  Like I operate heavy construction machinery.

picker front

Wool picker warning

Here is why it works so well, why we wear protective gloves and why I would never have it anywhere no matter how well guarded in a house with children. What a great feature it would make in a murder mystery.

picker with fiber

Picker with fiber

I have some beautiful Cotswold fiber I dyed green in it here. Truth be told I seemed to have felted it a bit so opened it up with the mighty picker jaws that I swing back and forth. Now I will hand comb it to get out any end felted fibers that came off and will be able to use it good as new. Cotswold is a rare breed with long lustrous curly locks. Its shine, or sheen, remains when spun. Some day I will talk more about that breed since it is so beautiful.

My last Gulf Coast fiber from my sheep of the month March  is Fernando. Here is the picture I posted of him as unprocessed washed locks.

Fernando

Fernando

Here he is after going twice through the picker:

Fernando picked

Fernando picked

He weighs 22 ounces. Not sure what I will do with him but he’ll be ready when I am.

So, you know you are an out of control spinner when you were on an escalator yesterday at Logan airport and you see on the floor below tiles that create different Massachusetts scenes such as a runner in the Boston Marathon and you are delighted to see a spinner at an old walking spinning wheel pictured so you stop when you get to it and realize it is a fisherman at the wheel of an old sailing ship. Which you love too but not the same. Darn it.

Funny Spinning Fact

It is a scientific fact that every spinner who has a significant other be he or she called husband, boy friend, girl friend, partner has gone through an initial time when this person has tried to get the spinner to limit their fiber stashes, and failed. Supposedly reasonable comments such as “don’t you have enough” “what will you do with it” “where will you put it” are silently¬† ignored and after a time they give up. It is bigger than they are. But here is a funny story about old time spinners in Iceland that I read in Bette Hochburg’s book Spin Span Spun. It says that after the men finished their work they would card wool for the women and someone would tell stories and lead the group in singing.¬† I am sitting here enjoying the image of our partners engaging in that together. Especially singing. But I know they won’t go that far!

Last but not least:

Update on discarding fiber paper clutter:

I have been working my way through paper files that I have on fiber and fiber related information. I am happy to announce that I am done and since I like to weigh things I can say I have discarded and recycled 19 pounds of paper and files. Nineteen. Now my home files and my fiber files fit in one file cabinet drawer. Hurray! Can you get rid of some too??¬† It isn’t mandatory to weigh it, just dig in, do 5 a day like I did!

Happy April and the start of sheep and wool festival season in New England. Saturday April 26th is the Connecticul Sheep, Wool and Fiber Festival  in Vernon Connecticut.  http://www.ctsheep.org/sheep_and_wool_festival

Let the games begin!

 

 

Snow on Snow

Snow on snow describes our New England landscape right now. Christina Rossetti wrote a poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, in the mid 1800s which became a Christmas hymn. It has a haunting melody and often goes through my head these days.

But I don’t find winter to be bleak. It has such peacefulness to it and makes our homes cozy. My home was built in the 1830s and we also have a barn built then. Both built before she wrote her poem. They are sturdy and with proper care have withstood many winters. I look around my backyard and think about all the people who have lived here and seen these sights.barn with snowside of house in snow

The colors in our scenery are mostly white snow, green pine trees, gray tree trunks and blue sky. There is a lot of glitter too as the sun makes the snow sparkle. Having a dye day recently with friends helps to bring more colors into our lives. We gathered in a cozy kitchen, played around with color, ate black bean soup and chocolate, and as it does with women, our conversation at lunch skipped between laughter, teasing, reminiscing, sharing some sad/bittersweet personal situations, and talk of when we could get together again for more fiber activities,  and more laughter.samples of dyesDyed Fibers Feb 2015Kid Mohair (2)

And now, what to do with these beautiful fibers? No spinning plans right away. I will just enjoy looking at them and touching them. That kind of attitude, common among spinners, has resulted in my recent fiber organizing that revealed that I had 500 ounces of washed fiber ready to process and spin. Wow. That’s a lot. I have used up some of them since then but not much. I’d like to think that I will use this blog as a vehicle that will give me accountability to use more up and not buy anymore in 2015. Yep, we’ll see how that goes.

But I will give it the old college try and my next entry will include information about Bluefaced Leicester Sheep , the individual BFL sheep whose locks I have, and how I will use the 12 ounces I have. Each month I hope to do the same with other breeds. But for now I am off to pull out that fiber to enjoy its tiny curls and to think about how cute they are. That alone makes me happy and for a short while I will forget if we have snow on snow or spring flowers.