Category Archives: Homestead

Today, We are Not Quite on Fire

Not quite.

We’ve been under a canopy of smoke that blows away in the morning and comes back overnight for more than a month courtesy of that huge fire in British Columbia.  Our August was hazy and hot and almost eerily still.

But last night, as we drove home from a mini-vacation, we were able to see flames from the Eagle Creek fire from I-84.  The air was greenish gray and thick with smoke, so thick you didn’t so much smell the smoke as taste it.

And this morning, the world is covered in a dusting of ash.

But we are not on fire yet.

And soon, the rain will come.

It’s not in the forecast yet, but it’s coming.  I have faith.

And when the rain comes, and the fires are beaten back, and the forests are left blackened and alien in their quiet, and the world around us enters its autumn, we will all breathe a little easier, through lungs and in minds.

But for now, we are hiding inside with the windows sealed up tight, holding our breath as the house holds its breath, and the people who protect our community are fighting and sweating, because today, we are not quite on fire.

Not quite.

In Which They Grow Fast

I intended to post about our new chicks when they were, um, new, right before Easter.  But then the world was full of sadness and anger and the trees started trying to have sex with my lungs, and here we are, five weeks later.

Our new girls:

Smallburrow the Welsummer, tiny.

Whitfoot the California Gray, tinier still.

Smallburrow again, looking like a smallish hen rather than a ball of ridiculous fluff.

Whitfoot again, 80% totally reasonable young pullet, 20% ball of ridiculous fluff.

They are doing well.  They came off the heating lamp this week, and next week they will probably meet the older hens for the first time.  In the meantime, they have been having some field trips out to the backyard under a laundry basket to practice that very important scratching and pecking.

WIP Wednesday (only slightly delayed)

start date: 19 May 2017
time elapsed: 6 days
completeness: 50%

Last summer, in a fit of pique, I tried to resign myself to doing shoes for the smalls the conventional way.

I was frustrated with my inability to make a shoe that stayed on Númenor’s foot, and I was out of the natural rubber soling material I use for all-purpose shoes anyway, so I gave in and bought shoes for the smalls.  Or at least I tried to.

I went to the websites where I normally buy shoes for Robert and myself.  I tried the vendors I’ve been hoping to win a pair from but couldn’t really afford, assuming their kids’ shoes would be cheaper.  I tried the brands I’d heard were for hippies.  None of them had acceptable shoes for children.  Several brands didn’t have kids’ sizes at all, a couple had adult sizes and baby booties but no shoes for children, and the few that had shoes in the right sizes for my kids were so aggressively gendered I couldn’t find anything I would consent to buy, much less anything my funky, post-gender kids were interested in.

So I finally just bought some cheap crap on Zulily.  And the smalls loved the way their “storebought shoes” looked, but they were stiff-soled and uncomfortable to wear, and the sneakers took too much work to get on and off, and they couldn’t be laundered, and one of the pairs of shoes I bought after trying my hardest to find things that passed the minimum standard STILL came with a California Prop 65 warning.

And now, 8 months in, the sneakers are worn through in the toes and aglets.  The flats still look okay, but they don’t have much time left in the toes, either.

So, to review:

Homemade Shoes

Pros: cheap, recycled/recyclable, easy to mend, washable, biodegradable, uses fabric scraps, custom, ergonomic, unique, sweatshop-free

Cons: time-consuming to make, time-consuming to repair, tend to slip off Númenor’s feet, last 4-10 months

Storebought Shoes

Pros: fast, novelty materials (glitter fabric, etc.), secure on the foot, reusable/recyclable boxes

Cons: non-biodegradable, produced with fossil fuels, assembled by slave labor, MUCH more expensive than homemade, produced by the thousands or millions, difficult for smalls to use without help, stiff soles, narrow footbed, cause cancer or reproductive harm, difficult to clean, nearly impossible to repair, packaged in unnecessary plastic, last about 8-10 months

And so, here I am making new shoes for the smalls at home again.

But in the intervening time, I came to a couple new conclusions: first, I only want shoes for the smalls to last less than a year at this point because they grow so fast, that’s about the lifespan of footwear for them anyway.  Second: I have been causing myself unnecessary grief using western-style shoes and a storebought pattern.

This time I’m trying a new approach: breech moccasins from a custom pattern I drafted from a water-resist impression of Númenor’s actual feet.  The toebox is nice and wide, and the soles are natural rubber crepe, cushioned with a layer of wool blanket and lined with a scrap of cotton muslin.  The uppers are sewn together from the few usable bits of an old pair of Robert’s twill pants and hand embroidered in variegated cotton floss.  They are designed to be lightweight on the foot and flexible, while still giving moderate protection from rough terrain and the elements.

So far, I love them.  They should stand up well, and be easy to mend and patch for a few months, and then, probably at the end of next fall or in the spring, they’ll be ready for the wadding bin.


The skull-print muslin is Blackbeard Skull in Black from the “Blackbeard’s Pirates” collection by Riley Blake Designs.

Too Much Jam

I have this heady fantasy that someday, while I’m browsing the shelves of a used book store, I will happen across an old, stained, turn-of-the-20th-century book with a title like “Too much of a good thing: how to use up an excess of anything.”

This fantastical book will have chapter titles like “What to make with too much ________” and “How to use up extra _______” where the blanks are filled in with those things I usually don’t have enough of, but sometimes manage to be totally buried in.  Things like milk, and little scraps of leather, and decorative rivets, and palm-sized bits of cotton calico, and those temptingly sturdy boxes fancy chocolates come in, and jam.

Yes, jam.

Right now, I have a scraping of raspberry preserves, a scraping of quince paste, two and a half jars of quince jelly, and about 3/4 of a jar of huckleberry compote all clamoring for my attention in the fridge.  And we *just* managed to use up a pint of strawberry jam, after I shamelessly instructed Ithilien to scrape out the last spoonful and eat it straight.  I know how this happened: we were out of jam at the end of the summer, so I bought a jar of raspberry preserves on special.  Then I borrowed some strawberry freezer jam from my parents to make Ithilien’s birthday cake.  Then I found a forgotten pint of quince paste from last time at the bottom of our canning jar stack.  Then we canned our quince jelly for this year, and had an awkward half-jar leftover, plus two jars that didn’t seal.  Then my dad got some huckleberry compote for Christmas that wasn’t sweet enough for his taste and I volunteered to take it home because, for real, who wouldn’t accept free huckleberry jam?

And here we are.

So I’m spending my new year making homemade Pop Tarts and Jammie Dodgers in the desperate attempt to turn the preserves that we use sparingly at breakfasts and on the occasional PB&J into things we can eat up right away without any particular effort.

Which I suppose bodes well for our new year, because an embarrassment of riches is an auspicious way to start anything, right?

Happy (and sweet and sticky) 2017 to you and yours!  May this year be as kind to us all as possible.

Cozy Like a Fox

A hot water bottle cover!  I made mine in classic red, for 16th-century warmth (did you know that Europeans believed that red cloth was warmer than other colors of cloth?), although a steely gray fox would be just as cozy.

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This cuddly guy is worked in the round from top opening to tip of the tail.  Legs are picked up and knit in the round from the body, but the head is knit separately in the round and sewn on once complete.

Materials:

  • about 125 yards of bulky yarn in red (I used Cascade Eco+ in 8511, Red/Valentine)
  • small amount of bulky yarn in black or dark brown (I used Cascade Ecological Wool in Ebony)
  • very small amount of bulky yarn in white or cream (I used Knit Picks Cadena in Natural)
  • stuffing (I used natural wool)
  • US 10 circulars, 16″
  • US 9 DPNs

Pattern:

Using size 9 needles and red yarn, CO 44 stitches.  Join in the round.

For the ribbed cuff:

Work k2, p2 ribbing for 3.25″

*k1, kfb* around (66 sts)

For the body:

Switch to size 10 needles and work in stockinette (knit all sts) for 10.5″

*k2tog* around (33 sts)

knit one round

switch to size 9 needles

*k2tog* to last st, k1 (17 sts)

*k2tog* 4 times, k1, *k2tog* 4 times (9 sts)

*k2tog* until only 4 sts remain.

For the tail:

*kfb* around (8 sts)

knit 3 rounds

*kfb* around (16 sts)

knit 3 rounds

switch to white yarn

knit 1 round

*k3, kfb* around (20sts)

knit 2 rounds

*k2tog* around (10 sts)

stuff the tail until plump but squishy with the stuffing of your choice, remembering to add an extra knob of stuffing if you’re using wool or another stuffing that is prone to compacting over time

knit 1 round

*k1, k2tog* 4 times, k1 (6 sts)

knit 1 round

*k2tog* around (3 sts)

Break yarn and thread through remaining stitches, pulling to cinch closed.  Secure the yarn end firmly.

For the legs:

Put your water bottle in your cover and mark the four “corners” of the cover with waste yarn or removable stitch markers.

At one of your corners, use size 9 needles to pick up 16 sts.

Using black/brown yarn, knit these sts in the round for 2.5″

Stuff the resulting tube until plump but squishy.

Divide stitches evenly between two needles and graft together (you can also use a three-needle BO if you prefer).

Repeat at the other 3 corners.

For the head:

The head is worked from the ears down.  Ears begin as I-cords.

Using brown/black yarn and size 9 DPNs, cast on 2 sts.

kfb, k1 (3 sts) do not turn

kfb, kfb, k1 (5 sts) do not turn

knit one row, do not turn

*kfb* to last st, k1 (9 sts) do not turn

knit one row, dividing sts evenly between DPNs to begin knitting in the round.

*kfb* to last st, k1 (17 sts)

knit two rows

Divide sts between 2 needles.

Repeat from I-cord start for second ear.

Using red yarn, knit across the front of one ear, CO 2 sts, knit across the front of the second ear, knit across the back of the second ear, CO2 sts, and knit across the back of the first ear.  (38 sts).

Place marker after 19 sts.

knit 2 rows

k1, k2tog, k until 3 sts remain before marker, ssk, k1, k1, k2tog, k until 3 sts remain, ssk, k1 (34 sts)

k2, k2tog, k until 4 sts remain before marker, ssk, k2, k2, k2tog, k until 4 sts remain, ssk, k2 (30 sts)

k3, k2tog, k until 5 sts remain before marker, ssk, k3, k3, k2tog, k until 5 sts remain, ssk, k3 (26 sts)

k4, k2tog, k until 6 sts remain before marker, ssk, k4, k4, k2tog, k until 6 sts remain, ssk, k4 (22 sts)

knit one round

k1, k2tog, k until 3 sts remain before marker, ssk, k1, k1, k2tog, k until 3 sts remain, ssk, k1 (18sts)

Repeat this row 2 more times (10 sts).

Stuff head more firmly than you did the limbs, but leave some squishy-ness.

Leaving a generous tail, break yarn and attach black/brown yarn.

*k2tog* around (5 sts)

k2tog, k1, k2tog (3 sts)

Break yarn and pull through remaining stitches to cinch.

Finishing:

With a yarn needle, embroider two French knot eyes on the decrease ridge on your fox’s face.

Using your red yarn tail, sew the head securely to the topmost rows of the stockinette section of your cover.

Secure and weave in all yarn ends.

Fill with hot water, snuggle and be cozy!

 

 

 

New Feathers, New Flights

My chickens are molting.

And frankly, they look ridiculous.

Feathers are scattered all over the chicken yard, and from some angles our buff orpington, Took, more resembles a bird you’d find in a bag in a grocery store deli than a healthy, living, laying hen.

As the new feathers grow in, they appear first as hard shafts sticking out of the skin awkwardly.  They don’t provide warmth or shed water yet, they have virtually no color, and if they are cut or torn, they’ll bleed.

And, of course, while the chicken is putting all her nutritional resources into growing new feathers, she doesn’t have the energy to spare to lay eggs.

So it’s a time of deprivation for us as the farmers, and uncertainty and hardship for our vulnerable, naked little birds.

Watching the chickens shed their old, damaged, dirty feathers and take the brave an unceremonious step to grow new ones seems appropriate, somehow, for the election season.

A change in leadership is like a change in plumage– possibly just cosmetic, possibly dramatically transformative, but always resource-intensive, inconvenient, and awkward.  And, even if it appears to be a cosmetic change only, the fact remains that molting every so often to refresh the feathers helps them function as they should, keeping the body warm and dry, and on a good day with a prevailing tailwind, carrying us upward and forward.

We’re well past the halfway point in this arduous process now.  We just have to keep going, get through it, and we’ll be better off for it.

And then a little while after that, we’ll have our dividends coming in again, eggs and governance.

10 Things I Need to Make this Fall

Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.

Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:

  1. Tea towels.  The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out.  I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
  2. Coat for Númenor.  Another year, another coat.  This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use.  I might draft my own pattern.
  3. Hoodie for Númenor.  Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
  4. Twin-size comforter for Ithilien.  In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night.  At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife.  I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it.  The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones.  But it’ll be warm regardless.
  5. “What Lives Here?” picture book.  This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time.  The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives.  I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there.  It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
  6. Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien.  I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus.  How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
  7. Autumn leaf babies.  If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies.  I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves.  I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
  8. Altoid tin boredom busters.  We recently inherited a big box of mint tins.  They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything.  So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
  9. More petticoats for myself.  Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
  10. Halloween costumes.  This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry.  Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.

 

 


 

What about you?  What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?

Go Outside and Breathe

I know it’s late.

It’s hot.

It’s buggy.

You’re tired.

You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.

Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.

Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.

The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.

I know.  I understand.

But sometimes you need to go outside anyway.  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.

Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.

Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.

Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.

Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.

Because the sky is still so blue.

Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.

Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.

Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.

Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.

Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.

Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.

Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.

Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.

From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.

From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.

From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.

When you’re outside, you can breathe.

Try it.

Breathe in deep through your nose.  Open your mind wide and be present.  Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.

Breathe.

This is but one day of a lifetime.  Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.

Breathe.

This is where you are now, and it is good.

Breathe.

This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.

Breathe.

 

You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.

Regularly.

Deeply.

Consciously.

To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.

To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.

So go.

No more excuses.

It can’t wait until tomorrow, not this time.

Go.

Go outside, and breathe.