Category Archives: Homestead

Happy Rain Day

The Pacific Northwest is infamous for its wet, for its rain.

This is largely a deserved reputation.

Sure, during the summer it can be dangerously dry and baking hot, and most areas get a decent amount of snow in the winter, too, but we are defined, especially in the popular imagination, by rain.

We are people who thrive on cool and damp, here, like mushrooms, wild but ultimately predictable, staining outlandish colors and unpleasantly sticky, weirdly dry, or dusty with spores ready to spread our clones through the understory.

Actually, that last bit may only apply to literal mushrooms.

But the point is, rain.  Rain people, that’s us.

And also salmon people.  And forest people.  And hunters.  And farmers.  And ranchers.  And fruit-pickers.  And brewmasters.  And professional webcomic artists.  And cat sweater knitters.  And vegan cookie couriers.

Both vegans that are couriers of cookies AND couriers who carry vegan cookies, that is.  Probably vegan couriers of vegan cookies, too.  On bikes, of course.

Anyway.

We are in the middle of a good, solid soak right now.  I look my weather app and the sidebar ads are for plans to build an Ark.

The great blue heron that lives in the creek on the edge of our backyard is probably pretty psyched about this.  My small children are delighted, and muddy.  My chickens are distinctly bedraggled.  I am accepting the mud with as much grace as I can muster, but the rain?

The rain…

I love it.

I love the smell of it, the humidity in the air before it starts and the overwhelming scent of water during the fall and the earthy, confusingly-clean smell of soil bacteria doing its thing afterward.

I love the way it sounds on the roof or blown hard against the walls of the house.

I love the way it feels as individual, ponderous drops soak through my clothing, or as it softly splatters against my bare skin, or as icy splashes lick the fingertips I dip out of a barely-open car window.

I love the way tiny raindrops embroider cedar fronds, and big drips accumulate on maple leaf tips, and a steady mist seems to sow moss wherever it falls.

So basically, I’m living my best life right now, in the late spring Gorge.  If I didn’t have to spend so much of my time scrubbing mud out of some people’s clothing and hair, it would be idyllic.

But perhaps my favorite part of the rain is that when it rains outside, it changes everything inside, too.

By which I mean mud.  Everywhere.  Mud.  So much mud.  Yes.

But also also, a little damp chill in the air making people want to snuggle more.

Soup weather.

Wet clothes steaming in front of a fireplace.  Hot mugs for frozen fingers to cup.

Midday sun through windows reduced to a kind of sepia-toned amorphous glow.

Beautiful watery patterns tracing down glass, constantly changing.

Warm baths, warm beds, warm socks.

Rainy spring days are kind of like a vacation from the preparations and hustle of renewal, like even the earth is taking a mental health day.

Sometimes, being humans, we need to resist that clarion call to snuggle up and Do Things Instead Because Expectations.

But I think it’s important, especially during these weeks when the rain never seems to slacken, to declare some Rain Days for ourselves, too.

I’m taking one.  You should, too.

Drink deep.  Soak it up.  You’ll need it later.

Last call

This is the last hurrah of winter.

The last big storm.

Probably the last snow to hit us, down here on the river.

We’re past Imbolc now, and starting the garden.  We’re just a few short weeks away from the light half of the year, the overture of spring, fresh miner’s lettuce and garlic scapes.

I’ve sat in the sun for an afternoon– albeit with a shawl– and felt the light down to my bones.  It’s a bright, clear, bare sort of light in winter; not the sun of summer, indolent and salubrious, nor the brightness of spring, gentle and warming, nor even the dying opulence of the sideways autumn light.  Winter sun is sparse, both in frequency and in character.

But still, new growth is starting.  The earth is starting to stir beneath her blanket of snow and ice, and soon she will be kicking off the bedclothes and stretching toward the sun through the lengthening days.

The breeze smells of damp soil, rot, and a last sharpness of snow.

Ayyam-i-ha is only days away now, and then spring will come.  The moon is swelling back to full again to mark the return of the worm.

Soon we’ll turn the page on the dark half of this year.

This is the last chance for winter.  The last call to get outside and make footprints in negative space against the white mantle.  The last cozy afternoon under a blanket with your knitting.  The last long, dark evening for board games and books.  The last contemplative, gray morning before the rosy-pink sunrise.  The last opportunity to stand under a tree dripping with melting snow, making soft, fawn-coat splatters on the earth at your feet.

The last handful of snow clean enough to eat.  The last white-flocked tree branches standing in stark relief against the dark forest.  The last freeform, half-melted ice sculptures glittering on the gutters.  The last snowmelt puddle under the car.

Soon the icicles will fall off, and Coldweather will bow to Warmweather.

Until next winter.

Changes

I have been buried under a mountain of work all month, and have just now managed to see a glimpse of daylight again.

We dramatically shook up our lives, downsized our possessions and space, and re-committed to building a local, fleshspace community.

I re-thought the storage of my work materials to bring the spinning wheel back out of deep storage.  I have a handspinning rare wool kit from several years ago that I have yet to use, and while I do want to spin some of it on my lovely Turkish drop spindle (which I also have yet to master), some of it will need the wheel.

We gave the smalls a day nursery for toys and art and games and books, so that we can move to a daily rhythm that doesn’t include cleaning-up friction.

We made wall space for our bigger maps and pushed Númenor and Ithilien a little harder on reading and writing so we could break through to grammar and semantics.  We joined a homeschooling group.

Our pullets laid their first eggs and our older hens gracefully accepted a dramatic change in their own space.  I made baskets, the first woven from cedar bark and twined sedge grass, and the last one crocheted from old t-shirts.

We canned applesauce and roasted Bavarian nuts and gave thoughtful Christmas presents and did magic and ate dinner in restaurants and fanned smoke and poured candles.

We watched the snow fall.  We fought our way through ice and storm to be with our extended family.  We ran and played and warmed up again by the dint of effort and seemingly endless cups of cider and cocoa.

We set up our movie projector.  We welcomed a fantastically bristly douglas fir into our living room.  I crocheted axolotls.  Robert sewed pants.  Númenor and Ithilien made felt balls and simmered them in Kool-Aid.

And as the last few hours of 2017 pass us by, we will be busy in the kitchen, making treats and trying experiments and (hopefully) starting some new soap.

May 2018 bring us peace, understanding, joy, victory, and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in darkness.  May the returning sun shine bright into the shadows and the rush of spring green lift us all to new life.

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.