Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Giveaway

Well, opening an etsy shop is a lot harder with dial-up and I am still trying to figure out all the technical computer stuff. But I thought I would give you a taste of what will be in the shop. All the garments are knitted on a Singer 360 knitting machine in sport weight yarn. The designs are original.

As a celebration of the season and an opening of the shop I am offering a hat. They are made with Maine wool, with a cotton lining on the brim. Just leave a comment by 8pm. Sunday, January 2nd. I will announce the winner on Monday morning.

Happy New Year!

This moment..with strings

Can you guess what Evan got for Christmans...yes..a ukelele:)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

oh Christmas....

Such a fickle time of is a struggle between the Currier and Ives version of the holidays and the reality that we are able to create. Over the years, I have learned that one does not equate to the other but that does not mean that I don't try. And even though over the last few years I have had moment of brilliance; last year was a homemade Christmas for those near and dear and those more far afield. This year I have fallen far short. The mail will be late...

There are reasons. We have had a difficult year. Life became far busier. Money is short. We've been hit with some big bills at a most inopportune time and then..the dog ate the Christmas zucchini bread and the little vintage skier from my childhood. Okay, maybe the bread eating thing is not the end of the world and yes the skier is just a thing, from my childhood, that my estranged mother gave me...If I was buddhist I could let it go...but I am not..but I digress...

What seems to be missing from this year is not the STUFF of the holidays but the community of the holidays. In our old home, we would get together with some friends for Solstice. Regardless of the weather we would trek into their off-grid home, share wassail and a fine potluck and bonfire. On Christmas eve we would join our congregation for a potluck and service. With both missing from this year we are trying to make new traditions.

Tomorrow, I will start a lamb roast on the woodstove.My hope is that we will be able to get a cross country ski in before dinner and then enjoy a good meal. We will be having a pierogi making party in the kitchen. Pierogi are a breakfast tradition from Mark's family. In years past we have bought store made but last year we made them for the first time and good. And if all hands are able to help then we can have them for several meals while Mark is home on vacation. We like to make homemade Icecream for Christmas. For Christmas day we will slow cook ribs on the woodstove. I hope that we can get a good long walk or ski in the woods in. Maybe some games later in the afternoon. A nap would be nice...

We have been so busy just getting from one day to the next lately. Mark has been gone a lot, I have been busy getting Tristan where he needs to be. I think this school vacation will be nice to spend some time at home, share some soup with new friends and maybe one day trip somewhere like the mountains or the sea ( ahhh Maine)...

So, yes, this year is different and trying to find the a new ways to manage the different can be a challenge but maybe in the process we'll find new traditions....

Maybe a soup feast at my house next year??

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you all! Please watch this space next week for a giveaway and the announcement for my Etsy Shop opening.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


We began our morning with a walk in the woods. We have been following the ongoing drama, told in foot prints, of the struggle between the pack of coyotes that inhabit the woods around our home and the snowshoe hair that sustain them. We find small mouse prints in the snow. They seem to bear witness to the primal struggle between predator and prey without necessarily participating in the tangle of claw, fur and flesh.

Mark and I are in the lead while Evan tags along behind; stopping to pick up every stick, singing songs to himself as he stops for every footprint in the light layer of snow. This is a familiar trail to these men in my life. It leads to the moose skeleton, the small cabin in the woods, to the top of the hill. I am rediscovering it in this new season at our new home. I find beauty in the leaves spread down like a collage framed in snow.

It is Sunday and we are taking a reprieve from driving in a car. We have a long list of to-dos. So as we walk we plan to put up more firewood for the winter. I ask if I can chop some wood. The division of labors have never been clearly defined in our home. We all just assume those chores that speak to our strengths. For me this is work in the kitchen. For Mark it is putting the wood up, anything mechanical. Recently, I had a conversation with a woman who shared that when she needs to let off a little steam she chops wood. It never occurred to me that I could chop wood. This act of putting up wood has always been a partnership between the man who cuts the wood with the chain saw and chops it and the woman who stacks it.

So after a light lunch and settling a wee one down for his nap, Mark and I head out to the wood pile where there is a small pile of logs to be chopped. I watch as Mark skillfully lifts the ax over his head and swings it down hard on to the log balanced on the chopping block. With one blow he chops it in two. He explains every thing he is doing. Balance, safety, aim. I then take the lighter ax, lift it over my head. It is heavy. I can only think about how to control the ax, I can only think about aim. The ax falls and lands on the corner of the log, it falls to the ground. I try again and a small chip is freed. My third blow falls to the left of the chopping block. My fourth try splits the log in two. Mark stays with me while I try another and then head off to take care of some work with his chainsaw. I stay with this work until I have created a small pile of kindling. Oh well...practice, practice, practice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This moment..

Keep your eye on this space. The photos are taken, the paypal account is awaiting confirmation, and I am just waiting for the library to be open until I can upload the photos to my etsy store.

But for now I leave you with this peaceful moment!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Building Community with livestock and chainsaws

The other day Mark, Sploge and I took a ride out to a farm. Sploge is our Black Romney/ Dorset ram and his "services" are required for a flock of ewes in Farmington. It was quite an adventure! There was no problem getting him into the back of the car. He sorta surfed in the hatchback all the way without a baa to be heard. When we arrived we put his harness on and lead him into the barn where the ladies were waiting for him. We put him into the pen and our mild mannered rasta ram turned into a rambunctious cad. He chased the ewes around the pen. Two of the ewes escaped through the cattle panels that made up part of the pen and the third ewe jumped out of the window! Sploge ran after them and chased after the three sheep and the three heifer belted galways around the pasture. He finally realized that he would not catch them and ran off towards their green houses. We managed to tempt him with some grain and put him back in the pen. We all decided that a little courtship between our ram and their ewes might be a better approach. In exchange for Sploges visit we will receive a large round bale of hay and I can use their drum carder to card some of the wool I washed this fall.
The other night I took Tristan to his meeting for the blacksmithing association that he belongs to. I usually take this time to get some knitting done. In the process I also have learned a lot about blacksmithing. I am tempted to join and learn the skill myself. A woman; who is a member and a knitter, was telling me about the work she has done with her property. She has been building up a pasture area for her horse and harvesting trees from her woods. She has about 10 cord of trees that need to be cut. She said she was looking for someone to cut it for her in exchange for 3 cord. I volunteered Mark. Three cord of wood is equal to 600.00 or so, depending on the market. It would give us a good jump on firewood for next winter. Mark thinks he can get it cut up in a couple of days during Christmas Vacation.

These two separate occasions have resulted in a fair barter for us. It saves us some money. The hay will allow us to get a little hay ahead for the winter. Something we have not been able to do this fall. The firewood will provide some security in the future should we not have regular income next winter. But these barters do something more for us. They create connections for us.

After chasing Sploge around the farm the other day we were invited to join our farmers for a cuppa tea. We spent a good while around their kitchen table just talking about the state of affairs. It was a nice break from the hectic life we have been living lately. They have grown up in the area and shared with us stories and histories of the area. We asked questions about making a living as farmers.

It feels good to finally feel like we are making connections since moving out here. We have been so busy with jobs and kids that we have not had many opportunities to meet folks. But in our efforts to live a sustainable life; in our efforts to do what we should do Anyway, we need to be connected to our community. Human capitol is important in the informal economy. Not only for the benefits of barter but because when we are connected and building community, we can fill needs for others when we can and we can glean a sense of security by knowing that if we have a need, someone might be able to help us too.

And in the process we might have stories of randy rams to share:)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reflecting on Anyway..

Since deciding to participate in the Anyway project begun by Sharon Astyk, I have been thinking that I should take some time to really reflect on the different catagories that the project asks the participants to consider. We are asked to consider what we should (or in my case would) be doing anyway; regardless of external forces such as resource depletion, economic disruption, climate change. For example, even without all these considerations we really should recycle or use less or be wiser with our dollars. Basically, it is what we should do anyway.

For us this really is what we would be doing anyway; only we have lost our way a bit and need to really consider the life we want to live. Our family has been functioning over the last year or so reacting to circumstances. Really bad neighbors, new job for Mark, living separately last school year, worries over a potential job loss; we have done well to react to each challenge that has come our way over the last couple of years. What has suffered as a result of this is our hopes and dreams. We have stopped asking ourselves if this homesteading pursuit is working in all areas. We instead have fallen in the familiar rhythm of the seasons: planting in spring, preserving the summer bounty, putting up wood for winter and hibernating in winter. Now that we are in a better location, with more land, stronger community, better soil, and fruit trees; it seems that we can take the lessons we have learned from our first 4 years of homesteading and improve our efficiency and self reliance. In the process maybe we can reach some of our long held goals.

So this is why we are doing the Anyway project. Each category can be a challenge to us to consider what the goals for our life and homestead are. Sharon's original idea for the challenge was Whole Life Redesign. And for us, it may just be the impetus to realize our original intent when we began to homestead.

So the first category, domestic infrastructure on the surface seems an easy topic to think about. A short term goal for us to finish the shed that Mark is building in order to get our tools undercover for the winter. There are just a few more boards needed to complete the siding. We have a temporary roof on it right now and will put a better roof on it in the spring. Next summer we are planning to build a barn. We have begun to send the word out to friends and family that we will be hosting an old fashion barn raising. Long term building goals are to replace our roof and extend the roof line so that we have more usable space upstairs. Ideally, I would like to build a small insulated, passive solar shed for a studio. I do not have a good work space. I would like to get my knitting business up and running and earning real income for us. But I do not have a good space for my knitting machines to be set out right now. I would also like to build a root cellar and greenhouse. I also need to put a fence around the garden in the spring. We have apple trees but no fallen fruit on the ground; something (deer) must be eating them.

As for regular household infrastructure. I would like to start painting some of the interior of the house. This seems like an economical alternative to tearing walls down for the moment. We have a lot of old tongue and groove pine and it makes things pretty dark. We have concrete floors on the first floor. These are no friends to any falling glass. They are painted gray. I would like to investigate what alternatives might be available while still maintaining the passive solar integrity of the house. These floor work as heat sinks and we want to preserve that quality.We are getting by with a small dorm fridge and our cold room and this is working pretty well. But I would like to see if we can get better use out of the cold room. This is going to require some venting in summer and a thermometer to gauge the temp differences during the changing seasons. Until I get a studio built I need to really think about a better work space for my equipment and materials.

And of course, the ultimate of this will be to have all the projects done economically while paying attention to quality. If a project is done right the first time, we don't have to do it again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Handmade Christmas 2010

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you are a member of my family please find another web page to read. I suggest something like this website for its informative content:)

We are busy busy planning and making our homemade gifts for this holiday season. While my knitting needles are busy with small wooly projects for those near and dear, we are also busy making small gifts that the kids can have a hand in. Here are a few of the projects we are working on.

Evan is planning on making a blank book for his dad. There are some great book making instructions at this website.

We saw these great ornaments on Magic Onions. I also plan on making some of these little seed pod candles as well. We are able to get local beeswax for this project so it will be a completely local craft. How cool is that?

Another project that Evan and I have been working on can be found in Amanda Blake Soule's book The Creative Family. It seems suddenly Evan's art is very representational. Small little trucks and funny little people are appearing on piles of paper. I have traced some of his art work and I am embroidering them. They work up really quickly and they use materials I already have around the house and in my stash. I thought these pictures would be nice gifts for grandparents, aunts and uncles. He has a new boy cousin this year that might receive a picture of all the sorts of trucks he has drawn lately.

We have discovered a great resource in our community for very inexpensive and recycled craft supplies. It is the Everyone's Resource Depot in Farmington. So many of our kid crafts are very inexpensive to make this year.

As for knitting years past I have had a better jump on having small projects. I would start earlier in the year and make at least one item per month designated for a holiday gift. Between the move and my MS exacerbation earlier in the fall I do not anticipate knitting any large projects this year. But I do have a list of small knitting project that are quick to knit, can use yarn from my stash, and will be practical to the person receiving it.

These round hot pads are nice, quick and will be fun to make given the play with color. I can use small bits of yarn for these as well.

I have several requests this year for wool socks and have few pairs finished already.

These fingerless gloves are great winter driving. I have a few friends and family I think will get a lot of use out of these.

I have 2 preschool nieces. I plan to make them a gift they can share this year. My thinking was that I would decorate a box and include items for a Waldorf Nature Table. I can make up a few gnomes in different colors for the seasons. We will put some of our pinecones and seed pod candles. Maybe tie dye some muslin. I would include an insert on the idea of the table so their mom could help them with it.

I think the new babies will receive some wooly booties.

We also plan to bake this year. Our cookie list includes, snickerdoodles, chocolate krinkles, ginger snaps and welsh cookies.

We will also include some photos of the kids with everyone's gifts.

Well this should keep us a good way:)

How about you? What are you planning to make this holiday season?