Thursday, December 20, 2012

these darker days

*Christmas baking is in full swing (cookie recipes here, here, and here). My girl dons Oma's apron, grabs a wooden spoon, and carries around bowls which are much too heavy for her as I work away in the kitchen.

*The egg basket remains empty as the hens take their winter break (and I dip into my freezer stash).

*Advent candles burn bright. The greenery I collected for our advent wreath (just as I did last year, complete with the same cast of characters!) already dried up to fire-hazard proportions, so I replaced it with this old felt garland, made into a wreath shape. Taking inspiration from here, we also now have the perfect candle holder, cut from one of our dead aspen trees. And I sprung for some lovely beeswax candles! A very proper advent wreath to light our December nights. Our feet are still firmly planted in this advent season - waiting for the Light.

*Sometimes we eat a very early dinner and run outside at 4:00 to soak up the last bit of fading daylight. My need to rearrange what little furniture we have seems to peak at this time of year. All this indoor time is certainly good for fluffing the nest! (And for knitting. Lots and lots of knitting).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

back to knitting

Which is what I do when I'm not sure what else to do.

While searching for the perfect yarn to tackle baby's sweater-coat project, I whipped up these fingerless mittens as a gift for my sister. She's very fun and fashionable, and I hope she likes these! (Wearing knitted gifts is coming back into fashion, right? Right.) I used a light sock weight yarn, since she lives in Texas, and doesn't usually see much of a winter there.

I will never be a hand model. 

Back to the sweater, I purchased some beautiful, natural merino wool from Grace. Much like knowing the farmer who grows your food, I think it wise to know the people who know and care for the animals your fiber comes from. It really is the way things ought to be, I feel. My very ambitious goal is to have this project completed by Christmas. I work well with deadlines. And so far the pattern isn't frightening me into avoidance (much).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

on letting go

When I was a child, I used to save shiny little candy wrappers in an old shoe box. Mostly made of colored foil, I would take care not to rip the wrapper when removing the candy. I'd then smooth the foil out gently, admire it, and place it in my treasure box. It seems many of us have a tendency to want to keep or hold onto beautiful things or things we find uniquely special. I hardly even looked at my wrappers, but there was comfort knowing I rescued something beautiful from the trash, and that it was mine.

Possessions - how easily and innocently they turn into comfort or obsessions. And how much fiercer we tend to cling to them as we age, perhaps most especially those things which aren't meant to stay with us forever.

We recently harvested one of the meat-birds-turned-layers who was becomming unhealthfully fat. It was a bit difficult for me, as I honestly just wanted to keep her around because she was so different-looking (the only darker one of the bunch) and special that way. Harvesting animals is certainly an exercise in letting go.

Why do we feel we must have something in hand to carry it with us? The intangible aspects, like a memory, just don't seem the same. We want the baggage. Or at least, I used to. But I'm finding with this lifestyle of less is more, that I'm becomming more at ease with the passing of things/beings/seasons - time - and less enamored with what was. For somehow we must carry all these experiences in our bones, even if we can't readily recall all the moments of our past. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that it's truly the present that matters, and that living in that doesn't negate the past or hinder the future, like at one time I thought it might.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

eggnog french toast

English muffins soaked in a mixture of eggnog, one beaten egg, and a little cinnamon and sugar. Then fried in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar and a tiny bit of maple syrup. Oh my. So festive and good.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

animal composting

I know this is a rather grim subject, but when you have livestock, you need a way to deal with animal carcasses in cases of unplanned and untimely death. Winter is certainly one of those untimely seasons to lose an animal, being that burial isn't really an option when the ground is frozen solid. And, unfortunately, it seems winter is when most animal losses occur.

The animal compost pile, about a third less high than when we originally made it. Next year I'm going to plant sunflowers around it. 

We first learned about this composting method after we lost our 'Stella goat. The first link on this website also has very well-researched and in-depth information on the subject. We used the same principles mentioned in these articles, but applied them on a smaller scale. We fenced off a small area in a spot away from the ponds and streams. We used pine shavings (A LOT of pine shavings!) as the composting medium, and after some initial wetting of the pile, it has pretty much taken care of itself. I've only turned it once (to see if things were actually decomposing in there - they were!) and we've added a variety of critters to it (chickens, mostly) since the original goat. In spring, we'll spread the compost around the trees on our property. I'm still reading up on using animal compost on fruit trees or in the garden, as there's some conflicting information about the safety of it.

Pine shavings are excellent for proper air circulation and water retention/drainage

A few benefits of composting carcasses as opposed to other methods are: 

*Less risk of groundwater contamination
*Less labor intensive than burial
*Less costly than cremation, and I like knowing our animals are still a part of this place after they pass. Plus, I do think dealing with the carcass yourself helps with the grieving process, and returning them to the earth in this way feels like a natural way to honor their contributions here.

Digging down into the pile reveals beautiful, rich compost

I hope all of this doesn't sound too clinical - death on our farm always has a profound effect  - but I wanted to share this because it really has worked for us. Having a system like this in place makes dealing with the death of an animal a little less stressful when the time comes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

still knitting

I've had this homespun "art yarn" in my stash for a long time now, and not really a clue as to what to make with it! I loved the bonnet pattern I used to make my nephew's gift, so decided to try making one with this yarn for my little girl. It's her funky modern baby bonnet, and she loves it!

 It's especially useful for morning chores, visiting the chickens, gathering rocks, and things like that.   

Notice how it goes with everything and nothing at the same time.

I also used the leftovers for another pair of mittens. I think I'll sew a ribbon to connect these, so they don't get lost.

I'm tackling a sweater coat for baby as my next project. It will be very challenging for me, but I'm in such good knitting spirits lately that I think I'm up for it. My husband said it will probably take me a year to complete ;) Now that's a challenge if I ever heard one!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

more knitting

Want to see what I've been up to?

A small egg/ball/hot air balloon-shaped toy, knit from the scraps of my scraps and then stuffed with scraps!

And a sweet little hat and wee mitten set from the book Vintage Knits for Modern Babies. I recieved this book as a baby shower gift, when I was just first learning to knit. I adored the patterns in it, but honestly thought I wouldn't be able to do most of them. It all looked like such a foreign language to me then! I started with a beginner baby blanket and after that success, I gained more confidence to try some of the other projects. Just a couple years later and lots of practice, I've worked my way through a good third of the patterns. I never thought I would make something that I could actually give as a gift, but here I am, doing just that! (I think you know your knitting is good enough to give away when you secretly want to keep it for yourself). This set will be a Christmas present for my littlest niece.

My first baby blanket, knit 2 years ago

And from that same book, I just completed a cap for my littlest nephew, too. I'm really happy with how it turned out, and have just cast on one for my girl.

It is high knitting season around here. Oh yes!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

knitting tribbles

I've been knitting these little tribbles (very appropriately named, I might add, as they really do seem to multiply!) out of scrap cotton yarn. I'll be using them mostly as kitchen sponges, but I'm also thinking about giving some as gifts. Although, I have to say, there are those in my life who are likely not excited about the prospect of a knitted sponge. Perhaps these cuties will convert them.

For about a year now, I've replaced store-bought sponges with knitted cloths and for the most part have been happy with it. Mine were looking really raggedy though, and this new pattern seems better than the flat cloths for dishes. I use steel wool for tough cleaning, but I've read about some people knitting in strips of tulle or onion bag material to make these more of a scrubbie. I might give that a try, too!

If you give them a go, I found this tutorial very helpful for the finishing, which didn't quite make sense to me at first. They really are a fun and quick (this coming from a very slow knitter, mind you) project. Now I best be getting to that pile of dishes multiplying in my sink!

Monday, October 29, 2012

in autumn

The leaves felt like they changed color late this year, but once they did, if you blinked you'd miss all that grandness.

The stream to the pond finally started flowing again after a couple good rains to make up for a hot, dry summer. Three months with a dry pond. Oh how we missed that water. Such beauty and life returned the day the pond filled back up!

The chickens (or "bok boks" as baby likes to say), are all doing well, and growing lovely new feathers as they come through their annual molt. We haven't had any additional losses either, but we have them mostly confined to the (large) outdoor run attached to the barn. We're looking into some portable electric fencing as a possible way to allow more free-ranging again. I'm not completely convinced that will deter the fox, though. Anyone have luck with poultry fencing?

Our Sussex has been semi-broody for a couple weeks. I intended to let her sit on a clutch of eggs, but she seems a bit confused as to what to do exactly. One night she's in the top right nest box where the eggs are, and the next night she's in the top left. Oftentimes she sits near the eggs, but they don't actually seem to be under her. And she can't resist leaving them often in favor of enjoying a snack with the other hens. I told her that's perfectly okay - much of the time I have no idea if I'm mothering the right way either! 

We're tossing around the idea of breeding our two girly goats (also known as "ba bas" in baby talk) to the neighbor's buck. It's a big decision and one we need to make very soon!

All the garlic has been planted out! A couple old favorites: Sicilian Silverskin and Siberian Purple Stripe. Along with some new varieties: Russian Red, French Rose, German White, and Inchelium.

The cold frame is continuing to provide us with some nice fresh greens, and I'm starting a new row of lettuce soon.

These Autumn days are very good, indeed. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

room to grow

Our October started out so cold that I really couldn't knit these baby longies fast enough! I'm a slow and distracted knitter, but here they are, finished just in time for the first real snowfall of the season.

My baby isn't technically a baby anymore, but I just can't help still calling her that (won't they always be our babies, after all?). She's growing so fast now in every way that I find myself feeling the moments slipping through my fingers while I struggle to grasp them a bit longer. Much like the stitches while knitting, no sooner do I complete one, than does it slide off the needle and another one takes its place. Connections are woven. The garment speeds toward completion. The casting off a bittersweet end. 

I thought much about these things as I worked on this pair of longies, making sure I added that extra inch to allow baby room to grow. Isn't it something that kids give us so much opportunity to grow along with them? They are more adept at it for sure, but if we let them, they will show us what a gift it is to never stagnate. To keep going even through the growing pains. It doesn't stop me sometimes wishing, though, that time would just slow down already

(Here you can see I had one of these moments, where I let the baby play with the ball of yarn to buy myself some time so I could finish just one more row. Then, I spent double that time untangling the baby and mess of yarn. Hrmn.)

Now onto some much needed mittens and a new hat

Thursday, October 18, 2012

the best chicken salad

The oven is back in use after a summer's rest, which means plenty of leftovers from a hearty dinner the night before. When I roast a whole chicken, one of my favorite ways to use up the leftover meat is to make chicken salad. I take my time to procure every morsel of meat off the roasted bird, including the back meat, which is so tender, but often passed over. I've tried many versions of chicken salad, and finally have a recipe that I'm completely happy with! This one is adapted from Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader.

Chicken Salad
~makes about 4 servings

2 Cups roasted chicken, chopped
1/4 Cup diced pickles
1/4 Cup diced celery, including the leafy tops
2-3 green onions, finely diced
1/4 Cup homemade mayonnaise
1/4 Cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
(Optional: herbs of your choice, such as parsley and tarragon)

1. Combine the first four ingredients.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients to make the dressing. Stir the dressing into the chicken mixture and enjoy.

 Oh, and try it on this braided bread - THE best bread I've made to date!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

bringing it in

Most of last week was spent hauling in whatever we could harvest from the garden. We've had several freezing and frigid days, and even a dusting of snow already!

Much of the corn was still immature (a bit too late planting that this year).

We found the very last raspberry.


Farmer baby was a very eager helper, pulling up carrots, crawling around inside the raised beds to find the hidden peppers, and overjoyed to hear "yes, pick it!" when she pointed to any still-green tomatoes (instead of hearing my usual "not that one, it's not ready yet").

Her little baby doll (which was actually my favorite baby doll when I was her age!) comes nearly everywhere with us.

And gets to sample all the garden goodness, too.

The dogs stopped by to play for a bit.  

The sun came out briefly and cast a beautiful glow on all our hard work.

We filled our baskets full.

And after such a busy time in the garden, we decided to take a rest by the sandbox.

Where even more treasures were discovered.

This is the time of year we fell in love with this place.

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