Friday, April 27

Excerpt from a letter to a friend, written about three weeks ago


You know when you were thinking about going into permaculture and I didn't really get it? I mean, I thought it was moderately interesting and a responsible discipline but I never truly adopted any independent enthusiasm for the subject. But now! My latest dream (a pipe dream, probably, but still--everyone needs a dream) is to be a homesteader. I want a small farm

I've already decided on some sheep (probably not more than a dozen Leicester Longwools or American Jacobs--maybe a Romney or a Cormo or a BFL later on), some chickens, a goat or a cow (undecided, but a Jersey if a cow), and a few hives of bees. The fiber from the sheep would be sheared twice a year, and could easily be processed at home or by a mill (Zeilinger's, preferably). I could then spin it into yarn to sell or use for the house or its occupants--spinning on a drop spindle when walking outside or checking boundaries and fences, then spinning on the wheel for long hours inside in the winter months. I've been processing some raw fleece here at home in Suburbia and I think it would be an easy chore to do out in the country. The cow I'm not entirely sure of--even one cow would be too much milk for just me (as if such a thing could happen!) and it seems that you have to have a calf to go with the cow, and feeding both of them takes lots of money; a goat wouldn't be so much of a money drain unless it was a persnickety type and ate the garden veg. Both would need some kind of outbuilding, though, to keep in the wintertime. And from both I could make butter and cheese! The bees I think of as a more responsible thing to keep in light of the whole colony collapse disorder ordeal--not that I wouldn't mind the honey, but I'm not very learned when it comes to bees... maybe soon. I will read some more. And I'm completely out of the loop when it comes to chickens--I suppose I just want decent laying hens. Eventually they will have to be killed, but I'm not sure I really feel like tutoring myself on chicken butchering just yet.

I want a wood-burning cookstove (with a water reservoir and a warming shelf) to heat the house, but I still want some hot water for showers--I think it is possible to pull that off with the minimum of external help, though. I'll have a cellar for wintering things (or in case of natural disaster--the best that could possibly be would be to have a spring running through the cellar, I think), and a freezer for preserving things (which could be kept running by solar panels on top of the house; at least until it is too cold to need a freezer). One composting toilet ought to be enough for just me or one or two others, but maybe if there are more of us, we might want another--and an external bathroom/outhouse. I haven't thought of what kind of house yet, or how to build it. That may be too many details for a pipe dream:) And we'd have to have some electricity because I think a computer and cell phones would be pretty necessary to keep in touch with the wider world, and to help sell products. And no electric laundry machines, though--there are hand-cranked ones that are just fine and using a drying rack in front of the wood stove would be just fine, anyway.

The garden would be lovely. I could grow most of the food I eat! I would probably have some kind of crop rotation fitted out so I wouldn't be tiring out the land--and I want to have a year of jubilee so that the land will have its sabbath. There could even be a time for wheat--I would have to get one of those hand-ground mills to make flour.  I could have rain barrels around all the house and outbuildings, and plant fruit trees and berry bushes on the property. At the end of summer there would have to be a huge canning-and-freezing party, but that would be fun:) I already do a good week of that here. 

My skills are not so awful as one might expect--I keep our compost pile, have a decent garden of my own, carried all the wood for two fireplaces for the past six months, am able to can and preserve fruit & veg & meats, cook for myself and a family, use cast-iron cookware, am used to processing my own fiber and knitting with it... and I like the work. I hate running on a treadmill for exercise, relying on Safeway or Giant for food I could grow, and cooking on an electric stove. It would be a comfort to be more self-sufficient than I am here. In my wildest dreams, this plan is attainable--but even a few months ago I would have not been this enthusiastic due to allergies, eye strain, and general weakness of body. However, just at this moment, right now, I think I could do it. [...] Oh, and I'd need a dog.

Monday, March 12

Return Again, Sacred Harp 335

I used to not care for spring; the air seemed always too raw and full of pollen, the sun too bright and burning, the earth rotting and swollen and stagnant with rains. At that time I was a lot more sensitive to the light and wind because of an illness, and now I am near the end of my convalescence. Instead of planting my garden and visiting it seldom until the milder days of early summer, I am now out in it pottering around as often as I can. Yes, I sing to my plants. And my garden is very nice just at present. 

There are very few things that make it so evident I am healthier than I have been in the past few years than the fact that I welcome the sun on my face and that it actually feels good without me having to bully my brain into thinking that this is so. What kind of person shrinks from a kindly breeze? But I did once, because it felt harsh and brazen, hot and heavy-handed. I see now how hard it must have been to have compassion on me and to pity me without condescension. If I had not felt so powerless I would not understand, now. 

How sad I have been! How cringing, how weak! How utterly wretched I was. How happy am I.

Sourdough Breads

I posted a picture of a dough made with natural yeast; here are the results! There are two different types of bread. With one I made a pretty typical sourdough loaf. It is a little dark for my liking, but once I master the technique I will hopefully be able to produce a stretchy, shiny, golden crust. Taste was not affected. Tastes just fine. Yum.


The second is a sourdough base, risen with milk instead of water, and comprising of more whole wheat than white flour (like the first loaf). I put in spices, currants, and brown sugar as per the recipe. I've made this once before and liked it--next time I believe I'll shape smaller rolls and bake them longer. Maybe let them rise a bit longer.


As of this blog entry, neither of these creations now exist, or at least they exist in wildly different, digested forms...

Now I just have to see if I can make the started behave so I can make more bread.

Friday, March 9

Midnight Baking Special Edition: Sourdough

I love learning how to do early home crafts. I knit and spin and sing and sweep and keep my homely hearths--and I bake bread in the middle of the night:) Actually this one I will set for a slow rise in the basement and take it up tomorrow to be baked. I set up another starter to double to make a sweetbread I've made once before... Oh, that reminds me. I need to soak some dried fruit to put in it. Thanks:)


Thursday, March 8

The Hesperian Harp, 166



This is a test to see whether or not I can actually upload videos. It is also my new favorite song, and a picture of my garden from inside the house. How cleverly I combine them!

I make no apologies and don't claim to be professional at anything; I sung as quietly as I could so as not to wake anyone, and then chose the best picture to match. It is from last year so my peppermint isn't nearly as overbearing yet.

The words to the song as are follows:

Oh, were I like a feathered dove, and innocence had wings!
I'd fly and make a long remove from all these restless things.

Let me to some wild desert go and find a peaceful home,
Where storms of malice never blow and sorrows never come.

Here and here's where I learned it. 

Tuesday, March 6

So I got the best compliment on Sunday: someone forgot my name.

Sometimes it happens I am a little late to church on Sunday morning, and this last was because we had a friend's mother visiting and we were all lingering over breakfast in our sunny kitchen, laughing. I do not think God will begrudge it us, somehow...

 I usually interpret the sermon into something resembling American Sign Language for a few deaf people that are a part of our congregation; we have other people who are better at signing the songs so each of us is given room to do what we do best. Anyway, when I got there, I had to sit a few rows back from my usual spot because everything was so full (a good thing). I saw several new signers, as well as the full complement of members I normally see only a part of--they are all in helping professions and are respectively sometimes away at workshops or too exhausted to come to the morning services after working on the weekends. This made me nervous. I saw that I had a full spectrum of sign systems (think Spanglish speakers from both ends of the spectrum), which is challenging to meet.

"Where is Rachel?" I was eavesdropping now, and could see the conversation from where I sat.

"Where is Rachel?" was asked from one end of the row to the other.

"What? The other interpreter? Where is she? I don't see her."

"Rachel isn't here."

"What about the lesson? Who will interpret the lesson?"

"I don't know."

At this point our other interpreter was going through the announcements of friends and family in the church. She stopped. "It isn't 'Rachel'," she signed, and patiently spelled out my name--again. "She's there, behind you," she said, smiling and waving at me. I waved back.

I know that it is possible to take what just happened as an insult, but to me at that moment it was the best compliment I could have received, especially from such a diverse group of people. They didn't remember my name, but they valued my skill.

For a moment I could imagine that I felt some kind of kinship with my favorite authors and the craftsman and artists whose work I admire from centuries' distance. I remember Robin Wood's conversation about signing his name to his work--this as I stood in stupid dress shoes in a patch of nettles in the door of his workshop--that it somehow seemed a thing of pride to him but not to others who bought from him. It is good to be known for one's contribution to the lives of others and not as a face or a name. It is quite a relief, in a way.

The roses will be white.

Friday, March 2

Lenten ys come

Catholics aren't the only ones who celebrate Easter or Lent, but those of us who are not Catholic do not have the firm traditions and more-often-recognized symbols of that tradition. Not to say that I don't sometimes wish for them but I simply don't have them. But Lent is a time to prepare for Easter; Easter is the confirmation of all our hopes. So, how are we supposed to make ourselves ready for all our wildest dreams to come true? I want to be calm, collected, clean, and rested. Knowing I would be able to discipline myself to a few new habits and surely be able to refrain from common indulgences, I made a list.
  • Make a point to say AM and PM prayers; I usually use the format of a medieval mass (kyrie, gloria, credo, sanctus, agnus dei), sometimes adding a hymn and specific petitions. The whole prayer takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Meditate for 15 minutes every day. It may seem odd to put a time limit, but I am a daydreamer (and I say that with a tone of chagrin). I meditate on psalms, or on a theme that strikes me during my time in prayer. So far I am having enough trouble concentrating that I'm not sure I've had any decently positive effects.
  • Journal one page a day. Sometimes I avoid reflection in favor of action because my thoughts seem to lurk maliciously. But honestly... what am I afraid of when Christ is before me, behind me, beside me, above me? And yes, blogging counts.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day writing to friends and family. This takes care of the time I have spent avoiding Facebook and not answering emails. Or not writing them in the first place. This habit of avoidance has become unhelpful.
  • Be in the garden for 15 minutes per day. This means I must get fresh air and not simply breathe dust and cleaning fumes and only go outside to get firewood and fetch the post. It is also a crucial time for my garden, when everything is sprouting so beautifully and coming back to life. Time to put on more of the compost that has been so patiently waiting, and time to start preparing to plan the annuals (chamomile and a few flowers).
  • Make no treats or sweet foods except to celebrate specific occasions. My sister's birthday always falls during Lent and there are always house guests who are in need of some snacks during the day, so this isn't quite an ultimatum, but it is worth a try.
  • Use less seasoning in the food I cook; do not add salt or spices; use very little meat. So far we've been almost completely vegetarian and nobody has complained. I doubt if the novelty will last the full period but I'm not the only cook in the house, either.
  • No make-up, no jewelry. Not really too much of a problem with the first, but I do like my earrings and necklaces and rings. Most of my affection is a fondness for the memories attached to a certain occasion, but I need to do without it all for a little while. I get too attached to them.
  • Don't buy things I don't really need. This has been hard. But not too hard. And it is teaching me to plan my purchases, and enjoy reevaluating my needs.
  • Knit and spin only for other people. In my New Year's Resolutions I made one not to buy any new fiber or yarn (except in the annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival), so with this I am having to use stash to finish projects for others and for a variety of charities. This is proving a bit of a challenge, because I love knitting for myself even if it is just one project out of ten that I'm currently working on. I put all my possible "me" projects in a cupboard... and I still have a hospital shawl, a baby bib & burp cloth set, a sweater for my sister, a cowl for my friend, and a shawl for another friend; all cast on, all in progress. It isn't like I lack projects or variety.
I hope that by Easter, I will be more aware of myself and more connected to the good aspects of my environment. I hope I will be less distracted by my material surroundings and a better caretaker of what I have. And I hope to have something concrete (or in this case, knitted) to offer to others out of my joyful labor. I know my fasting and prayer doesn't seem severe, but I think it is enough to get to where I want to go for now. One day I may give up coffee, singing, my smartphone, and knitting/spinning... but not yet.


Thursday, March 1

My delight in whom I take refuge.

So... I suppose it has been almost a year since I last wrote. I apologize to my readers, who by this time must have considerably diminished in number. My eyes had begun to get so bad that looking at a computer for any length of time was pretty painful (I had surgery in October), and I had enough trouble trying to keep up with my regular duties to add self-reflection and expression to them! You can bribe people with cookies, not with blog entries. Take note.


This is part of an alpaca fleece from one such animal named Tillie. In the picture are my drying racks from Fleur-de-Lis Farm and my wool combs from Paradise Fibers. I wash the fiber in warm water with Dawn dish soap, spin-dry it in my washing machine, then dry it on these racks in my work room. I put a handful of fiber on my combs at a time, and drawn it off into a length of fiber all laying in the same direction (twigs & hay go everywhere at this stage since Tillie loves to roll in the dust); then I draft it out to an even thickness and wrap it around my hand, pulling the end through. In this way I make little birds' nests of white fluff that smell clean and sweet and are then ready for spinning of an evening (usually next to a fire, singing my old songs and drinking strong tea). My spinning friends say I will soon tire of processing my own fiber but I really love the calm process of washing, ordering, and preparing fiber; making it into yarn, then into garments, then giving them away. Most of the fiber I have now is from animals whose names I know.

A week before my eye surgery in October, I was listening to my "Jean Ritchie" Pandora station and found one singer whose whole body of work was more intriguing than the individual songs--I usually download songs I love, but this was more to my liking--so I looked him up on the magic iTunes. His name is Tim Eriksen, and he sings & plays American music; hymns and folk songs and all. The day before my surgery I treated myself to a CD of him in concert with something called "Sacred Harp" music so I would have something to listen to while I was blind of a week or more. It turns out I couldn't have done a better thing--I'm completely in love with this style of music and the people who sing it are very happy for others to join them. I can't even read music... and yet somehow every month I have learned new songs and the Sacred Harp singing my mother (whom I tempted) and I attend is more and more of what I like. Since then I bought more Sacred Harp music to learn from and Tim Eriksen has a very respectable repertoire of old folk songs I'm slowly learning just for myself to sing while cleaning and spinning. He has a new album out that you should buy, btw. You should buy it, and send it to me.

Now it is spring. My garden is very emphatic on this point. The peppermint and lemon balm plots are dense patches of compact leaves; the thymes are stretching out and taking new leaves on soft stems; the sage is all furred over with baby leaves like rabbit ears; the bay trees are starting new verses in pale green; the bergamot is rising up from its brown crush of leaves and mulch with a very decided air of trying to catch up after having slept late. I'll be more than pleased when the lavender starts putting up stems and sending out branches again; it should overflow its plot this summer. My rose bush is all over little red leaves that will darken to a deep green by late May, and then in June the white blossoms will make everything bright and deep. My excitement over my garden is hardly poetry, but it is my garden and the air is clean there. When it is warm enough I will go and spin and knit there.

I'm sorry for not being more faithful in my writing, but I hope to be more consistent soon. Know that I have been living a very contented, hobbity sort of life in the past year and expect to continue so:) Now I really must leave off or the cat will wake everybody up trying to tell me I'm up past curfew.