Winding up Wednesday: My Scrappy Blanket Vest (Stash Busting!)

I’ve managed to whittle down my stash to just a few yarn I really love and have project appropriate amounts of in stock.

I love to snuggle up in a blanket on cool mornings while I sip my coffee and write or on summer evenings while sipping tea on the porch listening to the crickets. I have a small purple blanket I often use for this purpose. However, I’ve been wanting something heavier, sheepier, something I can wear while pouring that second cup of coffee or the walk back to my house from Mom’s.

I also have a tote of scrap yarns from spinning tests, left over projects, and that ever present “what was I thinking” yarn. Since I’m in need of a serious stash busting and I want a specific item I decided to put the two together with my own variation of the sweater vest I knitted up a few months ago.

I’ve managed to whittle down my stash to just a few yarn I really love and have project appropriate amounts of in stock.

To keep my yarn thickness consistent I held multiple strands together. At first every time I changed yarn I was dropping the yarn, picking up the next strand, and weaving in as I went. That got to be too much work. Enter the magic knot. It’s not something I would use on my shawls or socks, but for this project it’s perfect.

I still have a ways to go on my shawl blanket. But it should be done in the next week or two. I’m so looking forward to snuggling up in it.

Until next time,

Get creative, bust those stashes, and

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

PS. I’d love to see some other stash busting, so feel free to post in the comments!

Monday’s Musings: The Cult of Positivity

Wait, are emotions negative or positive? Doesn’t that denote a “right” and a “wrong” with emotions?

hand.jpgBeing positive is good. We need to look on the brighter side in a gloomy situation. It’s something that can be a valuable survival skill in stressful times. However, I’ve noticed something dark and sinister lurking in the cult of positivity. It looks like an angel, like hope, like a way out of negative emotions.

Wait, are emotions negative or positive? Doesn’t that denote a “right” and a “wrong” with emotions? Hum…. No. The answer is no. The great poet Gibran said,

“your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the self same well from which your laughter rises was often time filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy it can contain.”

There are no right or wrong emotions. So often when we have a difficult or unpleasant emotion arise we fight it. We send it away. We tell ourselves certain feelings are invalid. That’s invalidating your core self, you soul, your emotional well being, and ultimately the human experience.

The challenge in today’s society is to sit with our negative emotions, to recognize them, and to accept those feelings without being consumed by those feelings or passing judgment. If you are feeling grief, then feel your grief so that when you remerge into life the joy of living fills your cup fuller. When you are feeling anger, accept that part of you that feels violated and indignant so that when peace comes you recognize her sweetness. When you are worried or concerned explore the reasons and rationality so that you may prepare in balance for the future.

When we allow our emotions to simply be we experience the breathe and depth of living. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling or “positive” than that.

Until next time,

Craft no harm

Moriah

 

Friday’s Farm: My Unorthodox Garden Bed

I would say spring is in full swing, but if your weather is a crazy as ours, then bless your heart and stay strong. The cold weather has provided one thing: time to make more raised beds. Be prepared, though. I might have been an Orthodox Jewish girl at one point, but I’ve never been an Orthodox gardener!

I don’t know about most people, but I have this unyielding conviction that growing food is suppose to cut the grocery bill, not add a new bill to the yearly cost of living. In keeping with this I use whatever happens to be laying around. What I have laying around happens to be old limbs, old barn wood, spent hay bedding, and tons of manure. I mean TONS of manure, and it has to go somewhere. I also have about an inch of nasty white clay over lime bedrock in my garden. That’s not great for growing…

Interestingly, the resources available right here at home are exactly the resources I need to have a stellar garden. Funny how often that works out!

My first garden bed layer is typically yard trash like rotting limbs and leaves. I use this as the base for my bed. I cross them or just use larger limbs. I have two lines of thinking on that. One, it allows air flow so the upper layers compost, and two my beds drain better. I also will use bamboo leaves, old corn husk, old plants, or whatever is bulky.

My next layer is the fun one! It’s the BIG layer. When I lived in the city this was my kitchen scraps and grass clippings layer. With the animals it’s spent bedding and fresh manure. Don’t worry about your plants – they won’t be touching it for a while. I like a good foot to foot and a half deep bed. You will be shocked how quickly that breaks down into six to eight inches of compost. I like cattle, horse, and of course sheep manure laden bedding. Sheep offerings are actually hotter than chicken. However, I’ve not had issues with using the flock’s donations that chicken bedding causes. Get everything good and wet, keep it moist, and by the time the next season’s planting time rolls around earthworms will have made a nutritious garden bed. Don’t worry about the chunks. They’ll break down after a while.

The top layer is the key to making this whole thing work. I’ll transplant established plants directly into the middle layer. However, young transplants and direct sew seedlings do better in aged chicken compost, dried cow patties, or regular old dirt. Cow patties are my go to seed starting medium. I simply crumble some up (with gloves on!) and create whatever depth I need for my seeds on top of the BIG layer. Then I keep it well watered until the plants establish themselves.

Does it work? I think so!

 

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s so nice you have all that manure and stuff laying around”. Even when I lived in the city in a town house with a tiny patio I still used this method of growing in containers. I’d put in twigs, then leaves from the local park along with my coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, and then let them hang out for the winter. When spring time came around again I’d put a small amount of potting soil on top and plant. Same principles, just a smaller scale. The best part – a $25 a week grocery bill and all the lettuce and pesto I could eat without shelling out a bunch of money for bags of soil.

If you feel adventurous call up some local farms, verify they don’t use round up, and ask to collect some manure. Believe me – you offer to clean stalls or pick up patties from the paddocks and you’ll have a new best friend. You might even end up with some farm fresh produce and eggs for your trouble along with the muck.

To keep weeds from popping up I keep adding new rotted muck and compost as mulch or do some cultivating every few months. That equates to about four times a year on average. It depends on the bed’s age. Older beds nearing the end of their lifecycle need weeding more often. My beds typically live for two years and then it’s time to rebuild it over winter for the next spring.

Recently, I was told that this is called Hugelculture. But when reading up on the Hugel my way is much less sophisticated. I call it composting garden beds or shytenculture. But really, it’s just an old, old, old way of managing waste, growing food, and using the gifts that surround us.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Winding up Wednesday: Spinning a Tender Fleece

Shearing season is finally coming to a close and I’m back to the wheel and the loom. My dear Sade was one of the last sheep in the flock shorn.

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My shy little orphan had two surprises for me. First – she’s not such a little sheep! She’s a decent sized gal with a five pound fleece! Guess that Merino finally kicked in.

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The second surprise is that she’s a Lilac! Her tips are still black from lamb hood, but that under color is spectacular.

There’s just one minor issue: she’s a little tender fleeced. It’s not bad, and it’s not throughout the entire fleece. It’s mostly at the spine and the areas of less crimping. I believe part of the issue is a combination of a Merino micron count (I’m guessing she’s around 19 or 20 microns) with a very Jacob texture and lock structure. Extremely soft, but not as strong as a pure bred sheep of either breed. No matter how strongly I feel about Sade, the fact is when you give some of her locks a good yank they come apart. I’m not apt to sell such a fleece to the average spinner, so this is my blanket fleece for this year. There are tricks to turn an iffy fleece into beautiful and useable yarn.

Fleeces are stronger in the grease than scoured, especially those scoured in hot water. I’m processing this entire fleece in the grease. Merino level grease to be exact. I’m glad she’s a fairly clean girl. However, it’s still Merino level grease – yuck!

I have the choice to either flick card the fleece or to comb it. If I just had a half pound or even a pound I would flick this. However, I have five pounds to power through processing and spinning within two weeks. My handy dandy Viking Combs are the best tool. They will be getting a bath after this… okay after my Rom Doll and Mini are done, too. What can I say? Viking Combs are made for serious work, and eighteen pounds of wool in twelve weeks is serious work!

I’m spinning straight from the comb instead of pulling roving. When you draft directly from the combs you are pulling on just a few strands, sliding them forward into the spinning wheel or to the spindle. I’ve found fewer major breaks in staple this way. Also, if you come up on a nasty bit it’s easier to get it out. Working in the grease really helps the fibers to slide past each other. This also minimizes breakage.

The actual spinning is a judgment call. I find that shorter fibers hold together better in a thin single with slightly higher twist. However, that single can also break more easily. This works, but you have to watch the twist carefully. Too much and the yarn ends up hard, not enough, and the tender fibers don’t hold together through washing. I’m going a little thicker than usual since this is a weft yarn. I definitely will not use this for warp! I’ve tried tender fleece warp and it’s not worth the aggravation. If you can do it… go for it… you’re more patient and braver than I. The fulling at the end of the weaving process will felt this slightly and hold everything together.

This brings me to the last issue in working tender fleece – the finished product. If just the tips are tender I have no issue creating sweaters, socks, or even warp yarn from that fleece. However, if the break is in the middle it’s not going to be as durable as other yarns. That’s why I reserve these fleeces for weaving and other crafts, specifically, for projects with felted finishes.

I have hope for next year’s fleece and the ones after that as Sade ages and her fleece becomes courser. Her father and mother both had excellent fleeces, and so does her daughter. Her lamb’s fleece was good. It might just be an off year for her. In the short term, I’m doing what few folks even try – I’m spinning a tender fleece, weaving it up, and enjoy Shy Sade’s work of art.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah

 

Monday’s Musings: And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

As most folks State side know, the weather this year has been grueling. Our typical harvest schedule begins in March and April with peas, kale, radishes, and lettuce. Lettuce and vegetables in general are the staple in our diet here at Serenity. But not this spring. Most years we’re planning for a hay harvest the first week of May, figuring out what to do with the old hay, and have all the animals out on pasture. Not this year. This year is the year of cutting bamboo leaves for our animals, driving near and far weekly to find scarce hay, and praying for warm weather. Game is still scarce. We are awakened many nights by coyotes and coy dogs on the porches or even trying to get into the barns with the geese and sheep. We are running on empty many days balancing a weak spring planting with repairs to the houses and barns, long trips for food for all of us, major cash outlays for hay and truck repairs, shearing, gathering herbs, jobs, etc. It’s only April and I’m feeling weary on the edges by the time Saturday’s rest rolls around. That’s usually an August feeling.

This week I checked out our pear tree. We’ll have no pears this year. Our pears are the old variety that Elizabeth of England loved. This is the second year of no pears and ancient trees nearing the end of their lives. I saw the dead fruit buds and felt like crying. But I didn’t.

Instead I took a deep breath and let it go. I chose instead to concentrate on the good goings on. The wool business is growing. Some of my fleeces are already completely sold out. The workshops, while lots of work, are coming up soon. That means a little money, but more importantly educated shepherds and another step towards my life goal of greater animal welfare on small farms and homesteads. Momma and I are launching an herbal tea and remedy business this year. We already have people wanting to place orders. The rains and warmer weather are finally here. The grass is growing. The hardwoods are budding. We found a plum tree and a friend told us were pawpaws grow in our woods. Last year’s black berry canes are putting out leaves. A sacred Elder tree has decided to grace my garden with her presence and strong medicine. Much needed hay came to us. It’s enough to last until a June hay harvest.

Did I choose to look at the positive instead of the negative? Yes. But that’s just the surface. When I saw those dead fruit buds two Proverbs popped into my head. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil there of” and “worry does not empty today of its sorrow, it empties today of its strengths”. That second one was said by my personal role model Corrie ten Boon. I chose to trust in the goodness and wellbeing of life. I chose to trust in the strength of today.

The worry of just today is enough to deal with without thinking about tomorrow and the hits that will come. The hits will keep on coming. The strength of today will keep coming as well.

Until next time,

Be strong and of good courage,

and craft no harm,

Moriah

 

Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

Monday’s Musings: Silence

I don’t know if it’s because I had hearing issues as a child or because I’ve experienced the deep, unyielding silence of the desert that even the wind refused to disturb, but lately silence is the one thing I crave.

I don’t know if it’s because I had hearing issues as a child or because I’ve experienced the deep, unyielding silence of the desert that even the wind refused to disturb, but lately silence is the one thing I crave. Sure, it’s quiet here at Serenity Cove for the most part. Most people would find it very quiet, but I find the spring symphony of crickets, frogs, buzzing insects, song birds and even the content sounds of the geese and chickens deafening.

I was contemplating my craving this evening while putting bedding hay into Asset’s stall. It dawned on me. I am not craving the silence of my surroundings, but of my mind and heart and emotions. I’ve been so mentally caught up in what needs to be done for our up coming workshops, the spring garden, getting the early spring medicinal herbs gathered in from forest and field, writing my book, and listing items in the Etsy shop that I haven’t taken the time to clear my mind and just be.

Sometimes letting go of “need to” thoughts is difficult, especially for those of us who take responsibility seriously. But this evening as I was in the sheep stall being nuzzled by half a dozen noses it struck me: Need to thoughts are just another distraction from enjoying the moment. So I let go of my mind and just enjoyed the feel of Andromeda’s warm muzzle, the softness of Daisy’s freshly shorn head, the weight of Iris’ head and neck leaning on my shoulder, Broccoli and Lilac behind me gently nosing my neck and hair bun, and the soft brush of Sade against my arm. And then something wonderful happened amid the sounds of breathing, chewing cud, geese chattering, the rushing of the waterfall, and all the other thousands of little sounds; silence crept in, wrapped her gentle arms around me, and there was not a thought nor care in my soul.

The joy of each moment is when silent peace abounds.

Until next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

 

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Shy Sade