Monday, October 31, 2011

Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little

"Cheep, cheep, cheep. Talk a lot, pick-a-little more."  Someone's been eaves dropping in my hen yard.  It's not be a very harmonious song.

Golden Gwyneth
The girls, all six of them, seem to be adjusting (sometime looks like a front-load wash machine)  to the new configuration.  Pecking order is not a figure of speech when it comes to chickens.  Gwyneth, singing constantly with a mezzo Southern br-ah-ah-ah-ah-ck, br-ah-ah-ah-ah-ck, gets to peck everybody (but seldom does).  She is the very benevolent ruler of the cluck-clucks--a true golden girl.

Sweet Katy
Katy (a new hen to the flock) gets an occasional "that's not your place" reminder from Gwyneth.  Her high little f-e-e-e-e-e-p, f-e-e-p, f-e-e-e-p accompanies her intense scratching and foraging.  She pecks Nora when necessary but is usually too busy with her work to be bothered.

Noisy Nora
Nora (also new in the hen pen) seems to want to peck everyone and is frustrated by being third in the  order.  She doubles her efforts, spending a good amount of energy chasing the teenage hens away from food and around the yard.  Just getting her own spot on the roost at night brings forth a full-volume classical cackle usually reserved for the laying of a magnificent egg.

Sly Nina
Husky-voiced Nina is clever and sly, knowing just the right curtsy to slip in with the big girls for treats and how to bow out quickly before being reminded of her lower place.  But she never pecks and is quick enough to avoid the same from others.

Lena and Latifah
Latifah and Lena have spent most of this last week just trying to avoid trouble (Nora).  It's made them so edgy that neither has much to say or sing about.  They even started scrapping with each other. "Pick-a-little, talk-a-little.  CHEEP!"

"Calm the cluck-clucks" is reaching a crescendo on Things I get to do today.  So with my own version of chicken whispering, Nora is quieted, Lena is settled, Katy is calmed.  The roost is cleaned of hostility. Only a gentle br-ah-ah-ck and an echoing f-e-e-e-p lulls them at dusk.  Good night, Ladies.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Must Dust

Let me guess.  Your favorite chore is dusting the house.  Darn!  How could I be so wrong?

Here's a confession.  Write this down:  I don't like dusting either.  I do, however, know how important "clean" is to our feeling of abundance and prosperity.  I choose to participate in it for that reason at least.

I had occasion to do some serious dusting not long ago.  Following my own mantra of "get to," I was looking for ways to change my thinking about the task.  I was cleaning knickknacks, a collection of odds and ends and small, but meaningful items that found their way into this family of objects.

The first items were little peasant musicians playing an assortment of folk instruments.  I credit them with changing my focus.  Maybe it was the silent tune they were playing.  As I picked up the second or third player, I observed what I was holding and thought of who it was that had gifted it.  At this moment my touch and the object sparked a significance.  Next there was a little box, a small picture, a mustard can, some stones, family pictures, a miniature mail box, a tiny book, a bell:  each item had big story, a past and a memory.

I was no longer dusting to clean a space, but I was honoring and sharing in the history of each object.    Appreciate means to grow in value, and as I dusted, each item became the valuable key to a sacred memory.  Next time dusting is part of Things I get to do today,  I'm going to milk the memories.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Burying the Past

An art piece of mine died not long ago.  That's not technically true.  It was already dead, and that was part of the problem, I guess.  The essence that was the cause of death was still hanging around.

A dear, dear friend from all the way back to college days had traveled in the Middle East.  She knew our interest in the T. E. Lawrence works (Lawrence of Arabia) and had collected bits and pieces of artifacts, stones, mosaics and shells from the many locations of his wild adventures.  These she beautifully mounted, and we later had it framed.  It hung for years at the end of the hall.

But the walls were painted, the frame came down, another picture from the same dear friend set up house in the same place.  This picture was so full of life, it danced and swirled into your imagination.  A perfect replacement.

The dusty pieces from the desert fell from their mounting and were discovered in a recent excavation and very necessary closet cleaning.  What to do with this history?

When I thought about what each of small fragments represented, it was clear that they were filled with pain, fear or sadness.  Whenever something is destroyed, these emotions are part of the mix.  Even the handle from the clay pot.  I thought about the energies that collect when I break a dish in the kitchen.

So, this afternoon in the brilliance of the fall sun, making peace is one of the Things I get to do today.   I'm going to honor the past, the ancient past, the people creating it and the events of long ago, and then I'm going to bury the pieces in the ground, release their pain and put that sadness to rest.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunshine Wine

It's really just water.  But I "make" it in a jug.  It sits outside next to the house for enough days to get really good.  Here's the oxymoron:  it seems like nothing and yet it's absolutely everything.

I'm asking you to use a very generous dose of your imagination for the next couple of minutes.  Go to your faucet and fill a glass with water, filtered water, if you have it.  Set it on the counter.  Then pretend you can feel the good and vibrant healthy energy coming from that water.  Using both hands, palms toward the water and about three feet away from it, move your hands slowly toward your glass of water.  Stop when you feel a very slight pulse or tingle in your palms.  That's the edge of the energy "glow" of your water.  Likely, if you live in my town, your hands will be about a foot or less away from the glass.

Without sun energy, life on earth wouldn't last long.  We benefit from the sun energy when we are outside, and we benefit from the sun energy that is stored in the plants and foods we eat.  We could also drink in this sun energy.  That's what I do.

 Water collecting Sun Energy

I fill a glass gallon jug with filtered water, and set it on the South side of my house where it can get the maximum solar benefit.  It absorbs solar energy until I'm ready for it.  There's a gallon of sun water in the house that I'm drinking from.  When it is empty, I refill it and swap it for the one in the sun.  And that's the water I drink.

My Sunshine Wine
Using your same imagination and same process for measuring the good and vibrant healthy energy coming from the water, if you were to assess the "glow" of the sun water, you might find it radiated anywhere from two and half to three feet from the glass.  That is a remarkable difference.  And when you drink the water, that energy is yours.

If you are looking for a very cheap "high" and no hangover, start drinking your own home-made sunshine wine. It's one of the Things I get to do today (and everyday).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Really Good Dirt

My sister was under the weather.  But the weather was actually brilliant sun and blazing blue sky with shocks of yellow and orange-leafed trees thrown in for gaudy good measure.  Talk about insult to injury--not feeling good enough to be out puttering in the extravagance of a fall day!

In our family fresh, still-warm tapioca pudding is a comfort and get-well sort of food.  So I would make a pot just for my unfairly, under-weathered sister.  She would get most of it at least.  Cooks need to sample some of the wares for flavor balance and, well, just because it taste so wonderfully good.

Holds 3 cups and has no hole in the bottom
While the pudding cooled, I searched for the just-right container for transporting this feel-good "medicine" with an eye for a delightful and uplifting presentation.  That bowl is too big;  this one is too small.  That's a flower pot, not a bowl!

Indeed a lovely white flower pot from my favorite store had just come out of the dishwasher and was waiting on the counter for me to put it away.  Perfect size!

Pot filled with tapioca pudding.  Calendula (edible flowers) waiting to be "planted"

Very happy flowers "growing" in warm "dirt"

Perfect  uplifting presentation.  Oh, the Things I get to do today!  Here's a "Be Well" pot of flowers with Really Good Dirt.*

*After thought: cover the white "dirt" with 1/2" of crushed dark chocolate sandwich cookies for a more real black/brown "dirt" effect.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Create the Day

If you live in my town, I hope you saw how the day began.  

 My east blinds were closed.  The house was still dark.

I glanced from the kitchen toward the chicken coop.  A new habit.

The coop and surrounding area were radiant.  I knew they were only reflecting.

As I stood on the front porch, drinking in the rich elixir of dawn, I made my first choice.  This was my day.  Everything that would occur from this moment until I closed my eyes tonight would be colored by this light.  Of the Things I get to do today, this is the only one that is ever really important.  Choose to see everything in its brilliant, blazing best.  And look at the sky.  Often.

Miss Muffet Makes Her Own

I've got a sweet tooth.  But right next to it sits a sour one.  Raw rhubarb, green gooseberries and sorrel were all favorites when I was a child.  There was a gooseberry bush next to my sandbox.  I ate all the berries when they were green, not knowing until I was over 30 that those berries would, if left on the bush, turn dark purple and grow quite sweet.

Another favorite was the whey from making cottage cheese (curds and whey).  I liked it still-warm with a tiny dash of salt.  The fragrance still makes my salivary glands ache in anticipation of that first sip.  All this means that making my own yogurt is rooted deeply in my--some would say "ancient"--past.

Every week or so making a very tart yogurt is one of the Things I get to do today.  As I lift the lid on the jar of warm finished yogurt the next morning, I nearly lose my balance and my head swims.  Am I three years old again?

Two-quart jar with 2 cups cold water and 2 cups powdered non-fat milk

Stirred with a wire whip until it is smooth

Adding enough warm water to nearly fill the jar and bring liquid to about 90 degrees

Remove the foam with a slotted spoon.  Mix in 1 cup of your favorite yogurt.  Place in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours.

Low tech yogurt maker:  Cardboard box, metal rack, two night lights for heat.  The jar sits on the rack, box flaps are closed.  An old towel is draped over it all to keep things cozy until the milk is properly fermented.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sock 'n the Face

What?  Getting a black eye is not on your "get to" list today?  Not to worry, it's better than it seems.

Sleeping away from home and not in your own bed can be the equivalent to not sleeping at all.  That started to happen to me.  Didn't have my ear plugs (no problem, I just press the "good" ear into the pillow).  The room became blissfully quiet. But the lights going on and off and the slight chill of the room and the pitifully inadequate warmth of the covers did not bode well for a restful night.

Beauty sleep mask in disguise
So I grabbed one of my socks, draped it over my nose, eyes and brow.  It was dark. Sweetly, densely dark.  And I noticed I was getting warmer already.  Covering the brow if you are cold, helps the body heat rather quickly.  It was quiet, dark and warm.  I had a great night.

Though you might not think a sock 'n the face is for you, I've permanently attached it to the Things I get to do today for whenever I'm on the road.  And I'm keeping this one on my night stand at home, just in case.

Monday, October 24, 2011

And My Mayor Loves Me

This compost thing has me really smoking.  And if you knew what I think about smoking, you'd know this is not good.  But dwelling on the negative goes against nearly every grain of my fiber so I've found a way to turn this thing around.

You remember how excited I was at the 1st of October over the fact that my  mayor was going to give me my very own brand new compost bucket.  I thought that was sweet.  And generous.  We won't go into how much it cost the mayor (by that I mean every citizen in town) to provide me with a compost bucket.

Taupe and tan are this season's new fashion must-have.
Wednesday it was delivered.  I found it sitting there on the curb next to the empty yard debris bin.  I loved the color immediately, though the size had me worried.  My whole thing about a new bucket was having it sized so the liners could be recycled bags from the produce I buy, as in "reuse".  The pretty bucket looked too big.  Once in the house, a quick test confirmed it.  Too big to fit any of the bags that come home from shopping.  My heart sank.

But what is this inside the bucket?  A four-color, professionally designed brochure on how to put kitchen scraps into a bucket.  And FOUR coupons for PURCHASING biodegradable plastic or paper liners for the bucket. They want me to BUY liners? Whatever became of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?  My temporary gallon can/compost bucket is now on permanent payroll.  Just goes to show you not to lose heart over your temp employment situation.  You never know when a sudden turn of events will put you on full time.

I'm going to rethink my neighbor's suggestion.  My new compost bucket is going with me grocery shopping--as a purse--it's on the list of Things I get to do today.  If you'd like to show your support of the mayor's program, I'll see you at the market with yours.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweater Seeds

I crossed it off tonight.  Two bold lines through the item on the Big Project list of Things I get to do today.  It felt good on so many levels.  Finishing a project that was started nearly three years ago is benefit enough, but with the completion of this "get to" comes cozy, colorful warmth for years to come.

Sweater seeds
I finished my sweater!!  It all began with the cutest mittens you can imagine--the ones that pop their tops off to reveal half covered fingers.  A Christmas present from Aimee.  But then we visited the yarn shop in her town.

Unwound skeins of luscious wool
All knitters know it is just common courtesy to buy yarn if you even glance into a wool shop.  So I was polite enough to leave them with several hundred dollars in exchange for yarn that was a reasonable match to my mittens.  I could feel the snuggle of the sweater against the sharp cold that day even though the skeins were still in the bag.  That's the way it is with knitters.  We can imagine the miles of wool fibers in their final form.  It's not necessary to focus on the hours of knitting/pearling between that yarn in the sack and the future sweater on ones back.

My wool-winder makes tidy, manageable balls of yarn--real magic.
Knitting seems incongruous with summer.  So most of my knitting time comes slowly with the chill of fall and that first frost when little fairies and miniature superheroes stand shivering on the front step chirping "Trick or Treat."
Lumpy and curly sweater parts
Now three falls and winters later, the project and, I must admit, guilt of not finishing it have built enough momentum to carry it through.  The body and the sleeves are eager to find their true connection.  

Pressed and ready to assemble
With the help of the iron, steam, a measuring tape and careful attention, the willful lumps become supple, compliant, recognizable pieces of a sweater.

Now I'm on a roll.  All other tasks, "get to's" and "have to's" are set aside as I focus total energies on the neck and front bands.  As soon as the most obvious yarn tails are worked into their roots, I wrap myself into the brand-new hug of this garment and head off to Josephine's Dry Goods for buttons.  From their exquisite selection the perfect ones head home with me to be attached.
Suppose it will stand out in a crowd?  
Here's the thing, there's enough yarn left over for several little projects that will no doubt "go to seed."
It's probably a knitter's weed.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Rest of the Story

The new Nora Jones--beautiful old lace pattern
Silver Penciled Rock
As my husband and I drove home Wednesday night in the rain from fetching two more hens, he posed an interesting question.  How many chickens had we bought in my quest to have a backyard (urban) farm?  It took me several times through all my fingers to arrive at an answer.  18 in two years.  You'd think we were running a chicken diner.  And no, we did not eat any of them.  Nor were they gone (dead) from my negligence though one of the hens was my teacher on being more careful.  Two went to other homes because of personality conflicts.

An actual  genealogy  would be both boring and confusing since, as I mentioned before, we recycle the names.  Short version:  We've had two Dolly Parton's, three Latifah's, two Reba McIntyre's, one Bonnie Raitt, two Nina Simone's, three Nora Jone's, one Bette Middler, one Aretha Franklin,  one Gwyneth Paltrow, one Lina Horne and one Katy Perry.

Katy--black hair, white skin and red lips--use your imagination, OK.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Our current count is six hens.  Most of the this flock have yet to lay their first egg.  That will be big news complete with pictures and proper accolades for the pullet's accomplishment.  Stay tuned for the rest of this on-going story. We are planning to have those same birds for a long time.  Things I get to do today:  keep my chickens from crossing the road.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life, Death and Beyond

Filled bucket and liner
Saturday was the beginning of the ban in our town.  Sounds like it could be serious.  For some it was.  Those who need to carry their goods in a plastic bag when they leave the big stores are out of luck.   On Saturday plastic was no longer an option.  Arguments for paper or plastic will go on for as long as the arguers have breath.  That discussion is not the point of my thoughts.  It was, however, the trigger for looking at what I do with the still-legal produce bags from my local market.

While making breakfast, first of the Things I get to do today, I reach for the compost bucket--the final resting place for the egg shells.  The liner for my current bucket is a plastic bag in its second life time.  It feels pretty good to repurpose in this way (see post:  Love My Mayor), but revealing the full life cycle of these bags seems appropriate based on the recent momentous events in city hall.

Filled liner ready for visit to the compost
Compost bucket is full.  Liner (plastic bag) and its contents (kitchen scraps ready for their own next incarnation) go into the hen pen to the compost bin.  The bin is one of those big black, plastic, lidded contraptions sold by Metro over the last dozen or so years.  It reminds me of a giant version of the shiny black head-gear worn by an ominous villain who made sucking, raspy sounds when he breathed so I call it the "Darth Vader."

After the bag has given up the contents of its belly to Darth Vader, it can no longer go back to the kitchen. It is rinsed out at the rain barrel, checked for major holes and tied onto the fence by the path.

Plastic bag on its way to heaven.
Dozens of dogs and their owners, dog sitters, dog walkers, runaway dogs and random people use this path every day.  At times some have been a bit careless about picking up after the four-legged critters.  I put up a little sign to remind them that the dog, no matter how devoted to them, cannot clean up after itself, and I provide these third-time-around plastic bags for the job in case they forgot their own.  For a final resting place and an afterlife, is that heaven or hell?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Help from

Right at the top of Things I get to do today is contact Randy.  Most of the hens who've spent time on my city farm were raised by him.  You know about the current flock, Gwyneth, Nina, Latifah, Miss Horne and (for this writing I'll still count) Nora, who just last night flitted gently and quietly off to chicken heaven.  She came to me with a kidney condition and in spite of it lived with us for nearly a year, for the most part giving no evidence of anything other than robust health.  But as she began her first molt, she's been slowing down.  The last couple of days she pretty much just stood still.  I laid her to rest surrounded by cozy straw to shelter from the damp earth.  She's the second Nora to scratch and lay and peck and patrol this space.

Sweet Singing Nora Jones a year ago on her first day at my farm

We have to have a black and white hen in the flock.  That's the color my husband likes best.  Caring for farm animals is not at the bottom of his list.  It is not on his list at all.  "Aversion" is probably the best one-word description of his feelings about that activity.  Just too much pooy stuff.  But he does appreciate the Silver Lace Wyandotte hens.  They remind him of a childhood keepsake.  And since he humors me in all my chicken mania, I do my best to have the flock provide some visual appeal for him.

Randy says he has Barred Plymouth Rocks and Silver Penciled Rocks (both black & white breeds).  We'll have to generate one more name if we get two hens.  (At the pace I move through chickens, and being an avid recycler, we do reuse the names.)  So Nora will live on in a new body with a new dress, and if the other hen is as glamorous, we could call her Katy.   Truly nice hens.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Line Dance

My feet don't naturally move to rhythms.  They had early training to hold still.  But I truly love the idea of dancing.  My sheets can dance.

Today (yesterday by the time you read this) was a "yes" day for drying sheets on the line.  The sheets seemed more excited about it than I did, if that is actually possible.  I thought we could apply for a grant from the National Foundation that funds full-blown art projects performed solely by sheets and pillowcases with the help of a line and some wind.  I'll make it one of the Things I get to do today.

Rapid first movement begins the dance

Quick steps to the back

Slower tempo for the second movement

Slight allusion to the first movement of the dance

A billowing building of the final movement

"The answer my friend. . ."--the unstated lyrics.

Full volume building
A slight retreat

The finale.  Wild applause from all of nature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pressed for (All) Time

I'm sure it all began with wash and wear.  The fact is that very few people iron anything anymore.  When I was a teenager, we still routinely "sprinkled" the items that could not be used in their rumpled state, placed them together in a large plastic bag designed specifically for that purpose and left them for a time until all the items were slightly and uniformly damp.  The actual ironing of the shirts, blouses, handkerchiefs, pillowcases and even men's boxer shorts needed to be timed so that they didn't hang out in their dampened state, forget why they were there and get well involved in the indelicate process of composting that began with little black dots and a pungent mildew smell.

Then came steam irons (they do not work as well to remove wrinkles from cottons as the old-fashioned method described above), spray bottles, aerosol spray fabric starch and finishes and, of course, wash and wear.

Modern day steam iron, just so everyone knows  what one looks like.
Fashion finally lifted ban on "come as you are." Gone was the need to have your clothes pressed neatly: no starched white blouses and shirts, no knife-creased pants.  Rumpled was in.  Hardly even a need to have hangers and a closet.  Pulling clothes from the bottom of the pile insured that they had the worn and seasoned look.  The new "new" was old, well-worn and nearly worn out.  But I digress.

Very few people these days have the opportunity to experience the calming pleasure of smoothing fabric with an iron.  I've done some serious ironing in my life.  For a number of years I had a dress making business creating everything from tailored wool garments to Irish Step-dance solo costumes and, yes, even authentic Scottish-clan-tartan kilts.  One of the lessons  I learned in those years was that you could do a great job sewing, but if you didn't press and iron well, the end result was always obviously "homemade."  And, even it the sewing wasn't totally perfect, your iron and your skill in using it could rescue the situation to make the garment look stunningly smart.

I came to value the process of ironing.  The effect is similar in many respects to soothing--taking an item that is out of shape and out of sorts and gently removing the figurative and literal wrinkles--calming the cloth and calming the soul.

There are few garments in my closet any longer that know the touch of an iron, and we send my husband's shirts to the local cleaners where their bread-and-butter comes from starched, neat clothing.  The only things I usually iron are the place mats on our dining table and sometimes the table cloth itself.  There's a delicious luxury in taking the time to sit with the iron, with plain rectangles of cotton cloth, with a gently-fragranced fabric finish and, without the need for much thought, to create a warm, satin-smooth fabric surface.  It is truly one of the loveliest Things I get to do today.  I'm so fortunate they are not "pressed for (all) time."

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Monday, October 17, 2011

A Gathering of Greens

My favorite fresh salad is different and the same every time I make it.  It's the same because the list of ingredients is always the same:  whatever is currently growing in the yard.  It's different because whatever is currently growing changes just a little everyday.  "Gathering greens" isn't but could be on the "Things I get to do today" everyday.

If your pockets are empty and you want a feeling of tremendous abundance, take your kitchen container and wander around the garden/yard and pick a little from here and there until you have enough:  some tips from the fall-planted pea vines, a few sprigs of the fennel planted by Lynn a couple of years ago, leaves from the sorrel--a gift from Teresa before she moved, a handful of purslane (a common garden weed), a fistful of kale, a good-size bunch of Arugula that volunteered, a bit of dill (also a volunteer), blossoms from the calendula that grows wherever it's not actively pulled up once it is seeded,  blue borage blossoms (they are new in my garden this year, but I understand they do the same) and a whole color wheel of tomatoes.

Only the tomatoes took any care on my part to grow and even half of them were gifts from friend Susan.  Nearly everything came from the good heart of another person or just grew up on its own (volunteered).

Dinner from one the possible combinations of gathering greens.
The exquisite end result feeds much more than the body.  There are nutrients in this salad that will never exist in store-bought produce.  Plants grown with love feed us in a way the food grown for money never can.  Get out there a gather your greens*.

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*(Use your head.  Don't pick or pull up poisonous plants for your salad).