Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Into Another Year


2016 has started out with a bang. Seems like everyone I know is being slammed in some way, mostly by grave illnesses and issues with family members.  For me, it's my Dad. The situation has me so stressed I won't bore you with the details. I will just say that my husband and I will never do to the young people of our family what my father is doing to my sister and me. Never. And that's my polite vent.

Elsewhere, I managed to cook up my first batch of hot process soap. It was a six pound batch using tallow, lard, olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. I scented it with patchouli essential oil right before I spooned it into my mold. The soap turned out beautifully. It smells so good! I couldn't find a large enough slow cooker so I made a double boiler by using my water bath canner and inserting a 12 quart stainless steel pot inside it. A cast iron trivet raised the 12 quart pot off the bottom of the larger pot, and I added water in the larger canner pot to halfway up the sides of the 12 quart pot. I mixed the lye water out in the garage. As the outdoor temperature was so cold it didn't take long for the lye to cool. I was sure to wear my heavy duty rubber gloves and my "Imperator Furiosa" safety glasses. While the lye cooled in the garage, I melted my fats and oils in the 12 quart pot. When the fats and oils and lye water were the same temperature (100°F), I stirred the lye water slowly into the fats and oils and "cooked" the mixture in the water bath, stirring every half hour. After three hours I checked the pH. Soap that is meant for use on skin should be between 8.0 and 10.0 pH. My batch registered 8.5 on my digital pH meter so I removed it from the water bath and spooned the soap (it was pretty thick) into my freezer paper lined plastic bin mold. I let the soap sit overnight and cut it into bars the following morning before stacking the bars on a shelf to store. That batch is going to last us a long time. I can't wait to make some more.

I'm also cutting out the template pieces for the different blocks for Ed's Hobo Quilt. I have some nice 10" fabric squares to use for it. As ever, a project's preparation takes longer than the project does to actually put together.

This Mercury Retrograde is a doozy. In our spare moments both Tom and I have been shoveling out the house getting down to bare necessities. We've made three trips to local thrift stores so far and I have to say the house is looking much less cluttered.  I got out my Feng Shui book and am working my way room by room through the house. I found a poster advertising a fish vendor in the back of our closet so I bought a frame for it and hung it in the wealth and prosperity section of our bathroom (where, unfortunately, the toilet is located), but I think I'm going to have to move it because since I hung it on the wall we've been having to spend money left and right for unexpected expenses. I'm sure our "wealth" is now going down the toilet because certain persons in the house refuse to keep the toilet lid down and the drains closed. I'll hang the picture in another room's wealth and prosperity area and see if our "money drain" stops.

It's amazing how Feng Shui decorating really does work. I discovered that the main Love and Marriage area of our house is in the garage. What a mess! I cleaned up the garage as best I could and I bought a sign of what I consider to be the happiest kiss ever to hang out there. I'm not sure I put it in the right corner although for sure my marriage is much improved. The one thing I've learned about Feng Shui is that you must make changes slowly and remember what you did because often your results happen quickly and dramatically, and if the results send you bad fortune, you can quickly reverse the change you made. Whew! Believe me, that's important to remember. (Note: if you are looking for a new job, try spiffing up your career and wealth and prosperity areas!) I am also working on our Health and Family areas since I am feeling very stressed dealing with my Dad.

I have a neat little history book for you. It's called Stalag Wisconsin by Betty Cowley. It relates the story of WWII prisoner-of-war camps in Wisconsin. It is interesting that there is actually not a lot of information available on this topic because (if I read the book right) much of the information was deliberately destroyed by the Army after the War. Local newspapers of the time cooperated with the Army by severely limiting news of the camps, and recollections in the book are mostly from people who were just children at the time. I have not finished the book, but so far my favorite recollection relates the tale of an American soldier who was one of only sixteen survivors in his group of over 275 men that were at the Battle of the Bulge. When he returned home he was very angry to find German prisoners of war having a good time in a local tavern together with their guards! Well, the American soldier went home, loaded his M1 carbine, returned to the tavern and told the locals to git. He then proceeded to march the prisoners of war AND their guards back to the camp, whereupon he gave the camp commander a piece of his mind. In short, there were no more tavern visits by prisoners of war and the entire camp was closed not long after! Great little book.

I've ordered some seeds and seed starting supplies, and I'm looking forward to getting the garden going. Lara is looking forward to going to the market again this year, too. I have to find time to take my market scale down to Merrill to get certified by the State, and I want to get another small table and some produce baskets to improve our display.  I am hopeful that we will have a good year. Growing time is rapidly approaching.

Well, I guess that's about all for now. I hope your life is going well. Be safe and take care!



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas


Today was rainy and the little snow we have is dwindling quickly. If it gets cold enough tonight I expect the roads will be very icy tomorrow. I have mixed feelings about the weather. It is nice not to be out shoveling deep snow, but it certainly feels weird not to have -0°F temperatures. None of the snowmobile trails are open and I'm sure the local businesses are hurting. We've hardly needed the wood stove except to take the damp out of the air in the evening. I am thankful that the chickens are handling the seesawing temps all right. They are still laying, too. Yesterday I gathered four eggs! (Which was good because yesterday I dropped the bucket of eggs I was going to wash and I broke every last one of them. Ugh.)

I have been knitting and reading. I made several hats and pairs of mittens, and with some of the wool from the yarn I received from the fleece I shared with my friend, Sally, (did I mention in my previous post that her husband's father was a Navajo code talker during World War II?) I have started knitting myself another cardigan sweater, this time incorporating simple 5-stitch cables and seed stitch.

I am looking for an old crock pot that is big enough to make some hot batch soap in and I stopped at the thrift store in Phillips to see if they had any. They did not, but a large red and gold scarf dangling on the scarf rack caught my eye. I could tell immediately that it had been woven because of the twist in the fringe and I wanted to take a closer look at it. The gorgeous feather pattern was reversible and the scarf was large enough to wear as a shawl. The price was right. It was marked $1.50 and I bought it. Later I discovered a label on it that said 100% Pashmina. Well, I had no idea what that was so I looked it up on the Internet. It turns out that Pashmina is the finest kind of cashmere wool. However, according to the Wiki article, the label should not read 100% Pashmina because that is not a label recognized in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission. Shawls this size sell for around $200 and I have not come across any on the Internet that have this lovely a pattern. The fabric drapes heavenly and it is light and very warm. I just love it. I'm sure it is an authentic Pashmina shawl despite the illegal label. As most of the items at the thrift store come from decedent estates, I look at the shawl as a gift sent to me from some deceased little old lady's ghost that knew I would appreciate so fine a weaving. I have no idea how old the shawl is, but I expect to love it for the rest of my life.

I also went to the Christian Mission Thrift Store in Park Falls still looking for a large crock pot, again to no avail, but there I did find a smashed up DVD of the movie Jurassic Park for $2.00. The cover was shot, but the DVD looked OK so I bought that for Ed. Then, I almost stepped on a professionally framed double matted Norman Rockwell print that was just laying on the floor. Anyone who knows me knows I love anything Norman Rockwell. It was a print of "The Runaway". I got a strong impression when I picked up the picture that it had once belonged to a policeman. Well, I had to have that, too, for $7.00. "The Runaway" is now hanging in our center hallway next to my print of "Sunset" where it will be joined after Christmas by my Christmas gift to myself of "Refugee Thanksgiving".  And when I got home I ran the Jurassic Park DVD through Lara's SkipDr, popped it into the DVD player for Ed and the disk played like new.

Christmas here will be quiet. Tomorrow I'll visit Dad and take him his annual supply of pipe tobacco. Dad has not decided whether or not he will join us on Christmas Day for dinner.  (I expect he will eat a big dinner tomorrow with my sister, Mary and her family, and will not feel like eating a second big dinner on Christmas Day.) We will be having pork roast, sauerkraut, and dumplings with a Raspberry Bavarian for dessert. I baked cinnamon rolls and some Christmas cookies to munch on throughout the day.

I wish you all a Blessed and Happy Christmas!



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving



 This is about as good a picture of our Thanksgiving turkey I could get this year because a certain unnamed party had already started snitching pieces off of the side you cannot see.  (Sigh.) If you've ever seen the movie A Christmas Story you'll know what I mean when I say that the ghost of Ralphie's dad must have been hanging around my kitchen. My Dad came over to eat with us and he is looking good. My sister and some of her children were going to stop by for a short visit, but the weather quickly changed from freezing drizzle to snow, so she called to say they were going to stay home. I don't blame her. It was a nice day and we'll eat for a couple of days on the leftovers.
 
 Here is a picture of the railroad knitting blanket I made. The blocks are a log cabin pattern with each block segment highlighted in outline stitch, and the blocks are connected in rows of single crochet.  The blanket is much heavier than I expected and it is very warm. I used up quite a few of the little balls of yarn scraps in my yarn bin, but I still have some more I can use up. I am thinking about making some Christmas ornaments, small animal toys, or working them into some knitted Christmas stockings. We'll see.


Well, there are many projects on my to-do list and I'll keep you posted as I get to them. Right now I'd like to thank all of you for reading my blog. I am grateful for your company. I hope that some of the things I do give you both inspiration and encouragement as you carve out your own homestead. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We all have much to be thankful for.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 -- Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween

It's cold, wet, and bone aching miserable outside so I put on my nice grey sweater that I finished last year



and am spending my time making a blanket in railroad knitting (a/k/a Tunisian crochet) with all of my yarn scraps. It is taking me longer to finish because I decided to embroider each section on each block in black outline stitch. It was a good decision because the colors are nicely highlighted by the outlining and the blocks are reminiscent of stained glass windows. I'll take a picture of it for you when it is finished.

Yesterday (speaking of yarn) I picked up my share of wool yarn from splitting the costs of a fleece with a woman I know in Phillips who used to go to the Phillips Farmers Market. She had the fleece spun at Blue Hills Fiber Mill and it is gorgeous. The wool is grey and the natural color of the fiber. I received different fiber thicknesses so I will make me a nice warm shawl (I have a thing for shawls), Ed gets a good warm hat with ear flaps, and Lara will get some nice warm socks.

The reading bug has hit me again, too. I am nearly finished with the totally awesome Gulag Archipelago and have finished The Forever WarI'm half way through A Canticle for Leibowitz. This book is excellently written. It is a shame, but I think only someone raised as a Roman Catholic in the pre-Vatican II, Latin Mass era, can fully appreciate how that type of upbringing strengthens the cultural nuances of the story's core and makes for such an enjoyable read. ("Eat! Eat!" You have to read the book to understand why I was bug-eyed when I reached that part. . . .)

I have received the fabric to start Ed's Hobo quilt, so I expect to at least get that project started before the end of the year.

Elsewhere I have six chickens butchered and another six to go. My sister Mary had one chicken that "got away" when she butchered her flock so she said I could have the hen.  I retrieved the hapless one when she was asleep and back in the hen house that night and put her in with my flock. Since she is a hen I'll keep her for her eggs. She has adjusted well. I knew she would because she is bigger than my chickens who were extremely put out because of the stranger in their midst. It only took about three days before calm descended in the coop once more. I have scrubbed, scraped, swept out cob webs, and otherwise cleaned out the coop and "winterized" it with about six inches of fresh wood chip bedding. I had to take a scraper to the window because it had not been washed for a couple of years, but it looks great now, and the chickens can sit on their perches this winter and watch the snow fly.

I still have some fence work to do and the cutting back of weeds. Tom and I are waiting for good weather to go up on the roof and clean out the gutters now that most of the leaves are off the trees.

Twice already we've had snow fall but so far nothing has stayed on the ground.  The birds are busy at all the feeders though so I expect we will freeze up pretty soon now.

Since it is Halloween, I thought I'd leave you with a fun link to the complete broadcast of Orson Welles' famous radio program from 1938. Be safe Everybody!


Monday, October 12, 2015

Summer's End

The Autumn leaves were beautiful this year and stayed a long time on the trees, but today the wind and rain came and blew most of them away. I fear Little Luke's Summer, that last sweet spell of summery weather that occurs around the Feast of St. Luke (October 18), is over. I need to finish up the last of the yard work soon as snow will not be long in coming now.


It's been quite busy here. Look at these lovely Fuji apples I bought at the Feed Store. Do you believe they were selling these as deer apples for hunters? I bought two boxes of them for $12 a box and promptly put most of them in the dehydrator. I can hardly believe that this is the first time in 10 years that I've not gone to Bayfield for apples.


The cabbages were wonderful this year and I had lots of them, both red and green. I put all of the red cabbages in the freezer and made sauerkraut with most of the green. I also used a 6.5 gallon plastic fermenter I bought from a brewery supply for the first time and it worked out great. It was much easier to handle and clean than my heavy pottery crocks. I canned 42 quarts; good thing we like sauerkraut!




 

Working on Dad's wood pile was a family affair. Gosh, what a job! Tom and John cut the logs; John, Mary, and I split it; and Tom, Ed, and I stacked most of it. There is only one small pile left to stack, and after that, all that is left to do is to rake up the bits and pieces to add to Dad's stove wood that is already stacked on the porch.

The pile of wood in the foreground is what is left to be stacked.

Tom and Ed
 Greens and cabbages grew best in this year's garden. The tomatoes were pretty prolific, too. I planted Chadwick Cherry, Aunt Lucy's Paste Tomato, original Abe Lincoln, Vintage Wine, and a very old commercial variety called 1884. All did well though they seemed to come on late in the season. I attribute that to the odd weather we had. I would say I was most impressed with 1884. For going into the ground late (July!) it grew like gangbusters and produced some real nice large sized fruits. None of the tomato varieties were bothered with insects, but I did have problems with blossom end rot, and again I attribute that to our cold nights. Vintage Wine was a second year trial. When I first planted it, it did not do well at all and I only saved a few seeds, but when I planted it this year, boy, did it grow. And for a tomato it is a pretty plant; I like its leaves, and the fruits are pink with yellowish striping. The name is justified. Aunt Lucy's Paste Tomato produces mountains of smallish red fruits. It is a real work horse of a tomato. It did extremely well when I first planted it in a dry year, and it did just as well in this year's hot/cold/wet weather. I also liked original Abe Lincoln. A very pretty red slicer with great taste. Perhaps the most finicky for me to grow is Chadwick Cherry, but I like to freeze the fruits whole (like berries) and add them as I want to soups and stews.

 While the garden's bounty was limited, I was able to gather a lot of seed due to the long season. No garden year is ever the same, and the learning experiences always differ. I love this life!

Now, for the chickens . . . .