Sunday, September 21, 2014

Notes from the Nursing Home

The other morning I walked into the dining room at the nursing home and saw Ella sitting at Nasreen's table. 

Ella is a spunky 90 year old originally from Latvia. She always has a smile on her face and a glow about her I can't quite describe. Years ago as a missionary she ventured into Stalinist Russia at her own peril. Nasreen is an elderly Iranian stroke survivor who was raised much like a princess in the old country. Listening to her boss the aides around it's obvious Nasreen is used to having people wait on her. No matter.  She is a generous and affectionate lady.  I like her a lot. The aides do too.

It was clear that these two, with their hearing issues and very different accents, had managed to discuss something important over breakfast.
I caught the last thing Ella said before she left the table. 

“Always remember” she said pointedly to Nasreen, her face serious and close, “You are a precious child of God!”

“Thank you.” Nasreen bobbed her head of dyed hair and smiled broadly with her new dentures. As Ella wheeled herself away she thanked her again. 

After breakfast I helped  Grandma back to bed,  put the amplifying headphones over her ears and read to her. Lately we've been reading poems but I like to start with a Bible story and a psalm or two.  About halfway through the first book of Mark Grandma’s eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep.  I finished the chapter anyway then sat in silence, thinking I’d pick up my knitting and quietly work on it for the remainder of my visit.

Her sudden outburst surprised me both in its authoritative tone and volume. I stared with a stupid smile on my face as she broke the silence by reciting:

“Thank you God for all I care
For things to eat and things to wear
For Mother, Father, good and kind
Please help me always to mind
Like Jesus, in whose name I pray.”

“What a sweet prayer!” I said. “Where did you learn that?” 

“I used to say it when I was a little girl." she said, eyes still closed. "My mother must have taught it to me.” Then she drifted off to sleep.

I wanted to write down what she had said but I didn’t have a pen and my  startled brain wouldn’t wrap around all the words.  I assumed it was a common old prayer I could find online but the snippets I later googled yielded nothing.  I called my sister but the phrases I related to her didn’t sound familiar.  I worried Grandma might die -or worse- that the words might disappear into the recesses of her mind during the night and remain hidden forever before I had a chance to get them down on paper.
In the morning I was prepared and she was alert.  I asked her about the prayer and as she recited it I wrote it down.

“My, that was a long time ago.” Grandma said.  ‘I remember a lot from when I was a little girl.”

“That’s because you still are that little girl.” I told her.  “A few years have passed between then and now, that’s all.”

“Nearly 100 years! I'm almost 104, you know." and Grandma shook her head, amazed again at her own longevity.

When it was time to go I left her sleeping in her bed by the window like I always do but today my departure felt different. Today I walked out with something I didn’t have when I walked in-something my grandma had had since she was a little girl.  I secured the prayer in my purse like a piece of jewelry and carried it with me out the door.

On my way down the hall I said good bye to Nasreen and Ella. These ladies are still the little girls they were, too-  Nasreen waited upon by her father’s servants, splendidly dressed in Persian finery; Ella playing in the dust in the doorway of her Latvian home,  her parents telling her the same Bible stories I read to my grandmother. 

Children, all of them. Old, wrinkled children. Precious children of God.

Friday, November 1, 2013

In Memoriam

Fred the Bantam Rooster 2010-2013*

Fred the Bantam Rooster began life the old fashioned way, as far too few of his kind do in these modern times, brooded under the warm feathers of a real chicken mother, not simply hatched within the lonely heat of an incubator. Fred's mother nurtured him and his brother and sisters first in the brooding pen then under the apple trees in the orchard where he lived all his life.

When Fred matured and it became clear he was indeed a rooster he was marked for the chopping block. His owner had had bad experiences with roosters and viewed them as nothing short of aggressive, worthless freeloaders. She didn't see the sense in keeping one in a flock of laying hens. But Fred the Rooster was different. He shattered his owner's preconceived notions of a rooster's value in a free-ranging flock. He broke down barriers. He changed minds and hearts. Most importantly for him he changed the heart of the one who wielded the ax, for once his true nature was revealed she never again considered butchering him.

Fred played not one but many invaluable roles in the daily life of his flock. He was daytime sentinel, night watchman, referee, bodyguard, caretaker and benevolent dictator. His owner enjoyed throwing choice bits of food to the chickens to watch Fred rush up to grab some in his beak-not to eat himself like greedy chickens always do-but to place directly in front of a hen and cluck at her to eat it. It became a game to guess how many bugs or pieces of bread he would pass on to his flock before finally eating one himself.

While the hens scratched and pecked in the sunshine he watched out for predators. One warning call from him froze every chicken into a feathered statue. He broke up fights. When he was in charge peace reigned in the orchard. And though he was protective of his flock he never showed aggression toward any human being.

As might be expected, Fred the Rooster died as he lived: Selflessly, heroically. He gave his life defending his coop during the Great Raccoon Wars of 2013. In all ways Fred the Rooster demonstrated the best qualities of his kind. Though diminutive in size, his passing has left a huge hole in the orchard flock. It will be difficult for any future rooster to fill his perch.  He is survived by his hens, grown chicks and a worthless brother who inherited none of his good qualities. 

He is also survived by an owner whose opinion on the value of keeping a rooster has forever been changed by knowing him

*Photo of Japanese Bantam courtesy of Fowl Visions

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Everyday Miracles....and How to Be a Lazy Gardener

Sometimes the natural world just blows me away. Not in extraordinary ways like a comet or the Grand Canyon but the everyday stuff...Like a spider spinning a web or baby chicks hatching out of eggs. Every year I let one of my Bantam hens hatch out a few eggs just for the miracle of it. I gaze in wonder at the cute-as-a-button, perfectly formed baby chicks that 21 days before could have been my Denver omelet. Seriously. It only takes three weeks to transform a souffle into a sentient being. It is even cooler than Cinderella's fairy godmother changing a pumpkin and couple rats into a carriage and coachmen. And this is REAL, people!  No magic wand involved.   I'm not even going to go into how perfectly the mother hen knows how to take care of those eggs and her babies.  I'm telling you, it's nothing short of astounding.  

See the beans above?  The beans in the bowl may look different from each other but they're all exactly all the same- True Cranberry Beans, an old New England heirloom variety. The ones on the right have been soaked and sprouted and the ones on the left are still dry and hard.  It's difficult to see from the photo but they are shiny and look very much like a real cranberry.  These are beans that I grew so I could enjoy them, save the seeds, and plant them again. I let the pods dry then I shelled them, put them in an airtight plastic bag then threw the bag into the freezer.  You see, a brief stint in the freezer is supposed to kill any insect eggs that may ruin the beans in storage.

Well, they stayed in the freezer for more than a "brief stint". In truth, I kind of forgot about them. While mining the freezer's depths for a pot roast a few days ago I encountered the bag of beans again and thought I'd better see if they were still any good.  I grabbed a handful, soaked them for a couple days then put them between damp paper towels to see what would happen.  And what happened?  They sprouted.  The kids and I counted them. 29 out of 33 have sprouted so far and I think the ones that haven't yet are just tardy, not dead.

Why is this extraordinary, you may ask? Why am I so excited about beans? Because when I packed these cranberry beans away in the freezer one of the kids that helped me count them couldn't walk and the other wasn't even thought of .  They've been frozen for almost 15 years. And still, in spite of neglect, power outages and changes in temperature  they remained viable.  Very viable. There is still a spark of life left inside each of these seeds waiting for the right moment to live again. How long did Snow White sleep in her state of suspended animation before Prince Charming kissed her and she lived again?  Not 15 years, I bet. These fairy tales ain't got nothing on real life. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. 

I think these beans deserve to be planted again, don't you? I will devote space to them in the garden next spring and pass some along to gardening friends who will appreciate them and save them (hopefully more conscientiously than I did).  These beans are tasty and beautiful and I'm ashamed it's taken me so long to consider growing them again because dry beans really are easy to grow.  Which leads me to my next subject:

 Lazy Gardening!


 "Look at all those winter squash!" my friends say "How you must have slaved over them! You must have worked for months!" 

Au contraire!  I planted some seeds in May but just discovered all these squash this month when the vines died back.  And my potatoes? They fairly pop out of the ground when I push the mulch aside. How about those beets? They're waiting to be pulled up at my convenience and the kale will hold through the winter. (That stuff even gets better after a few frosts!) The secret is Lazy (aka "plant it and forget it") Gardening.  I've been practicing it for years without even knowing it was a thing. Well, I'm now officially making it a thing.

Lazy Gardening Advantage #1-At Your Convenience!
The Lazy Gardener does not have to harvest on any particular timetable because Lazy Gardener vegetables can wait. They are harvested at the Lazy Gardener's convenience or all at once in the fall. It works like this: The Lazy Gardener plants the right kinds of seeds (winter squash, kale, collards, dry beans, potatoes, root veggies, etc), makes sure the seedlings are up and going, mulches like crazy, waters the seedlings when needed then forgets about them. Other crops like lettuce, green beans, broccoli, summer squash, cucumbers and peas have to be monitored with vigilance or they will get away from all but the most attentive gardener. Neglect these veggies and you'll waste them.  Before you know it they're too mature to be tasty, they go to seed or get bitter.  In any case, you'll miss out and feel guilty for your neglect.I know that feeling. But the Lazy Gardener feels no guilt because neglect is part of the game plan!

Lazy Gardening Advantage #2-The Thrill of Discovery!
A thrilling advantage of lazy gardening is that because the vegetables have been ignored for so long the Lazy Gardener gets to discover them anew when they're finally dug up or uncovered.  Or shelled. Look at what I found when these vines died back. 
Winter squash! And there's a big patch of potatoes just waiting underground to be sleuthed out and collected as needed. Red, white and the occasional purple, they're as pretty as Easter eggs and almost as fun to hunt.

Lazy Gardener Advantage #3 Tip: Don't Forget to Mulch!
Besides choosing the right vegetables the most important piece of the lazy gardening puzzle is to mulch in between seedlings and on paths. Mulching keeps moisture in, weeds smothered and the gardener nice and lazy for those hazy, lazy days of summer. It does mean a little extra work early on but trust me, a little shoveling in the relative cool of spring is a lot easier than nonstop weeding in the heat of the summer. Because summer is when you should be sitting in your Adirondack chair, surveying your beautiful garden, sipping a cocktail and feeling gloriously lazy.

Of course a lot of my Lazy Gardener strategy depends on a a mild climate like mine that permits cool season vegetables to stay out in the garden for the winter and yes, I know  a good vegetable garden has a many different kinds of plants. (I'd never be without my green beans that have to be picked pretty much daily) But really, do think about planting more Lazy Gardener vegetables and less of the ones that require more work than you can give them and if you don't mulch, do it. Trust me on this,

Because a Lazy Gardener is a Happy Gardener!
Just ask Harris.  He likes winter squash too!

Happy Autumn!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Homebound Projects with my Talented Daughter

The snow flies and in between sledding and walks in the snow we're inside with busy hands. A pile of felted sweaters call to us and my daughter (13 years old) and I scour the internet for ideas. Look what we made!

I met a lovely lady named Frances Clement Fawcett this fall at the Fiber Farm Tour. She makes fabulous creations from felted wool and teaches a slipper making class! E. stitched these up in no time from Frances' pattern:
This is my pair:

E. made these moccasin type slippers from a Martha Stewart pattern. You can't see but there are felt bees decorating the top (Sorry, I'm a bad photographer...). They're so cute and comfy!

And I made these from this pattern on Craftstylish. I'm not a crocheter but I'm loving the easy crochet trim on these and the red pair above-

So we've been cutting and sewing but we still have to eat! E. is becoming an expert cookie baker/decorator. She made these gluten and dairy-free cookies for her dad. The recipe is from Gluten Free Girl and the decorating ideas come from Cookie Craft.

And the sheep still have to be fed. Here they are in the snow. My oldest girl, Belle, is very friendly these days and loves a scratch. I give her some love every time I do chores. I like to kiss her between her horns. She smells so wonderfully sheepy!

Hoping you're cozy and warm inside while enjoying the winter beauty outside.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Tasha Tudor Day!

I've been asked to do a post about Tasha Tudor on this Tasha Tudor Day. Much has been said about this independent, creative, wildly talented, eccentric woman. If you have never before heard of Tasha Tudor please Google her. I can't possibly sum her up in a paragraph or two.

What is it I admire about Tasha Tudor? What can I say about her lifestyle, her artwork, her independent spirit, her talent, that hasn't been said before? While I primarily admire her for forging along against the grain and creating her own reality by living the lifestyle she wanted to live; on a more practical level, I admire her perseverance and her patience.

I've been told I lead a Tasha Tudor lifestyle. Yes, I spin, knit, dye, cook from scratch, heat with wood, garden, can, make bread, raise animals, make dolls, dip candles, turn wood, etc. But I know I'm nothing like her. I am a product of a modern society who admires the skills of the past and tries to attain some of them. Tasha Tudor seemed to not even be of this time. She was a modern embodiment of a woman of the 1830's. She said so herself. And in looking at her life and some of the skills she had we get a snapshot of a mindset that is practically nonexistent in this day and age.
Yes, I shear my own sheep, wash, card, spin and knit the wool. This is fun and very satisfying for me. But the fact that Ms. Tudor (for I think it's a bit too familiar to call her Tasha) grew flax, painstakingly processed this plant into a softened fiber worthy of spinning, spun it, warped her loom, wove it into fabric, finished this fabric, cut (!!!) the resulting fabric into pattern pieces and hand sewed these pieces into beautiful shirts for her family... This blows me away. The time, the patience, the skill involved in so many areas to see this through. I can't imagine her level of satisfaction at the finished product. And the perseverance she had to see it through to the very end.

It demonstrates a pace of life and the possession of an attention span practically unseen in this day and age. Ms. Tudor's hands and mind were always engaged. I'm sure she didn't' space out in front of the television or computer, or waste time with video games.

Her level of skill and craftsmanship in all she did, her patience to see her projects through, the creativity involved in fashioning new worlds out of the things she made (I'm thinking of her dolls and all their very real lives and interactions!) These are some of the many fine traits of Ms. Tudor's I wish I could posses.
So this afternoon I'll have a cuppa tea and look over my favorite non fiction Tasha Tudor book, Tasha Tudor's Heirloom Crafts, and plan my next project...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wool Dolls at the Fiber Farm Tour!

I'm pleased to announce my participation in the Olympic Penninsula Fiber Farm Tour on September 17-18th! I will be selling wool dolls and figures at Barry and Linda Taylor's beautiful farm/business: Taylored Fibers in Quilcene. For those unacquainted with my work I'm posting photos of the kind of figures I will be offering during the tour. Please note: I can't guarantee these exact dolls will be offered for sale. Some have been sold and others are in process.

My needle felted figures are made from wool roving and dry felted with a single felting needle. All facial features are sculpted from colored wool.

Some will be poseable, like this sassy Autumn chick with red dreds:

Some will be tea cozies.... ...and some haven't told me who they want to be yet....
And Christmas is not far away! I'll be sure to have some Santas ready .... There will be seasonal characters such as shown in my December 2007 post (scroll down)! I love the Brownie and the elves... And because I'm incapable of resisting thrift store woolens so you'll find dolls like Frances (above) and Ed (below) . They're made out of felted cashmere, lambswool and hardy Harris Tweed.. The faces on these dolls are embroidered and they have detachable wings made out of vintage quilts.
There will be so much going on at Taylored Fibers (and all the other farms on the tour). Do stop by and say hello!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Lambs

So I haven't posted to my blog in over a year. Now my old Easter photos are relevant again! I'm so behind I'm timely...

But I had to post a couple photos of my lambs, born April 1st and 2nd. Fulfilled a lifelong dream of sharing my life with sheep last summer when I purchased two Icelandic ewes. Borrowed a ram lamb from a friend for the fall and sure enough, he did his job. Got two sets of twins from two ewes who up until this point had only produced single lambs. More babies than I'd ever thought I would have!

I ended up with three rams and one ewe. I can't have that many sheep on my property so having three rams made it easier to decide who to keep. The boys will be butchered this fall and I will keep the ewe lamb. She's the black one shown above. Her name is April. Her mother, Belle, has a wonderful fleece and I was hoping for a colored ewe lamb out of her and I was fortunate enough to get just that. The little white one had a rough start and had to take a bottle once in a while so he runs right up for a scratch..So sweet.

These are Icelandic sheep, a primitive breed that is sheared twice a year. Wonderful wool, wonderful meat. They are cousins to the smaller Shetlands. You can read about them here.

It's a joy to watch all the lambs bounce and run around together. Certainly makes it seem like spring around here.

I'll try to post more often. Certainly more than once a year!