Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Almost the New Year

The time from Christmas to the first part of February is the time we take it easy. While everyone else is vacationing in the summer we are working at full speed, but this time of year we can slow down. This is a time to think and plan, design new works, plan new garden ideas. And start the seed ordering process. First of all we have to inventory what is left over from last year's seeds. I am in charge of flower seed so today I sat down and made a list of what was leftover and useable.
It's also a time to design new hats. Now that I am not in full production mode I can go slow, take things out, change my mind, try things that might not work. Above are two hats of a new line that I think will work out. They are sort of a cloche shape knit from my old favorite yarn, Chelsea Silk, and have knitted flowers like the felted hats. I'll have to see how they sell. But I like them a lot.
And one of my favorite activities, ordering new yarn. These are new colors for felted hats and another box is on its way. Yummm. I love yarn.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. We were married in this house with our kids and my sister present. I made the dress and Joel's shirt from Folkway patterns. I don't remember what the cake was like but it looks like chocolate. Funny, we don't usually remember our anniversary until several days have passed. Christmas was two days ago, Joel's birthday in three, then mine in a week and a granddaughter just before mine, the anniversary usually gets lost in the shuffle. This has not affected our marriage. But today for some reason we remembered. And I am celebrating by sharing this picture.

We did not get off the island for Christmas. It was just still too cold to leave the house and critters. But yesterday we went to Friday Harbor and picked up our two older girls and their families and brought them over here for a late Christmas celebration. Siri is coming in January.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tree

There's our Christmas tree. Our house is so tiny we always put it on the table and then eat sitting on the sofa for a couple of weeks. We have a set of tiny LED Christmas lights that take so little electricity and don't get even warm so we can leave them on all night long. I love getting up at night and seeing the tree lights. When I was a little girl my sister and I had our own little tree in our bedroom. Mom would put the lights on when we went to bed and then come turn them off after we'd gone to sleep. I always add the icicle strips as I like the way they catch the light. They add sparkle when you don't have really bright lights. I carefully take them all off the tree every year and put them in an envelope. The stuff is a bit of a pain as I find it hiding everywhere for weeks after Christmas, but I still love it.
The decorations have been collected for years, some bought on trips, some are gifts,
some made by local artists,
some made by children.

My birthday is the first week of January and my mother would leave our big tree up until then. We still do that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And Still More Snow

We woke up to about a foot of snow this morning. This doesn't happen in this neck of the woods very often and we glory in it when it does. It is so beautiful. Last night we walked a couple of miles to a friend's house for dinner as we weren't sure we could get the truck out our 1/4 mile long driveway. It was snowing quite heavily as we came home and was silent except for a couple of great horned owls hooting in the woods.
We aren't going anywhere for Christmas. All of our family will try and get together later on when the snow has gone, maybe next week. Meanwhile we are just going to hunker down and cook a - from the farm - Christmas dinner just for us. We do need to get to town one of these days soon. If we can manage to get to the water there won't be any problem. That part of the trip isn't covered with snow. And we can walk uptown to the grocery store. Until then we will improvise with what we have. Joel will make fudge and a pie and I will cook a roast with potatoes, parsnips, onions and carrots from the garden. As long as we don't run out of cat food we'll be alright!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cats Keeping Warm

Okay, I know the internet is floaded with cute cat pictures but I couldn't resist adding one more. Here are our cats keeping warm in front of the stove. Every once in a while we shove them over, gently, so we can sit down and put our toes up on the stove and warm them up. The grey one is Fang, the calico Sarah, the little orange one in front James III, and the orange and white guy in back is Chas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holly and Christmas Trees

Today we started hanging up Christmas decorations around the house and hung sprigs of holly over every door and window. Ever since we first read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising where they put holly over the doors and windows before the solstice to keep out the dark, we have done it too.
And today we went out and cut our Christmas tree. There is a small grove of white, or grand firs in the woods just the right size for our tiny house. I love this one with a ball of snow on the top.
Out in the woods were bird tracks, sheep tracks and the tracks of one of our barn cats, probably Tuft, out exploring the snowy woods.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Snow

Just a few pictures of the farm in the snow. Above a bed of leeks.
Brussels Sprouts.
A Rufous Sided Towhee sheltering in the rosebush at the front door.

And German Honey Bars from my old Joy of Cooking for Christmas. These cookies need to be stored for at least a week to be soft enough to eat. So they are great to make ahead of time. They are a favorite holiday cookie. I don't dare forget to make them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


It started snowing after dark last night and snowed and blowed all night. This morning there are several inches on the ground. It's hard to measure because it is light snow and blowing all over the place. I know we are sort of wimps as there are lots and lots of colder and snowier places in the world, but this doesn't happen all that often here. So it is always exciting and a bit of an adventure when it does.

Last night I wrapped a hot brick in a towel and put it in the bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with three heavy cats all on top of the spot where the brick was and no way I could get my toes down there.
We run a small fan from the house into the greenhouse where a lot of our harvested vegetables are stored and this makes the snow on the roof melt and creates wonderful icicles.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hunkering Down

The wind is starting to howl, the temperature is slowly dropping as is the humidity and the barometer is rising as the cold arctic air blasts down upon us. We've been out putting row covers over normally hardy things like our purple sprouting broccoli and overwintering cauliflowers because we really don't know how hardy they are. We also hope that it will help a bit to keep the plants from drying out. In this kind of weather, the ground freezes and the wind with the low humidity keeps taking moisture out of the leaves. Sometimes plants die from drying out instead of from the cold. The wind is blowing so hard that it is hard to keep the covers on the plants. We haven't had cold as low as they are predicting since we started growing a serious market garden. We will learn a lot from this storm. These storms seem strange to a place like the Pacific Northwest where we are mainly known for being rainy. They are a little spooky as you watch them come in. I remember one year out mulching something. It was very quiet and all of a sudden I could hear the wind from the NE hitting the trees and then I looked down and ice crystals were forming in the ground under my feet. This kind of weather almost seems alive. It makes you understand old superstitions about weather gods.

So far no snow which would be a bit of help in protecting plants. But clouds are coming in now, it was sunny and clear this morning, so who knows.

Joel is out doing the last minute things, draining the water from the washing machine and bathtub on the back porch, wrapping an old sleeping bag around the top of the well, filling buckets with water, digging a bunch of root vegetables because even if they don't freeze it looks like the ground will still be frozen by market next weekend and if we dig them now we should have them to sell. I've filled the bird feeders and tomorrow will try to set up some sort of source of water for the wild birds after the pond freezes although I don't know how I am going to keep it open in the really low temperatures. I'll do my best.

We will put extra blankets on the beds, expect all the cats to show up as soon as the fire dies down a bit to huddle next to us, James under the covers, his preferred spot. I have lots of knitting yarn within easy reach so I won't be bored. A friend loaned us her set of The Blue Planet DVD so we can watch that on our laptop and drink hot chocolate in the evenings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Battening Down the Hatches

Joel and I spent the day getting ready for a major Arctic Outbreak as the weather forecasters call it. This is a fierce outflow of very cold air that comes down the Fraser Canyon in British Columbia from the dark of the arctic and blasts right across the Strait of Georgia and hits us. The air is really, really cold as the sun isn't shining up there at this time of year and the cold of outer space seeps in in the absence of the sun. It is supposed to get down to the low teens (that's Fahrenheit) with a couple of days of high winds as well. We frequently get a week or two of this sort of weather most winters. We don't usually get snow with it unless we are right on the convergence zone between the warm moist air off the ocean and cold dry air off the land mass. It usually is just very dry and very cold. If we do get snow first then that really helps protect growing plants. Snow is a great mulch.
So Joel raked up the leaves under the birch tree, hauled a couple of loads of maple leaves from the side of the roads, and raked up a bunch of loose waste hay from the floor of the barn. We covered the dahlias and glads and carrots,
dug up the last of the potatoes, brought in a bunch of cabbages, and will dig the beets and pull the celery tomorrow. We have until tomorrow night before the cold hits. All of these vegetables and half a dozen boxes of apples and all the squash will be brought into the house for us to trip over until it warms up. There used to be a root cellar on this place but when we came here it had collapsed and wasn't restorable. It sure would be nice to have it now. When we were just gardening for ourselves it wasn't so much of an issue, but with the winter market we have a lot of produce out there in the garden. This is our 7th year of the winter market and we haven't had cold like this in those years. This could well put an end to much of our winter produce for this year.

So we will fill buckets with water for us and the livestock, bring in lots of firewood, get out the wool socks and the long johns and hunker down for the duration. Boats won't be going anywhere so we won't get mail for a few days or be able to go to town. At least the power won't go out and we will be warm. We have plenty of wood and food and warm clothes. We could be in a lot worse situation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wash Day

When I first moved to the island in 1972 with two small children I washed all our clothes for the first two years with a scrub board in a washtub. Hard work. But I have never managed to get a pair of blue jeans as clean as a scrub board can no matter what sort of machine or fancy detergent I've used since. Not that I am keen to go back to washing that way, but it is nice to know that I can if I have to. Since then I have hauled my laundry to town, used a great old ringer washer, and a few years ago bought a used washing machine for $10 at a flea market. We had been seriously considering buying one of those really energy efficient Fischer-Paykel machines until I tried to felt hats in a friend's. They don't have an agitator but rather suck the water through the clothes. It is supposed to be really easy on the clothes but it won't felt hats. I ran my hats through three loads with no noticeable change in them. Good information if you accidentally wash a wool sweater in one. But I realized that if I were going to get a washing machine it had to not only wash my clothes but felt my hats. This one is great. Something about the way it agitates, I can get the hats the size I want in just one load. I have used friend's machines and had to run the hats through several times. So I am quite happy with this machine. It sits on our back porch and the hot water for it is heated by coils that run through the cook stove. That is pretty energy efficient because every time we cook a meal or heat the house we are also heating water.
And then for the solar dryer. Dryers are one of the heaviest users of energy and the sun does such a great job for free. In the winter we hang the clothes inside and with the wood stove going they dry quickly. Both are solar heaters, one directly from the sun and the other stored sunlight in the wood.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Onions and Cats

Another winter market is coming up this Saturday. So we spent this evening boxing up squash and onions. I bagged up some of the special cipollini onions in one pound bags. I like to give these as Christmas presents and I hope I can convince a few customers that that is a good idea.
While we were doing that Chas decided to jump into an empty wastebasket. I couldn't resist taking a picture.

Golden Treasure tomatoes

Joel brought in another bowl of Golden Treasure tomatoes.
These are storage tomatoes that will supposedly keep for up to 3 months after harvest. This is our first year to grow them so we will see. The seed is available from Abundant Life Seeds

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend

We had such a nice weekend. On Wednesday we went over to Friday Harbor to set up for the annual Island Artisans crafts fair that is held at the elementary school. Joel put up the lattice walls and set up the tables for me.

On Thanksgiving Day we slept in late on the boat, took a nap, joined friends at the Grange for the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, went back to the boat and went to bed early. For the self employed that is a rare kind of day. We loved it. One of our daughters came up from Seattle on Friday, went to the crafts fair and then back to Waldron with Joel.
Meanwhile I stayed behind and peddled my wares. I always start my own Christmas shopping at this fair as I love getting as many gifts as I can from fellow artists.
This year was no exception. A new vendor in the booth right next to mine had the most wonderful dolls for sale and I bought one for my 3 year old granddaughter. The doll is almost as big as she is. She found the booth at once and Mom had to keep taking her away from the dolls. I hope she remembers that when she gets hers for Christmas.
This morning when we started for home it was really foggy. The water was still and calm and most of the time the fog was just above the waterline so we could actually see where we were going. I love fog. It makes everything so mysterious. This is Pt. Disney in the fog.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Finished at Last

These are the last of the potholders still on the loom. Today I wove for 5 hours almost straight finishing up 2 1/2 boas. I feel like I have run a marathon! But it is all done. Everything is woven, hemmed and the labels are on. I'm going to go soak in a hot bathtub. Let's hope the crafts fair is remunerative. This community is good at supporting local enterprises and the organization that puts it on gives art scholarships to Friday Harobr High School students. Our daughter, Siri was a recipient her last year in high school so we have a special reason for supporting them with our booth fees. I'll be gone until Sunday and will hopefully have pictures and a report of the sale.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter Market at the high school

Yesterday was the second winter Farmers Market of the season. This year it is being held at the Friday Harbor High School cafeteria. The school is participating in the Experience Food project this year which involves getting local foods into the school. I can swear that the lunches at school are delicious. I look forward to subbing just for the food this year. And the length of the lines at lunch time testify to the success of the program. For more information check the Land and Sea Slow Food club link at the right.

One of the high school Land and Sea Slow Food club members came to give us a hand and experience the market from behind the counter. He was a great help keeping the baskets filled with produce during the first hours rush when Joel and I have all we can do to keep up with the customers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sewing Hems

I'm basically finished with the weaving part of getting ready for the Thanksgiving crafts fair. I've added a link to the organization, Island Artisans, who puts on the show. They offer a scholarship to a high school students each year and Siri won one her year of graduation. But I still have all the hems on 60 potholders, 7 new rugs and 28 placemats to sew. Sewing at my house involves sitting on my bed and treadling my sewing machine as I don't at present have any better place to put it in this small house. It is actually an old black cast iron Singer straight needle machine that belonged to my mother who I believe bought it during WWII. I inherited it and as it has an external belt I can hook it up to a treadle base. Any non electronic sewing machine with an external belt drive can be hooked up to a treadle. This is another of my non electric choices. It does everything I need it to do and I get good exercise while using it. Now, I have to admit that I am a bit envious of a friend's new Pfaff machine that will embroider designs from her computer. She is a watercolor artist and wants to take details from her paintings and embroider them. I plan on hanging over her should and vicariously enjoying her machine.

And as the piles of of finished products grew Fang came to supervise. (Fang came by his name when as a 6 week old barn kitten that I was trying to catch, he bit me really hard. He turned out to be a big soft wuss of a cat but the name has stuck).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Diplomacy or War

The wood pile is one of the favorite hibernation sites of yellow jacket queens. They crawl in between pieces of wood hoping to be able to spend the winter there. We have learned to check each piece carefully before bringing wood into the house. Otherwise the queen warms up, figures spring has come and starts flying and buzzing around the house. When she figures out that spring hasn't come she looks for another place to overwinter and boots, sleeves of jackets and under pillows are favorite sites.

Now, I am not a sentamentalist where animals are concerned. These things have nasty stings. I'm not allergic and neither is anyone in our family, but those stings still hurt so we try and avoid them. But I have learned over the years to have a huge lot of respect for these small creatures. These queens carry in their bodies all the eggs for an entire colony for next season. They have to stay alive not only for themselves but for 4000 or 5000 members of their colony. In the spring she will come out of hibernation and make a small paper nest in a tree or in a hollow space in the ground. She will lay enough eggs to get a corp of workers going and will feed them until they are ready to take over the jobs of making a bigger nest and feeding the rest of the young.

As long as her nest isn't on a major traffic path or in the wall of the house (that happened one year) we leave them alone. They are major predators of cabbage worms and aphids and in the years when there aren't a lot of yellow jackets around we immediately notice an increase in those two garden pests. So we don't engage in an all out war against them but try diplomatically to not harm them when they are in situations where they aren't going to harm us.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Land and Sea Slow Food Club at the High School

We spent the day in Friday Harbor with the Friday Harbor High School Land and Sea Slow Food club (see link at right). They met at Steps restaurant where chef Madden Surbaugh showed them how to make a wonderful winter squash soup from local ingredients grown on San Juan Island and scones from our wheat. We donated 3 pounds to the project and then joined them to see what they did with it. Above one of the students is mixing the flour they ground from the wheat with butter they made from local cream and a bit of locally made goat cheese.
And lunch is ready. The soup was delicious as were the scones.

We had a lovely ride home on a flat calm sea. Now, this evening, it is foggy out in the channel though it is clear here and we can hear ships' horns from the shipping channel just to the north of us. I love that sound.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Smells Like Coffee?

Joel planted lettuce seedlings in one of our hoophouses yesterday and the place smells like.....coffee? Last year's lettuce crop in the hoophouse was seriously damaged by wireworms. These are small, stiff, yellow grubs, the larva of the click beetle, that burrow into the stem of the plant and eat it out from the inside. All you see is a suddenly totally wilted, dying lettuce. If you pull it up and check the soil right around the stem you can sometimes find the culprit and dispatch it. We had been unable to find a successful organic solution for the pest until we talked to our friend who brought us all those potatoes a while back. Seems he was gathering up coffee grounds from a number of local restaurants as something to add humus to his soil. But as he grows several acres of potatoes he never had enough coffee grounds to treat the whole place. He noticed that he had no wireworm damage to his potatoes in the places where he had put the coffee grounds. Potatoes are another crop that we have had a lot of wireworm trouble with, so we are trying it, first on this lettuce bed and hopefully next spring on some potato plantings if we can gather up enough grounds by then.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More and More Rugs

I wove the last three on the blue and green warp and am treating myself to a sit down at the computer. Joel is making curry for dinner and there is a third batch of apple butter simmering on the stove for me to can this evening. I'm on a roll. I'm ahead of my schedule. I'll spend the next couple of days finishing off two warps of potholders and making a few more boas and knitting hats in the evenings. I could have an office job, I know. I like this much better.

I've started listing my rugs on a new online crafts market, 1000 Markets. The link is to the left. I would like to sell more online and less away from home, but even if I can't give up the fairs I can give my customers a link to my online shops when they ask. And it is also true that I love the social aspect of the fairs. It's where I get to see my friends in the local artist community.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Bread and New Hats

Joel baked the first batch of bread this season. He doesn't have time to bake bread during the summer when the farm takes over our lives, so it is a special treat in the fall when he finally finds time to do it. He'll bake bread for us every week until spring. He makes such GOOD bread. Toast for breakfast!!
Meanwhile I've been making lots of new hats for the Thanksgiving sale, for Island Studios in Friday Harbor and for a friend who has two galleries in LaConner. I set them out on the sofa to start figuring out which flowers went on which hats. James thought they looked cozy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Loom Parts

A comment on my last blog reminds me that I often use weaving terms that are not going to be familiar to the general public. So now and again I will try and remember to define my terms as I use them. Above is a picture of the warp going through the reed. It's called a reed because the little narrow slats were once made from reeds. The reed determines how many threads, or ends, per inch (epi) you want for the density of the cloth and holds the warps out to the desired width of the piece. Above is a twelve dent reed (12 slots per inch). They come in a variety of sizes and you can put one or two or three or more threads in each slot or skip dents for a wider spacing of your threads.

Next the threads go through the heddles. Heddles are long pieces of metal with an eye in the center. They are hung on the shafts. This is a 4 shaft loom. Each thread goes through one heddle on shaft 1, 2, 3, or 4 depending on the pattern I am threading. This is how you thread the weaving pattern that you have chosen for your piece. The shafts move up and down as you push on the treadles to create the pattern.
This is a closeup of the threads going through the eyes of the heddles.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Rugs

I finished the second batch of placemats this morning and am in the process of putting on another warp for rag rugs. This one will be in dark colors. The warp is navy blue and dark green. I have been collecting a whole lot of plaid flannel sheets and solid colored ones in blues and greens. So the first step is to toss them all out on the bed and start making up combinations. Each rug uses at least two different sheets and I usually use one plaid or printed and one solid. Not always, but that is where I usually start my planning. I can make 7 rugs on a warp with the equipment I am using so that means 14 sheets. Above are a few of my choices. As it was sunny today, although not particularly warm, I went out on the back porch to start tearing up the sheets. This is a rather linty process so I like to do it outside. After my fingers started to get too cold I came back in and started threading the loom. I have the threads all through the reed and will start threading the heddles tomorrow morning. I hope to start the first rug by tomorrow afternoon. I have two and half weeks until the big crafts fair so I am trying to hustle.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Brussels Sprouts

The dark wet days of fall and winter are also the days I get to eat as much as I want of my favorite vegetable, Brussels Sprouts. Last winter we lived on Brussels Sprouts and winter squash. I think I bought one head of lettuce and a few red peppers from the grocery store before spring greens were available. I love these little cabbages. My oldest daughter got our middle daughter to eat them when the latter was about 5 by calling them Fairy Cabbages and Fairy Cabbages they have remained for us ever since (about 30 years ago?). We tell our customers at market that that is what we call them. They are really popular and always sell out fast.
My favorite way to cook them is to simply steam them until tender but last Christmas Siri introduced us to roasted Brussels Sprouts that she had gotten in a deli in New York. You just put them in roasting pan, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and roast until tender and just a bit browned on top. Delicious.

We serve all our brassicas with Ginger Tamari, a recipe I originally got from Kate Stone of Katrina's Restaurant in Friday Harbor. When Kate closed down her business and moved to New Zealand she gave me the recipe as I mourned the loss of one of my favorite condiments. I've changed the recipe a bit over the years and here is my current version.

Ginger Tamari
1/3 c water
1/3 c rice vinegar
1/3 c soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar*
1Tbsp sesame oil, hot or not*
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger root*
* to taste
Pour into a bottle and shake well before serving. To serve pour over Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, whatever.

Friday, November 7, 2008

November is Recharge Month

It's been pouring for the last two days, so hard that our satellite internet connection has been down. You know you are an internet junkie when you're unhappy when you can't get to your email and blogs.

In the islands, where unlike the mainland we don't look to the Cascade Mountains snowpack for our water supply, we have to depend entirely on rainfall to recharge the wells and ponds and underground aquifers. Studies have shown that if we don't get a normal amount of rain in November we usually can't make it up before March when the trees and grass start to grown again and suck up most of the water as fast as it falls. Then if we get a dry summer we start running out of water in August. This year we didn't have to start watering until July so our little pond which supplies most of our irrigation water, wasn't pumped totally dry as it often is. With all the rain of the last two days, close to 2 inches I understand, the water is muddy from running down the banks. When it is full the island in the middle disappears.

So although fretting about no internet I have been spending the rainy days knitting more hats and weaving more placemats and potholders for the big Thanksgiving weekend sale in Friday Harbor and making a big batch of apple catsup while listening to the rain fall on the roof. There is something so very cozy about being warm and dry and listening to the rain and being grateful for all the water that will be available next season.