Monday, October 15, 2007

There’s lots update you with, but the most exciting news is the most issue of Countryside Magazine, which just hit shelves. Countryside is a magazine for small stock farmers and modern homesteaders. In it you’ll find a nice folksy article I wrote about getting into self-taught bluegrass music. Along with the article are some photos I took of my own instruments. So next time your in Borders check it out. If you’re not really into playing music - there’s also articles in that issue about dogsledding, beginner beekeeping and a cute bit on urban chickens.

I spent the Sunday slow cooking a giant pot of Marinara sauce over at Bruce and Diana’s house. Before I headed to Tennessee I brought two paper grocery bags of green tomatoes from my garden into work for Diana to take home and let ripen. They turned red in their bags and then they were frozen till the blessed event. Bruce was kind enough to teach me how to turn them into thirteen jars of spaghetti sauce. We did the whole shabang, from food processor and sautéed garlic to using their giant pressure canner to seal them up for all year storage. How awesome is it to know that in mid-February I can go to the cupboard and grab a jar that started back in April as a seedling in a Ben and Jerry’s pint on the windowsill? I might have a really low bar for “awesome” but that pretty much clears it. I’ll be mailing a jar to Palmerton, so get excited at HQ.

Also, my banjo is here. It came in all its ridiculously heavy glory from Knoxville last week. It’s a sweet little guy with a mahogany back and a pretty tone. I’m taking up clawhammer banjo because it’s the way the banjo was played with fiddles back before the guitar came on the scene and mountain music turned into bluegrass. Clawhammer literally looks like you’re playing with talons on your right hand, but it sounds deep and rhythmic and goes with a fiddle perfectly. I’m using the same instructional aid source that I used to teach myself the fiddle. The publishing house is called Native Ground and the books are by a fellow named Wayne Erbson. His relaxed style of teaching by ear is really easy for me to pick up. So far all I can muster from my banjo is a slow version of Old Molly Hare, which ironically I hate playing on the fiddle cause it sounds too squeaky on my cheap instrument, but on the banjo it’s charming. This is pretty much the most riveting blog you check all day huh?

This weekend was Sandpoint’s last Farmer’s Market of the season, so there was a fall festival with free horse drawn hayride through town and lots of music and vendors. I brought Jazz and Annie in their packs and filled their saddlebags with carrots, potatoes, and apples for pie baking. I also grabbed a jug of cider and a pumpkin, which is carved into a jack o lantern in the kitchen right now.

The chickens aren’t happy. The cold and rain has dampened their spirits and most of them stopped laying. They all look like hell too, because fall is molting season and their getting new feathers. This is a process of course and right now their rears are bare and pink. They look like someone played a practical joke on them and shaved their butts after they passed out at a frat party. Mix that patheticness in with our cheery northwest weather and you have some sorry looking birds. Only Mindy, the new hen, is still laying everyday. The rest rarely lay at all making the farm’s egg production go from 18 eggs a week to 7. To get the other girls back into laying I ran some wiring out to the coop and set up a clamp light to give them some extra time to lay by. Chickens need 14 hours of light a day to lay an egg every 25 hours.

Last, I just want to share a music find. I got a cd of the Hems from the library this weekend. I had never heard of them before and just got their cd because of their name and the fact that a creepy looking pair of hares was on the cover. Turned out to be beautiful - a piano, a violin, some guitars and one soft voice. The song “half an acre” was especially touching. It’s about a girl who’s moved around a few times and is away from home but carries a torn out portion of her old home from a map of the town she grew up in everywhere she goes. The music doesn’t gnash and writhe like Iron and Wine does but the album “rabbit songs” seems to be perfect for driving in autumn for no reason but to drive in autumn. I suggest it for just that. If you need to satiate yourself in hope and creepy bible references, stick with Sam Beam.

Hope you’re well were you are.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Etsy's Halloween Contest

for more click here

I entered my wolf mask, under "general awesomeness" wish me luck.

Monday, October 8, 2007

bears can be jerks

A lot has been going on with the farm. First and to my dismay, a bear has toppled over the hive of honeybees I’ve been watching over. Or I can only assume it’s a bear because a deer or coyotes seems highly unlikely and the hand chewed combs littered around weren’t exactly “the wind”. There wasn’t a bee corpse in site. I can only assume that they swarmed off to another hive or nearby tree. I’m not sure when it happened, I only know it happened while I was away in Tennessee. Not that having witnessed a bear at my hive would’ve helped any. I certainly wasn’t going to outside with a shovel and pick a fight. So what to do? I can’t do anything but haul it in the garage for the winter and hope new bees will take to it in the spring. I’ll have my order in by January, which is when everyone orders his or her spring hives.

It’s been cold, wet, cloudy and foggy since I returned. I finally turned on the heat in the farmhouse, which I had been holding off on but nights are down in the 30’s and while I don’t mind the cold so much at night under blankets and on the couch, I can’t take it early in the morning when I need to shower and hop to work. No coffee is that strong. Since I’m off the gird and have to order heating oil in bulk, it takes a little planning to know how much to buy and when. If all goes as planned I won’t need another delivery till near the holidays. I am a very exciting young person.

Besides hive and heat, I’ve been working on the book with the fervor of a drugged up petstore puppy. I have so much ahead of me on it. Truth is I love this weather, I love writing the book, and weekends spent inside with hot chocolate and vegetable stew have been exactly what I love about October. Things aren’t perfect and Idaho isn’t always puppies and jelloshots but it’s always interesting. I’m glad I am here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

the elusive banjitar

So you play the guitar (or at least know a few chords) and always loved the sound of the banjo, but just didn’t want to learn that crazy thing? Well I found this; it’s called a banjitar and is the hybrid of the two. Basically it’s a banjo with six strings tuned like a guitar. You can pick or strum, play familiar chords and have a whole new sound. I don’t think it’s my kind of thing but I wouldn’t turn one away if someone gave it to me. Regardless it sure looks pretty and probably sounds wonderful.

you can buy one here at banjohut

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

they look good together

Idaho winters are long. A lot of nights you aren't driving anywhere. Last winter I took on the fiddle. It was the pefect snowday activity in a farmhouse without television or the internet. This winter, I'll wrangle a banjo and do the same. Right now I've just started the planning phase, which is listening to clawhammer (old time style I want to learn) recordings and reading intro books. When the snow starts falling I'll order a mountain banjo, and it'll be a grand time.

shady grove

I’m back from a weekend in Tennessee. I was down there to meet up with old friends and play some mountain music at the Old Timer’s Festival in Townsend. During the festival I wore my fiddle on my back in a scrappy backpack I made from some old hiking straps and an old canvas messenger bag. I mention this because when people see you have a fiddle on hand, they request you play for them, even at meals. I was sitting down at a picnic table (Arkansas!) with Taylor and Heather - and a couple of older folks asked if I’d play for them. The lady next to me said “I know you know, shady grove...” (which I do, but hadn’t memorized and messed up) But I was able to play some other fine tunes and then settle back down to eat. We all talked about Tennessee and music for a bit and then the three of us packed up to head over to the cemetery jam. As we walked away Heather heard the older man say “mountain women…” under their breath. I suppose that was our explanation.

What I love about Old Time music is there are only about fifty songs of the Southern Mountains, and those fifty songs have been passed down for generations and can be played a million different ways (and have been). But no matter who you are you can sing along, or improvise something ancient as those songs and make new friends. I was playing in the visitor’s center (upon request of a worker there) and an old lady on a cane walked up to me and whispered “Cluck old Hen” which was the random song I was playing. She knew it and wanted me to know she did. That single little exchange made my weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

the big one

I just want to be a shepherd on a hill. That's my life's goal.
A flock of sheep.
A hill.

Monday, September 24, 2007

which is which?

I snapped this photo of two bees on a bush. One is a honeybee and one is a bumble. Can you tell them apart?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

coming soon...taxidermy soap

Taxidermy soap! That's right, bear and deer heads to wash your bits with. What could be more badass than facing a grizzly in a shower huh? Nothing. Nothing at all. These will be pretty big and the molds won't be ordered for a while, but when they do they'll make a pretty rad gift with some homemade cowboy and indian grown-up pj pants for the tough guys. I bet Stephen Colbert would like some angry bear soap, I'll send him some to the show (I'm serious).

p.s. handmade clothes coming soon in cool patterns and fabrics. I've got the sewing bug and following patterns takes no time at all. Urban outfitter style ponchos being first in line. They'll have a warm wooly fleecy outside and a cool pattern inside. I'll see what i can dig up thats vintage and report back.

i saw a flurry!

This morning was one of those mornings where the temperature under the covers, next to Jazz was about 62 degrees warmer and fluffier than the world outside. I laid awake in bed scratching jazz’s ears and leaning on Annie till the moans from the silkie roosters got me up. I looked outside and thought it had snowed. The hay fields were white and frost capped, the grass was also glassy and white. No snow to speak of but it was well into the low thirties in the shade of the barn when I read the thermostat on the wall. I put on a pair of rag wool gloves without fingertips, a heavy sweater, a wool hat and a scarf and walked outside with a bag of scratch for the birds. All of which were up and trotting around mindless to the cold. I need to buy some insulation and an outdoor lightbulb and run it from the house to their coop. they need a light with a timer in there to keep them laying and to warm up the joint. It already has a thick layer of hay and a wool blanket keeping the wind out, but more mornings like this and they may start complaining.

I then checked the weather in Knoxville right now, 74 degrees, Geesh.

Don't worry mom, I ordered oil and I'll be all set before the trip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

intense updating here

Last night, after work, I was outside reinforcing the chicken pen with tighter woven wire and fly-top netting. It is now nearly inescapable with a little door for me to get in when I want to collect eggs or give William a high five. I think that project is officially done. I also moved the Silkies back into their own mini coop/pen set up which has been super reinforced with the help of my trusty staple gun which I’ve known since I bought it to staple canvases together my junior year of college. So, let’s hear it for posterity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Yesterday morning I got a call, the last call, from my neighbors. Who told me they were done with my chickens getting into their yard. Something that used to never happen and now happens all the time. As the girls got more and more brave and used to their yard, they started wandering off into the barn area, then naturally ended up walking into the green lush grass of my neighbor's place. They're nice enough people, but if you're not into poultry you don't exactly want to wake up to Kevin the silkie rooster screaming in your yard. And it's not just the black kids; William is relentlessly brave and has taken them everywhere he can see, So the birds are getting a little to far into the fields, woods, and neighbor's very pretty lawns. All of these places dangerous and thriving with coyotes, eagles, replublicans and dogs.

So, it was time. I had to build a fence.

Last night Diana came to the rescue. I drove home with her and Bruce to Floating leaf and helped with their nightly chores. Their calf Kingsford is adorable, a month old and solid milk chocolate. I try not to get to attached to them because in a year hell be a side on their china (thus the food-related names this years slaughter calf is called Mac), but damn they are cute when their babes. I collected eggs and we moved a giant hamster wheel shaped hay feeder closer to the red barn. By the time we were done the timed lights were coming on in her three chicken houses. It was getting dark and we were just starting to load up the truck with fenc building gear (Post holers look kinda dirty). We drove across the lake back to my farm and by the glow of the truck’s headlights we used a post holer to nail down five t-posts. Last we hooked up livestock fencing and then moved in the coops. It felt good to work with my hands and make something that produced an actual result after a long day of staring at computer screens. The night was followed by wine and pizza, which was well deserved.

Now the birds are kind of contained. This morning when I went outside Emily was already out and looking for her two male escorts that were too scared to come out and face William. Mary Todd Lincoln went AWOL and flew out over the bars (but everyone knows she’s crazy) So there are “adjustments” to be made to this whole fence thing, but it’s up and the neighbors can handle a few days of ironing out the kinks and escape routes. Or if anyone out there wants to buy me one of these, that would be great too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

pumpkin loaf

This recipe is easy to make and I suggest keeping it around for pumpkin carving time when you have no idea what to do with your jack-o-lantern guts. But that's no excuse to wait because it tastes great with canned pumpkin. The recipe can be whipped together from scratch in about ten minutes, and it has received rave reviews in the office here. You can make it into cupcakes, cake, loafs and anything else your heart desires but keep an eye on it if you're baking something less dense then a standard loaf. It's done when you stick a scour in and it comes out clean (which for a cupcake might be 45 minutes, not 75). Also, the smell of baking pumpkin bread might be one of the best fall smells you can start bringing into the house. Taylor, you'll be eating this and drinking cider in a few weeks.

Homemade pumpkin loaf

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 table spoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin
2 big eggs
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup veggie oil

Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl, and all wet in another. Mix wet into dry and whip with a wooden spoon into a wet batter. Bake in a greased bread loaf for 75 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top after it cools, or if you want to make it amazing, spread a hearty layer of creamchesse flavored icing on top. Which I recomend.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Raven Soap

Now in the Etsy shop and just in time for Fall. The same mint, beeswax and goatsmilk blend from before but in a snazzy and seasonal creepy shape. A raven hunched over pumpkins, now whats more classic then that? It's a third larger than the other bars which are roundish. Looks nice in the hay or in your bathroom. And all proceeds go to chicken feed and dogfood, so shop darling, shop.

Get your soap here.