Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the game

Everything right now is the waiting game. Waiting for the first chicks to hatch from under Emily with fervent anticipation. Waiting for the first flakes of snow to cover all the hayfields. Waiting to harness the dogs and hit the trails. Waiting for the book to be completed in it’s rough draft form so I can turn it over to the editors and feel the relief of ages. Waiting for the holidays. It’s not bad, not at all. But this stretch of November can get you anxious. You just want something to happen to shake things up.

crooked road

I found out from one of the people in my Tuesday night jam there was a special event going on last night. The 16 musicians, ballad singers and dancers from “the Crooked Road” were playing an open jam at Di Luna’s café in town. It was the night before their big show at the Panida, and they were playing with local musicians for kicks. The crooked road of Virginia is a musical heritage trail, and these performers were exactly what I am working towards when I’m practicing at home.

This was a pretty big deal, a chance for anyone willing to show up with her instrument and play with professionals in a stress free environment. I got to watch an amazing clawhammer banjo player, and kept taking all these mental notes on technique. You can only get so far yourself in this gig. Watching how good people play in a jam and processing it is more valuable than a hundred lessons in a studio. Di Luna’s café turned itself upside down for us. They moved all their chairs and tables and made the entire center of the restaurant an open space for music. Soon Soldiers Joy was ringing through all of town, followed by other favorites. The road players had mountain music in their veins, all of them Virginian locals. There was dancing, singing, and a real songcatcher (ballad keeper) belting out the old songs. I heard the best version of Darling Corey ever.

The usual Sandpoint gang and some other players I never met got together that night. It was nice seeing the familiar faces, greg the old billy goat in the corner beating his drum. Chris, our jam leader keeping his own and playing a great solo on BlackBerry Blossom. I tried to keep up but I know when I’m beat. I put my fiddle back in the case and just watched in awe. Last night showed me just how much there is to learn, and how little I know. It wasn’t frustrating at all though; it was like sitting around a pile of Christmas presents knowing sometime you’ll eventually open them. I stuck around till the last verse of Knoxville Girl and decided that was a good endpoint for my evening. Tonight Music from the Crooked Road is putting on a mountain music performance at the Panida. I hope to go and see them again before they skip town.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

i want to grow these

Friday, November 2, 2007

when sister Laurie says Amen
we won't hear anything
that ten-car train will take that word
that fledgling bird

and the fallen house across the way
it'll keep everything
the baby's breath
our bravery wasted
and our shame

Thursday, November 1, 2007

big news

Emily, the 7-month old black Japanese silkie bantam I raised from a chick is now all grown up. Her and Mac, the high combed silkie rooster are going to be parents. Yesterday I couldn't find emily anywhere, she usually is out in the yard with everyone else but only Mac was scratching around near her coop. I looked inside and there was a quiet pile of feathers. Being a pesimist when it comes to livestock, i assumed she died in the night. But when I went to touch her she snapped at me. I lifted her up and found a HUGE pile of bantam eggs under her, a toasty 90 degrees in the Idaho fall. We're going to be parents!

Mac and Em are the only two bantams left on the farm (the others went to other homes, and we suffered one casualty, a passion crime by Mac himself I suspect). And they have their own ramshackle coop that apparently is quite the loveshack. Emily is sitting on a clutch of 17 eggs!! Now, chances are ¾ of those can’t hatch and the ¼ left that might doesn’t have much of a shot if they do. She’s a new mom and probably isn’t doing things like she should, but if any of them do manage I’ll be scooping the mother, father and her brood and moving them into the garage for winter childbearing. So that’s the big news, possibility of little black chicks on the farm in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Hallows

Happy Halloween everyone! After last night's jam I came home all worked up and musical so I recorded that sordid banjo tune I was talking about as a little audio treat. It was made up here at the farm while I watched the ravens glide and hop around the back hayfields. I'm new to the banjo so there's mistakes in there, but it's just for kicks so enjoy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jackapple cake

I’ve been baking my father’s apple cake recipe and adding my own little experiments with it. I think this one takes the prize, try it this weekend, you won’t regret it.

Jackapple cake

3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (go with braeburn or gala, if you get fuji use 4)
No red delicious apples, bake like garbage
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle over them a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler, then dribble warm honey over and mix that in as well. Set in fridge for 2 hours to let cure. Do not skip this step. When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick off butter, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour half a cup at a time and stir in batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow. Good. Pour into greased cake pan. Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste. Use a pastery brush to lather it over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 27, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with stove-top cider.

raven music

Things are cold on the farm. The grass is all white tipped and the chicken’s water fonts are frozen in the morning. When I take the dogs out at dawn, William the rooster crows and his breathe rises like a little puff of smoke. His girls are laying again. The light in the coop did the trick. Now they have 12 hours of simulated daylight and I’m getting about 2 eggs a day from the production reds (Mary Todd and Mindy). Compared to July’s 20 eggs a week it’s not much at all, but enough to keep me in baking and breakfasts, so I really can’t complain. I’ll be insulating their coop this weekend and getting a fireproof heat bulb to keep the coop a toasty 55 degrees all winter long. I think the silkies will be moving into the garage in a cage, they can stretch their legs in the kitchen like the rabbits do. I can’t keep them out in -10 degree weather without some sort of apparatus like the big girls have, and I’m not about to build them their own contraption so inside it is.

The banjo and I are now consistent acquaintances, but not yet friends. I have three songs down and memorized and am getting better at the clawhammer strumming, but it’s not second nature like the fiddle is. Plucking is more work for me than bowing, but it sounds so nice and even Annie doesn’t complain about it. She’ll curl up right at my feet on the couch when I play. I’m writing a song now that’s perfect for Halloween in double C tuning. It’s working title is “black footed raven” because the music sounds how the ravens look when they hop in the hayfields behind the house.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

string band starting

I want to start a string band, people to play a set with that are really into old time stuff. I don't want to, you know, be all "I have a band" about it. Just some people to come over once a week and work on a few songs and if we sound okay play in the park or in a bar. If you're in sandpoint and know southern mountain songs like old joe clark, rain and snow, or wildwood flower, or others that are at least a hundred years old, email me. I'm sure my inbox will be overloaded by morning.

pickin' lettuce and banjos

Last night the temperature dipped to the 20’s, and even the thick plastic sheeting on the garden wasn’t going to save the garden from the frost. So before it got to dark to see where I was walking, I moved a couple heads of lettuce and a broccoli plant to basics and pots to bring inside. Now flowerpots of butter crisp line the living room and kitchen. Not exactly conventional decorating, but if you’re going to grow something inside why shouldn’t it be something that could also be a side? I also took the last mint harvest of the year and hung it to dry in the kitchen with the rest of the teas. Should keep me in tea all winter long if I budget it out, people who bought it online seem to like how strong it is.

The banjo and I are getting acquainted like old highschool buddies. I’m learning my third song on it, and the first song I learned I can now play with my eyes closed, so that’s progress. It feels good in my hands. Banjo music doesn’t seem to bother the dogs either so it’s the late night instrument of choice in our house.

I have the guest room all ready to go for company this weekend. Freshly watched sheets, two thick quilts from the 40’s, plenty of reading, and a radio to boot. I am really excited to show Taylor around town and the farm, maybe I’ll take her for a night tour of the barn since it’s the freakiest thing you can do in Idaho anyway.

Tonight I have to drive out to Di’s farm to borrow her post holer so I can put up my new mailbox the truck took out. I am really looking forward to one of the last sunset autumn drives into the countryside of the season.

Friday, October 19, 2007

we want snow!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

whiskey before breakfast

The group I started jamming with on Tuesday nights really likes to mix it up and play a lot of fast-paced Scotch/Irish tunes along with their bluegrass. I am spending some time every night trying to nail down one called ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast” and so far I’m treading water. It's a fickle bitch of a tune, that one. But I’m glad I’m being forced to expand my fiddling outside of old-time music. It's hard learning a whole new way of doing things on the fret board. Regardless, it’s a good challenge and I can’t wait till the jam moves to the upstairs of my favorite pub, Eichardt’s and I can drink a Guinness and play reels like I was born in a ditch outside Dublin. Speaking of, anyone want to go to Ireland in the spring? I’m thinking on it, but I have to see what I can afford. Heather, if you come out and visit this winter make sure you’re here for a Tuesday night.

The farm is getting ready for winter. I still have an active garden of winter crops. A half dozen heads of butter crunch lettuce and some hearty broccoli and onions is all that’s fit to grow this late in the season. They’re covered in plastic sheeting to ward off the frost, but I think the next coming weekends is all the longer they’ll last unless I move them indoors with the herbs. I might use Raven’s idea of converting Rubbermaid totes into greenhouses and put them in the kitchen window for the winter. Gardening becomes an obsession pretty quickly, just a heads up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

one down

Sad news friends. I came home from the music jam last night because it was starting to rain and I was already under the weather. When I pulled into my driveway my headlights caught a sad pile of black feathers. One of the silkie roosters was killed. I think it was an inside job from one of the other roosters, most likely the other silkie. I can't imagine a coyote killing someone and not taking his prize with him to eat, and if William wanted that guy dead he would've killed him a long time ago. I guess this farm was too small for the two of them. It's the first chicken I've lost. A little sad to see him go.

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.