November 2008

Yeah, I’ve been holding out on you. I got something. No, not like an infection, I mean I went out and bought something, just like real people. You know, where money is exchanged for goods and/or services? Yup. And I was right.


Turning a little crank is way more fun.

This is (amusingly enough) another kitten – it is the Kitten drum carder made by Anderson Originals. I have been shopping around for a while, and was looking at and reading reviews of the brands we all know and love, but with all that, this one read pretty much like my narrowed choices, the price was right, and having now received it – well, I’m not in a position to give an informed review of a tool I’ve never used one of before! But, the little handle goes round, it makes wool be pretty in substantial quantities, and the stuff left on the licker-upper is all short and/or dirty, so I’m going to call it a success. I have carded big piles of wool, mostly either too boring for words or very interesting but done when the camera was unavailable (see, I really have been holding out on you!). But basically I’m still playing around and experimenting, and the quantities of wool that have been piling up waiting for me to make them more effectively spinnable are large enough to support that!


So we have this broody hen.  I don’t know why they keep deciding that November/December is a great time to try and raise chicks, but as they keep telling me, what do I know about being a hen?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.

Yesterday I had some stuff to do in Chatham, and unexpectedly wound up working in the gallery for a couple of hours because no one showed up to open, and so Raven was stuck looking after the fluffies.  Which is fine.  Granted, he does sometimes call me and say things like “they look hungry, should I feed them?”  but that is ok, I just say “Yes” and run around checking everything when I get home.

So yesterday afternoon when I got home, Raven reported that broody hen had not been on her nest, because Cthulha Hen (When she is sitting on eggs she is very fierce and scary) wanted to lay an egg in that box and kicked her out.  This has happened before, they seem to have an arrangement, so fine.  Except Cthulha wasn’t in the box either.   Nobody much was going in the coop.  I went in to see what was up, and found – a kitten.  An extremely scruffy, burr-covered skinny kitten, with a very recently inflicted wound on its face in which my chickens are definitely implicated.  If someone grabbed the fur on the face of a skinny kitten in their beak and pulled really hard, it might sort of scalp the nose of the kitten in just this way.


When we brought it in, fed it stew and combed all the burrs out of its fur, the kitten proved to be a shaggy, extremely affectionate and really very extremely vocal female.  With a million toes.  She’s got extra toes on three paws, and two extra toes on the fourth.  I know that is a common mutation, but WOW this cat has big feet.  Obviously, cats are conducting their own breeding programs to develop thumbs so that humans will no longer be able to lord it over them with that advantage.

Her markings are quite similar to Velcro’s, but she has more black on her back and tail, and her face is very different in shape.  And Velcro wants nothing at all to do with her.  Nothing.  VelcroCat will put up with hens, chicks, geese, dogs, bunnies, and for all I know pigs in the parlor, but she draws the line at kittens.  Firmly.

So the kitten is on the porch.  I treated her nose, lent her a sweater Velcro wasn’t using right now, and she found the dog cat house on her own.


Imagine it with really loud purring.

CK is coming over later to meet the kitten, and it is probably going to wind up living at her place as long as her cats can deal with that.  If not, we have a porch/yard kitten.

Kim tagged me the other day for this meme, where I tell you seven things I love. This was unexpectedly hard, because despite a penchant for anxiety and stress I am a generally happy person and don’t always sort the individual things that make me happy. But I definitely love these seven things:

1. Raven
My husband and I have been married for sixteen years. There have been rough times. There have been times when friends have wondered if we were both (if we ought both, I suspect) to come out alive. We did, and I am still deep down as mushy about him as I ever was. I’m not good at being with people a lot, especially if I don’t have a ‘role’ to play. I told Raven early on that being with him was for me like being alone. When he was speaking to me again, I explained that I meant I didn’t have to be anybody but myself, or think about that, I could just be comfortable with him, which was rare. It’s still true. (Which is good, because we’re both home almost all the time now, and would probably be tooth and nail otherwise!)
2. My house
I really do love this place and the home we’ve made of it. Frustrating as the work sometimes is, I love that we are bringing it back from its neglected condition and making it pretty and comfortable. For me, decorating and renovating is “claiming space” and we are making here something that is totally our own and that truly feels like “home”, which is something neither of us had had for a really, horribly long time. We feel safe here, which is something everyone needs, and there are so many tiny moments of happiness when we look at or feel something we have done that has made this place better and more our own.
3. The sound sleeping chickens make
Happy comfortable chickens make a wonderful purring snorry sound when they are settling in for the night or falling asleep on your lap. I like a lot of the noises my birds make, but that is the best one. It makes me feel warm and cosy and happy for them.
4. Making stuff
I love to make things, I love the feeling that I get when I have made something and it works or is pretty. I need to do this. CK says she feels kind of guilty sometimes when she makes things because they are things, and the world doesn’t exactly need to have more “stuff” in it, but a lot of what I (and she as well) do is transforming things that are already there into other things that are pretty and more useful, so I don’t get too bothered by that. Especially since so many of the materials are natural and/or found objects. Besides that, I have felt this need and love since very early childhood, it is obviously integral to who or what I am, and I have enough guilt without worrying about feeling bad for what I love and do best.
5. Rainy days
Rainy days are great. I remember one rainy Saturday when I went with my dad to the bookstore. Um – that’s it, not a particularly remarkable story. But, I felt good that day, and I feel the same kind of good every rainy day. I like walking in the rain, I like being snug in my house looking out at the rain, I like the sound and the smell of it, and the shade of green everything is as it soaks up the water. Storms are good too, but different. Exciting and scary. But with a storm I need to watch it, to be out in it if possible. Plain old rain I can enjoy wherever and however.
6. Hugging sheep

Hugs generally are good, of course, and hugging animals is the best. But hugging sheep, which is of course something I have only discovered in the past year, is truly special. Sheep understand hugs. They even hug each other – like humans, some more than others, but they ‘get’ it. Also like humans, you can’t just wander up and hug every sheep you see – there has to be a level of trust, of closeness and usually it takes time to form that kind of bond. But if you have that trust, or if you come across a naturally affectionate sheep, boy do they give great hugs. They’ll lean their neck into you, and rest their chin on your shoulder or lap, and you can wrap your arms around their big solid bodies and bury your face in their warm lanolin-smelling wool… it’s wonderful. And sheep aren’t stinky animals either. Even a dirty sheep, as long as it is healthy and happy smells healthy and warm and comforting. Hugging a sheep makes a bad day significantly better.
7. Words
I love words. Probably you would not guess that from this blog, where I sometimes feel like I’ve got a sixteen-word vocabulary and no grammar background, but in fact I can be quite well-spoken and even better written, if I choose. I simply don’t bother. I am sufficiently pleased that I manage not to swear like a sailor here – it’s good practice, because I swear a lot and recently some close friends and family members have been showing a tendency to produce children. It is probably best if those children don’t pick up from me the Anglo Saxon cuss words they will eventually learn somewhere else. I like the history of words, the flavor and meaning of them, and the way phrases and quotes acquire extra meaning from context and usage. I am an omniverous reader, and am delighted by a well-crafted novel but can be almost as amused by a badly-crafted shampoo bottle.

Em, Lee, Katie, Jessie, Bev – want to share seven things you love best?

I charged the batteries for the camera. I put them in the camera. Then I left them there and they lost their charge again. So in desperation I took this horrible picture with my phone:


Isn’t that charming? As you can’t really see, all I’ve done is change the back, which used to be a single plank, so that it matches the front structurally. Looks and is more balanced, although what I had to do it with is 2x4s, so it is not exactly “delicate”. It is well balanced however, and spins just fine. I even secured the pedals, which I had been meaning to do since I built the thing in the first place, but never actually bothered.

The big exciting news right now is that it is, as of this moment, more than 16ºC in my kitchen. (That is around 61ºF, for those who don’t speak metric.) I cannot probably convey how wonderful that is, but I’m going to try.

We’ve been here for five years. When we moved in, as I think I have mentioned before, there were electric rads in all the rooms, but because the house had been abandoned and left open to the ravages of weather and bunnies, the rads were shall we say, less than reliable. To wit, we turned one on and there was a horrible crashing buzzing sound and a flash of blue flame. So we removed them. This was not a big debate with us, because even if they worked perfectly, we cannot afford to pay for electric heat. Not in an “oh, that money could be spent on so many other things” kind of way, but in a brutally simple “that money simply isn’t there and can’t be spent at all” kind of way.

We might have been able to swing gas heat, back then, although gas prices have gone up so much that would probably have been out of the question by now as well. But it really never came up, as there isn’t any gas connection out here anyway. So we chanted “Be Like The Ed” (which had already become something of a mantra for us) and decided we would just use the wood stove which was already conveniently parked in our back room.

Except the wood stove which was conveniently parked in our back room was, forgive my language, a piece of crap. It had two options – “not hot”, and “chimney fire” — and ironically the chimney fire option did not necessarily mean the house was warm, since the chimney is on the outside of the house, and does not transfer any heat into the building.

So we got a ‘new’ stove. It is a Franklin stove, about the same vintage as the building (1893). It is shallow, kind of looks like a fireplace insert actually, but it works very well. If you put wood into it every half hour, it will get the room that it is in pretty comfortable, and the little spot right at the top of the stairs gets very warm indeed. The only two catches are, you have to put wood in every half hour, which kind of precludes having a life or doing anything else effectively, and the other rooms of the house still had no heat at all. And every morning we were back to below freezing, because I don’t mind jumping up once or twice a night to feed a stove or check on babies or something, but forgoing sleep entirely and burning extra wood just to make one room somewhat comfortable just never seemed practicable. The other catch, which we discovered surprisingly late in the game, was that no amount of fan-blowing or screening or window-plasticking was ever going to make the other rooms warm, because the house was built (cleverly) with electric heat in mind, and the interior walls are all insulated. And while the exterior walls had insulation which due to leaks and rot had gone completely to pot, the interior insulation was fine and fluffy and totally preventing any heat transfer at all between any two rooms.

So every year the pipes froze, and every morning I got up and broke the ice on the animals’ water and lit the fire, and melted snow for coffee, and counted it a bonus that six months out of the year I didn’t actually need to run the refrigerator. Then I would keep the fire going until Raven got up, at which point I would go try and get some work done, and he would completely forget to feed the fire and it would go out, and I would try really hard not to be a total bitch about the whole thing, and we would wind up spending most of the winter on the front porch, which being glassed in and southerly, is actually pretty darned warm as long as the sun is shining. The net result of all this is that the average daytime temperature in my house during the winter is about 7 ºC (45º F). Which is cold, no matter what form you write it in. And the kitchen, dark and easterly, is always colder. No matter what season it is, you can pretty much count on it being five degrees colder in the kitchen. In summer, that is nice. In winter, we had long ago dubbed it The Room You Don’t Go In.

So here’s the neat thing about poverty:  it takes forever to get anything done, and it is usually very hard work, but holy crow is is nice when a job is finished or when something you do works!

A couple of weeks ago our neighbor came over with his backhoe and dug a trench for us from the furnace we got last year to the house.




Then we took insulation and wrapped it around two lines of PEX pipe, and stuffed the whole thing through a big PVC pipe.  One end is hooked to the furnace, and one end is hooked to a pump which circulates water through a great deal more PEX tubing that is buried in my floor.  Which is why I have been paving my kitchen all summer.  Concrete floor, full of pipe.  Light the fire in the furnace outside, which is like a giant woodstove sitting inside a tank of water.  Water gets hot, pump pushes water through floor, floor gets warm.  Kitchen, ‘The Room You Don’t Go In’, is 16º!  And rising!

When you walk in my front door from the porch now, it is warmer in the house!!! There is still a lot of work to be done – eventually all the downstairs floor will be piped, the kitchen was just first because it was so very cold.  But because it is radiant heat it is already having an effect on the front room (which is next in line, being second-most-cold): the walls themselves will pick up heat from the floor, as will anything actually sitting on the floor.  So essentially everything in the house will become just a little bit warm.

This winter, barring the usual opportunities for horrible disaster, our house will be a home, not just a shelter.  Which is the best thing ever, because we love our house.



Right! Got the languishing under control – it appears to have been anemia. Which I think should be spelled with another vowel somewhere, but never mind. Even better, we got a new bed, which is actually a hand-me-down but it is new to us, and more importantly it is a good bed, which has had the result that I am a)sleeping well – and less! and b) not waking up curled into a shape that looks like it belongs in a snail shell, and requiring much stretching and cracking to resume human proportions. This makes me happy.

Now, I know I promised pictures of my wheel. And I will take them, as soon as I remember that in chilly weather my dumb batteries need to be on the charger all the time. But we’ve been busy anyway. Really busy. Look, the cat and dog are exhausted from all the supervising they’ve been having to do:


We got some new pasture for the sheep, officially we will be getting it next spring, but they are allowed to go explore now. Which is great, because there are all these weeds and grasses over there that they have been staring wistfully at for the last year. It isn’t fenced (so I know what I’m doing again next April) but if I put Freyja on the halter then all three of them will stay together and we can go check it out. Both Freyja and Blackie say that actually Blackie should be on the halter, but when we do it that way Freyja and Chloe just go hang out in front of my house and try to eat the rose bushes, and Blackie cries if I leave her to go chase them.

Phil marches around the inside of the fence, staying as close as possible to the sheep without actually leaving the yard. I toss weeds over the fence to her. She did come out with us the other day, but she actually got less grass that way, as she was distracted by the giant pile of straw, and had to go climb it. I don’t know why geese aren’t allowed to leave the fenced yard, I guess she’s being territorial. I don’t make these rules up. It is nice to know she’s not playing in the road, though.

This week we have been crawling through a big hole in the ground that our neighbor dug for us, and under the house, hooking up our wood-burning furnace.  This morning when the sun gets around to rising, I am going to fill the boiler and we will test it.  If we did everything right, we will have heat in half the downstairs (the usually very very inexpressibly cold half) this winter!  We have also been cutting and stacking wood like obsessive crazy people, because the whole “having heat” concept relies on having something to make be hot.

Wood burning furnaces are becoming more common in my area.  In a general sense, I know there is debate about them, because they are not, to many people’s minds, “green”.  They burn wood, which makes smoke and also makes wood go away.  In their defense, however, they don’t burn oil or coal.  Switching from something like wind-powered electric heat or solar heat to a wood boiler would be wasteful and dumb.  But we and the other people around here who are installing these boilers are already burning either wood in a stove, or oil in a furnace.  The wood furnace has a much better re-burner than a stove, so in either case it actually is a ‘greener’ choice than what went before.  Also the furnaces can burn things like skids, which you can use to supplement your wood supply and reduce tree killing.

But tree-killing isn’t really a big issue around here either.  We don’t in fact have very many trees, and are jealous of the ones we do have.  All the fields have trees on their borders, and every year when the crops are off, the farmers go out and cut and haul anything that has died, broken or fallen during the year.   Anyone who burns wood is quick to scavenge where they can – the people putting up the windmills (pay attention, you’ll love this) cut down a massive number of trees this year to make room for their equipment and to clear the way for all the new hydro wires, and dumped those trees on my friend The Ed’s farm because it was closer and easier than the spot they were supposed to be hauling them to.  He’s got a couple of years of firewood there now, easy.

We’ve been here for five years, and any tree we’ve cut has either fallen down, or had to come down because it was about to fall.  With the exception, sorry, of that ash tree fiasco, which we had nothing whatever to do with, I promise.  Those trees are coming back.  I say encouraging things to them almost every day.

Oops – it appears to be light enough for me to see now, so I’m going to go try and fill this puppy.  And put those batteries on the charger!  Back soon!