The accidental farmer

July 22, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Posted in baby, country life, country living, faith, family, gardening, knitting, knitting for babies, Life, love, marriage, Quilt Trail, relationships, romance, summer, yarn | 8 Comments
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Lush growth surrounds fireflys barnBefore I begin today’s post, I wanted to thank any of my readers who left comments last week of condolences for the family of our friend Dave. They are grateful for your messages and thoughts, comforted by the thought that now even strangers know something of the good man they had in their lives.

When my brother knew he was dying he started saying, “Life is for living, and you have a lot of that left to do. ” He was very firm about it that he did not want any one of us to be mired down in sadness or loss, or to leave our own living behind because of his passing.

Within one hour of his passing my sister’s step-daughter gave birth to a new baby boy. I remember so clearly standing in the room at the hospice with my second oldest brother. We were consoling each other at the passing of our beloved Dan when someone stepped in with news of the baby’s birth. We looked into each other’s tear rimmed eyes and I said to him, “Circle of life.” He smiled thoughtfully, nodded and said, “Yes, circle of life.” We hugged each other hard, embracing each other as well as that thought … the circle of life.

Now, we move on again as the circle of life continues rolling, spinning, rising, creating. My husband and I have been gathering wild, black raspberries from canes along the west side of our barn the last couple of weeks. About ten years ago the wild canes started appearing out there, so my husband tells me. The first two summers I was here we gathered some of the berries — enough for snacking and having berries on cereal. I was a bit squeamish about picking them at times because the canes are all intertwined with a ton of wild grape vines and with the grape vines come many, many, many Japanese beetles.

I might be a bug in my own right (you know, being “firefly” with a light up butt and all) but I have to be honest with you … I am a bug scaredy cat. I don’t mind spiders, I think of them as our Special Ops whose special mission it is to protect humans from being overrun by bugs. I warned my husband when he and I were exploring the possibility of my moving out here and marrying him that I am a bug wuss. The subject of what kinds and numbers of bugs thrive around the farm came up more than once in those early conversations. He accepted me anyway, and not once has he made fun of me or made me feel like a sissy for my squeamishness and squeals when I encounter any of the many bugs that flourish around here.

The last couple of summers when we picked raspberries I was not an aggressive picker, and when we neglected to bring in the berries some days and many dried up and died on the canes, I was a wee bit relieved because of the bugs I had not had to confront.

This year it is different though. As I have mentioned on previous posts this summer, I have become quite the preserve making maniac this summer — well, for me the quantity of preserves I am making seems maniacal, although I am certain it is nothing compared to a real farming woman.

For me, it is huge compared to my experience with the activity prior to the past couple of months.

The raspberries are so abundant this year, and I am so much into making jam that I have been both dedicated and aggressive as a raspberry picker. Yes, there are millions of Japanese beetles out there all over the grape vines, mating and doing whatever else they do. They don’t disturb the raspberries at all, they just eat the grape leaves and mate and multiply.

I get out there and I pick, and pick, and pick swatting mosquitoes, squealing and hollering about and saying, “Yuk” quite often as I encounter the bugs but I keep picking. I am determined not to waste these abundant, beautiful raspberries. My husband is quite brave and goes back into the thick of them in spite of what he refers to as their prehensile thorns. We come back from our picking adventure with raspberry juice stained hands, bloodied hands and arms, mosquito bitten legs … and our berry picking baskets are full, even brimming over.

I have been able to make 18 8-ounce jars of deep, black colored raspberry preserves plus a couple of Raspberry Crumble desserts, and he has enjoyed fresh berries on cereal and still there are a ton of berries yet to pick. The flavor of the preserves is fantastic — raspberry flavor as deep as the color is dark. These wild raspberries are dark purple, almost black — not the red kind you find at the store. And no, they are not blackberries. They are indeed raspberries.

I call us “accidental raspberry farmers”. Evidently we have quite a knack for wild raspberry farming, because the wild canes are flourishing all around our property. Most of them are out by the barn, but we also have them over by our willow tree, around several other trees throughout the yard, and at each corner of the old foundation of a garage we have out back. By the willow tree we have canes that are producing beautiful honey colored raspberries that taste like wine.

I am quite proud of our crop whenever we bring in our baskets full of berries, and even though the raspberries come and plant and grow themselves … I am cool with that kind of farming. As a matter of fact, if other berries, fruits and vegetables had a similar system I think I could get into farming in a very big way.

The only problem I have run into with this raspberry farming is that I appear to be allergic to them. When we are picking them I start itching, and then I start feeling prickles randomly as if I am being poked by some little raspberry fairy with a teeny, tiny sharp little bugger of a needle. Within a day of picking, if I have itchy prickles all over and have to take a strong dose of anti-histamine to get it to stop. (It is strange, writing about it I am starting to get the itchy prickles all over again, even though we have not picked raspberries since Saturday. Oh well.)

Once they are cooked, of course there is no problem. So, I don’t eat the fresh berries and I am going to experiment with wearing some kind of neoprene gloves or something while picking and handling them so this allergic reaction thing doesn’t get progressively worse. I am bound and determined not to be discouraged by allergies when I have finally found a crop that I can “grow” in such reliable abundance.

Yesterday we also went out to our friend Lora Partyka’s farm and she let us pick our own blueberries. We picked four quarts worth, and we need another four quarts so I can make blueberry preserves, a Blueberry Crumble, and a couple of other things. You see, I just can not stop making preserves this summer. So far I’ve done strawberry, sour cherry, and raspberry and now I’m about do those blueberries. Our kitchen is beginning to fill up with beautiful jewel toned jars, just too fun. I’m going to have to knit up a lot more Jammie bags before the holidays!

Notice some knitted items in my photo selection today? I have completed another Christmas Stocking design, as you can see. I am calling this one the Chimney Sock Christmas Stocking, and I hope to have the pattern available for sale in my Etsy store within a week or so.

The other little item is a baby sock from a set I am designing called, “Sweet Baby”. More photos will appear as I continue to develop the set, and the pattern will be available sometime in early August.

Now I am off to some client related activities, as I work on designs for a couple of websites I have been contracted to create.

And that circle of life just keeps on going. Bugs, rain, wild flowers, raspberry canes, Blu, the willow tree, the barn, work to do, a marriage to enjoy … how is your circle doing today? I hope it is flourishing and glowing with a special light and vitality.


In celebration of a friend

July 15, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Posted in country life, dogs, faith, family, love, marriage, summer | 31 Comments
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Two Swans Enjoy an Afternoon on Daves Piece of River

Two Swans Enjoy an Afternoon on Dave's Piece of River

I have not known him very long; he and his wife are our closest neighbors east of our place about a half mile down the road. Their place is right on the river, with a beautiful wide flat spot providing access directly to the river. Of course, having lived here for just a little over two years I could not have known him very long.

Not long after I moved to the farm I heard of this man, our neighbor. I heard he was a good man, but that some people found him seemingly gruff and a little too boisterous, I got the idea some people might have misunderstood him a little because of that. I think my first contact with him was when he showed up as the first emergency responder when an ambulance was called to our place one evening. He was one of the volunteers in the area who would show up to secure an area, flag down the ambulance, control traffic and tell a person to hang on because someone would be along soon to help.

A Piece of Equipment He LovedWhat struck me most when I met him was the incredible tenderness and concern with which he treated someone very dear to me who was hurting, scared, and trembling. He was gentle, his voice reassuring, the care and compassion in his demeanor was unmistakable, his presence was soothing. I met him when his tender underbelly was exposed; I met him when he was at his best.

That was my first impression of him, and the only one that ever mattered to me. That, and his name: Dave.

Last summer after my art show, “Beginning at Barnum”, after I brought the unsold portion of my paintings home, he and his wife came down for dessert and a sort of private show of their own. He loved those paintings and wondered if someday I might come down to his place and sit on the bank of the river and paint the view. I had not been down to that part of their property, so I was not aware what a beautiful space he had right on the river.

He told me the most beautiful time is in the autumn, when the trees are at their richest turning of colors on a clear day when the water is still. I told him I would enjoy painting his view someday, and I this past autumn I went over a couple of times to start photographing the area and getting to know it so I would have an idea of what I would want to communicate about it as a painter.

This has been a busy year, so I only as far as making some photographs. It is a beautiful spot they have there, and down off to the west of their river access area there is a path along the bank of the river that goes a pretty good distance. My husband and I walked along there, and up stream a ways we found some swans and ducks enjoying a beautiful autumn day on the river. It was gently breathtaking.

The Path Along Dave's Piece of RiverAs I got to know Dave more, I realized he loved his place much as we love ours. I got a sense that he yearned to share the beauty of the place with others, for others to know just how precious and gorgeous, peaceful it is. Once I was telling him of a dream I have to host a retreat at our place for artists sometime here in Western New York and how I wanted the artists and I to go around to various locations painting outdoors. His eyes sparkled at the mention and he said, “And one day you would have them over here at my place to paint the river, right?”

Yes, Dave. Definitely, yes.

Over the winter we didn’t hear from Dave or his wife, and I wondered if I had let him down by not having gotten started on a painting of his beautiful little piece of Earth yet. I wasn’t sure if he understood how long it takes for me to plan new paintings and work them into the schedule.

As the winter wore on and spring came around, I had a strange inkling that something was not right with Dave. Sometimes I have clear intuition about things before they have been spoken, and I got a strong feeling Dave had been diagnosed with cancer.

Then, in early May he stopped by and told my husband that he had lung cancer; my suspicion was confirmed. I wish I had been wrong.

He was undergoing treatment that was supposed to give him another year or two, but a few weeks ago the doctors ceased his treatment because it was not working and it was clear his time had come. His wife cared for him at home with the help of hospice, her sons, their wives, and children. His wife asked that I stop in for daily visits to help her cope, which I was glad to do.

It is a strange thing to witness someone passing away gradually, much as what happened with my oldest brother three years ago. It hurts, it is tragic, and yet it is also poignant, intimate, and beautiful if you have an opportunity to help create an atmosphere of peace and love for that person.

Dave spent his last days in a hospital bed in his living room, with the windows open, breezes gently blowing, birds singing and chirping, and the sounds of his family outside doing yard work, inside chatting quietly, sharing stories, even laughter from time to time.

If he had to go, this was the most merciful way for that to happen — surrounded by the familiar sounds, smells, touch, sights of the gracious little piece of Earth he called his own. A subtly elegant piece of land along a quiet little river during the warm days of summer when windows can be open and clean air can flow.

One portion of the view of the river from Dave's placeYesterday I stopped in to see his wife again, but this time she had been told there were only hours left. We sat together with him, quietly at times, chatting a bit at others, finding things to softly laugh at in spite of sadness of the situation.

After about an hour I left, and as I stepped outside his young rottweiler, Bandit, about the age of our sweet Blu, approached me on the porch. That great big dog looked up at me with clear, sad eyes. I touched his head and he pressed his face against me very hard. I could tell that he knew, and he needed comfort as much as any human did. I sat down with him, stroked his head and said whatever soothing things came to me. He continued to press the side of his face against me hard, seeming to ask me to please stay with him just a bit longer.

Dave raised that rottweiler, trained him, and took him all over the place with him. They were best buddies. As I stroked the gentle giant and looked into his sweet brown eyes, I was thinking about this neighbor who some people may have thought was gruff or a bit too boisterous. What a teddy bear Dave was and Bandit gives a clear glimpse into the heart of the man who was his master.

Last evening at 6:15 p.m. our neighbor Dave passed away. He lived a private life on a quiet country road out in the middle of … well, it isn’t the middle of no where, but it is the middle of not very much. Dave did nothing spectacular to draw attention to himself. He served his community well as a volunteer of the local fire and rescue squad. He was a father of three fine sons, and husband to one of the kindest and gentlest ladies I have ever met, and grandfather to four beautiful and treasured grandchildren. For some number of years he took care of one of the bridges on the Erie Canal, he had a great old tractor that he loved and used whenever he had a chance.

Close up shot of the wheel of Dave's tractorHe loved telling a good joke and always went into an Irish brogue when doing so. I actually thought he was Irish because of his tendency to do this. The last time we were able to have a conversation with him, Dave admitted he didn’t have any actual Irish in him. My husband said, “Or, the only Irish you have in you is the kind you get out of a bottle,” (meaning a Guiness, of course). That was a good one, and it gave Dave a good chuckle.

I don’t personally know enough about his life to pay him proper tribute, afterall–I have not known him very long. All I can do is say that I saw him, I noticed some of the things that were most special about him and appreciated the fact that I could, for a little while, count him among my friends.

He touched our lives, my life, although he hardly had time to do so. He was a man worth knowing, and I think he would love knowing that you, whoever you are, got a chance to see just how pretty his place by the river was.

Cheers, Dave. See you down the road.

Beautiful View of the River From Dave's Place

Beautiful View of the River From Dave's Place

A little something for the planet

July 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Change the World, charity knitting, country living, family, free knitting patterns, gifts, knitting, love | 61 Comments
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With 1 Bag You Can Make a Difference

I am so fortunate, and feel so deeply grateful, to live on this beautiful little piece of Earth known as a “farm”. Also, to live in an area where we are surrounded by water, lush wooded areas, banks of rivers overflowing with trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and filled with swimming glistening fish.

Recently I was thinking about Planet Earth, and thinking of the personification of the planet … Mother Earth. I am a guest on a lovely blue planet named Earth. Earth provides every charm, vista, element, creature, mineral, food, etc. I could possibly ever have a need for … and she does it for billions and billions of people. Day in, day out, year after year.

She circles old Sol at just the right distance and speed to make life here possible … and life in this universe, as it turns out, is not necessarily easy to come by. Certainly the living conditions on dear blue Earth are exceptional. If we were to compare the phenomenally hospitable nature of Earth’s atmosphere and resources to that of say, oh I don’t know Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter–just a small handful of some of her closest neighbors–it would be like comparing the facilities and amenities of the finest five-star hotel ever conceived to, perhaps a suffocating fire pit squashed down by a couple of tons of cement.

Then I look at the guests of Mother Earth … particularly mankind. Sadly, we do leave an awful lot to be desired if you think of us as guests on this very hospitable planet. I am aghast when I review with any amount of sincerity my own wastefulness, and I tend to try not to be wasteful. But, you know how it gets sometimes. Life is frantic, busy, pressing and you slip up here and there, toss things in the garbage that you should have taken a bit of a look at to see whether or not there is a recycle symbol on it — as one example of poor planetary manners.

What if you witnessed a visitor at your mother or grandmother’s place wastefully throwing bits and pieces of things your mother had made (valuable things that could be reused) in a seemingly neat little pile in one corner. And the longer they stayed, the larger the pile grew until it began to intrude into say, your mother’s water supply. Wouldn’t it seem incredibly rude, wouldn’t you hate to see someone you loved, the beautiful home and resources she tended so carefully, treated with such disrespect and disregard.

With all of this weighing on my mind, I thought about Mother Earth and knew that I could be a better guest, a more responsible visitor in a number of ways. One thought occurred to me in particular: I could knit myself a cotton grocery bag. That one reuseable cotton grocery bag would replace one wasteful plastic grocery bag many, many, many times over. With my one bag, I could make one little difference.

As I worked on my one bag, I started thinking about the possibility of creating a charity knitting project to benefit dear, sweet Mother Earth. A small gesture to be sure, but one that could add up if a good number of fellow knitters also made at least one bag to use for grocery shopping.

Consider the math:

1. We all go shopping for groceries, most of us at least once a week.

2. If I, as one knitter, make myself one knitted cotton grocery bag I could use that one bag to replace one plastic bag provided by the grocery store each week — at a minimum.

3. If I did that once a week for one year, I would not consume 52 plastic bags in that year — minimum.

4. If I continue using that one bag for let’s say five years (I think it could last that long), that one knitted bag would replace a minimum of 260 plastic bags in five years.

5. If I were to get 10 other knitters to do the same thing, we would between us replace and therefore not consume 2,600 plastic bags in five years. All with just one bag a piece.

6. If I were to get 100 other knitters to do it, that would be 26,000 over a five year period – just with one bag a piece.

7. Wow, if somehow this idea would get out to 1000 knitters and they all made just one bag and used it once a week instead of a plastic bag that would be 260,000 bags over a period of five years.

That’s if all any of us did was knit one bag (1Bag) each and use it once a week for five years.

There are way more knitters in the world than 1,000 … on Ravelry alone there are close to 150,000 registered users at the time of this writing.

Can you imagine if each and every Ravelry registered user knit or crocheted one grocery bag and used it once a week for five years to replace one plastic bag each week … that would be 39 million plastic bags not needed, not used, not thrown out. And that is if all we did was knit one cotton grocery bag each and use it once weekly for five of the years of our lives.

I realize it is unrealistic to think that every single Ravelry member would make one bag, but still — it is fun to think of the possibilities.

And no matter how many or how few people I can inspire to do this thing with me, I know that on my own I can make a difference with just 1Bag.

There are quite a few patterns out there for hand knit and crocheted cotton “market” bags. The idea of a cotton knitted shopping bag is not anything unique I have come up with.

I just want to promote the idea that we could, as knitters, give a gift to Mother Earth to whom we owe quite a debt of gratitude for the many abundances she offers which make it possible for us to knit at all.

I have created my own basic pattern, which you are free to use. I am calling my design “1Bag”, appropriately enough. I am also naming it 1Bag, because it is one basic pattern designed specifically to be versatile so that people can modify it to make it as beautiful or complicated or simple or homely as they each may choose. You can follow my pattern just as it is, or if you want to be more creative and/or adventurous follow the structure of my bag but come up with your own stitch pattern variations to make it your own.

(Learn more about the basic construction of the 1Bag hand knit grocery bag by click on the 1Bag tab at the top of the page.)

I designed the 1Bag to replicate the size and construction of a standard plastic grocery bag because I want it to be a symbol of what it is replacing. I planned it to be easy and quick to make, featuring a basic construction that is easily adapted to a variety of pattern stitches.

My 1Bag pattern is free, but you could use any market bag pattern and still participate in the 1Bag “charity” project.

As a part of this, I keep a running tab of how many people have made a 1Bag (or other grocery bag). I can post the updated numbers weekly so people know how many bags are being replaced (potentially). To do this, I have set up a Mother Earth Guest Book. If you knit a market/grocery bag as a part of this effort — for yourself or someone else to use — go to this link and sign the Mother Earth Guestbook.

It could be fun, and we could make a difference … one bag at a time.

Are you in?
Logo for the 1Bag Charity Knitting Project

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