We’ve moved to www.FiveGreenAcres.com

Change your bookmarks – we’ve moved to a robust new website!  It’s the blog you’ve come to know + shiny new sidebars + a soon-to-come store + whatever strikes my fancy.  To clarify, the now-old blog is hosted by WordPress and is only a blog. (that’s the .wordpress.com) The new one is hosted by me and is a full-blown website, including blog.  Neat, huh?  The old site will cease to be updated sometime this week and all traffic from here will be automatically routed to the fancy new FiveGreenAcres.com. (which is nearly the same address, just minus the wordpress part)

I really, really hope all of the individual posts will be linked over as well, but I’ve captured all of the most popular content with links in the new sidebar in case they’re not.

Hop over, subscribe via the handy email form on the sidebar or via the RSS icon on the top menubar and you’ll not skip a beat.

Hope to see you over there.  Let me know if you come across any new-website glitches and I’ll get my IT guru on it.  (that’s me)

Let’s go there now: http://www.FiveGreenAcres.com

Happy Travels!

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It might be 1988.

I remember explicitly the year I received a tape recorder for Christmas.  Paired with the small, crackly radio I already had, it gave me the freedom to become my own curator of music.  Holed up in my bedroom, I would stand frozen in place, poised with my finger over the ‘record’ button, ready to capture whatever song was played next.  If it was a good one, I (silently!) cheered and held my breath for the duration of the recording.  If not, I stopped, rewound the tape, and waited for the next song with the hopes that I’d have something good to add to my collection.  Sometimes this ritual was interrupted by the raucous noise of my younger brother outside of my door, contaminating the quality of the recording. (The tape recorder captures every sound, not just that of the radio)  I wouldn’t say this necessarily brought us closer together.  Sometimes I would score doubly – capturing that elusive song I loved, whose words I’d not yet deciphered.  I’d slowly transcribe the lyrics, word by word, but even with a technological leg up, I still couldn’t puzzle out what the knife was cutting in Every Rose Has its Thorn. (This is how we languished, in ignorance, before the advent of the internet.)

Surely you can understand, then, my excitement at finding a tape recorder (with tapes!) in mint condition for a coupla bucks at an estate sale.  Get ready to live, I told the kids.  They immediately holed up behind a chair in the living room to begin their own recordings.  It’s interesting to see how Isadora has used it – recording her own music, with the accompaniment of her little brother.  She must be a more nurturing big sister than I; he a slightly less antagonistic little bro. Either way, it’s the best spent $3.00 of the summer.

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It’s a sheep vacation!

We were down to about seven bales of hay when we got the call from some local friends.  Our pasture was slowly rebounding from drought but not yet ready for the stampede of hooves or the voracious palates that accompanied them.  Anxiety was ever-present, the nagging problem of how we were going to feed those thirteen ungulate mouths hung overhead like the diesel stench of a dump truck idling in front of you at a stoplight.  “We have two acres of overgrowth in our back yard – we were trying to figure out how to mow it.  Full of poison ivy.  Would you be interested in putting your sheep back there?” The call from the friends was received in much the same way one would receive news of winning big.  “YES!” we said, without a moment’s hesitation, and I imagine now that it would have been completely appropriate to have clicked our heels mid-air, in a leprechaun-style leap of glee.  Were we slightly more nimble, we might have done just that.

So we packed them up and drove them down the road a piece and sent them to an All-You-Can-Eat Fat Camp.  They didn’t even register our leaving as they began gorging themselves on greens the likes of which they hadn’t known for months.  They’re there right now, feasting contentedly while simultaneously clearing out the overgrowth that had made the parcel impassable for our friends.  The jury’s out though, on the poison ivy.  There seems to be no reason why they can’t eat it but they choose to do so sparingly, clipping the random plants interspersed with the good stuff but ignoring the big patches of it.  Goats, I hear, are great for clearing out poison ivy but we are blessedly short on goats.

The lines between old and new paddock really are that delineated.  The sheep do good work.

There’s an eery quiet here now that’s taken some getting used to.  We have no sheep here, have no sheep in our day save for the scheduled visits/paddock moving every two days.  There’s no lack of attention for them, though.  Our friends seem to be enjoying the company, letting them out to explore the yard proper or hanging with just Munson.  I suspect it might be hardest to get him back home when the clearing-out is done – that guy makes fast friends with all he meets.

I miss my flock, though, ecstatic as I am that they are getting 3+ squares a day.  Don’t we all come to appreciate our kids more when they’re gone away at camp?

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Tradition Solidified

I’ve spoken so many times of the Sugar Maple Music Festival, that summer event which we revere more than any other.  We afford it sacred calendar protection normally reserved for  holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and now Solstice. Please don’t plan on getting married, birthing/baptizing your baby, or dying on the weekend of the Sugar Maple; we probably won’t attend. (your event)  So it is now an event so religiously repeated that it beckons the title of Tradition.  No surprise there.  But attending the festival…attending is only half of the ritual.  This was made implicitly clear to me this year.

The Festival begins Friday night, which we’ve declared to be Date Night, ditching the kids and donning our square dance attire.  On lean years, it may be the only square dance we get to attend.  (leaving the kids behind is our choice; they’re always welcome at the festival)  Saturday, then, is the meat of our family celebrating.  The festival opens at noon and runs till some time past 10pm, making for a very full, music-filled day.

This is how it went down this year.

Wednesday, Aug. 1

8:35 a.m. :: Declared, in an email to a friend, that I won’t be making anything special for any of us to wear to the Sugar Maple.  I had resigned myself to it in the weeks preceeding.

4:26 p.m. :: Was folding laundry, came across a favorite dress of Isadora’s and said to her, “This would be great to wear to the Sugar Maple this weekend!”  “MOM!” she said with a stern look, “I am not wearing that dress – it came from a store! (sneer) I’m wearing something you made.” “But I’m not making anything new this year, Dearie.” “That’s ok – I’ll wear last year’s dress.”  (I swoon and gush with satisfied pride.)

Thursday, Aug. 2

8:27 a.m. :: Decided that girl will have a new dress, goddammit.  Anyone that loyal deserves one.  Furthermore, I was going to finally make the lovely cotton gauze number featuring the unicorns I’d been hoarding for too many years.

8:47 p.m. :: Handquilting the top bodice of said dress, loving it, but thinking Didn’t necessarily pick the most expedient project to whip out on a whim. Good thing I don’t have to make anything else, or I’d drive myself crazy. 

Friday, Aug. 3

7:45 a.m. :: Finished lovely dress.  Girl smitten with it.  “Yes, of course Errol – I sure WILL make you a new cowboy shirt!  You betcha!”

2:30 p.m. :: In a phone conversation with The Mister: “Guess what?  Made a dress for the girl.  (relayed indignant conversation suggesting store-bought dress) Decided to make a shirt for the boy.  Yes, I know – crazy.  But I’m trying really hard to not get stressed out.  Take your time coming home though – busy sewing.”

6:15 p.m. :: Date Night.  Belly full of delicious supper, sipping a beer, knitting in hand, man at side, listening to fantastic music.  “Wish I could make you a shirt too, Daddio.  I hope to finish knitting this top in time to wear it myself tomorrow.  Sure would be neat to have the whole family outfitted again.”

7:30 p.m. :: Still Date Night.  Somewhere between beers 2 and 3 I resolved to sew Andrew a shirt as well.  The forecast promised a hot day to come and I had some more cotton gauze from the same line that I had been saving for him, for years.  (Errol’s shirt, I should mention, featured the same unicorn print as Isadora’s but in a light blue.)  3 outfits from the same fabric line, specifically designed to look like dynamite when paired together, all in cotton gauze, the promise of a hot day, the challenge of it all – all of this proved irresistible.

9:02 p.m. :: Hey look – that’s me in the center, him on the left, circlin’ round at the square dance.

Saturday, August 4.  The Big Day.

8:15 a.m. :: Finished The Boy’s cowboy shirt, started cutting out Daddio’s.

11:00 a.m. :: The Mister checks in, sees the progress, and declares that we should plan on arriving a couple of hours later than previously planned.  Guess he wants his shirt.

2:00 p.m. :: Last-minute preparations – setting pearl snaps on the cowboy shirts, packing up the cooler, blanket, beginning the cast-off of my own knit camisole.

2:45 p.m. :: Cast of the last stitches, en route on interstate 90/94, pulled off the interim shirt and replaced it with my finished camisole.  We were finally dressed.

3:00 p.m. :: We arrive.

It was our best year yet.  Now that I understand how integral a part the clothing-making is to our own tradition, I’ll try to plan a wee bit in advance next year.  Here’s hoping.

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Sweat Remediation, Part 1.

I’ve shied away from the mention of heat waves and drought here in this space. I suspected that, given the slightest opportunity, the whining and self pity and utter sluggishness resulting from this drought would take over the podium, that even the mere mention of it here would feed the monster and make it multiply, like the yeasty proliferation of bread dough, or gremlins fed after midnight. Not having much else to say, then, I resolved to sit on my hands and shut up.

But hot damn. It was hot. And worse, it was dry. There was not a drop of measurable rain for over 6 weeks. The grass of the pasture dwindled down to nothing, having been mowed down by both sheep and chickens passing through but unable to regenerate for Round 2. Chickens were butchered, so the stress of feeding them vaporized, but fourteen wooly ungulate mouths still required grass, and lots of it. Out of necessity, they got acquainted with the wilder pockets of the acres, testing the agility of the portable electric fence as they were pastured on the hillside, all brambly and overgrown. They swiftly stripped down the grapevines and bared the vigorous buckthorn down to spindly annoyances. I pushed the boundaries of ‘pasture’ until nothing else green remained. The rain remained stubbornly elusive and we felt no choice but to take it all personally. I added to the list of grievances caused by the rain’s absence when we filled up our trailer and truck with hay and were forced to begin feeding it at the beginning of July, four months ahead of the normal schedule. All the while I knew full well that our dependence on the rain was minimal, compared to real farmers who depend upon the bounty of the rain to feed their crops or their livestock, that we didn’t stand to lose much by comparison, but I felt it my duty to take that personally as well, to be outraged at the (lack of) weather for those farmers too. It was a big grudge to carry, and a long time to shoulder it, but the sourness of it all proliferated with no effort whatsoever, like negativity is prone to do.
The stress of it all was palpable, like a crackle of electric tension in the air. I had come to depend on the rain, I realized, as a release of tension. The sun says Go! Do! Keep going! Full speed! Time’s a wasting! But the rain, when it it here, signals a change of pace, a clearing off of the overfull plate. It says Whoa, now. Take a deep breath. Turn inward. Recharge. Be clean, start fresh. Have a drink, close your eyes. Slow. Rest.
There was none of that, then. The sun pounded us with unrelenting triple digit heat with an endurance that would be impressive if it weren’t so oppressive. Frazzled and twitchy and despondent, I hollered at the kids too much and stomped around the house. I cursed the sky like a filthy sailor when I slipped on the crispy lawn and fell on my ass. I was mad.

So I raised an obscene finger to the sky and schlepped a wimpy window air conditioner into my studio and cranked it on with a scowl on my face. And in a grand ‘F-You’ to the weather, I cranked out 5 skirts and a dress in 2 days of sewing.

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It’s not a very graceful show of creative accomplishment. Now that we’ve gotten some rain and the grass has resumed its greening, I can see very plainly how I’ve been acting like a sulky child. But I do have an abundance of skirts to choose from, so let’s just focus on the positive.

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The dark side of Free Range

It’s the same story every Spring.  This year, I think, I will finally make something of these flowerbeds.  This year, I did.  Isadora adopted one for her own and we filled it with shade-loving plants.  She took a Sharpie marker and even went so far as to label one plant’s marker with “most prized possession.”  So sweet, I thought, with slight misgivings.  I didn’t want her to become too attached to the bed and its plants.  There was a reason these beds weren’t yet established, one that can be summed up in three words.  Free. Range. Chickens.

Geranium cuttings, nurtured all year indoors, made their way to the lovely ring bed right outside the back door.  There was no rain, then no rain, and still yet no rain.  Captain Daddio took upon himself the task of watering, did it with relish.  He nurtured that little ring bed, letting the hose soak it for lazy minutes on end.  One day, those geraniums bloomed and we rejoiced!

Then I became The Crazy Lady Who Runs From The House With a Broom And Much Shrieking to chase away the chickens ready to dip their toes into this newly discovered dust bath.  Nevermind that it wasn’t the least bit dusty.  Nevermind that we had all worked so hard to get that bed in bloom.  Nevermind that we had, in exasperation, ceded the front beds (including Isadora’s) to their bathing needs.  Nevermind that they had the entire shaded perimeter of their coop to bathe in, plus those two holes rudely placed square in the middle of major farm thoroughfares, the very same that we’ve been meaning to fill for years.

Perhaps I turned my back for an hour too long, or perhaps the heat had sapped my will to live just long enough to stop caring.  In a heartbeat, the bed was toast.  I rallied for one final advance, then swiftly surrendered.  Some days I think these vandals make a strong case for confinement reared poultry.  Other days I can be heard muttering to myself, “Ah, well.  There’s always next year.”

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Somewhere here is hidden the rhythm of summer.

I’m convinced that the heartbeat of summer emanates from the clothesline.  Briskly shaking out wrinkles, careful pinning, and the cool of wet clothing queued, resting on my shoulder become a working meditation.

Onions!  A whole row of them!  I think I’ve finally hit upon the secret to growing them.  Or rather, I’ve finally abandoned the old method which failed me year after year after year: plant the string-thin seedlings or bulb sets on a blistering hot day, set up irrigation drip hose to water, run like hell and don’t look back till July, when all are long dead and/or smothered in weeds.  It appears they are instead taking well to regular water, heavy mulch, and an aggressive weeding regimen.  I also read somewhere that they like wood ash.  Oh, we got wood ash, alright. So I did a little side dressing of ash, topped with the early season’s grass clippings, which now appear to be the season’s only grass clippings, given the state of our parched (dead?) lawn.

And there is Rubes.

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