Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sunbonnet Sue's more sophisticated sisters

There we were, sitting around the now defunct My Favorite Quilt Shop, admiring a baby blanket that had been brought in to be quilted on the long-arm. It was good-sized with many, tiny hand-stitched Beatrix Potter images on pure, pure white fabric. Just perfect for the precious little darling to barf on as it is not machine washable, it is not even dry-cleanable. Whomever attempts the hand washing will have a good party-time trying to keep all those silk embroidery flosses from running.

& that brought us to the question what does the quilting world need more of? The answer was obvious: porn.

The second part of this story actually belongs before the first. I loathe Sunbonnet Sue. Even well executed, the pattern just looks clunky to me. I know she is the darling of this, that & the other thing. I know she has a long & celebrated history. I know & I know & I do not care. I am with Lisa Boyer on this, the most interesting thing about her is what might be under that bonnet. Only one quilt pattern of hers (Sunbonnet Sue's, not Lisa Boyer's; I love Lisa Boyer's patterns) ever interested me, ever. It is on the Quilt Index right here. I had once toyed with a Sunbonnet Suicide quilt, but there surrounded by Beatrix Potter's wholesome goodness & the completely over the top efforts of a grandma-to-be the idea was born: Sunbonnet Sue's More Sophisticated Sisters.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, M***** said "if you can get that in the local quilt show, I will give you $50". Some one call Mrs. G because I plan to collect.

Step one-acquire the images. Many lifetimes ago I was helping a public-sector-entity set up an internal organ (I just love that term-it means newsletter) & I ordered a quantity of clipart books from Dover. In error I was sent a completely inappropriate volume. I phoned them, they sent the right one out & never asked for the wrong one back.

Step two-remember I have the images. There was a need to teach a person how to digitize images for embroidery. I think. Maybe not. Anyhow, I remembered I had this clipart & A***** said she would like to embroider a particular one on her hand- towels. Something like that.

Step three-tidy the images for embroidery. For the last quilt show, I had scanned two 30's era quilts (yes, scanned the quilts, in my scanner, maybe a 6x6 block at a time, good sized quilts) to create line drawings of the embroidered images to sell at that quiltique. It was a monster of a project & hardly worth the effort EXCEPT I learned how to speed-clean a scanned image for embroidery. Also, I now have a slew of nursery rhyme figures & other random G-rated sketches for redwork embroidery in case I undergo a major personality change but retain my original hobbies.

Step four-taunt the world with my project while not actually moving forward. I think this step is self explanatory, really.

Step five-shut up & do the work. This is where I am now. I W*I*L*L be done in time for the TreeCity Show in May. I will submit it & I am dreadfully afraid that the organizers of the show know me well enough to hang it.

I think this just might be my only New Year's resolution.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yesterday, an egg

Our chickens stopped laying umpteen days ago. I really do not remember when, at least two bookclubs ago. My timeline can be vague.

Yesterday, when I went to the henhouse to clean the floor of the main pen, I saw a small well in the hay I had given them for warmth. & there was a good sized, not lumpy or weird, a pale green egg. Have I said before what steady birds ameraucanas are? Well they are. Not too fussy, not too aggressive, not too anything, actually.

We are down to eleven hens, four of them are ameraucanas from the last batch (May 2007), one of them an ameraucana from a previous batch (the long-lived Big Buff. The remaining birds are a mixed bag: one cuckoo maran, one sumatra, two lakenvelder, one leghor, etc.

It is hard not to order more ameraucanas this year, but it helps knowing some of these will be around for a while.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Good King Wenceslas

As many of you already know, Good King Wenceslas is best remembered for looking & then seeing & finally acting on the Feast of Stephen. Today is the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen is recognized as the first christian martyr (I would have thought this was Jesus, but I would be wrong). He was born a Jew, preached largely among Jews & died at the hands of Jews. It was Saint Stephen who first blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. (ACTS7).

But it was not this that brought Wenceslas to Saint Stephen's Day; Stephen's 'day job' was the care & oversight of the poor. When he had free time, he wrangled with the scholars of the varied temples, explaining how they had been chosen by G*d, but he was fed up with them (G*d & Stephen both, fed up with the Jews, that is).

As apart from his society as Stephen was, having left his people & joined a new group of outsiders, Wenceslas was in the thick of his. He was in fact the center of it. He inherited a kingdom deeply divided. His grandmother, also a saint, had been murdered at his mother's order. He was himself murdered on his brother's.

History has credited Wenceslas with extra efforts in the care of the poor. It was a big part of what got him killed. Tenth century Bohemia was a particularly barbaric place. Many of the nobles believed their riches were a direct sign from G*d that they were right & good & that those who had nothing were chosen by G*d to have nothing. They did not enjoy paying Wenceslas's taxes knowing he used some of the funds to feed & clothe these less fortunate.

While he reigned, Wenceslas was in negotiation with everyone, inside the realm & out. When modern historians talk about the Balkans being at war for one thousand years, they are talking about a war that dates to the time of Wenceslas & before. He made deals wherever he could; whether he would have honored them is a different question. He was struck down in the doorway of the church in which he sought sanctuary.

Saint Wenceslas Day, if you are interested, is September 28th. It is also a national holiday: Czech Statehood Day. We may have only heard of Wenceslas because of a song written 150 or so years ago, but in the his part of the world, he has been a very big deal for a very long time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Connecticut

It is never like the movie. We go every three or four years & I do not remember the last time it snowed. It has been pretty damn cold though!

Also my parents' house is nothing like that one (or the one in Bringing up Baby, which is the same house). The truth is, I have never managed to sit through Christmas in Connecticut, but I love Bringing up Baby, so I feel qualified to comment on the house.

I doubt my mother has made it through Bringing up Baby because of her antipathy for all things Katherine Hepburn. As it happens, one of my two favorite christmas movies stars Katherine Hepburn. I watch The Desk Set every year, often more than once. My other favorite christmas movie is Comfort & Joy. Mostly, these movies take place at christmastime, christmas happening is the background, but that is the whole christmas involvement.

This year, we were planning to spend christmas in CT & a white christmas was expected. After multiple days of snow & more on the horizon, all our flights were canceled & we will spend the holiday here, uselessly. I know my mother is very disappointed. & we are sorry not to see people. But I was genuinely dreading a white christmas. I have lost my taste for all things cold: I drink hot tea in summer, I do not even like ice cream unless it is on a plate with a warm piece of pie. It is 54F right moment & that is plenty chilly for me.

So far, I have planned a small holiday dinner for christmas day. On christmas eve we are going to Stephen Foster to see the light display. Previous new years days have been spent at Homasassa Springs (where my mother saw her first bald eagle in the wild). Maybe it is time that we stopped putting plastic snowmen in front yards that will never see snow & start observing this season not as a shadow of what our great-great-grandparents may have had in the old country but what it is now, right where we are.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shortest days

I know you do not need me to tell you that all the religions in world history have some kind of rebirth/light thing this time of year. There, I told you anyway.

When I was a child, the shortest days meant waiting for the school bus in the dark & getting home from school barely before dusk. & that was only if you did not have detention. Or whatever might put you on the 'late bus'.

Now shortest days means more time outside, in the sun. Most of the year, the sun is too much for me & my lily white skin. I have been an avid consumer of SPF45 ever since I moved to New Jersey (it was not that the ozone layer is thinner there, but that I was more up-close-&-personal with suntan victims circa 1990; I still have nightmares), but I manage to get at least one sunburn every year. This time of year, though, it is never as bad.

Perhaps there is something to that whole earth moving around the sun in an elliptical orbit, etc. Anyhow, the sun is not as strong & does not last as long & mostly that is OKay with me.

There are only a few downsides (for me, remember this is about me). The horses get very confused about when they should be fed. I try to keep it to every 12 hours, but that means that one of these will be in the dark. They stand at the back gate waiting for me to get out there every night for at least an hour. There is no convincing them that sundown is not dinnertime.

Also, the chickens stop laying, or at least slow down. Sometimes they will start up again by New Years, but somehow I do not think this will be one of those years. I will be lucky to see eggs by March.

I consider these more-than-fair trades for the real upside to these shortest days down south: A is happier. He is the last person to admit those long dark days bummed him out, but they did. Here it is rare for him to leave before dawn (although not uncommon for him to return after sunset). He has breakfast every morning in a room with wall-to-wall windows on three sides & there is no doubt it is a better start to his day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Glamour don't

It will surprise no one that I often go to downtown N******* wearing sweatpants, sweatshirt & maybe nothing else. Shoes I suppose, but that really is it. This is because I like to get to the feed store before most people have finished their chores. The wait is shorter, also all the parking is on-street & I cannot parallel park to save my own life.

So I roll out bed, brush my teeth but not my hair & head into town. Every time I am guaranteed to encounter at least one person worse off than I am. Once time I met a distant neighbor who had stopped to get feed on her way home. That is she wass having a morning-after-the-night-before & thought to herself "I need animal feed. I shall get it right now". While she did remember her errand, she did not remember her shirt & we all had a farmers-wife-meets-Madonna-circa-1982 morning. I later learned this was not the first time & I also know it was not the last. I thought everyone seemed pretty calm, if a bit smiley while they loaded up her truck.

Earlier this year I accidentally joined a McCain/Palin rally in this manner. I pulled through the one stop-light in town but could not get past the gun store becasue the rally was in the parking lot (I really do not have to make this stuff up). In the end I had to wind my way through the neighborhood behind the main street & park more than a block away.

So there I was wearing my usual uniform: filthy garden clogs; sweatpants with reflective striping (a la the local prison system, but that is not where I get them, honest); a sweatshirt on which I had spilled my own special cocktail of fish oil & turpentine, a paste commonly used to treat white line in equine hooves. This magic elixir never really washes out, but several tratments with bleach will take the edge off of the smell. All around me were smiling happy famlies with "NObama" signs strapped to their strollers. They were all clean & pressed, dresses hats & gloves, I kid you not, for some of the older ladies, ties for most of the men.

I made my way to the feed store & there, waiting in line were two other people, total strangers dressed almost exactly like me (cowboy boots instead of clogs), sporting that same fresh-from-the-farrier smell. I wish I had a picture so I could put that black box over our eyes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lemon tree

W***** went to join her husband for a week or so; I was left in charge of the Lemon Tree. She has a long-standing before-my-time arrangement with T***** to check on her birds every day so there really was not much else to do, although the lemon tree & the henhouse are less then 25' apart.

Technically, of course there is nothing to do vis a vis the lemon tree; she just told me to take whatever fruit ripened. This was an easy task to do as I walk by the lemon tree when I check the water pump to the horse trough. Did I mention she still has grass & we do not? Well she does & we don't so the mares are spending every third night or so at her place.

So far I have garnered six lemons. I could have taken more, there were certainly plenty that were almost ripe but I am having trouble thinking what to do with even just the six lemons as it is. I plan to make banana bread, that is two lemons at the outside.

I think I might try my hand at lemon curd. I like it, especially between the layers of a light white cake. I am definitely going to try lemon curd. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alien abduction

One morning last week, the lead story on the the 'first name in news' or whatever they are calling themselves these days, was alien abduction. The gist, so far as I can tell, is that the stories must be real because they are so consistent. This also clarifies the existence of mermaids & the streets of London being paved with gold. Thank G*d those are true; I was worried.

I do not remember how old I was, "In Search of" was still in primetime if that helps, when one of my brothers turned to me & said "Isn't it amazing that all the advances we have made in 50 years (remember dear reader he said this before even cable television) & those silly aliens are still flying in that outdated saucer-spaceship using the same antiquated medical equipment" Indeed, that was amazing. It remains amazing.

I have about five minutes of TV-news watching ability. Then I just cannot take it anymore. The combination of tabloidism & cannot-get-off-my-shiney-hiney-&-get-a-real-story just wears me out. I have understood for a long time, my whole adult life even, that the point of TV-News is to sell us whatever is in the commercials; this is the same point of all TV programs. Accept it. Move on. I am even tired of the people who complain about product placement. Yes, that happens on news programs, too, look at the coffee mug logos, the golf-shirts, the suits, the jewelery. Grow up. Move on.

What I do marvel at is the level of boredom a person has to have to actually watch entire news programs. I do not mean to mock people who are interested in 'the news'. I am mocking the people who think this is where you get it. If decades of alien abduction stories have taught us anything it is that whatever comes to you in your own house under the auspices of for-your-own-good is bad Bad BAD.

"But where Oh Useless One will we get our information if not through the sacred box?"

How about this: wash yourself (this includes your clothing), open your door, walk out into the world. Look at the sky & behold WEATHER. So as not to become overwhelmed, you should probably turn around & go back to bed.

When you feel up to it, take a few steps (or drive a few miles) to your local public library. I know, I know books are scary but they have ushers, called librarians, that will take you safely through. While you are there you can fall into your old bad habits of watching & surfing but you will do this sitting near people you almost certainly do not know. & chances are pretty good at least one of these strangers will be convinced that something completely off-the-wall is absolute fact. Do not panic: my own library has several copies of alien warning type materials & yours will, too.

While you are there though, take a look at some other things. Maybe a newspaper from another country. Or maybe the local bulletin board. & maybe you will learn that while the global economy is not good, ballroom dance classes are very well attended (what is up with that, really?). Or you could take a break from cyber-stalking the Obama children & instead join a local harpist singing holiday songs (I am not making this up, if you are free 12/14 drop on by)

You know what, never mind. Instead, I have decided that we should all stay inside glued to a machine of some kind (I call shotgun on that most powerful of oracles: the coffee maker). I will soon begin marketing my own line of "I would rather be Useless" t-shirts. Places your orders NOW.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Girl fight

I have no idea how or why but tonight when I checked on the ladies, Teensy had Butterscotch head-down in the corner of one of the broody-hen boxes & was ripping feathers out of her neck. I made enough racket & Butterscotch got away.

Butterscotch is one of the ameraucana hens, big but not biggest, smart but not smartest. A nice middle-of-the-road bird that I keep ordering because A cannot get over the blue-green eggs. They are fine birds for a backyard henhouse: non-setting, placid, with plenty of variety even in a small flock of five or six.

Teensy is a different bird of a different place. She was one of the many sumatras ordered by one of our chicken-syndicate partners. She & another sumatra were so small they could easily get out of the small gauge chicken wire that covers my peep-house. Teensy spent part of her first days inside my cleavage until she was big enough to stay in the peephouse with the others. Yes, I really like chickens. When the time came for the sumatras to go, I asked to keep her. & until this episode she was a fine bird.

Sumatras do not suit my flock, technique or territory. They are small enough to be vulnerable to hawks (a big problem here), independent enough to want to find their own perches (outside of the protected henhouse). Their eggs are also small, & not even two of them make a standard size. I usually use hers to supplement the cockatiel food. When I put them in standard cartons, they rattle around & get wedged & then crushed on the other eggs. Sumatra feathers are lovely up close, deep glossy black & almost iridescent, but to most people they look like petite & yet pudgy crows.

Butterscotch outweighs Teensy 2:1, easy. & yet, as soon as my racket faded, Teensy hopped off the night perches & back on Butterscotch again. Butterscotch tried to get away & then just sqawked while Teensy tore into her.

This is not the first case of poultry aggression I have heard of: I read that turkeys might peck each other to death if left to it. No apparent provocation between birds that had hatched in the same incubator & been together ever since. I have seen what my own hens have done to the random jay that tried to steal from their feeder (it was not pretty).

If Teensy & Butterscotch had been doing this for more than 1/2 a day (I last checked them after lunch), I would certainly have seen more damage. Maybe Butterscotch did something provocative...I wonder what poultry trash-talk would sound like: your mother is schmaltz?

In the end I put Butterscotch in the larger broody-hen box, a former rabbit hutch with extra small gauge screen to keep out snakes. It is well filled with hay so she will be warm & I grabbed either Vermeer or Mondrian, one of the lakenvelders anyhow (it was dusk & they can be hard to tell apart in full sun), so she will not be alone. In the morning, they can push the door open easily & hop back into the main henhouse, but there is no way for a bird on the outside to get in at her.

Hopefully by morning their little feathered brains will have forgotten all about this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hens & horses & dogs & bugs

As I have already blogged, I have begun to shop for chickens in earnest. My own birds have more or less stopped laying & this is the youngest batch to do that; they are not even two years old.

This does not present huge problems. We do not need all that many eggs for ourselves & eggs are not even the primary reason we keep chickens. Eggs are not even the secondary reason we keep chickens. Big Buff has not laid an egg in almost four years & she runs no risk of being made into chicken pie.

First, I have chickens because I like to watch them. I like to watch them run in their completely-not aerodynamic way. I like to watch them get off the ground & bumble through the branches of the magnolia. I like to watch them fight over one bug while a dozen other bugs fly away.

Which brings me to the second reason I have chickens: bugs. My first horse, Captain, had terrible hoof problems, as did another, RedBud, who arrived soon after him. Both were in not-great shape when they arrived & the least of their problems was intestinal worms. This is a common, treatable problem in all horses. But to poison the worms, you need to poison the horse & you need to do this either as a low dose daily or a high dose monthly. Usually, this is no big deal; the poison it takes to make the belly inhospitable will hardly bother a healthy horse; these two were already in poor shape.

My solution was chickens. One dose of poison & then turn them on to grass with a flock of chickens. The horses eat the grass & deposit manure. The chickens break up the manure piles looking for.....bugs. They do not care if the bugs arrived with the pile or were attracted later; the upshot is fewer flies in general, much less larvae in the grass & less need to poison the horses. I suspected it would work & I was shortly proved correct.

Chickens & horses together was a win-win right here, before the eggs, & before I discovered the other reason to keep hens with horses (more on that later). What I had not factored in were the other bugs they would deal with.

We, right now, are experiencing the Super Tick. & I do not just mean me & my dogs, I mean you & yours as well. Topical treatments, pills, & house&lawn sprays work well enough, but they can make the dogs sick or the people that live with them sick or kill all your houseplants or the list goes on. When ticks are not attaching themselves to dogs, you know where they like to gather? In old dried leaves, or crevices, like between a patio edge & the lawn. You want to know what chickens like to do? Stir up leaves & scratch at crevices....& peck any specks they find.

So, if you were almost completely grossed out by the chicken beak piercing piles of manure to find bugs, maybe the idea that much of your farm fresh eggs used to be ticks will put you on the road to a cholesterol-free diet. Unless of course you limit yourself to battery-chicken eggs. Do not read up on their lives though, or eating what-used-to-be-ticks-&-manure will start to look pretty tastey.