Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vintage Highlight: The Boswell Sisters

I've decided I'm going to go back to my now-deceased Seven Magpies group blog and pick some of my favorite posts to share. I'd like to condense my multiple blogs into one place (feeling a bit like my failure to blog is the fact that I've been spread too thin), so I'll be cross-posting old entries from my other blogs here in an effort to bring all of my favorite things to one place!


The Boswell Sisters formed in 1925 as a three-sister singing group from New Orleans, and their jazzy complex harmonies were a local sensation for half a decade before they moved to New York City in 1930. After they moved to the Big Apple things really took off for them and they began recording for Brunswick Records.
 "These Brunswick records are widely regarded as milestone recordings of vocal jazz." – Boswell Sisters, Wikipedia
The three sisters were very actively traveling the USA for shows during the second World War but unfortunately not allowed to visit bases over seas for foreign troop rallying and whatnot due to an unfortunate childhood accident that left the middle sister, Connie, paralyzed and wheelchair bound.

This is a streaming version of "When I Feel Lonely" which is very snappy and was the first song the sisters recorded back in 1925! You can find loads more like this at which offers public domain music streaming and downloads. It's a great website!

This is another of their popular songs, from later in their career. I love the way they bop as they sing!

If you have time, this is a nine minute short called "Close Farmony" which is a seriously amazing (albeit mildly bizarre) film about how jazz music saves the farm! The sisters and the farm hand spend the film serenading farm animals, trying to encourage them to produce more milk and eggs.  It's hilarious! The best part is the piano covered in hay.

Hot Cereal for a Gluten Free Girl

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a funny little yellow box in the gluten free section of my local grocery store. "Cream of Buckwheat" it said, and being partial to buckwheat I snatched it up and thought I'd give it a try. Naturally, since it wasn't on my shopping list, I got home, shelved it and immediately forgot it existed (owing in part to the fact that it's been miserably hot this past week!)

Yesterday, however, we had a cold snap and I woke at 4AM to a house with every window open wide on a breezy 42ºF morning. It was cold enough in my house that my hands and feet tingled after I left the comfort of my warm bed. My mind snapped immediately to the thought of warm oatmeal, but being "off" of oats as well as wheat (and soy and processed sugars... I'm sure you'll read more about that later when I get to posting it) oatmeal was out of the question. It wasn't until I was nearly ready to leave for the horse farm that my mind snapped to the odd little box I'd picked up at the grocery store.

It was super simple - a 1/4 cup of buckwheat, 3/4 cup of liquid (I used 1/4 cream, 1/2 water), a sprinkle of salt and 3 minutes in the microwave! Voila! Buckwheat is slightly on the sweet size as far as grains go, and it has a mild millet-esque nuttiness that I absolutely adore. I really like a bit of sweet for breakfast, so I chopped up a medjool date and mixed it into the buckwheat to add a delicious caramely taste. When I made it for breakfast again this morning I added a chopped dried fig, which added a sweetness and a fun texture. I'm fairly certain the possibilities are endless!

I didn't know much about the brand, but Pocono appears to be milled at The Birkett Mills in New York, which is where most of the nation's buckwheat originates. I'll definitely be checking out their other buckwheat products!

Do you have any gluten free breakfast favorites?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I'm Okay with Inconsistency

I know that I rarely post here anymore. It seems that every May I get the urge to blog again for a few weeks and then by mid-June I'm into "camp" season at the horse farm and I end up spending 14 hour days in the stables, only to come home and collapse into bed (or cry quietly from exhaustion while my husband prepares dinner... yes, it happens.)

I have been ruminating on the nature of blogging, and how when you really get going you find yourself feeling accountable to your readers. At first it's a great feeling, knowing folks are enjoying your writing and looking forward to the next post, but if gone about the wrong way (see "Dark Days of Winter" posts) you can burn out quickly, and apparently quite permanently.

Often I find myself thinking "I want to write about this! I'll go make up a blog post!" which is quickly stifled by a much louder, desperate voice in my head that says "Nooo! You can't get caught up in that again. You don't have time!" So then I sit on my ideas, and snap a few photos that no one gets to see and I grumpily concede to the louder voice of reason... I don't have time for a regular blog.

This morning I found myself wanting to write about a few things that I've been up to this week and for some reason a new voice popped up in my head. "I'll be damned if I let the claustrophobia of having a regular blog make me feel like I can't post!" No, I won't post regularly. I might only post 5 times a year, but if someone wants to read what I write it'll at least be there for them to do so.

I used to take such pleasure in getting up in the wee hours of the morning to write. Let's see if I can get back to doing that, even if only on occasion.

/end rant

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Meditative Dyeing of Cellulose Fibers

When I was in college I dyed wool all the time. Wool yarn, wool roving, wool fleece, wool fabric... I used it for weavings and knitting, and I even sold it on ebay for a while. I had access to the dye lab at the university I was attending and it was a gorgeous facility complete with stoves and ventilation. My college roommate can attest to this, as she was very irritated by the drying skeins of yarn in my closet and the overall permeating wet-sheep-smell. Bwahaha.

Wool was the first fiber I dyed, apart from the tedious cotton/rayon dye swatches I did with my dye class. Because it was my fiber of choice even before joining the textiles program, and because I'm a stubborn ox, I clung to it religiously and learned all I could about dying wool with acid dyes as well as a few natural dyes. Basically dye+acid+heat=colored wool... Aren't protein fibers cool?

So years later I decided to play with cellulose fibers (after graduating and without access to a dye lab) and discovered the process was far more time intensive than dyeing wool. Each time a cellulose fiber (made from plants such as cotton, linen, hemp, etc) is dyed, it must first be prepared using a mordant or fixative. Then after this chemical is applied it is ready to be exposed to the dye molecules. It's like prepping a petri dish, almost. You have to create the perfect environment for the dye molecules to saturate and fix to the fibers. I totally understood it, but I found the process tedious and the results uninspiring.

This spring, however, I began to notice other bloggers discussing natural dyeing, using various plants from their yards... The idea of using natural dyes wasn't new for me, but the idea of using weeds and invasive plants to create color on fabric was instantly inspiring.

The thing with dyeing cellulose fibers with natural dyes is that each natural dye source is different. Some plants that are high in tannin, such as oak galls, sumac and walnut hulls, will fix to a cellulose fiber easily and fast. Others, such as certain leaves producing golds and greens dye well on cellulose that has been treated with a mordant, or fixative (usually alum, but sometimes iron or other metals). Still other dyes, such as berry juices and many flower-based solutions, must be applied to a cellulose fiber that has been tannin-treated as well as mordanted... and some dyers even swear by treating with tannin a second time after the mordant.

When I was younger and in college I found myself tantalized by the quick and vibrant colors of acid dyes on wool, but now that I am older I am able to see the beauty in the lengthy process and ecological soundness of dyeing naturally.

This morning, I found myself in an almost meditative calm while preparing the cloth for the tannin bath that I'd made out of sumac leaves. The cloth has to be soaked in water to allow for even tannin uptake before it is immersed. The pot of sumac leaves was boiled for two hours and then allowed to sit for three days simply because I didn't have time to fuss with it. I feel like dyeing protein fibers with synthetic dyes is akin to baking - you have a very specific set of directions and as long as you are careful you can produce quick and even results that remain predictable.

With natural dyeing you are bound not by "directions", but by concepts... You should never expect a specific result; you simply hope and observe.

Something as simple as an increase of iron in your tap water can change the colors, and something as complex as the sun exposure that a plant had access to over the span of an entire growing season can affect the colors as well as the light-fastness.

You are at the disposal of the elements - a sort of terroir within fiber and cloth. As with all things inevitable, it's best to just relax and go with the flow, embracing the results with wonder and awe, and know that what you see in your finished cloth is a complex compound of so many incomprehensible factors that it is truly a glimpse of chaos. Float, as a leaf, down the river.

(photos coming soon... having some technical difficulties...)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Another Spring, Another Sproing!

I woke this morning to my German Shepherd Dog, Connor, freaking out. I mean completely. He was barking and tearing around the living room, pausing to howl... it was unlike anything he's ever done. I stumbled down the stairs to see what was up and he immediately began running around me in circles, barking and barking. I even shooshed him (which always works) and he ignored me. This dog wanted to be heard. Something was up.

I pulled on DH's muck boots and ran out to the barn... as I approached I heard the usual Baas. Low Baa from the ram, nasal baa from brighid, higher pitched baa from Gretel, gruff baa from Blair... and then a short, quiet baa from Nance? That wasn't right. Nance is a loud mouth... this was the baa of a new mother!

Moments later, a teeny little high pitched baa cut through the night. My heart leapt as I dashed into the barn. There they were... two perfect little lambs, a ram and a ewe, both black-gray (with "sugar lips") and both standing, getting flustered and divided attention from their mother.

This is the ewe lamb. She has "flashing" and likely carries the spotting gene.

They're dry and warm now, and napping in the straw in the sun. They figured out how to suckle with a little help, and Nance (who is normally my skeptical hands-off ewe) allowed me to handle her in order to get them latched on. It was such a wonderful thing to wake up to, even if it was 4AM!

This is the ram lamb. He has a teensy bit of silvering on his shoulder and little "sugar lips" which indicates he will grey as he matures. 

These are just the first photos; I'm sure I'll post more... There are still three pregnant ewes to go, and everybody looks like they're going to explode! Fingers crossed the other ewes will lamb as easily as Nance did.

Life Changes and Living with Endometriosis

It seems like I just haven't had the urge to blog in months. Honestly, a lot of changes have occurred between the last time I was blogging regularly and now. The biggest hurdle for me this past year has been learning to live with endometriosis. Now, I know I don't get into the personal stuff much, but I've found that pretending that everything is a-OK is really not the way to deal with endo.

Queue "dramatic sad photo"

So, in case you're curious about the specifics of endometriosis (mind you, this has to do with internal lady-bits) here is a link to the wikipedia page about it:

Last fall I started to have intense pains occasionally and started to think maybe I had ovarian cysts. Before long, however, the pains became unbearable and my symptoms started to look more like those from endometriosis. The hard thing about endo is that you can't prove that it's there without surgery and according to modern medicine you can't treat it without hormones and/or surgery. So, being the kind of gal to "just-say-no" to drugs I don't understand, I basically spent the winter in and out of the hospital for possible ovarian and/or intestinal torsions connected to the spasming of my abdominal muscles, in more pain than I ever believed possible...We're talking in-and-out-of-consciousness pain - like something out of a George R. R. Martin novel. The aftereffects of an "episode" would last for roughly two weeks, after which I'd have to prepare for the next one. What's worse, I began to have endometrial pain in other areas like my bladder, intestine and even (this is a new one) affecting my sciatic nerve!

It drained my energy and my enthusiasm for life, and it put stress on my relationships, my business... heck, even my horses would react to the differences when I rode them! Living in constant pain and fear of pain for those months definitely gave me a new perspective on Dr. House and his grumpy antics. I kind of hated everything and it brought my active life to a screeching halt.

So I started doing some blog-readin'... I tore through anything that gave me hope of managing my pain without modern meds. It wasn't until I found an article about endometriosis in cattle that I started thinking about the one vitamin we supplement ALL of our livestock with. Selenium. In cattle that are struggling with endometriosis, farmers will load them with selenium and send them on their merry way. So I started taking a low-dose selenium supplement to give it a shot.

At the same time, my chiropractor/kinesiologist suggested I may want to cut all processed sugar from my diet as it can lead to inflammatory response. I found several endo blogs where women found that eating processed sugars guaranteed they'd have a bad spell, so I figured why not. It's only SUGAR. Remember folks - I'm a serious sweet tooth... or at least I was. After two seriously grumpy weeks I found myself completely over sugar. I replaced refined sugar with local honey and an occasional coconut sugar (though I'm not a fan, honestly). I've worked out recipes for all of my favorite gluten free cakes, ice creams, candies and sauces using honey in place of refined sugar (even a honey-based caramel sauce!)

It's been a learning process, but I can say that since cutting sugar and supplementing with selenium I have not had a single bad spell. I've come close and I've had to take a dose or two of ibuprofen to fend it off, but in the past even multiple doses of 800mg of ibuprofen wasn't enough to cut the pain.

The thing that is most interesting about all of this is that the foods that most exacerbate my endo are all foods that are dried and processed with glyphosate including wheat, sugar beets, soy, cane sugar and oats. Glyphosate is used as an herbicide and is designed for use as a weed killer (it's the big monsanto chemical in Round-Up).

The problem is, farmers are using it to kill crops at their peak to speed their harvest. Normally the shortened days and crisp nights are what signal plants like wheat to die off. By using glyphosate, however, farmers are able to kill these crops and dry them faster... and we all know faster is better. Right? This use as a drying aid leaves a higher glyphosate residue on crops. Ick. So I avoid anything that is commonly dried chemically.

Well, since switching to sugar-free+selenium I have gotten things turned around again. I can ride four horses in a single morning without pain. I can muck my sheep barn and stack hay bales. I can garden. I can go running. I can enjoy life. I'm not a psycho-B, anymore either... Well, not often...

I highly recommend trying normal doses of selenium for anyone searching for alternatives to hormones and surgeries, and cutting processed sugar really couldn't hurt as long as you're still balancing your diet correctly. It has helped me get back on track, and hopefully I'll be able to get back into blogging about all of the awesome adventures ahead of me!

Stay tuned for a backlog of my adventures in starting an Etsy store, natural dyeing, and the 2014 lambing season!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Week "OFF" and Self Inflicted Tea

Today marks the beginning of my week of "staycation". I am taking a week off of teaching (though I'll still be riding the two client horses I have in training) to try to relax and unwind a bit, as well as to hopefully figure something out about the fabulous health issues I've been battling (atypical ovarian cysts, or something quite like them).

So. Anyone who really knows me knows that I am prone to some serious bouts of mania.

I rarely sit still, and when I do I find myself either planning the next 8 things I'm about to do or feeling guilty for not getting anything done. I'm convinced that this is a genetically transferred affliction... just ask my brother and/or father. :)

Anyway, this week I plan to perfect the art of sitting still. Hahaha. Yeah right.

Okay, not really, but I got an idea while talking to a good friend of mine the other night. She was talking about her mother and how she regularly, daily, finds time for tea. Tea for her includes a somewhat meticulous ritual of paper-reading, tea making and possibly even some post-tea crafting. We all took turns marveling aloud at the fact that someone could find time for an activity like that...

It wasn't until later that it struck me... People are always asking me how I find time to do things like fix fences, feed horses, shear sheep, plant gardens, build projects... most of my daily activities. The answer to that is that I don't exactly Find Time; I Make Time. Those things are my daily life and because they are part of the things I have labeled as necessary, I do them.

So, isn't my friend's mom's tea like that, for her?

My life is so full of activities that require physical exertion that often times by nine PM I am half in tears from exhaustion. It's a great way to live life, and I love it immensely, but I am also learning to recognize that it isn't necessarily a healthy life as far as the stresses it puts on my body. Everything in life should be in moderation - food, sleep, work and rest.


That's the sound of my brain going "huh, no wonder I feel more and more tired each day until my day off when I sit around exhausted and beating myself up for not working more..."

So this week I intend to take tea. I have cleared a table on the front porch (which is heavily windowed and currently covered in insulating plastic for winter) and each day this week I intend to make myself a cup of tea and sit down with a book for at least thirty minutes. I'm thinking eleven AM sounds like a good time for this, as when I am working that tends to be right around when I am between morning chores/training and afternoon chores/teaching, but of course as soon as I start giving myself a time-associated schedule I find myself struck down with anxiety.

I've mentioned my aversion to time in the past, and this is just another case of that. I have a hard time keeping time and often find myself arm-deep in something precisely when I am supposed to be starting something else (often more important - like teaching...) Alarms make me doubly anxious, as I'm always dreading that alarm (or the first of many that I set since I am scatterbrained and I often turn them off without thinking). This is probably connected to my unwillingness to grow-the-hell-up and my current state of self employment, in which I design my own schedule.

So really what I'm thinking is ... I will make and drink tea and be still each day between morning and afternoon obligations. Even if this entails slurping down a piping hot cup while sitting, antsy as I prepare to run out the door, I really think I need something like this to become part of my daily activities.

Ideally I would like this to be a chance to read and be untethered to technology. My phone will go on "Do Not Disturb", my computer will be switched off, and the television will sit and stare blankly... Stillness is certainly an art, I just never realized how vital it was until I noticed its absence in my life.

Do you ever struggle with stillness?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Daydreaming of Medlars

I have never eaten a Medlar, but I really want to! I stumbled across this graphic while looking up medlar scionwood online and couldn't help but be intrigued. I planted a medlar tree this past spring in my container garden and it is thriving, so who knows... in a couple of years I may be enjoying my very own bletted medlars! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fun Fall Activities

Today we'll be driving across the state to pick up our ram from our friends' farm in Olivet. He's be staying there because we didn't breed last year (due to the England trip) and we didn't want any accidents. In fact, the day they came to pick him up for us I watched him jump a four-foot tall fence (granted it wasn't tensioned well) to escape being caught! Rams are... special.

Anyway, he'll be spending some time down in the brambly new pasture I just finished fencing and then in December he (as well as one other possible loaner ram) will get to finally spend some time with the ladies. I'm sure he'll be relieved. I'm hoping the ample grass and raspberry leaves will keep him occupied for now, so that he restrains himself from hopping any fences. At least if he gets out, I know where he'll go! The ewes haven't seen a boy in almost a year so I'm sure they'll be torturing him fairly regularly until it's his time. Poor lad.

Before that, however, I plan to make the last two batches of apple cider from the apples that I gleaned from my student's house. Their apples have been spectacular so far, and I can't wait to surprise them with a big jar of home-pressed apple cider next time I see them!

My cider press is an antique press made in Lansing, Michigan. It has a pressed-tin label on it, but thus far I haven't been able to find any information on the company that made it. Ah well. I made a new platform to sit atop the old one since the old one was pretty grungy. I know presses are supposed to have a certain amount of grunge to them, but this one sat unused for several years and I just don't know what kind of moldspore it's been exposed to. Anyway, you can see my awesomely lame carpentry skills in the photo. I have all sorts of improvements planned for next year's press, but I at least wanted to use it this season before getting into all of that.

So far I've pressed nearly eight gallons of apple cider, and an additional three of pear. The pear cider turned out amazingly, thanks to the bitter/sour wild pears I found a week or so back.

These "perry" pears added tannin and tart flavor to the pear cider to keep it from becoming too syrupy sweet. The pears I was using were awfully soft, as well, so I got to experiment with using hard fruits and soft fruits together to create "channels" between bits of pomace to allow for cider to flow. All in all, I got a nice dry cheese at the end and the cider was/is delicious!

I've been canning it to keep it for the winter. I can't wait to crack it open in the winter doldrums for some nice hot, spiced cider! YUM!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Apple Mania!

So with the launching of my new project, "The Accidental Orchardist" I have gone full out fruit-crazy. It's like everywhere I drive, I'm watching the silhouettes of trees and I have learned to recognize a fruit tree simply by the shape of it's growth or the degree to which it has shed it's fall leaves. No joke, people. I've lost it.

The thing is, there are thousands of pounds of apples and pears sitting underneath these trees and in most cases, nobody even notices! The wildlife can't even keep up, and while the rotting fruit does offer nutrients back into the ground, it also carries fungal spore, larval pests and viruses/bacteria that will further deteriorate the health of the trees.

The tree above was pretty much half-choked, entire sections tethered to the ground by grape vines. It's also so densely branched and plagued by powdery mildew that I mistook the powder for dust from the road I was on... and then realized the road I was on doesn't get dusty, and the leaves on the far side of the tree were as evenly coated.  

So, back to my obsession... Yesterday, alone, I spotted six different trees; some were in yards and some feral on the side of the road. Of course I had to stop and grab a few fruits from each of the feral trees, just in case they're really something special.

Is this fruit stalking?