Kitchen Alchemy and Camp – July 25, 2017

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This is the time of year that the herbs and wild plants that are used in the salves, balms, and some soaps in the shop are growing and being harvested.  Once a batch is dried, jars of the herbs and the oils that make the infused oils are started.  Sometimes they are suntea processed in a window sill for a month or so, but sometimes one or more are needed sooner than that and they are infused in a makeshift double boiler system for 3 hours.  Once the infused oils are made and cooled, they are strained into a clean jar and the portion needed measured out and rewarmed to melt the organic beeswax needed to make the oil into a salve or balm.  Before our weekend away, a kitchen alchemy session was conducted and several salves resupplied, labelled, and put in the shop.  Some of the oils are needed for the Mountain Makings camp that is in session this week.

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Today was day 2 of their camp, my first of two sessions working with the young ones.  My friend, Jennifer, and I worked with them last year and again today.  The children are 7 to 12 years old and all very involved in the activities.  We had a very brief discussion of spinning and how  and why it was used in past generations.  They were each given a few ounces of hand dyed fiber and a hand made drop spindle, an improved version of last year’s with a heavier whorl.  One parent was fascinated with this portion of their program today and stayed.  She was given a spindle and fiber and followed right along with the children, making her first spindle full of yarn singles.  After the spindles were all being used without too much more assistance, they put them down and each were given a packet that contained a cardboard loom, weaving needles, yarn, and an instruction sheet for reference at home and they began a small wall hanging that they wove themselves.  Once they were all working well with that, we moved to our spinning wheels and gave each child an opportunity to spin a long enough singles to double it back on itself to create a length of hand spun yarn that they can use in their weaving.  At the end of the day, they will go home with their spindle and fiber, their loom, yarn, and weaving needles.

Tomorrow, I will return alone to take the children on a plant walk to identify some of the plants that can be wild harvested for their salve making.  They will get a handout of plants, their uses, and recipes for making the infused oils and instructions on making a salve.  We will make salves together and they will take home a tin or jar of their salve.

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Once home today, with a clear bobbin on the wheel, I tackled a one pound bag of raw alpaca locks that I had purchased at the Farmers Market earlier this spring.  I have never spun raw unwashed fiber before, but the alpaca lacks the lanolin of wool and other than picking out some vegetable matter, it is clean to spin.  The fawn colored alpaca is from “Graham” an alpaca living at Poplar Hill Alpacas, a local farm.  It will be plyed with a brown ply from another local Alpaca farm.  This yarn will be knit into fingerless mitts for the Holiday Markets.  If enough is spun, perhaps a hat will be made to match.

Music Weekend Away – July 23, 2017

A delightful opportunity presented itself and we took it. Early Friday morning, we set off, grands staying with their Dad for the morning as he took the morning off, and the afternoon with their Mom who worked from home. Our destination, about 3 hours away for a weekend of music and each other’s company without any other responsibility. The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival opened on Friday with Arlo Guthrie and we had 10th row center seats. When we arrived at Shrine Mont prior to lunch we discovered that we had a second floor corner room just feet from Arlo’s bus and the Pavilion in which the concert would be held.
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This visit included a stellar concert, some time with my brother and his lovely wife, some nice meals, a short visit to the chapel where our children were baptized, our daughter was married, and where a memorial plaque is mounted on a stone wall for my Dad.

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Day two of our weekend, took us about an hour away to Big Meadows Lodge.  We have many fond memories there with our children when they were young, hiking during the day and going to listen to local music at night.  Our favorite musician from then was Charlie Mattox, an Art History Professor at James Madison University that performs  Appalachian folk music, old sea shanties, and other traditional songs.

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Unfortunately, we got there at 11:15 a.m. and couldn’t check in until 3 p.m., but the performer for the night was Charlie Mattox.  We had our lunch, sat in the lodge with our books, took a short drive on the Skyline Drive looking for wildlife, and finally could check in in time to take a short nap while the storms rolled in and heavy rain fell.

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Our room was tiny, dark, and stuffy on an interior hall in the main lodge but we didn’t have to venture out in the rain.  By the end of dinner, the rain had stopped though it was still overcast and we took a short walk in the Meadow, hoping to see deer.

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Wildflowers, interesting trees, lots of people, but no deer.  We drove back to the lodge in time to get a table right in front of Charlie.

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We had a fun evening listening to him and participating in his program as he encourages everyone to sing along.  It was not the same as when we had our children with us, but still a very enjoyable evening.

This morning we began our leisurely drive home along the Skyline Drive and down to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a total of about 80 miles of slow scenic travel, finally seeing the deer.

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Three doe and three spotted fawn just off the side of the Drive in the woods and as they are protected there from hunting, they are not skittish when you stop the car to take their photo.

We finally needed gas and lunch and got off the scenic byway to rejoin civilization and take care of those needs and proceed on home to put away our weekend suitcases.  It was a relaxing, music and scenery filled three days, arriving home to find daughter’s family had cleaned house, a bonus.

And So It Begins Again – July 12, 2017

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The big pots and canner brought down from the high shelves where they rest between seasons.  At the end of the growing season last year, I ran out of jars and energy to can any more tomatoes, so 6 or so gallon bags were frozen.  Instead of using them first, which would have been the wisest thing to do, the canned jars of sauce and tomatoes were used and all winter and spring, the bulky bags of little frozen orbs were shifted around the freezer.  When the last jar of pasta sauce was opened, I decided to make a big pot of sauce from the remaining tomatoes, but chose to only use the spaghetti cooker and ended up using only a few bags of the tomatoes.  That sauce was frozen in wide mouth pint jars and most of it has been used as it takes about 3 pints to feed the 6 of us and 3 pints to make a large lasagna.  This morning, while looking for some chops to thaw for Jim’s dinner, one of the bags of tomatoes fell out of the freezer.  It was time to make them go away, but in a useful way.  After swim lessons, a roving dyeing session, some computer help for Jim, the tomatoes were tackled.  As they had been frozen whole in their skins, I knew that the skins would be tough, but I didn’t want to water thaw and peel 3 1/2 gallons of tomatoes, so they were just dumped into a huge pot to thaw.  The food mill was hauled down and the thawed tomatoes run through a fairly coarse blade to rid the pot of skins.  The remaining sauce was thickened slightly and 9 1/2 pints of sauce processed.  Most of it was canned so it is shelf stable, but the canner only holds 8 wide mouth pints, so the remaining pint plus will go in the freezer, a much smaller space consumer than the bags of frozen tomatoes.

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The new fresh tomatoes are just beginning to come in for this year, so far only a handful of small slicers, but the plants are heavy with fruit, so canning of tomatoes, sauce, and salsa will soon commence.

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The roving dyeing session was done as the camp that I will teach begins soon and the kids find the colors more fun than plain white roving.  Three pans were dyed, blue and purple, blue and yellow, yellow and tomato red.

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A dozen drop spindles have been made for them to each have one to keep.  Last year’s version was a bit too light for the beginners, so this year, I sought larger wooden truck wheels and slightly larger shafts so they spin longer.  My friend that works with me, bought small weaving looms for them as well.  We will take our spinning wheels and each child will be given the opportunity to make a strand of singles which we will double back on itself to make them a strand of yarn.

I still need to go through some of my commercial  yarn to help warp the looms and for them to use as weft to weave a small project.

The other prep is for the other day that I will work with them on herbal medicine.  The plantain leaves and the calendula flowers have been brewing in oil for many weeks now, the handout for the plant walk and instructions on how to use various wild and cultivated plants for food or medicine has been prepared, but still needs to be printed out for them.

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Whew, what a week – July 10, 2017

What a whirlwind the past week.  The garden has been neglected as the only time I was home to work on it, it was either raining or too hot to want my fair skin out in the sun.

Last Monday, eldest continued on the high lifter, staining high parts of the house while I worked on removing screens, staining the windows that tilt inside, passing supplies out the window from the upstairs to him on the lifter bucket.  We moved the lifter as night fell up to the gravel of the driveway before the predicted rain was due.

Tuesday, being Independence Day in the USA, the historic house, Smithfield House, where I go to spin in costume, held a 4 hour celebration of the day with hourly cannon fire, apple pie contest, reading of the Fincastle Resolution and the Declaration of Independence, re-enactors, the blacksmith, weavers, spinners, tours, and fun by all.

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Wednesday it rained and we stayed home with the grands, getting them to their evening Taekwondo classes.

Thursday, they were loaded in our car and off we drove east nearly 3 hours to meet youngest son and his family who drove west about 3 hours and met in Charlottesville to let the cousins play, us to get some snuggle time and to visit with our son and his wife for a late morning, lunch, and early afternoon before the trips were reversed back to our respective homes.

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The car time allowed knitting time as I rode passenger and good progress was made on the fingerless mitts to go with the Fiesta hat from the playful handspun yarn.  The second mitt was finished yesterday.  The set has been uploaded to my shop for sale.

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Friday was laundry and get my act together day as Saturday, Jim and I were taking off in opposite directions for the weekend.  He left on the BBH for a very long ride with his club.  They went way west in the state to various sights and parks and to overnight in a hotel in Norton, Virginia.  I got the groceries for the week purchased, brought home and put away and then took off north to eldest son’s house.  They were not home when I got there, though their car’s were, so I settled in the cool quiet and knitted on the second mitt and spun on a drop spindle.  Finished a novel I had been reading, but it wasn’t worth a review or the time spent reading it.

Sunday, their young one had archery day at the Isaac Walton League facility and I went with daughter in law to watch that while son went with another group from the league to pick up trash from the road into their community.  Sunday afternoon, son, young one, and I drove south about an hour and a half to the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriar’s theater to see Love’s Labors Lost in that wonderful setting, the second one that I have had the opportunity to see this summer.  We were fortunate to be seated on three of the Gallants’ stools, the 12 stools on the side edges of the stage.  It was such a great experience, being right there in the action, seeing the facial expressions, having lines spoken directly to you.

After a couple of days and nights away, a drive home early this morning to help with the summer’s swim lessons for the grands and back to the “normal” routine here, I am worn out.  As I went out to secure the hens and pullets near dark, my one little pullet that wants a nightly hug awaited me outside the coop.  In the several years of raising chickens, she is the first that wants to be handled.

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Though the rest of the week is supposed to be record hot, I hope to get the yard mowed, the chicken runs trimmed with the string trimmer, the garden weeded, the onions and garlic pulled and cured and perhaps some other veggies that may have matured in our week of travel and chaos.

Back to Crafting

The shop soap supply was getting low, so 4 batches of soap have been recently made.  Two of them are the same scent, as eldest son and family will get a full batch of one of those scents.

A decision was made recently to change the name of the shop to Cabin Crafted Soap and Yarn Shop and to be more creative on my balms and salves, identifying them by use, not by name.  The new logo requires a huge THANK YOU to my artist daughter-in-law who drew it for me.  I really didn’t want to keep using clip art of unknown origin.  Last fall just before the Holiday Markets, I tried new packaging for the soaps, using cello bags sealed with ingredient labels with the soap type on a front label and putting one of each scent in mesh bags so they can be smelled.  It bothered me to have all of the bars bare and handled by many people as they tried to decide on a scent.  This choice seemed more professional and still attractive.

New business cards are being designed using this new logo as well.

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There are still some of the old lotion bars, Citrus, unscented, and Cedar/Rosemary/ Thyme that will be offered on sale reduced to clear the stock.  Also there are some pure salves, comfrey, arnica, and calendula that will be reduced as well.  They are in the 2+ inch size tins and can be purchased on the shop site.  The shipping cost is per order, not per item and is priority shipping in the USA.  International shipping unfortunately is higher.

Blue Skies and Garden Firsts – 6/27/17

The past week went so fast having eldest grandson here for a visit.  He spent his first years here as we watched him grow from 9 weeks to Kindergarten before they moved for schooling for Mom and Dad.  I see him more often than Jim as I will go up for days or a week or so at a time to help out with care.  He is so big now, soon to be as tall as I and he just turned 12.

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Many activities were planned, a day trip to Smith Mountain Lake Dam, a play day at the Frog Pond (a local pool with slides, basketball, and shallows for tiny people), basketball, ping pong , and a movie with dinner evening with Jim, lunches out, books to read, and lots of good food at home for a growing kid.  His Dad, our eldest, came Saturday in time for dinner and ping pong with the young one, and Sunday, son climbed the 28′ extension ladder and got a good portion of the very exposed west wall of our log home re-stained.  They left after dinner Sunday to return to their home for a work and camp week.  Son is returning alone this weekend with hopes to finish that wall and the south upper dormer.

Friday night, daughter’s family returned from their vacation and resumed their house hunting, possibly finding one that will allow their kids their own bedrooms and a start of the school year in their new home.

For the next few of weeks, the grands are in our care during the day with some swimming lessons scheduled soon, transport twice a week to Taekwondo to meet parents.

The weather has cooled and dried out for the past few days.  This morning, a much needed garden session was done with some tomato brutality as I cut suckers that should have been cut before now and the plants tied to their stakes.  Last year there was a huge mess as a new support structuring was tried and failed miserably with many lost tomatoes as they were on the ground for the pill bugs to attack and hidden for purposes of harvest.  This year, there will be only one main stem per plant, determinate varieties, and tied regularly to garden stakes until they reach their full height.  The process revealed many small green tomatoes and one that is already ripening.

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Tied and before the cut stems were removed.

Today there was a first sunflower set against the prettiest blue sky.

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I’m not sure that any of the sunflowers that I planted are going to produce.  The two volunteers may be all we get unless I can get some seedling going soon.

Last night, preparation for the two days of camp that I will be teaching was begun.  One day will be a plant walk, herbal medicine discussion, and making of an herbal salve to take home.  The other day, with my friend that worked with me last year, we will again teach some fiber arts with homemade drop spindles that they get to keep, a chance at using one of our spinning wheels with help to make a necklace with “their” yarn, and a chance to weave a few rows on a rigid heddle loom.

The haying for this year is done and the hay scattered around our fields like big sedentary buffalo.  Farmer Jeff came by as I was mowing a few days ago to pick up a piece of his haying equipment and it always amuses me to see his behemouth tractor with my tractor beside it.  Mine looks so small, though it is a full size, but small tractor.  Pictures of them together in the header.

I love summers in our mountain home.

Olio – June 20, 2017

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things

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After a week away and much rain according to Jim, the gardens are both beautiful, full of day lilies and lavender, and full of weeds.

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The pepper plants are in there somewhere.

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and the tomatoes and basil in there.  Grandson and I arrived home on Sunday evening, giving him time with his Dad on Father’s Day with breakfast out and for us to take Jim out for Father’s Day dinner as well.

Yesterday we went out in the morning to get Grandson some shoes.  The ones he wore hiking were worn out and wet.  He wore flip flop here and promptly lost them in the house.  He had to wear my garden clogs to go buy shoes.  Once home, the overgrown grass that is too close to the house for the tractor was mowed with the gas mower and the weeding was begun on the garden, but early afternoon thunderstorms drove me back indoors for the rest of the day.

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On Sunday before we got home, Jim rode the BBH on a ride that had been one of the Rally rides that he couldn’t do because he was leading a ride elsewhere that day.  He missed a turn, saw bad weather ahead and aborted his ride on Sunday but wanted to see Smith Mountain Dam and lake, so today we took the car and with me navigating, drove over to the dam visitor center and took the path up to the lookout.

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There were a number of these little skinks up near the top, and a tiny fawn right at the visitor center, but it got where we couldn’t take a picture of it.

This evening, I weeded out the tomatoes and basil, the peppers, the beans, the peas, and cut the garlic scapes.  There are still small weeds that will need to be hoed out and the corn and pumpkins still need to be weeded, but the garden is looking better.  The tomatoes already need to be tied up. Because the weeds took over areas where tomatillo seed and flowers were planted and since the garlic, onions, and peas will soon be pulled, there will be spaces in the garden that should be planted with something.  More beans are definitely due, maybe another block of corn as the three sisters plot has holes in it and I still need to put in the pole beans there.  The cabbage worms have laced the kale. The chickens love them and I pick a handful every time I go out, but a garlic red pepper spray may be needed if we are going to get any kale.  It looked so good before I left.  The turnips didn’t get thinned enough before I left and it looks like a jungle, more tops than turnips.  A second planting of them will be made for the fall.  The tomatoes and peppers have fruit started, and some basil plants are flowering already, so pesto is soon in order.

Tomorrow is another nice day and more garden work may get done. We promised Grandson a trip to a pool this week while he is here and tomorrow may be the last good weather day to do it.

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I’ll leave with a picture of our barn cat Girly who spends most of her time on our front porch instead of hunting mice in the barn.  She was a spooky adult cat when she was given to us, but now she wants attention every time anyone goes outdoors.

 

 

 

 

The Adventure – June 18, 2017

The backpacking trip with eldest son and family was to commence on Friday, but a necessary trip to town and persistent rain causes us to postpone and redo our itinerary to leave on Saturday morning with only one night in the woods.  The trip plan had us hiking 8 to 10 miles each day, returning late this afternoon.

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All packed up and at the trailhead, preparing to hike up from the their town to the Skyline Drive, across and down to a shelter to prepare lunch, rest, and then move on.

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Entering the park.

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It was very humid in the morning, hiking into the clouds,  All day, along the trail, we spotted these tiny red efts, the immature stage of the Eastern Spotted Newts.  A few toads, a number of large deer, verbal warning of a bear ahead though we didn’t see it.

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A pensive moment by daughter in law at a trail side rest break, much needed especially by son who carried a car camping tent for his family, a car camping sleeping bag, the main cookware and eating utensils for his family, and all of the food for us except for an emergency ration and snacks each that we carried.  His pack was entirely too heavy for him to carry and before we try this again, he is going to get them a lighter tent and bags.  My pack is an ultralight and with my solo backpacking tent and backpacking bag, even with second alcohol stove, fuel, and a smaller cookpot, and water my bag was reasonable.  Daughter in law had her sleeping pad, water, sleeping bag, some emergency gear and clothes for son and her. Grandson without an appropriate backpack, used a school pack with a hip belt with an ultralight summer weight sleeping bag I brought him, his sleeping pad, and a change of clothes with his water and snacks.

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The trail was really backcountry and not well maintained, so there was a lot of poison ivy and some tall brush. Because it was backcountry, and the trail followed a contour line, there were few places to set up camp and the one we sought had several tents of young men already set up,  we stopped down from them to prepare and eat our dinner so we wouldn’t cook in our campsite.  We moved on to another potential site to find it overgrown with nettles and poison ivy.  At that point, we had hiked about 12 miles, were all worn out from the climb up to the ridge, then down to the contour to hike, then back up to the ridge. The lack of a place to camp, the quickly falling night put us in a dilemma that resulted in son hitchhiking off the Skyline Drive, grabbing a cab in town to get home to get a car and return to the Drive to pick us up.

A very long day, a good hike, a failed backpacking experience though we carried the packs, we arrived back to hot showers, tick checks, and real beds last night.  Today everyone is tired and sore, but my knees survived, other than sore muscles and a bruised bum from falling off the wet, slick outhouse ramp where we stopped for lunch, I feel good about being able to still carry the pack and hike that distance in a day.

What a day! 6-12-2017

Typically the rising sun and lighting morning sky is my wake up call.  Laziness until absolutely necessary is the routine, but while helping out at eldest son’s, my bed is a cot and though it is comfortable enough for sleep, it isn’t conducive to lounging about so the morning began around 6 when they got up to go to work.  Having been away for a few days with no rain while they were gone, the plants and seedlings on the porch needed watering and the vegetable garden was dry.  The porch plants were an easy fix.  After they were done, a leisurely bowl of cereal, fruit, and yogurt and a cup of coffee were enjoyed sitting on the porch by the creek, listening to the burble of the water against the rocks while the young one slept in having arrived home very late last night from his birthday celebration with his other grandparents many hours from here.

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An attempt was made to do the garden, but a shoe packing failure meant that I spun barefoot yesterday and couldn’t get in the creek to get water today, not wanting to wade in my Birkenstocks or hiking shoes.  Daughter in law’s boots are too large for me, so I waited.  The young one finally got up and a trip the 15 miles or so into town to fill up my car with gas, get a few groceries, especially dairy and meat, and to seek a pair of sandals that could get wet, were comfortable, and not expensive was planned.

We got across the bridge and almost to the shoe shop when braking, my car made a metal on metal grinding noise.  Knowing this wasn’t normal and certainly not good, we headed back toward home, but stopped to call son for a mechanic reference in the town.  Fortunately, the indy shop was able to take my car right in, assist me to get a rental car from across town so that we could get the groceries home and not have to figure out how to spend several hours in the 90º heat, and diagnose the problem as a rear brake issue on the back right side.  The groceries made it home, the water sandals allowed me to step into the edge of the creek to reach a spot deep enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket and the garden got watered after a dozen or so trips from the creek to the garden.  By then I was wilted and ready for a meltdown.

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There is a big rock in the middle of the creek and there I sat in the shade with my feet in the cool water until a big crawfish decided my toes looked delicious.  A cool shower to wash off the mud and sweat and a couple of bottles of water refreshed me.

The shop got my car fixed in under 4 hours without putting us in bankruptcy, the rental car was returned and the young one and I returned home. That was the shortest car rental I have ever done, but the cab fare here and back would have been more than the rental and they picked me up at the shop and returned me to the shop when my car was ready.

It has finally cooled down to a reasonable temperature.  Dinner is prepared and awaiting the arrival of son and daughter in law and we will eat.

I am glad my car is back, she is 13 years old this month and has over 200,000 miles on her.  I hope to keep her on the road for much longer.

Farm life, knitting and spinning, cooking and family