Tag Archives: history

A Week on the Farm – 7/27/18

Summer is going so quickly and the weather has been so strange this year.  A foot of snow in mid April after spring like temperatures in February.  Rain and more rain in early summer, making putting in a garden a challenge, then hot and arid.  Then the rain returned, along with insect pests in the garden, first Japanese beetles eating the leaves off of the Raspberry bushes, then they were joined by bean beetles and together, they decimated what remained of the first bean crop.  Then the blister beetles arrived and defoliated some of the tomatoes.  I hand picked them, dropping them in soapy water then sprinkled diatomaceous earth on the ground around the plants to try to kill off any that escaped to earth during the hand picking. The plants are alive, not putting out new growth, but fruit is ripening.

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The tomatoes are being frozen whole but there are so many in the freezer now that I will pull them out, slip the skins off, and begin canning them this week when the rain resumes.  The cucumbers that I planted this year for pickles are small and greenish white, interesting mild smooth flavor raw.  Most of them are being lacto fermented into sour dills thick slices.  Maybe a jar or two of spears too.

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The silicone nipple lids and glass jar weights make the fermenting so easy.

There were two partial days off the farm this week in Colonial costume working with children, demonstrating the fiber arts and teaching drop spindling.  Working with kids like this rejuvenates me.

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Today, since it stayed dry yesterday and since tomorrow we will resume deck destruction, to take down the rest of the framework, I tackled cleanup.  One task that I had promised eldest son that I would get done, was to move the scaffolding that we were not using for the deck back into storage.  When we built the house, instead of renting scaffolding, we purchased it, knowing that it would be used repeatedly with staining the logs and other jobs.  On occasion we have loaned some of it out to friend.  Most of it was stacked against the house at various points and had been there for a year.  It is now back in the back of the huge garage until needed again.

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More the rotting deck wood was burned off in the burn barrel while I was working outside.

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There will be another burn tomorrow, I am sure.  To finish the jobs that I said I would get done this week was to stain the logs that were stained during construction then hidden behind the deck.  They got a coat of diluted stain today and will probably get another coat, less diluted tomorrow.  After tomorrow, we get another round of rain, so I will have to hope for a dry couple of days to get a third coat on before the new deck goes up.

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This is the last day lily bloom of the season and for some reason, it is lopsided.  This one is called Sear’s Tower and gets quite tall.

Last night while we sat on the front porch in the cool evening, a tiny ruby throated hummingbird visited the feeder.  That is the first one I have seen that really had the vivid red throat.  This morning, another little hummer decided the feeder was all his/hers, came for a drink and then sat on the crook neck to guard the feeder, not letting any of the others near it.  It guarded for about 10-15 minutes, feeding then guarding, finally flew off.  The photo isn’t great, taken from inside the house through the screen and enlarged, but you get the idea.

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The header photo and the teaching photo were taken at the Wilderness Road Regional Museum camp and used from their site.

Busy Colonial Day – 7/25/18

My volunteerism at my formerly beloved Smithfield Plantation has ended due to some changes that they have made.  Though the Board won’t say why, they released the Director who was “Miss Smithfield,” heart, soul, and all the toil and effort that went with her position.  This disheartened me, but she asked me to continue there out of her love for history and the facility.  I tried.  I really did, but the heart was gone and after a very discouraging attempt early this week, I submitted a letter of resignation like most of the other volunteers had already done.

Fortunately, she has moved on to another historic facility, the Wilderness Road Regional Museum in a community called Newbern farther from my house, but still easily doable.  This week, she is running a Patriot’s Camp and has 15-20 kids each day portraying local figures from the Revolutionary War, and learning about the period in fun ways, different creative activities and outlets each day.  She reached out to many of her volunteers and artisans to help with the camp and today, another spinner friend and I got our turn.  The youngest was 5, the oldest 13, with an average age around 8 or 9.  Some time was spent with the entire group talking about how fiber fit into the history, some time with fiber prep from shearing, cleaning the fleece, spinning, and weaving.  After snack and energy release play battles, the group reconvened in two parts, with my friend teaching thigh spinning and Lucet braiding while I took the other group for learning to drop spindle.  Later we switched groups.  She had made Lucets for each child and had balls of yarn.  I had made drop spindles and weighed out a half ounce of fiber per child and after they had their lessons, they went home with their own fiber tools.

Jim gets a kick out of me coming home from an event like this as I get so animated about the opportunity.  The kids were full of energy and so smart, it fills me with energy too and I so love sharing my skills with them.  Each group had a couple of helpers and one of my helpers got so into it that he asked if he could have a spindle and fiber too.

When camp was over around noon, the skies opened up and poured rain on us as we were packing up our wheels, spindles, looms, and Lucets and hurrying to load our cars under an umbrella brigade.

Several of the volunteers, dashed from camp back to Blacksburg, where a peaceful vigil was held for the director, where the Smithfield Board was supposed to enter the building for a meeting.  Though we had very good news coverage, the Board must have heard as they entered on the other side of the facility through the hotel and avoided us.  Many photographs were take, some interviews for print media, and some for the local TV new.  I was still in costume and several other volunteers were also in costume and part of my interview appeared on the evening news.  Though we don’t have local channels on our TV, a friend said I looked very professional and the costume made the interview.  The many volunteers that have left Smithfield would love for the director to be reinstated and we would return, but in the meantime, we have followed her to her new venue and will continue to support local history.

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Photo credit to WDBJ7 news.  I am 4th from the left.

 

More Smithfield – 8/16/17

Another opportunity to educate.  The teacher may retire, but never gives up teaching.  Today was a special event on a day that Smithfield is normally closed, but was booked for a USDA event in cultural awareness.  They specifically asked to have as many of the craft volunteers available as possible.  One of the blacksmiths and his wife who assists him are retired.  The lace maker was able to get the afternoon off, and I am retired, as are several of the docents that give the historical tour of the inside of the house.  Though there are several areas in which I can sit and spin, the winter kitchen in the main house, the large shaded side porch of the house, my favorite is the slave cabin that itself has a history, having been moved at least twice and houses the huge functional Appalachian Rocker Loom, a non functional weasel, a non functional great wheel, and the accouterments of the slave household.  This location allows a sharing of slave life on the plantation as well as history of spinning and demonstrating fiber prep and spinning on spindles and one of my wheels.

Today’s fiber for prep was some of the Dorset that I washed from raw and am still carding for spinning, and it was used with the drop spindles. Combs or a teasing board are going to be needed to get that done.  For spinning on the wheel, I used some of the Hebridean from Hebridean Woolshed in Isle of South Uist.  My bucket list contains a trip to Scotland to visit them.  One skein of that wool was finished last night so the visitors could see the unspun wool and yarn from the wool.

Each visitor from the group today thanked the volunteers for giving up their day for them and at the end of the day, each of us was presented with a thank you gift, a small burlap sack with bread, honey from Virginia, Peanuts from Virginia, and a few apples.  A delightful and pleasant surprise.

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History Day

Today was the official season opening of the Smithfield Plantation House, the historic home of William Preston in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is the site where I have been demonstrating spinning for the past year when there is a special event. For a while, I will be going in and spinning in different rooms of the house itself while I learn the history to become an interpreter and give tours.  Last November for their final event, I sat in the dining room and learned the information for the school room/office of the house and that part of the house, but there are 4 other rooms that I have only toured once and not an official tour, so that information must be learned.

Today, being opening day, spinning was in the summer kitchen.  The site excavation showed that the slave cabin was erected on the summer kitchen area and until this year, it has been the Weaver’s Cottage with old wheels, weasels, winders, and a huge Appalachian Rocker Loom.  All of that has been removed except for the loom and a small work table and set up with crocks, pots, and tools of an 18th century kitchen.

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Today, I was in this cottage/summer kitchen spinning on one of my antique wheels in full costume.  Because it was opening day, just inside the gate was a Civil War re-enactors encampment, they spent the night there last night and will again tonight.  It smelled so good with bacon cooking on their open fire when I arrived this morning.

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As you can see from the lack of leaves on the trees, we are still in early spring and today was an early spring day, very breezy and cool. The cottage is drafty and by the end of the day I was pretty chilled through.  One of the hazards of the cottage is the very low doorways to the outside and to the lean-to addition.  This is the warning on the inside of the door as you prepare to exit.  It is at the bridge of my nose.  The door opening is only about 5 feet.

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During one of the sunny periods, I was sitting on the steps in the sun to warm and two horses were lead through the property. They were lead down to the cottage to graze while the owner and her friend went to use the facilities, I got to hold and provide some attention to the two beauties during that time.

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The turnout today was not very heavy, there were lots of other activities on campus and around the area and the day was chilly and mostly overcast, but it is so enjoyable to have this opportunity to participate in teaching and demonstrating this ancient art, to spread out my Scottish spindle, hand carders, fiber in various stages of preparation and get to talk about something that I have come to love.  Each visit provides me with some education too.

Family Worn Out

An early start sent Jim off on the BBH to a ride, a funeral for a Hog member, and a class in preparation for the big 5 state rally that his chapter is hosting.

A bit of laundry washed and hung out, a trip into town with daughter’s family to get cat food and lunch together and then we returned home to plant trees.  They gave us an Arbor Day membership for Christmas and that comes with 10 trees.  They came a couple of weeks ago and were all deciduous trees that had to be nurseried for a couple of years before planting in their permanent places.  They are the ones that I built an extra garden box for them to live in for the two years.  That I managed on my own, then this week, the ones they ordered for us came.  A dozen various fir trees, Norway Spruce, Canadian Hemlock, and Eastern Red Cedars, a 4 foot red maple, and two Forsythia slips.  The firs needed to be planted where they will grow as they don’t transplant well.  There is a windbreak row of pines that eldest son and I planted about 9 or 10 years ago that were Earth Day twigs and are now 8 to 15 foot trees, but there are some holes in the windbreak and some holes up where we have planted live rooted Christmas trees and lost one.  There are some areas of the property that we consider yard and don’t save for hay that we have worked to reforest.  A contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.

The 5 of us (grands wanted to help dig), set out with the tractor, a couple shovels, a garden fork, a maddock, the bucket of tiny trees in water, and another bucket with water.  The maple was planted in the row of deciduous trees and then we extended the windbreak, filled in holes where trees didn’t take, moved up to the Christmas tree area and spaced out 4 others.  A total of 15 holes were dug, 15 areas cleared of sod, 15 trees and shrubs planted and watered in.  Each young tree is marked with a 4 foot pole and bright green marker flag so they don’t get mowed down when the grass grows up around them.  That took us a good bit of time.

Near one of the trees was an area that was impossible to mow, a low, partially covered rock pile.  For the past several early springs, I have loaded bucket loads of rock from that pile thinking that I was getting it low enough to mow.  We decided to finish moving the pile and man oh man it was a job bigger than we anticipated.  The pile was more extensive and deeper than appeared possible.  We moved 15 or 20 tractor buckets full of rock, used the tractor bucket to dig up at least a dozen rocks that were so large that they could only be rolled into the bucket to remove them.  Though the area is now torn up, it is rock free and smoothed as well as the tractor and our hands could manage.  I think it is going to be an area that can be mowed with the brush hog this summer.

The only remaining big job is the chick pen fence and we still have about 4 weeks to do it.  Tomorrow is going to be rainy and windy and this senior body is likely to be too sore to do much physical anyway.

I am grateful to daughter and her family for all of their hard work and help today and for getting us the trees to help with our project. Hopefully the little trees will thrive and grow quickly.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at the Smithfield House at volunteer training.  Hopefully within a few weeks, I will be doing interpretative tours at the house as well as spinning on the dates that have been scheduled for it.  I think I learned more history yesterday than I ever learned in school.

Olio – March 3, 2017

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

It is March, the most changeable month of our seasons.  Three days ago it was in the 70’s, then the rain came, the wind blew, trees around the region fell and with them the temperature.  Today it is barely at freezing and this. . .

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Yes, that is snow folks.  Only a light dusting, but this is what we expect this time of year, not 70+ºf.  Tonight it drops into the teens.  If the sun comes out, the garlic will get another blanket of hay or a piece of row cover to keep the 9 inch shoots from burning to the ground.  In town, the flowering almonds, daffodils, and forsythia are blooming. We have a young maple with flowers and tiny leaves.  It is weeks too soon.

The chickens fled back into their coop as soon as the flurries began this morning.  Those birds just don’t like snow.  The dozen new chicks get picked up in 10 days.  Their abode needs to be set up this weekend so that the warming table can get the environment right for them when they come home.  So far, Tractor Supply has done a great job of keeping me from buying a few Welsummers as the two times we have gone down, the bins have been empty.  It wouldn’t work out too well to have 4 chicks almost 2 weeks older than the tiny Buff’s coming home with us soon.  The brooder coop sides that remained plastic last year still need to be enclosed within the next 6 weeks.

Mother Earth News alerted me that the onion sets can be put out under cover.  To do that, another day of moving compost is in order.  There is still a big pile and 2 empty boxes to fill.

Over the winter, steps were taken to make spinning at the Smithfield Plantation House a bit more authentic.  Two antique wheels entered our home, both have had parts made or repaired by Bobbin Boy and returned.  The little Saxony style wheel, the older of the two spins.  The effort to spin on her is much greater than on the contemporary wheel, but yarn has been made.

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It is a bit rougher than yarn generally spun by me, but it is yarn! Yesterday an attempt to spin on the great wheel was made.  Something isn’t aligned quite right and the drive band walks off the back edge.  The wheel does not have a groove and it was suggested that a beeswax paste be thinly smeared down the center to help hold it, but it still moves off the back.  It is hard to learn properly when so much attention is given to keeping the drive band string in place.  Also during the winter, additions were made to the costume that is worn while spinning at the plantation.  A Dormeuse/Mob cap, Apron, and Fichu/kerchief were added to improve the look.  A gown should also be worn, but that is not in the budget right now, plus it gets terribly hot in the weaver’s cottage during the summer months. Here is the new look.

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One of the issues with the petticoat (skirt) was that it was one long panel with a single seam and a drawstring of ribbon.  It was awkward and bulky at the waist.  Some of the re-enactors and seamstresses on Ravelry, the social network for fiber artists, gave me some pointers on how to deal with that issue.  Yesterday, the drawstring was removed, the single panel split into two, hidden pockets added to the front panel and the side seams resewn to the bottom of the pockets.  Cotton twill tape was added to the tops of the two panels distributing the fullness and stitched in place.  The back twill is tied in the front, then the front overlaps the back a few inches on each side and ties in the back.  It is so much more comfortable and now I have pockets for my very nontraditional keys needed to get there and for my Hussif, a small needle book, that has needles, pins, thread, and my tiny scissors.

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The Hussif, a contraction of the word housewife, was carried my many people, women of the house, pages, soldiers, and sailors.  It is a small rolled sewing kit.  Mine doubles as both a small sewing kit and a tiny knitting notions kit with the addition of a cable needle, a few stitch markers, needle gauge, and a tape measure.

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Traditionally, each pocket was made of a different fabric and was used to contain the necessary tools of a sewing repair kit.

Participation as a historical spinner is encouraging me to learn more of the period, customs, and terms.  The location is beautiful, though earlier this week, a very old, maybe 300 year old maple tree on the property fell.  Not during the storm, which is probably a good thing, as with little wind, it fell away from the forge shop into the yard.  During the storm, it might have taken a different path down.  The lead blacksmith rallied a group and the trunk and larger branches have been salvaged and once dried, will be made into tables, benches, handles for tools and knives.  Saving a bit of the area’s old history.

 

Spinning and History

A couple of weeks ago, I was given the privilege to be the spinning interpreter at the local 18th century plantation house on the Virginia Tech Campus.  As summer was passing, I sold my Kromski Sonata, the folding castle style wheel that I had used the first time I was there and though a contemporary wheel, it at least looked the part.  It was replaced with the Ashford Traditional on which I had learned, a Saxony wheel that also looked the part and was used the second time I was re-enacting.  It was a nice starter wheel, though the wheel itself wobbled a bit when it spun.  It has tiny little bobbins and therefore made small skeins of yarn.  With the proceeds from selling the Kromski, I bought a used Louët, a very contemporary castle style wheel.  The Ashford was first loaned to a teen wanting to learn to spin, then sold to her, leaving me with the contemporary wheel while sitting in the old home spinning earlier this month.  I had been looking on the internet for an old (period) still functional wheel for some time and in the past couple of days, I found two.  I emailed out to the first seller to be told that the wheel pictured was not the wheel for sale, but representative of wheels he had sold in the past and he was too busy with the Christmas rush to send me any photos or descriptions of what he currently had available until after Christmas.  He also could not tell me if he had a working wheel.  Scratch that seller off my list.

The second seller had a beautiful wheel that had come from a South Carolina estate and it had been in the same family throughout it’s history.  I emailed again and the response was that it spins straight, has all of it’s original parts, is not just a decoration and not a reproduction, plus the price was so incredibly low that it seemed too good to be true, plus, if I am dissatisfied, I can return it within two weeks for a full refund.

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Since my show was successful over the weekend, we decided that I should go ahead and make the purchase.  This morning, I ordered that wheel and now I anxiously await it’s arrival.  It has only 1 bobbin and that bobbin looks small, so this wheel will only be for re-enactment, the rest of the time, gracing our home.  If I truly fall in love with it, perhaps I will have a couple more bobbins made, sell the Louët and make the antique my all the time wheel.  I’m really not a collector of wheels, not keeping more than one in the house at a time.

Education for all

This has been a great weekend spent in the beautiful Smithfield Plantation House, an 18th century museum home in our region.  The restored, furnished home was decorated with period decorations for the Christmas season by one of the local garden clubs.  All of the decorations were for sale or through silent auction at the conclusion of this weekend.  The event was the Holiday Teas event, a conclusion to the touring season for the home.  The weekend relied heavily on the volunteers, as the decorations, the baked goods for the teas, servers, the interpretative tours, musicians, and craftsmen were all volunteer efforts.

This weekend, I was in the house spinning.  Because the drawing room was the location for the musicians, the lace maker, and hemp rope maker were in the downstairs bedroom and I set up in the dining room.  Being in one of the first rooms visited, I was able to listen to the historian talk about the local history, the house history, the Preston family, and the furnishings.

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I had been very generously given a raw Dorset fleece by a friend and fellow Smithfield volunteer for me to work with.  I had never worked raw fleece before, so it was a learning opportunity for me too.

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I took a bag of the dirty raw fleece with me to demonstrate where the process starts.  A hemp fiber bag of locks that I had washed was also taken, the locks were hand carded as needed and made into rolags and spun.

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The room lit only by daylight through the two windows and with small electric candles for safety, I could only work until about 4:30 before it got too dark to see.  Many visitors there for the music or the teas stopped by to watch and listen to my discussion of the breeds, the fiber, and the process.  Today was cold and wet, but the visitors just kept coming.

We are so fortunate to have this home in our area and so many people who give of their time for the good of this venue.  I feel fortunate to have been given the chance to be a part of this educational and historical opportunity and look forward to help out during the private and school tours during the winter and again during the tour season beginning in April.

A Weekend of Play, Responsibility, and Loss

The loss was not too significant, given that we still have about 6 weeks until we can plant tender plants outdoors, but as we were leaving for two days, one night, I left the light on my starter flat of tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers.  Most of the tomatoes and the tomatillos had sprouted, only a few of the peppers had shown any sign of sprouting. The light was very close to the clear lid on the sprouts and given the south facing window as well, it must have gotten too hot especially for the ones that had gotten tall enough to reach the lid.  I still have a few Jalapeno sprouts, one leggy tomatillo, but the rest are a burned loss.  This morning, I clipped the dead sprouts and replanted seeds.  This time, I am leaving the lid off and just spritzing the surface a few times each day.

Our away was a trip with the two grandchildren living with us to go to Northern Virginia to pick up our eldest grandson for his week of spring break.  We arrived mid afternoon and checked into the hotel just two short blocks from our son’s apartment.  The only things positive that I can say about the hotel were its convenience and its price.  We were on the front of the building, right across from the office with a busy street out front.  The beds had no foundation and were uncomfortably soft and unstable and the wall mounted heating unit, needed because the temperature dropped into the 20’s and the door had no weather stripping (we could see light around all 4 sides) sounded like a wind machine.  The thermostat in the unit did not work, so it was either too hot or too cold depending on whether I turned it on or off during the night.  The kids slept, fortunately, but Mountaingdad and I did not get 4 hours of sleep between us.  The kids were well behaved on the drive up and once we arrived at son’s apartment.  All of us went out to dinner together before separating for the night.  Son’s research showed us that a bus to the Metro left from in front of our hotel at 8:35 a.m. and he and eldest grandson were going to join us for a walking tour of the monuments on Sunday morning.  The car was packed and we were trying to make do with the free breakfast (bagels and grocery store donuts) when son texted that they found a bus a half hour earlier and could we be ready.

The Florida born grandkids thought the Fairfax connector bus and the Metro were great.  We got off on the Metro stop that put us nearest the Lincoln Memorial, a city walk of about a dozen blocks.  A lot of hand holding and herding were necessary to keep those two safe on Washington DC streets, especially since that grandson wanted to do everything that his almost two year older cousin was doing.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA bit of heavy reading on a man just studied in 2nd grade.

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More monuments, the Korean War memorial, Martin Luther King memorial (also a recently studied topic), a history recitation by the eldest grandson on Jefferson as we looked across the water at that memorial, too far to walk with kids, and a little one who soon gave out, taking turns being carried by an adult, Uncle being the preferred carrier.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith a bit of coaxing and challenges to race, we got her on the ground again as we hit the homestretch, around the Washington monument with a jog up it’s hill to actually get to touch it and on to the Smithsonian Metro station for the train back to Vienna for the trip home last evening.  Many miles walked and tired kids.

The second grader was excited to see Washington.  Eldest grandson excited to be able to spend spring break on the farm, son and daughter-in-law relieved to be able to work and study this week without trying to find daycare for him and entertain him at night, and us pleased to be able to have 3/5 of our grandchildren in our home at one time with the responsibility to keep them safe and cared for in their parents’ absence.

Daughter and son-in-law are in route with a truck full of their household goods, hopefully taking it slowly and safely to arrive here tomorrow night.

While we were away, our haying farmer neighbor took out several cedar and locust trees that have interfered with mowing and haying and removed about a dozen boulder size rocks that have knocked more than one tooth off of his sickle bar and caused more than one nick in our brush hog blade.  His haying and our mowing should be an easier job this year.

Late Winter

Skeletonized trees frosted with snow.

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Cedars wearing white cloaks.

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A smelting furnace from 1872, the remains sitting beside Sinking Creek.

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Yesterday, we hunkered down and watched it snow again.  The predicted amount did not materialize, fortunately and we only received about 4 inches.  Last night it turned very cold again, but is slowly warming to above freezing and not dropping too low tonight.  With a bit of straw turning in the chicken run, they were coaxed out to their food and water this morning and the coop opened up to air out.  A bit ago, I found a supply of Buff Orpington pullets, so now a short road trip is in order to collect them and a harvesting date needs to be set with son, to cull out all of the hens of other breeds to allow us to have a self sustaining flock of heritage birds.  I may still sneak an Easter Egger or two in the coop just for the fun of finding their colored eggs.