welcome, and thank you for joining me on my farm and studio in southern lancaster county, pennsylvania

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

making a broom

Have you ever seen those hand-made brooms at country fairs or historical events? I've always loved them. As a matter of fact, I bought a hand crafted hearth broom several years ago in the Adirondacks. Well, after seeing an article online at the Mother Earth News web site recently, I've decided to try making one (or maybe a few) myself. Why? Because I get a kick out of trying new things. 

Having never thought too hard about what material is used to make the brooms, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is actually a plant that is grown specifically for this purpose! It's called, of all things, broom corn. So now, of course, broom corn is on my seed list. And naturally, a real branch will be needed for the handle, so as soon as spring rolls around I'll be heading into the woods to cut a few. I'm thinking maybe cherry or hickory would be nice. 

Like the wheat I planted back in September, this is a long-term project. Plan now, cut the branches and plant the seed in the spring, keep the plants weeded all summer, and then harvest the corn and craft the broom(s) in the fall. 

I can't wait!

Monday, December 29, 2008

keeping journals

Having never been one for keeping a journal of or for anything, I now have two. One for art and one for the farm. More than anything these are idea books because what I've found is that if I write something down in a place where it won't be lost it also won't be forgotten. It's the same as making a list of to-do items, it frees up my mind to think of other things.

The art journal is filled with rough sketches combined with writing. And the emphasis here is on rough - these aren't pretty pictures - they are visual and written thoughts. Some of them go on to completion as sculptures and others never make it past the sketching stage. A friend was surprised that I use ink rather than pencil which could be erased, but I don't want to get bogged down in trying to make these sketches too nice or too detailed. The intention is to capture the idea and move on, coming back to it later to explore it more fully. Often I'll carry this journal with me in case a new idea presents itself.

The farm journal is filled with lists of plants that I might want to grow for the garden, the pasture, the fencerows, and anywhere else I'm considering. It has suggested planting dates, plant combinations, and more recently a rough planting schedule for the garden. Anytime I come across a new plant or seed that sounds interesting, I'll make a note of it. This journal is slightly more organized than the art journal, but only slightly since it, too, is mostly for jotting down ideas before they are forgotten. When I sit down in January to order seeds, I'll be referencing this book. Each year I'll be able to see what I did previously and what I want to change for the following year. 

Very useful tools, these journals - I encourage you to find a reason to keep one too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

date nut pinwheel cookies

Growing up, we always went to my grandparents house for Christmas dinner. To this day, one of the things my sister and brother and I remember the most is the vast array of desserts that would follow the main meal. It was endless. Cakes and pies and puddings and cookies - oh, the cookies! Platters of them. My favorite as well as that of my sister was always the date nut pinwheels. Several years ago I picked up the tradition and started making them at christmas, so now it's something we once again look forward to every year (along with vanilla cornstarch pudding). Here's the recipe. You've got to try them, they're delicious.

Date Nut Pinwheel Cookies

1 cup shortening
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
date nut filling (see below)

Cream the shortening and sugars together.
Add eggs and beat until fluffy.
Sift together the flour, salt, soda, and cinnamon. (I just use a whisk.)
Add dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until smooth.
Divide the dough into two, flatten each half slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, probably 2 hours or more.
Roll out each half to 1/4 inch thick and spread with filling.
Roll the dough and filling up like a jelly roll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Cut into slices 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick, place 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet (or better yet, use parchment paper).
Bake at 375°F about 8-10 minutes, or until a golden brown.
This should make about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

1 1/2 cups ground dates
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup black walnuts

Combine dates, sugar, and water in saucepan and stirring constantly, cook until thick.
Remove from heat and add the nuts.
Allow to cool to room temperature before spreading on cookie dough.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

merry christmas, everybody

Monday, December 22, 2008


Here's a piece that brings together woodcarving, found objects, and ceramics. This laid back guy is enjoying himself in his spiffy little land-boat. So here's a poem I wrote just for him...

Setting sail for parts unknown
In his trusty little ship
Arrival less important
Than enjoyment of the trip.

This speaks so much to how I want to live - looking at the journey through life as an adventure to be enjoyed, not endured. With appreciation for where we are instead of yearning for where we want to be. Sure, it's good to have goals, they're important. But enjoyment of the process is important too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

useful dogs

I call my dogs many things. Every once in awhile I call them useful. Don't get me wrong, I love them to death - they are my friends, companions, entertainment, and I wouldn't be without them. But they also have their own agenda. They are sometimes known (not very affectionately) as the destroyers. When in this mode, their motto is: "Is it cute, soft, gentle, or helpless? Then it must die."  Really. I won't go into details, but it isn't pretty. Anyway, today is one of those days that I call them useful. Sitting at my desk, I noticed a commotion at the pasture fence. Looking to see what was going on, I saw chickens running, dogs jumping at the fence, and a red tailed hawk was lifting off, just out of their reach! Good dogs. Apparently the hawk thought he'd have a nice chicken dinner but was interrupted by the dogs who probably objected to him trying to steal what they consider theirs. They're funny that way. Quick to defend their property and it's residents against all intruders. Good dogs. Useful dogs. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

what is normal, anyway?

"Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it."
Tallulah Bankhead

What does normal mean? Average, run-of-the-mill, common? Or getting along, fitting in? According to Webster, it is "conforming to the standard or the common type; ...regular; ...approximately average." 

It seems to me that thinking and doing things the way most people do is probably the easy road - unless, you just aren't wired that way. Then it chafes like ill-fitting shoes. But while not conforming to the standard might be a good fit for you, it sure does make a lot of the people around you darned uncomfortable. Most folks don't much like different. They don't know what to do with it or about it. Different doesn't fit neatly into a box - at least not one that they have. 

For awhile I figured my idiosyncrasies were just youth. And gradually came to the point where I decided it was time to "grow up" and be normal, fit in, meet expectations (you know, like getting a real coffeepot). But those shoes just didn't fit. The sculpture with this post is one of the first that I did after I began making art again. It was soon after I moved here, real close to my family. Feeling the pressure to conform, it was my attempt to illustrate the desire to break free of both external and internal expectations and limitations, while at the same time celebrating the very things that can hold us back if we allow them. 

And so I have come to the point where I can just smile* when people ask me "how do you think of these things?" - meaning my art - and think to myself, "how can you not?".

*Although inside I cringe because, after all, who likes having to justify the way their brain works?

Monday, December 15, 2008


How often we put up barriers to protect the things we hold dear. Surrounding herself with a barbed wired cage and a hazardous nest, this woman seeks to protect the eggs that she holds in her lap. She is focused completely on what is precious to her. 

Introspective and stark, there is also a beauty in the simplicity of purpose, in the tenderness and care that she freely offers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

my new hat!

What you see here is a hat my good friend Bonnie made for me. No big deal, right? Except that The wool came from Jack, my shetland sheep. How wonderful is that? I had to try it on as soon as I got it, of course, and it is so warm and soft without a hint of scratchiness. That's probably because of two things - first, it's shetland wool which is known for it's softness, and second because it is lambswool from Jack's first shearing. God, it's almost enough to make me want to learn to knit. Because I'd really like to have a fisherman's sweater from my sheep's yarn.

Friday, December 12, 2008

the path of (re)discovery

As I said in a previous post, I am rediscovering the things that I used to love.

Recently I found my old red and white enamel percolator in the basement. Finding it brought back memories of the delicious smell of coffee that would permeate the house as it was brewing. Why did I ever stop using it? Because I felt (and fell to) the pressure applied by others to just be normal, keep up with the times, etc., and use a "Mr. Coffee" type of maker - not that it makes better coffee mind you, it doesn't. After that, a french press pot was purchased and used for many years. Don't get me wrong, a french press makes a wonderful pot of coffee, but still, it doesn't have that delicious aroma that emanates from a percolator. And so this morning a pot of coffee was put on the wood stove before going out to take care of the animals. By the time I came back in, the whole house smelled wonderful and beautifully strong hot coffee was waiting for me. Ahhhhhh.

It is the simple pleasures, if they are allowed to stay simple, that are so wonderful. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

from planting the seed to the table - cornbread!

So I made the first batch of cornbread from my own corn. Very exciting (what can I say - it seriously doesn't take much)! How satisfying to go from planting the seeds in the ground, to watching it grow all summer, harvesting, drying, shelling, grinding, and baking. And then to be able to serve it for a family Sunday dinner is like icing on the cake - or honey on the cornbread, as the case may be.

Recently I was asked if I toasted the corn. Nooooooo, was I supposed to? Well apparently, that's what some people do. No idea why other than maybe it adds to the flavor. I'll have to try that next time and see just what the difference is.

At any rate, I ground the corn using a "family grain miller" attachment for my KitchenAide stand mixer. Great invention - pour the corn in and wait for it to be ground up. It had to go through twice. Once to do a really rough grind, and then again to get it to the desired fineness. 

Here's the recipe...

Monday, December 8, 2008

new work

I finally finished the "Two Turtle Doves" sculpture, and I'm pretty happy with it. I took it, along with about 16 bird ornaments, a dove tree topper, and the gameboards down to Diddywopps. Hopefully they'll find good homes in time for Christmas.

I have big hopes for keeping myself very busy next year. Tami at Diddywopps is planning for me to have another show there in the fall and for that, I'd like to have about 20 pieces, eight of which are finished. I'd also like to complete all twelve days of Christmas as table-top pieces and perhaps try to get them exhibited somewhere as an entire series - hopefully during this time next year. Then there are thoughts of another series percolating in my brain - using fairy tales or children's stories as inspiration. Thankfully I have no deadline either self-imposed or otherwise for this one. Lastly, I'd really like to do an oversized chess set - but not, of course, a normal one. Perhaps something with birds and sheep...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

bringing home the bacon - literally

this is just a small portion of what I got

So two weeks ago, I picked up the fresh-frozen pork from the butchers, then this morning, I went and picked up the smoked and cured items. I can't begin to tell you how rewarding that was. Filling up my new little chest freezer with meat that was raised here felt really good. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and of a job well done. It was (and is) gratifying to know that the pigs were raised humanely, in the fresh air and sunshine, with healthy food. 

I only kept half of a pig for myself, but even so, I have nearly 90 pounds of meat. There won't be any need to buy grocery store pork for probably the next year. Other than the shoulder roast, I also got spareribs, chops, bacon, ham, scrapple, lard, and the smoked and cured skin - the skin. I asked what people used the skin for and was told it could be used for flavoring soups, baked beans, or other dishes. Or, some people just feed it to their dogs or throw it away, but they include it so folks don't think they were shorted in weight. Oh. Well, in the freezer it went until I decide what to do with it. And for those of you not familiar with scrapple, it's hard to describe. But let's just say that because of scrapple, there is almost nothing of the pig that goes to waste. It may just be a regional thing, but I'd be curious to know if it's available in other parts of the country. And although it may sound gross, lard is great for baking. Before hydrogenated vegetable oil (Crisco) was invented, lard or butter was used. 

On Sunday I made a shoulder roast for dinner with my sister and her family. It was simply wonderful. Flavorful, juicy, tender, and definitely not the other white (tasteless) meat. And even with six of us, we didn't even put a dent in that roast (I froze the leftovers). After Sunday dinner, we had fresh-from-the-oven peanut butter cookies, made with - you guessed it - lard (as well as all the rest of the regular ingredients, which included my own eggs, organic flour, and Crazy Richard's peanut butter). My sister and I both decided that the lard was the secret to our aunt Katie's cookies. Now I have to see if I can replicate my grandmother's shoo-fly pie.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

egg and nest checkers

This is the checkers set that I started way back in August. Once an egg is "kinged", it gets a crown. Very fun. The checkers and their crowns are made of earthenware. The board is made from a birch ply, and trimmed with tulip poplar wood. Multiple coats of paint, a lot of sanding, and a final coat of a hand-rubbed wax finishes it off. My nieces and nephew can't decide which checker set they like best - the house themed one, the checker birds, or this one. I probably will end up making each of them a game board of their own for Christmas. Longer term, I still want to make a chess set. I've got ideas rolling around in my head for it, I just need the time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

meet the sheep: "Sweet William"

So by now you may have figured out that my sheep's names are all botanically oriented. It's a little tougher to name the boys after plants and flowers, but just like his namesake, William is sweet. I suppose his color would be considered a dilute. Under the golden brown sun bleached tips, his wool is a steely gray. Should make for some interesting yarn next year. He'll be shorn for the first time next spring right about when he turns 1 year old. 

A gentle soul, he's friendly, endearing, quiet and mild mannered and, well, sweet

So now you've met all of the sheep that live here - Jack, Mayapple, Rose, and William. Hopefully if all goes as planned and William does his job, they'll be joined by the lambs of Rose and Mayapple as well as a couple of additional Shetlands next spring.