Monday, May 23, 2016

That's Life!

When I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with the morning sun beaming on my face and the birds singing just outside my window, I just knew that this was going to be one of those perfectly beautiful spring days that makes a person walk around all day with a big smile spread across their face. Rich was already up and the smell of coffee wafted up the stairwell, bless his heart. By the time I stumbled downstairs he already had a cup prepared just the way I like it, heavy on the half-n-half, and waiting on the table beside my seat on the end of the sofa.

Rich had spent the weekend rebuilding the deck steps and other general repair projects that he had on his list. Our old deck steps were too steep and getting very rickety. He created a new set which added one more step than before and are much more solid. All that remains to be done are the upright slats and a coat of paint. He also lowered a section of the main deck rail to create an unobstructed view of the alpaca pastures and add a table/bench.




On warm summer nights we enjoy relaxing on our deck as we sip wine and watch the alpacas as they do their sundown pronking. This is an activity that has to be seen to be believed. It almost always occurs at sundown when it's just too dark to take pictures. Usually the younger ones, in our case the boys, begin chasing each other around and around the pasture, picking up speed until they are literally bouncing with all four feet in the air. The best way I can describe it is like the action of the cartoon skunk, Pepe LePew, for those of us who are old enough to remember him. Just check out the baby alpaca in this link.


On Friday I received a text from our granddaughter, Olivia, who will graduate from high school in just over a week. She was just wondering what we were doing over the weekend. She and her friend, Kelly, wanted to come up and make strawberry jam with me. She must have been reading my mind because just coincidentally, I had purchased a large quantity of strawberries that were on sale at my local supermarket for just that purpose. Because of the mild winter that didn't completely kill off the weeds, our own strawberry patch has been overrun and Rich is going to replant the whole thing. So this year that means I have to get berries wherever I can buy them.

Olivia and Kelly came up for lunch on Saturday and we made jam in the afternoon. Olivia has made jam every year with me for so far back that we have both forgotten when the tradition began. She pretty much knows the procedure by heart. I just sat at the kitchen table and let the girls take over. It was so nice to have teenage girl laughter in the house again. Very reminiscent of the days when our own daughters were teenagers. Kelly and Olivia cleaned, cut up and measured out the berries. They added the touch of fresh lemon juice that I think helps keep the color and adds a note of brightness to the jam. With the sugar measured out and ready to go, they cooked and stirred until they had a lovely, bubbling pot of ruby red jam. Sugar added and stirred for another minute or so, they were ready to fill the jars.


After the process was over they cleaned the mess up and, being contemporary young women, they had to take the requisite selfie with the product!


The girls decided to stay overnight and go to dinner with us Saturday evening. We had a bit of time to kill before dinner and it was drizzling rain outside so we watched a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker movie together while Rich napped. Then we all met our friend, Steve, at Logan's Irish Pub for supper.

I really cherish these moments with my grandchildren, Olivia, Max and Zaidee. As they become teenagers the time begins to fly by and I realize that all too soon your grandchildren are out on their own. As they begin to create their own life apart from the nuclear family they become busy and we see them less and less. It's so ironic that when we raise our children to become independent adults and push them out on their own, we will see less and less of them. Bittersweet. That's life.

Because of the ideal weather conditions yesterday and today, there has been a hum of agricultural activity all up and down the road. Yesterday the person who farms the field across the road was tilling up the soil in the field in preparation for corn planting. He finished up his work at mid-night. I know this because our bedroom is on the front of the house and every time he approached the turn at the road side of the field I could hear the rumble of his approach and the headlights shone in the window. He began planting the corn early this morning and is just finishing up.


This morning I also heard the unmistakable drone of a crop duster increasing and decreasing in volume as he made passes over a field beyond the southwest woods where they were spraying fertilizer. Those pilots have all the daring do of the old barnstorming pilots of the roaring twenties. I can't help but admire their skill.


Here in the house I have been dying yarn in preparation for our first Seneca County Farmer's Market in Tiffin this upcoming Saturday. I have been experimenting with eco-friendly dyes during the latter half of the winter. Heaven knows, I have plenty of yarn to work with. Last summer I did a batch of "Fresh Tomato" red-orange yarn that sold well, so I bought some more colors. 
Socks made by my friend Karin Brown from the Fresh Tomato

I made a lovely purple that I'm calling Grape Juicy:


And a ruby red that looks like Strawberry Patch to me:


I have discovered that dyeing yarn is much like cooking, which I love, without the calories! In the end you have a much more lasting product that will bring hours of enjoyment in the form of knitting or crocheting an item that will last virtually a lifetime, thus providing a lifetime of enjoyment. In February during one of my Google searches of dyeing techniques I found one that uses the common crockpot  and household food coloring to dye yarn. From that I created a green, blue and yellow variegated yarn:


Dyeing yarn is a fascinating process. You soak plain white yarn in the sink until it's completely wet and then put it into a pot of water and dye on the stove top (or crockpot)  As it comes to a simmer the yarn soaks up the dye from the water. As a final touch, to set the dye and make it colorfast, you just add some plain old white vinegar and simmer a few more minutes. Then, like magic, the remainder of the dye goes into the yarn and the water becomes clear! After it cools I rinse the yarn in the sink again, spin it in my salad spinner to remove the excess water and then put it on a special platform in my high-tech dryer or hang it on a peg in the laundry-room to dry.

Today I brewed up a pot of Greener Shades river blue at half strength and came up with a blue that I'm going to call Agean Blue in honor of my Greek heritage.

 


Be sure to come on out to the Seneca County Farmer's Market in Tiffin this Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. to see all of my pretty new colors.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Proms, Graduations and Shearings

Prom and graduation season always makes me a little nostalgic. This feeling came on when my first daughter, Amy, graduated from high school and has happened every May since then. I used to sit on my front porch on the evening of graduation (when I didn't have one that I had to attend) sipping wine while I waited for the joyful cacophony of honking car horns as soon as the ceremony was over. It's what they do in a small town. This year the motivation behind my nostalgia is two-fold; my first granddaughter, Olivia, will be graduating from high school and I will be attending my 50th class reunion! I look forward to attending Olivia's graduation. I'll cry. I'm not sure how I'll feel when I attend my class reunion.

Both Olivia and her freshman brother, Max, attended prom this year. (One of his track teammate's girlfriend's, best friend, needed a date.) Seeing both of my older grandchildren dressed in formal wear brought tears to my eyes. I thought my own daughters grew up too fast, but grand kids? It's almost inconceivable that the two little redheaded toddlers are going to high school.

Max and Olivia ready for prom


My youngest granddaughter, Zaidee, who lives clear out in Portland, Oregon, will be turning 12 years-old this year. I'll soon be writing about her prom if the years fly by as swiftly for her as they did for Olivia and Max. Received this picture of her digging clams on the Oregon coast earlier this week.





The last Thursday in April we had shearing at our farm this year instead of hauling animals 12 miles down to a friend's place. After almost five years of owning alpacas we felt that we knew enough to set up a station here. Mary Jane, our shearer, spent the night with us so she could set up the night before, allowing us to begin at 8 a.m. Our friends who live one road over and down four miles brought their three animals down and joined us for the day's work. Myron and Rhonda, who had completed the shearing of their animals earlier in the week came up to help, too. Everyone pitched in heaving animals onto the table, vacuuming them with a shop vac, bagging fleece and sweeping up afterwards. 

Mary Jane, pushed through until 2 p.m., finishing our six animals before we broke for a pot luck lunch in the store. I had made a crock pot full of sloppy joes, my friend Lisa brought her famous cheesy potatoes and Rhonda brought Rich's favorite Ballreich chips. After lunch Mary Jane finished up the last three animals and was ready to shove off at 6 p.m. for her next stop down near Mansfield.

Each year I'm amazed at the actual size of our animals underneath all of that fleece. By the end of winter they all look so hugely fat! Took, our oldest female seemed to be way overweight and I was almost afraid what she would look like after she lost her fleece. Before shearing she looked like this:


Now she looks like this:


Took may be a bit overweight but not nearly what I had expected before shearing. That's her daughter, Mango, in the background.

Our two little boys, Mocha, and his half-brother, Dionysus, were the biggest surprise. They looked huge before shearing. Mocha was Mango's cria out of Black Night (Myron's sire) and Dionysus was last year's cria out of our sire, Nikko. They were born almost exactly a year apart. They looked like this before:



Now that the weather has gotten warmer and the grass is growing, these two almost never stand still long enough to get a good closeup shot. The minute I show up near the pasture with my camera they stop grazing and start putting on a show; kicking up their heels, chest bumping and running back and forth in an effort to impress. If I'm lucky and creep quietly out onto the back with my camera ready, I can catch them as they look up from their grazing. So this is the best I can do to show you the "after" picture:


While we were shearing I gave a call to our vet and ask that he come out to help with two necessary tasks. The first was sad to say the least. I'm sorry to have to report that our herd sire, Nikko, a beautiful animal, had to be put down. He had been becoming more and more aggressive in recent months.

It all started last fall when he tried to jump on me. Fortunately, Rich was in the pasture with me and caught him before any real damage was done. Another time he tried it with Rich and was held off. Mocha, who is about 18 months old, is beginning to get his male hormones. This means that when he was near Nikko he often rolled up his tail, an impudent action that males do to assert their masculinity. Nikko often became agitated and aggressively jumped on the fence trying to get at Mocha.

The last straw was when Nikko rammed the gate that separated their pastures, broke the latch and got in with the little boys. Fortunately it happened on a Saturday when Rich was home from work. He heard Mocha's screeching and by the time he got to the pasture, Nikko had Mocha by the neck. When Rich, perhaps a bit recklessly, jumped in between to separate them, Nikko bit him on the neck. Between the two of us we managed to get a halter and lead on Nikko and Rich dragged him back into his own pasture where we secured the gate. From that point on I worried whenever Rich had to go into the pasture to refresh his hay and water.

We still agonized  for the next couple of weeks about whether to put him down or not. The night before shearing, Rich and Brian, our neighbor tried to put a harness on Nikko in preparation for locking him inside so his fleece wouldn't get wet in the rain that was predicted. Rich and Brian are both tall guys and they still had trouble handling Nikko. That's when we knew that he wouldn't get any better and we just couldn't have a violent animal on the farm. So, sadly, the next afternoon, after he was shorn of his gorgeous, soft fleece, Nikko had to be put down. We buried him out under the old oak tree where the sawmill used to stand.




The second task that we had for Bob, our vet, was a much happier one. We have been trying to breed our beautiful brown Leezza ever since we got her with no success. She came to us with a free breed back to one of the herd sires at Amy J's Homestead Alpacas and though they tried several times it just didn't take. The next year we tried to breed her to Nikko. It appeared that she had been successfully bred because she passed the "spit" test  (see entry for October 24, 2013 for explanation) which is said to be about 80% effective. We waited 11 months and nothing. If she had been pregnant she must have either absorbed or aborted a microscopic fetus.

So we tried again with Nikko last fall. She passed that spit test twice. We didn't know whether to be hopeful or not so we waited. When we attempted to clip her toenails one day last winter, the usually biddable Leezza, was a bit testy. She let us do her front nails and then decided that she'd had enough and began bucking and dancing away from us. When Mango was pregnant the first time, her usually laid back nature disappeared and she became a "touch me not" and a bit grumpy, much like some human pregnant women do. When Leezza started exhibiting this behavior we decided that if she was still ouchy in the spring then we would have a blood test done. Dr. Bob called the other day with the best news ever. He is 90% sure that Leezza is pregnant. So now we wait until October with our fingers crossed.

Leezza before

Leezza after

Now we can relax until October when we hope all three females will each be delivering a new addition to the herd. There's nothing like watching those new crias pronking around the pasture. It's joy set in motion and one of those everyday things that just make you smile.

Mamas??


Monday, March 14, 2016

And They Say That April is the Cruelest Month!

Less than two weeks ago when Rich took down the winter snowman display and put up the Leprechaun and Pot 'O Gold, it looked like this:


I had to clear away the snow to snap pictures of my sprouted chives in the herb garden and the daffodils out by the front fence.



Callie insisted on going  outside to play ball in the snow but every time I tossed it she returned with a frosty ball full of snow. It's usually difficult to get her to drop the ball for another round but not that day. Even she didn't want to hang on to it very long, dropping it when she returned to me and champing her teeth repeatedly. She must have been feeling the cold on sensitive teeth.


Within a couple of days the snow was gone and the Mocha and Dio were feeling frisky with the milder temperatures, longer daylight hours and the promise of spring. I caught them chest bumping and neck wrestling in the pasture on one of the warmer days after the snow melt.


Little Dionysus, the younger of the two half-brothers, is usually the instigator of the play time, with Mocha man being the patient older brother for only a limited amount of time. Mocha puts up with the neck wrestling and chest bumping. Dio gets really fired up with this rough housing and eventually does a speedy circuit of the pasture and finished by jumping onto Mocha's haunches. This is where Mocha draws the line and twists that long neck of his around and accurately lands a wad of spit in Dio's face. The little guy backs off and runs for mama, Mango,


This past month as Dio neared the six month of his short life we noticed that Mango had been pushing him away most of the time when he attempted to nurse. Saturday was such a lovely day that Rich and I decided to move the two little boys to a pasture of their own to complete the weaning process. Both of the boys seemed a little befuddled when they first entered their new pasture and eventually began exploring the newly sprouted grass. Rich had put some sweet feed in the trough of their new condo and it didn't take long for them to discover it.


For some reason their transfer seemed to really upset Nikko who ran up and down their common fence line making peculiar agitated noises. Whenever the little guys got near their gate Nikko poked his head between the slats attempting to bite at them. They have always had a common fence line when they were in with their mama, Mango and Nikko did not behave like this. Nikko kept getting more and more worked up and his ire seemed to be aimed at Mocha who is nearing two years of age. Mocha is clearly beginning to feel his hormones since he often does that tail roll up thing when Nikko is near the fence so I can only assume that what happened next is because Nikko feels that his place as king of the herd needs to be defended.

Nikko had been continually ramming the gate trying to reach the little boys when they were near and eventually pulled the latch chain right out of the wooden slat where it had been anchored. He chased the little boys up the runway and cornered them where he began jumping on Mocha and fiercely biting his neck.

I was inside and heard Rich calling my name and alternately yelling, "No!" When I slipped on my shoes and ran outside I saw that the empty pasture and immediately realized what had happened. As I rounded the barn I grabbed a slat off the wood pile and ran into the girls' pasture. Rich was holding Nikko around the neck with his front legs off the ground but the two little boys wouldn't go back to their own pasture. This was one of the times when I think that these animals, as cute as they may be, are as dumb as a box of rocks. Even though Nikko had attacked Mocha, once Rich had pulled him free, Mocha and Dio stayed right in the middle of the fray!

I grabbed a halter and lead and eventually Rich and I got Nikko haltered up and pulled back into his own pasture. Rich held him there while I secured the little guys in the runway. Nikko is now in the pasture right behind the house and isolated from the rest of the herd. In this whole process, Nikko somehow bit Rich in the neck which was a little scary. In theory, humans should never get between two fighting males because the human will never come out unscathed. In actual practice, when one sees a mature male hurting an immature eighteen month-old if we don't intervene the outcome for the younger male will likely be dire.

Now we have some decisions to make since Nikko has shown some aggressive tendencies toward me in the past and I won't go into the pasture with him. After this latest episode we need to discuss our next course of action with the vet and other more experienced alpaca owners. Nikko may need some "alterations" in order for us to be able to keep him. He's a beautiful animal and the source of the largest amount of very fine fleece of any alpaca in our herd. Decision day is on April 27th when we will be shearing the animals. What to do?

Meanwhile, today is "pi" day (3/14). So to celebrate I baked this razzleberry pie from my brother-in-law, Tom's famous recipe given to him by a lovely woman named Marie;-)


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why Didn't I Visit My Sister This Week?

Ok, ok, ok! I know it's mid-February and I know I'm in Ohio. But, come on, 19 degrees, 20 mph winds and snow? Last week it was in the 50's and I know that overall, we have had a very mild winter and I shouldn't be complaining, but...


Even the alpacas whose place of origin is in the high mountains of Peru, are hunkering down inside their cozy barns and bungalows, and are nowhere to be seen.


Last week, during the milder weather the animals, in particular the two little boys, Mocha and Dio, were feeling a touch of spring fever. With the longer daylight hours and the sparse grass exposed in the pastures, the entire herd was spending most of each day outside in the pastures. One afternoon, Rich and I strolled around the end of the barn to find the boys neck wrestling, chest butting and generally frolicking in the barnyard. You can't help but laugh at those two frisky, young alpacas.




Mild mannered Mocha, a year older, outweighs young Dionysus, who is definitely the instigator in most cases. Because of his sweet nature, Mocha, never seems to play too roughly with the little guy. They seem to be good company for each other. It's a good thing that they do because it keeps them from agitating their mother, Mango, who is in the pasture with them. Soon that situation will have to change for two reasons. In another month it will be time to wean Dionysus. At about that same time I expect Mocha to begin showing serious signs of having male hormones. Both of them will have to be separated from Mango for obvious reasons and our only other male is herdsire, Nikko. Now that he has had a chance to "romance" the females, Nikko is under the impression that he is the "king" of the herd. He tends to be a little hostile toward the younger males and so they can't be put into the pasture with him lest he harm them. Since these two younger guys have been living in the same pasture for some months and are used to each other, we should be able to put them together in their own pasture.


A few weeks ago before my trip to Florida, I had the chance to do a spinning demonstration for a daycare/preschool center in a town where I taught for many years. I always enjoy teaching the little ones about alpacas and the uses for their fleece. I have samples of cleaned and carded, un-spun fleece, otherwise known as roving, for them to touch and play with and several knitted scarves and shawls for them to hold. I show them pictures of our alpacas and tell them a bit about the size and nature of the animals. Far and away the most fascinating part of the short demonstration for the kids is the spinning wheel and the magic of spinning fleece into yarn.


I always make a point of letting each child come to the wheel and make it go around. They seem to like the feel of pedaling first one foot then the other, much the same as their tricycles, and watching the wheel spin faster and faster. I hope it impresses some of them enough to want to give real yarn spinning a try when they are older.


At the end of every presentation I answer questions and then we pose together for pictures that I can post on the blog and they can hang in their classroom.


I want to thank my old friend, Gayle, the director of the daycare, for giving me the opportunity to visit with and talk to the kids.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February 1

This is the kind of day when you can sit inside looking out at the sunny sky and almost imagine that spring is near. Even the daylight hours are getting longer causing the birds to sing in the mornings. But the fact remains that this is Ohio and it's still winter for a couple of more months. The weather report for tomorrow is calling for a high of 51 degrees F and 60 to 100 percent chance of rain in our area and a whopper of a snow storm in states west of us. I doubt that the proverbial ground hog will see a shadow tomorrow. Yep! It's still winter in Ohio.

I really don't have reason to complain since I just got back from a week in Florida visiting my sister. In late December, noticing that I was a little down after the holiday, Rich made the off hand suggestion that I might go visit my sister. He didn't have to say it twice. I found cheap tickets the next day and made the reservation!



I flew into Punta Gorda where my sister, Laurie,  picked me up and we drove north to visit my niece, Anne, in St. Petersburg for a couple of days. Anne and her husband, Drew, were the perfect hosts, allowing us to stay with them in their renovated bungalow. They have done the work themselves and their home is charming. I got to check off one of my bucket list items when we all piled into the car and spent a day in Tarpon Springs. That's the gulf side village where Greek sponge fishermen settled during the 1890s and today it has the largest concentration of people of Greek background of any US city. It was like stepping into a tourist town in Greece where all of the natives were speaking Greek to each other. We met a lovely woman in the Greek import shop who gave me some advice and information to look for when researching my grandfather's background. Of course, we dined on a delicious Greek meal in one of the many Greek restaurants.


Back in Ft. Myers Laurie's friends were all so welcoming and gracious. I was entertained at a community lasagna dinner by the lake in her condo complex and later a tapas party with a small gathering of neighbors. Laurie and I did lunch one afternoon with her friend, Gloria, a lovely woman. The afternoon before I came home we went to a charity fashion show/luncheon with 11 of her friends at a country club nearby. Even with all of the social engagements I still had time for yoga on Laurie's upper deck, a few morning strolls about the neighborhood, reading on the lanai and enough shopping to last me until spring arrives in Ohio.



The weekend before I left for Florida, Rich and I celebrated our 15th anniversary by spending a night in one of our favorite hotels, The Dearborn Inn, and going to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Like I said before, I really have no reason to complain about the winter. It has been very mild this year compared to the past two years and I have had plenty of distractions.

Dearborn Hotel

We have been to the Henry Ford several times and still I learn something new each time we go. There is just so much to see. Rich and I were clowning around in one of the children's exhibits and I got him to pose in the giant hot dog bun beside the Oscar Meyer Weiner-mobile. That's one big hot dog!



We have noticed that with the longer hours of daylight and the milder temperatures, our two little boys, Mocha and Dionysus, have been feeling frisky. Both of them are kicking up their heels and chasing each other about the pasture. Little Dio has hit that stage in his development where he behaves like a toddler and is unable to walk anywhere. He will suddenly jump and twist in the air and take off running for no apparent reason. Just because he can. They are so cute at this stage and always make me laugh at their antics.



Mango and her boys

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Aaaaah!


I can breathe a sigh of relief now. I have all gifts purchased, wrapped and sent. We have one Christmas celebration under our belts already. On Sunday we celebrated with our daughter, Amy, son-in-law, Steve and Olivia and Max, the grand kids. For some strange reason there were no pictures taken except the one above that Olivia snapped with her phone. It says a lot that we were so absorbed with each other that we just forgot the pictures.  I realize that our time with Olivia, a senior in high school, and Max, a freshman is dwindling and therefore, precious. She will be off to college next year and Max is very involved in cross country and track. Isn't it ironic that when the kids finally grow into the independent people that you want them to be and that you enjoy being around you see less of them? They are off to Colorado today to spend Christmas with their other grandparents. I wish them a safe journey.

We have a house guest this week so things will still be lively around here. The kids left their dog Calypso to stay with us while they went west. Our Calliope (Callie) is a happy dog whenever her sister, Clyppie, comes to visit. The two of them always enjoy having each other to romp with and they are finally at an age where they keep the craziness to the outside. The two black labs dash and dart across the lawn chasing the toys that we toss for them. They often go after the same large rubber ball and end up in a tug of war.

Callie and Clyppie last July 
They two girls look so much alike that I often find myself commanding, "Callie, sit!" while Calypso stands in front of me in a puzzlement and Callie is actually in the background, already sitting. So this time I tied a small red ribbon to Callie's collar and a green one to Clyppie. This visit, at least, I know which dog I'm yelling at! They play so hard and non-stop when we go outside that when they come in they both collapse in exhaustion and immediately drop off into one of their frequent naps. I often find them sprawled in a mirror-like formation on our living room floor.


We have two more Christmas dinners, one at our house with Rich's mom and dad and his brother Dan. The final one will be on Saturday, down the road at one of Rich's other brother's house. I took the easy way out this year and for the kids I had Rich pick up some smoked pork and brisket from City Barbecue and I made the sides. For Christmas day, we got a ham from a great little meat market in the country, Hasselbach's, near Fremont. The party is so much less stressful for me if I buy the main dish and just fix the sides. (Thank you, Ina Garten) This is one of those tricks I learned from watching all those cooking shows that Rich makes fun of. This way I can spend more time with my guests.

I wish you all a very happy holiday season! No matter which one you celebrate I hope that you get to be with the ones you love. If you can't then try to spread some of that love to who ever you encounter on your life journey. I wish you love, joy and peace for the new year.

By the Rich and Linda log house construction team.