Monday, March 23, 2015

What The What...?

It is officially the second full day of spring so imagine my surprise when I looked up from reading my cozy mystery book and saw nothing but white outside my front window. Flipping down the footrest of the Lazy Boy, I rushed to open the front door to check it out. This is what I saw...


light flurries. Just enough to dust the driveway and flower-bed-to-be. Curious to see how the animals were taking it, since they had all been lolling around the pasture earlier enjoying the mild weather, I put on some shoes and a jacket (with a hood) and went out the back door. In just the short amount of time that it took me to prep myself the snow had picked up and this is what I found in the boys' pasture:


The girls and little Mocha must have headed for the barn as soon as the snow began to fall because they were nowhere in sight. However, Asterius and Brutus were behaving like the true mountain animals that they instinctively are and had remained in their pasture still looking for that bit of grass that might have been poking through the snow. Obviously the snow had picked up because both of them were covered with a heavy frosting of the white stuff. Although it looks as if they were posing for me I know they really were hoping that I had come bearing treats for them.

Nikko, the self appointed guardian of the herd, was laying down at the far end of his run nearest to the girls' barn. He is always eager for treats and to pose for pictures, so he came running when he realized that I was at the fence. His fleece was also thickly covered with a coating of the new snow.


He put his head over the fence for a quick "nose kiss" and went back to his spot at the other end of the run when he realized that he wasn't going to get a treat from me.


Although it's still snowing and has been for the past half hour, I'm confident that it will go away soon. The weather report for tomorrow says it's going to be 63 degrees and rainy. Not surprising. That's spring in Ohio!

I have been busy for the past week or so washing the downstairs curtains and repainting the downstairs trim. I finally finished it on Saturday morning. That afternoon Rich helped me clean the carpet in the living room. I began the project thinking that those tasks were all that I would have to do of spring cleaning but like so often happens, now I notice how bad the walls look and so have plans to paint the downstairs bathroom and kitchen. That task has to be put off for a week or two because our social schedule has been picking up, too.

Saturday evening we met some good friends at a German restaurant not far from here for dinner. We hadn't seen them since last fall so it was fun to have a couple of  "biers" and catch up with them. Then on Sunday we hosted several members of  Rich's large extended family to celebrate his mother's birthday. I hit the mother-in-law jackpot when I married into this family. Delores is one of the sweetest women I know and I consider her next to sainthood for successfully raising five sons. She welcomed me to the family with open arms and has always made me feel like a daughter.

I have been cooking and baking most of the day today, preparing to host my girlfriends at our monthly luncheon. We rotate each month to a different member's home and this month it's my turn. I have been planning an Irish dinner in honor of St. Patrick's Day. I baked Irish soda bread today and this evening Rich is going to help me prepare mashed potatoes which I will reheat in the oven tomorrow and serve with Irish sausages. I prefer "bangers and mash" to the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal. This is a monthly gathering that I always look forward to. Cead mile failte!


Friday, March 6, 2015

An "International Woman" For An Afternoon

I had the most delightful experience this afternoon when I joined my friend, Athena, and her women's group for lunch. Athena, was born in Greece and married an American soldier, Jim, who brought her at a very young age, back to the USA. We met them in a very round-about way several years ago through Jim's brother, Steve, who is friends with Rich and they have become friends as well. About a week ago, Athena contacted me and asked if I would like to accompany her to her International Women's group luncheon at the home of one of the members. I didn't hesitate even a minute for the simple reason that all of Athena's Face Book posts with her girlfriends look as if they are having such a riotous fun time. I wasn't disappointed.


We were instructed to bring a dish that reflected our heritage so let me tell you, that buffet was filled to overflowing with some of the most delicious dishes I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The smells in that kitchen when we entered were so overwhelming that I could hardly wait to dig in. Athena had made her spanakopita that she has served up on other occasions when Rich and I dined at her house. It is one of my favorite dishes so I ate a small piece with my lunch. She also sneaked a small plate full for me to take home to Rich. There were hummus type dips, salads with mint and spices, bulgar and tomato casseroles, keftedes,  eggplant casserole and so many desserts.



Rola, our hostess, (that's her beside me on the left in the picture below) was so gracious and made us all feel like very welcome and honored guests in her lovely home. I met so many diverse and interesting women of a variety of ages and occupations. I had a long conversation with Claudia, a knitter like myself. We are now friends on Ravelry.com where I have already checked out some of her past projects. She is a talented knitter and crocheter who has created some beautiful pieces of work.


I always enjoy time spent with Athena. I learn so much from her about Greece and the Greek people which helps ground me in my own Greek heritage. Athena is funny and fun to be around. She's also a great cook and a good friend.


After record low temperatures for February and early March it looks like it's finally going to begin warming up this weekend. By mid-week we may see temperatures reach 50 degrees! Even so, it is going to be quite a while before all of the snowdrifts and piles of snow shoveled around the driveway and pasture melt away. Meanwhile, the alpacas are picking their  way around the drifts and trying to spend more time in the pasture. The other day I caught Asterius playing "king of the hill" on the drift that abuts Nikko's pasture, while Brutus and Mocha looked on.


Asterius is the more dominant of the two boys in the yearling pasture. Brutus is more laid back. But if Asterius decided to go over the fence into Nikko's area, he may get more than he bargained for. Now that Nikko has been successfully bred to our three females he has taken on the role of herd protector and dominant male. That's why he is in a pasture of his own. He bullied the two little guys when they were all together. So far Asterius is content just to climb his little mountain and look over the fence. Soon it will all melt away and any risk of mayhem will pass.

On these sunny days all of the animals seem to know that there is grass somewhere beneath the coating of snow and they can be seen nosing around looking for it. Often they come up with frosted noses and perplexed looks as if they are demanding, "Where is our grass?"




Soon, kids, be patient like the rest of us!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Cold Is It?

Answer: It's so cold that this woman doesn't go outside to take pictures of animals or anything else!

And that, folks, is the reason that there have not been any new blog entries. A few weeks ago Rich and I did go out and corner Brutus and Asterius, our two yearlings (actually they are almost a year and a half) in order to see how long and how dense their fleece is this year. Both of them are pretty much fully fleeced out right now and have only two more months of growing to do since we will be shearing them the last weekend in April. I knew that Asterius was pretty dense because last spring his baby fleece netted almost 7 lbs of usable fleece. What I didn't expect, though, was that little Brutus has a very fine, long and dense fleece this year (remember, he's the one that is undersized for his age because his mother, Firenze, died when he was only 4 months old).

Asterius

Brutus
If you look closely at the pictures you can see the crimp, or tight wave, in their fleeces. This is what makes the fleece mill up into beautiful yarn. Under a microscope you would see that each individual fiber or hair is so fine that it cannot easily be seen by the naked eye. Especially eyes like mine that need glasses for reading! When I am trying to classify each fleece, I need to lay samples of the light ones on black paper and samples of the dark ones on white paper in order to determine the approximate micron count of the fibers. This fineness is what makes the yarn so soft against the skin when it is knitted into sweaters, scarves and other clothing items. It makes it perfect for baby sweaters like the one I recently made for the granddaughter of a friend.



I am currently knitting up some socks out of a multi-colored washable sock yarn that I bought on-line. The socks are for a teen aged girl who probably wouldn't appreciate the plain brown alpaca sock yarn that I have in the store. Nor would her mother appreciate the fact that they must be hand washed and air dried. I must say that knitting up the alpaca is much more pleasurable than knitting the mass produced sock yarn. I knitted the brown alpaca socks for Rich for Christmas and he loves them because they are lightweight, super soft and super warm; perfect for this exceptionally cold winter. I took a risk and put them through my new front loading washer on the special "wool" setting. They washed up beautifully and then I laid them on a towel to air dry overnight with no problem. So for anyone who likes to make socks but shied away from buying my alpaca blend for socks because of the hand wash thing, I urge you to try it just for the luxury of being able to say that you have alpaca socks. It takes two skeins of my $9 per skein yarn. At $18, that makes it less than many mass market sock yarns that cost $24 per pair of socks.



Little Mocha man is growing like a bad weed and really would like to be out in the pasture so that he could cut loose and run. He is doing his best to leap around the limited space in the barn and clearly irritating his mother, Mango, and aunt Leezza and grandmother, Took, every time he tries to chest butt them or jump on their backs. Unfortunately, he is so quick that I am not even trying to get a picture of that since it involves taking my hands out of my gloves in order to snap a picture. Sorry folks, all you get this week is re-cycled pictures. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Snow Queen Strikes Again!


The storm that blew through here on Monday and caused all of the schools in the area to have another snow day (that's 5 or 6 for most of them), then crashed into the storm on the east coast causing chaos over there, luckily only dropped 3-4 inches on our area. The worst problem out here in the sticks were the 3 foot drifts across the drive way and in front of the barn doors.



By Tuesday morning the roads were all clear but we awoke to another visit from the Snow Queen and everything looked like an icy wonderland. Even the fences were lacy with ice crystals.


Callie's "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree that she still hasn't taken down off of the roof of her dog house was frosted with the frozen fog crystals and looked almost pretty. Rich insists on putting the mangled little tree up each year and I must admit that it is an endearing sight out there on the frozen tundra of our back yard!


Dear friends of ours have recently become grandparents for the first time so I took advantage of being snowed in and used the yarn made from Mango's baby fleece to knit a sweater for their new little granddaughter. This is a creamy white sport weight yarn from Mango's first shearing and it worked up into a lovely soft sweater that will not irritate tender baby skin. We have this yarn for sale out here at our farm store or on our Etsy store. The pattern is the 5 Hour Baby Sweater from Ravelry.com. If you are a knitter I highly recommend that you register on Ravelry.com. It is an on-line community of knitters and is full of free patterns and other record keeping tools for your knitting projects.


The pasture "girls" are all doing well and even on the worst nights prefer to sleep either in the open barn doorway or right out in the barnyard. Nikko, our herd sire, takes his responsibilities seriously and usually sleeps in the little sheltered area just on the other side of the fence from the girls even though he has a perfectly snug 3-sided "condo" on the other end of his pasture. Asterius and Brutus, our yearling males usually sleep in their condo in the center pasture. I can always tell which animals have slept out in the open because of the amount of snow or frozen fog on their backs in the morning when I go out to feed them. When we first got the animals three years ago, Rich and I worried all winter long about them sleeping out in the open. We have come to realize that the snow on their backs is a good indication that their fleeces are thick enough to prevent them from losing body heat.


Even little Mocha, the baby of the herd, seems unfazed by the snow and cold weather. The frisky little four-month-old leaps about in excitement when I pour out the food in the morning. He is always eagerly waiting in the front of the pack at the gate when he hears me open the barn door.


When I'm suiting up to go out to feed them on these zero degree mornings I grumble that these animals aren't so cute in the "bleak midwinter," but once I get out there they always make me smile.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Snow Queen Visits Overnight!


My whole world looks like the snow queen has waved her magic wand and covered everything with a layer of sparkling, magic, fairy dust this morning! Blizzard Bill Spencer on channel 13 out of Toledo, calls it freezing frost but that sounds so mundane. I prefer the scenario that my own imagination created.

The herd apparently slept outside last night. Everyone of them has a light coat of frozen fog covering their back fleece. It showed up most clearly on Leezza, Mocha and Brutus, the brown members of our herd. The temperature was 2 degrees below zero when I went out to feed them this morning, but the lack of wind allowed me to remove one hand from my gloves long enough to quickly snap a few pictures.










How about our Buckeyes???!!! That's another fairy tale that actually came true in real life. The Ohio State Football team was apparently underrated by all of the "experts" who evaluate college football teams. Under the old system they wouldn't even have been in the playoffs, let alone be playing for the championship. I think I like this new National Championship playoff thing. It made quite  few of the "experts" eat crow, so to speak. You have to admire their skill and determination in overcoming the loss of not just the first string quarterback but also the "second stringer." I'm not an expert by any means but it seems to me that they had three "first string" quarterbacks and superior coaches and a entire team that worked together as a cohesive unit to support each other. And let's not forget the tragic loss of their teammate, Kosta Kerageorge. This team has made all of its fans so proud and has even changed the minds of some who were not exactly fans before.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

No Good Pictures Today!

The view outside my window this morning is deceptively sunny with clear blue skies. I use "deceptively" because it's actually -5 degrees outside and the temperature is not supposed to rise above +5 degrees! For the past two days I have intended to take some up-to-date pictures of the herd and post them on this blog, but yesterday when I tried to take my hands out of my gloves long enough to snap them, my fingers got so cold that I couldn't get them back into the proper slots. They were so numb that I actually couldn't feel them and so, just jammed my fists into the palm of the gloves.

Even Callie, gussied up in her red sweater and always eager to go outside with me, was more than ready to come in after 10 minutes. The cold, dry, brittle snow was hurting her paws leading me to consider buying her some doggie boots if this bitter cold continues.



The few pictures I got were of the derrieres of the girls as they huddled at the feed trough and little Mocha hovering behind them. Mocha is now eating solid feed as well as nursing. He's growing steadily and has a lush, full, crimpy fleece to protect him from the winter cold. Most evenings as the animals settle in to sleep, he can be found settled down between his mama, Mango and aunt Leezza. The girls take good care of the little guy.



I apologize for all of the blurry pictures. In spite of being bundled up like an miniature abominable snowman (complete with long johns) I was shivering so badly that I couldn't hold my hands steady; and I'm not at all sure that my auto-focus camera works as well as it should in this extreme cold.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015!

 Rich and I spent a quiet Christmas Eve at home this year, sipping champagne by the light of the Christmas tree. We were resting up for Christmas morning when we got up early and drove down to Dublin to spend the day with the kids. 


As we watched the movie, A Christmas Story, an annual tradition, I couldn't help but contemplate whether the alpacas would talk to each other at midnight like other barn animals are fabled to do on Christmas Eve. Rich and I would never know because, as usual, we went to bed early!



Every year I ask for just one Christmas gift and that's to be able to spend the day with our daughters, son-in-law and grand kids all in one place at the same time. This year my wish came true. Rich and I had the loveliest day at Amy and Steve's watching them all open their gifts together and then sitting down to an authentic Italian dinner together. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Olivia, Max and Zaidee just being cousins together; something that occurs so infrequently with Susie living on the west coast.


Amy, Steve, Susie and Olivia cooked a lovely dinner of Italian braised meatballs and fettuccine alfredo with assorted roasted vegetables, and I contributed an antipasti platter. 




This year we were fortunate to have my niece, Barbie, and her daughter (my great-niece) Riley, spend Christmas day with us, too. My sister, Laurie, (Barbie's mother) and brother-in-law, Steve, go south for the winter. Barbie had to work the next day and couldn't go to be with them so we got lucky. Riley and my granddaughter, Zaidee are both 10 years old and get along well. 


Olivia had assembled a craft for the little girls to do to keep them busy while dinner was being prepared. The two second cousins, under the direction of Olivia, made a lollipop topiary to take home with them.


Grandson, Max, spent much of the time playing one of his new video games down in what he calls "the squirrel hole" and avoiding my picture taking by hiding inside his new hat!


But I managed to sneak  a not very good one in anyway!


After the gifts were all opened and the dinner eaten we packed up Susie and Zaidee for the trip back to our house where they were spending the night in preparation for their ride back to the airport the next day. We had an uneventful trip to the airport where I dropped them off and turned back for home. On my drive home I could feel myself coming down with the same illness that Zaidee had.

As a result, Rich and I spent new year's eve celebrating at home instead of joining his brother and sister-in-law for dinner in Columbus as we had planned. We toasted with hard cider as the new year arrived in Australia, Hong Kong, and parts of Asia and Europe, then went to bed before it arrived here at home!