Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Where Did the Summer Go?

For the entire summer I feel like I have been living in some surreal, tornadic existence, like Dorothy looking out the window of her whirling home seeing familiar beings, strangely out of place, flying by in the storm. Just now I looked out my front door and watched the combine across the road spewing a waterfall of ripe, golden corn out of the chute and into the waiting wagon. It's fall again! Where did the summer go?

Early this summer I was with  my beloved mother-in-law, Delores, at her doctor appointment when she was informed that her pancreatic cancer from last year had returned and nothing could be done about it. Terminal cancer. Two words that no one ever wants to hear, much less talk about. The following week Delores and I were sitting at her kitchen table talking with a hospice nurse, outlining Delores's wishes for how she wanted to live the end of her life. That's the point at which I became her "primary care giver" and the rest of the summer took a back seat to what was happening.

I was so privileged to be able to help Delores and in doing so get to know her much better. I was so lucky to have her as a mother-in-law and during this process I was even more fortunate to get to know her on a woman-to-woman level. We buried her last week after a very personal service by her pastor, who had known her since his childhood. The service was held in the same small town church that Delores had attended since her marriage to Ed over 65 years ago.

In a happier vein, we had our annual National Alpaca Farm Days open house in September and as if we had planned it, two of our alpaca girls gave birth the same weekend! Our beautiful brown, Leezza, who we had tried to breed many time in the past couple of years without success, gave birth right on her due date, Friday, September 23rd. She had an adorable, light fawn colored, male, cria that we named Aristotle. Ari for short. Ari was 15 pounds at birth and has grown steadily since. He is smaller like his mama and has a delicate, inquisitive face.

Leezza has proven to be a very good mama in spite of her inexperience. During his first days she often would look at Aristotle when he was nursing as if she couldn't believe what she had done. She is very protective of the little guy and if he strays too far away from her she still makes that characteristic clicking noise in the back of her throat, calling him back.

The very next day, just 15 minutes before the start time of our first open house day, Mango gave birth to her third male cria in three years. Apollo weighed in at 20 pounds; 5 pounds heavier than his cousin. That morning early, Darren Wurm and his mom, Lisa had come down to set up for the open house. Rich and Darren had brought two of the Wurm's animals down, Dora and her little month old, Aggie. We were finished setting up and taking a breather before the guests began arriving when Lisa yelled, "Mango's pushing!"

 I ran back around the barn to see what was going on and sure enough, I could see the "bubble." When alpaca's give birth the first thing you should see is a bubble of membrane with a little nose clearly visible inside. The cria's nose was breathing in and out, a sign of a healthy birth. It didn't take long until the bubble burst and the nose and two little front feet emerged. As soon as his head and front legs were free, the little guy started trying to get traction with those feet and pull himself out. The birth didn't take more than 20 minutes and by that time our first guest had arrived and was treated to the sight of a still wet, newborn cria. She was thrilled to have been on site to see this.

Within minutes of his birth, Mango's cria was attempting, clumsily, to stand up. This feisty little guy earned the strong name of Appollo. Appollo has a very bright white, dense, crimpy fleece and has a tendency to be very nosy. Like his cousin, Ari, he is gaining at a rate of a pound each day since he was born.

The two little guys have been great companions in discovering the far reaches of the pasture. I just love to see them gaining confidence in their explorations. Often, as if by mutual agreement, they break into a run along the fence line and circle back around the perimeter of the pasture. After exhausting themselves they are usually ready for a roll in the dust or a little snack from their mamas.

Our remaining female, Took, the grande dame of the herd, was due to have her little one this past Friday. If you remember from my posts last year, we waited and waited for her to deliver only to discover that she had a false pregnancy. She is very large and uncomfortable right now and spends her time laying in the sunshine each day. Since she spits at Mocha when he gets too near where she is laying by the fence, I am still hopeful that she will deliver a baby soon. Especially hopeful that maybe she might deliver a female cria since the last six babies born on the farm have been males! However, I am tempering that hopefulness with the still fresh memory of last year.

(Just a note to those who were looking for us at the Garlo Nature Preserve Octoberfest and the last couple of Tiffin Farmer's Markets, family circumstances prevented us from being tied up away from home all day. Sorry. We are looking forward to next year's events.)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Proud Grandma!

The summer just flew by and this post that I began back in June has been sitting, unfinished, in my hold file the whole time. I remember becoming overwhelmed with emotion when I began writing this and started looking at the pictures that I planned to include. Instead of starting a new post I think that this is important enough for me to continue from where I left off.
Olivia, 8 years old
Just about eighteen years ago I became a grandmother for the first time. When my daughter, Amy, told me that I was going to be a grandma I was in denial for the first few months, claiming that I wasn't old enough to be a grandma. In reality I was more than old enough but this was the first time. Of course the denial melted away the first time I held that tiny, adorable, red-headed, newborn, Olivia, in my arms.

Olivia, almost 18 years old
I was so privileged to live nearby and be involved in Olivia's life for the first two years. After Rich and I married and I moved back to Ohio and soon after my daughter and son-in-law, Steve moved their family to Jacksonville and later to Columbus, I have been very fortunate that the kids made a herculean effort to ensure that we got together often. As a result, I have always been close to our grandchildren.

This week my intelligent and beautiful granddaughter, Olivia, graduated from high school and the whole family was there to celebrate. We are all so proud of her. I had trouble holding back the tears as I snapped the pictures of Olivia marching out, all smiles,  onto the Schottenstein Arena floor with all of the other graduates.


That was back in June and here it is late August and Olivia has been away at college for a week and by all accounts that I see on Instagram, she is having a good time and getting along with all three of her roommates. I am going to miss her spontaneous calls with requests to come up for the weekend to bake or make jam with me. In recent years she has driven herself up, often bringing along a girlfriend to stay overnight. It was always a joy for me to hear the girls chattering and giggling into the night; a sound that took me back to the days when her mother and aunt were that age. However, I am so proud to see the confidence and eagerness with which she headed off to the next stage of her life.

Out here at Buckeye Star Alpacas the corn is as high as the proverbial "elephant's eye" and after a bit of a dry spell in July and early August, it has rained enough that the corn, the pastures, the tomato plants and the lawn are a lovely, lush emerald.

How high is an "elephant's eye" anyway?
In late July, I was fortunate to be able to travel with Olivia and her mother, my daughter, Amy, to Portland, Oregon for a visit with my granddaughter, Zaidee and her mom, Susie, my younger daughter. It was only for a few days but we had a lovely time. I am so proud of the work Susie has done on her fixer-upper house. She was left with a shambles inside and has done wonders updating her cosy little home into the comfortable abode where we stayed.

I don't get to see my little granddaughter, Zaidee, often enough and each time I do I am amazed at how much she has grown and how lovely she is. I use the word little very loosely only because, at almost 12 years old, she is my youngest grandchild. She towers over me at a very poised 5' 8" tall. Zaidee also has a smile that lights up the room and I am tremendously proud of her.

"Little" Zaidee and Olivia
Portland is a unique and very quirky city to visit. We walked miles just in Susie's neighborhood because there is such a vast selection of one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops nearby. We drove south of Portland, towards Eugene  to visit my son-in-law's niece and have dinner with her and her boyfriend and their adorable daughter. On the way we stopped at a couple of lovely wineries. We sampled and purchased a few bottles which we drank in the evenings as we sat around and talked before heading off to bed.

Ramen Noodles at the noodle place

Loaded 'Tater Tots at the ramen place

Burritos at the local Mexican restaurant
I enjoyed my first Uber experience when we called for rides to downtown Portland to visit the Japanese Gardens and the International Rose Society Test Garden. I must say each of our Uber rides were comfortable and our drivers were very personable. The Japanese Gardens were so peaceful and serene that I could have sat and gazed at the waterfalls and koi ponds for hours. However, one does not sit in one place for long when the kids are along. I'm afraid such serenity is just plain boring in their book. Maybe the next time I go back there I'll be able to meditate in the gardens!

Japanese Garden

As we walked through the rose gardens I couldn't help but think of my friend, Nancy, who loves roses. The flowers were in full bloom and all of the colors were breathtaking. Zaidee, who was into her Pokeman Go game with her best friend whom we brought along, wouldn't hold still for photos with the roses but I snapped a couple of great pictures of my Susie and Olivia.

Susie in the Rose Garden

Olivia and the Roses

The whole time was spent in sight seeing, eating delicious food, hours of enjoyable conversation and mugging for selfies with Zaidee and Olivia. Sometimes doing two or three of these activities at a time!

Mugging for the camera at the Mexican restaurant


Amy and Olivia with Mt. Hood in the distance
I had a wonderful time and the overnight delay in Chicago was only mildly frustrating. The compensation was a classic deep dish pizza at Giordano's.
Giordano's in Chicago
The trip was a memory I'll cherish for ever because I seldom get to spend a few hours, let alone a few days with "my girls."

I received a message from my friend, Rhonda, at Grass Run Alpacas while I was out in Portland. Attached was a picture of a fluffy, white, female cria named, Merri who was our herdsire, Nikko's, first progeny of the season. Nikko, if you'll remember, became so aggressive that we had to put him down after shearing. It's nice that a little bit of him lives on. 
Then about a week and a half ago, our friends on the next road over, the Wurm family, were so excited when their first cria was born. She is a little female that they named Agnes, Aggie for short and was born to their Dora. Aggie is a light fawn color like her mother.
Amadora and Aggie
Our three females, Leezza, Mango and Took, are due at the end of September and the beginning of October. Since September begins this Thursday, I'll begin to spend more and more time close to home on "cria watch." This will be Leezza's first and she may be late; but Mango delivered Dionysus two weeks early last year so I'll be watching her carefully. All three have bulging sides so we are hopeful that soon we'll have little ones romping in the pasture.

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.