Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Christmas Decorations Before Thanksgiving?

I believe I posted an almost identical picture outside my front door earlier this year; and by earlier this year, I mean last January when we were having record low temperatures and record high amounts of snow. We expect this in January in Ohio, not in mid November before we have even celebrated Thanksgiving! For the past four days we have had high winds, drifting snow and  temperatures in the teens. Normal for January but not November. The drifts in the pastures are above my knees and my saintly husband has been feeding the herd for the past two mornings before he goes to work in the cold darkness of the early morning hours.

Yesterday morning was so windy and snowy that the animals only ventured outside to do their business and spent the bulk of the day sheltered in their barns. This morning it isn't snowing so before the wind kicked up Asterius ventured outside to sniff at the snow and try to graze on the stubble in the areas that had drifted clear. Now only Nikko, with his extremely thick dense fleece, is outside in the snow and Asterius only peeks out of the doorway of the yearling boys' condo.

Brutus has the sense to stay inside the condo and only go out when he absolutely cannot hold "it" any longer! He prefers to eat the hay inside and sip from the heated water bucket. As you can tell from the distance of the pictures I, like Brutus and the female members of the herd, do not venture any further out than the back deck or the front porch. I snap the pictures quickly and scurry back inside. Hence the very low quality of the photography.

While I am hiding out from the weather, I am not exactly languishing on the sofa eating bonbons. I have completed several knitted Christmas gifts. I am almost done with this lovely cowl type neck wrap  (from the Lion Brand Yarn website) made from the bulky Lopi yarn that is a combination of Asterius and Took fleece that was processed last summer at Morning Star Fiber Mill.

This fast-finish project can be made from one 250 yard skein of the Lopi which can be found on my Etsy store, also called Buckeye Star Alpacas. Click on the link and it will take you right to the store. It is so soft that I am considering keeping it for myself or maybe making another one for me after Christmas. I have also found another really neat source for free holiday project knitting and crocheting patterns. It's Drops Design Christmas Workshop and they have hundreds of free patterns and their holiday section is filled with gifts and decorations for the Christmas and Hanukkah. I knitted a  Scandanavian color worked hat pattern  from their site a couple of years ago after foot surgery kept me inside for a while and It worked up nicely. Their directions are very clear.

This unseasonably cold weather has totally tanked our fall decorations which usually last until well after Thanksgiving. Although we don't generally put up Christmas decorations until after that celebration, it looks like this year we will be making an exception. The weather is supposed to revert to the normal temps for November on Saturday and Sunday. Rich and I have agreed that it's time to pitch the withered chrysanthemums and frozen pumpkins.

I will be putting up the Christmas tree and decorations in the store and Rich will work on the outside decorations. Look for the life-sized Mr. and Mrs. Snowmen out front under the "shebang."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Warm Raspberry Jam on a Dreary Day

It's a little cliched to say so, but it seems that our little Mocha Latte is growing so fast. When we weighed him last weekend he weighed 42 pounds already. He is less timid and  comes closer and closer when I go into the pasture at feeding time each morning. Mocha has already reached the stage that I like to compare to the human "terrible twos." He seems unable to walk anywhere, jumping about and leaping and twisting all over the place. He constantly pesters his "Aunt" Leezza and "Grandma" Took. The other evening I was peering out the back window and caught him attempting to nurse. It seemed that his mama was kicking him away and running from him each time the little guy tried to poke around under her. I was concerned because his mama, Mango, has been such a good mama for a first timer and shouldn't be self-weaning for several months. It wasn't until she circled away from my sight and came around their condo that I realized he was trying to nurse on Took, his grandma! No wonder she was kicking. From behind, Took and Mango look the same, white. In short, Mocha is a little pest.

Last month I picked up my last batch of yarn for this year. It is a lovely heathered grey made by combining last year's fleece from our poor departed Firenze's and Took's blanket fleeces. Morning Star Fiber Mill produces such lovely yarn from our fleece. I will be posting this new yarn on my Etsy store this afternoon. It is such a beautiful soft grey heather and I am eager to get started knitting something with it. Someone from my family is going to get a Christmas gift made from soft grey alpaca yarn this year.

Since today's weather is so typical of November in Ohio; cool, dreary and rainy, I decided to make another batch of raspberry jam this morning. Jam making is a satisfying project for days that could otherwise be depressing. I got five pints of berries on sale at the grocery store the other day because I was rapidly running out of the jam I had made this summer. Besides the fact that I love to look in the pantry and see rows and rows of gem colored jam jars, I also like to have extras to give as gifts for the holidays. 

Of course I had to sample some of the warm, ruby red, jam as soon as I had poured the last jar. There is always one jar that isn't completely full. That's the one I allow tastings from and both Rich and I indulge in multiple samples on toast or warm bread. Yum! The rest go into the pantry for gift giving.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

G-Ma Drives The Tractor!

It's hard to believe that I have been living in the country with a genuine farm boy for fourteen years and have not driven one of the tractors until today. Although the tractors that we have out here are vintage 1950's tractors and not the huge modern ones, they were just big and noisy enough that I felt intimidated by them. Last week Rich's uncle, Alan, delivered to us the much smaller IH Farmall Cub that had been his grandfather's garden tractor. Once I saw our granddaughter, Olivia, perched up in the driver's seat I became determined that I would learn to drive it, too.  So this afternoon Rich fired her up and gave me my first lesson.

I puttered all around the property in first gear, going at the speed of a snail before Rich decided that it was safe for me to put her in second gear and whiz along at 5 miles per hour! You can see his shadow in the foreground as he strolls alongside me  beside me snapping pictures.

On another totally unrelated topic, Mango is expecting another baby. Apparently Nikko is going to be a natural at this breeding thing. He impregnated Took on his second ever attempt and managed to do the same to Mango on the first time. When we put her into his area yesterday for the behavior test she did everything in her power to turn him away. She ran back and forth, spitting and twisting to avoid having him touch her. When I accidentally released the two of them from the confined space that we use for breeding and out into his private pasture, she circled round and round, and back and forth in an effort to keep him away. When I opened the gate to the female pasture she sped in and seemed relieved when I slammed the gate blocking him out. Since she willingly kushed for him two weeks ago this behavior is a pretty sure sign that she is with child. Now we wait two more weeks and put Leezza through the same behavior test and hope that Nikko had success with her. Rich keeps threatening to buy Nikko a silk smoking jacket and a box of cigars and has started calling him Nikko Suave!

We had a small get together last night for a really fun group of people that Rich used to work with...another cider tasting party. Whenever we see these friends we laugh so hard that my sides ache and that's what happened last night. I always look forward to dining out or partying with them.

Little Mocha Latte is growing so fast. Last week he weighed 30 pounds already! He has doubled his birth weight. He is due for another CDT shot which we will administer this evening when we go out to check their food and water. Mocha man is getting less timid and more curious about visitors to the farm. My friend Marilyn is so determined to get him to eat out of her hand that she threatens to set up a chair in the pasture and wait him out. I can easily see this happening sometime soon since he seems to enjoy entertaining our visitors with his antics as he walks near to people at the fence and then just as suddenly twists sideways and pronks away, teasing them.

These beautiful, sunny and cool October days are coming to an end and November is right around the corner with its typical gray, cloudy skies. That means the holidays are not far behind. We are doing Thanksgiving at home this year with Amy, Steve, Olivia, Max and our friend and Steve's grandmother, Treva. I have started planning the menu. Looking forward to Christmas, I have been furiously knitting small gift projects for the family. Our daughter, Susie, and granddaughter, Zaidee, already have their tickets to Ohio. We haven't seen them for almost two years. The holidays should be seriously jolly this year since I am getting the gift I love kids all in one place at the same time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Club Meeting: Two Blog Posts in One Day

I just had to report on my Research Club meeting this afternoon. I am proud of myself that I had timed my presentation to under 1/2 hour and hit it on the head! It must have been OK because there were quite a few questions and my friends were all eager to go out to the pasture to see the herd. I am sure that my good friend, Marilyn, the former speech teacher, would have lowered my grade a few points for all of the "um's" and for putting my reading glasses on and taking them off too frequently. However, my good friend, Marilyn, the grandma, (both one and the same) would forgive me for the glasses because I have "old age eyes!"  Also, she clearly loves the alpacas.

Brutus and Asterius love Marilyn, too!

Brutus and Asterius were a hit as usual; and the new little Mocha also fascinated the crowd. All of our animals were also thrilled to have visitors and put on a good show in the pasture and at the fence. I have invited everyone to come back at any time and bring children, grandchildren, spouses and friends.

Asterius tries to give Ramona a kiss

We're Expecting!

We awoke this morning to a bit more fog than the weather people had predicted. Many schools in the area had two hour delays. Out here on the farm though, it's the type of October morning that I absolutely love. The fog softens the autumn colors in the surrounding woods and the alpacas in the pastures out back look positively ethereal as they float, ghost-like, grazing silently on the wet grass.

Our studly Nikko can barely be seen out in the farthest area of his field. I use the adjective "studly" now because it appears that he has proven himself with our Took. His first "date" with Took didn't take. We figured it was because that was his first time and he was a bit anxious and didn't wait until she had her tail curled up. Rich and I set them up with another date two weeks later and he was a bit more "romantic" and gave her a little time to kush down first. This past Sunday we put Took back into his pasture for a behavior test and, hallelujah, she spit at him and ran around speedily to avoid Nikko's advances. These are sure signs that a female is pregnant. So now we wait 11-1/2 months.

A week after his first date with Took, we arranged a date between Nikko and Mango. It seems a bit unfair to mate a new mama just a month after she delivered a beautiful baby boy, but that's the way it's done in the alpaca world. They can actually be bred a mere ten days after delivery. So this Sunday, we plan to put Mango back in with Nikko to do a "spit test" to determine whether she is pregnant. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

This evening we are giving Nikko and our beautiful brown Leezza a chance to get acquainted in the hopes that she will also become pregnant. Nikko, being the only mature stud in the pasture that is not related to any of our girls, is a very busy guy! He's either going to be very happy or very exhausted.

This afternoon I am going to have my Research Club members out to the shop for an alpaca presentation. This club meets once a month at which time a  club member is responsible for presenting an educational program of their choosing. This year I volunteered to host and present on the same day because showing the actual thing one is talking about is so much more effective than a power point. You know how I love being able to introduce people to our alpacas! This way my club members can actually interact with the animals and have a hands-on experience with the final products: yarns, rovings, and knitted items. I plan on doing a short spinning demonstration, too.

Callie and I spent time in the shop early this morning after we fed the herd. Since it was 39 degrees this morning I needed to turn on the heater early to warm the place up. While I was out there I ran the vacuum, rearranged the seating and set up my posters and pictures in preparation for our meeting. I also had to price out some of the rag rugs that I had taken off of the loom the other day and arrange them on the display rack. Everything is ship shape now and all that remains is to review my notes. I am really looking forward to seeing my friends this afternoon.

This past weekend we went down to Lake Hope State Park for our annual family reunion, a tradition that originated with my brother-in-law's family almost 50 years ago. Once he married my sister and our  families were joined the event has evolved into a blended family event. We rent all of the cabins in an area of the park almost a year in advance and fill them with 20-30 of our family members, depending upon who is able to be there. This year my niece, Annie, and her new husband, Drew, whom we all love, came the greatest distance from St. Petersburg, Florida. My sister used to be in charge of planning the event and gradually my granddaughter, Olivia, has taken over the task. She does a great job of scheduling the menus and events, like trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving and the pizza making contest. Since each family has their own cabin we have just enough "togetherness" and still have a place to retreat for solitude when we want it. It's a great weekend of hiking, cooking out and other outdoor activities.

Olivia driving her great-grandpa's tractor with Callie and Calypso in the foreground
Rich just purchased his grandfather's little red IH Farmall Cub tractor from his uncle, who had been restoring and showing it for many years. He is so thrilled to have this little gem back on his grandparent's homestead where we live. It will make a great hayride tractor when the kids come up. Olivia and her dad, Steve, each took a turn driving it when they were last up here, and I have made up my mind that I am going to learn to drive it this weekend!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oktoberfest and Other Weekend Fun!

Our Brutus and Asterius were a big hit at the Garlo Nature Park's Oktoberfest yesterday. So much so that they got a front page mention in this morning's Advertiser-Tribune, the Tiffin, Ohio newspaper.

Although overcast and cool, it never rained and there was a steady wave of people beginning an hour before the official opening time until the event was over. I have been spinning there for three years now and kids and parents alike are interested in how fleece is turned into yarn. This was the first year that we took animals along and the boys were a big hit. In the picture above the kids were feeding treats to the alpacas, who eagerly gobbled them up as usual. Rich spent the day stationed by the pen which was located between the two log cabins on the property. He had a chair but, of course, got a chance to visit the cabin that housed the German Bakery where he bought a couple of springerlie cookies and a very large peach streuselkuchen, or peach cake with streusel on top. Karin Brown was in charge of the bakery and is as authentic as the German products sold there; most of which she bakes herself. This is one of the most popular stops in the park.

I spent most of the day in the wood-stove-heated cabin next door to the bakery cabin, spinning yarn from Brutus's baby fleece. Like the two years previously, I met so many people who were genuinely interested in the spinning process. One little boy named Henry, was so enthralled with the spinning that he parked himself on the floor, cross legged in front of the wheel to watch. I told his parents that he is either going to be a fiber artist or an engineer. He seemed equally interested in the mechanics of the wheel and how the fiber was turned into yarn. Kids like this make the whole hassle of hauling pens, animals, hay, water buckets, spinning wheel, chair, and yarn products the four miles to the park and then back home again.

Rich and I had driven up to Dearborn, Michigan on Friday afternoon to spend the night at the Dearborn Inn. A few years ago we discovered that this is a lovely place to stay for a relaxing weekend getaway. We combine this with a visit to either the Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village and have always had a great time. This weekend was the annual Fall Flavor Weekend. We had attended this event last year and enjoyed it so much that we decided to go back. When we arrived at the inn we were greeted with an unexpected upgrade to a suite in The Patrick Henry colonial home because so many weddings were scheduled that the actual inn was fully occupied with wedding guests. Our good luck!

On Saturday we walked all over the village, enjoying the farmer's market and all of the period specific cooking demonstrations in each of the historic homes of the village. My favorite, and I think Rich would agree, was the outdoor beer making demonstration. The young man dressed in the costume of the period was making beer over an open fire from George Washington's own recipe. Besides being a great demonstration, we enjoyed a lively conversation about the ingredients and the process of beer making with him.

With Oktoberfest following so closely after our trip up north, needless to say both Rich and I were pretty much exhausted last night. We decided to retire after the evening news at 7 p.m. (I know if my kids were reading this, which they never do, they are making fun of us for being old fogies!) We turned  on the TV and I promptly fell asleep. Rich said that he was not awake much longer than I. Though we will probably stay up a bit later this evening, I'm sure we'll sleep just as soundly again.

Monday, September 29, 2014

More Open House Pics!

The husband of my good friend, Nancy, took these lovely pictures on Saturday. Wade did such a great job that I just had to post some of his photographs. Take a look:

Rich holding baby Mocha for a photo op

Rosalie admiring little Mocha

The little guy is growing fast...24 pounds.

Nikko, Asterius and Brutus