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).


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!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve and All's Well!

Just a quick note on this eve of Christmas since this past week has been a whirlwind of activity. My Portland, Oregon daughter, Susie, and granddaughter, Zaidee, arrived in Ohio last Thursday. I had the lucky privilege of having both granddaughters, Zaidee and Olivia, stay the night  together. A rarity for sure.

We had planned on going to see the new movie version of Annie, but Olivia was feeling poorly and had a spiked temperature. Zaidee also wasn't feeling her best after traveling. So we stayed home and played a rousing game of "chicken foot" dominoes and watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Of course the two girls had to go out and visit Asterius and Brutus and the others.

Then on Monday I drove Susie and Zaidee down to Columbus for a rendezvous with a very talented woman named Knaba, who performed magic on Zaidee's hair. It took her 5 hours to braid the hair during which time she put up with Amy, Susie and I looking on. Zaidee was patient for about 1/2 of the time. Towards the end she had just about had it but when it was over she was so pleased with the look. The gold braids were metallic and shiny making her look like a Christmas gift and feel like a princess.

Yesterday I was surprised by a visit from two former 7th grade students who are now juniors. Hannah Welter's dad grew up near her and her grandmother lives nearby. She drove out and brought Eddie Vasquez with her. It was so great to see them and catch up. Both kids have set goals for their futures and have taken positive steps to make them happen. It's nice for me to see what happens to "my kids" after they move on; and especially nice to see them turning out so well.

Looking forward to tomorrow and Christmas with my lovely daughters, son-in-law and grand kids all in one place for a change. What grandmother could ask for more?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Home Stretch...

That huge gust of wind coming out of Seneca County two days ago was just me breathing a sigh of relief as I finished the last of my Christmas "to do" list. I have all of the knitted gifts done, all of the baking that I intended to do done and all of the gifts are wrapped and hidden.

This was made from my heather gray worsted yarn, a product of Took and our departed Firenze

In theory, I should be able to just sit back and enjoy Christmas with my children and grandchildren now. In theory...

There is just one little snag in the plan. Our water treatment system, that has been on the fritz for the past month isn't getting any better in spite of having four, count 'em, 1-2-3-4 service calls since Thanksgiving. In fact, it's worse. My entire house smells like boiled cabbage whenever we turn the water on. The water people are in the cellar as I write and I am crossing my fingers that they can solve the problem. My kids are all city kids and have never had to deal with wells, pumps, filtration tanks and such. I'm afraid that the smell will be a bit off-putting for them and I am hoping that it gets remedied before they arrive tomorrow.

On the plus side, I do have all of my shopping done and the gifts are wrapped and hidden away from the prying eyes of grandkids and husbands!

In all fairness, Rich never snoops around trying to find out what he's getting for Christmas. He prefers to be surprised. The only problem I have with him is when he decides to scan the credit card charges and wants to know the details of the unfamiliar ones. I cannot seem to break him of the habit of doing this at Christmas! He never does his shopping until the last minute and the only one he has to shop for is me. In fact, he took a vacation day today in order to go on his annual solo shopping trip to the big city of Columbus. He always hides his stash of shopping bags outside in his wood shop and does it so well that I have not been able to find it in 14 years of marriage! (Yes I do snoop and he knows it.)

My cookie baking is done. I made the usual chocolate chip cookies, gingerbread men, Greek kourabiedes (powdered sugar crescents) and chocolate toffee pine bark, a Paula Deen recipe. I often swirl peanut butter chips into the chocolate of the pine bark, making it one of  Rich's favorites.

This year I added a new "cookie." It's a chocolate mint thing that resembles the traditional Girl Scout favorite. I happened to have Rachel Ray on the television as I was cleaning the other day and saw her dipping Ritz crackers into dark chocolate that was flavored with a few drops of peppermint flavoring. These are habit forming, not to mention that when you dip, you end up elbow deep in chocolate. There is no easy way to dip these but they are certainly worth it.

Right now I have the Chex Mix in the oven which is overlaying the boiled cabbage smell coming from the basement with a more savory odor. It sort of smells like a Hungarian restaurant!

Last week we moved alpacas around into different pastures. Mango was looking very thin and we were concerned that she wasn't getting enough nutrition. She is the only one that is both nursing and pregnant, meaning that she needs more food than the other females. Mango is just a little more timid since she had Mocha and the other two were crowding her out of the feed trough so we had to put them into a separate pasture. Mango and her little boy, Mocha are now in the barn pasture and she is looking much better.

This move meant that we had to shift the boys around a bit and the two yearlings landed in the pasture directly behind the house. They have been such a source of amusement. Whenever they hear the back door open they come running to the gate hoping that it's feeding time again. It doesn't matter that they may have just been fed a half hour ago. These guys are growing and spending so much energy playing that they are eating machines much like teenage boys. The other day when we had a rare moment of sunshine they must have been feeling especially feisty because when I looked out they were "neck wrestling."

They start out in a neck-to-neck position, entwining their necks and eventually circle around into a front to back stance, each one attempting to grab the other's back leg. Quite often Asterius, the larger white animal, will get a good hold of Brutus's back leg and lay down as he hangs on to it. My little guy, Brutus, trumps this move by twisting and laying down across Asterius's neck which makes him let go. I look on from the back window and cannot stop laughing at these two.

I have no transition for these last two pictures other than, this is what our evening looks like after the busy days that we have been experiencing lately.