Monday, April 20, 2015

For a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the Queen and I share a birthday, April is my favorite month. I love the milder temperatures and the smell of spring flowers and newly mowed lawns in the air. I can even deal with days like today which started out at 60 degrees and dropped suddenly with the high winds that blew rain in from the west. Out here in the country the farmers are already beginning to work the land in the drier pastures and my gardener friends have planted their cold weather crops like spinach, peas, onions and such. When I look out my front windows I can see the cheerful bobbing of the yellow daffodils that have finally blossomed. These sturdy flowers were already poking up through the last of the snow in March and don't seem to wither with the fluctuating temperatures of April.


This past weekend on Saturday I taught another basket making class over at The Art Junction in New Haven. We made a bread basket which is an intermediate skill level and of my four students only one had made a basket before. The students ranged in age from a fourth grader to a woman "of a certain age" like me and included one of my former 7th graders who is now a freshman. It was a diverse age group and we got along famously. I really enjoyed this class. 






Each one of their projects, made from the same pattern, resulted in a basket that was totally unique to each individual. Every time I teach a basket making class I am amazed at the resulting projects. Every basket maker puts her (or his) own special spin on the project making it a work of art. All four of my class members left with a bread basket that they were proud of and eager to take home and show their family members.


Shearing day is this Friday and the temperature is supposed to drop low enough later this week that we have overnight frost warnings from Wednesday through Sunday. The daytime highs will be warm enough for them but we may have to put a coat on little Mocha man. Though he doesn't look it with his full fleece, underneath it all he is still pretty small. I will post before and after pictures of all of the alpacas on Saturday. We are also opened on Saturday mornings for drop-in visitors if anyone wants to come out and see the "naked" animals. 


Each year when we bring them back from the shearing station and turn the alpacas loose into their pastures, they all go romping and pronking out into the grass and I'm sure it's because they feel so much lighter after all of that fleece is removed. Lately, our yearlings, Brutus and Asterius, have been feeling their oats and have been engaging in bouts of "neck wrestling" in their pasture. Once they are relieved of their heavy fleece, the two of them should be really feisty. I'm always amused by their antics. They run and pronk, chest butting each other as they pass by and circle around the pasture for another Pepe-le-Pew like pronk. If you want to see exactly what this behavior looks like just go to You.Tube and search for pronking alpacas. It always makes me laugh.


We took each of the animals for a walk one day last week when it was sunny. I always get a kick out of the double takes of people driving by when they see a fuzzy, Peruvian animal walking on a leash. Brutus, in particular, loves to walk on the lead. He's a cutie and perhaps my favorite of all the alpacas, mainly because, although he's mild mannered and very biddable, he is such a survivor, having lost his mama when he was only four months old. 

We walked Mocha for the first time, too. Rich took his mama, Mango, and walked her on the lead. She's an old hand at this and followed Rich right out of the gate without balking. Mocha, however, hung back and was very reluctant to leave the safety of the barnyard, understandable since it was his first time. Once he realized that Mango was leaving him he gave in and followed me out of the gate. Mocha kept "maa-ing," crying for his mama the whole time we were walking. Although he was clearly befuddled he kept following Rich and Mango all around the yard and back to the pasture. 

I don't expect that we will have any trouble getting him into the trailer this Friday when we take them for shearing. We take them in two loads, first Nikko, Asterius and Brutus and when they have been sheared we come back and take the girls and Mocha. Last year it went pretty smoothly and I'm looking forward to it again. Rich and I pitch in and help with our own animals and any others who need help. It's a long and arduous task but fun and very rewarding.

Just a reminder, we are gearing up for our spring open house on May 16th and 17th from 10-4 each day. See you then!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April Showers And All That Jazz!

When I woke up to flashing bolts of lightening, crashing thunder and my big, brave, Labrador Retriever, Callie, cowering on my side of the bed, I realized that I was in for a long dreary day. To top it all off I had my yearly mammogram and DEXA bone scan to go to this morning. TMI, I know, but I just wanted to paint a realistic picture of what my day was going to be like.



After tumbling out of bed and soothing the dog, I blindly stumbled downstairs to the kitchen (sounds kind of like a Dolly Parton song, doesn't it?) where, thank God, Rich had started the coffee. He knows not to ask me anything that demands serious answers until I have had that first cup so he always has it waiting for me when he gets up first.

Spring forward a couple of hours...I only spent 30 minutes in the women's clinic. It was a very slow day for them meaning that I was in and out in record time. From there on in,  the day got way better. As I was driving home from the hospital where I had the tests I was thinking to myself that this would be a perfect day to bake bread. And that's exactly what I did. There's something comforting about bread rising on the counter top and then the yummy smell of bread baking that makes an otherwise cloudy, depressing day seem all warm and cozy.



I used a recipe that my daughter, Amy, had given me to make one of my mother's old favorites, English Muffin Bread. It makes two loaves and takes a bit longer to rise and bake than some breads, but the end result is delicious. It is even better sliced and toasted than it is warm from the oven; and it's pretty good warm from the oven.


Of course, I had to slice into one of the loaves as soon as it cooled. I wouldn't want to serve Rich a "bad" loaf of bread, would I? Mmmmm! That loaf won't last much past tomorrow morning. I wrapped the second loaf and put it in the freezer for a later time when I feel the need for homemade bread and don't have the time to bake it.


In spite of the alternating rain and mist, it wasn't too terribly cold this afternoon so I donned my little, red, raincoat and ventured outside to see if any of the herd might be out. They don't like soaking rains because their fleece, which doesn't have any of the oils that sheep fleece has, tends to absorb the water and weight them down. Nikko and Asterius, in particular, have such dense, crimpy, fleece that it repels light rain and they will often go out as long as it's only misty. Nikko came running when he heard the back storm door slam. That slam is sort of like the ding of the bell was for Pavlov's dogs. Nikko and the others hear it and have become conditioned to think that they are going to get a treat. Once he realized that I was only out there to take his picture he turned his back on me and headed inside out of the rain.


My efforts weren't completely wasted though. I strolled around the yard and found that my daffodils have shot up and actually have a few yellow buds on them. Given this rain and a couple of sunny days they should be blooming soon.



 I also noticed that the phlox in the flowerbed at the foot of the front steps is showing green as are the lilies in the "bunny" garden beside the front porch. It gives substance  to the old adage, "April showers bring May flowers."


By the time we have our Spring Open House on May 16th and 17th everything should be green and flowering. Check back for more details of the open house.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"April is the cruellest month..."

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.   - T.S. Eliot

Although Eliot goes on to tell a different story after the first four lines of his poem, "The Waste Land," these four opening lines always make me feel like it's a description of Ohio in April. Today the temperatures reached a comfortable and sunny 68 degrees and tomorrow is supposed to be the same. However, (in Ohio in April there is always a "however") by this Easter weekend the temperatures will struggle to reach the low 40s.

Ah, well! All we can do is enjoy the warm day while it's here. I spent the morning painting  the rest of the kitchen wainscoting that I hadn't finished the other day. I must admit it looks so much cleaner in there.


Now, though, the front door looks pretty shabby and will need painting when it gets warm enough to keep it open all day. I may as well get enough paint to do the back door, too, since once the front door is done it will make the back door look pretty tired. That's the trouble with interior painting projects. Once you complete one room, it makes the ones near to it look badly in need of refreshing. It's the old "domino theory' at work.

I'm taking a break for the rest of the week to get some craft projects done. I have a sewing project about finished and it has been laying around for over a week now. One good hour's work and my new blouse should be ready for Easter Sunday. I have one sock done of a pair that I am making for a friend of my granddaughter, Olivia. The second sock is started (2") and I need to get to work on that. I also have some yarn half plied on the wheel that I have been staring at since October. 'Bout time I get that done, too. Once those projects are completed I'll get back to the painting.

The forsythia by the back deck hasn't bloomed yet and according to the folklore that my maternal grandpa swore by, there will be three snows after it does. I cut some twigs from the shrub and brought them inside yesterday, hoping to force them to bloom and hasten things along. Right now they just look like sticks in a jar! No sign of a blossom on any of the sticks, so I guess that means that we still have more snow to look forward to.



Rich brought an Easter Lily plant home yesterday and that's helping to brighten the living room a little bit.


I took a break this afternoon to go out to the pasture and snap a few pictures of the herd enjoying the sunny day. Asterius is getting so big that he is looking more and more like Nikko every day. At his current rate of growth he should be the same size as Nikko by the end of the summer. (That's Nikko laying down in the foreground and Asterius in back.)


The girls and little Mocha were hanging out in the back of their pasture looking for anything that might resemble a blade of grass. The pastures are pretty awful looking at this time of year. I have read somewhere that farmers often call this "the mud season" and I can certainly see why. Rich is going to clean the pastures up tomorrow and put up a temporary fence to block the girls out of the pasture until the grass recovers.


Our little Mocha-man likes to hang with Leezza. Brutus did the same when he was a little tyke. She's petty patient with him for a girl that's almost seven months pregnant. Rich went out one evening a couple of weeks ago, just at sundown and found Leezza leading Mocha and the girls on a pronking dance through the pasture and back into the barn; an activity that usually involves only the young crias. I often see Mocha sleeping alongside of Leezza instead of his mother, Mango; and I haven't seen him nursing lately either. Maybe he has self-weaned? Guess we just have to wait and see. I hope that this behavior means that Leezza is going to be a good mama when her first little cria arrives.

Mocha and his aunt Leezza with mama Mango looking on.



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.