Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Field Trip and Mango Wears a Halter For The First Time

It's 33 degrees, snowy, and breeze outside. I have bronchitis and a sinus infection. Today Rich decided we need to put halters on Mango for the first time. This involves first, herding all of the girls into the barn and closing the door (sounds easier than it is) and secondly, cutting out the designated animal from the herd. The second part is actually the easier part of the operation. Today the girls definitely weren't hungry enough to come into the barn voluntarily when we put out some of their favorite snack, sweet feed. They also seemed to sense that something was up as I sat shivering on the edge of the hay rick with a scoop of sweet feed in my hand, not very patiently trying to coax them deeper into the little red barn. Rich was messing about with the feed boxes just outside the gate. I am convinced they realize when there are two of us hovering about with determined looks on our faces that they will soon be the object of some awkward attempt to corner and restrain one of them for something unpleasant. We tried for about 15 minutes and gave up.

I went inside, took off my barn shoes and prepared to relax on the couch when Rich stuck his head in the back door and shouted, "They're all in the barn." He quickly slammed the door and retreated to the barn without giving me a chance to respond. A very wise move on  his part. He knows me so well.

Muttering some unrepeatable epithets under my breath, I suited up again and stomped out to the barn. This time we were successful. First we haltered baby Mango for the first time ever. She bucked a bit at first and then just stood her ground facing us down. She even took a step or two after she calmed down. We took off the halter and released her. Then we cornered her mama, Took, who calmed immediately when we put the halter and lead on her. Rich was able to lead her around in the barn and out into the snow covered pasture. She clearly was experienced at this.


This morning we took a quick trip out to Amy J's Homestead Alpacas where we purchased our four girls. We needed to pick up a special blend of sweet feed and ask a few questions about alpaca coats, medication and a few other topics. As always Amy was so patient with us and readily and cheerfully answered all of our questions. We were so lucky when we chose to visit her farm during our research phase of this endeavor. She is the best mentor we could have ever chosen. She honestly answers any question we ask from care of alpacas to tax questions. We are so thankful for this association. While there we visited the animals in the barn. I snapped a few pictures of the most darling crias in their winter coats snacking at the feed bin and nursing from their moms.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


All of the meteorologists at all of the major television stations predicted blizzard conditions for today, and although we here in Seneca County Ohio are on a level 2 snow emergency I really wouldn't consider it a blizzard. For a short time today it snowed heavily and there is some wind but it never reached the constant 35 mph that constitutes a blizzard. We probably have about four inches of snow and it is blowing and shifting. Rich and I went out earlier to check on the alpaca girls who are locked safely in the barn today. We spent some time letting them eat sweet feed from our hands. Rich shoveled out the small pile of "beans" that they had deposited. The small barn is a tight, warm shelter from the winds. It smells pleasantly of hay and warm alpacas. It's a nice place to spend a half hour. In the short time we were out in the barn with the girls the wind had filled in our footprints in the snow drifts between the house and barn.

It was a good night for soup so I cooked up a pot of cheesy corn chowder for supper and served it with pulled pork sandwiches made from the leftovers of the Sunday celebration. We have probably six inches of snow and may get more tonight. According to the weather report we should have some more blowing and drifting. Rich and I are warmly settled in for the night and looking forward to the two creme brulees left from Christmas dinner at Amy's. I truly think that "life is good."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We tried and tried to get the girls lined up for a Christmas picture and this was the best we could do. They absolutely refused to wear the Santa hats or neck garlands. I think that they were trying to let us know that they had way more dignity than the dog who happily wore her plaid, jingle bell collar all day at the family Christmas gathering out in our little studio/store.

Richard's side of the family gathered here Sunday; forty odd children and adults from under a year old up to my father-in-law who is 83, packed the little red barn studio for our annual Christmas celebration. This year both of our daughters, my son-in-law and the three grandkids were able to join us, too. It is a rare occasion when we can get the family all together like that. We missed our nephew who had to work and was the only one missing.

Our two granddaughters stayed all night with us that evening. Zaidee, eight, who was in from Oregon with our daughter, Susie, had a wonderful time with her cousin, Olivia, 14. Zaidee looks up to Olivia and adores her. Olivia is so patient with the little ones. It was an early Christmas gift for me. Then on Monday we drove to Columbus to rejoin our daughter Amy, and son-in-law Steve, and favorite (and only) grandson, Max, to stay overnight and open gifts this morning. Steve is an excellent gourmet cook and made deep dish pizzas for dinner last night. Yummy. Unfortunately his grandmother was suddenly taken ill and he had to go to Toledo to see her in the hospital and missed the dinner he had planned for today. Amy, Susie and I managed to carry on and get dinner on the table. We all enjoyed the day in spite of the shadow of his grandma's illness. We hope and pray that she will be well soon.

Rich and I arrived home late this afternoon in time to batten down the hatches because a blizzard warning is in effect for tomorrow with the snow starting tonight. Rich managed to corral the girls and lock them in the barn for the night. They weren't happy about that and kept looking out of the barn door window, but we will rest easier knowing that they are in out of the wind.

Merry Christmas to everyone, from Buckeye Star Alpaca farm!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Small Triumph

Early this morning, before the sun came up, Rich and I went out to the barn to feed the girls. We also had plans to corral them in the barn while they were eating in order to single each one out and administer a medication called Panecure. The lab report from the vet indicated the Firenze has some sort of intestinal parasite and we had to treat all of the girls in case the others had picked it up.

Rich went out first and put feed in the bins. While the girls were eating he slipped out behind them and closed the barn door. I came out soon after, still in my pajamas, with the medication and syringe. I filled the syringe with a single dose and with arms outstretched I helped Rich herd the girls into the corner. He cut out Firenze from the pack and grabbed her gently but firmly around the neck. She quieted down immediately and didn't resist very hard when I inserted the syringe full of medication between her lips and down into the back of her mouth. She swallowed some of it and drooled some more out. No problem. We just cornered her again and gave her another 1/2 dose.

We repeated the process with Leeza then Took. Leeza was as compliant as Took was resistant. Took really did not want to open her lips for me and I had to be a little forceful. In the end she swallowed and all was well. Corralling Mango was a bit more difficult. She clearly has not had medication administered to her very often but once we got her pinned and I gave her the meds she actually smacked her lips and seemed to like it.

This small triumph was a real confidence builder for both Rich and I. Before this we weren't at all sure that we would be able to corral them all so easily. We are now looking forward to haltering Took and Mango this weekend to begin lead training for the baby girl. Every day is a new adventure and a new challenge.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Grandma Mourns

Sometime in the mid-morning I had to turn off the television. I couldn't watch any more news reports from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I had first heard of this horrible, horrible event yesterday when I checked the news during my lunch period. There were no details then and I couldn't afford to know any more about it since I had two more classes to teach and I didn't trust myself to remain positive and upbeat to the kids I was responsible for at the time. Then when I returned home in the afternoon I tuned in to the news and the awful details were everywhere. I couldn't hold back the tears for those twenty children and their teachers.  We have had to deal with the death of students at our school in the past and when something like Sandy Hook occurs it stirs the ashes of those past emotions and makes them surface again.

I couldn't fall asleep last night for thinking about all of those lovely, innocent children and dedicated education professionals who tried desperately to protect them. I'm a teacher. I'm a mom and a grandma. As I sit here in my cozy living room, in front of my festive Christmas tree and look at the pictures of my own three, beautiful grandchildren, two of whom are still in elementary school themselves, I cannot help but think of the deep sea of grief that will be replacing the high tide of joy for the victims' families this holiday season. I mourn with them and my heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Missing the Quiet

For the past two days I have been so busy after school that I have been late getting home and therefore have not been able to spend much time outside with the alpaca girls. I am really missing that unwinding time that I spend with them each evening. Last night, after dinner, I did go out to the stable briefly to feed them the extra helping of sweet feed that the vet recommended. We did a body score on all of them Sunday (more about that later) and found that Firenze is a bit under weight and Took, also pregnant at the same time she is sporadically nursing Mango, could use a little extra nutrition. I scooped up a generous helping of the feed into a large, red, plastic feed scoop and stepped into the stable enclosure. As soon as the girls heard me snap the top off the plastic feed bin they rushed into the stable area. When I stepped through the gate and turned around Firenze was right there at my shoulder waiting with the other three close behind. I took a handful of feed out of the scoop and held it to my left as I held the scoop to the right of me. Firenze zeroed in on the largest portion in the scoop and the other three jostled for the handful on the left. The most amazing thing is that Leeza, who was the timid one before Firenze arrived, pushed in ahead of Took and Mango and helped herself to the feed in my left hand. Eventually I had to shoulder Leeza out of the way so that I could give Took the extra handful. This is the first time that I have had all four of the girls crowding in close to me to get their snack!

Sunday afternoon, one of my students who is also a 4-H member, came out to visit and become familiar with the alpacas. She would like to show one of them at the fair next summer as her project so I invited her to come out and begin to work with them. We felt that it was time for the recommended periodic body score. This involves corraling them into one place, in this case the stable, and one of us holds them steady while the other runs their hands over the animal's back to check for muscle mass alongside their spine and all down the back. My student, Rich, and myself herded the girls into the corner of the stable behind the hay rack. Rich grabbed Took around the neck and the 4-H'er and I felt down the length of her back. But baby Mango surprised all three of us when she did a standing leap over the 3' tall hay rack and out of the corner into the open space! She wasn't going to hang around and be pawed over by any humans. We finished off the body scoring with Leeza and Firenze then decided to halter Leeza and work a bit on leading her around with a leash. With a little hesitation at first, Leeza cooperated and we had a successful training session for both girl and animal!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


We had our first vet visit yesterday. It was a little sooner than we had planned because Firenze seemed to have developed intestinal problems. I could tell when I shoveled the pasture that one of the girls had a problem but it took two days and several sessions of watching them to catch her in the act if you will. We called the vet right away yesterday morning and he came out in the early afternoon. He took a sample to send for testing and we haven't heard back from him yet. He didn't seem to be overly worried. He checked out all of the girls while he was here and they all seem to be healthy. Firenze, as I suspected, is a little underweight so the vet prescribed a richer feed blend for her. We knew from her records that she has a history of difficulty keeping her weight up when she is pregnant so we have been watching her closely. She is a very healthy eater and always eager to have a sweet feed snack from the pan or from our hands. That's what made it so easy to put her harness on her and walk her around.

Tonight, after school, I went out to the pasture to spend some time with the girls. Of course, I took a  bag of sweet feed to try to tempt them. But today was such a beautiful, sunny, cold day that they were perfectly content to graze in the pasture while I talked to them. The real bonus though was that while I was leaning on the fence humming and talking to the girls our local bald eagle did a lazy, circling fly over the pasture and the barns. He caught a thermal and circled a couple of times before flying off into the woods. How lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful place!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Rich and I went out early this morning at about sunup to feed the girls, as usual. In spite of my usual pre-coffee brain fog I remembered to take the camera with me this time. They head toward the barn as soon as they hear us slide the door open and when Rich taps the side of the galvanized bucket that he has measured out for feed they come running. He distributed the feed to the four bins and I moved deeper into the back of the stable with the camera. The girls refused to come all the way in as long as Callie dog was loitering outside the stable gate so Rich took her inside the shop with him when he went in to fire up the old wood stove. The alpaca girls rushed in and glanced at me then began hungrily gobbling up their food, only pausing to lift their heads up to swallow, quickly glance my way and return to their feed bins. I snapped a few dozen pictures trying to get just one with all of their heads down in the bin. Here are the two best snaps.

It was such a beautiful day for December; sunny and 55 degrees outside with a slight breeze. Because of this we were feeling optimistic and decided to try putting a halter on one of the girls. I put the largest of our halters in one pocket and the old pink dog lead in the other and headed out to the catch pen. I loosened the gate and closed it about 3/4 of the way and then went inside. Rich brought out a generous handful of sweet feed and put it into the feed pan in the pen and he then waited just outside the gate. Sure enough, all four girls came running. They love the sweet feed and associate it with the red feed pan or an outstretched hand. Rich pulled the gate shut with himself on the inside. When the girls discovered that we were all closed in they were only momentarily taken aback. They finished the treat in the feed pan and stood looking at us as if to say, "What next?" Rich put his arms around Firenze's neck and held her while I put the harness over her nose and fastened it behind her head. I snapped on the lead, handed it to Rich and opened the gate. Took, Mango and Leeza rushed out but Firenze stood patiently waiting for Rich to lead. When he walked out she followed calmly, without  any resistance as he led her around the pasture. When it was my turn, she followed just as patiently as I led her around the pasture.

Firenze is such a wise, patient and beautiful animal. She has only been here for a week and has settled in quite comfortably. It's as if she has lived here much longer. They whole dynamics of the herd has changed and even Leeza seems happier now that she has an "older wiser woman" to guide her. All four of the girls will now come up to us and eat out of our hand. Also, they all will approach any visitors at the fence now. Success feels good and so does having their trust.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Firenze Has Arrived!

Our dignified, black beauty, Firenze, arrived this morning during a snow squall. She was familiarly greeted by the rest of the herd and immediately assumed her place as the head mama of the herd. In fact the whole dynamic of the herd changed as soon as she stepped foot in the pasture. The others rushed up to greet her and she made it clear that she was in charge. In fact, mama Took seemed only too glad to cede leadership of the other girls to the new arrival. Firenze's dignified demeanor also had an unforseen benefit. When Callie dog was turned loose at the pasture's edge to look through the fence at the new arrival and began running back and forth like she has done since the others arrived, Firenze stood her ground staring grandly down her nose at Callie. Callie stopped short opposite Firenze and just stared. The most amazing thing though was the fact that Took, Leeza and Mango who usually run across the pasture from one side to the other to be as far from Callie as possible, just stood behind Firenze as she stared down the dog as if to say,"This dog is just nuts!" Firenze was clearly not impressed by the dog nor fearful in any way and the others assumed the same attitude.

Firenze is also very people friendly and comes right up to the fence when we visit the pasture alone or with friends. She came face-to-face with me and hummed gently in reply to my voice. Her eyes are very wise and curious at the same time. She has a serenity about her that has affected the other girls and she is behaving as if she has lived here for years. Apparently their barn and pasture meets Firenze's standards of comfort.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Such a Happy Girl!

I am such a happy girl tonight! When I got home from school today I changed into something more comfortable, opened the mail, read the paper and started dinner. It is such a mild day for November that I thought I would just go out and spend some time in the pasture. I donned my white fleece jacket. I have found that Mango seems to be attracted to this one maybe since it is the same color as she is. I strolled on out to the pasture and entered through the barn. I started to open up the gate and as an afterthought I backed up and dug into the food bin for a handful of sweet feed. We have been using this to lure the girls into the catch pen leading up to the day when we will close the gate and try to harness them. (Plan B, if you read the earlier blog on how NOT to corral alpacas) I stood just outside the barn door, leaning on a fence post with one hand in my pocket and the other close to my body about waist high holding the handful of sweet feed. All three girls came to within two feet of me but only Mango came closer. She came right up to me and sniffed my jacket and sniffed at the feed in my hand but would not take a bite. She backed off for a few minutes and then returned, only to sniff but not eat. I stayed by the fence post for almost 10 minutes until my feet were numb from standing still in one spot.

Then I decided to cross the pasture and go into the catch pen just to see if the girls might be more receptive to the feed if I were in the spot they were used to receiving it. I dribbled a few grains into the pan and then backed up against the fence inside the pen. Boy did they change their tune then. All three of the girls trotted eagerly into the pen. Mama Took was the first to the pan. She nibbled at the grains in the pan, pushing Leeza and Mango away with her head whenever either one of them tried to eat. Took was positively greedy for the little bit of sweet feed. When she finished the treat in the pan she lifted her head and sniffed in my direction. I was almost afraid to breathe. I couldn't believe what happened next. She took two steps forward and put her nose right down into my hand and nibbled away at the treat. I could feel her breath on my skin and the slight touch of her lips in my palm as she nibbled up all of the sweet feed. She lifted her head, looked me in the eye for a second and then turned and trotted back out into the pasture. Mango and Leeza followed her.

Before tonight, I would have bet money that Mango would be the first to eat out of our hands because she is so curious and because she is the one who consistently approaches and sniffs at me. I knew that Leeza probably wouldn't ever eat our of our hands because she is so timid. Took is usually the one with her ears drawn back humming a warning at Mango when the baby gets to close to us. Apparently the lure of sweet feed was too strong to resist.

Took looking for more, please?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where's The Camera When You Need It?

I rose early this Sunday morning since Rich and I had planned a quick trip to Columbus to take our grandson, Max, to see the new Lincoln movie. (Which was long but very good.) I went outside at sun up to feed the alpaca girls and they must have been hungry for their daily dose of supplemental feed because they were waiting for me just outside the door of their barn. I scooped out a bucketful of their feed and a handful of sweetfeed that I always use to tempt them to come near enough to eat out of my hand. So far no results in that endeavor. They kept their distance a few feet outside of the barn's open door as I entered from the inside gate. I turned my back on them to fill their trough and peeked over my shoulder to see three fuzzy heads peering through the door! Instead of leaving, I strolled slowly to the back of the enclosure to check the water bucket and the hay bin. I turned around and to my surprise all three of the girls were at the trough feeding! I sat down on the edge of the hay bin with my handful of sweetfeed open by my side, talking and humming to them all the while. Took and Leeza pretty much ignored me and kept on eating. Baby Mango, on the other hand, took several steps in my direction looking inquisitively at me. She seemed to know that I had a handful of her favorite treat and I could tell that she really wanted it. I wish I could say that she overcame her shyness this time and helped herself but she didn't. However, I am sure that one day she will be the first one to overcome her fear and try to eat out of my hand if I can just be patient enough.

It is deer hunting season in Ohio now and this weekend was the youth hunting weekend before the regular season opens. So early this morning the group who hunt the woods out back were in place long before dawn. As our girls were eating I was glancing out the big barn door towards the woods. As I watched five deer trotted across the field heading towards my brother-in-law's house. Smart deer. Hunters cannot shoot towards houses and other buildings. At that distance there is no way one could hear the deer but amazingly enough, Took seemed to sense their presence. She raised her head from the trough and perked those big ears up. Leeza also became alert. Both ran outside to the side of the fence toward the deer followed by baby Mango. How did they know? Is it the smell? Can they actually hear at that distance? I have no doubt that they could see the deer with those wide, black, inquisitive eyes of theirs. All three remained there alert with their heads raised and ears perked up until the deer were no longer visible. Amazing. All this action and I had forgotten to bring my camera out with me.

Leeza needed a good back scratching!
Mango is as big as Leeza now!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ahh Sunshine!

This weekend warmed up a bit, 64 degrees. But the best part was the sunshine. Our alpaca girls thoroughly enjoyed basking in the rays.

They even let me approach to within a couple of feet and snap a few pictures. They sat serenely humming in the grass while I talked and hummed to them. I let them know that we were really sorry for our gaffe last weekend. (Remember the flying yellow flags?) I think they have forgiven us.

Rich built a catch pen in one corner of the pasture for use in future attempts to herd and harness them. For now the gate to the pen is fastened open and today he put a pan full of "sweet feed" inside to entice them. Our strategy is to get them used to the penning area as a pleasant place where they can find an occasional treat. Then the next time we want to try halter training we will close the gate and try a gentler approach. One can hope.

Rich also dug an electric line to the far end of the pasture for future connection to the "portable" three-sided shed that we will use later when it is necessary to separate the young ones from the mamas at delivery time. He has had a very productive weekend with his faithful sidekick, Callie, following him every step of the way. This evening they are all tuckered out. Rich is restfully rocking in the recliner while he channel surfs. (Another male activity that I will never really "get.") Callie is dutifully sleeping at his feet; or her version, which is actually sleeping with her head draped over his crossed feet!

  The sun is dipping into the western horizon and the Buckeye Star Alpaca Farm is settled in for the night.

Monday, November 5, 2012

How Not to Catch an Alpaca!

OK! So yesterday afternoon, after a good month of visiting the girls daily to build trust, Rich and I blew it in 15 minutes of a bungled attempt to corral Leeza and put a harness on her. We have both read books, articles and multiple websites that advise the novice about how to cut a single alpaca out of the herd in order to put a harness on her and begin to leash train the animal. We decided that Sunday was THE day. We carefully discussed and planned what our strategy would be when we entered the pasture and found what we thought would be the exact thing to use for a herding "tape." In the materials that we read, alpaca owners used everything from a special webbing tape to a sturdy brightly colored rope to gently surround their animals and gradually herd them in to a catch pen. We were even advised by a fascinating woman who was probably in her seventies or so, that she could herd her animals alone using a simple webbing strap. How difficult can it be, we thought.

The cold, damp wind was blowing my hair around my face as I entered the pasture alone, strap in one pocket and halter in the other. Keeping my hands at my side I slowly approached the girls, talking softly to them the whole time just like I usually do on my nightly visits. So far, so good. Rich entered the pasture behind me and greeted our alpaca girls in the same friendly manner he always uses with them. They stood staring and humming at us totally unsuspecting that they were in for some unwelcome excitement. I pulled the "herding tape" out of my pocket and handed one end to Rich and I took the other and began to circle around to the other side of the girls. At this point they got nervous and realized that we were advancing toward them and slowly penning them into the corner of the pasture with the tape. We shortened the tape until all three animals were in the corner and then I put myself between Took and Leeza and gently put my arms low around Leeza's neck. Took and Mango took off and Leeza realized in an instant that she was stronger than I am. She backed out of the corner and joined her buddies in flight. Rich looked at me a little disgusted that I could not hold on to an animal that is shorter than I.

Undaunted, Rich and I decided to try the same move again in another corner of the pasture. No luck. We made a third attempt but this time Rich put a hug on Leeza. Guess what? She is stronger and faster than him, too!  But this is where the trauma begins. Leeza escaped cleanly but in the process somehow the lightweight plastic "strap" got hooked around baby Mango's chest and she took off at a gallop across the pasture trailing 50 feet of yellow caution tape complete with flags dangling at regular intervals behind her! Mama Took ran along side her baby, clearly distressed about the ethereal yellow "monster" chasing her baby. Rich and I stood rooted to the spot staring helplessly for the few minutes it took for the caution tape to finally break loose and drop to the ground.

Mango and Leeza ran to the far side of the pasture and huddled behind Took who was screeching and spitting in our direction warning us to stay clear of the young ones. Richard and I retreated out of the pasture with our tails between our legs, figuratively speaking, feeling awful that we had traumatized our girls.

In our nightly visit this evening all three girls turned their backs on me at first. I apologized profusely for about 15 minutes in the cold wind before they finally turned around and looked at me. Before I came inside Took, with her ears drawn back, finally approached within two feet. I was afraid that I was going to get a face full of spit but I stood my ground ready to take my punishment. She perked up her ears, stared at me calmly, hummed and then returned to her baby. I think that I am conditionally forgiven.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bedtime Snack

Rich finished a three-sided shelter for the pasture this afternoon and dragged it into the pasture. We both figured the alpaca girls would be afraid of the old tractor and a moving building. Quite the contrary. All three of them stood gawking as he moved the building across the pasture only moving slightly out of the way as he passed by. After he jockeyed the building into place and unchained it he chugged out of the pasture on the tractor. Before I could even get the gate closed behind him the girls were circling the building and sniffing at the new resident. When they were satisfied that it wasn't alive they started frolicking around and around it. Leeza and Mango, the kids, were leading the way but even mama Took made a few leaps along behind them before she settled back down to grazing. It was quite a sight to see the young ones playing happily like that.
I went  back out with my cup of tea and camera just a few minutes ago to check on the girls and tell them good night before the sun went down. As usual Mango was the first one to come up and greet me. She didn't spend much time talking with me tonight. The reason soon became obvious. She trotted back to mama Took and nuzzled her head down under looking to nurse a bit. I normally only see her trying to nurse during the day and usually Took just walks away from her as if she is trying to wean her own baby. But this morning just after sun up I looked out and Mango was nursing heartily while Took stood patiently and let her have her fill. Then this evening Took once again stood patiently while Mango had her bedtime snack.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Grace Under Pressure

Tonight I am electing to talk about something other than my new preoccupation with my alpaca girls because I got a visit after school from a former student. This is a young man who was seriously a pleasure to have in my class two years ago. He is one of those kids who make coming to school each day worthwhile. He always had a smile and a positive attitude. Every day. He always did his best work. Every day. He comes from a close-knit, supportive family. I have always liked this kid but after some difficult times in his first year of high school I have come to really respect and admire him. This year he has faced unwarranted stress and harassment that finally came to what could have been a tragic climax. But through it all he held his head up and just kept coming to school and doing the work and struggling to keep a positive attitude. In the end he told me that he felt that this incident and the accompanying stress happened to him instead of someone else, because he is strong enough to take it and survive. That's the definition of grace under pressure. You cannot help but admire that kind of strength, integrity and dignity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Snow Day!

We have Hurricane Sandy to thank for the snow day off from school. For those of us here in northern Ohio the worst of the storm brought rain, snow and slush. Several people further north of us had some flooding and some power outages. Nothing like the magnitude of the flooding and loss of power and life for those poor people on the east coast. Although I am glad for the beautiful snowy morning and the ability to stay home in my cosy house I feel so bad for those people back east.

Our alpaca girls didn't quite know what to make of the snow. It was such a wet snow that it was dripping off the roof over the doorway of their small barn. To them it must have seemed like it was raining so they stayed inside munching the hay all day instead of going out into the pasture. When I visited them they were standing in the open doorway gazing outside with longing for the grass. It is clear that although they will eat the hay they much prefer the fresh grass in the pasture.

Snow days are always like an early Christmas gift for me.I'm always grateful for the unexpected gift of a day to do anything I please. Today I blocked the alpaca/merino blend shawl that I have been working on for a couple of months. It's not perfect. I made quite a few mistakes but unless someone is closely inspecting it they are not noticeable. Since it is for my own use I don't feel quite so bad about those mistakes. I wonder if the alpaca girls will notice
when I wear it, that I made it from one of their relatives!

Today I knitted on a scarf made from some lovely brown llama yarn that I spun myself. This is the second product that I have made from my own hand spun yarn. I am clearly a novice spinner but it is a learning process. I have my colleague, Scott, to thank for the beautiful llama fleece. I sent it out for processing into roving for me to spin on my Ashford Traveller wheel that I named Bridget. The llama is a pleasure to work with. Thanks, Mr. G.
Yesterday I was discussing why I own alpacas with a girl in one of my seventh grade classes. I explained that I am a knitter and a spinner so the alpacas created an endless supply of fleece for me to work with. The young lady gasped in horror and her eyes grew very wide. I quickly explained to the city girl that you don't kill the animals for the fleece, your shear them! That is what those of us in the teaching profession call a "teacheable moment!"

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Feeding Time

Early this morning I went out to the barn to give our alpaca girls their supplemental feed. They don't eat much of it because the pasture is still lush with grass and that is apparently as good to them as ice cream is to me. It was misty, windy and bitter cold out there this morning and I was wishing that I had worn a heavier jacket. When the girls heard me open the barn door they stood at attention like they do whenever something new appears on the scene. By the time I had filled the bucket with food and entered their boudoir Took had started toward the barn. I dumped the feed in three of the four feeding troughs and tapped the bucket to get their attention. Took and Mango came closer to the door but seemed reluctant to come all the way inside as long as I was there. I stepped back through the gate and latched it firmly but leaned on the top of the gate watching. All the while, I was talking softly and humming to them encouraging the girls to come on in to breakfast. Took was the first to come in. She began eating at the trough farthest from me. Mango followed her mama and instead of eating came up to me at the gate and started sniffing and nibbling my sleeve. Leeza, still more reluctant to voluntarily come close to us, edged into the feeding area on the far side of Took. The far bin is the one I left empty. Leeza nosed around in the empty bin and made a whining noise, clearly because she wanted in on the action. She attempted to feed in the bin occupied by Took who nosed her out of the way gently. Took eventually moved to the center bin closer to me at the gate and Leeza took over eating whatever Took had left in the first bin. Mango eventually left me and nibbled a bit of feed in the bin closest to the gate. After they had eaten they glanced at me with a bored look and meandered back outside to the pasture. They are becoming more used to me and do not get so nervous when I am around. I wish I had taken the camera with me. My only excuse is that it was very early and very cold. I didn't linger long.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Better Than Yoga

A long time ago I discovered that when I get home from school and I am all stressed out it helps me to brew a cup of tea and just sit for a few minutes enjoying the quiet. Lately I have changed that routine a bit and I take that cup of tea out to a seat beside the pasture and just talk to the "girls" as I sip. They look up with their usual curiosity and hum at me as I take my seat and settle in. I just talk quietly to them, telling them about my day and asking about theirs. As I talk and hum at them they casually mosey over towards me getting a bit closer every day. Gradually I begin to feel myself calm down and the stress leaves my neck and shoulders. My breathing quiets and deepens. Eventually, I stop talking and just listen to the gentle humming of Took, Mango and Leeza. It seems that they are slowly getting used to me and their new home. Tonight Took nervously screeched three or four times when the dog came out and then settled in to her grazing. Callie dog even ignored them in favor of sniffing for critters in the recently harvested cornfield. We are making progress toward the harmony I had hoped for when we adopted alpacas. Ahhh! Peace.

Baby Mango is the most daring. She comes nearer than the other two.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Fall Weekend Away

We just returned from our annual family reunion weekend at Lake Hope in the Hocking Hills. We had a wonderful time with the siblings, kids, grandkids and in-laws. The autumnal color was at its height and though it did rain off and on we had mostly clear weather. Saturday night Rich cooked his famous pork roast over the open fire and it was a hit as usual. This year he added colonial corn spoon cooked in an iron kettle over the open fire. It was crusty golden brown on the outside and creamy and pudding-y on the inside. That dish was a hit and will appear on next year's menu. There was about 10 minutes of rain at the beginning of our dinner and a few "chickens" rushed inside one of the cabins. Those of us who stayed outside were treated to the sight of a beautiful, neon, double rainbow.  Saturday night was also the annual trick-or-treating and pumkin carving contest for the kids and the rain stopped long enough for that. Even the teens and pre-teens participated this year. Their outfits were probably the most creative and colorful. "Katy Perry" even put in an appearance!

Callie was really glad to see us. She always is and it makes Rich and I feel very appreciated even though we know she just wants to come back inside to her cushy bed and breakfast! We do spoil her.
Once I unpacked and started the laundry I went out to the pasture to visit the girls and give Callie another lesson in proper alpaca etiquette. She is getting much better at sitting patiently beside me while I stand at the fence and talk to the other "girls." The fact that I have a pocket full of her favorite treats helps! Took, Mango and Leeza stay at a distance and keep their backs turned to me when Callie is beside me. It is going to take some time and patience on my part to get the animals accustomed to each other. I don't fool myself that they will ever be friends!

We left the aplaca and dog girls in the care of my wonderful, patient, brother-in-law, Danny, who lives down the road. He's an animal lover and has always cared for our dogs when we are away. We returned to find happy healthy animals as we always do when Dan is in charge. We are very fortunate to have relatives like Danny.

The Alpaca girls ignoring Callie and I.
Mango, Leeza and Took. Still awaiting the arrival of Magic's Black Firenze.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Twilight In The Pasture

I went out to visit the girls in the pasture last evening, shortly after sundown. I stayed outside the pasture and stood close to where they were grazing. Of course they were curious and looked my way and then Mama Took and Leeza returned to grazing. Our little cria, Mango, is a bit of a rebel already and in spite of her mama's cautious humming, she walked over to me, stopping just a couple of feet away to look me over. I hummed. She hummed. Then she returned to mama's side and continued to graze. At this point Leeza, our yearling, decided that she wanted to play a bit and strolled over to Mango. She bumped gently into Mango's side and then turned sharply and pronked away a couple of times. Leeza stopped and turned to see if Mango would join her. She pronked a couple of more times and then finally gave up and returned to grazing.  For those of you who have never seen pronking (hopping forward and upward with all four feet off the ground at once) it is a fascinating sight to see a couple of young crias at play, running and pronking through the pasture.

Our Lab, Callie, is becoming more comfortable with the girls. She still needs watching though or she will run madly around the pasture from one side of the pasture to the other. The alpaca girls are curious about Callie but don't really appreciate her frantic running around. They don't mind her when Rich and I make her stand beside us and stay. Then they will come closer to investigate. We are confident that eventually they will all learn to live in harmony...or at least tolerate each other.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Eating Machines

I so enjoy just sitting in a chair out by the pasture watching and talking to our three "girls." They take an occasional break from grazing to look up at me curiously, give a quick hum and then return to their eating. They are eating machines, grazing in one corner of the pasture and then moving along to another spot to sample the grass in a new spot. And, of course, it follows that since they are eating continually, they are also dropping "alpaca beans" everywhere. I shoveled a wheelbarrow full on Saturday afternoon and boy the wind was cold. Imagine what it will be like this winter. It's good that I prefer cold to hot weather. Then on Sunday evening, Rich shoveled another cart full! Does anybody out there need fertilizer for their garden?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Wonderful Adventure

October 13, 2012

If you had asked this city girl twenty years ago whether I could have imagined myself living in the middle of a cornfield I would have said, "No way!" But almost twelve years ago I married a country boy and as of a week ago we officially became alpaca farmers. Last Saturday we celebrated the arrival of three lovely female huacaya alpacas and are awaiting the arrival of a fourth, a lovely black female named Firenze. Took, a beautiful white six year old and her four-month-old female cria, Mango seem to be settling in and enjoying our small but lush pasture. Leeza, a beautiful dark brown yearling, is their herd mate and she is adjusting very well. Our five-year-old Labrador Retriever, Callie, is having a little bit of difficulty understanding that these new "girls" are here to stay and pose no threat to her status as the princess of the acres. We are confident that she will adjust. It takes time.

My husband, Rich, and I became interested in alpacas last April when we stayed at Historic Maple Hill Manor B&B in Springfield, Kentucky. We became fascinated with their herd and considered the possibility of starting a herd of our own someday. That began seven months of research about alpacas and owning an alpaca business. We read on-line articles, books, magazines and visited many alpaca farms both large and small. On one of our farm visits we found a mentor in Amy, at Amy J's Homestead not far from our home, where we ultimately purchased our first four girls. Took and Firenze are both pregnant and next summer will be delivering two more crias to add to the herd.

I have always felt that life is an adventure and look forward to each day as a gift that can be filled with wonder. As an educator, I have always been eager to learn something new every day. So this new endeavor is a wonderful adventure in which Rich and I will be learning something new every day that will enrich our lives.