Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Most of the time end-of-the-year reflections are profound reviews of the past year. If that's what you're expecting from me you'll be sadly disappointed because all that's on my mind today is how bitterly cold it is outside; and just when I get engrossed in knitting the scarlet and gray mittens that I started on Christmas Eve the wind spews forth a huge gust of wind that rattles the west windows as a reminder of why I am so thankful for our cozy country cottage home and a husband who shovels snow!

Feeling the need for a hot cup of tea, I went to the kitchen to set the kettle on the stove and while I was waiting for the whistle I gazed out of the window over the sink. Mini tornadoes of snow (snownados?) whirled across the stubble of the snow covered field to the west. The mail lady's car was disappearing down the road and I shivered at the thought of bringing in the mail.

I peeked out the back door to see if the fleecy kids were outside enjoying the brief moments of sun as they often do; but they were nowhere to be seen having decided to stay inside their cozy barn. Even Nikko, who usually stays in the corner of his pasture nearest the barn, was inside his straw-lined condo. Nosy guy that he is, he came outside at the sound of the storm door opening to see if sweet feed was in his near future. When he realized that I was staying inside and  only peeping out through a narrow opening, he promptly turned and went back inside.

I lifted the whistling kettle off the burner, filled my mug and dropped in a tea bag of Rooibos. Sighing I decided to venture out and get the mail. Bundling up like Ralphie's little brother, Randy, in A Christmas Story, I stepped out with my trusty lab, Callie, at my side. She is always ready for a romp in the snow before returning to her nap in the warm house. Leaning into the wind I pulled my scarf over my nose and trudged out to the mailbox. The thought crossed my mind that if I, like Randy, should happen to slip and fall in the snow, I would have to lay there on my back like a overturned turtle until Rich came home hours later to help me up. By then I would be a frozen ball of mummified clothing! I made it safely back to the house, unbundled myself, and settled down to read the mail with my "cuppa."

Although it's New Year's Eve, the traditional "party night,"  Rich and I will be going out together someplace nice for a lovely romantic dinner. There is a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge that we will share at home after dinner with some gourmet hors d'oeuvres and imported cheeses to finish off the evening and ring in the new year. When we toast my wish for us and everyone else will be for a prosperous, healthy and peaceful new year. Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do They Talk?

The charming old legend says that at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals in the barn can talk. I would love to stay up and eavesdrop on the herd in our barn tonight. However, since the temperature outside hasn't reached the twenty degree mark all day I cannot see me bundling up and hustling myself out there to find out. Rich and I just came inside from their final feeding. We refreshed the hay supply and spread fresh straw in the corner of the barn where they tend to sleep on a cold winter's night. I would hope our little stud, Nikko, would sleep in his snug little shed where he has a fresh bed of straw; but more often than not he sleeps in the corner of his pasture by the gate where he can see into the barn where the girls and babies rest. Fortunately he has a wonderfully lush fleece coat to keep him warm.

Rich and I will be heading to his parents home tomorrow afternoon for Christmas dinner with them; but tonight we are planning on sipping some Christmas cheer while we watch A Christmas Story on television. Then we will head off to bed and hope the proverbial "sugar plums" will be dancing in our heads as we anticipate Santa's bounty in the morning.

The highlight of my Christmas will come later in the week when we celebrate with our daughter, son-in-law and grand kids. Even though they are now teenagers, Olivia and Max, still get excited over "Santa's" visit and it's fun to watch them open their gifts. I must admit I still get excited to see what they have picked out for us!

Rich and I are so lucky to be blessed with children who like to spend time with us. My Christmas wish is that everyone could enjoy love, good health, prosperity and peace in the coming year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Crafting

I had the best time with kids this morning without having to be in charge. About a week ago my good friend, Debbie, asked if I could help her with her class on this last day before Christmas vacation. It was going to be a craft day, she said, and she could use an assistant. No problem. I enjoy crafting and I like kids. I had, after all, just retired from teaching myself about seven months ago. So I arrived at 8:30 this morning expecting a chore and instead received a very warm welcome from the kids and a really nice experience.

Debbie had planned two really neat crafts for the kids. My favorite was the Santa paintbrush. Debbie is so organized that she had assembled a "kit" of all the supplies that each kid would need in a small baggie. Her other assistant, her cousin, Jackie, and I only had to pass out the kits and stand back while Deb gave the instructions from the front of the room. The children in the class were all so well behaved and followed instructions carefully. It is clear that Debbie has trained them well this year.

Jackie and I circulated throughout the room, helping where necessary and offering words of encouragement and praise. I thoroughly enjoy interacting with kids during crafting activities and this one was no exception. Shortly after we began a dear friend and colleague whom I hadn't seen in a couple of months wandered into the room to offer her assistance. It was a thrill to see Gracie again. She and several other colleagues are the things I really miss in retirement.

Debbie's teaching partner and another of my old colleagues stepped in while I was there. I had two of his three now grown daughters in my seventh grade class. Time flies! Good to see Brian again.

The kids were split into two sessions for the first craft and at the end of these sessions the kids had produced the cutest Christmas tree ornament. They all did a great job on their paintbrush Santa Claus.

The second craft, a paper star, was a bit more intricate and we had twice the amount of kids in the room! I expected the class to be at the end of their attention span since the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when the kids are the most restless. Ask any teacher. By Christmas we are usually missing patches of our hair and our fingernails are nubbins! But this group was wonderfully well behaved and managed to put their stars together and be finished in time to go down to the cafeteria for lunch.

Debbie invited Jackie and I to eat in the teacher's lounge at the annual teacher pot luck. Lucky me! There is always a huge selection of super good food produced by the teachers and today was no exception. The bonus here is not just the food but other former colleagues of mine were chowing down, too and it was so nice to chat with them. I have been so lucky to work with some wonderful people during my teaching career.

While we were eating Tyler and Denise, two old friends, paraded their classes down the hall and everyone was wearing balloon hats! The mother of one of their students makes balloon animals and hats for parties and her son, Mike, assists. So this young man made unique balloon head wear for all of his classmates. That's Mike below in the multicolored satellite looking hat.

There was a spider hat...

And princesses...

And boys with chickens and crazy Santa looking hats...

Denise and Tyler were both still cheerful at lunch time and didn't seem to have lost their minds yet. They are both an example of the vast amount of patience most teachers have. The kids were all having a very good time and were eager to pose for pictures. 

At one point during the day when I must have put my camera down to do what I was there for...help kids, someone found it and sneaked a quick shot of me.

I just want to close with a wish for a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the students and teachers of Richmond School. Thank you all so much for a wonderful day. Oh, and Miss Lucius, I will return the purple handled scissors that I found in my hip pocket this evening.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Country Girl at Last

This week's story can finally be told. It's official. After this week I think that I finally qualify as a country girl. Rich has been in St. Joseph, Missouri all week for his hazardous material clean up training (there's an acronym for that but I don't know for sure what it is), and I have been on my own to take care of the animals. Usually the average high temperature in Ohio in December is 43 degrees; but, of course, this week the temperatures plummeted to January levels. One morning, when I went out to feed the herd it was 5 degrees and windy; the kind of day I prefer to stay inside sipping a second cup of coffee as I wave goodbye to Rich as he leaves for work.

On Monday morning when Rich left, we had icy roads so I was glad that he had salted the deck and walks before he left so I didn't land on my derriere when I went out to feed the alpacas at 7 a.m. I noticed at that time that little Brutus had a goopy looking eye and made a note to myself to check it again later. I stayed inside most of the day knitting away on Christmas gifts, baking cookies and grading the last set of papers that I had for my class. The day passed uneventfully.

Tuesday morning was cold but not icy. I went out to the barn at sunrise and all the animals rushed to the gate when they heard me rattling the food buckets except our queen, Firenze. She is usually the first in line for food but this morning she just lay in the doorway to the barn with her feet all on one side and not in a normal kush underneath her...a bad sign. Firenze didn't even get up when I filled the trough with food and the bin with hay. In fact, she let me walk right up and touch her when she usually jumps and runs, a sure sign that she had another tummy ache.


I needed to run over to the university that morning to pick up some needed forms for the final on Thursday so I planned on stopping at the vet's to ask about Brutus's still goopy eye, so I snapped a picture of Firenze and another of her poo (I'll spare you that one!) to show Dr. "Kelly" and ask her advice. While in Tiffin, I also picked up some of the probiotics that we often give Firenze to keep her tummy calm. When I saw her, Dr. "Kelly" advised the probiotics  and gave me some triple antibiotic ointment for Brutus.

Here's where the country girl conversion comes into play. As soon as I got home I suited up for the pasture, grabbed the eye medicine and probiotic syringe and headed for the barn. All of the animals were outside in the pasture enjoying the temporary episode of chilly winter sunshine. Firenze had moved to the pasture but was still laying down sideways and now she was rolling from an upright position to her side and back up again. Another sign of distress. She calmly let me approach her, grab her by the neck and open her mouth with one hand and apply the syringe full of gel with the other. No flight,no fight! At this point I wasn't hopeful that the probiotics would work their magic. 

Little Brutus was hovering around his mama, never moving far from her side as I administered her meds. At one point he was pushing up against my leg as I stood there assessing the seriousness of the situation. I put my hand in my pocket, felt the little tube of eye ointment and pulled it out. Twisting off the cap rather doubtfully, I slowly leaned over and wrapped my arm around Brutus's neck and cupped his little chin firmly. Tube in the other hand, I used a finger to pull down his eyelid and administer the ointment and gently massage it into the eye. Success! 

Later that evening at feeding time, Firenze was up and eagerly waiting for me at the gate in the barn. Her appetite was back and she ate the sweetfeed with gusto. Brutus was at her side noshing on the sweetfeed in the trough and I was able to grab him and administer the eye ointment again. Boy, was I proud of myself. I had taken care of both animals entirely by myself and couldn't wait to tell Rich about it when he called that night. I even rewarded myself with a glass of hard cider after dinner, finally feeling like a true country girl.

The reward was a bit premature because the next morning when I tried to repeat the eye maneuver, Brutus was on to my tricks and managed to keep at least one of the other animals between him and me at all times. I was unable to do his eye thing until Rich returned home to assist.

Today we are in the midst of a snow advisory and are expecting about 4"-6" of the white stuff. But all is well. Rich left St. Joe well ahead of the storm and arrived home yesterday afternoon. After doing some Christmas chores out in the shop this morning, we both are settled in this afternoon to watch the snow and maybe watch a Christmas movie or two.

Being the shortest, Brutus often ends up with a headful of hay!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Herd of Christmas Cookies

At last it's finals week; the end of the semester. My only class has their final on Thursday morning from 8-10 a.m. and after that I grade it and turn in the grades and I'm done. The freshman class population falls off sharply after the first semester and there are fewer sections of the class I taught so I won't be needed. I'm glad because I'm happy to have every day be a "snow day" in the winter time so that I can stay home in my pj's and wave goodbye to the school buses that pass my house on their way to school. I'll be thinking of my old colleagues as I sip my second cup of coffee and catch up on the news.

Last week I baked a couple of batches of Christmas cookies: double-chocolate-mint brownie bites and mini-gingerbread men. I put them in the freezer straight away or else we would have devoured them long before the Christmas party this weekend. Rich has invited the people from where he works out for a beer tasting and I'm looking forward to it.

We went "beer shopping" in Columbus over the weekend. That's the second weekend in a row that we've been there. The weekend before I shopped with daughter, Amy, and granddaughter, Olivia. The party menu is just tapas style and I have picked several munchies that I think might go with the seasonal and micro-brew style beers that Rich has chosen to taste. Of course everything is pretty savory and it seemed that I should serve at least one sweet thing. It's Christmas time. Cookies seemed the logical choice.

Overnight the weather turned to freezing rain and most of the schools in the area were cancelled, giving the kids a three-day weekend. It's cold, icy and windy out there. Just the right kind of day to catch up on Christmas related tasks like wrapping, knitting and making another batch of cookies. I got a little creative with this batch...

I had a cookie cutter that I purchased at the Country Living Fair in Columbus a couple of years ago and haven't used it until now. Today I baked a herd of Christmas alpacas! They are the colors of the animals in our actual herd...white, brown and black. I am not sure how I am going to store them without crushing the bow around their necks. Maybe make a little alpaca barn out of sugar cookie dough? Nah! I used up my daily quota of ambition making the cookie herd so I'll just have to store them in my old le Cruset roaster. It's the only thing big enough.

Queen Firenze is not impressed!

P.S. For those of you who read my blog on a semi-regular basis, I just want to thank you. I really appreciate your readership and try to include alpaca pictures every time since I know that's primarily why you read this. Have a really happy holiday season. (Hannukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Solstice, whatever you choose.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Whirlwind Weekend

After a whirlwind of a weekend, I finally have a moment to sit down and chronicle the events. On Friday Rich and I hosted 24 family members for our Thanksgiving dinner. All of the dishes were done at the same time and our contributions as well as the dishes brought by guests were delicious. The guests's ages ranged from a few months, the newest member of the family, Kelsey; to over eighty, Rich's dad, Ed.

After the meal was over and everyone was relaxing and socializing, I slipped outside for a breath of fresh air and went around to the back of the barn where I found three of the kids playing King of the Hill in the gravel pile. Maddie, Mason and Shelby were taking turns climbing up the back of the gravel pile and sliding down the front...in their dress up clothing!

A dust cloud seemed to follow Mason in particular, much like the Pigpen character in the Charlie Brown comic strip. He was really getting into the game. And I'm pretty sure that little Shelby totally ruined a new pair of glittery red dress shoes.

As I stood watching the kids play, laughing and squealing all the while, I turned to check out the pasture and there I saw another group of "kids" looking on curiously. The alpaca kids were staring intently at the horseplay happening on the other side of the fence as if they would like to join in.

On Saturday, Rich and I went down to Columbus where I went shopping with daughter, Amy, and granddaughter, Olivia. Steve, Max and Rich watched The Ohio State Buckeyes defeat arch rival Michigan in an exciting game.

Then this morning while we were sipping our first cup of coffee, Rich surprised me when he suggested that we go out to breakfast (not the surprise, since we occasionally do that on Sunday mornings), and buy an artificial Christmas tree! That one came out of left field since we have always had a real tree and had actually planned on cutting one today. Over the past two years we had talked about caving in and getting an artificial tree during the after Christmas sales, but just never got around to it. I never actually thought we would do it since we are both traditionalists when it comes to Christmas. Neither one of us would ever go for the all blue look or a designer type tree where everything matches. We kind of like our miscellaneous collection of ornaments and would never consider a tree that was any color other than green. But this year, folks, we went artificial. We got a 7-1/2 foot spruce type tree. It may not be real but I was not willing to compromise on the height. I am my father's daughter, after all. He always picked out a tree that had to touch the ceiling and so do I.

We brought it home and immediately into the living room where we assembled it. (It takes way more than the 60 seconds to assemble than as advertised on the box!) Then we spent the next hour and a half decorating it and all the while I was having buyer's remorse and Rich was reassuring me that it was a nice full tree. I've had all afternoon and evening to get used to it and now, sitting here alone in the dark while I write, I must admit that it does look almost authentic. It is lacking the distinctive pine forest scent of the real thing but I can live with that. I'll get a scented candle or some potpourri to make up for it. I supposed I'll have to admit to Rich in the morning that I really do think it's a pretty tree.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Be Happy, Be Thankful!

As if I didn't have enough to be thankful for, John Lillo, the absolute  best tech guy and long time good friend, got my blog up and running this morning after literally hours and hours of work. A personal note: I can't thank you enough, John. The next step is to get the website up and running in order to advertise animals for sale and then to set up an Etsy account to sell our yarns, rovings and fleeces.

This morning, while I was prepping the turkey and making the dressing for tomorrow (our family celebration of thanks) Rich was outside putting up Christmas decorations. Usually he does this chore on the day after Thanksgiving but due to extenuating circumstances the family dinner had to be scheduled for the day after. As usual, it is always cold and windy or rainy when he does this chore and Rich always says something like, "I'll just put up the lights on the fence," or something similar. Then once he gets started he finishes the entire task. We're working out in the little red shop after lunch today. We will be serving dinner to twenty or so relatives out there tomorrow and it needs to be rearranged a bit. Rich's grandma's old wood stove will be fired up and used to do part of the cooking for dinner and will also keep the building cozy and warm.
The canvas tarp roof over Mr. and Mrs. Snowman was partially ripped away in the huge storm we had a couple of weeks ago. Somehow, I don't think they will mind. They are still smiling. We made them a few years ago and they survive the winters very well. Mr. Snowman is as tall as Rich and Mrs. is about my height. That was intentional. They are lit at night. (By a spotlight and not internally from strong spirits!)

Inside, the only decorating up so far is the Winter village over the kitchen cabinets. We put those up last weekend mainly because I was doing a tornado of cleaning before the holidays. It seemed an auspicious time to take advantage of Rich's height to take down the everyday decor and put up the village. Besides, I like to look at the lighted village in the evenings while I'm knitting from my perch on the sofa. It makes me smile.

Out in the pasture the herd adjusted quickly to Leezza's return. She and Mango are buddies again. They usually pal around during the day as they are grazing and at night they sleep near each other. It has been so cold at night lately that we decided to put Firenze's coat on her. Her fleece is not as lush as it was when she was younger and we worry that she will be too cold. She looks so stylish in her red coat which contrasts nicely with her black fleece. Last year she tried to scratch it off against the fence but this year she seems to appreciate it. We also put Brutus's coat on and he seems to have no problem with it.

I made Brutus's coat out of one of Rich's old jackets and it's already too small for him. He shouldn't need it much longer anyway since he's growing at a more rapid pace now. I often catch sight of him with his little head dodged underneath his mama, so he's nursing frequently. He is also one of the first to the trough when Rich distributes their food in the morning and can often be found nibbling hay from the feeder.

I really do have so much to be thankful for. Wonderful husband, kids and grandkids; good friends and family; surrounded by contented alpacas and a dog, all super stress relievers; a cozy little farmhouse; a full stomach and a website that works! What more could a girl want?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Leezza's Back!

Our beautiful Leezza finally came home this morning after two months at Amy J's Homestead for breeding. After several attempts to breed her with Amy's handsome male,  Salute, we are hoping that she is successfully bred. We will know for sure next October!

Antonio's Alianza Salute

When we released Leezza into the pasture the others rushed up to greet her and sniff around a bit. It had been so long but the two little boys seemed to recognize their summertime playmate at once and wanted to romp with her. Leezza, now a mature young lady, wanted none of it and gently back kicked little Brutus in warning. Asterius, however, was more persistent in his attempts to play so he received a hearty spit from Leezza. Both backed off.

Nikko made several enthusiastic attempts to jump up on the top fence rail, seeking Leezza's attention and finally gave up when she indicated that she clearly preferred the company of her girlfriends. Took actually leaped up joyfully after sniffing her old friend and clung close to Leezza's side. Mango, on the other hand, seemed indifferent. Maybe she's still a little miffed at her old buddy for leaving her to cope with the two little males on her own. Mango doesn't really enjoy playing in the pasture with the kids like Leezza used to do.

As we left the herd to get reacquainted a light snow began swirling around in the wind that lifted the flags on the porch. Today we are flying the Ohio State block "O" alongside the red, white, and blue, as is our custom on game days. Rich and I retired into the house to watch the game against the Indiana Hoosiers and to, frankly, pig out on chips and strong drinks as we cheer on our Buckeyes.

With two minutes left in the first quarter, the Buckeyes are not disappointing us. They have already racked up 14 points (to Indiana's zero). OH---IO!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Random Thoughts on November and Holiday Preparation

After spending the weekend down in the big city with the kids and grand kids I have come to the conclusion that no one down there reads  this blog. My own daughter didn't realize that I had been hurt by an alpaca determined to mate a few weeks ago and that I am still hobbling around on a bum knee. Occasionally Olivia sees one of my Facebook posts but that's about it. They have no idea how busy we country bumpkins can be. I think that's partly our fault since we halt normal operations when the kids come up here for a visit. Those visits are so few and far between that I don't like to be distracted with farm work or even travel for the purpose of entertainment, e.g. going out to dinner or shopping. I'd rather cook for them so that we can all sit around and just enjoy each other's company. Apparently they perceive this as idleness and boredom.

Anyway, that led me to the conclusion that I could post all of my Christmas gifts for them on my blog. They would never know what I'm getting them because they never read it! So here is the knitted throw I am making for Olivia. She knows what I am making and even what color it is because she showed me a picture of a knitted alpaca throw in a catalog about a month ago. Said throw was almost $400 and she suggested that she would like it for her newly decorated room. I even found a washable, part alpaca yarn, Martha Stewart's Alpaca Blend on the Lion Brand website that would be suitable for a teenager's room and let her pick the color. The throw is about one-half way finished and is coming out beautifully.

Next week is Thanksgiving and this year I volunteered to do the Kirgis family dinner. Of course,  our kids are included and that's why we're having it on Friday instead of the actual holiday. That's when they could make it. I am not as stressed out as I usually get over this. Maybe it's because I'm not teaching full time and so in the back of my mind I know that I have plenty of day time hours to prepare for the meal. In the past, if I did any early preparation it had to be in the evening after school. I am an early morning person by nature and so I am not at my best in the evening after a long day at work. I'm liking this semi-retirement thing.

I hope the holiday weekend is as beautiful and sunny as today. It's crisp outside but not windy like the past few days. Even the alpacas have spend the entire day out in the pasture grazing on the sparse grass that's left over after the freeze. I couldn't resist snapping some pictures.

Asterius, Mango and mama Took

Even little Brutus seemed to be invigorated by the lovely autumn weather. He wandered away from his mama, Firenze, and made a couple attempts at playing with Asterius who is usually a little bit of a bully.

They neck wrestled for a little while and when Asterius started getting a little too rambunctious, I was pleased to see little Brutus look over his shoulder and fire off a couple of warning spits in his buddy's face. I had some concerns lately when normally feisty Brutus seemed to be timidly retreating behind his mama whenever Asterius got too rough. I'm glad to see that he is fighting back.
Asterius recoils from little Brutus warning spit.
Taking the spit seriously, Asterius retreated and decided to check out Callie who was sitting near the fence enjoying a moment of contemplative solitude in the sunshine. I'm sure the dog was debating whether she could sneak out into the field to sniff out some wild critters.

Callie, contemplating a break for the field.
All the while, Sir Nikko was watching this horseplay from the other side of the fence. I'm sure he would have liked to join in the fun. Nikko, I'm sure, thinks that the grass is always greener in the other pasture.

Nikko looks on as the little boys wrestle
The grass is greener in the next pasture.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11-12-13 Snow!

Overnight the temperature dropped into the high twenties and the light rain that started at about 8 p.m. turned into snow. This morning we awoke to the first measurable snowfall of the season and two hour school delays because of the light coating of pebbly ice on the back roads.
"The frost is on the punkin" to quote poet James Whitcomb Riley. I would guess we had about 1/2" more or less. I haven't heard the official stats yet. The icy stuff is gone from the road and somewhere around here someone is harvesting corn in the snow, because a tractor pulling a wagon load of corn has made a couple of passes by the house going at a pretty good clip. Earlier, I bundled up and ventured out to the barn to take a few cute pictures of alpacas in the snow. I spend almost half an hour out there and they apparently weren't in the mood to be cute. First, I had to literally chase them out of the barn where they stood looking hopefully at me, clearly wanting a sweet feed snack.

Then, once I got them out there the whole lot of them refused to leave the barnyard area. They just stood there looking at me then at Callie, my crazy dog, who was running up and down along the fence line.

Only three-month-old Asterius, who was feeling frisky, seemed to want to play. When he jumps on the back of his sister, Mango, or our queenie, Firenze, they both kick and spit in protest and he backs off.  His mama, Took, patiently puts up with it but won't give in and play so then he attacks little Brutus who is thirty pounds lighter and a month younger.

Brutus, also wants no part of Asterius's rough housing but is too small to fight back so he rushes to his mama's side and Firenze spits Asterius away from her baby. At this point, the little bully, Asterius, high tails it back to Took. He knows better than to tangle with Firenze when she's protecting Brutus!

So that's it, folks. No cute pictures today. Except for Asterius, they just weren't in the mood for snow play.