Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve and All's Well!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Home Stretch...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


The other day we saw a huge, red, Case tractor with caterpillar treads parked out behind the barn. This is the newer model that the man who leases our land uses to work his farm. It is so big that it even makes my 6'4" husband look short! Immediately, said husband, got a brilliant idea and hustled out to the barn to rev up his new  toy, his grandfather's little, red Farmall Cub tractor from the 1950s.

A short while later he poked his head in the back door and shouted, "Grab your camera and come out here!" Always the obedient wife, I shouted back, "Why? It's cold and windy out there!" Once he explained about the picture that he had set up for me, I bundled up in my winter duds, grabbed the camera and reluctantly followed him outside grumbling all the way about having to leave my cozy house.

By the time I got out where he waited, Rich had already snapped a picture and pasted it up as the wallpaper on his cell phone! He had proudly parked his new "toy" in front of it's big brother which presented a concrete image of the very big leap in progress that has been made in agriculture since the time we were kids in the 1950s. Rich's grandfather used this little Farmall tractor and others like it to farm the very same land that the giant Case works up today. What follows are the pictures that I snapped from many angles. Some with Rich on the big machine and some with him on the little one.

As usual, the curious "kids" in the pasture watched the strange antics of their human caretakers and Callie, our Lab, managed to photo bomb one of the pictures.

Monday, December 1, 2014

So Much To Be Thankful For

Aaaah! Today I am finally able to sit down long enough to write about the last four days and the great Thanksgiving holiday that we had out here on the farm.

Because of the early snow and cold temperatures last week, all of our fall decorations were taken down. Only a few of the Christmas things were up. I had put up the inside store decorations last week and Rich had put up a few of the outside lights. The pumpkins that had frozen and then thawed, were beginning to collapse so Rich hauled them out to the woods where they will become food for the animals. That included the red/orange and white pumpkins that I had purchased for use as table decorations and left on the back deck. They look pretty pathetic laying out in the field right now.

I went to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving to pick up a few last minute things for our dinner. While there I bought a couple of gourds in the produce department and two paper turkeys off of an end cap display. Combined with my grandmother's antique blue willow patterned china and some yellow napkins, I think the "table scape" didn't look half bad.

This year our gathering was a small but entertaining bunch. Daughter, Amy; son-in-law, Steve; grandchildren, Olivia and Max; and Steve's grandmother, Treva all joined us for the afternoon. Treva always makes for a lively gathering. She is probably the funniest 80++ year old person ever.

Son-in-law, Steve, and his grandma Treva

Max, Treva and Olivia
In spite of the frigid temperatures and gusty winds Treva wanted to go out to visit with the alpacas. I took her out to the barn to introduce her to our girls and little baby Mocha and the kids tagged along. We fed the animals handfuls of sweet feed and because of their natural curiosity and a craving for treats they were very entertaining. Treva was enchanted by them.

Treva feeding Mango
I am always proud of my grandson, Max. But this day, as I observed how attentive he was to his great grandmother, taking her arm as she walked down the back steps and across the gravel drive, my eyes teared up with pride. (something I hid from him for fear of embarrassing him) Max isn't a fan of the animals; he has a "take 'em or leave 'em" attitude. That afternoon he went into the pasture and actually got a nose kiss from Took.

Max about to get a nose kiss from Took

Max freezing in the barnyard.
Olivia, on the other hand, is quite comfortable around the animals as she has often helped us handle them and lead them around the field. She even chose the name for Mango, who is about to eat out of her hand in this picture, when Mango arrived on the farm as a six-month-old.

Took, baby Mocha, Leezza and Mango with Olivia
Olivia made two of the pies: the traditional pecan and a chocolate s'mores pie. They were so yummy! Treva made her famous lemon meringue pie, using fresh squeezed lemons. I think everyone there had a taste of each pie for dessert.

I am an uber-planner and always have the table set the day before and all of the prep for the cooking done. My biggest shortcoming is that I am too hard on myself and I really stress out before an event like this. Although I had a couple of  stressed out "moments" before our guests arrived (for which I apologized to Rich who is usually the beneficiary of my rants) I think that the meal went well overall. Everything tasted somewhere in a range from OK to excellent. The pies put a great exclamation point on the event. Most of all, I enjoy those few and far between times when I get to cook with my daughter and granddaughter. In the end, Amy and I toasted the day with a fine wine brought to us direct from Italy by some good friends this summer.

Amy and I

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Christmas Decorations Before Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Warm Raspberry Jam on a Dreary Day

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

G-Ma Drives The Tractor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Club Meeting: Two Blog Posts in One Day

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

Brutus and Asterius love Marilyn, too!

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

Asterius tries to give Ramona a kiss

We're Expecting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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