Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Weekend...Summer's Officially Over

The past few weeks have just flown by and Labor Day has suddenly jumped up to surprise me! Like every summer, this one just seemed to fly by and so many of my good intentions went undone. I intended to paint the master bedroom. Not done. I intended to weave more rugs and retie the warp colors on the rug loom. Not done. If I continue listing the undone tasks on my list I will just become depressed. Fortunately my list of accomplishments is much longer than the other list, so I try to focus on those. I suspect that I am not so very different from everyone else who reads this blog.

Last week I was so lucky to be able to stay with grandchildren, Olivia and Max, while my daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Steve, went to San Francisco and Napa Valley for a little business and a little break. Although the kids were already back at school, we had time for a little fun. I got to see Max play in his first 8th grade scrimmage game. I am the proud g-ma of Weaver Middle School's ace quarterback. Olivia and I love to cook together so this visit gave us ample time to create new recipes. She had made a lasagne using zucchini strips as the noodles which we had for dinner one night. Yummy! Olivia has become an accomplished cook at the tender age of 16. Another night we made home made flour tortillas from my old friend, Juanita's, recipe and had tacos for dinner. Max, hungry after football practice, chowed down on three of them! Olivia and I also had a chance to make roasted red pepper/three cheese ravioli, using the pasta making kit I got her for her birthday. Rich joined us on Saturday night for take out pizza night.
Max and Olivia clowning around on their trip to Paris this summer.
I always have such a good time staying with the kids. The only thing missing is my youngest granddaughter, Zaidee, who is out in Portland so far away.

I awoke on Sunday morning, the day that Amy and Steve were to be returning, turned on the morning news and heard that there had been a destructive, 6.something earthquake in Napa where they had been staying! I immediately texted Amy asking if they were ok. For the next two hours I worried and watched the TV waiting to hear from them. When Amy finally replied, she informed me that they had moved to a hotel that was closer to the airport the night before. Whew! What a relief. Even so, she told me, the quake woke them up at 3:20 a.m. but there was no destruction in their area. 

I returned home on Sunday evening and spent the next day washing, ironing, cleaning, and generally catching up on work that I had neglected while I was gone. I was able to freeze some green beans from my in-laws' garden; and roast and freeze some Roma tomatoes from our garden. The four Roma plants and one Better Boy that were the only things in the garden this year, are still yielding about 1/2 peck a day of fruit that I am freezing.

As a matter of fact, I roasted more tomatoes yesterday and have a couple of trays of tomatoes in the oven today. It's so much easier than juicing or saucing and then freezing tomatoes, like I used to do before my doctor Amy, an avid gardener and gourmet cook, told me about this easy trick. All you do is halve the tomatoes, sprinkle with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and pop them into a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until they start to caramelize. Then cool them to room temperature, bag them in freezer bags and freeze. All winter long I have roasted tomatoes for making marinara sauce or for using in soups and stews. Easy peasy!

Now and for the next two or three weeks, I am staying pretty much close to home, since our Mango is due to have her first cria. If you remember, Mango, named by our granddaughter, Olivia, came to us as a six month old cria with her mother, Took, a couple of years ago. Last September she took a short journey south to be bred to Grass Run Alpaca's Black Night. Their female, Lacy, who had also been mated with Black Night a little earlier, had a beautiful brown, female cria last month just before the Crawford County fair. We have high hopes for Mango's little one. 

Mango's sides have been noticeably swelling for the past month. Since alpacas are pregnant for 11-1/2 months (give or take a week or so) they don't really show much until the end of the term. This week her bag has been slightly swelling with milk and her sides are twitching with the movement of the cria. Mango is also laying around more than she usually does and often lays with her back legs to one side to alleviate the pressure a bit. I check her regularly when I am home, peeking out the back windows that overlook the pasture and often walking out there just to have a little talk with her about how much we want a little girl. Mango is serenely unconcerned with my requests and just keeps munching on the green grass. Who knows? Maybe my next post will have a picture of the newest member of our herd family.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Two days, two visits!

Every Sunday I check my calendar for the week to see what appointments or engagements I have lined up. This past Sunday morning my week looked wide open and frankly pretty dull. It's funny how quickly things can change. Sunday evening I got a message from my dear friend, Athena, that she would be having grand children on Monday and would I mind if she brought them over to see the alpacas. I was so pleased to hear from her and, of course, I love to have the opportunity to show off the animals to little kids. So late Monday morning, Athena, pulled into the driveway loaded down with three kids and a large bag of produce from her garden.

Athena's grandson, Joel, and her granddaughters, Caroline and Molly, are such sweet  and well behaved children. All three were curious about our little shop and the animals. Of course, the two little alpaca boys did  not disappoint. They always put on a good show. Caroline, the middle child, immediately took to the animals and was very comfortable around them. Little Molly, the youngest, liked the alpacas but with a two-year-old's attention span, didn't focus long on any single animal, but was curiously wandering all over the barn yard.

Joel freely admitted that he preferred cats to larger animals and was a bit hesitant to feed Brutus and Asterius. Once he became a bit more comfortable around the alpacas we did convince him to extend a hand to feed Brutus long enough for me to get a picture!

Athena took far better pictures than I and has them posted on Facebook. Since she tagged me in them you can view most of them on my page.

The only problem with our visit is the same one we always have. Our visits are infrequent and don't ever seem to last long enough. (Yes, I know you are reading this, Athena!) But when it's nearing lunch time and you have three kids clamoring for lunch at McDonald's adult conversation, of necessity, gets put off for a later time. I so enjoyed our time together and I am also enjoying the fresh produce. The banana peppers got sliced into pickling brine that same afternoon.

This afternoon I was working in the store, painting an "Alpacas for Sale" sign and applying price tags to the last batch of yarn, when I got a phone call from one of my favorite former students, Austin. He and his friend, Maddy, another favorite of mine, wanted to stop out for a visit. I must confess I was so pleased to hear from these two and have been hoping to see them again soon. 

They got to see the alpacas for the first time.

I showed them around our little store and then we sat out on the front porch of the store to catch up on all that they have been doing for the past three years. I had them in my class for seventh grade and of course saw them every day for the following year when they were in the same school as eighth graders. Other than following them on Facebook, I hadn't had the opportunity to sit down and talk for the past two years. Both have matured so much in the interim and are just ready to begin their junior year. We chatted outside for an hour and had to move to the house when the wind picked up. It has been raining off and on for the past two days and looked like it might begin again.

Inside, our conversation moved on to other kids in their class that I knew and have taught. We talked about current events and the fact that Robin Williams had died yesterday. That prompted them to recall the last day of school, after I had shown the movie, Dead Poet's Society, when they all stood on their desks as a final salute to me. One of the few times that students have moved me to tears. From there we discussed their summer reading program and other literature that we had read. They recommended two books to me which I have put on my Nook "wish list" and will read later. It was such a pleasure to hear their points of view on life and literature. The kids and the discussions are what I miss most about teaching.

They departed after a two hour visit with an open invitation to return any time and bring some of the old gang along. This was a group of kids that I remember fondly and have been keeping tabs on from afar because I know that many of them will go out into the world and do good things.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ahhh! August!

When I was a city girl I used to dread the approach of August each year. Those who know me well, know that, unlike my two remaining siblings, I am not a fan of hot weather. August in the city meant extreme heat, high humidity and dust. Lots of dust. The heat waves were visible as they radiated from the streets and parking lots. I really, really, really didn't have much use for August. So, last weekend it was an unusual occurrence when Rich and I drove down to attend the Dublin Irish Festival with our daughter, Amy, son-in-law, Steve and granddaughter, Olivia. (Grandson, Max had a more important party to attend.) It turned out to be a great way to kick off August; with good food, drinks and lots of Irish music and dancing!

I learned to appreciate the beauties of August only after I had lived in the country for a few years. We still have heat and humidity and lots of dust. It's just that it seems softer somehow, because of the miles and miles of green surrounding us. In the country, August is one lane roads, winding like corridors between high green walls of cornstalks. August is lush, verdant fields carpeted with perfectly even crops of soybeans. August is Queen Anne's Lace ruffling the ditches alongside the roads and cheerful, golden clumps of Black Eyed Susans in nearly every one's yard.

August is colorful banners of laundry, hung out in the breeze to dry. August is the local buzzard colony soaring high above as the normally ugly birds are transformed by their graceful dance on the thermal air currents. August is the first juicy, ripe red tomatoes plucked from the vine and sliced onto a BLT or into a salad for dinner on the same evening. August is fresh produce from the garden or the local farmer's market turned into some new recipe or steaming up the kitchen as it is frozen or canned to serve later on a cold winter night. August is plump red and purple berries and fuzzy peaches to eat fresh or make into jam. August is a fridge full of over sized zucchinis, gifts from friends (you never have to plant it yourself!).

I've learned to appreciate August in my almost fourteen years of living in the middle of northern Ohio farm country. It's still hot and really dusty sometimes but that's the trade off one makes for being surrounded by all of this natural and serene beauty.

August here on Buckeye Star Alpaca Farm is amusing and unique as well as beautiful. Each day I am so lucky to be able to observe our herd family basking in the sun, kushing in front of the barn fans and dipping their feet into the tubs of cool water that we put out for them on hot days. Since we breed our animals in late summer or early fall, and they are pregnant for 11-1/2 months or so, I can also begin to observe vague signs of the impending birth as our girls' bellies increase almost imperceptibly. Any alpaca breeder can tell you that these mamas hardly show until maybe the last month. Our Mango is due to have her first cria in mid-September. Because it is her first, her belly actually looks a bit larger and sometimes, if you look closely at her left side, you can see jerky, irregular movements that are definitely not her breathing. Our lovely brown Leezza, if she is pregnant, won't show until late October as she was bred in November last year. Pregnant 'pacas make late summer on the farm a bit more exciting as we look forward to the adorable new crias they're expecting.