Thursday, February 24, 2011

February is Galloping to a Close!

New guard dogs hard at work!!  

Yes, February is almost over!  I can't believe how fast it has gone.  My To Do list for February still has several chores on it that I just don't think will get done by month's end, unless I have a very productive weekend this weekend.

On that list was making maple syrup, which we are doing.  Sam boiled off the first batch a week ago.  He tried doing 11 buckets of sap, which is about 40 gallons (we get our buckets from the local grocery store bakery....they originally held donut filling or icing and they sell them after they empty them for a $1 apiece.  I think we bought about 20 or 25 this year) as each bucket holds 3.5 gallons.  That ended up being a   L O N G day and into the night

evaporator front view
evaporator top view

   I was at the office that day and brought home pizza and took it up to the pavilion and we had pizza, beer (Sam) and red wine (me).

Pizza delivery
 There was a gorgeous full moon and when I went up onto the ridge to collect more sap at dusk, I wished I had my camera because off to the west, the sun was sinking and there was a beautiful pink sky, while over my shoulder, the full moon was rising.  I did take some full moon pics, but I did not have a tri-pod so they came out kind of unfocused.  

Pavilion/Sugar-Shack with Full Moon rising

Pavilion/Sugar-Shack with frozen pond

So, since I was filtering and bottling syrup at midnight that night, we decided to do smaller runs and have since done 2 batches of about 5 buckets or 15 gallons of sap.  That is a much shorter day.  Our weather got so warm over the weekend that the sap really didn't run at all on Sunday, but Tuesday we had full jugs and buckets.  I hope we will be able to do another batch this weekend.

Another chore on my Feb To Do list was to paint our downstairs bathroom, for which I purchased paint back in November and my goal at the time was to have it painted by Christmas!  Ha! Best laid plans and all.  Life (and the MOPACA spin-off) intervened and I just got around to this Tuesday.  Sam tore out the floor and had to replace floor joists and  sub-flooring 2 1/2  years ago and at that time we put in a new vanity and ceramic tile, but we were in a rush and only moved the bathtub out of the living room (where it sat for 3 weeks) a couple days before our Labor Day weekend party, so I just painted with paint we had around the house and have been wanting to re-paint it ever since.  Finally.

Next week hopefully I will have an "after" photo.  I have the walls painted, but I still need to re-paint the outside of the claw-foot tub to match the color of the upper walls (which are not yet painted in the photo).    The window in the bathroom actually looks out into our mud room which we added on in 2006.  

So, I still have finishing up the insulation in the studio and paneling the studio on my Feb list, as well as skirting the rest of the fleeces I have kept back to send in for more rug yarn.  They are all coarser fleeces that I don't use for yarn or roving.  Stay tuned next week to see what I manage to get done!

The new dogs are settling in.  The female, Star, is a Maremma, which is a breed I have not been around before.  Her energy level seems MUCH higher than the Pyrenees.  Pyrs are so laid back, even as puppies, and I am having a hard time adjusting to a 60+ pound dog who wants to jump on me and lick my face every time I go to the barn.  She is a sweet dog and is doing her guarding work and I am sure in time she will calm down a bit.  Buck, the Pyr puppy, just takes it all in strideNothing seems to faze him.  He is just a cool guy. 

Both dogs spent the first few days with us in an 8 X 10 pen in the alpaca barn and I let them out a few times a day to get some outside time and to let the alpacas get used to them.  Then they spent the next several days in the pasture adjoining the alpacas and had the use of the overhang for shelter from the weather.  A  couple days ago, I let them into the main alpaca area, and now that is where they stay.  They have their own place in the barn that they can get into and the alpacas can't.  That way, their food is safe (yes, alpacas WILL eat dog food, they seem to love it) and they can have a place to sleep where they won't get stepped on, if they choose.

They have even figured out how to drink from the automatic waterer. Buck has to put his paws up on the edge of it, but not for long, I am sure.

And while the alpacas will eat the dog food, it is definitely a 2-way street and Buck and Star are already bellying up to the trough at feeding time, just like Cheetah!


So as February draws to a close, I do look forward to what March will bring, though I know the weather in March can often be unpredictable.  March DOES bring spring on the calendar and I am looking forward to being able to spend more time outside.  But, we will have lots of MUD as everything thaws out and there is also a lot of poop out there that needs to be cleaned up once it is a little drier.

See you in March!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It Feels Like Spring....But it's STILL February!!

Buck, a 2 1/2 month old Great Pyrenees & Star, a 7 month old Italian Maremma have joined the Straightfork family!

Yes, we have LGDs again here at Straightfork.  That is short for Livestock Guard DogsThey are technically still in training mode, but since they were born and raised on alpaca farms, they already have a good start.  We look forward to many happy years with them.  Please.  The alpacas don't seem bothered at all by Star, because she looks like what they are used to, a big white dog.  They don't seem to sure about the little fuzz-ball on legs, though.  He IS kinda funny looking in a really cute way!

My goodness the weather has made a spectacular change here this week!  It is beautiful and sunny out there and I believe the highs are supposed to be in the 60's the next 2 days.  What a wonderful spring-teaser!

The warm weather has made the sap start to run in the maples.  Sam and I put 22 taps in trees this past week and as of yesterday our buckets were all full.  About 44 gallons collected so far.  As I sit at the office and write this, Sam is working on the first boil-off of the year.  44 gallons SHOULD yeild about 1 gallon of syrup.  You may recall that we ended up with 2 gallons total last year, so this is a change for us.

Some of our taps

 Since we plan more production this year, Sam has built an evaporator on which he will be doing our first run today.  I hope to get some photos of it in operation , but here it is as it stood waiting for sap pans.

 This is up at the pavilion at the pond which is close to our "sugarbush".  A Sugarbush is an area with a great concentration of maple trees.  It is nice if they are close together as it makes collecting the sap easier.  We have many, many nice maples and marked a lot of them last fall.  We will not be tapping all those we marked.  This is only our second year doing this, and we are not up to commercial production!  Last year, the weather did not warm up enough for the sap to run until March.  If the weather cooperates, we could be collecting sap for 3 weeks.  It would be nice to get 5 or 6 gallons of finished syrup this year.  Everyone wanted some last year!!  I'll keep ya posted here.

I mentioned our Compressed Natural Gas car and all the work Sam had to do to run a new gas line and electric service to the garage for the compressor.  Here is the compressor unit.  It's about the size of a washing machine.  

It actually takes several hours for the car to fill up once it is hooked up to the compressor.  We are getting about 150 miles to a fill up, which is great for our daily usage.  So far, so good!

I haven't done much knitting this past week due to my cataract surgery.  It was difficult to try to knit because the eye was bothering me, but seems almost all better now.   I did finish up a skein of yarn I was spinning from some of my hand-dyed roving.  It is a colorway that always sells out whenever I go to a show, so I purposely held a few ounces back for myself, but I only have this one skein now, about 165 yards

I can use it in some mittens or a hat or maybe a cowl.  I love the colors.  

I have also been working on the sock yarn for Michelle and should have that finished up by the end of the weekend, although I have a busy few days ahead.  

I have the warp all measured out for my next rug and plan to start putting it on the loom today.  I will have today and tomorrow to get that ready to go and can do the actual weaving next week.  By the way, I put a link to my Alpacanation Farm Store on my list of links on this blog and I have my rugs listed there in case anyone is just dying to have a hand-woven alpaca rug!

I visited my mom and my brother and his family this past weekend in Dayton and this Saturday I hope to run over to Pittsburgh and spend the afternoon and evening with my aunt and 2 cousins and my cousin-in-law.  Pittsburgh is about a 2 hour drive, so unless something comes up, I should be able to make it.  Sam and his dad will be away at an auction that they go to every year up in Kidron Ohio.   It is a huge auction of all kinds of construction stuff and woodworking stuff and just general "guy stuff".  I never know what Sam will bring home.  Some years it is a truckload, and some years not very much.  But it's always fun to see what he brings home!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Still in Winter's Grip....

The cold just doesn't get through that heavy coat Rowdy has on!

repair work!
January is past, but February can be every bit as much of a challenge.  Often, we get our coldest weather the first week or so of February.  So far, that seems true this year.  My thermometer read -0.9 this morning which is as cold as I've seen it this year, though the neighbors say we had some deep cold while we were away in the Caribbean.  Probably why our kitchen/bathroom drain is STILL frozen, despite Sam's best efforts.  He had dug a trench, if you recall, in early January to run the new gas line for the compressor for the CNG car.  He never really totally filled it in since the ground was so frozen and our best guess is that there was not enough insulating earth over the drain pipe and we have a slow drip in the kitchen sink, which over 10 days of non-use was able to fill and freeze in that trench area.   I have to give Sam lots of credit for trying to thaw that out, but as cold as it is, it ain't gonna happen soon.  Maybe next week.  Things are supposed to warm up.  But in the meantime, he got out the backhoe and tried to dig down to the pipe and managed to hit an old gas line, so the gas went out and of course he did not have the proper repair parts for that, so I think maybe today as I am at the office, he will get that repaired properlyIt's always something!!
I had my camera with me last Thursday as I was coming home from the office just at sunset (which is happening later and later!!) and managed to get a beautiful sunset photo on the road down to our house.  We live in a "hollow", or holler as some like to say, so we almost never see a pretty sunset.  It goes behind the hills way before the sun actually goes down, so I was quite thrilled to see the beautiful display over the top ridge of our property as I came down the hill..
And then I caught some naughty boys in action when I got to the bottom of the hill......I noticed some romping and running of young alpacas through the pine trees and stopped and grabbed the camera to photograph the antics.  Of course, instead of continuing with the play, everyone came to see what I was doing.  Now in this pasture, we have the 6 young'uns we weaned in December, so they are all about 8 months old now.  2 are males and the other 4 are females.  We usually separate them by the time they are a year old to avoid any unplanned adolescent pregnancies.  I realized when the 2 males came up to the fence that they had been chasing the females and biting at them.  Can you guess how I figured this out?  The 2 males are the ones closest to the
camera and they each have a mouthful of black fiber! There are 2 pretty black females in the field behind them (one is hard to see).  What ornery little fellows!

This past Monday the weather was warm enough for some light rain most of the day and then it turned to heavy wet snow about sunset and we accumulated about 2 inches of the type of snow that looks like wedding cake icing.  Tuesday morning dawned without a cloud in the sky and that gorgeous coating of snow and was incredibly pretty.

I had an appointment in Marietta to have cataract surgery on my left eye, so we were up before the sun to do chores so we could be on the road by 8 since we weren't sure what the roads would be like.  I took a few photos, but it was really too early to do justice to the beautiful day it turned out to be.  My surgery went well and I am now 20/20 in my left eye, which I have had poor vision in for years.  I hope I do not have to go through it again, though.  

Our weather forecast shows a warm up starting this weekend and I have been on some sugaring sites online and folks are saying we should have a good sap run starting this coming week if we can get some taps in.  Yikes, we are really not ready!  We do have the trees marked and the wood cut, but we need some more taps and buckets and gallon jugs and Sam has to build the "arch" for the evaporator.  Last year's season started so late I guess as newbies to all this we figured we'd have some more time.  I'll keep ya posted!

This weekend I am going to western Ohio to visit family and also to pick up 2 new dogs.  A 7  month old Maremma and a 2 month old Pyr.  Watch for news on them next week as well.

I have not had much time to work on fibery stuff, though I did send off some fleece to be carded into a 3 colored roving at Zeilinger's.  I sent 7 pounds and dyed part of it teal and part in purple/pink and left 4 pounds undyed light fawn.  They do a "3-way swirl" roving where the colors are not blended and I hope it comes out nicely.  Time will tell.  I probably won't get it back until sometime in late April.  

My chore list for February includes: making syrup, painting my downstairs bathroom, finishing insulating and then paneling my studio,  and skirting the rest of the fiber I have set aside for more rug yarn, among other things.  I plan to warp up my rug loom in the next week (count warp today?) to do a 3' X 5' black, grey and white rug for our computer room.  I better get busy!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

I'm Back!

Rowdy enjoys the snow, even when we don't!

I know I kind of skipped the whole second half of January, so now it is time to catch up.

Sam and I celebrated our 25th anniversary on Jan 25th, so we went on a 10 day Caribbean cruise to the Panama Canal.  We left Ohio on Jan 21 and the days prior to our leaving were so full of planning and preparation for being gone so long that the blog just had to be put on the back burner.  We had a great time and we are home and very happy to be back!
We have a neighbor who comes in and takes care of our animals for us when we go away.  We have never been gone so long before and I try to have as much taken care of before we leave as possible.  I make sure there is ample hay for the time we are gone in each building as well as feed and I have to leave instructions with emergency phone numbers and what to do if this happens or that happens.  Needless to say, by the time I leave, I am usually quite stressed.  And on top of that, I don't really like to fly, and it's a 2 hour + trip to the airport and who knows what the weather maybe like in January, so I get myself in quite a state. Once we are at the airport and through security (which was a big nothing both ways folks, so don't sweat it) I can start to relax a little bit.

So here are Sam and I in Costa Rica after going zip lining.  I won't post any other photos on this blog of our trip because that's not what this is for, but one pic of us should be ok.  Besides, we rarely get a photo of the two of us together!

The week before we left, we had a minor woodburner crisis.  It seems there is a wire mesh "cage" around the top of the new chimney liner to keep birds out and this clogged with creosote and consequently, the house filled with smoke.  Of course the roof was covered with ice and snow and I do wish I had taken pictures of Sam up there cleaning it out.  He had a rope thrown across the lower part of the roof and tied to the tractor on the back side of the house and then once he got up there and needed to get on the upper part of the roof, his rope was not long enough.  So I had to find another rope and throw it up to him and then he had to throw it over the house to me to tie to one of the cedar trees which are right in front of the house.  Now, you know a man trusts you when he assumes you will tie a knot that will not come loose when he is on an icy roof in January.  I was never a boy scout, but I've spent some time around boats and horses, so I CAN tie a decent knot.  But I was still glad when he got the problem fixed and was back on solid ground.

Otherwise, I have not had time to work on my studio or weaving or much else.  I did take some knitting with me on the cruise.  I finished up a sock I was working on and decided I am going to frog ( rip it, rip it this is a technical knitting term for unraveling) it and re-do it on smaller needles.  I also took some commercial alpaca yarn and started a purple lace shawl, which I will be gifting.
Here is a photo of the first skein of yarn I spun for Michelle.  If you are reading this, I hope you like it because I intend to finish up the second skein and get it to you by the end of the month!   it's not as green as I had intended, but it's quite colorful.

I went into my hairdresser to get my hair and nails (nails only EVER happen prior to a vacation!) done a couple days before we left and I came home with this awesome bench:

 Of course it's kind of hard to see with Rowdy sitting on it and one of my hand woven rugs thrown over it, but it is made from an old whiskey barrel.  The father of one of the hairstylists made it and I could not resist it.  It will go perfectly in my studio and will be great for spinning or even for sitting on when I weave on my smaller loom. 

I also felt bad about leaving the shelter for so long.  Shelley, who runs it with me is great, though and we have some other great volunteers as well.  But the morning after I returned home, I had to show up in town at the courthouse at 9:30 for the arraignment of a local man who had shot his former tenant's dog.  The local news was going to be there and there was a possibility that one of us would need to speak to them on camera because we have contributed heavily to the dog's considerable vet bills.  But as it worked out, I did not get interviewedSaturday we are having a benefit bake sale for this dog and the "Secret Angel Fund" we have that the money has come out of.  I think I will be baking Steeler's cupcakes and dog biscuits all day tomorrow. The cupcakes should go over well since many residents of this area are Steelers fans and of course the Super Bowl is Sunday.

Just going to finish off this post with a couple photos of a very cool tree that I call the Octopus tree which is on the border of our property and the next one.  I took these photos a couple weeks ago.  Maybe next week I will post a photo of what we just call the "big tree" which is an incredibly immense poplar tree that is on our farm.  

Octopus tree from our hiking trail    

This is the view we see every time we hike by the tree and below is from the other side, where you can see it is a semicircular formation of popular trees.  I think it's pretty cool that they have grown this way!
Rowdy in the center of the "Octopus Tree"