Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Fling, Kids & Puppies and Rowdy Gets a Haircut

What could be cuter than kids and puppies!?
I hope no one really missed me last week.  I generally look forward to doing my weekly post and spend a lot of time throughout the week thinking and contemplating what I will write.  Last week however, things conspired against me and I was just unable to sit down and post.

I may have mentioned in the past that we are only able to get dial-up internet service at home, unless we want to spring for something like Hughes net at about $70 a month.  Just not worth it.  We do have DSL service at our real estate office in town, and my regular days at the office are Wednesdays and  Thursdays.  I have kind of unofficially designated Thursday as my day to write my blog.  Well, last week, my brother and his wife arrived at our house on Wednesday with their 3 kids and I watched the kids for a day and a half while Larry and Jill attended an awards function in Pennsylvania for Jill's job.  Then on Friday, Larry and Jill picked the kids up at my place and headed for their spring break in Florida.  So, needless to say, I did not make it to the office at all last week and just let Sam come in here 5 days straight.  Tough, huh?

The kids and I enjoyed our time together, although the weather was unseasonably cold (and still is!) and I was just getting into the groove of the kid thing when they left.  Of course we spent time with the puppies and alpacas and hiked up to the pond, which 4 year old Lawson was upset not to be able to swim in!  Today, I hear, they are on their way to Disney.

In other news, the same day my brother and family were due to arrive, Apache, my 26 year old horse, was down in the barn lot and could not get up.  There was only me to help, and it took an hour before he was able to struggle to his feet.  Poor guy.  I had the vet come out and he thinks he is just old and sore and had a pain and it just hurt too much.  Of course, I was sure it was the end and I cried.  I know at 26 we will not have him around a lot longer, but he has been a part of the family for 18 years.  We put him on anti-inflamatories for a week and he seems much better.

The Spring Fling has begun!  I am sure that term has many meanings, but around here it deals with that of which we have plenty:  Poo!  Over the weekend, Sam borrowed the neighbor's tractor, hooked up the manure spreader to our tractor, loaded it up and off we went.

loading the spreader
 Once the spreader is loaded, we haul it down the road to the hayfield and engage the ground drive that  allows the spreader to fling poo in all directions!

Can you see the poo fly?
  We did not get all the manure spread since the neighbors needed their tractor back, but I believe Sam is working on that project again todayOnce we are done, the neighbors will come and borrow the manure spreader and clean out their cow barn and spread that on their hay fields.

Sam at the wheel

Despite the colder than normal temps for this time of year, Monday I took Rowdy for his spring haircut.  Last year I waited too long and he spent quite a bit of time in the water before I took him to get clipped and his flanks were so dread-locked already that Ilaina had to clip his back end clear down to the skin.  This year, I wanted to be sure he had an inch or so of fur left, so I decided to get him in by the end of March.  His under coat is so fine that the water just mats it.  I have no trouble keeping his beautiful coat nice in the winter, but I simply cannot maintain it in summer when he is wet every day.  I think he looks adorable.  Ginger's coat is much lower maintenance.

Summer haircut
 Even though it has been cold for a week now (we even re-started the wood-burner), there are many sure signs of spring's impending return.  It seems to me the first plants to turn green in spring are the multi-flora roses that grow wild all over our area.  They are not native to this area, but were brought in as natural hedges and quickly spread out of controlWe battle them constantly.  They grow long thorn covered whip-like arms every spring and will snag on skin and clothing alike as I walk through the woods.  I hate them almost as  much as lady-bugs in my house.

multi-flora rose along my hiking trail

We have hops, rhubarb and garlic coming up, though no asparagus yet.  All 10 maple saplings I transplanted from our yard last fall have buds on them.  I was unsure whether they would make it or not, so I am happy to see the buds.  I have been watching with interest some clumps of clear gelatinous looking eggs at the edges of the pond and wondering whether they are fish or frog eggs and when they will hatch.  The little black embryos inside are starting to wiggle around a bit.  And there are little brown salamanders or newts (not sure which) with bright orange spots feasting on the eggs.  

I have not done so well with my March to-do list, although I haven't done that badly either.  My big projects for March were to insulate and panel the studio and to finish skirting fleeces for rug yarn.  I am almost but not quite done with both.  I have 1 out of 3 walls paneled.  I bought the paneling while Rowdy was getting his haircut MondayI had planned to use old barn siding, but it just did not work out so I bought exterior siding which is a pressed wood product that looks like barn siding and I will stain it to look old.  Photos next week.  I still have about 20 pounds of brown fleeces to go through, which won't take long.  Then I  just have to get it all to the mill, which is about 2 hours away.

I have had little time to work on fibery things like knitting, spinning and weaving.  Still working on hats.  

I will leave off this week with a couple of photos taken around the farm.  The first I took Sunday while spreading manure.  It is of the shadow of the granary.  We had gotten a dusting of snow overnight and you can see where the snow melted as the sun struck the ground and there is a white line of snow outlining the shadow:

The next one I took from our back deck early Monday morning as the sun highlighted the hilltop on the neighboring farm (which has just been timbered):


Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patty's Day and the Sun is Shinin'!

Rowdy and Z the Border Collie wrestling in the living room
This past Saturday I brought "Zorro" (Z) the border collie home from the shelter to see if he had herding instincts and to give him a bath.  We also took him on our daily hike in the woods.  He and Rowdy had a wonderful time together.  We have had several inquiries about Z lately, so keep your fingers crossed he will find a good home soon.

It's wonderful to look out my window and see the sun shining!  I sit here at the computer and think of all the things I could be doing if I were at home now.  It's frightening to realize how many of those things involve poo and a shovel. 

Speaking of that, there is a mountain of poo waiting for the manure spreader.  We usually spread twice a year and somehow time got away from us this fall and the job did not get done. This job requires more than a shovel, which is why some clever person invented a front-end loader for a tractor!!

I don't think I mentioned in my blog a couple weeks ago about my trip to the vet's that started with getting the 4WD truck stuck in the yard and also resulted in a flat tire on the trailer, which I discovered once we arrived at the vet's office, about an hour away.  Never had to use the spare before.  Anyway, it was decided by Sam and agreed upon by myself that our 4 trailer tires are the originals that were on the trailer when we purchased it in 1993, so they are probably in need of replacement. Voila, we found the perfect replacement tires!
Now you might be a red-neck have a van up on blocks in your yard.  I'm not sure I qualify as a full redneck yet.  The tires on my good old van were in good shape when we decided it was becoming too difficult to keep the van running and parked it and started using it for feed storage.  This was not too long after the back axle fell off just as I arrived home one day.  I do miss that van.  It was a great road trip vehicle when the kids were younger and Ian drove it quite a bit in high school and then it became the " 'Paca Van" and went as far as Nebraska and New York and Virginia on alpaca deliveries and pick-ups.  The guys at the feed store hated loading feed into it (as opposed to the pick-up truck) but they loved my bumper sticker:

My favorite aunt got that for me at Mackinac Island.  I think she needs to go back and get me another!

It makes me think of my son Ian's Swiss friend, Leonard, who spent a lot of time with us (and in that van) while he was here as a high shcool exchange student, who said to us once, "In Europe, people do not have old cars in their gardens".  Ah Leonard, I hope you'll drop by if you're ever in Ohio again.

Everyone is enjoying the nice weather today.  I am sure the alpacas are soaking up the sun.  They like to sunbathe, I need to get a photo of that.  But in the meantime, a photo of the tulips coming up will have to suffice.  My neighbor

partway up the hill has literally thousands of daffodils coming up all along the road.  Need to get a photo of those as well once they are in bloom.  It's rather pretty.  Our creek is also safely back within its banks for the next day or 2, until the next heavy spring rain.  I think rain is forecast almost every day for the next week or so.  Spring showers and all that........

On Tuesday I took a road trip to Columbus.  This time I was going to look at a loom I found on Craigslist.  I was just tired of the constant fight with my ancient Union Loom and want to enjoy weaving, not suffer through it.  The loom I went to look at and purchased is bigger than the union so will weave a 46" width and has more "harnesses" so I can do more things with it than just rugs if I like.  It is also at least 20 years younger than the Union loom and I think was better cared for.  We disassembled it and loaded it into my CR-V.  That's the whole thing!     It was fairly easy for me to reassemble in my loom room at our office after I re-arranged (I had to move the old loom and some other stuff around since I need to keep the Union loom assembled in case someone wants to come look at it).  It's a bit tight in there, so hopefully someone will come and take the Union loom off my hands soon.  Otherwise, off to the barn with it!  But for the time being, both fit.  I will be warping again very soon!!

loom room with "new" LeClerc loom and old Union Loom

I sent my boys a care package in the mail last week which included the hand-dyed hand-spun yarn for Michelle, Ian's girlfriend, and also a quart of syrup and one of my hand woven alpaca rugs.  I think they are enjoying it all out in Lake Tahoe.  

I am still working on the lace shawl, but taking a break to knit up some hats, which I will post photos of later.  I also washed up a rose grey fleece that I bought at an alpaca show in November and plan to spin up.  It is a gorgeous color, almost lavender, and oh so soft!  Can't wait to start working with it.  It's on the drying rack today.  I will next card it on my drum carder and then start to spin.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rain, rain, rain....Snow?

It is Thursday and it has been raining since late Tuesday night.  Above is the way our usually placid little creek looked yesterday morning.  According to the weather forecasters, we are in for more rain today, turning to snow tonight and we could see up to about 8" by tomorrow!  We'll see.  Oh, and then by Saturday, it is supposed to be in the 50's!  Gotta love March weather.
Of course all this rain means MUD.  There is mud everywhere.  The alpacas refuse to leave the barn when it is raining, so I put their hay inside and resign myself to cleaning the barn twice a day.  It is so heavy and wet and I need to use all my implements to clean it all up:  rake, shovel and fork.  Outside it is still too wet to do a proper cleanup, and boy will I have a lot to do once it dries out.  Something to look forward to.
Rain also means water everywhere.  There are little cascades running down the hillsides all over the place.  Here is one that is just across the road from the horse barn.  It's hard to see, but there is actually an old bathtub there that the water flows into and when we had 2 horses we used to pasture them over there part of the year (when the water was flowing) and that was their water source.  It's very overgrown now, though.
Apache is shedding
When I step out my back door now, I hear the sound of water.   The other night (before the rain) I also heard the wonderful sound of little peeper frogs up at the frog pond!  This is a sure sign that spring is on its way!  I love to hear those little peepers.  Another sure sign is that Apache is shedding.  He is leaving big patches of white hair all over the place.  He finds a nice place to roll and when he gets up, he leaves huge patches of winter coat behind.  When I pet him, the hair flies up in clouds and gets all over me.  Of course, he LOVES a good scratch, especially when he's shedding!

Well, since I did not complete my February To-Do list, most of those chores have been moved to  my March To-Do list.  I can say I have completed 2 of those jobs now:  The downstairs bathroom is complete and I have finished putting up the insulation in my studio:

I am pleased with the bathroom, but I need some new rugs and a new shower curtain, I think.

The studio now needs paneling.  I hope to acquire that soon.  In the photo you can see the front wall of the studio which faces the yard.  That is the door to the far right and the window has a stained glass horse scene hanging in it.  My plastic tubs will fit perfectly under the shelves and the shelves will hold LOTS of fleeces.
 The March To-Do list still includes getting all those fleeces in the photo skirted and off to be made into rug yarn.  Some of it is already skirted, but you can't tell because you can't read the bags from where you are.  

Speaking of rug yarn, I took my 3' X 5' grey, white and black rug off the loom yesterday.  My loom is still giving my fits.  I am looking at an upgrade, though.  Despite the troubles I was having,  I think the rug came out very nice.  I still need to finish the ends, but you can't tell in the photos because I have them tucked under.
It looks nice in our computer room.  Now if I can just keep "people" from walking through the computer room from the mud room in muddy boots......or maybe I can at least talk Sam into going around the rug.

And yes, I do decorate with balls of yarn and knitting needles.........

I had a doctor's appointment in Marietta Monday and so I went to Wal-Mart to stock up on things.  Here is what happens when I go to Wal-Mart and come home and start to unload the car:

That is Rowdy going through the bags in the back of the car to see if I bought him a toy.  I took this photo through the kitchen window.  He was disappointed on this trip, however, as I really think he has enough toys.  He exits the back of the car empty-mouthed.  Don't you feel sorry for him?  I obviously did not purchase any steak either!

 Star and Buck are doing well.  They have figured out how to move from pasture to pasture, under gates and fences.  Star will run along the fence line barking at passing cars and Buck plods along behind.  He is getting bigger by the day.  They are both very dirty right now.
We are pretty much done with syrup.  We got about 5 gallons, which was my goal.  I still have to go pull the taps out of the trees and clean everything up and store away for next year, but I'd prefer not to do that in the pouring rain.  The sap is not really flowing anymore.  The weather has gotten too warm.  
I have not been doing any spinning lately, too busy with everything else.  I have managed to knit a few rows a day on the purple lace shawl and am probably about 3/4 of the way finished with it.  I took a photo, but keep in mind it is still on the needles and the lace will not really take on its full loveliness until it is blocked.  But at least this gives you an idea.
The shelter has kept me busy as well.  Tuesday, the other co-director and I drove to Dayton and back and picked up 2 skids of free Iam's cat food that the Dayton Humane Society had acquired and was distributing to other shelters.  I wish I had a photo of the truck coming home.  It was full to the brim with bags of cat food.  We stopped in Zanesville and shared some with the shelter there as we had way more than we can use.  It will be nice to help out people in the area who may have a hard time buying pet food.  We also had a meeting last night to discuss fund-raisers.  We are in desperate need  of funding as we rely totally on donations and our vet costs are so high.  We are thinking of doing a monthly or bi-monthly bingo, but there are a lot of details that need to be ironed out.  
Sam is away on a trip to Las Vegas this weekend with his brother and a friend.  They have been doing this yearly trip now for several years.  They actually got started going when a big alpaca farm out in Washington state used to have an auction there every January.  If you went for the auction, they paid for your room and some meals and lots of other fun stuff.  I went with Sam a couple of years and then decided I'd had about enough of Vegas, because I don't like to gamble.  So the next year his brother and Kenny went with him and it has become a tradition, even though the auction is no longer done.  They still have  a good time and usually manage to get their rooms and some meals comped.  
Hopefully by next week when I post again things will have dried out a bit here in SE Ohio!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March, a Month of Anticipation.

Buck and Star vying for my attention!
Someone recently asked if the puppies were growing.  I had to reply that while I wasn't sure about Star, Buck is growing like the proverbial weed!  Still cute as heck.  He is very confident and moves among the alpaca legs without a worry in the world.  Star is doing a great job of patrolling the fences and barking, which is their job.  I need to work with both of them on walking on a leash so they can go to the vet for shots, etc.  I have to say it is so nice to have dogs in the barn again.  

Yes, March is a month to anticipate many things.  We anxiously look forward to the arrival of spring, the longer hours of daylight, warmer temperatures, going outside without layering on coveralls and neck gaiters.  It is also a time to look forward to the things that spring brings like shearing season and birthing season.  I was looking over my records the other day and it seems we have 6 crias due starting about mid-May:  Miracle, Tunita, & Micki have all had crias previously  and then we have 3 new moms, Margarita, B'Nita, & Carolina .  New moms are always the ones we have to keep a good eye on.  But as I said, we have a couple months before the crias start to arrive.  Spring also means we will hopefully get rid of the mountainous pile of POO that has accumulated outside the alpaca barn.  Most will be spread on the hayfields, but some will go into the gardens.  When you dig down into it, it is rich and hot and nicely composted.  It makes great fertilizer.  And yes, the garden is another thing to anticipate.  I have already purchased some peat pots to start some tomato plants in.  I wonder how much asparagus our now 2 year old bed will produce?  We only tasted a few spears from it last year, but this year, we should get a decent harvest.

And speaking of production, the sap harvest seems to be slowing down.  Last weekend was our peak, where we boiled down sap Friday (8 buckets), Saturday (6 buckets) and Sunday (11 buckets)!  Remember, those buckets are 3.5 gallons each.  On Tuesday, I boiled down almost 6 buckets.  Once we boil them down to about a gallon of syrup, we bring it into the house and finish it on the stove where it is easier to control the temperature.  Here is the result of Tuesday's boil-down:

filtering prior to finishing
starting to re-heat this is a 5 quart pan

I filter the syrup prior to finishing.  We need to bring it up to 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of water before it is done.

All these tiny bubbles are a sign that the syrup is about done, so we have to watch the thermometer closely.  If we overboil, we end up with a pan full of solid hard-tack, which would be a sad end to several hours of work!

This pan yielded about 3 pints of finished syrup after the final filtering.

There is one word that currently describes the state of my kitchen:  STICKY!

On the other hand, I have the bathroom mostly finished.  Just some touch up work to do and the tub still needs to be painted.  I should finish that this weekend.  It looks much better.  I am
very happy with the color.

I have to admit I did NOT finish everything on my February to-do list.  But I got close.  The syrup making has taken up more time than I thought it would.  I plan to finish putting up insulation in my studio this weekend and then I will get the paneling and get it finished. 

I have mentioned in past posts about our compressed natural gas car but have not posted any photos of it being fueled.  Well here it is:  

 It takes several hours to actually fill the tank.  My father-in-law went to an auction last week and purchased a dual-fuel pick-up truck, so he will be able to re-fuel at our place, too.  He can bring his truck to our office and swap it out with our car and pick it up the next day, re-fueled and ready to roll.

As I said, I anxiously await spring's imminent arrival.  I can hardly wait to get my deck furniture out of storage in the barn and clean it up and have dinner on the deck again.  I think the barn cats will miss it though!

Chuck (right) and Grayson (left) have enjoyed lounging on the swing cushion all winter.  They are handsome, friendly boys who came from the Humane Society here.  They are 2 of our 4 barn cats and are the youngest.  Both the other 2 are senior cats. 

March is off to a good start so far, with sun and mild temps during the day.  Of course I know that any and all weather is possible and probable in this month of change, so we'll see how it goes!