Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Am the Queen of Layers!

Yes, that's correct.  It has once again been cold enough for the record books and it takes me 10 minutes to suit up to go outside.  

 This was the thermometer reading in my kitchen yesterday morning.  Today it actually dropped to -22  and still showed -13 when I left the house for the office. 

I have another indoor outdoor thermometer in my bathroom upstairs and that helps me determine how many layers to put on.  So I start with long underwear, top and bottom, a pair of wool socks, a pair of alpaca socks, jeans and a sweat shirt.  Once I head outside, I add a fleece neck gaiter I bought years ago for skiing, coveralls, 2 quilted flannels, my fleece lined alpaca ear-flap hat (I tuck the neck gaiter up under this in the back to keep my neck covered), my headband over that and my neoprene boots.  Oh and of course mittens.  This has kept me pretty warm the last few really cold mornings as I do chores.  I actually get a bit too warm except for fingers and toes as I rake and shovel and carry in wood.

My poor chickens have been shut in their coop for over a week now.  It is just too cold for them to go out.  On these below zero mornings, I am getting out too late to get eggs before they freeze and some are already cracked in the nest box while others make that popping sound and crack when I pick them up.  Yesterday and today I took the frozen eggs inside, let them thaw and then scrambled them in the microwave and took them out and fed them to the chickens.  I think their protein has been severely limited since they are shut in with nothing but commercial feed and table scraps.  But they are still all alive, so I count that as good.
Saturday it snowed all day.  ALL day.  

   We got about 6" of fresh powdery snow and then on Sunday morning, it snowed again and we got another 2 to 3" on top of that.   Unfortunately, I have run out of hay at the alpaca barn and the four wheel drive is out on the little truck and Sam says it is too cold for the diesel tractor, so I have been hauling hay on an old plastic sled, which works pretty well.  

I tried to get Grover to pose on top of the bale this morning, but nope, he is not one for sitting nicely for a picture.  And Rowdy just refused to come outside (as did the photographer:  Sam).

The alpacas are handling the cold fairly well.
I have had to fill up and plug in 2 heated buckets for the boys since their spring fed trough has frozen solid and this morning the automatic waterer in the girls barn was frozen as well, so I have the tub and floating tank heater going in there again.  My frost free hydrants are working as they are supposed to, which always surprises me.  Especially considering that some of our pipes in the house are frozen.  The big dogs, Buck and Star seem rather unaffected by the cold.  They are a bit on the fat side and have very heavy coats.  The cats in the barn seem to be doing well.  I am mostly worried about my bees.  But what will happen will happen.

I've done some spinning and finished up some of the alpaca/silk batts I prepared last summer to sell.  I was supposed to have some of this finished before the Wool Gathering last September and I did not.  Here it is.   

Finally I can post photos of the gifts I sent my son, except for the hat, which I forgot to photograph.

I knit him 2 growler cozies, 1 in Buffalo Sabres colors

  and 1 in Portland Timbers colors.

Hopefully he will send me a photo of himself in the hat sometime soon.  He says he loves it.

And that's about it for this week.  Tomorrow I leave to drive with my mother to Florida.  This is the third year she and my aunt have rented a house there and I will drive down with her and fly back next Tuesday the 4th of February.  We will be in a new month and hopefully we will have some normal February weather.  It's almost maple syrup season!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

January Continues

It seems odd when Rowdy is the only spot of color
Yes, it is still January but the end is in sight.  Going into what I generally think of as the coldest week of the year, the tail end of January into the first week of February, I am not disappointed.  We are currently experiencing another arctic blast that has the chickens shut in the coop even during the day with the heat lamp on.  Today's high is about 12 degrees and yesterday morning was -8 when I got up at 7 am.  It is so hard to get motivated to go outside when it is that cold.  But once I get all geared up for it and get out and start moving around, it is not all that bad.  The key is dressing for it.  I think I really hated winters when the main outdoor activity was going from the house to the cold car to the office to the cold car, etc.  I was never dressed for the cold weather.  I deal with it better now.  Even coming to the office I dress more warmly because I have 11 miles of rural roads to navigate to get to town and I would really hate to slide off the road and have to walk somewhere without being prepared.  And cell phones cannot be counted on here.

So this is how crazy it is.  Last Friday, Sam and were going to Columbus to attend a Beer Festival and stay overnight and so I needed to walk the dogs before getting ready to go.  It was 40 degrees and the sun was shining when I left the house around 12:30.  When I got up out of the hollow, I could see very dark skies to the west and I sincerely hoped not to get rained on.  When I got about a mile from home in Wayne National Forest at the point where we turn and head back to our place, it started to SNOW.  And I mean HUGE quarter-sized wet flakes of snow coming down very fast and hard with a stiff wind.  Visibility was about 1/4 mile and I was not worried, more amused by the fact that my navy blue fleece pullover was acquiring huge white spots and Rowdy was also becoming spotted.   By the time we reached home, the ground was covered and I was shaking snow off my shoulders and my jeans were wet.  Within minutes of arriving home, the sun was out and everything was melting. By the time I got my camera out, water was running off all the roofs and dripping from all the trees.  It really was amazing.

The Beer Festival was a lot of fun.  We parked our car at our downtown hotel and walked to a restaurant and then to the convention center where we sampled many, many beers over a 4 hour period and then we walked back to our hotel and were home before noon on Saturday.  We rarely get outings like this.

Tuesday before it got extremely cold again, we did get some more snow.  It was gray and dreary, but I got out with my camera and took some wintry photos.  Our hayloft is still well-stocked with hay.  I would say we have gone through less than half of what we put up in this side of the loft so far and since we only have about 6 weeks of maximum hay consumption ahead of us, we will be fine.  It is always a relief to know we won't have to scramble to find more hay.  It has happened.


  Here are Mayhem and Dulci peering out the barn door to see what I am doing.  

Everyone else is munching on hay

  Yesterday morning, it was -8 as I said and when I went outside, I first checked in on the chickens and there were 2 eggs in the nest boxes and I needed to bring them in right away.  As I picked each egg up, there was a soft popping sound and each one split end to end.  They were already frozen.  Rowdy and Grover each enjoyed an egg-cicle.  I don't know how long it took the eggs to freeze at that temperature.  It could not have been too long.

I finished up my gift knitting for older son's birthday, which is this Saturday.  I will post a couple photos next week, though I forgot to photograph one of the items and it is already in the mail.  Oh well.

sock toes
I also knitted the toes of a pair of socks this week.  This is very cool.  I have joined a traveling sock round robin with a group from a videocast called KnitSpinFarm  We each start the toes of a pair of socks and then we mail them off and they will go to  6 or 7 other people who will each knit 2" on the socks and when they come back to me they will be finished.  In the meantime, I will be knitting 2" on each of 6 or 7 pairs of socks that come to me in the mail.  Each knitter uses her choice of yarn and pattern, so these will likely be crazy-quilt socks (but knitted) when they come back to me.  Very fun!  I will get to use up yarn that is leftover from socks I have knit for myself and for gifts over the last couple years.  We get 2 weeks to work on each pair of socks, so the whole process will take 3+ months.  So I will have new socks just in time for flipflop weather!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking Forward

January is definitely a time to look forward.  And one has time to do so.  Sometimes I am only looking forward to the next week, as I did 2 weeks ago, preparing for the incredibly cold temperatures that we endured for a couple of days.  Those thing have to be foremost as there are animals to take care of and precautions to take to ensure that life goes as smoothly as possible despite a difficult situation.  Wood has to be stockpiled for the stove, a heater needs to be turned on in the crawlspace so the water pipes don't freeze, hay and feed need to be ready at hand in the barns so that as little time has to be spent outdoors a possible, animals need warm bedding.  

chicken house with feed sack draft blockers
But there is also next month and then spring and summer and, well you get the idea.  February is the beginning of maple syrup season.  Sam had grand plans of building a sugar shack to house the evaporator and acquiring a new flat pan to replace our other system.  It hasn't happened yet, though he says we will be getting a new pan.  A new pan means we can produce more syrup in a shorter amount of time with less clean-up (which is the most tedious part).  That means we need more taps and buckets.  I think we have plenty of taps handy, so I am trying to get as many buckets as I can.  We'd like to have 50.  

Other planning includes getting ready for my latest batch of yarn to arrive from the mill.  It is supposed to be ready the end of this month.  I have gone through my dye supply and made a list of colors I need to replace. I am low on some colors.  I may go pick the yarn up at the mill and take some more
fiber to be spun into rug yarn. .


And speaking of dyeing, I finally have some fiber dyed and ready to send off for roving.  The mill I use in Michigan has discounts in January, so I will be shipping this off in just a couple days.  It is a dark dark blue green and will be blended into a swirled roving with a black fleece and a rose grey fleece.  

I am not attending a fiber festival until Memorial Day as a vendor, so I have plenty of time to prepare.  I decided  not to attend the Knitter's Fantasy in Youngstown Ohio in early April.  While I enjoyed the show last year, my sales did not justify my time and the expense of gas and  a hotel room.  If I could manage without the hotel cost, I would likely do it again, but it is too far away to do in one day having to be set up by 8 am.

I am also moving ahead in planning to disperse most of my alpaca herd.  I have some very nice young females who would do well in a breeding program and I am just not up for the breeding end of things anymore.  That being said, if they are not sold, we may just have 2 crias this spring.  I've got 2 young females that I am pretty sure are bred to our rose grey male, Opi.  We will have to wait until May to see.  

So those are just some of the things I am looking ahead to.  I will also be driving to Florida at the end of this month with my mother as she goes down to spend the month with her sister.  We have plans to visit some old, old friends whom I have not seen since high school.  I will stay a few days and then fly home in early February, in time to start tapping trees.

That's about it for this week.  My  older son has a birthday in a week, so I have been doing some "secret" knitting which I can post about after his birthday.  He probably does not read this, but I never know.

The weather has not been conducive to taking many photos.  It is rather grey and dreary for the most part and uninspiring. 
It's January.  But it will be spring soon, won't it Rowdy?



Thursday, January 9, 2014

Deep Freeeeeeze!!

A big Grover Smile!
Everyone here has made it through the extremely cold weather we had for about 48 hours.  I think I heard it called an "Arctic Vortex"  All I know is it was very, very cold.  We were lucky and got very little snow, unlike Indiana and Michigan and NW Ohio, but the cold was the bad part.

They were predicting 2 days of below zero temperatures with wind chills in the -25 to -40 degree ranges.  I don't think it got quite that bad here.  But I started to prepare on Sunday since the weather was in the 40's.  I took empty feed sacks and used them to fill in the gaps between the end walls of the chicken coop and the roof.  I used paper grocery bags to fill smaller cracks.  I bought a red heat lamp and replaced the regular light bulb with that.  Monday dawned with a temperature of 24 degrees and it just dropped all day.  I did not let the chickens out of the coop at all and I placed a signboard (it was handy and the right size) in front of their little exit door to keep it tight to the building and put the feed storage barrel up against it.   They have a heated water bowl and a feeder in the coop.

I made sure I got hay and sawdust and straw over the main alpaca barn.  On Monday, I put out straw and closed 1 of the 3 doors entirely and closed the other 2 so that there was just enough space for the alpacas to go through one at a time.  I also put a coat on my old girl Chiquita, who tends to get cold.  She is 15.  When I went down to check on the males, my oldest male, Bodhi, who will be 15 in April, was already shivering.  So he got haltered and led down the road and put in a pen in the girls' barn.  The water was at that time still running into the trough in the boys' field, but I knew it would freeze as well so I plugged in the heated bucket and filled it.
Sunday night it had started to rain late and I was awakened around 12:30 am by torrential downpours.  It sounded as though a fire hose was aimed full blast at our house.  When I got up in the morning, there was about an inch and a half of fresh snow.  But all that rain was frozen under the snow.   I took this photo Wednesday when the water had receded in the creek and the ice had then fallen down in.  You can kind of see how high the water was when it froze.

Our kitchen water pipes were frozen on Tuesday morning, but were thawed out by Wednesday evening.  All in all we fared pretty well.  But we still have the coldest stretch of winter (usually) to endure.

 At least with the indoor weather I have had some time to work on knitting and spinning.  Remember the yarn I dyed last week with the leftover dye in my dyepot that I then splattered colors onto?  Here is some of it knit up into a quick chunky cabled hat.  I love this hat.  I am quite pleased with the colors.  I may make some matching mitts.

  And I finally finished this handspun yarn.  I purchased the prepared "top" from a fellow vendor at the Knitter's Fantasy last April and it has been languishing on my big Saxony wheel ever since.  It is a gradient and goes from light purple to dark purple and there are 6 ounces of it.  I was spinning it fairly thin, which can be quite tedious, so that I could make a 3-ply from it, and I am sure that is why it took me so long to spin.  I ended up with 760 yards of 3-ply and it is lovely.  It is a polworth (wool)/silk blend, probably 70/30 % if I recall correctly.  It's been so long.

I also spent some time working on my shawl I posted about last week and the Montana Tunic that I also started way back in April with yarn also purchased at the Knitter's Fantasy.  It is requiring what seems like miles of ribbing right now, but it is in the home stretch, so I will get it done.  This is a 100% merino wool yarn produced in the western US.

And I am planning my next rug project.  I think I will do a 6' runner and matching 2' X 3' throw rug with the dark brown as the main color and some stripes on the ends.  I have lots of dark chocolate-y brown.  Just need to do my warp calculations and start winding.

                                              A parting shot of more backyard ice.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy 2014!

I think this was probably the first photo I took with my brand new Nikon DSLR Sam got me for Christmas.  Surprise, I took a picture of Rowdy!

Yes, a new camera with a huge learning curve.  I ordered a book to help me with it and would love to take a digital photography class, since I have never taken one.  But for now, I just play with it and see what happens.

The Holidays are over.  No more deadline knitting and weaving.  Now we just have the cold of January and February to look forward to and as I write this the snow is coming down steadily outside my window and is expected to do so for most of the day.  
socks for Jill

So now I can share some of the projects I was working on for gift giving.

socks for Haley

socks for mom

a hat for Michelle
homemade vanilla extract

And I also made handwoven kitchen towels for my brother Larry and a last minute hat for my brother Mike.  I can't find the photo of the towels and I forgot to photograph Mike's hat.  

Christmas day we went to Sam's mom and dad's and then on the 27th I went to Dayton to my mom's and on the 28th we had another Christmas at Mom's with my brothers and brother Larry's family.  I don't know who liked their gift better, my mom:

Mom's Mah Jong Set

Or my nephew, Wit, with his .22 (totally approved by his parents before presenting)

Nephews Wit & Lawson

Both are more exciting than socks and kitchen towels I am sure.

I was home again on Sunday the 29th.  Monday was "take down the Christmas tree and put away decorations" day along with a day to finally get some housework done.  Now it is never boring at my house, even when it is just the dogs and me at home. Monday around 11:30 the dogs began to go crazy which means either someone is in the driveway or a strange dog is in the yard and it was a very different barking than usual so I suspected the latter.  Nope.  Here is what I saw:

 5 rather large hogs in my yard.  That was a first.  We have had deer, horses, alpacas and probably a cow or 2 in the yard, but never hogs.  I wasn't quite sure what to do.  I was certainly NOT going to let the dogs out of the house!  I have no idea what would have happened had they been outside when these sows came down the road.  Maybe nothing.  It is easy to be brave when there is a big glass door between you and the pigs.  Anyway, long story short, I discovered that when I went outside and called "pig,pig,pig" they would follow me.  So I ended up shutting them in the empty garage pasture where they spent an hour or so until their owners came with a trailer to take them home.  I think the son of our neighbor who owns them had likely spent more time than he cared to herding these pigs over his Christmas break (he appeared to be about 12) because he muttered "they are gonna be bacon soon because they have been out every day" in a disgusted tone as they loaded them up.

We rung in the New Year in a friend's brand new garage playing cornhole and eating and drinking and dancing.  It is a very large garage and even has radiant hot water heat in the cement floor.  I think I have garage envy.  It was fun and close to home.  This was the guy who put in our pond 4 1/2  years ago.

I have dyed some fiber to send off for roving this month, but it came out too green.  I need to over-dye it with blue since I wanted a deep teal color.  I had lots of dye left in the dye pot, so Tuesday I threw in 6 skeins of hand-spun alpaca/wool blend yarn that was a light fawn color.  I tied knots in the skeins before dyeing, hoping that the dye would not get all the way through the knots to give some color variation.  Well it kind of worked but not to my satisfaction, so yesterday I laid the skeins out and used syringes to dot them all over with 4 different colors, then wrapped them in plastic and microwaved them.
 I am much happier with the result, but forgot to photograph the skeins on my drying rack this morning.  I'll try to post a photo next week.  That is one thing I enjoy about dyeing: if I don't like the result, I re-dye and see what happens.  So far I have always been pleased.  So far.

I have a new project on my needles, a shawl from some gradient yarn I spun last January.  This was processed fiber from a dyer and is a blend of merino wool and silk.  I LOVE the colors. I  just hope the shawl will be large enough to get all the way through the color changes.  I am pulling the ball from the center and the colors will change from red to purples to blues at the end.  Definitely MY colors.

I will end with a photo I took yesterday evening of the sunset lighting up the trees on the hill above my neighbor's house.  I ran outside and snapped some shots with my new camera.  I love evening light.