Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Freely You Have Received; Freely Give."

That's from the Bible (Matthew 10:8). And I felt very strongly that those words were my marching orders today. Little did I know! Before the day was out, I had gotten calls from a kindergarten teacher who wanted a wool/sheep/spinning demonstration, a lady with two pet sheep in desperate need of shearing, and a newspaper reporter wondering what all the fuss was about regarding these CSA-thingys. My original to-do list was severely ammended, but I got the chance to visit with some great folks who had needs I could fill. What satisfaction! A sign by my desk says in pretty caligraphy, "Listen More, Talk Less." Today I got to practice this, and what a blast it was.

I have freely received so much. I look around me, especially on a drop-dead beautiful day like today, and I can hardly believe my overwhelming fortune - family, health, enough to eat, freedom, friends, prosperity, land, loveable critters, kindred spirits in the fiber world, mentors, peace and security of soul... the list goes on and on.

What option is there but to give back out again?

So I invite you to come to the farm - drink in its peace. Stroke the woolly back of a sheep and hear him bleat, visit with the hens who have an opinion about everything, smell the garden earth, damp from the rain, watch the stately alpacas glide across the pasture. This gift that was entrusted to me, I am honored to share with you. And let's take the gift of fiber from the animals, shape it into unique creations, and share that with others! If you have a willing heart and hands, I can teach you how to make yarn and fabric from wool and fiber. What a gift we've all been given!

The forecast for this Saturday looks sunny and fair. Tim Daugherty of Paca D'Lites Alpaca Ranch has agreed to come help us vaccinate the alpacas and worm them, since they were exposed to lots of other animals at shearing on Sunday. This is just a precaution, but it might save a lot of grief in the future. We'll need lots of hands to help hold and walk the haltered boys, and then we can get our mitts on the freshly shorn fleeces!

The harvest is beginning! It's not too late to get your share!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Successful Shearing

We had an awesome day at shearing today, and have bags and bags of beautiful fiber to show for our effort.

The day started pretty early with Mary Berry arriving and helping us halter all the boys. Ted and Emma were also a big help. Keely showed up right on time with the trailer, and we shoehorned all the animals in, nine in all. We headed up the road to A and A Alpacas, owned by Amy and Arlen McCroskey, and home to over 120 alpacas. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful, especially after a couple of days of rain, cold and wind. Today turned out to be frankly, spectacular.

Amy runs a smooth operation, with folks handling the critical jobs who have done it for years - it's like watching ballet or a Swiss watch working. The key is to watch for the little tasks that need doing and then making yourself useful... all the while, staying out of the way of the guys pulling the ropes or the ladies gathering up the fiber.

We kept the line moving - one alpaca after another - and Mark Loffhagan, professional alpaca shearer, worked steadily and smoothly between two stations. One alpaca was sheared while the next one was prepped behind him. Then he would turn and begin shearing the next animal. Mark's helper would trim teeth if needed and other helpers trimmed toenails while the animals were restrained - easier on everyone!

After a lovely lunch break, we went back at it, shearing the llamas last, since the pulleys had to be repositioned to accomodate their larger size. You'd have been proud - Gideon was a very good boy. He never spit or fussed once he was strapped down. He did fidgit quite a bit as he waited for his turn. We got his toenails trimmed while he was down and avoided feeling the wrath of his finely honed kicking skill.

Of course, as usual, the boys look really silly without their regal fiber coats. They are just a collection of sproingy pipe cleaner toys. But the new fiber will begin growing right away, and soon they'll regain their dignity.

I'm every grateful for Mary's help today, and for Keely making room for us in her trailer. It was great fun to play with alpacas and with great friends! And of course, many thanks to Amy McCroskey and Mark Loffhagan, for all they do for us.

The video I posted here is "Part I" of Mark shearing an alpaca. At the end you can hear me say to one of the helpers, "Am I in the way?" and he nodded, "yes." So I moved and resumed my video from another position. Part II, and a bunch of still photos are in my flicker set called, "Shearing 2009." Find it here.

Now, we have some skirtin' to do, my friends.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Day, Sunshine!

In answer to my personal prayers, the sun has come out and made the cold weather so much more bearable. Ted helped me with chores this morning which was so nice since it was dark, cold, and the gusting winds (25-32 mph) really added to the challenge. Seemed like all the heavy lifting needed doing. Ted even helped me bottle-feed the lambs in the Red Barn. What a sport!

Now it's afternoon and the sun is really helping my outlook on life. Emma helped me by walking the lambs while I cleaned out their crate. Wow. Farmer versus ammonia! While the lambs were getting some sun and stretching their legs, I got a picture of the meeting of the alpacas and the sheep. Everyone was very curious about the others.
I'm off now to get all my details attended to for shearing tomorrow. Keely is picking us up in her truck and trailer very early in the morning. Mary Berry is coming along to help out and get her feet wet in the world of alpacas. I need to make up name cards for each of the alpacas, to go in their respective fiber bags. This helps a lot in sorting out the fiber once it's bagged and collected with all the others. I need to make sure I have halters and lead ropes all sized and ready to snap onto the boys so we can lead them nicely into the trailer. I also want to take a bunch of mini-muffins along to share with all the hard workers involved in this amazing adventure. And of course, I need my camera to document the whole affair.

So, next time you hear from me, it will be with reports of our awesome fiber harvest. Film and video to follow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Warm Lambs

Yep - another post about the lambs.

The weather turned very cold today - expected to bottom out in the mid 30s tonight with really strong winds. Of course, all our critters are in full fiber, so there's no worries about them. They have plenty of hay to eat and generate heat overnight. But the little lambs do not have that benefit (they have a staple length of about .75" right now), and even after consulting some on-line sheep pals who said they would probably be OK outside, I just couldn't do it. I know myself better now. I would toss and turn all night with one eye open, popping up at 3 or 4 AM to go out and see if we had lambcicles in the little pen. Just not going to live like that.

I loaded the babes in their crate, lifted it into the wagon, and pulled them over to the Red Barn Studio. Laid down a large piece of plastic, and pushed the crate on to it. They are inside, out of the cold and wind. Emma and I gave them their last bottle, left a bowl of alfalfa pellets and turned off the light.

The Studio is going to need one serious airing tomorrow after that stinky crate sits there all night, but it's worth it. No lambcicles. I'll clean the crate tomorrow while the lambs enjoy the sunshine, and then they'll go back into the studio tomorrow night when the temps are supposed to drop again. After that, the temperatures come up and we're back into the "normal" range and the lambs can go back to living outside.

Farmers just have to do what farmers have to do. This is how we separate the hard core from the fair weather fiber farmers. ;-) Don't know about you, but I'm ready for some sunshine.

Alpaca shearing still to go on Sunday and then the really big jobs are behind us. Then there's the fun stuff like skirting, Easter Egg Hunt, maybe some veggie gardening, etc.

I'd like to take a sec to welcome our newest shareholders, Stacey, Ray and Brenda! Welcome, friends - I'm looking forward to having you with us. Blessings and greetings from the whole Jacob's Reward gang!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Sun Came Out - It Must be Time to Pronk

After our rains yesterday, the boys were a little fidgity from being cooped up in the barn. I don't lock them up, but they stay in the stalls out of the rain. So today, they made it clear that they wanted to run out in the larger section of pasture currently occupied by the donkeys. So I let them out. Boy, howdy - did they need to run! Just watching them makes me want to kick up my own heels. But then I remember that that might put me in traction, so I defer.

I'm all packed up for my trip to the elementary school tomorrow. I'll be sure to take my camera and get some pictures of kids learning where some of their clothes come from! It's so great to watch the light bulb go on in their little heads, that clothes come from somewhere else before they come from Target. The little boys find the wheel utterly mezmorizing. The girls seem to enjoy the end product. (These are gross gender generalizations - I know. I'm just sayin'.)

The side perk to doing these little demos? I actually get to sit down at my beautiful Pippi spinning wheel and make some yarn. Don't worry, I practiced today so that I don't get there and embarass myself from being too rusty, or losing my oriface hook, or messing up the tension. Ask me why I'm so glad I practiced first this time...

Getting late... time to (what else?) feed the babies!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stuff I Like, How About You?

You have been very patient while I talked about nothing but baby sheep this week. Today, I'm taking a page out of the playbook of a couple of my heros - sharing stuff they love on their blogs. So here goes. Jump in with your own favorite stuff if you'd like.

A couple of months back in my Upcycle Ravelry group, someone posted links to this very creative gal who made these bracelets (and more) out of cut up gift cards. I've been a crafter all my life, and these were so clever and hip, I loved them immediately.

Ingrid's Handwoven Rugs, in Paint Rock, TX makes wonderful items from wool and alpaca "seconds," or fiber that's too short or too coarse for handspinning. I'm really thinking of collecting my seconds to send to Ingrid's for making some rugs.

I've always had a soft spot for this kind of rustic furniture. I hope I can manage to get some for the farm someday. This fellow comes to the McKinney Trade Days, so I should be able to hook up with him when the time comes.

If you're ever touristing in the Texas Hill Country and come upon Fredericksburg, check out this sweet little knitting and spinning shop. It's a little off the beaten path, but worth the little detour.

During my training as a Master Naturalist, I learned that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had developed a fantastic resource for folks who needed guidance in landscaping their north Texas yards with native plants. People tend to think the only Texas native plants are yuccas and tumbleweeds. Not so, amigos! Check out the interactive website called Texas Smartscape if you want to see some gorgeous, drought-tolerant Lone Star lovelies!

And finally, I have no idea how I stumbled upon this site, but these little Gnome Doors are entirely too cute. I'd love to have these all over the farm...

So how about you? What have you stumbled on, on the Web that makes you bookmark the page?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the Love of Babies

The twins are doing well here on the farm after a week in our care. I think I can see that they've grown some, and I'm bummed that I didn't get a base-line weight on them when they first arrived. I do like the objectivity of a scale to check our progress.

I've learned a lot about what works for each lamb when it comes to bottle feeding. Itzhak is a chewer - he hasn't really got the "sucking" thing down at all. He has destroyed one rubber nipple so far and has started on a second. Mary Elizabeth, on the other hand, could pull the chrome off a door handle. She has demolished a nipple, too, but from her own particular angle. And that's fine if I have a feeding helper, with each person concentrating on the eating style of her own lamb. But when I get to do the job myself and I have two different eaters on the ends of two different Gerber bottles simultaneously, it's quite entertaining. We all finish up with a certain amount of milk replacer on our persons.

The ritual of mixing up the milk replacer powder has taken up a good part of the day. It's not that it takes that long. It's just that it has to happen four times a day. The books say that at this age they should be eating more volume with less frequency. But dang it, they haven't read the book. They don't seem able to hold any more, and they cry pitifully if I push them much beyond 5-6 hours between meals. They do, mercifully, allow me to sleep through the night.

Any advice you may have to offer at this point would be gratefully accepted!

I also got concerned that they weren't getting enough lamby exercise, so I bought two dog harnesses and now Em and I can take them for little outings in the yard. Boy, do they love to run! If we turned them loose, I'm afraid they wouldn't stop until they hit Oklahoma. My tentative plan is to turn them in with Shadrach once they get big enough to fend for themselves. Then they can run and boink with him in the pasture.

I'd love to write more, but it's time for the babies' nightcap. 'Night!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where We Round Out Our Herd

Time and experience are great teachers. I've been fiber farming for almost three years now, and the scope of the business plan has continued to stretch and evolve and shape-shift as the seasons have passed. And when you start raising animals, the amount you have to learn - sometimes the hard way - boggles the mind. But you take it one day at a time and by Grace, continue to learn and make decisions.

Ok, so where am I going with this? Well, my spinning pals have been great sounding boards as I become enamored with all kinds of animals and potential farming avenues. They all have opinions and are happy to express them. I say that with gratitude, because they have given me lots of wise counsel. My husband, too, has kept me from making lots of impetuous mistakes. For instance, no one whose opinion I trust will allow me to get goats. A part of me really wants either angoras or milk goats. But the consensus has been a deafening, "NO." Fine. I'm sure you're all right.

The farm plan that continues to sharpen in focus is two-fold: Fiber and Eggs. That's it. And that's plenty. The chickens, for instance, are totally paying their own way, plus some.

We have three more Gulf Coast Native wethers who will join the farm in May when they are weaned. They have great fiber and are ideally suited to this climate. Good decision. We have five alpacas (ok, one is half llama) who provide very nice fiber in lovely natural colors. Good decision. I have a Babydoll ram, a Barbado ewe, and two hay-burning donkeys. Questionable decisions. The donkeys haven't actually shown themselves to be great guardian animals which was why we got them in the first place. They are the hardest critters on the pasture, and they are also the most expensive to keep because of the farrier and vet visits. It will rip my heart out to sell them, but I may be at that point. And Zacchaeus - he's such a doll, but the time and money necessary to start a breeding flock would distract from the main missions: Fiber and Eggs. And little Lucy the Barbado - well, she's really just a lawn mower here, and that job is pretty well covered by everyone else. She probably needs a new home as well.

These are really tough decisions, but I have to have ninja intensity as I build our Fiber Farm. Which brings me to my Big Announcement:

Jacob's Reward (The Hands-On Fiber Farm) will be welcoming four young alpacas in June. These are the boys currently owned by Ann Mayes in Auxvasse, MO. Two will be boarders, owned by Mary Berry of Fancy Fibers, and the other two will be ours. This will do two things. The boarding income will help offset some of our expenses, and the white(ish) suri fiber will be a great supplement to our yearly Fiber Harvest.

I need to accomplish several big projects before the new alpacas and the Gulf Coast Natives come - the north pasture needs to be fenced, and I need to get the property across the creek into hay production. The fencing isn't rocket science, but the hay may take some creativity. More stretching and evolving. Is this a great gig or what? Whew.

So what do you think of our plan?

Coming up this week: Friday is my visit with second graders (not fourth graders - I misspoke in an earlier post) where I will demonstrate spinning and fiber farming at a local elementary school, and then Sunday is the big alpaca shearing day. Gorgeous fiber, here we come.

Now, shifting the subject for a moment: I just want to take a minute to thank all our shareholders - the folks near and far who have supported us and become family to the farm. We are building real community as we work and play together, and it is such a joy. If you've thought about being a part of our "fiber fellowship," give our website a look and jump in with a CSA share. You won't regret it! The fiber harvest just keeps getting better, and the fun we have working the farm together is beyond price.
I've featured here some of the great photos taken by Shareholder Chris at Saturday's Herd Health Day. Ain't we got fun? Thank you so much, Chris, for the great shots!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Healthy Herd

I sure wish I could wrassle alpacas and take photos at the same time. We would have had some good candidates for America's Funniest Pets. Saturday's Herd Health Day was a rodeo of a good time, trying to convince 175-pound camelids that the platform scale wasn't really a trap door to purgatory. We weighed Moonstruck first, and he lulled us into the notion that this job was going to be a calm, peaceful walk in the park. He haltered well and just stepped up on the scale when we led him to it. We got his weight and went to halter the next alpaca. None of the other 4 alpacas were in the mood to be haltered, and every one of them made up new steps to the "Avoid the Scale" dance. Some variations: get three feet on the scale and then lean with all your might on your handler. Or, straddle the scale with all four feet and don't let them get you on that wicked thing. But we are more persistent than alpacas, and prevailed in the end.

The good news is that the boys are all in very good shape, if perhaps on the pudgy side. This is in contrast to last year when I tried to cut back on their ration to avoid overfeeding, and ended up with very skinny alpacas - hidden by the fact that they were covered with tons of fluffy fiber. Horrified, I spent six weeks leading up to shearing trying to get some meat back on them. The learning curve can be steep with livestock. But we learn, and do better next time. And as I said, the 'pacas are leaning more toward "plump" than "skinny" this year. By next year, we should have it down pat. I've been working on learning Body Scoring, which is a subjective measurement of condition, and we also have the scale now, which is an objective measurement. We are shooting for the best nutrition for the lowest cost.

We decided to put off the shots and the toenail trimming because we couldn't find fresh vaccine in stock at Tractor Supply, and because our trimmers were really acting up. So, after shearing next weekend, we'll try the vaccinations and toenails again. It's great to have Shareholder Chris among us, who has great professional experience working with animals and syringes!

It was then time for our traditional snacks in the Red Barn time. Our newest shareholder, Elizabeth, had baked an unbelievable sweet potato pie with a streusel topping and Chris brought delicious humus and chips. That, and our Dunkin Donuts coffee, gave us new energy and endurance for the jobs yet to be done.

Like feed the babies. I really have to twist arms to get folks to sit in the little pen and bottle-feed a baby sheep. Not. Chris and Elizabeth did the honors and we cleaned up the little lamb motel while we were at it.

I had advertised Herd Health Day on Local Harvest, and a nice group of folks dropped by to see what all the fuss was about. They got the 50 cent tour and left with a dozen really pretty eggs!

So, in the end, our second Herd Health Day went swimmingly and we're looking ahead to our next event.

Tomorrow, I will make a Big Announcement, accompanied by appropriate fanfare, but at the moment, it's time for bed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's All About the Fiber!

Sometimes as a shepherd, I get so caught up in animal care and fiber harvesting that I forget that I love to knit and spin. How long has it been since I gave myself permission to just sit down and use my own fiber? I don't know if other fiber farmers are ever in this situation, but I had collected quite a stash of store-bought yarn in my early knitting years. When I would take a project out to work on in public, people would look at my work and say, "Oh, is that from your sheep or alpacas?" Hmmm. Pink eyelash. Uh, no, this is from the store. The shame, the shame. I'd hang my head and wonder why I wasn't using the glorious wools and alpaca fibers that grew on my own farm.

So I made a commitment to use my own fibers in public and knit down the non-wool stash for gifts, or give it away. So that is my long term commitment. However, knitting of any kind has been shelved often lately just because of the pressing shepherd-y tasks, and so I'm not working the stash down like I had wanted. But tomorrow's another day and we'll try again then. The first job is to take a look at where I am presently.

On the needles right now: too many UFOs to admit to. I did pull 2-3 out so that I'd see them and be inspired to pick them up and finish them in the next several weeks. On my wheel right now: white Suri alpaca from Ann Mayes. Thanks to the Wildflower Retreat last weekend, I actually took time to get a bunch spun. It is really lovely - clean, soft, and shiny. I'm anxious to ply it and let it age for a bit while I decide what to make out of it. Oooooh, just had a thought. I may have to add BEADS to this yarn. That would be so beautiful! And knit a pretty winter scarflette or something.

What are you knitting? What is on your wheel? Do you find yourself getting too busy to do the craft you love? How do you make time in your day to keep at it? Do you find yourself drawn to the same kinds of colors or fibers? I do - I'm a nut for autumn shades, particularly olive green. Just can't get enough of it. You won't find much pink in my stash. Aren't people funny like this? Sometimes I challenge myself to think outside my usual tastes. The yarn pictured above is the result of one of those stretching moments. It's spun from gorgeous handpainted alpaca and silk roving I got on Etsy. I really love the fiber - stretching is good!

Herd Health Day is tomorrow morning, and I'm really looking forward to it. But I'm dreaming about picking up my trusty Harmony needles from Knit Picks, and making some stitches! Which project will it be???

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Giving and Receiving

Clear your calendar: This Saturday we'll halter up the alpacas again and try to get their weights and all their toenails trimmed. If I can pull it off, I'll give their CD&T shots as well. If you can come, you'll be able to see our new bottle lambs, which will come close to inducing a sugar coma from sheer cuteness. As you'll recall, we are caring for Itzhak, our wether-boy and his twin sister, Mary. (Special announcement: because of a designated gift from a new shareholder, "Mary" is now "Mary-Elizabeth" and will be staying at Jacob's Reward Farm!)

Because it really is more blessed to give than to receive, we'll be collecting food items on Saturday which will be given to the Allen Community Outreach food pantry. If you can bring an item or more to donate, I'll take your picture with the alpaca of your choice, and e-mail it to you! Families of Allen will thank you for your kind generosity. The way to overcome the fear of poverty is to give to others. The antidote to greed is generosity. If you think there isn't enough (stuff, money, security, love, food) for you to be happy, you must begin giving some away. All the chatter about our tanked economy might encourage us to draw into ourselves. I pray we will resist that urge and instead, reach out with some of the resources we have. This downturn shall pass, and when it does, where will we be--withdrawn and bitter or content and full of love?

Tunnel Vision

I have to admit to a bit of tunnel vision right now. Along with the everyday duties around the farm, we've added the twin lambs and they need a good bit of care. Plus, they are just addicting to be around. They baaaa with a little baby voice. They have the curliest, softest fiber, even now--it's hard to keep your hands off them. They snuggle into your neck if you let them. So I apologize for having just one thing on my mind currently - getting these little guys off to a good start is my top priority. Soon I'll be able to turn to the next priorities, which include preparing for Herd Health Day and Alpaca Shearing Day, publishing our farm egg recipe booklet and hosting the Easter Egg Hunt (April 11, thanks for asking). I'm also scouring the calendar for a good Spin In day and maybe even a dye day here at the farm.

But just to give you a little taste of my new and beloved duties several times a day, I recorded a short video. Sorry about the cell phone ringer; just consider it a quirky soundtrack to the video.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back in the Saddle

The farming fun never takes a vacation here at Jacob's Reward. As soon as I got back from the Wildflower Fiber Retreat, we had to drive down to Corsicana to pick up two lambs who need bottle feeding for a couple of months. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Wildflower was a great retreat this year - the cold, wet weather kept everyone in the mood for working with wool! The theme this year was the Northern Lights, and all things northern and arctic. We learned a jewelry-making technique called Viking Knitting - which is really more like weaving with wire, we learned about Icelandic and Shetland sheep, we knitted with a Lopi-type yarn to make a miniature sweater with colorwork, some folks worked on an Aurora Borealis needlepoint pattern, and we ate Swedish meatballs and caviar. I tell you, it was fantastic. I loved connecting again with old friends, and making a few new ones as well. Lots of spinners took home Jacob's Reward alpaca fiber to spin from our vendor booth, and we got rave reviews from the ladies who couldn't wait to get home and spun their fiber right then and there! Reporters came out from the local newspaper to see what all the fuss was about. Their article is here. I was under orders from the gals who couldn't go to take lots of pictures. Turns out my camera's batteries were on their last legs and I had neglected to pack extras. The photos I DID get are here.

Then yesterday, as I said, I met Kim Travis in Corsicana to pick up two of the lambs who were orphaned in that horrible dog attack. Itzhak and Mary will live at Jacob's Reward Farm until they are weaned and then Mary will go back down to Bedias. (She is for sale, however, and Kim reminded me that if anyone wanted her up in this area, she could live up here in the DFW area instead!) At weaning time, our other three boys will come up here to join Itzhak and become the Gulf Coast Native wether flock. Perhaps they'll become part of the little flock made up of Shadrach, Zacchaeus and Lucy right now. I don't think I trust them in with the horned Jacobs. It just isn't a level playing field.

Mary and Itzhak couldn't be more different in their eating styles: Mary sucks down her bottle as fast as she can, making milky foam at the corners of her mouth and wriggling her "happy tail" to beat the band. Itzhak, on the other hand, has to chew the nipple of the bottle, and is very lazy about getting his meal down. He's just not in a hurry and won't be rushed. He's a snuggle bug and would just as soon cuddle with his head on your chest. It will be tough to be subjected to all that fuzzy cuteness four times a day for the next few weeks.

And speaking of fuzzy cuteness - remember that this Saturday, March 21st, is our next Herd Health Day, beginning at 10 AM. The plan is to try to get the alpacas weighed, toenails trimmed and give them more halter practice. If I get it together, I'll give the boys their CD&T shots, and save myself the effort on shearing day, which is already hectic enough.

I hope you're enjoying our Return of Spring Weather. The rain was desperately needed, but I have to admit to being thankful for better walking surfaces as the soppy clay dries. It's time to make hay while the sun shines.


Wow, you guys. I'm back from the Wildflower Fiber Retreat where we had an incredible time, and I learned a couple of new things and saw lots of old friends. I have pictures. Then today I picked up two Gulf Coast native lambs who need bottle feeding. Then I picked up a friend at the airport who will be with us for the week. And I'm nodding off at the computer from fatigue. So, for the moment, I'm going to post one lamb picture, to tide you over, and then tomorrow I'll put up photos of the retreat, and more lamb photos. As Arnold Schwarzenegger has said, "I'll be back." (Pictured: Zacchaeus welcomes one of the twins, Mary, to Jacob's Reward Sheep Spa.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm Off

I'm off for the weekend, so I won't be able to blog again until I return Sunday night. But then, I'll have a load of reports from the Wildflower Fiber Retreat. The weather will be brisk and damp - perfect for sitting in the lodge bundled in our woollen wraps, spinning, knitting, and swapping good yarns. Both kinds. (Pictured are my friends Julie, Liz and Joanne at the retreat in 2006). Once I get the truck loaded and hook up with my caravan buddies, the "retreat" will officially start for me.

In the meantime, I need to get Emma to school and leave plenty of instruction about the animals while I'm gone, so this will be short.

Please remember our friends Kim and Garth down in Bedias in your prayers - they suffered a terrible dog attack on their sheep day before yesterday and had five ewes injured - one has passed away. Miraculously, none of the lambs were injured, but now Kim is bottle feeding Itzhak and his twin sister, Mary. This is a busy time for them, as they mainly grow vegetables for a living, and need to be spending a lot of time in the garden right about now. Pray that the other ewes recover and that the lambs continue to grow and develop normally. Kim tells me the dogs will not be coming back.

This farming life always carries a significant risk of loss and of heartache. Fortunately, in the larger scope, the joy greatly outweighs the pain. Kind of like life. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Again, I have emerged from the annual Battle with Bureaucracy and have prevailed. I was IM-ing my sister (an accounting major) last night and remarked, "when you need a graduate degree to correctly pay your taxes to the government, something is not right." We run-of-the-mill citizenry should be able to contribute our part without this much duress. Of course, part of it is my fault. I need to keep better records, and keep them up throughout the year, so that it's not like engaging the forces of Mordor when Turbo Tax and I face up to the job.

But it's over for another year and I'm ready to move on. Spring is busy for farmers with weather changes (have I mentioned how challenging I find spring MUD?), shearing duties, babies coming, gardens needing planting, etc.

I look up and it's time to head to Tyler, TX for the annual Wildflower Fiber Retreat, and so today I'm packing up all the goodies for the damp drive tomorrow. I do enjoy the opportunity to meet new folks, spread the Fiber CSA joy, and actually sit at my wheel and make some yarn. It IS a retreat, after all.

When I get back, it will be Spring Break and I'll have some out-of-town company - a friend from Austin who is a joy to have around. Emma is off school, of course, so I'll get more time with her. As she gets older, I enjoy her company more and more. She's a great kid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Of Wildflowers and Legends

Another reason to love Texas: Bluebonnets. I think they're actually a little early this year, maybe because of our rash of 80+ degree days the past couple of weeks. But Bluebonnets tell us it's time for the Wildflower Fiber Retreat in Tyler, and that soon, the hillsides around the metroplex will be littered with families and dogs in their Sunday best posing for pictures. In fact, it usually means Easter is not far away. This year the Bluebonnets are early and Easter is later, but no matter - spring is almost here.

The air has gone warm and muggy and the sky hangs heavy with clouds. Rain has been in the forecast since Sunday, but it has yet to materialize. The likelihood increases tonight, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't wake up to wet ground. As much as I hate mud, we need this rain badly. The livestock load on my pasture will increase this year and I need all the grass I can get.

And just now, the sky got a bit darker, as I learn of the passing of a Texas fiber hero, Bill Wyatt of Wyatt Wheel fame. Bill's wheels are gorgeous tools, crafted with the mastery of the woodworker's skill, and they will continue to stand as his legacy for decades to come. I met Mr. Wyatt twice - once at Kid N Ewe in Boerne, TX, and the other time at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (where he is pictured, teaching a willing learner all the amazing features of the Pegasus). He had a soft, easy way about him that invited you to come, sit, and experience spinning at one of his custom-built Rolls Royce wheels. My prayers and condolences go out for his wife, Lynn and all those around him who loved and were loved by him. Rest in peace, Mr. Wyatt.

Spring is almost here - the time of rejuvenation and rebirth.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It Feels So Good When I Stop

I've been worried about this beautiful male Cardinal for a couple of days now. He was absolutely obsessed with that other Cardinal in the mirror. I could see him from my window, out in the open carport, sucked in by his image in a very large mirror stored there. That other Cardinal is obviously in his territory to make trouble, to steal his girl, his food, his honor, his prime nesting spot. He must be vanquished. But the blighter is persistent! No matter how many times our Cardinal comes at him, squawks, gives it his best Cardinal Ninja feather flurry beating, the other guy is still there. For days this has gone on: "I'll wait in the nearby Hackberry tree. Choose my moment and... swoop in for the surprise attack! Aaack! He's already there waiting for me with a very nice Ninja feather flurry himself! Aaaaack! Sit on the cardboard and give him the evil eye. Turn and give him the other evil eye. Blast! He's just as intense about this as I am. Back to the tree to come up with another strategy...."

Makes me wonder. What lesson is in this for me? What am I battling in my own life that reveals a myopic, self-centered mini-drama? How much are the obstacles thwarting my progress.... me?

Finally today, I couldn't stand it anymore. I was worried that pretty redbird would hurt himself. I went out and threw a piece of black plastic over the mirror. This confused our friend. He stayed up in the tree a while, taunting his nemesis. He made several swooping passes by the covered mirror and then circled back up to the tree. After several hours, he finally decided the war was over and he had won. He could move on with his life.

I thank God that I have deep friendships with people who, when they see areas in my life where I am locked in mortal combat against myself, in the idolatry of self criticism or perfectionism or judgement - they do me the honor of helping me take my eyes off myself and refocus on the really important things around me. And regain my freedom.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Change Your Clocks!

I hope it isn't too late to remind you to push your clocks ahead an hour before you go to sleep. It means an hour less sleep tonight, usually, so now, don't read any more. Just shut down your computer and go to bed.

Unless you're reading this after Saturday night, and you've already woken up late and cursed, and rushed to get dressed to make it to church on time, or to your golf game, or to the corner bakery for a bagel and the paper. In that case...

Have a nice day!

PS - sheep don't care what time it is, unless you're late with the goods.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Farm Forecast

Have you had a busy, productive week? Mine has been busy, and fairly productive - maybe a 7 on a scale of 1-10. Could have gotten more done maybe, but hey, we're not machines.

So now, before the weekend, it's time for a look forward on the Jacob's Reward Calendar and see where we're headed:

Next weekend, March 13-15 I'll be at the Wildflower Fiber Retreat in Tyler, TX. This is an awesome annual gathering of fiber artists that is celebrating its 15th anniversary deep in the piney woods of East Texas. We'll enjoy great food, fellowship, and of course, fiber. In addition to re-connecting with spinning pals and enjoying some down time, I'll be spreading the CSA story and selling some of our wonderful rovings. Learn more about the retreat here.

The following Saturday, March 21, is our next "Herd Health Day" where we'll concentrate on the alpacas - haltering, trimming toes, and making sure they're ready for their shearing which happens on the Saturday after that, March 28. I'll be taking lots of photos and video that day, since I cannot invite visitors up to the hosting ranch in Greenville.

Backing up a day to March 27, I'll be demonstrating wool processing and spinning to the fourth graders at Hedgecoxe Elementary School in Plano for their Fine Arts Day, as I have done for the past 3 years. Those kids are really smart and well-behaved, asking great questions, soaking up the information, and then always sending me a stack of the cutest thank you notes I've ever seen. (A few are featured in this post.)

In April, our "Herd Health Day" is scheduled for the 25th, which seems like such a long time between events. So, I've had another idea. I'd like to have an Easter Egg Hunt for your kids, or kids you know, under the age of 6, here in my front yard. Saturday, April 11, we'll have a fun hunt for plastic eggs with candy and prizes inside - you could win a dozen eggs, or some fiber, or an appropriate Easter toys! I will be working on an activity for older kids, too, so no one feels left out. As the time gets closer, I'll ask for RSVPs, but for now, just think about it and pencil us in on the calendar.

May is going to be a very busy month, too, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in egg recipes - there's still room for more, so please don't be shy! Keep them coming! This is going to be a really fun little booklet, free for the asking once it's published.

If you have a fun idea for an event here at the Farm, please let me know. As friends and shareholders, this is YOUR farm, too!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Looking For a Few Good Egg Recipes

If we chat for any length of time, it may come up that cooking is not my gift. I do a lot of things fairly well, but I have no passion for the kitchen. I used to be pretty embarassed about it, but I have come to terms. But, I know you do have that passion! YOU love to imagine and create culinary beauty out of stuff you find in the fridge. I stand amazed. I bow to your prowess. And I want to harness your exquisite skill.

I'd like to publish a small booklet of egg recipes to mail out to all our friends and soon-to-be friends, and your friends and anyone who might enjoy eggs. If people buy our eggs, I want them to have some cool ideas about how to use them. These can be main dish recipes, dessert recipes, drink recipes - the sky's the limit. Remember that these will be coming from our farm, so "homey" might be a good theme. Homey and egg-y. I will compile these recipes, group them by category, and print them up in a pretty booklet. You will get full credit (name, website, blog, fan club contact) for each recipe, a free copy of the completed booklet, and my undying thanks.

Think of the glory! This could be your stepping stone to Julia-Child-household-name stature! Let me help launch your career as a professional chef and recipe writer. E-mail me your egg recipe(s), what you like about it, any other pertinent information, and your mailing address so I can send your copy out as soon as the booklet is finished. I'd love to know if this is a family recipe, or one you've adapted from a well-worn cookbook. Let's be careful not to infringe on anyone's copyright. Drop me a line here with your recipe: ctelisak@juno.com. I'll take submissions until I get 10-12 great ones to fill our little booklet.

!Buen apetito!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Alpaca Classifieds

Time to share the wealth. I have two friends with more alpaca boys than they can use, and are trying to find good homes for them. I know both of these ladies, and they love their alpacas with all their hearts. These guys are well cared for fiber machines. You like fiber, right?

And let me say that if any of these boys strike your fancy, but you don't have a place to keep them, well, I'm here to help. I have room for some alpacas to board here at Jacob's Reward if that's what you need. Have your people call my people and we'll do lunch, and work something out.

First, my friend Peggy has two intact huacaya boys (that's the teddybear kind) who need homes. I can attest to the fineness and density of their fiber - it's wonderful! She'd like Hondo and Oceola to go together, and is asking $1300 for the pair.

Then, up in Missouri, my friend Ann has four young boys that don't fit into her breeding program, who she'd like to go in pairs. The prices are incredible, because she knows that some transportation is probably going to be involved. Take all four for $900, three for $750, or two for $500. And if you only wanted part of the package - talk to me. Even I might be able to afford one of these gorgeous Suri boys (the dreadlock kind). None are gelded yet because of their ages so they might have breeding potential. And they're cuter than snot.

Top left is Kid Kanduit with great fiber and personality, top right is Mushroom with nice fiber and a blue eye, bottom left is Big, who (though he looks little in this picture) is a sizeable boy now, and bottom right is Magic, who just appeared in the pasture one morning by - magic. Very fine fiber on this little guy. Ann has more current pictures of these little guys if you'd like to see them.

If you have any interest in these guys, please call me to contact their owners for more information.

Me, I'm just trying to spread the alpaca love.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Texas Sky

I fuss about things I don't like about Texas sometimes. The temperature in August. The Cowboys' lack of moral character. The ubiquitous Big Hair. But one thing I'll never complain about is the sky at dusk. Tonight I was on my way to lock up the chicken coops and decided to grab the camera. This photo shows the typical sight off my front porch most evenings of the year. Spectacular. Not sure how it works, but if the cloud cover is just right as the sun sets, my vast horizon is painted with gaudy colors you don't expect from nature. And isn't it great to cap off the day with a reminder that God thought up what "beautiful" would look like, and he put it in our hearts to love it, too. Wow.

The chores are done for today. So pull up that rocker and your cup of tea, and let's enjoy the show.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sabbath Rest

I usually give myself Sunday off from blogging, but I wanted to show you more pictures from our fun Herd Health Day yesterday. Out of Laurie's large collection, here is a shot of Ted and me cornering Lucy and convincing her that she won't die if we put a halter on her. She did lead better than I expected, but a couple of times she leapt into the air, did a triple Salchow and landed on her back. I wish she wouldn't try to show off like that. A simple step-ball-change would suffice. For your peace of mind, no sheep were harmed during Herd Health Day, unless you get legalistic about me quicking Zacchaeus' hoof with the trimmers. I've already done my penance, so let it go.

Tomorrow begins a new week. I pray it is a good one for you.