Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time to Expand, and Time to Reap

The chicks are really growing. But they're not feathered out enough to go outside. What's a farmer to do? Consult with the Engineer.


The Engineer suggested adding on an annex to the current chick digs, to give the growing babies more space to spread out. So with a dog crate, cardboard and some packing tape, we stuck on another place for the chicks to roam. Brought back memories of building forts as a kid. This nearly doubled their square footage (with no pesky increase in property tax) and will take a little pressure off their interpersonal relationships. Chickens don't do well when crowded. Ask me how I know.


Ted even gave them a perch to play on in the annex. I think he's sweet on these chicks.

In other news, I spent all day struggling with my wireless router trying to get a newsletter published on the laptop, but I came out victorious. Watch your inbox for that latest bulletin. Tomorrow we meet the Snells of Spinderellas Fiber Creations -- I hope you can be with us to see the 2009 share fiber unveiled. If not, you know I'll keep you in the loop here.

Alpaca Fiber Harvest
The freshly shorn alpaca fiber - remember back in March?

The PayPal button to purchase 2010 shares will appear shortly on the website - be patient if you don't see it just yet. (This is an all-volunteer Army.) Because we have more fiber producing animals now, we will have a few more shares available this year than last year. Also, I am offering the option of shares of fiber blended with a couple of other local shepherds' best fiber, so that small producers without the wherewithall to market their fiber can get a little support. I think it's criminal when gorgeous fiber sits in a garage or barn somewhere close, because the shepherd or rancher doesn't know how to get it to the spinners who would love it with all their hearts!

It's an option, but not the only option for shares. You decide.

OK, must run tidy up the Red Barn for company tomorrow! So excited!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shareholders of Note

Just for the record, today was a spectacular day. After some heavy mist this morning (not going to say the "r" word), the clouds parted and the humidity moved out. Gorgeous. I really believe the animals joined me in a big group sigh of relief. We enjoyed sunshine and a brisk breeze all afternoon. If you were a farm animal in a fur coat, you'd love this kind of day.

Everything seemed to be clicking. I locked the chickens up as the sun was setting tonight, and watched the horizon turn a neon orange. All the chickens found their own ways home, and the alpacas bedded down out in the pasture, rather than in the barn, so that they could soak up the cool breeze. My sick hen continues to show a lot of improvement in her healing from the pox--the same hen I almost put down because she looked so bad.

The chicks are growing!

Inside, I think I've thwarted some of the suicidal tendencies of the 3-week old chicks. I made a poster board "slide" that drapes over the waterer, preventing them from jumping up on it, pooping on it, and launching from it to escape. I got the feeder raised up to a level where they don't immediately fill it with shavings and hide the feed from themselves.

Brahmas have feathered feet! Good for cold weather.

Aside from just needing a bit more room for them, I think we've got things under control for a while. I have also taken them out from under the heat lamp and have them out in the ambient air in the back room. Overnight lows are now down in the upper 40s outside, and they just aren't ready for that kind of temperature yet. A couple more weeks, and they'll go outside under the lamp again. This is a pretty docile breed, which I believe accounts for their fairly compliant dispositions so far.

Peggy Helmick-Richardson's article in the Allen Image

In the mail today, I got our local magazine, the Allen Image. Parker has the same zip code as Allen, so the post office treats us like Allenites, and we get this nice publication. Our storyteller/shareholder Peggy Helmick-Richardson often writes cover stories for them and this issue was no exception. It's always fun to see her by-line, and then as I flipped through, I saw one of shareholder Linda Theiman's unmistakable felt pieces highlighted in an article on local artists! Linda will be featured with several other artists in an exhibition at the Train Depot (100 E. Main in Allen) through the Allen Heritage Guild from November 2 to December 20. It's free, so if you're in the area, think about taking it in!

Linda Theiman's felt piece is highlighted.

Tomorrow is the first and last Saturday in a long time that I don't have someplace to be. So I've made a nice long list of stuff to get done around the farm. And Item Number One is: sleep in. I already sleep in by most farmers' standards, but when you're a night owl like me, "late" is "later." And remember that Saturday night, Daylight Savings Time ends and we get another hour to sleep. Or knit. Oh, yeah.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Warp and Weft

I've only dabbled in the craft of weaving. For a short time I owned a beautiful four-harness floor loom, but only got a couple of pieces off of it. I've worked with a 7 ft. tri-loom, and produced three lovely shawls, but the last one I started has become wall art in my studio as it remains only two-thirds complete and stuck on the loom. I own a very nice rigid heddle loom, but it is currently loaned out to a friend because I've never gotten around to warping it.

So when Mary B. came to me and asked if I'd like to teach a class for her Winter Retreat, weaving was not the first thing to come to my mind.


And then I remembered a project that I learned from another fiber friend, Marlene. A long time ago, she helped us make small cardboard looms and we made small purses in just a short time, with scrap yarn. Like most yarn crafts, this wasn't at all complicated, (a fifth grader could do a wonderful job) and because the project was small, we all had the chance to complete it in a short amount of time without getting distracted by other shiny ideas. The fun thing is bringing your own artistic touch to the simple construction, and turning it into a work of art.


Now, it has been a while, and though the concept makes perfect sense, I've learned the hard way that I mustn't wait until the last minute and discover I've forgotten some critical concept or material. So, even though I have some big craft show deadlines looming (heh) I was inspired to at least get a "practice" cardboard loom warped and the weaving started. I'll be making my own teaching handouts, so I've been taking pictures as I go. I'm using the Noro Kureyon knock-off made by Plymouth, Boku yarn. I used some before for a pair of Fetching fingerless gloves, and I love the way the colors blend smoothly from one to another. This will show off nicely in the simple weave pattern. But it cries out for embellishment, once the weaving is complete.


Does this look like fun?

My class will be only one of many offered at the Winter Fiber Fun Retreat in Argyle, the first weekend in February 2010. (Mary's page about last year's retreat is here to give you an idea of what is coming.) Think about joining us - we had an absolute blast last year. The accommodations are very comfortable, the company divine, and the timing is perfect after the holiday let-down. Treat yourself!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hangin' with the Fiberistas

Wednesday is our usual spinning day. Most every week a dozen of us, give or take a half a dozen, gather at my church for several hours of fiber projects, punctuated by lunch. Sometimes, one of us is celebrating a birthday, and in that case, we have birthday cards and cake during our lunch break. Today was a birthday lunch, with an awesome chocolate bundt cake. Oh yeah.

Another thing we do every week is share the projects that have come off of our needles or our wheels. I captured a little snippet of today's "show and tell" session:

These ladies are all so talented and dear. We have added people to our group over the years - some stay and some move on. Today we had one of the largest turnouts in a long time. But the casual, "come as you are, for as long as you can" attitude is one of the best parts of belonging to this group. Many of us have forged lifelong friendships, and we're always ready to drop everything and run if someone has a need.

A good number of these ladies also come to the Third Saturday Spin/Knit In here at the farm, so if you're not available during the week, you know there's a warm welcome waiting for you at Jacob's Reward on a Saturday morning.

What is it about knitting and spinning that invite us into community and warm fellowship? Whatever it is, I'll have a double scoop, please.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lucy's New Home

Today, Lucy went to live with my new friend, Jennifer, who lives just up the road in Fairview. Jennifer loves Barbado sheep and was looking for one when she learned that I wanted Lucy to go to a pet home. It was a match made in heaven.

Lucy now has a gray and white spotted mini donkey for a friend, along with two horses, but the best part is that tomorrow morning, Lucy will

get a handsome Barbado boyfriend to bond with and maybe make babies with. Lucy lambs - wouldn't that be awesome?

Jennifer called me several hours after I had left her, and reported that Lucy and Homer, the donkey, were hanging out quite congenially, so she's off to a wonderful start in her new home. Thanks, Jennifer, for giving Lucy a wonderful new future!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Working Like Santa's Elves

After this past weekend's success at the Huffhines Art Trails, it's clear that I am going to need more inventory. Hmmmm, how convenient - I need to work down my stash something fierce. This could work. I have two weeks to repopulate my virtual shop.

Both Laurie and I had good response at Huffhines to our fuzzy, multi-yarn scarves and hats, so I'm going back to keep a good thing going. I've been hoarding a big laundry basket of dozens of different autumn colored yarns, and now is the time to pull them out and whip up some gorgeous things: scarves, stoles, hats and cowls.

Kid-N-Ewe in Boerne is in three weeks, and that fest calls for a completely different kind of inventory, but I'll have to think about that tomorrow.

I love this kind of project - it works up fairly quickly, but looks and feels very luxurious with all the colors and textures working together. There's plenty of pleasure on my part, getting to sit down and surround myself on the couch with all that soft or sparkly fall loveliness. And then to be rewarded financially by someone who also values these qualities, well, that's just almost too good to be true.

Yes, it rained today, but you must be as tired as me of seeing pictures of the rushing creek and the puddles in the sheep pen. I did see something beautiful the other day in the wet pasture. It was worth slogging out there in the tall boots. They're saying sun for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All's Well that Ends Well

We wrapped up the Huffhines Art Trails show this evening with lightning beginning to appear on the horizon. There are thunderstorms popping up all around us and they say we'll have rain for the next 36 hours or so. But we made it home and got unloaded without getting wet. Bonus.

The day was beautiful again, and we met lots of wonderful folks who took home treasures from our booth. I did venture down the sidewalk a little ways to see a potter couple who had lovely, nicely-priced things. I had to pick up a modest selection, to support other independent artisans, don't you know. But then, I didn't even venture out to see all the other incredible offerings up and down the sidewalk from us. I didn't dare.

Again, Mary and Laurie wowed the crowds and taught shoppers a lot about yarn craft from bygone days to the present. I met quite a few folks who are interested in coming to visit the farm and perhaps join our shareholder community. That's my favorite part.

And kettle corn.

A seriously satisfying day.

When I got home, I had an e-mail from our friend Liz, that the farm was featured on Alta's cooking blog. Alta worked like crazy to post this really special entry about egg dishes, and about the farm (blush) where she gets her eggs. It's really special, and I'm honored to be part of it. See it here. These recipes look almost too good to eat, but I just might have to give them a try - the simple ones, anyway. Thanks for your enthusiastic support, and friendship, Alta!

As always here at the farm, we're looking forward to the next adventure - next Sunday, our fiber processors, Lynn, Jim and Deanie (Spinderella's Fiber Mill) will be here to visit the farm and drop off the 2009 fiber harvest. I'd love for friends of the farm, and particularly shareholders, to come by and meet the Snells and get a peek at the Share fiber. I'll have more details this week, but think mid-afternoon.

In the meantime, keep your tall boots and slicker handy, and have a great week!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Selling Like Hotcakes

Laurie and I had a fantastic day at the Huffhines Art Trails craft fair today. Sweet Mary, not as much. We started with a bang - lots of customers shopping for Christmas put a big dent in our inventory early in the day. It really helps that Laurie is out front with her spinning wheel, drawing a crowd, and Mary is right across from her with her antique sock knitting machine, drawing another crowd! Those two ladies were having quite a time entertaining the fair-goers with their wondrous machines!

When folks wandered into the booth, I greeted them and helped them with their purchases. A well oiled machine we were. Except Mary needed a couple of parts for her machine that somehow didn't make it into her basket. And for some reason, these fair-goers were not much into custom-made socks. (There's no accounting for taste!) After a frustrating day, Mary decided that her time would be better spent working with her new goats; some of them need shearing and manicuring desperately. She'll be back again tomorrow, to visit with the Sunday crowd and take orders for luscious socks.

As usual, Ms. Laurie will come out the big winner in this show - her felted bags, scarves, hats, etc., always steal the show, they are such works of art. A couple of shoppers even talked Laurie out of some of the handspun yarn she had brought along in a basket just for decoration! (Her incredibly beautiful handspun!)

Hopefully, all the sock shoppers will come tomorrow and keep Ms. Mary busy taking orders.

There are other fantastic artists there at the show, and I'm almost afraid to venture out, for fear I'll be tempted to spend more than I make. And for lunch I had a gyro sandwich almost as good as the ones I get at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival! Awesome.

Laurie and I both commented on what a glorious day it was - almost as wonderful (weather wise) as last Saturday. Our booth is right across from the bandstand, and today they had a really good lineup of live musicians, which added to the festive feel. Music, sunshine, cool breeze, new fans of our handiwork, new friends for the farm, knitting in the shade, relaxing with good buddies.

A slice of heaven.

So come out tomorrow and see Mary for a pair of custom knit socks. Pick out your yarn from her extensive collection and tell her your shoe size. Then stand back and wait for the magic to happen. Christmas is coming. Just sayin.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Perfect Day for a Fall Craft Fair

We allow no moss to grow under our feet here at Jacob's Reward Farm. Riding high on last weekend's picnic success (putting it mildly) we blast off tomorrow down the road to Richardson, TX for the Huffhines Art Trails craft fair. This is a pretty up-town craft fair - definitely not your grandma's church bazaar. My friend Mary Berry and I did this show last year and had a great time. We had fairly decent sales, and enjoyed a beautiful day outside, visiting with folks and knitting. Mary brings her sock knitting machine and draws a crowd. She usually sells a nice bunch of custom socks.
This year, Laurie will also be with us, along with her gorgeous finished items to sell. And again, the weather is supposed to be perfect. This evening we did most of the booth set-up, serenaded by a local band playing Chicago covers. We'll put the finishing touches on the booth first thing in the morning.

When I got home this evening, I discovered that the Suicidal Ninnies had reached the developmental stage where they begin to attempt escaping their confines. A couple had almost succeeded. Trouble is, when they get out, they have no access to food, water, or warmth. Suicide. It was time for a new arrangement. I am using the bottom of a large guinea pig cage from the garage, surrounded by tall poster board walls. It will have half a top of chicken wire, and the the other half of the top will be more poster board, to thwart further escape attempts.

I combined the two groups of chicks back together, and there were fierce skirmishes between the two groups of chicks who are strangers to each other. Chickens don't like strangers - that "pecking order" thing is for real. I think they'll settle down before long and meld into one happy flock, seeing as how they're not even three weeks old. Peace reigns once more.

And now, to bed. There is a lot to do tomorrow morning before I can scoot off to Richardson. If you're in the area, I'd love to have you come by - we're easy to find, very close to the food court. Look for Mary cranking away on her sock knitting at the front of the booth, and Laurie spinning in the back. Me, I'll have some knitting to busy my hands between customers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Silver Lining School

I'm a hard-core optimist. Really hard core. But sometimes life's situations make my job a little tough. So today, we're going to practice thinking positively and finding the good in challenging times. Optimism is, after all, a choice and a learned skill. Let's have a go, shall we?

Yes, I think I see a couple of sunbeams just peeking through! The sun is just on the other side of these puffy clouds. Quick, get the SPF30.

Oh my, this reminds me of an icy Colorado river full of juicy trout - how refreshing! I can almost see the Rocky Mountains in the distance...

Perfect temperature for pulling out the beloved woolies! We made it through the sultry summer! Yay!

Look at this free water! It fell everywhere -- we won't have to drag the hose out to re-fill the animals' water buckets! What a time-saver!

I think the alpacas' fiber is much cleaner this morning - I won't have to de-mud them after all!

See, isn't that fun? And now isn't your day starting to look up?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wet Sheep and Suicidal Chicks

Fairly quiet day on the farm. A one-day rain event is passing through. Should be nice tomorrow again, so I'm just biding my time till the morning. With rain coming down throughout the day, I left the chickens penned up, which simplified things considerably. This evening, I just restocked all the hay troughs and promised the sheep and alpacas a nice breakfast in the morning. They don't really eat soggy food, and it all just goes to waste.

The creek came up a little, but at mid-afternoon, it didn't look too bad. Though the rain is continuing, I am hoping that it just keeps flowing merrily downstream.

The sheep hung out under their tarp, and I assured them that tomorrow they could go out to the north pasture again to play. They always look so bedraggled.

The chicks in the utility room have reached the dreaded "Suicidal Ninny" stage - filling their feeders and waterers with shavings that render them useless. Under a heat lamp, mold grows faster than lightning, so dampness cannot be tolerated. Several times a day I have to clean out and refill the water, and dig out the feed in the feeders. This is an awkward stage that drags on until they have enough feathers to keep them warm outside. And at this time of year with overnight lows in the 50s, that will be longer than usual. Their little feathers are coming in, and it will be interesting to see if we can determine the breed of the "packing peanut" roosters anytime soon. One way to pick out the roosters is that the Brahma pullets have feathered feet, and the roosters have clean feet. Some of the boys look to be single combed, as well, in contrast to the Brahmas' pea combs.

Dang. Case in point - I have just returned from completely cleaning out one chick bin because the dog got into the utility room (who left the door ajar??) and knocked over one waterer in his nosy investigations. Big Sigh, with a bit of a Growl.

I'll be glad I went through all this next spring when we finally get eggs again. The adult flock has almost completely quit laying, thanks to the pox. But some good news - the very sick hen has made some recovery. Yesterday, I noticed that one side of her little face is almost better. It will be quite a while before she's ready to lay again, but I'm just glad that it looks like she'll pull through.

Tomorrow - sunshine.

I usually try to pull a life lesson from the day's events. If I had to boil it down tonight, I'd say, farming trials give us the choice of giving up or persevering and overcoming obstacles. Sometimes the obstacles are small and serve to keep our emotional and spiritual heartrates in the training range, and sometimes the obstacles are really big and it's a full-blown stress test. Today was a good solid jog, and I'd better get some rest. Who knows how fast I'll have to run tomorrow?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saturday Caught on Tape

DD finally got a minute to put together a short video that quickly summed up the fun we had on Saturday. I think there's serious demand that we do this again, and not wait for a whole year to do it. We'll look ahead to the spring and see if we can pull it (or something similar) together again. It certainly was worth it. I so enjoyed spending time with my old friends and getting to meet lots of new friends. The weather couldn't have been more lovely, nor the stories more engaging, nor the music more inspiring the toes to tap.

I don't know if Alta is planning a side venture as a caterer, but she certainly has our recommendations if she does! Check out her blog for lots of incredible recipes.

I wanted to show you the lovely gift I received from David and Jean Cominolo. This beautiful leather door hanger with brass sleigh bells graces the door of the Little Red Barn, and I enjoy it every time someone comes in or goes out. David does very intricate leather work, and brought a cool hot pad project to work on while enjoying our day.

In fact, I made out like a bandit - Linda brought a darling floral centerpiece with wheelbarrow and a sheep, and my new friend Mea brought me some lovely gray mohair from her angora goats to try. Mary helped with some of the expenses, and very quietly helped sponsor the event. It felt like Christmas! And thanks to everyone to dropped in a couple bucks to help the animals' feed store needs. Sloppy sheep kisses all around.

And I want you to know that we really got our money's worth with our incredibly talented musicians and storytellers, as evidenced by the fact that they were the last ones to pull out of the driveway for the day - AFTER helping us disassemble the canopies! Now, that's service.

Thank you all for coming and for bringing wonderful food and playful hearts and welcoming arms for all our newcomers! I'll ride high on that day for quite a while to come.

What are you looking at, George - didn't you get enough stew?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Time to Sharpen the Saw

Stephen Covey says in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, that one of the things we need to do regularly is to stop, refresh, and regroup, much as a woodsman needs to top hacking at trees with dull blades in order to make better progress with a sharp one. Stopping to sharpen your saw takes time away from the task, but you make up the time and effort by working more effectively with a very sharp saw.

Today I found myself needing to stop struggling with this new Mac laptop that I love and find out what its problem was. Lately, it's been running slowly, and today it told me I had run out of hard disk space. Seriously? I've filled up a hard drive? I've never done that in my life. It wouldn't even let me download a few pictures from my camera. After losing several hours into the empty void of the time/space continuum trying to figure stuff out I had no business messing with, I ran up the white flag and called my friend, Matt. Matt is really good with computers, specifically, Macintosh computers. He took a good chunk of his evening to help me get sorted out. I owe you big time, pal. Thanks. The good news is that it's nothing a terabyte of external hard drive and a couple hours of file management won't solve. Whew.

Seems like there are several areas around the house and farm that have gotten a little neglected as we prepared for Saturday's big festivities. And it was worth it. But now it's time to sort out all those details so that we can move forward productively. I'll attempt the podcast again tomorrow that didn't want to work today. I'll tidy up the barn and get my bills paid. Lots of bookkeeping needs doing. Stuff that's easy to sweep aside in favor of the "fun stuff."

I did have a couple of visitors today: Joyce and her friend Katherine came by to see the farm and talk about all kinds of fibers. These ladies work with embellishing machines, which are really big needle-felters. Doesn't that sound like fun? They continued on with their fiber crawl up to Farmersville to see Diane at Fiber Circle and have lunch on the square. Lucky.

Then John and Peggy came up and hauled off the old broken down lawnmower that was junking up the area behind the studio. We're now rid of that eyesore. Thanks, guys! It took a good hour of elbow grease and freshmen physics (levers, pulleys, prayer) to get the thing in John's trailer, but in the end we succeeded. I feel a little lighter for it, tonight.

So, let's cast off all the junk (physical and digital) that's holding us back, and then move forward bold and unfettered! Free up some knitting time! What's dragging you down? Fix it!

Video Tease

Just have time now to share a quick video clip from our incredible party Saturday. Later, I'll have a nicely produced piece from the gorgeous party, but for now, enjoy a quick 54 seconds:

P.S. We've had quite a few requests for another event like this, and sooner than a year from now. Hmmmm. Spring, perhaps?

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Everything was perfect for our First Annual "Spinning Yarns: Cowboy Stories and Song": the food, the weather, the music, the stories, the chit chat around knitting needles and spinning wheels - everything. Well, okay, there were those 200 bees that decided the blueberry dessert was the best thing around for miles, but besides that, it was perfect.

What a joy to meet George and Sue Merritt, our musicians! And their music and stories blended in perfectly with Peggy and Gene's stories of the old west, some of which were true! Alta's beef stew was incredible, and everyone brought interesting stuff to round out a delightful lunch!

We got tons of photos and video, and I want to do the day justice, so tune in here in a day or two after DD has had a chance to work her magic. But just to give you a taste of the fun we had, enjoy these photos taken by our caterer, Alta (my computer says it's too full to upload my camera's pictures right this minute).

Thanks to the old friends and new friends who came to the farm to enjoy the festivities!