Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Collection of Stuff You Might Like

Hat tip to Susie Gibbs, who puts together epic collections at random intervals.

First up, a recipe from my friend Alta's blog for Black Bean Brownies. They're gluten-free, and they look quite sinful. I generally don't bake much, so I'm passing this recipe on to DH. I do, however, like to eat.

I'm a new fan of Susan B. Anderson's blog. She's a very cool mom, knitter, designer. Her new book, Itty-Bitty Toys comes out in November, but she also does fun crafts. Check out her tutorial for making mosaic fruit. No, really, it's kinda cool. (Scroll down past the bobble purse, unless that also catches your eye.) And with the tutorial, you can make mosaic anything, really. And if you find a mosaic something under your Christmas tree from me this year, don't say I didn't warn you.

This company in Maine makes scythes for grass and weed cutting and people really use them. Here's a long list of why one might want to use a scythe instead of gas powered machinery. Of course, their video makes it look easy.

DD and I were catching up on video podcasts the other day and went through about a dozen Threadbanger episodes. Those crafty 20-something kids are awfully clever, and not bad with a sewing machine! But the projects we really loved came from a site called Generation T. These folks major in cutting up t-shirts and making all kinds of neat things with them - garments, accessories, etc. We spent lots of time on their site, plus they have a book out that we may have to track down.

I'm expecting a new toy in the mail any day now: an Irish tin whistle from these nice people. I played the recorder a little bit, years ago, but I'm looking for an instrument that has a more limited range, so that it doesn't take me so long to learn it. At least, learn it enough to have some fun. Here's somebody really good playing one - I can't wait. I wonder what the sheep will think of it?

So, you've probably seen the little yard gnome that gets sent all over the world and has his picture taken in front of famous landmarks? Well, I'm hoping we get a visit from Ramble, the traveling sheep in the next few weeks. This little woolly guy will start out his journey in New Jersey, and zig-zag all over the country, from one Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm groupie to another, including our own GrandmaTutu. Mary wants to take him to meet Big Tex at the fair, but I want to be sure he gets to see Southfork Ranch, and all the critters here at Jacob's Reward.

If you've found something really cool on t'internet (as my English friends like to say), put a link the comments and we'll continue this little round robin of special treats.

In the meantime, Yarn Kitty says, "knit on, dude."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking a Night Off, Gang

..but I'm also planning a podcast, a newsletter, and a super-collossal-uber-fantastic event for three weekends hence. Stay tuned.

Here's some woolly love for ya...

Mary says, "Got any snacks?"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Odds and Ends

Pay bills, do laundry, vacuum, doctor some gimpy sheep. That was my to-do list today.

Yesterday, I noticed Shadrach limping and favoring his front left foot. So I got a good look at him during his breakfast (I could perform brain surgery on him as long as it didn't interfere with his meal) and found nothing wrong. I'm going to assume he twisted his ankle while gamboling around the pasture, and keep an eye on it for a couple of days.

Then, this afternoon, I noticed Queen Esther favoring the same right front foot which gave us so much trouble a month ago. I knew her hoof had a crack in it, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it at the time. Then, of course, they slogged around in the mud for over a week, so I was curious what effect that would have on the situation. Today, she was really limping, so it was time for a full-on examination.

I lured all the sheep into the portable pen with DDs help. Esther is a smart cookie and is wisely suspicious of me rounding everyone up. It took a little while to convince her to join the others in the pen. Finally, we got all the sheep stuffed in the pen and pulled the panels in tight so there was no room to run. I caught the Queen and set her up on her hind end and looked at her foot. The good news was that I saw no infection, but the nail was beginning to splay out, so I trimmed it flat. Then I noticed a small rock stuck in the pad of her toe and popped that out. Not finding anything else, I turned her loose.

She's still limping, but I'm sure if the rock or the malformed toenail made her sore, she'll be sore for a little while. Again, I'll just keep an eye on it and see if she gets better.

Every time I finish with a little operation like this, I am reminded why I chose animals that are easy to handle.

Tomorrow, I'll be working big ol' cuckleburrs out of several alpacas' forelocks. That ought to be fun. And then I need to figure out where those horrid things are growing in my pasture and pull them out.

Not such a bad job - the weather has turned gorgeous. Big, blissful sigh.


BREAKING NEWS: Lynn from our fiber processor, Spinderella's Fiber Mill, contacted me today and said that our boxes of fiber arrived safely! Man, that was quick. Now, I'll be praying that they move our fiber through the machinery and are able to get it back to us before too long! Our harvest day is a little bit closer!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Come Feed the Sheep With Me

I know, I know - It's the best job on the planet. You know, I do this task a couple of times every day, and it's always fun. Don't you wish you were me?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Field Trip to Fancy Fibers

Today across the country, alpaca breeders opened their ranches for folks to come out and learn about their gentle and regal creatures. Our friend Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm also opened her farm up to visitors, to meet not only her alpacas, but her broad spectrum of fiber fauna, and to tour her fun studio and barns.

I got a chance to visit with Mary, on camera, so I could share it with you:

I also snapped a few still shots around the farm:

Black angora wether, Antoine, joins Papa Ken in the golf cart.
DD thinks this is really funny.

Dove, the Shetland ewe, nearly swoons from
scritches on the chin.

It's mutual. She's so soft we can hardly stand it.
And so tiny, we want to put her in our pockets!

Mary and Terri cuddle two of the nine angora rabbits.

Our friend Rita gives an impromptu spinning demonstration
for farm visitors.

Mary is off to an awesome start. If you're in the Farmersville area, make an appointment to come by and see the place. It's inspiring! Watch for Mary at several local craft fairs this fall. She and I will be sharing a booth in Richardson at the Huffhines Art Trails show the weekend of October 24 and 25, and the Snowflake Bazaar in Plano on November 7-8. In the Hill Country area, look for us at the Kid N Ewe Fiber Festival in Boerne, November 13-15.

Fiber artists take note, Mary sponsors a great fiber retreat in Argyle in February with workshops, free spinning and knitting time, wonderful accommodations and great food. Check her website for all the details.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Fiber Has Left the Building

At long last, our 2009 alpaca and wool harvest is sealed in boxes and has been moved to the back seat of the car for transport to the post office first thing in the morning.

I got the last little bit of gorgeous black alpaca picked today and once DD got home to help me, we squished all the air out of the bags and jammed them with superhuman strength into some donated cardboard boxes. (Thanks, Liz!) The chickens inspected my packing job while the boxes sat on the front walk.

It doesn't look like much, but it is really crammed in there - nearly 25 pounds worth. Some of it will be spun into yarn for our retail shop, but the majority of it is future shareholder dividends. And having so recently been up to my armpits in it, I can attest to its awesome softness and smooshability. I'm sure you're going to love it when it comes back. And when it comes back, are we going to party!

And speaking of parties, our October 17 Storytelling Day, "Spinning Yarns," is quickly approaching. I'm working on some cool music and some BBQ catering. I'll know more as time goes on. But it would be really, really helpful if you could let me know if you are coming and if you're bringing anyone. I want to make sure we have enough food and stuff to go around. You can comment here, or e-mail me or call me or whatever works for you and I'll start a list. This isn't a set-in-stone commitment, but just me generating numbers. Thanks!

I was so happy to get the fiber out the door, I had to knit a hat. I found this fun pattern on Ravelry and cranked it out. The pattern says three hours - I spread my three hours out over three days, but that's how I roll. I twisted DD's arm and she posed with the hat for me. It came out kind of big, so it might need some fulling, or maybe not. Maybe it's supposed to fit like this!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Making Room for Chicks

We uncovered this button in the piles of stuff,
and the irony was not lost on us.

Most of you know that DH has been working on a new chicken coop so that we can raise the chicken population here on the farm. We'd like more eggs, and we'd like more bug eating power directed at the yard and pastures. (Since we've had the chickens, we've noticed a dramatic reduction in chiggers... once the bane of our summer existence.)

As he closes in on completion of the new coop, he asked me if we could get the chicks yet. The only thing standing in my way was that the back porch, where we keep the chick brooder, had become the junque collection spot, and I couldn't even get near the brooder!

So today, with the help of Laurie, her son, and our new friend Jennifer, we pulled stuff off of the porch, swept, threw away weather-damaged stuff, and worked our way down to the black plastic horse trough that serves as the home of all our baby chicks.

The wire mesh over the brooder keeps out furry varmints and the screening underneath it is designed to thwart snakes.
Ask me why I had to add that feature...

We made a ton of progress and now there are lots more clear square feet of porch space than when we started. The brooder is easily accessible and I've ordered our next batch of layers: 10 assorted Brahama pullets. Brahmas come in Buff, Dark, and Light, so we'll see what the hatchery sends us. I've been interested in these regal birds for some time so this is my chance to try them out. They are a bit slower to mature, but are very large birds with hens topping out around 9 pounds when fully grown. They lay medium brown eggs, have feathered legs, are good-natured, and are heat and cold tolerant. They are due to arrive around October 7, via the US mail.

Here's the brooder in full production from a couple of years ago.
There will only be 10 chicks in the new batch.

All this back porch organization delayed the Boxing of the Fiber, but that project is still top of mind since all the bags are stuffed in my tiny living room, demanding immediate attention.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Follow the Fiber

I'm excited to report that the shareholders' fiber is skirted, picked, combined into pleasing blends, and bagged for mailing. We are also sending off some fleeces from local alpaca breeders to be made into yarns for our retail shop. The only thing that remains is to get the air squished out of the bags and to stuff those bags into boxes. Then our fiber will wing its way to Salt Lake City to Spinderellas, home of Meriwether, the cottage mill carder. Soon, it will be in the hands of Lynn and Jim, professional fiberistas, who will magically transform it into ribbons of spinnable roving.

Until then, all we have to do is wait. And while we wait, there are always lots of farm chores to do, other fiber to spin, and yarn to knit. Not to mention an uber-cool storytelling/spinning/knitting event on October 17 here at the farm, right?

Today at the regular weekly meeting of the Texas Twisters spinning group, several of the ladies were measuring off warps for a project they all saw and loved in the current issue of Handwoven magazine. I can appreciate weaving, but my experience and interest are limited to the more primitive weaving styles - tri-looms, Weave-It looms, and frame looms. These ladies are pros. I watch in awe.

So I spent my time plying the second of my two mohair yarns, and once that second skein is washed and dried, I'll have enough to knit an airy, light shawl, maybe to put in my booth at the Kid N Ewe fiber festival in November in Boerne, TX.

Tonight, however, as Queen of the Short Attention Span Project, I'm going to try this very cute slouchy beret pattern, from the blog of Crazy Aunt Purl. I'll let you know how it goes.

Crazy Goat Lady

At least I have sheep, and not goats. Otherwise, this would look eerily familiar...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just a Farm Minute...

A moment in the life of the Jacob's Reward sheep flock and its intrepid shepherd. It would have been longer, but the intrepid shepherd's memory card filled up.

Charlotte's Web

For my spinner friends and my arachnophile friends... I give you "Charlotte":

The Joy of Coolness

A breezy 68 degrees this morning. Yes. In spite of last night's storm and the accompanying puddles and sticky footing, the first day of Autumn arrived on my doorstep like a long lost friend.

Yesterday, however, we still experienced the summer-like high 80's and the stickiness of the impending storm. Our friend, Terri posted on Facebook that she was standing out in the snow in a wool hat up in Colorado, while I was here sweating from farm chores.

During my usual feeding routine in the morning, I left the gate between the two alpaca pens ajar (as I often do) but the curious big boys pushed through to join the little guys in the front pen. In an attempt to put them back in their own spaces, I ended up getting the two groups of alpacas switched - big boys in the front and little boys in the back. The little guys were amazed at their vast new kingdom, and explored and played for hours. The Jacobs didn't impact their behavior much, but went about their own business.

The north sheep were ready for another day in the lush north lot, so I checked the fence, turned on the electricity, and sent them out to play. They spent most of the day working on the grass, poison ivy and tall weeds, until the heat drove them back to their own paddock and the shade of the trees.

Over the weekend, I got a gas walk-behind mower from my friend and egg customer, Alta. Ted and I had fired it up on Sunday and set the wheel height to a good level. My plan was to whack down the worst of the tall weeds before the rain hit yesterday. Unfortunately, we had used up all the gas that was in it the day before, so it wouldn't start for me. I didn't feel like running to the gas station for a gallon of gas, so that project awaits the next dry spell.

I ended up making two trips to the feed store in Wylie for hay - one in the morning, only to learn that they had completely sold out over the weekend, and a second trip in the afternoon when the hay man showed up with a trailer full from east Texas.

I love the feed store. I know everyone who works there and they know me--everybody's on a first name basis. This is my friend Ed, whose wife raises Boer goats to show. Ed's the senior employee and the one who knows the most about what's going on, next to the owner, Doug.

We talk about the weather (of course), wormers, mineral supplements, and the best equipment to get the farm jobs done. The guys think it's funny that I raise alpacas and sheep for fiber. Most critters raised around here are for eating. I explain that it wouldn't be prudent to eat alpacas. When I tell them about spinners who pay good money for the fiber we shear once a year, they just wag their heads slowly in amazement. Maybe they need handknit hats for this coming winter. It gets pretty cold loading feed sacks into pickup trucks in February.

Then they'd understand.

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Day of Fall Comes in with a Bang

This year, summer is turning to fall with a bang, not a whimper - a huge rain storm with thunder and spectacular lightning, and cool air behind it. Except for the fact that I really need things to dry out for a while, the change of season will be greeted with excitement around here. We were all pretty much done with the hot weather.

The animals are sensing the change and feeling a bit frisky and mischievous. While cleaning out the alpaca pens, I turned around and noticed that Tommy had somehow discovered the catch rope and gotten his horns tangled up in it. Glad I was there to disentangle him or we could have had a bad situation on our hands.

The day was busy and eventful, but the tale will have to be told tomorrow. I'm really beat tonight. See you in the AM, friend!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creative Rabble Rousers

See what you guys started? One day with the Barn Mavins, and I broke into a bona fide Fiber Frenzy.

Everyone had gone home yesterday and I was alone in that spiffy-clean work space. Well, I got to looking around, pilfering in project bags, scanning the fiber bins, and came across several irresistable creations-in-waiting.

First, I resumed work on an acrylic novelty yarn scarf that's really drapey and soft, and once completed, represents 4 balls of yarn X-ed out of the stash inventory (two each of "Cache" and "Carmen"). Woohoo! For a craft fair? A teacher gift? It's all good.

Next, my eye fell on two center-pull balls of handspun mohair yarn in a dusty lavender color that have been languishing in the stash for years. I'm sure the original plan had been to ply them together, but Laurie's penchant for plying with a thin commercial mohair yarn is contagious, and I decided that this lavender mohair would ply beautifully with my own cone of thin, whispy mohair. That would make twice the yardage, all said and done. This is what happened:

The result - 220 yards of a feather-soft yarn (times two) that will make an outstanding light shawl or... who knows...

Finally, I picked up the deep apricot/pumpkin baby alpaca yarn and started a baby hat, just as an excuse to feel that kitten-soft goodness flow through my fingers. New babies are everywhere, so the project won't go to waste, and I'll get to enjoy this incredible stuff as long as the project lasts. I have enough yarn to make booties to match, or maybe a baby shrug - those are all the rage now.

Good enough to eat.

This is just another outburst of knitting and spinning fun that has been pent up for a while as I tackled other farm duties - animal chores, home maintenance, etc. It's great to cut loose once in a while!

How soon before we can do this again?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Joyful Day, Beautiful Night

The Barn was bustling with goodness today! Fun, fellowship, food and fiber. Beautiful yarn, tasty treats, silly stories, gorgeous projects, lots of laughs, old friends and new friends. Sweet memories, big plans, encouragement, recipes, tips and techniques, brags and giveaways.

If you missed it this month, I recommend you put next month's spin-in on your calendar - October 17. And next month's offering is especially exciting, with professional storytellers, food, music, plus all the aforementioned revelry. An awesome good time, that could be habit-forming.

And if a day full of joy wasn't enough, this evening coming in from my feeding chores, God gifted me with a lovely sunset...

And a big orb spider silhouetted against the evening sky. Catch those mosquitoes, Spidey!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Party Eve

The Red Barn cleaned up and ready for company.

So excited. Tomorrow at about 10 AM the Red Barn will fill up with happy, clever, congenial knitters and spinners. I provide the room, the bucolic environment and a pot of coffee, and they bring the conversation, creative synergy and some snacks, and we have a party on our hands. The sun is forecast to come out and begin to dry up our sodden ground, but I fear the pasture will still be too wet to tromp around in. We may just wave to the critters from the safety of the Jeep. (Wild Kingdom joke. Remember poor Jim who had to wrestle the angry alligator while Marlin Perkins puffed his pipe in the vehicle?)

We've begun to bag up the alpaca and Jacob wool to send off to the processor. I really can't see why we won't have the roving fiber in the mail by week's end. Step by step. As I sit on the box forcing bags of vacuumed-sealed fiber inside for mailing, I will once again commit that next year, the fiber will get processed before summer hits. The charter shareholders are such patient and supportive guinea pigs, as I learn how to manage this glorious CSA model. Thanks and hugs to you all as we learn and grow.

This morning, I caught the Suri boys enjoying the rainless day and passing the time by biting each other. We haven't yet moved into the high-pitched screaming, neck wrestling, occasional blood-letting that older boys sometimes engage in. We have that to look forward to. Mmm hmmm. Then, it's off to Dr. Lane for the Big Snip. In the meantime, it's harmless play.

The New Texas State Flower

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Farm Animals Gone Wild

We manage our livestock best when we understand their natural behavioral patterns. If we can harness and work with those patterns and tendencies, we can make our jobs easier and their lives less stressful. But sometimes, their natural behavior can cause problems, and sometimes, they lose their minds altogether, and in those cases, all bets are off.

Take today, for instance.

Chickens naturally return to wherever they consider "home" to sleep as the sun is setting and the darkness is falling. All four of my chicken groups know where their particular homes are, and have been quite faithful in returning home and settling in for the night, leaving me to simply shut the doors behind them and be done. But our week of rain and the accumulated mud have inclined my "tractor" chickens to blow off the walk out to the pasture and rather, to roost on the boards that separate the alpaca stalls. That's all well and good, except for the fact that they are completely exposed and vulnerable to raccoon predation. (Alpacas are useless as protection; something in their contract...) So for the last four nights, I have had to relocate these chickens, an armload at a time, to their rightful sleeping quarters. This is getting old.

(Dramatization - imagine these chickens up on the boards.)

The front yard chickens, during one of our rain showers late today, decided that it was much nicer to collect on my front doorstep rather than retire to their own coop, and had to be herded with a rake back to their appropriate quarters. Have you ever tried to herd ten chickens with a rake?

But the highlight of the day came when DD and I were having a discussion between rooms, and she suddenly exclaimed mid-sentence: "COW!" Sure enough, I looked up to see a small brown and white steer meander under the kitchen window and out to the yard. I recognized him immediately. He and his black and white companion had escaped from their pasture across the creek and had spent the last day or two in my neighbor's fenced front yard. I kept thinking either my neighbor or the cows' owner would notice that they had wandered off and set things right. I intended to call the police if they were there tomorrow. Apparently, they found a way out of my neighbor's yard and mosied down the creek into my yard. I grabbed the camera and was only able to document their trip around my front garden and their exit down the road toward the end of my dead-end street. There, they struck up a friendship with my neighbor Lucy's horses, and camped out for a while. I called the Sheriff, who sent the Parker police, who, after locating the cows, came to visit with me about my limited knowledge of the cows' ownership. (Interesting aside: the police officer looked past me into the house and said, "wow, this place looks different!" We asked if he'd been here in previous years. He said with a wry smile, "oh, yeah." Heh. If these walls could talk... we'd have to wash out their mouths with soap.)

I found evidence in the yard that the cows had visited with the sheep before coming back around by the kitchen. I guess they'd given themselves a tour of the place, found it lacking, and headed down the road. Fair enough.

Were they driven mad by the incessant rain, swollen creeks, and squishy clay between their toes--driven to blindly wander the countryside in search of a dry place to lay their heads? We may never know.

Have I mentioned that I'm looking forward to the end of the monsoon season?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I See the Sun!

Ahhhhhhh. The sun has come out. What a glorious day. The temperature is down, the humidity is down, and I feel the beginnings of optimism returning. Also buoying my outlook are discussions DH and I are having about building the barn overhang, and other ideas to keep the mud from taking over. Here is the area I'd like covered with a roof:

See what I mean? It would be great to keep rain off of this very high traffic area. It's a project whose time has come.

Meanwhile, in the north pastures...

I ran out of hay this morning so I toddled off to the feed store, which was also out of hay. Dang. The sheep were really bellowing, so I was finally pushed into the job I'd been putting off - testing the new battery in the fence charger. I replaced the old battery and turned on the electric netting fence in the far-north lot, and let the sheep out into the tall green grass (and poison ivy DH wants gone). I sat with them for over an hour, to be sure they tested the fence and that it was working. They were so happy to find grass (nom, nom, nom), that it wasn't until I was leaving that I heard a noise, and turned in time to see Esther leaping away from the fence. Perfect - the fence is working, and Esther has gotten her education. Shadrach looked up as if to say, "Oh yeah, I meant to tell you about that..." and then went back to his brunch.

I lured them back to their regular paddock after a while so that they wouldn't overdo it on the lush grass and get bloated. I'll give them another session out there this afternoon, if it doesn't rain. It's a nice relief to know the fence is working.

That, plus a blissful cool breeze blowing over the meadow, drew a long sigh from this weary shepherd.

Poison ivy, our favorite!

It's hard to know where to start on all this lusciousness...

Soggy, bedraggled sheep enjoy some tall grass for a change.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Muddy Monday

White alpacas + black clay mud =

Large-scale mud prevention projects are moving closer to the top of the "To Do" list. Not only for the animals' sake, but for mine. Working in this mud is like running in deep sand. All day. Solutions must be found.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Calling it a Day

It's been a long week and a long weekend for us here at the farm. On the bright side, the creek behaved nicely and, for the most part, stayed in its banks and flowed down stream in an orderly fashion. The rain hasn't completely stopped, but the heaviest is over for a while. We'll be boot-sucking for a couple of days and then the black clay will begin to firm up again. It's the little things in life that are worth celebrating, right?

The white suri alpacas are not currently white, but I know a few dry days and we'll see that fiber shine once again in the sun. Temperatures have dipped pleasantly, and given us quite a nice break from the skin-crackling heat. Summer is fading away - welcome, Autumn! Don't be shy!

Tonight I'm going to make it a short blog evening and take a little knitting time. I've started decreasing the top of the gray and black mosaic hat, and I'd like to work on that a little before I collapse completely from chronic sleep deprivation. I'm very happy with the way the hat is coming out, and I'm bemused at myself for actually getting finished with a project I queued on Ravelry!

This week I hope to have more details worked out regarding our Storytelling/Spinning Day on October 17, and I'll let you know what we decide. And remember that this coming Saturday is the "Third Sat. Spin-In" at the Red Barn.

Y'all come.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mary Takes It All Off

Despite a steady and sometimes heavy rain, the Unsinkable Mary Berry got her seven Angora goats sheared at her farm in Farmersville today. I had a blast watching, photographing, and occasionally helping out. Our new shearer friend, Sarah, was there to spell Mary on the clippers and offer her far more experienced advice and support.

Mary has two wethers who are a few years old - these boys have been through the shearing thing before and didn't offer too much resistance. The five little goatlings, on the other hand, were completely new to this novel way to be tortured by humans, and a couple of them made their displeasure known to most of Mary's zip code. Wow, can those little kids bellow!

Mary also took care of trimming their nails and getting them weighed on her new digital scale, so that their spa experience would be complete. During the day, the three new Shetland sheep wandered in and out of the barn, attached together as a unit, it seemed. These are teeny-weeny sheep, and very wooly for being so young, and considering this is just September. Mary may take the clippers to them in the next week or two.

As it is, she has bags full of mohair fiber to sort and clean, and add to the collection of Fancy Fibers for which she's known.

Proud Mary


The Shetland sheep move as a unit...

The Shearing Team

"Tell me I'll live through this."