Friday, April 30, 2010

Maryland Eve

Last year was gray and rainy. Not today!

Had a great flight to Maryland today - the weather was clear and the flight was as smooth as glass. Got a cute rental car, a Vibe, to scoot around in. Met up with my Jacob sheep pals and set up our booth in record time. Enjoyed a lovely dinner and visiting time with my friends Catherine and Amanda from New York.

Tomorrow's the big day. We've sponsored meet-ups, classes and parties. I get to meet lots of folks I've only known through the magic of the internet. Now we'll be friends In Real Life.

I expect all the usual and incredible sights and sounds of the Festival I've come to love over the past eight years. I know you wish you were here, so I'll do my best to bring the Festival to you. Follow my tweets on the right margin of the blog page (or on Twitter). I might be able to squeeze out short blog posts or Facebook updates as well - depends on how busy the day becomes.

Wish you were here. I do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Time to Suck it Up

I mean that in many ways. For instance, my friend Cyndi and I started the day (after chores) at the gym and took a weights/aerobics class that challenged us. Frankly, it kicked our behinds. But we were glad that we stuck it out. My new eating and exercise plan seem to be paying off.

Second, it's the time when our products need to be ready to pack for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I've chronicled the journey of one lovely Jacob fleece and some complimentary alpaca fiber from washing, to finished batts. Today we packaged them in lovely tissue and ribbons for presentation. Of course, I will smash them paper thin in order to make them fit into the suitcase, but they should fluff up again once I get there.

Friend Donna came over and continued her mission in the garden. It is really starting to look organized and begging for seeds and seedlings. When I get back, I'll be able to help more and get this done. It's time for growing.

Tonight's challenge - get all the stuff into the suitcase. What odds to you give me?

Everybody - INHALE.

Testing, Testing...

This is a test to see if I can blog from my phone and leave the laptop at home..

Test#1 - no photo.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Fencing Continues Apace

While I frantically continue preparing to leave for Maryland, the fence guys, Bennett and Daniel, make progress on the NorthNorth fence. Check it out:

Bennett welds posts and braces.

And Daniel carves a tunnel in the woods with his chain saw. The new fence will run through this hole, and the sheep will clear anything that ends up on their side of the fence.

We are all going to be ecstatic when this new fence is finished. I don't think I can explain in words how wonderful this will be, for both sheep and shepherd. (As if on cue, a rain storm is headed this way for the weekend I'm gone to Maryland. That leaves the family doing chores in the bad weather. I'm praying it isn't as bad as last year.)

On the upside, the forecast for the festival is great so far. I hope it holds. My biggest issue right this minute is figuring out how to get all my inventory and personal effects to MD in my suitcases. I'm thinking space bags. And magic.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Going Batty

When we last left our story, a gorgeous Jacob fleece was drying on the fancy electric dryer screens. Today, Laurie and Teresa came over to keep moving the fiber down the processing line, on the way to the retail shelves in Maryland.

Teresa is an excited new spinner with lots of fun stuff to learn about wool. And there's no better way to learn than getting up to your elbows in freshly cleaned fiber. Laurie taught her how to open the locks and pull out second cuts and vm (vegetable matter). We also separated the colors of the Jacob wool in to "light," "medium," and "dark" piles so that there was some variety in the batts produced.

Meanwhile, Laurie prepared (washed and dried) an alpaca fleece to blend with the Jacob wool. This is a tried and true, heavenly blend. Both the Jacob and the alpaca fleeces were exceptionally clean to begin with, so the picking and skirting went quickly.

Into the drum carder went the soft, heathery gray and white fibers.

Round and round they went, bending, straightening, opening, mixing.

And off the drum came batt after batt of Jacob and alpaca fiberliciousness. (It is too a word.) The shoppers at the Sheep and Wool Festival won't be disappointed.

Now we just have to keep the momentum up long enough to get all the fiber in my living room and on the back porch clean and ready for carding by Spinderellas. It will be a happy day when all that share fiber wings its way to Lynn and Jim's cottage mill carder, "Meriwether," where it receives the royal treatment.

Buckets of thanks to Laurie and Teresa for all their help today. I say again, I cannot steward this farm by myself - we're nothing without our shareholders and friends. xoxo

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eleventh Hour Wool Washing

I leave for Maryland in five days. But I thought it would be nice to take along some carded Jacob batts to sell. I work best (purportedly) under pressure. So today I was out on the back porch washing wool.

I washed this incredible Jacob fleece in the new machine, but when I went to rinse it, the hose appeared to have broken off of the utility faucet.* Quickly switching to Plan B, I rinsed the fleece in the utility sink itself.

..and spun it out in the washer on the back porch.

Out came the rinse water into the back yard.

Supervised by a chicken. It's in their contract. They have to sign off on any yard activity.

Once the fleece had been spun out, I cracked open my new electric drying rack. As promised on the box, some assembly was required.

I like the compact design, but I think the fleece is too fluffy for the fan to reach all the wool in the space between the racks. I think I'll have to separate them and lay them out individually. This, of course, nullifies any benefit of the compact design. Oh well. Just so the wool gets dry.

I know you can't tell from there, but if you could put your hand into this picture and feel this fleece, you'd swear it was alpaca, and not sheep wool. Wowza.

Tomorrow, Laurie and I will do a little batt carding with a borrowed drum carder. If I get some alpaca fiber washed, we may do a little blending. Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival - here I come.

*The faucet wasn't really broken after all. DH helped me put things right, so I can go back to Plan A tomorrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

One Foot in Front of the Other

When you have a big dream, it's hard to take little steps. But little steps, lots of them one right after the other, are the only way to get to the goal.

Today, our friends Bennett and Daniel started work on fencing what I've come to call the NorthNorth pasture. This is the lot to the north of our house and current sheep paddock. I've been longing for this fence for a couple of years, and it's finally coming to pass.

Sometimes I let the sheep out up there surrounded by the electric netting to increase their grazing, but that's not a long-term solution. Ideally, we need the whole lot safely fenced for them to graze.

Bennett sets posts in concrete.

We need the higher elevation of that lot to move the sheep to in boggy, rainy weather. We have enough of that to easily justify the work involved. And with three new lambs coming in a few weeks, we'll need all the grazing we can get. This will also allow the north paddock to rest and recover from some seriously hard traffic.

Besides, our fluffy polar bear dog needs a little more room to stretch out and run off some adolescent energy, without terrorizing the sheep.

Soon. I can hardly believe it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Farm Flair

I don't know about you, but I love swag - I love buttons and magnets and temporary tattoos and all sorts of other emblems of loyalty or accomplishment.

So naturally, the farm needed some swag. Look what came today:

Be sure you grab a button the next time you're out visiting the Little Red Barn.

Then, there's bling for accomplishment. I had these buttons made for the participants of our Maryland Sheep and Wool flash mob free drop spindle class on Saturday afternoon (May 1):

If I don't give them all out in Maryland, I'll have some for the next spinning students who come through the LRB!

Show you care - wear your flair. So there.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Festivities

The folks at Capital One Bank were kind enough to invite me to have a table at the Earth Day celebration they held for their employees in Plano. I was honored to be among some fellow small, local farmers, like Lucky Layla Farms, Humble Beginnings Farm, and the Cross Timbers Food Coop. I got to network with them, as well as a bunch of very nice Capital One people.

A good handful of people signed up for more information about knitting and spinning lessons. I live to spread the fiber love...

Then this evening, I was also honored to help Cadet Girl Scout, Alana, give a presentation on raising fiber animals as part of her Gold Award project. She did a great job explaining about all the different kinds of fibers, and helping some Brownies learn how to knot friendship bracelets.

It's important to keep handing down the crafts and knowledge from generation to generation.

On Earth Day, we think about how we can take better care of our environment. I try to do my part by avoiding unnecessary chemicals on our property. This keeps our animals safe and healthy. Especially our free-range chickens, who gather quite a bit of their own food from the yard and pasture. In turn, they give us these fantastic eggs every day.

Growing our own fiber also keeps our resources close to home. The boys were looking particularly winsome today...

What the media call "Earth Day," I just call "stewardship of the land" - every day. I was entrusted with an incredible treasure, and I'll be accountable for the way in which I use it and multiply its potential. You're welcome to join me...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Immortalized in Wool

Our friend, Laurie, is one talented chicky. I've highlighted her work before - in the dye pots, on the spinning wheel, in the kitchen, and more. Today, I received a precious gift from her hands: a crocheted "Cindy Doll."

Easy to spot with the red hair, earth-toned clothing, and a chicken and lamb under each arm. I love that she made me super tall and svelte. That's a good friend for ya. She always see the best in me and totally overlooks the lumps and bumps and annoying character flaws.

As quirky as we are around here, I guess it's fitting that even our eggs are, uh, non-standard. Check 'em out:

We did have a little excitement around here today - caught the first snake of the season dipping into my egg supply. Around here, that is a capital offense, and justice was meted out swiftly. I have hidden the photo evidence out of deference to my more sensitive readers. Others with some grit may want to follow this link to see the reptile for themselves.

And now, some sleep before tomorrow's Earth Day celebration at Capitol One Bank - the farm has a display booth. I get to tell more people about how much fun we have at Jacob's Reward!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Barrellin' to Maryland

The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is coming up fast. There's still so much to do to prepare. Like getting the 100 CD drop spindles finished...

and packing up a big flock of the ever-popular knitting sheep magnets...

And lots more. But in the meantime, farm life goes on. Today we entertained no less than five sets of visitors and sold eight dozen eggs. I should have installed a turnstile...

My friend Sharon, her husband, a son and daughter-in-law and four grandkids came for the grand tour. Miss Ruth was the perfect PR dog - so gentle with the kids and with her pasture mates. She did, however, stay between the strangers and the alpacas.

Sharon supervised the meeting with the Jacob sheep...

... and introduced little Taylor to her sponsored chicken. "Now, which one is it?" Taylor can't decide.

This evening in the Red Barn, I enjoyed the company of friends Jill, Debbie and Sally. I snuck in a little spinning time, as a break from all the Festival preparation. Here's some of the sari silk I got from Christine at the DFW Fiber Fest:

It spins up into a gorgeous yarn, sparkling with vibrant, shiny colors. Very soft and fun to spin.

Alright then. Break's over. Back to work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

By Jove, I Think She's Got It

Ruth seems to be warming up to her new job and her new home. The first 24 hours or so, she camped out by the gate, not venturing very far or making much noise.

But slowly she has explored the pasture, with her unique, limpy gait, and by this afternoon, she was planted in the middle of the pasture, surveying her domain. At dusk, she spent some time woofing, to let the coyotes know she was on guard.

And she's still very happy to see her new people, to give and get hugs and kisses, when we go out to work in the pasture together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Small Packages

Yesterday we got lots of great things coming in small packages. When young Claire went outside to collect eggs, she came back bearing one of the smallest chicken eggs I've ever had produced here.

I thought for a minute a flock of quail had gotten lost passing through the pasture. This little egg was tiny. Like a marble. Like a pistachio.

I think we're going to blow out the contents and try to save it. It's really cool.

Meanwhile, the veteran layers from the front coop had indeed resorted to laying eggs in their underground lair instead of their nest boxes. I discovered it today. (It's really under the big Lindheimer Muhly grass in the front flower bed.) They had managed to squirrel away nearly a dozen eggs before I spotted them. Now I'm wise.

More Small Packages. And I want to be sure to show you the really darling earrings that are handmade by our new friend, Robin. She makes her own glass beads, and she dropped these by when she brought our sweet new guard dog. Aren't they cute? Mostly sock beads, a pair of Ladybugs, and a pair of flowers. They're $12 a pair, so let me know if any of these are calling your name.

Here's Robin's business card if you'd like more information or have a custom bead you'd like her to make for you.

Furry Package. And speaking of Ruth, the great Great Pyrenees, she's doing just fine. She spent the night in the pasture, outside in the rain, even though she had access to a couple of different shelter options. She has plenty of thick fur, so I know she was warm and comfortable, even in the wetness.

The alpacas are still more than a little wary of her.

She really likes to lay in the mud. There went our pretty white dog...

But she seems happy and content, and is very people-friendly. She and Judah "talked" to each other for a little while today, or so it seemed. They barked back and forth from each side of the property. I wonder what they were talking about?

Hopefully they were letting the neighborhood know that this property is off limits to unwanted vermin and predators. Woof, woof, WOOF.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fresh Blessings

New friends, and new treasures today in the Little Red Barn. We got to meet Randi, a knitting friend from Ravelry, who lives in nearby Wylie! It was so fun to have you with us today, Randi! She worked patiently on a lovely cotton washcloth and bound it off before she left. Great job.

We met a new friend, Robin, who brought us a treasure: a beautiful Great Pyrenees girl we are trying out in the alpaca pasture. So far, everything looks great. She hasn't bothered the alpacas or the chickens, and we're hoping that as soon as she figures out that she's "home," she'll begin to consider the animals her charges, and take on her role as guardian.

I'm calling her Ruth, since she is moving to a new "land" and making our people her people. Ruth has a slight handicap - she had a broken leg as a youngster that wasn't set correctly. As a result, she has a permanent limp and an odd-looking run. But Robin tells me that it doesn't slow her down much. In her previous home, she kept her yard completely free of those gawd-awful squirrels.

Meanwhile in the LRB, Smokey the Barn Cat was sleeping in a ball.

The spinners showed up despite the threat of rain, which never materialized.

Chris and Rita kept us giggling today - it was so great to see them. Doesn't seem like even once a month is enough. I noticed Chris left treats behind when she left. Darn it! Mr. Ted contributed his customary quiche (with home-grown spinach) and so we ate very well today.

Claire was the only one in the barn not keen on being there. Poor kid. Everybody's got to take her lumps sometimes. But Jennifer got some good Barn time in, and that's important.

We welcomed our friend Peggy R. from Balch Springs to the LRB for some quality knitting time. It was Peggy's birthday and we were so glad to celebrate it with her!

Gail arrived with lots of goodies to share - crackers with pepper jelly and cream cheese, these little french bread rounds with cream cheese, peppers and basil...

...and these heavenly roses from her garden. Hours later, the whole LRB is still washed in that glorious fragrance. I could eat it up.

I guess we could have skirted some fiber outside, once we figured out the skies were going to stay clear. But by then, I had already promised myself some long-awaited spinning time. Now I have half a bobbin of Christine's sari silk yarn. Major fun.

As I write, the rain has come. It's falling softly so far, and hopefully will not make too much of a mess for us. I guess we've had quite a break from the mud, so I'll count my blessings tonight, old and new.