Tuesday, December 16, 2008

fuzzy puppy pictures

As promised, here are some pictures of a fuzzy puppy, doing the thing he does best:

IMG_3754 IMG_3738

IMG_3756 IMG_3766

Don't be fooled: he doesn't sleep nearly this well once the light goes off in our bedroom at night. Those puppy training books that claim the puppy will sleep quite contentedly in a crate overnight, if only you locate the crate in your bedroom?

They lie.

Friday, December 12, 2008

something nasty

** Warning: if you have a weak stomach, you may want to skip this post and come back tomorrow for a post concerning fuzzy puppies or fuzzy yarn or fuzzy Christmas feelings or fuzzy something.**

Two years ago, at Rhinebeck, Primo spent some time sitting on a lamb's pelt thrown over a chair in the Coopworth breed display.

"Mom, this is awesome! So comfortable! So warm! How come we don't have any of these from OUR lambs?"

I explained that I just hadn't been able to face the process just yet. You see, to get pelts, you need sheepskins. And to get sheepskins, you need to ask the butcher to save them for you, and then you need to scrape and salt them to get them ready for the tannery. Rather than deal with that, I just had the butcher toss them.

My son pointed out that this was a tremendous waste of the gift of life the animal had given us. (He was reading a book about Native American Indians at the time, and the philosophy had resonated.) He declared that he would help me with the skins, and begged me to have the butcher save the next batch for us.

Before agreeing, I had him do his research. He spoke with several people at length, and they explained how they prepared the skins in great detail. He was still gung ho, and even decided that his annual 4-H presentation would be on the topic of "how to prepare a lamb skin for tanning," complete with pictures and tanning factory tour.

He was given slight pause when the butcher noted, upon being asked to save the skins, that "it was a gory business." I urged Primo to consider the source. If a BUTCHER tells you something is gory, that is pretty significant. Primo was undeterred, however. I came home from the butcher earlier this week with a freezer's worth of meat, and four frozen pelts.

Because the freezer was full, the pelts had to be defrosted immediately. Never mind that we are crazy busy at work, and Primo had his holiday concert, and we have a new puppy that can't seem to keep straight just where he is supposed to be peeing, anyway. The weather has been unseasonably warm, which aided the defrosting process, but also meant that we had to work quickly to make sure the skins didn't rot. After 24 hours, Primo and I went out to the bicycle shed -- the only place on the farm that was protected from animals who would have an understandable interest in the skins -- and started to open up the pelts.

To set the stage, you should understand that the shed doesn't have any electricity. It was just past dusk and we were working by flashlight. You should also understand that we had never seen a raw sheepskin before. So it came as quite a shock to both of us when we unrolled the first pelt and the legs were still attached.

Primo, understandably, freaked the frack out.

At this point, Terzo came running up to the shed to give me a message. We hit the lights and luckily, he saw nothing, but was a little miffed that we were both screaming at him to get back to the house. I sent Primo back as well, then put the skin back into the bag and called my sheep friend Val, who laughed her butt off at my panic. "Oh, didn't I mention that to you? Yeah, that butcher leaves them on."

Now, how could anyone fail to mention what is, to my mind, a fairly important piece of information?

Val kindly agreed to come and cut them off for me, but told me I had to get the skins salted as soon as possible. (The salt dries them out and halts decomposition; the weather was still warm, and was working against me at this point.) I spent the whole night stewing. How was I going to deal with this? I was ready to throw the whole lot in the garbage but I was afraid that the garbagemen would never pick up our trash again. I thought about throwing them in the woods but knew that would create more problems, as it would draw local coyotes to our place and give them a taste for lamb. I thought about burying them in the back next to the pond, but it had rained for two days straight and the ground was very soggy. My long-suffering father even offered to come up and help, but for crying out loud, I am almost 40 (gulp) and I can't keep expecting my dad to bail me out of every crazy situation I get myself into. Goodness knows he already does it on enough of a regular basis.

So I took a deep breath and took care of it myself the next morning with a pair of fiskars scissors. After the inital revulsion, it wasn't really that bad. It turns out only one pelt had the legs on; it was just very bad luck that it was the first one we opened. I won't claim that there weren't other unmentionables that had to be dealt with, but I will spare you the gory details at this point.

(I should mention that my LSH did help me out. His initial reaction was along the lines of "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into," but by the end we were talking about what we would do differently the next time.)

We are very fortunate to live somewhat close to a tannery, and so rather than take a chance and dry them myself, I drove them straight there for processing. A four-hour round trip in the pouring rain was not on my schedule this close to the holidays, but I am very happy that I am no longer responsible for those darn skins. After all that, the tannery told me we were too enthusiastic with the trimming, and should be much more conservative the next time. Guess we got a little too into it.

And poor Primo seems to have recovered, though he did sleepwalk three separate times that night. I can just see him on the therapy couch decades from now, saying "I saw something nasty in the woodshed..."*

*Mrs. C. gets credit for that quote, but three points to anyone else who can name the source.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

christmas came a little early

We're at a whole 'nother level of crazy here. Presenting Holland's Jim Hawkins, aka Dusty, who arrived last night:

He is an English Shepherd, which is also Charlie's breed, at least in part.* The boys are in heaven, and Charlie is adjusting better than I thought he would. Midge, however, has decided that the puppy is her sworn enemy.

*Charlie was a rescue, so your guess is as good as ours, but he certainly looks a lot like an English Shepherd, at least in our opinion. He also has a lot of the English Shepherd behavioral traits; we understood his actions a lot better once we learned more about the breed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

shocking news, details at 11!

If you had asked me, up until a week ago, if I had a wool/yarn stash, I would have answered with an emphatic NO. I tend not to come home from wool festivals loaded down with yarn, I don't get to yarn stores nearly as often as I would like, I don't order yarn online. I honestly thought that I was monogamously loyal to one project, buying yarn just as needed and knitting away in a dedicated matter until a particular project was complete.

So imagine my shock when I discovered this past weekend, while organizing the big closet and my son's new room, that I do indeed have a stash.

I found myself saying things like, "just pile those balls of roving over there, I'll put them away later." My LSH kept asking me what was in this cabinet or that rubbermaid tote, and the answer was, invariably, "oh, yarn." I said it in an airy, non-chalant tone to convey a lack of concern, but I found myself repeating those phrases a disturbing number of times, until, upon surveying the contents of the room, I was forced to admit that I had quite a bit of fiber in there. (I think the fact that it was previously stored in several different locations contributed to the illusion that I didn't really have that much.) Moreover, I have an entire rubbermaid tub full of UFOs now, thanks to my effort to put them all in one place.

And yet... and yet... I still feel like I don't have enough yarn. I know, it's another sign of the self-delusion. Much as I thought I avoided it all this time, I have been blindsided by a stash. Or maybe my refusal to acknowledge it is just another symptom of my denial?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

one stitch at a time

I decided to knit a simple garter stitch prayer shawl. It was supposed to be meditative and relaxing. And also dead easy, requiring no thought whatsoever.


But I picked this yarn, which, while beautiful, is a devil to knit. Did I miss the knitterly memo about boucle? What a pain! If I am not paying perfect attention, my ginormous size 15 needles catch those little bitty beautiful loops and cause all kinds of problems.

I chose the needles due to their ability to create a lacy drapey effect without the fiddly-ness of lace. (I know, I am using a very lazy speed stix approach to knitting these days. Mea culpa. Did I mention I am a little busy?) Little did I know that I would drop stitches right, left, and center, and be unable to pick them up again properly thanks to the size of the loops. I tried, but as much as I squinted and crossed my eyes to convince myself that a non-knitter would not notice those frankenstein-like jagged lines up the middle of the shawl, it didn't work.


I have frogged and frogged and frogged again. The knitting gods are laughing at me once more. I thought I picked a project that would be mindless. Instead, I find myself having to mind every single stitch or mayhem ensues. Come to think about it, maybe it's meditative after all.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Many have been commenting (and you know who you are!) about my lack of posts last month. The cause was my usual busy-ness, and then some, which made it impossible for me to even think about a post, or a blog, or normal human conversation... I knew I was coming out of the woods when I found myself composing a new post in my head last night. I guess enough had cleared off my brain's plate at that point.

I have been working non-stop on bringing the billing for my LSH's business in house. He outsourced the billing when he started his business, but it has been a long-running source of frustration which has only gotten worse with time. So he decided to add-on the integrated billing part of his record-keeping software -- except we found out too late that it wasn't so integrated, and we would have to integrate it ourselves.

And by we, I mean me.

Having a business in your house can be a blessing and a curse. The commute is great, but it can also be hard to break away. For the past two months, I have stumbled downstairs every morning, made a pot of coffee, and headed straight onto the computer to work on the integration. Apart from small breaks here and there to eat and yell at my kids to keep it down, can't you see mom's working and she doesn't have a moment to spare, I didn't do much else until I tumbled into bed at the end of the day. I am not saying this by way of complaint, just explanation. Time was at such a premium that it was hard for me to concentrate on anything else. Knitting, spinning, reading, chatting on the phone -- everything else took a backseat.

Add on to that my eldest son's desire to move to his own room. It only makes sense, seeing as how he officially entered teenager-dom at the end of October. The only room available, however, already housed my sewing machine and work cabinet, a guest bed, all of our winter clothing, and served as the main playroom and toy storage area. It is not such a simple move. The upside is that we are forced to wade through all of our upstairs junk belongings and get it weeded out reorganized. Since we were first married, LSH and I moved at least every three years. It was a great way to declutter on a regular basis. Seeing as how we have actually managed to stay put in this location for six years and counting, this process was long overdue.

Unfortunately I don't have any "before" pictures, because I was under the weather and missed the start of the project. But here is the half-way point in the large closet that is under our eaves; eventually it will be a work/craft area for me, complete with rocking chair to knit in:

room step1

To get an idea of how it looked at the start, imagine that you can't see the carpeting or the walls. Add in two bedframes, a cradle, two boxsprings, various baby chairs and playpens, several sets of luggage, a saddle (Primo's of course), a couple of plastic bins filled with outgrown clothing, five 4H board presentations, a large collection of wrapping paper, bags, boxes and bows... you get the idea. The rooms will eventually be painted and, with any luck, recarpeted, though I can't quite get my head around how the heck we clear out the rooms to get that done. Despite all the trips to the church's flea market and the local dump, we still have quite a bit up there.

As a result of all of this activity and undertaking, I have decided that there will be very little holiday knitting by me this year. I will drool over the creativity of others, I will sigh at the thought of making handknit socks for everyone on my list, but at the end of the day, I will do all my shopping online. Every so often, I manage to acknowledge my limits.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

as if...

I didn't have enough to do, I went and joined facebook. Now I figure the people who have been sending me friend requests can go ahead and friend me on there, and I can go back to ignoring yet another obligation, somewhat along the line of my treatment of this blog this month.

Things have been super-busy with LSH's business, and his second marathon today (!!!), and big changes in the house. The latter MAY result in me actually getting a little corner for crafts and such. I'll keep you posted with "before" and "after" pictures if I manage to pull it off.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The sheep have been hanging out near the chicken coop all day, noses to the wire.


I am starting to suspect they're plotting something together. Look at that suspiciously innocent yet watchful look on Elicia's face when I came out to take a picture.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

thrift shop halloween

imagination gets a test at the place i love the best
how could i get dressed without a thrift shop
(Dan Zanes, "thrift shop")

I have been a fan and patron of the thrift shop even BEFORE it became the in-thing for economical and environmental reasons. As with all good parenting, I have also converted my kids to the dark side. They LOVE going to the thrift store and greet news of an impending trip with the same excitement as a trip to the candy store (and, unfortunately for their teeth but fortunately for their dentist, that is some level of excitement).

As part of my cheap ways, I have convinced my kids that creating their own costumes for Halloween is way better and loads more fun than purchasing something at the local rent-a-store halloween shop. Abusive, I know. In addition to three Halloween costumes, we also scored two pairs of jeans for me (because I refuse to pay more than $5 for jeans that will eventually, despite my best efforts, get sheep poop on them), a pair of church pants for Primo (only $2 because they need a button) and a brand new Rutgers sweatshirt for Secondo. All for only $37.52! What's not to love?

Here's what they came up with for Halloween:


Primo was a bank teller (that's the logo of a local bank), with fake money stuffed in his vest. He didn't wear the sign for long, though his father and I thought it was hee-larious. More abuse.

Secondo was a nerd. He really got into the role, and took great delight in walking knock-kneed and posing with his pants hiked up and his teeth showing.

Terzo was a Yankees baseball player/batboy. His costume got him extra candy at the houses of several Yankees fans. He made sure to announce loudly whenever he scored extra sugar.


Secondo was by far the most dedicated trick-or-treater this year. Primo had a sleepover at a friend's house. Terzo was pooped after walking over a mile up and down our town's Main Street. But Secondo, spurred on by the specter of free candy for one night only, was like the Energizer Bunny. He convinced me to take him to a local development after he finished in town; because it was late, I gave him 45 minutes to get through the entire tract. (The houses are on 2 acre lots, so that was no mean feat.) All I could hear in the still of the night was the zip-zip-zip of his corduroy pants as he rushed from house to house.

Not sure if it was the buck teeth effect or the fact that he was the last/only kid out in that neighborhood, but he hit the jackpot.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

rhinebeck from a to z

A fun but exhausting time, mostly spent in the
Breed barn setting up and manning the
Coopworth sheep

Excited to be part of Rhinebeck again, but
Freezing cold this year, especially at night camping near the stinky
Goat tent.
Help was provided
In spades by my parents.
Judging happened on Saturday morning.
Kame (sorry) in fourth place out of twenty.

LSH drove up to Rhinebeck on Saturday for the first (!!!) time,
Making my weekend.
Not a lot of time to shop
Or go to Ravelry meet-ups.
Purchases were few, though we got a
Quality hand-made broom and had
Razor-sharp edges put on our sheep shears; picked up our favorite
Soap (and more soap) and chose the booth of
Touch of Twist for the obligatory yarn.

Unbelievably excited to see Primo in new sheep book.
Very tired after breaking down at 5:30 pm on Sunday.
Went the wrong way on the
Yet still made it home to find the
Zenith of my weekend: a Golding spindle, a surprise from my wonderful LSH.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

tilly has me on the ropes

It's official. My butt is being kicked by a cabled scarf.

To be fair, I can't say I didn't ask for it. I thought I was the master of all things cabled after I managed to knit the Yarn Harlot's Unoriginal Hat as a Christmas gift for my SIL last year. This, of course, made me a prime target for the knitting gods, who are having a high time at my expense right now.

I should explain that this October is A Very Bad Month for us, schedule-wise. It includes:

  1. two weddings (one with interstate travel);
  2. two sheep shows (one with interstate travel);
  3. two boy birthdays (interstate travel only if they run away due to neglect);
  4. a marathon (interstate travel again, plus lots of running);
  5. a critical business-related project (with intensive training and learning curve); and
  6. miscellaneous soccer games, cross-country meets, and all the other detritus of having three kids.
To add to this crazy-making list, I am responsible for the Coopworth sheep breed display at Rhinebeck this year. I pulled it together last year with three weeks notice. This year had to be Bigger and Better because I had all year to plan it out, right? So I decided at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival that I would spin up some Coopworth roving and make it into something spectacular to be featured in the breed display booth.

I managed to spin up the yarn as part of the Tour de Fleece. (My spinning is still a little uneven, but it's getting better.)



The something spectacular is turning out to be a wee bit more challenging. I chose the scarf pattern Tilly from the book A Fine Fleece, and I love how it looks with this handspun -- except I have ripped out at least 100 rows at this point. Call it lack of attention, call it too much on my plate, call it so exhausted my eyeballs are ready to fall out of my head, but I cannot follow this pattern to save my life. It's not a particularly hard pattern. It's just that my brain is not in any state to process it correctly. Here's what I have so far; you can see it at Rhinebeck, if you visit me in the breed display barn, and see for yourself how much I manage to get done between now and 9 am on Saturday morning.


Let's see, I'm on row 42 (having just ripped back from row 47). Given my statistical average on this scarf, I am guessing I will be on row 34. Your prediction?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


My LSH just ran the Baltimore Marathon, his first, in that time. I am very, very proud of him.

Unfortunately I left the camera at home, and so I don't have any pictures of the momentous event. You'll have to trust me that he looked very triumphant, and also very sweaty.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

trouble, thy name is hermione

Hermione the ewe lamb was Secondo's tenth birthday present from my parents. (I know the vast majority of kids don't get livestock for birthday gifts. Then again, the vast majority of kids don't live on sheep farms.) Secondo has showered love and attention on Hermione since she arrived with her mom Elicia and twin sister Henrietta in May. All his work has resulted in a very tame little ewe that he adores.


But she has been responsible for more than a few grey hairs on my head in the last week alone. It started with her confinement in the barn last week, waiting for her vet inspection to get a clean bill of health before she went to the sheep festival with her sister. See that gated area at the back?


That is our creep pen, which is used for young lambs, to provide a place for them to eat without their mothers gobbling up all the food. (They can get in and out easily; their moms cannot, which is responsible for a fair amount of frustration on the part of the moms.) Hermione managed to squeeze herself into the pen, even though there was no food or other enticement in the creep, and then could not get back out until the boys took off one of the slats. Grrr.

At the show, she was reasonably well-behaved until we took her twin sister out of the display pen for a quick trip to the show arena. Hermione promptly went nuts. Sheep have a strong flocking instinct and get very stressed if they are alone... but I have never seen one react so dramatically. She nearly climbed out of the pen. Fearing she would hurt herself, I quickly took her to her sister. But she was feeling low the rest of the afternoon. I worried and fretted over her as she lay at the back of the pen, ears droopy and eyes half closed, refusing to eat or chew her cud. I dosed her with sheep vitamins, fretted a little more, and then had to leave for a wedding reception. But my dreams were a torment, and I woke up with a start at 5:53 am, convinced she had died during the night. Of course, she was fine, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we got there. I think she had stressed herself so thoroughly the previous day that it took her a few hours, and the quiet of an empty fairground, to recover. Grrrrrr.

Yesterday afternoon, as I strolled over to the barn with a couple of friends to check on the barn kittens, my heart nearly stopped. There was Hermione, lying motionless in her pasture, tangled in net fencing. The fencing had been folded and draped over the permanent fence, at least 4 feet up in the air, and there was no reason for her to touch it -- except for, apparently, a death wish. Unbelievably, she was still alive. I think she had given up struggling and was waiting for someone to find her. It was fairly unusual behavior, because usually the sheep holler if they find themselves in a jam; she wasn't making a sound. I don't know how she pulled it down or how long she had been there since I had fed her that morning, but she was so thoroughly entangled that I had to cut her out, and ended up ruining $200 worth of portable fencing. Grrrrrrrrrrr.


She somewhat made up for all these antics with her performance in the show ring on Sunday. For the entire summer Secondo has shown her, she was sent to the bottom of her class because she was on the small side. (She was not born until mid-April, and was competing against January lambs.) But Sunday was her chance to shine. She was named best long wool ewe lamb and then champion long wool ewe, and awarded best long wool fleece.*


But her first act after being released into the pasture upon her return to the farm? She wriggled out of the loose back gate and started prancing near the ram's pen. I have a feeling her teenage year is going to be a rough one.

*After all that work and hardship all summer long, Secondo wasn't even the one showing her this past weekend, as he had a soccer game.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Yes, once again, I broke my promise to Jessica to answer her burning questions about sheep coats. I am not sure she will forgive me this time. But she does know the reason for my recent lack of posts in general.

I participated in a fiber festival as a vendor for the first time this past weekend.


Mind you, it was very minimal participation. It was a little corner of my generous friend Val's much larger booth, with one little display stand of hand-made stitch markers. Even though it was tiny, it was an amazing of work getting the miscellaneous stuff done, like signage and mounting hangers. Luckily I have a secret set-up weapon, my wonderful BFF, who is the kind of friend who comes without a second thought when asked to work on such a hare-brained project, and brings her own coffee because she knows me well enough by now to think that a full pot of home-brewed just might be beyond me with a deadline looming. (For the record, I did have coffee waiting for her.)


I had worked all summer on this project, because I have been looking for a long time for beaded stitch markers and never found anything that worked for me, style and price-wise. After much trial, and error, and constructive criticism from fellow knitters, I finally came up with something I thought worked and might be of interest to other people. To answer the inevitable question: I called the markers "Fraternals" because no two markers in a set are exactly alike, as you can see from this most helpful picture taken by my dad. Of course, I forgot my camera for the entire weekend.


It was kind of nerve-wracking, putting myself and my little markers out there for comment and criticism. The comments were very positive though, and I sold a decent amount considering that Rhinebeck is only two weeks away, and the economy is in the dumper, and the change in dates for this festival resulted in decreased attendance.

My secret sales weapon was Secondo. I offered him a commission of $1 per set of stitch markers he sold, and he was responsible for most of the sales. He had a system all worked out, which he explained to Val: "When people come over, I stand up and smile, and they think I'm cute and buy things from me."

My mom and I are mulling over grander plans for next year. They already include employment contracts for my BFF and Secondo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

contractual obligations

Yes, I know that I broke my promise to answer Jessica's question. Maybe I will get a post together sometime before the end of next weekend.

Then again, maybe not.

But Primo gave me the perfect post tonight, when he e-mailed me his proposed chore list, so he could start earning an allowance. It included a "code of conduct" which he learned about from a friend of his. I thought it sounded like a great idea, so he typed it up to give me an idea of what was involved:

Code of Conduct:

* Being kind to brothers
1 week = +$.50

* No bad language (shut up, jerk, stupid, etc.)
1 week = +$.50

* Doing what parents ask, the first time
1 week = +$.50

If only it were that cheap.

Friday, September 19, 2008

let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the marking harness

Mrs. C's question a few days ago regarding the blue mark on Frosti's back made me realize that not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs (sorry, couldn't resist) of sheep breeding. I was shocked that I had failed to explain something in mind-numbing detail, but I suppose everyone is allowed an oversight now and then. So here, for your edification, is how a ram marking harness works.

Meet our ram, Gideon.


Most of the year he lives the life of Riley, loafing around with his buddy Clifford and not really required to do much of anything apart from the odd sheep show. That all changes in the fall. At that time, this lucky boy gets turned in with the breeding ewes to do the job we keep him around for. (Every male I have ever met thinks that Gideon has a pretty good job description.)

Like most employers, we are anxious to make sure he is actually DOING his job. Sheep are very secretive and shy about their mating, and if it was up to casual observation, we would never really know one way or the other. The only way to know for sure is to look for lambs approximately five months later, but the waiting and not knowing when for sure parts can be tough to take, especially when it is your week in February to do the 2 a.m. barn check.

So this year, we started to use the simple but effective technology of a marking harness. This is a contraption of nylon strapping and buckles, with a block of colored crayon attached. It's a little difficult to explain, so here's Gideon to model it for you.


The crayon is in between his front legs. We are still not sure if we are putting it on correctly. He has managed to get out of it twice so far.

Every morning, we see who was marked the night before, then check our handy sheep gestation calendar to figure out the due date. The crayon color is switched every 17 days or so, to make sure he has catches everyone and nothing has gone wrong with the pregnancy. The girls will not let him near them again if they are, indeed, pregnant. Smart girls. This poor ewe suffered an excess of attention when Gideon was wearing the orange crayon.


Later this weekend, I will answer Jessica's question about sheep coats. Try to contain your excitement and get some sleep in the meantime!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

tomato soup

Despite being heavily plundered three weeks ago, our plum tomato plants are still hanging in there. Granted, they are in their last gasps of production, but I was feeling bad about passing up the fruit of their dying labor on my way to and from the chicken coop each day.

So today, I assauged my guilt by picking a couple of dozen tomatoes on my way into the house this morning.* They ended up as this, with the able assistance of my trusty crock pot and bread machine (I'm all about the gadgets):


If you want to make it, start by blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for about 15 seconds. Cut off the tops, remove the skins, cut in half and scrape out the seeds. Meanwhile, saute a medium chopped onion in a little oil; after about 4 minutes, add one clove of crushed garlic. Let the mixture cook for 1 minute, then add 2 peeled carrots, sliced thin, and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Combine the tomatoes and the onion mixture in a crock pot. Add 3 cups of chicken broth, 2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and basil, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low, covered, for 5-6 hours. Use a slotted spoon to take out the carrots, onions and tomatoes and chop in blender. Add back to liquid in pot; test again for salt. This was a nice hearty soup served with fresh bread.

Unfortunately, it did not please my second son. He pronounced it "too tomato-ey." Apparently, in his book, that is not a desired attribute for tomato soup. Consider yourself warned.

* For those of you that think that is how I roll on the farm: skipping out to the garden while the dew is still on the ground, gathering the homegrown ingredients for our supper while the birds chirp cheerily in the background, tra la la, let me please disabuse you of this mental image. The reality is more: the garden plants have toppled over at crazy angles thanks to neglect; the weeds make it difficult for me to find the plants; the majority of the tomatoes are rotting on the ground and the smell is quite pungent; my kids are moaning in the kitchen that there is nothing to eat in this house and when are you going to the supermarket; I am desperate for dinner; and thanks to all the gadgets that are gathering dust, I actually manage to pull something off. It is so noteworthy that I blog about it. Tomorrow we will be back to our regularly-scheduled dinner of desperation.

it's the little things

I woke up this morning feeling lousy, thanks to a nasty head cold and the foggy feeling left over from the Nyquil I had taken. I was also feeling put upon that it was my turn to feed the animals because my slaves kids have school today.

But then I went outside, and my sinuses cleared thanks to the cool fresh air. The pressure on my brain was somewhat alleviated, and so I found lots of things to be grateful for, such as:

The wildflowers are blooming in a most pleasing way.


Frosti was courted by the ram last night, and the blue mark on her back predicts she will be lambing on February 10, 2009, give or take five days. (I do not want to speculate what the blue mark on her nose means.)


The grass is growing again, which may not seem like a big deal normally, but it is when you have lots of hungry sheep to feed.


And last but not least, all three chickens laid eggs, which is unusual for this time of year.


Little tiny things, I know. But enough to get me in a better frame of mind, and my family will be the first to tell you that it was much needed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

rough ride

Poor Primo. He has had a very difficult weekend. As if yesterday wasn't bad enough, today proved tough as well. It was supposed to be enjoyable: his first horse show on "his" new horse. (Before anyone gets worked up: it's not really his horse, just the horse he is training on now.)

He had been riding Matty for the last three years, and they had become quite a pair. At his final horse show on Matty, he won champion for the first time, and they were both pretty proud of themselves.


But Primo had grown, and his legs had gotten too long for Matty. He tried a couple horses this summer, and, much to his trainer's surprise, he really clicked with Harry: a 17 hands high ex-racehorse. Harry is so tall that, when Primo is standing next to him, the top of Primo's head does not reach Harry's back. Despite Harry's size, they were doing so well that his trainer decided to enter them in a show after only four lessons.


It was an unqualified disaster. Primo was nervous, Harry was nervous. The pair of them fed off each other until both were beside themselves. Harry was trying to do his best for Primo, but he was unsure what Primo wanted, and so he cantered when Primo wanted to trot, and stopped when Primo wanted to walk, and went forward when Primo wanted to stop, and it just generally did not work out so great. After the first class, Primo was in tears and Harry was sweating so heavily that he looked as if he had just raced four miles, flat out.


To her credit, Primo's trainer did not let him quit. She insisted he finish his classes, and then took him to an empty ring to let him trot around and prove that he could really ride Harry. Primo can't wait to ride him again at his lesson this week. But it's going to be a long time before Primo wants to show him.

Poor kid, he can't wait to get back to school.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

on death

Having a farm is not an easy life. I am in awe of people who do it as their primary occupation, as it is hard and relentless and challenging. Our little enterprise is a walk in the park compared to the lot of a full-time farmer.

Despite all this, I am profoundly grateful that my kids are growing up on a farm, as small as it is. They have a better understanding than many about where food comes from. They have a pretty good work ethic for their ages. They are developing a decent sense of responsibility.

And they are learning all about the circle of life. How life starts, the wonder and joy of birth, the difficulty of sustaining life through illness and injury, the reward of having animals recognize and seemingly appreciate your efforts... and much as we would like not to think about it, the fact that every life ends eventually.

Today we were forced to think about it.

When Primo went out to feed this morning, he found his ram lamb dead in the pasture. The lamb was fine yesterday morning. For whatever reason, his digestive system went haywire at some point during the day and he died before we realized he was in trouble. This had been Primo's project lamb since it was born. He named it, took care of it, trained it to walk on a halter and stand still for the judge, and worked to make sure that it stayed healthy and well fed.

Mind you, he knew all along about the lamb's eventual end. Without meaning to shock those with more delicate sensibilities, we are a working farm. Ram lambs are not nearly as desired or valuable as ewes, and most of our rams are sold for meat. One of the hard lessons my boys are learning is not to get too attached or sentimental.

It's a fine line to tread, and I found myself thinking about it all day. I want them to have a practical understanding about the world they live in, but I also want them to be caring and compassionate individuals. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I do think too much emphasis in either direction is not desirable, and finding that balance is certainly tricky.

There were no tears this morning, although there was upset and melancholy. Secondo decided he would help with the burial. Once he got over the shock, Primo was detached, and we let him be. We kept Terzo in the house and occupied, but he was very upset that he didn't get a chance to see the body. It seems that even pre-schoolers need closure.

Rest in peace, Houdini.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

a brief respite

I suspect that part of my problem with feeling so overwhelmed and out of control some of (most of?) the time stems from my complete and total inability to just sit. I have become this oft-crazed person that cannot manage to relax. OK, so the crazed thing is nothing new. But I used to be able to manage to watch TV from time to time. Now, as my boys will be the first to tell you, I rarely do, and even then I feel compelled to multi-task and do something else at the same time. I wondered last week why the kitten never falls asleep on my lap as she does with the other members of the family. I realized that she is rarely presented with my lap.

And please don't form the mental image that all this busy-ness somehow results in a house that is neat as a pin, kids that are getting quality time every minute of the day, and beautifully home-cooked and artistically-presented food at every meal. Quite the contrary. My house is a wreck, my kids are starved for shreds of attention, and they ate soup out of a can tonight a few hours after I left for work. (I used the crock pot to heat it up to foster the illusion that I had taken a little more care.) My basic life plan these days seems to be running around like a chicken without a head, and occasionally getting done what absolutely needs to be accomplished. Everything else is neglected, or at least it seems that way.

But today I actually had a little downtime forced upon me, and it was absolutely lovely. I was waiting for a tutoring student at the local mega-chain bookstore, and I bought a cup of tea and cranberry scone because I had, once again, neglected to eat breakfast. I was a little early, so I sipped my tea while I looked over a book that I have heard a lot of good things about.* It wasn't a long amount of time -- no more than 15 minutes -- before I realized that the student wasn't coming and I needed to get on with the rest of my day. But those 15 minutes were so darn sweet. It was quiet, it was peaceful, and I had no agenda or sense of urgency. Plus hot tea!

It made such a difference in the tone for the rest of the day that I have decided that I need to schedule 15 minutes of such activity into every day. Just kidding! (When do I manage to schedule ANYTHING?) But I do have a kitten that is demanding my attention right now.

* The book was A Fine Fleece by Lisa Lloyd, and it lived up to all the positive reviews. It is a great resource for anyone who wants to make something with all those skeins of handspun yarn they have lying around. The patterns are lovely and classic, and she very cleverly included not only suggestions but also actual garments knit up from comparable commercial yarns.

Friday, September 5, 2008

first step

OK, this my first post in my attempt to regalvanize my knitting. I want to remind myself that I figured out, all by myself (with maybe a wee bit of help from the internets) how to knit two socks at one time. I managed to start and finish the pair on vacation, while the boys swam and fished and boated. As He is my witness, I doubt I will knit many single socks again. Should I ever feel like knitting socks again, that is.

I also figured out how to read while knitting, which was almost as big of a break-through as the two-socks-at-one-time thing. That day of sitting and reading-knitting on the screened-in porch, while the boys managed to amuse themselves for hours at a time (unheard of!) ranks up there as one of my all-time best days ever.

I don't have any pictures of the process, unfortunately. I do have one of the finished pair: made for Secondo, who at the tender age of 9, already has feet bigger than mine. I didn't know how big his feet really were when I started this project, or I might have picked Terzo as the beneficiary. I rashly discounted my measurement of Secondo's feet -- they couldn't possibly be THAT big, went my deluded motherly thought process -- and I ended up having to tink the toes and add a little more length before kitchnering them.


This was the only pair of socks that I managed to complete for Summer of Socks '08. The best laid plans, and all that. Plans along the lines of: "This is a great idea! It will motivate me to knit a pair of socks for everyone on my Christmas list! Plus maybe some orphans too! And I will have them all done by the end of August! And I just might win some free sock yarn while I am at it!"

The depths of my self-delusion have yet to be plumbed.

In related news (yes, I am using the term VERY loosely), it seems like my mojo might be lurking around again. I was completely unable to sit and do nothing while watching TV tonight. I couldn't be bothered to pick up that sock, but I did drag out this lady to spin for a while.


And everyone knows that spinning means yarn (eventually). And yarn means knitting (eventually). And so knitting can't be too far off.

Then again, maybe it can. Self-delusion rearing its ugly head.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

no mo' mojo

My knitting mojo is gone. Vanished. Kaput.

The very thing that used to keep me sane is, all of a sudden, no longer of interest to me, and worst of all, I have no idea why. I think about various projects, but I can't be bothered to pick up any particular one and work on it. The holiday weekend meant a long-ish car ride, which is usually prime knitting time as my LSH refuses to let me drive when he is in the car insists on driving so I can knit away. I had to force myself to bring along my first pair of SOS socks (which are obviously still not done, and let's please not reflect on how long that one pair has taken me). I ended up reading a magazine for most of the trip instead.

Sigh. It's all very mystifying and depressing.

I am hoping my knitting mojo will return soon, especially before I have to start working on all those Christmas gifts I have planned and already purchased yarn for. My next few days of posts will be on projects completed in the not-too-distant past,with the hope that my reflection on those past triumphs will somehow shake me out of my slump.

Bear with me, please, and keep your fingers crossed that it works.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

tomato sauce*

Remember this?

It was washed and cut up into this:
IMG_3143 IMG_3142

To be processed by this crew:

Who turned it into this:
IMG_3149 IMG_3150

Which after a while became 32 pints of homemade sauce (plus a lot of dirty pots).

That red has to be one of the greatest colors, ever.

*Sorry for the unoriginality of the title. I am pooped from all that sauce making, and I got nothin'.

Friday, August 29, 2008

this one's for laurie

I found the loveliest surprise when I went to the mailbox today: a handwritten note from my friend Laurie. It took me an (embarrassingly) long time to figure out why Laurie had sent me a note, when she usually just stops by for a cup of tea or calls on my cell when she has to chat. And then it hit me. She had actually read my blog (!) and noted my love of the handwritten missive (!!) and took it upon herself to make my day by writing me (!!!).

You gotta love a person that is so thoughtful like that.

So today's blog is dedicated to Laurie. She has been asking me and reminding me that she asked me for these recipes ever since she tasted them at our shearing day extravaganza this year, in early April. I have been horribly remiss, and I am suitably chastened by HER excellent follow through, when I didn't even ask for her to send me a letter!

So Laurie, this is for you. (For the rest of you reading this, these are both great brunch dishes. The best part about them is that you can make them the night before.)

Egg and Cheese Strata
2 tablespoons butter/marg
1/2 small loaf sliced white bread, cubed, with crusts cut off
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups half-and-half or milk (I usually use skim)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4-1/2 lb bacon, cooked and chopped
Melt butter and spread evenly in heavy baking dish. Arrange half of bread cubes in dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese, half the tomatoes and half the bacon (plus chives if using). Add second half of bread cubes. Repeat layer, but start with bacon, then tomato, then top with cheese. Beat eggs, then beat in milk, salt, mustard and chives. Pour evenly over cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake for 45-60 min at 375 degree oven until top is lightly browned and egg is "set" in center (shaking pan does not cause center to jiggle). Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Eggs a la 'Rents (my parents, that is)
Start by making a beef sauce. In a large frying pan, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add 1/2 lb shredded dried or smoked beef and 1/2 lb sliced fresh mushrooms. Saute until tender. Add 1/4 lb cooked chopped bacon, and sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over the mixture. Gradually stir in 4 C hot milk and cook until mixture is slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste and set aside.
In a separate (large!) bowl, beat 16 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup melted butter/margarine together. Scramble the egg mixture in a very large frying pan until the eggs are set but still very soft and moist. Butter an 11x13 inch casserole and, starting and ending with beef sauce, layer eggs and sauce (5 layers total).
Cover and bake at 275 degrees for 1.5 hours. Can be refrigerated overnight and baked the next day.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

video frustrations

I think I finally might have managed to figure out this video embed thingee to show you the annoyingness wonder that is my kids playing Rock Band:

Secondo would like to point out, for the record, that Terzo's guitar was not plugged in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

over and under

That phrase says it all about the state of things around here: I am overwhelmed with work and responsibilities and I have been under the weather -- nothing serious, just enough to be annoying.

This blog was one of the more obvious casualties, but it is right up there with the out-of-sight victims, including "the pile of laundry in my basement" and "the weeds in my garden" and "the ickiness on my shower floor" and… well, you get the picture.

I am employing my time-honored system to overcome the more glaring and pressing issues: feudal labor.

In addition to the confessions about my laundry and garden and shower floor, I also feel compelled to confess that I do not pay my children an allowance.

I never have. And I don’t intend to start anytime soon, unless they threaten to out my petty, penny-pinching ways in front of all their friends.

You see, I have conditioned my children to ask for paying jobs around the house should they have some material itch that needs to be scratched. Don’t get me wrong; they do not get paid to do everyday chores. (That is why, for the most part, they avoid doing them.) But if I, or they, am in a bind, then the feudal labor system comes into play: I pay them a ridiculously low amount to do a job that, by all accounts, I should be doing myself.

Take that big project I was working on at the beginning of the summer. I paid the older two to watch their baby brother, and I paid the littlest one to be good and mind them. The catch was that they did not get paid if they were watching TV. (I knew from experience that I could do that myself, with far less financial consequence.) This led them to spend vast amounts of time outside, playing various games with each other in the fresh air, and I patted myself on the back for buying myself some peace and quiet while tricking encouraging them to spend time in the great outdoors enjoying each other’s company in relative harmony.


Mind you, it cost me plenty. They kept track of their time, and laboriously worked out their daily earnings, and eventually earned enough to buy Rock Band by the time I finished the project. (I deluded myself that I was also encouraging their math skills.) This was very fortuitous timing, as the steady tick-tick-tick of the pseudo-drum set would have driven me straight round the bend while I was working on that particular project.

(I tried to upload a very cute video of them playing Rock Band which -- at the same time of the cuteness -- demonstrated how annoying that tick-tick-tick is. But I cannot get YouTube to upload the video, and I am too tired to figure it out tonight. I will post it tomorrow if I get it worked out. Meanwhile, a picture of them playing will have to speak a thousand words instead. Terzo is playing the part of back-up dancer.)


Which brings me to today’s sisyphean task: picking the plum tomatoes.

As with the “no pay for sticking your little brother in front of the TV” rule, I have wised up a little in the chores-for-cash department. If I had offered to pay them a flat rate for picking the tomatoes, I would have ended up with twenty tomatoes and them swearing on my grave that the garden did not contain one more ripe tomato.


Instead, I offered to pay them per pound, which resulted in a little more dedication to the task. At this point, they are over sixty pounds and counting. They have picked five plants, with three to go. (I made them take the pictures of their progress, too. I drive a hard bargain.)


And I still managed to buy myself -- literally -- a little peace and quiet while they were outside this afternoon. Whatever the bill eventually comes to, it will be well worth the cash.