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.