Thursday, April 30, 2009

crafty vs creative

I have been thinking about the difference between being crafty and being creative for the past few days. I think they are two very separate concepts.

Being crafty relates to enjoying what your hands can create. The description in Proverbs 31:13 perfectly defines a crafty person: "She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands in delight." (No disrespect meant to crafters who choose other mediums; the basic idea is the same whether you are looking for paper or fabric or cakemix.) I will freely admit that I am crafty. Very crafty. Good at doing crafts.

But creative, not so much.* Being creative, the art of coming up with something completely new and different out of the nether regions of your brain, involves things like original thought and innovation. Breanna stopped by the office yesterday; her artwork is the output of a truly creative mind.

I am more of a follower of patterns and directions, and this is where I think the line in the sand is drawn. If you are the kind of person who says things like "well, I didn't like how the neckline looked on that sweater so I changed it and added a hood and a zipper up the front" then you are creative, never mind that you started out with someone else's pattern. If you are the kind of person -- and I am firmly in this camp -- that says "wait a minute, this doesn't quite look right, I need to go on ravelry and find out how someone else has solved this problem" then you are crafty. It's not a bad thing to be, and you still can manage to turn out a lot of amazing handiwork, but it sometimes has its limitations.

Lately, though, I have left my crafty comfort zone and wandered into creative territory. An idea bubbled up from the nether regions of my brain about a year ago. I have carried around a little notebook with me since then as I worked out the details. My goal was to have the product in the ACR booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this weekend, as I had purchased a share of the space. With my feet to the proverbial fire this week, I finally huffed and puffed and pushed and groaned and complained and gave birth to**... Card'n' Wool*** greeting cards.

("happy birthday to ewe")
("sorry to hear you're under the wether")
There are quite a few different ones and I keep coming up with more ideas while I work. For now, however, I am working like crazy trying to get the last few ready for sale. I am almost nauseous with nerves and I think I am having palpitations. I usually don't put myself out there like this, and maybe all this stress is the downside to this creative gig.
I can't imagine how nervous I am going to be this weekend when the cards are finally on display for everyone to see. Come visit me in the ACR booth, if you are in the neighborhood. I'll be there both mornings, and I promise not to puke all over your shoes.

* Certain readers (*cough* my mom *cough*) may argue that I am, in fact, creative, but she's my mom and her judgment has its blind spots where one's own offspring are concerned.

** Many, many thanks are due to the Occasional Domestic and Livestock Overseer's sister, who loaned me a graphic tablet, showed me the rudiments of Adobe Photoshop Elements, and kept insisting that it would be better to make a template. She was right. Many, many thanks are also due to my BFF who somehow always gets stuck helping me in the clutch.

*** My LSH came up with the name in about three seconds flat. I hemmed and hawed for three days and didn't come up with anything nearly as creative or clever.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

state of chaos

Everyone, please update your address books. It appears that we have moved here permanently.

It seems that getting our entire upstairs painted in one fell swoop was not enough crazy for us. We decided that the 80s-era pink carpeting had to go as well. This decision made perfect sense while we had everything torn up for the painting job. It turns out, however, that you cannot snap your fingers and get carpeting installed the next day, unless you are willing to settle for cardboard. We had to wait just long enough for sanity to be somewhat restored, and then rip it all out again.

Except this time, we decided to take things up a notch. This time, we had to empty every bedroom and the storage closet, all at the same time, plus all the bureau drawers. So let's take a little tour of our house, aka the asylum.

The family room and front hall:

DSCN0309 DSCN0310

The living room and dining room:

DSCN0311 DSCN0314

The boys' bathroom and our tub:

DSCN0315 DSCN0320

(To answer the inevitable question: there is no hardwood flooring under the carpet. The house was built in the 80s. There is just plywood, although we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the builder (who was also the original owner) had installed a noise barrier under the carpet. Given the bone-rattling noise my boys can generate up there, I can only imagine how much worse it would be without the soundproofing.)

My LSH was musing about the cost of getting fairies to come in and sprinkle fairy dust and magically get it all back together again. For my part, I have spent the past two days ranting and raving about how much junk we have (I may have even used the word "crap" once or twice) and threatening that only 50% will be allowed back in the rooms. This has caused widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth from my boys who, of course, don't play with 90% of it anyway.

And did I mention that I am taking the boys camping this weekend for Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival? Not quite sure how I'm going to pull that off. I need some of those magic fairies myself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Darn you, Pioneer Woman.

Darn you, Country Doctor's Wife.

Thanks to your blogs, I have learned never to be satisifed with my crummy pictures. No matter how poorly composed, no matter how badly lit, no matter how out of focus, you have taught me that through the magic of Photoshop, I should be able to fix them no matter what. (Plus I have also learned that I will never be as clever and witty as you, never never, but that is a little self-pitying blog entry for a different day.)

Before, I was just resigned to my photographic fate. Now, despite fiddling with backlight and frontlight and fill light and flashlight and stoplight and penlight, I am filled with the disquieting sense that I could be doing much so better, if only I knew how.

Never mind that I am still starting with the same crummy photos. I am convinced that has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Here's this morning's effort: a close-up of the ties on an antique umbrella swift we bought in Vermont this past summer. I love the way that the ties are all different; that's what made me fall in love with this swift. This was clearly a well-used tool, repaired with whatever was at hand as time went on.

Here is the original shot:


And here is my photoshopped version:


Yeah, I don't see much difference, either. But I'll probably continue to flail vainly away at my photographic efforts regardless, on the futile quest to transform them into something different altogether. Not unlike this blog, come to think of it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

free at last

It's officially over. Done. Finis.

As of tonight, I am no longer tutoring high school kids. I am sure this is especially good news for (1) those of you who have had to listen to me complain about it for the past few years, and (2) those of you who have been nagging me to quit for the past few years. You know who you are.

I will miss the kids -- well, some of them -- but I will not miss the weekend and evening hours. I will not miss working all day in my LSH's office to run out the door to work some more that evening. I will not miss trying to coordinate my schedule with my LSH's to make sure that one of us is available for sports and activity pickups. Most of all, I will not miss missing games and shows and concerts and, most especially, dinner with my family.

I have had to remind myself of this several times this past week, as tying up loose ends has become a bit trying. Is there ever a perfectly smooth and graceful exit out of a job? I guess the nature of leaving itself pretty much precludes everyone you are leaving from being all happy about the situation. If they were happy about the situation, then I guess that would be a pretty bad sign for you.

Long past time for me to start focusing on my contributions to the American Coopworth Registry booth at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival next weekend, plus the boys' entries into the various competitions. I have four days -- plenty of time, right? Please don't answer that. As usual, I am trying to warp the time/space continuum in my favor. At least I don't have to worry about tutoring as well.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

weed killer

As part of a course on pasture management I am currently taking (more about that some other time), we received this book:


After careful perusal, my LSH and I determined that we have significant populations of about 90% of the plants pictured in the book. Our property is a veritable weed haven, with healthy and vigorous populations that would have greatly simplified the job of the book's photographers: they could have come over here and knocked out the photos in a few short hours. My LSH proposed that the course managers pay us a small fee to have the attendees troop around and see the book's samples live and up close.

Our weed population has met its match, however. My LSH received a large and mysterious box via UPS on Wednesday. I am not sure how he restrained himself, but he managed to hold off on assembling it until last night.

The days of the weeds are officially numbered.


And the boys are suitably impressed -- just look at those faces and eyes, equipment like this is what kicks testosterone into high gear -- though they do keep a respectful distance.


They are also being kept busy maintaining the bucket and hose brigade, because my LSH is employing a take-no-prisoners approach.


Maybe "scorched earth" would be a even more fitting description of his method.


But he should be consulting the book a bit more often; those green shoots were not a weed! Not a weed!


I don't think the following was a weed, but to tell the truth, I can't tell at this point.


The best part, in my opinion, is the instruction manual. After cautioning the operator to always keep a fire extinguisher handy, it ends a long litany of various behaviors to be avoided by stating "If in doubt, don't do it."

Wise advice indeed. As a matter of fact, I have decided that this will be my mantra of advice for the boys' teenage years, as it is applicable to almost any situation a teenage boy might find himself in. I had my first opportunity to trot it out today when discussing some less-than-ideal behavior with Primo. Of course, the flaw is that the advice presumes that there will be doubt to begin with, but a mother has to have some sort of faith that her nagging and badgering all these years has made a dent in those egos. Let's hope it gets them through. I am starting to get a little worried, myself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

murder most foul

I have had this little stuffed red velvet lion, named Herbie, for as long as my memory serves. (All evidence to the contrary, my memory is sometimes longer than two days ago.) As far as Herbie goes, I think I got him as a gift from a little old Italian lady when I was around four years old. He has been accused of being worn out and ordinary and misshapen and even butt ugly, but he stuck with me through childhood moves to several states and another country; to all my college dorm rooms; and into marriage and all our various apartments and houses.

And today, Herbie came to the end of his long life, with his sawdust stuffing brain (that's how old he is! older than laws regulating the stuffing in children's toys!) spread all over my office floor. Don't look at the following photo if you have a weak stomach. It is quite disturbing.


This is the accomplice, who doubtless snuck up onto my chest of drawers, where Herbie lived in a place of honor, and brought him downstairs. From the look on her face, you can tell she is contemplating the fate of her next victim.


And here is the guilty party. Forget the "innocent until proven..." part. I found Herbie clutched in his jaws, as he unsuccessfully tried to hide his act under a cone of plastic.


I strongly suspect Dustry is trying to get back at me for the additional sentence he received today of five more days in the collar. He also peed all over the stairs and foyer floor. Apparently, it's war.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

dusty's date

Dusty had a date with destiny last Friday.

He was hoping for a date with the cute little pit bull that sits next to him in basic obedience class. But Destiny had other plans.

Destiny has decreed that he will never have a date with that cute little pit bull. (Besides, her date with destiny is May 4.)


Destiny has decreed that there is absolutely no running, jumping, or chasing sheep or boys during his recovery. You may not be able to see the boys frolicking in the distance in this picture, but Dusty can.


Destiny has also decreed that he must wear a head collar for five days so he doesn't lick his stitches. Destiny has no idea what a toll her demands are taking. He is a menace in the collar. He almost took Midge's head off last night by "accidentally" (he said) pinning her against the kitchen cabinets. We all have bruises on our legs and I am fearful for the new paint job.

Destiny may or may not also be known as the vet. Either way, Dusty's "line" now ends with Dusty. He is officially one of a kind.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

the family that runs together...

... hopefully goes to bed early and is too exhausted for the usual squabbles, begging for just one more story, refusing to shower, begging for five more minutes with lights on, and so on and so forth.

And that's just my LSH. Let's not even talk about what the boys do at bedtime.

The one-mile team:


We finished somewhere around 13 minutes. There may or may not have been some walking breaks (I'll never tell), but the finish was strong. My team partner tends to run best when he can hear people cheering him on.

The 5K team:


Finishing first, second, and second in their age brackets, respectively. (Not counting that guy in the background; haven't figured out how to control who my new camera focuses on yet.)

The first two were in the same age bracket. Primo is starting to feel Secondo breathing down his neck at the finish line. Luckily for Primo, he'll graduate to a new age bracket soon before he has to suffer the humiliation of having his younger brother beat his butt. His younger brother, of course, is living for that day.

My LSH is grateful that his recent fairly important birthday has catapulted him into a new age bracket. Now that he is competing against people who are mostly older than him, as opposed to much younger, he is finding that a medal is within his grasp. Hooray for old age!

Friday, April 17, 2009

frothy bloat

When you become a shepherd, you become acquainted with all sorts of sheep-specific terms to describe various illnesses. These terms are quite colorful and evocative.

Take "scours" for instance, which is the shepherding term for diarrhea. Quite apt, considering how a bout of that malady leaves you feeling. Or "scald", a form of sheepy athletes foot. Again, really makes you think that we just haven't been creative enough in naming our own afflictions.

For the last two days, we have been dealing with a terrible case of frothy bloat. Luckily for us, there is no human equivalent. Unluckily for the sheep who contracts it, it is often fatal. My LSH found her on her side and in distress early yesterday morning. Despite our best efforts throughout yesterday and today, to break up the foamy accumulation of gas in her rumen and get her digestive tract started up again, we were unsuccessful. We thought she had turned the corner last night but she steadily weakened and died earlier today.

Did I mention that farming really stinks sometimes?

We suspect the cause of her rumen upset was the heavy frost we had yesterday morning on the lush new clover just coming in. The ingestion of that seemingly-innocuous combination is apparently enough to kill a sheep. Now we know, although prevention may be tough.

All of our research has led us to a more troubling realization: the mix of forage in our pasture is probably too rich. Serious signs -- reduced fertility in our sheep, two cases of bloat -- are pointing to the pasture mix we bought from the local feedmill as the culprit. Our suspicions were bolstered by our neighbor, who told us she had a horse founder (a horsey gastrointestinal upset, again caused by overly-rich feed) on the same mix. If true, that means a whole mess of work to balance what we have with less rich grasses.

But at this point, I will do just about anything to avoid a repeat of the past 36 hours, even if it means pulling the damn plow myself.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

list making

Ten days since my last post? Really? Well, it has been quite an eventful week-plus.

My dad had a fairly big birthday on Monday.

I had a fairly big birthday on Tuesday.

We welcomed a new baby to the family on Wednesday.


(Extended family! Not my family. Good lord, my sanity would never be seen again, and right now it only makes periodic appearances.)

Terzo turned 5 on Thursday.


(Yes, it's his own Nintendo DS. See "sanity", above. See also, "tired and all parental resistance is gone" and "third child".)

Primo started his first job on Friday.


(Did I mention he is shopping in the MEN'S DEPARTMENT?!?!?)

LSH gave all three boys haircuts on Saturday.

We wrangled all three boys into suits on Sunday.


(More than gentle coercion may have been involved.)

I arranged the preschool co-op trip to the aquarium on Monday.

The kids went back to school on Tuesday.

And I went back to work today.

What hasn't happened: I haven't started skirting those fleeces to get them ready to sell. I haven't done much laundry. I haven't cleared all my LSH's office detritus from my dining room. I haven't started to get ready for Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I haven't balanced my checkbook. I haven't finished the baby blanket gift for the baby who was born six months ago. I haven't taken the boys to meet their new cousin. I haven't planted my peas. I haven't given the lambs their CDT shots. I haven't.... I haven't... I...

I have got to learn not to start these kinds of lists.

Monday, April 6, 2009

boy oh... man

I really don't know why I was so surprised. I think, deep down, I was just trying to avoid the truth. This little guy, pictured almost exactly 13 years ago:


is shopping in the men's department, as of today.

His feet have been bigger than mine for years now.

He went through a growth spurt recently, and has an inch (or maybe even two) on me at this point.

He skipped over an entire boys clothing size.

So why was I so unprepared? Denial of reality, most likely. Not that I am not proud of the man he is becoming. Not that I mind him growing out and away from me (well, maybe just a bit, if I am completely honest). Maybe it is just making me feel my age more than ever. Today is my very last day in my thirties, so perhaps that had an effect.

But given that outfit up above, who can blame the kid? I am just thankful that he still isn't picky about where he shops or the brands he buys -- although I don't think I will be able to get him into a sweater vest again (or any sweater, for that matter) for the next decade.

Or perhaps never.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

long way

My LSH and I at our college graduation dance, about *cough* eighteen *cough* years ago:


(Sorry about the quality; not sure what my scanner was picking up, because the original doesn't have those lines. The scanner did no favors with that smile, either. The passage of time has not dimmed my memory of unfairness over the fact that the photographer didn't give me any warning that I was supposed to be smiling; that is my "I am halfway to a smile" smile.)

And last Saturday, with a much better photographer but perhaps a bit less personal grooming and definitely no nail polish or tan, though the clothes are certainly more comfortable:


We've come a long way, baby... which way that is, it's probably best not to dwell on.

(slightly delayed) scenes from shearing

Well, Mr. Weekend Farmer, today is your lucky day. The painters are just finishing up in the office, my LSH and two older sons are on their way to DC, and my youngest is playing quietly for the moment.* Which taken all together means: I have a quiet moment to blog about our shearing day, exactly one week later. Who says I'm not behind?

Despite rain in the early hours of the morning, we were blessed with a pretty dry and temperate day. We had gotten the sheep in the barn the night before, and so everyone was nice and dry and in place. This is the first year in a long while that we have not had a ram on the farm; makes it much easier when we don't have to worry about segregation in the barn, and everyone can just be in one big group.

The shearing process itself went more smoothly than ever. Primo would catch and halter the next victim, my LSH would remove the sheep coat, and then we would wait until Hoyt Emmons, the shearer, finished with his current sheep.


As soon as the fleece was off, the sheep was moved to the side by my LSH, while my mom and I gathered the fleece and put it on the skirting table. While the esteemed members of the ISPSPP** removed the worst of the yuck that accumulates on a sheep, my LSH and I gave dewormer medication to and trimmed the hooves of the freshly-shorn sheep.

Nate camera 3-09 004

Meanwhile, Primo would be catching the next sheep, and so on and so forth... When we lifted our heads 90 minutes later, we were on the last sheep, and we had accumulated an impressive pile of bagged fleeces.

Nate camera 3-09 011

As previously mentioned, we deliberately kept a lid on the invites this year because I was in no position to pull off the barn-raising/meet-and-greet/reunion-ish event that it historically resembles. Last year we had over 40 people milling around that morning. This year it took my LSH and I an embarassingly long time to figure out that it had gone so much more quickly because there were so many fewer people there. Shocking, isn't it? It also helped that we only had nine sheep to shear, none were rams (who put up more of a fight on the shearing board), and fewer lambs to holler while their moms were being sheared.

Most importantly, the older boys are getting big and strong enough to lend a helpful hand, and the youngest boy can amuse himself on a pile of dirt for 90 minutes. Many of the photos are thanks to Secondo and his new-to-him camera; he and my mom are the ones responsible for making sure there were pictures of the event, and they did a great job.


* OK, true confession: he's playing on the Wii. But did I mention that he's being quiet?

** International Society of Professional Sheep Poop Pickers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

five alarm fire

It just gets better and better around here.

I woke up to the sound of rain gently falling outside. This is usually a most welcome sound, but this morning, all I could think was "My LSH is stuck in the woods with eleventy-million 7th graders, and all of the activities are outdoors. He is going to kill me for talking him into this."

My second thought was "Oh crap. I am helper mom today at Terzo's preschool co-op, and we are supposed to be celebrating his birthday." In my defense, it is not actually his birthday today (although he was a little confused), it is just the last day of school before his birthday during school break next week.

Dunkin' Donuts to the rescue again. After feeding farm animals, making lunch for Secondo, making coffee for workers, wiping down wet dogs, etc., I tore out the door to grab a few munchkins before heading to my helper mom duties. Just before I was due to report for school, I dimly realized that I had forgotten my cell phone at home. I didn't have time to run back for it, and I blithely thought along the lines of "I can live without it for 2.5 hours, right?"


As it so happens, about 45 minutes after I left the house, the painters were busy sanding away... and set off the smoke alarm. Not a big deal, except that our smoke alarm is connected to our security system.

They tried calling our house, but no one was home.

They tried calling my LSH, but his cell phone did not connect in the wilderness.

They tried calling my cell phone, and you know where that was.

And so they called out the fire company and state police.

About 30 minutes into my helper mom duties, the school received a call from my LSH's office manager. She was tracked down by the guy driving the fire truck (sometimes it helps to live in a small town) and she knew where I was. In his panic, my LSH had forgotten. I tore out of the school to head home. I knew I was in trouble when I passed the fire company's tanker truck, on its way back to the station.

Sure enough, the fire truck plus two state troopers were in my driveway, waiting for my arrival. The poor painters were stuck in the office, with the alarm wailing and Charlie barking away in the house. I spent the next 30 minutes apologizing non-stop: to the firemen, to the police, to the painters, to my LSH, to Charlie, to the painters again, to the security company, to the office manager (who, with her daughter, took over for me as helper mom). I don't think I will need to apologize to Terzo as he is no doubt really glad to have his gorgeous 18yo babysitter suddenly appear out of nowhere and take over for me. I only took a break from apologizing to take a quick shot of the fire truck making a K-turn in our driveway.


The disadvantage of living in a small town is that I will never, ever live this down. And should the memories of the town residents dim, you can be sure that my LSH's will not.

Apologies again, Mr. Weekend Farmer. Maybe I'll get to that shearing post tomorrow. Right now, I am going to go lie down with a cool compress on my forehead.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

hurry scurry

I have had the words "write a blog post about shearing, per Mr. Weekend Farmer's request" on my to-do list for the last three days. As you may have guessed from the title, this ain't that post. I will get to it soon, I promise! But for now, we are off to the races again here in more ways than one...

LSH left at 6:30 this morning for an overnight trip to the wilderness with Primo and the rest of the township's 7th grade class. Please send up a prayer for his sanity. Good thing I got up early, because...

The painters arrived at 7 am to repaint LSH's office. It will be a tight turnaround, but we think we can have the office open for business again at 11 am Monday morning. I had to serve them their morning cup of joe quickly, because...


Charlie required an emergency trip to the vet this morning, after partially removing one of his toenails last night. He is now on bed rest, and sporting a lovely bandage. After dropping him home, I had to rush to the preschool for pickup because...

Terzo had a playdate. This was actually the least stressful part of my day, despite the fact that I had to cook them lunch. They played together beautifully and stayed out of my hair while I baked because...

Secondo's class had a "Celebration of Learning" today, to present their combined knowledge of the State of New Jersey. This included food and drink representative of the state. He wanted to bring blueberries; after calculating the cost of several pints when one measly little pint* was $4, I settled for the one pint and figured the kids wouldn't eat that much. That wasn't good enough, because...


He had a fit about my stinginess. So during the playdate, I cobbled together a recipe for blueberry bread. It turns out that while there are a billion recipes for blueberry muffins, blueberry bread isn't quite as popular, and my mini-muffin pans are at someone else's house right now. I managed to turn out two loaves and made it to school with seconds to spare. I was really glad I busted my heinie to make two loaves, because...


This is how much was eaten. While I was distracted by talking to 4th graders about their projects, Terzo was stuffing himself with rice krispie treats in the shape of a horsehead (state animal) and washing them down with copious amounts of cranberry juice (grown in the outer coastal plain). I didn't really pay attention when he threw away his uneaten popcorn (grown all over the state), saying that he didn't feel well. This should have been a big warning, because...

Popcorn is what the kid lives on. Luckily, I DID listen when he urgently begged me to help him as he held his hands over his mouth. Equally luckily, the girl's bathroom was right across the hall and he managed to make it to a stall before relieving himself of the toxic combo of rice krispie treats plus cranberry juice. (Your mental picture of this event should include me balancing the blueberry bread platter in one hand while coaching the kid to hit the target with the other.) He's feeling fine now, without all that acid sloshing around. And now, I am rushing to get this post up, because...

I have to go to work. No wait! Breaking news. Work was cancelled, just as I was typing those last words. I am going to quickly publish this, because...

I think I will go put my feet up.

*ETA: I went back and checked the container, and it wasn't even a pint, it was a whopping 6 oz!