Friday, August 31, 2012

august bookstand

I had the advantage of vacation this month, and managed to move four books off my shelf. Maybe onto yours? Let me know if any of these catch your eye and I will send them along. (Donna, I will eventually get around to it, I promise.)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
Highly recommend. I might be a bit biased on this one. I picked it up to read to Terzo during vacation. I know that our days of me reading to him are numbered, so this experience was particularly bittersweet. Though it has 27 chapters, they are relatively short. We both enjoyed the book about the china rabbit who couldn't love, and many nights ended with him begging me for just one more chapter. At one point it seemed too terrible to go on, but we both wanted to finish, and we have talked about the themes several times since.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Highly recommend. Again, a bit of a bias. Primo read this a couple of years ago and loved it. He immediately handed it off to me but I read the first two pages and decided I wasn't in the mood for a Holocaust novel, but more fool me, because that isn't really what this book is about. Thank goodness I returned to it for my book club. The perspective is very unique, and I enjoyed the writer's style and found myself admiring many of his descriptions. It is not a quick read, but I was very glad that I gave this book another chance.

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
Highly recommend. I read her novel The Forgotten Garden last year, and truth be told, found the plot line to be a tad too unbelievable. This novel appealed more to me, probably because it was written about one of my favorite times (pre- and during World War II) in one of my favorite places (England), despite the gothic tones (not one of my favorite styles). The voluminous descriptions dragged on a bit at times, but the ending was a complete surprise and highly satisfying.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
Recommend. This book is not easy to follow, because it has multiple characters and jumps around in time and place. It was further complicated by the fact that I read half of it pool-side last year, and then forgot about it in the pool stuff bag until the beginning of this summer. Perhaps the fact that I could forget about a book for so long is a strike against it... but I was glad that I made the effort to pick up all the storylines again and finish it. The subject matter (slave-ownership in pre-Civil War America, particularly by black slave owners) is very thought-provoking, and some scenes of a slave's life were downright chilling.

Beautiful Girls: Stories, by Beth Ann Bauman
Meh. This collection of stories was a quick read, but there wasn't one story in which I really cared about the various protagonists or even what was going to happen to them. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a big fan of short stories to begin with, so this book started out with a strike against it, but there was nothing in here that made me sit up and take notice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

nothing but slop

I am still not caught up from our vacation and other summer commitments, and meanwhile the boys are still home. The beauty of living in a state where the kids have already returned to school is not lost on me at the moment.

There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but I am pretty sure that it is the headlight of the fast-approaching NJ Sheep & Fiber Festival, taking place next weekend. I haven't made much progress in that direction since the last time I posted, with the exception of wandering around in circles in a blind panic.

The only thing I have really accomplished is more "cooking" for the pigs.

This concoction is:
  • expired flavored yogurt (the date on it was about one month past where I would have made my kids eat it because any bacteria growth would be good practice for their immune systems);
  • stale marshmallows hardened past the point of no return;
  • seedy overgrown cucumbers (because cucumber-yogurt salad, very summery);
  • slightly moldy jam; and 
  • barbecue sauce (the irony was not lost on me but hopefully not recognized by the pigs).
It reminds of that game best played by third-graders, where you mixed up the most bizarre combination of disgustingness and dared your friends to eat it. That someone would eventually appreciate my talents in this regard is further proof that you never know when certain life experiences will come in handy, especially when you take up farming.

Friday, August 24, 2012

burned upon re-entry

Vacation recovery has been unusually hectic this year, so much so that my poor LSH spent the first part of the week swearing that he will never go away again. This is the first night that we sat down to a home-cooked meal as a family, and actually got to talk about what is going on, which is a pretty long stretch for us.

One of the things that has been on the back burner is this box:

I found it on the front porch when I returned after the first day of 4-H fair. Since I spent that night worrying about the rest of the family being swept away by rain, it didn't get opened that night...

Or the next few days...

Actually it was a few weeks before I finally realized that it was still sitting in the corner of my office, unopened! I finally got to it yesterday. It is processed fleece from Ozark Carding Mill, from several fleeces I had dropped off at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May. Nice quick turn-around!

I tried taking pictures of the beautiful roving inside but I didn't have enough time to do them justice. Some of it is already downstairs in the basement, being made into pincushions for the NJ Sheep & Fiber Festival in two short weeks... ack!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

vacation in virginia

We were vacationing in Virginia this past week... the last three posts were written before our departure. We had such a packed vacation that I wished I could have blogged about it daily, but I only had the ipad with me and it doesn't work well with Blogger, so I went with the original plan.

We stayed on the Shenandoah River, in a little town called Shenandoah, not too far from Shenandoah National Park. At least I only had to learn how to spell one word.

We were on a river, of course, because all four boys wanted to fish and canoe and otherwise frolic in the water. I am perfectly content to knit while they do, so it is a win-win situation.

We did a whistle-stop tour of Virginia history in that area, including three Civil War battlefields, the University of Virginia, Robert E. Lee's Chapel and Monticello.

The boys now have a deep understanding of the man memorialized in the statue above. Quite unplanned, we ended up visiting:

  • the first Civil War battle he fought at (Manassas/Bull Run) where he got his nickname; 
  • the college he taught at (Virginia Military Institute) where his taxidermied Civil War mount still stands;
  • the college where he met and married his first wife (Washington & Lee University); and
  • the only house he ever owned (with his second wife, in Lexington).
They could go on Jeopardy and demolish any category with Stonewall Jackson as the subject.

When we weren't learning about Virginia history, we were hiking in the National Park. My favorite spot was this abandoned Episcopal mission. We could just make out the stone entry steps and the outline of the stone building. We were unable to locate the cemetery, though we discovered later we were looking in the wrong place. 

The building in the picture was the residence of the mission workers. For some reason, it was not destroyed like most of the residences in the park. It brought home the expense of building the park to all the people who lived there prior to its inception, who were forced off the land against their will.

In all that hiking, we came across deer, birds and an amazing variety of beautiful butterflies, but luckily no bears. We saw this young one on Skyline Drive from the vantage of our car. 

All in all, a relaxing and informative vacation. Hopefully it primed the boys' brains for the start of school in less than three weeks. They were glad they don't live in Virginia, though, where they noticed that school starts this week! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

a most delicious slop

I have found a new culinary outlet: cooking for the pigs.

My inspiration came from this pot full of overripe zucchini.

That, and the fact that the boys are really getting hammered on the pig feed with the rising cost of corn. Since I pointed out that free produce helps fill those hungry pork bellies (and in a most nutritious way), they have been diligent about picking up the leftovers from the farm stand on the corner, and even raiding their dumpster for anything salvageable. Rumors are going to start flying that we don't feed our children.

I decided to help them out by experimenting with some of the excess produce in our own kitchen, which the pigs would never touch raw. A little chopping (size irrelevant), with some almost-but-not-quite rotten carrots, a bunch of potato peelings, and a little water and salt into a very large pot.

Cooked for about 30 minutes, until everything was softened up. Let cool on back porch overnight, with lid on to discourage a raid by the dog. In the morning, mixed in every questionable vintage sauce I could find in the fridge: this one had dumpling sauce, sweet and sour sauce, spaghetti sauce and some fading salad thrown in for a bit of crunch.

Fed to the most appreciative audience I have ever had.

Did you see it? The one pig practically swooned from the pleasure of eating it. I've never had that reaction to my cooking.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

misplaced eggs

We recently acquired two new chickens, to replace the two the fox got earlier this spring. Our last remaining chicken was very happy to have new friends. We had insisted that she remain locked up at all times, because she won't come back to the coop and roost so we can lock her up at night. She was very frustrated with us, and was crowing like a rooster every morning (at 5:30 am, natch) until we finally found company for her.

The new hens are still babies, only four months old. We had to wait until they were almost full-grown so the established hen wouldn't injure them. She bosses them around, but for the most part they get along just fine.

The problem quickly became evident: no eggs. We went from an egg every other day or so from the older hen, to no eggs at all. The new hens were on the cusp of laying, but we waited for their contributions in vain.

Until last week, when we finally thought to check the top of the roost. Nothing up there but cleaning tools, chicken ointment, oyster shells... and eggs.

The one left there this morning illustrates what an inhospitable place it is for laying eggs, but that doesn't seem to bother them. I lined the nest box with fresh straw in the hope that they will switch. For now, we will have to keep the ladder in the coop to facilitate the search.

Monday, August 13, 2012

cucumber tomato salad

Our garden is producing little else than cucumbers and giant zucchini (can't seem to catch them at the small stage). Oh, and lots and lots of green tomatoes. That's what I get for planting a garden in the middle of June.

What to do with a ton of cucumbers? Make cucumber tomato salad, of course, using fresh tomatoes from the gardens of wiser farmers.

This salad is utterly simplistic but still deserves a shout-out this time of year.

Start with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, in a 2-to-1 ratio. About 1/3 C olive oil and 1/6 C vinegar is a good start. The veggies add their own juice. Beat with a fork, and add some sea salt for flavoring. That's all the flavor you'll need.

The salad is best if the seeds are removed from the cucumbers. Chop into half-inch cubes, and mix into the dressing so the cucumbers can start to absorb the oil and vinegar.

No substitute for a fresh Jersey tomato, ripe off the vine... Chop in the same size pieces as the cucumbers, and mix in. I try for an even ratio of cucumbers to tomatoes.

The salad isn't very photogenic, so you'll have to take my word that what it's lacking in visuals, it makes up for in taste.

You can let it set in the fridge, or eat it fresh. I think it is even better the next day. When you are done with the salad, don't throw away the leftover dressing! It makes a great meat marinade.

Friday, August 10, 2012

champion blanket

Amy asked to see the fancy-dancy embroidered show blanket that Lambykins won on Wednesday:

Once it's unfolded, though, you can see that she has a little growing to do. In fact, her little body is about half as long as the blanket, and her little legs won't keep the sides off the ground.

Truthfully, she will never fit in it. It is made for a more traditional show sheep, such as a Romney or Hampshire, and her genetics just don't run to that kind of size. Thank goodness! But it also means that her size of sheep can rarely beat the bigger ones in a show ring. Most sheep judges tend to pick the biggest sheep in the ring, and it is a wise bet when ordering a supreme champion blanket to get a large one.

We will have to do some creative tailoring so her showmen can parade her around it in though.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I took the boys down to their favorite invitational sheep show today. An invitational show is one where the 4-H kids from one county invite all other 4-Hers to come and compete in their show.

This sheep club, like ours, like many across NJ (and perhaps the nation?), is shrinking. Kids are graduating the program but new ones are not coming along with new sheep and new interest. The kids that are left increasingly rely on invitational shows to round out the numbers and provide a good show for everyone involved, including the judge.

I have been trying to figure out why there seem to be so many fewer kids getting involved in livestock. Perhaps it is the recession putting such pressure on families that having a small flock is a luxury that cannot be indulged? With the cost of hay and grain, I can certainly understand this. The stagnant real estate market may also be playing a part. Whatever the cause, I am starting to get worried about our own livestock club. We have no problem attracting kids who want to own chickens and rabbits. But goats and sheep, that is a leap that many are not taking.

Back to the show... It is in deepest south Jersey, almost Delaware actually, but my boys, the sheep, and two extra kids were ready to go at 7:30 am on the dot. They had a great show, and Lambykins actually won Supreme Champion Ewe! Unfortunately I cannot find the camera cable to download the pictures of some very happy boys.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

that's one way to wake up

Primo has been skunked with the work situation this summer. Last summer he worked almost non-stop for two local farmers. This year, the work dried up. When his friend called to ask if he wanted to substitute for a co-worker, Primo jumped right on it.

The catch: he would be picked up at 6 am.

He is desperate enough that this wasn't a deterrent. To be fair, he is an early riser anyway.

The first day was yesterday. He got himself and a packed lunch out the door on time, but left his farm chores for Secondo to do. Secondo was none too pleased, and declared that Primo was not pulling the same stunt again. So this morning, Primo got up even earlier and stumbled out in the fog to do his chores.

He was in the barn, filling up the grain buckets, when a large something shoved into the back of his legs.

He refuses to confess what he raced through his mind. He will only admit that he went from half-asleep to completely awake in no time flat.

Of course it was a sheep. Jasmine, one of the show sheep in the small paddock, had somehow escaped the charged fence during the night—we still have no idea how. He didn't see her in the barn; she must have been behind it grazing, and just followed him through the open door. It took him a bit to catch her and put her back where she belonged, but probably no longer than it took for his heart to stop racing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

on the move

We spent some time moving around sheep today. It's that time of year when fresh pasture is hard to come by, but I am not complaining. Compared to the central US, where the pictures of the drought are so unbelievably tragic, we are doing just fine.

The first move was to put the ram lambs in the front, under the willow tree. I thought about haltering all of them but in the end it was too hot and humid and I was too lazy. I figured we would corral them and move them once the fence was set up. Secondo and I pulled up all the white electronet fencing and set out for the front. To our amazement, the ram lambs trailed along behind us. Unfortunately no picture, but Terzo said it looked like a parade as they obediently followed us right to where we wanted them.

Job one, check! Maybe they thought it was just too hot to put up a fuss, and they were ready for some fresh grass. If our sheep know anything, they know two things for sure: (1) green bucket means grain; and (2) electronet being moved means fresh grass.

The sheep that were at county fair last week were quarantined in the barn; we let them out in the small paddock two days ago. Thanks to the ram lamb relocation, more electronet was freed up and I was able to make a small pasture in the unmowed grass around the paddock.

They were obviously very happy have some better grass. We didn't see their noses for a good hour as they pigged out. That's Lambykins in the front right; you can see what a solid little thing she is!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

setting up

I mentioned that Lambykins was giving Terzo the business while he was trying to show her at fair... his arm bears the proof.

See the little points on her hooves in that bruise? She knocked him down and stepped on his arm while he was trying to position her with her legs lined up in a square, known as "setting up" the sheep. She took advantage of his crouched down position and went for the escape. He didn't choose her "on the lam" convict costume for nothing!

Being the well-trained farm kid that he is, he never let go of the halter, though he did have a hard time keeping her under control once she sensed freedom was at hand.

Primo eventually stepped in and held her head (which goes a long way toward controlling a sheep) so Terzo could concentrate on the proper placement of her legs. At his level, it didn't matter that he had help.

It takes a lot of practice to set up a sheep properly! The advantage of having a cooperative sheep can't be overstated, either.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I started a tradition after fair two years ago, of writing a little note to each 4-H club member. I tell them at least one positive thing that I noticed about their efforts over the weekend. It is a great exercise for me, to focus on the contributions that each kid is making. Some are more subtle than others, but all of them have done at least one thing! It helps me remember why I think they are such a great bunch of kids, even if they do drive me nuts upon occasion.

Plus, I figure, who doesn't like getting things in the mail?

(On a side note, this whole postal service mess has me quite worried. They just cleaned out the sorting equipment from our post office in town, having moved that function to a larger facility. It looks so empty in the back now... I am praying that our little office stays put, because it is the linchpin of our main street. And in light of my recent experience with UPS, I shudder to think what happens if the USPS is privatized.)

The muse struck me tonight, and I have been scribbling away on my fair notes. I keep my eye out all year for suitable cards, and I love the correspondence cards I turned up this year in the clearance bin at Michaels:

Clockwise from left, the quotes at the top say:
  • "Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions." (Albert Einstein)
  • "Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling." (Margaret Lee Runbeck)
  • "A warm smile is the universal language of kindness." (William Arthur Ward)

They are similar to a postcard, but with an envelope. As with all good stationary, they make the process of writing each one a delight. The fact that I paid 99 cents for a pack of 8 makes them even more enjoyable!

Writing an old-fashioned note is an art form that doesn't deserve to be lost. Go ahead... send a note to someone today. Not a text, not an e-mail. Help to keep the tradition alive, for a little while longer at least.