Tuesday, July 31, 2012

july bookstand

Two from my bookshelf this month. Woot! The third was for my bookclub, so I had no choice but to read something else. It was a great month, too, in terms of the books.

My Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs
Highly recommend. A nonfiction account by a secular man (he identifies himself as Jewish, but experienced very little religious tradition growing up) who decides to spend a year following the Bible as closely as possible. As part of his quest, he seeks out experiences in a wide variety of religious traditions, both Jewish and Christian. I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, but it is one of the few that I am tempted to go back to the beginning and read it again, right away. His writing style, in particular, made it a very enjoyable yet thought-provoking book.

Tomorrow They Will Kiss, by Eduardo Santiago
Highly recommend. The story of three women from the same town in Cuba, after they emigrated to the United States in the 1960s and work together at a doll factory in Union City, NJ. The story is told through the points of view of all three women, and the author artfully blends and builds the story using their different perspectives.

The Tenth Song, by Naomi Ragen
Recommend. This was my book club selection. The story of a Jewish family torn apart by scandal, some of the plot lines were a bit too outrageous to swallow whole. However, I did enjoy the mystical parts of the book relating to the youngest daughter's journey to Israel. Unfortunately it paled beside the other two, but it is a fairly quick and enjoyable read.

Monday, July 30, 2012

county fair, county fair

Everybody in town wasn't there, at least on Saturday, because it poured and poured and poured some more, even before the deluge on Saturday night. Turns out I couldn't have returned, even if I tried, because the road into the fairgrounds was closed. Several people who didn't intend to spend the night there ended up having no choice!

We jinxed ourselves with the giant sheep show. The last time the fairgrounds flooded, we had 20 sheep coming for the invitational sheep show. This year, we had 40. I should have known. We were almost done with the entire sheep show on Saturday morning, and the fairgrounds had to be evacuated because of lightning. Back the sheep went into their pens for 45 minutes, until we were eventually able to finish up.

Due to all the crazy, did I get a picture of Primo and his Best in County Yearling Ewe? No I did not. The best I have is a picture of him helping out his little brother, who was getting the business from his wild little ewe lamb, Lambykins.

This was truly Primo's year, though in very subtle ways. He was the bedrock of our family and farm getting ready and out the door in a timely manner, anticipating what needed to be done and helping me with all kinds of organizational tasks. He worked his tail off all weekend, setting up the sound system, putting up rain flaps, taking down rain flaps, setting up for the sheep show, cleaning up after the sheep show, organizing a line dancing activity for club members (yes, he did, Aunt Paula! using steps he printed off the internet before the show...)

But the most impressive to me was the sheep shearing demonstration his friends and he did for the public. George was in charge of the shearing, and Alex (with some help from George's sister) kept up a spontaneous running commentary about the process, the results, various things that could be done with a sheep's fleece, and anything else that came to mind, with absolutely no assistance from an adult.

They are both 16. It blows me away.

In addition to the undocumented sheep showing, we had some goat showing:

No, we don't have goats, but now my kids wish we did!

Terzo's costume, which he designed himself, was also a big hit, once he finally got to present it on Sunday (costume contest was rained out on Saturday):

Sheriff Terzo and on-the-Lam(bykins) took second place.

The goat milking contest was also a hit, as always. 

No winners in our family this year, but look at that concentration!

Now all we need to do is finish a heap of wet laundry (everything got soaked on Saturday night, including all the sleeping bags), dry out the tents, and get back to something resembling normal after another great—but exhausting—county fair.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

soggy fair night

I am home, watching the radar map on weather.com scroll a horrendous thunder storm across the fairgrounds. My poor LSH is there with the boys tonight; per fair tradition, my shift was last night.

Apparently the flooding is almost as bad as it was three years ago (pictures here). The kids are safe in the park's visitor center, and the animal tent is holding its own. The storm should be on its way out soon, and hopefully they will be able to get a good night's sleep despite the wet start.

Ugh. I feel so powerless. I want to get in the car and drive back up, but they are adamant that they (and I) should stay put in our respective locations.

So here I sit, refreshing the weather radar map every five minutes and texting them updates on their situation, praying that they will be relatively safe and dry in their sleeping tents, which are located on much higher ground than the show tents. Not really sure how much sleep any of us will be getting tonight.

Friday, July 27, 2012

couldn't do it

The first night of fair, which is tonight, is always a potluck dinner. In past years I have done giant batches of pulled pork or sloppy joes, but I told myself I was doing enough this year. I was going to bring a huge bowl of coleslaw (pre-shredded cabbage, mix from the store) and a huge bag of chips and that was it.

I couldn't do it.

I caved around 2 pm today, at the thought of showing up to a potluck with 4 hungry boys/men and no meat. I ran to the store and picked up baked beans and hot dogs. Beanie weenies are now cooking in the crockpot on high. It is meat in the loosest sense of the word but at least I don't feel like I will be showing up empty-handed. Or no-meated. Whatever.

Same way that I couldn't let the last post stand as my final word before fair.

I really do enjoy fair, and the kids in the club, and the parents of those kids, and the entire weekend. It can be a bit overwhelming and very stressful, true. At the end of it, though, there is a feeling of great accomplishment that really can't be beat.

Now, if I can just get from here to there without any major meltdown, we should be good. We'll start with putting some sheep on a trailer, and hope the rest goes smoothly. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

almost at the fair

Hard to believe that tomorrow we will be at fair. We didn't get as many exhibit entries done as we usually do, but it has just been one of those years. My children and I are perilously close to burn-out and so I did my best not to push. The sheep were non-negotiable, but even in that regard, we have significantly scaled back. We did pick up an extra lend-a-lamb kid, which is a bit more work for us, but Primo has been a huge help in making it work.

Picking up extra kids is the name of the game this time of year. I try not to get too ratty about the parent that bums a ride off me for their kid because they are so, so busy, only to be asked when dropping the kid off "just to take them to the neighbor's house, because we at a little party down there."


My LSH tells me I have to put my foot down about such advantage-taking. I would hate to jeopardize a kid's participation just because their parents don't make it a priority to get them there, however. I do it all the year round, but it is this time of year when it tends to bug me the most. Things worm their way under my skin more easily when I am stretched thin. But if I am totally honest here, the chatter and laughter of a carload of kids goes a long way to easing any temporary annoyance.

One more day and we will move the farm up to the fairgrounds... two more days and the largest 4-H sheep show in NJ will be done (seriously, over 50 entries, it has to be some sort of record)... three more days and the milking contest, costume contest, goat show, rabbit show, poultry show, round robin contest, you name it, will be finished and all ribbons and trophies and miscellaneous recognitions handed out.

And then we will be back home, and it will be all over and done with for another year.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

list upon list

It is that week, the week that every 4-H leader and parent (and I think even member) dreads:

Pre-fair week.

Not enough time, and too much to do. Stress levels very, very high despite an effort on my part to keep the expectations at a reasonable level. Patience and energy at a very low ebb. Coping skills in short supply when they are most desperately needed. Memory completely gone.

The last problem led to this state of affairs on my desk this afternoon:

Not just one list. Four separate ones going at once: one for normal household stuff, one for 4-H fair issues, one for Coopworth sheep show issues (a whole different show, happening in September, because I am a glutton for punishment apparently), and one for things that I was trying to get done yesterday. 

I am still working on yesterday's list. I am not as efficient as I think I should be.

Despite all these lists, I managed to forget a rather important thing this morning. I was supposed to be on call to open up my LSH's office, and when I was actually called, I was thirty minutes away, doing something completely different. 

At least come hell or high water (and hopefully neither one, actually), the fair list will go away this weekend. With any luck, my sanity will not disappear with it, but it's always a close call.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

unusual delivery

Apparently, I have a reputation.

Forget dropping off stray cats at our house. People have now taken to dropping off stray fiber.

We first became aware of its existence when my in-laws reported that someone had left a bag of vegetables hanging on our mailbox. That actually wouldn't have been unheard of, but I cannot imagine what vegetables resemble the contents of that bag. In their defense, however, who on earth would have thought that someone would have left a bag of fiber hanging on a mailbox? It is so outside the paradigm of expected deliveries that I can understand the confusion.

Turns out it is llama fiber from my neighbor down the street, confirmed when I ran into her at the supermarket today. Now, what to do with it? In a three steps forward, one step backwards sort of fashion, it ended up in the basement while I decide.

May as well get it washed while I am figuring it out.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

fleece fate

Amy raised a good question in her comment on yesterday's post. I realized I never explained where this fleece was going.

We had an odd year as far as fleeces. Usually we sell our fleeces raw, i.e., straight off the sheep, to people who want to process it themselves. One or two fleeces may get processed into roving, which is the stage of fleece right before it is spun into yarn, but that is not our main seller.

This year, however, we only sold one raw fleece before Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. I would usually keep the fleeces through the summer and work on marketing them, with the remainder going to be sold at Rhinebeck. Since I will probably be missing Rhinebeck this year (sob!!!), and I have developed quite a few products that I need roving for, I dropped five fleeces off to Gail at Ozark Carding Mill, since she was at Maryland doing pick-up.

Four will be made into roving, to go into pincushions and sheep pins and felted soap, as well as to be sold to spinners. The last one will be millspun into yarn; I can't wait to see that result.

This batch has an entirely different purpose. These fleeces were problem fleeces. One had a weakness in the wool, because its owner Kalista had become very ill with worms last summer. When sheep are stressed, their wool can be affected at that point. This meant it was not suitable to be made into roving for spinners. Jasmine's fleece was somewhat sun-faded, and though several people had considered purchasing it, no one did. I took this as a sign. The last  batch was the skirtings from our ram's fleeces, which were clean but rather coarse so again not suitable for spinning.

All of this fleece will be combined and made into felted wool sheets. A fellow shepherd in Oregon makes the most wonderful wool insoles from the felt, and I am going to try this product as well.

The last product is, of course, the blended roving from Hermione's fleece and the alpaca. The alpaca will lend the Coopworth fleece some softness, while the Coopworth will provide loft and strength to the alpaca. I hope that spinners will find it irresistible.

So, a long answer to a short question! I will share the results as they arrive back from the mills. At the moment, I am enjoying the sensation of having 16+ pounds of wool gone from the basement. Unfortunately there is still quite a bit left down there... Operation "Get Fleece Out of Our House" continues.

Friday, July 20, 2012

it's outta here

Finally, the fleece project without end was shipped off.

Now it is no longer my problem. It is the mill's problem. What a relief! And a tremendous sense of accomplishment too. I have birthed lambs, held sheep while their blood was drawn, sheared them (badly), treated them for any number of ailments and problems, skirted and picked fleeces for hours upon end... but I now feel like a "real" fiber farmer since I washed a few of their fleeces. I can't explain it, probably because it makes no sense.

I did learn a little lesson in the shipping. The box was, obviously, massive, and came in just shy of 20 pounds. The fleece was going to a mill in Oregon because the felting came very highly recommended by someone who should know. I figured that UPS was probably my better bet, because how could so many people be wrong?

I should back up and explain that, in spite of this little defection, I am a massive fan of the United States Postal System. I find their website extremely easy to use and very accurate when I am quoting shipping prices to customers. I love our little quaint downtown post office, with red geraniums in the windows, even though the parking situation is a bit tricky.

Even the clerks are wonderful, though I do acknowledge that is not necessarily the norm at your run-of-the-mill post office. Case in point: a few years back, we used to mail out documents for my LSH's office every Saturday. One week my father went with Primo to do the errand for me. The clerk asked if he wanted delivery confirmation, and he didn't know. She asked: "Is this your grandson?" When he said yes, she replied, "Then you don't want it."

So I am very loyal to my post office. I try to do everything I can to keep it going. I mail every piece of mail possible through it, because one of the metrics of post office health is letter volume. I buy all my stamps there, and ship all my packages there, and just generally try to be one of their best customers, in spite of the knowledge that the institution itself doesn't seem to care one way or the other (one of its failings, I suppose).

When I went to the UPS shipping center though, I received comeuppance for my disloyalty. Almost $70 in shipping, and it would arrive next Thursday or Friday. Reeling with shock and the weight of that box, I staggered back out to the car to assess my options. Back home with the package in tow, I went online to my old friend, the postage meter calculator. I think my mouth dropped open when I saw the price for parcel post: $24.92.

So back to my old haunt I went, where one of my favorite clerks assured me that my calculations were correct, and moreover, it would arrive around Thursday or Friday. 

Lesson learned: I will never cheat on the USPS again. But I did spring for the insurance. I may be loyal, but I'm not stupid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

final fleece

Thanks for all the comments, calls and e-mails I got regarding my fleece drying issues! You were all most helpful with my dilemma. I think the biggest problem was that I was washing in big batches, and the fleeces weren't spread out enough to allow the air to circulate. The towels on the bottom weren't helping. Through much attention to fiber rotating, I am almost done.

The last fleece is a very different sort. I had a special fleece from last year, from Hermione, that unfortunately had felted under the sheep coat. Those things are a double-edged sword. They do a great job of keeping the chaff and dirt out, but they can sometimes cause even bigger problems.

The fleece was so beautiful under the mat, and it was her last fleece, so I carefully cut off the mat, lock by lock. I decided that fleece deserved special treatment, so I went looking for the right fleece to blend with it.

I found it just down the road, at Windy Hill Alpaca Farm. Too bad pictures can't do justice to the feel. I can't even think of a good way to describe how wonderfully soft it is.

It was unskirted, so I ended up going through it, also lock by lock. Funny that the two fleeces required the same careful handling. I can think of many worse ways to spend an hour than sorting through an alpaca fleece, however.

I was fairly confident I could handle the washing process given all my recent on-the-job training. It was actually one of the easier ones, since I didn't have the lanolin to deal with. I did discover that alpaca fleece does a masterful job of hiding dirt, however. That thing was filthy.

Jackie, the owner, did a great job of matching the colors. The alpaca is the front fleece, with Hermione's washed Coopworth fleece in the back.

This is going to make one gorgeous pin-drafted roving.

Monday, July 16, 2012

fleece drying machine

Namely, I need one. If such a thing even exists?

I finished washing the last of the fleeces today (more on that one tomorrow) but I am having a devil of a time getting them dried out. Allow my camera to illustrate the problem:

That's what happened when I took the camera from the cool house out to the front porch to take a picture of the fleeces trying to dry out there. The humidity level is crazy.

Here's what they actually look like, once the camera had a chance to acclimatize. The one in the back has been drying out since I finished washing it last Friday!

I am hopeful—perhaps overly optimistic is a better way to put it—that the fleeces will be done drying tomorrow, and I can get them shipped out by Wednesday at the latest. What a relief it will be to put them into someone else's hands!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

fleece washing machine

I am waaaaaayyyyy overdue on getting the last of the fleeces shipped out to the processor. Part of the problem is how long it is taking me to wash the dang things. I have two fleeces done (although one is still drying) and one in process, with one more to go.

I must be incredibly inefficient at this, because I cannot for the life of me understand why I wouldn't pay someone else to do it. Not that I am made of money, but the time I am spending washing them is taking away, in a major way, from getting anything else done around here.

As I said, though, maybe it's just me?

The process has been helped along somewhat by the incredibly helpful tip I received, from two different people, to soak the fleece for several hours in cool water prior to starting the process. As you can see, quite a bit of dirt is removed this way, and what is left is considerably loosened for further removal efforts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


A berry bush, thought long lost to drought and neglect, suddenly came to life this year with a vengeance. It had been so long since we planted it, we even forgot what kind of berry bush it is. No doubt now.

Yep, they are as delicious as they look.

Luckily, there's plenty more where that came from, and I even managed to get it netted so we can enjoy most of the crop. It's a welcome treat at the end of garden watering duties.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

back to three

We picked up the older two boys from camp yesterday. I wish I had some beautiful illustrative pictures but I forgot to bring my camera to drop-off last Monday. I drove up with two other moms and their sons, both good long-time friends of Primo and Secondo respectively. It was a lovely social drive but we barely fit the kids and their gear in the car; Terzo had to stay at home because there wasn't enough room for him. It was a "thin mint" sort of situation and I would like to think that I forgot my camera due to the space issues and not my increasingly forgetful brain. 

Luckily camp looked the same but if you haven't seen pictures you can go here or here.

For pick-up yesterday, the car was relatively empty, but our minds were full (and our hearts heavy) with a different situation. Though we had the camera, we didn't get too many pictures. This one shot of a grubby Secondo on the porch of his cabin is just about all we managed.

The house is once again full of the clutter and chatter of three. Terzo had his last week alone with me, since he will be old enough to go to camp next year. I savored every minute of the week: playing board games, taking him on outings, watching his choice of movies, and just generally enjoying him to my heart's content. He was a little morose on Monday about the prospect of being without "the guys" (his term) for the week, but by the end, declared it was the best week of his life. Success!

Monday, July 2, 2012

catching fireflies

What else to do on a lovely summer night? Though there don't seem to be as many this year as last. I hope it is just due to my poor powers of observation, and not a worrisome trend in the general firefly population. 

Seems just about everything is a cause for more worry these days.

Sorry for the downer of the post. It didn't start out that way! Just generally indicative of how the past few weeks have been going for so many around us. Yet another worrisome trend.