Sunday, September 30, 2012

september bookstand

Only two books this month. It has been very hectic around here and most of my reading time has been devoted to catching up with The New Yorker again, because the pile was getting a little out of control.

My absolute favorite gem was "Marathon Man" about faux-runner Kip Litton. I was so fascinated by this tale that I read it twice, then made my LSH read it so we could talk about how he did it. You can read the article for free here, and please let me know if you have any insights on his methodology! Or psychology, for that matter. None of the books came close to that article, unfortunately.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson
Highly recommend, especially if you have ever lived overseas and returned to the US and tried to assimilate again. I always enjoy Bryson's work, and these tales especially resonated as my family went through the same transition (UK to US) in the late 80s.

The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee
Somewhere between a recommend and a meh. This book is often compared to The English Patient, and the comparison is a valid one for me. I was lukewarm about that book, and felt the same way about this one.   Certain parts of the story—really key, critical parts that entire plot lines hinged on—were glossed over in a most unsatisfactory way. The historical information about the fate of Hong Kong and its inhabitants during WWII was quite interesting however, and saved the book from being a total meh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

these little piggies went to market

Today was the day. It's been circled in red on our calendar for some time now. Today was the day the pigs were scheduled to go to the butcher.

Ever since the boys got the pigs—heck, since before the boys got the pigs—one of my biggest concerns was this particular aspect of the operation. I had no idea how it was going to work, loading four 200+ pound animals onto the trailer.

I had heard many, many horror stories. My personal favorite was the neophyte hog farmers that put the trailer in the pasture with the pigs a week before the butcher date, per conventional wisdom, to give the pigs plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the trailer. They put the pig feed onto the trailer, so the pigs happily hopped in and out all week long. Come butcher day, the pigs went in, the farmers closed the trailer doors, hooked up the truck, and went to pull the trailer down the road... only to discover that the trailer had four flats. In addition to learning how to go in and out of the trailer, the pigs had also spent the week destroying the trailer tires.

It's not too much of a stretch to say that I was dreading our own experience. Due to our set-up, we had no way to get the pigs used to the trailer ahead of time, even if we did have some way to ensure they wouldn't eat the tires.

A wise pig-farming friend advised us to load the pigs the night before, so the boys would be home to help. We had to wait until my LSH's office closed at 7 pm because we did not want an audience. With the light fading fast, the younger two filled the back of trailer with "bait" of freshly-shucked sweet corn, a watermelon, and tomatoes. Pig ambrosia.

Meanwhile, Primo backed the trailer into the pig catch pen, that I had insisted (very wisely, as it turned out) the boys build before the pigs arrived. I will admit here that it only took him two tries to back it in perfectly.

He secured the door to the loading gate... they put the pigs into the catch pen... and then the struggle was on. This is the point at which I had to put the camera down and assist with the trailer door. Despite the treats in the trailer, the pigs quickly decided they wanted nothing to do with getting inside. The boys brought in sheep panels to reduce the size of the catch pen, but the pigs still resisted mightily. I have to hand it to the boys, this was their project and they saw it through to the end. One by one, they got those pigs onto the trailer against the pigs' better judgment (very wisely, as it turned out).

I made the trip to the butcher by myself this morning. I was a little worried about getting the pigs off the trailer once I got down there (very wisely, as it turned out). It only took me five tries to get the trailer backed into the holding barn—a personal best— but once the trailer doors were opened, the pigs were adamant that as much as they didn't want to get in, they wanted to get out even less. With as much power as I could muster, I helped push them off the trailer, and if you have ever tried to push a pig anywhere, you will know that this is no small amount of power.

Mission accomplished by 8 am. Insert sigh of relief here.

I had the rest of the day to reflect that I am one tough mother, and my boys aren't too shabby themselves. I am having a well-deserved glass of wine tonight to celebrate those facts!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

mister no name

The ram lamb is doing fine but I still don't have a picture and he still doesn't have a name. Thanks for all the suggestions though, they definitely primed the name pump and we finally had a discussion over dinner tonight with some (gasp!) family participation in the matter.

Secondo and Terzo are lobbying for Legolas (the elf from Lord of the Rings). Primo's choice is Leonidas (don't be too impressed by his knowledge of ancient Greece, his source was the movie 300). Don't judge me for the movies my kids love, they are all boy, but I would like to note for the record that Terzo hasn't watched 300. Yet.

Meanwhile my LSH suggested Sir Lancelot. I told him there was no way I was taking a ram with that name to the 4-H county fair as we would be barred from any further 4-H participation due to inappropriate behavior.

I prefer Leonardo and I am just waiting for everyone else to abandon their choices and vote for mine. I'll wear them down yet. Probably about the same time I get a picture of the ram.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

to vermont and back

Back in March, our rams took a one-way trip. This made the pasture rotation much easier this summer, but meant that come this fall, we needed new rams.

Our own ram lamb crop, despite being quite numerous, didn't contain one suitable candidate, so off to the internet we went. I located a suitable replacement in Vermont, and started to make arrangements to get up there to pick him up, when it hit me:
It's time to start taking Primo on college tours. 
(It also occurred to me, about the same time, that I am old.)
Ever since we saw the college campus on a family vacation when Primo was 12, he has said that he is going to the University of Vermont. (Geez louise, he has grown a bit since those pictures.) This seemed as good a time as any to take him for another look, as he had a school vacation on Monday.

It was a very quick tour. We left on Sunday at noon. The best part of him getting older (in addition to him turning into a very nice sort of person) is that he could take some of the driving duties. He was only too happy to assist.

We saw lots and lots and lots of these (cows AND mountains) on the way up, especially once we hit Vermont. He was thrilled with the prevalence of both.

The UVM campus is very scenic and lovely, situated right in Burlington on the shore of Lake Champlain. The quadrangle of the campus was originally a sheep pasture, and of course he loved that bit of lore.

We also found out why it is called UVM, and not UVT; the answer is in the arch over his head. The University was originally called Universitas Viridis Montis (University of the Green Mount) before there was such a thing as the VT zip code abbreviation, or in fact, before there was even such a thing as the state of Vermont.

Once we finished up there, it was off to get the ram lamb and then race for home so he could get to bed before midnight. We just made it... but no pictures of the ram, who is still unnamed at this point. Any suggestions for a male name starting with "L"? I'll try to post a picture soon.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

mason jar dyeing

It must have been the influence of the canning process, because Thursday morning found me itching to try some dyeing in a few of the unused mason jars. It has been quite a while since I have done any dyeing; the bug just hasn't bit me. I think it may have been looking back at this canning post that lit the fire again.

I wanted to experiment with a handpainted effect, but I haven't done so to date because a lot of handpainting is done using saran wrap and a microwave. I have refrained for two reasons:

  1. I hate the thought of being so wasteful and throwing all that plastic away for basically no reason. I wash plastic bags and reuse them, to give you an idea of my mindset, so this would have had me twitching.
  2. I don't have a dedicated microwave, and I really didn't want to put wool and dye into the microwave we use for food.

The mason jar method had promise though, because the jars can be reused, and I could use my dyepots for the heating vessels. I thought the grey yarn I just got back from the mill was a little uninspired, so it was my dyepot victim.

I started out mixing up two different colors, each in two jars. (The wet newspaper on the bottom of the sink is to catch stray dye powder.) I started with pint jars but quickly realized they might be too small once I added the yarn, so I went with quart jars filled 3/4 full with boiling water, whisked well with the dye powder. Each jar also has its own glug of vinegar to help set the dye.

I put the jars into a dyepot with a hot water bath—like a double boiler—to provide a nice steamy atmosphere. Wearing rubber gloves, I was able to move the yarn from color to color to blend them along the length of the skein. Once the entire skeins had color, I put the lid on and let it simmer and steam for 45 minutes.

Because I was dyeing on grey yarn, I was hoping for a nice muted color with a little of the grey showing through in parts to provide an even tone throughout the skeins. The results were beyond my wildest expectations. 

I repeated the exercise the next day to see how close I could come to duplicating the colors. As with all handpaints, it is almost impossible to get a complete match, but I came close. The bottom two were my first attempt, and the top two were done the next day. I'm not sure which set I like better.

I was so pleased that I immediately pulled out more skeins and more colors, and got to work. This was the result of using three different colors, instead of two.

The mason jar method definitely has potential.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

tomato sauce math

I have been putting off this day for over a week now, but the tomatoes could no longer be denied. We had a great crop of tomatoes this year, thanks to this miracle tomato fertilizer my dad bought for me. Secondo has been faithfully picking them; every time I would turn around in the kitchen, another pot of tomatoes would appear on my counter. I ran out of pots today, so it was time to deal with them. (Quite a few had been in huge tupperware containers in the fridge over the weekend, but they were at the end of that line as well).

I started with 4 huge containers of plum tomatoes (not all pictured, and obviously the one in the front is a ringer with the wrong sort in it).

Once I washed and sliced, I had 3 pots of tomatoes to cook down.

This became 2 pots of sauce after I put them through what, growing up, we called a "skichitutto" (phonetic spelling; google was no help). My sons were well disappointed to miss this step, and I missed their help!

The pot on the bottom right is tomato soup with tortellini;
I couldn't resist after smelling those cooking tomatoes all day.

The 2 pots, after some seasoning and cooking down, became 8 quarts of sauce.

There are eight there, I swear! Four are still in the pressure canner in the back, bubbling away in their little steam bath, and I am waiting up to take them out safely. It has been a long day with tomatoes!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

if it's the first day of school...

... then I must post first day of school pictures. It's a tradition!

My dawn warrior, catching the bus at 6:05 am (!!) for his junior year (!!!!!) of high school.

My super-white-shod eighth grader, whose feet grew two sizes this summer.

And my not-so-little-anymore little guy (can't help it! he always will be!), definitely the most excited for the new school year.

Yep, they all chose plaid shirts this year, though unfortunately I couldn't get them all in the same shot! It takes three hours, from start to finish, for all of them to catch their respective buses.

As for me, I should have been kicking back with a pitcher of mai tais on the hammock, apart from the fact that we don't have a hammock. Instead, I spent the day getting four sheep ready for the first national Coopworth sheep show this Saturday. I was not successful in getting the boys to do it yesterday—apparently they felt their indentured servitude contract had expired—so today it was just me trimming hooves and cleaning them up a bit.

Even though I have been up to my eyeballs in the planning of it, I am very excited about this show. It will be a card-graded show, which is quite different from the usual "sheep in a ring on halters" type of sheep show. It is a great concept for sheep with a smaller population, like Coopworth. Instead of the sheep being judged against each other, each sheep is judged against the breed standard, by two judges, to determine how closely it comes to "perfection." All I could think of as I got each one ready was, "I wonder how you'll do?"

Saturday morning, I'll know!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

you shall not pass

Found at the top of the stairs out the back door this morning:

Having trouble seeing her? Try this one:

The boys were so entranced by her and her beautiful, perfect web that they did all chores using the front door egress, which requires a lot of extra walking. You can see the chicken coop in the background of the first picture, and the rabbit hutch is immediately to the right of her web, so that is some spider love.

We watched her carefully spin a new one tonight while we grilled dinner. Nature in all its wonder never fails to astonish and amaze.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

it never fails

I am on the lector rotation at church, which means that approximately every five weeks, I am responsible for reading one or two of the biblical lessons for the service.

Even though the assignment is random, it is uncanny how many times the passage I am assigned contains a sheep reference. Doesn't matter if it is Old or New Testament: I have found myself reading about the poor man and his ewe lamb, sheep that know their shepherd's voice, the proper lamb to be selected for slaughter, you name it, I have read that passage. (I know the chances are greater than, say, an alpaca reference, but the entire book isn't about sheep.)

I have to fight to keep a straight face while my family, and the others in the know about my particular affliction, quietly chuckle away to themselves. Eye contact in this circumstance must be avoided at all costs.

Today I got a break. No sheep references. Just the passage from Song of Solomon that was read at our wedding, which contains... the name of our farm. Of course.
My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Song of Solomon 2:10-13

Saturday, September 1, 2012

unexpected delivery

Remember those fleeces I dropped off in the beginning of May, at Ozark Carding Mill? I am working like crazy with the ones that came back at fair time, making items to sell at the NJ Sheep & Fiber Festival next weekend. Of course, if I had looked in the box when it first came, I wouldn't be in such a time crunch. Then again, it would be completely out of character for me to do something in a timely manner.

The other fleece that I dropped off was sent to a different mill, after she made it into roving, to be spun into fiber. This was the first time taking this plunge. The process is expensive, and I have heard enough horror stories of getting back unusable yarn that it caused me to think more than twice about doing it.

The owner of Ozark told me that it would take 8 months for the yarn to be finished. I didn't figure I would see it before Christmas. So imagine my surprise when this showed up on the doorstep.

The yarn, that is, not the kid. Thirty-one skeins of fingering weight, 100% Coopworth, natural grey yarn.

Now to get it all priced and ready for next weekend—but I am very excited to have yarn from our flock to sell in the booth.