Thursday, February 28, 2013

february bookstand

A stellar book month, from start to finish. Lucky me! You can't go wrong with any of these.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, by Simon Garfield
Highly recommend. I am a font junkie, the kind of weirdo that checks out the title pages of books to see if they list the font used and agonizes for hours on what particular font best expresses the concept of "Lenten Family Bowling" (yes, there is such an event) for our church newsletter. Even as font-crazy as I am, I couldn't believe that a book about fonts could be quite as entertaining as this one is, from start to finish. This book did a masterful job of explaining the particulars of an item that affects every facet of our everyday life,  yet is scarcely noticed, when it is doing its job properly. I especially loved the stories behind various individual fonts, but I am not sure that I will ever be able to use Gill Sans again.

Fraud: Essays, by David Rakoff
Highly recommend. My introduction to David Rakoff was via his contributions to "This American Life," one of my favorite radio programs. I was saddened to hear of his recent death due to his second bout with cancer, on an hour-long remembrance program. This is his first book of essays. He is frequently compared with David Sedaris, his friend and mentor, but I don't think the comparison is a valid one. Rakoff's voice, while laced with humor, is darker and deeper than Sedaris's. His use of language and description is so well-crafted that I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs to savor his talent. Given my recent state of mind, the title (and recurring theme) of feeling like a fraud was particularly resonant, but I hope he came to terms with the feeling before his untimely death.

The Passing Bells, by Phillip Rock
Highly recommend. This book caught my eye with the byline "Before Downton Abbey, there was Abington Pryory..." This book (first in a trilogy) was written in 1978, and the comparisons to Downton Abbey, goes even deeper than the similarity in names: matching number of syllables, traditionally places that housed women who had joined holy orders.... Makes you go "hmmmmm." This book focuses largely on the events of World War I and the effect on one extended family of landed gentry. More "upstairs" than "downstairs," the book does a good job of explaining the effect of the war on every day life and the soldiers who fought it. I have already ordered the next book in the series.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

weather attack

Another fact of life: Primo has started looking at colleges. We are trying to squeeze in college visits around school and sports schedules, which requires a little fancy footwork. A couple of weeks ago, Primo approached his dad about a combined ski trip and college tour weekend.

"OK," my LSH replied. "What college do you have in mind?"

Primo was mystified. "I thought we would just figure out where we wanted to go skiing, and then look at whatever college is closest."

Priorities, people.

The end result was my LSH planning a quick tour of Cornell University in Ithaca NY, with a drive-by look at Colgate University on the way home, and no skiing. Primo accepted his fate with good grace. They took off on Friday night and were back late Saturday. The tour was a success, if you define success as falling in love with a very expensive university (Cornell) and crossing one university off the list (Colgate).

Luckily they came back in time to help with all the shearing and lambing readiness chores. We were talking this morning about what else needs to be done, and my LSH mentioned that he wasn't sure how we were going to get through Saturday, as it was supposed to snow.

My heart sank. We were going to deprive the poor pregnant sheep of their wool just in time for a storm? Panic gears immediately locked into place and started to turn. We were going to have to keep them all in the barn, for who knows how long! We were going to have to move the skirting operation to the basement, instead of outside! This was going to be so difficult!

Meanwhile, my husband, consulting his ever-knowing iPhone, reeled off the upcoming weather. "Snow starting tonight through Wednesday... a few more inches on Friday, wouldn't be surprised if the boys' 4-H conference is cancelled... flurries on Saturday morning with a high of 31 degrees..."

The penny finally dropped.

"Do you still have Ithaca set as your weather homepage?"

Ummm, yes, he did. The forecast in our location is 46 and sunny, which seems positively balmy compared to 31. The sheep will still probably be a bit chilly without their wool, and we may put them in the barn at night for the first few days. But at least it's not snow.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Today was a day of unapparent improvements around here.

These sheep? All vaccinated, just in time for lambing to start in four weeks time. Look at that belly!

This water trough? Scrubbed and refilled with fresh, clean water, thanks to a temporary thaw and unfrozen hose. You can't appreciate an unfrozen hose until you have hauled water, 5 gallons at a time, to thirsty pregnant sheep for a few months.

The barn? Clean. I didn't even take a picture, it was so unremarkable. But hay and lumber and feed bags and baling twine (the never-ending supply of baling twine) were moved and stacked and thrown out and reorganized, until the space was finally ready for shearing.

Did I mention? Shearing next weekend. A little earlier than we would like, but the shearer's schedule is more important than the shepherd's (true dat!).

But this dog? All too apparent that an outside bath is in order, unfortunately for him. It wasn't that warm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I know I promised you pictures of vintage books and patterns. They are coming, I promise. But for the last few days, I have been busy Thinking. Yes, capital T. Cue ominous music...

It started with a friend's post on Facebook about a week ago, identifying with this article about feeling like a fraud. Unfortunately, this is an issue I struggle with all too often. For whatever reason, I tend to minimize my own accomplishments and talents, worrying that I will be "caught out" and exposed for the fraud I am—because how the heck could I possibly know that much about anything? People telling me otherwise isn't really the point, because I know what I know.

Yes, fairly limiting. But easier in many ways than putting myself out there and taking a chance.

It was furthered by discussion on many knitting groups about this competition. In a nutshell, the Skacel Yarn Company has come up with a fantastic idea: a virtual knitting design competition, similar to Project Runway in issuing challenges to contestants, while a little kinder in that contestants won't get voted off on a weekly basis. Grand prize is a trip to Germany to tour their yarn and needle factories. Hats are off to Skacel for an innovative and compelling marketing idea.

For the past few days, I found my thoughts circling back to the idea of the competition, dreaming about taking part while convincing myself that I simply don't have the design chops and experience to pull it off. I went so far as to read through the rules and application this morning, and decided two things:
  1. I'm not ready to do this kind of thing.

  2. Yet. 
I will definitely be watching and perhaps even participating unofficially. I will not be applying because I don't have a design portfolio to present, but my goal for this year is to work on that. A competition like this may not come along again, but how will I know what I can do if I don't start doing it? My one little hat pattern has been very well received, despite zero publicity. Time to take it farther and see just what I can do.

My friend Marta gave me this awesome design notebook for Christmas. It has room for 30 projects. I don't know if I will get 30 done this year, but I already have ideas for half a dozen. Who knows what I can accomplish if I apply some dedicated time and effort to this project?

The next deadline for Knitty is March 1. My accepted projects are due March 15. Seaman's Institute "Christmas at Sea" program is holding a contest for a new hat design. I have plans for all three, and then some.

I'm the limit. Not the sky. Just me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

workroom bookshelf

It had been a while since I had paid a visit to the Book Garden, my favorite local bookstore-flowershop combo, but I happened to be driving by the other day and couldn't resist its siren's song.

I hit paydirt.

I have never seen so many knitting books there; one or two collections had clearly come into his possession recently. In my defense: I didn't buy them all. But I did scoop up every one of the older books, and several choice new ones as well. The owner had a box, tucked in a dusty corner, full of Workbasket magazines from the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Great article here about the Workbasket; I will have to check the dates of the ones I bought.) I had resisted mightily during the last few visits, but I threw in the towel this time and added the entire box to my pile. 

Actually, it was more like I used the box containing the Workbaskets to hold all the rest of my intended purchases, and it was just a bonus that they came along with me.

At the checkout, I made the mistake of asking if he had any knitting pattern pamphlets in stock. He has wised up since my last purchase two years ago, when they were in a box in a different dusty corner of the store. Now they have their own labelled bins, right next to the ones for agriculture and gardening. It's a step up in the world for a traditionally women's-based pursuit! There were quite a few in there that also could not be resisted, and I ended up with my biggest haul yet.

Problem was, my workroom bookshelf was already crammed to the gills, albeit rather sloppily. An intervention was in order.

I spent a pleasant afternoon cataloguing all the pattern books by date. Some copyright dates were noted in the books; quite a few were not. Even the internets didn't have a clue, and I had to make an educated guess (denoted by a question mark) based on fashion and hairstyle, except in the case of bedspreads or doilies.

Isn't Pineapples on Parade possibly the best title ever?

Once in their smart plastic sleeves, I was able to arrange them by date. Turns out my oldest one is from 1934! The Workbaskets were also put into chronological order, starting in the 1940s, which is when I discovered about a dozen duplicates from the 50s and 60s. Anyone interested? First one to claim them, gets them. The advertisements alone are worth a look.

Ignore that Learn to Tat book. No current plans, but impossible to leave behind.

The bookshelf was aggressively rearranged, because of course nothing gets thrown out.

Old nestled next to new, based more on height than any specific organization.

I'll share some of the best finds in the coming week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

rocky sheep coats

A most unwelcome sight waiting at the gate for his grain this morning...

Yep, Leo managed to get entirely out of his coat at some point yesterday. An equally unwelcome sight was just to his left:

Kevyn was out of hers as well. We put larger coats on two weeks ago, and usually if they stay on for a couple of days, they are good for the long haul. No such luck with these two. And on the same day!

The coats are not there to keep the sheep warm; they don't need any help with that, given their wool fleeces. The coats keep the fleeces clean and protected, especially from contamination of little bits of hay. Once those bits are in the fleeces, it's almost impossible to get them out. Even one day without their coats and the fleeces were starting to look junky. It's a never ending battle.

Luckily, we had just received an order of new sheep coats to try out. We have used the Matilda sheep coats for years, but they are no longer available in the US, at least not that I can find. A distributor told me that there are problems with the manufacturing in Australia. Whatever the story, ours were on their very last legs, mostly patches and seams at this point.

I have considered the idea of making my own, but despite having some possible fabric for two years now, the time to make them just hasn't presented itself. We decided to try some Rocky Sheep Company coats, as the reviews I have seen are quite good.

The coats arrived the end of last week, and they didn't disappoint in their quality. However, I had used the Matilda coat sizes as a guide when placing the order. When the coats arrived, it was apparent that this was not an accurate comparison. The Rocky Sheep Coats have panels in the front, instead of the simple seam of the Matilda coats, which are constructed much like the lamb coats I blogged about last week. On our broad-brisketed Coopworth, the coats tended to pull forward and bunch around their necks, significantly reducing the length of the coats.

Of course we should have measured the sheep before placing the order, as the website demonstrates so well! When I called to explain myself, Rocky, the owner, answered the phone personally and didn't once chastise me for my lack of preparation. He spent a good deal of time explaining that the panel in the front gives so much more room, you actually need to go down about 4-5" in size when making a conversion from the Matilda coats. The Rocky coats are in 2" increments, and so much easier to get an accurate fit, once the size range is correct.

Rocky offered to ship me smaller coats the next day, based upon my stated intention to return the largest of the coats. I told him that I didn't expect him to do that; I would understand if he wanted to wait to receive the return before shippping the new ones. He chuckled, explaining that if his years in the sheep business had taught him anything, it was that people who want to cheat to make money quickly don't really last long raising sheep.

Back to the sheep covers we did receive: I managed to get the two smaller sizes onto our sheep. I used the "golf ball and zip tie" method to pull up the ram's coat; I will have to take pictures of that at a later date. Hopefully it will still be on tomorrow morning.

Kevyn looked quite spiffy in her coat, though it may also be slighty too big. Jasmine, her half-sister, had to come and check her new duds out. You can see the difference between the way the two coats fit around the neck. Now to test if the coats stay on, but based on customer service and quality of product alone, the Rocky Sheep Company coats get two thumbs-up so far.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

fat tuesday

It started during church on Sunday, when the priest mentioned that Ash Wednesday was this week.

"Wait a minute," Primo whispered to me. "That means that we're having pancakes on Tuesday, right?"

"Great!" I replied. "You're making pancakes for us? I'll put you down for dinner on Tuesday."

"That's not what I meant..." he grumbled.

Yesterday, I posted this to his facebook wall (because doesn't every 17 year old boy want his mother posting things on his facebook wall?):


To give the kid credit, when the batter hit the griddle, he put a spatula where his mouth was.

Remember all those blueberries we froze last June? Amazingly enough, Terzo has not eaten them all yet. I made a delicious blueberry sauce—though not as good, I was informed, as the one their grandfather made for them last year. We added breakfast sausage from the pigs for a little protein. It was a family effort meal, from start to finish.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

snow snaps

The pond, a bit more liquid than two weekends ago.

Dusty is always thrilled by a bit of snow...

as is Leo, in anticipation of the grain bucket.

Kevyn, Leo and Jasmine.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

lamb jacket pattern

The last of my trifecta of lambing posts!

A couple of years ago, a cold snap hit just as our ewes started to lamb. A shepherd friend loaned me a few of her home-made lamb jackets, and they worked so well that I copied the pattern and am posting it here with her permission. Thanks Val!

I used some fleece fabric I had on hand; it was intended to be made into a lap blanket for me, but lambs were cold and needed something warm to put on, so it was repurposed.

Cut a rectangle 15 inches wide and 13 inches high.
Dimensions may vary slightly based upon the size of your lambs,
but it should be slightly wider than it is high.

Cut a small notch in the fabric (about one inch) exactly halfway down on the short side, 
to make the coat fit more comfortably on the neck.

Fold the fabric in half, along the notched side.
Whip stitch the front and back together at the bottom front, for about 1.25 inches.
I used heavy upholstery thread held double for all sewing.

If you are a more accomplished seamstress, you might have put the raw edge of the seam
towards the inside, but mine ended up on the outside.
I suppose this way, it doesn't rub on the lamb's chest.

Cut two leg straps about 6.5 to 7 inches in length.
This is nylon strapping, cut in half, that I happened to have on hand.
My friend Val uses recycled elastic from her rag bag.

Attach one end of each leg strap to the opposite end (from the seam) of the long side.

Fold up and attach the other ends of the leg straps about 4.5 inches along the long side, 
towards the front seam.

The finished lamb jacket will look approximately like so, lying on your kitchen table...

And like so, modeled by a lamb.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

post-lambing procedure

Once we get the lambs on the ground, we follow a specific procedure for each lamb. I should say, once the ewe gets the lambs on the ground. We don't interfere unless the ewe is having obvious problems, which we define as the ewe actively pushing for more than 30 minutes, or more than 30 minutes in between multiple births.

Using the lambing supplies I listed in yesterday's post, here is our action plan:
  1. Clean and dry: If the ewe hasn't done so already, or if she has more lambs than she can handle at one time, we assist her by wiping the lambs down with clean towels. We really encourage the ewe to do some of the job herself as it helps significantly with the bonding process and getting the lambs going.

  2. Weigh each lamb, using the lamb sling and hanging scale. A plastic bag can be used in a pinch, but a sling with a strap that goes across the front of the lamb to hold them in place works really well. We record each weight in our barn book, a notebook that stays in the barn at all times.

  3. Clip and dip: Using alcohol to sterilize the scissors, we clip the umbilical cord 1-2 inches from the belly. Blunter scissors are preferred because the slight tearing action, as opposed to a sharp cut, helps minimize bleeding. We pour fresh iodine into our dipping cup (any container with a mouth about 2 inches in diameter; a baby food jar works well), hold the cup so it forms a tight seal on the lamb's belly, and then hold the lamb belly-up to soak the area around the umbilicus, so everything is liberally covered with iodine. We do this after weighing so the iodine doesn't rub off on the lamb sling.

  4. Probiotic & selenium E gel: We give each lamb half a dose of both. 

  5. Strip: At this point, we put the ewe in a jug with her lambs. We don't have our ewes lamb in the jugs because there is not enough room for them to move around and change position comfortably. We strip the plugs out of her teats if the lambs haven't done so already. If they have, it's a good sign that they already got their first dose of colostrum. We make sure that all the lambs can find the udder and have latched on before leaving them. We will use a heat lamp if it is really cold and the lambs are having trouble keeping warm, but carefully suspend it above the barn floor and institute frequent checks.

  6. Feed and water: The ewe is given a nice grass hay (no grain or alfalfa) in a hay rack hung high enough that the lambs can't get their heads stuck in it. We also give a bucket of clean, fresh water, tied to the jug with binder twine so it doesn't accidentally get dumped. We used to give molasses water, but found the ewes prefer plain water.

  7. Antibiotic: If we had to assist the ewe in any way, she is started on antibiotics and follow up is provided as recommended on the bottle.

Trimming the umbilical cord; 
our iodine cup is being held in the background, ready for use

We keep a close eye on the ewe and her lambs for the next few days, to make sure the lambs are getting enough to eat and the ewe is not having any problems with her appetite or udder.
  1. The lambs are weighed every day, and the results noted in the barn book, to make sure there is appropriate weight gain.

  2. The temperature of every lamb's mouth is checked with a finger several times a day for the first few days, to make sure they are getting enough to eat and not suffering from hypothermia. A cold mouth requires immediate action.

  3. The lambs are observed closely to make sure they are all getting a turn at the udder, especially if there are more than two. We also watch to see if they stretch when they get up, another sign that they are getting enough to eat.

  4. The ewe's udder is checked by hand the first few days, to make sure no hot spots or hardness is developing that might indicate the onset of mastitis or a problem with the lambs nursing. 
After 48 hours, we let the lambs and ewe out of the jug. Depending on the weather and status of the lambs, we may keep them in the larger area in the barn while letting the other ewes outside for an additional day or two.

Tomorrow: plans for a simple lamb jacket!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

lambing supplies

All this talk of yeaning lambs and my thoughts have turned to our own flock. Time for me to bring in the lambing supply boxes, go through them, and clean and toss and reorder, to make sure we are ready to go when the time comes in about six weeks.

In case it is helpful to anyone else, I'll share our list. People organize their supplies differently, but because we bring our ewes close to or into the barn to lamb, we keep our supplies in lidded boxes (to keep them clean and grouped together) on shelves in the barn. Some people keep them in bags to make it easy to carry everything out to the field, some people use a plastic tote... Bottom line, the best method of organizing and storing is the one that makes sense for your particular operation.

We have two boxes for lambing time: one for the obstetrical supplies, and one for the lambs. Obviously there is some overlap between the two.

For possible obstetrical issues, we keep the following supplies on hand, and pray we don't have to use them:
  • Bar-Vac CD&T vaccine (stored in refrigerator, given 4-6 weeks before lambing)  
  • LA-200 or preferred antibiotic (stored at room temp in house)
  • Nutridrench                                     
  • 3 & 6 cc syringes        
  • ½” needles
  • Superlube/ Obstetrical lube
  • Prep soap (to clean hands)
  • Obstetrical/exam gloves
  • Calcium Gluconate
  • Dextrose Solution 50%
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Udder balm
  • Lamb puller
  • Book on lambing/kidding positions (Laura Lawson, Managing Your Ewe)

For managing the lambs:
  • Iodine/Triodine
  • Naval dip cup for iodine
  • Alcohol
  • Scissors
  • Suction bulb
  • Probiotic paste           
  • Selenium E Gel
  • Vitamin B injectable
  • Feeding bottle
  • Pritchard nipples
  • Stomach tube
  • Stomach syringe
  • Clean baby food jar (to milk into)
  • O-rings
  • Elastrator
  • Lamb sling
  • Weighing scale
  • Thermometer
  • Dried colostrum
  • Milk replacer/goat’s milk
  • Blow dryer
  • Clean towels
  • Heat lamp
  • Lamb coats (cold weather)
  • Book on lamb issues (Laura Lawson, Lamb Problems)
Most of the items on the lamb list we do need, whether we are having problems or not, because we use them to care for all the lambs after they are born. I will go into that procedure tomorrow!

Monday, February 4, 2013

the big game

It probably comes as no surprise: I am not a huge football fan. Despite my best efforts over the past 30 years or so I really don't understand all the arcane rules. Well, not really my best effort, more like a half-hearted attempt to make the men in my life happy, because honestly I have a hard time caring.

As more and more findings come to light about the damage the game does to players' brains, my feelings have cooled even more. Now it is akin to watching a time-delay blood sport. Witnessing grown men subject themselves to a high probability of catastrophic injury or degenerative brain damage for my viewing pleasure is not my idea of entertainment. Was it just me, or did all those ads by the NFL suggest that the organization is feeling a bit on the defensive?

I caught a few of the commercials, when I wasn't in the other room watching Downton Abbey, and of course there was one that stood out from the rest.

Our entire room was silent while watching this, and I suspect that the commercial had the same effect in the majority of viewing rooms across the nation. The scratchy recording and simple yet beautiful still-frame shots were arresting. The speech by Paul Harvey was recorded at the 1978 FFA National Convention, and the commercial is being promoted in conjunction with the FFA's campaign against local hunger.

There was one phrase that I couldn't quite catch—then I realized the text was printed right below the frame on youtube.
God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark."
Yean lambs? All these years with sheep, and that's a new one! Of Middle English derivation, Merriam Webster says it means "to bring forth young [from] sheep or goats." Is it a word that has fallen out of disuse in the last 35 years? Or is its use restricted to certain areas of the US? Or did Paul Harvey find it in a thesaurus and think it made a nice contrast to "wean" (which it does)?

A little less than two months until we start yeaning here (we hope). Paul Harvey's words will probably still be on my mind then, as they were this morning while I did chores. At the very least I will have to drop "yean" into conversation once or twice.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

a cautionary tale

We all know words can come back to haunt you, but Terzo has not learned this lesson. Yet.

At a playdate yesterday, he was doing reverse pull-ups on the kitchen counter. Or maybe it's not called reverse pull-ups. Whatever you call standing with your back to the counter with your hands on it, then pulling your entire body up until your arms are straight. I would call it a broken elbow.

I have no idea where he learned his manners. A barn?

The host's mother was amazed at his talent and strength in this regard, even calling in her husband to witness Terzo's feat. When they asked Terzo how he was strong enough to pull this off, he nonchalantly revealed his secret: hauling water for the sheep.

My LSH was also amazed, because Terzo has never hauled one drop of water for the sheep.

Until today. Lesson learned? I doubt it. How many of us can honestly say that we know when to keep our traps shut?

Friday, February 1, 2013

popularity of penguins

Every so often (OK! almost every day! you got me!), I check out what is bringing people to my little corner of the world—little being the operative word. I want to give the people what they are looking for.

Imagine my surprise to note these statistics, which have been trending pretty true over the last month or so, though no surprise over the actual numbers of the statistics, because my corner of the world is, as previously  noted, a little one:

penguin diorama ideas
penguin diorama
penguin diorama habitat
losing sleep counting sheep
tundra dioramas
how to make a diorama of a penguin and its habitat
early power tools
frolicking sheep
how to make a diorama penguin
lottery ticket basket ideas

Good lord have mercy, there are quite a few people out there desperate for ideas on how to put together a elementary school level diorama project involving some penguins on an arctic tundra. At least I hope it is for elementary school, and not some college final exam.

(In an aside: early power tools? What on earth would bring this blog up for that search? Early knitting tools, maybe...)

By way of reminder, my son's diorama looked like this, because I am a big believer in having an elementary school project look like an elementary school project (in other words, he did most of the work by himself):

Such desperation, and this is what google serves up in their hour of need. A shoebox, a penguin picture background, a couple of plastic figurines and some clay whale tails. Imagine their disappointment, hoping for some serious blog-worthy effort on how to create the world's most A+-worthy penguin diorama, and ending up with a commentary on the rough road that third children must trod upon.

Makes a blogger feel like she had a big opportunity to make a difference in the world, and she completely missed it. Anyone who wants this idea, feel free to take it: a blog on how to make a great diorama of (insert theme here). Charge money for it. You'll make a mint.