Sunday, March 31, 2013

boys in suits 2013

Still not recovered from last night, but I cannot miss Easter tradition.

I have no idea why the youngest one has that look on his face. At this point, I was inside desperately trying to get myself ready after ironing their shirts, yet another activity planned for last night.

The bowties were their collective sartorial decision. We usually make do with hand-me-downs, because hey, they don't wear a suit and tie more than once a year. But when your teenage boys ask to be taken to the store so they can choose new dress shirts and bowties for Easter, then what mother could resist? Not this one, especially when their standard day-to-day wear is jeans-tshirt-sweatshirt.

Though it is the last day of the month, I'll have to pass on the monthly book review. All three lambs are doing OK and that's the biggest accomplishment of the day, apart from getting all three into their suits. If you celebrate the holiday, I hope you had a blessed Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

lamb lift-off

We are officially in orbit. It was a beautiful spring day, and after considering it all afternoon, Holly decided that it was time to start having her lambs around 7:30 pm. We had just gotten back from the Easter Vigil service, and we rushed into our barn clothes.

First one out—a ram lamb, of course. Holly's pasture mates, two of whom haven't been mothers yet, were quite interested, from a respectful distance. It is fascinating how they always give each other space in these moments. One of our key clues that a ewe is in labor is her solitary presence in a shed.

Though at one point they just had to get a little closer to check out the new arrival.

We waited and waited. It got darker, and we pulled out the lanterns my parents had just given the boys. Talk about a timely gift! She was outside in the shed, and we didn't want to interrupt her labor by taking her into the well-lit barn.

After some intense labor contractions, it became clear that things weren't progressing as they should and we realized we had to take action. And by we I mean the one person in our family with medical training: my poor husband.

It was a very difficult presentation. We still aren't quite sure just how mis-presented they were, but it took quite a bit of manipulation and plain-old-fashioned pulling to get them out. Poor Holly! Though I think in the end she was just grateful to be done with it. Look how deflated she looks!

Three in all. Two black rams and one white ewe, currently known as Larry, Moe and Shirley. In addition to being a great sheep OB, my husband is also a great one with the names.

After getting everyone settled, we staggered back into the house for a pizza dinner at 9:30 pm, only to find this most unwelcome sight:

The cake for tomorrow, which I had started earlier in the day when things were much calmer. I managed to pull together the boys' Easter baskets, but this cake will have to wait. I am thinking that cubes of unfrosted cake with toothpicks in them may be the way to go?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

a reader

Nothing doing here on the lamb front.

The snowstorm two days ago didn't do it.

The full moon tonight didn't do it.

The first two ewes the ram marked were both yearlings, and it doesn't seem that they were 100% ready for things. We'll be waiting about 15 more days for them. The more seasoned ewes weren't marked until later, and they are so large that I am sure they will be on time. Unfortunately that is next week, after all my helpers return to school. Argh!

Without lambs to blog about, I'll share some recent pictures of Terzo. He resisted the reading bug mightily, for years, though he loved being read to. As he was the last one who wanted to listen, I was happy to indulge him. School continued to push the issue with a nightly reading requirement, however, and he finally succumbed to the magic of Harry Potter sometime in the late fall. We often come in from chores to find him curled up on the living room couch, taking advantage of the early morning sunlight.

Or nestled into a chair, in the same room. The hand-crocheted blanket was a gift from one from one my husband's patients. It never fails to touch me how generous his patients are to him (and by extension, us).

Terzo's other favored morning reading spot is in what he calls his "office", in the kitchen. The lowest shelf of the bakers rack is the perfect height for tucking his feet under, with the added bonus of the heat register right by his toes. It was the favorite spot of our cats as well, for obvious reasons. 

He often puts his cereal on the shelf next to his book, so he can munch away while he is reading. He has logged quite a bit of time in these spots. He is currently plowing his way through Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix), which I found to be the hardest going of the lot. 

Now the problem is going to be what to hook him with once he finishes the series, but for now, I am enjoying the heck out of all this avid reading.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

girl scout cookie basket

No lambs yet. Maybe the storm we are due to get tomorrow night?

While we wait, thought I would share my latest attempt to create the most popular auction basket ever. This one is a real feel good basket, because you can support the Girl Scouts of America while appealing to everyone's addiction to their delicious cookies. If you have little cookie-selling nieces or granddaughters or friend's daughters or random girls selling cookies in the cold in front of the local drugstore, then so much the better for the happiness you can spread around.

I started by purchasing a box of every flavor cookie. From my personal Girl Scout suppliers, that meant 8 boxes of cookies, but there are regional differences.

I can't bear to throw out those mailer pillows and am always looking for a way to use them.
They made the perfect "filler" in the bottom of the basket,
secured to the basket and each other with a little clear packing tape.

One piece of Girl Scout green tissue paper, crumpled to hide the pillows, 
also secured in place with a little tape underneath.

These four boxes matched each other in size, so I used yet more clear packing tape
(rolled in circles, hidden on the inside) to secure them to each other.
Clear packing tape was a key element in this basket assembly.

Placed in the center of the basket, yet more tape underneath to hold them in place.

The four remaining boxes were arranged "artistically" on an angle on each side,
again with packing tape on the back to hold them in place.
Make sure to get the edges of the boxes tucked into the basket.

The other side.

The finished product, with a green bow on top to keep that Girl Scout theme going.

I thought about putting a plastic display bag around it, but I didn't feel like running out to get one (this was put together at the very last minute). Plus it would go against the spirit of reusing plastic mailer pillows but wrapping it in yet more plastic. All that packing tape meant that it was fairly stable on its own.

It was a very popular basket based on the number of tickets in the cup, out of proportion to total cost and effort required to put it together. This one is joining the lottery tree basket on my roster, despite its seasonal limitations. Then again, it's the seasonal limitations that make it so desirable.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


You know how much I love Franklin Habit, and his recent post about getting a new phone struck a chord because I went through the same process a week ago. I wasn't convinced I needed a new phone. I was happy with the portability and indestructibility of the old one, both very important attributes on a farm. Yes, it was way outdated, and yes, I couldn't check my e-mail and the weather on it. But it was a good and faithful servant, and I knew how to use it.

For various reasons, my LSH decided that I was due for an upgrade, and forced the issue by giving me a new phone to me for Christmas. Our account finally had an upgrade spot open and Friday night we went through the interminable hell of (1) going to the mall and (2) getting the new phone hooked up. The poor girl at the Apple store who drew the short straw to wait on me! I practically bit her head off when she saw my old phone and burbled how excited I must be to get rid of it.

I have been struggling with the new phone all week. Questions such as "where's the d!*&(# call button?" have had my husband and sons in hysterics as they explain to poor doddering me how this new-fangled contraption works.

I must confess that, my phone-related frustrations aside, I am enjoying the heck out of checking my e-mails on the fly. My computer (also ancient, also a good and faithful servant) has barely been on lately. I discovered an added bonus when I went out with Terzo to bring the ewes in tonight: portable video!

The quality isn't that great and I do apologize for whatever went wrong at the end, I have no idea. But you can get an idea of just how big those poor girls are getting. No immediate end in sight either, as this picture proves:

All six tucking heartily into fresh hay is a good indication that we won't have any lambs in the next six hours or so. Pam asked how many sheep we have; the current count is 10. If all goes well, that number will more than double in the coming weeks. But exactly when that is going to start happening is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

march muck

When we first started farming, we went to an educational lecture at which the speaker joked that "March" should be renamed "Mud." We didn't really get the joke.

Now, most unfortunately, we do.

Thanks to the recent spate of snow-sleet-driving rain-snow-sleet again, we are blessed with a vast expanse of boot-sucking mire. No place is dry, with the exception of the barn and the interiors of the run-in sheds. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Since we are so close to lambing, it's time to bring the ewes in every night. The ewes are thrilled to see the boys come out for this chore. They line up at the gate, waiting to stampede into the dry coziness of the barn. Heaven help the small boy standing in their way! Sure beats herding them in, though Dusty misses his job, as he misses all free range privileges on the farm. But it's too dang muddy to let him loose unless you have a spare half hour to bathe him afterwards.

Today was the first official due date. No sign of lambs yet. Maybe Jenny is waiting for the first day of spring, just like the rest of us.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

hard to believe

Really hard to believe that it looked like this outside today. I thought the kids were punking me when they said it was snowing. Even more bizarre, it was thunder snow.

Harder to believe is that my eldest is old enough to go to a prom (last night). Didn't I just go to one?

Not at all hard to believe that he was back in his usual garb today, cleaning out the barn and making the final preparations for lambing. First due date is Tuesday March 19, give or take five days, so any day now.

He came in from doing those chores, and asked if I wanted to take a picture so I could show the "before and after, because you gotta have something to blog about!" Not sure what to believe about my kid planning blog posts for me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

to maine and back

Our Vermont ram, Leonidas, has been waiting for a friend for a long time. He had no complaints, being in with his little flock of (now pregnant, that's how it works) ewes, but they will be lambing VERY soon and he needs to come out of there. The problem is, the only other group of sheep we have right now is our little ewes, Lambykins and Lucy, and they are too young for such things!

We have had a ram waiting in reserve for us aaalllll the way up in Maine since September, and I have been hoping that he would be able to hitch a ride down here, or at least a little closer. No such luck. With lambing dates breathing down our neck, I finally hit the road. Thank goodness for my friend Robin, who was once again up for a crazy adventure. She didn't mind that the adventure involved sixteen plus hours in a truck cab, though I think her opinion may have changed around hour ten.

Pam to the left, Robin to the right

We left on Monday morning. The ram's home was with Pam and Jim Child at Hatchtown Farm at Pemaquid Peninsula, so we hooked a right at some point and made the "Down East" manuever necessary to get to most shore points in Maine.

The weather was grey and overcast for our stay so the pictures don't do the rugged beauty justice.

The Inn at Round Pond, our lovely B&B

The harbor across the street

We enjoyed a delicious dinner with Pam and Jim that night, feasting on one of their home-grown broilers. Their farm features wonderful historic buildings with updates. Robin and I were drooling over Pam's fiber studio, which she opens to customers in the summer months.

Pam's fiber studio, attached to the house

The side of the barn, with original stone steps

The next morning it was no rest for the weary. We were up early, enjoyed a delicious breakfast, then it was back out to the farm to meet the flock and load the ram. A terrible storm was heading up the coast and we were trying to beat the rain as much as possible.

Olivia, the ram's mother

The boy loaded up and ready to go

We hit the worst of the weather driving through Connecticut, although the ram was pretty cozy in his spot in the pickup bed. The carrying crate, which we purchased from Sydell when we first got sheep, comes with a fitted canvas cover, which you can see as the "white" in the picture. Once I finished taking pictures we lowered the back flap so he was protected from the elements. He stayed tucked up near the cab and arrived at our place perfectly dry.

He is a "talker"—I don't think we have had another sheep quite this noisy. Every time we stopped I would peek in and check on him, and he always had a few words for me. Not the sheepy complaining "BAAAAA" either, just quiet tones about his opinions on the matter. Secondo noticed the same thing when he went out to check on him this afternoon. Any names that start with "L" and mean "likes to chat"? Maybe he'll be "Lecturer."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

around the corner

One of my favorite literary couples is Frog and Toad, and one of my favorite Frog and Toad stories is "The Corner," from Frog and Toad All Year. On a rainy day, Frog relates how he went on a fruitless search for spring after his parents told him that it was just around the corner.
“I went back home. When I got there,” said Frog, “I found another corner. It was the corner of my house.”
“Did you go around it?” asked Toad.
“I went around that corner, too,” said Frog.
“What did you see?” asked Toad. 
“I saw the sun coming out,” said Frog. “I saw birds sitting and singing in a tree. I saw my mother and father working in their garden. I saw flowers in the garden.”
“You found it!” cried Toad.
“Yes,” said Frog. “I was very happy. I had found the corner that spring was just around.”

This is exactly how I felt this weekend, despite a Friday that looked like this:

Thanks to my parents, we visited the Philadelphia Flower Show the very next day. The theme this year was "Brilliant," with a focus on all things British, or at least quite a few of them.

The entry gates;
the "bars" of the gates were filled with flowers

Umbrellas, Hogwarts and yellow submarines abounded.

No particular display was brillant in its entirety. Like the understated inhabitants of that green and pleasant land, the high points were found in small touches rather than large gestures.

A fountain of musical instruments;
water was burbling out of the horns.

Hands down, my boys favorite display was this one, intended to evoke the moors. See the white spiky things?

They're made out of zip-ties, which my boys spotted right away. We will never be able to keep a supply of zip ties in this house now.

I thought the best unusual use was this wedding dress:

Closer examination of the "sparkles" on the dress revealed they were grains of rice.

This was my hands-down favorite though. Wonder where I can get a garden gate like this one? The books mounted in the wall appeared to be real ones, so I suppose the weather would be a bit rough on them.

Last year a wall of lettuce, this year a wall of greens, with a colorful wheelbarrow sculpture to brighten up the green. The "reuse/repurpose" concept was evident in full force this year.

An exhibit dedicated to the crown jewels, with pieces contributed by individual florists all over the country, was particularly stunning.

There was even knitting! The significance of the silver eggs was unclear, but I was pleased to see wool represented. I am sure HRH The Prince of Wales would agree.

Of course, a yellow submarine in the middle when you peeked in the egg. Those things were everywhere.

We finished off by finding my parent's entries in the competition.

My father's black orchid. 

My mother's Wardian case.

Every year for us, the Philadelphia Flower Show is the corner that spring is just around. Today's sunshine confirmed it. Spring is definitely on its way.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ripped off

I have been monitoring the mail delivery lately, waiting for my copy of the Black Sheep Newsletter. Now people, no laughing, this is my life and so this what I read about. This quarter I was waiting with real anticipation because I have an article in it! And I found out last week that my article was on the FRONT PAGE!!!

Then the mail came today and this is what my copy looked like:

US Postal Service, I love you, but sometimes you break my heart.

The article was my summary of the Coopworth National Show, all the way back in September, which I promised to blog about at least three separate times and never got around to it. So let me take care of that now, since I have a bunch of time on my hands that I would otherwise be spending reading my Black Sheep Newsletter.

The show merited an article because it was an entirely different kind of sheep show. If by chance you have ever observed a sheep show, you have probably seen a bunch of sheep being led around a ring, with a judge in the center comparing them to each other. The sheep are put in order at the end of each class, from first to last. Usually the biggest sheep are in first place, and it goes down in order from there.

The breed that we raise, Coopworth, are not a traditionally-shown breed. In fact, for a long time, members were actively discouraged from showing sheep because of the pressures of the show ring on a breed. Judges tend to prefer bigger sheep, with long legs and long necks. It doesn't make much financial or practical sense: as one long-time sheep breeder said, there's a lot of air between the bellies and the ground, and the legs and necks aren't worth much on the meat market. But that's what wins blue ribbons in the US, and so that's what people tend to breed for. Medium-sized sheep have steadily grown into largeish sheep, and large breeds can be the size of small ponies. Tales abound of cross-breeding behind the wood shed, of Columbias and Montadales quietly slipped into bloodlines (with no documentation, of course) to respond to the pressure of get big or get out. The fact that the sheep don't meet their own breed standard is overlooked. Even worse is sheep with obvious defects—soft pasterns, cow-hocked, narrow pelvises, etc.—that maybe shouldn't even be bred, coming in first place above perfectly sound, but smaller, sheep. Such practical issues are irrelevant in the show ring.

Letty Klein (a well known sheep and fleece judge) addressed this problem in a separate article in this issue of the Black Sheep Newsletter:
In some ways, the show ring influence is leading to a homogenization of our wool breeds. It is becoming difficult to walk into a show barn or even the show ring and distinguish one breed from another. Please think twice about changing your breed to meet the standard that wins in the show ring. Little things like ear-type, ear size, ear set, nose color and head shape make a breed different and easily recognizable.
The Coopworth anti-show philosophy is not without basis.

For the first national show, we decided to do something different: a card-graded show, where each sheep is judged against the breed standard, which is a written list of preferred or required attributes. The sheep were put into pens one at a time, and taken off halter so they could move freely. Two judges discussed the sheep's various points and came to a consensus about how well that sheep matched up with the breed standard. A card was given to each sheep: Blue for Excellent, Red for Good, Yellow for Acceptable, and White for Unacceptable.

After all the sheep were card graded, the sheep that received a Blue card were gathered for the judges to make a final determination, comparing them to each other (for the first time) to choose a Champion and Reserve Champion. Remember these two girls, purchased by my friend Robin? The grey one was declared Champion, and our Jasmine was Reserve Champion. We were thrilled that four of the six sheep given a grade of Excellent were bred at our farm. What an affirmation of our breeding program!

Primo holding Jasmine, Secondo with Kevyn,
and Terzo all the way in the back with Lambykins

My boys are well used to losing in the show ring. They don't even bother to show in most open shows anymore. But bouyed by the success of our farm in the card-graded show, they decided to enter the open shows the next day, with one of the same judges... and they were placed at the bottom of the class with sheep that had just been declared excellent representatives of their breed. That's OK, I still have that light purple Reserve Champion ribbon hanging in my office. Best of all, I know we are on the right track.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

shearing 2013

Our favorite shearer Hoyt made the trek out again this year. We are grateful for each year that he can lend his expertise to us.

That's Leonidas on the shearing board. He was quite skittish as a lamb, but he has settled down considerably. Usually lambs are terrified their first time being sheared and misbehave accordingly, but he took it like a champ.

Despite a lack of teenage boy power, because they were away at a 4-H teen conference (and having an absolute blast), we managed to make it through the day. However, we could not have done it without the help of really dedicated family and friends, the kind of people that when you say "can you please show up on a cold Saturday morning and pick fleeces with your bare hands," respond "sure! what time do you need us there?"

As you might imagine, this is a very short list of people. It included the core members of our farm's chapter of the International Society of Professional Sheep Poop Pickers:

Plus fellow 4-H leader Amy, unfortunately not pictured, who offered to lend a most helpful hand when she realized the boys would be gone. She was inside the barn, sweeping off the shearing board in between each shearing and capturing wayward sheep.

The other one who stepped up to the plate, more or less, was Terzo. It helped not being in his big brothers' shadow. It also helped that I offered to pay him in Legos based upon his degree of helpfulness. What can I say, desperate times call for for bribery.

His first job of the day was bringing in his 4-H lamb, Lambykins, who proved that she still knew the purpose of a halter. She was not so well behaved while being sheared, see lambs and first shearing above. However, she did give us the most beautiful fleece, so she is forgiven.

We ended up with lots of gorgeous fleeces this year, thanks to a better job of keeping coats on the sheep. One girl managed to evade us all year, and her fleece was so bad that I was going to toss it on the mulch pile. Hoyt asked if he could take it to the wool pool instead, so off it went with him. I am actually quite excited, I have never had a fleece go to the wool pool!

Even more exciting... Drum roll, please... All six of the ewes were bred. Leo did a bang up job, no pun intended, his very first time out of the gate. The first possible due date is in two weeks time. I better start banking up my sleep now.