Wednesday, May 29, 2013

lovely little gadget

I am not really a gadget person. I have many friends and relations that are very well versed on the latest technology, but I am willfully, deliberately, could-not-care-less ignorant on such things. Which of course, drives those people slightly bananas.

But this time, I'm in loooooove.

A mini iPad, the result of my winning the Christmas at Sea design contest, arrived in the mail yesterday. My husband, the world's biggest fan of the movie A Christmas Story, made sure to label the box appropriately before I arrived home so I would have no doubt what was inside.

Primo, in a brilliant display of thoughtfulness (it gives me hope), gave me a lovely pink cover for Mother's Day. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures in the daytime and my camera isn't doing a great job with the hot-pink-and-coral color combo. Pink is my defense in this house. It wasn't really my color growing up, but now it is my indisputable claim to an item. If I want to keep something all for myself, I buy it in pink. This has worked for almost everything, except my earbuds; the thief (Terzo) apparently reasons that no one can see the pink when they are buried in his ears.

My husband did the initial set-up for me, but once I discovered the built-in camera (squee!!!!!) no one else has been allowed to touch it. I even managed a self-portrait, in thermal, thanks to the photo booth app.

I carried it around to all my errands today, though I didn't really need it, just because I am so enamoured of the weight and heft of it. It is exactly the size and almost-shape of a paperback book, so the appeal is obvious. A completely new toy with the comfort of the familiar.

But the best part... the part that marks it as mine-all-mine... we didn't discover until we went to put it into the case.

How thoughtful of Paige, to put such a lovely inscription on the back!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

memorial day, one day late

Despite being one day late, our sentiments are no less heartfelt. We remember with profound gratitude all who served, especially those who gave their lives to our country.

This was our fifth appearance in our small-town parade, with the boys' 4-H club.

I think our float may have been the best yet, but I also think that I say that every year.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

through the pages

These past few days have been an avalanche of reminders that my children are growing up. Maybe it is something to do with the spring season, with all the growth happening around us making me super-attuned to it happening right next to me. Whatever the reason, it always hits me the hardest this time of year.

One of the big transitions we are working on is Secondo's entry into high school. He has almost always shared a room with someone, sometimes by choice, and sometimes not. Right now, he technically has his own room, but his little brother sleeps in the bottom bunk. They are both happy with this arrangement, for the most part.

The demands of his new high school will require him to have a dedicated study space. The obvious place is Terzo's room, which he only uses for clothes storage and a play area. It's the perfect reason to start weeding out the stuff meant for younger children, especially the three bookshelves chock-full of board books through picture books and elementary chapter books, to get ready for high school textbooks and binders.

I did not anticipate how difficult the parting would be.

Some of these books have been with us since Primo was born almost eighteen years ago. I have vivid memories of reading them aloud, over and over and over again. Their physical presence is a reminder of that sweet innocent baby/toddler weight in my arms, resting trustingly against my chest, as I rocked and read. The words of the books surrounded us so completely, my telling and their listening such a wonderful way for each of us to get exactly what we needed from the other. Need the perfect baby gift? Give The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It was one of the most valuable gifts I received, for what it taught me about the power of reading to your children.

I started making piles of the ones that I couldn't bear to part with, because so much love is bound up in those worn and tattered covers that it seems disloyal to give them away. Although some overlap existed, each child had their own particular favorites that were chosen time and time again. Those were put aside to be stored in their "baby boxes", large rubbermaid containers with particular momentos from birth on up.

One such book has not been on the bookshelf, but instead on my desk, for several years now. This book was the particular favorite of my eldest, who brought it to me on a daily basis. I have used this book almost as frequently in the last few years to remind me of his younger self as we faced down the rocky challenges of the teenage years. Viewing him through the lens of my memories of that book made the various situations that much more bearable. I haven't needed it for a while now, so I brought it upstairs and added it to the piles of books bound for the boxes. Another passage, though perhaps it's time for me to choose one of Secondo's to go on my desk.

Friday, May 24, 2013

a matter of degrees

Crazy weather here today. It was warm and humid when I went out for my run around 9 am, but at some point late morning the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. I left to pick up Primo for his track meet, but soon returned to scoop up all the warm running gear I could find, figuring that he wouldn't have packed enough for the conditions.

Sure enough, he was underpacked, no doubt remembering the same meet, exactly one year ago, when he collapsed from dehydration and heat exhaustion. No fear of that this year. Instead it was pouring rain and a bone-chilling 52 degrees, almost a fifty-degree difference from last year.

Just when we think spring has arrived, it seems we get set back a few weeks! I'd rather be in sweaters than shorts any day of the week, but even for me, this is a little nuts.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

adventures on a cargo ship

My delinquent blogging lately has been due to the fact that I have been keeping a secret—actually, several secrets—and it has been easier to not say anything at all instead of taking a chance that something could slip.

But today I can finally reveal big news! About four weeks ago, I threw my hat into the ring (cannot... resist... bad puns) for the 1898 Hat contest sponsored by the Seaman's Church Institute. I really, really need an iPad for the farm business. That was the prize, so I figured it was worth a try.

Imagine my surprise when I found out last week that I had won!!!

Paige Sato is the director of Christmas at Sea, an outreach ministry of the Seaman's Church Institute that organizes the annual charitable donation of hundreds of handknit articles to mariners who work on river and sea to bring us—well, pretty much everything. I have knit for them for years; I made the TEAny hats for this group last year. Paige asked if I could come up to Port Newark, where SCI is based, to meet some mariners in person and get a picture for the announcement.

I went last Thursday. It is just a hop, skip and a jump up the turnpike for me, but it was quite the adventure.

Port Newark, visible from the NJ Turnpike, is off to the side of Newark airport. The mountains of cargo containers and fleets of tractor-trailers dispatched to pick them up were quite intimidating from my
car's vantage point.

I finally managed to locate the Seaman's Church Institute in the sea of containers. It is one of the few permanent structures in the landscape. When I saw the image of the cross in the waves, I knew I was in the right place.

Inside, it is a lovely, open, airy building with a beautiful chapel in the middle. There are computers, showers, a workout room, phones—items a mariner far away from home may need.

It is also full of neat sea artifacts, like this antique figurehead.

Paige's office is a knitter's dream. Didn't believe me about hundreds of handknits? All those cubbies are full of them, organized for distribution later this year. She starts giving them away in November. In case you are inclined to knit an item or two, you still have plenty of time! Patterns can be found here.

After a quick tour, we donned safety vests and hardhats and headed out to one of the ships in port that day, which happened to be a car carrier. One of SCI's missions is to visit every ship, every time it comes into port. Their commitment and organization boggles the mind.

Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the ship, but it was HUGE, unbelievably huge, eight stories tall (maybe more??) huge, and chock-full of brand-new cars that were being driven off by longshoremen at a dizzying pace. We were led up to the galley: Chaplain Marge Lindstrom, Paige, and Justin, a law student from Charleston doing a month-long internship with SCI (plus me, of course, but I was taking the picture).

While we waited for the crew, who were occupied with an on-board inspection, the cook generously served us juice and fresh fruit. It was lovely hospitality; he was clearly pleased to have us there. Once they arrived, the mariners agreed to participate in a photo op using the extra knit hats I had brought along: two by me, and one by my ever-patient mother, who had test-knit the pattern and offered a wealth of tweaks.

They seemed to like them! But they soon got down to business. The chaplain said sometimes they need legal help, sometimes they just want to talk, but almost always, they need what she brought aboard that day: SIM and phone cards for their laptops and phones, so they can access the internet from their current location. Many of them wanted to know if the cards would allow them to use skype, presumably to contact their families at home. The mariners on that particular ship hailed from Russia, Ukraine and the Phillipines, plus one from Panama.

We sat and watched as the chaplain worked to connect them to the larger world. Though they travel the world more extensively in a month than most of us do in a lifetime, their experience of it is mostly limited to the vista from the ship's decks. Their jobs have the curious effect of cutting them off from the world while they criss-cross its oceans.

After a time, she ran out of cards and we had to return to SCI so she could restock and get back to the ship before it sailed at 4 pm, or perhaps I should say 1600. I enjoyed a nice lunch with Paige and her co-worker and then it was time to head back home to the farm—a stark contrast to the industrial port.

What a great adventure! Well worth the time it took to design the hat, though of course that was a pleasure as well. The thought that it will keep mariners warm for years to come, however, is probably the best return of all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

dab-dish cooking

I am not obsessive about too many things in life, which is why my house looks the way it does and my children are frequently wandering around wearing mismatched socks.

But using up food leftovers? I'm a fanatic. Maybe it's because we produce some of our food ourselves, and know how much work is involved. Or maybe it's because I am really cheap. Or enjoy a good challenge. Take your pick. They probably all apply.

I was leafing through my newly-acquired collection of Workbasket magazines, and came across an article by Mariana Prieto from the March 1951 edition, called "Dab Dishes":
   Have you ever gone to the ice box and found it crowded with saucers of left-overs? There will be a dab of this and a smidgen of that, not enough for a complete serving for all the family, yet too much to throw away. Then that's the time to make what I call a "dab-dish."
   With the high cost of food, I've found that these dishes cut my grocery bill considerably as well as delighting my family as new taste treats. There are limitless food combinations that you can make so that your own imagination and creativeness can help you in mixing these dab-dishes.
Dab cooking! There's actually a name for it! I doubt that my family has always been delighted with my "new taste treats" but they are usually pretty good about shoveling it down. Mostly because they have little choice in the matter.

(As an aside: I love that all her left-overs are on saucers, in a time before Tupperware.)

This past week, I had a ton of left-overs gifted by my mother-in-law after a Mother's Day meal at her house.
  • Monday, the steak was cut into strips and made into fajitas in the crock pot, along with sliced onions, green peppers, a packet of taco seasoning (because I didn't have fajita seasoning on hand) and a can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos. Note: saute the onions and peppers in a little olive oil BEFORE adding to the crock pot to get the proper texture.

  • Tuesday, the french bread became croutons for our salad. This is a great use of left-over bread, second only to garlic bread. Cube it, toss in olive oil mixed with a little salt and italian herbs, and broil until toasty.

  • Wednesday, the broccoli and potatoes went into a chicken casserole with cream-of-mushroom-soup and cheese sauce. My family draws the line at reheated leftover veggies. The only way to get them down is to mix them into a casserole.

Do you cook with dabs of this and that? If so, what is your favorite dab dish creation? I am always on the hunt for new ideas.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

bound up

Trimming hooves and weighing lambs and moving sheep wasn't the end of my work Saturday. I scrubbed water tanks, rolled and stored the temporary fence netting, cleaned out the barn. I was on fire. While I was still in my dirty work clothes, I decided that it was way past time to wash the sheep coats vacated on shearing day only two months ago. I am so timely. But washing is a bit of a chore, so I tend to put it off.

I am very lucky to have a dedicated washing machine in the basement for sheep-related items. It was our old top loader, that didn't give up the ghost but makes a heck of a racket when it is agitating. Imagine a donkey in labor. It can handle a few washloads per year, and it does a swell job of spinning water out of rinsed fleece and yarn, so I am most grateful for its assistance.

The one drawback: it isn't hooked up to a water supply, so washing requires filling the drum by hand. Bit by bit I fill it up, then it agitates in its noisy fashion while I stand guard to make sure the filthy spin cycle water is properly deposited in the sink. Lather and repeat for the rinse cycle.

On Saturday, after I had done two loads of sheep coats, I put a load of jeans in the regular washing machine and went off to do other non-sheepy things, finally. (If memory serves, I took a nap.) It was a bit of a surprise when Secondo discovered a flooded laundry area a few hours later.

Like many basement laundry set-ups, our utility sink (to the right in the picture above) drains into a dedicated box, which houses the laundry pump. This pump faithfully directs the dirty water up a pipe and into the septic system. When the pump fails to work, however, you have a flood.

All laundry was temporarily suspended.

Due to the demands of Mother's Day, my husband couldn't address the problem until later in the week. When he got the pump outside for a closer look, he was most annoyed to discover that the problem was...

Wool. Hundreds of fibers, wrapped around the pump's main assembly, preventing proper functioning. He spent an hour or so picking out the pieces with needlenose pliers.

I was already in the doghouse, when all the cuts on his hands (from trying to get into the assembly) started to get infected.

I have mowed the front lawn as penance. I think I will be sending the remaining fleeces out to a mill to be washed.

Monday, May 13, 2013

wising up

We are fast approaching our 10 year anniversary of owning sheep, which is hard to believe. We kind of fell backwards into the whole shepherding gig; we certainly did not say at any point "it has been a lifelong desire to own livestock, so let's move to a rural area and immerse ourselves in the farming life," humming the theme song to Green Acres all the while.

Sheep just happened, mostly due to the way farm property is taxed in NJ, and now we have a whole lifestyle (and I have a whole business) built around sheep. Cue blog post from two weeks ago. Life takes you down strange but interesting sideroads sometimes.

It still amazes me, though, how much I have to learn. We are constantly working out new—and hopefully better—ways of working with the sheep. Lessons are learned the hard way sometimes. And sometimes you can't believe it took you 10 years to figure something out.

This past weekend, the ewes-and-lambs group had been put into the barn late Friday night to shelter from the predicted storms. It did indeed storm, and I was most grateful that I was able to sleep soundly knowing that they were protected. The next morning, I went out to feed and move them to a different pasture, and I remembered that Lambykins' coat had become too small, and needed changing.

One of the key lessons, which unfortunately took us way too long to learn, is that if you already have the sheep caught, most of the work is done. Make sure to get everything taken care of at that point.

I started to change her coat... then I decided that it was time to get coats back onto everyone else... then I checked her hooves and saw they needed trimming... and we were off to the races, or should I say the workhouse.

The difficulty of hoof trimming by yourself is that the animal dances away when you try to get the back hooves up, especially if you don't have a solid fence panel to pin the back end up against. A person to hold the head immobile is a key component. I was by myself, and bemoaning my lack of squeeze chute, when my eyes fell upon a spare Sydell panel (from our truck pen) propped against the wall, and a little lightbulb went on.

By tying the panel to the hay rack and the barn wall, I was able to solve two problems at once: I had a little pen to drive the sheep into for easy catching, and once haltered, I could tie them to the hay rack for maximum control. They went into the little chute created by the panel and hay rack willingly, because they could see out the other side; the binder twine was invisible to them. Sheep won't go into a blind alley, but they will go into a narrow space if they think they can squeeze out the other end.

Once tied up, it was a simple matter for me to attend to each hoof with them having little say in the matter.

About halfway through the process, my husband sent out reinforcements. Once he was there, I decided to go one step further and weigh all the lambs. Too bad I don't have any pictures of that process, accomplished with a pulley system over a barn beam, which you can see in the background behind him, that we put into place last year. Last year! How did it take us so long to figure that one out?

I am also regretful that I didn't manage a shot of him with the grain bucket, running like heck towards the far back pasture once we were done, with eight ewes and fourteen lambs in hot pursuit. The power of the grain bucket was one of the lessons we learned early on.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Yeah, I made that word up.

But it is an accurate description of what happens when you take a dog that looks like this:

And end up with one that looks like this after a trip to the groomers, which he HATES:

The epitome of a hang-dog look. I think it may be that ribbon they insist on attaching to his collar. From herding sheep this morning onto a bit of fresh pasture (hence his soaked fur, it was a very heavy dew on overgrown grass)... to a silly little ribbon. It is beneath his dignity.

He was thrilled to be back at work tonight, in the dark, helping to move the sheep back into the barn before the thunderstorm hit. I cannot sleep if a thunderstorm strikes at night, and they are out without solid shelter. I made everyone come out and help me. I think he may have been the only one happy to do so, but not quite as happy as he was when we took the ribbon off.

Monday, May 6, 2013

can't wait

(The first part of this post was written on Saturday morning on my iPhone, but I couldn't figure out how to add pictures to the post and I had to throw in the towel after an hour so I could get ready to go to the fairgrounds. I added pictures and the rest of the weekend tonight.) 

Though perhaps a more accurate title would be can't sleep but can't wake up everyone in the hotel room just yet.

The younger two boys and I drove down to Maryland yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately Primo is a junior now, and caught up with things like SATs, so he has to miss the festival for the first time in many years.

Someone had no trouble sleeping on the way down. He was lucky to have a little corner of the car to sleep in, we were so jam-packed.

The first order of business was to enter his fleece from Lambykins, which he had very carefully skirted a few weeks ago, into the fleece show and sale. He was entering it as a 4-H fleece, so he had to do it himself.

Of course everyone made a big deal about him so it was all good.

I have to leave early this morning to set up the rest of the booth. The tent was not as expected, and so we had to reconfigure the entire layout. We were in good shape by the time I left last night. Now back to the fairgrounds, and hopefully have a busy day selling!

Now for the rest of the weekend:

We were blessed with simply beautiful weather. Lucky break, as our tent was smaller than the size we paid for and so we spilled out a bit on the sides. In the end the revised booth layout worked really well, and it was filled with tons of beautiful items to sell.

And sell and sell and sell we did. This is all I had left of over 200 cat toys at the end of the weekend, and they were only a small part of the booth!

As with every year, I couldn't have managed without a fantastic support team.

My dad, Secondo and Terzo

Unfortunately I failed to get a photo of the most valuable member, my mom. She is in the background of that photo, to the right, in the hat. Just like her presence all weekend, in the background propping my venture up. I don't know how I would have managed without her.

And Lambykins fleece? It didn't win, but it did sell. However Terzo is unhappy with my edict that the money has to go into the bank instead of into Legos.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

house of wool

Yesterday, on his way in the front door, Terzo commented on the decorations.

"I like our new flag. It's perfect."

It took me a minute to realize that our new flag was in fact dyed wool yarn on a hanger, up where one would usually hang a plant, to take advantage of yesterday's breeze. It goes perfectly with the farm boot decor.

In fact, the yarn was from wool produced by our sheep, millspun and then dyed by me. Given that our dining room currently looks like this (maybe a little better at the moment, I have been very busy pricing and packing things away today):

And our front yard is currently hosting this crew, much to the amusement and/or amazement of everyone who drives by:

Is it any wonder the kid thinks that is an accurate representation of what goes on around here, freak flag though it may be?

I hung another flag this morning in celebration of our status.