Saturday, June 29, 2013

book review photo shoot

A first time gig: fellow blogger Pam Mackenzie of In Stitches asked me to guest blog! She had received a copy of "The Backyard Sheep: An Introductory Guide to Keeping Productive Pet Sheep," and being sheep-less herself, asked me to share my thoughts and send along a few accompanying photos.

After I was done writing my review, I sent Terzo into the pasture with the sheep to get their opinion.

Kevyn and her lamb made a beeline to him, to see if he was holding anything edible. The early morning escapades of these two particular sheep is mentioned in the book review, so it is quite fitting that they wanted to check out the book.

Nothing edible, but interesting nonetheless.

Wait, maybe the kid is edible?

The reason for the interest is eventually made clear: all Kevyn wanted was a chest scratch. All Kevyn ever wants is a chest scratch. Well, a chest scratch and grain. But if there's no grain, definitely the chest scratch.

You can read my review of the book over at Pam's blog. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

heron hunting

The large field next to our house was part of a ginormous tree nursery that went out of business about five years ago. Luckily all 2,000 acres of the nursery (not all next to our house) were purchased by a consortium of state and local sources and are going to be converted into park and wildlife areas. The baby trees are gone, and although a local farmer is still planting in some of the fields, much of the land is reverting to a more natural state.

In the lot next to us, beavers have dammed up the small creek that runs through it, and a pond is starting to form. Grasslands are transitioning to scrub brush. Most exciting, great blue herons have started to nest in the far corner of the property.

We heard about the nests last year, but neglected to investigate before the babies fledged. Returning from a run, I heard crazy loud gutteral squawking noises that could only be the babies competing for food. I ran back home, grabbed my camera, put on my red rubber boots, and headed back out again with the dog, who I took pity on, before I could miss the opportunity for another year.

Unfortunately I forgot (until I was on the road in front of our house) that I was also wearing my bright pink running skirt with a purple shirt. I remembered once a few patients passed me on the way to my husband's office. Colorful, indeed. I beat a hasty retreat into the first path into the lot, which was probably not the best way to get to the nest.

Dusty was in his glory. I could let him off leash because the road was 200+ yards and a creek-crossing away. He had a ball leading the way across the corn stubble, which was the easier part of our journey. Our destination is the bare trees all the way in the back right.

Our path got considerably more difficult after the corn field.

We came across signs of the blue herons in the mud at the water's edge. They visit our pond quite frequently, presumably to fish, but we don't have mud flats on the sides so I never realized just how big their feet were!

Dusty and I finally had to call a halt to our journey—we couldn't get any closer.

Luckily it was close enough to get some half-way decent pictures. Let me zoom in a bit...

At least four baby fledgings, and a bonus egret lower down in the tree. I could not tell if the heron on the far right was a fledging or adult, but given its proximity to the right-hand nest in the crook of the tree and its failure to fly away at my approach, I think it was a fledgling as well.

Mission accomplished! Back home we trekked, and I don't think Dusty even minded the bath too much.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Weather forecast was good for the next few days. We moved the sheep onto the bit of pasture all the way at the front of our lot, bordering a rain ditch next to the street. They were happy campers, because the grass was fresh (no sheep had been on it for at least 8 months) and they had a willow tree to munch on (they love the leaves; wonder if it cures sheep headaches?)

While Terzo and I were out running errands this afternoon, we noticed the sky suddenly getting darker and distant thunder. By the time we got home, it was a full-fledged storm. There was no time to move the sheep. We sat inside and watched the rain sluice down and the lightning strike for over an hour. It was a true deluge.

When the rain finally let up, the boys went to investigate, and found the end of our driveway had been transformed into a river, thanks to flooded fields at the end of the road. The sheep's portable fence is just visible—submerged. Alerts had warned of flash floods, but we didn't expect one quite so close.

The poor sheep were more than ready to get out of their pasture, most of which had been transformed into a small pond. Even in the highest part they were hoof-deep in water. The problem would be getting them across that water that Secondo is wading in. Sheep are not really dumb creatures and they are adverse to crossing moving water. (Smarter than some people, really.) Though they wanted to get out, they didn't want to get out that way, but it was the only way possible.

It took quite a bit of coaxing with grain to get them to cross, what seemed to them, a river. Once Kevyn, our leader ewe and the most tempted by grain, was tricked into entering the water while distracted with her nose in the bucket, she decided there was no going back, so forward she went.

Once she went forward, the rest followed, even the littlest lambs that had to do some mighty hops to get through. You can just make out that they detoured into the grass, because one inch of water on the driveway looked like scary river water as well.

It was a stampede into the barn, they were happy to get there and who can blame them?

The water is already mostly receded. We'll have to make a decision tomorrow morning if the ground is dry enough to give them another day in the front, since we went to all the effort to haul water and set the fence. The forecast says it's supposed to be clear.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

another berry trick

Start with a heck of a lot of blueberries.




No, the title doesn't refer to a disappearing trick! Though it was a race between me and my sons to see how many I could get into the freezer versus how many they could eat before I did. To give you an idea of what I was up against, I found these in the back of the truck before we even got home from buying the berries.

This is a freezing trick, so you can beat your kids to the punch. Many sources tell you that, when freezing blueberries, you have to wash them, then put them on a cookie tray and flash freeze them before putting them into freezer bags for long term storage, to keep them from freezing in a giant clump. Not true!

All you have to do is wash them, spread them out on a towel like so, and let them dry out thoroughly before putting them into the bags. They can freeze right in the bags and they won't stick together, as long as they aren't wet when you bag them. Saves a lot of time and effort—take it from someone who just put nine flats of blueberries in the freezer.

Which is still quite a bit of time and effort, even with a little (but getting bigger all the time) help.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

getting the blues

Yesterday was my annual trip with Secondo and Terzo to the wilds of the South Jersey Pine Barrens. Well, not truly the wilds. More like the blueberry flats. Wilds of the Pine Barrens do still exist, but we weren't quite that far in. (If you are interested in what, exactly, are the Pine Barrens, check out the book of the same name by John McPhee.)

We were picking up a record (for us) 28 flats: 10 for us, and 18 for friends. We had to wait a bit for our pallet to be loaded but we never mind. We could watch the simple packaging line all day long. I guess we are amused by simple things.

Berries in, washed, picked, boxed, labelled, stacked, stored.

It is straight out of a Mr. Rogers tape. Movie? Video? Just exactly what did Mr Rogers show us anyway? Probably depended on the decade. Whatever they were, they were always my favorite part of the show.

We make the trip down because, in additon to the price break, it can be tough to find Jersey berries in our local stores. Our Shoprite is still selling berries from NC when beautiful, plump, delicious NJ berries are being picked only an hour away. We found part of the answer at the grower: three trucks full of Jersey berries, headed straight for Minnesota, or at least that's where the trucks were registered.

Why not? As the most prolific blueberry-growing state, I suppose it's only fair if we share the bounty with the rest of the country. But it would still be nice if I could find them in my local store, though I doubt I would stop running my own little shipping line to the Pine Barrens. It's too much of a tradition now to quit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

finally garden

Today was the first school-free day for Secondo and Terzo. Poor Primo still has a week to go, compliments of Superstorm Sandy, who was responsible for his school having an extra week off in the fall.

Secondo took full advantage and finished getting his garden in. The state of the farm on the right sidebar has been updated accordingly.

I insisted that Terzo read at the same time, rather than play on the xBox, which had its intended consequence: he soon wandered outside to help. To be completely honest, Secondo was avoiding algebra work. It seems the only way to get them outside is to make the indoors compeletely unappealing.

I had work and errands to run today, so Secondo was more or less on his own. He came to the back door for a few questions but for the most part he figured it out himself. He remembered to place trellises around the cucumbers, and to stake the eggplants, and fertilize the tomatoes. Not sure it qualifies as a life-sustaining skill, but at least the kid can grow himself a salad should the need arise.

Photo with sun glare is the work of Terzo. I will try to get a better picture tomorrow, when I head out to help—yep, you guessed it— water and weed the garden.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

red gown again

No garden today, because bigger things were happening. Secondo graduated from middle school, so it was take two for the red nylon gown. I was sweating it a bit, because he is shorter than Primo was at the same age, but he had a little growth spurt (well, kind of a big growth spurt, he grew 8 inches in two years) and managed to lengthen himself enough to make it work, at least as much as a red nylon gown can work.

Where did three years go? It really doesn't seem that long since Primo made the same journey across the stage. It makes me tremble for how quickly the next year will go. Before I know it, we will be waving goodbye as Primo heads off for college and our family will change forever and...

No need to get ahead of myself, I suppose. For tonight, let's celebrate Secondo and his milestone and leave it at that. He is headed off to the same magnet high school as Primo, who is thrilled Secondo will be joining him. What hasn't changed? The brotherly bond I wrote about three years ago. If anything, it is stronger, and that is truly something to celebrate.

Before I know it, this guy will be in the red gown himself, though they will probably never give up photobombing each other... At least, I hope not.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

progress of a different sort

I had every intention of taking pictures of Secondo's garden once he finished planting it this afternoon, but then we got a terrible storm through from noon to 1 pm. It showered a bit from 1 to 2, another storm at 2 pm, moderate rain from then until 5 or so, and just a light downpour for the rest of the evening.

The upshot: the garden was not finished due to circumstances beyond the gardener's control. Nor did his mother feel like wading out to take "in progress" shots.

So its stead... the great trombonist, then and now. Two years ago, he replayed his 6th grade concert piece for the world's greater good.

Secondo's band days are over and the horn gets turned in tomorrow. He played the piece again (not just humoring me! his idea!) so we can all appreciate his progress.


If nothing else, there is quite a bit of progress in his growth, judging by his height in relation to the picture on the wall behind him.

Monday, June 17, 2013

no garden for you

It has been a super-hectic, off-the-hook, crazy sort of spring. Turns out, even though he can now drive himself places, having a junior in high school is a lot of work. Ditto for the third grader, who has the added handicap of not being able to drive himself places. Not as much for the eighth grader at the moment, but that is due to change in the next two weeks, and he is likewise not driving.

About four weeks ago, I finally noticed these poor specimens sitting forlornly by the front door:

Lettuce plants I had purchased three weeks prior, and then completely neglected. Meanwhile, the tomato and eggplant seedlings my father had started for me were still down in the basement, where my oldest son had placed them after he noticed a frost warning—one week earlier. I had forgotten all about the poor things.

It seemed to be a sign.

It is not the year for a garden. We have travel plans, we have college visiting plans (in theory, but we still haven't worked them out yet, so we also have to planning to do for the college visiting plans), we have summer school plans, we have unbelievable-craploads-of-things-to-do-around-the-farm plans. Where on earth would I find the time to clear the garden? plant a garden? water a garden? weed a garden?

When I made the decision not to have a garden this year, it was as if a weight had fallen off my shoulders. It seemed to be a clear signal that I had made the correct decision, though I did find myself starting to cry when I went to pull last year's tomato cages out of the beds, so the sheep didn't get tangled up when we let them into the garden to graze. I gave myself a stern talking-to. No watering! No weeding! No despair when things got out of control or died from a drought or got eaten by a deer! I banished thoughts of the joy of seeing the plants grow outwards and upwards, of watching the little fruit take shape day by day, of harvesting the bounty at the perfect moment of ripeness, of being so self-satisfied that I almost burst.

I made the announcement the following night at dinner. I was expecting a sigh of relief from my vegetable-hating contigent. To my surprise, they reacted with dismay and disappointment and frank disbelief. As long as they can remember, we have had a garden. How could we not have a garden? How about just one bed? Or maybe just two?

I held firm. I remembered they were using the collective "we." I had no time for a garden. More importantly, I had no energy for a garden. I called my friend Val, who has a garden, and she came and picked up all the seedlings to plant in her garden. I was very regretful. I may have shed another tear or two. But I reminded myself of all we were neglecting as it was, and I held firm.

Last week, Secondo came to me with a resolute gleam in his eye. Could I please drive him to a local plant nursery? He wanted a garden, and he didn't care if he had to do it all himself.

I caved, though it's a measure of the state of affairs around here that it took me almost a week to get him to a nursery. Tomorrow, I will share pictures of his garden.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

no words

Except perhaps: holy cow.

My pattern, as of tonight, is #4 on the "hot right now" patterns list on Ravelry. They really like it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

sugar stick scarf

Another secret, revealed... This one has been really hard to keep, but I can finally share: I have a pattern published on!

It all started after I finished my Magdalin hat, and I wanted a cowl to match. The gorgeous grey Madelinetosh yarn had been a birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law, who generously gave me two skeins—which meant I had one left over to experiment with. This was the result, combined with a beautiful handpainted yarn that I had bought on a whim from Woolbearers, the kind of yarn that was so lovely, it jumped right into my bag.

I was so happy with it that I decided to submit it to Knitty in the beginning of March—hence my hunt for a headshot—and in the best way possible, forgot all about it. Until I got a lovely e-mail saying they had accepted the pattern! I yelled so loud the dog started barking in a panic, thinking I was hurt somehow.

The model is my friend and fellow 4-H leader Tahara, one of whose best qualities (among many) is that when I say, "can you meet me this afternoon to model a knitted scarf?", she says, "where and what time?" and shows up looking gorgeous without any makeup on. Really, she defies belief. We pulled off the shoot at a park halfway between our respective houses, in about thirty minutes, because we both needed to get home to our kids. Priorities!

I cannot wait to see what other people do with the pattern. The possibilities are endless.

Monday, June 10, 2013

gray on grey

Monsoon conditions here today... We no sooner got the sheep moved to a new section of the yard, where they would have access to the barn for shelter, when the heavens opened. It is no fun holding metal fencing poles, designed to conduct electricity, in your hands when you hear thunder rumbling! We set the last post, plugged the fence in, and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the house. Meanwhile the sheep executed the exact same manuever, only into the barn.

There should be 24 sheep visible, not just a couple of chickens! Who says sheep are stupid?

The weather conditions reminded me of the song from the movie "Winnie the Pooh," when the "rain, rain, rain came down, down, down, in rushing rising rivulets, 'til the river crept out of its bed, and crept right into Piglet's."

The river didn't come quite that high today, but we did have an impressive overflow from the farm field at the corner, to the point that the entire road is littered with last year's left over corncobs.

During the onslaught, I was working on a project in grey yarn, which might seem a bit depressing given the weather, but it was actually the perfect day to knit away and not feel guilty in the slightest. I actually enjoy a good rainy day, truth be told, even one that feels like it's going to sop you up.

Added bonus: I got to use my new sheepy umbrella that I bought in Maryland. It makes me feel right at home, being under there watched by all those sheepy eyes. Though in actuality in such conditions, they are nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

twenty years ago today

This happened.

We pulled out the wedding album and the boys had great fun identifying people they knew. And by great fun, I mean they made fun of almost everyone.  They also had a ball with the bridesmaids dresses. I was unsuccessful in convincing them that everyone wore floral dresses in 1993.

We followed it up with the ceremonial viewing of the wedding video, which was made by a dear family friend, unfortunately long departed. We used to watch it every year, but I can't remember the last time we saw it. Two of the three boys were forced to watch it with us, but the 17-year-old managed to duck out on some homework pretext. The two who remained were more than amply rewarded by the crazy dancing shots, however. There's a month's worth of blackmail in there.

At one point, I became hung up on something and my husband mentioned it was due to my train. "You had a train?" Terzo was extremely impressed until we explained that it meant a lot of fabric in a dress and not my own personal locomotive.

My husband really came through on the thoughtful gifts, all memorializing places we visited on our camping honeymoon in Vermont. We were poor students when we got married! I received:

  • a bowl from a Weston Bowl Mill, unfortunately since destroyed by Hurricane Irene (extra points for the sheepy detail);

  • a ceramic wall hanging from Weston Priory, that matches our kitchen perfectly; and

  • a marble trivet, from the quarry in Danby, Vermont.

And to my husband, from me?

Yes. Socks. I went all out. In my defense, this wasn't really his present. I just wanted something little for him to open, but I also planned a really nice dinner at a local restaurant... then he begged off because he is under the weather. The only way it works for twenty years is if the forgiveness goes both ways.

Monday, June 3, 2013

quick berry trick

My kids love berries, especially this time of year when the deliciousness is so plentiful. Unfortunately most berries are inclined to disintegrate into moldy mush in the blink of an eye.

But it turns out there's an answer! Best of all, it uses my go-to solution for almost every household problem: vinegar. Quickly soak the berries in a solution of vinegar and water, then rinse them off before putting them in the fridge with a paper towel at the bottom of your container. Voila! Berries for five days and counting.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

pigs, again

Our pork producers are back in business. Six this time, because business is good.

Just like last year, first item on their agenda: eat some dirt.

Unlike last year, the boys had much more competition from other buyers at the auction. We had no idea why; maybe the recent news about the sale of Smithfield to a Chinese company? It is quite worrisome, for several reasons. The price of pork will undoubtedly rise as a larger percentage of US-produced meat will be shipped overseas. This will be premium meat in a country that has serious issues with food safety. It remains to be seen if this lack of concern for consumers will have an effect on the meat produced by that company in the United States. I don't think our current regulatory structure is up to handling this challenge, but I hope to be proven wrong.

It makes me quite glad that some of our own meat is grunting in our backyard.