Monday, April 29, 2013

woolly fuzz

I have been kicking it non-stop getting ready for the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival this coming weekend. I did start a little bit of prep in March, but I also had two huge deadlines for other projects that had to be met. I also find it hard to do some of the required tasks in small doses. So much has to be pulled out, so many things prepared in various stages, that it only really works as a full-time, around-the-clock venture.

Remember Jenny's beautiful curly fleece, that she wrecked last year? This year, I won: the coat stayed on. It is gorgeous and I have been washing the locks in small batches. Some have been put aside to be sold in their natural color, but not all of the fleece was pearly white, and those portions were dyed.

Isn't it interesting how the dye took up differently along the locks? I think it had to do with the fleece's exposure to the elements. She didn't have the coat on all summer and that part of the fleece has a different texture.

I have been very busy dyeing regular roving as well. Weighing and packaging it is always the part of the operation that I fail to allot sufficient time for, and once again I am left scrambling at the last minute to get it all done. I took a hit today when my right-hand helper, the sun, failed to make an appearance. Mighty hard to dry all these things in a timely manner without its help, and I spent today jerry-rigging poor substitutes.

My body is starting to protest against the pace. In addition to all the bits of wool that are attached to my body and trailing around on the floor, I am feeling like they are stuffed into my head as well. I was in this state when the office manager came into the house this afternoon—I was in my usual haunt these days, the basement—to announce that lambs were in the office parking lot.

The ewe and lamb group had been moved onto the rich grass on the other side of the house on Saturday afternoon. They weren't super happy with the damp drizzly conditions today, and I was planning to move them when Secondo got home from school at 3 pm, but evidently they decided around 2:30 pm to take matters into their own hooves. It wasn't just a few lambs. It was the entire flock.

I managed to get them out of the parking lot and into the small paddock. I put the gate back onto its hinges, sort of, while they tried to push their way back out again. My last view of them was grazing the non-existent grass, in the rain. Sheep logic.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

for the grandparents

Fair warning: this is a very braggy post but it has been a brag-worthy sort of 24 hours. Putting everything up here is the easiest way to share it, so I must beg forgiveness in advance.

It started last night at the school district talent show. Everyone who wants to perform and shows up to the rehearsal gets in, so it is a fairly long night, but worth it for the few minutes (or in our case, seconds) when your kid performs. At $5 a ticket, it is a brilliant fundraiser put on by the PTA to benefit the Fine Arts and Music program, taking advantage of the kids' desire to get up on stage and parental pride all in one profitable swoop.

This year Terzo decided to compose his own song for the performance. His piano teacher helped him translate the tune in his head onto paper correctly.

For the first time in public: "High Blues Walk."

We expect the ringtone to be released sometime next week.

Almost as short a performance time, but with considerably higher ticket expense, was Primo's event today.

To say he was thrilled to make the school's 4x400 team two weeks ago would be a severe understatement.  He is normally a distance runner, not a sprinter, so this was a departure. The event was HUGE, with hundreds of high schoolers participating. The kids funneled into a large corral at the end of the stadium, and then shuffled onto the track as the previous heat was finishing up. The gun went off every 5 minutes like clockwork to send another batch of kids around the track.

He is on the far turn in this picture, right in front of the Nike swoosh, in his flashy yellow racing flats. The team was on course to finish in the middle of their heat, which they would have been very happy with, until their fastest runner, the anchor, pulled his hamstring half-way through his lap and had to limp the rest of the way, though he did finish. Last place.

Primo was uncharacteristically philosophical. Actually, he had the same attitude throughout the wild ride of the last two weeks. He probably won't be competing at the collegiate level, so he told us that he was happy to have the chance to run in a stadium, just once.

Every so often, your kids give you a glimmer of hope that they are going to be OK, that they are developing management skills that will see them through life just fine. The last 24 hours have been a ray of light.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

spring has sprung

Today, it finally felt like we were progressing into spring. The golden sunshine and mild breezy day was such a welcome change! Going outside felt like you were being infused with yellow goodness.

The ewes-and-lambs group could finally be moved to a place that didn't have a permanent shelter. They were thrilled to get back to their favorite patch of pasture under the willows. The loss of the shade of the big front willow, thanks to Sandy, was keenly felt, and I am sure will be continued throughout the summer, but they made do with the smaller back two.

My LSH got the replacement for the purple martin birdhouse, another Sandy casualty, up and ready for business. We had an almost-full colony last year of martins and swallows, and we were worried that we had waited to long to put it up its replacement. But as soon as it was up, birds were checking out the new digs within 10 minutes. I hope it isn't too late, and they get it established again.

The sunshine also allowed for some good old fashioned drying. Nothing works better than the sun! I am in full Maryland Sheep & Wool mode. These felted soaps weren't quite done until the sun got to them.

Monday, April 22, 2013

looking back, moving forward

Yesterday, my husband and I ran a half marathon at our alma mater, Rutgers University. I have now learned the hard way that a half marathon in the spring is not a good idea. Whatever my intentions, the poor weather and lambing schedule conspire against me, or at least handily defeat my pitiful level of motivation. I did finish, and I did not walk, but I am mighty sore today.

On the way to the starting line, on a Rutgers bus;
I estimate I spent at least two months of my life, possibly more, on such buses.

As we ran around (and around and around) scenes from our past lives, I had plenty of time for reflection. I ran past the buildings where I took physics and calculus and biology and all manner of other classes that I can't remember now. I ran past fields where I tailgated and/or watched soccer, and the stadium where I watched football (after the tailgating), and dorms where I visited friends and/or partied, and libraries where I studied (occasionally).

At the starting line on Busch campus; it was COLD.

Some of the students came out of their dorms to cheer us on, which was quite nice of them for a chilly Sunday morning, and I thought, I was once in their shoes. I was so sure of what the future held. And guess what? I really had no clue.

At the finish on College Ave, after a little less than two hours of running.
Amazingly, he is still with me despite my less-than-stellar attitude.
That could be a reference to the race or our marriage.

As we try to guide Primo as he contemplates his next move, into college, it bears remembering: the future insists on remaining a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Sometimes it goes more or less according to plan; my husband is a good example. He was pre-med when I met him our senior year of college. However, the path to medical school took a few detours, and the best psychic in the world couldn't have predicted that he would be delivering lambs during his lunch hour.

On the College Ave quad, after the race; 
I remember meeting him here after a class.

Sometimes, naming no names, you are still left trying to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life well into your (ahem) forties, as life carries you along like a cork bobbing down its stream. That may be OK, too. It might be enough to be curious about the world around you, to keep learning new skills, to keep trying new things and meeting new people and thinking about what happens next.

Either way, you still don't know what the future may hold. The best you can do is to keep moving forward, one foot in front of another. As it turns out, this is also a pretty good strategy for a half marathon.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I tend to forget, from year to year, just what a handful lambs can be. They turn the farm upside down for a few months. Much like toddlers, their boundless curiousity and limitless energy gets them into all sorts of scrapes.

Yesterday, we put up the electronet fence to get the ewes onto some new pasture. The lambs have to learn to respect the electric fence, and they take turns chewing on it (just like babies) and then jumping backwards as it shocks them. Generally, after two shocks, they get the idea.

Once they decided to leave the fence alone, they turned their attention to the closed gate keeping them out of the adjacent pasture. They soon discovered that they could squeeze their little bodies through the gate and into the pasture—and then out the green back gate, which we had not lamb-proofed, thinking that they wouldn't have access to it.

The little black one is on the wrong side of the orange electrified fence, and would really like to be back with her mother and sisters. By the time I put on my boots and headed out, she figured it out herself, but then I found another problem.

The ewes were so distraught at the lambs being where they couldn't get to them, they lifted the gate off the hinges. Yet more proof that sheep are smarter than we give them credit for. Evidently they can lift those gates anytime they want (even though we have nails above the hinges to prevent this problem), but they choose not to unless they have a good reason.

The gate remains off the hinges, at least until we move the lambs and ewes to a different grazing area. They have been quiet today, plotting their next move.

Just like human babies, their cuteness works in their favor.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

lambs at dusk

For a little more light-hearted fare... The video is a bit dark because the sun had just set, but you can still get a general idea of the lamb-shenanigans.

They have morphed into a proper gang now, old enough to explore with each other instead of next to their mothers, but young enough to return to mom every few minutes for a little topping up. It drives the ewes a bit nuts when they are trying to locate their lambs by calling to them, and the babies completely ignore them.

All moms can relate to the frustration of selective hearing in your offspring. It may even be more bearable to know that other species suffer from it as well.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

hitting the road

I laced up my sneakers for a run this morning, but left all the gadgets at home. Listening to music or watching my pace seemed silly today. Allowing myself to be absorbed in the soothing rhythm of feet hitting pavement while my mind wandered free seemed the best tonic.

The news cycle is such a relentless beast, we worry we will miss something if we step away. I ran away instead. I couldn't watch those images of that poor man being blown off his feet repeatedly, with the plume of smoke rising to the side of the screen. Memories came rushing back, of planes hitting towers over and over and over again.

I remembered going to the supermarket a few hours after the towers fell. A shocked market employee was stocking the meat department in a nearly empty store. She turned to me and said, "Who would want to do this to us? Why would they do this to Americans? We're the good guys!"

We have been disabused of that particularly insular, John Wayne-inspired world view. Twelve years later, no American citizen can possibly believe that fantasy. The list of our enemies has not changed that much since then, except now we are collectively much more aware of who is on it.

Thank goodness, we haven't thrown in the towel. That much was obvious yesterday. Darkness and evil rolled forth, and light rushed into the void it created. Physicians and law enforcement officers who had just finished running 26.2 miles turned around and ran back, into the chaos, to lend their skills where they were desperately needed. People comforted and helped and just plain got out of the way, which is sometimes the most important act of all.

All I could do this morning was run, push my body out of its natural state of rest into action. That's all we can do. It's certainly better than the tendency to back into our shell, to pull the covers over our head, to lock the front door and hope it all goes away. It won't, that much is clear. We have to be resolved to follow the examples set for us: to run back, instead, to bring the light where it is most needed.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I have a heavy, heavy heart tonight. The images caught by a camera, set up to capture people's triumph as they conquered 26.2 miles, instead capturing the dark maw of mayhem and chaos opening up out of nowhere.

I cannot get the thought of the 8-year-old victim out of my mind. What parent was that child waiting for to cross the finish line?

It has been my husband's goal, for years, to qualify for the Boston marathon. He missed it this year by a handful of minutes.

The minutes that determine your place in the race.

Whether you have passed safely beyond the finish line, or are still waiting for your loved one to cross it so you can congratulate them in their moment of glory.

Your time.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

out like a lamb

It felt as if we were holding our breath, waiting for the last ewe to lamb. She finally went today.

The event itself wasn't a surprise, based upon how she looked this morning. The way it unfolded was, however. I was watching her carefully all day; we had moved the ewes to the old pig pasture, so she didn't have a shed to hide in and I could observe her a bit better. When I saw her vigorously digging in a corner by herself around 1 pm, I headed out with fresh towels.

I had time to go back in and put on a hat and sunscreen—it was an unseasonably warm 80+ degrees here. I had time to play a few rounds of scrabble on my iPhone. I even had time to make this helpful video, in case you ever need to know the classic signs of a ewe just about to lamb (digging, licking, whickering).

Unfortunately, she was not just about to lamb. After 45 minutes of pushing, I realized we were in trouble: all I could see was a nose and a tongue. The lamb was head-first.

This is very bad news.

The last time we had this presentation, we lost the lamb and almost the ewe.

And I was by myself.

But actually, I wasn't. My husband, monitoring the situtation from the back porch in between his human patients, saw I was in trouble and came to the rescue during a break, with muck boots over his dress pants and a surgical gown and OB gloves over his dress shirt. I got her into the barn, after an unpleasant chase around the field, and he managed to get the lamb out. In case you ever need to know how to deal with a head-first presentation: you have to push the lamb back in (hopefully the head isn't too far out to accomplish this) and try to fish out at least one leg, and ideally two. These lambs are usually bigger than normal and there isn't a lot of working room. He managed to get one leg out, and we pulled and rotated and eased the lamb out while the poor ewe hollered her head off.

It is not a one person job.

I am grateful for my husband on a daily basis, but it will be pretty hard to top my gratitude this afternoon. It is impossible to measure the sheer relief of not having to deal with the situation by myself. Without him, we would have definitely lost the lamb and probably the ewe as well. 

Lambs born this way often have trouble getting started, because their heads and especially tongues are swollen from being stuck in the birth canal. Breathing is an issue, as is nursing. As of tonight, the swelling has gone down considerably and he seems to be on the right track. Of course it was a ram lamb. Of course there was only one, despite her considerable girth.

Poor Kali was a bit shocky after working that hard in the hot sun, and then running around avoiding us, then enduring a lot of rough intervention—completely necessary, but rough all the same. We have treated her with vitamins and minerals, we have given her every shot recommended to deal with the situation, we have cleaned off the blood as much as possible, we have even talked to a vet about what else we may need to do. So far, she seems to be making a recovery, but we will have to keep a close eye on her and her lamb the next few days.

The final tally is 10 rams, 4 ewes. I remind myself that every lamb was born OK, and that is enough of an accomplishment for a lambing season.

A thunder storm is rolling through tonight. All the ewes and lambs are tucked up safely in the barn, in their respective groups, nickering and nursing and nuzzling. It is more than enough.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

popping the question

How does a country boy ask his girlfriend to the prom?

He enlists a cute assistant, and uses liberal amounts of duct tape. (The duct tape is on the jacket, not the lamb!)

His brother gave him a hand with the required lamb-wrangling.

Henrietta could not figure out what the boys were up to with her baby. 

Amazingly enough, the lamb remained posed, with the sign in perfect readable position, while the girlfiriend walked up to the paddock.

She said yes, on the condition that he doesn't wear a camo tux.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

rookie mistake

Because his office is in our house, my LSH doesn't get out much. This means that he is always up for a trip to pick up milk, for example, just to change the view a bit, but this can also make for a little stir-crazy.

So for gifts, I try to get him out of the neighborhood. One year we went to New Orleans. This year, I planned a trip to a Broadway show and an overnight in NYC.

Tickets to the play Book of Mormon are fiendishly hard to get, even months in advance. I spent hours trying to find two halfway decent seats that didn't break the bank. (For the record: it wasn't worth it, even for these two South Park fans.) I was so focused on this task that I made the ultimate rookie shepherding mistake:

I didn't check the lambing dates.

Foolish me, I booked the tickets for last night, smack in the middle of lambing season.

On Monday, my LSH admitted that we had better cancel the hotel room, and my parents' plan to come up for the night to stay with the boys. We couldn't afford to be gone that long. I reluctantly agreed.

As the week progressed, and more and more lambs made their appearance, it seemed that we were going to be OK for the night, with one exception: Jenny still hadn't lambed.

And she was due yesterday.

I lined up a back-up shepherd but it was quite a relief to go out with the 1 pm bottle and see this sight:

A single pregnant ewe in a field, with the other one nowhere in sight, could only mean one thing.

Yep. Jenny was tucked in the corner of the shed, out of sight, with her three new lambs. Two white rams, and one black ewe.


I hustled to get them all settled in the jug recently vacated by Henrietta. The barn was reconfigured once more, to allow Jasmine, Holly and Henrietta to mingle. This caused no small amount of chaos as lambs called, ewes answered, and Holly and Henrietta duked out their relationship again (Holly and Jasmine had settled the score yesterday).

That just leaves poor, confused Kali, the central white ewe in the video. She is completely baffled as to why everyone else has these little noisy things running around after them, and she does not.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

where to start?

Oh my. It has been a busy two days. Let me try to go in order...

During the early Wednesday morning check, I found Henrietta in labor. No pushing yet, so enough time to run back to the house and get the lambing towels luckily laundered the day before, and throw back a cup of coffee.

We got the still-preggers ewes out to pasture so we could focus on Henrietta, but she was taking her sweet time. In the meanwhile we worked on checking Holly and Jasmine and getting them settled for the day, only to discover that one of Jasmine's lambs had awful smelly scours (sheepy runs), quite a concern for a newborn.

Back to the house to check on the preferred treatment. When I returned, Henrietta was flat on her side with a non-moving slimy black bundle on the ground behind her.

It must have been right after the lamb was born; turns out they were both fine. Can't say the same for my heart, which was pounding away for quite a while afterwards. Again in her own time, she produced the second one, again by herself. BOTH RAMS. Argh. But I did manage to get a nice video of the second one trying to get to his feet, despite his brother stepping on him.

Back and forth I went all day. Henrietta was slow in letting down her milk... Holly's two smaller lambs needed a bottle... Jasmine's sick ewe lamb needed cleaning up on a regular basis.

Close observation is the key right now. The white ewe lamb constantly sleeping on top of her mother was a good hint that she was cold. Henrietta's lambs were having trouble latching on, so I went out at 1 a.m. to offer extra milk and discovered one of hers with scours as well. It's not all problems: Jasmine's ram lamb is completely healed as of today, so that's one worry off the list.

I am so tightly focused on them that the rest of my life is a bit of a blur.

We managed to get everyone under control today—until I went out to show a friend the new lambs, and found Kevyn in the shed by herself, vigorously cleaning something on the ground in front of her.

Yup. Two more. Do I even need to add that they are both black, and both rams? Heartbreaking, too, as they are the most vigorous and bouncy of the lot, requiring absolutely no assistance.

Another slight reconfigure of the barn was in order. As of tonight, we have Holly and Jasmine and their six lambs in the nursery. The wooden gate in the back, where the boys are standing, is a creep area: the lambs can get in, but the ewes can't. It's a little lamby rumpus room, where we can feed them separately when they are a bit older.

Henrietta (top) and Kevyn (bottom) are in lambing jugs with their four. They all still need a little more bonding time together, and the smaller confined spaces allow them to get acquainted in peace, and keep the lambs from getting too far away from their mothers.

Kali (front) and Jenny (back) have the rest of the barn to themselves.

They are quite interested in the new arrivals, but will have to wait until they have their own to get up close and personal with some lambs. They are so close to their own due dates that they might try to steal the newborns for their own.

Sheep logic: shortcut the whole process by taking someone else's lambs. Nope girls, it doesn't work that way. You are stuck going through labor on your own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

double the fun

A surprise in the barn at 6 am this morning:

Jasmine this time! Two ewes and one ram. The best part was that she did it all by herself, no assistance required.

Unfortunately the ram lamb is having some kind of trouble with his leg. Jasmine had triplets last year and one of them had a similar problem, as if the ligaments hadn't tightened up yet. It was completely healed within a week of his birth and I am hopeful that this little one has the same outcome. In the meantime I am keeping a close eye on him and supplementing a bit to make sure he can compete with his larger, stronger sisters while we decide if the leg should be splinted.

Speaking of supplementing, the two younger lambs from Saturday night are struggling a bit as well and I started to offer them a bottle this morning. I can't tell if Holly isn't making enough milk yet or if they are having trouble getting it out. This video from today illuminated one of the problems:

Their darn larger brother is spending all his time knocking his smaller siblings off! Check out that karate chop  move, amazing for an animal lacking arms, that neatly pops his brother off the nipple, leaving him wondering just what the heck happened, anyway.

Bottle feeding means more trips to the barn, but the annoyance is more than outweighed by the scenes of utter (udder?) contentment often found in the little nursery.