Tuesday, April 29, 2014

have wool, will travel

One of the things I struggle with is the best way to package and display our farm's products. Some people seem to have a natural flair for this. I copy those people.

Case in point: Robin's vintage suitcases, which she uses to carry and display her handspun yarn. She totes it into a show, opens it up, and voila! Perfect display, which she claims she ripped off from someone else.

Ever since I saw it, I have been on the hunt for a similar suitcase to use for my little bags of felted wool. A shop in town had two perfect ones, but I dithered too long and they were gone the next time I stopped in. A few weeks later, she let me know that she had more.

Of course they weren't quite as neat as the originals. They never are. Only one was possibly suitable.

Possibly. It is vintage in the way that anything colored harvest gold is vintage, which is not quite as cool and retro as anything from the fifties. With Maryland breathing down my neck, beggars couldn't be choosers.

The shop owner knocked down the price because she hadn't had a chance to clean it up yet. I finally got to it today, because: Maryland. Three days. As soon as I started, the only word that came to mind was, well, mankyCall the Midwife is in season. I am channelling my inner Brit at the moment.

A scrub with Fantastic and a Magic Eraser sponge and it was a spot better. (I wasn't kidding about the inner Brit.)

The inside still needed some work.

Actually, it just needed to have all the fabric bits removed, along with the stray bobby pins. More Fantastic, more Magic Eraser (love those things), a heck of a lot of vacuuming.

The bottom is a wooden piece, but it had broken in half. After aligning the pieces together, I put another piece on top to strengthen it and hopefully hold the broken pieces in place. If you are wondering why I am not using clamps to keep it together while the wood glue dries, it is because my sons have completely wrecked my husband's workbench and I could only find this too-small one, so I was forced to use it as a weight instead.

I have been keeping back this mega-heavy-duty cardboard box for several weeks with this project in mind. It's a wonder my husband puts up with my hoarding ways. A little cutting, a little glueing of burlap fabric to cover the cardboard, some sorting of wool, and now I have my own voila!

Unfortunately I miscounted how many colors I had already dyed, so I am scrambling a bit to fill those last two slots. One has been filled since I took the picture; the other is in the dyepot. I do have three whole days until Maryland.

Monday, April 28, 2014

two if by sea

My middle son, planting potatoes in the newly-cleared garden by moonlight and lantern light and flashlight.

Apparently they had to be planted today, because he cut them apart two days ago, and that's what the directions said.

I could wish that he showed the same dedication to task for things like homework and studying. Though a fifteen-year-old boy that looks up you tube videos on "how to plant potatoes" and then gets it done all by himself, because he picked out the potatoes at the Philadelphia Flower Show, because he had a yen to grow his own potatoes, is probably going to be okay. The report card may be less than desirable, but it is all good.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

mercer's babies

Remember way back in November, when Mercer the ram lamb visited Robin's farm to breed her two Coopworth ewes?

Turns out he did a great job. Her first ewe delivered last Tuesday. We were hoping for a ewe out of her, because she was the National Champion Coopworth two years ago.

No dice, of course. Twin rams. Cute as the dickens, though. Mr X is an especially curious guy.

This is his brother, currently no name, and the current frontrunner for "most likely to keep his balls."

We are waiting for the other ewe, twin sister to this one, to lamb, to see if she comes through with a ewe. Our farm doesn't need another ram, but I would like to have those genetics in our flock.

I went up yesterday to help Robin dock their tails and to talk about wethering them. We hemmed and hawed and basically chickened out, so the boys get to be true boys for a bit longer at least.

After we were done, Robin let them out onto pasture for the first time. Mama was thrilled to be back on grass. The lambs have no idea why the green stuff on the ground is important, they have no clue what to do with it, but they understand right away that they are supposed to do something. They'll figure it out soon enough.

Friday, April 25, 2014

woollen roses

One week from today...

I will be at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

I can't wait. I love the combination of being with my parents and boys (but unfortunately no boys this year), visiting with people that I only get to see once or maybe twice a year if I am lucky, sharing all our hard farm work with others, breathing the wool fumes created by others' hard work, and spending time with a heck of a lot of people that have the same obsession that I do.

It's an unbeatable combination. I am "in the getting excited" stage. I am also in the "panicking because I am not nearly ready" stage. Today was a day off work, giving me a nice block of time to do something about the latter condition. Things aren't starting to gell together quite yet in the way that makes me feel like I just might be okay, but I did get some solid licks in.

I have been working for a while on putting together these samplers of colored wool for felting, and I finished packing them today.

The fancy egg containers and the idea were given to me by Robin—more on the happenings in her sheepy world tomorrow. They were more work than I initially calculated, but I am crazy pleased with the result.

Up close, they look like... well, you know.

Part of the problem was guarding them from the wool maruader in our house. If I left them unattended for a few minutes, one color or another would "mysteriously" vanish, never to be seen again.

Who, me?

I am not accustomed to having to deal with anyone who has the slightest bit of interest in wool, but I am learning on the job. It does make a nice change to have someone who shares my fascination with the stuff, however.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


I have been told (*cough* thanks, Dad! *cough*) that a blog post is desperately overdue.

Unfortunately we have had a confluence of a heck of a lot of this:

Three days a week, to be exact.

Quite a bit of watching this—made more enjoyable by the fact that the older two are running together, so for once we have a two-for-one deal in the parental points department, but there goes the other two days:

They were both in this race and in this picture. Score two for me!

And a huge FFA science fair project deadline, with a competitor that looked like this right after he finished (ended up he won first place in the state for his division!):

Wearing his brother's jacket for luck. It worked.
He doesn't have his own yet.

Added all together, it means I am rarely by the computer. When I am, my brain is the equivalent of cheap neapolitan ice cream in the weak springtime sun.

I will leave you with a shot of sheep grazing the front yard, taken through a flowering sand cherry with my iPhone, which I had hoped would turn out a bit more artsy-like. We can hope for better tomorrow.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Boys in their Easter finery.

With a seasonally-appropriate sheep in the background, though I suppose a lamb would be slightly more proper.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

what do we want?


When do we want it?


Never mind that the arrival of spring is way delayed this year. We had snow on the ground on Wednesday morning, for crying out loud.

The girls don't care. They are most insistent that it is spring, dammit, and there must be grass, and there shall be grass, and MOVE US TO THE FRESH GRASS RIGHT THIS INSTANT!

So starting at 6 am every morning, if they feel that their present location is less than ideal in the grass department, they start up with a chorus of demands that doesn't quit until the portable fence is moved. Even their grain feeding, which normally makes them very happy, doesn't cut it. If any person dares to show their face outdoors, the complaints intensify tenfold.

The fence mover(s) must map out a battle plan in advance, due to the tendency of the ewes to rush to wherever you are moving fence, desperate to be the first lips that touch new ground. Here they were right on my heels, onto the new bit of pasture as soon as I exposed it.

That was part of my plan, though, to distract them while I moved a much larger portion of fence without them trying to rush me, and potentially rush right under the fence. It worked for a bit.

But then, true to form they were right there, waiting and pushing and being general pains in the butt.

This requires the fence mover to yell and shout and flap his/her arms and ask for Dusty's help to get the girls to back the heck up and wait one gosh-darned minute instead of getting hopelessly entangled in the not-yet-placed fence.

The lighter portion at the back is where they were grazing yesterday.

Finally: fence in position, happily munching QUIET sheep. Hopefully it will be enough to hold them so we don't have to move the fence again tomorrow morning, but the grass isn't quite as lush it should be yet. Despite the ewes' most fervent belief that it should be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

deadline day

Yep, the monster deadline was today, hence the lack of blog (or laundry or food in the house, for that matter).

I have been knitting and typing my fingers to the bone for days now, with midnight bedtimes and 5 am alarms. The projects are all on their way, though one was slightly damp, despite my best efforts with an iron and a hair dryer.

Luckily, I had some help, yo.

His best comment, about three-quarters of the way through: "Hey! These start with k1 then p1!! There's a pattern! Did you notice that?"

He managed to extort five dollars out of me for the discovery of a particularly egregious error. A small price to pay for a (hopefully) correct lace chart.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

a year ago today

I came across this photo from last year recently, taken one year ago today. I'm not sure why I didn't post it then, but it's worth sharing now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

the great pet food lift

We have had a long-standing "no gifts, please" policy at our kids parties since the day they started inviting their friends over to celebrate. My children are blessed with huge and very generous extended families, on both sides, so they want for nothing.

I am happy to have the party, I am happy to invite friends over to celebrate, I am happy to plan games and activities and food galore, I am happy to help my kid construct the goodie bag of his dreams. I just don't want to be tripping over one more thing that I have to remind my kid to pick up, which will be collecting dust in a corner in no time flat.

This policy is not without controversy, for my kids or for other parents. At Primo's double-digit birthday party, one parent came up to Curt, obviously not knowing who he was, and said, "Do you believe how awful these parents are, asking for no gifts?"

"Hi!" my husband replied, sticking out his hand. "I'm the birthday boy's dad. Nice to meet you."

Regardless of personal feeling, however, the policy has stood. Some years the kids have asked for their guests to bring something for a cause near and dear to their hearts. Secondo asked for food for our local food pantry, for example.

So this year, following his older brother's lead, Terzo decided to ask for cat and dog food for a local shelter.

His birthday was yesterday, but his party was almost two weeks ago due to scheduling difficulties, and I have been driving around 500 pounds (rough estimate) of dog and cat food in my trunk ever since then. I was starting to worry that warmer temperatures are going to heat up the food enough that I will never get the smell of Purina Dog Chow out of the back seats.

The problem was, what to do with the food? I thought I was saving myself a bit of hassle with no gifts but I didn't think it all the way through, that it would require me to do something WITH the food.

Luckily, an answer presented itself via Facebook. A shelter in Port Jervis NY was in desperate need. And a dear friend was willing to meet me halfway for a pet food exchange.

Yay!! All the food in kind Sheila's car AND as a huge bonus we both had enough time for lunch and catching up together. Hopefully my gas mileage will improve as a side benefit, not to mention finally having a place to put my groceries.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

terrific ten

No more single digits in this household. My little guy just hit the big time, double digits.

He is still small enough to be super excited about his birthday, his gifts, playing with his gifts, and getting phone calls from his friends and relations. I know we don't have too much longer, so I am savoring the last little bit of birthday magic.

Speaking of birthday magic... This set of paper toys.

Based on a wildly-popular computer game, but taking it back to paper-doll and origami basics with figures that you cut and fold. A complete reversal of high tech and old school.

Competely entrancing, too, in a way that I wouldn't have thought possible for something that doesn't involve a screen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

dreaded deadline

The Downton Abbey deadline is looming, and of course I am way behind. Lambing always throws me off course.

I put on inspirational sockwear this morning, primed up Netflix, and knit knit knit away all day. Except for the stress of an impending deadline, it was a great way to spend a grey rainy day. I would be further along if I hadn't had to rip out everything from last night...

Current status is one project done (except for finishing), one project 2/3 done, and one project still to start. I hope to remedy the last problem tomorrow morning, and just do my best to knit like the wind for the next three days, because I have to leave time for washing, blocking and drying—although it has not been unheard of for slightly-damp projects to go in the mail, with an e-mail to the recipient to let them dry upon receipt. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, although it will be close.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

best birthday present ever

Well, second best. The best ever was Terzo's birth; my water broke on my birthday. In his typical laid-back fashion, he chose not to appear until two days later. I count it as a slightly belated present, and one that will be almost impossible to top.

But tonight was pretty wonderful.

It started with my husband's discovery that one of my favorite bands, Nickel Creek, was back together. This band is an amazing collection of talented musicians: Chris Thile on mandolin, brother Sean Watkins on guitar, and sister Sara Watkins on fiddle. They have been playing together since the improbable ages of 8 (and 12 for Sean). To get an idea of their jaw-dropping talent as kids, check out Ode to a Butterfly.

We first discovered them in 2001, opening for Lyle Lovett. In their mid to late teens at the time, the kids toured with the Watkins' father playing the bass for them. Their brand of bluegrass was traditional and playful and transcendent. I was in thrall, so when they were touring on their fifth album in 2006 and came to a local college, we went to see them again. In contrast to the first time, they seemed flat and bored, and their album was a bit too angsty. They broke up soon afterwards, with no talk of it being "just a break." I resigned myself to the worst.

But lo, time passes and things change. A check of their tour calendar revealed that the stars had perfectly aligned. They were set to appear on "A Prairie Home Companion," one of my favorite NPR shows of all time, just before my birthday, at the Town Hall in NYC.

The perfect present. My kids were a bit miffed to be left out, because they are slight NPR and bluegrass nerds themselves, but it had the bonus of being a very rare date night, even if quite a bit if it was spent in NYC traffic.

The Powdermilk Biscuits sign was enough to get me all excited, and the show didn't disappoint.

Garrison Keillor was his usual dry sharp wit. His ability to riff about his home town of Lake Woebegon on the fly (no notes in sight) is a wonder to behold. The other guest singers on the show were fantastic: beautifully harmonizing voices were on plentiful display. And Nickel Creek were back to their old selves, though with an added veneer of polish and depth. They always blended well but Sara Watkins voice in particular has matured to their benefit. Not all of their new material is traditional bluegrass, but 21st of May by Sean Watkins comes very close. In addition to harkening back to much of their earlier work, it is a rollicking good tune.

It was a magical two hours, with the added benefit of being early enough in the evening that I had a chance of staying awake. My kind of concert! We even saw Garrison Keillor outside the stage door and passed along our enjoyment of the show.

This birthday present will be hard to beat.

To listen to the show, go to http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/ and click on the link near the bottom that says "Listen to the Whole Show" after 12 noon central time on Sunday April 6.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

marvelous spring day

Awoke to something we haven't seen for a very long time: spring sunshine!

It was especially welcome because I am not working today. I told my boss last week that four days per week was simply too much time for me to be gone from home. Too many things around here are falling through the cracks, or more like crevasses, that have opened up.

The new goal is two to three days per week in the office, and the rest from home as needed. It remains to seen how this will work out, or if it will work out, but it's a start.

Speaking of starts... A day off with sun meant a day of starting more projects for Maryland Sheep and Wool, which is only one mere month from today!

Dyeing wool, of course... and making cat toys and dryer balls. No worries that the laundry is backed up because it means more time to work on those. I'll get all this wool out the door yet.

Spring also means...

Opening day for the Trenton Thunder!

But true to form for us, despite the beautiful spring day, we got April showers in the fourth inning.

We had to beat a hasty retreat, but luckily not until we'd had our fill of ballfield hot dogs and crab fries. No matter what Mother Nature says, spring is officially in session.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

compliments of terzo

I was in my usual early morning lather, trying to dry hair--figure out an outfit--apply makeup--find jewelry, when Terzo wandered in.

"Here you go," he said, handing me my iPad. "Blog photos, compliments of Terzo. You can write that."

An exact quote, right down to the use of his blog moniker.

So here you go. Blog photos, compliments of Terzo.

Kitten wrestling with chair

The lookouts

From a different angle


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

model patient

It's been a while since Valentine made an appearance here. The lambs have knocked her out of primary blog-model status.

Photographer: Secondo

She's still the darling of the house, much to Dusty's jealousy. Even Primo, normally immune to her kittenish charms, had to capitulate the night she got stuck in his bedroom and ended up cuddling next to him all night. Until 5 am, when she decided to play with his feet under the covers. And then 5:15 am, when she decided to investigate his desk and knock off every pen and paperclip she found. The next night he searched his room before he closed the door, to make sure she didn't stow away again, though I do hear him talking kitten talk to her when he thinks no one is listening.

Photographer: me

Yesterday was her first visit to our vet, and she managed to charm that office as thoroughly as she has everyone who has come into contact with her at the house. She submitted with good grace to every sort of indignity that may be visited upon a cat at the vet, never once protesting or resisting or showing any sort of negative behavior whatsoever. In fact, we have never heard her growl or hiss. She is a model of magnanimous behavior.

Photographer: Terzo

The only exception has been stink bugs, but unfortunately she doesn't kill them. Can you imagine, a cat that kills stink bugs? It would be worth its weight in gold. Or orange, as the case may be.