Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fa La La La La, La La-La Shawl

My spinning guild, the Genesee Valley Handspinner's Guild, is undertaking a group knitting project in which we all knit a La-La Shawl using our choice of yarns, gauge, etc.  They will all be displayed at the 2012 Finger Lakes Fiber Arts Festival.  I appreciate knitting, but it's not my 'thing' the way spinning is.  I find knitting to be anxiety-producing.  If there's any kind of pattern, the number of stitches matters. If you are making a garment it's not unreasonable to expect it to fit.  If you make a mistake and don't catch it immediately, you have the task of either unknitting rows to reach your problem or just ripping back and then trying to pick stitches up again.  Either method is time consuming and stressful, at least for me.  When you don't have much 'leisure' time, the thought of spending it on a futile effort that you realize you've done wrong pretty much makes it easy to postpone the start of anything.  Still, I've been wanting to make a shawl of some kind for a while now, mostly so I could indulge in buying a (OK, maybe a few) of the beautiful shawl pins I see people using.  ( I also have the buttons I'm going to build a sweater around......someday).

Anyway, I've been saving some special yarn for a special project and this will be perfect.  It's a blend of wool from a dear little pet sheep named Flip (who I sadly have no pictures of) which I dyed pink, all the fur I accumulated from our wonderful Molly dog, and also some odd bits of pretty silk, some dark red mohair and a little peach colored angora.  Quite the combo, but it spun up beautifully and I ended with just a few ounces shy of 5 whole pounds.  And it's been in my stash for..... years.  Molly died in 2007.  I'm not sure if I had the roving made before or after she crossed The Bridge.


So before heading to Rhinebeck on the guild's bus, I got everything out with plans to get started on it while I had a busload of great knitters captive available to ask questions.

The Special Yarn

Molly's fur muted the pink wool to a lovely plum color.  Bits of the peach and red show up too.

The Equipment

I armed myself with my Denise needle set as I had no clue what I should use, the pattern, stitch markers, a row counter and a hefty ball of the yarn.  The rest is safely back in the stash for future projects.  All went according to plan, and having settled on size 9 needles (thanks Wendy and Bonnie for the frequent advice and hand-holding) I started the pattern.  Three false starts and I was underway.  At the risk of jinxing myself, it really IS an easy pattern and I recommend it as a confidence builder if you are knitophobic like me.

I've just completed the second lace row and it all seems to be working.  They yarn is handling nicely and Molly's fur is raising a dark, fuzzy, angora-like halo on it! I'm going to try to get it done by Christmas and it will be my present to myself. 

And maybe a shawl pin.

Friday, October 28, 2011

You've GOT to Be Kidding Me!

We usually see our first measureable snow fall during the week of November 11.  Anything falling prior to that is a dusting that doesn't even really stick.

This is yesterday (taken through the wool shop window).


The temperature here this morning was 25 degrees.  (Note - I am currently searching sites for quilted or lined jeans.  Anybody have a favorite brand or store?)  Clearly the snow is not going anywhere.  At least the sunrise created some pretty effects.

Sunlight on snow.  I feel a haiku coming on.

The sheep have the very best view on the farm today.

The lambs weren't real happy about being pushed outside while we filled the feeders.  They were born in the barn and by the time they were able to go out into the yard and pasture the snow was gone.

Why are we out here?  Please let us back in!

At least they could enjoy the sun for a change.

Sheep shadows

Now if Angel would just come over we could play........

It was going to happen sooner or later.  I could have lived with it happening later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Which There is Only Time to Blog Cats

A wise blogger friend of mine, thecrazysheeplady, once told me that when time is short, post a picture of your cat. 

I don't always climb into your tote bag.

But when I do, I crumple whatever is in it.

"He's my big brother!  I'm going to grow up to be just like him!  I do EVERYthing he does!"

Sigh. "Yes.  Yes, he does. Everything."  Sigh.

What an amazing stroke of luck that I actually happened to have pictures of our cats handy in the camera.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take It Off, Baby!

Having been born in late March and early April, the Cotswold lambs have grown a prodigious amount of fiber. At a rate of an inch a month - typical for the breed, especially youngsters - they now have up to seven inches of clean, soft, particularly lovely wool.  Up to this point they've been grazing pasture 99% of the time with only a snack of dry hay when grass gets short from drought, or if they've been kept off the pasture for a day as happens when we run the flock over the scales to check weight gains and eye scores (a measure of one particularly dangerous type of internal parasitism).  Anyway, their fleeces are lovely now, but will lose condition from VM contamination and possibly cotting if left on until spring shearing. Shearing now gets the fleece off in excellent condition and makes them cooler, too.  There is plenty of time for them to regrow another 6 inches by spring shearing.  Our schedules finally matched up and Mr. Magee came to do the deed.

What is this 'shearing' I hear about?

You'll see.  Heh heh heh.

Shiny piles of lamb's wool

Glow-in-the-dark lamb

The Cotswolds really are that shiny.  (The glowing eyes...not so much.  That's my camera :-/  )

Hey, what's everybody looking at?

These other lambs weren't being shorn today, they just got caught up in the group when we penned them.  They did do a good job serving as wooly doorstops and moral support for the Cots.  Sheep pick up subtle cues from body movement and eye contact and they know when you are or aren't 'after them' so they were very calm as we worked around them selecting out only the Cots to shear.

Cleo!  Hi, Cleo! Hi! Cleo!  Hi!

 All the sheep love Cleo and she loves them back.  Or maybe she just likes hot sheep breath.

Hang on.  Don't worry.  It'll be over soon.

Traditionally, one shears the white sheep first and the colored sheep after to avoid any contamination of the white wool with colored bits.  It's not critical here since I handle and sort all the wool myself, but we just tend to do it out of habit.

Shiny shades of silver sheepies.  Say it three times fast.

Around behind the ears

After the 20 ewe lambs were done we moved operations up to the ram barn and did 15 ram lambs too.  After being shorn they have to get reacquainted, so much shoving and smelling and some head butting ensues.

Who are you and why are you in my pasture??  Oh wait......geez, Fred, what happened to you?

So now I have 35 (more) fleeces to work with!  Woo!

Dexter apparently took advantage of Holly being out all day to spend the afternoon in her chair.


Indulge in a little too much 'nip, did we?

I'm thinking orange cat fur might make a nice blend with lamb........

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feeling Our Oats

When our field of oats was combined last month we didn't have time that day to unload them into our storage bin. The next day rained, then we baled the straw, then something else needed doing, followed by something else and something else.  The good news is that it was OK to leave them in the gravity boxes until we could put them away.  No vermin could get at them and they were safe from the weather.  The bad news is that knowing things are "OK" is seductive and you keep putting off the chore of finishing the task.

So Monday it was clear and sunny and Andy got 'er done.  First the grain head was attached to the elevator to funnel the oats down into the bin, then the elevator was drawn down to the yard next to the bin, cranked upright and maneuvered so that the spout was lined up properly with the bin door. The tractor unhitched and moved to the side so the PTO shaft could be hooked up.  Then a second tractor backed the gravity box up to the bottom of the elevator so the grain would spill into it and be carried up and deposited into the bin.  The few cars that came down the road right then could swing into the mouth of our driveway and around the tractor.  Most drivers smiled and waved, as they could see Work Was Being Done.  One guy seemed a little miffed that he had to slow down, but it was good for him as he was going too fast for this road anyway.  Probably a 'transplant' from somewhere more urban.

Ready to go

Guillotine door rolls up, oats spill out.

Starting to flow 'down the drain'

Flowing along and kicking up dust

The inside of the gravity box is built like a lopsided funnel.  Being made of smooth metal, the grain flows like water down and out.  Hence 'gravity box'.  Because the grain is very dry (as it must be to keep from spoiling in storage) moving it causes billows of dust and oat hulls and chaff.  The flights (crossbars on the elevator chute) carry the grain up, but because the grain is trying to flow back down you get an odd hypnotic effect of movement in 2 directions at once, like watching a Slinky try to come down an Up escalator.  And all that tumbling blows more of the chaff out.

Up... I said UP! ...the elevator

With the wagons unloaded the elevator is pulled away and cranked down into a more horizontal posture for travel.

Looks good - still got a few feet of room in there.

Closing the lid on the oat crop for the year.

That will be more than enough to supply the flock for the next year as they only get grain at certain times and the oats are only one component of the mix they get.

Puts MY mind at ease.  Thanks.

Next up in a few weeks....corn!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moving Right Along

Rain is predicted to settle in for about a week, so Andy has been working hammer and tongs at the roof project.  He's got it pretty well whipped except for a triangular wedge right under the electrical cable entry box.  He'll make that area weather-safe and wait till it's dry again.  We'll just have to live with the classy scaffolding for a few days. 

Al-l-l-l-most done

I used the weather to good advantage and got a coat of varnish on the wooden display boxes he made for me to use in my booth at festivals.  They worked great for yarn at the Finger Lakes Fiber Arts Festival but I didn't have time to put a finish on them before that event.  I promised myself that I'd get it done before summer was over.  I kinda made it.

Varnished AND gently sanded.  Woo!

All of a sudden the holly berries are turning bright red, but they still have blossoms too.  They are as confused as the teasels.  I hope they are this red at Christmas!

Ho Ho Ho - Merry October!

And while we bustled around trying to get everything done, Holly enjoyed a nice relaxing afternoon on the lawn watching the world go by.

Honestly! Those cats can just be SO uncouth.  Hmpf.

Time to move operations indoors till the rain goes by.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What a Tease

The weather continues to be phenomenal.  Warm, sunny.........aaah.  With the lawn freshly mowed it even smells like summer instead of fall.   After the three-plus inches of rain we had and now hot weather we're seeing some late bloomers strutting their stuff.  Here's a short but vigorous teasel in bloom, which some bumblebees are happy to take advantage of.

The king and his court

Teasels used to be cultivated here in the northeast for use in woolen mills. The large primary head was called the king and the others were also harvested, but considered of lesser value as they were smaller and not as stiff.  The heads were used to brush cloth and raise the nap.  There's an interesting article here from an 1893 American Agriculturist magazine about their culture, harvest and value.  An acre would raise an average of 100,000 teasels and at upward of $1.50 per thousand it was worth growing although the market was rather limited.  Now they're mostly just interesting wildflowers and a boon to the bees.

Our daily walkies found the milkweed pods on the lower farm opening in the warmth, but it's been so still today that none of the seed silks took flight.  The first good gust of wind will really send them flying. 

Milkweed fluff

Milkweed is another plant that has uses other than to make more milkweed.  Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed exclusively on it.  I have a friend who spun a very serviceable yarn with the fluff.  And during WWII the seed pods were collected for use in life jackets for soldiers having to traverse the Pacific.  We also saw two brave monarch butterflies gamely flitting south, but they were too high to get a picture. Good luck!

There's always an audience by the fence.

Hey, how are ya doin'?  Me, I'm good,  I got grass.

And back in the house I found this little guy on the kitchen floor - a ring-neck snake.  He wasn't getting much traction on the linoleum despite all the fur and dirt.  :-/   This is his normal adult size.  This particular individual didn't have the classic vivid underside of some, but was a pleasant pale yellow.   Good thing I found him before one of the cats did.  They'd treat him like a Twizzler and it wouldn't be pretty.

Sorry, wrong address, thought I was in Slytherin House.

I was able to get our Cotswold yarn posted today on the website for sale.  I'll work on getting the dyed skeins listed as I am able, but it just feels wrong to work at the computer during daylight hours when it's this nice out.  I also started putting a finish on the nice yarn display boxes Andy made and hope to finish that tomorrow. 

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Morning Ritual

Everyone has their morning routine.  After the basic necessities are taken care of, some people start the day with coffee (show of hands), reading the paper (OK, I'm dating myself but some of us still like to hold a piece of newsprint to find out what's new in the region and world), maybe doing yoga or <shudder> running.  After we do sheep chores and have breakfast I sit at the computer desk and get this:

The Morning Nose

Once I sit down Holly gets her Kong, shimmies around under the desk and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y pushes it onto my lap and then waits with her nose on my knees.  Sometimes she waits a few minutes like that if I'm in the middle of typing.  Can't stop and let that train of thought derail, you know.  Then I get up and -oh joy! - stick a diet cookie down into the small end so she has to work to get it out.  She gets sooo happy over a 2 calorie styrofoam-peanut-like doggie treat.

Good dog.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October's Bright Blue Weather

Thank goodness the gloomy cold has given way to....... sunny cold.  At least by my standards.  There was a good frost on the grass and roofs this morning, though not a killing freeze.  The sky has been absolutely cloudless - not a puff, a wisp, a streak....nothing but blue.

Sunny October day.

The down side is that you can see a LOT of leaves have come off during the wet spell, and now that the sun is out it's really, truly fall (as if the calendar hadn't clued you in). 

Andy is finally able to get after a job that's needed doing badly this year.  It really was too hot earlier to do it, but now that the year is winding down it's getting crucial to get. it. done.

Laying shingles, what fun

Somewhat more than half yet to go

He's going to replace the shingles on the whole lower storey, so has to go over the cupola and across the front of the house and wrap around the corner where the electrical entry cable is.  We'll move the snazzy wood scaffolding as he goes along.  The weather is supposed to hold like this into the early part of next week.  Here's hoping.

Knowing a freeze was possible, I went over to Julie's and picked a bucket of mint so more jelly could be made for us by the good folks at Los Gatos.  They have a great side business of making specialty jellies, jam, chutneys and the like.  They're awesome.

Bucket o' mint

The usual patch was pretty sparse this year due to the hot dry weather all summer.  I hunted around the south side of the pond under the tree line where the spillover runs and found a much better area to pick in.  It was wildly overgrown and wading through the goldenrod and multiflora rose to get there I thought of the lyrics Johnny Horton sang in "The Battle of New Orleans"

"Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go."

But it's really good mint.

After taking some pics of the newest roving which had still not gotten listed on the website (it is now) and pulling together a web order to mail out tomorrow I took Holly down the road for you daily walk.  You'd think that walking a country dog is sort of pointless given that they must exercise themselves.  Yeah, but she is only out when we are out, and she doesn't go farther than the lawn or upper barn and corn crib area.  She does hunt for mice in the alfalfa field (mouse snack, yum!) but that's the extent of it, for which we're grateful.  A supervised dog is a safe dog.  So we try to walk somewhere interesting every day and being a dog, EVERYwhere is interesting so she never tires of the same route.

We saw deer.  Well, I did.  She was too short to see over the grass, but she could smell them!


Nicely colored hips on the multiflora rose in the hedgerow.

Pesty thing, but at least you're pretty.

And a valiant butter-and-sugar wildflower still blooming between the tractor tire tracks.

Pretty, and NOT pesty.

The shadows were getting long by the time we got back.

What are you doing still walking?  It's almost time to let us in.

And of course the cats knew it was supper time.

Where. Have. You. Been?  Alexi, Ivan and Natasha

Speaking of kitties, little Calvin is past the kitten stage and is now a young catling.  He is off being 'tutered and Dexter is enjoying a 24 hour vacation from his busyness.  He's kind of looking around for him, so I'm sure he'll be glad to see Calvin return tomorrow.  He just probably won't admit it.

Peace and quiet and a sunny windowsill to myself.  Thank you.

Tomorrow......more sun, more fun!