Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year Treat

I gave my Christmas tree to the sheep for a New Year's Eve treat.  Lilly gets the bottom of the pig slop bucket and oh, does she love it.  Happy New Year everyone.  I'm celebrating with my four legged friends.

Musings on the Last Day

Random thoughts at the end of this year.  The years are flying by way too fast and the history is building up.  So much is lost to follow up.

The farm is hanging on and I won't let go.  It is very cool to be a part of something that is bigger than me.  The farm is who I am.  My family thinks I'm crazy and lately has said some very unkind things about my lifestyle, but that's okay.  This "dirty life" isn't for everyone.  It happened to me and I believe has saved me from a meaningless rat race.  It works for me.  Matt is hanging on and although he has his escape fantasies I think he's sticking around for the mean time.  He will never be into the animals the way I am,  and I don't think he knows the difference between wool and mohair, but he is here. He goes to the feed mill for me and carries in the 100 pound sacks.  He forks down hay every morning before work while I tote water and feed the chickens, rabbits and cats.   Yesterday he was stapling plastic sheeting over leaky windows to reduce drafts in the barn and I am thankful for his help.  I thought buying a huge historic barn with a big pole barn would be a dream come true for a carpenter but he told me he is not a carpenter - he is a builder.  Builders can "pick up the phone and get $10,000 right away."  Maybe in New Jersey but not so here.  I do have to remind him from time to time that he found his dream job in teaching weatherization building skills here in upstate NY - which would never have happened if I didn't buy this funky little sheep farm.

My love of natural fibers grows and grows.  There was a time when I could knit with acrylic yarn without a problem.  Now I can't even stand to touch the stuff.  Every Saturday spent at the farmer's market is an opportunity to enlighten people about the world of real wool, mohair, and angora.  Most people have no clue.  They don't know why they are cold and pile on layers of cotton and pull on a nasty little plastic hat from Walmart that does little more than cover their heads..  With every passing year I appreciate natural fibers more and more and it's the love of the animals that turned me on.  The bonus is always being warm and comfy in any kind of weather and always having something to do with my hands.  The love of natural fibers has taken me back thousands of years and provided a tunnel into history and geography that I never dreamed of.   Just pick up a copy of Linda Cortright's Wild Fibers magazine and you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

I'm thankful for all the fiber friends I've made with this fuzzy life.  I love the cyclical nature of the "sheep shows" and look forward to seeing my friends and supporters who come to see me every year.  They validate all my efforts in every way and words can't express my gratitude.  I owe them big time.   I recently had a call from a woman who said she visited the Fingerlakes Fiber Festival last September with her 89 year old father.  She took home a 2 ounce jar of my Shepherd's Friend and called to say she can't get to sleep without it.   I sent her the creme and some for Dad, too.   The knitter who wore the sweater she made from my Mother Fiber to Rhinebeck to show me was wonderful.  There are so many faces with names and so many nameless faces.  I wish I could thank you all personally, but here are just a few...

Lisa Merian is a perfect example of how one person can radically change the course of your life.  I met Lisa at wool shows, specifically New Hampshire Sheep and Wool I think, where Lisa had set up shop with her mother, Marie.  Marie and her husband originally come from Clinton, New Jersey, not far from where I grew up.  They came up here after he served in the Korean War and bought 300 acres and a beautiful Italianate stone farmhouse in Bainbridge.  Lisa was born on the farm and has been raising sheep for years and years after the family converted from dairy.  I was complaining to Lisa about how I wanted my own land and she suggested "Why don't you try Central New York?"  I said, "Where's that?"  I was one of many who referred to anything north of Manhattan as upstate NY.  I say north because I never considered anything west of the Thruway I used to get to Vermont for skiing.  Lisa found my farm for me and has supported me in many ways.  Lisa and Marie are a constant source of inspiration to me.   Marie is a world class knitter and I wear a sweater she made for me every single day on the farm.  It never wears out and there is courage in every stitch which soaks into my blood and sees me through the worst of times.  They've figured it all out and I will, too.

Kim Parkinson AKA Kimmie Cornerstone, my loyal friend and biggest fan who faithfully follows me to all the shows and helps me with the Herculean effort of setting up, working the booth, and taking down.  I met Kim when she purchased her very first Angora rabbit from me years ago at Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool.  Now Kim is big in the bunny world.   Kim truly understands what I do and is a talented spinner and lover of natural fibers.  She lives in town but would love to have a farm someday so she can raise her own fiber.  For now Kim focuses her energy on raising two fantastic human kids, Jared and Lindsay, along with angora rabbits and she keeps me in the luscious fiber.  Kim is an expert drop-spindler and teaches on both sides of the border.   Kim is evolving into an expert knitter and knits all my favorite hats.  This time of year I reach for them every time I walk out the door.

Carol Schwartzott AKA Carol Crayonbox, a retired college art professor and fiber artist who has helped me immeasurably with encouragement and finding fabrics for my Bundaflicka totes.  Carol designed my soap labels and has given me tons of great advice and ideas for my art classes at BOCES.  She recently engineered the gift of my latest industrial sewing machine, bequeathed to me by John E. Davis, a textile designer and fiber artist who recently passed away from cancer.  Once in a while a box will arrive full of goodies and gadgets that Carol thinks I might need.  She sent me a dog choke collar which has probably saved my life walking wild young Cooper.  Carol is a dynamo who no one can keep up with.  Her art career is vast and varied.  She even has art books in the Smithsonian Institution.  I'm in awe of her.

Sally Newhart - I met Sally at Maryland Sheep and Wool when she was helping her friend Julia Hildebrandt across from me.  Sally is a slip cover designer for the New Orleans glitterati and offered to send me her scraps for my bag designs.  Her fabrics are unique and luxurious, the type of textiles you don't find in local stores and must be ordered from the high-end companies.  My cup runneth over.

Annie Tarbox - Annie has spun my wool into yarn for sale in my booth and the skeins fairly fly away.  She finds fabrics for soap wrapping and drives them to me all the way from Maine.  Annie helps in my booth and keeps careful track of sales.  She is a world class spinner and knitter, and gave all of us hand knit socks for Christmas!  Annie gave me the most precious gift of all... two incredibly wonderful grandchildren.

Peggy Finnegan - Peggy coordinates the Colorscape Chenango fine arts festival in Norwich every year.  She wandered into my booth at the New Berlin Quilt Festival a couple of years ago and invited me to apply.  I adore this festival in the town where I work.  Colleagues get to see what I do, otherwise all they know is that I live in a barn with the sheep and always have poop on the bottom of my shoes.  Peggy is married to a retired cow vet who used to take care of the cows on this farm, back in the day.

Pam Haendle - Pam is the driving force behind the Central New York Fiber Festival, our own local natural fiber fair.  Without her it might have fizzled out after year one, but we are at year four coming up and growing.  She puts up with me trying to keep the focus on sheep.  Pam is wonderful.

Dr. Lea - Dr. Lea gets the prize for owning the most Bundaflicka Knitting Totes.  She uses them to keep her operating room gadgets organized when she provides anaesthesia for surgical patients.  Dr. Lea is the one who started me making the messenger style flap bags.  Her faithful patronage keeps me sewing.

Sharon Winans - Sharon is the Captain of the Mothership at my school.  She was one of my first customers when I moved here seven years ago and is a faithful fan of my soap and hand creme.  I know she will read this and I don't want to embarrass her.  I do so appreciate all the leftover food Sharon brings to school to feed my chickens.  She is so thoughtful and I appreciate her friendship.

Kathy Herold - Kathy founded the Hamilton Center for the Arts.  She has boundless energy and creates programs for locals to experience many artistic genres.  Kathy is very supportive of my work and has asked me to put my hand spun skeins in the art center for sale.  She also has the VERY BEST parties in her historic Victorian farmhouse on River Road in Hamilton.  We are invited to her annual Tamale Party next week and I'm trying to decide what to bring....a big pot of chili, maybe?  It's the high point of my winter, as I go from work to farm and back again, with an occasional night at NY Pizzeria.   I love to sit in Kathy's living room surrounded by plants, paintings and books.  I'm always one of the last ones to leave.  I just might go upstairs and high-jack a bed this time and stay 'til morning.

Mother Katherine - Mother Katherine is an American Orthodox nun who resides at the Holy Myrhhbearers Monastery about an hour from here.  Mother Katherine raises sheep, dairy goats and cows at the monastery and cares for them exclusively in all the challenging conditions life in upstate New York presents.  She is a talented weaver and knows fiber.  Mother Katherine has that special insight into the needs and minds of animals.  She is truly a "whisperer" and speaks to them in a language gifted to very few.  Mother Katherine has taken in homeless animals in need after owners died and farms disbanded.  She builds shelters for them in the field out of sticks and hides.  I am in awe of her and so proud to know her.  Whenever she is called away from the farm there is no one else in the nunnery to take over, as most of the residents are older.  I asked Mother Katherine who takes care of the animals when she leaves and she answered, without hesitation and with much certainty, "God."  Her faith in inspiring.

I didn't know where this post would take me, but I like where we went.  I realize that most of the above people are in my life as a result of moving to the farm in New York.  I count them among my many blessings.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Bubble Bubble

If I keep a dye pot going in the milk room where my plumbing lives I don't have to keep the little plug- in heater or the oven on.  When I was away for Christmas the plug-in heater was turned over and unplugged somehow (cats? rooster?) and the sink pipes froze.  I fill up all my watering jugs in that sink so we had a problem.  Kitties were sleeping on my last Rambouillet fleece.  I gave them another one and started washing the Rambouillet, also known as the French Merino.  Rambo wool is very short and very fine.  It's murder to pick as everything wants to stick to it and it's so dense that nothing falls away easily.  I'm dyeing it Sunflower Yellow by Jacquard which comes out a darkish golden yellow, very lovely.  Kimmie Cornerstone likes when I make yellow roving as her rug hooking clients scoop up her golden handspun for their projects.  A cold snap is on the way with temps diving and snow every day.  Life in the barn is challenging.  My wood stove has one speed - Fire Breathing Dragon - which heats up this little apartment to an oven.  After suiting up to work in the barn where it's very cold, coming inside is a bit of a shock.  Everything is relative.  When the thermometer says minus 20 F. my stove is a blessing.  Someday I'll trade it for a cute little Jotul that I don't have to stoke twice through the night.  For now, the big monster stays.  On deck for today along with other myriad daily chores - spread out the golden Rambouillet to dry and comb out some angora from my bunnies.  It occured to me that any time I have an angora skein in my hand spun basket at wool shows or the farmer's market it sells right away.  People love it for hats, scarves and mittens.  I've been spinning some clipped angora but it has blunt ends and must be hand carded.  Combed angora is such a blessing.  It can be spun right out of the bag without washing or carding.  The piggies are doing fine.  I saved a half of bucket of warm slop for Lilly, who came running from the back and lapped it all up.  She is a bag of bones and I'm happy to put something she loves in that belly.  I'm ruminating over all the things I have to be thankful for at the end of this year and beginning of another in this barn.  It was not too long ago that I was living in a little tin can outside, and waking up to my hair frozen to the wall next to my cot.  I was taking sink baths in the little bathroom by the auto body shop in my school.  It's a miracle I've made it this far, choring, spinning, knitting and sewing on this little farm.  I wanted my own land and here I am.  It's an uphill struggle but a healthy life, always outside in the fresh air and surrounded by beautiful animals and doing artsy things every day.  Life would be oh, so boring any other way.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Icy Rain

After a gloriously sunny and warmish day we have icy rain coming up from the south.  I'm so enjoying some free time here on the farm and am so grateful for all my little friends who keep me busy and prevent me from the sadness of being so far away from my family again.  Oh, do I miss them all.   I'm spending more time in the barn with caring for the piggies, the chickens, the ducks, the bunnies, and the barn kitties.  Then there are the humans who require clean laundry and an endless supply of coffee and food.  I've succeeded in keeping the piggies in their pen - for now.  Mind you their pen is a very long rectangular area about a hundred feet long between the stanchions and the barn wall.  They have natural light coming in and about a foot of dirt to play in.  The sheep and goats stick their noses in to say hello.  True to their Tamworth breed characteristics, Scarlett and Sue Ellen would much rather be loose, rooting around the fields but I can't have that right now.   Scarlett is bigger than her sister and a bit rowdy.  She will bite the edge of a full pan of warm slop and spill the whole thing on to the dirt.  I've started putting it farther away from the gate so it doesn't run over my feet and they can eat it off the ground.   Lilly, the grand dame of my sheep flock, had a taste of the slop when the pigs were loose in the barn and the farm sitter tried to feed them with the sheep.  The sheep pushed the pigs away and ate it all.  Now Lilly begs for it when she sees me coming with the buckets.  I let her lick the buckets clean after pouring it out for the pigs.  Lilly is ancient and rather withered.  Anything to keep her happy and spry, and, hopefully, get a few more months with her, is fine with me.  The sheep are growing lovely coats of fine wool.  The lambs from Zack, my registered Border Leicester ram, have much thicker fleeces with a nice crimp, but not as soft as the Bluefaced Leicesters.   Not too much wool is as soft as Bluefaced Leicester.  Better get out to town and get the paper and more apples for Lilly before the roads are covered with ice.  Then back to the farm to hunker down and feed the stove....and make some soup I think.  Life is good.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Juicer

Young Master Luke cooked French Toast for my Christmas morning breakfast.  What a sweetie.  He even got out the juicer I gave him for Christmas last year to make me some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  Luke is a talented, confident cook.  Mommie had to stop him from pouring the precious real maple syrup into the pan to soak the bread in.  She told him that comes later and is used sparingly.  I admire Luke's imagination.  French Toast cooked in maple syrup...what luxury.

Twinkle Toes

Hannah has the cutest little size 7 feet and loves painted toe nails.  Mia offered to paint Hannah's toes and took advantage of the wool packing I used in one of her presents to help with the pedicure.  It's yet another use for the lovely Bluefaced Leicester wool from Maggie's Farm.

Mia's Mittens

Mia needed a pair of mittens.  She spends a lot of time outdoors, skiiing, hiking, etc.  Store-bought mittens just don't do the trick.  They are frequently made with acrylic fibers, or very pricey high-tech fibers.  Nothing beats natural fiber mittens, knitted by your Mommie, with love in every stitch.  I haven't knitted mittens in a long time and feared I had lost my mojo.  Must have been Annie and Eric's delicious Yule Glug, or the lights from the Christmas tree, or the comfy high back chair by the wood stove, but I got the job done.  Mia was hardly there for 24 hours, but she left with her mittens.  I kept one of her ski caps to knit a cap that matches the mittens.  Caps and mittens are great to have in my farm booth and use small amounts of yarn.  Thank you Mia for getting me in that mind-set and helping me get in the groove.

Family Christmas

Christmas in Maine was delightful and seems utterly surreal after returning to the farm last night.  Getting away from the farm was typically chaotic and frantic, with last minute wrapping and loading up the turkey I cooked in the middle of the night.  Matt pulled me away from a sink full of dirty dishes (which are still there, sigh) for the seven hour trip through Vermont and New Hampshire.  The weather was with us and we arrived Christmas Eve without mishap.  Mia worked all day at Care Station and arrived in the wee hours of Christmas morning.  AJ flew in Christmas night.  I had a wonderful time with my family all around me.  Annie and Eric have a beautiful, sunny, comfy home in Gorham, near Portland, Maine.   I knitted, paged through magazines, started a book, enjoyed my handsome and talented grandchildren, ate meal after gourmet meal prepared by Annie, and drank Yule Glug, our traditional Swedish Christmas drink.  The three days and nights flew by and now seem very surreal.  AJ and Mia headed back to Morristown and we set out for the farm.  We found piggies loose in the barn with the farm sitter and her kindergarten daughter trying to lure them back into their pen with a bucket of slop.  I think I figured out how they were getting out but we'll see today.  The girls would rather be running loose but I can't have that.  The sheep steal their slop and the piggies could run in the road.  I brought them two buckets of lovely warm slop this morning thinking if their tummies are full they would be less likely to bust out.  I talked nice to them and scratched their backs while they lapped up the goo...then they grabbed the pan and tipped it over into the mud.  Bad girls!  We'll see how this goes...In the meantime I still have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but those visions are three hundred miles away in another state.  I sure do miss my family.  Time to dive into the farm, which has always kept me too busy to be blue.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Musings, In No Particular Order

Looks like Christmas in Georgia out there.  Cool and drizzly.  All the snow is gone and we are left with some very squishy ground on top of all this lovely shale that is my hillside.  A little smoldering fire in the wood stove makes all the difference.  A large cup of foamy cappucino made from the Multatelli beans Kimmie Cornerstone faithfully brings me from Canada, combined with the Chenango County Fojo Beans gifted me by Sharon at school, with some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice courtesy of the Conservation boys, is helping to get all things in focus. The mug I drink from every day is made by my dear friend Susanne Farrington of Hamilton, who keeps me stocked in her sturdy and artfully constructed creations.  I'm staving off the Christmas anxiety with some perusing of  two of my favorite magazines, both from Britain, Selvedge and British Country Living.  The Brits do put together some fantastic print media, only surpassed by my beloved Wild Fibers Magazine.  I have too much to do and am giving myself until 8:30 to savor the morning.  The bunny moms are in the milk room where they will be safe from the diving temps predicted for tomorrow night.  Loren Wildenstein, former student, is on duty while I'm away.  I'll tidy up a bit and do some wrapping of gifts.  No holiday paper on board but a big stack of NY Times and some exquisite green, gold and red ribbons.  The juxtaposition of glitz and frugality will be interesting.  I'll get done what I can and put the rest of the worries to rest.  By the grace of God this wild, erratic weather will hold off so we can all be together in Maine for Christmas.  AJ is flying in from Nevada on Christmas night after officiating at services at Grace Episcopal in Las Vegas.  Mia is working Christmas Eve at Care Station and will drive to Maine after work, weather permitting.  Eric has made such a nice life for himself heading up the Pine Tree Council in Portland.  He has dozens of minions to manage and a giant camp that I think is really his own personal Disneyland.  He's earned it.   I'm bringing a turkey that I'll have to roast in the milk room in my dye stove (I've only used the top burners for dye) as the mice have chewed the wires on my kitchen oven and it is dead.  Speaking of mice, I found a nest of sweet little newborn mice inside an oven mitt on my kitchen counter.  I kept wondering where the squeaking was coming from.  The little beasties are very annoying but the babies are oh, so cute.  Put them in a safe place.  Everybody in the barn is pretty good except for a duck that Cooper was "playing" with after he slipped out the door.  I have her in a crate getting special TLC.    Miss Fancy is a terrible milker and still resists giving up her gifts.  Apples don't seem to help.  I only get a cupful every night but save every drop for soap making.  The piggies, Scarlet and Sue Ellen are growing every day.  They eat and sleep, eat and sleep, punctuated by running up and down their run, grunting and greeting the sheep and goats on the other side of the stanchions. I know they are waiting for me out there now.  Better get out there and mix that warm slop.  Happy Holidays everyone.  May 2014 bring you warm fires and full larders.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lovely Bluefaced Leicester Mother Fiber

I found a few pounds of this beautiful Bluefaced Leicester "Mother Fiber"  left over from shows in the trailer.   I also have some very warm, intense "Blood Orange" I call it.  Just in case anybody needs something to spin or felt after the holiday crazies are over, I can send this out pretty quick.  Just $40 for a one pound ball, and $10 to ship it....and I always put a bar of lavender soap in when I ship wool.  It makes for a sweet surprise when you open the box and the softens the price of shipping.  Remember...Wool is the Mother of All Fibers!

Warm Solstice

Erratic weather continues with warm temps taking away all the snow and leaving us with very squishy ground.  I am once again giving thanks for living on high ground.  I can't imagine that Sherburne and Sidney are not flooded.  I took advantage of the warm weather to get my milk room hosed out and floor scraped.  Lots of chickens and kitties have been living in there to keep warm.  It's the only heated room outside of the apartment and houses my dye stove, wool washer and water heater.  I'm moving my mama rabbits in there today in hopes of a blessed event in a week or so.  Would love to get some outside lights up today but we'll have to see.  Much house work on deck.  The barn will have to wait until I get back from Maine.   The ducks have been enjoying the return of the green grass and were patrolling the hillside for sightings of the juicy earthworms they love so much.  Most of the ducks have found their way into the barn but a pair of Swedish Blues are still living on the driveway.  I keep them well-fed, a little too well-fed by the looks of the food left on the stoop.  Water is the issue.  Ducks love their water.  If I catch them and bring them inside the ducks who have staked out their territories in the barn might beat them up.  Ducks can be very, very mean to each other and are very clickish.   We've begun the long journey back to the light but we've got some very cold and snowy weather to endure before spring.  Spring for me is the first weekend in May and the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  I have a lovely stack of fabric for knitting totes and knitting needle cases.  Right now I'm spinning white angora blended with a little Bluefaced Leicester for Mia's Christmas present.  She wants bunny mittens to wear skiing.  I'm hoping to get enough spun so I can knit on the way to Maine.  I've got too much to do in two days but will put a chink in it.  God willing I'll be under the same roof with all three children for the first time in a year.  AJ is flying in from Nevada and Mia is driving from New Jersey after working all day Christmas Eve at Care Station.  The cold will be back but, hopefully, no storms.  A white Christmas looks doubtful but with loved ones on the road that's okay.  The snow will come soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ice Cream Cart

Our Special Ed. Director treated us to an ice cream sundae delivered to our classes courtesy of the fabulous Social Studies teacher, Gretchen Hoag, and her Student Government officers.  After our department luncheon and cookie decorating the ice cream was a real treat and a chance to sit down and rest.  Thank you Gretchen and her workers.

More Cookies

Fawn prepared some extra sugar cookie dough which we used for Friday's afternoon Christmas activity.  We rolled the dough and cut out cookies, baked them, then carried a big tray upstairs along with icing and toppings.  The students designed their own Christmas cookies.  It was fun to see what they came up with.  Alas, they only wanted to take home the cookies they decorated, leaving plenty for me and Fawn to bring home to our families.  I prefer them undecorated, dipped in my very strong coffee.  Oh, life is good.

When the kids went home we were left with a Herculean task of cleaning up from a week of holiday madness combined with a kitchen covered with flour, dough and dirty pans.  I was high on friends coming into my room with cards and gifts.  I had a giant box of gifts prepared, soap and hand creme of course, and gave every one out.  I really needed more to thank the good people I work with every day.  The kids may be challenging but the staff is phenomenally and wonderfully professional and top-notch.

Studio Art Bake Sale

We decided to hold a bake sale to raise money for a pottery wheel.  Our new principal who is very supportive of our program wants us to fire up the huge kiln that has never been used.  The head safety man came down from Support Services and gave the go-ahead.  He also told me to take down all my hanging stars, clouds, sun and moon, too.  Fire hazard he says.  Okay, okay, I'll get to it.  Fawn, my aide, works at a fancy bed and breakfast in New Berlin and has had bakery experience.  She was a real trooper, whipping up cookie dough and fancy cookies from scratch.  I was on clean up detail.  Good thing I make this fabulous hand creme....just sayin'.  We put out quite an impressive spread in the Bakery Corner outside of the Culinary Department.  We had Dreamdrop Cookies (with meringue from my duck eggs), Thumbprint cookies with chocolate kisses,  crumbly cookies with raspberry preserves and mint jelly for the red and green touch, and Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookies.   I made two large batches of delicious fudge, the only thing that didn't sell out.  The students ran the booth and made around $150 for our pottery wheel.  I have to research how much wheels go for.  For the time being we will make hand built tiles in wooden forms.  I have a friend in Morristown who did her kitchen countertops and backsplash with her own handmade tiles.  It was absolutely stunning.  No granite could compete.  I suspect our room will be sufficiently heated for the winter with this big kiln going.  I see tee-shirts and flip-flops in our future, and a very frustrated custodian when he sees the class room floor.
 From left to right:  Cheryl Porter, Special Ed Aide, Fawn Dix, Studio Art Aide, and Sharon Winans, Special Ed Secretary, also known as Captain of the Mother Ship.  We know who really keeps the placed running!
The fudge is delicious, and sold briskly, but cookies took the prize.  We made gift cans out of red plastic Folger coffee cans, and gift boxes with a template and rubber stamps. They were very well received with people asking us to fill up a can or box for them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Warm Fuzzies

Scarlet and Sue Ellen are settling in nicely.  They do a lot of napping in their fluffy haystack.  When they are not napping they are exploring the long run they live in, behind the stanchions, along the wall.  They can run races up and down if they want.  The sheep, goats, ducks and chickens keep them amused.  I see the girls putting their noses up against the fence to say hello.  When they are not napping they are eating.  I mix their pig slop with lots of hot water to make a warm slurry.  Oh, do they enjoy dipping their noses in a sloshing it around, savoring every morsel.  I've always given my pigs all they want to eat.  I'm enjoying the girls and hope to get to know them a little better over Christmas.   The Studio Art Bake Sale is tomorrow.  We've been working very hard in school to get ready for it.  I must say we will put out a very impressive array of cookies and FUDGE.  I will purchase what is left over to bring to Maine on Christmas.  I won't like leaving my animals, including Scarlet and Sue Ellen, but I won't be gone long.  Night-night Piggies.  It's time for me to turn in, too.  Sweet dreams...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Brrrr...and Grrrrr...

Roads covered when I went to school, snowed all day, roads covered going home.  Are they nuts?  The poor bus drivers.  Can you imagine sliding down an icy hill with a bus full of screaming kids?  My version of hell.  Made it home safely after one of  those days.  We are baking in earnest for the Holiday Art Suppy Fundraising Bake Sale in school.  One of the little monsters turned up the oven thermometer to 450 and burned up two large sheets of cookies, then another tore up the giant artsy Bake Sale poster we've been working on for two days when I dared question who did it.   I am beyond disgusted.  So glad to be away from them and home with my animals.  The barn is frozen.  It was minus 11 when I went to bed last night and I know it dipped much colder over night.  The hot water pipe is frozen now.  I think I could get my barn a few degrees warmer if I could just cover a couple of holes.  The piggies were asleep this morning in a nest they made for themselves in the hay.  I love those girls.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh, Fudge!

We made fudge in Studio Art today.  We are having a bake sale on Thursday to raise money for art supplies.  I haven't made fudge in years and years.  We always made it with my mother at Christmas to give to our teachers. It's the easiest thing in the world to make, and sooo delicious.  On deck for tomorrow, pfeferneuse cookies, thumbprint cookies and sugar drop cookies.   Oh, yes, we have to make signs too.  The signs will have to be creative and eye-catching. After all, we are the Art Department.  Cooking with my students is very interesting.  The kids would much rather be cooked for than cook themselves...and the cleaning up process, well, that is another thing altogether.   The little ones I have in the morning are much more amenable to cooking and baking, and would probably wash dishes if we didn't run out of time.   The big kids I have in the afternoon are the price I have to pay for having the cute little ones in the morning.


I found them in New Berlin, on a way back road, on a charming little old farm with an adorable young farm couple with a little baby.  They are purebred Tamworths, a rare heritage breed from England by way of Ireland.  Tamworths are also called Irish grazers as they prefer to forage for their food than have it presented to them as feed.  Their snouts are longer for this purpose.  They have lovely red hair and are leaner than most breeds.  We brought them home tonight, just as the sun set on the little farm on Bundy/Pittsfield Road.   It took some doing as Mama Pig heard her babies calling and broke through the gate to rescue them.  Kyra Toful lovingly steered her back to her pen and her dinner, but she came running back a second and third time.  We finally managed to get the little (hardly) ones past Mama and into the Blazer.  They are now in their spacious piggie run, between the wooden milking stanchions and the wall of the long dairy barn where they can run races up and down.  Tamworths would be fine outside but this farmer can take care of them much easier inside inside the barn for now.  We have the perfect piggy field just back of the barn with a marshy area where the piggies can wallow in warmer weather.  With temps in the barn at 22 F. and minus 11 F. outside with wind and snow we are happy to have everyone under the same roof, including us.  I left "Scarlet" and "Sue Ellen" with a dish of warm slop and a big mound of hay to build a nest in.  Pigs like to make beds for themselves and sleep like spoons for maximum warmth.  A lone piggie is a very sad thing as they have nobody to slop with, play with or sleep with.  Kind of like humans...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mudder Forker

Where did this day go?  It's time to fork down hay again.  I wonder if spousal unit will help with this bale that won't come apart no matter how much I stab at it and yank at it.  Round bales are supposed to come apart in layers that fall off as I prick them with the pitch fork.  Yes, we still use pitch forks.  I have a favorite one, a five pronger that is just right for me.  I got so frustrated with today's bale I asked spouse if he would fire up his Husqvarna to chop it up.  No, he said, I'LL DO IT.  Good!  Work's for me!  It's dark and I don't enjoy the hay mow in the pitch black.  My head light makes one little beam ahead of me in a gigantic room that goes on forever.  I have to climb a ladder to get on top of the bales and jump from one to one to get across the room, then slide down the bale at the end to get to my pitch fork and the holes and lead to the feeders below.  If I got spooked by "something"  it would take a bit of doing to hi-tale it out of there.  Yes, I am spooky unless I initiate Fail-Safe and get the job done without allowing myself to think about g-h-o-s-t-s.....The hay mow kitties sit all around giving me their green lazer eyes, telling me everything is fine, for they would be the first ones to sense a "presence" wouldn't they?  Anyhoo....I spent the afternoon making Mango Shepherd's Friend Hand Creme along with a lovely batch or two of Patchouli, using up my last bit of both oils.  Oh, it was a sublime couple of hours.  The mango creme is soooo nice.  I made it for the teacher goody bags I'll be handing out next week.  The Patchouli is for some special friends who truly understand the magic of that Indian essence.  Patchouli mustn't be wasted on non-believers.  I had a nice conversation with my Mia who told me she wanted a pair of bunny mittens for Christmas.  What a brilliant idea!!  I haven't spun and knitted bunny mittens since the pairs I made for Hannah and Luke when they lived in San Jose, about seven years ago!  Luckily, I have the bunnies for the angora.  I'll bring one in tonight after chores to comb out the lovely fiber for my Mia's mittens.  She always makes me feel so good.  How sweet of her to tell me she would rather have mittens I knitted for her than anything in the fancy department stores.  No wonder I love her so much.  I have Lilly's apples all ready.  We have a nightly meeting of about six older ladies who LOVE their apples.  Lilly has the best teeth and breaks open the hard apple,  She gets about three bites and I give the rest to the girlfriends who don't have teeth as sharp.  I have to be very careful with my finger tips, a lot like you do with horses.  Back to school tomorrow where we will be baking for our Holiday Art Supply Fundraising Bake Sale.  Should be lots of fun.  Luke called from Maine to find out when we are coming.  I'm so excited.  Christmas with the kiddies two years in a row!  Farm sitter is on board, fingers crossed about the weather.  Will start wrapping gifts soon, but first, will tend to critters then set about harvesting the angora for Mia's Bunny Mittens.  Life is good.

Winter Wonderland

Snowing all weekend.  As spouse says, it would be news if we didn't have snow.  There is not as much accumulation as expected, but enough to require firing up the hrududu (see Watership Down vocabulary) to plow the little farm lane at least twice.  The blade on the old girl only works under a foot of snow.  It's so beautiful around here I am still in awe of it.  Truly a Currier and Ives landscape.  Does anyone have Currier and Ives calendars any more?  Am I dating myself?  The weekend is running away and so much to do.  I don't have as much pressure as most, with a rather remote lifestyle here, just a Weatherization Directors office party the first week in January.  I have not put up a tree yet and am still scouting the roadside for the perfect little sapling for a table top tree.  My land is mostly open, with the piney ridge too crowded to grow little trees.  There may be a suitable evergreen up there but I waited too long and now the snow is too deep.  If AJ and Mia were here they would brave the drifts to find me a tree but they are no where nearby.  I could let myself get weepy about it but there is too much to do.  I got to the Louis Gale Feed Mill yesterday and picked up enough to get me through to Christmas.  On the way back we pulled into Mr. Potter's Used Cars on route 20 to look at a used pick up and whoopsy, the transmission linkage broke.  Couldn't put it into drive, or park, or anything else.  Luckily spouse was able to climb under the truck and fix it temporarily while calling orders to me to move the shifter around here and there.  He avoided us having to wait hours to get towed back to the farm.  I did chores for him last night in gratitude.  He chopped wood and plowed.  The sheep are loving this hay.  That's a big relief as Julia thought it was a bit wet.  No sign of dust or mold....yet.  Some of the round bales come apart easier than others.  It was a bit long when baled so it doesn't fall apart.  We have to tip the big round bales on the side, stab it with the fork, then push around the bale, pulling the folds away and dragging it over to the holes and shoving it down to the feeders below.  I don't know what is easier - cutting the strings on square bales and tossing them through the air, or stabbing, pushing and pulling.  The round bales are cheaper to get baled and easier to store, but heavier to move.  With just the two of us and no equipment, well, you can imagine.  We manage okay.  All this to raise wool and mohair.  It's up to me to get the fiber off the sheep and marketed I don't get a return on all this effort.  I better get started...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Much Better

Back roads covered and icy this morning but much better on the way home.  You would think I'd be used to this after seven years here in the Great North Land.  Two miles outside of Norwich I passed a little car overturned in a deep ditch.  Only the wheels and undercarriage visible.  Fire truck was there plus every yahoo in overalls with emergency lights on their pick-ups speeding to the scene so I didn't stop.  I wondered what I could have done if I was the first one there.  Couldn't even get to their doors.  Turns out it was two teacher aides who bring the profoundly handicapped kids to my art room.  Gave me shudders to think of them hanging upside down with their seat belts on.  Glad I have the big bucket of bolts with new snow tires on.  There were checked out at the ER and released.   Very cold on the farm this morning - minus 6 F.  Cold enough for me thank you very much.  Sheep and goats seem fine and the few ducks outside seem fine.  I haul warm water to them but spouse points out there is water for them in back of the barn in the marsh.  Would love to catch them but I need more legs than the two I am sporting to herd them in.  Maybe I can get Kimmie Cornerstone and crew down here to help.  Daryl is so handy and I have a couple of jobs for him.  Lucky for me they like to get their farm fix once in a while.  I owe Kim more fiber for the cute little loom she brought me for my classroom.  Sadly, it is just a little big to fit in my Blazer and I don't know how I'm going to get it into school.  I'll think of something.  I still harbor visions of a weaving studio up in the cavernous extra hay mow that is housing nothing but ghosts over my head.  I got some more packages mailed tonight after work.  I don't do a lot of mail order and that's okay.  I'm really not set up for it but do appreciate the people who like my goods and want more.  Maybe someday I'll learn how to print out mailing labels at home and get boxes online instead of hoping they have enough for me at the PO.  The waxing crescent lit up the hillside enough that I didn't need the headlight to walk the doggies after work.  I made a mental note to fill up the holes in the ground *before* it snows.  I've stepped in them twice recently and was relieved nothing snapped.  I can't be laid up - not now - no way.  Will put the news on and get out to chores.  Have to get some shut-eye tonight.   I almost fell asleep in class today while my co-teacher was reading the story of the Trojan Horse to the students.  It was a cool bedtime story.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Drove to school on covered roads.  Luckily I got behind the spreader from New Berlin to Norwich.  It was slow but safer.  Pretty little snow all day which ramped up as I was in the New Berlin PO after work
getting orders out.  Got five packages assembled, making quite the spectacle of myself with all my boxes, totes and tissue papers spread out on the little table in the tiny room.  The truck driver was tapping his toe as I handed them over to Mark the clerk.  When I finished with the bank, gas station and Dollar store for Lizzie's salmon pate the snow was coming in earnest.  Route 8 was almost a white out.  I kept my two left wheels on the middle lines where I could hear/feel  the bumps that keep you from straying over to the other side.  Route 8 is flat for quite a stretch and the drifts cover the road.  I stayed at 30 for ten miles.  What a relief to be home to my animals safe and sound.  I love living in the barn this time of year.  Two doors and there they are.  Cold as heck out there but dry and no wind.  The water was frozen this morning and I'm sure it will freeze hard tonight.  I fill the water containers twice a day and do they ever drink a lot.  When they are on hay they drink a ton of water.  I've tried large tanks with a heater but the water gets filthy and I've lost little ones who jump in off their mother's back.  We have a few very cold days ahead with more snow.  I'll be stoking the stove tonight.  First dinner, then chores then one more round of hand creme.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Hand Spun Yarn

My last few shows have made me realize how unique and special what I do with wool is.  There was another spinner at the Plowshares festival and I made it a point to visit her booth.  Most people don't know what a fleece is, or that wool comes from sheep, mohair comes from a goat, angora comes from a rabbit, etc.  Many people asked me if I was spinning alpaca.  I have to hand it to the packy people - they get the word out about their animals.  No, I am not spinning alpaca.  I find myself expounding on the advantages of wool versus alpaca, like the fact that it is rain resistant, fire resistant and it BREATHES.  If I wore an alpaca sweater out to chores in the winter, and I have tried it, I would have to tear it off me before I cooked.  Now a little alpaca mixed with wool is just fine.  I tell people that Wool is the Mother of All Fibers, it is the skeleton on which all the "exotics" hang.  Spinning in public gives me an opportunity to turn them on to wool and natural fibers.  I am planning on doing a lot of spinning in the next few months, between stoking the wood stove, hauling water and forking hay.

Plowshares Peace Festival

Plowshares was wonderful this past weekend.  The ice and snow had not reached our area yet and allowed us to travel to Syracuse without mishap.  We set up and the crowds came.  Kim and I had so much fun.  Our booth was well-stocked with goodies.  Kim's lovely hand spun yarn was a big hit.  My soap and hand creme  was very well received.  There were many talented hand bag designers at this show.  I was thrilled when Kim offered to trade her hand spun with me for my Butch Messenger Tote.   I saw many hand made designer bags walking by my booth and got some neat ideas for future totes.  This young soldier's wife made a bag out of her husband's uniform.  I think it's very clever.  Stephanie Cross once again invited us to stay at her comfy home complete with wood stove, rocking chair and lap kitty on Pompey Center Road so we wouldn't have to travel back to the farm Saturday night.  The barn and out buildings look like a Swedish homestead.   She entertained us with a lovely dinner and gave us her guest room with a perfectly firm mattress.  I slept like a baby for seven luxurious hours straight and woke up ready for another day of making friends at Plowshares.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Making a List...

When everything I have to do seems so overwhelming I make a list to get it straight in my head. Tomorrow is the fabulous Plowshares Peace Festival, sponsored by the Syracuse Peace Council.  These dedicated people are the hardworking activists that keep us informed and protest against the evil doings of The Dark Side.  "Plowshares" is a big, multicultural party with upscale crafts of all kinds, an international cafe, activist booths including the local indigenous tribes, and musical entertainment.  I love it.  Kimmie Cornerstone is coming from Kingston to help me get ready (a Herculean job) and Mia might possibly make it tomorrow (weather permitting).  I'm starting to get very excited but before I can get to work on the show, I have to get to work around here.  I took a personal day, something I rarely do, to stay home and get it done.  On deck for today...

Scrambled duck eggs for breakfast from the one girl who I am sure is laying, out of almost twenty ducks.

Fork down hay  to the feeders from the hay mow, which requires climbing a ladder and jumping from round bale to round bale across the barn.  Somehow we forgot to leave a path when loading up the bales from the field.

Feed the bunnies.

Feed the ducks and chickens, change the forever dirty duck water.

Water the sheep which requires filling many big kitty litter containers and carrying them out to the barn.  I will start using the new hose soon but that requires recoiling and bringing it inside the milk room so it doesn't freeze, a pain in the neck.
Feed the barn kitties.  Yes, I feed them.  That way they are bigger and stronger for killing the rats.

Scrape some poo.  Yes, this is the land of poo.  There is no escape.  If I feed them, they will poop.

After all of the above, yes, and a scrub for this dirty girl, I can get to work on the show.  Will be back later.  Maybe, that is, if I don't slip down between two round bales and I have to yell, "Help I've fallen and I can't get up!!"   I could scream and scream and there would be nothing but whining dogs, quacking ducks, crowing roosters and baaing sheep to answer me.  But that's not going to happen.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Little Angels

I love when little ones come to my booth at shows.  These little angels stopped by the Indie Garage Sale, attracted by Candace's peacock feathers.  Can you imagine the images swirling around in their heads after spending the day in a gymnasium full of talented artists and their creations?  I can't ever imagine attending such an event in my young life.


Indie Garage Sale

Candace Cain invited me to be with her at the Indie Garage Sale held at the Mohawk Valley Community College.  What a talented group of artists were assembled there!  We had a good time and I especially enjoyed having Candace all to myself Saturday and Sunday afternoon.  This talented jewelry artist has family and friends all over this area and I think every one of them stopped by our booth.  I was surprised and a little disappointed at all the knitted items that were made with acrylic yarn.  There were two young women next to us who crocheted all kinds of hats, headbands, bags, etc., with brightly colored acrylic yarn.  I confess I felt vastly superior and snobbish with my basket of homegrown and handspun yarn.  When we struck up a conversation I mentioned the magic words "natural fibers" and some recognition passed over her eyes, but she really had no clue.  I realized what a unique and marvelous artistic genre I revel in on a daily basis and feel so fortunate to have the donors right here on the farm.  I did get some ideas for some totes and clothing I want to design in the future.  I purchased goodies from the Tough Cookie Roller Derby girls and marvelled over the creativity of the Dirty Ass Vegan Soap Company people.  I considered buying organic peanut butter for Luke but decided it might not be as well received as toys.