Monday, October 31, 2011

A Man, a Plan, a Canal: Panama

I worked for some time trying to figure out a palindrome for A Woman, a Desperate Mess, an Impasse, but could fine none.  No palindrome, at least.  BUT, after spending an entire drizzly morning working in my "wool vault," I finally found a solution!  Nearly 200 pounds of llama, finewool, alpaca and ??? fiber in four different colors were boxed up and sent off to Zeillingers for spinning; Wensleydale fleeces were sorted and stashed,  cashmere and pygora fleeces were sent off to Fantasy Fibers for dehairing, and I started washing the other angora fleeces. 

The farm is settling down into fall, goats sheared, sheep peacefully growing their long locks, sun low in the south, but I am gearing up for the last best event of the year:  The WeFF up in Torrance next weekend.  Sorting, packing, planning and creating some new yarns, I have been really busy in the house.

Imagine my surprise when Yollie came bursting through the dog door the other evening, soaking wet!  Huh?  She made one mad dash through the living room (mercifully missing my wheel) then back out the door.  We followed her, trying to figure out what was going on.  At first we thought she had fallen in the lily pond, but there was no water on the deck.  Then she flopped her big self down in a patch of dirt and began rolling and tossing dirt everywhere.  Mad, crazy creature!

 When she had finally coated herself completely with dirt she gave a gloriously happy sigh, and rolled over.  It was then that it dawned on me:  she had found the outflow from the washing machine, and had been totally seduced by the buck smell in the water coming off the fleeces I was washing. 

I bet the girl goats just loved her.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Am in Love

Never mind that he is younger than all of my children, or that he has a wife and child, or that I am married with seven grand kids, or even that he lives in a different state: I LOVE JERRY LADD!  And his dad isn't bad, either (;>)

Jerry took pity on me several months back when I was writing and ranting about our most recent shearing disaster with a brutal shearer, who was fired, leaving us in the lurch for shearing the goats in the fall.  Jerry said that he would be happy to come out and shear for us and, not only was he true to his word, but he arrived on the dot, at 7AM this past Saturday, with his very patient father along to lend a few hands.  He was prepared, experienced and utterly charming.  Plus, he's a spinner! 

Jerry set up his gear and started in on the does and kids, trimming toes as he went.   He remained unruffled - even when a couple of the devils actually bit him!  He worked with a smooth, expert style and patience, while his dad  (a businessman from Bakersfield) provided back-up, sweeping, horn-holding, kid catching and doe wrangling. 

 After the does and kids, we moved across the drive where he took on three extremely stinky bucks with the same gentle confidence and poise.  Even big, stinkey Eddie took the event in stride.

The big test, however, was shearing our spoiled bottle baby/premie, Mouse.  I'll let you be the judge.  Just look at the picture below and tell me if you agree that even the mighty Mouse has fallen under Jerry's spell.

With a smile like that, who wouldn't?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gathering of the Clan

The dust has settled on September, and October is quickly passing.  The annual gathering of the kids and grand kids was a super success - after putting the slide show together, I am ready to have them back again right now!

The little pink jeep and the empty playhouse now sit alone and dejected, so sad.

A few weeks after the gathering we attended the first ever Vista Fiber Festival.  All I can say to that is "wow."  The two organizers, Mimi Loutrel and Judy Maddox, pulled off a flawless two-day event that was successful beyond all expectations.  And it was such fun!  I met old friends that I haven't seen in 40 years and made many new ones. 
The event was held on the spacious and fascinating grounds of the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, and there was a mineral show going on in a nearby building, so there was plenty to do and see for folks of all interests. 
 There were two dozen vendors (including a pen of beautiful and friendly alpaca youngsters) and about two thousand visitors.  Can you believe it?  The weather was warm and beautiful, sales were brisk, and everyone was happy.

 Part of the tents with the weaving barn in the background.
 Our booth, somewhere in the crowd!
 The weaving barn, front and back

 Overview of the vendor area
The first day I used my wheel, second day I demoed the Navajo spindle.

Will they have it again?  We certainly hope so.  Will we attend? ABSOLUTELY!!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sad Situation with Our Bees

Now that it's over, I suspect that I am feeling much like someone who has lost a pregnancy.
For the bees, at least the lucky ones, it may have been the rapture, but I am filled with a sense of loss and emptiness.

Over the decades we've lived here on the hill we have been hosts to several unwanted bee hives, always on a warm, east-facing site.  One was in the crawl space under our bedroom,  two were in the walls of the guest house.  Those unlucky hives had to be destroyed.  Some were swarms that moved out on their own in in due time, but this particular group decided to take up residency in some wooden boards leaned up against an inside shed wall of the barn.  For a long time we judiciously let them be (NPI), they weren't hurting anyone, it was wonderful to have them pollinating our plants, and we both grew to like the idea of keeping them around.

We read articles on bees and bee keeping, watched videos and movies, read blogs and became very excited about the idea of becoming backyard beekeepers.  Visions of honey comb and happy hives buzzed in our heads.

But the more we read and learned, the more complicated, difficult, physically demanding and potentially expensive the enterprise seemed to become.  Even though we found one beekeeper who said he could remove the bees from the barn wall and put them in a hive for us to keep, we finally elected to have them moved to another property when we learned that we would soon be hosting kids and seven small grand children.

So, Michael donned his fire fighter turnouts (below) and spent some time clearing out a path for Shawn, the bee man.
Yesterday morning, when the fog had lifted, Shawn arrived with all of his gear.   I sat in the sun and waited at what I hoped was a respectful distance while he donned his gear, hauled equipment, lugged more junk out of his way, and finally brought in his bee vac with attached hive carrying case (on the red can in the foreground).
It was very cool - but stressful.The bees had been very calm around us, but they could feel quite differently about someone raiding their honey come, destroying their hive, and sucking them up with a vacuum.  If they were Africanized, they could be REALLY upset.  But they weren't.  And he said it was a very healthy hive, with lots of honey.

The bees were (relatively) calm and  Shawn was calm, deliberate and patient, and eventually had a good portion of the bees in his box, and three nice chunks of golden honey comb in Tupperware for us to keep.

As delighted as I was with the honeycomb, and even though I was relieved to see that potential tot danger alleviated,  it was very sad to see them go.  After two hours of painstaking work, Shawn held up his little box and said, "Well?  Here's your bees, say goodbye."

 I miss them.  I just know they would have been wonderful bees.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ADD Without the H

I seem to have started a hundred projects, then run in circles trying to complete just one.  It's the hot, muggy middle of August, yet these days feel anything but lazy!

A gallon of milk sat too long in the fridge, so I found a recipe for making paneer and spent a few failed tries to achieve a wonderful little cheese!

I learned that:
  1. You have to really heat the milk, not just warm it. 
  2. It takes some time.
  3. You don't need to add anything except lemon juice.  
  4. It is as easy as falling down.
  5. The result is delicious!
  6. You can't really make ricotta from the leftover whey (or at least I couldn't).  
In fact, I don't know what you can do with it: it tasted lousy when used to make rice, and even the dogs turned their noses up at it.

Next and continuously (but not at the same time nor in the same bowls) was washing and dyeing fleece and fiber for Pluckyfluff's Yarnival event next week in Placerville (poster is here), and for other upcoming events in the fall.  The Yarnival is on Boeger Winery's grounds, and should be amazing fun, but work for Mikey since he has agreed (I think) to man the booth while I take a workshop on Saturday and Sunday.  Do you believe this progression?

Of course, the whole thing was on a much larger scale, involving two washing machines, the entire kitchen in the guest house/studio, and most of the week.  But what a lot to show for it!
 Dyes mixed and waiting -- my favorites.
 The simmering pot -- great expectations.
The rack rolls inside at night and stays out on the deck during the day.  Very convenient.

Woolllama, mohair and wool and even some ?????
The roving is a riot of color.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Peaceful Day


San Diego has the most amazing weather, and this year has beat all records for mildness.  We have yet to experience a "real" summer, and by that I mean days that are scorchers with temps in triple digits and humidity in singles, for days on end.  Instead, we have had the cooling marine layer in the morning, followed by sun mid-day, a pleasant sunset, and then cool, foggy nights.  Everyone has been sheared for the warm weather, so most of the critters spend the day hanging out in the shade.  Here (above) two of the buck goats watch as Rizado reaches for some tempting pecan leaves.  Lani has her usual "huh" expression.

Dusty has picked up on the slight commotion and moseys over to see if he can grab the branch.  He is taller, and - as expected - managed to connect (below), pulling the branch down so that Rizado can grab a bite, and the goats can hoover-up any stray leaves.

Eventually the tiniest llama, Lilly,  shows up to see if there is any left for her, but too late - Dusty has let go, and everyone else has to wait and wish.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fresh Fleeces


Finally finished the two dozen fleeces, updated the spreadsheet, and - I think! - have things back in the trailer in a more-or-less organized fashion.  I am washing mohair fleeces to send off to Morro Bay for processing into roving, ditto the black Wensleydale lambs' fleeces.  Then there is another box of wool and alpaca to go to Zeilingers for socks, but that is on hold for the moment until they have more room on their waiting list.  Last are the black and gray fine wool fleeces (and coordinating llama fleeces), which are waiting for me to decide between roving or socks or ???

Everything else is on the inventory.  Well, except for 10 llama, which I will attack later.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sleeping Arrangements

For cats and dogs alike, the most sought-out place to sleep is in our bedroom.  When the sheep guardians get the day off, they high-tail it through the doggy door, often causing a dog-jam and blocking each other in the hallway, then race to the doggy bed that graces a corner of our bedroom.
There is only room for one of the beasts, so the one who comes in second has to content herself with the rug and maybe a corner of the blanket.  There they snore the day away until dinner time.

Yollie (the goat guardian) is the bed's occupant at night because a neighbor complained about her howling at coyotes and sirens.  So she comes in after dark.  Every now and then she gets a little competetion from Sheba (As In Queen Of) the cat.
Sheba came to us as a barely domesticated youngster who was never told about boundaries, so she  knows virtually none.  She got to the bed first, therefore it was hers.  
Unfortunately, Yollie didn't see it that way:
Yollie came in, made her usual circular pass of the cushion, then gently plopped down in her traditional spot.  Sheba let out sort of a squished squeak, but didn't move.  She just looked at me with that, "So, what do you intend to do about this?" look.  When I just went for the camera, she eventually gave up and disgustedly hauled herself out from under the dog.

For a while her favorite place was outside on a deck chair or inside on a chest:

We'll see how long that lasts.

"Even the least among them..."

While I am an abject atheist, sometimes those quotes just pop up in my head.  Guess that's what a dozen years of intense Sunday school and bible teaching will do to a person.  Anyway, we finally got around to shearing Mouse.  Mouse will be a year old in September, but is the mini-est of Pygoras due to being premature.

I did not want to take the risk of subjecting him to Rodney's abattoir-shearing techniques, so one day when I felt particularly brave, we steeled ourselves for the job.

 Here he comes!
 We are NOT pleased.
Are we done yet?

Sadly, his fleece was so fine that it had already started to felt, but I saved it anyway.  Might make a nice felted toy?  Maybe next time will be better -- for all of us. 

The Next Step

The last bit on shearing was written in May of this year.  It has taken me this long to work up the gizzards to go out and see what sort of sorry mess awaited me in the "wool vault."  The "vault" is actually a small, ancient travel trailer with beds modified into wide shelves for fiber storage.  Once every few months I seal it up and bomb for bugs, which helps to save the fiber from moths until I can deal with it.  When I opened the door, this is the amazing sight that confronted me:

Wool, llama, mohair and alpaca: floor to ceiling, wall to wall.  With the help of my ever-faithful companion, partner and spouse, we eventually managed to take everything out and sort the bags into piles on several tarps.

The trailer looks beautiful:

But now comes the hard part: deciding what to DO with all of it and putting the fiber back in!


I am writing this in a state of desperate resolve, hoping I can find someone with helpful advice.  Even with double margaritas and a soak in the hot tub last night, and Aleve and coffee this morning, my joints are screaming and my back has stiffened like a pole.  As many of you may have guessed, we sheared yesterday.  And I did not even hold the shears!  Here's the situation:

I used to shear my own flocks, but hubby and I are nearly 70 and, though still active, not in the best shape.  So we have had help.  After running through a string of semi-qualified, often crazy people (I even tried listing on Craig's List, but that's another whole story! ) we seem to be left with a sorta local guy ... let's call him Rodney... who has been coming down for several decades, when he isn't sick or out of town, or busy or, well, you know.  This year I lost half of my goat fleeces because they matted while waiting for him to get things together, and many of the long wools are LOOOOOOONG!  Two of the Wensleydale rams had more than 12" of dreadlocks. 

I understand how difficult shearing can be, and take special pains to keep the fleeces clean and the sheep healthy.  They are my business, after all.  I don't think I am excessively demanding: I don't yelp about a nick here or there, I just get the Blu Coat.  Second cuts make me grit my teeth a bit, but I am making myself be quiet because there doesn't seem to be any hope for improvement.  I try to explain, year after year.  Yesterday Rodney asked (as he chopped up a nice black fine-wool ewe), "Can you use this fleece?"  I picked up a handful that he had just sheared, and spread the locks out on my hand, showing him one piece 3" long, and the rest chopped into 1" bits.  "Well... not much of it.  See?"  But there is never any acknowledgment or apology, or effort to improve.

Although we are available almost all of the time, Rodney will only shear on Saturdays, the one morning when we sell at the market.  So we rush home at noon and pen the sheep and goats, then wait - and wait - often two or three hours - for him to show up.  Rodney's top speed is about 4 sheep per hour, so you can do the math to see the hours, days, and number of trips required to shear our flock of @ 50 animals.   And, because I keep Wensleydales and angora goats, this is a twice-a-year ordeal.

When Rodney arrives, he is generally exhausted, having sheared already in the morning, and it takes a while to assemble gear, argue about where to shear, find combs and cutters that aren't broken, and clean the crud off his tools and boards.  Once set, hubby and I catch and deliver each animal, check for bell collars, etc.  If hubby is working, I do it alone.  Rodney will wait patiently while some ram or other drags me around the catch pen, but very seldom intervenes, even to the point of opening (or closing!) a gate, unless the request is screamed out in panic.  When the shearing is done, I may be able to get him to trim hooves, but often he just "forgets" and releases the animal so we have to either run it down and catch it again, or just leave it 'till next time.  We gather fleece and trash and sweep the boards and spray the wounds.  Sometimes the bleeding goes on for hours, and many will limp for days after their foot-shearing.

Yesterday was tough on all of us.  After chopping away at two Wensleydale ewe lambs, Rodney ran his finger into the shears.  He wanted to keep going, so wrapped it good and on we went.  But I swear he was taking revenge on the animals.   His board was slick, and angled slightly downhill, but rather than use that to his advantage, he insisted on starting with the animal in front of him, facing down-slope, so that he had to fight it every inch, and everyone eventually ended in the dirt (or weeds).  We opened the tarp even bigger, to try to salvage the fleece.  One ten-year-old ewe lost about 3" of skin over her jugular, which bled like crazy, but fortunately the vein seemed intact, at least last night.  Others had ribs, flanks and bellies opened up.  He sheared the ear-tags off my registered ram, and nearly severed his hamstring, and a ram lamb had his ear so badly gashed that I couldn't staunch the bleeding no matter what.  His beautiful, white curls (first shearing) were drenched in blood, the board was bloody so that the fleece was acting like a sponge, sopping up the blood.  "Hold his head down," Rodney suggested, while he tried to finish the first side.  The lamb was very cooperative, but I could see that his ear was filling with blood, which soon spilled over my hands and out onto his neck, again into the fleece. 

We "finished" just before seven, and I gave up on cleaning the goats, who were dragging around huge hunks of shed fleece.  It will fall off sooner or later, and at least they are still in one piece! 

So, finally, at the end of this rant, here is my plea:

Can anyone refer me to a competent and dependable shearer?  I have 5 months to find one, because I am not going to call Rodney again.  Requirements are rather basic:
     1. Show up when you say you will.
     2. Separate fleece from critter with minimal damage to fleece and critter.
     3. Trim feet and hold for pour-on if necessary.

We live in north San Diego county, and have a "rustic" guest house if someone needs a place to crash if traveling.

Thanks for suggestions, or at least for letting me vent.
Thank goodness for summer.  Now I just have to get busy skirting and sorting.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hayfever Haze

We have been having  absolutely beautiful weather here, in sad contrast to the rest of the country that seems to be inundated with floods and tornadoes.  Fortunately, we took a spur-of-the-moment trip out to the desert the last week in April, because temps there now are climbing fast. Every year we manage to get out several times, to see the wildflowers or to hike or to soak in the hots prings at Agua Caliente, or just to sit in the quiet and enjoy the sound of rocks baking in the sun.

This time there had been some recent cold weather on the mountain, and the normally-sad-looking dead pines on the flanks of Palomar were dusted with snow, making them look like something from a fairy tale.

The flowers in the back country were still out; if you could see this picture a bit better, you'd see the wild lilac still in bloom.   Puddles, ponds - even lakes - of tiny yellow flowers were every where.

However, the desert floor had pretty much moved on to an early-summer display of ocotillio and cactus blooms.   Nothing much out of the ordinary.

As luck would have it (?) we chose a weekend when the park was celebrating Archeology Week, and the opening of a new addition to the archeology lab.  There was quite a crowd at the museum center, with lectures, displays, and walks geared to the occasion.  They also were having a silent auction as a fund raiser.  One of the items really caught my eye: a small oil painting that reminded me of the flowers that we had just passed on the way down.   And not one, single bid on it!  I wrote down $20, and then forgot about it.  I knew it would be snapped up by someone in the crowd.

Pretty, Isn't it?  The artist was Betty Greer Rikansrud, and she lives in Julian, but no one knew anything else about her. 

We toured the little lab, poked around in the museum, and then went back to our camp to make dinner.  No one called about the auction, which closed at 5 PM.  Sniff.

The next morning we poked around a bit more, then took our time and headed home back over the mountain.  No snow this time.

Heard a covey of quail calling at one of our stops: chi-kee-ta, chi-kee-ta.  In just a few minutes they all came tumbling out of the brush, tottering down a big boulder with top-knots wagging.

The whole trip was less than 24 hours, but it was as restorative as a week's vacation.

ML was rejuvenated upon our return, and started in painting the water tank and - between coats - tearing apart the old metal truck body.

To celebrate, I made a  dutch baby,  covered with strawberries (soaked in Grand Marnier) and  a ton of mulberries  from our heavily laden tree.

As RR would say, Yummm-O!

At about noon the next day, I got a call from a docent at the park telling me that I had won the little painting.  "When can you come pick it up?" he innocently asked.