Friday, December 29, 2006

Year-end inventory

This is the glorious sight that greeted me this morning out our bedroom window - well, as much of the glorious sight that my digital camera can capture!

It has been cold for this side of those mountains, but nothing like my sweet Valentine is experiencing. Lois sent me this photo of her in a Christmas email; what nice fleece she must be growing! I'm working on getting a quarantine pen set up from which Valentine can see the other sheep.

I didn't get as many scarves knitted for Christmas presents as I would have liked; in fact, I have a couple still on the needles and a few other projects that I must do soon for friends returning from Fiji in January. But I sat down and counted up how many I HAVE made since I started knitting in September, and the tally wasn't too bad for a beginner with a lot of other irons in the fire -- 13 scarves and one hat! I've been stockpiling some yarn and fiber for future projects (have to watch that; I hear there's a real danger of becoming a "stashaholic"), and spinning when I have time. As soon as I finish the specific projects on my to-do list, I want to try dying with Kool-Aid, complete the sweater sampler (from The Sweater Workshop), and try my hand at socks (with a simple tube-sock pattern from the same book). How DO some people have time to get bored?

That's it for now at . . .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Raining diamonds

We woke up yesterday to a third morning of freezing fog. The fairy dust is pretty, but the gray does start to wear on you after awhile. During the day it started to rain, a very cold rain that didn't melt the fairy dust but rather added a diamond coating to it (but blessedly not to the roads).

I left the sheep out for awhile, and then brought the sodden things in. My friend Lois talks about "self-cleaning" sheep who get wet from the elements and then shake the VM (vegetable matter) out of their fleeces along with the moisture. Apparently my sheep missed that session in sheep school, because they just get wet and sorry-looking.

Today dawned clear and sunny, after a night of heavy showers that eventually washed away all the fairy dust and diamonds. Ah, I don't realize how much I miss the sun until I see it again! That and a couple nights of decent sleep without coughing put me in a positive, energetic mood. I think the sheep appreciated the sunshine, too. Here come Rechel and Bella for their share of attention...
while Dinah discovers that Brian's touch is just as nice as mine is...
...and likes it so much she gives him a kiss!

Oh, just so you know - it's raining again.

That's it for now at . . .

Monday, December 18, 2006

Freezing fog and wacky woolies

The frost fairy was busy last night, sprinkling frisky-frosty fairy dust on everything. The weatherman said it was freezing fog, but he has no imagination!

When dusk began to fall, I ventured into the cold to bring the sheep in. My first hint that the fairy dust had affected them was the alfalfa pellets lingering in one of the feed pans. The girls didn't eat all their candy??? Hmmm. I walked toward their fold, expecting them to follow me as usual. The thought crossed my mind that if they hadn't finished their morning pellets in the pasture, perhaps they wouldn't come running into the pen with me for their evening pellets, but the thought was interrupted by odd scrambling sounds on the gravel behind me. I looked in time to see Dinah sproinging stiff-legged down the driveway, then squaring off as if to spar with Rechel. I laughed, and she turned tail and sproinged back up the driveway. Now, Bella still bounces sometimes, but my mature ladies are usually more sedate - and I have NEVER seen Dinah so wired! I decided to run up to the house to get my camera, and then wondered if I'd ever get them back to their quarters. They wouldn't follow or be herded (I was wishing for a good Border Collie at that point), and were acting totally weird.

Deciding to bet on the tried and true, I scooted down to the barn, measured out fresh pellets, and shook the cans. Thankfully they all dashed in, although still not acting quite like themselves. That frisky-frosty fairy dust is powerful stuff, eh, Dinah?

That's it for now at . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night....

One of our Northwest storms blew in Thursday, with high winds and heavy rain. These storms are a recipe for power outages, as branches break free and tree roots in saturated soil give up the fight and crash down on power lines - and sometimes on buildings and cars. We have some big Douglasfir trees along the south edge of our property, made more vulnerable this year by logging right next door. I prayed that none would come down on our farm buildings, housing our camper, horse trailer, sheep and horses. The electricity (and the trees) held all day, and when Rick got home we decided to all take showers or baths, just in case. I managed to get my hair dried just before the lights flickered and went out.

Having lived in this area for 13 years before building this house, we made use of our experience when designing it and included wood heat along with our heat pump, and a generator feed in our fuse box. So after the power went out Thursday night, Rick set up the generator outside and hooked it up for the first time. (In the one other significant outage we've had, our power was back on within 24 hours and some friends of ours were in the dark for five days, so we let them use our generator.) Well, the electrician didn't do his job very well. We had agreed that the refrigerator, freezer, well pump, woodburning insert blower, and an outlet should be on the generator feed. Instead, we got the frig, freezer, and Brian's bedroom and bathroom - AND it was wired backwards so the electricity would backfeed and run the hot water heater unless we switched it off! Well, that's not quite correct. For whatever reason the well pump didn't work the first time we ran the generator, but after lending it to a generator-less neighbor for a few hours, it ran the well pump when we hooked it up again. Ah, flushing toilets!

Nothing crashed at our house during the stormy night, and we stayed warm enough with the wood heat even without the blower. I had errands to run in town the next day, so we ate a hot lunch while there. Even in town, where there is more shelter from the wind, there was a lot of damage visible.

We spent another evening in quiet candlelight. Saturday morning we got up early so we could get everything done and get ready for church on time. I am proud to say that I can take an adequate "bucket shower" using less than two gallons of water! I pulled some things out of the freezer and cupboard so we could stay for potluck and enjoy another hot meal. When we got home Saturday afternoon, our power had been restored.

These episodes always make me reflect on how blessed - no - how SPOILED we are by all our modern conveniences and utilities. I know there are many in other parts of the world who do not have such things, or even access to clean water or adequate (much less HOT) food. As another way to look at it, my little sheepies have life better than many people in the world today! May we never take it for granted, or forget to share our comparative wealth.

That's it for now at . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sheep kite

Yesterday was the only dry day in the forecast, so I wanted to get the girls out to their little pasture. Usually I carry a pan of alfalfa pellets and they follow me eagerly, but I decided a leading refresher was in order, and got out the halters and leads. After an initial flurry of scurrying in the sheep fold, dear Dinah stood in front of me to be haltered. Rechel was next. But Bella, bold little lover and cookie eater that she usually is, was acting like I had walked in with a 12-foot boa constrictor wrapped around me. She was practically bouncing off the walls! After tying up the ewes I had to tackle Bella in a corner to halter her. Then she proceeded to act like a sheep kite on the end of the lead. The only reason I didn't have to DRAG her to the pasture gate was that she wanted to stay with the ewes, and they were walking politely behind me.

When we got to the pasture, I looped Bella's lead over a fence post so I could work with her some more and let the ladies go. You'd never know Bella had many leading lessons last summer by the way she was ricocheting around at the end of the lead line! Shetlands are supposed to be quite smart and retain their lessons well. I'm worried Bella may be, well, operating a few pellets shy of a pile! She's also a very LOUD sheep, often "yelling" at me when I'm standing right there in front of her. Think the traits are related?

Anyway, she calmed down SLIGHTLY after a bit. I decided to leave her very snug (note to self: order bigger size) halter on her so we could have another leading lesson when it was time to go back to the fold. I never would have been able to catch her in the pasture without the halter already on. Obviously, Bella and I need to spend some more "quality" time together - especially if I hope to show her to any advantage next year!

That's it for now at . . .

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Celebrating like crazy - or is that GOING crazy?

The older I get, the faster the holidays come -- and go! We chug along to Rick's birthday in October, then to mine in November. Then Thanksgiving arrives, with Brian's birthday and Christmas hot on its heels, and before I know it, we're into another year already. I'd enjoy it all more if it would just move S-L-O-W-E-R. But it doesn't....

Rick's mother and step-dad flew in on Thanksgiving Day; I had dinner ready when everyone walked in the door. What do vegetarians eat for Thanksgiving dinner? LOTS! Let's see, there was a stuffing casserole, oven roasted potatoes and carrots, butterhorn rolls, cranberry jello salad, steamed broccoli, sweet pickles, and white concord/lemon-lime punch, all homemade. Then came the country apple pie and pecan pie, with butter pecan ice cream. We didn't miss the turkey....

The day after Thanksgiving we cut our Christmas tree, a 15-foot Noble fir. (No, we aren't ridiculously wealthy; we have friends who have a small plot of overgrown Christmas trees.) Saturday night we invited our easterly neighbors up, ate various holiday goodies, and decorated our tree. Then our neighbors went home to enjoy the lights on our tree from their house, since they don't "do" a Christmas tree. It IS a handsome sight from inside and out!
I put this garland up on our fireplace for the first time this year, and think it looks nice there. Rosie just likes the heat....

Sunday night we rolled four occasions into one, with Rick opening a late birthday gift, Brian and Grandma opening early birthday gifts, and everyone exchanging early Christmas gifts. Whew –- that made FIVE holidays celebrated in one visit! But that wasn't all. We woke up Monday morning to SNOW, so the grandparents from Mesa, AZ got to celebrate winter, as well!

I took some photos of the girls in the snow, but there wasn't enough of the white stuff under the trees in their pasture to make for any great shots. Guess I'll have to leave those to the Midwestern breeders like Nancy Krohn. :-) Did get a neat shot of the birdfeeder on our deck during a sun break....

By Tuesday morning we'd gotten more snow and some ice on the road from refreezing during the night. I had to chain up to get down our hill to take the grandparents to the airport. No problems from there on, or getting back up the hill later.

Tomorrow we leave for San Antonio for a week. Rick will attend a conference for equine veterinarians, while Brian and I have fun with my folks (from Amarillo, TX) and sister (from MD), who are flying in to join us. We'll celebrate Christmas early with them, too. When we get back, we have several Christmas functions to attend. By the time Christmas itself rolls around, I'll be too pooped to party! A quiet evening at Boulderneigh with the men in my life and the animals that enrich it, giving thanks for our many blessings, sounds good to me.

That's it for now at . . .

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A fiber surprise!

Friday I got a box. Since I was expecting an order of yarn, I was surprised to see the return address of Kathy LeFevre, fellow new Shetland shepherd and cyber-pal. She had not mentioned sending me a box in any of her recent emails, so I opened the box with great curiousity. Out tumbled FOURTEEN baggies of fiber!

Her enclosed note said: "I got to thinking about you and your spinning – I remember when I started (30 years ago) how fun it was to try new wools and other fibers. So – I went through my 'stash' to see if I had anything you might like to play with. I know the samples aren't huge, but you'll get some ideas on what makes yarns that you like.... I hope you have a ball playing with these!"

The samples include:
Gotland roving
80% New Zealand Romney/20% New Zealand possum roving
dark BFL roving
white BFL roving
brown U.S. merino roving
white Icelandic lamb roving
white Navajo-Churro roving
dark New Zealand Romney locks
white U.S. Romney locks
white New Zealand Gotland roving, with a note that it's from the very same fleece from Stansborough from which the Fellowship of the Lord of the Rings cloaks were made(!)
very dark Pitt Island roving
very dark Pitt Island Hogget roving
white angora rabbit
Sea Island cotton roving

Kathy also included a page from Oklahoma State University's website on livestock breeds describing the Pitt Island sheep (, a subgroup of Saxony merino sheep and the source of two of the samples.

I can't describe how touched I was by this thoughtful gift. Thank-you, Kathy! I have met such wonderful people since entering the world of Shetland sheep and fiber addicts (some in person, some only via my computer), and they keep surprising me with their kindness –- and by what else we end up having in common! (I think I will have to dedicate a post just to that some day!) I can't wait to try all the samples and start my education about the differences between various wools and fibers. Right now I'm still in the first few weeks of Kindergarten, figuratively, having only worked with my own Shetland fleece and a bit of purchased top.

That's it for now at . . .=

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oreo, Brian's miracle cat

A couple weeks ago a client called me, asking if I knew of anyone who would like a cat. A sweet little stray had been hanging around her neighborhood for four months getting food and attention from several families, but winter was coming on and no one was able to give "Oreo" a permanent home. I immediately pricked my ears. This summer Casper (as in friendly ghost), a little tomcat who had adopted us years ago and had been adopted by Brian as "his" cat, disappeared. Ozzie (short for ocelot, because of his exotic looks as a youngster), our other barn cat, is now 17 years old. Even though he doesn't look or act half that and loves attention, he will turn and bite you WHEN you are petting him, and will snag your hand or your ankle when you STOP petting him. Needless to say, he's not a "kid-friendly" cat, and Brian has missed his Casper. So I mentioned my interest, but also expressed my concern about getting Rick to ever neuter the cat, since he had never gotten around to Casper. (Remember, the cobbler's children have no shoes!) When my client said the neighbors had already agreed to take up a collection for Oreo's surgery before placing her (Oreo was assumed to be a female), I jumped at the opportunity and spoke for the cat.

Oreo's surgery was scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 2, pending a negative test for feline leukemia. I got a call before I picked her up from the veterinary clinic that evening, saying she was negative AND already spayed, so there were no post-operative complications to worry about - hurray! Brian and I picked up Oreo just before going to his first swimming lesson. She was calm and quiet in the crate, and rubbed against Brian's fingers when he tried to touch her through the door. When we got home, we set Oreo up to have the run of the garage, and we stayed up late (for Brian) loving on "his" new cat. He was delighted with her loving nature, saying, "She's the best cat I ever had!"

By Friday mid-morning, I wasn't sure what to do, as Oreo had not yet used the litter tray and seemed desperate to get outside. I also felt pressure from Rick (which he told me later he hadn't meant to convey) to get Oreo accustomed to the barn, where she would be living. So with much trepidation, after introducing her to our dog Rosie through the carrier door (no reaction from Oreo), I carried her down to the barn. There we introduced her to Ozzie through the carrier door (he's MUCH bigger than she is). Oreo hissed. I moved Ozzie away, and Brian and I talked to and petted Oreo in the carrier. Finally, I shut the barn door and opened the carrier door. Oreo wasn't so sure she wanted out in this strange new environment where lived the biggest creatures she had ever seen in her life (the horses)! She peered out the sides and door of the carrier for awhile:

Finally, she came out and set about exploring the barn, mostly around the hay stack. Ozzie watched – and reacted with temper when Oreo tried to jump up where he was hiding (I don't think she could see him, because his hidey-hole was several feet off the barn floor). We kept talking to her, and loved on her whenever she circled back by us. She still seemed to need to go outside, so I opened the barn door, which she eventually went through. Sure enough, she found dry gravel in the adjoining tractor shed and relieved herself. Then she walked around the corner of the shed, down the bank and into the woods. Brian had been tailing her all along, and immediately got worried. I called to her, but she was walking away purposefully. Brian followed her as far as the brush would allow, and then came back sobbing about his cat leaving. What I had feared had happened, and I didn't know what to do or say! Of course we immediately prayed that Jesus would take care of Oreo, and bring her back to us. We also hung around the barn and woods calling to Oreo for quite awhile, before heading back to the house. Periodically, I looked and called again, and even more frequently, we prayed for her again, ending with bedtime prayers. I knew God could answer my little boy's pleas, but I also know He sometimes says no, and I was feeling heartsick for him, for me, and for a lost little cat alone in the woods with predators.

That night after Rick did chores, he felt compelled to search for her in the woods, with a flashlight, in the rain. He looked and listened; nothing. About the time he was going to give up, he thought he heard something. Considering that Rick has had compromised hearing ever since he fell from the back of the pick-up and landed on his head on the pavement, it truly is a miracle that he heard her, for she is a very soft-spoken kitty! He continued to call and search and found her, hiding in the trees on the edge of our pasture. He carried her back to the barn (where she panicked at the sight of the horses) and put her in the tack room, setting her up to stay in that secure area awhile with food, water, a warm bed, and a bigger litter pan (which she is now using).

You should have seen Brian's face when we told him the following morning that God answered his prayers and helped Daddy find his cat. He had to go down to the tack room in the barn in his pajamas and boots to see and love her before we left for church. He continues to go down several times a day to see "his" cat, and Rick and I give her more attention during morning and evening chores and any other time we go to the barn.

I'm not sure what our next step will be. We don't want to risk another wilderness excursion (do cats have guardian angels?); we've even discussed the possibility of making her a house cat. In the meantime, she is "queen of the tack room" and a "thief of hearts."

That's it for now at . . .

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's raining, gold

Yes, it's raining AND it's raining gold! We're in the midst of a Pineapple Express, a weather pattern that brings mild temperatures, LOTS of rain, and often wind to the Northwest. So the bright gold of the maples, cherry and peach trees, and even the vineyards is coming down with the rain. Pretty much all the counties in Western Oregon are under flood watches or warnings. We never have flooding problems because we live on a hill, but as you can see, our little outdoor arena is sand soup. (That's why those who can, build covered arenas, and those who can't, haul to one – like I did today!)

A lot of folks complain about our gray, rainy winters. Me, I always marvel at the fact that about the time the skies turn gray, the trees light up. (I've also noticed that photos of fall colors turn turn out much better when taken on overcast days.) Here's one of my little Japanese maples:
the peach orchard down the hill:and a vineyard nearby:

Coming soon: a post about Oreo, our miracle cat!

That's it for now at . . .

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thank the Good Shepherd...

...for safe sheep! Yesterday morning I set my alarm so I could get up and go jogging before church. I truly dislike getting up in the dark, but when the day length is so short, it's that or often nothing. SO, I got up and got dressed, and in the process happened to glance out our bedroom window. There, in the predawn gloom, were my sheep, wandering around on the driveway near the barn! My first thought was that something had tried to get them in the night and in their panic, they had managed to get out of their nighttime quarters. But they looked okay, and when I got down to the barn, I saw that their pen gate was wide open and their evening hay was untouched. Obviously, Rick had forgotten to shut their gate after bringing them in with alfalfa pellets, and they had been free all night!

I stifled the thoughts of what COULD have happened in the night, and put the girls in their pasture with an early breakfast. They were wet from fog and heavy dew and not terribly hungry after being free to browse, but otherwise fine. I told each of them -- and the Lord -- how thankful I was that they were okay.

Did you notice my quick and dirty adaptations of Jim and Susie Sizemore's wonderful hay feeder design (see "Enjoyable visits" under Previous Posts)? I was tired of how much hay the girls waste, and don't know when we will get their new fold completed with it's copy of the Sizemores' feeder. So I rigged these up with pieces of plywood, "ball bungies," and an extra piece of fencing panel (to make the openings smaller) for the pasture feeder. I'm very happy with how they are working!

That's it for now at . . .

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Betting on brown

Browns have never been on my palette of favorite colors. It's a fine color for dogs and horses and wood grain, but I don't wear brown, I don't decorate with brown, and I didn't want any brown sheep. But something strange happened along the way and now I'm buying and BREEDING brown sheep! (Hmm, that means I will eventually be spinning up and knitting brown wool, and . . . well . . . go figure.)

You've met my beautiful Valentine, a light moorit (that's brown in Shetland sheep lingo). As I type this, Valentine may be getting acquainted with her handsome beau, Clarion, over at Lois Moore's Stonehaven Farm. As you can see, Clarion is a darker moorit, as well as having smirslet/sokket markings (that's the white on the head and legs in Shetland sheep lingo).

In our first lambing season, our two ewes each reproduced her own color. It's a sure bet that Valentine will do the same, since moorit is recessive to all other colors and therefore the guaranteed outcome of breeding two moorits. She can only surprise me with the SHADE of brown, as well as whether or not Clarion passes on any of that chrome. Whatever we get, I'm sure the lambs will be beautiful -- yes, even though they will be brown!

That's it for now at . . .

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fall is in the air

The leaves are changing colors, and I revel in their beauty. Below is one of my little Japanese maples. Last Friday's quote on my Mary Engelbreit desk calendar said, "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." (Albert Camus) Isn't that great? Through Friday we were enjoying a beautiful Indian summer, with cool nights and warm days. But there was still that quality in the air that said Fall had arrived, even though the thermometer said "Summer."

Rain came over the weekend, so yesterday we worked on indoor tasks, like installing a new dishwasher and making grape juice. A client of Rick's has grapes, so this was our third or fourth session of bottling the lovely stuff. The variety he brought home this time was concord, although the grapes weren't as ripe (and therefore as dark and sweet) as they can get. But it's still beautiful, no?

The sheep are busy eating and growing wool. I look at that wool in a different light now that I'm spinning it. It's not just what sheep grow for covering, it is a gift they are producing. And their production has gotten me back into producing gifts myself. It's something I used to do all the time as a matter of financial necessity as well as personal satisfaction, but I haven't found much time for it since Brian was born. Between the enjoyment they give me as pets, the fleeces they produce, and the inspiration they have provided, my little sheep have given me so much! They truly are a blessing.

By the way; I've filled my first bobbin with Dinah's breech wool - all 5 1/2 ounces of it! I'm pretty happy with my first spinning efforts, and love doing it. Now I've got to figure out my next step, be it plying, making a skein or a center-pull ball, dying . . . I'll let you know what happens!

That's it for now at . . .

Monday, October 09, 2006


After being up to my eyeballs in alligators for the last couple weeks, I'm coming up for air long enough to share "the rest of the OFFF story."

As I stated in OFFF, Part I, one of my objectives in going to OFFF was to learn to spin. Even though Lois had plenty on her own plate (that's her in the sheep pen, below), she graciously set me up with both her Ashford and Schacht wheels and patiently worked with me as I made my first frustrated attempts.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty, but I did manage to spin a little (and ply a little), and have a tiny, lumpy-bumpy ball of handspun yarn to prove it!

Spinning didn't come as easily as I had hoped, but the challenge made me even more determined to master this tricky craft and be able to spin the fleece of my own dear sheepies. Lois advised trying as many different wheels as possible. I only had time to try a Louet at a vendor's booth at OFFF, so I blocked out a couple hours the following week to go to Woodland Woolworks, a local business with a large inventory of new and used spinning wheels. There I tried an Ashford, a Lendrum, a Fricke, a couple Kromskis, another Louet or two, and more. Some were quite seductive in appearance, but the Louets were by far the easiest and most comfortable to me to use, and I liked their uncomplicated design. I stewed and chewed for several days, but finally bought the inexpensive, used Louet S17 Woodland Woolworks had, along with some inexpensive roving to practice with. Meet Louie!

Louie and I haven't had time to get further acquainted since I got him home, but he's waiting patiently. I had to work at my husband's veterinary clinic last week while his secretary was on vacation, so I DID get to wash Dinah's fleece and Rechel's rooing in the top-load washing machine while there. The fleece still needs to be carded, but the rooing (below) is soft and beautiful and begging to be spun as is. I hope I can do it justice!

That's it for now at . . .