Monday, April 30, 2012

april bookstand

Four this month... the vast majority done before I started all this crafting business. And still not done with the book on the British monarchy.

Boomerang, by Michael Lewis
Highly recommend. The author tours four of the countries affected by the recent economic crisis: Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Germany. Apparently these articles were originally published in Vanity Fair; having never read the originals, I enjoyed the insight into the situation in these countries. The chapter on the United States was somewhat weaker.

The Gilly Salt Sisters, by Tiffany Baker
Recommend. It took me a bit of time to get into this book about sisters who live on a New England salt farm. Though I found the writing so wordy at times that it interrupted the flow of the story, at other times I found myself admiring the author's ability to write a beautiful descriptive phrase. The end had me gnashing my teeth, however.

Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie, by Beth Howard
Recommend. A bit too self-indulgent—at several points in the book I wanted to slap the author and say "grow up already!"—but a relatively short read about, well, love, loss and the author's strategy of making pies to deal with both. If that doesn't make too much practical sense to you, then you have a good idea of the author's mindset.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
Somewhat meh. I did read the whole book—though it was relatively short—but I kept wondering when the lead character would wake up and start to do something, or at least have a little insight into her own actions. It read more like a catalog of events (first this happens, then this happens) than a story.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

sheep production line

Not as you might think... actually, yet another project for Maryland. Little needle felted sheep pins. They sell very well, and every year I swear that I am going to start earlier and make more.

Yeah, right.

This is one workstation on the dining room table—blank bodies to the left, and sheepies to the right, and needle felting foam stuck in the middle with me (and also stuck with felting needles, repeatedly). Sorry, but I can't seem to get that song out of my head today.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

crafting frenzy

This fact says it all: I have not knit a stitch in over two weeks.

My sister-in-law gasped in shock when I told her this today.

It seems that my knitting obsession is just a crafting obsession, and as long as I am getting it scratched somehow, it's all good. Our dining room table looks like this, and my LSH is doing a masterful job of not complaining about it:

Wool, wool, everywhere, though it is such pleasure to work with wool produced by our sheep!

I have a long list of goals for items to vend at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival next weekend. So far, the only project that is completely ready for sale are the felted soaps.

Many other projects are in the pipeline though. If I can just finish up one project per day between now and next Friday, I will be in good shape, if only other ideas didn't keep popping into my brain. That's how it seems to work in times of constant creating.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

needle felted soaps

I couldn't resist sharing those photos of the lambs at play on Friday, instead of my farm on Friday work. But the reason I had a camera in my hand at just the right moment was that I was intending to take pictures of my latest creations!

Soap, of course...

I started combining needle felting with the felted wool casings around the soaps, and the results were addictive. These soaps are for the booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, so I needed quite a few, but I had to make myself stop making them once I got to forty soaps. I don't think any two are alike, either!

The festival is less than two weeks away, so I have shifted from "farm on Friday" work to "farm work around the clock, trying desperately to get ready." No time for knitting, even.

Friday, April 20, 2012

lambs at play

The youngest lambs joined the bigger flock today. It was a chore getting their mother Holly to rejoin everyone, as she was quite content to stay apart with her lambs. Once there, though, she accepted her lot.

The two little ones made the most of their newly-expanded horizons. Though there was a fair amount of visiting momma for a snack,

there was also much dashing about...

and gamboling...

and frolicking...

and just general high jinks. (That's the ewe lamb, showing off for her brother.)

The boys call such maneuvers "mexican jumping beans," because the lambs often pop up from a dead standstill. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

little felt bowl, take two

My experiments with using knitted roving to make a little felted bowl continue... My third attempt (could be my fourth, I've lost count) was a different from my little pink bowl in that it used smaller needles with thinner drafts of the roving.

The finished object doesn't come out with as smooth a finish as one made from yarn, but I love how the purl side resembles the texture of a woven basket.

I really pulled and manipulated the wet fiber on this one to square off the transition from the sides to the bottom. It made me think of how potters work with the clay to get it into the shape they want, though the process is obviously a bit different!

My favorite part is the bottom of this particular bowl. The way the color switch worked out reminds me of an Impressionist paintings of the sun. Too bad that's the part you don't see, though I could always turn the bowl inside out.

The next step is to come up with a final set of directions (how to choose?) and make up a few kits to sell at Maryland Sheep & Wool. I have heard many great suggestions for uses: girls hairclips and barrettes, office supplies, etc. My LSH thought it would make a great wine cozy—it is the perfect shape and size! My mom wins for most creative: it weighs so little that she thought it would be perfect for travel (because it folds flat) to use as a catch-all for your watch and jewelry, so they don't get misplaced them in a hotel room.

Monday, April 16, 2012

plenty of soap

Anyone's life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, 
plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.—Lillie Langtry

Seems all we do around here these days has to do with soap. I started experimenting with making felted soaps last week—something I have wanted to do for ages, but never got around to. 

It is pretty basic, and applies the same felting principles as the bowl I made a week ago: hot water, soap, agitation, and voila! The wool roving makes a little casing around the soap. And yes, all this wool is from our sheep.

These were my second attempt. I experimented with a variety of felting surfaces, and found that using a laundry lingerie bag to help with the felting process really sped things along. (Not actually washing it in the bag, but using the surface of the bag to rub the wool and persuade it to felt.)

The beauty of the finished product, apart from the visual appeal, is that the washcloth is built right in. As you wash with it, the wool shrinks around the soap bar. Pretty neat, right?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

why my nails are never polished

Tomorrow is Terzo's First Communion.

I realized two days ago that I had nothing to wear that was not thrift-store black pants (my usual church attire). My one fancy outfit I wore last week at Easter.

Off to the (gah!) stores I went. I managed to piece together two outfits, because Primo is being confirmed next week, then realized I did not have suitable shoes. I managed to find two pairs of fancy-ish shoes at a reasonable price. I dragged myself home after my ordeal.

Then it dawned on me that the shoes were open-toed. More fashion-related frustration.

I just managed to slap some polish on them, and I got the inevitable cry: "Lambs!"


Yes, it's a crappy job, but at least it's a little color.

Double sigh.

Does any fresh pedicure, especially a crappy one, stand a chance in these bad boys?

I can't complain, really, because it was most thoughtful of Holly to go a few days early and not give birth while we had a houseful of people celebrating a first communion. Though it would have made for a memorable party, and possibly scarred some small children for life.

Even better, one is a ewe lamb! She's the whiter, redder one in back. The orange one in front is, of course, a ram lamb. His color means he must have spent a bit of time in the birth canal. Luckily, he seems to be OK. We really don't know what happened. All three boys were on the back patio playing basketball less than 100 yards from her the entire time, and they didn't notice a thing.

Best yet: she has thoroughly accepted both of them, unlike last year. She certainly took her second chance seriously.

Friday, April 13, 2012

because we needed something else to do


Secondo and I went up to Quakertown PA today to learn all about making soap. Well, that's what we thought we were learning about, anyway. We ended up finding out that there is a lot more to it than first meets the eye, which is also valuable information.

We did learn a lot about adding botanicals and herbs and other wholesome earthy things to soap, though.

We made green tea soap (front left); lavender and lemongrass soap (front right); oatmeal, milk and honey goat's milk soap (our favorite); gardener's goat's milk soap, with cornmeal to act as an abrasive; and soap with a piece of loofah right in the middle, which is the blue one he is holding up.

It inspired Secondo, so we purchased some basic melt and pour supplies—one of the things we learned is we are not quite ready to try a from-scratch cold process soap. He wanted to try the gardener's soap on his own, with a different fragrance he had picked out.

The results were a little uneven but he was pleased for the most part. He has decided to give out the soaps as samples to get some feedback. He already has visions of a little soap-crafting business, of course.

The best part of the day, by far, was spending some quality one-on-one time with him. Too often he is caught between the time demands of his older and younger siblings, and he and I don't have the chance to spend time together. This part of the day, at least, worked out just the way I had hoped.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

ewes in clover

We are experiencing a bit of a drought here on the East Coast—never thought I'd be saying I'm desperate for rain that after the wet, wet fall we had, but that's Mother Nature for you. We only have one bit of nice rich pasture left, but we were worried about turning the ewes onto it before acclimatizing their digestive systems to fresh grass instead of dry hay.

Today they finally got a crack at it.

They were in sheepy heaven.

Henrietta savoring her legumes.

I never saw them taking a break. They just chowed and chowed all day long. We put them back in the barn tonight because we were worried about the youngest lambs: there's no shelter except the trees in that area. They turned their noses up at the few flakes of alfalfa mix hay I tossed their way. Before, that was considered a rare treat; now they just want to be back on that grass!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

basket auction, take two

Every so often I check out what brings people to my little corner of the world. One of the most visited posts—I think it is my most popular post of all time—is this one. That picture of me is so horrendous that it makes me squirm every time I think about it being my most viewed shot. I have thought about taking the picture down, but console myself that it makes my friend Marta laugh hysterically every time she sees it.

One of the other things that lands people here is a search for "lottery ticket basket ideas" or something along those lines. I thought I would share the most recent incarnation of this idea for the two people per week who are interested.

This one is for the local fire company in town, which is still a mostly volunteer force paid for by donations and fundraising. Their Ladies Auxiliary Basket Auction is one of their biggest fundraisers. This basket qualifies for the low-end table (under $50) but they told me they are always in the most need for that category.

I used a jewelry organizer tree from Pier One (I never shopped in that store before I started with these lottery ticket baskets) and a pretty square plate I found on their clearance shelf. The hanging ribbons are taped to the back of the lottery tickets, because I worried that punching a hole in them would invalidate them for some reason.

All wrapped up in a clear gift bag with a pretty bow:

Hope this helps someone, most especially the Ladies Auxiliary!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

happy easter

Which says Easter more:

Boys in suits?

Or lambs playing king of the mountain on a haybale?

I couldn't decide so I'll let you choose. Hope your Easter was a happy one!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

little felt bowl

No lambs today. I can't believe it is possible that Holly can hang on for ten more days, but if the ram didn't catch her the first time, that will be her next due date. Poor thing!

That gives me a chance to share my little project. I wanted to experiment further with knitting straight from roving (instead of making it into yarn first), as I did with my messenger bag. This time I decide to felt the knitted object instead of just fulling it.

Pre-felting, it looked rather unpromising:

I felted this one by hand in a sink of hot water and dish detergent, with a pot of ice water to shock it in every so often and hopefully speed the felting process along.

Why hot water and detergent? Think of what happens when you wash a wool sweater in the laundry: hot water, agitation and detergent cause the wool fibers to stick together, shrink, and make a more fabric-like substance. In other words, felt—the name for the process and the finished result!

I felted the heck of it by hand, but I think next time I will go back to the washing machine, and may even toss this one in there for a bit more felting. My hands weren't too happy with me being submerged in that hot water.

I was quite pleased with the little felt bowl that it produced, though I want to experiment a bit more with the pattern and the process.

Friday, April 6, 2012

farm friday

Farm business, unfortunately, tends to get put on the back burner all too often. Sometimes the reason is the farm itself. When we are busy attending new mothers and bottle-feeding babies, that's all we have time for. Most of the time, however, it is just everything else in life.

With Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival looming on the not-so-distant horizon, I declared a few weeks ago that every Friday was to be Farm Friday (mostly because I am such a sucker for alliteration). The business of the farm was going to take priority on that day.

Of course, every Friday thereafter had some emergency or another that kept me from doing just that. My "to do" list grew longer and longer; the time I have to get the farm's product up to fiber festival levels is dwindling.

Except for today! Paradoxically, with all the boys home for the first day of spring break, I somehow managed to spend the entire day hacking my way through mountains of farm paperwork. I got an amazing amount done, and best of all, at the end of the day, there was time to finish up a little farm project prototype that has been knocking around in my brain—and sitting halfway done on my workroom floor—since December.

It is drying now, and I am eagerly waiting to see how it turns out. I will share the results, good, bad or ugly, tomorrow... barring any lamb deliveries!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

a slight improvement in stats

Our lambing schedule is all higgledy-piggledy this year, with only the barest resemblance to the dates predicted by the marking harness. We are still waiting for Holly to lamb—according to the marking harness, she should have had her lambs last Saturday, give or take three days. Here we are plus five days and when I just left her in the barn, she was chewing her cud, a good sign that she will not be lambing in the next few hours.

Jenny was due this coming Saturday. My LSH glanced out his lab window (which faces the back pastures) during work today, and lo and behold, Jenny was attending to something small and black on the ground next to the little shed.

That's as close as I was allowed to get.

Yep, two lambs!

Even more exciting, one of them was a ewe lamb! (Given our stats so far, we knew it was silly to even think about twin ewes. The count is now 1 ewe, 6 rams.)

Unfortunately Jenny reverted to her usual wild child behavior and refused to follow the script. We went to check the situation out; she ran the other way. Most of our ewes, even the least friendly, will stay with their lambs no matter how they feel about us personally. Though to be fair to Jenny, the lambs were vigorous enough at that point to follow her, so she wasn't abandoning them, just trying to get away from us and take them with her.

It was a circus getting them into the barn, processed (weighed / umbilical cord cut and the entire area bathed in iodine to keep out infection / mineral supplement) and into a lambing jug with her. Thank goodness Secondo, my current right-hand man, started his spring break today and was here to help me. Jenny was so stressed out by the chase, and so contemptuous of the jug, that she chose to ignore her lambs in favor of glaring balefully at whoever was in the barn checking on her.

We left her alone for a few hours, and by the time we came back from Maundy Thursday service, she had settled down. The lambs were up looking for her udder, both with nice warm mouths, and she was nickering away at them. She was even happier when the rest of the mothers, plus expectant Holly and possibly, maybe, we are just not sure about her Honey, joined her in the barn for the night.

Now if we can just get those lambs out of Holly!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

dumb and dumber

(My nickname for the two big ram lambs; the triplets are the Three Stooges. Ask any shepherd and she will tell you, the bigger they are when they are born, the stupider they seem to be.)

They finally figured out the nursing drill, hallelujah. Last night they were nursing out of the left side only, and the poor right side was looking pretty full and unhappy. All those goat milking contests at the 4-H fair? They paid off. Secondo managed to get a decent amount of milk out of her to relieve the pressure. Who says learning a skill can't be fun?

This morning I came out to feed Dumber (the second, bigger lamb). I found him reaching under his mother's belly, from the left side, with his head twisted around so he could nurse on the right side of her udder.

I tried to explain to him that there was an easier way to go about it. And when I came back with the camera, glory be, they had gotten the hang of it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

shower shawl

I have been working feverishly on a certain project for two weeks now, but because the recipient is an occasional visitor to this blog, I had to keep it strictly under wraps.

But now I can finally do the big reveal!

The bride-to-be was a 4-Her when my sons first joined the club. She has always had a special place in my heart, and messages me on facebook or comes back to visit from time to time. She loves fiber arts of all sorts and even taught herself how to spin when she was in high school. When I received the invitation to her shower a month ago, I was incredibly slow off the mark. She is the perfect recipient of a knitted gift, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to think of it.

I decided to knit her a little shawl in her wedding color, which is plum. She may not need it for her May wedding, it may not match her dress, she may already have something in mind to wear, but I thought it would be a sweet reminder of a special time in her life.

The pattern choice was easy: the Citron shawl from Knitty Winter 2009 immediately came to mind. I didn't initially see the appeal of the pattern when it was first published—silly me—but the more I worked on it I the more I appreciated the clever simplicity of it. I decided to bead the edge to give it a little weight, and they added just the right amount of dressiness.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love, love, love the finished result. I didn't even try it on for pictures, because I possibly would never take it off, that's how much I love it. Knowing that it is going to a person who will appreciate the heck out of it (I think) makes it somewhat bearable.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

we are the fools

Henrietta finally lambed today: one while we were at Palm Sunday service, and the other about an hour later. It took her so long because they were HUGE: 13 and 15 pounds, respectively. Not triplets in there, just giant lambs. They were so big that you could see her sides deflate as they moved into the birth canal.

(To add perspective: the lambs born a week ago don't weigh 13 pounds yet, and the little black runt hasn't even hit 10 pounds.)

Of course they are both ram lambs.

To add insult to injury, they are dumber than a box of rocks. Even if you add their IQs together, the box still wins. I will be heading out in another few hours with a bottle in hand, because neither has found the business end of her udder yet. They are rather tall, and her udder is rather low to the ground, and they both seem to be under the impression that milk should be squirting out of her upper thigh.

What a reminder that Mother Nature tends not to joke around.