Saturday, June 30, 2012

june bookstand

No comment on the British monarchy. Just a lot of light reading (mostly) this month. In the finished pile, almost all of which were off my bookshelf:

Miles From Nowhere, by Dayton Duncan
Highly, highly recommend. I had started this book a while ago, read most of it, then misplaced it in the tower of books formerly known as my nightstand. I was thrilled to rediscover it and finish it off. A fascinating look at counties in the continental US with fewer than 2 people per square mile. In addition to well-drawn portraits of the people who live in such places, Duncan also provides a lot of food for thought about what it means to live an existence with the "irreducible minimum." I was not surprised to learn that he was the writer and director of The National Parks; this book has that same thoughtful flavor

Quilter's Apprentice, Round Robin & Cross-Country Quilters, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Recommend, especially if you like Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street series. I have wanted to read this series for a while now, and came across a collection of the first three books at a booksale this spring. Perfect non-demanding but engaging reading for the hectic end-of-school transition time.

1225 Christmas Tree Lane, by Debbie Macomber
Recommend, plus I can finally cross this series off the list! This last one, while very thin, was much better than the previous two and wrapped many of the stories up quite nicely. Plus everyone gets a puppy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

going for the blues

We made our annual pilgrimage down to south Jersey for blueberries yesterday... strangely enough, the exact same date as last year. But this year we remembered a camera!

Secondo was riding shotgun in the truck, because Primo was still on pilgrimage (he returned safely last night) and the only time Secondo gets to ride in the front seat is in Primo's absence. He was the designated photographer and managed to get a shot of the gorilla gas-station statue that lets us know we haven't missed our turn.

The sign around his neck reads in part:
"My name is Mighty Joe. I have been placed here by the V— family
as a memorial and to pay tribute to their son Joseph
who now lives in the kingdom of heaven....
Joe was not only mighty in his appearance
but also in courage, spirit and love of family."

The bushes we passed on the way down were full of blueberries, so much so that it seems like the fields have a purple haze on them.

After watching the little packing plant operating at full steam, we decided on 24 flats this year. Luckily I had some help with me to load up. The woman who owned the farm asked where we lived; when I said "on a livestock farm" she said, "That explains why your boys are good workers!"

Only (only!!!) eight flats were ours. I showed a little restraint because our deep freezer was fried after the defrosting episode a few weeks back, and I am not sure where I am going to put all of them. We have been eating frozen food and blueberries in equal measure the past two days, the former to increase the space in the kitchen freezer, and the latter to decrease the amount that needs to be frozen.

To the helpers go the first spoils...
Two pints gone before we even got home.

It may come down to me trying my hand at blueberry jam, but what with the great fleece washing experiment going on, I'm not really sure I'm up for yet another learning venture.

Note to self for trip next year: go in the afternoon so we can hit the promising barbecue place on the way home!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

scouring fleece

True confession: before today, I had never washed a sheep fleece. From a spinner's perspective, this is akin to being a cook and never cracking an egg. I had managed to avoid it to date by paying the fiber mills to do it for me, mostly because I have done so much fleece handling that by the time it comes off the sheep that I really don't want anything more to do with it.

Plus there's the whole time issue.

Today I decided to bite the bullet, in preparation for yet another farm product. I read the wisdom of the internet until I couldn't procrastinate any longer, and then jumped in with some semi-junky fleece that it wouldn't be a problem if I ruined. Feel free to skip to the next post if you have no intentions of ever washing sheep fleece!


I filled my utility sink with HOT water (luckily the water out of our tap is 150 degrees F, the minimum needed for this project), Arm & Hammer laundry detergent and Dawn dishwashing liquid (about ¼ C of each), and then gently stirred before lowering in the fleece.

Everything I read suggested it would take about three or four pans of hot water. The fleece I had was so dirty that it took over ten; I must admit I lost count. I put laundry detergent in the first pan only; the remainder were either dish detergent or plain water until it was finally clean. I made sure the water was always very hot so that the lanolin would not congeal back onto the fleece.

When the water was almost clear, I put the fleece into my dedicated barn washing machine to spin out the excess water, then laid it outside to dry in a shady spot. What, you don't have a dedicated barn washing machine? Mine is our top loader that couldn't keep up with the family laundry any longer, but is still good for the occasional load of sheep coats.

The finished result is much fluffier and cleaner than when I started: still quite a bit of VM (hay chaff, etc.) though a lot less brown!

Onto step two, hopefully sometime next week, to try and remove more of that junk while getting it ready to spin. I will probably divide it into two color piles, because the difference between the two fleeces is much more obvious without all that dirt! When I started the project I thought it was from the same sheep, but obviously not.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

pigs in a wallow

Last pig video for a while, I promise, but I had to share the wallow.

The pigs created this on a very hot day last week, after we hosed them down. They took advantage of the wet spot the hose created in the pasture and set to work. About two hours later, they had this to show for it.

It's hard to get an idea of the scale of it, but as you can see from the video, it is big enough that all four pigs can fit in at one time.

An impressive feat of pig architecture. They are working on several others, some of which need to be filled in with a bale of junk hay to discourage them, but this one is their preferred hangout. They will run over if anyone walks near it, hoping that you have come to hose them down.

We have discovered that our clay soil is great for one thing at least: holding water for a pig wallow.

Friday, June 22, 2012

pigs on produce

The boys have sourced fresh discarded produce for their pigs from two sources: the farm stand on the corner of our road, and their friend who works at a different farm stand.

This has made for some very happy pigs.

They come running any time they see one of the boys near the barn, where the produce is stored prior to being fed to them. Tomatoes, corn on the cob and any kind of pit fruit are particular favorites. These pigs are eating very high off the hog.

They are all clay-colored because they built a wallow yesterday. I'll try to get a video of that, sans corny voice over, at some point this weekend.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

pilgrim's progress

The house is a little quieter and less cluttered today, because Primo left on pilgrimage with his youth group early this morning.

Each kid took a walking stick and a small stone. If you look under his left arm, you can see a scallop shell, the traditional mark of a pilgrim and the symbol of our church's namesake, attached to his pilgrimage bag. 

(I have no idea what the Pepsi advertising is a sign of, except perhaps unquestioning acceptance of the ubiquitous nature of corporate symbolism.)

Our town was one of the crossroads of the American Revolution. They are tracing the path of patriots and loyalists up to Boston (patriot side of history) and then to Nova Scotia (for the loyalists), to explore the themes of making choices and staying true to your beliefs. 

The rest of us are left behind to take care of pigs and sheep. Secondo is doing his best to fill in for one of Primo's employers, but finding the shoes are pretty big ones to fill.

Monday, June 18, 2012

pigs on pasture

One of the things the boys had to work out was how to hot wire (i.e., electrify) a fence for the pigs. The sheep fence was all well and good, but not enough for determined hogs who like to dig and root under fences. A low hot wire was necessary to deter such behavior.

Another learning curve... it is not exactly the set-up they wanted, but by late yesterday afternoon (hence the sun in the camera lens) they were ready to let the pigs out of the catch pen.

These pigs were raised on concrete. The pens were roomy and clean, and they had access to the outdoors, but I don't think they had ever been in contact with grass before. The first thing they did in the catch pen was to eat grass and dirt.

The first thing they did when we persuaded them to leave the relative safety of the catch pen was... well, you'll see. Sorry about the video quality; the boys were in a hurry to let them out and I grabbed the first camera I could find. At the end, Primo is warning Red that the wire is hot.

By later that night they had settled down and were contentedly eating from their feeder. They set up camp in the little shed for the night. They still spend most of their time in the front of the pasture, though they have been spotted running laps together around the perimeter.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

pig project

I said big things were coming... I should have said PIG things were coming!

Primo has been arguing that pigs would be a great addition to the farm for a while now. Somehow, I have no idea how but it did involve him doing a ton of research, he managed to convince his father. All that work was to get the pasture ready for pigs.

This is a joint business venture of Primo and Secondo, with a little help from their grandparents in the form of early birthday presents. Only my kids would be thrilled about getting three hog panels and a double door hog feeder for their birthdays, but if this project has taught them anything, they've learned how the cost of materials really adds up and they were very grateful for the assistance.

We went up to the ag division of the state university yesterday for their bi-monthly auction. Lucky for the boys, their former 4-H leader works in the farrowing house there. She was a great resource to answer their (and my) questions, and one of her co-workers was kind enough to do the same once we got there.

The nascent pig farmers, waiting for their last hog to be loaded

The entire crowd wanted to make sure these boys got their pigs. They ended up with four, as they had hoped. They are all gilts (females under one year of age), about ten weeks old, a Duroc-Yorkshire-Hampshire-Landrace cross. Not exactly heritage breeds, but they have had all their vaccinations and are well-used to being handled, so they seemed like good starter pigs.

We brought them home in dog crates and turned them loose in the small catch pen the boys constructed, so we could make sure they were eating and drinking OK before letting them out in the bigger pasture.

Dusty is absolutely fascinated by these new creatures

The boys agreed before they got them that they would be named One, Two, Three and Four, in recognition of their eventual purpose. That lasted approximately five minutes. They are the pigs now known as Stripe, Spot, Red and Tiger (which I think looks more like a carp, but I wasn't involved).

Pretty easy to figure out, but clockwise starting on left:
Tiger, Stripe, Spot and Red

In testimony to the more wide-spread understanding of the importance of knowing where your meat comes from, they have pre-orders for all of it. Our family has only just managed to secure half a pig's worth of meat, but we have been informed that we will be expected to pay for it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

project in the works

The older two boys have been hard at work in the center pasture. I finally, finally, got them to help me finish the fencing and it took them all of two hours. So that's a big YAY. No more escaping lambs, at least not from that particular pasture, which had worked more or less as a sheep sieve before this: big sheep stayed in, little sheep got out.

The boys went from fencing on to other improvements and all sorts of learning opportunities, because their father has decreed that this is their project. Every spare moment has been devoted to it. Big things are coming...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TEAny hats

One of my favorite knitting charities is the Seaman's Church Institute. Their Christmas at Sea volunteer knitting program (a volunteer program I can really get behind!) provides a handknitted scarf or hat along with other goodies to international and inland mariners. I usually manage to kick out a Seafarer's Scarf or two every year, as the ultimate autopilot-yet-feel-good-about-it knitting.

CAS recently launched a new initiative, in conjunction with Starbucks: the 1200 TEAny Hat Project. Those little hats were too cute to resist and I sent away right-quick for my mini watch cap knit kit, which came last week. I received enough tags for five hats and in short order (yarn scraps to the rescue), I had five TEAny hats!

A crop of TEAny hats in the garden!

A very fun project which will be on its way back to CAS just one week after receipt. They don't come much more satisfying than that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

garden gift

The past few years, we have managed to get our garden in on Memorial Day weekend. I always considered that to be horribly late... until this year. This Memorial Day weekend, I spent half of it in the hospital worrying about a dehydrated kid, and the rest of it recovering from that episode. Secondo and I had cleared half of the beds the day of that fateful track meet, but were unable to capitalize on our hard work.

Actually, this was the second time the beds had been cleaned this spring. The picture above is from spring break, when the two older boys were making good on their birthday present to me: cleaning out the beds. Unfortunately, they failed to cover the beds and so we were back to... well, not square one. Maybe square three.

Today was do-or-die as far as getting a garden in. We FINALLY had a day with a block of free time, when most of us were home and could pitch and help.

There was quite a bit of hoeing:

And planting:

And waiting patiently for someone to take a break and feed the dog.

My best helper, by far, was Secondo. Planting the garden was his Mother's Day gift to me. These boys are most excellent gift-givers.

He spent most of yesterday clearing the rest of the beds by himself. He helped me shop for plants today, then worked on getting everything into the ground. He hung into the bitter end, blisters and all. About three hours in, I said, "Well, I bet this is the last time I get this present."

"No," he replied. "I was thinking just the opposite."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

the bieber effect

Justin Bieber's new song "Boyfriend" doesn't just drive the girls crazy. It also drives Dusty up the wall.

(Yes, I was listening to the radio on our circa-1980s intercom system. My techie family despairs.)

Something about that high-pitched hook in the song makes Dusty think that some sort of predator is on the prowl, but he can't quite figure out where the threat is coming from.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

diorama days

The hectic end-of-school pace continues unabated. Today's challenge was finishing the second-grade habitat diorama. For some reason my kid chose Antarctica, the one habitat for which I had absolutely no little plastic animal figures. The only reason I keep the danged things around is for this purpose, and does he pick "woodland" or "rain forest" or even "savannah"?

No, he chooses the frozen tundra, and that pretty much only leaves you with penguins and seals—neither of which we had, of course. Thank goodness another penguin-blessed mother took pity on us and loaned us her family's stock of plastic birds.

I think the finished result does the job just fine. The whale tails were my idea, but he formed them. Except for help printing out and mounting the background (because he couldn't visualize how it would work), it is 95% his effort.

Yes, he is a third child.

When we were talking about the projects during field day last week, one mother mentioned another "kid's" diorama of the ocean floor, that included lights requiring access to an electrical outlet.

"Let me guess," I said. "First or only child, correct?"

She thought for a moment, then nodded and asked how I knew.

No mother of a third child needs to explain.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


With three boys arranged like evenly-spaced stair steps, I have managed to avoid quite a bit of clothes purchases by storing away sizes as each one finishes with it. Some things, like jeans, barely make it through. Other items, like dress clothes and sweaters, still have plenty of wear left when they are packed away.

Secondo needed a pair of khakis for a concert last week, and everything in his closet was too small. He went "shopping in the big closet"—our term for seeking out the box with the next size up. He quickly announced he found a pair that would suit. I have learned the hard way however, so the night before the concert, I told him I needed to see the khakis up close and personal, to make sure they actually existed and didn't have giant holes or grass stains in the knees.

Secondo (very busy watching reruns of "The Office" on the iPad): "What do you need to see them for? I told you I have them."

Me: "Because I need to see them. Please bring me the khakis."

Secondo: "MOOOOMMMMM! I told you I found khakis! They fit me perfectly! I'm fine! Why do I have to show them to you?"

(A few more minutes of this back-and-forth, and my LSH gets sick of the argument.)

LSH: "Secondo! Bring the khakis to your mother!"

Secondo: "I don't see why I need to bring the khakis to her! I found them! I'm all set!"

LSH: "RIGHT NOW! Bring the khakis to your mother THIS MINUTE!"


Secondo: "What are khakis?"

We eventually did locate a pair in the big closet, but today was the piano recital for all three. Needless to say, those danged khakis were nowhere to be found.

Nor was his belt.

Friday, June 1, 2012

bea's back, with berries

Bea, the horse-cum-sheep trailer, was in bad shape. The broken door was the final straw, and I dropped her off at the trailer hospital about two months ago.

In case you can't tell where she gets her name,
that is a little picture of a bee on the front of the trailer

A complete overhaul, a new door (let's not discuss the cost) and a bit of patchwork and she was ready to come home. I drove her back through a series of torrential rainstorms last week. Our barn looks complete with her parked in front; it was a bit bare without her. Funny how inanimate objects start to take up a definitive place in the scheme of things.

On the way down to pick her up, I caught sight of a roadside stand selling fresh-picked strawberries, and I practically made a U-turn in the middle of the road to get to it. I knew that I would not want to visit it once I had a trailer in tow!

The haul: two quarts of little perfect strawberries. I happened to have a cooler in the truck and I popped them right in.

What a difference from the store-bought berries I had purchased just the day before!

I can't fault the store-bought berries too much. To be fair, despite the most careful of treatment, the road-side berries were already bruised and starting to spoil by the time I got home... though the taste was without comparison.

Most of the berries went onto shortbread cookies for an after-school snack. The remainder were made into a berry sauce for pancakes the next morning. I'm glad I stopped to grab them, as the farms around here are almost done with their berry crop—in the beginning of June!—thanks to the recent heat wave.

If there's one thing I've learned by focusing on a local diet, it's that you have to grab these treats when you see them. You often don't get a second chance.