Friday, December 5, 2014

The in-between

(chow time)
We've had the drabbest, wettest, foggiest kind of days this week.  I don't mind it so much when I can stay home and have a cozy fire in my little studio woodstove.  Because I have fewer numbers in the sheep flock, I can satisfy my need to bring everyone into the barn whenever I feel like it, which makes them happy and me, too.  No sloshing around out in the fields, spreading hay for sheep who would much rather be hanging out inside the barn, eating their hay from the hay racks.

(Turkey plate time!)

Thanksgiving was quite the stromash (ah, can't help but let a little Outlander slip into my speech when I have the chance!) We ended up with 20 folks around the tables. There are not so many littles anymore. Atticus is 19 months and Parker is 5 years old.  Mia is next youngest at 10 and after that it was all teenage boys (the two older girls were absent this year). I'm reminded every year of how fortunate I am to have most of my family close at hand and that they are willing to spend time here at the farm. The energy is quite different now that most of the grandchildren are getting older.  There are no worries about little boys being upstairs jumping on the beds or moving the clawfoot bathtub around! (That clawfoot bathtub business is true. A game of hide-and-seek caused the tub to get scooted just a wee bit and next thing we knew water was dripping out of the ceiling downstairs!)

(Tiny tree in the studio)
The Thanksgiving decorative (not the eating kind) turkeys have all gone back into their storage places, but very little in the way of Christmas decorations has made it out.  I'm feeling a little ambivalent about the whole thing in this in-between time.  I have put up a tiny tree in my studio with some of the wool felt ornaments I've collected over the years and am almost wishing I could do something similar in the house.  Oh well, some kind of a tree will appear in the house this weekend.  I'm not quite into the bah-humbug category, just feeling the need for simple this time around. There was a time in my life when decorating for Christmas took on epic proportions. Every room in the house had Christmas baubles. That was mostly when my boys were small and it appears that I'm over that now.  All I want are the most simple and natural decorations, with a minimum of glitter and gaudy.  My friend, Teresa, says if you can't be tacky at Christmas, whenever can you be, but I've somehow slipped into a quieter frame of mind in recent years.

Not so much going on in the knitting department either.  Still working on the Hitchhiker, though it suffered a setback when I discovered a mistake many rows down and my attempts at fixing it didn't work out well.  I ripped back at least 5 inches and that caused some minor discouragement and a time-out for the scarf.  I'm back to it now after knitting a few hats and finishing a set of fingerless mitts. My knitting ADD has reached embarrassing numbers and I'm feeling the need to frog and donate some yarn.  It has come to my attention that no matter how long I live, it is very unlikely that I will knit up all the yarn in my stash. Only if the dreaded world-wide shortage of wool happens will anyone consider that I have been wise to assemble this much yarn in one place. I am embarking on a major cleanout and donate. This mindset could have been triggered by the decision to move my dye room to my storage room in the barn. Cleaning out the storage room (that's a euphemism for the let's-just-dump-it-here-room) is an exercise that can only be described as painful. At this point, if it were legal and all the animals were safely outside, I'd be quite happy for the barn to burn down!  Problem solved. I recently read a book about tidying and organizing your stuff and the advice was to hold every item in your hand and ask yourself if it gives you joy.  Well, all I can say is I'm wishing I had a lot less stuff right now because not much of it feels like joy!

So, onward into the weekend and with Christmas approaching fast, I hope we all can find some peace and joy in the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keeping warm with good hay and chicken pot pie

(This was taken in the approximately 10 seconds of sunshine we had yesterday)
 Winter has come early to the Bluegrass. When we woke up Monday morning we had our first real snow and temperatures in the teens! It caught us by surprise because we rarely have those low temperatures until after the Christmas holidays.

(You might assume that the main cold weather activity here on the farm is eating and you'd be right!)
I've begun feeding the ewes hay and they've been very enthusiastic about it. They have cleaned up every bit I've put out, so I'm thinking we got an especially good load this year. Occasionally, we end up with some bales that are too stemmy and the sheep will pick through it and leave huge piles of stems in the feeders and on the ground. Not that I blame them. I wouldn't want to eat tough stems either. It's a difficult process to get really good hay cut, cured, baled and in the barn without it getting too mature or getting rained on before it gets put under shelter. That's the main reason we buy our hay now rather than try to grow it ourselves. Well, that and the fact that throwing 50 pound bales up on the wagon and the hay elevator is not something I can or want to do anymore.

This cold front began with rain, which turned to ice and then snow, so the girls all got to come into the barn that night. They tolerate the cold quite well because they are in full fleece, but I don't like them getting wet and then being out in the cold. I think we all sleep better if they are tucked up in the barn with bellies full of hay and deep straw to lie down in for the night. Of course, all it takes is bringing them into the barn one night and by feeding time the next afternoon, they are lined up at the gate waiting to come in again. Who said sheep were dumb animals?

Continuing with the theme of cold weather eating - it's been chicken pot pie for the humans. For years I made a recipe from a Lee Bailey cookbook that had a wonderful cornbread crust topping, but it was a lengthy process and when I found this one in the Real Simple Meals Made Easy cookbook, I gave it a try. (You can tell that it was a success just by looking at the stains on the pages of the cookbook! I've made it many times.) I don't always use a store bought rotisserie chicken and I usually substitute baby lima beans for the peas and we like it just fine. It's one of those recipes I can decide on at the last minute because I nearly always have the ingredients in the refrigerator or freezer.

So, what else have I been up to besides feeding sheep and cooking? Well, not so much, really. I did finish a super simple little shawl that I basically made up as I went along. I used some Briar Rose yarn from my stash and wanted something that was basically mindless knitting (which says a lot for my state of mind!). This is one of Chris' beautiful variegated colorways, that she dyes so well. It's squishy and cozy and has already become a favorite.

I have begun a Hitchhiker shawlette with a skein of Miss Babs yarn, also from my stash. (Actually, quite proud that I'm using stash yarns.) I'm at 26 points and counting. I'm thinking I might possibly be one of the last knitters on earth to knit one of these. It is a very popular pattern and also very simple (again, considering my frame of mind). It's an eight row pattern that's easily memorized. I met Martina, the designer of the pattern at Squam in June. One of my cabin-mates (hi Heather!), gave Martina a ride from the airport to Squam back in June and Martina came to our cabin one evening and sat around the fireplace with us. She's a lovely person and we were all very impressed that she flew in from Germany to attend Squam. 

Mike has a birthday this weekend and Thanksgiving is nearly here. It's a busy time of year for all of us. I'm hopeful that it won't be quite so long before I'm back with another post and maybe I'll have more to show for my time away from here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Having low expectations

(In the setting sun ...)
I seem to be dithering these days, somewhat more than usual.  I can't seem to settle on knitting, sewing, dyeing or battening down the hatches in preparation for winter.  I've knit a little (I actually finished my capelet from the Fiber Craft Studio yarn that I bought at Rhinebeck, though it still needs a good wet blocking), cut out a pattern for a knit dress, washed some linen for a tunic, brought a few pots of plants into the greenhouse to keep them growing through the winter and prepared my collection of pokeberries into a dye solution, but I just can't seem to buckle down and follow through with anything.  I think partly it's because I'm in an uncomfortable in-between place mentally.  I'm feeling, once again, that this disease is getting the upper hand. Last week, my rheumatologist decided to up my medication to something that will require me to inject myself once a week.  In some ways, I'm glad for the change in meds because the one I'm on now is causing my hair to fall out, which is not that surprising, considering it is a cancer drug.  Luckily, I have a lot of hair, but it's pretty disconcerting to see how much of it is coming out every day and I can definitely tell that I've lost a lot already. Besides some continuing issues with joint pain, one of the other side effects is that I feel so tired much of the time.  I had hoped to feel more in control at this point, but I suppose it's just another lesson in learning that control is an illusion.

On a positive note, my sheep are bringing me so much peace right now.  As difficult as it has been to reduce the size of my flock, it's wonderful to now have a whole group that are so gentle and calm.  Nearly every evening, while Aslan is eating his dinner on the outside of the fence, I take my little wooden folding stool into the field and sit down to visit with the girls.  If you follow me on Instagram, you will likely have seen a number of photos taken during my evening visitations with the sheep.  It's lovely to have one or two of them come and put their heavy heads upon my shoulder, lean gently into me and wait for scratches behind their ears or under their chins.  It's a time of meditation for me really, centering me, allowing me to slow my internal dialogue, breathe into their soft fleece and feel their solid presence. It's comforting in a way I can't really describe and a reminds me of why I chose to raise sheep all those many years ago.  I'm so grateful I have them in my life.

So, tomorrow is November.  Time to get my act together and begin thinking about having a sane and peaceful holiday season - one of low expectations and more enjoyment.  The word for this year will be simplify!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the road again

It seems as though I just returned from Scotland and here I am away from home again.  My friend, Teresa, and I planned this trip to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival about a year ago, long before I imagined that Mike and I would be going to Scotland and Ireland.  I love this festival best of all the ones I have ever attended.  They always have fabulous workshops, wonderful vendors and who wouldn't want to be in the Hudson Valley when the leaves are turning such fabulous colors?

Today I had a great workshop in handpainting yarn and roving with natural dyes.  It was taught by Jackie Ottino-Graf.  We worked outside in a tent and enjoyed the perfect, clear blue sky and just-warm-enough weather.  (I took that top photo with my iPhone, just a few steps from where we were using the dye pots to steam our hand-dyed fiber.)  Jackie taught the workshop in a casual and fun way and I think we all felt relaxed and reasonably confident at the end of the day. (Well, except I'm not sure I will ever be able to figure out that stock-solution-percentage-thing without a worksheet in front of me, but that's because I have a long-standing case of math anxiety, not because it wasn't explained well!).

(Some samples from my classmates)

(Anyone who knows me could figure out that these were my handiwork. My color choices are so predictable!  This is madder, logwood and weld with a few drops of iron solution added to the weld.)

I am wishing now that I had come up soon enough to take the Thursday and Friday classes.  I wanted to leave Saturday open for enjoying all the vendors have to offer (ahem) and having the chance visit with friends from Squam and past workshops. 

So, one last photo before I get too sleepy.  I spied this after the workshop was over, when I was walking through one of the many areas where the vendors were in the process of setting up. I was scouting walking toward the exit gate and just happened to see it. Needless to say, I'll be heading for that booth in the morning because I'm pretty sure the standing stones were telling me I need a Sassenach Capelet Kit to go home with me! I posted this same picture on facebook on the Outlander Pattern Central group page and caused just a little stir of wishful thinking on the part of some fellow Outlander obsessed folks.

(In the booth of Bijou Basin Ranch)