Archive for March, 2011

This Lambing business is bittersweet.

Within the space of a couple of hours yesterday, I cradled an unresponsive newborn lamb in my arms, witnessed another take its first breaths on the pasture, and then helped deliver a third, whose left leg was stuck.  What a day.

To my surprise, it was Garnet who delivered first.  We returned home from an obligatory foray into town to find a cold and unresponsive lamb laying on the ground.  I sprang into action, trying everything I could to warm her, hoping that her lack of noticeable breathing was a function of her hypothermia.  I kept at it until I was certain that she was gone, which was probably far, far longer than needed.  It was a heartbreaking start to my new post as midwife, but a harsh reminder that it’s not all rainbows and spring cliches.  I don’t believe the little one ever took a breath.  What a shame – she was an otherwise perfect, big ewe.

But there was no time to dwell on the sadness.  My apprentice midwife, a 5-yr-old prodigy, came running in to tell me that Sylvia had just had a lamb.  I went barreling out, paranoid now, and vigorously helped her dry the lamb for a moment or two before guiding them both into a draft-free enclosure.  Sylvia was an ace first-time mother, doing all the right things.  Like any babies, lambs are born rather wet and a good ewe mother spends the first several minutes carefully cleaning off the newborn.  Those are the critical moments – lambs are surprisingly resilient to cold temperature, but only after they’ve dried off and filled their bellies with warm milk.  And then came the triumph known by mothers of multiples everywhere – in the middle of tending to her newborn lamb, she began laboring again.  Carefully, carefully she jockeyed around, trying to adjust her position to ease the second little one out, ever careful not to lay on the first.  I stepped in to see what was happening, still paranoid and a bit shaken by the rough start so far.  A head!  A lamb head had emerged!  And was stuck.  Sylvia lay down, but the head emerged no further.  What happens to a partially-emerged lamb when the mama sits down? I was asking myself OHNOIT’SSTUCK!  And I sprang into action.  No time for the fancy shoulder-length gloves, no time for the mildly-disinfectant lube, no time for a breath.  I carefully reached inside, felt the one leg positioned right where it should be, and then the other….where was it?  Will sort that out later.  I grabbed the lamb by the armpits as best as I could and gently tugged.  And tugged again.  And tugged again.  And out slid a beautiful ram lamb, alert and taking breaths and perfect.  There’s no doubt now that there actually was ample time for gloves, for lube, though it wasn’t needed, but clear-headed hindsight is a spiteful nag.

Sylvia is the proud mother of twins – a beautiful ewe and ram.  I’m so proud of her – she is such a fantastic mother, which sounds so patronizing and ridiculous for me to say.  She likely knows so much better than I what she’s doing; I’m just a pesky fly buzzing around her, forcing the babes onto her swollen teats and hovering about like nervous grandmother.  But they know what they’re doing – all three.  And they’re doing it beautifully.

My heart goes out to Garnet, who I think sees me as the horrible thing that stole her baby.  She’s been calling out for her all night long and it breaks my heart.  Poor Garnet.  I wish it would have turned out differently for you.



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Spring has cold-cocked me between the eyes.

There is so much to report, my friends.  The Chicks are here, and came in with a fury.  I’m still trying to peel myself off the ceiling.  Can you tell there’s a story here, a good one?  No lambs yet, but Sylvia was pawing at the ground moments ago, a reputed in-labor tic that made my heart jump up into my throat while I literally waited for her to drop a lamb then and there.  She must find my naivete and inexperience to be gloriously amusing.  Or irritating.  Hope it’s the former.

I’m going to return to peeling myself off the ceiling now, and also maybe squeeze in some Chicken Tikka Masala for lunch.  I hope to return here soon with a clear head and all the latest news.

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This is exactly what I had in mind for my newly-electrified studio ceiling.

Hot damn.


While I’m following up on that same post, I will casually mention that there was no dress made that day.  That was crack-smokin’ talk.

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How to catch a Leprechaun

You may have thought that the passing of St. Patrick’s Day meant the retreat of the Leprechauns into the shadows until next year’s event.  You’d be wrong.  Just because we’ve forgotten about them does not mean they’ve forgotten about us – they’re still out there, all right, busy as ever with their trickery and mischief-making.  We can file this post as a Public Service Announcement.

Ah, I just love how having a Girl in school has transformed the otherwise secondary and unassuming minor holidays into…far less secondary, minor holidays.  On St. Patrick’s Day this year, she marched off the bus wearing a green paper crown bedecked with shamrocks and green elf ears.  With a single-minded focus she went straight to her room, changed out of her green and blue dress, put on green corduroy pants, a bright red undershirt, and began desperately searching for her kelly green cardigan to complete her festive ensemble.  Her growing panic, mixed with the sheer exhaustion of a girl who’s worked hard in school all day, quickly turned into crisis.  It didn’t help that I was also trying to get her to tidy her room.  And then, when I tried explaining how she probably couldn’t find the cardigan because she hadn’t taken care of it and probably lost it, she exploded with 5-yr-old rage and frustration.  “I DID NOT LOSE IT!  Someone took it – either Errol or a Leprechaun!”  How could I possibly keep from bursting out in laughter – the loud, rolling, belly kind?  That didn’t help.  Lucky for me, I was able to track down the cardigan and smooth things over.  We mused that Errol probably is himself a Leprechaun – how could we have missed it?  He’s short, mischievous, always wears green, has a red beard…

Whoever the culprit was, she wasted no time setting up this Leprechaun trap on her bedside table.  From this we can tell that Leprechauns are small enough to fit into a coffee mug, heavy enough to fall through the kleenex stretched over the top, and most importantly, lured in by priceless jewelry – glow-in-the-dark and otherwise.

She hasn’t caught anything yet, but I have a feeling she might soon.

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Oh yeah – it is definitely Spring.

Dr. Hook

The roosters declare it so, having turned our backyard into a set for a chicken porno.


The ewes, so laden with swollen bellies, can’t even be bothered to greet me when I visit, so busy are they with their gestating.  They look, to my inexperienced eyes, about ready to pop.  Sylvia, shown above in the middle, has adopted a dramatic waddle when walking.  I can’t imagine she’s too far from lambing.

A newly-hung Homestead Project board is filling up by the minute, as I lasso one by one the whirlwind of must-do projects and wrangle them into some kind of manageable format.

My bathroom is carpeted in tender green sprouts.

The snow is almost completely melted, save for that patch way out, or the one over there.  The heat is off more than on, the clothesline saw its first load of laundry hanging from it in months, and our driveway looks like we held a tractor pull in it, all rutted and muddy.  This just added to the Project board:  add gravel.  The cranes, having returned weeks ago, are back into the swing of things, flying by with much grace and regularity.  I’ve even spied a pair mating from afar, so attuned are my eyes to the copulating stance of birds these days. And last night, Simply Folk was interrupted by a severe weather warning for a distant county.  I’m hoping the weather radio will be far less active this year.

Spring is welcomed with much enthusiasm, to be sure, even if my head threatens to spin right off with all the busyness.


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Prenatal Home Visit, ungulate edition

Dear Gloria, Garnet, Sylvia, and Irene –

I hope this letter finds you well in the last days (weeks?) of your respective pregnancies.  I am so pleased to see your ever-expanding bellies and am hopeful that your offspring will be prolific and healthy.  Surely you understand the importance of good prenatal care as our mutual responsibility.  This, I’m afraid, is why I’m writing.  I left our last prenatal home visit a bit concerned about your lackadaisical commitment to nutrition.  Mostly, I’m referring to the tea.

You may not realize that brewing an herbal tea of mineral-rich, uterine tonic herbs for a flock of pregnant ewes is rather unorthodox.  Being first-time mothers, with a first-time midwife, it’s no wonder that you would take this for granted, given no other context for comparison.  But it is.  Comically unorthodox.  I know of no other sheep in the entire world who are privilege to human-grade, organic herbs long-infused in a tea, except maybe for Juliette’s flock.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that her mention of Red Raspberry leaves as a good uterine tonic gave me the idea.  That and the jars of extra Nourishing Tea I had left over from my own pregnancy, which I certainly won’t need for myself.  You need to understand that no self-respecting farmer that I’ve ever heard of would even consider, let alone admit in public, the act of brewing pregnancy tea for sheep.  But you all knew from the start, from the very moment you were loaded into the back of a minivan, for cripes sake,  that I was no self-respecting traditional farmer, right?

But back to the tea, and my concerns.  Let’s cut to the chase:  I’m a little ticked off that, after carefully brewing this (privileged, expensive, time-consuming) tea for you all and adding it to your water, you flippantly disregarded my hard work and carelessly crapped in the water pail.  Of tea.  How are you to prepare yourself for giving birth if you thumb your nose at and otherwise soil the nutrient-rich supplement I’ve so lovingly made for you?  There’s alfalfa in that tea, you know.  You all LOVE alfalfa.  Did you even try it before you crapped in it?  If I sound a little less professional than a midwife should, it’s because I’m pissed.  That was downright rude, not to mention wasteful.  A shameful waste of human-grade, organic medicinal herbs.

While I’m at it and venting my frustrations, I’d like to recall your attention to last week’s incident with the feed.  I’m referring specifically to the incident where I brought home a pallet full of 3rd Trimester, Prepare for Lambing special feed mix from our local mill.  Why was it, exactly, that you refused to eat it?  I understand that you’re pregnant, with all kinds of strange food impulses and aversions.  I get that, having been pregnant myself not so long ago.  Surely your bodies intuitively know what you need more than I, right?  Without even the slightest complaint, I loaded back up the 350 pounds of refused feed, hauled it back to the mill, apologetically returned it, and returned with the feed that you were accustomed to, the feed which you’d eat non-stop, to your bloated death, if I let you.  The feed which has a curiously higher content of molasses. Pregnant intuition, my ass – you were refusing the newer feed because it had less sugar!   I’m on to you ewes – you’re a bunch of molasses junkies.  And I’m concerned about the state of your prenatal health.  As your midwife, it’s my job to look out for your health as well as that of your unborn lambs.  I urge you to take more responsibility for your prenatal care.

You can start by guzzling the fresh batch of Nourishing Tea I’m preparing for your water pail.  Please refrain from soiling it.


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We doff our hats to you, Tom Waits.

Congratulations to you, Mr. Waits, on your recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It feels strange to call you Mr. – such a prominent presence you have in our carefully cultivated day to day reality – we sometimes forget that we’re actually not the mutually-held dear friends we imagine we could be.

We first met you via the soundtrack to the movie Basquiat.  Your voice, of course –  it was your voice that caught our attention and crawled under our skin and wedged itself into the crinkly recesses of our brains.  Who IS that, we had to know.  We were just a couple of college punks at the time.  We had no idea how our entire musical library was to evolve, how the very act of listening to music was about to become more visceral and investigative.  I bought Andrew a copy of Small Change for Christmas some time around 2002, I’d guess, and I distinctly remember going to the music store, thrown off balance by the number of albums I had to choose from.  Which? It was already a risky idea for a gift – we liked the one song we knew, but was it just the novelty that drew our attention, or something deeper?  I chose Small Change for its inclusion of Tom Traubert’s Blues – that it also had a stripper on the album cover only made it better. You had us by the second track.  That album plays now with the same sentimental, lovestruck haze and exhilaration that usually accompanies the soundtrack of a new relationship.

When we had our first child, we beamed with pride when our midwife declared ours the most eclectic selection of birthing music yet, weighted heavily with the dozen or so albums we had of yours.   It was amusing that our daughter chose Tool’s Reflection as the song to be born to, but she quickly claimed Coney Island Baby as her own.  Its four-syllable compatibility with Is-a-dor-a was fortuitous – I think she was at least 4 years old before she realized the song was not written specifically for her.  The song remains, now joined by others of yours, on the mix of songs that send her off to sleep each night.   The same is true for our 2 yr old son, who’s only just transitioned from the (Miami) sound machine white noise to a mix of hand-picked music.

Though you did not see us, we were there amid the crowd in Chicago, and we made the road trip to see you in Columbus, the stop furthest north on your Glitter and Doom tour.  We’ll go further if we have to for any upcoming tours, but we vow to get a better hotel.  That Columbus outfit we chose was a bullshit hole-in-the-wall straight out of one of your songs.  I’d bet Andrew could pinpoint which – he’s great like that.  Me – I tend to reference your songs in a more visual way, pulling apart the layers of paint and dust and velvet and rusty hinges and tin cans kicked down the street and breathing and that rooster.  God, we love that rooster, have our own now, who you’re welcome to record if you get in a bind ever.

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what it is that makes your music so powerful for me.  It might be that we are of the same tribe.  At least this is what I imagine from the mental composite I’ve drawn up from the clues laid out before me.  At the very least, we speak your language.  The need to point out the piercingly beautiful bloom of lichen growing on the cement cover of the septic tank.  Or how the slapping of the faded flag against the pole creates a staccato rhythm that can’t be ignored.  I’m no musician; my work is visual, but I take notice of how you effortlessly make beautiful the everyday, the underdog, the discarded, which is what I aim to do myself.  I’ve seen your photographs of oil stains; I’ve read that you cultivate treasures from ‘junk.’  Were we neighbors, I don’t doubt we’d run into one another while scavenging, that you’d have to arm-wrestle me for a beat-up, rusty something-or-other on the curb.  Really, you could just play your “I’m Tom Waits” card and I’d drop whatever it was, fawning all over the place.

Speaking of fawning all over the place, please excuse all that.  And do deliver whatever portion of this fawning is due Kathleen.  You should know that we’ve taken your suggestions to widen our musical horizons and invited Howlin’ Wolf into the mix.  Also Lead Belly.  We’re on a far-reaching musical trajectory now, the starting point of which we can specifically pinpoint to your music.  How do we begin to say thank you for that without sounding like a bunch of saps?  Beats me.

So congratulations on your rightful induction into the Hall of Fame.  For what it’s worth, you’ve been in ours since 2005.

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Rumpelstiltskin Challenge Giveaway!

From the depths of my random collection of vintage things comes this pair of fantastic children’s magazines.  Would you like them to join your own collection of fantastic vintage things?  Listen up!

Up for grabs:  a pair of Children’s Activities magazines from 1957 – April and May.  One lucky person will get the pair shipped to them free of charge, if they’re in the US.  If not, they’re still eligible, but will need to cover the shipping.

To enter:  post your completed project pics to the Rumpelstiltskin Challenge Photo Pool.  Each pic will get one entry.  Make them good ones, please, and refrain from posting 5 pics of a single finished project unless it’s undeniably necessary.

All pics already posted for the month of March are entered in the giveaway already – thank you for sharing those without incentive!

All photos posted before the end of March 31 will be entered and a winner will be chosen by the infamous random number generator.

Contest ends 3/31 and the magazines will be mailed out promptly so you will have ample time to make use of the April issue.

Does that about cover it?  Just look at how great these are…

You’d better get crackin’.




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Currently in the back of my minivan…

I think this could be a regular feature here.  There’s always something exciting being hauled in the back of that van.

Shortly after the bus deposited our girl for the evening last night, we set out to collect some wool fleeces that were offered up for free on Craigslist.  A winding country drive through a gorgeous, fast-melting snowscape led us to a small farm where these were waiting for us.  The bags are densely packed with the raw fleeces of at least 6 Romney sheep – some white, some natural (darker) colored and would have been challenging to pile into a less-generous back seat.  Wowee.  You may or may not know that this is actually the second time the back of our minivan has been crammed full of wool.  This second load is a little less dramatic than full-out livestock, but the potential is almost equally exciting.

The fleeces remain in the exact condition the sheep last left them in – rich with lanolin and bits of hay and other mementos.  While this state is great for sheep, it’s not so great for the spinner.  I’ll need to lay each fleece out flat like a blanket, pick out the nature bits, trim off the nasty wool around the edges, and then wash it all.  This is called scouring and it removes all the lanolin, or grease and makes the wool soft and spinnable.  (Side note: I’d love to find out how to effectively collect all that lanolin, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of info on how to do this)  Once the wool is cleaned, I shall be preparing it for spinning.

All of this presents me with an opportunity to practice and hopefully work out some of the bugs in the processing cycle before I am faced with the piles of homegrown fleece that we’ve paid to feed and shelter here at the Acres.  Shearing time will be sometime in the spring, the first for our girls and the mister.  From this ‘practice’ batch I should also have some wool to test dye, before I go ruining our own fleece in the trial and error process.  Seems like a good plan, no?

I think what I’m really trying to say here is that every ounce of my brain has been stuffed with wool lately – lambing it, feeding it, shearing it, cleaning it, spinning it, dyeing it, selling it.  Rinse, repeat.  I’ve been consumed with wool and have had no interest whatsoever in anything sewing related, except for the intermittent brainstorming on what kind of light fixture I should craft for the newly-installed electrical in the ceiling of my studio, only loosely related to sewing because that would open up more the potential for doing more of it after dark.  (Happy Birthday to me!)  Thanks a million for all of your wonderful suggestions to that end.

Lucky for us all, though, plenty of others have been busy makin’ away and posting their conquests to the Rumpelstiltskin Challenge Flickr group.  Check it out!

SouleMama Collection bags by monkeemoomoo

Yarn Swift bag (modified yoga bag) by Nortie Bug

I think next week I shall return with a giveaway, so it would be to your advantage to make ready your own Rumpelstiltskin Challenge conquest photos…if you like giveaways, that is.



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Chickens We’ve Loved: Daffodilla

We lost a good chicken recently.

One chick in last year’s Spring batch clearly stood out from among the rest.  It was mottled black and pale yellow, with a prominent yellow splotch on the top of its head, differentiating it from the rest of the 80-odd chicks brooding in our spare bathtub.  This chick was immediately called out as special by one Isadora and given the name Daffodilla.  Keep in mind that, at the time, we had no idea whether Daffodilla should indeed bear the -a at the end of her name, or if he should instead be Daffodillo, a name which borders on absurd, maybe even vulgar.  This made absolutely no difference whatsoever to Isadora.  Daffodilla was of course a girl – why else would she have hand-picked her and given her the most beautiful name in the world?

But she was right, that girl.  Daffodilla continued to grow into her uniqueness, and we later discovered her to be the ‘free, rare chick’ that McMurray Hatchery threw in with our order.  Maybe she was a Barred Rock, or a Cuckoo Maran – whatever the case, she had lovely black and white barred feathers and a sweet disposition, no doubt from all of her special grooming and handling early on. She also laid the most beautiful chocolate brown colored eggs to ever grace the coop.

She had pluck.  Early on, she was involved in an accident with the pasture pen that left her with a bandaged head and neck.  She received the necessary first aid and pulled through it all as a stronger, more resilient bird, albeit with a few battle scars.  The other hens revered her as bad-ass and demurred to her with great respect.  And for a while, it seemed as if that pluck might be enough to pull her through her last and greatest scrape.  I can only piece together a good guess of what happened, and it boggles my own mind.

I found her in one of the nest boxes, listless and standing with closed eyes.  A Black Giant hen, in a nearby nest box, seemed to be down as well, and had a raspy breath that hinted at a cold going through the flock.  Yeah – chickens get colds too, I’ve learned.  I tried hand-feeding the two some finely chopped, vinegar-steeped garlic – a remedy which has helped many others pull through.  I even offered some of the sheep’s grain – a molasses-soaked blend of cracked grains far more decadent than the usual chicken rations.  I left them to eat at will or rest, knowing there was not much more I could do for them.  And the next day I was overjoyed when I saw that Daffodilla was up and about the coop, but as I drew closer, I began to see that she was fighting much more than a cold.  She was missing most of the feathers on her back and had deep lacerations in four or five different spots.  The best I can guess is that something from above (hawk, owl) tried grabbing her but found her too heavy to cart off to their nest.  Maybe they never quite got her off the ground, maybe they dropped her after alighting.  Whatever the case, she had made it back into the coop, but some time ago.  The wounds were not at all fresh.

Isadora's art therapy

I brought her into the house, tenderly washed her off and did the only thing I could think of – applied a poultice of healing herbs. (Which is what all normal farmers do, right? ) I covered her up, tucked her into the bottom half of a cat carrier, and placed her in our little laundry area off the kitchen.  She stayed there over 24 hours, resting, taking small amounts of molasses and garlic water through a syringe, seemingly unfazed by the raucous din of our busy kitchen.  The adjacent laundry room shelf was strung with colorful, hand-drawn pictures made earnestly by Isadora to speed her healing process and give her something pretty to look at.  She finally succumbed in the early evening of the following night.  It was heart-wrenching for Isadora, but probably more of a relief for me, glad to have her out of such pain.  We sat together at our kitchen table crying, snuggling, and talking fondly of Daffodilla and her remarkable life.  We vowed never to forget her.

I certainly won’t.  One gift she left for me was an intensely renewed interest in herbs – for farm and family.  I’ve been on fire ever since – reading, taking notes, ordering and starting seeds for an expanded selection of home-grown herbs.  It is with great fondness and gratitude that we all remember our dear Daffodilla.

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