Pink and Violet

It took me about three months, but I finally spent a day cleaning and dying one goats-worth of spring mohair. I did Eddy’s white hair first because I’d bought a few new colors of dye and wanted to make some pretty pastels.

The light color is called “Rose Pink”, and came out kind of wimpy like an old woman with her gray hair dabbled with pink rinse. The dark color, however, is called “Iris”, and it is dazzling. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

This is the same amount of hair that I got from two goats together the first time they were sheared, so two years of growth makes a big difference. I have a few sweater patterns I’d like to try from a free knitting pattern blog. First, though, it has to be dried, carded, and spun into yarn. It should be ready for some productive winter knitting.

 

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Endless Improvements, Fun Projects

We just can’t leave well enough alone around here! I’ve been feeling irritated that I often have to disconnect the electric fence in order to enter the goat pasture to dump out the water bucket or the feeding trough. It is a pain in the neck, and I began to think of other ways to keep the goats out of the chicken coop without using those electric wires. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

My husband and I came up with this new design that boxes in the door to the chicken run with a permanent fence and gate, and we spent the last two days constructing it. It took a while for all the chickens to get the hang of squeezing under the gate to move between the pasture and their run, but after dropping some corn to coax them along, they now know what to do — unless they are in a hurry to get fed. That’s when someone inevitably panics and beats their little head against the fence trying to get in a shorter way.

The goats are very pleased with this new solution because now they have access to the shady part of the chicken yard that was always out of reach. It is their new favorite place to curl up and sleep during the day. We did discover that we needed to put up one  more little stretch of electric fence to keep the goats from abusing the fence that walls in the chicken run. They leaned hard against it bending it inward, and Eddy was relentless prying it with his horns like a can opener. The electric lines broke them of that behavior pretty fast, but as I said they are now quite content.

It is always fun doing a project together, although we were exhausted at the end of the day. My husband did all the post hole digging, so I don’t know why I was so tired, but it was a good feeling knowing we’d created something together.

Now, it’s back to the endless weeding and tending to our pond and crops. Summer is like that. There is never much down time unless it rains. As long as we can retreat to the air-conditioned house at the end of the day for a shower and a nap, I rejoice in the way our bodies heal up from a day of hard labor.

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Who Are These Tufted Toddlers?

20180708_091252I’d posted a couple months ago about the many varieties of new chicks we’d brought home. They are now big enough that I opened the trap door on their playpen so they can learn to wander among the big grownup chickens. They run around in tight little packs, following whoever runs the fastest, sure that that person must know where she is going.

As they gradually mature, the distinct characteristics of each breed begin to present themselves. One has the most interesting tuft of feathers on the top of her head. We have given her the name, “Tophat.” She is front and center in this photo. As I look closer, it appears that a second hen also is developing this feature. I should do some digging and find out which of the breeds we bought have fluffy heads when they grow up. Anyone out there know the answer?

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Playing God with the Pond

The pond (Bluestem Pond, we call it), has taught me the need for an ongoing tussle with Mother Nature, who wishes to make it into a cattail garden. Last year, I used a long-handled cutting rake to break them off at the root and haul them into shore. I hurt myself doing it.

This year, we worked with the company who dug the pond in the first place, and invested a good deal of funding into a box full of chemicals, dyes, and probiotic solutions. These promised to break down the cell walls of the cattails and then kill them down to the roots. Other products were to be sprayed on the algae to discourage them as well. I was uncomfortable with attacking it with such force but I no longer saw any other way.

Several weeks and (hours of effort) later, the pond is back to clear and usable. You may notice the little boat in the picture. Yes, we found a used pedal boat for sale in someone’s yard and decided it would help to get out to the areas we couldn’t reach from shore. I’m still working on this part of the project and found myself tangled up in the weeds and stuck turning in a tight circle as the paddle churned up the cattails below me. I had to climb out and walk through the muck to the shore. Embarrassing.

20180625_204209If I had concerns that this process would harm the wildlife, one evening of fishing proved that not only are my bluegills and bass alive and well, some of them are giants! This one was over 10 inches long and has probably been caught multiple times over seven years of swimming in our pond. The bass are keeping the population of minnows to a reasonable level, and the frogs are singing with gusto every night.

 

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Healing Maple Trees

IMG_0470We planted three maple trees in front of the barn, back in 2010. The following Spring, the bark on the southwest sides was cracked and peeling with holes bored in by insects. It took a year or two of working with various nurseries before we finally determined the cause, which was due to the trees being planted in a different orientation than they had been started. The bark on the southwest side couldn’t deal with the new exposure to the winter sun and wind.

I worried that they would not survive, and they were in various states of distress. Fortunately, eight years later, they have pretty much healed over and are now vigorous trees, probably fifty feet high.

20180626_114633I am grateful for the healing power of time. This was also a lesson for me in patience and taking the long view.

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The Cat Came Back

Do you know that old song, “The Cat Came Back”? I remember hearing it as a child on a folk song radio show. I found it on Youtube. Well, I am happy to report that my little black cat, Emmie, came back to me. I had captured her on my secret game camera and confirmed that she was coming into the barn at night to eat the food I’d left out, but she never showed herself during the day.

Well, the other night, I noticed her crossing a path and I meow-ed to her, the only language to which she would ever respond. Sure enough, she cautiously slinked up to me and allowed me to pet her. Strangely, ever since, I hear her yowling from the weeds several times a day now, and all I have to do is return her call and she comes right to me, eager to be picked up and cuddled.

I worried that she’d get attacked by the dogs if she kept hanging out close by the house, so I carried her to the barn and demonstrated that if she visited with me out there she’d get lots of relaxed attention. Now, every time I go out to the barn she appears and calls out for more attention. I am happy to have her company again, although I still miss Mickey, the other cat who was so friendly. I wish I knew what else was going on in their lives when they disappear on me. I guess I’ll never know.

 

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Got a Swarm!

Swarm of honeybeesI’m so excited, because last night I just chanced to see a dark shape in a little oak tree in the field as I drove by, and instantly recognized it as a swarm of honeybees hanging from a branch. I zoomed back to the house and my husband and I mobilized to put on our bee suits and go capture the swarm and place them gently into a bee box.  When they are swarming, they are very gentle because there is nothing to protect other than the queen who is enveloped in the center of the clump.

We had been quite disappointed because when we got back from our vacation the one colony we were nurturing along decided to swarm so we lost half our bee population. Beekeepers try to stay ahead of the game and look for indicators that a swarm is brewing. We would then split off a portion of the population into a new box along with some queen cells that are not far from ready, and if we are lucky they become a new independent colony and voila – a new hive is born.

Since we missed this opportunity, we realized we would probably not get any honey again this year due to too few bees to generate a surplus. However, hopefully the swarm we caught yesterday is from somewhere else and we now have a whole new population ready to start working for us. If we bought a colony with a queen, known as a “nuc”, it would probably cost us up to $200. Not bad for one day of beekeeping work.

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What’s New?

In a nutshell, we took an exciting vacation to Ireland and Denmark, came home to springtime sprung, a bout of viruses, and a gigantic backlog of repairs and out-of-control farm chores. I am happy to say that a month and a half later, I am feeling much more under control and ready for a normal life again.

With that said, we do have some interesting new developments here on the farm. We are getting a solar array installed to harvest some of our sunshine. I’ll write more about that when it is finished.

We cleaned up the goat pasture and tried something new – leaving a rectangle of grass in the center tall and untouched. The goats don’t like wading through tall grass, but they are finding it quite enjoyable to stroll the edges and reach in for a bite of the grass blooms waving over their heads.

As it turns out, they have no further interest in their hay rack. Why chew on that old dry stuff when they can nibble fresh green snacks all day long? Last fall we stacked 16 square bales up in the loft and towards the end of winter I was getting nervous that we might run out before the new cuttings were ready to purchase. I’m pleased to see we have three bales left so 16 seems to be the magic number.

I finally got around to the monthly job of medicating the goats and trimming their hooves yesterday. I suspect the springtime generates a growth spurt because there was a lot of work to do to get their feet flat across the bottom as they should be.

Last, we brought home ten new baby chicks. This is our fourth generation, so we are quite familiar with the process and it is not quite the novelty it used to be. Still, who doesn’t love little babies? We got quite a variety this time:

  • 4 Ameraucanas (blue or green eggs)
  • 2 Olive Eggers (green eggs)
  • 1 Asian Black
  • 2 Sapphire Gems
  • 1 (some rare breed I can’t remember)

They are all learning to be a family, sleeping in a heap under a heat lamp on cool nights, and pouncing onto the trough when I set it down full with a fresh mound of crumbles. I have hopes that this year every one of them will survive their youth, but after losing half of them to injuries and/or predators last year I opted for more than I really need, just in case. I have only three hens and a rooster left from my oldest generation and I don’t know what lifespan to expect but refreshing the coop with youngsters helps me with that inevitable loss.

So, the annual cycle begins anew and with the gardens planted, weeds mowed, pulled, or sprayed, and broken items repaired, things are looking positive and peaceful again. What a relief!

 

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Shearing Day, 2018

It’s that time again, and I hardly slept last night anticipating the challenge of shearing the goats. I planned ahead and got my electric shearing machine repaired last week, then stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching YouTube videos that made shearing an angora goat look as easy as slicing butter. I spent an hour in the morning setting up my workshop with every tool I could guess I might need, including a little tube of super glue in case of a cut I couldn’t stop from bleeding.

When I took a deep breath and switched on the shearer, Eddy squirmed and tried to bolt in fear of the obnoxious buzz, but he was securely chained into the halter on his goat stand. I lifted the first handful of hair and prepared to slide the shaver smoothly along his skin. Thunk. It must have missed those videos because it made no headway at all. I tried over and over, but both Eddy and I were too nervous and edgy to keep it up. In the end, I dulled every scissors in the house painstakingly hand-snipping all that hair off. It took me hours.

When I finally released Eddy into the goat yard, Ely did not recognize this new little white goat and immediately challenged him to a duel. They wrestled and tugged on each other with their long curved head-weapons, but eventually Ely figured out that this was his same brother who shoves him out of the way to eat from the breakfast trough, and they went back to their normal social hierarchy.

By this time, I was out of sharp objects, so we took a break and dropped all of them off at the local sharpening shop while we went for a quick lunch. When I got home, I was determined to give that shearer one more try and re-read the troubleshooting instructions. I tightened up a knob and voila! It started cutting. It still took me a couple of hours, but I was able to turn Ely into a silvery smooth handsome devil. I’m tempted to go back and smooth out Eddy’s coat now that I know what I am doing, but I am so tired and achy from this job and it took a long time to clean up my mess so I think I’ll just let them both start growing out again for the next six months.

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Oh, Come On!

20180416_190646Enough already, let’s get this place warmed up. Spring is so cruel, teasing us with warm days, greening fields, and sunshine, then smacking us with cold, windy snow yet again. I even set up the goats’ summer watering trough but it’s full of slush today. I am so ready to get moving into the new season.

20180416_191005Since we mowed the fields to make room for the new prairie sprouts, there is not much cover for the little critters to hide in. My two barn cats have taken to wandering in the woods all day and just coming back in cover of darkness to eat and rest in the hay loft. I went several days not seeing either of them and was really sad. I worried that they had been adopted as indoor pets by another family who recognized how wonderful they were, or worse, had been eaten or run over on the highway. Happily, though, they have appeared on an off so I know they consider the barn a safe haven when they feel like it.

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In the lovely sunny days since Easter, we began a big project of clearing out the Chinese privet bushes that have clogged up the wooded hill between the highway and our farm. We spent hours with a chainsaw cutting them off at the ground and dragging them back to the barn to burn. The second day we worked on it I had the bright idea of just running the brush hog mower over them to chop them into little bits.

The brush is mixed with lots of wild grapevines that have wound their way up the trees and require lots of effort tugging down. I think this is fun and I don’t even mind when they break loose and send me flying. So far, I haven’t contracted poison ivy from the vines that may not really be grapes. The physical labor is exhausting but after I drag my feet home and collapse for a nap, I recover pretty well and feel so good about what we’ve accomplished. Hours and hours of work, but when you drive by at 40-50 mph, you pass it in an instant and don’t even notice. If we are diligent, though, it will make a real dent after a month of concerted effort. We might plant something that can help fight off future privets.

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A Couple New Mohair Creations

I’ve been having fun with my goats’ mohair yarn and wanted to share the last two items. The first one is a little cap for my good friend who is suffering from some bad hair days. It was a quick two-day project and I had no idea what was forming until I got half-way through it and figured out what was going on. The light green band is made in a long narrow cable stitch that you then join together and continue from there to fill in the top of the head. I was running out of light green so I switched colors. This was a great way of using up leftover balls of yarn from my mohair stash.

I’m getting better at figuring out that pesky gauge issue before I have to rip out all my work.

The other (spoiler alert for my daughter-in-law) is a first-birthday present for my little granddaughter, Eleanor. I finished it a week ago, but was waiting for a shipment of onesies and stretchy pants that arrived today. It has an interesting zig-zag pattern in the lower half and the sleeves that kept me alert making sure it did not go in the wrong direction.

I did not want to go all Barbie on this, but I did have a pile of hot pink-died fiber. To tone it down a bit, I plied together pink and white so it is kind of a peppermint stripe.

I’m having such fun with this! I actually started a monthly needlework circle with friends from church so we can sit together and compare stories while we knit and needlepoint together. I’m pleased that it is not all women. Some of them don’t know how to knit and want some help so that might be fun.

 

 

 

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Caught Up Carding

Before you can spin beautiful yarns out of raw fiber, you have to card it, meaning you comb all the fibers in one direction and roll it neatly into batts or little “rolags”. For big volumes of carding, I am fortunate to have a drum carder.  If you are diligent, you remove all the little “second cuts” that snuck in there. These are the short snippets of hair that you create when you try to even out the goat’s coat so they don’t look like they got a terrible haircut. When spinning, these aren’t long enough to really hang on well and may end up sticking out and shedding from the sweaters you make. You can see here on the floor the piles of second cuts I set aside as I worked my way through all the remaining fiber from the fall shearing.

I really needed to force my way through all that remaining fiber this week because in another week or two I’ll have to shear the boys again. Oh, man! This never ends. No, no, I am not complaining. It’s just that those goats keep me on a schedule. Here are the many smooth batts of mohair waiting now to be spun into beautiful yarn. I’d say, on average, that two batts make a skein or ball of yarn.

It helps to know what colors you want to make the same day you wash the new fleeces because then you can get it done without drying them first. I have to decide what I am going to need and buy some new colors of dye. I’m thinking pastels might be a nice change. This is before I have specific projects in mind, but it is really nice to be able to pick from my stock and make what I want.  I ran out of yarn for the last two things I made and had to stop and spin another ball before I could finish. That’s not a crisis, and it is better than having to run to the yarn store and hope they have the same lot number you bought earlier. I really love being relatively self-sufficient.

 

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Field Day

Igniting the Burn

Hooray, it’s that time of year again! Time to burn the prairie and mow down the old dry grass to open up the way for new green shoots to feel the spring sunshine. We divide up our prairie fields into four sections and cycle through burning a different section each spring. This gives the grasses a big boost as the competition with other stuff is reduced.

We got up early and out to put our safety measures in place – a water pump on the tractor and a rubber snuffer for me to drag over stray flames. We toss some straw in the air to confirm the wind direction and then start a fire on the side away from the wind to prepare a fire break.  We mow paths that make it easy to break the burning into small pieces that are easy to control. The problem we have is that a lot of the tall stems don’t really care to catch fire, so the whoosh of flame gets mostly the undergrowth.

The clear view from the house to the beehives.

After all the fires were out, my husband mowed the rest of the property to expose the gentle rolling hills that we only see for a month or two in the spring. It’s disorienting to be able to see clear across the farm with no place for the critters to hide.  Soon will begin the race to the sunshine of one species after another, each crowding the previous one out for that upper real estate. By end of summer, it will be six feet tall.

It was bitter cold standing in the morning wind, in spite of the roaring fire. I found myself shivering uncontrollably and had to clomp home with stiff cold feet to fetch a sweater and scarf for under my coat. You’d think the goats would suffer in the cold, but I found them sleeping out in the open field this morning, rounded lumps with frost covering their full mohair coats.

I get a thrill seeing the seasons begin to change. This is one of the best features of living in Michigan.

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New Breakfast Spot

Eddy and Ely are the best of friends who can’t abide being apart and will tell me so with frantic “Baaaaa-ing” when I pull one into the barn for maintenance. Still, when it comes to breakfast time, Eddy rudely shoves Ely out of the way with his shoulders and his horns so he can get most of it to himself. For this reason, last year we put in a long narrow feeding trough to hang from inside their shed. It was much more difficult for Eddy to hog the whole 30 inches of feeding area, so they both got their fair share.

Goat breakfastThis winter, though, I got tired of climbing over the electric fence and walking carefully through the ice and snow to deliver their breakfast in bed. I knew it’d just be a matter of time before I slipped and fell on my backside. I changed to feeding them together from a big flat rubber bowl. It did bother me to see Eddy going back to his greedy ways, but I pushed it out of my mind in the interests of safety and convenience (mine.)

Recently, I told my handy-man husband that I’d be so happy if only I could feed them from the long trough but not have to cross the fence. He was in a creative mood, so he built me this cool new feeding station. Painted to match the barn, yet! It has a nice little roof to protect the food from the rain and snow, although the goats seldom leave their breakfast in the trough longer than it takes to gobble it all down.

The boys seem quite happy with it already. They were unsure tonight whether to dance over to the breakfast station or wait by the hay feeder. Both are so fun!

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My Olympic Hoodie Project

Front

Back

Yay, I finished the sweater project that I wanted to start and end during the Olympics! I worked really hard on it, and am quite happy with the final result. It’s all hand sheared-dyed-spun mohair from my goats and so it has a silky sheen to it but this sweater was made on small needles so it is very compact. It ought to keep my grandson quite warm, so I hope it fits him.

I’ve been obsessed with getting this done under the Olympics timeline and I think I’ll take a break from knitting for a while to try and find other ways to spend my time. Maybe I’ll shift my focus back to spinning more yarn or getting some exercise!

 

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On and Off Snow

This late winter season has been quite erratic. We had days of deep snow last week, followed by a day in the 60’s and lots of rain in which all the snow melted. Now there are flood warnings and it got cold and icy. I just don’t know what to expect anymore, although I admit I don’t often attend to the weather forecasts. When you are retired and living on a farm it’s just like: “Who cares? I’ll just live with whatever I wake up to.”

The deep snow was beautiful and I don’t mind the shoveling. The squishy saturated soil hints that spring is on the way and I worry over a few premature daffodil sprouts. If I had the option to choose, I’d go for the snow for a few more weeks, at least.

 

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More Knitting Lessons-Learned

I am making a cute little hoodie for my grandson’s third birthday, adorned with construction trucks. (He loves trucks.) I zoomed through the picture portion of the project, eager to see how it would look. In the process, I made a zillion mistakes and ran into innumerable mysteries regarding why everything was not working out as it should.

I ripped out, re-knitted, ripped out again, and finally took it to the local knit shop for advice. It seems that if you skip the crucial step of checking your gauge, in other words how many stitches and rows per inch, things just may not come together right. I was excited and lazy and forged ahead without worrying about it. Surprise, it matters!

I had to start all over, probably losing about 15 hours of effort, with smaller needles and hard-earned wisdom. The smaller version of the “digger” is in the right gauge. The larger one is going to be unraveled and the yarn used to do other pieces over.

Another goal with this project is to make all the yarn from my goats’ mohair, dying and spinning it all to fit the requirements. I am getting better at spinning, but still have some lessons to learn about dying it. I needed the light green in the picture, so I took several batts of white that I’d carded months ago and threw it into the dye pot.  I loved the color! Then I fished it out and put it into my washer to rinse and spin. It turned into big lumps of felt!  I did not throw it away, but it took a good deal of effort to brush it back into a soft pile that I could spin. I developed some muscles, if not blisters!

 

 

I’ve joined a knitting race sponsored by a knitting website called “Ravelry”. The goal is to complete a project from start to finish during the Winter Olympics, and so it is called the “Ravellenic Winter Games”. I haven’t double-checked to see how much longer I have to get this done because I was sure I could do it. That was before I began that repetitive process of knitting, unraveling, knitting, unraveling, swearing, knitting, ….I think the moral to the story of my life is “Haste Makes Waste.”

 

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Ta Da!

I just finished my first mohair sweater, for myself. I was really worried that all that work might be for naught and it wouldn’t fit. I did extend the pattern three inches on the length of the body and sleeves. When I tried it on, the sleeves were still four inches too short so I had to cut them and insert about 25 more rows. In the end, though, I am happy. It is warm and fuzzy and soft, just as you’d imagine mohair to be. Thank you, angora goats!

Now, I have learned a lot about what works best in spinning mohair yarn and will start playing around with mixing colors and keeping out the short little pieces that make it even fuzzier than necessary and have to be pulled out. Live and learn. On to a birthday sweater for my little grandson.

 

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From Scratch – Goats to Sweater

A friend nudged me to get back in the habit of blogging. It is so easy to slip out of one habit and into another and before you know it, you are off on a new quest and forget all about the old ones. I wonder if that is only me and my 62-year-old highly distractable nature?

Here is what is going on at the farm this January. I visit my animals at least twice a day for feeding, petting, and those dirty chores required to keep their homes from smelling to high heaven. The bitter cold weather causes them to stay close to home and it is my job to see that their water is not ice, that they have food that generates heat as they digest overnight, and that they know they are loved. A periodic thaw like today, with that rare winter sunshine brings everybody out to explore and play with their friends, and lifts my spirits as well.

In the mean time, I’ve been spending my time trying to stay rested and healthy in the midst of swirling cold and flu viruses. I have focused my productive time on creating things with my goats’ mohair. I did a lot of knitting for family on the lead up to Christmas, and now I am indulging in making something just for myself.

Here is a photo of a mohair sweater I want to make. I figured out how much yarn of each color I will need and discovered that I did not have enough purple to make it as it is in the photo. I tried dying some yarn I’d made earlier but it came out a dark teal instead of purple. I sat down to debate with myself how to proceed.

Here is my plan. I picked out colors from my stash that I dyed in the fall, and I will spin just a ball or two of each to cover the requirements in the yoke. I have enough of the teal to do the bulk of the sweater. Today, I start spinning the yellow and the bright blue. The navy is already done and is lustrous and soft. Picking and spinning the materials and the anticipation of how it will all look together is really fun. The scary part is waiting to see if it actually comes together into a piece of clothing that fits me. Hats, scarves, and mittens are very little risk. A sweater, however, could mean a month of effort and a big chunk of my materials all wasted on an item that doesn’t really look good on me or anyone else.

So, drum roll… Weeks from now, we shall see.

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Snow Comes Again

I am fond of snow this time of the year. (Ask me in March and you’ll hear a different story.) We finally got our first couple inches this week and all the animals are remembering what it’s like and what to do with it.

Goats 12-2017The dogs came in flinging little snowballs from their feet all over the house. The chickens did not wander the yard as much as usual and the three “babies” did not venture out at all. The goats’ curly foreheads were crusted with ice and snow, although I’m not sure why. I looked around for their tracks and it looked like they’d slept in their shed, out of the cold. They were out in the pasture nibbling whatever green stuff they could still find. Maybe they’d rubbed their faces in the snow in the process.

I found cat paw prints all up and down the driveway, so one or both of them have been out exploring.  Their prints were intermingled with rabbit, mouse, and deer tracks. Emmie’s silky black coat stands out starkly against the snow so if I look out the window it is easy to spot her. Mickey seems to prefer staying in the barn but I have found him outside a couple times so I know he has figured out the cat door.  This may be the first snow that either of them have experienced.

My game camera broke so I don’t know if we are still getting visits from foreign cats at night. I’m curious whether the cat door discouraged the visits. Yesterday, I broke down and ordered a new camera from a more reputable company. I am nosy and just want to know what’s going on out there when I’m not around.

For me, I am spending most of my time indoors, creating things. I’m really getting into the joys of knitting, especially for Christmas gifts. Once the gifting season is over, I’m going to focus in on spinning more mohair yarn. Now that I know more about what I’ll do with it, I am excited to start experimenting with different weights, colors, and textures.

Even so, it is good for me to have the barnyard visits to get me out of the house and into the fresh air a couple times a day.

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