Moist Days in Michigan

After an unusually dry spring, the weather has finally caught up and it is very humid and rainy. We needed it! The prairie fields around us are waving in the long-awaited yellows of cone flowers, brown-eyed Susans, and tall clover, the white circles of Queen Ann’s lace, and the bright blues of bergamot and spiderwort. It makes me smile every time I walk outside.

An unusual feature of the sudden humidity is the innumerable little toadstools popping out of the grass. I don’t remember that ever happening before. This week, I was surprised to see something on the trunk of a dead tree out at the edge of the woods, and went to investigate. I thought it was a string of dead leaves on a poison ivy vine and wondered why it had died. When I got up close it was an amazing array of fungus.

Oyster mushrooms?

I have a friend who knows his fungus, and he said it is probably oyster mushrooms, which are delicious. I am not brave enough to try them, though. What if he is wrong? I’ll stick to my springtime morels that I stumble across every five or ten years.

The goat and sheep are damper than usual and seem bored in the summer heat. The sheep are getting braver and gather close around me when I bring out their evening corn snack. Cookie impatiently paws at my leg with her hoof while I feed Dot, and they both allow me to scratch their backs and stroke their chins. I never thought they’d get tame like that.

More corn, please!

We have been mulling over having them bred to expand the flock and experience a lambing season. To my surprise, the breeder said she cannot allow sheep to come onto her property or have her own rams leave and return, for health certification reasons. I’d have to purchase a ram and then sell him to someone else afterwards if I did not want to keep him. This would mean building separate quarters and pasture for a ram and is more than I want to deal with. I don’t intend to become a source for registered Shetland sheep. I’m just a hobbyist. I will have to think this over for a while and look at my other options.

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Cat in the Patch

Mickey, the barn cat, is lonely. The other cat does not come around much and doesn’t want to play with him anyway. When one of us is out at the barn and Mickey shows up, he “meows” loudly, rubbing against and between our feet begging for some attention. I’m afraid we’ll accidentally step on him one of these times.

He knows that I come around in the early evening to pick the strawberries and asparagus, so he hangs around waiting for me. He gets really jealous of my petting the strawberry leaves as I look for ripe berries, so he squeezes under my hands and lies down on top of them. I pick him up and toss him out of the way, but he is relentless.

When I finally get all the strawberries in the carton for the night, I’ll go sit down so Mickey can hop onto my lap and get a good cuddle. He loves me to cover his face with my palm and rub his cheeks. Unfortunately, he is shedding a lot and I get cat hair all over my clothes that I have to carefully brush off so my husband doesn’t come in contact with it.

It is interesting how the seasonal cycles affect barn cats. They get very heavy and fat in the winter, as they lie around in the hay loft. By late spring, they are spending most of their time out hunting or whatever cats do outside, because they become thin and lithe. Mickey has shiny thick fur, but Emmie the black cat has a long fluffy coat that collects ticks. I bought a pour-on medication for her and waited for several weeks for her to show up so I could apply it. I hope it helped because she hasn’t been around since for me to examine her. That’s probably a cause-and-effect.

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The In-Between Weeks

Ah, the sweet moments between Spring and Summer! The fields are back up to a foot or two of growth after their spring mowing and the earliest wildflowers are beginning to bloom — purple vetch and bladder flowers. The concord grapes are all leafed out and the little pin-head sized grapes are forming into clusters as the new vines shoot up out of the grizzled old trunks.

Our vegetable garden is churning out the springtime crops fast and furiously. I chopped down a basketful of spinach stalks that had been ready to flower because I’d ignored them for a week. I’m hoping that by cutting them off I can prolong the spinach harvest for a few more weeks. Normally, I’d toss it all into the compost pile, but I thought I’d give the herd a chance to taste it first and see if they’d like the extra iron in their diet. Eddy couldn’t believe his luck! He hogged most of it but then I scattered it out on the ground so the sheep would have a fighting chance to grab a few bites without him shoving them out of the way.

I’m bringing in strawberries and asparagus every day and trying to work fresh greens into our menu as often as possible. My husband planted LOTS of peas this year, and I think when all the pods swell into ripeness I’ll be overwhelmed with shelling chores. How can you really complain about something so rare and special, though? I’ll freeze them if necessary.

We gave up on our wine grapes and planted new vines this spring, a couple northern varieties that promise to survive our Michigan winters. They are beginning to leaf out already and there are only a couple that may not have survived the transplanting. We had put in about a dozen new trees and are dumping gallons of water on them most evenings to nurse them through the critical months. At least three did not make it, sad to say, but not for lack of love.

My husband has a soft spot for baby chicks and talked me into adopting a few new ones this year even though our hens are producing well. He built a sturdy new box for them, way better than the old warped one that the hens roosted on all winter. I love their cheery peeping and their fuzzy round bodies. Soon, their long wing feathers will begin to sprout and their sweet little heads will turn scruffy and thin. Such a short cute spell!

The poison ivy is leafing out quickly, as well. The work we did to clean the scrubby growth from the bank of trees by the highway exposed more soil and the ivy is rejoicing in the sunlight. We made up a batch of chemicals and sprayed them a couple days ago and I am hoping it will suck right down into the roots to hold them off for a year. Poison ivy is very hard to do away with permanently. I don’t want us bringing the oils back on our boots or on the dogs’ fur and getting us all rashed up. If you don’t try to keep on top of it, it spreads across the fields until it is everywhere.

Another thing I always fight is the Asian bittersweet vines. I don’t know how those things get started, but they are so invasive that it’s almost impossible to stop them. They grow really fast, winding their ways up through the air until they find a branch to grab and slowly strangle. When I find them already invading a tree, the best I can do is chop the bottom so they wither away. They get wound so tight that I usually can’t pull them out of the branches. This year I’ve found them in our perennial garden and they are sprouting everywhere! One or two vines I pulled out were connected to a much thicker root that wound under and around the bushes. This may call for Round-Up on the leaves.

But you know, the summer wars with the weeds are just fine for keeping things interesting. It is like having children to care for, long after the real ones have long left the nest. Nurturing the gardens, grounds, and livestock is a labor of love and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Rhubarb Rooky

I was watching my 2nd-year rhubarb plant, marveling at the little round bulb forming in the center and how it gradually rose in a stalk of flowers. Somebody told me that you should not necessarily let it flower because then you will get fewer usable stems for pie. Oops. Well, that’s just that much less sugar I’ll be eating this summer, so perhaps it is for the best.

I’ll say this was my year of rhubarb discovery. Now, I know what happens and so in the future I will stunt the flower growth. I have chopped off the flower stalk now and, sure enough, I am getting more edible parts. On top of that, the second plant that we thought we’d accidentally killed last year finally appeared and is far behind its brother but is trying to catch up.

I find it interesting that the rhubarb I’d planted by the strawberries out at the barn never really flourished. It finally died away. This new patch is quite happy in its home and I think we’ll have it for years to come. Why?

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Nesting Surprise

I went out to feed the chickens this morning and did a double-take when I opened the coop door. This is the time each year when the turtles come up around the yard to lay their eggs. I rarely see if the eggs actually hatch or get dug up and eaten by raccoons, although I once did find a baby snapping turtle out at the pond.

I went about my business, rather than disturb Mrs. Snapper. I know how strong those jaws can be and I did not want to have her turn around and chomp me. I mused that nesting under the coop might be a really good choice, well protected, warm, and dry. She may not quite fit under the door, though.

I fed the animals and went to check on my fiber collection. I have dried it all, stuffed it back into the three pillow cases, and set up my drum carder to begin making batts for spinning. I am marveling at the differences between Shetland wool and mohair. The mohair is what I am accustomed to – silky and fluffy. The wool is much longer, probably because it is over a year of growth instead of just six months’ worth for the goat. The wool is also white and fluffy, but it definitely has different properties from the mohair. It doesn’t have the silky sheen, and from what I have read, the colors will not sparkle and pop the way mohair does. On the other hand, wool should be softer against the skin than mohair, which sometimes feels a little scratchy because it has some stiffer hairs mixed in.

I have carded about half of Dot’s wool already and am debating what to do with it. I normally wash and dye the fiber all on the same day and then let it dry. This year, I am going to card and spin it all in its natural colors and then dye the spun yarn when I know what I want to make. This seems a little more practical, because I will figure out in advance how much I need for a project and then will always have plenty of the color I want. If I have plied the yarn already, I won’t have multi-color skeins, but I can always do some creative dying to make it more interesting than just solid colors.

As with everything I create, it is an experiment. I may later regret it but how else will I ever know what works and what doesn’t?

So, after an hour of carding fiber I went to say goodbye to the animals and back to the house. The turtle had turned around and buried herself into a good position for laying her eggs undisturbed. I hope her brood hatches safely and maybe I will even get to see some of the babies later in the summer.

“I want to be alone!”
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Fleece As White As Snow

The sheep are sheared and vaccinated, and now on to the fiber! I am amazed how much wool came off those two little sheepies. I decided to work on Cookie’s first, as she is smaller than her sister. I laid it out on a table, per the instructions, and did my best to shake out any short bits that got in there and pull out clumps that were really dirty or full of bits of hay. Then I gave it a good washing in Dawn and carefully rinsed it without agitating it or changing temperatures abruptly, both of which would cause it to turn to permanent felt.

It took two days to dry it completely, but I stuffed it back into Cookie’s pillowcase and today I moved on to Dot’s. I had discovered that it is much easier to handle the wool while it is dry, although the “grease” feels like paraffin on my fingers and I smell like a stable.

With Dot’s wool, I tossed the worst sections into the trash can until I began to worry that I was being overzealous and that I may end up with only half the fleece when I was done. I got a lot less careful as I went along. The first, most discriminating batch came out of the wash just as white and beautiful as it could be. Look at the unwashed pile on the counter and compare it to the clean batch drying on the table.

I have washed two thirds of it but have run out of room to dry it, so I get a break. In between sessions at the barn, I have been crazily spinning bats of mohair that have been languishing in the closet. I don’t have any plans for making things with it yet, but there will be no room for the new stuff if I don’t get a move on! I decided I’d spin single threads to use up as much of the colors as I can and then I’ll randomly make up two-color yarns by plying together singles that I think might look nice together. Then it will sit until I can come up with something to make.

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Shearing Day Come and Gone

Thursday, the sheep shearer did indeed show up. He backed his big pickup truck into the barn and set up a metal frame from which to hang up the shearing motor over his head. Then, he laid out a big felt pad on the floor and went right out to grab the first customer. I had cleaned out the stall, stashed the chickens in the coop, and tricked the goat and sheep into the enclosed area of the barnyard so they could be captured easily — well, relatively easily. They don’t do much to help.

I had brought out our bathroom scale so he could weigh them, and was surprised that under all that hair, Dot is considerably bigger and heavier than her sister. If anything, I’d have guessed the opposite because Dot is the most timid and least likely to get a big share at mealtime. Now, they look like cautious little deer as they peer at me suspiciously from a distance. This is a bit of a problem because I have to give them their annual vaccines and worming medicines. I managed to corner Dot in the goat shed and press her against the wall long enough to administer the two injections. Cookie runs if it even looks like I might be coming her way. Somehow, I’ll have to get ahold of her soon while the meds are still fresh.

Eddy is the same big lug as always, right there next to me to see what trouble he can cause. I opened up a new section of the pasture for them as a treat for enduring the shearing. It was the section with the three black gum trees we planted in the fall. I hadn’t even finished hooking up all the electric fences before Eddy started peeling bark off the tree trunks. The little jerk! I had to quickly chase him off and go restring the fence as it was before. My husband will build some sort of fencing to put around the trunks before we open it up again.

My next trick will be to wash and dye all this new fiber. The procedure for the wool is different than for the mohair but I researched and printed it out for my folder in the barn.

The Skinny Legs Girls

I have to decide on this year’s color scheme. Maybe I should start out with the first year’s wool being natural color, no dying at all. I could do Eddy’s mohair in gentle earth tones for a fuzzy contrast. Hmmm, I’ve got to give this some thought. I normally make a day of it so that after I wash the fiber, I get right on with the dying and don’t have to dry or re-wet it in between sessions. However, now I have three times as much to work with.

So, one more “first” on the farm has been faced and conquered. Each new experience gives me a bit more confidence and another skill in my toolkit. I wish someone was giving me badges like they did when I was a little girl scout. I’d have quite the sash to wear by now!

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Crafty Stuff

I’ve been on a creative kick the last couple of weeks and I want to show off a couple of my latest projects. First, here is an old jute rug that had faded in the sun and suffered water damage from rain blowing into the back porch. I restored some of the old color and then painted it with a stencil to make it interesting and camouflage the present and future stains. Down below this picture, I’ll rewind to show the process.

Here is the rug after I soaked it in a 40-gallon trash can with olive green dye. It weighed a ton and was stiff and misshapen. I took a rake and pounded out the lumps until it was more or less flat, then gave it a few days to dry out. Today I used a stencil and painted exterior latex paint over it in twenty blocks. It was tedious but I get such satisfaction from bringing something back to life that it was worth it to me. I really think the result is fantastic!

Second, I have been experimenting with my loom and trying some harder techniques with leftover yarn, just to see if I can make them work. This project used “overshot”, something totally new to me. I had some troubles and learned some things, but the end result was pretty nice. I am okay with some flaws, and the next time will be better due to the things I learned.

Made up into pillow covers
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Shearing Time Is Approaching

I have found a sheep shearer who is willing to swing around by our farm to do the sheep AND the goat. I usually shear Eddy the Angora goat by hand but it would save me so much trouble to have him done by a professional. The shearer reluctantly agreed to adding Eddy to the job, for which I am grateful. I don’t know why he was so hesitant about the goat — maybe because they behave differently from sheep?

Eddy the Angora

Eddy has the most luscious long, curly locks but he is feeling hot and itchy by the end of winter and just wants them off. Same with the sheep — they are wide and heavy and their wool is getting matted and dirty. I see their spindly little legs poking out from under the pile of wool and wonder how they will look after it has been shaved off.

Cookie the Shetland

I am trying to trust that the shearer will come through for me although I had expected him to call by now. I’m paying him well for his time. He said he’d probably charge the same amount if I had six sheep instead of just two because it is more for the travel to the farm and set up. I’m fine with it because the alternative is a long day of struggle on my part. I’m hoping that this time next week I can show the “after” shots.

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Spring is Back On Track

It looks like we survived all the freezing nights, and things are springing up in earnest now. It feels so great to wander the farm to find new sprouts and see and hear the wildlife coming out of hibernation. I spent an hour quietly fishing yesterday and watched a little shorebird prowling the edge of the pond and plucking out treats. I think it has a nest somewhere nearby.

The orchard seems to be doing well now. The peach and apple trees are blooming, although I haven’t seen honeybees on the flowers. I hope the blooms indicate that the trees were not damaged by the freezing nights and I’ll finally get to harvest some fruit this year.

We put in two rhubarb plants last year. One got damaged and is just barely showing a couple shoots, but the other is already in full display of robust leaves and is developing a spectacular bloom. I don’t know how much it will open up because I don’t recall ever seeing a rhubarb bloom before.

I love rhubarb pie, so I am trying to patiently wait till it has gotten a good foothold and won’t mind if I chop off a few of its stalks. I’ve picked the first asparagus, and there is some spinach that over-wintered so had a head start in the garden.

Both my husband and I worked hard all week. he ordered a mountain of mulch and distributed it around the landscaping, one wheelbarrow at a time. I spent my time cleaning out the animals’ living areas. I scrubbed and refreshed the chicken coop. This is such a messy job, I do it only once a year. The chickens were furious that I’d locked them out of their nest boxes while I worked, and squawked angrily the whole time.

I also hauled away most of the old straw from their run and laid it around the bottom of the orchard trees for mulch. It’s probably full of great minerals and nutrition for the tree roots. I had cleaned out the goat shed earlier, and all that dirty straw is still in a pile waiting for me to pick it up and move it out of the barnyard. I need a new burst of energy before I tackle that task. I was tired and filthy by the end of the day, but felt really good about caring for the animals.

I also scrubbed out the back porch of all the winter dust and grime, and added some polish to the poor, tired furniture. Then, we had all my siblings and their spouses over for the first post-vaccination party. It was surreal having so many people here at once, un-masked. I got used to it after several double-takes to remind myself of what the CDC says is safe to do, and even gave some hugs before everyone went home. We grilled sandwiches and I brought out a new coffee cake recipe I had tried.

It’s called a turban, due to the interesting shape. It is a crescent of dough wrapped up around a dried-fruit compote and then tucked inside another thin layer of dough that folds over the top. It was pretty but there was one little pocket of raw dough hiding in the center so if I make it again I’ll have to find a way to cook it a little longer.

All-in-all, I think we have finally come out of winter and are fully into spring. Hooray!

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Protecting the Orchard III

How are ya, Buds?

The weather forecast says the freezing scare is now past us, at least for the next week. Last night I repeated the sprinkling strategy to apply another coat of ice to the orchard. When I looked out the window at first light, I did not see the icy patch that I expected. I went out to look closer and inexplicably, the hose had come apart from the sprinkler and was lying on the ground. That means it poured out for four hours into the field.

It was even colder last night than the night before and when I got up it was only 26 degrees. I don’t know if this negates the whole experiment with sprinkling because the buds were probably damaged anyway. They look okay to me, but I am far from an expert.

I guess I’ll have to give it a month or so and then we’ll see if any fruit forms.

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Sock repair

Let’s divert from my worry over the frozen orchard and switch over to socks. I have come to the point in my knitting journey in which I make all my own socks. It is fun, a great creative outlet, and a step towards sustainability that makes me feel good.

I have tried a number of patterns and have finally settled into one that starts at the toe and works up. I have enough experience now that I no longer have to look at the instructions and I can judge how to change the counting depending on the weight of the yarn and size of the needles. I found a method of casting off at the end that makes the top stretchy so there is no trouble sliding it over the bendy parts of my foot. It is fun.

One of the early socks I did was a much heavier pattern but quite durable and warm. It takes you back and forth over the sole so that it is double thickness, which was entertaining and a challenge to learn. I’ve only done it once, though, because it’s too thick to wear with normal shoes. I was in a stage where would make the toe in a different color just because I liked it. When I made this sock, I grabbed a ball of black yarn for the toe without regard to its properties. I think it was cotton yarn, with the rest of the sock being wool.

So here is the problem I encountered. The contrasting black toe was way too wimpy for a sock. It kept developing holes that I would have to repair with a darning needle. (My mother taught me to darn socks when I was a child.) After the third time that I slipped them on and found a new hole, I decided it was time to either throw them out or find a way to fix them.

I dug through my bowl of hand-spun mohair and picked the color that most matched the sock, and made a new toe-up section. Then I cut off the black toe with the holes and grafted the new green one onto the old sock. With the exception of the visible stitching, I am really happy with it. Is it my imagination, or is that mohair toe a lot softer and warmer than the original cotton one?

This is what I love about making my own stuff. I am free to do lots of experimental things and it is not a stressful situation of measuring and buying expensive supplies. If something doesn’t work, I will just try something else. When something does work, I feel so clever!

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Protecting the Orchard II

This morning I threw on some warm clothes at 5:45 to go out in the dark and check on the orchard. The grass made a gentle crushing sound as I crossed the frosted lawn. Leaving the driveway and approaching the orchard, it changed abruptly to a crackly crunch and I saw through the first light of dawn that everything the sprinkler had touched held a thick coating of ice. Did I just doom my trees to another year of no harvest?

When my husband came downstairs, I moaned about our big mistake. He told me the internet article that recommended this way of protecting from frost said that although it was counter-intuitive, the ice actually keeps the buds warmer than allowing the frost to settle in:

When you use sprinklers to prevent freezing injury, you are using the energy that water releases when it freezes, and changes from a liquid to a solid, to keep the temperature in the ice right at the freezing point – 32 degrees F.

The article goes on to provide lots of detailed measurements for determining when to turn the sprinklers on and off and on what range of cold this will work. I don’t have the skills or the patience to figure out how to take all these measurements, so I will just go on faith and see what happens this year.

I wish it wouldn’t be such a long wait to find out if this was a good or a dumb move.

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Protecting the Orchard

Ok, last April we knew the last freeze was on its way and we lovingly covered the apple and peach trees with sheets to save them from damage. Three nights in a row. The blossoms stayed on the trees and we felt so smart. By mid-season, the peach tree did produce lots of fruit but the apple trees flopped, four trees producing a total of two apples.

Once again, we are expecting temperatures down to 28 degrees by early morning tomorrow, enough to destroy our chances for apples. I am trying another strategy to win the game this year. We set up a high sprinkler that reaches all the trees’ buds and set it on a timer to spray from 1:30 am to 5:30 am. (I could have set an alarm and gone out in my pajamas, but I think the timer is a better idea.)

Will this work? Who knows. wish us luck!

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Future Tree Dreams

As we have been locked down this past year, we saved a lot of eating-out and travel money and are debating where to spend the savings. We settled on the future. Specifically, we are buying trees and supporting the Arbor Foundation.

We bought three large black gum saplings in the fall and planted them in the pasture to one day provide some shade for the sheep. Then, when we sent a gift to the Arbor Foundation, they sent us 10 little trees, really just sticks, that got our imaginations rolling. Where might the tall grass prairie benefit from some nice trees? Once our tree juices were flowing, we got more ambitious and ordered some more mature ones to plant this spring.

Walnut-lined country road

We ordered a sycamore to put in the field next to a bluebird house. Then we ordered a little grove to border the pond. We mowed the fields for the new growing season but carefully saved the ten-or-so oak trees that the squirrels had planted over the last few years. This week, I took the bucket of walnuts that I had used to dye my mohair for a nice brown sweater, and I planted two nuts each in 36 holes around the farm. Who knows if they will sprout and grow, but what do I have to lose? Maybe one day the driveway will be bordered like this picture. Maybe not.

The sycamore arrived this week, however it turned out they shipped a persimmon tree. The nursery apologized and said we should just keep it and they would send a sycamore. Two for the price of one! I am finding that I love the feeling of heady power I get from designing and nurturing the habitat we wish for. The trees we planted early-on before we even built the house are already tall and beautiful, and that is after only ten years. If we are lucky enough to live here twenty or even thirty more years, we will look back on our early decisions with such pride and gratitude.

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Sock Upgrade

I like knitting socks. They are useful, feel good on my feet, and make me feel self-sufficient. However, I have learned over time how to make them better. I had knitted a couple pairs last winter but didn’t like to wear them because for one, they were too wide and short for me and two, the tops were not stretchy and were hard to slide over my heel. So, these socks sat in the back of the drawer till I thought maybe I should just throw them out. Besides, they looked like they were meant for hobbits.

Before and after socks

Then, my sustainability urge nudged me and said, “Why don’t you just unravel them and try again?” I replied, “Duh!” So, I cut the tight top edge off (because it is hard to undo) and methodically unwound the knitting into a nice little ball, about two inches in diameter, and started over from the base of the toe.

I re-did them from memory (because I’ve done enough now that I don’t have to check the instructions) and now they fit just great. I have also learned a method of binding off the cuff so that it is nice and stretchy and easy to get on and off. How about that?

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A Knitting Lesson Learned

Today’s entry is only likely to relate to those of you who like knitting. Last fall, I picked but a really neat sweater pattern. I had planned to make it from my goat’s mohair, but was unable to spin the right weight yarn to make it work. I had sadly given up on it and just knitted a different pattern, but my husband surprised me by purchasing the right yarn at the local shop so I could try again. I like supporting local merchants, but it is shocking how much store-bought yarn costs! I am so used to making my own from my goat that it really blew me away.

This sweater has more of a story behind it, though. The pattern has this lovely color pattern and also a textural feature to break up the monotony of a smooth surface. I got the bright idea to use the colors in the textured sections rather than just go ahead in solid blue. I loved the way it looked, but when the body was done I discovered that I couldn’t get it over my head!

Apparently, when you carry a second color of yarn along behind so that you can use it here and there, it takes away all the stretch of the knitting. It looked pretty neat on the inside, though. The only way to salvage the sweater was to cut the background yarn and pull it out from all the rows where it wasn’t needed. It was an experiment I wasn’t sure would work.

View from the inside

In the end, success! I did learn a lot from the experience and hopefully these are several mistakes I won’t make again. I am quite happy with my new spring sweater.

Finished product

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Some Serious Snow

February seems to be the big month for hard freezes and deep snow. Last night, we got our biggest snow dump so far and I did a lot of shoveling this morning to make a path for myself out to the barn and for the animals to get to their food.

It was not an unpleasant chore, with the sun coming up and blue skies overhead. The snow was cold enough that it was still fluffy, not too sticky and wet. I enjoyed the two-step process of flinging the first six inches off the top and then scooping a smooth path down to where I had packed it down with my boots over the last couple of weeks.

I looked over the average temperatures in our area and we are colder than normal but not outrageously bad. The good news was that a month from now we can expect to see 40 degree days and a month after that into the 50’s. I can live with this cycle. Someone has pointed out the value of a good deep freeze to kill off insects that do more damage after a light winter. There is nothing to complain about here, as long as we have power and food.

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Remembering to Play

Snow shoe tracks

It’s been cold, 18 degrees at mid-day. Still, I was thinking that Michigan is really a special place in the winter and I need to get out there and quit hiding from it. I am so glad that I forced myself to bundle up, strap on a pair of snowshoes, and explore the six inches of fluffy snow that fell overnight.

I went out without company, because I’m sure the dogs would yank me flat on my face if I tried to juggle two leashes and ski poles. I wanted my husband to come with me but he begged off. I had to get past the crusty driveway first and the grips caught and almost sent me sprawling before I remembered the technique. After that it was just me and the quiet “thwomp, thwomp” as I carefully lifted and set down one snowshoe after the other.

The snow was so fresh that all that was left of the tracks from walking the dogs yesterday were faint dents in the path. There were no fresh tracks from the local wildlife yet. Well, I take that back–the snowmobilers had packed down a trail along the highway. They can hardly wait to get out there when we get a decent snow. Most of my adventure was on our private land, though, under the trees and across the prairie.

I realized when I took off the snowshoes that I’d forgotten how they worked and had gone out with two left feet. Maybe that is the source of some of my awkwardness. I’ll be ready the next time. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I’ll play again.

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Farm Video Day

I took a couple videos of some of the interesting behaviors of our farm animals, and uploaded them to YouTube for those of you who might enjoy them.

One is of the amazing Sandhill Cranes that winter in our area. I feel really fortunate that this is their gathering place because they are beautiful and noisy, circling our skies. I’ve always felt like they are remnants of the dinosaurs grackling their way overhead. Some days the weather conditions rouse them all to flock in squadrons over our heads. Watch till the end and you’ll see the convergence of a whole army.

Another one I was delighted to see was the Shetland Sheep who were pleased to find a day that was perfect for playing. Dot and Cookie have little horn stubs where I believe the buds were stunted when they were babies, but they still have that urge to play at battle, butting one another for fun. When they are in this mood, they run in little vertical hops, which I believe is called “gamboling”. It just cracks me up, and is a rare treat when my visit coincides with them being in the mood to entertain me.

I also have an update on Mickey the cat, who surprised me last week by appearing up in the loft that I thought had no access. I risked life and limb to climb up and carry him down to safety. So, the next day there he was again. I decided to ignore him and go about my business, feeding everyone their breakfast. Sure enough, when I came in from feeding the flocks, there he was eating his breakfast downstairs. I have not been able to catch him going up or down so I am not sure how he does it, but I suspect he hops up on various footholds and cabinets, probably not by the ladder I’d thought he had used. My husband says there are plenty of mice up there, pulling shreds of pink insulation out of the rafters for their nests in the winter. This is probably what Mickey is using for his entertainment and I guess I’d rather not watch anyway.

It was a cold and dark January and we did not do much outside, other than trips out the the barn and back to visit and feed the animals. Last week we were in serious need of a project so my husband and I trudged out to the vineyard to prune down the concord grapes. Last year I wasn’t able to harvest any, and I read that you need to prune them back in the dead of winter so that they produce in the next year. I really missed my delicious grape juice! I did my side of the vines as fast as I could, until my fingers got so cold that the shears started dropping out of my hands as if I had no muscles to grip them. That was my clue that it was time to come in.

My indoor projects still take most of my time, knitting and weaving. I made a set of cotton dishtowels on the loom that turned out pretty well. I gave away three of the best ones and kept for ourselves two that had a lot of flaws. I am getting better at learning to catch mistakes earlier and going back to fix them, so the end product is getting to be more and more respectable.

I am also working on another colorful sweater for which my husband picked out yarn for my birthday. It is fun but now I am into the more tedious part so I took a detour to make some socks. I am getting pretty good at the sock pattern I’ve been using and I no longer have to look at the instructions. I made the last pair for myself and now and am working on a pair as a gift since I have a good idea of how to adjust the size.

The yarn was on clearance at the local yarn shop and is thicker than “real” sock yarn, so it makes a hefty, warm sock, good for the next trip out to the vineyard. It is so fun to create useful things!

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