Sunday, April 29, 2007

Shearing and musing

We've started shearing!
This is Snowy, showing off her pouf. I like to shear on the stand. I feel it is easier on me and easier on the sheep than the more traditional "sit them on their butt and bend over them" method. Of course, it is no where near as fast. I am lucky to do 6 sheep in a day, even with the electric clippers, and this year I am using scissors. My dad built me a wonderful shearing table. It is currently a wonderful packing table and as soon as I have a building to shear in, I'll take it out to the farm to use the shear the sheep.

We are shearing late this year. Normally we shear in March and lamb in April. With the move though, I thought the sheep would be less stressed moving in fleece. And I didn't want to move heavily pregnant sheep. So we bred very late and planned on shearing in April and lambing in May.

I was very glad I had not sheared when we had a deep freeze here in Arkansas the second week in April. The sheep all stayed comfortable in their wooly coats.
The fleeces I have sheared so far are very nice. Silky, with a nice sheen and strong fibers, no stress breaks. I was worried, with the move. I'm going to shear everyone, and then skirt and bag fleeces. People who have sheep shares should get their fleece by the end of May. We have really cut back the flock, so I don't know if we'll have any fleeces for sale, but if we do, they be in our Common Threads ebay store by the end of May.

While I was shearing this afternoon, Shawn was nearby working on building a chicken tractor, so we can move the chicks out to the farm. We really need to get them out there and working on the tick population!
We were conversing off and on - planning and musing. I started shearing over Cakes' hip as Shawn pounded nails into the slab wood brace he had just cut with the hand saw.
"Do links still help with Search Engine Optimization?" I asked. He replied that my blog was indexed by Google and that wasn't a problem. We went on to discuss Keywords and other ways to improve the rankings of the store and website.
I realized this had to be about the funniest combination of conversation and work currently happening on the planet - and it is nothing unusual at all around here!

Viewing from different points

Many, many years ago, I responded somewhat flippantly to a woman who asked me how to keep her goats from jumping on her car.
"Don't park the car in the goat pen," was my dismissive reply.

I'm paying for it now! The picture is of Constance dancing on the windshield of Midas.
The goats are an important part of our land clearing effort at Foxbriar. Cat briar (part of the origin of the name), bull briar and wild rose make most of the mountain an impassable mess. We've had sheep get so tangled their feet were off the ground and we had to use a saw on the vines to get them loose. The black berries thickets promise delicious delights - but about 4 acres are so thick with them that only moles can get through. The goats eat all these thorny invaders and are thriving on them.

But that means the goats are running loose on the farm. Anything we don't want them climbing on, eating or strewing about as they curiously try to figure out what it is, has to be fenced off. Well fenced off! But I figure it is good training, they are teaching us how to keep gardens and orchards safe from the deer, rabbits and coons.
Now, about that question - How do you keep goats from jumping on your car? Well, if you look at it from a different view point - build a car corral that is goat tight. Hmm, if that exists - see picture above!

Today the internet and e-mail groups are great places to go to find information and ask for advice. Many people are willing to share what they know and most do it in a manner that shows they are just offering to help from their point of view. IMHO (in my humble opinion) is used and implied in many posts. Other people are adamant that you should do it their way or you are wrong.

We just moved from a place where there were lots of veterinarians. Most of them didn't like working with sheep and goats, but I had a few that were wonderful with all my animals. I had moved there from a place where you could not get a vet to come to the farm, period, and it was almost 200 miles to take your animals to a vet. We've been calling the vets in and around Mountain View since before we decided to move here, and we've found a few that will work with us - but it was apparent before we made the move that we would have to go back to being responsible for the majority of our animal's health care.

So we've asked for advice on the groups and internet boards. I've never raised sheep in this climate. Parasites and imbalances are very different. Southeastern Colorado is an area where Selenium is present in toxic levels, animals become very ill from the amounts that are present in the hay and in the ground. Here in the Ozarks, you have to supplement selenium in the animals feed. This difference I know about and understand. But what else is there out there that I need to learn?

So, I ask questions and research. The people that we have met up here on the mountain are friendly and have been more than willing to answer my somewhat silly sounding questions. And many wonderful people have had great advice in internet groups. But there are a few who insist their way is the only way - so you smile, nod, say thank you and realize the point from which they are viewing is not the same as yours.

This was obvious last week, when talking with Mona, who moved up here a few years ago from Florida. "It's so arid here and the soil has so much clay," she said while walking through her verdant pasture.
Shawn and I looked at each other. We had just been talking about how delightfully lush and wet it is here, and the soil was so nice and sandy that it drains well, unlike the slick clay of Colorado!
Viewing the world from different points.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Right hook

As a lifelong crochet artist, I know what type of hooks I like. I often spend many hours a day crocheting and I want a hook that feels good in my hands and makes my work easier. When Shawn started carving crochet hooks, we worked together to create hooks that are easy to use, match guage and feel good. Yep, I'm spoiled!

He is a talented artist, so his hooks are beautiful to look at - but more importantly to me, they work well.

Lately, between the store and classes, we have been working with many people who want to crochet, but are having trouble with their hands, wrists or elbows. Shawn created his square hooks to help people who are experiencing pain when they crochet. The square shape sits easily in their hands allowing their fingers to relax around the hook. It seems to help many people continue crocheting.

As word gets around about Shawn's Laffing Horse crochet hooks, people are asking him to carve bigger hooks (up to P like the one in the pictures now), longer hooks (22 inch!) and hooks to solve problems. He is now working on an afghan hook in the larger sizes that will help eliminate thumb joint pain. We are trying making one side flat, so that no matter how you hold your hook, you thumb has a resting spot. I'll let you know how it works.

This search for the right hook or the most comfortable to crochet has led me to consider how people hold their hooks and other factors that go into the process of crocheting. My grandmother taught me to crochet. I've been crocheting close to 40 years now and my hands and wrists don't bother me from crocheting. (They do give me some trouble with heavy lifting, a legacy from my days as a mail carrier!) Part of that is because I crochet loosely, with a light tension. That helps keep my hands and arms relaxed. But I also think the open-handed, under-palm way I hold my hook helps make crocheting easier.

I was trying to explain that to someone who has been having trouble with finger pain when crocheting. It can be quite a challenge to help someone with a craft over the phone. So I thought I'd try posting pictures. Boy, this is an awful long caption for some photographs!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The bees ate my pottery wheel

"The bees ate my pottery wheel" - that was the subject line of the e-mail that I read first yesterday morning. And it continued to be the subject of my thoughts as I dug up another raised bed in the garden this morning.

I could have been digging fence post holes for sheep fence, (CJ, left, born Easter morning is one of the 23 reasons for sheep fence) or gathering rock for the foundation on the garden cottage, or burning brush to get rid of the ticks, or clearing scrub from the area we want to make into pasture, or any one of an almost endless list of things that all seem to need to be done, Now!
But I had decided to dig the bed for the carrots - so, the carrots ate my garden cottage!

To back track a little -
Because I am writing this blog, it is about me and my perceptions. But I am not doing this homestead thing alone. Not only are Shawn and Lena here throwing balls in this juggling act we call Foxbriar Farm, there are many, many people working on this project.

Our dear friends, Robin and Summer, actually own the land that is Foxbriar and have collected much of the human community that is attached to it. They are also funding much of the infrastructure.

Summer wrote the quote above. Yesterday was her birthday. We have been e-mailing back and forth, worrying about Colony Collapse Disorder and wondering what we could do and how it will affect our farming aspirations. Shawn had contacted a "bee guy" in northwestern Arkansas about getting bees. Researchers cite cell phones, GMO crops and a fungus as possible causes of the bee die-off. We don't have anybody raising crops up here on Fox mountain, cell phones don't work up here... and fungus, well it grows great, in all forms, but hopefully local bees who are not being trucked about the country would be immune. And the forests here at Foxbriar are starting to bloom with bee food - like the honey suckle belo

We thought we could get bees and they should be safe here. But bees are expensive - and you need hives and supers and a smoker and other bee gear.

So, Summer (and Robin!) offered the funds to cover Beeing at Foxbriar. We are going to pick up the little buzzers on Sunday and we are researching everything we can find on bees right now, during breaks from carving, weaving, crocheting, felting and packing orders.
But Summer's e-mail pointed out the trade-offs that we are all making, and that everyone makes in their daily lives. She could have had her long-desired pottery wheel for her birthday. She's wanted it for .... well... I really hate figuring out that the years are moving faster... let's just say a very long time.

Instead, we are all going together and getting bees. I hope they thrive and grow and give all of us many years of pollination and honey and bees wax. Thanks Summer!

There are many others helping with this adventure. My parents have provided support way beyond filling up the truck with diesel (and that costs a mint!); getting us baby chickies; and spending a week of their busy schedule out here slashing through catbriar and wild rose bushes and Icky, Icky Ticks to help us get horse fence up. Shawn's folks have helped out whenever we asked, and even when we didn't!

Our wonderful customers have helped by being patient when orders are a bit delayed because we are trying to get a barn up - and by their continued loyalty in purchasing from us while things are a wee bit chaotic. This enterprise seems to bring out the most wonderful people. We have had customers e-mail and offer housing for the sheep. Others opened their homes to us as we were moving. Many people who started out as customers and business associates have become dear friends.

And as we get rolling other people are chipping in, with offers of pasture, money for motar for the garden cottage and many other things. I am terrible at remembering to say "Thank You,"
but I do appreciate everyone and their help. If I start listing off people, I will inevitably leave out the most important ones and feel guilty forever more (I'm still sorry Lisa!), so, here and now I'll just say thank you. And get back to work...

Back to juggling resources - Summer's bees ate her pottery wheel, Sheep fence may just eat the chicken house....
Only 24 hours in a day - right now I have 23 orders to ship - then - do I plant in the garden, cut cordwood for the cottage, build fence for the sheep, do book work for the business, make stock for the store, do marketing for the shop.....

And then there's a gift or investment of money from a friend for the farm. Do we buy fence for the sheep, motar for the cottage, perhaps some windows, grown-up chickens to eat ticks, grass seed to plant some pasture or herbs for the bee garden or....

Your comments, suggestions, energy, wishes, prayers and thoughts are always welcome. Send an e-mail - or come dig fence post holes!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fantasy meets reality

I am often asked the question, "Don't you wish you lived back then?" or "Don't you feel like you were born 200 years too late?"
My answer for these is easy - "No."
I love our life both homesteading and re-enacting at Renaissance Festivals and Folk Fairs. And we could not do any of it without automobiles and the internet!
We would not be homesteading in Fox right now if we had to get to a town via horse or foot - it takes 40 minutes by car. We could not have even gotten here without our major-mondo Dodge diesel pickup truck to haul everything.
And we really could not do both the festivals and the farming in any time other than the present. Our vehicles allow us to be in Louisiana one day and Oklahoma the next. Cell phones allow us to manage the farm, office and shop while traveling. Wifi lets us keep in touch with customers and track orders.
And, we could not make our living without the miracle of the World Wide Web. (Also we would be terribly bored without our music, news and research ability that the internet provides - and how would we identify those plants!) More than half our income comes in between our web store and our ebay store. While in days of yore we might not have needed this income, in days of now, we do. In some ways it is a vicious circle and we are working on ways to simplify things - but accepting some modern miracles will help us get to the point where we don't need as many modern miracles.
We got electricity at the farm today. It was sweet to be able to run the 14-inch electric chain saw. That saw weighs half what the gas one does. We now have a refrigerator for the first time in two months - and I'm almost not sure what to do with it! And lights that come on at the flick of a switch, instead of at the flick of a Bic... well, at the price of lamp oil, the electrics are cheaper.
Being on the grid with city water and city electricity will help us move toward our plan of being off the grid much sooner.
Life is much more fun when fantasy and reality are able to walk hand-in-hand.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Listening to the weather

This morning I knew it was going to be a bright sunny day, even before I opened my eyes. It was early when I woke up, the sun wasn't up yet, though the light was beginning to show. I think the birds woke me up. Lots of birds, many different types of sounds, calls, chirps, cries and whistles. It was a wild morning symphony!

The last several mornings it has been cold and raining. The only sounds to greet my awakening were the horses stamping in the barn (it makes kind of a low drumming noise up here on the mountain) and the song of the cardinal. He sings every morning, silly bird, in the dogwood tree right outside of Midas' door.

And every morning, Shawn rolls over to me and says, "Would you please hit the snooze button on that bird."

But this morning, even before the light, the morning was happy, active and full of song.

I noticed the sound of the change in the weather again tonight. The sound of things warming up!

As we were working on dinner and settling in to the workshop after a busy day at the farm, I heard the frog chirrups. It has been so cold this last week, the frogs were burrowed in and hibernating. I hadn't missed their evening chorus, but I really enjoyed hearing it again! Tonight, it is warm and they are back in full voice.

Maybe Spring has returned?!


Did you ever read "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George? It is a book for older kids. I read it once or twice in elementary school, I think, and I have never forgotten it. That book, and my memories of it have shaped much of my life. I haven't re-read it, but I have been thinking of it a lot lately. Perhaps I'll check it out when I go in to town to the library tomorrow. Maybe there is something in there I need to read?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Back to.... On to.... ?

Fria, Lena's 24-year-old Arabian mare loves her new paddock and all the greenery here in Arkansas.

Well, we are all here, people and animals at least - there is still some stuff to move. And, I started to say back to Normal - but in our lives that's a little town outside of Huntsville, Alabama and about 900 miles from here. I hope to get back there to visit some day. I also want to go to Options, Louisiana and probably will this fall. I'm looking forward to exploring Options.

We spent last weekend winding our way through delightful little towns such as PeeDee, Bee Branch, Flippin and many others on our way to and from the Baker Creek Heritage Days Festival. I found myself wondering how many people pick the town they live in by the name? Do people decide to live in Three Brothers just because the name pleases them? How do people decide where they live? Do they?

I know I love the name of our new town - Fox, in part because it is short, easy to write and everyone can pronounce it. It is also unusual, though probably Carr, Colorado trumps Fox on the strange-name-meter of places I've lived. This picture is of Shawn walking back to our store from the Post Office in Fox. It is now really easy to get orders shipped - the Post office is next door!

I've been away from my blog for a while for several reasons. I was without internet for two weeks while I was in Colorado getting the farm ready for the auction. The auction was brutal. That is the only word that really covers it. It is a quick, efficient way to wipe out much of your past and the baggage associated with it. Of course, so is a house fire, but people don't die in auctions... just dreams.

I had the help and support of so many friends and family in getting things sorted, pulled out of corners, cleaned, organized and packed. My mom worked with me most of the two weeks and my dad spent several days on the farm doing hard, manual labor. Wonderful friends came down from Denver and cleaned my house while I was off teaching a weaving class. Many other friends showed up the day before and during the auction and others friends came to haul things away afterward. I couldn't have done it without you all - and I mean that, no matter how cliche'd it sounds. I can't tell you all how much I needed you and how much I appreciate your help.

That is part of why I've been away from writing here, too. This move, while planned, blessed, guided, gifted and wonderful in so many ways, is also a ripping change. Generally, I write from the heart. Lately, that has been a little too raw to splash on the internet.

But we are getting back on to familiar ground with a routine developing, the animals adapting and the store... well, it sure needs a boost right now, but now that I am not driving back and forth across the country, I have the time to devote to it. To this end, we are offering free shipping on store purchases through the month of April to anyone who reads this post and sends me an ebay message requesting it.

There is a comfort in routine. Farm chores are getting easier as we get more fencing built and paths cleared. Lena has single-handedly cleared most of the catbriar off the barn meadow.
I try to do chores in the morning and then get to the store by 8:00. Shawn and I work there until somewhere between 2 and 4, take a break for lunch and then go work on the farm, fencing, shearing, hoof trimming, brush clearing, post hole digging... and on.
Lena works on the farm all day and usually has a pile of stuff ready that she needs an extra hand with. We have all been working together on the farm until dark, coming back to the store for a quick dinner and to finish up making stock or answering queries and then off to bed by 11:00 or so.

We are currently fencing the power-line road to make a pasture for the horses. Then the sheep will have the horses' current paddock. Homer (yes, he's doing great and really appreciates his hair cut - thanks Mom and Julia!) (He's the black sheep in the middle, for those of you who don't know and love Homer - and if you know him, you love him!), the llamas and the whole goat herd were helping us clear brush and string fence yesterday.

I'll try to keep everybody more up-to-date now - but it's Saturday and there is fence to string...