Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leave yourself a present

Life tends to be so complex, sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.

When we got to our booth at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, (#113 Common Threads in case you want to look us up during the festival) there was the usual flurry of checking the booth over for winter damage and assessing what we had left behind in the way of dishes, cooking appliances, clothing and display items.

The winter damage was not bad - one board in the ceiling rotted out. Courtesy of an afternoon rain storm, we also found that the roof was back to leaking like a sieve. Douglas County has been getting an over abundance of rain this year. The gardens in front of our castle look great, the lavender is just starting, but the rose is lush and the curly mint is busting out of its pots. The afternoon rain storms are a nice refreshing boon to business at the festival, so I hope they keep up.

The booth was also cleaner and more organized than we had left it. The Larkspur school district borrows our booth at Halloween to do a spook house. I guess they raise about $20,000 for special projects with it. They borrow our castle and a few other booths here at the Renaissance Festival. In years past, they have not cleaned up very well, but this year they did an awesome job. Other than a few splashes of fake blood on the floor, a box of Halloween candy on the counter and storage items being organized more neatly than we left them, we wouldn't have known they were here.

We found we had left ourselves a full compliment of dishes and the important appliances - microwave, coffee pot and fridge in working order. There were a few items of clothing, most of them belonging to the teens. I also found toothpaste and other toiletries and a bag of bedding on the shelf.

So we began unpacking, just a bit, bringing in items we could fit in between the drips. Our priorities suddenly changed from fixing the porch and painting to FIXING the roof - a more expensive project than we had planned on...

But for the evening, we just wanted to settle down, find a dry spot for our bed, walk the dogs and maybe watch an episode of Quantum Leap, which Shawn had check out at the library. It had been a long few days, it was cold, and we were tired. In fairness, my parents had invited us to come back there, it is only 40 minutes away and warm and dry. But we wanted to be home - humble as our castle may be.

After we situated our bed and set up electricity, which was a bit of a challenge because our long extension cord had gone walk-about, I pulled down the bag of bedding and found the most wonderful surprise. I had left myself an incredible present.

When I opened the bag, the scent of fresh lavender wafted out. I pulled out the sheets and discovered with delight that I had packed clean sheets with fresh dried lavender blossoms from the castle herb garden. I shook out the sheets and suddenly the whole booth was rain fresh and flower scented. I layered up the bed with sheets and quilts, the electric blanket and my down comforter. The crowning glory was the pillows - clean cases over soft puffy fresh pillows, with a deep relaxing lavender scent. All night long I snuggled in my warm fresh nest and basked in relaxing lavender and the delight that I had left myself such a wonderful present.

Do something nice for yourself, leave yourself a little present somewhere you don't go very often. You'll be surprised at how good it will make you feel.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What a difference a day makes

Last Thursday we traveled from our Fox den in the Ozarks to the high Rockies of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, for the Pagosa Fiber Festival. Shawn drove almost straight through, though he took a bit of a nap near Taos. I crocheted Spirit Bells the whole way, so it was a real shock to look up at sunrise and see white splats of snow on the windshield, the aspens just beginning to leaf out, snow still all over the ground and the elk cows looking fat and sassy. What a difference a day makes.

We had a wonderful weekend at the festival. My parents treated us to a vacation at their Elk Run condo and a great dinner at the Ole Miner's Steakhouse. The food was incredible and the portions were so huge that we had two more meals from the left overs!

The Fiber Festival was fun, we have been doing it for several years, so it is always nice to see old friends. I do think the increase in gas prices did put a bit of a damper on the festivities - the crowd seemed a bit smaller than last year.

Meanwhile, Lena has been taking care of the farm. Poppy had twin boys and Bobbin had a little ewe we named Crosspatch. She is posting the pics on her blog.

We are headed to Larkspur today, and internet may be iffy for a few days - I'll update everyone here when I have the chance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

After thought

After 3 days of walking around with her tail in the air, Alice had her lambs last night. She had a gorgeous big ewe lamb, we named her Carroll. Alice got her name from her love of chasing rabbits. Carroll was up and running about 10 minutes after being born.

Alice also had a little afterthought of a ram. I don't know if he'll make it. His sister obviously got all the groceries. The picture shows how tiny he is - that's Lena's ipod. The little guy weighs a mere 1.3 lbs and can barely hold up his head. Lena is fussing over him and is giving him the chance he would not have had in the wild or in a larger flock. She didn't sleep at all last night, she stay up to feed the little one every hour and he slept in a basket on her bed.

Cori rejected her ram lamb yesterday afternoon. It is actually her usually MO. She always has twins and has been to mom of many of our bottle babies. For those of you who remember Toby - this little guy is Toby's brother. We thought of taking him on the road with us, Toby made a great Renaissance Festival sheep, but we are bringing all 3 dogs with us - so we found Toby II a good home. They are coming to pick him up this afternoon.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Homer's a Da!

We are starting to think that the entire flock of sheep has a conspiracy going to not lamb until after we have left the state.

However, Coriander couldn't wait any longer. About 1:00 this afternoon she had twins. Obviously, Homer is the dad. His daughter is Cappucino and the little boy is Catsup. They all seem to be doing well. Cori had the energy to tell Aniken to take a hike in the top picture.

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Listening and felting

"Can you make it in green?"

That has been our code phrase for a person at a craft show who really doesn't want to purchase an item, but they want to look and shop and maybe dream up something that is a little different.

It's not a problem, we are happy to be creative and innovative. However, at shows we are generally rushed and our attention is divided among several people. In that venue, we have to focus on the person who is looking to buy something NOW, and hope we can work with the dreamer later.

The internet has facilitated that thinking and interacting process. Now, customers from around the world can ask, "Can you make it in green?" And we can answer yes (or no) as soon as we get the e-mail.

One of our recent customer led innovations is a scroll type needle felted case for knitting needles. This customer wanted several special features - she wanted a set of 5 knitting needles, all done in different woods, with carved ends instead of beaded - and - is is possible to do cases for the knitting needles like the ones I do for the crochet hooks?

Yep, it's possible.

I was in the mood to leave this case natural and plain. I thought the natural wool colors set off the wood knitting needles nicely. I felted braided alpaca ties for the case, a wee bit of luxury. They feel really nice when tying the case shut.
- And, they are green!
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Hay there!

We hauled hay yesterday. Sweet gorgeous rye grass with a little clover, put up in heavy, dry, tight bales. Lena drove, Shawn bucked bales and I stacked.
It was sunny and cool, the view was stunning and we had Broadway show tunes on the radio.
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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bees behind

As part of getting ready to go to Colorado, we got new hive bodies for the beesies. We figured they'd need new condo's before we got back, so we thought we'd just add them now. We queried beekeepers and they said it should be fine once the exsisting hive was 80% full, before that it would be too hard on the bees, giving them too much territory to guard.
So Shawn loaded the wax sheets into the new frames, suited up, got the smoker going and we carried the new sections of hive out to the bee yard.
Maybe we should have checked the bees before going to all that work. The hives were only about half full. I guess the late freeze has the bees set back, too.
So we carried everything back to the truck - and told the beesies we'd be back in August! Maybe then we'll have honey comb...

Ewe's special!

Meet Cardigan - at six hours old she is sure she is the boss! First time mommy Button is doing a great job.
Her aunty Cowslip has been fascinated with Cardigan since she was born. Cowslip looks like she decided not to have lambs this year, so maybe she'll baby sit for all the new moms.
Penny and Basil also look like they aren't carrying lambs. With the move, I expected many more of them to be open. But it looks like we'll be starting our first year at Foxbriar with a good sized lamb crop. Wish Lena luck - she's gonna be full-time shepherding for the next few weeks.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

Bright Blooming Berries!

We are so blessed in where (all the wheres!) and how we live - and I never cease to wonder at it. Ok, I want to write a bunch of silly words about divinity and nature and bliss - but who wants to read that stuff any way :-) So here's the good stuff - pictures!

These are the black berries. They won't be ready before we leave for Colorado next week. So we'll have to have Lena post pics when they are so that we can all drool over them!

The flowers are gorgeous, the edibles, like the chives in the picture at the bottom are bountiful and everything is so beautiful here in Fox.

We are still awaiting lambs and are going to add a hive body to each of the beehives tomorrow so the beesies will have room to build while we are gone.

We have hay to haul, a ram pen to build and so much more to do before heading west on Wednesday. The hay is a big worry. Everybody up here on the mountain cut yesterday. Will it be dry and baled by Monday or Tuesday, so we have enough time to get it hauled in? How long does it take hay to cure here? What are our options if it isn't ready?

Got an e-mail from Susan, she and Bruce are doing ok and her sense of humor has returned.

I don't know how much time I'll have to share - but I'll update when I can. Wish us luck on the road and send Lena bright thoughts and energy for dealing with the animals and the farm!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Homeland Security

Homeland Security on Foxbriar Farm

Muppet the guardian llama roams the entire farm and personal questions every visitor - human or animal!

Aniken, (the white german shepherd running with the sheep) keeps an eye on the sheep while they are out at pasture. When the sheep are locked up, he follows the chickens and keeps them safe.

We only have to listen to the news each day to see the world becoming a little more unbalanced. The government's stance has been to whittle away at personal freedoms trying to get control of the people.
But what can we, as individuals do, to heighten our illusion of security in this life?
, I'm crossing belief systems here - but lets just go with the idea that people are happier and more productive when they feel secure. I want to think I am secure in my home (whether it is a camper, a truck, a castle or a pole barn), that my animals are safe, that my food is nourishing, that my family is comfortable and happy.
So what does the average person need to do to be safe and secure?

1. Learn constantly - learn how to grow your own food, take care of your own body, make your own power....

2. Take responsibility for yourself - It's your body, you know best what it needs - so do it! Eat right, exercise, stretch muscles, rest...

3. Grow your own healthy food - or if you can't grow your own, get to know your local producers. This means you can't eat bananas (do you know what the human and energy cost of a banana is?) , so what local foods give you the same nutrients that you enjoy from bananas? Find out...

4. Build your own shelter, make your own clothes, grown your own fuel... What does it take to be self sufficient? Research it and then try it, even on a tiny scale. Knit yourself a hat, crochet some slippers - you'll be amazed at how empowering it can be.

Boy, I sure got preachy just from watching Aniken and Muppet providing our own brand of Homeland Security here at Foxbriar Farm... sorry.... though those who know me, know these have been my soap boxes from most of my life. Sorry for the rant. I'll turn the soapbox over an go back to making soap

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother hen lessons for Mother's Day

Last night the chickies decided they were grown up enough to go roost in the trees and not come back home. With trepidation, we let them. (Besides one of them was roosting about 12 feet up in a tree we couldn't climb!)

We do have foxes here. There is a gorgeous little gray one that I enjoy seeing regularly. But I don't want to feed my chickens to them.

This morning, bright and early, all the chickies were hard at work eating ticks and turning the bedding in the lambing pen. I guess for this Mother's Day I get to cut the apron strings and let my little chickies do their job.

I've always found chickens useful - but here at Foxbriar - I think they are vital. And I'm really getting to like the little guys.

So thanks, Mom, Summer and Julia! Some day we'll have a chicken castle and a whole renaissance chicken village. But for right now - I'm just going to enjoy watching the little tick eaters at work and quit being such a mother hen!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sheep talk and ticks

"Family is very important to sheep."

Some people laugh at me when I say that, others accuse me of being anthropomorphic, most just nod their heads.

But it is true! And I'm not the only one who has noticed. I think most any shepherd will tell you the same thing. This phenomenon is noted enough that researchers have studied "visual recognition in sheep." They could have just asked a shepherd or gone and spent a year living with a flock of sheep.

I spend lots of time with my sheep and I watch how they behave and interact. the picture at the left is Marjoram, comforting her yearling daughter who just went through her first shearing. Button seemed very confused by being naked, she acted like she was just going to huddle under the tree and die of embarrassment - but with her mother's gentle coaxing, she was up grazing with the flock in about an hour. (Sometimes I even think I'm being anthropomorphic!)

I first noticed the strong family bonds when we began separating the first time ewes from the older ewes for lambing. This way we could keep a closer eye on the first timers and give them feed that they didn't have to fight for. After everybody had their lambs and all the sheep were doing well, we put the two flocks back together.
I watched Licorice greet her yearling daughter Ogre and the two of them sniffed and burbled over each other's new lambs. Marj's twin yearling daughters ran right to her and she let her new twins sniff their older sisters and as all 4 new lambs toddled around.

In the move to Foxbriar, several families of sheep moved together. Because we could not take the whole flock, several of the ewes moved to Arkansas without their mother's or daughter's. The sheep that moved here with their family seemed to settle in better, quiet down quicker and loose less weight.

But, as much as I have been worrying about the sheep's health, shearing them was enlightening. They are very healthy, the fleeces are strong, their parasite loads are way low, and they are fat (oops). They are due to start lambing this Tuesday - so I would rather have them on the little too heavy side than too thin.

The most interesting thing though, is, the sheep don't have ticks!

The ticks are terrible this year. The locals say they haven't ever seen them this bad. Some of the people who've moved here are wondering if they will let a little bug chase them off the mountain. We routinely pick between 6 and 20 off of each human every night, and that's not counting the ones we burn during the day. The goats are covered with them, I pulled more than a dozen out of one of Erie's armpits and 3 off of Beth's eyelids (YUCK). The dogs and the horses get their biweekly dose of One Spot and seem to do ok.

But the sheep - the sheep who have been on the farm for 6 weeks now, without any one checking them over for ticks - have about 20 dead ticks (and one live one on Coriander's ear) throughout the whole flock! I find more than that on one goat's udder at each milking!

Is it the wool? I'll check them over the next few days now that they are naked and see if they start picking up the little buggers. Until then, since even I can't imagine wearing wool in the summer in Arkansas, I am going to scatter the "trash wool", dung tags, ruffs, belly wool and some leg wool on the ground all around our camper, Midas.

Is it the lanolin? Maybe. The ticks that I did find on the sheep were dried, shriveled, mummified and covered in lanolin. If that's it, maybe I could make a lanolin tick repellent?

Is it the sheep smell? Sheep do have a distinct odor and they tend to sweat a lot, especially when they are nervous. Maybe ticks just don't find that appetizing?

Is it because we cleared the briar out of their pen and they don't wander the woods like the goats? Maybe, but I can get 6 ticks up my pants leg just walking from the camper to the barn and that is bare dirt anymore.

I'll let you know what I find with the ticks and sheep. Perhaps we can figure out a way to keep the bugs from winning!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Portals to friendship

I used to scoff at the idea of internet as community. I told our teens that virtual friends were not the same as real people. That was 4 or 5 years ago. Now, much of our human interaction happens over the web. I tend to use it as a communication tool with people I know, but even I have begun to meet people and make friends over the world wide web - and in a place that is not generally seen as a community.

As most of you know, the majority of our income comes from our eBay store. And while we have other venues and income streams, in many ways, eBay is my favorite. The interface is easy and intuitive. It tracks inventory well and organizes sales and shipping. It gives me a job to go to - and it integrates with our financial software.

Not to say that it is easy, mind you, I spend 6-8 hours a day on the computer keeping up with the listings and shipping. My camera gets the majority of its use taking product photos for our eBay store. (The farm gives us a beautiful venue to take those pics :-)

And the days I am at shows, I have to make up those hours spent away from the computer in longer days catching up with items the next week. (Especially this last week with the postal rate changes. I have not seen the farm in the daylight!)

We do lots of shows. This year we will be on the road 28 weeks. Most of our shows are marketing, connection and feedback events. We learn things from what interests the customers at the shows and people get a chance to meet us. Then we go back to the farm and make new products, and the people we visited with go to the web site and order the items that have stayed in their memories. In an interesting turn of the circle, this year, people who met us on the web are starting to come to our shows.

We also have an online storefront with our web site, a store and have had an Etsy store. Most of these are minor in terms of their business value. But lately, with changes eBay is going through, I thought it was time to consider other online venues. I am researching and other types of stores and have discovered that none of them offer the thing I love most about eBay - the chance to interact with customers and get to know people!

Just today, I visited with a triloom customer in Austria about her new loom, helped a lady in Philadelphia with her Spirit Bell, came up with a new weaving kit for a customer in Florida, designed a knitting needle holder for a repeat customer, directed a new weaver to the right weaving book and shipped 17 orders. The interaction with customers is what I love about eBay!

Now it is hard to quantify that in a business plan. And I could maybe spend less time at my computer if I didn't take the time to visit with customers. I could use software that automates most of the e-mail and feedback process on ebay, but I enjoy the creative energy that we share with people who take the time to inquire about us and the things we make. I think it makes our business better and I know it makes my day so much more fun!

So keep those messages and questions coming and know you are brightening my day! And for those of you who don't do eBay because it is impersonal - take the time to question sellers of items you are interested in - you may find a new friend who shares your passions!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wet drops

The sheep don't get out too often, they tend to drift out to the neighbors pasture looking for grass. They are very much grazers. When I am out working at the farm I let them loose for an hour or two. The pic above is the sheeps in the meadow.
The goats on the other hand, rarely get locked up. They are happy to browse right around the barn and help clean out the underbrush that is close to home. They seem to fit better on Foxbriar as it is now.

I've been waiting for a bright sunny morning to take a picture of the bee houses. (And then I was going to photoshop a ribbon on them for Summer!) but it hasn't happened yet. So here is a quick preview pic of the bee hives in their little clearing. They are in the spot where we will eventually like to put our house. The hive door face east and they have a nice wind break from the ridge behind them.
The bees are loving the black berry blossoms. They are out thick right now. blackberries survived the frost and are only a few weeks late. The grape came back, too and is growing new leaves.

They say the Eskimos have 50 some odd words to describe snow - I think our vocabulary should have more words for rain.
Rain covers the basics - drops of water falling from the sky.
But then we have to add all kinds of adjectives - soft, gentle, driving, hard, heavy, cold, warm, blustery... and the list goes on. It would be nice to be able to let people know if it was a good rain or a bad rain with just one word.

Right now it is raining a good rain - soft, gentle warm rain, just the thing for the new baby plants in the garden, perfect for healing the last of the frost damage on the trees and delightful to curl up in a chair with a cuppa tea and read to... so I'm not going to kick myself too hard for not being out digging sheep pasture postholes at the moment. Besides, with the new Postal rate change coming on Monday, I have enough computer work to do to keep me in my chair until then. The rain is nice to walk in, though...

Shawn's current fascination is mushrooms. Oddly enough it is one that I don't really understand or share. Morels are delicious when you find them, and pretty distinctive - but I have no intention of experimenting with eating fungi! We do have lots of them though and are finding new varieties every day. These are probably Inky Caps... maybe.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A different kind of Festival

The weather couldn't have been better for our two days at the Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival. We had the perfect spot, both wind and traffic-wise.
Several people from Spindler's, Spinning and Sheep Thrills lists came out looking for us and we had wonderful, quick visits. I kept getting distracted by other visitors to the booth, so I don't think I finished any conversation! Thanks everyone for coming out and sharing hand spun skeins, blue bird houses and llama cria stories.

This festival was different from the others we attend, teach or vend at. Almost every time we explained what we were doing at Foxbriar - turning forest into farm while trying to work with Mother Nature; building a home, barn and fencing with our own 6 hands and available materials; fighting ticks - the response from people at Baker Creek was - make sure your grass is down before you pull stumps to keep erosion from making a mess of the creek; How long have your logs aged?; get rid of all the underbrush and leaf mould and lime the heck out of the place before the spring rains to help keep the ticks down... in other words - "Been there, done that, best of luck."

The advice, company and connections are impossible to put a value on. And the food was divine. If you ever have a chance to have green beans with cashews and red peppers cooked in a cast iron skillet over an open fire and served on a bed of wild rice - eat up! Dinner was one of the best meals ever.

The festival was very busy and quite crowded on Sunday. There were two stages playing live music, non-stop. We demonstrated spinning and triloom weaving and gave lots lessons to many people. One young woman, Heather, from the Nebraska Sandhills was a very determined learner. She and her husband are raising heritage fruit trees and seven children.

Now, at the beginning of the festival I had told Shawn, "No plants!" We don't have the room in the little garden that we have fenced off from the goats, we don't have time to plant any more and we are leaving for Colorado in two weeks. He reluctantly agreed, though it was hard on both of us. There many, many plant vendors there and they had wonderful rare herbs that I would love to have and fruits and vegis galore....

Shawn was off looking at books from the Back 40 Books booth when Heather came over to ask me if I would like to trade trees for a drop spindle and wool. So, in spite of my edict, we came home with a little Cox's Orange Pippin apple and an American Summer Pearmain apple. They are sitting in the wheel barrow, getting used to our climate and will likely have a temporary home in the little garden this year, moving to the orchard next year. My favorite apple that I have ever grown, and the Holy Grail of my orchard is the Arkansas Black. I grew one when we lived in Canon City and harvested two apples off of it before we moved. They were the best apples I've ever eaten.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So much, so fast, so many

Quick update, as I still have to finish packing and we want a bit of a nap before we leave for the Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival at 2:00 a.m.

As promised, here is Kermit, not quite a day old, looking stunningly handsome. His favorite place is at the breakfast bar and his mum dotes on him.

The beesies are doing great, busily gathering pollen from the blackberries, which are heavy with blooms in spite of the frost that left most of the leaves half brown. The forest is a funny mix of Spring/Fall.

I got the tomatos and Basil from Sage planted, along with the carrots. Most of the garden looks good. The strawberries and the lilacs are amazing! The Vitex bushes that I planted for the bees are taking off and growing fast.

We met another local resident. A gorgeous black snake was mousing next to the sheep pen. She had either recently eaten or was ready to lay eggs. I tried to make her feel welcome and invited her to stay. She was beautiful, and any critter who lives on mice is more than welcome to take up residence on Foxbriar.

Lena got a new puppy. Gaz is a joy, we'll have pics soon. She is a German Shepherd/Black Lab cross, 8-weeks-old, big and so smart. My dogs are having fits - they are so jealous. Don't read them any Garfield cartoons, they'll box Gaz up and send her to Abu Dabi.

There is so much more to tell, but I have to go find the sides to the merchant tent...
We'll let you know how Baker Creek was when we get back on Tuesday.

One quick note - for those of you who know Bruce and Susan, give them a call, and send healing energy, they need our thoughts and prayers now. Bright Blessings, Jen

Friday, May 04, 2007

Kermit - It's not easy be'in born

New born baby llamas are about the strangest looking creatures on the planet. Luckily they get cute really quick. Tomorrow I'll take some pics to show how gorgeous this new guy is!

It's not fair to the little guy to post his new born baby pictures, He was about 10-15 minutes old in this one. At this point he is soft and fluffy and he walks very well and looks quite elegant - but -

Meet Kermit!

He was born this afternoon about 1:30. He is the first cria born on Foxbriar Farm.
Of course, his mommy, Rosemary is taking excellent care of him. His older brother, Muppet, is jealous and his older sister, Pequena, is curious.
The sheep all had to come up and greet the new little guy. Like his brother, he is black and white, too much Jacob sheep influence?
Lots of other new stuff, but it's midnight and I think I hear my coach turning into a pumkin!