Monday, December 31, 2007

We iz whut we iz

I spent several hours over the last two days corresponding with a person who wanted to know exactly what she (I think?) was getting with one of Shawn's hand carved Laffing Horse crochet hooks. I could sense from the tone of her written messages that she was frustrated.

I took pictures, (these and then they wouldn't e-mail!) but you can only tell so much from pictures. This hook is one of Shawn's Laffing Horse crochet hooks. Shawn's are beautiful to look at and feel wonderful. They also work well, because I test each one. But each hook is a natural wood, hand carved individual. So, I tried with words to describe the hook.

At the end of all this correspondence, I think we were both feeling somewhat put-out and she still didn't have a crochet hook. I think Lena's analogy was best - Even in catalogs that specialize in handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items, like Deva Lifewear - they show a picture of ONE of those items. The others will be similar, but they are all made by hand. You order on faith, or you go to a craft show or local store and buy something you can touch.

I can understand the frustration of shopping. A friend and I ventured into the metropolis of Little Rock this week. It is a big, beautiful, modern city. I was pleasantly surprised. We found the East Indian grocery store and got rice and tea and curry. We found the craft store I needed. And then we went shopping. Horrors! Neither one of us shop, so it was definitely the blind leading the blind. She wanted a cotton cardigan with pockets, I wanted a yarn basket. As many stores as either of us could tolerate (I think it was 4) she settled for the right weight cotton cardigan in a sort of ok color and without pockets. I still don't have a basket.

Online shopping is a bit better - but still frustrating. You are in your own house and can drink your own coffee. You can be comfortable and there aren't other people around. But you can't touch the product, or try it on, or talk to the merchant or see how well it is constructed.

We understand the limits of our online stores Common Threads on ebay, our Google store, and our Auctiva store. We try to work around them by communicating with our customers, working to word our descriptions carefully, keeping an open mind with inquiries and if all else fails, having a fair return policy.

We enjoy what we do. We want to share our love of fiber arts and farming with anyone who is interested. We are passionate about teaching skills.

But when it comes down to it, we are just three people in very rural Arkansas working very hard to make a living by trying to make our world a better place.

We iz whut we iz.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Time off - farm style

Happy Yule everyone!

Yeah, I know, it's a few days late, but what's a few days in the great scheme of things.
It was a happy Yule here at the Spring House, with good friends - wreath making, story sharing, cookie eating, yule fire burning, critter ornament creating, rug weaving, mead brewing and all the trappings of a Laffing Horse Yule - minus all the denizens of Laffing Horse. I sure miss all you guys and wish we could fold that thousand miles between us.

This past week seems to have been a repetition of that lesson I've been having trouble getting, over and over again.

"Slow down, things will go faster."

"Relax, you'll get more done."

The fire is a good example.
A wood stove in the living room is our only heat for the whole 8 room house. Very cost efficient, wood is easily available here. Dead standing trees are everywhere and downed ones litter the forest floor.

It's been frosty the last few days. Cold enough to need a fire through the night. (Grin! Just the last few days! That is a big part of why we moved here - it's warm !). So we've kept the stove stoked through the night, but in the morning it needs to be built back up to warm the house before everyone else gets up.

The temptation is to put all the paper, kindling and logs in the stove - shut the door and go make coffee. That's what I did yesterday morning - and came back from making coffee to a still cold, smoky stove. An hour later, after blowing on coals, re-arranging wood and smoking up the house, I still did not have fire and was very frustrated.

This morning, I added one log and a handful of paper. Then I spent 10 minutes carefully feeding one stick of kindling at a time into the stove, waiting for it to catch and then adding another. After 10 minutes, I had a nice little fire going. I added another log, then went and made coffee.
In 15 minutes (a quarter of the time it took yesterday when I was in a hurry and wanted to do it fast), I had a nice little fire starting to heat up the house.

Our day off was another good example.
Sunday, Shawn and I admitted to each other that we didn't really want to do anything. So we decided to take a day off. And we began to putter around together. The together thing was really nice, we've spent far too much time working on our separate parts of the farm and business lately. After a day of relaxing fun, we had the whole sheep pen fenced!
This was one of those overwhelming jobs that had been looming on the To-Do list for a few weeks. It was a mondo job that no one wanted to tackle. Yet, by changing our focus and just playing with it and doing it together, it just got done.
But I didn't cross it off the To-Do list until Monday, because Sunday, we were taking the day off.

One of our customers e-mailed that she was using her time off this Christmas to learn how to use her triangle loom. And I have a good friend who is taking this time off to make some felt boots.
Time off, time to slow down, time to relax is important. It gives you a chance to stretch different muscles, to reroute your brain and to let those lessons sink in!

And now - It's Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Oh, Glory!

It has been foggy and rainy here for going on two weeks now. It is glorious! The mist and fog have an ethereal quality, making sound and smells more intense and mysterious.
Last night, it rained all night long.
When we woke up, there was a waterfall outside the bedroom window. Scraps barked at it viciously, but it did not run away.

The road up the mountain was running fast,

And the bridge is somewhere under there.

Our wee pond has had a growth spurt.

Wonderful, wonderful water - all over the place!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Making sense (or scents)

I have fallen in love with working in the green house.
Open the door and draw a deep breath of green moist air!
It is the best place to be in the winter. The air is soft, silky, warm and damp. The smells are earthy and green. The light is gently energizing. And the people I work with there, Tina, Kathleen and all the wonderful "Herbies" are the best.

And along with my enjoyment of the greenhouse has come an infatuation with Pelargoniums.
Pelargoniums are scented geraniums. They are edible, come in hundreds of varieties, were oh, so very popular with the Victorian ladies and originate in South Africa.

The Folk Center is known for its varieties and they are what I have been working with in the greenhouse - taking cuttings, repotting parent plants, growing up the babies. They smell wonderful, mostly rosy, a bit citrusy, sort of fruity. As I pinch back the plants to get them to branch and grow pretty, I taste each variety. Currently, Lady Plymouth is my favorite.

Shawn asked me why my sudden passion for pelargoniums? And that gets me into a whole thought process of why do we like something... why does something catch our attention... why does something become a passion?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Scent mapping

Last night, as we were walking down the road looking for a missing llama in the foggy dark, a spicy, crisp earthy smell caught my nose. I sniffed deep and wondered.

We turned on the road toward the wood shop in the dripping darkness. A smell of dark rich soil hung in the air. I turned off my flashlight and let my feet feel out the stones of the road while my nose sampled the pockets of foggy air that we drifted through. Subtle changes of earth, water and plants made for incredibly different smells as we walked slowly down the road.

I listened and sniffed. Quigley walked quietly with me, doing the same. We stopped where the road forks in the big meadow, earthy, grassy smells. As we got closer to the river, its scent was as distinctive as the sound.

I turned the flashlight back on and decided that there was no way we were going to find a llama that didn't want to be found in 1,600 acres of foggy, drippy, dark wildness.

We walked back to the house, listening to the occasional soggy leaf dropping from a tree and the fading sounds of the river. The fog seemed to hold the air still, keep the sounds and smells close to their origin. The garden still smelled spicy sweet as we walked by and the crossroads in front of the house smelled like dust, even though it is soggy.

The llama came strolling down the road this morning, bringing his unique, exotic llama smell with him.

Friday, December 07, 2007

New views

I did it - I actually spent all day Wednesday down in Meadowcreek valley (thanks to Lena who went up the mountain to do the shipping and take care of the critters on Foxbriar).

Life didn't change, drums didn't roll - but maybe it is a start of trying to get out of the whirlpool and flowing in a direction.

We had planned on keeping the store in Fox as a storefront, fiber arts store, shipping drop off and my weaving workshop, but are now debating the sense of that idea. It is one more direction, thing to do, bill to pay and space to be responsible for....

Shawn has arranged to set up one of the dorms in Meadowcreek as an artists' workshop. He is starting to move his woodworking into two of the ground floor rooms.

This is an unauthorized "before" photo of his new workshop :-)

Tom and Sage Holland are setting up a bead making workshop in the common room and I hear there are a few other people looking at rooms. I found a room that I think will work as a weaving workshop, behind door #3. It has interesting lighting because of the window set up, it is open to the loft room in the front, and has a walk out door to a porch. These are views of the deck and the view from the deck off the room.

I still have no plans beyond heading up to the Post Office at the top of the mountain by 2:00 today with orders to ship. So... it will be interesting to see what develops.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Sky is Falling

In true workaholic fashion, when the going gets tough, I go to work. When life gets scary, I work harder. And when I get exhausted, I collapse and deal with life. Hmm, maybe someday I'll learn not to run around that circle. (Doubt it!)

There is always so much work to be done and there are always people who need help with their work. I am a social being, I love to feel needed and I love the feeling of working with someone on a project. And, when I am helping other people with their important projects, I can forget my own messes.

But, I realized this week that I really needed to quit running around like a chicken with my head cut off and stay home and go back to work - the real work of taking good care of our animals, communicating with friends and customers and getting our business and living space organized.

I had been using my job to avoid doing all that. It has been a rough year and I have not taken the time to deal with much of anything other than the day to day fires. Watching Shawn and Lena settle into the routine of Meadowcreek and seeing their creativity and productivity increase made me realize the circles I was running in.

Maybe the sky is falling, but I'm too tired to keep being the whirlwind that keeps it up. So, I'm going to slow down just a wee bit - today is going to be the very first day since we moved to the Spring house that I have not been out of the valley - and try to catch up in my world. This is the view from our bedroom window, and about the only thing that I am familiar with down here.

If it works, I'll be back to posting more here about life, the sheep and everything in my reality.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Prayers of Thanksgiving

First, the goats love the woods in Meadowcreek.

Sometimes it's really hard to find the words to express a concept. There are lots of different ways of saying the same thing. If you take the time to look at the meaning behind the words, then communication opens up.
I believe that you can do anything you want enough to work hard on and focus on. I also believe that focus is an important way to move energy. I think it more for small things, but I suppose it works on a larger scale.

I was working with a friend in the garden last week and she queried, "I wonder if we are making global warming worse by focusing on the problem? With all those people putting thought into the problem of global warming, are they giving it energy to manifest?"
When I find myself focusing on a problem, I have learned to change my perspective to put energy and focus into the solution. As for global warming - I don't know how to get everybody on the planet focusing on solutions. If we could, I do believe we would accomplish a lot by just changing the mental energy of the planet.

First frost here at Meadowcreek, the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 7.

But for now, I just take it my small view at a time.

Yesterday, for instance...
We moved the goats down to Meadowcreek. My entire goat herd is down to just 11 goats. They are top quality animals, excellent producers, the product of years of selective breeding. And I love each one of them for the wonderful being that they are.
We have been blessed at Foxbriar with safety for most of our animals. Thanks be. I don't begrudge the occasional chicken that a predator can't resist. We lived in harmony with the coyotes, foxes and raccoons at Foxbriar - even though our neighbors lost livestock to predation. But we did live right there with them, sleeping outside in a camper not 20 feet from the barn. Now I am moving to a house, with the benefits - and the drawbacks. The house is only about 100 feet from the barn, but houses are more enclosed, harder to get out of and more sound proof.

I spent Saturday at a sheep and goat seminar at Heifer Ranch. I learned many important things. Check the Foxbriar website soon for those updates. But I heard so many stories of people losing their lambs and kids and adult goats to predators. One man told of shooting 17 coyotes, 3 lynx, using guard llamas and donkeys and still losing lambs.

So, I was terrified at the though of moving my precious flock down into the valley. I fretted, worried and worked myself into a state. Then I realized what I was doing. I was focusing on what I feared. I was putting energy into the negative.

I changed my focus and began to pray. "Keep my girls safe." "Please keep my goats safe from harm."
I envisioned the safe space, soft yellow light and pushed it out around the barn. With every breath I asked the Divine for protection for my little flock.
I had left the light on in the barn after checking on the goats at sunset. When we went out to milk about 7:30, they were obviously upset by the light. So when I was done milking, I put my trust in the Divine and let Shawn turn off the light.
The house was so noisy, with the fan, and the fire and the refrigerator. I propped open the kitchen window and turned my hearing that direction while I tried to focus on crocheting an order I have to fill. I've gotten used to sleeping outside, so the house felt confining. But I am trying to become civilized again, and I didn't want to upset the goats with my fretting, so I sat on the couch and breathed my prayers for the safety of my goat herd.

I woke up frequently last night and went to listen at the kitchen window. All was peaceful outside. The night birds and insects kept up their gentle cadence. About 3:30, one of the goats hollered and I ran to the door.
I opened it and listened. No more goat noises. The birds and the bugs chirped on.

I got the book I am currently reading out of the bedroom and curled up on the couch to read. Good science fiction, giving up on the illusion of sleeping and send my brain off to play on another planet. There are some really nice perks to having a house.

At daylight, Lena came out and peered through the kitchen window. "Well, they all look happy," she said.
And my heart sang prayers of thanksgiving!

Monday, November 05, 2007

The long road home

When we decide to move to Fox, my brother Scott looked at a map and said, "I didn't think you could get any more rural than you already were, but you did."

Well, now we've even gone better than Fox. Or worse, depending on how you look at it. I had stopped thinking of Fox as rural. After all, our farm is a mile away from our store and the store is right across from the Post Office and the city park. Heck, we even have trash pick up at the store.

A recent visit from my parents and a glimpse of our area through their eyes did remind me that we are pretty far off the beaten path.

But now, at least for the winter and maybe... who knows?

At the bottom of a very long (three-and-a-half miles, 20 minutes by truck), steep, rough, winding, narrow road is the glistening valley of Meadowcreek. We first looked at it in May and after my first trip down the road, I swore I would never drive it again. It took my two days to get my stomach straightened back out. That'll teach me to swear!

We are moving into the Spring House at Meadowcreek. The valley is a land trust with a varied and fascinating history. The directors of the Trust hope to establish an artist colony/sustainable agriculture/teaching facility.

There is already a small community in and around Meadowcreek. Lots of fascinating people with a variety of very interesting arts and farming. I am excited about getting to know everyone and spending time learning about the land and the people.

We are going to start with working on restoring the Spring House. It is the original homestead and has seen almost a century of wear. It has been loved and neglected and cared for by many people over the years. It is a unique house and an interesting challenge. I'll share more pictures and ask for your ideas as we settle in and start fixing.

In spite of the challenges of the road and other difficulties (there is no mail delivery in Meadowcreek, there aren't even addresses on the houses, UPS won't go down that road at all, the electricity is intermittent...) I think there is no more beautiful place on this planet. I am honored to be able to be a part of the dream that is Meadowcreek and hope that I can become a good steward of the land and a productive member of the community.

The gift of a rose from Meadowcreek, grown by nature for all of us this very morning. Happy November!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Making beds

Fall has finally crept into the Ozarks. The trees are reluctantly donning their bright season colors. The mornings are now wool sweater chilly. The evening icy tip of my nose lets me know that frost is imminent.
I have been enjoying using herbs from the garden at the Ozark Folk Center in my cooking there at the Country Kitchen. The many flowers and plants that line the walkways are marked with informational labels so I have been able to learn while I bustle from one craft house to another. I've loved the gardens from a distance, but until today, I really hadn't had a chance to play in them. But now the craft grounds are closed for the season - and I have a few extra minutes... until I fill them :-).
I told Miss Tina Marie that I would love to help her and Kathleen in the heritage herb garden this winter, if they needed a hand. She didn't let me forget my offer. Today I got to help prepare the new beds for next year.

Tina Marie Wilcox and Kathleen adding amendments to the beds for next year's garlic in the Heritage herb garden at the Ozark Folk Center.

Kathleen digging and weeding the new garlic beds.

You can catch Tina Marie's weekly column, Yarb Tales in the Ozark Folk Center Newsletter.
It is full of all kinds of wonderful information about herbs and Ozark life.

I learned so much today. When I have a chance to process it - I'll pass it on! One of the more interesting things to me was the use of alfalfa pellets as an instant green manure and amendment to the new beds. Tina told me that it provides an instant boost to the young plants.

And on the Foxbriar Farm homefront - we have bunnies again. Shawn brought home 3 french and 2 satin angora bunnies from the Bella Vista show. I have so missed having the little warm fuzzies. Thanks to Lena and my parent's hard work, the buns have a nice rabbitry in the the barn.
Pequena was having a bit of species confusion, so we had to build a fence to keep her out of the rabbitry. Even though she has the big ears and soft brown eyes, she is a llama, not a bunny!

'Til next time - have a bright and shiny day!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fall colors

All of a sudden, it started getting cold at night. One night, a bed sheet was too hot to sleep under, the next, we needed the down quilt. I had to break out my woolies for my feet this evening. It's been 46 degrees and dark the last few mornings when I started chores.

So, I expect the trees to start changing into their fall dress colors any day now. But they haven't, yet. We are headed to Bella Vista craft show in north western Arkansas next week and I would love to see the hills in all their glory. But they haven't even started changing colors, yet.

Lena has been dyeing wool and mohair for us to sell at Bella Vista. The colors she is getting are fantastic. She just pulled the latest roving out of the roaster - and - suddenly, as she hung the hanks of roving out to dry - I had my fall colors!

Have a fantastic fall weekend everyone!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Blurring the lines

My days of late have been spent in the past - the 1890's Ozarks. I have been cooking a variety of delights on my new favorite toy - a 1931 Kalamazoo wood cookstove at the Ozark Folk Center. She is just about the sweetest thing for cooking since maple syrup.

Just this week I've experimented (very sucessfully!) with peach cobbler made with fresh peaches, scottish shortbread, apple and oatmeal cookies, venison pies, cranberries cookies, chicken vegi stew thickened with cornmeal and butternut squash pies. I am having Fun!

It has left me with little time to record all the wonderful stories and ideas that have filled my days. I hope I can remember enough of them to write them down when I have a bit of time...
And it makes me even more aware of how different our life is from most people's though. My answers to the many questions I get each day are a good illustration of this.

The most common question is -
"Aren't you glad you don't have to cook this way at home?"
Um... actually, when I have a home again - I want a wood cookstove just like the one at the Folk Center. And, right now, that is the best cooking facility I have. Depending on how crowded it is, I answer that question with a negative and explain the details as well as I can.

"How long did it take you to learn this?"
Well... Thanks to my parents, I've been cooking all my life and we did enough camping that cooking with fire makes sense to me. It really is no different than modern cooking. Really. I rarely use recipes, but today I decided to look up a recipe for pumpkin pie in our 1915 Golden Rule Cookbook and adapt it to the butternut squash pie I was making. I was stunned when the recipe's first ingredient was "1 can pureed pumpkin". Obviously this was a townie cookbook! Pumpkins store just fine in the pantry without putting them in cans!

I gave up on recipes and made very good butternut squash pie. I had lots and lots of compliments on it and one question that kind of stumped me. One lady, after tasting it, said, "You didn't make the crust, too, did you?"
Umm... If I didn't make it, where did it come from? Is there a pie crust tree in the herb garden that I don't know about?

Sometimes I don't even realize my answers come from a different reality than the question.

"Why don't you churn your own butter here?" asked a young woman.
I answered honestly, "I don't because I have goats and you can't get cream from goat's milk without a cream separator. So I just have to make-do with store bought butter."
I thought a minute and then I added, "But I do have a neighbor who has a cow. Maybe I could ask Dave for some cream."
The young woman seemed to think I was doing a fine job of staying in character...
Tomorrow I'll see if I can pick up that cream on my way down the mountain.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ram lambs

CJ, above and below, is the oldest of the ram lambs and a very gentle gentleman. Because he was born before the other lambs, he is more attached to humans. He has 2 beautiful wide swept strong horns and his mother's long, soft fleece.

These are the rest of the ram lambs who need to find new homes. I've had several people ask me why we are selling them so cheap.

There are several reasons-
1. None of these little guys are ones that I would choose for
breeding rams, though they are all good, solid, healthy sheep.

2. They are still rams. I like to wait until
after fly season is over to wether them.
I recommend wethering all these boys.

3. They are younger than I like to wean them. We bred late
this year because we moved from Colorado to Arkansas
and I did not want to move the sheep while they were
heavily pregnant. So, these boys are already
starting to think boy thoughts, even though they are
only four-months-old. They need to be away from their
mamas and sisters. They are eating well, but will need
a little extra care because they are young.

4. We live way out of the way for most people and I
know what gas will cost to come pick them up!

5. I would like them to go to fiber wether/pet homes.
Kinda silly, but I get attached.

Two other questions I've had - why don't we wether when they are younger?
It is hard to tell who will be ram quality when they are a few days old.
We have found it to work better for us to wether a month or two after weaning.
That is usually in the month of October.

Why don't we dock tails?
Jacob sheep have a light, open wool. They also have medium length tails.
Their tails are a large part of how they express themselves and they seem
to play a part in their balance. In 4 years of leaving tails on, we have not
had any problems with fly strike or bad dung tags. It works for us and I
believe it is healthier for our sheep. I have had judges ask about it in the
show ring, and have had them place our sheep as champions after I give them this
So, that explained - here are the rest of the boys. Their information is below their photo.Cowslip's son is a big, strong 2-horned lamb and looks like he will have her open, extra long fleece. Her fleece has won at shows and makes wonderful yarn.

Poppy's light colored boy may be polled. He is Homer's son and so is half-jacob and half-CVM. His fleece should be wonderful. He is a big lamb with Poppy's gentle curiosity.

Every year we have one "Spot-nosed Boy". This year it is Marj's two-horned son. He is a compact, muscular little guy with nice markings.

Poppy's dark boy is the other CVM X Jacob with the tight, fine fleece. He may also be polled and is a big boy.
Breke's boy is little and cute like his mum. He is a three-horn. Breke is a yearling, so he is small. She had one of the three top fleeces we sheared this year.

If you have any questions about these boys, please send an email or leave a comment.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ram lambs

Every year about half our lambs are boys. We usually keep a herdsire 2 or 3 years and we usually bring in herdsires from outside bloodlines to improve the flock. So, every year we have ram lambs for sale.
These are some of the little boys we have for sale this year. We are hoping to find fiber wether/pet homes for them. Contact me if you are interested.
I have pictures of a few of them here, and will list more tomorrow. They are just about weaning age right now and with a little extra care could go to their new homes in the next week or two. Beetlejuice is the dad of all these boys.

Above and below - Thyme's littlest boy. He has a nice fleece and is a cute little guy. He has a white nose.


Above and below: Thyme's bigger boy is a more typey Jacob and a bigger, stronger lamb. Both her boys have her outstanding fleece. The picture below shows his horn set. I think his horns will be nice, though maybe not as big as some other rams.

Above: Marjoram's 4-horned boy broke one of his top horns. He is a very structurally correct boy and he is line bred Marjoram. I love her fleece and Beetle's sire, Dogwood, is Marj's son. He should have a stunning fleece.

Above: Pennyroyal's little boy is a 2-horned with very correct markings. His black is quite black. He is one of triplets. Penny has triplets every year, even in years when she wasn't supposed to be bred - like this one!

I'll get pictures of the rest that are for sale and post them tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bogged down

Its been raining here the last two weeks - a blessed cooling rain that soaks down into the parched earth. The flowers have popped up out of no where and the grass is standing tall again.

The little creek is very little, but it has water flowing in it again. Two weeks ago, even the bog was getting a little crispy.

I like the bog on Foxbriar. It is down in a valley between two creeks. The vegetation is different there and it is always a bit cooler. It stays a little dark in the bog, even in the winter. That is where we want to put the shitake mushroom logs this winter and grow blueberries on the edge. bogs in nature are beautiful and fascinating.

Bogs in your emotional and physical life are not so much fun. I realized today that I have gotten bogged down. I have some tough deadlines looming, a massive pile of paper work (literally - the stack is about 6' by 4' by 2' next to my desk) to plow through, a huge order of Spirit Bells, at least 7 baskets of yarn sitting to be turned into shawls that I know will sell, the shop really needs a good cleaning again and there are some very important projects to get done on the farm before winter.

And I can't seem to get my feet out of the mud to work on any of them. Not that I'm not working. I am getting the ebay store stocked and ready for the Christmas season. I am putting together some marketing that looks like it is working well already to boost sales. And I am fixing the Ashford listings to reflect the price increase that goes into effect tomorrow. It's easy to avoid the things you have to do, when you can console yourself that you are really working.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I think life is all about learning and lessons. For every situation I find myself in, I ask, "What am I supposed to learn here?"

I don't think of myself as an "experience junkie," but I do try to push my boundaries. That was a physical thing when I was younger - I went rock climbing even though I have a gut-wrenching fear of heights. I galloped race horses for a living for a while, even though speed terrifies me. And I took a meats class in college, even though I respect all life and find it physically painful to kill an animal.

I learned many things about myself and the world from those parts of my life. I'm sure I'll share them when I am older and have more time to reflect. Now I tend to spend more time pushing mental boundaries and trying to make myself learn things that I am resistant to. Anybody have suggestions for making book keeping easier?

Sometimes the lessons are simple.

In my new position as a craft interpreter I am demonstrating old-fashioned soap making, cooking on a wood stove and driving a mule. I spend the day explaining what I am doing as I do it, why it was important to the hill people of the Ozarks in the 1890's and listening to people's memories.

I've had to learn to adapt many of my usual techniques to doing it the old fashioned way.
Now I am a big (almost 6-foot), strong woman. I make soap at home in stainless steel 5-gallon pots and only recently realized they might be heavy (about 60 pounds when full of soap). I cook with an 18-inch cast iron frypan and pick it up to scoop eggs on to our breakfast plates.

So, when I made my first batch of old-fashioned soap in the giant cast iron cauldron over the open fire, I tried to figure out how to pick up the kettle to pour the soap into the mold.
Now, the cauldron weighs about 70 lbs and it had 8 lbs of soap in it.

Not only that, it was steaming over an open fire. Bit of a reality gap there.

But the soap needed to go into the wood mold over on the table... Matie Bell came to my rescue with her handy ladle and scooped the soap into the mold. I don't think she even realized I was confuzzled.

The next day, I was heating water in a big cast iron pot on the wood stove to wash dishes. How to get the water to the sink? I knew how heavy the pot was - I had put it on top of the stove. And now it was steaming.

Gabby lifted the ladle from its hook on the side of the cast iron stove and began scooping water into the dish pan. Oh!

But it still didn't sink in until last night. I was trying to figure out how to pour the whey off of the new batch of cheese that I had just made in our giant family-sized rectangular electric skillet (cravings are the mother of adaptation!) and I was having a heck of a time lifting the skillet in such a way that the contents would pour into the mold that I had put in the sink.

Suddenly - ok, no, Finally! - the lesson hit home. I set the fry pan down on the counter, laughed loudly and heartily at myself and got the ladle out of the drawer.

The cheese scooped happily out of the whey in the pan and plopped soundly into the mold. I laughed the whole time.

What if my whole purpose in working at the Folk Center was to teach me to use a ladle!?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bridging the generations

I just spent the week working as a craft interpreter in an 1890's village. It's a much closer era than what I usually portray, so there were many people with memories of grandma and grandpa and how they lived. The 1890's are only 120 years distant, so people in their 80's right now still touch that era in their memories of their elders.

And I heard the most wonderful stories - expansions and elaborations of the published facts that I had to rely on from my study of the area and era. As I began to fit more into my role as an interpreter I realized that it was my job to act as a bridge. I needed to collect these stories and elaborations of life before electricity, motor cars and telephones - and bring that knowledge forward to the people of this age where water comes from pipes at the turn of a faucet and information floods our lives.

Much of what I heard filled in the gaps in the written knowledge and made what I knew seem workable. I knew that hogs were a very important staple of life here in the Ozarks and that butchering is done in the Fall, after it cools down. I knew that hogs ran loose and everybody had their own special ear notch to mark their hogs.
But this week I listened as a man reached back in his memory . He told me of being a child and going with the other young people to round up hogs. Everybody from the surrounding area would gather at one farm, he explained, and the kids would go out and beat the bushes and drive the wild hogs toward the farm yard. "There weren't many pigs that could escape us kids," he glowed with pride, even after all these decades.
They would pick about 6 hogs from that farm to butcher, turn the rest back out and everybody would go to work, killing, butchering, cutting meat, rendering lard, making cracklins and packaging it all up. The kids hauled wood and water and were kept busy wrapping meat and doing what ever chores the adults sent them on. He explained they would divide up the meat and after a few days of working and visiting, everyone would head home, with their share of the pork, sausage patties, lard, cracklins for cornbread and what ever else people brought to share.
He said that would last everybody a while. Then, when they started to run out of meat, word would go out and everybody would head to the next farm for another hog round-up.

Another gentleman told me about his grandparent's neighbors, who were too poor to have a summer kitchen outside, so during the summer, they just hauled their wood stove out into the front yard and cooked in the open. I wondered that they were rich enough to have a wood cook stove, but were seen as poor because they didn't build a summer kitchen.

I heard from one woman of her grandparent's challenges moving from the farm into the city of Memphis in the 1960's. One of the first things they did when they moved in was to go out back and dig and build an outhouse. "Grandpa said you eat in the house," she explained, "You don't --- in the house."

There were many other stories. I am going to try to write them all down. Perhaps they will only be quaint bits of history. But those little memories may bridge the knowledge gaps between self-sufficient yesterday and the unknowns of tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gores, ruffles and crocheted evening gowns

I start helping in the craft village at the Ozark Folk Center tomorrow. I'm excited and want to get it all right. So I started researching costuming. It has been fascinating, but I still haven't answered my basic questions -
  1. What type of blouse did the Ozark pioneer women wear?
  2. What material were their buttons made out of?
  3. What colors were available in fabrics?
  4. What fibers were the fabrics made from?
  5. Were the skirts made with gores, straight A-line or ruffles?
  6. How long did they wear their skirts?
  7. What sort of head coverings were worn?
  8. What undergarments were worn under the skirts?
  9. Were embellishments, such as crochet lace collars ever worn?
  10. What were the differences between Sunday best and work clothes?

I have found many wonderful web sites on the Ozarks that I wish had more pictures.

I've taken side visits to other clothing sites. I went off on one tangent and looked at beautiful Irish crocheted laces. Crochet Lace.pdf

But I still can't find my answers. If any of you have ideas, please make a comment, or send me an e-mail... right now, I'm about researched out.
Maybe I'll find out the answers tomorrow, now its off to bed!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This morning, we woke up at 3:45 am. Not to travel to a show, or help a sheep birthing or any one of the other things that usually pulls us out of bed at that hour. We got up to watch the most incredible total eclipse of the moon!

I dragged my big wooden rocking chair out into the clearing by the power pole and settled in to watch. It was cool enough that I was wearing (and needed!) a sweat shirt and long pants. Shawn stood off to the side for a while, then he pulled a bucket over to sit on. The view was stunning.

Now, I couldn't find the tripod for my camera, so posting pictures is really silly, because they all look like this, but here's one anyway. This is after the total coverage and the moon is coming out of the earth's shadow.

It started with the moon crystal clear and brilliant bright. The night was clear, the frogs and bugs were signing and I could hear all the sheep and goats peacefully chewing their cud.

The edge of the earth's shadow drifted like a mist over the top of the moon. Then it took a solid bite out of the top. As the shadow drifted down, the moon's light became redder and redder. The moon grew darker and the stars began to sparkle with full intensity. Orion's belt showed a strip through the pine trees behind us.

As we sat, we talked quietly of hopes, dreams, fears and a few funny puns. After about 15 minutes the goats drifted over to see what we were doing outside at night. Bea rested her head on my knee and Erie claimed my other hand. Yampa stood next to Shawn and accepted his attention. Beth stood close, but doesn't rank high enough in the flock to claim space. When the angoras came up and sniffed my foot Erie BAWLED loudly at them and made it clear that the humans belonged to the dairy goats.

Shawn went back to bed after the moon began to come out of the earth's shadow and the light started returning to white. The goats returned to their night nests in the dirt at the base of the trees and I stayed a wee bit longer, just watching the moon, listening to the night's concert and basking in the utter beauty of it all.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Yesterday, kinda at the last minute, we were invited to a delightful vegetarian potluck. We were very happy at the invitation to meet new people and leaped at the chance to spend some time socializing.

After all our chores were done, we had one hour to shower, dress and put something together from what we had on hand to take to the potluck. One of the mixed joys of living on the top of a mountain in the Ozarks is that it takes us almost an hour to get to any kind of store, so that option was out.

I looked around our little kitchenette and started to create. The dish I ended up putting together turned out delicious. It was quick, easy and somebody asked for the recipe, so here it is.

Foxbriar Fall Potluck Dish

1/2 lb young, tender okra
1/2 lb grape tomatos
1 onion
1 cup water
1 cup instant brown rice
olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
soy sauce

Chop the okra, tomatos and onion into aprox. 1 inch cubes. Stir fry in a big splash of olive oil. Add garlic powder and stir until the vegis are starting to brown. Add water and cover until boiling. Add instant brown rice, stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

(Go shower quickly, not sure if that's part of the recipe, but that was how it went!)

Stir, add a big glug of soy sauce, put in a covered crock and head out to the potluck.

(Now drive at 15 miles an hour over very rough, dusty dirt roads, down a very steep mountain. I'm not sure if the vibrations from that had anything to do with how the dish turned out :-)

By the time we got to the potluck, (30+ minutes) the rice was tender and the dish still warm. The one thing I would have added, if I had it, would have been cubed hard goat's cheese.

We had fun and met lots of really fascinating people. I am looking forward to being a part of many more potlucks!

Saturday, August 25, 2007


So, I'm sitting an my computer, trying to get tech support for our ebay store and getting very frustrated.
The flies in the shop are not terrible, but there are enough of them that I have gotten a heavy duty wire screen fly swatter. I am so itchy from rashes and tick bites that I can't stand having a fly land on me. So, the fly swatter is next to my computer and periodically I flail about, beating at anything that moves like a fly.
After one burst where I managed to smash three of the little buggers, I looked at Shawn and said, "I'm turning into a crazy old lady."

He looks back at me and says, "No honey, you're not TURNING into a crazy old lady."

Now, he swears that's not what he meant to say....

The importance of punctuation.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Road dogs

Quigley (at the water trough), Ani and Scraps watch the humans doing chores and wait to see what's next. Learn more about their adventures in their Dog Blog.

I've always been a dog person. Anyone who's known me for any length of time knew Mr. Duke, my amazing Great Dane, who I started making Mr. Duke's dog biscuits to honor.
I got my first job to bring Smudge, a fluffy little Spitz-cross to the US from Korea.
I bought cars based on whether or not my dog would fit and took jobs based on whether or not my dog (and children!) could come with me.

Over the years there has been Max, Jack, Kodiak and many others. They were my shadows, my friends and my constant companions. When I went to work in the newspaper world, I could not have my dog(s) with me and that connection waned, a bit.

My dogs became farm dogs. Yes, they came in the house, and had to learn some basic doggy manners, but they were attached to the farm, with me as a part of the farm. This January, after more than a year of consideration on the human's part, but rather abruptly for the dogs - their lives changed.

There are three of them right now. Ani is a serious worrier - a white german shepherd-cross male who was dumped at the farm in Colorado about 5 years ago. He wants the animals in their correct pen, the humans to follow routine and things to stay put. Poor Ani.
Quigley (Quigley up over to give his complete name for you movie buffs) is an Aussie cross that we got at the Humane Society as a young adult dog, a little bit before Ani showed up at the farm. He is my shadow and as long as he can see me, world is good.
Scraps is a chihuahua crossed with a pug crossed with a bat crossed with a pot-bellied pig. She is made up of scraps of everything and boss of the world. She found me when I was a rural mail carrier. She was running down the middle of a remote highway. I stopped to get her out of the road. She hopped in the van and has been at my side ever since.

They were happy farm dogs and stayed with the farm and house. Whenever people went anywhere they were happy to see them come home.

Then, the people wanted the dogs to go with them....

I was fascinated to watch how quickly dogs, who had never been in a vehicle, learned the concept and command of "Truck." We learned together what road-food they could eat (Ani is intolerant of any bread products, including his favorite "pizza bones", but loves milk products like ice cream) and where to take them for walks and how best to get them enough water.

And they gave back for our care of and attention to them. I found that I traveled more comfortably if I "have to walk the dogs" every few hours. Otherwise I tend to drive until my body is in pain. I pay more attention to what I am eating and make more healthy food choices when I am sharing it with the dogs. Diet Coke and Cheetos just doesn't cut it for them.

When we are in places where the dogs cannot run free, I walk them for at least half an hour, three times a day. I give them care that I do not offer to myself, but through giving it to the dogs, I benefit.

Several times, as I watched them learn and adapt and change their behaviors, I though "I should be chronicling this."
One sight I will never forget is Ani, quietly watching through the cracks in the wall in the booth at the Colorado Renaissance Festival while two people helped a pirate get up on an elephant in preparation for a parade. I'd really like to hear his thoughts on that!

So, along with the realization that this blog is a chronicle, I started a blog for the dogs. Since they don't type so good and their English is limited, I'll have to interpret and type it for them. Hopefully I'll get it right.

Follow the adventures of Ani, Quigley and Scraps at Road Dog Blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Appreciate You!

There a bits of dialect that become stereotype - "Ya'll" and "Cah" bring instant pictures to mind.
But there are other parts that are more subtle.

In all our visiting and moving and settling into life here in Arkansas, I never noticed the parting phrase, "Appreciate You!" until we came back home from Colorado this summer.

It is interesting for many reasons. I do hear it mostly at the end of business transactions, like at the Post Office. Not matter who says it, it is clearly enunciated - "Appreciate You!" - never " 'preciate yuh." It is always personal. "Appreciate You!" not your business, your help or your money - You.

And it always comes with a smile :-)

Sometimes it comes with more warmth - "We Appreciate You" at the Co-op when I bought wire or "I appreciate You" from Pam who sells us eggs.

I suspect it developed because there are few enough people around here for each one to be special. Many of the towns we drive through on our way to the metropolis of Mountain View (pop 3,786) have thirty-some-odd people. It's easier to tolerate and appreciate individual differences when there aren't too many individuals.

It's also hard to get around up here in the Ozarks. That's a big part of the reason we moved here and we saw it as a plus. But sometimes the reality of roads that mean 15 mph on the curves is a little staggering. When it is that hard to travel - you do appreciate your neighbor, and the person who grows your vegetables and the guy who drives the school bus.

I've started using the phrase myself. Try it - the next time someone does something nice, look them in the eye, smile and say "I appreciate you."

I bet that smile will stay on your face most of the day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Tao of Tools

One of my favorite quotes is from a Terry Pratchett book... I can't remember which one, perhaps Carpe Jugulum, maybe Good Omens.

"If the creator had meant for us to shift rocks by witchcraft, He wouldn't of invented shovels. Knowing when to use a shovel is what being a witch is all about." - Nanny Ogg

There is nothing in the world like finding the right tool for the job, especially if it is a job you do on a daily basis. There is something sensual in using a tool that fits you - just you- just perfect.
A tool that turns a mundane task into a smooth dance is pure joy.

I have several tools that I love, some have been with me for a long time, through many houses and many different lives. Ones that come to the top of my mind are:

1. My milk pail. It is stainless steel, with a handle and sloping sides. It holds about 2 gallons of sweet, foamy, fresh goat's milk. On top of the pail I have a milk filter - a stainless steel bowl with a hole at the bottom. A stainless steel spring holds a disposable milk filter over the hole, so all that goes into the pail is milk - no hair, no bugs, no yuckies. I've had milk goats since 1982. I think I've had my milk pail about that long. I have not seen any where to get the same set up that I have, even searching on the internet. I think this is my favorite possession. I do so love good goat's milk and I cannot drink bad flavored goat's milk. My milk pail makes the difference.

2. My kitchen broom. Made by Tom and Allie Shadowens back when my two twenty something kids were tow-headed cuties. I have lots of brooms. I have had many more. This one works. It gets the floor clean. What a concept! And the handle is shaped just right for me. It is my broom, the relationship is good.

3. My camera. I've only had it about 5 years. When my grandfather passed on, he left me a bit of money. I bought a lap top computer and my wonderous, incredible, fantastic Minolta DiMage 7I. It has taken pictures on trail rides and fashion shows. It has shot photos in the rain and it took some of the most incredible drought dust-storm photos I've ever seen. This camera has been my constant companion and it has never given me any trouble - talk about a great relationship. Thanks Boppa!

4. My crochet basket. I do have to replace these every once in a while. They have to be perfect and I spend a long time finding the right one each time. This current one is several years old, and still in great shape.
I started making Spirit Bells in 1987. Since then I have crocheted thousands. My crochet basket travels with me everywhere. It is full of crochet hooks, bells, metallic thread, cotton thread, my good rings, a turquoise necklace, a clip on bracelet, finger nail clippers, felting needles, some pottery buttons, a book light, a gas card, some loose change, a stuffed snake that a dear friend gave me a dozen or so years ago and my favorite scissors are tied to the handle.

There are other tools that I am fond of - these are just what came to mind. They are woven into the daily strands of my life so firmly that they are almost a part of me.

Have you hugged your favorite tools today?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Comings and goings

Yesterday we traveled almost to St. Louis, Mo. to get the new buck for our angora goat flock. I think we'll name him Cappucino.

And yes, his fleece is as divine as it looks. It was hard to keep from petting him all the way home!

He came from Herbal Maid Fiber Farm and has generations of solid, beautifully fleeced, colored angora genetics behind him. I am already telling the girls that they all better have beautiful chocolate twins next spring. Of course, they think he's a little kid and beneath their notice right now, but once it cools down, I think they'll be happy to look at him as a boy.

Because it has been so hot, I thought he needed the benefit of air conditioning for the 7 hour trip home. Kathy, his breeder, showed me a trick that worked great. We just duct-taped a disposable diaper around his belly and over the leaky bits. The goat rode comfortably and the truck stayed clean (well, as clean as usual) and dry.

I've always believed, or at least since the early 1980's when I studied this stuff, that the buck/ram/stud is half of your herd. You can breed up a mediocre flock by bringing in top genetics through the male. You can make a good flock better by using a sire that strengthens the weak points.

So to follow through with this concept, we bring in one new sire each year. We raise three types of animals, jacob sheep, colored angora goats and lamancha diary goats. This year, we added Cappucino, next year, we'll be looking for a good, 4-horned jacob ram and the year after that, a new lamancha buck.

Part of being a breeder, especially with a rare breed like the jacob sheep, is helping other people get started in the animals you cherish. I'd like to congratulate Mona Sloop on her purchase of a good starter flock of our jacob ewes and lambs this week. I wish her daughter, Lake, best of luck showing LHF Alice in the breeding sheep show at the county fair. I'm sure she'll do great. Alice loves to show off and I think she still remembers her Reserve Grand Champion win at the 2006 National Western Stock Show in Denver. I'll let you know how they do.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sitting at the kid's table

Checking on the hives at Foxbriar.

We went to our first bee keeper's meeting tonight. We joined the Ozark Foothills Beekeepers Association.

I was amazed at how many people were there. The community center in Damascus was full and my mentor, Lynn and I had to find chairs to have a place to sit. We pulled them into the corner, where several people were visiting and one woman had pretty seed catalogs on the table.

There were several couples in the room. The long tables were mostly filled with distinguished- looking gentlemen. As people talked about trouble with hive beetles and a new spray that is being used on blossoms and kills bees, I looked around the room.

Everyone in the room was fit-looking, and healthy. And, our corner table had the only heads in the room that were not gray. In fact, I started feeling like I was at a community social and sitting at the kid's table.

We were mostly being good kids - we were listening as our elders talked about sugar dusting the bees for mites and how the bees just aren't capping their honey this year. We didn't sneak too many peeks at the pretty flower catalogs and we only had to be told to "either speak up and share or pipe down" once.

Tom Theobald, a columnist who I have read for years and whose work I admire, is also a beekeeper. He owns Niwot Honey Farm in Colorado. He wrote, (many years ago, so if I mis-remember this my apologies to Tom) that one of the biggest threats to the honey bee was that the beekeepers are dying out - and no one is replacing them.

Well, tonight Shawn and I took our seats at the kid's table. Hopefully we'll be able to listen and learn and follow in the footsteps of the wonderful community of beekeepers here in the Ozarks.

The beesies are busy and they have so much for us to learn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


It's cooking!

This is not a complaint - I am finally warm! Really, really warm. Is it ok for your computer if you drip sweat on the keyboard?

And think about it, the great majority of the world does not have air conditioning and humanity has advanced just fine without it.

But my brain is so boiled I don't remember how we thought we were going to live comfortably in Arkansas without air conditioning. We are doing it - but I wouldn't call it comfortable.
People are saying this is an extreme heat wave and it should break next week.

The critters seem to be dealing ok. That is the important thing. They stay low energy during the day.

The sheep have a fan, (look up at the barn roof) but the llamas have taken it over. The sheep spend a lot of the day laying under the trees, resting near the water trough.

The chickens don't seem to feel the heat. They are busy scratching and strutting and catching bugs. I wish I had their energy.

We have adapted. We try to get most of our outside work done between 6:00 and 9:00 am. Then we work in the workshop (though it is not really any cooler!) until 7:00 p.m. Then we are back out at the farm until dark. It seem the majority of our work is getting done between about 9:00 pm and 1:00 am, when it cools down enough to be able to think. And by then, it is cool enough to sleep.
But I'm not complaining.
Now, when it gets cold - I will complain!