Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Solstice and beyond

June 21, last Tuesday, was the summer solstice. Which in more recent years, has always been one of my favorite days of the year, although I'm not even sure why. I think it has something to do with my ties to the land, and the affinity to light and the season of productivity and the abundance of green. And this year, it was a Birth day.

I finished painting the nursery and installing the accompaniments on Monday.

And on Tuesday, the Solstice, little Harper Christena McClure joined the clan, rounding out the extended family to one child each for each of our kids. The table will be just a bit more crowded, but there will always be room. Grandma even has enough high chairs!

We have now marked 2 farmers markets for the season, and are off to a good start. This week we nearly sold out, although the amount was still small, but we had the first cucumbers, and they were the first to go. There are promises of a better selection each week.

We even had some interesting customers. A couple from India, who had to ask about some of the vegetables they were not familiar with. The rhubarb proved a bit hard to explain. They were excited to learn about the market, and enthusiastic about the fresh batch of strawberry jam. I predict they will be back next week.

It's been an unusual summer again this year. Temperature has been up and down to the extremes. Rainfall abundant, but welcome here. (Not so much 40 miles east on the Missouri river, where levees continue to breach, and the farmland is covered) The garden seems almost confused, growing in spurts and then stalling during the cool spells. But overall it is doing well, and there will soon be beans and zucchini to supplement the supper and market tables.

The late lambs have been weaned. Their mothers were dressed when they were sorted off, and presented a seasonal dilemma - we ran out of suits! So a head count was made, sizes estimated, and an order sent off for more. We resisted this far, but finally have given in to the fact that they will just have to be 'changed' sometime in the fall. We're getting smaller ones for the summer. They just walk out of them if their suits are too big, and the temporary alterations we tried last year just didn't work. Sorry Don. (He has to put their feet in, while I hold their heads.)

And the event of the weekend - we had our own private (and unwelcome) 'Trailing of the sheep here last night.

It started off well enough. We had a lovely simple supper of chicken tenders sauteed with new red potatoes and snow peas. After the news, Don headed out to get the sheep in, and put up a temporary fence to divide the pasture. I finished up some business (about sheep suits), and suddenly had that 'sheepy' feeling - that something wasn't right. I went to the front door to see a trail of sheep galloping down the road - headed north.

I headed out down the steps, calling for Don, who was no where in sight. I checked, but didn't see him in the pasture. I called again, getting concerned, as I thought I heard a distant answer over the bellowing sheep. He and the dog were on the road, just out of sight behind the windbreak. I trotted down the driveway, trying to assess what was happening, and to determine if the bark of orders I heard in the distance were for Dolly or me. I finally made them out to be "Bring the truck!". I'm not sure what the neighbors heard.

I turned around and trotted back for the truck, impressing myself that I didn't struggle much with the stick shift feature. As I approached the road, about half the flock passed the driveway, headed south, with Don and Dolly close behind, all of them panting heavily in the heavy humid air. Don jumped into the drivers seat, and I called for Dolly, who by now believed she was in deep trouble, and headed sheepishly to the yard. Luckily, the group didn't go far, and soon were headed back to the yard, where Dolly now lay at her post at the gate. Don and I headed north on an empty road.

They hadn't quite made it to the stop sign, not that we believe they can read. They were split in the ditches. We passed them without incident, and Don jumped out, and they politely turned and headed for home. He followed on the outskirts, and I was glad it was him who was slipping, half running through the waist high corn. Once back up on the road, they slowed, and Don gratefully joined me back in the truck. Panting heavily, they had slowed to a walk by the time they reached the lane, and seemed almost glad to turn in.

Once all safely corralled, Dolly, Don and I stood dripping at the hydrant to catch our breath. When all were breathing normally, I dared ask, 'What happened there?'

'Jumper' was out. He had opened the gate to let her back in, and as he was getting them in, left it open. But then he called for the dog. And she came. But instead of going around the ewes as she usually does, she came straight at him, and the ewes responded. They ran ahead of her, straight out the gate, and headed down the road on the run. (I almost wish I would have caught that part - Don yelling to 'Go around them', with dog and sheep and him all on a dead run. Well, maybe not). "It was my fault," he admitted. "I should have kept the dog with me." Dolly stopped slinking after awhile. We hope she figured out she wasn't being blamed.

We had a good laugh when I told him my version. Fortunately our close neighbors are elderly and don't hear well, although they did have company. But, after all these years, they are probably not alarmed by the bleating, beeping, and barking of a occasional sheep stampede.

So goes the life of the shepherd. Sometimes, they go astray. Would they have come home, if we left them alone? They have before. But last night, I think it may have taken awhile. Life out there in the wild is looking pretty green right now.

I guess its pretty green for all of us.

Happy trails to all. Bask in the light.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


We have attended the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival for the last 2 years. This year, we decided we would go all out. We joined the Iowa Association last fall, so now we are 'one of them'. I was on the books to teach a needle felting class at the festival. We had an ad in the booklet. Then we signed up to take Natural Colored Sheep for the Hall of Breeds, and have a booth to go with it.

So, we called the Chore Boy, bought Dolly a new bone to help her pass the time alone in the kennel, and otherwise made arrangements. I even made up some special 'sheep' oriented pieces. (Which mostly sold).

We sheared the Corriedale ram at the last minute (well, the night before), so we could show his fleece. Good call, as it won 2nd in the show. I happened to be walking by just as the judge was making his comments on it, and he was very complimentary. We will be keeping him. I, on the other hand, will be more watchful and insistent on getting those covers changed in a timely manner.

I'm not sure which factor was the deciding one - my husband's frugality, or the recent rise of gas prices. Whichever, he announced one day that we would be taking the van. "But the sheep!" I protested. "We have to take sheep." No problem. He figured 3 lambs would easily fit in the back of the van.

I had my doubts. He exuded confidence. And in he end, he won. And it worked.

I had to condense my things (literally), to make it all fit, but the fleeces and wool squished down pretty well. Once again, I was glad felt doesn't break. There was even room for the jar of air freshener on the side. (Which was appreciated later). Note - in the future if such travel is planned, said traveling sheep will not be fed prior to departure.

When we arrived on the festival grounds, I went in to the office to check in. When i came out of the building, there was Don with the back of the van open. And we had already been noticed. One of the Board members was waiting to take a picture. "I won't show your license plate," he said enthusiastically, as if that helped. But he then admitted he had done it himself many times over the years, much to his families' dismay. We shepherds are a practical lot

The lambs were settled in to their accommodations, which were quite nice. They were soon joined by their neighbors the Royal Whites, The Lincolns, and the Romneys. The Shetlands, Jacobs, some CVM's, and others were there too.

The booth was set up across the aisle from the sheep. It got a fair amount of attention, and we were happy we even sold some fleeces.

I taught the class, and had some talented students who caught on quickly, and had some nice work to show for the afternoon.

We took turns staying with the booth while the other walked around. I talked a long while with the guy who makes drum carders. We exchanged stories with our 'neighbor' with the Royal Whites from Wisconsin, and got a hearty invitation to the Wisconsin Festival. (which is tempting).

We joined with others for the Lamb Feast, (#2 of 3 meals in a row featuring lamb) which included entertainment, local wine, lamb appetizers, seconds if you dared, and topped off with home made ice cream. (Burp)

Sunday was a little slow, but gave us time to enjoy the day, including the Border Collie puppies and the trainer, complete with ducks. Then late in the afternoon, we collected our things, helped the others load up and said our goodbyes for another year.

We loaded the lambs back into the van, not quite so crowed this time, and headed west. The sight of sand bagged buildings as we came through Council Bluffs was a bit disturbing. We are grateful we chose the higher ground.

And then we were all safely home again. (and the blog erased the picture that was once here).

So all told, it was a good weekend. Sales are secondary to the experience of new friends, refreshed focus and sense of direction. It was especially good to find there are others who share our views of the land and life, and have chosen a similar path, and at a similar stage of their lives.

Thursday was the first Farmers Market for the season. We had a few things - a few Strawberries, onions, lettuce and spinach, a 3 coveted cucumbers, (which were sold the first 2 minutes) and some snap peas. And of course I felt obligated to make the first batch of cinnamon rolls. Not very many vendors showed up, nor customers for that matter, but we still had enough sales to make it worth the trip to town. Since then, the garden has been growing visibly over night, and blooms and baby eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and more are clinging to their connection to mothering earth. There will be more for next weeks market.

And now, I must be off to the next project - the strawberries are cleaned, measured, and waiting in the bowl. The jars are sparkling clean, and sanitized. Sugar awaits. It's time to Jam.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Memorial Day

Last week was Memorial Day. Actually, for me, it was memorial all right. All week, for life just keeps on happen'nin.

It was 'my year' to go to Comstock. I actually looked forward to it. Last time it was my turn, we went to the services for the first time in many many years, and afterward to the community dinner. (One of the 2 events that take place in the town every year). I had an enjoyable time seeing old classmates and neighbors for the first time in a very long time, and learned a good deal of some missing family history. So we did the same this year.

Some things were the same. Like the wind. I don't recall ever being on top of that hill when the wind wasn't blowing, but it was stronger than usual. Standing was difficult, and standing still impossible, even for the color guard, who were surprisingly young. As I listened to the service, I could'nt help but scan the scattering of bodies swaying in the wind. And, to note the tell tale signs of being back in the rural community I once called home. The lady in the battered long ago reclaimed lawn chair, which sported a carefully woven replacement seat back featuring a bucking horse. The bare legs of the girls, respectfully dressed in cotton skirts and flip flops - not plain, but decorated. One leg bravely bore a nasty burn, obvious evidence of a close encounter of the ATV sort. And, when I found myself a bit offended by the ultra -conservative Christian biased message of the local Pastor, I was reminded once more that while this was where I came from, I must have come a very long way. You can go home again, but for some, a visit is long enough.

Three years did make a difference. Some of the names I recognized were not put to faces, but rather now engraved on the stones. My parents generation are once more in community there on the windy hill overlooking the valley where they raised cattle and corn and kids.

I did discover another piece of family history which I find quite interesting. I had remembered from 3 years ago reading my Great Uncle's Obituary, and that it said something about him being a member of the Woodmen. I found a metal marker by his gravestone, and it did not appear to be military, so I wondered if it could be from the Woodmen. I asked my 'source' at dinner, but she knew nothing. But, it turns out, it was. She brought back a book of history of the town just as we were leaving, and there was the story of the Woodmen's Wescott Camp in Comstock. The story of the building they built there, and the businesses it housed, and the fire that burned it to the ground in an hour and a half in 1915. But, the interesting part of the story is that my son now works for the same Modern Woodmen. 105 years and 3 generations later, there are a number of Woodmen in the family.

I had a request earlier this year for a felting class. Since I was getting one ready for Iowa, I decided a 'run through' wouldn't hurt, so I lined it up, and put out the word to a couple places.

On Wed, the 4 ladies came. the morning was filled with wool talk and wet felting. Then the afternoon was spent in the sunroom needle felting.

The ladies seemed to have enjoyable day, and had some nice things done (or almost) to take home with them. And, they have already requested another class.

To complete the week, Sat morning I packed up the 'guys' and took them to the post office. The 'guys' being this years entries to the Black Sheep Gathering Show in Oregon.

The Boy and the lamb was an experiment in larger pieces using heavier armature. It worked. He stands 16 in. tall, and actually stands!

The picture was also somewhat of an adventure. The background is hand painted wool flannel, needle felted over the top, and I made the frame from wool fabric. Will be interesting to see the comments.

I got a little over enthused with size this year. I had even PURCHASED a box to send them in, as I had nothing that was big enough. That should have been a clue. Much to my surprise, the clerk looked a bit scared when she gave me the cost to send it Priority. $48.00. I declined, and after a few more exchanges split the box, adjusted the packaging, and sent it parcel, which I could afford. I was encouraged when the gal that takes the mail in entries remembered me from last year and was 'excited' that I was sending entries. Now waiting for it to get there.

And, in the meantime, I'm frantically needling and tagging and packing for Iowa. Which will be next weeks report. Plus, next Thurs is the first Farmers market of the season. Till then, hope you can all stay on the green side of the fence.