One Week Left

I know what you're thinking ~ there's only one week left until O'Kitten's birthday! Actually, it's less than a week, since my Gemini birthday falls rather unceremoniously on a Monday this year: June 4.

What I was actually referring to is the one week left to make your own Peace Globe, and celebrate with a Dona Nobis Pacem Post on June 6.

Mimi has a really cool post up right now showing which states have blogs that are currently flying Peace Globes; maybe you're in a state that's still yellow and can turn yours blue. (For example...Vermont? Arkansas? I know you're out there...)

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice, many new things are in the works. I can't unveil them just yet, but hopefully by the weekend. They feature such things as cute baby chicks, fleecey bits of recently shorn sheep, tiny pictures of monsters and geishas and furry things and other odd tidbits. You'll just have to wait and see what I have up my (all-but-finished, by the way) hand-knit sleeves.


Rambo Retires from Killing

Rambo, Retired

This is Rambo. He lives next door with my parents.

We always had cats when I was growing up, but my parents didn’t have a cat for many years, not until Rambo. Originally, they got him to be a barn cat. He’s a very good mouser.

Two summers ago, my mom brought him home from a yard sale. He’d been in a box marked “Free Kittens.” She named him Rambo to bolster his courage and ensure that he’d be a good hunter.

It worked, and he lived up to his name. He was an excellent mouse catcher, and liked to eat his prey (after torturing them well first), gulping them down whole, head first, as if he were some sort of furry snake. Then he'd sit there, this skinny orange kitten, quite satisfied with himself, with nothing but a bit of tail sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

It was very Apocalypse Now. But without the spikes. Give him credit, though--unlike Isis, he lacks opposable thumbs, and I believe whittling sharp sticks would've been beyond his ken.

But Rambo must have known that my parents needed a companion more than they wanted a barn cat, because every time they were outside, he followed them wherever they went, hopping in their laps to cuddle and purr as soon as they sat down on porch or patio. And before I knew it, Rambo was an indoor cat.

Now, like my parents, Rambo spends his winters down south (he’s a very good traveler). From the Free Kitten Box into the lap of luxury—it’s quite the success story. Nowadays, he seems perfectly content with his stuffed catnip mice as opposed to the real thing. (Yet I do wonder what he would've made of those baby raccoons...)


Will Knit for Spare Change

Or scoop llama beans. Or wind your skeins, wash fleece, weed your garden, or crawl under your house and clean out all the cobwebs. Whatever.

Fortunately, Michigan has a 10-cent can return. Yes, of course you pay the 10 cents when you buy the soda in the first place, but it's like a little savings account, because when you take all those cans back, it's as if they're giving you free money. Woo-hoo!

I would also knit for tattoos. Chris found this adorable t-shirt. The girl even looks a little like me, except that I have less hair and haven't worn leg warmers in 25 years. I thought I'd add it to my collection of knifty t-shirts, because perhaps for only $16 you'll want one as badly as I do.

Now on to other things. I've been accused of making farm life sound too idyllic, and now everyone wants to come and live with me. So I'm going to tell you about the less glamorous side of living off the fat'o'the land. (Geez, hasn't anyone been watching that reality show where they threw those two blondes on that farm? Oh, well, me neither.)

It starts snowing in October...

...and stops in April. (We had our last frost in mid-May.) Then a month of mud begins. Then they do road construction for four months, then it starts snowing again.

You can't keep the deer (raccoons, groundhogs, slugs, bugs, tomato worms and who knows what else) from eating whatever is that you want to eat in your garden. You can try, but it simply can't be done.

Don't even get me started on the mosquitoes. No matter how busy our bats are--and they eat thousands of mosquitoes in a single night--there will always be millions more just waiting for my ankles.

And on the subject of deer, the question in Michigan is not if you've hit one with your car, but how many times. They constantly wander in the road, and I swear they target motor vehicles and run right into them.

So far we've been really fortunate and have not yet been in a deer collision, but even a small doe will easily total your entire vehicle. They particularly love the section of road right in front of our house. And to my amazement, no one comes to clean up the carcass. If there's a dead deer in front of your property, you have to take care of it yourself, or suffer the malodorous consequences. (For more on this and other inconveniences of rural living, see my helpful guide, "You Know You Live in the Country when...")

Graty getting a nail-trimming

Okay, so the llamas and the sheep are terribly cute and lots of fun and full of personality. What I've failed to mention so far is that they poop and
need regular shots and deworming every six weeks once the ground thaws and nail-trimming. Yes, llama beans are excellent for your garden. But you still have to scoop them all up out of the pasture.

Llama beans

Then there's the occasional pizzle rot (sheep-penis
infection) to swab and disinfect and moisturize--this involves turning your sheep on end (as shown above for shearing) and cleaning it well, rinsing with hydrogen peroxide, applying bacitracin, etc. every day or two for a few weeks, and giving your cute, wooly charge some Nutra-Drench or other extra nutritional supplement to speed healing, as well as possibly a course of antibiotics.

I've also described elsewhere the sheep-testicle
removal bit and...you know, all that good stuff. Presuming everybody stays relatively healthy.

Is this sufficient to discourage everyone's fibery farm fantasies? Perhaps I should just let you all continue dreaming your bucolic dreams. Of course, I read all of James Herriot's books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All) and he could describe to me in the goriest detail how he stood in a feezing cow pasture, soaking wet, with his arm up to the shoulder in a cow's uterus trying to help a her give birth to a calf that was turned the wrong way and I was still convinced that I wanted to be a veterinarian.

You'll have to decide for yourself. Remember that every single day your animals need food and water. This means going out to the barn rain, snow, sleet, hail, even come blizzard or tornado. Sometimes twice a day in the winter, because the water will still turn to ice even with the heated bases under the buckets if the temperature gets cold enough. (Then you get to break ice before refilling buckets. Fun!)

Fortunately, I like cold weather. Good, quilt-lined overalls and waterproof, insulated boots like these are key. Just in case you wanted to know.

As an interesting side note, when I googled "llama bean" images I found my own blog. But it was a picture of Pepper and Lacey, not llama beans. The nice wheelbarrow picture I found isn't mine, but it sure looks like our wheelbarrow, the one that's really hard to push in snow and mud and whose tire likes to go flat at the most inopportune moment (like, when it's really full of poop and you're nowhere near your destination).

And oh boy, I didn't even talk about weeding, mowing, fencing, all the sorts of things that constantly need repaired, animals occasionally escaping...but fortunately, my father likes to mow and till and put up fence and fix things, and my parents are here during the part of the year when those sorts of things need to be done. The garden is their baby, so I mostly get to ogle at it and and enjoy its bounty. (Credit where credit's due!)

So if James Herriot's frozen arm up a cow's birth canal on a rocky English countryside left me convinced that I was destined to be a country vet, maybe you still think farm life sounds pretty dandy, too. Most days, it truly is.


Washing the Flocks by Night

Filed under Misheard Lyrics: Shepherds washing their socks by night. The book was written by a college friend, and immediately got filed under "Ideas I Sure Wish I'd Thought Of Myself." But that's not today's topic, or at least, not exactly.

Rather, today I have fleece-washing photos (and lots of them). Since Beth had taught me how to wash a fleece, I thought I'd try it myself on Thorn's wool. Take-aways include: 1) sheep really are quite dirty (yes, I would be too if I wore the same coat for six months), 2) the process is rather time-consuming, and 3) it was less fun here at home than when I did it with her at The Spinning Loft. I did enumerate what Beth taught me previously, so will not repeat those details here.

For the sake of scientific inquiry, I documented the entire process in pictures this time and will now show you how we got from here:

Thorn, who is a white Icelandic sheep

to here:

Freshly cleaned Thorn fleece drying in the evening sun

I warn you, though...if you're not interested in fiber, you will be thoroughly bored by the following and quite likely fall asleep, so I will bid you adieu and wish you happy weekend; or perhaps see you tomorrow when we will return to our regularly scheduled programming of some sickeningly cute baby animals, silly cats, or possibly some knitting content (I finished my shrug about two weeks ago for instance, if I can only persuade Mr. O'Kitten to get a photo, and have just a wee bit of sleeve left of my first sweater). Now, to commence.

Paul shears Thorn. Don't do this on a big mound of hay like we're doing here. Put down a tarp or a sheet or something, because the nice, lanolin-rich fleece picks up all the loose hay from the barn floor. (Live and learn...)

Thorn, after shearing.

First washing. See, I told you sheep were dirty.

Second wash. Better already.

After the first rinse.

Second rinse.

After the third rinse, it really does look pretty clean.

Now here's what came out after the first wash. I used a rubber screen gadget to prevent clogs and angry landlords. Pretty gross. (The rust stains are part of the tub, and can't be blamed on the sheep.)

After the second wash.

After the first rinse.

Second rinse.

And finally, after the third and last rinse.

The wool itself after the first wash.

After the second wash.

And after the last rinse.

Soggy wool ready to be put out to dry.

At last, clean fleece drying on a hardware screen.

This week, Beth ran some of Thorn's fleece through her drum carder and made two nice batts for me, but that's another post (and a far less tedious one, I promise). So stay tuned.


Another Kind of Nest: Rocky I-VI

Yesterday there was a strange, furry pile in the crook of the tree in the center of our driveway.

It was a heap of at least six (possibly seven) baby raccoons.

Although the last thing we need between the hen house and Goldie's new residence is a raccoon condo -- how cute! Ugh. Farm life is so tough.

This evening the little varmints had employed the buddy system. Two were lazing in the tree trunk (if you look closely, you'll see them both), which I presume is home base, since two years ago several babies appeared in this same tree. It's a perfect den for raccoons since it's got a nice, hollow trunk for running up and down in.

Rocky I started up the tree. Look at the amazing little toes and claws. You can easily see how they get into so much trouble with those dexterous hands.

Rocky II turned tail and headed into the bottom of the hollow, which is littered with empty walnut shells.

Meanwhile, Rocky III and IV were playing in the yard.

They made for cover when they spotted me.

Rocky V and VI were over by the garden. Rocky V lay flat and froze in the grass, while VI attempted to scare me away by looking as big and fierce as possible.

While Rocky V maintained that If-I-Stay-Very-Still-It-Will-Surely-Go-Away, Rocky VI panicked and ran, mewling all the time to Rocky V with desperation and urgency: "Run away, my friend! Run away!"

Rocky V did not run away, but contended that Flatten-and-Freeze was indeed the best strategy.

Rocky VI scrambled to the nearest tree. The babies are about kitten-sized and don't climb too well yet, especially in a panic. I felt badly for Rocky VI, but the photo opportunity was just too priceless to miss.

It finally appeared that poor Rocky VI was hanging on for dear life, so I abandoned post.

Pepper (not yet aware that she has new stripe-tailed neighbors) is 7 1/2 months old now. Big big big!