Saturday, December 31, 2011


At this time of the year, our ewes eat and sleep, eat and gestate, and eat. Their growing fetuses are taking up more and more space, to the point where the sheep can’t eat enough hay to fulfill their nutritional requirements. That’s why, about six weeks before the first lamb is due, we begin feeding corn.

The first week of corn, we feed one half bucket divided into sixteen feeders. It doesn’t look like much extra food for 50 animals. Every Sunday after that, well into lambing, we increase the corn by half a bucket until we are feeding six to eight buckets of corn daily.

The sheep love the corn. When they hear the first patter of corn kernels hit the surface of their plastic feeders, they maaa and rush around the barn to gather at the gate into the feed area. When we open the gate, they swarm in, claim a feeder (which they must share with three other sheep), and eat as fast as they can (because of the three other sheep).

Within minutes, the corn is gone and the sheep wander back to the hay feeders which we filled while they were eating corn. This morning, all but three animals stuck their heads into the hay feeders to continue eating – Kaylie the alpaca, the cashmere/ angora cross goat who wasn’t bred, and a single brown ewe who I suspect isn’t pregnant. I’ll watch that ewe during lambing, perhaps in the future we could use hunger as a pregnancy test.
Of course Cedar, my niece Leah’s pet goat, is the most ravenous eater of all, and although he looks it, he’ll never be pregnant; he just keeps eating.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Brown yarn

Last winter I sent off two batches of wool, 50# of light brown and 50 # of dark brown, to be spun into a variegated yarn, one ply of light and one ply of dark. In my head, it was a beautiful yarn.
When four big boxes arrived at my door ten months later I was disappointed. I opened the first box. The yarn wasn’t variegated. Even worse, it wasn’t very brown. The light wool with sun browned tips and the dark chocolate brown fibers had somehow blended to yield a yarn very similar to my silver gray yarn, with just a hint of milky brown, a little like a good cup of chai. I was so disappointed that I didn’t open any more boxes.
When I finally opened the last two boxes a month and a half later, I realized that my imagination hadn’t been playing tricks on me. The last two boxes held a dark brown yarn. The spinnery hadn’t understood my directions. I now had 120 skeins of chai colored yarn and 120 skeins of dark brown yarn, but not the variegated light and dark brown yarn I had imagined.
Fortunately, I don’t have to depend on a spinnery. I pulled a ball of warm brown alpaca roving and a ball of crimpy dark gray wool roving from my stash and began to spin. Sometimes you just have to do things yourself.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Somehow, I’ve created a life for myself that is overly full, scheduled more finely than the divisions on my daily planner. I love being busy, love the creative excursions I take while working on projects for the Library or the Multicultural Committee or the school. I love the physical exertion and the problem solving involved in raising sheep, and the creativity that is necessary for using their fiber, whether I felt, or spin my own yarn, or dye and knit my yarn after it has been commercially spun.
However, because my schedule is so full, I don’t take the time for much continuing education. I didn’t even realize that I was missing the education part of life until Athena, the publisher of my third book, From Sheep to Shawl: stories and patterns for fiber lovers, forced me to sell and autograph books at a fiber festival last summer. I sold and publicized my books – the point of the day- but more importantly for me, the other vendors at the festival opened my eyes to new fiber ideas. I admired beautifully felted people and animals, scarves knit out of wool roving instead of yarn, and dyed silk hankies to knit directly into scarves.
A silk hankie is an individual silk worm cocoon opened out into a thin sheet of silk fibers. Many, many silk hankies are piled on top of each other and then the sandwich is dyed a combination of shimmering colors. My immediate response to the dyed silk hankies was to want to go home and dye some myself. A few minutes serious consideration of my schedule persuaded me to buy several pre-dyed piles of hankies. The silk was lovely, one a square of gold and green, gleaming in the late afternoon sun, the second, like a window onto a watery world of blues and greens. They would be so fun to work with; but I would have liked to dye them myself. Dyeing really is my favorite part of fiber work and it had been a long time since I had done any experimental dyeing or even any dyeing for fun. I seem to have let other things creep into my fiber time. On the way home, I brainstormed ways to free up more time for dyeing, surfing fiber sites, trips to fiber festivals and shows, and especially time spent with other fiber people, gleaning new ideas and new techniques from them –inspiration for my imagination.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I sat at the breakfast table, one dog leashed to one ankle and the other dog on a down stay beside me, Jasper in the high chair to my left and Kieran in a booster seat to my right. Each boy had a banana to devour or mash, depending on their inclination. I fed them cereal spoonful by spoonful alternating from boy to boy. The dogs kept checking for spills. The boys chattered unintelligibly and I grinned as I answered them, extemporizing on recognizable sounds.
We are so fortunate to be raising sheep that need only to be fed once a day at this time of year, rather than dairy cattle that must be milked twice daily. We are also fortunate to know Emily, a high school senior who cares for our sheep while we are gone. If I had to choose between spending time with Jasper and Kieran, my grandsons, and owning sheep, the grandsons would win hands down, even at a 6:30 a.m. breakfast with two whining dogs, two shouting boys, with bananas and cereal in everyone’s hair, and knowing that the next adventure with the boys will be just as chaotic.