Summer ends with a fiber-filled weekend

The Mawata (multiple silk cocoons stretched into a square shape
The Mawata (multiple silk cocoons stretched into a square shape) I stretched at the workshop, then dyed with woad

Saturday, a friend and I were lucky enough to get into a workshop down at PortFiber in Portland. Taught by Robin Russo, it was a day spent learning about the history of sericulture (farming silk worms) as well as a lot of hands-on work with silk cocoons, reeling silk, pulling cocoons into “hankies,” and then spinning wild and cultivated silks. It was an absolutely fabulous workshop, and I would highly recommend any workshop with Robin! She is a wonderful teacher. She even brought in silk moths who were mating and laying eggs.

Intact Bombyx silk cocoons
Intact Bombyx silk cocoons

Yesterday was spent at Hatchtown Farm having a spinning party/end of summer blast. As usual, we had lots of food, laughter and fun. Sitting on the porch listening to the crickets and watching the crazed grasshoppers and dragonflies was very therapeutic!

Spinning party!
Spinning party!

One of our spinning friends, Chris, set up a woad experiment for us to work on during the afternoon. She grew the woad plants over the summer, and got the initial dye pot set up yesterday morning. When we got together, she continued the process and we got to put a bit of fiber into the pot during the afternoon. It was magical! The woad was a lighter blue than most indigo will dye, and it’s beautiful. Chris threw my little misshapen mawata into the pot and it’s turned fabulous shades of blue.

Some of the woad-dyed fiber
Some of the woad-dyed fiber

It was an exceptional weekend to end the summer fun. The weather totally cooperated, and of course, the heat and humidity are coming back just in time for school to begin!

Post-race week

Has been a crazy one! One of our pigeons came in second place in Monday’s race, which certainly isn’t too bad for not knowing much about this whole thing. Next race is on Sunday, from Jackman again. Of course, this week we thought we had lost two pigeons during training runs. They eventually found their way back, but one came in with a damaged leg and a hurt wing. I still can’t believe that they all keep coming back, but we have been lucky in that way. So we shall see.

The other craziness is getting ready for the school year to begin. I worked in both of my buildings this week at least 3 days, and will go in again for a few days next week, and then we start full time on Wednesday. I really have to get into the school groove again, and start getting up earlier than 5:15 or 5:30. Dare I even say that I have lolled around until 6 a few times recently! I will have to get up early tomorrow because I am lucky to be taking a workshop on silk, it’s history, cultivation and the spinning end of it, in Portland. Have to get going early, but it will be a great day.

First race

(Video of a training release of our birds earlier this summer)

This past weekend our young homing pigeons were scheduled for their first race, 125 miles. They have been training pretty much every day, being driven to different spots around the state to be released for their flight back to the home loft, but most trips like this averaged about 50 miles or so from here, a lot different than 125! Weather looked bad for Sunday, so they were transported to northern Maine with Monday being the release in Jackman, Maine. It’s farther than they have flown yet on any training flight. John only chose to enter 7 of his 17 flyers as this is all very new to us!

It was a little nerve-wracking as I was the one at home waiting for them. Their release got delayed because the mountains up north were socked in with fog, so the person releasing them finally had to drive south a ways to get a clearer take-off. In any case, I was out working in the goat paddock and I heard their wings before I saw the first 4 of them. They only briefly stopped on the ridge of the loft roof and then they were inside (which is the only way to get their electronic leg bands to register on the “clock”). It was great to see 4 of the 7 come in, but then I worried about the rest. Needlessly, because they trickled in quite soon after. Phew!

So that was the first race of the year. There will be quite a few more, almost every weekend for the next couple of months. In the meantime, we wait for the race results to find out which of the lofts had a winner!

Love this weather

Early morning sky
Early morning August sky

It’s the middle of August and everyone is complaining about the weather, as usual. I am loving it, however, as the temperatures are unusually cool for this time of year. I don’t believe I am the only one that’s enjoying it, either! The animals are all looking a little more sparkly and a little more active. The downside is that this weather just reinforces the boys’ feeling that they should be spending quality time with the girls!

Bagels courting Elf's doeling through the fence
Bagels courting Elf’s doeling through the fence

I am not trying to rush the autumn, but we are seeing some leaves turning already, which tends to happen toward the end of August no matter the weather. It’s human nature to want to look at that as a foreshadowing of the length and roughness of the winter to come; I’m not worrying about that yet, but just going to appreciate every minute of non hot and humid weather we get :*)

Marigold’s big adventure

Marigold rests with me on the rock
Marigold rests with me on the rock

The last few days have been incredibly busy. I spent a lovely day at a friend’s camp right on a small lake on Wednesday. It was grey and overcast, but it didn’t start raining until later on, and it didn’t matter because we were relaxing and having fun with a few other friends.

Wednesday night was the big storm, apparently a record for the amount of rain that fell in the course of four hours. By 9:30 p.m. our electricity was out, and every once in awhile throughout the night it blinked back on which made our freezers begin beeping (which need to be reset, necessitating a hop out of bed). The power wasn’t really back on for good until a little after 4 a.m. when we needed to get up anyway. Groan. My husband had to have a routine test down at Maine Medical Center in Portland, and of course, we had to be there by 7 a.m.  By the end of the day yesterday I was toast, and in bed before 9.

Marigold is feeling better now
Marigold is feeling better now

When I went out for chores this morning I heard our little Marigold crying, and realized that she was outside of the paddock fencing, frantically trying to get back to her mama and her sister. Even though she is the friendliest doeling, she was so frightened that she did not want to come to me, or follow me. So it was a process, but I finally got a collar and a leash on her and coaxed her back into the correct area. She and her sister lifted their mama Zelda right off the ground they were so happy to have some comfort food (although I don’t know why Iris was that excited, maybe just commiserating with Marigold and happy to have her sister back!).

It’s a head-scratcher, but she may have gotten out via the extension paddock which I had open to them. I can’t find any openings in the perimeter fencing there or anywhere, but one of them might be sproingy enough in the middle that she scrambled over it. Needless to say, after she had a nosh and a visit with her mama, she came over and lay down on the big rock with her head on my lap, squished up tightly to me. She didn’t even want a good chin scratch, just wanted a snuggle. Funny goatie, happy to be home again.

Paddock moves

Happy llama Zorro
Happy llama Zorro

Over the weekend I worked on fencing and changing the paddocks around a little bit. I have areas that I like to keep the animals out of at certain times, and areas that they have access to almost all the time.

For a variety of reasons, I had put Zorro the llama in with the boys early in the spring, so they not only have the donkey guarding them, but also our wonderful Zorro. I have been meaning to get him back into the girl’s area for awhile. He has always followed me around, and I have never had a problem standing nonchalantly by a gate and getting him, and only him, through.

But, he is getting older and is not as curious about what I am doing, so I had been unsuccessful up to now. But Sunday, John helped me put some panels in there right around the gate to the neighboring paddock, and that was just enough to pique his curiosity. He waltzed right through!

SnowPea picking between the clover to find her favorite things
SnowPea picking between the clover to find her favorite things

The goats do not love clover (!) and there is a lot of it all through their paddocks, so I have wanted to get Zorro in there to help eat all that goodness up. And I also need to have a guard animal in with the does and doelings.

He is in heaven right now! Everytime I look for him, he is seated in a patch of clover, like a big old fuzzy llama king.

Next job: giving the big guy a trim!

Stinky

Beige Boy, showing off as usual
Beige Boy, showing off as usual

It’s that time of year again. The goatie boys are beginning to get amorous ideas about the does, and Beige Boy is the worst of them all. He is already peeing on his face, and I can smell him from halfway up the driveway if the wind is coming my way. What a stanky piece of work!

Since the boys are turning their thoughts and behaviors toward strutting their stuff in front of the girls, I have to stay on my toes. When they start thinking about breeding, they get bold, so I really can’t turn my back on them even for a second. I can’t even get into their pen right now without stinky boy getting right in my face. Luckily, he has not begun to curl his upper lip to get a whiff of female hormones when he is standing next to me. That’s when goatie boys really go wild (and of course, SnowPea and Pippi use me as a scratching post whenever I am near them, so my clothes must smell really nice!) :*)

Must be these cool nights, warm days, and less daylight. Little busters! It’s only August 10th and I am feeling like autumn is tapping me on the shoulder.

Taking a deep breath

Ready to ply
Ready to ply

For many reasons. First of all, the summer is a little more than half over, from my teacher point of view, and there is so much I want to accomplish, and so many people I would like to spend a little time with. And the biggest reason I have had to stop and take a deep breath is that I have been trying for 7 months to get my NJ teacher’s deferred pension going. With very little success!

Needless to say, things are very different from when my husband filed for retirement in 2001 in NJ. At that time everything was done on paper, with people talking you through it on the phone, and now, there is a mire of a website to navigate, with very little help on the phone to be had (well, I hung in there at one point and was on “hold” for 1.5 hours). State bureaucracies are all pretty complicated, and in a state with the the population of NJ, I guess it’s more complicated than most. And I imagine that the workers at the pensions bureau have a lot on their plates, too much to do, and not enough staff to handle the volume.

In the last few weeks I have been contacted directly by a very lovely person at the Pensions division, and it’s been a huge help. Hopefully I am coming to the end of the paper trail nightmare. But on Wednesday when I received two letters requesting information that I had already provided, in two different formats, my frustration level soared. So on Thursday I declared a Wallow Day. Worked on cheese and did a lot of spinning, had a Harry Potter movie marathon going in the background, interrupted by some time spent with the goaties, interrupted by fruitless phone calls. Yesterday I did a few errands and popped in to work to get caught up a little and also spend some time with colleagues. For a bonus, I got a phone call from my NJ school district telling me they have sent their end of the documentation to the pension people (or the documentation that they can put their hands on, 13 years later!). Yay!  And then I continued spinning our new lovely roving (Coopworth/alpaca). I think I may be ready to do some plying today. I think my blood pressure is probably back to normal now, and it’s a beautiful day!

SnowPea in a snit

In the weedy goodness
In the weedy goodness

I have been chugging along with the milking and cheese making this last few weeks without a thought. Every day I try to let the goat groups have access to a different area of weedy goodness. The other day big Zelda got out of my movable panel area, so I left the girls inside their paddock (with plenty of hay) because I was going to be out most of the day and didn’t want her getting into trouble.

SnowPea after milking (she wasn't this empty the other day)
SnowPea after a regular milking (she wasn’t this empty the other day)

When I returned and went out on Monday afternoon to milk, I found that not only did SnowPea not want to get onto the milkstand, but her udder was almost empty. That was really quite a shock! She wasn’t in the mood to eat her grain, either. This kind of situation immediately led me to start frantically thinking about milk fever, or something equally bad. As I got her off the milkstand, I fumbled with the gate, and I noticed that she was greedily munching on some of the weeds at the side of the greenhouse. So I left her there while I finished chores, took her temperature (normal), and put them in for the night with some molasses water.

Udderly full
Udderly full

Yesterday morning I did not milk SnowPea, even though her bag had grown a little. I made the girls a new weedy/grassy pen, and left them to it (I always put some hay out for them as well, which they pick on periodically during the day). And last night she got onto the milkstand with a full udder, and happily went after her dinnertime grain. This morning she was her usual milky self as well.

I think our sweet mama SnowPea was having a little sit down strike! She was not happy with me about no greens on Monday, and it sure translated quickly into no milk. She certainly is the Queen of the Herd here, and she knows how to get the best working conditions for her girls :*)

Spinning, knitting and visiting

Kid mohair, colors not looking quite as well as they do in person
Kid mohair, colors not looking quite as well as they do in person

Today turned out to be a very lovely day. I had some errands to do in Freeport, and our friend Chris invited me to lunch and a spinning/knitting afternoon. So I toodled off and did my errands, forgetting about how much traffic there would be in Brunswick, trying to get from Route 1 to 295. Aargh! But I had my trusty iPad and listened to some good music and some podcasts, so it was all good. And during our lovely visit this afternoon, on a very lovely day, I worked on my new Hitchhiker shawl and we had an amazing lunch.

I have been working on spinning some hand-painted kid mohair, in a range of reds, oranges and golds. I am almost finished with it, and it is beautiful. I have to find just the right thing to ply it with, and then see if there is enough to make a small project. (The photo does not show off the colors as well as I would hope, but the iPhone did its best!).

And so the day was a good one. I have plenty of work to do here on the farm, but a lovely day out was truly a gift.

 

Coopworth Fiber, LaMancha Dairy Goats and Cheese on the Coast of Maine!

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