Saturday, February 21, 2009

Baaa! It's Cold Outside!

This morning, while most people around here were donning their wool hats and mittens and heading outside to shovel 6 to 8 inches of new snow, we went to watch a local flock of sheep loose their own winter woolies as they prepare to lamb next month. A-Z Farm had their annual sheep shearing today and it was open to the public. We learned a lot about shearing from New Zealand-trained shearer David Kier as he paused between sheep to answer questions.

A common question among the spectators was "Why shear so early in the season when it is still so cold outside?" It turns out there are many reasons to shear before lambing (from A-Z Farm's website):

It keeps the wool clean of straw and manure.
The ewes stay in the warmer areas of the barn for their comfort and that helps the newborn lambs keep warm.
There is no long wool getting in the way for the birth of lambs.
It is easier for the lambs to find their first meal.
If a ewe has long wool and lies down on a lamb, she may not feel it under her, but she would feel the lamb if she does not have the long wool.
It is easier to see the condition of the ewe and increase her feed if needed.
The barn is less humid after shearing.
It is easier to see when she is starting to give birth to her lambs.

Most of the sheep were amazingly calm about the process. Kier explained that careful positioning and working quickly to keep the sheep moving through the various positions keeps them comfortable and minimizes struggling. In fact, it usually took him only a couple minutes to shear one sheep.

Another interesting thing was the clothing worn by Kier. He dressed in layers of cotton and wool to accomadate a variety of temperatures and shearing conditions. His pants were wool army pants, worn not only for warmth and protection, but also to increase friction between his legs and the sheep, reducing the amount of strength needed to manipulate the sheep into various positions. On his feet he wore slipper-like sheepskin shoes.

After being removed from the sheep, the fleece, which weighs from 5 to 10 lbs., was taken to another area of the barn where it was skirted. Any really dirty parts were removed from the edges of each fleece, generally from the area that would have been under the sheep's rear and on the belly. The fleece was then bagged and labeled with the sheep's number. The farm has several different breeds of sheep. Some were more friendly than others.

Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to purchase a couple skeins of yarn spun at a local mill from the farm's wool fleece. We also got some farm fresh eggs in assorted colors.

So despite blizzard conditions, it was a fun and informative outing. Stay tuned next month, as we hope to visit the farm again for lambing!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Baking Day

I've been wanting to add baking to our weekly rhythm for a while now. It has just been a bit of a challenge with Noah hanging on my legs every minute that I am in the kitchen. Now that he has finally reached an age where he will play nearby (or underfoot) for short periods of time, I have decided to make every other Friday our Baking Day. Today I made some no-rise bread rolls using a recipe from Heaven on Earth that I modified slightly. The dough was the perfect consistency for forming into interesting shapes and would be a fun project with older children.

I was tempted to give Noah a bit of dough to play with, but I fear that it would have gone straight into his mouth. Instead, he was happy to empty the kitchen drawers, which he is now tall enough to reach inside, of all their contents while I was busy with mixing, measuring, and kneading. He did have the very important job of taste testing the finished product though. He must have approved because he kept begging for more.

The best part was that the recipe uses whole wheat pastry flour and honey instead of white flour and sugar, so I did not feel one bit guilty indulging him with a few extra bites.

Play-Dough Bread Recipe

In a large bowl, dissolve 1 tablespoon yeast in 3/4 cup lukewarm water.

In a separate bowl, mix 1/4 cup honey and 2 tablespoons butter in 1/2 cup boiling water. Stir until cool, then add to the larger bowl with the yeast.

Add a pinch of salt and mix well. Slowly stir in 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour. Knead on floured surface, adding flour as needed until the dough is easy to work with. Shape into rolls, braids, pretzels, etc. Place shaped dough on lightly greased cookie sheets and brush with beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!


Monday, February 16, 2009

Belated Valentines

Due to some technical difficulties with our computer this past weekend, I was not able do any posting here. So here is a recap of our chilly Valentine's Day weekend. Friday night I arrived home from work to the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. They were not just any cookies however, but a special batch of heart-shaped Valentine cookies made by Curtis. They were much tastier than any box of chocolates!

Despite this being my weekend to work, we managed to get out to the Garden Expo on Saturday morning. I was hoping to learn alot about various aspects of gardening, but it was so packed with folks itching to get their hands dirty that we were barely able to navigate through the crowd at times. After riding around on Curtis' back for over an hour, Noah's favorite part of the morning was throwing landscaping rocks into a display fountain. Guess who showed him that trick? Not me. I was the one fishing them out.

Then, after about 5 minutes of playing in the sand, and discovering that it does not taste good, he was back to throwing rocks in the fountain.

Now, after enjoying the warmer weather last week, we are settling in for a storm with predictions of ice and 6 to 8 inches of snow. Bah! I think I am just about done with winter!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mud and Carrots

Two days of above freezing temperatures has led to lots of melting snow and ice. And all the melting has led to lots and lots of mud at the stable. The hill that leads up to Winston's pasture was a slippery, muddy mess today, but I climbed it anyway...with 25 lbs of toddler on my back! The chickens were oblivious to the mess and actually seemed to be enjoying pecking around in the mud and muck.

After a long and muddy hike to the far end of the pasture, we found another sign that spring is not too far off... Our fuzzy, wuzzy shedding horse!

Back at the barn, Noah watched patiently from his sled as I gave Winston a good grooming. A not-so-patient Winston thought Noah was hiding carrots in his puffy snowsuit.

This weather is such a tease! I am sure next week will be bitter cold and we will get 2 feet of snow. Good thing we are enjoying it while we can.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Spring Fever

The warm weather we have had the past few days has given me a very bad case of spring fever. I have ordered vegetable, herb and flower seeds, and am busy planning what seedlings to start when. Last summer I kept a few tomatoes in some containers, but I hope to go bigger this summer with a full vegetable garden. This will be my first garden and it is sure to be a learning experience. A visit to Bolz Conservatory with Grandma and Grandpa S. made me even more anxious to get my fingers in the dirt.

It was very warm inside the Conservatory, and so steamy that it took about 10 minutes for the camera lens to warm up enough so that I could take pictures without it fogging up.

Noah had fun walking up and down the paths and peering at the koi from the bridges over the little stream. He especially liked watching the waterfall. I think he would have joined the koi for a bath if we would have let him!

We hope Grandma and Grandpa enjoyed their visit as much as we enjoyed their company. Noah always loves having a fresh audience to charm with his cute little antics and new arms to carry him around. Now back to the garden planning and dreaming of spring...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Celebrated in early February, Imbolc, also known as Candlemas and Groundhog's Day, marks the middle of Winter and holds the promise of Spring. Because it is a celebration of light, many people make or burn candles and have a meal of pancakes (the shape of the sun) on this day. We had a breakfast of homemade pancakes and strawberries on Sunday morning, and although February 2nd was a very chilly day, we had a glimpse of the coming Spring this weekend as the temperature rose to a sweltering 38 degrees! It was a beautiful weekend to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. I was extra giddy on Saturday because I got a 'snow day' (aka on-call from work!). Noah and I convinced Curtis to go on a hike with us to check on our little creek.

At the creek, we found lots of ducks also enjoying the heat wave.

Even as the weather gets bitter cold again, there is something comforting in the the thought that we have passed the halfway point and are on our way toward Spring!