Monday, October 26, 2015

one is done

With all the unfinished tasks staring me in the face literally everywhere I look at the moment, it gives me a disproportionately huge feeling of satisfaction to finish something. Anything.
Even a tiny thing.

Like socks.
Done and dusted.
Tout finis!

The Bluefaced Leicester socks have been excellent October bedtime knitting. It's gotten me back in the rhythm of daily knitting, whether for five minutes or two hours at a go. For the next several weeks, I'll try to have something on the needles at all times; the process simultaneously distracts and calms. Bonus: something genuinely useful is created.

Maybe there will be a pair of heavy boot socks next. Or another of those ear-hugging hats to send to the next cold-eared person I hear about. (Is it you? Let me know!) Just something simple. Complex fiber endeavors can come later, when I no longer need to focus most of my attention on "Before Winter!" projects, because it will no longer be "before" Winter.


Where are my needles?

I rolled up the cuffs of my dungarees for this snap,
so Dani can see the flannel lining  :)

Sunday, October 18, 2015


These golden, glowing days...
they are so short.

Sunrise on Mount Tansy

And the mornings are often quite chilly.

Three weeks ago, I remembered that I own slippers and placed them by the bed. Two weeks ago, I pulled my flannel-lined dungarees from the back of the drawer and hung them next to my barn coat, by the door.

The chore list now includes many items under "before winter!"
Last week, I taught my Occasional Helper how to sweep a chimney. Delegation is not one of my strong suits, but I certainly get a lot of practice these days.

We've been extraordinarily lucky this Autumn.
Many, many sunny days.
Not a lot of rain or wind.

So even while this is going on:

there has often been a little gem of a miracle
popping up where least expected, to delight the eye:

Haven't seen a pansy flower in months...

Many days have been warm enough to spend a half-hour or more out in the paddocks, knitting in my lawn chaise. It's an ideal way to bond with the herd. They come to see me if they feel like visiting, but there are no treats and no interference with their activity. It's Quality Time, goat-style.

Betula, browsing his way toward me.

Tilting back in the chaise, the view:

While I was taking that picture, Fern trotted over and suddenly stuck her little nose into the ziplock bag containing my ball of yarn, grabbed it, and bolted gaily away. Of course, the yarn was still attached to the knitting in my pocket, so to Fernie's great surprise it "fought back" and she dropped it.

It didn't take me too long to get all the dried leaf and bits of twigs and dirt off the yarn ball, once I managed to get it back. And two minutes later, didn't Fern come back for another try!
Looks determined, doesn't she?

Last night, it was 32.5F at bedtime.
My hands got too cold for knitting.
I reluctantly closed the window by my bed.
That window has been open for months.

Blue Not Blue: undyed Bluefaced Leicester yarn

I think - oh, I hope! - we will have more warm days.
I want that window open again.
But today just felt bone-chillingly cold to me.

This was Tsuga's extra water bucket at noon.

And in case there was any doubt where we are headed,
there was a brief snow flurry.

Guess I'd better keep working away at that list, right?

Hope your weekend was lovely
and your new week is getting off to a perfect start!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

long, overdue report

I owe you a fiber report, and apologize for the delay. Thank you, readers who inquired and reminded me! I hope you won't regret it when you see how long this post will probably be.

Remember when I sent five bags of 2015 cashmere to the Cashmere Goat Association show in Maine? And then someone offered to personally transport fiber across the border if any of the US exhibitors would care to enter the Canadian National Cashmere Fleece Competition the following month?

I am astonished that I got this group in one frame.
As I mentioned at the time, I'm not very interested in competition for it's own sake; what I was after was "judges' cards." A judge looks at each bag of fiber - there were over 100 entries at the Maine show - and makes quantitative and qualitative assessments. Some relate to the elements that actually define cashmere, such as the length, diameter, and form of individual fibers. Some relate to the productivity of the goat and overall quality of the entire fleece. Since my own fiber-producing experience is very limited, and my judgement is undoubtedly influenced by my feelings about my animals, I value the expert opinion of professionals.

For maximum educational value, I sent fiber from some very different goats. When the cards and fiber came back, the judges' notes were as informative as hoped for, and while some supported my own opinions, others showed me areas that I need to consider in future breeding plans.

And then there were some flat-out surprises, and I think this is the part my readers will find most interesting...

Remember Vinca and Dara? Here they are, during combing season last Spring. Gosh, just looking at this picture makes me tired!

By comparison, here's what they looked like in June:

At the Maine show, in a class of 5 first-year wethers, Dara's fiber won a 4th place ribbon! Aw, Dara! Who's a lovely boyo, then?


And you know Lily's daughter Azalea, right?
Here she is greeting baby Fern back in April:

At the Maine show, in a huge class of 14 first-year does, Azalea's fiber won a 3rd place ribbon! This made me very happy indeed, because I've always had a good feeling about this girl and her cashmere.

And of course you know LeShodu, Herd Matriarch. Here she is, in a photograph taken seconds after the one at the top of this post:

"Yes, that's right. Still The Boss."


I interrupt this Report for a little background on the herd:
I did not breed LeShodu; she was one of two mature does I bought in 2010, hoping to slowly build my cashmere herd from a solid foundation of their genetic input. Both does were producing excellent fiber in great quantity, but their kidding histories were unclear.

LeShodu presented me with two beautiful kids the following Spring, but unfortunately I couldn't seem to get the second doe bred. Even so, if she had been a pleasant, easygoing animal, she'd still be here today: not producing kids, but hopefully making cashmere, and eating her head off every day. But after about a year and a half of my increasing frustration with her attitude, I made the decision to return her to her prior herd.

Which left LeShodu as my sole foundation doe, and every goat on the place is related to her to some degree. It's very tempting to breed her one more time, especially since cashmere quality often declines as an animal ages, but LeShodu is still producing lovely cashmere and lots of it. But I made the decision to retire her from breeding after her 2014 kids, and I'm sticking to it, even though she is looking very well and would undoubtedly be interested in Mr Right Buck.
We now return to our Report:

Since it wasn't my breeding that produced LeShodu, I hope you won't think it's bragging when I tell you that at the show in Maine, in a class of 7 does in her age group, LeShodu took the 1st place ribbon.

LeShodu, Spring 2014

So. Three of my five goats were in the ribbons in Maine. Totally unexpected. Kind of fun! And I must admit, it made the prospect of the Canadian show even more interesting.

I discovered that Dara could not "compete" as a wether in Canada. But his fiber could still be assessed by the judge, which is what I wanted anyway, so I gladly paid his entry fee.

In Canada, Azalea was in another big class: 12 first-year does. And she again won a 3rd-place ribbon! TOTAL BRAG ALERT: I am thrilled to bits about this. Not just because two judges think Azalea is showing real promise as a cashmere producer, but because that's what I think, too. When I looked at the first comb-full of fiber from Azalea back in the Spring, I stopped combing and hugged that little goat. Who turned around on the stanchion and indicated that, while a hug is all very well from time to time, a handful of oats is always welcome.

Azalea standing on tiptoes at the barn door,
supervising the next goat being combed.

And last but never least...LeShodu. 

"You got the second part right."

In a class of 11 does of her age group,
LeShodu's fiber again took the 1st place ribbon.
(Which, by the way, is red in Canada. As in Britain.
Fun fact for the US "blue ribbon" folks.)

And then, as a class winner, LeShodu (in the form of a bag of cashmere) went on to compete against the winners of the other Adult Doe classes.

And she became Champion Senior Doe.

"Surely you're not surprised."

And then...cough, cough... 

she was declared Grand Champion Doe.

There was fiber from about 70 does at this show, and LeShodu took the rosette. I feel awkward writing about this because I'm afraid it must sound very braggy, but I take absolutely zero credit for this goat. I have already congratulated her breeders.

But LeShodu has been at the center of my goatherd-life every day for years now. And even though she could not possibly care less about the color of a ribbon - being far more interested in the color of a carrot - it does makes me smile to think that she entered her first show at the age of eleven, faced significant competition, and was judged to be top doe.

Because I am a sap.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

reading aloud

You’ve Lived

All through the play, Hamlet’s
Looking for some hold in the world.
All through it, he’s searching for something in life
To bear the weight of his being.

And neither his father’s murder,
The adultery of his mother
Nor Ophelia’s love --
Things shattering enough
One would have thought --
Is sufficient to root him
In the rank, unweeded garden
Which was what he called life.
He was here without an anchor
In a fruitless sea of being.
And he never evolved an interest
(As we say) ‘to keep him going’ --
He, with his wayward life; he, the lost one.

So take comfort --
Even if you only grow onions,
Breed rabbits or put ships in bottles,
If that grips you, you are one of the saved,
The light shines on you, you can fear death,
Go in dread of the end.
That is to say, you’ve lived.

Gwyn Thomas


A suggestion:
If poetry does not "speak" to you, try reading it aloud.
Simple. Magic.


Monday, October 5, 2015

road trip!

This past weekend was the 27th annual Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont. Friends were competing, and I was invited to ride along for the 2.5-hour trip up and back on Sunday. Being a passenger has always been a treat for me; a driving commuter for decades. And although rain had been predicted for the weekend, it was blue skies and sunshine all the way. Lovely! Sitting back, watching the scenery, and nattering away to the driver who, like me, doesn't ordinarily spend a lot of time socializing because there is always some task or chore that needs doing. Chatting for hours without the nagging feeling that something else should be happening instead is quite a luxury.

I even added a few rows to my latest KAL sock:

As unbelievable as it may sound, this journey was my biggest trip to date of 2015: five hours in a vehicle and 4.5 hours at an event. I won't describe the collection of cushions and props I brought along, but it's a fact that I've spent weeks traveling in other countries with a single backpack containing less than I now apparently need to cross the road.

Oh well. At least I do occasionally cross the road! :)

New England Asters in Vermont!
Much more exotic than in Massachusetts!
Okay, not really. But always a favorite :)

Remember last year, when I went to the same fair - it's also the Cashmere Goat Association show - and brought my camera but no memory chip? And I apologized because I could post no pictures from the fair?

Well, that was not about to happen THIS year! No no no!

This year, I brought the new camera (for it's final Field Test), two fully-charged batteries, and two chips. HA!

We arrived at the fair at noon, and I headed straight for the Integrated Parasite Control & FAMACHA© Training Workshop, which began only moments later. For four years I've been looking for a FAMACHA training class close to home; this was like a gift landing at my feet. The class was taught by Dr Katherine Petersson from the University of Rhode Island and lasted for four hours. Yes, that's right. Four hours of thinking hard about gastrointestinal worms. It was excellent.

The organizers provided snacks on a table at the back of the classroom, and invited participants to help themselves at any time during the presentation. I was grateful for a "polite" excuse to stand up and move around at frequent intervals. I hope the other participants didn't think I was snarfing up snacks every time I got to my feet, but it was a chance I was willing to take.  ;)

Now, if you noticed the timeframe, you will not be surprised to hear that when the workshop ended and I headed out of the cold classroom and into the gorgeous Autumn sunshine, all the fair vendors were packing up their tents.

Yes, I went to a fiber fair and a cashmere goat show, and spent the entire time in a cold, dark classroom. When I headed for the cashmere goat area, exhibitors were sweeping out the now-empty rented stalls. Most goats were already loaded to leave.

So I hastily took the first - and last - goat picture of the day: 

One of my friends' bucks, looking out the truck window. Photographed through the reflection of trees and blue sky.

You can't say I never take you anywhere on this blog.

Can you?


Shall we try again next year?