Friday, March 23, 2012

Coming and Going

Lambwatch 2012: No lambs yet.  Susan has looked ready for a few days, staying away from the other ewes a little, but still no lamb.  And this makes me soooo sad because tomorrow I am leaving for Hawaii for a week.  I know, I know, I shouldn't complain about spending a week in Hawaii, but I'm probably going to miss all the lambs being born.

So, I will be MIA for a week or so, while I visit Maui with my mom and sister.  Joey will be home with the dogs and on lamb duty.  Hopefully he will be a good midwife and none of the sheep will have any problems.  I am leaving the camera at home with him so he can take lots of pictures of this year's lambs and I will use my mom's camera in Hawaii so you can see some sunny beach pictures as well.  

Hope you have a sunny spring week!  Talk to you soon, with lots of new stories and photos to share!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lamb Watch 2012

So far, no lambs on the ground at Third Street Farm (what I like to call our little homestead), but it should be any day now!  We are on the lookout for signs of lambing.  This year, we put electric fence up so that the pasture will grow without the sheep eating it down and the ewes have to stay closer to the barn.  Last year, two of the ewes had their lambs in the back of the field and we had to carry the lambs up to the barn to make their moms follow.  We kept the lambs in the barn with their mothers in separate pens for a few days to make sure that they were bonding and thriving.

Phyllis and Patrick 3/16/2011

Last year, our Border Leicester lamb, Patrick was born on March 16, 2011 with the rest following closely after.  This was our lambing season last year:

March 16 - Mother: Phyllis (Border Leicester) Lamb: Patrick (ram)
March 21 - Mother: Margaret (Merino) Lambs: Mack (ram) and Maggie (ewe)
March 22 - Mother: Susan (Merino) Lamb: Clive (ram)
March 24 - Mother: Molly (Merino) Lamb: Grace (ewe)
March 26 - Mother: Dorothy (Merino) Lamb: Scarlet (ewe)

Clive 3/22/2011

We had 6 lambs altogether, 3 boys and 3 girls.  The female twin died when she was a couple days old for reasons unknown.  The two merino ram lambs were sold a few months ago since we already have Dodge.  So we still have Patrick, the Border Leicester ram, and Grace and Scarlet, the two Merino ewe lambs.

We put Dodge in with the four original Merino ewes and Patrick in with the two ewe lambs to keep them out of the way.  The four older Merinos all look like they are pregnant this year.  We are pretty sure that the two younger Merino ewes are not pregnant because both they and the ram Patrick were less than a year old when they were together in the pasture.  But if they do lamb, they will have Border Leicester/Merino crosses.  Which could be interesting...any may be something we try for next year.

Merino Lambies Spring 2011

As I did last year, I will keep you posted on all things lambie!

Catching Chickens

Georgia is a curious chicken.  She's friendly, talkative, likes to sit on your shoulder like a parrot, and especially likes to escape from the coop.  This morning I took Jip out for his morning romp around the yard and there was Georgia, inside the chicken run saying "whaaaat?" in greeting.  When she spotted us, she jumped/flapped up onto a stick (o.k., so it's the hand railing that we tore off the stairway) that Joey stuck into the coop to create a perch. And when we didn't come say 'hello' she squeezed through the fence and jumped to freedom.

So I put Jip back in the house and decided Georgia could be free-range while I filled up the chicken waterers with the hose.  And when I went to put her back in, two more got out.  So basically, I spent 20 minutes chasing  chickens around the yard, trying to get them in the coop while keeping the others from escaping.

I probably looked like a chicken myself.  At one point I was actually singing, "coooome on Blackie, thiiiiiis way Blackie," as if a chicken could understand what I was saying.  Georgia, maybe.  But not Blackie.  And Georgia is easy to catch, because I think she actually likes being held.  That damn little black one, not so much.  I tried shaking a scoop of food (usually works with the sheep) and I left some chicken food on the step up into the coop.  I even tried walking behind the hen with my arms spread wide saying things like "gooo on, there's the door, there's your friends..."  She was way more interested in scratching in the garden than going back into poultry captivity.

I'm pretty sure this was the same chicken that Joey was chasing around in the sheep pasture last night when I got home from work.  All the other chickens watched from within their coop as Joey tried to grab the black hen, chasing it around and around a round bale of hay, causing the cow to become alarmed and jump over the hay bale.  When the wily hen was finally captured, the ram butted Joey's hand for good measure on his way out of the gate.

So yes, I spent my morning trying to reason with chickens.  And yes, I think sometimes the animals like to have a bit of fun at our expense.    

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting warmer

I can't believe this weather!  It's 80 degrees F in western Illinois in the middle of March...kinda freaks me out about global warming and those stupid 2012 end-of-the-world predictions.  But I guess if it is the end of the world, I may as well enjoy the weather while I can.  Which means I have the window open behind my desk at the library.

Somehow, I missed marking my one year anniversary of writing this little blog!  I can't believe it's been that long! The only thing that reminded me was that my first posts were about waiting for our first lambs to be born and here we are again, preparing for the arrival of spring lambs.  (At least they'll have warmer weather than last year's lambs.)

In other news, we celebrated Daisy's (the black lab) 5th birthday on Saturday.  She got to go on an extra long W-A-L-K and even her little brother Jip tagged along and did o.k. on a leash.  We started turning over the garden this weekend (with a shovel because we're too poor to buy a rototiller.)  Also, after we spread some scratch grains on the soil, the chickens helped out a bit digging in the garden.  The seeds we started a few weeks ago are starting to sprout under our grow lights and I am hoping to get time to plant my peas and spinach soon.

I still don't know what was up with my car earlier this week.  Last night I was going to drop it off at the Ford dealership and when I got in and turned it on in the driveway, the check-engine-light didn't light up so I drove it around and it seemed fine.  But here's the bad news: when I pulled into the driveway after work yesterday, I noticed that my windshield is starting to crack!  I have gotten a couple little dings from rocks flying up on the country roads and now I have a 10-12 inch crack...My mom paid off the rest of my car loan for my birthday last month and now it's decided to fall apart!

So that's the latest in my life.  I'm going home this weekend (on the train) to try on bridesmaid dresses for my friend Jordan's wedding and hopefully get some time to catch up with my far-away friends.  I need a little girlfriend time right about now!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday, Monday

Really, Monday, really?

Yes, it's another one of those complaining-about-my-crazy morning posts.

Jip ran out to the very back of our muddy cornfield today and wouldn't come back for half an hour (no matter how much I yelled his name...)

After I was already leaving late for work, I got in my car and my engine started shaking and lurching.  I figured it might have been because it had rained and I hadn't driven my car all weekend so I started to drive to work.  After driving a couple blocks with lurkiness, I decided I didn't want to get stuck on a country road in the middle of the ten miles between my house and work, so I turned around and went home.

I called one of the other librarians to see if she could open the library for me and then called Joey like the damsel-in-distress I so very often am.  He was able to leave work and pick me up to drop me at the library.

Once I was finally at work I realized that I forgot we were having a board meeting tonight.  At least I had already done all the preparations for it last week...

So Joey will have to pick me up after my board meeting is over.  Hopefully there is nothing seriously wrong with my car.

At least it is sunny and warm outside...even if I can't go outside to enjoy it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

working for the weekend

Tired. Ready for the weekend. TGIF... and any other way I can describe how much I want to go home, curl up in my sleeping bag on the couch with my puppy stretched out behind me on the back of the cushions like a living neck warmer that occasionally snuffles in your ear and rests his head on your shoulder.

I want to make soup and watch Law and Order on Netflix.  I won't have to supervise 9-year olds watching youtube videos on the library computers for two whole days.  I can collect fresh brown eggs, pet my rabbit Pepper Ann, and be on the lookout for any signs of lambs approaching in the next few weeks.  Last year our first lamb was born on March 16, so it getting to be that time again.

Only one and a half hours to go...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Make it do and do without

Lately, it seems as if all we do is spend more money than we make...ok, it doesn't just seem to happen, it is happening.  But how?  We are conscious of our small paychecks, our big bills, and are really trying to cut back on things like eating out at restaurants, or buying food in general (just kidding, but only kind-of.)  It's not like we are taking extravagant vacations every month, buying rhinestone-studded blankets for our sheep, or even buying new clothes for ourselves.  So what's happening?  Is it the little things? Everyday expenses and unexpected expenditures (like last weekend when I had to buy a new phone?)

The thing is, I don't feel like I am a person that has to have the latest thing.  I feel like in the last few years I've really begun to re-evaluate what matters most to me, and most of the time it is not the superficial. I don't care about having a designer bag/shoes/wardrobe, I don't need professional manicures, and I don't want gadgets.  I don't want stuff for the sake of having stuff.  And yet, it seems like it is everywhere, taking over my house.

Maybe I am having a case of cabin fever, but I feel like I am letting too much stuff into my house and that it may have a direct correlation to spending too much money.  When I was in high school I wanted to grow up to be an environmentalist.  I didn't exactly know what that meant (still don't) but I only applied to colleges that had environmental programs.  I graduated with a liberal arts double major in studio art and environmental studies and here I am, 3 years later working as a rural librarian and raising sheep.  I think I am the only vegetarian in my entire town.  And I also think I have gotten lazy about my environmentalist ways.

I put a kitchen compost pail on my wedding registry.  I have used it about 3 times.  I have given up buying paper towels, but I used plastic silverware at my Christmas party.  I use cloth bags when I go grocery shopping.  Unless I forget them at home.  Sometimes Joey puts an orange juice container in the garbage and I am too lazy to put it in the recycling bin.

Living simply, composting all kitchen scraps, reinventing leftovers into delicious reincarnations, and recycling every last bit of waste is easy...when you live in a remote mountain village far from landfills, where everyone works together and you feel like a jerk if you don't put your used Q-tips in the proper waste bin (like I did for a few months in college.)  I need the peer-pressure, the guilt that comes when you do your internship at an environmental education non-profit and you forget to feed your lunch scraps to the worms in the compost bins.  I need to be less lazy when I get home from work...I'm blaming cabin fever again on this one.

So usually, things that are good for the environment are usually good for your wallet too.  Unless you go out and buy a brand-new Prius.  I need to wrap my suburban-raised head around the fact that I don't need to buy more things to be more green.  I have been considering buying a bunch of plastic storage bins to organize all my excess stuff...but why don't I just get rid of my excess stuff?

So while I am going to try to up my "being green" game, I am also going to try and not buy anything that isn't completely essential (let's not get into the argument about whether Oreos are essential.)  The motto I have been trying to repeat to myself lately is:
Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do, 
or do without

In the last couple days I've even read articles on people who actually eat things out of garbage cans behind grocery stores and pick all their furniture out of dumpsters.  While I've done my share of dumpster diving, I don't think I will be eating slightly expired grocery store garbage anytime soon (I am a weirdo about expiration dates.)  I thought that was only something out of Portlandia. (watch it, it's funny.)

I've also read about families that are trying to have zero-waste homes.  One family's motto is Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.  (check them out)  I think the ideas of refuse and reduce are perfect for our finances right now.

So, that was my ramble on finances, environmentalism, sketch comedy, and necessity of Oreos.  Sorry, had to get my feelings off my chest.  Anyone else's budget feeling a little stretched right now?  Any fellow dumpster-divers out there?  Any tree-huggers who can lay some peer-pressure on me?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Snow day

Last Sunday was a slow, snowy day.  So we read gardening books, started seeds indoors, and boiled maple syrup for 12 hours.  With a break to feed our friend's horses and dogs while they were out of town.  Otherwise, we were holed up all day long.  Here's what that looked like.

All in all, it was pretty productive for a lazy day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Backyard Sugarin'

A couple weeks ago Joey got the idea that he would like to try his hand at making maple syrup.  And we were just in luck when we discovered that the tree next to the back of our house is a maple tree!  So Joey drilled some holes, stuck a small PVC tube into the hole to act as a spout for the sap, and hung a bucket underneath to catch the sap.  And then we waited.  And waited. And we got a little bit of sap flowing.  And then we got a warm day and a lot of sap flowed.

We had looked at some online resources and a couple snippets out of homesteading books on how to make the sap into syrup.  But we just weren't sure if we should build some kind of outdoor fire pit or risk covering our kitchen walls in sugar.  So we put the sap into three 5-gallon buckets and put lids on them and stuck them in our basement.  Then we read that if you can't boil the sap right away you should refrigerate it or it will start to go bad...who knew?  So at 7 pm on Tuesday, Joey started his maple syrup experiment on the stove.  I was hesitant about it because I was pretty sure that it would take hours for all the water to boil out.

Joey started boiling the sap in a large stock pot and then kept adding more sap as it boiled down an inch or so.  And by 10:30 pm he still had a large pot of hot sap.  So he took it off the burner to cool and then refrigerated it overnight.  Last night he decided he was just going to try to boil down the rest of what he had and see how much syrup he could get.  He started in the big pot, then went down to a medium pan, and by the time he was down to a smaller pan, the candy thermometer was around 219 degrees F, right around where the sap turns into syrup.  He thought it definitely looked a little thicker, though still pretty runny, but I think he was tired of watching a thermometer all night, so we poured it through cheesecloth into a sterilized pint canning jar and sealed the lid.

We set the jar on a towel and about half an hour later heard the "pop!" of the lid sealing.  With such a high sugar content, it is shelf-stable for about a year but once we open it, the syrup will have to be refrigerated.  I'm not quite sure that it is the right consistency, or if we even did it right, but we are going to a maple syrup festival this weekend so hopefully we can get some more information.  Also, nerd that I am, I ordered a book called Backyard Sugarin' from another library that will hopefully come tomorrow.

If all else fails, we still have 10 gallons of sap and 1 pint of liquid sugar.