26 September 2007

New sheep

These lovely sheep (and one additional blackfaced sheep, who was not interested in posing for the photo) were delivered today!

The blackfaced sheep are Hampshires, and the white one is a Columbia. They are both breeds that originated in England, and are not too far removed from the Southdown sheep (Jack, our smaller ram and father of all of last year's lambs, is a Southdown). Although these breeds are not primarily known for their wool, they do produce nice fleece that makes excellent hats and mitts and quilt batting. Combined with the finer Icelandic wool, we are on our way to developing a really interesting handspinner's flock.

In addition, these three sheep are already proven mamas who produce good sturdy lambs, and so they should be good additions to our little flock. Here, everyone needs to produce good fibre to sustain my ever-expanding addiction to spinning, knitting and all things wooly, but good meat lambs are also essential from a financial standpoint: I hope to be able to earn enough money from lamb sales to at least pay for the winter hay!

Coloured yarn, with help from the kids

Princess Girl and Dinosaur Boy helped me soak some wool in KoolAid a couple of weekends back ...

... and now I've spun the coloured wool into yarn, plied it and washed it, and it's all ready for knitting.

Here are the littler kids with their dad, showing off the results of our work.

It'll be made into some surprises that will show up at Christmas time ... you'll have to come back then to find out what this wool will become!

Construction update

It's been awhile since a construction update was posted, but construction has indeed been progressing!

The basement has all the in-floor heating in place: insulation, tubing, and the concrete floor! Earlier this week the cork flooring was purchased for the downstairs - there is a clearance store in town that had some very pretty stuff on for a very low price, and it'll be just fine downstairs. The selection for upstairs is a bit more specific, but this is beautiful cork and will make a very nice surface to play on in the basement.

The most exciting part, to me, is the work on the 'bridge' between the two houses. The siding from my house has been removed where the two buildings will join, and the joists placed between the two buildings on pilings (sunk 8 feet in the ground using a rented auger and The Reluctant Farmer's new bobcat). The underside of the bridge is finished, and the walls are in place, so you can clearly see how it will all look when it's done. Trusses are being built on the ground and will be installed this week, so it'll be a real hallway then!

The bridge is going to be wonderful: it is 10x8, wide enough to house the washer/dryer and the freezer, making them easily accessible from either house, and still leave plenty of room to walk. It's got two windows to let in light, and the floor provides a channel for pipes and wiring to run between the two buildings.

The rumor is that roof trusses for the house will be delivered Friday, but we'll believe that when we see it. It'll be great to have it roofed in, though - the tarp that's on it won't hold up to much more wind and weather, and we don't want the inside all wet!

09 September 2007

A dream come true for The Reluctant Farmer

The Reluctant Farmer has been wishing for a Land Cruiser for a long time now. His Hilux Surf was the 'entry point': it was cool, it was a Toyota, it was good for off-roading ... but it wasn't a Cruiser.

A little while ago, a beautiful 1991 imported Land Cruiser, in great shape, came available.

Saturday, we drove 3.5 hours south to pick it up. :)

It rumbles when it drives, like an old 1960s muscle car.

It runs on diesel, which is cheaper than gasoline by about 10c/L, on average.

The lower body panels are covered in the same stuff as the inside of my truck bed liner: rust-free and chip-resistant.

It's got a heavy duty roof rack, and extra lights that are so bright that you can see *anything* on the road in front of you.

It has .... *cruise control*. Very cool.

And ...

The center console, between the driver's and passenger's seats, has a built in cooler. You can put a couple of cans of Coke and a bottle or two of water in there, hit the 'cool' button, and have chilled beverages, while you drive!

How neat is that?

A very productive day

This morning we headed up to Gram and Grandpa's house to help with the sod: their yard is finally landscaped, and wow, does it ever look big with the sod in place! We all got dirty and muddy constructing a green patchwork quilt in the yard, but the final result is lovely. Gram made a great meal for us when we were done, so we headed back home tired, happy, and full.

Back at Apple Jack Creek, The Reluctant Farmer fired up the bobcat and pushed some fence posts into place with the bucket (he's been wanting to try that - pounding posts with a steel post pounder gets old really, really fast), and then recruited The Boy and myself to get the last bit of vapor barrier sticky stuff on the outside of his foundation. Indoors, The Boy did a couple of loads of wash, packed up for camp (his class is going to an outdoor education camp this week), and was generally useful in running errands for the activities happening outside.

Late in the afternoon, The Reluctant Farmer drove the bobcat around the yard, pushing dirt down around the foundation and working on the backfill. That job can't be finished completely until the windows are in, but it sure is nice to have some of the piles of dirt flattened out!

Meanwhile, Bruce the ram was up on the trimming stand for shearing. He wasn't really happy about being there, crosstied to a couple of fence posts and unable to go anywhere, nor was he thrilled about the snipping noises he kept hearing. Still, I did manage to get a year and a half's worth of fleece trimmed off, and without a single cut on either sheep or shearer!

I did leave Bruce with a fair bit of wool covering, as winter is coming on quickly and he won't have time to grow a nice long coat before the cold weather arrives. He looks really goofy - I haven't yet figured out how to trim a sheep smoothly *and* get no second cuts in the fleece, so whenever I shear, the sheep end up resembling those foam egg crate mattress toppers with lots of hills and valleys ... at least for a few days, after which the wool seems to fluff itself back up into some semblance of decency. I really should take a shearing course. My priority lies in getting useable fleece from the sheep, rather than in leaving them as pretty as possible ... so far, they are (temporarily) quite ugly and I have nice fleece, so I guess it's working!

Bruce has lovely wool - I will be spinning some of it tonight. I weighed the box of fleece when I was done: 7 lbs of wool! That should keep me occupied for a little while.

06 September 2007

A day at the river

Last weekend was the 'last weekend of summer', and Saturday was a beautiful warm day.

The Reluctant Farmer, The Boy and I headed down to the provincial park nearby, where there is a nice shallow river to play in. People often ride down it in canoes, dinghies or even inflatable swimming pools, following the current and enjoying the view.

We went and played in the water for the day, enjoying the sunshine, splashing in the water, and relishing every single joyous moment together.

Drop Spindles

My Auntie Sharon is interested in drop spindles, so I thought I'd provide a brief explanation of how they work.

Wool is made into yarn by twisting it: as it twists, the little fibres in the wool grab onto each other and hold on for dear life, making the yarn nice and strong. The trick to making yarn, then, is to find a way to keep it twisting while you feed in fibres a bit at a time.

With a spinning wheel, which you've probably seen at some time, the wheel itself keeps turning around, keeping the twist coming into the strand of yarn, and also winding the yarn onto a bobbin.

The older method - ancient, in fact - is a drop spindle. A drop spindle is a stick with a weight of some kind, sort of like a spinning top with a really long stem. The item on the right of this picture that vaguely resembles a mushroom cap on top of a long pencil is a drop spindle.
To spin with this, you wind some fibre around the long stem, pass it up over the 'mushroom cap' and under the hook that is centered on the spindle, then start the top spinning. This twists the loose fibre that is held between your hands and the top of the spindle, which gradually becomes yarn as it twists. Once you have a decent length of yarn spun up, you stop the spindle from spinning around, wind the yarn around the stem of the spindle, and start again.
Women have used tools like this to prepare fibre since before Bible times. When you use a drop spindle, you develop an entirely new appreciation for the generations of women who spun fibre in this way, then wove fabric from their yarn and sewed that fabric into garments to clothe their families. It is no wonder that most people made do with just one or two robes - it would have taken weeks of effort to create a single garment!

You can get lots of information about hand spinning (on drop spindles and wheels) here, including videos you can watch.
If you would like to try it out, you can find 'beginner spinning kits' with simple drop spindles and samples of fibre on ebay, or at your local fibre shop (any place that sells spinning wheels will carry these as well).

Princess Girl falls in love with fibre

Princess Girl and Dinosaur Boy are here three nights a week, and it has become routine that every evening, they ask to watch me spin wool. Believe it or not, it would be a huge disappointment for them if I didn't spin while they have their bedtime story! I am sure this will fade in time, but at the moment, the kids are fascinated by transformation of bunches of messy fibre to smooth, shiny wool.

Tuesday night, Princess Girl really wanted to help me. I put a stool beside my spinning chair as she wanted to "sit right aside you here", then I gave her a handful of fleece and a comb (one of the less pointy and pokey ones). She very studiously combed out the ends of the locks, then handed the teased fibres to me to put on my hand cards and make into rolags. She sat there while I spun, wonderingly holding the bits of fibre in her hands, and watching the pedal go up and down and the wheel go round and round, and yarn wind onto the bobbin.

Last night, she helped me knit.

Sitting beside me on the couch, she held the two balls of hand spun yarn from which I am knitting a scarf, and unwound wool for me as I needed it. At one point, she laid the two strands of yarn across her lap and, giggling, said "I have a wool seat belt!" She seems to find the texture of the yarn incredibly mysterious, holding the balls of wool and exclaiming over the softness.

She is most certainly a princess ... but you know, princesses of old were expected to spin wool and do their needlework, that's what ladies did! Perhaps there is hope for her yet. :)

02 September 2007

Playing in the dirt

The Reluctant Farmer handed me the keys to his new toy today ... and I dug up some dirt and dumped it by the house. Then I levelled it out, and spun around and levelled part of the driveway.

Wow, this thing is cool!

Hmphm. Princess indeed.