Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Promise of Things to Come...

Love is in the air! 
Gunnar, the Gotland ram from Heidi Quist's flock, arrived for duty on Saturday, December 23rd.
If all goes well, I will be inundated with lambs around May17th, right after Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival. Gunnar's getting 15 ewes in his breeding pen, so I should have lots of Gotland cross lambs in 2018.  Included in his breeding group are nine Teeswater cross ewes, two Shetland ewes (River Oaks Camille and her daughter Mystery), two Shetland/BFL ewes, Roxie, my Finn/BFL ewe, and Wanda, my Wensleydale/BFL ewe. In the photo above, Gunnar is getting to know Wanda's 2015 daughter, #123. Look as those fleeces!

Sid and I bottled up another batch of Limoncello. We gave a few bottles as Christmas gifts and have a lot left to enjoy ourselves. I hadn't ever had it before I met Sid. He had a gallon jar of lemon peelings in alcohol for months when we first started going out. I didn't exactly know what it was for, but when he removed the peelings and mixed up lemony alcohol with simple syrup I was hooked. It's great for an after or before dinner drink. Aids digestion. :-)
I always like to start a batch about 3 months before I run out. I usually make a batch using two 750ml bottles of neutral spirits such as Everclear or Vodka. I peel about a dozen lemons, being careful to just get the yellow part of skin, not the white part.
After I put the peelings in a gallon jar, I just pour the spirits on top, cover and let sit until the color is gone from the peelings. I usually let it sit a few months, but I think a few weeks would work too.
On a side note, I usually squeeze the lemons and freeze the juice in an ice cube tray for easy homemade lemonade later.
When you're ready to make your limoncello, mix up batch of simple syrup. The simple syrup should be 50/50 water and sugar in an amount equal to the lemon liquor (minus the peelings). Bring the simple syrup to a boil and simmer until it looks clear. Then let it cool. When it's room temperature, just blend it with the lemon liquor, stir and bottle.
Serve over ice. You may want to dilute it with more water for a very light, refreshing drink that still packs a bit of a punch.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas, Skinfell, and Stones

It's almost Christmas and life has been busy for Sid and I. This is our third Christmas together in our house in Ogilvie. He called the place Terrapin Ridge (for all the turtles that come up from the backwaters of Ann Lake to lay their eggs every spring) and I call it River Oaks West, since I moved my entire flock and my studio here in June of 2015.
My first Christmas here, Sid informed me that his tradition is to have a living Christmas tree. I was fine with that because I hate the thought of killing a tree for a few weeks of decoration. For several years, I used my beautiful Norfolk Island Pine houseplant as a Christmas tree. Finally it got too big for our little house and I had to rehome it. Anyway, Sid and I decided to get a Norfolk Island Pine, but when we went looking for one at the usual spots, there were none to be found except for a very expensive one at the local florist. So Sid ordered one from Amazon, it was so little and cute! This year it's at least three times the size and it holds lots of decorations. The only trouble is, it leans toward the light so I have to keep turning it.

I entered my piece, "A Wee Bit Sheepish" in the Textile Center's Common Thread member's show. Just adding my signature and care tag today and it will be delivered tomorrow.  The show runs from January 8 to March 10, 2018 at the Textile Center in Minneapolis. Be sure to stop in if you get a chance, there are well over 100 fiber artists exhibiting a wide array of fiber art.

I also had three pieces in the "Begin/Continue Exhibit" of instructor's work at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN. The pieces included this eco-printed nunofelt wall piece (only in a flat presentation), a black gulmoget Shetland felted fleece and a white raw locks collar with a wax-resist eggshell brooch.

In mid-November I wound up in the ER of our local hospital with kidney stones. I wasn't sure what it was the first time it happened. That only lasted about 30 minutes and I guessed maybe I had a kidney stone because they run in my family. But the second time it happened, the pain wouldn't stop. There was no position I could be comfortable in and I was vomiting. It was horrible, like labor pains that don't stop. We finally decided a trip to the ER was in order around 10:30 p.m. The hospital staff was very nice. They confirmed my suspicions of a kidney stone. They gave me IV painkillers and did x-rays, blood tests and urine tests then sent me home with painkillers and a basket to collect the stone if it passed before I had surgery in two days.  So two days later the urologist removed multiple stones and inserted a stent between my kidney and bladder that stayed in for  2.5 weeks (very uncomfortable, more painkillers!).  Then I had another surgery to remove the stent and break up the remaining stones with shock waves. I felt much better after that, no more painkillers.

The cause of my stones turned out to be primary hyperparathyroidism. Parathyroid hormone controls the level of calcium circulating in the blood. For some reason, usually a non-cancerous tumor, one or more of the glands doesn't shut down producing the hormone when the proper calcium level is reached. The result is that calcium is then taken from the bones and the excess calcium in the blood eventually detrimentally affects organs like the kidneys, heart, brain, and of course the bones. 
It's most commonly diagnosed in women between 50 and 60. My blood levels of calcium were higher than they should be. The ER doctor told me to follow up with my regular doctor who did more blood testing and found that my blood level of parathyroid hormone was way too high. So he referred me to a surgeon who ordered more tests and told me I would need surgery to remove the overactive parathyroid gland(s). The test results were consistent with hyperparathyroidism diagnosis, but the ultrasound and nuclear medicine scan failed to show which of the four parathyroid glands was the culprit. So the surgeon referred me to an ENT in the Twin Cities who does a lot of hyperparathyroid cases. I see him tomorrow. I am so anxious to get this taken care of! Apparently I have had this condition for a few years already. My bones are losing density as I type this. Hyperparathyroidism if left unchecked can lead to kidney stones (and kidney failure), heart attack and stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, depression, inability to concentrate, and psychosis. Yikes! Apparently it also causes weight gain, no wonder I have been steadily adding pounds the past couple years. I thought it was all Sid's fault for being such a good cook. Once the offending parathyroid gland(s) is/are removed, the condition is cured. Yay! And then calcium and vitamin D supplements are given to help restore bone loss.

On a more cheerful note, Sid has given me my Christmas present already, it's a class have been dying to take -- Skinfelling with Karen Aakre at the Milan Village Arts School next April.  You can check it out with this link.

I first heard of Skinfell from a Swedish lady who took my felted fleece class in 2016. They sounded wonderful and I have been thinking of ways to incorporate the look of skinfell in my felted pelts.  But now Sid and I are learning how to tan our own sheepskins and skinfell would be a great way to add value and make them even more beautiful. 

If all goes well with the ENT tomorrow, I am planning to put Gunnar, a Gotland ram from Heidi Quist's flock, in with my 16 ewes this weekend for late May lambs in 2018. Gotland hides are the best for skinfell and the Gotland fleeces are wonderful for felt pelts! It all seems to come together...

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Winter Solstice, Felice Navidad, Happy Hannukah, etc. to all!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Something Fun and just in Time for Halloween

After a little trial and error, well actually a lot of trail and error -- I'll do better next time -- I came up with this nice warm and wooly sheep hood/hat.

Made of Teeswater locks with a Bluefaced Leicester base, wet felted and needle felted. I still need to add a few finishing touches and a closure under the chin, but I like it so far.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shetland, Shepherd's Harvest and New Sheep!

It's already mid-July and I am so behind! The garden didn't even get planted until July 1st. I hope we have a late frost again this year.
I had a wonderful 11 days in Scotland in May, including 9 days in Shetland at a felting retreat with Fiona Duthie! It was an amazing trip -- such a beautiful, peaceful place.

Fiona had our days all planned out and we had plenty of time for felting in some fabulous places.
We ate so well, learned about the history of Shetland, the land, the art, the sheep, and the people. Each day was better than the one before. I would love to go back!
Colorful door at the Voxner Outdoor Center opens to the beautiful scene above.

Scalloway castle

A Shetland ewe and lamb on the island of Mousa.

Heading back to the ferry after visiting the broche on Mousa. This place felt like heaven to me.

Finishing up our felt sculptures at the Sumburgh Head lighthouse.

Some of the sculptures.

I managed to photograph these two puffins before they flew off. The cliffs at Sumburgh Head are home to thousands of birds.

Uradale farm Shetlands

I was able to purchase four natural colored Shetland fleeces from Uradale Farm. I shipped them home and I've finished one so far. The color is stunning on it. I will felt them all this summer.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my booth at Shepherd's Harvest and/or took my Cobweb Felt Floor lamp class. It's always so much fun reconnecting with people at Shepherd's Harvest!

As you may know, I didn't breed any of my ewes last fall since I was going to Shetland. Instead, I picked out the sweetest little 87.5% Gotland ram lamb from Heidi Quist, of Prairie Willows Farm. He was such a stunner, I couldn't resist. But when Heidi mentioned how great his fleece is turning out I decided I should let her keep him so he could be registered and used to his full potential. I will lease him or his dad this fall. That way I won't have a ram pen to deal with all winter.

So, to get my Gotland lamb fix I picked out Anna, a Gotland/Shetland ewe and her wethered twin brother.  They are both so friendly and well traveled already. They made the trip to Grand Marais and North House Folk School along with their mother during June.

Sid had his knee replaced June 5th. He's doing very well. He still has pain, but he's done with physical therapy and he's getting around better than he has in the past two years.

Oh,and I can't forget to mention the ducklings and turkeys. Our old Kahki Campbell duck hatched out a clutch of 10 ducklings in June. They have grown so fast. Then the Saxony duck hatched out a single duckling two weeks ago. It's so cute to see the little one trekking around with its older brothers and sisters. Thankfully their father is fine with them (some drakes will kill ducklings) and the whole family can be seen strolling about the yard.

Sid ordered 18 heritage breed turkey poults last winter. They arrived the first week of May. We sold 8 of them and kept ten -- five Naragansett and five Bourbon Reds. But when the weather got hot, we lost 4 of them within about 10 days. The surviving six are free ranging with the rest of the poultry now. I love their voices and their cautious ways. 

Next time, more about the felted fleece classes I taught in Grand Marais and here at my studio in July. I'll leave you with this selfie of Sid and I camping in Lake Superior National Forest.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Getting ready for Shepherd's Harvest!

Wow, it's May already and that means Shepherd's Harvest Sheep & Wool Festival is right around the corner!

I will have a booth in Building D again this year -- right next to my neighbor and friend, Denise Morris, of Morris Pottery.  I will be selling my homegrown TeeswaterX raw and washed locks, BFL and Shetland combed top and roving, and maybe a few skirted fleeces.  I will have plenty of felt pelts, a couple felted vests, some ecoprinted nunofelt cowls/scarves, handcrafted soap and lip balm, and a few washable tanned hides.
Sid and I will also have some fiber equipment for sale. Including this nice Swedish 28" four harness Lillstina loom. And it's already warped! SOLD

We also have this single treadle Louet S10 with a jumbo flyer and 5 bobbins (2 jumbo, 3 regular) and built-in Lazy Kate for sale.  SOLD
We've updated it with a new drive band, brake band set, footman connector, and footman to treadle connector. Come and give it a spin! SOLD

The bobbins included are the older style with two ratios, but newer bobbins with three ratios are compatible with this wheel.

On Sunday, May 14th I will be teaching a Cobweb Felt Floor Lampshade class from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. We will be using fiber from my ewe, Wanda. She's a Wensleydale/Bluefaced Leicester cross with lustrous locks. I think there are still a few spaces left in the class. You can find more details and register here.
If you're closer to eastern Wisconsin, I will also be teaching this class at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival on Sunday, September 10th.


I've been experimenting with eco-printing  and nunofelting the lampshades. They can also be gradient dyed, embroidered or beaded as desired. I just love them -- they impart a warm glow to any room.

Yesterday I decided to try making a raw locks collar from one of Wanda's lamb's fleece. It is a Teeswater/Wensleydale/Bluefaced Leicester. I cringed at the dirty greasy tips, but went ahead and gave it a try.
Thankfully those locks washed up sparkling white and almost all of the VM shook out after it was finished! The little that remained was easily picked out.

Now I feel more comfortable offering it for sale. I have six bags of it on hand and more growing on the hoof!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's Up for 2017

Well, it's been quite a while since my last post! Things are busy as usual with the sheep, chickens, ducks, quail, cats, and the never-ending task of remodeling the house.

We're making progress on the spiral staircase, flooring, and the kitchen.

I made some Roman shades for the living room and for my studio.
Last week I finally sewed up some cushions for the rattan set I bought at a garage sale in the fall of 2011.
Next, I want to felt and eco-print a covering for another rattan chair and make some Roman shades for our upstairs bedroom solarium windows. That will be a challenge! If anyone has ideas for solarium window shades, please let me know.

My schedule for 2017 is shaping up with felting workshops I am taking and classes I'll be teaching.

I am teaching a new class at Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival on May, 14th and at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival on September 10th. It's a Cobweb Felt Floor Lamp class.

I love these floor lamps! They warm up the atmosphere of any room and they emphasize the beautiful lock structure of long wool fibers. I use my Wensleydale/Bluefaced Leicester ewe's roving for these lamp coverings. We will be making them in white, but they can be dyed or eco-printed or embellished for more texture and color.

I'm teaching the Raw Felted Fleece class again this year at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN July 8-9th. North House is a beautiful location, right on Lake Superior in an artsy town with lots of fine dining, camping, shopping and fishing opportunities. Sid loves to fish for trout while I'm teaching, so it's a win-win for both of us. The weekend I teach is also the weekend of the Grand Marais Art Colony Art Show, so there will be lots of people in town for that too.

I also teach the Raw Felted Fleece class here in Ogilvie, MN in my outdoor studio. I've got people coming in from various states this spring and summer. If you're interested in this class, drop me an email. I can do individual sessions or groups of 2-6. Four is a good number to have adequate space and time for everyone. There are lakeside cabins available to rent just down the road from our house. They are very affordable if you schedule a session during the week. If you fly into Minneapolis or Duluth, there is a shuttle bus from the airport to Hinckley, MN where I can pick you up. Sid loves to cook, so we have snacks and a nice lunch for students as well as plenty of after class homemade wine or mead to share.

I decided not to breed my ewes last fall because I am taking a trip to Shetland, UK in May this spring. I am studying felting with Fiona Duthie in a 9-day retreat. I am super excited! Ever since I started raising Shetland sheep in 2001, I've wanted to visit Shetland.

Sid will be taking care of the sheep while I'm away. This is the first time in 15 years I haven't had lambing looming over my head in the spring. I feel like I'm playing hooky from school. It's so liberating not to worry about procuring good hay, vaccinating and shearing prior to lambing, keeping watch as the ewes lamb, docking tails and vaccinating the lambs, weaning lambs, and marketing sheep. Whew, there are a lot of things that come with lambing! Also, it's nice to just have one pen of sheep to care for rather than a ram pen, a ewe pen, lambing jugs, etc. So happy I can just relax and enjoy my flock and their wonderful wool!

We had a bit of a scare when I put the wethered ram lambs back in with the ewes. The shearer had used the burdizzo on Wilbur in mid-September, so I waited until January to make sure he was no longer fertile before letting him in with the ewes.

I wasn't too worried about Wilbur's keen interest in the ewes until I noticed they were standing for him. That's when I decided to check his testicles and to my horror, instead of two small shrunken ones, I could only feel one and it was the size of a lemon!

My thoughts were that the crimping hadn't fully crushed the cord and I could have 17 ewes to lamb out in June. Yikes!!! Fortunately, my vet can do ultrasounds on the ewes. So I scheduled a farm visit for 45-60 days after exposure (which was just a few days ago). Thankfully, the sampling of ewes that were ultrasounded appear to be open (not bred). The vet also did an ultrasound of Wilbur's testicle and it appears there is enough scarring to prevent him from being fertile. Yeah!!! 

We can't be 100% sure until June, but if anyone needs a good teaser ram, I will probably have one available. He's a Teeswater, Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester with excellent long lustrous locks and a nice personality. And his name is Wilbur.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall and the Midwest Farm and Fiber Festival

The class at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival went well. The fleeces look beautiful!
Sorry I didn't get all the class participants in this photo, some had to leave before it was taken, but I love all the colors and textures represented. Thanks so much to all the ladies for helping out with the tables and clean up.

We had a great space in the milking parlor for the class this year. It was complete with plenty of hot water and floor drains.

Sid and I brought a trailer full of sheep with us to Jefferson.
It was sad to see my Bluefaced Leicester ewes River Oaks Leta and Ruby go, but I'm glad they will be in a breeding flock. I'm also happy that Mystery's little Teeswater/Shetland ram lamb found a good home, he's such a sweetheart. I love the fiber of the Teeswater/Shetland crosses. It's not the long Teeswater-type locks, but it's very soft and I'm finding it spins into a beautiful, springy lustrous yarn.
Speaking of yarn, I was happy to get first place on this 8 oz. skein of natural colored Bluefaced Leicester 2 ply that I spun over the summer at the Isle Farmer's Market. I entered it at the last minute, but so glad I did!

There's always so much to do at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival. I took a Batik Silk scarf class on Saturday morning. I hadn't had time to come up with a design before class, so I winged it with this turtle motif inspired by the baby turtle we found in our driveway the day before we left for Jefferson. I'm excited to keep going with the wax resist technique on silk!

Now it's time to get ready for my booth at the Midwest Farm and Fiber Festival coming up on October 22 at the Isanti County Fairgrounds in Cambridge, MN.

I've been going through all my fiber and shipped out 33 pounds of washed fiber for felting batts, combed top, and roving. I still have a bit more to ship out, but I felt pretty good about having the studio almost devoid of fleeces. Then I had 13 of my Teeswater cross sheep sheared the other day.

Fall fleeces are cleaner than spring fleeces and I have several nice lamb fleeces in the group. I still need to skirt them and decide which ones will be for sale. The heaviest ones are the Teeswater/BFL/Wensleydales and the Teeswater/Bluefaced Leicester/Finns. The Teeswater/BFL/Finns are my favorite, they're so long, soft and lustrous.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Jester, my Teeswater ram, Lucky and Gulliver. Kind of an emotional day. But I'm glad to get my numbers down with several shorn ram lambs scheduled to move on after I grain feed them for a few weeks. Two ewes will be heading out early next month.

I have reaffirmed my decision not to breed any ewes this fall after being rammed pretty hard by Jester. It took two weeks to get over that hit and I'm not getting any younger. That hit and my trip Shetland next spring just seemed to say it's time to skip breeding. I'm looking forward to having more time to work with my fleeces and fiber art rather than lambing, weaning, vaccinating, etc. But I will miss having lambs, it will be the first spring since 2001 without any lambs.
On a brighter note, I found this iris blooming the other day. It was quite a surprise, but I see another one is budding too. I'm going to mark them and see if they flower twice next year. I didn't know there are types of iris that are double bloomers.