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I am Sandra - faithful steward. listener. shepherd. dream believer. hard worker. collects brass bells, boots. Jesus follower. contented. star gazer. homemaker. farmer. prayer warrior. country woman. reader. traveler. writer. homebody. living life large.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

6 Places I've Knit & LYS

Recently I read a post that asked, name five places you've knit other than your home and the yarn shop. Here are my six because number 3 is, legalistically, home.

1. on the beach in Aruba
2. on a small boat in the Alaskan Inside Passage
3. in the pasture with my small flock of hand spinner's sheep
4. at the top of a monastery bell tower in Yaroslavl, Russia
5. in an airplane flying from Moscow to Syktyvkar, Komi Republic, Siberia, Russia
6. overlooking the Pacific Coast at the California Albion River Inn w/a blazing fire in the fireplace

For the sheer tranquility, the best place to knit was (is) either in the pasture with my sheep or at the Albion River Inn; both places were, and are, sublime. The Albion River Inn is the setting for the old Marsha Mason & Alan Alda movie Same Time Next Year and the Inn has only improved with age. Not only that but it's just a few miles down the road from the Mendocino Yarn Shop, in the five nicest shops I've ever visited, if not actually being number one.

For me to buy yarn is like carrying coals to Newcastle but every time I hit the road, you'll find me, figuratively , if not literally, carrying my bucket in search of yarn shops. Fiber folks are some of the nicest I've ever know and yarn shop owners are either the nicest or the worst people I've ever met. Some yarn shop owners make it an extreme pleasure to spend money in their shop...witness by the amount of credit card charges as I exit. Other shop owners act as if allowing people to spend money in their shop is a blessing.

I call it a curse. I travel a lot both for work and for pleasure and have a list of yarn shops on the A list and on the no list. In this day and age of internet, yarn shop owners would do well to hire someone with a pleasing, if not perky, personality to service the clientele. It's all too easy to hit the brick wall of an owner's shared bad day and walk out leaving a lot of cash, iow merchandise, lying next to the cash register, funds still in one's pocket. I know, I've done it.

All in all, yarn shops are delightful places to visit with wonderful, sometimes even natural, lighting, shared enthusiasm of personnel and clientele, yarn, books and inspiration galore and, almost, more opportunities to spend money than rice in China.

If you travel but haven't heard of the Knitters', Crocheters', Weavers' and Spinners' Travel Guide 2006 ask your local yarn shop to get in an order. Direction Press is the publisher, 888.737.0847, and this book is a gem. No, of course, it's not totally inclusive but it's an excellent first offering. It's a guide to local yarn and farm shops across the USA. At the beginning of every alphabetically arranged chapter, there's a state map with towns and numbers of yarn shops in that town or area. The numbers correspond to the shops and makes it easier to local shops in locales where you'll travel.

All of that leads up to my five favorite yarn shops, arranged in no particular order. Let me know if you've visited any of my favorites and then let me know your favorites.

1. Mendocino Yarn Shop, CA - breathtaking locale, excellent selections, wonderful staff
2. Yarntiques, Johnson City, TN - full to overflowing sensory load - aaaahhhhhhh!
3. Holly Springs Home Spun, Powhatan, VA - everything from "sheep to shawl"
4. Greenberry House, Meadows of Dan, VA - Angora, Queen of Fibers
5. The Blue Ewe @ Thistle Cove Farm - Artisan Yarn from the Shepherd

So, okay. Those last two aren't as well stocked as a "regular" yarn shop but it's not the shop that's so dang wonderful...it's the fiber . Leslie, over at Greenberry House, has some of the nicest, if not the nicest, angora fiber I've ever spun. Her rabbits' fiber show the lack of stress, good food, water and all around excellent care they receive at the hands of "Best Buns in the Blue Ridge" (ya gotta LOVE that name!)

My small hand spinner's flock grow some of the most excellent fleeces I've ever put my hands in and it spins into the most luscious yarn whether hand or farm spun. The natural colored yarns are a blend of Romney and Shetland fleeces in a worsted weight, two ply, knit on size 7 needles.

You get to buy direct from the Appalachian Wool Works Shepherd and help keep the old ways alive...how good is that!?

My list of favorite shops grows with every trip and those good Directions Press folks are enablers, one and all. They make it so very easy to find yarn and fiber shops and thus to spend money. If you have a favorite shop and it's not listed in their book, contact them ASAP and let them know. Don't keep secrets like wonderful yarn shops...you run the risk of breaking a needle mid-project.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

After the Sheep are Sheared

Happy Easter one and all; it's the day after sheep shearing. The days leading up to sheep shearing were full of work, cleaning up after the winter storms, fence and barn repair, gate painting, cleaning up the farm office and other chores. It's great to fill the day light hours with rewarding work that can be seen as soon as it's accomplished.

This week has also been full of fun. I celebrated a birthday and am grateful for good health to enjoy all the blessings bestowed upon me. We celebrated quietly at home with home made crab soup and bread dipped in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Of such little joys are the memories of life.

Not all the sheep were sheared yesterday must to the consternation of some visitors. But, we're on farm time and emergencies happen that are beyond our control. Farm life sure keeps a body humble. Clinton, our shearer, has had more than 90 sets of triplets born this spring and lambs continue to come. He was able to shear a few of my sheep before packing up and heading back to the lambing barn. The sheared sheep are nekkid and a lot cooler while the un-sheared sheep continue to battle the heat. Can you imagine wearing a fur coat in 80 degree F weather? Ugh! It makes me break into a sweat just thinking about it.

Leslie Shelor of Greenberry House came to help skirt fleeces as well as demonstrate spinning. She spins lovely yarn and has already written her blog entry along with lovely photos.

Leslie is shown on left with Donna Crick on right as they skirt a lovely sun kissed brown Romney fleece. Some of the Romney fleeces will weight 25 pounds before skirting and will still weigh in between 15 and 18 pounds after skirting. Usually a vigorous shake will get rid of the vegetable matter and the nastier bits are picked out by hand.

Ah, but how good is life? To be up to one's elbow's in fleeces on a warm, beautiful day in this valley...as near to heaven as one can get on earth!

People really enjoy seeing demonstrations and Leslie shared space with Larry Counts who makes decorative and useful brooms.

Ken Smith of the Coalfield Education Endeavor was in uniform as Johnny Reb and told people of the life of a Confederate soldier. The non-profit CEE's mission statement "..Securing our Future through the Preservation of our Cultural Heritage.." and does so by working with both gifted and at-risk students. Their three-pronged approach uses Living History, Aerospace Education and Genealogical Studies to promote pride among the region's residents and to "encourage the youth and adults of the area to develop their potential and increase their knowledge".

Richard Vogel is an expert woodworker and uses only antique or handmade tools to make benches, hay rakes, hay forks, grain shovels, spoons, stools and other useful, decorative wooden items. A couple of years ago, Richard made us a king size bed using massive cherry tree trunks and putting the whole thing together with pegs. It's an incredible piece of work!

Charlie Butcher, luthier, came and brought his lovely family including his beautiful first grandchild, Benjamin. It's been said babies are God's opinion the world should go on. Who could look at this precious child and disagree?


Monday, April 10, 2006

Sheep Shearing Day







An annual rite of spring is Sheep Shearing Day @ Thistle Cove Farm. Every third Saturday in April, our rare breed flock of Shetland, Romney, Merino and cross bred sheep are shorn of their woolen fleeces.

Friday night, prior to dark, I'll put the sheep into a "short lot", or, in the possibility of rain, into the barn. They won't be allowed food or water from Friday night until after they are shorn. It's not to their liking but it's to their benefit. Just think of you having surgery...same principle applies...you're much more comfortable if you've not had food or beverage prior and you're safer as well. Thus it is for the sheep. Although...if you ask them, they will tell you of their trials and tribulations in being deprived of nourishment for even those few hours. Most sheep sleep at night...right? Not my darlings. They will bed down at dark but if they hear my voice or even my car drive onto the farm...UP they will jump and madly begin bleating at me. FOOD, FOOD, FOOD...we NEED food!

Listen up guys and ewes...it's DARK and every other sheep in the valley is asleep. Go thou and do likewise.

The sheep enjoy being relieved of their winter coats but are sorely angered at the rudeness with which they are shorn. There is a process to the madness of shearing which begins with the sheep being locked up, as mentioned above. The next morning, James arrives and he'll catch sheep for the shearer. James will actually go into the lot where the sheep are located, choose one and then catch it with his right hand on the sheep's rump and James' left hand in the sheep's mouth. James will be careful to place his hand *behind* the sheep's teeth, toward the back of the jaw. He'll avoid being bitten and it's much easier, safer and gentler to guide the sheep in this manner.

As James guides the sheep to the shearer, he'll, gently, bend the sheep in a semi-circle shape and, at the same time, push the sheep's rump to the floor. The sheep can then be rolled and stood up on its rump in perfect position for Clinton to shear.

Clinton Bell, our neighbor and shearer, has been shearing sheep for more than four decades and is more than capable. He wears soft New Zealand leather booties that have seen years of use and are "lathered" on the bottom with years of lanolin. The lanolin helps Clinton grip the floor with his feet and grip the sheep with his legs and helps keep both shearer and sheep safe. It takes Clinton perhaps three or four minutes to shear a sheep using his electric blades. Some shearer's use hand blades which leaves a coat of, maybe, two to three inches on the sheep. With electric blades each sheep is shorn to the skin.

Once the sheep is shorn, s/he is released to the next lot where, invariably, the end up fighting because they don't recognize each other. How funny! Leslie Shelor of Greenberry House will be on hand to help wtih skirting and then she'll assist with spinning and fiber arts demonstration. For those who don't know...skirting means cleaning the raw, right off the sheep fleece of tags such as manure, urine and unwanted vegetable matter (VM) such as burdock. I try to keep clean pastures so there's little VM to pick out. It's easier to keep a clean pasture so the sheep will have clean fleeces than it is to clean the fleece.

I like to shear late in the year so the sheep are not discomforted by cold weather. Most folks like to shear in early winter so the ewe's are more comfortable for lambing and the lambs can find their mother's teats quickly and easily. In cold weather, it's imperative a lamb find the teat so they can nurse that precious colostrum and be warmed by the milk. I didn't put a ram in with my ewes last fall so there aren't any spring lambs this year. It saddens me greatly but unless and until I can sell a horse or two, I refuse to have more mouths to feed. Why add to the burden? My sheep do not go to to the market nor do they don't have to worry about being the star guest at any mealtime. All my sheep have to do is grow excellent quality wool fleeces and let me love on them; an easy, and safe, life compared to most other sheep.

For those of you who may know such things...no, my Shetlands don't blow their coats or, at least, they have yet to do so. A Shetland is a primitive breed and are from the Shetland Isles of Scotland. During late winter/early spring, Shetlands will roo or blow their coats. For whatever reason, mine don't roo. I think it's because they have little to no stress in their lives, received the best free choice minerals available for purchase, eat fresh pasture and hay grown on our farm and drink mountain spring water from an underground source that surfaces on our farm. My sheep, it saddens me to say, have a life seventy percent of the world's population would envy. That's a sad commentary on humanity, isn't it?

There are naysayers who decry the shearing process saying it's inhumane treatment but if the sheep wasn't shorn, it would, eventually, die. Sheep can get cast, meaning if they are too fat (as is the case with my darlings) or if their fleeces are extremely long (again, as is the case with my darlings) they can lie down and not be able to rise to their feet. I've got two sheep, both wethers (neutered males) who will, often, lie down, roll onto their backs and not be able to rise to their feet. In that case, I have to intervene and, literally, roll them to their feet. Each time, said sheep will shake their head, stagger around for a moment or two and then waddle off greatly insulted at their predicaments.

Sheep are completely and totally domesticated animals and have been for thousands and thousands of years. Without humans to tend to and care for them, they would, in large part if not all part, eventually die out.

We start shearing whenever Clinton gets here and that's somewhere between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. We're on farm time and sometimes interruptions prevent us from doing what was planned when we planned it. That's okay. The sheep have to be shorn and they will be...eventually. When the sheep are nekkid, Clinton packs up his tools and goes back to his farm.

Lost Arts Guild members will be on hand to demonstrate traditional mountain crafts such as spinning, making 4-string mountain dulcimers or brooms from broom straw. We might even have a woodworker or farrier or fillet crochet artist. We never really know but just go with whatever happens. It's a good day albeit a working day on the farm and our first priority is to shear sheep.

Please see our website, Thistle Cove Farm, for directions and, if you're driving a distance, please call Friday night to make sure we're still a go. We can never predict an emergency or a change of plans but we'll try and keep you up to date. It's a great day on the farm, full of photo opportunities. Bring a lunch and enjoy our picnic tables.

Also, we're collection donations for the Komi Kids Yarn Project so bring a few dollars for that. There's no charge for parking and I ask you to park on the road to keep the farm lane clear for workers.

Thistle Cove Farm - where it's beautiful one day and perfect the next!