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Archive for the ‘On a Personal Note’ Category

Gray skies, cooler temperatures, brisk winds … it is the season for alpaca. Time to pull out the socks, scarves, head bands and hats made from the soft, wonderful wool that keeps me warm and makes it bearable to work outside in the winter. Living on a ranch and working with livestock means I am outside every day. I often joke that the only one cold in the barn during the winter is the shepherd. The alpacas are clothed in warm fiber and hardly notice.

This is also the time of year I can share my joy of alpaca with hundreds of other people who may not have either heard of alpaca or felt this luxurious wool. During the year I spend time crocheting scarves, head bands and hats to be sold at craft fairs in surrounding communities. Packing those items, as well as yarn from our alpacas, I head off to peddle my wares. I love letting people experience this unique wool.

Scarf_20150305h

I always display the scarves so they are at a convenient place to be touched. Alpaca loves to be touched. People will reach out and feel the scarf then turn and say, “I had no idea it was so soft”. I will see them turn to the person they are with and say, “You have to feel this!” These comments always make me smile because I know how wonderful alpaca feels. I then get to share so many of the other qualities it has:

  • soft as cashmere but more durable
  • no lanolin so it does not attract dust or dander
  • lighter weight than wool yet warmer by weight
  • water repellent and flame retardant

My wool is all natural, there are over 22 different color alpacas. Colors range from white to black and everything in between. I breed for grey and my yarn display has multiple shades of grey. I let my visitors know that if they can knit or crochet they can choose their yarn and make something themselves. For those who cannot there are always my items available for them.

If you are out and about this season of the year, stop by a craft show and enjoy the handmade items of the talented people living all around you. You may be surprised what you will find.

OIW2015 (4)

Visit our Etsy shop … http://www.etsy.com/shop/MissouriAlpacas

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Have you ever gotten one of those Christmas cards showing a house surrounded by snow? The windows are lighted and you feel like you are standing in the distance looking in. You know it is cold outside where you are standing and the house looks so warm and inviting. That image comes to mind on these cold, dark winter mornings when I am out working in the barn.

My day begins before sunrise. I turn the barn lights on so I can see to clean and feed the alpacas. Before I leave them I will often take some hay out into the pastures for them to eat on during the day (providing there is no snow or rain in the forecast). As I turn to head back to the barn I see the lighted door openings; it looks so inviting. Not as warm as that Christmas home but a bit warmer then standing out in the pasture.

I sometimes stop, look up into the starry sky and think how fortunate I am. Yes, the mornings can be very cold and cleaning up muck is not glamorous, but spotting Mars, Venus or even Jupiter and a familiar constellation is remarkable. On mornings like today I even get the splash of color across the sky as the sun begins to come up, it makes the cold a little more bearable. The hum of the alpacas always reminds me that the effort is worth it. So, until spring arrives, I will bask in the warm glow of my barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

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I attended my first fiber show of the 2012 season. Before I started raising alpacas, I didn’t realize how much fiber is produced in the United States. Quite a bit of it comes from small farms. Attending the show were owners of sheep, goats, rabbits, llamas and alpacas. The sheep market alone has many varieties. Owners come to fairs all across the nation to display and sell their wool. It can be bought in raw form, (right from shearing) roving (carded and ready to spin) or yarn. It can be natural or dyed. There is no limit to the colors and choices.

In this environment you will discover crafts and arts, that some may think have passed away, but are very much alive. Spinners are in abundance; using both the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. Tatting, lace making, embroidery, weaving, knitting and crocheting are all still perpetuated by those who love the craft and love creating beautiful pieces of art from scratch. The crafters cover many generations with ages in the single digit to those in their nineties. There are no age, gender or color barriers with this group.

Alpaca fiber is called “the fiber of the gods”. It is told that the harvested alpaca fiber of the finest quality could only be worn by the Incan royalty. Alpaca is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton. It has the ability to provide great warmth without the weight of wool. It has no lanolin which helps it to stay clean and provides and alternative for those who are allergic to wool. Over 22 natural colors are created by the alpacas, and because it is a natural fiber, it can also be dyed.

Natural Colors

I have the pleasure of raising a herd of alpacas, and each year we harvest this wonderful fiber. I send most of our fiber to a mini-mill in Kansas for processing. I like using the mill because I get my own fiber back. Part of our fiber is made into yarns and part into roving. I try to get an assortment of both for my customers and of course myself. Quality is always my priority. I want the person who uses my alpaca fiber to be pleased and return for more.

Missouri Alpaca Herd

At the fiber fair I bring in my selections to compliment all the other fiber being shown and sold. I usually take my spinning wheel or crochet to work with while I am there. I love, not only meeting other fiber artists, but learning new things from them. What a wealth of knowledge is out there. I get to talk with so many interesting people. I am pleasantly surprised when I find someone who spins or knits, though they don’t look the part. I met a man knitting socks once. I shouldn’t pre-judge but I just didn’t expect it.

So, the next time you wrap up in your favorite shawl or scarf, put on that special hat, or pull out your afghan or lap throw, consider the hands that may create it. Nestled away in your city, town and neighborhood are extraordinary people, living a simpler life in an over technological world. I am so thankful for them and their skills and to be a part of this community. May they continue to pass on their art and our heritage.

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I heard on the radio that Missouri has set a record for the number of warm days in March. It has been unseasonably warm this month. March not only came in like a lion, with high winds, but also ferociously with high temperatures. By the end of the month we are to see temps in the high 80s!

As the usual migration of birds began, I knew that spring was on its way. The Canadian geese could be seen flying overhead in their massive V formations; the robins were back looking for worms in the lawns; the finches, both yellow and purple were at the feeder; the martins were gathering in their martin houses and of course the blue birds had begun nesting. The Juncos were still hanging around so I knew winter wasn’t officially over; not before they leave anyway.

Redbud tree in bloom

One good rain and the trees started to bud. In Missouri the first to bloom are the redbud trees. Seeing their reddish-purple flowers dot the woods is a sure sign spring is here. Time to get those gardens tilled and shrubs pruned in anticipation of warmer days. We don’t put in the vegetables until after the dogwood blooms. March is famous for another frost or even a mild snow. Many an anxious gardener has had to replant after a freeze killed off their precious starts.

Apple Blossoms

Busy doing the normal chores, I noticed the fruit trees starting to bloom. Now I was getting concerned; one year we lost the fruit crop because of that March freeze I just mentioned. I was hoping that would not be the case again this year. Next appeared the lilacs in bloom; what a wonderful fragrance those flowers send out through the air. I love to walk by those bushes.

Dogwood in Bloom

Nothing seemed really odd until the dogwood began to bloom. Wait! This is March. The dogwoods aren’t supposed to bloom until mid-April. I am really confused. The blooming dogwoods are my trigger to put the garden in. Do I plant or do I wait? This is not right! I started to poll various “old timers” around me. No, they could not remember the dogwood blooms coming this early in the year. Sure seems odd. The box turtles are out and about also and we usually don’t see them until May.

You have to know something about these “old timers”; nothing really fazes them. They have been around long enough to have seen many odd things. They might consult the Old Farmers’ Almanac but they will probably wait to plant at the regular time, the end of April. Never can trust what the weather may do. So, like them, I will wait and hope the summer doesn’t get too hot and take its toll on my crops.

Praying for cooler weather as I enjoy the coloring of my world.

Lilacs

Dogwood-Missouri State Tree

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I live in a state which participates in Daylight Savings Time. Every year, twice a year, we have to adjust our clocks on the appropriate dates. The purpose of DST is to allow more hours of sunlight at the end of the day so that workers can have additional time for leisure activities. I continue to ask, how advantageous is this and is it necessary?

I am a shepherd. My schedule rarely changes to the length or shortness of daylight. I head to the barn the same time each morning whether it is light outside or not. Gradually the days get longer and those dark mornings see sunrise again. It always brings a smile to my face as I head out and notice the change. After a long winter of cold, dark mornings, I can now appreciate the change of light, temperature and season. Life is good!

THEN … the calendar says we MUST change our clocks and “spring ahead”. That is all well and good for the person who gets off work at 5:00 pm and wants those longer evenings of light to get out and spend time outdoors after work. But really, in this day and age of electronics and more television and media than I would ever care to watch, how many people are actually spending that extra hour outside?

So on March 11, 2012 it will again be dark in the morning when I head to the barn. The farmers and the shepherds, who are actually working outside in the mornings, have to again wait for daylight to catch up with the clock. We, who tend the animals and the crops that provide for the comfort of the mass, must give up our precious morning light so the mass can play longer. Where is the fairness in this system? Maybe the 1% should demonstrate against the 99% who are stealing our hour of light.

Just a thought

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Our Dog Saga

I wasn’t going to blog about this but the story just keeps getting bigger as the days go by. So I will try to keep it brief.

On January 20, our 2 ½ year old Labrador Retriever was hit by a delivery truck in our drive. I rushed him, Dodge, to the vet. His leg was broken in two places and he had a broken pelvis. The damage was too severe for surgery and we had to have him put down. I have been raising Labradors since 1980 and this is the first one to be hit by a vehicle. It was especially hard since he was so young.

Dodge 2009 - 2011

After grieving for the weekend, I came to the conclusion that I could continue to grieve or do something positive. I contacted our local animal shelter to find a dog that needed a home and give it one. Dodge was also a rescued dog; from the experience of his adoption I learned that large black dogs are very hard to place. For that reason, and for my love of the Labradors, I sought a black lab or lab mix.

Linus was a black lab mix whose owner had died and he was now at the shelter. He had been chained up most of his life, as far as they knew, and needed to be socialized. He is probably about 3 years old. After a visit with him at the shelter, I decided to take him home on a trial basis and see how he worked out. He was very timid but I knew we could give him the attention he needed and was sure he would adjust to ranch life.

Our first experience was that he was uncomfortable in the house and did not understand stairs. Stairs could be an issue because our dog pen was off the downstairs door. Deciding not to press the issue with him, I would walk him out the front door, around the house, to the pen. First adjustment made.

Second adjustment was the house issue. If I let him out to “do his business” he would not come back to me or come into the house. I wanted to let him be who he was and not make him into the dog I thought he should be, so I put a blanket down for him on the front porch with food and water by it. The first night we did get him to sleep in the house but the second night he slept on the porch. Second adjustment made.

The third day together was great. I have an office at the ranch and Linus stayed with me in the office. I took breaks to give him attention and let him know this was his home. We went to the barn together and he watched as I fed the alpacas then returned with me to the office. He went to feed the cows and again returned to the office. He didn’t chase the alpacas, cows or the cats. We had it made; or so we thought. That evening he again slept on the front porch.

Day 4 I tried to get Linus to come to me in the morning but he was still too timid. I put out his food and let him eat while I dressed for the day. It was just dawn when I went to the office and even when I called him he didn’t come. I headed to the alpaca barn; still no Linus. After chores I checked and he had eaten his food. We drove around the ranch with our gator but there was no sign of him. By noon I notified the shelter that he was missing. They were pretty sure he would come back on his own.

A week later Linus still had not returned and the shelter crew decided a “dog hunt” was called for. I joined them and we drove and called and dropped off flyers. No sign of Linus. After several hours we decided to stop the hunt and resume again later. The next day, Sunday, I got a call that Linus had been spotted. The crew was out again and we spread out in the area he had been seen. After several more hours Linus was found! He was a little thinner, very tired and very smelly. A bath was a must. He was so exhausted he slept well in the house that night.

Linus' Story

This story is still continuing and we take it one day at a time. Linus is still with us on the ranch and is on a leash on in the pen when he is not in the office or house with me.  He still doesn’t do stairs but he is not allowed to run free yet. I may start a blog section just for him.

I don’t think this story is anywhere near ending.

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