Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Welcome Winter


    Solstice.  Winter.  Yule.  
What do you call it?  The longest darkness, the beginning of the return of the light.  A pattern evolves for us at this time of year for family and farm.  We snuggle in at home - less outside time, lots of layers, fireplace, candles - all quiet since Spring gave us a long respite.  The cold and the dark make the house a cozy haven with more chess playing, more books, and baking.
     The farm means frosty breath clouds over the heads of the sheep, snow on the llama's back and rime around his mouth.  Rushed chores, wet gloves as buckets slosh. The whoosh of hay being thrown from the loft to the feeders below and the quiet sounds of contented animals safely enclosed in their winter pens give a sense of accomplishment and our own moment of peace.

     A poem for solstice, (copied and pasted from someone else's blog) for your reading pleasure:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Susan Cooper

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Socks, worms, and clowns

     This is turning out to be a typical week.  As I type this there is a pair of socks on the computer table next to me.  My husband's?  My son's?  Hard to tell these days.  I am guessing they are my husband's and he put them down while making an early morning call to a second vet, trying to find Banamine,  an anti-inflammatory drug to give to our llama.  We are out of luck. Apparently it is on back order with the drug companies, so NO ONE has it. And we need it.       This is our second llama to be stricken with meningeal worms.  Our farm is wet, so we breed lots of snails which carry the larva and are ingested as the llama grazes.  We lost a llama about a year and a half ago to this same worm.  We need the drug to reduce the swelling in the spine so he can stop listing to starboard, leaning on walls to stay upright.  But no go.  So today I got several bottles of aspirin (remember aspirin?) so we can grind up ten to twelve at a time and feed it to the llama.  I have molasses to try to cover the taste, and if that doesn't work, we have a medicine syringe, and we can squirt it down his throat.  That should help the swelling, and hopefully the large doses of fenbendzadole will help kill any worms that have not already crossed the blood-brain barrier.  Fingers crossed.  
       With this in the background of our day, we also got news from one of our students that she was offered a contract to be a clown with Ringling Brothers.  She is over the moon with joy, as she has wanted this, and worked for this for years.  Her excitement is infectious, and the entire theatre department is thrilled for her.  It feels good to see our students achieve their dreams!
     Now, the evening meal will be eaten on tray tables in the living room as I have taken over the dining room table with my grading.  I have papers and projects covering the entire surface.  This weekend I will reward myself by starting to decorate for Christmas.  Hoping your week is as interesting and filled with wonderful news, and joyful surprises.  Oh, and no worms!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A thankful post

   We reflected with family members over Thanksgiving dinner about things we were thankful for. Family, and shelter, safety and nutrition were all up there.  I spoke of being thankful that two recent deaths  were able to bring so many friends and family together to celebrate lives well lived, and to reconnect with those of us remaining.  We are so lucky.
    Without being negative, so please do not comment so, I want to say how grateful I am to have been able to be an American citizen with these wonderful people in the White House.  I do not care if you like or dislike their policies, the current First Family has given us lessons in poise, kindness, humility, and love.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Let's get through midterms

   I am referring to the tests at my college, not elections!  Getting through this week means I will finally have time to get some "at home" work done.  You know the type (or maybe you don't) - sorting through the Mount Everest of clean laundry and not only folding and putting it away, but getting rid of all the clothes that our youngest outgrew, the socks that no bleach will whiten, and the hole ridden tee shirts.  There are only so many "farm shirts" any one person needs.  After the 80 degrees of two days ago, we are headed to the 40s by Saturday, so perhaps the shorts can get transferred out and the turtlenecks can be switched into the dressers.
    Last weekend I took the super off the bee hive and checked the girls before closing it up for the winter.  I am debating wrapping it in tar paper this year - we are supposed to have a pretty rough winter in the Northeast and it does help keep out some of the wind, and absorb any of the winter sun's heat. When I peaked in, they had filled their frames pretty fully, so I believe they have enough food to make it through.
What you are seeing is the capped honey(that is the bright yellow and dark stuff in between the frames) and the rectangular shapes on the top are propolis that they used to glue the queen excluder to the frames.  Generally the more propolis they create, the more prepared they are for the winter.  It acts as a glue, but also a caulk to keep out the wind.  
     I did manage to get a bit of dyeing done this weekend. Here is some wool dyed with goldenrod.

 I have more dyeing to do, more baking, some Christmas presents to create, seven gardens to put to bed for the season - you see the pattern.  This fall I only have one show to design (scenery and costumes) - An Almost Holy Picture, a one man show which my husband is doing in Dec. so I may actually have a little time to get a few of these things done.  Then Spring brings the fun of costumes for Peter and the Starcatcher.
     Hoping you have time to do your baking, gardening, and crafting as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's Been a While

   There are times when the work I do gets to be all encompassing, and things like blogging seem to just eat into the time when I might be sleeping!  This summer was like that.  It started with a four show summer season of designing costumes for Chenango River Theatre.
    The first show overlapped with a conference I was attending, so I had to tech it a week early.  Luckily Stella and Lou was a three hander, so this was possible.
  The next show, Last Gas, was regular folks, needing to look normal in their environment so the outsider could stick out in an obvious fashion. Fat padding and ranger uniforms are how I will remember this show!

   The Smell of the Kill was my third show, and I got to dress three lovely actresses in nice clothes, pretty underwear, and  a shirt covered in deer blood!  These ladies were a joy to work with!
   Finally I was designing the last show - at the same time i was designing the first show for SUNY Oneonta's season.  neither show was particularly difficult in the actual design - but getting  WWII uniforms to fit 2016 bodies was a trick for Taking Sides, and the quick changes for Stop Kiss (something like 20 for one actress, and seventeen for another) meant the lists and paperwork required to organize the changes took nearly as long as shopping the show!  Still, both shows are up - tech for Taking Sides  only overlapped tech for Stop Kiss by a day and my fabulous crew made it possible for me to not have to be in two places at once.  Photo call for Stop Kiss is tonight, so no pix yet, but here are a few of the cast of Taking Sides. 

   Now I can focus on my next show, Peter and the Starcatcher, and helping my husband finish the barn - but that's another post...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My take away from Finding Dory - a movie review, of sorts

      SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing the whole movie, including the ending, so do not read on if you have not seen the film.

       I took my youngest son and his friend to see Finding Dory a few days ago.  I was not expecting much - a re-hash of Finding Nemo, or at least a movie filled with Nemo references. There are a few nods to Nemo, but they are not belabored. I was told it was not a great stand alone movie. Some of this is true, to younger fans.  It does not have the same sort of "action" that Nemo had, no sharks, for example.  I was not expecting to still be thinking about it today, going over the nuances that the writers  tucked in here and there, and wondering if they did it intentionally or if I was reading more into it. It is still resonating in a positive way.
     To start with, aside from being cute, Dory has a disability.  Her memory loss is not inconsistent with some issues people with Traumatic Brain Injury  may suffer.  Her disability makes her annoying, hard to live with at times, unpredictable,  and dependent on people with patience and love to help her with situations that the typical fish have no problem with.
    She also has a positive attitude. She has no clue that she can't handle certain situations on her own, so she dives right in.  Her open and honest demeanor is engaging, and the other fish are willing to work with her, and put up with a lot, to help her lead a happy life.   Whether it is Marlin, or Nemo, or Mr. Ray, she has friends who have her back.
      The film shows us that much of this positivity was instilled in her at a young age by her parents.  They give her simple task and games to teach important lessons to her, and repeat them innumerable times until they stick. "Follow the shells, they will lead you home."  "Just keep swimming."  Does this not sound like the actions of nearly every parent who has a child living with a disability that requires them to cope in a different way from the other kids?   Autism pops into my mind, because that, along with ADHD are the two issues in our family.  But TBI also  comes to mind, as does social anxiety disorder,  and I am sure there are others.
     Dory's single-minded need to find her parents dominates the film, as does friendship and her need for it, and quite frankly,  other fishes' need for hers.  "What would Dory do?" asks Nemo, when he and Marlin are in a tight spot.  He knows she would just try something, jumping in with both fins, not over analyzing the possible dangers.  Sometimes doing SOMETHING is better than just sitting around thinking about your situation, and Dory has taught this to Nemo.
      The ending shows us that parents never give up hope and will do anything to help their children. The early lessons they taught Dory are all her parents have to work with, so the path of shells radiates out in all directions from their home.  A metaphor for their love for her?  Yes.  An affirmation for all parents of special needs children that the lessons do matter, and some things do stick? Most definitely.   Finding Dory appealed to me far more than I expected and I applaud Andrew Stanton for the screenplay and direction.  I also thank him for the reminder that all the hard work really does help your child to "just keep swimming."   Go see it.  It's worth the price of admission.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

To weed or not to weed...

    Several years ago, behind the garage, I planted about half a dozen currant bushes.  They do pretty well in the partial shade of our neighbor's trees.  A few years back, a pokeberry bush started  to insinuate itself there.  They are large, nigh on impossible to get rid of, with red berries in the fall.  I would hack it back, but each year it returned.  That area is also overrun with jewelweed plants - much easier to pull but far more prolific.
a pokeberry plat with mature berries
      The toxicity level of this plant varies, with the roots being the most toxic, next the leaves, the stem and finally the berries.  This is NOT a plant to have in a garden with small children who like to eat things. It can kill them.  Like monk's hood and foxglove, it is for the mature gardener.
     This year, due to various factors, like a warm winter, little rain, etc., the currants produced about 12 berries between them.  The poke is HUGE and covered in berries.  To parents of small children, this would mean "get it out of here" but to me,  it means I am going to have a good dyeing year.  Poke berries are wonderful as a dye, making a rich maroon colour for my wools.  To me, it is a bounty of dye stuffs.
      The same hold true with my patch of jewelweed.  It will dye fabric a peachy tan.  In fact, I used it on a show  in which I was creating some costumes for native American characters.  Now I doubt the Havasupani had jewel weed, but I felt better portraying them using naturally dyed fabrics rather than chemically coloured ones. 
     The more  I explore  natural dyes, the more a weedy garden looks like a dyer's garden and less like a mess!  I am constantly trying  new plants - sometimes with little success (the purple flowers of hairy vetch do not make a purple dye) and sometimes with moderate success.  I recently was pulling cattails out of my pond and  boiling them up to make paper, and noted that the  water in the pot was getting sort of orangey/golden/tan.  What they heck!  I grabbed a small piece of  wool yarn, mordanted with alum, threw it into the pot and waited a bit to see what would happen.  Here is what came out:
Hmm...colour inspiration!

Throwing in s sample

The outcome
I am not certain yet how colour fast this will be, and  lord knows there are enough  dyes that make brown and tan, but this was an experiment worth trying, and I have an unlimited amount of cattails available to me, so I am certain, I will use them again. 
      Long live the weeds!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hiving My First Swarm

     I am not a person who has a simple life.  If there is a tricky way for something to happen - that's the way it happens for me.  Thus is was with my first swarm.  Monday I had a meeting about a play I am designing, then I took my youngest to the dentist to have four teeth extracted, then I came home and got him settled on the couch, expecting to grab a shower, a bite to eat, and then head off to the first read of a different show I am also designing.  The dogs were going crazy in the back yard,  and as I let them in I noticed a swarm of bees on the side of a black storage container which had been on our patio all winter.
last fall's leaves still adorning the box top

bees bulging off both sides of the box
The  container had several frames of capped honey, which we were keeping outside as it was getting warmer, and we thought we might be able to harvest it (both of our hives died off last year).
     Now I have a hive fully set up on the farm, into which I installed a package of bees earlier this season.  But, Central NY weather being as fickle as it is, the warm winter and mild spring  turned foul the day the bees were installed.  The temp dropped twenty degrees and the rain froze.  Never have I had to have a tarp  set up over the hive to keep out sleet while installing a package of bees!  Even with a hive top feeder in place, they died, as it had gotten too cold for them to break cluster to get to the feeder, so they starved...sadness.
tarp to keep the weather out - you can see all the mud
so sluggish due to the cold

not long for this world
      So Monday, it looked like Nature was trying to make up for the nasty trick she'd played by giving me this swarm.  I ran inside and opened YouTube to learn how to capture a swarm.  The videos all showed  nice tight clusters of bees hanging off of mailboxes or tree branches - all places where they could easily be knocked into a box to be installed easily in your hive.  HA! No, these were all over both sides of the  storage box, and when I opened it I discovered that they were all over the capped honey frames as well.  Not an easy capture.
inside the storage box
    To top it off, all my equipment was at the farm.  My husband drove down and grabbed a couple deep hive bodies, a queen excluder, my bee brush, a smoker,  and my hive tools.  I had thrown on an old long sleeved shirt of his, and my bee pants - white carpenters pants - lots of pockets - very convenient.  I did not know how long they would stay, so I did not take the time to change my shoes, so I was wearing sandals, and the mice had chewed on my bee net, and piddled in the hat, so I just tied my hair in a pony tail.
    So with a whisk broom - and later my bee brush - I swept many hundreds of bees into an old box and dumped them unceremoniously into the hive with several empty frames in it.
knocking the bees into a priority mail box - thanks USPS!
 I gently removed the frames that were full of honey, and covered in bees, from the box and installed them in the hive.  I only got one sting in the process - I think I must have accidentally put my index finger on one of the girls,  so she got the tip of my finger.  All in all, no worries.
nearly finished, the girls flying around  the hive

in their new home!
     We decided to leave the hive where it was for a day or so, so any stragglers could find the rest of the group.  Unfortunately, it was situated by our back door, and was not too far from our neighbor's porch, so we left him a warning message and a promise to move them in a couple of days.  Then,  at midnight two days later, we moved them to the farm.  Why midnight you ask?  Well most of the bees, except for a few guard bees near the entrance, would be in the hive,  and my husband was in rehearsal, so I had to wait for his return home.  It was a gorgeous night - cool with a full moon - perfect for hauling thousands of bees to their new home!
my partner in midnight bee transfers!
     They have been on the farm for about three days, and early this week I will open the hive to check on the queen's activity, as well as to add a super so we might get some honey from this hive this year. So, even though it was less than simple,and I was a bit sweaty and smoky for my first rehearsal,  I can now say I have captured a swarm and hived them, and at last there are bees on Rivendell Farm!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sometimes an owl is just an owl.

    If it sounds like an owl, and the hooting is coming from outside, it might be an owl - or it might be Dad.  Earlier this week, at about 10:30 pm, my daughter came downstairs to ask where Daddy was.         "In the shower," I replied.
   "Oh, then there might be an owl in the tree outside.  I heard the hooting and thought it might be Dad rehearsing his lines for a play, and I was going to ask him to stop so I could go to sleep," she told me.
    The thing about this exchange that made us laugh is that, in our family, the chance that someone was sitting on the porch at 10:30 at night, practicing owl sounds, was not at all out of the question.  I went in to let my husband know there was an owl in the tree, and he promptly hooted from the shower in exactly the timbre of the bird outside!  
     The three of us spent about half an hour listening to the owl, and trying to see it (no success). My husband had a "conversation" with it, hooting back and forth with the owl before heading in.  We guessed it was a Great Horned Owl and later listened to sound samples and determined that it was indeed a male of the species.
   If you are interested, this website has some wonderful recordings of various owl calls.  Just click the link here  ---> Owl calls

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer catch up

    I am waiting for the day when I actually have time to do everything I need to get done, and actually plan for the things I want to do.  Here is the quick summer catch up:

* Our daughter made Dean's List  for the Spring semester.  Very proud parents!  
* Our daughter was working at the local cinema for three weeks, and she got a job at a fancy camp in PA as a counsellor, so she leaves tomorrow for 8 weeks.  Not thrilled that she is heading off again - our youngest is not happy at all, but, the money they are paying is 3 times what she could make at the cinema, so off to PA!
* Drew and I opened "Stella and Lou" at Chenango River Theatre about three weeks ago.  He was the director, I was the costume designer.
* Monday we have first read for the next show of the summer season, "Last Gas" by John Cariani. Drew has the lead role in this one, and I will be designing  costumes again.   Monday's first read may be interesting, as our youngest is getting four teeth extracted that day, and may need to come to the beginning of rehearsal since his sister will be inPA - ah, life is never a straight line around here - just a series of figure eights!
* I recently was in the Port Jefferson Long Island area for a visit with my wonderful Aunt Gerry and Uncle Tom, and then to visit  and celebrate with my "aunt/cousins by love not blood" as Aunt Georgie turned 80!  What a wonderful visit, especially the extra day I spent at my mom's!
* I finally got the garden in at the farm - mostly squashes this year with a few peas and beans.  Tomatoes do not want to grow there, so I put them in the raised bed across from my asparagus bed at the house.
* Our many sheep are growing - we have several rams to sell - gorgeous boys, and very sweet tempered, but they are repeat genetics as I have all their sires' genes living in the next pen!  Please contact me if you need a ram or two. Really.
* Working on another show - for the university, for fall.  Not thrilled with the timing of this, as I have another theatre obligation that I was contracted for first, but this year there was a lot of talk and no action about who was designing what,  and  in a very non-democratic way, I was told what two shows I would do.  Not asked...  and both are not good with my other schedule.  Due to the  dragging of feet, discussions could not begin about the show while we were still in session, so we are meeting now. I am also doing the musical for the second year in a row - not the way work had been balanced out in the past.  I do not even have a contract for this first show!
* Got to attend the Costume Society of America's  National Symposium in Cleveland this year.  Great people and some amazing scholarship.  I am hoping to present at this coming year's Symposium, and there are three other scholars and I who are planning a panel presentation/discussion for the following year.
* Building a website for the farm.  I will let everyone know when it is mostly done - I do not think it will ever not be a work in progress!

Have to get back to helping  my child finish packing.
As Tigger would say, "TTFN!"


Monday, April 25, 2016

Lambing at Rivendell Farm

     It started about three weeks ago.  The barn became a maternity ward, a nursery, and a giant playpen.  Our lambing season began.  The girls had been looking so uncomfortable, and Maxine gave birth to triplets - two ewes and a ram, all sound, all black hst* colouring.  We have named them Belladonna, Boromir, and Pearl.  So far, so good on the Tolkien names.
Maxine and her triplets.  She is such a good mother.
     Next Eowyn had a beautiful and sturdy pair of ram lambs.  We've dubbed them Fili (all white)  and Kili (black and white piebald markings).
Fili and Kili hiding behind mom.

     Arwen gave us triplets - beautiful little white ones, two ewes and a ram.  It was a difficult birth, and the last one, a ewe, was in the birth canal quite a while, emerging without the placenta.  She never really had strength to move much, and finally, despite our best efforts died.  It was rough, but a brain damaged lamb would not survive long.  Drew  buried her next to our llama, Thorin, up in Thorin's Hollow. Her brother and sister are Eldarion and Nessa, respectively.
Arwen settled in nicely
     Rosie gave us triplets, much to our relief.  She was a sextuplet herself, and we were a bit worried!  Elanor is a black hst ewe, Faramir, a black piebald ram, and the last, a skinny little white runt of a ram I call Hamlet.  Hamlet arrived, in the birth sac, and barely moved.  I prodded him a bit, to make certain he was alive, and he moved a little, but not enough to break the placenta.  Finally, he broke free and we met the scrawniest little lamb I have ever seen.
Newly cleaned Hamlet
 He was game, though, and got to his feet.  He tried to nurse, but was shoved out of the way by his sturdier siblings.  Not wanting to watch another lamb die, we began supplementing him with about three bottles a day.
 He is still a runty little thing, with nothing resembling a fleece, just lots of pink skin with white fuzz on it, but he is doing well, comes running when he sees me, and drinks eight ounces of  colostrum replacer in a couple of minutes!

      The same day Rosie gave us the triplets, Galadriel, our smallest ewe from last year's batch of lambs, began giving birth.  Her first one was a stillborn ewe, born breech, and with much effort.  She was fully formed, and beautiful, so I tried giving her CPR (not fun on a gooey newborn), but she was gone.  Drew went out and dug another hole in Thorin's Hollow for this little one.
     Next another ewe (Ruby) was born, also breech, but without as much straining.  While she was cleaning that one off, another arrived, also breech, and he popped out so fast, she did not even know he was there.  But this guy was letting nothing get in his way, and looking like the devil himself was ripping his way out of the placenta, he flailed and shook his head clearing out the mucus and slime, and got to his feet before his momma knew what was going on.  This little ram is entirely black, and a gorgeous creature whom my husband has named MacDuff.  (You know the line from MacBeth, "MacDuff was from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd" - well this seemed and appropriate name.)
Gal with Ruby and MacDuff
MacDuff - just after freeing himself of the birth sac.
     Merry surprised us with two lambs a couple days later.  We arrived at the barn by 8:30 in the morning and the babies were cleaned, fed and sleeping.  We had left the barn at 1:30 a.m. the night before, and she showed no outward signs of labor.  Merry's little ones are an all black ewe name Estella,  and a black hst ram lamb I am calling Bill, after Sam's pony in The Lord of the Rings.

     We are still waiting on Pippin to deliver, and I still have a few names on the list.  Shakespeare seems to have snuck in this year, but I don't mind!   So far our count is eight rams and eight ewes born, with two of those ewes not surviving.
    ***So as I was writing this, Pip was busy in the barn delivering white twins, a ewe and a ram we are calling Goldberry and Tom Bombadil.
Goldberry and Tom with Pip
 At last we are done for the  season.  Now we are in that happy, crazy time of socializing the lambs to people, feeding those who need help, and yesterday, introducing them to the great outdoors while keeping a watchful eye on the sky for hawks and eagles.
Faramir climbing Mount Rosie

So who is the big guy?

"This does not smell like a coyote or a badger, so I guess
I will leave it alone."

Learning to gambol (and Hamlet, falling down!)

Elrond herding the  sheep

MacDuff and Ruby with Hamlet serenading the sky

Nessa and Arwen 


Drew and our flock

*Note: hst = head, socks, tail - generally one solid colour with white on the head, socks, and tip of the tail.