Friday, August 29, 2008

The Outside of a Horse

Who was it, Will Rogers, who said "the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse?" Yesterday, I needed the back of a horse and the ear of a good friend, and my weekly ride with Mary Beth provided both. Being in nature, pouring out my feelings, worries and frustrations to MB, galloping uphill with my eyes closed, laughing, and later holding hands on horseback with my daughter all went a long way to helping me find some focus and to feel a lot better.
Here's MB and Mirian above; we're at Shoulder Blade Ridge, one of my favorite spots on the farm where there's a very old stone wall overlooking the Kentucky River (I'm in the top photo). My horse, Sunday, has very irritating ground manners but he also has a sweetness and innocence that I feel every time I interact with him... and on some days he can glide like we're flying with his mountain horse gaits! He has tremendous courage, and picks his way through rugged terrain without hesitation. I am so grateful that I rediscovered horses again last year, and that they led me to such a treasured friendship with Mary Beth.

Animals have been so good for Mirian as well- can you imagine anything cuter than this? (Mirian on her horse Gringo, with kitten Fergie). I am carrying yesterday with me today, and have found the focus and motivation that was missing. I think that the painting below, given to me last year by my artist friend Marti, says it very well:

"I owe my sanity to my horse"... and my friends, of course! Pin It Now!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I realize more and more all the time just how much satisfaction I get from creating... whether it's knitting socks, felting a hat, dyeing some freshly shorn alpaca fleece, or baking cookies (and although I love having a clean house, I don't like being the one to create that!). As if I need any more hobbies, I have been drawn like a magnet lately to mixed media art of all types- collage, paper arts, paintings, and altered books. I read about the art of Suzi Blu (above and below) and her mixed media workshop from an artist blogger I really like, Zorana, and was immediately attracted to Suzi's upbeat and whimsical style.
Suzi has an amazing creative niche which has a huge following of the video postings of her art, techniques, and wacky and wonderful philosophy on YouTube (or in her case, SuziBluTube!). Without thinking twice, I signed up for her online workshop, Les Petites Dolls, where she teaches drawing techniques for the darling girls that she uses in multimedia paintings. Walking into Kennedy Art Supply felt so good as I got together the suggested materials. There's just something about buying new art supplies if you're the kind of junkie that I am- even the smell of paints, pencils and ink is a balm! Suzi's style of folksy art and crazy videos aren't for everyone, but I personally love them and her teaching videos have brought me along quickly I think, with practice. Above and below are some of my first face drawing attempts...
Now I'm drawing on wood and shading with watercolor pencils, as well as using a woodburner for the first time (now THAT is fun!). The course lasts eight weeks, so I'll keep you posted and show you my progress. These are my most recent drawings, done on wood and adding color.
Suzy's videos and course PDF's encourage self-acceptance, art for the sake of fun and expression, and laughing at one's self through highlighting her own imperfections. I don't know about you, but that's something I can always use and unfortunately didn't outgrow after the teen years. Mirian has been doing some drawing with me and watching the videos, and we both laugh at Suzy's "making out" with her dog Gigi (who appears to be a shihtzu like our little Munchie). We've both been having dreams about drawing! I hope that the positive messages are sinking in with Mirian- Lord knows that tweens need all of the positive messages relating to self-image they can get!
I'll leave you with a few quotes ala Suzi: "God loves my art," "We change the world by changing ourselves first", "I trust my inner being to lead me in the right direction."
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Manic Monday and Frogs into Princes!

My baby is 14 today! Happy Birthday, Robert, and have a great first day of school! (You may have all heard some whoops this morning from as far away as California, but I won't make a big deal about it as I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings on their birthday or anything). As I was downloading the frog photo further below, I couldn't help but think about frogs turning into princes. I'm not really ready for any frogs to turn into princes or anything quite yet... not that I'm saying anybody is a frog or anything, but 14 year old boys... what more can I say? This one, our Robert, is pretty exceptional in terms of great humor, fun, energy, and smarts and I'm sure he'll be quite the prince someday!

I was able to shake off the blues last week, and then got too busy for updates to the blog. After some huge lapses in motivation, I got myself together and am actually feeling quite proud! With Paul's and the kid's help, we have done some major house decluttering and a cleaning lady started today, the first time I've had hired help in over 3 years (I hadn't felt that the house was clean enough to having a cleaning lady come in every once in awhile!) It feels good to help the kids be better organized at the start of school, and they're doing great with forming some new habits.

On top of school, helping with Mirian's tons of homework, soccer, farm visits, a heat-stressed alpaca girl, another female that aborted her cria due to the heat, regular household stuff, Book Club, Wed. knitting group, a concert at Equus Run Vineyard, and riding with MB, I had some intense artistic urges which led me to a very cool online class.... you'll be hearing more about that and my subsequent inspiration later this week!

When I feel stressed, I frequently head out to gaze upon our koi fish pond for a few minutes here and there. The sound of the waterfall and watching the fish glide around is the ultimate in relaxation for me.... so much that after we put in our pond last spring I put together an additional container water garden on our side bedroom deck. It's been a pleasure, but has unfortunately leaked so I finally drained it so that it can be resealed- I may bring it inside for the winter to enjoy the sound of water in our sun room.
I put the two butterfly koi into our larger pond, where they may stay from here on out. They were very shy about surfacing in the container anyway, and I'm enjoying seeing them with our older koi.

In addition to the fish in the larger pond, we have lots of frogs which moved in on their own. Can you find the hidden frog? (Reminds me of a Where's Waldo picture.)

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Mondays get me down...

Remember the old Karen Carpenter song, Rainy Days and Mondays... Always Get Me Down? It's a perfectly beautiful day, but the old Monday syndrome is hitting as I force myself to make up a to-do list and try to focus. This is where the Loco Life name comes in, as I have SO many things I need to catch up on and also so many things that I just want to do (digital scrapbooking experiments, knitting projects, baking), and I can't seem to reconcile it all in my head.

I have resolved to de-horde and organize a lot of stuff this year, and I have been whittling away at it, one corner at a time. But it seems that every time I turn around there is yet another corner! I just can't seem to get myself back into a routine, though this is a familiar feeling this time of year since August has been back-to-school time for, um, about 40 years of my life (including going to school, teaching for 13 years, and now having kids in school).

I keep telling myself that once Robert goes back next week, I can get myself back into a schedule.... but I am also trying hard not to wish any time away.

I live with such a "full cup" of blessings.... my faith, great husband, two healthy children, beautiful farm, wonderful home, I really could go on and on. In fact, I know that's what I need to remember to start each day with, gratitude. But when your child has forgotten their lunch (that school is 9 miles away), another has to get to soccer practice nearly 35 miles away, clients are calling and emailing, 2 employees need direction, you need to go to the grocery, clean your messy house, and do about 5 loads of laundry... no wonder I'm loco!

4 hours later.... okay I'm feeling a bit better now that I've gotten Mirian's lunch handled and picked up Robert's friend whose mom has to go to work. I suppose that most of the rest of it can wait... ironically an upbeat friend wrote today in her email, "I think I'm suffering from a plethora of good luck and wonderful opportunities. Hard to feel sorry about that!" I can't agree more, sorry to be complaining.

I've never been a journal writer, but I am finding a bit of valuable reflection from blogging so far... my subsequent car time made me think of what I had already written, and enabled me the perspective to remember how fortunate I am to HAVE a house to clean, clothes to wash, a job of my choosing, food to prepare, and a great family to serve. Thank you, Lord, for my "problems."
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Friday, August 15, 2008

My Girl

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about how on August 14th I would be asking if you all heard the loud whooping noise signifying that it was Back to School Day for at least one of the kids.... but it didn't happen. I didn't celebrate, nor am I very happy at all that this summer is coming to an end. The weather has been record-breakingly magnificent, and I have truly, truly enjoyed the kids being home. Although she was nervous, I am very proud of how brave Mirian has become about new experiences, and the first day of 6th grade wasn't easy... but she came home enthusiastic and cheerful. Yeah!

That's not to say that I won't enjoy having more "me" time again, to try to better organize the house, pay more attention to alpaca business, and even to have more time for things like this:

I dyed this in a turkey roaster with Country Classics Chestnut, Pumpkin, and Ripe Tomato. It's alpaca/wool yarn that I dyed up for a dear friend and mentor that I very much appreciate and admire. I was thinking of her last week as I processed and froze the bags and bags of tomatoes and corn that she gave us from her garden... just as she has shared so much time to teach me most of my knitting skills and to listen to my problems on many occasions. She is the Martha Stewart of my circle (and I mean that only in the good way), and is a model of good taste and generosity. Thank you again, Dianne, for all that you do for me!
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spit Happens...

...... and sometimes that's a very GOOD thing. In this case, I took our alpaca herdsire, Sinbad, for another "drive-by breeding" (that term totally cracks up my son, Robert) to see Gabby, whom he had bred 3 times previously at 2 week intervals. Here he is waiting in eager anticipation as Gabby is led to the breeding pen. Drive-by breedings are a nice option for owners who don't want to send their females away when they have a young cria at side. The dam and cria are less stressed, and the owners get to watch the cria grow up.

When a female is biologically ready for breeding, she will "cush" (lay down) and generally be receptive to the male's amorous advances. The male will "orgle" (make a very unique sound which I must figure out how to record and put on here!) throughout the 15-30 minutes of breeding. Alpacas are induced ovulators, so they'll normally ovulate (release an egg) within 24 hours and by about 5-7 days post-breeding they'll spit if introduced to a male due to a higher progesterone level. After each of the first 2 breedings, Gabby was very happy to see Sinbad again, and acted all flushed and anxious. This time..... she spit!

This "behavior testing" or "teasing" isn't a perfect way to confirm pregnancy, but it's pretty darn close. Now it's up to the owners to have an ultrasound and/or progesterone test done in the next few weeks and throughout the pregnancy, and to wait and watch in 11 months for a brand-new cria!

Some females stay very cranky throughout their pregnancies, but Gabby is a sweetheart and still has some kisses to share with her owner, Denise. She's going to save the spitting for gigolos like Sinbad!

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Movin' and Shakin.... at Shakertown

On Friday, we helped Marti achieve her longtime goal of taking her lovely, young American Paint horse, Mu Mu, to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (aka Shakertown) for his first trail ride away from his home farm. I say "helped", but truly Marti needed no help. Mu was a perfect gentleman after Marti "longlined" him around the stable grounds and then out on the trail with friend Christine and her horse, True. I was truly impressed with the patience and calm that Marti showed, and loved the cute tricks that she's teaching Mu!
MB, Mirian and I headed out on our own for a while to give them time to settle in, enjoying the scenic stone walls at every turn.

Mirian and I ride Kentucky Mountain horses, and MB's awesome boy Gus is gaited as well (believed to be a Paso Fino). By the time we rejoined Marti and Christine, they were riding confidently around the grounds and we went on to enjoy a few more hours together on a perfectly splendid August afternoon.

Thanks for indulging my photo manipulations... I just bought Adobe Photo Shop Elements (having previously used freebie photo editors), and I'm having a lot of fun playing around with pictures! You can click on the photos to see them a little bit larger- do you like them? Pin It Now!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bahama Waters

Okay, finally time to throw in some pretty yarn photos! Here's some hand-dyed yarn (contributed by an alpaca we sold named Senorita Libby, very lovely, soft and bright, commercially-spun)... I first started knitting what was supposed to be a "simple" shawl (free pattern on Ravelry, Blue Jeans Shawl), but it turns out that my definition of simple and fast lace never matches that of others.... After frogging it many times, I turned to one of my favorite tried and true simple lace patterns, Old Shale.

As I was knitting this, I had flashbacks of the source for this gorgeous shade of aqua.... the water of the Bahamas through which I've been lucky enough to sail and scuba several times on chartered sailboats back in the "good ole days" of college and singlehood. Here's a painting I did in 1987 after one of those trips, inspired by a photo I took at Great Harbour Cay. I wasn't thinking about this when I dyed the yarn, but I know that the images of that incredible water are imbedded in my brain and will likely be a part of the scenery when I (hopefully) reach heaven someday.

It got me thinking of other places that have inspired me artistically or otherwise... the Oregon Coast, the Rockies, my favorite vineyards, and oh yeah... the Kentucky Bluegrass! Beauty is everywhere I look on a warm summer day such as this. Hopefully, whoever wears this scarf will be wrapped in some of the same great karma that helped to bring it about.
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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

Having met my sweetheart (yes, Paul) on a charter bus headed for West Virginia to go whitewater rafting on the Gauley River in 1987, it was great fun to finally take the kids on their first rafting expedition, traveling in "our bus" (aka. the land yacht or RV). We were able to work it into our auction trip, having transported the alpacas separately. The campgrounds were of course quieter than usual due to fuel prices and the economy- Robert actually got some reading done!

We chose the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers for rafting, as trips were offered with free shuttle service from the KOA Campground where we were staying near Harper's Ferry. We knew that the whitewater would be quite mild, and wanted to be sure it was a good and safe experience for the kids. Mirian's eyes lit up as we were given the full safety preparations and we all donned some hard-core life vests and helmets- we were proud that she didn't back down (if Robert was scared, he never let on, and he went through the swimmer's rapids over and over again)! Most of the water turned out to be pretty flat and shallow, but we were reminded never to underestimate water as both Paul and Robert were tossed out of the raft.
Here's Mirian standing at Jefferson Rock, overlooking the confluence of the rivers. Tom himself once stood here and declared that this was a view worth crossing the Atlantic for!
We toured historic Harper's Ferry, the site of much pre-and post civil war significance. The guys enjoyed learning about how gun stocks were made on lathes.
There were more than a few re-enactors walking around in civil war clothing, pretty neat!
All in all it was a great trip that combined some business, education, relaxation AND fun!
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Alpaca Auction!

Selling a valuable animal at auction can be both nerve-wracking as well as rewarding, and it's something I always have to remember to keep in perspective. Quality, registered alpacas have been worth huge sums of money since the first importations from South America in the early 90's, and we have enjoyed having them for their fiber, fun, tax benefits, and income (I quit teaching to stay at home with our son and raise alpacas). We have made money from nearly every alpaca we have ever purchased (unlike the stagnant stock market of the past 10 years or most other livestock).

We recently consigned three beautiful alpacas to the National Elite Auction in Leesburg, Virginia and combined work and some vacation into the same trip. (You'll hear more about that later, as well as the knitting that I got done along the way!). The National Elite is a very classy auction, but also expensive to participate in and if your alpaca doesn't bring the minimum sale price of $10,000 it can be a pretty big loss! The host farm does a wonderful job of displaying the fleeces, and they wine and dine the visitors and consignors in a huge barn which was air-conditioned for the event and it's associated free seminars on alpaca care, fleece, and marketing.

Auction day arrived, though I didn't sleep well the night before wondering IF our animals would sell, if they'd bring good prices, and who would buy them. Because of the animal's value and our ability to provide good after-sale support, I don't worry too much that they'll be well cared-for but I do get attached (these cuties do have very distinct personalities). Here they are right before sale time:

People often ask me what I think our animals will bring at auction, and I learned a long time ago not to reveal that publicly as there are always surprises! This time, I would have been spot on with my hopes and expectations, and we were thrilled that our three girls will all be going to good farms where their potential is appreciated.

Ember is going to Cameo Rose Farm in Ohio.
Darling Paisley was purchased by Seven Springs Farm in Virginia. Our champion girl, Starbright, will reside with our great friends at Chardon Alpaca Ranch in Ohio. (She sold in the top 10% of the auction!)

I was pretty proud of myself for abstaining from purchasing any thing this time, especially since I wasn't abstaining from the Dom Perignon which our friend Stu was generously sharing at the auction table! (Each buyer received a bottle). As always after a long trip away from the farm, I had to go visit "the babies", just to see them and of course to evaluate and dream of the next show or auction. We were all very happy to be home, sweet home.
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