Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

One of the things that I wondered about (but didn’t have time to check on prior to my last post on the subject) was if the Capricorn would fit in a standard sized bag for taking on flights.  My travel backpack is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior (I know, it’s a mouth-full of a name).  I chose to purchase this particular bag prior to my last trip all over Europe because it’s compliant with all of the airlines that I went on as a carry-on.  Since the list of airlines that I traveled on is rather extensive and esoteric, and many were very, very small, the fact that I could take this bag on all of them is pretty impressive.  Mind, I couldn’t have it at it’s maximum size (it unzips to add more space) but it fit never the less.  So putting the Capricorn in this bag is, to me, the ultimate test of it’s portability.


This owl is gonna fly.

There was plenty of space for the wheel and I could easily pack clothes around it to keep it cushioned.  The bobbins fit just fine in the front pocket of the bag.


There’s still plenty of room for pj’s, a change of undies and socks, and all the assorted other items that I typically pack in my carry-on when I travel.

Have wheel, will travel!

I had a number of people inquire about Rita and how she’s doing.  So I figured that I would show you.  Please note, there’s a lot of blurring in the photos as it’s very difficult to photograph something that is almost perpetually in motion!





The love affair with Simon the Siamese cat is still going strong.  Often I have both Rita and Simon accompany me doing chores.  He will try to sprint after her in a futile effort to be with her more…




Rita often gets the zoomies now and loves to play.  Though her favorite game is run away from me really fast and then run back really fast.IMG_0817

She is settling into farm life well and seems extemely happy.


So I added another wheel to the flock.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have a “flock” of wheels now did I?  Well, I guess if two can be called a flock then I did.  I will tell you about the other wheel when it’s more appropriate as it needs a little TLC and that’s part of my wintertime project list.

The wheel that I added this week is a travel wheel.  It’s the Capricorn wheel from Athena Spinning.  This wheel first came onto my radar at the 2018 Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival.  The Athena Spinning folks had a booth there and I briefly tried one between my myriad duties.  I’ve wanted a travel wheel for some time now as most of the classes that I want to take these days seem to be spinning or spinning related and hauling an Ashford Traveler around (which ironically, doesn’t travel so well) isn’t ideal, especially in situations where a plane ride is required.  I have spent more time trying to devise strategies to transport that wheel than I care to think about at the moment.  My personal favorite was the wheel balanced on a cookie sheet on the back of a wheeled luggage carrier/handcart with about a dozen bungee cords restraining it.  I schlepped that contraption up and down the stairs of multiple train stations, tube stations, and into a cab.  The cookie sheet would rattle loudly as I pulled my wheel behind me, announcing my arrival to everyone around me.  You wanna get some looks?  Try pulling a full-sized spinning wheel behind you in the busy London tube system.

For some time I had been eyeing The Device by Questionable Origin.  A couple of things kept me from pulling the trigger though.  An electric spinner isn’t always the most practical thing, even with battery packs.   I’ve been in many a spinning class where the person with the e-spinner had to sit off from the rest of the group due to a lack of power outlets near the spinning circle.  Also, the price tag made me pause. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that The Device is overpriced for what it is.  Not. At. All.  I just wasn’t completely sure that it was the wheel for me and paying that kind of money to find out made me really hesitate.

Since I am on the topic, there are going to be people who think spending any money on a spinning wheel is a waste.  Well, I think jet skis are a waste of money but I’m not going to get all judgemental on your ass.  I enjoy spinning and I think that if the hours of pleasure that you get from a well made wheel (and mind you, there are wheels that are two hundred years old that are still perfectly functional) versus the cost, I think that the wheels would come out on top for hours of pleasure per dollar spent.  It’s the same with any specialty tool, you pay for quality.  A great many different kinds of spinning wheels are running well over a grand at this point in time, both electric and treadle, travel and stationary.

I did know what I wanted in a wheel.  I wanted it to be packable, to be relatively light, not require an outlet, easy to set-up and take down, easy to use, attractive to look at, have bobbins that are interchangeable, parts that are not custom made,  and have the ability to spin a variety of different speeds.  Also, preferably, under a grand.  So, you know, just your basics:-)

The Capricorn (amazingly) touched on pretty much all of those for me.  It’s easy enough to pack flat.  Here’s a photo of it in a Thirty-One bag that was a Christmas gift a few years ago.


Here’s a photo in the bag.


It comes apart in several pieces.


Putting it together is super simple. First you attach the upright part to the treadles.  It’s one screw.


Then you click the treadles into the the holes on the wheel.  They literally just pop in.


Then you slide the spinning apparatus in.


This is actually the trickiest bit as you need to line up those two little holes for the pin that holds it in place.


This pin is also a hex key that is used to adjust the ratio that the wheel spins at.  The wheel can adjust from a 5:1 ratio to a 13:1 ratio and is completely adjustable in between to suit your taste.


Then you put on a bobbin and the flyer (both just slide on), set the scotch tension, and you are ready to go!


The bobbins are a generous six ounces, but I can use my standard Ashford bobbins as well.  This is the view from the driver’s seat.  Note that there isn’t an “orifice” so to speak so no orifice hook to lose.  Another advantage is that it has ball bearings so nothing to grease, no oil can to carry around.  Since this is a friction wheel, there’s also no drive band to break and to have to reset upon each set-up.IMG_3549

My first impressions of this wheel are of quality.  The wood is all well sanded and protected with a satin finish.  It feels substantial without being heavy.  Some travel wheels that I have tested in the past I could feel move away from me as I treadled because they were so light weight.  This wheel also has rubber/plastic feet on the bottom to keep it from sliding around on slick surfaces.  It’s treadling depth is shallower than that of my Traveler, so I am adjusting to that.  However, the treadles are smooth, no jerking at all.  Spinning on the Capricorn is whisper quiet.  Honestly the noisiest thing in the room while I was spinning on it were my jeans rustling.  I started at the slowest setting (which was too slow for me) and worked my way up.  Draw-up was smooth and easy and honestly spinning on it was a joy.

Buying a wheel from a new company concerned me a little bit, however, after talking to the creators at IS&WF, my fears were addressed.  First, most of the moving parts are available through normal parts channels (like hardware stores).  The friction bands are simply polyurethane (if I am remembering correctly) o-rings that can be purchased easily on the internet.  The hex key could be easily (though not as prettily) replaced with another hex key of the same size.

I’m happy that I purchased this wheel as I think that it will work well for my traveling purposes.  I feel that this wheel could be an excellent beginner wheel as well given it’s easily adjustable ratios and ease of set-up.  If the folks from Athena Spinning are at a fiber festival near you, I would strongly suggest that you check it out and give it a test spin like I did.

Simon the Siamese was born on our farm but we aren’t sure to whom and we sure as hell don’t know who his daddy is.  We don’t have any Siamese cats on the farm nor have we seen any lately that look the way he does.  However, Simon doesn’t let his unknown parentage stop him from being the most social of cats on the farm.

Simon actually has a job on the farm (other than being friendly and loving to everyone).  He will actually go into the hen’s coop at night and hunt the mice and rats that tend to be drawn to the chicken feed.  I don’t know how good he is at it but at least he tries.  He and the hens and roosters get along just fine, mostly ignoring one another but occasional he will try to give one of them a cat rub-by.

Herbert, my other extremely social creature on the farm, really loves Simon and I think that the feeling is reciprocated.


You can’t tell from this but Simon is giving Herbert a back rub.  And Herbert is letting him.

This morning, Simon made a new friend, Rita.


It was a total love fest.


Last night Dad and I took Herbert, Remington, and Garth to The National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa.  They are going to be breed representatives for the Shetland breed.  I hope they behave….

All the way there, Herbert was jumping up on the window ledge of the back windows of the van to look out (seriously guys, he loves to travel!).  We got there at the allotted time and after getting all the paperwork out of the way, we went to unload the boys from the back of the van.  And the back of the van was locked.  Herbert, in all of his jumping up and down, had managed to manually lock the back doors.  Which of course we couldn’t get the key to unlock.  Now normally this wouldn’t be a big deal.  It’s a big, older cargo van, so just walk to the back and unlock them right?  However, Dad had gotten a really great idea and set-up a barrier with plywood and ratchet straps to keep the guys from getting all over the interior of the van.  Which I now needed to get over in order to unlock the door.  So as I try to maneuver myself over this unsteady, sharp, and splintery obstacle, I found myself (not for the first time since getting sheep) wishing that I did yoga.  I managed to scale the Great Wall of GMC without getting splinters in any… delicate… areas.

I am then faced with the sight of Remington’s halter being awkwardly worn on Herbert’s chest.  Somehow Remington had gotten his halter off his face and Herbert decided to try it on!  Wrangling a halter off of the wrong part of the wrong animal and onto the correct part of the correct animal took a few more moments of van bounciness with Dad looking through the dusty back window more and more perplexed.  Finally I get the back door unlocked and everyone unloaded and into their pen a few feet away from the back of the van.

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After we got the boys settled into their digs for the next few days Herbert was, of course, trying to chat-up all the ladies while the other boys were simply trying to avoid everyone.  I got the signage out of the truck for them and then filled-out some paperwork.  As we were getting ready to leave, Herbert gave me a worried bah.  In the past when we have gone to events, I have usually been around.  This is the first event that I am not taking part in anything other than the Hall of Breeds.  I went back and gave him a little pep talk and gave scratches to the two boys who like them.


Folks have asked why I tend to take this group to events.  Well first, Herbert is Mr Social and LOVES being where all the people are.  I try to make sure to put a sign up with his name on it so that people will talk with him and interact as he knows his name and really loves being scratched and petted.  Remington is mostly tame like Herbert, but he sometimes still gets shy.  But this usually doesn’t last too long and he will be talking to folks in no time.  Garth isn’t a very social creature, but he sure it pretty!  And the three of them together make an excellent tableaux of colors of Shetland sheep.  I figure that if an animal is not standoffish or frightened, they make better representatives of the breed.  The reason that I did not include Alanis in this group is that she is so much smaller than the boys and they just push her out of the food.  Also, because she is so little and friendly, I am worried that someone might try to just walk off with her at an event that I don’t know the folks at.  I think that if someone other than me tried to walk off with one of my sheep at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival, it would suddenly get louder than when my flock of chickens has spotted a predator.


If you are going to The National Cattle Congress, please stop by and say hi to Herbert and the guys.  I know how much they love to meet new people!

I had a fabulous and very busy weekend this past weekend.  First, I went to a Neko Case concert at the Hoyt Sherman Place auditorium.  It was an amazing concert which I have no photos from as the artist had really strongly expressed her desire for the event to not be photographed or filmed and for us to experience it in real time.  Just a tip, if they say “no photos” don’t be a dick and start taking photos, even if they are “just to put on facebook”.  Anyway, it was an amazing concert in an amazing venue and I was really happy to get to go to a concert even if it meant that I got to bed at around one in the morning *ahem*.

I then got up at a quarter to five the next morning and did an extra big set of chores as my friend Corinne was arriving at half past and we were heading up to Jefferson, Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.  It’s a great festival that I have had the pleasure of going to three or four times now and I always enjoy it.  Anyway, we got on the road bright and early and headed up there.  We got there a little after ten and immediately went to the vendors markets (as one does).   We then did (almost) the whole festival experience hitting the silent auctions for both the festival and the Shetland breeders, checked-out the fleece judging (and said hi to Deb Robson for just a moment), watched a bit of the Shetland breeders show, ate some festival food, chatted with friends both new and old, and generally had a great day.  For the first time ever, I actually won something in the silent auction for the festival.  I forgot to take a photo of it, but it was a gift basket type of thing from Sheep! magazine with three t-shirts, a few copies of the most current issue, a customized gear tote, and a year’s subscription to Sheep! magazine.  Corinne won a number of lovely things as well (I think she’s a bit more cutthroat in her silent auction bidding than I am…).

During all of this, the two of us decided to bid on a few ewes that were in the silent auction for the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeders Association.  Corinne bid on a lovely ewe/ewe lamb pair from OK Acres and I bid on an adorable single ewe lamb from Ramble N Farms.  We didn’t do this spur-of-the-moment.  Corinne called her husband to make sure that it would work and I, well, what’s one more sheep?  We both won the sheep we were bidding on as well as several other lovely prizes.


Since we were staying at an AirBNB, we left the sheep in the stall that night.  Over dinner, we did a little research and found that there was a Theisen’s in Jefferson, which made our endeavor significantly easier.  The next morning, Corinne picked up a halter for the adult ewe while I picked up a mid-duty tarp for the back of the car.  We then headed back to the fairgrounds for day two of festival excitement.  We listened in at the panel discussion that Deb and Lettie Kline took part in.  We did a little more shopping, and watched the sheep to shawl contest for a bit.  After lunch, we started prepping to head home.  The back of the Fit was flattened and all purchases and bags were moved directly behind our seats and secured so that they wouldn’t move if bumped on by the sheep.  We fastened-down the tarp and generally made the car as splash-proof as possible.  When we went through the exhibitor gate, we had expected that they would question us a little bit as we didn’t have a trailer or, you know, a truck.  However, the lady at the gate barely glanced-up when we stopped to tell her that we were picking-up sheep.


I could have easily backed the Fit down the alley of the sheep barn to where the sheep were located had a young girl not been giving me the total side-eye.  So I backed in a little ways and we had to figure-out how to load three sheep with only two women.  Getting them into the back of the car was sort-of an all-or-nothing kind of thing where all three ladies were loaded and then the hatchback firmly closed.  I grabbed a gentleman that I knew and asked if he could carry a lamb for us as he was clearing out his farm’s Shetlands, and thus we very quickly moved all three animals pretty quickly and easily.  As we were leaving, we stopped at the gate and told the lady that we weren’t kidding about picking-up sheep and this time she stopped and looked.


As we headed East, we did stop a few times on the way.  First was Paoli, a small town outside of Verona that has a ton of shops and art galleries.  The next was the Duluth Trading Outlet just down the road in Belleville.  Both Corinne and I like their clothes and being that close to the outlet, well, we had to stop.  The last stop was Culvers in Mt Horeb where interestingly our sheep weren’t the only ones in the parking lot!


At all stops we parked in the shade and had windows and sunroof open.  It was around seventy out with a nice breeze, so the ladies were really comfortable in the car.


After supper, we hit the road in earnest and we arrived back at my house around nine pm.  We quickly unloaded my sheep and then transferred the pair (along with the tarp) to Corinne’s vehicle.  Really, the entire trip home was as smooth and easy as I had expected (and no my car wasn’t trashed).

So, some relationships just don’t work out.  Both parties can be trying to be what the other needs in a relationship but if it isn’t there, it just isn’t there.  That was what happened with Mikey and I.  Mikey needed a stronger personality and will than I have (those who know me just went “whoa!” because apparently I am *ahem* rather strong-willed).  I needed a partner and he needed a boss.  We worked on it, we really did.  But I couldn’t trust him off lead with either the sheep nor the chickens.  He was great on lead, but I needed help beyond what he could do reliably for me.  This is not really his fault nor mine.  It just wasn’t a good fit for the situation that I am in.  So, this weekend the breeder suggested that I try a different dog.

Meet Rita.


Rita is also a smooth coated collie.  She’s a few months older than Mike and has had a litter of puppies.  She’s also had a bit more training than he has.  But most importantly, she gets it.  She usually gets what I want her to do and is obviously trying to get it when she doesn’t.  We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s progressing really, really quickly already.  I’ve only had her at the farm since Thursday, but she’s already become part of the farm routine in a way that Mikey never was.  Since coming to the farm, she hasn’t been on a leash once.  She helps with morning and evening chores, even if it’s just keeping an eye on me.  Rita will mosey off to see what’s new, but literally checks-in with me every few minutes to see if I need her.


Quite possibly the biggest difference between Rita and Mikey, other than levels of calmness and obedience, is that Rita is way more gentle with the sheep than Mikey was.  She had to correct Alanis the other night and Alanis was more offended by not getting to be next to me than by anything else.  I have seen Rita trying to move lambs by carefully attempting to pick them up by the scruff of their necks (I stopped this as soon as I realized exactly what she was doing, but I have to admit that it was kinda adorable).


Rita is also okay with kids.  My oldest niece came out to the farm over the weekend and Rita was perfectly polite to her.  She came to her when Maeve said her name, gave Maeve a quick boop with the nose when she realized that she wasn’t needed, and then right back to sniffing the farmyard smells.  There were no growls and no standoffish behavior at all.

Now to answer a few questions before they are asked.  First, nothing bad is going to happen to Mikey.  He has gone back to the breeder (where he has gone back and forth all summer) and he will be worked with more until someone comes along who is right for him.  This is all about finding the right dog for the right person, not saying that Mikey is a “bad dog”.  The reason that I didn’t start with Rita in the first place is that she had just had puppies when I first went out to Wayne’s, so she was obviously off the market.  But now her little miscreants are all weaned and half-grown and really don’t need her anymore.  Wayne saw that I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Mikey and he had had a chance to work with Rita again and found that she might be more my speed.  Thus, the switch.    It’s also unlikely that Mikey is going to suffer any ill effects of having been switched out.  These dogs often get worked with at different places by different people over time.  Mikey and I never really bonded (don’t get me wrong, we liked each other, but we never bonded) so it’s not like he’s heartbroken about this.

I’m very optimistic about Rita as she has been fitting into the family really quite well and we’re already able to do things together that Mikey and I never were able to.  Just last night we moved the entire flock from where they were grazing back into their pen with no magic bucket of feed!  Yay!  It wasn’t perfect but it sure beat the hell out of running ahead of the flock trying not to get trampled to death by a horde of tiny hooves.