Sarah Jane Humke

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

Getting to Know You (all over again) July 2, 2016

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Right now I am having to get to relearn my entire flock.  After shearing, all the animals look completely different.  Like, I can’t tell who they are without reading their eartags.  A few I can tell, of course.  The boys; Herbert, Greyson, and Buddy all have horns and (now) all have bells.  When we change to fresh grass, it sounds like a demented windchime being tossed in a storm.

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Buddy giving me the, “Are you really going to photograph me in the nude?!” look

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Herbert is back in jail for too many escape attempts.

But the ladies are more difficult, as many of them look very similar to one another without their big coats of wool.  One way I can tell is, ironically, by their lambs.

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Others I just have to try to read their name tags.  I really wish I had taken a photo of each sheep just prior to shearing so that you could see the shocking difference in coloring that is under those big balls of wool.

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This is Jolly.  I can tell by the coloration on her face and belly. Before shearing she was a reddish color, now she appears to be brown with a white belly.

Even the lambs are in on this color changing thing.  About half of them are starting to clearly change colors from those they were born with.  The ones born the same colors as their mama’s seem to be keeping those colors, especially the black lambs born to black ewes.  This lamb isn’t a particularly good example of this, but does show another new thing in the flock.  The lambs are now all eating grass and looking adorable as they chew their cud!

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Settling In June 9, 2015

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The last couple of weeks have been all about learning about and getting used-to the new members of the farm. The sheep are getting not only used to us, the humans,  but also to the other animals.  They are fascinated by the farm cats and will start a small stampede following one of the poor nervous felines right up to the fence!  Dusty, my little fuzzy white dog makes them all pause and investigate as well much to his discomfort.  If I sit down, often they will come right up to me and sniff my neck and nibble my hair, which I take as a compliment.

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The flock is remarkably quiet.  Everyone on the farm knows if someone has gotten out of the fence because one of the girls just goes nuts.  She has a high-pitched bah and if the flock was a high school class then the noisy one would be that one girl who always (loudly) said, “Hey! You aren’t supposed to be doing that! Wait for me! Wait for me! I’ll tell if you don’t wait for me!!!”  But honestly, that is about the only time that they make a noise other than chewing (they are loud chewers) or belching (ditto).

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Memorial day was all about worming and vaccinating.  I didn’t take any pictures.  You’re welcome.  We also moved the flock which didn’t go all that well (ahem).  Shetlands aren’t one of the strongest flocking sheep breeds around.  Plus most of these are young ewes.  All in all you have a recipe for some cabbage in the garden to be eaten!  We probably shouldn’t have tried to move them when we were tired from all the vaccinations and worming fun and they were all keyed-up from being vaccinated and wormed.  Lesson learned.

set 3set 4However, we do have a flock leader now.  Her name is Abigail and she can be by turns both amazingly easy to work with and a complete brat.  We’re still working out the kinks in the relationship:-) Only a handful of the sheep have names at this point.  Buddy, the big black wether, Abigail, Herbert (his scrapie tag is 1938, during the Great Depression [though I know not during Hoover’s administration, but he looks like a Herbert too]), and Liberty.  Her scrapie tag is 1976.

Miss Abigail being good.

Miss Abigail being good.

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Abigail and Herbert.

The sheep are amazingly good at keeping the lawn mowed and seem to relish their job.  They are also insanely curious about the chicken flock who have been moved to temporary outdoor quarters with the sheep (electric fencing and jealous wethers are added protection from the ravenous raccoons we have around here).  So far our county hasn’t been hit with the avian flu so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we can keep these girls alive since the cost of eggs has skyrocketed already.

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Slacking* March 29, 2015

Spring is usually busy, but this year is even more so than usual for me.  First up, it was my brand new niece’s baptism last weekend.  I decided to make her a Christening Shawl/blanket for the event.  I then decided that it should really be hand-spun Shetland laceweight.  With wool from Shetland of course!  Well, I’m sure that you all can see exactly where this is going…

I ended-up finishing casting-off at around four o’clock on the Saturday before.  I blocked it on my bed that evening.

slacking 4Luckily it was one of those super easy things to block and all I had to do was kind of pat it into place and let it dry for a bit.  I have a heated bed so that helped to move things along a bit:-)  It was dry and ready for the baptism that morning.

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Thanks to my SIL for taking this photo. I wasn’t able to take many photos with my niece IN the blanket as I was supremely busy that day with the lunch for the family after church.

I was amused by two facts during the baptismal sermon.  First, I’m not in church all that often and that Sunday I was sitting in the front row of a pretty full church.  The second was this:

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Yep, the whole sermon was about sheep and goats:-)

For those interested, the shawl/blanket is a strongly adapted version of a traditional Shetland Christening shawl pattern.  I skipped the edging and added a picot cast-off in its place.  The yarn was spun from about 284 grams of the Jaimeson and Smith Shetland Supreme combed roving.

I just happened to finish it when I was helping out my friends Ellen and Wanda at their booth for their shop Fiber Curio and Sundries at Fiberpalooza in Winterset, Iowa on Saturday.  I took absolutely zero photos as my hands were busy the entire day long either setting up or knitting the shawl.  However, it was a really fun event to both attend and sell at and I had a good, though very long, day.

Thursday and Friday were involved in the final classes for my Annie’s Project course.   I think that now is a good time to share with you what the business I was taking this business planning class for is.  I am getting sheep.  Or to be quite precise, I am getting about 20 or so Shetland ewes.  It’s a bit of long story, and I’m not a hundred percent sure that all the parties would like me to share it, but I can say that it’s kind of one of those things where karma has come full circle.  I have booked my flights out to Montana where the sheep currently reside and will drive back with them.  So there is a lot to do on the ground here to prepare for them.  Fencing for one.  These ladies have not been in fences a lot in their lives, which could be either a good or a bad thing.  Currently I am working on an area that will be somewhat permanently fenced for when they first get here and probably for parts of the winter as well.  I am going to purchase some electric netting so that I can move them around and graze the different areas of the farm and keep the grass and weeds down.

This is honestly, a kind of dream come true for me as I have wanted some ever since I visited the islands in 2010.  I adore their wool, I find the sheep to be appealing in their durability and size and I enjoy the variety of colors that they come in.  I have hesitated to write about it here as I wasn’t sure that it was really going to come to fruition.  But now with plane tickets booked (thank you frequent flier miles!) and making plans for fences and trying to find a livestock guardian animal, it is all starting to feel very, very real.  If anyone knows of someone looking to re-home a donkey in the Iowa area, please let me know.

Dusty got “sheared” one of our warmer days.  It wasn’t a perfect job as he wanted to chase cats and I didn’t want him to chase them but it worked out ok.

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Before: “Look at those cats making fun of me!  Must chase them!!!!!”

See what I mean by "shearing"?

See what I mean by “shearing”?

After

After: “The cats are laughing at me.”

I would have saved it to spin had I given Dusty a bath prior to his spring shearing.

I would have saved it to spin had I given Dusty a bath prior to his spring shearing.

I’ve been destashing a lot of mini skeins of sock yarn on Ravelry.  If you are interested (and the link doesn’t work) just go to the group “Mini Mall” and the thread called “Random Sets”.  I still have a lot of sets available and am willing to mail wherever you want in the world (with a few small exceptions:-).

On top of all of this has been seed starting and garden planning (in that order, it doesn’t always go in the order it should have you know!).  This year we are having a fifty foot by seventy-five foot garden.  Should be exciting!

Oh, and I got a full-time job finally.  I start in April and it will involve a lot more commuting than I am used to.

*For the irony impaired, I haven’t been slacking.  Quite honestly I’ve been as busy as a one-armed paper hanger!!!

 

Learning. Always learning. March 2, 2015

This weekend I took a class through my guild.  It was a class that I have wanted to take for some time now and finally had the opportunity to take it.  Since I have had a loom in my possession for some time now, I thought that it was high time that I learned how to use it.  Thus, a beginning weaving class.

This is what my loom looked like prior to tying on my warp.  I forgot to take pictures of the actual winding of the warp, sorry.

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And these are what it looked like with my warp tied on.

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Front of the loom

 

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The backside of the loom

After a little while weaving, the front of the loom looked like this:

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And a little while after that, it looked like this:

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And after two days of instruction and weaving, I ended-up with this:

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I’m very pleased with how it turned out.  It’s obviously not perfect, but considering that it is my first woven piece since a few of those woven potholders in grade school, I think it turned out pretty well.

In non-weaving related news.  I am also working on a birthday hat.  I can now show it as I have actually knit on it in front of the recipient:-)

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It is being knit from some 3-ply hand-spun Shetland wool yarn I made specifically for this hat.

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I also had a wonderful surprise in the mail today.  I received a package from Baton Rouge from my bestie Elise.  Inside was a birthday card as well as these:

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If I ever have an office again, the I Want to Believe poster is going up in it, just to freak-out the muggles:-)

 

 

 

I value my fingers February 23, 2015

So, in case you haven’t guessed, it’s winter around here.  There’s not a whole lot going on that I haven’t already talked about.  Or maybe I should really put it this way, there’s not a lot going on that I feel that I can talk about yet.  Yes, that means that there are plans and ideas taking shape but none of them are solid enough yet to write them down here.  Though once they are, well, y’all are never going to hear the end of them!  But for this moment, I’m keeping quiet.

What is going on is more spinning and knitting.  Just because it’s cold enough to freeze nose hair outside doesn’t mean that I actually hibernate.  Also, nearly everyone I love in my life is born in the winter, thus making the life of a knitter who loves to make gifts a little more stressful.  I really need to work on working on birthday presents in July more!  The one that I can show you presently is still in its yarn state, which is hand spun so I still get some credit for it.  It’s for the boyfriend for his birthday (which is this week *ahem*) and he’s already seen it so no spoilers here.

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It’s a 3-ply yarn that ended-up being somewhere between a heavy fingering and a light DK weight.  It’s spun from some Shetland tops that I purchased while I was there from Jamieson and Smith.  It’s lovely, lovely stuff.  Very squishy.  Not overly soft, I would describe it as having a slightly crisp handle.  I gave the boyfriend a number of choices of yarn for his hat.IMG_0091

But in the end, he had exceptional taste (if I do say so myself) and chose the tops.

There are other projects that I am working on in the background that I cannot show on here as they would be spoilers.  One of the bad things about knitting for gift giving I guess:-)

The sock yarn blanket has grown some.

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This is what it kind of looks like while I’m knitting it…

It now covers my entire full-sized bed.  Sorry that the pictures are kinda crappy.  Did I mention that it’s winter outside?  It’s currently 15 degrees Fahrenheit (which is 16 degrees below freezing) outside and the snow looks either grey and dismal or yellow and cheerful, neither of which lends itself to photographing a giant knitted blanket on.  I suppose I could try to get creative about how to show it, but that takes time and I personally value my fingers and toes.  So crappy photos it is!

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One of the things that I have been doing that I can tell you about (even though I have no photos) is that I am currently taking a class through something called Annie’s Project.  It’s run through the Iowa State Extension Service (love me some Extension!) and it is specifically for women in agricultural endeavors.  The reason for it being specifically for women is that often women have different goals and a different experience with farming than men do.  It has been immensely helpful for me to just figure out where I should be putting my energy.  My class is specifically about business planning, but there are classes about succession planning and in-depth business classes past what we are learning.  It’s reason number 432 of why I love the extension service!

 

8 seconds January 16, 2014

There are days that I feel like I’m on a treadmill and then there are days that feel as though I am on an elliptical machine. In my universe, an elliptical machine is the devil.  Probably invented sometime during the Spanish inquisition by the same man who invented panty hose, SPSS, and stiletto heels.  I cannot use these machines at all.  I have tried two times and the second time I was asked to please leave the gym I was trial membershiping and not come back. I somehow fell off the elliptical  backwards and nearly took out a woman on a machine behind me. This is what happens when I am on one.  It’s like my feet and hands and the machine all work really effectively against one another in order to get me off of it as quickly as possible.  Seriously, I think I would have better luck bull riding than I do exercising on one of these machines (bull riding you only need to stay on for eight seconds!).  Anyway, that is a long winded way of saying that it’s been a little nutso of late and sometimes I feel as though I’ve gotten thrown on my ass in gym full of people.

First off, I finally finished some socks that I started over a year ago.  I worked on these socks in my Psych 230 class (that I thoroughly enjoyed despite myself) but messed-up the toes and had afterthought heels planned that I never got done.  Since I was already ripping them back, I took them all the way back to the heel spots, put in traditional heels and reknit the feet and toes(correctly).  I realized how many socks I had under my belt from the time that I started knitting this particular pair until I (ahem) finished knitting them.  It’s interesting to me how things like Kitchener stitching the toes and turning the heels has really become something kinda second nature to me now.  Anyway, these turned out really nicely and very nearly identical despite, well, everything!

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I also mailed off some (very late) Christmas packages.  I know that this might sound odd, but I honestly prefer to get packages late as it extends the surprise and the number of days that you get to open packages!  I LOVE opening packages!!!!  Anyway, I thought I would share with you how I apply postage to the USPS flat rate boxes.  These two boxes are both the medium size and currently cost $12.35 to mail anywhere in the Continental United States.  I usually start off with a few higher denomination stamps, but the rest are generally valued at around $.05.  I have some as low as $.005 (yes, one-half of a cent of postage. Even the postal workers stopped at that one.) and a few in the $.30 range.   But a lot (and I mean a LOT) are in the $.03, $.04, and $.05 range.  The reason for this is simple.    There used to be a lot more stamp collectors than there are currently.  Many of them are dying or no longer collecting and their collections aren’t worth any more than the postage that the stamps are worth.  However, most people don’t want to fool around with six stamps just to mail one letter, so when sold on ebay or other websites, go for less than full face value for perfectly good postage.  Some of the stamps that I am using are from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Most are newer, a lot from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Still, the bulk of the stamps on these packages are older than I am.  Both of them have the same general theme; Old, dead, (mostly) white men.  One went to Alabama, so it got some Civil War stamps thrown into the mix (I thought that it still fit the overall theme!).  When I was mailing off Christmas boxes that were going to be reasonably on time I used a general theme of Christmas Stamps.  It was very festive in a USPS kind of way (which, really, is kind of an awesome kind of way!).

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I received an early birthday present from my roommate Elise this week.  I have been eyeing these sheets for months and when I finally made up my mind to buy them at the store, they were out.  She was there and they had them back in stock and she got them and gave them to me right away because it’s bloody freezing in my room and they seem like a good idea in January.

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Anytime you can snuggle down in a bed made-up in flannel sheets covered in dogs wearing clothing and a heated mattress pad, you know that you are on the right side of any battle that the world may throw at you the next day.  Plus, bonus cute knitting project bag that the sheets came in!

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Speaking of birthday presents, I made one for Elise’s birthday on Monday.  Since she saw me knitting it and had requested it specifically (and it’s cold outside) I gave it to her a few days early.  It is a “Jayne Hat” inspired by the one worn on the short-lived Sci-Fi show Firefly by one of the characters.  I used three shades of Vanna’s Choice that seemed to be there best representation of the colors on our TV screen.  The exact colors used are here in my Ravelry page as well as the actual pattern I used.  It was an easy knit and fast.  I’ve gotten used to making things out of fingering weight yarns so knitting something out of worsted felt as though it was just falling off the needles!

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Another knitting project I made was a pair of thrummed mittens.  These were made in response to the news of the impending polar vortex to descend upon our little piece of heaven here in Iowa.  I actually managed to get them finished prior to the big chill actually getting here, so that was actually a new feeling for me!  Once again, knitted in worsted weight wool, these just flew.  They are far from perfect and if I made them again I would make them a little bigger (like one more completion of the thrumming round) but they work and work well at keeping my hands warm which was the whole purpose.  Details of the pattern and materials are here on my Ravelry page.  I’ve had so much fun showing them to people and then turning them inside out and explaining that they are like Uggs for your hands:-)  I know, I’m easily amused.

This was my whole outfit to take the dogs out during the worst of the polar vortex.

If I had been a good girl and updating like I should be, these would have all been a separate post.  But I am naughty and haven’t been.  Though I really need to write more here.  I am doing a lot of academic writing which I sometimes feel as though it is killing my natural writing voice.  Academic writing is extremely dry and formulaic.  I feel that it was designed for people who are not very good writers to be able to get information about their study (or whatever they want to talk about) out without exposing that they suck at writing.  I’m not saying that I am a Neil Gaiman of blogging or anything like that, but I can at least (generally) communicate what I am trying to say.  Often in academic writing, the language is very dense and obscure and there is a ham-fisted approach to using big words in order to camouflage the fact that there is little or no real results from the study (or whatever) that the author is writing about.  It seems to be elitist and it’s no wonder that people who are not in academia often misinterpret what these papers mean.  There’s a whole ethical discussion that I could get into about this (we are supposed to be doing research for the good of the state/nation/world but we often don’t put our results in a language that a lay person could read and understand) but in short it hurts my brain to write too much of it at one go.  I understand that results need to be in a format of sorts, but does is really need to be this????

Also, I start saying things like, “My personal self-efficacy belief as to my ability to maintain ownership of my animal-based fiber headcovering has quickly plummeted.”  That was in response to losing my wool hat.  Seriously.

 

My birthday (a little late) February 7, 2013

You know you had a good time on your birthday when you don’t get to blog about it until a week later!

My day started normally enough until I got to the office where a very interesting box awaited me on my desk.  Given it’s dimensions, I was a tad apprehensive that my day was going to devolve into something Kill Bill-esque…

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…until I opened it up.  It’s a beautiful tapestry that my friend Guang had his folks bring back from China for me:-)

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When my friend Elise arrived, so did flowers…

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doughnuts and a massive chocolate cake.

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I also got another box in the mail when I went to the post office later.  It was a wrapped box…

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…and it contained this.

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It’s a Nexus 7 tablet.  A very kind friend sent it to me as a really big surprise.  A big surprise is certainly was!

That evening Elise and I went to Welch Ave. Station for dinner and drinks.  This is a college bar here in the Iowa State campus town that has been around FOREVER.  My free birthday drink was their Pissed off Japanese Minnow Farmer.  After that, well, things got a little interesting.

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Yeah. That’s me. Putting away tequila shots like a full-on college student.  Which I guess that I am!

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Believe it or not, after about 10 shots I still was able to walk out of the bar on my own two feet.  I didn’t get sick nor was I hung-over in the morning (in case you were worried).  I think the pizza, fried cheese balls, and cheesy bread that we had eaten earlier in the evening mitigated the potential for alcohol damage.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a rather cheerful Sarah leaving the bar that night, but honestly, I was walking better than Elise was and she’d not had a drink that night!

Today I received a package from my friend Tini in Germany.

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In it was a sweet birthday card, 2 cutie sheep figurines, some lush spinning fiber, a bit of leftover sock yarn for my blanket and a little notebook that I am going to use to keep my spinning notes in, and a bunch of Tyvek bracelets like what you get when you go to a club or an event.  They are for marking yardage and such on skeined-up yarn that you are then going to wash.  Brilliant!

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This evening I got yet another birthday present from my lovely roommate Des.  It’s the book Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis. Such a beautifully done book!

Weezy approved!

Weezy approved!

Thank you to everyone who made my birthday so wonderful.  Special thanks to Elise and Guang for a fantastic night out!  If this is what 35 is like, roll on 40!