Friday, January 8, 2016

Lucy's First Fleece - Part 3


A little of Lucy's first fleece was washed and waiting to be spun. I teased out some locks and brushed them into fluffy clouds, called rolags, using my hand carders. The carders are flat brushes covered in bent pins. They separate the fibres in the locks of wool to enable them to be smoothly drafted into wool yarn during spinning. Using the carders took a little practice before I could produce rolags without clashing the pins together in a tooth-jarring, spine-grating way.


The spinning wheel was set up, oiled and ready to run. I had watched countless YouTube videos on the art of spinning. I had practiced winding a ball of cerise pink acrylic yarn onto and off the bobbin successfully. So I sat down at my spinning wheel one evening, palms a little sweaty, ready to begin the real thing. It took a few false starts to get the wool fibres to twist successfully  around a starter piece of yarn wrapped around the bobbin, but then I was off and away, pumping my feet vigorously and watching the fibres twist and wind away from my fingers and onto the bobbin.


Just as I was getting the feel for the process, the wheel ground to a halt and I had to use my right hand  which was supposed to be controlling the twist in the fibre to get it turning in a clockwise direction while my feet pedalled as rhythmically as I could manage. My uncoordinated hands fumbled the fibres a bit until they started spinning again and then the wheel stopped. After trying repeatedly to keep the wheel turning and the yarn forming, my hands moving in rhythm with my feet, I crossly noticed Decadent Dad laughing at me as he watched from the corner of his eye. Red faced and muttering under my breath, I snapped at him while the yarn snapped in my fingers. If this was spinning I hated it and I couldn't do it. It was difficult and tedious and frustrating. What a wasted birthday present and now I was overcommitted with this enormous fleece and all this expectation to do something creative with it!



Decadent Dad, in a moment of pity, investigated the spinning wheel and declared that he could help me, which he did. The following day he ground down the too-tight axle so that it would turn smoothly in its hub, re-oiled the wheel and so I was willing to try again. This time the spinning wheel behaved as the fluff of fleece in my left hand twisted through the fingers of my right hand and wound their way onto the bobbin, forming my first real length of single ply woollen yarn.

 I was ecstatic. The more I tried, the easier it became. I had managed to make the beginning of something looking like wool. It was thick in places and thin in other places, sometime overtwisted, but it was a beautiful continuous strand. This was starting to get exciting. My fickle feelings forgot the previous night's despondency.


I can spin.

Spinning is fun.

I have a whole fleece to spin.

Will I have enough wool to make something lovely?

Lucy is the best sheep in the world.


.... to be continued




Friday, December 4, 2015

Lucy's First Fleece - Part 2




I left Lucy's newly shorn fleece in its bag for a week or so while I gathered up courage to deal with it. I researched all the many ways of washing a raw fleece. Every web site that I visited had different advice for exactly how to clean the fleece. My initially simple flow chart had become rather convoluted and confusing by the time I closed my computer. 


The best advice of the lot was, "Enjoy the Process"
Unrolled, the fleece stretched across the table-tennis table in the sun room. Ideally a fleece should be skirted outdoors, but I needed to protect it from my dogs and the wind. 


It was enormous and a bit smelly. It smelled like sheep. A fleece is divided into different quality wool depending which part of the sheep it comes from. Obviously the worst fleece is closer to the legs and tail end of the sheep, while the longest, cleanest locks are around the shoulder area. 


 It was full of bits of black jacks, fine dried grass, mud, lanolin and even some sheep poop. 



I picked over a few locks of wool and left them soaking in a bucket for a week. All that happened was that the remaining black-jacks germinated. 


Overwhelmed, I directed my attention to my birthday-present Ashford Kiwi spinning wheel, still in pieces in its box. My son and husband enthusiastically joined me in Project Assembly. We spent an afternoon putting it together ... halfway. I decided to first wax the wood before it was set up. 


Then we left it for a week while I researched how to spin. I had already had two spinning lessons from the friend who sold me the wheel. The first lesson was fairly successful, but I was all thumbs for the second. Daunted by the idea of mastering my coordination, I turned my attention back to the dirty fleece. 

I gathered up some small sections of the dirtiest poor grade fleece and washed them as well as I could. It was inconsequential if I ruined it. I used hot soapy water and then clean warm water to rinse the locks. All the washing water went to the drought-stricken garden, so I only washed as much as I could fit into a bucket at a time. We all took turns carting buckets of water out to the rose bushes.


It is really easy to felt the locks of fleece together if you agitate them or change the temperature too quickly. So I was as gentle as possible. You can't spin felted wool. Once the washed fleece was dried it came up squeaky clean. I think, in my enthusiasm, I had scoured every last bit of lanolin out. Next time I wash fleece I will experiment with baby shampoo instead of dish washing detergent.

Look at the difference between dirty and clean fleece.
Even after washing, there are still black-jacks to be picked out, and a few stains.

I am working really slowly though the fleece. Picking out the vegetable matter is very time consuming, I unsuccessfully tried washing it out but it seems the only way to do it is the tedious way. If you happen to visit for a cup of tea, you may just find me picking tufts of wool while we chat. That's what comes from having a sheep who thinks she is a pig. 

Mooka and Huckleberry are quite content for me to take all the time in the world to wash the fleece piece by piece. 


... to be continued


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lucy's First Fleece - Part One

Last month's sheep shearing has spun me head over heels into a new world of neps and noils, niddy noddies, rolags, cards and combs. My mind is all in a twist over the creative possibilities now that I am the delighted owner of a fleece. A rather muddy, thorny fleece from our sheep-pig but a beautiful home-raised fleece nonetheless.

Lucy was a pathetic little baby lamb who spent many hours in my arms and under my jersey
Lucy as a newborn lamb next to the fire

Lucy was one of the dogs before she thought she was a pig

Hope looking on while Lucy gets a bottle
Lucy the Lamb has grown from a tiny desperate orphan into a friendly fat sheep who thinks she is a pig. She follows the pigs as they do what pigs do, grazing alongside them as they snout for tasty roots, lying chewing her cud in the mud as they wallow in it. She bosses them around too, not hesitating to butt Winifred out of the way if the sow happens to be lying in Lucy's path. Once she gave them both a jolly good butting when they were so naughty as to venture out the gate. She has been known to cheekily step off the wall down onto Houdini's back and then onto the lawn.

Lucy and the pigs feasting on damaged fruit


Lucy out walking on the farm with our friends and 5 dogs
Lucy is also the worst thief of the farmyard, regularly testing gates to see if she can sneak into the garden to steal blossoms off berry bushes and foliage from almond saplings.

Lucy on her way to Shearing

Lucy was not as charmed as I was at the prospect of her shearing. My men hoisted her unceremoniously into the back of my car and drove her to the next door farm where the shearers had set up to clip their way through an enormous flock. Lucy waited patiently for her turn.


With a dog collar around her neck she followed us obediently until suddenly she was flipped over onto her back and had to suffer the indignity of baring her belly to the woolly audience.


Once the shearing was over she gulped down mouthfuls of calming grass and then bleated her dismay all the way home. She soon settled down, tethered on the lawn, and grazed the until sunset as if nothing had changed in her world. Fearing a chill I dressed her in a large dog jacket and put her to bed for the night. By morning the jacket was off and Lucy was once again one of the pigs.



 As for me, I finally had my precious fleece. Lucy's first fleece. My daunting fleece. My intimidating fleece. I left it in its bag and went away for the weekend.


... to be continued

Friday, October 9, 2015

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Its a warm spring evening. The air is scented with Syringa blossom. I am sitting on the verandah, music playing from the house accompanied by a chorus of cicadas, crickets and frogs. Decadent Dad is rattling pots and pans and producing some encouraging aromas from the kitchen. Friday night is Special Night around here, a tradition that he has kept for the last 15 years. I have the night off. He punctuates the end of his working week with a dinner cooked lovingly for our family and we usually watch a movie together. Family traditions are anchors that hold our hearts in unity and the security of our love.

Our lives have changed dramatically over the last six months and then not at all.

We still live in the beautiful stone house on a farm in the Free State. Our plans to move to Cape Town have been put on hold until the required doors open, if they open at all. So here we are, our cows sold, most of our chickens too. I did not sow heirloom seeds in polytrays in midwinter so there are very few exciting heirloom seedlings in our veggie tunnel, mostly just seedlings from last month's farmer's market . Our walls are bare. The paintings are in storage along with our fragile crockery which is wrapped and packed in boxes in Cape Town. We have stopped the market stall. Our journey has been painful and challenging at times, but I am learning again to be content with the here and now. Life here has a different flavour now.

Along with the shift in our circumstances has come a shift in my priorities. My heart has shifted towards my role as wife and mother and keeper of my home. I have been more present physically and emotionally as I homeschool my son. I have caught up on tax admin and started to slowly tackle the years of accumulated clutter in our home. I have also, in true Elastic Mom style, embraced the challenge of providing nutritious meals for my family when the pantry has been lean at times. I have reevaluated our diet and lifestyle and most importantly have renewed my faith in the Lord.

I have a new hope that regardless of where we live and how we live, we are secure in the loving arms of our heavenly Father.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Elastic Mom Stretching a Little Further



The last day in April will mark the end of our sixth year on this Free State farm. We have all grown and changed in this environment. Now we are slowly preparing to move back to the Cape in a few months time. The challenge for me, Elastic Mom, is to hold onto the lessons that I have learned, and they are many. I hope to apply some of them, albeit modified, to a completely different coastal lifestyle.

For now, the task at hand is to continue to stretch my resources and keep to my use-it-don’t-lose-it principles, and all the other thrifty tools I have up my sleeve as we wrap up our farm life. Our four dogs and two cats will be the only animals making the move with us.


This week we sold our last two Jersey cows, Hope and Rosie. They went to join Joy at our friends’ farm. It is so hard letting go of my precious girls, but I know they will be loved and well cared for in their new home. This means the end of farmers markets for us for now, as we no longer have copious amounts of cheese and butter. Had I known that we would be leaving, I would have stored up butter and cream rather than selling it in croissants and pannacottas.

We are left with one bullock that was intended for beef; grass fed, organic prime beef at its best. He will be making the trip to the local butcher quite a bit earlier than planned, but will provide us with beef that we can transport frozen and also sell to a few lucky people.

Winifred, our pig is pregnant and we will sell the piglets when they are weaned, rather than raising them ourselves. Sausage, her brother, has lived up to his name. We will sell Winifred and her future mate, the dashing spotty Houdini once the piglets are weaned as well.

Our chickens will likewise be sold off, and some unlucky young roosters will become coq au vin. We have also promised some chickens to our staff.


Lucy Lamb is going to live with my vegetarian friend where I know she will be safe and loved along with the three other hanslammetjie sheep that already live there. Once her fleece is long enough, it will be shorn and kept for me so that I can spin it.

Meals will be planned around the fresh produce and open jars in the fridge. The last of the harvest in our bountiful vegetable tunnel will be picked before the frost and cooked fresh rather than pickled or frozen for winter. I will dry surplus tomatoes rather than freeze them. There is not all that much left in the tunnel. I won’t plant out the seedlings that I had planned for our winter garden. Once all the fresh produce is used up I will focus on cooking from the contents of our freezer. Jams, pickles and preserves can travel with us to our new destination so I probably won’t open any new jars.



My head is spinning a little with new tasks and a change of focus, but I am confident that we can do this hard thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Won! I Won!

I came to live on this farm, all green. We inherited a mesh-covered tunnel rich with vegetables, a cow and her calf and four chickens. This change, this choice required my change. I researched and studied, sowed and reaped, learned and failed, harvested and built compost. Instead of contributing to our income, I minimised our expenditure. The more I grew, the more we grew, the less we spent.

Three years later and our success in self-sufficiency shows at supper. Each night as we sit holding hands, grateful for the blessing before us, we wonder at the home raised goodness before us.

A walk in the tunnel and our failure in self-sufficiency shows on the leaves. I abdicated as general in the war against invaders as the heat waves of summer combined with faulty pumps and leaking lines defeated us in our daily skirmishes. My ignorance in organic matters mocks in small pickings.

I recognise my need for guidance. Today such an advisor arrived in the form of a book. A prize. A weapon. No, a tactical manual. A manual of things green written for green people. Like me.

Green is the colour of hope, new beginnings, life.

As this season of summer cools into autumn, I am thankful, hopeful and even excited for the new seasons of promise yet to come. A surprise, a prize has given me hope, stirred my imagination and encouraged me to discard the white flag of surrender and march forward boldly with muddy boots, sandy hands and my pockets full of seeds.

Thank you Livingseeds for the awesome prize. I promise to use it well.







Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mexican Black and Blue

I have a blue wooden treasure box. It is filled with little packets of promises. Guy and Lianne gave them to me when they left for the UK. Last summer I took a particularly promising packet of promises and planted them near the pine tree. I watered and waited and watched. Some of them were empty promises, but a few came to life and pushed their way towards the light, stretching tall to the sun. I waited all summer and as the days cooled to autumn they faded and dried and died. I gathered their heavy black heads and placed them in a basket near my front door. A basket of promises.


What to do with Black Aztec maize? I had no idea. A little research filled my culinary imaginations with images of blue corn tortillas and Mexican food. Winter visited, and spring came calling. Then, when summer had come to stay for a while, on a Wednesday afternoon, an unexpected gift of tomatillos from my friend reminded me of the silent basket of promises that greeted every guest who entered through my front door. It was time.

Black Aztec Corn
On Thursday morning I shucked the black pearls into a bowl while teaching a Maths lesson. One kilogram of them were boiled and soaked overnight with one tablespoon of lime in a pot of water.

Add 1 T slaked lime in 1 c water, pour into pot of corn, cover with water. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes and soak overnight. 
On Thursday afternoon, during an art lesson, I turned two kilograms of tomatillos into dizzyingly delicious salsa verde. It was my first time tasting the unusual fruit. I am smitten.

Tomatillos are not a kind of green tomato. They are in the gooseberry family. Thank you Stacey.
Boil the tomatillos with 2 jalapeƱo chilis until tender. Drain and blend with seasoning, coriander leaves garlic and onion. Simmer the sauce in a little oil for ten minutes. The recipe is from the blog Patti's Kitchen Table
On Friday morning, while a Maths test was underway, I rubbed off the corn skins under running water, then ground the wet Black Aztec Maize kernels into a masa. The soft mound of masa, a grey-blue with flecks of black, looked like granite. The promise of a good dinner and the hope of success resulted in a phone call. Fun food is for sharing.

Rub the soaked kernels in your hands under running water
Grind or use a food processor to form a pliable dough or masa
Knead the masa for 10 min until it is smooth
All day on Friday pots of spicy mince and Spanish Black Beans simmered on the hob while I scurried between the schoolroom and the stove. The beans came from another packet of promises that produced prolifically last summer. Poetically, they were the perfect partner for the promised repast.

Like the corn, these Spanish Black Beans dried in the summer sun and then we collected them for our winter pantry

Simmer cooked beans with onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, cumin, coriander, chilli, origanum and tomato
On Friday evening our friends arrived and the men set to work pressing out blue tortillas between sheets of plastic using a pie plate. They turned a purply grey as they browned on the skillet. We ladies sipped tequila and enjoyed the summer evening with grey thunderclouds and purple Maluti Mountains in the distance.


Cook the tortillas for a few minutes on each side on a heavy, flat skillet
They really do look blue
We ate outside, on the verandah after dark, our table dimly lit by a row of solar light jars. I am glad it was dark so no-one could see the salsa running down my chin as I relished my magnificent Mexican meal.

Coriander leaves, red tomato salsa, chopped chilis, salsa verde, cooked chicken tossed in salsa verde on an appropriately South American tablecloth
Blue corn tortillas filled with chicken / spicy pastured beef mince / Mexican beans and topped with salsa, coriander leaves, rather runny home made yoghurt and grated mild farm cheese.