Monday, June 30, 2008

Lightning and Lightning Bugs

Back on June 16th, I took a video of a lightning storm playing over our big pasture. If you look closely, you can see lightning bugs rising up out of the grass at the same time. It was beautiful.

Here are a couple of still clips from the video:

How to Make Cherry Cordial (Part 2)

As promised, it's the end of June, and here's Part 2 of my "How to Make Cherry Cordial" post.

As you may remember, the cherries and cinnamon sticks have been steeping in the brandy for about a month now. Yesterday, I opened the jars and strained the liquid. As you can see, the brandy leached not only most of the flavor, but also most of the color out of the cherries.

Next, I put a paper coffee filter (wetted with water, for ease of handling and to help speed the initial filtering) into a large funnel, and began filtering the cordials. This is the most tedious part of the cordial making process, because some cordials take a VERY long time to filter. But this one wasn't too bad.

While I was filtering, Ken made the sugar syrup. To do this, you heat 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan, stirring constantly until it just starts to boil and the liquid suddenly goes clear. Then remove the pan from the heat. This makes 2 cups of syrup.

When the cordial is done filtering and the sugar syrup is cool, you just add the syrup to the cordial, tasting frequently, until it is as sweet as you like it.

In this case, Ken and I felt that the cinnamon flavor was too strong and the cherry flavor was too weak, but we noticed that the cherry flavor became more prominent the more syrup we added. So we made a sweeter cordial than we normally do, by adding the entire 2 cups of sugar syrup.

The result was 2 mason jars almost full of cherry cordial, which will need to steep for about a week to reach full flavor.

Normally I bottle my cordials in pretty, tall, long-necked bottles, but this time around, I made this batch knowing that we're having a bunch of friends over for the July 4th weekend, and we'll probably drink most of the cordial then, so I didn't bother with the fancy bottles, I just put the cordial back into the mason jars to wait until our friends arrive:

I'm Still Here

I want to thank everybody who has been inquiring about where I've been and what's happened to all my blog posts. I'm still here, just very busy around the farm lately.

Besides the usual daily farm chores, I'm still trying to sell the last few sales horses before they eat us out of house and home. Many of the sheep on my sheep sales list are already spoken for, but I've been trying to get the others sold as well.

I've been trying to fit in a little spare time to put a little training on the two Art Deco fillies I'm keeping, and I gotta say, they are not easy! They are so hair-trigger, they take about 50 times as many repetitions of a lesson before they settle into it as my other horses have. For example, I was thrilled yesterday that when Grace managed to scrape her halter off in the paddock, she let me put it back on her without making very much of a fuss. This is only the second time I've been able to do that without investing a serious amount of time on the lesson. So at least she's making progress!

Glory is also making progress. I've been doing mostly desensitizing training on her, because she's so suspicious and spooky. The first time I waved a flapping raincoat (one of my usual desensitizing tools) in her paddock, it took more than 3 hours before she would settle down and reluctantly let me bring it near her. Now, she'll still spook at first, but then she remembers she's supposed to stand still, and she'll let me flop it against her (although her skin still flinches every time).

We had a professional shearer come and shear the sheep, which is a first for us. Usually we struggle along and try to do it ourselves, but it kills my back and takes a really long time. The professional shearer did an excellent job, and finished the whole flock in just a few hours.

The sheep have mostly been doing pretty well. The summer is always the most difficult time for them, because of the heat and the parasites. Once they were sheared, I could see that a lot of them were thinner than I would like them to be. Our pastures are not very good, so we've been supplementing the sheep's protein levels with protein blocks and hefty doses of pelleted sheep feed every day.

At this point, the bossier sheep (the rams and the larger, older ewes) are starting to get fat. I'm just waiting for my vaccine order to arrive so that I can do the annual shots for the flock, then after that, I'll be weaning the lambs.

I don't normally wean my lambs, I usually let them self wean. But this year, a lot of my buyers are ready to take their new sheep as early as July, so the babies will need to be weaned first. This will be good anyhow, since once I separate the lambs from the fat, bossy sheep, I'll be able to cut down on the feed for the adults, while still continuing to give the youngsters lots of nutrient-rich food to keep them growing well even through the hottest part of the summer, which will soon be upon us.

It's been helping a lot so far, I think. There are still a few lambs who are on the smallish side, comparatively---mostly the twins by the smaller, first-time moms---but the majority are much larger than usual. I've had occasion to pick a few of them up, and there are several that are well over 50 lbs. now, at only 2.5 months old. Compare this to a group of sheep I bought a few years ago, where the smallest was only 35 lbs. in September!

Since breeding season is still 4 months away, these lambs have tons of time left to keep growing before that. The larger and more mature the lambs are at the time, the more likely they are to have a good first breeding season. So, things are looking good so far.

I'm trying to sell off all the polled sheep and keep just the horned ones, which I happen to like better. I had two buyers who between them were planning to pretty much buy up all the adult polled sheep I have. But one sale fell through when the buyer had a financial crisis and the other buyer changed her mind and decided to buy horned sheep instead.

So, now I am almost completely sold out of all the horned sheep on my sales list, and still have the entire group of polled available. I was hoping that adding polled to the flock would expand my customer base, but apparently not. So, if I have to keep them through another breeding season and lambing, I will. They are very nice quality sheep, after all. But they'll stay on the sales list until someone decides to buy them.

The polled ewe lambs are all spoken for now, not because they've been sold, but because David, who is the person I traded my beloved mares Char and Scylla to in exchange for the group of polled sheep, has decided that he can't keep them after all. So I'm trading the ewe lambs back to him, plus Scylla's foal, to get Char and Scylla back.

If you remember how depressed I was about having to sell (trade) those mares in the first place, you would think that trading back would be great news. But we simply don't have the money to bring the mares back here. We can barely afford to feed the animals we have, that's why we got rid of the mares in the first place. So I'm trying to work out a way that the mares can go to my sister Donna's farm. Donna is also taking Char's foal, who will be her new stud to breed to her mares.

The difficulty is that David's farm and Donna's farm are very far apart, so shipping is going to be expensive. And I have to bring the ewe lambs to the Michigan Fiber Festival to meet David, so he can take them back to his farm, which will be another very long trip for me.

So, while I am committed to not losing Char (my favorite of all my horses) again, this turn of events is rather complicating my summer plans.

In other news... I've been trying to tackle a major cleanup and reorganization of our house. Because when we moved here, we knew that every room in the place was going to eventually need renovating, we didn't at first try to set them up the way we really wanted them. In time, several of the rooms ended up turning into big, messy storage areas for all the renovation supplies and all the belongings that we didn't have a final place for yet.

But since it seems that we are not going to have any money for continued renovation any time soon, we've been getting tired of having all those rooms be messy and unusable. So I've been struggling along doing a deep-level cleanup, pulling everything out of every closet and room, throwing away all the junk that is no longer relevant, and reorganizing how and where all the rest of the stuff is stored. It's a time-consuming job, and definitely makes the house look worse before it looks better, but when it's done, it will make the house a lot more livable until we can finally start renovating again.

Anyway, there's been more stuff going on in the past month when I haven't been writing blog posts, but that's the gist of it.

I appreciate all the people who contacted me to tell me they missed my posts and to ask if I was doing okay. I'll try to make time to post more frequently again. I appreciate all your comments and support!