Refurbishing an Old Board Game

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Does anyone else here like to play the board game Aggravation? It’s a game where you have to move your marbles around the board to get from “home” to “safe.” Along the way, you can take shortcuts, or take out your friends and send them back to the beginning. It looks like this:

I love this game! It’s so fun. So, when I saw a crappy old one for $1 at a garage sale, I bought it. But it didn’t have enough holes drilled in it. It only had holes around the outside (see photo below). That isn’t very fun! You need a center hole to be a short cut, and some way to get into the middle. So, I decided to add more holes!

I tried to make the curves smooth, and by putting masking tape on, I could erase them and adjust them before drilling them.

Initially, I used a drill stand which holds the hand drill at whatever angle you set. I set it for 90 degrees, or perpendicular. It worked alright, but on a couple of the holes, the device moved a little and the hole did not end up where I had wanted it. Then, we found a drill press on kijiji! So, I set the depth and that was better… for the holes it could reach. It couldn’t reach the holes closes to the centre, or the curved parts. So in the end, I used a combination of the hand-held drill and stand and the drill press. I think I may have drilled the center hole a bit too deep! Once I had all the holes drilled, I took the masking tape off.

Now, I had to do something about that rather awful finish. There were some pretty big gouges too, where the wood had broken away when the original maker drilled their holes. I filled those with wood filler and then went at it with the sander! The wood filler shows up as light grey in the photo below. Isn’t that a nice piece of wood, though!?! Without that orange stain?!?

I had to redrill one hole because the stand had slipped and the hole was too close to its neighbour. I put down lots of wood filler, then very carefully drilled into all that wood filler to move the hole over. It worked! in the photo above, the new hole is pretty close to 12 o’clock.

Next, I slowly and carefully painted all the holes with dark brown enamel that I’ve had around here for ages. Looks nice, doesn’t it!?! Sure beats that orange-brown wood! You can see old holes, new holes and painted holes below.

The new holes needed 2 coats because some enamel absorbed into the wood. Then, I had to decide what to do for the colours. Did you notice this game is a hexagon? There are home bases for 6 people to play. I thought about getting marbles in 6 colours and painting the home bases and safe bases in those colours, but then I remembered I had some large wooden beads… I used the beads and went through my craft supplies at home to find 6 different colours of enamel/paint that I already had! (Yes, some of it was nail polish! I also borrowed some yellow from my mom… Thanks, Mom!)

I am so pleased with the result!

I did kind of a minimalist painting scheme on the home bases, just connecting the holes with lines. Overall, this was a really fun project, and it would be equally fun to make from scratch! I’ve seen aggravation games with 4 home bases or 8, but 6 was good too.

How To Play

Your marbles (or in this case, beads) start at your home, which is on the outside edge of the board. My family plays by rolling a dice, but some people play with cards — that lets you plan your moves. You need to roll a 1 or a 6 to get out of the home base and start playing — that just gets your marble onto that first hole outside your home base. Then, you move around clockwise according to how you roll until you get back to your safe — the part inside the curved areas on my board. In the photo above, you can see there are 2 orange marbles still at home and 2 out and about on the playing board. The copper-coloured player has one in his safe already and one in the shortcut… he or she is probably waiting for a 1 to get out! 🙂 As you go around, if you land on someone else’s marble you get to send them home. You can have all your marbles in play at one time, or just focus on one.

If you want to try your luck on the shortcut, you have to jump into the middle from a special dot. On my game, it is painted sparkly! On other games, it might be painted red or with a yellow circle around it. Can you see the sparkly holes at the top of each arc? You need to roll a 1 to get out, and you can come out onto any sparkly dot you choose… but you’ll probably want the one just before your safe base!

The first person to get all their marbles into their safe wins! At the end, sometimes I get stuck waiting for a small number like a 2 so I can get in the door! 🙂

I hope this inspires you to get a piece of plywood (at least a half inch thick) and start drilling some holes! 🙂 Take care, everybody.

More refurbishing: An Old Drum Carder

Making a Parka for an Alpaca

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I should probably apologize right now, as this is going to be another of those oddly-specific posts that you are going to either get VERY excited about, because it’s exactly what you need, or it’s not relevant to your life at all. This post is about making coats for alpacas! 🙂

These coats lay across the animal’s back and attach under the belly with a strap and fasten across the front of their chest with overlapping panels and either straps or velcro. Let’s start with the basic shape. I found this pattern image online and used it as a guideline. I would love to give credit to the originator, but all I have is this google drive link.

The U-shaped part at the top is where the alpaca’s neck will go, and the chest straps will connect across the alpaca’s chest and the belly straps will connect under the belly. You will need 2 measurements for the alpaca you are making the coat for: around-the-belly circumference and length of back (from neck to tail).

My first venture into making coats was last fall, when we knew we had a baby on the way and it would be due in October. What a heck of a time of year to be born! So I made two coats — a lightweight one and a warmer one. I used measurements off the internet for the sizes of coats that were for sale. I was so glad I did. That little guy really needed his coat! He was basically born shivering and after I dried him off, I put it on him and he perked up a lot!

Look how pink his ears and nose are!

The next day, I made him a neckwarmer and put that on him too.

As he got bigger and winter got colder, we put his thicker coat on him. This one was insulated with alpaca fibre from his mama!

Isn’t he adorable!?! He grew up really well and is still very gentle and likes to come nose-to-nose with me. I think he knows we will take care of him no matter what!

Okay, we are in danger of getting sentimental, so let’s get down to business and look at how I made these coats! 🙂

I guess I didn’t take many pictures of the construction of the first coat, but here it is all finished, waiting for the little one to be born! My mom supplied the light blue fabric and wide velcro — thanks Mom!
Making the second coat: The pattern piece overlaid on fuzzy cloth.
To add an insulating layer, I hand-carded alpaca fibre and made it into mini-batts which I laid out inside the coat, overlapping a little.
I machine quilted the coat and added a windproof layer — the dark blue fabric (thanks again, Mom). It puckered quite a bit, but at least the alpaca fleece layer would be anchored well.
I underestimated how big Pigpen was getting, so it didn’t even fit him! I had to make the coat bigger… or the straps longer!

I felt pretty good about how that went! We used the light blue coat for Rupert for a few days when he was born this summer too!

I think he likes it!

If you just can’t get enough of these little ones, check out my posts here.

One cold evening last year, I noticed our elderly female, Uki, shivering. I felt so bad for her! She was still nursing little Pigpen and earlier in the year, she had been putting a lot of energy into growing him and not her coat.

The proud mama, not long after Pigpen was born! (He had just stood up!) Yes, that’s a washcloth on his back. I had to run back in the house for his coat!

So, I quickly made up a three-layer coat to help her keep warm. This year, with more time to work on it, I made some alpaca fibre into batts and added a quilted layer! I used the existing coat as a pattern and cut out the cloth from an old but very soft sheet.

Here is the coat laid out on the floor. The batts are different colours because it is fibre from different alpacas!

Using full-size batts was far better than hand-carded fibre, and I only anchored it every 3-4 inches.

I quilted the coat by hand with thread, tying small knots. I seem to love projects that take a lot of time!

I machine quilted the section at the chest, so that it isn’t quite as puffy. I figured out how to do it without the cloth puckering (thank you, internet). I then stitched it to the windproof layer in ten or so places. We put it on her tonight, even though it isn’t forecast to be too cold. She is pregnant again, with her cria due in June, so I think she might just wear this coat all winter!

An alpaca in a parka!

Last year, the coat was a bit too loose and would sometimes creep forward and end up bunched up around her neck. Hopefully now that it’s a puffy coat, it will stay put better. I did it up as tightly as I could.

I should make another one in case Daisy needs it! She is still nursing little Rupert, but at least she is not pregnant too. What a toll that must take on a body!

Now I have friends asking if I can make coats for dogs! I’m not sure I want to get into that racket… but then I hate to see an animal cold! 🙂

Take care, everybody! Stay warm!

Some Remembrance Day Knitting and a Free Pattern

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Some years, I post a thoughtful article on Remembrance Day. This year, I wanted to share some knitting!

First off, I found this pattern for knitted poppies, so of course, I made two! Pretty nifty and quick little pattern! If you would normally get a plastic poppy and leave a donation for the Legion, it would be nice to leave a donation while you wear your knitted poppy!

Second, I have a veteran friend who asked me to knit a scarf using the stripes of one of his service medals! I love this idea! I finished the scarf yesterday and he got it today — just in time for him to wear it… nowhere. Or to a virtual Remembrance Day service he attends in his pajamas. Anyways. If you know a soldier or veteran and have seen them wearing their service medals, why not ask them if they’d like a scarf custom-knit just for them in the colours of one of their medals?

Service Award Scarf

This isn’t a pattern as much as just some helpful tips on how I made my scarf. I used a circular needle that measures 32 inches from tip to tip and that made a fairly long scarf. The stitches were quite jammed up on the needle, so if you also want a nice long scarf, 32 inches is the minimum length for the needle, I’d say.

Yarn: I ordered Drops Nepal from a yarn store online because I didn’t have all the colours I needed. It’s 65% wool 35% alpaca and made a nice, basic scarf. You might have all the yarn you need in your stash — great! If you can match yarns, great. I had to use a different yarn for the center stripe, but the colour was so perfect, I decided to go with it. If you can use all the same fibre content, great. But honestly, it’s a scarf so you don’t need to get too fussy. Just make sure it won’t be itchy!

Needles: I used 5.5 mm needles with this yarn (on a 32″ long circular needle as I said). Obviously, you can scale this up/down depending on your yarn and if you’re a tight/loose knitter.

If you are a beginner knitter, you might think this scarf is knit across the short dimension like all beginner scarves. This is not the case. It’s waaaay easier to knit this using long rows, so that your colour changes are far less frequent. If you are an advanced knitter looking for a challenge (and not in a hurry), you know what to do. You may be thinking, this won’t slow me down much, but you have forgotten about the untangling! I will proceed to give directions to the beginners/sane people out there.

Let me say as a short sidebar that I considered doing some sort of complex, multi-coloured double knit scarf. It would have been so beautiful! But the colour changes and likelihood of getting severely tangled up scared me off. I tried a sample of it and gave up! It just seemed unnecessarily complicated. But, if you are up for it, you could double knit, or knit in the round and then tack it down (sew it) to keep it flat. Or, like me, you could just *K* until finished! Garter stitch for the win!

Instructions: Cast on enough stitches to fill the needle and/or make you think it is way too many. Then cast on another 20 or so stitches. That should be about the right amount. If you like, you can do a gauge swatch and then some math, but I just filled the circular needle. I didn’t even COUNT the stitches! (What a rebel.) I know it was over a hundred. I decided to use the Chinese Waitress Cast on which proves I’m not lazy, just easy going! (Here’s a good tutorial, by Stacey at Very Pink Knits.) This cast on makes a very nice, structured edge which I could have taken a picture of, except that navy blue is a very difficult colour to photograph!

For the scarf I made, which is the British military medal for service in the South Atlantic (post WWII), I decided to do 5 garter ridges of navy, 3 ridges of bright blue, 4 ridges of white, 6 ridges of green and so on in reverse. This made my scarf 30 ridges wide (60 rows of knitting). As long as you always change colours when the tail of yarn that you began with is at the top, your stripes will be consistent; there will be a right side and wrong side of the scarf, but even the wrong side with it’s dashed lines of colour looks okay (peeking out from under the right side in the photo below).

It is worth a mock up if you aren’t sure how wide to make the stripes. Some medals have several stripes, so you’ll want to see how to knit them up and keep the scarf a “good scarf width.” Just cast on 10 or so stitches and start knitting stripes. The absolute width of each stripe is not important; it just needs to look proportional. Your scarf might be narrower or wider and that’s okay! (Don’t ask me how wide mine turned out; I forgot to measure it before gifting it! It’s a “good scarf width!”)

My veteran friend told me that the black and white service medal on the right (on photo above) is for long service and good conduct. Most other medals are for service on certain campaigns/wars. Ask your soldier/veteran friend to explain this to you! And as I said before, I think it’s best to ask your friend which one they would like in a scarf, or if they would even like a scarf at all! Some vets might not want to be reminded… others might have an award for conspicuous bravery and that is probably the one that should be knitted into a scarf!

When you have reached the end of your scarf, which is the width, to be clear, you are done! I did an Icelandic cast off (Very Pink Knits video here), which is a bit slower than a basic CO, but it makes a nice, ornamental edge perfect for a scarf. It took FOREVER! (I think my scarf was actually closer to 200 sts long, but it felt like a thousand.)

But heck, when you’re knitting for someone who put their life on the line for your freedom… I think you can spend a little more time on the cast-off, eh!? 😉

Take care, everyone! Have a great day and happy knitting!

Electing a Leader

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I don’t usually write about politics. It’s a topic that I generally avoid because some people can get really angry really quickly and then they become irrational and unable to listen to an opinion that varies even slightly from their own. I don’t follow politics, because I find it too frustrating. I do have a few observations I wanted to share, however, from a more philosophical point of view.
In the past few decades, we have made money our god. We will do anything to have more of it, to save it or get it (directly or indirectly) from each other. I have found people don’t even think twice about screwing someone else out of money, because, well, it’s money. In popular culture, it is perfectly moral to do what you have to do to get more money. Millionaires are idolized and people wish they could take their place.
As a result, the citizens of the US elected a rich man to be their leader. He has no other leadership abilities or selling points, but he is rich. Maybe they thought that electing a rich man would make them all rich, and he may have made promises to that effect, but we all know not to believe a politician’s promises, right? He was also somewhat famous before he was elected, and many people seek fame as well as fortune. So it makes sense that we collectively elect someone that comes from a group that we admire — in this case, a millionaire.
I wonder if there is a certain amount of momentum behind the choosing of a leader. I mean, if around the world, millions of people all shifted their focus toward being more responsible people, making good, logical decisions, and taking responsibility for their actions, it might still take some time to see a change in the actual leaders who get elected. If millions focused on being kinder, gentler, more accepting and compassionate, — if we idolized equality, fairness, or empathy — those sorts of people would rise through our ranks to be our leaders. There would still be people who value money over all else, and who are selfish, greedy, capitalist consumers, but they would not be chosen to be our leaders. Could it be that our most treasured values are mirrored in the leaders we elect?

~

I fear our election processes choose the most popular candidate, but not the best people to actually LEAD. Do you ever feel like politics is like high school, where popularity is everything and the smartest kids aren’t necessarily the most popular, nor are the ones who would ultimately be the best leaders. Thank goodness politicians alone do not make all policies. Every political office has staff who are experts in their field — people like the public health leaders who have, especially in my country, Canada, really stepped up to the plate and become true leaders, advising the politicians on the best course of action to take.
So, if we take this line of thinking and continue on a philosophical journey into the future… who will our leaders be in the decades to come? Those who had wild success of Tik Tok? Maybe a pop music idol, if one chose to pursue politics? A famous actor? There are many who have the popularity but few choose politics. I think it will be some Instagrammer, YouTuber or TikTokker, and it makes me wonder about where we are headed next.
Instagrammers often (not always, I know) focus on appearances. Everything looks perfectly composed, tidy, or cosy, or whatever vibe they are going for. Nothing is real. Okay, my Instagram is real, complete with rusting tractors and grass that needs to be cut in the background (@teresas_alpaca_cam, if you are interested)!
TikTok is about entertainment, is it not? Who can get the most views, whose video goes viral the fastest. This is pure fluff and there is zero guarantee that someone whose TikTok is wildly popular would even be able to lead a squirrel out of a paper bag (which is easy, if that wasn’t clear).
Have you seen on YouTube the obstacle course that a guy made for squirrels? They have to run a complicated gauntlet to be rewarded with the nuts they love so much. This guy put in a lot of engineering savvy to create the course that was sufficiently difficult and would not harm them. He built a squirrel catapult which safely flings any squirrel which lingers on its platform too long! This guy could, possibly, lead a country. He has at least shown that he has some smarts, problem solving ability, clear thinking, persistence and compassion towards animals.
I wonder if our current political system actually repels the truly good leaders? I wonder if they are “discouraged from applying for the job” so to speak? And I don’t just mean successful people, because believe it or not, they aren’t always good leaders… or wouldn’t be cut out for public office, in any case. Just because you are a good CEO doesn’t mean you can run a country. A good political leader should always be interested in the greatest good — not the bottom line, or the balanced budget or other things that might occupy a good CEO’s attention. A government’s job is to provide common-use services, safely and fairly to all its citizens. It collects taxes to do this — to provide and maintain common-use roads, schools, hospitals, libraries, and cultural centres. Its job is not to make as much money as possible, or save as much money as possible (common corporate goals). Its job is to provide services. It should try to do so with a balanced, reasonable budget, but at times, this may not be possible. One could add that its job is to stabilize the economy, whenever able.
So if we can’t draw from a pool of successful CEOs for our high-ranking politicians, who can we look to? Should we look to University professors? They are some of the smartest people out there, and many would make good leaders. They are thinkers, and many are logical and analytical. Some might not be overly compassionate, but neither are CEOs, necessarily. Again, I think our current system doesn’t not encourage such a person to even consider it. The pettiness we see in debates and house discussions would be unsavoury if not appalling to most civilized university types (I think).

What do you think of my ponderings? Am I crazy? Or do you worry about who our next leaders may be? I am little worried for my neighbours to the south, and friends who live there, but I will not share and describe my worries here. They are contagious. Hopefully, the next election goes smoothly and the leader who wins is well-suited to lead.

Refurbishing my old Drum Carder

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Hi everyone! As you know, I raise alpacas and I have been wanting to make my own yarn from their glorious fibre! To help with that, my grandma gave me her good spinning wheel and her drum carder. I learned to spin this summer with the help of an instructor from the weaver’s guild — God bless you, Brenda!! — but this post isn’t about spinning. It’s about the drum carder.

I have made quite a few batts with it, but I was starting to notice a lot of the teeth coming out — 3 or 4 for every batt I made with it! I was starting to really worry!

Don’t you love how the cloth is actually thick leather and the teeth look like blunt thumbtacks pushed through from the back? I wonder what year this drum carder was made? If you have any idea, leave a comment because I would love to know!

When I looked into ordering a new carding cloth — that’s what they call that spiky material that goes on the outside of the drum — I couldn’t seem to find a Canadian source for it. Since the US postal system is quite broken, I was not keen on ordering from south of the border and I prefer to buy local or at least Canadian when I can. I asked my aunt-in-law who owns Legacy Studio if she had carding cloth, or if she could get it for me. She said the best stuff comes from Europe, so I found a supplier from the Netherlands, Golden Fleece Carders. Want to hear the best part? I got my carding cloth — which is the perfect width for my machine! — in 17 days! From overseas!! I am so thrilled! I ordered something from the US in July and it took over 6 weeks!

So, anyways, I am really excited to be refurbishing the old drum carder. It’s like Reduce, Reuse, Recycle got another R: Refurbish! So, let the not-quite-tutorial begin!

I took the old cloth off using a flathead screwdriver to pry the staples and nails off.

There are so many teeth missing! Especially along that one edge. The batts always looked like they’d been to hell and back. So many holes.

So, I continued prying staples and nails until I had them all off! Avert your eyes — that’s a naked drum there! 😮

Check out the new cloth! There are quite a few more pins per square inch…

I was so thrilled that this company carried the carding cloth in the exact width I needed. The American ones were never the right width (I don’t mean to sound anti-American, it’s just true). This cloth is only 72 DPI, because I wanted it to be multi-purpose. For alpaca, some people go A LOT finer!

I measured how long it needed to be and started taking out pins so I could cut it. I took out 3 rows in total and they came out easily. Then I cut it with regular scissors!

Now here is where things start getting interesting! See how close together those two drums are? The top one, with the old pins, is called the licker and its pins are NOT supposed to touch the main drum, or maybe just barely touch. Because the pins on the new cloth are quite a bit longer, the pins on the two drums are grinding together at this point! (The old pins touched more than they should have, but I didn’t know better.) So, I had to figure out if I could move either of the drums. It turns out, my little old drum carder is pretty adjustable! I was able to loosen the bolts on the sides (you can see one on the left) and back the main drum up so that it would have more room! It was a bit of work, but I’m happy — the teeth barely touch now.

I then got to work stapling and nailing the new cloth in place. I forgot to get a picture of the stapling, but I just used an ordinary staple gun. Then, I had to nail the little nails back in where the cloth meets up. See the problem below?

You can’t nail them in because you’ll end up pounding on the pins of the carding cloth! Luckily, we had a punch, which worked great! I just carefully positioned it on the head of each nail and pounded them in.

Sorry, you can’t see the top, but it’s just flat for the hammer to hit it. This let me hammer those little nails right down snuggly!

And now my drum carder is like new, sort of!

For now, I’ve decided to leave the licker drum as is. I might change the cloth in the future, but it’s working okay, so I left it!

I have to tell you: I LOVE giving new life to old things! It is one of my favourite things to do, and probably why this project was so much fun! (If you feel the same, I recommend Laura Kampf videos on YouTube because she is the best at this, and her videography is a pleasure to watch!)

Of course I had to put the new/old carder to work! Since the new teeth are longer, it makes thicker batts. They still look a bit ratty; they don’t come off the drum as easily because there are so many more teeth! I also might need to work on my technique…

I made 2 batts and then took the next one off as a rolag, which seemed to work better. Dang, it’s a dense rolag though!

I should probably apologize to my regular readers, as this is one of those oddly-specific posts and if you don’t know what a rolag is, I don’t blame you! A rolag is a small roll of fibre that spinners can spin from. Anyways, thanks for hanging in there with me all this while and I hope it might help someone else who needs to change carding cloth on their old drum carder!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refurbish, Repair, Repurpose! So many great Re’s! If you have any examples of Refubish, Repair or Repurpose, share them in the comments! 🙂

Ack! The alpacas got out!

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We had some extra excitement today! Just a little backstory… last time I cut hay with the swather, I got stuck. Actually, I only got one tire (out of three) stuck, but it was really making a nice round pothole and I couldn’t drive out of it, so I had to get the tractor to pull myself out, which worked fine. I left behind a round crater-shaped rut/pothole that I have been wanting to fill in so that we can go and finish cutting hay. Yes, it’s the latter part of September and I’m not done making hay. But at least the forecast is good — really good!

So, I used our riding lawn mower and a small utility trailer to haul some dirt/manure/wood shavings to fill in the pothole in the hay field. There were some nice molehills out there too, so I harvested them — I scraped the loose dirt off with a shovel and filled the utility trailer. I have been needing some nice loose dirt on the yard, and in particular, near the house.

A little more backstory: There are 3 areas of our yard. The hay field is out beyond the main yard. The alpacas (right now, it’s 5 of the boys) have access to the main yard during the day, which is all fenced to keep them in. Near the house and driveway, there is an area that is not fenced so when we drive on the yard, we aren’t going to be dodging alpacas right away. I’ll call this the “house yard.” To get onto the main yard from the house yard, we have to drive through the main gate.

Resuming my story: coming back from the field, I drove through one gate onto the main yard, past the boys who were lounging in the back, and then drove through the main gate that would let me into the house yard. Since I thought it wouldn’t take me long to unload the trailer, AND the alpacas were way off in the back part of the yard, I left the main gate open. Big mistake.

Once I finished unloading the dirt around the house, perhaps 5-7 minutes later, I hopped on the riding lawn mower and headed for the gate. I immediately saw the boys coming through the gate into the house yard! I sped up and shouted at them but all 5 boys came through the gate anyway! Don’t they know what a woman shouting from a riding lawn mower means!?!?

So here I was, the only one at home, with FIVE alpacas to chase back into the main yard BY MYSELF! Oh man. I ran around with my arms spread wide (that’s how we “round up” alpacas) trying to get them back through the gate. They split into 5 different directions, ran around where the raspberry bushes are, over by the car, and down the driveway! I sprinted down to the end of the driveway to chase them away from the road. I was so afraid they might wander onto the road and get hit by some truck driving by!

Imagine trying to get behind these guys and move them all together in one direction! By yourself! Not going to happen!

Somehow, I got Fozzie and Pigpen back through the main gate onto the main yard, so I closed the gate. They stood right there, of course, to watch me run around, trying to round up the others. But how could I get the rest of the boys back onto the main yard with the gate closed? If I opened it, Fozzie and Pigpen would just run back onto the house yard! Such buggers! So I opened a man-gate (just a bit wider than a person) that is closer to the house and continued trying to push the 3 remaining boys in that direction. They would scatter sometimes, as I chased them, and go into the secret garden past the strawberries. There’s a maple tree in the way, that they ran around too. At one point, two of them were near the metal gate and I thought if only it was open, they would go through. So ran over there, chased Fozzie and Pigpen away and opened that gate. Pigpen made his way over to the open man-gate and went back into the house yard! But, Ziggy and Frankie went through the metal gate, and I managed to manoever — half-chasing, pointing to the open gate, urging them on! — Alex and Pigpen through the main gate too.

Whew. That’s when I realized I was sweating like crazy. But I got it done.

I did not think I could do it. One person can’t chase 5 independent-thinking alpacas! I was madly formulating strategies: I thought I might have to halter them individually and drag them through, but it is NOT easy to catch and halter them; I have never done it solo, and doing it out in the open? Forget about it. I thought about flagging down the next person to drive by to be a human fence, just to keep them from running into the secret garden and raspberry area. I thought about calling a neighbour to help. My husband was at the garage with our truck, so he could not get back to help. I thought I might be late for work, with all this chasing! Thank goodness, they seemed to sense my urgency at the end and they finally went where they needed to go. After I was done, I put the riding lawn mower and told them boys that if that area was fenced, I would let them stay there and someday I would do that.

I am so grateful that none of the boys actually went on the road and got hit by traffic. I am so grateful that Fozzie and Pigpen went back easily. I am so grateful that the other boys eventually cooperated too. I got my sprinting workout for today — a bonus on my regular FarmFit program! It was an alpaca rodeo with a good outcome.

Take care everyone! I hope that you can go through today with some lightness and joy and perhaps imagining me running around, chasing ‘pacas as they scattered everywhere helped!

Rupert and the Gang

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I thought it was high time for some new photos of the alpacas and their antics!

Rupert is growing quite well, and he is officially 2 months old now! Here’s a cute one from when he was only a few days old, wearing a coat. I put it on him when there was rain in the forecast and I knew his momma would want to graze outside. He didn’t wear the coat for very many days and when it got sunny again, I took it off him — probably the day I took this photo!

What a guy! This is Pigpen’s coat because he really needed it last winter!

I will never tire of little cria! 🙂

And here’s a more recent photo… Doesn’t he look bigger and older? And BLONDER!

Have you seen Fozzie and his gang, hanging around the pool on a hot summer day?

From left to right, Alex, Frankie, Fozzie (in the pool), Boeing and Ziggy

And then other times, they just graze! It is actually pretty hard to get a photo of them all together, because they love to spread out all over the yard.

And for those who are wondering, haying is generally going well! We did lots of loose hay and then put the baler in service, after some adjustments, and made some small bales. So far, so good! We have just cut some more and if the forecast holds true, we should be able to make some more bales.

Take care, everyone! Hope you are getting enough time outdoors these days!

Searching for Bliss When it’s Hard to Find

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The catchphrase to “seek your own bliss” became popular a while ago, and it sounds great… but what does it mean?

If we seek our OWN bliss, it might mean “be your own person” or “don’t follow the crowd” and do something you enjoy. It could also mean don’t worry about anyone else’s bliss. Focus on your own.

If we focus on SEEKING our own bliss, it might mean that we should never give up until we find happiness, which implies that it is elusive. Things that are sought after — the past tense of seek — are generally hard to find or take years to earn. So, some people think that seeking your own bliss is not easy.

If we focus on the BLISS part of “seek your own bliss,” then it really gets interesting. How does one find bliss? What does it look like, or feel like? Most of us think only certain situations are blissful — a sunny day at the beach, playing a song you love, indulging in your favourite food/drink, achieving a lifelong dream or whatever else you think is blissful!

Bliss is actually not tied to a physical situation or activity at all. I don’t have to be anywhere in particular, doing anything in particular, or with certain people in oder to feel blissful. For me, bliss comes easily when I do two things: relax, and remember to be lighthearted. I immediately feel blissful, no matter what I am doing. I actually felt blissful today after I got the swather stuck in the field! And equally blissful when I pulled it out with the tractor and got it unstuck!!

So, as you go about your day, with tractors and whatnot 😀 why not relax a bit and stop taking yourself so seriously? Stop taking life so seriously! Despite how it may appear, it is ALL going to work out just fine. Nothing can damage your soul. Hardship need not be painful. We don’t need to fear anything. Relax a little — take a few slow breaths and come back to the present — and remember that a light heart is a blissful one.

Love you all! Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing great!

I just remembered that my friend Rose McInerney produces a magazine and one of the issues was “Bliss.” You might want to go have a look!  🙂Bliss Womanscape magazine

Making Hay, 2020 Edition!

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Every year, we attempt to make hay from our two small hay fields, and when I say small, I mean small. They are only about 1 acre each. Because the soil is so good, from many years of manure being spreaded and cows/horses/sheep living in those fields, the grass is amazingly dense and beautiful. Our goal each summer is to make as much hay as we can: cut this grass, let it dry in the sun, bale it with our small square baler and bring it indoors to store it.

Some years are more successful than others! Last summer was so rainy, it was difficult to get a forecast with had more than two days of sun in a row. It can’t be raining when we cut it, and we need about 5 days of hot, sunny weather for the hay to dry fully. We like to cut it in July so that it has time to regrow and then we can cut it again it August or September — two crops in one year! At one point last July the forecast looked pretty good, so I cut the main hay field, but then it rained so many times — you know how forecasts can be wrong?!? — and all the beautiful hay I had cut just moulded right there in the field. The grass kept growing all the while, so when I went to make a second cut in September, the icky, glommy stuff from the first cut was mixed in. When it was time to bale this hay, I thought it was dry enough — I estimated it was 90-95% dry — but it was not. We spread the bales out in the bale barn and breathed a sigh of relief — the haying was done for year. A day later or so, I was in the barn admiring it when I noticed in the evening sunlight that the bales seemed to be two colours. Some seemed brownish and some were grey-green. I realized in a flash — the brownish ones were moulding inside and they were not going to be good to feed. My heart fell when I realized that two-thirds of them were brownish. We ended up buying hay to get our alpacas through the winter.

This year, let me tell you how it is going so far! June was very rainy and although the grass was growing like dynamite, as every year, it was too wet to consider cutting. Last years’ rain had filled all the underground aquifers, dugouts and low spots and there was nowhere for more moisture to go. At the end of June, we had over 40 mm of rain in a few days! There were puddles forming in odd places on the yard and the creek which normally only flows in spring from snow melting starting running. It was epic. All the farmers around here were going to be in big trouble! July’s weather improved a little. There was less volume of rain but it was not really warm or sunny much. The usual thunderstorms would go by and dump showers on us and the land never really had a chance to dry up. My dad said that in all his 40 years of farming, he had never seen it that wet. There were puddles everywhere, and water standing in the grass of our yard. Finally, at the end of July, we had a forecast for some really hot weather. We were supposed to get over 25 C for about 4 days in a row (that’s hot for us), and a few days were going to get close to the 30 C. It was time to make hay!

This year, I had the idea to use an old swather* that was in the machine shed, so I asked Dad if it ran. He said it should; that old machinery was built to run and not give problems. He charged the battery and worked on it a bit and sure enough, he got it running. So, with the forecast looking so good, I decided to go out and cut the “high part” of the main hay field. There are some lower parts that had almost become a creek of their own this year so I decided to give them a little more time to dry out. After the 4 hot days, they might be worth cutting.

I had driven this swather back in when I was teenager. One time when I was probably 16 or so, I cut the hay and my dad followed behind with the round baler. I remember it being a challenging experience! I had a very hard time going straight and I was forever mowing the tops of molehills, then raising the cutting deck to avoid that, then lowering it again and puff — dirt! Molehill! Up down, left right, I remember Dad laughing at me a bit for how crooked the swaths were! The swather steers like those two-lever lawn mowers – by slowing down or stopping one wheel, the thing turns.

So, this year, it was time to do a bit better than that. After all, I have 7 hours of helicopter training in my log book, plus 30-ish years of life and driving experience. That’s got to make it easier!

When Dad started it the first time, he noticed the whole cutting mechanism trying to engage right away, which of course, puts a big load on the engine. So, he had to loosen some belts to overcome that, which he tightened back up again later. Well, now when the swather starts, it wants to start moving right away! Even with the clutch pushed in, it starts to roll… but it doesn’t engage both wheels. It only engages the left, so when I put in the clutch thinking it will slow down and stop, it doesn’t. It veers right. So, it starts a “ground loop” in the yard as soon as you press the start button. This is more than a little unsettling! This first time I started it I thought what the hell is this thing doing? It kind of seems possessed! On my way out to cut the field, I wanted to stop to lower the cutting deck and engage the cutting mechanisms, so of course I hit the clutch… and immediately hit some hay feeders that were parked nearby! I pulled hard on the levers and managed to back up and then I did a full right-turn ground loop. Damn. I gathered my bearings in that 360 degrees and just got the mowing blades engaged on the fly… which is not easy, because it is a very stiff lever to the left of the seat. The big “beater bars” that rotate way out in front still turned, so I was grateful that I hadn’t wrecked them when I hit the feeders. I decided to lower the cutting head right before I needed them.

I had memorized which way to mash down on the foot pedals to raise and lower the mowing deck. As a teenager, I could never remember and I was always lifting when I wanted to lower and vice verse. So, when the moment was right and I was entering the hay field, I pressed down on the pedal and lowered that deck. Dad had said that lower would cut better, so I dropped it a little more… and ground to a halt. Only I didn’t know why I wasn’t moving and so I sat there, baffled and trying to think my way out of the problem as to why the machine had stopped! I tried to back up and then in my desperation, I raised the deck a bit and started moving immediately! Whew. Silly me, I had been grinding my cutting teeth into the dirt. Dad said it had a stopper and would only lower so low, but… perhaps that wasn’t working quite right!

I managed to line the swather up and cut some hay. I had planned to go around the field clockwise, so that my turns would all be to the right, since that’s the side that it preferred to turn anyway. I did a round and then Darren noticed that it wasn’t cutting any more. He had been following me around and offering suggestions and observations and he made that universal hand signal for stop, so I did. I was figuring out that to stop and NOT ground-loop, I had to press the clutch and the brake, and pull on the levers a bit. Whew, standstill! He said it was not cutting and sure enough, when I looked back, you could just see my tire marks. Well, damn, what could be wrong now? And that’s when we noticed that the engine was steaming!

I was very reluctant to call it quits. I mean, if my cutting blades were still moving, why wasn’t it cutting? There was no explanation, but with the steam coming out, it was time to shut it down. I turned it off and we waited for it to cool down. The temperature gauge said HOT but I had never looked at it before, so I didn’t even know if it really worked. We gave it 10 minutes of cooling down — in the nearly-30-degree heat of noon on the prairies! I started it up, drove it without the mowing engaged back across the hay field to the yard.

We couldn’t let this hot weather go to waste. Today was the day to cut that hay! So, I went to work my day-job and Darren mowed it all with the ditch mower — a low deck mower that we pull behind our main tractor.

Fast forward 2 days of gorgeous, hot dry weather during which Darren cleaned the swather’s radiator and we topped it up with water and antifreeze. I walked out to the hay field to see how it was doing. The hay was tinder-dry! Of course, it was a little damp underneath but I thought that if we raked it and left it to dry in the amazing heat of the day, we could probably bale it that evening. The rake we have is a pull-behind contraption that picks up and flips the hay as you roll along. As long as you go fast enough, it works pretty good! I had never raked before; all my knowledge was from chatting with my dad or watching videos on the internet. One guy who had a rake that looked very similar to mine did a bang-up job of raking his thin-looking hay into swaths for baling. Mine looked much thicker, but it had to work.

It went okay! The rake sort of rolled/threw the hay to the left, making a swath that looked pretty good. I went around and around and piled all the randomly-cut hay the ditch-mower had cut into swaths we could bale. The wetter stuff was definitely on top now, and the hot sun should dry it out nicely. It was about 3 pm when I finished — and I bet it only took an hour — so baling time was set at 8 pm. That is a bit later than optimal, but you never get all your variables optimal when making hay, but you still have to try.

Last year, when we were finishing baling part of our second cut in late September, I think it was, the baler broke down. The PTO was spinning like mad from the tractor to the first part of the baler, but the pick-up was not turning. Nothing else on the baler was moving. So, we had to quit baling after only 8 bales, but with all that sweet hay in the field, we had to do something. We did not want it to go to waste! So, we got two pitchforks and hauled it to the hay barn in the back of the pickup truck, loose. We just kept piling it high, shoving it over and piling it some more. It was the best hay we had ever made… so far. The alpacas loved it. We just carried big armfuls for them and that hay got us through into January.

Back in May, my dad helped us get the parts we needed to fix the baler and then we installed them. We greased a few essential spots on the baler — there are probably 20 grease nipples on it, but many of them don’t need grease every year, since we aren’t making hundreds of bales. Still in the yard, Darren suggested I engage the PTO and see if the baler worked. It didn’t! The PTO was spinning but the new clutch plates we had installed were slipping. So, we got the wrenches we needed and tightened the 6 bolts some more. They slipped two more times in the field, when baling and I quickly stopped the PTO and we tightened the clutch plates some more until they stopped slipping. I think they were probably too clean when we installed them and they needed some hay dust between them to work properly! Luckily, that was the only trouble we had with the baler and it chugged along well… although I admit, I do baby it and make sure not to stuff the hay in there too fast.

Our friend Mary helped by driving our pick up truck so that we could bring the bales in right away. It is optimal to leave them out in the field to sit/dry for a day or two, but there was 10 mm of rain in the forecast for overnight. Darn forecast. As I bale, Darren always checks the string tension on the bales and adjusts it. After several bales, he walked up to the baler and asked me to stop so he could talk to me (using hand signals, of course). He had bad news; the bales were VERY heavy. Like bricks. That is not a good sign. That means the hay was not fully dry and they will probably mold again.

What to do? I still had hay fever! If we didn’t bale it, it would get rained on and potentially ruined. If we did bale it, the bales would probably be no good. We decided to keep baling. Maybe they wouldn’t all be that heavy.

They were. They were awful. Mary and Darren spread them out in the hay barn and we all crashed for the night.

The next day, I talked to Dad and he reminded me of wrapping bales. It was something I was just learning about, and I heard that you can stop the mould process and the bales will be perfectly preserved as you baled them. If they are a little damp, they’ll be a little damp, but they won’t go bad. If they are too wet, you might end up with a soft, partially fermented hay product they call “baleage,” similar to silage, which is fed to cows but not alpacas. So, Darren bought a roll of plastic and we cooked up a plan — MacGyver would have been proud — to hold the heavy roll of plastic on a part of the canoe trailer and suspend a bale from the roof of the bale barn so we could wrap it. It did not go as smoothly as we thought it would, but in 20 minutes or so, we got one bale done. Of course, you an buy a fancy contraption to wrap bales, but this was just an experiment that we wanted to try. The very next bale we went to wrap was HOT. The bale was already going bad! And so was the next one, and then next one, and so on for nearly very bale. They were very hot and we needed to do something immediately, or they would all be ruined and we would have no good feed for winter.

We decided to open them, fluff them and get the hay to finish drying. We got right to it, and Mary helped too. Several bales were hot enough that they would have burned bare hands, but we were all wearing gloves. It was not a very good scene. We worked as quickly as we could in the evening heat — It was probably still around 20 C and with the steam coming off those bales, well over 25 degrees or more in the bale barn. We kept the hottest parts away from the walls of the barn as a precaution. It’s not unheard-of for hay barns to burn down when filled with wet bales that start heating up.

It’s similar to the process of composting, even though I’ve been saying they are moulding. For good compost, you need four things: some dry “brown” material, some moist “green” material, moisture and air. A bale that is only partially dry has all those things. So, you can cut out the air (by wrapping it) or get the wet parts dry, which is what we were doing. We had a few bales we just didn’t have room to spread out in the hay barn, so we spread them out in the main corral, where the alpacas keep the grass very short. We spread these bales nice and thin for the next warm days to dry out.

The forecast was still quite good — only 30% chances of rain in a couple of places in the long range forecast. Like I said, you can’t expect everything to be optimal for making hay, but that forecast looked pretty good. So I also wanted to cut the “higher part” of our new hay field. I had gone scouting for what areas were dry and mowed the outside round with the ditch mower. This would let the air circulate a bit better and then when I went out with the swather again, I could cut a partial width. Rather that using the whole 12-foot mowing deck, I could make slightly smaller swaths (closer together) that would hopefully dry better and not clog the baler.

This time I knew what I was dealing with. Start with the brake firmly pushed in and the levers pulled back a little to avoid the ground loop. If I needed to turn more than 90 degrees, I would go right. It was faster and smoother. I would go clockwise around the field so I could make most of my turns right. Going clockwise also meant, I would be overlapping on the left with the part already cut and the right side of the mowing deck would be doing all the work. I was only part way down the first line when Darren flagged me to stop. I hate stopping when I’m underway in general, but this beastie was so hard to stop! It took 2 legs and 2 arms to keep it still! It wanted to CUT! Anyways, I got it stopped, crookedly, and he told me it wasn’t mowing well again! This time I was much more careful setting the height on the deck, so I knew that should not be a factor. Darren suggested I turn around and try cutting with the left side of the swather doing all the work and the right overlapping with the part already cut.

It worked. I turned a 180 degree turn (to the right, of course) to reverse the direction I was going. The left side of the mowing deck worked so much better! I watched as it mowed down tall, thick areas without a glitch. This thing loved to cut! It worked so smoothly, I was almost mesmerized watching the grasses get cut and then fall and then move into the centre and go under the device I was riding. When it was cutting, it actually went remarkably straight and I could take a short break. At the ends of the rows, after a couple times back and forth, I decided I could try lifting the deck as I turned the corners and then lower it again. This is the proper way to swath a field, but I had been cheating a bit by leaving the deck down on the corners. Time to try doing it right! By watching the overlap side carefully, I would lower it to the point where it just shaved a little off the stubble from the last round, and that way I could keep it consistent.

Whew! I was in the swathing groove! Up, turn hard, line it up for the next swath, lower it quickly, double check that it was the right height, check my steering and then cruise to the end of the row. Helicopter flying had definitely helped prepare me for this! It was a bit like flying a circuit, now that I think of it. I glanced at my temperature gauge after a couple of rows — it read “cool.”

The hay-making status right now? Main hayfield, higher parts: cut, raked, baled, hauled in and unbaled. Fluffed three times so far. We stopped the chain reaction before anything caught on fire and the hay is drying nicely, if a bit messy. New hayfield: Higher part, which amounts to about half, cut and currently drying. A quick thunderstorm went by this morning, but I don’t think there was too much rain in it. The forecast is good now until Monday with 30% chance and then 60% chance of rain Monday night. Let’s hope those big swaths dry well by Monday! 🙂

*It’s an International Harvester 230, made in 1972 in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s actually a “windrower” but swather is the term I grew up with. 🙂

Welcome Rupert!! Our New Cria

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We have a new cria!

Last July, Ziggy had a few minutes with Daisy and look who got born 11-and-a-half months later!! When the shearer was here, he noticed that Daisy was pregnant and expecting soon (there are ways to tell!) so I checked my little farm notebook and sure enough — Daisy was expecting ANY DAY!! Two days after shearing, little Rupert came into our world.

Although he is the 6th alpaca to be born on the farm, this is the first time we got to watch it happen! All the other times, we were not home when the little ones were born. This time, I was checking Daisy every hour and we got to see it ALL! IT WAS AMAZING!!

Rupert was trying to get up within a minute of being born, and he seemed very energetic! After many tries — his balance was so off and his legs were so wobbly! — he stood up! Within a short time, he found his mama’s milk — something we are always nervous about — and he nursed. He rested some too but seemed to be perfectly healthy and vibrant. My heart smiles!

We are so pleased with how he and Daisy are doing! She is a good mama and he seems to be thriving! You might want to follow me on Instagram at Teresas_alpaca_cam on Instagram where I try to post photos as often as I can! Of course, usually when the ‘pacas are being extra-cute, I don’t have my phone or camera with me! 😛