Suri alpacas Valentine theme
Florida's Full of Fabulous Alpacas!
Tom and I decided to, briefly, leave our retirement from the alpaca show
world and check out the Florida Alpaca Breeders Show in Jacksonville 2
weekends ago. You didn't really think we could stay away forever did you?
Me neither! We rationalized our trip by saying that we wanted to make some
business connections and check out the potential market for our alpaca care
Of course Florida tends more toward the Suri variety of alpaca as opposed to
the fluffier (and hotter) Huacaya. I say variety with my dear, yet
controversial, friend Ingrid Wood in mind. Ingrid, of Stormwind Alpacas, is
both an alpaca breeder and an expert in alpaca genetics as opposed to a
self-proclaimed expert in alpaca genetics, of whom there are far, far too
But, I digress. Ingrid claims that the Suri alpaca, pictured above,
and the Huacaya alpaca, pictured below, are incorrectly named as different
"breeds" of alpaca when they are actually two "varieties" of the same breed.
I agree. We don't call smooth-haired terriers and wire-haired terriers two
Huacaya alpacas at FABA show Feb. 09
So, it was almost like old times for Tom and I to be heading out to
an alpaca show but we were not hauling a livestock trailer
full of alpacas or two kids fighting in the back seat of the truck and -
weirdest of all - it was February! I guess it wasn't that much like old
times. The kids are now old enough to stay home alone and the alpacas have
all grown older and moved on too. Change is part of life but we can't
always make ourselves like it.
It was actually a little bit cold in Jacksonville, like less than 40
degrees, which Floridians consider to be bitterly cold to the point of
dangerous. The deejay on the radio station we were listening to kept
warning us all about - I swear that I am not making this up! - "wind chill!"
What happens if there is WIND CHILL at around 40 degrees?, you can't go
swimming or you have to put on socks or what?
But it WAS chilly! I had on my usual show attire, a handspun, hand knit
alpaca sweater, hand knit alpaca socks and a handspun, hand knit alpaca
earwarmer headband - all made from the fleece my own animals. I do admit
that the fingerless, alpaca gloves I wore were hand knit from commercial
alpaca yarn. The gloves are Fair Isle-patterned and I don't like to dye
yarn, so I buy it just like regular people.
Tom wore a polartec jacket, of which I did not approve, but I will spare you
my customary rant about alpaca breeders who never wear their own "end
product." As you will find out, if you keep reading, he later regretted
that sartorial decision.
We finally arrived at the Equestrian Center in Jacksonville and were bowled
over by the huge size of this place!
Equine Center Jacksonville, FL
The barns for the alpacas were wonderful. I was worried that the alpacas
would be housed in traditional horse stalls from which they couldn't see
out, but I needn't have worried. They were able to look around and there was
plenty of air and light but also shade.
barn at Equine Center
alpacas in barn at Equine Center
The inside of the Equestrian Center was just as amazing. There was really good
seating, a nice mulchy floor for soft-padded feet and a lot of room to
They even had fancy-dancy heaters that looked like old fashioned lamp posts!
beautiful space heater
After all of the freezing cold shows I have been to in Northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I had to go to Florida to find one with space heaters!
I will admit here that, upon taking my first glance inside, I freaked out a little and did a double take. I thought I saw two of the largest alpacas ever born. Whaaaa?, I blurted, walking closer, only to find out that I'd been looking at cardboard cutout alpacas?!
alpaca cardboard cutouts
I've been to a lot of shows but this is the first time I've seen this
weirdness! The more you look at these things, the more you flip out because
they look very real but just tooooo large. I wasn't the only one who found
them unnerving either. Check out the body language on this poor guy penned
up next to them. I do kind of want one for my house though.
note alpaca on right side of photo
Tom and I set up our booth outside of the arena on a concrete floor in the
wide, shady hallway and it was pretty cold in there! Everyone had on their
heavy sweatshirts and polartec jackets except for me, of course. It never
fails to amaze me that you can go to an entire show of "alpaca breeders" and
find not one other person wearing something made from the fleece of their
After a few hours, Tom's feet were freezing and no wonder; He was
wearing boat shoes and cotton socks! He started to get a little whiney if
truth be told, and wanted to know if I didn't have another pair of alpaca
socks with me and/or what about the pair I was knitting in the car, were
alpaca blend socks
Well, they were an alpaca / wool / polymide blend and pretty warm but there
is no way to knit a sock that fits both a 7 1/2 narrow women's foot and a
men's 7 super-wide. I scoffed at the idea of his wearing my newly knit
socks! If you recognize the pattern of these Tibetan socks from "New Pathways for Sock Knitters," then, yes! they ARE wrong. The swirlies are supposed to go in the opposite direction from each other. However, if you knew how Tom drives, you'd understand how I could make this error and not even notice it until the socks were done. Let's just say that he's not afraid to let out his inner Nascar Driver.
But, alas, I soon began to feel pity towards Tom and his cold feet so I
explained to him the old trick of sticking un-spun wool in your shoes and
walking around on it until the slight dampness and rubbing of your feet
creates warm, woolen shoe inserts. I just happened to have some lovely Cormo
roving with me, so Tom stuffed his shoes and soon felt happier than he had
all day. At the end of the day, he had half of the wool "inserts" stuck in his shoe and the other half melded to his socks.
woolen shoe inserts
If you are wondering why I was spinning Cormo, I had actually run out of
alpaca fleece! The leftover fleeces of my own animals were all gone but I
was certain that I would have a thrilling time looking over all of the
fleeces and rovings for sale at the show, so I wasn't worried about being
without my favorite fiber fix.
Next Installment - Where's the Fleece?!
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my dog, Blair - hating to wear the blue scarf!
Well, if you are thinking that it's been a long time since I have posted on my blog, you are not alone. Several people have complained to me about my laziness and I take that as a great compliment. It always amazes me that anyone even reads this thing!
We left Mt. Airy, Maryland at the end of July and moved to Scottsmoor Florida (which could not look less like a Scottish moor for crying out loud; The person who named this place must have had a wicked case of heat stroke!)
I have been missing our farm and Frederick County very badly ever since. It's hard to get used to a new place when you lived in the old one longer than anywhere else in your life (14 years.) We loved our alpaca farm but it was time to move on. Can't go on about that any more or I'll start to blubber like a baby. Wahhhhhh!
Thankfully, my alpaca farmer friends keep me in the loop by sending news about my former alpaca children and what they are up to now. Campion, for instance, just became the dad of this beautiful young lady, "Sheeza Miracle" for his current owners at Virginia Rose Alpacas
in Beaverdam, Virginia.
What a doll baby! but I would expect no less of my boy Campy. Thank you Tara, for sending these photos!
And, what do I say in our Alpaca Care DVD over and over again until you yell at the screen for me to shut up? Even though if it takes the alpaca cria (baby) up to 4 hours to find the "right place" and they suck everything from the wall to the wrong end,
You will just enrage the mother and make the cria smell wrong. Then you'll be mad at the mom for "refusing to nurse" the cria that you handled and claimed as your own.
Whew! Sorry, but I still feel strongly about that topic. Of course little Miracle figured out which end contained the milk spigots in plenty of time.
Meanwhile, at another lovely alpaca farm in Virginia, "Champ", the son of my old girl Pinka, lived up to his name by winning a shiny red ribbon for his owners at Wildwood
Alpacas. His pretty face is just like Pinka's.
And here is a photo of Wildwood's girl PacaBelle's newest daughter out of sire Jasper Black.
Pacabelle is the daughter of my old girl, Latte - the first alpaca I ever picked out to buy. Thanks for the photos Sue n Judy! Your new girl is a beauty!
One of the latest customers to buy the alpaca care DVD was this alpaca farm in Quebec, Canada:
Alpagas du Domaine Riviere
(If I could figure out how to add the accent grave with this keyboard, I would. Sorry fellow French speakers!)
I love their photos and website background, but "ALPAGAS with a G??!" That's how you say it in French? C'est étrange ! (how weird)
As for me, I have been invited to an alpaca show in Jacksonville, FL next month and I just may go and do a little spinning and sell a few copies of the DVD. It's finally cool enough here that the very idea of spinning and knitting isn't repulsive. And by cool, I mean below 80 degrees!
alpaca Kiwi wheel
I brought my alpaca / Kiwi wheel to a local craft show last weekend and, since I no longer have about 50 alpaca fleeces waiting to be spun up at any given time, I spun up some pretty blue Merino from my stash. Unfortunately, my stash is not noticeably smaller so I'll have plenty to spin up for the next few years.
If you're confused about my "alpaca / Kiwi wheel," Kiwi is the model of wheel and the maker is Ashford, but it is painted with alpacas so I call it the alpaca wheel - not to be confused with the "Alpaca" model of a wheel that Majacraft recently started selling.
Alpaca Wheel by Majacraft
That one's basically the same as my old Majacraft Suzie Pro wheel but they have changed the fly wheel color to black, added a cartoony alpaca engraving and - here's the part I don't get - They say, "A slow speed whorl has been used to make it easier to spin lofty light yarns from fibres like alpaca."
I spun alpaca for years on the Suzie Pro and didn't think it was too fast for lofty yarns. Not wanting to be argumentative but don't we want our wheels to spin fast and can't we make the yarn lofty by choosing the correct preparation and type of draw?
Again, I am not trying to be snarky - I really AM asking this out of hand spinner's curiosity. If you think you know the answer to this, pls. e-mail me.
Since the craft fair was for charity, I donated a black shawl and a blue/green scarf( see dog photo above,) both hand knit, but made from "fantasy fur" rather than alpaca. I still have a bunch of alpaca yarn in my yarn stash (not to be confused with my FIBER stash) but it's nice to have the chance to knit with some other fibers.
Speaking of other fibers, I ended up buying a shoulder bag made of crocheted, trash bags at the fair. What a great recycling idea! Wish I'd thought of it myself but, now that I do know about it, I plan to make a few of these too. They're great to take to the beach and the same booth had golf-type hats and cup holders with handles made from plastic bags too. And, of course, it keeps the bags out of the landfill!
purse made entirely of plastic bags
You can find out more about crocheting with plastic bags here:
Crocheting with plastic bags
Of course, since I can no longer terrorize my alpacas with my camera a few times a week, I've been forced to seek out new victims including, manatees (they live right down the street from me and they are sooooo cute!):
The neighbor's parrot on my fence:
Hawk on a tree by our road:
They're all adorable but I still miss my farm in Frederick County!
If you ever go to Frederick City, do not forget to visit the Community Bridge, just trust me on this one!
The entire bridge is covered with Trompe L'oeil painting (French again folks - that means "fool the eye") that looks like 3D carvings, plants, statues, etc.
tell me this doesn't look like a real statue!
Of course I could not tie this neatly into my alpaca-fiber-themed blog unless I point out one, particular design on the bridge, the good old spinning wheel:
As much as I love this artistic rendering of the spinning wheel, I still have trouble figuring out where the treadle is supposed to be or, in other words, what turns the wheel?
Is this a case of artistic license or did the artist use an antique wheel as a model? Many antique wheels are missing certain key parts. Just wondering.
And now, I have one more photo that I am dying to share but it has absolutely nothing to do with alpacas. Here is my photo of the space shuttle Endeavor lifting off on the evening of November 14:
shuttle Endeavor lifts off from Cape Canaveral
How do I justify using this completely un-related photo? Well, I was going to say that it's very cold in space so maybe the astronauts need alpaca socks but, according to the "Naked Scientist" Website, Space isn't as cold as we've been led to believe. It says,
"The outer space around Earth is around 20 degrees Centigrade. (68 degrees F)
If you go out to Pluto, you're probably looking at around minus 220 degrees Centigrade.
(-364 degrees F)"
Clearly, our astronauts don't go to Pluto, so whether they get cold up there is not clear to me but I'm keeping my shuttle photo on the blog anyway.
Finally, for all of you who asked about my husband, Tom, whose Sarcoidosis was the reason we gave up the alpaca business, he is doing quite well right now - THANK YOU! If you know anyone who has Sarcoidosis and wants to discuss Tom's treatment using the Marshall Protocol, please contact us.
Old friends and new, Please, Keep In Touch!
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Customer: "How much of this alpaca yarn do I need to knit a sweater?"
Alpaca Breeder: "I don't know."
So I am embarrassed to admit that I, myself, had a pattern for a 50% alpaca / 50% Merino wool cardigan for sale in my booth at MD Sheep & Wool Festival 2007 that turned out to be a less than thrilling pattern. Since this pattern and yarn, inexplicably, did not sell, I ended up knitting it myself. Boo hoo! O how I HATE to "have to" use yarn myself when I can't sell it! - kind of what it would be like for my son, Nick, to own a candy store and "have to" eat the candy that didn't sell.
The yarn, Turquoise Classic Elite "Zoom" is great, but I foolishly thought that a pattern that was written specifically for this yarn and, by an expert!, would somehow be better than offering the yarn for sale with a simpler pattern. Most of these commercial cardigan patterns require the knitter to knit a separate piece for the back, left front, right front, neck band and each arm. That's a lot of sewing up! Being a knit-in-the-round kind of sweater knitter, I never realized until I knit this other pattern that I HATED IT! The size was not right, the directions turned out to be practically un-decipherable and then I was going to have to sew all of these pieces together?!! I don't think so!
I knit all of this cardigan save one sleeve and then tore it out, scandalizing my knitting club. Although, I like to think that there may have been some grudging admiration mixed in there as well. You're not a real knitter until you've decided to just frog it. (ripit, ripit) Three weeks later, some of them are still shaking their heads in amazement and repeating, "I can't believe you ripped out a sweater that was practically done." But, who really wants a sweater that they hate? Not me.
I am a big believer in paying for patterns that are good, but I am finding that more and more of the patterns I really like are things that I found free on the Internet. That's bad news for pattern creators and sellers. Some of them are going to have to work a little harder to make a product that people will happiliy pay for. Here's some advice to you, lady who wrote the pattern for the discarded sweater that I am now calling, "the dis-cardigan:"
Instructions like "reverse all shaping for other side" and "decrease 1 every 4 rows for 7 then every 6 rows for 8 while at the same time k2tog every 2 rows for 10" did not make me happy that I paid $5 for your pattern! You really can't write this out line by line?, or at least indicate which one is for the neck shaping and which is for the underarm shaping? Yeah, I KNOW that it becomes obvious as you're doing it but still, people like a little more information about what's going on. Plus, the dicardigan was going to be 2 sizes too large anyway and, YES!, I did knit the swatch to check my gauge!
So I switched to a pattern called, Top Down Raglan Cardi version 2.0 from the blog, Cosmic Pluto Knits! You can find it here:
YOu knit the neck, back, shoulders, left front and right front in one piece, save the sleeve stitches on holders and boogie on down to the hem. Couldn't be simpler, she has added extra shaping for those who want it AND........ it requires no sewing up! Thanks Cosmic Pluto - You Rock!
alpaca wool blend cardigan
Now that ingenious knitters have figured out how to knit socks on one circular needle, hats and entire sweaters in the round on 2 circulars and cardigans top down in once piece, is there any reason at all to keep making patterns for socks with seams in them and cardigans with 6 pieces that need to be sewn together? Besides keeping the sewing machine people in business I mean? Is "sewing up" so yesterday? If you have some strong opinion on this, pls. let me know.
Meanwhile, back at the Mount Airy Alpaca Company, we are getting ready for the big move to Florida! No more live alpacas, no more deer in the corn field, no more snow! This is going to take some getting used to.
This is the time of year when I'd normally be watching alpaca babies being born and having the thrill of seeing the cria dashing around the fields around my barn. I do miss it but, when you live on a farm, there are always nice animal babies around, you just have to look a little harder.
We see deer practically every day in the spring and summer but I like to stalk them frequently with my camera anyway. It makes for good photography practice. This shot wasn't particulary good but, when I looked at it more closely, I was surprised to see the size of this doe's udder!
bagged up doe
Sure enough, it was only a week later that I got my first glimpse of her twins. They walked right by my office window and across the front lawn. One ran when I pointed the camera, but the other one just looked calmly back at me over its shoulder.
cute baby deer
Recently, I noticed deer hoof prints near the mineral feeders that we have scattered along the sides of our barn. We think of the deer as shy and kind of dumb, but at least one of them figured out that these red containers had some residue in them of the mineral powder that we used to feed to our alpacas. So they have been licking the containers. Pretty smart.
deer hoof prints
alpaca mineral dish
In addition to the thrill of baby deer on the lawn, I like to be super nosy with all of my neighbors, and, basically, just demand to see any baby creatures that they have born on their farms. So, I invited myself over to one neighbor's place last week to see their brand new donkey baby.
So cute! Her name is Mae and here she is with her mama, "Daisy":
mom and baby donkey
Meanwhile, another neighbor has a very pregnant Icelandic horse that I'm keeping a close eye on. Don't call this cutie a pony! That makes Icelandic owners mad because they are small horses - thank you very much.
bred Icelandic horse
I have never seen an Icelandic horse baby and who knows if I'll get this chance again! I helped this same neighbor to move her horses a couple of weeks ago and, since one was shedding, I did what any psycho hand spinner would do. I tugged out a few handfuls and quickly stuffed it in my pocket.
2 Icelandic horses
Don't let anyone tell you that the fiber art thing is not an addiction or at least a nasty compulsion. I have heard of spinners spinning dryer lint (I don't recommend this - It's highly flammable), road kill and even milk weed. The Icelandic horse fur sample was not as soft as I'd hoped. Even washed and fluffed up, it's pretty coarse, so I won't be sneaking over to the neighbor's place with comb and a pillow case after all. That's probably a good thing.
Icelandic horse fur
Also last week, there was a dead groundhog in our paddock. That happens more often than you might think around here but this time I happened to witness an epic struggle on the part of several turkey vultures, a young hawk and a crow, all of whom wanted that same dead ground hog for their dinner. The turkey vultures won, of course. They are quite large and pretty tenacious when it comes to getting what they want. It's hard not to think of them as ugly but they do a useful service in cleaning up dead animals that would otherwise be pretty stinky so we have to appreciate them if not admire them.
turkey vulture gliding
I'm always amazed at how many people think that hawks and vultures look alike when they are flying because they really don't. Besides the two-toned look to the underside of the vulture, there is the gliding way in which they fly. They can go a long time without flapping their wings. The vultures circle a lot and catch updrafts and other air currents while the hawks flap their wings every couple of seconds and, when the hawks do glide, they do it in a faster, more direct way.
flying red tailed hawk
When they are perched, the vulture has a head so ugly that it's hard not to feel sorry for them.
turkey vulture perched
When I bug them by stalking them for a photo, they will calmly fly off. The hawk, on the other hand sometimes gets mad and screams at me.
And the crow? They look pretty perched on a tree in the bright sun, slightly ominous when perched in the dark or near dark, and just plain weird when they are flying:
flying crow silhouette
So, I will miss the animals that I have around me here in Maryland but I look forward to discovering some new photographic subjects in Florida.
We will continue selling our alpaca care DVD.
We may do some lecturing, fleece judging and/or get a vendor booth at a few alpaca shows in Florida.
I will be working as a website consultant for 2 alpaca-related charities.
Of course, I'll be on the lookout for some knitting and spinning buddies.
The other big question in my mind is what will become of our beloved alpaca farm? Some of the people looking at it have been horse farmers and some have been sheep farmers but, so far, no alpaca farmers. Some have not been farmers at all.
I still have hope that our farm will continue to be a farm with happy animals and happy children growing on it, but we'll have to trust that the people who are meant to own it will buy it. And, even if they don't plan to have a farm now, that doesn't mean that they won't wake up one day and realize that they were meant to be farmers. We did.
random dragonfly near our pond
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So, OK I have already posted (maybe) too many photos of the Sheep to Shawl competition which does, technically, happen on the Sunday of the MD Sheep & Wool Festival but I thought that event merited its own entry. Since I've had a booth at the Festival in previous years, I have not gotten to watch the entire event before.
Maybe you don't agree that it warrants all that obsessive interest but, to people like me, who like to grow the fleeces, shear the fleeces, card or comb the fleeces, spin the fleeces into yarn and then make the garments ourselves, there is so much meaning in the wholeness of that creative process. It's not the same when you buy the yarn!
Polartec and combed cotton are OK, but does each plastic bottle or scratchy plant pod have a name and a beautiful face like our sheep, alpacas, bunnies and goats? Nah. We take care of each other. We feed them, they clothe us. Oops! I'm gushing again.
So AFTER the Sheep to Shawl on Sunday, I got to see something ELSE at the Festival that I have always missed, the Working Sheep Dog Demo !!! It was thrilling. The sheep were so prim in their manner that I couldn't help imagining them with fancy, church lady hats and white gloves on.
The sheep dogs, though, were wolfy and super-smart.
The dogs raced around so fast that I could barely get the camera to focus on them and, just as quickly, they'd stop for a moment and crouch menacingly at the sheep who got the message all right! They didn't like that crouch one bit.
Whatever cues were given by the actual humans were not obvious to me at all but the dogs read them loud and clear, herding the sheep around obstacles, into pens and finally, into the waiting trailer. The rest of the crowd seemed to love it as well. People were mesmerized.
I managed to get a quick walk through the main barn with my family, looking at the vendor booths but it was my daughter, Cassandra, who found something she just couldn't live without. While Nick and I waited to hand out the ribbons and trophies to our Sheep Poster Contest winners,
Cassandra, ever the teenage princess, used her cellphone to photograph herself wearing her new Lord of the Rings-style cape so she could send the picture to her friends' cellphones.
The poster kids were excited with their winnings. This one turned out to be the daughter of my next-door neighbor from 11th & 12th grade. She got $3 and 2 ribbons. Not bad for a 5 year old!
We share our space with the, aforementioned Skein and Garment Competition, Sheep Photo Competition and Fine Arts Competition and all weekend long I had been admiring the banjo playing sheep that had won best children's entry in the Fine Arts Competition
So, when the creator himself showed up, I asked him to pose for a photo, which he cheerfully did. What a talented kid.
Speaking of good kids, I found out on Mother's Day that my nice boy Nick, had bought me a super-cool pair of deliberately mis-matched socks at the Festival as my Mother's Day present. Good boy! If you're wondering whose booth he got them in, it was Delly's Delights.
Nick admitted to me that another member of the Festival Committee gave him the idea by showing him her socks. Yet another perk of hanging out with the Sheep & Wool Festival Committee gang, personal Mother's Day shopping assistance for your kids!
Seriously though, as much as I love the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, I love the committee members even more. It's very hard to move and leave them behind. It's far too mushy to say to their faces, but I will say it here. You have all been so special and precious to me. Thank you for making me part of your family.
Random sampling of committee members I happened to photograph at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2008.
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