Greener Pastures Farm - Current News

Jon kneels down to let the pregnant Cascade Farmstead ewes check him out. Visit our website to learn more about these great little low-maintenance, no-shear, meat sheep!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I was planning to write a long overdue post today, but this wasn't the one I was planning. Got a little something to get off my chest!

I got a phone call from the local police today. They asked me if I would please ship those socks to that guy in BC.

{brief pause for astonishment, and then laughter}

"No, sir, I won't be shipping those socks to that guy. We only learned yesterday afternoon that his check finally cleared, and will send him a refund on Monday. I would have sent it sooner, but wasn't sure if I would be sending free money for nothing."

The officer seemed really confused as to why the guy would call the police.

So the guy called me about 10 or 20 minutes later. He wanted to rip me up and down. I listened. I made it very plain that the check didn't clear the bank until YESTERDAY, that THIS was the cause of the problem, and that it was quite unreasonable that he should expect me to front the purchase of the yarn for customized socks, put all that labor into knitting the socks, and then mail them based on his promise that the check was good. And that I felt a great big red flag over the fact that the check was dated November 3rd, but mailed December 4th, and that it took so long to "arrive", along with the fact that he was in so much of a hurry for the socks to be shipped, which made me wonder why he sat on that check for a month if he was in such a hurry to receive the items, and that this looked like mail fraud or some kind of con to me.

He didn't like that. He argued, he threatened calling the Better Business Bureau because he has documentation of all calls. I said "So do I. On my answering machine." He said he'd call the postal service and charge ME with mail fraud. I reminded him that I had not actually received payment until yesterday. He went off in so many different directions, including even trying the racial thing with me. HE said "I realize that I'm in Canada, and with a name like Raj, you'd be suspicious." I didn't take that bait; I didn't say a word. I went through each step of this transaction IN GOOD FAITH, fronting my own money and labor for this custom order, and it wasn't until the bizarre check arrived that I began to have real doubts about this transaction and that I might have been conned with a fraudulent check.

So, after all this, he still wanted the socks. I said no. I was no longer interested in doing business with him, and would refund his money. He then said "I can see that you are not a reputable business."

It was at that point that I just hung up on him.

I know he said it to make me angry and/or hurt my feelings. I'm trying not to let it, because I know that's what he wanted.

But damn!

So... where's the chocolate? Need lots of chocolate, and need to upload some new photos on my website and farm blog of our Grandpa ram.... he's so handsome and has such incredible horns, and I'd been waiting for some dry days to photograph him before Jon butchers him. We used him for breeding last year and the year before, so it's not like we need him anymore. He was only here to decorate the farm this past year! And he sure did! But we've got some more handsome rams coming up behind him, and I'm sure they will be duking it out to determine who is the Head Honcho once the big guy is gone.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Buh Bye!!!

I'm bruised, blistered, tired, but extremely happy. We've sold our Icelandic sheep. YAY! No more sheep so big that handling and hoof trimming makes me bruised, blistered and tired!

Now THIS is much better... Cascade Farmstead Sheep!

We have our 4th flock of Cascade Farmstead sheep ready to ship. These are the 8 Cascade Farmstead sheep going to Minnesota this week; one yearling ewe and 7 lambs. They are in one of our barns and have that "blue flash" in their eyes, but even so, look strikingly beautiful, with a nice variety of color. One of the rams has the most distinctive badgerfaced markings that we've produced yet.

I moved all of our ram lambs into the "big boy" pastures, which went very smoothly and they are settled together nicely. They are all so handsome. I really do need to get some photos of them very soon.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Growing Lambs and Shedding Rams and Ewes

Dry sheep are prettier than wet sheep, so after a “drought” of photos, here we go!

Today was our 2nd 80 degree day of the year after an abnormally long and wet spring. Our Cascade Farmstead rams rest and chew their cud in the shade this afternoon. Some are in the process of rooing (shedding) their fleece, some are already finished. One of these boys is 2 years old, and the rest are yearlings.

And over the in the ewe pasture we find Belladonna and her twins, Katydid and Kittiwake.

Cascade lambs above; the handsome ram lamb Kilimanjaro at left, and beautiful ewe lamb Kittiwake.

Gorgeous. Am I lucky or what?

Gates, Alleyways, Hog Panels and our Apple Tree Security System

Fencing and gates are an ongoing topic on any farm, and I’m asked a lot how we do things here at Greener Pastures Farm. We’ve learned a lot over the years about what has worked well, and what has not. Often, the most valuable lessons are what has not worked, and any farmer worth their salt will be willing to share their mistakes as well as their successes.

Today I’ll start with a couple successes, and I promise that mistakes will be forthcoming!

Alleyways are crucial for a farm. I try to explain over the phone how these work, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This alleyway is a bit wider than we would have made it, but an old driveway was there first, and pounding posts into 80 years of gravel lasted about a minute, and then we revised our plan to include a 10 foot wide alleyway. You work with what you’ve got! Ten years later, here is a photo of what we did.

Before putting fence posts in, we planned ahead to have the gates the same width as the alleyway, and placed the posts accordingly, so that open or closed, the gate can latch securely. This is handy when rotating sheep from one pasture to another. Each alleyway on our farm has access to a barn, and gates like this make it easy to allow sheep access to one pasture, allowing the other pastures to regrow. Our sheep are accustomed to this system and don’t need to be herded from one to another; they know that an opened gate means fresh grass on the other side and race each other to get through it! The gate above is latched in the "open" position, with the top photo shown from the alleyway, and the lower photo shown from the pasture.

These photos are of my Young Apple Tree Security System. Some of our small pastures have little or no afternoon shade, so I planted 5 varieties of “standard” apple trees in five different pastures. Full sized (aka “standard”) fruit trees are not easy to find now that so many people are demanding dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees; Gurney’s is the only source that I’m aware of. Granted, mine are not providing shade yet, but they will eventually, and a smart farmer plans ahead.

If planted out in a pasture with sheep, your lovely apple tree will become an apple stick in a matter of moments. Protection is needed. I placed each tree about 6 feet from a fence, and then overlapped 2 hog panels together and pulled them into a horseshoe shape, attaching each end to the fence on either side. Here is a 3 year old tree, and you can see how the sheep have grazed right up to the hog panel, but have not breeched it to get at the tree.

This photo shows the back side of the system. No, your eyes are not deceiving you; there is no tree in this photo. It didn’t survive for some unknown reason (weather? disease?) and needs to be replaced, but you can see more clearly how the hog panels are attached to each other and to the fence. We used metal fasteners called hog rings. They weren’t as sturdy as I’d been told, so I used 2 in each space, and clamped them tightly. After 3 years, they are kind of rusty, but still holding together.

One more item is a good idea. A few days after we planted the trees and placed the hog panels, my husband brought back a stick and said “Here’s your Granny Smith tree.” A couple metal t-posts were then pounded into the ground in strategic locations to prevent eager sheep from breaching the Apple Tree Security System.

Because we’ve seen llamas and sheep “bark” and eventually kill fruit trees in the past, I’ll keep these in place no matter how old the trees get. Hopefully they will outlive me!

My Bees Survived Record Amounts of Rain

With the long wet spring, I’ve been really chomping at the bit to check on my bees. It’s been months since I’ve been able to open up my hives to have a peek. Last week we had a few dry sunny days, which allowed me to lean on the fence a foot or so away from the entrance and watch the girls come and go. I saw enough activity to allay my fears regarding their survival. But with the truly sudden onset of summer, I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t get the hives opened and made sure they had enough room to expand.

Yesterday I went out at dusk, with the idea that they’d be calm and I could remove the empty feeders, replace the space with a 1x2 cut to fit, and move the queen includer up a super or two to allow for expansion. One of the great things I learned in my research this spring was to use a much smaller entrance located higher than most of the hive, much like those in wild hives, allowing the hive to easily defend itself from robber bees. Imitating Mother Nature as much as I can is my goal as a farmer; it makes for less work and more efficiency.

The Persephone hive has been the weaker hive from the beginning, but they are hanging in there and I gave the queen an additional super for laying eggs and closed the hive back up.

The Aphrodite hive (aptly named) has always been the stronger hive, and after seeing what this queen had been up to, I gave her LOTS more room for laying eggs, and now that I know how well they are doing, I need to go back again to give them another super or two. You can see in these photos taken today that many of the girls are looking for their former entrance which used to be between super #2 and super #3, just like the Persephone hive. It’s now above #3, which isn’t visible to you and me, but it’s there and you can see in this photo that many have found it.

I’ll put another super on top of #3, so the entrance will be visible again, but not today. Last night I found that neither hive was aggressive, but my veil must have touched my face at one point when I was finishing up the Aphrodite hive, and one lone bee stung me on my face. They weren't swarming around me at all; I chose dusk so they'd be calm, so it really was a fluke. It hurt only briefly, and I'm glad to see that these are strong, self-reliant bees that are doing well without assistance, chemicals or any other non-organic practices. YAY! This has been my goal for years! My husband pulled the stinger out of my face, and I slapped some Sting Stop on it, but really, it didn't and doesn't hurt.


Oh yeah, I wanted to show the hog panels used to protect my hives from sheep grazing the orchard. You can see that the pasture has been grazed up to the panels, and the hives are safe from being knocked over. I should get in there and tidy up a bit, but it's a small price to pay for utilizing every bit of grass that we can for our livestock.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Confucius says… Man who says ‘cannot be done’ should not interrupt woman doing it.


I’m a ‘can do’ sort of person, and have accomplished a number of things in my life that I never dreamed I’d be doing. But when opportunity arose, the challenge presented itself, my ‘can do’ attitude kicked into gear and boy, did I get things done!

So when I encounter an “it can’t be done” personality… you know, one of those people who say ‘you can’t get there from here’ and other such the-glass-is-half-empty comments, my glass-is-half-full attitude tries really hard to help.

But you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.

I encountered such a person a few days ago. Boy, am I glad he didn’t call back! Because after 2 phone calls from him to receive solutions from me (it became apparent by the end of the first call that he wasn’t going to become a customer, but I was still willing to help and advise him in his quest), by the end of the 2nd phone call, I did something I’d never done before… I called him on the carpet regarding the negativity and the “I can’t do that” responses to the many solutions I was offering to help him DO WHAT HE WANTED TO DO!

I don’t know what that was all about, but I’d had more than enough.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Things are good here. Good things happen (mostly). Beautiful lambs are born. Chickens lay eggs. Sheep graze pastures. Honey bees are surviving the constant rain. Our old truck died, but we replaced it, and are grateful for the nearly 2 decades of service that it gave us.

And my son is writing his Salutatorian speech.

Happy smile. The glass is at least half full.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Last night I made this for the first time in years, and the guys loved it. Again.

This recipe is slightly altered from one in "Breadtime Stories" by Susan Jane Cheney. I mark my cookbooks with stars next to the recipes... 4 and 5 stars for the best recipes and fewer stars for less stellar recipes, with notes as to why, and what I could do differently IF I decided to give it a try again.

I don't mark books other than cookbooks; I just had to begin doing this so I wouldn't repeat a recipe that was a total disaster.

Anyway, here's my version of Peanut Butter Banana Bread, yummy enough to eat for dessert (we did!) and healthy enough for breakfast!

Makes 2 loaves, no machinery needed other than the oven. Preheat to 325 degrees.

1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup honey
4 eggs
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Mash enough ripe/over-ripe bananas to make 2 cups. In large batter bowl, use potato masher (a whisk is too flimsy for this) to whisk the eggs, peanut butter and honey.

In a large bowl add whole wheat bread flour, unbleached flour, baking powder, baking soda, coriander and ground ginger. Whisk together. Add half of this to the batter bowl mixture and mix with the potato masher. Add remainder of flour mixture to batter and mix just until you can't see flour; don't overmix.

Butter both pans. Divide batter between them. Bake 50 minutes at 325 degrees. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove to cool on rack.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Musings about Mother's Day

2010 lambing season is nearly over, with lots of color and variety. What fun! Have I mentioned that I LOVE lambing season???

Here is a handsome guy, named Greener Pastures Kilimanjaro. He was only a week old in this photo, and look at those sturdy legs! Wow. We ear tagged him yesterday, along with the other lambs, and he spent the afternoon trying to catch that thing that was ever-so-slightly out of his range of vision. Jon was amused. Kilimanjaro was not.

Here are a couple of gorgeous girls; Greener Pastures Kittiwake and Katydid. Kittiwake is staying here on our farm, and Katydid will live in the Midwest after she’s weaned. Their dam is what we call a “banana peel” shedder; her fleece peels right off. Most let their fleeces come off in chunks that wind up on the fences or the pasture unless we want it and manage to get to it first.

This is Greener Pastures Jeepers with her young daughter, shown yesterday morning. Greener Pastures Jitterbug is right behind her.

And here’s a photo taken a short time later that same day; Jeepers’ fleece rooed right off. We were able to take handfuls easily and finished her off within 5 minutes. Her belly wool wasn’t ready to shed yet, and I can see now that we forgot to tidy her tail. It will fall off on it’s own, but I might just pluck it off the next time we catch and roo the ewes. You can see that Jitterbug was willing to let go of half of her fleece; the rest just wasn’t ready yet. And Honeysuckle, who typically gives us 4 to 6 grocery bags full of fleece, wasn’t ready to part with hers just yet.

And here is our youngest lamb to date; Greener Pastures Kia is also going to live in the midwest after weaning!

Rooing and eartagging were one of the things we did on Mother's Day. Have I mentioned that I love lambing season?


Friday, April 23, 2010

Life As We Know It

We have 14 lambs on the ground thus far, with about half of our ewes left to go. Very exciting!!! None of them have needed assistance, which is as it should be with this breed, and we've been sleeping through the night. That's my kind of farming!

I just came in from checking on my bees. As mentioned previously, I'm beginning again with bees after a 6 year hiatus. They appear to be doing well, despite the fact that we've had so much rain. Some hardy little worker bees have been getting out there between rain showers to forage and pollinate all the fruit trees and other blossoms. I added another super to each hive, and moved the small entrance hole up one level in the process, giving them more room, but confusing some of the worker bees returning with their loads. I stayed to watch for a while, and noticed that while most of them were returning with yellow pollen, I saw two with white, and one actually had some bright orange pollen. I wonder what flowers that came from?

Did I mention that I find this all fascinating?

And the lambs... so very cute, and some very interesting colors as usual. I just LOVE this breed of sheep! I need to take photos once we get some dry weather. Wet sheep aren't at their prettiest.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Lambs of 2010

It doesn't matter how many years have gone by and how many new lambs we've seen (hundreds), the wonder and thrill never diminish. Our first lamb of the 2010 season was born before we woke up this morning, arriving without assistance from anybody. Lamb and dam are both Cascade Farmstead sheep; the mother is a week shy of being a year old. Both are wet... it's raining here. They will be even prettier when we get a bit of dry weather!

I'm still tinkering with my camera; I know I can get crisper photos than this.

And so it begins... I'm smiling as I look forward to many more lambs in a variety of colors. To learn more about Cascade Farmstead sheep, visit our website, which has loads of information and photos:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moving My Quilt Stuff to Another Blog

Which seems appropriate... I've moved my quilting supplies from one room to another in our house before getting settled into it's very own room!

Because this farm blog is for farm stuff, and because quilting is one of a few subjects I'm enamoured with, but that may not interest most farmers that visit my blog, I'm moving such topics over to Momma Made This.

If you are a quilter, I look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Bee, Or Not To Bee

Yeah, I know... lame title. But I'm in a lame mood.

I messed around with my bees today. I've been absolutely twitchy in my desire to check on them and see how things are going. And... to get those queen cages out that I really shouldn't have left in when I installed the hives.

So I went out in my bee suit and veil, my brush and hive tool, completely forgoing the smoker. Feelin' pretty proud of myself about that last part.

First I visited Hive #1, now named Aphrodite. Gotta love Linda's Bees... she's got so much useful information, and she names her hives. What a good idea! It's so much easier to remember a name than a number or "that hive that used to be in the orchard but is now over here on the east side of...." Yeah, that works well.

Anyway, I visited the Aphrodite hive, and despite the chilly weather, they sounded active from the outside. I managed to rummage my way through the hive and clumpy, sticky bees and found the queen cage on the bottom (not where I'd left it) and it looked empty, but these blasted bifocals have failed me before, so I'm not exactly reassured. When I picked up the queen cage again, there were 2 bees inside, so I peeled back the wire and let them out. All I could do was put it all back together and watch and wait.

On to the Persephone hive, which was so quiet that I was sure they were all dead. When I opened the hive, I didn't see much movement, but I carried on, and found the queen cage on the bottom (not where I'd left it), removed it, realized that my bees were alive but just cold, rearranged a couple frames, closed it back up, and prayed that I hadn't inadvertently set my queen free. And watched and waited. Test flights began as the sun came out. Good.

But I'm still twitchy. Hub says if I don't make this work this year, I'm done. Which isn't fair at all. He didn't get a deer last fall, so by the same token, he shouldn't be allowed to hunt again. Riiiigghht.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Farmville? Really???

I cancelled my personal Facebook account last year because I was sick of hearing about a lost virtual cow from a person I barely knew at school over 30 years ago. And similar stupid stuff. Sorry, but I was looking for real relationships, about real things.

So when I heard on the radio news this morning (cable is no longer in our budget, and we don't have a TV antennae) that people are spending real money to play this dumb game, my hackles rose and I thought about all the real farmers who are struggling to make ends meet.

Yes, a fool may be parted with his or her money however they please, but good grief! If you have that kind of money and want to spend it on farming, please.... support your local REAL farmer!

a Real Farmer

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Soothing the Soul

I have so many activities that soothe my soul, that really make my heart sing.

A row of canning jars full of something yummy that I made for my family.

New lambs that arrived without help or incident. (Cascades, of course!)

Spinning fleece into yarn.

Watching geese protect their newly hatched goslings.

Monitoring my bees as they build their colony and create honey.

Watching my garden grow, and won't that be nice once my Jon has put up some fencing to keep the sheep and chickens out of it?

Watching my son flourish at school; he's Salutatorian, and just a few days ago received an acceptance letter from his first choice University!

Making quilts that warm our hearts as well as our bodies.

But today's "Soothe the Soul" is about spinning fleece into wool. I have to admit that I have not done much spinning of our Cascade Farmstead fleeces. While the Cascade fleeces are far superior to the breeds we've had in the past, I'm so caught up in quilting at this time in my life that I just have not been able to get back into spinning for the time being. Someday.

However, I'm hoping that "someday" comes a little sooner... I have the bags of fleece from Greener Pastures Lavender that are truly gorgeous and so nice that after my attempts to spin last year, I decided I needed to refine my spinning skills a bit before working on a fleece this nice. Maybe this summer when it's too hot to have a quilt draped over and around me during the quilting process!

I keep telling myself that, while I want to do everything, I need to whittle down the "want to do" list into a very practical "these are the things I want to do MOST" list, so that I have finished projects to show for my efforts. This seems to be the stumbling block for creative people, but I'm working on it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We have bees again!

With the economy showing small signs of improvement in our area, I managed to convince my husband to fork over $180 so that I could begin keeping bees again. And they arrived today, and I installed them with no difficulties.


I began beekeeping in 2004, and the photo shown is of my lovely English Garden Hives, when I had done nothing more than cover them in linseed oil. It seemed organic, it was sure pretty, but it wasn't practical. My hives are now painted a lovely and subtle green, which looks great with the patina the copper roofs have acquired.

I've been taking a refresher course in beekeeping in recent days. Links about organic beekeeping are now provided at left. I've been following the Organic Beekeeping forum since it began, and I've recently learned that Michael Bush has a wonderful website to share his expertise in small cell (which he, quite rightly, refers to NATURAL CELL), as well as all the good reasons why to go the route he's gone. I've practically lived at his site in recent days while boning up on what I need to do and not do.

Like me, he wants his operation to be easy, and smaller hives are the ticket to that. I bought mine (back in 2004) from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, all 8-frame medium supers, all uniform, all small (4.9mm) cell. I highly recommend them (the hives and the company), and if you want to go all natural and organic, then definitely get small cell foundation.

I'm so happy! More to come in my toxin free adventures in beekeeping.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


It's Easter Sunday, and I boiled eggs this morning and didn't color them.


A) I didn't need to; our eggs come in a variety of colors including blue, green, blue-green, white, brown and dark brown.

B) We've outgrown that for the time being. Our son is graduating from high school shortly, and received an acceptance letter yesterday from his first choice university.

Life is pretty good right now. But bring on the scholarships, because my brilliant boy needs 'em.

In the meantime, I'm going to peel some really colorful eggs and make something tasty with them. Happy Easter!

Friday, April 2, 2010


I recently finished my first bed-sized quilt. This may seem astonishing considering that I've been an avid quilter for 20 years. But I began with miniature quilts, took several detours along the way, and made a number of what I call "nap sized quilts" for kids and adults. These have been loved and worn and loved some more by my family.

While I've designed many bed-sized quilts, and have dozens in various stages of progress, it took this long to finish one for our bed. I can't begin to describe the feeling of accomplishment, the appreciation of the beauty of this quilt, and that it's finally on our bed. Finishing any project brings such a nice feeling, but this is huge, not just in size or impact, but in the emotion it brings every time I see it or touch it! I'm so inspired, and can't wait until I can get the next quilt into my quilting hoop; this one for the kid.

As an artist with so many quilts in varying stages of progress (or lack thereof), I'm in a hurry to finish a few and get them on our beds before I spend the extra time needed for intricate designs. So the "utility quilts" are currently getting nearly all of my "quilty" attention, and I'm investigating something that I never thought I'd resort to... big stitching. I first heard of this technique back in the mid-90's, and dismissed it. But now, I'm thinking big stitching will be faster than tiny quilting stitches, but more personal than machine quilting, and may be just the ticket for the twin-sized quilt that I pieced for my son.

In my research about big stitching and whether this was a technique that would last, or shrink or or or... I discovered that the books on this subject are old and hard to find, and I'm currently in no position to purchase any. But I did run across a blog written by a woman in Australia who is currently enamoured with big stitching, and posted what works and what doesn't work. Yay! Her lovely blog is Quiltsalott. And she helped me determine, through her own trials and error, which thread to avoid. I've got some idea which route I'll take, and will post on that in future.

Hoping that these midnight ramblings due to insomnia do not come back to haunt me...

Post Script
I moved my quilting stuff to a new blog: Momma Made This. If you are a quilter, please follow me there. Or follow both!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Scrapbooking With Taste, Part 2

If you already create pages with a scrapbook program, this may not interest you much. But if you are new to digital scrapbooking, have I got help for you!

First, you don't need to spend any money to dip your toe into the water. Digital Scrapbook Artist offers a nice scrapbooking program for free, which you can find at DaisyTrail under the Free Stuff tab near the top of the page. You can do quite a bit with this free program, called Digital Scrapbook Artist Compact; I created some really great memory pages using this program.

DSA Compact comes with a number of kits, including some Photobook kits, some with frames, and my favorite has no frames at all. Here is a quick tutorial on how to create a really great double page spread. (I almost always make double page spreads, because I like the 2 pages to look nice side by side in my photo album.)

When opening the program, click on "Choose a Theme" and click on "Photobook, No Frames." Then choose the "Photos" tab at left and upload at least a dozen photos from a particular event that you want to document. With these photos in mind, open the "Layouts" tab below the Photos tab, and choose a few layouts that you like. Pick a couple that have photos off to the side. You can always delete pages, but right now you are just messing around. Open the layout that has 3 photos on the right side of the page, with lots of open white space on the left. Delete the text, then open your Photos tab again and choose one that you'd like to see really big and close up. Drag it over the left side of the page, and then enlarge the photo using the corners to drag it until it covers your page. Don't use the sides to drag; this will distort your photo. Once the photo is big enough, use the tool on the right hand side of your screen, under "Arrange" to move the photo into the background, behind those 3 photos on the right hand side. I now have DSA2, which I received for my birthday and adore, so I don't recall if DSA Compact allows you to make your photo transparent, but sometimes this is a nice effect, and DSA2 allows me to control how much transparency, if any, to use. If you want to include a lot of text, make the photo background as transparent as necessary for easy reading of the story you are presenting.

Next, drag a photo into the top photo frame. The tool on each frame allows you to zoom in and move the photo around inside the frame so that your subject is placed how you want it. Repeat with the other 2 frames. If you haven't already done so, add some text, including the dates of the photos and you are done.

If you'd rather use a simple background instead of a photo background, click on "Add Items from Digikits" and scroll through the options. Dark backgrounds will make your photos really pop on the page.

Some really beautiful and tasteful black background papers are available for free from Cuddlebeez. She also offers a really great paper kit, called Mystical Romance, that goes beautifully with the older black and white photographs from the 50's. She has lots of free items on her site, and restraint is difficult with so much to choose from. My favorite kit from her store is Preserving The Past, which I use without all the doodads. She offers the matching Alphabet for free.

There are lots of little girl kits available, but if you are searching for a great boy kit, Been There Wrecked That is one of my favorite kits from Kelly-Jo's Scraps, and used with restraint, I can produce some really great pages without overpowering my cute kid photos. She has more free kits, and like Cuddlebeez, now has her own store, but maintains her website of free stuff.

There are a lot of artists out there making digital scrapbook items for us, for free or for sale. There are lots of programs to use these kits in. I happen to love DSA2.

Tasteful scrapbooking done easy.

And I click "Save" and keep my work on an external hard drive until we recover from this economic crisis and I can afford to get my work printed.

Scrapbooking With Taste

I learned to scrapbook with real paper and photos developed from film. I took a class and received some really good tips on layout and cropping, and the necessity to tell the story with words to accompany the photos.

I made some mistakes with really pretty paper that totally overwhelmed the photos they were intended to preserve and "frame." And I learned to love understated simplicity. I learned that my photos showed up better when there was less "stuff" on the page to distract from the photo. A background paper that was subtle and in the same color family as the background of the photo, or leaning toward black or dark green, became my preference.

A decade and a half later, I began to embrace digital scrapbooking, which works nicely with our digital cameras. I played around with all the fun backgrounds and the many "embellishments" like foliage, ribbons, bows and a multitude of stuff. I'll pat myself on the back and mention that, from the beginning of my digital scrapbooking odyssey, I stayed away from the wacky frames that have tons of the aforementioned embellishments already attached to the frame. As an artist, I know better than to use those.

After my initial euphoria with all the new "toys," I re-learned the need for simplicity. And as I read scrapbooking blogs on "how to" or "here's what I have for sale," I feel really sorry for all those folks making scrapbook pages with one tiny photo surrounded by tons of patterned paper, embellishments, ribbons and bows and other stuff, to the point that the photo is lost.

I really do appreciate all the artists out there creating papers and frames and alphabets for purchase (many offer these for free!), and I've patronized several, and applaud their efforts. However, I've communicated with several and they know they need to cater to the general public, and therefore include in their kits a lot of stuff that I don't want or need. But they do work hard on their art, and they do appreciate input from customers, and if you have an idea or a request for particular patterns or colors in kits, they love to get that inspiration and make you happy, and even they will recommend that you don't have to use everything in the kit; they are just trying to appeal to the masses.

Tips on scrapbooking with taste:

  • Frame the photo with complementary colors, or dark colors to make the photo "pop." The eye should be drawn to the photo on the page. Background means background.

  • Keep the "stuff" out. Embellishments for embellishment's sake does not make a pretty page. I like the 30 year rule. In 30 years, will you or your descendants say "Oh good grief, that was made during that awful period when people put everything but the kitchen sink on a scrapbook page, and I WISH I could see the photo instead of all that silly stuff."

  • Stick with the right era. As I begin to organize all the 50 and 100 year old photographs that I inherited, I work to make sure that any backgrounds, frames or fonts are in keeping with the era of the photo, not the era of now.

  • Instead of using somebody else's photo for a background, use your own! That anonymous photo not only may confuse your future audience (where was that taken?), but it means nothing to your family, friends, descendants.

  • Journaling. Tell the story. What good are these photos in 30 or 50 years if nobody knows who is in them or what they were doing or where they were taken?

I just finished creating photo pages for my son's graduation ceremony. He's limited to 5 photos, which will be shown on a large projection screen during his part of the ceremony. I made every page count, and used some of our own photos for backgrounds, placing smaller photos over the less important areas. Simple, tasteful, and packed with memories. Yes, I did use a digital scrapbook kit for the last 2 pages, the pages in which he's a young man and wanted to look cool. But it was no frills, no doo-dads, and when he admired an embellishment in the kit (cool pocket watch, Mom, put that in!), I responded with "Let's take a photo of YOUR pocket watch; that will be much more meaningful... you will recognize it, your friends and classmates will recognize it, and we'll keep this real."

And we did. And he loves it. It looks really cool. Tasteful, too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

DVDs by Mail

We live frugally. And we have been living even more frugally in the last year or so. No cell phone, no tv, cable or otherwise, no movies in theater, no dining out in restaurants, no vacations.


Netflix was the very last indulgence/luxury item we kept while we are trying to ride out the current economy.

So when a month went by without receipt of the movie that my hard-working, doesn't-ask-for-much husband really wanted to see, I was getting annoyed. When several months went by without receipt of this movie, I got mad. I called Netflix. The first person I spoke to was polite, but unhelpful. The supervisor was slick, accusatory ("I've been waiting for this movie for 2 months, too. Should I put YOU at the top of the list?") and unhelpful. I called the owner of Netflix (Reed Hasting, phone: 408-540-3700) and received no response.

After doing a bit of research online, I discovered that there have been a number of complaints since December about this very thing; Netflix members are waiting months for newly released movies. I was going to add a link to this, but there are so many websites mentioning this current problem, I couldn't decide which to add. Search "netflix complaints" to find plenty.

So I looked for an alternative. One of the companies that received good reviews was Blockbuster Online, and the prices are comparable, with the one disadvantage of no streaming movies for free. But the reports were that they ship newly released movies. I called Blockbuster and asked if the movie my husband wanted to see was in stock, and if I joined, would it be shipped. Yes, it was, and yes it will. I signed up for the free trial yesterday afternoon, and the movie was shipped this morning. Good service. All the other new releases, which have a very long wait at Netflix according to my Queue, are available now through Blockbuster's DVD by mail division.

One of the things I really like about Blockbuster is the feature that allows me to see what movies have been released this week, what movies were released last week, what movies will be released next week. With Netflix, we had to go to the IMDB website to see what is currently being released, because that information was not available at the Netflix website.

Bottom line: Netflix is great for obscure movies and tv shows; they have a huge inventory, and if you need to rent something out of the ordinary for the kid's high school research project, Netflix is a great tool. And they have a rotating library of movies to watch online for free. But if you want to see current movies when they are released, Blockbuster is the way to go.

I told the Netflix supervisor that if they didn't resolve my complaint, I was going public. He didn't, and I did.

Post Script
I received a phone call from one of Mr. Hasting's assistants seven (7) days after my complaint. She seemed sincere, and expressed plans for improvement at Netflix. In the meantime, we received currently released movies from Blockbuster one day after ordering them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Greenest City in the USA... Again!

Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton area ranks number one, again, as the greenest city in the United States.

I can't argue with that. I love green, and I love living here.

On a different note of green, our pastures are lushly green at the moment, which the sheep are enjoying. Only another month until lambs, and I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shearing Day

Shearing Day is coming up again. We'll sure be glad when we no longer need to do this, but as long as we have some Icelandic sheep, it has to be done. (Our Cascade sheep don't need to be shorn, so a flock of exclusive Cascade sheep is our goal.)

We have a gen-yoo-wine Australian shearer come to our farm to shear the girls, and it's quite an experience. He's a really nice guy and does a great job. But, like the rest of us, he needs to make a living, so it's not cheap. I won't worry about him once we've got a flock of no-shear sheep; nearly all the breeds of sheep out there do need to be shorn and he will always have an income.

Until then, we'll enjoy the Shearing Day experience, as well as the fun of providing fleeces to local spinners.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Farmer's Ode to Insulated Overalls

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depths and breadth and height
Of thine coverage, keeping my jammies out of sight.
For the insulation and elastic braces
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most wintry need, darkest night or snowy sunlight.
I love thee freely, moving in comfort through my days
I love thee purely, pockets placed just right.
I love thee with a passion put to use
As I unzip the legs to remove my heavy boots.
I love thee with a love I'll never lose
With every day, and continued wear
Rips, tears, you never let me down, and if I choose
I shall love thee better, even after a new pair.

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Low maintenance farming: how to do what needs to be done without spending all day on it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One Year in 120 Seconds

Okay, this short video is too cool not to share. Beautiful. And it's Norway, land of (some of) my ancestors. The photographer even shows the techniques he used to create this video.

And on that note, I'm heading out to the garden to do a little weeding in hopes of planting cool season crops before the month is over. Before the week is over, if I can find my seed collection from last year! Living in the "banana belt" of the Pacific Northwest has its advantages; and year-round gardening is one of them. I'm ashamed that I didn't plant a winter garden, but console myself that it would not have survived the 2 ice storms we had. Now it's time to take some chances!

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's a New Year! Whew!

I am entering this year even more hopeful than the last. We still have our home, we still have an outside income, we still have our health, and we are learning even more ways to be frugal despite having grown up in the most thrifty of families.

Our wonderful Cascade Farmstead sheep, designed to be economical, are doing fine. Breeding season seems to be over; our littlest ewe lamb was bred this week, and the countdown begins for lambing season. Woo Hoo! I'm collecting names for lambs, which is always fun.

I finished another pair of thick wool socks; this pair customized for a woman who wears a size 8 shoe. Lovely pearl gray with soft plum and aqua; photo coming. I'm working on a handsome color combination to fit a man's foot, having just turned the heel and am on the home stretch toward the toe. This pair of socks can still be customized for foot length at this time, and a photo of this sock-in-progress is on my website. I'm working on another color combination that I'm really excited about; you will have to check back to see this one!