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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hello Spring

Winter on the Open Prairie - A sea of sienna.

Winter came and went on the ranch.  I have to say, that after last year's nightmare of a winter, this one was a breeze.  We had our cold snaps, but they didn't last.  We had snow, but it was never a lot, and it didn't stay around long.  (I think I spent more time on the tractor moving alpaca manure than moving snow.)We had ice and fog as thick as a down blanket. We had a lot of wind, which made the cold even colder. But here we are, March 1st. 

Oh, I'm sure it's going to still snow, but again, it won't last.  The sun is high.  Even the thick ice on the 1800 acre lake below us is gone.  Only the thin ice that forms each night on the still water greets each morning, but is gone by noon.

The flocks migrating snow geese fill the skies like a cloud of smoke when disturbed from the lake or when coming in to roost on the water at night, and when leaving by the thousands each morning.  The sound is alien, but joyous.

I've been busy on the ranch this winter doing all the little things that don't need to be done outside.  Things that you can manage inside as to not waste a lovely day outdoors. My shop on etsy.com, GnomeGnomeOnTheRange, is up and running.  It has some antiques, some weaving, lovely pillowcases, and soon will have wonderful gardening aprons and what I call Orphan Barrel Dresses for Toddlers, and of course, an array of alpaca yarns.  Which are going fast, so don't wait too long to get yours.  For my spinning and fiber art friends, I also have bags of cleaned and washed alpaca fleece.

I gutted and remodeled another bathroom. Yes, the ugly urine yellow one on the lower level has been brought into the 21st century and is now a lovely shade of stormy sea blue, and the floor is cherry.

We decided to add another 10 trees to the orchard and the irrigation that goes along with them.  The trees are all heritage grafts, to include one from a certified Johnny Appleseed (Chapman) tree.  How cool is that?  The trees should be here at the end of the month.

I built a small animal chute, which will hopefully help with alpaca toenail spa day. (Now, I just need to catch a victim, em ...volunteer.)

I built a second Top Bar Hive.  This one went much faster than the first, due mostly to the fact that I'd done it before.  It has a few changes from lessons learned last time around and is painted a lovely glowing blue shade of Hydrangea/Lilac/Wisteria.

I earned my State Teaching Certification, which required me to take a modern Human Resources College course to update. It was an 8 week course that I took as a full time job, and finished it in 10 days- 24 essays and papers.  I thought my brain was going to explode and my fingers were going to fall off.

I earned my State Food Handler's permit so that I can now sell baked goods at my friend's floral shop along with the honey and eggs.

I earned my CHP certification, and was awarded this year's Swiss and Royal Canadian Mounted Certifications.

I created a custom Tartan design for the Ranch and it was accepted into the Scottish Register. (I'll share it when the official paperwork gets here.)  I'll be getting it warped onto the loom this week and hopefully have the sash done for my DAR convention at the end of March.  OH....

I was accepted into DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and have continued to do research to add to my long list of patriot ancestors.  It is time consuming, but fascinating.  I had a fellow etsy.com artist design me a custom wardrobe and it is gorgeous.  LOL.  On a day you feel like a giantess, I suggest you put on a 18th century bumroll, and all 3 petticoats and jacket, and see how slimming your 21st century clothes make you feel.  Although I am perfectly comfortable in my period costumes and wish I could wear them all day long, all the time like my fellow online blogger Thea ,but it's just not practical here.  She's an inspiration.

My friend Kelsey, had her re-Grand Opening of her new shop in Stromsburg, Spindle Shuttle and Needle.  In celebration of that event, I made her a large 4 foot square Dala horse of her very own for outside the shop.  Shops all over downtown have them in support of the town being the Swede Capital of the State.

We've been playing with making our own Farmer's cheese and we're hooked.  We especially like plain with cinnamon and honey, but garlic-onion-black pepper is our hands down favorite.

I've taken to grinding my own wheat in a KtichenAid Grain mill which turned out to be total garbage.  I had to grind it 6 times to get it to the quality of flour and it almost killed my machine, and I have a professional machine! 
I switched to the NutriMill Plus Mill which takes all of 2 minutes to grind two weeks worth of fine flour from high quality red wheat berries. Those I order from Minnesota, and have come up with a delicious 100% whole wheat sandwich bread.  I've been making it once a week. 
It freezes well and makes a great toast, which is high on my 'must' list for a bread.

I found an enormous, antique, bread dough trough that was brought here by homesteaders in the 1880s.  I scrubbed it down, dried it, and rewaxed it.  It is now ready for use, but I almost don't dare.  I might break it in this week or next.  She's almost too pretty to use.

The seeds for this year are on order.  The sweet potatoes are in jars on the window sill sprouting starts for me.

The chickens and alpacas are doing their best to entertain us all while they themselves are going stir crazy.

Twill Place Mats fresh off the loom.

So here's to the last day of a productive Winter, and to a busy Spring!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It's HERE! The Yarn is back from the MILL!

Stormy Before Shearing
You may remember that back in late May we took 6 adorable, fluffy, fuzzy alpacas and paraded them through the humiliating process of having them sheared.  While they did spend an entire day hating my guts, moping about the pasture and looking a bit embarrassed to be seen, they did actually enjoy being half naked when the 100 degree days came.
Stormy After Shearing

From their nakedity, we managed 6 bags of Prime #1 fleece, suitable for fine yarns, 3 bags of #2 yarn, which is a bit more hairy and not quite as fine or high quality, but still wonderful.  And one bag of .... "well, it's not dirty, but it's not very nice".

The #1 and #2 bags were taken down to Kansas to the Shephed's Mill down in Phillipsburg.  Nestled on the edge of the rolling hills of north central Kansas, (YES, Kansas has hills.)  Sally and her intrepid crew turn bag after bag of fleece from a multitude of animals into amazing products.  She turned bag after bag of alpaca fuzz into wonderfully soft, 2-ply, sport weight yarn for us.  Each animal fleece, from #1 Prime Fleece, created 10-11 twisted hanks of yarn.

Two Days ago, it all arrived in two giant boxes!  Koselig Yarns are woderfully soft and naturally beautiful. I chose to keep it natural in color, no dyes or color enhancing.  This is both because it is gorgeous without, and most people don't want the added chemicals anyway.
Left to Right - Medium Brown/Mahogany, Lt Beige,
Medium Grey, True Black and Medium Fawn

Only Prime Fleece is used in our twisted yarn hanks.  This makes for a wonderfully soft yarn.
Our alpacas are treated like the little Princes they think they are.  They are fed a high quality balanced feed, specifically formulated for fleece producing alpacas with all the native minerals and nutrients they need.  They have free access to untreated Prairie pasture and our own hay. Our alpacas are sheared in the late Spring, usually around Mother’s Day before it gets too hot and they start playing in their pools.

Meet The Boys
Nova - Beige (think the color of natural cotton, almost white, but not quite)

William - Medium Brown/Mahogany 
Sterling - Medium Silver Grey (Grey with flecks of white)
Angus - True Black
Stormy - Medium Fawn (camel)
Kosmo- True Black

200 yards : 3oz                         HAND WASH: AIR DRY FLAT
2-Ply 100% Alpaca - Natural/Undyed
Twisted Hanks

#2 Yarn: SPORT weight (aka fine; baby; heavy fingering)
15 - 17 wpi
6 - 7 sts per inch (2.5 cm) / 24 - 28 sts per 4" (10 cm) 
Needle size: 3.25 - 3.75mm (3 - 5US)
Hook size: 3.5 - 4mm (E-4 - G-6)

For lace: 3.75 - 4.5mm (5 - 7US)

The #2 fleece I had boxed, which means I had her mix it all together and make it into a GIANT cone of alpaca yarn for me to weave with.  All mixed together, the fleece made a wonderful rose-grey mouse color!

Then I have a large bag of what the mill deems as waste.  This will NOT go to waste.  It is send back to the owner for two reasons; it is a great teaching tool to help us learn what to pick out before sending it to the mill, and second, sometimes we DO have other uses for it.  Here I will use it as breathable, insulating filler for blankets for the attic of the Top Bar Bee hive.

I also have a small bag of mixed roving that will be packaged and sold as filler for ballet dancers for inside their toe shoes.  This is sold under the label of OnPointe Alpacas!

All of these items will be on our Etsy.com account.  If you do a search for our Ranch shop on Etsy.com, do a search for the shop name with NO SPACES     GnomeGnomeOnTheRange

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Rainy Day Catch-Up

Yesterday was a blazing in the 90s and the humidity was positively insane, with dewpoints in the lower 80s. This is a real rarity for here, but with all the rain water and the corn transpiration (corn sweat) it was bound to happen sooner or later.  The atmosphere felt like it was ready to snap all day.  Finally at 2am it did.

Vivid spider lightning flashed and crawled across the sky.  The thunder roared and shook the house.  It's still raining, just enough to keep the hens and alpacas inside, all too delicate to get their tiny toes damp.  (Although spray them down with a hose to cool them off and the first thing they do is roll in the mud.)  The silly things.

I've spent the day inside catching up on computer and house work.  The housework is your normal array of drudgery.  The computer work is bright, and cheerful, albeit frustrating when technology makes things take twice as long as they really should.

I've loaded the newest  photos onto my FineArtAmerica page.  If you haven't visited recently, please drop in when you get the chance.  The range of items that the images can be put on is crazy; phone cases, framed-canvas-metal, and wood art, towels, yoga mats, shower curtains, notebooks, tote bags, and so much more!

I've also re-vamped the etsy.com shop to combine all the things that come from the ranch.  We are now Gnome Gnome On The Range!  While the shop is currently not stocked, I will be adding home woven tea towels, Woven Scandinavian bands-belts-and trims,  one of a kind pairs of custom pillowcases, Pure Nebraska Honey from our bees, and Koselig Yarn, 100% alpaca, from our own alpaca herd.

As soon as our weather slows me down again I'll be adding things to the sale site.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I'm Still Here!

Many Thanks to my imaginary internet friends Nancy and JJ, who poked me with very long sticks, one from Texas and the other from Australia, to see if I was still doing the blog and still around.

Yup, I sure am.  I've just been busier than ever.

Winter lingered well into April, and even though it wasn't snowy anymore, the cool temperature and insanely wet weather made the normal Spring routine around the ranch nearly impossible.

The weather did a number on all the started plants.  The far longer than normal wait to get into the ground killed almost 90% of the starts from the new greenhouse. The new garden is lovely though.  I had the guys on the next farm over dig holes for my fence posts and then spent a week getting that set up.  All dressed up and the wrong weather to do anything about it.

I normally plant the 3rd week of May.  Nope, it was FAR too cold.
We then had a major hailstorm that sat over us for an hour and 11 minutes.  Most of it was pea and dime sized, and while it spelled doom for any and all baby fruit and blossoms in the orchard, the garden was still empty and it didn't bother me.  Until the almost 2 inch hail started to fall.  It was a band of large hail that was only about 20 feet wide, but by looking at the line of damage, it hit the hay shed (missed the steel barn) went across the lower orchard, the garden then across the workshop roof, and then yup - the house.  It wasn't wind driven, so the siding and windows were fine, but the asphalt shingles were toast on both buildings.  I was on the phone with the roofing company while the hail storm was still in progress.  Getting a new roof and gutters is a pain in the wallet in hail country, now multiply that by two.  Deductibles and a roof upgrade to a more hail resistant and wind resistant roof cut my premiums by a crazy amount, but I was still down $10,000.  No one wants that.  Upside, my class IV roofs will now outlast us all.

4th week of May - still too cold
1st week of June the tomatoes go in - NOPE too cold
2nd week of June - this is ridiculous- TOO WET - darn it - you're gong in the ground anyway

Did I mention it was too wet?  We have several instances of 4-5-or even 6 inches of rain in ONE DAY. 

Then came the heat and the lack of rain.  I had the dry conditions covered with in-ground drip irrigation installed in the garden to every plant.  But the heat was out of my control.  Daytime temperatures were in the 90s and the lows in the lower 80s.  The humidity was off the charts causing heat indexes of 118 for two weeks. 

The plants were all stunted, and many died and had to be replaced.  They couldn't handle the stress of mother natures mood swings.  We JUST harvest our first tomato last week.  Usually I'd be canning some already. 

Speaking of canning - I'd normally be done with pickles by now. We are still waiting for our first cucumber.

So needless to say, I have nothing to enter into the fair this year.


The weather was so crazy our bees even came later than expected by 6 weeks. Then they  were rushed to us to beat a late season snowstorm in California!

I picked them up in town, brought them home and installed them in their new hive with hopes my California bees wouldn't take one look at the weather hell Nebraska was, and start to fly towards home.

Let me tell you, there is NOTHING normal or natural about shaking a box of angry bees into another box.  If they could sense fear, they would have no problem sensing sheer terror.

I harvested the first of our honey three weeks ago, a second batch this past week, and this week I will check their process to see if we can rob one more time, or if they are slowing down and will need what they have for winter.  We don't want to take too much.

It is amazing, light, fruity, barely sweet, heaven in a jar.

I already plan to build a second Top Bar hive this winter.


But what about the alpacas?!

They're still here!

They too had to wait for the weather.  Normally they are sheared at the beginning of May as it gets harder and harder to keep them cool.  When you're wearing a 6 inch thick vicuna coat in 80 degree heat, getting your legs and belly hosed off with well water only cools you down so much!

Our shearing team is in Missouri and flooding and rains postponed their normal routes until the last day in May.

But came they did.  They boys all got their summer haircuts, pedicures, teeth trimmings, and a dose of wormer.  It was funny to watch them right after shearing.  They acted naked and embarrassed for about two hours.  They relished in the fact that they could feel a cool breeze after they played in the kiddie pools and rolled in the mud.

They have been an incredible source of entertainment.

Three weeks ago I delivered all the fleece to the mill 4 hours away in Kansas to be made into worsted 2ply yarns and fleece cloud under our yarn brand of Koselig Yarn.  100% pure alpaca yarn, no dyes, 5 colors, no blends.

Other events that I'll go into more later:

2 Scandinavian festivals where I demonstrated Norwegian band weaving.

I was the sports director for a Cornhusker State Games sport pistol event.

I designed and built a floor inkle loom and a warping board.

On top of keeping up (or trying to) with writing, reading, language lessons, the house, the mowing, building, remodeling (the great bathroom saga), broody hens, not broody hens, chicks, more chicks, predators, mice-mice-and MORE mice, endless piles of manure, baby birds taking up residence in the weather station - IN the rain gauge, trying to build up inventory to finally stock my etsy.com shop (TheInspiredViking), all while keeping Doc and The Boy going in the right directions.

So until the next time I find a few minutes, or someone has to poke me again, thanks for visiting the ranch!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Potting "Shed"

When Mother Nature hands you this...

in LATE Februrary, all you can do, besides swear at the ditch rat for getting it all wrong, is hope and plan for Spring.  Spring that you know will come, you just don't know when.

It's rather difficult to do when your garden, which you should be filling with grand heaps of compost is under this...

Yes, that's the path that Doc has been keeping open for us with the snowblower between the coop, barn, and workshop.  The garden is under all of that, and it's not a fluffy drift.  Most of it you can walk on top of, until you can't.  Which is why we've had to make a cut in it.  Walking on top of it hauling 8 gallons of water is fine, until you hit a soft pocket and the drift eats you for breakfast. 

We are still in the deep freeze, which we shouldn't be, but the temps should start warming up into the 30s.  That's still 20 degrees colder than we should be, but I'll take it.

It does hinder the garden work that should be going on this time of year.  But to keep on the gardening track I came up with a project.  Inspired by a post on the Old World Garden blog where she builds racks for seed starting.  She also sells the plans for them for those less hands on.

So where could I create this safe space for my seeds?  Previously I was sprouting seeds in the kitchen.  But the light source from the windows was too high and caused the plants to get leggy before their time.  I have plenty of room in the unfinished warm area of the basement, but really didn't relish having moisture laden seed racks down there in a part of the house that has no moisture issues. 

So where......


In front of Doc's car space in the garage is this odd little nook.  It forms the ceiling of the staircase below and I suppose was meant to be an awesome area for little used storage.  Although without shelving, it became a seasonal dumping ground that never got cleaned or emptied.  With the 18 inch step up, it also wasn't very convenient.  (Had I built the house, I would have enclosed it and put a door on that back wall and made it a walk in pantry for the kitchen.)

I was then able to get great measurements and take care of the hardest part, the planning and the list making to pull it all together. 

I already had a potting table that I was using for cooking in the outdoor brick oven, so I made sure it made it in the room. I figured out the best placement for shelves and made my list of supplies needed.  Then I was off and running.

Behr Tidal Blue in SemiGloss
I removed all the goodies in there and set them aside to find new homes for it all later.  I swept it clean and removed most of the cobwebs, and slapped on a coat of fresh paint. Of course, doing this made the rest of the garage look terrible. (project for another time)

Then came a scrap piece of vinyl flooring in a nice slate stone print.  It was that or looking like a wood plank floor.  Since it's a potting room, and one of my favorite movies is Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, it had to be the slate.

I put back the trim after installing the floor and set to work building the shelves from 2x4s.

Several trips up and down the 18 inch step later, I decided I needed to build a step.  I used a pair of cinder blocks with a piece of plywood attached with construction adhesive and topped with another scrap of vinyl.  That made the work easier.

Plywood was secured to the frame tops and then covered in more scrap vinyl and rubber matting. 

I capped the end of the shelving unit with an opaque roofing panel to block the winds and cool drafts when Doc open his door, and also a curtain across the front on a rod for the same purpose.

The lights are full spectrum LED lights on a timer.  They are adjustable in height from the seedlings.  I also had room for a Blue/Red LED grow light on the potting table.  This one is for lettuce, the lights are color adjustable for seedlings, and the plant stages.

I am hoping to not only get seedlings started for the garden, but also perennial and self seeding annual seedlings for the pollinator beds.  I invested in a potting cube maker and am looking forward to seeing how they compare and stand up to use as compared to using commercial soil and plastic starter cells.

I also walked into a clearance sale at the local big box store.  They were discontinuing colors from last year's pots, so I took full advantage of that.  The long trays are extremely heavy duty plastic liners for window boxes.  I guess they no longer sell the boxes that they go into, or people just didn't want to spend 9$ on a tray.  But I'll spend less than 2$ for a home for rows of cherry seeds.

The large planters will start asparagus, and the squares are saddle belly planters for over bricks or railing.  Those I will fill with lettuce for the deck and maybe flowers for market.

Hopefully, in another week or so, we'll get everything going.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mittens, Mittens, Who's Got The Mittens?

Otherwise known as "The Winter That Refuses To Die."

It's the third of March, and we are still deep in winter.  We shouldn't be. We SHOULD be in the forties, with pop up days in the 50s and 60s.  Of late our highs have been in the teens, with wind chills in the negative teens and 20s.

Isn't this mug adorable?!  It reminds
me of those S'Mores Christmas
ornaments.  What looks like a
coaster isn't, it's part of the mug.  It IS
a "chocolate square and graham cracker".
And SNOW.  Oh mercy, SNOW!  We normally manage, on average, about 25 inches of snow over the winter.  We are creeping up on 55 inches.  When the snow comes, it's not messing around.  We've been gifted with howling winds, ice, and 8 to 10 inches of snow at a go.  The drifting has been ridiculous, and necessitates Doc taking the snowblower to the yard and cutting paths from the plowed driveway to the chicken house and the barn through 2 foot drifts, so that we can more easily haul water, and walk.

The alpacas and chicken are being real sporting about the matter.  The alpacas can't read, so they don't know what month it is.  They are a tad annoyed that I have closed the gate to the drift laden pasture.  It's not that they could get out of the pasture.  The problem was they were finding ways from the corral INTO the pasture and then couldn't remember where the pass was to get back INTO the corral.  This forced me into my ranch bunny suit, to chase down giant furry rabbits, while my own movements were limited to something that looked like Frankenstein's revenge.  So confinement to the barn and corral it is.  They stood and looked at for a time. I'm quite sure they were discussing, between each other, what on earth this new construct was.  Sterling, of course, had to spend some time licking it.

The chickens, while they cannot read, know it is supposed to be Spring.  They can tell by the ever increasing number of hours of daylight they are exposed to.  This increases their need to lay eggs.  So while the sun isn't warming us, or them, they are popping out eggs right on schedule.  Even Mirida is finally laying.  The cold is hard on all of them.  But with the walls keeping them from the wind and warm meals twice a day, they'll be fine.
Freya was all ready for her photo shoot, when Princess pulled a photo-bomb.
I love the annoyed look on Freya.
As for the ranch, projects are at a standstill due to the weather.  The bees are on order and will be in at the end of April.  The guest bathroom remodel in the house is finally finished, but the ceiling in the lower level still needs repaired.  Much beyond that even the seed starting is at a standstill.   Every nook and every cranny has been cleaned and sorted, organized and purged.  Spring weather needs to come soon as I (and all my friends) have run out of things to clean and sort.

So that leaves me with writing and knitting.

Not only are three books in various stages of production and disarray, but now there is a forth in the mix.

As for the knitting, it's been going gang busters.  All manner of shawls, hats, and scarves have been managed since Christmas. 
For Valentines Day I made Doc a Tardis decorative scarf.
Then I got it in my head to make a pair of mittens for myself.  Everything on the market has too long of a space for the fingers and are too wide.  OR they do fit, but are dainty useless decorative things.

I found an easy pattern on Ravelry.com, but even with sticking to the pattern and the gauge they were giant floppy things.  The basics of the pattern were sound, but the sizing was off.  As I knit Portuguese style, purling is ridiculously fast, so the pattern also had to be re-written for that account.

Then I change the thickness of the yarn and it needed re-written for that account.

I eventually got it to where I wanted it and went to work.  I recently found out that I can now use some of the new, modern super washed wool yarns.  Not all of them, so it's still trial and error, but it's a start.  The pair was still a little too large. This led me to decide to Thrum them with an alpaca and silk lining.  I used a rug hooking needle to insert the afterthought thrums in each mitten.  They are magnificently warm, but smell to high heaven of wet dog.  I'm not sure I'll be wearing them.

The second pair was a super bulky yarn, so again the pattern needed tweaked.  The yarn is soft and wonderful, but had some weak spots in it that needed trimmed out. There was very little twist in places, and was little more than weak top/roving.  That was annoying.  This pair came out exactly the right size.  The yarn, however, has a tendency to loose strands of hair like bits. I am hoping this will stop with multiple wearings as little white hairs float around the car, get stuck to your nose, and generally attach themselves to pretty much everything.

The latest blast from the polar region had me knitting a third pair.  These are a thinner yarn, and I certainly wouldn't wear them in the deep cold, but to take the edge off, they're perfect.  The size is perfect, and the pair only took about 5 hours.  I like the yarn, even if the colorway didn't match through the ball.  One is a deep dark blue, the other a dirty medium blue.

I honestly cannot look at more yarn or my needles any more.  They've been put away for now.  Come ON SPRING!

Next is a temperature scarf.  I have all the yarns set up and ready for a spate of boredom later!