Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thank goodness for good friends and good wine.

A friend surprised me with a wine sampler from the Argyle Winery in Oregon.  The box had six miniature bottles of wine in great packaging.  And, the whole thing was very stylishly wrapped with an awesome western themed card.  Bliss.

The small bottles are brilliant!  There are several times when just a glass of wine is all you need and you don't want to open a whole bottle.  And, have you ever wanted to try a wine, but don't want to commit to a whole bottle unless you know you will love it?  I think these miniature bottles are the solution.

My husband and I are big fans of Oregon wines.  We first tried a few from that part of the country during one of our first (and still favorite) vacations.  This gift was perfect for so many reasons - including the chance to reminisce about a great trip.

I am so thankful for thoughtful friends who know just when to share something to help make a week a bit brighter.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I did something really old-fashioned - I bought a cd.

We purchase most of our music on iTunes and it has been at least a year since I bought a cd.  It's funny to think that 15 years ago, I subscribed to a mail order cd service.  Did anyone else join those clubs where you ordered your cd's by pasting stamps that were tiny versions of the album covers on the order form?

I was moved to make this latest music purchase, not because I was feeling nostalgic for holding an actual item that represented my music purchase.  Rather, it was because the music was playing in the background of my favorite home decor store in Topeka - Soho Interiors.  This is one of those stores where I can spend time browsing and feel like I still see new things with each walk through.  I discovered them last year after purchasing a - everyone say it with me - groupon.  (My husband is preparing to tease me right now; he loves to tease me about being frugal.)

While I was shopping, I kept think that the music sounded like some of my favorites - Mumford and Sons and Ray Lamontagne kept coming to mind.  I really liked what I heard.

The album was at the front counter and when I went to check out, I fell for the oldest trick in the book - an impulse buy at the point of purchase.  I haven't regretted this one!

I especially loved hearing from the woman helping me.  Brett is her brother!  I enjoyed talking about his career and the album with her.  That personal connection really made the purchase more meaningful.

I love this album for many things.  The cd itself looks like a mini-LP.  It looks super cool when you open the case and I totally dig how it looks nothing like a shiny silver disc.

The music is great.  I could listen to it all day.  The music has a folk sound and is kind of blues-y.  I think when I looked it up, it was called alternative folk.

And, the album art just screams "Kansas" to me.  The old white farmhouse and the great porch.  A guy, a chair, and a's just so elegant.  The bare tree branches are such a great touch.

Check out this album.  We all need some new music for our busy spring.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's blooming - columbine

 Earlier this spring, I posted about several plants blooming in the yard and highlighted some of the first blooms on the columbine plant on the east side of the house.

While we were getting ready to load alpacas I had a "whoa" moment when I saw the oodles of blooms on the columbine now.

Just for fun, look at the earlier post and then check out this beauty.  It is a showstopper this year!

Shearing day

Today was shearing day! Each April, we transport our alpacas to a nearby farm to harvest the fiber our alpacas have produced.  For us, this day represents a year's worth of work and all of the possibility of what the fiber will become - yarn, roving and rugs.

Shearing day is very fun, very busy and full of hurry up and wait moments.

We started bright and early.  We had a beautiful sunrise as the backdrop for chores which mostly consisted of my dad and I standing around watching my husband put things in order for the day.  He was a man with a plan and we just needed to stay out of his way.

My dad traveled up the night before to provide an extra set of hands.  My mom met us at the farm to help with the process, too.  Most years, I have been traveling for work on shearing day which left my husband and dad to take care of things on their own.  It was great fun to have us all together.

Our shearing crew is two men from New Zealand that spend time in the United States traveling from farm to farm providing shearing service to alpaca and llama producers.  It helps to have several smaller farms meet at one location to save set up time. We borrow a trailer and that means a little extra time for loading and a little uncertainty for the alpacas - it's not everyday that they ride in a trailer.

Everyone was a little camera shy (and extra dirty from rolling in the dirt) this morning.

Meet Chaccoyo.  He is one of our newest alpacas and offers a good "before" picture.

All of our alpacas wear their halter from the moment we catch them at our farm until they are secured in the shearing area.  When we arrive at the farm, we help with set up for the shearers and the host family and then we catch two to three animals, attach the lead rope, and bring them out of the trailer.

Every person has a role - someone helps in the shearing area with holding the animal, clipping toenails, releasing and tightening the ropes, while another gathers fiber and one or two others hold animals that are on deck or transfer finished animals back to the trailer.

The alpacas are secured in a very safe and gentle way.  The primary goal is to protect the alpaca and the shearer.  Alpacas basically has two defenses - spitting and kicking and neither are pleasant when you are on the receiving end.  The shearer also does not want to cut the animal and that means that having the animal secure helps reduce the chance of this happening.

The method of securing the animal involves gently putting a padded rope around each leg and extending the front and back legs out from the animal.  Once the ropes are in place, two people lift the animal and set them on the padded shearing area and the ropes are set by a third person.

When the animal is set, the halter is removed and the shearer and a holder go to work.  The first part to be removed is the blanket.  The blanket is the fiber from the main body of the animal.  This portion is bagged separately from the neck and leg fiber or seconds. 

We have the blanket processed into yarn and roving.  The seconds are processed into handwoven rugs.

The fiber on the top of the alpaca's head and on the face is carefully removed.  Chaccoyo had a lot of fiber and it was so full this spring that he was having trouble seeing.  We had tried to give him a touch up before shearing day to help him.  Today's haircut was much more effective.

Once the last of the shearing is complete, the halter is put back on and the alpacas is released.  The shearing  process takes around eight minutes per alpaca.

I promised my mom that I wouldn't get her in any pictures.  She was an expert fiber gatherer.  That's her leg and elbow in this picture...I mostly kept my promise.

And, Chaccoyo after shearing - a new alpaca.  With our really warm temperatures, having the fiber off the boys is one way we can keep them cooler.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Things that make me smile

Things that make me smile on a Friday of a very long week...

Varsity Donuts

The message on the door says, "donuts make people happy."  Yes, they do!

I picked up a couple dozen donuts on my way to work to share with our team this morning.  The two guys behind the counter were super nice and super friendly.  High marks for anyone who tells me their favorite donut, doesn't get frustrated when I ask for two dozen donuts and ask him to choose which kinds, puts donuts number 13 and 26 (the bonus donuts for buying two dozen) in a separate bag and tells me that I don't have to share them with anyone unless I want to, and opens the door for me when I leave carrying a wallet, cell phone, small bag of top secret donuts and a giant box of donuts.

Plus, this place has ultra cool decor, they rent classic style bikes, and it smells like sugary heaven.  Enough said.

Spring Flowers

And, when I left the house this morning, the clementis by the garage was going crazy with beautiful blooms.  I just can't get enough of the purple blossoms.

Thoughts on being a...llama mama?

A lady who works in the same building stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago and asked me how I liked being a Llama Mama.

Hmmm...I wasn't sure how to respond.

We often try to tactfully correct people when they ask us about "our llamas" when we actually own alpacas.  We totally get that we are talking about animals in the same family and that they are easily confused by people not familiar with the species.  The last thing we want to do is to make someone feel bad about taking an interest in our farm.  Our tactic has been to respond positively and slip "alpaca" into the response.  It might go something like this:

Friend:  "How are the llamas?"
Us (with a friendly smile and kind tone):  "Our alpacas are great."
Friend: "Oh, that's right.  You have alpacas."

Our whole goal - no one gets harmed in the making of the awkward conversation.  Our strategy usually works.

The phrase Llama Mama just struck me as so funny.  I have a lot of appreciation for her catchy rhyme - llama mama.  If I owned a CB radio, that might be my handle.

I tried to gracefully respond to her acknowledgement and move the conversation along.  I learned that she and her husband would soon be acquiring llamas - llamas, not alpacas mistaken for llamas.  She was asking for advice and I tried to be helpful, while footnoting every comment with a phrase that let her know my advice was based on what we have learned from owning alpacas and may not be very helpful.

In case you are wondering, alpacas are smaller in height and body size when compared to a llama.  Some will say that a llama can be twice as big as an alpaca.   Alpacas fiber is generally considered to be softer and finer and in a single coat.  Llamas have a rougher textured outer coat and a softer inner coat. Even though llamas are bigger, alpacas can typically produce more fiber.  Llamas are notoriously good guard animals that can protect alpacas, goats, sheep and other animals from predators like coyotes.  Some of our friends who own larger herds of alpacas have llamas as guard animals.  In fact, if we had a larger farm and had our alpacas out on open pasture, we would have a llama to help guard the boys.

A few days after the Llama Mama conversation, I turned in some winning scratch lottery tickets.  From time to time, I enjoy picking up some lottery tickets for my husband as a little surprise gift.  My practice is to ask the sales clerk to pick whichever tickets he or she thinks is lucky.  The last time I stopped, the clerk handed me a string of Llama Loot Tripler tickets.  We got a kick out of the subject matter and the timing was perfect.

Over and out,
Llama Mama

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where Women Cook magazine

My mom and I share subscriptions to several magazines.  There are two magazines in particular that we are always excited to see in our mailboxes - Where Women Create and Where Women Cook.

The most recent issue of Where Women Cook was another great collection of profiles of female bloggers, authors, cooks, chefs, and even artists who cook!  They include at least one profile of a male cook in a feature called, "the men we crave."

I am a huge fan of the photography in these magazines.  The images inspire me.  Even if the article is about cooking, I am soaking up great ideas for entertaining and home decor.  Plus, these magazines just fit my style and interests so perfectly.

It is always a treat to settle in with an inspiring read with great images.

Loved these cute little cones of flowers.

Inspiration about canning and preserving food.

Lilacs in a mason jar - simple and beautiful.

I love this old truck and the chalkboard menu.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gift of Jenkins School photos

 We live in a renovated limestone schoolhouse called the Old Jenkins School.  Several months ago, a local family gave us some photos from the 1940's when the father was a student at the Jenkins School.  We had these images custom framed and it has turned into a favorite conversation piece when we have visitors.

We learned that the family had some more photos to share and we were so very thankful to see more images of our home when it was a school.

The really fascinating part of these photos is to see the personality of the students.  One photo from the fall of 1947 has the names of the students written on the back.  This particular picture has a girl in a head scarf who is laughing hysterically.  She is the second from the left on the front row and the back of the photo says her name is Ila Mae.  All six boys look like they are very ornery.

These photos are such a treasure!

Can't wait to incorporate these photos into our home.

I love Ila Mae's spirit!

Monday, April 16, 2012

What's blooming - spring flower overload

 One of my most recent photography practice sessions yielded more images of spring flowers.  What else, but more spring blooms!

I especially loved the look of these blooms as they are starting to open.  The contrast between the buds, partially open blooms and then the fully opened blooms is so very striking.

We are also a big fan of the purple clementis.  The pink version by our garden gets all of the attention in early spring, but the purple clementis plants near the front of the house have more longevity with blooms at different points in the growing season.  They also put on a really good show.

And, purple is my favorite color.

This particular plant provides a screen for our garbage cans.  I am so thankful for a pretty and practical solution for the necessary, but not attractive part of the yard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Loads and loads of blooms

 We have been watching the progression of spring blooms in the yard.  The clementis started to bloom last week and today it was in rare form.

Get a load of all of those blooms!

You might remember that I posted about the first blooms on this point of pride in the yard.  We had an idea for a showy climbing vine on the post that holds the school bell.  The bell, a gift from my in-laws, is really special to us and has a featured place at the garden entrance.

Before we left for Topeka yesterday, I ran outside with my camera for a little photography practice and the chance to just enjoy some of the new blooms.

Love these blooms!

The impression of this gorgeous plant is the exclamation point on the garden this time of year.

Just can't get enough!

A bee was also enjoying the blooms this morning.  She put on quite a show while I was snapping photos.

Silent auction date night

Friday night was one of our favorite spring events - a travel and dining auction to benefit student activities and conference travel for a department on our campus.  We have attended several years in a row and always find something fun.

The combination of food and the bidding on silent and live auction items makes for a very fun evening.  Student plan, prepare and orchestrate the entire evening.

We did pretty well in the silent auction.  My big win was these cute earrings.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pioneer Woman event adventure

 My mom and I were super excited to learn that The Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond was making an appearance in Wichita, KS.

Watermark Books was providing a presentation by Ree and then a book signing.

Thank goodness for Facebook because my friend Meghan posted an update about picking up her tickets for the event.  Tickets?  We didn't know anything about tickets.

The next day, I called the store and purchased our cookbooks and requested our tickets.  Whew!  We knew that the first 500 were going to be allowed into the venue and we had no idea of our ticket number until we arrived in Wichita.

The store called twice to remind us to pick up our books and tickets because they anticipated a huge crowd.  I left work at 1 p.m. on Thursday and picked up mom and we were off!  Our goal - make it to the bookstore before 4 p.m. when they planned to move the books to the venue and then it was anyone's guess about how long we might have to wait to pick them up.

We arrived at 3:30 p.m. because we drove with purpose.  And, our ticket numbers the 600's!  A very kind woman at the bookstore told us not to worry because they had more seats then they initially thought and we should get into the event.  Whew!

With books and tickets in hand, we thought it best to grab something to eat before the event.  I grabbed the GPS and searched for local restaurants.  Several usual favorites were close to the bookstore, but we were craving something more local.  The Bella Luna Cafe sounded interesting and it was really close.  Off we went.

We pulled into the parking lot and immediately was disappointed - it looked closed.  We went ahead and pulled into a stall and took a closer look.  We decided to give the door a try and it was open!  As we stepped inside, my mom gasps and whispers, "She's here!"  She is Ree Drummond!

No kidding, it was her!  She was seated at a table with Cowboy Josh and two women.  Mom and I sat down at a booth a little ways away from her table and proceeded to both freak out as casually as we could and enjoy a great meal.

After we had finished our five cheese pasta and split a great dessert, we got brave.  Ree and her group was leaving at about the same time we were ready to leave.  I thought I should just do what I would do if I was at work - step up, extend my hand and introduce myself.  Besides, she seems so kind and gracious through her blog and television appearances.  What was there to lose?

She was indeed very kind and gracious as a couple of bumbling women fawned all over her.  Mom and I said hello and wished her well at the presentation. She was very, very sweet.

When we left, we took this awkward, stalker photo from our car - proof we met her in the most amazing and unexpected way.  What a coincidence!

Our next stop was The Forum Theatre, along with hundreds of other women (and a few men.)

We ran into my friend Meghan and she helped us with a picture.

After a lot of maneuvering to accommodate everyone wanting a seat in the theatre, Ree took the stage.  Her presentation was delightful - charming, unassuming, and full of great images.

After the presentation, Ree signed thousands of books.  She didn't have a limit on the number she would sign.  What a trooper!  Remember, we had numbers 626 and 627...they were calling people in groups of 25 people.  We were going to be there for some time.

Then, the most amazing thing happened - a lady leaned over and asked about our numbers.  She handed us ticket numbers 147 and 152.  We were so thankful for her kindness!

And, the big moment.  We got to visit with Ree again and have our cookbooks signed.

What a great way to begin celebrating my mom's birthday and to have some mom and daughter time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just a thought...

This evening I read an e-mail sent by a former student who is in the middle of a job search.  I really felt for him and his current situation - a lot of soul searching and thinking intentionally about passions and purpose.

When I arrived home and started digging through e-mail, I read one of my favorite leadership newsletters and fell in love with the image at the bottom.

Perfect timing.

Image source:  newsletter by Michael Bungay Stanier

Monday, April 9, 2012

What do you see?

This is a bleeding heart.

Scientific name:  Dicentra spectabilis

Usually, people talk about this as a romance plant.  The name speaks to the heart-shaped flower with the small "drop of blood" on the bottom.

Is this what you see?

I see a lady with a funky pink hair-do.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Garden dream realized

 We planted a clementis in our backyard near the garden several years ago.  It was all part of a larger plan.

My in laws bought us a school bell and my husband installed it on a post near the garden fence.  I had this vision for a clementis to climb the post and offer some showy blooms and greenery to camouflage the post.  The bell would be at the same time a nod to the fact that we live in an old school house and the focal point for this flower bed.

It took a couple of years, but we now have a consistent early spring show of these pink and white with yellow center blooms.  We watch this plant with great anticipation.  It is usually loaded with blooms and then we wait for them to bust open.

This year, we had some rain that kept us out of garden for any time beyond getting basic chores finished.

Once the rain cleared, I saw we had blooms and ran out with my camera.

 As you walk into the garden from the south facing gate, you get to see the most blooms.
 Love the coloring!
 Just a couple more pictures...
 Love these blooms!
The moon was on the rise on the night I snapped these pictures.  Loved the big moon rising over our favorite hill.