Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Barn Cat

This is the tale of our barn cat.

It was Black Friday, November 2014. I had never had a barn cat before. I'm not sure I remember the exact reasoning my son Adam used last year to get me in the car, but somehow we were headed down to the Animal Welfare Society with a cat carrier in the back. We sometimes had mice in the walls of our old house -- you'd hear tiny feet scurrying across the ceiling on a quiet winter evening -- but we could always set a snap trap if we thought they were getting too numerous. I'm pretty scrupulous about keeping the sheep grain in covered bins. Didn't really need a barn cat...

Before we left that day, we perused the AWS online Cats page, looking for 'barn cats'. I felt myself softening when I saw they had a beautiful tortoiseshell barn cat.  Adam was quick to point out that the AWS was having their own Black Friday Special, all the black dogs and cats were reduced cost, or free!

"IF we get one, this cat is NEVER coming in the house", I repeated to myself, "never, never, never!" After decades of having many pets,  I have discovered that Outside pets are much easier on the Inside of your house. Also,  Dave (my husband) has allergies to cats, and he was less than thrilled with this expedition. He stayed home with the dog.  

Adam and I had visited the AWS before. It's a busy place filled with with barking dogs and excited people. You are free to walk right into the dog or cat areas to hopefully fall in love with a new furry friend. Well, it was different this time: to visit the Barn Cats, one must be accompanied by a staffer out to The Shed. The staff person put on her coat and found the keys.

The Shed was cold and silent as we stepped inside. The space was divided in half by a wall of shelves reaching almost up to the ceiling; these shelves were occupied by about a dozen cats, some peeking out from behind white bedsheets draped over the wall for them to hide behind. As soon as the cats figured out that the woman had 2 strangers and no food, they all fled in unison to the far side, moving in a feline wave over the top of the dividing wall. I caught a brief glimpse of a tortoiseshell-colored tail as it vanished over the top of the wall. 

We talked, considered, and walked back and forth in the shed, the cats ever fleeing before us. Some of them hid behind the sheets or settled in little plexiglass boxes on the shelves.  Eventually we decided, yes, we would give it a try; and conveniently there was a black kitten sitting in a box right at eye level. "How about this kitten?" said the woman. "Sure," we said. She reached up and clicked a latch, for the box was actually a trap. Well, that made it easy! It occurred to me at that moment that this kitten may not be the brightest bulb in the box.

The staffer took the boxed up kitten off to an exam room. Somehow they gave her a couple vaccinations: I noticed the traps had convenient holes in the sides, or did they take her out and hold her? I will never know. Anyway, she was magically transferred into our cat carrier and we filled out the paperwork. They called her "Little Girl", and she qualified as a Free Black Friday kitten. She was about 6 months old,  already spayed, microchipped and vaccinated. I made a donation to the AWS anyway because this was an incredible deal!

Home we went. We set up our large wire dog crate in the barn with a litter box and food bowl. We put in a heated water bowl, as the temperatures were already below freezing. Last of all, we put the cat carrier in the back corner of the crate. Hissing and growling emanated from the carrier as we surrounded it with hay for warmth. I finally unlatched the carrier door and tied some twine to it; running the twine outside the crate. After closing and latching the dog crate, I pulled the twine to open the carrier door and tied it to stay open. Nobody came out. 

She lived like that for 2 weeks. We never saw her body, only 2 glowing eyes peering out of the carrier. When I put my hands near her to change her litter, she would hiss. But the food always disappeared.

After 2 weeks, it was time to let her go free.   I didn't want to extend her acclimation period since it was such a pain having to kneel down and crawl into the cage to change the litter while being hissed at.  Dave cut a cat-sized hole in the barn door so the cat could come and go as she pleased. That evening, I tied the big crate door open. Nobody came out. 

The next morning, it was very cold, and there was a new coating of snow on the ground. We found a perfectly straight line of cat prints in the snow, heading away from our barn toward our neighbor's property. The cat was gone. I left food for her in hopes she would come back.  By nightfall the food was still there, untouched.

I thought: "well, (sigh),  that was an interesting (failed) experiment, and a lot of work for nothing…!"

But, two days later, someone heard a tiny mew in the barn, coming from the shadows under the work bench. My whole family was thrilled! The kitty was back!

And she was back to stay. She still kept herself hidden most of the time. She would make herself a nest in the hay or slept in a carpeted-cat-condo we put under the work bench for her.  We would report excitedly if we saw her: "A full body sighting!!" Every day I talked to her as I fed her and I began to wait near her bowl after I laid it on the floor. Gradually she learned to come out and start eating while I stood a short distance away. We fed her treats, too, and she began to trust us enough to eat from our hands. 
Little Girl with Adam at our back door 

Dave with Little Girl

I started feeding her chicken gizzards as a special treat. She also supplements what we give her with mice, chipmunks, moths, etc. She is an excellent hunter and eats most of her kills. The walls of my house have been Silent ever since she came.

Healthy & shiny coat

The snow melted, and summer came at last. Little Girl was seen more and more often. Every night when I went out to feed the sheep, she would run along beside me. She would wait and then run beside me again on the way back. I never brought treats or anything for her at that time, so it seemed she just wanted to play. She would walk in front of me and then stop, as if to make me stop. Sometimes she would lay in the grass, purring loudly, right in front of me. So I started trying to touch just the tip of her tail every day. Again, the excited reports, "I got 2 tail-touches!"  

Eventually I was able to rub her neck and shoulders, and she really liked that. Sometimes she would rub against our legs, purring just like a real pet cat. 

And now, it's Thanksgiving again, a year later. We gave her the raw turkey neck yesterday: crunch, crunch,  Gone.  And she has learned to jump up in our laps. 

Happy Black Friday!!
selfie with kitty in my lap

p.s. She is still never coming in the house! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tutorial: How to make felted lavender soap

 I'm making some felted soaps this week so I thought I would post a tutorial so you can make your own.

What you need:

Time:  Plan for about 15 minutes to make one felted soap.

Hot water: Kitchen sink is the ideal place to do this.

Soap: I only use Yardley English lavender. It has such a beautiful smell.  You should definitely find a soap with a scent you like because you will be spending some time with it...

Wool roving,  I use only about 0.1 ounce to do 1/2 bar of soap. It's more interesting if you have 2 or more colors.
shetland moorit (brown) from our ewe Iris, and white from our wether DeNozzo

1. Cut your bars of soap, if desired.

I cut the bars in half so they fit my hands easily; I also shave off the 1 or 2 of the sharpest corners.

 2. Set up a medium sized bowl of hot water in your kitchen sink. 

Don't make it too hot, because you will be putting your hand in it! The hot water will get soapy as you work, this is what you want.

3. Lay out a small amount (about 0.1 ounce) of background color roving. 
Dry your hands completely before you touch the roving so it doesn't stick to you.
Don't use too much wool, you want just enough to cover the soap without big gaps.

 4.   Pull out  small wisps of a contrasting color, lay them on top. 

 4. Flip the roving over so your decoration is now on the BOTTOM.

5. Lay another small wisp of background color over the background, crosswise. 
 The fibers should be at about a 90 degree angle to make good felt.

6. Place your soap on the pile of roving. 

notice fibers going crosswise, also white decoration fibers are on the bottom.

 7. Gather up the roving like a little package around your soap.

8. Wrap your hand around the package keeping the fibers in place, don't let them shift. 

9. Dunk your hand into the hot water, hold for a few seconds. 

Then pull it out of the bowl, and begin to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze gently, using both hands. Don't move the soap around yet, be careful not to shift the fibers.

 10. Squeeze about 10 times, and then begin to gently Rotate the soap in your hands; and keep squeezing. 

You are squeezing the fibers together into the soap. Do Not Rub or shift the fibers!!  The wool should become full of warm soapsuds. After squeezing about 25 times, dunk again in the hot soapy water. 

11. Squeeze and gently rotate without shifting the fibers,  about 50 more times, Dunk.

Another 50 times, Dunk. Another 50 times, Dunk. Keep going. If you have any sharp corners you can press them in with your fingers after the soap has softened up.  Keep going about 10-15 minutes.

12. Finally, Polish the surface. 
When the felt is pretty tight around the soap, then you can safely rub or polish the surface with your fingertips without shifting the fibers.

13. Fulling step with cold water. 
Run some cold water over your your soap, still squeezing and polishing...Dunk again in hot water, more squeezing and polishing.

14. Final rinse, and then set aside to dry. 


If you are making another one, replenish about half of the hot water to your bowl before you start.

Drying: Allow 2-3 days to dry out completely if you are wrapping it as a gift. 

If it's for yourself, then put it right in your shower, it's ready to be used right away. The wool will continue to shrink around the soap as you use it. It's a great exfoliant, and helps keep soap scum off your shower.

Enjoy!!  Let me know if this was helpful to you. I think felting is a fun activity for kids if they are patient enough to stay with it. I found that it helps to have them count out the squeezes:
 "... 48, 49, 50, DUNK!"

Do you have questions, or any other ideas for felting soap? I would love to hear comments from you. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer 2015 Loon papercut

mama loon papercut   June 2015

Happy summer!  Here's a new loon papercut.

I'm hanging out at the nearby NH Farm Museum this summer!

     -- Come visit my booth at the Milton Farmer's Market at the NH Farm Museum
             Saturdays 9:30 am- 1:30 pm     July 25, Aug 29, Sept 26

    -- I will present a Shadow Puppet Show Saturday July 11 at 11 am at the NH Farm Museum

    -- Our Pleasant St. Dulcimer Band performs Sunday Aug 23 at the NH Farm Museum

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Printmaking by hand

Over the past few weeks, I have been making some new prints. After hand-carving the 'linoleum' block, the block is inked and then the paper is pressed on by hand, rubbing with fingers or a printmaker's baren. ( I don't use a press)

These hand-pulled linocut block prints are now available in my Etsy shop.

Thistle prints drying over the fireplace
Thistle test prints

Bunny linocut

Running fox linocut

Belted galloway linocut