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Weekend surprises

My llama looks like a poodle. No, that isn’t true. It looks more we miss our schnauzer and thought we might create a tribute to him in our llama. This is not because we are bad llama shearers. More, that it takes a lot longer to sheer a llama than we anticipated so we only did half the job. Now, his body is all shaved, but his neck, legs and underbelly are still furry. We will tackle the llama leftovers today.


 


We expected the actually cutting of the hair to be easy, while getting the llama to behave, difficult. The exact opposite was true. Once Dahli was caught and tied up in the tight corner of the field (to keep him still) he more or less stood calmly. His stomach kept rumbling and he stomped a bit, but our llama is a polite one, (doesn’t’ spit) so, other than stepping on us a few times with his 350 pounds and squishing us into the fence, he was a doll. The problem was the actual cutting of the hair. Those damn llama shearers that are advertised as classic, used by professional sheep and llama shearers worldwide, in reality, don’t work. Would have done better with plain old scissors, I’m guessing.  Dahlia’s hair is so course and matted and LONG that it took hours to get through. Mark did most of the cutting because he has stronger hands, but both our hands were tired from the effort. Didn’t cut the animal once, nevertheless, after about two hours, Dahli’s patience was spent. He started stomping and moving and making some scary sounds, so we decided we’d done enough for one day. We were pretty tired. Imagine if we had an entire llama farm to sheer!


     Once free, Dahli didn’t run away. He just moved a few feet beyond our grasp, then followed us around, so I don’t think he was miserable being groomed, just nervous. There was this huge pile of hair at his feet, which Neva kept gathering and putting in a huge washtub so Mark can use it for making baskets. And the family has this romantic idea that I will spin wool from it. (Um, yea. I’ll get to that right after I finish my blockbuster novel, everybody. Sarcasm aside, it sounds fascinating and I hope to try one day, but another year, please.)


    I imagine Dahli actually liked the attention. I’ve worried that I have a lonely llama for awhile, because it is said llama’s need companionship and I think my horses and donkey are big snobs that don’t want to associate with him. In fact, I’ve been looking at the llama rescue website, thinking of getting Dahli a girlfriend. (You’d be amazed at how many homeless llama’s there are in the world.)


      Anyway, this weekend, we did the shearing deed. Just goes to show that so many of our fears and anxieties about trying something beyond our comfort zone are really just a waste of energy. Best to dive in and learn by doing. We took pictures, but I can’t post them until tomorrow. Still don’t know how to work that new camera, and Mark is gone for the day, off to the land of sanding.


 


     Shearing Dahli isn’t the only new thing I did this weekend. I MADE BLACKBERRY JAM! 


     I woke up Saturday, and told Neva it was time to do something with the two buckets of berries in the fridge – needed to make room for milk, and man cannot live on berries alone.(I was also afraid they wouldn’t last.) We’d already bought a big canning pot and a jar lifter, jars and pectin and all the other necessities for making jam. You’d think I was the president of the Smuckers Corp. if you saw my Walmart cart that day. (If you want to try something, might as well do it right, I always say.) Now, all we had to do was follow the directions and try our hand at jamm’in.


 


    So Neva squished the fruit and measured the sugar while I sterilized the jars and did the set up. I told her we certainly had enough berries for two batches, but once she squished the fruit, we found it took two cups of berries to make one cup of berry smush. We only had enough berries for one and ½ batches. I suggested we go to the grocery store and pick up some strawberries to make the second batch a mixed fruit jam. This was met with an outraged look and a speech about how our jam was supposed to be a natural effort – a start to finish project done with Hendry hands. No store bought fruit would sully our creation.


    What’s a gal to do? We got in the car and drove to the other side of the mountain to pick some more fruit. Did I mention it was raining? My demanding daughter stood by the car and forced me into the wet prickers to get another two cups of berries, claiming her job was to hold the bowl. Not only was I supposed to do all the picking, drenched and moody, but I was supposed to go about it quickly, because she was excited to start the cooking. (One of these days, Alice, bang – zoom, right to the moon.)  


    A half hour later, we returned home, dripping, but with enough berries to complete the second batch too.


    I thought cooking jam was going to be harder. I actually thought you used a pressure cooker and it took hours and . . . well, I had no idea that it was so easy. Mostly, it is just the preparation and mess that makes it an effort. Nowadays, you don’t need to seal jars with paraffin – they make these fancy gummed lids that preserve the fruit. And this magic pectin stuff has whatever special sauce makes the jam thicken and last, so all you need is three ingredients. Sugar, fruit and pectin. Anyway, it was fun boiling the finished jars to pressure seal and decontaminate them, etc…. It was a wonderful project for a mother and daughter who adores cooking together.  


    After finishing and pouring the jam mixture into the jars, you boil them, then set the jars on a towel to set. You can’t touch them for 24 hours or they won’t jell. Neva began making painstakingly beautiful labels, complete with delicate fruit drawings in full color with her new set of fine tip magic markers. I cleaned the kitchen.


   Then, we waited. Stared at those jars like they were going to explode, afraid to touch them for fear we would have made blackberry soup instead of jam. I speculated about the color, the seeds I could see from the outside, etc. I really was curious about what was inside those jars. Couldn’t wait to find out.


    The jams will continue to set for two weeks and the flavors will meld, but it is said you can eat it the next day. So Sunday, I woke and immediately made biscuits – part of my big Sunday breakfast tradition. I set the table with the blackberry jam glistening in the center, establishing it’s importance in this experimental feast. The family sat, staring at that jar of homemade blackberry jam as if it were a bottle of arsenic. We had to try it, because we were going to give some to my father-in-law that afternoon. He has mentioned he loves homemade blackberry jam (reminds him of his mother) and he doesn’t have two weeks to wait.


     I tried it first. It was good! Yum. So, the family followed suit. Mark kept smearing it on biscuits, exclaiming it was the best jam he ever had. At first, I thought he was being a supportive husband, giving duty praise, but when half a jar disappeared, I knew he truly liked it (despite his blackberry prejudice).


   Neva and I were so excited. We started talking about all the people we wanted to give it too (with some blueberry jam that we will make in two weeks when the blueberries are ready for picking.)


    Mark said, “Hold on. Don’t be so quick to give it all away. We have to have enough to last us a year, you know.”


   I assured him he’d have plenty. Besides, only those who labored at the jam get to decide who eats it. Little red hen taught me that.


    It was a joy to create something so simply – I marveled that I can go into my backyard to pick fruit and serve it with breakfast to raves. Gee, I’m a hunter-gatherer – minus the hunter part.


 


     That evening, after working on the llama, Mark and the kids went to get cold drinks before we tacked some staining at the house. I stayed behind because the horses were grazing free on the land, and I have to watch they don’t wander to our neighbor’s garden (they brilliantly covered the ground with fresh hay. Thanks for that one.)   


 And don’t ya know, not a minute after they were gone, I found myself picking berries and filling up my Subway big gulp cup. The idea of returning to my kitchen berryless was disturbing. Can’t quit a berry obsession cold turkey, ya know just because you had one successful berry cooking experience. 


    I went down one of our little overgrown side streets to pick. I find the best berries by crouching low and picking from the underneath where the hot sun doesn’t cook them into little raisin-like nubs. And while I was all couched down, I heard a noise. I look up and there is a huge buck standing only about eight feet from me, staring right at me. Amazing. Stupidly, I stand to get a better look. My movement makes him dart away into the woods like a super ball shot out of a slingshot, rick-a-shaying from tree to tree. Drat.


But my heart had such a rush – he was beautiful. . . and right in my backyard.


     I told my family when they returned (who glanced at my cupful of berries as if I were really beyond help.) Denver said, “I’m so glad he didn’t attack you.”


    This made me laugh. I explained that deer don’t attack people. She argued that male deer are aggressive, because she remembers the father buck in Bambi being king of the forest, standing proudly protecting his herd. Cracked me up. But what do expect when half the world gets their nature education from Disney movies?  I explained that deer are shy and steer clear of people, which makes a face-to-face encounter with one so special.


   Then, while Mark and Denver were staining (I was told I am sloppy (not true), so I was excused from duty) we heard howling. We all stopped and went onto the porch to listen. It was the coyotes! Cool. Suddenly we heard dogs barking too, then the sound of a dog yipping in pain. Then nothing. My son’s eyes grew round with disbelief. “That will be our dogs getting eaten before you know it.”


    I assured Kent what we heard was just a big baby of a dog crying for nothing, but I looked into Mark’s eyes over his head and read a look of “Our dogs are dust.” I feared he might be right.


   So, I went to explore. I walked towards the sound, and sure enough, I heard something in the trees. Hoped it was my deer again . . . or a coyote pup.  It was our neighbor’s dogs coming through the woods, wagging their tails as if they were pleased over a recent game of chase the coyote. I picked another gallon of blackberries (since I was there) and returned to tell everyone things were fine in the forest.


    All told it was a good weekend. Filled with laughter, adventure, a bit of sugar, and a bit of danger. That, my friend, is life on the wild side.


 


  

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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