Archive | March 2015

Shedding an Angora Rabbit

a1

Here is my angora rabbit doe, Jade, a three year old sable color French-English mix.  She is ready to be shed out of her long hair.  Jade was mated to my albino angora buck and is due to kindle on April 20.  Kindle means give birth in rabbit language.  She’s shedding her fiber now and I want to clean her up so she’s ready for babies.

a2The first photo shows Jade before any grooming.  Just the rough rabbit.  I have a high pressure air blower for animals that is very handy for cleaning rabbits, but I won’t be needing it to clean Jade up this time.  A simple slicker brush is sufficient.  Her hair coat is mostly clean and matt-free.

a3Several minutes of brushing yields a rabbit ready to have her fiber removed.  The coat is straight, free of foreign matter like hay and bits of food, and contains no matts.  Time to start pulling the fiber.

I always hand pull my rabbits.  This means I use my fingers to remove the long hair that the rabbit’s body is shedding.  The full length of the hair is retained, and produces fiber with a length (or staple) of 4″-6″ on average.  Perfect for handspinning.

a4a5Pulling the loose hairs from the rabbit’s coat does not hurt the animal. Actually, the bunnies like it and stretch out to rest while they are being shed.  To remove the hair, I hold a small amount near the tips and gently pull.  The loose hair slides out in my hand.  I gather a handful then spread it on tissue paper to save.  The fiber is laid on the paper with the tips all oriented in the same direction.  When I am ready to spin, I just pick up a small hank of fiber from the pile and add it to the twist.a6

a9
a8
It takes as much as 30-45 minutes to fully remove the loose hair from Jade. She has a thick, full coat and lovely long fiber.  The shorter hairs that grow on places like her feet and under her chin I pull, but do not save to spin.  They are not long enough.  I save shorter hair to add to her nest when her babies are born.  If the shorter fiber is not removed when it is loose then tight, uncomfortable matts will form.  All the loose fiber must be cleared from the rabbit to prevent matting.

a7A close look will show the new fiber growing and forming an undercoat on the rabbit.  The new hairs are the black tips in the white undercoat.  All the longer fiber is removed until just the short coat remains.  The rabbit is left with fur about 2″ long when she is fully shed.

a11Now I have 2 oz of fiber ready to be spun or sold.  This much fiber will make about 100 feet of two ply worsted weight yarn.  The pile in the photo is already sold to an eager spinner in Florida.

Jade was a good rabbit and cooperated for her shedding.  Her reward is a romp around the barn.a10

MacBeth-Evans Glass

mac4

A favorite of collectors is production by the MacBeth-Evans Glass Company of Pennsylvania.  The firm started in 1899 and is most famous for a particular form of Depression glass called Monax.  MacBeth-Evans merged with and was pretty much taken over by Corning Glass in 1936.  By then glass factories were more automated and created pressed glass for the mass market.

MacBeth-Evans began making blown glass, particularly thin, strong chimneys for lamps and globes for street lights.  They were a cutting edge company investing in research to develop the finest, toughest glass possible. By the early 1920s the company had devised Monax, an opal glass with exceptional heat resistance and strength.  The glass was white, very thin, translucent and strong.  It was recognized as the best in the industry.  MacBeth-Evans expanded from the utilitarian lighting market to tableware, creating resilient, almost impossibly thin plates, bowls, cups and saucers for household use.

In addition to Monax, similar glass formulas with a cream or light beige coloration were developed by the firm including Ivrene, Cremax and Chinex.  The bowl above is made of opal Pyrex in the Princess pattern.  The glass is especially translucent around the rim at the swirls.  This vintage bowl is from my online store stock.

Many patterns were developed by MacBeth-Evans and later continued by Corning.  The most popular was designated as R-pattern and nicknamed American Sweetheart.  The dishware is very translucent and decorated with an intricate pressed design.  Other patterns included Petalware, Bordette, Dogwood and Stippled Rose.mac1

This charger or serving plate is made of Chinex in the Classic pattern introduced in 1938.  There is a pie crust-type rim with a delicate scrolled embossed decoration.  The glass contains characteristic swirl marks often found in Depression opal and milk glass.  This plate was recently sold in my online store.mac2

mac3mac5MacBeth-Evans glassware is not marked with a company name.  The dishware usually has a design of concentric rings on the foot with the words Made in USA appearing near the central rings.  The Chinex plate is not marked with any words and was made after Corning took over MacBeth-Evans.

I have sold many pieces by this company in my online stores and their work, especially American Sweetheart, continues to be sought after for its great beauty and strength.  The pieces I’ve selected to show today are unusual, not what is normally offered for sale.

To read more about MacBeth-Evans, check out this site:  http://www.corellecorner.com/company-history/114-macbeth-evans-monax-opal-pyrex-corelle.html

Maple Sap Season

DSC03271

Today I tapped the maple trees.  Bright sun, mild breezes and a temperature around 44 F made the sap run strong and steady.  I hiked down to the woods through knee deep snow, hitting a few drifts that came up to my thighs.  It was so warm I didn’t need a coat!

DSC03257The drilling of the tap holes I do with an antique hand-operated bit and brace.  The hole is fitted with a metal spile, a spout to guide the sap from the tree into the bucket.  Once the trees are tapped, the maple orchard is filled with the sound of sap dripping into metal buckets.  I love collecting sap in this old-fashioned manner.  Makes me think of my ancestors, the hardy New Englanders who toiled in much the same manner.DSC03252

There are 23 taps, enough to make a gallon of maple syrup a day if the sap runs well.  One gallon of syrup requires about 40 gallons of sap.  Some days it doesn’t flow very well due to weather conditions.  High winds or a daytime temperature below 40 F can slow the sap.

This year’s season is late.  January, February and March were all colder than normal and very snow filled.  We had a couple days here and there in the past two weeks when sap would flow.  All the maple syrup producers in the state are complaining.  The season sometimes starts in early February.

DSC03263The next week to ten days will be our season.  After that, the temperatures will go too high.  Once it doesn’t freeze at night, the trees begin to bud.  The sap turns dark and bitter, signaling the end of the season.  In the next few days I hope to make three to four gallons of maple syrup.  We’ll see how it goes.

Great Find!

ret1Yesterday I spotted this set of flatware at a thrift store.   It is a discontinued pattern called Contour made by Retroneu.  The stainless is 18/10 and very heavy weight.  The high quality of the utensils caught my eye and made me think they might be worth more than the $4.50 I paid for them.  ret2ret3

Last night I listed them in my eBay store.  They sold in 10 minutes.  I think that’s the fasted I’ve ever sold a listing.  I offered them for a good price so they would move quickly, and realized a net profit of $95 on the deal!

I may have been able to squeeze a bit more out of a sale, but I’m happy and the buyer is happy.  That’s what matters.

The New Forest, Hampshire, UK

n2

In early March, my mother and I took a short vacation to the south of England and spent a day visiting the New Forest National Park.  This large tract of reserved land, mostly in Hampshire, is home to the famous New Forest pony breed.n1  Soon after we entered the park, we turned unto a scenic drive and found the three ponies, above, standing right beside the road.  They grazed peacefully and showed minimal interest in our presence.

The park is largely common ground and is grazed by the ponies, and by cattle, wild deer and at certain times of the year by pigs.  This grazing of grassland and shrubs helps to keep the land open rather than thickly forested.  The landowners within the New Forest have the right to graze their animals in the common areas.

The animals are given the right of way in the park and the speed limit is 40 mph.  It is not unusual to come around a bend or over a hill and find one or several ponies in the road.  Driving slowly saves the lives of animals and people.

The New Forest comprises 145 square miles according to the Forestry Commission of England.  It was created in 1079 by William the Conqueror as royal hunting grounds.  The land was maintained for production of deer to satisfy the hunting requirements of the nobility.  Commoners faced grievous punishment for tampering with the deer.

The modern New Forest contains many acres of low-land heath, rivers, wetlands, sea coast and woodlands. This area has some of the biggest remnants of primeval forest.  Here grow oaks believed to be as old as 800 years and yew trees of 1000 years.  Broadleaf deciduous, various conifers and birch are the primary trees. The most obvious landscape is the open heath:  land of low rolling hillsides covered with grass, heather, bracken fern and gorse bush.  The soil is sandy and acidic.

For our visit, we drove up from Bournemouth on the busy A35 and turned onto scenic Bolderwood Ornamental Drive.  This is where we first saw ponies.  The scenic drive passes mainly through forest that is cut by narrow swaths of grazing land.  We went on to Lyndhurst where there is a very helpful visitor’s center.  From Lyndhurst we traveled across heathland for several miles toward Beaulieu.  n3We spotted many wild ponies and some cattle roaming loose.  In one place a couple male pheasants were having a wrestling contest in the middle of the road and could barely be bothered to move aside for traffic.

n4

Giant Douglas firs dwarf our rental car

n5

Pair of giant Sequoias

After, we went along the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive to the Blackwater Arboretum.  This area is planted to towering Douglas fir, and contains species of trees from around the world.  A pair of giant Sequoia trees from the northwest US flank one of the wide grassy avenues maintained for easy passage and grazing of animals.  The arboretum is a small area surrounded by a high fence to protect the trees from animal feeding.  Outside the fence, huge trees abound and can be viewed from a 1.5 mile graded trail so well maintained that it is wheelchair accessible.

The New Forest is an extensive area impossible to fully enjoy in one day, or maybe even a whole week. Walking and biking trails lace the park.  Small hamlets with thatched-roof cottages wait to be explored. Roadside inns beckon, promising pub lunches and liquid refreshment.  Narrow roads, barely passable when two small cars meet, wander over miles of scenic open land populated only by wild animals. This is a place I would like to visit again one day.

Hand Painted Made in Japan Ceramic Collectibles

c1

Many collectors favor the kitschy handpainted ceramic items produced in Japan during the early part of the last century.  Most are marked either Nippon, Japan, Made in Japan or Occupied Japan.  There are so many specialized subsections to Made in Japan collecting that it is hard to name them all.  Some include human figurines (such as the ones pictured above,) or animals–horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other wild animals, salt and pepper sets, match holders, ashtrays, planters, vases, wall pockets, and candle holders.  c5Vases shaped like ladies’ heads complete with fancy hats and jewelry are sought after and can command big prices.

Another popular area for collectors is all things for the table:  plates, cups, sake and tea sets and rice bowls, especially dishes with luster painting.  Tableware was the first export from Japan after trade was opened with the West in the 1850s.  Noritake is a big name in this area of production.  I have carried all these ceramics and more in my online stores over the years, with great success.

Some pieces are very well done, others were fired and painted rapidly with an eye to production over quality.  In general, earlier work is better quality.  Industrialization and the advent of the production line led to a drop in quality.

c2c6

The figurines are of a Georgian couple, probably courting, and are of midling quality with some nice detail, but very quickly painted.  The condition is excellent, no damage at all.  They are marked Made in Japan with a red stamp.

Items from Japan were not always marked, especially prior to 1891.  In that year the US required all imports to be marked in English with the country of origin. From 1891 to 1921 the word Nippon was usually placed on pieces.  After 1921 until 1941 the word Japan was instituted in place of Nippon.

During the war years, 1941-1945, an embargo was in effect on Japanese imports.  By 1947, imports were making their way west again and were marked Occupied Japan.  This labeling was in use until as late as 1952. After that time the Occupied was dropped.  Paper labels came more into use. Since paper and foil labels are more easily lost, import pieces from that time are often not marked. Sometimes a practiced eye can spot an unmarked Made in Japan piece based on quality and form.  The import of inexpensive Japanese ceramics continued into the 1960s then began to shift to items made in Taiwan.  After that, made in China became the norm.  This is one big reason collectibles made in Japan are popular, they are no longer manufactured.

The nostalgia of Made in Japan ceramics also drives the market.  A popular collectible is a series of small figurines shamelessly based on Hummels and called American Children.  Much of the Japanese work imitated favored established Western forms, such as the figurines above that mimic European work.  Certain companies, most notably Otagiri and Takahashi, operated as importers of higher-quality Japanese ceramics well into the 1990s.  Both these companies were based in San Francisco and provided fine work from various Japanese sources to upscale department stores.

Here are a few more of the Made in Japan offerings currently in my online stores:

Owl salt and pepper set

Owl salt and pepper set

Mother dog and tethered puppies

Mother dog and tethered puppies

Shafford spaniels

Shafford spaniels

Otagiri Harvest stein mug

Otagiri Harvest stein mug

Train nursery planter by Ardco

Train nursery planter by Ardco

Takahashi vase

Takahashi vase

Peach luster landscape pattern tea plate

Peach luster landscape pattern tea plate

Barefoot Trim Horse Hoof Care

h1

Starting the trim

I’ve had horses for most of my life and have found that the healthiest horses are those whose living conditions most closely replicate the wild state.  Allowing the animals complete freedom of movement and choice about how they live when they are not serving humans keeps my horses fit and happy.h6

h12

Right front hoof prior to trim. It has been 8 weeks since a trim and the hoof shows a small amount of growth

They have a run-in shelter just big enough to get them out of the weather when they want to use it.  My horses are never blanketed, they wear shaggy winter hair coats.  Their pasture is about ten acres, expanding to twice that size in summer.  The water comes from a pond in their pasture, or in the deep winter when the pond freezes over, from a small spring in the pasture woods.  They must walk for water every day.  The horses eat their hay off the ground and receive three quarts each of crimped oats per day during the winter, no sweet feed.  In summer my horses subsist entirely on grass grazing, no oats.  I have always had strong animals with lustrous coats, free of the illnesses and problems that can plague stabled horses.  I never shoe my horses.  Wearing shoes is unnatural and unnecessary.  My horses always go barefoot and are never picky about going over rocky or hard terrain because their feet are callused and tough.

h11

Left front hoof trim underside finished, still needs the outside rasped. Note minimal trim to the frog and bars, wide frog, sole has not been pared.

When it comes to trimming their hooves, I look to what nature designed for the horse.  Wild horses with unlimited movement tend to wear their hooves in a certain way.  The heel is low so that the frog makes good contact with the ground.  This provides a surefooted grip on any surface. The hoof itself is short and rolled smooth around the outer edges.  Constant use, especially in dry conditions, causes slow and steady wear to the hoof.  Wild horses do not have a lot of hoof.h9

In recent years more and more farriers have learned to provide a particular hoof cut called a barefoot trim.  It is important to ascertain that a farrier uses this natural hoof care system and doesn’t just trim the hoof and leave it unshod, therefore calling it “barefoot.”  Such a cut can lead to problems with hoof separation, cracking and lameness.

h5A barefoot trim brings the heel low so the frog, particularly at the back, has wide contact with the ground.  The toe is cut to a certain angle and the sides of the hoof at ground contact are allowed to form a natural divot about one-quarter of the way along the length of the hoof from the back so the foot has a little flex as the horse moves.  The sides are all rounded, (something called a mustang roll) leaving no sharp edge to crack.  Much of the trim is done only with a rasp and the feet receive care about every seven weeks. The frog is rarely trimmed.  The bars of the hoof are maintained and not pared back because they help provide support for the hoof. Very little sole needs to be removed once a horse has been on the barefoot trim for awhile.  The sole forms a tough callus, much as human feet do when they go bare.h10

h4When a horse is given this trim for the first time, the difference in gait is noticeable. The animal seems happier, more free in its movement, like it is walking on air.  My horses have had the barefoot trim for years and if they could talk I know they’d say it’s just what their feet need.  h3My younger mare, Maddie has always been given a barefoot trim.  When Vista got her first one, I saw a definite improvement in attitude.  It was as though she suddenly could walk comfortably!

h8In the photos, Vista, a 26 year old three-quarter Saddlebred mare, is demonstrating how to be a good horse for a trim.  The farrier is Liselle Batt, her service is called Western Maine Horseshoeing and Trimming.  She does a great job and the horses love her!

Four feet trimmed

Four feet trimmed

More Memorable British Meals

b1

On my annual treks to England to visit my mum, I take every opportunity to enjoy the British cooking.  Snide comments and even entire comedy routines focus on the idea that the English do not have good food.  This concept is a myth, probably born of xenophobia.  Anglo food is wonderful!  I always look for a chance to get in at least one Full English Breakfast.  This meal follows a similar formula no matter where it is served in the United Kingdom.  The name is merely modified to suit the locale:  English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, and occasionally adapted to local traditions.

The basic menu is two eggs, usually fried sunny side up, or any way the diner desires, toast (lots of toast!) with butter and jams, sausage, the bacon of the UK which more closely resembles Canadian bacon than the American sort, baked beans, potatoes either fried or made into hash browns, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomato.  This is accompanied by pots of tea or coffee and some fruit juice.  The full breakfast is the staple of bed and breakfast morning fare.

More often in Scotland, Ireland and Wales I have been offered black pudding as well, which is blood sausage. Some turn their noses up at black pudding but I enjoy it, especially soaked in juice from the baked beans. The full breakfast is sometimes cooked completely on a grill (except for the beans) and features thick slices of grilled bread instead of toast.  Grilling the bread also is more common outside of England.

The Full English Breakfast pictured above was served at a lovely bed and breakfast, the Denewood Hotel, in Boscombe near Bournemouth.  Black pudding was not in the offerings there.

b2

For me, a visit of Britain is not complete without a roast lamb dinner.  Lamb is not so popular or well known here in America, although excellent fresh New Zealand lamb and locally sourced lamb is readily available to us.  The best lamb is young, before it develops the strong smell of mutton.  Nothing can beat good, young lamb for flavor and tenderness.  It is truly delicious!  To purchase the best lamb, choose smaller-sized cuts. Two little leg-of-lamb roasts are a better bet than one large one.  The larger cuts are from older animals and more likely to have a sheep odor.

The British roast typically served includes the slow-roasted meat with its drippings gravy and large pieces of roast potatoes.  b3On the side are massive bowls filled with a wide variety of carefully segregated cooked vegetables including carrots, turnips, parsnips, string beans, peas, squashes and various members of the brassica genus (my favorites are broccoli and savoy cabbage,) and occasionally Yorkshire pudding–pop-overs to us Americans.

After eating my fill of a roast dinner, I can never do justice to the dessert offerings.  Just as well, since I should not have too much sugar.  The roast dinner pictured was served at The Acorn pub and restaurant on The Square in Birchington, England.  Sadly, this establishment will be closing soon as the owners are retiring.  I can also heartily recommend the roast dinner at The Smuggler, another fine old eatery located on the Canterbury Road near the square in Birchington.

Jurassic Coast

16728575866_c806b3d3a7_o

Cliffs at Swanage beach

 

While visiting England this month, I took a quick trip with my mum down to Bournemouth and from there across the chain ferry at Poole to Swanage, the beginning of the Jurassic Coast.  This 95-mile section of coastline along the south-west edge of England is designated a World Heritage site–right along with Stonehenge, The Sphinx, and the Taj Mahal.  The coast is special because in this area the exposed rock cliffs date to the Mesozoic Era, including the Jurassic, and are loaded with fossils of the time.  A leisurely beachcombing walk can yield a treasure of stones containing the fossilized remains of plants and animals that lived 250-65 million years ago.

The cliffs at Swanage Beach date mostly to the Cretaceous Period, 125-90 million years ago, the end of the Mesozoic.  The oldest rocks, from the Triassic in the 250 million year old range, are found at the far west end of the Jurassic Coast in Devon.  The land feature is unusual because the layers of earth were tilted in this area of England, lifting and exposing very old rock that is usually hidden far below the surface.

16567063638_40fec71dbc_o

Four small stones containing fossils, found on the Swanage beach. The largest is about 4″ across.

I strolled the long, yellow sand beach at Swanage for two hours and hunted near the cliffs for fossils, with some luck.  The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are quite unstable and tend to collapse, especially after big storms cause erosion.  This can make for unsafe conditions.  The day I visited was sunny and dry, with no large amounts of water running off the cliffs and the tide was at the lowest ebb.  I felt fairly safe getting a close-up view.  All the erosion causes stones from the cliffs to be broken apart, pulled onto the beach and smoothed by the waves to produce fine small specimens.

The best fossil remains are reported to be at the far north end of the beach in the chalk cliffs.  The chalk also represents the youngest rock formations.  I wanted older fossils so I searched farther south.  I found several very interesting small rocks and an area where larger sandstone boulders had fallen to the sand, revealing the fossilized seabed trapped within the rock.16567205450_ceac282587_o

Some of the fossils I collected include what seem to me to be small members of the coral family, echinoids, possibly gastropods and mollusks, and perhaps crinoids.  I am no fossil expert.  16568319569_6222dd4c52_o16753374182_53d0629f0b_o

The large sandstone boulders that have broken open appear to contain crinoid fossils, the long tubes could have been the stems of the animals.  The small pale yellow sandstone rock specimen, in the bottom left of the photo of four stones above, could be the fossilized remains of the feathery tops of crinoids.  16728761966_47cecc0441_oThe tube-shaped creature in the hard blue-gray stone I found washing in the surf zone is a common form of fossil that I have seen in the UK and on the US west coast.  I am not certain what this life form was and prefer not to speculate for fear of being mistaken.

16567328250_d5ac85a108_o

Preserved tree, possible soft jet, the longest piece about 6″.

Another rare find were bits of wood that the waves had broken from a small tree buried in the cliffs.  If this placement is to be believed, the tree became entombed millions of years ago.  Yet, the fragments appear nearly wood-like with the grain still visible.

The specimens seem to be a type of soft jet, wood that was preserved under severe pressure and not turned to stone, or petrified.  The wood is inundated by veins of harder sandstone mixed with pyrite.  The pyrite is so bright and shiny that is is easy to see why it is called fool’s gold.  16134753673_bf7243d670_oIf the location of this ancient log (encased in hard sandstone at the base of a fifty foot tall cliff) is any indication, then the wood is millions of years old.  The color is a brownish-black and the texture is fragile, easily crumbled.

This perfectly preserved wood may be my favorite find of the excursion.

Visiting England

DSC02716

This is written from Birchington in Kent, England where I’ve been visiting my mum for the past few days.  I wanted to share a couple of my favorite British foods.  Above are Scotch Eggs.  I LOVE these.  They are not readily available in America, but are so common in England they can be purchased in the cold food cases of small shops, even drug stores.  A Scotch egg is made by wrapping a hard boiled egg in a shell of spiced pork sausage meat.  The meat is lightly breaded and the whole assembly is deep fried until the sausage is cooked.  These eggs may sound peculiar, but believe me, they are delicious!  Eaten warm or cold, two make a very filling lunch or breakfast.DSC02742

Another must meal while I visit Britian is fish and chips.  The country is heavily populated with shops selling breaded, fried fish filet with thick cut potato fries.  The meal can be served to go, wrapped in paper, including old newspaper.  I prefer to eat a nice fish and chips meal at a sit-down restaurant, preferably with a cup of tea.  The meal above was serve with mushy peas, a side dish of dried green peas that have been soaked in soda water overnight and boiled to soften.  They have the taste and consistency of a very thick green pea soup, delicious.  I like my chips seasoned with malt vinegar and salt.  This particular fish and chips meal was at the Bournemouth branch of the Harry Ramsden restaurant chain.  These people know how to do this dish right.  The batter coating is perfect:  light, crispy and no absorbed fat.  My mother swears their chips are the best she’s ever had (and she’s eaten a lot of chips!)