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Xmas ewe.gif (10735 bytes)December 1998

With Christmas just two weeks away, we received an early present in the form of two inches of much needed rain this week... ending one of the worst drought seasons here in Rockbridge County in over one hundred years!  Ron jokes that had this kept up much longer, he would have been able to walk down to the pond and just pick up a catfish or two for breakfast.  Happily, we have enough hay in the barn to get us through the winter months.  The girls have been on hay since September and are once again in their delicate condition.  Hopefully, Big Ed will sustain his record for another year.  We introduced Hi-Five (Elizabeth's favorite ram, and a half brother to Big Ed) to two of our girls this year... his first outing at stud.  We are curious about how the fleece from this breeding experiment will turn out.  Ed continued his winning ways, taking a second at Maryland Sheep and Wool 25th Anniversary Festival.

Vansandts and friends

Neighbors Kerry and Elmer Vansant with grandson Steven and woolly friends.

We also entered Ed's and another fleece from one of our ewes in the 25th North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky, where they took a fourth and third respectively.  It's nice to know that our flock can hold its own against competition from farm flocks that have been around for many years.  This past spring, we had our best lambing season thus far: fourteen ewe lambs and seven ram lambs.  Finally, our flock size is large enough that we were actually able to sell some of our prime spring ewe lambs and yearling ewes as breeding stock to some nice folks from North Carolina.  At last report, their yearling ewes are expected to deliver their first lambs this spring.

Big brother, little sisterThe really big news this year centers around the arrival of Gina Elizabeth, our second grandchild!  She was a tad anxious to get here and made her debut a few weeks early, but she's doing just fine and made her first visit down to the farm, along with brother Adam, mom and dad, and uncle Alex to help usGina in the wetbar Jacuzzi celebrate our Thanksgiving.  That made the conclusion of our fourth year here on the farm extra special.  Here Gina is enjoying a bath in the “wet bar Jacuzzi,” courtesy of her mom.  As you can see from his beaming expression, Adam is relishing his role as Gina's big brother.   Adam had quite a ‘to do’ list during his visit, including milking a cow.   Adam and friendThanks to our neighbors across the way who operate a dairy farm, Adam actually did get to milk a cow!   Here he is afterward, letting one of the heifer calves clean up his fingers.

Once again, this year we have enjoyed visits from many of our old friends, and have  also made many new friends.  Just this past October, we sold three of our young ewes to a couple from Amherst, Virginia.  Jay and Louise, it turns out, were transplanted from Berlin, Massachusetts, home town of our friends Carl and Elaine Wickstrom!  Small world.   We had also sold several ewes and Ron's bottle baby ram (the twerp) to Harry and Amy Scheuer, transplanted from Lincoln, Massachusetts, who we had met last year. 

Society of Massachusetts Refugees

Carl, Elaine, Jay & Louise standing, Ron, Elizabeth, Amy and Harry.

Well, with Carl and Elaine arriving in just a few weeks for their annual work-a-week vacation here on the farm, the opportunity was too good to pass up, so we held the first annual Society of Massachusetts Refugees dinner just before Thanksgiving.  Carl and Elaine were the guests of honor since, although Carl just retired from Raytheon, they are still among the un-transplanted!  Ron pronounced that they were here to remind the rest of us why we left Massachusetts for the ‘good life’ here in the valley!  It was an evening of spirited discussion and probably the most ‘politically incorrect’ gathering ever held in these parts!  This summer, we had an opportunity to renew a long-lost friendship with an old college friend of Ron's, Steve Dunlap.

The three Cheshires.

Ron, Pat and Steve:   the three Cheshires!

Ron while cleaning out his desk ran across an old business card from his days as General Manager of the college radio station at Virginia Tech.  This triggered a stroll down memory lane and a search on the internet turned up Steve.  Ron and Steve had been out of contact since their days at Tech,  thirty-five years earlier!  It was a great weekend when Steve and his wife Pat came for a visit.  Pat commented on how remarkably similar the two were, and we had a good time recalling the good old days. The weekend was all too short with many lines of discussion left unfinished. We won't wait quite so long to get together the next time!  Steve and Pat are building their retirement home near the Chesapeake Bay, and we get regular updates via e-mail.  They also get back to Tech regularly for alumni football weekends.  We just had an opportunity to spend a weekend at Tech ourselves while attending a sheep production seminar and it was the first time that Ron had time to spend walking around the campus since his college days.  Ron had transferred to the University of Maryland, while Steve remained to graduate from Tech.  It was another trip down memory lane, particularly when the fire alarms went off at 2:00 AM!  Some things on college campuses never change... in spite of the excitement, Ron got some good tips for improving our forage pastures and hopes to put some of the ideas into action early next year. 

Rock hound and friends!

Ron, Mac and Ernie.

Also this summer, friends Ernie and Vera Schlichter finally made it down for a visit.   Ernie and Ron love to talk woodworking, but Ernie's true passion is rock hounding.   An avid mineral collector, he and Vera checked out some of the local caverns and on the way home to Massachusetts, they stopped off in Washington to take in the new mineral and gem collection recently opened at the Smithsonian.   In early October, Don and Betty Macdonald made it to our “Walton's Mountain,” as Betty described it.   Don, who retired from Allied Signal's Communication Division, used to work with Ron on a joint program with Raytheon.  We hadn't seen them since Don's retirement several years before Ron left Raytheon.  Strangely enough, Don's old division is now part of Raytheon's defense operations.  Both Don and Betty thought we seemed perfectly at home on our little mountain!

For those of you who are new to our Web Page, one of the major undertakings this year has been the startup of a Fiber Arts Studio and on-line internet catalog.  Elizabeth will be conducting several spinning and weaving workshops during the coming year and we have been busy getting the lower level of the house ready for the shop.  We have already sold several spinning wheels and other accessories and hope to expand that success considerably with the internet On-Line Studio shop.   Ron has become the resident Web Page design expert and has somehow, thus far, avoided putting his fist through the monitor screen.  Fortunately, the office is still in the bunkhouse, well out of earshot of Elizabeth's studio!  In July, Elizabeth made it to Convergence 98, a fiber festival that was held in Atlanta this year, and came away with lots of enthusiasm and ideas for things that Ron can build in his workshop!  Another major milestone this year was grass!  We have a front lawn, brick sidewalk and stone staircase.  In spite of the drought, with some judicious sprinkling, Ron managed to keep the grass alive through the long dry summer.  The kitchen is almost finished.  Ron is putting the finishing touches to the work island and we opted for a ceramic tiled countertop instead of solid laminated walnut.

Ron finally let go of some of his boys this spring.  It was hard.  We still have three of the gang left, Bear, Mac and Wil.   Roy isn't too far away, visits frequently ... sometimes planned, sometimes on his own initiative!  Wil managed to break a canine tooth and ended up at Tech's Veterinary College for dental surgery.  Four and a half hours later, he was out of surgery having undergone a root canal.

Ron, Gailen and the boys.

Ron with Mac stretched behind Roy, Wil, Bear and Gailen.

Bear, who was born deaf, has been a special challenge.  He has great  instincts for working the sheep, but must have visual cues to work effectively.  We've developed a special set of hand signals and are working with him every day.  Our biggest fear is that he will get hurt.  We had a close call this summer when Bear was running with Wil at full tilt across a pasture that Ron was mowing.  Wil could hear the tractor in the high grass, but Bear never saw the tractor and crashed right into one of the front tires.   Fortunately, Ron saw what was coming and was able to slow the tractor almost to a stop.  Just a few bruises for Bear, but a big scare for Ron.  Wil is turning out to be very good with the flock and is almost a natural.  Mac has a little too much enthusiasm (he collects wool!) and needs more time with Ron away from his brothers.

We also spent time this spring recovering a large field that had gone fallow over the past nine or ten years: first cutting the cedar and locust trees, mowing the brush, then spraying to kill off the old crop of fescue grass and replanting the field with orchard grass and clover.

Ron and his Mean Machine

Gailen, Ron and Ron's new Mean Machine!

Ron's tractor wasn't quite up to the task of pulling the ‘no-till-drill’ planter and so we had to press a neighbor, Elmer Vansant, into service with his large field tractor.  Fortunately, we got the field established before the worst of the dry weather hit us and although we didn't get any hay from the field this year, we have a fine stand of grass that should yield most of the hay we will need next year.  Ron grumbled about not having a large enough tractor... who would have ever thought we would need a bigger one?  After talking to some of our farming neighbors and a few tractor salesman, Ron called our old friend Tony Shaw, up in Massachusetts and before long, Ron was on his way north to trade in the old machine for a ‘real tractor!’

We allowed a number of our friends to hunt the farm again this year, and our freezer is once again filled with venison.  Psssst... it's hunting seasonA friend's father, Ron Gardner, returned for another week this year, and although he got a nice eight point buck, he missed the big one.   He seemed a bit disturbed as he came back to the bunkhouse one afternoon, describing the buck he had missed and complaining that he must have knocked his scope out of alignment on the trip down from Maryland.  He went out to re-sight his scope and came back a while later with four shots dead center in the target.  “I found out what was wrong with the gun,” he said, “It had a bad case of buck fever!”  We had a good laugh about that.  Our hunting friends know that we have the best equipped deer stand in the county; two and a half baths with a Jacuzzi!   Above is a view from our deck, one morning in the middle of hunting season.   Its an amazing fact that there are more deer in Virginia today than when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown!

To all of our friends who couldn't be with us this year, we hope that this virtual visit to our little farm will inspire you to make the trek sometime during the coming year.  Until then...


Our very best wishes for the holiday season and for the coming new year !

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