26 February 2009

Interesting article

The economic news these days can be a lot to absorb, and much of it is hard to follow. Once you do get the gist of it, it's hard to know what to do besides shrug and hope for the best.

I found an interesting article today that discusses the ideas of wealth and investment in light of the current economic situation, and actually has some practical advice:

Money ... is not wealth. It's a social mechanism for distributing wealth. It means nothing unless there's real wealth – actual, nonfinancial goods and services – to back it up. In a healthy market economy, there's a rough balance between the amount of money in circulation and the amount of real wealth produced annually, and so the confusion between money and wealth can slip by unnoticed. When money and wealth get out of sync with one another, problems sprout...

... put your money into something that will actually be useful: training in practical skills that will make you employable in a deindustrializing economy, for example, or extra insulation so you can keep your home livable with less energy. At this point in history, the belief that it's possible to have your money make your living for you is basically a delusion; it's likely to be a fairly persistent one, but those who can shake themselves free of it and adjust to life in a radically different economic reality are likely to do better than those who keep on chasing the prospects of an age that is ending around us.

from The Archdruid Report

Sure, dollars in the bank are great. But what happens when the 'things' that those dollars are supposed to represent change in value? When food or fuel becomes more scarce, and therefore more expensive? Will you feel 'wealthy' when the dollars don't mean what they once did?

One of the comments on the Archrduid's blog expressed that particular idea very clearly:
I was, after all, a billionaire at age 10, and at the same time I had to wait in long lines for bread, (cooking) oil, etc.; hyperinflation combined with shortages will make that sort of thing happen. (Yugoslavia, early nineties.)

Ah, yes, Yugoslavia. And Russia before that. I fervently hope that we do not see such times as those anywhere again, and yet I find that hope alone is not enough to help me sleep easy at night. I can't change the way the big picture is going to play out, so my actions have to be close to home. For our family, action means working hard to pay off debts while the dollars still have their accustomed meaning, building up our infrastructure with possible changes in fuel or electrical availability in mind, and growing our skills in food production and preservation while we still have Safeway for backup in case we mess up.

Not everyone lives on a little farm like we do, so what you do to help ensure security for your family may look different. For inspiration, think about how things were for our grandparents and great grandparents: around here, just about everyone had a little garden, canned food in the fall, and shopped locally from people they knew who had bigger gardens, or dairy cows, or chickens. Nothing stops us from doing those things again, and shopping at your neighbour's place or local farmer's market means that you're encouraging local growers to keep doing what they are doing. That in turn means that if some day, for some reason, the trucks can't make it to your supermarket, well, you already have a source for eggs and zucchini.

(Okay, you're right, the problem is not going to be where to find zucchini, it's going to be figuring out where to get rid of all the extras you grew! Hint: grated zucchini dehydrates really well.)

24 February 2009

Planning the garden

It is the time of year to be thinking about the garden, and what will be planted where and how much of each. My seeds are already in from Salt Spring Seeds, and I have some more to order from Alberta Nurseries.

Today on Sharon Astyk's blog, I found a link to a web page about Lasagna Gardening: now THIS is what I need!

Plans for this year include creating several new square foot beds, a few narrow beds for vertical plants like peas, beans and raspberries, and growing potatoes and tomatoes outside of the raised bed structure in 'piles' along the sides of the garden. The garden area encompasses quite a lot of rather firmly entrenched grasses (this is old pasture land, after all) and I was *really* not looking forward to digging all of that up and trying to extinguish the grass.

Well, here we are: a way to build a new bed *without* having to do all that digging. Yippee!

And we just happen to have a two (or maybe three) year old bale of old moldy hay in there, waiting to serve as mulch and organic matter. Woohoo!

Is it time to start the seedlings yet? It's gotta be almost time ....

22 February 2009

Fibre Workshop

Several of our district 4-H sheep members came to our house today for a 'fibre workshop' - a chance to see first hand all the neat things you can do with wool.

Hanging around the room were knitted and woven things of many descriptions: shawls, bags, scarves, mats, and even a knitted blanket. Piled on tables were hand dyed and naturally coloured fleece batts and skeins of handspun yarn. Work in progress was on the loom, the wheel was ready to use, three drop spindles awaited students, and boxes of wool and llama and alpaca fibre were set out for everyone to feel and compare.

We talked about the different types of fleece, and how to recongize a good fleece when you see one - and how to raise your sheep so their fleeces have more value to spinners. We stuck our hands in boxes of wool and discovered lanolin, and crimp, and the flyaway fuzziness of the non-wool fibres that lack lanolin. We tried hand carders, combs, and the drum carder, and got everyone to spin a bit on the drop spindle ... and one of the sheep leaders to spin on the spinning wheel!

Last but not least, everyone was given a bit of yarn and some knitting needles (sharpened and sanded chopsticks) and shown how to do basic garter stitch knitting. Several of the kids did really well, and a few were so deeply engrossed in the work that they took their needles and wool home for further experimentation. One girl fell in love with the wheel and had to be pulled away by her mom when it was time to go home ... I sent her off with a drop spindle, as I sense a new fibre addict in the making and I want to encourage that when I see it!

The sheep leader who set up the event offered to bring me a 'bag of wool leftover from last year', and I said that wool is always welcome in this house!

I was expecting, say, a garbage bag full .... not a fifty pound burlap sack!

The first fleece from the sack is already soaking. :) Woohoo, more wool!

Gettin' bigger every day

The Boy is nearly 13 (heavens, where did the time go? I am sure he was a tiny baby just a little while ago...), and Caleb is four and a half months old now. Both are growing fast, and very energetic but really quite well behaved, for an almost teenager and a puppy. :)

Open Adoption ... for a beagle

We went to visit Duggan at his new home on Saturday ... he is livin' the life of luxury! He's allowed on the couch, he has his own cushion on the floor, and his water bowl is beautiful blue pottery ... quite the step up from an old ice cream bucket. :)

When we walked in, he came right up and said hello like any polite dog ... and then he recognized us! He was wagging his tail and inhaling our familiar scents and was clearly very happy to see us. His new people said he hasn't greeted anyone else like that! Duggan spent a few minutes saying hi to all of us, and then as we moved into the house for a cup of coffee, he just meandered about, being his usual calm self. I called him by his old name and his head came right up and he came over to me - but apparently when his new family called "Duggan!" he ignored them. Apparently he knows which voices go with each of his names. :)

Duggan's new family are wonderful people, and clearly love having him in their home. They live in a beautifully renovated farm house and have a couple of horses and a lovely property. He is definitely looking older, but he seems to be in really good condition. The vet's still investigating a few things, but it seems like he's doing well for an older beagle.

There are just so many 'near misses' it's amazing - Duggan's Person (Miss Ruby) was hospitalized in the same hospital we took Dinosaur Boy to for his IV treatments, and Duggan would have been there visiting her at the same time we were there. And, the people who initially found and hosted him (and put up the signs that they'd found a beagle) are the family that we get grass fed beef from ... but we only started dealing with them recently, so it was long past the time Duggan had gone to his new home. Clearly he was where he needed to be. The Reluctant Farmer said, "I always told him he needed to get a job ... and so that's what he did. That's the first time he listened to me!"

We have a great 'open adoption' arrangement with the new family ... they'll keep us updated on Duggan's doings, and we are welcome to go and visit him at their home. What a wonderful happy ending for everyone.

18 February 2009

Miss Ruby's Dog

Miss Ruby was getting on in years. She lived by herself, and decided that a beagle puppy would be the just the right companion for her. Having come to this conclusion, Miss Ruby discussed the matter with her friend Evelyn, who helped Miss Ruby by driving her to appointments and such. Together they set up a meeting with a beagle breeder to investigate the purchase of a puppy for Miss Ruby.

Shortly after this momentous decision, Evelyn saw a poster with a picture of a beagle dog that had been found nearby. A phone call revealed that the dog had been around for about a week, no one had claimed him, and he was in need of a new home. Well, this was a perfect opportunity for Miss Ruby. She wanted a beagle, and here was one practically on her doorstep in need of a place to live!

Miss Ruby had picked out a name for her new beagle pup before she even met him: Obama. Evelyn transported the lost beagle from his temporary home to Miss Ruby's house, and he settled right in, happy to have someone to love who loved him in return. Miss Ruby figured that Obama was an angel sent to keep her company.

As summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter, Miss Ruby became more and more unwell. Eventually, she had to leave her home and go into the hospital for what was likely to be the last time. Evelyn took Obama home with her, and together they visited Miss Ruby at the hospital almost every day. The patients were happy to see this cheerful beagle trotting down the corridors, and the nurses loved him so much that they'd even allow him to stay with Miss Ruby while Evelyn ran out to do a few errands.

At the end of January, Miss Ruby passed away. Evelyn decided that she wanted to continue the work she and Obama had begun, visiting patients at the hospital, by having Obama certified as a pet therapy dog. The first step was a thorough vet check, so Evelyn located a vet she'd used before for her horses and took Obama in for a visit.

In the course of his phyiscal exam, the vet discovered that Obama was healthy, with clean ears, a decent weight (for an older beagle), and ... that he had a microchip embedded. He was someone's lost pet, not just an abandoned dog. Evelyn was heartbroken ... if Obama had a family that loved and missed him, he'd need to go back and their time together would be at an end.

The vet took Evelyn's contact information and headed to her office to make a phone call.

And my phone rang.

Obama the beagle is Duggan, and the vet is my own vet, who knew that Duggan had disappeared last Canada Day and that all our efforts to locate him had been fruitless. She told me how Duggan had been found several kilometers west of our house and adopted by an older lady who had adored him until her passing last month, and how the lady's friend had inherited him and had brought him to the clinic as the first step twoards having him certified as a therapy dog. Doctor Vet said Duggan was clearly very much loved in his new home ... and that the people were heartbroken at the thought of having to send him back.

Well, there was just no question what to do. If Doctor Vet says that the people have been taking good care of him and obviously love him, well, I know it's true. If Duggan can have a career as a therapy dog, sharing his happiness with people who need the comfort and joy that an open-hearted beagle has to offer, then he should have a chance to do the work he's so well suited for.

We couldn't possibly want anything more for Duggan than to know that he is well loved and enjoying his life, and even more, to know that his life enriches the lives of so many others.

I phoned Evelyn and heard the whole story from her. She says she can't think now why she didn't check for a microchip right at the start. I think she just wasn't meant to: Miss Ruby needed Duggan, and it was his job to be there for her. We loved him and missed him, but he was needed where he was. Now that his job with Miss Ruby has ended and his new career is about to begin, it's the perfect time for us to find out that he's alive and well ... and only a few kilometers away, living with people who are good to him, who love him, and who want to give him a career helping people in need of a dog's unconditional love.

Duggan's new family have invited us to come and visit, and we can't wait to see him in his new home and meet these wonderful people. Their generous hearts had room not only for Miss Ruby when she needed them, but also for Duggan, when he lost Miss Ruby.

We were so sure that Duggan had met his end. To find out that all this time he's been bringing happiness and comfort to people who need it so much, and that he is just around the corner with such kind people is just more wonderful than any of us could have hoped for.

(In keeping with our custom, all of the human's names have been changed.)

14 February 2009

Lessons from illness

This infection has hit much harder than you'd expect from a few bacteria camped out in the tiny space inside my ear. It's been a full week now, and although I am able to be out of bed for a normal day, I am still unable to do any physically demanding work ... even sitting at the loom to weave would be enough to exhaust me. It has been a long, slow week.

The day after our late night run to the emergency room, I slept. The whole day. The Reluctant Farmer had a class to attend, and was worried that I probably shouldn't be home without another adult to watch over me, so my mom came and spent the day here. While I lay in bed sleeping, my mother and my son cleaned the house, scrubbing under the sink, washing laundry, sweeping floors, chasing dust bunnies. As we are close to the time of year when spring cleaning is scheduled, this is not really the ideal time to have anyone else puttering around in the really disgusting nooks and crannies of my house ... it's even more embarassing than usual. The truth is things are pretty dirty around here most of the time, and it's hard to keep up. A small illness or a series of other obligations can put house cleaning seriously behind.

My mother is an excellent house keeper. She is also a very generous person, and sees cleaning my house while I sleep off a shot of Demerol to be a gift she can give me, not an imposition. Yet, for me, accepting gifts of service from others is surprisingly difficult.

The Reluctant Farmer and The Boy have spent a whole week bringing me drinks, doing my chores, making sure I take my medicine on time, letting me sleep. My coworkers have filled in for me, picking up loose ends and handling things I would normally take care of ... and one of them even made a delivery run out to the house to bring me some things that I'd left in the office and had need of.

All this kindness is difficult to accept, somehow, even though I know that nobody who has helped me feels imposed upon, or is angry with me for needing their assistance. Yet somehow I can't help but feel like it is somehow wrong to require help, wrong to ask anything of others, wrong to be in need ... even though it is patently obvious that I cannot do these things for myself right now.

I seem to have this delusional belief that if I were just strong enough, or dedicated enough, or smart enough, then I would never need help from other people. Now, this is plainly ridiculous. I don't hold anyone else to that standard: when I see someone who needs a hand, I offer it, without ever thinking of them as weak or unmotivated or stupid. I mean, we all need help sometimes.

So why do I resist so strongly when it is me who needs the help? I don't think anyone else should have to do things all on their own. Why should I expect it of myself?

Because I don't like having to need anyone else. It is scary. What if I need them and they aren't there? What if they get mad at me for needing so much and then they go away and I'm left all alone? Silly fears, I suppose, but they are there. So I want to pretend that I don't need anyone, that I can do this all by myself. But it always turns out that I can't do this all by myself ... and then I get frustrated and berate myself for being too weak, too lazy, or too stupid to get by on my own.

But you see, that's all untrue. I am strong - well, I'm not physically very strong, but my body does function reasonably well and I can do most ordinary tasks. Even when I'm at my best I can't do heavy lifting, and I can't do long hours of physical work either ... but why should I think that I could? I have a small body and it's not well trained. I have weak joints that need to be protected. If I push my body beyond it's limits, all I will end up doing is injuring myself and then I'll need even more help. That would be stupid. Better to share the workload with others whose bodies are better suited to the hard labour, or to take it slowly and do only what my little body can safely do in a day, and no more.

And I am dedicated - I pursue the things I believe are right and the dreams I have for myself and my family with a sometimes frightening level of obsession. I don't need help because I'm too lazy to do things on my own ... I need help because my dreams are even bigger than what one person to realize all on her own.

And, I am smart - I read, research, and generally make well-informed decisions. When I need help to figure something out, it's not because I'm too dumb to do it by myself ... it's because I'm smart enough to ask for more input so that I can make a better choice in the end.

It can be so very hard to be a friend to yourself,though. It's so easy to beat yourself up, to let that little voice in your head start ranting about how you're weak and lazy and stupid. I'd never speak to a friend that way ... in fact, I'd never speak to a stranger that way ... so why would it be okay to talk to myself like that?

It's not.

So ... yeah, I need a lot of help right now. Someone else has to feed the sheep today. Someone else needs to mop the floors this week. Someone else needs to empty the dishwasher this evening.

But this is why we live in families, in communities, and not as solitary, lonely people. There is someone else to do the jobs this week that I cannot do - several someone else's in fact, and they are all willing to help. Some other week, when it's their job that remains undone because they are sick or preoccupied or grieving or busy, well, then it will be my turn to help.

Today, though, it is my turn to be helped, and I need to accept the help with as much grace as I would give it, were it the other way around.

After all, it's really not so hard to say "thank you for helping me, I really needed it".

And to smile when I say it.

08 February 2009

Modern Medicine

I just finished listening to an audio book set in medieval England, right around the time of the Black Death. The best cure for a sick person was to lie on a straw pallet near the front of the monastery hospital, near the altar, where the saint's bones could give you the most benefit while you recovered from the physician monk's "treatment" of bleeding the bad humours out of your veins.

I am remarkably thankful for modern medicine.

Thursday night I developed a bit of a stuffy head ... nothing really unusual or surprising, it's winter, and colds are common. I rinsed my nose with the neti pot and that brought considerable relief, as did the Advil I took to ease the discomfort at the back of my throat. Friday morning, during the drive to work, my left ear started to plug up. At the office, it felt like I had water stuck in my ear, like after swimming. I had body aches and a stubbornly plugged ear, but I was managing with lots of Advil, and finally a Tylenol Sinus tablet. By the time I got home, though, the ear pain was quite a bit worse. I lay on a Warm Thing (the family term for a barley bag heated in the microwave), and hoped for relief. Then the shivers started. I got into bed, and The Boy heated every warm thing we have and packed them around me. After about an hour of this, I decided perhaps I was actually sick.

I asked The Reluctant Farmer to call the local health hotline and see what the nurses thought. This is a wonderful service provided by our health region: you can phone in 24 hours a day and reach a health nurse who will ask questions about the symptoms and let you know what you can do for at-home treatment, if you need to see a doctor right now, or if it can wait until morning. The very nice nurse on the other end of the line walked us through a list of questions, and recommended that we head up to the nearest emergency room rather than wait for morning. This wasn't really what I was hoping to hear, but as the pain kept ramping up and the tears started coming to my eyes, I figured it was probably the right thing to do.

In the emergency room they found my fever was up to 39C, and my ear drum close to rupturing. Okay, I suppose that's why I didn't feel so great. They shot me up with Demerol (mental note: never take Demerol without an antinauseant ...), gave me Tylenol 3s for when that wore off, and some heavy duty antibiotics. The remainder of Friday passed in a rather uncomfortable blur (mostly due to the queasiness), Saturday was spent passed out in bed while my mom and The Boy cleaned the house (The Reluctant Farmer was away at a course), and by this morning, I am able to eat some of the Jello and custard my mom made for me yesterday. I can actually stay upright for a few minutes at a time, which seems to be a significant improvement, but it's still easy to get exhausted.

So, it's back to bed for me, with more prayers of thanks that we no longer bleed people to get rid of the 'evil humours in the blood' ... and that we have drugs to control fever and infection.

Next lamb!

The Reluctant Farmer went out to check on everyone this morning and found this little ram lamb with his mama, Cola.

Cola's a two-winter, so we'd hoped she'd give us twins but ... we'll take one healthy lamb, too. :)
He has lovely colouring - his fleece is a mix of brown and white (the wool is actually brown - lots of the newborn lambs look darker just from birth fluids and such, but he really has coloured fleece). I'm not sure where the brown came from ... but it's very pretty! It'll be intersting to see how that grows out.
We'll call this little one Enterprise. ;)

02 February 2009

Scottish Wool Shawl: finished!

When my sister and her husband were in Scotland, one of the missions undertaken was to find some wool to send back to me (my sister is a great enabler of my wool addiction: on a trip to Ireland, she drove around the countryside searching for sheep, and eventually managed to talk a shepherd in the midst of shearing his flock out of some raw fleece!).

This lovely yarn really wanted to be worked up in stockinette stitch ... that's about as plain as you can get in the knitting world, but I swatched it in several different patterns and this was the only one that worked to show off the little nubs of colour embedded in the yarn.
So, with a scale and a swatch and a calculator, I figured out a pattern that would produce a long shawl, wide enough to keep my back and upper arms covered and long enough to wrap all the way around my body. I knew I wanted the finished shawl to be nearly 6 feet long, and by weighing and measuring the sample I was able to extrapolate how much wool would be needed to create the finished product ... and, I had enough. The pattern is a simple repeat of plain stockinette with two purl stitches inserted every twenty stitches: nothing fancy, but the purl ribs give the plain knitting a bit of definition and add some visual interest. Four sets of twenty knit stitches with two purl stitches on either side of each knitted band ... repeat for six feet. Yes, it took awhile to knit, but it's a nice easy pattern, something you can work on while thinking of something else, and very restful to work on.
There was enough green wool to make the body of the shawl, and enough blue to make a border all around (which not only looks nice, it also stabilizes the edge). The blue edging is crocheted, although the finished work looks a lot like knitting as I used a single crochet stitch, not wanting any loops or picots along the side. The blue really brings out the colour in the green wool, and there was just enough to make for four rounds of crochet around the edge: the tiny ball of leftover blue yarn would fit in a toddler's hand.
Of course, I love the finished product all the more because I know this wool came from across the ocean, and was diligently searched out by a sister who loves me enough to find the perfect present when she is on vacation (enough, even, to sweet talk the shopkeeper into parting with wool she didn't even have on display: this precious stuff was stashed away in a back room and only offered for sale when the tale of the wool-crazed sister in Canada was relayed).
So, many thanks to my wonderful sister for the great yarn, and to her wonderful husband for his part in wool-chasing excursions across Europe!

Weaving tricks

When weaving, the yarn has to be passed back and forth from side to side. The wool is normally wound onto a device called a shuttle, which comes in a number of shapes, the most common that I've seen being a boat shuttle. The boat shuttle looks like a little wooden boat with a small bobbin in the centre, around which the yarn is wound. As you pass the shuttle through, the yarn unwinds and fills the space in the weaving.

Well, I haven't got a shuttle, but I do have a lot of metal knitting needles that aren't being used (I prefer bamboo, but I inherited a fairly large stash of metal needles, so I have quite a few of them around). Wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle provides a nice bobbin of yarn, and the needle is long enough to pass comfortably through the weaving, without requiring me to stretch my arms into the opening or stick my fingers between the warp threads. So, for me, they solve the problem quite nicely.

Wrapping the yarn onto the needle is a slow process, though. So, I came up with a solution:

The drill's jaws hold the pointy end of the knitting needle quite handily, and on slow speed it twists at a nice pace. The hand that isn't holding the drill moves the yarn up and down the needle to spread it out evenly, and when the finished product looks sort of like a yarn corn dog, and it's not too fat to fit in the shed, then you're done!

Another great thing about using the needle for a shuttle is that you can set it on the tray in front of the loom and just tug on the loose end of yarn to unwind enough for the next pass through the shed, an easy trick to accomplish with one hand.