28 November 2010

Playing with colour

Did you know that you can use Wilton’s icing colouring to dye wool? Not acrylic yarn, or cotton, but real wool takes the colour beautifully. It’s called acid dye and you can get interesting blended colour effects by changing the pH of the solution gradually during the dye process. Remember your primary and secondary colours from art class? Well, different dyes react with the wool at different pH levels, so you can ‘break’ the colour into it’s component parts by inducing some colour to work at one pH level, then another colour at a lower pH.

Yesterday afternoon, Princess Girl and I found the icing colours in their box in the pantry (The Reluctant Farmer is a superb cake decorator, and has all this great stuff in his cake decorating supplies … some of which I think he received from my mom!).The violet colouring jar had leaked at some point in the past, so we decided we’d try that colour first: I immersed the jar in the water (with my gloves on!) and rinsed off the outer guck, and then dug out the cardboard lid liner piece which had fallen in the jar and added it to the pot. The water was a lovely dark purple and this was an experiment, so hey, in the skein went.

The skein turned a bright pink with bits of darker purple, the pink was almost like a highlighter! This was very cool. While it soaked, I plyed up more yarn and then we added more vinegar and voila, the dyebath water turned blue! We dropped in the second skein and it started turning blue with just splashes of a light purple, as the reds in the purple dye had already come out of solution and reacted with the first skein. We left both skeins in, the highlighter-pink-and-purple skein turning quite a bit darker, and the blue-and-purple getting a deeper blue. After a bit we fished out the pink and purple skein and hung it up to dry, and left the other in until the dye bath was pretty well exhausted. Rinsed everything and hung to dry:


While I was in a dyeing mood, I grabbed some horribly-salmon-pink acrylic/polyamide thrift store yarn (nice and soft and halo-ey but what an ugly colour!), skeined it up and dumped it into the pot with Rit Wine coloured dye. The dye took quite well, with the resulting yarn being a slightly variegated maroon shade, almost like cherry cola.  Here you can see the before and after – that little stray bit of pink is the original (it’s a bit more orange in real life):


Since the yarn cost me all of $7.50 for about 10 or 12 balls and the Rit dye was on sale for 25 cents at the grocery store, I feel the experiment to be a success!

27 November 2010

The Lithuanian-Canadian Wheel

The lovely Canadian Production Wheel has been working reasonably well with the original flyer, but as it was cracked and a bit wobbly, I was keeping an eye out for a possible replacement. Several eBay sellers from Lithuania post wheel bits (or whole wheels, some of which are just amazing) for sale … and I found one that ought to fit. It arrived yesterday!

It’s in really good shape - the bobbin is obviously a replacement, and had not had any finish on it at all, just raw wood: I gave it a good coat of Tung Oil and the flyer and whorl got just a light rub - the flyer itself is polished to a hard shine that feels like it’s an oil finish but maybe is just years of lanolin, not sure. Most Lithuanian wheels spent their lives spinning flax, primarily - although out in the country, wool is common.

There was some gunk on the flyer rod, but it came off with elbow grease and some assorted degunking products. The whorl is threaded just like the one on my other flyer, I can interchange them. However, the Lithuanian bobbin has a wider whorl and it’s too close to the size of my original whorl, so they don’t play nicely together (you need one smaller than the other by a decent margin to get the differential rotation effect that is needed for proper take-up). No worries though - the entire assembly works very well!

As for fit: all I really needed to do was to keep the assembly from drifting too far ‘southward’ – the length was perfect, but in use it would slip towards the spinner and that would pull the whorls out of alignment with the wheel and the drive band would fly off in a temper. The solution was simple: wind a rubber band around the flyer rod tip as a stopper, so it can’t sneak back through the ‘north’ leather loop. Tada, fixed.


It spins nicely – very smooth and even, and it’s easy to spin fine yarn (in fact I think spinning anything BUT fine yarn would be a real challenge – incentive to get my other flyer repaired better, perhaps, as I think it would be more cooperative for bulkier singles).

And now I’m off to ply some yarn!

09 November 2010

The Anyway Project: another Sharon Astyk idea

The amazing author Sharon Astyk has started The Anyway Project.

Here are the categories for the Anyway Project:

Domestic Infrastructure - these are the realities of home life, including making your home work better with less, getting organized, dealing with domestic life, etc...

Household Economy: Financial goals, making ends meet, saving, barter etc...

Resource Consumption : in which we use less of stuff, and strive to live in a way that has an actual future.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence:: The things we do that prevent us from needing to buy things, and the things we produce that go out into the world and provide for others. Not everyone will do both, but it is worth encouraging.

Family and Community: Pretty much what it sounds like. How do we enable those to take the place of collapsing infrastructure?

Outside Work: Finding a balance, doing good work, serving the larger community as much as we can, within our need to make a living.

Time and Happiness: Those things without which there's really no point.


So … how are we participating?

Domestic Infrastructure – We are preparing to get the ceiling installed in the south wing (finally), as The Reluctant Farmer now has time for that project. We also have the woodstove installations queued up – not quite certain on the timing of these, but they are the top 3 infrastructure jobs at the moment.

Household Economy – Top priority financially is getting the debts cleared. Construction creates a lot of debt, as did TRF’s retraining – but little by little, with spending less / more carefully and focusing on debt reduction, we’re making steady progress.

Resource Consumption – The woodstoves are part of this category, really – we try to use less natural gas and more wood heat. The new Baker’s Oven stove will also let us cook more easily on the stove when it’s already going for heat. I find myself moving to the South Wing of the house when I’m cold (passive solar gain really works), and we all just put on sweaters rather than increase the thermostat, which is a good start. We have more to do in this regard, but we’re aware – and that’s a beginning.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence – We try to diversify here: we have wool, lamb meat, beef, the ability to produce some of our household milk (can’t sell/share it, but it is okay for us to drink it), and we continually look for ways to diversify our income stream. In this vein, my next action is going to be getting to UFA to pick up the @*(&#$ RFID tags and tagger that I now require to ship the calf and sheep to the butcher. Really, there ought to be small farm exemptions for some of this stuff. Don’t get me started.

Family and Community  - The Reluctant Farmer is a volunteer firefighter, which really gets him involved in our community. No doubt in a low petroleum world, that’ll look different but right now, it means he meets a lot of people who also care about our community, and that is cool. I’m going to be speaking to our new councillor about ATVs and road allowances, as we have a creek that reckless quadders seem to love tromping through and I’m hoping we can get some clarification on what ‘reasonable access’ actually means. And save the poor creek bed from becoming a mudhole for pinheads on bikes. To those of you who ride responsibly: thanks. To those of you who are idiots: think harder about the impact you leave behind, eh?

Outside Work – My outside work supports industrial ag, I might as well admit it straight up. This is a difficult thing for me to reconcile with the rest of my life, but the company I work for is highly ethical, takes very good care of their employees, and allows me to do what I do well without it taking away a good chunk of my soul (all of which are not exactly common characteristics in the IT world). Yes, I’d rather we didn’t support those who sell Roundup and Total, but our customers also sell alfalfa seed, and in the current set up, this is just how things are. The Reluctant Farmer’s new career as an EMT is about to get going (insh’allah) and that will shift the balance of inputs in our household somewhat. It’s a long-term transition: I know that some day, my job simply won’t be there anymore … so we’re working on having Plan B ready for when that happens. In the meantime, we take the Devil’s money to do God’s work, as it were.

Time and Happiness – I spent the weekend doing spinning demonstrations at the local Farm Fair. It makes me happy (and it is a chance to sell The Boy’s drop spindles, too – see Cottage Industry!). I am trying harder now to make the effort to go visit the people who matter to me, because life is short, and you know, I don’t want to miss out on all the birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases. Yeah, I have to drive an hour to see them … I’m doing it anyway. Also, at work I negotiated a deal: instead of a raise, I’d take more time off. We worked out an arrangement whereby I can work fewer hours (without causing trouble for my teammates, of course) and have more time for my life. Management is happy, I am happy, it’s a good balance. I said I worked at a cool place. :)

08 November 2010

Purposeful thinking vs. listening

A friend has been working through some interesting books and such on how to make the most of your life. I truly think he’s doing something he needs to do – and I am all in favour of him considering every possible angle and finding the path to his personal best. However, some of the stuff he’s working with has really strong “positive thinking” overtones – and those always worry me. I am willing to accept that when you take the WHOLE book/story/whatever into account, they’re probably not saying what it sounds like they are saying – but ya know, Catholic theology doesn’t actually say what it sounds like it says about a lot of things either if you read the whole thing – but nobody recognizes that fact in general conversation, not even most practicing Catholics.

All of you who’ve read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Faith, raise your hands.*

Yeah, thought so.

So back to the positive thinking stuff. The problem with saying “envision where you want to go, and you will get there” is that it’s too simple – and it’s also false. I know it isn’t likely what the authors intend … but that’s the ‘sound byte’ that it all boils down to and people say “bah, nonsense”. And rightfully so. I’m sure there’s more to it, but whatever it is, I already know it doesn’t apply to me. Maybe it applies to some people, I don’t know – but for sure, it isn’t for me. Five year plans and mission statements have NO place in my life.

I’ll tell you why.

I truly, deeply, do NOT believe in planning. Really, who am I to plan my life? Who am I to say what I think OUGHT to happen? My track record proves I have no business planning my own life. Ugh.

I had a plan, oh yes I did. Everything was going great, dreams all more or less on schedule. Then my baby died, and my heart broke. I healed, mostly, had another baby who was (and still is, actually) everything I had dreamed of, and things were starting to look better … and then my husband turned into a stranger because a tumour took over his brain, and then chaos reigned in my life for several years (literally): getting through the days with the bills paid and my sanity mostly intact was more than I could manage without a lot of help. Knowing me now, you’d never guess what it was like – it was truly, truly awful. I was a mess.

Part of what made that time in my life so bad was that I was struggling with the loss of my plans. That hurt – giving up the old dreams. Plus, I kept trying to make new plans, to come up with a new vision, to find the positive – and all that happened is that I hit wall after wall.

It was only when, in absolute despair and frustration, I threw up my hands and shouted, “FINE, God, YOU handle it, I QUIT, just … fix it! I don’t care how!” … well, things seemed to go even worse for awhile … and then … somehow … slowly, and without me noticing, they turned around. And here I am – and I feel like I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I just went along with the Leadings that came to me so clearly there was no arguing with them.

I did have to participate, though. First of all, I *listened*. I shut up about what I wanted. I stopped demanding that things happen the way I dreamed they should be.

And once I did - dreams bigger and better than anything I could have come up with were given to me. Just … given. Out of a clear blue sky.

Of course, then I had to find the courage to accept the gifts. It wasn’t easy, as these new dreams were way different and big and scary and totally outside my comfort zone – but they would not leave me alone. That quiet, insistent voice said “you need to do this.” I learned what it is to truly hear the Inner Light.

But see, the key was that I had to STOP trying to plan my life. I had to STOP trying to control the outcome. I had to accept that I honestly haven’t got a freakin’ clue about what would be best for me – and to just wait and see what happens … and then, as the Quakers say, to “Proceed as Way opens”.

You can’t hear what God says to you if you won’t shut up long enough to listen. And given how noisy our world is, and how loud our minds are, it can take a long time of purposeful LISTENING to even begin to sense the Leadings that are calling to you.

Hearing that Leading and going through the long process of testing it for truth, then finally accepting it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the truest thing I’ve ever done, and has opened the door to a life richer and more wonderful than anything I could have planned for myself.

The dreams I could come up with were way smaller than what was actually out there waiting for me.

Don’t plan. Listen. Listen for as long as it takes – don’t rush into action. Stillness is powerful.

When the time is right, you will know what to do. If you don’t know what to do, the time to decide hasn’t come yet.


Proceed as Way Opens.


* Yes, actually, I have. Not in great detail, but I did read it. Comparative theology is a hobby of mine. I know, I’m weird.