30 April 2012

Stash Management: Part 3

I spent today putting up the shelves in the fibre room – which means that I first had to unload everything that was in there on the existing shelves, pile that in the living room, build the new shelves, and then reinstall things in a better order than before.
I would like to point out that ratchet drivers are awesome tools. And having a Boy who will fetch you the exact size you need is really wonderful, too.
The cleanup took all day, and I am exhausted. I was ready to quit a couple of hours ago but I really wanted it done so I pushed through. I’ll take it easy tonight.
Here’s the wall where the wire cube shelves used to be:

Wooden shelves with the Ikea bags stacked nicely along them, as well as the dye crock pot, the sewing machine and serger and assorted other things. We already had a wine rack in the room, so I was able to attach the shelves to it and get more space that way.

The cube shelves were reconfigured and reinstalled in a different spot, and I made space for the big carboys. We haven’t been doing much brewing lately, but I think we’ll probably give it another go soon. The boxes of sewing fabric and other things are stacked along the back wall, and there is actually room to walk in here now! You do still have to step carefully, but hey, you can get where you are going.
I am quite motivated to get through the processing jobs I have, as that’ll clear out three bags of fibre. I also want to process some of the fleeces I have here from my sheep and get that fibre sold or bartered away. Right now I’m doing a lot of knitting and design work, planning for the new book, so although I’ll still do some spinning (of course!) I’m not going to plow through that much fibre any time soon so it might as well be rehomed.
It does feel good to have this much progress made: there is still the closet to deal with (it is behind the door to the room, so it’s out of the way and not in the pictures!) but this will do for now.
I wonder how long it’ll last.

28 April 2012

I love my family

Today, I got to see my sister and her husband. They live 3 hours away, and with the very busy lives everyone leads, we don’t get to see one another anywhere near as often as we’d like.
However, today we got to meet up for lunch and hang out at Chapters and have coffee and visit and just be together. It was great.
My brother in law is <this close> to completing his Masters degree. He is a superb teacher of English as a Second Language, and after working hard to get his Bachelor’s degree (after many delays and challenges), he signed up for a distance learning Master’s program and has been writing papers and participating in Skype meetings pretty much every day for the last couple of years. We are so proud of the hard work he’s done!
In celebration, I needed to knit something for him. I dug through my stash of handspun yarn and found all the lonely and lost bits that were waiting to become … something. I plied all the random singles, then dyed everything navy so that it all looked like it went together, then I cast on for a lap blanket.

I just kept on knitting until I was out of yarn, and ended up with a blanket the perfect size for putting on your lap or over your shoulders while you read.

So, even though the Official Finish Line hasn’t quite been crossed, I was able to deliver this today. I am so happy to be able to knit for the people I love.
And I’ll get to do more of it, too – my sister’s birthday is coming up and as I didn’t have time to finish anything before we met up today, she was simply handed a couple of balls of yarn and asked to tell me what to make. After looking through a bunch of knitting books at Chapters, it became apparent that I’ll be making a long and narrow rectangular scarf out of this:

… which may constitute regifting, as quite a lot of the fibre this is spun from was a gift from my sister and her husband *last year* on my birthday!
I think it’s okay though.
I’ve tried three different patterns so far, and finally settled on a very simple, very plain lacy scarf. The yarn can speak for itself, and doesn’t seem to want a complicated design: something lofty, to take advantage of the fuzzy softness of the yarn, and nothing complicated, as the patterns would disappear anyway.
It’ll be a good project to alternate with the Mary Maxim contest entries that are my focus for the next six weeks – they have to be done and in Ontario by mid-June!

27 April 2012

Stash Management: Part 2

In Stash Management: Part 1, I got the yarn organized into a series of Michael’s shopping bags hanging on one wall of the fibre room.
Now, it’s time to start dealing with the rest of the mess in there.
Today, The Boy had a school event in town, not too far from the Ikea store. I dropped him off and then went to the best place around here for storage gear (and cheap lunch: spinach and cheese crepes, a salad and a drink for five bucks isn’t bad, and it’s even pretty healthy).
On to the storage gear. I picked up three sets of the tall Dimpa recycling bags, two sets of the mixed size Dimpa recycling bags, and two Gorm shelving units along with a few of the little metal baskets you can hang under the shelves (since they were on for half price today).
And, as I was picking up those little baskets, I saw the most awesome thing for fibre shows: a little hand cart with a rectangular sack that fits onto it! This is perfect for Olds, when we have to walk from the motorhome to the classroom carrying gear for the day, and also for things like the alpaca shows at Northlands, where the distance from loading bay to demo area is substantial.
Now that I’m home, the first job is to actually dig out what’s in the fibre room and put it into proper storage bags/boxes and organize everything. This naturally entails making the living room into a total disaster area … and I’ve started. I hate this part.

Yes, there is a rubber snake in my fibre. Someone I know on Ravelry told a story about hearing a rustling sound in her fibre stash one night, but thinking it was the fall leaves outside, ignored it. In the morning, there was the remains of a snake on the floor under her loom … the cat had taken care of the invader. EWWW! I totally freaked at the very thought of a snake in the fibre stash. A few weeks later she sent me the minor’s head for my great wheel cushioned with spinning fibre … and a little rubber snake. I keep it in my fibre stash to remind me of that package and how much I laughed when I opened it!
The tall Dimpa sacks – which are intended for sorting your newspapers and pop bottles for recycling – are perfect for a fleece. They are about the right size for one whole fleece and because they have rigid plastic supports in the edges, they stay rectangular and upright. This will make stacking several side by side on a shelf very easy – as opposed to the crazy wrangling necessary with garbage bags of fleece, which just slip and slide and fall off each other. There’s also a convenient spot in the front to tuck a label, so you can tell what’s in it, and you can grab the bag you want and take it to your fibre prep spot, work with it, then put the bag back … super easy to deal with.
The smaller, multisized boxes are good for smaller quantities of fibre – I have a bunch of alpaca in a couple of them, and the two tall ones at the front have white mystery rovings that look suspiciously like Custom Woolen Mills products. I use them for testing out dyes and other experiments, so it’s nice to have them easy to grab.
Sorting all of this made me realize that there’s only about three of these bags that contain stuff that doesn’t belong to me (fleeces I need to process and return to their owners). This is too much for me, so I’ll be destashing a bit – some of what’s here is going to be used as barter for other things, and some I’m going to just give away to other spinners. It’s nice to have enough to share!
Next step … dealing with the shelving.

26 April 2012


The ability to walk is something we often take for granted. Most of us are fully mobile, able to quickly dash to the other room to get something we forgot, to hike out to the barn over uneven ground without worrying, to pace the floor as we think.
Having your ability to walk suddenly impaired is a very eye-opening experience.
I have palindromic rheumatism – a mild, non-degenerative form of arthritis that flares up without any rhyme, reason, or warning, and then disappears. My ankles are the joints usually affected – one or the other, thankfully never both at once (so far), and occasionally I have troubles in my hands and wrists. Honestly, I have a very mild variety of the trouble: I can go years between flares, often the pain lasts no more than a few days, and the longest episode I had lasted a few months. Advil manages the pain, and really, it’s not so bad.
However … when my ankle gives out, putting weight on it can feel like the bones are grating against one another inside the joint. This, of course, makes walking somewhat more mindful than it is the rest of the time: every step is carefully considered, and I place my foot gently, testing the joint before shifting my weight, to see if it’ll hold without pain or not. Even during the course of a flare up, the pain will ebb and flow – I can be walking fine, then suddenly my joints are screaming at me to stop.
Now I have figured out how to walk without stressing that joint – usually. Gently testing the steps, not twisting the ankle at all, and walking on the ball of my foot rather than heel-toe, or with a careful limp that prevents the full flex of the injured ankle. None of it is particularly graceful, and sometimes, I just need a little extra support.
So, today I picked up two rubber cane tips at the drugstore ($2.99 for both of them), and went out to the stand of poplar saplings with my machete. I cut two straight and sturdy trees that looked like they could probably be stuffed into the openings of the cane tips, shaved the bark off, and shaped the ends.
I have a little bit of sanding to do, and I need to add a coat of Howards Feed-n-Wax, then they are ready for use.
If you’re local to me and you’d like one, just let me know!

25 April 2012

The new lambs

On April 20, we had twins born here: however, the mama sheep was quite sure that only one of the babies was hers, so we have a bottle lamb. He’s very cute though. :)
Here is our bottle baby, Herman:

He’s kind of a messy eater, so he has drips of milk on his face and his coat. :) And no, he doesn’t drink that whole big bottle at once – that’s a 2 L milk jug with an opening cut in the side: the big bottle fits nicely in the fence bottle holder from the feed store, and then I slide a small pop bottle with milk replacer into the milk jug. It works better than most of the other things I’ve tried!
And here is Hermans’ sister, Hattie:

Doesn’t she have the cutest markings?
This morning I opened the curtains and looked out to see a tiny white and black shape that was definitely brand new. She is so very small, smaller even than most of the ‘smaller twins’ born too our Icelandics, but she seems to be doing fine. Her mama talks to her and seems very interested, which is good, as she is a first time mother and sometimes they are a bit puzzled by the whole thing.

She and her mama are in the barn now, where they are out of the wind and rain. I think this little one will need a few days to get her strength up before she and her mama can go back in the pen with everyone else. She still  needs a name  … it’s an “H” year. What’s a good name for a tiny girl that starts with H?

24 April 2012

Stash Management: Part 1

I am going to get the fibre room cleaned up and organized, and hopefully, this time it’ll stay that way!
Proper infrastructure solves a lot of untidiness problems, and I definitely do not have proper infrastructure for all the wool and fibre I have here. I have a set of those wire cube shelves, but they are a bit wobbly and not as sturdy as one might hope … and things tend to get piled on the floor and eventually, you can’t walk in that room at all.
Part 1 of the Stash Management Plan was implemented today. I cut two 5’ pieces of 1x2 (we had some here, it’s what we use for baseboards and trim) and marked it at one foot intervals. The coat hooks I picked up at the hardware store the other day were then attached at the marked spots, and the boards screwed directly to the wall in the fibre room. I found reuseable shopping bags at Michaels (the craft store) for a dollar each, and bought ten of those for yarn storage: you can’t beat that price, and it’s easy to grab the bag that contains the relevant fibre stash (sock yarn, bulkier wool, miscellaneous acrylic for mitts and toys, cotton, warp thread, random handspun, etc.) and take the whole bag to the couch for swatching and pondering. Thus, there is now a Wall o’ Wool …

There’s also all of this to be dealt with:

Which is why I said “Part 1”.
Stay tuned for more.

23 April 2012

The frogs are back!

I can hear them singing.

That means that spring is really here! The geese have arrived, the frogs are singing, and we’ve had actual rain … not just snow. And there is grass that is starting to turn green, and any day now the trees will do that magical transformation where one moment they are brown when you glance up at them, and the next time you look, they are shimmering with green.

Yay for spring!

21 April 2012

A successful Author Visit … thank you!

I wish to express my most heartfelt thanks to all those who came out to the Author Visit today at the Darwell Library. It was so wonderful to see you all there, so many of you with works in progress in your hands, and to have the chance to talk to you and hear your stories.

Thanks to the library staff and volunteers for supporting their local author, as well. Look at the sign! Cool, eh?

Thanks again to everyone for helping me to make Just Keep Knitting a success. I love hearing from my readers, and meeting them is even more special.

Thank you all.

19 April 2012

Still not right.

I pulled the shawl out again – three more times.

The bottom edge didn’t look right. I added some saw tooth edging to the lace. Better.

Then the top border collapsed on itself. No good.

Tried again with another border.

Didn’t like how it looked. And it collapsed on itself too.

Tried yet again, with an integrated icord edge. It’s curling a tiny bit, but I think it’ll be okay. Another few inches before I’ll know for sure.

I’m not showing anyone what it looks like until I wrestle this into submission.



18 April 2012

Shawl Update

As promised, I do have a shawl update for you today … although it doesn’t look at all like what I was expecting to have for you when I mentioned it yesterday.
You see, after doing a bit more knitting, I realized that my design strategy really wasn’t working the way I had hoped. Not at all. So, I tore it all out and started over (several times) until I came up with something I am at least more satisfied with. We’ll see what it looks like when it is a bit larger. This is a tip-to-tip design, which should make good use of the self-striping effects in the yarn. The stripes at either tip of the shawl will be wide, and the stripes in the centre, where the shawl is at it’s largest, will be narrower, so there will be symmetry in the two halves of the shawl. I’m doing a fairly gentle increase to the triangular section in the middle there, so this will be almost a curved shape, not a strongly pointed triangle. The top border is garter stitch, to provide a nice grippy, uncurling neck edge, and the bottom border is some simple lace.
Won’t know for sure what it’s going to look like until it is a bit larger, but it seems to be going in a good direction now, anyway.

17 April 2012

A garden out of dead trees

Today I started an outside project: a garden out of dead trees, my son called it (to which The Reluctant Farmer said, “Well, that kind at least guarantees success…”).

It is,  of course, not a garden of dead trees. It is a garden *fence* made of dead trees. I will have to do some major repairs to the fence around the main garden that I did last year with poplar branches, but I haven’t gotten to that yet. Today I put in a few stakes below the front window and made a very low fence to contain a raised bed. The stakes provide upright supports for a few smaller branches (and some leftover stems of something that might have been sunflowers, I’m not sure, I found a pile of useful stuff beside the garden but it’s no longer recongizable). The small branches get woven in and out of the upright supports, making a bit of a fence – just enough to hold back the pile of dirt that will go inside.

I got one load of dirt in, but that was enough work for me for one day.

Now it’s time to knit: I’m working on the shawl for the Mary Maxim design competition – I should have something to show you tomorrow.

14 April 2012

More from Grandma Shirley the Great Wheel

I’ve been doing more spinning on the great wheel, as I have been feeling inclined to do a bit of walking back and forth in front of the fireplace.
This is what I have accomplished so far: the skein is the first ‘real yarn’ I spun on the great wheel, 152 metres of very nice, very soft fluffy yarn. The two little cones of singles are yesterday’s spinning – some of which I was working on while I did the video, and the rest of which I did up after supper. It really doesn’t take long at all to fill a cop (that’s the name for this little mini-cone, for the non-spinners in the crowd).

Today, I tried a new technique for plying: I made a plying ball. This seems like a wasteful extra step: you take the two singles and wind them together, under tension, onto something else (I used my lovely nostepinne, which is sadly underutilized now that I have a ball winder). The idea is to get the two singles lined up next to one another with all the tangles taken out before you start the plying process, which twists the two against one another. If your singles are stored on bobbins, and you have a tensioned lazy kate, this is not a big issue as the tension on the bobbins tends to keep the excess twist that singles need to have under control. With the singles just on a cone of paper, though, they were a bit unruly, and taking the time to wind up a plying ball made the process of plying at the wheel extremely relaxing.
I suspect that it takes the same amount of time, overall, but the frustration level is less: when I’m plying on the great wheel, I have my singles on the floor, and I’m not able to keep them evenly under tension like I do when I’m plying from my Lazy Fred or my shoebox kate at the wheel, as I keep moving around, changing the amount of tension on the yarn between my hand and the bobbins on the floor. So, the plying ball takes just a little bit of time and then I can dance at the wheel, my rhythm never interrupted by tangles in the yarn.
Here’s the second batch of yarn, measured out on the awesome PVC niddy noddy my father-in-law made for me:

The second skein is now hanging up to dry (giving the finished yarn a somewhat abusive bath in hot and cold water then whacking the skein on the bathtub several times really improves the finished yarn). This batch came out to 105 metres of yarn, so that’s 257 metres overall, spun in remarkably little time, and I’m quite happy about it. That’s enough yarn to do a pair of socks or mittens, a decently slouchy hat, a smallish shawl, or a child’s vest. Or a teddy bear.
I’ve lots more to spin though, so who knows what this will end up becoming!

13 April 2012

First person spinner video

The Boy has a really cool little camera that you can wear on a headband to take video of exactly what you are seeing (crazy people also mount them on their surfboards, or to their helmets when jumping off the sides of mountains with funky flying squirrel parachute suits, but I digress).

In probably the most sedate subject matter this particular camera has ever been applied to, I did a ‘first person spinner’ video of spinning on the great wheel. There are some lovely videos out there already – including this favourite of mine – but I thought that a close up of what the spinner sees and does with the fibre might be useful. Drafting with just one hand is a bit of a tricky thing to master, and it wasn’t until I saw this excellent video on using the Russian spindle that the pieces all clicked in my head.

And so, here’s my humble contribution to the collection of shared knowledge on the interwebs: Drafting from the Fold - Great Wheel Spinning.

Spinning on the Great Wheel, drafting from the fold

12 April 2012

Grandma Shirley gets back to work

Grandma Shirley is the great wheel that came to live at Apple Jack Creek about a year ago. She’s had her restoration work, acquired a new spindle with accellerator head courtesy of a kind Raveller, and I did a little bit of spinning on her .. though not much, really just enough to confirm that the wheel was put together properly and that I had a basic idea of what to do.
You see, to spin on a great wheel you use just one hand to control the fibre supply – the other hand is driving the wheel. Now, I do something very similar when I spin on my Canadian Production Wheel, but not quite the same: on Jacqueline the CPW, I do a supported long draw, and my forward hand is available to provide an extra nudge of pressure whenever needed. You can do this on a great wheel, but it slows things down and is frustrating if it happens all the time.
So, Grandma Shirley hasn’t gotten much use in the year she has been here.
Recently, though, I acquired a Russian support spindle and I’ve been doing a lot of spinning with it. Of course, with a support spindle, you only have one hand free to work with the fibre as well: the other hand is twirling the spindle in the dish. To use one of these ‘fancy Russian sticks for making yarn’ you put the pointed and weighted tip into a bowl of some kind (I found a couple of nice crystal dishes at the thrift shop) and spin it like a top. While it is twirling, the yarn that is twisted around and up off the pointy top end is getting more twist put into it, because of the spin of the spindle, and as you draft out the fibre with your non-spinning hand, you make more yarn. When it’s as long as your arm, you wind on. I’ll post more about this soon, I promise, it’s a wonderfully restful way to spin.
Anyway, as I was working on my spindle yesterday morning, I realized that the technique I was using would be the same thing I’d need on the great wheel, and I decided to give it a shot.
What do you know … it worked!
I was able to spin up a fair bit of yarn on the great wheel, using the skills I have practiced on my Russian spindle. In the picture below you see the Lazy Fred: it has two storage bobbins at the back containing yarn I spun on the wheel and the one bobbin lying across the stand is the first spindle full of suri alpaca / mohair blend – I wound it off the spindle and onto a Fred storage bobbin yesterday morning so I could spin some more. The Russian spindle is the pointy stick laying on the stool with more black yarn on it, and you can see the white yarn I made on the spindle of the great wheel.

Pretty neat, eh?

One of the effects of being under stress for a long time is a syndrome sometimes referred to as adrenal exhaustion. Basically, your body has made stress hormones for so long the manufacturing capabilities are all out of whack, meaning your ability to adapt to even ordinary stresses is shot until you take some time to recover. One of the recommendations for people suffering from adrenal exhaustion or recovering from long bouts of strain is to exercise gently … no hard workouts, no marathons, just gentle exercise like walking and yoga. Hard exercise (or going without food for too long, or getting overly heated or chilled) may trigger the body to think that there is a crisis, tripping the old fight or flight responses again, which is not helpful (PTSD is essentially a hyperactive fight or flight response – any little thing can send you into full blown reaction, which is not helpful when you aren’t actually being attacked). So you want to avoid tripping the crisis response, meaning you want to stay in a predictable, safe environment where your body can let go of the hair-trigger responses. Gentle exercise is part of this, and while walking back and forth while spinning on the great wheel isn’t something most people would consider exercise, it’s more than I have been doing. You take five steps back then five steps forward for every length of yarn you make, turning the wheel with one hand and reaching the other up and back and over your head then bending forward as you wind back on to the spindle. All that movement does add up … and it’s more exercise than I have been getting, so it’s an improvement even if it isn’t much of a workout. As the weather starts to improve I’ll be out in the garden and doing more, but it’s still too soggy to go for an enjoyable walk so for now, this is how I’ll walk: the same five steps, over and over again, making yarn.
I love spinning.
Yesterday, I finished two cops of singles and wound them off onto storage bobbins. Today, I will probably get around to plying them into my first real yarn spun on the great wheel.

Cool, eh?

11 April 2012


I love the Russian spindle. I love being able to sit in bed, listening to something on the iPod speakers, and spin while I get myself into ‘possibly ready to sleep’ mode. It does take me a very long time to get myself geared down and ready for sleep, and sometimes, knitting actually makes me feel ramped up – I knit very fast, most of the time, and that quick movement, while restful most of the time, isn’t really what I need just before I go to sleep.

However, I can sit in bed with the spindle and a bag of lovely fibre and flick the spindle in the dish – one quick movement – draw my arm out and up as I draft, then flick the spindle again as I wind on … and it’s amazingly soothing.


The spindle is full now, so I’ve wound off onto one of my Lazy Fred storage bobbins and I’ll start again. I did some research this morning and I think  I’ll try a plying ball when it comes time to make yarn from this … maybe I’ll even ply this one up on the drop spindle and have it completely done without the use of a wheel. Haven’t quite decided on that yet, but I have time.

There’s still a lot of fibre left to spin!

10 April 2012

Miniature Mexican Pizzas: easy supper from the pantry

A friend had posted a link to these Mini Mexican Pizzas awhile back, and I thought they looked like something my family would eat. However, I don’t usually have tortilla shells in the house, and running out to the store to pick them up is not easy when you live in the middle of nowhere like I do. Flour, though, I have … so I looked up a recipe to make your own tortillas. There are a lot of ways to do that, but this particular recipe seemed like something that would go over well, and it works with things I have in my pantry.

Of course, the whole thing got modified by the time I was done. I’ll explain what I ended up with, in case you’d like to try this at your house.

First, start the tortilla dough, since it will need some time to rest after mixing. I happen to have a breadmaker, so I used that to do the mixing as it allows me to have my hands free for other things, but there’s no reason not to simply do this on the counter with your own two hands. A mixing machine like a KitchenAid with dough hooks would do a great job as well.

  • put 3/4 cup milk in a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes (or heat in a pan until it is scalded but not boiling)
  • put 2 cups of flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt into the breadmaker and start the dough setting
  • slowly pour the heated milk and about 2 tsp oil (I used olive oil since that is what I keep on the counter) into the bread machine as it mixes
  • let the machine knead the mixture for about 10-15 minutes, then unplug the machine and just let it sit while you do the filling (or use your hands for this part, the machine is entirely optional)
  • put one can of refried beans (I intend to figure out how to make my own refried beans from dry pantry beans, but I used canned beans this time) in a mixing bowl along with a generous dash of taco seasoning and about 1/2 cup of salsa (more or less, depending how much you have, how spicy it is, etc.) and mix all that together
  • get out your muffin tins (I used both my one dozen and my half dozen tins to make 18 in total from this recipe) and generously oil all the muffin compartments
  • take your dough out of the breadmaker and divide it into 18 little balls, then set those on a damp cloth that you can flip up and over them so they can rest
  • leave everything alone for about 20 minutes … you can grate the cheese while the dough is resting (I used some jalapeno Monterey Jack that was in the fridge, but cheddar would be fine)
  • if you want to add a bit of meat to the tacos, scramble fry your ground meat (I used some of the ground turkey sausage mix I made up the other day) with some taco seasoning and water
  • once the time is up (according to the instructions, you do want to wait the full 20 minutes or the dough will be hard to roll out), roll each ball into a circle and put it into the muffin tin, just like you would for making tart shells
  • fill each shell with a spoonful of the bean mixture, then put a bit of meat on top, if you’re using it, and cheese on top of everything
  • these can then wait until just before dinner: they go in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes, until the edges of the tortilla shells are baked golden and the cheese is all melted
  • serve with salsa and ranch dressing or sour cream: they are very filling, so each person will probably need only 3-5 of them for a whole meal

And there you have it: keep your pantry stocked with flour, refried beans, and salsa, and have milk and cheese on hand (you could use powdered milk in a pinch) and you’re ready for supper.

I tend to prefer pantry meals to freezer meals, so I don’t store a lot of premade stuff in the freezer, but I suspect that these would also freeze just fine, unbaked, and you could put them back into the muffin tins and bake them a little longer. Healthy fast food.

Bon appetit!

09 April 2012

Managing the energy budget

It’s difficult to manage one’s personal energy budget, especially when you don’t really know how much a given activity is going to take out of you until it’s over.

The farm show event was awesome. I knew it would be tiring to spend three days travelling (though my friend drove, for which I was immensely grateful), working on projects, and chatting with the public, but I also knew it would be fun and worthwhile. What I didn’t anticipate was that when I got home, I would be tired … but still all wound up with adrenalin. It took another several days in high gear before I finally came crashing down, and then the exhaustion was bone deep. I was so tired it hurt to move.

I spent most of yesterday sleeping. At one point, I was too exhausted even to knit – and that is a rare thing in my world. I did, however, have a great sleep in the afternoon, and when I went back to bed at a decent hour, I was able to sleep through the night, so clearly I needed the rest.

I did have enough energy to knit after my nap, and I was able to get the autumn afghan back to where it had been before I frogged it: the centre section was not lying flat, and especially as this is a piece for a competition, it needed to be *just right*. I pulled back what I had done, changed the centre structure a little, tried two or three different things and eventually found something that worked. Then it was just easy knitting to get back to where I left off, and indeed, before I went to sleep, I had made several rounds of actual progress beyond the frogged point, so I was happy with that.

Today I’ve spent what energy I have doing some cleaning and tidying – The Reluctant Farmer is home from his two week shift today, and I try to clean the mess a little before he gets here, so that he’s not faced with muddy floors and piles of laundry. It’s not as clean as I’d like it to be, I just didn’t have what it took to do very much, but it’s better than it was, and that’ll have to do.

Tonight we’re trying mini mexican pizzas with ground turkey and home made tortillas … if it works out well, I’ll tell you about the recipe tomorrow.

07 April 2012

Making efficient use of meat

This past week, I had the chance to buy a turkey from a local farmer, and I jumped at the offer. I will not eat industrial meat, so I don’t have poultry very often.

The bird was HUGE. I didn’t weigh him, but probably more than 15 lbs all told. He rested in the unplugged but still cold freezer for a couple of nights, and today was ‘deal with the turkey’ day.

There’s no way we would eat a bird that large at one sitting, and having all that cooked meat leftover would just be asking for trouble. I’m also not quite sure that I have a roaster large enough … Anyway, I decided that the best thing to do was to break it down into manageable parts.

I got out my trusty knives and sat at the table to begin processing. I removed all the skin and then took off meat as best I could – I’m not particularly skilled at this, but it’s much like carving a cooked bird, only it’s not cooked. I removed the silverskin and cartilage whenever I could and put big pieces in one bowl and small pieces in another. In the end, the two huge turkey breast pieces were frozen in separate bags, as one will be enough to feed all five of us no problem, and the other nice large pieces I got were put in a separate bag to be ‘turkey stir fry’ or meat for a casserole. The rest went through the trusty meat grinder (a big metal one, just like my grandma used, purchased at Princess Auto for under twenty bucks if I remember rightly). Three packages that are probably about a pound each were wrapped in waxed paper and put in the freezer to be the basis for some kind of ground meat meal, and the rest was mixed with a pound of bacon (also ground) and some seasonings to make sausage patties. Those are in the freezer now stacked on a cookie sheet between pieces of waxed paper, when they are frozen through I’ll package them up in meal sized batches.

The whole job took me about three hours, and although I could have made stock from the bones and the leftover meat, I chose to just let the dogs have what was left. I generally prefer vegetable stocks, as my old vegetarian meat aversions do come back and catch me unawares sometimes, and poultry broth can really trigger my “eww, no, can’t eat meat” reflex. The dogs and cats will clean off the bones, and since they weren’t cooked, it’s safe to let them have the carcass. (The dogs drag home bits and pieces of quite a lot of things so they are quite accustomed to raw meat … at least this stuff is clean, which is more than can be said for much of what I find them chewing on.)

All in all, I think this was a good use of three hours. The meat is now ready to use and it’ll hold us for quite awhile, as we still eat vegetarian a lot of the time. It’ll be nice to have roasted turkey this coming week, though, I’m looking forward to it!

06 April 2012

The home for wayward wheels

A local spinner found a wheel for sale on Kijiji recently – it was a great price (the people were clearing out Grandma-the-hoarder’s house and wanted it gone ASAP), though it was missing a bobbin and in somewhat questionable condition.
Of course, she couldn’t resist and she bought it. It did, indeed, need a little help. Not a lot, but a little. I offered to do the work for her, and she was happy to take me up on that. It’s a “pay me what you think the job is worth when you see the finished project” kind of deal, and since I enjoy doing the tweaking and I think people who want to spin should be enabled as much as possible within their budgets, this works for both of us.
Here’s the before picture:

Dry, unfinished wood, no bobbin, and a really strange blue tape arrangement for the brake band. Hmm.
Here it is now:

Stained with Watco dark walnut all over, but since there are different woods involved (I think this was a kit wheel of some kind) it came out really varied. It’s quite pretty, actually.

There is a proper brake band (leather, not blue fabric tape), the footman is tied on with a leather shoelace, and there’s a drive band (blue cotton warp thread). The loose axle has been fixed firmly in place, and the whole thing has been stained and waxed, though it should probably get a bit more wax to bring out the shine.
It’ll go back home later in the week.
Getting that all finished up was a good day’s work for me, now I’m going back to knitting.

05 April 2012

Mixed up seasons

The seasons seem all mixed up, though I know they aren’t.

Winter has been really mild this year, with comparatively little snow. What snow we did have came in small bits, I think we were only snowed in once (usually we are waiting on the plow three or four times in a given winter due to heavy snowfall).

A couple of weeks ago, melting started in earnest. Nice and warm and drippy and soggy, but slow, so the ground can soak up the moisture. The perfect weather for pastures and replenishing the ground.

Then we got a blizzard a few days ago. That was well on the way to melting when we got another, smaller one, last night. No lambs this time – and it’s mostly melted now already.

In my knitting work, I’ve got mixed up seasons happening too: I’m working on an afghan in autumn colours.


This is a beautiful new yarn from Mary Maxim – it is acrylic, but it is nice acrylic (and I don’t say that often). It’s soft and the colours are bright and gorgeous.

Mary Maxim is having a design competition, and I’ll be entering two projects: this afghan, and a shawl that is also underway (in brighter, more spring-like colours, thankfully). The shawl is still too small to take much of a picture, it’s curling up and hiding the stitches, so once it is a little larger I’ll let you see how it is coming along.

All the yarn for these projects (plus more!) is a gift from my parents, who went to the Mary Maxim store in Paris, Ontario and chose it specifically with the design competition in mind. My mom is a quilter and certainly has a good eye for colour, and when my dad was small, he stocked Mary Maxim yarns in the shop his family owned, so these projects are extra special to me.

It’s been a weary sort of day for me, so it’s a good day to just sit and do some easy knitting with pretty coloured yarn.

04 April 2012

Learn to knit lace … online

When I first thought about knitting lace, I was terrified – it’s hard, isn’t it? All those holes, all that careful pattern reading … probably way harder than anything I could manage. A fellow knitter encouraged me to just try it, and so I did.

And it worked. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

However, I am a self-directed learner. I like to just try things and see what happens, and for people like me, the internet is full of useful information to help get you started: videos on YouTube, articles on various websites, helpful people on the forums on Ravelry and Homesteading Today. Everything you need to know is out there … if you can find it and are willing to do some experimentation.

Thea again, not everyone learns the way I do, and not everyone is comfortable surfing the haystack that is the web to find the specific needle of information they need. Some people are really quite unprepared to just try something out without having a coach there to guide them through the various steps. And you know what? That’s okay.

Because you see, I can do that coaching thing. Even without having to travel to your house to do it, or meeting you at some central location, or being on a webcast at the same time of day. I’d love to help you get started with lace knitting, because lace knitting is awesome. And thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can be in your living room in the middle of the night, if you like, helping you with your knitting.

Online learning is cool. The Boy does all of his schooling online, and the Reluctant Farmer has been taking a lot of courses that way as well. I used to write courseware for teaching computer classes, and I like knitting way better than I like software, so I figured … why not make a course to help people who want to learn, but who aren’t going to travel to a class somewhere and aren’t ready to just figure it all out on their own?

So I did. Today, the first online classroom for Demystifying Lace Knitting: the basics by Fibre with Frazzlehead went live.

Care to find out more? Check it out here.

03 April 2012

A story in a scarf

My friend Wheelwright suggested that I create a design that spoke of forgiveness “in a language that knitters would understand”.
I spent a few weeks pondering design elements, shapes, construction ideas … and eventually it came to me.
There is a seed stitch border – because we all carry the seeds of violence and the seeds of peace within us. One of the Quaker Queries on the Peace Testimony relates to this:
We are called to live 'in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars'. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember that they too are children of God.
The seeds of war are held in our anger and our grudges and our refusal to let go of injury. We need to seek out those seeds, and put them aside in favour of the seeds of peace.
There is also a knot – anger and hurt feel like a knot inside your chest. The knitted pattern gradually untangles itself, though, as our own inner knots can be unwound when we listen to our hurts and give ourselves time to heal.
The untwisted knot becomes a vine – because when we let go of our anger and choose forgiveness for ourselves and others, we can start to grow again.
Mathanas is the Gaelic word for forgiveness.
Available now on Ravelry

02 April 2012

Weird spring blizzard: the perfect day for lambing

Very early yesterday morning I woke up in need of a glass of water, and I heard rain on the windows.

“Great,” I thought, “that’ll help wash away some more of the snow, and since we’re down to bare ground in a lot of places, it will go quickly.”

I went back to sleep, and when I woke up the rain had stopped. Oh well, sunshine melts snow too.

Then I looked out the window.


All that arrived in just a few hours. Whoa. I was very glad not to have to go anywhere in the car, not with that heavy wet stuff all over the roads.

I flipped the switch to make sure the batteries were charging from the grid power and got the dishwasher going: with all that snow a power outage was probably coming and although there is enough solar power to keep us quite comfortable for a good long while, it’s best to be topped up before a storm if you can. We did have power outages off and on all day, though they were all short lived.

The next thing I thought was “some sheep is going to decide that today is the perfect day to have a lamb”. Storms and bad weather don’t bother the Icelandics much, so it could happen. Sure enough, The Boy came to the door and said “can you come deal with this lamb please?” I was just getting into my coveralls when he appeared at the door again, this time holding a tiny little lamb. “Here,” he said, “deal with this one first. It got out of the  pen and couldn’t figure out how to get back in, so it’s kind of cold.” Sure enough, the little lamb was shivering, and when I stuck my finger in his mouth it was cool, but not as chilled as some we’ve had to work with in the past. He was trying hard to suck my finger so I knew he’d be okay once he warmed up, so I put him on a wool rug (which is actually the felted coat of one of the Icelandics, who didn’t get shorn in time) in front of the fireplace and headed outside to check on his twin. The other lamb was up and nursing and doing fine, so we put him in the barn with his mama and I was able to get a bit of milk in a jar for the chilly lamb. The lamb greedily drank the colostrum from the oral syringe, though he was still shivering. I put a heated barley bag over his chest and belly and he went to sleep, peaceful as anything, with the cat sniffing at the milk droplets on his chin.

Once the lamb was good and warm, I helped him to his feet. He immediately started butting at my leg, a sure sign that he was ready to see his mama again, so I got into my outside gear once more and took him out to the barn. The ewe wanted nothing to do with him: she sniffed him and seemed unimpressed, and when he tried to nurse she butted him away. Then I realized that there was a second ewe in the barnyard bellowing that “where is my baby?” sound – aha! We didn’t have twins, we had two ewes who had delivered at the same time! Sure enough, once that mama caught sight of her baby she was ecstatic, talking to him and licking him and quite happy to let him nurse. She needed a bit of a trim around the lower half so that the poor lamb could find his way to what he was after, but that mama was really calm, and just stood there chewing her cud while I did a quick haircut.

Today, all is well outside, we have two happy lambs with two happy mamas.

This mama is a Southdown/Columbia cross, and her lamb is clearly an Icelandic cross – the curly fleece and short tail are the giveaway there:


And the other mama is a similar sheep – a Columbia/Southdown cross, and her lamb is very clearly a Southdown baby … one of Jack’s last offspring.


Look at those big feet and that adorable face.

I do love my sheep. :)

01 April 2012

Shearing to Shawl

I spent the last three days at the local Farm and Ranch show, participating in a Shearing to Shawl event hosted by the alpaca spring show.


We were a bit surprised to find out that we were the headline event!

Thursday around noon, two alpacas were shorn and their fibre put out on a sorting table for us … and then we were off to do our thing. With the assistance of several spinners and knitters who showed up to help, we got that fibre combed (some of it – it was so clean that spinning directly from the locks was not a problem), spun, and woven and knitted into two finished objects: a rectangular stole and a woven scarf.


I didn’t get much in the way of pictures, but I should have a few emailed to me in the next few days and I’ll post them when they arrive.

The stole was made by using Judy’s Magic Cast On to cast on … umm … a lot of stitches. I didn’t count. Lots. Then we worked in the round, increasing every corner for the first six rounds or so, then every other round. It’s a great strategy when you aren’t sure how much yarn (or time) you will have but need to create a rectangular object of some width or other. One of our number is accomplished at crochet, and worked an interesting crochet cast off / loopy lacy border that gave extra definition and size to the stole at the last minute. Here it is, being modeled at the judging table:


It was fun, if exhausting. We explained the magic of spinning and weaving and knitting to groups of bystanders, talked to alpaca owners about what spinners want in the fibre, and got to pet and hug a lot of adorable creatures.

In fact, the second alpaca they sheared for us, a female named Eos, is the same one who came up to me while I was spinning at the show in the fall and kissed me on the cheek! Her people (the nice folks at Northern Mystery Alpacas) brought her specifically to be one of the animals donating fibre to us, because they know that the beautiful and friendly Eos loves spinners. Athena, also from Northern Mystery, provided us with a lovely brown coat and the two colours blended beautifully together. Not incidentally, this was the cleanest, most dirt and VM-free alpaca fibre I’ve ever handled straight off the animal. Combine that with the absolutely amazing shearing job (the lady who did the shearing will have done 10,000 animals by the end of this shearing season, so she is good)  meant that we had almost no second cuts to deal with (I think I ran into about three little tufts the entire time and they came out easily). It was about as good a spinning experience as you can have, particularly when you don’t have time to wash or fully prep the fibre before you get going on your project.

Later, I’m going to write a big post about how much I love wool combs for fibre prep, but for now, I am going to relax with my cup of coffee and my knitting beside the fire … because when I woke up this morning, all the grass that I was so happy to see yesterday was covered in a foot of fresh, sticky snow.

I’m staying inside today.