31 July 2012


I love summer, even when it is too hot, even when the humidity turns my hair into a terrifying frizz, even when the weeds overtake the garden.

I love having the windows open, being able to smell the rain coming, bring warm even in bare feet.

I love watching the sheep on the pasture. I love watching the chickens chase bugs in the grass.

Summer is lovely.

30 July 2012

Running up against limits

For the past few days, my body has been reminding me that there are limits to what I can do and that I need to respect them. The reminders take the form of chest pain, tiredness, and insomnia (yes, you can have both at once).

I am trying hard to listen. I do the essential things - milk the cow, get the barn ready at night, cook, and keep up with the shop and so on - and I try not to be overly optimistic about how long my to do list can be on any given day. I have a long list of things I intended to do. But you know, the list of what got done is longer than it used to be and I am celebrating that.

And I'm refusing to be angry with myself for only being able to do this much. It's more than it was. It's less than I'd like. It is what it is.

I often think of my friend (who survived a completely unexpected heart attack) saying, "every morning I wake up and think 'I could be dead, and I'm not, and that makes it a good day,'".

It's a good day. I did a bunch if things. Now I'm gonna rest, and that is also a doing.

Maybe I'll knit. That's restful.

25 July 2012

Ravelry Spinning : I won a prize!

The Spindle Candy group on Ravelry has a monthly challenge thread, which is great inspiration to get you spinning. For most of the year, you set yourself a goal (anything – so long as it has to do with spindle spinning) and update the thread with your progress towards meeting the goal. Anyone who meets their goal (which can be revised over the course of the month and can be anything from “spin five minutes a day” to “get the hang of drafting” to “spin up this batt”) is eligible for a prize drawn at the end of the month. Over the summer, things are a bit more relaxed … everyone still spins and shares their progress, but prizes are just drawn at random throughout July and August.

Well, lucky me, I won one of the prizes in July, a lovely batt of camel/silk/angora from IxchelBunny in Australia.

(definitely not the best photo … it’s much prettier – and softer – in real life!)

I have another prize coming to me too – I won a little teacup spindle in a Tour de Fleece drawing. I’m excited to see it!

I got to send out some prizes too – some Canadian Rovings have gone off to a spinner in the US, a copy of my book went to someone else, and yet another spinner selected a copy of the Memory Shawl pattern (the prize was one of any of my Ravelry-published patterns, and that’s the one she picked). Such fun!

23 July 2012

Prism Polygon Shawl Pattern: now available

The pattern for the shawl I entered in the Mary Maxim contest is now available for purchase on Ravelry (or with buy now' target=_blank>this link, if you aren’t a Ravelry member).

The shawl was made out of Prism, from Mary Maxim, which is an acrylic yarn that actually isn’t yukky. It is a lightly twisted, much like Noro, with long colour repeats and bright shades that make it a great choice for your wool-or-natural-fibre-challenged friends and family.

Worked tip to tip, the stripes become vertical instead of horizontal, emphasizing height rather than width, and with the geometry involved they also go from wide bands of colour at the tips to narrow stripes at the centre back.

The border is easy to memorize and instructions are both charted and written. You can make any size from shawlette up to full body wrapping triangle, the pattern is modular, so grab a couple of skeins of yarn, pick up your needles and go for it!

A “girl firefighter”?

As I was leaving the corner store yesterday, I passed a young couple standing by the County Fire recruitment poster. The poster shows a group of firefighters in full bunker gear, both men and women.

Just as I walked past, the young lady said to her companion, “Can you imagine if your house was on fire and a girl firefighter showed up?”

I couldn’t help myself. I turned and said, “… and what would be wrong with that?”

She was caught off guard, a bit flustered … “oh, umm, well, nothing…”

“Right,”I said. “They’re as strong as the men are.”

This person has clearly never met some of the fine women on our local fire department, and she should. If she knew these women she’d never doubt that her life and property were in good hands.

One of our neighbours is a Fire Captain, and she most certainly knows her way around the equipment. She can run a hose or work the pump or do overhaul the same as any of the men. There are two sisters who joined the department fairly recently, and these young women scored the best marks the county has ever seen on one of the more challenging exams. These women know what they are doing, all of them. They’re held to the same standards the men are.

Now, it is true that on a volunteer fire department, not everyone is in prime physical shape. When this isn’t what you do for a living, it’s not practical to require everyone to put the time and energy into fitness that the full time firefighters do – for them, maintaining top condition is part of their job description, and many departments schedule workouts as part of a firefighter’s regular daily duties. Volunteer fire is a bit different, it has to be. There’s a lot of jobs that need doing: someone has to run the pump (which requires knowledge and skill, but not physical strength). Someone has to refill air tanks and hand out water bottles and man the radio. Someone has to drive. Someone has to hold the hose (and that *does* require strength as well as skill, but you can have a backup person helping to support the weight and ideally you switch out frequently so your arms don’t get too tired).

Volunteer fire departments need people who are willing to show up, willing to learn, and who know their limits and will work within them. They need people who will leave their dinner table to direct traffic around an accident so EMS can get in, people who will drive the tanker back and forth from the lake to the fire, hauling water for the crew who are dousing flames, people willing to aim a fire hose at a burning house or tractor or field of grass. They need people who are willing to go to some courses, people who will show up once a week for training, people who will carry a pager and do what they can to help whenever they are able.

Volunteer fire departments need people who recognize their limits and stay behind them: if you exceed your limits and put yourself at risk, you’ve just complicated things for your entire crew, and nobody wants that. There’s plenty of jobs that need to be done, find the one that suits your skills and abilities and do that.

But don’t assume that because you don’t have the physique of a body builder - or because you are a woman – that there’s nothing you can offer. Chances are really good your local fire department could use more help – the vast majority of departments are extremely low on resources.

Think about it.

And if you see a girl firefighter, please show her the same respect you’d show the rest of her crew. She might just be the one who saves your life some day.

The end of the Tour de Fleece

All that (plus one more ball of singles that is somewhere in the stuff I brought back from the demo yesterday) was spun during the Tour, which started June 30th. All the singles were spun on spindles (those shown here, in fact), except for the stuff that was done on the Great Wheel. The skein of yarn was plyed on the wheel, as I find wheel plying much easier and more convenient than spindle plying. I also combed another bag full of alpaca, since I spun up all of what I had prepared before the start of the tour, so it was a productive time!

I’ve never done the Tour before, though I’ve been spinning for oh, ten years or so now … and it was a lot of fun. It was great to have the incentive to spin a little every day (or knit, there were a couple of days where I did not spin but I always had some fibery thing to do!) and to document my progress. I got a lot more done than I thought I could!

Thanks to all the team organizers and the prize donors (I did win a prize – it’s coming in the mail … more fibre to spin! yay!) and the participants who shared their progress and cheered one another on throughout. What a fun event.

19 July 2012

Bristlecone Artisan Heirlooms

Among the makers of supported spindles, nobody does anything like the work of Bristlecone Artisan Heirlooms. A Glindle is a spindle with a glass ball for the spinning base: borosilicate glass, hand shaped with beautiful designs inside the glass and a perfectly rounded tip for spinning. Twindles are tapered spindles with faceted crystals in the tip, spun right on the point of the crystal. And then there some made from just wood, no crystal or glass. Most are decorated with pyrography (wood burned designs), and they are difficult to acquire as the demand is far greater than the makers can keep up with: when a shop update goes up, there are people waiting for the spindles to appear and they are snatched up in minutes.

I heard, awhile back, that the Bristlecone team were looking for a particular fibre tool that I was able to source easily enough … so I offered a trade. My offer was accepted, the tools sent off and then, today, a parcel arrived for me!

The contents will take your breath away.

Left to right, we have an acorn spindle (decorated with a bird’s nest and a feather on the shaft – symbolic of hope and new beginnings), a dragon Twindle with a very bright pink crystal and scales drawn up the shaft (dragons are powerful and strong, and in many cultures are seen as wise and lucky), and a morning glory Glindle, with the most perfect blossom in the glass tip and a vine burned into the shaft. The bowl on the left says “amor vincit omnia” (love conquers all), and the one on the right is decorated with a moon and stars.

Here is another view:

And some photos the artists sent me earlier:

Stunning, beautiful tools – and these were made just for me, the designs chosen with intention and thoughtfulness.

I am grateful and pleased beyond words.

17 July 2012

Pink + blue = purple

Today is officially a rest day for the Tour de Fleece, so I’m taking a break from gray alpaca (beautiful though it is, it is a … lot … of … gray) and spinning something colourful.

I had worked on some pretty pink sparkly fibre on the last rest day, and finished up the spindle the other night when all my other spindles were full of alpaca and I didn’t feel like winding off. Today I decided to find something to ply that pink with and do some plying. Now, I’m not much of a “princess pink” kind of girl – though I have lately decided that shocking pink and purple (together, ideally) are fun – so it needed something bright to jazz it up a little and keep it well out of the range of pastels.

I found some pretty blue merino in the stash – this came as part of the Random Act of Kindness parcel I got a little while ago, the same parcel that contained the little clock face spindle I’d used for the pink singles, in fact. Pink with blue ought to give a sort of purple shade, I figured, so these …

became this:

it’s not really obvious from the photo, but at a distance, it does look like lavender.

230 metres of fine yarn – maybe sock yarn, or a bit lighter. Wonder what it wants to be?

16 July 2012

Design Contest Update

I entered two pieces in the Mary Maxim design contest … a pink shawl and an autumn leaves afghan.

My mom called today to tell me that I got a letter (at her house): “Dear Contest Participant...” There were lots of great entries, but mine wasn’t in the top three in either of the categories I entered, so, no big prize money for me. Oh well!

The good news is that my parents both get lovely gifts – Dad gets the afghan to keep his chilly feet warm and Mom will look great in the shawl. Maybe this is regifting – they did give me the yarn! Ah well, they are happy and that makes me happy.

Dad says he’ll take some photos for me so that I can use them on the patterns when I publish them on Ravelry shortly. Stay tuned for details on how you can knit your own! :)

Making Cheese

I love cheese. We eat a ridiculous amount of cheese in this household, actually, and since we have a cow, it seems reasonable that I should learn how to make cheese.

My husband gave me this cheese making kit awhile back, and now that we have milk, it’s time to start using it!

I made a batch of feta the other day and it’s in the fridge in brine. It’s kind of … melting, though, which I have researched. Apparently that means I didn’t let the cheese cure long enough before soaking it (which I didn’t), so I know what to do next time. It’s still delicious, if a bit soft – I think I’ll make salad dressing out of it.

Today I made cheddar. Well, I’ve started it: the culture and curd and draining the whey is all done, and the cheese is now being squished by a few of my husband’s exercise weights. It looks promising, anyway, and the curds I tasted were yummy, so I think we’re on the right track. This one has to age for a few weeks, which should be interesting. It needs to age in a cool spot – we don’t really have any cool spots (the fridge is too cold, the house too warm), so I think I’ll probably try the cooler with a small ice pack and see if I can get that to the right temperature.

I did a bit of reading on what to do with the whey – the liquid left over after the cheese curds come out of the milk. It’s actually quite sweet, and you can use it to make bread or to cook pasta, and the dogs and cats love it. I’ve given some to the pets, as it’s too hot to bake bread right now, but I’ll try that soon. I also found that you can make ricotta cheese from the leftover whey, so I did that today and it is amazing! Soft, creamy smooth cheese from the leftovers of making *other* cheese, and you are still left with a nutritious broth you can use for cooking or baking or whatever.

Neat, eh?

13 July 2012

Dairy Day

It was a dairy day at our house today.

This morning, Sasha was in a nasty mood. Crabby, irritable, kicking – and worse, she managed to step in a pile of fresh manure just before milking, so those kicks were messy. Ugh. I did manage to get milk cleanly into the bucket – but there was a lot of washing and rewashing going on!

Once I got myself hosed off and into clean clothes, I decided today was a good day to try pasteurizing the milk. We’ve just had it raw before, and I still will do that some of the time, but my family are not all adapted to the taste of fresh raw milk, and I’m hoping pasteurization (plus watering it down some) will make it taste more like the store milk they are all accustomed to. I got out my cheese making kit – which was a gift from my husband almost two years ago and has sat unused because I wasn’t milking and didn’t want to make cheese with store milk – and found the thermometer it came with. Perfect for pasteurizing as it sits away from the side of the pan and reads the temperature of the liquid. Carla Emery told me what to do, and it was so simple!

Milk pasteurized, it was time to start on the cheese. I had to hunt around a bit for the rennet and cultures, but they were right where they ought to be, in the freezer. I had about 2 litres of milk ready for cheese making which is half a batch, according to the recipes in the kit, and I opted for feta as my first cheese: doesn’t need curing, and it’s something we like. Well, was that ever fun!

All you do is pasteurize the milk (that step is optional, actually, but I did this time as I wanted to be absolutely sure I was growing the right things in the milk culture) and then let it cool down to where it is just warm, add the culture and let it sit in the oven (which is just the right temperature, since ours has a pilot light) for an hour. After that hour, it’s turned into something like thick yogourt, and you slice it with a knife into chunks then give it a bit of a stir. Warm the oven briefly then shut it off and put the pot back in at the slightly warmer temperature, stirring every 10 minutes to help the cheese separate from the whey. Strain into a colander, and voila! Cheese! Add some salt, make the brine (feta soaks in salt water) and you’ve got fresh home made cheese.


The unsalted stuff tastes a lot like the paneer I often make (which is just milk scalded to just under boiling then mixed with a bit of vinegar until it curdles … strain it out and it’s cheese you can use in Indian sauces to make a quick and yummy supper).  Salted, it tastes like … feta!

In further dairy adventures, I made butter from the cream I’d skimmed off all that milk.

Butter on the fork and in the jar on the lower left, buttermilk in the jar on the upper left. Carla says you can make cheese with the buttermilk too – which could be interesting!

And, just to round out today’s dairy adventures, I’m having kalvdans with crabapple jelly as I write this. It’s textured very much like cheesecake, actually, with the same sort of very plain flavour (I made it according to a local friend’s recipe – just cream and colostrum whipped together with some sugar, then baked like a custard). Cheesecake gets served with a fruit sauce, so I figured jelly would be a good quick substitute. Yum!

And now, of course, I’m tired and ready to sit down with my spindle and audio book and rest as the cool evening breeze comes in. We have a lot of smoke from some nearby wildfires (not dangerously nearby, but close enough we get the smoke) so I didn’t have the fans going all day today like I usually do. The smoke has eased up some now, though, so we can open up the windows and let the cool air in.

Ahh. Summer.

11 July 2012

Tour de Fleece, rest day

Tuesday was a rest day for the riders on the Tour de France, so technically a rest day for spinners on the Tour de Fleece as well!

I took the opportunity to spin something *other* than gray alpaca – beautiful though it is, there is an awful lot of it to be spun, and I was craving some colour.

I have a lovely batt of pink sparkly magic that was a really good break from gray:

Spun on the pretty little clock face spindle that was a gift from another spinner, using the lovely glass dish that came from Wales in another random act of kindness gift.

Friendship and pretty fibre. Yay.

09 July 2012

A Day in the Life of George the Calf

Mama and I slept in the barn last night. I think maybe we’re supposed to do this every night, but I dunno, I only got here yesterday morning, so this was my first whole night in the outside world.

The barn is dark. There is lots of straw on the ground, and there’s this skinny place where I fit nicely and then Mama has lots of room on her side of the stall. She had some crunchy stuff in the food bin at bedtime from the Person who comes in here all the time to check on us, and Mama definitely seems to like that crunchy stuff. I dunno why she would want that, milk’s good enough for anyone.

I get all my milk from Mama. The front two milk dispensers are hard to eat from though, they are so huge they fall out of my mouth. I just keep trying until I get one of the back ones, they work way better. In the morning the Person came and put Mama in the skinny place where I’d been sleeping, and gave her more crunchy stuff in the food bin.

The Person put this thing on my head that pinched my nose when I pulled. I pulled anyway, ‘cause who wants a thing on their head? Well, I suppose Mama wears one but mine’s blue and hers is black and I think hers is nicer. The thing had a big rope attached and the Person tied me to a post up by Mama’s head. Mama could see me but she kept bellowing for me to come closer. I didn’t wanna come closer, I wanted to pull the stupid thing off my head. I kept pulling and pulling but it never came off. It’s weird.

The Person got milk out of those front dispensers that didn’t work for me. She has hands though, and thumbs, and that probably makes it easier. Mama did some kicking and fussing but the Person just tied her kicking foot to a post and talked to her and said it would be better once she was done and really it was all okay and the baby was right there and I suppose she meant me. Because I was right there. Mama bellowed anyway.

After the Person poured the milk into a covered bucket, she took the thing off my head and put me back in the stall. Maybe if I’m good while she milks, then I get the thing taken off my head? I’ll have to see if this happens again tomorrow.

Mama got let out of the skinny place and then the Person opened the gate to our stall and … MAMA WENT OUTSIDE! She left me there! It was all nice in the barn, I couldn’t see why she would go out, but there was this tall green stuff and she wanted to eat it. I guess she doesn’t just eat the crunchy things in the food bin. Anyway, Mama kept bellowing so eventually I went out with her, and it was nice and breezy.

Then it got hot. It got really hot. I just lay there in the grass sleeping and panting. Mama ate a bunch of the green stuff and had some water, and every time a cat or dog came near she chased them off.

The Person came out a few times and talked to Mama, and she came and stroked my side and talked to me, but I dunno what she was saying. I just wanted to stay where I was and not move, it was too hot to do anything.

After it cooled off in the evening, the Person came back and put the blue thing back on my head. I dunno why she keeps bugging me like this, it was comfortable in the grass, and I didn’t want to go to the barn. I didn’t even want to stand up. She wouldn’t leave me be, though, so eventually I stood up and then she pulled on the rope and I just had to walk to the barn, even though I didn’t want to! The Person put me in the stall and took the thing off … so maybe if I am good and go in the stall the thing always comes off? Hmm. Mama didn’t have a rope pulling on her, she just came in by herself and ate the crunchy stuff in the food bin and the Person shut the gate and brought Mama more water. Mama let the Person scratch her head. I don’t get it: Mama chases the dogs away if they even look at me, but she lets the Person put that stupid blue thing on my head. Why does she let this Person near me when nobody else can come close? It’s a mystery.

Well, I suppose the barn is where we sleep again tonight. I wonder if the Person will come in the morning with more crunchy stuff for Mama and make me wear the stupid blue thing again.


Oh well, once that part is over I can go outside with Mama. That’ll be nice.

I think now I’m gonna sleep though. It’s hard work being a calf.

08 July 2012

We interrupt this broadcast…

.. with a news bulletin!

We have a calf!

I got up just before 7 to get a glass of milk, and when I looked out the window, I could see Sasha over in the corner of the pasture. That wasn’t too suspicious, she’d been up there last night when I went to bed (though she’d been lying on her side and was really cranky when I checked on her, so I did think perhaps she was close to calving). What really clued me in was Bob, sitting at a safe distance, just staring at Sasha. Bob, you see, is FASCINATED by baby animals. He fights with the mama sheep to be able to lick the babies clean, and he will lie outside the barn pens when we have mama sheep in there with lambs. Hmm, if Bob’s that interested I’d better get the binoculars.

Note Bob, sitting there by the black sheep in the upper left corner, staring at Sasha and her baby.

Sure enough, there was a little white spec by Sasha’s feet. Since she was bred to a mini Hereford, her calf would probably have a white face, so that was enough to get me into my boots and outside.

The calf is absolutely beautiful – he’s black (last year’s baby looked like a clone of her papa, brown with a white face, but this one is different) with that pretty white face and he was clearly not very old yet. Mama had licked him clean, but he was still a wee bit damp and blowing bubbles of amniotic fluid out of his nostrils. He could stand, but he seemed very, very tired.

Now I’m still a bit of a rookie when it comes to calves, so it took me awhile to figure out the best way to get mama and baby into the barnyard. First I moved the sheep (okay that part was easy, I’ve done that a few times), then I got the barn ready with straw and fresh water and some hay, and then I tried carrying the calf. Uh uh. I’m not strong enough! The Reluctant Farmer could’ve done it no problem, but he’s used to carrying fully charged fire hoses. Me, I carry … one fleece. Maybe a lamb or a kitten. Not a calf. Then I thought maybe he’d walk if I put a lead on him. No way. He could stand, and walk, but he spent so much effort arguing with me this wasn’t gonna work well. So I got the quad and loaded him onto the back, holding onto him with one hand while I carefully and very slowly drove down the hill, across the low spot, and up to the barn yard. Sasha bellowed a fair bit but she watched us go and didn’t get mad at me when I lifted her baby up – I was very, very careful even though she hadn’t given me any indication that she didn’t want me messing with her calf. She did take runs at the dogs if they got too close, but I guess she knows I’m safe. I still tied her head to a fence post when I had to lift up the baby and I kept one eye on her the whole time. Once I had the calf in the barnyard and got the quad backed away from the gate, Sasha did come trotting up and I was able to give her some water (she wouldn’t walk the ten feet to the water trough, I had to take a bucket over to her so she didn’t have to leave the calf’s side) and leave them to rest.

The calf is very tired after all that exertion and the stress of being hauled about by a clumsy human and taken for a ride on a noisy red  machine so early in the morning, but his mouth is warm and he sucked on my thumb a little, and one quarter of Sasha’s udder looks as though someone’s had a good drink already so I think things are fine.

Whew, the waiting’s over!

Let the milking begin! (well, not just yet, but soon!)

07 July 2012

I have an awesome life.

My best friend came out to the farm today with her two little boys, along with Grandma and Poppa. This is my ‘family by choice’, and we all get along really well. Anyway, it’s a hot and sunny day, so the boys played in the kiddie pool, the grownups chatted and hung out, and the biggest little one (who is three) helped get eggs from the chicken coop, took food out to the kittens, and helped me check on the sheep. We had a huge supper of buns and cheese and cucumbers and peppers and things we didn’t have to cook, the boys had a bath here and changed into their PJs so they could go straight to bed when they got home, and it was, all in all, a fun afternoon.

Back home, when his mom asked the little guy what was his favourite part of the day, he said “Lonna, I just LOVE her!”

:sniffling with a big grin on my face:

My life is so freakin’ awesome.

06 July 2012

Tour progress

I have been at the computer a fair bit lately, doing updates for the store, sorting out the accounting system, and posting my Tour de Fleece updates … and I finally realized that in all that time at the keyboard, I haven’t been posting any updates here!

Allow me to fill you in:

By Day 4 I had to start loading spindles onto a Lazy Fred bobbin and start on clean, empty spindles again.

The Russian spindle did get a little more packed on, though not much:

As I did the status update photo, though, I was reminded that like everything else in life, spinning gets accomplished one little bit at a time.

Yesterday, The Reluctant Farmer and I had to drive to the city, and I got this done on the drive in (I had to drive on the way back home, and it’s illegal to spin and drive at the same time):

As you can see from the background of the photo, today is dedicated to accounting.

Since that also involves counting bags of fleece, it’s really not such a bad thing.

04 July 2012

Meet Anne

This lovely Norwegian split table wheel is named Anne, or so her previous owner tells me. My grandmother was named Anne, and so it seems quite fitting that this wheel should have found her way to me.

Anne came here through an interesting route: my Ravelry profile describes my addiction to antique wheels, and mentioned that the only type of wheel that I truly  longed for that I didn’t yet own was a Norwegian split table wheel. A friend of mine saw this and realized she had exactly the sort of wheel I was looking for languishing, unloved, at her house. She’d gotten it for a great deal at an antique store (that’s extremely uncommon – antique stores tend to sell wheels with missing pieces for ridiculously high prices, and this one is in perfect working order and was only $60!), the wheel needed to find a new home, she knew I’d like it, and she was coming to Olds for FIbre Week and would bring it to me.

All she wanted in exchange was fleece.


Fleece I have, so we swapped wheel for fibre and Anne is now in my living room getting good use already. She needs another coat of oil, the ends of the boards where the stain soaks into the end grain are looking kind of dry, but she spins beautifully (in both directions – meaning she’s great for plying, too!) and is so lovely to look at. She’s probably not all that old, judging by the wood, but she’s completely pegged together. There are two tiny screws in the tips of the flyer arms, which is something I’ve not seen before … I’m not sure why they are there, maybe for weights or something.

The turnings are fine and delicate, the leathers are in great shape, and she’s just a wonderful piece of spinning gear. I’m so honoured to have her here!

If you’ve seen one like her, please let me know – I’m very curious to find out where she came from … she has no markings at all!

02 July 2012

Happy Canada Day!

It’s a holiday and normally I wouldn’t be posting (I do try to give myself days off) but …

Here is my progress from the Tour de Fleece, Day 1:


and Day 2 (which was Canada Day, and we were out and about so I didn’t get much done):

And to celebrate Canada Day: