28 February 2013

We interrupt this broadcast…

… for a seasonal dose of cold and flu.


The Boy and I both came down with something Sunday/Monday and we are dragging our backsides still.

I have made several batches of home made cold and flu treatment hooch – usually I use lemon juice + honey + brown sugar + whiskey or rum, but I have run out of lemon juice … so I squeezed the oranges we had in the fridge. Then I added nettle infusion, since nettles are generically good for you. Ran out of nettles. Ran out of ornages. Still too ill to go all the way to an actual grocery store so I got a tub of that powdered stuff to make lemonaide at the corner store when I dropped off parcels, and I have a good stock of Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat and Breathe Easy tea here, so the latest batch is triple strength tea + a whalloping big spoon ful of honey + lemonaide mix + a splosh of whiskey.

It helps. Doesn’t taste great, but it helps.

We’ve managed to drag ourselves through all that is necessary … animals fed and watered, eggs gathered, school work done, shop orders dealt with … but that’s *it*. Nothing else. We keep going back to bed, or collapsing in a chair to rest.

It’ll pass, and it’s not too serious – we have all had flu shots, we’ve got no fevers, and I have the weird chills and strange sensations that I get when it’s a thoroughly viral infection, so we are just staying under quarrantine and drinking plenty of fluids and trying to keep things rolling at a minimally  functional level.

So far, so good.

We now return you to your regular programming.

We’ll be here resting for a bit longer.

24 February 2013

A horse blanket, on a horse!

Remember the test weaving project I made? It was the sample weaving for the coats, a horse blanket of 100% wool, which proved that the fabric I was after would work for the coats … even if it did shrink a little more than I anticipated, making it a bit on the small side for a saddle blanket.

Regardless of the unusual sizing, I gave it to my friend on Friday night: he has several horses, and rides regularly … and he’s the guy who gave me my Canadian Production Wheel, just because he saw it come up at auction and thought I might like to have it. (He’s a wonderful human being.)

Today he sent me a picture of the blanket on his horse:


Yes, that’s an Aussie saddle – kind of an unusual configuration for this part of the world, but they are designed for steep hills and close contact with the horse, and they are very, very comfortable. Since this blanket ended up not being a standard size, it might not work with a regular Western saddle … but, as the subject line of the email this picture came with says, it’s “like it was made for him”. It fits perfectly on this horse with this particular saddle.

Yay. :)

23 February 2013

Yoga and Journalling Workshop

Today I attended a yoga and journalling workshop run by a friend of mine. It was, apparently, exactly what I needed.

I realize that I’ve been fighting against the call to move forward in my healing journey. I’ve been resisting taking the steps I know I need to take. Today helped me move forward a little further on that healing road.

Below you will find some of what I wrote today. For those readers who are deeply religious, please do not be startled when I refer to the Divine in terms of the feminine … our Creator is both Mother and Father, and I speak to and of God in either fashion. I don’t think our human minds can easily encompass all that is God with just one mental image, and so I move rather fluidly between various ways of thinking of God.

That said, here is what I found in my heart today…


I have issues with control.

There, I said it.

I realize that control is an illusion … but it’s an illusion I don’t want to let go of. I want to believe that I can do it all. I want to just try harder to make my mind behave, to make my body live up to my expectations … but this isn’t a problem stemming from a lack of effort. More effort isn’t going to make things better. More effort is how I got here, for heaven’s sake!

I spent years and years holding down the trauma effects by sheer force of will, squashing my feelings, ignoring all the warning signs, just working harder so I didn’t have to think about what happened, didn’t have to face my guilt, my shame, my complicity, my sins.

But the truth will not stay hidden. When eventually I did look at all that I had been avoiding, when I finally told my story, I saw that the girl who lived through that mess deserved compassion and forgiveness … and things improved. I did the work, faced up to my past, changed the way I thought about my story and said, “whew, the hard work is done and now life can get back to normal and it will be all better.”

Only the injury was deeper than that, and the healing journey nowhere near done.

And I got mad.

I don’t want to do any more work. I don’t want to cry any more. I don’t want to learn how to manage my life so that I can live fully and make the most of my gifts while staying within my limits.

It’s frustrating having to pay so much damned attention. I want the ease of autopilot, the simplicity of routine.

Except that the life I had before was dishonest. And I wasn’t the kind of mother or spouse or friend or co-worker or human being I want to be.

So I need to find another road.

And the first step on that other road – the light only has to shine on the next step, after all – the next step is


It’s okay not to be able to wrestle it all into submission by applying the not-insignificant power of my will.

My will, in this case, is entirely the wrong tool.

The divine, Ordol says, cannot fill anything but an empty vessel. When we are full of our own will, there is no room for the divine within us. We must make room in our souls, move aside so that Powers greater than we are have space to work.

I kneel before the Mother of Summer, the great Healer, and I say, “I can’t do this.”

And the Mother says, “You don’t have to,” and enfolds me in her loving arms.


I have been fighting for so long, and I’m tired.

I see now that I don’t have to keep fighting. I can choose to lay down my weapons and stand unarmed and vulnerable before the world.

They can, after all, kill me but once.

And I am, always, held in the hands of God … and I am perfectly, utterly safe.

It is my own weapons that convince me I am surrounded by danger. I am carrying a semiautomatic with me everywhere, cinching tight the buckles on my Kevlar and bracing every moment for the incoming barrage. But it is my staggering display of weaponry that prompts everyone else to bristle, makes them draw their own guns and train them on me – just in case, you know – because that bitch looks like she means business.

What if, instead, I walked up to them with my arms wide open, wearing my colourful silks and singing of summer and sunshine and love?

What if I were to say, here, have a cup of tea?

What if I were to listen, instead of shouting?

What if I were to trust the Mother of Summer to heal my wounds, to relax into her embrace, and allow the old injuries to be tended by the only Power great enough to heal them?

What if I were to fall asleep under my God’s loving eyes, and allow my soul to recover?



I would never need to pick up my weapons again


and my soul would be filled with song.

21 February 2013

What’s it like to be a small holder

Most of us have visions of what it is to be a farmer: driving a big combine, baling hay, loading a hundred cattle into stock trailers and driving them to auction, getting up every two hours to check the cows during calving season, and so on. These images are quite real for many farmers, including a lot of my neighbours.

A small farm, like ours, though, is very different. The modern definition of the word farmer doesn’t even seem to apply to us: we don’t make a living doing this. We do raise our own meat, have chickens that give us eggs, and maintain a garden and pastures. What we do is similar to the way people farmed a hundred years ago, when more families had a bit of land and just about everyone had a garden out back and a few chickens in the yard. I usually use the word small holder to describe what I am, because calling myself a farmer would confuse a lot of people and upset many of those who are full time modern style farmers.

A small holding is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “an area of land that is used for farming but which is much smaller than a typical farm”. Yup, that’s us. We have about six acres on which you’ll find a house, a creek, some fenced pastures, a couple of sheds, a small barn and a chicken house.

I thought I’d start out this series of posts by describing the routine of daily winter chores – later on, I’ll explain more about our infrastructure, the seasonal ‘big jobs’, and what the summer chores look like, but this is what we’re doing daily right now, so it seems like a good place to begin.

In the winter, the animals who live here need to be cared for every day. The chores are done twice a day – this year we’ve shifted to a schedule that has chores happening around 9:30 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. This way, even at the darkest time of the winter, it’s still light when you go out to do chores, and the time fits reasonably well into the other schedules we have to maintain (minimal though they are). If we’re going to be away for the day, we’ll just put out extra feed the night before, or have things ready to do a quick top up before we leave or when we get back home, so it’s not like someone absolutely has to be outside twice a day … that’s the baseline, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.

So, let’s just walk through daily chores.

In the morning, I put on my warm chore clothes (if it’s really cold that includes insulated coveralls plus my coat, hat, mitts and a scarf) and head outdoors with Caleb the border collie cross. I walk to the quad which is parked next to the hay bales and pull the tarp off, spreading the tarp out on the ground so I can load it with hay. Using the pitchfork that stays near the hay bale, I unload enough to fill the feeders for the sheep and cows and pile it on the tarp, which is tied to the back of the quad and serves as a hay trailer – it slides easily on the snow, and since it’s at ground level, I don’t have to lift the hay, just peel it off the bale and slide it onto the tarp. Once the tarp is loaded up, I start the quad and drive up the hill to where the feeders are (in the early winter, there are bales up there near the feeders, but by this time of year those are used up and we’re having to haul the hay a bit of a distance from the drop off point to the feeders). Loading hay takes about five minutes, twice that if it’s a new bale and I have to deal with cutting the bale strings off.

At the top of the hill I park and drag the edge of the tarp closer to the feeders and tip it over. Using the pitchfork that lives near the feeders (note that we have two, one at the bales and one at the feeder, it makes life simpler) I load the hay from the ground up into the feeders, checking to see that all the sheep and cows are coming to eat and that nobody looks ill or has gotten themselves stuck in a fence or tangled in bale string overnight. That takes about five minutes, maybe less, unless you have a crisis of some kind to deal with but if you stay on top of things, usually everything is okay.

Driving back down the hill on the quad, I stop at the dog feeder and load up their dish with six scoops of dog food from the garbage bin that sits beside their sheltered feed spot (the guardian dogs have a little ‘house’ that they can walk into to eat: it keeps their food from getting rained on and gives them a spot out of the wind to chow down). Pour one extra scoop on the roof of the feed house for the cats, who are sitting there waiting for me. Three minutes.

Next stop is the edge of the house, where I park the quad and take the collapsible bucket (which is stored on the tray on the front of the quad) to the water outlet and fill it up for the chickens. Trudge over to the chicken run, tip their water bucket upside down and stomp on it to knock the ice out (it’s a flexible rubber dish, specifically designed so it can be stomped on to clear it in the winter) then flip it back over and pour the water in. Get a scoop of grain from the garbage bin that sits next to the chicken coop and pour it in their food dish inside, double check that there aren’t any eggs in the nest boxes (there aren’t usually any this early, but if someone laid an egg late the day before, sometimes you can get it before it freezes … frozen eggs are treats for the guardian dogs). Checking on the chickens is maybe another three or four minutes.

Eyeball the water trough – it should have enough water since yesterday, but it’s always possible that the breaker flipped and the thing’s frozen over, or that it  has emptied out sooner than expected. Usually water doesn’t need to be dealt with until afternoon, so we’ll assume that’s the case right now. That means we are done, just need to park the quad and cover it back up, and head inside.

Afternoon chores are identical to morning chores, with the addition of water. The hose is stored inside (because otherwise it freezes) so it gets grabbed on the way out the door. Load up the tarp and drive partway to the feeders with the load of hay, stopping at the edge of the house. Climb off the quad and take the hose to the tap, hook it up to the quick connect and walk up to the barnyard, laying down loops of hose as you go, dropping the end of the hose in the trough. Head back to the tap, turn on the water, and continue with feeding: by the time you’re done feeding everyone and checking on the chickens, the water trough should be full. Chickens don’t need water again in the afternoon, as they’ll be going to sleep as soon as it’s dark, but there are probably eggs now, so collect the eggs in the bucket and set them on the quad while you turn off the water and wind up the hose. Drive the quad to it’s parking space, cover it back up, take the eggs in the house, rinse them off, and put them in the fridge. Feed the inside pets, hang up your coat and hat, and you’re done for the day.

It’s about fifteen to twenty minutes, twice a day – a little longer when you have to peel a new bale, a little less when you can grab the core of the bale and dump it over the fence for the cows to munch on at leisure. Note that this can also be done without the quad – a human being can haul the tarp laden with hay (not quite as fully loaded, so two loads may be necessary) and all the other jobs are just as easily accomplished on foot – it’s not that far from the house to the barnyard. The quad is lovely to have, though, as it saves me a lot of energy … I only have so much to go around, and when I can conserve some, I am happy to do so.

So, that’s a winter day in the life of a small holder. More on this series shortly.

14 February 2013

From my sister

Marking Valentine's Day, which would have been my daughter Jessica's 18th birthday. This is what she said:
Today, lots of people celebrate love. But love, of course, isn't defined by frilly pink hearts or boxes of chocolate. Sometimes it is ecstatic and joyful, sometimes it is deep and enduring. It can be soft, determined, compassionate, or gritty.

Sometimes it pours out of you until it feels like there is nothing left. It surges in waves of tears that are driven by winds of grief. But even when the storm subsides, love still remains. It cannot be destroyed by grief, obliterated by time, or displaced by new loves. It is powerful. Strong.

The strength of that love is within you. It always has been, and always will be.

Such beautiful words just had to be shared.

12 February 2013

Let’s talk.

Today is the day to talk about mental health issues.

So, let’s talk about one of the things that makes living with mental health issues so much tougher than it needs to be: shame.

We all know we’re supposed to be productive. We’re supposed to be cheerful, contributing members of our families and our communities. We’re supposed to have our acts together, to behave like civilized grownups, to be capable of holding down a job, caring for our kids, and keeping the sidewalks shovelled and the grass mown.

When your mind keeps betraying you, though, when you don’t sleep at night so you drag your butt through the day in an exhausted fog, when your chest aches constantly and your head feels like it’s going to explode from the pressure and your memories keep escaping your grasp no matter how many times you try to make lists and set alarms and you are so freakin’ tired you just want to sit down and cry …

… when your day goes like that, it’s hard to be the cheerful, contributing member of your family and community that you want to be.

But we don’t want to tell anyone how we feel, either, because we are ashamed. It seems so weak, so silly, so … inexplicable. Do I confess that I don’t remember the conversation you’re referring to, or do I just smile and nod and fake my way through? Do I stop halfway through the short list of things I want to do today to sit in the chair because I’m just too weary to go on, or do I push through so that I don’t have to explain why we’re having frozen pizza for dinner again tonight? Do I dig deep to find the words (and the courage) to ask you for help, or do I just swallow my fears yet again and try to talk myself out of the gut reactions I can’t actually control?

Just managing my inner world takes more energy and resources than you can possibly imagine. It takes more energy and resources than I want to give it, but if I don’t do all the things that I know I need to do to stay on top of things, the Darkness overtakes me, and then I am undone.

But the things I have to do take time out of my day, time I want to spend on productive things. Time I don’t want to  have to justify or explain to anyone else, because it is hard to wrap the words around it all. I can’t adequately explain it … all I can tell you is that believe it or not, this is the best I can do. And I know my best is no great shakes, believe me, but this is all I’ve got. If I had more, I’d give it, please believe me. This is as good as it gets right now.

And I am ashamed that this is all I can do. I want to be so much more.

I realize that shame thrives on three things: secrecy, silence, and judgment.

We need to tell our stories – to deny shame the power to control our lives any more. Yes, it’s scary to shine the light into the darkness, but when I told my secrets, when I refused to stay silent anymore, instead of being met with the harsh judgment I expected, I was met with loving kindness and support.

I still want to run back into the darkness and hide sometimes. I don’t have that choice anymore – I’ve outed myself quite thoroughly now and I can’t go back. This is good: the accountability keeps me moving forward, and keeps me from slipping back into the darkness that still calls to me, promising that everything will be okay if I just hide everything once more, shut my mouth, and behave.

It’s a lie. I know it’s a lie. But I need the help of those who have heard my story. I need people I can lean on while the emotional bones that I shattered in that long, brutal fall are given time to heal. I need supportive voices who encourage me to be gentle with myself, to allow the healing to progress at it’s own pace, to help me drown out the judgmental, punishing voices that still plague me.

I need to hear 

You are doing a big job even though nobody else can see it, and we know you’re working hard. We understand that you need to rest, and that you hate having to do it. It’s okay. We’re proud of you just for hanging on. You’re getting better, we can see it, even if you can’t. And when you have bad days, we are here for you. It’s okay if every day isn’t a good one. We love you anyway.

I need to hear this. We all need to hear this. Those of us struggling with the invisible demons of our mental illnesses and injuries, we need more support than we let on.

Be extra kind to everyone you meet this week. You never know what inner battles people are fighting … that surly clerk at the store, the grumpy spouse, the distracted teacher … maybe this is all they’ve got to give today. We’re hard enough on ourselves, really, we don’t need one more voice saying “come on, is that the best you can do?”

A voice that says, “It’s tough, eh? Anything I can do to help?” … now that would be welcome.

10 February 2013

Pink. Purple to be added shortly.

The PTSD fatigue has, up until recently, kept me too tired to spin at the wheel (thank goodness I found supported spindles - I can still spin, even when I’m too tired to treadle!) … but today, the mood finally struck. Jacqueline and I decided to play.

I spun two bobbins of hot pink hand dyed Tunis (actual woolen prep rovings from the local mill) - about an hour per bobbin.

image title

I was aiming for something I could use in a 2 ply for socks, and I think I got it. I plyed on my Norwegian (since she has no issues going backwards, and that meant I only had to wind off once onto a Lazy Fred storage bobbin). The finished yarn is now back in the dyepot soaking up some splotches of purple.

Ah, here we go: out of the dyepot.

Left to right: great wheel spun blues plyed with spindle spun whitish singles; hot pink and purple sock yarn; garnet silk/merino, spindle spun.

Pink and purple splotch socks.This should be a decent antidote to the muck and slush of the (hopefully) upcoming spring season. :)

(Spring in northern Alberta is NOT something to rhapsodize about. It’s messy. It takes too long. I want to go from 2 feet of snow to summer in two weeks, but it takes two months. Of muck. And grayness. Pink will help.)

05 February 2013

The coat, on a person. Me, in fact.

I wore it when I drove to get the mail and take my library books back … yep, it works. :)

04 February 2013

Hand woven wool coat: completed

It’s done. :)

This is:

  • approximately 3 pounds of yarn
  • five hours of loom preparation
  • around eleven hours of weaving
  • about two hours of finishing work

Every single thing was done by hand. Seams all hand stitched then pounded flat with a rubber mallet while still damp from a final washing. Buttons picked out of a bin at a local antique store and carefully fixed to the wool. Button loops made of braided leftover warp threads. It’s about three of my work days, and very much worth it, I think.

Once it is fully dry, I’ll get some pictures of it on an actual person, but you can see what it looks like here.

I’m very pleased with it, pleased enough, in fact, to say that I’m ready to take requests, if anyone would like one made. The yarn comes in a wide range of colours: two or three blended together seems to give a very nice effect, but I think it’d also be lovely in a solid bright colour, like red. (I have always loved red coats.)

If you’d like one, send me a note* and we can discuss the details! For $325 you can have a custom woven knee-length coat in your preferred colours, with hood and cuffed sleeves, closed with your choice of buttons, toggles, braided ties, or metal clasps.


* Contact information is available on the main Apple Jack Creek website.

03 February 2013

All the pieces

I warped the loom today for the sleeves and got them woven – yep, all in one day. I started warping midmorning and was weaving by just after lunch, finishing both sleeves by late this evening.

Here’s a sleeve on the loom: it has stripes in the warp as I was running low on the light gray used elsewhere in the coat. I really like the effect, and I think I’ll plan to do striped warps on most of the production coats.

They’ve now come out of the wash, and they fulled up nicely just like the other pieces did:

And, now I can see all the pieces together:

The long body pieces are on the back of the chair, partially covered by the hood, and the sleeves are on the arm of the chair.

The darker yarn was used on purpose at the hem and cuffs, as those are the parts most likely to get dirty, and I figured it might show less on the darker yarn. :)

Tomorrow, it all gets put together into a coat!

01 February 2013

Coats have *two* sleeves.

Math and I, we are not best friends.

Today I got the second body panel finished, the hood woven, and one sleeve …  I didn’t put enough warp on for both sleeves. And now I’m second guessing the sleeve length calculations anyway, so that’s fine, I’ll add some more warp and do two proper sleeves next time I am weaving.

The two body pieces are presently in the washer, fulling. Anxiety provoking? Yes. :)

So let me tell you the other trick I used when warping this project. The body panels are the widest, they need almost the full width of the loom. But the hood is narrower, and the sleeves narrower still, and there’d be either a lot of wasted warp or some futzing around trying to make it all fit on the same width of warp. So, I improvised.

Because I have a sectional warp beam, I wound the widest part of the warp just long enough to do the body panels. Then the middle part was long enough to do the body panels plus the hood, and the very centre was long enough to do the body panels plus the hood plus (one, but shoulda been two) sleeves. When I finished weaving the second body panel, the outer warp sections were all used up, so I just cut them free and let the fabric hang loose. The centre threads used for the hood were all still connected and under tension, so it worked out fine. When the hood was done, same trick … cut a few more threads at the back and I was left with just enough warp to do the sleeve. A little bit of futzing and I can get the last sleeve woven off as well, then it’ll be a matter of piecing everything together properly.

The pattern called for weaving a slit into the coat body where the arms go, but I forgot to do that, and with the heavy fulling I think cutting the fabric and stabilizing the edges with stitching is going to be fine. That also allows for a bit more flexibility in how things go together, too, and it’s the way the Hudson’s Bay blanket coats are done.

The machine is spinning.

Maybe it’s almost done.

… pace … pace … pace


WHEW! It worked!

(bad lighting indoors at night, sorry)

The panels are almost *exactly* the size called for in the pattern: 25” wide instead of 25.5” (but there is a lot of ease in the pattern so that’s fine) and 51” long (pattern calls for 45”, and I could clearly have gone shorter, this’ll be nearly ground length). The fringes felted up nicely, just like they did on the horse blanket. There’s a pattern error or two, but nothing horribly noticeable and hey, it’s hand woven and it’s the first one, so … that’s fine by me.

I have the hood and the part of a sleeve / possibly a full sleeve, depending how things work out in the washer now, so that I have all the measurements I need for when I warp up the loom next.

It’s progress!


Okay I got the hood and the ‘possible sleeve’ out of the washer and measured. I need to do the sleeves differently, they’ll be the same width as the hood on the loom, so that makes warping a bit simpler. I’ll warp up for just two sleeves the day after tomorrow and get those woven up, then I can sew!

On tomorrow’s to do list: buy button thread. :)