22 May 2013

And good news for Bob the Dog

We received good news from the vet today: the biopsy on the tumour removed from Bob's neck shows that it was the sort that is likely to be only locally invasive, not intensely metastatic. It may recur, but at his age, he's likely to outlive the cancer and as far as we're concerned, that makes it a good outcome. We'll just watch for any new lumps, and if they show up we'll know it's time for Bob’s last watch, before the new tumour can grow to an uncomfortable size.

At almost 11 years old, Bob probably has another 2-3 years of good life and guardian work in him and we're glad to have him on duty again!

The music begins

I did some test weaving on the Ode to Joy warp yesterday evening, and settled on a draft called ducape, which creates a vaguely ridged fabric with interesting little rounded oval designs when you look closely at the contrast between warp and weft threads.

Non-weavers, just skip this next bit … it’s not in plain English.

The draft was found on the not2squareweavers blog, many thanks to the guild for sharing their favourite weaving drafts! Threading is a simple 6 thread repeat: 2-1-2, 3-4-3 and the tie up is 3, 2, 1&3, 2&4. You can (obviously) weave plain weave with treadles 3 and 4 alternately (for hems, for example) and then the body of the pattern is treadled 4, 1, 3, 1 and repeated – you never use treadle 2.  You end up with these neat little rounded blocks separated by a ridge, it’s a lovely fabric and very easy to weave and treadle, and it’s really easy to see if you’ve made a treadling mistake too. I’ve threaded this at 20 epi, using the Louet Organic Cotton. I am using floating selvedges as the weave gives you wobbly edges without them.

I’m not attempting to pattern the weft, just weaving in the same set of colours as the warp at random intervals and for random widths. I did notice that the black is particularly striking … I may try doing one whole length just with black weft, and see what that looks like, I think it could be very interesting.

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The fabric is a little wider than I had originally anticipated, partly because I forgot to thread the last (well, first) section yesterday, I found it today and cut off the sample I’d done, threaded that last bit, and started fresh. I like how it’s shaping up.

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Yes, that’s bubble wrap you see – when the fabric gets long enough that the beam it’s rolling onto has come all the way around, the knots that are used to tie the warp onto the front bar end up pressing on the fabric. This creates uneven lumps of tension which muck up the weaving, so padding is needed. Most weavers use a piece of cardboard, but I happened to have a big roll of thick bubble wrap right there, so I used that. It pads things out  nicely and keeps the tension smooth.

More weaving is on the schedule for tomorrow, as well as a custom blending project that I need to prepare: I am going away for a few days over the weekend, as The Reluctant Farmer has a conference to attend and I get to go with him (!) so I need some spinning to take with me. I have a Top Secret Commission to work on that involves some custom blending, custom spinning, and then some knitting – so I have to get all my gear together before I head out on the weekend. I mean, the most important thing to pack (after the bathing suit for the hotel pool) is the fibre projects, right? :)

20 May 2013

Music, math, and fabric

I was looking around for interesting ideas for what to weave next, and I stumbled across a kit for some tea towels that were called Mozart Towels: the colour progression was based on the Jupiter Symphony, with different notes associated with different colours, and the number of threads used in sequence based on the duration of the note.

Well, now that’s a cool idea!

So, I thought about my favourite music, and immediately decided on the Ode to Joy.

(If you haven’t seen this video, please do take the time to watch it. It makes me cry with happiness every time I see it … especially when the little kids start directing in the background!)

Okay, let me just dry my eyes here …. good heavens, I love that music!

Right. : sniff : So.

The hymn version of the Ode to Joy is 16 bars long, and only requires six notes to map the melody line. Six notes, six colours. Sixteen bars, at twenty four threads per bar and twenty ends per inch, that’ll be a bit under twenty inches. Perfect.

So I sat down with the sheet music and a spreadsheet and started counting out music notes, then I laid out my yarn cones in an octave and tapped out the melody to see how the colours worked. I settled on a colour mapping that went from black and gray in the lower notes to bright orange and red in the upper, and got it all planned out in Excel.

Then, I wound each two inch segment of the warp on warping pegs, counting out the threads (six for a quarter note, three for a half) and beamed each segment onto the loom as it was completed.


Beam onto the loom…

And there’s the entire score!

Read it from top to bottom (which will be left to right on the loom) …

Joyful, joyful we adore Thee

God of Glory, Lord of love

Hearts unfold like flowers before thee

Opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away

Giver of immortal gladness

Fill us with the light of day.


Threading will be an adventure for tomorrow or the next day.

19 May 2013

A podcast interview about the Rookie’s Field Guide

A podcaster (who happens to also be a local knitter and spinner that I know in Real Life) invited me to be interviewed on her awesome podcast, By the Fibreside.

You can listen to a wonderfully crafted introduction, learn about Master Spinner techniques, hear about knitting projects underway and hear us chat about the new book and supported spinning and other fibery goodness right here.

18 May 2013

Sunny day, more fence repairs.

The weather forecast is FINALLY calling for some rain this week, which is good - we have had no rain but a few little sprinkles not worth putting a coat on for since our last snowfall, which is just plain weird. And the grass needs some rain to clue it in that it's time to GROW!

However, today is a sunny day and a good day to work outside. And Pasture A is just getting to the ‘edible grass stage’, and Pasture C where everyone has been for the last few days (since it seemed cruel to keep them locked up any longer in such nice weather) is looking pretty used up. With rain coming, today was the day to do the work so The Boy and I went out and repaired the fences in Pasture A and got everyone moved over. The fence we fixed today is one of the first fences we ever put up, so it was pretty awful. Some wire had to come down, a few more posts had to be pounded in, and then we strung barbed wire instead of woven wire along that side, as it's really hilly and it's almost impossible to get woven wire to go up properly with hills and dips. You need a LOT of strands of barbed wire to hold sheep in though, and the posts have to be really close together (even more so with all the darned hills and dips), so it was a lot of work. Went out at 11 or so, came in around 4. I am a little sunburnt and a lot tired.

But, a job that needed doing has been done. And I ache and feel very worn out but at least I was productive so I feel good on the inside. And the critters now have decent grass to eat, and access to their shade and water, and the fence reallocation plans are gradually evolving in my head. The goal is to have a setup that allows access to water and shade from every pasture, with alleyways and access gates to optimize traffic flow and minimize infrastructure headaches. Yeah, it’s an ongoing, evolving process, but it’s slowly coming along. A few new ideas started percolating in my head today, I need to do some drawing and see what might actually be made to work.

Now, though, it’s rest time. My audio book and knitting await!

15 May 2013

Bob the Dog is on the mend

Bob’s surgery went well today!

The vet said that his body was already starting to reject the tumour growth, shoving it outwards. Nicely encapsulated on the underside, easy to get out, and he is now lump-free. A sample has been sent off to a lab for tests to fully identify what it is, mostly so that if we end up seeing something similar in a little while, we’ll know for sure what we are dealing with and can take appropriate action. But, he’s home, he’s slightly stoned and a bit woozy still, but he’s home and seems quite content.

Yay Bobbie! Yay Dr Sarah and team!

12 May 2013

Work with the weather

Ya gotta work with the weather if you wanna get stuff done and not suffer too badly.

Today it’s warm, but a little overcast and not too hot so I did some of the outside jobs: got the washout at the culvert repaired well enough that I could drive the quad and trailer across to get hay without falling into the creek; filled up the trailer with hay and got it brought back for the sheep and cows; moved some more wood from the old wood pile to the new wood shed; took down most of the old fence around the garden, stripped off small branches and kept the centre straight tree branches/trunks for use in the new version of the fence; did a little bit of thinking about the south yard terracing that needs to be done; put a trellis in the raised bed by the patio door so that I can plant a climbing something or other in there; read up on how to propagate hops, because hops is a climbing something or other and I could maybe put that in; moved the water storage cube underneath a different downspout (and climbed a ladder and moved the water spout so it drains directly into the tank now), the new location is a little higher in elevation and will work better as the water source for the more-or-less-automatically-refilling-summer-water-trough I have planned for the pastures, once we get the fences reworked; moved the outlet for the sump pump so that it will spill water onto the newly planted trees along the road instead of draining into the pasture; changed the sheets on the Small People’s beds and washed the sheets that were taken off; set the table for dinner … and now I need to go *make* dinner.

The wind picked up about 20 minutes ago, after I came inside, so my timing was good today. It’s always nicer to work outside when the weather is pleasant!

It was supposed to rain this week, but I see the forecast has been changed and it’s looking to stay dry again. We really need some moisture … there’s been a few drops fall from the overcast sky today but nothing you’d actually call *rain*, not even enough to warrant putting a coat on. I may need to give some more thought to irrigation strategies. Hmmm.

Okay, off to make dinner!

11 May 2013

Hmm, that’s not good.

Well, my day didn’t go as planned. Not at all.

Went out to do morning chores and saw that Bob the Dog (the other guardian, not Mackenzie, who’s the one that got bitten by a something a little while ago) had a big lump on his neck. It wasn’t there last week, and it’s HUGE. Maybe an abscess, I figure, those happen regularly enough if the animals get into something poky and then it gets encapsulated … messy, but I can deal with that. So I get all my gear out to do just that and … yeah, what’s under all that muck is NOT what I was expecting. Whatever it is, it’s clearly beyond my skill set, so off we go to the vet. Plus I had to deliver the Small People to their mom today, as it is the Princess Girls’ birthday party (she’s 9) today.

This means we drive north and drop the dog off at the vet, then west to deliver the kids to town, pause to call the vet, yup, he’s ready, go back for the dog on the way home.

It’s not an abscess, it’s a tumour. It grew so fast it outgrew the blood supply and got an infection – I was sure there was an infection of some kind, because it smelled wrong. Anyway, Bob’s on antibiotics now and will have the tumour removed next week - he’s an old dog (almost 11 is old for an outside guardian) but the initial exam suggests it’s the kind of tumour that’s probably well localized, and he should “outlive the cancer” as my vet put it. Which is good, because it’s not cheap to have a big dog go for surgery. Still, Bob’s worked hard and protected the sheep and he’s earned his pension and his pay. He got a dish of meat (pressure canned actual MEAT) when he got home, and he’s out there now with a stupid looking bandage around his neck because the nasty thing wouldn’t stop bleeding after being poked and prodded and biopsied. Fortunately Bob was quite cooperative about it all. But good grief, the poor puppy has a lump almost the size of my fist sticking out of his neck, yuk!

Fingers are crossed that it’s not the kind that will have metastisized, though he’s earned palliative care regardless and getting this taken off would be a comfort measure either way, so … there we have it. My vet’s pretty optimistic though, so we are too.

Now, I had planned to do a bunch of weaving today – I have an art show in less than a month and nothing to show, so I have to get up to the loom!

07 May 2013

Saving trees from brush hogging

Not a best seller like Saving Fish from Drowning, but hey.

Trees that are too near the road and/or under the powerlines will eventually be brush hogged – mowed down by a great big mowing machine that essentially mulches everything in its path. So, digging up trees from that space beside the road or out from under the power lines is a way to save their lives … and an inexpensive way to landscape our property.

We need more trees. We really need a good wind break along the north border, behind the house, as the wind usually comes from the northwest and it’s been shown that a proper wind break of heavy trees can actually reduce your power bill considerably. Plus, when you drive up to our house it’s not really very attractive – the front of the house faces south, so you arrive at the “back” of the house, where all you see is a plain row of windows and nothing very inviting. Trees and some better landscaping (and tidying things up) will make it look much better, and it’ll have the added advantage of breaking up the wind.

So, I decided to go out and gather up some trees to start the landscape project. I’ll need to plant some more and make the belt a little thicker, but for starters, I took the quad and the trailer and headed down the gravel road looking for trees (particularly evergreens) that were in the brush hog zone. I found quite a few, actually, including a few larger trees that had escaped last year's mowing and grown to a decent size. With the trusty tree planting shovel that my sister used for four summers of back breaking work, I dug up trees and loaded them into the trailer.

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Boy oh boy do I love having the quad. I know, I always said we didn’t need one, and I was so very wrong. Especially as my energy levels go down and my body can’t do as much, having a tool that lets me go longer distances and haul heavy loads without using my body’s limited resources is just wonderful. I blessed the neighbour who gave it to us again today as I worked, believe me.

So, a load of trees came home, most of them with considerable soil still around the roots. None of them had travelled far, and the soil is pretty similar, plus I figured keeping them covered in damp earth while they were being transported would be good for them. Once home, The Boy helped out by removing the fence that was along the north border (not a very good fence, it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold anything in and mostly just got in the way) and then I started digging holes and planting trees.

I also went across the road to where the power line comes up to our house and dug up a few large poplar trees from underneath the wires. It’s nice to have a few trees that are tall when you are starting out, so it’s not just a row of teeny seedlings.

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This is right by the driveway, you can see the rocks that mark the edge of the culvert that goes under the access from the main road. I put a few little dogwood trees down there near the culvert, as they like moist soil and the ditch stays reasonably damp. The nicest, tallest evergreen went right at the corner – maybe we’ll get some solar Christmas lights for it this winter. The other trees are staggered along the north edge of the property in a bit of a zig zag pattern rather than a single straight line … I’ve been reading permaculture books and straight lines just aren’t a natural thing, plus I want to avoid creating a wind tunnel when the wind is coming from the west, so breaking up the tree line a little is important. Besides, grouping the trees in little clusters will provide more visual interest and eventually give me little mini climate zones where I can grow smaller shrubs and maybe even flowers – though since the grass is actually quackgrass, whatever I grow has to be reasonably easy to mow around, so probably bushes and shrubs which can stand up to having the weed whacker run nearby will make more sense than flowers.

I found some big rocks and set those out next to the smallest trees so that I don’t accidentally drive over them or mow them down. I also moved the Blue Sign (the county address sign) down to the edge of the driveway and put a couple of large poplar trees on either side of the posts that hold the sign. You can’t really see those trees in this picture, but they’re there. I think I’ll try to plant some morning glories or another climbing plant under the sign and it’s supporting posts, and see if we can get something to grow in all that grass.

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It’s still pretty rough looking, but it’s an improvement. The Boy and I also raked up all the leftover hay from the yard and he hauled it to the garden where it will serve as perimeter mulch: in the Ongoing Battle Against the Quackgrass a solid mulch at least a metre wide around the area you want kept clear is the next thing to try. All that mouldy hay has gotta go somewhere, so that seemed like a good place for it. The trees all got a good long soak from the rain barrel hose while I raked up mulching hay, too, as they need lots of water after they’ve been transplanted and I could just move the hose from one tree to the next as I worked.

After a day like this, I’m all out of strength … thank goodness for Advil, or I might be unable to move. Still, it was a good day for this kind of thing: the weather was pleasant but not too hot, I needed a sweatshirt on most of the day, but nothing more than that. Hopefully most of the trees survive the transfer … but if not, at least we’re not out any money, and Mother Nature will provide us with more if we’re patient.

Tomorrow’s adventure … probably the new wood shed. Stay tuned for more spring excitement!

06 May 2013

Sunny day

Sweepin' the clouds away...

Actually it is a bright, cloudless, sunny day it's supposed to get up to a rather toasty 29C today, so I am postponing more outside work until it cools a little.

I have finished my daily chores, got a load of wash just about ready to go out on the line, and I've had my coffee on the front step.

I'm just pondering what to put on the loom next ... I have lots of wool for coats, and I'm contemplating a shorter jacket so I might do that today. Or I could warp up for some tea towels. Haven't quite decided yet. :)

Maybe after I get the wash hung up to dry I'll have it figured out!

03 May 2013

Spring is crazy busy on a farm

Springtime is nuts around here.

The weather has been a bit crazy – it’d warm up, then we’d get a heavy wet snow blizzard, then it’d warm up some more … the winter felt like it went on for absolutely ever this year. Of course, last week, after having most of the snow melt and some beautiful work-outside-kind-of-weather days all in a row, we got another late storm, super windy and wet and snowy … so of course we had twin lambs born that morning, and then another single born that afternoon! The twins were very cold and had to be brought in to warm up, tube fed colostrum (they were too chilled and weakened to nurse) and given a boost of oral glucose to get going, but they did perk up and are back with mama who loves them both, thankfully. All the lambs born that day are boys, haven’t come up with names for them yet.

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On the warm day before the storm, I went outside and did some work on the front steps: our patio door opened out onto a low temporary deck that’s been there since the house was built, and it was time to replace it with something sturdier (and with less of a steep drop when you stepped out the door). I’ve been reading permaculture books lately, and so I had the thought of putting some garden space right outside the door for herbs and things you’d like have within reach of the kitchen. This led to the idea of a set of raised beds with steps in the centre, and so with stuff I found around here already, I was able to build something that works. Today I gave it a few coats of stain, so it doesn’t look like the scavenged and mismatched wood that it actually is. I do still need to add the trellis supports for climbing plants (I saw a climbing strawberry plant that I think would be really neat, or perhaps a grape vine, to take advantage of the extra warmth up here by the house). The beds are presently mulched with straw, and my Easter lily got planted though the snow may have done it in.

Photo 2013-05-03 11 17 17 AMOn the left side of the bottom bed there are some twiggy things: I went to a workshop hosted by the county on starting trees from cuttings, and learned how to start willow, dogwood, poplar and aspen from cuttings. The twiggy things there are rooted cuttings that are in some pots of soil so they can develop sturdier roots (not just the ones they put out when they are in water), and then they’ll be planted around the property. Free trees! From local stock! Perfectly adapted to our climate! There’ll be more on this topic soon, I have some big plans (those permaculture books got me thinking)!

Today was a day to work on fences. Our infrastructure is still evolving – not something I’m really all that pleased about, I’d like to have gotten things more settled by now, but, it is what it is, and as we change the way we do things, we keep finding better (or hopefully better) ways to deal with the shape of our land and what’s on it. The wind tower has three big guy wires that keep it stable, and the animals rub on the wires, loosening them. Today’s job was to adjust the fence line so that the entire wind tower and its guy lines are enclosed by fence (actually that’s not quite true – one of the anchor points is still outside the fence, but there’s another fence going in that will protect it). The Boy and I took down some very ragged and damaged fences then put the posts back in, tightened and attached new woven wire, and cleared up a lot of the mess of broken fences, leftover posts and destroyed gates that had accumulated in the general vicinity. We also mounted some ‘lamb stoppers’ along the fence and gate: there were some gaps big enough that small sheep could pop out through the fence, and I need to know that the lambs will stay inside the fences before I start planting my garden!

Lamb stoppers are just chopped off bits of trees nailed to the fence to make the gaps too narrow to fit through, even for a little sheep:

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Nothing fancy, but I think it’ll work. The price is certainly right.

There’s a lot more fence work to be done, but what we did today should mean that we can keep everyone reasonably well contained until the pastures are green enough to let them out to graze. We have some more water and pasture access changes to make, so there’s a few more big fencing days ahead still.

Ah yes, pasture. Since the grass isn’t ready for grazing yet, we’ve still got everyone on hay. We’re all out of the hay we had delivered, but there are some bales in the pasture that belongs to our neighbour that we are able to use – they’ve been sitting there for a couple of years, but when I was out there last week, I noticed that though they’ve been sitting a long time, they had been baled when the hay was nice and dry and so they are not mouldy or anything. They still smell good! The Boy and I took the quad and the big trailer and headed over there to load up.

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A Boy and his Dog … and a haybale.

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I rode on top of the hay wagon on the way home. :)

It’s just grass hay, nothing spectacular, but there’s plenty of it, so we feed generously and everyone seems reasonably content.

I’m rather stiff and sore after all that work, but tomorrow I have a baby shower to go to so I’ll have some enforced relaxation time before I get back to the outside work.