Monday, December 31, 2007

Reaching your Toronto City Limits

We are now, officially, residents of the city of Toronto. Actually, we have been for over a month - our closing date on the house was Nov. 23. So much for "Buy Nothing Day", eh? We had to move out of the apartment by December 4. We owe Uncle Peter, with his van of awesomeness, a lot.

We're finally getting nice and comfy in our new (to us) house. We've had a few people over, and my parents came up for a couple days, Dad wielding power tools (some of which he bought for us, we love you!! Our families rock!!) and the knowledge of how to use them. The cats have stopped running for cover every time the door opens. We have a sectional couch, kitchen chairs, tables, phone, and internet. We have a bed, and several shiny, working major appliances. We have a bathtub (mmm, a bath!), and a backyard, with an honest-to-God tree in it. We also have an espresso machine, because my mother-in-law is made of awesome.

And we have mortgage payments, utility bills and property taxes.

We haven't watched television since we moved in, and we're starting to notice that we haven't missed it. We're still undecided about whether or not it's worth getting cable - certainly not for the duration of the writers' strike, anyhow. We hadn't really been watching TV for the last 6 months, frankly. We also don't have a car, since I had a minor fender-bender a couple weeks ago and the insurance company decided to write off my 9 year old Saturn (of beloved memory). Sigh. So I guess we're car shopping in January.

We've been a little slower than we wanted with unpacking. I did a dumb thing* 3 1/2 weeks ago that resulted in a torn right calf muscle. I've only been walking normally for the last week, and I managed to go down stairs for the first time a few days ago. It's still sore, stiff and swells in the evening. It's also mighty ugly, though the bruises are finally starting to fade. My clothes are still in plastic bags. But the bookshelves are up, and nearly full. We have our priorities. Also, I located my knitting.

Within two weeks of living here, I had already called city hall and had the kind folks at the by-law office looking things up. It was surprisingly easy to get a real person on the phone. Everyone was extremely helpful. They just didn't know the answer to my question.

Our house, you see, is on a major through-road. An official "snow route", in fact. The by-law says that when the city declares an official "snow emergency" (when a significant amount of snow falls in a short time), you can not park or stop on an official snow route for the next 72 hours. Normally, this road is available for 3-hour parking after 6pm, as are most of the quiet side streets around us. This is great when we want to have people over, but a headache when we want to have them over during or within 72 hours of a major snowfall. And the narrow, residential side streets, well... I think there's a couple cars that won't be dug out of there until spring.

All I needed to know was whether the city had officially declared a snow emergency, thus bringing the Snow Route by-law into effect. I was trying to determine whether the group of people we had invited over that evening should bother coming, or if they would have no parking, or (worst possible outcome) park in front of my house and be ticketed and towed. You would think something like this would be the first thing they would tell you on, say, the phone line dedicated to updating residents about snow conditions and plowing progress? Or perhaps on the website where they post announcements? Or from any of the major news outlets?

But no one could officially confirm for me that a Snow Emergency had been announced, and the several people from the city who I talked to were rather stymied by it. "Well, it's kind of vague," said one (very nice) lady. The vaguest, yet best reply came from someone at parking enforcement (i.e the people who would be doing the actual ticketing and towing) who said, "If the roads are clear, you should be fine." I strongly suspect this means: If the plows are still running and your car is in someone's way, they can ticket and tow you even if there is no 'official' Snow Emergency. Needless to say, we postponed the gathering until the New Year. Hopefully the weather will cooperate better, or at least the side streets will be clearer.

Beauracracy: 1, Us: 0.

Next battle, what goes into garbage, recycling and green bin? I fear I'll have to print out the list and tape it to the fridge.

At some point, there will be pictures. Many, many pictures. Er, after we put a little bit more crap away.

* In my defense, I was absolutely certain I could wrangle the largest, heaviest box in the entire house down to the basement by myself, and I still don't recall Daniel specifically telling me not to. I do recall him saying, "Just roll it to the back, there, in the kitchen, and we'll take it downstairs tonight." Which can be taken several ways, right?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Looking for motivation in all the wrong places

I continue to work on the Tom Baker Dr. Who Scarf for Daniel (started here and continued here). I haven't measured it lately, but I think it's at about 12 feet now. Just a little more to go. By the time the real winter cold kicks in, it should be done. There will be a picture of him modelling it, oh, you betcha. He just doesn't know that yet.

Below is a pic from the most recent band concert, Hooray for Hollywood in which we were to come in costume as movie characters. I couldn't get a proper Professor McGonagall costume together... but! Next year! Oh yes! The wand and a hat are so ordered! Now I need to find the perfect black Edwardian or Victorian dress and fabric to make a nice emerald green teaching robe. I'd love to be able to pull off Maggie Smith's Yule Ball dress from the Goblet of Fire movie (or better yet: the character's book-canon Yule Ball outfit, with Tartan robes and the horrible thistle-encrusted hat!) , but that will have to wait until I'm more comfortable with my sewing skills. This year, I had to settle for a generic costume which also happens to be my "nice" SCA garb.

Over the 13 years that I've been a member of this band, I've had many a moment when I can't remember why I still do it. I don't always feel like dragging my sorry butt to rehearsal, I sometimes feel like we're just retreading the same music over and over again and not doing anything interesting, I usually don't want to deal with the politics (and there are politics, oh yes - just like any community organization or church choir, just maybe with a little more alcohol!). There are people who cheese me off on a regular basis, just by opening their mouths. I've taken more than one leave of absence when it all gets to be too much, but still, I go back. And this is why. My life is better for knowing these people.

In another of life's strange coincidences, I went to Syracuse last weekend to give a talk to a small but enthusiastic group of linguistics students. My prediction held firm: 8 inches of Certified Syracuse Lake Effect Snow had to be brushed off my car Saturday morning, while 20 minutes outside the city limits, the ground was dry. (It also held true last month, since it was raining when we drove through there both on the way to and from Philly for NWAV.) It was also good to visit briefly with Patti and family on the way through Rochester, share in their Very Good Chinese Lunch and make a fleece drop!

This past week has seen a spectacular series of wardrobe malfunctions. I somehow got it into my head a couple nights ago, while on a "quick trip" to Walmart (seriously, I really did only go there to pick up Rubbermaid bins), I became spectacularly sidetracked and began trying on undergarments. Bras, specifically. Please understand, I despise shopping for clothes. So when I suddenly find myself in the mood and with a little time to do it (hopefully at the same time), I run with it.

I was quite pleased with myself when I left with several new bras, a winter coat, jeans, and a couple tops. However, upon trying to wear the bras for the last three days, they seem to have somehow morphed into ill-fitting, painful, underwire-poking and pinching contraptions that are the epitome of evil. I am at a loss, really. I tried each of them on that night, and they fit fine. No painful pinching or poking, no boobs springing out unexpectedly.

Oh yes. THAT kind of malfunction.

Possibly unrelated, or not, the fabulous winter coat I bought apparently doesn't have pockets. You might ask - and you should, because I certainly have - How could I not notice this in the store?!?! Was I that enthralled by the idea that I had found bras? Was I simply in the throes of a shopping frenzy that could not be stopped? Truly. I. do. not. understand. It appears I will soon have to test my sewing skills because by God, this coat will have pockets before I am done with it.

Oh, and, um, we bought a house. It was officially ours, debt and all, today. More on that later. But I am, unsurprisingly, a little distracted. I should be working on any number of things: Big D, an editing job that will probably go with me to the grave, Old Irish homework, even cleaning my horn (not a euphemism, sorry), would be more productive than blogging and reading comics. Er, graphic novels. But frankly, I've spent more time than anyone who isn't a professional driver should spend on the road and in traffic this week. Three evenings involved 2+ hour commutes. If I don't see the inside of my car for the entire weekend, it will be too soon.

No such luck, though. For starting tomorrow, we begin The Move.

Send pasta, please. I need some serious comfort food.

Friday, October 26, 2007

When necklaces attack: One bad mother-flipper

Ouch. Sorry about that, couldn't be helped.

I've sworn up and down for years that I wouldn't get into two things: fibre dyeing and jewelry making/beading. I don't know where or why I ever drew that line, but it had something to do with "no time" combined with "too many other projects." I think.

Yesterday's post demonstrated how the "no fibre dyeing" is going. And about that jewelry thing... well, I was recently attacked by my first-ever brief moment of necklace insanity. What's a woman to do? The fish needed a home, and he was nothing if not insistent. Many thanks to Elise for a pendant with such a refreshing attitude.

I'm just glad he's on my side.

Pendant (by Elise Matthesen):
"'Oh, yeah?' said the fish. 'How about you come in here and say that?'"
- mookaite and sterling silver

Necklace inspired by the pendant (by Bridget Jankowski):
"In here"
- bits of carved bone, a shell and stone chips (fancy lace agate, with some suspicious reddish brown stains)
- fishing net (hemp cord), a souvenir from the last time someone tried to catch him
- a piece of his driftwood whacking stick

The shell is fragile, and came from Lake Ontario, attached to the driftwood. I'll be adding an appropriate clasp in place of the slip knots, making it a little shorter, but it's entirely wearable (I did so today, and found his attitude a bit contagious, which I needed very much today). I consider this a first draft, since eventually something will break and I'll remake it. Hopefully by then I will have enough experience to make something better.

But probably not any less flippant.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Never say never: Headfirst into the dyepot

I have sworn for years, sometimes vehemently, that I would not allow my fibre affliction to cross into the realm of dyeing. It's smelly, it's messy, I don't have room, I don't have time, and I'm perfectly happy with natural-coloured fibre and the occasional purchase of some fancy-schmanzy pretty dyed stuff (main point there being: Dyed by someone else, KTHXSBAI). Frankly, such an activity opens a whole can o' worms for a personality like mine. I anticipate I would very quickly accumulate books and powders and chemicals and more fibre, and be forced to seriously consider planting a dye garden so that I can grow weld and woad and madder and any number of Very Useful Things. Which will force me to get a yard... you see where this is going, right?

I should know better than to say never, though. In mid-September, in and among the Not Writing That Next Thing stress and the Not Preparing For That Conference stress, I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at a house in Toronto's Kensington Market with four ladies whose company I enjoyed emensely, one of whom has a full-blown medieval dye garden in her little city-sized backyard. And because she is all kinds of awesome, she invited us to come over for a dye party. I bring wool (the old standby Dorset fleece), someone else supplies the dyestuff, knowhow and mess... who am I to say no? And besides, there is that super-secret project I'm helping with, and it's starting to look like we'll need to dye quite a bit of wool for that. Might as well soak in some knowledge of more experienced types, right?

There were several pots of boiling plants and insects, into which we plopped a variety of fibre from raw wool to linen cloth. We chopped up fresh weld, boiled the crap out of it and dyed things yellow.

Do you think it matches my eyes?

We ground up cochineal bugs, boiled the crap out of them and dyed things... um... Not Red.

No, Ford, I don't think anyone will mistake it for your tail.

Actually, we were a little puzzled by this, but not unhappily so. We were going for red, since that's what cochineal is, after all, known for. Red is cochineal's job, you might say. But when we realized early on that we were getting this lovely purple without even trying, no one complained all that much. It went a bit like this: "Oh dear! What a lovely purple! Um, does anyone care? I mean, we could put some tin in here and make it redder, but really, look at this stunning purple! Oh, drat, twist our arms..." I suspect the result was in part due to the pH of the local water, but we didn't test it at the time, so we may never know. And replicating it? Yeah, good luck with that. But far be it from me to look a gift kick-butt purple in the mouth. Especially when it combs up into roving like that.

Finally, we picked some berries from the 1 & 2 year-old madder (the plant roots are used to dye orange-red, but they aren't ready for use until their third year), boiled the crap out of them and dyed things... um... grey? -ish? Sortof? Well, no experiment is really ever a failure if we learned something.

A little skein of the same dorset fleece I've been working through, straight off the spindle and into the dyepot.

There have been a couple more dyeing adventures in the intervening weeks, but they are part of the super-secret-squirrel project. But I can say that 1) boiled spinach dyes a very pale yellow, not green, and 2) we have conquered The Red. We have one pound, and if the weather holds out this weekend, there will be several pounds of bright red wool. I hope pictures will be forthcoming, but honestly, when one is up to one's elbows in a hot dyepot full of saturated wool and crushed bugs, the camera always seems to be the last thing on my mind.

As for my concerns about the eminent stash expansion? Well, it's still a justifiable concern, but so far, I'm not totally out of control:

I should also disclose that there are several ounces each of alum, tin, copper and iron mordants on their way to me. Um.

Although for those in the know, the jar of indigo powder should raise a couple eyebrows. There are plans to unleash it on the weld-dyed yellow wool above, as we begin a quest for a Good Green by way of a Brilliant Blue (having finally conquered Really Red). Perhaps in the spring. I don't think I'll start collecting urine for the indigo vat quite yet, though. In fact, I'm very tempted to try a yeast vat instead - it has to smell better, right?

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Time to Spin, Part 6: The martial art of fibre preparation

September has come and gone, and I'm not entirely sure what happened to it. I think I've been busy, if by "busy" I mean I've been doing a lot of things that have nothing to do with The Big D. I also have a conference presentation to give in less than 10 days, and I haven't touched the files since June. Naturally, the best way to deal with that, I figure, is to finish the blog post I started nearly a month ago.

This is my brain on procrastination. And also, caffine and ice cream. Wheee!

So, from the spinning perspective, Pennsic was very good to me. Take, for instance, my new pair of Indigo Hound Viking Combs:

That is some of the fleece I washed up in June loaded on the combs. I bought them from Brush Creek Wool Works, who were apparently the only merchants at Pennsic selling wool combs, and they only brought four pairs with them. I bought the first pair, like, the second day the merchants were open. They sold them all by the second week. They are awesome. And also, deadly sharp. I like to think of them as the weapon of choice for ninja spinners.

My new toys weapons produce a wonderful roving, shown below after combing as it is being taken off the comb. I need would like a diz, and should probably just make one for myself, but in a fit of laziness I ordered one yesterday.

I declined to buy more fleece this year, since I still have most of the first washed Dorset to spin and two more fleece still to wash, on top of stash from LAST Pennsic to finish spinning, like my first brown fleece. Naturally, I had to make up for that somehow, so I went a little plant-fibre happy back at Brush Creek Wool Works, who were, conveniently (?) right beside the merchant who was teaching the three rigid heddle weaving classes that I took. I picked up some hemp, bamboo and flax to play with, and some lovely light green eucalyptus & tin-dyed wool. I don't expect to get to any of it for quite a while, what with one thing and the other, so no pictures at this point.

And because one can't have too many drop spindles (no, really!), I got this marvelous little one with a pink ivory wood whorl from Spanish Peacock:

What else have I been up to for the last 6 weeks? Well, that will take at least another post, I think. But it involves nothing less than a quest to dye wool crimson red and deep green using natural dyes, as well as learning how to calculate how much poundage will need to be dyed in order to spin up the appropriate yardage to weave a particular super-secret finished project on the new loom. Wool math. Sigh. I'm saving pictures of the loom until the project is really under way, and I am released from my vow of secrecy.

So in lieu of that, a few Pennsic pictures, finally. The tent, for the record, was lovely, and kept me wonderfully dry for what ended up being a particularly rainy War Week. I hope it will serve as a great home for many wars to come. Alas, I didn't get very good pictures of it myself, but I've found several online taken by others.*

I ended up in something of a "landmark" spot, right inside the gate of our camp, at the point where a well-traveled road and path intersect. It was nice, every time I started down the hill, to be treated to a perfect, picturesque view of my home:
Shot from the top of Runestone Hill

In a comical twist of fate, the only picture I've found so far of me with the tent is a stunning shot of... my butt:

And finally, a marvelous shot of our camp at night (the tiniest corner of my tent is visible on the lefthand side). I'm probably not one of the people sitting around the fire, as I tended to be either up topside and playing for dancers by this time of night, or asleep.

*The last two pics shown here have been uploaded to my blogger account rather than loading directly from other servers, but they still contain links back to the larger pictures on the photographers' respective sites, so that they can have all the credit. If one of these is yours and you'd like it removed from blogger and linked directly, just let me know and I'll be happy to oblige.

Monday, August 20, 2007

An August Interlude

I've been home from Pennsic for a week now, and I still haven't totally unpacked the car. It's sad, really. In summary: It was hot. And then it rained. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are many new spinning toys and fibre-related things, and overall, it was a great time, although I came home a little sick (sometimes there just isn't enough hand sanitzer in the world) and then I passed it on to Daniel. Ooops.

I learned a song guaranteed to induce rain, I ate watermelon and drank lemonade every day, and I got to see my parents a little, but not so much that we got sick of each other. I played the recorder for dancers several evenings (still not very well, but I'm getting better) and walked a lot and worked a couple troll shifts and a first-aid shift in the dead of night and briefly drove a golf cart. My feet swelled to the size of stuffed sausages and have only begun to look their normal size the last couple days. I finished Harry Potter. My tent was magnificent and kept me high and dry.

Oh yes, and I bought a loom.

No, not THAT kind of loom. A conveniently portable 20" Rigid Heddle (Beka) with 3 heddles so that I can do multi-heddle work.

Daniel booked this past week off at the last minute to spend some time with me, which was exceedingly sweet and awesome, and now we both need to screw our heads on again and get back to work this week, because we are now poor.

I have a handful of pictures. Longer post later, after I find the camera and associated cables. And, you know, some energy.

In the meantime, enjoy the fruits of someone else's labours (thank you, person who shot this!) and enjoy listening to Wolgemut. I think I heard them in some form nearly every day, my favourite moments being during weaving classes, when they were warming up and practising around the corner from our A&S tent. It was like having a special soundtrack while several of us worked together, warping looms. Clicking on the video will take you to a YouTube page with several others.

This is not the song guaranteed to induce rain. That one, as you can imagine, must be used sparingly.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Pains of Pennsic Preparation

At long last: Pennsic is almost here. I've heard that when people check in at troll, they're sometimes asked, "Have you been to Pennsic before?" When they say yes, the reply is often, "Welcome home."

For most people, that is a metaphor.

But I grew up less than ten miles from Coopers' Lake Campground. My family still lives in the area, as do any number of friends and acquaintences. Every year for as far back as I can remember, in August, the campground would be taken over by those strange people who wore costumes and armour and beat each other up with sticks. We could see the rows and rows of pavilions and the battlefield from the highway and the road. Locals didn't usually go - it's not an "open" event, like a Ren Faire. Everyone is a participant. Getting in means paying a full site and campground fee, and wearing the funny clothes.

Every year a few locals would venture over, ask around, maybe find a way to get in if they knew someone on the staff, and the word of mouth would spread. In my teens I often met people in t-tunics, cotehardies and crowns in the grocery store, the ice-cream place, local restaurants. They were very nice (even the Vikings), always answered questions politely, and were good-natured about the stares. Every year, the event got bigger. "Good for them," some said, "everyone needs a hobby." "Wierdos," said others, "What are they, hippies?" Or, "I hear it's just one big party." Or, "Great for the local economy." "I hear Coopers' makes a bundle of money from that." "Pity about the traffic, though." Actually, the locals still say those things, especially the last one (it's normally a quiet, out-of-the-way area where most locals are people who want some acreage and privacy), but for the most part, people are used to it by this point and have resigned themselves to accepting the benefits of playing host to such a large gathering of eclectic people with money to spend. Also, a lot more locals go now, especially since there are now SCA groups in the immediate area (which there weren't when I was kid, at least not big, active ones).

I moved away over 15 years ago and went to college. I got married. I moved out of the country. Yet every so often, all over North America, I would meet someone who spent their two week summer vacation at a little campground in western PA, down the road from the family homestead, where my father and brother sometimes went hunting. While I've been away, the event grew. Two thousand people. Three. Five. Ten. Twelve. Bigger than some of the neighbouring small towns, and only in existence for two weeks ever year.

A few years ago, my niece began to go. Last year, I finally went with her for a few days. It was enough to convince me that I should seek out my local SCA groups in the Toronto area, because so many of my hobbies and interests intersect. And so this year, much to my siblings' amusement, I am once again pitching a tent in, for all intents and purposes, our parents' backyard. I'm taking a full two week vacation from everything, the first one I've had in over 7 years. Daniel can't come, which is a bummer, but I'll work on him for next year. But I am going. I am going to spend at least one full day carding and spinning wool from that washed fleece, among other mindless persuits.

And... *drumroll*.... The Tent has arrived. A 10' x 15.5' by 8' medieval double-bell wedge made by Tentsmiths, who were great to deal with (just make sure and give them lots of time and be patient! They make a great product.) Dad agreed to cut my tent poles, and I couldn't ask him to deal with it without me there. And I figured I really should set up the thing at least once before taking it over to the site to live in it for two weeks. So down I went last weekend. And there is now a tent. And it is good:

It's not properly staked down here, this was just a test run for setting up and checking the poles. I left it up overnight and went out as the sun came up the next morning. It was very dry and roomy inside. I think we're going to get along fine, me and my portable home. It also needs a name. Suggestions are welcome.

Pennsic starts officially this weekend. My garb is not yet sewn. The Next Written Thing is not yet Written, about which I have no small amount of guilt that I'll have to work through before my Wednesday afternoon meeting with Lady S (less than 12 hours from now). It's the last time we'll meet until September, what with vacations and all - I'll just be impressed if I get out of there without bursting into tears (built-up stress, PMS, exhaustion... blah). I had to drive down to PA this weekend, back home on Monday, maybe finish writing in two days what I haven't been able to write in 8 months (verdict: nope!), finish preparations, pack, spend time with my husband, turn around and drive back down on Friday. I hate that drive. Most. Boring. Five Hours. Ever. And the stretch of I-90 from Erie to Buffalo? My personal hell. I love my family, and I (usually) enjoy going for a visit, but let's just say that when they invent transporters? First in line, baby. And I will never have to make a pit stop in Angola, NY again.

We drove up the road next to the campground over the weekend and Mom snapped a few shots for me: they're getting ready. It's quiet over there the Sunday before. The fences are up, the massive parking lots are staked off, and the roman numerals XXXVI (for Pennsic War 36) are mowed into long grass on the hillside overlooking the battlefield.

The Porta-Potties, er, Castles, are being moved into place, and large food court tents are being set up. The campgound is closed until Friday afternoon while they prepare for the onslaught. They have to close down for a couple weeks on either side of the event to get the campground ready.

This time next week the place will be teeming with people and pavilions, filling nearly to capacity as the momentum builds leading up to the second week, when all the big battles take place. And I will be there. But really, my brain has already been there for months now, which is very much why the Next Written Thing is not yet written. I have needed a vacation for a long, long time.

It's time to go home.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Time to Spin, Part 5: When Fleece Attack

Last weekend, my mother-in-law helped me wash one of the fleece. By hand. In her backyard. We started with five pounds of dirty, smelly fleece. Here, for example, is a fleece about the same size as the one we washed. This one went back into the in-laws' garage.

Imagine twice as much fleece packed into that plastic bag. Then imagine nine more bags that size. Or if you prefer, imagine 20 bags this size. That's how much fleece a group of us spent five hours examining and skirting a couple weeks ago.

I only wish I could post a sample of the smell. Smell-O-Vision, that's what we need.

Once again I have no pictures of the in-progress washing, because hot water, sheep grease and the camera don't mix, but the process goes something like this:
1) Fill big buckets, in our case two old plastic garbage cans and one very large plastic bin, with water as hot as you can get from the tap. This is much, much easier if you can hook up a hose to the tap and run it outside, otherwise you will be carrying a lot of water. If the tap water isn't hot enough, boil a small pot to top it off.
2) Add copious amounts of dishsoap. Preferably something that isn't cucumber & melon scented. (I never want to smell that soap again. It's almost as bad as the time I washed my big fuzzy white q-tip marching band hat* with White Rain shampoo in high school. But I digress.)
3) Add fleece, slowly pushing it down into the hot, soapy bin without agitating too much.
4) Let it sit for an hour or so.
5) Retrieve wet, soggy mass of fleece from still rather warm water, again trying not to agitate it too much, and squeeze out as much dirty water as you can. We found that a pillowcase is ideal for this. It can help to fish the fleece out of the water, and makes it easier to squeeze out excess water. You will very likely get quite wet at this point, compliments of the brownish, sheepy-smelling water, unless you have small children to put to the task or cover yourself in plastic.
6) Repeat steps 1-5 at least once more, maybe twice, or even more if you want it to be really clean. We opted for a total of two soapy baths. I was too tired to carry more water.
7) Repeat steps 1 and 3-5 again. In other words, omit the soap and do a hot rinse. You don't need to let it sit as long for the rinse.
8) Do one more rinse with lukewarm water, taking care not to shock the wool by changing its temperature too quickly. We spread the wool out after taking it from the first hot rinse - it was steaming when it came out of the water - and let it cool a little before putting it into the lukewarm rinse.
9) After it's rinsed to your satisfaction (or the water is relatively clean) and you've squeezed out as much water as you can, spread the wool out and let it dry. This could take a while, though I hear putting the wool through the spin cycle of a washer is perfectly safe and helps a lot. We didn't. My father-in-law was dubious enough about the state of his grass by the end, he might have had a stroke if we'd put raw fleece in the washer.

Here is the fleece drying on sheets in my in-law's backyard:

A closer of picture of some clean fleece. It could probably be cleaner - there's still a lot of veggie matter and some of the dirtiest tips are still yellowish, but I'm not too worried about it. Most of the rest will card out, and it will be washed again once it's spun. I was mostly concerned with getting it clean enough to store without stinking up the apartment:

I brought over a 3-tiered drying rack later to get it up off the ground for the night. We did the washing on Saturday evening, and it wasn't fully dry until Wednesday. Not being able to resist, and not having anything better to do (AAAAHAHAHAHA!! Heh, I crack myself up, really!), I carded some and spun a little:

Ford helped.

Not bad. Not bad at all. It spins up nicely, and there will be tons of it to experiment with - carding, combing (once I get combs), dyeing - I still have two more full 5+ lb fleece of my own to do, as well as my couple pound share of the ram (nicknamed "Hercules" - he is a big boy), which we split up among several people. At least a half-dozen more fleece haven't been spoken for yet and are still in someone's garage. If no one takes them soon, I'll probably buy at least one or two more.

In other news, there have been... complications... with the Big D proposal, a lot of which are probably in my mind, others maybe not so much. Writing continues. Writing always continues. At this point, I don't have any energy to left to stress out about it, I'd rather expend the energy working on it.

That's progess around here, I suppose.

*not entirely unlike this one, but plain white. Also known as a "bearskin"-style hat. Hated. Them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

So, a sheep walks into a baaaahrn...

Sunday afternoon was... interesting. I spent it, along with four other women, up to my elbows in wool and sheep shit. I kid you not. One of my local SCA cantons has come into a huge amount of freshly-sheared fleece. Dorset cross, in case you're curious (the "cross" is an anonymous donor, meaning the farmer has no idea). Twenty full fleeces, 3-4" staple, white, nice crimp, roughly 5 pounds each, not a premium spinning wool, but very usable (and hey, fleece is fleece)...

...and chock full of lanolin, dirt, grass, suint and poop. Lots and lots of poop.

And occasionally, a blueberry. Nature is funny that way. The herd is kept for meat, not wool, and apparently grazes in and around an orchard.

We're keeping about half of the fleeces between the group of us and making a summer canton project out of learning how to process a full fleece from scratch. It's amazing how many long-time spinners have never dealt with a fleece straight off the shearing-room floor. I doubt I'll do this every year (the farmer is possibly willing to make this a yearly thing, but in the meantime I'm going to look into options for sending it out for processing), but several of us agree that it's a good thing to know how to deal with, and do at least once.

The remaining ten fleeces we're trying to sell, with any extra money (beyond paying the shearer) going to the (non-profit) canton. But we figured they would be easier to sell if we got rid of some of the crap, so we spent Sunday afternoon very lightly skirting them. Being DIYers in an organization of DIYers (historical re-enactment), we didn't remove all the short cuts, like belly and leg fur, or even all the poo-tipped locks, which would normally be pulled out or cut off in a thorough skirting of a fleece instended for spinning. We figure even the unspinnable wool can be used for something once it's washed up - quilt batting, pillow stuffing, whatever - we'll leave that to the end user. We just pulled out (by rubber-gloved hands, thankyouverymuch) the really nasty stuff, and then weighed them. And even some of the really nasty stuff is going to be used, since one of the women figures it will make excellent fertilzer.

It took five of us four hours to skirt and weigh them all. Laying each fleece out one at time on a large, covered picnic table, 10 hands simultaneously decended into the wooly muck and began their work. We talked, we laughed, and we were exhausted by the end. I cannot believe we didn't take any pictures on Sunday as evidence blackmail documentation. Even a pic snapped on my cell phone camera would have been better than nothing, but did I think of it? Ah, well.

I'll get some pictures of the fleece itself soon enough, though, since three of the buggers now reside in my in-laws' garage. My mother-in-law, who is possibly vying for sainthood, is going to help me wash them in a week or two. One lady washed a few handfuls of one of the dirtier fleeces Sunday evening and carded it, and I spun a test rolag Monday evening. It washed up to a lovely white, medium-coarse wool, and spun nicely on the drop spindle. Like I said, it's not premium spinning wool, but it will do just fine.

In other news, that Next Written Thing that was supposed to go to Lady S on June 1? There's apparently nothing quite like a good, ultra-low-tech day filled with sheep shit to reset my brain. I am - finally - writing it now.

Notice the use of progressive aspect there. Don't die of shock please.

It's now a race to see if I can have something coherent written by the time Lady S, having just returned from a week abroad to an office full of crazy busy, notices that I am maybe hiding from her and emails me to see if I'm alive and, um, weren't you going to give me something "the day I got back", that being Monday?

I have not yet found the book, but then, it appears I'm still obsessing about it. That, and I haven't returned the library book either.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My inner librarian is annoyed at me

I am missing a book. This book. The one I talked about buying here and using here and took a picture of within recent memory. I've been tearing the house apart now for 24 hours looking for it, with no luck. I've upended Rubbermaid bins full of wool. I've shelved several stacks of other books hoping it was buried underneath something. I've cleaned a bit.

OK, maybe this isn't entirely a bad thing.

But still, no sign of that blasted book.

I don't actually need the book. I haven't used it since late last year, although it is a decent "learn to spin" starter book that I recommend to people and would prefer not to lose, but is entirely replacable if I do. The real issue is that I had some loose papers tucked inside it - handouts and documentation about sheep breeds and their history that I got from someone who knows far more about them than I do, and I would really prefer to NOT lose that.

So, not as though I have anything better to do (um, except write that thing for Lady S by next Monday, the thing that you were going to have for her on March 1, then April 1, then May 1, then June 1...), I am now retracing all my steps from last night and looking through the things I've already looked through thoroughly three times for this goofy-ass little bookbecauseitisdrivingmeinsane.

Of course, we all know that the only way it's going to show up is if I stop looking, right?

*sigh* Maybe I should take that one book back to the library that I've been holding on to for an excessively long time.

Library karma is a bitch.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I declare 2007 to be my Year of Bling

So here I sit, 4:00 in the morning, should be writing but I'm not, nothing new there. This is my view:

Hug me? Or type? Come on, the choice really isn't that hard.

While Ford provides his patented and surprisingly effective volley of distraction techniques, I have an abstract due by 11:59 pm Thursday night (they seem awfully adamant about the cutoff time, and the website might even be automated, so I don't think I want to push my luck on this one). I told my supervisor, Lady S, that the Next Written Thing (NWT) on the Big D proposal would be to her on June 1, which in case you don't feel like doing the math, is this Friday. Anyone want to bet on the odds of me actually handing her something on Friday?

Didn't think so. Abstract deadline trumps my self-imposed blood oath to Lady S, I'm afraid.

The spring/summer sinus headaches (which are oh so different from the fall/winter ones, dontchaknow) are killing me. Even when I want to work, like today, I can't. Reading hurts. Moving my eyes hurts. Blinking hurts. Sinutab works, but only for a little while, and I hate popping pills for every ailment. My left eye feels like it's going to 'splode. I never had sinus problems until the allergy/asthma combination crept up on me a few years back, and now I can't remember what it feels like to not have a sinus headache, or one that I know is just boiling beneath the surface.

In the meantime, in lieu of working, I have pictures. I'll save sharing the SCA-related goodies for a post later in the summer, except to say that there are some Big Things in preparation for Pennsic. Instead I'll concentrate on the little things that have been brightening my everyday. I discovered some time ago, while getting ready for a band concert, that there was a definite lack of bling in my life. The last time I bought a piece of jewelry was, I think, my wedding ring. Through a set of coincidences too long to detail, and maybe a little bit too much web surfing, I found EliseM, who makes the most fantastic jewelry and has been more than happy to remedy this problem. My mother, who has lately taken up her own mother's mantel of spoiling people (not that I'm complaining, mind you), has significantly contributed to my cause. 2007, it seems, is shaping up to be my Year of Bling.

Early in the year, I got Speak it in Light, (thanks, Mom!) - A couple more pictures of it being modeled by its creator are here. Now, while I love and adore this necklace and wear it often, it is not something I want to wear every day, with every thing. And then Elise had a sale in April, and I couldn't resist Randy's Haunted Gumball Palace, which had been in her inventory a few months and did I mention it was on sale? Her pictures give a good idea of how long and interesting it is, but it's hard to see the detail. I primarily bought it because it looked cool, was something I could wear a lot, and Was On Sale, but I admit I was completely unprepared for it's total kick-assedness upon arrival. Here are some close-up pictures so that you can get a better idea of the awesomeness:

I particularly love the lower righthand wrapped wire section in this pic, which includes a piece of found metal that she worked in. However, I'm hard-pressed to decide what my favourite beads are. That lime green chip in the top wrapped wire part? The round blue/green/yellow bead three over from the top wire wrap?

Next section. Favourite bits here: all the dark green bits. The wire wrap and the two tiny blue stripe beads inside it. More of those swirly things.

And finally, the last section:

Ghostly faces!! A skull! That explains the "haunted" part. I didn't know these were there until it came. Love. Them. This wire wrap contains a pearl slab. I also particularly like the frosty, flat, forest-green bead near the top left (and yes, that is Ford's fur you see creeping in on that corner. He was "helping").

I also got a few pendants from her, and several of them are crying out for their very own necklaces right now, so I will post those as I make them, which will not be for a bit yet.

Because now, I have to write.


Right Now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Apparently, we collect printers

About two weeks ago, after four faithful years of heavy service, my PowerBookG4, of beloved memory, bit the dust. It refused to boot up. One frantic phone call to Daniel at work and 15 minutes later the computer was plugged into the MacMini and booted up as a removable drive. A couple hours later, all 45 GB was copied over, except a few minor things that refused to copy because of bad sectors. So, the work is safe. *whew* Today it went in to the Apple Store, since there is miraculously still one month left on its AppleCare Plan. The machine isn't really dead, only flakey. In fact, it booted up fine the day after the problem and has run normally since. But I still don't trust it, especially not as I begin working on Big D. I'm having the Apple guys run their diagnostics on it, and then we'll reformat or get a new drive as necessary.

But in the meantime, I needed to get back to work on a non-flakey machine, so as of 10 days ago, I am now the happy owner of a 2 Ghz MacBook. I love new computers, but they also stress me out. It took the better part of the last week to re-install everything, set it up exactly the way I like it, and put it through its paces to make sure I'm not missing anything crucial before the old computer went in for service.

I also got a printer - a Canon something-or-other that can print/scan/copy. I've wanted a printer with a copy function for a couple years, and what could I do? It was an extra $30 (after rebate) with the purchase of the computer, providing I remember to send in the stupid rebate thing.

Here's the funny part, though: we already have a scanner and three other working printers in the house, not counting the old dot matrix in the storage area. All the printers serve a different function. The middle-aged, cranky laser printer (it needs a serious cleaning right now) for cheap & quick non-inkjet, the large format colour for, well, large format colour and card stock, and the tiny colour inkjet that can fit in my backpack with the computer when I'm on the road. Because I am paranoid.

See, this is what happens when two desktop publishing geeks live together, get married and have no children. A proliferation of printers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The mid-April lament

I wish that some day soon, I will have a TA or three of my very own. And they will grade all of my students' tests and papers, and I will be kind to them and occasionally even buy them coffee, or cookies, or candy.

It comes down to this. Here I sit, once again, in my P.J.s at midnight on a Sunday night, stacks of essays on three sides. My only consolations are one glass each of coffee, iced tea and water, several pillows, a blanket, a pint of Haagen-Dazs Mayan Chocolate ice cream, and a spoon. Even the cats are avoiding me, rather than assuming their usual nap spots nearby on the table and the couch, Tiger because I can't pet him while writing and Ford because I won't let him repeatedly knock my pencils and stapler off the table, chew on the students' papers, or even better, sleep on them. No fun at all, that's me.

There is no other way to say it: Grading end-of-term essays sucks monkey balls for all parties involved.

I think I'm gonna need a bigger spoon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Time to Spin, Part 4: An Honourable Profession

Me: "In another life and time, I probably would have raised sheep and spent my days making useful things out of their wool. Spinning is a good skill. An old skill. It's an honourable profession."

Wise Woman #1: "Yes, but not very profitable."

Me: "I know. My children would never have gone cold in the winter. They might have starved, but they sure wouldn't freeze."

This is NOT a post.

...because if it were, that would mean that I'm not working right now. I prefer to think of this as "warming up the fingers for writing", which sounds useful, rather than posting a blog entry, which would be closer to "procrastination" than anything else.

After recent conversations with two very wise women who have both gone through this and come out the other side to talk about it, I am beginning to accept that this dry spell in Big D topic writing is normal. It's so big, so overwhelming at this point, that it's too much to tackle on a conscious level. I don't know if my supervisor will buy that, but it works for me. (My supervisor, by the way, is either being exceedingly patient and is not a bit concerned about my lack of written product, or has too many of her own problems to deal with right now to chase me down. I know for a fact it's actually the latter, but I also have an active fantasy life. She's incredibly supportive, though, which, when I'm feeling emotional, as I was today, makes me a bit weepy and concerned that I will surely let her and many others down. I hope that feeling passes soon, because it really bites.)

One of the Wise Women described my current state perfectly, in terms of her own experience: "laying on the couch late at night, wide awake, book you were reading forgotten in your lap while your brain whirls... begging for inspiration, 'please let this happen, let me be brilliant...'" I sometimes think I'll surely go mad before I write another word. But when it comes down to it, I don't have to be brilliant. I just have to be done. I know this, but it doesn't help right now, because I can't get my inner voice to stop screaming long enough to focus on putting words on a page. It's not a panic attack - it's frustration at not having the words. Lately I've been wondering a lot why I'm doing this. I hold tenaciously to the notion that the quest for knowledge, the desire to better oneself, do something you love and be recognized as "An Academic" and maybe even "A Good Teacher" is an Honourable Goal, an Honourable Profession. But in the back of my mind, there's that Wise Woman's voice: "Yes, but not very profitable."

No, we certainly don't do this for the pay.

Suddenly, I hear a Klingon voice, a little bit Worf, a little bit Captain Koloth: "Honour! Sucess! Qapla' batlh je!" Two Klingon warriors step out of the shadows and challenge me to a duel to the death. I brandish dual drop spindles, one end blunt and heavy, the other end sharp and pointy, and some tightly spun garrotting wool as my weapons of choice...

As I said, active fantasy life right now. Not so much with the writing, though.

So, the "Big D" proposal is going very, very slowly. Not backwards, thank goodness, but currently stalled for yet a few more days while I sort out more grading and Major Computer Issues (which will be told another day). But I didn't really intend for this to be a post about Big D. This is a post about what I've been doing other than Big D. And since I sometimes feel like I live and breathe technology all day, I have to fall back on low-tech a lot more these days, to clear the brain.

And wool is almost as low-tech as it gets, baby. A stick or two, something to weight down the bottom of one stick for a spindle whorl (a potato will do, or a mud-pie if you're desperate), and some hair. Yep, Low-tech.

Doctor Who Tom Baker scarf: 59.25% done and already a whopping 7'9" without any stretching. Daniel is pleased with it so far.

Next, wool for spinning:

No label, but it's probably hand-dyed merino. I picked it up at Lettuce Knit in February (?), where there were a half-dozen of these at $5 each, likely left over from a spinning class. I bought the four that matched in colour and started spinning it last weekend. I'm aiming for thinner than I usually do, so that I can ply it into a 2-ply DK yarn and make - I don't know, a hat, maybe? This is the first time I've started from roving with a specific project in mind. If it ends up a little thicker than DK, that's fine too, I can work with anything between DK and worsted:

There is a bug flying around me, tiny, mothlike. It's been bugging me for days, flitting in and out of my peripheral vision, occasionally popping up right in front of me in a way that is both reassuring, since it means I wasn't imagining it, and aggravating, because it is a freaking moth. The cats can't seem to catch it. Ford has tried and failed more than once (Oh, brave hunter, save me!), and Tiger... well, Tiger's response is:

What moth?

I finally broke down and dealt with it, since there's too much untreated wool in this place to let flying insects hang around unchecked. If my Daniel is reading this, I, um, set it free outside, dear.

Cats. They do keep things in perspective, don't they?

It's fine, Ford, I wasn't doing anything with the keyboard anyhow.

Coming soon: Really Big Computer Issues, garb, feast gear, and more things to do when you're staring at a blank computer screen and can't form a full sentence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Doctor is In

In my ongoing efforts to NOT get any work done on the D-I-S-S-E-R-T-A-T-I-O-N (henceforth known as "The Big D," until we come up with a better name - not "Buddy Dude," that is taken), I have taken to finding some new, and many old, projects.

For instance, I finished the Rowan Biggy Print scarf, which took a total of maybe four hours to knit, give or take 26-28 months. The last in-progress picture of it is dated Christmas Day 2004, along with several other in-progress WIPs, so it was started before that - you do the math. I had a perfectly good reason for not finishing it for so long. I had forgotten it existed, and was only reminded by a recent cold snap.

Suddenly, it was the obvious thing to pull out for my current needs, since it only required an hour or so to finish up: total, 4 hours max, 3 balls of Rowan Biggy Print (colour "Joker"), and one pair of 1" diameter needles from Gram's old needle stash. Result: a fun, warm scarf that I can wrap around the neck twice and still have hang down to my waist. Er, make that knees. I'm short.

Do I post the less blurry of the two photos, but which is also less flattering of me and in which one can make out hand prints and dirt on the living room mirror? Blurry photo it is!!

In the meantime, Daniel once again reminded me that I still haden't started his Tom Baker Dr. Who scarf, which I mentioned in several entries from November & December 2004 when I bought the wool. It's been an ongoing thing these last couple years. He says something about needing a touque in the dead freeze of winter, I say I could knit him up a nice watchman's cap thing in a couple days in a safe, guy-friendly dark green or grey rib pattern no less, he says, "But where's my Dr. Who scarf? I'd rather you do that first." And I sigh, and recall that I purchased the wool to make a 12-14 FOOT (depending on stretching) garter stitch scarf at his request. And I say, "That's not a 2 day project. I can't start that until I finish something. I have too many projects on the go right now."

Well, I finished something. And so the time has come. The Doctor, as they say, is In.

I'm doing the early (or unaltered) Season 12 scarf. The pattern has been updated over the last couple years; the guy who made it has most recently seen the original scarf in-person (see his website for the full story). He changed his mind on some of the colour matching as a result, now recommends different yarn than what I bought, and has made some little fixes to the pattern. But it doesn't matter much to Daniel or me whether the purple is a little darker and bluer than the original, or that the green and red are a little off. I have no fewer than 20 balls of Brown Sheep Nature Spun (sport weight) in 7 colours that were special ordered for this beast, and now that I've decided it's time to start, I will not be swayed from my goal.

Tiger warily eyes the Dr. Who Scarf wool, which is encroaching on his space.

As a good omen, I (edit: almost) hit the stitch gauge on the first try (gauge, you say? It's a scarf! I hear you laugh.) But remember this is a reproduction: the original scarf is approximately 12" wide, with 66 stitches (the pattern guy recently counted when he held the original in his hands; me::green with envy). And I, starting with a #6 needle (picked because it is in-between the recommended #5 or #7), am was dead on 12" at 66 stitches.

So there. It was meant to be.

Update: as of the above picture, my gauge has apparently settled in at about 5 stitches per inch. I'm ending up with a 12.5 - 13" wide scarf instead of 12", but I. Don't. Care. - blj

There are a number of other things that I've been busy with for the last couple months. Too busy, in fact, to stop and take pictures, let alone update the blog: sewing garb (with the help of my mother-in-law) for a couple SCA events that happened in December and January, baking several hundred Pfeffernu├če cookies (also with the help of my mother-in-law) over Christmas and New Years for one of those same events, coming close to finishing the backstitching on the little Michael Powell piece, pulling out Peacock Tapestry for the first time in a couple years and putting in a few stitches, taking a sudden yet profound interest in calligraphy and illumination. And I got both a soprano and and alto wooden recorder for Christmas (in other words, I said "Hey, I'm getting these for myself, Merry Christmas to me?" and husband said, "Excellent! I'm off the hook then?"). I've been working on learning to play the alto. The cats are disturbed, and much hilarity ensues. At some point, I anticipate that pictures of each of these things will make it into the blog, particularly the garb.

I've also had a couple band concerts, most recently one called "Viva Las Vegas," in which we had an Elvis impersonator (he was good), and played the piece "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas" (and he did). The band was instructed to come in 'Vegas costumes,' so we had the flute section dressed as showgirls, the trumpet section as blackjack dealers in matching vests, a mobster or two, several over-the-top tourists, a fifties lounge-band guy with the poofy ruffled sleeves, an Ace of Spades, a couple priests and a Vegas bride... and the Elvii, of course... I wasn't sure what I was going to do at first, but had a sudden inspiration. Another band-member-not-appearing-in-this-photo-until-I-OK-it-with-her joined me in the nefarious plot, and we went as CSIs.

The costume consisted of a black windbreaker, black shirt, black or blue ballcap and 2" high white stick-on letters purchased at Staples. I also found some old conference name tag holders to use as ID carriers. I laid out the letters for 'forensics' onto clear packing tape first, so that it would be even and stick onto the nylon jacket securely but not permanently. I would have prefered to put 'LVPD' on the hat, but we were concerned that people would take longer to get the reference. Apparently, I have recently found out, there are people who don't know that the original (and best) CSI show is set in Vegas. Whodathunkit.

And somewhere in the last month, I've done a little bit of grading, and even spent a couple weeks working on The Big D. You know, that thing I'm supposed to be working on steadily, coming up with this oddity known as a H-Y-P-O-T-H-E-S-I-S so that I can justify the next year or so of my life? Sigh. But really, the less said about that right now, the better.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Resolve This

We've been talking recently about cooking at home more, and not eating out or ordering take out/delivery quite as much. I wouldn't call it a New Year's resolution, though, because if I did, it would surely be doomed to failure. It has less to do with saving money and more to do with me being generally sick to death of our regular haunts for take out and delivery. Between you and me, that list of "regular haunts" is pretty darn big. So, without really meaning to, we've been cooking at home a bit more for the last couple weeks.

But again: not a resolution. Many days, it's so much easier to pick up the phone and hop in the car (I need to get out of the house sometimes anyhow) than to go grocery shopping, clean the indoor grill and wash the dishes. Take, for example, our New Year's Day feast, which I impulsively took a picture of because it struck me as amusing, yet typical of our idea of a "sit down dinner":

That would be Indian for me (butter chicken (R), channa masala (L) and naan from Bombay Bhel (that's at least 2 meals right there), KFC for Daniel (across the road from the Bombay Bhel - he likes indian but wasn't in the mood that day), and Starbucks for both of us.

A good start to the year, I say. Huzzah.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hairy Thoughts

I have one grey hair.

In fact, I have had my one grey hair since age 13.

In general, my hair is thick, wirey, long, and messy. There is a considerable amount of it. I shed profusely, especially after I wash it. When I brush it all out completely, I have to clean the brush (using scissors to cut the hair out) a couple times before I'm done. In the end, the pile on the table could make a small wig, that is how much I shed. It grows fast.

I usually tie it up in a strange loopy ponytail-with-the-ends-tucked-in, which I devised a few years ago, taking it down only every few days to wash it. By day 3, the tied-up pseudo-ponytail-bun-thing is looking pretty ragged, which I like to think of as "having character."

My hair clogs drains. It backs up sewers. No lie, when I was 7, my father had to dig out the sewer in our backyard only to find that it was clogged with MY HAIR.

But my grey hair is different from the rest of my hair. It's easy to spot... right in front, just to the left (from my POV) of the widow's peak. It always seems to stick out a little, its natural wave just a teeny bit different from the surrounding hair. It catches the light nicely.

I've always liked my one grey hair. It's different from all the other hair on my head. It never comes out in the hairbrush or the shower. It seems to be a hardy hair. Stuck in the scalp but good.

Some day, if family genetics continue on track (so, in my 40s), I will have more grey hairs. But this one will always be the first, and the oldest.

I am inordinately proud of my one grey hair.

One Grey Hair, a self portrait