A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

My Photo
Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Monday, October 31, 2005

Product Review: Jewels


Yarn name: Jewels
Weight: Chunky
Size: 50 gram/1 3/4 oz. ball/104 yards
Fibers: 40% tactel, 30% nylon, 28% cotton, 2% lurex
MSRP: $13.99 per ball

Jewels is a unique and fun yarn that doesn't have fur... the color combinations are very lush and interesting, and the tactel adds a non-reflecting quality that seems to deepen the colors. It is not a yarn for beginners, though, as it is multiple strands of the different materials, rather loosely plied together, making it easy to split, accidentally increase, or even drop.

This photo does a good job of showing the two strands of fibers... the thin chained thread (probably the cotton and definitely the lurex) and the thick/thin tactel-nylon combo. Posted by Picasa

Here is a close up of the narrow scarf I am making with Jewels... a more dramatic person might make a whole sweater from it, or a bag (although it won't felt - no wool in it) and find that the knitting went very quickly and the texture had a cozy, wrap-its-arms-around-you sort of feel... I have been watching what I am attracted to when clothes shopping, and it is mostly solid colors, so this will be a great accent piece for me. Posted by Picasa

I chose to feature this yarn because there is such a wide array of textural yarn available these days, that it is fun to see what they look like. I find it too pricey for a larger item, and know I would get bored with whatever I made, besides a scarf...but it is exciting to see so much creativity being poured into creating new yarns for us knitters. Happy Knitting!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Sacred Time

Although recent years have seen a commercialism of Halloween that almost rivals the Christmas season, to me it is important to remember that this is a sacred time for many cultures. Samhain is one of the cross-quarter days in the nature-based cultures that have evolved into modern paganism, while many agricultural cultures have traditionally celebrated the harvest at this time of year. Having grown up in a Catholic family in a smaller-scale version of California, this time of year evokes strong memories of feast days that borrowed from both the Celtic and Druidic traditions ("All Hallow's Eve" transmogrified into All Saints Day) and the Spanish/Aztec blending that led to "El Dia de Los Muertos", All Souls Day. For several years, my daughter and I have made a point to visit The Altar Show, the local version of "Altares del Mundo", a tradition rooted in the Hispanic culture that rose from the earliest colonization of California.

Altaristas, the artists who construct the altars, employ a wide array of methods, with some sticking to the older, hispanic style, including votives, skeletons and paper flowers, while others employ a starker, more Zen-like arrangement. Many of the altars we viewed honored a particular person who had died recently, while some addressed whole groups, such as the Sierra Nevada Deep Ecology Institute's altar to endangered species, and Theresa Juarez Lyon's altar "War is Murder" honoring those thousands who have died as a result of the war in Iraq. Theresa employed glass vases filled with grains of rice to represent these lost lives, in a very minimal but powerful exhibit.

This altar is an example of a more traditional gathering of everyday objects, although the altarista, Chad Wood, modeled it after the Dutch still life paintings of the Baroque period. Photos of loved ones, remembrances of favorite objects or collections, books that speak to personal beliefs, are all common themes in the altars. Posted by Picasa

This altar is a tribute to the Chinese Joss houses, or temples that used to dot the landscape in the Mother Lode of the Sierras. Constructed by Terry Jean Meekins, in honor of her grandmother and mother, who took them traipsing through the woods, deepening her appreciation of California's earlier history. Posted by Picasa

Visiting an altares exhibit is also participatory, with many installations including journals, slips of paper to leave your contribution, such as in the form of answering a question posed by the altarista, and even a large community altar installed in the middle of one of the gallery rooms, with news clippings and photos as well as votives and rememberance objects.

This large design, made entirely from stones of various types and colors, included a "pick a rock" section for visitors. Posted by Picasa

I particularly had to share this "altar to unfinished projects" with my fellow knitters and quilters... you can surely relate. The altarista, Kat Barrie, titled her creation "Finish THem or Let Them Go". I know that there are a few virtuous amonst us who completely finish one project before going on to another, but most of my friends have rooms that look a lot like this altar. Posted by Picasa

Is this strictly a California phenomenon? I know that there were two similar shows in Sacramento this month.... what about in your area?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pictures of the Burros

Jomama asked that I post some pictures of the burros, so I made them all pose for portraits on Sunday.
 Posted by PicasaThis is April, who is five and still somewhat timid. She was a wild burro living on the Sheldon Fish and Wildlife Refuge two years ago, brought in for adoption because many of the burros were getting hit by cars trying to cross the major highway, and there were too many in numbers for the area to support them.

Shortly after arriving here in May 2004, April surprised us with baby Assteroid (we knew she was pregnant but expected birth to be at least a month away still). He is now close to her height (about 11 hands) and still will fill out and grow until about age 3 or 4. Posted by Picasa

These two ladies came to me when their owner became too ill to care for them... they are Louise on the left (a BLM-adopted 26 year old) and Rita on the right (23). He had been with Rita since she was two, so it was really hard to part with them, and I have promised to keep them always, which could be awhile, as burros can easily live 40-50 years. Posted by Picasa

Rose was the first donkey I got; she is nine now, and has been here two years. She is a standard, 12 hands high, and maybe a tad on the chubby side.... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Everyday Zen

I whipped right through a wonderful little book that I found at our local shop, Two Rivers, titled In Buddha's Kitchen. It details the changes that take place in the author, both a former professional chef and a university professor (I think I loved her just for having multiple careers - like me:) who offers to temporarily take over the kitchen at a Buddhist retreat center when the chef falls ill. Author Kimberley Snow creatively weaves together the story of how she became a chef in the first place with the transformations that take place in her as she studies Tibetan buddhism and attempts to run a kitchen without "playing God" as the normal role of chef in our culture dictates.

She was clever and careful to jumble around names and places, most likely to protect the guilty more than the innocent, but with a little online detective work, I determined that Kimberley had been living and working at this center in the northern California mountains, where the teachings of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche are shared and practiced.

One of the pleasures of this book was reading the lighthearted anecdotes, but another was that of having someone present the human frailities of making changes in the self, moving forward and backward while finding the way. I have to admit that at this transitional time in my own life, I have been moving way too fast to be able to be very introspective about the changes taking place. I am devoting myself to two non-profits, working over 60 hours to achieve the "security" of my 30-hour teaching weeks of years past, and wondering where I will land when I grow up.

I greatly love working with young children, but realize that as I approach "cronehood", I will probably do better to teach younger, stronger, faster people how to work with the very young. I have a lot of energy most of the time, and can still run and catch my young charges, pick them up and swing them in the air. I also have some of the wisdom necessary to run a business, although, at the training on non-profit Board leadership I attended today, I was one of the majority admitting to deep insecurities dealing with budgets and numbers.

I doubt that I will ever be able to say with confidence that I know just where the money's coming from and if it couldn't be handled better in another way. At least I am willing to look at it now, and admit that things don't just fall into place, even if they should because the cause is so noble. It takes both vision and persistence to bring other people into a just cause, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help these two organizations, and not particularly concerned about how they are helping me... I am earning wages and have (poor) health benefits, and don't think much beyond that, but there are times, after thirty years of working for and with people, where I dream of making my living purely from creating... and not needing to "worry" any about people and their needs... not very noble.

I do believe in the importance of working steadily to eliminate the five poisons of anger, attachment, ignorance, jealousy and pride from my life while at the same time embracing the six perfections of generosity, patience, diligence, moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom. To me, this has little to do with sitting on the meditation cushion, or burning incense or the other "rituals" typically envisioned, but more with how I actively live my life. So, I will keep working for others for the time being, and spend my creativity sparingly in comparison... I was very happy to finish three more Cloths for Katrina while attending today's training. If you haven't yet joined us, know that there is still a great need to be helping relief agencies by sending along finished washcloths and soaps... and my dear friend Tonora, who lives in Florida, says that the devastation from this third hurricane is hard to NOT be very depressed with... please keep good thoughts for her and all others who are face to face with the destruction this season of storms has wrought.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Product Review: Ebony knitting needles


Yarn name: Susanne's Ebony Knitting Needles
Manufacture:Klass & Gessmann
MSRP: $16.99 for one circular 24 inch, size 8

"What?! Monday's Product Review not ready till Tuesday? Off with her head!" cried the Queen of Hearts. "Wait... first, let me at least tell you about the most amazing knitting needles ever ...", I wailed.

On Saturday during our visit to Heartstrings Yarn Studio, I noticed a box of unusual circular knitting needles ... they were black. Lucky for me, there was a little store-made sign saying they were ebony, as I can't read German... they are "Susanne's Edelholz Rundstricknadel/Flex-Stricknadeln", for those of you who can. Now, I have always been somewhat skeptical about items made for crafters out of exotic hardwoods, thinking that someone had decided to use more expensive materials to get more money out of us. However, I was attracted to these, and decided to get a 24 inch long size 5 mm (US 8) since I would get the most use out of that size, given the sizes available. I had finally found a birthday present for myself, and they cost roughly the same as Addi Turbos, so didn't really seem to out of line to me. The knitting tips are made from ebony wood, and attached to a plastic cable with gold metal (brass?) fittings that felt very smooth.

I took them home and started on the mystery project below, using some mystery yarn I purchased at the same time.. and from the very first insertion of needle tip into knit stitch, I was in love. These needles have the right heft, the warmth of wood that I love about my bamboo needles, and yet feel warmer and smoother going in and out of stitches than any other needles I have ever used (and, remember, I have been knitting for 46 years - since age 5, on almost every kind available). They also make a very lovely, satisfying clicking sound as I knit with them, and put me right in the meditation zone I so enjoy when knitting projects that allow concentration on the process more than the pattern. I began reconstructing my project list in order to plot out what I could make using them next.

I am not telling you what I am making till next week's Product Review covering this unusual yarn. Posted by Picasa

I did a little searching, and discovered that you can purchase these lovely needles in several sizes online from Patternworks: here's the needle chart. Their price of $15.00 a needle is a little better than the $16.99 I paid, but that includes Heartstring's shipping, instead of me paying Patternworks, so it's all good. If you want to start dropping hints to family members about special holiday gifts, these are certainly the perfect item for that list.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Harvest of Quilts

I awoke (too early) yesterday to a beautiful fall day, the kind I will surely be missing in another month. No need for a coat yet, and up into the 70s by afternoon. My plan was to drive over to Chico and attend a quilt show with my daughter, but I also got to feed my critters in the daylight, talk to them and pet them, and to load three large garbage bags into the Jeep to take to the Goodwill there.

Annie's Star Quilt Show

The show I attended is put on every other year by the Annie's Star Quilt Guild of Chico. It was a very large show for a guild, winding its way through an U-shaped building at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. In the middle of the U, there is a restaurant-sized kitchen against the outer wall, and a large seating area that was packed with diners, but we opted to have "fresh Cal/Mex" for lunch afterwards.

The show entries really impressed me with their creativity. Although there were several antique quilts on display and lots of traditional quilt patterns made up in the modern fabric collections, there were as many "art quilts", where the artist had designed a scene or moved beyond the usual rectangular shape of a quilt.

My son decided to accompany us as well, and he and I both worked to make our choices as to which was our overall favorite, best traditional quilt, best art quilt and best use of color, but my daughter simply refused to vote.... "There are just too many choices!" was her opinion.

This quilt portraying lighthouses ended up being Cody's overall favorite. Posted by Picasa

We also worked our way through the vendors, looking for a certain purple flannel that I need to locate in order to continue making Nikki a bed-sized Hawaiian ka'paa quilt, but without any luck. We did totally delight the ladies at Books & Things, who were amazed by Cody's presence at a quilt show, stating he was only the second man they had seen so far, and "the first one was 87 and in a wheelchair, so he probably hadn't had any choice in the matter".

Featured Quilter: Judy Ramos

We all fell in love with the work of featured quilter, Judy Ramos. An art major and teacher, Judy brings an eye for color and a love for shape to her work, moving far beyond the usual piecing and appliqueing.

This sunflower is a great example of the detail involved in Judy's work. Posted by Picasa

This lady reminds me of an Art Nouveau painting. Posted by Picasa

Sunflowers must be one of Judy's favorite flowers. I particularly loved the detail and authenticity of the vase. Posted by Picasa

This Pacific Northwest-inspired quilt of Judy's was Cody's favorite, and he was disappointed to learn that visitors cannot select one of the featured quilter's items in their voting, apparently because some have been shown at previous shows. Posted by Picasa

We obviously loved Judy's work, but there were many other simply extraordinary quilts, including Phyllis Cullin's "We Love Picasso", which won my vote as best art quilt. It was difficut to get photos, though, as the place was packed!

I found these charming sculptures in the courtyard on my trip to locate a restroom....

dancing Posted by Picasa

This lovely couple was hard to capture on the camera, as the sun is right overhead, but they were very charming. Posted by Picasa

On to the Yarn Store

I had been bugging my kiddos to find out where the local yarn stores were, and they actually drove around on Friday afternoon, trying to locate two listed in the phone book, without success. I had been told by a quilt vendor at our Downieville show a few weeks back that Heartstrings "was in the old Red Cross" building, which meant virutally nothing to any of us, and so we called the number listed in the phone book while driving to lunch, and got directions. After we had eaten our fill, it was off to 1909 Esplanade, a charming house converted into a commercial space, before the Red Cross outgrew it. The owner did say she had moved in the spring.

The overall choices reflect the recent popularity of knitting, with lots of novelty yarns, fancy needle choices, expensive tote to carry around your project, and easy beginning projects. Now, don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I couldn't still find a way to part with a fair amount of money! Cody, who has been a big promoter of my hat- and bag-making abilities, had to analyze the various felted bags, and Nikki even liked one embellished with a felted flower corsage (and I had to remind her she has the kit to make those flowers, but hasn't gotten around to it yet.

Then, being the greedy offspring that they are (actually, they really are pretty loving), they both fell in love with this hat and wanted me to make them each one:

This model is made up in Berroco Bling Bling (a cotton-acrylic blend, with flecks of aluminum - weird, don't you think?!), which I was prepared to hate, based on name alone. But it fit Cody perfectly, so I laid it on a table and measured the length, made notes, etc., and proceeded to look for an appropriate all-black yarn (no Bling Bling for him). Posted by Picasa

Cody settled on Rowan Cashsoft Aran, in inky black. Meanwhile, Nikki decided that she wanted the black version of Bling Bling, with flecks of silver... oh well, these hats will only take me about an evening apiece, and I do love my kiddos. Some people are stuck with kiddos who don't want anything they have knit - mine on the other hand, traipse off to yarn stores and make demands, much like asking for candy when they were little, and hats don't require much yarn.

I was making this visit ostensibly to find a yarn for a baby hat, since I had just received a shower invitation. Eventually, I settled on a wool/fluff blend called Danubio Style in pale blue for baby Josef. I also stopped by Hancock Fabrics to pick up some washcloth yarn, and grabbed a skein of red Cottonease, as well as 1/2 yard of black denim to help Cody repair the cuffs of his snowboarding pants, damaged in his fall last spring. For regular readers who remember his accident and recovery period, he has healed very well, and claims that he "runs goofy", but doesn't really have any limitations... what a miracle!

I also couldn't resist a little something for me... ebony circular needles in size 8, to be used for shawl knitting later this winter.

Decluttering In Progress

I had a wonderful day, but eventually I had to return home to decluttering... I had stayed up till midnight Friday night weeding out stuff to drop by a thrift store, and actually almost coming to terms with what is hidden under the stairwell (if you don't have one of these, DON'T get one... it's merely a black hole in your home). I found things my DH had stashed under there earlier this year, in his method of "decluttering" the parlor (i.e., merely moving the pile from one place to another), including some jewelry I had been missing since we remodeled our bedroom last summer. I boxed up a sweater project that I had bought at a flea market years ago, and couldn't bear to part with before, simply because it was close to done... nevermind that it was way too big for me! I also found the floor, although there are still items of his that I have nowhere else to put - maybe I can get him to build a closet door there this coming winter.

Now, it was time to move upstairs, to my DD's old room, where the space is empty and waiting to become my studio. I rounded up the last (five) bags of clothes and shoes she left behind, to take to the teenaged daughter of a co-worker who will share them out amongst her friends. I even boxed up two packages of items I had been saving for other friends, to mail out on Monday, and swept the floor. Dust is my natural enemy, aggravating my sinuses, and I know from hard experience not to go to the point of provoking an asthma attack, so took a tea break, and was reading when my DH called. When I began discussing whether we should paint the floor in this room, he informed me that he had been eyeing the room to move his model train layout into, and that I could have the room where it now resides.... I was daunted, to say the least, envisioning the hours of work ahead. I don't think I was nice, either. Especially, since he had just told me he would be getting two days' vacation, then moving on from Texas to Nashville, and on to a rural area of Mississippi, where disaster relief is still desperately needed. I would have to move all the furniture myself. He did promise to move the train layout, and insisted I would have plenty of room to get started... oh well, maybe I can get rid of more clutter there too.

I have located several skeins of yarns to offer to some of you charity knitters... I will take photos later today when the light appears, but please email me if you know a good source for these yarns, acrylics in worsted and chunky weights.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Easy To Please

As some of you know, I have been working very long hours each week since June. In late August, I went from merely working six days a week to working 12 hours a day during the week with added time on at least one weekend day. Some of my friends have been wondering how I am doing, and I have discovered that the answer is "better than I thought". I have learned that now, in the face of deprivation from any kind of outside life, the very smallest things make me happy.

For instance, I got to close an hour early tonight, and was so thrilled to get home and be able to feed my burros in the waning daylight, instead of trying to balance a flashlight and a flake of hay at the same time. I was able to walk back down to the post office afterwards, and open my box in good light, instead of trying to use the streetlight outside to land on the right combination. It had even occured to me that I could walk across the street to the historic Mayo building and check out the latest version of a restaurant, which just opened there this week, after being out of service all summer.... I ran into a couple of friends, and actually drank a draft beer while waiting for the most scrumptious chicken enchiladas I've ever had (well, truthfully, they were very, very good, but not authentic - it's just been that long since I sat down to even someone else's cooking). I couldn't quite remember when the last time was that I had a glass of beer at a bar, so I decided to order another!

At home during the week, it has been pretty much the same principle; even reading a few pages in a book, or knitting several rows and not being too tired to concentrate on a pattern have me really impressed. Going to bed early enough to get a good night's sleep has seemed luxurious, and getting up in the morning and walking 20 minutes in the pitch-black, before-dawn darkness has seemed adventurous (and may well be around here, although most of the nocturnal critters have already headed off to bed). I got to visit the feed store the other day on the way back from a meeting, and was as delighted as a child. I stopped at the shop in town where my friend Peggy works, to find out my crafts co-op shopminding days for the next month, and was so delighted to be able to buy myself a purple turtleneck and a book titled In Buddha's Kitchen.... I didn't need masses of variety, just something slightly different to catch my eye. It just doesn't take much to impress me any more.

I am not knitting anything fancy these days, but I am very proud of the fact that I have been steadily able to contribute to Cloths for Katrina. There are balls of yarn lying around begging for me, and I will get to them eventually, but I am grateful for this time to appreciate small things, not just elaborate lace and gourmet food.

I am reading Sweeping Changes, by Gary Thorp, going through rather quickly for my limited reading time (which must be shared with knitting time in the few hours after work each day). It is a delightful examination of "discovering the joy of zen in everyday tasks"... here is a small sample:

"The act of sweeping unites us with our ancestors and with people all over the world. From cave-dwelling times until now, people have gathered bundles of straw and grass in order to sweep clean the flattened surfaces of their lives. And in many parts of the world, dirt floors and walkways are still commonplace....But no matter how carefully you sweep, you will always find a fine line of dust that still defies the dustpan....There is always something to remind you of what still needs to be done. There is no way to arrive at 'finished'." As Margene says, "It's the process"!

There is a picture to reward you from wading through all this rambling. This is MY tree, located just outside the door of my office at the clinic in Downieville... a joy every time I step out the door, which is often throughout the mornings I work there, running upstairs to get some piece of information. It never fails to take my breath away, and I will miss it a bit when the winter storms finally blow all the leaves away, although I might be too busy totally enrapt with the snow to notice. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fall Color

Yesterday was a change-of-pace kind of day, as I had to attend a monthly meeting in Loyalton, about an hour and a half away, taking me through the awesome fall color show while driving over Yuba Pass.

This is one of the better views down the North Yuba River canyon, just a few miles east of Sierra City. Posted by Picasa

This view is looking down the river towards the Sierra Buttes, at Bassetts Station. I was annoyed that there was no way to eliminate the wire, but then had to remind myself that this was a work day for me, not a hiking and photograpy expedition; sometimes I do such a good job pretending to be on an outing, I almost forget. Posted by Picasa

Now, we have crossed over the pass, and are in the Sierra Valley, one of the largest high mountain valleys in the U.S. The elevation is about 5,000 feet throughout, and it is mostly open space, ranch country. My county, Sierra, has one of the better General Plans in the state, committing to preserving the ranching heritage and open space by not allowing the current land holdings to be subdivided into suburban ranchettes. However, that has helped drive the home prices through the ceiling in the towns along the two highway corridors running around the perimeter. This old farmhouse is truly a classic, located on the Martinetti Ranch between Sierraville and Sattley. Posted by Picasa

You have probably noticed by now that gold is the dominant fall color in the Sierras, which seems appropriate for a region known around the world for the 1849 Gold Rush. I happen to think it makes a fabulous match with the deep greens of the conifer forest. The deciduous trees tend to cluster around water, but there are also thick bands of black oak at the 5000-5500 foot elevation band.

Here is an example of how well-matched aspens are with conifers at this time of year. Posted by Picasa

Some of these photos are a little washed out (at least to my critical eye), so now would be a good time to share with you that, much like baking, high-altitude photography is NOT the same as at sea level.... I haven't altered any of these photos with Photoshop, but sometimes have to brighten or add contrast to make up for the thinner air at higher elevation. Polarizing filters would work too.

There are examples of reds as well, such as this maple, and the male of the western dogwood species (the female highlights our springs with her flowery-looking bracts). I have always loved the differentiation of duties in the sexes of the dogwood, entertaining us at opposite times of the year with beautiful shows. Posted by Picasa

October is a very special month here in the California mountains, usually the weather is benign and fall eases slowly into winter, but not yet. October starts out very warm, and generally ends with some cold, damp weather, and maybe even the first snow storm, but "real" winter doesn't grab hold of us until December. Plenty of time to get out and enjoy our scenery, just remember to take a sweater, or a hand-knitted scarf.

When I returned to work, everyone had made a big leaf pile from a neighbor's maple tree, and were busy enjoying fall color in a completely different way. Posted by Picasa