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


Friday, March 31, 2006

G is for Green

Green is my absolute most favorite color! I get the most compliments wearing turquoise, and certain shades of pink (which I do wear a lot, as well as browns and blues), love red, especially to knit with, and used to wear way too much black, but green is still my most favorite. Maybe this comes from living in the mountains, surrounded by conifer forests, for so long now, but as I wandered around my house taking photos for this post, I realized there really is a lot of green in my life.

One of the kitchen doors featuring our country kitchen color scheme

I eat a lot of green veggies (broccoli and red peppers are probably my top two veggies, but I adore artichokes and asparagus, and gobble them up when in season). I collect items in green. I love gardening and being surrounded by green plants:

Our hanging fuchsia, which spends winters indoors guarded by this gnome (he has a really cool water reservoir tucked inside to help him tend the plant; symbiosis right here at Slate Range Camp)

I accumulate green yarn:

For those who always want to know about THE YARN, clockwise from the top left corner, we have lime green Fun Fur (used for a pair of fur-trimmed flip flops I made for my dearest student last year, who also loves green) which is obscuring a medium-green Elann Highland Peruvian wool, forest green Garnstudio Silke-Woole (a gift from Beth), sitting on top of and partially concealing forest green Cascade 220, apple green Elsebeth Lavold Angora, Big Geek Yarn Co., specially hand-dyed for me wool, and olive green Knitpicks Wool of the Andes.

This green's for me! This box is the collection of yarns that Kimmet Croft fibers has kitted up for the Wild Apple Bohus sweater/cardi kit. Some of you will remember that my DH had tried to order this for my Christmas gift back in early December, than gave up in despair (and maybe a trifle guilt) in late February and bought me a wonderful knitting chair when the backorder never, ever arrived... except that it did last week. I will be swatching both patterned and unpatterned portions of the sweater this weekend to determine which needles sizes "get gauge". This lovely Fairy Hare yarn, from their own 60% angora and 40% merino wool blending, is much softer than the Elsebeth Lavold angora blend, and melts at the touch. It will be a joy to work with!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Authentic Life

Liz has got me thinking about what really constitutes an authentic life. She is one of the bloggers I read and engage in conversation with about not only knitting, but where fiber fits in the rest of the lives we are trying to live, as organic gardeners, as people living in rural places, as concerned citizens watching the proliferation of war, loss of civil rights, and crash course past the point of peak oil, among other social issues.

Some of you might notice that I recently added a quote by Simone de Beauvoir to my header; this is a very good summation of how I view my role on the planet. In my heart and in the expression of my being, I am an artist: a knitter, a writer, a photographer.

These are all expressions of living in society, in the culture I was born into, not just "American society", but the portion unique to me - my Portuguese Catholic heritage, growing up in California, which was populated by adventurous spirits from around the world in a very rapid fashion 150 years ago, and where tolerance for diversity has often flourished more strongly. That could be part of why the "peace and love" movement taking place in Haight Ashbury as I was entering high school could spring up in California, and influence my young adulthood. We are each unique sums of the common culture, and its variations and sub-sets.

I am also trying hard to live a life that is more integrated, where nature, animals, gardening and creating can thrive. An authentic life for me would mean being able to skip driving to work, as I had meaningful wprk within walking or biking distance from home, that adequately compensated my needs and a few of my wants (this includes health care and a plan for if I became disabled or too old and tired to keep working full tilt). It would mean that my work also left enough time to contribute to the community and to pursue my creative activities (read: more time to knit and read and write). I would live where culture flourished on an intimate level, through dinners with other people a few times a week and cultural outlets that didn't involve lots of travel.

Am I living this life? Is it only an ideal? These are the questions that I grapple with regularly. I have meaningful work, but not necessarily the work that best uses my talents, training and abilities. I have to drive 24 miles each way to get there, but I do meet most of my needs... and am working on re-aligning my wants so that they are less driven by the materialistic, disposable-ethic, mainstream. I am always wanting more time with the animals, more time with friends, and more time to knit. The stack of books to read never really gets any smaller, as new ones get added even as some get finished... often it is a few feet tall, reflecting the difficulty in finding enough time for reading, which to me is essential to keeping my own mind active, and to keeping up with the culture.

I am grateful that blogging and the Internet allow me more opportunities to engage in this conversation with others. How do you feel? Are you trying to live your version of an authentic life, or have you thrown up your hands, daunted by the demands of daily life? Talk to me!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Spring on the North Coast

I know it's hard to believe with the rain and snow pouring down once again here in the Sierras, but it is spring on the North Coast of California, and I got to experience a little bit of it this past weekend.

I wish I could tell you what kind of flowers these are, but there sure are a lot of them, for the flower-deprived, they were heaven.

Citrus blooms very early in those parts of California where there is no threat of freezing, and this dwarf grapefruit tree was only one of many heavily-laden citrus trees we passed as we strolled around Sonoma on Friday.

We toured the historic San Francisco Solano mission; the California missions are a very unique part of our history and culture, and there are few other places with such an intriguing and controversial background. They were built to be a day's walk (as in ALL day at a brisk pace) from each other, which is amazing in itself. They also led to the demise of the native culture and the early introduction of a long-lasting distinct Spanish influence. The link I posted is just one of many if you are curious.

I took this photo to capture the detail of the adobe wall.

We also toured General Vallejo's home,Lachryma Montis. The good General was in charge of the Spanish territory at the time it capitulated to the United States in 1846, and lived another 35 years or more in the area, where he left a lasting impression on the wine industry and community endeavors.

This is a much more ornate version of the same Carpenter Gothic style that our Camptonville house I featured a few weeks ago represents.

Our last stop in Sonoma before heading to Glenn's sister's for the night was the Depot Museum, where we had a excellent visit with curator, Diane Smith. We always love to chat with fellow history lovers.

This canvas was at the Depot museum, and is an early form of advertising art.

We also liked these boots, which were actual grizzly bear feet once, back before the griz was driven to extinction here in California by miners during the Gold Rush.

Glenn's sister and her husband had left for the night by the time we arrived in Santa Rosa, but we all planned to meet in Fort Bragg Saturday afternoon, to surprise Grandpa Jim. We had a leisurely drive through the Anderson Valley and past Mendocino, before spending a few hours strolling around downtown Fort Bragg. I found a great LYS, Navarro River Knits, but unfortunately, the picture didn't "take"... my DH even asked if I was planning to write a review for my blog (I'm getting him trained!). I did find much there I liked, and a visitor to the North Coast could easily find all the ingredients for a new sweater or other project and lug them back to their hotel room, with a big picture window overlooking the surf of course, and while away a stormy afternoon ocean-watching.

Five of us did manage to totally surprise Grandpa at his gear shed (he is a not-really-retired commercial fisherman) in the afternoon, with Grandma's help at the other end of the phone. We found out he was on his way out to use one of his table saws, beat him there, and sat around in a circle of chairs, totally catching him off gaurd when he unlocked the door... "Hey, what are you guys doing in here?!"

We had a large and rowdy family dinner in his honor at The Wharf, and toasts and good cheer and seafood abounded, as well as cake and ice cream when we got back to their house. Several of us stayed with Mom and Dad, including all but two of their grandchildren, and got to have a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast together.

Don't they look like kids who never grew up? Diana gave each of her three children these shirts last year (in case you can't tell, they read "Mom likes ME best") but only the boys insist on wearing them when we get together - Erika says she is confident where she stands and doesn't need a shirt to prove it!

Then, we took a family stroll along the beach before we all had to depart to our separate homes...

The surf was a bit rough at MacKerricher Beach, but the day was glorious.

It might be a bit hard to tell, but those light brown big blobs are sea lions, basking in the sun. It is pupping season and we could view them from behind a cable higher up on the beach, but not get too close.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

On The Road Again...

We spent yesterday working our way over to Santa Rosa, and mostly poked around the mission at Sonoma and General Vallego's house, both California State Parks. I will have pictures for you when I return home.

Guess what? It's spring over here in the flatlands! There's still snow hanging around in odd corners at my place so this is a real treat. Trees are in bloom, everything is my favorite color, green, and there are daffodils and other spring flowers everywhere you look.

I spent the evening knitting on my DH's vest, and dreaming of making faster progress on my Mountain Peaks shawl. It has been slow going, as I just can't get the quiet moments I need for her this week. I did make two washcloths to send off as a gift, and one of a pair of cranberry red fingerless mitts, to send off to CIC while attending training on Thursday (what was I thinking? I didn't bring enough yarn to start on the second one AND had to bend a paper clip to make into a stitch holder for the thumb stitches - how unprepared can a knitter get?).

I also have Mountain Stream waiting in the wings to be cast on, and have to admit to some traitorous feelings towards the shawl when I see how fast other KAL members are progressing on the scarf... maybe I should do her first? Then, there's the big pile of yarns waiting to become a ruana, and a surprise package that came in the mail as we were leaving town - my long-lost Christmas gift of a Bohus sweater kit from Kimmet Croft fibers. I don't know what happened to the communication here, as we had tried re-contacting them a few times to see if the yarn had ever gotten back in stock, and had given up.

Faithful readers will recall that my DH ordered this kit for me back in early December, then decided around Valentine's Day that the ungifted holidays were mounting up terribly against him, the package hadn't arrived, and so we had gone shopping for a lovely knitting chair for me! He did have a moment where he thought maybe the whole incident was knitter's treachery, but then remembered it is his email that we had used to write back and forth about this order.... well, now I will be looking for shops this weekend to buy the needed, much smaller, needles to swatch the Wild Apple cardigan.

I hope that spring is springing where you are, and that you have the change to enjoy it a bit! We are off to Fort Bragg to meet up with Grandpa Jim and surprise him.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Loss and a Story of Love

My life has been thrown into chaos this week by the grief, loss and soul-searching that comes from losing a member of my family. My dear uncle, Ed Mohlengraft, passed away last week, following a lengthy battle against both Parkinson’s and heart disease. He was 84. He was also one of the last adults in my life who knew me from my birth, and he and his wife, my mother’s sister, Jane, were my godparents, in the true sense of the term, throughout my life. There were many times when they stood in for my parents, most particularly when my parents were tending to my youngest brother’s battle with leukemia. They lived only two miles from us during those years, and spent many an evening and an overnight, either tending to us at our house, or bringing us to theirs. They were so much a part of our ongoing lives at that point that we accepted this, on the surface. They cooked for us and fed us, kept us entertained reading stories and playing board games. I was seven, and my two other brothers were five and three (the youngest was a twin to this brother). Their hearts must have been breaking, knowing the loss for all of us that was coming, but they showered us with love and we took our fears and frustrations out on the babysitters who came during the days, and not on Uncle Ed and Aunt Jane. They were the ones who tried their best to explain the night that my baby brother died.

My aunt and uncle also provided the kind of safe haven a child needed as they came to challenge their parents. They were less judgmental, and I remained close to them both. They were my anchor a dozen years ago, while I was managing the care for my mother, facing the end of her own battle with emphysema. They helped me through the funeral arrangements, and the process of becoming the guardian for my father, lost in the dementia of Alzheimers already. My aunt had been the one to care for my grandmother, and they provided the same support for my cousin as my mother’s older sister and her husband became infirm and required her care.

Throughout it all, my uncle maintained a very active volunteer life. He had retired at a young age (at least it sure looks like it to me now), having survived a brain anerysm at about age 50, and once he returned to good health, became a docent at the Sacramento Zoo, and very active in his parish and the Knights of Columbus. He made giving back to the community a full-time job, and was always gentle and kind to those around him.

This photo was taken in 2006, on my aunt and uncles 50th anniversary. My cousin Gaytrell is in the middle. My uncle's best friend Milt spoke at the funeral, telling a moving story of over 50 years of love between the two, and how amazed he was to watch as my uncle was able to comfort my aunt when she was in great pain following surgery for a broken hip a few years back, simply by saying "Jane, I am here with you".

My DH, DD and DS joined me in attending his funeral Wednesday afternoon, which was the most elaborate Catholic funeral for a layperson I had ever attended. There were four visiting priests, something pretty unusual for a "citizen", as well as several lay ministers and four alter-persons (yes, one was a girl - this has become common in the past decade or more). It was a tribute to his service to others that they desired to be there to honor and commend him. Listening through the service was both familiar and difficult. I can still remember every word of much of the ancient ritual and yet there are beliefs that are now so far removed from me. I can treasure the love all of these strangers had for my uncle, just as there are people in my daily life who love and treasure my presence, and still feel unique and alone in my loss.

I have felt frail and vulnerable, yet thankful that he lived such a full life. My cousin and I shared our fears about having no elders left in our shared grandmother’s lineage; it is just us now, and a three other sibs/cousins, although they were not in attendance. I know that we both are strong and competent women (this is the same cousin that raises 80-100 cattle a year on our family’s ancestral ranch while running her own interior design business), and yet we have not needed to rise into the position of wise women, elders, until this moment. It is enormous. We have agreed to make a greater effort to see each other regularly, in part to help each other make this step, and in part to share our grief. We have each lost one of our best mentors, the person who taught us compassion by example, and who never had a harsh word for us while we were growing up. We were lucky and now have to draw upon those reserves and share that knowledge back somehow. Will we be up for the task?

From this experience, I attended a day-long training in values-centered leadership. I am challenging each of you this weekend to think about what your core values are... they are what keeps you coming back to read my work, instead of someone else's blog, for they are where our commonality really lies. Many of my blogworld friends value creativity, but they also have a deep love of friends and family, and a sense of responsibility to the world. What else ties us together? Please go and hug your family for me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Product Review:Rowan Kidsilk Haze


Yarn name: Kidsilk Haze
Weight: DK
Manufacture: Rowan
Size: 229 yds/25 gm ball
<Fibers: 70% mohair, 30% silk
MSRP: $13.95 per ball

This is a very soft, very sweet mohair and silk blend, making it a treasure to be used carefully and to add exquisite luxury to your knitting. I found working with it just a bit slippery, which took getting used to, but want to make a second version of the Mountain Stream scarf in this yarn, which is what Susan had in mind in designing it.. my first will be of silk/wool yarn from my stash. Mohair is much lighter per length than wool, and that furry stuff traps warmth around you, giving a featherweight scarf or shawl great wind-blocking capabilities. The colors in this Rowan version are vibrant and jewel-like, as you can see in my fingerless mitt below: the Kidsilk Haze is the lighter of the two purples.

Look at the halo on that yarn!

Although I would not want a whole sweater of this yarn, it would make a sexy little 1940s twinset or just the shortsleeved top.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Busy Almost-Spring Saturday

A busy Saturday means lots to report! Friday is the day we receive our CSA box of veggies, so Friday evening was partly spent on sorting, planning, cooking and storing. This week's box included Napa cabbage, which will go into a stir-fry creation, beets, carrots, lovely rainbow chard, parsnips, lettuce, kale and dandelion greens... now many people have probably never eaten these before, but we had! Our veggies come from Live Oak Farm in Rumsey, and they had included a recipe, but I used my own. You might watch for the tender wild dandelion greens to begin appearing and give it a try:

Wilted Dandelion Salad

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped finely, set aside
3 strips of bacon, chopped into 2 inch long pieces
1-2 cups of dandelion greens, stems removed

Wash and destem the dandelion greens, then carefully pat dry and place in a serving bowl. Fry up the bacon pieces until cooked. Use a slotted spoon to lift the bacon from the pan and drain off excess fat. With tongs, gently toss the cooked bacon into the dandelion greens immediately; this will wilt the greens somewhat, but should not turn them into a soggy mess. Serve topped with the chopped, hard-cooked eggs.

Friday evening was also spent admiring my Ruffled Shawl:

She deserves a better photo shoot than merely draped over the back of the chair, but here she is. I will be taking some nicer photos out in the sun later today, but wanted to share a bit about the process now. This shawl is a pattern that Margene and Susan found at a festival last fall, and when I saw a picture, I fell in love with the design and ordered a copy of the pattern from Windy Valley Musk Ox. I began it on Christmas Day and pretty much sailed along through the pattern and the regular increases up to 325 stitches, in about 4 weeks of evening knitting, interspersed with the usual small projects on the side.

Then, I got to the "foundation points", which is what the designer called the short-row shaping that the actual ruffles would fill in later... here is where I have to disagree with the pattern designer in labeling the level of experience as "Intermediate". Lucky for me, I am NOT an intermediate knitter, but an advanced one, as it took mentally visualizing where the designer intended for me to go, and working it out myself to get it.

The foundation point part was muddling-clear, but the ruffles took several goes, complete with plenty of ripping out. I had intended to use the red mohair you can see on the edging and make the ruffles off the foundation points, but it turned out, after I had finally mastered one half-ruffle on the edge, and two complete ruffles, short-rowing back and forth and filling in between the foundation points, that my red ruffles were coming out a slightly larger size than my purple shawl body, so I was relieved to abandon that part of the pattern, and be content with a simple picot-type edging, which WAS adequately described...

Except for the part where my increases (twice in each stitch around, after picking up along the top edges) would lead to 965 stitches... do you know how LONG it takes to knit a row with 965 stitches? Well, while doing the increases, I thought about how my children were already grown, and would probably have my grandchildren, who would be grown, before I ever got done. Finishing that increase row helped my perspective, but it still took two hours to bind off that many stitches!

As I was finishing up the shawl, I got into a bit of a conversation with Susan, asking her if she had ever made the pattern up... she hadn't, but had just picked it up to give it a read, and agreed that the instructions were none too clear. To add insult to injury, she discovered that this pattern is now available free at Yarnmarket. If you still want to give it a try after reading my rant, you can get it here. I will be done with my ranting after I tell you that all knitting designers are created equal, and this experience has given me even greater love and respect for Susan, Miriam, Eunny, Annie, and some of the other fine, independent designers who spend so much time on making sure their instructions are clear and test-knitted by other people before selling the patterns to the unsuspecting public. Enough said.

I do love the finished shawl, and have it draped over my shoulders as I type. It provides very light warmth, and will probably live on that chair in the photo, for just this reason.. the purple yarn is Bernat Sweety (I am not sure this yarn is even still made; a non-knitting friend gave it to me), which is acrylic, but works for lil' ol' me, who can't have sheep wool and bare torso skin together without major itching.

Saturday was also a "work" day for the teeny, tiny crafts business. Here is a photo of the bag I finished for a special order, drying on our hearth. I probably wouldn't have picked the pale grey myself (it is Knitpicks Wool of the Andes, for enquiring minds who want to know), but my associate who ordered the bag had decided to "go practical" and select a color that would go with a lot of things, and I was very happy with the finished results... even my 20-year old son suggested I should be expanding my business, which the oldest has been promoting for over a year, and he's the hardest to impress in this household. I stuff my felted objects with plastic garbage bags off the roll, to retain the shape I want while drying; now the garbage bags are hanging up to dry, so I can re-roll them!

I also finished up a very quick scarf, after vowing not to put any more scarves in our shop, simply because it was "relief" knitting; I have cast on my Mountain Peaks shawl but find it slow going using laceweight at this point, and my hands appreciate it if I alternate that type of work with worsted or bulky projects to give them a rest (honest, they told me so!). The scarf was a mixture of a strand each of leftover fun fur, cotton ribbon, and lopi-type wool, and has a lot of stability while still feeling cushy. I only needed to cast on seven stitches - a big change from working with 965.

Saturday was the first glorious day in what seems like weeks, after the bout of weather we have been having. Things were frozen pretty solid in the morning, and this morning as well, but much of the snow melted in open areas in the past 24 hours. We took a drive through some backcountry roads and past Bridgeport and the South Yuba River State Park, ending up in Penn Valley at two of our favorite thrift stores... I found two 14-inch, size 2 circular needles for a quarter each, as well as a book about Scotland that was over 100 years old! Look for illustrations and photos from this book to appear in upcoming posts, as I get them scanned, as I want to share a few of people knitting while chatting at roadsides, etc. We had a late lunch in Grass Valley, mexican food is my favorite to eat AND cook! I also picked up some pillow forms for another crafts coop project, as well as groceries, and we headed home through sunset-lit skies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

F is for Fleece

We had a break in the weather today, with more rain/snow/sleet predicted for the next two days. Linda and I had been hoping for a dry day, as we were planning to head over to Harvey Ranch to meet up with Anna and her sheep shearer, who had postponed shearing her 80 woolies from March 4th to today because of the severe winter storm watch at the start of the month (little did he know...).

Harvey Ranch is located in the Sierra Valley, where Anna's family has been raising meat sheep for four generations. Anna decided several years back to develop a flock of wool sheep, since she is a fiber and quilt artist. Her flock consists of Rambouillet (her family has about 4000 of these) and Coopworth-Salish sheep (recently acquired from the M Nine Bar Below spinning flock from Diane Wheatly of Lebanon, OR). Anna also had a fleece win Reserve Champion Handspinning Fleece at the Dixon Lambtown Festival last summer.

Anna takes very good care of the fleece while it develops, making for much less work for the spinner. She also has much of the wool that is not as suited for hand-spinning combed into quilting batts at the Yolo Wool Mill.

These poor pregnant girls... Anna's sheep shearer was a bigger wimp than we were, as he backed out of coming today, so they will have to wait till next Tuesday to shed their 10-pound fleeces.

The sheep are wearing coats to protect their bee-yoooo-ti-ful, long-stapled fleeces, some 6 or 7 inches in length on their backs, from mud and damp until they can be shorn. I was a spinner in an earlier version of this life, and greatly admired the length, softness and crimp of the fleece, which we looked at on a few of these girls, who needed their canvas jackets changed. There is also less lanolin than average (but still plenty to spin well) because of the lack of humidity in the Sierra Valley. This group will begin lambing about April 1st, so are quite large and cumbersome (remember when you were pregnant? Now, add a 10-pound coat you can't wiggle out of... you get the idea).

And, yes, those ARE icicles hanging from the roof. However, the day remained dry and we got a good look at the various pens:

Linda just loved how this girl was smiling at us!

This big bruiser is the main man for the wool flock, and both Anna and her husband Dan said he has lots of "attitude". He was pretty relaxed today, on his side of the fence, but alone and with no harem to defend. His fleece probably weighed closer to 15 pounds, and Dan estimated he weighs around 180 pounds. His distinctive nose marking shows up on several of the flock.

An overview of several of the woolies. Anna said they are getting tired of being cooped up the the barn, waiting to be sheared, but that is the only way to keep their fleeces clean and dry. Wet wool is much harder to shear!

This is Daisy, in a work pose... she is a Great Pyrenees puppy (I know, she looks huge, but is only seven months old). GPs make excellent livestock guard dogs, for those who don't have the good fortune to have burros, and she is no exception. She has grown up with the lambs, sees herself as one of the flock, and although sweet and friendly, was alert and "on duty" the entire time we were near the sheep pens. I have always believed that animals need jobs, just as we do, and she is a great testimonial... a lost snowmobiler drove onto the ranch while we were visiting, and she became hyper-alert to the sound and was listening intently until he departed. She also followed our movements and kept close watch, as we were the intruders, and it was her duty to make sure we didn't "mess with the sheep". The Harveys have a mature GP, George, who patrols the ranch grounds, along with their Australian Kelpie, Rockie< and have very little trouble with predators.

We then went inside to take a look at Anna's latest work of art, a quilted wall hanging featuring both piecework of fine detail, and embellishments in the form of dogwood branches needlefelted onto the borders and 3-D dogwood blossoms! She had the piece quilted by a friend with a long-arm machine to echo the dogwood theme, and it will be one of the samples she uses at her classes this coming season. Anna will be one of the featured teachers at our Mountain Star Quilt guild retreat we are offering to the public in the fall, along with other fiber artist luminaries... watch for details.

Linda and I headed to Sierraville for a terrific Mexican food lunch. We discussed our craft afflictions and how we never seemed to have enough time for all of it. Even though F is for Fleece, and I even want to add a few woolies here someday soon, I don't think I will take up spinning again; it would cut seriously into my knitting time!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Snowed In!

Aren't those words just music to your ears? Well, maybe not for you, but I have always treasured those rare days where the weather holds the reins and determines that the smartest, safest thing to do is to just stay put, right where you are, and enjoy the snow falling. At the rate of about an inch an hour early this morning. I willingly stayed home; there are projects coming up this spring that will have me putting in extra hours so I wasn't too worried... I spent a bit longer than usual trekking through foot-deep snow to feed donkeys, and even gave them extra at lunchtime to make up for the cold and the damp. We both spent time knocking snow from the roof eaves, so that it wouldn't pile up too deeply in the valleys (troughs where the various slopes meet each other). That was enough outside time to burn more than breakfast up, so I stayed in to defrost.

I decided it was the ideal time to put up a few Ebay auctions; I am offering some vintage pattern books, some cotton/rayon yarn and some sock yarn that are leftovers and would be better off sitting around in someone else's stash..our auction ID is "slaterange" so go and check them out.

I also got to take some indoor photos for you:

Can you believe that this...

... will turn out looking like this? If it weren't for all the felting I have done in the past year, I wouldn't either! This felted sample shows the texture when I am done with a long stretch of "plain" knitting to create the Felted Vest from Felted Knits, by Beverly Galeskas. You can see Eunny's version here (that Eunny, she can do ANYTHING; check out the lace tutorial she is running now, as well as her steeking encyclopedia). It will be fabulous, and this brief bit is what I have been able to accomplish at Spinning Saturday, and last night at Linda's Monday Night Knitting (Linda is a fellow quilt guild member, who informed me at our retreat last week that she has been hosting knitting nights weekly and I should come; who knew?!).

Felting is magic!

I also got to have some email conversation with my dear friend Sallee, about a subject dear to her heart, and now to mine too....

What is this mess o' yarns from my stash? It may not be readily apparent that there is a method to my madness here, but I am in the process of sorting through to select yarns for the ruana pattern in Folk Shawls (Cheryl Oberle). I have been a fan of ruanas for a few decades, dating back to when they first started appearing here, imported from Peru. They are like a cape, only two long rectangles that are joined in the back and open as they drape over your shoulders, allowing you to pin them in front, wrap one over a shoulder, use the ruana as a blankie for a wee one, or to keep your lap warm in a chilly airplane, or even to serve as a comforter if you are stuck overnight on a friend's couch (are you hearing the voice of experience speaking here?)

Ruanas have been popular with weavers, as they don't need to cut into that hard- earned length of cloth to shape the garment. Cheryl created a knitted version, with advice about duplicating the fabric variations, usually subtle, narrow stripes, in the woven ones. Plus, this pattern calls for carefully, but randomly mixing a variety of stash yarns, approximately 2500 yards in all, to get the woven textural effect of the Peruvian original. What could be better for a knitter on a stash diet?

Sallee has been setting aside yarns for the past year, but I am more gluttonous, and discovered that I had a lot to draw upon stored in my chest of drawers upstairs. Since I get to mix textures, I settled on lavenders (you can see this is a heavy favorite of mine) and neutrals ranging into browns. I managed to have a lot of leftovers in these colors... and the eyelash yarns are holdovers from items I made as felted purse orders in 2005. I also turned up several gifts that could be put to use, including the alpaca and hand spun wools my Better Pal Beth sent me recently. Then, there's the large cone of Sally Fox's organic, colorgrown brown cotton at the top of the photo, and another cone of brushed wool/mohair that has been languishing for years, since it was part of an afghan project for DH. In the plastic bag at the bottom left is an interesting find I have not been able to put to use in several years - a nice boucle DK weight cream with gold metallic... will add a sparkly surprise, don't you think?

Anyway, I started off sorting into two piles, one for each side of the ruana, then realized that I would need to divide many of these into halves, and set up a basket for each, and since I have a few projects in line ahead of starting this "mindless" knitting, decided that my little table could serve as an "objet d' art", or fiber sculpture, for the next few weeks till DH's vest is done.... what a lovely site a pile of fiber is to us fiberholics! My own touchy-feely yarn shop at home will help keep me on my stash diet.

Today is dear Margene's birthday, and when I left a shout, was the 92nd person to do so; if you haven't yet, go by and leave felititations of the day (don't you just love that 19th century terminology?) so that she gets at least 100 good wishes! You will also love the cake photo...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Donks Want You to Know...

... that they are getting a little tired of this weather. They have shelters, both groups, but the younger ones spend most of their time out under the trees, keeping busy keeping an eye on things. I was explaining to a fellow guild member yesterday what good sheep guards they make; at least that it what people having both have told me, also works with goats. Mules and donkeys have both been known to stomp an intruding dog rather than run, and a photo floated around my animal lists last year showing a mule stomping a cougar to death that had been stalking a hunting party. Tough critters, but they don't like the amount of snow we have been having.

After a warmer afternoon melted much of what snow we had in exposed places, I awoke to the same amount, freshly dumped in the wee hours.... and it has kept falling all day today.

My two older girls get a special treat when the temps drop or they are exposed to prolonged rain and get wet and chilled:

When the weather gets cold, out comes the bowls of grain, moistened by boiling water from the house, so that there's half a chance of its being lukewarm by the time the donks get started eating. This not only makes it more palatable, but assures they are getting some water when it's too cold to want a glass of ice. They also each get a handful of vitamin pellets thrown in.

Rita (in back) and Louise chow down... Louise in particular has had trouble keeping weight on this winter and is now 28 while Rita is 24. This is middle age or better for them, as donkeys routinely live past 40, but they need pampering.

The others were a little jealous, but they get extra sugar in the from of extra carrots and apples when the weather expends more body heat, so don't let their sad, long faces fool you. From left, Assteroid, 2, April, 6, and Rose, 9.

In other homestead developments, we got our first box of winter vegetables from the CSA we signed up to mid-season, Mountain Bounty Farms, located about 10 miles from us. Our friend Bill encouraged us to join, and even offered to make our weekly pick-up for us and drop the boxes off the next morning on his way to work near us. Beautiful organic rutabagas are the star this season, in produce that farm owner John Tecklin is bringing up from another CSA in the Capay Valley, on the western side of the great Central Valley, near Woodland. I roasted a large pan of rutabagas, parsnips (a personal favorite), carrots and turnips, which had been doused with olive oil pureed with some of the provided green garlic the first night, while prepping and starting a crockpot of minestrone, using some of the leftover roast (we get grass-fed, non-certified organic beef annually from my cousin, who now tends the ranch that has been in my mother's branch of the family for 85 years). I also dried the cilantro, and plan to make cole slaw from the big head of cabbage... I am finding that to save time, I prefer to prep veggies for at least one other meal while cooking, and haven't gotten back to more cooking this weekend, as I did my coursework this morning, sorted yarns for my anticipated version of the Ruana in Folk Shawls, and then took up my Ruffled Shawl this afternoon.

I haven't touched it in a long time, probably six weeks, as I stuck with small projects and dealt with the stress of change. Of course, I had stopped midway through the short-row foundation points for the ruffles (yes, I was THAT close to finishing), and messed up the first ones I attempted and had to rip back when I noticed they weren't matching the way I had done the first half, but now I am back on track and only have a few more left. Then, it's on to the red ruffles. I plan to cast on my Mountain Stream shawl tonight.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mountain Lace

Now you all know that I am a mountain grrl through and through, so how could I resist when I learned about the Mountain Lace KAL? And I am not a joiner! However, this time I am making an exception, as both lace patterns are exquisite representations of my beloved mountains, even though their designers, Miriam and Susan, live in the Rockies. I have Margene to thank, even though she doesn't know it yet, for this auspicious development - you see, I was so inspired by her post about knitting holes that I had to check out the links, thereby falling in love with the patterns (and on it goes)(In case you didn't already know, it is Margene's birthday on Tuesday, and the full moon, so go by and wish her a howling good birthday).

Best part is that I am living within my stash diet means, so to speak... I already have the perfect yarn for each of these two lovely projects. I will be starting with the Mountain Peaks shawl, for two reasons... I prefer to do larger projects during the cold months, I want to get this done to take to Estes Park in June, and my printer ran out of ink before I could get to buying and downloading the Mountain Stream scarf pattern (yes, I noticed too, that's three reasons, but they are all good ones!).

Here are the yarns I plan to use. The muted green on the top is Garnstudio Silke-Tweed, for Mountain Stream, and was a gift from Beth. It is really a light sport weight but has been whispering "lace" to me ever since it arrived here in my last Better Pal package. My hands will appreciate it that the yarn is a bit bigger, especially since the heathered lavender below it, for Mountain Peaks, is Knitpicks' Alpaca Cloud, a laceweight in baby alpaca. I am quite pleased that both are "mountain colors" and will do the patterns justice.

I even feel self-righteous starting on a big project,as I finished up two others last evening:

My finished Mrs. Beetons

Felted bag before throwing into the washer tomorrow

And DH isn't being neglected either, as I have started on his to-be-felted vest and worked diligently on it at Spinning Saturday this afternoon. It is some pretty mindless and endless stockinette knitting - whole body up to the armholes, so will make the perfect counterpoint to working on lace over the next several weeks... I am in knitting heaven. Thanks to all of you who gave me such great suggestions for "stash utilization". Sallee, I broke down and bought Folk Shawls today, as I couldn't be satisfied with "just one" pattern copied from it, and fell in love with several.... I will be sorting yarns for my ruana!

I am leaving you with this glorious photo of Downieville, freshly dusted with snow yesterday morning; I am SOOO lucky to live and work in the mountains.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Virtual Field Trip to Birdsong's

My virtual field trip will start with a few donkeys grazing on the front lawn. Our house was built during the California Gold Rush, in 1852, by J.P. Brown, a man from Boston in his mid-twenties at the time and serving as the local Wells Fargo agent. This view is the front, and he had an office to the right side, where I have one today! From left to right, Rose, Louise, and Rita graze contentedly in the spring sun.

We have entered through the kitchen door, also on the right side of the house when facing from the main road. I have a large farm-style kitchen, and it is my favorite room in the entire house, partly because of all the space, and partly because it has the best light.

My field trip is somewhat unique in that I have pulled together a collection of photos taken at various times in the past year or so, showing different stages in our daily life. This photo shows our first grape harvest from the 60 or so Sangiovese plats we put in the ground back in 2000; grapes live a very long time, but take several years to really start bearing fruit, particularly in our heavy clay soil. We tried making wine, but our timing/sugar content was off a bit and we didn't get the fermentation we were after. They sure look awesome though!

This is a view of our family room, where we spend the most time... my DH collects beer steins, found the coyote skin at an antique store down in Texas last fall, and got the snakeskins from an elderly man who was the nephew of "Bring 'Em Back Alive" Buck, a hunter who collected animals for American zoos from Africa in the early 1900s. I have replaced the chair in the lower left foreground, covered with a burnt orange blanket woven by an old friend, Noel, many years ago, with my new knitting chair and spend a lot of time knitting in this room. My view is of this fireplace, retrofitted with a propane "fire":

This is the formal parlor of our antique house; I am the only person I have ever met with a buffalo head hanging on their wall - another antique find of my DH, this time from Montana by way of Ebay. These are the original, horsehair plaster walls, with handcut laths underneath (now patched but not painted to keep the authentic look, in this room at least). It is never dull, living in an old house... lots of things to work on, but also lots of character. It is colder than a modern house, but we have put a lot of effort into weatherizing over the eight years we have been here, and it's better than ever.

Upstairs, I have a lovely studio where my knitting supplies live, and where I hope to set up my sock machine in the next week or so and get cranking:

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Glenn has his own version of a studio across the hall, and we have two small guest rooms upstairs, but they are too cluttered right now to show you; we have been working over the winter to re-arrange the upstairs and clean up and out.

The newly installed felting station, on our back porch - a vintage 70s colored washer hooked up to hot water!

Across the room from the newly installed felting machine is the displaced tack... a few pack saddles, cinches, assorted bridles, bits, and stored newspapers. The wooden boxes are slung from the packsaddle, tarped and roped down, and later make great critter-proof camp storage and seats!

That's a brief tour of my "crib"; I love it here! Our house is situated on four acres with a cedar grove, no neighbors behind us, just empty land, and the town's historic cemetery to one side. The burros have an antique carriage house for their barn, and we also have a logging truck-sized carport, left over from the previous owner... nothing is ordinary around here. Come back later in the spring for a field trip outdoors.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Living On Stash

I have not been participating in the Stashbusters KAL, nor have I been following the Got Yarn campaign Carole is graciously monitoring for the participants, as I have been too busy to keep up with Blogland, until last week, when, as many of you already know, I lost my full-time job and gratefully reduced to working only one, half-time job for a month or two.

All was good until this weekend, when my tax man called to say our returns were ready, to hold onto till the fateful day.... now, I had expected to owe some money this year, as all of the dear children were finally grown and gone, and I haven't come up with an acceptable business to allow me to claim the burros as tax deductions (although I AM working on it!). However, he determined that one of the four jobs I held in 2005 neglected to make deductions on my behalf to the State of California, and we also had done better than expected in our rental business... leading us to owe more than twice what I had anticipated! The equivalent of our March income to be exact.

Now, for some reason, I have been feeling pretty Zen about this, even though it means a readjustment of habits temporarily. I knew that my work life was going to change in one way or another at the start of 2006, and have stocked the cupboards and the yarn stash. I also have stacks of books waiting to be read. We will be living on stash in lots of ways besides my knitting for the months of March and April, and our biggest disappointment was coming to the conclusion that we would probably postpone the vacation to Sedona we had planned for mid-April, and wait till we could feel like we could spend freely while traveling.

We are considering a burro pack trip here in the low country of the Sierra foothills as an alternative... that is something we have been meaning to do anyway, but just couldn't get our schedules to match up properly. We will be watching the weather and hoping for the most temperate of spring weather just after Easter.

In the knitting department, I have been looking at my stash to determine what will get made, and whether I can turn what I have into something I want but can't buy. A good challenge, overall. I do have the yarn to make a lovely Elsebeth Lavold sleeveless top, and may start that in April, but now the weather just seems too cold. I am looking a bit at stranded designs to use with worsted weight wool, as I have a lot of leftover colors from felting projects, and enough yardage in two different neutral colors, cream and pale lavender-grey, to serve as a base for a cardi design. I also have my DH's vest to make up, and several small charity knitting projects, enough yarn set aside for two shawls, plus one in need of finishing. I have yarns in reserve for two alpaca scarves and one silk blend, but am kind of sick of scarves, and only the silk blend is likely to get turned into a spring wrap... it's snowing and raining now, but spring really is just around the corner, meaning what I would really like to be making is a nice lightweight cardi to wear into summer.

I am open to suggestions!

We have a lot of my cousin's good, grass-fed near-organic beef in the freezer, local veggies from the CSA in our area, and plenty of time to cook a bunch, as well as read all of those books. Pay a visit to Liz's Pocket Farm for more on eating locally, and stay warm and dry.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Product Review: Merino Kind


Yarn name: Merino Kind
Weight: DK
Manufacture: Ornaghi Filati
Size: Bulky: 137 yds/50 gm (1 oz) ball
Fibers: 100% wool
MSRP: $9.00 per ball

This is a very luscious, yet crisp, crepe textured merino that takes color vibrantly and is so, soo soft. It has just the right amount of stretch to spring. It is more expensive than I would pick for a whole sweater, but there are others not on such a tight budget, so I can tell you that the stitch definition such a yarn produces would be wonderful for a spring lace sweater or a cabled, snug-fitting vintage cardigan. The link for color samples of this yarn offers a better price when buying a whole bag, if you decide to make a sweater.

This is the larger weight of the two yarns I picked to make my Mrs. Beetons - see photo below, and the pretty plum purple I chose is a favorite, very Victorian and girly. If I could wear wool next to my skin, I would probably plunge in and make a whole sweater!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Knitting With Beads

I finally made the leap of faith necessary (as well as had the chance to do the bead-stringing in daylight so I could see what I was doing!) to start my Mrs. Beeton wristwarmers yesterday afternoon, and was completely captivated by the process. I am grateful to Sallee, for modeling her version awhile back and getting me hooked.

Using the dental floss threader allowed me to pick up and string the individual seed beads onto the fingering mohair, Rowan Kidsilk Haze, which is threaded through and folded over the loop.

Here, all of the beads for the beaded cast-on are threaded, in groups of ten to help me keep count. That fuzzy white thing isn't my tablecloth, but a special beading mat that my dear friend Leslie sent me, as well as the dental floss threader. It keeps the beads from rolling off the table and is a real lifesaver; I used to bead weave on a loom, and would always be finding lost beads stuck in the floorboards days later.

I was so excited once the bead cast-on was completed that I charged through the first wristwarmer:

One hand covered, one more to go... I love the two belled layers, and though this Victorian-era lighting might enhance the mood, it doesn't adequately show off the lovely beaded edging on the inner belled ruffle.

I do think that I would need to find a faster way to string beads if doing a larger piece, such as a knitted beaded purse. Leslie insists that there is a special bowl that spins and threads the beads onto the needle for you, so that such more elaborate work is possible! I am content with the beaded wristwarmers for now, and will reveal what the other yarn I used was tomorrow, for this week's Product Review.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Calm After the Storm

I woke to a bright blue sky this morning, something of a relief after a week of stormy weather, so I decided after feeding the burros that some photos of snow were in order; our main house is usually below the snow line, so it is a rare treat that should be recorded for posterity. We lived for thirteen years at our other house, where there are now several feet of snow, and where our children grew up sledding, snowboarding, having snowball fights, and otherwise taking advantage of the wonder of a transformed landscape each time a storm finished.

Here's a view from the front of our house ... the roof pitch is too steep to keep any snow on it, so we heard it creaking and crashing off all night...

The morning sun really favors our back porch, and we spend a lot of time during the summer under the shady overhang. The french doors pictured lead to our bedroom, so it becomes something of an extension of the yard with the doors open all summer long. One of kitchen doors also exits into this yard, and berries and grapes drape the fences, leafing out to provide us with a very private space.

This little guy lives next to our backyard water garden, where a small fountain pump keeps the negative ions circulating during the warm months:

Some days you just have to try a little harder.... poor little gnome out ice fishing!

Linda and I decided last night that the weather had not been conducive to trekking over Yuba Pass to watch the sheep shearing at Harvey Farms; in fact I was tempted to call Anna and tell her to leave their coats on them, as the temperatures were set to drop about 20 degrees from what they have been! I stayed up late and finished the knitting on the felted bag order I have going and also my ribbed fingerless mitts. They are in a deep purple Peruvian Highland Wool from Elann, and will come in very handy both for typing at the computer in my drafty old house (less now that DH have spent so much time weatherizing and insulating), and when going out to do chores... they even go well with my old barn jacket!

This pattern was created by Amanda Gill and is available here for free. I will make the men's size as part of my 40 Days challenge, to contribute to CIC.

My knitting for the rest of the weekend: I want to string my beads and cast on the fancier fingerless mitts, Mrs. Beeton from Knitty, knit up the purse I-cord straps and get it ready for the washer, and finish up a quick gift. From there, I have two hat patterns to try out: Amber, designed by Susan Lawrence and available free at MagKnits, and Coronet, another Knitty pattern. Both will go to Bad Rad Beanies (see my button on the left), and use up some of my leftover worsteds from past felting projects (I have a whole zippered blanket bag full of wonderful colors to choose from!).

Friday, March 03, 2006

E is for Equine

I have to admit that I had quite a bit of trouble with the letter E. I made wordlists of "e words" and none of them fired me up. Sure I like eggplant and eggs well enough, and I exercise regularly and pay attention to my ergonomics. I believe in an egalitarian world view. I even have moments of elation and ecstasy, love to eat, use envelopes, my eyes and my ears daily, and have one or two elegant moments a year, but none of these "E's" were exciting enough to come up with a post worthy of your reading time.

However, I suddenly realized that "equine" was a word that carried a unique importance in my life. My donkeys (also called burros) are very important equines in many parts of the world. When watching news stories and documents about the middle and far East, you will often see a donkey cart amble through the background. That is because they still play an important role in transporting goods and people in parts of the world where cheap gas never reached... and they have come to play a significant role in Cuba since the period in the early 1990s, known as the Special Period, when the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped exporting oil to Cuba. Cuba lost over 50% of its oil supplies, and began to face the "peak oil" problems sneaking up on the rest of us. You can learn more about their solutions here. One was the return of donkey carts to the streets of Havana, including licensed taxis!

I have a donkey cart of my own, and even have one donkey that was trained to drive back many years ago, my Rita. She used to take her previous owner camping, hauling him and his gold mining gear! I took a donkey driving class last spring and got to drive around my friends, Dave and Ginny's, place with the help of their wonderful donkey, Ashley.

Don't we look slick!

One of my fondest dreams is of the day when I can be driving one of my donkeys to the local farmer's market to trade the apples and other fruit we grow, as well as socks made on my circular sock knitting machine from wool raised right here on our place and spun for me at one of the regional mills. My first step will be training Rose to drive this spring, and getting the art of making the socks down with commercial yarn. I am also trying to decide if we are ready for sheep and it helped my cause to read last night in Donkey Driving, that cattle and sheep are great pasture companions for donkeys because of their different grazing habits.... how conveniently enabling :)

Owning and caring for donkeys has been very grounding for me, especially now that I don't have children living at home. The regular feeding schedule helps me maintain a focus, and drags me outside into nature in every kind of weather, where there are miracles happening regularly. I have also mastered the basics of their vet care, and met some wonderful people in the equine-owner world, especially fellow donkey owners, who have also had to put up with certain kinds of snobby horse owners who can't see why a person would bother with donkeys.

Here, April and Assteroid both show their affection for Glenn.

There are many reasons: they are affectionate, they are calm and don't spook very easily. They think and consider before taking an action, something more of us could do with better results. While some people term this behaviour "stubborn", I consider it "cautious" and appreciate thinking before you leap, now that I am old enough to be willing to reflect upon some of the mistakes I have made over the years by not doing just that! Donkeys are also social animals, and I love to watch how they interact with and look out for each other. My life is much richer for their presence in it.