Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A long goodbye

Losing my father-in-law the day before Thanksgiving has been a slow-burn experience.  First, the stunned realization and the acceptance that had already been growing there--he was 98 at the time and had been moved to a care facility for the last year or so. The workers there really cared and it was good to know that someone noticed he was slipping away and was with him to hold his hand for those last moments.

To be honest, I've been sad about it for some time. Sad when we left the house my husband had grown up in knowing it would be sold in a month, knowing we would never be back, knowing it would never be quite the same.  The sadness started when my mother-in-law passed six years before. Elva was an avid naturalist and knew every bird and every plant in her neighborhood. We loved walking with her with a pair of binoculars up a road. Of course, we had to keep up with her.  She was hardy to nearly the end.

And for many years, so was my father-in-law. Ira had lived in his small north country town all of his life, and he had stories that stretched back to earlier years. Funny stories, touching stories, lots and lots of stories. He had been very active in his community--he was one of the charter members of the local volunteer fire department, was fire chief for many years, was a grand master at his Masonic Lodge, was a school board member,  attended Town Board meetings to voice his views when it was necessary. He was a respected member of his community.  I can see where my husband got his own interest in local politics.

In my thirty years of marriage, I knew both my in-laws as retired people. Early on, if they weren't off square dancing, they were playing mahjong or cross-country skiing or off in the woods on one of their many foraging expeditions. Elva and Ira knew where every sort of edible plant was. They were out "stalking the wild asparagus" and Elva's botanical skills were the basis of healthy eating and living.

I'm glad to have known them while they were still young.  We went cross-country skiing with them, took many long hikes and they taught us to play mahjong. We had many late nights up playing with them! We lived much closer back then and we would visit or stop in. For awhile, we took turns taking each other out to lunch--we would find an interesting town half-way and pick a restaurant. They visited us in Connecticut where we lived, but usually we would head north.  It was so peaceful in that little town that each visit was a respite from our busy lives.

Elva and Ira were an interesting couple--they traveled a lot and we had a chance to hear about their visits--crossing the Arctic Circle on a local steamer in Norway, taking an Audubon tour in Alaska or cruising on the Danube. They spent their 60th anniversary in Venice. They were young for most of the years I knew them, and it wasn't until the past decade that the years began to make their inevitable claim.

I will never forget our last Thanksgiving with Elva at the Cambridge Inn a few months before she died. She'd been failing, but that day she was her old self, smiling and gracious and happy.  It was a good memory of happier times.  After she left, Ira held up pretty well, but the years were crowding in on him. We went from sitting with him in the evening listening to his stories over a glass of Scotch served in a jelly jar with one ice cube, to watching him fall asleep in front of the Weather Channel.  We went from going out and about the mountains, taking walks and stopping for a nice lunch, to just a drive around the block.

Then the time came for a care facility, and Ted's sister found a beautiful one overlooking the Atlantic near her home in Maine. It had a nice homey feel, including a fireplace so he could sit in his wheel chair and doze, something he enjoyed. The place was clean and bright and he wasn't alone his last few moments.

It is the end of an era for my husband and I.  We miss both of them deeply.  We've been missing them during the long years of slipping away.  But we will always have them with us, and all the lessons we learned from them. For me they are lessons about loving the outdoors, staying fit and really living those elder years doing what you enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Little suburb near the prairie

Improved studio area in portion of family room.

We were busy around the house this weekend and re-arranged some furniture--hard work for the middle aged.  We have a long family room so I managed to squeeze two looms--the 27" Fanny and the 30" 8 shaft Loomcraft into new spaces that will take advantage of the natural, southern-exposure light of the family room.  I really like the way this has turned out.  Now I just have to weave there.

But today we took a seven mile walk on an 1800 acre restored prairie not far from my home.  The vistas were gorgeous--there were long periods of no sign of civilization. Rolling hills and trees blocked development that has spread into the cornfields of Illinois.  We have restored prairie just a a few blocks from our home.

It's a good time to be grateful to the Universe for plopping us here in this particular suburb so close to so many really nice natural areas. In just a few blocks in the other direction, we reach a long swath of riparian habitat that has been saved and restored.  Riparian refers to along the river and these habitats are vital for the survival of lots of species and I've seen beaver and other critters down in the "woods" and an amazing number of migrating birds. And, of course, the Great Horned Owl. I love hearing it hoot at night near my house, thanks to lots of green space provided in planning neighborhoods.

I am thankful for green space. And I'm trying my best to create a non-toxic environment on my own small plot of suburb.  We've successfully grown some nice prairie flowers but next year I want to go one step further. I have a large area in the back yard to devote to milkweed, bee balm and other plants to help bees and butterflies survive the harsh conditions civilization has created.

I have a special love for the Monarch Butterfly who has suffered from our predation on their habitat.  It is only a small backyard, but I figure, every back yard helps. And the front yard too! That is where we've had the most success with prairie plants like blue false indigo, goldenrod, yellow and purple coneflower, aster and more.  I want to expand that too. It is super pretty in summer and a few more feet would be nice.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Carpal tunnel surgery

This is what my hand looked like about a month ago. It was two weeks after carpal tunnel release surgery and just before I had my stitches out. It looked worse before this.  Getting the stitches out was a giant relief because the tightness kept me from using my hand freely. Yes it hurt--not horribly but more annoyingly. In the long run, it was worth is though as my hand no longer goes numb. I've had trouble with carpal tunnel for years--decades in fact--perhaps dating back to my journalism days when I'd be up till all hours typing like a madwoman. Now my life, in contrast, is leisurely.

I have what one person told me was the "old-fashioned" kind of surgery, which means the type perfected in the last decade or so. Now they are using lasers and such, but I figured I should get what is tried and true. Now that the swelling is down and my palm is starting to look almost normal the difference is amazing.  No hand going numb at inconvenient times. I have lots of exercises to do (and I do them with both hands) and all kinds of stuff I need to do to get rid of the scar--vitamin E oil palm massages and this special kind of strip I wear over it at night that is supposed to get rid of the scar. You can get these at the drugstore.
Cormo dyed deep green was untouched for weeks.
The worst part of this was not being able to do anything fibery for several weeks. I did try to spin a bit toward the end, but it was awful. I had to wait for the stitches to be out. And then it took a bit to get my strength back up so the spinning went nicely.

 I did catch up on my reading and my friend Beth brought me her copy of the classic Keep Me Warm One Night Burnam & Burnam's out of print book about traditional weaving in Canada prior to the Industrial Revolution. It is a beautiful book and absolutely fascinating.  And then I'm working on my Master's so I did some reading for that too. Unfortunately it isn't a Masters in Fine Art because the university where I work doesn't have that, But I think Management and Organization Behavior can come in handy, especially when I have time to volunteer for weaving groups.

So this is why I've been missing from my blog for so long. Once I got use of my hand back, I've managed to do some spinning, but generally I had to play catch up--for one I had to write a paper for school. There hasn't been much going on with the looms either. I do have plans to move things around studio wise, but I'll save more of that for later.

The surgery really wasn't that bad. It was the stir crazy of not being able to use my hand that was the worst. It was the pain of unthinkingly picking something up with the bad hand that was unpleasant. The palm is still a bit sore, making yoga not so great, but all of that is going away, slowly but surely.  My major exercise has been walking, and in the past month I've managed to walk 140+ miles, which isn't bad. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fellowship of the Lard

Walking is my favorite exercise, so it is not a stretch that I'm attracted to anything that includes walking as part of the activity--like walking meditation. I had made a commitment to myself to incorporate walking meditation into my life. Plus I would get out in the fresh air, feel the wind on my face and those dried autumn leaves crunching under my feet.

Weaving and my other favored activities are indoor things--unless it is a beautiful day and I can bring a spinning wheel or knitting outside. But I love being outside rain, snow or shine--which is why the gym didn't work out for me--too noisy, too monotonous, too inside. So when I read Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's description of walking meditation I thought this was a good fit for me. Walk and breath in nourishment or healing, let each step touch the earth and let anxiety slide out with every step--that kind of thing.

But what's all this about walking to Mordor? Isn't that the Lord of the Rings or something? Well, yes. On Wednesday I was trolling around Ravelry, the online community for the fiber obsessed, when I came upon this challenge to walk from Hobbiton to Mordor and back--a 6,893 mile round trip, which has the potential of taking me nearly four years if I average 5 miles per day--which is about what gives me the 10,000 steps for a healthy heart.

Ouch! Completely crazy right? But I'm such a geek, I went out that very day to purchase new batteries for my pedometers--a 2.6 mile walk to the drugstore and back. I put the battery in at the drug store and then off I went home to log into the group Anti-Lard Alliance and sign up for the challenge.  I wanted to know how far I was walking! I was already planning to add the two miles I know I walked the day before!

There is an excellent spread sheet created by group member MeganMME that details the entire journey so I can see where I am. Right now, I'm 10.5 miles away from Hobbiton--and the last good view of "home" was 1.5 miles behind me.

I'm a few weeks behind most of the Fellowship since the challenge started in September. But I have time to catch up. And I still don't know if treadling my loom will register on the pedometer as steps!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Straight to the dye pot

BFL/Wensleydale cross
Not much weaving was accomplished since my feat of lightening warping last weekend. The project is on hold for a bit as things get busy. I did manage to get to a fiber fair this weekend--my first in a long time--and despite Fiber in the Park being very small, I managed to find two fleeces. Shown above is a BFL Wensleydale cross grown by Kathy McClure, a talented dyer as well as excellent shepherd. She washes her sheep before she sheers them, which is why this fleece looks so absolutely gorgeous. It was also why I was able to bring it directly home and drop all 2.25 pounds in the dyepot.
Green fiber drying.
Now it is drying away--it dyed a bit unevenly but that will all be taken care of when I card.  It should give the yarn some depth.  I plan to knit a sweater from the resulting yarn. I also purchased a natural colored Romney fleece, but haven't had a chance to take photos.

Just so you know, life is getting busy and I won't be playing with fiber nor be blogging for the next several weeks. I will be getting back to it all soon though!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekend Warper

A different way to warp
Warping can take me weeks--I'm a slow weaver. Not this time. It started over coffee Saturday morning when I did  the calculations.  After breakfast I started winding and had half of the warp on the loom before it was time to do some errands. The Fanny has a sectional warp beam, so I've been developing a hybrid warping method that takes advantage of the sectional beam without having to buy all the expensive equipment. Essentially, I warp five inches at a time right off the warping board. I have this heavy metal comb I use to help keep the threads straight. It is heavy, so it also provides nice even tension while I wind the warp onto the loom.

Cross-free warping
Warp gremlins are active in my home, and they love messing with my cross. Not only does my cross get flipped, but I've had twisting behind the cross. So I thought I would try cross free weaving by winding my warps in consecutive one inch bundles. Since this handspun yak scarf is just is just 9 dents per inch, and the warp only 8 feet long, this was the perfect project to experiment with.  So far so good, though next time I'm using duck tape to hold the one inch width of thread. This idea came from sectional warping--on the Leclerc video they show tape being used to keep the threads in order for threading.

Warp gremlins, by the way, is what I blame for my own lack of attention to what I am doing. All these processes are slow with plenty of time for my mind to wander. Despite my best efforts there are still a few mess-ups on this rather straightforward warp. Good thing I'm not a surgeon.
Weaving with handpun
 My favorite goose-eye treadling is being used for this scarf. Because the warp is under tension and stretched, despite it being 100% yak down, I am using a very light beat so I can get a nice even fabric with a good drape.  The weft, you may recognize, is the merino yak braid I purchased from Unwind Yarn Company back in February and spun up this summer. This has to be one of the fastest yarn to project conversions yet.  If I get this done in one week, I'll be breaking a personal record. But I doubt it. We will see next week.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stash satisfaction--Stashafaction

My new wedding ring
Ten years ago, I would have told my husband not to waste money on jewelry. If he was going to spend a lot of money on me, I wanted more fiber equipment. With four looms, four spinning wheels and two carders, I no longer say this. I also have bins of fiber and plenty of workbench space. And so, I have moved on from the stage of active equipment acquisition, to the busy realm of using what I have.

My plain wedding band was so tight, it was getting painful  and I had an engagement ring I hadn't been able to wear for more than a decade.  When two cuts were needed to get the wedding ring off, I realized it was time for something a little different.  We decided to combine the two into one new ring. The two dark stones flanking my original diamond (tiny at the time as we were just starting out) are amethyst, which happen to be my favorite stone.  They aren't as sparkly and I think they anchor and show off the diamonds. Symbols are important, and what better symbol than one of enduring love?

For me, it is also a symbol of enduring stash and a new status in my fiber hobby--Stashafaction.   This newly coined word means stash satisfaction. That's when we pretty much have all the stash we will need for awhile.  Oh, we may pick up some fiber here and there, but that's about it.  We really don't need equipment or anything else.   We are Stashafied.