Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On to the New Year!

I have so much to do, I'm glad I have a whole new year to do it in!

I've got fleeces to sort and wash and comb/card/possibly dye, and then spin. I've got several knitting projects in the queue, I've got some herbal products to make, and I've got my Etsy shop to put in order. The Esty shop is in vacation mode until Jan. 9th, but I'll probably be pushing the date back. I've got product pictures to take and descriptions to write, and other things to sort out. It all takes time.

And then there's my husbands department party, held at my house, coming up. And of course he told everyone that I went to cooking school in Paris, so they are now expecting pasrtries and croissants.

And the problem is, I'm sooo tired. I could probably sleep until the New Year is rung in. Well, it's better to be busy than not, I suppose.

I hope everyone is enjoying the afterglow of the holiday season and is looking forward to the new year. I think I'll enjoy the afterglow with one more cup of coffee, some Christmas carols, the Christmas tree lights, the dog laying nearby and a cat in my lap.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A little something to take away the humbugs.

A young girl from my nice little town, blind from birth, wrote and sings this Christmas song, Night of Our Lives:

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Texting mittens made from Yak yarn

Here are some pictures of the finished texting mittens that I knitted with handspun yak-down yarn. Yak down is the fine, fluffy undercoat on a yak that keeps it warm in the frigid winters of places like Tibet.

These are natural colors, a brown and a gray. I made them for my son, but I almost kept them for myself, they're sooo warm and cushy and soft. Here are the palms:

And the backs:

Here is my son modeling them with the tops flipped off:

And back on:

I used a modified version of the pattern found in the Fall 2010 issue of Spin Off magazine.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Notre Dame at night

Here is a picture of Notre Dame in Paris under a full moon and with a Christmas tree.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A couple of pictures

Here are some pictures from Paris! By Notre Dame, cooking school (an anniversary gift from my husband), and holiday decor around Montmartre.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Going on a little trip

I'll be gone for a while. Hubby and I are getting away for a couple of weeks starting tomorrow. He'll be working part of the time, but I'll be sightseeing for the whole of it and he will join me when he can : )

Some of the places we'll visit are Paris, the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, and the medieval walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I'm so excited to see these places during the holiday season. And I'm so looking forward to lebkuchen in Nuremberg!

If we happen to have Internet access while we're away, I'll post some pictures when I'm able. So far, the weather over there looks about like what it is here - 40's and rainy.

Well, off to pack now and run last-minute errands!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Roots, herbs, yarn, and mittens

I've been busy lately drying roots, putting the last of my dried herbs away, spinning yarn for my sister, and knitting texting mittens for my son out of handspun yak down yarn.

Roots have to be dug up, washed off with a preliminary hose-dowsing or bucket dunking, then scrubbed up inside nice a proper, sliced, and then laid out to dry in a barely warm oven. I've been drying two types of roots from my garden, which are harvested from two-year-old plants: elecampane and evening primrose. I use them in various medicinal teas.

My kitchen smells so wonderful when I'm packing dried herbs away. The last of my harvest was mostly culinary in nature, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sweet marjoram. But I also had some late-harvested lemon balm to put away, and some things harvested over the summer which hadn't been put away yet, like heartsease (violas), and peppermint. I've never used heartsease before, but we had so many volunteers spring up between the pavers on my patio - little gifts left from a potted viola I had sitting on the patio table the season before. I let them grow and bloom for some time, until we were having company over for a barbeque and they finally had to go. I gathered them and dried them and will try mixing them with goldenrod to make a salve for eczema.

The yarn I'm spinning for my sister is fingering weight. I'm making a three-ply, so it's spun really fine and takes a long time. Each bobbin takes a couple of hours. I've been spinning a bit, and then going off to take care of other things, and then getting back to it when I can. The project has stretched out over a couple of weeks, but I'm on my last bobbin. Then comes the plying. I like plying best.

The yak down yarn is scrumptious! I really love yak. And the mittens are turning out really nicely. I almost want to keep them for myself : ) I'll try to remember to put pictures up when the texting mittens are done.

What have you been up to lately?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cranberries in the bog

My husband and I recently visited Triangle Lake Bog State Nature Preserve, which is near Kent, Ohio. We wanted to see what the cranberries looked like this time of year. Here's where the cranberries are in the bog (click on any of the pictures to see them larger):

A bit of a closer view:

The cranberries add color to the greens and browns:

Thanksgiving must be close if the cranberries are this red:

Carnivorous pitcher plants grow alongside the cranberries in the bog:

Ooh, this one would go well with turkey and gravy:

Some of the sphagnum moss was turning color, too:

Here's the boardwalk through the bog. The bog would be too treacherous to walk without it:

The ferns have run their course:

The pitcher plants are turning mostly red from their usual green with red accents:

It makes them seem even more unusual:

This one's eating late-season mosquitoes:

The pitcher plants are pretty viewed from the side, too:

Where the bog ended and the trees began, we spotted beaver damage:

This mossy path led us out of the bog:

Thanksgiving will be here soon and I'll think of the bog while buying cranberries from the grocery store and making cranberry sauce.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Me with my Christmas book in The Learned Owl Bookshop

My husband and I went out to eat in our quaint little downtown the other night. After our meal we strolled down Main Street to The Learned Owl Bookshop where we found my Christmas book on display in their holiday section. I was so excited, I had hubby snap a photo with his phone:

In other news, I planted 26 cloves of garlic yesterday in hopes of a good garlic crop next spring and summer. I bought the bulbs of garlic from an organic garlic grower at the farmer's market this past summer. Last year I planted about nine cloves, only to have six of them dug up that same night by some animal because I forgot to put a thick layer of mulch over top. I mulched them really good this time!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Here are some Halloween sights, taken yesterday on the search for jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Click on any image to view it larger:

One of the many pumpkin farms we stopped at.

A spooky, old building. Is it haunted? I don't know.

Fun gourd witches at another pumpkin farm.

And, of course, pumpkins!

A mini haunted house.

This pumpkin bale wishes you a Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Last Weekend's Craft Fair

Last Sunday I hauled all of my wares to an arts and crafts fair which featured northeastern Ohio Etsy shop owners. Here I am setting up my table:

My husband prepared some of his photos for sale, too:

And my daughter came to help me:

We had a lot for sale and we sold some of everything we brought: homemade candy, hand crafted herbal products, handspun yarn, photos, books. As you can see, I also brought my spinning wheel to show how the yarns were made.

We did okay, but the attendance wasn't huge. I was hoping to do a little better. It's kinda hit and miss with craft shows.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Being Female

I belonged to a religion for eighteen years, almost everyday of which I felt caged or different because I didn't quite fit that religion's definition of femininity. I was constantly told what being female meant and what my life would hold for me, and that I would like it. I was living someone else's idea of what my life should be because I am female.

I hold to no religion now. I am my own person, or at least I am learning how to become my own person. It takes a while to flush out the dogma.

Here are a couple of quotes that I've come across lately that echo my sentiments, but say it so much better than I could. The first is from a couple of YA authors who write strong female characters. They were on a panel from which an attendee drew a list of advice on how to make a kick-ass Young Adult heroine. Here's one piece of advice:

Ignore orders from both sides.

[Tamora] Pierce discussed how upsetting it was for her, who grew up during the feminist revolution in the ‘70s, to arrive at college and have women saying that “real” feminists were gay or celibate. (“I was neither,” she quipped.) This debate extends to her female characters, as mentioned above. “The whole point of what we did was giving every woman the power to choose how they wanted to live,” she said. “Not to present only restrictions on women, but to present the possibilities that come from being female.”

“The thing about being female,” [Esther] Friesner said, “is that it makes us think there’s only one way to be female. I’ll bet there’s at least two or three, or six, different ways in this very room. There is no one female… Sometimes the biggest battle is ‘This is what you should be doing,’ handed down by the feminists or by the anti-feminists.”
And here is the second quote, from Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address to the graduating class at Stanford University:

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Don't be trapped by dogma. Trapped is exactly how it feels, and if you feel that way, start asking questions and then find the answers out for yourself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Making caramel

I usually don't make caramel until December so that I can send it off to friends and family far away. Today as the warm, sweet caramel smell filled my kitchen, I had to keep reminding myself that it's not December. This batch of caramels won't be tucked in with Christmas gifts, though. I'll be selling it at my booth at the upcoming Art and Crafts fair I'll be attending this Sunday.

Who wants to lick the pot?

 I'll also be selling my homemade herbal products, handspun yarn, and some of my husbands photos.

Caramel poured out and cooling.

And, of course, I'll have copies of my books on hand. I usually sell a few at these types of things, and with Christmas looming closer, some people might be interested in my Christmas book, My Twelfth Christmas. It certainly smells like Christmas in my kitchen right now!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Texting Mittens Knitted from Handspun Yarn

These are some texting mittens that I knitted out of some of my handspun yarn. They're for my daughter:

The gray inner glove is yarn I that spun from some angora/wool/silk blend roving that I purchased from the Crooked River Fiber Fling last August. The lavender outer mitten is yarn that I spun from some superwash Bluefaced Leicester that I dyed with a dye made from elderberries.

My son wants a pair, which I'll make using yarn that I'm planning to spin from some cozy, brown yak down. My husband will get a pair, too, only he'll use his while pursuing his hobby in the winter months - outdoor photography. His will have a little bit of nylon (he's worried about durability) and a pinch of quiviut (musk ox - just about the warmest fiber there is) blended in with the yak.

The pattern I used can be found in the Fall 2010 issue of Spin Off magazine.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A re-post from way back in October, 2008: Magical Thinking and Cornish Witchcraft

An article in the November/December 2008 issue of Archaeology Magazine talks about witchcraft in Great Britain. Recently, an archaeologist uncovered strange pits while doing work to extend a barn on her property in Cornwall. She has since brought students out to help her uncover several more pits and an ancient spring, all filled with what she believes is evidence of witchcraft spanning many centuries, including the 20th.

Many of the pits were lined with the skin (including the feathers) of a swan, on top of which were placed varying amounts of eggs almost ready to hatch, pebbles, and bird parts and claws from various types of birds. The spring was lined with quartz and contained things like nail clippings, human hair, straight pins, and small pieces of cloth. Part of a cauldron was even found.

Quoting from the article, the archaeologist, Jacqui Wood, said:

"Over the last 30 years I've been quick to dismiss ritual as an explanation for unusual archaeological finds. It usually means that the archaeologists can't think of anything better. So now it seems especially ironic that I end up with a site absolutely full of ritual."
The earliest dates for the pits are the mid-1600s. Whatever was being done here was important enough for the practitioners to risk being pointed out as witches. The 1600s were a dangerous time to be caught doing anything with a pagan tinge. It was doubly risky because swans were symbols of royalty and owned by the crown. And apparently whatever these practices meant is still important. One of the pits dates from the 1950s. It was lined with the skin of a dog and contained dog teeth and the baked jaw of a pig.

Old magic and magical thinking is still among us.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Spinning at the Harvest Fest

I live right next to a park which used to be a farm. The farmhouse and barn are still there and are not a part of the park. They're owned by a foundation which has been restoring them to their early 1800's glory. My little town was a hotbed of Abolitionist activity back then and many of the houses were stops on the Underground Railroad, this one included. So I was excited to volunteer to demonstrate spinning in the farmhouse during Case-Barlow Farm's Harvest Festival yesterday.

The day was windy and cold, so it was nice to be inside. There were lots of activities outside, like butter-churning, candle-dipping, pumpkin-painting, and demonstrations of rope-making, chair-caning, and civil war troops in a camp, among other things.

Lots of people came through the farmhouse and it was fun to talk to them about spinning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spinning this weekend at the Harvest Fest

I'll be demonstrating spinning this Sunday in the farmhouse at Case-Barlow Farm's Fall Harvest Fest. If you're in Hudson, Ohio this Sunday, Oct. 2nd, drop on by!

Here are links to pictures of the farmhouse and the barn.

Now I've got to go wash some wool so that I have something to spin.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Late-season harvest

Garden production is winding down. I still have a few tomatoes ripening, and there are still a few greenbeans to be had, but the peppers will soon be finished, and there is less and less to pick each time I go out to gather things.

My sunflowers are just now becoming ready for harvest. I cut two big heads from my far away garden today and brought them home. I grew two varieties, Mongolian Giant, and Titan:

There are still many heads out in the garden. I got the seeds out of these, rinsed them quickly, tossed them with some sea salt, and roasted them.

Here's what else the gardens gave me today. I'm afraid that's the last of the okra. This time of year, the deer will eat it to the ground, even if it wants to keep producing. They really like the okra. And beets. My beets had a hard time this year because of the deer, notice that there aren't any in the pic:

My gardens are never especially heavy producers, but I enjoy the process, and cooking with whatever fresh things they want to give me. During the winter, we'll continue enjoying things that we've either frozen or dried.

And as far as the herb gardens go, I still have a lot of holy basil to gather and dry, elecampane and evening primrose roots to dig, probably some lemon balm, too, and, of course, there's always peppermint. Lost of things on the drying racks are waiting to be put into airtight jars, and I have oils to infuse and tinctures in various stages of processing. So there is still work to be done.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bison Chili

We've been enjoying Bison chili a lot over the past several weeks. One thing I like to make with the peppers and tomatoes from the garden is chili.

Early on in the season, when I didn't have enough ripe tomatoes of my own, I made a trip to the farmer's market to buy some so that I could make a batch of chili up with some ground beef I had in my freezer. While there, I happened to stroll by a booth where a man was selling locally raised, grass-fed bison meat. I decided to try making the chili with ground bison instead of my ground beef.

My whole family loved it. My son and daughter have said that they think it's the best chili they've ever eaten. So I've been making bison chili now. I use heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and garlic from my garden, and onions and ground bison from the farmer's market. The beans I buy in cans from the grocery store.

It's so fun to walk out to the garden, fill a basket with tomatoes and peppers, and then walk back inside and put it all into a pot along with the cooked ground bison, onion and beans for a flavor-rich dinner.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Dyeing with cleavers root and pokeberries

Yesterday was dyeing day. It was a lot of trouble for just over 3 ounces of wool, but it was good to learn the process for these particular dyestuffs (cleavers root and pokeberries), and to see the resultant colors. (My previous post is about gathering the roots and the berries, if you're interested.)

Dyeing with cleavers roots:

My process isn't well documented photographically because I did the cleavers alone in the morning before my daughter was able to come and help, but here's what I did:

I let roots soak overnight. In the morning I blended the roots up with un-softened well water from our outside tap. I read that hard water helps with the color. I put the blended roots in the dye pot along with more well water and heated it gently for an hour. 

When dyeing with cleavers, it's very important to regulate the temperature. I read that over about 140 or 150 degrees F, the color will start to move from reds, toward the brown shades. To keep it in the red range, the process shouldn't go over 180 degrees F. One source said that the best reds are obtained at about 140 degrees. It was hard to find the sweet spot with my electric stovetop, so while making my dye bath, the temp at one point reached about 178 degrees F. I did eventually find how to keep it lower.

While the roots were steeping, I mordanted my wool. I had 4 ounces of cleavers roots, so with a ratio of 2:1 of roots to wool, I measured out 2 ounces of wool (which happened to be superwash Bluefaced Leicester). I added 1/2 teaspoon alum powder and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to another pot of well water and gently steeped the wool in it for about 40 minutes. 

When the roots had heated for an hour, I strained them out and then added the mordanted wool to the dye bath. I let the wool steep between 150 and 160 degrees for an hour. After that hour, I let the wool cool in the pot, then rinsed it until the water ran clear, with one of the changes of water a bit soapy.

The wool came out a very pretty salmon color (the picture doesn't do it justice); here it is after rinsing: 

Cleavers is very much like madder apparently, and depending on the quality of the roots, the concentration of the dye bath, the temperature, water hardness, etc, your resultant color can range anywhere from orange-ish, to salmon, to a nice red, to brick red, to various browns. I got a very pretty salmon with which I am very happy.

On to the next.

Dyeing with pokeberries:

My daughter showed up to help with this batch, so it's got lots of pictures.

First, a word about dyeing with pokeberries. It isn't usually done because the color doesn't last; it fades very quickly. This is a new method of dyeing with pokeberries that I came across in this book. The woman who discovered the process has yarns dyed with pokeberries that are ten years old and still vibrant and beautiful. Beautiful is the operative word. The color obtained from pokeberries is absolutely amazing.

My daughter and I gathered about two pounds of pokeberries. The ratio of pokeberries to wool is very high, 25:1. This meant that I could only dye a little over one ounce of wool. Disappointing, I know, but I'm hoping to plant pokebushes next year so that I can have my very own berries to harvest, hopefully in larger quantities.

A word of caution: pokeberries are poisonous, don't eat them.

So, first we stripped the berries from the stalks:

And then proceeded to mash them all up:

It's best to wear gloves for this part:

Only, make sure you don't have a hole somewhere:

This method of dyeing with pokeberries uses vinegar as a mordant, and vinegar is added to the pot while making the dye bath.

Cover your berries with water, making sure you have enough to let your wool swim freely. For each gallon of water used, add 1/2 cup vinegar. I added a total of one gallon of water to my berries, so I put 1/2 cup vinegar in the pot with it.

This is another material which is temperature-sensitive. Keep the temperature between 160 degrees and 180 degrees F. If there is any bubbling or boiling, the color will be ruined. After the cleavers, I had a handle on keeping the temp where I wanted it.

Here are the berries stewing in the pot. I skimmed that foam off; it didn't disappear and I didn't want it there when I put the wool in:

The berries steeped for an hour. While they were doing their thing, I mordanted the wool by adding about 1/4 cup of vinegar for my just-over 1 ounce of wool to a pot of water. I steeped the wool in the vinegar water for about 40 minutes.

When the berries had finished steeping, I strained them out and then added the mordanted wool to the dye bath. The wool stewed in the dye bath for 2 hours. I kept the temp between 160 and 170 degrees the whole time:

When the two hours was up, I put the lid on the pot, took it off the heat, and let it sit overnight. In the morning I rinsed the wool. Have you ever seen such a wonderful color? And from a natural dye!:

I love it! Totally worth all the effort.

Here are the two colors from the two different dyestuffs hanging to dry, pokeberry on the left, cleavers on the right (click any picture to see it bigger):

I can hardly wait to spin these up. For these colors I will definitely go through he whole process again (only next time, I'll try to leave out the part about getting poison ivy).