Friday, September 25, 2009

Catching up

Well, I guess it's been a while. School started, which has kept me surprisingly busy, mostly with paperwork and open houses, but also with the sheer energy and planning it takes to arrange my day so that I can actually supervise my kids when they get home. And work started again, which should have kept me busier but mostly has been making me feel like a waste product as I play my bajillionth game of solitaire in order to avoid the really boring parts.

In chicken news, we seem to have named the birds. Not one of us named the bird we originally thought we were going to name. I was all about the Buff Orpingtons (the tan birds) at first, but my girls fell in love with them as chicks ( when we thought they were actually the Plymouth Rocks, which are white now, but were kind of tan as babies) and named them Pippa and Gertie. The girls yielded the Plymouth Rocks to the boys, who named them JuJu and (Disclaimer: the three year did this) Mike. The boys, who were going for the manly black hens in the beginning, let me name the Australorps (the pure black birds), who are Rose and Lucy. My mother put in a vote for Lucy and Ethel, but it was too late. And my husband--who yielded all the birds to everyone else because he is just that kind of guy-- saved the Barred Rocks from being named Bea and Martha (after my great aunts -- the old biddies, right?). They are now called Laverne and Shirley. Nice work, Al.

Here are some pictures of the girls, hard at work modeling for the camera. They seemed to like it, but I think they really thought it might be something they could eat.

Matty likes to feed the birds. Here he is poking some oats through the fence.

Sometimes he puts his fingers in too far and doesn't like the results. The girls peck pretty hard when they are hunting for food.

Probably the biggest excitement around here recently was the surprise purchase of new beds. The kids have been sleeping on futons forever. We had been thinking that it would be kind of nice for them to have new beds. Real furniture. A mattress that didn't give anyone, including a parent dealing with post-nightmare kids, a crippling backache. But, you know, beds are REALLY expensive. Especially when you have promised the kid with the funky shaped room a loft bed. So we put it off. For a really long time. And then all of a sudden we bought not one bed, but a giant loft bed/desk combo. And bunk beds for the boys, since we had already taken leave of our senses. And mattresses for the loft bed and the for the girl who didn't get a new bed but wouldn't care as long as we replaced her crummy queen size futon mattress. Here, after a full 6 hours of labor on my part (which included some instructions that had nothing whatsoever to do with the parts provided), are some happy campers:

They love their new beds and I love how much nicer their rooms look. Even Matty likes to sleep in his bottom bunk. Although, when I asked him what happens when he is good and sleeps all night long in his bed (the answer is supposed to be "Stickers!" here), he said "I am all alone." So much for the incentive system.

Below is the latest in knitting news. Over the summer, I had an ever increasing list of works in progress. It was becoming both stupid and counterproductive. I got the urge to just finish something, %^%$ it! And so I did. The first thing is my new Zipped Vest. Great name for something that I have just put buttons on, no? The pattern is for a man's vest, and even though I femmed up the color, the fit was a little baggy instead of curvy. So, in place of the zipper, I added button loops and located the buttons in a gentle crescent shape partway across the left front. I am in love. The vest is cozy and warm and was worth the endless hours of moss stitch. Not that I'm about to make another.

Item two is two-thirds of my Central Park Hoodie. The left front is in progress and going quickly. In a bold and original move, it will be followed by the right front. Then a little finishing (quite a bit, actually, between the button band and the hood) and hopefully the whole thing will be done and wearable before I board the bus for Rhinebeck and the New York Sheep & Wool Festival in October.

As a warm up for Rhinebeck, I spent a few hours at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival. As a member of the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild, I got to volunteer at the festival and I chose to work at the fleece sales table. Bad move. I fully believed that, with all the spending opportunities on the horizon at Rhinebeck and all the stuff and fluff still waiting to spun from last year, I could restrain myself and really not buy very much. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Two hours at the fleece table gave me plenty of time to take a look at all the fleeces entered in the competition. Touch them . . . admire their fine qualities . . . and find one in my price range. About the only thing that kept the whole venture sane was the fact that you can't charge at the fleece table. Cash or check only. Still, with only $40 in my wallet (which is unheard of riches for a girl who never carries cash), I was able to sell myself a 5.5 pound corriedale fleece from Ewe #512. I must say, she did a fine job growing her wool this year. The fleece is a mix of dark, chocolatey browns, light grays, and a whole lot of in-between colors. On the left is the fleece sitting in my fleece basket waiting to be sorted and washed, which will take me a few weeks. On the right is the picture of me indulging my anal retentive side by organizing the fleece into uniform bundles ready to be washed. Below that is not a rack full of dead mice, but a lovely collection of soft and fluffy fleece bits drying in my office. I've stretched a few layers of blue mesh netting over my old quilt frame to serve as a drying rack. It makes a great tent for Matty to play under, but sometimes he starts to poke at the roof (who wouldn't, really?) and that's when it starts to look like all the little dead mice are coming back to life. Kind of makes you jump.

With a little luck and a lot of work, that wool will be spun up into a heathery brown-gray yarn and made into a sweater for my hubby, kind of as a thank you for not giving me a hard time every time I bring another bit of fluff into the house.

Last, Cody has asked me to give him equal time. He thinks the chickens and the strange brown stuff that smells like a sheep but doesn't move when he tries to herd it have gotten more than their fair share of press and he would like everyone to stop and appreciate him for a few moments. He also feels that it would be best if this could become a daily practice. Here he is giving me his best long-suffering-ever-faithful-canine-companion face. Don't ever tell me that dogs can't talk.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A new wheel and a very happy camper

This is the girl who started it all:

Two years ago we took a trip to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. I have loved this place since I was Isabel's age, but whereas I went and fell in love with the horse drawn carriages, my daughter became smitten with the spinning demonstration. She watched, absolutely mesmerized, as the period-costumed demonstrator took fluff and made yarn. It was pure magic and she loved it. At the end of the demo--and every 5 minutes for the rest of the day-- she announced that she wanted a spinning wheel. By the time we were ready to leave the museum, El Husbando and I were starting to think that this not just code for "how cool was that." We were witnessing the beginning of a full blown fiber passion. A quick trip into the gift shop produced a dream shattering case of sticker shock: spinning wheels cost hundreds of dollars. Now, I like to indulge creativity in my children. I believe in crafts and learning how to do things your self, etc. etc. etc. I also believe very firmly that most childhood passions are shockingly brief, sometimes barely outliving the acquisition of the beloved item. We've had cardboard appliance boxes that have had longer lasting entertainment value for my kids than some of their most ardently desired commercial objects. So a spinning wheel was clearly out of the question in the absence of at least some proof of fidelity.

Some wise and good-hearted individual was good enough to suggest that we look into a drop spindle. At a fraction of the cost of a wheel, we could be spinning real yarn and practicing the skills that would also be needed for a wheel. A quick trip to my favorite local yarn & fiber shop produced a $30 kit, complete with a spindle, some fiber, and a learn to spin DVD. The next step was to sign the poor child up for a drop-spindling class, and we were on our way.

Or not. Seven year olds don't really take a lot of notes in class and Mommies who Don't Spin can't really be very helpful when it is time to practice. Isabel tried with limited success to repeat what her teacher had shown her, but the result was snarls, tangles, lots of dropped spindles (hence the name, you know) and the kind of frustration that, in a less refined individual, would have produced language worthy of the golf course. This went on for several months until I woke up early one Saturday morning absolutely possessed by the idea that I would learn to use the spindle myself so that I could help my daughter. I plugged in the DVD, printed heaps of learn to spin articles (yes, the internet really does have everything) and locked myself in my "studio" with Isabel's spindle. Several hours and a great deal of golf language later, I had produced what is politely known as "novelty yarn." It wasn't pretty, but it was yarn and I was hooked. Isabel got a lot of "demonstrations" on how to make yarn, but not too much time with her spindle. A month later, I was asking for a spindle for my birthday and a month after that I had signed up for beginning wheel spinning. The good part is that I was able to teach Isabel how to spin with her spindle and it turned out that when I was using my spindle, she liked to use hers too. When I got my wheel, though, Isabel's crazed "gotta have it" look returned. She learned to use my wheel in about 5 minutes. It turned out she really did love spinning at the wheel and is pretty good at it. She hatched one scheme after another for getting her own wheel and was even (BRIEFLY!) willing to work for it. Most recently, she has engaged in a campaign of terror and torture, alternately surprising me with shouts or sustained (and REALLY annoying) chants of 'I want a spinning wheel.' It worked.

This spring, we began to check craigslist for used wheels. They turn up with surprising frequency but are usually outside our price range or gone by the time I call about them. Finally, last weekend, a used Babe turned up advertised at $80. I called as soon as I saw the listing and was told that there was already someone else interested, but if that person didn't get herself in gear soon, the wheel could be ours. The next day I got a call that the wheel had been sold. More golf language. $80 was a great price. The wheel might not be a 'forever' wheel for my kids (spinning fever was contagious, it turns out), but it would certainly do the job until they could earn their own money and buy their own expensive equipment. I would be lucky if I could find something under $300, never mind something in the $100 range. Golf language, golf language, golf language!

Three days later I was reading a Ravelry thread about finding used wheels and one of the participants had been giving a pep talk to another who was searching for a reasonably priced wheel. "Check craigslist every day," she said. So I took that advice, even though it wasn't for me, and there it was: a used Ashford Traditional for the low, low price of $120. The ad said to call in the evening to arrange to see the wheel. Golf language that! I called immediately. The ad was already a day old and I was sure the wheel would not still be available. But it was. And it wasn't too far away. And I had just received a paycheck in the mail, which seemed like a good omen.

So we went to see it. The wheel was from the late 80s or early 90s and had been in storage for 12 years. The poor thing was unfinished and a little cobwebby, but all the parts were straight and strong. We rushed it home and -- unusual for a pile of professional procrastinators -- cleaned it up immediately. We sanded and wiped and waxed and wiped again. Here are the before and after pictures.

Isn't it a beauty? A real-deal 'forever' wheel that can be upgraded to meet all of our --oops, I mean their -- needs. The few missing parts are on order and are nothing major; they can be (and have been) temporarily replaced by dental floss (no, I'm not kidding here and the cinnamon smell is kind of nice). My junior spinner is hard at work right now on her second bobbin of singles. There is still a little golf language involved, but less and less as she gets used to the wheel. Plus, when she runs in to trouble, she calls me over and says "can you help me" and then I claim that I have to sit down at the wheel in order to fix the problem and the next thing I know she's saying "Mom, can I have my spinning back now?" It really is a nice wheel, and suddenly I'm not sure which of us is the happier camper.