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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Some dreams just don’t float

It is not a good week for boats in Hendryville.


 


    I’ve been checking the “bargain trader” magazine for a year now, seeking a used, one person kayak (actually, I want two). I have a kayak, but it is a two seater, so heavy that I can’t even drag it two feet myself. So, I’ve been wanting an easier boat to handle, so I can go off and play without it being a big ordeal that requires man-muscles. But people don’t sell used kayaks, or so it seems. You simply never see them advertised.


    I could ask for a new boat, I suppose, but I prefer used toys. That way, since it doesn’t involve a huge investment, I won’t wrestle with guilt when I’m too busy to use it, (a spouse can’t say, “See, you really shouldn’t have bought that, you almost never take it out”) and I just don’t want to get all persnickety about keeping an object of entertainment in a new condition. I prefer some scratches at the get go, so you don’t have to yell at your kid for bashing the toy into a rock or spilling a coke on the seat. I think toys are meant to be played with, and when they are broken in, and they come at a reasonably (used) cost, you can enjoy rough and hearty use with a light spirit– especially in the beginning when you don’t know what the heck you are doing with the thing and you learn by making mistakes.    


     Anyway, this week I saw an ad for two used kayaks. Precision brands. A Pro-line and a slimmer model called The Dancer (I’m thinking, with a name like that, God wanted me to have this boat!) So I made arrangements to go see them.   I invited Denver to drive with me the 1 hour and 20 minutes to Dalton to see these boats. I took the work truck because I was determined to come home with them.


    Mark calls and says, “Why are you in the truck?”


     I say I am going to look at the two kayaks I mentioned the night before.


     SILENCE.


     You see, “silence” has specific meaning in our marriage. It is our code for disapproval. We don’t say “you can’t do that” to each other and we don’t nag or try to police each other – because we want to respect each other’s wishes and interests. Therefore, when we are annoyed or disapprove of something, we just keep quiet. Silence says a great deal, because it is glaringly obvious that enthusiastic support is missing.  The person who is doing the questionable activity has two choices then. They can respond to the silence by saying, “Is this a problem?” (This alleviates your guilt for doing something without asking, and it opens up room for discussion about the issue, thus inviting fair debate), OR you can just choose not to recognize the silence. (This is a way of saying, “I feel strongly about this, and if you love me, you won’t try to stop me,” without having to say those exact words. You just act as if everything is OK; as if you never dreamed your actions would be a problem because you know the spouse would want this for you.)


    In this case, I pretended I didn’t notice the silence and said, “Have a great day, Dear, I’ll call ya when I get back in about three hours, love ya, bye.”  You see, I did mention the boats at dinner the night before, which I believe was an opening for my spouse to say, “Do you really think we need kayaks now, rather than a new couch? I’d rather you didn’t do that.” or he could say, “If you want boats, I should go with you to look at them,” or whatever he was thinking.  In other words, he had his shot and he didn’t say anything, so I could, in a technical sense, assume that was his way of giving me approval.  


     But ten minutes later, I felt guilty. I called back and said, “I noticed you were silent when I mentioned I was going to look at the boats. Is this a problem? Would you rather I didn’t buy them, because they are really a great deal and you know I’ve been wanting them for several years, but if this isn’t the right time, I understand.”   


    Of course, given the freedom to voice his disapproval, Mark then says, “No, of course you can get them if you really want them. I just need to transfer some money and, you know, I need to be prepared if they will be in the driveway when I get home.”


    This fixes everything. I didn’t go off and do something without spousal approval (which is totally unacceptable), and he gets brownie points for being supportive.


   When I hang up the phone, Denver says, “Why do you always take me with you when you are going to do something that gets us in trouble?”


    “I don’t do that.” I say.


    She reminds me that I took her with me when I went to the pound to save the dog, which made Mark flip his lid. Ha. She is right. I like an accomplice to crime.


    Anyway, we drove an hour and a half, only to find two of the most miserable, falling apart kayaks you can imagine. They were all scratched up, with a crack in the hull and the seats were held together with duck tape. They were NOT worth the 475.00 asking price. Damn.


     Disappointed, I said, “No thanks,”


    The woman said, “Make any offer.”


      I thought, I wouldn’t buy them at a garage sale for 75.00 each, so I said I just wasn’t interested.


    It was a long drive home.


 


     The next night, Mark comes home and says, “Stop cooking (I was making apple gingerbread) we are going to look at a boat.


     I said “The kind you paddle or the kind that go vroom”.


      He said, “Vroom”.


      Cool beans. I’ve been in a boat mood. The kayaks were a washout, but maybe this was why. Perhaps the vroom was meant to be.


 


    We go see a speedboat that the sister of our builder is selling. Apparently, my boat escapades were discussed at work, which brought up the subject of boats. It was nice, a six  seater, with a small cabin for sleeping. It was getting dark when we looked at it, but we decided to come back the next day to buy it. We’ve been wanting a used pontoon boat, because they are perfect for the lake up here. You can swim off a pontoon boat, pull a tube, or even barbeque on deck. However, a speedboat would be fun too.


 


Today, we go to look at it again, thinking we will bring it home and be out on the lake tomorrow. But when we see it in the light of day, it looks a bit more beat up than it looked at sunset, and we discover that it is actually 16 years old.  Well taken care of, but still old. We began questioning how it will hold up. We don’t want something that is breaking down all the time. So, we pass.


 


Like I said, this is not a good week for boats.


 


I grew up with a father that loved boating. We were forever going out in canoes or in whatever boat Dad had at the time, a cabin cruiser or speedboat. I miss being on the water, and I’ve hoped, now that we have weekends to enjoy with the family, that we would take advantage of this wonderful lake community by getting some kind of boat. Mark didn’t grow up around boats as I did, but he is game to try owning one. We’ve wanted a used something, so we don’t feel as if we invested too much during times, like in the winter, when it is in storage or we don’t go out on the lake for a month. It is no fun to have a toy that you are always thinking, “Was it worth the investment” as you calculate the price per hour of real-life use. ( I know that you shouldn’t do that, but you can’t help think about it, because of the alternate things you might have invested the same discretionary income on, like a trip someplace cool or a different kind of toy.) I also don’t want to worry about learning to pull into the dock (oops) or running aground in an expensive boat. Give me a boat that already has a few scratches, please, so I can take chances with it for fun. But I do want something that is reliable, because going out in a boat and getting stranded isn’t the best way to convince a family that boating is fun. It is a fine line, I guess. You want one that is new-ish, but not new.


 


So, this wasn’t the boat for us either. Becoming captain Mark or co-captain Ginny will have to wait. Sigh. (I would have looked cute in a captain’s hat.)


 


I guess, when the time is right, the perfect boat will just be sitting there on the side of the road with a “for sale” sign in the window. Till then, I’ll just keep checking the paper. Winter is coming anyway. 


 


But I did get a new toy today. Sort of. We hired someone to build a chicken shed/coup. And he will also build us a portable shelter for the llama. I know we need to focus on building our house, but the animals need houses too. My priorities do tend to shift about depending on the weather, and the rains are coming. My furry friends need a roof soon! We went with a big chicken house because I have been thinking I might just try the egg-collecting thing. Just think of all the soufflés, omelets, and quiches I would have to make if I was overrun with eggs. Yessiree, Bring on the chickens!  That might float my boat (and since I don’t have a tangible one to do the job, I’ll take what I can get.)


 


    

Soccer Mom Inpersonator

I am a soccer mom impersonator. This is not to be confused with a true soccer mom. I believe, to be a true soccer mom, a woman must have some idea of what their child is doing on that field kicking that round thing back and forth. I don’t. I’m told to just sit in the bleachers and be quiet, because apparently, my commentary gives away my ignorance. When other Moms see their child kicking at the little round thing, they yell, “Pass it. Good shot!” I’m inclined to shout, “Point your foot, Dear.” (After all, if a girl is gonna kick her leg, I figure she would want to do so gracefully.)


 


Anyone who knows this family as the former first family of FLEX can appreciate how huge a step (regarding personal growth) this whole soccer thing is. It’s a leap of faith, and I’m not talking a “tour jete”, which comes much more natural to us dancers. Sports. I’m struggling to adapt. However, it isn’t easy, considering our history.


 


In August, I took my daughter to the sports and recreation department to sign her up for an activity. We looked over the list and I said, “Why not cheerleading?”


 


Neva looked at me, horrified, and said, “I could never be a cheerleader. You hate cheerleaders. Everyone knows that.”


 


I pointed out that “hate” is a pretty strong a word. Besides which, I don’t dislike cheerleaders, only cheerleading, and that was before. Mine wasn’t an all-inclusive prejudice. I only didn’t like cheerleading when it applied to my dancers. I happened to be a cheerleader myself when I was young, though I kept that personal fact to myself as the director of FLEX. True, I was not too keen on sports, gymnastics, Community Theater, band, etc., but only because these endeavors dragged the attention away from serious dance training, making it nearly impossible to get the attendance required to lead kids to dance success. However, my frowning down on cheerleading wasn’t a personal issue. I just worked so hard to keep the serious students focused that, over time, I developed a mild distain for all those obstacles that continued to make the quest difficult.  And I didn’t hate every recreational activity. I liked scouting – but that was because it teaches children community awareness and a broad spectrum of humanitarian pursuits, which helps them to be stronger individuals . . . , which leads to become more remarkable artists. You see, in the end, everything was judged by how it would influence the dance spectrum.


 


I told Neva that, considering she no longer dances, I now feel differently. Cheerleading might be fun for her. I happen to know that cheerleaders get to be center stage at ballgames, where the boys are, and that has its perks. It also is a wonderful outlet for a case of full-blown energy (which she has in abundance). Then, there is the fact that this activity takes some coordination and acrobatic skills, which she also has. All told, I thought it would probably suit her.


 


She picked soccer. Therefore, twice a week we go to rehearsals (“It’s a practice, Mom”, they always correct me) and she kicks the black and white round thing around, running about 50 miles during that hour. (Makes her a good candidate for cross-country running, I’m thinking, and that is a sport I understand.) Nevertheless, she is rather good at soccer I’m told, surprisingly enough.


 


Therefore, I’ve become the notorious cliché, – a soccer mom.  I have learned that I can yell if I use generic terms. It is safe to shout, “Go, Neva.” or “good shot,” if the round thing lands in the net thing. This is not appreciated when this happens on the opposite side of the field, because that means the other team is getting points. Oops.


 


I figure my understanding for the game is irrelevant. What is important is that I am there, being supportive. I have washed and ironed her costume (“It’s a uniform Mom. Duh.”) and I always have cold, icy waters for her breaks. I sit in the stands clapping, whistling, and cheering. But inside, I am looking at those beautiful young bodies on the field thinking what wonderful dancers they would make. I am admiring their energy, their long lean legs, the way they spin around to change directions. .  (it’s such a short step away from executing a chaine turn.) I look around at the happy faces of the parents, sad because in dance, all I saw was scowls and all I heard was complaints. Why are the parents so angry all the time at dance, but so inclined to laugh and enjoy sports for the sheer fun of it? I am, quite honestly, jealous of the light and friendly attitude of everyone participating. Maybe, I should have held my rehearsals outside. Perhaps it’s the open space, the green grass and blue sky, which keeps parent perspective in check.


 


Last night, when we were going to bed, I asked Mark how his day had been. He looked at me, sighed and said, “I am missing my students this week horribly. Don’t know why. It just hits me sometimes.”


 


I understood that completely.


 


For everything gained, something is lost. Some days, the loss feels more poignant than others. That, I guess, is a part of personal growth too.   I am very comfortable with the fact that my children no longer dance. I think they did so only because they were railroaded into it by nature of our family structure. And for them, dance was never just about dance. There were other issues muddying the water, such as the way it interfered with family time, or how it stretched the “unconditional love” issue, (it is a delicate thing to be both a devoted teacher and devoted parent, because it demands two opposing attitudes). Now, my kids can discover their true calling without influence. Dance just wasn’t there thing, but that doesn’t alleviate the fact that it was my thing. And when I see that the world is full of kids who don’t dance, it still leaves me unsettled. I’ve always claimed dance is good for the soul, a great way to developing discipline and personal integrity. I didn’t preach that because I owned a dance school and I was selling a product. I believed it. I believe it still. Guess that is why I would feel so much better if the soccer players would point their feet when they kick.


 


They say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” I think that is good advice, the kind I should take myself, for watching it is certain to make sitting through the game easier. That way, I’ll stop eyeballing all those kids, silently mourning the fact that they don’t dance.


 


One game, I saw a beautiful, young redhead girl walk by, giggling and flipping her hair in a punky way. I turned to my sister-in-law and said, “Wow, doesn’t that girl look exactly like Anna?”


 


She said, “Anna who?”


 


“Anna, our most beautiful dancer who was the prison guard in Mark’s fantastic behind bars dance.” I said, as if that was the dumbest question of all time.


She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and said, “You see them everywhere, don’t you.”


 


I do. And even when I don’t, they are in my head. And my heart. . . And on the field . . . and in the grocery store . . . and at the football game . . . and the horseback riding arena . . . and mostly . . . in my dreams.


 

My spinning essay (for those who prefer a more romantic description)


Threads of  Meaning


 


     When I told my husband I’d signed up for a spinning class, his response was, “It’s about time we started using our gym membership.”


      With a “sheepish” smile, I explained that wasn’t that kind of spinning I meant. I was talking about a class designed to teach people how to make yarn out of raw wool.


     “It is actually a spinning and dying class,” I clarified.


      “Sounds like a painful way to go,” he said.


       I could tell by his smile he was amused by the concept of me sitting, peddling a wheel with a basket of wool in my lap, like one of the Mennonites we paused to watch at historical festivals.


    “Why go to the trouble of spinning when you can buy all kinds of interesting yarn at Wal-Mart?” he asked. 


      Honestly, I couldn’t answer him. I just thought learning how textiles were made would be interesting. Furthermore, I’d asked for (and received) a llama for my birthday and I couldn’t help but think this was the prime opportunity to justify owning what had turned out to be a high maintenance, temperamental, yard ornament.


       I said, “I figure, if I learn to spin, I’ll be able to do something with my llama fiber.”


       “Are you spinning llama fiber in the class?”


       “No. Just sheep’s wool.”


        His eyes narrowed. “I am not buying you a sheep for Christmas”.


        I waved my hand as if to dismiss his threat. He’d acted as if I was insane when I started talking about wanting a llama, but three months later, on my birthday, he proudly presented me a big, fuzzy, camel-like creature with a bow around its wooly neck. Besides which, I was pretty much assuming that, after taking the class, I’d be campaigning for a spinning wheel for Christmas. I did make a mental note to try to make enough yarn for a scarf for him though. I think I too needed to associate some logical purpose to this endeavor. “Why spin?” was a good question.


     A few days later, I entered a barren classroom at the John C. Campbel Folkschool to begin my 6-day spinning seminar. The room was nothing more than a vacant space with eleven chairs arranged in a circle. Sinks and stoves were built-in along the perimeter to define a long narrow strip of kitchen slipping around the corners like a bow around a present. A shelf holding pots and buckets for dying raw materials hovered overhead. Boxes of raw fiber were stacked up on the counters, but there wasn’t a single (intimidating) spinning wheel in sight, an absence that surprised me, yet I was grateful for all the same. Perhaps this would be a theoretical class. Maybe we would be using simple hand spindles. The lack of wheels made me think it was going to be easier than I imagined.


      On a blackboard on the wall behind a long table featuring a mass of unwashed animal fur a quote had been written:  


” Our ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”


 – J. Lambert –


      


     Could this be the answer to that nagging “why spin?” question? Perhaps, by learning to spin, I would tap into my primal creative source and understand the fabric of my existence. It seemed a tall order for a ball of yarn to deliver, but I was ready to embrace my primitive side to explore the possibilities. Eager to experience the process my ancestors went through to make yarn and thread for sweaters and shawls, I craved a glimpse of life, pre-Wal-Mart. I trusted that even if the adventure didn’t offer me an explanation of the essential thread of my existence, it would certainly make me appreciate the conveniences I enjoy today.     


       My teacher, Margaret Owen, was a 53-year-old woman who’d been spinning since she was seventeen. Bustling with enthusiasm and warmth, her love of all things pertaining to wool was evident from the start. After introductions were made, she showed us a few complex sweaters she’d knitted from hand-spun wool, giving us a bit of history regarding the piece and sharing stories about who taught her the stitches and what materials she used to dye the wool to make the colored pattern. Then, she entertained us with antics of the sheep this particular fiber came from. Suddenly, the sweater seemed far more than a garment made to wrap around shivering shoulders. Now, the sweater had personality, an intimate and meaningful history. Such a thing was bound to chase away a chill just by nature of its significant journey into being. Oh, how I wanted one of my own!


      Margaret put us at ease talking about her early introduction to spinning, her harrowing introduction to raising sheep, and her recent thrilling trip to Scotland (the Outer Hebrides and Orkney) where she explored spinning traditions and knitting techniques. Her philosophy leaned towards a “whatever works for you is best” attitude. She pointed out that wool enthusiasts often fall into two categories; those that believe a good spinner does not veer from tradition, only doing things in ways that will preserve the original art, and those who take artistic liberties and enjoy encompassing new techniques and innovations, leaning towards more experimental textiles.  She was determined to expose us to both tradition and all the other possibilities wool presents. Informed (and with her blessing) we could then sway towards whichever direction suited our personalities.


       But before learning to spin, we needed to learn about fiber, which meant learning about sheep. There are thousands of breeds, each with unique qualities that affect the fur. We discussed what breeds were common in different regions and the elements of diet and lifestyle that resulted in softer or courser wool. After an overview, we concentrated on those sheep with wool we were most likely to work with, such as Rambouillet, Marino, Corriedale, Cotswold, or Lincoln. We taped samples of each into a notebook, creating a personal resource for recognizing wool types in the future. The tighter the kink in the wool, the softer it would be, and in no time we learned to inspect the crimp (perm) and staple (length of wool where it is cut from sheep) to judge what kind of project the fiber would be best suited for.            


       Soon, we were being pelted by wool-associated words, until keeping up with the definitions was like playing a frantic game of scrabble. Hogget is the first shearing of a lamb, tippiness describes the brittle ends of wool, skirting is a way of cutting away courser areas of the full coat (legs, stomach, and neck) to leave only quality wool to work with, kemp is the undesirable hollow fiber that doesn’t take dye. We learned about lambs wool, virgin wool, worsted wool, and woolen yarn. We were introduced to picking, teasing, lubrication of dry fiber, carding, and combing. 


      Once we understood wool, it was time to begin working with it. We gathered around a huge mass of raw fiber that had been recently cut from a sheep and learned to recognize what area of the animal each section was from. Still filled with dust and small twigs, we picked out the debris, then each student washed one pound of it in huge tubs of warm water with shampoo (it is hair, after all) . No agitation or it would mat and turn into felt. No abrupt changes in water temperature or it would break down the fibers. Raw wool was, apparently, a delicate thing, so I approached it gingerly with a touch of anxiety. I plunged my hands into the water, feeling the cotton softness of the raw wool under my manicured nails, imagining my ancestors doing the same, yet vividly aware that their hands would be work-worn and calloused because, while for me such a task is a hobby, for them it was mandatory life’s work. Yet, going through the motions seemed a way of honoring my past, so I worked with a reverence for the process, enjoying even the mess a pound of wool can make on a person’s jeans and sneakers.


     After soaking and rinsing our individual pound of fur, we lay the eleven clumps on screens to dry and began discussing natural dyes. Margaret introduced us to a variety of natural elements we would use to color the wool, pointing us to areas of the garden outside where we were to harvest the flowers. Some of the students took a walk to gather materials. I helped others lift the huge pots off the shelves to begin brewing water that would soon welcome marigolds, madder root, and lichen.


       One jar was filled with ammonia and a piece of copper pipe to create sea foam green. We crushed cochineal bugs to make red, brewed onionskins to make beige, and tore up indigo to make blue. In order to make the wool colorfast, it had to be treated in another bath of five gallons of water with three ounces of alum and one ounce of cream of tarter. The wet, treated wool was then introduced to the dye pots and left to soak.


     Meanwhile, we created a “rainbow” pot where our freshly cleaned, treated, white wool was layered between cheesecloth with handfuls of dye materials dropped in random clumps. Walnuts, marigolds, madder and cochineal lay buried in the folds. We covered our lasagna-like fiber creation with just enough water to saturate it and let the pot sit. Hours later, we lifted beautiful colored wool from the pot, a tie-dyed wonder, arranging it to dry as we “oohed” and “aahed” over surprise pigments and the swirls of color that the positioning of the wool created.


     Out of each dye pot arose a gift from the earth, vibrant colors with depth and wholesomeness that no box of Rit could ever offer. The sheer subtle variety within each pound of wool was like the natural varied shades in a beautiful head of hair, far richer than flat (died) hair, making the natural dyes all the more striking. While I knew I shouldn’t be surprised that these awesome colors were born of simple things growing outside, I still couldn’t help be amazed. Deep down I think I assumed chemicals were required for vibrant color, as if man’s inventions were all to enhance product, when in reality, it is often convenience we seek. 


     With wool now hanging to dry on clotheslines about the room, clumps sitting on screens, or left unwashed on tables, the room looked as if had been taken over by a wooly fern that had grown haywire while we weren’t noticing. We were working in a forest of wool, dripping clumps hanging like moss from the ceilings, dry heaps of fuzz pooling about our feet.  


    It was time to get out the spinning wheels. A large closet in the back of the room stored dozens of spinning wheels for the school. We gathered inside, encouraged to pick whatever style peaked our interest. I chose what appeared to be a traditional style Ashford Spinning wheel, my eye on the big granddaddy wheel that looked like something designed for show rather than functionality.


      Margaret smiled at my gaze and dragged it out, saying “Everyone should try this one too.”


    “Isn’t that going to be hard to work on, considering we are beginners?” I asked, staring with reservation at the three-foot wheel that took up the entire corner of the room.


     “Size doesn’t make a difference,” she said. “It only changes the ratio of twists in the yarn. Bigger is just faster, which means you can make more delicate threads.”


     I sat at my slower model feeling I had made the right choice, but I enjoyed the granddaddy set up nearby all the same, for it served to inspire as it created ambiance.


       We still had work to do before spinning. It was time to card the wool. With two flat brushes sporting hundreds of short prongs, we brushed the raw wool to detangle it, picking out leftover twigs or burs and combining colors for fun. When the fibers were all going in one direction, we lifted the feather light mass onto one card, then rolled it into manageable tubes. While it isn’t necessary to card wool before spinning, prepared wool is easier to work with, resulting in more uniform, delicate yarn. As beginners, we brushed studiously, determined to set ourselves up for success before tackling any actual spinning.


       Finally, it was time to spin. Spinning is actually remarkably simple. It is the act of pulling clumps of fiber into long narrow tubes and adding twist. Wool has tiny scale-like qualities, so it attaches to itself easily to make an ongoing thread that is really just millions of tiny independent “hairs” spun together. A single ply (single, twisted yarn) has a bit of kink in it, and when knitted or woven, it has the potential to distort the shape of your finished project (like sewing off the bias), so you must keep a single ply loose and later, hang it wet, weighted, to “set the twist”. For this reason, most often, people make a two-ply yarn. This involves taking two colors of single twisted yarn and spinning them together in the opposite direction, an act that loosens the twist and evens out the hang. Two-ply is also how bigger, textured yarn is made. Combining two individually spun threads together offers unlimited opportunities to create original color and texture combinations. I found the wealth of creative options engaging, and the moment I blended two simple yarns together into a complex bundle of swirls of color and texture, I was hooked. I was making yarn that no one else in the world would have. Few things in life are that original and I considered those soft chords of wool in my hand precious because of it.


      For the next few days, we spun wool according to our goals, our light or heavy hand, and our eye for color. None of the student’s end products looked alike. The originality of the yarns was as fascinating as the range of personalities in the class.


      It was now clear many of us would continue spinning after the course was finished. Margaret discussed other fibers, such as Mohair and Cashmere (goats), camel, alpaca and llama. She even introduced us to one of her angora rabbits and demonstrated a neat parlor trick of spinning directly off the rabbit sitting calmly in her lap. When I got home that night, I found resources on the internet for yak and musk ox fur. They even make yarn of possum. I wanted to try it all.


    On the last day, our minds saturated with information and our hands smarting from hours of friction running wool between our fingers,  Margaret invited us down the street to her farm to meet her sheep. Here, we saw live samples of corriedale, merino and Shetland sheep, along with her Pyrenees dogs, (who guard the sheep and whose hair can also be harvested for spinning). I found the sheep rather lacking in personality and seeing how much goes into caring for them made me think I would be better off sticking with buying raw fiber for now. (A detail that delighted my husband.) I always have my birthday llama’s wool to add intimacy and significance to future projects, just in case I want to associate personal meaning to a sweater I might make. 


     Wandering around Margaret’s pasture with the other students, I looked at the animals, curious about which one gave me the gift of wool I’d spun that morning. I yearned to stroke the head of sheep that unintentionally brought me so much pleasure. They seemed happy with their lot in life. Sheep do not have to die to offer us this marvelous gift of fiber, a detail I am grateful for.


      That evening, our class culminated in a ceremony, the John C. Campbell folkschool<ST1 showcase, where students in a variety of classes display the creations they’d worked on all week. I admired all sorts of Scottish Heritage crafts, but my eyes kept slipping back to my yarn, tangible proof of my new talents, and I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone was as grateful of their week’s experience as I was.


      Learning to spin introduced me to a new hobby that is both utilitarian and creative, but mostly, it taught me to look at the world differently. An avid lover of history, I often peruse museums to enjoy vintage costumes, furniture and/or rugs. Often these antiques have been preserved for hundreds of years. I know that when I see these pieces now, rich with handmade textiles, I’ll have a new appreciation for the colors and how they’ve survived over the years. I’ll understand how tedious the work must have been to create such beautiful objects and acknowledge how talented the artisans who planned and executed such complex designs must have been. I can’t stop marveling at man’s innovation to extract a rainbow from the earth, his ability to transfer it to wool and spin it into delicate fabrics or useful materials of various feel. And I am filled with respect for the animals that lived hundreds of years ago and the people who tended them, for they worked in harmony to leave behind a legacy of art and ingenuity that defies anything sitting on the shelves of Wal-Mart today. 


       “Why spin?” is a good question, one I have an answer for now.  J. Lambert, whoever that is, said it succinctly.


       “Our ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”


     


      The way I see it, my life is filled with “things”. Things I need to exist, things I own to be comfortable, and things I’ve collected to assure a life of convenience. Most of these “things” can be acquired at Wal-Mart, but beyond that, I rarely consider their origin.


    “Things” only have the meaning we associate to them. Suddenly, I’ve come to a point where I’ve stopped associating meaning to most everything I own.  I associate the value of a sweater in terms of its cost or if it makes me look slim. I think nothing of tossing away a blanket because the color no longer suits the room. The things cluttering my life have little meaning, making me feel as if the trappings of my life are disposable. Is it any wonder so many people in our society complain about feeling disconnected?


       Learning to spin has taught me history, science, and the story of the textiles that fill my world today.  I now have the ability make things by hand, and I can, and will, associate personal meaning to them by nature of the time and trouble they took to create. But I have a deeper appreciation for the items sitting on the Wal-Mart shelves now, too. In the memory of man’s creative source, our history, I understand and appreciate all that is available to me today.


   The fabric of my existence is composed of much more than the surface implies. It stretches back, long before I was born, all the way to man’s primal discovery of how to use the gifts of the earth in artistic ways. Somewhere along the way, the wool’s been pulled over our eyes -people have forgotten the base origins that lay the foundation for what we have today. Learning to spin has taught me more than how to make yarn. It’s taught me that I must combine the twisted threads of past and present to create a deeply textured life that will maintain shape. This kind of awareness becomes a sweater of substance I can wrap around my shoulders. And it will warm me through all the seasons of my life.


 


 


           


    

My new dining room set!

As long as I emptied my camera today, and I’m using pictures to save time, I thought I’d post a few more.
Here is a picture of my new dining room set. Pretty, Hun? 
Oh, you only see trees. Well, where do you think furniture comes from, Silly. Rooms to Go?
That reminds me of a funny thing that happened this summer. Neva and I were picking blackberries by the side of the road on our mountain, and a man walked by who was renting a cabin (a city boy). He said, “What are you two doing?”
I said, “We are picking blackberries.”
He wrinkled his nose and said, “Why bother? It is not like you can eat them.” And he left.
Neva said, “Why did he say that?”
I explained that some people thought food only came from the grocery store, as if dropped down from the sky all nicely packaged in plastic and filled with preservatives. Apparently, that fellow felt food that had been “outside” must be spoiled or something. Ha. we had a good laugh over that one.

Anyway, here is my fabulous new dining room chair, in the hands of the grunt that will slave away to make it.
Gee Wiz – he doesn’t even look Korean to me. His sidekick is an alledged “apprentice” to this project. When he heard that he could learn to make these chairs and they would sell for about 600 bucks, little cars flashed in his pupils, like a boy obsessed.  I think now would be a good time to tell you (as a friend) to put you money in Calamine lotion stock!


 

This is my assistant holding up her bag of lichen. Nothing like sending your child into the deep dark woods on a creative mission to prove your overprotective mothering gene has passed the freshness date on the lable. Next to her is a picture of our house from the area where we are digging a small lake this week (thus the trees would have been destroyed and that is why we are harvesting them now.) I’m told I am a real annoyance when I am hanging around with a camera. I would be more appreciated if I were willing to drag trees out of the woods. I figure, I’ll be the one cleaning this furniture, and moving it aside to vacumn so eventually I’ll pay my wood hoisting dues . The house is pretty though, don’t ya think?


I have to go take my little woodsprite to soccer. All that running keeps her in shape for hunting dye material, so I am willing to cheer.

I can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing now

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and since I have an essay to write today for my non fiction professor, I have no time to amuse you with flippant descriptions of my life altering week. So, assuming my readership misses me (allow me my delusions), I thought I might just leave a “picture essay” to wet your appetite. Actually, I’m writing a piece about my spinning class today, so I will post it later to offer a more lyrical and detailed accounting of this endevor. It was such fun. I’ll never look at the world the same again. Really.

Take my hand, and let me show you a small sampling of what my eyes (and hands) feasted upon all week.



These are my new friends Lucy and Norman (in that order). I know they are true friends, because they were willing to get naked for me. (Only a friend that has true trust in you would do something like that.)  They have body oder, I’m told, but since I can’t smell, it doesnt interfer with our friendship. They are not very bright. They are timid and can’t protect themselves from any kind of preditor. They die easily and require a great deal of maintence. They have no personality like goats, dogs, horses, donkeys or llama, making them almost monotone creatures. They travel as a click like girls in high school incapable of thinking independantly.  I now understand why sheep are used to describe people who follow the crowd. But they are cute in a fuzzy, dumbish way. Lucy is a Coridale, and Norman is a shetland blend. Norman is what they call a “black sheep” even though he is brown. I figure, since my parents always told me I was the black sheep of the family, that he and I would hit it off, and we did. These sheep have deep, odd voices, not like the cute bleeting sheep on cartoons, but more like sheep with a cold – I would have named one”Froggy” (from little rascles) had they been mine. As a whole, they cured me of ever wanting sheep. Mark loves Lucy and Norman for that. 





This is how sheep wool begins. It is cut from the animal in a huge rug, then you cut off the flanks, tummy, and neck area to discard the rough matted wool (of store it for other uses, like felting). The square wooden thing-a-ma-bobbers are wool cards. They are like huge brushes that you use to brush out and prepare the wool. You can do fiber or color blends this way too. You must wash the wool first in huge tubs with shampoo or detergent, careful not to adgitate it or it will mat and turn into felt. Use warm water. Then you hang it out to dry, or place it on a screen so the air can circulate around it. You should pick out debris and sticks first, of course.



If you want your wool to be colored, you must dye it. We used all natural dyes. Rit is for sissys. This is a “rainbow” pot. After conditioning the wool with a solution of alum and creme of tarter to make it colorfast, we layer it (wet) in a pot using cheesecloth to keep the dye materials from getting caught in the just cleaned wool.  You can add any ingrediants you wish. We used marigolds, madder root, walnuts (still green) and cochnile (which is a bug). We made several layers. After sitting a few hours, it came out in the multicolors you see here. Beautiful! Nature has such a wealth of amazing surprises if you get intimate with her.




This is how many marigolds you need to make the nice warm yellow orange you see here. The duller gold is from lichen, which is moss growing on trees. You’d think that would turn things brown or green, but it comes out yellow. As you can imagine, a gardener would have a fit if you decided to visit his bounty on dye day. I will tell Mark to plant marigolds, but I will leave out the details about why. On the day they dissapear, I’ll blame it on a goat or something. Ha. I am already plotting…. 



This is how we crushed the bugs we used to make red. No fancy bowls for us – we used a rock. This is the cochnile bug from Mexico. Only the girl bugs make red. Funny, that is the opposite of nature – having the girl be the one with the color pigment. I couldn’t help but wonder how they seperated the males and females. To turn them over to look at their privates wouldn’t be time efficient, if you ask me. I also worked with Indigo – the most facinating stuff of all. To make this natural plant work, someone must pee in the pot. No kidding. We used a different acidic agent for the class (too bad – would have given me a colorful story to tell) but still, the process of dying with indigo is remarkable. Next to this picture is my carded wool (washed, dyed and brushed) which I prepared for spinning. This is more work than it looks. If I made pink, I could have used it to play tricks on friends by telling them it was cotton candy. We also had a hand-crank machine carder, which I used as well, but this apparatus is rather expensive, so I wanted to be proficient with the hand cards before I left the class, to assure I could do some of this stuff at home.  

  

This is the wheel I learned to spin on. As you can see, I like spinning because you can actually do it with nails.


This is a picture of me spinning, (just to allieviate your fears that I might be turning into a menonite or something). I look much the same, although viewing these pictures now, I’m thinking I need to spend less time developing my mind and more time developing my arms. Yuck. Ah well, what good is a pretty package if inside you are nothing but an empty box! I will wear long sleeves for awhile – heck it’s winter. This huge wheel was just as easy to spin on as the smaller wheels. The size means nothing but a different ratio of rotations to the bobin. They fool you by making it look big and important. Spinning wheels look complicated, but they are the simplist machine ever. I was amazed at how simple spinning is (not to do it uniformaly and well, but just how making yarn or thread is accomplished.) I can now spin now on a hand spindle or even with my hand against my leg. I am sure you will be impressed to learn I am multi-talented in the yarn developement catagory. I tried all kinds of wheels to find out what kind I am most comfortable with. I felt I had to if I wanted to buy one (which I do). It was great fun adventuring with all different styles and brands. I tend to like big, textured yarns, so I need a wheel with a big bobbin capacity. I also like Scottish tension. I like the Ashfords, but mostly I fell in love with the Luet. (This means nothing to you, but it makes me sound proficient, so I wanted to throw it in.)


This is my teacher, Martha, who also taught us about fiber blending. She showed us how to use angora, and even demonstrated this cool “parlor trick” of spinning right off the rabbit. Do I need to mention how much that delighted me. I can’t wait for my next party, cause I have every intention of making my friends smile with this nifty trick. I know how to use Dahli’s fur now, and I can spin with yak or camel too. As far as I’m concerned, the weirder the wool source the better. Why not experiment. The lord wouldn’t have made the world so interesting if he wanted us to live in a box. 


This is a picture of the yarns I made this week all from raw wool. All of them are made with natural dyes – lichen, marigold, walnut, cochnile, madder, and natural wool colors. You can also see the sample book I made to keep track of it all. I have pages of wool samples (every breed of sheep is different, ya know and there are thousands of breeds.) And I have angora, goat and other wool samples too. I also have all the dye swatches so I can reproduce them someday. I love my wool notebook, because it is filled with information and small observances I had during the experience. I love these first skeins of wool, because they are made of earthly things, so natural and simple, yet so beautiful too. I now have an understanding of what people did in the past to make all kinds of textiles  – felt, yarn, fabric and thread. I understand how early cloth was put together and colored. I will never go into a museum and see a rug or costume and not have a greater understanding and appreciation for the talent and work that went into making it.  I see the world in color now – not just the surface color, but all the colors that lie hidden in nature (for example indigo is just a green plant and when you dye with it, the fabric and the water is a dull yellow. Only when you lift the item inside and the air meets it, will it oxidize and turn blue like magic before your eyes. – Now, I ask you, how did they invent that !?!)

I confess, I do not want sheep anymore. I do want a spinning wheel, and loads of fiber, and yesterday, Neva and I took a walk through the forest and gathered a huge gallon ziplock of lichen. I plan to color our easter eggs with natural substances this year. What a fun project! I am now facinated with natural dying, and I am taking a weekend class on dying with mushrooms (they give you yellow and green and blue and red – amazing) next month. 

I’ve expanded my world in the simplist way. Feels good. Now – what shall I do with this wool? Hummm…. I’m thinking I need to learn something about knitting next.
No animals involved. Mark will be relieved.


This was written on the board in the class, and I understand it now in a way I don’t think I would have a year ago:

“Our Ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”
 – J. Lambert –

I feel grounded – as if I understand the world better now, thanks to my slowing down and taking the time and trouble to convene with nature in a way that is more poignant than just taking hikes and gardening. It is good to wake up after years of groggy napping in a convienience world.
 
I’ve never been one too keen on church. But now, I think, in nature, I’ve found my church. Hendry David Thoreau would be proud of me, I think.

  

Counting sheep doesn’t always put a girl to sleep

I’ve found a new passion!


I love spinning.


Actually, I haven’t done any spinning yet, but I’ve had the first night’s meeting that gives us a class overview, met the 11 women in the course, and gotten to know the instructor (her name is Martha.) She is down to earth, has a great sense of humor and a twinkle in her eye. “Martha’s” have it all together.


 


Tonight I learned loads about fiber. Most exciting of all was learning that one can spin just about any kind of animal fur into yarn. My llama fur will come in use and you can bet I’m taking it to the class tomorrow. The angora rabbits they had for sale at the feed store a few months ago are perfect for this kind of thing too. If only I had known! (I asked Neva if she wanted one of these huge fluffy beasts when we saw them, but she said they were too big. Like monster rabbits. Well, next time I’ll buy them, but for me.) I even learned that most spinners prefer a certain sort of dog (forget the name right now) because their fur is a great additive to wool. Would that I had known that before adopting our two big lazy, mischievous canines.  I learned about all sorts of sheep too, of course.  


 


Tonight, I fingered finished yarn samples of all sorts of combinations, and inspected raw wool. I learned about all kinds of methods of dying, with natural elements, like roots, grasses, lichen, and indigo. I even learned that ammonia and a copper pipe make a dye that turns yarn green. We will explore natural dying on Wednesday. Cool.


 


Unbelievably, every woman in the class has a spinning wheel except me. They were family heirlooms or, in several cases, their husbands gave them a wheel for Christmas – out of the blue. Now, I ask you, would you ever consider buying your spouse a spinning wheel if they never mentioned it? Some people consider them pretty furniture accents. And once it has been sitting in the living room for a year or two, the woman starts thinking that maybe she should learn how to use it. Amazing.


 


This week, I will learn all about the many different types of wheels, and I can try them all out so that, should I want to purchase one, I’ll have a good idea of what kind suits me best. The teacher asked me if I’d brought any kind of “equipment.”


I said, “Does a crochet hook count?”


The whole class laughed at me, and said, “You don’t know what you are getting into. You’re going to want a wheel before the week is out.”


They are probably right.


I just was grateful I own a llama because it means I am not a total outcast. Dahli is my loose connection to proclaiming myself a fiber arts enthusiast.


 


I must say, I am delighted with the class. The women are all brimming with enthusiasm and humor and the wealth of information we are covering is exciting. It is Scottish heritage week at the Campbell school, so there are many special events going on. Since they have classes offered in weaving, knitting, and spinning, they have several functions just for those interested in fiber arts, including a tea party at the local yarn circle and a special event called a weaving walk. You don’t actually walk anywhere – you gather in a circle and pound finished woven material and pass it on to the rhythm of a song. This blocks the fabric and tightens the weave. They say it is an old world art that you rarely see, much less participate in. Ha. I picked a good week for this particular adventure. They also have a special Scottish heritage slide presentation and a guest speaker.


 


Tomorrow begins the real work. We start by cleaning wool – there are buckets and buckets of it around the room in all shades and textures. We will not be sheering a sheep because it is the wrong season (they need their coats for winter,) but we will visit a sheep farm on Friday to learn some basics. Mark commented that perhaps he should tag along, “just in case” (chuckle). I’m told there are local sheep sheering seminars, short half day events, which people can attend to learn the basics. Neat. I’m there. I also found out that in Asheville there is a huge fiber arts festival at the agricultural center in late October. (www.saffsite.org) You can see all kinds of equipment, find out about llama, alpaca, sheep and other animal organizations, and all things related to this heritage art form. I asked Mark if he was interested in going. We had such a nice time when we went to Asheville last month (the Victorian Bed and Breakfast) that he said “it’s a go.” Gee – from the seed of an idea, a passion is born so readily. He is certainly making it easy for me to embrace this new “hobby.” I’ll have to make the man a scarf or something.


 


Anyway, I will keep you posted on the daily events. Too bad I can’t write with a Scottish brogue, just to amuse.  


 


I must admit, this morning I was kicking myself for enrolling in this seminar. I’ve been feeling melancholy the last few days and I wasn’t much in the mood to be jovial. However, tonight, I am thinking this was the medicine I needed to force myself out of my funk. Sometimes, you have to take steps to think beyond yourself – to crowbar yourself out of too much inward, (self-imposed) conflict.Controling your attitude and mood, being positive, is an art, I think.



Well , I can’t talk now. I have some reading to do about sheep. You can bet I’ll be counting them as I fall asleep tonight! One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, a llama – hey, how did you get in there, Dahli?


 


      

Shopping to avoid work

I have MFA overload, so I will write one more blog to avoid my work.


 


I spent the morning shopping. Probably not shopping for the kinds of things you or your spouse shopped for today. No, I was shopping at home- browsing my favorite publication, The Northwest Georgia Trader. This little book can be picked up for 99 cents at every gas station near and far – I buy it every week. The publication allows people to place ads for free and just about anything you think of is in there, even kitchen sinks. It’s like a countywide garage sale on paper.


 


I like to see what people think is worth money. I laugh when checking out the “miscellaneous” column because of the odd, eclectic items featured. Everything from toys and tires to wedding dresses and army helmet planters sit in tiny-boxed ads to flag a potential customer. They have an animal section. I always marvel at how many dogs are for sale, and sadly, just as many are “free”, one-step away from being dumped on the side of the road or put in a sack and thrown into the river with a rock. There are tons of cars and boats and cabin rentals in designated columns. However, what I am looking for is always found in the “Farm animal and supply” category. Good stuff there.


 


Two weeks ago, they had a chicken house. I got excited, until I saw it was a huge chicken house – the kind that houses over 1000 chickens. Um…. I’m not that much of a hobbyist. There are dozens of horses, cows, rabbits, chickens, peacocks, and you name it for sale or trade.


 


However, what I am looking for today is a llama. Dahli is lonely and needs a companion. Last week there was a llama for sale, but it was male. Two males will fight (unless I get Dahli nurtured), so I am looking for a female. And you know what that means – Dalhi’s woman will probably be a mama llama by spring. Fun. I am also hoping for a white llama, because I am an equal opportunity llama employer.  


 


This week, someone is selling a set of llamas, a male, female and their 5-month-old baby. I told Mark it was a shame they weren’t just selling a female. I asked if he thought they would break up the family.


He said, “Probably not, but they might sell the baby. Is it a male or female?”


Duh, I hadn’t considered that possibility. Would be perfect though, because a young llama is easily trained and I would have time (while it matured) to prepare for little llamas popping up all over the place.


I commented that perhaps we should do some research before we buy a female because we don’t exactly need a herd of llamas taking over our pasture. Of course, after we had one baby, if we didn’t like it, we could have Dahli nurtured.


Mark said that we could simply sell future offspring, which would offset the cost of keeping the animals. I could start a little llama business to support my interest.


I suppose that is a possibility. I mean, I would have to have an in depth interview with potential adopter’s and check their home facility, their financial position, their temperament and ask their long-term intentions. I’d need a yearly report, with pictures, of course, and the new owners would have to endure spot inspections should I wish to make them to assure the on-going well-being of the llama youth. Yea, I could sell Dahli’s babies under these conditions. No problem.


 


So, I just now called and left a message on the person’s answering machine inquiring about the baby llama’s color and sex. My message explained that I am looking for a companion llama for an un-neutered  male, preferably a light color. I figure that way, they can consider selling their female independently, without being put on the spot. I’m hoping they call back and say the baby is a white female and to come get her.


 


Now that I’ve put that potential acquisition in motion, I must move on to my next shopping task. I need to hire someone to build a llama shed in the field (because the rains are coming) and a windbreak for the horses (because I can tell it is going to take a while before we get to this barn project – and the rains are coming) and a chicken house (because my cute baby chicks are now big ol birds with Perdue sized turds and I need to get them out of the cage, off my porch and away from this cabin. . . even though I do love the sound of that crowing – and this particular endeavor has nothing at all to do with the rains coming.)


 


But I don’t have much more time for shopping. It is “early release day” at school. The kids are excused at 1:00. I will pick them up and take Neva to the land to go riding. We finally have a ring set up so she can practice safely. Today will be the first time we use it. Of course, it looks a bit like rain. Drat.


 


Tonight we will all be going to the football game. My son is in the marching band. Ha, it figures that I’d be one to go to the game for the music instead of the sport. This is the first time we will hear him play, other than loud practices on the field that we’ve heard from our car whenever we show up early to pick him up. The band is great – this school has won the state championship for 16 years in a row, and the band director has no intention of breaking that winning streak anytime soon. Kent is a percussionist, one of the stronger ones in the group. I guess a year of private drum lessons has paid off. (He is also talking about organizing a rock ‘n roll band with some friends.) and of course, he can march in any formation without faltering. All that dance training was bound to come in handy one way or another.


 


He loves band, and I love it because he loves it. I just took a run this morning specifically so I can eat a hot dog tonight without guilt. Of course, it looks a bit like rain. Drat.


 


Kent will wear his uniform for the first and last time tonight, because they are getting new uniforms next week. If it does rain, well, at least we will only be soaking an old suit. . . and me in the stands, I guess. One more “Drat” for that.


 


Time to go. My riveting (maybe wet) day, four hungry horses and one lonely llama, need my attention. My homework needs attention too, but I’m ignoring that particular whine today.