Monday, October 29, 2012

here we blow again

As we brace for another hurricane hit, this time compliments of Sandy, it looks like this is the new normal for us in the mid-Atlantic states.

Going out to get the paper

Things aren't too bad just yet, though we are right at the start. Winds are picking up and the rain is pelting down. I'm getting this post up before the inevitable loss of cable and thus internet access. We do have a generator on standby, and fingers are crossed that it works when we need it.

My training schedule for the half marathon called for me to run four miles today.

My husband (calling me from the barn, while he was out doing chores, voice raised over the wind): "It's not too bad out here! If you go out right now, you'll just be soaked. You'll have the wind at your back all the way out, though you will have to run against it coming home. It's going to get worse, so I think the best idea is to go out now!"

Me (while appreciative of his support and enthusiasm): "Ummm, no. I don't think so."

The kids are home, as school was cancelled, and we just made the decision to shut down my LSH's office for today and tomorrow. We can always open up if someone is in dire straits.

So far the most affected person is Primo. His 17th birthday is tomorrow, and his driving test was scheduled (ten months ago) for 8:30 am. Unfortunately all road tests were cancelled through Wednesday. He'll have to wait a bit longer for his ticket to freedom, but at this point, it doesn't look like he'd have much of anywhere to go.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

finishing a 5K

Thanks for all your words of support and encouragement, and especially the good weather vibes you were clearly beaming our way! The bad weather held off and we enjoyed perfect weather this morning. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not too sunny. We couldn't have ordered a better day.

We ended up having over 200 runners in the two races (1 mile fun run and 5K), which is nothing short of amazing for the first year of a race.

Even more importantly, we had almost 50 volunteers helping us with all the various tasks on race day. It is an enormous amount of work, and all those extra hands made the difference between running smoothly and complete chaos. Some of the volunteers were church members, but many were teenagers giving up their Saturday morning to help. OK, so they get community service credit, but still, those are pretty good hearts.

Here I am, in my constant position today with clipboard and bullhorn, which I never did figure out how to work properly (the bullhorn, that is, not the clipboard):

My father was the official course photographer. He wasn't the only participant. Secondo, Terzo, my mother-in-law and my mother were all in the 5K itself. My mother medaled in her age category, in her first 5K ever!

This is the best shot of my saintly husband, who never stopped working on this project for the last 6 months. He graciously agreed to ride the lead bike in front of the runners. He biked and drove that course about 10 times over today as he picked up and dropped off course volunteers, the water station supplies, more course volunteers...

But the best picture of all (sorry honey) is all the food collected from such generous runners today.

Our local food pantry is run solely by area churches, and it is experiencing unprecedented demand. The shelves were bare. This should make a dent, at least for a week or two. (ETA: We weighed the food: 411 pounds!)

All of the race proceeds are going to purchase anti-malarial nets in Africa. Our goal was 250 nets, but I think we raised enough to buy over 1,000. We are the little churches that could!

And now I am going to bed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

running a 5K

In the every mounting pantheon of crazy crap Kris does, I think the one I am working on right now may just take the cake.

I am running a 5K race.

Not in the way you think.

What I am doing is organizing a 5K race and that is a whole 'nother level of nuts.

I hatched this idea back in March, when our church was challenged to find innovative ways to raise money to purchase anti-malarial nets in Africa. I thought this would be a great way to involve the wider community in the cause, enjoy a great day out in the country (actually our neighborhood), promote healthy exercise, blah blah blah. My family pledged their support, I pitched the idea to our church's vestry, and we were on.

My line of thought was along the lines of, well, just how hard can this be?

The race is now two days away and now I know exactly how hard it is. I am getting a ton of help, from my family and the rest of the church, but it is a ton of work. We are almost there though... over 150 people are registered and who knows how many will show up on race day. I think we are in good shape but I will be happy when it is all done.

Fingers are crossed for dry weather on Saturday morning!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

rhinebeck 2012

Only a couple of days late... As seems to to be the case most every year, we had a drastic change of plans just before our departure. My original impetus for going this year, since I couldn't stay the entire weekend due to the family wedding, was the promise I had made to Secondo last year that he would come with my parents and me to enjoy one last weekend at Rhinebeck before he entered high school. I have learned my lesson from Primo: once they start high school sports, their time belongs to the coach.

Secondo pitched a fit when he discovered that the wedding would mean no Rhinebeck this year. I figured out a way to work around the limitation, with only one day away from school. We booked the hotel, made our plans, and then... he failed to get a school project done on time. It had to be turned in on Friday, which meant no Rhinebeck for him. Of course, this all came to light on Thursday night.

Only somewhat daunted, my parents and I left as planned on Friday morning. At that point, I had too many things to drop off at Rhinebeck, including my shawl entry and some key items for the Coopworth breed display. We just went with the original program, and had a ball, though we missed my second son every minute of that day.

As planned, we toured Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill retreat (in the rain, the weather was not planned)...

I can't recommend this spot enough, though the house itself is not particularly picturesque. The accomplishments of its inhabitant makes up for that. Absolutely fascinating, as Mrs C. had promised.

And then onto FDR's family estate at Hyde Park...

I got the most spectacular surprise when I exited the back of the second story of Springwood (the name of the family home). The description of the view from his bedroom noted that he had chosen the room because of the beautiful view of the Hudson River and surrounding hills. The blinds were drawn in all the rooms to preserve the interiors, so the truth of this statement wasn't evident until I stepped outside. Watery sunlight had replaced the curtains of rain, and the effect was stunning.

On Saturday morning we made our way to the fairgrounds to check the results of the Skein & Handmade Item competition, drop off further items for the breed display, and do a bit of shopping. I had dreamed of a white ribbon on the shawl, and it turned out to be quite prescient.

My dream didn't lie. A white ribbon is fourth place, as any 4-Her can tell you. I'll be interested to read the judge's comments! I did find out after the fact that roving from our farm was used to spin the first place winner in the Coopworth breed skein category, so that was quite exciting, even if I didn't know to take a picture of it.

After that my mom and I started shopping (and shopping and shopping), something I had never really done at Rhinebeck because I simply hadn't the time with the demands of the breed display. Our first stop, before it  was even really open for business, was a vendor who always has great deals on quality workhorse yarn. I had used the yarn from a Rhinebeck past to make my Acer cardigan. But what we found there was quite different from yarn, and absolutely irresistible at the price. I hemmed and hawed until my mother threatened to purchase it if I didn't.

Yep, my very own great wheel! I was so excited that I proceeded to tell everyone we met after that about my amazing good fortune. It is in rehab with my father at the moment, but I will post better and more detailed pictures once it has had the advantage of his TLC.

We had to leave at noon, but it was none too early. I was fortunate to see a number of friends, and enjoy a concentrated visit with the lovely Mrs C., but it was super-crowded and I was fading fast. We headed south for the wedding. At an opportune rest stop, I headed in with my boots and jeans on...

And after a superman-like change in a bathroom stall, headed out with my wedding gear on but boots in hand.

I was only slightly late to the wedding, thanks to an accident on the Garden State Parkway. My late arrival and inability to decode the church entrance signs meant that I very nearly burst into the front of the church, next to the altar, after the bride and groom had processed in. I managed to beat a quiet but hasty retreat and sneak into the back of the church so I could join my family, hopefully somewhat unnoticed. It was a lovely wedding and I had a great time dancing the night away with my guys... though I did feel somewhat guilty that I wasn't there to help stuff them all into their suits on Saturday afternoon.

I doubt that I could have squeezed one more thing into the weekend. No wonder I haven't recovered yet!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

spurred to action

Rhinebeck post tomorrow, but I am simply too tired tonight. It was a crazy weekend, though I did make it to the wedding on time, or at least pretty close to on time. All that driving and dancing wore me out, and then there were today's activities...

It happened again at church this morning. My assigned reading was from Deuteronomy 7, and included the following:
He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
This was clearly a divine nudge that we needed to get that dang ram out with the ewes, because otherwise there would be no lambs to bless!

So this afternoon we did just that, but it is not as simple as opening a gate and letting him in. First we needed to separate him from the other ram lambs, trim his hooves, check his general health, get a coat on him (to keep his fleece clean) and put the marking harness on—never a simple job, as we cannot recall from year to year which way all those straps go.

Once we had him in order, it was time to do the same thing for all the ewes, with the exception of putting a marking harness on them. We want to make sure that everyone is in fine condition for the rigorous duties ahead, and their fleeces are protected as much as possible from the marking crayon.

All was set, we released the lot and... they proceeded to ignore each other.

The ram is in the front staring off into the distance; you can see the blue marking harness around his shoulders. The ewes are through an open gate, so he could get to them if he wanted to. For the moment, he clearly doesn't want to.

My father will be happy to know that he finally has a name, however. He is officially Leonidas, Leo for short, though my LSH says the ram would prefer to be known as Loverboy. Let's hope he lives up to his nickname in short order.

In other news... my wonderful second son turned 14 today. (Lucky boy got to do farm work on his birthday!) It is such a joy to see what a terrific young man he is turning into. No one tells you that the babies are cute and cuddly and all, but it is just as much pleasure to watch them growing and developing into their own unique persons.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

down to the wire

Remember the project that was severely misplaced at the Fibre Fallout a few weekends ago? (I can't bring myself to say lost; even with the passage of time, it is too traumatic a thought.)

I started the project, somewhat at the last minute, when it came to light that Coopworth is the featured breed at the Skein and Handmade Item Competition at Rhinebeck this weekend. Coopworth is the breed that we raise on the farm but unfortunately we Coopworth breeders didn't find out this critical fact until almost too late! We did our best to marshall our forces and present a strong showing. A few of the hand-spun skeins will feature wool from our farm (but not spun by me). Other breeders, including Robin, are entering their own hand-spun wool.

I went a different route and decided to knit something instead. I loved the first batch of yarn that I dyed in the mason jars, and the yarn would suit a little shawl quite well. I had the perfect pattern in my Ravelry queue: the Holden Shawlette.

I couldn't just rest with a simple shawlette though. Oh no. I decided that the yarn needed a little more pop, so I determined that I would bead it as well. Four little tubes of size 6/0 beads, to be exact. The shawl was misplaced with only one more row to bead (out of seven rows total). You can better understand my panic now.

The bind-off is a series of tiny little picot points. It took me over four hours to bind off, and another hour to block and pin it with every straight pin in the house.

There is a bead placed between each yarn over (i.e., hole) in the pattern. I used a small crochet hook to pull the stitch through the bead before knitting it.

The result was well worth it, though I can still see the imperfections in my knitting—but no mistakes! at least, that I am aware of. Please don't enlighten me if you spot one.

It's my own sheep to shawl event. From a fleece sheared this spring on our farm, to a hand-dyed and knitted object ready for competition just six short months later? That's nothing short of a personal best, beating my previous record by, well, years.

My parents and I leave for Rhinebeck bright and early tomorrow morning, to take it to be judged. I have a wedding on Saturday afternoon (after we spend a few hours at Rhinebeck, because can't miss Rhinebeck) and I am sorely tempted to forget the competition and just wear the shawl... but I'll have plenty of time for that yet.

Monday, October 15, 2012

a feel-good project

During our vacation, I did what can best be described as an epic amount of knitting, as my output demonstrates.

Some of the items in that basket were started pre-vacation, but all of them (except the yellow sweater) were finished at some point during that week.

And since then... not so much knitting. It wasn't a case of knitting burnout, but rather too busy with too many other things, and not enough time. The yellow sweater still remains in a state of un-done-ness.

I finally broke my dry spell. During the Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival a month ago (which I still need to blog about!) I received a most awesome gift of knitting needles, from a most thoughtful boy.

You might not realize just how awesome they are, unless you see them fully activated.

Yep, lighted knitting needles! He had earned $5 showing Jacob sheep for another NJ breeder, and of course it promptly burned a hole in his pocket. He found these size 15 (!) neon green (!!) lighted (!!!) knitting needles at another vendor at a deep, deep discount. (You can read that vendor's account of his purchase here, near the bottom of her post.) When he gave them to me, he pointed out that now I could knit when I took him to the movies. Hint, hint...

My friend Tahara pointed out that was the size needed for the Mustard Scarf. I wanted to knit my friend Val—fellow shepherd and vendor neighbor—something from her sheep to wear when she returned to work in the fall. Val has a very interesting arrangement with her employer: she works from September until about March, while things are quiet in the farm. She takes off just in time for lambs to be born and sheep to be shorn and hay to be made... in short, all the things that need to be done on a sheep farm in the busy season. It helps that she has a skill set that is in high demand, but it is still a great arrangement.

Another friend, the talented dyer Dale of Light Brown Hare, had dyed up some of Val's yarn for her. All stealthy-like, I had Val recommend a colorway she liked, and bought a skein. I found a button to match at the equally-talented ceramic artists Koko Noelle, and armed with my lighted size 15 needles, I was in business.

The yarn was a little light to work as a single strand on those huge needles, but I used my scale to divide it in half. I knit the scarf with the yarn held double, until I ran out of yarn. Worked perfectly!

The scarf looks best when actually on a person, as Val demonstrated.

She's happy, I'm happy, my boy is happy: it's a true feel-good project!

Friday, October 12, 2012

mother nature, the artist

An amazing sky tonight...

I spied it as I was driving back from dropping the kids at their tractor club meeting. My LSH called to see if I had the camera because he wanted to take pictures from our house. I couldn't resist pulling over to take a few shots myself though, and thank goodness I did because by the time I got home, the sun had set just enough that the red glow had faded.

A reminder that Mother Nature waits for no camera... you have to shoot it when you see it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

bring out the woolens

I humbly submit that for a knitter, there is no better time of year than when the temperature drops, and you can dig out all your knitted articles. Saturday in Brooklyn was so warm I was wearing a t-shirt, but a storm blew in that night and the temperature dropped precipitously. Since that time I have managed to wear the following hand-knits:

  • two sweaters (one wool, one cotton);
  • one vest (wool);
  • one pair of socks (wool);
  • one cowl (wool), and 
  • one pair of fingerless mitts (also wool, can't beat it). 
Not all at the same time, however, let me reassure the more fashion-conscious among you. A few more days of this, however, and I may have my entire woolen wardrobe draped on and about my person.

Sunday in particular was bitterly cold, mostly because it was a very damp blowy day but perhaps also in large part because we are not used to such weather, and it was thrust upon us with very little time to adjust.

Secondo and I were committed (or maybe we should be committed?) that day to volunteer at a big event at the local historic house, which is only two miles from us. He decided to start working there late this summer. However, since he is an underage volunteer, I have to be present when he is there. I figured there was no point me just sitting around, so I also enlisted. The supervisor was very happy to have some young blood, but she was flat out thrilled to have a spinner on board. I spent a few beautiful afternoons on the house porch, figuring out the whims of the park's reproduction wheel and just enjoying the peace and beauty of the surroundings.

The blue building in the background is a working grist mill.

Sunday was a bit less pleasant, but I still had quite a nice spot to sit and spin in the house's kitchen, with one of the docents keeping my company while she carded a raw fleece. My next job is teaching her how to spin.

No more raw fleece for me; I really don't like spinning in the grease.
I washed up part of another fleece to make my job a bit easier.

Poor Secondo was stuck out in the rain with the sheep. He took advantage of the canopy they provided but the stupid ram lambs did not, preferring to huddle against the outbuilding and look thoroughly miserable.

Secondo had a good time all the same, sharing his shepherding experiences with all and sundry. These were actually a group of friendly, older 4-H kids from a different county, asking him what he did with his "goats" and pointing at certain (ahem) structures on the ram lambs and asking how much milk he got on a daily basis. He confessed he wasn't quite sure how to answer that last one, but he was glad they were just teasing him and not expecting a serious answer!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

kings county fiber festival

One of the great things about my friend Robin is that she is pretty much up for any crazy plan I propose, including driving to Brooklyn to help me vend at a newly-created fiber festival. Never mind that she has never vended before, or for that matter, ever been to Brooklyn before. She doesn't let such things stand in her way.

It was a very crazy week this week. I drove to Primo's school five times (it is about 35 minutes away, and he normally takes the bus), to a Princeton doctor's office three times (25 minutes away), and to Philadelphia once (50 minutes away). Around about Wednesday, I decided that there was no time for extensive planning or even stock replenishment for this festival. I let go of the worry that had been plaguing me, and I really must do this more often, because it was absolutely liberating. Robin and I were going to have to fly by the seat of our pants and hope that we could pull it off. We managed a phone conversation yesterday afternoon about necessary booth supplies, but that was just about it. She pulled up at my house at 6:20 this morning, the boys kindly woke up and helped us load the car, and we were off.

Robin was very game about driving in Brooklyn, though when mapquest told us we had to make a u-turn to get to our destination, she became a little perturbed.

We arrived in one piece, however, and set up in record time despite a little mishap with the EZ Up tent (which I was able to solve with a crochet hook; is there any problem a crochet hook can't solve? with the exception of those that can only be solved with binder twine or duct tape, of course). Despite our general lack of planning, the booth came out quite respectable. It just goes to prove, yet again, that hours of agonizing about something are usually unnecessary. You think I would learn at some point.

Robin spent much of the day introducing people to the joys of drop spindling. Even little people!

I spent the day worrying about the fleece talk I was scheduled to give at 4 pm. Of course, it was completely unnecessary... see point above, still unlearned! Luckily no pictures of me giving my little talk (because Robin was swamped while I was out of the booth, Murphy's Law) but it went quite well.

It was a busy, busy day. I enjoyed the treat of a visit from my parents and my brother and his wonderful family, including my two little nephews. Unfortunately, no pictures, because of course I had completely lost my head by this point, plus the booth was really, really busy. It didn't stop until we were breaking down. Literally. Someone asked us about a product as we were packing up, and who can say no to a sale?

Another completely different adventure tomorrow, in the rain it looks like...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

break day three

The last day was a class in graduated dyeing with Kathleen Taylor. The class materials warned us that we would get wet, and she wasn't kidding. We were soaked by the end!

Graduated dyeing produces a yarn that changes over the course of the ball from a dark shade through several progressions to a lighter one. In the skein, it's not so remarkable.

But wind it on a ball winder and the amazing appears!

OK, maybe not so amazing in this case. I had an unfortunate incident with some black dye getting into my rinse pots and greying everything out, plus I may have mismeasured my lengths a bit. The outside color was supposed to be light orangevery different from my normal pink-red-purple color range, but I was hoping for fall colors to memorialize a wonderful Fibre Fallout. My friend Robin used the same dyepots and ended up with a completely different (and more fall-y) result.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of her result or our fun but messy experiment because when I went to get my camera out of my Fibre Fallout bag, I realized that my bag had gone missing. Bear in mind that everyone attending the retreat had been given the same bag... I had a 75% complete beaded shawlette project in the bag as well (more on that project in a few days), and my mind started reeling with the possibility that my bag was in a car and on its way home to parts unknown with someone who had picked it up by accident. I was trying to keep the panic under control and just concentrate on the dyeing, but it was an uphill battle. My distress was shared by everyone there, especially Robin, who had seen me working on the project throughout the weekend and could well empathize with the horror of the situation.

Of course, I eventually found the bag. One of the instructors had scooped it up by accident. But it was a pretty tense class, unfortunately.

The perfect restorative was at hand, thank goodness. (That is, in addition to the joy that was shared by everyone when I found my little prodigal bag... It's truly an uplifting experience when everyone you are with is on the exact same wavelength as you are regarding the important things in life.)

The camp is held at the Johnsonburg Presbyterian Center in a very rural part of northern NJ. It is a gorgeous setting for this retreat. Because our class finished early, Robin and I (with my newly-found bag, which I was not letting out of my sight) decided to go exploring. We found the old chapel, and then we found the labyrinth.

Mere words cannot describe the peace. Both of us walked the hand-set stone pattern, before ending up at the center.

Unfortunately we had not brought our own stone. If you are unsure of the significance, I highly recommend the movie The Way. I should have brought along a boulder to unload.

We kept on exploring until we found the "new" chapel by the lake.

Again, the peace was indescribable. It almost had a weight to it.

Soon after, we loaded the car and were on our way back to the hectic crazy. With any luck, some of that peace will stick with me for a while. The signs aren't too promising so far this week... but maybe if I knit that graduated yarn up, it will help. Knitting always helps.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

break day two

Day two was spinning with Robin Russo from Vermont. Remember the ram we picked up three weeks ago (which is still, sadly, unnamed)? Robin lives next to that shepherd, and as a result works with Coopworth fiber quite frequently. In fact, it was one of the samples she had brought for in the class. What a bonus! I learned even more about our own breed.

We spent the day playing with her extensive collection of hand carders, drum carders, combs and dizzes to explore the differences between the various kinds of fiber prep. In the photo below, we are trying to decode the correct way to use combs, a truly fearsome item of fiber prep. If truth be told, they have always scared me a little, but everyone in the class left with the realization that we each needed our own set!

I had taken a class before about the difference between spinning woolen and worsted, so the foundation was there, but this time it finally clicked. Same thing with ratios on my spinning wheel. When I tried to read and understand books and articles on the subject, it was so much blah blah blah. Thank goodness I have finally grasped that basic information and with any luck it will start to make a difference in my spinning.

We ended up with a neatly organized binder full of samples and notes. At the end of the class, she brought out dyed samples of mohair, silk and alpaca and challenged us to see what we could produce using the carder to blend different fibers together. My blend consisted of white Polwarth (a fine grade wool), lime green alpaca and royal blue silk.

Once I started spinning I couldn't stop until I was done with my little sample batt! I quickly used someone's andean plying tool to wind off the results and plied it up. (An andean plying tool allows you to make a two-ply yarn from one bobbin of single ply, without having to split it up between two different bobbins.)

Gorgeous! It will have to be a little stripe on a hat or something. It is too good not to use.

(Sorry for the crummy picture, yet again. I was all set today to photograph the various items properly with the good camera and natural light. Instead, I ended up having to deal with that unpleasant situation I mentioned yesterday, just as I thought we were out of the woods. Nope.

But I do have a slightly better picture of the fingerless mitt.)

Tomorrow: day three—dyeing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

a much needed break

This week and last have been somewhat hellish due to an untoward event ten days ago. All is well now, but it was very stressful while we got it all sorted. I was scheduled to go away for a retreat this past weekend, and things were so upside-down that I was, once again, convinced that there was no way I could leave. Sound familiar? My LSH, once again, convinced me that I was not single-handedly holding the whole world together, and gently shoved me out the door.

Thank goodness.

The retreat was, just like last time, completely and totally wonderful. (The only fly in the ointment was that my mother couldn't come this time; I went with my friend and fellow shepherd Robin.) The retreat organizers leave no detail unattended. It started when we received these beautiful backpacks:

Inside was a notebook, post it notes, pencil, pen, fiber to spin on a CD spindle, and even retreat-themed M&Ms in fall colors! Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of them before they were eaten.

I mixed it up this time with three different instructors, so I could work on three different skill sets. The first, on Friday afternoon, was more Estonian knitting. I had enjoyed this so much last time, and I wear the resulting headband all the time when I run in the winter. This project didn't disappoint, but I found it much easier since I had already tried some of the techniques.

Sorry about the poor pictures but I grabbed the first camera that came to hand (HA!). Let's try this again, without my hand awkwardly stretched out. The color combo is purple and gold, not something that I would have normally chosen but what was available when I was grabbing class materials in the five minutes before I had to leave on Friday morning. We all agreed, the effect is beautiful!

I will be making several of these as Christmas gifts. They were deceptively easy and fast, and no, that is not entrelac in the wrist. Super cool, right?

Next up: Saturday's activities and results!