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First frost tonite!

"Almost Lost" dishclothsDirk cutting brush
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October 17, 2015

It’s been a long time and a lot of yard work since last I wrote in this blog. Now that the big rush to beat the cold has walked right up to the line, I think—I HOPE—I’m ready to let go of my garden, inherited from Sue, the wife of the previous owner, now in Heaven, and let the garden sleep. Sometimes I talk with her about her plants, which I’m now nurturing, and I hope she approves of my moving things to areas with more sun, since the trees keep growing taller. I haven’t seen any butterflies for quite a while, although honey bees and bumble bees are around daily. Japanese Dogwood has dropped its bumpy pink nickel-sized fruit, and the bees are all over it. My buttefly/honey bee garden has thrived, even in limited sun, and I hope it will come up in spring. The bees are enjoying the hummingbird feeders, so I’ve left them up until the bees go to bed for the winter, too. I know Dick, our neighbor who sells lovely honey from his hives, won’t mind if they have a little extra sugar. I did as I had planned:  when walking the dogs, when they did “no. 2,” I buried it and planted clover seed over and around the area, so I hope in spring, to see little surprise clover patches all around, beside the roads. I saved that clover seed for that express purpose, when I gave away all the left-over rye grass and vetch seed I’d use twice a year to enhance the sheep pasture, to my shepherd-friends!

I miss the security of having an endless supply of manure for my gardens, to mulch things over winter, as well as to keep weeds down in summer. Weeds aren’t such a problem here, since the soil is so poor—sand and rocks, mostly. We’ve been composting all summer, kitchen scraps go right into the flower beds, and Dirk has a small mountain of grass clippings that he keeps turning. I’m actually finding the occasional earthworm, a sign of progress. Yesterday, walking along the Town Beach, I kicked the seaweed, and realized with a shock that I now had all the mulch I wanted! If it was good enough for my Irish ancestors, to fertilize their fields, it’s good enough for me! I had a bucket in the car, so filled that one and brought it home. Today, running right up to the frost threat, I filled three more buckets with seaweed from the beach, where the high tide leaves a line of it. Dirk kindly carried most of it to the car for me—it was pretty light, since it hasn’t rained the past couple days, and it was four hours after high tide. Now when I walk around my bee garden, rose bushes, and Beauty Berry, I smell the tang of the sea 🙂  I hope the cozy blanket will shelter things that haven’t had much time to establish a good root system yet. As a final touch, I swept and raked up several buckets of leaves and dumped those over the most vulnerable plants, inside their small fenced-enclosures. Now I can only hope. Who knew I’d be trading sheep manure for seaweed!

I dug up the iris in two beds over the past month and re-planted it in new beds, with lots of space for it to spread out. I’ve moved my small piece of my great-grandmother Jordan’s peony, which my Dad had moved to Robert Jordan’s yard for safe keeping at least 30 years ago, to a sunny spot. Two of Sue’s peonies, which are competing with shade and tree roots, have also moved to that more sunny flower bed. Today I planted the last plant waiting for me to figure out where to put it—a red rose bush. I needed to move some lilies to do that, so about half of those are in a new garden, also, and mulched with sea weed. After two cold nights, it will get warmer for a week, and I can add a layer of leaves for winter. I’ve covered my flower garden, hoping for that extra week of color. Today I bought some crocus, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs for the spring garden, as well as paper whites to force inside.

I have lots of pots to tend over winter. We picked up some shelves today to stand in a sunny west window. Rosemary, lavender, catnip as well as some flowers are in pots to enjoy. I planted basil seeds around the edge of the rosemary, so maybe I’ll have basil sprouts, along with the pot of oregano which is inside now. I have a bowl of meadow mint tea, trimmed from the plant after dark, while I balanced a spotlight between my knees, to wash and store in the freezer for pitchers of delicious tea over winter. After I picked it, I covered the bed in seaweed, and a bucket of leaves. I’ll put the frozen mint tea leaves beside the bag of frozen basil, to brighten up dreary winter days to come.Since I picked some of the catnip and let the cats all share it, I’m now hearing yowling and scuffling of cats drugged on their favorite herb. I have a catnip plant in a pot, alongside some sprouted corn (they eat the leaves like it was grass) but I doubt it’ll last until Christmas, the way the cats are enjoying it!

Yesterday and today were the Senior Center Bazaar, where a great many people strolled through buying gifts for their family and friends. Our knitting group’s one large area had taken in over $700 the first day, double last year’s earnings! The more knitters there are donating items, the more variety there is, and this is a group of around 30 women, so they had a great many neat creations. My dozen pairs of mittens were all gone but two pairs when I left yesterday! I had also done eight of the “Almost Forgotten Dishcloths,” (thanks, Katie Verna for the pattern!) and some of those went, also. Since I was gardening today, racing to beat the frost, I don’t know the final tally yet.

Our organist/choir director had shoulder surgery recently, and is on the mend, while we sing with a sub. director, who is very skillful, also. Dirk and I miss our a cappella congregational singing of some rousing hymns in the Mennonite tradition. The choir director said she’d like to see our hymnal sometime, and now that she’s mostly resting, we’re bringing her one of her own next week. I’m looking forward to a small hymn-sing as we sing her some of our favorite hymns, and leave her a list of more, along with her own book. I’ve had the sort of sad process of paging through the hymnal making a list of our favorite hymns. I do miss our old church, although we’re very much enjoying our new one, as well.

We celebrated the birthday of one of our neighbors last week, and got to know neighbors all around us. It’s humbling to realize that they all live in homes built in the 1920’s by their grandparents! We’re definitely the new guys on the block. Having my mother’s family’s roots here helps me feel at home, however. I hope, as time goes by, to meet more of my distant cousins. One of the women at church is one of those, having an ancestor who married my ancestor in the late 1700’s. Small world! Our house was also built in the late 1920’s, so the age of the house is the same, but the family line is not.

Now the weather’s getting chilly, my warm-weather hand-spun, hand-knitted items are coming out. People keep petting my cria-alpaca shawl (thanks, Punky, for that windfall of unwanted alpaca!). I wore my purple sweater, last year’s NC State Fair first-prize, with wide cuffs of Elaina’s wool/mohair/angora roving which I spun—and people are petting that, too! There’s something special about spinning my own fiber. People who have only bought wool really don’t know there is such a difference between commercial yarn and the special long-staple, soft, hand-spun. It’s so soft, I can well understand people stroking it, smiling. They tell me about the wool they can’t wear because it’s itchy, and I wouldn’t wear that, either. Feels like steel wool. Sad that there’s not a different name for “wool” to indicate the soft kind. Well—I guess there is: “handspun,” as long as the fiber is evaluated before buying for fine and soft, long-staple wool.

I’ve been bringing my spinning wheel to the town dock in the late afternoons. Some women I know from the knitting group routinely go there to feed the ducks and visit until it starts getting dark. Amazing how early that suddenly has become! They used to sit there and relax until nine in the evening. I think as much about spinning with that group as I would about knitting, but the amazed look on peoples’ faces still tickles me. I’m getting some spinning done in good company, watching sail boats come and go, people sailing by on paddle boards and kayaks, and occasionally a visit by the harbormaster’s police boat. The tide comes and goes, boats rise and fall, water sparkles in the sun, wind blows my roving around, people come, sit and visit, and go again, and the world seems to spin just as it did before we moved to RI, except for the bonus of the salt air—oh, and seaweed!

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Almost Heaven, Wickford, RI…

Michaela, assis. gardener Emily & Maeve by deck garden July 4 LaFayette Band concert on the beach Lafayette Concert Band; Dirk over crutches

July 30, 2015

Two and one-half months in Wickford, RI! Finally this 90 yr. old house with a rather grown-up yard, is becoming an orderly place.

I’m just inside after two hours of digging to plant only two perennials! Purgatory Road is nearby, as is a village called “Hardscrapple.” These names now have great significance to me. In this two hours I collected over a gallon of rocks, and another gallon of sod, some of which is now in the bottom of the garden. I have a bright spot of golden black-eyed Susans (never could get those to grow in NC) and scarlet bee balm. I’ve selected perennials to entice my neighbors’ bees over here to fertilize my cucumbers, tomatoes, sugar peas and peppers.

The temperature here today was 84, and in NC, a steamy 91. Locals here think this weather is intolerably humid, but not to a new transplant from two days’ drive south of here. We haven’t needed A/C. Fans do the trick, plus strategically opening windows in the eve., keeping all fans going. It’s wonderful, waking to a cool house. When the temperature is the same in and out, I close the windows, and this old house stays cool. I hope it will do equally well come winter.

Dirk walks the dogs while I trim, cultivate, water, and plan what trees to delete, or how many branches that grow over the garage or shade the gardens. A magnificent maple tree reigns over the east side of the lawn. Turkeys (four large, seven small) graze bugs from the back yard and I gather long fluffy, striped feathers in the morning. Maeve, the Aussie, plops down on the deck, leaning over he top step, just watching them. Emily, the Great Pyrenees and guardian, eventually allows her curiosity to get the best of her, and creeps across the lawn, quiet and hesitant, to see what these odd intruders are. Ma Turkey fluffs and fans her tail, doubling her size, and Emily stops, uncertain. The turkeys vaporize into the woods. She then tentatively examines their trail, walking where they walked, sniffing. Then, satisfied they pose no threat, pops up her head and trots back up to the deck as if to tell Maeve and me, “See, maybe I have no sheep to protect, but I can still protect you!”

She’s less certain about the scrappy sea gulls that hang out in the evening at Duffy’s Grille, near-by. They have to check out our yard for food, of course. The dogs prefer to duck, rather than fight. Emily once chased a gull that had grabbed her bone, but when the gull fought back, Emily thought better of it and backed off, her bone sailing into the trees. I wonder what the gull did with it—drop it on a breakwater?

My pot garden is giving us vegetables, and next year will be in the ground, instead. All the kitchen compost goes into the gardens, and we’re now finding the occasional earthworm. I do miss the sheep manure—a much faster way to enrich a garden.

Through our church, I found two teens who want to work for a little extra money helping us around the yard. They have been a great help, and I now have two small gardens, one with perennials, and one with plants I brought from NC. I have three kinds of tea, a “beauty bush,” and a holly there, and will add more in time. The tea I planted here last fall is still there, but not doing well, since it’s in the shade. Soon I’ll move it, but I still have things in pots to plant first. One of the teens took the hedge trimmer to the front privet hedge, and it looks much better. When the trimmer hit the extension cord, it shorted out the circuit, and ended their two hours of work here in any case. Dirk worked on it today, too, so now it’s nearly done. “More to go,” as always. I guess if we were going to name our new house, it would be something like that. There’s no end to poison ivy, although there’s much less, “weed-maples” that have shot up everywhere and are smothering themselves, and other interesting weeds that are obviously invasive, whatever they are, among them bittersweet, which is pulling down a tree in the back yard. It responds well to pruning, plus Round-Up on the cut stump, as I learned in a NC Forestry workshop.

The RI Spinners’ Guild went to Foster, RI,’s Old Home Week, and I had the privilege of sitting down with Earl Hopkins and hearing family stories about my Jordan and Boswell cousins, while his granddaughter (part-owner of Shady Acres Restaurant, where my father ate for many years) served up strawberry shortcake for the benefit of the Baptist Church. That was such a treat! Finally I’m back in home country. Dirk and I wandered the Town Green, checked out the 4-H sheep of many different breeds, the many food stands from a variety of local churches, grange, Masons, and others. It was a fine two days! Oh, and we ate clam cakes and “chow-dah!”

Dirk is playing French Horn in both the LaFayette Community Band in Wickford, and in the South County Band in Wakefield. As a result, we have two concerts a week to attend, sitting by the water in both places, and I visit with friends whose spouses are also in band. I’ve been bringing Emily, the Pyr’s, brushed fur and a drop spindle from a lapis bead along, and have now one large ball of washed, plied yarn completed, and am working on the next. The concert season ends in a couple weeks, so I’d better keep spinning, since her fur production is ahead of my ability to spin it all so far! She’s getting combed regularly, as is Maeve, so even though we need to vacuum daily, most of it is captured in bags awaiting spinning. There are also Tues. eve. concerts on the Wickford Town Wharf, which are eclectic—I much prefer Dirk’s bands! But the spinning comes along in any case. It’s delightful to be comfortable sitting outside at a concert in the early evening. A NC friend said it sounds like Heaven—and, you know, it’s close!

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Spinning workshop, and Preparing to move away… March, 2015

Giving things away

Giving things away

I’ve been going through corners in the garage again this morning, combining things, deciding who to give things to.

Fire’s burning this a.m. in a cool rain—cozy. The fire wood is a lot of branches that have fallen in the woods, which I’ve dragged up for Dirk to saw, if they’re too big for me to break up. They make just as much warmth as  real firewood, and it’s free!

Tye, Mira, Sindry, Judy, Mineko

Tye, Mira, Sindry, Judy, Mineko

I had a spinning workshop the first weekend in March, with four students. The two who live near-by are already interested in joining the spinning guild, and one has bought a wheel (my Majacraft Suzie, one of my first and favorite wheels), and the other is shopping for one. It’s so rewarding to teach people to spin, and watch them get into the guild for ongoing inspiration and support in their new craft.

Our move to RI will be in about 1 1/2 months. I realize, as I give things away, that I’m drawing a line between what I used to do, used to be able to do (wallpapering, for example), and deciding which of my friends might use some of these old things. We don’t need to downsize, since the house is a similar size in RI, but I won’t have a garage beside the house to reach out and get things from. All those things have to go somewhere, and much of it will be in the basement, after I give away a good deal more. Going through old pictures, cards and letters—what a lot of people have sent me those over the years. I feel humbled, and wonder if I returned the favor. Twenty-three years of memories from this home I’m packaging in boxes, memories of activities of my now-adult children, of vacations, of a flock of sheep, of shepherd friends, and many years of assisting with shearing, mine and others’. Things I’ve given away, I’d held in my own care, gathering dust, in many cases. I’m feeling lighter knowing others now can use those things, which I had held on to, “just in case.” We’ve been careful and done without all these years, and I’ve watched others older and wiser than me, who had done likewise, and “aged out” at home, which is what we choose to do, also. Irene, who died at 90, was at home until her last month of life, when cancer, which none of her friends knew she had, brought her near-death. Hospice couldn’t help because she lived alone, so she went, briefly, to a horrible nursing home, and for the last 2 weeks, UNC’s cancer hospital, then to a Hospice home. She was comfortable those last 2 weeks, and I don’t think she was aware where she was or who was with her. If God is good, Dirk and I will be able to live in our North Kingstown home for the rest of our lives, also.

Making the home more simple, thanks to giving lots of things away, is a good way to prepare for that life, as we are older, I can’t climb the ladder to put up my own wallpaper now, so I’ll give away the equipment to someone who can do so. Letting go is hard, because I’m confronting my new, gradually increasing, loss of ability to do anything I chose to do. Now, I have to choose what I can do, how much of that I can do, and how much I need to let others do for me. That feels embarrassing, needing to ask for help, when I’ve always been the helper. I feel vulnerable and frightened. Letting go of things, I’m pondering how to let go of that attitude, also.

With that comes the fear that I won’t be able to find anyone to be my helper, and that eventually I won’t be able to afford to pay someone.  Since my income is fixed, and the cost of living constantly rises, in 15 years, I’ll have lost 1/2-3/4 of my income, just by the way the world works.I can’t advance the clock, to know how all this will work out, but I do know I’m moving to a cold place, equipped with lots of wool to make things with, to trade for services rendered, as much as I can. Instead of dollar amounts, I’ll need to put HOUR amounts on what I’ve made, and trade for services.(Wish me luck…) In the meantime, I sit in front of the wood stove, and relax in the warmth, and am thankful I can make things of beauty from my wool and mohair, remembering each sheep with their individual personalities, as I spin their wool.

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First six months without sheep; preparing to move north

When we had sheep, they kept the fences clear. Now the birds enjoy the shelter.

When we had sheep, they kept the fences clear. Now the birds enjoy the shelter.

June, 2014 to Jan., 2015

Long walk in the woods, 1 1/2 mi.

Long walk in the woods, 1 1/2 mi.

This morning I captured a chipping sparrow away from Boots and Liam, and released it to the suet block. It shook itself and flew off, thank goodness. The two rescued stray cats run between my legs, or walk under Emily, the Pyr’s stomach, and move out the door with her. If I haven’t succeeded in re-homing them before we move, they may die on RI Rt. 1, which runs right in front of our home there.

Those who keep carnivores as pets need to be prepared to deal with carcasses of helpless small creatures pets consider their rightful prey. Last week it was a possum in the garage, probably after dog food—the 20-pound bags were tossed all around but not spilled…The dogs got the poor thing. Liam the cat had slipped out at midnight when I took the dogs out for their last walk, so I left the garage door ajar. Fortunately the possum didn’t come through the doggie door into the house! Life seems so complicated sometimes. Was the possum dead, or playing possum? I waited an hour to pick it up, then left it in the hole uncovered the rest of the day, dogs inside, to be sure it wasn’t going to just walk away, which I have seen them do. Not this time. A couple days before that I opened the back door to feed the birds and found remains of a squirrel on the rug, and a mouse a couple days later.

Woke this am. to find a raccoon “treed” in the firethorn on the back deck. Two dogs in the yard provides high risk for the night visitors… Maeve, our Aussie, has killed two raccoons this past summer, and is the best-rabies-immunized dog in the neighborhood. When I called for help, hoping NC Wildlife would come and trap the raccoons and take them somewhere, the employee advised me to take in the bird seed at night to discourage their coming here, and after two weeks, that did work. They don’t move raccoons, since they might be incubating rabies. I, of all people, should know that. I did a Masters’ paper on wildlife rabies, costs to NC when it got here, and oral rabies vaccine for wild things to control rabies exposures to pets and people. Nights are quieter in the house, too, since Emily barks with great volume and enthusiasm at possums or raccoons on the deck in the night. She’s shut in, but we have doors with windows to the floor, and she keeps watch. It’s her job, in her mind, to protect us from wild things who invade her territory. She’s done a great job of it over the years, also. We’ve never had coyotes in our pasture, killing our lambs or sheep, as many of my friends have suffered. Large farms require multiple Great Pyrenees or similar guardian dogs, to keep predators out.

Jan., 2015
A New Year, and still recovering from the surgical repair of damage done in the accident last April. I guess healing always takes longer than they lead you to expect.

We’ll move to RI in the summer, so we’re going through cupboards and closets, as well as boxes in the garage, to see what we’ve stashed, and wondering why we kept these things! I’m donating a great many things to friends who will use them, or organizations who will—for example wallpaper rolls from houses dating back 45 years—perfectly fine to use on a loom to keep the threads from tangling. I’m keeping a little of each to remember, and I’ll use it in weaving in the future, also. Common Thread in Sanford is a weaving workshop with many women volunteering to spend some mornings at donated looms, making rugs, tote bags, dish towels, table runners, place mats, etc., for sale both in the shop and at craft shows far and wide. Proceeds go to womens’ support organizations, such as Interact. They also compete in the Lee County Fair, have a wall full of prize ribbons, and the prize money also goes back into the organization. My box of old wallpaper will go there, since each loom requires a roll of wallpaper, and it wears out eventually, of course.

I’m spinning up great amounts of wool that is not from my best fleeces, just to condense the amount of bulk somewhat. Yarn takes much less space than wool. I’ve started an afghan for us to keep this time, which will have sheep and Australian Shepherd dogs (in their own fur) knitted in with the design. I’m still hoping to find a Great Pyrenees dog pattern to knit in, but so far, no luck. There is no hurry with this project. If we were not moving, I’d be aiming to have it ready to compete in the Carolina FiberFest in early April, but we’ll probably be very busy then, as moving time will be getting near, so I don’t plan to enter anything this year. I will be there to watch the sheep dog herding demonstration, and sit and spin with my friends in the Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild circle, however.

The pasture seems so empty and still, the fences covered with stilt grass, sheltering birds over winter. Emily, the Pyr, goes out to the back pasture every day on patrol, as she always has, keeping an eye on what predators may be threatening her acres. We miss the sheep, but our arthritic joints do not. Each year it got harder to clear gutters so water could run away from the barn, to trim hooves, move hay and grain down the hill to the barn, and keep things down there relatively tidy. It was great exercise, and that we do miss. Walking the dogs a mile up the road has to do now as a substitute, and the dogs enjoy it as much as we do. Emily used to live in the pasture only, unless the sheep were up grazing in the yard, when she came, also. Now she can explore the neighborhood, on a leash of course, but she loves reading the signs night critters have left along the road and on the woods trails we walk with them. We’re wondering where in RI we’ll find the same opportunity to walk with the dogs in the woods—we’ll have time later to look, but it will be much colder in winter there.

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Filed under Aging, Birds, cats, community, Compromises, dogs, dogs and cats, Family, Friendship, gardening, Grief, Healing, Health, Homespun yarn, sheep, spinning, Weather, wildlife

Roses

 

 

 

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IMG_1269May 22, 2013

I stand in a cloud of roses, the fragrance delightful, cutting roses for new bushes for my daughter, for a bouquet for a neighbor recovering from shoulder surgery, for myself in the kitchen, and the spent blooms filled 1/2 bucket for the sheep. It’s been raining, and the rose has burst forth this week, and is now my joyful annual waterfall of blooms. After I cut all those flowers, it looks as full of blooms as it had before I started. Amazing, such abundance.

As I pick, I see buds with outer petals beginning to curl out, just about to burst forth, the ones just flowered with the yellow stamens inside and a cloud of fragrance, the wilting ones, the ragged ones chewed on by squirrels who didn’t like the taste, the wilted ones with petals raining down, and the rose hips, flowers gone, stamens brown and dry, as their blooming time is done.

The long stems with only one bloom, with 7 leaves on the stem, are the strongest. Those I cut to dip in root starter for a new bush for my daughter. I hope at least one will survive. I put 6-7 in a container to bring up the road with me in 2 weeks. The wide open blooms smell lovely, and I imbibe their fragrance as I move among the blooms on a bush taller than I am, and wider than the span of my arms. If you were an ancient royal family and wanted a “natural” border around your property, this would do it! In just a few years it would be an impenetrable barrier to anyone who tried to enter. Even a sheep or goat would get caught in the thorns.

Wilted blossoms get clipped, and dropped in my bucket for the sheep to feast on this evening. Dirk got stampeded by our two sheep this evening as he approached the barn. Their sense of smell for good greens is fantastic. They knew what he had in that bucket long before he got to the barn! They immediately dug in to the feast of rose blossoms and leaves, and the lovely hips with all the vitamin C we also desire for jam. Except I’m not into making jam.

Are we not like roses, as it says in the Bible, that they last only a short time but are lovely in their time, and when they go by, they nourish the ground, and linger in our memories, pictures of them appearing in cards I print for special occasions all year. My roses will first perfume my deck and kitchen, then nourish my sheep, and later, the vegetable garden, where all the barn compost goes eventually. A time for everything… to bloom, to wilt, and to nourish, and round and round…

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Spinning workshop in May

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May 18-19, 2013

Another workshop, and three more spinners out in the world to enjoy creating with wool, alpaca, silk, or dog/cat hair. Add a little sparkle, some colorful mohair and your skein has some personality! I’ll put in a couple pictures for you, but you’d have to be here to really enjoy it. When someone said they were used to having music on all the time, I pulled out my iPhone and played music from some of my favorite Gaelic musicians from Nova Scotia, great for keeping the rhythm of a spinning wheel. You can see from the expressions of success and a skein of lovely fiber the products of the weekend: competence in an old skill which can be very relaxing, and a way to create lovely things no one has ever thought of before. They have an entry category at the NC State Fair for new spinners, a year or less. Maybe some of my new spinners will have skeins to enter in that competition this year. It would not be the first time 🙂 And all those handfuls of fluff that were blowing around the floor on Sunday evening, many of those will become birds’ nesting material, or mulch for flowers that need to have cool roots in spite of the steamy summers.

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Terri on Kromski, Deborah on Lendrum, Regan on Majacraft, spinning

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Feb. 8, 2013

We just hosted another enjoyable weekend spinning workshop. The weather was lovely, so we had good drying weather for fleeces and dyed fiber to dry outside. One of the new spinners brought along lots of Kool-Aid to use for dying wool, and created some lovely hand-painted creations which she later spun into designer yarn on her drop spindle. Each spinner designed a colorful batt (note the yarn they’re spinning in the picture) with an assortment of fibers and colors, and some angelina to add sparkle. They went home with a small skein spun on the drop spindle, and a much larger skein they spun on various spinning wheels during the weekend, including wool, alpaca, silk, and mohair, plus a little cotton, which is short and always a challenge at the very end of the weekend, so they can use their experience to work with it effectively. I consider the weekend a success when people find something they enjoy, whether it’s a certain wheel, or dying fiber with Kool-Aid, or learning how to make a puni of the cat or dog hair they bring along, and spin it into yarn. 

This week I bundled up and mailed two projects I just finished for friends in cold places. A good friend in PA will receive the shawl, and a cousin with recent health issues will receive the afghan. I enjoy having colorful and warm wool, mohair and (white shawl trim) Great Pyrenees fur to make yarn that will be cozy for friends and family. The weather will continue to be cold for a while (Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog, said so during our workshop) so I’ll continue to enjoy knitting warm woolies for my special family and friends.

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Black has died; Vanity Fair has arrived

We just buried Black at the country cemetery where half our flock now resides.

Dirk mowed the lower right quarter yesterday, and it smells like a sweet fresh hay field. Suzie probably went out there early this a.m., and Black, enticed by the fragrance of fresh greens, followed her. Dirk went out around 11 to check on them, and found Black, down, in that field, Black who never left the barn unless we herded him out to shade under cooler trees in this grueling hot weather. We got him on his feet and he took a few steps back toward the barn (he was lying in the sun by then). We got to the brick walk, and he went down again. I called the Paredes family across the street and 3 of them came over to help us lift him and carry him back into the barn using a tarp we’d slipped under him as a hammock. Within an hour or so, he had died. I put a ginger snap in the side of his mouth, and he just ignored it. I dribbled a few drops of water in his mouth and he pulled back, just breathing hard, not aware of much else. I scratched his head, around his ears, scratched him down the sides of his neck which he used to like, and told him what a great sheep he was. He was the lamb who found an azalea bush and ate some, and we nearly lost him at the age of six weeks. A whole day of hourly fluids syringed into his mouth, alternated with Neutradrench, very sweet and loaded with the B-vitamins, stress vitamins sheep need when they’re challenged, and by 4 p.m. he was grazing, and I knew he’d made it.

This time he is at the end of his long life, 13 years–over a hundred in human time. Dirk and I stood by for a while, but there was nothing we could do for him. I even put the fresh leaf from a rose I’d just cut in his mouth, but he didn’t know it was there. We laid him to rest soon after in our little woodland cemetery, where half our flock of sheep now lie.

Suzie, the Romney, now age 15 and spry, the first lamb born here, is baaing, going from one pasture corner to another (Dirk has been mowing stilt grass to allow that) and baaing some more, looking for another sheep. A sheep without other sheep is nothing. They need others like themselves to feel content and secure–not so different than people. Emily the Pyr doesn’t spook her one bit, but she does not qualify for a sheep in Suzie’s world.

Dirk and I have been harvesting ferns, branches, vines, rose leaves, raspberry leaves… all the invasive plants the sheep used to keep under control that are now running wild around the edges of our yard, so they get a bundle of greens every day, and the bicarb sits out there with the mineral salts with garlic & kelp. They prefer the greens to their feed and alfalfa, and they get a couple ginger snaps every evening, a special treat. Black was getting an ASA occasionally, since arthritis was his major problem–that and his 13 years, which I could not do much about but spoil him, which we did.

I had talked with Elaina months ago about a sheep or two she wasn’t going to breed again that she could let us “board” to keep Suzie company when the time came. We drove the 30 miles to church still grieving our loss. After church we drove to Efland to pick up Elaina’s five year-old white Shetland named Vanity Fair. She’s white, with a beautiful soft coat of wool, and she’s wearing a red halter. She’s failed as a breeder three times, so she was going to leave the place one way or another. Elaina lifted her into the car, with newspapers already padding the floor. She dozed between my knees in the back of the Prias all the way home.

Suzie knew we had another sheep here as soon as we opened the car. Even before we walked the Shetland around the car to head for the field, Suzie was making the little bleating sounds a mother sheep makes to a lamb: a  totally unexpected response–she’s never even been bred! She made that little wickering sound I heard Perquita, a special sheep who died at 17,  make when she was in labor, as we walked all the way down the driveway to the barnyard gate, Vanity Fair dancing around as far from us as she could get on her halter and line. Dirk had tied Emily to prevent further drama. They can get together through the gate and become acquainted. We, all four, walked down the hill to the barn. Suddenly Suzie wasn’t so sure she wanted to share her space with a stranger. We put down two feed dishes, there were two hay baskets already down with alfalfa ready to eat. Dirk divided up the green branches he had trimmed and put in a bucket of water earlier in the day, and I put some of the feed for Vanity Fair in both dishes, and some of ours in both. Suzie had been butting Vanity with her head, telling the newcomer her feed was Suzie’s, and Suzie’s feed was also Suzie’s–so the second dish. Now they went back and forth, eating out of both dishes. Dirk took some pictures which I emailed Elaina to let her know Vanity was safely installed in our barn.  Suzie at last check was lying down in a corner of the barn, and Vanity was near the gate, wondering if she could go home now. She’s accustomed to a flock of 20 or so, and she feels the solitude, also. Kelly, another friend, also has an older sheep to let us “board” as long as Suzie lives, so she won’t be alone, and then we can bring them back to their old homes. In an emergency situation, good friends are the best medicine ever.

Black was very arthritic, but other than that had never seen a vet, and didn’t have any other health problems–except 13 years. He was so sweet and gentle that when future spinners came for a weekend, I could always walk up to him for students to scratch around his ears and look at his beautiful soft, crimpy fleece. We’ll both really miss him, but are also glad he won’t suffer any longer with those arthritic joints.

Now maybe we can graze our sheep in the yard again. They were only up once last year, and about once or twice the year before that. Deborah and Black both were arthritic, and couldn’t get around very well.

Now the pasture is lively. Suzie loves to graze, and is out in the pasture most of the day now with Vanity around somewhere in the same quarter. Each of them is content knowing the other is there.

I feel comfortable that all’s well with a new population in the barn. I feel guilty that just losing Black, I’m also relieved to have a young sheep here again, like Black was once, to run around the pasture. I feel heavy with grief, and then I’m chuckling with joy, all in the same day. I’ll go to bed early this night.

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Filed under Aging, community, Compromises, dogs, Friendship, Grief, Healing, sheep, spinning workshops

Fiber arts guild activities that build our community

Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild in Raleigh, NC created and assembled 12″ squares made by 30 different women to give a guild member with cancer

Our spinning guild is a large group, about 60 individuals per month attending various meetings in different locations, which I started in our living room about 16 years ago. I know most of the people who attend. We’re a serendipitous group with related interests, although most people specialize in individual skills–such as making fiber dyes from natural materials (of no interest at all to me), some grow fiber animals, some buy the fiber to spin, or grow cotton and process it themselves (also of absolutely no interest to me). But it’s a big world, even among fiber enthusiasts… we all have complimentary skills, and support one another through veterinary complexities, tornado strikes and cancer, among other things.

Attached is a picture of a secret healing afghan (in progress) for a guild member recently diagnosed with cancer. Each square is from one of the Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild members, in fiber and design of their choice:

wool, mohair, angora, pet fur, alpaca, probably some silk or cotton blends. Some are knitted, some crocheted, one woven, in an infinite combination of stitches and colors. Each is unique, and each square has a note on the back with good health wishes for our friend. Handspun Shetland yarn to edge the squares and do the border was donated by one of our guild members who doesn’t crochet (but she does knit and weave). I also coordinated two earlier afghans four and eight years ago for guild members, and they have both been successfully treated, and continue to belong to our guild.

Projects like this build community, as we nurture a friend experiencing adversity. I called for help the day my husband was to be discharged from the hospital after breaking his hip. Snow was predicted the next evening, and wood he had split before he fell was scattered around the wood pile, waiting to be moved to the deck and stacked. We frequently lose power, and our wood stove is our only heat in that case. That next day, before the snow fell, I had a committee of six arrive after breakfast to move and stack wood, and after lunch, another work crew arrived, bringing a husband or two along, who split more wood, and moved it all to the deck and stacked and covered it for me. What a blessing!

Come shearing time in spring, those of us with flocks of sheep or Angora goats can expect a few helping hands to manage skirting, bundling and labeling fleeces, holding a lamb while its mother has her haircut, dragging and pushing a ram or billy goat from its pen to the shearing area, or handing a pre-filled syringe of tetanus vaccine to the shepherd.

You can find us on Yahoo groups–just do a search for the name of the guild. If you’re in the Triangle area of NC, or visiting here on a guild meeting day, I hope you can join us sometime for a meeting. The calendar is on the group site, after you enroll to the email list. We enjoy hearing about activities of guilds in other parts of the fiber-world.

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Filed under Aging, community, Crocheting, Friendship, Healing, Health, knitting, Satisfaction, sheep, spinning

Hip replaced again–not metal; recovery–reading, gardening, patience…..


Feb. 19, 2012

I haven’t written in the blog for a while as I recover from major surgery. My metal-on-metal hip replacement had caused “metallosis” in my joint, similar to the lungs of metal-workers not wearing masks. The balloon of fluid  grew to obstruct circulation to one leg, which swelled progressively over 2 months. An ER visit eventually pin-pointed the problem (two of my regular doctors were consulted first–no clue). So back in mid-December I had the metal parts removed, and now have ceramic and plastic, which seems to be the “standard issue.” Turns out Johnson & Johnson have been aggressively marketing this DePuys hip in this country, since it’s been removed from the market in countries where they keep a nationwide database on implanted medical devices. With all we pay in this country, we keep no national statistics like this. After the surgery, I had time to skim Google, and in no time found two meta-analyses of data on this type of hip from Switzerland and the UK, both of which do keep nationwide records. They provide insurance for everyone there, so it benefits citizens, as well as their country’s economy, to keep people well. In this country, be contrast, profit is everything. Since medical device companies can now provide lobby money (bribes) to not only law-makers, but also our Supreme Court justices, citizens in this country receive care that would not be tolerated in nations who provide insurance for all. Am I angry? You bet. Had I happened to be living in Canada, for example, where they also have insurance for everyone, and keep nationwide records, I would not have had this type of hip replacement since they’d had considerable trouble with it, and had stopped using it the year before mine was inserted, here. About 15% or more metal-on-metal hips need to be removed in less than 5 years. Now, why didn’t my doctor at Duke know about this from the conferences he must have attended each year? Data goes back at least 15 years documenting  the serum collection in the hip causing the muscles to be pushed out of place and thinned as they stretch around 2 pints or so of liquid that doesn’t belong there. In my case there was also the development of granulomas around each nano-sized piece of metal, destroying both muscle and bone.  My blood stream sports cobalt and chromium levels hundreds of times higher than normal, which is nearly zero, and no one knows the long-term effects of this. I wore a brace for 2 months, and will be on hip precautions for the rest of my life. I’m walking with a cane nearly 3 months after the surgery and still taking a small amount of pain medication. That’s why I haven’t added to the blog.

I haven’t been able to do very much but read, walk, and knit. I’ve watched my gardens grow up in weeds, the crocuses fighting for light. I’ve developed some long-handled tools, since I can’t bend over. The first was a steak knife duct-taped to an old broom handle, with which I could saw off the tap root on weeds after I’d loosened the dirt around them with a 4-pronged cultivator on a long handle. It took 2 weeks to fill a cat litter plastic can with those small weeds–extremely frustrating, and painful after only 20-30 min. because of the torque I was giving back and hip. The doctor refused to order PT at first because he was afraid even gentle exercise would dislocate the hip. I begged for PT and OT after 5 weeks, and finally he allowed it. They came to the house for only 2 visits each, since I had a visit with the doctor the following week, and he ordered the brace off, and said I could flex the hip slightly more, up to 70º so that I could drive, sort of, still leaning far back, and sitting on a high cushion. To my dismay, I learned that I had been doing far more than either of them advised with the restrictions he’d placed. Since I had not been allowed PT/OT, I had no way to know that, and tried to moderate my gardening within the “don’t bend, don’t sit” rule. Turns out the one I wasn’t aware of was, “don’t twist!” After doing the prescribed walking, and seeing all my gardens neglected, I decided if I could walk I could use a rake and cultivator, so set to work, a little at a time, to do enough work that I wasn’t leaning over the railing on the deck and sobbing in frustration. I didn’t want to disturb my husband, who works from home. When he thinks I need something, he’s right there, and I couldn’t have him sacrificing his work for my flower gardens. He’s been very supportive, but after 2 months of this dependency, I really do feel like a burden. My feeling, not his.

The the 5-pound “spica brace” I wore for 2 months, 24/7, including having to put it right back on, soaking wet, it after I’d washed it in the shower. It does not come apart–no spare parts to wash and wear. It takes more than 9 hours to dry, whether on a sunny day when I spent most of the afternoon outside, or a cold day, when I turned round and round in front of the wood stove, changing towels under the wet brace about every 15-30 minutes, blotting it somewhat from the inside. By bedtime it was still damp. I found not a single experienced person to tell me how to wash the brace–the sales person suggested spraying it with lysol or covering the smell with scented powder. I also have asthma, so neither of those would have worked. After the brace started smelling like an unwashed street person, those remedies would not have removed the emanations. The only time for two months that I went out was to doctors’ appointments. I wore some elegant muu-muus given to me by an elderly friend some years ago. She’s now gone, but I thanked her every day for those gowns to cover the brace. Clothes of any sort were out.

I’ve been so distracted with struggling with daily activities and pain that I haven’t even written anything since the surgery. I had started working on a story for the Creative Nonfiction Journal 6 months ago, which I continued working on and submitted that a month after the surgery, well before deadline, but I haven’t been able to free my mind from these daily struggles to create. Maybe this blog entry will be the key to open my mind to the world of words again.

I’ve done lots of reading, however. I’ve started going along the shelves of my own library here, beginning with some very old books that were my mother’s, and just getting lost in another world. I’m now nearly done with Gene Stratton Porter’s “Girl of the Limberlost,” an early environmental critique about saving swamps and wildlife from farming and oil wells, with excellent character development. Taylor Caldwell’s “Tender Victory,” 3 books about the Trapp Family Singers, including the last one, “Maria,” a memoir by–yes, Maria von Trapp. That was a positive experience, as she, the elder mother, reflected on mistakes she’d made over the years, and decisions she’d made to continue a productive life when the children grew up and moved on, and the singing group dissolved. Frank Slaughter’s “Daybreak” was sad, about psychiatric care in the ’50’s, methods, successes and failures–and a final positive ending to bring it together on a positive note. “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert is a Holly Springs Library book club reading this month. This topic reminded me of readings in the last 2 Trapp books, when they’d visited this former prison island of leprosy patients in Hawaii, the book covering 80 of the 100 years before sulfa drugs came along to cure leprosy. Still piled beside the bed are a Pearl Buck story about her father, “Fighting Angel,” Elizabeth Gouge’s “Green Dolphin Streeet,” and “Intern,” by Dr. X. And when I’ve completed that stack of old friends, Sue Grafton’s latest, “V is for Vengeance” awaits (a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law), as well as the book my daughter in CT sent me at Christmas, which I’m enjoying a little at a time, Michelle Edwards’ “A Knitter’s Home Companion.” So if I’m not writing, I really am reading.

Also I’m knitting. I figure if I have to tote a high-density foam pillow wherever I go because I can’t sit on a “regular” chair (remember–only 70 degree flexion–not the 90 degrees I’d have to do in a chair–the risk of dislocation of the new hip is high because of the damaged muscle the doc needed to remove, and the remaining muscle stretched to ribbons around the large sack of water in the joint–so no flexion…) I made the pillow case a pretty one–knitted a round lace doily from the Austrian lace pattern book a friend gave me when we were in Styer some years back, the graph pattern translated by a German knitter in our H. S. knitting group. I’ve knitted 2 pr. of socks in lace for myself, knitted wool roving slippers for a friend, a scarf for a niece, Christmas bell ornaments for my own “steel magnolias,” friends who have been strong and resilient helping me recover. I’m working on my 8th hat for the New Hill knitting charity project, have completed two more baby sweaters for friends at church, one in my own wool, in case one of the families wants to be more “natural” than acrylic “throw-it-in-the-washer” sweaters.

I hope I’ll be able to spin before long–I do miss that “therapy” of repetitive motion, and the soft fiber flowing through my fingers into yarn. I’m very glad I had a great deal of yarn spun before this surgery so I could entertain myself as I recover. Shearing is coming along in about 2 weeks, and I’d like to have a workshop on that weekend, if I can be on my feet enough to manage. We’ll see…

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Filed under Aging, community, Compromises, gardening, Health system, knitting, spinning, spinning workshops, Writing