Monday, December 31, 2007

Into 2008

I am starting to believe in the power of publishing one's New Year's resolutions for all of one's blog readers to see.

My top resolution for 2007 was:

"Do everything within my own personal power to make 2007 not suck."

Toward that end, I managed to at least face, if not conquer, most of the resolutions on last year's list, and indeed, 2007 sucked a great deal less than 2006.

Going back to my 2007 New Year's post, I can report that:

I have lost five pounds, not twenty. But hey: five is five.

Closets have indeed been cleaned. All but the tool closet, anyway. One must be realistic. A good deal of junk, obsolete computer components, paperback novels, ill-fitting clothing and other miscellany have either found new lives as garage sale merchandise, or as charitable donations.

I have not read (or re-read) one classic book each month, but I have managed one per season: Origin of Species early in 2007, Pride and Prejudice in the summer, Walden in the fall, and, this month, the poems of Robert Frost.

Speaking of whom, I was saddened today to read in the news of vandals breaking into and damaging Robert Frost's historic home. The vandals apparently thought that breaking into the home and using the antique wicker furniture for firewood was a good way to celebrate the holiday weekend. Barfing in the parlor also occurred. Police believe it was a group of juveniles.

I hope they catch the brats who trashed Frost's place. Their behavior speaks of a combination of self-indulgence and abject stupidty that makes me want to spank them and spank their parents.

Extra licks for the parents.

I've loved Frost since adolescence, and I have two favorite quotes:

"A civilized society is one that tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity."

and:

"The best way out is through."

The lofty goal of "better understanding finances" was simplified to "better organizing finances," and progress was made toward that end.

The ridiculously lofty goal of "stop trying to be all things to all people" has been abandoned. That one might require therapy. Or more yarn. We shall reconsider.

The humble goal of taking multivitamins and calcium each day: accomplished on most days. Likewise with the drinking more water resolution. Eating healthier leaves something to be desired but we're eating a lot less in the take-out and frozen dinner division than we were in the aftermath of Katrina, so that's progress.

Getting to bed earlier. Not so much. Still working on the insomnia and also on the not trying to be Superwoman thing, so midnight laundry still prevails chez Mambocat.

Career goals: getting my consulting business off the ground has been bumpy, but it's still happening. Happening on a smaller scale than I would like, but happening.

Creative goals: getting patterns ready for sale: that's starting to happen, albeit very late in the year.

Spend more time with friends and family. Yes. Not as much as I'd like, but I've had more of that, especially real-life face time.

Flossing daily? Maybe not so much. But more often? Yes.

Walking outdoors each day? I was really good about this when it was not raining or blistering hot, but not so much once summer kicked in. Either way, at least I walked outdoors more often, especially in the spring and fall. Still, I'm doing one hour on the treadmill at the YMCA twice a week, regardless of weather, and at least one outdoor walk per week.

Stash organizing? Major progress. Not in any kind of spreadsheet-and-labels way that other people can understand, but in terms of household tidiness and being (mostly) out of sight when not in use, great progress has been made.

Buying less yarn? Admittedly, my real goal was not to buy every single skein of yarn that made me go "ooooh." And I have been prettty good in that respect.

In 2007 I accomplished some big things. In New Orleans, Mom's house is repaired. Here at home, I have started selling my handspun at the arts market (on the creative front) and I am also close to launching some patterns along with Lisa Louie (creative front also) and I am trying to get my consulting business going (on the work front). Dave is doing better, I've been in touch with friends and family more often, I've visited my dear friend Leef, and I am taking better care of myself.

And you, dear readers? What's high on your list for 2008? I've found that reachable goals are highly motivating. What are some of yours?

Happy New Year to you all! May 2008 bring wonderful things to each and every one of you.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Okay. I'll Wear The Hat.

But You Will Pay.

"Okay. I will wear this stupid, ratty, Santa Claws hat. I will wear it for exactly fifteen seconds and then I will try to shred it, as many cats before me have attempted, ever since you knitted it in a moment of cabernet-induced inspiration. Even cats know that you should never actually do something if you think it is a good idea when you are drinking...

...and, by the way, you have seven seconds left ... so you better take a picture."







And so it was done, the annual Cat-in-The-Santa-Claws-hat picture, and thank you very much, Annie. It was your turn, after all. Bella was Santa Claws last year.

So it's Christmas Eve.

Our little tree is decorated in the living room, and outside, due to the lack of a hard freeze so far this year, Plantzilla remains robust, so she has been adorned with lights ....





...and the picture above is maybe a great excuse for someone to hint at my husband that all I want for my too-close-to-Xmas birthday is a tripod, so I can do night shots with a long exposure without it looking like I have had maybe too much of the Bailey's.


Knitting is done, except for Dave's vest, which he will have to get on Boxing Day. Years, ago, we adopted the fine tradition of Boxing Day, on the 26th, to begift one another and to begift friends.

Mom's pullover is done and wrapped. Why do garments look so awful on hangers? Sigh. But a hanger will have to do for display purposes, as I have no Mom-like model and this is a surprise. It's done in a superwash wool for easy care and casual wear:




And gifts are wrapped, with a little help from Bella and maybe also from the aforementioned Bailey's. In the photo below, Bella is inspecting some of my handspun.

It's so easy for a knitter who spins to think of something to give to other knitters. Knitters never whine and say, "but you gave me yarn last year!"





And best of all, two years and four months after Katrina, Mom's house is done, inside and out. That is a long time to wait for your house to be fixed, but it's done. There are a few window screens left to paint and to re-screen, and a few other little details remain, but Mom's house is essentially finished, down to the exterior paint job:



The color is called, "Enchanted Sea," and I'm quite fond of it. If you're not from the area, you may not know that many New Orleanians paint wooden houses in bright, cheerful colors -- cerulean blue, hyacinth, carnation pink, mango orange, you name it. It's a local tradition, and so much more interesting than the whites and neutral colors you see in so many other cities. There is also an old New Orleans belief that bright blue keeps evil spirits away (particularly when applied to the front door). You'll find this belief among the Gullah people in the American Southeast as well.

So I'm relaxed and happy this Christmas Eve. We had gumbo for dinner, the cats got treats and catnip, and I got most of my knitting done. I've talked to lots of friends and family on the phone. I am as done as I'm going to get.

Happy Christmas. Thanks for being a reader. I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday and that Santa leaves you sacks full of yarn.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Beware the
Unaknitter

I didn't do it on purpose. It really wasn't my fault that Mr. C., the nice post office counter man, the man who has competently taken charge of my packages for more years than I can remember, the man to whom I entrust the timely management of my birthday cards and insurance payments ... no, it wasn't really my fault that Mr. C. was looking at me strangely in the post office today.

It was chilly early this morning, so I put on a hoodie when I went out the door for my walk. And in addition to being early it was also bright, which required sunglasses ... then the wind picked up, so I pulled up the hood.

And then when I went to the post office a little while later, I had packages -- several of them, in fact -- which required me standing in the long, long line and scrawling on little pieces of paper while I balanced the pile of boxes in front of me in a little tower on the post office floor, scrawling madly and frowning at my slightly leaky pen and all those little labels and pieces of paper, and then periodically nudging the little tower of boxes along with my foot as the line progressed.

And when I looked over at the counter, Mr. C. was looking me up and down, head to toe, scrutinizing me in exactly the same way as a mother evaluates her teenage daughter before allowing her out the door to go to school.

I had entirely forgotten about my morning walk, and I'm not the sort to admire myself in every reflective surface that I pass, so I had no idea that I looked alarming. And also? I am entirely absent of any notion that maybe I should consider dressing like a woman in her forties instead of like a thirteen-year-old boy.

So it is completely not my fault that Mr. C. stared for awhile, and I stood there wondering if maybe my fly was open or there was an unspeakable substance on my jeans ... and then Mr. C. cracked a grin, and started into a jelly-belly laugh, and then he cut his eyes toward the reflective window nearby, so I looked over my shoulder, and of course I fell out laughing in the middle of eighty-seven Christmas-laden people standing in line at the post office, because I was standing in the post office, in the post office for gawd's sake, and I looked like this:

That will be all.

P.S. -- That scarf you can see a tiny bit of? That is my weirdest knitting accomplishment -- greatest amount of praise for least amount of effort. I made that back in Nineteen Eighty-Something. I found some speckly black-and-white loopy mohair on sale, and didn't knit it, then later I found some weird speckly black-and-wite ribbon yarn on sale, and didn't knit that either ... but the two yarns, purchased years apart, happened to match exactly ... and then I decided I needed a salt-and-pepper scarf to go with a jacket (which I no longer have) and I knitted that scarf in plain old garter stitch and used the ribbon yarn for the fringe. That's all. And it has become my workaday scarf. But it never fails, whenever I wear it, that two or three people stop and ask me where I got it. You'd think the entire staff of Queer Eye stayed up all night picking out yarn, the way people carry on over that stupid black and white garter stich scarf, even when I look like the Unabomber. But do total strangers ever notice eighty gabillion hours of Fair Isle or cablework?

Nooooooooo.....

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Knitting Asylum Yarns
at the Baton Rouge Arts Market

I'll be selling yarn and spinning at the Arts Market again today -- Saturday December 18 -- from 8am till noon. Corner Fifth and Main in Downtown Baton Rouge, in conjunction with the Farmer's Market. Read two posts back for details! The previous post about Apple Leef Farm is new, so be sure to read it if you haven't checked in for a few days.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007


A Way-Too-Short Weekend at

Apple Leef Farm


This post is a wee tad on the picture-heavy side, so I apologize to those of you with dial-up service. Go make a cup of coffee while it downloads, and come back when you're ready. You can click on all the pictures to make them larger.

All done? Good.

Something tells me that y'all would like to see these featherweight, hand-dyed, felted, wool stoles live and in person, but a picture will have to do:





Something else tells me that you'd like to know more about the person who makes them, and more about the shop they live in.

Welcome to the shop at
Apple Leef Farm. The farm features fiber-bearing animals, flock guardians ... and a wonderfully welcoming fiber arts shop. Not only does Leef offer fiber arts classes, but she also has two delightful, cozy and spacious bed and breakfast cabins, and if you'd like to camp out in the nearby woods, you can do that too.

The shop offers yarn, weaving and spinning supplies, and both classes and weekend retreats for knitting, weaving, felting and spinning.

Here's the great wheel at the entrance to the shop, Leef's workhorse wheel to the left, and her plying wheel on the right, with a sampling of spinning fibers and finished yarns in the background:




Leef offers a wide variety of spinning fibers: colonial and mutilcolor fleeces and roving from several breeds of sheep and goats ... alpaca ... natural-color organic cottons, recycled cotton from blue jeans, and pima cotton ... combed tops, pima sliver, cotton lints, and seed cottons ... carded silk cocoons, raw silk cocoons, silk hankies, bombyx and tussah silks ... soy silk ... bamboo ... flax ... A-1 bombyx silk bricks ... kid mohair locks and tops ... corriedale-cross rovings in natural colors ... moorit ... wensleydale ... and a variety of blends of most of the above fibers, may favorite of which is a yummy merino, cashmere and angora blend.

Leef offers a variety of ready-to-weave cotton yarns for weavers, organic cones and dyed cones, as well as hand-dyed warps.


She also has felting wools, blanks for shibori dyeing, and a wide variety of dyes, as well as finished, ready-to-use silk blanks for scarves and kimonos.


In case you're wondering? I haven't mis-spelled "leaf." Leef is the name of Leef Bloomenstiel, my dear friend who runs Apple Leef Farm, along with her husband, Les.


Before I tell you more about the farm, I shall tell you about my friend Leef.


There is a certain quality to friendships forged in times of trouble that cuts through all the ordinary facades and meaningless chatter which usually cloud our initial perceptions of another human being when they first appear in our lives.

During less trying periods, we might have coffee and host cookouts and take walks with a new acquaintance countless times, without ever really getting to know them in a real and meaningful way. You may go on for years, chatting about politics and gardening and the weather, without ever opening up to one another or seeing the roots of that other person's soul.


Leef and I met at a herpetological society meeting over twenty years ago, and we quickly realized we had much more in common than our interest in reptiles and wildlife, and the fact that we both like to knit.

Before too long, we realized the we were both dealing with nearly identical life-straining situations, and as we formed a two-woman support group, we found that our creative energies ran in the same direction as well.

We humans gain acquaintances when we realize that we share a few common interests with people whose company we find agreeable -- we may share the same views about politics, work for the same company, enjoy a few pints at the same tavern, live in the same neighborhood, or share the same hobby. And many acquaintances who are baseball fans, Trekkies or joggers soon develop fast friendships. The common interest served merely as an introduction -- an icebreaker handed to us by the Fates: "You're a knitter, too? And a computer enthusiast? A reptile geek, birdwatcher, and hiker as well? Wow, we have a lot in common!"

Common interests are handy, and a person's interests tell you a lot about them. But the best friendships are forged between people whose values and passions are deeply symbiotic -- people who bounce energy off each other in such a way as to bring out the best in each other.


Now about the knitting part. When Leef and I first met, we learned that we both enjoyed knitting, and soon we were getting together regularly to knit, have coffee, and work through our life problems.

We became friends in the green-screen days of computering and in the infancy of the Internet, search engines and AOL. At the time, it was difficult to meet other knitters, so it was delightful to have another knitter with whom to share resources, tips and techniques. Finding the original Knit List was a coup for both of us.

She was a farm girl stranded in the city, so she made sure that her kids grew up hiking, camping, riding horses and visitng their grandparents in a delightful Louisiana hill-country town, not too far away.


Neither of us is the sort of person to have a casual interest in too many subjects. We both are the sort who dive in head-first and earn ourselves a seat-of-the-pants PhD when any interest grabs firm hold of us. Before we knew it, our common interest in knitting led to spinning and dyeing, and Leef took off from there into weaving. I weave a little, now and again. Small things, when the mood strikes me.

But Leef is a certified, bona fide Weaver.


Over the years we went through life changes, Hurricane Andrew, job changes and her mother's death ... and I experienced her kids growing up.


This friendship began twenty years ago. Life has taken us in different directions in recent years, and Leef and her family moved to Texas, partly for job opportunities for her husband, and partly so she could have a small farm, but distance doesn't change the qualitative nature of a solid friendship.


Unfortunately, we hadn't seen each other live and in person in far too long, so I hadn't seen the new farm, or the new store (they recently moved from their mini-farm closer to Dallas).

So the store kind of bowled me over when I walked in. Years ago, we spent so much time talking about having a studio, a yarn shop ... a place to teach knitting, spinning and dyeing. We would spend hours dreaming up what we'd sell and what the shop would be like -- some cozy seating in a corner, the teaching studio over here, natural light from over there, and of course we'd have to have a coffee bar.

And now here it is. I sorely wish we were doing it together, but I am so happy for her that she has it for herself.

Below is the part of the store that serves as a weaving studio and class workshop. Note the floor loom on the left, a triangular loom partly filled with a handpainted warp, bags of fleece, and yet another spinning wheel:





You need to know that when Leef teaches a new weaver or spinner, she doesn't just set you down and show you the basics. If you go to one of her weekend retreats, you will come away from it really knowing how spin or weave. Leef is the sort of person who teaches her students not only what they need to do, but why they need to do it. She wants you to walk away from her studio with a complete understanding of the process.


On the opposite wall from the loom and teaching area, she displays some of her yarns and felting supplies, as well as a selection of felted stoles and gossamer hand-dyed silk scarves.

The dyeing workstation is out-of range to the left in the picture, and includes a stove, sink and work table.


I remember Leef's early dyeing experiments -- hiking the local woods and creek banks searching for flowers, bark and roots to find ingredients for natural dye recipes. Then it was out to the backyard with a propane burner and an old canning pot, standing over dyebaths until she arrived at the perfect shade of green, brown or yellow. I remember picking sack upon sack of railroad daisies.

After Leef moved to Texas, my work schedule became enormous, but when I had any time at all to myself, I took to the same locations in search of wild indigo plants -- the invasive descendants of indigo crops grown in the plantation days of south Louisiana. Indigo requires a lot of plants and a special touch with the dyepot -- and although I enjoy working with natural dyes, I have never gotten past a wan blue with my own efforts.

Leef had started getting serious about felting -- hats, slippers, you name it -- shortly before her family moved to Texas.

Which brings me back to where I started.

Now I know you are curious about those stoles. Leef produces these amazing, drapey garments in Nuno felting, a technique in which she felts and dyes wool onto a silk gauze. The end result is a rich, drapey, exotic-looking fabric which makes me think of something that perhaps an alien ambassador or priestess might wear as ceremonial garb when meeting with Captain Picard, or attending a meeting of the Federation. Each one is an individual work of art.


To the lower left, below the stoles, you will see a display of dyed silk scarves, befitting Stevie Nicks at the height of her gauziness ... and I do mean that in a good way! These scarves are as light as a feather and display equally well either ironed flat or dried in a scrunched-up technique -- not unlike making a broomstick skirt.

There are also some yarns for sale -- some handspun, and a selection of comercial sock yarn. She also carries a sleection of bamboo knitting needles, and every conceivable accessory or tool you might need for spinning, weaving or felting, from dyes and niddy-noddys to spinning wheels, looms and drop spindles.





There's more yarn in the picture below, and dyeing supplies in the background. Do you also see the hand-dyed gauzy silk jacket, graced with a felted lace stole? Leef offers both materials and classes to make all of these things:






Leef's farm is in Van Alstyne, Texas, just a tad off the beaten track -- a scenic drive through the rolling hills north of Dallas. But if you are a fiber enthusiast anywhere in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, Oklahoma City or the general Texoma region, and you're up for a day trip, you'll be glad you went to the trouble to find her.

Leef is happy to arrange weekend retreats for any guild or other group of fiber enthusiasts who'd like to spend a weekend on her farm. In addition to the two bed-and-breakfast cabins, there is ample campground space on her property. You can contact her directly to discuss classes, arrangements and prices, depending on the classes you want to take and the size of your group.


For directions to the shop, hours, and class information, contact Leef at:

http://www.appleleeffarm.com/

I'll leave you with a photo of some of the farm animals: here's a little cluster of sheep, presided over by Doc, a 30-year-old horse whose hobbies include coyote-stomping, and Murphy, a llama who not only provides fiber but also serves as a flock guardian. You can see Murphy just above the second sheep from the left:






Next time, I'll tell you more about the farm animals, the land, and Leef's plans to expand the services she and her husband offer.

At the moment, you can contact Leef through her website and see what's new at the shop. If you have a group of friends who are interested in a weekend retreat so you can learn to spin or weave, you can arrange that as well.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Knitting Asylum Yarns
at the
Baton Rouge Arts Market!

For all of you local knitters and crocheters -- I will be spinning and selling handspun, hand-dyed yarn at the Baton Rouge Arts Market on Saturdays this December.

The Arts Market ordinarily takes place the first Saturday of each month, but during December, the market is open every Saturday for holiday shoppers.

The Arts Market operates concurrently with the Farmer's Market. Artisans set up in the parking lot at Fifth and Main in Downtown Baton Rouge, adjacent to the Farmer's market, which operates along Fifth Street.

There are many artists with photography, paintings, pottery, felted art, hand-dyed scarves, jewelry and many other fantastic things for sale.

Hours and Location:

Every Saturday in December, 8:00am till Noon
Corner of Fifth and Main Streets, Downtown Baton Rouge

Why not bring your holiday shopping list and spread your Christmas, Hannukah and Kwaanza cheer with handmade items from local artisans and baked goods, jam, honey, candies and whole food gifts baskets from the farmer's market? Hope to see you there!

P.S. -- The post immediately below is also new.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

The Fate of

the Free World

Is At Stake



Just in case any of y'all are nervous about getting on an airplane anytime soon, I want you to know that before my little jaunt began last weekend, I made a ruthless assessment of those items known to present the greatest threat to public safety, namely:

Toilet articles greater than three ounces in size.





And not only did I assess these items based on the Official Bond-McGyver Danger Chart of Scariness, but I also secured them into acceptably small portions and encased them in the only terrorist-proof substance known to the FBI, the TSA and MIT that can protect us from chemical weapons, explosives, and mayhem of all kinds:


The quart-sized zip-lock clear plastic bag.








I bet you feel safer already.



And while toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo in quantities greater than three ounces must be secured in checked luggage, the TSA finds it quite acceptable for plastic-encased, breast-shaped amounts of liquid greater than three ounces to be enclosed in gel-filled bras worn upon one's person.



This actually means that if you forget to put your highly hazardous saline eye drops in a quart-sized zip-lock bag, you may find yourself in serious trouble, but you could waltz right through the security checkpoint wearing a 42DD bra filled with plastic explosives, and the TSA people wouldn't ...





...well, I am sure they'd bat an eye. But you'd get on the plane just fine. And so could a couple of Fem-Bots.



And, while I cannot bring a cup of decent coffee or a bottle of water through security, either in my hands or in my carry-on bag, I am permitted a wide variety of items in my checked luggage, including, but not limited to, crowbars, yogurt, cattle prods, ice picks, peanut butter, cricket bats, Jell-O and throwing stars.



Go figure.



Fortunately, the items that can be packed into my checked luggage include these fibery things:














Fear not, the cropped-out cat snatching at the silk fiber (Seven) was not included in my checked luggage.




Clockwise from left: emerald-green coned silk; dyed silk waste fiber ready to be carded, Ashford mini-noddy, and two skeins of hand-dyed alpaca.



I probably could have brought the yarns through security just fine, but explaining the niddy-noddy and the silk fiber might have been a stretch, so it all went into checked luggage.




I will leave this as a teaser for today because I have a rather long and picture-heavy post coming up about my weekend at Apple Leef Farm.

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Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: