Fiber Extravaganza

Knitters and spinners love to joke that whoever dies with the most stash wins. I guess it’s part of our dedication to the craft that we want to make sure we all have plenty of  raw materials on hand in case we need them. Come the Zombie Apocalypse, our families will all be warm in lovely hand-knits. (Hopefully some of us have some other skills too or it’s going to be a pretty sad situation, though, I guess. Raising some grub and barring the doors might also be helpful).

So, ever in the pursuit of stash enhancement (known in knitter parlance as S-E-X, or a Stash Enhancement eXpedition), my mother-in-law and I set forth in Oregon to visit some of the finer fiber-y establishments.

And did we find anything, you ask? Oh, dear reader, Portland is a city that never disappoints when it comes to the fiber arts. Here’s my personal haul:

Center: souvenir project bag from Blacksheep Gathering
Clockwise from top: Silk for spinning from my MIL’s personal stash (lovely stuff that she brought home from a trip to China); 3 skeins of hand-dyed alpaca from Pearl Fibers, 3 braids of spinning fiber from Dicentra, two hand-dyed silk rovings from a vendor at Blacksheep (sorry I can’t remember which) and lastly, a sweater quantity of Shibui from Knit-Purl, on clearance!!

Now, some of you will marvel at my relative restraint. I must admit that my dear husband came along on most of our shopping. I am sure that he came to spend time with his mother, but I suspect that he also wanted to prevent the acquisition of yet another fleece. (We are currently at three wool fleeces plus one alpaca blanket and that only counts what needs to be washed and/or drum carded. His fear of being drowned in fleece is not entirely unreasonable).

I have only one lament. Well, make that two. One is that we didn’t make it to Yarn Garden, which is my MIL’s home yarn shop and also the place where I bought the yarn for my first real knitting project. The other is that Woodland Woolworks, which was one of my favorite local vendors, has gone out of business and was not at Blacksheep Gathering. It always pains me to see a small business close and they always had great things in their booth.

Still, it was a successful journey. Fun was had, quality time was spent with both my husband’s relatives and mine, and while each visit is never long enough, it’s always good to see people again. Thanks to all the Portland folks for their hospitality, but particularly Julie, Laura, Janet and Larry. It was great to see you all.


A Bit of Fun for a Friday

It’s been a dark week here in Colorado and I suspect that we could all use a bit of a break from the tales of wildfire and devastation. So, what could be more fun than sheep? Or more specifically, Blacksheep Gathering, which is a gathering of people who breed sheep for their fiber, as well as fiber processing people, yarn makers and independent dyers.

It’s a little sad that as I went through the photos I took while in Portland, I realized that while I have probably two dozen photos of sheep, I did not take a single photo of the relatives we went to visit. I guess I really wasn’t feeling all that well, since I didn’t even think to get the camera out.

Blacksheep Gathering isn’t actually held in Portland, but rather a couple of hours away in Eugene. Eugene seems like a fun place. It’s a college town with lots of neat little shops and restaurants. It even has a local weaving and spinning studio, which sounds like a place where I could spend a lot of time and money…

But, back to the sheep. Part of Blacksheep Gathering is a competition where the breeders bring the best examples from their flocks. There is judging and prizes are awarded for the best sheep. Some of the sheep seemed less than excited about the waiting and I’m sure would much rather have been out wandering through the pasture munching on grass. Luckily for me, they were all pretty tolerant about having their pictures taken, although I’m enough of a farm girl not to try to reach into the pens with the rams. (Yes, believe it or not they did need signs for that).

This girl watched me carefully, especially when I knelt down with the camera to get to eye level.

Some of the sheep got a quick touch-up before their time in the show ring.

More interested in hay than people with cameras. Must be tasty.

Now that’s what I call long wool! I’ll bet that would be fun to spin.

Initially Mama did not want us near her little one and tried to hide it in the corner, but baby was pretty insistent about being hungry. What’s a mom to do?

Oh, I do love a good livestock show. It reminds me of the county fair in the little town where I grew up in Iowa and all the years I took my kids to the local fair. I think I dragged them through all the livestock buildings more for my own sake than for theirs.

Of course, there were also lots of vendors that all needed to be visited and a certain amount of fiber and yarn was purchased. In fact, there were visits to several local yarn shops as well. You’d be proud of me because I managed to get it all into my carry-ons although it took a lot of careful packing!

What loot did I get, you say? Why, I’m glad you asked! That will be the post for tomorrow!

Happy weekend, everyone!

More on Coloradans are Awesome

I got an email today from the local conference of the United Church of Christ, which is my church. They are mobilizing their disaster relief efforts as well and have been checking in with their pastors in the Colorado Springs area.

This story was included in the email:

Dave Hunting, pastor of Community Congregational UCC, Manitou Springs, is a volunteer firefighter with the Manitou Springs Fire Department.  He has been on the frontlines since last Saturday.  Dave reports, “… it’s been rough.  We’ve been in the thick of the fight.  Last night our three fire engines joined with 100 more in the Mountain Shadow fire…  We evacuated all 5000+ residents in Manitou Springs last Sunday morning at 1:30AM… they are back home now under voluntary evac.  Our cars are packed if we need to evac again.  I’ve never seen anything like this in my life… I’ve never been more proud to serve or scared to death… the good Lord will guide us through these trying times… thanks again for the thoughts and prayers.”

He attached two photos. One is this, of his fire company’s Engine One holding the line:

Engine One, volunteer firefighters from Manitou Springs, at the Waldo Canyon fire.

From the Conference’s Facebook page, I learned that this man worked 36 hours straight on the fire lines and still showed up in church to preach on Sunday. That’s amazing dedication.  I’m sure he’s only one of hundreds putting in this kind of service. Colorado is an amazing place and these people are why.

Prayers and blessings to everyone involved.

Coloradans are Awesome

As some of you know, Colorado is my adopted state and I’ve lived here just a year but it already feels like I’ve come home. My husband and I agree that moving here was the best thing we’ve ever done. We picked Colorado because we have family here, but also because of the natural beauty and warmer, drier climate. What we were delightedly surprised by was the people. Colorado people are warm, friendly and just plain lovely.

Coming from Chicago, the contrast was a bit stunning. Don’t get me wrong, I have some wonderful friends in the Chicago area and I love them dearly, but making friends there was hard. People are somewhat cold and tend to keep to themselves, especially in the suburb where we lived. Imagine, after years of living there, only knowing most of my neighbors by sight,  we arrived here to find neighbors offering a friendly handshake and a warm welcome to the neighborhood.

Disasters tend to test people and show their true spirit, I think. And, what I’ve seen here in Colorado in the last two days has confirmed my belief. People across Colorado watched in horror as first High Park burned, and then the Waldo Canyon fire turned its flames on Colorado Springs. The grief here is palpable as we watch our neighbors lose their homes.

But, there is a bright side. Even as early as yesterday, agencies responding to the crisis were being flooded with volunteers and donations. People from across the state were calling to ask what was needed, and loading up their personal vehicles to bring needed supplies of water, food, and toiletries. Volunteers with horse trailers were showing up to help load and evacuate horses. Grooming salons and other pet-related business were opening their doors to take in evacuated pets.

One set of volunteers created a Facebook page to help coordinate efforts and spent their day (and I suspect their night) collating lists of people needing housing and people offering their homes for evacuees. People from all over the Front Range were posting updates offering shelter for families, pets and horses. There was even a group of massage therapists working with the Red Cross to provide massages to people in the evacuation shelters.

Denver and Pueblo-based food banks are now taking donations of food and supplies, so as the official response ramps up, the individual efforts can subside. But in the meantime, many people and animals were helped by the acts of individuals who simply took it on themselves to step in where they saw a need.

I’m so grateful for the actions of all these people, as well as for the official response from organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. I think we forget how lucky we are to have Americans who dedicate their careers to helping others when disaster strikes. I have a friend like that. She’s works in Crisis Response for the Evangelical Free Church in America. It’s a tough job and it doesn’t pay much. In fact, many of them have to raise their own financing to stay in the field, but I’m so grateful that they do.

It goes without saying that firefighters are also the heroes of Colorado today. We are lucky that the High Park fire is now contained enough that they have been able to shift resources from that fire to help with Waldo Canyon. I can’t imagine how tired those men must be but their efforts (and the equipment they will bring with them) will help significantly.

Hang in there, Colorado. We can overcome this together. As the pastor from the Flying W Ranch said on the radio this morning, “God didn’t say we would not go through the fire but He did promise He would be with us when we did.” Not only that, but He will send the right people to help when we need them.

On Absent Bloggers and Wildfires

I’ve been absent from the blog longer than I planned. Sorry about that, folks. Our trip to Oregon to visit family and attend Blacksheep Gathering was really fun but while we were there, my body (which is used to the arid Colorado climate and has some allergy issues anyway) decided that it didn’t like the wet cold weather and I had a fairly massive allergy attack. That was followed by a visit to my doctor when we got home and looks like I’ll be making the acquaintance of an allergist. Oh well, you can never know too many people, I guess. In the meantime, I’m feeling okay but not fabulous. It doesn’t help that in order to be allergy tested, you have to go off of all allergy medicines for a week, which should prove interesting. So, forgive me if I’m a bit tardy in posting for the next week or two. I’m doing my best to keep moving, but I’m certainly not up to my usual speed.

In other news, we now have so many fires burning in Colorado and people evacuated that it’s difficult to keep track. I won’t burden you with the details (you can’t miss it on the news) but will ask that you send prayers for rain and for the safety of the evacuees and rescue / fire personnel working the fires. And if you happen to be from a culture than knows a rain dance, please consider that as well. (I’m about ready to take up rain dancing as a form of personal fitness. It might not work since it’s not my culture but at least I would feel like I could do SOMETHING). If you’d like to help by donating, this is a great website that shows which agencies are responding and how you can help:

I donated to the Colorado Red Cross and the Larimer County Humane Society in the early days of the High Park Fire. I got the nicest letter this week from the Humane Society folks telling me about their rescue effort and the number of pets and livestock they were able to rescue and shelter thanks to donations. They have also pledged to reunite all of the animals with their owners. It’s a great example of good people doing great things, so that at least feels like a bright spot in all of this darkness. I felt honored to be able to help. With the number of shelters being opened in Colorado Springs (where over 30,000 people have been evacuated), I might need to ante up again for the Red Cross. They do good work, those folks.

Some have contacted me to make sure we are okay. Our home is not near the fire areas. They are both north and south of us but we live in the midst of a large grassland so it’s unlikely we will be threatened. Thanks to everyone who has been concerned about us.

Sorry if today’s post is more a stream of consciousness than an actual essay but it’s been a trying week. Please keep reading and we’ll return to regular programming soon. I have photos from Blacksheep Gathering to share, and there will also be a post about the loot I bought while there and what I plan to do with it.

Happy Trails until we talk again.


A Fiber-ing We Go, A Fiber-ing We Go

So, this might come as a shock to the readers who’ve joined us recently because of the digital photography, but this is really a knitting blog. Well, at least it’s a blog that sometimes features knitting, as well as a bit about antique spinning wheels, West Highland terriers, hiking, nature photography, current events and other random interests of mine.

It’s been an event-filled week around here. First, we are watching the Colorado wildfires with anxious interest. Yes, I did say fires, plural. There is now a second fire south of us, west of Colorado Springs. My husband and I took a drive in the mountains on Sunday and drove past the community where it was burning. Firefighters from several communities have been mobilized and they are doing their best to ensure that it stays a small fire. At the same time, while the High Park Fire near Fort Collins is now 50% contained (which is good news), almost 200 homes have been lost, not to mention thousands of acres of forest. Everything is just so dry this year. Please pray for rain.

On the happy side of things, the insurance adjuster was out yesterday and while many of our friends have significant damage from the recent hailstorms, we seem to have escaped relatively unscathed. I felt badly for the adjuster though, climbing on my roof in 100 degree heat, but he is probably used to it and didn’t seem to mind.

The contractors are here putting in a new deck and that has also been an interesting process. I’ve done a lot of home improvements in the past, both myself and with the help of contractors. First, they hit a sprinkler line in a not-obvious place on the first hole they dug. That was just plain bad luck. On Saturday, they were here pouring the caissons and kept having to retreat to their cars because of lightning. (No rain, though, darn it. We could do without the lightning but we sure need the rain). Today, they are taking the old deck off and getting ready to frame the new one. The pups were going crazy over having these strange people with saws on the deck right outside the door but seem to have accepted it as normal now. After about an hour’s work, the micro-deck (as we called it) is gone and they are lining up the boards to start framing.

In my knitting life, I just cast on a new sweater. After a lot of deliberation, I decided on this one, the Tappan Zee from Knitty Spins. I’m a few rows into the yoke and making good progress but my count is off so that will take some investigation. I’m making the sweater in a lovely light blue hand-dyed alpaca. (Hence, the short sleeves, I tend to get hot anyway and alpaca is warm.)

Here’s the picture from Knitty. (That’s not me in the picture – I’m not nearly courageous enough to have hair that red…also my sweater will be blue).

The Tappan Zee sweater from KnittySpins. Mine will be in blue alpaca. If you click the image, it should take you to Knitty’s site, which is a wonderful place…

In case you’re also interested in making this sweater and the photo link doesn’t work, try this:

I’ve been a terrible fiber hoarder lately too. In addition to the three fleeces I wrote about a few weeks ago (half a ram, one lamb, one alpaca blanket), someone gave me two more alpaca blankets, which I had processed at the local mill. The backlog for my drum carder was simply growing too fast. Last weekend, we went to the Estes Park Wool Market and I bought yet another fleece, this one a rambouillet / merino cross, which means the fleece is uber-soft and a lovely cream color. (You’re thinking cabled Aran sweater? Funny, me too…) That fleece is still sitting around tormenting the Westies because it smells very sheepy and I need to wash it. I’ve also started spinning the grey fleece from Jack, the aforementioned ram.

We are headed to Blacksheep Gathering in Oregon this weekend and will have the camera in tow, so don’t despair, photo buffs, as there will be more pictures coming.

Meanwhile, I’ll be away from the blog for a few days and I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten about you. How could I forget? I hope to have lots of stories and photos to share next week. Happy fiber-ing everyone!!




Father’s Day and Missed Opportunities

Today is Father’s Day. It’s a day that I’ve always met with mixed emotions. You see, my parents divorced when I was quite young and my father went off to create another family with his second wife. As kids, we grew up not really knowing our dad and my mom was forced to play both roles.  We saw him very seldom and he did not contribute much financially, if at all.

Being a working mother and not having the support of my dad certainly made Mom’s life and parenting much harder, but we were a tight group of girls, my mom, sister and I, and we had some great times, even if the finances were always tight. I won’t lie, there were times when life was really hard but there were also times when it was really good.

As we went to watch the solar eclipse recently, I told my husband the story about the solar eclipse that happened when we were living in Lincoln, NE. I was probably about 10. Our school wasn’t planning any activities to view the eclipse, and Mom saw this as a huge learning opportunity, so she took the day off, pulled us out of school, and we headed to the local observatory to see the eclipse. It is one of the best memories of my childhood.  My mom was great at that stuff, making bold gestures to create memories.

As for my dad, I did finally get to know him in my thirties, only a year before he died. In so doing, I discovered that I was a lot like him, not only in personality but even in gestures. That had to have driven my Mom crazy, but if it did, she certainly never let me know it.  I also learned that while we thought for many years that he didn’t care about us, he cared deeply and as a young person, had simply really screwed up and he wasn’t sure how to undo it.  What this experience taught me is that it’s never too late to get to know someone and that we should not judge people’s actions without understanding their motivation. That’s not to let him off the hook – he should have been more involved and he should have helped financially – but in the end, I had to forgive him for his absence and his loss was significant.

So, Happy Father’s Day, everyone. Here’s to all the moms who have to fill in for dads who should be there, and for all the dads who need to remember not to miss the opportunity just because it’s a difficult situation. And especially to all the kids caught in the middle – may they find peace about their family the way I have.