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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays to All!

We had to choose a Christmas tree this year that was "Tigger-proof", so we went with the one Sam had in his apartment when I met him oh-so-many years ago!  Rowdy doesn't seem to mind.

It is hard to believe another year has passed and Christmas is upon us.  It is very hard to get excited about the holiday when I don't know when I will get to see my 2 sons next.  I keep thinking how sad it is that no one is counting the presents under the tree on a daily basis to see if any more for him have shown up.  You would think he would have realized that  this only kept me from putting out his gifts until the last minute.  And if I DID put them out he spent all his time shaking them to figure out what they were.  He and all my relatives know of whom I speak.  I don't  think anything will shake in that gift I sent you this year to put under your tree!  And of course, watching 24 hours of a Christmas Story by myself just isn't the same.  

Tomorrow we will spend some time with our neighbors, exchanging gifts and sharing in Christmas spirits so tonight I will be baking rum cakes.  On Christmas, Sam and I will go to his folks' and have Christmas dinner with them and his brother and our niece Jessica and her boyfriend Alejandro.  My mom and niece, Krista, plan to arrive for a couple of days on Sunday, weather permitting since they have a 4 hour drive.

Yesterday Sam and I drove to Dayton and picked up our "new" car.  It is a white 4 door 2001 Chevy Cavalier with 45K miles on itBut it is duel fuel, running on natural gas as well as gasoline.  Sam has already ordered the compressor to allow him to fill the car with gas right from our own gas well.  I have a feeling once he gets this working right we will be acquiring more natural gas vehicles!

Just before I sat down to write this post I finished warping my loom for 3 more rugs.  I mentioned that I would at some time do a post on "warping" (and other weaving terminology) and I suppose there is no time like the present since I have not had time this week to think much about what I would post about this week.

So, to start, "warp" is the threads that are placed on the loom that the "weft" or yarn is woven over and under.  In the case of rugs it is generally a cotton or poly-cotton blend and so far I have only used a natural white color with my rugs, though I have  other colors on hand.  The first step in warping the loom is to determine how many "warp ends" you need, which you do by calculating how many inches wide your rug will be and how many warp threads you want per inch of rug width.  My rugs are 24" wide and I use 12 threads per inch so I multiply 24 X 12 and get my number of 288 warp ends.  I also need to figure how long each of those need to be and for 3 rugs, I need each one to be 4 yards long.  I have a warping board which has pegs on it that I use to measure out 4 yards of warp 288 times, but without cutting until the end.


Once I have my warp counted out, I have to put it on the loom.  This is the time-consuming part.  Each one of those 288 threads needs to be threaded through its own slot in a "reed".  This is called "sleying" the reed.    After each end is passed through the reed, each end must be threaded through a "heddle"  My loom is a 2 harness loom.  That means that there are 2 different pieces that each move up and down when I step on a foot treadle.  Each of these pieces is called a harness and each harness holds metal "heddles" which have an eye in the center through which I pass the threads.  This way, half the threads will be up while half are down and I and pass my yarn in between the 2 (this space is referred to as the "shed").  So half my threads need to go through heddles on one harness and half on the other and they have to be alternated without getting them crossed or mixed up.  
wire heddles waiting to be threaded
This is the part that takes a lot of time.  I have to check and double check to make sure no threads are crossed.  In the photo to the right, you can see the front harness is raised a bit so you can see that half the threads are going through the front harness and the other half are going through the rear harness which is lower.  The black structure in the back is the back beam, onto which all the warp will eventually be wound in preparation for weaving.
Once all warp ends are threaded through the heddles, I have to tie groups of threads onto a rod and them carefully wind all 4 yards of warp onto the back beam.  This back beam will hold the warp as I weave until I am ready to advance it, at which time, I will wind the woven portion onto the front beam and bring unwoven warp up into the weaving area.  To the left is the rear view of the loom with the warp all wound onto the back beam.
To the right is the warped loom with the "shed" open as it would be to pass the weaving yarn through.  You can see the reed to the far left.  It is mounted in a structure called the "beater" which I move forward firmly after each pass of the weft in order to "beat" the yarn into place.  You can see the 2 harnesses (also known as shafts) to the right.  The front harness is lowered and the rear is raised.  
That is warping a loom kind of in a nutshell.  It gets easier each time I do it.  I think next time I will do up a 3' wide rug which will be 36 X 12 warp ends or 432!
I have finally gotten a good start on the Spin-off I am judging.  It is hard with everything that goes on over the holidays to set aside the time I need each week to work on it, but I have managed to get through the 2 largest color classes, which amounts to almost a third of the entries (white and light fawn).  Although they are not quite finished as I still have the last 2 classes hanging on my drying rack in the mud room, waiting for the final scoring and tallying and placing, which WILL get done tonight or tomorrow!
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM EVERYONE AT STRAIGHTFORK!


                      
              

 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ready or Not, Winter is Here!

Yes, winter is upon us.  Rowdy is standing in front of my soon-to-be-studio.  So far this is about the extent of my holiday decorating!  


Winter really came in with a bang this past week.  Sunday it rained and then became frigidly cold on Monday.  Our highs have been in the low 20's and the temp has been dipping down into single digits by the time I go to bed.  We are really grateful for the woodstove, I can tell you!


The animals are dealing with things well as usual.  I keep an eye on the alpacas to make sure no one is shivering.  I did put a coat on Chiquita, as she seemed cold.  She is 12 now and is nursing a big boy who is sapping her weight and energy, so she got a coat.  I keep 2 adult size coats on hand and every year, someone needs one.


Since he is now 25 years old, I even but a blanket on Apache this week.  He seems to appreciate it, even though he is still quite well insulated without it.  Isn't he stylish?



I took several photos this morning and the snow was coming down pretty well.  Hmmm, the weather forecast I looked at online said 1 to 2 inches possible, this afternoon.   They never seem to get it right!  



We do now have water in the creek.  Or actually it is ice now, so we really do need the bridges.  I remember before we had the alpaca barn on the other side of the creek, I used a 
1" X 6"   as a bridge.  That just would not cut it anymore!


I took this photo from the bridge we can drive across and what is waiting for me in the other direction are all the alpacas, anxious for their morning feed.  Note that they have seen me coming and are heading into the barn and no longer craning their necks gazing over the fence to see where I might be.  It's nice to be wanted. 


Here comes breakfast!
Once I get into the barn I distribute the morning grain and while they eat that I put out hay in the hay feeders.  We have one outside that they really prefer to use if it is not raining.  No fear of that today.  And then there is one under the overhang and 2 more in the barn.  I generally put out 3 bales of hay divided up into these 4 feeders this time of year.  I like to be sure everyone can get to the feed without too much squabbling.  Squabbling, however, is inevitable.


After I put out the hay, I do the scooping.  When it is frozen and snowy, clean up is relatively easy.  I can only clean up what I can see and what is not frozen solid.  I have better ways to spend my time than to chip away at frozen poop.  My theory is that the poop will still be there once there is a thaw.  That theory HAS been proven.


bean piles
Here, most of the girls have gone outside to the hay feeders and we just have a couple of "hoovers" staying behind to get what may have been missed.  I have raked the "beans" into piles prior to shoveling up.  There is a partially full hay feeder under the window, but the girls prefer to eat outside (so do I, but not in this weather!).


outside hay feeder
We did finally get the plastic on our overhang on Saturday, which was a beautiful sunny day.  It just gives that much more protection from the wind and blowing snow and rain.  There is also a deep layer of  hay on the floor of the overhang, so it stays nice and warm  with the plastic up.  


Here is how it looks from outside.  And how it looks on the inside.


Of course, after I finish at this barn, I still have to go down the road to the other house and feed in the 2 pastures down there.  We have 8 males in one pasture and 6 females in the other right now.  But since I came to the office today, Sam takes care of those animals.  I have already fed the 6 "weaners" that are in the small pasture by the garage, since that is my first stop on my morning rounds.  After that, I fill the bird feeders and head on over to the girls' barn, then to the horse barn where Apache and the cats are waiting.  If I don't need to move any hay or feed, I spend a good hour to an hour and a half on this morning routine (on the days I don't go in to the office).  

I don't really spend a lot of time on this blog writing about family.  But today I am feeling nostalgic and missing my 2 sons so I will write a bit about them and what they are currently up to.

Ian and Sam/Zac (long story for another day) spent the last 2 1/2 years working at a lodge near Yosemite National Park, but moved in November to Lake Tahoe for seasonal work there.  They are really living a pretty cool life right now since both are in their 20's and neither has anything to tie him down.  Ian has a girlfriend, Michelle, but she is doing the same thing and moved with them.  There  4 of them living in a condo near Heavenly at Lake Tahoe.  I guess the condo even has a hot tub on the deck.  Ian has a job working at a retail store which is located in one of the big casinos but is owned by Heavenly, so one of his perks is a ski pass for the season.  Sam/Zac who has become a very good chef is starting a job at a new restaurant opening soon and is training at their other location.  Along with their 4th roommate, Ryan, they play in a 3 piece band called "Those That Kill", which for those of you who don't know is the English translation of "Yosemite".  Here is a link to them playing  a song in the bar at Evergreen Lodge, where they all worked until recently.  
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1762729186#!/video/video.php?v=541160648138&oid=357790829700&comments 
My 2 boys are left (Sam/Zac)and center (Ian).  Ryan is on the right.  I am so glad that through the internet I can share in what my boys are doing even though they are 2/3 of the way across the country from me.  I hope this link will work.


I am in the process of warping up my loom for more rugs.  I sold 2 rugs this weekend to an alpaca friend,  I hope she likes them.  I'll do a post on warping one of these days.  It is tedious and time consuming, but must be done in order to weave.


I have gotten a start on the 118 Spin-off entries that are in my dining room.  I hope to really make a dent in it this weekend.  My biggest class is 10 entries, which is nice.  I've had classes as large as 15 and that is an entire 8 hour day + which becomes more like work than fun. 


Until next week, stay warm everyone and finish up those Christmas chores.  I will be baking Rum Cakes this week!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Has Arrived and We Are STILL Trying to Get Ready!

But maybe you can tell from this photo that the new chimney liner is installed and the woodburner is crankin' out the heat!  

Yes, despite the fact that we have free gas from our oil and gas wells, we really like the wood heat when the winter cold sets in.  Our house, being 100+ years old and having gas from its own wells, was never insulated.  Sam did insulate our attic after we moved in, but that's about the extent of it.  In addition to no insulation, we did not have a furnace either when we bought the house.  It was heated with several ancient gas space heaters, which we used until we added on our mud room addition in 2006.  At that time, we installed a furnace, but mostly when we run it, the downstairs is cold and the bedroom upstairs is hot, especially because the thermostat is downstairs.  We installed the woodburner our second year in this house because with well gas, one never knows when it might freeze up or get a hole in a line and when it does, you can't just call the gas company to come fix it.  You ARE the gas company.  Or more specifically, Sam is the gas company (and yes there is a joke in there somewhere).  The wood burner went in as a back up heat source for when (if) the gas goes out, which it generally does at some point during January when our useage is high and the pressure drops.  But we also found that the woodburner put out a much steadier, warmer radiant heat.  It keeps the living room warm and also keeps the furnace from kicking on as often, which in turn, keeps the bedroom upstairs at a much cooler temperature.  We prefer to have a cooler bedroom and use a nice alpaca blanket!

I can give a little more information on the oil and gas wells, but Sam is the one who handles all those details and he definitely knows more than I do, such as how many barrels of oil we produce a year.  I can assure you, however, that the Middle East does not have to worry about us taking over their oil business!  On our 197 acres, we have (I think) 5 or 6 wells.  Our house is supplied by 2 wells which produce both oil and natural gas and we own the wells outright, which means we have to maintain them if we want them to produce.  They are old wells, and do not produce a lot, but we sell a couple tankfuls of oil off every year and of course the house is heated, as is Sam's garage workshop and my soon to be studio.  Once a week the wells must be pumped.  Salt water must be pumped out of the well and then the oil must be pumped into a holding tank (or maybe it is the oil first, water second, I'm not sure, this is Sam's area).  Natural gas is a by prodcut of the oil and if we do not pump the oil and water out of the wells, the pressure will eventually drop.  

There are 2 wells on our property which are leased, so we do not have to maintain those, nor do we get the oil that comes from them.  We do get a royalty from any oil and gas sold and we get the right to free gas to 1 dwelling.  This is where part of the gas for our guest house comes from. Some of it also comes from another well we have.  

So getting the new chimney liner installed was an important part of getting ready for winter.  We also like to put heavy duty plastic wrap (it comes in rolls that painters use for protective coverings) across the overhang on our barn.  It turns the 8' wide overhang into a more protected shelter for the alpacas and keeps the wind and blowing snow out.  This was supposed to be done the same day we were scheduled to replace 130' of fencing last month and was of course the only day it rained in November!!  Saturday, it WILL get done.  The fencing will probably have to wait for spring, yet again. 

I attended our local Christmas Festival this past Saturday and took alpaca products to sell.  My biggest seller by far was my alpaca socks that I have made right here in the US.  I send my fiber in to a fiber "pool" where they put everyone's fiber together and have products made.  I just have to send in so many pounds of fiber and so much $$ and I get a dozen pairs of socks.  This is a much less expensive way of getting socks than having my own fiber spun into yarn and then knitted into socks.  They do it in much larger quantities this way and it is much more cost effective.  I sell the socks for $13 a pair and I sold a dozen pairs Saturday.  I have more!  I also sold the lacey mitts I made.  I thought they came out cute and they were one of the first items I sold. 
 I took my rugs to sell, but unfortunately did not sell any.  To be honest, though, lower ticket items do sell much more easily at these functions.
Fingerless Mitts, hand-dyed, spun and knit
I have all the rugs priced at $50 except 1 which ended up a bit shorter than I wanted (miscalculation) and it is $40.  Here are the rugs all lined up on my love seat. The 3 on the right had side are the most recent ones and are 24" wide by roughly 36" long, though the second 1 in is a little shorter.  The farthest left is 30" by 36" or so and the second from the left is the one that is $40. It is 30" wide and I think only about 30" long.  Reminds me of a horse blanket.


Here's another photo of the second batch.

So right now I really don't have anything in the works.  I need to make some neck cowls and of course I will warp up the loom again probably next week for 3 more rugs.   Last night I joined the dogs and cats in front of the woodburner and carded some fiber while I watched a silly movie.  Thoroughly enjoyable!

Drum carder on stand, Rowdy, Lucky & Tigger in front of woodstove
I use the drum carder to prepare fiber for spinning.  It cards it into nice smooth batts a little over an ounce each.  I am working on some chocolate brown right now.  To theright is the carder with some fiber on it which is being put through for the second time.  I am running this fiber through 3 times.  It is "combed " between the large drum and the "licker in" drum and then I peel the finished batt off the large drum and it is ready to spin.  

                                                                                         I also just recieved a whole box  of Spin-off entries for the   Missouri alpaca show which I believe will be held in March, so I have to get those all done before we go on our anniversary trip in late January.   You may remember I did a post on judging a Spin-off probably back in April.  There are 118 entries in this one,   so I will be kept busy the next month or so!                       
 The shelter has also been keeping me busy.  We have adoption days this weekend for the dozen or so cats we still have and the Puppy-Mill Poms will be heading out to a rescue in Canada this weekend.  They are taking all 5, even the old blind guy.  I hope they will find wonderful caring homes.  Every dog deserves a nice warm home, even if they don't get it until they are older.  Old dogs can be so wonderful.  I know we have never once regretted bringing Ginger into our family.  So all of you reading this, keep that in mind.  If you get a chance to do something nice for an old dog, it really is worth it.

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."  Mark Twain