Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the road again

It seems as though I just returned from Scotland and here I am away from home again.  My friend, Teresa, and I planned this trip to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival about a year ago, long before I imagined that Mike and I would be going to Scotland and Ireland.  I love this festival best of all the ones I have ever attended.  They always have fabulous workshops, wonderful vendors and who wouldn't want to be in the Hudson Valley when the leaves are turning such fabulous colors?

Today I had a great workshop in handpainting yarn and roving with natural dyes.  It was taught by Jackie Ottino-Graf.  We worked outside in a tent and enjoyed the perfect, clear blue sky and just-warm-enough weather.  (I took that top photo with my iPhone, just a few steps from where we were using the dye pots to steam our hand-dyed fiber.)  Jackie taught the workshop in a casual and fun way and I think we all felt relaxed and reasonably confident at the end of the day. (Well, except I'm not sure I will ever be able to figure out that stock-solution-percentage-thing without a worksheet in front of me, but that's because I have a long-standing case of math anxiety, not because it wasn't explained well!).

(Some samples from my classmates)

(Anyone who knows me could figure out that these were my handiwork. My color choices are so predictable!  This is madder, logwood and weld with a few drops of iron solution added to the weld.)

I am wishing now that I had come up soon enough to take the Thursday and Friday classes.  I wanted to leave Saturday open for enjoying all the vendors have to offer (ahem) and having the chance visit with friends from Squam and past workshops. 

So, one last photo before I get too sleepy.  I spied this after the workshop was over, when I was walking through one of the many areas where the vendors were in the process of setting up. I was scouting walking toward the exit gate and just happened to see it. Needless to say, I'll be heading for that booth in the morning because I'm pretty sure the standing stones were telling me I need a Sassenach Capelet Kit to go home with me! I posted this same picture on facebook on the Outlander Pattern Central group page and caused just a little stir of wishful thinking on the part of some fellow Outlander obsessed folks.

(In the booth of Bijou Basin Ranch)     

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to focus?

(Of course, I loved the ones with sheep best of all)
A few days before we left for our big trip, I managed to visit the downtown Lexington Public Library to see the Salley Mavor-Pocket Full of Posies exhibit. I've been a fan of Salley Mavor for a years and the opportunity to see some of her creations in person was an unexpected treat. I have her children's books and a wonderful poster that she calls Self-Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion, that depicts different styles of clothing she has worn through the years.  I'm sure I have posted this before, but I love her short film Rabbitat.  If you haven't seen it, please check it out. It's magical! The detail in her work is astounding and being able to see it close-up only made me admire her skill even more.

(The detail-the stitching!  Sorry about the glass reflection)

I'm always impressed by someone who can focus on their art in a way that shows real commitment and accomplishment.  I don't consider myself an artist in any sense of the word, but I do have a craft (actually, I should say crafts) that I love and I have great difficulty focusing my energy and attention long enough to actually produce any tangible results. I'm prone to blame farm work and animal care for my lack of productivity, but truly I think it's more a  case of my being undisciplined and inefficient in the way I spend my time and energy.  For me, there's a feeling of guilt associated with spending "too much" time spinning or knitting during the day, because on the farm, the work is never, ever really done. (Not to mention the washing, ironing, cleaning, patient files.....) There are so many crafts and activities that I'm interested in: spinning, weaving, dyeing, knitting, sewing, felting, embroidery, hooking, photography, gardening, cooking, reading, blogging, etc., etc.  The longer I live, the more lengthy the list of things I want to learn becomes.  So, my question is how do I learn to focus at this stage in my life?  How do any of you ignore the distractions and temptations that will keep you from doing the things you love to do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To Merry Olde England

(Notice the quince growing up the left side of the front door at Hill Top Farm)
Yes, as if we hadn't already pushed the limits of what two people should try to see during a sixteen day trip to Ireland and Scotland, we took a quick trip down to the Lake District and to York, England.  Blame this one on me.

I have admired Beatrix Potter since I was old enough to read.  Like another of my heroines, Tasha Tudor, she was a woman who, once she found the way, managed to live her life the way she chose.  It's been a long time wish of mine to see Hill Top Farm, the farm Beatrix Potter bought with the earnings from her books.  We were first in line to buy our tickets the morning we arrived in the little village of Sawrey.  Only a small group of people are allowed into the farmhouse every ten minutes or so because the house it not large. It is small, charming and cozy, with the interior left very much as it was when Beatrix was alive.  Her furnishings, which are often depicted in the background of her books, are there and even her clogs by the door, as if she had just taken them off. After touring the house, we sat in the garden for a little while and watched as a steady stream of visitors came up the walkway.  Hill Top is still a working farm, being run by a farm manager who lives in the addition to the main house, which Beatrix had built in 1906 for that purpose. The original house dates from the late seventeenth century.  We didn't see any Herdwick sheep at Hill Top, which were the sheep Beatrix Potter raised and championed, but as we drove the narrow lanes around the area, we did see many Herdwick flocks grazing in the rock fenced fields. (Just as a little aside here, if you haven't watched the movie "Miss Potter", that came out several years ago, you really should.  It's beautifully filmed and charming.)

After the Lake District we headed toward York.  Mike had done some reading and wanted to see York Minster, an ancient and beautiful cathedral. We had a wonderful tour guide who obviously loved what he was doing.  For an hour and a half, he kept us spellbound as he recited historical background and pointed out so many unique features. I'm not much for taking formal tours. I usually prefer to read about and then poke around a place on my own, but I can highly recommend taking the tour at York Minster.

(photo by Mike MacDonald)
(Carved stone and stained glass windows) photo by Mike MacDonald
(The faces!!)
On our way back to Edinburgh, we drove into a sweet little English town called Skipton and stopped there to walk around a bit, have a mocha (for me) and an Americana (strong coffee - for Mike). We checked out a few shops and walked along the canal, looking at the canal boats where people live on the water.  Many of the boats were beautifully decorated with brightly painted exteriors and many containers of flowers.

Then back to Edinburgh for one last night and day before catching our plane back to Dublin.  We spent most of that last day day by driving to Stirling and touring Stirling Castle.  We found Stirling to be beautiful and it's on our list to return to some day with more time to explore.

(The rainy view from Stirling Castle)
(The inner courtyard at Stirling Castle) photo by Mike MacDonald
Once back in Dublin, rather than lease another car for just overnight, we took a shuttle to and from a hotel close to the airport and boarded our flight for home the next morning.  I will say, the most traumatic part of the whole trip was going through Customs and Immigration in Dublin. We apparently had very poor timing and there were huge crowds waiting to go through to have their passports checked.  It was hours of standing in long lines, dragging our suitcases along after us. We'll figure out a way to do that better next time!  We'll also take half as many clothes next time.  I thought I had pared things down a lot, but we still came home with unworn clothes.  My advice is to take some black t-shirts, several pairs of jeans, comfortable shoes, a fleece jacket (and a rain jacket, of course) and enjoy not hauling around a heavy suitcase!

(on Nicola's lane)
All in all, I can definitely say our trip surpassed our expectations. During our time spent in Ireland with Nicola, we visited a beautiful ancient church, the National Craft Gallery and Kilkenny Castle, along with visiting Cushendale Woollen Mill, a farm raising Zwartles (and enjoying the hospitality of Suzanna and Bodacious), going to the beach, being treated to our first shandy (made with red lemonade), being served the first lamb we've ever really enjoyed, all the while enjoying the comforts of Nicola's wonderful old farmhouse and her warm hospitality.  It was all nothing short of fabulous!  Spending time with Nicola started our trip off in the best way possible and I hope I can return the favor by having her stay with us here at the farm on her next teaching tour.

(Those fabulous Zwartbles) photo by Mike MacDonald
(Wouldn't everyone love to have a sweet little Irish cottage like this)  photo by Nicola Brown
So, to wrap up this last (I think) post about our wonderful journey, I want to offer some (unsolicited)  advice. If you have a place you're dreaming of visiting, figure out a way to make it happen. It's hard to come up with something positive about my current health issues, but it did encourage us to get on with our lives and take the trip we'd been talking about and dreaming of for many years. None of us know what tomorrow will bring - good or bad, so find a way to do the things you love now.

(And this photo? Because you can't go to Scotland without admiring the kilts!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More Scotland

(Entrance to Clan Donald castle - or what remains of it)
We are home now, but I still have so much to tell about our trip to Scotland and beyond.  It was the trip of a lifetime in so many ways, but we are hoping it turns out to be merely a scouting trip for many trips in our future.  We visited Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh, Oban, Aberdeen and Stirling. We didn't quite make it to Glasgow, but that's on the wish list for next time, as are many other places.  Before that we were in Ireland and somewhere in between some of those Scottish cities, we went to the Lake District in England and then to York, England (which was so interesting we wished we had allowed more time for it.)

We learned so much on this trip.  Fresh off the plane in Dublin, we were a bit nervous about the driving situation.  Nearly all cars are standards, meaning you have to shift gears. To lease an automatic is nearly four times the amount of leasing a standard.  I drove standard cars for many, many years until we bought my current Subaru.  Mike hadn't driven a standard shift in years, nor had he ever driven on the left side of the road.  Coming out of the airport was somewhat harrowing because we were into heavy traffic and lots of round-abouts immediately.  Then before we reached Nicola's house, we were on some tiny roads with tall hedgerows on each side and barely enough room to pass another small oncoming car without scrapping the side view mirrors off.  Mike became a pro pretty quickly.  He did an amazing job of getting us around without any mishaps.  Believe me when I say we were all around Scotland and a little of Ireland and England, too.  By the end, we'd driven about 2000 miles.  All I can say is thank goodness for Siri on our iPhones giving us directions!  We would have had a lot more trouble negotiating all those round-abouts without her voice telling us which was the appropriate exit.  (All those "we's" are actually what we call the "Royal We".  Mike did all the driving.  I was merely moral support!)

(Dunnottar Castle)

 We visited lots of castles (and castle ruins) and cathedrals, which beforehand was exactly what we'd proclaimed we were not going to do.  Once we were there, we just couldn't help ourselves.  There is so much history everywhere it is mind boggling.  It did occur to me pretty quickly that America is a baby in terms of how much history we have.  We spent our last morning touring Stirling Castle and found it just as fascinating as the castles we'd visited earlier. While I don't pretend to know much about Scottish history, I do find it really interesting.  Obviously, with a name like MacDonald, Mike has very clear ties to Scotland.  I know that my own family has Scotch-Irish and English roots, but know only a little about the particulars and now am motivated to find out more.

We stayed in a lot of bed and breakfasts and found all of them to be quite nice.  You really don't find chain hotels like we have here in the States,  nor do you find chain fast-food restaurants.  A pleasant change, if I do say so. (We'd read somewhere that Rick Steves recommends staying at B and B's in order to get to know local people.)  Everywhere we went in Scotland,  people were friendly and kind and seemed more than willing to help with directions and advice.  We stayed at a lovely B and B on the Isle of Skye and met a family from Germany, who were also staying there.  We really enjoyed talking with them two mornings over breakfast and wished we'd had more time to get to know them.  I think one thing that was pleasantly surprising to both of us was how comfortable we felt.  We expected to have difficulty understanding people and finding our way around, but honestly it was much easier than we anticipated.  Mike was often outside his comfort zone because our trip was so loosely planned.  We had no reservations anywhere when we began the trip and spent some time each day consulting Tripadvisor to find our next place to stay.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend this method, but it was mostly successful for us.  Next time we'll do more pre-planning because we know enough now about where we might want to go.  Mike has promised me that next time we will stay in one place for at least 3 or 4 nights in a row, rather than someplace different nearly every night.  You are my witnesses!

I have too many pictures of castles and don't want to be a bore about it.  So, I will just say Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Stirling Castle, Dunvegan Castle and many others are well worth visiting.  Just don't spend all your time touring the inside of castles.  The scenery out of doors is too beautiful to miss.  Mike has been watching the Outlander series on television with me and after we returned from Scotland, he admitted that before our trip he'd thought they had made up the outdoor scenery for the program!  It really is as dramatic and beautiful as the pictures you see.

Next up:  a quick trip to the Lake District of England to see the home of a favorite of mine.  Meanwhile, here are a few more livestock on the road pictures, all taken on the Isle of Skye.

(Those colored marks identify which farm the sheep belongs to.)