Thursday, October 30, 2014

Having low expectations

(In the setting sun ...)
I seem to be dithering these days, somewhat more than usual.  I can't seem to settle on knitting, sewing, dyeing or battening down the hatches in preparation for winter.  I've knit a little (I actually finished my capelet from the Fiber Craft Studio yarn that I bought at Rhinebeck, though it still needs a good wet blocking), cut out a pattern for a knit dress, washed some linen for a tunic, brought a few pots of plants into the greenhouse to keep them growing through the winter and prepared my collection of pokeberries into a dye solution, but I just can't seem to buckle down and follow through with anything.  I think partly it's because I'm in an uncomfortable in-between place mentally.  I'm feeling, once again, that this disease is getting the upper hand. Last week, my rheumatologist decided to up my medication to something that will require me to inject myself once a week.  In some ways, I'm glad for the change in meds because the one I'm on now is causing my hair to fall out, which is not that surprising, considering it is a cancer drug.  Luckily, I have a lot of hair, but it's pretty disconcerting to see how much of it is coming out every day and I can definitely tell that I've lost a lot already. Besides some continuing issues with joint pain, one of the other side effects is that I feel so tired much of the time.  I had hoped to feel more in control at this point, but I suppose it's just another lesson in learning that control is an illusion.

On a positive note, my sheep are bringing me so much peace right now.  As difficult as it has been to reduce the size of my flock, it's wonderful to now have a whole group that are so gentle and calm.  Nearly every evening, while Aslan is eating his dinner on the outside of the fence, I take my little wooden folding stool into the field and sit down to visit with the girls.  If you follow me on Instagram, you will likely have seen a number of photos taken during my evening visitations with the sheep.  It's lovely to have one or two of them come and put their heavy heads upon my shoulder, lean gently into me and wait for scratches behind their ears or under their chins.  It's a time of meditation for me really, centering me, allowing me to slow my internal dialogue, breathe into their soft fleece and feel their solid presence. It's comforting in a way I can't really describe and a reminds me of why I chose to raise sheep all those many years ago.  I'm so grateful I have them in my life.

So, tomorrow is November.  Time to get my act together and begin thinking about having a sane and peaceful holiday season - one of low expectations and more enjoyment.  The word for this year will be simplify!

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!)