Sunday, May 22, 2011

Random: Overhaul, Felt, Jam

So it took me almost two weeks to write about our trip.  But it's not like I had anything to do over those two weeks other than sit around and write.

I got to attend a dye workshop last week.  That's right--just attend.  As I was leaving, Bob said "what is it that you're teaching today?"  I told him I wasn't teaching.  So he assumed I was assisting.  Not that, either.  Not setting up, taking down, or organizing.  Just attending.  It was supposed to be as part of the monthly meeting for the local weaver's guild (which I recently rejoined.  I join about once every five years).  But only two of us showed up, plus the person running it.  So I got to do my personal dye sample run on some small skeins of cotton--I'll probably weave them up on my new little loom (and take pictures them).  But the person running it--Michelle--is a friend that I don't get to see very often, so after we cleaned up we went to a local pub (smaller, quieter, and friendlier than a bar) to have a beer and hang out for a bit.  I had a beer float--which sounds godawful, but made with a good stout is actually quite tasty.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Bob has been working on a major project.  28 years ago he got a desk out of surplus for his office.  He's changed jobs and offices several times since then, and his desk has followed.  But he recently lost his office for a desk in the bull pen (group office), and he decided to keep his desk for a worktable.  It's bigger and better than his current work table.

As the saying goes:  It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.

He's had the current workarea set up for some 20 years, and in that time has managed to effectively fill every square inch of space.  In order to take the old desk out, it would all have to come out.  So it did--and one corner of his room managed to fill up quite a bit of the living room.

 Now he's faced with the rather daunting task of getting it all back in there.  It's a slow process--as this is a good time to sort, organize, and toss a lot of stuff.  But we think it all fluffed up, and who knows where it will eventually fit.

Last March I wrote about showing a couple of friends how to make felt scarves.  I was invited to teach a class on it at the local knit shop, and did that yesterday.  I had four students--two were exuberant and unrestrained, and two laid their wool out very neatly and carefully.  All four had fun (which was, of course, the important part) and had one-of-a-kind scarves to take home.
 In the early spring I posted pictures of our plum trees in bloom.  Bob has been trying to beat the squirrels to the plums.  He's had a fair measure of success--so today we made a couple of batches (10 jars) of plum jelly.  Before we started, I made up a batch of bread so when we were finished we had fresh bread coming out of the oven.  Bread and jelly--just about as basic a treat as it gets--but some people go their whole lives without ever tasting homemade jelly and fresh baked bread.  And that's just too bad.  Of course--after eating a whole loaf of bread we might not bother with dinner tonight.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vacation, Part 2--Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

Been home for a week and a half and still writing up the vacation.  Of course, other things have happened--adopted the possums, started the new term, have been to a dyeing workshop, and caught a cold.  And there's Bob's Major Room Overhaul.  All those will come later.

The real reason for going to Maryland was to attend the Sheep and Wool Festival.  It's been going on for 30-something years, always the first weekend in May.  I've always wanted to go, and have always talked myself out of it--it's too far away, it's too expensive to go, I have all the fibers and tools I'll ever need, I don't like crowds . . . . . .   all true.  But the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is THE major festival of the fiber world, and I really just wanted to experience it.

And it was an experience.  We got there around 9:00--the fairgrounds were scheduled to open at 9:30.  The traffic was backed up for several miles before the fairgrounds.  The parking was very efficiently done by boy scouts and cops (some on segways) packing the cars like sardines in a can.  (there was additional parking off grounds with shuttles to bring people in)

It was, in a word, overwhelming.  There were about 10 barns on the grounds--some packed with sheep, most packed with vendors.  Tent cities had sprung up in open areas at each end to hold the vendors that couldn't fit in the barns (according to the brochure, there were about 200 vendors).  And they were all being mobbed by the shoppers.

As a dabbler in fiber things, I've always been a bit in the minority.  It was odd to see thousands of people of "my tribe."  My plan had been to do a quick walkthrough of the vendors to see what was there, and then go back for a closer look at anything that interested me.  HAH!!  One does not wander--one wedges.  You find an opening in the crowd and elbow in.  Bob (aka "The Sherpa" with the backback) would stay in the center aisle, sort of moving in a slow vortex in the crowd and waiting for me to crawl back out again.  Normally I panic in a crowd--but a crowd of fiber lovers tend to be a fuzzy friendly sort of crowd. But still--click on this picture to enlarge it, and realize that fuzzy multicolor mass going up the road is all people.  And I took this picture on Sunday when it wasn't quite so crowded (I was too busy being stunned on Saturday)

In fact, I was so overwhelmed on Saturday that I really hedged about going back on Sunday.  I had heard that there was a zoo in Baltimore . . . .   But by Sunday morning I was ready to hit the fray.  We took it a little easier this time.  We spent some time in a tent watching a "sheep to shawl" competition (three spinners, one weaver, and one sheep).  The looms are pre-threaded, and the teams have 3 hours to shear the sheep, card and spin the wool, and have a finished shawl made.  We spent a couple of hours lying on a hill in some very nice grass (and no fire ants!) watching a blade shearing competition.  Shearing a sheep with hand shears takes more skill than using electric shears.  Having blade sheared our own sheep (which took about an hour per sheep and resulted in an animal that looked like it had been sheared with a dull grapefruit spoon) we could appreciate the skill of these shearers.  And take advantage of the perfect weather--I've heard that some years it's cold and rainy for the festival, and some years it's hot and oppresive.  But it was breezy, balmy, and blue-skied for us. And later we found fence-space to watch the sheepdog demonstrations.  Always fascinating to watch the well-trained dogs--with their intensity of purpose and low-crawling walk they're just this side of a wolf stalking it's prey. 

And we spent some more time wandering the sheep barns.  Anyone who thinks a sheep is a sheep is a sheep would be amazed at the variety of sizes and shapes these wooly beasties come in.

Despite that in fiber I have reached the stage called SABLE (Stash Aquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) I did have to get at least a bit of swag for The Sherpa to carry.  Tools:  a set of wool combs (a medieval form of wool prep--these are called St. Blaise combs after the patron saint of wool combers--a bishop who was flayed to death by wool combs),  an addition to my spindle collection (I love the spiral-carved hook) and a small loom for weaving narrow bands (it will make more sense when I put a warp on it)

And while I did wander through the barn with the bags of fresh-shorn fleece, I did not succumb to the temptation there and limited myself to some smaller bags of washed and ready-to spin fibers.  There's some lusciously soft yak and silk, some white cormo and silk (cormo is a sheep breed I haven't spun yet) and some soft green merino and silk.  There seems to be a common theme here--I'm like silk like Paula Dean is about butter--it just improves everything.
And some small things.  For me--a button that reads" I spin because knitting wasn't weird enough."  For the owner of a local yarn shop a a bumper sticker that says "If knitting was exercise you could bounce a quarter off my ass."
So Maryland Sheep and Wool is off my bucket list.  I've done it--and don't have to do it again.  There will be other, smaller festivals to attend, but I'm glad to have experienced this one (and with a faithful Sherpa to encourage me)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vacation, Part 2

After spending the morning at the Aquarium, we headed over to the Science Museum.  They always bring out the inner kid in us--there are plenty of fun toys to play with (such as a laser harp--no strings but you play it by disrupting light beams).  And there was a chance to take a quick lie-down--on a bed of nails!

Then we wandered over to the Museum of Visionary Arts.  Alas, like many things at the Inner Harbor it closed at 5:00 but there was much cool and fun art outside.  There was also a garage with participants preparing for the annual Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture race (to be held the next day, when we would be gone.  Maybe some other time)  But we got to see some of the creations (see Kinetic

I particularly liked the huge found object bird and nest and the eagle wing door handles.  My favorite was a mirrored wind chime tree.  I'd like to have that--to make one.  Maybe not with mirrors, but it would be possible to make a big wind chime.

It did turn out that the aquarium was open late--and we still had our hand stamps from the morning, so we ducked in there for another hour or so.  It was much quieter and emptier without the school groups.  I got to feed crickets to the archer fish.  They hunt by shooting streams of water at bugs on tree limbs-so if you hold a cricket above the water they'll try to knock it out of your hand.  My idea of a fun time--getting a fish to spit at me!  We also walked by a display of various skeletons (turtle, penguin, dolphin).  The lighting made them much creepier than I think was intended.
We spent some of the evening just wandering downtown.  Old cities are such a juxtiposition of architecture--there's the old and elegant, the old and shabby, and the new and edgy (and to me, soulless and uninteresting) all cheek by jowl.

The first two days had been such fun that we could have gone home  then and still declared it to be a great vacation.  But the real reason we went to Maryland was to go to the Sheep and Wool Festival--so that will be the next report.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vacation! (Part 1)

Must be spring--for some people it's daffodills.  For others it's robins. Us?  Baby opossums.

But we adopted these guys after we came back from vacation.  For about 10 years I've been wanting to go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival--a HUGE gathering of sheep and fiber vendors.  Decided that this was the year to take it off the bucket list.

The trip got off to a good start--at least for me.  *Really* cute stewards on the plane.  We flew in to Baltimore on Thursday to be able to spend a day in the Inner Harbor area before going to the festival in the weekend.  There was a little white-knuckle driving in the rented car for Bob to get to the hotel but we arrived safely (and had purposely chosen a hotel within walking distance of anything we wanted to see).

There's a lot to see in the Inner Harbor area, but except for bars and restaurants they all seem to close by 5:00.  So Thursday afternoon we just wandered around.  Typical--within 20 minutes Bob found a modeler to talk with.  There is a model of the "Pride of Baltimore" being built in the visitor center and the builder was there so the guys had a long and interesting chat.  Detail that I picked up--I knew that sailors were referred to as "old tars" and often used tar to slick back their hair and ponytails.  I had always wondered  how they got the tar back out--or did they just have to give up and shave their heads when they got to port.  Well, turns out that the tar is not coal tar--it's pine tar, which smells quite nice, and can be washed out (reenactors still use it).

I was enchanted by the dragons floating out in the harbor.

After a long day of travel and the wandering around, our "night life" consisted of sitting up in bed and sharing a carton of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  This is what vacations are about!

Saturday morning we got to the aquarium first thing.  Four hours later we finally wandered out (only to go back for another hour or so.  Before it opened we looked at at WWII submarine on display--I was most charmed by the fact that the little holes and gaps of this machine of war are now occupied by pigeons building their nests.

The aquarium is huge and beautiful and peaceful (even with school groups on field trips).  As well as tanks of fish, there was a large pool of rays and sharks (and a large turtle).  There is a walk-through Austrailand exhibit (with free-flying birds) and a rain forest (with a sloth just hanging around).

Next, the science museum!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Family Time

What a fun couple of weeks!

Had a belated mother’s birthday visit from Mike and Margo for a few days. We had lined up some things to do—go to the Maclay gardens, maybe the Brogran museum—but ended up mostly sitting at home, playing scrabble, and having a chat fest. Then we’d pick up some goodies, head out to the parents', and have some more chatfest. No family pictures to post—none of us particularly like having our pictures taken. Pookha, Nazgul, and Apache were good hosts to keep Mike and Margo from going into cat-withdrawal. As usual, Fiona was the Amazing Disappearing Cat but Bob was able to drag her out for a few seconds just to prove that she does indeed exist (she’s 12 now, and except for Bob and I and the vet when necessary she’s quite invisible)

We did run over to Lofty Pursuits to see the candy machines. The owner, Greg Cohen (who used to be one of my advisees in the English department a lifetime or two ago) collects Victorian-era candy machines. And uses them—old-fashioned candies are made on the premises. Alas, there was no candy production that day but it was still fun to play with the toys.

Mike and Margo are such good friends as well as good family, and it’s always a happy time when we get together. Shame that Boston and Tallahassee are a bit far apart—we *told* Michael to invent that transporter.

We must have *really* missed them when they left, because we both promptly became sicker than the proverbial dog.  It was chancy timing--because less than a week after they left we were going to Maryland for the big Sheep and Wool Festival.  But other than being a few pounds lighter (which didn't last, alas) we were both well and ready for the trip.