The Dust Won

This year it was hard to get motivated to decorate for Christmas, but I did and glad of it. However, we live on a gravel driveway off a gravel road and have two huge house dogs, so the house requires frequent vacuuming and dusting. Prior to decorating, every surface gets wiped down thoroughly, crevices vacuumed, then the Santas, Gnomes, Village, small decorated tree, and linens are brought out. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we go to one of the local Christmas tree farms, pick a fresh tree, have it cut and decorate it. Though it is pretty to look at, all of this just contributes to the mess. The tree goes up between the living room windows and door, so every time the dogs go in or out, tails swat the tree. This one really held it’s needles well, drank quarts of water each day, and was still pretty supple this morning, but every other surface was so dusty I couldn’t stand it another day.

I was awake early and instead of just lounging about, the tree was undecorated. This was challenging as Ranger, the Mastiff decided that since I was in the living room, he would be too and parked right in front of the tree. The stand we bought years ago at the tree farm holds lots of water, so after all the ornaments and lights are off, I have to sit on the floor with a dish pan and a turkey baster and siphon off at least a gallon of water before the tree can be removed from the stand and dragged outside. Usually a trail of needles follow me, but surprisingly few today.

The linens were all washed and folded, the Village dismantled and packed up, the small tree that sits on the jelly cupboard, soft sculptures, nut crackers all packed back in the big plastic totes that store them 11 months of the year. After lunch, the Santas and Gnomes were each wrapped in bubble wrap and packed in their totes. All shelves, mantle, tables, and other surfaces dusted, floors vacuumed and mopped, and Christmas has been put away for another year.

It always makes me a little sad to take it down, but cleaning up the dust, dog hair, tree needles, makes me feel better about the house. Last year, the totes were all stored in a guest room closet, this year, I returned all but two of them to the storage closet in the basement. The two that went back in the guest room are the two with Santas and Gnomes that are just too heavy for me to comfortably carry up and down the basement steps.

The ceramic Snowman and snowmen pillows will stay out until I am tired of snow, that hasn’t happened yet this year.

Soon the pumpkin pie and eggnog will be gone and Christmas will be but a memory. For a couple years, we have celebrated New Year’s Eve at Mountain Lake Lodge, up the mountain from us, enjoying the dinner, party, overnight room, and breakfast the next day. This year, we will stay home, it just isn’t safe to go out. Let’s hope 2021 is healthier and less contentious politically than last year. Wishing you all a healthy, happy New Year.

The January Challenges

Being home all the time reinforced the old school skills that I already practiced, such as growing vegetable and flower gardens, cooking at home (though I do miss eating out in a restaurant occasionally), baking bread, making soap and other body and household products, spinning, and knitting or weaving. However, the bread baking, soap making, and spinning needed to be moderated. The freezer filled with breads, soap wasn’t selling online and there were no craft shows, and spinning on my wheel produces more yarn than I can knit up and again, there were few sales in my shop and no craft shows.

Slowing down some of the skills was easy, but slowing down the spinning required some thought. I began spinning with spindles, top whorl drop spindles. Over time I discovered Turkish spindles, bottom whorl spindles, supported spindles, Dealgans, and Mayan spinners. I never got the hang of supported spindles, the Dealgan, Mayan spinner, and my two whorl spindles are only used when I am doing a demonstration at a camp or school (not this past year unfortunately), but the Turkish spindles I fell in love with them. I have had several from different makers, and artists. Trust me, some are as rough in quality as tinker toys, some beautiful but heavy for their size and still somewhat blocky in appearance, then I discovered Jenkins spindles. The quality if far above any of the others, the arms are sleek, the shafts smooth, slender, and well turned. I have tried most of the sizes he makes, some have come and gone from the ones I own and some replaced with the same style and size but in different wood or different weight. His three mid sized spindles are my favorite and I have one of each. Hubby managed to get me the middle of my mid sized ones for my birthday and it is by far my favorite.

To slow down my spinning, I returned to my spindles. They are portable, one is always with me if we go out to pick up groceries or on the two occasions we got to do socially distanced meet ups with Son 1 and family. My spinning is even and consistent. My mind settles into a calm rhythm, stress melts away.

When I discovered the Jenkins spindles, I also discovered a social media group for those spindles and I have made dozens of new friends worldwide that share the same passion and the group had an ongoing challenge for 2020 to spin at least 25 grams (less than an ounce) a month. Sidebars to that challenge were to spin a rare or threatened breed and do knit, crochet, weave, felt, rug hook, or otherwise create a finished object using at least 25 grams of yarn you had spun on the Jenkins spindle. I didn’t discover the group or the challenges until too late in March to participate, but joined in for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters of the year. Some months, I spun an entire 4 ounce braid, some months, spinning at least 15 minutes a day, less was done. In May and June, I spun and plied a braid of more than 4 ounces of gradient dyed wool with the intent of using it as the yoke of a sweater, then decided not to knit the sweater. The skein of over 500 yards of yarn went into my shop and didn’t sell, so a couple weeks ago, it was wound into balls and knitted to complete my second finished object of the month.

This group has filled a hole left by not being able to go to the local spinning group each week. As the year is winding to a close and we can slam the door on 2020, but knowing that we are still social distancing, the group challenge for the year is called the Breed Blanket Project 2021. The object is to spin on Jenkins spindles, monthly, enough of a pure breed to knit, crochet, or weave 1/12th per month of a blanket to finish at least baby blanket sized by the end of the year.

I decided I wanted to learn to ply on the fly (spin and ply in one pass of the fiber). I practiced it for a few days and though I can do it, I don’t like the yarn I was producing, so I will return to spinning singles and plying them for the yarn. My spindle spinning produces a yarn that depending on whose standards you are using is light fingering or heavy lace weight yarn. I had 115.5 yards of a pure breed, Jacob, spun, plyed, and washed and decided to use it to get gauge and see how much yarn it is going to take to produce the squares I will use. The blanket I am going to make will be 56″ x 56″ at the end of the year, but I will probably knit a border on it when it is assembled to make it closer to 60″. The sample I am doing can’t be counted toward the blanket as I can’t begin spinning that yarn until January 1, but I will continue knitting, using up mini skeins and make a throw pillow out of it. I have lined up the 12 breeds I will spin. Each 28″ square will take 4 months and will have 3 natural colored breeds and 1 dyed fiber of another breed. Here are some of the dyed fiber I will spin.

With them and another dyed fiber in route to me, I will use natural grays, whites, and browns. It should be a fun challenge.

When I wheel spun yarn for the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em challenge, I had considered using them for a breed blanket, but knit the half hap shawl instead.

Along the way, there will be pop up challenges, the first is something new. My new will be new fiber, the teal and multi color in the left side of the photo, the fiber hubby gave me for Christmas on a new spindle (one acquired in November or December so my birthday spindle. A side part of this challenge is to use an Aegean spindle, so I will also use the one on the right in the top photo, the one with the dandelion painted on it. This fiber is a pure breed, so it will satisfy both challenges at once.

So socially distanced, hoping for a vaccine soon enough to make at least some going out safer, I will relax and spin the challenges, chatting with the friends I have made worldwide in this group. Spindles have been my sanity for the past 10 months.

Yes, I am alive and well

A friend reminded me that I had been silent for a few days. Time spent with hubby and via phone and video chat with family, time spent finishing my December spinning challenge, trying to finish a shawl as a finished project for the same challenge, and getting ready for the start of the new year, spinning challenges and mentally preparing for even more isolation as we are seeing about a dozen new cases of COVID in our county each day (56+% of the cases in the county since December 1) and between people travelling and gathering for Christmas and New Years, it will get worse.

When I went to the Farmers Market on the Saturday before Christmas, part of my goal was to obtain a Christmas roast for our Christmas dinner, we still have Thanksgiving turkey in the freezer. The vendor apologized that his abattoir had not gotten his latest beef back to him, but he expected to pick it up on Monday. He made a stop on his way home and let me buy a 3 pound rib roast. It was a much more expensive cut than I would usually purchase and wanted it to be cooked perfectly. When we have family here or that we can visit with, we usually have Italian food at Daughter’s on Christmas Eve, and Turkey, ham, and all the sides on Christmas day here. As a younger married, I would prepare either Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, my Dad doing the other and extended family gathered. The Christmas dinner was always on Christmas eve and we grazed on left overs and other goodies on Christmas Day. Traditionally, I make Huevos Rancheros for hubby on Christmas and New Years Day mornings. Because it was just the two of us, I did prepare the breakfast then later in the day, prepared the roast that I had seasoned the day before. It was perfect and delicious. We have eaten about half of it over two days, the other half frozen to be pulled out in a week or so and enjoyed again.

We woke to a white Christmas with continued snow showers all day. Gifts had been exchanged with our children and grand children via distanced meetings or mail. We celebrated with just the two of us. My gifts included items lovingly chosen based on my interests, fiber to spin, a Jumbo flyer for my wheel, a travel Lazy Kate, a leather tooled pocket notebook cover, counter top herb garden with grow light, hand made pottery planter made by DIL and bee barn from them as well, wool socks and a wool tee shirt to keep me warm. It was a calm, lazy day filled with too much food, but no in person family except hubby.

My December spinning got side tracked when I started knitting the Peacock shawl, but I still finished with plenty for the challenge.

Yesterday was spent plying yarn, the “Redbud” ended up about 450 yards of light fingering weight and the Jacob (the gray) is this month’s and last month’s plied together to about 115 yards of light fingering weight.

The fiber hubby gave me is the left of this photo and will be the breed I begin my January challenges with, both the “Something New” challenge and a Breed Blanket.

After several frigid icy days, the sun is out and the snow and ice are melting, the temperature finally above 40 degrees, so we ventured out to take a walk, figuring the paved rail grade being the safest path. For the most part it was clear or wet, but there were some areas like this below.

Some of the areas that looked wet were black ice, but it was good to get out and stretch our legs and get some fresh air.

I have about half an ounce of yarn left before I have to use the rest to do the picot bind off. I’m hoping it is enough to finish the repeat I am on.

I’m very pleased with how the gradient blends until it gets to the purples and the gradient isn’t as subtle there, almost like the purples were reversed, but I spun this yarn on spindles and was very careful to keep them in the order they came off the braid. It is still a pretty shawl. Once finished, washed and blocked, it will go in my shop.

I hope you had a safe Christmas and will have a safe New Year.