Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why Do Farts Smell?

Today I was remembering an incident that happened to me when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Mom and Dad and my brother and sister were going to be out of town. I forget what the occasion was, but my parents needed someone to babysit me. So, they arranged for my Dad's parents to look after me for a few days.

My grandparents lived on a farm about twenty minutes away so they came into the city to pick me up. We arrived back at their place and went inside.

Now I have to tell you that my grandparents (both now deceased) were deaf. Grandpa was born deaf and as best as we know grandma lost her hearing in an accident falling down the stairs and hitting her head (we are not 100% certain if that's what happened). Grandma's family were embarrassed to have a deaf child in the family and when company came she would be hidden away. It was, unfortunately, fairly often the case back in those days (1913ish) with any family members who were different such as Mongoloid or mentally impaired family members to be locked away when visitors came by so as not to 'embarrass' the family.

Thankfully when grandma was around eight years old, a visiting minister heard her scratching at the door and had the gumption to ask who was behind the door. It changed grandma's life. He convinced her family that she belonged in school and they agreed, sending her to the deaf school in Milton, Ontario. While there she met grandpa. They fell in love and when school was finished they got married. Grandpa then took over the dairy farm and the two of them worked together harmoniously for many, many years.

Being deaf, they spoke with their hands. They could also lip read and speak too. Most deaf people can speak very well, though sometimes their voices are softer sounding. So, being a child left alone with grandma and grandpa I wasn't worried or afraid. If all other means of communicating failed, signs, mime, lip reading, etc., we'd get out the pen and pencil and write notes back and forth.

In fact, I'll never forget when grandma asked me what I wanted for lunch and since I didn't understand she wrote down the word "sandwiches". Now I knew that I knew what that word was, but for the life of me I could not recall what it meant. I kept thinking about sand and witches and no amount of thinking and meditating would help me remember what she was asking me. Not wanting her to think I was totally stupid I nodded yes. I realized a short while later what the word meant when we sat down to eat lunch and she had roast beef sliced up on bread--sandwiches. I remembered then. That word has always been troublesome for me. I think it's because it doesn't make any sense at all, except to maybe witches who hang out on beaches.

Anyway, later that day grandma and grandpa were standing next to me in the dining room and they were having a fast sign language conversation about something. I didn't have to pay attention so I just stood there. But then it happened. The big build-up started. I had to fart. And I kept feeling the pressure and the need to release it, but I couldn't do that because I was a guest and it'd be rude to fart. And besides, from the pressure that was building up I knew that this wasn't going to be a silent thing. No, it was going to be a huge noisy fart.

It was at that moment, while I struggled to hold that great big fart in that I had an epiphany: They're deaf! They won't hear it!!! I'll never forget that amazing dawning realization that I could make this big noise and they wouldn't even hear.

So, I farted. I let that big thing go. And it was very noisy, just like I thought it would be. I stood there then, with a little smile on my face. I was proud that I'd solved my problem and kind of awed about the whole realization.

It wasn't long though until grandma's nose started to twitch. Then her hands moved really fast at grandpa. Now, I didn't know the actual signs she used but I sure could tell what the gist of it was. She was accusing grandpa of farting. He shook his head vehemently, no he did not fart. I waited a few more seconds and then both of them turned to look at me. Then grandma repeated the same signs to me, asking if I farted. No, I shook my head, I didn't fart. Are you sure she asked? Yes, I'm sure I nodded.

They gracefully let me get away with that boldfaced lie. So I learned that day why farts smell. Many years later I would hear the joke that many deaf people tell: Why do farts smell? The answer ... so that deaf people can enjoy them too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How to Kool-Aid Dye Sheep's Wool

I reported earlier on how to wash a fleece so now I'll show you the progression of dyeing a sheep's fleece with Kool Aid. (This was my first but successful attempt :)

I first spun my washed and carded my wool from Francis the sheep and then spun it on my spinning wheel. I wanted a bulky yarn that wasn't perfectly even so I spun it to be a little larger. I didn't use the whole fleece - I just created 3 skeins and then I was ready to dye it. I chose not to dye the wool roving and also I chose not to ply the yarn until after the dye process was completed.

Here are the steps to Kool Aid dyeing your wool:

Use unsweetened Kool-Aid for this recipe.
  1. Open the skeins and tie them loosely and then soak them in room temperature water for 30 minutes or so. This helps them better soak up the dye. You can had a 1/4 cup of vinegar to create acidity but many reports on this process say the Kool-Aid is acidic and it isn't necessary (I went ahead and added vinegar to mine). Also, because Kool-Aid is approved as a food you don't 'have to' dedicate your cook pot as a dye pot, although it would probably not be a bad idea if you did.
  2. Fill a metal (non aluminium) container with water and add packets of Kool-Aid. I used five 8 gram packets of the colour Ice Blue because I had three skeins and I wanted a fairly strong colour. Stir to disolve all the crystals. The amount of water used isn't the issue to the strength of colour taken up by the wool - it's the number of packets that you use that make the colour stronger.

  3. Remove the wool from the water and place the skeins into the dye pot. Press them down gently until they are covered in the water.

  4. Turn on the stove and simmer (not boil) for 30 minutes. You can stir--very gently and slowly--but be careful not to agitate the wool or it will felt.

  5. After 30 minutes you'll see that your coloured water has become clear because the dye has been completely absorbed by the wool (note that the water showing in the spoon is clear--and yes I have a very ugly harvest gold stove!)

  6. Remove the wool from the pot and place in the sink to drain and cool.

  7. Hang to dry. The wool will have a lovely Kool-Aid smell which really makes up for the poopy smell before washing it! The smell will come out eventually.
  8. Hang your wool to dry.

Now I went one step farther. The blue came out more a sea foam colour which was fine but I really wanted a purple-blue colour. So once the wool had cooled down to room temperature I repeated the above process and added five 6 gram packets of Grape Kool-Aid to a fresh pot of room temperature water on the stove. Note that you can re-dye and also mix your colours too.

I simmered the seafoam coloured wool for 30 minutes (per directions above). My thinking was that the colours would layer (same technique I use when painting watercolours) so I wanted to build the colour. Also, I wanted to blue to show through the purple.

After the skeins were dry I plyed them on the spinning wheel. I really love the end result--the dye colour varies slightly from raisin to purple to blue-purple and the two-ply helps to show off the colour differences.

I plan to knit a vest with this wool.

If these directions were helpful, please leave your comments to let me know.


Friday, December 26, 2008

How to Wash a Sheep's Wool Fleece

I learned how to make yarn on a spinning wheel and I've got a new obsession--spinning. After taking some lessons I started saving. I even took on extra work supply teaching to raise funds to buy my own wheel. Months went by but finally in the fall I got my Louet spinning wheel. I don't know much about it from a technical standpoint other than that it's well made, I love it and it has two foot pedals. My teacher recommended it, having said she's tried them all, I took her word for it and ordered the Louet.

I had been working with roving, fleece which has already been cleaned and combed but recently I bought my first full fleece, smelling like a barn of sheep and I happily brought it home. It was a golden apricot colour which I loved. I was hoping that it would stay that colour but unfortunately it came out white after washing. It was the oil--lanolin that gave it the peachy colour.

I've subscribed to a spinners' magazine called Spin Off where they had a great article on the "best" way to wash a fleece (the article was by the well renowned author and spinner Judith MacKenzie McCuin). I followed the directions and the results were very pleasing. Here's the gist of it:

  1. Soak your fleece in a pail or bucket of room temperature water for 5 to 7 days. It's best if you can keep this water warm. The reason for the soaking is to loosen off the poohy particles but more importantly, to let the suint - the water based cleanser that is on all wool -- work to cleanse most of the fleece for you. Suint is naturally secreted by the sheep and it has soap-like dirt shedding qualities when it's wet.
  2. After the week, remove the fleece to a strainer but be sure to keep all that poopy water. That water will be full of suint and it can be used over and over to cleanse future fleeces. So put a lid on that bucket and keep it. (Confession - it's a cold and snowy winter in Canada and my poopy suint water is in a large garbage can in the kitchen. I can't put it outside because the water will freeze. At least the lid snaps down and latches really well. But on the other hand, I always loved the barn so a little sheep smell isn't that bad). Once this poopy water is too gross to continue with you can pour it out on your garden for your flowers.
  3. Fill your washing machine with hot water - enough water to cover the fleece. (Don't put the fleece in and run water on it or it will felt). The heat will help to clean the fleece and also remove the lanolin.
  4. Put your fleece into your washing machine, letting it sink down and be covered in water. You can gently push it under the water but don't agitate it (I know, it's hard to resist!). Let it soak for 30 minutes. The washer is being used as a tub for hot water and for it's spin cycle, but don't use any agitation. (Now what I do which I haven't heard of others doing is I cover the washer with a couple comforters. This helps to keep the heat in so that the water doesn't cool down very much. Some people cook their fleece as a way to keep the temp up, but I prefer this method).
  5. After 30 minutes, check the temperature of the water with your hand. Then turn your washer to the spin cycle (spin only, no rinsing) and spin out the water. It'll be dirty.
  6. Remove the fleece and refill the tub with hot water - make sure the temperature is the same as your temperature check so the fleece isn't shocked or felted with a sudden temperature change. This time add dish washing liquid until the water is slippery with soap. There's no need to make the soap bubbly but don't worry to much if it is.
  7. Add the fleece to the washer and let soak again for 30 minutes with the comforters keeping things hot.
  8. Once again turn the washer to spin and remove the water. It'll be not so brown this time but still dirty.
  9. Remove the fleece and again refill the washer with the same temperature water and soak again for 30 minutes and spin out the water.
  10. The water should start to be clear and clean looking which means the fleece is getting clean. Repeat the process if necessary until the water is clear.
  11. After your final spin, lay the fleece on a towel and/or drying rack and let it air dry.

  12. This section of fleece from "Francis" was very dirty with fecal matter and straw.
  13. The wet fleece will air dry in about 24 hours which is about as much time as you might need to decide what you're going to make with all this wool. Then, get out the carders and get ready to have some fun!!!
Here's a photo of Tigger laying next to my wool carders. As you can see, cats know the benefits of wool to keep them warm on a cold winter night. When Tigger left, my other cat Tom came and took up the same spot. They also love to curl up on my wool sweaters for a little nap.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cats - Being a Foster Mom for Stray Cats

One cold and dreary Sunday afternoon in November 2006, I went looking for my precious cat Sweet Pea. She had not come home and I was worried about her. I found my beloved cat on the road. She had been hit by a car and was killed. I was devastated at losing her. She had been a special cat, my fur baby, and she had really helped me through a tough time. I missed her terribly and all I felt was an overpowering need to do some pay back for her somehow, some way. (This photo is of Sweet Pea).
I wanted to show thanks for her life and to make her memory live on. So I called the local non profit organization that fosters cats, Animalert, and set myself up to become a foster mom for abandoned and stray cats.

Within a couple weeks I had a Mom and her kitten. They were adopted quickly and then more cats arrived. Each one has their own unique personality and it was a real pleasure to get to know them as individuals. I'd watch them as they'd bond with the other cats in my home and they'd soon relax because they knew they were in a safe place. (Photo of Tica adopted in 2006 along with her kitten Antonio).

My heart would break a little as each cat is adopted but it's such a small pain and it doesn't last. Instead I'm left with the knowledge that the cat has found it's perfect permanent home. Few things are better than that.

(Photo of kittens Dottie & Smudge and their Mother adopted 2008).

At a recent fund raising bazaar for the Animalert non profit organization, I had several people grab me by the elbow to take me aside. Then out came the photo albums and cameras filled with photos of their new fur baby--a cat they came to adopt from my home. That and a followup call always give me closure as I release these precious animals, making room for the next.

The young cats are playful, sometimes mischievous but always fun to watch. They bring joy that outweighs the little things like the chewed corners on my books or the toilet paper pulled off the roll, out the bathroom and down the hall. The older cats are wise and they know they've been abandoned or mistreated. They are extremely grateful and make the most loyal and loving pets. (Bailey adopted in 2008).

I think that's the surprise, the love that's returned. So often we think it's just us that's giving it out. The returns are wonderful and it makes me want to ask why more people don't consider fostering? Maybe it's just a well kept secret?

I hope this secret gets out :)

(This is my cat Gracie who rarely sleeps because she's always busy supervising everyone else, including me).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Remembrance Day: I Remember. I will Never Ever Forget

In 1969 my family went to live in England for a year. It was quite the adventure. We rented a house. Dad worked on his thesis and my brother and sister and I donned school uniforms for the first time.

Of course we travelled a lot. Many weekends and summer holidays we did the touristy things. We also visited war memorials. We visited Flanders Fields and recited the poem. My sister and I picked poppies that grew in a field across from the cemetery and we laid them on the white crosses marking the spot where men gave up their lives so we could be free.

We read “Unknown Soldier” over and over and over on the gravestones. I’ll never forget looking in each direction and seeing so many crosses, each representing a dead soldier. I asked my mother, “Are these all the people that died in the war?” To my mind there were just so many graves. “No,” she said, “Many, many more people than this died in the war.” It broke my heart and I remember crying as my sister and I laid our poppies on their gravestones.

We travelled Europe for three months, living in a small caravan and staying in camp sites. We did all the must see and historic sites and of course everywhere were reminders of the war. I recall climbing inside thick cement foxholes that dotted the coastline of France and touring museum after museum.

At night we’d sit in our caravan around our table and by the light of a small candle Dad told stories. We also read Anne Frank’s book. By the time we visited her hiding place we had talked about her so much it felt like we knew her. I remember the bookcase covering the entrance to her hiding place and the stairs going upward.

In Dachau Germany we saw a prison camp. Mom and Dad had told us about the Nazis and we heard about the horrors of the camps. We knew that men, women and children were horribly treated and murdered. Mom told me about the gas showers and the ovens. I remember being especially horrified about the ovens.

There’s a big difference between seeing and hearing. (I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have lived through it). The Nazis had photographed everything they did. I’ll never forget touring a room that was just filled with photos. People whose bodies were so emancipated they looked like walking corpses; women who had the tops of their skulls cut off or their pregnant abdomens cut open by so-called doctors as they experimented on their helpless human guinea pigs. And the pits, dug deep and wide and at the bottom body after body after body after body. Horror washed over me, but not at what I was seeing, but at the realization that this inhumanity had been carried out by people—by humans--one human to another. I was forever changed that afternoon as I learned the depths of cruelty that humans were capable of.

I think I was traumatized that day. Despite that, I wouldn’t take that shock filled day back for anything. If I carry one small scar for having seen the photographs, the ovens and the gas chambers then so be it. I can live with it. Since that time I’ve been filled with the tragic knowledge that man was not the great being I thought he was.

We returned to tour England again in 1972, and renewed our friendships and saw more of it's history.

No, I will never forget. I hold all those soldiers and citizens, those that died and those that survived, in very high regard. When I see films like Schindler’s List, Paperclip, Shake Hands with the Devil and so on, I applaud these works. New generations need to see, need to know about genocide and holocausts. We must never forget. We must not let it happen again.

A few years back I saw an old man who lived on the streets. I would see him fairly frequently. He walked stooped and used two canes. He wasn’t alright in his mind but I’ll never forget the day I saw him go up to a man in a coffee shop that was wearing camouflage clothing and a beret. The old man saw him and came to life, talking, smiling and nodding. I realized then that he was probably a veteran. I was wondering about what happened to him, why he lived on the streets and was a little bit crazy in the head. Then I heard that inner voice say, “In the war …. he gave everything he had.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's all a Matter of Perspective

I was enjoying another sunny warm day in the backyard watching the birds and squirrels. I had put bird houses up on the back of the house and each season several of them would have a nest of sparrows. Now I know that sparrows aren't indigenous to North America but let's face it, they are here to stay. I think by now they've earned their spot. And I discovered you can learn a lot from the lowly sparrow.

I was reading and relaxing when all of a sudden a huge uproar broke out among the sparrows. They were squabbling and carrying on in a very fierce battle. I thought, what on earth is bothering them so much that they would make all this noise and complaining. It wasn't the 'cat in the yard' type of squabble, but something else entirely. To resolve my curiosity I got up to go have a look. There on the patio stones were two sparrows and they were telling each other off in what I would guess to be sparrow swear language. It was world war three and they were fighting over something that they valued very highly and they both wanted. Only the strongest and fiercest sparrow would gain the prize.

On the ground was the object of their adoration, the object worth fighting and risking injury to obtain, the object that any self respecting sparrow had to have. What was it? A dirty Kleenex.

Of course I just have to make a human comparison over the things that we prize so very highly that we want to fight over them--to the death! I'm sure God watches us and shakes His head just like I did at the two sparrows, thinking that maybe they just needed a little perspective to help them see better.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Importance of Salt

I read a book recently called "Cure for the Common Life - Living in Your Sweet Spot". I really enjoyed reading about real-life examples of people who found themselves living and working outside of their niche area. At some point in their lives came an opportunity to choose a different kind of life. And with the decision to make a major change came all the fears and concerns about giving up job security, what will family members think, etc., etc. The book reported that these people never regretted moving and rearranging their lives to be able to live and work in their niche area. It's based on Christian principles that each of us has a talent, something we're naturally good at and love to do and it's about recognizing and realizing that God built that into us for a purpose.

I know about this niche because for brief times, sometimes only moments in time in my life I've experienced it. When operating in my niche, others notice and they frequently comment on it. They tell me I'm a natural and doing what I was meant to do. I know they are right--I can feel it. My face reflects the joy I feel inside when I do what I'm meant to do. The size of my smile and the natural glow I get when I operate in my niche is evident with one look in the mirror. Sometimes I'll go to my niche for a few hours and come back to work and people look and say "I know what you've been doing". It's so evident to them... and me.

What holds me back from making a great leap into the niche? Fear of course. Bills to pay and the need for a roof over my head. But I do my best and I'm focusing on angling and positioning, trying to get myself closer and closer to that opportunity. I'm sure at some point there will be a requirement for a leap of faith....

Most of the time life doesn't hand us our niche on a platter and say, "This is it wht you're meant to do. Go to it." Most of us are barely aware and quite frankly afraid to dream that we could actually live in our sweet spot. But the book does try to get parents to pay attention to their children and watch for their sweet spots so that they can be encouragers and enablers to help their children grow into what they are naturally and happily inclined to want to do.

About the salt, I had been attempting to bake on the weekend and found myself always puzzled as to why recipes for sweet desserts always required some measure of salt. I remember years ago asking my Mom about this and she said that the food just doesn't taste right unless you put the salt in. Sometimes I'd opt out and not put it in just to see. But I still kept wondering about it. So, after the weekend baking, while riding into work with my car pool companions, older women who cook and bake, I raised the topic. And I got the answer from the sage old Englishwoman. She said that you add the salt because the salt makes the sweet taste sweeter. And I got it. I finally understood.

So, when reading about living in my sweet spot I just kept thinking that, now after most of my life operating, working and living mostly outside my sweet spot, if I ever get to do what I really want to do (and I know very much what that is) then I will appreciate it so much more because of the salt... because of all the years working at a job and doing what I didn't like. This salty job will make that sweet niche spot so much sweeter.... I can't wait. I just have to keep hoping and praying that I find it. And too, when I do that I'll have the faith to take that leap.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thinking about honey bees

My latest happy obsession--honey bees. I never thought such a little humble insect could change my life completely but they have. And I don't think they even know it yet.

While researching bees and beekeeping in preparation to take a Beekeepers' Course at the University of Guelph, Ontario, I found myself becoming more and more anamoured of this little insect. It was the biology--absolutely fascinating. Then it was their inate intelligence and then it was their ability to all work together without fighting and bickering.... more than any human can do. I applaud the lowly honey bee.

And they're in trouble. CCD which hasn't been competely defined yet (lots of argument going on over that) but that doesn't negate the fact that bees are in trouble. They're dying and weak and sick and struggling. We must do something. We must help. I will do what I can to help.