Saturday, January 31, 2009

Knitting: My Taos Chunky Vest

Some yarns are just beautiful. Beautiful to look at. Beautiful to touch. Beautiful to slip through your fingers under a little tension as you knit. Then some yarns are not only beautiful but they have a story to tell.

This Taos Chunky Vest is a project I had wanted to do for a while. I waited and waited, mostly because of the cost of the yarn. Finally, I was ready to place my order on-line at Tahki Stacy Charles.(
The order was then picked up by Janis who promptly mailed me my package of wool. As soon as I got home I poured the wool out on the table and just enjoyed the feast of colour for the eyes. I took pictures right away.
I waited patiently to start this project. I had wanted to make this vest for a while and it was an investment of wool, money and time. I was plesantly anticipating knitting this project.

Beautifully dyed, I had to unwind at least one ball to examine how the wool was dyed, transitioning from one colour to the next.

I noticed it had a fine black thread that it was plyed with, giving the spinner in me some ideas. I could try doing that myself.

I held off on plunging into the knitting. I wanted to draw out the sensation. The waiting, the anticipation.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot ( talks in one of her books about how yarn and knitting is so much better to buy than other things. She even calculated out the cost of enjoyment per hour and I have to agree that when you add up the anticipation, the selection, the actual project itself, hour per hour, you get your money's worth when it comes to buying and knitting with wool.

Finally I started my project only to discover I had a few balls of the wrong colour. This ended up being a bit of a delay while the supplier shipped me more wool.
Then disaster struck! I lost my bag of knitting. Not only did I lose half the balls of wool for the project, I lost my knitting and my brand new 6.5 mm circular Addi Turbo needles and the pattern (even my back up photocopy of the pattern was missing)!

I looked for days. I did the usual, checking most likely spots and then widening my search from there. Nothing!
I checked at work, at home, everywhere I could think. I even called the bus company to see if I somehow left my knitting on the bus. No luck anywhere.

This loss was topped off with more really defeating days at the office and I then dragged myself home to once again check and re-check. I didn't just want to find my knitting. I needed to find it. This was supposed to be my fun stress releasing project. Something that I had looked forward to doing for months!
I considered the cost of starting over rebuying everything to be prohibitive. I sent Janis a dejected email to say I had given up on the vest and I didn't think it was meant to be. But Janis was more clever than I, she emailed back to say she was praying. Praying I would find my knitting. I had prayed too, albiet very briefly. But now I had a partner in this, praying from miles and miles away. I felt like I had help. She said if it was meant to be, I would find it. I agreed and finally let go. I let go of my frustration over it, my need to have this wool, the project, the whole shebang. I felt a whole lot better after that. It may have been gone, but I was moving on.

As I was entering the hallway a few hours later I had a thought--what about the coat tree? Could it be hanging there? I checked and indeed it was! There, under a sweater, was my shopping bag with my half knit project inside. I was estatic. I had to email Janis right away and thank her for her encouragement and prayers.

It may seem like such a small thing, God helping me find my silly knitting, but often isn't it the small things that we finally lose it over? His help with this small thing was like a huge reassurance and comfort--and a reminder that the world may be full of people, but I do matter. It reminds me that God puts people in your path for a reason, sometimes for a reminder. Thanks God.

The knitting project is progressing very nicely. I'm enjoying it, but I've got something more important brewing inside now. I needed help and God was there and that's way more important than anything else.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ziraldo Alpacas and Great Roving

On Saturday the weather finally cleared and the truck was running so I was finally able to make it to Thorndale, Ontario to see Ziraldo's Alpaca Farm (

Debbie and her son Chris were very accommodating and willingly showed me around their farm, introducing me to their alpacas.

They have 13 beautiful animals. They all approached us, probably hoping for some grain, but they stayed to look us over.

Their fibre is so lush, thick and warm that they can stay happily outdoors in our cold Canadian winters. They do have a shelter area that they can go to to get out of the rain or wind, but for the most part they enjoy being outdoors.
Fancy is the small gray alpaca in the front and she certainly lives up to her name. She lead the pack down the snow trampled path towards us.
This experience has clearly put a new delineation into spinning and knitting. Now I was not only spinning from roving and knitting a particular fibre, I was actually meeting the animal it came from. I realized that these knitted garments once they were completed would forever be linked to the name of the animal. "I'm wearing Miss. Muppet today" will be my phrase to describe my knitted wear or I'm going to make a scarf from "Pumpkin". I really like this linkage, how it's personalized and full of meaning.

The animals were curious and gentle. We didn't try to pat them, they would be too shy to touch, but they were certainly curious about us. They did not spit, and I'm told they would only do that if were had irritated them in some way.

These animals not only produce wonderful fibre for knitting and felting, they also produce great poop. Their waste makes for great compost and is sold as well because it can be put straight on the garden without burning plants. (I just wish there was some way I could keep an alpaca in my back yard).

They say that you can't really breed for colour. Genetics plays a role of course, but genetics can't really be controlled. The same way we don't know if our children will have green eyes or blue, the colour of the alpaca coat is often a surprise and a delight.

The roving and yarn were absolutely delicious! Soft and warm, luxurious and a pleasure to touch. The colours were all natural--as they should be--and a real feast for the eyes.

My first project will be a white scarf and hat, made from "Miss. Muffet's" fibre. This winter has really been a boon to the knitter and her quest for warmer fibre.
Snowstorms usually signals late buses and standing at bus stops for long periods of time waiting in the freezing cold. These warm fibres are invaluable on cold blustery days.

Fancy treads into deeper snow in order to investigate Rodney the cat more closely. Rodney took it all in stride but moved a little quicker as Fancy got too close. He wanted to see the visitor too. (Rodney probably could tell I was a crazy cat lady from one glance or sniff).

Of course I bought roving to spin on my spinning wheel.

The colours are so luxurious and the caramel, chocolate and vanilla together are just scrumptuous! I can't wait to be knitting this fibre.
And I thought I'd try my very first pair of alpaca socks. The socks are incredible! I don't think I'll ever wear another type of sock again. I relucantly took off one sock for this photo and then promptly put it back on. They are very cozy and warm and my feet love them, especially with this particularly cold Canadian winter we are having. I've never knit socks before, but now that I have roving, anything is possible.
I met the babies too, named after characters from the Narnia Chronicles (Mr. Tumnus, Prince Caspian). Beautiful white, pumpkin and brown coloured animals. Be sure to check out their web site to see photos of baby Evagaline's birth at
You can see their lovely fleece and how thick and dense it is. The crimp is highly valued as well.
I had a marvelous time and really enjoyed meeting the Ziraldo Farm alpacas. The Ziraldo's are wonderful people to do business with and it was a pleasure to visit their farm and get to know them. I look forward to lots of spinning days ahead and more pairs of alpaca socks.
Mmmm... cozy!!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More Fur Babies

I have two new babies - Fur Babies. Last week I purchased two Angora bunnies from a lady who was busily growing her human family and therefore couldn't manage the extra work with the rabbits so she put them up for sale. I felt pretty lucky to find them.

They are both girls, the older one is Margarite. She's an "agouti" which as far as I've been able to find out means she's a gray/brown colour. I think she's marvelous. It's taken about a week for them to settle in and for me to learn their personalities. Margarite likes to let me know if her bowl gets empty. She thumps her cage floor. I can hear it from other parts of the house and I know that she wants more food. I discovered yesterday when I groomed her for the first time (they are to be brushed weekly) that she loves to be brushed and today when she was out she was butting against my hand, asking to be scratched. She loves sunflower seeds and I give them to her as a treat after she's had her romp.

The other rabbit is the baby. Her name is now Lexi and she's 8 months old. She's a lilac (gray/blue) angora. She's pretty fluffy still with her baby hair. She's a little imp. She hops around the rabbit room investigating everything.

While I was doing a little construction on Margarite's cage she was there the whole time sticking her face in, trying to chew the wood, investigating all my tools. It was quite funny.

I bought a Ware Premium Rabbit Hutch which I put together and I put Lexi in it as her new home. She seemed to like it and was very excited the next day, and spent a lot of time hopping up and down her bunny ramp. She also loves her dark hiding area which she didn't have before in the smaller cage she was in. In the picture she's nibbling sunflower seeds from a footstool. After I groomed her I gave her a slice of apple which she really enjoyed.

Lexi learned to use kitty litter in less than 5 minutes. I was really impressed. She's continued to use it faithfully. Now Margarite, being a little older is taking some convincing to be consistent, but I'm patient and we're working on it together (what that really means is that when she pees on the floor, I clean it up and try to remove the smell with bleach or vinegar and hope she doesn't do it there again). Today we had no accidents so I think we're heading in the right direction.

I have a spinning wheel, but for some reason I'm really enjoying spinning Margarite's fibre with the drop spindle. Maybe its the slower pace of the spindle, but I find it very relaxing and rewarding. Of course, the spinning wheel always waits so maybe knowing I have that option helps me be more patient.

I really wanted sheep, but living in a subdivision means I can't keep them so the rabbits are my little sheep. Keeping sheep in a subdivision reminds me of my visit to New Zealand in 1976. Back then, many homes kept a sheep on their front yard, anchored to the ground by a rubber tire. The faithful sheep trimmed their front lawns of grass, fertilized it with their poop and provided wool for knitting, all from one humble animal. You just can't beat that kind of environmental action! I'm not sure if it's still that way in New Zealand today. I certainly hope that it is.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Treasure Collection: Oriole

In my china cabinet are many little treasures. I have figurines made from pottery, glass and china and even some bread dough figurines. Mostly the cabinet is filled with eggs—real decorated eggs. (That’s another story for another time).

One of my favourite treasures that I keep in my cabinet is birds’ nests. I collect them. Just to clarify, I only collect the nests from the ground where they have fallen or retrieve them from fallen branches.

Why do I collect bird’s nests? That’s a very good question. Here are my reasons: They’re totally cool! You can learn so much about the intriguing habits of a creature by looking at their homes (God forbid if anyone came into mine or they’d wonder what kind of messy creature lived inside!)

Here's an example of what I've learned from birds:

The Oriole:
My second favourite bird is the oriole. I regret that I don’t have any personal photographs of the bird that I can share…. (this spring I'll make a point of taking some and will post them). I don’t have a zoom lens on my camera and the digital camera I’ve been using is so slow to click that you could go back in the house, brew and drink a whole cup of coffee before it takes the photo. But I digress…

This oriole nest was found on the ground after a severe thunderstorm. It was found at the beginning of fall, so the birds had long since raised their young and left the nest. I’ve kept if for years as part of my cherished collection of treasure.

People talk about bird’s brains – yes they’re pretty small—but birds can do some amazing things that I could never do (or at least not as well as them). Notice how this bird has taken the plastic strips that some careless human has tossed on the ground. They have used them as the foundation of their purse-like nest by looping the plastic over the branch to secure the nest.

The oriole’s nest hangs from tiny branches way up high in poplar trees. When the parent bird goes inside, their body weight causes the nest opening to close up completely, creating a safe and warm haven inside. The nest is constructed entirely by weaving and knitting, which the oriole instinctively knows how to do. It took me many lessons and much ripping back before I successfully knitted a garment. This bird does it with no training and hangs upside down, dangling from very high heights while constructing it!

Every spring I cut and leave out pieces of string and yarn (ATTENTION KNITTERS) – this is a great use for those stray bits of yarn. I read about this trick in my favourite birding book titled 525 Ways to Attract Birds to Your Backyard. It was during the second spring of laying out the yarn and string that I was in the back yard when I turned around and there, right in front of me was an oriole, beautiful bright orange and black and it was taking the string that I had left out for it. The bird looked over several pieces before it finally chose what it thought was the perfect string to use. It plucked it up in its beak and flew off. It was one of the most thrilling moments I can recall. I thank the author for that book which has paid itself over and over in the joy of backyard bird watching. Of course, I was so busy with my jaw hanging open that I never got a photo. I even forgot that I owned a camera.

So what did I learn from the oriole? They’re pretty smart. They can knit and sew and tie knots with anything from found bits of long grasses, string and yarn….and plastic! And they’re innovative, taking a manmade piece of plastic and incorporating it into their nest design. Their brains aren’t obviously stuck on thinking “I can only use grass”. They are able to see things outside the box, to think of plastic strips and extrapolate a way to use them. That’s a very inventive and uninhibited way to think in my opinion—pretty high end stuff for a small creature with a small brain.

I noticed that when the nest fell, it was not as a result of a failure of the bird’s nest construction. It fell because the branch broke in the storm.

To further attract this beautiful bird to my yard every spring and summer (they migrate down south for the winter) I put out two oriole feeders made up with 3 parts sugar to 1 part water. Every year the birds come regularly, usually about every 20 minutes and more often than that if it’s a rainy day. The oriole feeds on insects so if we have many days of bad weather with no flying insects, the bird will go hungry. In fact, the first time I saw an oriole in my yard was during a very rainy summer. When outside I turned around and saw an oriole trying to feed from my hummingbird sugar water feeder. I raced right out to get a proper oriole feeder. Also, I observed the bird eating peanuts that I had put out, using its beak to break them up into small pieces—this is not their normal fare. Obviously the bird was very hungry and needed some protein.

I sit here now and I ask myself why I never took pictures as I sat outside each summer and watched them come and go from my sugar feeder. If I had taken photos I could personalize this message by showing the proof. Maybe I wanted to keep this treasure all to myself for a while?

But what good is treasure if you don’t share it?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Crazy Idea: Vitamin tablet

This idea has been rolling around inside my head for a while and so I'm releasing it on the universe. After all, I need to free up some space in my brain for other more important thoughts.

I'm sure you're familiar with those little sticky labels they put on our fruit and vegetables? How many of them have you accidentally eaten? Maybe I'm the only person who does the lazy rinse under the running water. I do try to turn the fruit around and get the whole thing washed but I admit I am a 'you must eat a peck of dirt before you die person'. So it's no surprise that frequently when I'm eating my apple I look down and see ... Remember that saying, "What's worse than seeing a worm in your apple?" The answer, "half a worm." Well, I keep looking down at my apple and seeing half an inspection label.

The glue isn't water soluble which would solve my problem but I guess it'd wash off too easily for the inspection people.

For the longest time I gave up and thought, oh just eat the silly label and stop complaining. Then I had an idea. Why not make this label even more useful. If they put vitamins in it then at least there'd be some benefit to eating it because I'm always forgetting to take my daily multivitamin.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How to make a Environmental Fruit Fly Trap

I don't like to use any kind of household aerosol sprays indoors if I can help it but every summer and mid winter I seem to get a bloom of fruit flies in my house.

Some of these fruit flies are pretty aggressive. I wonder if they're from the Amazon or somewhere very tropical where everything grows bigger and more dangerous, like an amazon spider that grows as big as a plate? You might think they're tiny but they have big glowing red eyes. And for the trivia buffs out there (I know this because my group won $100.00 because we knew this answer) the fruit fly sperm has the longest tail compared to it's size--even longer than the tail-compared-to-size of a blue whale!

It probably doesn't help that being a green person I have a compost container in the kitchen for my fruit and veggie scraps, and then it probably adds to it that I don't empty the container as frequently as I should. Also because it's winter and we've had heaps of snow, the thought of trudging through deep snow to the back of the garage with a big stinky pail is very unappealing. Yes, I would prefer the stink than to lug the pail through the snow.

Here's my green environmental fruit fly trap instructions:

  1. Have a glass of wine (red is preferred). Now guard your drink because the fruit flies might want to fight you for it and depending on how hungry they are they might even try to dive bomb between your fingers when you cover your glass with your hand.

  2. Finish the bottle of wine--it is kind and polite to share, so you may want to offer a glass to someone other than "me, myself and I". Be sure to leave a few drops (about 1 or 2 teaspoons) in the bottom of the bottle--you must resist the urge to drink every drop!

  3. Add 1/4 inch of water to the wine bottle.

  4. Set the bottle on the counter and leave it overnight.... or for a couple days. The fruit flies will hone on the wine bottle like a magnetic compass and will go down inside and drown in the fruity water. (At least they'll die as happy drunks!)

  5. Periodically you can return to the bottle, put your thumb over the opening and shake hard. Why? Because the shaking helps to quickly drown any that are climbing on the sides or still swimming around.

  6. After a couple days, pour out the water into your garden or compost heap outside. And voila! No more fruit flies in the house.

I should mention that these instructions work equally well with a cup or glass with a piece of fruit or tomato in it, but wine is much more fun to drink and seems to attract this insect like, well, like flies.

Oh, and don't forget to recycle that wine bottle too. Cheers!!!