Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Joy of Life

Tom cat is still missing and it's been 2 weeks today. My cat lady neighbour is very optimistic about Tom and has reminded me what a survivor he is. She thinks he's out there somewhere alive and wandering.

Maybe he met a nasty neighbour and is feeling a little people shy again. Either way, we both hope he comes home soon. (And I berate myself for not taking more photos and videos of him... what if I never get to see him again? He was by my side every night and day that I was home. To me it was as if he'd be around forever. I wish I'd appreciated him even more than I did).

We'd had some dark and overcast days and my spirit certainly felt pretty down. Then when entering the kitchen I saw this beautiful violet had come into bloom. Hidden away on the shelf this beauty grew secretly and in silence only to reveal itself in its glorious full bloom. I note that it had been there all along, I just hadn't noticed.

Death and threats of death seem to float very close by lately, threatening my loved ones. A coworker with bowel cancer, a friend with breast cancer, my own mother with thyroid cancer, a client just diagnosed with it and a fellow Canadian blogger, Barry (http://anexplorers.blogspot.com/), has just been diagnosed with this dreaded illness.

Many of us confess we fear it. Every pain or internal ache and it makes me think, "I wonder if I have cancer?" And I know I'm not alone in these thoughts. Finally I'm being pushed to appreciate what health I do have and to not take it so for granted. And I'll have a mammogram this spring as I promised my friend Anne who has recently fought breast cancer.

There's no shortage of things around to suck the joy from life and sometimes when I feel sorry for myself I make a point of remembering those people who are not as fortunate as me. I watched a show on the weekend that showed children under 10 battling cancer (one girl had no less than 42 weeks of chemotherapy) and she died. It was heartbreaking to watch and beautiful too. Beautiful only because sometimes those things that put us close to death bring out the sweetness of the joy of life. I remember this when my father-in-law died. He was a man who would not tell his children he loved them, not until cancer struck him down. As he lay dying it was very sad but beautiful how he let down the walls and told his children he loved them.

So it appears my prayer life is growing, praying for my fur babies and my family and friends. I just pray that the only thing sucked away is the cancer and all that's left behind is that beautiful sweetness and joy of life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wool Block in Angora Rabbits - The Real Truth

The last two weeks have been kind of crappy. I'm sure you're familiar with life events that somehow all build up and happen at the same time. And then just to put the cherry on top, you get sick with a cold or flu just to make coping and dealing that much more challenging.

So Margarite was sick, I've had a cold, and my Tom Cat is still missing (I should have had children instead of cats, then at least they'd have a cell phone and I could call to ask where they are!).

Margarite, the older angora rabbit stopped eating a couple weeks ago. I had been monitoring her intakes and output and I noticed she was gradually eating less and less and her poops were getting smaller and smaller... and then they stopped--not a good thing for a rabbit.

I brushed her regularly, more often than the once a week that was recommended. The brushing is to remove loose hair so she wouldn't be consuming so much of her own wool when cleaning herself. It seemed all my efforts were in vain.

I had done quite a bit of reading on wool block on the interent and so I followed that advice.

I tempted her with fruits, gave her papaya tablets, which she would barely eat. Then when she stopped eating entirely I was forced to give her eyedroppers of pineapple juice and mineral oil in an attempt to give her fluids to get the blockage moved. And I cut off her wool to prevent her from ingesting more of her own long fibre.

It pains me to remember how much she hated being forced to take these treatments and how much it terrorized her. It was very upsetting for both of us. She pooped a little but her appetite just would not return. I just knew there had to be another solution so I went back to the Internet to find out what more I could do.

Then I came across the Rabbit Society's (http://www.rabbit.org/) web site with information from a veterinarian who also keeps rabbits. It describes the rabbit's digestive system in detail and what the REAL problem is when a rabbit's stomach has wool in it. It's a lack of motility of the GI tract and the digestive system (http://www.rabbit.org/journal/3-7/gi.html) caused by a lack of moisture in her system. The solution was so simple to be ridiculous. HYDRATION through eating greens--VEGETABLES!
The problem isn't that much different than constipation in humans. The rabbit's stomach does fill with hair as it grooms itself and then she starts to feel full and stops eating. The more dehydrated the rabbit becomes from not eating the more tightly packed the hair mass becomes, perpetuating the problem. They need fluids and the best way to get them is through food they are craving - vegetables.

My rabbit, wouldn't eat anything except a couple nibbles on a banana or strawberry. When presented with greens she GOBBLED them. I gave her romaine lettuce, parsley and carrot tops. This was a rabbit who hadn't eaten in a week, who was being force fed! I couldn't believe how she began to eat immediately. Of course the poops followed shortly after she started to eat and her energy came right back and she began to act like a normal rabbit again.
She did have plenty of hay the whole time through this ordeal, but that wasn't what she was naturally craving. She knew what she needed and she had to wait for the dummy (me) to figure it out! She was craving the moisture and fibre that vegetables provide.

I hadn't been feeding them greens. My history with greens is a little scary - years ago we raised a wild baby bunny and when we gave it greens it got diarrhea and then died - so I was very nervous about giving greens. After reading more information on the Rabbit Society web site I relaxed, seeing that the issue of diarrhea is more with baby rabbits, not adults as long as the greens were introduced slowly. I've now turned over a new leaf ;)

If you keep angora rabbits, I highly recommend the Rabbit Society website - and definitely read the article about the lack of motility caused by wool in the stomach. I believe their information saved my rabbit's life and it definitely saved our relationship. I certainly was not popular with her for a few days there but now it looks like I've been forgiven.

I do believe that the eyedropper and mineral oil can be effective if necessary, but try the greens first before you traumatize your bunny.

Both rabbits are now enjoying a veggie diet, along with pellets and hay ... and there's poops a-plenty! And now I find I'm eating more veggies too because they're in the house. I think we're all going to get more healthy. All I need now is for Tom Cat to come home.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tom Cat

Tom Cat.

He used to be wild. At least he appeared to be.

I'd see him late at night when I'd come out the back door with some garbage or peelings to dump in the compost. He'd be near the garage where the roofed patio is coming off the garage. That was where the food dish was for the dog. He'd see me and he'd run out of there pretty fast.

As time went on he didn't run as fast--he knew I wouldn't chase him, squirt water from the hose or throw rocks at him like I knew others were wont to do. But he'd always run, sometimes pausing as he jumped to the top of the chain link fence - a quick look back at me (probably more for his own security) and then he'd vanish on the other side, his dark black fur swallowed by the darkness.

Knowing he was a stray I bought cat chow and would put it out for him so he wouldn't have to eat just dog food. I didn't own a cat at the time, only my border collie dog Sam. I could tell he was a stray. There's a certain body posture that a stray has; crouched, low to the ground, and they walk lightly on their feet, almost like they're in stealth mode all the time. That also means they're not relaxed like a house cat, a loved cat.

The term feral is often used but experience has shown me that 'scared' would be a better term for these cats. That's not to say that there aren't totally wild (feral) cats out there, because there are, but most didn't start out feral.

Time would pass and I would see this cat on occasion, sometimes he'd run out of the dog house in the night. There was straw in it and my dog certainly didn't sleep in it at night, only during the day time. The small garage door was usually left open in winter especially, not so much in the summer because raccoons would make a mess of the garbage. I knew that he could go in there if it got really cold, or any other stray cat for that matter. (We'd had a childhood experience with a precious cat running away from home and getting such severe frost bite that the tops of his ears which fell off. Ever since then, I can't stand the thought of a stray cat being out in the cold).

As my dog Sammy got older his hips began to bother him. I realized he needed a warmer place to sleep during the day other than his dog house.

Mom, Dad and I cut a doggy door in the small garage door so that it could be closed. That way it'd be warmer inside. Then I set up a straw dog bed in an extra large cardboard box and then put in a pig lamp. Pig lamp is the term I use - it's a heat lamp with a protective wire covering and my grandpa used to use them in the barn. He'd hang it over the piglets to keep them warm.

It took Sam a little time to get used to going through the dog door, but it wasn't long until he was spending a lot of time in there nestled in the straw. And at night Tom would sleep in Sam's bed.

I'd see the wild cat when walking in the subdivision and I realized he had quite a large range to cover. We'd nicknamed him Tom - as in Tom Cat. Early on when it was winter I could always tell when he'd come by because of the tale tell footprints in the snow. Tom's footprints were unique though - giant, because he is polydactael which meant he had extra toes. In fact, that was the first time I ever 'saw' Tom was when he left super huge footprints in the snow. I new I had a large Tom cat around.

As time went on Tom didn't run away quite so fast but I realized he was less and less afraid of me. Then one day he showed up under the heat lamp in Sam's bed and he did not, would not, run away. He was sick. Really sick. So I gave him food and water, left the heat lamp on and kept the dog away. I was even able to touch his head briefly, which he hated and shrank back from but he didn't run away. That's how sick he was. Thankfully, he recovered.

From there I worked on Tom, calling him by name, talking to him, and keeping a regular feeding schedule. In time, he would come and eat, walking by me as I sat reading outside. He knew I was a friend. When I said his name, he'd look at me. And he didn't run away any more.

Then I would touch his back. At first he shrunk away but it didn't take long until he allowed it and came to enjoy it and he loved to have his head scratched.

In time I knew I had to do the right thing and have Tom neutered. He was constantly in fights and coming by wounded--once with a terrible throat gash that got so infected I had to capture him and take him to the vet. He was getting older and I realized that by not having him fixed I was perpetuating the problem of feral cats in the neighbourhood. I was afraid to capture him and put him through this procedure, since to my knowledge he'd never been to a vet in his life. I had to admit to myself I was afraid he would hate me for it and I'd worked so very hard to gain his trust.

I did it anyway. It turned out he very badly needed tooth surgery too. The vet said, "Boy is this cat ever used to pain. He has broken teeth with bare nerves." So we got him all fixed up and he came home. And he didn't hate me. I had to keep him in the garage for a few days to recover and we had a great time bonding. I had to care for his neck wound and Tom really enjoyed the attention he got while I cleaned his wounds. And he purred. For the first time Tom started purring, very loudly. We became very good friends.

From there, Tom was introduced to the house... slowly... he was freaked out about the whole coming indoors thing at first, but being a smart cat, he caught on to everything really quickly. He loved coming in on rainy days and evenings. In time, he was allowed to stay in overnight and then as long as he wanted, asking to come and go as he pleased.

I started writing this last Friday.

On Tuesday this week Tom vanished.

Today is Friday again and Tom is still missing. This is very out of character with a cat who has slept by my side every night for the last two years.

My niece helped put up posters on my street and at the busy street corner. Dad and I checked the road for a body - hoping not to find him but needing to know if he'd been killed on the road.

No body, no Tom.

And I worry. Tuesday was a garbage day and nice weather during March break. Lots of parents are home and maybe gardening and cleaning up outside, maybe opening up their sheds and garages. I'm hoping Tom wandered inside and is just waiting to be set free. It's not really like him to wander into other people's buildings (that's something Tigger would do).

I'm missing him very much. Let's just say the prayer life has picked up again as I'm hoping my big little darling comes home very soon. If you're someone that prays, please pray for Tom. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wagon Shed - Spinning & Knitting Supplies

The Wagon Shed (http://www.wagonshed.com/) in Arva, Ontario, is a wonderful large loft over an old-fashioned wagon shed that has been converted into a shop that specializing in weaving and spinning lessons and supplies.
It's owned and run by Kassy Wells who has been a London/Arva resident for many years.
Thursday nights is usually class night and on entering the shop you can usually hear all the laughter of the women as they socialize while learning the time honoured craft of spinning and weaving.
I recently read a letter by the editor in the Wild Fibre's magazine where she talked about being at a writer's convention where she touched someone's knit sweater asking if they made it. She wrote about her faux paux, realizing that she wasn't with 'her kind of people'. She meant knitters, where admiring a knitted garment is an expected thing.
This is the type of ambience that Kassy Wells generates at the Wagon Shed, where you feel you are with your own kind of people.
She has an easy-going manner which really helps create a relaxed learning environment.

I think what I admire most about Kassy is her uncanny colour sense. She's truly gifted at selecting colours for weaving. Often Kassy will have two or more loom projects on the go, some custom orders and others to create wonderful blankets for sale. Her mother is a prolific knitter and contributes many baby garments and teddy bears for sale in the shop.

This is the shop where I got my lovely Louet spinning wheel which I just adore. I feel about my spinning wheel how men feel about their cars.
The stream of customers is constant. You'd think that being a shop located on a farm and just outside the city that you would be the only person shopping, but no, there are always customers and students dropping in at the Wagon Shed.
What I particularly enjoy is going to a place where I can meet with kindred spirits - people who love the fibre arts as much as I do. Even if I spin and they weave, we can still cabitz about our fibre choices and discuss the various benefits of different types of fibre.
Kassy regales us with tales of her escapades raising sheep and angora rabbits for their fibre. Meanwhile, horses are in the paddock out back by the barn.

I come for the companionship of knitters, a good laugh, and the fresh air. Secretly I'd love to see or get a whiff of a manure pile when out by the barn. Seriously, I miss my grandparent's farm more than words can say and the scents are an olfactory delight; they swoosh in my most happy childhood memories.
Kassy showed me some Northern Lights roving that she had spun.
Once spun this wool looks amazing, but we all confess that when looking at just the roving alone it's hard to image the yarn as lovely as it turns out.
I purchased a bag of this "Picasso" roving for myself to spin. I'm thinking about sock yarn. I've never made a pair of socks before but now that I've read so many other blogs and comments about them I think it's time I jumped on board and made some.
I would not have thought to dye wool like this Picasso - with little bands of colour repeated so often, nor so many colours. I would have used maybe only 3 colours, possibly 4 and I would have made the bars much longer, perhaps 4" or more between colour changes.

This roving makes me think of a coral snake on steroids.... but it looks gorgeous once spun and its not so clown-like.

Once home I added this roving to my stash. I figured it was time to sort the stash a little, organize it and get some of my wool in ziplock bags for storage.
(I'd seen a couple moths in the kitchen and was starting to panic. Then last night I caught one and looking at trusty internet sources I was relieved to find it was only a pantry moth - off to Home Depot for some pheromone bait).
I got a cardboard box of roving at a good price, most of it was ends and spread everything out on the couch to sort. It was around 4:15 on a Saturday and the local Post Office was closing in 45 minutes. I needed to pick up a delivery there so I just left everything and dashed.
I was back in 20 minutes with my delivery box and upon entering the living room I saw my mistake. I had left my stash unattended. Rule: Don't leave your stash unattended or others will come along and scoop if for themselves.
The other day my sister was over and she said, "Why are you letting the cat sleep on your new vest?" This is the Taos Chunky Vest which I am just finishing (need a button) and my sister was just admiring it a few days ago and tried it on.

Without looking I asked if it was Tigger? "Yes," she said. We seem to have a trend when it comes to Tigger and warm fibres.

"I didn't give Tigger the vest to sleep on," I said, "I just laid it on the couch to photograph it for my blog." The cats, Tigger mainly, really taking advantage of my woolens. Rule: Don't leave any wool or roving unattended unless you want it to become an instant cat bed. At least everyone in my house appreciates fibre.

I'm having a little trouble with keeping my spinning tension consistent when I spin day to day or week to week.
I may only spin an hour one night and then have to leave it for a few days. When I come back to it, it's like, "where was I? What gauge was I spinning at?"
Hopefully in time that will improve? If you have any experience with that, please let me know.

And here you can see the Northern Lights Picasso roving done up as a two ply. Not so clown-like now.
What was very interesting to watch is how the colours would mix. While being drafted the colours would blend and create whole new colours which I thought was intriguing.
Also, although each colour band was only about 2" it would stretch out when drafted so it went a little farther than I thought.
This is a note to self when I continue embarking on my own dyeing adventures.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This is the Way we Walk Alpacas, Walk Alpacas...

Amber, my neice, and I were invited to assist the Ziraldo's with their alpaca halter training a couple weekends ago.

Of course we were excited to have the opportunity to see the alpacas.
I would be seeing them for a second time and Amber had never seen an alpaca before. So, on the weekend we set out for Thorndale, Ontario, to Ziraldo's Alpaca Farm.

I told Amber no less than 8 times to dress warmly. I had lots of experience with the weather in the country compared to the city. We were expecting some rain and after Debbie and I chatted on the phone, we decided to go ahead with the training date as long as it was just a light rain.

I do have experience with country weather. All those open fields, without any wind breakers, can create some pretty cold winds. Probably the first person to come up with the word wind-chill, lived in the country.
That's probably why most farm houses have evergreen trees lining their lane and around the house - they create a wind block in winter and shade from the heat in summer. I just can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing the sound of wind as it goes through pine needles--but mind, I'm referring to a nice summer wind, not a bone chilling winter wind.

Of course, fashion meant more to Amber than anything else--she regularly comments that beauty is painful--and she didn't even bring a winter coat. This did not stop her however from 'jacking' a purple tam hat that I had knitted that she found on the seat of the truck.
(Photo - Colin Ziraldo and Amber give the cat Rodney a little attention).

After discovering that she hadn't brought a jacket I was going to insist that she wear the hat. But it turned out that the hat met well with her sense of fashion and she happily put it on with a, "I love this hat. I'm going to wear it to school tomorrow". That, I believe, is a knitter's compliment, and her backhanded way of telling me, "thanks for the hat."

Amber had never seen an alpaca before but she had read my blog. It certainly peaked her interest so when she heard I was going she asked if she could go too.

I called my sister to just be sure it was okay with her. Ruth referred to our trip as seeing the llamas.
I had to explain so I told her no, alpacas were different than llamas; they were from the same family (camilide) but they were smaller than llamas. To clarify I said, "Like Ostriches and Rheas", and then she understood right away.

Being an egg decorating family who knew about birds, she immediately understood the size ratio when I used these birds to explain. The Ostrich from Africa is very similar to the Rhea, being a two legged flightless bird, but the rhea, from South America, is quite a bit smaller than the ostrich.

We started our visit in the house, having a nice chat and Amber was first introduced to the animals by reviewing their fibre.
The first cut fibre from the topmost part of the animal is the softest and the second cut is still soft, but not so much. We admired the different colours - all natural, and the different textures in fibre compared from one animal to the next. It's interesting how each animal has their own signature in their fibre--no two fibres are the same.

Then we headed out to the barn where the babies were.

Not little babies, but growing young alpacas who will soon be put with the older animals.
The larger white alpaca is Prince Caspian. (Sorry I cropped off his head in the photo).
The beautiful pumpkin coloured female is called (guess) Pumpkin.

The cute little brown boy (he's kind of hard to see against the black background) is Mr. Tumnus.
Mr. Tumnus' fibre is actually a wonderful black on the inside).

These animals needed to learn to become familiar with being lead and wearing a halter which was the purpose of the training.
We would take them out and lead them around so that they could become accustomed to this activity. It would make them easier to handle when moving them, loading them on trailers, or at shows.
"Alpcas go to shows?" asked Amber.
"Yes, I said," and they've won prizes." I pointed to the blue ribbon that the Ziraldo's had on their shelf.

We got the babies in the shed and then had to hang onto them while we put the halters on. That really meant they got a really tight hug for a couple minutes.

Pumpkin didn't like all this activity and immediately laid down. This is an instinctive behaviour, which actually made putting on the halter much easier.
The rain thankfully held off and we set off on our walk. We would take them down the gravel lane because the paddocks were getting pretty muddy after the winter thaw. (Amber did have boots because before we left London I did a quick trip back to her house so she could get some).

The littlest, Mr. Tumnus was the least afraid and seemed to take everything in stride.

Prince Caspian was a little frisky at first but he seemed to catch on pretty quickly and settled into stride.

Then came Pumpkin, the girl. She was pretty upset about the whole thing and kept laying down on the trail.

We had to nudge her to get her back up and pull her along.

Several times along the path she laid down and even rolled over, putting her legs in the air. This reminded me a little of a child's tantrum. To perserve her dignity, we refrained from taking photos.

On the final trek back to the barn Pumpkin wasn't quite so bad and we were pretty certain once she realized it was just a little outing she wouldn't be so afraid.
Amber and I both agreed it was a great way to spend an afternoon and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Later I ended up telling her to keep the hat. It looked way better on her than on me anyway. Just as we were leaving, the rain let loose and it poured.
P.S. There are more photos to follow. I had brought the wrong batteries for the camera and it died on me after a few shots. No problem though, because I had a teenager with me who had both a camera and her camera cell phone with her. So Amber was our photographer for this occasion. The only problem is now getting the teenager to email me the photos so I can post them. (She might be withholding them in order to blackmail a sleepover out of me)....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beauty Treatment: The World's Best Hand Treatment

As an Aesthetician, I've done more than a few manicures and pedicures. I've also tried various products to soak or rub on dry skin (herbal fusions, salt glows, mud, peppermint masks). All of these treatments either for the hands or feet are quite nice, but if you suffer from dry chapped hands, (men or women) or cracked skin then this is the best treatment you can give your hands:

Brown Sugar Manicure:

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp Olive Oil (you can substitute the oil with Grapeseed, Almond Oil, etc - or leave it out entirely)

This treatment is a little messy so it should be done over a plate, a flat-shaped bowl or if you're like me, I stand over the kitchen sink.

  • Add the oil to the brown sugar and then massage it into your hands for 3 to 5 minutes.

  • When done, rinse your hands in warm water and pat dry.

  • Finish by massaging 1 tsp of your favourite hand cream.
To make this a spa treatment, I follow it up with a warm paraffin dip (I believe Sears sells a little electric paraffin warmer).

Your hands will feel incredibly soft. Seriously, try it and then let me know what you think.

Why does this work? The sugar acts as an exfolliant that gradually rubs off the dry flaky skin cells from the surface of your hands, but unlike sand, the sugar melts as you rub it in which is why it won't irritate your skin. It's that dry flaky skin on the surface that prevents the hand creams from penetrating to moisturize your skin.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teach a Man to Fish - Kiva

I once had a gift shop owner tell me that she invested $25,000 to start her business. I remember saying to her that I thought that was a lot of money. She promptly informed me that "Well, if you aren't willing to invest a lot of money, you're not an entrepreneur."

At the time I was already running my own business, an art business and the reason why I was in her shop was because I was selling my art on consignment in her store. I could never figure out how that qualified me not to be an entrepreneur. In my mind, anyone who ran their own business was an entrepreneur; I didn't consider large investment capital to be the chief qualifier (I mean don't you find people with lots of money are usually the least creative?).

(This is a real pheasant egg in its natural green colour, about 1 1/2" in size with real dried flowers inside and a ceramic bird)

My business was home based - in fact it was bedroom based! I worked at a desk in my bedroom and I had all my craft related items in little filing cabinets on some shelves (and every flat surface in the room). I even took over the bathroom as my painting/glazing area and my family never said one word about the whole corner of the bathroom counter that was dedicated to my art.

Just typing that, I realize what an amazing family I grew up in. They weren't so traditional and rules driven about how things looked that I couldn't learn and experiment with my little business. At that time I was making and selling Apple Head Dolls and Decorated Eggs (real eggs decorated like Faberge eggs - I'll blog more on at Easter).

My mother and I always were at odds over clothing. She grew up in the depression and so was pretty much a spendthrift. My sister and I became competent sewers and we would make a lot of our own clothing. But blue jeans were always a bone of contention with my mother. You couldn't really sew a pair that looked like store bought and my mother always refused to buy me a pair. Eventually as I hit high school Mom relented and I was able to purchase cheap jeans. Then when in Australia I saw this most amazing pair of jeans and I just had to have them. I knew that Mom would never agree to the high price of $35.00. (photo - my sister and I - me on the left wearing the jean skirt that I sewed myself).

When thinking how I might earn the money for these jeans, my first enterprise was born. I started to make feather earrings. In the evenings and weekends I'd work away putting together fluffy dyed feathers on hooks along with beads. I designed them so that they could attach to any pair of earrings. I sold them at school for .50 cents or 1.00. In a couple weeks I had my money and my jeans. I was 14 years old.

A few years later, I started making apple head dolls. My mother was the carver who would make the doll heads from apples and I was the body maker, using my sewing talent to create clothing for the dolls. From there I got into making decorated eggs where I would carve real egg shells, paint them and put scenes inside. Dad found out about a local craft show and called them and the following week we had a table at the craft show and I was selling my crafts. I was 18.

(This is a goose egg shell carved with a high speed drill in a filigree design and then pearls were glued on top).

I continued selling my decorated eggs for many years. I sold them mostly at craft and art shows initially but as time went on, I did more and more store consignments. I was featured in many newspaper stories and was frequently on the TV news, especially at Easter.

As time went on I stopped making the eggs but it wasn't long before I was into another entrepreneurial activity, this time as an Aesthetician. I went back to school at nights to get my certification and then I ran a salon from my home. I converted my living room into a salon and for many years I ran this business on a part-time basis while I continued to work full-time. It got me through some hard times. I really enjoyed the work but I was getting tired from the two jobs so eventually I packed away my equipment. (I'll wait for my retirement to start up again).

Currently, I'm working on a children's book that I've written which I hope will be published and I maintain web sites for non profit organizations that I support. And then there's beekeeping which I plan to start this spring... but that's going to be 'just a hobby'.

I think an entrepreneurial spirit is something you carry inside that just finds its own way to express itself, whether it's investing in a gift shop, creating and selling art or, supporting a great charity.

Have you ever heard of Kiva? This non profit organization really gets me excited because it's all about entrepreneurs in third world countries. It works by people giving micro loans to these entrepreneurs. So it's not a hand-out--it's a hand up! Kiva is a non profit organization that specializes in micro loans to people in impoverished countries all over the world. The loans are given mostly to women, to help them set themselves up as entrepreneurs in their own businesses.
As a sponsor, I can go to Kiva's website (http://www.kiva.org/ )and choose who I would like to give a loan to based on a profile of what the individual plans to do with the loan. I'm a big supporter of women, and agriculture so I like to choose families who are setting themselves up to raise cattle or women who are setting up fibre related businesses. The loans really are micro - you're only allowed to give $25.00, however you can support multiple entrepreneurs if you like.
All the people selected for loans must go through Kiva's interview and approval process before their profile is ever posted on the internet.
This is my most recent loan of $25 to Munavvar Hakimova in Tajikistan who is starting up a tailoring business- you can read her profile at: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&action=about&id=93762

The loans are paid back over a period of a time, usually a year or more. As the money is returned to my Kiva account, I can either take the money back or loan it again. Of course, I loan it again, a whole whopping $25.00!!!

What makes this so cool is that I am a partner in the loan along with other individuals from around the world, each of us giving the maximum of $25.00. Some loans are for $200 and others are for $2000. Businesses don't cost as much in third world countries as they do here.

Kiva was featured on Oprah a couple years ago and I've been a member since. They send me regular reports on loan repayments and keep me in touch with their progress. Don't you just love this entrepreneurial spirit? It's fabulous! Few things can make you feel so great as helping a person, a family, a village, to have a better life and education.

You should see this Kiva video about a woman in Nepal. You'll be amazed to see how one small loan of about $250.00 impacted an entire family and a village: http://vimeo.com/3323701?utm_source=jg&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=jg%5FKiva+Newsletter%3A+Changing+Lives+from+Kathmandu+to+Kabala+%28230280221%29&utm_content=barblindberg%40rogers%2Ecom

Thanks for reading this blog and I hope you consider a Kiva loan too. Unlike the gift store lady who put me down and criticised my home-based entrepreneurial ideals (she went out of business a few years later by the way), Kiva is a hand up to people who are trying really hard for a better life. You just can't beat that kind of sponsorship in my mind and what a great way to encourage another person in their entrepreneurial dream.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spinning: Now I've gone and done it!

I think my days of slubbing around with fibre are nearly over. This is my second time to knit the Alpaca Scarf using the Razor stitch but this scarf is very different than the first one.

With the first scarf my wool Wraps Per Inch (WPI) came in as 8 - rated as very bulky. I love the scarf but I must say that it is heavy - using up at least 8 oz of alpaca. I like its heaviness and coverage. It's certainly warm which is what I needed.

I started this second scarf while I was on the train on my way from London to Toronto. I had actually just finished spinning the roving and stayed up late the night before to get it plied. Then I dampened the skein and hung it over night.

The next morning the skein was still damp but I used my ball winder to make a ball. Then I rerolled the ball loser while riding on the train. I was concerned that the fibre was wound too tight by the skein winder and I didn't want to overstretch it while it was damp.
I didn't do the book thing this trip. There's something about being on the train that just makes me want to look out the window. All the other times I've taken the train I take books to read and I end up not even cracking them open. I didn't even knit the whole time because I just wanted to watch the passing scenery and write in my notebook. The notebook is a way to vent, record my thoughts and inspirations.

I remembered different times when I've taken the train. A couple years ago I wanted to see Body Worlds. The exhibit was on display at the Science Centre in Toronto and I told my family I wanted them all to go for my birthday. My sister and her kids were certainly game and we planned to attend. But it was winter time and Dad was kicking in his two cents worth about driving that "killer highway" - meaning the 401. You see we'd have to pass through that especially bad strip between Ingersoll and Woodstock where there's been a particularly high number of winter accidents. Dad would not let up when we insisted we were driving and he bought us all tickets on VIA Rail. We booked four seats together and the kids quite enjoyed it. My sister had never taken the subway in Toronto before because she always drove. I was the opposite and always took the subway. I reassured her that that subway was safe and easy to take. So she left me in charge of the inner city transit planning.

The train trip was great and we enjoyed the relaxed time to chat and catch up. I showed them how to get to the subway and we got on. My nephew Codie was sitting beside me on the left and a young gentleman sat on my right. When the young man on my right got up to get off at his stop something fell from his pocket onto the seat. Both Codie and I leaned forward to look. Having quick reflexes I shouted to the man, "Hey, you dropped your--"then I looked at what had fallen onto the seat.

Now I'm sure you've all had the experience where in a nanosecond you have fifty trillion thoughts and they go so fast it's like a whole day's conversation and observation in milliseconds... well that's what happened. I looked at the seat, at the little plastic package about 1" by 1" with the white powder in it. At the same time my lips were about to form the word to kindly let the gentleman know what had fallen from his pocket--this was transected by the thought that I can't shout "cocaine" on the subway--or maybe it would be best if I refrained from shouting cocaine on the subway.

At any rate, the young man heard the first part of my sentence and raced back, grabbed his drugs and ran off the subway. Then Codie leaned over to me, "Was that cocaine?" I sat there hoping his mother couldn't hear me, since I had reassured her so much how safe the subway was, "Yes, I said."

By the way, Body Worlds was AMAZING and if you ever get a chance to see it you should.

On this trip home from Toronto I was alone so not distracted and no incidents on the subway. This left me time to relax. It wasn't long until I got a terrific inspiration. While sitting on the train waiting to leave to go home and I was just staring out the window. The train was inside the giant shed area where they sit to load and unload passengers. Then suddenly I saw a movement up high on the metal beam. Half the wall of the shed was made up of plastic-like windows and sitting on a beam in front of the window was a raccoon.

He was having a good stretch and a grooming session. I smiled, clever thing. The beam would be a great place to hide and it was under the roof, offering a dry spot and out of the wind too. I watched when a few minutes later the raccoon started to walk the beam, but I noticed its gait was hitched. That was because this particular raccoon had only 3 legs. He was missing a front paw. So on the way home I was scribbling away in my notebook a whole story scenario that involved this raccoon that I would use in my book. The fact that I saw it in Toronto is amazing and so perfect for my children's story line in my second book that I was almost giggling all the way home. How could it be that this great thing, this great idea was just handed to me? Of all the things to see while in Toronto, this was exactly what I needed. I've named the raccoon Simon and I hope his life is long and all his garbage raids are successful. Truth is indeed strange and now I'll write it into my fictional story (I'm writing and illustrating a children's fictional story about honey bees and some of them go on a trip that takes in Toronto).

For this second scarf, my spinning is more a bulky weight with a WPI of 10. The lace shows up more in the stitch with the more delicate yarn and the scarf is about a third the weight as the first one. And it's used about half the amount of roving to complete.

What I'm noticing is that I'm improving. My spinning is becoming finer and more consistent. It's not totally there yet, but I can see the difference and measure it in the WPI. Previously all I could make were slub yarns which I really like. Now I'm wondering if I'll still be able to make slub yarns or have I gone and done it and spun myself out of them? I hope not, well at least not entirely.

But I'm now eyeballing lace weight yarns with thoughts of doing a lace shawl so I will need my spinning to improve for that......

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Forced Knitting Diet

We blame Dad for the most part.

My sister and I call it swimming in the 'gene pool'. Obesity on both sides of the family along with shortness, thin hair, and unfortunately on Dad's side of the family, arthritis and bad joints. And Dad, said, "Sorry, but we can't put you back."

Over time, my lifestyle, activities and Dad's bad genes were catching up to create some painful consequences.

It started with a bursitis type pain in the shoulder that would come on when I was knitting--and I was always knitting. I would rest it briefly but unfortunately my high pain threshold was getting me into trouble. You see, with an 'A-Type personality' I'd work through the pain and wouldn't stop.
Sometimes a good work ethic can be a real pain, literally a real pain!

The body does talk doesn't it? It let's us know when we need to make a change or stop an activity. The problem was that I had trouble listening. I thought I could ignore it because the issue would go away. I guess for a while it did but of course nothing lasts forever.

I was in my early thirties when it started to become evident that I wouldn't be able to knit any more. The bursitis pain got so bad it would not go away, even after I stopped to rest. I even put away my knitting very reluctantly for a couple of months only to find when I returned to it months later the pain would return immediately. So months of rest didn't make any difference.

I wrestled with this for quite some time. You see, I loved to knit. It was a real passion for me. I couldn't believe this hobby was being taken away from me and I kept trying to come back to it only to find after a few rows or a couple hours that the pain would come back, faster and deeper, taking longer to leave.
So very reluctantly I quit knitting. It was very frustrating to be so obsessed and then not be able to participate in what is probably one of the healthiest hobbies in the universe. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset.

At first I kept my Knitters magazine subscriptions going and I'd even buy wool and patterns to tuck away in my stash for 'some time later'. I guess you could name that the 'denial phase'. Then after a couple years I would take out my knitting and start a garment, only to discover after a very few rows that the pain hadn't left at all. it was only hiding, waiting for that repetitive movement to reveal itself again.

I'd wait another two or three years and try again, all with the same results. Eventually I let my magazine subscriptions discontinue and I stopped going to yarn stores entirely. It was just too hard to face this severe a restriction--this total diet. Like an alcoholic staying away from the bar or a Weight Watchers' dieter staying away from The Mandarin buffet, I stayed away from knitting and pretended to myself that I was never a knitter. It was easier to forget. It helped to stave off the pain of losing an awesome hobby (torn from my cold, numb painful fingers would be a more accurate description!)

I even bought a knitting machine, a good one. I used it too and it worked very well, but it was cold metal and a handle to push back and forth. I missed the feel of the fabric through my fingers, the whole tactile experience of knitting was missing. And then there's the portability, taking my knitting to the doctor's office or on the bus. The machine just didn't fit the need, the craving.

Then over the next ten or so knitless years my life and career changed dramatically and I became a web developer and software teacher, working a great deal on the computer. This too began to create havoc, but with my hands and arms. I learned to use voice recognition software and had all kinds of ECG's, MRI's and CAT Scans, physio therapy, chiropractor and massage.

In the end they said I had a really small spinal canal and with age, genetics, etc., I was "at risk". They were reluctant to describe exactly what at risk meant, but I can only presume nerve damage or at worst partial or full paralysis. So I learned to curtail my other hobbies such as gardening and web site design. I got out of chat rooms where I'd be typing away for hours and avoided the computer whenever I could in the evenings because I was on it so much during the day.

Then I saw a copy of Knitter's Magazine (1999). It was the commemorative issue for Elizabeth Zimmermann (1910 to 1999) showing her Mitered Mozart cardigan. It was LOVE at first site. I had to knit it. I just had to.

So I made a plan. How could I slip this whole knitted cardigan by without my right hand finding out about it? What if I did only 2 rows a night? It might take forever but at least I'd be knitting.

I had to order a copy of the magazine from the publisher because all the shops were sold out. Then I went to the local yarn store (http://www.londonyarns.com/) and ordered the wool. Now the wool for the cardigan is made by Mission Falls (http://www.missionfalls.com/home.php), a Canadian company that creates awesome patterns and yarns.
I was so happy. I would knit again. The rules would be different but I would be knitting again. I started the cardigan and got most of the back done before right hand started to really react, getting stiff and numb, and the shoulder was beginning to squabble. I realized it was probably too much straight speed knitting--all garter stitch and if I had fallen in love with an intarsia design I would probably have knit slower.

But we don't always get to choose what we fall in love with.

The sweater was put up frequently while I rested and slowly a few years crept by. Every now and again I would get it out and knit again... same results. But at least I'd learned not to go so far to a painful level.

I must have complained to someone about not being able to knit and they suggested that I learn European knitting because it used primarily the left hand. At that time my right hand was most problematic. In fact, my right arm and hand was so problematic I was in the process of becoming left handed by doing most tasks with my left (I bet my brain had fun growing all those new neural pathways!).

I got my books out, my Knitter's Companion, and learned how to knit European. WOW! What an economy of movement. It's remarkable. I don't think all those English style knitters out there realize how much less movement is required to make a stitch when knitting European. Sure my tension was a little loose, but I WAS KNITTING!!! Also a change to circular needles helped because they were more ergonomically shaped for the hands.

So, I mitered on happily and rested when I felt the signals. I could switch off too from left hand to right hand knitting--the heck with tension--I was just grateful to be knitting!

Now I know I'm on a permanent knitter's diet. I realized that it's better for my 'I don't want to stop just a few more rows' personality if I knit small projects. That way they are finished before I cause myself too much trouble.

Despite everything I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the little bit I can do. And I LOVE the groups and blogs. This provides me with another way to connect with knitters and hang out with knitters even when I can't knit. God bless Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot (http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/) for her books - I have almost all of them - and her blog and I can SO identify with everything she says :)

Even if I can't knit whenever I want, I can at least connect to a community of knitters and I know they understand exactly how I feel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Angora Bunny Update

This is my older baby Margarite. She's an Angora rabbit and she's around two years old. I've had her and Lexi for a couple months.

She LOVES to be petted and brushed. In fact, it's part of our nightly ritual that I come in the Rabbit Room every hour or so for a little scratching and brushing.

If I get behind and spend a little too long without visiting, she thumps in her cage. I don't mind it at all. Actually, I'm kind of glad they do it because it reminds me that they're waiting for me to come and visit. I do get caught up in my hobbies and time can go by without me noticing.

The rabbits can thump in the morning too when I'm up and moving around (just once or twice, so not super demanding). This is my pre-coffee state and I'm not one to spend much time prepping before I'm out the door to the bus. So the fact that the rabbits remind me they're waiting for their morning feed and quick pat really helps keep me on schedule and reminds me not to forget about them.

Margarite's hair is growing back from her last hair cut. Her previous owner gave me a bag of her fibre which I've been spinning slowly on the hand spindle.

I've spun a little bit of Lexi's fur on the spinning wheel but I find the fibre short and the spinning wheel a bit fast.

I'm not one to give up, I've just got lots of other projects on the go so I'll have to get back to that one.

I love Margarite's agouti brown and gray colouring.

I hope to let Margarite's fur grow out pretty long before I cut it... watching to ensure she doesn't get wool block though.

Using the same theory I have for my cats, instead of setting the rabbits up so that they're out in a rabbit run all the time - which at first they'd enjoy but after a time would become boring. Instead, they have large comfortable hutches that they're in all day and then I let them out in the evening. I opted to not make runs, but instead to rabbit proof and give them the whole room - meaning more room to manoeuvre and get exercise. Because of that they have to take turns which is why I visit every hour or so, to switch them out... Lexi back to her cage with some sunflower seeds and Margarite comes out for a time.
They head straight for the kitty litter when I release them and they enjoy sitting in it for a while. This has made cage cleaning much simpler. I swear that Lexi saves her pee for the kitty litter at the end of the day because her tray in her cage is not full of wetness from urine.

I'm SO glad I read up on rabbits and therefore knew that rabbits can have red coloured pee - it can actually look like blood, but it's not.

If I had seen that before reading about it I would have freaked out! Their pee also has a lot of calcium in it which is why there can be calcium marks on the catch tray of their cage.

Lexi's fur is already growing back from bunny's first hair cut and it's not looking so uneven. Hopefully when we do the next cut I'll be more relaxed.

Now, in case you don't know what this look means, I will tell you - it's the look of PURE MISCHIEF!

Lexi is the little bunny, the baby, and she's about 10 months old. She's a little mischiefer. I might have to rename her. She regularly climbs to the roof of Margarite's hutch which I have set up as the grooming station.

Up there is all the grooming paraphernalia - safety scissors and brush, which our little mischief bunny picks everything up with her teeth and drops them to the floor.

Then she grabs the little rug I put there and she pulls it back and tugs on it. (photo of Lexi on top of the hutch).

If I stand still at any time when she's out of the cage she circles me. Literally like circling the wagons.... it's hilarious and I will try to post a video of it for you to see... it's a little blurry so I'll retake and re-post in the near future.

Why does she circle me? She wants to be petted and brushed. She loves for me to pick her up and put her on top of the hutch for a grooming session.

Mind you, she's not keen on having her tummy done, or letting me trim her toenails but for anything else she'd lay there for hours.

If I'm giving Margarite extended attention, this little minx will thump and grunt in frustration. She definitely knows when she thinks it's her turn.

I'm totally enjoying the bunnies and their very different personalities. They're very friendly and not just these quiet little animals. They are both real characters and really enjoy interaction and fun.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Knitting: Past Projects - Black Floral Intarsia Sweater

It seemed like the more complex the floral pattern the more I was drawn to it.

This was a sweater I made a few years back, again a Pattons design. The design in the pattern book was done in off-white, but I opted for black so that the flowers would show up more. I figured if I was going to do all that work, I wanted them to stand out.

I have a large collection of plastic bobbins to wind batches of wool on while working with all the different colours. A few times when I didn't have enough I even resorted to making my own from cardboard.

Sometimes the bobbins would tangle and I'd have to stop and take a minute to unwind them. It certainly was not a project to work on if I was really tired.

This sweater is a lunch hour sweater. It was knit entirely while I was on lunch each day, sitting in the cafeteria.

The pattern was too complex to be done on the bus where I would have to count stitches and watch my row carefully to make all the colour changes.

Every day, people would watch me while I knit. It makes me a little uncomfortable to draw attention--I don't want to get into conversation when working an intarsia pattern so I'd always look for a back corner or out of the way spot in the cafeteria where I could hide from my co-workers. Less talk meant more knitting, and usually a more peaceful lunch hour.

I enjoyed each and every stitch. I particularly enjoyed the anticipation of the finished project almost as much as seeing the sweater complete.

I splurged on a black leather skirt to wear with this sweater. I figured I'd put so many hours into it that it deserved to be showcased with leather.
It wasn't long after knitting this project that I would no longer be able to knit, making this project that much more important ... but that's another story.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Knitting: Past Projects - Soft Pink Cardigan & Sweater

My third Australia knitting project was with Pattons wool.

Pattons was very quickly becoming a favourite with me because I liked most of the patterns they offered in their books and their scrumptious yarn.

This wool cardigan is so soft it's like cashmere and it's truly a favourite. I love its elegance, its length and pearl buttons. This sweater exposed me to doing cables for the first time--confession--I used an unbent paper clip as my cable needle until I purchased one.
My cable needle has recently gone missing so I had to make myself another one from a paper clip.
I hope it's still the same today, but at that time there were knit shops almost everywhere in the suburbs and city of Melbourne. The knit shop would put all the balls I required for my garment aside and I would only have to pay for the wool as I needed it. IMAGINE THAT! I hope it's still that way today, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't.
My knitting style at that time was very unique. I would jam the end of my straight needle into the crease of my thigh to hold it steady like a spear and then I'd knit on it.
I was embarrassed with this self-invented technique because it drew attention so I practised putting my needle into my arm pit instead and held it there.

This next project with the same wool and Pattons again was actually knit once I was back in Canada.
I brought the wool home in my suitcase. I took my knitting with me to work while here in Canada. I would knit on the bus, and in the cafeteria. I knit at home too at nights.
I learned to knit faire isle with both the left and right hand, using the drawings in the pattern book for direction.
My knitting got noticed by my coworkers and a few of them actually took up the hobby and knit some garments. They would come to me with dropped stitches to get help to fix it and their questions on interpreting stitches and patterns.

I seemed to gravitate a lot to intarsia knitting - floral motifs were often a favourite. I did have pretty strict rules. I wouldn't knit just anything.
The garment had to really appeal to me in some way. I knew if it didn't the project could easily fall into the never finished pile at the back of a closet.
I also didn't knit for other people--as in, gee, I've noticed you can knit... can you make spend 200 hours making this complex sweater for free if I buy the wool? No!
My time was at too much of a premium for that. Besides, I had a stash that I was working through and at least 25 to 30 projects waiting in the closet.