Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Year in Review, Month by Month

I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.
            ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Our year was made up of simple moments and simple pleasures. We welcomed friends from far away, we became travelers ourselves, we improved our surroundings, and, perhaps most important, we got chickens. 
~Mrs. Zee


I learned this trick from another blogger (Nan, was it you?)--To look back on the doings of the year, just take the first lines posted at the beginning of each month. It's as good a way as any to look at the things that happened. 

Here is just one more thing that I would like to share with you about Christmas as we experienced it in New Mexico this year. We have a wonderful blend of cultures and traditions, and I think that this video expresses the diversity and experience quite beautifully.

We love the idea of eating fresh, organically grown vegetables and fruits.

As I mentioned yesterday in the post titled Fixer, many of the more tender cacti around town have been killed off by our spell of bitter weather this winter.

Having finished knitting a hundred sweaters for Knit for Kids (more about that later), I've decided that a person can accomplish a hundred of almost anything. 

There is probably a life lesson here: Wonderful, loving moments may happen too fast for us to focus on them properly.

Remember those cute little chicks we brought home a few weeks ago?
Chicken Coup (for spelling fans, this is about a chicken uprising, not poultry housing).

Happy Fourth of July!

A few weeks ago, I showed you this yarn, the Bodega Bay colorway of Mini Mochi, which I got from Jimmy Beans Wool.

A week or so ago I took a little break from blogging, ostensibly  to work on some fiber projects. While I was knitting, Beez and I took a train trip across the country.

On our last full day in Boston, we had a lovely sidewalk breakfast at a little bookstore on Newbury Street called Trident Booksellers & Cafe.

Way down in southern New Mexico
In a green valley 
Along the Rio Grande

There is a pecan orchard

And in the middle of that orchard 
You will see a little adobe house
And a little adobe garage

And next to the adobe garage sits a little chicken house...

Yesterday, I showed you the "before" color in the mostly unused room at the front of our adobe house. 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice


Long nights.  

Cold mornings.

 We do what we can to make the winter days and nights warmer and more colorful

 with bright quilts and blankets

 and colorful, cozy woolen socks;

 with family laughter and warm friends

while we are waiting for the light.

Here's to light and color and warmth and family and good friends.

Happy Winter Solstice to you all!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Story

A weary stranger on the road, seeking shelter and warmth and safety. It sounds like a Christmas story to me.

He was cold. Cold and very hungry, and so thirsty. The days were long and dangerous enough with all the honking cars, but the nights seemed to last forever. He didn't know where to go, but he knew he had to get away from those mad singing coyotes and the big owls hunting in the orchard. He wasn't sure how to deal with the huge roaring monster of a train that came through every few hours, and he had crossed the track several times.

But, oh, he was so cold and lost and afraid.


We live on a road that runs between two heavily traveled streets. Although our place in the orchard is fairly quiet, there is a railroad track about half a mile away.We first saw the little dog when we were on our way out to breakfast and were worried that he was so near the road, but then he headed off toward a fenced yard and we figured that he had just been out for a little stroll.

Many hours later, I spotted the little guy once again. This time he was outside our fence, visiting with our dogs. I was worried about the traffic, and enlisted Beez's help. Grabbing a package of string cheese, I went out to see if I could get him to come in to safety.

It took over an hour of signalling cars and trucks to slow down and go around, and calling softly to Beez for more cheese. We learned early on that he was frightened of people, but terrified of men; so Beez stayed way back. Remembering the lost pup's lack of fear of other dogs, I got Little Pete to help. That did the trick: The little wanderer came into the yard to see Pete and to get another bite of cheese, and Beez materialized behind us and closed the gate.

Little Pete is always willing to help out

People began arriving for supper. My sister almost wept when she realized that this was the same dog she had tried to call to safety two days before. She had been haunted by the thought of him out there on his own, but he had been too frightened to come near. Now he seemed to remember her voice.

My husband, that good Beez, spent another hour out in the yard, getting the little guy to trust him enough to come into the house before nightfall's below-freezing temperatures. This is the man who earlier had put together his rightly-famous white lasagna and got it into the oven, while still managing to work patiently with the little wildling. Our dozen dinner guests quietly cheered him on from the living room until he arrived with the cold, tired pup cradled in his arms.

Once inside, with access to plenty of food, water, warmth, and comfy laps, the terrified and exhausted little pup underwent a pretty amazing change. He asked Helen to lift him up and hold him. He snuggled right down and fell asleep, safe at last. He was sleeping so hard, that first Jeff and then Jean took over the pup-holding duties, and he didn't even stir.

Around the big table, we smiled at each other and talked quietly of Christmas miracles.

Safe at last

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Those Little Whatcha-Call 'Ems

This is our house during our recent big snowstorm. We had hours of fine snowfall, a pretty brisk wind throughout, and temps down in the single digits. The snow started in the afternoon and continued most of the night. Sustained precipitation of any sort is rare, but very welcome, here in the desert. When we woke, we found that the highways in every single direction going out of town were shut down.

In this part of New Mexico we get a bit of snow every winter, but people like to say that it is gone by 10 AM the next day, and that is usually the case. This storm encased our plow-less roads in ice until at least 11:30 AM, but after that, all was well, the sun was out as usual, and the roads were clear and dry. In the meantime, we just put some fragrant piƱon logs in the kiva fireplace and had a lovely day.

A fire in the kiva, a glass of wine, and some bread dough rising--what more do we need?

See those little outdoor lights in the first photo? They are the electric equivalent of the holiday lights traditionally made with candles set in sand inside paper bags. Around New Mexico there is a very geographically-based disagreement over what they are called. Up north around Santa Fe they are farolitos; down here in the south they are luminarias. [I'm telling you, I'm struggling with that automatic spellcheck thing, which tried to change the words in that previous sentence to frailties and luminaries!]. Folks in the northern part of the state use the word luminaria to describe the small vigil fires made along the road side during the nine nights of the celebration of Las Posadas, which culminates on Christmas Eve.

We have a very witty friend who believes he has solved the whole controversy by renaming them candle-baggios. We love it, and candle-baggios is what we plan to call them from now on, making a nice new New Mexico Christmas tradition for our friends and family.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Calendars

An advent calendar is a card or poster with twenty-four small doors, one to be opened each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. Each door conceals a picture. This popular tradition arose in Germany in the late 1800s and soon spread throughout Europe and North America. Originally, the images in Advent calendars were derived from the Hebrew Bible.

Considered a fun way of counting down the days until Christmas, many Advent calendars today have no religious content.

Read more: Advent: Dates, Traditions, and History —

* * * * *

My Advent calendar is a little cupboard full of drawers. I know you are probably getting tired of hearing this after all my recycled furniture stories that I have been telling you, but this little cupboard also came from the much-loved Swap Shop in our old New Hampshire town. It has brought delight to many, many children, as I used to take it to school with me every year so the kids could take out one ornament a day and place them on our little library tree. There were always plenty of helpers available to take the tree down, carefully wrap each tiny ornament in bubble wrap, and find the right drawer to place it in. 

The cupboard with the doors closed

With the cupboard doors open, the 24 little drawers are revealed.
Here are the ornaments for the first three days of December, ready to hang on a little tree

Detail of the drawers
The Advent tradition continues each year at our adobe house here in southern New Mexico. I've always wished that I could thank the person who left this little cupboard at the Swap Shop (where the sign over the door says "Take It or Leave It") with all the ornaments wrapped so carefully. It has brought joy to many.

If you would like to see a very different sort of Advent calendar, you can bookmark the site for the 2011 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar, which features beautiful (beyond beautiful, actually) photo stories of Hubble images of the wonders of our universe; one for each day of December. 

For a traditional religious Advent calendar, with daily "reading, meditation and prayers based around Mary's journey to Bethlehem, from her meeting with the Angel to the first Christmas in Bethlehem," see Advent 2011, with an introduction to the calendar here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The "New" Dining Room

Yesterday, I showed you the "before" color in the mostly unused room at the front of our adobe house. 

Here is a little hint of the color to come. I wanted colorful curtains and found some fabric that would have done the trick; alas, it would have cost way more than any curtains should ever cost. Instead, I bought some screaming yellow broadcloth on sale and sewed yellow and green and orange ribbon along the edge. Just having those heavy, dusty old wooden slat blinds out of the room was a huge improvement, and the yellow curtains are very cheery!

The rocking chair in the corner was rescued from the dump in New Hampshire, as was the little green table next to it. Now that I think of it, the picture frame, brass lamp, and lampshade all came from the same place--the Swap Shop at our old recycling center. I love this kind of recycling. 

The chair has been named The Beth Chair, in honor of Beth in North Carolina, a blogger I have only met via the Internet. She writes Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, and I hope you'll go right over and say hi. That Beth Chair will be painted the same green as the woodwork in the room, which you may or may not be able to make out in a later photo. 

The sweet little stained glass fan lamp was made by my wonderfully creative sister, Auntie Bucksnort. The two framed pictures on the windowsill are closeup photos of a mural in Santa Fe, taken by another creative relative, my very own son Benjamin.

You've already seen both the chicken cabinet and Gracie the cat on this blog before. That tilt-top table/bench belonged to my parents. It gets refinished once a generation, and I just completed my turn a couple of years ago. You can see in this photo that the room is a nice, sunny yellow. It was meant to be a faint buttercream, but fate apparently had other intentions. 

I put this not-so-good picture in so you can catch a glimpse of the green trim, there to the left. There isn't a lot of woodwork in an adobe room, so I figured that the green wouldn't be overwhelming.

This side of the room still needs some attention. Those bookcases, painted melon for our last house (and blue for the house before!), will get painted a nice light yellowy green. The pictures will get hung up, no easy task with our rock-hard adobe walls. That little cabinet is from Mr. Bean at the Las Cruces Farmers Market. We have so many of his pieces that we are running out of places to put them, but I love his wonderful color combinations and always want just one more.

This picture (actually a notecard by Diana Bryer in a frame) of a woman rolling out tortillas used to be in the kitchen, but the color is just perfect for the new room. 

Here is a closeup of one of the pictures that has been hung. The print is from the Farmers Market, and that is the frame from the dump, now spray painted and hung back-side-out, because I like it that way.

Yet another picture to be hung; it's a print mounted on a flat basket tray that came from... you guessed it! The dump!

Here is a quick snap of the new dining room, ready for action on Thanksgiving. It was a potluck, with Bucksnort doing all the turkey/stuffing/gravy/potatoes, etc. in my kitchen, and friends bringing along the side dishes and dessert. All I had to do was paint! We hadn't quite finished setting the table when I took this picture. I really should have waited until moments later, when the table was surrounded by a dozen good friends; laughing, eating, toasting each other, and talking as though they would never run out of things to say.

I used to read this book to the kids in my New Hampshire library, explaining to them that I would someday live in a house hecha de lodo, made of mud--and, I do!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Painting and Painting

I have been painting and painting, in between spinning and knitting and sewing curtains. Here is our dining room before, painted (by someone else) an uninteresting and rather dark shade of brown/beige/cafe au lait. Call it what you will, it really bothered me and this room was therefore underutilized except for my computing and flipping paper messes here and there. It also had those heavy wooden blinds that made everything seem dark and that always featured a good coat of impossible-to-remove dust that wafted in from the surrounding agricultural lands.

This is the room that you see when coming in the front door. No one knew what to call it; I thought it was too small for a living room, but just the right size for a dining room, since the kitchen is the next room you come to. After a bit of rearranging (something we love to do) a dining room is just what it became for Thanksgiving. 

Give me a day and I will show you the cheery results of paint and new curtains. Stay tuned. I sure do hope you like it!

By the way, please note the chicken cabinet, which has been with us in several of the places we've lived. We never have been very grown-up about furniture.

The chicken cabinet in our red New Hampshire living room

Monday, November 28, 2011


When I first retired and started writing this blog, my profile included this statement : 

Who knew that retirement would be so much fun? I enjoyed working with kids and books and technology as a school librarian, but now I love having time to myself for walking, riding my bike, taking photos, reading, researching, volunteering, knitting, writing, gardening, and blogging.

Well, who knew that retirement would hold such surprises? I just updated that rather solitary-sounding list of individual (or couple) activities to include, first on the list: 

but now I love having time to get together with friends

We've only lived here for two years now, but I had to smile when I looked out at all the cars parked along the road on Thanksgiving Day. We had a dozen friends at the table, and most of them are people we didn't know when we first moved here. 

Good old Las Cruces--it's a friendly place and we are so lucky to have so many wonderful new friends. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spinning Kai: All Done!

See the complete series of posts on spinning Kai Llama's fiber, from fleece to yarn. 

After spinning, plying, and skeining the llama fiber, I washed the skeins gently in warm, soapy water. The thing to remember with wool, and presumably with llama, is to avoid agitation in the water and to keep the water temperature constant when moving the skeins from soapy water to rinse water. The skeins may be very gently squeezed to remove water, but must never be wrung out. As a matter of fact, if you want to make felt, you just alternate hot and cold water and agitate a lot: To keep yarn fluffy and intact, just do the opposite. 

The damp skeins are then hung up to dry. Single strand yarn must be weighted at this point to help set the twist; with plied yarn weighting isn't necessary. 

The Kai yarn looking very decorative while drying

A bunch of Kai

When dry, the skeins can be twisted with the ends tucked in. I have labeled each one with the yardage. I wanted to share some alpaca and soft wool with Danni, so I am also sending along the skeins below.

Plied alpaca on the left, very soft wool singles on the right
The llama, alpaca, and wool yarns are all boxed up, addressed, and ready to go down to the Post Office and off to Danni in Oregon. I can't tell you how relieved I am to have this project completed! Besides that, I just discovered that this will be my 1000th post on The Zees Go West--what a great feeling of accomplishment!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Polishing Off the Projects: The Log Cabin Blanket

Log Cabin Blanket
Knit with yarn left over from Knit for Kids sweaters

A couple of weeks ago I woke in the night to a feeling that I hadn't experienced since retiring: I was worried about getting through all the stuff that I needed to do. I had made promises to other people and to myself and was feeling pressured about getting things done. 

In the morning, I glanced at my horoscope and this is what I saw: 

"You have a lot to get done, but you will get it done. 
Simply focus on one project after another."

Well! I never look at horoscopes, let alone let them guide my days, but this one was just perfect. Never mind that it could apply to anyone, especially during the holidays when we all feel a little pressure of one sort or another. 

I got myself back in order after seeing those words. After all, I am retired, and my time is my own. I take on projects because I like to do them, and I have convinced my family that gifts that are received on dates other than Christmas or birthdays are not late gifts, but wonderful surprises. There is no need to get in a swither!

Since that lovely Horoscope Day, I have lined up the projects and finished them off, one by one. I have remembered to enjoy the journey and to stop fretting about the destination and, in doing so, have found that one project after another has been completed. The llama fiber is all spun and goes into the mail today; the log cabin blanket has been assembled and is keeping me warm; socks have been knitted; the dining room has been painted, curtains have been sewn, and so on.  What doesn't get done today will eventually get done. 

My horoscope promised me, and it must be so! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Spinning Kai: Plying and Skeining

This is the process of spinning Kai llama's fiber, continued. You can see all the previous steps here.

Once the yarn is spun, it winds around a bobbin. When each bobbin is full, I replace it on the spinning wheel with an empty one. The full ones go on this holder so that the single strands can be plied, or twisted together. The strands are plied in the opposite direction that they were spun, so if the wheel was turning clockwise to spin the single strands, I turn it counterclockwise to ply the strands together. 

In this instance, I am making two-ply yarn, but three or more strands can be plied together. Most commercial knitting yarn, of the sort that I used to make little kid sweaters, is four-ply. 

In the photo below, I am controlling the amount of twist as the two strands are plied together. 

In the next photo, you can see (although the focus is poor) how the strands go together.

Next, the plied yarn is wound off the bobbin on the wheel and onto the niddy noddy, a nice old-fashioned tool that holds the yarn taut while it is being wound into a skein. I measured the length of one wrap around and found that it was about one yard, so I counted as I wound to get a very approximate measurement for the whole skein. I wanted Kai's yarn to end up in 50-yard skeins, but there were a few odd ones from the end of each bobbin.

Once the skein is made, the beginning and the end are tied together, and the skein is secured in several places with some string. Then the skeins are all ready to be washed. Stay tuned--we are getting near the end of the process!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spinning Kai: Spinning on the Wheel At Last

For the previous posts on the Spinning Kai project, click here.

It seems that this project, spinning up a bunch of llama fiber for Danni in Oregon, has taken far longer than it should have. Of course, life has intervened, and it wasn't just a matter of spending a straight week working on this pile of fiber. There were trips to be taken, friends to help move, blankets to knit, people to entertain, dinner parties to give and to go to, and so on. In other words, this project has been done in classic New Mexican Time--slow and easy. 

At last, all the fiber was picked and carded. I had split the fleece that Danni sent into two parts, half for Danni and half for me. When Danni's part was all carded into rolags (fluffy rolls of fiber), there were four or five baskets full of them. Here is part of one basketful in the photo below. This was before Keeker the cat decided to take a cozy nap in the basket. Ah, well, never mind. Kee enjoyed herself and the fiber was no worse for the experience. 

The spinning wheel, which I had heedlessly stored out in the garage, needed weeks of coddling and oiling before it consented to work again. Never again will I treat it so carelessly: It will live right here inside the thick adobe walls of our little desert house--no more parching and baking out in the garage. 

At first, when I couldn't get the old spinning wheel to work at all, I imagined that I might have to buy another wheel--very expensive now--in order to keep my promise to Danni. Then I thought I might have to use a Navajo spindle and do the whole thing the really, really slow way. However, the situation resolved itself as so many things do--I oiled and oiled and oiled every part of the spinning wheel, and when nothing worked, just left it for a while. Amazingly, when I returned to the wheel a few days ago, I found that with a few quick adjustments, it worked just as well as it ever did. 

Although the wheel isn't spinning yet in the photo above, you can see that I have attached the end of the rolag to the leader yarn, and have begun to draft it--pulling the rolag back and back, and back some more, feeding out the fibers in a "V," then allowing the spinning of the wheel to apply twist, which evens out along the length of the fiber. When it is all fairly even, I let it feed in through the orifice and around the bobbin.

It's a soothing thing to do, once you have the hang of it. Your foot rhythmically treadles the wheel which spins around, and you alternately pull the fiber back and feed it in. In my younger days, I found it very relaxing. Now I find that after a few hours I get a little achy, but it's still a pleasurable thing to do.

Now that all the fiber has been spun, in the next few posts I will show you the final steps in this process--plying, skeining, washing, and setting the twist. My sister keeps observing that it is ridiculously labor-intensive to make yarn this way, and she is right. However, it's a wonderful thing to know how to do.

Here is a very quick video that shows a newer version of the Ashford Traditional Wheel, which arrives as a kit, is put together, then put to work. The spinner in the video uses the short draw technique of spinning, where the hands of the spinner are never very far apart.

I use the long draw method, demonstrated by the spinner in this video.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Behind Door Number Three: The Egg Story

Way down in southern New Mexico
In a green valley 
Along the Rio Grande

There is a pecan orchard

And in the middle of that orchard 
You will see a little adobe house
And a little adobe garage

And next to the adobe garage sits a little chicken house...

(Click to enlarge any of these pictures)

That little chicken house has three little doors.

Each little door leads to a little nest, but the best door of all is Door Number Three.

That's because behind Door Number Three, you will find...

Oh, no. Look out! It's Bitey Albertina and she is giving us that look.
Even though she pecks my arms, Bitey Albertina and her two Peckatini Sisters, 
Lizzie and Meg, give us three eggs every single day. 

The brown egg on the right comes from Bitey Albertina,
the other brown egg is from Liz, and the green egg comes from Green-Legged Meg.
Now, how many of you know the name of the hen who laid your breakfast egg?

If you would like to see some other home-grown eggs, check out Georgia's post, The Size, Shape, and Color of My Eggs

And while we're on the subject of hens, I forgot to tell you that November 5th was Hug Your Chicken Day! I'm sure it's not too late--you can still hug the first chicken you see today. You might consider wearing an apron, though.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dancing with Death: Day of the Dead, 2011

On the Day of the Dead--surely one of the stranger holidays here--we remember that although death walks among us...

we can always smile...

and honor our dead with memorials...

and little altars...

for beloved pets, too

We can make art...

and we can always dance!