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!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shakespeare Skies, for Skywatch

It is a ghost town
Perfect for October

The skies were clear
The vistas were pure Old West

All around us we saw
Pieces of the past

The air was so clear
You could smell the history

We looked down at ourselves
were surprised
to find that we still looked like 
people living in the 21st century

For skies over oceans and deserts, modern places and ancient places, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scenes from a Ghost Town

Shakespeare, New Mexico
We took a long drive with friends the other day across some of the state to Lordsburg, New Mexico, then up a dirt road to the old ghost town of Shakespeare. A mining town in the 1800s, it was once home to over 3,000 people; a lively place that saw plenty of hard work, lots of hard drinking, some hangings, shootings, gambling, and even a big diamond swindle. When the Hill family came out from Texas looking for a ranch in the 1930s, they came across Shakespeare and bought the town site and the acreage around it. The town, open occasionally to visitors, is in the middle of a working ranch. It's both a State and a National Historic Site.

The Hills, their relatives, and their friends have been working at restoring the place to its 1880s appearance ever since. Devoted volunteers give the tours dressed in historical costumes, and re-enact historical (and semi-historical) events. As the hours went on, we were amazed by their energy and knowledge, and began to feel a little guilty that we had been charged only $5.00 each for the tour.

Here are some scenes from our day in the 1800s. I want you to know that there were times when we looked down at ourselves and were amazed to find that we were dressed in modern clothes, so complete was the immersion of our trip into the past.

Our guide, Keith Wilden

An Army campsite of the 1870s

Soldier played by a member of the Military Committee, Friends of Fort Selden

Exterior of the stage coach station, where the horses were changed for fresh ones...

... and the passengers had just enough time to grab a bite to eat and a bit of liquid refreshment

The kitchen of the Stratford Hotel

Everywhere we looked there were pieces of antique glass and hand-forged hardware

Hopper Shannon, historical blacksmith, demonstrated nail and knife making

Saloon girls playing cards and getting ready to do some shootin.'
Gunfights were reenacted by the Paso del Norte Pistoleros

Little Buckaroo Bob, a great favorite with the folks on the tour

Bob and his dad

"I just love this little cowpoke!"

If you go: 

Be sure to check out the Shakespeare Ghost Town website, and find the upcoming tour dates on the calendar. This town can be seen by tour only; it is not open for folks to just walk around. 

Do what you always do in New Mexico: Take plenty of water, wear sunglasses and a hat, and bring sunblock--this applies any time of the year, not just during the summer months. 

There are public restrooms (indoor plumbing, too--we saw the two-holers used until recently!), but no food or drinks for sale.

Watch your step, this is rattlesnake country. 

The tour takes around two and a half hours, maybe longer if the stories get really elaborate. There aren't many places to sit down; we slept real well in our modern 21st century beds later that night. 

Keep kids under control, as there are all kinds of hazards from sharp rocks and glass, to barbed wire and mine shafts. That Little Buckaroo Bob is a real survivor and was much clucked over by the grandmas on the tour--to the chagrin of his pistol-totin' Pa, who believes in letting kids learn by making their own mistakes!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Log Cabin, Big Sky (for Skywatch)

Oh, my. This photo could have been so much better but, just as I snapped it, my camera battery gave out and the recharged one was many miles away at home.

I wanted to commemorate our early morning moment of knitting together high above Las Cruces--my sister, our friend Helen, and me. In a perfect post, there would also have been photos of Helen's and Bucksnort's knitting projects held up against views of Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley far below us. However, this week has been all about making do with reality, so you only see a curled-up piece of my log cabin knitting blanket held up against the beautiful Organ Mountains.

I just want you to know that the air was fresh and cold, the views down over the Mesilla Valley were terrific, and the quiet companionship without equal. We saw a proud and unafraid coyote ahead of us on the road, and we heard unidentifiable birds warbling their way through the cactus, chamisa, and mesquite. And the camera battery was dead, dead, dead. It was like our own little reality show--the best of our world intertwined with the small failures of everyday life.

For other views of the world and its skies, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some Really Nice News

December morning over the pecan orchard

I just want to say that I really do believe that good things happen to good people. Eventually. 

Our friends, Pat and Mary, live in Massachusetts. They would like to retire to Las Cruces and have been trying to make their Las Cruces dream a reality for well over a year and a half now. It was tough enough in a difficult real estate market to sell their home, but it seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong did. The well failed and had to be replaced. The septic system, ditto. When we all thought no other bad thing could happen, they had an old underground oil tank removed and--who could ever have predicted this one--a long-standing oil leak was discovered that turned their beloved homestead of many years into an environmental hazardous waste site.

Now these are good people, I want you to know. They deserved none of this stuff. Throughout the whole experience, they smiled and they prayed and they gritted their teeth and they still hoped to move to Las Cruces one day. The problem was that the dream was starting to fade and to turn into a distant wish... 

Finally, miracle of miracles, all the stars aligned and everything fell into place, and they are planning to be on their way in mid-November. We are so excited. They will have Thanksgiving in New Mexico! They will experience the beauty of Christmas in Old Mesilla, with all the songs in Spanish and English, and the drumming rhythms of the old Pueblo dances, and the luminarias lighting the way. They will be able to smell the cold desert air and the fragrant piƱon fires. They will finally stand out in the freezing high desert night and see more stars than they ever thought possible. 

I am so thrilled for them that I have put a little counter down on the left side of this blog, counting down the days until their arrival and our reunion with our friends. Bienvenidos, Pat and Mary!

Old Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our Community Supported Organic Farm (For Blog Action Day/World Food Day)

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

On every Blog Action Day since the first one in 2007, bloggers around the world have come together to focus on one subject. This year we are talking about food. Please click on the B.A.D. badge to visit some of the bloggers from over 80 countries who are taking part in this year's project

We always wondered about getting food from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, but didn't really do anything about it until we saw an article in our local paper. It was all about a new farm right here in the Mesilla Valley that was offering weekly, year-round harvest boxes of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables. 

We took a ride down to Mesilla and met Charlie and Emily, the farmers at Los Poblanos Organics--and the rest is history. Because our particular CSA allows but does not require a subscription, each week for almost a year now we have ordered our box online.  A few days later we pick up a box full of some of the best food we've ever eaten. There are always optional choices to pick out at the farm--for instance, do we want extra tomatoes or eggplant? Do we prefer cantaloupe or watermelon? We can also order organic meats and other locally produced foods like honey, jam, bread, and eggs from nearby partner farms.

Some of the contents of a harvest box

Why support a local farm? 

1. We get the freshest fruits and vegetables available. They are delicious, and grown without chemicals. Sometimes we learn about foods that are new to us, like pluots, kohlrabi, and kale. There are plenty of recipes available online, although we find that we like most of our fruits as is, and our vegetables fairly plain--steamed and with a minimum of added ingredients. 

2. We get to meet the farmers and see the food that they are growing. Charlie and Emily are a big part of our week now. We get to check out their chickens, look at what's coming up in the fields, and ask  questions about crops and recipes. We also get to see the progress of a flower garden at the farm that is being grown by some nearby home schooled kids.

3. We are feeling pretty darned healthy. With more fruits and vegetables on hand than we have ever had in our lives, we are meeting and exceeding all the daily standards for minimum daily requirements. We are bursting with vitamins and minerals, and have less room for unhealthy foods. We are losing weight, and we find that we crave carrots more than cake. I have no idea how that came about, but it's a good thing!

4. We are helping make a difference to the earth. By supporting both local and organic farming, we are helping prevent pollution through unnecessary transportation of goods from state to state. We reduce our dependence on fossil fuels because our food comes from the place just down the road. By purchasing food grown through non-chemical agricultural practices, we have a small part in improving the soils and protecting the groundwaters in our area.

I hope that you will check out Community Supported Agriculture in your area. You can get started by reading about the movement and locating a nearby farm on the Local Harvest web site

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hand Spinning: The Spindle

Georgia asked in a recent comment about "the spindle" and where that might be located on a spinning wheel. This is the very question that I wanted answered when I first took spinning lessons, because I had been brought up on those fairy tales where the heroine pricks her finger on a spindle. When I was a child I had no idea what that might be. I think now that I had wrongly pictured a distaff, which is the tool (often fastened to the spinning wheel) that holds the unspun fibers.

I'd like to answer Georgia by showing you all some visuals that demonstrate the evolution of the spindle. The first is a video showing a drop spindle and how it is used.

Here is a photo of my Navajo spindle, which is an elongated version of the drop spindle that is used while supported: The spinner sits in a chair or on the ground, the end of the long stick rests on the ground next to her while she rolls the other end across her thigh. Click here to see a photo of a Navajo woman spinning.

In this photo, we have turned the Navajo spindle sideways, so that you will see how such spindles eventually evolved into large walking wheels, where the fiber is spun off the end of the horizontal spindle, then walked back and wound on, as shown in the following very elegant video of a walking or great wheel in use.

Later spinning wheels were designed to enclose the spindle and surround it with a bobbin, which was fed through an orifice at the front of the wheel. I will show you more about that next week.

I hope this make things clearer. By the way, the carding of Kai's fleece is continuing and I am making great progress. Next week we spin!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Something is Coming, for Skywatch

Are those eyes glowing out there?

We all know that there is something coming here in southern New Mexico. When October arrives, the air feels a little chilly to our spoiled desert bones and the chihuahuas burrow down under the sheets at night. As we shrug on sweaters and search out long-stored blankets and pajamas, we anticipate the smell of autumn fires. 

We warm ourselves up with chiles for breakfast.

We ready our ofrendas (memorial altars to the departed) and look forward to the Dia de los Muertos celebrations later this month. Front yards take on a new look: Skeletons abound, chile ristras glow red, and ghosts dance on fences. 

Something is coming. Something good.

For skies in other places, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spinning Kai: Carding

For all the posts on Spinning Kai, click on the "Hand Spinning" tab at the top of the blog under the header photo.

I've heard it in the comments, in emails, and on Facebook: Some of you have been asking about the next installment of Spinning Kai. Here it is, and I hope you will forgive me for taking so long to post it. Hey, what am I saying? This is a long and picky process. 

Once the fiber was washed and then teased out, it needed to go onto the cards in a process called charging. That just means I spread a handful of the teased fiber across the card that I hold in my left hand. I was taught to mark the cards "left" and "right" and to always use them that way, so I do. 

The left card is held in my left hand and rests on my left knee, and my right hand moves the right card across the left one to brush, detangle, and straighten the fiber. In the first photo, the fiber has been carded with both brushes a couple of times. That fiber sitting between the cards in the photo is there to remind you what the teased fibers looked like before carding. After four or five good brushings, the fiber is transferred to the right carder, then the brushing continues. I was taught to transfer the brushed fiber at least four times. 

The point of all this carding is to get the fibers going in the same direction; pretty much the same results you would want when brushing out your own hair. Here it has been transferred back and forth, and back and forth again.

There is a delicate little move you make to get the fiber unstuck from the wire pins, then you roll up the combed fiber into a rolag. I am finding that wool rolags are easier to make into clearly formed, neat rolls; it seems to me that the llama fiber is formed differently from wool. An extreme close up of a bit of wool fiber would show overlapping scales that tend to stick together (thus the tendency of wool to felt). I'm just guessing here, but handling this llama fiber makes me guess that it is more smoothly formed and that it also has less crimp than wool fibers.

I just checked my theory about the fibers and it appears that I was right. You can look at a microscopic comparison of alpaca, llama, and sheep fibers here:

Anyway, that's my excuse for these wobbly-looking rolags. They will serve their purpose, however, which is to give the hand spinner (me!) a well organized handful of fiber with the hairs parallel to each other and at right angles to the orifice of the spinning wheel.

My goodness! It doesn't seem so technical when I actually go through the process. I needed to look at the Wikipedia article on carding to help me pull together the description of and explanation for what my hands do so automatically--it's a little bit like being asked to write down a recipe when you've been making it without thought or measurement all your life. When I think of it, I've been doing this process with fiber for almost 40 years!

Here is a basket of the rolags that have been made so far. It will be a while before the next installment on Spinning Kai, since there is still plenty of teased fiber in the inelegant garbage bag (below) yet to be carded. It may not look like that much, but it will make a lot of rolags.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

But First...

The beginnings of the blanket

As I mentioned yesterday, now that I am mailing off the last batch of little kid acrylic sweaters knit for charity, I am more than ready to go back to using natural fibers. However, because I am a Yankee born and bred, I was brought up with these words ringing in my ears:

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

That, of course, means that I have to put all the acrylic leftovers from those sweaters into something useful. Why not a log cabin blanket variation? It's fun to do and it's a small and portable project when made square by square. Best of all, it is a way of using up little balls of yarn and making some interesting color combinations along the way. The technique is explained here

So, I am making square after square and plan to join them together with a dark teal-colored yarn. I'll let you know how the project progresses. I've done 12 square so far, and think that I should make 25 in all. We'll see.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Knit for Kids, The Final Batch

I've knit enough of these blocky little sweaters for now. This is the last batch, which brings my total of children's sweaters knit for World Vision's Knit for Kids project over the past five years to 110. For now, I'm happy to move on from acrylic yarns to some wool, mohair, llama, and alpaca ones. 

If you are interested in knitting sweaters for needy children in this country and abroad, just click on the link above to get a copy of the pattern and the shipping directions. It's a really fun and worthwhile project.

To see most of my Knit for Kid sweaters, go to this index page.