Monday, August 09, 2021

Keeping the creative juices flowing

 It was a long day and a good day. Being Monday, it was entirely devoted to software technical documentation. But now it's Monday night, and the creator has come out to play. Yesterday I cut the pieces for the quilt.  It's an ingenious technique: First you find the repeat in the pattern of the fabric you've chosen, Then you cut six selvedge-to-selvedge lengths of the fabric one repeat wide. Once you have these six identical strips, you layer them on top of each other so that the patterns of each layer line up exactly from top to bottom... Have I lost you yet? For those of you who are curious and aren't lost, read on. For the rest, skip to the next paragraph. For the pattern I am using, the repeat is 23" wide. This is an awkward, indivisible size because the next step is to cut the lengths into even smaller strips--3.75"-4" in width. These strips will then be cut into equilateral triangles with the aid of the lovely device above right.

The goal of all the pattern planning and laying out and cutting is to get sets of six identical pieces of fabric to arrange into hexagons. You can either put the triangles in each set together randomly (pick one of the points and use it as the center of the hexagon for each piece), or you can be like me and try out all three combinations for each hexagon, taking pictures of each in order to decide which of the three you like best. Then you pin them together and set them aside to sew.  

Last night I put together 43 hexagons. Tonight I finished the last 27. I wish I hadn't finished listening to Kitchen Confidential over the weekend (read by Anthony Bourdain himself) as that would have been a perfect accompanying activity for laying out hexagons. As. it was, last night I watched See, a series set in a dystopian future where all human are blind, and tonight I indulged in three episodes of Clarkson's Farm. Dave couldn't get through either of them with me--and you can see why with Clarkson's Farm featuring Jeremy Clarkson nattering on about planting crops, raising sheep, running a farm stand, raising chickens, planting trees, the bloody regulations, and irrigating--all from the perspective of someone who has no background in farming, no patience, and very little ability to listen to the advice of the people he hired to advise him. If you don't know who Jeremy Clarkson is, look him up. A less likely English farmer you would be hard pressed to meet.

But back to the hexagons. Every part of this quilt process so far has been magical. When I sit down to sew all the fiddly little pieces together, I may feel differently,. But I don't think so. Each hexagon is a tiny work of art--and no two of the sixty I cut are the same. I think opening up each one of them to sew it together is just going to be another ooh-ah moment.

I close with some of my favorite sets. Each of the pictures in the sets of three is made by turning the triangles in the hexagon in a different direction. Sadly, only one of the three will be realized as no two sets are alike.

I guess I should have taken the pictures on a plain background instead of my ironing board cover...

Sunday, August 08, 2021

And finally the quilt


Coffee in my all-time favorite mug (it says, "I try to act all nonchalant but inside I'm actually chalant AF"), the sound of Gallifrey dreaming and breathing for music. It's a cold, rainy day in Montana--unusual for August but very welcome. It is a good day to snuggle up and watch old black and white screwball comedies from Criterion--and to cut quilts... and maybe shirts. 

It's amazing the things I find in the oddest places! Last week I was lamenting not having the pattern I use to make Dave's shirts. It's out of print, and a friend suggested I look on eBay for it. I did find one in Australia for about $30 (item and shipping), but I have two copies in Austin, and since I'll be there soon for a week, I decided to wait and bring one back. Then today as I got ready to cut strips for my quilt, I opened a box of sewing supplies and found two copies! I also found my mother's serger (I serge all the edges of the shirts) so I am in business! 

Before this post--and my time--gets hijacked (again), I am going to hold off on the shirts and stick with the quilt. The technique is over 20 years old and is called by several different names: Stack and Whack, One Block Wonders, and Kaleidoscope Quilts--just to name a few. The premise is that you can make an entire quilt top out of one fabric, and it will be complex and unlike any other quilt that could come out of that same piece of fabric. It can be as symmetrical or asymmetrical in design as you wish. This is not your grandmother's wedding-ring quilt. (Which is not to say I don't like wedding-ring quilts--I love them. I just don't think I'd have the patience to do one.) I like projects with tension and abstraction to them, and this quilt really fits the bill.

It's also interesting because it's all about geometry--equilateral triangles made into hexagons to be precise. I won't go into the hows here--you can look up videos on You Tube or buy books if you want top know more. I bought two books by Maxine Rosenthal et al (shown here) and am using the fabric I posted a couple of days ago (shown again at the beginning of this post). I also used the Design Helper tool on the one block wonder website to see what my fabric would like. Below is what one version of the quilt in my fabric would look like when run through the Design Helper. Got to get cutting now. More pics and a longer, more thoughtful description of the process and my experience with it later.

I wish I had a big freezer in Montana...

 ...Come to think of it, maybe I do! Definitely time to look in the garage. I was cleaning up the sewing area here in the basement and I found a large, green, garbage bag under my cutting table. A wave of foreboding swept over me, you might even say my blood ran cold. Let me back up a bit.

Early in July--not too long after we arrived from our annual migration from Austin--my cousin and his children came to Polson for a visit. Evenings, as we'd sit in the cool of the basement watching tv or exchanging stories of the day, Charlotte (the daughter) would run about the room chasing after little moths. When she'd catch one she'd exclaim with joy as she squished it. The moths looked like India meal moths or wool moths--but I couldn't figure out what their food source here could possibly be. When our guests went home, I still saw the occasional moth, but apart from squishing them myself, I didn't do much of anything about them.

For a little background: I had a horrible infestation of wool moths in my fiber studio in Austin a couple of years ago. I NEVER want to go through that again! I had over 300 lbs of raw wool and roving and who knows how much yarn. The two easiest ways to kill moths, larvae, and eggs, are to heat them over 120 degrees F for more than 30 minutes (the dryer works well), or to freeze them for 72 hours to two weeks--depending on your source. I could not imagine tryin to run all that through the dryer--and potentially getting eggs and larvae everywhere. Instead, I got a new chest freezer and used it (along with our giant freezer and smaller freezer in the laundry room, and the bottom-of-the-fridge freezer in the kitchen) as a fiber de-incubator. I bagged and cycled all my infested yarn, fleece, and roving through them in multi-week stages to freeze everything dead. Since then I have been vigilant for their return, but nothing yet. 

Flash forward to today. I gingerly peer into the garbage bag and immediately slam it shut (you can slam a plastic bag shut if you really put your mind and hands to it). Then I race outside and open the bag again. As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky, a flutter of small brown and white wings lift towards my face. I pull back and start removing small white plastic grocery bags covered in moths--many of the bags were more hole than bag--and throwing them to the ground. I finally upend the bag and dump a slurry of moths, chewed bags, and... sand to the ground. Only it isn't sand. It is what the moths turn raw fiber--in this case yak fiber--into over the course of three years. 

There is still the occasional fluttery critter in the house--and the birds are feeding well outside--but I feel confident that the sweaters, socks, and other apparel knitted by my mother and my father (which is still in the house) is safe. Mostly because they preferred to knit with acrylic rather than wool. I never thought I would be grateful for that choice, but here we are


Saturday, August 07, 2021

An end and a beginning...

Coffee is a large iced latte with no sweetener in a McDonald's go cup, my music is provided by the water in the fountain next to me. It feels both poignant and fitting that I start this post with the same cadence I used over 15 years ago when I began writing this blog.  (Sidenote: Does anyone even blog anymore? It feels like everyone who is compelled to write puts it out on Medium. Bleh. Too many lurid peeks into other peoples' dysfunctional relationships. No thanks.) But writing here feels right as it is official and out in the world (and if I'm honest it really has been true for awhile): I am no longer a working glass artist. 

Life in pandemic times caused a major evaluation of my life and its parts, and I decided to go on to the next chapter. I am selling all my kilns but one. I already sold my sandblast cabinet, and now I just have several hoarder's crates of glass and other misc supplies to sell. No, no I am NOT selling my flat lap grinder--don't even ask. I am selling my pottery kiln (which I shamefacedly admit has never been fired). It's a studio-sized behemoth I got as a sweet deal as a-scratch-and-dent sale from the manufacturer when I was a dealer for them. The kiln is neither scratched nor dented, but the box it was shipped in arrived damaged at the school that bought the kiln so they refused delivery. I don't know what I was thinking when I bought it... Yes I do. I was in Atlanta, I had space there in my studio to set up a ceramics area, there was nowhere else close to drive to do it, and I was annoyed at Spruill Cneter for the Arts and unwilling to give them any more of my money to take classes there. I also had a friend who lived nearby that I potted with and she was keen to set up our own area too. I have no such circumstances in Austin, and I do have a good arts school near the house where I can take classes and use all of their equipment when I get jonesing to put my hands in the clay. So bye-bye massive ceramics kiln!

It's time to take the website down, and to put up a notice up that the artist from Siyeh Studio has gone on to her next chapter. It is weird: A major part of what defined me for the past 36 years was my identification as a glass artist--whether part time and yearning for a full-time career, or full time and wondering why I had ever thought it was a good idea. Now... I am an artist and a craftsperson, but not a "working" either of them. 

I am happy to say that I have FINALLY--for me--resolved the distinction between "artist" and "craftsperson. Everything I see and often what I hear, evokes a vision in my mind of something else that it could be, should be, wants to be--or just inspires. Colors, textures, materials, clouds, songs, wood, textiles, rocks, gems, shells, paper, huckleberry compote--they all come together. I see them all extended, aggregated, reduced--transcendent. That's the part of me that is an artist. 

Realizing the visions in my head? That's the craftsperson, and in most instances I fail. There are many, many things in my head that I cannot realize. It is frustrating and disheartening, and the way it is. On the bright side, I see the work of other artists and craftspeople and I no longer want to make what they made for myself. Now I prefer to buy the work of others and admire it for what it is instead of thinking "I could do that." I am not driven to be able to do everything. I used to be driven to do everything except draw or paint--I always knew that those two were beyond my abilities to master, and I didn't love them enough to be willing to be mediocre at them. Same with dance and music. It takes time, focus, pain, and hard work to master those disciplines, and I could never see myself giving any of that to those disciplines.
For the things I do choose to create, the prospect of the production of mediocrity somehow doesn't bother me. I can see something beautiful in my creation even if it isn't technically masterful. I can feel the connection of the muscle memory in my hands with the vision in my head. This object that I just finished may be only okay, but the next one will be better and then better. I have the relationship with the muscles and nerves in my hands and the focus required to realize my visions of some things. Typically the things I do well at are things combined of objects that I already find beautiful. I see a selection of fabrics and a quilt appears in my head. I see gems and stones and a complex necklace in silver, gold, or copper coalesces in my brain. Glass still inspires me as much as did when I started working with it over 36 years ago, but now I have circled back to my first glass love--stained glass. Fusing no longer pulls me, and I don't have the patience for casting (too much time waiting for something to be done and too little time with my hands actually on it).

Wow. This was supposed to be a post on a quilting technique I just saw for the first time last week when I was buying batik fabric for more shirts for Dave. I fell into my own vision of a quilt using this technique, and I have given myself up to the rabbit hole. Ah well, there is always tomorrow. Today it is time to cut! I end by popping up a visual teaser for the quilting project at the top of this post.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Happy New Year!

Pippin the new cat with Jessie
Has it really been over a year since I posted every day? Yes, yes it has. The last time I posted was June 24 of last year--the day I cut the end of my finger off while in hot and heavy pickling mode. Since then I have had three ER visits (not finger-related), one heart surgery, two hospital stays, two times having my heart stopped, a new cat addition to the family, and I'm finally writing again! That's a lot of happenings, and I don't want to talk about any of it (except maybe the cat). What DO I want to talk about? Fiber!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Montana) ... I bought a spinning wheel and fell in love with spinning exotic fibers--alpaca, llama, yak, camel, etc. Rovings (fiber for spinning) from these animals are expensive, and I quickly discovered that it would cost many hundred dollars to buy enough luxurious softness to spin into yarn to knit into a sweater for Dave. Then I hit upon on the seemingly brilliant idea of buying raw fiber, having it processed at a mill into roving, and then selling half of it to pay for my own habit, er, projects. Yak crack, if you will. Thus the business Farm2Yarn was born. Sadly, it has remained in it's infancy ever since. What can I say? I am a easily distracted by new, shiny ideas (can you say squirrel?).

The alpaca/silk blend sweater I spun and
knitted for Dave
But Farm2Yarn is back on top of my list, in my sights, and on my radar. It currently shares top billing with Siyeh Studio Glass (my production work--not teaching or selling supplies), and contract technical doc writing (most recently and I hope again soon for What do all of these things have in common? They are each and every one activities that count towards What One Does For a Living. Both Siyeh Studio and Farm2Yarn have nascent business plans (I might even finish them this time instead of starting with a plan but then chucking and winging like I did the last few times), and I have determined an amount of technical writing that I would like to do to fill that niche of my esprit.

Why so many different things? How will I ever do any of them well splitting my time like that? Besides being easily lured (shiny!), I am also easily bored. There are too many wonderful things one can do with one's time to spend "full time" on one thing--for me at least. So this week--with this morning taken out for jury duty--is devoted to dyeing fiber for an upcoming fiber event where I am a vendor, and preparing materials and communication for an upcoming glass show where I will have a presence in the form of a SALES REP (how professional is that?). I have already given a nudge that I am ready to begin a new writing contract the first of February, and I hope my nudge bears fruit (Hire me! Hire me!). In the meantime, Glass Incarnate is going to be split into tales of the trials and tribulations of running a retail fiber materials business, a wholesale art glass production business, expanding my brain while writing for a (partial) living, cooking with the Instant Pot, and maybe some tales from the dark side if my heart starts spluttering again. Whee! Let the wild rumpus start.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Day 2 of Pickling/Preserving, and a Trip to the ER

The bounty of the day!
With the few good fingers I have left on my right hand (two), I begin my post. Aaaaand there's already blood on the trackpad. (sigh) Time to change the fingertip bandage on the thumb again. BRB.

Today is another canning day for me. I still say "is" as I have 10 lbs of cucumbers and 1 pint of morels sliced, resting in salt, and ready to pickle in the next hour and a half. I am running late because my day was unfortunately interrupted due to an accident with the mandoline. More on that later.

The day started with rhubarb chutney. About 30 minutes into cooking the chutney it became apparent that you can't make rhubarb chutney from frozen rhubarb as it has very little structural integrity to start with so maintaining a good structure is an impossibility. So I called Dave over to get his opinion. First thing he did was stick his finger in the pot and taste it--something I had not bothered to do yet. "Yum", he said. "I can taste this on a pork tenderloin."

"So, sauce?", I responded.

"Oh yeah", he said. Then we went back and forth a bit on how much more it should reduce, whether I should strain it or leave the vestiges of rhubarb, onion, raisin, and spices in it. The decision was leave in, and thicken a bit more. I ended up with three pints and 7 half-pints of incredible rhubarb chutney sauce that sealed perfectly after canning. Then I moved on to the rhubarb syrup. That was a genius move as I am--post ER and six stitches--enjoying a rhubarb sour made from Bulleit rye, lemon juice and some of the afore-mentioned rhubarb syrup. I only got two pints of the syrup from about two lbs of rhubarb, and it's pretty thin, but boy is it yummy! One pint has already been cracked open and put in the fridge after we used the left-over two ounces for the first two sours. But I'm getting ahead pf myself...

After the syrup, it was after noon and time for the cucumber pickles. My goal was a double batch of bread and butter slices and a double batch of garlic dill spears--16 pints total. Oh, and one pint of pickled morels that didn't get used up in the beef stroganoff last week. It being Sunday, Dave had a hankering to take in a movie. When he asked if I'd mind if he went to a matinee of The Incredibles 2, I assured him I wouldn't (we all saw it on opening day, he just wanted to go again), but I did ask him if he would mind walking down and I would pick him up after in case I needed to run to the store in mid pickle. Boy was that a serendipitous choice!

So Dave left and I started slicing pickles. I was lamenting not having a wavy pickle slicer when I glanced over and saw my mom's old mandoline. "Well" I thought, "At least I can have perfectly sized 1/4" slices." And thus, like Alice, I fell down the slippery slope to the rabbit hole. Dave had said many times in the past how dangerous mandolines were and how he'd be happy to check me out on it if'n I wanted to use it. "How hard could it be?" I mused. It was surprisingly easy! In fact it was so sharp that I thought I wasn't pushing down hard enough and the cucumber was just sliding over the top of the blade. When I looked underneath and saw the perfect little 1/4" slices I was very happy and started slicing back and forth really fast, congratulating myself on how efficient I was and how I was goig to show Dave the great job I did with the mandoline... and as quick as that I knew I had gone right through my finger with the preceding slice. I looked at the blood welling from the top right side of my ring finger and the flat spot where there used to be tip...

But I'm good in a crisis. I washed it off, covered it in paper towels and lifted the mandoline to retrieve the missing part. There it was, a slice with a good bit of fingernail still attached. That's how sharp the mandoline it: I went right through 1/4" long section of fingernail without even slowing down. I picked it up, put it sloppily back on the end of my finger, and thought about what I should do next. Should I just bandage it tightly on and hope it grew back together, or should I go to the ER to see if they would sew it back on? In the end I opted for the ER. I also opted for not calling Dave as I reasoned there was nothing he could do other than be stressed and wait, and he might as well enjoy the movie and I would pick him up and he would see me again when everything was fine. In hindsight that was a bad choice and what he was most upset about. (We live five blocks (1/2 mile) from the hospital and it's only another 10 blocks to the movie theatre.)

My fingertip sewed back on
It was a busy day in the Polson ER, but I didn't have a long wait before the doctor came in, shot up my finger with novocaine, and had me wash it. I was fine until then. But when she had me walk to the sink and scrub my hand and stump (okay, long stump--I didn't lose that much!), I got hot, nauseated and light-headed and had to lie down. In my defense, I had eaten anything all day and it was A LOT of blood (and gore. Think the slices of people that they have in the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park in Chicago...) The doctor finished cleaning the finger up and then sewed the tip back on with six stitches. I didn't feel a thing. She said the nail bit would fall off on its own and she didn't want to pry it off .When she was done she said to take ibuprofen for the pain, then the nurse bandaged me up, gave me a tetanus shot with a whooping cough vaccine in it, and they sent me on my merry way.

When I got home I still had half an hour before I had to go get Dave from the movies so I thought I would finish the pickles. The first step was to wash the mandoline--not to use it, mind you. I had already decided to use a knife for the rest of the cutting--perfection be damned. However when I turned it upside down I saw that there was blade storage underneath, and in it was a wavy pickle blade! I could not resist. I gave in to the temptation and switched out the blades vowing to be VERY CAREFUL and to go slowly. That mostly worked out for me. I say "mostly" because when I was almost at the end of the cucs, my hand slipped and I rammed my thumb and middle finger into the blade. I didn't cut through or slice off anything so I just bandaged the fingers up, washed the mandoline off again, and calmly cut the rest of the cucs. When I was done I washed the mandoline, salted and refrigerated the cucs, and headed off to get Dave.

After taking the bandaids off
the index and thumb
When we got home I (against his wishes) cut the remaining cucumbers up into spears for garlic dills and salted and refrigerated them. I didn't take any pain reliever in pill form, but Dave did make me a rhubarb sour from the extra rhubarb syrup that didn't fit into the jars to can (as noted above). He had one too (probably to steady his nerves--a side effect of being married to me) and they were so good that we opened one of the jars of rhubarb syrup so we could each have another!

After dinner I made the brine and jarred up the pickles before processing them (and the lone jar of morels) in hot water baths. Now it's after 11, I am still not in pain, and I am toddling off to bed for a well-deserved rest. Oh, and I've decided what to call my pickles: Brenda's Bloody Good Pickles!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Day 1 of Pickling/Preserving (Hot Water Bath Method)

The cat, neglected all day,
camps on my chest as I write.
I have just spent the past nine hours, more or less, reviewing my pickling recipes and plans, doing the last shopping, and making pickles, and now I'm beat! As I post, I listen to the satisfying pinging of the lids as they sea to the jars, and I try not to dislodge the cat on my chest. I last made pickles when I was 17 and I remember making quarts and quarts of garlic dills. Today I made four pints of pickled beets, one pint of pickled carrots, one pint of pickled beets and carrots, and three less-than successful half-pints of pickled strawberries. I can already tell the strawberries were less than successful because when I look at the jars I see mostly liquid with a few berries floating on top. Looks like my berries pretty much disintegrated. But I bet the liquid in them will make some interesting cocktails!

All the recipe books and web recipes
The main reason it took me so long to make so little is that I just couldn't settle on recipes. Last time I used my mother and grandmother's garlic dill recipe and that was that. No fussing about which spices to use in my pickling spice, which vinegar to use, which sugar and how much. Today was just fraught. At least three times I picked a recipe that really looked good and made it all the way till the final review before noticing that it was a refrigerator pickle recipe. I don't want refrigerator pickles. I want hot-water-bath processed pickles that will last a year or so. Unfortunately recipes that fit that criterion also specifically written for carrots, beets and strawberries aren't thick on the ground. But as Dave (and his t-shirt) like to say: I improvised, I adapted, I overcame. (Really, he has that on a t-shirt now).

My first pass at pickling spice
The biggest challenge came after I got all the jars full of produce and brine and I couldn't get the hot water bath to boil! We have a Jenn-Air range with one of those flat electric tops up here in Polson, and I don't think it made enough contact with the bottom of the huge canning pot for the water to boil. So in the middle of canning I made an emergency trip to Walmart to get a smaller stock pot for the hot water bath. When I got home Dave remarked that I could also use the gas burner with the propane tank on the back deck... The stainless stock pots I got at Walmart will make nice dye pots. I used the canning rig on the gas burner--just like my mom, grandmother and grandfather used to do.

Results from Day 1
Tomorrow I will make traditional garlic dill and bread and butter pickles, pickled morels, and a whopping big batch of rhubarb chutney. I hope it to get a better showing in output than I did today!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Child is Traveling

Inside the C'mon Inn
Just back from Missoula after seeing the child off to Atlanta for two weeks. Because her flight was at 6:15 this morning, we stayed overnight at the C'mon Inn (as it is Jessie's favorite for the indoor pool, multiple hot tubs, and overall cool decor--it's also close to the airport and we had a two-room suite) and I took her to the airport this morning.

I swear I must be flagged by Missoula TSA. Last time I was taking Jessie to the plane there I got into a "discussion" with the person checking id's as there was only one person checking ids and there were probably nine people standing around by the luggage carrier and the screening machine all doing basically nothing. Meanwhile there were two long lines of people--one TSA pre-check--which J was not, and one regular, waiting to get through the id checkpoint. As long as there was anyone in the pre-check line they got to go in front of the non-TSA line--even if they just walked up to the line. After watching person after person get to walk up and go in front of our line, I finally asked to talk to a supervisor. Nothing happened other than more "discussion", but that's how things go.

The old and the new in downtown Missoula
So that was last time. This time we waited in the ticket counter line for over 20 minutes (just to drop off baggage--we had already checked in) because for some reason everyone who checked in at the kiosks then had to go through the main line and check in again. And there were only two agents. Today I kept my cool figuring they would just have to hold the plane if they ran late checking us all in. We were the last ones checked through before they closed the counter as it took our agent awhile to print me out a pass to go to the gate with J. You'd think I would have learned my lesson from last time. Don't go to the gate!

Missoula has special crossing signs
We got to the id checkpoint and sailed through. We took off our shoes, and placed everything in bins. I had been careful not to wear one of my Holy Clothing dresses because even if that's all I'm wearing (I know, TMI) it always sets off the photo machine thingie where you have to stand with your hands up and then they have to pat me down. This happened to me so many times that I got a known-traveler number just to be able to always have TSA pre-check and avoid those scanners.

The baleful moose
But you don't get to use your KT number when you're not traveling, so I wore knit capris and a tank top. Even so the scanner saw something in my "groin area" so they had to pat me down. Then they tested my hands for explosive's residue and... THAT scan came back positive! (WTH?) At this point I told Jessie to just go on up to her plane as I had no idea how long the rest of it was going to take (they offered to take me to a private room for the next part, I refused). Then another person gave me a REALLY thorough pat down followed by a detailed examination of the contents of my purse (wallet, phone, keys) and a wipe down of my phone to check it for residue. I held it together, remained quiet and polite (mostly), but this procedure really makes me come unspooled and it happens to me all the time! Luckily I did get up to the gate in time to give Jessie a hug and a kiss and to see her off. She was the last one on the plane and they closed the gate behind her.

Goodies from the farmer's market
When I left the airport I stopped by the Starbucks across from the motel for a venti iced latte. There were--no kidding--five sheriff's cars in the parking lot at 6:15 am. The girl at the window said they come there every day at the end of their shift. So if you're ever in Missoula at 6:00 am and you need to go somewhere really safe, hit up the Starbucks on Reserve and I-90. After grabbing my latte, I hied myself back to the motel for a couple more hours of sleep snuggled in with my warm, snoozy spouse.

One of the hanging baskets
I had been looking forward all week to going to the Missoula Farmer's market, but it was cloudy and damp when I took J to the airport and actively raining when Dave and I got up. I went back and forth on should we stay or should we go (we didn't have jackets or umbrellas), but decided in the end that we are hardy folk and don't need no stinking umbrella's. Off we went to the Old Post for breakfast with Steve Adler. Above our table was the obligatory moose and he gave me the stink eye all through breakfast.

Hanging basket and other flowers
When we were done, we hit up the liquor store and then headed to the farmer's market. It is worth noting that Montana is an interesting state when it comes to liquor stores. While you can buy packaged liquor at bars and some stores, it is all distributed to the bars and package stores through the state-run liquor stores so you can only buy what the state decides to carry. It's great if you're looking for a local huckleberry liqueur or spiced gin (we have a plethora of western Montana distilleries), but if you want Luxardo sangue morlacco or Creme de Violette, you're out of luck. I'm just going to have to see if I can get some of our upcoming visitors to bring us some.

Anyway, at the market we bought by a pound of lovely, fresh, morel mushrooms, little carrots, tiny cukes, red bibb and oak leaf lettuces, colorful little heirloom tomatoes, and local chorizo and brats (not children, German-style sausages). I even got a few purple and sweet basil plants for the garden. All this was after going to the Polson Farmer's Market yesterday and loading up on hanging baskets and flowers for the deck (already planted, thank you very much).

Tonight we are having our neighbor Arlene over for dinner. Dave is going to make beef stroganoff with the shrooms, we're going to have Kir Ursine (like Kir Royale but with huckleberry liqueur and sparkling wine) with a smoked salmon dip made from local sockeye salmon to start, and strawberry sabayon for dessert.

Speaking of food, it is the summer of the preserve for me! I am going to make small-batch pickles of various vegetables, and preserves, compotes, jams, and chutneys from the bounty of the local markets.

Monday, June 11, 2018


Some of the yarn spun from the various breeds I've processed
Last winter (not this past winter but the winter before) I took the first level of the Master Spinner program through Olds College in Alberta. I took it off-campus at Spry Whimsy in Stoughton, WI and am very much looking forward to taking the level two class there in October. I was supposed to have my coursework for level one finished and in to my instructor for grading this past February (one year after the class was held). I failed. I failed so utterly and completely that I failed to do anything other than buy fleece (because I love to shop) by February. So I applied for and received an extension till the end of June. The end of June is hurtling towards me, and I *could* get everything done. It would cost me (and by extension my family in terms of my time and attention), but I could finish. And I have been working hard to do so.

Earlier this week I was chatting on Facebook with another woman from my class who is also pushing till the last minute (though for much better reasons than mine), and she made the comment that if I am running short on time I should pick and choose what I can get done. After all, I only need to PASS. So I sat down this afternoon and I figured out how many points are assigned to each section, where I am on each of them, and what I need to do to PASS. What interests me most in the course (almost entirely) is the spinning, and I have that all but done. With one more day spent writing, I could have over 50% (passing) of the coursework done and send it in for grading without even having to do the natural dyeing section or the final project. I could even get those done by the end of next week if I wanted to.

In the spirit of winnowing, I also looked at the various sections and picked out three that I would definitely skip as they are writing only and I don't even WANT to do them--yes, I could regurgitate the facts in my own words, but why? And as I sat working through everything, I flashed back to what Jessie and Zaga have both been asking me for the past two months as I have fretted over the deadline: WHY? Why am I doing this? My answer to them was because I want to. I am taking these courses because I want to learn. Because I want to increase my proficiency in spinning to where I feel that I am a Master Spinner. But do I need to turn in the homework to get someone else's validation in order for that feeling to occur? This past week I have been finding myself cutting corners and doing the work "well enough" to get a decent grade. But the end goal for me is not and has never been a grade! I am not competing against my classmates and other people in the program to see who can get the best score or a perfect score. The only person I want to please is myself, and I am pleasing me by the acquisition of knowledge.

So why I am doing the coursework to turn in? Why not use what I learned from the course as the basis for my own ongoing breed study binder and the beginning of a natural dye book? Why not make myself samples of worsted and woolen and identify the qualities of the different parts of a sheep's fleece and record information on them for a later benefit to me? Why think about/work towards on the grade AT ALL? I know, it's blindingly obvious to you, but it was quite an epiphany to me!

Tomorrow I am going to call Olds College and inform them that I want to audit the course. Auditing costs the same as taking for credit, and I don't get a certificate at the end. BFD. I am not doing this for the certificate. Then I will continue with the work I have been doing on the qualities of the the fleeces of various sheep breeds. I will have a natural dye day or two. I will process all the different kinds of sheep fleece that I bought (and brought to Montana) but didn't do because I didn't need them for the course because they only wanted 10 and I got 20. Now the breeds I have will be a foundation for working with ALL the breeds (that a girl! I have always been an I-must-have-all-the-colors crayon user).

Deep breath in, deep breath out. I have the answers to at least one of life's questions.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Big Sky Country!

First view of Flathead Lake this summer.

Dave drove from Missoula to Polson so I got to take pictures
 out the window of the mountains in the evening light.
Back on May 17th I started a post and never got it finished. I begin today's musings with that post snippet as it serves to highlight just how much has changed for usin the past three weeks!

Driving through Polson along the lake our first evening back
"It's a balmy, hot day scouring wool for me. I'm in the wet studio at the house (aka the greenhouse) and I have the door to the outside--where it is 91 degrees F--wide open. Inside the studio it's 96 degrees in the shade. But I'm not working in the shade. I am smack dab in the middle of the room in bright sunny sun. Even the glass studio is cooler than the wet studio today. But I have to get these fleece samples all scoured and set out to dry today so I can sort and scour a whole fleece tomorrow. I hope I've processed enough of each of the samples. I didn't want to do it all as I might need more raw fleece for another one of the projects, and I only have to spin 20 yds from each sample. That's not very much to spin, but I also have to spin enough to weave two samples on a pin loom. Guess I had better spin up a test fiber to see how much I really need for 20 yds and the tow little woven pieces..."

In the weeks following that post the temperatures climbed higher and higher and stayed there. By the first of June we had already had 100 degree days and nights where it didn't get below 74. Welcome to Austin in the summer. Then one week ago we (the Griffiths) went through a total reset. Today marks the end of our first week in Montana and so much more has changed than just the weather--though that's dramatic enough on its own. No more 100-degree Austin days: It has been sunny and warm all week in Polson (till today) with days in the 70s and nights in the 40s. Ahh to snuggle under the down comforter again! It's been very hard to get up in the mornings. By the time we left Austin I was getting up at 6:30 or 7:00 so I could work outside and beat the heat.

Fresh snow in the mountains this morning
This morning when we woke it was 48 with a high expected of 55. There was fresh snow on the mountains and a nippy wind blowing through town. Dave and I took advantage of the coolness to walk down to our local coffee shop: Blodgett's Creamery and Coffee Saloon. It's three miles round trip, down hill on the way and uphill on the way back. (Not, as legend would have it, barefoot in the snow up hill both ways!) There are two photos on the wall of the coffee shop taken by my great grandfather, RH McKay. Only one of them is dated, but it is 96 years old.
Photo of the lake by my great grandfather in 1922
Photo of Polson taken by my great grandfather--not sure of the year

The front garden is in serious
 need of weeding
Now I'm cozy on the couch under a blanket and posting before putting a piece in the kiln and getting back to my spinning coursework. This week I need to start weeding the garden, plan the restaining of the front and back decks, begin cleaning out the garage and the back patio and getting the last of my things out of the metal building up at the lake property. While there are no bees and is no pond here, my routine is pretty much exactly what it would be if I were still in Austin--and I have no less to do. But it feels totally different! There is a huge break caused by the exhausting two-day drive up and the total relocation of household. It's still a household, and thus it's still a lot of work, but somehow it feels like starting from scratch with no backlog, no baggage, no stressors. Time stretches expansively in front of me--just like it did two years ago when I moved to Austin. There is something awesome and liberating associated with this not-vacation travel. Like on vacation, time slows to a crawl and it feels like you exist in a vacuum.

Then there are also the beautiful surroundings. Austin is lovely and our house there is beyond wonderful, but I am a mountain girl at heart and it makes said organ sing to be back in the midst of them again. I won't miss the cold and snow of winter here, but there is no place better in the summer. That said, I wish I had had the plumber verify the connections for the propane stoves upstairs and down so we could have some heat today, but my blanket is cozy and we have a space heater. And there are martinis, albeit in wine glasses...

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Hiatus is Over

It's been a considerable time since I've posted. Then this past week I traveled with a good friend who likes to read my posts and always comments on them and he got me thinking about starting up again. Then today, out of the blue, another friend texts me to say that she misses my daily posts and asks if I have any plans to start up again. Yes! Yes, I say! Let's jump back into the whirlwind! This post is going to be kind of all over the place as I stream-of-consciousness my way back into posting so hang on tight.

Life is, indeed, a whirlwind right now. The image at right shows my to do lists for today and the rest of the week. Everything in the Today column was completed save for setting up the fleece sorting area and beginning to process the fleece. Whew! Not only are we preparing for the annual summer exodus to Montana, but I also have one month to finish the Level One Master Spinner coursework and send it in for grading. In order to finish it I need to (shameful admission) start it... It's also the end of gardening season in Austin (I can't work in the garden when it's over 80 so early mornings and evenings are it now) and the weeds are busting out all over.

I still have the automatic watering system to set up in the garden beds, plants to get in the ground, weeds to get out of the ground, and mulch to succor the plants and defend against the weeds. (I really wanted to use the word "excoriate" in that last sentence. I don't know why. I have never used the word before, but it popped into my head and wanted out. I even managed to spell it correctly on the first go. But when I looked it up [I often think of words with which I have only a glancing acquaintanceship], it means to criticize or skin (isn't it a great word?) and can in no way be associated with mulch. Unless you have really snarky mulch, which I don't.)

Don't even get me started on the pond! I have the entire filtration system to rebuild and an auto-fill system to set-up--not to mention the automatic feeder for the fish. And then there are the bees. I have two hives and Zaga has one. They are all going gangbusters and I can actually see getting some honey out of them this year. I inspected the hives today and they are bursting with nectar and brood. I almost thought I shouldn't feed them because of all the nectar, but I went ahead as they're popping out babies as fast as they can and I want to make sure they have enough to feed them.

A couple of weeks ago I had a REALLY bad day and had a woman back out of a parking spot at Walgreen's into the side of my Odyssey. It was an opera worthy of Wagner, and we ended up all waiting over an hour in the rain for the police to show up. Now today I finally get to take my car in to start the process of getting it fixed, and the bodyshop can get me in Monday--but the need the car for at least ten days as it's a "really intensive labor process". I guess so. Unfortunately, they can't guarantee to be done before we leave for Montana so it's not getting fixed before we go. What a hassle!!

Other exciting news of the past few months is I have lost 21 lbs! I even won a month-long biggest loser competition at my gym. I'm hoping to take up regular swimming in Montana this summer (both in the lake and at the aquatic center) so I can keep going down.

Now, as so often happens when I post, my eyelids are beginning to droop, and I yearn to snuggle up in bed and drift off to sleep till morning when it will be time for a piano lesson, a workout, and lunch with Zaga, followed by a lot of wool scouring and a little glass work. Life is Good.