Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Books, Books, Books

Ian has made a tradition of giving me books for Christmas.  I know what's in his gift just as soon as it appears under the tree - a book!  But not just any book.  He spends hours and weeks reading reviews and listening to author interviews until he has whittled down the selection to one fiction and and one nonfiction book.  The 2016 finalists are The Undoing Project: a Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (about the workings of the human mind) and My Name is Red by Orphan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The setting is 16th century Istanbul and it will dovetail perfectly with the book I'm currently reading and loving, The Silk Roads: a New History of the World.

I was leaving for tai chi but got him to take a picture of me and my books this year to replace my Facebook photo which is me and my books from last year.  I think it's a nice tradition.  Here are five books that I enjoyed this year.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi  This is my absolute favorite book of this year.  Deschutes Public Library has a program called Author! Author!, a sort of community reads program, with tie-ins from other institutions like the High Desert Museum, the Deschutes Historical Society and Art in the Desert.  This is the book they've selected for 2017 which means I'll finally get to talk about it in a book club setting.

This is actually a loosely connected collection of short stories moving forward in time, beginning in 1763 with the slave trade on the Gold Coast of Africa.  Each story begins with the name of the individual whose story it is, someone whose parents appeared in an earlier story, and everyone is born of either Effia or Esi, half sisters from different tribes who never knew each other, having been separated from each other by the wars and raids.   The book begins with the tribal wars and proceeds through slavery to the current racial tensions in America today.  The stories are heart breaking and the characters are brave.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron   Two couples vacationing together on a small Sicilian island, five thoroughly unlikeable people.  What could possibly go wrong?  Not since Jonathan Franzen's book Corrections can I remember a book populated with such unsympathetic characters.  There is yet one more, a sixth character and it's around her that the ending resolves.  This isn't great literature but it's good entertainment.  It's well paced and perfect for a vacation read.

The Whistling Season by Evan Doig  The setting is the Big Ditch project in 1909 Montana.  A desperate widower hires a housekeeper for this three sons.  Rose, whose ad starts with "Can't cook but doesn't bite," appears with her unaforementioned brother in tow, a rather peculiar man who becomes the school teacher when that position is unexpectedly vacated.  This was an easy book, some history, some humor, lots of likeable characters and a surprise ending, the frosting on the cake.

Patty Jane's House of Curl by Lorna Landvik:  For fans of Billie Letts and Fannie Flagg

The Nix by Nathan Hill  I struggled with the first two chapters.  I was reading about unlikeable people and couldn't think that I'd enjoy a whole book about them, but I was wrong.  I loved this book, it's one the the best I've read this year.  The characters grew on me but with the underlying theme of Choose Your Own Adventure books, you begin to realize that nothing and no on is as they seem.  And I discovered that the unlikable Samuel became very likable, just a well-meaning, misguided and disappointed man.  Late in the book he realizes that everything he thought he had accomplished was because someone owed his mom a favor - his whole life was a sham.  As a boy he would bookmark a difficult chapter decision and if he didn't like the ending, he'd go back to his bookmark and choose a different ending.  He recognized that you can't go back to an earlier chapter in real life and choose a different ending.

Because the setting is today and also 1968, the story is both historical and political.  I love the way the author wrote parallel stories like Faye's father's pregnancy situation and his rage when he thinks Faye is pregnant.  Samuel refused to accept a student's paper based on principle, then is faced with being asked to put his name as author of a book he didn't write.  According to Periwinkle, idealism is overrated:  that is, if you don't worry about doing the right thing, then you'll have nothing to regret.

This really is a fun book with lots of food for thought.  In the end Samuel and Faye both make do-over decisions on a late voyage of self-discovery.  Or - with the all Choose Your Own Adventure segments in the book, is the ending really just a happy chapter choice that we made?

I'll close with the snowflake my mother crocheted when she was 90.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Making Lavender Soap

We got between 15-18" of snow in that last storm and today is the third day of school closures.  I think the bench in front of our house says it better than my words.  Since we're snowed in I really have no excuse for not making soap and after 15 years of making and selling it, we are finally out.
I know a lot of people who love to make soap.  I'm not one of them.  I just happen to love the soap I make.  First I have to haul everything in from the garage.  And before I can even begin, I have to make an origami box of waxed butcher paper and set it inside my mold.
All the oils including essential oils have to be weighed by pounds and ounces and it's messy.  Oils in winter are in a solid form and have to be cut and placed in a measuring cup in chunks.
Any botanicals need to be milled.
Once the oils are in the pot and are melting on the stove, I clean out the measuring cups and weigh the olive oil.  I add this to the carrier oils after they're liquid and put the pot in ice water in the sink to quickly bring the temperature down.
Then it's time to weigh the lye which I do in grams.  
I weigh the water and put in the pot before adding the lye.  Always add lye to water.  I do this step in the garage because it makes a ghastly vapor that you do not want to breathe.  I hold my breath, add the lye, stir, go in the house and come back in a while to repeat.
I get the oils and lye water to the same temperature, usually 86-92 degrees, and then I carefully pour the lye into the oils and stir with an electric stick.  I like this lower temperature but if you're using fragrance oils, 110-120 would probably be more like it.  This soap is at "trace" which means it's ready to pour.  I added the milled lavender and poured into the lined mold.
Next comes the worst part - clean-up.  Everything is oily and I end up using several dish towels before I'm done.  It's a good thing I have a lot of them!
At this point I've put the soap to bed.  It's sitting on some quilted place mats to insure the heat stays in the mold.  It needs to sit for 24 hours all bundled up cozy like.
I have to admit that it's pretty rewarding to unmold the block the next day.  I don't love cutting this into bars anymore than I don't love making soap.
What I love is using it.  I think these should last us for another year.
My mother made some crocheted snowflakes many years ago. I found some directions online and chose the easiest pattern to make some of my own.  I found a recipe for spray starch online - 2 cups water and 1 1/2 tablespoon Argo cornstarch.  Mix together in a small pan and boil for one minute. They said to put in your spray bottle but I just dipped my snowflakes in the pan and it worked. Snowflakes for a snow day!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Good Equipment

I ordered the weaving bench that Theresa Davies said that she bought and liked.  It's made by Janet Fox, a woodworker in Houston, whose Etsy shop is called Handywoman.  Unfortunately the extreme cold caused the Styrofoam to shatter so I had to clean that up before I could begin assembling my bench.  And you know how that stuff is, full of static and clinging to every surface.

The poplar she used is beautifully grained and I was pleased by the ease of assembly.  I was also pleased by the price tag - $165 instead of the Schacht bench at $350, though shipping was free.  Still it's about half the price and half the size.  I wove on it for a couple hours today and think I'm going to like it.  It does rock a bit but she says in her instructions that it will.  The feet are there for stability.
It's certainly nice to have a bench for each loom again.  I wove on both projects today which I'm more inclined to do when I don't have to move a bench.
Ian and I went to the potluck/party at A6 Sunday evening.  It's a small group because membership is about 30 though Dawn, the director, says that has increased thanks to the new location that brings in more foot traffic.  Afterwards we did a print exchange.  I was reluctant to participate since I'm a beginning student but was encouraged by my instructors so I did.
Some poor person got my student print and I got this astonishing solar print from Jeannette, who was my first instructor.  It's really lovely and Ian wants to get it framed though we're out of walls so something else will have to come down.
The next morning I went in about a half hour early for my volunteer shift and helped Dawn ink the plexiglass plates for a school visit.  We had two tours of 2nd/3rd grade students - 26 the first time, 24 the second.  Each were given the opportunity to make three prints.
We had a space of about 45 minutes before the bus rolled in with the second group.  We took a lunch break then Jane and I cleaned up from the first tour and inked the plates again. Dawn instructed the kids about positive and negative space and how to remove ink to make a picture.  Most of the children were imaginative and bold though a couple were so afraid of making a mistake that they couldn't bring themselves to remove much ink in spite of being sent back to do some more work. Though disappointed they still had fun.
All of the children loved running their plates through the presses.  The large press was a favorite with the boys who stood at either side and spun the wheel.
I facilitated printing at the smaller press which does require some elbow grease.  For the smaller children it took two to turn the handle.  They were like eager puppies every time we stopped the press and I flipped back the felts and newsprint.  Time for the big reveal!  I had fun though wouldn't want to do that too often as I don't love standing on concrete for five hours.
Based on the forecast Ian went to Lowe's yesterday and bought a 24" Troy Bilt snowblower.  This is wetter than our Nevada snow which he always managed with an ergonomic shovel.  Not any more!  We have over a foot of snow right now and are supposed to get another 5" before morning.  I don't think we're not going anywhere for a few days.

Friday, December 09, 2016

'Tis the Season

I finished Olivia's "Girl's Victorian Coast" from the KnittingPureandSimple pattern of the same name.  In my haste to finish and ship, I neglected to take photographs.  This is from Diane's website
I made it in size 4 which used almost exactly three skeins of Plymouth Encore.   I bought five skeins so have returned two to Yarn Barn of Kansas for store credit.  This is all I had left!  Olivia's mommy chose the color which is a good thing because I would have instinctively gone Bright!
I finally got the huck lace lashed and loaded.  I love it when I have something like this.  Life has gotten really hectic of late but if I have ten minutes before I have to leave, I can weave on this and it always makes me feel better.
On the other hand, I haven't gotten any enjoyment from the Crackle towels I'm weaving from the September/October 2016 issue of Handwoven.  Progress is painstakingly slow and full of errors.  I started on the second towel and only got a couple of inches before I had already thrown an error.  I'm having to change treadling sequences every inch and juggle three shuttles.  This has tied up all my end-feed shuttles and I have to share one between this and the huck project.  I decided to unweave to the hem and see what would happen if I just used one shuttle.
The colors on the loom are so pretty.  It's hard not to get enthused when I see them - until I sit down and get to work.
I discovered that I actually was having fun with a single shuttle though I'm still struggling with the four treadling sequences and the "pattern 1, pattern 2, tabby 1, pattern 1, pattern 2, tabby 2" sequence which changes at the same time as the treadling changes.  So far I've only made one error and am glad I didn't go with my first instinct and cut the mess off the loom.  The last two might actually be good towels.  At least I have learned something.  I've learned that three shuttles are not for me.  Trying to keep the threads untangled and free them from catching the apron rod or breast beam was just wasn't my cup of tea.
Maddie has made a little nest for herself with the gifts for our Angel Tree girl.  Her requests were so sweet and simple that it brought tears to my eyes.  I got a great winter coat for her on sale at Macy's for $20 so was able to add in a couple of adorable t-shirts too.  I need to turn everything in soon and boy is Maddie going to be sad.  Actually, she'll just turn her attention back to making toys out of Christmas decorations.

We've just had a cold snap over the past 36 hours which has been hard on Sammie.  She puts off doing her business outdoors for as just long as she can.  And just like that, the cold snap has ended with a high of 40 and rain predicted for today.  You know what that's going to mean for anyone driving after the sun goes down.

It snowed all day yesterday for a total of about 8" before it stopped.  It made for an interesting drive to my A6 studio volunteer shift yesterday afternoon.  Fortunately for me Bend is pretty diligent about plowing the streets so the worst of it was our residential roads and that was pretty entertaining even at 10 mph.  This is my last evening shift and I'm moving to Mondays at 10:00-2:00.  I need to go in this coming Monday at 9:30 for a school tour.  I'm looking forward to it.  Kids get so excited about print making - it's fun.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

And It's December!

The irrigation district releases water into the canals about once a month during the winter months to allow ranchers to refill their cisterns and stock tanks.  I couldn't resist the nice weather to take a walk and enjoy the opportunity.  It doesn't last long and then the canals are pathetically empty.
After cutting Christmas trees for the past 14 years we have lost the enthusiasm for this tradition.  Tree lots are abundant here and when you think about the $10 tree tag, gas and meal afterwards, the $30 for a tree seemed like a deal.  Ian found this lot behind a church, well organized and well priced.  We have a new tradition!  Weirdly all three of our families came to this same conclusion - phew.

Dawn asked me to attend the two fund raisers and "say a few words" about my experience at the A6 gallery.  In the sake of time she offered to excuse me and just introduce me as she told my story.  Fine by me!  I've learned that there are 40 major donors in Bend and 800 501C3 organizations struggling for the same dollars.  A6 is branching out into the schools and hoping to partner with Parks and Rec. I am so thankful to be part of this organization.
As always, December piles on the activities.  We all met downtown Saturday for the annual Christmas parade and to see Logan march in the Bend High band.  I thought the Thanksgiving parade was astonishingly big but this was double that.  Bend loves to love Bend.
Afterwards we walked over to JDub for lunch where the paper table coverings and cups of crayons provided silly and endless amusement and also let us celebrate Josh's birthday two days prior.
And this is the sitchiation in my studio.  I am once again back to one weaving bench.  Josh redid my Gilmore bench last summer, replacing the broken screws and regluing everything.  I took it back to him at Thanksgiving because it was simply unsafe.  He says he'll have to redo the whole thing, sand it back down, reglue and screw. I almost want to buy a second Schacht bench and just let the other one go - expensive firewood.
Maddie is pretty enthralled by the tree.
And then we did this to it!  This is a Douglas fir, totally new to us, fragrant with soft tips.  It's a smaller tree and between reduced size and soft tips, there are a lot of ornaments that I looked at but had to put back in the box.  The tree is about memories, so whether or not I was able to hang them all, I got to enjoy them all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Projects Galore and Then Some

My spinning is turning into yarn but since I'd like to make this into a cowl, I'm thinking about how to overdye it to make it a more flattering color.  Don't get me wrong, I love it as it is - just need a more face friendly color.  I am diligently wearing cowls and scarves to keep my neck warm and my neck thanks me for it.  My neck doesn't care about the color, but still.
I knit this as a scarf in the Falling Leaf lace pattern which actually is the only lace pattern I've knitted, but when I needed more cowls,  I sewed the ends together and now I wrap it around my neck three times.  It's my absolute favorite and it's what I am planning for this developing yarn.
And on the subject of knitting, I finally hauled out the almost completed Norwegian cap and knitted the last ear flap.  I couldn't understand the instructions for the ties so I winged it.  I warned Ian that it wasn't going to be pretty and probably the two flaps wouldn't be the same length, he didn't care.  He wore it this morning in 22 degrees and said he "had a warm head and ears."
 And another getting back to it thang, I tackled back-to-front warping again this morning but with the assistance of the YouTube video from Webs, God bless them.  I'd watch a little, do a little, watch a little, do a little and I finally got the warp onto the warp beam.  I learned a ton!  Here is where I decided that in the future I'll start winding my warp on the opposite end of the cross.  I have always started winding at the cross but I realized that those ends were dangling unsecured when I got to this point.  No one has addressed this in anything I've read.  I know I'll reverse my orientation next time and other than that, it went well.
I had started threading the heddles before it was time to head off to physical therapy, and since I go twice a week, I head off there more often than I'd wish.  I got to this point with relative ease and should be able to finish dressing my loom tomorrow.  I need to do it several more times before I am confident.  Recently I was looking at my receipts for yarn orders which date back to 2010 and all that time I've been warping front-to-back. It's going to take some muscle-memory retraining.
Ian and I stopped by the A6 gallery to drop off my framed print for the show. I love the energy of this place.  I've been asked to attend the fundraising dinner tomorrow evening and the luncheon Thursday "to say a few words" about my experience at A6; My visit to the gallery, to taking classes, to being an "Ambassador" (volunteering for a shop shift each week), to having a piece selected for the juried show.  Dawn, the director, feels that potential donors respond well to a face and story.  The next couple of days are going to get hectic. I can work back here during my shift and I have stuff to do, but I expect I'll be talking to folks coming to the new show - I hope so.  It would be good for the gallery.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Keeping Busy

I had a pleasant surprise last week.  I got three separate email requests for towels and sold ten more in one week.  My inventory is seriously low right now.
But instead of being productive, I'm trying to learn how to weave Crackle.  I took that two-day class from Susan Wilson last February and haven't done a thing with it.  I was stumped a couple of months ago when I tried to figure out how to do it using my notes and samples.  I'm quite foggy on the steps. When Sarah Jackson had a pattern in Handwoven recently I decided to weave-as-written to refresh myself, homework if you will.  When I that to Sarah, she said - Oh, I hope they're more fun than that! It's coming back to me finally but this towel is mine.  There are plenty of mistakes already and I'm just not going to fret over them.  I'll reserve judgement about Crackle until after I've completed the fourth towel.

Monday night was the final session of my monotype class.  I'm absolutely fascinated by the process but there's really no way to do it other than standing and after standing on concrete for three hours I was in physical pain.

I cut a pair of scissors out of graph paper and another from the foam sheet you see in the bottom of meat trays.  I wish I had taken the time to cut some from other materials.  It would have been fun.

The term monotype is misleading because you get more than one image from an inked plate, though you're free to amend the plate with more materials and other ink and in doing that I got six prints out of the night.  I wouldn't have chosen these colors for myself but they're the ones the class got out, and after all, I can learn with any color.
I don't have any place to hang wet prints yet so we ended up "enjoying" them for a couple of days until I could put them away.
And just a little bit ago our mailman delivered this box right to our door.  It's my first order of woodcut supplies including the wood.  I'm really excited but after I finish blogging I need to start on Thanksgiving prep - it's tomorrow!!

I finished Owen's zippered hoody from Malabrigo superwash.  It's really yummy and will certainly be much cuter on him than on this rabbit.  I've almost finished his sister's sweater too, so after that I can move on to other projects.
Like this.  The other day I was visiting a weaver who lives near me who is also a knitter.  We had a bit of show-and-share when she handed me this kit, saying she bought it in Denver but really likes to knit her cowls in the round. It's called Berroco Bento Box and when it's assembled it really does look like a bento box.  The kit has had an interesting journey, as the clever designer is a friend from Reno, Kristen Helmreich.

Happy Thanksgiving!