Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'm ready for Christmas.  Or, at least, the stuff is all done.

In the last two weeks, my quiet little Christmas has exploded into a full-bown gathering of the clan, complete with big family dinners and convoluted travel arrangements from all points of the compass. I have baked and knitted and shopped and wrapped and DONE ALL THE THINGS.  All that remains is to await the arrivals of our travellers.

The world around me is shutting down for the holidays.  The usual morning traffic jam outside my living room window is absent.  There are short lines in all of the local stores.  My inbox is devoid of actual emails.

So, now, I am going to shut down for a few days, too.  I am going to eat rich food, and drink good wine, and cuddle up with the ones I love most...

...while thinking of good friends, old and new, and, of course, knit and spin. 

So, whoever you are and however you celebrate, I hope that you find time to do the things that bring you joy during this quiet time when the world actually slows down for a few days.  I wish you peace and joy on these dark winter days.


(PS: For those of you who follow my Twitter feed along the side bar, I apologise in advance for any off-colour or obtuse tweets.  These things happen when Boyds gather.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season

Yep, it's that time of year again.  The commercials have been running since mid-October.  Retailers are promising us the best prices of the year THIS WEEK ONLY for weeks on end.  And the bloggers are choosing up sides and pronouncing their pro-Christmas/anti-Christmas stance to the world.

You've probably seen something-the interwebz is full of the Spirit of the Season.  Christmas is too commercial.  How to have a "green" Christmas.  Don't say "Merry Christmas" because it's insensitive to those with non-Christian belief systems.  If you don't say "Merry Christmas" you are part of the "War on Christmas".  I have been reading all week about these things, and about each blogger's individual family crises that arise at this time of year for weeks now. 

And I will admit, the stress of the Season was beginning to build in me, too.  I was sulking about the fact that my family is scattered and we cannot spend significant dates together anymore.  I was fretting perfect gifts and mailing dates.  I was stewing over whether or not to decorate the dining room, for crying out loud.  Hell, I was even worrying about the lack of snow in the region!  I mean, how could I feel festive without snow?

Then the barrage began.  I started getting about 25 emails a day from retailers, some of whom I don't even shop with, offering me discounts, free shipping, or a gift card for me if I spend X dollars on gifts.  My Facebook and Twitter are littered with messages to "Keep Christ in Christmas", include non-Christians in my holiday wishes,  and Shop Local (which is grammatically incorrect--they should be exhorting me to shop locally).  I receive a dozen messages a day to boycott the same retailers who are emailing me to tell me to shop with them.  My blogroll is littered with stories of Christmas catastrophes and angst.

So I turn on the TV to escape the negativity.  Along with airings of "A Christmas Story", I find ads for seasonal air fresheners and special edition "holiday" oral care products.  I find myself confronted with news stories of Christmas sales being up, which is good news for the economy.  Or down, which is bad for the economy. I find ads telling me to give $2000 diamonds and big-screen TVs and cars for Christmas because those are the perfect gifts (financing available OAC).  I find celebrity chefs informing me that if I haven't been raising my own turkey since April, I have ruined Christmas dinner.  Or vegans telling me that if I eat turkey, I am a heathen and a monster.  And doctors telling me that eating any holiday-related foods will make me fat.

And don't get me started on the radio.  If I have to hear Justin Bieber singing that he wants to get his shorty under the mistletoe one more time, I may just go screaming fa-la-la-la-la all the way to the nearest mental health institution.

So I walk away from the media.  I meet friends for coffee.  Friends who tell me tales of family conflict over who will be hosting Christmas Eve and who gets Christmas dinner, or who are trying to figure out how they can afford to get both of their kids X-Boxes for their rooms.  I go to the Post Office to mail a non-Christmas-gift package and stand in line for half-an-hour surrounded by people who are angry because they have to stand in line for half-an-hour to mail their gifts.  I go to my local coffee dispensary for a latte and have to run a gauntlet of gifts and frantic shoppers fighting over the last mug with a reindeer on it. 

And this was only the first week of December.  I just wanted to crawl into a hole until January by last weekend.  I really did.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I really love the Festive Season.  I like the warmth and coziness of my home on long, dark winter days.  I love the reasons to see friends that I never seem to find time to visit the rest of the year.  I have an excuse to indulge in day-long knitting sessions, and to shop for things I would never otherwise even look at.  I love the lights, the music, the food, the smell of balsam and cedar.  But it's hard to remember these little joys when you are being bombarded with what you are doing wrong.  After all, what is a candle-lit evening spend sipping mulled wine compared to the "War on Christmas"?  Clearly, there are much bigger things than my simple pleasures.

In spite of my misgivings, I bravely soldiered on.  We ventured out and acquired a Christmas tree (the Boyd household is still a "real" tree establishment).  I turned off the radio and TV and played Christmas carols instead.  I planned baking, and, of course, I knit gifts.  My heart wasn't really in it, though.  I felt like I was just going through the motions.  And that made me really sad.

Then things started to happen.  With a rather deus ex machina-like development, my little quiet Christmas at home became a big family gathering.  It snowed.  I stumbled upon a favorite Christmas album on iTunes.  I finished the Christmas knitting.  I began the Christmas baking.  I remembered the joy of these early winter celebrations.

I think too many of us have bought the Madison Avenue Christmas--the one where the most expensive gift buys us the most love.  The one where we have to start decorating in October, and start shopping the day after.  The one where everyone behaves perfectly and there is peace and love and joy.  And shopping.  Or we have been burned out by the things that go wrong at Christmas.  The same things that go wrong at Easter and Mothers Day and on any given Tuesday, really.  But when there is a family spat or a burnt meal at Christmas, it is apocalyptic.  We lose perspective. Because we have been indoctrinated that this is the Biggest Day of the Year, and if you get this day wrong, you are the ultimate failure.

"The Holidays" have become synonymous with stress.  Because we have let them.  But we can take our joy back.  We can delete those emails about shopping.  We can turn off the advertising.  And the Justin Bieber.

We can celebrate on our own terms, whether that means a Solstice bonfire, or lighting a Menorah, or hosting a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas for 40.  Or we can not celebrate at all.  We can cozy up in our homes with our loved ones, or we can travel to Grandma's house, or  to Cancun.  We can give big screen TVs, or hand-knit mittens, or no gifts at all.  We can give to the food bank, or we can wait and donate food in June when stocks are low again.  We can eat turkey, or Tofurkey, or roast beef.  We can eat cookies or not eat cookies.  We can like fruitcake.  We can laugh and cry and fight and hug.

Because when you embrace life on your own terms, taking the good with the bad, you will find joy where ever you are.  And whatever the date.

So, whatever celebration you observe at this turn of the seasons, ignore the advertisers, the spammers, the nay-sayers, and the Grinches and celebrate with all you've got!  Or not.  It's up to you.

(Personally, I'm gonna celebrate.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sedalia. At Last.

I know.  It's about time I got back at the blogging.  I have a long list of excuses for the most recent radio silence, most of them pretty weak.  But I'm back now.

Back from spending 4 out of the last 6 weeks on the road, sleeping in strange beds, slogging through airports, snuggling up to total strangers on airplanes.  And teaching 106 people to spin.  Dude, ONE-HUNDRED-AND-SIX people!  I've been busy.

You've read about SOAR.  You've read about Tucson.  You haven't had the Sedalia report.  Yet.

This is the second year I have taught a Level 1 class in Sedalia, MO, and it felt rather like coming home.  The accommodations in the Hotel Bothwell were fabulous, the weather (except for one very blusterous evening) was fine, and the students (as always) were amazing!  Many of the students I taught last year were back for their Level 2 class, as well, so it was rather like a homecoming for me.

The first day of classes fell on Halloween, and there were a few shenanigans...

...including a pair of rather sassy sheep from the Level 2 class. (Sheep-nanigans?)  I even made a sad attempt at cobbling up a last-minute costume...

...Ooooh, scary! 

I decided three days before I left Tucson to knit a sheepy costume and whipped up the headband, and a tail in my "free time".  There were others who got into the spirit, as well...

...and we all went out to dinner together.

We sorted fleeces, we washed, fleeces, we carded, we spun woollen and worsted yarns, and we dyed...

...It never ceases to amaze me the colours that we get.  It's like magic every time!

The week absolutely flew by.  And then it was over.  But I wasn't ready to leave.

I had been invited by some of my students from last year to visit Chillicothe, MO, so I packed up my gear and hopped into the waiting chariot and was whisked away to that very charming community...

... for some well-deserved R and R.  My hostess, Zelma, took excellent care of me.  And kept me hopping!

We visited a covered bridge that dates back to the Civil War, one of the few remaining in Missouri...

I learned about osage (aka "hedge") trees...

...and that the dye derived from them, osage orange, was used to dye the uniforms of US WW1 troops at the suggestion of local-boy-made-good General John J. Pershing...

I visited longhorn cattle...

...and llamas...

I also attended a local church service, and a concert featuring country music legend Gene Watson.  I was even the guest of honour at a brunch hosted at Nico'Z for the local Fiberistas...

Yet, as busy as the weekend was, I managed to rest and recuperate from two solid weeks of teaching.  It was a perfect little getaway.  Then back onto a plane and home.

Where a gargantuan mountain of laundry and an empty pantry were waiting, along with the final paperwork for Fibre Week 2012, another writing assignment, and a pile of requests for proposals.  And as I have been chipping away at those things, a whole pack of exciting new challenges and opportunities have been coming up. 

And, of course, there is much spinning to be done!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Postcards from the Road: Tucson

Greetings from Tucson!

Well, actually, greetings from the Albuquerque airport.  I've (reluctantly) left Tucson behind to travel onward to Sedalia, MO.  I say (reluctantly) because Tucson was FABULOUS!

My visit began with a warm airport welcome from my hostesses for the week Jill and Lura and only got better and better.  Except for one day, but we'll get to that.

Little did I know that plans had been made for me upon my arrival.  The visit began with a trip to the woodshop of spindle maker extraordinaire Ken Ledbetter...

...which was literally stacked floor to ceiling with spindles-to-be. 

I was given a sneak-peak at his new Russian and Tibetan spindles, as well.  And yes, the spindle collection was enhanced!

Then we scooted over to an arts and crafts sale where Lura was selling some of her glorious weaving with her partners Mary and Barbara, who joined us for dinner before I was whisked away to the Tucson Music Hall for a performance of Shrek: The Musical.  All in all a wonderful day, and I felt most spoiled by all the treats.

That would have been enough to make any trip worthwhile, but the week went from great to indescribably fabulous the next morning when we travelled in to Crizmac Marketplace and met the Master Spinner class.  What a wonderful group of women!  It was a joy to teach such an enthusiastic, inquisitive, and daring group of students.

The facility, as most off-campus facilities do, presented a wee bit of challenge for Level One, which is a pretty wet and messy level.  The shop itself is lovely...

...and filled with charming and colorful Fair Trade goods from around the world, with a particular emphasis on Mexico.  Our classroom was a little warm on some of the hotter days, and it was a little cozy washing our fleeces...

...but we all survived.  And will live to laugh about it.  Eventually. (And Level 2  would fit in there nicely...)

Tuesday was a day of woolen and worsted, carding and working with fleeces.  The route home that day included a stop into Kiwi Knitting Company's fabulous little shop, just across from the historic Rincon Market.  Kiwi is the home to this fabulous yarn-stormed bicycle...

...which is apparently driven by this guy...

...knit by Jill Holbrook.

We did stuff Wednesday.  I know we did, but I can't really remember what.  Master Spinner stuff, I'm sure-I have a lesson plan somewhere to prove it.  But Thursday, I remember very well.  Too well.

I like to do the Level 1 dye day on the Thursday of the week.  We have covered all of the key topics by then, and everybody's brain is overfilled and leaking a little, so the change of pace is very welcome.  Usually, dye day is physically gruelling, but kind of fun.  Well, for me, it was just plain gruelling.

You see, I woke up in the night with a wee tummy-ache.  Which became a REALLY BIG tummy-ache.  By 2 a.m, I was worshipping at the great porcelain altar.  By 6 a.m., I was pretty sure all I had left to throw up was my own innards, but the fun continued until nearly noon.

Meanwhile, there were 10 people waiting to learn to dye with natural materials.  So, green about the gills as I was, I trooped in, pointed vaguely in the general direction of some dye pots and turned them loose.  Apparently, they figured it out...

...and fabulous colours were made.

I took a nap.

Then I was given the miracle cure.  There is a local food chain called Eegee's and they sell a frozen lemonade drink called, oddly enough, an Eegee.  An Eegee was what I needed.  That and 12 solid hours of sleep.  And I was up and atom again on Friday morning for a day of blending and spindle spinning with the gang.

We wrapped up the class and all (well, mostly all-some had other commitments) went out to dinner together.  Where we were joined by wonderfully supportive spouses and by another Master Spinner student, Carl, who had been in my class in North Carolina a few years ago...

...Carl is an Arizonan (Arizonanian? What do you call folks who live in Arizona?) now and dropped by for a visit with his family.  La Parilla Suiza had no idea what had hit it--15 people all talking spinning and sipping margaritas.  A great wrap-up to the week!

I had planned to spend Saturday touring around Tucson, but you know what they say about best-laid plans.  I spent Saturday napping and knitting and staring and regrouping.  And now, here I am , on the way to Sedalia.  I know Sedalia will also be fabulous, but it's gonna have to work pretty darned hard to top last week in Tucson. (I would, however, be thrilled if we could avoid the day of blech this time around, okay?)

Big hugs to my class from Tucson.  Thank you all so much for being who you are.  I hope you are resting and recouping after a pretty tough week, and that those of you who have to travel are having safe journeys. 

Now, get cracking on that homework!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The SOAR Post

...'cuz I know you've been waiting for it.

On October 1, I travelled to Manchester NH to attend my second SOAR.  Last year, I went as a scholar.  This year, I was a mentor.  And I only have one word for the experience:  WOW.

SOAR was held in a city, in a convention-style hotel, for the first time ever...

...and it turned out to be a pretty good thing.  Not only was the hotel well-located, but it was well laid out, with spacious, well-lit rooms, and easy to navigate.  The only complaint I had was the coffee-like substance that they served.  And if that's the worst I have to cope with, I'm good.  (One of my students discovered a marvellous coffee shop just a few blocks away, and a brisk morning stroll took care of the caffeine crisis.  There was also a cupcake shop on this route.  WIN!)

Up and at 'em on Sunday to grab breakfast with a table full of fabulous fiberistas, followed by a wine/nibblies run and classroom set-up, and it was time for the welcomes and introductions.  The day went by in a blur.

Frankly, the week went by in a blur!

Monday through Wednesday, I taught Blending and Spinning for Superior Socks to a very enthusiastic class...

...seen here deep in discussion.

On Wednesday evening, the participants display their samples in the Workshop Showcase, where my group showed off their wee sample socks...

...and an alarming number of yarn samples.  I had no idea they were making so much yarn while I was jabbering on about twist and blending in the right amount of nylon!

That night, all of the mentors were gathered together, so I took advantage of their exhaustion to grab some photos to prove that I travelled into some pretty high-falutin' circles...

...a meeting of the minds with Stephenie Gaustad...

...a spinning guru sammich with Sara Lamb and Stephenie...

...cuddles with the highly cuddle-able and very wise Beth Smith...

...another sammich, this time featuring a zesty Deb Menz filling...

...playing coy with Jacey Boggs, and meeting any number of other amazing fibre folk.

I also had the very good fortune later that evening to meet up with Gord Lendrum (left) and Barry Schacht (right)...

...who were posing with Jacey Boggs at this particular moment.

I also got to meet Schacht Spindle Co.'s Production Manager Cindy Lair, with whom I did not pose for a picture, much to my disappointment.  She is a lovely lady, and knows sooo much about spinning wheels that it's a little frightening.  I want to be like her when I grow up!

The next day was a day off for me, so I slept in a bit, then mosied down to the Marketplace that opened that morning.  I was given a spinning lesson in the Ashford booth, so now I finally know how to spin properly...

...(yes, that is Richard Ashford himself!)

I got in line for a fabulous Golding spindle that I HAD to have, then dashed off to join a small group who were headed off to the Millyard Museum in the former Amoskeag Mills site.

We had quite the adventure at the Museum.  Imagine four fibre fanatics in a museum dedicated to industrial revolution spinning and weaving equipment and the people who worked it.  Dianne and Sarah even got Jen, our guide and the museum's education officer, spinning cotton on a spindle...

Back to the market for the afternoon, where a wee bit of fibre was acquired (because I don't have enough at home!), a quick classroom rearrangement, dinner and we were off on the Retreat Sessions.  The Retreat Sessions, for the uninitiated, are half-day workshops.  Or rather, the same half-day workshop four times.  I saw 70 participants in 2 days.  I'm sure I said something that sounded smart at some point in those two days, but I really don't remember.  It was fast-paced and busy, and by Saturday evening, I was exhausted.  Happy, but exhausted.

I slept in on Sunday, so I missed saying goodbye to some people, but had the chance to hang out in the lobby waiting for my turn on the airport shuttle and see a lot of my new friends off.  And SOAR was over.  Just like that.

I took a couple of days to tour around the area, then headed homeward on a 2-day journey.  When I got here, did I rest?  No I did not.

But that's another story...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Souvenirs of Sivia

Being the Fibre Arts Program Coordinator for Fibre Week is a big job, fraught with perils.  There are all of those people with pointy sticks waiting out there for next year's schedule already, and I'm typing and arranging as fast as I can.

But right now, I'm going to take a moment to remember Fibre Week 2011.  Or rather, the insidious influence of one of the guest instructors.

Meet Sivia Harding.

Oh, she looks sweet and harmless. (Well, actually she is sweet.  Very sweet.  And kind.  But sneaky.)

But she does little things like handing unsuspecting souls a little ball of silk yarn strung with beads, then whispers a few simple steps in their ear.  Simple, addictive steps. Before you know it, you have this...

(This is the kind of person we are dealing with here:  She couldn't find the clasp she had intended to include with the kit in her bag, so she mailed me one when she got home!)

Then there is this...

...Harmonia's Rings Sweater.  It's really Sivia's Harmonia's Rings Cowl, all grown up.  Fun, and tremendously clever. 

It started something like this:  We were waiting in the lunch line, and I mentioned a yarn I was spinning at home that I had no specific plans for.  Sivia mentioned that she had a pattern.  I expressed interest in seeing said pattern.  Later that afternoon, she handed me a photocopy of the pattern.  I stuffed it in my bag and went on with the week.

Sivia went off toward home, and eventually I did the same.

I decided the yarn should be a deep midnight blue, so I mordanted it in some alum and copper, then dyed it with Logwood...

Yep, I thought, this would be a great yarn for that pattern.  Blue-faced Leicester and silk, about 12 wpi and 4 tpi.   I tried to describe the project to a friend and after lots of vague blather about knits and purls and much gesturing,  I went hunting for the Ravelry link.  Nothing.  The sweater that I had begun to have dreams about, apparently, did not really exist.  So I dug out the pattern.

That was when I noticed that it was a photocopy of a proof copy, complete with Sivia's corrections scribbled in.  (I must state here that, while she is a lovely human being, her handwriting is just short of tortuous to decipher.  Anyone who was at the FW Fashion Show already knows this.)

It wasn't until after I had scoured Western Canada for the perfect beads for the collar and cast on that the rest of the world got to see this pattern.  I was somewhat gobsmacked by the generosity and trust that Sivia had shown in so casually handing me her lovely work-in-progress.

And now it's done.  It's beautiful, the perfect synergy of yarn and pattern.  Gloriously rich and deceptively warm.  And a reminder of the generous spirit of a newfound friend.

(PS.  I know Sivia doesn't need me to shill for her, but I'm gonna say "go to her website and check out all of her awesome patterns" anyway!  Every one is a gem.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Laziest Blog Entry in History

I was actually going to sit down and blog today, and may still do so later.  But for now, I'm going to let someone else blog for me:

It's a profile of me from a non-spinner's perspective.

Who knew I was so awesome? 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who's Who At The Zoo

Your erratically scheduled fibre arts blogs has been pre-empted so that we can bring you the following information recently learned during a visit to the Calgary Zoo, courtesy of several very young zoo patrons...

There are no caribou in Alberta.  These are reindeer.  And reindeer do not really fly, 'cuz they couldn't keep them in a zoo if they did.

Wild turkeys look like buzzards, but taste much better.

The more female lions a male lion has, the happier he is.  Because the females make all his food for him.

Gorillas are monkeys.

Lemurs are monkeys.

(Insert brother's name here) is also a monkey.

Eagles are NOT raptors.  Everyone knows raptors are dinosaurs.  That's okay, even zoos can make a mistake.

The elephant god of India is called Ganja.

Boy camels have two humps.  Girl camels have one hump.  That's how you tell them apart.

These are snow leopards.  They're kinda like cheetahs, but they live in the Arctic.

Peacocks are pretty, but they're mean.  Kinda like Aunt Kathy.

And, most importantly...

...T-Rexes are like wasps-they can't see you if you hold still.

No, the zoo isn't just for kids, but I'm pretty sure the kids are the most entertaining critters in any zoo!