Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fairy Tales?

A young mother and her bright-eyed children of about 6 and 8 came into our castle this past weekend. Shawn was spinning yarn on his old wheel, Sparky. He started telling them what he was doing and explaining about the process of making yarn.

"Do you know Rumplestiltskin?" the little boy asked.

"Yes," Shawn answered, "He's my cousin."

"Mom," the little boy cried, his voice full of wonder, "Rumplestiltskin is real!"

"Thanks..." the mother said to Shawn, with more than a little negative sarcasm tinging her voice.

Shawn went on with his usual speil - explaining how we raise the grass and harvest it to make the straw (hay) that we feed to the sheep. Then we shear the sheep (give them a hair cut), spin the wool into yarn and sell the yarn to people for gold (money).

"It take us a few more steps," he finishes out. "My cousin just leaves out the middleman."

Usually adults smile at the expanded fairy tale and children are too jaded to believe any of it. But this mother did not appreciate hearing that there was more than a grain of truth to fairy tales.

I never had a chance to talk with her, I was busy at my station in the booth all afternoon, hawking our wares and selling Spirit Bells. But during the slow times, I had a chance to think about life and fairy tales. Most people will agree that fairy tales are archetypes, morality tales and historical fiction. I think they are that, and much more. And I think that if any one of us tilts the glass through which we look at life, we will find the magical side of it.

Consider my day-to-day reality. At this moment I live in a very drafty 16th century castle, complete with counter-weighted draw bridge doors and 2 towers. We share the castle with Nigel, an adorable little bat who I think is older than my adult children, and our 3 dogs, who watch pirates riding elephants through the cracks in the walls. We haul water for drinking and cooking from a community well out by a garden cottage and indoor plumbing is a concept that may or may not be way in the future.

During the weekend, thousands of people visit to catch the magic of our village and see how things were made in Renaissance times. Over the last 3 years we have taught hundreds of people to spin, weave, crochet and appreciate the finer details of fiber arts.

My week is full of weaving shawls, crocheting Spirit Bells, making drop spindles and working with my life-partner Shawn as he makes looms, crochet hooks, knitting needles and assembles spinning wheels. We work together 24/7/365 and get along great - 98% of the time. (The two percent keeps us from taking each other for granted!) For some people, that is the most fairy tale-like part of this story.

When I am not living in the Renaissance, I am homesteading in the Ozarks, (some day I'll catch a fairy tale that has indoor plumbing!) sharing my life with a wonderful flock of sheep, goats, llamas and in addition to Shawn, there is Lena, my adult daughter, who is one of the most capable, competent and caring people I know. She manages that whole part of the enterprise single-handed when we time-travel back through the centuries.

In order to do the time-traveling we have a giant silver carriage, which I am sure must be out of a fairy tale. It carries Shawn, the 3 dogs, a literal ton of our spinning and weaving equipment and myself from the Ozarks to the Rockies in one full turn of the day. I'm not sure if that is more amazing than this little box that I carry that allows me to talk with friends and family from almost any where (or when) we trek. And this computer, which is amazing enough in all the information it holds, but when we connect it to the data network of the World Wide Web, I have the knowledge of the ages at my finger tips.

Excuse me, how can you not believe in fairy tales?

If you want more affirmation of how fantastical life can be, look in my purse. I have my id card which proclaims me as an employee of the US Postal Service, horse racing licenses as a Owner/Trainer from Colorado and Arizona, a business card which shows that I am the managing editor of a publications group and a picture of me as a professional belly dancer. All of these me's are real and the stories they have to tell rival many fairy tales handed down from the ages.

My lives are full of magical people living their own fascinating tales. Just this last week, I was blessed to spend an afternoon listening to tales from a lavender-haired, sparkling-eyed Fairy Godmother who is starting a Fairy Godmother foundation in Colorado. She has brought an amazing group of people together to help children from all places and all layers of life learn to believe in themselves and get their wishes met. In the process of building this organization, Chris has brought wonder into the lives of many adults. Shawn is going to be working on her web site and as it is built, we will link to it here.

So, while sarcasm has its place and analytic analysis can be a useful tool - don't come into my castle and expect me to believe that fairy tales are not real!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


In between packing orders, making Spirit Bells, walking the dogs and keeping Shawn and I somewhat fed, I have been weaving shawls. Ok, I've been weaving about 10 hours a day, but it seems that it is never enough. These are two of the recent weavings off the 7-foot loom.
"Jackie Blue" is the tasseled shawl above and "Midsummer Medley" is below.

This morning, I took "Shades of light and dark" off the loom and started "Champagne Dreams". Meanwhile, Shawn is making looms and carving hooks.
Summertime - and the living is busy!
Lena is 21 today (how can that be, I'm only....) If you get a chance, e-mail her a happy b-day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The crafter's curse

I'm sure if you've ever done craft shows or similar events, you have heard the "crafter's curse."

Up front, it sounds like a blessing. "May you sell out by noon Saturday," one crafter will say to his neighbor after Friday night set-up. What a thing to wish upon a true crafter. On the face of it, it seems like a well meaning statement. However, it is along the line of the ancient curse "May you live in interesting times."

If a true crafter sells out by noon Saturday in a two or three day show, it means they have badly mis-judged the show. It also means that they will find some one, any one, grab a passing patron! - to sit and watch the booth while they go back somewhere to make as much stock as they can, as quickly as possible.

This is not because crafters are greedy. Most of us could make far more money working in the real world. It is because we have this compulsion to make things that people like and enjoy. In fact, there is a lot of obsessive/compulsive behavior involved in being a crafter. How else can you get yourself to crochet 10,000 Spirit Bells?

Right now, I am the spindle maker here at Common Threads. This morning I was laying out the stain and tools to make spindles. I always make 48 spindles at a time. My excuse is that it is silly to get everything together to make less than that. But the real reason... well... I make 48 spindles in about 4 hours. I do 12 each of 4 different color stains. I make top or bottom whorl spindles in sets of 4. It just works, ok. What ever you can do to find the focus place and get into the groove to do such repetitive labor is fine. Shawn looked over at me and said, "Time is tight, you don't have to make 48, you know." He almost added spindles to his to do list.

Another mixed blessing of being a crafter is being able to work your own hours. Of course, this means you tend to work all hours. In the real world, this is treated with suspicion. It is very common for one of us to work until 3 or 4 in the morning. I am usually up and at the loom by 6 am. This confuses most people and they tend to look askance at some one who keeps such hours.
However, in a craft community, such as the renaissance festival, it becomes clear that this is another part of the compulsive behavior of being a crafter. I took a break last night about 1:30 to stretch and walk the dogs. Two doors down, I could hear the jeweler's polishing wheel humming. The other direction, the light was on in the potter's shop and there was soft music drifting out the open door. Any time the muse is awake is a good time to create. Any time you can find the focus is a good time to work.

This week, it seems like a lot of the world has been getting in the way of my work - but I did get two nice shawls off the loom. I am trying to make it a habit to photograph them before I take them off the loom. I have sold many of my favorites without ever getting a picture. I name all the shawls I weave. This week's two are Midsummer Medley and Hocus Pocus. This connection is not letting me post pics, so I'll put them up next week.

Have a great weekend! Wish us bright weather and good sales!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Still no internet

Hi everybody,
Just a quick note to let you know we still don't have internet at the Colorado Ren Fair site. So I am probably not getting your e-mails and can only check the ebay store once a day. It now looks like the 28th or later!
sigh... the hardships of modern life!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

WOW - With a whole lot of help from our friends!

The only word is WOW!

Take one old, leaky castle,
a pile of wood, shingles, tools, tar and paint -
Add a bunch of fantastic friends
and some good barn-raising energy

- And it equals the most incredible feat of reconstruction ever seen!

We are so blessed that Booth Party has become a tradition for so many of our friends. The weekend before the Colorado Renaissance Fair opens, they converge on the booth, bringing tools, food, energy and enthusiasm. This year, there was a lot of work to be done, and every body out-did themselves.

My dad and Shawn got started shingling the roof on Friday

Danette and her girls came up Saturday and Sunday and painted all the details that gorgeous bright blue. I even got to splash some paint around.

Sandy and Julia turned the whole dark, dingy showroom into a bright shiny Renaissance croft!

Robin and Summer ripped down walls and counters and built them up all shiny and new - in places that work better for our type of business.

The roof got finished with a whole lot of help from Art (who also replaced the porch boards and Nate - who thought he was just coming up to spend the day having fun with his girlfriend, Susan!)

And to top it all off - Kira grew the courage over the last year to make it to the top of the tower. Go girl!

I'll add more pics in a few days, now I have to go finish painting the sign and the porch -
Thank you so much everyone!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dancing to difference

I started a rug with Nilly's fleece today. I strung a plain white wool warp on the loom, not stripes or bright colors. In part, it is because her fleece is soft and has many variations of gray, mauve, lavender, cream and white. I wanted to let those colors stand out, without artificial coloring to pick them up or drown them out. Mostly though, plain white felt right for Nilly's fleece.

Nilly has always been special. She was born into the name Laffing Horse Vanilla Extract - her mother's name was Vanilla Bean. In her first days, she kept getting lost. We would find her under the grain bin, behind a barn door, stuck in the hay feeder with her mother running frantic and Nilly just standing there with her head cocked. She was a tiny lamb, and seemed a bit slow to figure things out. We watched her mother bump and coax the little Nilly up the step to the barn. She never joined the other lambs in their lamb-pedes or king-of-the-log games. She got better at staying with her mother, who was devoted to this strange little lamb.

Fourth of July fell on a weekend that year. Our sheep barn was about a half mile from the house, but we did not worry too much about the sheep. All the lambs were several months old and we have guardian llamas, who have been very effective against predators. So we were horrified that Sunday morning when we went down to water the sheep and turn them out on pasture to find several dead and injured sheep. We lost four ewes that night, among them, Nilly's mother.

The little lamb was bereft without her mother's support. While she was technically old enough to wean, she did not seem to be eating well. We took her to the vet, with the injured sheep. One had a broken leg, the other a severe laceration. Both of them survived with lots of nursing care. The vet checked little Nilly over and could not find anything wrong with her, but he could tell she was odd. Then he checked her eyes. "This lamb is blind," was his pronouncement.

Thinking back, it made sense. Her wandering off, her mother's directing her, her never playing with the other lambs and having trouble finding food all fell into place. So, she came up to the house for some special attention. Nilly learned how to find hay with her nose and how to eat corn out of people's hands. She was fascinated with Shawn's deep voice and to this day will respond to him. They sing these funny sheep/shepherd duets. She is a four-horned Jacob, like her mother, and she learned to use her upper horns as feelers. The horns developed round knobs at the tip. They look like giraffe horns.

Nilly learned to define her space by "sounding". When ever we put her in a new pen, she runs in tight circles and screams her head off. The first few times we saw this behavior, we felt that we were being cruel keep this lamb here on this earth. But after watching her go through this appearant "panic" several times and then settle down, we realized that she was using a sheepy sonar to learn the boundaries of her space.

When they are young, lambs are so entertaining to watch. They play games with obvious elaborate rules. They form cliques and have turf battles and they dance. It is so much fun to watch what seem to be dance competitions, with each lamb trying to out-leap, out-twist and out-bounce the other. They start dancing when they are a few weeks old and for most of the summer, lamb dancing makes us laugh every evening. By the time they are weaned though, at about six months, the dancing has stopped. Grown up sheep very rarely dance, at least not when humans are watching.

But Nilly, now five-years-old, never lost her dancing. She started late, I don't remember ever seeing her dance while her mother was alive. After she had been at the house a few months though, she started dancing when the wind would catch her. It was like it was a reaction to the breeze in her wool. "Watch Nilly wind-dancing!" we'd say to each other. She'd cock her head and then leap straight up. She'd sun-fish and bounce and twist - all in the same spot. She'd often dance for as much as a half-hour. It seems to be a pure expression of physical joy.

It is extra trouble keeping a blind sheep. Sometimes I have been known to remark that the silly blind sheep takes more care than the whole flock. For the most part, she cannot run with the flock. We have spent more time out with a flash light, in a blizzard or clawing through brambles looking for her when we have tried to let her be a normal sheep. She does love sheepy company, and we have found she is a great (if strange) Auntie Nilly to the weaned lambs.

We never intend to breed Nilly. Who knows if her blindness is genetic? But every year she grows a nice fleece, baby sits the lambs, sings duets with Shawn and brings us daily joy with her dancing. So, even with her blindness, Nilly is a productive part of the farm. In fact, in many ways, she is a big part of what makes our farm special.