Monday, December 29, 2008

Link chasing

Back to work today...
I'm still trying to get all the listings, all the photos and all the copy correct for the upcoming Folk School in March. It's almost all there, and all correct. Now if the web gremlins will just stay away.

Take a look and see if there are any classes you want to take this year. If you see any typos, or have any questions, holler. I really, really, really want to take the Cold Mountain class with Sara Grey, but I'm purty shure I'm gonna be way to busy facilitating to get to take a class... this year.

I had some great conversations with several crafters who are interested in joining our craft community at the Ozark Folk Center. We have several shops available for rent for the 2009 season and I've put out adds in many places. One of the people I emailed our "crafter's wanted" ad to called me to make sure it was ok if she changed the word "crafter" in the ad to crafts person or craft people. She said the word crafter is a slur in her part of the country. I responded that she was welcome to change it to craft people, or artisan if that would go over better. She laughed and said that people get artisan and artesian confused to easily and who knows what either one is, anyway!

When looking for calendars to list our Folk School and places to put our crafter ad, I found many place where we should be listed and aren't - I fixed that. I also found many, many places that had terribly old information about the Ozark Folk Center. That's not so easy to fix. And then I found information for fixing the sock knitting machine that we have in the spinning and weaving shop. (Do you know what a fork weight is?) and a good recipe and layout for my cheese making class (and mozarella kits are on sale through the 31st) and did you know that chainsaws were invented in the 1830's and the early 1900 ones were so big they had wheels and... I can justify every last bit of that diversion as work.

I do so love my job!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet cream butter

Nobody in the family has felt much like cooking since the electric stove went out. It seems to be a lot of trouble to either cook on the wood stove or dig out the electric skillet or the roasting pan.

But, that's really not a problem, because thanks to the sweet little Dexter cow in the picture, we have lots of butter! Buttered potatoes, buttered sweet potatoes, buttered vegetables... mmm, yumm!

On our farm, we each have the type of milk we prefer for cereal, coffee, hot cocoa, yogurt, pudding and cheese. In fact, our fridge is often about half-full of milk. When someone asked if we milked our sheep and I said that it wasn't worth the trouble, she must have thought I was nuts. I really should have explained that we already milk one cow and four goats. And it is hard enough keeping those two types of milk straight.

Lena's been out of town for a few days, so I've been milking everybody. It's not really that hard to keep track of - the cow gets milked into a plastic ice cream pail (I know plastic is not good, but Sweetie (the cow) hates the sound of milk squirting into metal) and the goats get milked into a proper stainless steel milk pail.

When the milk comes into the house, it gets strained and goes into containers to cool. The goat's milk is all mine, so it goes into plastic pitchers. The cow's milk goes into glass jars, which are easy to scoop cream out of. Lots of cream, sweet cream.

And about every three days Lena makes a batch of sweet, creamy butter. Life is good!

Hmm, this post started out to be about the irony of raising our own milk, making our own butter by hand and yet cooking all of our food in the microwave... that thread got lost somewhere, didn't it?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Back to life, back to Ebay

When I started my job at the Ozark Folk Center
I closed our ebay store and sold or gave away many parts of our business. There were many reasons, a big one was that I needed to focus on my new direction.

But lately, Lena and I have been talking about getting the Common Threads ebay store going again. She already does all the shipping for Shawn's Laffing Horse Crafts and our farm. And she is dyeing lots of wool and spinning beautiful yarns. I am still weaving some rugs and shawls and making Spirit Bells, along with the occasional hat and scarf. And Shawn still makes trilooms, ties brooms and carves even more incredible than ever crochet hooks. He sells most of his at his shop at the Folk Center and online at his own store, but he could let Lena sell a few.

So, this week, while I had five glorious days off from work, I sat back down to ebay. Lena's going to do most of the work and eventually take over the store, but I wanted to get it restarted.
It felt good to take the pictures, do the edits and write listings. I am writing much clearer and simpler than I used to. Just the facts. But it was comfortable and good to be back in the listing groove.

Some things have changed. Ebay now only allow you to accept Paypal, you can't take checks or money orders any more and they'll pull your listings if you say you do. I have a few auctions that may disappear because I didn't know that.
You get higher search rankings for free shipping, so of course we now need to figure shipping into our costs.
And the fees that you pay when your item sells have gone way up - 12% on our items - up from 8% when I closed the store in March. Ouch!
So you'll find our prices are a bit higher than they used to be. Lena's better than I am at making sure things are priced fairly, for us and for the customer. I tend to give things away and then wonder why we can't afford supplies.

It was good to be back at it. And I haven't even advertised on any of the lists yet that we are back (I thought I'd wait until Lena gets the hang of listing things) but already we are selling spindles and Spirit Bells.

Funny, I told the kids for years that online relationships are not real and online communities are no substitute for actually doing things with people, but, it sure feels good to be back on the computer, here at my blog, checking email more than monthly and now listing on ebay. Computers are not a substitute for anything, but they can be a real part of a real life.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter forest treasures

We took advantage of the beautiful weather on Christmas eve to hike up the creek. This senntinel with his rather droopy face is not too far up the Bear Pen (creek) from the house. We tried introducing ourselves, but I guess he's kinda hibernating.

It it fascinating to look a the woods in its pared-down winter visage. Things that you don't even catch a glimpse of when the leaves are out and the trees are in their full glory stand out and catch your attention. I know I've touched this tree before, but I've never seen his face before.

This rock was another treasure. The colors were at least this bright. This is not photoshop - except as mother nature plays it.

Winter is certainly not dull or drab here in the Ozarks. The intense greens of these mosses and ferns shines out like jewels against the dead leaves.

Where ever you are today, get outside and take a look at your world with a new perspective. Find those beautiful and unique pieces that you haven't seen before.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Elves and other presents

A friend came to me a few weeks ago with a request. Seems he had a copy of his granddaughter's letter to Santa and he wanted to help the old guy out.
The little apple of his eye wanted one thing for Christmas, a simple, wee, little thing.

"Dear Santa," she had written. "I only want on thing for Christmas. I want a baby elf. I want one with round ears, not pointy ears. Pointy ears are scary.
I promise I will feed it and care for it and love it very, very much."

Well, it was obvious that a baby elf needed to be found. It was the only thing in the whole world that this little girl wanted. But her grandpa was on exactly the right track.

"Do you have any baby angora rabbits?" he wanted to know. "I thought about it a long time, and it was the round ears that gave it away. She needs a wee bitty fluffy baby rabbit!"

I totally agreed with him. It was obvious. But I didn't have any baby rabbits. However, I knew someone who did have some. I gave him their phone number and we said our goodbyes and happy holidays.

All day today, I've wanted to give him a call and find out how the baby elf is doing. I guess I'll just have to wait until after the holiday season to find out.

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope all your wishes were granted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Folk School, phones and Studio Tour

Most of my friends know that I took a job this year and it is keeping me focused and very busy.
This morning I am working on finalizing the booklet and information for our Make it a Handmade Christmas Folk School, Nov. 13-15. I have 32 teachers on contract for these classes - teaching everything from advanced blacksmithing to making a cornshuck nativity.
I'm trying to get the class descriptions and information together for each class and separate for the classes from our other two Folk Schools in March. All the while I have been picking up the overflow incoming phone calls. I am third in line on the phone tree, so I probably get 1/6 of the calls. So far today I have talked a gentleman through our website to a registration form for the October Herb Fest; helped a woman find a vet for her pet rabbit; found the price on homeschool daycamp; arranged lodging for the broom making teacher; explained numerous times that our website is in transition and some information is still missing; checked the price on cat litter in town; found out where a woman could pick up her Doc Watson Tickets; let the tour director know his group was on the way; and transfered numerous calls to their appropriate offices.
That's all in the line of "Other duties as required."
When I'm not at work, I've been getting ready for Studio Tour. This weekend, I took 9 nice rugs off the loom and started felting them, wound a new warp for the Newcomb, warped the rigid heddle with a mohair warp (what was I thinking!), wove a nice sampler on the mohair, felted the sample and began organizing fleeces. There is still way too much to do - but my folks are coming out to help with the final push for Studio Tour.
If you can make it - I'll see you there and we can catch up a bit.
Hugs, Jeanette

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's day blueberry muffin bread

Shawn said he was craving blueberry muffins.
Since it was Father's Day and rather cool this morning, I decided to make him some for breakfast. We had a good 10 lbs in the fridge. Good, fresh, organic Meadowcreek blueberries that Lena had picked out by the workshop that needed something done with them.
I found a recipe and modified it, creating -

Father's day blueberry muffin pudding
2 cups biscuit mix
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 butter
1 egg
2/3 cup goat's milk
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Lots of blueberries

Mix ingredients together in that order. Fold the blueberries in at the end. Make sure there is enough batter to cover the blueberries.
Search all over for a muffin pan. I know we had one, maybe it's still packed.
Grease a loaf pan and spoon batter into pan. Bake at 300 for an hour and a half.

It was pudding-y and rich and wonderful. Shawn said he liked it... just about all of it in one sitting!

Happy Father's day!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pictures and histories

A picture is worth a thousand words, says the old saying.
And they are - but pictures with the words and the story behind them preserved are beyond value.

In part of my moving into my new office at the Ozark Folk Center, I went down to the storage/archives to look for office furniture. While looking for comfortable chairs, I found stacks and stacks of old photographs.

There were pictures of Folk Center crafters from the 1970's, 80' and 90's. There are many wall-sized mounted black and white photos of broom makers, weavers and coopers. A few dozen labeled and framed photos of current crafters. Several color photos with names, or just a craft, some of those mis-labeled, a weaver is labeled "Quilter".
And there are 4 nice water color paintings of crafters - 3 in a series and one unique and beautiful one.

A box contains about 30 small, oak framed black and white photos from the late 1800's to the mid-1900's. These are labeled with information - stuck to the frames with scotch tape.

These pictures drew me, called to me, fascinated me. I had to bring them up out of the archives. They needed to be seen, shared and labeled - while the people who knew these people, crafts and events are still at the Folk Center. The stories behind the photos needs telling, keeping, sharing.

I lined the pictures up in the office hallway Friday afternoon. The hallway is a blank slate, empty walls needing focus. The few people in the office flipped through them, sharing bits of tales. The pictures looked a bit tattered, edges loose, dusty, faded in places. I stacked them in an order and left them to sort themselves out.

The box of little pics I took into my office. Some of the hard-faced people from the early 1900's were almost frightening in their scowling seriousness - and yet - one picture from that time showed a family that was round and soft. City folk, I decided.

I sorted several of the old black and whites that I thought might fit in my office and set them next to my worktable. I also found 3 colored photos from the 1980's of women fiber artists at the Folk Center. They would make an artistic display next to my 7-foot triloom, which already takes up a big chunk of one wall.

But suddenly, it didn't seem right. These pictures weren't part of my story, they aren't my history. They didn't belong in my office. I felt like an outsider. I don't know the stories behind these pictures, the people, the lives, the hopes and the dreams. I don't know where they fit, how I fit in, how it all goes together.

So I took them all out into the hall. I lined them up and left them all sitting together, a century of history of the people of this land. I hope, over the next week, people will help me sort these photos, hang them up, tell their stories. And in the sharing, we can write a new chapter of the history together.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Finally, after waiting "for-eeeeever!" we had our first kid today.
Dudley - called Dudders - is much cuter than his name would make you think. He is a purebred black angora, so he will be a fiber wether. His mum, Bramble is a first time mommy, but she obviously studied the book very well and is doing great. He is the cleanest baby goat on the planet.

In other news - my human kid - who is now 23-years-old (how did that happen?) was here visiting last week from Albuquerque. We had a great visit through the record flood. Even with houses floating down the river and bridges washing out. On the back page of our county newspaper, a small headline said "Governor Beebee Declares Stone County Disaster Area" I think they left off the word "Again". If I hadn't lived through the tornado/blizzard/flood I would have a hard time believing it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Growing through testing

The weather here is such a drama queen - all tantrums and flowers!

My parents arrived for a visit from Colorado last week - just in time to be snowed under by a tree and record breaking blizzard. Fourteen inches in Fox and maybe just a wee bit less here in Meadowcreek Valley. Trees down everywhere and power out again, for two days this time. A friend said, "It would have been romantic, if we'd had time to put the generators away from the six-day power outage after the tornado!"
There's still a spotting of snow in the dark sections of the hills, but it is mostly all water now. Lots of glistening, gurgling, rolling, sweet water. I just love it.

It was such a busy week, Monday we juried in the the Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour. The whole jury committee came out to our studios. It was intense - but we passed muster. I'm really excited. Such a wonderful opportunity to connect with people.
Then, with my parents help, we fenced a horse pastured, screened in the porch, cleaned workshop and so much more...
Finally, on Friday, I had my final interview for the job of my dreams. It was another intense interview - I'll find out next week how well I did. During the interview I was asked if I was a good leader. I replied, "Yes." Then he asked if my employees would say that I am. They do, have and hopefully will.

I almost got teary-eyed at that one though. Earlier this week, a long-awaited book had arrived. During the week, everybody in the family read it and loved it. It was written by the best writer I have the privilege to call a friend, one of the best writers I have ever read and one of my nearest and dearest friends. And my name was listed in the dedications.

Sherry Lynn Allen was a talented young writer when she began working for me at the Ag Journal. A bit rough around the edges - but that's where a lot of her humor comes from! I'm not sure who mentored or nurtured who more. I am grateful to her for the things she has taught me, too. And I would highly recommend her book to anyone - those living the country life to realize that others share your ups and downs or those living in the city and wanting a humorous picture of the trials and travails of living outside the mainstream.

The book is "Life out Here, the best of Riding Fence" and it is full of more laughs, smiles and points to provoke thought than any book I've read in a long time. Sherry isn't just a great writer, she is a talented business woman, too. Visit her Cheraw Publishing site to find out about other writers she is working with.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Seed swap & Lena's new heifer

The biggest news today, is that Lena finally got her cow!
She's wanted her own cow since she was big enough to hold up a calf bottle. She was about 15 when her grandma told her that if she could find a good cow, she would buy it for her.
Well it took 6 years and a cross country move - but Lena and my mom now have their cow. This little sweetie doesn't have a name yet.
She is a two-year-old Dexter heifer, due to freshen with her first calf in May.
She's not tame yet, but Lena will have her settled very soon. She has a good, confident attitude. She and Muppet, the goat's guard llama are not sure what to think of each other. They are both sure they rank above the other. The heifer is a bit afraid of the horses, but she'll get used to them.

In other news, I went to the most wonderful event yesterday - a seed swap. It was the perfect day for it. The sun gods smiled on the day and the daffy dills were open and just about jumping as they turned their faces to the sun.
The seed swap was open to anyone. It was held at the Ozark Folk Center and sponsored by the University of Central Arkansas Sociology Department and Humanities and World Cultures Institute (that's a mouthful!). The swap was scheduled to begin at noon and go to three. People began showing up for the swap about 10:30. The mix of people was astounding. There were college kids, working folks, retirees, elders and wee tykes toddling around. Musical instruments were as evident as baskets of seed. It was disorganized, delightful chaos.

Some people were giving away seed, others were trying to deal to get the special thing they wanted. Everybody wanted to trade. Many people brought things other than seed to trade. One glowing young man gave me a crystal he had harvested near Hot Springs.
Nobody wanted to miss out on getting the seeds they needed to complete their garden, or the rare heritage plant that was only passed from hand to hand. Soon the conference room was so jammed with people you couldn't move. Everybody was talking seeds and plants and heritage. The stories were flowing. It was like being at a party where everyone wants to be in the kitchen.
When I left at 3:30, people were still sharing ideas and history and bits of nature.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Peeves and other pets

There must be a Stepford alignment of the planets or something. Like several of my friends, I have caught a cleaning and straightening virus. Because we are still moving into the Spring House, there are boxes in every corner. I decided the stuff in them needed to be "put away".
My family has been trying to hide until this virus passes, but I keep catching them. I asked Shawn to put a box of books up on the newly moved bookshelf. "And put away that stuff on the shelf," I said. I hate non-book stuff on book shelves.
In my next pass I reordered the books he had put on the shelf by size. He said he hates when I get anal. I threatened to alphabetize the books.
Next time I went by, I sighed heavily to see that he had stood all the books in stacks on their sides. I hate it - but he is right, he got about 30 percent more books on the shelf.

I needed to go take a walk and not chase my help away. As I headed out the door, I noticed that Lena had left the bobbin case open on the sewing machine last time she was making Learn to Spin Kit bags. I hate it when the bobbin case gets left open! Cat hair gets in, and dust, it really messes with your sewing machine. It's one of my pet peeves!

"Wait a minute," my brain said, as I closed the case and put the machine back together. "You have way too many pets. You sure can't afford to have any Peeves!"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Combing calm

Several people lately have commented on how calm and grounded I usually am. I can't take credit for it. Part of it is genetics and having been raised to handle change. And part of it is the critters.

Just sit down every evening and comb an angora bunny. I promise it will lower your blood pressure, settle your breathing and relax your mind. The bunny will appreciate it too!

This is Hazel, my champagne French Angora doe. She is a curious bun and will chase the dogs and cats when she can get away with it.

She is bred for mid-March bunnies. We'll have baby critters all over the farm by the end of March. Give us a holler if you want to come visit.

Friday, February 22, 2008


So much to share -
The storm recovery effort here is incredible. People rushed in with donated food, water, critter food. Neighbors helped each other with generators, furniture and firewood. People who lost houses already have a good start on new ones with donated help from the community.

We were fortunate. As one friend said - when it comes down to it, we were inconvenienced. We lost some of our barn roof, one ewe, a bit of fence, a refrigerator and freezer's worth of food , week's worth of work for both Shawn and I, power for 6 days and some of our illusions of civilization. We gained a lot of appreciation for the wonderful people of north central Arkansas and the importance of generators!

The weather after the tornado was lovely. Almost like Mother Nature's apology for her temper tantrum of Feb. 5. We went down to the grape arbor to do some clearing of brush and checking for grape vines. Shawn had not believed me when I said it was years worth of work. I think he understands now. There are big, healthy, overgrown grape plants - Great BIG grape vines.

There are trees in the middle of the rows, some with 12 inch trunks. There is cat briar and poison ivy weaving through the grapes.

But most of the poles are still there, the grape vines are mostly healthy and the view from the arbor is stunning.

So, I guess that we have another place to work and ground and grow.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

We're ok

Just a quick note to let everyone know - we are fine.
The tornadoes devastated the towns north and south of us, but went past us. We have water from our spring, lots of wood for heating and cooking and today we got my dad's old generator running, so we sometimes will have dial-up internet.
They say it may be as much as another week before we get power back. To those of you waiting on orders from Shawn's wood shop - our apologies! He'll be back to the workbench as soon a electricity finds its way back to our valley. They say it could be a while. I saw the work it took just to open the roads.
We are so thankful for our wonderful friends and all the men and women who have come together to help everybody. Say a prayer for those who have lost their homes and family members.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Groundhog Day!

I love Groundhog Day. It is one of my favorite holidays. It is silly and fun and full of hope for good things to come.

In honor of this glorious holiday - I created fancy, fanciful cookies for our herb society meeting.

Pretty Pelargonium Puffs
(ok, this recipe probably needs a better name :-)
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups flour
1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup dried lemon crispum pelargonium leaves
20 small oak leaf or similar whole fresh pelargonium leaves

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Blend flour, baking powder and salt. Mix together and blend well. Add dried pelargonium leaves, well cleaned with no stems. Roll into balls and press flat with your hands. Press the oak leaves into the tops of the cookies making sure the whole leaf is pressed into the cookie. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Enjoy! Makes 20 large cookies that are very yummy and not healthy at all!

Have a wonderful holiday. Keep an eye out for groundhogs and good things to come.

Of forks and roads

I don't know if it's a family joke, spawned in our blended family that had 4 teenagers at home, or a well known bit that has found a place in our life, but you know the one that goes -

"If you come to a fork in the road - take it - we're always short on forks."

Forks seem to be prominent in my life right now, Shawn just carved me this beautiful weaving fork from a very pretty wood that we had harvested on Foxbriar for firewood. It is so soft and smooth and has a greenish color.

And the road of my life has been full of forks. I always try to either take all the paths at once and find a way to bounce back and forth between them or walk the middle ground. I hate having to decide to take just one, especially when they are mutually exclusive opportunities, with no guarantees of what you'll find at the end.

Our life is definitely the road less traveled, and there aren't a lot of maps or road signs to give direction. When I find a new road, I research it as much as I can, but sometimes you can't know what's around the bend without taking the path yourself. I really prefer roads that aren't one way, so that I can back-track to the main road after I see what is over that next hill.

Like yesterday, when I traveled the path of setting up an account on Amazon. This morning's research lead me to find even more things that pointed out this road just wasn't going to take us in the direction we wanted to go. Amazon was gracious about closing the account and it was easy for me to get back to my consideration of the roads in front of us, knowing that one was not right for now.

Other choices have not been so easy. There is an opportunity that I really want to be able to take advantage of coming up. It is a realistic possibility. But I needed to clear my calendar to make space for that possibility if I am going to put energy into following that path. That meant canceling things I really love doing and making the decision to close out some directions in my life.

Some of them I can hope that the road will loop back and let me pick them up again if the opportunity is not meant for me. Others will leave space open to that filled with new paths.

So, I'll be out hiking these new roads the next couple months and I'll share stories and quandries as I try to collect forks, rather than having to choose directions.

May the road rise up to meet you and the wind be always at your back.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Inclement Weather

It's snowy/drippy down here in the valley today. We have so needed the moisture. It's really good to see, and it was heavily predicted, so everyone I know can stay home and safe and warm.

Being house bound has enabled us to take the time to look at the stormy economy and check out some options for shelter there. Most of you know our main store front is on ebay. We love the community and our customers there. It is a wonderful portal to the world and has done well for us. But ebay is making changes in their pricing structure which are going to significantly increase our costs there.

We have been promising many of our customers who don't like the ebay format that we would get our store front back up on our Laffing Horse web site. Shawn has been working on that today, in between nailing looms, which he can do in front of the woodstove! We utilize Google checkout there and it has been working well in limited test mode. Check it out over the next few days and see what he gets listed. The graphics I can see over my shoulder look really nice.

I spoke with a business consultant on the phone who recommended that I check out Googlebase, which I haven't done yet and get listings on both Amazon and Etsy. So, I started an etsy store and listed a few items. I think we'll use that mostly for my one of a kind weavings and felted creations, but put trilooms, crochet hooks and knitting needles up too.

And then I turned my focus to Amazon. It is a whole different format. The listings are database style and the language is more formal programing. The colors allowed in your photos are given in Pantone code.

I figured out how to do single item listings (I think... does this link take you to a Learn to Triweave Kit?) but then trying to figure out how to do the drop downs for different sizes and different woods and I still can't figure out what the fee structure is and how to set up reasonable shipping costs and ...

I wanted to just close out the Amazon seller account that I had just opened and say that Amazon is not our format. Database is not a language that I speak very fluently. Time I spend elsewhere is time that I am not working on our main bread and butter ebay store. I am an artist! grumble, grumble, excuse, excuse...

So, I went out and did chores. Shawn came and helped me and listened while I muttered to myself. Or at least he did a good job of pretending to listen - he was probably running design ideas through his brain while we worked. And I convinced myself to leave the Amazon account alone for now and to look at it tomorrow morning with a fresh eye.

I know that I didn't learn the ebay listing format overnight, in fact it has taken me years to get some things right and there are still features that I do not use adequately or correctly. But it is comfortable. And I like comfort - like being inside next to the woodstove in a snow storm.

I don't know how long we'll be snowed in and I'll have the time to work in this direction. If you have any hints for setting up listings on Amazon, please let me know!

And stay tuned to see which way the wind blows.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Of sewing machines and Victory gardens

"I don't sew anymore," I said last summer. I don't mend, I don't make curtains, I just don't sew any more.
This is a statement that does not make any sense in my family. My parents both quilt. My mom has carried her sewing machine on an airplane as carry on luggage. I think they bought their fancy new camp trailer in part because a sewing machine would fit on the kitchen table.
So my mom's response to that statement was to loan me her old Bernina for the summer. Obviously, the only reason you don't sew is because you don't have a sewing machine, right?

Everybody else just ignored me. In the Renaissance Festival culture where grommet setters are as common as square wooden plates, it wasn't a statement worth commenting on.

So, I was probably the only person who was surprised to find myself in the back room yesterday, building a table for my Kenmore sewing machine. After 14 years as a costume designer, I am very picky about my sewing tables. I found extra bobbins, a whole box of sewing machine needles and a rolled hem foot in my desk drawer. I moved my rocking chair in front of the table, settled the sewing machine and went back to sewing.

What caused this turn-around?


When I went to get the canvas bags that we have been using for our Learn to Spin and Learn to Triweave kits, I found that they had almost doubled in cost. Suddenly, it made economic sense to make the bags.

Price increases are showing up everywhere. Did you ever think you'd be paying $2.00 a dozen for plain old store bought eggs!

Suddenly, my friends who have market gardens are getting excited. They'll be able to sell their produce for less than the Evil Giant. They don't have the huge transport costs built into their cost of growing and marketing their produce. Most of them are planning bigger gardens.

We are hoping to have a market garden, too, this year. And toward that goal, I planted peas and lettuce today. Peas along the fence, lettuce under the tent. As I was planting, I was musing about the whole "buy local" movement and economics. While I love the idea, heck, "know your food producer," has been my soap box for decades, I was wondering where it was headed and which direction our nation's food focus would go next.

Victory gardens, of course. Probably not with that name - but definitely the concept of producing your own food, growing your own garden, taking your food choices right back to the earth.

Not you, you say?

Well, I don't sew any more...

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Day in the life

Woke up late, about 6:30, fire out, house cold. Restarted fire, about 18 degrees outside on porch.

Checked glue on tile on kitchen counter. Dry and solid, one tile tilted. Will just have to grout it that way, it's stuck on now.

Milked Yampa, Beth (Erie is dry now). Grained 2 horses, 2 llamas, 24 sheep, 4 angoras, 8 dairy goats in their various pens. Lena went out later and broke ice and fed hay and took care of the rabbits. She and Ziffer came in to tell me they were done.

Checked email, listed Learn to spin kit and Learn to triweave kit on ebay. Replied to several email queries. Updated a few listings in the ebay store. Took pictures of Shawn's new carved crochet hooks. They are stunning! I think the Sun/Moon is my favorite. Started color/contrast correcting photos. The one here is not cropped or corrected, just a quick un-edited shot. Now you see why editors are so important.

Lena and I rode the horses out to pasture after they finished their breakfast. The pasture is a dry lot right now, until spring rains bring up new grass.

Next - Telephone conversation with business consultant. Some great new ideas for getting our products up there in the search engine rankings. She suggested labeling all product photos so they are picked up on Google. Now I need to figure out how to add alt tags. Some ideas for getting our cost of sales down. Lots of great ideas - lots of stuff to work on! Do you know how many pics we have out there - thousands, literally. And no time to work on it today, sigh...

Now pack the orders that are ready to ship. Not much today. A single crochet hook, even those are so beautiful and gracefully carved. A crochet hook set and a one foot triloom. I am out of the bright rainbow cotton I've been using to wrap the hooks. Used a light blue plaid cotton flannel.

I set up a sale on Spirit Bells and wrote a quick marketing email. I totally forgot to mention Mardi Gras!

Got list from Shawn and Lena for trip to town. Get grain and hay, groceries, gloves for Lena, nails and thumbscrews for Shawn, go fill out some paperwork at the Folk Center, go to bank and take the chainsaw into repair guy, it won't keep running.

Shawn and Lena left for workshop, took dogs. I gathered everything to take to town, packages, library books, yarn to deliver, checks to deposit. No keys! Walked the .6 miles to the workshop in very frosty weather. Found Shawn working on a beautiful set of hand turned knitting needles on the jet lathe and Lena making spindles. Shawn said he left keys on his desk - instead of on the key rack where they belong!

Brought dogs back with me so they could warm up by the fire and went into town. Stopped at the Fox post office to mail packages and check mail. Two bills and one check...

I can't believe how much the cost of everything has gone up! Items I swear we spent 13 dollars on last month are now 23. Food that was 62 cents is now 78... very scary. I spent all our money and headed back up the mountain. I forgot Lena's gloves, but I did get a bow saw to cut wood until the chainsaw problem is figured out.

I loaded the rest of the fleeces from the Fox store and went to Foxbriar to cut wood with new bow saw. It's slick, works real nice and is quiet. I cut about 8 truck lengths, loaded them on top of the hay, grain and fleeces and headed back down the mountain.

Lena helped me unload the truck and we did all the evening chores except milking. Nugget was a brat and wouldn't let me get on to ride in to her stall. I think the cold has her grumpy. High today was 25 degrees.

It must be some kind of a sign - the chicken I got to roast for dinner had 5 hearts! Put the chicken in and went to check on Shawn. He was putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous 6 foot cherry triloom. Said to give him a while to finish up.

I grouted the kitchen tile while Lena cut firewood. Ran out of grout... We sorted fleeces and put the old, crispy or buggy ones in the rock garden for mulch. Started making coleslaw to go with chicken.

Went to pick up Shawn. Brought back knitting needles to ship - I still need to finish the felted case for this set, and the cherry loom to nail.

Mom called. Lena finished coleslaw and garlic bread while I talked and stoked fire. Arjuna called, he and Lena talked about his new computer and his planned trip out here. He is planning on flying here in March.

We ate dinner. Then Shawn started nailing loom and watching Alien Resurrection while I did dishes and milked. Lena made butter from the goat's cream she's been collecting. After I put away the milk and finished dishes, I started doing my Friday marketing on the computer. The new cherry trilooms seemed a good feature.

Suddenly - it wasn't Friday any more! Shawn was done with loom and movie and working on his computer. I still hadn't replied to any personal emails or updated my blog... but I headed to bed anyway!

No wonder I can't get anything done - all that stuff I do gets in the way!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Share your passion for Laffing Horse - a contest!

I was going through my e-mail this morning and found a message from ebay, asking me to review some of my recent purchases. I don't mind writing a quick review of the gardening books and cheesemaking supplies I just bought and I will probably write them up this weekend.

But the e-mail gave me an idea. Shawn occasionally cruises the web, looking for reviews of his Laffing Horse trilooms, crochet hooks and knitting needles. He gets so excited when he finds a review. (He's kinda like a kid that way.)

So, for those of you who use and love our products, (and you can include my soaps, herbal, felted, crocheted and woven items!) I'd like to offer you an incentive to write a review.
You can post a review on your own blog, on Ravelry, on ebay, on Google or probably on a variety of sites that I don't know about. E-mail me a link to your review and I will add a link to it from our website and give you free shipping on your next order from our Common Threads fiber arts and more ebay store, or our store, our new Commonthreads etsy store, (which is empty at this time!) or any direct phone or e-mail order.
(You will have to send me a note with your order to remind me, our bookkeeping system has room for notes, but they often don't stick where they are supposed to, and my brain is pretty full of holes lately.)

Then, on Feb. 15, we'll have my mom (Hi Mom!) go through all the reviews that have been submitted and pick the best one. The winner of the review contest will get a special, one-of-a-kind, one-foot Laffing Horse Triloom done in cherry & oak and inscribed with their name.

So, crack your knuckles and get ready to type up a quick Laffing Horse review, send me an e-mail with a link to it and know that you'll have Shawn dancing all the way to workshop... well, most of the way, it's a mile to the workshop and mostly up hill!!

Smiles and hugs, Jen

Monday, January 07, 2008

What was that commercial?

Ok, let me preface this by saying I don't watch tv. We live in an area that doesn't get any reception. I have never seen an episode of Simpsons, Survivor or Cheers. But off and on over the years, I have seen snippets of shows and commercials.
There was that one commercial, about chocolate and peanut butter...

Tonight I was wrapping up in the kitchen, finishing the dishes, straining the milk to chill and scooping the last of the cheese curd into the drainer. Shawn came in to siphon off an evening glass of the Framboise (raspberry beer). Just to test it, he says. "You've gotta check it every evening to make sure it's coming along ok."
(I'm thinking at this rate, by the time it's done fermenting, there won't be enough to worry about bottling!)

So, just as I was scooping the last of the curd over the sink, Shawn swung the siphon hose into the sink. "Hey, keep your beer outa my cheese!" I griped. But now, thinking about it.... I wonder....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The right signs for making felt?

As part of my learning to grow things here in the Ozarks, I've been studying planting by the signs.
Now I understand planting by and working with and being aware of the phase of the moon. And that makes sense to me, my body feels it. The moon has a powerful affect on water, tides rise and ebb with its gravitational pull. And more than half of most everything - plants, animals and peoples is water.

But I don't understand the zodiac signs in relation to the daily calendar. Each day has a different sign related to it, the signs are related to different elements, they always flow in the same order but sometimes there are 2 0r three days of a sign... I think I'll take the word of people who understand the process, or be aware of it in my almanac, but it isn't native understanding to me.

Now people who understand the signs, say they affect everything - health, business, growing, creating, building - and on and on. Perhaps the signs explain why I suddenly can't felt!

Over the last few years I've grown to enjoy the process of felting, in all its forms - felting, fulling and needling. For the purist, felting is the wet process involving wool, hot water and soap; fulling is the process of washing a woven, knit or crocheted animal fiber item in hot soapy water to shrink, tighten and harden it and needling is the process of using barbed needles to tighten and tangle fibers into a felt-like mat or three dimensional object.

Mostly I felt my woven rugs, needle felt stress balls and felt cases for Shawn's knitting needles and crochet hooks. I use all the felting processes in making the cases and each case is unique. It kind of depends on the colors of wool we have on hand, the wool scraps I have felted, the buttons I have found and any new design ideas I've had.

So, when the last case was ordered, I set to work with the drum carder, blending soft white wool, a bit of turquoise, some black mohair, a highlight of jewel tone angelina. I carded and blended 5 soft fluffy batts and then began needling them into a square, 24 by 28 inches. I usually figure about 40% shrink, so was rather shocked to pull a 6X8 inch brick of wool felt out of the washer.

So I deconstructed a wool sweater, and needled a grey wool backing onto the resulting square fabric. It came out of the washer pretty well, but between the pattern, the way it wanted to fold, and the size - it was a crochet hook case. I needed one for knitting needles.

So I needled up some white wool, purple roving and highlights of yellow mohair. Kinda wild and 60's looking. The white wool turned a murky grey in the wash. The angles of the felt were interesting, but the grungy look just doesn't cut it. This one I might finish and perhaps someone will like it at a craft show or maybe I can find a way to brighten the colors.

Next, I decided I would needle a felt sheet and not wet felt it afterwards. The case would be fluffy, but I should be able to make it strong.... I wore out my arm, Lena wore out her arm, we tried steam ironing it and finally, about midnight last night, I finished hand sewing a backing on it. It's kinda pretty.

Now I just have to finish decorating it and find the right button and fastener....

Maybe the whole process just took long enough that the moon and the signs are now right for felting.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Got Rocks!

We live in Stone County, Arkansas. It is aptly named. We have lots of rocks.

There are the beautiful big rock formations on the bluff behind the Spring House. There are the rocks that make up the bridge over the spring creek on the path to the barn. Rock walls grace the paths of Meadowcreek. And then there the thousands of rocks that jump up and trip you when you are crossing the lawn or driveway in the dark.

I love them all - well, except for maybe the jumping rocks. I grew up in a family that has collected pretty rocks from around the world. I have taken pictures of rocks around the world.

Right now, with the daytime temps staying in the 20's, my very favorit-ist rocks are the "hot rocks". We collected these rocks from the Arkansas river, near Rocky Ford, Colorado about 10 or twelve years ago. (YES, we moved rocks into Stone County!) They are smooth river rock and have been time tested to make sure they have no moisture or gas pockets in them that would explode when they are heated. We keep them on top of the wood stove.

Then, when ever you are chilled or if you are sitting and working on the computer, you can go grab a hot rock to put under you feet or hold in you lap to rest your hands. If someone complains about being cold, we just remind them to go grab a rock. We wrap them in towels too keep from burning our hands. Last week, Lena crocheted a wool "rock cozy", now I want to make one. I'm not sure that there is a big market for them, though.

And hot rocks are super to put into the bed about half-an-hour before you go to bed. Then the bed is nice and toasty!

Of course, the critters think there is nothing quite like a human to keep the bed warm!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Riding in on hope

Ok. how did it get to be 2008?

What a year 2007 was - and for all the positive changes - it still wasn't easy. And it has me feeling kinda old and ache-y.

One of the decisions I made in the whole moving process was to sell my horse. It was very much the right decision, Liya went to a home where she is loved and ridden daily and she is key to the health and happiness of her person. A pretty wonderful place to be in life.

We did bring two horses with us to Arkansas, though. Fria is Lena's mare. She's the black rear at the edge of the picture. A spritely 25-years-old now, Fria has been Lena's partner since the horse was 13 and the girl was 9. And Fria still acts like a teen.

And because I think animals need company of their own kind we brought Nugget. She is Shawn's old mare and we figure she's about 22 now. We rescued her in 2001, she had been abandoned and almost starved to death before somebody called the local authorities. She is a good mare, though she gets nervous and worries about things. Nobody's ridden her in a few years, she's gotten a bit old and ache-y.

So, a few days ago, I was feeling sore and leading the old horse out to pasture. I thought about the wonderful healing that Liya brought to her new owner, and the hundreds of other horse healers I've known.

I asked Shawn if I could borrow his horse and got him to help me up on Nugget's back (quite embarrassing as she is a pretty short horse!). I just wanted to check it out. I sure didn't want to cause the old girl any pain.

But after a quick walk down to the creek and back - both Nuggs and I were moving better.

That was right about Christmas. Now a short morning jaunt is part of our daily routine. And both Nugget and I seem to feel much better for it.

Here's hoping that we are all riding into a better, healthier, happy new year!