Friday, December 31, 2010

Weather or not

We've had great weather on our trip, until yesterday. Now icy roads and below 0 temps have us huddled in a hotel. We are going to go get chains for the PT Cruiser and try to get out to my parents house this morning. Weather permitting, we'll head to Texas tomorrow morning.
Creativity recognized on 16th Street Mall in Denver

Pianos on the mall - and they were in tune!

Music on the Mall

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Green Shawl

Bramble and her 2010 kids, Frappucino and Fritillary
This shawl started with our angora goat doe Bramble's spring 2010 fleece. We gave her her spring hair cut on a beautiful day in early April. The trees on the hill behind our house were just leafing out.

Look at all those colors, I thought, "and they call every one of them "Green." That was the genesis of this shawl."

I spun Bramble's fleece raw, right from the bag. After I had spun and plied all six skeins, I washed them in the kitchen sink and hung the yarns to dry on our front porch in the gentle spring breezes. 

I asked Lena to dye them all with blues and yellows. She worked her handpainting magic with the Jacquard dyes and the result was exactly what I had hoped for - Spring greens!

I started weaving the shawl on my 7-foot triloom. I did it plain weave, without counting any patterns. I wanted the texture of the mohair and the beauty of the color to stand out. I hoped to have the shawl done for the Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour the third weekend in September, but it didn't make it.

October 21 was the Sheep to Shawl competition at the Ozark Folk Center. I was determined to have my green mohair shawl done for that day. I was not competing, but I knew that many people who would appreciate the beauty of this piece would be there.

On the loom hand knotting the fringe

It took me until almost 1:00 a.m. to finish tying the last fringe on this gorgeous green shawl, but I finished it. Many, many people admired it that day and they have everywhere I've shown it since then. Many people have said that this one is too beautiful to sell, they tell me I have to keep it.

Such a snuggly warm bit of spring

Yesterday, while I was laughing, feeling young, playing tourist and taking a picture of a flute player on the 16th street mall in Denver, someone stole this shawl.
We talked to the motor cycle cops, the information guys and people in stores around. They were nice, but amused at our naivete'. One asked us where we were from.

I spent the night with my heart feeling broken, I loved this shawl and had decided to keep it for myself. Suddenly I was grieving all the loses of the last four years. Poor Shawn, he did his best to console me. 

One of the things that hurt the most was that now this beautiful piece, that I had put easily a hundred hours into, was separated from this story of its making. How important are the stories... to me, they are the joy of things.

I hope my spring green shawl keeps someone warm in Denver this cold winter and perhaps it will bring joy to someone's life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Awesome museum

Pedal power scroll saw from 1915

Motorized Schwinn bicycle
We went to a wonderful little private museum in Craig, Colo. this afternoon. I was very impressed with the collection and the quality of the displays at the Wyman Museum.

We went out to the museum this afternoon and were initially disappointed to find a closed sign on the door. But, Shawn pushed the door and found it open. We apologized to the owner, who was inside. He said it was no problem and he offered to take us on a guided tour. He is so passionate about his museum, we had a wonderful visit.

The chain saw collection is amazing, the hearse and body baskets were a wonderful education and the sheepherders wagon and both hand cranked and electric shearing equipment from the early 1900's fascinated me.

The license plate collection started with Colorado plates from 1927, the first year they registered cars in this state. That year, the courthouse issued you a number and you went home and made your own license plate. There was an Illinois license plate from the WWII years made from soybeans. All metal was headed to the war effort.

We really enjoyed our visit. Thanks Mr. Wyman!

Travel plans

Snow off the back porch at Shawn's folks
We're in the High Country of Colorado at Shawn's folks place in Craig. The snow is deep, but the roads were plowed and mostly dry getting up here. It snowed a wee bit more last night, but it's just beautiful.

So far, our trip has been smooth and enjoyable. We left home about 6:15 a.m. on the 23rd and got to Jeannie's in Wichita Falls, TX at supper time. We only got confused about the route once, in Sherman, TX, when I got turned around after we had to drive away from the main highway to get gas. Gas has been running about $2.71 across the country.

The wind farm at Lamar added some interest to the view.

Finally, at sunset, a bump on the horizon - Pikes Peak!

Christmas dinner 2010 at my folks.
We left Texas at about 5:15 in the morning on Christmas Eve and drove what seemed like forever across unchanging plains. Finally, as the sun was setting, we could see at little bump of Pikes Peak on the horizon.  We had dinner at my folks and a wonderful Christmas Day with my family. Laughter and sharing filled the big house.

Snow on Rabbit Ears pass, but the roads are dry.
Yesterday my dad cooked a delicious breakfast (I would love the recipe for that tofu/sundried tomato/red pepper/avocado stir fry!) and we headed up into the hills. Funny, the Colorado passes aren't very scary anymore after driving for four years in the Ozarks :-). We did find deep snow on Rabbit Ears, but the roads were dry.

We had a great dinner in Craig with Shawn's folks and now are having a relaxing morning looking at the snow blanketing the high plains. I swept last night's snow off the front steps up the their house and laughed at the jack rabbit and cotton tail tracks all over the front porch.

Our plans for the upcoming days are to relax and visit with Sherrie and Johnny today. Then tomorrow, sometime in the morning, we'll head back to the eastern slope, maybe stopping to consider some of the galleries in Steamboat for Shawn's brooms and maybe my shawls.

We'll planning on being at Robin and Summer's tomorrow night and we've been invited to dinner tomorrow night at Joe's house.

I'm hoping to meet Julia for lunch and whoever else wants to join us on the 16th street Mall in Denver on the 29th. We'll go to Tattered in Cherry Creek in the afternoon and then are planning on dinner with Robin and Summer. I need to call them all to confirm this part of the plan :-).

Then we'll be back at my folks on the 30th and hopefully get to spend the day with Anthony and Lydia and Matthew and then meet up with Kayla for dinner.

We'll head back home on the first and I have to be back to the office, bright and refreshed at 8:00 a.m. on the 3rd.

How's that for a vacation update, plan and itinerary all in one blog post.

Love and hugs to everybody, Jen

Saturday, December 25, 2010

More technology

So were sitting here on Christmas Day playing with toys. Not new toys, but everybody is sharing their net books, laptops, iPhones, androids, and iPads.
So I'm typing this on my brothers iPad...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stuffed Pumpkin

While I'm waiting to see if the sky will clear enough so I can see the amazing winter solstice total eclipse of the full moon at midnight, I thought I share a recipe with you.

I love stuffed pumpkin. I prefer them stuffed with rice - but after that, all bets are off. I've stuffed pumpkins with rice and pine nuts or rice and shitake mushrooms. Rice and chopped greens is a little weird, and I don't think I'll ever try the rice and broccoli stuffed pumpkin again.

Last night however, I think I made one of the best stuffed pumpkins ever.

I started with a cute little pie pumpkin, one of the last out of the garden. I cooked up a big batch of Arkansas long-grain brown rice. Did you know that Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in the US. Another good reason for living here. I can still enjoy rice and buy local!

I browned about a pound of ground lamb in a large cast iron frying pan. Our butcher makes his hand-sized packages which work great for our family of 3 big eaters. I stirred in and lightly cooked one coarse chopped onion and one large apple - the last from our next door neighbor's tree. I minced 4 large cloves of garlic and added them to the pan. Then I poured in about 1/2 cup of apple cider and two teaspoons of Garam Masala spice (I buy that from Mountain Rose Herbs). I stirred it all well and turned off the fire under the pan.

Then I cut the top out of the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds. They went into the bowl that goes out to the goats. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent natural wormer. Then I powdered the whole inside of the pumkin, including the top with about a tablespoon of the Masala spice.

I stuffed the little pumpkin with the rice mixture, packing it down well, and put it into a 9x13 pan with about 1/2 cup of apple cider and 1/2 cup of water in the pan. I baked it at 350 for 1/2 hour, then I put the rest of the stuffing into the pan around the pumpkin and put it back in the oven for about another 45 minutes while I went out and milked and did evening chores.

I loved it and am taking left-overs for lunch. Lena and Shawn were less enthusiastic, that's why I have left-overs.

The sky is still cloudy. Even though the cloud cover was heavy, the night was still bright and the pink glow of the eclipse made an interesting effect on the clouds.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Lamb and Rice Stuffed Pumpkin

1 small pie pumpkin
1 lb ground lamb
4 cups cooked long grain brown rice
1 large onion
1 large apple
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp Garam Masala spice
1/2 c apple cider
1 Tbs Garam Masala spice
1/2 c apple cider
1/2 c water

Clean seeds out of pumpkin and powder inside with 1 Tbs Masala.
Brown lamb, onion, apple, garlic, 2 tsp Masala and 1/2 c apple cider.
Stuff pumpkin with mix, pour remaining cider and water into 9x13 pan, set stuffed pumpkin in middle. Bake at 350 for 1/2 hour. Surround pumpkin with remaining stuffing and continue to bake at 350 for another 45 minutes. Cut pumpkin into quarters and serve with stuffing scooped over top.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Craving places

We in the final planning stages for our trip back to Colorado. The car is checked out and tires ordered (they go on tomorrow), the propane tank is filled, we have plenty of hay and I think the farm is set for Lena to take care of everything for two weeks.
Now, it's on to planning the itinerary. With so many people to see, friends and family to visit, it's going to be a whirlwind trip that cuts diagonally across the state from Lamar in the southeast corner to Craig in the northwest. We are trying to work with friends holiday plans, so we can see them for bit when they aren't at work or with other family. In the midst of all that planning, I realized that I had a craving for one place in Colorado.
Now, I spent 24 years of my life in that state. I've camped all over it, worked across much of it, been a journalist, a farmer, a storyteller, and a postal carrier there. And we are really making this whole trip to see people, especially the ones that haven't been able to come out and visit us in Arkansas. But there is one Place I have a craving for.
Have a craving for a place is like having a craving for a food. It's not something you need in your daily life, just something you want a taste of occasionally. Maybe it has a trace mineral your body needs in small amounts or a flavor that soothes a part of your brain.
I have a craving for the Sixteenth Street Mall in Denver. I want to wander the streets and listen to the clop-clop of the cart horses feet and the live music of the buskers, maybe dropping a few dollars into the hats of the ones I enjoy. I want to go to the tobacco shop with Shawn, and get a cuppa coffee at the Starbucks where I got one of my favorite cd's Alanis Morrissette's Jagged Little Pill acoustic. I want to window shop until we are frosty cold and then go back to the car and spend the rest of the afternoon at the Tattered, soaking up book energy.
Hopefully we'll be able to add that little bit of spice to the full meal of what looks like its going to be a wonderful trip.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I love fun socks.
Lena knit me these wonderful fun socks.

I think it started when my aunt Jeannie gave me a back of cute socks. Some of them had flowers on them, my favorite set was cute blue with snow flakes and yesterday I wore bright yellow ones with primary polka dots.

Fun socks bring a smile to your face. Cute socks are a secret way to be girlie. You can show them off or tuck them into boots or under your slacks and business shoes.

For my birthday, Lena knit me a wonderful Mardi gras sock. She just gave me its mate for Christmas. They remind me of Soulmate Socks. The same color, but unique. It shows how your knitting/crocheting/any handwork changes in even a very short time as your body adapts to different things in life.

I love my socks! Thanks Lena.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New store

I had a great visit with Steve Folkers yesterday. Steve is the Cooper at the Ozark Folk Center and he is also an original member of the Arkansas Craft Guild and a founding member of the Off The Beaten Path Studio Tour. His buckets, bowls and spoons are works of art lovingly shaped from trees using only hand tools. He is an amazing artist.

We were discussing the dilemma that most artists in tourist-based towns like ours face - where do you market your product in the off season. Steve does sell in a gallery in Little Rock and one in LA, as well as in Mountain View during the season, but he thinking that he maybe needs to get some broader exposure. I've been weighing the pros and cons of the local stores and Guild Gallery. After talking with Steve and looking at my analysis that is not strongly weighted in any direction - I went back to my Etsy store.

Check out Common Threads on Etsy and let me know if you have any suggestions for making it better.

I've had a few items listed on Etsy in the past, but have never sold anything there. The site seems to have come a long way in the last year or so and many crafts people say it is working for them. So, over the next few weeks I'll be listing shawls, rugs, scarves, hats, purses, Lena's knitting needles and yarns. I'll let you know how it's going

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sales options

Shawls, hats and scarves on display
in my studio

We cleaned house, gathered stock, priced and displayed everything - and only six people came to our studio for last Saturday's first ever Holiday Studio Tour.
I did get lots of yarn spun and we had nice visits with those who were here. The house is comfortably clean for a bit and all my shawls, rugs, skeins of yarn, hats and scarves are priced. What do I do with them now?

An obvious answer is to take them to the Arkansas Craft Guild Gallery. I just found out that I was high seller there in the month of November. Several ladies took a liking to my shawls during the bluegrass festival early in the month.

Or I could take them to Sander's Antiques on the Courthouse Square. John and Carolyn sell lots of Shawn's brooms and have sold my rugs and shawls in the past. They are wonderful people and charge very little commission. They like having work from local artists in their store.

Ritsy Rags has done very well selling our yarn and knitting needles. Rene' would love to have this big basket of handspun mohair and wool that I have sitting on the table in her shop.

Baskets of dyed jewel-tone handspun yarn
wool roving and fleece-woven rugs.

Shawn has been trying to talk me into finding a gallery in Eureka Springs to carry my work. I've found a few that I like when we've visited the town. I think the best fit for my shawls is Iris Art. But I haven't talked with the gallery owner yet.

Or, there's Etsy. I know several people who are doing ok on this selling site that promotes handcrafted items, including one rug weaver who has done quite well.

They all have their pluses and minuses. I've run a cost/benefit analysis on these options. Of course, I could do a little of each, but, I don't have very much stock right now... just 5 shawls, 5 top quality rugs, about a dozen hats, four scarves, two dozen skeins of yarn about 8 sets of Lena's knitting needles. Enough to make a nice showing in an Etsy store or maybe to scatter out through a few galleries.

Only one thing is obvious, I need to get these items out somewhere for sale. They aren't going to sell sitting in my studio.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where does all the time go?

Couldn't sleep this morning, so got up about 5, ate breakfast and sat down at my computer about 5:30. I was going to check email and write a blog post. All of a sudden it's 7:10 and I have to run out and do chores, shower quick and get to work. And I still haven't written my blog post. Computers suck an amazing amount of time.
Remember all that time we used to spend doing things?
Now we spend it glued to a computer.
Is it as useful?
I don't know.
How do you measure the productivity of communicating via facebook and blogs vs. phone calls and emails (I never was any good at letters, so let's not even go there.) And I still do email, that's on the computer.

I discovered David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" back when I was in the newspaper world. I still fall back on those principles when I find myself bogged down with unfinished projects and too much to do. I wish I could implement them as a functioning part of my life.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dryer Balls and gnomes

What do you do with all those scraps of fleece
and roving that every spinner has build up
in baskets and bags and bins? Make wool felt balls.
Off and on over many years, my family has made wool felt balls. When the kids were little, they were toys (medieval nerf balls we called'm). Then we made them for kitties with catnip centers and for dogs to try to teach them to play that game called "fetch." Quigley has never understood why humans would want to play such a funny game and he's not going to waste the energy on it.

A couple years ago I read an article in Mary Jane magazine about using them as dryer balls. You just pop a few of the wool felt balls that we always have around the house into the dryer and they cut down on the time it takes to dry clothes and take the static out. We tried it, and they do work that way. We also found they have a far more important function in the dryer.

Solid wool felt dryer balls that
the gnomes have not yet traded out.
Dryer gnomes love felt balls! They will happily trade a felt ball for one, or even two of your socks that they have been hording. And if you give them dryer balls, they will quit taking your favorite wash cloths. They sometimes even trade an especially colorful dryer ball for one of my special Summer tie-dyed tea towels that they do so love to steal.

And no, I have no idea where they take them, any more than I have any idea where missing pens go. But I do think the parallel universe must be a pretty, fun place. And I bet gnomes never have cold feet.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Halfie-cat takes her turn

This morning's post is courtesy of Halfie-cat, who even after 16 years of living with humans has trouble understanding some of their behavior.

I just don't understand hu-mans. This is the second time in a very short time that the soft hu-man has disrupted my morning by changing our routine.
Forget trying to make hu-mans feel better,
 I'm just going to keep warm by the heater!

I came out into the big room this morning for my usual morning "cuddle the hu-man" to let her know I appreciate her. When I jumped onto her lap - which is getting harder to do, you really think they would have learned to lift me by now - the soft hu-man bolted up, causing me to fly across the room. Do you know how hard it is to land on my feet at my age? I don't like that game any more.

She then barked loudly and ran into another room. Her barking sounded like, "Dm kat, spd m kofee a gn!"

She returned with a piece of cloth and spent the next half hour splashing in the puddle under the chair.
Now why do hu-mans like to play in water? I've never understood that. I think I'll spend the rest of the day next to the heater. The hu-mans can just go appreciate themselves. Hmmph!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The art of writing about your art

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask you to submit a bio. Maybe it’s for your listing on the Arkansas Craft Guild web site, or for promotion for a gallery opening, or for advertising for a craft show. Most of us hate to “blow our own horn” and it is terribly hard to condense your life and your craft into the one or two paragraphs they always want.

I have crafts people ask me to write up their bios frequently and I came up with this series of exercises to help them focus on their craft and figure out what to say. Remember, these short bios are a snapshot of where you are, right now. If you’re like most artisans, you don’t have the time to write a lot, and in today’s world, people generally don’t take the time to read more than a few sentences.

Work through these exercises and then leave this set for a day, or a week. Come back to it, read it and then write your brief bio. Gear it toward the audience you are hoping to reach - collectors of your art? – fellow artisans? Students? Don’t worry about focusing this piece on just one part of your life. I was recently writing an article about a couple who have been wood carvers for more than 40 years. They have pieces in collections around the world. They shared how they met and started working together.

I listened and remarked, “What a great story.”

They smiled, looked at each and said, “Well, that’s one story.”

If you want help putting together a bio, feel free to email me at

Writing your bio exercises

Write one word that describes your art - ______________________________

Write one sentence using that word - __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Use that sentence in a three sentence paragraph _____________________________________


This is your “elevator speech” about your art, what you could tell someone in the time it takes to ride the elevator with them.

In one word, what is the most important thing in the world to you? _____________________

Now, think of a conversation with a good friend. In one sentence, how would that friend describe you? _____________________________________________________________



Now, write a three sentence paragraph describing your artistic self ______________________


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The art and science of purchasing

I'm at the State Parks Gift Show at Degray Lake Resort State Park. And, in spite of comments from people who think it can't be work for girls to shop and who know how luxurious Degray is, I am working.

Would these healthy granola treat cups
sell in the General Store?

I've seen an incredible number of other park store buyers working. Right now the lodge lobby is full of groups discussing orders, using calculators to figure on catalogs and discussing deals with vendors. Purchasing is part art, part science and it is work.

Melody and I spent yesterday making several detailed passes through the vendors. There are several new ones here this year, new lines being repped and we have some new directions at our park, with Loco Ropes and the new cooking classes.

We placed a few orders for the easy, obvious things. I wanted a few new tshirt designs and we found a great one. It comes in youth sizes, too and will stay at the lower price point that we've found sells well. You'll just have to wait until March to see what it looks like, but it is really nice.
There is a new book wholesaler with some great titles and we ordered those. We ordered solar flash lights, Burt's bees bug repellent and the mugs, travel mugs and shot glasses with a new name drop design. I found the stainless steel water bottles I've been wanting and ordered those name dropped. We ordered some new candies for the General Store.

Now comes the hard part. The research - is the Lodge cast iron at the Gift Show a better deal than the Texsport we carry now. The answer to this one, after two hours of debate and research is "no" and we'll keep carrying Texsport.

Do we want to develop a line of "Sheep poop" candies?

Sheep poop candies?

They would surely sell, along with "Tree climber's vitamins" and what ever else we can develop. It's cute, tastes good and is pricey. So... we take a catalog and go think some more. Talk to other parks. Debate. Think.

I'm going over what we've found that we like and figuring out -

1. Does this item fit in with the mission of our park?
2. Would it appeal to our visitors?
3. Is it priced at a point that we can resell it?
4. Does it expire?
5. Could it sell in more than one facility in our park?
6. How would we display it?
7. Can it be packaged with items we already sell?
8. Does it compete with any one of our existing businesses?
9. Is it in the budget?

Obviously, some of these questions can be answered with bias. If I like something, I can figure out how it fits in the park mission. But I also know that the things I like are not necessarily things that will sell.
And I know some things that I truly dislike sell well.
So, I'm off to look at some of the trinket vendors... back to work. Or maybe walk along the lake shore and soak up a bit of winter sun. To clear my head so I can think more clearly - really :-).
The lodge at Degray from the lakeside.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Working - really

I'm at the State Park Gift Show at Degray State Park. I'm working, really!
Degray mantle by OFC wood carver Bill Standard
This is a great place to network with other state park store managers and office staff. I am hoping to put together some group buying for this next year. Right now, I'm working on a big cast iron order - Dutch ovens.

The lodge is decorated beautifully, and I always love their fitness center. However, we are out on the edge of the north wing and have no internet access and our water is lukewarm. Putting Melody and I in a room with no wifi was really not a good plan. We'll survive and know next year to request a room closer to the hub.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bach'n it

Breeding season is over here at Havencroft. Sheep and goats are seasonal polyestrus, meaning, they cycle and breed in the fall and have their babies in the spring. This cycle is light induced, so humans can muck about with it, but I like the poetry of the natural cycle. This way, the momma's are having babies when the grass is coming in, we can shear before they lamb, and I can dry off most of the dairy goats so that we all get a break from milking in the dead of winter. Nature has a good plan.

Here in Arkansas, we don't want babies born too late, either, because as it gets warmer, the parasites get stronger and that can be tough on young lambs. They need to get big and strong before the bugs get going.
So, even though the boys are still willing and the girls who are not yet bred are getting desperate, breeding season is over.
Dapper Dan the Jacob ram, Sultan the colored angora goat buck and
 Footloose, the Saanen/Lamancha dairy goat buck in their bachelor pen. 

The boys have been moved to their bachelor pen, where they'll stay until February, when hormones have settled and then we'll clean that pen out, rest it a bit and have it ready for kidding and lambing. It's right behind the house, so easy to keep an eye on whatever is going on in there.

Last night about 2 am, the coyotes had me awake. The air was fairly comfortable and I sat out on the back porch for a while, listening to the night. The moon was bright, even at 1/4 full. I watched as the clouds scudded over the southern mountains behind the house and filled in the sky. The boys were all talking to their respective flocks as the storm rolled in. Now this morning, it is raining again, but still fairly warm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Special orders

I don't take special orders. I haven't for years, probably at least since I've lived in Arkansas. I used to - but found they were so stressful and time-consuming that they didn't make sense. I am a perfectionist in my arts and a people-pleaser and I would fret too much trying to make sure that an ordered item was perfectly what the person wanted.

I still get requesst for special orders. At least a few times during Studio Tour and each show people will ask and I reply, "I don't do orders, but I will take inspiration. Tell me what you're looking for, and in the next year or two I might get it made. Check back at next year's show."

Some people aren't happy with that answer, but I pretty much stick to it. Special orders are too much stress.

Vest woven from Mr. Bones fleece
However, every once in a while, one gets through. A man called me this summer, wanting a vest for his wife. I make very few vests, they are a lot of work. Wonderful, warm, comfy and easy to wear, but a lot of work to make. I explained that I don't do orders and we had a nice chat on the phone. He has called several times this year, always polite and friendly and we have nice visits. His wife's vest is almost done and I'll drop it in the mail tomorrow.

I resist doing the vests because of the amount of work involved. Of course, there's the whole sheep care and wool shearing, loom warping, weaving and felting processes involved in producing the fabric. that's the same a making a rug, just with slightly different dimensions.

Then there's challenge of cutting and stitching fabric that is 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick - I broke two needles last night and said a word that shocked Shawn. I did find it interesting that the needles broke before the yarn. I spin good yarn! Now I'm crocheting the edging on the front and the collar and I'll run it through a quick finishing wash.
Mr. Bones, who grew the wool for the vest above.

And then its outside to enjoy some sunshine and build a few quick shelters for the lower ranked dairy and angora goats before tonight's rain comes in. The hoop houses comfortably cover all the critters, but the lower status goats are not allowed into the shelter with the top ranked girls. Just how life is in the goat herd and no use fretting about it. With rain projected at 34-degrees, nobody needs to get wet.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Multiplying my blessings

I am so blessed to work and live in such a nurturing environment as Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center. The people, weather, land, water and spirit all work together in a way to inspire creativity, community and faith. To quote an email from my dad, "I’m glad you found such a great place to be. J ."

I was blessed to grow up in the military base community, where people cared for and took care of each other. I found community in the unique world that makes up Renaissance Festival family. I've found bits of it with farm friends and through other Connections. I've looked for that in the "real world" and never found it until Mountain View. Not to say it doesn't exist, it just didn't click for me.

I am blessed to have a strong family. We may be scattered and busy, but when we get together, by phone, email or in person, we like each other! We talk, visit, laugh, share memories, hopes and dreams. I count my children among my best friends, my parents are my biggest supporters, my brothers are fascinating people and my aunt is my cheerleader. Much of my strength comes from the love of my family.

I am truly blessed to have the love of my quirky, talented, wonderful life-partner, Shawn. I will never be bored!

I could go on and on counting my blessings - friends, job, freedom, critters, love, happines and on and on...
but that wasn't even the point of this post!

I don't usually give presents, and in our family, we don't really enjoy getting them. We tend to go buy whatever we need, and if the season is right, we'll say, "look what you got me for Christmas." We have a small house, too much stuff already and we have a terrible time throwing anything that looks like it could be useful away. And we are blessed that most of our friends and family are well enough off that they have everything they need. So, we don't do presents.

But this year, maybe, I've figured out a way to perhaps make a bit of gift giving make sense. I have a friend who recently started making lampwork beads. She's got a natural talent for it, her beads are beautiful. She just started selling some with an eye towards making some income. I bought a few beads that I liked. And then, I thought, I could buy a few more for Christmas presents. That way, I'm helping an artist friend build their business, and letting the recipient friend know I'm thinking of them. And with that in mind, I could buy small things from other artists I know, giving thought to friends and family who might appreciate the items and the stories about the people who made them.

So, with that in mind, I'm going to do some Christmas shopping tomorrow during Small Business Saturday. Maybe I'll see you in Mountain View, on the Square, at the Guild Gallery or in the Ozark Folk Center Craft Village.

I am so blessed in so many ways!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The felting process

After 3 washings

Felting is what happens to wool and other animal fibers when you add moisture, change the ph, change the temperature and agitate them. It is a permanent strong process that has been used by humans since they began using animal fibers. Felt makes good strong tents (yurts).

Its what happens when you throw your favorite sweater into the washer. It is also an art form that many people use to create beautiful fiber art (sometimes using the sweater that is no longer wearable).

I've been felting my rugs for many years. It allows me to weave them fairly loose and relatively quickly with raw fleece, right off the sheep. I hate washing fleece! Then, I spend several days in the felting process with each rug. The rugs shrink, firm up and become very thick, cushiony and extrodinarily durable. And, as a bonus, they are washable. They've already shrunk as much as they are going to. They usually shrink a lot. This is Demi's rug after 3 washings. It is a little more than 1/2 the size it started out. You can see the amount of shrink by looking at it laid on the same Afghani rug in the previous post.

I don't felt just rugs, I also take those sweaters that accidentally (really it was an accident! I know you liked that sweater Shawn) get felted and make spindle bags, crochet hook cases and Christmas stockings. The one in the picture I made as a part of the Christmas give-away package that we are drawing for today at the Ozark Folk Center.

I can't decide which side I like better, but I guess the stocking's new owner can make that decision.
Stocking side A

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off the loom

I took the Demi rug off the loom. It looks like it will be a nice runner. Now the felting process begins. First a gentle wash to rinse out the worst of the dirt and set the shape. 
Then it starts going into the front-load washing machine. Most of the rugs take seven washings and dryings before they are done. Then they are fully felted and machine washable.

Ziffer gives the new rug a roll test.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I just realized last week that I am great at research and learning things and trying to live my life by what I think is right - but I am terrible about sharing those things that I find. I just figure the information, projects and ideas I find are cool, and out there for others to find.

Last week, a friend discovered the 3/50 Project and email their information to many of us. The 3/50 project is a grassroots movement that asks people to pick 3 local businesses and spend $50 each in those 3 over the year. We have a local grocery, local health food store, local restaurants that aren't parts of chains and of course, our crafts people are all independent local businesses. They have lots of facts and figures at the web site about how this simple step will help your home town, where you live. Like I'm always saying, "take care of your own first."

I hit "reply all" and pointed out the the 3/50 project has a facebook page. Then a friend called me and asked if I had any of the 3/50 bumper stickers or their pamphlets. Boy did I feel silly, I hadn't even thought to share the  existence of the group.

Then there was Small Business Saturday. It's the movement to encourage people to shop at small businesses on the day after Black Friday. Check out the link and visit your favorite crafts person or other small businesses on Saturday, Nov. 27.

So, I'm going to try to do better at sharing the cool projects, organizations and happenings I find. Have you ever heard of Real Milk?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Demi's rug

So I dipped into the yarn stash under the bed and pulled out three bags of wool yarn to do felting swatches on. I crocheted up a patch of the gold, the black and the cream and threw them in with the laundry load. The cream and black felted up beautifully and equally. So, I started to warp the loom. After 17 passes, I discovered that every skein of black yarn in the bag was a different brand!! I may regret it, but I didn't want to take the time to swatch test each one, so I just kept on warping.

The resulting warp is very pretty, though it took longer to thread on the loom than I expected. The weaving is going a bit slow, too, but the rug looks gorgeous right now.

 I'm using Demi's fleece. Demi is one of Lena's bottle babies. She is half Icelandic and half CVM. She was born black, but is now a silvery grey with black undertones - a truly beautiful fleece. We have to shear all the Icelands and crosses twice a year, because their wool grows so long and thick. 

Nilly talking to Demi through the fence

We keep a Matilda fleece cover on her, and many of the angora goats and other sheep through the winter to keep their fleeces clean while we are feeding hay. The Matilda covers fit well and are breathable, so the fiber grows well underneath and the animals stay healthy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Countdown to December 11 Studio Tour

Current shawl on the studio loom
Ok, today is November 21, so there are 20 days left 'til tour day. We decided to do a Christmas mini-tour for any of the Off the Beaten Path Studios who wanted to participate. I'm getting excited and planning the details for our studios.

Today, fix fences in the angora goat pen, dog kennel. Sort sheep by weight and check Famacha and body scores in all three flocks. Cook up green chili for dinner. Make farmer's cheese. Finish carding Frits fleece and weave on the tri shawl in my studio.Do felting test on some warp yarns while doing laundry.

Tomorrow - chores and weave a bit in the morning. Meeting at work at 10, pay bills and run a few errands in town afternoon, bring my rigid heddle home from the spinning and weaving shop. Warp with yarns decided yesterday. Would love to do some stripes. The painted warp rugs seemed to confuse people, though they have all sold except one, but how to you decide what room to put a rug in when one end has highlights of olive and the other burgundy?

Tuesday - blog, chores and maybe a bit 'o weaving in the morning, work with really wonderful people on several projects including the Ozark Christmas Carol until 5ish, then dinner, chores and spinning, hopefully finishing out Frits fleece and starting on Chantilly's.

And so on... I think I'll have the two shawls on my big looms done, along with about half-a-dozen that I have finished already, a small but good selection of rugs, several handbags, hats and scarves and lots of yarn. Lena's been working on some beautiful knitting needles. The bois d'arc ones feel like glass and are so gorgeous to look at. Shawn's backed up on orders, but he'll at least be doing some custom crochet hooks that day. We'll be ready on December 11, and I hope you'll all come join us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Busman's Holidays

Shawn and I started out car-pooling with each other, spent years working together, then years traveling to craft shows together, then years commuting a long distance to work together.
Now, for the last year, even though we both work at the Ozark Folk Center, we live close enough that we often don't even drive in together. We both miss our time in the car to talk, plan, chat, muse, discourse, rant and be silly. We miss that connection we made while filling up the hours and miles in the car with hopes and dreams.

So, as the season wound down in the Craft Village at the Ozark Folk Center, we started traveling to nearby towns to check out the crafting world in those areas. When we were in Hot Springs last Sunday, the scrimshaw artist we were visiting with, said, "Oh, so you're taking a busman's holiday." I had heard and used the term before, so I know what it means, but where did it come from?

Looking it up on the web shows that it is from the 1800's (way before motor buses) and that it does mean to take a holiday that is similar to your work. But I have yet to find a story that satisfies me as to where the phrase came from. Anybody want to offer any explanations?

So far, we've gone to Eureka Springs, Mountain Home and Harrison to look at Arts and Crafts galleries, hobby stores, studios and to visit with crafts people. Thus far, these visits have left me so impressed with what we have in Mountain View.

The next towns we have on our list are Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hardy, Batesville and Hot Springs. I'll let you know if we find any real treasures.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On my soapbox

Before any one ever coined the word "locavore or localvore" (a word which I dislike. It sounds like some monster from a horror flick) I have been saying "Know you producer. Eat food grown by people you know!"

And as a crafts person in the United States and as a person who is responsible through my job and various boards for helping other crafts people, I have often written emails to groups like Novica and Kiva asking why they don't help people in the US? I know many people (mostly working artists) in our county who live without indoor plumbing, an automobile or other things that many Americans take for granted. Aren't their dreams and designs as deserving of support as someone on the other side of the globe? Take care of your own first.

Now, through the growth of internet communities, I see that support coming home. I just pledged to help a group I've followed for several years through KickStarter. I'm sure there's a lot on there that I wouldn't support, but it is a wonderful concept. And I see through articles that Kiva Bank has come to the US. It seems strange that it takes the World Wide Web to bring the concepts of community, sharing and caring for your neighbor back home.

Ok, off my soapbox and out to milk goats...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Handmade Christmas Classes

Amy's leather Christmas ornaments

Well, I got all the students settled with their teachers in their respective classrooms and I can hear the low murmur of craft classes starting. This year the Handmade Christmas Folk School classes that made were the:
Corn shuck nativity
Decorating with Nature
Frame looms, fibers and finishes
Wood Turning - spindle turning
Handmade Herbal Gifts
Reed Basket Weaving
Stained Glass Ornaments

They are all progressing happily into learning their crafts.

This session of Folk School is a hard one. It is really too close to the Holidays for most people, but we are so busy in October and early November that this is the first weekend we can open up especially for classes. So, we'll keep on holding it this weekend and gathering the students who want a refreshing change of pace before the hectic holidays begin.

One thing that has been developing from it is people booking classes at a time when it works for them. Our design-your-own workshops are becoming more popular and we keep adding teachers and subjects all the time. Take a look at the links and let me know what classes you'd like to take.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stash busting -an early resolution

My diamond shelf that my kids built for me
I love yarn. I love the colors, the texture, the drape, the weight. I love the feel of it gliding through my hands as I crochet. I love to wind it into warp for my loom. I love to look a my diamond shelf and mentally combine color possibilities for shawls. I love yarn.

And I lots of yarn. In addition to my diamond shelf full, I have an entire table top full of baskets of my handspun on the other side of the workshop. I also have 6 large gray tubs full of yarn under our king-sized bed. Shawn swears that one of the 4-horse trailer loads that it took us to move to Arkansas was full of yarn. That's not true, there were looms and spinning wheels and other large items in that load, too.

So, I've decided that this year, I am going to keep up my production for galleries, shows and studio tours - without buying another skein, cone, hank or ball of yarn for the entire year. This should stretch my creativity. I already have an interesting shawl on the home workshop loom that would not have been created if I could have gone out and bought the yarn that I envisioned to go with the yarn I had.

It's an interesting challenge to myself. I'll keep you posted on how it's going.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Meet my Fritillary

This year is an F-year in our naming progression, and so we have Finesse and Freely and Fancy and Filigree and First and so on. The Arkansas State Butterfly is the Diana Fritillary. We had a huge flock of them in Meadow Creek. They are black with brilliantly colored fringes - females are blue and the males are yellow. Not only are they a beautiful Ozark native, I love saying the word "Fritillary."

When Fritillary was born, she was a soft, fluffy little fluttery angora goat kid. Her mum is Bramble and Cappucino is her sire. I've often said you have to be careful when naming things. Frits has grown up to be as hard to catch as your average butterfly. She flitters and flutters around the edge of the flock, never quite alighting for feeding when humans are near. She also has these funny, sticky-outy ears that make her look like she is trying to fly. On the rare times I do manage to catch her, I call her my fat, furry little flutterby.

Fritillary's first shearing was a few weeks ago and I couldn't wait to spin her kid fleece. It was locky and fine and soft and strong. I'm about halfway through it and Shawn is tired of hearing me ooh and ahh over how wonderful it is to spin. The yarn I just finished last night is spun lace weight, plied with space-dyed mauve/maroon wool. It would crochet up into a divinely soft scarf or two. And, if the skeins don't sell at the Dec. 11 studio tour, then that's what I'll do with it.

Female Diana Fritillary, Arkansas official state butterfly, photo courtesy of the Paris Chamber of Commerce from the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Those dilemmas you love to have

Ok folks, help me out with this one.
I am getting ready for the Dec. 11 winter studio tour. I've been spinning lots of luscious mohair and Lena's been dyeing it up for me.
Bramble and her kids fleeces are my favorite to spin right now. This is Bram and her last year's daughter and this year's twins.

This is the shawl I wove out of Bramble's spring 2010 fleece that Lena dyed with blues and yellow. The overall effect is a green shawl, like the green of the mountain behind our house in early summer.

This is the yarn I spun out of Bramble's fall 2010 fleece that we sheared the end of October. Lena dyed it for me using blues and reds. It came out a wide mix of glistening purples.

Now the dilemma - do I weave this beautiful mohair into a shawl like the one above (that so many have admired, but I don't want to sell) or do I offer the skeins for sale at the Dec. 11 Studio Tour?

Your thoughts?

The big bucks

Last night, about 1 a.m., I heard a goat crying. It wasn't a hurt cry, it was an upset, or maybe in heat cry. So I listened for a while, but it only got more strident. So I got up to check it out.

Footloose, the kid dairy goat buck was not having any luck sharing his pen with Dapper Dan the Jacob ram. One of Dan's girls was in heat and Dan was very frustrated. He was chasing Footsie back and forth across the pen. Footsie was complaining loudly. Moonshine, the Great Pyr guard dog, started to worry that his goat was upset and no human had come to fix it, so he began barking. My sleep addled brain decided that they would soon wake up the whole neighborhood and so I needed to do something.

I put on my white fluffy bathrobe and the nearest shoes I could find. I settled Moon and went over to coax Footsie past the ram and out of the pen, without getting smashed myself. Footsie was so happy to be saved, he rubbed his head all over the front of my robe and up and down my leg while I shut the gate.

If you've never met a dairy goat buck in rut, you have missed one of the truly unique odors in the world. It is a strong musk that most humans do not find pleasant. It comes from their urine, which they coat themselves with when they are in rut and from the scent glands behind their horns. My robe is now in the washing machine with some heavy duty soap. I wonder if that odor out spray works on musk?

I led the loving and happy buck over to the milk goat paddock. All the does are happily bred, so he hasn't seen the girls in a while. Normally, I would not let the buck near the milkers as his musk can taint the milk, but I couldn't figure out any other place to put him at 1 a.m. He was so excited to see the girls. Suddenly I felt something warm on my legs and across my feet. Bucks like to mark things they like and they like to show off their aim when they are happy. I stood there at the gate and thought, with some degree of sarcasm and sleep-slowed wit, "this is why I get the big bucks."

Then I got back into the house and discovered I had put on my favorite black leather work shoes in the dark. They are now washed and hanging on my spinning wheel to dry. If the odor remover works, I'll let you know.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hoop houses or waiting for g-barn

We've been here at Havencroft for a year now. In that year, we've moved ourselves, a woodworking studio, a fiber arts studio, a full farm of sheep, goats, horse, angora goats, llama, dogs and cats as well as all the associated paraphernalia for everything to the farm. We've built fences (lots of fences) and a full shop for Shawn. We've put in a driveway and parking lot (I love my parking lot). But we still don't have the finances or the time to put up a barn.

So, we built hoop houses. Using welded wire cattle panels and tarps and t-posts and two-by-fours, we put up  seven of these to provide shelter for all the critters and to be my milk barn this winter. They may need to last a few winters, but I think they will.

When we do decide where the barn(s) needs to go, and how we are going to build it, and actually get it built, then the hoop houses will revert to being fence panels. I can always use more sheep fencing.

Here's Dapper Dan, our Jacob ram, posing in front of his hoop house. My milk barn and the gorgeous crab apple tree are in the background.
Though slightly small, the hoop house even works for Fria. After all, Arabians are tent horses, aren't they?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chiming the change in weather

Eons ago, or maybe it was only decades, I bought a set of wind chimes at the Colorado Renaissance Festival.
They have big pipes and are tuned like church bells, a rich, low, melodious sound. I'm sitting and listening to them this morning as I wait for the coffee to finish brewing and I realized that those bells have signaled every weather change to my brain for so long, that my subconscious needs their ring to really notice the change.
This morning it is still warm, but cloudy, breezy, damp and it feels like rain.
Oh, we need the rain!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sunrise, fall and

 Dapper Dan the ram and Footloose the dairy goat buck are trying to learn how to live together. Neither of them wants to - they both want to live with their respective girls. But Dan- man has too many daughters and ladies to old to breed in his flock, and Footsie smells like a buck in rut, not something I want near my milk goats. So when Dan broke in with the sheep flock yesterday, with the help of his ladies, Lena and Shawn caught him and moved him into the high, tight, strong pen where Footsie lives.
All night long they've been chasing and scuffling and normally quiet Footsie has been complaining loudly. They haven't been fighting - if they did, we'd find other living accommodations for one of them. Rams fight by putting their heads down and charging - bucks fight by rearing up on their hind legs and crashing down on each other. The two styles don't communicate well with each other.
I just went out to start chores and the crabapple tree in the side yard is about the most beautiful tree I've ever seen. All the outside leaves are brilliant red and all the inside ones are still green. The morning sunrise is highlighting it brilliantly. I'd take a picture, but I've been so disappointed with my pictures of fall color this year. It is beautiful, like right now our neighbor's driveway is lined with blaze orange bradford pears, but it just doesn't seem to be coming across in pictures.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seven sevens

They say, (the ever present communal memory), that our body replaces all of its cells, except brain, every seven years. So every seven years, you have a new you. That seven thing is also present in common thought with the "seven year itch" concept.
So, I'm 49. That's seven sevens. Here I have been, waiting for the great 50, which much of our society thinks of as an achievement and celebrates wholeheartedly (here in the Ozarks I might get to go beyond "young pup" stage when I hit 50) and I almost missed that I was this great and wonderful age of 49!

New Goats

Here's the new buck and two does that are joining our angora flock. We'll wait a week or so to let them settle in and then shear them. They'll be wearing Matilda Fleece covers most of the winter.
Looks like some nice fleece and I'll finally be able to make that white rug!

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They had names in the past, and maybe even registration papers.
I've been reading books from the 1800's (courtesy of the Google Library project) about the origins of the angora goats for interpretations and demonstrations that I do. The angora goats originated in Turkey. Books by John Lord Hayes (1882), S. C. Cronwright Schreiner (1898), and the March 1911 Popular Mechanics all have wonderful information about early importations and culture of angora goats in the US.
All of the goats in the antique photos are listed with their names. So, with that as solid precedent (boy I have been reading the stilted language of the 1800's!) I have named the new flock Sultan, and to his left Nasrin (wild rose) and Beyza (very white).
Come visit the Ozark Folk Center through the month of November and meet the new flock.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sheep sense

Our sheep have a "pen" that is about half-an-acre where they live most of the time. At the top of the pen is a little wooded area that stays about 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the world on sunny summer days. When they are in their pen, the sheep are smart enough to spend their days resting up under the trees, chewing their cud and watching the world drift by below them.

They also have a pasture, that is about an acre. Earlier this year, before it got so hot, we let them out in the pasture for the day and put them in their more secure pen at night. Then it got hot and the pasture grass quit growning, so we kept the sheep penned up. They had their nice routine of socializing and eating hay all night, then resting under the trees in the heat of the day.

Last week, we got a few rains and the pasture grass had a growth spurt. After a few evenings of letting the sheep graze for a couple hours in the evening, I turned them out for the day yesterday morning so they could have the day out to pasture. They have fresh water and salt licks in both the pen and pasture.

When I went home at 2:00 to let the dogs out and check on the sheep. They were out in the sun, in the pasture, trying to graze and panting with open mouths. Gluttony is a powerful force. I tried to herd them in but they ran in all directions. I decided it would be worse to let them run than it would be to leave them out in the pasture. They all survived their foolishness and happily came into their pen for dinner. Funny how they want their dinner after spending the day eating.

This morning, the sheep are in their pen, up on the berm, under the trees, resting. They asked to go out after breakfast, but I told them to be happy they had a shepherd. They can go out this evening when it is a bit cooler and they won't be risking heat stroke while searching for that perfect bite of grass.