28 December 2008

What Was I Thinking?

Musings on the February Lady Sweater:

1) A lovely pattern... for someone who isn't pear-shaped like me.

2) I like the color I chose, but I don't like the "Factory Farms" yarn. Splitty.

3) Come to think of it, I don't much like "Factory Farm Yarns" itself any more. I had an awful time with their interchangeable needles. I did some research online and found out many people had trouble with them. Yes, I know they are exchanging them out... but for how long? And why should I have to wait when I want to knit?

I also had several poor experiences with "Factory Farm Yarns'" customer service. We're talking bad enough to make me cry.

I then heard that "Factory Farm Yarns" allegedly asked for information from an American craftsman (someone I actually know) about how his product was made... and promptly took that information, and resources from the craftsman's supplier, and had their own similar product manufactured overseas. The craftsman's handmade items - and his family - took a hit. Not cool.

I realize that "Factory Farm Yarns'" prices are "good" - but with those low prices comes a lack of personal attention. When I made a goof on this sweater using "Factory Farm's" yarn, I certainly wasn't going to be rude enough to take it to my LYS to ask for their help. So I saved some money, but who did I have to help me out?

And if I don't support my local LYS, they may not be there in the future! That's more important than ever with the little hiccup the economy just had. I'll be damned if I'll see Dixie ever go out of business, after she and Cindi were so kind and welcoming to me. If not for the LYS, I probably wouldn't have any friends in this town, as that's the only place a farmer lady gets to meet others - and I've met so many dear people there! (Hi Sue, Sonja, Dianne, and of course Michelle!)

I don't buy factory farmed meat. As with my food, I want to buy local when it comes to my yarn and needles - needles that I may just need the same day in an emergency, rather than a week later... and ones which I expect to last a lifetime rather than fall apart on their first outing.

So I'm making a couple of resolutions for 2009:

Buy local in all things and support vendors in my community. If I need something they don't have, I'll buy from another small vendor (I will be loyal to YDK but I can continue shopping at The Loopy Ewe for Araucania, and because of their great personal service.)

No more "Factory Farm Yarns". I'm not sending my dollars straight to their executives' pockets, with no benefits going to the poor people in other countries who make their allegedly copied stuff.

No. More. Sweaters. I need simple, meditative knitting that I can pick up at any time, without following a pattern - especially with Chef Jeff here after his company's reorganization! [SHOOT ME NOW, SHOOT ME NOW!] I just gave over half of my clothes to Goodwill because, living on a farm, I never wear anything that isn't sweats/fleece or Polartec or denim.

With four dogs jumping on me all day, I definitely do not need a lace cardigan. (A lace shawl, though, to take away this constant chill, would be a good thing. And that's what I'm going to cast on with my YDK yarn just as soon as I've ripped out this cardigan. Maybe before.)

And I would like to knit more for charity in 2009 - helpful for my mental state, and helpful to someone who actually needs clothing.

Now, what to do with my "Factory Farm Yarns" stash...? It's bugging me to look at it. I feel like a sellout having it here.

Chef Jeff is cooking duck a la Francais tonight; olives, capers, fennel, and red wine. He's also making duck stock. The smells here tonight are making my stomach growl! I guess it isn't so bad having him home for a time (but ask me how I feel after I've seen the pots, pans, dishes, and glasses in the kitchen later tonight!)

26 December 2008

Pax, Amor, et Lepos in Iocando*

Happy New Year, dear friends. May it be one of abundance, in all good things, for you!

* Peace, Love, and a Sense of Fun

16 December 2008

Book And Interview Found

Yesterday I wrote about a radio show I'd heard that discussed the benefits of knitting (and other crafts) on depression, but I couldn't find a link for you.

The lovely Linda M. commented:

I'm pretty sure I heard some part of the story discussing knitting as a help against depression on To The Best Of Our Knowledge this past Sunday morning. I was listening with half an ear and started paying attention when I realized they were talking about knitting :-)

Thanks to Linda, I was able to find it!

It was in Segment Three of this show, and you can listen to it from that page. Here's the description:
Kelly Lambert, author of "Lifting Depression: A Neuro-scientist's Approach to Activating Your Brain's Healing Power," tells Anne Strainchamps about her brain research into how using both hands on crafts projects can be as beneficial to the body as taking psychoactive medication.

I also found this info:
Each hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge is podcast for one week following broadcast. To subscribe, go to the NPR Podcast directory at http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=4819402

It was a really interesting interview and I hope you'll have a chance to listen to it. Thanks much, Linda!

15 December 2008

Finally Fiber

I finally have some fiber updates to share!

The lost silver Glitter has been found behind a bookcase! I can start on my blue DROPS shawl.

I've got a good amount of bulky handspun piling up from the fleece of our Jacob ewe Gruyere.

My progress thus far on the February Lady Sweater. I'm enjoying knitting this easy lace pattern.

In Farm News

We took advantage of yesterday's warmer weather to do vaccinations, hoof trimming, and deworming on the 24 goats. I was dragging my heels, but we can't procrastinate caring for our babies.

The left side has been trimmed, right side has not:

We clip hooves with a Felco trimmer - it is similar to their pruners. Great tool and worth the price.

The hoof in back has not been trimmed; the foot in front is almost finished:

Chef Jeff measures Dexter with a weight tape to calculate the amount of topical dewormer to apply. Dexter came to us as a buck but is now a very happy wether:

Since we rotate our goats' pastures, we worm only twice a year, to ensure prevention of secondary health problems like anemia. We used an herbal dewormer and found it didn't work well at all; recent scientific studies have corroborated our anecdotal discovery.

We now use Dectomax, which is not yet FDA-approved for goat use, but which our vet has prescribed to us for off-label use on goats and sheep at 1cc per 22 lbs. topically. It is safe, effective, and very easy to administer. It does not remain on our sheep fleeces, which is extremely important to me.

We could not do without our milking stand when taking care of the goats. Here is our massive two-year-old Boer/dairy doe, Frieda (the herd queen), weighing in at 180 pounds...

... and here is our Nigerian Dwarf doeling, Sitka, at 78 pounds:

Little Elfine, born this spring, is our smallest goat; she is just 45 pounds, and too short for the stand!

Weather Update

I am seriously not liking this weather today.

My new jacket is awesome - I don't get cold outside at all. The trouble is staying warm inside this drafty old firetrap!

Health Care - Skip At Will

I heard a great story on NPR a couple of days ago about knitting helping depression. For the life of me, I can't find a link, though I've searched for way too long now. Keep your eyes peeled for it - I think it was on Talk Of The Nation, in their book discussion...?

NPR is doing a series comparing health care in America to that in other countries. It should be interesting.

Lael (and others), I'm grateful for your comments. If my friends didn't feel comfortable having opinions that differed from mine, I would never learn anything new. (And Lael, I totally owe you an e-mail - I haven't forgotten!)

I do feel that privatized health insurance buying pools, which would make coverage affordable to the self-employed and un- or under-insured, are a great idea. I'm all for coverage for everyone - just not overseen by the government (which will do everything possible to cut costs, and will likely make a mess of things), and not at a 50% or higher income tax rate.

Such pools would also encourage those who can work to work in order to afford such benefits, rather than encourage freeloading.

I certainly don't want to be financially responsible for people who smoke, or don't exercise, or otherwise don't take care of themselves. If everyone buys their own insurance, I believe it will cost us each less than if the government "buys it for us" with our tax dollars. We can still achieve similar economies of scale in purchasing, while maintaining a competitive market where our doctors' treatments are not dictated by governmental limitations on their services.

One significant reason people may live longer in some other countries is because (thus far) they have not had the sedentary lifestyle we Americans have "enjoyed". Nor the fast food. Nor suburbs, which require the use of cars instead of feet in order to go shopping or to work. I lost a significant amount of weight when I lived abroad, only to gain it back upon returning to an American way of life.

I want name-brand drugs, not non-equivalent (see last post's link - it is factual) generics. I want to spend an hour with my doctor if necessary, not 15 minutes; and I want to choose my doctor. If I need surgery, I do not want to wait a year to have it. If I need mental health care, or treatment for a syndrome which has not yet been defined as a "disease," I don't want it deemed as unnecessary by a bureaucrat. To provide care to those who don't have it should not limit the care of those who can afford it. Socialized medicine has bankrupted the health care systems of some countries who have initiated it,; now everyone's equal... in the lack of high quality (and not just minimal) health care.

Because of Jeff's job in the health care industry, I have access to actual, concrete facts and statistics on these topics. From my personal experience with friends and family who are experiencing many problems with socialized medicine, I gain first-hand insight. I'm not forming my opinions based on information from the politicized media in the US, or based on my emotions. How I feel about what everyone should receive is very different from what I believe to be practical and in the country's best interest.

A question I have asked myself is, if other countries' socialized health care systems are so wonderful, why do many Canadians and Europeans choose to come to the United States, at their own out-of-pocket expense, for procedures?

Just because something is available doesn't mean it should be "free to all." How would we feel if the government decided that, because there is nice handspinning rare sheep wool available, they will make us sell it to them, at a deep discount with a loss of profit to wool growers, in order to provide free clothing to the masses... and by the way, they will increase our income taxes to 50% to cover the administration of the program? Would we continue to breed sheep?

Do I believe the government will fund the research and development of new medicines (a very expensive undertaking, which takes decades, the results of which maybe 10% or less of new medications will end up being feasible)? No way, José.

People don't understand that when a company - any successful company - makes a profit, it is most often reinvested into company growth (= more jobs!) and research and development (= scientific advances! Potential cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's!) Profits don't automatically get deposited in an executive's bank account... if they did, the company would fail in no time.

Many folks also don't understand that "evil corporate executives" and "evil corporations" donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities and the arts. "Evil drug companies" provide FREE medications to those in the U.S. who can't afford them, as well as entire third-world countries! The government won't foot the bill for that!

I suggest that if people want socialized medicine, they consider moving to a country that offers it. Personally, I want to continue to live in a country which offers the freedom to succeed or fail, to buy or do without, due to one's own merits and abilities. With rights come responsibilities. And we can make modifications to the current system without going to an extreme.

I actually wish I lived back in the days when doctors made house calls and were paid in ham and eggs or good old-fashioned cash, and when we didn't have the "benefit" of being kept alive after losing our physical or mental faculties just because it is possible to do so.

Complicated issues, for sure!

Hope you are staying cozy and comfortable today! Be well.

Congress Puts Santa Out Of Business... Please Help!

Wow, not to get all wigged out and political on you for two posts in a row, but this just came to my attention and I think it's very important to us crafters!

Trying to appear as if they are actually doing something to benefit us (after the fact), Congress is now making laws that would put Old Saint Nick right out of business: no handmade toys from artisan toymakers (read: Etsy folks) will be able to be sold (legally) without prohibitive costs to the makers for required testing.

Please go here to read about it in simple terms, and to find an instant, easy link and ready-made letter so that you can contact your representatives.

Honestly, it's a case of too little, too late... Why on earth are we trading with a Communist country, with horrible human rights policies, anyway? Hint to the U.S. Goverment: they hate us! It's no wonder they put melamine in our pet food and lead paint on our kids' toys! How 'bout we spend our dollars in, oh, Sweden, maybe?

I would be utterly remiss if I didn't tell you about my favorite candles, by AromaNaturals - or that they are having a 25% off sale until December 30th with the code "Wish" entered at checkout.

We've been enjoying AromaNaturals candles for many years. They offer a true aromatherapy experience, with natural (not perfume) essential oils. They are a tidge pricey, but with this discount it's the perfect time to check them out - we think you'll become addicted, as we are (Chef Jeff will not let me burn any other brand of candles in the house.)

Our favorites are Relaxing (Lavender/Tangerine) and Ambiance (Orange/Lemongrass). They have little "trial" tins of most of the scents, and three special ones available for the holidays: Wish, Evergreen, and Peace (Ruby). I just ordered a new stock for gifts - they would make perfect stocking stuffers for your recipients, too!

I need to light up my Relaxing candle soon... having DH home for three days is already making me bonkers. I keep going from room to room, picking up things he's left behind (snacks, maps, work papers, notes, glasses). This must be what it feels like to have a toddler. Mothers of small children, you have my sympathy.

Hope you'll have a great rest of the week. Me? I've got some cookie baking to finish... My first attempts at decorated cupcakes reminded me of the Frank Zappa song about the Huskies and the yellow snow...
guess I should have left out the orange flavoring in the frosting (sigh).

Maybe I should have put a little plastic dog and hydrant on there instead of the deer?

08 December 2008

Holiday Spirit

Chef Jeff found out the day after the election that his company was laying off 1800 people. I have heard of doctors actually quitting their practices due to the impending health care changes; they know they won't be able to provide the standard of care they would wish to while limited by government time and cost mandates.

I'm afraid that people who desire "health care for everyone" might not realize that they'll be paying for it with their taxes, and that it will mean substandard, government-"coordinated" (ahem) care for them and their families - those without care may get it, but those with health care will lose much of what they've come to expect. Physicians and health care companies already know that. Socialized medicine is an interesting idea - but "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch," and the government hasn't exactly been great at administrating "helpful" programs thus far (Google "Indian reservation").

I'm afraid I don't subscribe to a Sesame Street-ish, feel-good attitude that, if we just believe what politicians tell us, we'll live in a Utopia of free, top-quality medical care. Words are cheap... good medical treatment, and good medicines, are not. *

A few days ago, Chef Jeff found out that he would be retained - yes, we have been on eggshells this entire time, which did not make for a very joyful Thanksgiving, but did make for vastly increased wine consumption during that particular holiday. Good thing Festival Foods had a by-the-case sale.

Chef Jeff, relieved and thankful, therefore decided that this holiday was one of celebration and deserved a real tree.

Tree shopping in Eau Claire is vastly different than in Milwaukee. Here, they use the honor system:

And our huge Fraser fir tree was a bargain at $35; in Milwaukee, this would be about $100! What are trees going for in your neck of the woods? Just curious!

Chef Jeff got some new, efficient LED lights and decorated the tree perfectly.

Molly and Emma are all aglow with Yule colors as well:

I made the best ever mac and cheese the other night, and thought you might like the recipe, as it earned an "Excellent!" from Chef Jeff - something I've never received before. Just don't tell him how easy this is!

Homemade Mac and Cheese
Adapted from The Farmer's Wife Comfort Food Cookbook

2 T butter
2 T flour
2 c milk
1 tsp. salt

3 c pasta
salt for cooking water
1 c. grated cheese
2 c. buttered breadcrumbs (allow 1/8 as much butter as crumbs; melt butter, add crumbs, stir until coated)

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly oil a baking dish (mine was about 10x10).

Cook pasta in salted water until just al dente. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to baking dish.

Meanwhile, melt butter in skillet; add flour and salt and stir to blend. Cook a little while on low until "floury" flavor is gone, but do not burn! Add milk a little at a time, blending, and stir until thickened (it will still be a bit runny). Turn off heat. Add grated cheese and blend.

Pour sauce over pasta and top with breadcrumbs. Don't worry if it looks "liquid-y" - the pasta will absorb the liquid as the dish bakes. Cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until brown and bubbly. Major yum!

Chef Jeff is home for two weeks for re-training. He needs my computer and Internet connection for web conferences. He has already taken over my knitting room for studying.

I was going to post a pic of the new DROPS Inka seed stitch scarf I'm knitting, but I am being kicked out - no time to even make a link for you.

It's going to be a very loooooong holiday...

* I respect that you may not share my opinion. It is, however, founded on the following: the fact that I have many relatives living in two countries with socialized health care (it sucks for them); the fact that I have a dear friend who lives in a third country with socialized health care (it sucks for her); and the fact that many of our family members and friends are physicians, pharmacists, nurses, health care workers, or involved in pharmaceutical education. Therefore, I do feel justified in sharing my opinion on this subject on my personal blog.

07 December 2008

Amazing Grace

OK, even the Wondrous Emma Dobermint can't do this...



05 December 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things Part The Last (Probably), And Why I Love Molly

OK, folks, we're getting down to the wire here if you're still ordering holiday gifts, so here's something that I can highly recommend for those hard-to-shop-for recipients on your list: Penzey's Spices.

It's time to toss that ten-year-old tarragon, ditch the decrepit dill, and order some fresh, flavorful, aromatic spices from this fantastic (Wisconsin-based - yay!) vendor. If there's a baker on your gift list, why not order them a baker's box and replenish what they've depleted making this year's holiday treats? Someone love a good curry? Penzey's has them covered.

All the gift boxes come well-packed, surrounded with bay leaves and whole nutmegs which you can actually use. Penzey's often includes samples, and their catalogs have great recipes. They're sending $9 gift cards with certain orders placed before December 21st!

Penzey's gift boxes make great wedding presents, too!

Why I Love My Molly

As you saw on yesterday's entry, Molly is a rather... "unique" dog.

She has had three DNA tests, all of them inconclusive.

We think she's part wolverine.

If you never blow up another pic on my blog, blow up this one!

Emma adopted Molly from the Humane Association. From now on, we would probably think twice about letting a young Doberman choose her own pet. (Just kidding!)

We're not entirely sure that the glow in Molly's eyes is actually from the camera flash, or some inner demonic possession.

I'll tell you more about Molly in my next entry. (Please note: Molly is NOT vicious! She is only playing in all these pictures. I swear.)

03 December 2008

And The Winner Is...

"Let me pick it, Papa! Boris, stay away!"

"Here is the winner!"

"No, no, MINE! MY winner!"

"Not giving it too you... la la la la la..."

"Did I hear someone say 'cookie'? PTOO - here you go!"

Linda, please email me privately with your mailing address, and I'll get the Yo Yo Ma CD right out to you. Happy holidays!

02 December 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things, Part Five

As the countdown to holiday gift giving continues, I have a few more of my favorite things to share with you.

For the environmentally conscious on your list, may I suggest a basket from Juniper Ridge? Their organic, sustainably-harvested natural goodies smell just wonderful. Chef Jeff loves their Siskiyou Cedar soap; my favorite is Desert Piñon. Wreaths, tea, smudge sticks, incense, sachets - you can give your recipient the true scent of the West.

For someone who isn't feeling very well, how about a package from Healing Baskets? They have some simply wonderful ideas for sharing comfort and helping you to say what's in your heart. They have specific items pertaining to cancer, divorce, loss, or the blues - touching and thoughtful items. You can choose to have them sent as a prepared basket if you so desire.

Not sure of someone's shoe size? Zappos offers free shipping, exchanges, and returns! I have purchased several pair of shoes and boots from them and their service is fantastic. They offer super-speedy delivery, even with the "standard" option (it always comes faster than they say it will!)

I didn't realize that walking around on farmland would be so traumatic to my feet. The Birkies and Keds were abaondoned after bouts of plantar fasciitis and twisted ankles. Next came waterproof workboots, which were great for a while, but the ground here is as tough as farm life, and the leather soon became too loose to offer any support. So what does the modern farmerette pick as her footwear of choice? Technical hiking boots with outstanding support! Oh geez, they're on sale now! Shoot! Well, I'd buy them at twice the price after wearing them - they are awesome and I can't recommend them highly enough. I have narrow, flat feet and they are the most supportive and comfortable shoes I've ever worn. They're standing up great to daily farm use.

Zappos also carries Ariat riding and western boots, which are lovely for any horse (donkey, mule) owner on your list.

Speaking of farm duds, I'm really pleased with the Lands' End jacket which arrived a few days ago. I can pretty much guarantee you that you will not be the least bit cold while wearing this coat, whether in Chicago, North Dakota, or Alaska! It's fantastic and super toasty... even without a bunch of layers underneath, even while standing still!

I now understand why Inuit coats have fur around the hood - the (fake) fur on this hood keeps the wind and snowflakes off of my face, kind of dispersing them before they can hit me. Love it. Another thing I really love about it is that it has a two-way zipper (very helpful when bending to fill chicken feeders or pick out the donkeys' hooves). It zips up past my chin, but no metal touches my face - just cozy polarfleece. Great design - nothing worse than a cold zipper on your chin or neck!

This jacket gets an A- - the minus being only for the fact that the pocket openings aren't angled. But as I'm usually carrying an egg basket or water bucket while wearing it, that's not a big deal. Sign up for the Lands' End e-mails before you place an order - they're offering great sales and free shipping bonuses these days.

For your favorite epicurean, what about a custom tea blend from Adagio? Choose their favorite flavors, name the tea, and then upload artwork for a custom label. Yum! (I believe you must create an account and be logged in to have access to this option in the "blends" section - yes, I just checked, you do.) Not sure what your tea lover likes? Adagio offers several samplers of "trial size" tea tins.

I have my own blend there - it's called Chocolat Framboise Caramel. Guilt-free indulgence.

Here's my favorite pic of the day: Molly sleeping.

When she's awake, Molly has a curly tail like a Husky. Sometimes, when she's very sleepy, or asleep, she forgets to keep it curled up.

I have already fallen behind on my holiday preparations. I have some caramels made and ready to be shipped to dear friends in Belarus, but my plum pudding has not yet been steamed, nor have I started on the liqueurs or sugar cookies (though I have received all my orders of cutters, decorations, and ingredients, thank goodness!)

Having Chef Jeff home for a long holiday weekend meant the kitchen was in a constant state of messiness, and I'm only now catching up on the cleaning, and making room to work.

I also have been a bit distracted by that DROPS alpaca shawl that I started - once I had a few rows completed, the pattern was easy to memorize, and I'm enjoying listening to Jaques Pepin's biography while sneaking in a few rows a day. The shawl is knit from the center top (10 stitches) downward and outward - my favorite construction method. The yarn is super soft, and not at all splitty - yay! Mine came from YDK, of course.

Have a lovely week!