Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Journey of Scavenging

You scavengers out there don't need me to tell where to go for your cast-away treasures but, for all of you who have not yet acted on your scavenging yearnings (but are now ready to), a great place to start is Craigs List. Go there and find your town (or nearest town that has a listing) and then navigate to the For Sale Section and there you will find a link for Free items.

That is exactly how I found this cool mirrored door:

I was on the trail of free wood with which to make furniture. I found a "free wood" listing on Craigs list, called the folks, met at their house (which they were remodeling) and quickly realized that the "free wood" was much closer to "fire wood". But the scavenger's journey has a lateral component so, rather than give up and leave, I decided to chat with the friendly "free wood" folks and, in the process, spied the nice little mirrored door leaning up against their trash pile. "Gettin' rid of that door?", I asked off-handedly. "Yeah, want it?" they offered. And that's how a quest for wood ended in something entirely different. It will be the subject of my next furniture creation. Stay tuned for that!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Fiber Mill in Action

For the past 6 months or so Jennifer has volunteered at a local fiber mill helping to process fiber of all sorts. It's a very basic, but interesting process and with all the cool fiber folks around, it's a grand time. Here's a look into the Wooly Knob Fiber Mill in Laotto, Indiana.

Folks from all around North America ship or drop off fiber at the mill to be processed. Most are sheep and goat fleeces but angora rabbit is not uncommon nor is companion animal's fur or plant fiber such as cotton. The fiber usually arrives in a sealed plastic trash bag, which is checked in and given a card to document who the fleece belongs to, what type of animal it came from, weight, etc. All fiber is to be skirted, or cleaned of vegetative matter, animal poop, insects, etc. prior to arrival, but if it is not Wooly Knob workers will skirt the fleece for an additional charge.


The skirting table is basic plastic snow fencing stretched across a wood frame to allow the discarded material (vegetative matter, etc) to drop through or be pushed through or thrown under the table where it will later be cleaned up and discarded. Pictured below is alpaca fiber.

A view of the skirting table with Matt's (one of the owners) fiber sculpture.

A close up of the alpaca; it's so different from wool! From what I've gathered alpaca is usually processed with wool so the fiber will hold together. Alpaca almost reminds me of human hair.

My pal Julie and local fiber artisan extraordinaire skirting a wool fleece.

The fiber that's been picked through is put into a bag, weighed with weight noted on the documentation card and moved on to Washing.

Step 2 - WASHING

Fiber is split up into about 1 lb sections and put into netted laundry bags, three per sink as shown below.

Hot, hot water is released into the sink with washing soda and detergent to clean the grease and other dirt off the fiber. The bags of fiber go through successive washings and spins in the washer to remove the water until the water is clean and the bags float. This may take anywhere from 3 - 7 or more washings.

While the fiber is floating in the hot water the bags are gently agitated with a paint roller to get the water and soap to move through. Here is Jamie (the other owner) working on a batch.

Step 3 - DRYING

After the fiber is washed and clean, it's time for drying. Large racks made of more snow fencing and wood frames are located in the middle of the front room of the mill. The fiber is laid on these racks until dry.

Step 4 - CARDING

The point of skirting, washing & drying is to get the fiber ready for the carding stage where it is made usuable for spinning, felting, etc. This can be done by hand carders or with a carding machine. At the mill, Jamie runs a carding machine day after day to get everyone's orders turned into the roving or batts they want to make their handcrafted fiber projects. The carding machine consists of a belt on the backside where fiber to be carded is laid.

A series of drums pick up the fiber, spins them around, arranges the fibers in the same direction and spits it out the other side where Jamie is ready and waiting. Look at that jovial guy!

This order called for roving and you can see it coming out in a nice long line that will be wound into a ball by Jamie. Batts are also possible on the carding machine and look the same as roving, but are much wider. Think fabric batts. At this point the fiber can be spun, felted, etc.

Cool huh?

If you ever need fiber processed, you know who to go to. The folks at Wooly Knob are the best!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Announcing a Phot-astic New Recurring Blog

Sure its great when TV news stories do a Google Earth "Fly-In" over Bagdad or Uzbekistan but what about the good old USA? Where's the deserved aerial attention for good old backbone-of-the-USA states like Kansas or Nebraska or Indiana?

Well, if you have a dsl or better internet connection and Google Earth Software, you can be like me (Steve) and "fly" around the US whenever your geographic curiosity strikes.

So in the interest of spreading my love of geography (to the end of spreading a larger appreciation for our earth and its natural areas), I'm going to periodically showcase interesting natural features of each of our US states using aerial coverage from Google Earth. Imagery from Google Earth can be use as such.

Let's start with Nebraska - home of the world's largest stabilized dunes - known as the Nebraska Sandhills.

Here's an aerial photo showing the state boundaries. You should be able to quickly notice patterns of color and texture as well as drainage patterns (rivers):

Zooming in on the NW part of Nebraska, where the dunes are located, notice the quilted pattern of the dunes, the choppy pattern of the adjacent agriculture use and the river in the lower left:

A bit closer:

Closer yet, showing the beautifully intricate pattern of dunes and interdunal lakes.

Jennifer and I visited this area awhile back and we often remember it as one of our top nature exploration trips. The vastness of the dunes and the great number of lakes made for some all-to-ourselves birding and hiking. We saw a great number and variety of waterfowl and a number of upland gamebirds. Here's an on-the-ground pic from Valentine National Wildlife Refuge:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whole Wheat Crackers and Homemade Hummus

Yesterday I made Molly Katzen's orange hummus from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (totally our favorite hummus - thanks A for turning us on to it) and some crackers to go with.

The crackers are super delicious but the structure was undermined by two things, I think: I forgot to cut them before baking them and I used whole oats instead of quick oats. Next time I try these I will run our whole oats through the blender to break them up and see if that helps the crackers stay together. Let me know if you try this recipe (found in one magazine or another) and how it holds up or if you have a different cracker recipe you love please share. I would love to give it a try.

Whole Wheat Crackers

3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
3 cups quick oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 300-325 degrees F. Blend liquid ingredients and pour into dry. Mix, roll (or smash) out dough on bottom of 2 large baking sheets to the edges. Sprinkle with salt. Cut into 2 inch squares. Bake for 30-40 minutes until crisp and brown. NOTE: I baked at 300 for the first 40 minutes and then bumped it up to 325 for the last 20 or so. My cookie sheets are fairly small so the thickness of the cracker made the cooking time to crispness longer.

Nice snack for the whole week!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Felting to Stave off the Winter Doldrums (Bracelets & Slippers)

A great way to keep out of the winter funk is to craft with friends! This weekend 4 of us got together to work on another felting project...See our first here.

A space to work, lots of fiber...

some new kinds for all of us:

water, soap and some creativity; that's all we really needed to get our felted bracelet project going.

A selection of roving and yarn for a vibrant bracelet...

Bracelets of this nature were a first for all of us so we experimented. I don't know that any of our bracelets ended up exactly how we thought they would, but we learned some things - like getting physical with the fiber.

This bracelet needed to get LOTS smaller so drastic actions were employed. Here are two photos documenting Alicia's technique: Throwing Your Felt Bracelet on the Ground.

The technique did seem to shrink the bracelet a bit so another was added for a linked bracelet set.

Purple roving for me...

I unknowingly laid fiber in a way that created a two strand bracelet. Cool.

My other bracelet - a bit larger than I would like. I am thinking cutting and adding snaps (or push buttons) might be a good option.

More fun color choices and a less physical way of felting for Janet...

We made slippers for our second group felting project, which I forgot to document with the camera. Here Caroline is finishing her's...

Some super sassy slippers that will keep her feet warm, warm, warm!

More crafting projects are on the agenda for the week, plus some nature posts and all sorts of other interesting stuff. :) Hope you all enjoyed a good weekend.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Yarn Making

A week or two ago my super cool friend who is organizing the Jay County Fiber Fest & Spin In gave me two balls of roving for spinning. This roving is a blend of mohair, wool & silk and is super soft and beautiful. I LOVE it. The mohair came from her goat and the wool from her sheep. I can't say if she raised the cocoons for the silk. In a few days I plan to post on how fiber gets from an animal to a ball of roving like the one pictured below. Stay tuned.

Here's a peak at my current spinning locale. Bounder likes to hang out and Steve's handmade wood stool makes a perfect seat. The windows are just to my right so I am often distracted by beautiful sunsets and singing birds and what not. I can't wait till warmer weather and spinning outdoors!

I am getting better at spinning. For those of you who are new readers, I very recently was gifted a spinning wheel and so am a super novice at spinning. Here is a look at my first yarn I made plied together. Some spots look pretty good and others hardly have twist because my drafting was so inconsistent.

Here's a look at my current yarn:

You can see there is not really any untwisted spots and the thickness is more consistent than before. If I was to leave this yarn single ply it would be WAY too twisty....need to work on that eventually too. For now I am working on properly drafting and getting a good treadling rhythm down. Still a long way to go, but it is fun so I know I will get there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Birds are Reflecting Effects of Global Warming

Despite debate on what we can "afford" to do about global climate instability that's being brought on by global warming there can be no debate as to whether or not it is worth study. And that is just what the National Audubon Society and Dr. Greg Butcher, Audubon's Director of Bird Conservation have been up to and have documented in the Birds and Climate Report.

Thanks to technology (and the people who work so hard to make technology easy for the rest of us), anyone with a computer, speakers and an internet connection can watch a webcast of the Birds and Climate Report! Here's when it is:

Event Date :
Friday, February 20, 2009
1:00 PM ET / 10:00 AM PT

Here's how to watch it:

Click here to register. You just need to do a quick sign-up and will then be taken to a page to test if your internet connection can handle the webcast.

Knowledge is Empowering!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stay On The Ride...It's Gonna Take You Somewhere

This post's title paraphrases some Patty Griffin lyrics that have become very pertinent to us all of the sudden. Steve has recently accepted a job at Carlsbad Caverns National Park!!!

The "ride", of course, is life and our life together is a celebration of EVERYTHING. In other words, we enjoy working a compost pile as much as we enjoy working our way up a set of switchbacks to an alpine meadow. So we bop about a bit but our adventures are the intertwined threads of our life's braided stream!

So from our beloved Midwestern forests, fens and prairies we meander down to the Chihuahuan desert, sky islands and vastness of southern New Mexico/Far West Texas.

Here are a few of the places we will be exploring:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Big Bend National Park

Lincoln National Forest

That outta get us started:)

We certainly will continue all the activities that inspire us to blog but with a southwest flare!

Stay tuned.....

Monday, February 16, 2009

Got Scraps?

It is incredible - the amount of "scrap" wood that is ripe for the picking! I got a couple pieces of scrap cedar (Eastern Red Cedar) from my brother awhile back and it sat around for months - just looking and smelling good, like cedar does. I'm glad I kept it around despite it being underfoot because, the other day, something miraculously came of it:

I call this the "garden harvest basket". Now, how fun will it be to go out to the garden and fill this thing up with home grown produce? Guess we'll find out! I'm still working on the best way to attach the handles, then it'll be done.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

It's a snowy morning here - wow! Hard to believe we experienced 60 degree temperatures here just a few days ago, torrential rains and subsequent flooding. Wild weather!

Now back to more window photos. In the photo below if you look super duper close you will notice a little red squirrel resting on a branch. This little bugger was excited about the snow I tell you! Ripping around, flipping snow everywhere - quite fun to watch.

According to a friend, this fluffy type of snow we received is perfect for snow ice cream! Here is what she said: "The ultimate way to make it is if you have vanilla coffee creamer......but milk will do, plus a little sugar and vanilla." Sounds good! We need to try this.

Now, for the main topic of this post - The Great Backyard Bird Count! Our same friend with the ice cream recommendation reminded us of this super fun (& super helpful by way of documentation) activity. Instructions can be found here. It is really so easy - just a few minutes a day over the weekend and anyone can do it! This would be a great activity to do with your kids too.

Besides all our everyday bird visitors we've now added brown creeper (in photo below - look on the right side of the tree) and bald eagle to our report for The Great Backyard Bird Count! Yep, yesterday afternoon Steve spotted a large bird really high in the sky with unmistakable white head and tail. A mad dash for the binoculars allowed us to see a bit better this bald eagle flying from the north over our property and south into the Little River Vally. I wonder what else we will note this weekend!

SO lots going on this weekend - Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lifting The Veil Of Mystery On Pie-Making

Years ago my brother changed my must-make-everything-to-perfection existence with one simple sentence: "We ain't makin' watches.". That sentiment applied well to one particular situation then and has applied to many more since. I used to avoid trying something if I thought I could not do it perfectly. Now I try any darn thing I feel like and have yet to fail!

So let's apply the "We ain't makin' watches" to one of those elusive, mysterious things that only somebody else's grandma is supposed to be able to do - pie making!

We've got fruit trees so we make fruit pies, mainly. Here's what we do.

We put some fruit in a pan with just enough water to get it simmering. Once the fruit starts to break down a bit, we add a couple tablespoons of cornstarch, stirring it in. We then add 1/3 cup or so of sugar, stir in and bring back to simmering. While the fruit filling is simmering and becoming thicker we start on the crust.

There's only 4 ingredients to pie dough - flour, salt, water and shortening. We mix 2 and 2/3 cup flour and 1 tsp. salt, add 1 cup shortening and then cut that into the flour mixture until it is crumbly.

We then add 6 tablespoons of ice water and stir to form a dough. We quickly divide this dough into 2 equal balls, set one aside and...

...pat the other one into a 8-10 inch disc (using plenty of flour). We then apply a bit of flour to a rolling pin and roll the dough out. (We skip the commonly advised "refrigerate dough for 20 minutes" as we've found it to be unnecessary). such (working it in various directions):

We the roll the dough onto the pin...

...roll it onto the pie plate, pat it in and tear off the extra, poke some holes in the bottom with a fork and bake for 8 minutes at 425 degrees F:

By this time, we'd already finished our filling so, once the crust bottom has cooked for 8 minutes, we simply pour in the filling and roll the top on:

There's a lot of fancy ways to crimp the top but we just fold under the excess and...

...use a fork to form a fluted sort of edge:

We then cut some slits in the top with a sharp knife and bake it for another 45 minutes or so at 375 degrees F. By the time we get the dishes cleaned up and coffee made, we've got pie!!

When the coffee is all gone, so is half the pie! Pie is good, darn good. Try it, we did.