Thankfulness and Gratitude

Thanksgiving Day (in the United States) dawned here in Alaska with pinks and salmons in the east, promising sunny skies, at least for the morning.

Alpenglow lit the mountains to the north of our home, causing the snow to take on a rosy peach gleam above a mist-shrouded valley.

One of the aspects of winter I find I can truly appreciate and enjoy are the late sunrises, so I began my day with thanksgiving. And coffee.

Once I had coffee in hand, I dared to check the outside temperature. With the slight brightening of the new day, it was already easy to see the frost clinging tenaciously to every surface, so I wasn’t surprised to read 11F on the thermostat. Brrr!

Viewed from indoors, there was a fairyland quality to the dawn hour, tree limbs sparkling with crystals and the first brave little birds already darting to the bird feeders. I found myself humming one of the tunes from Disney’s “Enchanted” as I watched chickadees swoop and dance.

I caught the last half of the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, awed as usual by the Radio City Rockettes. Their precision never fails to amaze me as I think about how hard they work to achieve such perfection.

Sufficiently charged with caffeine, I managed 20 minutes on my stationary bike as Ronni and I watched the National Dog Show following the parade.

Being disappointed in the dog show’s choices of “Best in Show”, and having viewed more morning TV than I’d generally watch in a week, I turned the set off and settled in for a couple of hours of quiet spinning on my wheel.

Especially in the winter, I am grateful for my fiber-related hobbies. Between spinning, creating fiber batts on my drum-carder and knitting, I seldom find myself bored. I’m spinning up some brightly dyed pink yarn for one of my friends today. This should keep me awake until Thanksgiving dinner is served!

Little Miss Rhonda usually keeps me company while I work on my fiber projects, but today, she’s splitting her attention between me and the smell of turkey cooking downstairs. Yum!

She has ventured out onto the icy deck several times already today in search of the ever-elusive, dastardly squirrel.

I’ve adjusted one of her longer scent work leashes so she has exactly 12’ of freedom to scramble and chase, with me staying in the relative warmth of the partially closed sliding glass door – without risk of her squeezing under a deck rail and falling two stories down.

Ronni might consider it worth the risk if she could catch the squirrel mid-leap, but I assuredly do not. The longer leash seems a workable compromise.

I am more than grateful for our two ever-entertaining, loving little attention and heat-seeking missiles. Whether it’s a warm lap, a space heater or a bed by the wood stove, one always knows where to find a dachshund in the winter.

Well, it’s 4:00 pm, the sun is almost gone for the day and even I can now smell the turkey. Jerry must have just opened the oven door to baste the nice, juicy turkey breast he has baking.

So I’ll finish up by saying I am grateful today for a husband who enjoys putting together a holiday meal for the two of us (the dogs would say the four of us, but that’s mostly wishful thinking), even if it means watching his favorite TV shows at full volume.

Here’s hoping he’s willing to turn the volume down at dinner time. 😉 Meanwhile, I can barely hear it from fiber central (aka the bedroom).

Tomorrow, I’ll head to the Menard Center to walk off my Thanksgiving dinner – and be grateful for the ability to do that!

I’m lifting my glass of eggnog to you all right now, because on this special November day, I am thankful for each of you, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Soft and Dreamy

Ohhh … I’ve just started my next spin, and just had to share. It’s a 50/50 blend of hand-dyed alpaca and Tencel™ that I bought at a recent fiber arts retreat and although I’ve just begun, it’s spinning up like a cloud.

I love spinning alpaca, but have very little experience spinning Tencel. In fact, my one previous experience with it proved difficult and unsatisfactory. Believing the problem had been in the blending process, I decided to give it another chance.

This pure softness of this environmentally friendly, wood-based product intrigued me in spite of my doubts, so I’ll share what I found online (www.tencel.com) about this unusual fiber.

Quote: “TENCEL™ Modal fibers are known for being exquisitely soft and pleasant to the skin. Exhibiting high flexibility, TENCEL™ Modal fibers enhance textiles with a naturally soft quality. Offering endless design possibilities, TENCEL™ Modal fibers can be blended with other fibers to significantly improving the softness and comfort of fabrics.”

So, when I found this blended braid hanging in a vender’s booth at the retreat, the soft feel of it and the lovely colors spoke to me. I’m glad it did.

The royal purple and clear aqua will end up muted for the most part to icy blues and lavender by the amount of white in the blend, but I expect the full richness of both colors will pop up randomly to brighten the finished yarn.

This is going to be a purely enjoyable spin. I can hardly wait to be surprised by the end result. I love happy surprises.

Morning Coffee

I’ve been immersed in spinning and fiber blending on my drum carder this past week.

Although I enjoy blending complimentary fibers (fine sheep’s wool and alpaca, mohair or angora bunny, for example) in their natural coat colors, sometimes I crave bright colors and the creative energy of putting pre-dyed colors together, making stripes or changing the shade or tone and coming up with something unique to spin.

I’ve long been inspired by nature and often use photographs I’ve taken as an aid in helping me create a colorway based on a feeling, a memory or just a fleeting moment in time.

Then again, sometimes inspiration can be as simple as a scent.

This morning, while savoring a cup of steaming, aromatic dark roast coffee, I found an idea forming in my freshly caffeinated brain. Coffee. Rich, dark, decadent coffee. No cream or sugar in this pot, thank you very much.

Staring appreciatively into my mug, I envisioned wearing the rich expresso-inspired, hand knit scarf or cowl to a morning (not too early please) coffee get-together with friends.

As the idea gelled, I set aside my temporarily empty mug. I was ready to go stash-diving. If that offers up visions of spelunking in scuba gear down a deep, dark cave of fleece and fiber, you aren’t far wrong. Fiber thrives away from direct sunlight, so in my home it fills shelves in dark closets and carefully covered bookshelves and totes. I am a fiber addict.

Where to start? Knowing that coffee needs that gleam of liquid, (or perhaps the natural oils of freshly roasted coffee beans?), I reached first for my dwindling treasure trove of pure black kid mohair locks, saved from my first (and only) Angora goat.

Next, I perused my selection of medium and dark brown rovings. I passed over Coopworth and Corriedale wool as being too coarse for this project, although both are nice for other uses. I was after an impression of smooth elegance rather than just replicating a color.

My hand stopped at a rich, deep chestnut alpaca. Pausing to consider, I backtracked to the bedroom to refill my coffee. I sipped my second cup of coffee and pondered. I needed a strong brown presence, and blended with the glossy black mohair … definitely silky.

My eyes settled on a bag of Pygora roving. Dark brown, almost but not quite expresso. Lovely and fine – and now I’m thinking I might use less of the Mohair.

Retrieving my three selections, I laid them out side by side on my table and started envisioning the blend. Although these nice brown and black natural shades would blend well, I realized that between Mohair, Alpaca and Pygora fibers, I had absolutely no “memory”.

I can already see the quizzical looks as some of you wonder what memory has to do with this … and if I’ve perhaps lost mine.

Sheep’s wool has a lot of crimp and elasticity. When a garment knit from sheep’s wool gets wet and is then allowed to dry, it will quickly bounce back, regaining and retaining its original shape. This is referred to as having “memory”.

Alpaca, Pygora and Mohair have little to no crimp and thus, very little memory. Greater care needs to be taken in caring for garments made of these luxurious fibers to keep them from stretching out and losing shape. Adding even a small amount of wool to a blend adds needed memory.

After giving this some thought, I traded the Pygora, lovely though it was, for a braid of dark brown Polwarth wool. I was ready to create “Morning Coffee”.

But wait. Unless I want to make only one batt (about one ounce of fiber), adding fibers/colors Willy-Nelly and hoping for the best (which admittedly, I’ve done in the past with both happy and sad results), I have more decisions to make.

How much of each fiber should I use? It needs to be the same amounts for each batt. Do I want the colors fully blended, or do I want black depths and brown highlights? How best to layer it in the drum carder to achieve the results I can so clearly see in my head?

Keep in mind, I’m not trying to recreate coffee. I’m trying to create a yarn that brings to mind a mug of rich, dark roast coffee such as is made from my favorite Alaskan Artisan Coffee brand.

As I ran my fibers through the drum carder, I decided that although lustrous in its own right, the kid mohair didn’t really add as much shine as I was going to want in the finished garment.

Inspiration struck and I returned to my stash, rummaging about and finally surfacing with a tiny, half-ounce baggy of sparkly, black nylon “Firestar”. Sprinkled sparingly throughout the batts as they are created, the strands of sparkle will be subtle but hopefully elegant in the finished piece.

November Comes Blowing

Before opening my eyes in the softness of the pre-dawn dark this morning, I knew it would be another day of gloomy, somber gray skies and blustery winds.

The wind, although not howling or storm-worthy, had been steadily moaning through the leafless branches outside my bedroom window all night – as it has for much of the past week. Dreary days like this make good spinning days, but not much else.

Still, I awoke with a smile and although it was time and past to rise, I enjoyed several more minutes snuggled under warm blankets with not one, but two warm dachshund bodies glommed close to my side, snoring lightly.

Peace, quiet and warm dogs. What a lovely way to wake up.

Nevertheless, my desire for coffee eventually won out and I gently freed myself from the blankets and warm fur. Uncovering toes and warm bellies earned me groans and stretches, and finally a couple of sleepy heads emerged.

By the time my upstairs morning routine was completed and coffee was poured, the duo had awakened, scampered downstairs and pestered Jer into bundling up and taking them both outside to potty. Yay Jer!

Coffee mug in hand, I headed back to bed, ready for the rest of our early morning ritual of coffee, biscotti and belly-rubs. I guess this is their version of doggy bagels?

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