Thursday, August 30, 2012

Weekly Weigh-In

  • WEIGH-IN:  I did it. I stepped on a scale. At the gym because I do NOT own one and do NOT plan on buying one. I weighed 10 pounds less that what I thought I did when I realized it was time to get serious about losing weight. This was not just last week, I got serious quite a while ago; just took me a few extra weeks ... um, no, make that months ... to actually get going DOING and not just thinking.
  • EXERCISE COMPLETED: Doing good so far, staying consistent. Elliptical twice (on schedule); swimming once for 1 full hour of laps (twice would be better); strength-training twice (on schedule); horseback riding once (on schedule). I was surprised by the amount of calories burned riding a horse. And since my riding is actually lesson riding, it's a "quality" ride meaning both the horse and me are working our tails off. Last night I had an especially enjoyable lesson. I have a LOT more confidence with the animal and I think my exercise and strength-training are paying off in my riding ability. I feel more in command of the 1200 pound hairball!
  • SPLURGE/GUILTY PLEASURE: Last night. I was already over my net calorie intake by 11 and I ate my Schwans Toffee Caramel Crunch ice cream topped with a good dollop of Lucky Layla Milk Caramel (absolutely luscious stuff!) anyway. 
  • SUCCESS STORY: I was able to swim for 47 minutes before the cramping in my feet started!! I love to swim, and I swim seriously when in a lap lane. But my feet cramp a lot, no matter how much water I drink before, during or after. Now, I've been drinking Crazy Water #3 for a while, but that does not have a whole lot of potassium. I will not drink sport drinks, so I bought a six-pack of coconut water. I figured: I like coconut, this should be good. WRONG!! Tastes like ... tastes like ... I don't know. To me, it's just plain awful. But I knew it had everything I really, really needed so I forced about 6 ounces (ice cold!) down before leaving the house to head to the pool. And I brought Crazy Water #3 with me. 47 minutes with NO cramps!!  WOOT! I was able to stay in the pool working out for a full 60 minutes. That burned more than one meal's worth of calories!
  • RECIPES/PHOTOS: No pictures to share this time. As for recipes, I make things up as I go along and never, ever record what I do. I've made some tasty meals this past week ... my grass-fed beef, fire-roasted tomato and vegetable pasta sauce is a stand-out, but honestly, I just throw things together. It's really all about quality of ingredients. You get the good stuff, keep it simple, you will rarely fail.
All in all, I had an OK week. I think I will reward myself with a new cross-stitch pattern!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Threads Inspired

What a cool idea! I discovered this wonderful blog last week whilst hopping around seeking creative sorts in the blogoshpere. I identified with the lovely lady behind this blog because she has the same thought as mine ... and that is, we are created in the image of the Ultimate Artist, therefore, all of us have a creative gene. I truly believe this ... it's just a matter of finding one's means of expressing one's creative side. 

So every Monday she invites us to share what inspires us. This will spur me on to carry my camera around a lot more! But for my maiden post on Inspire Me Monday, let me cheat and simply say: 

... and specifically, my "inspirations" board on my Pinterest. There you can see some of the things I have found that get my juices going. The things that make me want to find 10 extra hours every day in order to indulge in the crafting of those inspiring things. Some of them will take too many hours to count, but who counts the hours when indulging in making pretty things?

Lace is what is inspiring lately. I'm working on what will be a scarf made from 100% baby alpaca yarn, dyed in the beautiful color of "sea mist" which is probably one of my all-time favorites. A LOT of my wardrobe features this color.

The stitch is one I find in my trusted Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia book by Robyn Chachula.

It has 300 stitch patterns and edgings. I'm using the "Zen Lattice" pattern. The yarn is  Misti Alpaca Lace ... meaning it's lace weight and therefore very thin. The crochet hook I'm using is size 3.75 mm which is a bit larger than usual when working with lace weight yarn, but I wanted the finished fabric to be airy-light.

I stretched the fabric a bit so you can get a better view of the lattice.

I have these freshwater pearls leftover from several jewelry projects from years gone by that is a perfect match for this yarn ... since I'm going for a tone-on-tone look.

I'm not sure how I'm going to incorporate these pearls. The drill hole is probably way to small to accommodate the thickness of the yarn so I may be sewing each pearl on by hand ... some how, some way.

I am so looking forward to participating in this weekly exchange of ideas and inspirations! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Threads Connected

Weird how the universe works sometimes! I was blog-hopping to day (wish I could report that burns lots of calories and I could report it as cardio on MyFitnessPal, but alas ...) and found a super-cool idea:

She's already in week #9 so I'm not sure if this is still on-going, hopefully it is. I could use all the motivation I can get on losing all this excess baggage I'm carrying around. I tweeted a message to her ...

Have the grandchildren today! Will be heading to the park and possibly their backyard swimming pool. Today should be filled with lots of fun fat-burning activity. *winks* And I may even get some length of yarn spun today. AND meeting a friend at the gym tonight for even more sweat loss. Wow. Friday is looking good! Guess I better get off me bum and get the day started. It's already after 11:00!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Heavyweight Threads

I wish I could tell y'all that the topic of this post is some fabulous new yarn I've spun ... fat, chunky, fabulous yarn ... but alas, this is an entirely different post.

Much of what I do for this blog, and in fact, much of what I have been doing for the past several years, means I spend a good deal of time sitting. My hands move, a lot, but I sit most of the time. Unfortunately, fast moving hands is NOT cardio exercise, nor is it any sort of physical strength-training. It may well be considered a lot of mental strength-training, but somehow I don't think the brain burns any additional calories learning new things. The brain may require additional glucose to be burned whilst learning new things, but I seriously doubt there is significant enough of a burn for it to be categorized as calorie-burning effort on any exercise database out there.

The result is a fat and chunky me. (I'll leave it to my friends and family to determine whether I could be considered "fabulous.")


So, OK, I decided to do some things about this. I don't want to go through the rest of my life shopping in the "W" part of clothing stores. More than that, I do not want to go through the rest of my life needing to take medication for chronic illnesses that come from leading a life full of fun and fabulous but very sedentary activities.

I am happy to say that I have changed the way I eat. AND ... I have adopted some new activities that get me off the chair and moving. Sometimes, moving fast and hard. 
  • Darling daughter and I joined the recreation center up the street that is a facility filled with all sorts of cardio and strength-training exercise stuff, including a huge indoor pool that is kept at a constant temperature of 84F. So far, we have been consistent in using these facilities. *pats self on the back*
  • I have also began to help my friend, who owns Jacob's Reward Farm, doing farm chores including washing raw wool ... I've been learning new things!! *happy dance*
  • I started using MyFitnessPal (hilaryj57 ... send me a friend request!) on my iPad to keep track of calories in and calories out ... aiming for a net caloric intake of 1200 calories each day until I get down to my desired weight. Well, I guess I shouldn't use the word "weight" since I really don't know how much I weigh and I really hate scales. I take measurements and figure out where I am by how certain clothes fit. I leave it to the doctor to worry about weight and other bothersome numbers when I see her. It's been years since I've seen her, and I do plan to get back to her, once I lose some weight. Sort of along the lines "I gotta clean my house before the housecleaning lady comes over!"

And of course, the big-D word. I love food, all sorts of food. But I needed to drastically change the way I eat ... in fact, the whole family was due for a change. Man o' man, have I made some changes!

  • I get all my meat from a local rancher ... 100% grass-fed beef and naturally raised chickens, pork and lamb. His pork products are especially notable. The absolute best-tasting pork I have ever ate in my life. Ever. I think it's because of the one "un-natural" thing he does in raising his pigs ... he keeps them isolated in a pasture separated from all other critters. I never knew, but know now, that pigs eat dung. Not their dung, but the dung of other critters. (No wonder the critters are not kosher!!) He'd rather his pigs not eat dung, hence the keeping of them in their own, isolated pasture. The result is a different-tasting pork product. Think about the saying "one is what one eats" the next time you reach for that hotdog, ham slice or spare rib!
  • I buy as much local produce as I can get my hands on. I get a box of locally-grown produce delivered to me by the wonderful folks of GreenlingDFW. I shop the Chestnut Squares Farmer's market. Buying local means buying seasonal so this winter will be interesting ... hopefully our short winter will mean not too many weeks of needing to eat frozen foods.
  • My eggs are purchased from local producers who allow their girls the freedom to roam, scratching the earth and eating bugs. Both Jacob's Reward Farm and Rehoboth Ranch are my go-to sources for extremely tasty, high omega-3 EFA eggs!
  • I buy all my dairy from a local dairyman. In fact, he still maintains his father's dairy farm just up the road from me where I can buy his amazing, sweet-tasting raw milk along with some of the best tasting butter, drinkable yogurt, cheeses and milk caramel. I've been drinking the raw milk since March and all my seasonal allergies have disappeared!
  • I've sworn off wheat and corn, and most other grains. From what I've read and understood, they are reasons a lot of us have a little too much of us to love. And besides, they are all genetically modified.

Now, I must admit, none of the above comes cheap. It's a sad statement of our society at large that to eat right, to eat well, costs a lot more than eating junk. But to me, it's worth it. At our age, my hubby and I have a choice of spending more money on really wholesome food that will hopefully keep us as healthy as possible, or spending more money on medications to combat chronic disease.

There is a food shortage in America. There's probably a food shortage just about everywhere in the so-called "developed" lands. There is certainly no calorie shortage, but there is a wholesome food shortage. If you get HBO, watch Weight of the Nation. It's an eye-opener. And it's really, really sad that if every man, woman and child in this country were to all start eating the proper amount of vegetables and fruits, there is not enough to go around ... no where near enough.

As I've been writing this, it came to mind that the same points about our food stuff can be made about other things we fill our lives with. Including threads ... I think the bottom line is we all get exactly what we pay for. Well-made, hand-crafted items ... whether they be yarns or clothing or jewelry or furniture or anything else ... are not cheap, just like healthy, nourishing foods are not cheap. But quality brings value and value brings satisfaction in life.

Spend wisely, my friends. And cheap is NOT wise!

Monday, August 13, 2012


In gathering my thoughts for this post, it struck me that in my language the precursor to the greatest of questions is such a tiny word.  Three letters, that is all. It’s not that way in other languages … the French use more than twice as many letters, but then, the French are known for their flourish.


The tiny little word can even grate on the nerves of a toddler’s parent.  Yet, do we ever stop asking why?  I hope not.  It’s an acknowledgement that we are always on the road of learning things we did not know before. It’s a good road to be on … maybe even keeps our brains functioning when all the other parts of our bodies start to creak and freeze.

Why the pondering of this word? Because I’ve been working with alpaca fiber and have noticed that it is incredibly soft. And I have to wonder: Why?  I’ve been feeling like a little kid.  I keep asking myself why is this yarn so soft?  Why is that fleece softer than the others I’ve worked with?

I have Google and know how to use it. Did you know you can bypass all the commercial junk when searching a topic by going to “Google Scholar”? I did that this morning, but realized that so much of the search results came either with incomprehensible language (and the papers were in English!) or a hefty price tag to read the contents of a study. One paper that answers the very question I was asking was going to cost me $32 to have access to it for one day. YIKES!!

So back to regular Google I go and type in the title of the scholarly paper and sure enough, the top several results were linked to the journal that wanted to charge me $32 to read the paper. However, somebody else got their hands on the paper and has it as a PDF which I was able to access at no charge.

Not that it answers my question … the language is still somewhat incomprehensible! But at least, I understood this significant statement:
"For a given fiber diameter, we  know that alpaca fibers are much softer than wool fibers. The reason for this apparent difference in softness between alpaca and wool is beyond the scope of this study. Suffice to say that the smoother surface of alpaca fibers is one of the main factors that contribute to their softness."

The paper also relates that alpaca has more scale ends and lower scale heights than wool. And, of course, there is some heavy-duty mathematical analysis and graphs and equipment used in analysis that made the paper all the more incomprehensible to me.

(For your amusement, a spoof on the same paper used to taunt Steeler fans.)

At least I understand “scales” and “scale height.” Human hair has scales too. And I knew that they had something to do with why my hair is relatively straight whereas my daughter’s is super curly. And it does not stretch the mind much to realize that all animal hair has scales too. So I guess the bottom line is that the more scales on a strand, and the closer the scales lay to the core of the hair shaft, the softer the fiber feels to the touch. Yet, another page I read said alpaca has LESS scales than wool from sheep. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the term “scale ends” in the scholarly paper? But everything agrees that scale height is an important factor, the lower the height, the smoother and more luxurious the fiber is and hence, it feels softer.

There are other factors that contribute to the softness of fiber … the diameter, how long the fiber is (which is called “staple length”), and the degree of crimp in the fiber.  The thinner the fiber, the softer the yarn; and likewise the shorter the fiber the softer the yarn will be. However, alpaca generally has a longer fiber than sheep, yet the fineness of cashmere. Perhaps fineness trumps length?

As for crimp, alpaca goes in both directions. Huacaya alpacas have plenty of crimp so the yarn spun from this fiber will be “elastic” and is good for knitting and crocheting. Suri alpaca has far less crimp and the resulting yarn is well-suited for weaving. If you like scarves, do yourself a HUGE favor and buy a scarf woven from 100% alpaca!

Another nice fact about alpaca fiber is that there is no lanolin in the fiber and therefore is hypoallergenic. People who are sensitive to wool may be able to wear and use garments and items made from alpaca. It’s certainly much softer on bare skin. And let's face it, the critter is CUTE! At least to me, they are cute. And I have to wonder ... why??

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's Just Too Hot ...

No talk of threads today, it's hot. I know, I know, I said I wouldn't complain. And I won't. I'm not.

Instead, I'll just reminisce. To a cooler place ...

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area in Montana ... trail going up Spring Gulch.

I feel cooler already!

Spring Creek ... hence the name "Spring Gulch."

The water is nice and cold. It's fed by snow melt.

Up Lolo Canyon, Montana.

An old logging road. It's not abandoned, just used for purposes other than logging.

Like trail rides. I took this photo on our half-day trail ride on wonderful Tennessee Walkers from Dunrovin Ranch. They are the best. Check them out if you ever find yourself in Lolo and love horses.
Blodgett Canyon, Bitterroot Mountain Range, Montana. Yup, I made it up there and we went for a hike. It was hot that day too. Like 95F. That's seriously hot when one is hiking. But just a mile up the trail we stumbled upon a spring coming out of the side of the trail ... straight out of rocks. I stooped and felt the water. It was ice cold. I had an empty water bottle and filled it with fresh, ice cold, Montana mountain spring water and took a nice long drink. Refilled and offered to my son and daughter-in-law who both looked at me like a had green scales. Ha! Too chicken to try the best water on the planet. I won't drink lake water or river water or even creek water without first purifying in some way. But water straight out of the rocks of the Rocky Mountains? Oh, if only I could have bottled the stuff!!! By the way, what you see is a canyon in recovery from the 2000 Bitterroot fire.

Peaks of granite shreaded by glaciers.
This view took my breath away. Blodgett Canyon holds even more stunning vistas, but this is what I was able to reach that day. Kids got hot and tired and wanted to get back to the rest of the family.

My two grandsons and their cousin having fun in Blodgett Creek. I worried about them getting bored ... that worry was completely in vain. Just give kids some sand, cool water and some raw materials and their imaginations keep them occupied and happy for hours!

More adults should be like them.
Mom's dog, McDuff, who is one of the coolest dogs in the world, was not happy having to stay on leash. Many areas in and around this area of Montana will allow dogs to be off leash as long as they are controlled by voice commands. Needless to say, McDuff is not one of those dogs ... but he's still one of the coolest dogs in the world!

And yeah, there were 4 generations on this little excursion. And a doggie.

My abandoned Sketchers. They are great for walking around town, even hiking on nice, clean trails. But Blodgett Canyon was carved by glaciers which means the ground is littered with rocks. Tons of rocks. So the trails are rocky and require a shoe with much thicker soles. Lesson learned.

Tired feet. And one foot is covering the other which, by that time, was sporting a broken toe. Toe got broke after a royal stubbing on the cut log that was in the creek acting as a great seat to use for cooling off feet. You can see it behind Ariana in the picture of the kids playing. Stupid log. (Don't look at me to take credit for the stupidity that broke my toe.) When I stubbed the toe, I heard all sorts of cracking. Over the noise of a glacier-fed mountain creek! o_O

So here I am, back in Texas for over two weeks now, hot and still nursing that toe! I must admit though, I really do feel cooler.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Exploding Threads

Well, it looks like an explosion to me!

You know, it's going to be 107F today. That's hot by anyone's standards, although those of us who have lived in north central Texas for any considerable length of time ... we expect this during August. After almost a couple of decades later, I've quit complaining about it. Complaining about the weather gets a body no where. No. Where.

So what's a body to do when it's going to be 107F outside? This body decided to spin some wool! After all, the air conditioning unit is still in good working order. And when it's no longer in good working order, a buddy of ours is part owner in company that sells and services air conditioners. So I guess you can say: "We've got it all covered."

I bought this wool roving from Cindy when I was visiting the "Little Red Barn" last Saturday afternoon. It was hot then too. But inside the Little Red Barn were more than a handful of lovely ladies who were either spinning yarn or knitting or crocheting yarn. Because we know, know quite well, that it will not always be well over 100F in our little ole spot of Texas, and we will be glad for the yarn and scarves and hats and socks and shawls and whatever else is being crafted in the dog days of July and August!

I've had my eye on this particular rope of roving that Cindy dyed herself a while back. Since it was still there on Saturday, and my budget wasn't totally destroyed by then, I decided that rope of roving was meant to be mine. The COLOR was screaming at me. Wild, isn't it? I love the spots of blue and white interspersed amidst the color of a nice pinot noir. I must learn how to dye wool! But not with a nice pinot noir.

I love the act of taking an length of fiber and have it magically turn into thread. I know, I know, it's not really magic; it's actually science ... but it's cool all the same.

I'm getting pretty good at spinning a thread with a relatively consistent thickness.

I think this fiber is Bluefaced Leicester ... it definitely has a nice, long staple (the length of a single piece of fiber) which is helpful to newbies like me. I pulled the roving apart into sections of smaller thicknesses to save time drafting. Drafting is the means of getting the desired amount of fiber into the spin zone. There's all sorts of information about the mechanisms of spinning all over the internet. I'm not even going to try to reinvent the proverbial wheel!

This picture shows the "stored energy" of what I call "the spin zone." This energy gets released when one moves their fingers up the drafted length of fiber ... the spin follows the fingers until it's played out. But not too played out, or else the spin zone falls completely apart! Something that has happened to me plenty of times.

That is probably the single most important "trick" to learn in spinning ... how to keep just the right amount of energy in the spin at any part in the process. I know this is something that will take time, and frankly, LOTS of time, to master. This is one craft I've started that did not instantly come to me! In learning to spin thread/yarn, there are no shortcuts. Not even with a wheel. Using a wheel requires the same level of experience of drawing just the right amount of fiber into the spin to get the desired result in the final product.

Because I'm using the spindle to spin my threads, I use the "park and draft" method Cindy taught me and it's a method that is easy to do. And with enough practice, I am surprised at how quickly I can work through a length of roving.

I generally have two "parking" episodes per length of spun thread before loading it on the spindle. The first park is usually with my knees, the second park with my feet. This way I am able to spin a fairly long length before winding it to the spindle which I find speeds the process along nicely.

Feet are really wonderful things! They are good for more than just getting one's body from point A to point B. I'm still nursing a broken toe on my left foot, but it still works wonders in parking my spindle.

The character of color this yarn will have is already showing itself on the spindle and I believe I am really going to like it! I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks after it's plied (plyinig is taking two or more strands of spun thread/yarn and spinning them together to give the final product additional strength). I have a feeling that whatever I make with this yarn, both my daughter and I are going to like it and will probably have a battle or two over it! Hopefully we will be able to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Or, if there is enough, I can always spin enough to make two projects! I've already been combing through in search for the perfect pattern for this yarn. If this link does not bring you to the page showing all the patterns that match my search criteria, then you will need to open an account with Ravelry to see it. Go ahead and sign up ... it's free and it's a really great site for all things knitted and crocheted!

So here it is ... my NEW favorite past time during the really long days of the Texas summer.

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