Category Archives: Yay!

Brain Spinning

I have long wanted to spin yarn — because now that really nice yarn is readily available, why not make my own on a fiddly machine that will likely engender much cursing?

Actually, it would be neat to take fiber all the way to yarn and then knit that yarn into a scarf or shawl or socks or whatever, and, like the nicotine addict who rolls his own, I hope spinning my own will slow me down — because how many scarves, shawls, blankets, socks does a person really need? (I do donate quite a few items, and gift even more, but still.)

Plus, I’m fascinated by fiber/textiles, I love learning new things, Iowa winters are long and dull, and summers, well, I’m not a big fan of gardening.

So I have some $ coming in mid-June and I’ve earmarked some of it for a spinning wheel. I’m planning to attend the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival in early June to try out some wheels, since the nearest dealer who carries more than one brand is 5.5 hours away, north of Minneapolis. In the meantime, because it’s so much more fun than grading or vacuuming, I’ve obsessively been researching spinning wheels online.

For most of human history, yarn was made on spindles, including drop-spindles, which I have used, but I’m much more adept at the DROP (clatter, roll away) than the spin. No, as the Chinese discovered early on and Europe figured out by around 1200, spinning wheels are the way to go. The first ones were just a more efficient way to turn a spindle (this would be what did in Sleeping Beauty), but they soon became more sophisticated, both spinning the yarn and winding it on a bobbin.

Speaking of fairy tales, traditional spinning wheels have the coolest names for their parts — maidens, mother-of-all, footmen — and for the wheel styles: saxony, castle, great wheel.

Today, wheels come in tons of styles: saxony, castle, modern castle, direct drive. They are also made from lots of different materials: rare wood (multiple thousands of dollars per wheel), hard wood, plywood, even PVC pipe and wheelchair wheels.

Based on my obsessive research, there are four wheels I’m considering. One is the best all-around, most sensible deal: the Fricke S-160 double treadle. But the romantic part of me wants a Bluebonnet Shamrock castle wheel (still a good deal). The cutesy part of me wants a folding Thimble. (an okay deal). And the gadget-loving part of me wants a Queen Bee, but that part, luckily, is not going to pay so much for a hobby item.

A used wheel purchase is, of course, possible, but wheels tend to hold their value, so when you factor in shipping to the butt-of-nowhere, Iowa, you might as well buy new and get the warranty.

Until then, the weather is nicer, school is almost over, and I have a novel to plan. Summer! Sabbatical! Sheep — I mean, Sleep!


Coat tails

There has been much excitement here at Oats, malfunctioning car windows (at 20 below!), fabulous visiting speakers, driving university-owned cars into snow-filled ditches — yeah, I have a lot to blog about. But today, I also have pounding migraine, so I’m going to refer you to the fabulous visiting speaker’s blog and resume my blogging activities after some meds and nap action.

I give you Patrick Weekes, characterized by the university student newspaper as a “writer and gaming geek.”

(click on the link twice. I have no idea why the first click dumps you back at my blog. And right now, I don’t care. Did I mention I have a migraine?)

Domesticity Regained…

…at least, as much as it’s ever going to be.

Remember my descent into a feral state, chronicled here and here? Turns out it was just a brief visit, although I may return mid-semester and look at summer homes.

Not only have I knitted and quilted over break, often with other women and for charity (how “sewing bee” of us), but I’ve actually sewn clothing. Well, one piece of clothing, a corduroy wrap skirt, with another item, a vest, cut out and started (and another vest planned, if the first one works out*).

And if sewing and crafting isn’t domestic enough for you, how about bread baking? That’s right, I made a loaf of bread and when I say “bread,” I really mean something more akin to manna or Lembas** — in short, a foodstuff for which “carbohydrate” is too, too pedestrian a term.

And I can’t even take much credit. It’s all in the recipe. I about a year late coming to the NY Times No-Knead bread craze, but now that I’m here, I’m staying. How simple is this: Friday night about 9 p.m., I mixed together some flour, salt, yeast, and water, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside. Took less than 10 minutes, and that includes sweeping up some renegade flour and wrestling with the saranwrap box. At three p.m. on Saturday, taking countless bloggers at their word that this recipe cannot be messed up, I dumped the dough onto a floured towel and kneaded in 3/4 cup feta cheese with garlic and peppers and 1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives. And when I say “kneaded,” I mean folded the dough about 4 times. Took another 10 minutes and that included pitting the olives and running them and the cheese through a food processor. Two hours later, I dumped the dough into a pre-heated, lidded casserole dish, put it in the oven, uncovered it at 30 minutes, and 15 minutes later took this out of the oven: (click to embiggen)


Okay, it didn’t come out with 3 slices already hacked off, but I had two with my dinner and one for lunch. And just in case you don’t believe I really made bread, get a load of that messy kitchen table — yeah, that’s mine.

This bread is — oh yeah. Moist inside, crunchy, flaky crust — I’ve bought fancy bakery bread that isn’t this good. Of course, if I’m going to be making (and thus, devouring) bread on a regular or semi-regular basis, I’m going to have to increase the length of the dogs’ walks by a factor of, um, well, that would be math, but I will have to wear their little legs down to nubbins.

So yes, I’m all domesticky again. Emphasis on the sticky.

Speaking of the dogs, here’s a recent shot of Ricky with his latest beloved squeaky toy. After an hour or so of strenuous play-killing, you gotta take a nap:


And here’s Violet with a rawhide bone. See that worried, yet shifty, look in her eyes? Violet’s a possessive little thing — give her a treat and she’ll spend hours defending it from Ricky, from the cats, from me, from passersby outside the window (grrrrrrooowwwwwwllll) before actually settling down to eat it:


*That’s the problem with sewing — no matter how much fitting I do as I sew, I never know until I’ve finished if I’ve made a chic (or at least, recognizable) item of clothing or a labor-intensive and pricey feed sack.

**Yes, I’m a hopeless LOTR dork.


I love BVU’s winter break. If not teaching during our January term (which I am not, as too few students signed up for a trip to NYC that I was to help lead), winter break is a month + long. Saturday, I had to check the computer’s calendar to see that it was, indeed, Saturday. Last night, I left myself a note reminding me to shower this morning. Yes, I am that relaxed.

But lest you think I’ve been doing nothing, let me give my January Achievement Tally: 6 novels read, 8 episodes of Angel (first season) watched, 1 corduroy wrap skirt almost completed (waistband, hooks, and hem still to go), 1 muffatee crocheted (while caucusing for Obama, no less), part of a tote bag knitted, 1 dentist appointment kept (broken tooth), 1 mammogram appointment kept (I almost fainted and had to sit down), 1 community ed class in journaling taught, with 2 to go, 2 group craft dates kept, with 2 more planned, and 1 meeting with colleagues to prepare a report. Phew! All crammed into a mere 14 days, with times for naps. Who says I can’t multi-task?

And what’s left between now and 1/23, when classes start? Finish the skirt, cut out and sew up at least one vest (I’ve got two planned, both of type of the right, ’cause the one on the left just looks dowdy), read and respond to report from meeting with colleagues, help draft a letter to a local prison warden about students teaching in the prisons, teach the two community ed classes, prepare 2 syllabi for three classes, help interview for an on-campus job, and, somewhere in there, give the house a good cleaning before the semester descends. Can I do that in 9 days?

Oh, and remember to shower…..

…and I’m back

I just spent 8 fabulous days in Peabody, Kansas, population my sis, her husband and son, and a few hundred other people. Took the dogs, who enjoyed one day of running on the green Kansas grass in sunny, 50* temperatures before it snowed, and snowed and, yeah, snowed some more.

Nephew Michael graciously walked Ricky a few times so I could concentrate on the true meaning of the season — playing Scrabble and stuffing my gob. And I did have a few Scrabble high points: I broke 300 points in one game, used all 7 letters another time, and beat big sis “all 7 letters on a triple word score” Linda several times. Of course, her game was a bit off. One evening, I beat her, Michael beat her, husband Leroy beat her, and the dogs were getting ready to challenge her * when she called it quits. She did rally, though, and in our last game used all seven letters to spell “beanery,” putting the “Y” on the end of “snuff.” There may have been a double or triple word score involved, too — my recollection is unclear due to envy and shame. I didn’t even break 100 in that game. It was clearly time to come home.

Presents were exchanged as well. The amount of gifting was perfect — enough to say “it’s a special day and I love you” but considerably less than “I hit the mall with my Mastercard and emerged from a daze driving down the parkway with a crapload of pointless gifts and 6 months of debt.” Linda received enough knitting supplies to keep a normal person happy for a few years and the average knitter satisfied for a couple of months. I received some wonderful knitting stuff too, and music, and organic chocolate, and much lovely miscellaneous. Leroy got hiking boots and hummingbird feeders, which makes him sound a lot more granola-y than he really is.**

Even the dogs got gifted. Well, their first gift was Linda and, especially, Leroy*** allowing them to come and stay for a week or so. They’d even bought Ricky a big doggy pillow, which Violet immediately staked out. Michael, however, did that one better. He bought Violet a bag of rawhide treats, which Ricky may share if Violet, who is a greedy bitch, doesn’t find out. Ricky got a high-tech shower nozzle/bath system, because Michael thinks it’s funny that Ricky rolls in things like deer entrails.***** And for Zeke, being boarded at the vet in Storm Lake, Michael wrapped up a very special chunk of coal with a tag that read, “Hey Zeke — bite this.” Because it was Christmas, he refrained from adding “you little green bastard,” which has been his pet name for Zeke ever since the bloody index finger incident of ’05.

So here I am, home again on New Year’s Eve. I *still* have a few bags to unpack. I’ve done the laundry, though, and restocked and de-smelled the fridge (note: birdie veggie mix with broccoli does not do well left for 8 days), given the kitties some love and picked up Zeke this morning from the vet.****** I’m going to make some navy bean and ham soup later, read a novel, nap with the dogs, walk them, and read some more. Chocolate (organic/free trade) and chips and dip may be involved. I expect to be peacefully asleep long before midnight.

A happy, peaceful 2008 to all.

*Ricky is confident that a spelled-out beagle yodel — awbarowowowooo — would handily (pawsidly?) win the game.

**Actually, he’s not granola-y at all. He’s more oatmeal-y. Instant oatmeal, quick and economical. The man votes Republican, for heaven’s sake.

***Leroy believes dogs should live outside in warm kennels to which they retire after they’ve flushed some pheasants or retrieved some ducks or, at the very least, had the decency to crap on the neighbor’s lawn and not his.****

****He was sighted, however, patting Violet’s head. Unlike Ricky, who is at least of working dog stock, Violet’s only purpose in life is to be cute and to refrain (mostly) from peeing in the house. But it was Christmas, after all.

*****Happened in early December. I was too traumatized to blog about it.

******He tells me he was terribly abused and unloved for 8 days, but I know they gave him fresh apple and the vet himself brought him leftover turkey. They even rigged up a set of vicegrips to keep his little sleep tent attached to the top of the cage, despite Zeke’s efforts to throw it on the floor. All this for $5 a day and all the blood Zeke can extract from their fingers as they feed him and change his water. I love my vet’s office.

Buy Toro!

I just went out to fire up the Toro electric snow blower and, well, blow some snow. But plugging the extension cord into the unit requires one to turn a plastic key to remove a guard at the plug in site. The key is gone and nowhere to be found (probably under the snow from the last snow blow!).

I called Toro’s customer service and they are sending a new key immediately. That’s good service, but that’s not blog post-worthy in itself.

Here’s the amazing part: I dialed the number, pressed “3” for all services other than irrigation, and immediately got to talk to a real, live person. No circular hell of punching numbers, no automated invitations to use the website, no optimistic voice informing me that my call is important and would I please hold for 10 minutes while listening to music any decent elevator would be ashamed to play. Just a nice young woman who helped me.

I don’t think I’ve had a customer service phone call like that since the early 1990’s.

Speaking of the early ’90s, now I have to go remove snow the old fashioned way. By flirting up a man to do it for me. NO, I have to shovel. Shoveling’s way less work than getting my body into flirting shape and, in the end, I won’t have some guy clumping around my house needing me to pay attention to him rather than to my novel.


I haven’t posted for a bit, which has nothing to do with the new computer game I just got or the stack of novels awaiting my attention or my newest crochet fixation, muffatees.* Or just a little bit. No, a tad more than that. Yeah, there you go — that much.

In other news, in early November I’m going to a conference at Grinnell College and its local prison to see how the faculty and students have created a writing program for the prisoners. We (another faculty member and two students) will be studying their program to see how we can implement one at our nearest prison, Rockwell City. And since “Rockwell City” has the same number of syllables as “Folsom Prison,” I’ve been Johnny-Cashing about it all week.

My next post will likely be a crochet pattern for muffatees, featuring a slip stich short row, which is pretty darn clever, if I do say so myself, which, obviously, I just did.

*Crochet because I knit so slowly, winter would be over before I finished a pair. Crocheting, I can do a pair in one evening. I’m outfitting the members of my department because our building heat hasn’t been turned on yet!