Gee Haw!

No, that’s not me mistyping “yee haw.” That’s me still excited about a little outing I just got back from.

Standing on the ice road from Bethel to Oscarville

I went to Alaska for a work trip last week. It’s the second one to Alaska in three months, which just seems incredible to me. I have a personal goal of making it to all 50 states by the time I’m 40 (by my own rules, I can’t just drive/fly through them. Otherwise I’ve already hit all 50). When I first set that goal, I naturally thought that Alaska and Hawaii were going to be the hardest to check off the list. Of course, that was before I met Maggie, whose family largely resides in Alaska.

Everyone is lining up to take a picture on the ice road

I have now been to the frozen expanse that is our 49th state three times. All in winter.

This time around, the group I was with was going out to the village of Oscarville – one of the easier Alaska Native villages to get to, but one that still requires a flight from Anchorage to Bethel, and a trip down a frozen river to get to.

That’s right. I rode on an ice road.

Fish drying in front of a house

The village itself…actually kind of reminded me of a lot of places in Indian Country, albeit with some challenges that are unique to living in a place that is frozen for half of the year. Waste disposal – both human and physical trash – clean water, heat…all of these things are a part of the huge concept of “energy.” I know most people think “energy” and they think it’s just about putting lights in a house so people can read at night or maybe watch television or use a computer, but it’s a much bigger picture than that. More and more, I think it’s easier to consider “energy” as a giant wheel — what some folks in the industry are referring to as the water-food-energy-waste nexus. Because, really, all of those things — water, food, waste — are affected by our access to reliable energy, whether it be solar power, diesel fuel, or whatever.

Rabbit tracks in the snow

Hoo boy…I feel like things are getting away from me at the moment. Can you tell I’m really enjoying the things I’m learning through my job?

Anyway, in addition to traveling out to the village and driving on the ice road, I had a wonderful visit with the curator of the museum in Bethel’s cultural center. I spent 2.5 hours chatting with Eva (whose name I will remember, as I have an aunt with the same name) about masks, stories, kayaks, and the museum’s new exhibit of Edward Curtis photographic prints. She pointed out the friends and family members who are featured in the photographs, which is a wonderful connection to the photographs that you just don’t get if you see them in other museums.

Honestly? I get much more out of visiting Native-run museums and cultural centers than I typically get when visiting larger, “formal” institutions. The items on exhibit are not empty relics, but instead cultural touchstones. They spark traditional stories and personal anecdotes, and you end up learning far more about an actual living culture than you might by reading a plaque on the wall. I think that visit was the ultimate high point in a stellar trip.

Returning to Anchorage, we had another meeting

Folks were calling this guy “The Polar Bear.” No, that wasn’t made of polar bear fur.

Saturday morning, before letting everyone loose on the street to watch the Iditarod. The ceremonial start of the race also coincides with the annual Anchorage Fur Rendezvous – otherwise known as Fur Rondy, or just plain Rondy. It’s a week(ish) long festival with sport contests and races, art markets, fur auctions, a blanket toss, performances, and dances, and it is absolutely bonkers. At least, that was my takeaway from watching the Reindeer Run on Saturday. Also, there were a lot of people wearing/selling fur, which makes sense….the festival has its roots in the years when trappers and miners used to come in to Anchorage with their yearly “haul.”

I re-visited the Wooly Mammoth yarn shop while I was in Anchorage. This time, I picked up some yarn to make my littlest nephew a sweater. I tend to stick with the Alaska-made yarn and dyers when I visit the shop. It adds a little special something to the finished project – “This yarn came all the way from Alaska.” This time, I picked up a DK weight in the colorway: Ice Road Trucker, from Fiber ‘n Ice. I was very tempted to purchase the “Northern Lights” colorway from The Alaskan Yarn Company, but they didn’t have enough skeins there. Also, I think it would have really clashed with Sam’s hair (the kid has a nice shock of red hair). However, I think I might just order some online to make a sweater for his older brother — Joe’s favorite color is purple. It looks like they only have the sock weight listed, but I’m sure I could contact them or Wooly Mammoth about a heavier weight yarn.

By the Briny Sea

Two weekends ago, Robert and I took some time to head out of the metro area. Robert’s location prompt was “the seaside,” based on a fortune cookie he got last week. Not wanting to spend most of the weekend in the car, we opted for the nearby-but-still-away-from-DC town of Solomon’s Island.

The name is a bit of a misnomer as, from what I can tell, the town was never an island to begin with. One of my co-workers back at the farm regularly vacations there in the summer, so I was familiar with it, at least by name. Since Robert and I had luck with the last vacation recommendation she had given (Deep Creek Lake, Maryland) I figured Solomon’s Island would be nice as well.

I’m sure most people probably travel there during the late spring/summer/early fall period, when the weather is much nicer and you can actually swim in the water, but when I was a kid, we always traveled to the beach in the off-season, out of necessity (there was no way we could have afforded a trip during the peak season). All the beach trips of my youth consisted of walking along deserted beaches, frigid winds whipping my hair against my cheeks, gazing out on white caps and gray skies. This was really no different. Well, I didn’t have a pair of binoculars stuffed in my coat pocket and my dad wasn’t there, trying to rescue a horseshoe crab that my sister and I insisted had to be returned to the sea, so I guess it was a little different, but not by much.

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I’ve Been There!

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit one of my favorite DC spots – The United States Botanical Gardens. I love getting a chance to see the gardens any time of the year, but they are particularly lovely around the holidays. The main conservatory lobby gets decked out with reproductions of the monuments, museums and select government buildings, and the gallery off to the left of the lobby is transformed into a wonderland of trains and themed displays.

This year, the theme of the special train exhibit was “Season’s Greetings: National Parks and Historic Places.”

I’m sure Robert got tired of hearing me say “I’ve been there!” (an old, running gag amongst my parents, my siblings and I), but I enjoyed seeing some of the real places I’ve traveled to in the States represented in miniature.

Without further ado, I present to you the National Parks and Historic Places exhibit from the garden:

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Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

Someone, the other day, called me “world traveler.” That isn’t necessarily true. My brother, who has wandered to six of the seven continents, is the world traveler. I think it would be more appropriate to call me the New World Traveler. (Although, even that is a misnomer, as I have yet to make it to Central or South America).

I have, as you might remember, been traveling more than a bit for work this year. My trips have taken me to Las Vegas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Portland (Oregon), and New York City. Plus, there was a little side journey in summer to Prince Edward Island, with Robert’s family.

This past Saturday, I returned from my last trip of 2016. It was a whirlwind, three-stop, week-long journey across the length of the United States, with meetings in Houston, San Francisco, and Anchorage. Because of the timing, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in each area (with the least being spent in Houston, TX). I tried to make the best of the little bits of free time I did get, and managed to squeeze in a visit with an old friend (whom I had never met, but had corresponded with for years – hello, Angelica!), some fabric shopping in San Francisco, and a visit to the Anchorage Museum and an Alaskan yarn store.

Looking back at my travels this year, I think some of the best on-the-road interactions I’ve had with people have been at the various yarn and fabric stores I have visited, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone who frequents smaller, independent shops. That’s the kind of interaction we all want from those kinds of places, isn’t it? It’s like a modern day Cheers experience, without the drinking. They might not know my name in those shops, but they recognize a fellow fiber/fabric nerd when they see them, and that’s good enough.

In an attempt to share some of my finds with you (I can’t show you the fabric or yarn, at the moment, as some of those items are going to be part of this year’s Handmade Christmas), here is a list of the fabric and yarn stores I have visited this year. I’ve also included the ones I put on my list but never managed to make it to, but I’ve only pasted links to the ones I actually went to:

Whew! A lot of places!

For now, I’m glad to be home for a little while, with just enough time to work some of my finds into lovely little Christmas gifts.

North Dakota Winds

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North Dakota from the air

I’ve been working through some of my handspun yarn (the skeins that haven’t already set aside for presents). The last remnant of one of my first-ever skeins (kingfisher blue and gold) was my first choice…mainly because I wanted to finally use it up. I worked up a pair of mittens, making the pattern up as I went along. I used a gold two-ply Targhee (the leftover yellow from the two tone yarn) to add a little color blocking interest to the pair.

[Also, the thumbs required the use of slightly smaller yarn in order to work]

I managed to finish off all of the yellow and most of the two-toned yarn…and promptly forgot them when I left for a week-long trip to North Dakota. Understandably, I was little upset – and not just because I had specifically tried to finish working on them before I left. I was also upset because it was FRIGGING COLD in North Dakota that week.

I usually bring an assortment of things to keep me busy on my flights – books, music, and some sort of hand craft. Lately, I’ve been working my way through some sawtooth quilt squares, but I had left my case back in my office, so I ended up packing the cowl I had started working on a few weeks earlier. The yarn was a fingering weight 2-ply that I spun from a beautiful Frabjous Fibers braid (BFL and silk). I would love to spin more of this colorway, but I lost the card for it before I even finished spinning it…so I have no idea what it is even called. For some reason I’m thinking either something to do with blue lagoons or pines…I don’t know.

What I do know is that the resulting yarn is so soft, and there is a lovely sheen to it in the light, even though it doesn’t contain any sparkly angelina fibers. It’s all due to the nature of the BFL and silk mix.

I did a fractal spin with this braid, which gave it a sort of heathered look where the colors blend. The pattern I used for this project was the Swiss Tweed Cowl from Knit Picks. The heathering in the yarn gave the cowl an interesting subtle striping that is rather hard to photograph in a lot of light.

I finished the cowl on my last evening in North Dakota – which provided some much-needed “down time” after two days of intensive meeting notes, a tour of an oil rig, and a great dinner with interesting people and the largest piece of fish I’ve ever seen on a plate.

[As an aside: I am what is known – by some – as an ambivert. I require both the interaction with people and quiet solitary reflection time in order to recharge.]

Since the weather was still rather frigid when I began my return travels that Friday, I wound up wearing the cowl home. It was comfy, and large enough to not feel constricting, while not hanging halfway to my navel, which boded well for the length. I often have a problem with cowls, as it’s hard to find that perfect length.

The jury is still out as to whether I will keep this one for myself or if I will box it up as a gift for someone this Christmas.

Don't let the sun and blue sky fool you...it was COLD outside!

Don’t let the sun and blue sky fool you…it was COLD outside!

The journey to North Dakota, by the by, will probably make the list of one of my favorites this year. I had not been back to the state since I was a little kid, and it was an entirely different experience driving through its beautiful rolling terrain as an adult. I left the reservation at New Town with the sunrise that Friday and managed to drive through four or five different types of weather. It was still freezing outside – as evidenced by the snow on my car and in some of the fields I passed – but there were times that the sun broke through the clouds and patches of the sky lit up bright blue.

Labor Day Weekend at Huntley Meadows

I was torn between wanting to get out of my house this weekend and finishing the last bit of work on my room, so we compromised and did a little of both. On Saturday, Robert and I headed out to Huntley Meadows Park for a little woodsy therapy. (The original choice was Mason Neck, but Huntley Meadows was closer)

I was surprised to learn that he had never been – perhaps because the boardwalk trails at Huntley Meadows were such a large and memorable part of my youth that I can’t imagine a Northern Virginia life without them. My father, having studied ornithology in school and then worked as a park ranger in Ohio (to say nothing of his general love of the “out-of-doors”) took every opportunity he got to take us to some park or other and spend hours looking at birds through his binoculars.

I didn’t bring a pair of binoculars this time, but Robert and I were armed with cameras.

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The weather this weekend was PERFECT! Warm without being uncomfortable and sticky, with a nice breeze every now and then. There were a number of people on the wood trail that led up to the boardwalk, though we saw fewer folks on the far side of the deer trail, as we started back towards the Visitor Center.

Google originally told us that the Visitor Center would be closed at 1pm, but we were pleased to find that it was still open until 4pm, for Labor Day weekend. It is a nice space with a little diorama of animals, birds and fish you might find on your walk (I remembered it from the visits I made as a kid) and a nice assortment of buttons to push that make things light up (don’t look at me like that…push buttons are fun!).

The gift shop also has a nice assortment of children’s books, stuffed animals and, more importantly, owl pellets for sale! I do love an owl pellet. So much so that I found a website where I can order them in bulk, as well as ordering specialized owl pellets that have been sorted by prey species.

Yes, I am weird. I make no apologies, because owl pellets are freakin’ cool and also we shouldn’t apologize for being the interesting people we are.

We drove past Historic Huntley Manor on our way to the park but didn’t get a chance to stop. The park is named for the manor, which once belonged to the grandson of George Mason (oft-forgotten Revolutionary-era statesman from Virginia). The Northern Virginia area is home to a great number of stately, old mansions that have belonged to famous families throughout the years, so it’s not really a surprise that we haven’t happened upon this one yet. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to check it out before the weather turns cold again.

For now, I’ll leave you with new pictures of the cats, lounging about the house and enjoying their Labor Day Weekend.

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Adventures in Prince Edward

I was tasked with creating some table top arrangements for the wedding

Earlier this year, Robert’s family began making arrangements for a summer gathering. The reason was, ostensibly, to celebrate Pearl’s wedding – but the Macgregor clan also likes getting together, so there didn’t really need to be a reason. It just worked out that way this time around.

The Macgregors being the generous and welcoming sort of folk they are, I was invited to join the family as well. Robert’s family is fun and boisterous, but in a completely different way from a Nicholas Family gathering. I feel like there’s more volume included when my family gets together. But that is neither here nor there.

The view from the Gulf View Cottages, where most of the Macgregors were housed.

The view from the Gulf View Cottages, where most of the Macgregors were housed.

The site of this year’s gathering was the very lovely countryside of Prince Edward Island. As I was a young girl when a certain version of Anne of Green Gables/Avonlea miniseries and the Road to Avonlea t.v. series came out, I was familiar with Prince Edward Island in a sort of idyllic, quasi-historical fictional sort of way. I had admired the countryside and the sea as it had been presented in the films and series, but had never actually thought I might see it first hand. When I was presented with the opportunity to go, I entertained the notion of bringing along an Edwardian-style outfit for some photographs, but we all know what a laughable idea that is. First off, there’s the fact that my sewing room still isn’t accessible for whipping up a new historic outfit. Second, there’s the fact that I loathe having my picture taken.

So, with normal summery-type clothing in hand, Robert and I escaped to the landscape of the wild north (aka Canada) for a week of fun.

I took so many flower pictures!

I took so many flower pictures!

My first impression of the island was…I have never seen a place so covered in flowers. In. My. Life.

And I’ve lived in Colorado, with its random fields of delightful wildflowers, as well as spent most of my life in the DC Metro area, which is so filled with flowers and blooms and various pollen-filled organisms come Spring that even those of us without allergies sometimes find it hard to breathe.

None of that was enough to prepare me for the number of flowers that covered PEI. From field after field of potatoes (most with white blossoms, but there were some varieties with purple flowers), to other fields full of yellow canola blooms, to the goldenrod and fireweed that pop up in brilliant patches throughout the countryside…it seemed, everwhere I looked, there were beautiful flowers to brighten the day.

Everyone loves thistles!

Everyone loves thistles!

Queen Anne’s Lace was the most ubiquitous flower of all, on the island. We drove past entire FIELDS of the stuff. I even mentioned to Bill and Robert that, if I needed to dye anything deep golden-yellow, I had certainly come to the right place.

There were even thistles near the beach…which really shouldn’t surprise me, considering how many Scottish families came over and set up new homes on the island.

[Unfortunately for Robert, the abundance of flowers meant allergen overload and he spent the majority of the trip a bit sniffly and scratchy.]

This is the closest I came to capturing the true color of the red sandstone on the island.

This is the closest I came to capturing the true color of the red sandstone on the island.

Looking around the island, I kept thinking of trying to capture the beauty and color of the island in some kind of textile project. I did my best to distill the island into a color palette – yellow and sky blue and lots of white (for the Queen Anne’s Lace and potato blossoms) and several shades of green and LOTS AND LOTS of red with a slight brownish tint to it, to represent the color of the dirt in PEI.

I really think this colorway needs to find its way into something that I do…the question will be…what? I don’t think this would translate to a quilt the way I would want it to. I’m thinking this might have to show itself in wool – either all the colors dyed onto a skein of wool, or felted onto a scarf. If I had my own drum carder, I might consider attempting something like this.

One of the things I learned about the Macgregors…they love building sandcastles on the beach.

Robert's dad, John, in his element.

Robert’s dad, John, in his element.

Of course, “sand castle” is probably too small a word for the behemoths they managed to construct while we were there. More like sand villages. They made three different ones during the week we were there (that I know about). The one they created on our last full day there was beyond words. They created bridges and forts and channels and fields for little shell livestock to work. It was impressive.

So many beautiful sunsets while we were there!

So many beautiful sunsets while we were there!

I found myself with a car on our last full day on the island and decided to make use of a little bit of spare alone time to track down some nearby wool shops. I had originally hoped to stop into McAusland’s Woolen Mill, but it was a little more of a trek than anyone was willing to accompany me on. Instead, I tracked down a shop called Knit Pickers. I had spotted the sign on the way to the cottages on our first day, and thought to myself “That has to be a yarn shop!” It was! The shop – which is probably the smallest of its kind I’ve managed to find – was well stocked with yarn, knitting accessories, and knit and woven items. Despite the small footprint of the shop, there was no shortage of interesting things inside. Margaret McEachern, one of the owners of the shop, was in that day and we had an absolutely lovely chat about wool, sheep, weaving, and the island itself. I picked up some Ewe Love soap (peppermint lavender) and some other small items. Margaret is a weaver of considerable skill. Had I known beforehand, I would have budgeted for a few of her woven items in the shop. Lucky for me, you can purchase items online! (Which is a good thing, as I am now absolutely in love with their peppermint lavender soap…it has made the entire bathroom smell lovely!)

The beach in North Rustico

The beach in North Rustico

From there, I stopped into the Rustico Bay Wool Sweater Company and the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company. The Wool Sweater Company had a selection of wool yarn in the back of the shop, in addition to a full inventory of assorted knitwear (sweaters, jackets, socks, mittens, etc.) The store seemed more like a regular commercial enterprise than the smaller specialty shop of Knit Pickers. I picked up a skein of some brown tweed wool there. I’m not sure what it is going to become, but I have a few ideas.

After I ran around the island a bit, I ran a few errands before dinner. I ended up being tasked with getting beer for folks, which I found hilarious considering I don’t drink. I just sort of guessed and picked things that looked like they were made locally. On my way out of the liquor store, I noticed a small roadside food stand advertising fresh fish ‘n chips. Being that I had already been craving fish ‘n chips, and given my love of random roadside stands (and my wonderful experience with them in Hawaii), I wandered over. Since it was a little mom-and-pop type place, housed in what looked like a converted shed, it was a cash-only type of establishment. Counting out my meager Canadian offerings (I was leaving the next day, so I had tried to get rid of my remaining Canadian currency), I was sad to realize I didn’t have enough to get the advertised fish ‘n chips. I didn’t even really have enough for an order of chicken strips (which were less expensive). Seeing my crestfallen face, the guy who ran the shop asked “What did you want, originally?” I replied “The fish, but I’ll just take the chips.” He nodded and said “Tell you what…I’ll give you a half order of the fish, and you can pay me what you have.”Route 6 Fish n Chips

Oh, people. This was the greatest blessing of that trip. I’ve had fish ‘n chips a couple of different places now (my favorite local spot is Eamonn’s, in Old Town Alexandria) but his took the prize. There was barely any breading on it, which is actually how I prefer it. Just enough flour to keep the fish together and give it a little crisp. SO GOOD! If you find yourself in North Glasgow, Prince Edward Island make sure you stop into Route 6 Fish ‘n Chips (it’s right next to the North Rustico liquor store)

I am tempted to write a "Lobster's Day in PEI" story.

I am tempted to write a “Lobster’s Day in PEI” story.

While we were in PEI, we made sure to pick up some lobsters for dinner. Pearl’s father-in-law, Dwight, came over to show us how to crack them open (I’ve cracked open crabs before, but never lobster). We went through a fair number the first night, but still had an entire bag of them left over. Connie decided to make a lobster chowder the second night with the leftovers. I offered to crack open all the lobster claws (at least eight lobsters’ worth!) the next afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t think ahead and do my lobster meat extraction outside…so the living room of the hotel where Connie and John were staying reeked of lobster that evening and into the next morning.

I had an absolutely lovely time in Prince Edward Island and only have one bad thing to say about it….it was entirely too short a visit.