Monday, September 7, 2015

We came, we crafted, we had a ball!

This is our logo, the symbol of Strong Women who are Passionate About Yarn!

We braved the Texas Summer Heat and arrived at the Lone Oak Ranch & Retreat near Gainesville, Texas, on August 7, 2015, to experience the wonderful community of crafting, fiber, fun, and friendship!  We were not disappointed. There were 37 of us this time, more than ever before.  New faces, familiar faces, sharing, laughing, eating, learning, crafting in the inviting atmosphere that is Lone Oak Ranch Retreat.  And the WiFi signal is strong and well-used, I must say. What would we do without our electronics and our knitting needles?  I do not know, but suffice it to say we can have it all here at the Chix Packin Stix Retreat, twice a year, and that is definitely a Good Thing!

It is a five-hour trip for me to get from Nacogdoches to Gainesville, so I got up before the sun and left home around 6:30 am on that Friday.  I have figured out ways to cut almost an hour off the trip by trying different county roads and highways.  There is absolutely no direct path to the destination from anywhere, but that doesn't mean it is hard to find. Along my route are horse farms, hills, prairie, and lots of beautiful bodies of water to cross.  It is a very satisfying and peaceful road trip for me.

Some of the Committee members and helpers met at a sweet little restaurant, Sarah's On The Square in Gainesville, Texas, for lunch, before heading a few miles south and east to our destination. Upon arrival at the venue, we immediately got to work, unloading cars and trucks, setting up tables and chairs, and getting organized for registration and the weekend's events.

As the self-proclaimed Goodie Goddess of Chix Packin Stix, I set about organizing all the donated "goodies" I had collected for our weekend.  For each and every attendee, in addition to door prizes, there was a "Bag O' Goodies" stuffed with a project bag, samples of recycled sari yarn, wool wash samples, stitch gauges, and other "freebies" from the wonderful shops and businesses that were kind enough to donate to our retreat.  Later there would be door prizes and some bright pink bags filled with the yarn and pattern to either crochet or knit a little sheep! What fun!

Cyndi and Joyce came up with this adorable idea of
a Survival Kit for our Retreat.  Enlarge the photo and 
read what is on the card!  Quite clever, I must say!

Setting up for the weekend.

In the midst of setting up, the attendees began to arrive, and, as sisters in crafting are inclined to do, pitched in to help after they had moved their things into their sleeping assignments. Foodstuffs, Ott lamps, knitting/crochet project bags, and spinning wheels began occupying spaces around the tables. Our buffet-style supper of baked potatoes and all "the works" was organized and set up along one wall, and large containers of tea and water, coffee pots and K-cups, and soft drinks appeared on the counter of the bar.

After supper, we had a fun "getting to know you" activity, then went straight into learning how to do our first planned project - shawl pins made of metal, taught by Terri.  Simple, fun, and lovely!  I am working on a prayer shawl for my friend, Judy, and I think one of these would be just perfect for holding it in place. And, I can definitely see myself playing with metal wire quite a bit in the future.

The first project of the weekend, a pair of metal shawl pins!

After finishing this first project, beginner knitters and crocheters were invited to learn the basics  of those yarn crafts, while the rest of us got busy on projects, or just making the rounds and visiting.  This really is a weekend of doing whatever you want, or nothing at all.  And there are always plenty of snacks!

I spent most of the evening visiting with old friends, and meeting and getting better acquainted with others. Smiles and laughter were everywhere.  And so ..... I didn't make it to bed until .....  3:48 am! Thanks, Gracie Lou, for my pink sheep pj's and the late night sharing!

As you can imagine, our continental-style breakfast at 8 o'clock Saturday morning came just a bit too soon for this old gal after such a late night. Our first door prize drawings were scheduled to start at 8:30 and I needed to be alert! Thank goodness for a couple of cups of coffee from the Keurig machine is all I have to say.  Caffeine totally ROCKS!

Breakfast time and relaxing before the beginning of activities on Saturday.

Door prize give-aways started off with my donning my Goodie Goddess Hat, which is quite the Attention Getter.  It is huge and, as I found out during this retreat, quite hot if worn for more than 5 minutes during this time of the year. This hat of mine is part of my costume when attending the Texas Renaissance Festival in late Autumn, when the weather is decidedly cooler and I have had a few tankards of Guinness.  I think it must be a lot cooler then!  I may have to reconsider my headpiece for the future ....

Me and my feathered hat at the Texas Ren Fest!

For this Retreat, whenever you saw me don my huge feathered
hat, it indicated that it was TIME FOR DOOR PRIZES!

Some of the awesome door prizes I was handing out.

At the Chix Packin Stix Retreats, everyone is the lucky winner of a door prize!  No one is left out of the goodness of donated gifts.  We are truly grateful to all of the wonderful shops and vendors who made a donation of something from their businesses for our weekend!  We couldn't believe all the wonderful things we received for this August event. There were hand-painted yarns, coloring books for adults, jewelry, chocolate, knitting books, handmade goat milk soaps, needles in various sizes and styles, notions and so much more!  AWESOMENESS!

Some hand-painted yarns for door prizes from Paradise Fibers. 

Darn Good Yarn not only sent a skein of their recycled chiffon sari yarn, they also sent each of us a
5-yard sample card of their sari ribbon, enough for using in a project.

When contacting the various shops to ask if they would participate, I would tell them we would have about 40 lovely crafty ladies attending and using that information, some sent 40 little gifts for our "Bag of Goodies" along with their business cards. One of those was Happy Ewe in Jonestown, TX, who sent a humongous box full of little pink bags.

A huge box arrived in the mail from Happy Ewe!

Inside each of the little pink bags was a pattern and the yarn to either crochet or knit a little sheep!  ADORABLE!

Joanna R. has finished her hot pink "sheepie" from Happy Ewe already.

I haven't made mine yet.  But when I do, it will be pink like Joanna's and it will find a home right up there on one of the window shelves in my den, along with the rest of my "flock".  It will really stand out, I think!  I really do need to get crackin' on that project ....

One of my window shelves in the den at HeartSong Farm. 

For every Chix Packin Stix Retreat, we have a Project For Charity.  I really love this aspect of our group dynamic.  We can give so much from what we have, and it is also quite a bit of fun for us to create something that is so appreciated.   
This was my contribution for our charity project - fleece  blankets for babies and kids in one of the
Dallas-area hospitals.

Saturday morning, after the first round of door prizes, it was Astrid's time to teach us all about rug hooking, traditionally done with wool fabric strips.  Wool fabric is quite expensive, so we were going to throw in some yarn and some other types of fabric strips for our creations this weekend.  There were traditional designs as well as some more modern looks to the projects the ladies were inspired to work on.

Astrid brought some of her finished work along with her expertise.

Mounds of fabric strips for the rug hooking class.

Intent, yet Conversational!  That's what it is all about!

Looks like the beginnings of a sheep to me!  

And here we have a Dominiker hen, I believe!

And a black cat .....

.... a llama with a hat and bandanna?!!!!  Why not?!

And .....  a mermaid under the sea!

As you can see, rug hooking can be anything that strikes your fancy ....  traditional designs or not.  We had some really wonderful interpretations of this very old craft.  I was too busy visiting to really get started on mine and am still contemplating what I want to make.  At the time, I was much more interested in going around and seeing what others were doing than sitting and concentrating on crafting that day.

A gorgeous pine needle basket creation was inspiration for the Saturday afternoon project class.

Rapt attention on Rachel B. as she introduced us to the craft of pine needle basket making.

Pine needles prepped and ready to be woven, walnut pieces for basket bottoms, and sinew to hold
it all together.

Basket weavers sporting our Retreat tee-shirts.

Around and around we go ....

I see the beginnings of a basket there!  Whoo Hoo!

There were a greater number of spinners at this Retreat than ever before.

And a new spinner being created right before our eyes!

Sunday morning it was time to learn our last project for the weekend:  crochet/felted flowers!

Diane P. showed us how to make some cute flowers using felted wool, yarn, and buttons.  As she remarked, the sky is the limit on the creativity this project can encompass.  Lots of almost instant gratification!

Quick and easy to make, these would be cute on a vintage hat or .... make two alike and put them
on a pair of flip flops!  And matching ones on a beach bag and sun hat????!!!

So pretty!  I can see this on a hat or scarf or barrette, can't you?!

After a wonderful lunch on Sunday, it was time to start packing it all up and heading home.  The time had come for Gracie Lou to part with her tree babies as she passed them on to me to care for on HeartSong Farm!  She brought me 6 seedling pines and 3 seedling pomegranates.  The pomegranates came from seeds from her grandmother's original tree in Laredo, TX, and the "mother tree" of the pine seedlings had been transplanted many years ago from Nacogdoches, TX, near where I live (and where Gracie Lou had attended college) to the Dallas area.  Now its babies are coming back to their "roots!"  Pun intended!

Gracie Lou and her tree babies.

Kissing her babies goodbye!  I promise I will take great care of them!

Gracie Lou and I believe that by sharing living things with each other we are also sharing a spiritual connection.  I have shared seeds and plants with my friends Jo, Judy, Astrid, Wanda and Ellen in recent years, and I plan on doing even more in the future with others.

The August 2015 Chix Packin Stix Retreat Group Photo.

With hugs and fond farewells to new friends and old, we packed up this version of the Chix Packin Stix Retreat and vowed to meet again in March of 2016 for more fun, sharing, learning and laughter.

Some of what happens at Retreat must stay at Retreat .....  for next time!

And back here at HeartSong Farm, we are anxiously awaiting the advent of Autumn and some much cooler temperatures.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The wisdom of trees

As  I have watched this Spring 2015 unfold, it occurs to me that there are even more lessons that can be learned from trees, in addition to the one I mentioned in my post entitled "Longing":

"I realise there's something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how
they're experts at letting things go."  -Jeffrey McDaniel

In the back pasture here on HeartSong Farm, there are various kinds of oaks and willows, as well as tallows, maples and what is often called a Chinese umbrella tree (which is not the same as a Chinese tallow or popcorn tree).

Leafing out starts off slowly.
In the backyard, next to the house, it is easy to see that the Japanese
magnolia is way ahead of the crepe myrtles in leafing out.

Some trees bud out as soon as the temperatures warm up a bit, while others wait longer, maybe a week or two, to sprout new leaves,  Some flower first, and some don't bloom until late Spring once they are all leafed out.  So, if we let them, trees can teach us about "everything in its own time". Realizing this helps me get through the impatient times that I struggle with as I get closer to retirement.  Everything is unfolding as it should, after all!  Relax and enjoy! Breathe and pay attention!

Look at all the manifestations of green just in my front yard!

When we look around at all the various shades of green in early Spring, and, later when we admire all the colors of Autumn, trees can teach us to notice and appreciate all the shades of the human race.   

All the greens go well together, no clashes in shades or colors.  There are yellow greens, blue greens, true greens, purple greens, light and dark greens, and they all exist side by side in Nature.  In Autumn, the yellows and russets and oranges and crimsons once again co-exist beautifully, and we admire them as they stand out against the greens of the pines and cedars.  

Similarly, shouldn't we admire and appreciate all the colors of the people of the world?! Our different colors, talents, histories, stories, religions, philosophies, foods, and music is what makes our world a very special place to live. Shouldn't we appreciate all the differences which make our world rich and interesting?  I happen to believe we should, and I hope that you do, too!  It really is a beautiful world out there, you  know.  Take a look around you.

I am a Tree Hugger,  and unabashedly so.  When I was a child, my Daddy often read to me from his favorite poetry books, and one of the first poems I can remember loving and then memorizing for him was this one:

              By  JOYCE KILMER

             I think that I shall never see
               A poem lovely as a tree.

               A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
               Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

               A tree that looks at God all day,
               And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

               A tree that may in Summer wear
               A nest of robins in her hair;

               Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
               Who intimately lives with rain.

               Poems are made by fools like me,
               But only God can make a tree.

                          Source:  Poetry (August 1913).

I absolutely adore the heart shaped leaves of a redbud tree! This one planted
itself by the driveway a couple of years ago and seems to like it there.
This oak sapling has sprung up out front near the fig trees.  Although it is
 not really in a "good" place, I am inclined to leave it right there.
Trees that produce fruit like my two fig trees are especially wonderful.
This little cottonwood (pardon me while I sneeze!) has sprouted in the
parking lot at work  next to where I park my car.
In pots, next to the side entrance, I have several "treelets" I found in the 
yard last year:  a crepe myrtle, a redbud, and a cedar.  Where shall I plant
All the rain of this Spring has really pleased Gloria, the bald cypress!  She 
has dressed her lovely  horizontal branches in a double layer of fringe,
something she has never done before.
In fact, she has even sent up some vertical "arms," perhaps in praise to 
Mother Nature for her "waterful" bounty this Spring?!
After each week of rains, Ben needed to rework the dyke and trench
in the driveway that diverted the water into the bog for Gloria.
Diverting the water from the driveway helped relieve the muddy water 
trying to get into my house at the side door by the parking pad, as well as
delighting Gloria with all the extra water for her feet and knees!

Two weekends ago the weather changed to a nice dry spell and I pulled my garlic bulbs from the garden. In the process, I got bitten by fire ants all over my hands and feet!  Dang those obnoxious little creatures!  I am not positive, but I think the ants actually devoured one of my garlic bulbs as I was only able to locate and pull 49 out of the 50 that sprouted when I set the buds last October.

Garlic bulbs fresh out of the garden.

In the last two years of growing garlic, I have learned quite a bit.  The first year I planted buds from garlic bulbs bought at the grocery store.  I planted them in the late Spring and dug them up a year later.  Out of the 15 buds I planted, only 4 or 5 produced anything.  This had to do with the fact that they were most likely from hybrid garlic, plus the fact that I planted them at the wrong time of the year.

I have since learned that garlic should be planted in the Fall, usually early October so that it can have a chance to start its root system and sprout before cold weather sets in.  It is ready to harvest in late May, usually, when the stems turn yellow and flop over.  So, this year's crop was much more successful by far than last year's uneducated attempt.

Something I learned with this year's crop of garlic is that I planted them too close together for them to become as large as I would have liked them to be.  I spaced them neatly at 3" apart in rows 6" apart. Ideally, they should be minimally 6" apart in rows 12" apart.  Come this October, I will be remembering that!

I set the garlic bulbs to drying on the racks of my little greenhouse unit on the back porch where it is shady, cool and dry.  With the garlicky aroma I am not expecting any problems with vampires for the time being!

And finally, I discovered that you do not wash the dirt off of the garlic bulbs until after they have been allowed to dry, with stems on, for about 10 - 14 days in a cool dry place.  They are ready to wash up and store when you can press your thumbnail into the neck of the bulb and hear a nice crunching sound.  Last year, I washed them all clean and whacked off the stem and put them in a bowl on the counter by the stove.  It didn't really ruin them because I didn't have but about 5 and I used them up quickly.  But, they would not have lasted more than a couple of months before they mildewed and/or rotted.  The flavor is also enhanced by this "right out of the ground" drying process.

My very first homegrown, handmade garlic braid!

The rain total for the year so far in my neck of the woods is a tad over 46".  Incredible!  That is almost four feet!  And California needs it so very badly.  Wish we could pipe some to them, but the pipelines around here are used for oil and natural gas.  My kitchen sink "burps" now and then, and drains slowly because the septic field lines are so saturated with the unusual rainfall totals making the ground stay soggy.

The rains and standing water and cloud cover have done a nice job of keeping the air and soil cool so far this year. It has not gotten hot enough here on the farm to heat the soil up consistently so that I can plant any cotton seeds.   There have been only a handful of days where the humidity was bad enough to make me think it was finally time to turn on the air conditioner.  This was the case last year, also, and the heat didn't really get insufferable until July.  My cotton crop last year was minimal, at best, and I expect this year to be the same, if I decide to go ahead and plant any seeds.

Speaking of cotton, I do need to "gin" last year's minuscule harvest this summer and add it to the bumper crop harvest from two years ago, then card  and spin it.  That is something I hope to accomplish this summer.  It is on my Summer 2015 Bucket List!  And also to learn to spin it on my  book charkha.

I have finally turned on the air conditioner here at HeartSong Farm, and am ready to work mostly inside this summer, hopefully finishing up quite a few projects I have started and never finished over the last several years.  I do miss hearing the sounds of frogs, crickets, and birds, though, through the open windows.  I feel less connected to Nature, all closed in and cool. That is when it becomes time to take a glass of iced tea out on to the back porch, sit in the swing, and relax in the balmy breeze of an East Texas summer and listen to the songs of mockingbirds and orioles, and watch the dragonflies skip across the tops of the grassy weeds and dip down into the water troughs.

Meanwhile, another little leopard froggie has left the habitat for the spacious wilderness of what is HeartSong Farm!