Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hi Ho, come to the fair

This was the weekend of the North Country Fiber Fair in Watertown, SD. We packed up our books and display stuff and headed west on Friday, dropping our bad dog with our good friends on the way.

Autumn in southwestern MN is a feast for the eye. The soybean fields stretch to the horizon in shades of gold, russet, yellow and green. Here and there they form an undulating checkerboard with alternating fields of tall beige standing corn. Red barns and charming farm houses dot the rich prairieland looking prosperous and well tended. It's a peaceful scene of abundant harvest and it lifts the heart.

We had a great weekend in spite of the small turnout (vendors figured that the frightening economic outlook along with the high price of gas kept many customers and vendors at home). The venue was spotlessly clean and bright - easy to set up our display. And people seemed to enjoy the Scottish music we played along with our slideshow - even though we only thought to bring 2 CD's which cycled endlessly. Next time we'll bring at least half a dozen.

As usual, we loved talking to people and hearing their stories. There were several women who had lived in Norway in an area where they put sheep out on the islands as we did in Coigach. Many customers had been to Scotland and had loved it - several had started reading our book on Saturday and came to tell us how much they were enjoying it. That's always a day brightener.

Many knitters and weavers among the vendors and students keep a small flock of sheep or goats to supply their craft. Jack was delighted because he got to talk hand clipping with one of the best blade shearers in North America. Kevin Ford had come to give a 2 day class in blade shearing and he and Jack hit it off - had read many of the same books, knew the same essoteric song ("Shearing in a Bar") and it was the first chance Jack has had since Scotland to talk to someone who spoke hand clipping. He was a most happy fella.

I loved seeing all the different types of spinning wheels and varieties of yarn - and especially enjoyed the gal who was spinning directly from the rabbit. The organizers had set up a spinning circle so people could go and sit there in between classes or after supper and spin and talk - it was homey and relaxing. And all day they had delicious food cooked by the local guild members - all available for voluntary donations. We especially enjoyed the lamb stew and goat cheeses, along with veggies fresh from the garden.

Book sales went surprisingly well, and all too soon it was Sunday evening and we were packing up to head home. The trip back was even prettier with the the golden fields bathed in sunset light. We had spent a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing weekend and were ready to face the contractors and torn-up house again. It's good to get away and remember that there is still beauty and bounty in the world.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of bugs and nicer things

I have not written a post for a while. Some of this is because of family health problems (thankfully now resolved for the moment) and then there are the ants. We are having the tile in our bathroom replaced and when they tore the old stuff off - there were carpenter ants all over the wall behind the insulation. EEuuuuw - gross!! So needless to say the ant men (supply your own mental image here) are coming (I hope) today. So somehow I haven't felt like blogging.

But on the bright side, last night we did a reading at the Anodyne Coffee Cafe, and although we had a smallish crowd, we had an absolutely delightful time. This was mostly because we had a chance to talk to the people who were there and hear the stories of their own "wee mad road" adventures. One of the women had spent several years teaching in a remote Eskimo village in Alaska. Another had spent a year teaching for the Peace Corps in Mauritania, West Africa - quite a coincidence, as Jack had worked on a documentary there many years ago. I think we enjoyed hearing about their lives as much as they did about ours. I'd love to hear about your "special time" if you want to leave a note.

Tomorrow we leave for Watertown, South Dakota to sell books at the North Country Fiber Fair. We had so much fun at the Shepherd's Harvest here that we thought we'd try it again. They are offering a 2 day class on shearing sheep with the hand blades - a subject dear to Jack's heart, although he no longer practises that activity. We'll also be selling some skeins of beautiful hand-spun yarn for my daughter (http://www.knotallthat.blogger.com/). We'd love to see you there!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Good-bye to the Red Terror

In mid-May poor Ho Chi Mini went to that big rustpile in the sky and we bought the only car we could afford that was comfortable for Jack to drive and might actually be ok to take onto the continent. We were planning to take a trip through France, Switzerland and Italy in the fall with J's mom and aunt so we needed a car that would hold 4 people and their luggage. Luckily for us the 2 ladies as well as their luggage were all diminutive!

Our new car (new used that is) was a DAF-cum Renault-cum Volvo. It had a Renault engine, a DAF transmission (continuous belt like a sewing machine - could run as fast backwards as forwards), and a Volvo body and seats. We actually bought it for the seats which could accomodate Jack's 6'2" frame easily, with plenty of headroom. He would sure miss the Mini's handling on our twisty roads though - this car would enforce sanity (unless he decided to drive it backwards - he does mirror-writing easily and might actually think it could be fun!).

Monday, September 8, 2008

The clock is alarming

May 8th and the first call of the cuckoo. I had never heard the real bird call. When my beloved grandmother died she left me a small amount in her will so we decided to buy something that would remind us of her and her heritage. So when we went to her funeral in New Prague, MN, we went to our favorite wonderful Czech hotel where we fell in love with a beautiful old cuckoo clock - just the thing!

When I woke up that May morning in Scotland, my first thought was that I was back in America wakening to my old clock. But this was the real bird - and it was 5:00 in the morning. We'd gotten to bed after a great ceilidh at 2:00 a.m. I was wondering if the bird's clear call would get to be not all that delightful if it continued to wake us up at that ungodly hour (the sun was coming up about 4:00 and setting about 11:00 p.m.).

And the solstice wasn't until June.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pretty young things

With the birth of the lambs came the time of fostering off the orphans. Some were fostered onto mothers who had lost their lambs - and some were adopted by human "mothers" who warmed and bottle fed and nursed the little stuffed toy-like lambies until they became "pet sheep". These sheep usually lived a life of pampered leisure - at least until market time in September. That is how Wilf and Wendy acquired their little flock - which lived to see their "golden years" and I'm sure died of old age.

Our little 2 year old neighbor, Christopher, one of the more beautiful children I'd known (with his big dark eyes and blond hair) had three orphan lambs that year. One he named "Little Jack", after the big American next door, who was beginning to have what was to his father an unfortunate influence on Christopher's vocabulary.

Anyway, Christopher liked to visit us and would often come over the fence to sit in our kitchen and have a glass of lemonade or just water - with (wonder of wonders) ice cubes (no one there put ice in drinks - only us odd Americans). One warm sunny morning I came down to start breakfast and found little Christopher already in the kitchen - dressed only in his little wellie boots. I figured I'd better call his mom since to get home he'd have to crawl back over our rock and wire fence - and having negotiated it once without damage - I figured he'd better not tempt fate by trying it again.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


It was May, and May brought the lambs. During the rest of the year the sheep ran wild on the hills but at lambing time the ewes were brought into fenced parks. Shepherds walked the parks every day looking out for mothers or babies in trouble. In our city-bred lives, Jack and I had never had any experience with livestock cycles of birth and growth - but we were curious, and anxious to do anything that fit into the life of the community. So we walked the parks with the shepherds and helped where we could in our clumsy way.

That May started out cold with driving wind and hail like shrapnel. With no barns or shelter available, everyone feared for the lives of the new lambs. One day we had gone into Inverness to look at used cars (Ho Chi Mini was dying) and while we were there we got a call from Wilf and Wendy asking us to pick up some lamb-macs - little plastic raincoats that come on a roll. When we got to the Vet's he was frantically trying to locate more because of a run on them on the West Coast. When he found out we were from Achiltibuie he asked if we would take the orders he'd gotten from three other crofters there.

Naturally when we got back, the sun came out and we had a string of beautiful sunny days. It's sort of like the old axiom - when you take your umbrella it never rains.