30 June 2006

Quickie

No pics tonight. Last night kicked my ass and mopped up the floor with it. It was not pretty. Two major surgeries, the second of which was a police dog with his stomach twisted 360º. I couldn't save him and made his human partner cry. It was sad and typical of the night.

I did get a second bobbin of Junior spun up Tuesday night and plied the two singles. I washed that skein (135 yards of about worsted weight) and the shetland x icelandic singles before I left work, and left them there to dry. The Junior is so lovely, so soft. I'm very, very pleased with it.

27 June 2006

Photos, Lots of Photos

My, but I've been busy, and just to prove it I've taken a ton of photos. Last night I sat down and finished up the first bobbin of Junior.

062706junior

I really, really like this fiber, and I wanted to move on to a new bobbin, but I decided instead to be good and actually spin up the fourth singles of the shetland x icelandic x g*#%^$%@d barn floor roving. I know a little vegetable matter is to be expected in roving, but not a full bale of hay per pound of roving, plus pieces of wood shavings, occasional twigs, what appears to be some bark, and heaven knows what else. Needless to say, I've learned a valuable lesson about looking closely at the roving before buying it. Now it needs to be washed, dyed, and plied.

062706shetland_icelandic

After all that spinning, I finally went to bed for a few hours, but it was a woefully short nap, as I had appointments and things to do. It was a gorgeous day - sunny with a stiff sea breeze all day long - so one thing to do this afternoon was to buy plants at the local nursery and make a little container garden.

062706containers

The wooden planters were a pair of window boxes David bought some time ago to use as display fixtures for shows and no longer needed. A few drainage holes drilled in the bottom and they work wonderfully. Being a practical sort, I like to stick mostly with herbs and edibles with a bit of color to liven things up. Here's the longer of the two boxes.

062706long_box

And here's the shorter.

062706short_box

And here's a planter I started a few weeks ago and added a new Basil and an oregano plant to today. The African Queen basil actually has a very Thai basil anise-y flavor. You can see that some of the nasturtium leaves are yellowed, as well. This is from getting a bit of shock from being transplanted into a south-facing container during a hot couple of days. It seems to have largely gotten over it. This particular planter is from Lunaform and is one I've had for a few years. I actually first read about them, I believe, in an issue of Garden Design and was surprised to see that they're only a few miles from my grandmother's house. This was one of their cheapest designs and one that I could actually afford, but they do some beautiful work.

062706Lunaform

And if you happened to notice the seemingly empty terra cotta pot, this is what's in that one (and in another container that's not very evident in the photo).

062706avocado_pit

Can't place it? It's an avocado pit from the salad. Remember the salad? There have been some requests for a recipe. It's pretty adaptable, but the skeleton is this: tortilla chips, romaine lettuce, black beans, salsa, sour cream. For the one in the photo, I didn't use cheese, but I love it with cheddar (Cabot Seriously Sharp, preferably).

And lest you think my garden is all sunshine and happiness, I offer you this.

062706poor_aloes

I set my aloes out a week or so ago to get some sun and fresh air, as I don't really have a sunny spot indoors for them. After all, they're native to Africa. They love sun, right? Apparently not when they haven't seen it for a while and they're out for a couple of muggy 90ºF days. So I figured they were probably toast, which was sad. They're one of the things I took from my relationship with S. A friend had given him a baby plant, which he had barely managed to avoid killing before I took it over, repotted it and nurtured it into a fine stand of parent and numerous baby plants. I repotted them before I moved and kept these and one other that Tolo destroyed. Before I tossed them on the compost heap, though, I figured I'd better wait and see what happened, and sure enough....

062706aloe_closeup

So while they look really sad right now, it appears that they will survive their sunburn, and I will know to be a bit more cautious about letting them work up to that degree of exposure.

One last photo. This is not my doing and is on the landladies' side of the yard. These flowers opened a few days ago and I thought they were Dianthus until I went over today to get a photo. The leaves are fleshy, silvery, and hirsute, and it looks familiar, but I can't for the life of me think what the name might be. Anyone?

062706pink_flower

25 June 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

Another week off is over, and in 12 hours I'll be back at work. Only 6 more shifts to go, though, until we leave for Hawai'i. One of those shifts will be the night of July 4th, which I expect to be typical for a holiday (read: hellishly busy). Before I traipse off to bed, though, I thought I'd share a couple of things.

On Friday, an expected package arrived for me in the mail. This was in it.

062506sanskrit_book

Of course, there's just one slight problem. I don't have Part One. I had thought that I was ordering Part One, but I guess that's what happens when you place orders in the wee hours of morning. At any rate, I realized the error before this arrived and promptly ordered Part One, as I feel that it will be, well, essential if I wish to actually use Part Two.

So, I can imagine that there are people who will read this and ask, "Why Sanskrit?" The answer to which, of course, is "Why not?" Actually, it's a language I've been interested in for a while - partly from several years of yoga classes and partly because it's a major liturgical language in both Hinduism and Buddhism. It's also a classic language, still used to some extent, and the basis for several languages which are spoken by many millions of people. Plus the Devanagari script is really neat-looking.

The other thing I have to show is this.

062506vest

Remember this? I decided a few weeks ago to frog it. I was having some issues with the gauge, so I was knitting it too loosely to get the gauge where I thought it was supposed to be and the fabric just had no real structure to it. I actually have yet to rewind that particular ball, so while we were having a Friday night at the movies and watching Rear Window (Summer is when we watch Hitchcock films, says David), I pulled out another ball of the yarn, gauge swatched again, recalculated, and cast on anew.

It remains to be seen if I'll ever actually finish it, but the concept I still very much like. I need to go back and make sure that I won't need to rework the Fair Isle pattern I want to do on the front, actually knit up to the point where I want to do a Fair Isle pattern, etc.

Tonight I spun up some more of the Junior roving and nearly have a full bobbin of it, but I'm fading fast, so it's off to bed for me.

23 June 2006

Just in the Knit of Time

I've been up all night, not at work, but working on cleaning out my home office space. There was a lot of crap to sort through, but the end is in sight. I did take a break, though, to knock out one more hat for Dulaan before I close up the box and send it off today. It's infant-sized and made with the Paton's UpCountry stranded with some Peace Fleece "Baghdad Blue", the proceeds for which are donated to a joint Palestinian/Israeli village. You can read about that endeavour here.

062306dulaan_baby_hat

Now I need to get everything boxed and get to the post office before the rain comes. And then maybe I'll get some sleep. Maybe.

22 June 2006

Salad Days

Summer is the time for fresh produce, so tonight we had a Southwestern-style salad. It turned out way to lovely not to take a picture.

062106salad

I really like making salads (well, cooking, in general), and the general consensus seems to be that I'm quite good at it. This particular one was inspired by the vegetarian taco salad on the menu at Elmo's Diner in Durham, North Carolina, which was the neighborhood diner when I lived there. It's one of the things I miss the most about Durham, and I have yet to find anywhere else that measures up. So if anyone in or near Durham happens to read this, blow them a kiss for me.

More Spinning

I've been in spinning mode lately, I think in large part because my wheel had sat idle for a good while. Tonight, though, I decided to take a break from the shetland x icelandic. I was tired of looking at white, so I started in on some of the roving I got at NHSW. This is about half a bobbin from the roving labeled "Junior", a romney/border leicester cross. I am really liking this fiber. It's got a nice hand, and I just love the heathery brown color. I'll probably go back to the shetland x icelandic after this bobbin so I can spin up the fourth singles I need for my planned experiment, but I'll be looking forward to getting back to this one.

062106junior_singles

Good News

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I had done some bloodwork on my oldest kitty, Poqui, to see if he has hyperthyroidism. It turns out that my suspicion was correct, though it seems to be relatively mild at this point. At any rate, I'm doing a trial with methimazole to make sure his kidneys are fit to do radioactive iodine treatment, and I took him to see a specialist to ultrasound his heart, which is where the most common secondary problems crop up. His heart looks great, though, which means he won't have to go on medications for that. It made my day.

21 June 2006

Where Are We Going, And Why Are We in This Handbasket?

So, every day I have this ritual of going through my little list of blogs, and today I noticed that QueerJoe referenced a comment I had left on his regarding Al Gore's movie. I was kind of struck that my thinking on the global warming issue sort of got characterized as "fuck 'em". I don't think that was necessarily Joe's intent, but I felt like it needed some clarification and a comments board just wasn't the right space to do it.

What I said in my comment was that I've long held the view that we, the human species, will be the architects of our own demise. I called it pessimistic, which I think is the general perception, but I really think of it as a more realistic outlook. I'd like to think otherwise, but I just don't know that we will really solve the problems we are creating with our environment in time to reverse course. My training background is in biology, and any biologist will tell you what happens when a population outgrows its resources. Eventually it crashes hard, sometimes to the point that recovery is not possible.

Over the years that I've been working with animals, one of the things that has really struck me is how much our behaviors are like theirs. We act largely out of instinct - no matter how good we may be at rationalizing and convincing ourselves otherwise - and as a result, our tendency is to have a very short-term outlook in our day-to-day lives. This is what I think will be our downfall. Even though many of us do realize the long-term dangers of what we're doing to the world, as individuals we continue primarily to make decisions that provide short-term gains to our own selves but that will be ultimately detrimental to us collectively in the long run.

The difficult part for most anyone who will be reading this is the realization that we in the developed world are the biggest offenders. I drive a hybrid car, recycle, don't eat meat, and so on, but I still consume far more resources than a poor farmer in Africa or India who is deforesting his area just to be able to cook starvation rations for the family. The real burden to change course is on the First World nations, and I just don't see it as likely to happen in time as the short-term costs - which will be enormous, make no doubt - will be deemed not feasible, or "bad for business".

Listening to a piece about An Inconvenient Truth on NPR last week, I was struck by a part where they described a cartoon in the movie. In the cartoon, a frog is placed in a pan of water on a stove. The stove is then turned on, and the water begins to slowly heat so that the frog doesn't notice. In the original version, the frog eventually dies, but in the version that's in theatres now, the cartoon has been changed so that the frog realizes what's happening and jumps to safety.

Personally, I think it would have been better to leave the frog in the water, as it more accurately reflects what is likely to happen. I understand very well our desire to find hope. It's a very basic emotional/psychological need we have - to find comfort, even in the face of adversity. My fear, though, is that we'll keep hoping and hoping - because acting to the degree that will be required is most certainly going to be painful, particularly for those of us in the developed world - until the water is boiling around us.

20 June 2006

A Song of Praise

I checked the mail before I left for work yesterday, and there was a package from Ted. I had sent him some Madelyn roving a few weeks back, and he sent me back some samples of laceweight yarn that he'd spun - one of pure Madelyn and one of a Madelyn/merino (Max, I believe) blend.

I had been expecting the package, which took 2 1/2 weeks to arrive (Yarn is a threat to Homeland Security, dontcha know). What I did not expect and was very pleasantly surprised to find were a wrist distaff made with a green-blue cotton/silk blend and a postcard with a photo of and pattern for EZ's Gaffer's scarf (a photo of which can be seen by scrolling waaaaay down the page here). The distaff will definitely get some use, and I think I'd like to knit the scarf someday for fun. David thinks it's kind of kinky, though.

As for the samples, all I can say is that Ted gives himself far too little credit. It certainly gives me something to aspire to.

19 June 2006

Makin' Plans

Lots to be done in the next three weeks. After my Monday night shift, I need to spend the remainder of the week clearing out my little office alcove and getting it in order. I also need to work on getting organized for the upcoming Hawai'i trip. I don't believe I've really written about it here, but the pretense for going is the American Veterinary Medical Association's Annual Convention. Having been on the board of the Lesbian & Gay Veterinary Medical Association for 6 years (in various capacities, including a stint as President), I've traditionally gone to this meeting. I believe this is the first time that it's ever been held outside the contiguous 48 states.

Because of all the upheaval in my life last year - the unexpected end of my last relationship, two major moves, two job changes - I had kind of given up on the idea of making this convention. David really wanted to go, though, which gave me an excellent excuse to stick to my long-standing intent to attend. To make it a proper vacation, we're going a week in advance to vacation on Big Island. Then we'll fly to O'ahu for the convention, which is in Honolulu, and afterwards fly back to Big Island for three more days before coming home. Aside from the excitement of vacation in Paradise, I'm also looking forward to being able to add Hawai'i to my list of states I've visited. That will leave me with only two more out of the fifty to see - Alaska and Arkansas.

So with 19 days to go before we leave, I am trying to sort out what we need to pack, what needs to be done before we leave, and what we need but still don't have (snorkeling gear for David). I believe that I handle such preparations with a bit more aplomb than Franklin, but I still like to be efficient in the execution, which leads to a bit of obsessiveness over details. Fortunately, David likes lists even more than I do.

Evening at the Beach


After I got home from a fairly exhausting and overly long shift at work (during which I was stabbed in the back of my hand with a 20 gauge needle) and collapsed for a few hours this afternoon on the living room futon, David and I drove up Rte. 1 to Ogunquit - Maine's answer to Provincetown - to take an evening walk on the beach. On the return leg of our walk, there was a fox scavenging in the rockweed that was washed up above the high tide line. The only other time I've seen one (or at least an apparently healthy one) show so little concern for human presence was years ago in Fundy National Park in Canada. My guess is that she's probably got a litter of kits to feed somewhere, but when wild animals let humans get so close to them, it often ends badly for the animal. It doesn't help that she was foraging near a protected shorebird nesting area, which makes her a more likely target.

More Spinning


I spent about an hour tonight working on the shetland x icelandic. Bobbin #3 is nearly full, but it's kind of slow going, as I have to spend a fair bit of time picking out vegetable matter. This is turning into an interesting exercise, but I have to say that I'm not impressed overall with the processing of this roving.

Ted commented, "So...were the singles spun S or Z? Usually, in the first plying pass for a cabled yarn, you ply in the reverse direction to the singles." I'm actually spinning the singles Z and plan on setting the twist and dyeing them individually (either in different colors or differing shades of one color - undecided as yet), then plying first Z, then S. I know it's contrary to the usual approach, but this is an experiment that's really more about process than end product.

17 June 2006

Happy Pride!

Today is Southern Maine Pride's parade & festival, with the annual Pier Dance tonight. I, however, will be shortly going to bed so that I can get up mid-afternoon and go to work. It's been several years - nine or ten, I believe - since I was in Portland for Pride, so it's a little disappointing, but I expect I'll survive. Like Charles Dickens, I do try to remember Pride in my heart and keep it all the year.

But What's Underneath?

Yesterday, I decided there was enough money in the bank and ordered myself one of these. Not because of Pride - I've just wanted one for quite a while. I was hoping that it would arrive before our trip to Hawai'i, which is coming up in three weeks, but I called and found out that the size I ordered isn't in stock. This means a 6-8 week wait while it's being made. I guess I'll just have to find myself a nice sarong when we get to Big Island.

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

I've been working on bobbin number three of the shetland x icelandic singles and making fairly good progress. As I've worked along on this, I've been contemplating how best to work with this yarn.

061706icelandicxshetland


The big issue is that when I've test plied it back on itself, the areas with slubs of undercoat tend to open up too much, which I think will make the yarn too prone to splitting. I thought about just working multiple ends together, but that gets to be a bit awkward & tedious if you're using more than two ends. So I've hit on an idea that I think will work.

I'll dye the singles separately, because I think it'll be fun to make a multi-colored yarn and a good chance to play around with dyes. Then I think I should be able to make a cabled yarn by plying the 2-plys Z, then plying those together S. Hypothetically - or at least in my thinking - that should allow me to avoid the really open areas by ultimately keeping the twist roughly where it is now. I expect it also to give me a roughly worsted weight yarn. I may be wrong, and it may turn out badly in the end, but these sorts of little experiments sure do appeal to my inquisitive mind.

Right now, though, the sun is starting to come up, so this vampire is off to bed.

16 June 2006

No News Is...

Nothing really to report here. It's been a busy, busy night at work - no progress on any knitting projects. I talked to my grandfather Wednesday, and he sounds quite well for someone who just had a heart attack. My mother tells me that my grandmother is also doing quite well, considering all the trouble she's been having this year. As for me, I can turn my head a little bit more, but the neck, he still hurts.

Wednesday actually was a day of good news for David. At the very end of the trade show he made two fairly good sales, and his customer service rep, Mendy, called to tell us that she had just made a huge sale for him. He also has the promise of another sale to someone from the trade show and potential to do some design work for another one of the sellers at the show, so it does at least seem to have paid for itself.

Little Herreshoff continues to do very well, and I continue to await word that Maddy's given birth. And now that I'm caught up on all my paperwork, the phone has begun ringing again. No rest for the weary.

13 June 2006

New Baby

I got home from Marlboro(ugh) yesterday and was opening windows to let the sea breeze in when I spied a fresh new cria in the pasture. It turns out he was born relatively early Monday morning. It was a complicated birth, as his front legs (which should precede his head)were both pointing back. As I wasn't there, I wasn't able to help, but the landladies were able to get their regular farm vet to come out and help get the little guy out. In spite of his rough entry into the world, he did very well and is an active little bugger. His name is Herreshoff, which is the name of a now-defunct sailboat company which made some really world-class vessels in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

061306herreshoff


I also came home to a phone message from my mother telling me only to call her at work, which I knew meant bad news. My 91 year-old grandfather suffered a heart attack on Sunday and is in the hospital. It appears that it was fairly mild, fortunately, but his heart rate was slow enough that they implanted a pacemaker today. My mother had planned to fly down at the end of the month, but she's now leaving tomorrow to do what she can to help with my grandmother (86 years old), who's had a lot of health problems in the past several months, and help prepare for my grandfather's return home. I suspect that they're going to need at least some part-time in-home assistance. My uncle lives next door to them and has been helping out, but with both of them ill, it will probably be more than he can manage alone.

Otherwise, things continue as usual. I woke up with a bad spasm in my neck and can't really turn my head very well at the moment. I had decided not to take the Flexeril I've been taking to help me sleep better, as David complains that it makes me twitch in my sleep, but I'm thinking that this isn't really a good alternative. Also, I'm waiting for Madelyn to have her baby at any time. Alpacas generally give birth during the morning and early afternoon - an important adaptive mechanism when you come from a place where nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing year-round. The baby visibly shifted position on Sunday, but I've seen these girls keep you guessing for weeks before they go into labor, and last year Maddy gave no warning and delivered within the space of about a half hour. Since gestation can be really variable, there's no telling when I'll get the baby call. Expect photos, though.

12 June 2006

Alpaca Primer, Part 2

Ted had some follow-up questions:

So, question #2 is: are there significant differences between baby alpaca and adult alpaca fleece? Is there an age in the critter's life when the fleece becomes coarse and doesn't have value in the garment market?

Be careful not confuse the grade "baby alpaca" with fleece from a young animal. As the animal ages, guard hairs do begin to grow in, and average fiber diameter does tend to increase under hormonal influences, due to breeding stress, and even from overly rich nutrition. In general, though, animals with really fine fiber to begin with are going to maintain really fine fiber throughout much or all of their lives. Gelded males actually retain/regain fineness that they might otherwise lose under the influence of testosterone, but they are generally gelded either because of poorer fiber characteristics or due to conformational faults that exclude them from the breeding pool.

And if I were looking to buy a fleece, what would I look for? Does alpaca fleece exhibit weaknesses related to stress, like sheepwool will?

David will tell you that hand feel is most important, and the best way to get your hands used to discriminating is to get them on a lot of fleeces. Otherwise, you'd look for the same sorts of things you'd want from a sheep fleece - relatively clean, no evidence of fleece rot (from kushing in water all summer long to keep cool) or fleece break (stress or nutrition-related - can happen, but I don't believe it's common), preferably no second cuts from shearing, etc.

And I second Cheryl's question: does the fleece need to be dehaired?

It certainly can be, but this usually isn't done because of the expense. In most cases, the fiber's just assigned a coarser grade and used for purposes appropriate to that grade. Llama fiber usually needs to be either combed or put through a dehairing process, as it has considerable higher guard hair content than alpaca. Even very low guard hair content, though, can cause a bit of prickle against sensitive skin, and I don't know if any dehairing process is absolutely perfect.

(More than 1 question, I see.)

Indeed.

Another Question


Elemmaciltur asked: Where's the proof of your KIPing??!!!

Actually, I think that's supposed to be K'ing IP, though it is admittedly more awkward that way. Either way, though, I have no photos, as I had neglected to take my camera along. I had actually intended to and forgot it, but even if I had taken it on the trip, I'm not sure I would have had the wherewithal to pick it up and take it along to a hotel lobby at 2AM. If I had, though, I'm sure I would have had newlyweds Christy & Kevin (or perhaps Kevin's twin brother, Brian, who apparently kept being mistaken for the groom, despite wearing a differently colored bowtie for the wedding to avoid confusion) pose with the socks. Since I didn't, you'll just have to make do with this pic I took tonight:

061206socks_progress


From about the last blue line (after the last red line) to the end was what I got done in public - not bad considering my hands don't hold up terribly long with such tiny needles (2mm/US size 0). The following day, I continued to KIP as David's assistant at the trade show. Since I was sitting in his booth to help promote his clothing line, I figured I ought to be working on something in alpaca, so I managed to add a few more inches to the old shale scarf I started for Dulaan Project. I don't think I'll have it done in time for this year, but it's still coming along nicely.

061206scarf_progress


Miscellany

Last week I made good progress on a second bobbin of the shetland x icelandic singles. I hope to add a bit more before bed tonight.

061206icelandic_shetland


My other big project that I started tonight was clearing out the alcove in the kitchen that was intended to be my office space. It has been filled with boxes the past several months - so much so that I've barely been able to get to my printer to print things out, let alone actually use the space constructively. I've thrown away a lot, put away a lot, and started setting aside a few things for a future yard sale. There is now a big pile of empty cardboard boxes that need to go to recycling, a somewhat banged up (but finally empty) plastic bin that I can use for some of the stash that's metastasized to the living room over the past month or so, and this:

061206office


At least it's progress, but I think I've reached the end of my ability to deal with it for tonight.

11 June 2006

WWKIP

It was yesterday. I did knit in public. Eventually. I was even wearing the t-shirt I'd bought from Franklin's shop. But it was after midnight at a hotel in Marlboro, Massachusetts. Or maybe it's Marlborough. They can't seem to make up their minds how to spell this town's name.

David's got a vendor booth at an apparel trade show here this weekend, and as it's my weekend off, I've followed him down - officially to be his assistant, but really so we don't have to spend five days apart. I tried dutifully going to sleep last night so I could get up bright and early, but my body was having none of that. It wasn't my bedtime, no matter if I'd only gotten five hours' sleep after work.

So I decided to get up, and since David did need to sleep, I took my knitting down to the hotel lobby & found a sofa to plop myself down on. As it was nearly 2AM, the hotel's bar was just about to close, evicting a group of boisterous folks who moved themselves to a pair of tables right next to where I was sitting. I wasn't particularly keen on listening to a bunch of drunk straight people, but their conversation was actually amusing to listen to and included such topics as same-sex marriage (They even knew that Massachusetts has same-sex marrriage and Vermont has civil unions) and Brokeback Mountain (aside from the standard straight guy expressions of shock, generally positive reviews).

It turned out that they were part of a wedding party. It also turned out that they had ordered a few too many vodka & cranberry juices, so the groom came over and offered me one, which I accepted with a congratulations on their nuptials. The bride, it turns out, is a South Carolina native like me. They asked what I was knitting, and we chatted for a bit - pleasant folks. I then returned to my knitting and continued to knit until after their little party had petered out. I finally came back to the room for another go at sleep and was eventually successful, but I was not able to get up bright and early.

So now it's off to get a bit of breakfast and head next door to the trade center to see what sort of oddities await (David promises me that there's a lot of scary apparel to be seen).

07 June 2006

Questions Gladly Answered Here

Ted commented: "I think, oh Alpaca Guru, that it would be great if you did an anatomy lesson of an alpaca fleece. I keep hearing about this 'blanket' thingy, but have no idea why it's important."

I don't know that I really qualify for guru status, but I did a quick Google search (for alpaca fleece diagram, I think) and found this. In this particular diagram, the blanket is labeled as "saddle", which is an alternate term. The blanket area of the fleece is generally the area with the finest fiber and the fewest guard hairs. In high quality animals, the neck fleece is often comparable, and these prime areas when clipped are generally referred to as "firsts". The "firsts" are usually clipped first & bagged separately.

The "seconds" - usually the middle leg, apron, +/- neck - are then usually clipped and bagged separately. The "thirds" - lower leg, britch (usually), tail, belly, topknot - are generally either bagged separately or discarded, depending on quality. Some farms will only shear the blanket & belly (maybe the neck) for coolness in the summer, which is referred to as a "barrel clip". Aesthetically, I think this looks silly. It also leaves some potentially usable - not to mention potentially very warm - fleece on the animal during the summer months.

The reason guard hair content is important is that it affects the comfort level of the finished textile. As a rule of thumb, fibers of greater than 30 microns in diameter will make the wearer feel prickles when wearing the garment next to their skin, so the goal is to have as few of these coarse fibers as possible. This is why merino, which has a low average fiber diameter, can be worn next to the skin, while many other wools cannot.

Because in alpacas these larger diameter fibers are usually guard hairs, the fewer the better. Below 30 microns, hand feel is affected both by average fiber diameter and by scale structure on the individual fibers (All mammal hairs have scales, to greater or lesser degree, along the hair shaft - perhaps a little reminder of our reptilian origins?). An animal can have an average fiber diameter that is relatively higher, but if there are very few guard hairs and very few or very small scales on the individual fibers, then it will feel slicker and smoother to the touch than fiber that has a lower average diameter but either a greater percentage of guard hairs or more prominent or numerous scales on the individual fibers.

How's that for a primer?

A Lovely Day

'Twas very bright and sunny out today, with weather about as close as possible to perfect. I sat with the landladies for a while on baby watch, as one of their girls looked as though she might pop a cria out at any moment. One thing I've learned, though, is that 'pacas love to toy with you when it comes to having babies. Their gestation length is variable, and they can start acting like their going into labor a few weeks in advance.

So after we decided we'd be all day watching for a baby that wasn't going to come and after doing a little bit of yardwork, David and I drove over to the farm in New Hampshire where our 'pacas board. David hadn't had a chance to look at Millicent, our new little girl, and I wanted to put some of what I learned over the weekend into practice with Madelyn, who is generally pretty well-behaved but really hasn't been handled enough or adequately to be able to trust me or anyone else. While I was working with Maddy, Millicent came out to have a look at what was going on. David snapped this shot of the three of us.

0606me_maddy_millie

My session with Maddy wasn't long, but I think it was a good start, and she really seemed to calm down a good bit in the few minutes I spent with her. At some point I'll start doing similar work with Millicent, but I figured I'd let her settle in a bit first.

Q & A

Ted asked, " What does it mean when an alpaca is 'kushed'?"

"Kush" is a command - presumably Arabic - used by camel handlers in North Africa & the Middle East to get the camel to kneel or lie down. It was adopted for use in South American camelids to describe when they are lying down with their legs tucked completely underneath them. Unlike camels, they're generally not taught to do this on command and will most often do this when you don't want them to - e.g., when you want to trim their toenails.

The Bird People in China

We watched this movie tonight and really enjoyed it. The director has been described as a Japanese David Lynch, but this film was quite a bit less bizarre than one of his other films we watched last week, which ended with a fairly graphic scene of a woman giving birth, as it were, to a full grown man who had died towards the beginning of the film.

The next film we have to watch is Touch the Sound, which is a documentary about percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is deaf. She says that she experiences sound more through her sense of touch than through her hearing, and her recordings that I've heard are just stunning.

06 June 2006

Back Home in New England

Sunday was quite a long day, even for me. I got up for the second day in a row at 7:30AM, which is basically my equivalent of getting up at midnight. The second day of the Marty McGee Bennett workshop was as productive and useful as the first, and I feel like I got a lot out of it.

After that full day, though, I still had a lot left to do. I left the host farm, which is just outside of Princeton, and drove almost an hour south to the edge of the Pine Barrens region to pick up young Millicent and bring her back to the farm in New Hampshire where she'll be boarding for the foreseeable future. She managed the 7.5 hour drive well, but she definitely found it stressful and spent most of the time kushed. I finally got home at about 3:30AM.

I was hoping to get back to the farm today to see her, take a few photos and have a look at Madelyn, who is due anytime within the next month. Instead, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon, then spent the rest of the afternoon helping David with a photo shoot for his 2006 line. Rosa also volunteered to help out.

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And before it got too dark, we took a little family portrait.

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On our way back to the car from the beach shoot, Rosa was attacked by a much larger dog. She doesn't appear to have any bite wounds, fortunately, but I did call the police to file a report. There are few things that piss me off more than people letting their aggressive dogs off lead, especially in public places. The beach in question is very popular with dog owners, and most of the dogs are fairly well-behaved, even if they're not all well-trained. I see the consequences of dog fights far too often, though, and find it frustrating that people aren't more responsible with their pets.

Hate-mongering Bastards


This week the US Senate is once again supposed to take up the matter of the "Marriage Protection" Amendment. And yet again, this piece of right wing nastiness has been sponsored by my colleague and evil prick, Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado. While the general expectation is that this proposed constitutional amendment will go nowhere, even with W's support, I still took a bit of time this evening to hash out the following e-mail, which I sent to both of Maine's senators - Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

I am writing to ask you to vote against the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment sponsored by Senator Allard. As I am sure you are well aware, this proposed amendment does nothing at all to protect marriage. It doesn’t address any of the relevant economic and social issues underlying the high divorce rate in this country. The only thing that it does is create a diversion from the real issues facing the nation in order to single out and deny basic rights to a minority group of people. I find this to be highly offensive, both as a gay man and as an American. As a fellow veterinarian, I feel that Senator Allard’s actions and stance in this regard do nothing but bring shame to our profession, which is supposed to be one of caring and concern for all.

The history of this nation and of our Constitution has traditionally been one of expanding rights and freedoms. Should this amendment succeed, it will be our first step backwards from a constitutional standpoint and, I fear, the beginning of a slippery slope down from the high democratic ideals we hold dear. The current buzzword being used by Sen. Allard, the President, and others – “activist judges” – to me smacks of contempt for our constitutional form of government and its three equal branches. The judiciary does not exist to rubber-stamp decisions of the executive and legislative branches, and were it not for so-called “activist judges”, many of our advances forward would likely not have taken place.

And although I am of the opinion that basic rights should not be subject to majority rule, I would point out that this amendment does not enjoy the support of a majority of Americans. A survey last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that only about 15% of those surveyed were in favor of amending the Constitution in this way. This small minority recognizes that attitudes towards same sex marriage are changing in much the way that attitudes towards interracial marriage have changed over the past four decades. Fearing a repeat of Loving v. Virginia – an unlikely occurrence given the current makeup of the Supreme Court – they wish to impose their will on all Americans and enshrine their beliefs in the Constitution.

It should be patently obvious that this proposed amendment does nothing to promote the democratic ideals of the Founders or advance the principles upon which this nation is based. It is nothing more than a divisive election year machination, and I hope that you will take a principled stand against this fearmongering and vote no.


I would urge anyone else in this country who isn't a crazed religious fascist to write or call your senators, as well. The sooner people start standing up to the Religious Wrong, the faster we can get them back to minding their own damned business and keeping their noses out of politics and other people's lives.

03 June 2006

Jersey's Where It's At

Well, at least it's where I'm at for the weekend. I spent 6 hours driving in the rain to attend a two day training session with Marty McGee Bennett - David's birthday present to me. I just hope there's an ample indoor space for this, because yesterday's muggy heat has given way to thunderstorms and downpours. Before coming home Sunday, I will be driving a bit further south to pick up Millicent, the weanling girl 'paca that David and I are buying together. Her buddy as a cria was one of David's who is now boarding at the farm in New Hampshire where most of our animals are and where Millicent will be going. Hopefully that will make the move a bit less traumatic for her.

My travel reading is the Jon Kabat-Zinn's first two books - Full Catastrophe Living & Wherever You Go There You Are. They are both books on mindfulness meditation - something I've been interested in learning about for some time and something that I'm hoping might help with some of my pain issues, as I do recognize that stress is a trigger for worsening my pain.

Although I linked to the Amazon listings for the books, I bought both of them through eBay's Half.com site - at a considerable discount from even the Amazon prices. They're sold as used books, but both are in perfect condition.

Now it's off to read a bit before bed. Bonus points to anyone who knows which album the title of this post came from.