I’m Traumatized

June 3, 2009

Reading is not enough to keep my mind off the destruction outside. They started it yesterday.


One thing I noticed as I was taking the “before” pictures is that it is almost impossible to capture topography with a camera. The flattening effect of photography. I think painting and drawing do a lot better.

Anyway, they are digging great honking mountains of dirt out of our yard with Big Machines. Pretty much no area of our lot will be untouched.  They are going to dig deeper than what you see now, too. My front yard will be a pit when they’re done. I’m thinking a drawbridge and a crocodile moat would be about right.

A long series of events led to this. At first we thought the “slight negative grading” around the foundation that the inspector mentioned could be corrected with shovels and wheelbarrows and our own muscle. Then we discovered what a mess the soil was. Beyond awful. The house is 96 years old, but most of the dirt is much newer. Generations of yahoos thought the answer to the fact that it was built on a slope was to haul in truckloads cheap fill and gravel and at various times, allowing them more places to park their cars. The fill caused water to flow toward the basement. In one place, right under a mis-laid pipe from the downspout, a non-draining cinder block retaining wall held it against the foundation like a dam.

We only discovered the extent of the water problem when we started taking down the raw, cheap tongue-and-groove that had been nailed to the basement ceiling and the 1/4 inch unfinished plywood that had been nailed to the sheet rock walls as wainscotting. We knew about the small moldy wall by the cinder-block dam, but we thought the rest of the basement was okay. They had done such horrible things to the rest of the house for no apparent reason–except possibly laziness–that we were willing to believe they had gone crazy with the rough wood in the basement both because they had no taste and found it easier to use a nail gun than to sand and paint the sheet rock. We called it The Man Cave and laughed, thinking it would be an easy fix–at least compared to the rest of the house.

But no. The basement had only been finished recently, and it turns out the former owners didn’t use any kind of a moisture barrier–the studs were in direct contact with the foundation and floor. Naturally, the walls were soon infested with mold. What to do? Cut the sheetrock away to a height of two feet off the floor in a laughable attempt at mold abatement, then cover the gaping holes holes in the sheet rock and moldy studs with plywood to fool prospective buyers.

Then didn’t we feel dumb! We were even looking for mold when we first came to look at the house.  I thought my bloodhound-nose for mold was infallible.  Because of the moldy farmhouse we lived in, and my resulting allergies and first-hand knowledge of the near impossibility of eradicating mold, it was our deal-breaker.  Only it didn’t.

My dad is going to help us re-frame the whole basement. Or rather, help Der Mann do it, because my allergy is really bad. Just the one patch we uncovered has made it hard for me to spend time there. I try to run up and downstairs with my loads of laundry before I start to cough.

We reasoned that it wouldn’t to do any good to re-frame the basement if ground- and roof-water was still being directed toward the foundation. That’s where the big machines come in.  I would have liked a cheaper and less intrusive fix, but once I started looking at the lay of the land, I could see it just wasn’t possible. In order to take away as much dirt as you need to take here, you have to take even more there. Which is basically what the experts said.

Also, we have to unbury the porch to keep it from rotting, which meant removing the cement walkway that led to the buried porch.




The only good part about this mess is that there was no remainder of the original landscaping to worry about, after the depredations of the former owners. I love old gardens. It would have been hard for me to make the decision to grade properly if it had involved tearing out antique snowball bushes, bridal wreath, lilacs, or the decendents of flowers and herbs planted back when the house was new. (Actually, I should correct myself. There is one old Rose of Sharon and one lilac. Luckily, they are in places where the machines can word around them (knock on wood).

I am learning that it is hard to communicate with equipment operators. I’m having the opposite problem from what I expected: it’s hard to get them to take away as much dirt as needs to go, as much as they agreed to (I thought.) I say 4 inches, they take 2. I’m afraid this is because we chose to pay a set price, rather than hourly plus dump fees–and they had already underbid the job in their eagerness to get work. The more dirt they take away, the less profit. Politeness plus directness seems not to be effective. It’s like I’m talking to the air, if the air could get annoyed. Maybe they are so used to bullying and cajoling, that unless I bully and cajole, they think I’m not serious?

One, maybe two more days of this.


I only seem to write when I want something. Washing machine advice, exclamations of horror. You’re so nice about giving them to me! However, you’ve probably given up on checking my blog by now, and I know bloglines doesn’t register my new entries until a month or two after I post them.

If you do come across this, maybe you will have something to say. Remember the gamboling wild kittens I mentioned in my pros and cons post a while back? Well, one of them is making a pitiful effort to socialize itself and has decided that we belong to it.

(Dog exclusivists will be bored by what follows. There’s no weaving in it. I’m warning you so you can stop reading and avoid that uncomfortable annoyed-by-the-stupidity-of-a-stranger-on-the-internet feeling.)

I once read a sort of natural history of domesticated cats by a vet, which did a lot to explain why cats relate to humans in a way unlike dogs. A happy, properly-trained dog thinks you’re its alpha pack mate. Cats don’t have packs. A cat (animal behaviorists speculate) thinks you’re its mommy. The kneading, the purring, the seeking of comfort, the lap sitting, the fixation on food when you’re around: infant behavior. Also the playing; you’re it’s teacher. I wouldn’t wonder if the wheedling and manipulating and leaving you in the dust when there’s something more interesting to do isn’t also a part of the metaphorical parent-offspring relationship–rebellious teenaged cat behavior as it leaves the nest and stakes out its own territory.

Well, I’m thinking that if a cat is going to enter into a successful social contract of protracted mama-cathood/kittenhood with its owners, it has to know what the relationship is about. It either has to have had a mama-cat, or a human who stood in for one.

Hence the problem with adopting feral cats, and the really weird behavior we noticed in the local kittens. I am used to kittens that interact with humans, that notice what you’re doing, what you want them to do, and so on; then they court you or evade you. The kittens around our house raised each other, so that while they had no fear of humans, they treated Der Mann and me as walking hurricanes–a collection of natural phenomena–rather than creatures. They would come right up to us to see what was going on, but they wouldn’t let us touch them. They would chase string without ever realizing we were pulling it. They would come in our house to explore if we accidentally left the door open without any sense of wrongdoing or any effort to be sneaky–just curious, as they were about everything else in their territory. We were weather to them because we were not cats.

In the last month or so the three black kittens have taken to making fewer and fewer appearances right by the house as they stake out their adult territories, while the Siamese-looking one seems to have made it’s territory here. Right here. Central command is our front porch, which it defends against full-grown neighborhood cats. Recently it started meowing and scratching at the back door, peeping in the windows. When we go outside it makes a beeline for us. It has learned about petting, though not well and not about laps. It seems to want something we can’t give it. Instead of sitting down and allowing itself to be petted, it frantically rubs its head against our hands while standing on our knees and gets more and more agitated. If we stop, it starts climbing our chests, kneading us, and sticking its nose in our faces.

It’s well fed, so that’s not the problem–more that it’s little kitty wires are crossed. My unscientific theory is that its sociable Siamese genes are struggling with it’s lack of upbringing. Instinctively it knows that humans are good for something, it knows that the door into the house is a portal to delights, but it can’t figure out what they are beside food, which we never give it.

Several days ago, Der Mann talked to the neighbor we thought these kittens belonged to and found out that they had been abandoned in a box in the vacant lot between our houses. The neighbor fed them but didn’t let them in her house or interact with them, except for the one she adopted. She hasn’t gotten around to taking the others to the pound. I guess she wanted to find homes for them, although she doesn’t seem to have been trying very hard because they are about 7 months old. Now it’s not likely to happen. Their kitten appeal is gone, and they haven’t been taught any of the things they need to know, like not to scratch the furniture or jump up on counters. Worst of all–like most of the pets in this town–they haven’t been fixed.

When we heard about the impending impoundment, we had already (shame on us) let the needy Siamese it in a few more times to see what it would do. Each time we were forced to put it out–immediate, unrepentant claws to the new sumak rug, etc. If (we concluded) it’s possible to train this particular cat for indoor behavior (which I doubt), it will take someone (not us) weeks and weeks of lifting it down from the counter every fifteen minutes, by which time all their furniture will be in tatters (not ours).

And yet the first thing we said to each other when we heard about the pound was, well, should we save the Siamese?

It’s not that we don’t want a cat. We do, especially Der Mann, but Der Mann is allergic. Not severely allergic, but the kind of allergy that has to do with those numbered enzyme thingies most cats make (too lazy to look it up), but which a few fancy breeds or mutants make less or none of. Basically, second hand cat-spit makes him itch. If he doesn’t have any cuts on his hands, and doesn’t touch his face, and washes his hands right afterward, he can handle a cat without too many ill effects. But living in the same house with a cat would be a different matter.

If we took responsibility for the Siamese, it would have to have a cat door and bed down in the basement workroom, and not be allowed in the house. It would be an outside-only cat–not only because of it’s allergens, but because of it’s wildness and naughtiness.

Here are the elements of our dilemma:

Cat is going to the pound where it will probably be put down.

Cat is pretty. Cat is unusually smart. Cat has worked its evil wiles on us. We like the cat.

Cat is dysfunctional. Cat claws everything in sight. Cat is high energy. Cat sheds copious amounts of whitish fur. Cat is bossy. Cat is probably untrainable. It is not a desirable house cat.

Husband is allergic to cats. Even a desirable house cat is a bad idea.

Because a house cat is a bad idea, we’re not likely to go looking for one.

But one found us.

Only, it can’t be a house cat, it can only be a basement workroom and porch cat.

Our question is: is it right to take responsibility for an animal without really giving it the home it wants?

To put it another way: is it better to let the Siamese take its chances at the pound, or to give it food and outdoor companionship without taking it into our lives?

Several things muddy the issue. Since the pretty Siamese has better chances of being adopted than its long-haired, flat-faced, rusty black siblings, shouldn’t we save one of the ugly ones? And if we are only concerned about rescuing cats from death, why not fix and start feeding all four? And if we did let it in the basement workroom, can we absolutely promise ourselves we would not let it in the house, which would be terrible for Der Mann’s health and my sanity?

Aesthetically, I’m gaga for this cat. Stubby legged, small, and sausage shaped, she is not my usual favorite flavor of kitty–but that just makes her look all the more like a panda. The sharp contrast of her dark brown ears and legs and face and tail are incredibly expressive, like a mime in whiteface. I often want to laugh at the transparency of her gestures.

But cuteness can’t make up for a bad personality. The cats I knew growing up were the easy layabout kind. They never clawed the furniture. I couldn’t stand the kind of cat that jumps on your keyboard, bothers you, nags you, demands constant interaction, is deaf to the word, “no.”

I want this cat, but I don’t want this cat. We can have this cat, but we can’t have this cat. It’s very confusing.

Central Command

Central Command

Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.


*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.

Egg Sauced

March 3, 2009

Sorry for the lack of pictures.  We are on dial-up internet at the moment.  I now look forward to catching up on your blogs very s-l-o-w-l-y, unless (until?) we should make our pact with the devil, i.e. Comcast, i.e. the only fast internet in our new town.

But we are moved in.  All our possessions are out of the rain.  We left the apartment far cleaner than than our raw vegan musician nudist landlord left it for us.  He remarked as much, in his white tunic, when we woke him up from an afternoon nap to come do the walk-through.  “Here’s my old room!” he said fondly, turning to me for the indulgent approval he is accustomed to receive from women.  I smiled fixedly at him in my wet, filthy floor-scrubbing clothes.  Then he found the lavender bundles in the closet and wanted to know if we were leaving them.  I said we put them there because the closets smelled of cigarette smoke so we figured we’d leave them.  He perked up.  “So, do you burn them?”  (He definitely moves in the sweetgrass set.)

“No, they just sit in there and make it smell nice,” I explained.  (Does that mean I move in the lavender-in-the-closet set?)

I think he’d got a sudden poetical vision of lighting smudges and chanting our meat-eating, milk-drinking, vegetable-scorching spirits out of the empty apartment when we were gone.

Over the years I have thought a lot about the fact that a quarter (an eighth?) of the renters in the world do all of the cleaning.  Every time we’ve moved, Der Mann and I have cleaned the place we were leaving, then had to turn around and scrape somebody else’s thick layer of gunge out of the new one.  We move into dirty rentals and leave them clean: I can only assume some lucky few have the luxurious experience of moving into clean rentals and leaving them dirty.  Virtue is not its own reward, so what motivated me to clean house for these people?

For one thing, money was so tight we were always terrified of not getting our deposit back.  Yet I know for a fact that most landlords will settle for what I call “symbolic cleaning.”  Over the years I’ve observed, again and again, a bizarre landlord-obsession with burner pans.  Replace the burner pans, dump a gallon of bleach in the toilet, knock the crumbs out of the kitchen drawers, and you’re golden: no need to worry about the blobs of jam or crock pot full of moldy leftovers in the fridge, the 9 burnt-out lightbulbs, The gravy smears on the woodwork, the wall you’ve been using for a dart-board, or the pools of shampoo in the bathroom cupboard–he’ll turn a blind eye to those.  If, on the other hand, he’s the kind of landlord who doesn’t return deposits, nothing you can do will to make him give it back.

It’s not that I’m a neatnik.  Well, okay, a little, but only selectively.  While I am depressed by dirt, I weigh the cost of displacing of it very carefully.  I don’t like to crunch around on gritty floors, I think it’s important not to let goop settle on work surfaces, and no human being ought to have to use a gross bathroom.  Also, I have a thing about keeping the kitchen counters cleared in reaction to my mother.  (Her hoarding and her clinical OCD and are a deadly combination.)  But I loathe scrubbing and mopping floors.  And dusting.  And vacuuming.

I end up vacuuming every week or two for the sake of my dust allergies.  In terms of surface area, 80 percent of the dust settles on the floor, right?  As for the other 20 percent, despite the fact that it is a health issue and I find it extremely unpleasant to touch–nails on chalkboard, really–I go months without dusting.  And floors, oh, dear.  Back when we lived in a farmhouse with real linoleum in a speckled brown pattern I once went more than a year without mopping.  But see, we don’t spill much!  And when we do spill something, we wipe it up with soap and and water!  And we don’t wear our outside shoes in the house!

Regular spot cleaning and a household with only two adults is the only thing that makes this kind of piggery bearable.

But I’m talking about our everyday dirt, in our everyday lives.  We would never bequeath it.  That would be wrong.  Like leaving our dirty underwear slung on the chandeliers.  I’ve never faced dirty underwear in a new rental, though I once found dirty sweat bands and sweat socks that had been slung on the closet shelf.

We are still technically renters.  My parents are buying the house as a retirement investment, Der Mann and I are fixing it up.  My parents are paying for materials, we are supplying the labor.  Our rent is about the same as it was in the duplex.  However, since we loaned my parents part of the purchase price, it is also an investment for Der Mann and me.  When my parents sell, we’ll get our money back with a portion of the profit from the sale.

In case you are curious, I managed to de-paper, patch, re-plaster, sand and paint the bedrooms before moving day.  All the dog-pee carpets are gone.  Believe how bad they were when I tell you the nailed, splintering, painted and paint-splattered wood floors underneath are a big improvement.  The rest of the house is (Euphemism?  Let’s see, now…) in process.  I’m only half done painting the dining room.  It’s the largest room, and my loom and all the stuff that was going to go in there is crammed in the living room until my paint store gets another shipment of the paint I was using.

Still no washing machine.  We went through the drama of buying one, hauling it home, squeezing it through tight doors, unpacking it, and hooking it up, only find that “automatic temperature control” refers to an internal, non-adjustable thermostat which prevents washing at any temperature other than the factory pre-sets for “cold,” “cool,” “warm,” and “hot.”  The “hot” setting is lukewarm.  Adjusting the laundry taps, which is how I’ve always fine-tuned my wash temperature, did nothing.  It was late at night and I’d been breathing paint fumes for weeks straight when I made this discovery; I was literally pounding on the walls with my fists and weeping.  I stopped short of swinging a hammer through the plaster, which was what I really wanted to do–I knew I was the one who would have to patch the hole!  My poor Mann.  He was the one who suggested we could try to return it.  He did the dirty work.

Where’s Trapunto?



Forming an ever lower opinion of the former owners of the house we are moving into at the end of the month.  After three weeks off non-stop prepping, painting, cleaning, and dog-pee carpet removal (Der Mann handled that, thank God) it is just about at the nadir.  Every stage uncovers a new horror.  The guy loved caulk.  Yes, the around-the-bathtub kind.  It’s good for everything, don’tcha know.  Yes siree, that woodwork ain’t going nowhere nohow.  And when it goes, the wall goes with it, dammit!


Fleeing the Landlord

February 3, 2009

From this:


to this:



But not until the end of the month.  In the mean time I am very busy and tired. Whelmed, but not over, if you know what I mean.  I hope to offer some updates later.  Does anyone know how you remove wood glue that someone has squirted liberally under all the lifting seams of wallpaper, directly onto improperly skim-coated sheet rock (gypsum board), without taking the paper off the sheet rock?

And as long as I’m asking for advice: can anyone tell me how front-loading washers treat handwovens?  Do you have one?  Do you like it?  I know they are more efficient than the old fashioned tub-and-agitator kind of washing machine, but I’m worried there would be not-enough swirly water going on, and too much slapping.  For the first time I am shopping for a major appliance, and I find that Consumer Reports doesn’t mention whether this or that washing machine is likely to tangle and unevenly shrink one’s handwoven yardages.

Home For a Head

December 1, 2008

I appreciate your sympathetic comments on my last post.  I’m ashamed how whiney and alarmist I sound–“Waa, I’m afraid I can’t weave!”–when so many of you are already been biting the bullet (and the anti-inflamatories) to pursue the beloved craft.  Forgive me; I ought to give you some context: as someone with a chronic illness, I’ve had a lot of experience with physical things going wrong and not getting better.  It’s turned me into a human barometer.  I’m all about reading the warning signs, catching little problems, and working to forestall them before they take permanent hold.  I have found that if I take ibuprophin and give in to my “bloody mindedness” as Deborah puts it (love that expression!), I have to be ready for it to reach round and bite me.  Sometimes it’s worth it, mostly not.  It’s more of a crap shoot when the problem is an unfamiliar one.

Last week we discovered a possible escape route from our disturbing landlord and his 5:30 AM-on-a-Sunday-morning (sledge?)hammering in the other half of the duplex.  Landlord and new girlfriend are in a frenzy of loud and smelly home improvement, which I think means they are here for the long haul.  –This, and the fact that they have hung shiny new Tibetan prayer flags across the yard at just the hight to decapitate themselves in the dark.  Der Mann says it has spoiled prayer flags for him.

It will be a couple of months before we know whether this escape route pans out, and the strange thing is I don’t really mind one way or the other.  It seems I didn’t need to know for sure we were getting away from here to feel better, I just needed the possibility that we might be living somewhere else in the foreseeable future.

I am half convinced that organizing my weaving area is what brought this possibility about.

I bought a new-to-me weaving cupboard in the spring, but couldn’t use it until I had attached the dangerously balanced hutch to the base.  Since then, “not using” the cupboard has translated into stuffing things into it just to get them out of the way.  You know, weaving things like Chinese face powder (I don’t wear make-up, but it’s a pretty box!) and my chocolate stash.


The more I stuffed, the more I would have to remove when I finally pulled the cupboard out from the wall to attach the hutch.  I was unmotivated.  More recently I didn’t see any point in fixing up the cupboard until we decided whether we were going to try to find a new apartment.

A couple of weeks ago I gave up on finding another apartment; the prospects were too dismal.  I attached the hutch to the base cupboard with metal mending plates and organized all my weaving things inside.





There isn’t much difference between the before picture and the after picture, but it is a huge difference for me, because now I know where everything is!  I wish I could show you the annoying places around the house where reeds, beaming sticks (that’s what the wooden blinds are going to be, too) and the toe-stubbing pieces of my warping reel were crammed.

I’m inclined to see a connection between cupboard fixing and landlord escape because it is an example of something I keep noticing in life, but only ever after it happens: the power of gestures of despair.  When I give up, and take action reflecting the up-givenness, circumstances alter.  It’s not a useful philosophy because it’s not possible to give up on purpose (not the way I’m talking about), but there it is. 

The best part about my reorganized corner is that I now have space for my head, or rather, my father’s head.  One of the most frustrating things about our current cramped living situation is that it has coincided with my grandmother wanting to give me what little remains of my dead father’s stuff (he died when I was 3).  Since my grandmother is at a stage of obsessively throwing things away, when she offers, I take–pronto–or else risk never seeing the object again.

My father carved the head when he was in high school.  For years it sat in the murky top recess of the built-in shelves that held my grandmother’s stereo and TV.  I’m unaccountably fond of it.  I think he had been looking at pictures of the Easter Island heads the night he made it.  Here it is looking monolithic:


And here is its sterner side:


I felt uncomfortable having it sitting on the floor behind my loom.  It seemed disrespectful.  For Christmas, I’m going to dress it up as the Green Man.

Fences Fall Down

November 6, 2008

This is the second scarf from the navy merino warp.  I was going to name it something like “Subtle” or “Manly” and give it to my cousin–until I started weaving it.  Then I realized the purple cloth I was making would look really bad on my cousin, who is a tawny redhead.  There is no man so manly that he must wear an unbecoming scarf, says I.

Adding stripes in the ground started out as a yarn-saving scheme, but I love planning stripes.  I really got into it.  And I was fascinated by the way the burgundy ground-weft made a misch masch with the navy warp up close, and yet when I backed away, they interacted to make exactly the same purple as the pattern weft.  I kept getting up and standing back from my loom in different lights just to re-amaze myself with this trick.


Scarf: Fences Fall Down

Warp: 28/2 Silk City merino, doubled, in navy blue

Ground weft: same in navy blue and burgundy, not doubled

Pattern Weft: one complete skein Cascade Yarns “Cascade 220″ worsted-weight knitting yarn in a heathery purple, courtesy yardsaling relative

Sett: 11 doubled epi in 8 dent reed

ppi: 23

Width in reed: 14 1/8″

Woven width: 12 3/4″

Woven length excluding fringe: 62 5/8

Finished width: 11 1/2″

Finished length excluding fringe: 59 1/2”

Fringes: 2 1/4 on loom, tied when off loom with guided half hitches.



I took the photo nearly a month ago, before the monsoons arrived.  There are no more skies like this.  My hollyhocks have finally bowed their heads in defeat.  (Actually I love grey skies so I can’t complain.  Except, um, about the torrents.)  I got the hollyhock starts from my mom’s place last fall because I wanted to plant something hardy along the collapsing backyard fence.  Hollyhocks will survive fence demolition and being trampled on by fence builders.  Also, if the fence is torn out and never replaced, the flowers will make their own little hedge for the enjoyment and privacy of future tenants.

Which brings me to the name of my scarf.  Our landlord is a self-conscious eccentric, and frankly (in ways unrelated to his eccentricity) rather frightening.  Duplex-neighbor Thistledown told me this story:  None of the other fences on the property are in much better shape than the one in the back, which is only standing because a metal T-post has been driven into the ground to hold it up.  One day, when Thistledown was working outside, the man who owns the apartment complex next door called her over.  He wanted to know when our landlord was going to fix the fence on the property line.  Thistledown passed this on to our raw-vegan-musician-nudist landlord the next time she spoke to him on the phone.  He paused a beat, and pronounced:

“Fences fall down.”

Oh, the blissfully inescapable logic!

Thistledown just moved.  Our landlord kicked her out of the duplex.  The way he did this was messy, somewhat shifty, and horrible timing for Thistledown–a single working mom who has just gone back to college.  He wanted to live in her unit.  And now there he is, with his new girlfriend.  And now here am I, wondering how the fence will fall.

I only play at naming, but this time I find I am a little more serious.  At first I felt the name had tainted my scarf with landlord-ick.  Then, gradually, I began to feel it had turned into a charm.  I could do worse than borrow some of my landlord’s blissful logic, in the face of his inescapable self.

If I were a sorceress I would give it to him and see what kind of magic it worked.  I am afraid it would not be the nice kind.


Der Mann and I left town for a long weekend in Oregon.  In the car I suddenly realized that, not counting obligatory family visits, this was our first vacation in about two years.  (Maybe I shouldn’t count the two-years-ago vacation, since we were location scouting for Der Mann’s last job hunt.  Which means our last vacation was . . . ?)  Anyway, after 8 years of marriage it has finally dawned on us that we are not very good at vacations.  It’s not that we are workaholics or anything like that.  It’s just, we are never quite able to get past the knowledge that even as we are spending mucho $$ on gas, state park yurts, campsites, and hotel rooms; hauling a rice cooker and an ice chest around, we are at the very same time spending $23 a night on perfectly good lodgings with a stove, groceries, and our own bed.  Which stands vacant while we load coins into showers and stop to organize the dirty dishes in the back of our minivan.

This awareness seems to counteract the happy-go-lucky spirit of a vacation, which I’ve been told is a thing many people find relaxing.

This vacation worked out better because we stayed in a cabin on a farm.  A second-career farm couple has opened their 40 acres to visitors.  It’s nestled into a cranny between forested hills off the Alsea Valley, which is about at the halfway point when you cross the Coastal Range from the Willamette Valley to the ocean.  We ended up there because we’d been through the Alsea Valley a few years ago, and thought it was one of the most beautiful places we’d seen.  Here are pictures from a walk we took at the county park just outside the town of Alsea.  There were a lot of spawning salmon.

The owners of Leaping Lamb Farm keep 30 to 40 hair sheep, which they sell for grass-fed lamb.  In the barn there are HUGE bags of wool, left over from the wool sheep they have pretty much phased out.  Apparently they can’t get enough money for the wool to justify hauling it away.  (“Make me an offer!” S told me when she found out I weave.)  There are also all the other animals you’d expect: horses, a burro, chickens, geese, a peacock, dogs and cats.  S takes you around to do the chores if you want to, and is a friendly font of information on all subjects farmy and rural Oregon-y.  Her generosity comes of having learned everything the hard way herself, since she and her husband bought the drippy 125-year-old farm straight out of southwestern suburbia 5 years ago.

The guest cabin was a big, fully finished kit cabin decorated with Pendleton blankets and southwest-style woven rugs.  The floors were wide pine boards.  It was very nice to hang around there.  No itchy bedspreads or pictures you want to turn to the wall.  The best part was the full kitchen.  The only housekeeping stuff we had to bring was food.

I looked at the Pendleton woolen things a lot.  I’ve been on tours of both the mills (Washougal is better), but I didn’t think much about the products.  By gosh, those are some excellent blankets.  I’d like to furnish my linen closet with a few, when I have a linen closet, because I can’t see myself ever weaving anything that wide and fine or felting anything that thickly.  I had the disorienting experience of staring at a Pendleton pillow that I would have once seen as simply a pillow, and thinking, “That’s a broken twill.”  Weaving does things you.

Like, it makes you take a big side trip on the way home, even though that means you’ll face 1 1/2 hours of Portland rush hour traffic.

Meet Woodland Woolworks, a mail order company which also happens to run the ONLY real weaving supply store within a hundred-fifty miles of where I live:

(This is where I’d put a picture of their warehouse, if I hadn’t been rushing inside as soon as we got there, and Der Mann hadn’t been peeling out on the gravel on our way to beat some of the traffic as we left at closing time.)

You’d think there’d be a weaving store in Portland, but nope.  Woodland Woolworks is tucked away by some grain elevators in the middle of a small town called Carlton.  Past Hillsboro, sort of by Newberg.  I was there for the warping reels.  Since they carry almost every kind, I was hoping they would have some on display.  I wanted to get a sense of which were well or poorly constructed, weight, finish, collapability etc.

Unfortunately Woodland Woolworks doesn’t keep any reels on hand, just orders them as needed.  I wasn’t too disappointed because I was soon in a yarn and book frenzy.  The yarn store where we used to live carried a few odds and ends of weaving and spinning stuff, but there is a world of difference between that, and a place with cones lined up on all the walls, and shelves with most of the weaving books I’ve heard of.

The weaving room is one of three retail areas.  You have to walk through their packing room and office to get from one area to another.  Downstairs were knitting yarn, roving, and spindles.  Upstairs there were spinning wheels and accessories as well as weaving stuff.  And out on the enclosed loading dock?  Discounted knitting yarn and second-hand supplies of all sorts!

I was circumspect.  Now I kind of regret it.  If only I’d known about this place when I was looking for a rigid heddle loom or an 8-dent reed!  Der Mann went downtown for coffee while I raced from room to room, figuring out what was where so I could budget my dwindling 2 hours.

I started out with the books.  It is soooo much easier to tell if you want a weaving book or not when you can leaf through it.  You can tell a lot just by the sorts of pictures and drafts a book has, how many, and the amount (and tone) of the text.  I wrote down the titles of the books I’d like to own so I can order them when I’m ready to part with the cash.

That meant yarn came last.  I’d have bought more if I weren’t so rushed.  Woodland Woolworks’ unmercerized 8/2 cotton seemed surprisingly firm and smooth.  8/2 is chunkier than I prefer for kitchen linens, but I think I’ll really like this stuff when it’s woven up.  I had decided the best strategy was to buy a color I wouldn’t have known I liked unless I’d met it in person.  You can’t tell from the picture, but never did a color yell “1967” so loudly (in a good way) as this one.  It’s called “Old Gold,” which is completely inaccurate.  I would call it, “Willow-Bud Green on Acid, As Seen Through Rose-Colored Glasses.”  Or maybe just “Dusty Chartreuse.”

Another cone struck my fancy because it is exactly the color of unbleached linen.  There are a lot of hideous beiges.  You can never tell what you’re going to get with beige.  I think I’ll make some mock two-tone linen towels.

I also bought some lovely line linen.  They have very little Bockens in stock, just two small cubbies, but they did have a blue 16/2 I really liked.

The upshot is, I’ll have to go back.  There were a ton of different cellulose fibers, chinese silk (loved the silk noil, particularly!), and Jaegerspun.  Zephyr is on my wish list, and since it’s pricey I’d much rather not order it blind.  Also, a HUGE selection of UKI mercerized, if I ever go that direction.

But perhaps the best part of my visit was getting to weave on a Glimåkra countermarche.  I have never seen one of these looms outside of pictures. Woodland Woolworks has a 36″ Ideal (which is Glimåkra’s “compact” loom) set up for towels and . . . my goodness.  It was like meeting a movie star on the beach in their sweat pants holding a plastic bag of dog poo.  I tend to sigh over the big Scandinavian looms, especially when my own gives me trouble.  “Ooh, back-hinged treadles.  Ooh, so tall.  Ooh, hanging beater, I faint with longing at the thought of your featherlight touch.”

And yet something was very wrong with this loom!  It opened wonderfully big sheds compared to my Bergman, but I started wondering if they had got the wrong treadle assembly on it, because I got absolutely NO good from those sheds; they were trapped behind the beater!  That is to say, when I pushed the hanging beater back–even when it was hanging from the forward-most notch–it hit the shafts immediately.  There was almost no space between the fell and the beater.  I could barely squeeze the little Schacht shuttle through.  I pushed back he jack box, which slides freely on top of the castle, but that didn’t help because the treadles still pulled the bottoms of the shafts way forward.  Basically, adjusting the position of the jack box just put the shafts on a slant.  I fiddled with where the fell line was, but you need it within about 2″ of the center point of the beater’s arc, or the reed doesn’t hit it squarely.

I couldn’t see any way to adjust this Glimåkra that would give more room for the shuttle.  True, I only spent about 20 minutes with it, but I had been expecting better things.  I was also kind of surprised at the coarse grain and coarse final sanding of the wood.  Without its stage makeup, the Ideal just looked big and rough.

I expect there is a lot difference between the weaving experience on the Glimåkra Ideal, which is designed for compactness, and the Standard.  And of course there is a lot of difference between fiddling with a loom in a weaving store and owning one.  Still, I was able to leave with the pleasant feeling that, “Hey, I have a pretty good loom!  Warts and all, I wouldn’t trade it for a big lunk like that.”  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a bigger, better Scandinavian countermarche than the Ideal in addition to the Bergman some far-off day, but for a compact countermarche I doubt I could have done better.  My loom is almost as deep as the Ideal, for all it is so much smaller.

Mary's Peak, highest point in the Coastal Range

Mary's Peak, highest point in the Coastal Range

A Year Ago

July 25, 2008

We moved here a year ago.   It was a big, grown-up move.

Grown-up in the sense of: the new job (my husband’s) came before the move, we stayed in a hotel instead of a campground while we looked for a place to rent, and we didn’t choose our new city by positive preference.

Big in the sense of: our first time renting a moving truck.  In the past we carried all our worldly goods in the bed of a pickup, wedged into a disintegrating pickup camper, by minivan relay, or in a trailer towed by a parent.

Before the move we lived in a progressive, friendly, quirky small city in a gorgeous coastal location, which also just happened to feature by my favorite gardening climate in the whole world (zone 4).  We had only been living in town for a year and a half.  Before that we’d been ten miles out in the county.

So why did we move?  Well, as places do, the gorgeous coastal location turned out to be ripe for the gentry’s picking–never mind that the nearest metropolitan area is two hours away.  When we arrived eight years ago it was just on the cusp, and we were clueless.  By the time we left it was making national news for some of the most inflated house prices in the country.

Surprisingly, this didn’t stop the quirky faction from hanging on with finger- and toe-nails to their houses, though the skyrocketing property taxes forced them to shop at the liquidation store for their dented vegetarian beans and drive their VW vans on bald tires.  Did the fact that they could never, ever hope to afford a house stop the college students from staying on after graduation?  Did it matter that the job market for the creative professions was so glutted in this artist-infested town, designers were working for peanuts (or not at all), just because they REALLY LOVED where they lived?  Nope.  But we decided it was time we skedaddled.

It was a love-hate thing for us, living in The Town Everyone Loves, because we are not townies by nature. We had given up our rented farm cottage under extreme landlord/road construction/mold infestation duress.  Desperation (and lack of anything cheaper) made us sign a lease on a house in town we could not really afford because we knew it would be temporary.  A last hurrah.

The city charmed us in that final year-and-three-quarters, despite missing our ducks and our garden and our leafy privacy.  How could it not?  It was fighting the good fight against gentrification, as much as any place so clearly on the losing side of the battle can do.  The little yards of our neighbors’ working-class Queen Annes were bursting with flowers.  People.  Actually.  Walked.  We loved being being able to walk downtown and to shop for groceries on foot!  Some days a walk to the post office felt like stepping into Richard Scary’s Busiest People Ever, with all the residents going about their business in cheery water-colored miniature.  We loved the friendly coffee-toting protesters; the art; the surprisingly good music venues where hippies, hipsters, and college students bopped side-by-side.  We loved the natural parks and greenways and made use of them daily. We loved the acquiring librarians at the local public library, past and present, for their excellent judgement.  We loved the reliably changeable weather.  I learned to weave.

We did not love being on the outside looking in at all this, which is what happens when you come to a place knowing you are leaving it.  We hated being exhausted and ill and unsure of the future–though this was coincidental.  We did not like having a fully, dully landscaped yard cared for by our landlords, and we did not like living across the back fence from their looming house.  It was unrewarding, forcing ourselves to be more frugal than college students in a place where there were actually good things to spend money on.  The huge condos and fake-old-fashionedy upscale retail spaces sprouting downtown apalled us.  It hurt to watch houses in our neighborhood being grotesquely realtorized for flipping.  (Though I suppose it was our own fault when we checked flyers to see how expensive they were.)  We did not approve of the people who moved into those houses, simply for the fact that they could afford them.  Nobody likes the nouveau riche when they invade Bohemia.

I can’t feel as invested in the fate of our new town, even though we have no plans to leave it.  It’s really hard to believe we’ve been here a year because we still feel like aliens.  –Schleppy, undercover, much-less-cooler-than-when-we-arrived aliens, but still.  We thought we were going to be the Bohemians invading the nouveau riche.  We found out it doesn’t work that way.

I’m grateful for a place to live at all.  And I’m glad der Mann is working in his field.  And I’m really, really, glad I don’t have to pack 24’ of stuff into a 16’ moving truck ever again.  Knock on wood.