Saturday, February 8, 2014

Farming in the new age

The past couple of weeks have been technologically challenging. My laptop was acting up and then one day the screen started flickering and the edges went wonky, and I thought for sure it was going to burn up and die on me, taking all my photos and files with it.

Just believe me when I say, I tried a lot of alternatives hoping to avoid the inevitable. Eventually though, I knew I had to go to an Apple store in person.

I love my Mac, I do, but I hate Apple stores.

They're bright and they're crowded, like an amusement park. They're located in congested urban zones, or, worse, malls, and they don't even work like normal stores. There are at least a dozen steps you have to go through before you get to speak to the person who might know, for instance, which power adapter goes with your particular laptop. The people manning the first three or four steps don't speak human-ese and they work off of some bizarre script known only to themselves. Yes, getting help is a nightmare. A nightmare in an amusement park wrapped up in a traffic jam. 

Nonetheless, I know when I am beat. I HAD to have help. 

Sigh. Not even calling ahead and making an appointment at the Genius Bar was going to help me though, when my assigned Genius took one look at my screen and said with, I'll admit, a certain human sadness in his voice, Ohhhh, yeah, it's cracked. 

This surprised me, because you couldn't see or feel a physical crack, but apparently, he knew what he was looking at. He took it in the back to get a better look with the scope, and to decide, he suggested, whether it could be fixed.

Really he was checking to see if there was any evidence of it having been dropped. Um, everybody has dropped their laptop once or twice, right? They’re laptops. They get handled.

Sure enough, after a few minutes he returned to point out the slight, but quite clear dent in the case of the screen where the crack was. 

Twelve hundred and forty dollars, plus tax, he says. The sadness still in his voice. 

I don't suppose the warranty covers this? I say. 

Not when it's dropped, he says.

Even braving the torture of the Apple store has not helped. 

As long as I'm here, I say, hoping to salvage some small scrap of good from this trip, could you take a look at my phone. It went wonky yesterday. 

He nods, obviously feeling badly for me. I explain that the phone overheated yesterday, for no apparent reason, just sitting in my pocket. I turned it off to let it cool down and now it won’t charge back up.

He plugged it in and fooled with it for a few minutes until he finally believed me – it wouldn’t charge back up.

Let me take it in back to get a better look, he says.

Oh no, I think, but what choice do I have and off he goes. Could this visit get worse, I’m thinking. I can negotiate the lack of computer, if my smartphone works. I can negotiate the lack of smartphone, if my computer works. Losing both simultaneously, however, cuts me off from the world as surely as being cast away on a desert island. And my island is cold, snowy, and filled with frozen water buckets to boot.

When he returns, he has a funny look on his face and something cupped in the palm of his hand.

Do you know what this is, he asks, as he holds his palm out for me to see. Inside is a smattering of tiny green and brown and yellow flakes.

I can feel my face flush.

Um, hay, I say. It’s hay.

In my head, I’m wondering if there is a policy against hay and iphones. Is getting hay inside an iphone like dropping a laptop? Are farmers even allowed to have iphones? Does Apple have a policy against using iphones in barns?

I knew it!  He practically jumps out of his shoes.

They didn’t believe me, he says, but I grew up on a farm and I know hay. I told them this was hay. It even smells sweet.

He was so excited about finding the hay inside the phone, that I had to laugh. I wondered if I should maybe confess to the egg that broke over the phone in my pocket recently. I wasn’t sure where this was going, so I held my tongue.

Yes, I smiled. Hay. I have a barn, and animals, and lots of hay. 

My Genius laughed some more, let me vacuum it out and see if we can get it back on.  

A few minutes later he’s back.

The hay caught fire. Your phone is toast.

Oh no. Laughing and crying at the same time now.

But THIS I can fix, he says.

I couldn’t fix your computer, but your phone is no problem. I’ll just give you a new one.

No warranty issues? I ask. I still see gooey yellow yolk smeared across the black screen in my mind's eye.

Nope, no warranty issues, he says. The boss doesn’t have to know it was hay. 

Or egg, I think.

Then he pulls out a box with a brand new phone inside and makes it mine. While he filled out the paperwork, he began to chat.

Turns out my Genius grew up on one of only two merino sheep farms in all of Ireland. His grandmother invented a way to insulate the doorframes of their stone cottage with felted wool. His father patented the invention and now all the stone cottages in the area use wool insulation around their doors. He works as a Genius in an Apple store in a Disney-inspired mall in America, but he clearly longs for his days on the farm and the smell of fresh hay and wool.

My computer screen still flickers, but the hard disk is intact, my phone is shiny and new and egg free, and the sheep are in the barn waiting for their snack of sweet hay before bedtime. 

Modern farming.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Weaving challenge

I think I just bit off more than I can chew.

I joined thecrazysheeplady's Ravelry Olympic team.

The self-imposed challenge: To weave a new cover for my old messenger/work bag before the close of the Olympics. cough cough. The Sochi Olympics.

And I am obsessed with the idea of determined to do it with horse hair.

Not that I know enough about weaving.
Not that I know how to work with horse hair.
Not that I have the time.
Not that I even have the right equipment or materials.

Except the horse hair of course,

and the obsession.

The idea of weaving with horse hair has been buzzing around the back of my brain for months now. And nobody would disagree that my bag needs attention.

So here goes.

The idea is to replace this tattered piece of fabric on the front of my bag with something else, preferably handwoven, preferably from horse hair, preferably without having to buy any new materials.

sad bag
I haven't decided what to use yet. 

I have to pick a warp thread (that's the one that goes up and down on the loom) and a weft hair (that's the one that goes back and forth across the loom and will come from one of the Tyche's Run ponies.)

possible warps
The possible warps are, left to right, a copper-cored bamboo thread (from Habutextile) that is looking for a project, two zephyrs (wool/silk blends) that are left over from my first scarf, and an ultrafine copper thread that is also from Habu. The upside of the two Habu/copper threads is that they are cool, plentiful and using them would scratch an itch, so to speak. The downside is that they are both very fine and might need to be double- or even triple-plied first. Plus, I tried to wind a bobbin of the straight copper the other day, and let me tell you, that was not a pretty sight. Ultrafine appears to mean ultradifficult. The upside of the two zephyrs is that they are not ultrafine (sigh), they are pretty, and they are in hand. The downside is that I'm not sure there is enough. 
The available wefts are from the manes of various Tyche's Run ponies. Left to right, white from Bom Bom, a heathery silver blond from Tyche herself, a gingery blond from Tigerlily, and a black with dark brown highlights from Jesse. Although Tiger's is probably my favorite, she also has the least to give, so might get disqualified on that account. Tyche also has somewhat limited quantities. The white and the black are produced by more than one pony, so there should be plenty of either if that's what I choose. 

Depending on which materials I settle on, how much of it I have, and how long the specific fibers/hairs are, I will pick a loom. The choices are this table loom or an as-yet-unconstructed-home-made-rigid-peg-loom-sort-of-contraption. Eh, that sounds promising, no?

Finally, to prove (to myself if no one else) that I'm not completely crazy, here's a picture of a tiny sample of Tyche's hair used in a plain weave with bright orange nylon twine. (The bottom row is doubled with a strand of cotton.) I like the look.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick...

A lot of us have one of these right? The ever expanding pile of baling twine. 

For those who haven't had the pleasure, it's used to bind up bales of hay. It takes about 10 feet of twine to secure one bale, if you're talking about the square bales used to feed horses and small livestock.

Of course, useage varies. My lot goes through about 4 bales a day, give or take. That's 40 feet of twine a day. Every day. Day in and day out. Fourteen thousand six hundred feet a year. Nearly five thousand yards. My neighbor friend with the boarding stable goes through more like 12 bales a day, for a cool 120 feet of twine a day or 14,600 yards a year.

Sadly, it seems like most hay farmers around here use plastic twine these days. A little bit of it gets re-used around the barns for fast and dirty fix-it jobs, but most of it goes straight to the landfill.

My current hay guy, bless his heart, uses sisal (or jute  - not sure which it is). Since switching to this guy, I've been re-inspired to finally find a reasonable way to re-purpose it. I say finally, because who among us hasn't looked at that pile and thought, there must be something...

My first attempts consisted mostly of trying to get the 12-year-old to think of something. Not surprisingly, that was a bust. Too cumbersome, too scratchy, too unconstrained, and frankly just too much like work for a kid to enjoy.

sorted baling twine
Nonetheless, when it started turning up made from sisal, I started sorting it out and saving it. I also started training myself to cut it close to the knot when I open the bales so that I preserve as much of the 5 foot length as possible.

Then two unrelated happenstances occurred one upon the heels of the other. The onset of winter  brought dirty, wet, messy boots to a household whose only doormat is still at the house next door and the completion of my first weaving project brought the need for another.

As happenstance would also have it, I was slated to use a different loom in my weaving class this term. I volunteered to take over a loom that a non-returning student had abandoned. She gave up, I gather, because somewhere along the line she messed up the process of threading her heddles and sleying her reed (sorry, just had to use the words heddle and sley in writing). Anyway, she'd chosen a nice pattern, but some of the threads were out of order or threaded backwards (oy). Some of the them had outright broken. It was a mess. She'd also chosen a blue cotton I would never have picked.

Still, I was looking for experience, so I volunteered to try to fix the warp and in return was given it to do with whatever I chose. Win win, right? Except that I could think of absolutely no kind of clothing, scarf, blanket, dishcloth or anything else that I wanted in blue... why not a sisal doormat? 

The other day, I fixed the warp. Not too hard it turned out. I'd brought a handful of twine with me, just in case I got that far.

I kinda like the blue.

Still smelled of fresh hay