Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Fun

Ever wanted to help someone that you knew really needed help? Well here's your chance to be a micro lender. The other night I watched a show on PBS that had a bit about KIVA.ORG . It is a non profit group that is for micro lending to others around the world. The part I thought was really cool is that you can view the profiles of the people that need to borrow money. You can read their stories of why they would like to borrow money and a bit about them, see a picture of them, even email and speak with them. Neat isn't it. Another plus is that you don't have to be able to lend them all of the money they need. You can lend any portion of it you want to and other "micro lenders" from around the world will chip in with you and help them too. Also as a bonus, one "micro-lender" in San Fransisco said "the best part is you get paid back and you can then turn around and help someone else with the same money again and again"
So even if you only have $10 you may be able to help many many many people with that same $10. Cool isn't it?!
Check it out and see if you might enjoy being a micro lender.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not quite finished

Hope everyone's holiday time is going well. I know some of you have snow---hopefully it didn't create problems for you as it came down.

I just wanted to post a few pictures of our tile work in our kitchen. Actually my husband wanted to show some friends so I am putting them up before it is actually done. However---you can get an overall idea of what it will look like. I still need to finish the small cut tiles that fill in corners and edges and to grout but looks kind of cool doesn't it :-) The edging at the top is some 1" aluminum that my husband cut and installed. It makes a nice "stop edge" since we don't have upper cabinets.
The color in the second picture is a bit more accurate though not 100% true. I have forgotten how to change my camera to daylight (versus indoors or fluorescent lighting etc) so I keep getting a bit of over exposure on my pics. I will figure out how to change it again eventually but until then--- well sorry but the pics are kind of bright.

Oh yes, here's the link back to my post on making these grids of tile: Making tiles
Yes, it was a bit tedious but as you can see---well worth it.

Have a super great holiday season whichever holiday you may be celebrating!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

All Organic! Yippee!!

Great article that I am passing along that came out of the New Farm newsletter. If you don't receive the New Farm monthly newsletter from the Rodale Institute---you may like it. I know I do. Here's an article they link to in Natural Products Magazine:

(This paragraph from the New Farm):

Richard Heinberg, one of the world's leading experts on oil reserves, used last week's Soil Association Lady Eve Balfour Lecture to warn that the lives of billions of people are threatened by a food crisis caused by our dependence on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. The only way to avert a global food crisis, he said, was a planned and swift reduction in the use of fossil fuel use and a switch to organic or other zero petro-chemical input farming systems.

All farming will be ‘organic’ 100 years from nowoil expert - November 30, 2007

An alarming vision of how the world will look after the oil runs out — but also of a crucial role for organic farming — has been given by a leading ‘peak oil’ expert.

Richard Heinberg, one of the world's leading experts on oil reserves, used last week’s Soil Association Lady Eve Balfour Lecture to warn that the lives of billions of people are threatened by a food crisis caused by our dependence on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

Peak oil, explained Heinberg, is simply the point at which global oil reserves reach their maximum output and start to decline. Some experts believe we have already reached peak oil, others say it is 10 or 20 years off.

Heinberg claimed that a combination of factors — higher oil prices, the loss of farmland to biofuel crops, climate change and the loss of natural resources — exacerbated by population growth, would lead to an unprecedented food shortage.

The only way to avert a global food crisis, he said, was a planned and swift reduction in the use of fossil fuel use and a switch to organic or other zero petro-chemical input farming systems.

He said: “Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest threat to mankind ever seen. But in the short-term, peak oil is going to hit economies and communities harder and faster. If we don’t do anything to deal with our addiction to oil over the next few years, economies will be in chaos and tatters — and they won’t be in a position to manage the huge challenges that confront us globally.

“The transition away from oil is inevitable. And it’s going to lead to huge changes in our food production systems. The critical thing is that we manage and plan the transition. This is an unavoidable, immediate, and immense challenge that will call for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society.

“A hundred years from now, everyone will be eating what we today would define as organic food, whether or not we act.

“But what we do now will determine how many will be eating, what state of health will be enjoyed by those future generations, and whether they will live in a ruined cinder of a world, or one that is in the process of being renewed and replenished.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Baby chicks for us :-D

Well, I don't have a picture of them yet but I now have

TWO broody hens!!

Go cuckoo marans!

I had noticed a few days ago that they where grumpily ensconced in a nest box one morning and still there in the evening when I went back. I say grumpy since they make all those grumpy growling sounds when you come around too close. I told all the family members to leave them alone so they could finish their job so we could have babies in about 21 ish days. That puts us at about....the beginning of January I believe. Kind of cold---but their moms should be able to keep them warm.
I have been wondering what ours will look like since we have such an array of birds here---but any that will be hens will be good additions to the flock and very welcome. Remember that I lost quite a few birds early in the season when they were smaller. Probably about.....15 hens I think. Plus a number of roosters which aren't nearly as big a deal as the hens. So more egg layers will be fine with me.

Since these two hens are so late in going broody (odd I thought for the time of year) if our little chicks make it they will be ready to lay eggs right in spring time. How fortunate AND I don't even have to have them in the house this year! Another yeah!

Here's a good link on using broody hens instead of incubators and another about broody hens and their care with slightly different information.

Monday, December 10, 2007

So....what about war?

Not long ago we started an in depth session of bible study offered by our church. This is a two part series that consist of meeting for about 2 hours a week for 32 weeks. We took the first part a number of years ago---the "beginner" part ---and are now taking the second part which I would call the "advanced beginner" coarse :-)

Anyway, this past week was the in depth study of the ten commandments. This is a particularly sticky issue with me and if you will stay with me I will ramble around to a point.

As with all things when you get to the commandment "thou shall not murder"---there are many opinions on the exact meaning of that command since some remember the phrase as saying "thou shall not KILL (not murder).

If you have never come across (or even knew you could look it up) the actual Hebrew word to get a greater understanding of the translation , you can see it here under: ratsach

Now many people have spoken with me on this subject as I continually try to grasp an understanding of it from a Christian perspective. Usually those that take the translation as you won't murder say that the bible justifies killing for specific purposes and so there for that is why the translation speaks the way it does. They go on to say that as a Christian as long as we are justified in our reasons---it is o.k and possibly even sanctified.
I won't go into all the reasons for "justified" killings or wars since most of us---Christian or not ---have heard them whether they are biblical or more current.

O.k--moving forward into the issue with war.
One example a biblical teacher once gave me for this in regards to war was that the soldiers where doing their duty and they weren't killing in anger---and that it was generally justified so there for o.k. This man was an ex soldier from the Vietnam era just to help you understand the whole issue but of coarse even he gave me that well over used "remember WW2" reason for it being o.k.
However I continually struggle with the idea that a man (or woman) in a foreign land, bombarded daily with others trying to kill them---won't fall to the "other side" of that statement and turn it into murder. Intentional or not. Obviously the people that live in that land can make a greater case for their killings being justified since they feel they are protecting family and property.

Then there is the other issue of the taking back of the land of Israel. So so so many Christians that I speak with say, emphatically, that Palestinians need to go and if they won't---the Israels have a right to forcefully evict them OR kill them if they resist. Why? Because this is a biblically "sanctified" war. Sanctified by God.

History lesson: the jews where forcefully removed from Israel during the Roman era and have pretty consistently been trying to "go home". During those 1500 hundred years or so others have moved in and settled there. Also, during WW1 and then on through and ending with WW2 other countries (England very heavily and then the U.S and it's allies) have "fiddled" around in that area. So....

So....what about the people that have had family living on some of that land for the past 400 years? Are they personally responsible for the Jew's loss? If the Jews come in and forcefully remove them from their land should they not at least be compensate for it? See this article here at dollars and sense.
Besides---maybe they too want to stay there and don't want to go because they have family and history right there also.

O.k---don't tell me the same thing I always hear "the Muslims are trying to kill them and they are defending their selves" I know that. But I still haven't come to my point if you will hang on.

Many years later, I got a new thought on this issue and I brought up the American Indians as an comparable analogy to the Jew/Palestinian issue. I pointed out that the American Indians were also forcefully removed from their property. So...shouldn't my husband (who's grandfather lived on a reservation in Montana) be able to go up there---pick a piece of property we like----and take it without compensation to whomever currently lives there? Especially if they are of European descent. If you want to take it even further--my husband was never personally compensated by anyone for his historical loss of his family heritage and land so wouldn't it be o.k for us to do that?
The answer to my question is that the land wasn't specifically given to them by God (they just migrated here) and that they didn't attempt to consistently get their land back like the Jews have. Ha!

Now to totally change subject (but not really) here's another issue.

As a Christian aren't we suppose to be against abortion? Well, to put my feeling right out there let me say that I always said this:
I personally am against abortion but feel that the government should stay out of it (they shouldn't fiddle in people's personal life) and everyone should make their own choice. Hence---it should not be outlawed.
However recently I heard a man on t.v say this in response to that oft spoken statement:
"Well," he said, "many people believe that slavery is wrong but if we had said, I don't personally believe in it but everyone should make their own choice, then we would still have slavery."
Extremely good point which I will admit makes me at least slightly re think my stance.

Unfortunately though many a case can be made for slavery in the bible---both old and new testament. God didn't say a thing about it other than you should let them rest on the sabbath and Jesus pretty much didn't say anything about it one way or the other. So, if I can coerce or physically force someone into slavery to me---can I claim it as my religious right?

As far as I know there isn't one reference specifically addressing abortion in the bible---other than "thou shall not murder". I would pretty much say that most woman that get abortions are not, thinking back to the example given to me by the older soldier, murdering their unborn children with hatred in their hearts. I mean--- going by the definition that some people are trying to pass off as the correct one to interpret "thou shall not murder".


Isn't there a point as people ---- Christians or Jews or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever----that MORALLY (irregardless of which book we read) we are responsible for correct action? No matter how we try to interpret it out of the Bible? Come on---we know right from wrong. I have had some try and tell me that I have to remember the historical context ie: God was speaking specifically to the Jews. So....does that mean only that Jews can't kill Jews? Or maybe Christians can't kill Christians----but everyone else is far game as long as they aren't of the same beliefs? What about a Catholic and a Methodist? Or a Protestant and a Seventh Day Adventist---is each group fair game for the other?

Can we really say that we personally or our government or France's or Venezuela's or whomever's---can say with certainty that we or they has had God tell us for sure who needs to be bombed,killed or put to death? If we are so great (both as a country and also as a person) shouldn't we take the MORAL high road?

Unfortunately, and probably for good reason, I have never heard it called the Biblical high road.

So...what about the case for War?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cupcake pincushion

Just a little something cute I mocked up to see if I would like it. Pretty nifty use for leftover bits of yarn and fleece isn't it? I will sell it at my booth this weekend and if I can---I will make a few more.

I found the instructions for something similar on line and, though I made a few minor adjustments to it, I think it works fabulously.

I will place the instructions below so you can try it out yourself if you are interested. The changes I made were:

1) Using a slightly different stitch pattern for the "frosting" part. I don't think I will use the exact same one again but I do think it worked out a bit nicer than the original pattern. It was a type of small bobble for the first two rows of frosting stitch---which I think makes it look as if it fluffs out over the cupcake. Just increasing the stitches might give the same effect but be slightly easier.

2) I wove in a piece of thread using a needle, right at the top of the cupcake (where it meets the frosting and from the same yarn/thread as I knitted it from) and tied it to keep the cupcake side from pooching out of shape from the stuffing. Using the needle pull the ends of the yarn into the cupcake to hide them.

3) instead of a plastic insert/water bottle to keep the sides and bottom from deforming we used the string as I mentioned above at the top and a small circle piece of felt that we lightly needle felting to the bottom. The round piece of felt is on the inside so you don't see it but it was thick enough to stabilize the bottom. If you don't needle felt (easy easy) then you could lightly tack it in place with matching yarn. Nicer I think than the plastic. I did have to wet the cupcake at the bottom to help the fibers release the strong "point" from where it was started and help it flatten out before I had the circle felted in place.

4) I used clean, but not good enough for anything else, wool fleece for the stuffing. That's not necessarily a change so much as that is what I had on hand versus what I didn't (polyester stuffing in this case). If you ask around you can find lower quality fleeces to stuff your projects with for low prices. When using it I first wash the fiber. Let it dry. Then hand pull it to fluff it. Even if it is somewhat matted you can work them into the center of the object. Works like a charm and is hypoallergenic too since dust mites can't grow in it. Don't throw the object into the washing machine to clean it though---only hand wash---or it will felt into a hard mass.

5) Use a good thick yarn for the "cherry" on top. It really makes it stand out---but of course is not necessary.

This pattern abounds on line so it's easy to find if you lose it.

worsted weight yarn in cake, icing and cherry colors
size three or four double pointed needle set. (dpns)
plastic cap, or bottom of plastic water bottle, to fit into the base of the cupcake

With cake color, cast on 6 sts on dpns.
Row 1 (and all odd-numbered rows): k all sts
Row 2: kfb into each st (12 sts)
Row 4: [kfb, k1] across (18 sts)
Row 6: [kfb, k1] across (27 sts)
Row 8: [kfb, k2] across (36 sts)
Row 9: p all sts (36 sts)
Rows 10-19: [k1,p1] across (36 sts)

Switch to icing colour.
Row 20: k all sts (36 sts)
Row 21-30: p all sts (36 sts)
Row 31: decrease 6 sts evenly across
Row 32: p all sts (30 sts)
Row 33: decrease 6 sts evenly across (24 sts)
Row 34: p all sts (24 sts)

Place plastic lid into the base of the cupcake and fill with stuffing.

Row 35: p2tog across (12 sts)
Row 36: p all sts (12 sts)
Row 37: p2tog across (6 sts)

Switch to cherry colour.
Row 38: k all sts (6 sts)
Row 39: kfb into each st (12 sts)
Row 40: k all sts (12 sts)
Row 41: k2tog across (6 sts)

Cut yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail. Thread needle with yarn, and run needle through remaining sts. Fasten tightly and knot. Pull knot through the center of the cherry, with the needle emerging at the base of the cherry. Wind the yarn tightly around the base of the cherry ( I did not do this as it looked better without it), pass it through the cherry again, emerging at the top. Trim yarn to resemble a cherry stem.

This is a quick couple hour project. Good luck and send me a quick note if you make one since I would like to see it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jailed for a post?

Holy Cow!

Are we in trouble now and I didn't even know it.

A recent posting on Anita's blog directed me to some others to research a new bill --H.R 1955----recently passed in the House and on it's way to the Senate. See it and it's information at the government site that tracks bills and their progress through the House and Senate here. No---you probably haven't heard about it (and according to the last link it will only cost you a dollar per year) but you dam well better speak up and say something right now. This kind of bill isn't the type you sit on the sidelines and say "well, I'm awfully busy---the others I know will write to the congresspersons and senators." This is very very serious. The bill is also known as The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007. Here is an excerpt from a newspaper describing the bill put forth by Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California:

Harman's bill contends that the United States will soon have to deal with home grown terrorists and that something must be done to anticipate and neutralize the problem. The act deals with the issue through the creation of a congressional commission that will be empowered to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and designate various groups as "homegrown terrorists." The commission will be tasked to propose new legislation that will enable the government to take punitive action against both the groups and the individuals who are affiliated with them..............

Another excerpt:

Harman's bill does not spell out terrorist behavior and leaves it up to the Commission itself to identify what is terrorism and what isn't. Language inserted in the act does partially define "homegrown terrorism" as "planning" or "threatening" to use force to promote a political objective, meaning that just thinking about doing something could be enough to merit the terrorist label. The act also describes "violent radicalization" as the promotion of an "extremist belief system" without attempting to define "extremist.".............

The article does point out that it will primarily be directed at Muslims and Muslim organizations but, really, are you completely comfortable that this "commission" can monitor itself and follow the rules. When has ANY government, in ANY country, EVER been able to do that? Don't fool yourself---this is an extremely dangerous road we are dancing in the middle of.

See many many more links about the bill at Time Goes By blog site.

Fair Wages for Whom?

Hmmm...Tough topic to say the least but I wanted to address some things that have come to my attention recently in regards to fair wages.

First last week I read the following about Greenfield Farm organic co-op which was started in Ohio by a group of Amish:

Our feasibility study showed that 50 percent of Americans don't care what they eat as long as it's quick, cheap and tastes good," Wengerd says. "The other 50 percent care, but maybe 20 percent are willing to pay a premium for it. They're looking for wholesome food that is safe and they want to buy it from people they trust."

20%?!?! Well, to say the least that is not very many. Oh yeah---in the scheme of things population wise I am sure it is a lot of people but well...really it's not even a quarter of the population.

O.k. so the next part that came to my attention has to do with my own products. Yarn, fiber, fleeces etc.
We have a local show coming up (Christmas on the Square in Chickamauga, Georgia) and we will be renting a booth there to sell our remaining pelts, fibers,yarns and fleeces from this year.
Recently I put some of my yarns in the local hometown museum ---per their request. I went recently to pick them up to take to this show I will be going to. Unfortunately none of them that I had left there had sold. The lady who runs the museum told me that she gets raves over my items but they don't sell because everyone feels they are too pricey. Well, for one---it is a "small hometown" museum not MoMA in New York City by any means of the word, so of course people don't walk in expecting to find "quality"products that are somewhat costly. Nor are they expecting one of a kind art. Which is basically what my yarns are. And two---it's not that they necessarily go there specifically for yarns or fibers either. But...

Anyway what does this have to do with the above title? Well, fair wages---for me of course.
Let me just lay out what goes into developing my items start to finish and as you read it remember that many "value added" products from other farms have just as much effort in them as my products do. Then the next time you are considering specialty items---whether it's art, yarns, gourmet foods, organic products or whatever-----you can decide if the price really is worth spending based on a greater understanding of the work that may be involved.

So, yes, my products can be expensive. Why? Well, because in the end everyone touching my product, except for me, receives a "living wage". I suppose that living wage is open to interpretation but let me give you some examples of things that reflect the cost of my finished products. No where in this little "dialog" will I subject you to the "I have to spend my time feeding and caring for them" cost either. Why you ask? Because that particular "wage" is paid back when I have good food from my farm on my table. I do not pass that particular cost on to those that buy my added value items.

So, for the complete cost of fleeces and yarns here we go:

First: I shear my sheep. And lets just pretend that whatever lambs they have pay for their for their feed throughout the year. At this point my wool starts at zero dollars. However---it takes me about 15 minutes with blades (initial investment of about $400 dollars) and some electricity and shearing oil to get the fleeces off my sheep. I get about 2 to 1/2 pounds of usable fleece off of them after I spend time skirting manure and the worst junk out of them (another 15 to 30 minutes of my time per fleece). If I don't skirt---the mill can potentially refuse my wool or worse the end product might not be the best.
How much should I pay myself? What is my time worth here?

Second---I box my fleeces up and spend my husband's money to ship them to a mill. This includes the gas to drive them to the post office.
Not all mills are equal in either price or quality of finished product but the average to wash, card and turn my fleeces into basic roving is about $11 a pound based on sending in at least 5 pounds of fiber (some require no less than 8 pounds) of each color I want run. If I don't have the minimum I either have to store the fleeces until I do or pay a set up fee ranging from $10 to $25 dollars extra per batch.
Do I pay myself for the labor of boxing and shipping like I would receive if I did that job for another company?

Third---I pay to have them shipped back to me.

Fourth---I take my product and using my electric scales weigh out 2 ounce sections of roving, wrap it in a paper label I make from purchased supplies (marked with my farm name, price, weight and fiber content). Do I pay myself for the time invested? Should I consider the electricity? Obviously paper and ink has to be considered.

Alternative fourth---I dye my fiber (my best seller by far). This uses not only the dye I purchase from a company paying others at least minimum wage, but my time, my gas to run my stove, vinegar to set the color and my water that I purchase from the city. It is also wrapped in a label.

Last option----I spin the wool. Dyed or natural matters not. To make a fairly bulky 2 ply (the quickest to spin) requires about 2 hours of my time to get about 100yards from start to finish and about 3.5 to 5 ounces of fiber depending. There are people that can spin faster but most spin at about my rate. If I spin something thinner it requires much more time. Lace weight takes a long time. I don't spin that for sale anymore---only personal use. So should I charge $2 or $3 or even $5 dollars and hour for spinning (less than minimum wage) or more?

So....basically the point I am trying to come to is what IS a fair price for something. For me my competition is cheap labor yarns in the $4 range, made by large companies in other countries, who get volume breaks and buy wool from farmers that raise sheep for meat. Most of those farmers consider their wool a throw a way side product. No matter that I try and raise a premium product that's sustainable and organic my price for my labor is what kills me.
So consider that the next time you are trying to decide exactly how much are you willing to pay.

Think about also, that if I charged just $3 a hour for my labor, the cost of living in the U.S does not allow for me to be able to support myself on that price---if that were my sole supporting job I mean. Of course, just considering my wage at $3 an hour and no cost for washing, shipping, dying etc, the price for my yarn is about $2 higher than the "average" competition already when I spin yarn. How could a person in the U.S even make a living on something like that. To bad that some of these skills will fall to the wayside because of our "advances in technology". All these technologies do cost us though. The unseen costs of water use, electricity, large buildings to heat and cool and all the concrete invested in the parking areas etc etc.

Another thing you may not have know is that most farmers that sell to the local "wool pools" average about .50 cents per pound of wool. Even for a large sheep that is about $4. Just enough to pay the guy who shears the sheep. Or maybe they made .50 cents or a buck per sheep. Whoopee!---their going to get rich on that aren't they!

When we, as Americans, are trying to decide how much to pay people for something we have to remember not to compare their job here in the U.S to the same job in say...China or India. Not only do those people in those countries make less, but even if they make a "good wage" for their country---- their cost of living is still quite a bit less than living here. In the end it gives them an advantage when comparing my product made here in the U.S to theirs. By the way---look at the label the next time you buy yarn. Most all of it is made overseas. Just like a lot of things we buy now.

So flip that object over----even if you still buy it---and look to see where it was made at the next time you are out shopping. You might be surprised at how infrequently you see "made in America".

Don't get me wrong---I am not whining about money. Well, in a general sort of way I am.
However I do want people to understand exactly what is encompassed in the cost of a farmer's prices.
As I said I wouldn't in the beginning---- I didn't even touch on the time I spend feeding or caring for my animals---nor food costs or fencing. At one time land prices were set, per acre, at the price of the lambs that a person could get off them in one year. After that---your land was paid for and you could profit from that point on. No longer is that the case for farmers. Land is very expensive and that is just the first hurdle before feed, animal purchases, labor, equipment, storage facilities and on and on.

Here's an article on wealth and income inequality. to top it all off. It has some corporate issues in it----but I am not even trying to bash corporations or anything. I just want people to consider wages and what people really need to live on.

Have a great day all!!