Springtime is definitely here

Regardless of what the weather is outside.  It is snowing as I write this and has been doing so on and off for the entire weekend.  I am of two minds about it; we need the rain and precipitation, but I also need to get my back yard cleaned up from last season, fill in holes left from the javelina devastation, and prep the beds for all my seedlings.

I have been very busy!  I am so very addicted to fiber arts.  I’m not sure what happened, but 2009 was the year I got serious about knitting, spinning, and dying.  In addition to going back to school, getting very serious about gardening and preserving, making my own (of whatever I can) and overall just biting off more than I can comfortably chew.  I’m not choking (yet) but I’ve definitely got a mouthful…in fact it’s a wonder I can say anything understandable at all some days. That however doesn’t stop me from trying.

What this picture is, is about 5 pounds of Cotswold wool.  It is from my friend’s ram Franklin, but was purchased from the farm he was born at on the day my friend brought him and two of his flock mates home.  Believe it or not, it all fit into a pillowcase with room to spare when I bought it!  Much like the genie in the bottle, though, after washing it threatens to take over my living room.  The cats are fascinated by this, and if it weren’t for the fact that it was dripping wet (there’s a blanket under the screen) they would be camping out either under the wool or on it.  It took two good washings as Arizona has DIRT.  In quantity.  It gets everywhere.  Two rinsings, and two days on the screen to dry and I have my work cut out for me for the next set of days off.

Cotswold is incredibly soft, and gets very long.  These fibers, while not as soft as merino, are still good for next-to-the skin type projects and was renowned even in Roman times as an excellent fleece.

This fiber still has an incredible amount of VM (vegetable matter) in it, and because Arizona has thorny plants in abundance, it’s even more important than it might be elsewhere to make sure it’s very clean.  Now, in the past it has literally taken me over a year to pick a fleece just because it’s so tedious.  Which brings me to my next photo:

THIS is a Patrick Green Triple picker.  I was doing research on how in God’s name to get all that VM out of my fleeces without sending it through the drum carder a million times and possibly ruining the fiber in the process; I hate hate HATE hand carding the fleece because it takes so long, and hurts my elbows and while it does get the VM out pretty well, and is more delicate on the fibers, that wasn’t gonna happen because I wasn’t gonna do it.  So…I came across combs:  Viking combs, English Combs, all sorts of combs.  And pickers.  Both of which piqued my interest but after reading more on the carders it seemed to me that if I wanted to do a whole fleece quickly, and do a reasonably good job of opening the fibers so the VM could be picked out more easily, a picker seemed the way to go.  The problem with that is the price.  Holy Mother of God those things are expensive!

Enter my local crack dealer — I mean, fiber store.  I was in there searching for a second package of merino/silk blend to go with the stuff I had purchased earlier as the project I chose used more than I had.  No luck on that, but we did get into a discussion on the merits of combs vs. pickers.  Again, combs seemed to do the job better but a picker is faster.  When I mentioned that I now have a back room filled with about 12 fleeces–which weigh about 8 pounds each, and you can make 5 sweaters from each one, they said DEFINITELY the picker as it is so much faster.  Well….they happen to have this picker on the top shelf; it’s been in the shop every since I can remember.  I asked if it was for sale; it was.  Price:  $100.  Not bad at all!  Still out of my budget to plop down all at once, being the only one working full time at the moment.  So, I asked if I could make payments.  Sure!  In fact, take it with you, we just want the space back!  So I ended up taking it home.  I had not the slightest idea, really, how it worked, but with Mr. TF’s help we figured out.  My. God.  I processed about a pound of fleece through it in about 5 minutes flat.  Un-freeking-believable.

So then, I was able to sit with my trusty drum carder that my friend Dean repaired for me (another killer bargain):

And a few hours later, I had this:

Which is 2 pounds of Fozzie’s fleece, all nicely carded into bats and ready to spin.  Fozzie is another of my friend’s Cotswolds.  It is from Fozzie’s first shearing, and is lovely.  What would have taken me over a week took one evening; even though I already had about half this done, I would have had plenty of time to do it all in the evening.

I am so excited about my newest tool!  I am getting to be a good spinner, I am making a sweater from my own handspun (pics later) with fleece that I chose specifically for the project, and I am actually looking at possibly being able to market my stuff.  This excites me.

I also played around with Kool Aid dying:

And making liquid soap.

Oh, and I wrote a paper, worked, went to the Spinner’s and Weaver’s Guild meeting, spent time with my husband, and transplanted much of my starts into bigger containers.

Yep.  Spring’s here.

State of the State: Arizona

Well, the news is not good.

Arizona faces a $3 billion dollar budget shortfall, which is 30% of the budget.

Our governor, Jan Brewer, thinks we should cut services to the poorest and most vulnerable in the state — AHCCCS (medicaid) and mental health services recipients.  The total of people who would be affected by this is nearly 450,000.  Nearly 400,000 adults, some 36,000 children, and some 36,000 mental health patients.  Now, where are these people going to go when they need care?  To the emergency rooms, of course, where they are not required to pay any money up front (and won’t pay at all ever).  Where there is already a hemorrhage of funds in every hospital.  It is going to mean more hospitals frankly shutting down their emergency departments out of self preservation and only accepting patients with private health insurance for direct admits from doctors and prescheduled surgery services.  It will mean more layoffs in the health care sector as hospitals cut staff.  It will mean more lawsuits filed against hospitals for nosocomial infections which are directly linked to staffing levels, further undermining funds available to actually provide care.

The coming cuts in Medicare and Medicaid payments to doctors by 22% after already reducing them by about 15% is going to mean a crisis of health care for the poor in this country; my own area of Prescott made the news recently because retirees can’t find a doctor who will accept Medicare.  Some of these people travel over 130 miles one way to Phoenix and stay overnight just to see their doctors, because there are no local doctors willing to see them unless they pay cash.  The doctors interviewed said that they still see the patients they’ve had in their client list who are on medicare but aren’t accepting any new patients due to the hassle with reimbursement thanks to the confusing rules from our esteemed government, the length of time it takes to get reimbursed versus private insurance, and the lesser amounts paid for the same services.  These people as well end up in the emergency rooms because they can’t get seen for things that should be taken care of by a primary care doctor, further overloading an already breaking system.

These cuts will have even farther reaching consequences than many realize; more than a few doctors — our experienced and competent ones — are nearing retirement age.  These doctors will simply retire rather than deal with the increased hassle.  At my emergency room, there are four doctors I can think of right now who will simply retire when the cuts take place.  They can afford to.  This means we will lose nearly half of our present physician staff; the ones who are left are for the most part brand new and relatively inexperienced.  It also means they will either be working many, many more hours or we will be seriously understaffed, leading to increased waiting times for patients to be seen and an increase in critical incidents in those patients due to wait times.

Our fire services are facing serious budget problems; tax revenues are in the toilet as they are everywhere but here it is a particular problem.  Many fire services have operated in a deficit thinking that next year’s revenues would cover this year’s expenses and have done this for years.  The last two fire departments I worked for were in this trap and had been told for years by the county comptroller that one day they simply might not be allowed to do that any more — that their budgets would not be approved by the county board of supervisors — which would mean they would simply be shut down.  The City of Phoenix, which five years ago had the biggest hiring spree in their history is now facing laying off as many as 500 employees according to the rumors I hear swirling around.  This means that anyone hired since then is up for layoff.

The police are just as bad off; the speed cameras which were to go away soon I think will be staying and even possibly expanded.  The City of Phoenix has instituted taking reports only for many types of property crimes that were formerly investigated by an officer due to lack of staff.

Taxes are going up in all categories; there will be both a state and a local food tax instituted in the near future, at least in the larger metropolitan areas.  Property taxes are going up while tax valuations are going down; our own taxes went up by nearly $100 while our assessed valuation dropped by over $4000 dollars.

There are abandoned properties everywhere I look; two of my coworkers moved into a new subdivision on the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix; their houses are the only ones actually completed.  None of the others have been touched in nearly a year.  I would guess that they won’t be either.  On my own street there are homes that haven’t been lived in since 2004.  If anyone is paying taxes I don’t know.  Out by my farmer friends I counted 12 vacant properties just directly on the roads leading to their house; if that’s any indication than fully 40% of the properties out there are abandoned, foreclosed on, or simply vacant.

My farmer friends are in a monetary crisis; they were able to get their long standing mortgage re worked, but they still haven’t been able to make payments in months.  They literally have no income.  His business hasn’t had a new account since before Christmas and his father’s business has also been extremely slow.  He has tried to find work but there simply isn’t any to be had, and being away from the farm means chores will fall on her directly and solely.  She has also tried to find work but, having been a stay at home wife and mother since the late 80’s no one is apparently willing to take a chance on her even as a night shift clerk at a grocery store.  They are feeding their animals through donations from the local food banks of produce that is too old to give to people, and by taking in even more animals for boarding on the condition that the boarders provide extra food for their own animals.

Reading Craig’s list for my local area is a litany of sorrow.  The listing of free animals, the sales of entire households of belongings, it goes on and on.

I don’t think it will get better.  I don’t think we can go on this way for much longer either.  I am crossing over into fantasy land here, but I really wish Obama would have simply given each home owner the cash to pay off their mortgage rather than giving it to the banks.  It would have gone to the banks, same as it did, but it would have actually benefited a large portion of our citizens as well as the banks.  Ah, but there’s the rub.  We’re not citizens, we’re consumers…and no body cares about consumers unless they have money to spend.

Independence Days Imbolc 2010

Happy Groundhog Day, Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, whatever you like to call it!

I am very tired.  I spent the part of the night holding a flashlight in my mouth, fighting off a javelina (yes, fighting, with a shovel–I didn’t want to hurt it but I didn’t want to get hurt either) that destroyed my fence in several places and ate all my winter crops (and was trying to eat my chickens when I caught him).  Then I hit my face on something in the bedroom because it was dark and I didn’t see it.  Then today I had to repair the fence, haul rock, and clean up the mess he left.  I’m still not done, but the rest will have to wait until this afternoon.

All 50 of my tomato sprouts came up, and 47 of the peppers did.  Only one of the spinach has shown its face, most of the eggplant, all of the broccoli and cabbage, and the yams are sprouting.  The lettuce finally came up, but the sage and the chives are no shows, so I’ll replant soon.  Later today will be occupied (after the rest of the fence repair) by transplanting the tomatoes into bigger pots so I can use the sprouting tray again later.

Eat the food:  we only have two or three jars of spaghetti sauce left, which is a crisis since we eat spaghetti a LOT.  Organic local sausage is surprisingly affordable so I buy probably 4 lbs a month of that, and we have spaghetti or tortellini about once a week (and leftovers as well).  Made bread.  Frozen veggies. Egg drop soup with chard.

I checked on the dill pickles I had fermenting in a crock on the counter; they’re not as crispy as I had hoped but after all this time I’m not surprised.  What I AM surprised about is that not only are they still good, they’re very good!  I put them into mason jars and into the fridge.  Easy cheap snack food that doesn’t have HFCS, preservatives, fat, or even many calories.

The bunnies are molting, so they’ve been getting groomed and plucked frequently; Mr. Tin Foil wants me to clip them like I did last time, but they’re outside now and I don’t want them to get too cold — it gets down to about 29-30 at night here.

I’m sad we don’t have any winter veggies at all now.  I told DH I was getting electric fence and a pellet gun, to which he replied I should get a bow — makes no noise and we can pit roast the pig.  It’s a lovely thought, but I’m sure our neighbors might have something to say about me hanging a javelina from the tree and butchering it….then again I can always share, hush meat if you will.  I know the javelina are only here because it’s the end of winter and there’s not much left for them to eat in the desert, and the spring flush hasn’t come yet, but still.

On the upside, I designed my first pattern based on looking at someone else’s headband.  I’m going to sell them on my Etsy shop .