Critters and Fleeces

It is almost that wonderful, magical time of year that is the Tour de Fleece. I love Tour de Fleece. The internet goes from housing some pictures of beautiful hand-spun yarn, to brimming over with said photographs. On top of being beautiful, these photos are inspirational, motivational, get-off-your-butt-and-make-something-spectacular-tional. I know, I know, I know. You are all saying, but you have never participated in the Tour de Fleece before, and really, what’s the big deal anyway? The big deal is that I learned to spin during last year’s Tour de Fleece, seeing all those gorgeous pictures is what convinced me I could afford to shell out the $50 for the class and to take a Saturday off work. And it was so much fun. My wheel came in the mail six weeks later (which felt like an eternity) and then school started and I didn’t have any time to spin. And then my lovely, brand new spinning wheel become more a piece of furniture rather than the well-crafted tool it was meant to be. I was practicing maybe 20 minutes a month, and since I wasn’t very good at it yet, it was a frustrating experience every time. Then, sometime during February or March, the spinning wheel and I came to some sort of unspoken understanding, all of a sudden I was making yarn. I still haven’t made very much yarn, but my skills have greatly, if slowly, improved over the last year. Now, I see the Tour de Fleece as a way to finally force myself to incorporate spinning into my everyday life.

For those wondering what the heck the Tour de Fleece is. . . It’s kind of like the Tour de France in that it runs from July 2nd through July 24th and it involves wheels. That’s about it. While in the Tour de France top cyclist in peak physical condition challenge themselves to ride through France in three weeks, in the Tour de Fleece, any spinner of any skill level challenges themselves with a set of goals, usually to improve their spinning or to work through the fleece and roving that has built up in the stash over the last year. Spinners typically do this in an air conditioned room, possibly in front of the tv. The really dedicated spinners might actually watch the Tour de Fleece…(I’ll probably watch Dr. Who or listen to Jeff Buckley.) The general idea is to push yourself and your skill as a spinner. In that spirit, I have made a few small goals for myself for this year’s Tour de Fleece, one of them a bit unusual.

1. Spin at my wheel for at least 20 minutes everyday of the tour
2. Work my way through the alarming amount of wool I have acquired in the last few months, spinning and plying as much as I can in two weeks, blogging about it (almost) daily.
3. Start a daily spinning/blogging habit.

And for the Unusual one:
4.Actually ride my bike for at least a few miles every day Sunday-Thursday.

Yup, I am including actual biking in my Tour de Fleece goals. I love my bike, and I haven’t been riding it enough lately. In fact, I haven’t ridden at all for a week, when I was riding at least four times a week there for a while. The main reason I stopped is because of the giant (and I mean giant, it grew to the size of my face before it started to heal) spider/insect bike I got on my leg a week ago. Everything, especially heat and activity seemed to aggravate it. I finally broke down and got drugs on Saturday when my leg started to feel as though it had a fever. Four days, lots of money, and too many pills later, I am feeling better, but the drugs have kept me nice and dopey. I have wanted to accomplish many fibery and blog related things, but have been giving in to the desire to sleep instead.

And because I have been sleeping, I haven’t had the chance to tell you about the Alpacas!

Last Friday we went out to visit the Alpacas at Orchard Hill Farm. Not only was the farm beautiful, but the alpacas were friendly and lovable as well. However, they seem to have a sense of when you are about to take a picture of them being friendly and lovable, so the above photograph is the only one I came away with. They loved Athrun though. Loved him, gave him a couple of kisses once he got used to them. I am still not sure I would want to add alpacas to my future fantasy farm, especially since there seem to be so many in Kansas already, but I do ever so much enjoy spinning their fleece, so who knows.

This is some of the black roving I bought from Marcia at the Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago spun into a lovely light fingering weight.

And this is what I bought from her at the farm.

The fawn colored fleece came from an alpaca named Maya, which Athrun picked out. It’s only about 3.5 ounces, but he seems to think he’ll get socks, mittens, a hat, and whatever else he wants out of the bag. He is so eager for me to spin it that he started changing the bobbin on my spinning wheel himself the other day. The dark brown is from an alpaca named Frankie (a female), and will hopefully make up Brock’s gloves for this winter. I am going to attempt to get Athrun to help me clean this fleece a little bit today. We’ll see how it goes.

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In Which I Make You Hungry

I have a conundrum. It turns out that two of my favorite past-times are vying for the same space. You all know about the dyeing thing. It’s all over this blog. The interesting thing is, that for dyeing one needs some counter space, a couple of pots, probably some aluminum foil and some plastic wrap, and a stove top. This is where the problem comes in. I am really starting to fall in love with cooking, which uses similar equipment. (Not the same equipment mind you. Never mix your dyeing and your cooking materials. Dyes are not meant to be eaten.) Since it could be hazardous, I never dye and cook at the same time, which means when it comes to a choice between having enough time to dye some more products or cook a delicious, from scratch meal, the cooking usually wins out.

Joining the CSA this year was completely worth the money. I love that I can go pick up fresh produce once a week, and that there is usually a vegetable I haven’t tried before. So far it had mostly been a new type of green. It was a banner year for greens, let me tell you. This week it was turnips. I don’t know how I made it to 26 without ever (knowingly) eating a turnip, but I did. I made a turnip and potato potage from this book

that turned out delicious. In fact, I plan on having the leftovers for lunch. I the Local Flavors book a lot. It is good for generating ideas for using what you have instead of going out and buying food to cook a specific recipe. Also, the recipes I have made so far kind of follow my general method of cooking, which is to throw vegetables in a pan with some other stuff and see what happens. I especially liked making my own broth (for “Elixir of Fresh Peas”) out of pea pods.

And because I apparently have a deep desire to watch things grow and grow quickly, I bought a sprouting jar and some sprouts. I have a bag full of broccoli sprouts I have been putting on everything. They are delicious, crunchy, and have more flavor than alfalfa sprouts. I have a mix of bean sprouts growing right now that are mostly lentils. Who knows what I am going to do with those, but they are pretty.

Another recipe I have been making a lot is the Master Bread Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Of course, I use whole wheat flour, which is not what the recipe calls for, but it turns out just as good. In fact, I find using whole grain flours actually adds to the flavor. (You should probably add an extra 1/4 cup of water, however.) This dough recipe is super versatile. It not only makes the usual little peasant loaf, but it also makes a delicious pizza crust (which Athrun will eat). I even used it to make pita bread one night. Amazing.

Tonight I am using the last of our spinach pesto (made when we had CSA spinach coming out our ears) and goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions. It’s my new favorite thing, and it makes me kind of sad that spinach season is ending. However, I am sure it will be just as good with basil pesto come August.

In Shop News
I mentioned on my Facebook Group that I have been thinking of adding some hand-knit goods to my shop inventory. Of course, this means I have to make some hand-knit goods to put in my shop. I have a few ideas, but I am slightly hesitant about taking this step. I am not sure I want to become a production knitter. (Plus, I have some things I want to make for myself, and still owe Brock sweaters…) So, I have a couple of patterns I will be knitting up over the next few weeks, and I will post them as an experiment.

But first I need finish up all my super-secret birthday knitting, so I better get to work.

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Re-Emerging

I have been hard at work lately on a few things, but most of them don’t include my fledgling of an etsy shop. It has not been neglected by any means, but I do have to admit that my energies have been elsewhere.

School is quickly drawing to a close, and with it, a large, but not obscene amount of writing. It is all my kind of writing: the creative yet slightly self-indulgent kind. If you want to know what I mean, go to your library, local bookstore, or your (preferably) your bookshelf, or you can go here: Essays of E.B. White, and read the foreward. If you read nothing else, read the foreward now, and you will know what kind of writing I have been doing, what I am trying to do, and why I love E.B. White. (Now you should go buy that book, but not from amazon unless you can’t find it nearer. I have that problem myself quite often, you would be amazed how little a bookstore in Kansas actually stocks about agriculture. It’s shameful, really.)

Despite the large amount of writing which stands between myself and the rest of the school year, I am feeling remarkably calm. That is a big change. It helps that the writing I am doing is the kind I feel most comfortable with, but what is really different is that I feel as I am emerging from some the frantic state of mind in which I have been residing for the last few years. My time in school is quickly coming to an end, and instead of feeling the dread of not having an amazingly profitable job right away, I am just feeling excited.

Here are a few of the things that have been distracting me from the blog lately.

1.
This Earl Grey tea with lavender is not really a distraction, more of a crutch. I know Earl Grey is an afternoon tea, but I have been drinking this stuff every morning (and most afternoons as well). It is delicious and rich, and the perfect substitute for coffee. I am not sure when or how it happened, but I started taking my coffee with cream a couple of years ago, and not I can’t have coffee without it. I am trying to eliminate more of the dairy from my diet, because I am one of those people who does not do so well with too much of it. My solution is to drink this tea instead of coffee. So far I am doing all right. I got mine here, but your local health food store might carry it as well.

2. I am going to ReThink Topeka this afternoon. My friend Julie is doing her best to get me out of the apartment a little more often.

3. In fact, earlier this week, we hit the cutest yarn store in Kansas. I bought some fleece off a sheep named violet, which is going to teach me to better use my hand carders.

4. Jacob’s Reward Farm is another fiber CSA, of which I am a brand new member. I have really been enjoying their blog. They are expecting a lamb! Check it out.

5. I am visiting this farm on Tuesday to meet the sheep. I bought 1 lb of Aran’s (the sheep) roving, and the wool is gorgeous, so I assume the sheep must be as well.

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Forty Things for Monday (A List) or Pea Soup

1. I have been sleeping at every opportunity.

2. That kind of explains why I haven’t been posting anything to my blog.

3.I did bring all of my blogging tools with me to Denver.

4. Put simply, the internet at my sister’s school sucks.

5. The trip was fun though.

6. I walked a lot.

7. I saw Equus.

8. I bought fiber at Gypsy Wools in Boulder.

9. I learned I really hate flying.

10. My knitting did not get confiscated as I feared it would.

11. This was lucky because I was working on my other sister’s birthday present.

12. It was a Clapotis in a variegated plum yarn.

13. I did not get a picture of the finished object, but here is a picture of the yarn.

14. I knit it in a week.

15. By Saturday morning Clapotis had taken over my life.

16. I still kind of want one for myself.

17. My family started putting in knitting orders over the weekend.

18. My sister asked for an Idlewood

19. She is willing to buy the yarn.

20. My dad wants fingerless gloves.

21. He did not ask.

22. I am going to make them anyway, because my dad never wants anything.

23. I have been dyeing. The evidence is up in my etsy shops

24. You should go there.

25. And buy something.

26. Like this self-striping yarn

ETA:  This yarn just sold. Might I interest you in this one instead?

It doesn’t stripe, but it’s just as pretty!

27. I have also been reading.

28. About food and sustainability.

29 I recently bought the following books:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
The Book of Whole Meals
Fresh Food From Small Spaces
Raising Poultry The Modern Way

30. I made pea soup last night.

31. I was pleasantly surprised.

32. I also cast on for Terra with my JMF yarn.

33. I am in love with everything about this project so far.

34. Except maybe my clumsy provisional cast-on.

35. I am still not so good with a crochet hook.

36. I am going to eat a brownie, which I made last night along with the soup.

37. After the brownie, I am going to bed.

38. So I can get up in a couple of hours and have dinner with my boyfriend.

39. At 10pm. Otherwise we don’t see each other.

40. I hope he doesn’t mind left-over pea soup.

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Big Update

I have been working hard over the past few days to build the inventory back up in the shop after my sneak attack. Five new items are up today, and a couple of things that are waiting to dry and be photographed. My favorite is the top you see pictured above. It is the most gorgeous blue face Leicester and silk spinning fiber. It’s so shiny and soft I want to keep it for myself.

This week has been kind of crazy. On top of the sneak attack and spending all day Wednesday dyeing, I turned in my essay on Tuesday and had it critiqued on Thursday, both of which were nerve-wracking. Everything went really well, and I felt silly for getting nervous, but it always happens before a workshop, and it wears me out.

I got a little creative with my hand carders, and blended some silk with a little bit of the white alpaca roving I have laying around, and it got really, really fluffy. And then I spun it, and it was still really, really fluffy. It looks ridiculous and soft. I will take a picture when there is enough to photograph. For now, I am am attempting to finish my Mondo Cable Jacket, because the plan was to wear the jacket when I go to Denver to visit my sister, Audrey….Which is six days away. I am kind of behind. I still have most of a sleeve to knit as well the collar, so I am about two weeks away from finishing with the way my schedule is going. Two weeks . . . six days. I can do it. I might not sleep, but I can do it.

Oh, and did I mention I learned to crochet on Sunday? Have I actually crocheted anything yet? Nope. But I have a skein of yarn with a crochet hook in it sitting in my knitting basket. I call that progress.

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Projects in Pictures

It has been a long couple of days, so I am just going to give everyone a sneak peak at what I have been working on.

Acquired on my trip to my LYS today:

None of these three things go together, but they all have to do with individual projects. In the plastic bag is 100g of Bombyx Silk Hankies. (A silk hankie is essentially a flattened silk worm cocoon.)  I am going to try my hand at dyeing some. I have 13g stack set to soak over night.  The scary wooden things with the teeth are hand carders. I have been wanting to play with blending fibers and/or colors, but a drum carder (which does a couple ounces of fiber at a time) is so far out of my price range right now it is laughable. The hand carders, while not cheap, are much more reasonably priced, and great to practice with. The pictured needles are so I can knit the sleeves onto my Mondo Cable Cardigan. I finished knitting the body last night.

The Body:

That’s dark charcoal grey in Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride. The white you see is Mohair. It’s gorgeous.  (I also might have ordered some mohair locks to play with too, but that was on the internet so it doesn’t count until it shows up.)

And here is the first yarn of the year to have the opportunity to dry on the balcony:

Yes, it is neon pink. It  super fabulous, and it will be up in the shop tomorrow.

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Off Topic

My final semester of school starts tomorrow. I am simultaneously excited and filled with dread. To put it simply, last semester was NOT GOOD. I was not sleeping enough or eating well. I was at work or doing homework all the time and falling asleep while I meant to be playing with Athrun. Halfway through the semester, my back started hurting so badly that I was alternating icing and heating daily, which only seemed to make the pain tolerable instead of better. I joined a gym at the end of November, and was only able to attend intermittently until the end of the semester, but every time I was able to go, I could tell it helped the pain slightly.  At the beginning of December, I took five days off from work (a really terrible month to have to take time off, let me tell you.) just so I could catch up with all of the paper writing I had to get done before the end of the semester. For five days, all I did was read, write, research, and go to class. When I went back to work in mid-December, I did the same thing with the added bonus of working full time. My final project for my creative non-fiction class was due at 11:59 on Friday, December 17th, and I was working hard until 11:15 pm. I do not want a repeat of this semester.

Granted, I am taking 6 hours, where last semester I was taking 13, but for some reason, I am not sure this is going to make much difference. I see myself working on my classes, particularly my advanced creative non-fiction class, just as much as I did last semester. I hope that perhaps more time into each class will perhaps help balance out the sorry grade-point average. (I passed my Astronomy lab with a healthy C-, which is kind of a miracle. I was convinced I was going to fail.)

And even though last semester was not good, it was a great improvement on the semester before last. I spent the summer learning how to relax, learning how to be ok with myself while I was working hard, learning how not to be angry. This break, I have been trying to turn around my eating habits. I used to be pretty strict with myself, eating a good mix of vegetables and whole grains and fruits with only occasional junk food thrown in. I lost almost sixty pounds this way after Athrun was born. Full-time classes have not been good for my weight at all, as I have steadily been gaining back the pregnancy weight, without the excuse of a baby this time. Last semester, if it could be delivered to my door, I ate it. A lot of it. Mercifully, I was walking so much at school, this did not affect my waistline during the semester. However, the first couple of weeks after finals, coupled with holiday frivolities saw my weight jump up ten pounds. I am, however, saying that 5 lbs of this is added muscle mass from going to the gym more often, because I swear, my legs have gotten skinnier.

I do not handle stress well, and it is mirrored directly in my weight loss or weight gain–usually neither one being a good sign. And then, I have a lot of internal conflict about dieting, because it feels like I am eating and living by someone else’s ideal, not my own. I know that I am not at my ideal weight: it slows me down, it makes the desks at school even more uncomfortable. And, it would be dishonest of me to say that I don’t feel slightly judged for being overweight in a society that values thinness before all else. What I am really hoping is that I can eat healthfully and heartily this semester, while establishing a routine at the gym. The downside is I would work out instead of napping, which might actually be a winning strategy with time. The upside is that I will get a chance to watch a lot more bad TV.

We don’t have TV. I mean, we have a TV, but the only signal is the DVD player or the computer hard drive. So, anything I watch, I must seek out. It really cuts down on the mindless TV watching of shows about nothing. However, when I go to the gym, all of the cardio equipment has it’s own little television and headphone jacks. I watch a lot of bad TV at the gym. Usually it is TLC, because out of all the really pointless TV channels out there, I find that TLC generally has the worst of it. And it is glorious. I watched a show about a woman who had carried a calcified baby in her stomach for forty years the other day. Or then there was the History Channel show about the treasure hunters looking for Confederate silver. Makes my day. Tonight, I am thinking about going in and doing my usual routine, then hopping on a recumbent bike with my sock-knitting and just watching TV while I cycle and work out a bunch of stress right before school starts to pile it all back on again.

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Developments

The fingers on my left hand are teal. One of my kitchen gloves must have a whole in it somewhere. Last night, I dyed the very last of the un-dyed yarn in my apartment. Three bare skeins of bulky wool became three skeins of turquoise and teal colored wool. I don’t have any pictures, because it is all still wet, but they match the Mosasaur skein from the previous post…in theory at least.

I am planning on making a winter set for myself out of these guys. I seem to have lost all my hand-knit mittens, and that just makes me sad, and I have been wanting something colorful to go along with my charcoal grey wool coat since I bought it in November. I haven’t picked all the patterns yet, but I will probably start on the mittens soon. My hands are cold. Of course, I am also working on a sweater for myself (cannibalizing the February Lady for the Idlewood, pictures to come.) I am half way through the first of The Ugly Socks, and I have promised to make the boyfriend a sweater, which I am going to try to start this weekend (fingers crossed). And I am taking a sweater class at the Yarn Barn this spring to make this cardigan… and school starts on Tuesday. So, if my winter set is completed before warm weather hits, it will be a miracle.

I have officially dyed myself through everything I purchased last fall. While that was about four pounds of yarn, most of it went into an afghan, and a good portion of the rest has seen itself become socks or mittens or at least been set aside with the intention of becoming socks or mittens. It was probably enough yarn to last me through this semester if I so chose, but it still left me with nothing to dye. I placed my very first wholesale order a few days ago. Granted the “wholesale” part means that this yarn is not for me, but it does mean that I will have 10 whole pounds of yarn to dye in a few more days. Did you get that? 10 pounds. That’s 5 kilo. 2 pounds of five different yarn bases.

In fingering/sock weight, I have a 80/20 superwash Merino/Bamboo, a 100% superwash Blue Faced Leicester, a 100% superwash Merino, and a 75/25 superwash merino/nylon. To be honest, I love just plain wool socks and mittens. I know a lot of people prefer nylon added to make it stronger, and the bamboo is the same principle. I am interested to see which of the three sells better. I also have some 100% merino worsted weight wool coming in. Not sure how well that will sell, but I am interested to find out.

A picture, for posterity:

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The Sock Curse

I have a problem. A horrible, terrible, dastardly no good problem. It’s a very strange problem for a knitter to have, particularly for someone who enjoys knitting socks so very much. You see, in the eight months since I began knitting socks, I have knit six pairs of socks. That’s twelve socks that have come off my tiny double-pointed needles, and yet, I have no hand-knit socks to wear. Now, I am not a selfish knitter, one pair of socks was for my sister, Audrey, who spent last semester in Russia where wool socks are essential. I have even made two pairs for my boyfriend, because he is demonstrably appreciative of having warm feet, and there is something greatly satisfying about watching something you have made shuffling about being useful. I like to knit for other people, but I also like to knit for myself. In fact, the other three pairs of socks I have knit were meant to be worn by my very own feet. Yet I have none. The Culprit: The Sock Curse.

The first pair I knit for myself were in KnitPicks Felici in the Time Traveler colorway. The colors were very similar to the The Doctor Who Scarf. This summer I happily knit them up, all excited for the opportunity to where a Dr. Who tribute on my feet. When they were finished, like a good knitter, I washed them before I wore them. I pulled the socks out of their soak in my bathroom sink, and I felt them grow in my hands. I did not worry. They were superwash. I could probably just throw them in the dryer and shrink them back up. So I did. They did not. Thus, the first pair of socks were no longer mine. They grew to gigantic proportions. My feet are big, but not gigantic. My boyfriend, however, does have gigantic feet, so he now owns the Dr. Who socks.

The second pair of socks I knit for myself were some 100% Merino which I dyed myself. They were hand-wash only socks  in a beautiful mock cable pattern with my variegated green and pink dye job. The fit perfectly in the heel and the toe, and they were snug, but not too tight in the cuff. They were warm, but since I knit them when it was 100 degrees outside, they sat in my drawer waiting for a drop in temperature. But these socks were not content to simply sit in a drawer. They were beautiful, and they knew it. They had to be seen. The pink mock-cable socks allowed their vanity to best them and jumped out of the drawer and onto the floor where they could be briefly admired before being scooped up with the rest of the laundry and tossed in the washer. By the time I found them, it was too late. They were still beautiful, but now they were delicately felted pink mock-cable socks that might fit a six year old. Since I know no six year-olds, and maybe because I was really upset that my perfectly perfect pink socks (I really like pink, and I am not afraid to admit it) were no longer fit to be worn, I threw them away. Hours and hours of work in the garbage. Throwing away knitted goods, even if ruined, might be considered a knitting felony in some circles, in which case I claim temporary insanity–which actually might not be too far from the truth, as I am still too scarred to knit another pair.

The third pair were this semester’s sanity socks, because school came dangerously close to actually driving me crazy this semester. It worked out, quite nicely might I add, that I often-times arrived in Lawrence for school just around the time the yarn shop downtown opened up. Since the yarn shop is just a hop, skip, and a jump from campus, I might have gone in a couple of times instead of being on time for class. One time, I might have skipped my astronomy class altogether and bought two balls of Mini Mochi and a set of needles and cast on for a pair of socks right then and there. The yarn was so beautiful:  a superwash single-ply in blue, violet, and green with long color repeats. I was in love, and knit them up in my free time over about a month or so. I finished them on laundry day, and since they were superwash, I tossed the pair in with the regular washing. I thought I was being so smart, saving time and (my) energy, and I would have a brand new pair of wool socks to wear the very next day. It turns out that mini mochi is only mostly superwash. At least, this pair decided they would felt just a little bit. They probably were trying to teach me a lesson about skipping class to knit, because when the socks came out of the wash, they were a teeny bit sturdier, but also a teeny bit smaller. I tried them on and tried to match up the heel of the sock with my own heel, but my giant size 10 feet weren’t having it. The sock heel kept slipping down to my arch. These socks, originally tailored to fit my long feet were now shrunken down to fit the feet of someone who wears an average size 7 in shoes. Yesterday, after washing them again and making sure they would not shrink any further, I offered them up to the other women in my family, all of whom have much smaller feet than I do. They went home with my sister, Caroline, and I hope they serve her well.

I still don’t have any socks. It is a curse.

I was dyeing sock yarn regularly from July through October (what I have been doing since October is its own post), so I have a lot of sock yarn laying around. I have made a couple pairs of mittens with some of it and a couple pairs of socks with some more of it, and it hasn’t even made a dent in the sock yarn stash. I currently have plans to start on two different pairs of socks for myself. One, just a regular old, plain pair of stockinette socks out of some of my hand-dyed yarn. (Pictures to come once I actually cast on). The second pair I am going to use one of Wendy Johnson’s lacy toe-up knee sock patterns out of some 100% merino I dyed hot pink. I have never done toe-up socks before, but I figure if I am going to go for it, I might as well really go for it. They should be stunning.

Of course, I am going to do all of this while finishing up school (I passed my astronomy lab! I will graduate in May!), working full-time, learning to spin, knitting a few sweaters, dyeing yarn and roving, starting an online shop, and being a mom. ETA on finally owning a pair of my own hand-knit socks?

3.25 years.

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