The Western Isles

For an unemployed person, I seem to be awfully busy... So here's the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles) breakdown:

Without a doubt, the Outer Hebrides are one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The people are reserved but also incredibly generous; the terrain is rugged and changes with every curve you round; the beaches are breathtaking; the sheep are everywhere. Like seriously, everywhere.

They are also not always quite so cute:

Most of these sheep are meat sheep so their fleeces are, um, not so much with the valued. Most of them are "blackface" or Cheviot (pronounced chee-vee-it in the Islands). I only saw one herd of Hebridean sheep while I was there. When I asked a weaver why, they said it was because they aren't good meat ship and they only have fleeces that are about 1.5 pounds or so. They are cute, though; tiny and black and skinny little things.

After taking We stayed with Margaret Cowie at her beautiful home in Leverburgh, Harris. Margaret is a fabulus cook and was really kind and conscientious with my whole deathly immune reaction to gluten thing. I seriously could have stayed with her the entire trip. Screw the Orkneys, screw Loch Ness, screw it all I'll take the Hebrides any day.

Overlooking the Atlantic:

The changeable face of the South-eastern coast of Harris:

The Southern tip of Harris looking out toward North Uist:

A cove near Geocrab on Harris:

The foreground is covered in wild iris but we were just about a week too early for the bloom... I will post the rest of the Hebrides portion tomorrow; it's too image-heavy for one post.



Life has been a little rough to me the last week. Adjusting to not working is a fair bit harder to do mentally than I thought it would be. Everyone I talk to tells me what a dream it is that I'm living and how I "should enjoy it!". For a person who struggles with a great deal of anxiety, this last week has been really tough. Add to that the person who shares the financial burden of my horse backed out of her lease and I am a little panicked.

All this to say, I will be back in the next couple of days with a post on the Hebrides, but right now, I need to go think.



A note on the solstice

As most of you know, the summer solstice was yesterday (the date I was originally intending to post this, but I was riveted by my business law lecture. No, I am not joking). *Anyway*, in my pre-Knitting Frenzy I always dreaded the summer solstice. It signaled to me that the winter was closer than ever and that all of the hot weather yet to come was almost disingenuous in its heat; it would be followed by cold and darkness no matter what we did. This thought haunted every lazy summer day at the beach, on vacation, or driving around with friends.

Now, however, summer solstice is my favorite day of the year. Since becoming a Seattleite about 8 years ago I have come to hate the heat of summer (a mere 80 degrees if we're especially unlucky) and spend most of July and August fervently wishing that we won't have an Indian Summer that year. In relation to the Knitting Frenzy, summer solstice signals a countdown to the best new yarns, cozy patterns and a return to reason for the knitting magazines. I look forward to sumptuously soft snuggly designs, to hours spent in front of the fire, my needles clicking away, to the long dark days that make it easy to stay indoors sketching that next sweater.

So welcome, summer! Hurry up and get the hell over with so I can get back to some serious knitting.


Skye Now, Skye Now!

Not surprisingly, the Isle of Skye is fantastically beautiful. We actually had wonderful weather the entire time (65-80 degrees and SUNNY), but I seem to have taken most of the pictures from Skye on the one foggy morning. Also, most of the things I bought there are presents that have not yet arrived in the mail.

This was the view from the front yard of the B&B we stayed at. Our hosts, Chris and Janet Mitchell, were just wonderful. Mom and I got in really late (I over scheduled how far we could drive, natch) but Janet had gluten-free biscuits (cookies) and tea all ready for us. It was so sweet I almost cried. Janet staked out a permanent place in my heart (as if the biscuits weren't enough!) when she unveiled a hand-made gluten-free loaf of bread the next morning for breakfast. I brought that loaf with me all over the rest of Scotland and it kept wonderfully. Thank you Janet!

Everyone kept telling us that the sheep were everywhere in Scotland, but I didn't quite believe it until I saw it. Seriously, the sheep are everywhere. They run wild on Skye and the Western Isles, but the farmers slop a big color mark on them to keep ownership straight. Most of these sheep, as explained to me, are raised for meat so they're never shorn and some develop some damn mangy fleeces.

We were travelling about a month after lambing, so there were plenty of these everywhere:

Cute, eh? I know, I wanted to hug every single one of them. And the noises, the *noises*. Little plaintive "baaaa"s and "bleeet"s echoing off the hills. It was enough to break my heart a million times a day.

I dropped a *ton* of money at Shilasdair (Skye Yarn Co.). Unfortunately, the fruits of my wallet's labor are still in the mail. So you'll have to be satisfied with a picture of the place:

I would go back to Skye (and Chris and Janet's) in a nanosecond.


Skye on Hold

Folks, my head is spinning from the jet lag. I have been up since 4:30 this morning and I can't fight it any more. I am putting off Skye until tomorrow (although I start my summer quarter tomorrow) so please enjoy a flower arrangement I did for some new friends who had us over for dinner this evening instead. (Whew! That sentence was a doozy!)


I'm home!

True to form, what I thought was an underscheduled and "relaxed" vacation turned out to be a mad dash from one end of Scotland to the other.  Oops.  Hardly surprising, though, considering that that is my usual M.O.  Mom was a good sport and logged more than 1600 miles on the little VW Golf+ that we rented.  It was certainly the trip of a lifetime and we had a ompletely awesome time being Mum and kid, on the road.  We did some birding, looked at a lot of neolithic sites and bought lots and lots and lots of wool. 

The pile of shit stuff I brought home was truly astounding.  What's even more astounding was that it all fit in my suitcase!  Mom could barely believe it when I announced that we wouldn't need to be stopping by the post office; I had it all jammed in my carry-on-sized rolling bag. 

This is, of course, an edited pile because I didn't include the multitudes of gifts I brought back. 
I think the best way to go about showing y'all pictures of the trip is to take it region by region.  I'll progress the way our trip did, so you can witness the full extent of my wool madness.  The best thing to come out of this trip were the people I met and what I learned from them.  All of the wool I brought home came from small independent farmers who in many cases dyed their own stuff using natural dyes.  I now have an excellent (and easy!) indigo recipe and am contemplating moving my dyepot to a firepit in my backyard for ease of smell on poor Jon's nose.  (It's really awful when I get to microwaving vinegar...)  I saw breeds of sheep I never knew existed (the North Ronaldsay being chief among them) and learned about their wools and processes in a way that most people could never dream of. 

Now, though, the jetlag is making me want to pull my eyes out, so I am off to make a pot of tea and try to stay up until 10.  More to come!


Postcard from the Western Isles

I am using the internet from a public library in Stornoway, Lewis Island, Western Isles. It is so completely beautiful up here I can barely even believe it! White sand beaches stretching for miles with water so turquoise you would think you were in the Carribean. We thought we would be stuck here on Sunday because the entire island shuts down for the Sabbath, but we lucked out due to a change in the ferry schedule. We're having corgeous 70+ degree weather and clear; no rain to speak of!

I also have no phone service to speak of, so you'll have to wait for the pictures...

The wool has been excellent, but people really don't process their own wool the way we do in the states, it's rather surprising. Also, knitting is falling out of favor among the youngsters and it's not nearly as in vogue as it is at home. However, I have been able to tour two natural dye studios and have bought enough wool (you'll see it later, I promise). I'm sure I'll run into a shop that has *just* the thing I need, though... :) I bought tweed this morning at Castaway Crafts in Tarbert, Harris Island and hand-dye from Soay Studios just outsode of Tarbert. I'll post the links when I have a chance!

I'm honestly not sure if I'll be able to post again until I get home, but I promise days and days of photos. The sheep are everywhere and we're here a month after lambing season so baby everythyings are running around cute as buttons. It's really just too perfect.

More later! Signing off...


Leaving on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow morning, I depart for the Land of Wool. I have spent all day preparing; packing, doing laundry, frantically weeding my garden lest the weeds overwhelm the house, making lists and checking them twice, chasing off morbid thoughts of Jon and my last moments together, calling Mom and assembling the projects to go on the plane.

Now, I know that I am going to a place where there is lots and lots (and lots) of yarn, possibly every which way I turn. But there's this little knitter phenomenon called the Stash, and where once I thought that the Stash was stationary and usually limited to one's house, I now know that the Stash is mobile. Very definitely mobile. It was hard (too hard) to decide what to bring with me, but here it is:

That's the yarn for five (yes 5) pairs of socks. Can I knit 5 pairs of socks in 13 days? No, probably not. But that is not the point!! I have choice! I also managed to bring about 15 (not exaggerating) patterns as well as technique pages xeroxed out of my favorite books (so that I need not lug my library as well...). You can also see my Nano and a whole huge sack of gluten-free snack bars and hot cereal. If I didn't feel so darn good, I would truly hate the diet I have to follow... Anyhoo, I'm off to bed and then to the airport at 8:15am. Next post: Edinburgh!