Rhinebeck, USA


I made my second pilgrimage to the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool festival this year thanks to an intrepid, non-knitting friend/chauffeur. I navigated while she drove (and sang and searched for radio stations and only once attempted to merge onto a highway going the wrong direction).

We made it in one piece.

The air was crisp, the sky clear, the barns packed with people fawning over yarns and rugs and adorable sheep and camelids.

These were my kind of people. Fibre-y people. Dressed in their best Rhinebeck sweaters and shawls (hurriedly blocked the day before, I’m sure). They were eager to talk crimp and grist and skirting and twist and all those words that are so deliciously opaque to the rest of the world. They knew the fibre lover’s secret handshake.

They even had a llama jumping competition, for heaven’s sake!


There were a few whiffs of strangeness (foreignness) though: A couple “colours” spelled without the “u”. How gauche. Funny looking monochromatic banknotes. How confusing! A Trump bumper sticker on the back of an SUV, driven by a seemingly sane looking young woman.

A larger homemade Trump sign mounted to the side of a barn and illuminated by several small spotlights.

A small, worn sticker on the back of a bathroom stall door. In large block letters, in the centre of the sticker, were the instructions: “Stop. Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”

When I flushed and was able to get a closer look, I saw a small image of a smiling cartoon eagle at the top of the sticker, next to the words: “Harry the eagle says, if you see a gun…”

It was all so Almost familiar. They were all so Almost Canadian.

Just Trump-ier. And armed.


Purchases made at the fleece sale:

  • 1 Shetland fleece from a sheep named Xena
  • 1 Alpaca fleece from Lil Darling (who’s apparently expecting her first cria soon, mazel tov.)

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An oath


There’s a whole lot wrong with my first attempts at soapmaking, as I’ve since learned on the interwebs: a partial gel phase and a lot of soda ash on the outside of the loaves.

But I’ve decided to be okay with that. I’m determined to curb my perfectionism here. I mean… they smell good, they produce suds, they look like bars of soap, they seem to actually clean. So that should be enough. Right?

I won’t get all crazed now. I won’t be disappointed if my soap looks less than perfect.

I won’t get too gung-ho about making soap à la medieval. I won’t decide that the only true way to soapmaking is to make the lye myself by filtering rainwater through a barrel of hardwood ash. I won’t start rendering my own beef tallow. No.

Not yet, at least.


Mint coffee soap (first picture)

  • Olive oil – 18 ounces
  • Coconut oil – 16 ounces
  • Palm oil – 14 ounces
  • Lye – 7.10 ounces (5% superfat)
  • Prepared liquid coffee – 17.5 ounces
  • Peppermint essential oil – 6 teaspoons
  • Cinnamon – 2 teaspoons
  • Coffee grounds – 2 tablespoons

Olive oil soap (second picture)

  • Olive oil – 48 ounces
  • Lye – 6.17 ounces (5% superfat)
  • Water – 17.5 ounces

Supplies from Coco & Calendula

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September, belatedly.


Three ginormous and terribly ugly spiders have usurped the garden. They’ve built webs over the tomato plants and sneer at me when I approach. The last time I attempted a harvest, one managed to crawl onto my sleeve: I squealed like a piglet, dropped my colander of tomatoes and ran for cover. I immediately decided that gardening season was over.


Instead, I spent September tending to a solitary milkweed plant and a small family of monarch caterpillars. They came to me by way of Monarque sans frontière, an organization dedicated to saving the monarch butterfly. The school I work for kindly bought a monarch raising kit for anyone interested.

My kit came with five smallish caterpillars and one chrysalis. (Butterflies form chrysales, moths form cocoons. Who knew? The life cycle of the monarch is amazing. Read about it and sign up for your own kit next year.)

Over several days, my beautiful jade chrysalis turned pale green, then black. And then, this happened. It was amazing. I called everyone into my office to proclaim that I’d just given birth.

I tagged my monarch and released him with great fanfare in the garden the next morning.

Under the gaze of a group of wholly disinterested students.

“Look! This one’s male. See the two dots on the lower wings? Those are scent glands. That’s how you know.”

“Yeah, whatever lady, can we go now?”

Baby boy was strong and happy and took off right away. Godspeed butterfly WAC010! Or should I say, ¡vaya con dios! (He did, initially, fly north. Hope he’s figured out that Mexico’s the other way.)


Trigger warning: things don’t turn out well for the caterpillars. If you are sensitive to caterpillar death (like I am!), don’t read on.


My other babies did good for a while: munching away, molting like champions. But then their activity slowed. They seemed sluggish and disinterested.

I tried to encourage them with gentle, loving pokes. I would softly blow air on their curious little faces and they would arch their backs up at me as if to say: “yes! don’t give up on us! we loooove you!”.

But one by one, I found them overturned and deflated on the ground of their cage.

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is to blame. A protozoan parasite. It devastated most of our caterpillar population this year.


Here’s hoping WAC010 and his peers make it to Mexico safe and sound.

Get down to that romance business soon, butterflies. The future depends on you.


UPDATE: The Montreal insectarium has decided to end their monarch raising program. They have determined that the risk of disease/pest is too high.

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