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Easy Soapmaking

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Rainy weather means more time for new projects. This week, I’m making soap! The whole idea of lye and ash, and whatever else you need to figure out to make soap, is a bit intimidating to me, so I found  a beginner version.

Hand-milled soap, made from white, unscented soap (think Ivory) is a great way to start. I learned about it in the book “Natural Soapmaking.”

Just take a bar of soap – not scented, beauty, deodorant bar – and grate it with a regular cheese grater. I thought this would be hard and end up with my knuckles getting cut up on the grater, but it was really easy. One bar = approximately 2 cups of grated soap.

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I thought it was pretty. Tori thought it looked like grated cheese.

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Put the grated soap and some water in a pan of boiling water, like a double boiler, and melt away. The recipe I used called for melted beeswax, as well. I wasn’t sure how exactly to go about melting just 2 tablespoons of beeswax, but then I figured it out. I used an empty glass spice jar that was in my I’m-going-to-use-it-someday stash. I put the jar in the boiling water, next to the dish that was holding the soap. Next time, I’ll start the beeswax a little sooner because it took a little longer to melt, but the method worked well.

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The next directions said to melt the soap until it “looks like marshmallow cream.” Descriptions like that make me crazy. Maybe what I think looks like marshmallow cream isn’t what someone else thinks. No problem here. In 10-15 minutes it really does look just like marshmallow cream.

 

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Once the soap and wax are melted mix them together, then add whatever else the recipe calls for. In this case, I added crushed almonds, almond oil, and honey. That’s it! (You can also add essential oils, botanicals, oats, whatever you want) Mix it all up, and pour it into whatever type of mold you want. I used a silicone loaf pan, and it was so easy, I forgot to take a picture.

In about 5 hours, the soap is hard enough to remove from the mold. I cut mine into rectangles, but didn’t like the way it looked.1124141558a (500x347)

 

So, the next day, I took my little round cookie cutters to it, and made little circle soap.

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Once it’s cut, the soap has to age three weeks. I have everything I need for Cinnamon Orange soap and the rain is supposed to last throughout the week. I’ll be doubling or tripling the recipe so there will be enough to make full-sized bars.

You can find the book “Natural Soapmaking” and lots of the basic supplies at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

Farm School Announcement

Farm School!

Farm school registration is open! It’s officially the “Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool,” but I can’t ever remember that much. I had to look back at their web page 3 times just to make sure I wrote it correctly. Charlie and I make it easy on ourselves and call it “Farm School.”

We stumbled upon it accidentally last year, signed up, and had a great time. They don’t do much advertising, but the local farm-folk sure know about it! I never even knew such a thing existed. It’s like fun summer school, for adults, all in one day. There are even vendors set up in the gym all day. Farm supplies like you never even imagined. Alpaca Chow, Manure Management Literature, Horseshoeing, Milking Supplies. So much stuff!

Last year, we were new to the whole farm thing, so this was a perfect opportunity to learn the basics about a bunch of different things. I took Goat Milking 101, Intro to Alpacas, and How to Design a Farm Plan. Charlie took How To Grow Tomatoes in the PNW and Building Small Ag Buildings. We both took 5 classes each, I just don’t remember them all right now.

This year, I’m signing up for Beekeeping for Beginners and How To Be A Curd Nerd. We wanted to get bees this past spring, but didn’t know enough about it, and I’ve got the soft cheese thing down, but will get to learn how to do hard, pressed cheeses. These are both 2-session courses, so I’ll only have time for  one more. I’m looking at Intro to Fermenting or Natural Dyeing. There’s so much to choose from, I haven’t decided yet.

There is so much to learn, Charlie and I divide and conquer. We take separate classes, but try to grab extra handouts to share with each other. Charlie is going to take How To Raise Heritage Turkeys and Raising Meat Chickens. He still has to pick out 3 more. He may take Raising Pastured Pigs. He’s looking at mostly building and meat-raising classes. He knows if “we’re” raising meat animals, it’s all on him.

There are so many different kinds of classes, everybody can find something fun to learn. Want to be a professional farmer? You can take Economics of Profitable Farm. How about Playing the Spoons? Shearing Sheep, Arc Welding, Cidermaking? They have that! Heck! You can even bring a fresh fecal sample for the Livestock Fecal Exam class. Try explaining why THAT’S in your book bag!

Tori is even thinking of coming with us this year. She’s really into the idea of raising sheep, and there’s some sort of sheep class being offered in every session. She can take anything from Preparing for Lambing to Necropsy: How Did Ewe Die? and everything in between.

Farm School is held about an hour north of here. For the rest of the country, that means it’s in just about the farthest northwest point you can drive to. Since that’s probably too far for most of you, I’ve attached a copy of their class schedule. Even if you can’t attend, you can have fun looking at all the selections. School this year is January 31, so I’ll be posting more after we attend.

http://ext100.wsu.edu/skagit/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2014/04/Expo-Brochure-for-web.pdf

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Homemade Holidays -Tulle Skirt

I don’t like that Christmas comes earlier every year. I will only shop Black Friday if there is something I HAVE to have for someone, and I will NOT shop on Thanksgiving. Most years I try to “ignore” Christmas until after Thanksgiving. This year is different because I’m making things.  If I wait until after Thanksgiving, I’ll never get done in time.

The most fun project so far has been Reta Jean’s tulle skirt. These are all the rage among little girls, and super easy to make. You take crocheted headbands, or you can buy that same fabric from your local fabric/craft store. Buy the tulle, loop it through the holes, and that’s basically it. (There are a bazillion tutorials online, so I’m not going to go through all the details.)

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I was surprised that in all of the tutorials, all that was used was tulle. I thought I definitely had to go with more sparkle and bling. I got the glittery tulle, and glittery and shimmery ribbons. I ran thick ribbon  through the holes individually, just like the tulle. The thinner ribbons I attached 3 at a time. I think it’s FABULOUS!

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It only took about 2 hours total, including cutting the tulle and ribbons, putting the whole thing together, and cleaning up. WARNING: My couch and living room looked like a snow globe blew up. There was glitter everywhere! If this is a problem, you may want to take it outside. Personally, I had a great time jumping up and down to make the glitter fly off of me.

 

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As soon as I get sizes and color preferences, I’ll be making 3 more for our California Girls. I may even need to make one for myself. Super easy, super fun and super sparkly. What could be better?!?!

You can visit your local fabric/craft store for supplies, or order supplies through my Amazon Store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

 

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Frozen Farming

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The other night, Richard Sherman was on the news talking about the weather. He grew up a California kid, but he’s getting used to playing football in “below freezing” temperatures. My first thought was, “Silly football player! It’s not below freezing. It’s 16 degrees outside.” Fortunately, my second thought kicked in with, “Silly desert kid! 16 IS below freezing!” My whole first winter here, that never occurred to me. “Below freezing” sounds a whole lot colder than “really cold.”

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When it started cooling off, and the garden quit producing, I was actually relieved. After the daily rush of picking, processing, canning and freezing, I was looking forward to a slow down. I feel like Captain Obvious here, but, DANG! A frozen farm yard brings on a whole different set of chores.

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Looking outside, from my cozy bed, it’s beautiful. The yard is covered in frost, and the ice makes everything sparkly. Now, I just have to talk myself into going out there.

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Last year, we only had 6 chickens, in a small run, to care for. This year, we’re up to 2 alpacas, 2 ducks, and 16 chickens. Plus the dogs and cats. I still love my morning chores, they’re just a little different now.

I’m a little concerned about the animals in the freezing temperatures, but not too much. They all have shelters they can go into at night. The chickens and ducks will huddle together for body warmth, and the alpacas have their fleece. While their fleece may be cold and wet on the outside, up close to their bodies, it’s still dry and warm.

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The first thing to do is putting on a pot of water to boil. All the water containers are frozen. Yesterday, I stomped my boot through the ice, only to have it all freeze over again within the hour. Today, I’ll be schlepping hot water out throughout the day.

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Trips outside take a little more prep time now. No more shorts and flip flops for me! Layer, layer, layer. Sweat pants, boots, long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, quilted flannel, scarf and gloves. I don’t mind. It gives the water time to boil.

It’s no less beautiful when I’m outside. I think. My glasses keep fogging up. Stomping on the frozen ground is almost as much fun as stomping in puddles. Everything crunches underfoot, and gives the same satisfaction as popping bubble wrap.

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Once I distribute the hot water and feed everyone, it’s on to poop duty. The frost makes the piles a lot easier to see, and frozen paca poop cleans up like marbles. Some of it’s frozen to the ground, so I hammer on it with the side of the rake. Bad idea. I’ve just created poop shrapnel. I won’t do that again.

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Chickens and their poop are not nearly as cooperative. Yesterday, the poop had frozen onto the perches and I had to use my scraper more like a chisel. I think some of the poop will still be there come spring.  Today, the chickens aren’t even coming out of the shelter. Normally, they come running out as soon as I open the door. This morning, I finished my other yard chores, and they were still inside. I guess I’ll have to come back later for poop duty.

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It’s going to be a loooong winter. If I can keep from doing anything really wrong, we should all make it. Let the winter games begin!

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Wet Felt For Other Projects

I recently posted about wet felting slippers here: http://redmonwoods.com/2014/10/15/felted-slippers-take-2/ . That process is a little involved, but felting a flat “sheet” of wool is actually quite simple. I’ll be using quite a bit of felt for Christmas projects, so I started processing the first of it today. I first learned how to do this at a Valley Spinners Guild meeting, and will be using their instructions for all my upcoming projects.

Ready? Let’s do this!

Materials Needed:

  • Two bath towels
  • One apron
  • A large sink, or a plastic tray with sides
  • 1/4 cup soap flakes, or Dawn dish soap
  • 1 gallon warm water
  • 1 sheet plastic 24 x 36 (I use one side of a plastic feed bag, but you can also use a garbage bag)
  • 1 sheet bubble wrap 24 x 36
  • 1 nylon laundry bag cut in half 24 x 36
  • 1 – 27″ pool noodle
  • 5-6 ounces of carded wool

Felting Procedure

Lay the bubble wrap right side up, then place plastic over bubble wrap.

Divide batts into very thin sheets. Create a first layer by slightly overlapping the batts at their edges and with all the fiber going in one direction. Make sure you stay on your plastic. If you have thin spots, fill them in with thin amounts of wool.

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Create a second layer by placing the fiber in the opposite direction of the first layer.

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Continue creating thin layers and checking for thin spots in the wool layers as you go, until you have used up all your fiber. I was able to make 4 layers.

Go around the edges of your plastic and “tuck in” any loose ends. This makes a neater edge to your felt. Place the netting over the layers of fiber.

Roll up you two towels to make a dam around you project to contain the water.

Begin adding water, starting in the middle of your project and working the water to the edges with your hands. *You should use about half of the water in your container. Save the rest to use as needed.

Gently massage the layers to get the felting process started. The soap should start coming through the netting. Add more soap or water if necessary. Massage 1-2 minutes. Gently lift the netting off the project to make sure it’s not sticking. Replace the netting.

Carefully roll up the bubble wrap with the pool noodle, trying to retain the moisture within. Some people like to tie strips of fabric around the noodle/plastic/wool bundle to help hold it all together.

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Using light, even pressure with your arms and hands, roll the tube back and forth on the table for 2 minutes.

Unroll tube and roll up from the opposite end. Retie if you wish, then roll the tube back and forth on the table again for 2 more minutes.

*Add water if and when it’s necessary. If there is loose fiber use a little extra soap to help “glue” the fiber down.

Unroll tube and carefully flip the whole project over, using the plastic to help, then remove the plastic. Roll up tube. Retie, then roll the tube back and forth for another 2 minutes.

Unroll, then re-roll from the opposite end. Retie, the roll the tube back and forth for another 2 mintues.

Unroll. At this point, your fiber should be pretty well felted. If it is, you can move on to the next step. If not, repeat rolling until felt is created.

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Use the towels to clean up any water and remove the towels from the table. You’re done with the super-wet part, now. Place you project in the plastic container, or in the sink.

Gently gather the edges of your projects and drop the project into the sink. Repeat light dropping motion for approximately 4-5 minutes. The felt is pretty sturdy at this point and can handle it!

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The felt will change during this time, “hardening” and developing “blisters” or wrinkles.

At this point, you can continue dropping until your felt is sturdy, or you can run your project through the washing machine. If you’re like me and want to use the machine, place your felt in a nylon laundry bag, set your washer to gentle cycle and cold water. Use a small amount of soap, and throw in a couple pairs of jeans or some towels to help agitate your felt. Remove your felt following the first wash/rinse/spin cycle. Lay it out flat to dry.

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You can adjust the sizes of your bubble wrap, plastic, and mesh to make larger or smaller sheets of felt.  Keep in mind the felt will shrink about 30% by the time it’s finished. Once the felt is dry, you can cut it and use it to make any number of projects. With holiday colors, you can make ornaments, decorations, place mats, table runners, or anything you can imagine. Using more daily colors, you can make mittens, hot pads, trivets, place mats, pillows, wall hangings, etc. The felt can be embroidered, needle felted, or appliqued. The possibilities really are endless. Have fun and see what you can come up with!

I found this page on Pinterest, and there are lots of project ideas.

http://www.pinterest.com/leilajh/sewing-felt-wool/

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Meat-Eating Hypocrite

I know I’m a hypocrite. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I eat meat. I live on a cattle ranch, I raise chickens and ducks, and Tori wants a pig. The hypocrisy comes from the fact that I don’t want to be responsible for killing animals. Tori will not hesitate to point out that since I eat meat, I’m still responsible for them dying, even if I’m not the one doing the killing. I get that. And it bothers me.

I’ve gone through livestock catalogs and websites, trying to desensitize myself to the various “processing equipment.” That’s what they call it. Not “killing tools.”  I started by focusing on poultry equipment. I was getting used to seeing the equipment, and putting myself into heavy denial about what each piece was used for. Then I was traumatized.

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Jon, our attack rooster, had to go. He would come after me every time I entered the yard. He was doing his job, protecting the hens, but I was not happy about being the target for his spurs. I couldn’t get any chores done, without holding a stick in one hand to fend him off. There was no way I could let the babies in the yard with him. I put in the kill order, and asked Charlie to “take care of business” while I was in town. Charlie got busy with other chores, I got home early, and I found him cleaning up the kitchen, with the plucked bird sitting up in the sink. The bird was already supposed to be in the freezer, and I was supposed to get to pretend he had simply run away.  I completely lost it. I’ve seen plenty of raw chicken in the sink, but that’s not the same as seeing a dead, plucked chicken in the sink. OK, it IS the same thing, but it’s not. I was devastated. I was a sobby mess, completely overcome with guilt. How am I ever going to be a REAL farmer, if I can’t handle being responsible for the death of even one – really mean – rooster?

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The next week as I was cooking chicken, I realized I probably needed to get over it. For the record, I’ve tried being vegetarian. Within a few weeks I got really sick and came to the conclusion that I needed meat to be healthy. I know vegetarians will argue with that, but I really need more protein than I can get from a vegetarian diet. And I like meat.

I go back to my catalogs, and my desensitization practice.  In my head, I understand that many meat and poultry farms raise their animals in deplorable conditions. Even “cage-free” really only means the birds aren’t in an actual cage. It doesn’t mean they aren’t crammed, wing-to-wing, in an overcrowded barn, de-beaked so they won’t peck at each other. I know if we raised our own meat, they would live a happy life, with lots of room to roam, fresh air, sunshine, and good food. Until we killed them. It’s that last sentence I have a hard time with.

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I FINALLY decide that if we had enough chickens, and Charlie did all the processing while I was away (allowing me to pretend the chicken fairy simply delivered them to our freezer), I could probably handle it. That’s when I came across “lung pluckers” in the poultry catalog. Lung pluckers?!?!?! Those can’t possibly be what they sound like. Can they? Yep, they’re exactly what they sound like.  Ugh. I’m right back to square one – a meat-eating hypocrite.

I’m still struggling with this whole killer/meat-eater thing. I get that if I eat meat, that meat was once alive. I get that even if I don’t personally kill the animal, I’m still responsible for its death. I even get that pretending the chicken fairy delivers ready-to-cook birds to the grocery store is, maybe, a bit delusional. I figure that, come next spring, we will probably be raising meat birds, and I will get used to it. Maybe. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, today at Cabela’s, Charlie stopped to look at meat grinders and sausage makers. Ugh. Pleeeeze! Let me get used to the idea of chickens, first.

Bring On The Calm

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I recently returned from a week at my dad’s. I always enjoy visiting him and my hometown. I got to spend time with Dad and my son PJ, drive by the old house, see old friends, and spend some time in the sun. But California moves at a much different speed than Washington.

Everything on the farm makes me smile and relax. I’ve been home almost a week and I just got my “calm” back this morning. It’s been stormy – rain and wind – since I got home, and today we had sun. Just wandering around the property made me peaceful again.

The storm blew away most of the remaining leaves. Now, we can see neighbors’ homes that have been hidden since spring.

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Spike and Tajo get to dry out and relax in the sunshine.

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The chickens are happily clucking and pecking.

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And the creek is high and burbling away.

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No matter how many pictures I take, or how much I try to describe this life to people, I can never do it justice. We are so lucky to get to wake up to this every single day. We never know when deer are going to wander through the yard, or when coyotes are going to hang out and party at the pond. The finches are gone now, but a new flock of woodpeckers has moved into the yard. I never knew woodpeckers traveled in flocks, and maybe they don’t, but since I keep seeing the same 6 hanging out together, I’m calling them a flock.

As the sun travels throughout the day, it makes different trees and clouds light up and glow. Everybody gets to be a star. Any time of the day, I can go out and see something completely different, even though, technically, everything is the same.

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Not only are there no words, there aren’t even pictures that can do this life justice. It’s where I belong. It’s home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Worm Treats

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I’m way too easily entertained! This morning it was worms. Well, chickens and worms.

My dad used to take my brothers and me fishing. His bait of choice was night crawlers. My older brother was totally creeped out by them, so I was the default worm hooker. I couldn’t catch a fish to save my life, but I could get those little squigglers on a hook like a pro! Maybe it’s a side effect of growing up in the desert where there aren’t a whole lot of worms, but I’ve always been fascinated with them.

It’s been raining for three days straight, so I knew that turning over the wooden spools would reveal worms. My chores this morning also involved relocating bricks to a different area of the animal yard. Rain + Bricks = Worms. Lots of big, fat, juicy worms.

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I knew the chickens would love them, but they weren’t paying attention. The worms would all get away if the chickens didn’t come quickly. I threw some feed toward the worms and the chickens came running. Once they noticed the worms, the fun began.

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Some of the chickens were like my brother. They took one look at the worms and took off in the other direction. Others would pick one up, then drop it when it wiggled. The chickens who ate the worms took their task very seriously.

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It would take a couple of tries to catch the end of the worm. Once they got hold of one, they would slurp it up just like spaghetti. I got such a kick out of it, I started plucking the worms out of the soft mud, and tossing them onto harder ground where they couldn’t escape as easily.

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With every brick I moved, the chickens got more and more excited. Soon, they were worked up into a total worm frenzy. They were scratching and pecking and digging up as many as they could. I had been needlessly worried about the ground being compacted under the bricks. The chickens made quick work of that.

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When I finally left the yard, the chickens ran after me. I felt bad that I didn’t have any more worms for them. The rain started again, so I should be able to uncover more worms in a few days. I can’t wait!

The Ammo Bag, The Alpaca Yarn, And The Airport

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If you use your husband’s ammo case as a carry-on, you may have to admit you’re a little bit of a redneck. I have a backpack I normally use, but Tori has been using it for work, and the ammo case is just the right size to carry my small stuff, plus my yarn and the scarf I’m working on for PJ. I’m a country girl now, so I pack it up and don’t give it another thought. Until I’m heading through airport security.

I was flying Seattle to Palm Springs to visit Dad and PJ. The Seattle airport, to me, is huge and intimidating. I’m thrilled when they make the announcement that we don’t have to practically undress to go through security. Just empty our pockets, put our bags through the xray, and away we go. As I’m doing a mental happy dance, a security agent says, “Put your hands out, palms up. Random hand check.” As he swabs my hands, I’m just interested in this new process. Then it dawns on me. I’ve been handling Charlie’s ammo case! He uses it for dove hunting, and there is no ammo of any kind in it, but I’m panicking just a little bit. What if they detect traces of something on my hands?

Nervous chuckle from me. “Heh heh. Did I pass?” Give the guy your most charming smile. “Won’t know for 8 seconds.” Swell. “Cool. Keep me posted.” Smooth, right?

I had an 8 second nightmare. I would be handcuffed, strip-searched, water boarded, interrogated. They would confiscate my alpaca yarn and crochet hook. My family would be harassed and humiliated. There is NO way anybody is going to believe that I just decided to use an ammo case because it was convenient and had exactly the right number of compartments and pockets. (Note to fiber folks: Copy the ammo bag design for knit/crochet bags. They’re perfect!) 3-2-1 “All clear.” Whew! “Never doubted it.”

I go on my merry way to my gate. I have an hour to crochet, before boarding. As I pull out my yarn, a feather comes with it. Chicken or dove, I’m not sure. Either way, yeah, I might be turning into a redneck.