Grackle & Sun

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Office Chair Workouts: Week 4

Monday:  Grey & Rainy

I just want to crawl back into bed.  It looks cold and rainy, but it’s not.  It’s grey and rainy and easily 80 degrees outside.  :/  Add to this the fact that I stayed up to finish all the laundry that needed to be done for the week, which means I went to bed at 3:30am and got 5 hours of sleep.  BLAH!  And excuses!

I did some sit-ups, I jump roped (jumped rope?) for a minute, held a plank, tried to do ugi jumps and mule kicks—that was funny, and did some kettlebell around the worlds.  Nothing felt right, and everything felt like it was going to hurt me if I tried to do it in my uncoordinated, unmotivated state.  Why, Mondays, WHY?!?!

Tuesday:  Sigh

What’s up with motivation this week?  I don’t know.  But I made myself workout anyway, through all the brain chatter                       this is stupid

Why are you doing this?                                You’re no good at this.                            Just stop.                            It’s pointless to workout

If you keep going, keep pushing through all of these negative thoughts, somewhere around set 4, you break through to the other side—-the side where it becomes clear that these are just machinations of your monkey mind.  It’s like sitting in a theater and viewing an elaborate set on stage.  You watch the performance and think it’s all real.  But if you walk behind the scenes, you see that the sets are all just facades, scaffolding and 2 x 4s holding it all up.   If you picture your negative thoughts that way, you see that if you go behind the scenes, it’s easy to kick it all over.  Then it’s just you on the stage.  What are you going to do with all that space?

All exercises x 10 reps on each side

All x 5 sets

Wednesday:  Challenge Day

Some days are just short on time.  It would be easy to skip a workout entirely, but there’s no reason to.  You can squeeze in a workout 1 minute at a time if you have to.  Sure, it’s not going to be a sweat-inducing cardio extravaganza, but you can definitely pack in some muscle burning goodness if you but try.  Today I set my timer and did 1 minute challenges over the course of an hour while making my son breakfast, doing laundry, and teaching a lesson in language arts (we homeschool).  Here are my scores:

Squats:  25

Inclined push-ups:  23

X-pos:  25 (12 on each side + 1)

Bird dogs:  38 (on each side—I repeated the minute on the other side to balance out)

Plank Up-downs:  10 on each side

Reverse Lunges:  9 on each side

Mt. Climbers:  53 on each side

High Knees:  60 on each side

Plank Jacks:  6  (these really hurt my wrists, and so I called it at 20 seconds)

1/2 Burpee Hold:  25

Thursday:  Max Reps

Mixing it up today.  Wanted to see how many I could do before I had to stop.  This ended up being a much longer workout than I expected.  I surprised myself:  :)

Toe Taps:  74 (37 on each side)


Unweighted Dead Lift: (left leg)  64

Unweighted Dead Lift:  (right leg) 66

1/2 Burpee Hold:  21

Friday:  Do It Again!

I liked yesterday’s max challenge so much, I decided to do it again today.  Even though it’s just one set, because it’s the max reps that I can do, it ends up easily being just as long a workout (perhaps longer) than I might do otherwise.  And boy, do you feel it the next day!

Sleeper Planks:  37 on each side.  Geez, this is oblique pain city!

Mt. Climbers:  52 on each side

Heismans:  150 on each side

Ugi Jump:  10 on each side.  WHY are these so hard???

X-Pos:  26 on each side.


If we could stand in the cold vastness of the Cosmos and see our lives from the height of stars and nebulae, would we see the web of threads running this way and that, crossing, tangling, binding and pulling all our lives together on this little planet?  I try to do this in my mind’s eye sometimes, to step back and visualize connections, intersections—to force my self to mentally travel down different paths if for no other reason than to remember that other realities exist outside my own.  We tend to get very wrapped up in our own side of the story, the one that only exists from our own perspective.  We are deafened by our internal monologues, blinded by judgement, opinion, and self-interest.  And we forget that all around us, in every moment, other stories are being played out, and they are just as important (to someone) as our own.

Of course, these stories don’t just belong to people.  They belong to every thing in existence.   It is possible to open our awareness, to cut the chatter just long enough to see the connectedness of ourselves to everything around us, to glimpse the world from another’s eyes.   My dog taught me this.

Ronin, happiest on the trail

His name is Ronin, our name for him.  We know only fragments of his life before.  He was a rescue—taken by the Humane Society from a life of neglect and hunger in a raid at a dangerously over-populated, seriously under-funded no kill facility in a small town in Missouri.  I didn’t go to the Humane Society looking for a dog that day, had no intention of adopting another one since we were in the midst of heartache with our mastiff dying from bone cancer.  But Ronin and I found each other in one of those heart-stopping, breath-catching moments where the world stands still for a second and your path becomes clear.  We stared at each other hard for a few minutes, and that was it.  Well, there was more to it, but the point is that when you find a soul dog, you are honor-bound to give him a home.  And belly scratches.

The first months with Ronin were difficult as we all adjusted to this new situation.  Neither one of us was able to let down our guard much.  In that first month, I lost Knowledge, who was the happiest, most secure and loving dog in the world.  It was hard living with this new dog who jumped every time someone moved (Knowledge was used to us stepping over him as he slept in the middle of everything), who jumped the fence and ran away at every opportunity (Knowledge wouldn’t leave the house or yard for anything), who expected to be hit or not to be fed (Knowledge always expected to be fed and never knew an unkind hand).  Little by little, we got the hang of things.  We took frequent walks, and he responded so well to them that this became our first medium of true communication.  He learned commands in reverse, me praising him and rewarding him when he, on his own, figured out what needed to be done.  This was all done without words, because words didn’t make sense yet.  Sometimes they just made things worse.   Our walks stabilized Ronin’s life and allowed us to become more confident in one another.   I taught him to sit while out on walks—every time he’d walk out in front of me, I’d stop and stand still.  He’d walk around me and sniff things and wonder why we weren’t moving, but eventually, he sat down.   I immediately gave him a pat and started walking again.  We did this over and over.  Three days later, he sat every time I stopped.  A month later, he sat by my side and looked up at me.  Eventually, I put it with a hand signal, and then finally with a word.  This is how we learned to communicate.  This is how we became friends.  Slowly, slowly.

I don’t want to give the impression that Ronin was a shy dog.  That was never the case.  He would be better described, even still, as reserved.  That first day when I asked to see him at the Humane Society, I could tell that despite his uncertainty, he was curious.  He wanted interaction, he just wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.  He was an interesting mix of cautious and hesitant, and yet interested and intelligent.  He is still very much that way today.  Ronin is a gentleman.  A little rough around the edges, but naturally well-behaved and even-tempered.   He has never shown any signs of aggression whether from dominance or fear, but at the same time, he is steady and sure of his abilities, especially around other dogs.  He is able to command respect and hold his own without being assertive or bullyish.  He takes up his space.  He is sure of himself in this world.  Just not of anyone else.

It was this quiet yet definite sense of self that made me notice him in the first place, even though at the time I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Later, it was this quality that forced me over and over again to remember not to just see him as the family pet, but as a dog with a soul and personality and thoughts of his own.  With Knowledge, this came easily.  He’d been with us from his birth, really.  We knew him, and he knew us.   It was harder with Ronin.  It took a conscious effort.  It took constant reminding.  It took knowing that every time he looked at me, he was asking for patience, for consistency, for kindness.  He was also thanking me by doing his best to fit in, trying to do what was asked of him.  This made me work even harder to understand his world, his life, from his point of view.

It is a choice one makes, to look behind and beyond what is apparent on the surface, to dig deeper and find connections.  When you make the choice, you become responsible for it, because once you become aware you cannot become unaware again.  It’s hard enough to do this with people, but to learn this lesson from a dog, well, that was unexpected.  I am very thankful that my life intersected with Ronin’s.  I think our stories are better for it.






Office Chair Workouts: Week 3

Monday:  Booo!  Migraine!  

Sometimes working out when you have a headache will help, because you get all the blood flowing.  Other times it will just make you barf.  Today was too close to barfy—and a very important reminder to keep up on my water intake!

Tuesday:  Still a little wimpy from yesterday…

I did 1 set of each exercise.

17 reps on each side.

Not my best effort, but still, at least I got off my butt and did it.

Wednesday:  Vindication, or I’m A Hoss!

Same workout lineup as yesterday.  Only this time I did a timed workout:  23 minutes (that’s all I had, not including stretching)

I did 3 sets of 12 reps on each side.

That’s 36 plank up downs on each side.  That’s a total of 72 plank up downs.  72!  Woot!!!

That might be small peas to a lot of people, but it was pretty awesome for me.  And it wasn’t easy.  I may or may not have ended each set yelling by M@THERF^CKER! and falling over clutching my core.  But, indignity aside, I am pleased with my overall performance for this workout.

Thursday:  Bullying Through

Sometimes the workout is harder for your mind, for your self-discipline, than for your body.  While this workout was physically challenging, I found it to be most difficult mentally.  Why?  First of all, I didn’t get much sleep last night, because instead of going to bed after coming home from work like I should have, I stayed up and watched 4 episodes of Burn Notice.  That was dumb.  So getting my workout started this morning was a challenge.  Second of all, I timed this workout at 25 minutes and figured I’d get maybe 4 sets in.  I had time for 6.  So, by the time I got to 5, I was tired.  When I realized I could do one more, my brain went into “quit and justify it” mode.  Normally, I would have stopped and found a way to be ok with it.  After all, 5 sets is pretty damn good, right?  But then I remembered the MR340 and how I have to be able to mentally bully through 4 straight days of paddling, and I knew then that if I couldn’t make myself do a 6th set of my morning workout, I might as well pack up the paddles and not bother training for the race.  It’s a small thing I did today physically, but a big thing mentally.  High fives!

Callan Triceps x 50

Jacks x 40

High Knees x 30

Shoulder Taps x 20

1/2 Burpee Holds x 10

All this x 6 sets.  So that’s 300 Callans, 240 Jacks, 180 High Knees, 120 Shoulder Taps, and 60 1/2 Burpee Holds.  Boo-yah!

Friday:  Floor Routine


Leg Circles x 40 (20 on each side)

Toe Taps x 30 (15 on each side)

Mt. Climbers x 20 (on each side)

All of this x 3 sets

Surprisingly tough workout for ye ole abdominals and hip flexors.  Phew!

Paleo(ish): Month 3

Sunday marked month 3 of my Paleo(ish) diet experiment.  If you want to know more about what the Paleo template is, I highly recommend reading this excellent article on Fitbomb.   I would put a ton of Paleo links on my post, but he’s got them all on his.  It really is a very well written article.  Why Paleo?  Very simple.  I took up Paleo because my body happens to say NO to the same foods that Paleo says no to.  Giving my dietary “choices” a catchy name makes it easier to explain to people and strangely seems to make it more acceptable to them.  Why Paleo(ish)?  Two reasons.  First, because I’m hoping to modify the diet in the next year to include foods that are not technically allowed on the Paleo diet.  The second reason is a big one—I do not believe in all the tenets of the Paleo diet.

Is it nutritionally sound?  Yes, it absolutely can be if you eat a variety of nutritious whole foods and not just meat (as some people think you’re supposed to).  Is it scientifically sound?  Sometimes.  Depends on what author you read.  I’ve read some great, balanced and well researched articles and books, and I’ve also read some works where the author clearly has no understanding of human physiology.   It’s important to keep your critical thinking cap on when reading diet information.  There’s a lot of BS out there.   Is it historically sound?  No, I seriously doubt it.  Paleo is based on the belief (note, I didn’t say knowledge) that we are genetically adapted to eat a certain way because for millennia our Paleolithic ancestors did so.   Proponents believe that humans have not been able to evolve over the last 10,000 years (the Neolithic period after the advent of agriculture) to eat other types of foods such as grains and dairy.  Here are a few reasons why I take issue with these ideas:

1.  People ate the food that was available in their geographic location.  As you can imagine, this would lead to incredibly variable diets all over the world.  There cannot be one perfect way to eat for everybody.  Also, seasonal diets would require people to eat a diet which potentially varied widely in its macronutrient balance from season to season—sometimes being very protein or fat heavy, and sometimes very starch, veg, and carb heavy.  Humans, we’re adaptable.

2.  People who know about Paleolithic man, ie  anthropologists and archeologists, widely dispute the idea that Paleolithic man didn’t eat grains or starches.  There is evidence that goes back well before the 10,000 year mark of Neolithic man.  So that kind of chucks that whole grain-free, starch-free theory out the window…

3.  If Paleolithic man didn’t eat grain, then why on earth, when people settled down and started farming, did they say, “Hey, I know what we should grow—this stuff that we’ve never eaten before!”  That just doesn’t make any kind of sense.  Of course they would grow something that was at least somewhat familiar in their diet.

4.  Some Paleo diet proponents say that salt should not be used in the diet either, because Paleolithic man most likely did not harvest or mine salt.  This might be true, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad for you.  There are a lot of studies done to show that it’s not that big a deal if your eating moderate amounts of good salts.  Chris Kresser has a great write-up on this.

5.  While we can derive some amount of data from looking to the past to see what Paleolithic man ate, we cannot assume that this diet would be our optimal diet.  Yes, there are all kinds of lifespan charts and such being used to prove that Paleo man was healthier than the peoples that came in the following agricultural societies, but there are SO MANY factors at play that make oversimplifying this data dangerous—-the effects of living in massively larger population groups, living with animals, more sedentary lifestyles, diet limited by growing conditions… you see my point.  Do I think that eating a grain-based diet changed the health of people?  Yes.  But not necessarily as much initially as in the last 100 years—new research is showing that the grains we’re growing now bear little resemblance to the grains grown even 100 years ago—they now contain more gluten proteins than ever before.   Some scientists think this may be the reason for the increasing rates of Celiacs disease and people with gluten intolerances and autoimmune related diseases.   The point is, unless someone can prove that Paleolithic man had perfect health, free from disease, and that this can be chiefly attributed to their diet only, I’m not going to romanticize the way people ate 30,000 years ago.  They ate that way because that’s what there was to eat.  That does not translate into “we’re designed to eat that way”.

I don’t need my dietary lifestyle to have an agenda, and I certainly don’t need it to take on any dogmatic religious zealotry.  It’s food.  It’s fuel.  It should make us feel better, not worse.  It would be nice if it were simple, but interaction with other living organisms (ie, eating food) is complex.  While it’s tempting to get all earth goddess on this and think that all of Mother Nature’s bounty is wholesome and nourishing, it’s just not true.  Just about everything that you eat has both nutrients and toxins.  We have livers for a reason.  We cook, ferment, cure, and sprout foods for a reason.  No food is 100% perfect for us all the time.

So enough of the downside.  Here’s why I think Paleo(ish) is a good way to eat:

1.  It emphasizes eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.  On Paleo, there are no junk foods.  Not even pretend-healthy junk foods.   But a healthy diet is not just taking out the bad stuff.  In fact, I would argue that what is added into the diet is even more important that what is taken out of it.  There is a lot of evidence to show that many health issues are due to nutrient deficits.   Western diets are full of empty calories.  On Paleo, you eat very nutrient dense foods.  You give your body vitamins and minerals that are often severely lacking in a typical Western diet.  Of course you’re going to feel better eating this way!

2.  Paleo done right is not a diet.  It is a template for a lifelong way to eat healthy.

That’s it!  We could go into the whole need for healthy fats, and we could go round and round in circles about animal proteins, but I don’t want to.  The reason why I talk about the Paleo template (rather than diet) is because it is incredibly adaptable to your needs.  It can be higher protein or higher carb.  It can be mostly meat-based or mostly veg-based.  There is a lot of room for variations and tweaking to find what makes you feel best.   And while a lot of people have done a great job to make it super trendy, complicated, and to make money off of it, at it’s core it is pretty simple.   What it really is, is a springboard to better health.  At least that’s how I’m choosing to look at it.

The results?  I believe that it takes a few months to really start feeling the difference dietary changes can make, good or bad.  You can’t know in just a couple weeks if something is working for you or not.  Your body needs time to adjust.   Here’s my 3 month Paleo low-down:

For the first 2 months on Paleo, I felt mostly better, but I had a lot of digestive issues.  It was… disconcerting.  I mean, I hadn’t actually changed my diet that much.  So I thought.  My gut disagreed with this notion.  Also, my skin and sinuses got really, really dry.  Aside from these two issues, I felt great, so I decided to start reading up on trouble-shooting Paleo issues.  Turns out, I was dehydrated and in need of some probiotics.

I’m horrible at drinking enough water.  Horrible at it.  On my own, I might drink a couple glasses a day.  I just rarely feel thirsty.  What I’ve learned is that feeling thirsty in your mouth is one of the last signs of thirst that the body has.  When I ate a normal diet, my symptoms of dehydration were masked by all my other crappy diet symptoms.   Dry skin, dry sinuses, wheeziness and other bronchial symptoms, headaches, stiff muscles, sluggish digestion—all have to do with hydration.  On Paleo, I felt good enough to realize that something else was going on.  My water intake was too low.  As soon as I bumped it up, those symptoms went away.  But I really have to drink a lot—a minimum of 2 liters a day (which is a lot to me) to feel good.

The gut issues were related both to the water intake and to a need for beneficial bacteria.  I started eating kimchee and sauerkraut and drinking the occasional Good Belly juice, kombucha or KeVita, and all became right in the world.  Gut flora, it’s important.  Fermented foods are your friend.

I’ve continued dropping weight—I’m down to around 133 lbs now.   It’s important to note that I am not restricting my calories at all.  I don’t count them, I don’t think about it.  I just eat until I’m satisfied.   One of the great things about eating Paleo is that the foods you eat tend to be very filling and very satisfying.

Most importantly, I feel great.  My energy levels are very stable throughout the day.   I feel balanced.  I have very few cravings.  My autoimmune symptoms are super under control, and I’ve had only 2 mild migraines this whole time, both due to not drinking enough water.  This is a big huge deal and goes a long, long way to confirm my suspicions about the links between food intolerances and my health issues.   I am still avoiding caffeine almost entirely (a bit of chocolate being the only exception).  I’m also avoiding foods high in tyramines, although my worst offenders are knocked off the list by virtue of being Paleo(ish)—aged cheeses, aged and cured meats, soy products, breads, and red wine.  Some fruits and vegetables contain tyramine (olives, avocado, pineapple) but they haven’t caused any problems yet.   Caffeine and tyramines are major triggers for me.

What’s the plan now?  Well, I’ve been hardcore Paleo for 3 months now, and I want to give this another 3 months to establish a firm baseline before I start introducing any foods back into my diet.  Based on what I now know of gluten issues and autoimmune disease, I will never eat wheat again.  I’m cool with that.  But I’d like to be able to reintroduce occasional rice, buckwheat, and oats back into my diet.  I’m hesitant, however, because my blood sugar gets all jacked up when I eat grains.  Like a rollercoaster.  We’ll see.  I’d also like to add butter and eventually homemade raw milk yogurt or kefir back into my diet.  I think raw milk is good for a body.  We’ll wait and see if my body agrees.  Finally, I’d like to find out if I really have any issues with lectins or not.  It will be interesting to see what happens when I try lentils or chickpeas again.  It’s all a big experiment.  As long as it keeps working, I’ll keep eating this way.   If it stops working, I’ll reassess and tweak.

Another thing I’ve been reading up on is the GAPS diet, and think that this might be in my future at some point, specifically because of my autoimmune issues.   The GAPS diet is a very specific temporary diet that is based on the premise that many illnesses stem from gut issues resulting in poor nutrient absorption, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune issues, and food allergies and intolerances.  The point of the diet then is to heal the gut so that eventually a normal healthy diet can be resumed.  This is done primarily by removing foods that digest into disaccharides which then feed harmful gut flora.  By starving the bad gut flora and also bolstering the good gut flora by taking serious probiotics, you create an environment which allows the gut lining to heal.     When the gut lining is healed (which takes a period of 1-2 years), then slowly foods can be reintroduced and digested properly.  A lot about this diet makes sense to me.  I love that it focuses on nutrient-dense foods.  But it is very labor intensive and expensive.  We’ll see where I am at the 6 month Paleo mark.  If GAPS still seems right then, I think I’ll give it a go.

Office Chair Workouts: Week 2

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but on the top of the blog homepage, if you click Office Chair Workouts, I’ve made a list of all the exercises I do with links to videos of how to do them (made by other people, not me, lolz!)  I find it helps to see an exercise being done rather than just reading a description of it.

Monday:  Recovery Day

Spent the weekend in Chicago and walked a bazillionty miles carrying my moderately ladened messenger bag slung across my shoulders.  Needed this day to rest.  My shoulder is still bruised.  Note to self:  being able to walk a city is amazing and feels great;  Husband’s messenger bag, however, does not feel great.

Tuesday:  Back at it.

Heismans x 16 on each side

Reverse Lunge x 16 on each side

Bicycle x 16 on each side (kind of a joke, but gave me a minute break)

One-leg Hip Raise or Bridge x 16 on each side


Unweighted Dead Lift x 16 on each side

Full set x 3

Jump rope 500 skips

Wednesday:  Sore from Tuesday, geez.

Around the World, 10 lb dumbell x 16 on each side

Windmill, 10 lb dumbell x 16 on each side

OLDL, 10 lb dumbell x 16 on each side

Set x 2

Bird dogs x 32

Tuck out x 32

Plank up down x 32

Plank Jacks (I modified the Burpee Jacks today) x 10

Medicine Ball Slam x 32

Set x 1

Thursday:  Listen to your body

I’m still stupid sore from Tuesday’s apparently killer lower body workout.   It was the reverse lunges.  And the fact that I suck at post-workout stretching.  :/  Dude.  Anyway, I used today to stretch a lot and also to work on my upper body with something that I’m terrible at:  push ups.  I can’t do them.  My shoulder says NO!  And then I face-plant on the floor.   So I modify them and do inclined pushups instead.  Bonus—the guy in this video is wearing a luchador mask, lolz!  You can use windowsills, counters, sturdy tables, couches, chairs, ottomans, even stairs.  You get the idea.  I did pushups all over the house today to get different degrees of inclination.  Pushup challenge today:  55

Friday:  Rockin’ it Old School

Sometimes the oldies are good to revisit in a workout.  Crunches are great, but if you can’t do a sit-up, that means that from a supine position, you literally aren’t strong enough to sit up.  And your standard gym class exercises, like jumping jacks and high knees, get the old ticky ticker pumping.  Today’s workout is timed at 1 minute intervals with a 15 second rest between each exercise.  Total sets x 3.  You can clearly see my strong and weak areas:

Things I learned during this workout:

#1.  I noticed at the end of the second set of jumping jacks that I was slouching.  When you think something is easy, it’s easy to get lazy.  Straightened the spine and tightened the core on the next round, and felt much better about life.

#2.  Sit ups.  To tuck the feet under something or not?  That is the question.  The first round, I did, and I was able to do them with my hands behind my head.  On second and third rounds, I did not tuck my feet, and I had to use my arms as leverage to get offa the floor.  Remember when we were 8 and this was easy?

#3.  High knees = meet your hip flexors.  These are turning out to be a very, very important part of the body.  PS—one rep of high knees means raising both the left and right leg.   So that score is not so bad.

#4.   Legs are heavy!  Leg lifts hurt my lower back, but if I tuck my hands just below my butt to help keep my from sliding up on the floor, it helps.   Leg lifts are really easy to make a lot harder.

#5.  Fuck tuck jumps.  I am a short, curvy half-a-Rican, and apparently there is more gravity around me than around other people.   My plyo-powers allow me to jump, like, a whole 3 inches off the ground.   :/

And there you have it.  Sometimes working out makes you feel all awesome like Superwoman, and sometimes it just makes you cranky.   But if you bully through the awkwardness, sore muscles, lack of coordination, frustration, tiredness, and desire to lay on the couch watching reruns of Magnum PI on Netflix Instant, it gets better.  Just keep moving.  Magnum will still be there later.

Dye Day #1 Extra Credit: Black Beans

We have come to the final installment of Dye Day #1—the extra credit bonus points assignment:  Black bean dyeing.  I’d first heard of black bean dyeing on two of the natural dyeing forums I belong to on Ravelry.  I was intrigued by the beautiful blues that people were getting from this common kitchen staple.  Well, I’m half Puerto Rican, so it’s always been a staple in my kitchen (along with red beans and pinto beans and gandules and garbanzo beans…lol)  Nothing else that we were dyeing with was going to give us this colour, and I thought that it would be a fun and easy project for everyone to do on their own at home and then bring for show-and-tell on Dye Day.

None of my dyeing books had any information on dyeing with black beans, so I started combing through posts on Ravelry to get more information.  This is definitely a case where being able to see pictures helped in determining the best instructions.  On Ravelry, you can make a search pull up only the posts in a thread that have photos.   {Because Casey is a code genius and should design ALL THE WEBSITES}.  The results people got with black beans were incredibly varied—everything from pale blue to cadet blue.  I wanted the most saturated blue possible, so I read through the posts written by people who got the darkest blues in order to find what the common denominators were.  Here’s what I found:

1.  Use superwash wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.

Mordanted superwash wool was the only fiber that consistently achieved saturated dark blues with black beans.  Unmordanted superwash did ok, but black bean dye is fugitive, and the mordant is what gives it half a chance of not fading the first time you wash it.  Mordanted regular wool got significantly lighter blues, and unmordanted regular wool got very light blues with little staying power.  The light blue shades were pretty, but I thought that everyone would have more fun if they got something bold out of the dyepot.   All the participants were natural dyeing newbies, and I figured that the better the colour, the more successful they’d feel about their results, and the more confident they’d feel about their ability to dye on their own.

2.  Soak 4 lbs of dried black beans in water for 24-48 hours.  

It was actually pretty hard to find much specific information on dyestuff to fiber ratios.  I found a few references to soaking 4 lbs of beans for 1 skein of yarn, and I figured it seemed like a good enough amount as any.   I used a 100g skein of Knitpicks Superwash Bare, which means that I had 1814.37g dyestuff to 100g fiber.  That’s a big ratio.  Judging by the amount of dye left in the exhaust, I could easily have dyed with half that amount.  The 24-48 hour difference is for this reason:  If you want to eat the beans, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, you want to soak them in a kitchen-safe, non-reactive container (stainless steel pot or ceramic or glass bowl) for no more than 24 hours.  Any longer than that, and the beans get tough and start to go bad.  If you don’t want to eat your beans, then soak them in any non-reactive container (plastic bucket, stainless steel or enamel dyepot, etc) for up to 48 hours to get the most colour out of them.  Any more than 48 hours, and you’re on a one-way trip to funkytown.  They start to smell pretty fast.  Make sure you cover your beans with at least an inch or two more water than the level you expect them to expand to.  That way they stay covered.

Word to the wise:  Black beans expand to a millionty times the original volume.  No, really.  If you are going to use 4 lbs of black beans, you need a VERY LARGE pot or bucket.  If you choose not to listen to me, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  I learned the hard way.  There is still a blue spot dyed onto my kitchen floor from where the beans frothed over the pot.  Frothed.

3.  Very carefully strain off the dark liquid from the top of the beans. 

When you soak the beans, a lot of grainy particulate will accumulate in the water.  It is very important not to get this particulate in your dye liquid as it will adhere to your yarn and jack up your blue.  Most people said that they carefully ladled the dye liquid off the top of the bean pot, so as not to disturb the particulate which settled at the bottom.  That didn’t work for me, because I soaked my beans in too small a container.  They expanded like something out of a science fiction movie all the way to the top (and over) of the container.  So, I strained the whole mess through a colander into big glass jar.  I let that sit on the counter for a few hours so that the particulate would settle, and then I ladled off the dye liquid.  In retrospect, I like this method a lot better.  It was easier to ladle off the liquid without having to dodge beans, and I got more of it.  Win-win.

4.  Soak your yarn in the bean juice dye liquid for approximately 2 days.  

All the instructions I saw for black bean dyeing recommended doing it as either a cold or loosey-goosey solar dyeing process.  What I mean by that is that some people (myself included) put theirs in a glass jar in a sunny spot—not so much for the heat as for the…?  Well, it’s easy to dye in glass jars, and it’s fun to be able to see what’s going on while you do it.  It could just as easily be done in a bucket under the sink.  The one cardinal rule of black bean dyeing is that you never heat the dyebath.  I repeat, DO NOT HEAT THE DYEBATH!  It will totally jack up the colour, making it muddy and gross.  And then every time you eat frijoles negros, you’ll have negative associations with failed dyepots, and we want to avoid that.  Oh, the pH for this dyebath was 5.4.  That’s down from the pH 8.8 that my tap water measures.  By the way, if you don’t have 2 days to soak it, it should be mentioned that a substantial amount of uptake was achieved in just a few hours.  The yarn got a bit darker over the next day, but still, a good blue was had early on.

Warning:  Black bean juice gets righteously funky when it sits out for a few days.  Remember, by the time your yarn is ready, that bean juice has been stewing for 4 days.  That’s 4 days of whoa! your yarn just soaked in.  It will wash off.  But I highly recommend that you use tongs and wear gloves when you pull that skein out, because you don’t want to find out how long it will take to wash off of you.  I am quite curious to find out if this whole process could be accomplished in the refrigerator.  If so, we could avoid the fermentation and get the blue stink-free.  That would be nice.

Looks pretty, doesn’t it? I had to hold my breath while I took this shot.

So far, so good.  Easy, right?

The results?  Well, my skein looked pretty much exactly like it did in the picture above when I first took it out.

After being rinsed, hanging to dry on the back of a chair.

But I’m a curious thing, and I just couldn’t resist finding out what would happen if I modified the results in various after-dips.   I tried ammonia and copper.  Here’s what I got:

Ammonia turned the blue into a drab olivey-green colour.  Copper, however, brightened the blue up beautifully and gave it almost a violet hue.  Very pretty.  I’ll be modding black bean dyes with copper in the future for sure.  I’d also like to see how yarn premordanted with copper will turn out.  I bet it would be pretty…

But that ammonia was a mistake.   Oops.  All in the name of science, right?  So I had to fix that.  But how?  Re-acidifying those spots with vinegar did not work.  So I decided to overdye the ammonia section in the onion exhaust bath.  I am very pleased with the results!  It’s got kind of an earth-sea thing going on.  And I like how those ammonia greens now just blend the brown and the blue together.

I’m really excited to see how this knits up.  This past weekend, two of my good friends and I wen to Chicago to the Stitches Midwest convention.  This is basically a KnitCon, as my daughter calls it, where knitters and crocheters get to go geek out.  There are classes offered by mad skillz knitters and authors and a huge, huge, huge area for vendors to sell ALL THE YARNS.  Well, almost all the yarns.  Am I the only one who lusts after skeins of small batch Romney or Icelandic wool that still has bits of grass in it?  Lol.  But still, it was good times.  We just went for the day to check out the yarn market.  There were lots of gorgeous handdyed yarns.  There was quite a bit of llama and alpaca, musk ox, and bison wools.   I bought some gorgeous soft grey alpaca from Village Spinning and Weaving.  It’s a deliciously soft and lustrous natural silver grey from Peru.  We got to meet some of our fellow Ravelry friends in person, which is always fun.  Stitches!

Anyway, the rest of the trip was all about wandering around Chicago and involved lots and lots of public transit, including the 12 hours roundtrip on the Amtrak from and to St. Louis.  What does this mean?  Knitting time!  So I cast on the black bean yarn for a pair of socks.   It’s fascinating to see what pattern of striping emerges from a variegated skein.   It’s never what you think it’s going to be.  I’m also interested to see how wash- and lightfast the dye ends up being.  Will the mods effect the fastness?  I don’t know.  We’ll find out!

Live happy, dye happy!  And, as always, tinks on me!

Office Chair Workouts: Week 1

I don’t do static stretching warm-ups, I save that for the end of the workout.  Instead, I do about 5-10 minutes of active stretching warm-ups by dancing.  Usually in some horrible, but effective, combination of terpsichorean techniques:  chiefly, merengue, samba, and skanking. They’re the only dances I know.

Monday:  Easing Back Into It.  Riiiight.

In between each exercise, I do 100 jump rope skips!

100 jump rope

Bird dogs x 16 on each side

100 jump rope

Burpee Squats x 16

100 jump rope

X-Pos x 16 on each side

100 jump rope

Squat Jumps x 16

100 jump rope

Shoulder Taps x 16

This full set x 3

Tuesday: Planktastic

100 jump rope

Shoulder Taps x 16

100 jump rope

Toe Taps x 16

100 jump rope

1/2 burpee hold x 16

100 jump rope

Linedance x 16

100 jump rope

Sleeper Planks x 16 (8 on each side)

Full set x 3

Wednesday:  Jesus. 

This workout was a leg killer.

100 jump rope

1/2 burpee hold x 16

100 jump rope

Mule Kicks x 16

100 jump rope

Ugi Jump x 16

100 jump rope

Mountain Climbers x 16 on each side

Full set x 3

Thursday:  I really need to buy a kettlebell  :/

I did these with my dumbbell.  Lame, but I needed some weights today.  But I only have a 10 lb weight, which made this all very silly since I do all of this with 20 or 25 lbs typically.  I’ve never tried more weight because my gyms kettlebells only went up to 25 lbs, lol.  I might secretly be a total hoss and not even know it.  Today, this was just to get the blood flowing and the muscles moving.  Each exercise was done with 12 reps on each side x 2.

Friday:  Quick & Killer

I set the timer for 15 minutes (that’s all the time I had today) with the goal of doing as many sets as I could.  The exercises are paired, meaning that you go right from one to the next.  Yeah.

Mt. Climbers x 10 —-> 1/2 Burpee Hold x 5

Shoulder Taps x 10 —–> Burpee Jacks x 5

Prison Jacks x 10 ——> High Knees x 10

I think I could have gotten one more set in, but my son accidentally locked himself out of the house while taking out the compost, and I forgot to stop the timer when I ran to let him in.  Still, 9 sets wasn’t awful.  :D

Getting Fit in 2495 Words

Goal:  Husband and I have decided to race the MR340 next year.

This is a crazy race:  paddle 340 miles of the Missouri River, from Kansas City to St. Charles, in 88 hours or less.  It’s really hard, and people who are serious about it train really hard.  Everyone else just hopes to finish at all.  Time to start training.  For realz.

The Klepper.

Hurdle #1:  I am the antithesis of athletic.

Hi, my name is dre, and I’m a 38 year old mother of 2.  I homeschool my kids and work nights as a waiter.  I knit, dye yarn, garden, and watch old British tv shows.  When I grow up, I want to be Felicity Kendal in Rosemary & Thyme.  I’ve never done anything like this before.   I have no athletic abilities.  My sports experience includes swim team and volleyball… in middle school.  I did train horses for a long time in high school and college, but that’s really a different animal altogether, what with the horse doing most of the work and all.  Aside from a tiny little bit of fencing I did with Husband in my early twenties, the closest I’ve come to anything remotely athletic was chasing and hoisting toddlers a decade ago.  I am not kinesthetically gifted like my husband is, and my awareness of my body in space is non-existent.  I am frequently clumsy and occasionally asthmatic.  I lack self-discipline.  I get distracted easily (I forgot I was making the kids lunch while typing this paragraph and almost burned the rice).   I have always been fairly strong—growing up on a farm will do that to you, but I’ve never been super fit.   In my thirties I haven’t even approached kinda fit.

Baseball, basketball, football, volleyball… No. Yarn balls? YES!

Hurdle #2:  I’ve had a lot of health issues over the last decade that have taken way too much of my time and energy.

For ages, Husband has been trying to get me to be more physically active.  In his wise way, he knew that it would help me feel better.  See, I’ve not been well for quite a while.  That’s a long ass post for another day, but suffice it to say that when you don’t feel well, exercising is the furthest thing from your mind—even if it’s one of the things that will feel you better.  So much energy went into my illness(es) and into trying to fix me, that I convinced myself I had none to spare for something as seemingly frivolous as working out.  Sometimes I haz a stupid.

Solution #1:   Healing the body, even a little bit, frees up energy for action.

In December, a major piece of the puzzle concerning a longstanding illness fell into place, and by January, I was feeling like a new person.   One day while driving to work, I passed a billboard that advertised a membership to a nearby gym for only $20 a month.  One of those “New Year’s resolution” memberships.   I thought about it that whole night at work, and realized that it was time to start taking care of my body in a new way.

Solution #2:  A body active is a body healthier. 

I signed up.   That was the beginning of a whole new journey for me, a new process to learn.  One that I want to keep track of here.   My first day at the gym was with a complimentary training session with a personal trainer.  I’m going to post the numbers here in all their glory, not only because I’m proud of how well I’m doing, but also because I think it is incredibly important for all of you to understand that if I can change my eating habits, start challenging my body and become more fit, you absolutely can, too.   Here are the numbers from when I started out:

Height:  5’3″     Weight:  165     Shoulders:  45.5″     Chest:  38″     Waist:  33.75″     Hips:  42.75″     Thigh:  20.5″     Arm:  10.5″    BF%:  35.9

Pre-pregnancy, I weighed 120 lbs no matter what I ate.  Post pregnancy averaged around 145 lbs.  This was the highest I’d been since right after I gave birth.  Twelve years ago.  Ouch.

Hurdle #3: Bumpy starts are bumpy.

The trainer showed me how to use all the equipment, namely all the weight machines.  I’ve since learned that this is standard cookie cutter gym protocol, so watch out for it.  It became apparent very quickly that those machines are not designed for short people.   The pivot points are all in the wrong places, and there was no way to adjust the machine enough to correct this issue.  This discrepancy in sizing meant that a stupid amount of torque was placed on joints, and it hurt.  Not in a “feel the burn” kind of way, either.  It was frustrating and discouraging.  I already felt super out of place in the gym.  This wasn’t helping.

Solution #3:  When something doesn’t work, don’t quit— fix it!

So when I met with the trainer for a follow up appointment a couple weeks later, I asked her to show me exercises that did not involve the machines, and this is when she lit up.  Want to know what she showed me?  KETTLEBELLS.  All caps.  Kettlebells rocked my world!  Finally, here was something that I could get into.  Kari Syme at Eclectic Kettlebell has a great post on why you should train with kettlebells.  Kettlebells immediately challenged me—but in a way that I could build up to.  I appreciated the functionality of the exercises, and the fact that it required me to use my whole body, not just isolated muscles.  Kettlebell training makes you stronger for the real world, for daily life.  And I saw my strength, balance, and flexibility grow quickly.

This new-found, first-in-a-lifetime excitement for exercise got me researching more types of functional exercises.  I found a few great sites that have become my go-to sources for all information regarding fitness.  Two of them are  Angry Trainer Fitness and FitStudio.  Alfonso Moretti, the Angry Trainer, tells it like it is.  He is a personal trainer and body builder and has made it his life’s work to know all the ins and outs of nutrition and fitness.  His site is loaded with interesting articles on all kinds of fitness topics, but my favorites are his how-to videos where he teaches proper form on common exercises and his exercise videos where he shows you exercises that will kick your butt and keep you from getting bored.  Srsly.  Find the “10 ways to do burpees” video and the one where he shows you how to do bird dogs.  Bird dogs changed my life.  Six months ago, I would have laughed if somebody said I would be typing that now.   I used FitStudio’s free video glossary of exercises to learn a bunch of new moves to try.  These clips are all about 30 seconds long, and are a great way to cross-reference exercises when you read other websites and have no idea what the trainer is talking about.  Hey, not everybody knows what a rear delt row is.  (raises hand)  

Two other websites that really helped me out were Bodyrock TV and Zuzana Light’s Youtube channel.   Now, a fair warning—both of these are very… boobcentric.  By which I mean, they really use “visuals” (wink, wink) to get people to watch.  It’s pretty off-putting, because on the surface it’s more about T & A than workouts.  However, if you have it in you to look past that, the workouts are good with lots of creative circuit sets.   I no longer have the time or energy to wade through the all that to get to the workouts, so I’ve stopped using both sites.   I think it’s unfortunate.   I learned a lot about bodyweight exercise by watching Lisa Marie on Bodyrock.  She is infectiously cheerful and encouraging—which just doesn’t fit with the rest of the image the website is using which is pretty bow-chicka-wocka-bow, if you know what I mean.  So in the end, I feel like I don’t know what they’re actually trying to be about.  But despite all that,  it was Bodyrock that got me into using bodyweight exercises, and for that I’m thankful.  I just wish I didn’t have to turn it off when the kids come in the room.  :/  Zuzana was the original host (and part-founder) of Bodyrock TV, but has since left to host her own Youtube channel called ZWOW.  She is awesome—friendly, engaging, and encouraging.  And her form kicks ass.  When she started ZWOW, I thought it was going to be something new and different, but it seems that she’s going to keep doing the whole Bodyrock type thing, too.   Whatevs.   You can still learn some fantastic exercises that require very little equipment.  And with both of these you have the advantage of getting new workouts daily for free and being able to pause and rewind them as many times as you need to.  Totally do-able.   The lesson here is to be able to take what you need and walk away from the rest.

So, armed with an arsenal of bodyweight and kettlebell exercises, I started working out 5 days a week.  Because of my schedule, I could only go after work—usually around 11pm.  I also started adding in some HIIT training.  High Intensity Interval Training is a method used typically with running that involves walking or jogging at an easy pace for a specified period of time, and then running balls out for that same period of time, all for maximum total time of 20-30 minutes.  HIIT training helps achieve conditioning much more effectively and in less time than longer, slower paced runs.  I started this method because I heard that it was particularly good at helping to build lung strength.  As an occasional asthmatic (chief triggers are cats and exercise), I really needed help in this department.  So, I started by walking for a minute and then running for a minute, for 20 minutes.  I did this 3 times a week.  Very quickly I was able to increase my speed until I jogged at 4mph and then ran at 7 mph for the intervals.   Dude, this was a major achievement.  Until this point, I was of the steadfast opinion that running is something you do to save your life.  It is not done voluntarily.  HIIT training taught me to love running.  Mostly.  And my lungs loved it, too.  I saw significant improvements in my tolerance and capacity.

Finally, as an experiment I also started monitoring my diet on Fitday, a free dietary system that helps you keep track of caloric and nutritional intake as well as weight goals.  It is highly customizable, and I found it incredibly helpful in educating me about my daily intake values and my portion sizes.  A real eye-opener.  I’m not going to lie, it’s a pain to keep track of every bite you eat—even with a computer program, but I approached it as an experiment.  I really wanted to see if my caloric intake was way off or not.  So I limited my calories to between 1300-1500 calories a day.  I ate foods that would get me to 100% or over of my daily RDA values for vitamins and minerals.  That was the hardest part.  But I really worked at this.

The results?  After 3 months, I was stronger, more flexible, and more comfortable in my body.  I was more knowledgeable about nutrient dense foods and how to eat in appropriate portions.  But after 3 months of working out 5 days a week and eating a restricted caloric intake, I’d only lost 10 pounds.  I was happy for that 10 pounds, but still, it pointed to something in the equation being off.

Not so much a hurdle as a brick wall:   When your body talks, listen or pay the price.

And then I hit a super stressful couple weeks in May.  Isn’t it crazy how a little bit of stress will derail you?  I ate all the wrong things for me:  wheat, dairy, sugar…  These foods have been on my verboten list for years.  It was stupid, and I paid the price.  I got really, really sick.  Like, my body threw in the towel.  So I said, that’s it.  No more playing around with my diet.  It was time to listen to my body.

Solution to brick walls:  Sometimes you’ve got to turn in a whole new direction.

I’ve known for a long time that a number of my health issues either start with or are exacerbated by food intolerances.  I’ve researched and experimented with this for years, with many frustrations and a few successes.  But it’s hard changing your diet, especially when you seem to have a bit of a threshold.  Well, my threshold went down the tube in May.  It was time to take things seriously and to do what my doctor advised several years ago.  So I went Paleo-ish.  I cut out all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar.  Now I eat lean meats, healthy fats, tons of greens and veg, and a healthy amount of fruit, nuts, and seeds.  And I started feeling better.  I stopped counting calories, which is awesome, because as informative as that was, it was also unpleasant.  It’s not healthy to obsess over every bite you put in your mouth.  Now, I eat like a hoss—as much of these whole foods as it takes to satisfy my hunger.  It’s wonderful.  I feel good.

A little over a month later, in June, I met with the trainer again for a follow up, and here were the results:

Weight:  145 lbs     Shoulders:  41″     Chest:  36″     Waist:  30.5″     Hips:  41″     Arms”  10″     Thigh:  19.5″     BF%:  32

That’s 20 lbs down, and 10 of it after I went Paleo!  And a bunch of inches!

Then, I quit the gym.

Hurdle #4:  Timing.

Turns out that training late at night sucks for me.  It was jacking up my sleep and taking away family time that I wasn’t willing to part with any longer.  It would have been easy to quit at this point.  But I’d developed some self-discipline with all this working out.  Bonus!

Solution #4:  Location, location, location.

I started working out at home.  That’s right, in the comfort of my own living room!  Lol.  But it turns out that when you’re doing functional and bodyweight exercises, you don’t need a lot of room or equipment.  You just need a floor and your body.  That’s it.  No excuses.  I’ll prove it.  Here’s where I work out now:

The living room, aka my home gym. No contract, no membership fees.

All caught up to speed.

My measurements as of this morning:

Weight:  138 lbs     Shoulders:  40″     Chest:  36″     Waist:  30″     Hips:  39.5″     Thigh:  19″     Arms:  Hard to measure by yourself  BF%:  couldn’t measure

I think this is proof that the Paleo helping.  There have been challenges, which I’ll talk about specifically later, but overall I’ve seen major improvements over the last 2.5 months.  I’ll admit, over the last month or so, I slacked off in working out.  Which is to say, I didn’t work out.  This happens.  But I’m back on track, and now that I have the goal of paddling the MR340, I am more dedicated than ever to getting in shape. When the burpee squats are kicking my ass, and I want to quit, I look up and remember what I’m doing this for now:


For most of my life, I’ve been unhappy with my body, unhappy with my level of fitness.  But I always had excuses.  Not enough time, not enough money for a gym, not the right equipment, too stressed out, too fat to work out, exercise is boring… I justified my inactivity any way I could.  The thing is, that the only way to get fit is to do it.  One burpee at a time.  One sit-up at a time.  One jumping jack at a time.  Whatever you can do, DO IT!  That’s how you get in shape.  You start by walking, you end by running.  And your body will thank you with every step, with every heartbeat, with every breath.

Knit|tinK: Business Socks

Just finished a loooooooong project.  Srsly.  I knit and tinked these socks so many times I lost count.  I know I knit 3 separate full pairs of socks before I got the ones I’m happy with.  The first two times were to change out yarns and stitch patterns.  But all the others were for just one reason:  heels.

For a couple years now, I’ve been searching for the perfect go-to sock knitting formula—something that I can toss on the needles and play with, but where all the key parts are already set—namely, the toe and the heel.   Well, I came up with my own way of making a super-rounded toe that quickly became my favorite, but the heel department was seriously lacking.  There are a millionty ways to knit a heel, and I didn’t like any of them.   I like how a traditional heel flap & gusset fits.  The problem is that I prefer to knit socks two at a time on circulars, and it’s a total pain to knit heel flap & gusset socks this way.  Plus, if you want to go toe-up, which I do, the reverse heel flap & gusset leaves much to be desired.   Otherwise, most toe-up socks require some version of short rows.   I hate wrap & turn short rows with the fire of ten thousand suns.    All the other “easier” variations of  short row heels left me laughing maniacally at the walls.  Easier.  HA!  And then Cat Bordhi came to the rescue with a ridiculously clever invention:  Sweet Tomato Heels.

This heel is perfection.  It can be knit toe-up or cuff-down.   It is super easy to learn how to do and super easy to remember once you’ve done it.  Best of all, it fits like a dream.  Cat made an awesome video tutorial for the technique, and she also very kindly offers help and advice on the Ravelry Sweet Tomato Heel group.  Sweet tomato heels have rocked my world, and I don’t anticipate trying any other kind of heel any time soon.  It’s that good.

I spent the better part of 3 years knitting these socks for Husband.  That’s a long ass time.  In the end though, many lessons were learned, and I’m a better knitter for all the tinking.   I call them “Business Socks”, and if you’re a fan of Flight of the Conchords, you’ll understand why. ;)  You can get all the details from my notes, which are many, on my Ravelry project page.

Business Socks.

Tinks on me!



Dye Day #1 Results: Stinkyass Osage Orange FAIL

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.

                                                                            Henry David Thoreau

I don’t think Thoreau had natural dyeing in mind when he wrote these words, but they are apropos, nonetheless.  So horrid was the malodorous waftage of the Osage orange bucket, and so fantastical the failure of the dye, that I am certain those of us who tended the dyepot will think long and hard before we ever attempt to dye with that particular wood again.

Dye Notes.  Sigh.

Dyestuff:  Osage Orange

Parts used:  heartwood and bark

Source:  E’s farm

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  Not sure.  I pretty much soaked everything we had and asked questions later.  A ratio of 1:1 is recommended.  We definitely had much more than that—I’d guess between 350-400g in the initial extraction.  We used a 1:1 ration for the hot extraction, though.  The amount of fiber used was 160g.

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.

Extraction method:  The wood was chopped into 1 inch chunks and soaked  in a bucket of water for 2 weeks.  I laid Saran Wrap directly on the surface of the water thinking that it would not only keep mosquitoes out, but that it would help inhibit any mold growth.  In retrospect, what I did was encourage some impressive anaerobic activity.  Although Saran Wrap is not totally impermeable,  I think in this case it created the medium for this veritable Petri dish.   After 2 weeks, the bucket was strained of all its obnoxious effluvia, and 166g of wood was reserved (in a tidy pantyhose bag) with the liquid for the heated extraction.  This was simmered gently for 1 hour.  The smell was not so gentle.

Dyebath:  The pH of the Osage orange dyebath was 5.8, which means that its moderate acidity did nothing to break up the bacterial mosh pit in that dyepot.  Yarn was added against our better judgement, simmered gently for 45 minutes, and allowed to cool overnight in the dyebath.  Not that it mattered.

I saw something nasty in the woodshed.

The results?  Because the dyebath smelled like poo, the yarn, when pulled from the mephitic abyss, also smelled like poo—as though purged from the very ass of Beelzebub.   And if this was not bad enough, this rank fermentation of evil, the only yarn that was dyed was the superwash, and it dyed tan.  Tan poo-yarn.  :(   Let me tell you something.  Had we achieved the gorgeous golden yellows pictured in dye books and countless dyeing blogs, I would have considered this a WIN.  This post would briefly caution against the potential issues with ill-fermented extractions, and that would be it.  But tan was not on the agenda for Dye Day #1.  There was a strict no-tan policy written into the mission statement on page one of the syllabus.   That’s why E and I chose the dyestuffs we did—they were all guaranteed to yield good colour.  All my research said that Osage orange was an easy yellow.  It’s one of the few natural dyestuffs that is supposed to be a substantive dye.  This was supposed to be a no-brainer.  And look at the dyebath—there’s colour in there!  It’s not like there wasn’t some hope, despite the smell.  Jenny Dean did not warn us about this.   And it’s just as well that she didn’t try, because nothing could have prepared us for the fetid putrescence that was this wretched dyebath of woe.  Had she said that this could happen, I would not have believed it.  Now I know.


Funnily enough though, after it had aired out for a couple weeks outside and was washed with Eucalan a few times, I kind of liked its gentle light brown hue.   It dried into a nice neutral-toned yarn that is actually quite lovely.  Go figure.

I overdyed my Lion Brand skein (which did not dye at all) with eucalyptus just to get rid of the smell.  Other people overdyed in other dyebaths or modified their skeins on the second day of the workshop.  Below, you can see Kittyraja’s modified and unmodified skeins.  I’m pretty sure she used iron:

“Stinky, stinky sewage tree of eternal stinkification. One touch = POO HAND FOREVER! Okay, not that bad, but considering the underwhelming dye results, I was pretty meh with the OOT. I modded the shit out of the superwash on the left.” —Kittyraja

And there you have the whole baneful tale.  Where, oh where, did I go wrong?  It’s hard to say, but I have a few ideas.  My friend, E, was over this weekend to learn how to knit socks two-at-a-time magic loop.  Good times.  And I asked her about where she found the Osage orange.  Turns out, she got it from an old felled tree on her family farm.  Like, a tree that had been dead and down for a while.  I wonder if this is why so very little dyestuff came out?  It’s likely.   A little fermentation can help a dyebath along, just as a good soak certainly helps break down bark and cellulose so that dye is more readily released.   I think this wood was old enough to be carrying its own bacterial inoculation into the soak bucket.   That’s why that bucket went bad when the others did not.  The elm and birch barks came from a basketweaver and had been properly dried and stored.

Lesson learned?  Next time I’ll try freshly harvested Osage orange and do a shorter soak or soak it in a different solution—alcohol, ammonia water, etc.  Or I might try adding some heavy-duty essential oils and see if that helps inhibit the funk.  Only one way to find out…

Live happy, dye happy!

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