Book Report: A Perfect Shade of Red

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Even with all this knitting, I am still reading a lot. This one will not be the last in my color series for a while, because I think there’s a yellow book in the queue at the ranch. But on to this one. A Perfect Shade of Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, by Amy Butler Greenfield (2005), was recommended in the Master Naturalist session I took on cochineal. I’m glad I picked it up and read it, even though I’ve already read two other books on the color red. The history part was a lot of fun.

The book, along with the back of the stole I’m working on.

This book concentrates on the ups and downs of using that little Mexican insect, cochineal, to dye things red, starting from the very beginning and continuing to current times. One thing I learned is that, unlike the wild cochineal that grows out at the ranch, the kind that has been developed in Oaxaca to produce the most dye is a finicky thing. No wonder Spain held on to its secrets for so long and monopolized its import (when those pesky English pirates weren’t stealing it). They just couldn’t get it to grow well other than its native territory for hundreds of years.

I wonder if they used cochineal to dye the leather for my journal?

Without the exact right climate with not too much rain, not too much wind, and not too much cold, they keel over pretty fast. The other books I’ve read didn’t go into as much detail about how many places tried to grow cochineal. It failed spectacularly all over the world, and was particularly unsuited to being grown by slaves like sugar cane, corn, or cotton. Oh well.

Random red objects for you to enjoy.

I did learn that eventually, patient people finally got it to grow in the Canary Islands and Guatemala, of all places. They even surpassed Mexico toward the end of the popularity of cochineal dye.

Another thing the other books didn’t tell me was that thanks to Red Dye No. 2 being identified as so poisonous, cochineal began coloring foods in modern times again, but it’s not popular with vegans and there ARE people allergic to it, too. Huh.

The book kept insinuating that red clothing can be gaudy. I don’t know where they get that idea. This is my holiday shirt for this year.

Even if you’re less than fascinated by dyeing things red with little insects, this book is a fun read, because you get an interesting perspective on European history from it. Much of the book makes England seen like a pretty nasty place, but the descriptions of Hapsburgs and their jaws made me rather sad for European royalty. What an inbred mess. All the intrigue between kings, queens, pirates, merchants, chemists, and others is a lot of fun.

It appears I have another race book and a novel ahead of me, though there IS a memoir I may sneak in. Thanks for bearing with me on these book reports.

Why I’m Staying in My Room

It’s my last full day in Utah, and I don’t have to work. You’d think I’d be going around seeing the sights, shopping, eating, etc. The ski area finally opened, so all those nice shops I’ve only been able to look in the windows of are open (with their ski resort prices, no doubt). But nope, I’m not going out today.

It would have been smart of me to take a video, but here are moving ski lifts.

I did take a walk yesterday, fairly late in the day. I just wanted to see what the place looked like when things were running. I got to see the ski lifts in action, with people actually riding on them.

ski people
Well-spaced people with skis and snowboards preparing to board ski lifts. Only parties who are together can share a lift.

There were actual skiers in their ski clothing. They sure look well protected with the boots, pants, jackets, hoods, goggles, and masks. Yep, I didn’t see one skier who wasn’t also wearing a mask.

These folks do not appear to be as well spaced.

The ski lift lines have markers for keeping people distant, and I’ve read they are limiting access to the mountains. That’s all good, I think. All the restaurants are limiting seating, but I predict the same thing that was happening downtown will happen here: people will line up for the restaurants in normal lines. That sort of defeats the social distancing purpose, right?

Something cheerful. People sledding. Note the distinct lack of snow. It’s supposed to be clear for quite a while.

After thinking about it and talking to Lee, I agreed to stay at the condo today, since I have a feeling the first Saturday of ski season will be crowded. Good thing I have that knitting project (and a lot of packing to do).

Masked people were putting these decorations together on Thursday, so I was glad to see them finished. It’s all real greenery. Tasteful.

So, it’s good to have seen the decorations, the activity, and the finished fire pit I watched getting built. But, I’ll be in my room.

There are lots of these benches that look like lift chairs now. This is the finished seating area, where they carefully put the rocks 6 feet apart. A friend points out that this is a lot of wasted gas and heat.

The good news is that I’ve been reading more and more about how planes are pretty darned safe. My main worry is being in crowded airports. On my way here, they were pretty empty. But it’s Thanksgiving week. I hadn’t thought of that when booking my trip. Going home last week would have been a better idea from that perspective, but things in Cameron are a bit of a mess, so it’s perhaps better that I stayed here. Sorry, I’m thinking aloud in my blog. I guess it’s allowed.

I’m going to ask anyone who’s reading this to take care around your friends and family right now. You don’t know where people have been and who they’ve been around. I know for certain that not all COVID deaths have been reported as such, which makes me think things may well be worse than they really are. And with so many people convinced they have a right to NOT take precautions, it really seems like a good idea to be careful. Sorry to be preachy, but I care about MY family, and I assume you care about yours.

Tribute to Self Care

This morning, I woke up and didn’t feel awake. These days, whenever you feel the least bit off, you immediately think you have COVID. I ran through all my symptoms, tested my sense of smell (yep, the trash can still smells like a banana cemetery), and checked my temperature (97).

I realized I was mostly chilly. So I put on my extra cozy sweater, turned on the fireplace, and closed the blinds. That helped me get through all my meetings.

Warm and cozy and sorta dark.

After all the Zoom meetings were over, I dragged the laptop into the bedroom, where I could get under the covers. I worked some more, but felt so tired. So I slept for an hour! Oops!

Self care station.

So now I’m in my self care station, with knitting, a book, plenty of water and many pillows. I guess I won’t be checking out skiers today. The plan is to talk at least a short walk, then take a bath with the bath bomb Kathleen gave me.

My body said it was tired of all that work and crazed exercise. I listened. After all, I want to be in good shape to travel back to Texas on Sunday. I’m very glad Hilton has provided dozens of antiseptic wipes I can take and use at airports and planes.

Travel ready.

The Plan

When I get back, I’m going to hide out in Austin for a while, so we are not going to have a germy family Thanksgiving. That will be hard, but between quarantines in Cameron and me traveling in this pandemic, I’d rather postpone seeing Lee and the animals than bring in an illness. Anita and I can easily physically distance in Austin, so that’s the best thing I could come up with.

With love from me to you.

I must admit, though, that videos and pictures of the animals make me miss them so much. Let’s hope next time I leave town we can feel safer.

Calming Vibes

I’ve been working hard this week, and there’s some work challenges, but still getting out and exercising in the brisk Utah mountain air. Because the ski area is getting more busy, I’m being more careful where I go. I’m avoiding people as much as possible this week.

Claiming clouds.

Today I was able to head up to the pretty subdivision up from where I’m staying. The houses are huge, and many have beautiful statues and lighting. But I was busy walking, so I didn’t take photos.

I love those colors.

For most of my walk breaks, I was enjoying the clouds and trees, so once I’d hit my exercise goal I let myself stop and take pictures.

Nice fence!

I bet the people in these mini farms and vacation palaces are annoyed by all the construction and timeshares that have cropped up. At least they still have views!

Again. Clouds.

Now off for a meeting for the Cameron business, followed by knitting and football. You know, this break has been a real blessing. I’m glad I’m able to work while I’m here in the scenery. It feels a little less self indulgent!

There’s a barn back there.

How are YOU helping yourself unwind and recharge? What keeps you calm?

Let’s Knit a Rainbow

I get up really early here, since meetings start at 7 in this time zone. That leaves me plenty of time to get in a workout and then knit. So, as soon as I finished the table runner, I started something else.

Can you spot the finished runner?

You may recall that I bought more yarn on Sunday.

The yarn

I looked around for something to make, and found a scarf pattern that used a simple garter stitch and slip stitch pattern. The best thing about it is that both the front and back are attractive, thanks to the magic of garter stitch stripes.

Here’s the front. a November rainbow.

The colors really look like autumn, don’t they? And the slip stitches are a cute touch.

The back is a stripey rainbow.

You’ll be relieved to know it won’t be a rainbow when I am done. It’s going to be a wrap of some kind, depending on how long it ends up. I have 6 skeins of yarn, three of each color, so it will be substantial, I hope.

Since it’s inexpensive (not cheap!) Red Heart yarn with no dye lot on the brown, I could probably get more if I need to. We’ll see!

This yarn is easy on my hands, so I can go faster than the thick linen stitch of the runner let me. What’s best? I’m letting myself knit something easy so my mind can rest. I’ve lost my drive to make complicated things!

Want to Make One?

Grab a few skeins of a solid and a self-striping worsted or Aran weight yarn that contrast or blend (mine blend). I ended up using 3 skeins of each color.

Get your favorite needles. I use size 6, because I knit loosely. You may want 8.

Cast on 150 stitches (or a multiple of 4, plus 2).** I used a knitted cast on. Knit 2 rows in the solid color (or more for a thicker border). Then use this pattern:

1. K2, *P1, K4* until last 3 stitches, P1, K2.

2. K2, * slip 2 with yarn in back, K4* to last 3 stitches, slip 1 with yarn in back, K2.

Change yarns every other row, carrying the unused yarn up the side.

End on solid color, K 2 rows (or same number as you started with), bind off.

I found the stitch pattern on “Striped Delight” by Marni Farniere. Search for it on Ravelry for two scarf ideas.

Carry on.


** If you don’t want the borders to look a little wavy, cast on 10% fewer stitches than you want and increase to the desired number on the last row of stockinette. At the end, decrease a comparative number on the first stockinette border row.

Do You Have a Label You Just Don’t Like?

For the past few days, I’ve been noticing that I cringe when I hear certain words used to label people or things in conversation, on social media, or on television. Some of these are words I know bother other people (like “gypsy,” for personal and business names that the Romani/Romanichal folks would not be fond of because the people using the term aren’t referring to actual gypsies, or naming your pets “Dixie” or “Cracker” or other loaded Southern words in today’s climate).*

The Roma wagons are so cool, though. Image by @Loreke76 via Twenty20

Others are just me. I realize that, for some reason, I do not like the word “cheap” when applied to things you buy. I think my internal definition in my idiolect has more to do with poor quality than low cost. In my mind when people say they want a cheap thing, they are saying that they pay more attention to the price of a thing than to how well it will work or how long it will serve, a short-term viewpoint. So, I never refer to things I obtain as cheap. They are inexpensive, which doesn’t have the poor quality connotation that’s really a secondary definition of cheapness. To me.

Yeah, economical, not cheap!

Back to the first group of words I don’t like, most of them appear to be words that apply to cultural, racial, or national groups. I just recently began to cringe when I hear “Latinx,” after hearing someone say no actual Latino or Latina person would use that word, since it isn’t even Spanish. To them it sounds like white people went and made up a word to solve a problem that didn’t really exist. People who speak Spanish don’t take grammatical gender as literally as English speakers do. How about that? Should I use “Hispanic?” That one has its own issues. Maybe I’ll just call people by their names or refer to their country or origin if they aren’t from the US.

As for these Mexicans, in Mexico, let’s use that term. It was either these guys or some pan flute players. I like mariachi music better than those flutes, which aren’t Mexican anyway.

I guess I know how much people treasure their cultural identities, so I want to use the words members of a particular culture prefer to use, even if they change as time goes on. It would be a LOT easier if there was universal agreement, though. I actually knew someone who preferred “negro” to “Black” or “African American.” Plus, the AA term really doesn’t apply to actual Africans or people from the Caribbean who have moved here. ARGH.

One thing the current movement toward acknowledging the great variety of gender terminology and preferences has taught me is this: it never hurts to ASK someone how they want to be referred to. So, if you don’t know, ASK if a Cajun wants to be called that. ASK what your “indigenous” friend likes their cultural identity to be called.

Let’s call this woman “Quechua” and her alpaca beautiful.

Just don’t be cheap about it. Don’t gyp me. Don’t try to jew me down. When did you start to cringe in this extra cringeworthy paragraph? Do you see why I prefer to be careful with labels and their derivations? It’s not just me being a liberal snowflake (by the way, each snowflake is unique and beautiful, so thanks for calling me that, frenemies!).

Signed,

Suna, she/her, McLeod of the Clan McLeod**


*I have known many dogs named Dixie, and it didn’t use to be controversial. Times change.

**Way too fond of one branch of my Ancestry family tree, perhaps?

They’re Ready for Ski Season

It’s becoming more and more obvious that the area where I’m staying will be getting more crowded. They will open the mountain resort here on Friday or Saturday (though it has warmed up again and the snow is melting rapidly). I do believe I’ve timed my trip just about right, since my motivation has been staying away from people and their germs.

They’ve cleaned up all the statuary, as you can see.

I’ve been noticing a lot of interesting things as the staff gets busy, and it’s all pretty educational, since my last ski experience was almost 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, the construction around the resort where I am staying has not abated. But, there is a street cleaner (at right).

The easiest way to tell they are about to start skiing is all the convenient ski resting spots they’ve put up everywhere.

And of course, all the holiday decorations are a dead giveaway, too.

They are firing up the ski lifts, and I even saw them getting the ski patrol ready to patrol. They sure have a lot of fun ski vehicles! I would like to try some of those out.

One thing had been making me wonder as I walk around in the chilly air, and that’s why all the walkways at the main ski resort area are never covered with snow. I was imagining elves getting out at the crack of dawn and working on the sidewalks, but I also didn’t see any piles of snow.

All that fresh concrete behind the cones is heated!

Now I know. I forgot to take a photo yesterday, but workers were making a seating area of rocks around a fire pit, and sure enough, there are all sorts of warming wires on the ground. Today, they are covering it all up with concrete, and you’d never know the heating elements are there. I guess all the walkways are like that!

It looks as if this will be a fun place to hang out, once all the shops are open, but I still like the mountains and the trees the best.

Ski patrol getting ready to roll out, plus people sledding on the hill.

I hope these photos gave you a break from whatever’s troubling you today. Love to all, especially my family.

Happy Worker

This may be one of the few times I’ve ever come back from a vacation fully rested and relaxed. I haven’t had to drive or fly back in from anywhere or take care of all the things that I didn’t do while I was gone (because I’ll do that NEXT week). I just woke up, made some coffee, and headed over to the dining table that is my desk for another week.

Rock formation that reminded Kathleen of our spouses.

I actually looked forward to getting back to my job and finding out what got accomplished last week when I was (mostly) offline. And I’m glad to see all the coworkers! So, last week was quite a successful vacation, even if we were snowed in for part of the time!

Naturally, it’s going to warm up here in the mountains this week, while I need to be at my desk most of the day. But I’ll have a couple of hours before dark, thanks to work being an hour ahead of where I am.

Meanwhile, Kathleen has been sending me photos from their drive to Texas, including this great horned owl, which they saw near Roswell, New Mexico. Wow! I have no idea what it is doing on the side of the road, but she says it doesn’t look injured.

Roadside owl.

I’m so glad she’s getting to travel by car and see all the beauty of the desert. She is in love with the planet at this point. It’s gotten all of us excited to do more travel in the future, maybe when it’s safer and we can do more!

I Actually Knitted a Thing

It turns out I didn’t forget how to knit after all! I’ve had a hard time getting going since we’ve had all these lap dogs. All those precious toenails that I miss very much are hard on delicate projects.

But, as I’ve been sharing recently, sitting here for two weeks with no pets let me make a thing! It’s a linen stitch table runner, I’ve decided.

Suggested use of knitted object.

It’s a combination of two self-striping sock-weight yarns, so no section is the same. One yarn is Noro Silk Garden Sock and the other is a Noro cotton blend whose name I forgot.

Pre-blocking. A bit lumpy.

How did I make it? I cast on 51 stitches and knit in linen stitch holding both strands of yarn together until I ran out. I used a size 5 (US) needle, but 6 would have been better, I think. Ha. That’s a pattern, right?

One thing I have noticed is that my normally consistent gauge (number of stitches per inch) is not so great. I guess not knitting every day and getting a bit o’ arthritis have taken a toll. That’s why I made something so simple with the yarn Laura sent me—it’s good practice!

Since my whacky stitching and a couple of mistakes (also not like my former persnickety knitting drive for perfection) made the runner a bit lumpy, I went ahead and blocked it.

Blocking. A bit better.

For those of you who don’t knit or crochet, blocking means you wet the fabric, smooth it out, and let it dry. By stretching, you can make lace stretch out and get rid of slight unevenness in other fabric, especially animal fibers like wool.

We’re just gonna have to see how the runner dries out. Regardless, I’ll put it on the dining table in Austin, because Anita likes it.

Aww, this takes me back to my old knitting blog days (yep, I wrote about knitting for years, but I’ll spare you a link). Back to general yammering tomorrow.

Olypmic Park Dog Gymnastics

Today was the last day for my second batch of visitors, but we decided to go have lunch before they left. We went back to the restaurant in Park City where I met the nice server who saved my phone, because Kathleen wanted to get a t-shirt for their Polygamy Stout.

I just pictured peace, quiet, and a raven while the drunken child went on and on.

They didn’t have any shirts the right size, but we did try the beer, and it was good. All the food was delicious, though the visit was marred by some rich, drunk kids yelling. They kept shushing the loudest one, and I swear it would have just been more fun to listen to him go on and on.

I mentioned that I’m almost out of yarn and would probably need to Uber to the local Michael’s to get something else to knit on (yes, I am capable of knitting with inexpensive yarn, if I must). Kathleen said they’d take me before they left, so off we went. Wow, the regular shopping center outside of town was hardly recognizable for the tweeness of the signs and mountain-y style. Best Buy looked its best, that’s for sure.

That’s the shopping center, off in the distance.

I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, but did get two contrasting colors to make the scarf pattern I found, but larger, as a wrap. Chris was really impressed by giant skeins of self-striping bulky yarn, and I saw a nice slip-stitch afghan pattern on the label, so I said I’d make him one if he selected the yarn. That would be a fun gift, right? I still have a thing to finish at home, so I need to get back in the groove and find some way to protect knitting from the dogs.

Inexpensive yarn for something to sit under and watch television.

As we were leaving, we realized that the Olympic Park from the 19th Winter Olympics was right across from the shopping center. So, since we happened to be there, we checked it out. The views were spectacular from the venue, and it was really fun to see where all the ski events took place.

We didn’t have time to see the museums or anything, but the outsides were pretty.

On our way back down, we passed lots of hiking trails just full of people, since the weather is well above freezing today. Then we saw dogs, lots of dogs. We just pulled over to the side of the road and watched at least a dozen very happy dogs on the leashless dog trail.

One dog was on the wrong side of the trail, but did not mind.

There was so much frolicking. They all seemed to get along well, and definitely loved the snow. They ran back and forth, play-bowed and leapt.

Running full speed

One black dog kept jumping into piles of snow and biting at the snow. That particular dog must have run a mile just while we were watching. It was pure joy. I kept picturing Carlton out there with them, except he’d be invisible.

Black dog in its snow pile.

What a great send-off for K. and C.! They decided to drive their rental car back, which meant I could give them some of the stuff I’ve bought, so I won’t have to try to pack it all. I feel like I may have dodged a bullet there. I will not be bringing home all the food they left for me, but I also will NOT need to buy any more restaurant food while I’m here. I’m all set for a week of working by day and relaxing in the evenings.

The weird Coke won’t be left over, however. Not bad.

And now that I figured out how to get my watch to track elliptical workouts, I will be able to keep the exercise up, no matter how bad the weather gets. Today, though, I’m gonna get more walking in.