Somewhere along here, if I remember correctly, we entered a 70 foot deep lock to lift us up to visit all of the rocky bits in the Cote du Rhone region, where men are mountain goats and vines grow sideways up hills. It is really something when getting used to darkness at about 10:30 pm, to slowly enter into a deep dark chamber, during dinner. It certainly makes the conversation change, I'll tell you. We had over a dozen locks to go through, on the Rhone but this one was very memorable. It lifted us and we sailed on through the evening toward our docking place, Vivier, which we reached at just about 10 pm. Those stallwart types, and especially the ones who did not pay for other excursions were all seemingly happy to go traipsing through a tiny hilltop village, with a guide and their flashlights, in the dark. Me? I chose to get a good night's sleep as we were tethered up next to another smaller riverboat and was looking forward to the morning's sail up to Tain-l'Hermitage.
Look, up there in the top portion of the photo; this is our Viking Europe tied up for the day, as seen from a very old walking bridge across the Rhone.
This was definately a divided community, with the older and less fortunate town on our docking side, with the newer and more commercially vibrant side being to out backs. The old part had some interesting bits and we walked around a while before it was time to join up with our guides. I especially liked this castle built on a big rock. In the dark of that opening were big meat hooks...hmmm...for humans?
Look up on those hills, can you imagine the hard work for the guys taking care of those vines? It was like this on the other side of the river, as well.
From this place we boarded busses and went across the river, which could have been accomplished by walking, of course. We had some very elderly people who had some issues with walking and so we had to get on and off of busses, when I would rather have ambled around. This town was where we visited the Valrhona headquarters chocolate shop, which gave something else to carry home, even though I was so very intent on getting out of that nightmare of a crowded place, as soon as possible. There is a chef's school attached to the small factory.
From there, we hopped back onto the bus for a couple of blocks ride (!) up the road, which let us walk back to the bridge that Rod and I had walked, earlier. Sigh. Of course, I had to take another picture of this house, which to me was the epitome of Southern France.
We walked around the corner and into a small gallery tucked into a 15th century stone house, featuring works by the owner's father, the late Pierre Palue (my French family's name was Palu). It was a quirky place and we got to actually understand why everyone can survive nicely in the summers, by merely closing their shutters and staying cool during the heat of the day.
Our last stop was quite a bit out of town where we were taken to a small winery in the Cote du Rhone appellation. Our guide must have been friends with the non English speaking family and so she ran the tastings. I, for the life of me, was so very surprised that they were pouring wine from 2012, which they were so proud to make in stone, instead of wood. It was...pretty terrible and I felt sad for them but there was actually one guy who purchased a couple of bottles, so there was no accounting for taste. I found myself to be pretty spoiled by the wines in our region and of course, in this area, they were pretty much relegated to Syrah grapes, which may be another region that I was unimpressed...but seriously...2012???
We are still nibbling that chocolate, after dispersing most of it to others. That was the highlight of the day.
I do! For the longest time, I thought that Chateauneuf du Pape was the name of a winery and that is because I did not know better, at the time. Now I do! We took this extra-curricular bus ride and left our boat to motor on up the Rhone without us, which felt kind of freeing but a little bit sad to say au revoir to Avignon for the last time.
Out along the freeway, which felt so weird after being only on back roads and a river, and into the nearby wine region/appellation by that long name up there. As we drove into the lower part of the little village, which is home to about 300 winemaking families and their workers, the bus turned into a modern looking area for our first official French Style wine tasting. We were ushered into a big room with tables set up in a big U and our host put on the transmitter and began to teach us about his appellation and all that goes into wines that earn the AOC for Chateauneuf du Pape. There are actually 13 different grapes that may be used in the making of their red wines, which we learned subsequently, is a VERY generous array from which to choose, when making their wines. I had tasted many of the Rhone Valley varietals, here in El Dorado County but this terroir made things special.
We learned that in France, to earn the AOC, there are a LOT of strict rules to live and die by and one of them is that there is NO irrigating allowed. If one year differs greatly from another, it is all because of the weather and up there in the rocky hills above the Rhone, the grapes are meant to dig deep and find the water, during the stinging summer months, when the sun sears and the Mistral batters the vines.
We learned the proper way to taste a wine and swirled, admired color and legs and then took in the bouquet at the top of the glass and the bottom of the glass, before we were allowed to swish the wine in our mouths. It was quite the education and after trying three wines, the final one was so wonderful that I bought a bottle to drag around with me, all of the way home. It has the telltale raised keys and Chateauneuf du Pape lettering on the bottle made nearby. This was magnificent stuff.
We said goodbye to the winemaker and headed up and up and up through the village until we drove through some typical vineyards, which are like none that I have every seen, here in California. The soil was chock full of big river rock stones, so far above the Rhone, and these stones help to insulate the roots of the vines by keeping them cool in the blistering sun and then warm as the air cools. We watched as a man driving a very specialized machine tickled up the rocks to aerate the soil. These were 60 year old gnarled vines and were considered Middle Aged. Wow.
We were dropped off at this hilltop aerie that was once one of the French Popes' fortification, before being blown to smithereens in the last war. From here, the Popes could survey all that they owned and see just who was moving long the river.
The view to the east that includes the pre-Alps.
We walked down the hill from here, into the sleepy little village of Chateauneuf du Pape (new house of the pope) and were treated with beautiful sights of an old town sporting big Ram trucks behind garden doors, which means that in the land of $8 a gallon gas, these vintners are doing more than OK.
I did a little shopping on this street, finding a small place with a little dress and purse for a certain little girl. Charming is the word.
This is the town center. Notice the key insignia on the near building? This is the crest for this appellation.
After gathering at this spot, we joined our guide and ambled our way down the hill toward the bus, which would drive us down a dirt road, right down to the Rhone, to meet the boat, which had been waiting to pick us up. To say that I had a great time on this side trip would be saying it lightly. I learned a lot about the grapes of the Rhone and had yet another time in a Provincial hill town, which I found to be my favorite kind of a place.
Yesterday, I perfected that shutter color, which was a beautiful and ever-present part of the landscape in Provence.
You know, that very first night, I forgot that we were all encouraged to go up to the sundeck because the captain was going to give us a treat of a licorice digestif while motoring up to the old bridge, well, half of a bridge, there at Avignon. We had quite the wacky crew of waiters (especially the ones who also helped in the lounge) and they got us all to sing "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" in a chilly, huddled mass. It all came back to me. That bridge was ruined, not because of any bombing but because of the wildness of the Rhone River, which broke it, one terrible winter/spring.
It is ironic that I have been catching up with some of my taped shows, now that I am more lucid, and the other night I had to say out loud, while watching The Borgia's..."THAT's not Avignon! Where's the river?"
This is Avignon, from the outside and all around the perimeter. They can still close things off, in case the Rhone floods, which can happen. When you walk through the gates, you see a really great little town!
We had an early morning appointment with our guides, who met us at the boat, just outside of these walls and once inside, we walked along beautiful streets that were yet uncrowded, due to the time. Not too many people were walking these streets and so our groups got a lot of attention before being in the way of traffic. We found our way to the center of the old city and were going to be treated to a visit to the Pope's Palace.
This is where a long line of French Popes had their castle, well behind Avignon's fortress walls and we did a lot of climbing through the many floors and rooms of this place, grateful for the workout.
Like all French antiquities, the taxpayers and tourists are paying to keep these places in a constant state of restoration. There are windows on one floor of this building, where a library has been established for scholars. I think that it is interesting to see how these places have had so many changes made to them, over the centuries, and yet they live on, bearing only the scars. In the main courtyard of the palace, scafolding and a stage were being constructed, for summer night festivals of the arts.
We were craning our necks a LOT in this town, getting the entire history of the place in a three hour walk. Look, there is Rod's ever present Tom Bihn backpack! That thing was a workhorse.
Well ready for lunch, we walked back to the boat before our afternoon extra-curricular trip to Les Baux.
On Monday morning, I woke up early, sensing that we were moving and sure enough, upon peeking out of the drapes, the world was going by at a very smooth and leisurely pace. The curtains were thrown wide open at that point and I was simply grinning as I knew that the adventure had really begun. We were not moving at any breakneck pace and before we knew it, we had come to a stop and all that I could see was a dock arrangement and Rod surmised that we were in some sort of a holding area for a lock. Sure enough and when it was our turn to enter, we had this view out of our cabin window; some hopeful feathered friends, before sunrise.
This act of sliding into a concrete lock was going to be a big part of our travels, as we went UP the Rhone but this time we made a little side trip down to the farthest reaches open to non sea-going vessels; Arles.
We watched the sun turn the landscape pink and got ourselves showered and ready for the first breakfast aboard, making a right, out our cabin door and down the hall to the dining room. It was full of chatter as we began anticipating our first stop of the trip, in the little town made famous by a certain ginger haired lunatic and his colorful vision of this land of Provence. Good coffee, croissants, fruit, cheese and crudite were my favorite breakfast, well that plus the amazing fresh yogurt prepared onboard in little glass jars. It was a great way to get ready for the walking.
We arrived at about 10 am and were ready to surrender our room keys in exchange for a "boarding pass" and a group number, anxious to join our first local guides, on this, our first walking tour. Each person had their own receiver with an ear-piece that was tuned to the frequency emitted by our guide's transmitter. When we were all tuned in, off we went, to discover Arles. As you can see, old and new coexist.
It was a Monday morning, but it seemed that the people of Arles were just not that interested in any hustle bustle and so that part of the equation was provided by tourists. The wind was howling that day and we got a good idea of how the Mistral, which blows down from the far north can make winter miserable in this region and can cool the stinging heat, in the summer. We were bundled up in layers and as we got into the arena, where the Mistral could not reach us, we all got a little bit sunburned!
This arena has been and is being lovingly restored and is used all summer for a series of festivals and cultural events, which I found to be so thrilling. There are non-lethal bull festivals and operas and all sorts of concerts within these walls.
On we walked, through the windy and narrow streets of this ancient city until we came to this square with a familar piece of architecture.
You can see our guide, there. She reiterated what we began to hear, in the South and that was that because of tourists coming to see their local treasures, educated guides could make a living in the high unemployment areas. We felt less like interlopers and more like welcome guests. The education that we received from this gal with her thick Occidental accent was amazing, as she pointed out all of the places where Van Gogh hung out, recuperated and was tolerated (somewhat). In the April sun, I could begin to understand what the colors were all about and as a Californian, I recognized that light.
We finished our tour of this throughly charming little town center and ambled our way back along the cobblestone streets, through history, on our way back to the waiting boat. Hands into the sanitizer spritz and boarding passes exchanged for room keys, before lunch was served. Salads salads salads and then a main course plus dessert...good thing that we signed up for more walking.
Rod and I had signed up for the optional afternoon tour of the hospital where Van Gogh was kept and where he produced some of the most magnificent paintings that I have "known as long as I have known myself". It was a bus ride past some of the newer and rougher areas of Arles and we discovered that this was the home town of one of my favorite musical acts; The Gypsy Kings...yes, a very large enclave of Roma call Arles home.
We motored out into the country and split the groups up so that not everyone was descending upon the hospital at the same time. Our first stop was at some of the Roman ruins, that are nearby. See that sky? This was a funerary monument, although it was probed with sound or light and was found to be empty...just for show, I guess.
You know, when you walk through a place and begin to recongize the trees and flowers as those things that you have seen in works of art, it is a humbling thing. Van Gogh was shut away in this hospital for the mentally ill and his brother could not afford the very best of care, so he was upstairs in a small room but as he began to paint and the people who ran the sanitarium recognized his talents, he was moved to a room with better light and more air.
We saw the original, over two weeks later, in the D'orsay, but as we walked the gardens of this place, there were copies of these works everywhere.
We scurried up the stairs in the museum portion of this place and found the room where Van Gogh lived and then went down to view the works of art created by the women living in the portion of the hospital still caring for the mentally ill. Art.
It was hard to say goodbye to this place but our busses awaited us and had to get those of us who took advantage of the Extra Enrichement (who would NOT want to see it all?) back to the Viking Europe, with time for a wash and for me to have the joy of finding my suitcase waiting for me in the hallway before dinner. Oh, what a day in the bosom of Provence.
As a little girl, I always identified with the portion of my heritage that came to Oakland, straight from France, in the late 1800's. Now that I know a LOT more about my heritage, I know that my roots go very very far back through centuries in this country but also through England and then again to France. I can't get away from it.
I knew that I was an unusual looking kid and was made to feel weird because of how I resembled my mother and grandmother...you know, the French side. I had that profile that was not very all-American, which would make me the brunt of jokes in high school and beyond, but once I was enclosed in the big Airbus, heading to France, with the flight attendants who sported chignon and had a certain familiar profile, I began to feel a certain Home Coming. Rod kidded me and said that a certain attendant looked like she could be related to me...yes, I see that.
We flew over Canada and on through to Charles de Gaul, arriving wide-eyed and excited to be on the adventure that we had been looking forward to for a full year. We made it through the international terminal and found our way to the little pods for the domestic flights and felt like we had stepped into it, in a big way. Chaos and crowds but a flight that took us down to Marseilles, to meet the folks who would get us to our ship.
I kept wondering when we would really have to go through all of that standing and waiting through customs, but it never happened. We got off of the smaller plane and went down an escalator to find someone with the Viking sign, awaiting our arrival. BAM, we were really in it. "Your baggage carousel is over there" led us to wait to find our bags, until the gal came back to ask if we were the Souzas, only to tell us that my bag had not made it on the flight from Paris, which "happens all of the time". We were escorted to the baggage office, filled out paperwork and were handed kits with a teeshirt, toothbrush and other essentials, which made the journey begin with a "got to laugh" story. I had carried a heavy bag on with me and had all of my essential items plus one change of clothes, which would get me through the first day and a half. It seems that Air France gives out a LOT of these oopsie kits...
We were "those people" who delayed the others from heading to the ship but once the bus got rolling, most of the other passengers passed out while I took in every inch of the scenery, as we motored up the highway to Avignon, which is where the Viking Europe was docked and waiting for us. This river boat and her sister ship, which we would board in a week, became our home away from home. Our grand adventure was just beginning and we became acquainted with our lovely cabin on the port side. Before we knew it, it was time to change out of the travel clothes, grab a shower and head down to the lounge for the cocktail hour.
People who know me are surprised to know that I am more of an introvert than an extrovert and so it was an interesting experience, finding a couple at one of the small tables, introducing ourselves and beginning the first of the many many many getting-to-know-you conversations. Lucky for me, our program director began the festivities by introducing herself, the hotel manager and the Maitre d' before telling us about what we were going to be experiencing that evening and the next day. We had the chef come out and describe his suggestions for the evening meal and found it all to be overwhelming and exciting. With the words "Bon Appetit", we made our way along the hallway, past our third floor cabin, remembering to use the hand sanitizing spritzer as we entered the dining room for our first fancy-pants meal in France. I don't remember what we had, that first night but I was very impressed with the service and food and company and couldn't believe that I was on a riverboat parked on the Rhone River, just outside the ancient walled city of Avignon, which was lit from within. It was a magical beginning with a limited wardrobe. :-)
I am glad that we visited Boston, a couple of years ago, walking all over creation, down Boyleston and then around the freedom walk. I had feet on the ground and ancestors in the cemetery plots and had to go buy some gloves, because I was not tough enough for a Boston Autumnal morning, I felt a connection to this town.
I have friends who went to Berklee and thought that they would never survive the Winter and to that I say, you have got to be a tough customer to live there. Hell, I had Pilgrim Ancestors on that boat but don't think that I am tough enough for a Boston Winter but there is a special something about the people of Boston and how they handled the outrageous and murderous explosions, this past Monday. People were saved because folks rushed to their aid, instead of running for their own lives.
Maybe it is the combination of toughness from living in and around Boston and the strength and determination of any and all who would aspire to run the marathon but I think that the combination of all of the human traits present that day saved lives.
I have a dear friend who, with her daughter by her side and according to the tracking device she was wearing, crossed the finish line just three minutes before the first blast. What a life changing event, in every way. Here we were, cheering her on via Facebook and when I saw someone congratulate her by calling her Da Bomb and encouraging her to have a "blast" when she celebrated that evening, it seemed like the craziest of things, seeing that it was posted just before the bonbs went off.
I just want to congratulate Boston for saving so many lives that could have been gone, if the response had been any later. Veterans of wars knew what to do, to tourniquet those injuries and it is a juxtaposition of all of these people coming together that is so remarkable. Stephen Cobert said it so well, last night, essentially ticking off reasons why one should not f*ck with Boston.
One week from today, at this time, we should be setting foot on board the Viking Europe, docked in Avignon, France. As a little girl in the 50's (and one with a grandmother of French descent), I learned the song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon", which has been swirling around my head as I let in the anticipation of our long awaited adventure. I just can't quite believe that I finally get to see the places that populated my youthful dreams for so long, but now that I have reached my early 60's it is time to see MORE of the world.
Of course, the other evening as we were preparing our dinner, up popped something on a national newscast about the Louvre being closed because the VERY French museum guards had more than ENOUGH of the hordes of "Romanian" (Roma) child pickpockets jostling the tourists out of their belongings. Three years ago, when we visited Ireland, we invested in safer satchels and wallets, that are made to foil cutpurses and pickpockets and our city street-smarts came flooding back from the recesses of our childhoods and twenties, living in our home town of Oakland and working in San Francisco. You just hold yourself differently, in the city. (I am still amazed at the oblivious women who leave their purses in shopping carts as they wander the aisles of a supermarket!)
Here's hoping that on the day that we are scheduled to visit the Louvre, the place where all of my childhood "companions" are on display, they will be back in business. Of course, life will certainly go on if I have to miss it and although Paris is a destination, I am actually looking forward to small towns and the countryside, soaking up the scenery for my mental bank.
Our first sailing day will be to Arles, where courageous art was alive in the powerful summer sun, with the likes of Van Gogh and his hard drinking cohorts. Our immersion into French culture will begin with walking and art but I may have to just take a lot of pictures, if jet-lag makes me too groggy, on day one.
We will have the opportunity, on most stops, to either walk the streets of the towns or take extra side-trip tours to historical spots and I want to take advantage of all that I can, on this Once-in-a-lifetime journey to the homeland of SO many of my recorded ancestors. (French and English fancypants kings down both sides of my lineage for many centuries, which means that by the time MY peeps came to The New World, they were the second or third sons, who had to go find their OWN fortune. Hah and buh-bye!)
I love history and used to leaf through books as a little girl, tucked behind my parents big red chair in the living room. So many paintings were part of that education and I remember that for those first 7 years, before my dad left, he would school me in the use of French and Italian words, that as a self-educated man, he felt were so important for me to learn. I am sorry that he never got to go to Europe but thankful that as a kid, his heart murmur kept him from the battlefields of World War II. I will just have to do it for him and my mother, who sang all of the great European operas in her lifetime, neither of them knowing (she was already gone) until just recently about their lineage.
So, this week, I will tie up loose ends with work and pack the suitcases and try not to disturb my sleep TOO much with the bubbles of excitement running around in my brain. This will not be a vacation where you eat too much and get fat from sitting around, this will be an education, in every sense of the word and I, for one, am ready.
So, a little over year ago, while getting hooked into Downton Abbey on PBS, I saw one of those ridiculously enticing commercials for Viking River Cruises. "Oh my, this is what I want to do, for our next adventure" came up over my head in a thought bubble and I was doomed. I started investigating the company and asked for information to be sent so that I could dream from afar. I then had the nerve to put the pamphlets out on the kitchen table for Rod to flip through and we were on our way to planning a trip.
The big high school reunion that became Rod's big project (three classes) has been a part of our history for a year and a half now and in that time, we have lost several friends. Most of them had been on the long runway to the Other Side but their loss helped to remind us that life is short and that we need to keep fit and doing what we dream of, while we still can. (of course, what do I do? I buy a business...)
We are now in the countdown in "sleeps", as my Kiwi friend Rebecca likes to say. In 16 days we will be up early and heading to Sacramento, to catch a plane to LA, where we will catch a BIG plane to Paris and then a smaller plane to Marseilles. Yes, we are taking that dreamed of River Cruise vacation through the south of France up to Paris and from Paris, along the Seine to Normandy with many stops, to and fro. I have always dreamed of going to France, being the great grandaughter of French Immigrants, on my maternal grandmother's side. Although they came from somewhere that we will not visit (Basque country), I will finally see the places that so many ancestors lived and died. (Don't get me started on Ancestry...)
Of course, we put our money down on this trip over a year ago and put the paperwork away for safe keeping. On the 20th of March, we received a package from VIking, with name tags, strong scented leather luggage tags, itinerary booklets and books about the regions that we will be visiting and this just ramped up the excitement that had been kept at bay for a year.
Now then, what did I do, this past February? That's right, I Bought A Business. Yeah, perfect time-ing...wait a minute...I bought a business. Oh emm gee, as they say. What was I thinking, sinking all of my hard earned Dyeworks earnings into this, a couple of months before we were to leave on our dream vacation! I guess that I am just kind of crazy-like-that these days and remarkably it feels right.
The second shipment of beautiful balls of Top arrived yesterday, in a MUCH smaller FedEx van than the moving van sized vehicle that arrived last Friday. In it were the three beautiful natural colored yak tops and one bump of brilliant white Angora top. These boxes had been completely wrapped in packing tape and I think that all of the FedEx people were in love with the shipper, for having made these 5 boxes into tear-proof projectiles for the "muscle men" (as our tiny delivery woman likes to call the guys at the distribution center) to hurl, without worry of breakage. After cutting the bonds on a couple of these balls, we were able to finish off the packages of fiber samples and get them ready to go out to our retailers!
Oh yes, and I went into a conversation with the mill that produces my baby alpaca yarns, about getting that top into the line-up but had to tell him that if he couldn't get it to me before we left, it would have to wait to be shipped and get here by the time we arrived home. Timing timing timing. (Of course, my Merino guy has timing indicative of his culture...he will do it, when he gets to it.) Yes, and there is the timing of getting Mill #1 to bill me for and ship order number two to get here before we go. Feel my heart...thumpthumpthumpthump. It's only money, right?
16 Sleeps until I Let Go and take a VACATION, handing the keys to the house/pet sitter. We can travel to "our" mills and talk to them about this or that, next time, but this trip is for me to let it all go, for almost three weeks. In the meantime, I will do all that I can to get product out to retailers and dyers before I go but I know that it will all be here for me, when I get home and the heart thumping will continue.
Today I will continue putting the fiber through a dyer's paces and then into the spinning cave and on to that process, so that Holly can get some more color up on those neutral web pages. (white, white, cream, beige, brown...) There is never a dull moment around here and you know, I like it that way. It all keeps me on my toes.
As much as we need the rain, I was a little sad for my daughter, this morning. The Bunny's work may be hindered by this moist reminder that this is Spring and rain can happen. We are getting ready to head Down The Hill to Cameron Park, in a couple of hours, to witness Syd's first real egg hunt with her 7 year old brother, who will be thoughtful and wonderful to her, I just know.
The Daughter and Stoop Crinkletoe took our granddaughter to the El Dorado Hills egg hunt, for the fun of it but when I heard the age ranges for the "little kids" hunt, I just knew that the little one would come up short. Toddlers to seven. REALLY? Hordes of greedy school age kids swooping in to grab everything in sight, when Toddlers are just missing the experience. Hmmm...no fair.
No worries, she will have fun today! As promised, I made a batch of the old fashioned sugar cookie dough (the kind that uses powdered sugar) and will take it down to the festivities, so that the kids can have the fun of rolling the dough and cutting out easter shaped cookies. It is the simple things that make life fun and I am so glad that my daughter thought of it. We made cookies together a LOT when she and her brother were young and have photos of the craziness that ensued during decorating times. (I especially love the ones with pastry tube tips over our eyes.)
To those who celebrate Easter as a religious holiday, I wish you peace and renewal.
To those who celebrate as I do, with the rites of Spring and Mother Earth, I wish you Peace and Renewal, as the trees and dormant plants wake up and the Spring Peepers chirp their froggie songs. The longer days make me happy and this year I have so much for which I am grateful. I have loved seeing the photos of all of the lamb and kid births from my friends on the internet and celebrate this new life with them.
It makes me wish that mankind could celebrate our world and the seasons again, because if we all did, we would see the need to care for our Mother Earth. When you live in and on concrete, I guess that you lose touch with why we must take care of the soil. Here, where we are in the middle of nature, we are grateful for the rain that refreshes the creeks and our water that comes from underground. We celebrate an abundant conifer seed year, keeping the songbirds and squirrels cavorting through our forest canopy. I celebrate the return of the warm sun, to help the plants grow in my little veggie garden and I celebrate the happiness of my dogs when they run and run and run.
Life has begun speeding up again, since I said "I Will" to Melissa Laffin-Iverson's suggestion that I buy her business. As you know, I did not answer in the affirmative at first, being happy enough to keep busy in the dye workshop until the day that the heavy labor of dyeing and schlepping to shows became too much for me. I figured that I would retire in the next few years but wondered what I would do with myself all day, especially in the winter months, when working in the gardens was impossible. That answer came to me, when I said OK to the unknown and invested in this venture.
Since that day, I have been using every quiet moment to think and wonder and trust that this would be right for me. As a customer of Melissa's, I knew that they product that I bought from her was far superior than any other fibers that had ever run through my fingers as a dyer and spinner but I still did not know about everything that could be had. I took her advice about what to buy from the "best" mill and then slowly got the courage to contact other mills, feeling like a babe in the woods.
I took a deep breath and wrote to people whose business days were either ending as I awoke, early in the morning, or yet to begin. We conversed in English (second language to most) and I learned to convert kilos to pounds and figure whether something was a good price for me and my customers. I learned to become someone who regularly wires US dollars (my hard earned US dollars from the Dyeworks) to strangers in all corners of the earth, with the help of my awesome banker. I began clenching my jaw at night, wondering if I had made the right decision and wondering if all of the money that I sent magically through the ether would be well-spent and most importantly, whether the product would arrive and be wonderful.
Last Friday began as Hell Week. I began a conversation with a new supplier (one who was not a known entity to Peace of Yarn) and in the meantime, I got a tracking number from my BEST mill for the shipment of The Best Stuff, which was in the hands of FedEx, which made me SO excited. Saturday morning, when I got up at 6 am, I got the dogs out to pee and then settled in this chair to check email and watch the progress of the Big Boxes. They were in Memphis and were getting ready for Customs clearance. Whoopeeee! A few hours into my day, I decided to peek at the FedEx trackign page and I saw something that made that needle-across-record sound inside of my head; a red exclamation point saying that the package was delayed, due to "insufficient information" to be able to easily classify the commodity. DAMN! I called FedEx right away and spoke to someone who said that the shipper had been contacted and that I should contact the shipper. Dude, it is SATURDAY. All that I could do was wait.
Meanwhile, I had been in a conversation with this new purveyor, while doing figures and research about the particular products that they handled, deciding to make an opening order with them for a couple of products that have been harder to find. There were serious language barriers with the contact person and I was getting a little nervous, but carried on. After all, these nutty people were working on the weekend, just like me...
Monday morning dawned and I agreed to buy silk hankies and Tencel Top from this company. After making my initial order and receiving the invoice, I promised to pay that morning. After breakfast, I had Rod help me fill in the paperwork for the wire transfer, because his draftsman trained printing was so much more legible than my artist's hand. We tried to decifer the seller's information and make certain that all of the unusual names were in the proper places, on this, my third wire transfer in a week. (bye bye, savings!) We felt confident and this time, he accompanied me down to the bank. Done.
When we returned home, the message light was blinking on the phone and of course, I had missed a call from FedEx. DAMN! I called back right away, but of course, this guy did not answer his phone. I left a message about where he should send the forms and waited. I got the forms by email and quickly filled them out and because Rod was busy, I hurried into his office to fax them off. I called the FedEx guy and told him that I had faxed the copies and to please call or email to let me know that he had received them. ::crickets:: Well, it turns out that I had put the papers into the machine the wrong way and had sent him BLANK PAGES. I discovered this the next day! Crap! At this point, I freaked out (this was Tuesday, already) and resent them, which seemed to activate the elusive FedEx Guy, who actually called me asking for one more form to be filled in and faxed. He was now waiting for the mill to give him more information for customs. (meanwhile the Wire Transfer person is freaking out that he had not received my money yet, which seemed strange, judging the speed with which the others were received.) Wednesday arrives and I keep seeing the Red Exclamation Point on the FedEx site and try calling "my point man" again. ::more crickets:: Oh yes, and I was dyeing for orders all through this...
By Thursday morning, I had really worked myself into a stressball with gnashed teeth and decided to go around the "point man" and talk to someone ELSE in the chain. Not only did I get right through but I got answers (yes, I threw the Point Guy under the bus, at this point) and these people could tell me that they had been waiting on a Hard Copy of information from the mill (got it) and that this would clear customs, fly out that night and be here the next morning. Holy sh*tballs.
We saw the red exclamation point disappear and one boulder fell off of my shoulders. Friday morning, when I got up, I saw that the FedEx plane had left Memphis at 3:30 am and had arrived at Sacramento at 5:30 am. Ok...movement. My email contained two more worry ending messages. The first contained a tracking number for my second mill delivery and the third contained "we got your money" from purveyor number three. The Stress producing logjam was broken and everything was moving along the pipeline. While I had not been reading my horoscope, I figured that some naughty planet had moved and let everything happen.
When I saw the magic words Out For Delivery, I began getting kind of a Nesting Anxiety, while waiting for the truck that carried my initial big investment. By 11 am, as I was applying dye to some yarn, I said aloud to Lorrie that this driver had one hour until it was no longer morning. Then I thought that I heard a man's voice. I stuck my head around the corner from the dye counter and listened and then I heard it again...sort of a wheezy hello from a deep voice. Here, coming around the edge of the open wall was a tall man in a FedEx shorts, winded from his hike up our driveway (at altitude) saying that he was out on the road and had been calling but no answer. Turns out that he had been calling my cell phone, which does not work here, eschewing the home phone.
Out pops Rod from the house and off they went, down the hill to help get the Big Truck over the steel and wood bridge that traverses Weber Creek. Up he came in his shiny new truck and when we looked into the cavernous trailer, our three boxes (and the race car motor for someone else up here) looked small! One by one, he scooped the pallets onto his motorized pallet mover thingie (technical term) and down the lift onto the concrete in front of the yarn racks. Done. He maneuvered that truck like a pro and with a couple of aided turns was down the drive and over the bridge...byebye.
My work began, as i began hefting the rock hard balls of fiber out of the boxes and then I realized what I had bought, mostly sight-unseen; the most magnificent fiber that I had ever felt. I am dead serious. I have been dyeing and spinng silk/merino top for 25 years and thought that it was the finest available...until I realized what I had, here in my arms. When I pulled the first ball out of the box and looked at it, I assumed that it was 100% Mulberry Silk. No, it was my blend of Superfine Merino and A1 quality Mulberry Silk. I have never touched A1 quality and did not know the difference, until yesterday. I then moved on to inspect the other blends and just about swooned when I got a glimpse at the white yak/Tussah silk blend. It looked like something that a king's garment would be spun from and why, because the quality of this Tussah silk was like nothing I had ever had run through my hands. OH. There is a DIFFERENCE and this is The Very Best.
Now, Weaver Creek Fibers is In Business. I feel like I must have been in the Birth Canal last week and now that the Magnificent Stuff is finally here, I am breathing the air of relief and excitement for all of the rest that is yet to come.
The Merino that I have decided to carry is a 16.5 micron, which is like cashmere. Melissa had been carrying the "Super 150s" at a huge price and this will be much more affordable and I know that the minute difference in micron level (softness and fineness) will be tiny and spinners will have luxury and a much more manageable price.
The learning curve has been steep and I have had jaw pain from worry but now that almost everything is here, I know that as a seasoned (30 years now) fiber artisan, I made the right decision, for myself and people who would have been so sad to see it disappear. I am not clenching anymore and did not wake up worrying about this vendor or that vendor. I am on my way.