Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

You know it’s Scotland when….. May 31, 2009

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you see these everywhere,





and a few of these too.


Thursday I spent most of the day wandering the streets of Edinburgh.  









And of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t hunt down a few yarn shops!  The first one that I went to was called K1Yarns.  They had a ton of interesting, locally produced yarns in a really cute, well organized little shop.  I got several balls of yarn there that I will do on a show and tell at a later date.  The lady running it was super friendly and it would be a very cool place just to chill and knit or crochet for a little bit.




Then I wandered over to McAree Brothers Knitting and Haberdashery.  I wish that this store was my local yarn store.  It is filled to the rafters with yarn and books.  However, it was filled to the rafters with Sidar and Rowan, which is sort of like an independant yarn store filling themselves with Lion Brand and Caron.  I honestly didn’t get anything there as there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t get at home.  However, it is a very nice store.




For this trip I decided to bring along a (call the police quick, she’s been bodysnatched!) sock knitting project.  I wanted to master this (damnit!) and I knew that if I brought a crochet project that I would only end-up working on it.  So, here’s what there is of it so far.  I have frogged the damn thing at least 3 times to get to this, though now it looks pretty nice I think!



Our first hotel was pretty nice.  We were right across from a part called the Meadows and, ignoring the traffic, it was really quite pretty.


We changed hotels on Friday as we were able to upgrade both quality (from a Best Western to a Hilton) and location.  Our new hotel is at one end of Princes Street, which is one of the main streets in Edinburgh.  It was really easy to get to everywhere in the city from there.


The Hotel on Princes Street is on the right

The Hotel on Princes Street is on the right


Friday I went to the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh.  It is, I think, probably the nicest botanic garden that I have even been to.  Now, I just want you to know that that is saying something.  I have been to Kew.  I have been to Huntington.  I have been to De Hortus. (And for those of you not in the botanic garden know, these are considered some of the greatest botanic gardens in the world) and this one holds it’s own.  It didn’t have any really spectacular collections of any one kind of plant but it did have a really through overview of all plant kinds.  Plus, it was free to the public except for the greenhouses.  This means that there were PEOPLE there.  People with their children playing in the grass.  To me, this is the purpose of a botanic garden, to educate folks about the plant world.  This is pretty hard to do when NO ONE IS THERE!  This garden was packed with people out just enjoying the sunshine.  Plus, the garden was really well laid out.  I’m not a design expert by any means (I got a B in the class) but I can tell you that the landscape designer of that garden was a good one.











I’m going to tell you about what we did on Saturday and Sunday tomorrow as it is getting late and I have lots more photos to upload for y’all!


Finally! Pictures from Maryland Sheep and Wool! May 27, 2009

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Yes, I finally got the hubby to release the photos from the cameraphone onto the laptop!  It is a win-win day for all of us.  Please remember that I didn’t have a “real” camera with me so there aren’t as many photos as I would have normally taken.  Also, it was pouring down rain a lot of the time that I was there.


This was the spinner’s auction that happened on the first day of the festival.  I didn’t get anything as the only thing that I was really looking for was a drumcarder and the ones for sale went for nearly as much as a new ones go for.  I didn’t get anything.


This is typical of the main building.  Most of the time it was so wall-to-wall people in this place that there was no moving with out feeling like you were mowing people over.  Part of the reason that it was so very crowded was that it was raining pretty hard at this point.


This is a picture of a felting booth.  Not only is there lots of yarn and wool to buy but there are also lots of finished objects on sale as well.  


This is sort of a picture for Terri.  These are felted rocks in amongst the wooden sheep and wool gloves.


More interesting felted objects.


This is of the main walkway outside.  I know I keep showing you pictures of it not raining, but I promise, it rained a lot that weekend!


These were some very patient alpaca that had recently lost their blankets (it’s what they call their fleeces when they have been removed).  Any time it wasn’t raining these guys were swarmed with people.


This is a yurt? I guess by a person selling felted rugs.


There were, of course, lots and lots of sheep around.  Alas, not many of them wanted to hold still so that I could get a good photograph of them but these pictures will give you an idea of what I saw.




Chilled sheep

Chilled sheep


It was after I took these photos that I went back out to the car and dropped my phone.  I didn’t realize that it was lost until the next time that I went out to the car and realized that it wasn’t there like I had thought that it was.  I then went to the lost and found and luckily someone had turned it in.  Even though it had gotten throughly wet, it seemed no worse for the ware.  But, because of that there are no more photos of Maryland.  Sorry about that.  I will make sure that I pack the battery charger for the camera the next time that I take a big trip like that….

This poor guy kept getting his head stuck in the bars.

This poor guy kept getting his head stuck in the bars.


What I’ve been up to May 26, 2009

I realize that I haven’t been very good of late of showing or telling what I’ve been up to since I got back from the US.  So, I am going to have a monster blog entry to try to show you all the fun and exciting things that have been going on since my return.

The hubby and I have been trying to explore as much of the area that we live in as possible.  So, when ever a festival or something comes up, we try to go to it so long as it sounds at least halfway interesting.  A few weeks ago a sign went up saying that the Old Ivinghoe water mill would be open that Sunday.  Of course, we had to go see.

The Ford End Watermill

The Ford End Watermill

It was pretty cool, though a little unnerving as the whole building was shaking pretty intensely because of the grinding going on there.

Heavy, scary looking machinery

Heavy, scary looking machinery

We bought some flour that they had ground there that day and walked around a bit.  That day, like many we’ve had since I’ve gotten back, was beautiful.

The actual watermill.

The actual water wheel

One interesting thing that we did a couple of weekends ago is that we went to a meeting of the Socialist Party to kick off their EU office campaign.  The reason for this was that one of the hubby’s coworkers is running for EU office and was giving a speech that night and we went to support him.  The Socialist HQ was right next to a happening club/pub and there was loud disco-esque music bumping through the wall during the whole meeting.


This is the time of year for plant sales and fairs in this country and we have gone to a few of those as well.  The biggest one by far has been the Ashridge Estate plant fair.  Ashridge Estate is a local National Trust site with lots of walking paths, bluebell woods and views.  Anyway, they had a big plant sale to help support the site.


Lots and lots of people were there.

This parking area is probably about a half mile long

This parking area is probably about a half mile long

And a lot of them brought their dogs with them.


I finally found a knitting store in the area that I like.  It’s a little bit of a drive, but the drive is so pretty that you really don’t care!  It is called The Knitting Hut and it is in Woburn Sands.  Woburn Sands is near Milton Keynes which is where we go to do our “big” shopping days.  It has the Ikea and the Tesco Extra and things like that.  Anyway, I decided that since I was already going to be in Milton Keynes that I should check out this knitting store that is nearby.  I did and I have to tell you that it is great!  It’s a tiny shop but it is jam packed with great yarns and tools.  The part that I liked most about it other than the owner, Sue, was fantastic was that there were a lot of different yarns there.  She had 2 different kinds of British Alpaca yarns for sale.  Most of the knitting stores that I have found seem to sell the same 2 or three brands of yarn and that’s it.  It was great to find someone selling something a little different.  

This past weekend we decided to go see an art and craft show that was going on at the Woburn Abbey.  Since we had never been there before we weren’t really ready for what awaited us.  For instance, we didn’t know that there was a deer park there.



Or that the grounds were absolutely fantastic.



The art and craft show was a total bust but we didn’t feel all that let down as the drive to and from it was just so amazing.  As we were driving to show the hubby The Knitting Hut we happened to end-up at this amazing garden centre called Frost’s.

One of the buildings

One of the buildings

The Food Hall

The Food Hall

The Floral Department

The Floral Department

Look at all the plant-y goodness!

Look at all the plant-y goodness!

A display water garden

A display water garden

The OUTDOOR fish area, the indoor part was too dark to photograph

The OUTDOOR fish area, the indoor part was too dark to photograph

It, quite honestly, made anything called a garden center in the US look like a joke.  It was huge, it had a restaurant, a food hall, a florist, a fish and aquarium area, books, clothes and then all of the stuff that you normally associate with a garden center like plants and gardening equipment.  It even had an ice cream stand!  I spoke with a manager there for a few minutes and he asked if I would put in an application and a c.v. which I did.  It would be really nice to have a job even if it was only for a few hours a week.  

This past weekend we also went to the Pittstone Green Museum.  That was an experience.  It’s also just down the road from us and it seems that it is usually only open on Bank Holiday Mondays.  Anyway, we went in expecting a few displays on farming in the Pittstone area and instead we found a really good sized museum on the grounds of a former working farm.  There were displays on everything from brush making to a Victorian kitchen to farm equipment to small steam engines to model train displays.  There was even a room on archeology.  And there were a ton of people there!  It seems that one of the things that this country delights in doing is surprising me!

I’m still crocheting


Granny Square blanket with Jiji for size perspective (and I couldn't get her off of it while standing on top of the couch to take the picture!)

Granny Square blanket with Jiji for size perspective (and I couldn't get her off of it while standing on top of the couch to take the picture!)


and knitting


Scarf, no Jiji for size (but trust me, it's getting bigger!)

Scarf, no Jiji for size (but trust me, it's getting bigger!)


and sewing-up finished hexagons


Only three more of these to go then I can start putting them together!

Only three more of these to go then I can start putting them together!


and trying to wrestle the tiny courtyard garden into shape.

The herbs got moved to the other side of the courtyard

The herbs got moved to the other side of the courtyard

Two bay topiaries frame the conservatory door now

Two bay topiaries frame the conservatory door now

Roses in pots frame the doors from the dinning room as well as Weezy

Roses in pots frame the doors from the dinning room as well as Weezy

My tomatoes in their sunny spot properly caged in bamboo

My tomatoes in their sunny spot properly caged in bamboo

My forlorn looking fig tree in it's new, big pot.

My forlorn looking fig tree in it's new, big pot.

My new compost bin!

My new compost bin!

This coming weekend the hubby and I are flying to Edinburgh for a get away.  We hadn’t celebrated either the first 1000 or 2000 views to my blog so this is sort-of both of those celebrations rolled into one.  I will try to blog from there but no promises as I might be busy.  I mean, Scotland is sort of known for it’s knitting after all!


Holy Crap!!!!! May 21, 2009

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Today I am having one of those days where just one thing spins you around a full 180 and before you know it your day is going in a very different direction than you anticipated.

It all started with an e-mail from my mom asking if I was still interested in driving to Alaska from Iowa.  Um, hell yes?!?  Aparently my father sort of put his foot down when my mom started planning the trips that she wanted to take in the upcoming year since she will be retiring in August.  She wanted to go to Europe again and he said that he wasn’t going to Europe until he had gotten to drive to Alaska.  Now, both my dad and I have wanted to do this for a long time (now you know where I get the weird from I guess) and another adult driver didn’t seem like such a bad idea to my mom.  So, this is where it all started.  Then, since I was already going to be in the States and near a city with super cheap flights to Orlando, I should try to get down there for a week or so after Alaska.  Oh, and since I would probably be passing through Chicago I should try to take a few days there to see all my friends there.  It is looking like I am going to be gone for at least a month at this point, maybe even a little more.  If there was one thing that I learned on my last trip to Florida is that it is better to plan too much time rather than too little.  

So, in case you weren’t following along, here is the itinerary as it looks now.  London to Chicago flying (a few days stay) Chicago to Iowa flying (a few days to prepare) Iowa to Alaska and back driving (a few weeks traveling) Iowa to Florida flying (a week or so stay) and then Florida to London flying.

Logistically this sounds……….complicated.  But interesting.  I mean, imagine going from some of the most Northern parts of the US to some of the most Southern.  Hell, it makes me want to drive down to the Keys just so that I can say that I did it.  Does that make me sick?  Anyone in Florida interested in taking a trip to the Keys with me?  I should think that packing for this trip is going to be….intimidating.  The average temperature in most parts of Alaska that time of year is still just a little bit above freezing while in Florida it’s still rather, well, fraking hot still.  Plus, there is going to be a lot of time in a car.

Can you tell that I’m getting excited?

I don’t know if my mom knows what she’s in for………….

Now, knitting a scarf in May doesn’t seem so silly anymore.


Cabled Obsession May 18, 2009

It has finally turned grey here in the Southern end of England and sort of cold.  In fact, if I didn’t have a calender on the wall I would think that spring is now going backwards except for a few things.  One is that the peonies are getting ready to bloom.  I love peonies.  My grandmother had these huge clumps of them growing near the road at her house.  They were these huge pink and white striped flowers as big as a cereal bowl that smelled like heaven.  After my grandmother died, I transplanted a bunch of them to my parents house, but it is a bit colder where they live and it has taken more than a few years for them to get back up to speed, let alone have blooms the size of bowls.  Since I transplanted the peonies, I have yet to get to see them bloom.  I haven’t been to my home in Iowa at the right time, no where close to it to tell you the truth.


The neighbor's peony bush

The neighbor's peony bush


In order to brighten things up around here a bit we added a new member to our family.  Since we were unable to bring the parrotlets back with us (they have a nice new family now, I didn’t just let them go or something) but we had their old cage here we went out and got a parakeet!  They call them budgies here.  Anyway, our parakeet/budgie is named Macho and I am hoping that he will learn his song.  I just find the idea of a little blue parakeet singing, “Macho, macho man!  I want to be a macho man!” so appealing on so many levels.  I know, I’m sick on so many levels!   


I’ve started on a new crochet project.  I know, what do I need another new project for right?  But I didn’t have anything that was good and mindless to work on while we are watching season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  By the way, season 2 is much better than season one, though you do need season 1 to understand a lot of the plot lines.  Oh, where was I?  Oh, yes, right, the new project.  It is a great big granny square afghan.  You know, where the granny square just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  It is the perfect brainless project for Buffy watching.  


I’ve started another knitting project.  This time it is a cabled scarf.  I guess I had a fairly quick learning curve on the knitting thing as I totally skipped the whole “really long garter stitch scarf” (for my hooking friends, garter stitch is when you just go back and forth in straight knit stitch, no purling.  It is sort of akin to doing just a single crochet back and forth) and went straight to cabling.  I think I’m doing ok, but it’s really hard to tell other than the scarf is turning out more or less like the pattern that I am using.  I don’t really have anyone who I feel that I can just ask without feeling stupid. And yes, y’all read that right, a pattern.  I think that reading knitting patterns is easier than crochet ones for me for some reason.  Maybe my mind can’t really handle more than knit or purl.  Who knows why this is, but there you have it…


I’ve also had another vampire themed thing going on as I was finally sucked into the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.  Yeah, I know, what is it with me and vampires lately right?  Actually, let me answer that rhetorical question.  Right after I moved here I started re-reading some of the Harry Potter series.  It is so different reading them……well… than it was at our home in Florida.  There it is very seldom that you feel an old vibe or a…..well….dark vibe.  When you do it is in the forests or on the river and it’s, different.  Maybe (but I’m not sure about this) it’s because the “danger vibe” feels, wild.  Animal even which would make sense given that there really haven’t been a lot of people (I know that there have been people living there for a very long time, but it just isn’t as many as here if you know what I mean) living there for very long.  Most of it’s history is in the wildness.  Whereas here, it’s different.  You can feel history pulsing around you.  Especially where we live, in the Southern part of England.  This area has been settled for a really long time, much longer than the US has been settled.  The church down the road dates to the 12th century, and it’s not all that special around here for it’s age.  There are ruins and walls from houses that no longer exist if you look around a little.  Everywhere there are little passage ways that probably date back to the Tudors that almost seem to whisper that bad things have happened in them and alleys and twisted little roads that may have made sense at some point but now dead end into dark doorways.  I have had more jolts to my subconscious in the past few months with non-understood warnings of danger it seriously made me think that I was going mad for a little bit.  But I’ve come to realize that I’m feeling…..well…..the past here.  I think that this is part of the reason that I am never all that keen on going into the city.  Crowds have never really been all that fun for me, but the city itself has always felt, well, really dark to me.  And no, this isn’t just because I just read 4 rather long vampire books in 4 days, I’ve always been this way about it.  You can ask the husband if you want but he’s seen how I get as the train moves closer and closer to London.  I get…upset? Depressed?  Definitely different.  There is no avoiding the past there, no avoiding the claustrophobic little alleyways that Jack the Ripper haunted in the 1880’s (seriously, the hubby worked and lived in that part of town) or the fact that even on the larger streets it’s seldom that the sun shines directly on you.  

Anyway, this has been a very long way of saying that reading books like the Potter series or the Twilight series here feels very different than reading them in the US.  There’s enough shadows and weirdness here that you almost can’t help but to believe in monsters and hidden creatures and dark histories and secrets so old that you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around them.

I now totally get why everyone has alarm systems here.



New Project May 13, 2009

So, I teased you several posts ago about the super secret thing that I am working on.  Well, here it is:


Yep.  I learned how to knit.  (Gasp!  Shock!  Oh the humanity!!!)  I heard a good review of a book that taught how to knit continental style.  I’ve always thought that continental style made more sense to me than English style since you “pick” the yarn rather than “throw” it.  Also, you hold the yarn in your left hand like you do with crochet.  So, I ordered this book 


on Amazon to be delivered to my US address (while I still had one to deliver to) and it was there waiting when I got home.  I read a little of the book, enough to know that they suggested Lambs Pride Bulky yarn for learning as well as Clover bamboo needles to work with.  So while I was home in the States I went out and purchased all the required bits and pieces to, well, knit.

So far I have made a scarf (pretty standard starting point) and a garter stitch washcloth that was made to practice increases and decreases.  The reason that I want to learn to knit is simply this sweater.  It has, well, caught my fancy ever since it came out.  I just love everything about it.  However, I know that I need, well, a lot of practice before I get to this level.  So, I am going to give myself 2 scarves (other than the one that I just made which is, honestly, too short for anyone but one of the pets) and 2 sweaters before I attempt it.  No, not attempt it, make it!  Just because it looks, well, big and complex doesn’t mean that I can’t do it.  I’ve done fairly complex mathematics dealing with the atomic structure and nature of soil for God’s sake!  I can make a bloody sweater!!!!

I haven’t given up crocheting.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Yesterday I went to a knitting group quite by accident (don’t ask.  It involves me asking if there is a knitting group somewhere to a couple of ladies sitting and knitting and them replying “yes, right now, here,”) and I think that I am going to end-up being the de facto crochet instructor.  This should be interesting if it comes to be.  However, I was working on a baby blanket.  Just a normal run of the mill shell pattern and the ladies knitting kept stopping their knitting to stare at my work.  Now, mind you, I wasn’t going all that fast (if they had seen my friend Birgitt crocheting on a normal day they would have had their mouths hanging open!) and it wasn’t all that fancy.  Just Cottontots yarn but it was going much faster than it normally does for knitters I guess so they were, impressed.

I’m not used to impressing anyone with crochet unless it is for the sheer size of the object that I am making.  That, well, that I’m pretty used to at this point.


Goodies in the mail! May 12, 2009

I finally got some stuff in the mail that I had been waiting for.  One of the things came in these boxes:


For those of you with sharp eyes, you might notice that the tape on the boxes matches that of a box I recieved prior to settting off for the States.  Here’s another picture to give you some better size perspective.


They are some BIG boxes from the folks at the British Wool Board.   

And inside these boxes…


were some really big paper bags full of…


greasy fleecies!  Yep, it was two large boxes full of unwashed sheep’s fleeces.  To say that the dogs were interested would be a slight understatement:-)  Most of what I got were colored fleeces.  And, considering that I still haven’t spun the fleeces from Rhinebeck, well, Houston, we may have a problem here!

I also got the box that I mailed back here from the US as I was having space/time issues (namely I ran out of space in my suitcases this time).  In it were some yarns that I picked-up at Maryland Sheep and Wool.  I got one 4oz. skein of Cherry Tree Hill Supersock yarn in Bark and a mill-end skein that weighed in at 6.4 oz in the pink.


I also got a great hank of yarn from Seacolors Yarns in a soft greenish blue.  This farm/yarnery was featured in the book Shear Spirit which I wrote about right after I came back from Rhinebeck as I had gotten a copy signed by the author and photographer there.  The yarn that is produced is dyed in seawater and is specifically done in order to exhaust the dye bath as well as be as friendly to the environment as possible.  Plus, the yarn is just so super cushy it makes you want to bounce on it!


I also got some more rovings.  These are rather rambunctiously dyed and were named Alabama Winter II and Color 09-02.  They were from the Little Barn folks who had some really fun rovings for sale.


So, you can see that the postman has had a time of it of late bringing me packages.  I’m pretty sure that he’s sick of my face at this point.  Can you really blame him?  Those big boxes are heavy as hell!  Now I just need to find a decent priced drum carder……