It’s been a while.

This has been a year of travel and change for me and it’s taken me all this time to carve out some time to come back to what I love, which is writing, talking, and showing alpacas. I can’t promise I’ll be blogging as regularly as previously but when I run across something that gets me excited, I’ll be back here at the keyboard – and hoping you will all still find things here that make you feel the same.

Four pocket Cardi from the Gap

Four Pocket Cardi at Gap.com (35% alpaca , $54.50)

I’ve been doing quite a bit of shoptherapy this year. I won’t go into why but needless to say, it’s not my norm. Mall is a four letter word to me and online shopping is a wonderful convenience but never a drug. But something caught my eye when I got my last Land’s End catalog – they actually offered a sweater line called “Lightheart” that was made with part alpaca.

Alpaca Blend Cardigan at J.Jill

Alpaca Blend Cardigan at JJill.com (alpaca and acrylic, $119)

Land’s End a.k.a. Sears – big retail. So when I saw alpaca blend sweaters at both the Gap and J.Jill , I couldn’t help but think – alpaca is going mainstream. That’s both good and bad : good because it may introduce the unique and luxury qualities of alpaca to many more people, bad because the pricing reflected does not promote that luxury niche. Alpaca composes a relatively small percentage in each of the sweaters offered, offset with cheaper fibers. It’s unknown what grade was used and in some cases, what that percentage is.

Still, I think it’s pretty amazing to see even a limited number of sweater offerings at such big names. Because those big names mean big volume and inventory. Now that I’ve seen these pop up without even looking, I bet with a little more searching and googling, I will find alpaca inserted into more collections everywhere, and perhaps (hopefully) into those high end designer offerings that will showcase the handle and draping qualities that distinguish alpaca fiber as haute couture suitable.

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Vidhana Souda in Bangalore, seat of state legislature of Karnataka

You won’t be hearing from me for a while. I’m leaving this week to go to Bangalore, India with a brief stop in London. And although that seems like it would provide interesting fodder for a blog – I don’t think I’ll have time to do much writing and I’m pretty sure I won’t be learning anything about how alpacas are raised in India.

I hope you’ll hear from me again in mid-March when I return. If not, I do plan to be a Mopaca in Kansas City and hope to see you there.

Things We Love: Skype

I’ll be traveling overseas for half of March and have been spending quite a bit of time the past couple of weeks preparing for it: lining up alpaca care, setting up appointments for when I get back, moving as much as I can online for easy access, and all the nasty but necessary logistics that go with crossing borders.

This week I set up a Skype account. To teenagers, quarter lifes and the technically cool and savvy, this will seem really naive and behind the times, but I’ve been eyeballing Skype and VOIP (Voice over IP) for a while but never took the final steps to try it out. But with the exorbitant international roaming rates for cell phones ($2.99/minute with T-Mobile!!), I decided to take the plunge, buying a very portable but high quality webcam that clips neatly onto the top of my laptop.

Logitech C905 webcam 2.5" high x 1.25" wide

Skype is famous for free video calling anywhere around the world as long as you both have a high speed internet connection and a webcam. That’s the primary reason I got it – so I could call home. But it also offers free VOIP calling between Skype members, meaning I can make audio calls to landline and mobile numbers. If they’re not Skype members then there’s a charge, but at much cheaper rates. The most well-known supplier of VOIP calling is probably Vonage. I’m still wary of going 100% VOIP due to audio lags but it’s a handy extra with Skype.

So now I have my Skype account up and running and have tested the audio and video on my little webcam. It’s pretty amazing. I can already think of lots of applications for my alpacas if others join up as well. As we try to reach more and more remote customers, the ability to do live video streaming could be a huge benefit – the next best thing to having someone visit your farm.

Which makes Skype one of the techie advances that fall under Things We Love.

Skype me!

Tourists evacuated from Machu Picchu end of January after heavy rains left them stranded. The tourist site will remain closed off for at least the next couple of months. ((AP Photo/Martin Mejia) (Martin Mejia - AP)

I just got back in from plowing the driveway after our latest snowfall. It took me all of about 45 minutes to clear, putzing around on our garden tractor. It’s not a chore I love, but it’s part of winter here in Colorado. And this year I think I’d have to give the snow trophy to the Mid-Atlantic for all that the Rocky Mountains have the rep for endless white winters.

And then I see this article about the Andean alpacas and how the heavy rains are impacting alpaca farmers. Resulting mudslides have washed homes away and left people with little closer to nothing. Bronchial pneumonia is felling young crias and threatening their main source of income.

CHU (Containerized Housing Unit)

This week I received an email from a former co-worker of mine. He was deployed this past month to Iraq as an officer on the team working on Iraqi training. He sent a picture of where he was living, called a CHU (containerized housing unit), which looked like a metal box dropped down in a spot with one opening carved out for a door. It looked like that because that’s what it was. But he was thankful, because he had a wet-CHU – one that had a shower, versus a dry-CHU, which doesn’t. Rows and rows of these CHU’s make up “CHU-ville” which looks eerily similar to District 9 (if you’ve seen the film of the same name).

So what are Colorado snow, heavy rain in the Andes, and a CHU in Iraq doing in the same blog post? Let’s just say that as I grumbled my way back in from the snow, shaking off my wet shoes and peeling off my Carhartt’s, they all flashed through my brain to remind me just how good I have it. My alpacas are all tucked away safe and sound in the barn, munching contentedly away, and I’m on my way to a hot shower in my own wet-CHU. I’m blessed and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that now and then.

Stall Mats with llama graphic (exclusive to Quality Llama)

Today it was finally warm enough for me to hose and scrub down my stall mats from the OK show. Yes, it’s been almost two weeks and they’ve been tucked away in a tightly folded trash bag. I’ve wandered by them daily on my way to clean the barn and crossed my fingers with a fervent hope that nothing was fermenting away between the mat layers.

But with temps breaking 50 degrees today, I just couldn’t put it off any longer and I rolled them out gingerly and started to hose them off, antibacterial detergent and scrub brush at hand.

The stall mats we put down at shows have always stymied me, from the first time I had to use them until today. They just never made sense to me. I had always assumed it was because they were made for some other industry and we just adapted them for our own use. But as I worked away on cleaning the blue, green, and black mat below me, the llama graphic clearly showed this was its intended use. I had picked up this mat from Quality Llamas at a Fall show because it was so pretty…if something can be poopy and pretty all at the same time.

Still…the mat below me was 9’x9′. My smaller mats are 6’x6′. As far as I know, there has never been a 9’x9′ or 6’x6′ stall at shows. There are 8’x8′ , 10’x10′, and even 10’x12′ stalls. So question one: why don’t the mat sizes line up with the most common stall show sizes?

Question two: why are there grommets on the edges of the stall mats? That implies we’re supposed to tie them down. I’ve never seen anyone do that at a show and show use is by far the most common application for these. Maybe some people use them outside and tie them to keep the edges from flapping up but do you know anyone who does that? Why not leave off the grommets and reduce the price?

Question three: why are these things woven? Why aren’t they just a textured perforated material? The weave hangs on tight to all those beans that get smooshed in by little prancing alpaca toes and take a concentrated burst from the hose to get out if the brush misses them. I understand the urine needs to pass through but tiny perforations would do that without the problems of the woven strands.

Question four: why aren’t these made to be disposable? C’mon – wouldn’t we all forego the joy of folding up, transporting, and cleaning a rather unwieldy mat if we could buy stall mat-lite for $10-$15? It just needs to hold up for the length of the show and then tossed into recycling or be biodegradeable. A show with 300 alpacas would mean at least 100 stall mats used that would need replacing – continuous volume sales for the vendor. But at $45-$50 each, currently sold stall mats are just too pricey to be tossed.

Question five: what is with these stall mat bags? As if having to handle and clean a poopy stall mat isn’t enough, now you can pay to have your poopy stall mats travel in style and when you get home, you have a poopy stall mat bag to clean out and disinfect as well. I’ve just never understood the practicality of a stall mat bag over an extra large trash bag, which at least can be reused without being cleaned. Mine go straight to lining the trash can for the barn, where anything that gets tossed in it is usually stinkier and nastier than what remained stuck to the sides from the mats.

So, if anyone with the right talent is out there is listening, please make my dream stall mat. I think others would like it too, not just me. Wealth awaits.

American Royal Complex (from http://www.americanroyal.com)

At long last, the AOBA Nationals will be returning to the West …sort of. To be more precise, the 2011 show will be at the American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri which is actually the Midwest. When looked on at a map, it falls just a little to the east if you were to draw a north-south line cutting the U.S. in half.

But who’s quibbling?

For Coloradoans such as myself, the location is handclapping, footstomping convenient. One long but easy day of driving or a short 2 hour direct flight into Kansas City International Airport. Mopaca will hold its Invitational Show at the American Royal for the second time in 2010. The venue is old in an equally (ahem) historic part of town but its website states plans to expand and renovate. It’s only five minutes from downtown and about 30 minutes from the airport. It certainly doesn’t have the glamor or pristine newness that the Sandy, UT Expo center has but then I’m betting it won’t have the same cost either. Combined with previous plans announced to separate out the AOBA annual conference from the show and thereby decrease attendance costs significantly, the 2011 Nationals could see a serious uptick in attendance.


James Bond Shawl Cardigan recreated in natural bay black alpaca

In James Bond x Alpaca, I started a long journey to create an alpaca version of the James Bond cardigan worn in Quantum of Solace. It was actually harder than I thought for a few reasons, the main one being that my black fiber had been spun into a light sportweight gauge and the deeply ribbed pattern of Bond’s cardy called for a heavier yarn. So I used a double strand of my alpaca yarn, thereby calling for revisions to my stitch technique to offset memory issues that would result from such a heavy sweater.

I ended up using a slip stitch rib to give a slightly more subtle rib pattern and enforcing the button placket and high stress seams with black grosgrain ribbon. These touches added a decorative touch while increasing the structure. I skipped the patch pockets to cut down on bottom weight (and my husband didn’t even notice the original sweater had them). Five black leather buttons were the final work done on the cardigan and my husband wore it last December when I (finally) completed it after a few restarts.

So what would a grateful husband say after receiving the result of months of slaving over a custom knit, custom designed 100% alpaca cardigan? I prepared to bask in the glow of abundant praise.

“I like it but it’s very hot and it left fuzzies on my shirt.”